Title: Repeating History
Summary: Recent events take Brendan back to some unpleasant childhood memories.
Note: There are brief references to Stealth Dragon's Much Needed Company and Friend in Need (where she set up the backstory for Brendan that I'm making use of) and my story Inside Out, although you don't have to have read either one to understand this one. This is a challenge response from the Matters of the Mind Thoughtcrimes community.
"What was that address again?" asked Brendan, squinting as he studied the numbers on the houses he was slowly driving past.
Freya glanced down at the semi-folded piece of paper in her lap and flattened it with her hand. "Uh, 4229 North Peyton Avenue. Please don't tell me we're on South Peyton?" she asked, returning her gaze to the neat row of houses. "This neighborhood looks too . . . nice . . . for your typical informant."
The car stopped and Brendan sighed heavily as he slid the shift into park. "No, but I think we're on North Peyton Drive. Why do they do that? Just call it something different. Peyton Drive, Peyton Avenue, Peyton Blvd . . . how is anyone supposed to keep that straight?"
Freya snickered. "Do we need to find a map?"
Before her partner could reply, a man came staggering from the house on their right, falling to his knees a few feet from the door to begin vomiting into the grass. Brendan and Freya exchanged a quick glance before bolting from the car and running to kneel beside him. As he finished, the man began to list to his left, leaning into Brendan. Freya watched as her partner gently edged the man away from his expelled stomach contents.
"Sir, take it easy, we're here to help," Brendan said, supporting the man.
The man was slightly shorter than Brendan, with neatly trimmed dark blonde hair. His suit told Freya that he probably worked in an office. His face was pale, more of a sickly pale than a light-complexioned pale, which fit with his recent retching fit.
"Dead," the man mumbled, wiping his mouth with the back of his trembling hand. "They're dead . . . all of them . . . dead . . . "
Brendan's posture stiffened as he looked over his shoulder at the house behind him. "Who's dead? What happened?"
The man sat upright, taking his weight off Brendan so he could look at the house as well. "I came home early . . . Maya's been so tired . . . they're all dead . . . I just don't . . . "
Brendan took hold of the man's upper arm firmly, squeezing tightly as he shook the man just enough to jar him out of his stupor. "I need to know who's in the house."
Shaking, the man nodded even though his glazed eyes suggested he still wasn't all there. "Maya . . . my wife . . . and . . . " His voice cracked and lowered. "Our two children. Oh, God." Bowing his head, he put his face in his hands and groaned loudly.
"Freya, get him in the car and call this in. I'm checking inside."
Snagging Brendan's arm, Freya shook her head with a frown. "Brendan, someone could still be in there. You need to wait for backup." Anyone that would kill children wouldn't hesitate to kill an armed man coming after him. As many times as they had done this, she still couldn't shake the cold fear that snaked up her spine and made her shiver.
"If someone is in there, I need to get to them before they leave. Just do it, Freya," he ordered. I'm not arguing about this with you. Get him in the car and stay there until backup arrives.
Freya wanted to protest, to throw a fit and refuse to let him go. But she knew it wouldn't do any good and she knew it would infuriate Brendan. "Fine, but you better be careful," she commanded. She could give orders just as well as he could.
Always am, he thought with a smile.
Freya snorted as she watched him approach the house, drawing his gun when he got to the front door. When he disappeared into the residence, she turned her attention to man sitting next to her. "Sir . . . uh, I'm Freya. What's your name?"
After a few moments of muffled sniffles, the man looked up at her, eyes red and face tear-streaked. "Name? Oh . . . Kevin . . . I'm Kevin . . . my wife is Maya . . . was Maya . . . I told you that, didn't I . . . that her name was Maya?"
"Yes, yes you did," Freya said. "We need to get to the car so I can call for help. Can you come with me?"
He looked confused for a moment until he seemed to process that a car was parked near the curb. Then he looked at her and cocked his head slightly. "Who are you?"
"Freya McAllister. Look, we work for the NSA . . . kind of like the FBI," she added when he continued to look bewildered. "We need to get to the car and call the police."
That he understood, so he nodded and managed to stand up, walking on slightly wobbly legs with her to the car. She helped him into the back seat and then climbed into the front, just as directed by her slightly overprotective and paranoid partner, before calling for the police and an ambulance. She had seen flashes in Kevin's mind and knew from them that his family was beyond medical attention, but she wasn't so sure Kevin didn't need it.
The next few minutes seemed to last hours. Kevin was lost in his shock and his grief, trying to process what had happened. Freya didn't feel like she should prod the poor man, knowing from his thoughts that he hadn't had anything to do with the deaths. She wished she could think of something to help him, but realistically knew there was nothing anyone could say. Mostly she was worried about Brendan. What if whoever had killed this man's family was still inside. When two police cars finally pulled up with lights and sirens going strong, Freya was relieved beyond words. She was getting out of the car to meet them when Brendan came out the front door.
His face was gray, his expression grim. Before she even got a glimpse of what was in his head, she knew it was bad. He walked across the yard, reaching her about the same time as the four policemen. He had his badge out even before they opened their mouth.
"Brendan Dean, NSA, and this is my partner, Freya McAllister. We were driving by when this man came out of his house, looking like he needed help. He said he came home from work early and found his family dead. He's in our car there," he said, waving one hand toward the automobile.
The policeman standing next to Freya, a tall thin man who looked like he'd lost his hair long ago, nodded toward the house. "You take a look?"
Brendan took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His mind replayed what he had seen in graphic detail and Freya had to hold her breath not to gasp. "Yeah. Two kids drowned in the bathtub. A boy that looks to be about four or five and a baby girl of only a few weeks." He shuddered, looking down for a moment as he tried to wipe the image from his mind. "A woman, the mom I guess, is on a bed in one of the bedrooms. There's two empty pill bottles in her adjoining bathroom and a note on the desk that says she's sorry."
"The mother did it?" asked one of the officers, a young man who looked like he was barely out of high school.
"Looks like it," said Brendan. "I didn't touch anything except the woman's neck to check for a pulse."
"Kids?" asked the older officer.
Brenan shook his head, the image in his head making him shudder. "I didn't need to check to tell they were dead."
"Maya did this?" asked Kevin, his voice soft and surprised. He had come up behind Freya and she'd been so distraught from Brendan's thoughts that she hadn't heard him. His face was so pale that she thought surely he would pass out.
Brendan walked over to stand in front of the man, reaching out to take his arm. She wasn't sure if it was for comfort or to steady the man. "I'm afraid it looks like it."
Three of the officers headed for the house while the bald one stayed with the group on the lawn. "Sir, could I have your name?"
Swallowing, Kevin nodded. "My name is Kevin Slayton . . . my wife . . . my wife's name was Maya. This is my fault. I knew she was tired . . . that she was having a hard time since the baby came . . . I just . . ." He ran one hand through his hair, tears beginning to stream down his face again. "I should have seen that she needed help. I almost stayed home today. She said she was okay, but I knew she was tired . . . that's why I came home early, so I could help."
"Kevin, this isn't your fault," Brendan said firmly. "You couldn't have known."
Freya was startled by the voice in Brendan's head. I'm so sorry, Brendan. It was right in front of me and I just didn't realize. Maybe I didn't want to realize what was going on, didn't want to believe that the woman I loved was slowly killing our son. Brendan was sitting at a table, his father sitting across from him. Jeff Dean's hair was only beginning to gray, so it must have been several years ago.
"I never thought she would hurt them, not for one minute. I just thought she was down, you know? I mean who kills their own children? Oh my God, what must have been going through their head when she was . . . they must have wondered where I was . . . why I wasn't stopping her. They must hate me."
Brendan flinched. "No, Mr. Slayton, I assure you they don't. They don't hate you. They may not understand why you didn't come, but I . . . they don't hate you."
Kevin grunted, his voice bitter as he looked up at Brendan. "How would you know?"
Freya wanted to grab Brendan by the arm and run. The tangled cloud of emotions and memories that were rolling around in his head was frightening. She couldn't help but be proud when he straightened himself and looked at Kevin.
"I . . . know someone . . . his mother was sick . . . she hurt him when he was a child . . . could have killed him if his father hadn't finally figured out what was going on. But he doesn't blame his father for not figuring it out sooner . . . and he doesn't even blame his mother. She was sick . . . didn't know what she was doing. I think that's what was going on here." Freya could almost hear his heart racing in his chest.
Kevin studied Brendan, almost as if trying to figure out if he was telling the truth. "But he figured it out before she killed him. I didn't."
"You said your wife had been having problems since the baby was born. How long?"
"Nearly four weeks," he replied.
Brendan nodded with a grimace. "My . . . uh, my friend . . . his mom was poisoning him off and on for over a year. Different illnesses . . . different timeframes. If it had been weeks, he'd be dead."
Kevin looked horrified, his mouth hanging open for several seconds before he seemed to realize and close it. "And this friend . . . he doesn't hate his father . . . for not figuring it out?"
"No. He doesn't blame his father at all. In fact, they're very close. He knows his father would have made it stop earlier if he could. Look, no one likes to think that someone they love is capable of . . . something like this. Most of the time, there's nothing to tell you they are. It just . . . it happens sometimes. You can't blame yourself. This is not your fault."
Freya moved up to stand closer to Brendan, sliding her arm up so she could grip his trembling hand in hers. Emotional turmoil raged inside him and she knew she needed to get him out of here soon. His mind was alternating between flashbacks of the kids in the house and his mother shoving the bottle of "medicine" in his face and demanding that he drink it.
Kevin wiped his face and then nodded at Brendan. "I . . . thank you."
Brendan gave a small nod. "I'm really sorry . . . wish there was more we could do."
The balding policeman reached out to touch Kevin on the arm. "Mr. Slayton, the paramedics are here. How about if we have them make sure you're okay and then I'll need to ask you some questions."
"Okay," Kevin mumbled, looking around as if briefly confused.
"Do you need us for anything else?" asked Freya, anxious to get Brendan away from everything so he could pull his thoughts together.
"Uh, no, not right now, but I'll need a statement from both of you." The officer was staring at Brendan and seemed to realize that the man was shook up. He undoubtedly thought it was simply from finding the bodies of the children, but that was fine with Freya.
Freya pulled a card from her purse and handed it to the officer. "You can reach me at this phone number," she said
The officer looked briefly at the card and then put it in his pocket. "I'll get in touch with you in the morning to set up a time."
"Thank you, officer," she said and then turned to Brendan. "Come on, let's go," she said, prodding him toward the car.
"I'm fine, Freya, you can back off now," he said irritably.
"Well, maybe I'm not," she snapped back. Why did he have to be so stubborn? She grabbed his arm when he headed for the driver's side. "Oh, no, you are not driving with your mind in this state. I'm not in the mood for an accident." She pushed him toward the passenger side of the car. He grumbled, but he got in and closed the door.
"Where are we going? We've missed our meeting."
Freya snorted as she started the car. "I'm not worried about missing a meeting with an informant that may or may not know anything of value. I'm taking you home."
"I don't want to go home," Brendan complained. "I want to go back to the office."
"Tough," she said. Brendan crossed his arms and sulked.
Jeff Dean stood in the hallway, looking at the portrait on the wall. Raising his hand, he let it rest on the face of his wife, holding their child in the family picture. "I just don't understand how you could be so sick as to think this was all right. How could you hurt our son?"
The sound of a door closing down the hall startled him out of his thoughts. Brendan's door. Sighing, Jeff made what seemed like a long walk to his son's room and opened the door. Brendan was sitting in the far corner, one leg drawn up to his chest. He rested his chin on his hands, which were draped across his knee. His shirt lay in the floor along with scattered blocks and pieces of a puzzle he'd been working on earlier. Jeff couldn't help but notice how thin he still was, even though it had been a year since the poisoning had been discovered. Brendan just had a hard time eating very much at one time and his stomach remained easily upset. As he moved into the room, skin stretched over protruding ribs caught his eye, making him wince. The doctor had warned him Brendan might always having problems eating enough and maintaining a healthy weight, something about the lengthy exposure to the poison at such a young age.
"Hey, buddy . . . you okay?" he asked as he picked his way across the room to sit by his son. "Looks like maybe a storm came through your room. And why is your shirt in the floor?"
Brendan continued to stare at nothing for a few moments before straightening to lean against the wall like his father. "I'm sorry. I'll clean it up."
Jeff frowned at his son. No one that young should look that sad. "I'm not worried about the room, kiddo. Tell me what's wrong."
Brendan looked up at his father, his eyes brimming with tears and his lower lip quivering slightly. "Do you miss mom?"
Swallowing hard as he tried to find his voice, Jeff leaned over to pull his son into his lap. "Yes, I miss your mom. Do you?"
"Sometimes," Brendan said, wiping his eyes briefly. He frowned for a few moments, finally looking up at his father. "Sometimes I'm glad she's not here. I didn't like that medicine and it made my stomach hurt. I know you said she was sick and didn't mean to hurt me but . . . " He rubbed his stomach and let his head rest against his father's chest. "I wish she could home and just not give me the medicine."
"Me too, son . . . me too." Jeff wrapped his arms around the small body, fighting the tears that threatened to fall. He knew he needed to be strong for his son. "Brendan . . . I'm sorry I didn't figure out what was making you sick sooner. I just never thought that . . . "
Brendan lifted his head away from his father's chest and looked up at him, eyes wide and bright. "It's okay, Dad. You didn't know. I'm just glad I don't have to stay in the hospital all the time any more. I was scared."
Smiling, Jeff hugged his son a little closer to him. "Me too."
"Do you think she misses us?" Brendan asked, his voice getting softer and more uncertain.
"I think she misses us a lot, like we miss her. She loves you Brendan, just like I love you. She just . . . "
"I know. You told me, remember? Mom is sick so that she doesn't know what she's doing. That's why she can't stay here with us."
"That's right," Jeff said, a little amazed at how much a six-year old could process and remember. "But the doctors at the hospital are helping her get better."
"So she can come home again," said Brendan, his face hopeful.
"I hope so, son. I really do."
Brendan's brow creased in a light frown. "Don't worry, Daddy. We can take care of each other until Mommy comes back."
A huge lump seemed to grow in Jeff's throat, making it hard to speak, while the band around his chest made it hard to breathe. "Yeah . . . we'll be okay. How about I help you pick up your blocks?"
Brendan began crawling out of his lap. "No, that's okay. I got mad and knocked them over. I'll pick them up. I'm sorry I threw my shirt in the floor. I was just . . . " He paused looking thoughtful, before sighing and looking up at his father, now standing beside him. "I was having a tantrum."
Jeff almost laughed, getting his hand in front of his face and pulling up a cough to cover the indiscretion. "Oh, uh, a tantrum huh?"
"Yes," said Brendan, as if disgusted. "Aunt Francine says I'm a spoiled brat."
"Aunt Francine shouldn't say mean things like that. You are not a brat." He wanted to suggest that she should take a gander in a mirror if she wanted to see spoiled, but that didn't seem appropriate to say in front of a child Brendan's age. Besides, the poor boy had been through enough without his father stirring up more strife. "I'll get us some supper while you pick up and then we'll get your bath."
"Okay," Brendan replied, already stacking up his blocks.
"And put your shirt back on before you get cold."
Grabbing his shirt, Brendan looked down at himself and then flexed his arm. Frowning, he let his arm drop back down to his side. "I'm too skinny. I'll never have muscles like you."
"Yes you will. You just need to be patient. You know the doctor said it would take a while to get you back where you need to be. It took a long time to get your stomach so messed up and it's going to take a while for it to get better. Besides, you're fine, Brendan, just the way you are. You don't want to be fat like Aunt Francine, do you?" He felt bad the instant he said it, but it quickly faded as a smile spread across his son's face.
"Ew, no. I'd rather be too skinny than fat like her."
"There you go." He felt bad, teaching his son to make fun of someone who was fat. But Brendan was very perceptive for a child his age and he had a feeling the boy knew they were making fun of something other than his Aunt's weight. Brendan giggled, making him feel better.
"Okay, you keep cleaning up after Hurricane Brendan and I'll go make some chicken strips and French fries." Brendan rolled his eyes, looking more like someone sixteen than six.
Brendan hadn't wanted to talk on the way to his apartment and Freya had respected that. His mind kept going back to his childhood, some memories involving his mother, but mostly memories of what happened after his mother had been institutionalized. He seemed to be trying to figure out how much guilt his father had been carrying around about not figuring things out sooner.
"I could make you something to eat," suggested Freya, watching Brendan yank his refrigerator door open to pull out some bottled water.
"Not hungry and you don't have to feed me all the time. Perhaps you missed the part of the trip where you had to pull over so I could puke on the side of the road," he snapped.
"Hardly. I just thought your stomach might have settled down a little by now and you might be hungry."
He stared at the bottle of water in his hand for a while before putting it back and getting a glass out of the cabinet, ignoring her comment. Rinsing it in the sink a few times, he then put ice in it and filled it with tap water. Taking a sip of water, he glanced at Freya before looking back down at the glass. Way to go, Brendan, now she'll really think you're losing it. Big NSA agent afraid of bottled water. "Maybe I just prefer tap water," he said smoothly, pretending he didn't realize she would have read his thoughts.
Freya shrugged her shoulders and shook her head a few times, thinking it best not to comment. "I didn't say one word."
"You think I'm paranoid."
Sighing, Freya studied her partner. "Brendan . . . "
His head dropped forward and he let out a deep breath. "Look . . . I'm sorry, you didn't deserve that." He lifted his head to look at her. "I just . . . this won't go away. I didn't have to deal with it for so long and then . . . "
"It just keeps slapping you in the face," she finished for him. She wanted to make this go away, if just for a while. Remembering your mother should never be this painful.
"Yeah . . . something like that."
"Brendan . . . I know you said you haven't had to think about this for a long time. Maybe you should just sit down and deal with it . . . get it over with and move on."
Sighing, Brendan walked into the living room and sat on the couch, putting his water on a coaster on the coffee table. "The problem with that is that I deal with things by not dealing with them and I can't do that with stuff like this happening all the time."
Freya stared at him for a moment after joining him on the couch. "You do realize that makes no sense, right?"
"No . . . yes . . . I don't know." Thoughts raced through his head about his father, his mother, and the events of the afternoon. "I never really thought about my mother killing me until today."
"What if my father hadn't figured it out? Would she have kept it up until she did? Would she have carried it that far?" He shuddered, the pain of wondering if his mother would have killed him eating him up inside.
"Brendan . . . does it matter?"
His head whipped around and the anger on his face made her flinch. "What do you mean does it matter? What kind of question is that?"
"Brendan, she didn't know what she was doing. She didn't really understand that she was hurting you. I'm not sure she would be able to comprehend it if she had . . . if she had killed you. The fact is that your dad figured it out, got her away from you, and you survived. The rest is just not important."
He looked like he might argue for a moment before he deflated and sank back on the couch. "I guess you're right." He rubbed his face, looking worn to the bone.
"That was nice . . . what you said to that man. He needed that."
"Thanks." Don't think I don't notice you changing the subject.
"Is it working?"
Brendan smiled briefly. Maybe.
"Can I fix us something to eat now? You may not be hungry, but I'm starved."
He looked at her for several moments before giving a quick nod. "I guess, if you must. I actually shopped last weekend, so there is real food in there for once."
"Good," she said, rubbing her hands together. "I'll just surprise you."
"Knock yourself out," he said. She got up and was almost to the kitchen when Brendan picked up the phone. "I think I'll call my Dad."