Hi! I owe everyone an incredible thank you. Each and every one of you – especially Master Li, Piper Julian, , WickedBluerose, rivendellelve, Raven100104, jmss7, miikkuli, ABrownie, marchforward, NightSpear, Kinokiita-tenshi, Here To Annoy, alienpuffin, Alluring Alliteration, gabriel42, Alligates, Whirlwind421, Whirlwind421, inkspell21, and guests. Whoooo! That's quite a list. Every single review, every single note reminded me to come back to this story, and this chapter never would have happened without you guys. So thank you – you have been my driving muses.
That said, I haven't seen any Listener since season one, and I found the new episodes on Shaw to get back into the grove. My viewing experience went a little like this: I love this show! I forgot how much I loved this show. Wait, who are these people? Where's Charlie? Ray? Is that Lieutenant Ford?! Aw...Oz! I love Oz!
So, yeah. This fic is obviously completely behind the times now. Ummm...time machine?
Oz's mom had been baking. Most of the food would go to the restaurant, because she never had quite got the hang of baking for less than forty people – especially when she was upset.
Oz's mom was upset.
"I don't understand why you don't just stay here." She shoved the rolls into the oven and slammed the door shut. Her back was as stiff as an angry cat's. "You have no idea what your father and I were going though, when they called us about...about you going missing." The oven mitts were tossed haphazardly across the counter. One slid precariously to the edge, tipped, and fell to the floor. Oz's mom ignored it.
"Osman, beibei, your father is getting older and his heart is not so good anymore. He cannot handle this kind of stress. When you said you wanted to be a paramedic, we did not imagine it would be so dangerous!"
"Mom, it's really not that dangerous. This was a one-time only freak event. Really. I promise."
"That is not true. That friend of yours..."
"Is always getting into trouble. You're a good boy, Osman," She came to stand directly in front of Oz, reaching up to cup his face in motherly-soft hands. "A good man. You stand by your friends, and that's exactly the kind of man we raised you to be. But this boy..."
"Does not make wise decisions. And I know I am just your mother, and no son ever tells his mother everything...
"But I fear what we have heard of his escapades is only the edge of the iceberg."
"Tip of the iceberg."
"And I fear what you do and where you go when you are with him." She searched his face for some reassurance.
"You're right." Oz told her, and wrapped his hands around her wrists. "I am exactly who you raised me to be, and that means I stand by my friends. Toby isn't a bad person, Mom. Remember how he helped us, when the restaurant was in trouble? Remember?"
Doubt crossed her face.
"He's the best kind of person, Mom. I promise. And right now, he needs my help – our help – and we owe that to him. At the very least, you owe him a little understanding."
"I'm not..." She stepped back, struggling to express herself. "I do understand, Osman. He is your friend, and you have to make these kinds of decisions on your own, but your father and I...what I don't understand, is why you would go away from us now! We were so worried! Why can't you just stay here?"
There was absolutely nothing believable OZ could admit. He racked his brain (telepathy on the fritz? A pathological need to escape humanity? Zombie contagion?) and let the silence drag on too long. His mom's expression hardened.
"Oz," She said, using the nickname like a weapon, "Are you in love with this boy?"
Oz's jaw dropped. "Mom!"
"Carly has explained things to me." Carly was a young waitress who worked the early shift in Oz's parents' restaurant. She had pink hair and rainbow spacers in her ears. "Things are very different for you than they were for your father and I. We came to Canada – but you were born Canadian. And in Canada, it is very common for people to love other people of the same gender. Carly said she herself went through a stage of 'bi-curiosity'..."
"Mom!" The word was strangled.
"And it would be okay. Osman, I would explain things to your father and he would understand, too. You are Canadian."
"Mom, I am not in love with Toby!"
"Then why," She demanded, "would you choose him over your family at such a terrible time?"
"I'm not...I'm not choosing him over you! Toby is family, too, Mom. He is my best friend."
"You've had other friends. And you've never been so devoted."
Oz shook his head. "Not like this, Mom. I wasn't...in school, I wasn't the most...I wasn't anybody's first choice. I had friends, but they moved on and...that was that."
She shook her head, frustrated and refusing to believe that anybody hadn't seen her son for what he was. "You have more cousins than you know what to do with."
"And I have to get on a plane to see any of them. Mom, Toby's the kind of friend who'll be around to have rocking chair races when we're a hundred. Please, trust me. I'm not choosing him over family. He is family. And that's as far as it goes. I swear."
She took a deep breath, her eyes wide and anxious. "Osman, please don't go. Stay. Have dinner with us. Bring your friend...Bring Toby and spend time with your family."
"Mom." Oz reached forward and pulled her into a hug. She clung to him tightly. Oz felt awful. "I can't, An-ne. I promise, I wouldn't be going if it wasn't important. Please understand. This is important."
"You never had secrets from me before you met Toby. You never did anything dangerous."
"I haven't changed, An-ne."
She sniffled, squeezed him tight, and stepped away. "Ugh!" She tossed her hands up in disgust and whirled around to pick up the fallen oven mitt. "Why would you listen to me, anyway? I'm just your mother."
"Mom, I always hear what you say. But I'm all grown up now. I have my own life, too."
"Yes, well. You don't look after yourself well. I was over at your apartment the other day, and the pot in the sink was turning green! What kind of man can't even wash his own dishes?"
"The bachelor kind. Don't go over to my apartment and wash my dishes for me. It's embarrassing."
"It's my job to worry."
"I know." Oz sighed, and snatched up a piece of fresh bread. He stuffed it in his mouth and the unsettled feeling under his skin slowly faded. "As soon as we get back, you can have everybody over for dinner. Heck, we'll have a party, how about that?"
"And then, maybe, you could stay the night here? Sleep in your old room for a few days? Just until your father stops worrying so much?"
Oz laughed. "Yeah. Sure, Mom. Just until Dad stops worrying so much.
"I'm worried about you." Olivia's voice was low over the phone, her words measured. "You haven't been out much since...since everything happened."
"It's only been a few days." Toby hedged. He stared at the ceiling, his head tipped over the armrest of the couch in front of his TV, his feet stretched out over the other end.
"And all of the sudden, you're leaving town on this harebrained..." She trailed off, took a deep breath. "This isn't like you, Toby. You're not one to leave like this."
If Toby had been in the same room as Olivia, he would have agreed with her immediately. Even without her influence, he wanted to agree with her. "I just need to get my bearings again. Things have been a little stressful."
"I could come with you. I have leave saved up."
Toby hesitated. The moment stretched between them like something fragile. Even without reading her mind, he knew she would take what he said next to heart. "Maybe, after I came back, we could talk about going somewhere. Just the two of us. I would rather...it be about us than about...what this is about." Toby trailed off weakly, desperately wishing he could hear what she was really thinking.
Olivia sighed. "Yeah. What is this about, Toby? Really?"
"Just - things. Kicking around in my head. Things I need to deal with to get back in the game."
There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
"I need to get back to work. Are you going to be okay, Toby?"
"I'm fine. I promise. Do you want me to call when you're done your shift?"
"No. No, I'm probably going to run late. I'll text. Let you know when I'm off."
Neither of them hung up.
Then the dead air silence of Olivia's cell phone disconnecting. Toby hit the off button and pressed the cell phone against his forehead.
For the millionth time, he considered telling Olivia his secret. What would she say? How would she react? Toby ran through an imaginary conversation in his head.
Olivia, I'm a telepath.
Olivia, I'm an X-man.
No, thank you Oz.
Olivia, I know exactly what you're thinking.
She would be angry, Toby thought. He had invaded her privacy, looked uninvited at her most intimate secrets, and stolen her most confidential thoughts. How could she forgive such a breach of trust? Even if she forgave him, how could she forget? Every time he came close, she would be thinking...she would be trying to figure out if he was reading her mind. And he would be, because he couldn't help it. How could she ever feel comfortable around him?
He couldn't tell her. Not yet.
The longer he waited, the worse the confession would be.
A feeling like falling washed over him, and Toby struggled to breathe through it. Not me, he told himself. That's not me. But he wasn't sure. He couldn't ever be sure.
Ray knocked on the door for the third time, listening intently for any noise on the other side. Was that rustling? Ray rattled the door handle. "Toby?"
There was a thump, then the shuffle of feet toward the door. Ray heard the lock turn and Toby let the door swing open.
There were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair stuck straight up on one side and lay flat and greasy on the other. Toby blinked at Ray.
"Can I come in?"
"Uh, yeah," Toby shambled back on socked feet and made room for Ray to pass. "Please."
"How are you feeling, Toby?"
The apartment looked like a bird's nest. There were dishes on the coffee table, blankets stuffed partway under the couch cushions, a trail of clothing scattered haphazardly on chairs, side tables, and even the floor. The couch was at the center of it all, like Toby had been living there and just collecting everything around it.
Normally, Toby's living spaces were strictly kept and tidy. It was a habit he had picked up in foster care and one that provided a small oasis in the clutter of human thought that always surrounded Toby.
This looked like Toby was losing control.
"I'm fine," Toby answered automatically, than shook his head. "I need help." Toby sat down on the couch and looked around as if seeing it for the first time. He nudged at a pillow on the floor with his toe. "Obviously, I guess."
"This is normal, when someone has experienced a crisis. Even for people without any special abilities." Ray reminded Toby gently.
"I'm not normal people," Toby scratched at his elbow, a worry habit Ray hadn't seen in a very long time. "I can't afford this kind of...I can't focus. I keep thinking about cutting the cable because I can't afford it, and there's mice in the storage locker again, and freakin' lunch bag let down – I wish Mom would quit with the peanut butter - , and I've already gone through two bottles of antihistamines because when will allergy season end already, and I'd kill for a deep muscle massage because I've thrown my back out for the third time, and..." Toby tugged at his hair. "I can't wait for the new season of What Not To Wear."
Ray reached out and carefully pried Toby's hands away.
"I ate an entire jar of strawberry jam because I couldn't stop craving strawberries," Toby admitted dejectedly. "Pregnancy food cravings."
Ray turned Toby's hands palm up and massaged circles into the center, concentrating on relaxing the tension he could feel there. "Can you hear what I'm thinking?"
"It's...you're worried. It's been a long time since I was last this out of control – I was a child. This stopped happening after I became an adult."
"You learned who you were. Children are malleable. They are not certain of themselves yet. Adults are harder to sway."
"But not impossible." Toby's breathing had slowed as he became more relaxed, and the stiff line of his shoulders noticeably lowered. "Trauma changes us." He locked eyes with Ray. "A violent readjustment of our perception of reality."
Ray nodded. "When something like that happens, we tend to feel uncertain. We second guess ourselves, and we second guess how we define ourselves."
"And that uncertainty clouds where my lines are drawn."
Ray smiled. "Do you feel more focussed?"
"Yes." Toby squeezed Ray's hands. "Thanks."
"You're welcome." Ray sat back. "But this is only a temporary solution. You can't center yourself on another person, Toby."
"I know. I'm working on it."
Toby smiled wryly at Ray. "Remember when we used to go camping? I bullied Oz into going with me. We'll get away for a bit and I'll work on it."
"Oz is a good friend. He was the first person to call me and tell me what happened."
"The best." Toby agreed. He ducked his head. "I would have asked you..."
"You know I would be willing, Toby, but you don't have to feel obligated, either."
"You helped me. You always help me. But I think this is something I need to lean to do on my own. Only..." Toby shrugged self deprecatingly. "I don't want to go alone. So. Oz."
"I think," Ray said carefully, "That your willingness to do this without a security blanket," Toby grinned, picking up the gentle humour Ray was carefully disguising while he was in business mode, "indicates a certain optimism about the outcome."
"Oh, good. I'll just borrow that inkling for a bit, hey?"
"You do that." Ray patted Toby's shoulder. "In the meantime, you know my number, you know where I live, any time, night or day."
Olivia only had forty-five minutes left on her shift when the alarm went off in room 306. The team sprung into action , and she didn't for one second think about that fact that the life under her hands belonged to Andy LaPaige.
Author's Note: According to google, 'An-ne' is the proper pronunciation of anne, the turkish word for Mom. My appologies if it's not correct (feel free to let me know!). I figured Oz would slip between the english Mom (everyday conversation) and the turkish Anne (more intimate in a duel-language family - the equivelant of 'Mommy') when having an awkward converstion like this. ^_^ Poor boy.