A/N: This will cover challenges #7 (A family photo) and #15 (Memories of the past) at LJ's matterothemind. And it's also a missing scene of sorts from Memory of Touch.
He didn't exactly steal his mother's laptop; it was right there on the desk. Brendan just really needed to get that report into the director. The NSA branch office may be closed for another week, but he was sure Harper would be checking his email.
Brendan opened the soft leather case, revealing his ticket to freedom. From boredom at least. The stealthy trip to the judge's office left him elated, even though lethargy tugged at his spirit. Determined, Brendan lifted the computer out of the case, and saw something he thought he'd never see amongst his mother's possessions.
Not just any picture; a family photo taken on the grounds. Grandpa Nolan behind the camera, and Brendan's favorite climbing tree in the background. The memory sideswiped Brendan fiercely; he closed his eyes against the suddenly bright room.
It was late summer, nearly fall. The tree was lush with dark green leaves, and the sun would've been setting soon. Turning the picture over in his hand, Brendan thought he'd find a date. But he knew exactly what day it was; Friday, one week before his life unraveled.
He turned it over again, studying the expressions in his family's faces. Paget, Robert, and Brendan. Oblivious to the hell that would send them into a spiral of blame and despair for nearly twenty years. Let's not dwell on that, shall we?
Casting his mind back, Brendan remembered there would be a bandage on his left knee, if more of his lanky body were in the picture. His mother had to tickle him to make him smile for the camera. But she didn't need to; his father had promised he would come to spend the weekend at Meersdon, and he actually arrived fifteen minutes before this picture was taken. Ordinarily, Robert would work while his family visited the patriarch Nolan. Brendan suspected he liked the quiet; now he knew why.
As Brendan replaced the photo, he noticed another in the pocket. It was small, like the ones taken in a photo booth at an amusement park. His parents were apparently sharing an intense moment, staring at one another with an iconic flower tucked behind each of their ears. Brendan didn't think his parents would be clichéd like that, but they seemed so very young. A second picture had them smiling big smiles, ready for the world and whatever it might throw at them.
He tucked away the photos, feeling guilty and more than a little melancholic. Brendan knew it wasn't his fault for what happened. He really did. However, those pictures left him feeling surprisingly exposed. Pulling the covers over his chilled shoulders, Brendan thought about Freya. When Michael explained to him what it was like to hear all those voices at once, he was embarrassed for acting so childish. Being confronted with his past felt a little like every memory was an open sore. Closing his eyes, Brendan pictured his hall of doors, and how they were ripped open. Just thinking about it gave him a headache, but he was determined to set matters right again. The memories would hurt less if he visited them more often, right?
Opening his eyes, he looked at the family photo again; he could almost feel the gentle breeze that ruffled their hair. So many things had happened since that day, he wondered if he didn't have an eidetic memory, would he be as screwed up today.
Smiling ruefully to himself, Brendan closed the case and turned his attention to the laptop.
As the machine booted up, he cautioned a glance towards the case again. He couldn't help being curious about his parents' picture. Reaching for it, Brendan heard a footfall on the stairs; he snatched his hand back guiltily. Folding the case closed, he hurriedly called up his email account and Word.
A light tap on the door surprised him; his mother had taken to banging then entering. "Scout? You want lunch?"
Do I have a choice? Brendan smiled at Paget as she leaned against his bed. "I'm not –"
"Good! I'll have Martha bring something up for you." The judge cross her arms, tilting her head inquisitively. "I see you found my office."
"Well," Brendan began. "I really wanted to start on this."
Paget shrugged. "It's not like you'll forget what happened to you." Sitting on the bed, she stroked his arm. "I don't mean it like that. Knowing you, you've already compartmentalized it, hiding all your emotion behind some wall."
"More of a room with a door." He shook his head at her confused frown. "Details."
She smoothed back Brendan's hair, hand resting on his cheek. "You're still a bit warm, and I know you haven't slept properly since yesterday."
"Hush." Paget rose from the bed. "I know you don't like me, you know, actually mothering you. But if you don't rest, I'll keep you here for another week."
Brendan relaxed under the warming laptop, letting its heat seep into his cold body. "Mom, I know you want what's best, but if I don't get this off my chest... I just have to do this, okay?"
Paget nodded, and began pacing the length of the bed. "Are you up for a tour?"
"I –" Brendan stopped, seeing the look in his mother's eyes. "I'd love a tour." Throwing back the covers, he placed his feet on the floor, thankful he wore two pairs of socks. Zipping his sweatshirt, Brendan held out his arm for Paget to take.
While she knew she'd be keeping her son upright instead of the other way around, Paget smiled happily. With a flourish, she gestured around the room. "As you know, this was Grandmother Nolan's boudoir. I replaced those old multi-paned windows with double-paned polarized windows. I also had a shower added to the bathroom."
Steering him out of the room, Paget came to the guest room that contained his sleeping father. She smiled fondly at Robert, whom her son so much resembled while asleep. "This is a new suite, that combined a very large, very ridiculous closet and the nursery," she whispered. "Next door, is the upstairs laundry."
"Can you imagine if Granny had an upstairs laundry?"
"You think she'd complain less?"
They laughed together as Paget closed the door to Robert's suite of rooms. She sobered as she came near to eastern side of the house. The judge had paid top dollar to make everything disappear, and the finishing touches bespoke the contractor's skill. Walls were knocked down, doors were added, and only Paget knew where they were different.
The east wing had always belonged to Paget. She drifted past the small room that now served as her office.
"I don't remember this room," Brendan said, thin fingers tracing the desk chair.
"Well, you certainly knew where to find my laptop." Paget guided him through an archway on the opposite side of the desk. On the left, an immense bathroom; the right an immense closet. The narrow pass-through led to her bedroom.
Something was missing.
"Yes. I erased it," Paget said looking hopefully at her son.
Brendan released her, moving blindly towards the office. "This is half of my old room." He wasn't sure if he should feel sad or happy or... Spinning around, Brendan suddenly felt nothing but tired. "I don't... I don't know what to say."
Paget put her arms around Brendan. "Nothing, Pip. I wanted to show you that I am putting it all behind me."
"Behind us, kid." Robert announced from the doorway. "We've all spent too much time on something none of us could control."
Brendan considered his parents, standing before him looking excited and apprehensive and worried. When did they get so old? With a sigh, he crossed his arms, leaning against the desk. Pulling his sweatshirt tighter around his lean body, Brendan stared at the refinished floors. His mother led a successful surgical strike, cutting the necrotized flesh from the wound that was their collective past. Brendan wasn't sure he would've erased all evidence of his childhood room. It was definitely something he had considered, and something he had tried to purge from his vast memory.
Clearing his throat, Brendan let his gaze drift over the small room. "I keep hiding that memory; even when it wants to surface I file it away. Never confronting what I know, never dealing with anything pertaining to that day. Not that I want to forget it completely, it's just –" Brendan stood up straight, hands falling to his sides. "Look, I'm glad that you've come to this decision, really."
His parents looked at each other, then their son, a little bewildered.
Brendan came forward, placing a hand on their shoulders. Nixing all thoughts on a hug, he settled for a bland smile. "Okay. Great," he said cheerily. "Now that I've rendered you both speechless, I have a nap to get to." Stepping around them, he left the room.
"He's a little confused, Pug," Robert said quietly. In truth, he was nearly overwhelmed with anxiety and confusion from his son. I just got rid of this headache!
Paget began pacing in circles. "I don't have to be an empath to see that, Robert." She was torn between going to comfort her son and throttling him to get some answers. "Now he'll just hide in that room or on the back stairs."
"Patience, honey. Patience. I think he wanted to be the first one to come to terms with what happened." Robert Dean stepped in front of his former wife to stop her pacing. "This has been a lot to take in, Paget, you have to admit."
"What do you mean? I thought you liked the changes. Both of you."
"We do, it's just that... When that man attacked Brendan and tore away what little control he had on those memories, it was more than overwhelming." The empath kept his mental shields up, however the onslaught of her emotions battered against them. "That man, Larkin, pushed and pushed until Brendan had no choice but to hide where Larkin wouldn't find him."
Paget frowned, blindly finding a chair. "I know, Jacks. I heard the story."
"Then you know Brendan wasn't ready to face that." Robert shrugged. "At least not that way. It's like lemon juice on an open sore."
"Thanks for the visual," she deadpanned. "I know it's hard for him. For all of us. I can't help but to wonder if all this didn't happen, would I have my son and my husband under the same roof again?"
Robert crossed his arms tightly across his chest. The despair rolling off her was palpable, and he felt a headache creeping up at the back of his skull. He never thought his family would stress him out like this. "All you had to do was ask, Paget." He held out a hand, pulling her to her feet. "Brendan has always tried to please you; he would've come to you, no matter what."
"And then what?" She suddenly needed to feel warm. Wrapping her arms tightly around the man. "I did this for him. He knows, right?"
Robert squeezed her tightly. "Yes. I know he does."
Brendan paced his room, pausing at the largest window. He felt the implanted memories closing in on him, causing his headache to escalate. Scrubbing his hands through his hair, he tried to alleviate the dull pain. Memories and images flitted behind closed eyelids like a shaky film camera. Yet, as quickly as they appeared, the images vanished. While it was getting easier to control the pervasive memories Larkin had implanted, the onslaught still left Brendan disoriented and very tired.
Breathing deeply, he watched the trees sway in a light breeze. Curling up in a chair, Brendan let the muted silence swallow him.
He retreated to his imaginary hall of doors; the debris was less and the trauma nearly gone. Memories were about as organized as they would get for now. Everything was nearly bearable, in fact. Brendan even replaced the battered door that held his worse memory. A new lock in a shiny new door. Beyond was a representation of his old room, now sunny and bright. Even his memory had moved on!
:You know she's just looking out for you, right?:
Sighing internally, Brendan focused on his younger self. "Yeah, yeah, I get it. I just… Well…"
:You wanted to do it all by yourself. Cathartic, I know.: The boy circled the older man, hands clasped behind his back. :Are you seriously going to whine about this? Come on, Brendan! Mom showed an emotion other than displeased!:
Brendan stilled within and without. "Oh, my God. She did!" The agent shook his head at his own missed observation. "Cut me some slack. I've been a little off lately."
Appraising his older self, young Brendan nodded once. :Actually, you don't look so great. You should sleep for a while.:
"I'm so close to finishing," Brendan said weakly.
:Oh, stop. You know you can't lie in here, so don't even try.:
He had seen his reflection yesterday, and found a spectre staring back at him. Haunted eyes, hollow cheeks, and pale, pale skin. "I just need a little more time, and it'll all be back to normal. Well, as near as I can get it."
The boy fell silent, toeing the smooth floor with his shoe. :Listen,: he began, crossing his arms. :This shouldn't come as a surprise, but –:
"You're going away."
:Yeah, Brendan. I am.: Pointing to the new pictures lining the room, the boy smiled. :I'll be around. When you need me, that is. But I don't think we'll be able to talk. Not like this anyway.:
Grinning, the older version placed his hands on the younger's shoulders. "For what it's worth, we made a good team."
The boy eyed the taller man suspiciously. :You do realize you're talking to yourself, right? Is this something we'll have to talk about with the shrink?:
Brendan tried to look hurt. "So if I ever need help escaping megalomaniacal telepaths..."
:I'll trust you to use your powers for good.:
"I thought I was!" Shaking his head, Brendan stepped back, ruffling the boy's hair. "I can't believe I ever this short."
Young Brendan snorted. :I can't believe I let my hair do that!: He pushed the older man out of the room. With a smile, the boy shut the door.
Laying a hand on the pristine door, the agent gave a rueful smile. "See ya around." The door disappeared, leaving only a faint outline.
From the outside, Brendan felt cold and uncomfortable. Opening his eyes, he found a darkening room. Uncurling from his position in the chair, he stretched stiff muscles. Glancing out the giant window, Brendan saw lights on in the kitchen.
Suddenly, he felt a little hungry. Pulling on slippers, Brendan made his way down the secret stairs. He made a plan to thank his mother, even if she stole his thunder.