Note: Thank you very much for reading. Hope you enjoyed.
Inside Out - Chapter 8
Freya pushed the door open, hurrying inside the hospital room. "Sorry, Brendan, I didn't mean to be gone so long," she explained, anxious to see how her partner was doing. She found him lying on his side, the head of the bed slightly elevated. His left hand was extended out on top of the covers, probably a sign of him being mindful of the remaining IV line. His eyes opened for a split second until he met her gaze and then closed again.
"S'kay . . . mostly sleeping," he mumbled in a barely audible voice.
She stopped at the foot of the bed, studying the slight frown on his face and noting his semi-curled posture. "Does your stomach hurt again?" she asked, worried about how much pain in he'd been in since waking.
Doesn't really hurt . . . just uncomfortable.
Freya draped her coat over the back of the chair and walked over to stand beside him. Leaning forward a little, she gently brushed a lock of hair off his forehead. "You want me to call the nurse?"
Hazel eyes flickered open and gazed intently at her. He swallowed a couple of times and blinked heavily, still showing signs of being on heavy medication. "No . . . had Jell-o."
"What?" she asked, eyes widening. "You ate Jell-0?"
Half a bowl. Staying down so far, too.
Smiling, Freya tried to look encouraging in a battle to dissuade the waves of sadness and fatigue rolling off her ill partner. "Hey, it's a start. Bill Cosby would be proud of you."
He tried to smile and managed to snort softly. "Want chocolate pudding . . . next time."
Freya watched him closely, lying listlessly on the bed in the absolute antithesis of his normal self. His eyes were distant and unfocused, his thoughts sluggish and disjointed. Random images seemed to flash through his head. His mother with her bottle of medicine, Greyson shooting Porter in the face, Brendan kneeling beside his toilet, vomiting until his throat burned and his eyes watered. Mrs. McCracken smiling sweetly and holding out a covered dish of food as she stood in the door of his apartment. He closed his eyes and seemed to somehow slump lower into the mattress.
"Brendan, none of this is your fault; you know that, right? None of this is because of you. Your mom had the problems, not you. Mrs. McCracken had the problems, not you. You've just been unfortunate enough to be the focus of their illness, but it could have just as easily been someone else if circumstances had been different."
"I know," he rasped, opening his eyes to look up at her. He made another attempt at smiling, coming slightly closer this time. I know all that, I really do. I just need time to deal with everything. I'll be okay.
"Promise?" she said playfully, trying in vain to hide the worry that gnawed deep inside her.
"Promise," he said, his voice a little stronger. He grasped her hand and squeezed in an obvious attempt to comfort her. He scooted around, trying to turn on his back. The weakness that made the simple act seem almost impossibly difficult did nothing to diminish Freya's concern and she quickly found herself helping him get settled. The effort left him breathless and she bit her lip, realizing just how slow a recovery this might be. The fact that he'd been none-too-healthy when the whole thing started was probably making things worse.
Freya took Brendan's hand and met his eyes. She had a confession to make, and she figured now was the time to finally make it. He'd be finding out soon enough, with or without her admittance. "Brendan, I need to tell you something," she began.
"What?" he asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously. What have you done, Freya McAllister? I know that look.
Cringing, Freya realized she could poker-face pretty much anyone but the man before her. She smiled sheepishly. "I . . . okay, first of all, you know I was really worried about you, right? Well, I may have called-"
The door burst open, admitting a tall man with gray hair who moved quickly to the foot of the bed, pulling his rolling suitcase upright to stand unaided. "Brendan?" he asked breathlessly, lines of concern etched deeply into his handsome face.
"Dad?" Brendan gasped. Understanding suddenly flooded his face and his thoughts and he turned to her. "You called my Dad?"
Jeff Dean put a hand on his son's lower leg. "Don't get mad at Freya, son. She was worried about you, and rightfully so it would seem. I was able to talk to the doctor in the hall just now and he said you had a pretty close call." The older man's expression seemed to falter a bit. "Why didn't you call me, tell me how sick you were?"
Gazing down at his covered legs, Brendan shrugged his shoulders. "I knew you'd worry, that you'd come. I just thought . . . thought it'd pass . . . I'd be okay."
Jeff's expression softened and he shook his head once. "You didn't want to be a bother. Brendan . . . " He walked over to the side of the bed and let the railing down. Sitting on the side of the bed, he reached out to embrace his sick son. He's even thinner than before. When is he going to get a break? Freya didn't mean to tap into the images of him holding onto his five-year old son as he puked into a trash can.
"Oh, Dad." Brendan choked out, holding onto his father tightly. In his mind, he was clutching his arms around his father's neck as the man carried his frail boy to car in the middle of the night. I'm so glad you're here.
Smiling, Freya slipped quietly out into the hall, now confident that she had done the right thing.
Freya was standing in the waiting room, staring out the window at the adjacent brick wall of the hospital when Jeff Dean came to get her almost twenty minutes later. His thoughts gave him away as he shuffled up to stand just behind her. "Thank you for coming," she said softly.
His breath ruffled her hair as he chuckled. "As if I wouldn't. Thank you for calling. Brendan . . . he doesn't want to bother anyone . . . doesn't want to get in the way," he stammered. Another dry chuckle followed as the man turned away from her, prompting Freya to turn toward him. "I think . . . I think that's because of . . . what happened. He was so sick for so long and we had to constantly care for him. At some point, he just got tired of always having people take care of him, of being the focus of everything all the time. He was so young and so . . . " His voice trailed off, but his mind didn't. Disturbing images of Brendan's childhood illness flashed like movie previews through the man's head, making Freya wonder just how long it had gone on. I thought he was going to die.
Instinctively, she reached out to grip his arm, not sure of what to say, but desperate to comfort him. "I guess that's why he tries to ignore it every time he gets sick or hurt. I sometimes get the impression he just wants to shoo me away."
The laugh held a little more humor this time. "He started doing that when he was very young, I guess as soon as he got over the . . . poisoning." The last word was obviously still a struggle for the man to say. "He got the flu when he was in junior high school, but he just kept acting like was okay. The school called me when his fever shot up and he threw up in the hallway and then promptly passed out cold. They couldn't believe I had let him go to school in that condition. When I questioned him, he just said he didn't want to get behind and do poorly and that he didn't think he was that sick."
"Same old Brendan," said Freya with a sigh. "He doesn't want to let anyone down, to not get the job done, so he just keeps pushing and pushing, oblivious of the fact that he's driving himself too hard. I kind of have to remind him to eat sometimes."
"He's always done that," said Jeff with a small smile. "He gets so focused on some project and it's like the rest of the world just dissolves away. He lost almost five pounds while working on his senior research paper. I'd take him food when he was too busy to come to dinner and then next thing I knew, I was cleaning out still full plates from his room." He turned to her, with the brightest smile she'd seen yet. "He's lucky to have you around. I feel better knowing there's someone close by keeping an eye on him, someone who understands what's going on and can help him deal with it."
"I'm not sure how much I'm helping him deal with things, but I can sure watch his back when he needs it," said Freya, slightly embarrassed.
"You are helping," he said firmly. "Brendan said he'd have been at a total loss without you after his mother passed away. He tends to keep everything in with most people, but I think he feels differently about you. He trusts you in ways he doesn't trust most people." Jeff snorted and shook his head. "Listen to me, getting all emotional and talking too much. Just know that you are very special and important to him and that I'm grateful for your help. And if we don't get back soon, I know of a sick man who will come after us."
Grinning, Freya nodded. "Now that I believe." She joined the elder Dean as they walked back to the hospital room. When she pushed the door open, she first thought Brendan was asleep, but he opened his eyes and smiled.
Guess I owe you again.
Freya just smiled and nodded at him as she walked over to stand beside him. "So, does this mean I'm forgiven for butting in and calling your father?"
"Forgiven," Brendan said softly before narrowing his gaze at her. "Just don't let it happen again."
"No promises," she said with a snort. "How are you feeling?" Although he still looked ill, she was pleased to see a little color in his cheeks.
"Better," he admitted, giving his dad a lop-sided grin.
"Great," she said, pulling up a chair so that she would be closer to the bed. She watched Jeff do the same, taking a seat on the other side of the bed. "Okay, now I want some really embarrassing stories about Brendan when he was a kid."
Groaning loudly, Brendan closed his eyes. "I changed my mind. I don't feel so good."
Freya laughed. Fifteen minutes later all three of them were laughing and Freya was feeling better than she had in weeks. Although looking tired, Brendan no longer appeared so battered and worn down. "We should probably let you rest," she said, adjusting the sheet where it had pulled loose and lay in disarray.
The door to the room opened and Freya glanced around, expecting one of the nurses. It felt like the temperature in the room dropped twenty degrees in an instant. Francine's large form stood in the door, her expression surprised as she took in Jeff's presence.
What's he doing here? He'll no doubt try to protect the little mutt. And the girl looks familiar. Where have I seen . . . ah, the funeral. Brendan's little whore girlfriend.
Jeff stood up as the woman entered the room, his efforts at schooling his expression not completely successful. She better not lay into Brendan. Not now, not while he's so sick. "Francine, what a nice surprise," he said neutrally.
Sighing loudly, Francine walked the rest of the way in the room and allowed the door to close behind her. She stood glaring at Brendan from the foot of the bed. Well, I guess he does kind of look sick, but surely it couldn't have been that bad. "I heard you were in the hospital. I understand Vera . . . look, I didn't know anything about that. I still can't believe she would do such a thing. She's always so sweet to everyone else. What did you do to her?"
Jeff took two steps toward his sister-in-law. "Francine, Brendan is still recovering from what your friend did to him. He did nothing but show her kindness and this is how she reacted. She had her mind made up to do this even before she met him." His eyes narrowed dangerously in a look Freya had seen on Brendan's face more than once. "She was acting on information given to her by someone else, someone who had her convinced that Brendan deserved this. Well, look at him, Francine. Does he? Do you think he's just getting what he deserves?"
Brendan had sunk down as low in the bed as he could go, given his injured side and weakened condition. Dread radiated off him in waves, prompting his partner to stand up and take his hand. She could feel him trembling beneath her fingers, images of the large woman when she was younger standing over him, scolding him for being a bad seed. He leaned his head back into the pillows and drew his legs up, grasping his free arm around his stomach with a low groan.
"Brendan?" Freya's attention was now focused on Brendan, the hateful woman behind her forgotten. "I'll get the nurse."
"No," he gasped, tightening his grip on her hand and opening his eyes. His expression eased, as did the tightness of his muscles. "It's . . . s'kay . . . just hurt for a moment. Better now." A light shudder ran through his body, his eyes now becoming heavy-lidded. The visit followed by the confrontation had obviously worn him out.
Freya turned to Francine, not caring if she was overstepping her bounds. "I think you should leave now. Brendan needs more rest."
Concern flickered across Francine's face. The boy does look miserable. Maybe he really is sick this time. "I'm leaving. Look, Brendan . . . I'm . . . I'm sorry about what Vera did and . . . I hope you feel better." She took a step back, the room silent except for her slightly labored breathing.
Jeff seemed to almost deflate where he stood. "Thank you, Francine. We . . . we appreciate that."
"Thanks for coming by," Brendan said weakly, clutching the covers in one fist and Freya's hand in the other. He was fighting a losing battle against a lifetime of fear.
Francine nodded at them while backing up another step. She startled badly when the nurse walked in just behind her. Dodging the small woman, she hurried out the door as Freya watched her retreating back. I still think he must have provoked her somehow. Sighing, Freya shook her head and looked down at Brendan's confused expression, shrugging her shoulders.
"Weird," Brendan breathed out.
"Looks like you're a popular guy today," said the nurse, looking every bit of about fifteen with her bobbed dark hair and big, blue eyes.
Brendan moved his eyes back to his partner, who had moved to one side, as the nurse began taking his pulse. She still thinks all of this is my fault, doesn't she?
"You know, Brendan, it doesn't matter what she thinks," said Freya. "What matters is you getting better. It's probably not my place to say, but your Aunt is no Sherlock Holmes when it comes to knowing people and figuring out what's going on."
"Listen to her," said his father, having moved back to his chair beside the bed. "It didn't take long for me to figure out that your partner is pretty smart. Francine . . . well, she tends to be narrow minded and set in her beliefs. Once she makes up her mind about something . . . or someone . . .she's focused on that to the exclusion of anything that contradicts it. She was also fiercely protective of your mother."
"That I definitely remember," Brendan said wryly.
Jeff reached out to grip his son's arm. "Don't let her get to you kid. Francine has always been a bit of a thorn in the side and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Fortunately for us all, she's basically harmless."
"Mr. Dean," the nurse said during the pause. "Your pressure is quite a bit higher than it's been the last few days. Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm okay," Brendan replied, looking down at his hand twisting the sheet. "Just had a lot of excitement today, I guess."
"I think we should let Mr. Dean get some rest," the nurse said, directly her comments to Freya and then Jeff.
Brendan's head shot up, his eyes wide and panicked. "They don't have to leave, do they?"
Shrugging her shoulders, the nurse didn't look happy. "I don't know, it might be for the best. You really need to rest so you don't set yourself back."
"I will," he promised, his voice edging up a notch in pitch. He sounded a little like a scared child and Freya realized that that was exactly what his father was seeing. A scared little boy of five, wanting desperately to feel better and to go home, but most of all, not to be left alone. Her heart ached at the pain in both father and son.
"I guess if you will promise to get some sleep and if your guests will promise to let you, they can stay."
"I promise," said Brendan fervently.
"We do too," agreed Jeff.
When the nurse looked at her, Freya brought up her best smile. "We'll just sit quietly with him so he's not alone. I honestly think he'll rest better that way after everything that's happened." She had no idea if the woman knew what had transpired, but she thought it was worth a shot.
"Okay," the nurse nodded. "I'll just peek in after while and make sure." She did a final check of Brendan's covers and left.
They all breathed out a collective sigh of relief when the door closed, leaving them alone. "Wow," said Brendan. "That whole looking like she's twelve thing is pretty deceiving. She should be in the military."
Angela Sheppard pushed the bottle toward Brendan's face. "Take your medicine!" Her soft expression was in direct contrast with the hardness of her voice. "If you love me, you'll take your medicine like a good boy."
Everything spun for a few moments and then Vera McCracken was at his open door, pushing a plastic container of food in his hands. "I brought you some dinner, Brendan, prepared especially for you. Now be a good boy and eat. You're entirely too thin and we need to fix that, starting right now."
Another session of spinning and then Francine was over him, waving her hands, her face red and angry. "Everything is your fault! You drove my sister crazy and then my best friend. You're a menace, Brendan Dean, a menace. One day someone is going to take care of you! Mark my words," she spat out, spittle literally spraying over Brendan.
Faces and fog spun around nauseatingly, accusing voices all running together into one giant storm cloud.
Freya jumped from her seat, pacing around the room while her partner stirred and groaned restlessly. Should she wake him or not? She'd momentarily tapped into his dreams, trying to get a handle on what was disturbing his sleep so consistently. What she found was pretty much what she had expected.
"Think we should wake him?" Jeff's concerned voice startled her. She had been so wrapped up in her thoughts about Brendan, she'd forgotten that he was there.
"I'm not sure. The nightmares are really bothering him this time, but if we wake him, he'll won't be able to get back to sleep anytime soon."
"I know," Jeff nodded with a slight sigh. "That's exactly what I was thinking. He needs some real rest."
The question became moot when Brendan sat straight up in bed with an audible gasp, his panicked eyes scanning the room. They moved in unison to opposite sides of the bed.
"It's okay, son," soothed Jeff. "We're here."
Freya took her partner's hand as he looked first at his father and then over to her. Letting out a deep breath, he eased back down to the pillows. "Bad dream," he breathed out.
Freya gave his hand a quick squeeze and then went to bathroom to dampen a cloth. Sweat had bathed his face and wet his hairline. She could hear his father's voice, talking softly to him, calming and reassuring him. She felt a momentary pain rush through her, missing her own father as she squeezed the excess water from the cloth. But Brendan needed her, so she focused on that and returned to his side, gently wiping his face. It was a testament to how weary he was that he let her without so much as a glare.
"Harper came by while you were sleeping," she said, trying to draw his attention away from the nightmare. "He said he hoped you were feeling better. I think Terri, Kunzel, and Patel are coming by later to generally harass and annoy you."
A small smile flickered across his lips. "No one there to drive them crazy right now."
"Exactly," Freya replied, setting the cloth on the rollaway table.
"Not for long, I'm betting," added Jeff with a pat on Brendan's arm.
"Ever the encouraging father," Brendan said, winking at Freya before flashing a small grin to his dad.
"Hey, it's my job and I take my job very seriously." Jeff crossed his arms and gave a very firm and exaggerated nod.
Brendan actually laughed at that. "So I've noticed." But his expression quickly sobered as he turned his attention back to Freya. "Did Harper have anything to say about the case?"
Sighing, Freya wondered if Brendan was a bit psychic and hadn't bothered to mention it. She had hoped to steer the conversation in a different direction. But he had her eyes and he already knew the answer before she even opened her mouth. And she knew he knew, which meant no evading the question.
"Fine, yes, he did."
"Spill it. All of it."
A quick glance to Jeff gave her a tiny nod of approval, one she was just now realizing she needed. "They exhumed the body of Vera McCracken's husband and they found traces of the same poisons she used on you. This time when they confronted her, she finally confessed to both crimes. Her husband was having health problems and she said he whined and complained all the time and she just got tired of it. She evidently was a long time fan of crime novels and she decided to poison him. She spent months researching it, wanting something slow that would give the idea of him being in poor health so when he died, no one would be suspicious. She apparently started rambling soon after that, so they weren't able to get much more out of her. She did admit to poisoning you somewhere during the interview. Made a copy of your key that time you helped her and then snuck in your apartment and added small amounts to your water and orange juice. She put bigger doses in the food she brought you, thinking it would be more likely to mask any taste differences. They found traces of one or both poisons in some of the stuff they tested from your apartment."
"I just don't understand how someone you don't even know can hate you enough to try to kill you," Brendan said, shaking his head sadly.
"She's nuts, Brendan, off her rocker," said Freya. "She killed her husband because he was ill and getting too needy for her. Who does that? Crazy people, that's who. This does not actually have anything to do with you. She would have probably gone after someone else if it hadn't been you."
"When people are always trying to kill you like this, you have to wonder if it's not something about you. I discovered one person was trying to kill me through the efforts of someone else trying to kill me at the same time. That isn't normal." Brendan looked so tired and miserable, it made Freya want to punch someone, with McCracken and Greyson being at the top of her list.
"You need to get away," said Jeff suddenly. He snapped his fingers a few times and then pointed at Brendan. "We all need to get away for a few days and I know just the place."
"Dad, I'm in the hospital," Brendan said patiently, waving one hand around the room.
Jeff sighed. "I know that, son. But you'll be out in a few days and I think you could use some serious down time. I have a friend with a house on the beach. He's offered it for me to use several times in the past few years, but I never had time to accept. What if I get us a few days and we all go. We could lie out on the beach and do basically nothing. They have a nighttime concert series or we could just sit on the deck and look at the stars."
Freya brightened and looked down to see how Brendan was reacting. He looked very uncertain and she could feel and see the argument coming. "Dad, I don't know. Maybe we should stick around here in case-"
"They won't need you," Freya interrupted, knowing what he was about to suggest. "Harper said you are not to darken the office doorway until the doctor has completely cleared you. That's going to be a while and you know it."
"What if they need me to testify?"
"Nope," she said, shaking her head. "Greyson's lawyer is in the process of stalling things until he figures out what to do. Besides, they have more than enough evidence without you to convict him of a whole list of things. You need this Brendan."
Brendan yawned and rubbed the side of his face. He looked for several moments at Freya and then at his father. With a long sigh, he finally nodded. "Fine, we'll go."
Jeff grinned, his relief evident in the drop of his shoulders. "Good. As soon as I talk to the doctor and find out when you're likely to be well enough to go, I'll make the arrangements."
After a few moments, the tension seemed to drain from Brendan as he sagged down deeper into the mattress. "I guess it could be kind of fun to get away a few days. I haven't done that in a long time."
"I know Director Harper will be happy," said Freya with a sly smile. "He's been trying to get you to take some vacation since I got there."
"Oh, man," Brendan sighed. "By the time I get back to work, I'll have forgotten what I'm supposed to be doing. I feel like I've already been off forever."
Rolling her eyes, Freya shook her head once. "I don't think you have anything to worry about. I'm more worried that you've forgotten how to relax."
"Not a chance." Clasping his hands behind his head, Brendan smiled at the pair. "I'll probably have to show you guys how to relax and have fun." Freya and Jeff just snorted loudly.
"How about something to drink?"
Brendan forced his eyes open, squinting even though he was wearing sunglasses. The warmth of the sun had relaxed him until his body almost didn't want to respond to his commands. Blinking up at his father from the lawn chair he was sprawled on, he took in the glasses on the tray. "Lemonade?"
"Yes," his father responded while transferring two of the glasses to the small table beside the lawn chair. "You've been drinking your water like you should, so I thought I'd treat you to something with a little more flavor." He proceeded around his son's chair to hand Freya the last glass.
"Thanks," Brendan said, pushing himself up enough to grab one of the glasses and pull some of the ice cold drink through a straw. "Nice," he drawled lazily as he set the glass back down and relaxed.
"Did you use sunscreen?"
Brendan resisted the urge to sigh, reminding himself that they were just worried. "Freya already grilled me, but yes I have on sunscreen, SPF 100 or some other ungodly high number, and yes it's fresh and yes, I applied it evenly. And if you're interested, I remembered to put on clean underwear this morning." His defense speech over, Brendan closed his eyes, stretching out to take full advantage of the sun. He was wearing a pair of shorts and a white t-shirt, and the sun felt good against his skin. They had been right – he had needed this. He should probably tell them . . . maybe later. A snicker to his right told him he didn't need to confess to Freya.
"You're welcome," she said with a chuckle.
"What?" asked Jeff, just settling himself into his chair on Brendan's left.
Brendan made a face at Freya before turning back to his father. "I said thanks for making me come. This is nice."
His father cocked an eyebrow at him, as if he wasn't convinced, but then nodded and settled back in the chair. "You're welcome. You may be grown up now, but that doesn't mean I don't still know what you need. I've been your father for a long time now."
"My whole life," Brendan quipped.
"I'll ignore that since you're still recovering."
Brendan pretended not to notice the look Freya was giving him. "That's mighty fatherly of you."
Jeff's hand whipped out and smacked him on the upper arm so fast, there was no time to react. "Ow! Should you be hitting me in my weakened condition? Child abuse!"
"Child abuse my ass. I can probably still turn you over my knee, kiddo."
"Dad," Brendan whined, sulking down into the chair a little further. His father's laughter dissipated any annoyance he may have felt. He knew the man had been worried about him and he hated that. He'd already spent too much time worrying about his sick son. Brendan just wanted to be well and whole, to not have people watching over him.
"Brendan," his father said quietly. "How are you doing . . . really?"
"Better," he said honestly. When mealtime rolled around, his stomach growled instead of churning. They had followed the doctor's suggestion of five small meals a day instead of three larger ones and that seemed to help. He was not allowed anything the slightest bit spicy, which was driving him nuts, but he much preferred that to endless bouts of puking, so he was being good. Drinking lots of water was the easiest thing on the list since he normally did that anyway. Now if they'd just let him have his morning coffee back, he'd be in pretty good shape.
"What about the nightmares?"
Cringing, Brendan was thankful for the sunglasses. "I think . . . uh, maybe a little better." They didn't seem quite as frightening, but he thought maybe that was because he was getting used to them. As for frequency, that didn't seem to have changed much. At least maybe he was building up some resistance to Aunt Francine.
"Well, we've still got three days to whip you into shape."
"Doesn't look like anyone is doing much whipping right now," said Brendan lazily, his eyes getting heavy behind the dark glasses. He could almost feel the tension leaking out of his body, dripping onto the hot sand below. He smiled at the mental imagery he had created and noted the lack of movement from the people on either side of him.
"Maybe later," said Freya, her voice sounding as lethargic as he felt.
"Yeah . . . later," murmured his father softy. A few minutes later Brendan could hear light snores drifting across the breeze from his left. He grinned to himself and opened his eyes, letting his head roll to the right so he could see Freya. Prepared to make a joke about his father, he was surprised to see Freya's eyes closed as well from the narrow slit between her face and the lenses. Her breathing seemed deep and even. He let his head roll back to its original position and closed his eyes again, a big smile on his face. They had needed the rest every bit as much as him, he realized. The bedside vigil was really hard on a person, something he hadn't remembered until just now. Suddenly he felt very lucky to have two people this worried and concerned about him and vowed not to resent their hovering in the future . . . well, at least not as much.
Brendan couldn't help but be tickled though. So these are the people that think they're going to whip me into shape, huh?
"You better believe it," said Freya softly, a sly smile on her face.
That's so not fair!