Summary: When someone is a mind reader, how much of their empathy for other people is theirs and how much of it is simply the influence of other people?
Authors note: This is my first venture into this fandom. I don't know much about medical practices or police procedure. Forgive me.
Disclaimer: Not mine. No money made.
People had an affinity for Toby. They liked his face, the way he looked at them and really saw them. Oz had seen that right away about Toby the first time he met the guy. Oz was a hell of a lot better people-reader than most gave him credit for. Of course, give Toby five minutes alone with a person and it didn't take him long to freak them out. So even though Toby was flat out one of the nicest guys Oz knew, and people liked him, Toby really didn't have many friends. Toby, despite being a mind reader, sucked at the long term relationship thing.
So Oz made a point of being totally awesome at the long term relationship thing. Oz was a kick ass friend, as witnessed by the double double currently cooling on the dash with Toby's name on it and the fact that even though Oz was bored out of his skull he was still patiently waiting for Toby to send up the bat signal.
Toby, of course, was totally failing to do so. Oz tapped the wheel impatiently, and tossed back the rest of his coffee. The bottom was all sugar syrup and he swished it around a little before giving up and rolling the rim for...oh, please try again. The cup went into the garbage bag under the seat. Oz eyed the clock, weighed his boredom, and reached for Toby's coffee.
"Is that for me?"
"Geeze!" Oz nearly knocked the cup over, but Toby caught it. He was wearing that annoyingly knowing smirk. "Give a guy a heart attack, will ya?" Oz snarked half heartedly, "Boss man'll love that – his own paramedic carted in with cardiac arrest on the job. You're going to get me fired yet."
"Nah. The boss man loves you." Toby had already pried open the lid and was juggling the cup as he buckled his belt with his other hand.
"Really?" But Toby was too busy blissing out over the coffee to answer. Oz started the wagon and pulled out into traffic, "you get what you need?"
"Nothing," Toby said, and the frustration was creeping into his voice, "not even a hit. I don't know Oz, I wasn't really running with a strong thought to begin with."
"Yeah, but you had something right? It'll come to you. It always does." Oz was a kick ass friend and he had absolute confidence in Toby.
"Just a flash." Toby sighed, "Somebody on the edge, thinking about jumping. Or flying." Toby grimaced. " I can't really tell. There might not have been any real intent behind it."
Oz glanced in the review mirror, and took in the height of the building receding into the city skyline. He whistled. "People think stupid things all the time. I bet ninety-nine percent of them don't actually do anything about it."
"Mmmm," Toby hummed non-committally. Oz swallowed the urge to blow a raspberry at his frequently preoccupied friend and got on with the business of driving.
It had started slowly. After Toby had blown Oz away with the whole big telepathic reveal thing, Oz had completely rearranged the little puzzle pieces that had never quite fit with his mental image of Toby. The picture had come together slowly, and that's the only reason Oz figured Toby hadn't plucked the worry right out of Oz's head; there was no big epiphany moment for Toby to latch onto.
Little things, like Toby staving off a lecture from the boss man by offering tickets to a hockey game that Toby didn't actually have.
"Oz." Ryder looked back and forth between the two of them. His expression settled in a familiar, sardonic smirk, "Toby. I've just returned from defending your actions to the board again. I told them you were exemplary paramedics, and I stand behind every harebrained, half-assed, flakey, inexplicable decision you make, because you're my people, and I look after my people. Unless, of course, they prove themselves incapable of toeing the line and must be replaced. But that wouldn't be you, would it? No. You know exactly where the line is and no way would you even consider stepping over it."
Oz tried real hard to keep from twitching under Ryder's gimlet stare, and knew he was wearing the stupid, hang dog expression he couldn't seem to help whenever someone dressed him down. "No sir." He said, "No over stepping lines." Beside him Toby, the lines? What lines? guy, was as silent and helpful as a dead fish. Ryder was staring at Oz like he could read Oz's mind. Toby twitched, and came back to life.
"Won't happen again, sir," Toby lied outright, "look, I had a change of plans tonight, and I won't be able to use the tickets I got to the hockey game." He was doing the whole wide-eyed, intense thing that scared most people off, "I know you're a fan. You want them?"
Ryder's face smoothed into something almost pleasant. "I've been trying to get tickets to that for ages. It sold out almost immediately." His natural suspicion returned, "How'd you get tickets, Logan?"
Toby shrugged, "Just lucky, I guess."
"Bring 'em in at the end of your shift," Ryder said, "I need to hit the bank. How much do I owe you?"
As they hustled out of there, slamming the ambulance doors, Oz hissed at Toby, "Tickets to the hockey game? Since when, you suck up?"
Toby shrugged helplessly, "I don't know, all right? Shit, we have to the end of the shift to get our hands on some."
"We?" Oz asked archly, "I'm not the one with the super mutant mind powers here."
Little things, like Toby arranging sudden dates with Liv.
"Liv, Liv, Liv," Toby schmoozed, "you're looking especially competent today."
"I'm busy," Liv said. She did not look up from the chart she was perusing with unblinking, hungry, bald-eagle like attention. "With the drunk, abusive, aggressive mountain of a head-wound you dumped in my ward."
"I knew you could handle it." Toby said. He was giving Liv that wide eyed innocent face that looked more like an acid trip than a puppy dog. Oz waited for Liv to shoot him into burning rubble.
Her mouth quirked. Toby's eyes got impossibly wider.
"You're good at handling things." Toby said. His hip cocked and he draped himself over the counter to angle his face closer to Liv's.
Oz had to go bleach his brain.
Little things, like the psycho in the back of their ambulance who had a gun that Toby, for some weird unknowable Toby-reason that Oz was going to chew him out for later (because, really, what was the point of having super powers if you didn't get things like this), hadn't known about. A gun said psycho was now pointing at Oz's best friend.
"I know who you are." The psycho said and Oz nearly careened the ambulance into oncoming traffic. This was it. This was the government come to take Toby to some far-off secret government lab where they would do horrible things to him and Oz would never know what ever happened to Toby. God Damn It. Was the psycho American? Secret government labs were always hidden in America. Oz wasn't sure. He sounded kind of flat. He could be American. This was very, very bad.
"You're the friend of that cop. That cop who testified at the LaPaige trial last week."
Fwheew. Oz relaxed. Not a secret government agent then. Just a run of the mill psycho. Oz tensed up again.
"You spend a lot of time together. She likes you." There was blood all over the front of the psycho's shirt. Oz wondered suddenly if it was fake.
"Hey man," Oz called back, because Toby hadn't said a word yet. Toby hadn't even raised his hands when the psycho pulled the gun. "Hospital's coming up soon. We can get you some help. You want help, right?" Oz flicked his gaze between the rear-view window and the road. "There's blood all over you."
"Turn the lights off." The psycho said. He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. Toby took it without being asked. "Follow those directions." The psycho said. Toby passed the paper up. It was a map-quest page, and the directions led right out of the city and northward. "Turn your radio off." The psycho added. Oz flipped the switch.
"I can help you," Toby said suddenly. It was the most animated he had been since the psycho had pulled the gun. "I can get you what you want." He had that look on his face, the one that made his eyes very, very blue.
Uh oh, Oz thought.
The thing is, it doesn't take long to drop off the radar. Sure, the folks back at the office would notice pretty darn fast that one of their ambulances wasn't checking in, that the patient said ambulance was supposed to be transporting never showed up at the hospital. But people never expected the worst. It might take them a bit to decide what to do about it and by the time the missing ambulance would be reported it would already be out of the city. Oz knew this. He didn't figure on there being any kind of bat-man rescue before things got too far. Things had already got too far. Toby was being helpful.
The psycho laughed. "I know you can." He said.
Oz flashed to every torture scene, every horrible demise, and every creepy sexual assault he'd ever seen in a movie. The psycho had that kind of laugh.
"He means he can help you stop that bleeding." Oz said sharply. "Put the gun down, man."
"Shut up." The psycho said. "Just drive."
"Does she tell you things, your girlfriend?" the psycho said. He was still pointing the gun at Toby. "I bet she does. I bet she whispers all her secrets across the pillow. She tell you about LaPaige?"
"You're his brother." Toby said.
There was ice in Oz's veins. After two years in the court system, two years splashed all over the newspapers, Oliver LaPaige had finally been convicted and sentenced for the serial murders of three families. Oliver LaPaige was violent and terrifying and unrepentant.
The psycho was suddenly very quiet. The gun didn't waver.
"You think Charlie planted the evidence." Toby said. His voice was lilting and dreamy. Oz flicked his eyes over the road then fixated on the review mirror again. Toby didn't look frightened at all.
"Ollie's smart." The psycho snarled. "Damn smart. He's always been a cunning little fucker. No way he left anything for the police to find."
"He did it." Toby said. "You know he did it."
"What is wrong with you?" The psycho shouted, and suddenly he was right up in Toby's face. The gun was under Toby's chin.
"Hey!" Oz shouted and swerved into the other lane. The oncoming car laid on its horn and Oz jerked the ambulance back into his own lane. "Hey! Shit! There's no need for that!"
"Are you high?" the psycho said. "What the fuck are you looking at? Are you fucking tripping?"
"Jesus Christ, put the gun down!" Oz shouted.
But Toby just stared at the man. His face was totally blank.
The gunman sneered, drew back the hand with the gun in it, and whipped Toby across the face. Toby went down with an almighty crash. Supplies skittered across the floor.
"Jesus Christ!" Oz shouted again and slammed on the breaks. Everything slid forward.
"Fucking drive!" The gunman shouted, and Oz looked up to see the gun now pointed at him in the rear view mirror.
"No!" Oz said. "I need to check my partner."
They stared at each other in the mirror.
"Pull over." The psycho said. Oz pulled over. His hands were shaking.
"Get up. Slowly."
Oz stood up. He hunched his shoulders against the low ceiling of the ambulance.
"Take three steps."
Oz stepped toward the gunman. He carefully skirted Toby's out-flung arm.
"Turn around. Get down on your knees. Stretch one hand behind your back."
Oz did as he was told.
The cold metal of a hand-cuff snicked closed around his wrist. There was a slight tug and Oz looked over his shoulder to see the other cuff go around Toby's ankle.
The gunman had hazel eyes. Oz had never seen anyone with eyes so empty.
"I don't need you." The psycho said. "You're collateral. Don't try anything." He stood up and stepped over Toby to slide into the driver's seat. He held the gun on Oz the whole time.
The ambulance shifted into drive and pulled back into traffic.
Getting kidnapped had never happened to Oz before. Oz figured he should have factored the possibility in after Toby's big reveal. Didn't people who were friends with super heroes get kidnapped all the time? It was practically in the job description. But, Oz reasoned, they weren't being kidnapped because of Toby's super secret special abilities. They were being kidnapped because Charlie was a hard-nosed, no-holds-barred Dick Tracy type detective and she didn't think to keep Toby freaking leashed to her side. Therefore, it wasn't Toby's fault.
Oz carefully slid his free hand through Toby's hair and along his cheek bone. There was blood, and swelling, and Toby was going to have one hell of a headache, but nothing worse. Oz shifted and cleared a space on the floor next to Toby. He sat back against the side of the ambulance.
C'mon buddy, Oz thought as hard as he could. Wake up. Don't leave me hanging here. Toby stirred. Wake up, Oz thought again. Toby's eyes blinked open.
"Wha..." Toby said. Then his head whipped around to stare at the front of the ambulance before he dropped it against the floor again and moaned.
"Not so fast," Oz said. "Easy now."
Toby rolled his face against the floor until Oz could see one eye glaring irately at him.
There you are, Oz thought. Could have used you when that psychopath was back here pointing a gun at you. Where'd you go Toby? Never Never Land?
"Can you sit up, Toby?" Oz said. "I want to get a better look at you."
"I don't know." Toby said, and Oz wasn't sure which question Toby was answering. Toby sat up slowly and suddenly seemed to realize they were cuffed wrist to ankle.
"Scoot towards me," Oz said. "Your legs over mine. Bend your knees." Don't get shy on me now.
Toby did as he was told and scooted foreword until he was almost sitting sideways in Oz's lap. Oz carefully tilted Toby's chin up. "Can you follow my finger?" Neither of Toby's eyes were blown open or lagging. Oz sighed gratefully.
What's going on in there Toby? You zoned out for way too long.
"I...I don't know." Toby murmured. "I just...I wasn't thinking."
"Headache?" You were going to help the crazy guy! We don't help crazy people do crazy things! That's bad!
"I wasn't...thinking." Toby said again. He scrunched his eyes closed and pressed a fist against his forehead. "It wasn't me. I couldn't think."
"Okay, okay." Oz said. He wrapped his free arm protectively around Toby's shoulders. Oz was a kick-ass friend like that. "We are in the rig. You want a pain killer?"
"No." Toby said. "They don't work on me." He looked at Oz. "I've got a high tolerance."
Oz could read between the lines. Toby meant the kind of high tolerance that came with experience and a built up resistance and a bad history. Do you know where we're going? Oz thought instead.
Toby nodded. He looked down then carefully began tracing letters against Oz's jean-clad thigh.
It wasn't too far out of town then. Not so far that they'd still be on the road by the time the word got out. Hell, the nearest neighbour was probably two minutes away.
Oz snuffed at Toby. Sherlock Holmes you ain't.
"I can't think." Toby said again. "It's not me."
Oz stared at Toby. Something wrong with your mind reading? Your powers are going wonky – now? Bad time, Toby. Very bad time!
Toby looked miserable. For someone who had kept major secrets all of his life, he was ridiculously expressive.
Can you fix it?
"I don't know." Toby said, and covered his ears with his hands. Oz didn't think that was a very effective solution for a mind reader.
"Toby, look at me." Oz said. Pay attention to me. "Can you do that?" Can you focus on me?
Toby fixed wide blue eyes on Oz. That vacant, stupid look he got when he was zoning out and listening to other people's thoughts was back on his face.
Uhhhh, Oz thought, and couldn't believe his mind was going blank trying to think of something to think about. So, how are things between you and Liv? 'Cause I gotta admit, buddy, I just don't get that thing you two've got going on...
Oz chattered in his head until the ambulance pulled to a stop.
The psycho hopped out of the driver's seat and Oz could hear him moving around to the back of the ambulance. The back doors were flung open.
"Un-cuff yourselves." The psycho said. He was pointing the gun at them again. The keys landed with a clink on the floor next to Oz. Toby snatched the keys before Oz did and un-cuffed his ankle. He tossed the keys back to the gunman without un-cuffing Oz's wrist.
"Hey!" Oz said.
The gunman stared at Toby. "Good." He said. "Get out of the ambulance."
They got out. The empty cuff swung against Oz's thigh.
"Walk." The psycho said.
They walked. They weren't too far off the main road. Oz could still hear the occasional noisy vehicle speed passed. It was a run-down old house surrounded by old growth trees. It didn't look much like a cabin. It did look like the kind of place a serial killer might like to cook up and consume the bodies of his victims.
"It's not locked." The man said. "Go inside." They went inside. The kitchen was a cheery yellow and there was an empty dog bowl on the floor next to the door.
"The cellar door is to your left."
Toby went first. He flicked on the light switch without asking where it was. They walked down into the cellar.
"There's a cast iron grate bolted to the wall on the right. Thread the cuff through it."
Oz threaded the cuff through the grate. Toby waited passively beside him.
"Put the cuff back on." Toby grabbed the cuff, fumbled, then clicked it shut around his wrist.
The gunman stared at them. "If your police friend pulls through," He said, "I won't kill you."
Oz didn't believe him for a second.
The psycho clicked the safety on the gun and went back upstairs. Oz could hear him moving across the kitchen floor. The door slammed. After a moment, a motor started up and drove away.
"He's moving the ambulance." Toby said.
Oz started and jerked the handcuffs. "What the hell, Toby! What on earth is wrong with you? Tell me right now!"
"I'm sorry, Oz." Toby said. And he did look really, really sorry. "It's like, he's thinking so loud, so strongly, that I just get caught up in it and I'm thinking whatever he's thinking. I can't help it."
"Shit." Oz said. "Shit, Toby. Is it usually like that?"
"No." Toby said. "I mean, people push but usually I can tell the difference between what's my thoughts and what's their thoughts, you know? I don't have to get moved by them."
Toby hunched his shoulders against the grate. He looked like a puppy that someone big and mean had just kicked for no reason. Oz tried to remember that he was a little upset with Toby at the moment, then figured Toby could probably pick the sudden desire to protectively shelter Toby right out of Oz's brain. Oz sighed and pressed a shoulder of camaraderie against Toby's.
"It's not your fault." Oz said. "We're just going to have to practice. Stretch those mental muscles. Devise some extremely tough and possibly acrobatic exorcises to train the budding mutant cum superhero on his path to vigilante fame..."
Toby huffed and grinned at Oz. It was open and honest and so honestly relieved that Oz had to catch his breath. Toby, Oz realized, didn't often smile honestly. He must have been pretending most of the time.
"So," Oz said. "How are we going to get out of here?"
Author's note: This is a work-in-progress. I don't usually post works-in-progess because I'm a terrible procrastinater and a compulsive re-worker. But this idea has been sitting at the edge of my brain and refusing to go away for months. Please let me know what works and what doesn't. I'm hoping that will spur me on. This is also my first multi-parter. I hope I can do it justice.