Disclaimer: I do not own The Listener or any associated characters.

Part Twelve

The only of his winter clothes Ray bothered to remove were his gloves, and those he kept crunched between his hands. He sat on the edge of his seat on the couch, leaning over his knees. His tone was equal parts near-familial concern and Archimedean enthusiasm: Toby could feel the eureka moment in question being played repeatedly in the man's head.

"You're talking about mind control," said Toby numbly. It didn't have to make sense, he thought. He didn't live in that kind of world.

Ray looked at him for a moment, and then nodded. "I suppose so," he said. "But that's really an oversimplification. And it wouldn't be possible to make you do anything. It's closer to hypnotic suggestion than anything else."

Toby ran his hands over his face. Mrs. Stein was checking her morning mail; enclosed was an envelope from a magazine to which she'd mailed a short story. He'd missed that. Probably happened during his deaf stint. "How does it work?" he asked.

Ray smiled slightly. "When you hear - sound, I mean - your brain has to process it. Speech enters your ears as little more than vibration, which, by the time you consciously deal with it, has been translated into the sensation of sound. That sound is then connected to its meaning, and you hear. Your telepathy works in much the same way."

"How does that have anything to do with mind control?"

"Whatever Q does, it robs you of your ability to process, not receive." Ray paused, as though expecting an epiphany on Toby's part. "You were still taking in thoughts, but instead of being translated into sensation, they were translated straight into meaning. This explains your 'intuition' earlier, as well."

Toby blinked, and leaned back in his chair. "Then how come that only happened once? And you're still not telling me anything about mind control, Ray."

"It might take a certain amount of intent to break through Q's silencing effects. You wouldn't be equipped to handle pure meaning in the same way. I'm therefore led to believe that -"

Toby sat bolt straight, so violently he could feel his vertebrae realigning. "The handyman. Quickley wanted me to find him."

Ray shifted. He set his gloves down on his knee. "It's entirely possible."

"Why?" Toby asked. His own mind was now revolving out of control. For every new question he had to suppress, he felt himself being wound tighter.

Ray's eyes were alight, but his posture expressed worry. "That's where the suggestion comes in." He stood up, and paced around the opposite end of Toby's coffee table. "He needed to be able to plant an idea - ideas, possibly - in your mind. 'Ignore the poison's source,' for example. If you're taking a powerful thought in, but aren't able to separate it out from your own . . ."

"Oh," said Toby. Something in him deflated, and he fell back in his seat. He tried to remember one of the questions which had plagued him mere seconds ago, and came up blank. So he searched for a new one. "So how'd that affect you? You missed it, too."

Ray faltered. "I'm not sure," he said.

Toby, still struggling to keep a hold on himself, pressed his hand against the side of his face. Ray ran a hand over his head. "We have an idea, now," said Toby. "So that's good."

"Yes," Ray agreed.

"We need to do something," said Toby. "Go back to Quickley's apartment; see what he has to say."

Ray crossed his arms. "How much of your telepathy do you have back?"

Toby gingerly pushed himself out of his chair. "Most of it," he said. "And I haven't lost control yet."

"I'll come with you," said Ray. He pulled his gloves back on. "Should we call your detective?"

Toby crossed the room, grabbed his coat, and tucked his cell phone and wallet into separate pockets. "I'm sure she's busy," he said.

And they were on their way.

Olivia was light on her feet when she arrived at the hospital that morning. Worry clouded a part of her mind, but only a part. Oz noticed when they saw each other. "What's up with you?" he asked. Olivia hesitated.

"Toby said he'd tell me," she said after a beat.

A strange expression crossed Oz's features. "The big thing?" he asked.

Olivia adjusted her ponytail. "Are there little things he's not telling me?"

"You've already gotten him into bed. I dunno how to answer that." Oz rubbed the back of his neck. "What'd he say?"

"He said -" Olivia inhaled. "- he said he hadn't been fair to me, and that when all this is over, he's going to tell me. He said there was a reason he does the things he does."

Oz's eyebrows flitted towards his hairline. "Whoa. That's big." A beat. "I'm surprised you haven't killed yourself over thinking it."

Olivia smiled, and glanced down at her watch. "Did that last night," she said. "I decided it wasn't worth it. Hey, look, I have a patient. I'll talk to you later." She touched his shoulder, and began walking quickly down the hallway. There was a definite spring in her step.

"Good luck," Oz called after her, and she didn't hear.

As luck would have it, Quickley wasn't home. "Are you sure he isn't in there?" asked Ray.

Toby pressed around in the apartment, but there was no response. "There's no one there," he said. He leaned against the door. "What do we do now?" he asked.

"We could wait here," said Ray.

Toby shook his head, and glanced down the hallway. "What if he's moved?" he asked. "You said it yourself - he wanted me to find him last time. What if that's changed?"

Ray smoothed his scarf, and eyed the door. "What'd he say the last time you spoke with him?" he asked.

"He said we'd talk when the Q wore off."

Ray nodded. "Well, it's wearing off. We know that much. Even if we can't find him, he'll find you, eventually."

"By which point I'll be too screwed up to pick anything out of his head." Toby weakly slammed the door, in an unconvincing simulation of anger. What was he supposed to be feeling? He couldn't help but wonder. "I'm sick of this," he said.

Ray leaned into the wall next to him. "Not necessarily," he said. "He's trying to give the appearance of legitimacy. If he wants to maintain his front, he'll have to talk to you when you're . . . yourself."

"What if he doesn't?" said Toby. "I just - I don't even know what's happening, Ray. None of this makes sense."

Ray observed him sympathetically. I've helped you through some unusual problems but this one well if anyone can handle it and it's still not as bad as I feared . . .

Toby exhaled. "What were you worried about, Ray, that was worse than this?"

"You know damn well," said Ray. He put a hand on Toby's shoulder, and pulled him away from the door. "Come on. It won't do us any good to wait around."

Toby wished, not for the first time, that he could run off and get drunk like anyone else. Quickley's (former?) neighbors murmured in his skull, their thoughts as subdued as their neighborhood. It was the kind of place Toby thought he might like to live, far away from the noisy ups and downs of his community's various marriages and friendships. He'd buy a beige sedan, get an office job, and the only foreign dreams he'd have to sift through in the morning would be about tax returns and hockey games.

Yeah, he thought. He'd put up with that.

Olivia scanned the chart with patient eyes. It was a routine checkup, the man's first of the year. He wasn't allergic to any medication and he had no known medical conditions. She doubted the exam would take long.

She slid into the room, in the process of digging a pen from her coat pocket. "Mr. Floss," she said. "How are you doing today?"

Floss smiled at her. "Fine. Just thought I'd make sure I'm staying that way."

Olivia smiled back. "Well, if you could remove your shirt, we can start." Floss complied, and Olivia pulled her stethoscope to her ears. "Breathe deeply."

"Is this the hospital where that EMT collapsed?" asked Floss once she'd finished.

Olivia looked at him strangely. "Your lungs sound good," she said. "And yeah. Why do you ask?"

Floss studied her for a moment. "I knew the guy who died because of him," he said. "He was a good friend of mine."

Olivia returned her stethoscope to its proper place around her neck. "Oh," she said softly. "I'm sorry."

Floss shrugged. He smiled in an unusual, half-hearted way, and pulled his shirt back over his head. "No. He was a jackass, you know? Wouldn't call me anything but Stevie. Even when I asked him to write me a character recommendation . . ." He trailed off. "Do you know the guy? The paramedic? Does he still work here?"

Olivia's lips tightened. "I - he's on medical leave. It wasn't his fault, you know."

Floss smiled again. "Sure," he said. "I'd still like to talk with him."

"I'm afraid I can't help you," said Olivia politely. There was something off about the guy, she thought. And with everything that had been going on with Toby, she didn't want to add a stalker to the list. "Now, look, I have to finish this exam, so if you could step onto the scales over there -"

Floss stood up, but he didn't move towards the scales. "Do you know about him?" he asked. His voice was casual, his demeanor unthreatening.

Olivia's mouth opened, just slightly. "I don't know what you're talking about," she said. He eyed her.

"I guess not," he said amiably. "Ah, well. Could you deliver a message for me?"

Olivia moved one foot just slightly towards the door. "Depends on what it is," she said.

Floss smiled again. "Tell him his dose is due," he said. He rolled his shoulders, glanced at his chart on the desk. "Thanks, Dr. Fawcett, for your time." He ran a hand through his hair, and the left the room without another word.

Olivia turned to watch him, and somehow he was gone. An ominous sensation settled into her gut. She didn't know who that was, but she was calling Toby.