With grateful thanks to fh20s who allowed me to 'steal' large chunks from 'Something to Hide' and didn't mind me shamelessly altering the explanation for Richard's attitude to fit in with my own view of him. Thanks also to Roa1 for beta reading fh20s' original story and Rachaeljurassic for beta reading my amended version.
Nothing to Hide
Richard Barrett sheltered in the narrow shop doorway and watched as Craig ran towards him through the driving rain. He couldn't help but notice how effortlessly his friend moved, every part of his body in perfect harmony.
How athletic we are, Richard thought to himself as he reflected on the abilities the Tibetans had given them.
"OK, I've reported in. The bad news is that intelligence says tonight's the night, so we're stuck here until something happens or until morning, whichever comes first," Craig announced, as he slid into the doorway next to his colleague.
"Marvellous, only another four and a quarter hours until 8 a.m. then we can knock off," Richard said gloomily.
The confined space forced them to stand very close together and Richard shivered as Craig's rain-soaked arm brushed against him. He pressed himself as close to the side wall as possible in an effort to increase the space between them, trying to avoid getting even wetter than he already was.
"You OK?" Craig asked, feeling the small tremor that Richard had been unable to suppress.
"Oh sure, I'm just fine," Richard responded, deliberately injecting sarcasm into his tone. "Except for the fact that I'm cold, wet and tired that is. I just want to go to bed."
"You don't have to be like that, you're not the only one who's been stuck out here for hours, you know. I feel the same as you do," Craig said.
I know but that's hardly any consolation is it? thought Richard testily. Aloud he said,
"Sorry, I'm tired out that's all. I just wish this assignment was fini...,"he broke off as the distant sound of an approaching car came to his ears.
"About time!" Craig said, his body tensing with anticipation.
The car pulled up at the end of the street, two men spilled out, then it took off at speed.
"Damn, only two of them," Richard said.
The door of the shop opposite opened and a man emerged. One of the men from the car turned on his torch and the man who had come out of the shop headed for the rendezvous, guided by the light. As soon as the men were all together Richard and Craig broke cover and tackled them. A short tussle followed and the torch went out. This had no effect on the two Nemesis men who, with their enhanced eyesight, could still see perfectly clearly. They made short work of the opposition and, before the three men could properly take in what had happened, they were in custody and Richard and Craig headed back to their hotel.
Richard lay in his hotel bed listening to the sound of the shower and wishing that his friend would get a move on. The noise of the water stopped and Craig emerged with a towel wrapped around his waist, his hair dripping a little and tiny droplets of water gleaming on his wet chest.
Bloody hell! Richard swore inwardly. How can he be so relaxed when we're likely to be stuck here for God knows how long? Why can't he look a little less pleased with himself for once?
Craig sat on the edge of the other bed and began to towel himself dry. It was some moments before Richard realised he was glowering at his colleague and, with an effort, he pulled himself out of his morose reverie and looked away. By the time he glanced back, his friend was in bed and, a short time later, asleep.
Richard lay there wondering what he could do about the situation. He'd been hoping that they'd have the case wrapped up tonight and they could go home. The fact that only two men had turned up for the rendezvous had put paid to that, and there was no way of telling how long they were likely to be stuck here. Richard looked enviously across at his slumbering friend, he was so tired himself he wasn't sure how much longer he could manage without succumbing to sleep. And that was the nub of his problem; he was afraid to sleep for fear of what he might unwittingly reveal to his friend when he did. In an effort to keep himself awake he allowed his mind to range over the past.
When he'd first met the old man in Tibet and learned about the powers he and his two friends had been granted Richard had felt uniquely privileged. He'd been profoundly grateful that the three of them had even survived and to learn they had been given more than just their lives back had been wonderful. He hadn't realised the down side of their new found abilities until later. They'd made their way back from Tibet, marvelling at the way their bodies were now able to do just about anything they asked of them. It wasn't until after the three of them had submitted their reports and Richard had returned to his flat that the implications of the mental link that they now shared had hit him. As a result of the connection Craig and Sharron would be privy to his innermost thoughts and feelings. It wasn't that he had anything particular that he wanted to hide; it was just that he didn't want to share everything that went on in his head with his two colleagues. Sharron was almost a stranger and he'd never been comfortable with the idea of baring his soul to someone he hardly knew. They'd only met on the last mission and hardly talked at all until the long trek back across the mountains after the crash and the encounter with the Tibetans. Although they'd got to know a fair bit about one another during the journey home he still didn't consider her a close friend. He didn't really want Craig to know all his thoughts and feelings either, even though he'd liked him from the first moment they'd met and they'd worked well together straight away. Gradually their working relationship had developed into a friendship. They'd talked together about many things but that didn't mean he wanted the other man to be aware of his every thought, especially as his colleague had a tendency to tease. So, unless Richard had chosen to share it, Craig hadn't had any idea of what went on in his friend's head. Until Tibet.
After the three of them had checked in with Tremayne, they'd gone out for something to eat together before returning to their respective flats. For Richard the euphoria of, not only surviving but also, successfully completing the assignment lasted right up until the next day and the moment when he was about to kiss his date goodnight. Then it hit him; the old man had confirmed they had a telepathic link and that meant Craig and Sharron would know. Richard pulled away from the girl sharply, as he mulled over the implications. Craig and Sharron would know everything he did. Oh God, what was he going to do? It wasn't as if he wanted to do anything outrageous with the girl, it was just that he had no desire to indulge in intimate activities with Craig and Sharron as an invisible audience. He'd made his excuses to the puzzled girl, driven home and gone straight to bed. He'd hardly been able to sleep for worrying about the situation over the next couple of days and he'd arrived back in work on the Monday morning feeling exhausted and full of trepidation. He'd been afraid to meet his colleagues' eyes at first, in case they read the truth about how much he disliked the possibility of them being able to read his thoughts. His discomfort might lead them to believe he had something earth-shattering to conceal. When at last he'd got up the courage to actually look at them, his friends' attitudes to him seemed just as relaxed as usual. Obviously they hadn't picked up on what he was feeling. Richard's profound relief was tempered with nervous anticipation, because there was no guarantee that the situation wouldn't change, realisation could hit them at any time. Richard vividly remembered the old man telling him that they would have to learn to use their powers. There was no way of predicting how long that would take. In the meantime Richard would be living in constant fear of having his privacy violated.
In bed that night he'd lain awake for hours worrying about how uncomfortable the mental link made him feel. When he'd finally fallen asleep he'd dreamed that Craig and Sharron had walked calmly into his flat and started picking up and examining all his possessions while he sat helplessly watching. He'd attempted to get up to stop them but found he had no power over his limbs. Over and over he'd tried, getting more and more desperate, until he finally woke up, tangled up in his sheets and sweating profusely. The next few nights were spent in a similar fashion. The more Richard tried not to think about the mental link the more difficult it seemed to get and the nightmare returned time after time, getting more and more horrific with each repetition. In the dream Craig and Sharron soon grew tired of simply examining objects he had on display and started rifling through all his cupboards and drawers, commenting to each other about what they found. Then it got much worse and he dreamed that Sharron held him down while Craig wielded a chain saw.
"Don't worry Richard, this won't hurt, we just need to see what goes on inside your head," Sharron had said, in what was evidently intended to be a reassuring tone.
He'd struggled frantically but was unable to throw her off and Craig had carefully placed the blade of the saw just above Richard's left temple. Then he'd switched it on and calmly started to slice off the top of his colleague's head. Richard had been woken on that occasion by his own screams.
The extreme strain he was under was starting to affect his attitude at work. He was struggling to concentrate and was getting more and more irritable as the days wore on. He'd felt awful that he'd snapped viciously at Sharron when she'd mildly asked him if there was anything wrong. He couldn't carry on this way but he didn't know what the hell he could do about it, it was getting to the point when he was afraid to sleep because of the horror the nightmares plunged him into. He managed to keep himself awake for a couple of nights but all that did was make him feel even more irritable. He got a temporary reprieve from the bad dreams one night when he'd been unable to keep himself awake any longer and he'd fallen into a deep and dreamless sleep.
Later that day, when Richard had cracked a few jokes, in part due to the relief he felt from having had a decent night's sleep, Craig had told him he was happy to see him relax. The conversation had taken an unnerving turn just after that.
"I know what's been bothering you," the American had said.
"Sure, it's the mental link isn't it?"
"The mental link?" Richard had echoed uncomfortably.
"Yeah, you were snappy all the time so Sharron and I got to speculating what might be wrong. She reminded me how much you like to keep the stuff that goes on in your head private. It's pretty hard for me, knowing that you and Sharron are able to get inside my head sometimes, and I'm a pretty open kind of guy. It must be doubly hard for you Richard. If it's any comfort to you I think we're still a heck of a long way off actually being able to read each other's thoughts, that's if we ever do get that far. I know we've managed to intentionally communicate information to each other, but it's been very limited, just a visual image. As for the other stuff, right now all I get is vague feelings, the strongest of which happens when you or Sharron are in danger. I guess that's because of what's involved when someone is afraid, very strong emotions must communicate themselves well. You don't need to worry Richard, all your secrets are safe," Craig teased.
Richard turned away sharply to hide his expression, then realised the futility of that.
"Thanks," he said quietly, and abruptly changed the subject.
Three nights later he lay in bed wondering what to do. He had a date the following evening and he was hoping that he'd, at the very least, get a chance to kiss the girl. Craig's words about strong emotions haunted him though. Janet was a very attractive girl and kissing her was likely to induce some pretty strong feelings. Would he transmit them? He didn't know, couldn't know, unless he risked finding out. Maybe it would be better to continue denying himself, but that would mean he'd become increasingly tense and difficult to be around. In the end he decided to take a chance and find out if he was worrying unnecessarily. All the same he didn't attempt to do any more than kiss Janet and, despite the sexual tension between them, Richard cut the date short and went home instead of accepting the girl's invitation to go into her flat for a nightcap. Richard lay awake for most of the rest of the night, dreading the teasing from Craig that might await him the next day. The following morning he walked into Tremayne's office wondering just how palpable his tension was and, once more, found his worries were unfounded.
As time wore on and days turned into weeks and months Richard had begun to relax a little, and the nightmares had subsided. But now all his fears were back with a vengeance. Craig was sharing the hotel bedroom with him and not being able to escape the mental contact seemed worse now that his friend was a constant physical presence too. There was no sign of an end to this torture. It had got to the stage when he was afraid to sleep in case the nightmares came back; he found it hard to believe that his friend wouldn't pick up on them when he was just a few feet away even if he didn't actually cry out this time. He didn't want Craig to know how difficult he was finding things. Even when he'd been a child he'd rarely shared his bad dreams with his parents, preferring to put them out of his mind and deal with the after effects himself. The last thing he wanted was Craig's ridicule or, even worse, his sympathy. So, last night, he'd lain awake – all night – just in case. He'd been so pleased when the message had come through that there was a good chance they could wrap the case up within twenty four hours. For once he'd not minded the idea of spending the night on surveillance; at least he wouldn't have to lie there in bed feeling that Craig could enter his mind whenever he chose to. But now all hopes of finishing the case quickly and going home had disappeared and there was just no way of telling how much longer he'd have to suffer this situation. Unfortunately Richard's tiredness didn't make it any easier to forget about the potential invasion of his thoughts. His mind and body were much more alert due to the enhancements the Tibetans had given them. Despite the self inflicted sleep deprivation Richard was suffering his mind was still reasonably active. So he couldn't forget, even for the shortest time, that he and his colleagues could never be completely out of contact no matter how much Richard might want to be.
The tiredness washed over Richard and he shook his head hard in an effort to keep sleep at bay. He had no idea how much longer he could last out, the old man had said he was superhuman, but he was still human – and, as such, he needed sleep.
Then he heard the bed opposite creak and, as he watched, he saw his friend walking softly towards him,
"Richard, I know everything about you, all your thoughts and feelings. There is nothing at all you can hide from me," Craig whispered, as he bent over his friend.
Richard responded instinctively, wrapping his hands around the American's neck and trying to choke him. Craig forced his colleague's hands away and pulled back sharply.
"So what I saw in your mind was true - you'd kill to protect your guilty little secrets," he exclaimed harshly, standing up, and glaring down at Richard.
With that he started to stride towards the door, as he reached it he turned and said in a voice ringing with contempt,
"You disgust me."
Richard sat bolt upright and stared confusedly at the lump in the other bed. It took him a few seconds to marshal his thoughts enough to realise that he had drifted off to sleep and was living out his worst fears in a dream.
He decided that he was just going to have to risk doing something to either set his mind at rest or, at the very least, make some headway into learning to live with the situation. Impatiently he climbed out of bed, dressed and walked quietly from the room.
A little while later he returned and noticed that, although his friend had shifted his position, he appeared to be sound asleep seemingly oblivious to recent events. Richard undressed and climbed into bed and fell into an exhausted sleep almost before he had time to lie down.
It was late afternoon when he finally awoke. The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was Craig, stretched out comfortably on the bed opposite, reading through a myriad of reports. Richard watched his friend covertly for a while, wondering if he was aware of what had happened last night. Craig's voice cut into his thoughts,
"Hello sleepy-head, I thought you were never gonna wake up. How about you order yourself something to eat from room service and give me a hand going through these reports? There has to be something we missed."
He tossed a few of the folders carelessly across the room as he spoke and Richard caught them deftly.
"If you say so," Richard said, getting out of bed and heading for the bathroom.
Half way across the room he realised that Craig was watching him. Richard turned sharply to try to hide his expression. The American briefly glanced in his direction with a slightly puzzled look then his face cleared and he looked back at the paperwork in his hands.
In the bathroom, Richard turned the shower to its coldest setting and started it running. As he waited for it to reach the temperature he required, he stood cursing himself. He flushed hotly as he realised how stupid he'd been to turn away from Craig like that. By trying to conceal his expression Richard had given the impression that he had something to hide. He was so annoyed with himself he wanted to hit something. Unfortunately he couldn't even allow himself that outlet for fear that Craig would hear his fists hammering against the tiles. He took a deep breath and stepped under the freezing water. Despite the extreme discomfort it caused him he stayed there until he felt calmer. Then he dried himself off and headed for the door. He took a moment to regain a little of his composure then left the bathroom and walked over to telephone room service.
"Do you want me to order anything for you?" he asked his friend as casually as he could.
"A chicken sandwich and some more coffee please," said Craig, without looking up.
Richard gave the order and replaced the receiver. He sat down on his bed and picked up the first file, gazing at it unseeingly, his mind in turmoil. He desperately wanted to get away from Craig's physical presence even though their minds would still share a connection. He toyed with the idea of pretending he'd been taken ill and needed to return to Geneva but realised that, now they were linked, there was no way he could deceive his colleague into believing that. Craig's voice cut into his thoughts,
"Richard, can I ask you a personal question?"
Shit, what was coming now? Richard felt the panic set in he somehow managed to keep his voice steady as he replied,
"It's about what happened to us in Tibet. I know we haven't talked about it much. I guess that's because the three of us are still coming to terms with what happened. We're only just beginning to take in some of the implications but I think we need to get a few things out in the open. At least between the two of us," Craig said.
God,…he knows where I was last night! Now what am I going to do? Should I deny it? Laugh it off? Oh God, I can't do this. I can't have this conversation, Richard thought, while he desperately tried to think of a way out.
"The thing is," Craig went on, "I was wondering how much you've been aware of me since we got back."
Constantly- that's your answer. There's hardly been a moment when I wasn't aware of you. For God's sake Craig get to the point! Let's get this over with.
"And," continued Craig, "I've especially wondered if you'd be able to pick up on if I….when I …..Oh hell, what I'm trying to ask you is do you think you'd sense it when I was with a woman?"
Richard took his courage in both hands and said,
"Why are you asking me this now, Craig? There's something you're not saying. It's no use denying it. I can sense you're holding something back."
"Okay, Okay, I admit it. I was trying to avoid putting you on the spot. Since you asked I'll tell you. It was what happened last night after I'd gone to sleep that's got me thinking about it. I woke up suddenly and, for a second or two, I thought I was having a wet dream. It was the strangest feeling, my heart was hammering, I was breathing fast, I might even have groaned aloud, I don't know! Then I felt as if I'd climaxed, but I knew I hadn't. I tell you, it took me a few minutes to get myself together enough to process what I was feeling then, when I did, I looked across to see if you'd felt it too. That's when I realised you weren't in your bed. Then I heard you come back into the room and guessed you'd been with a woman. And that got me wondering – just how close are we, now we have this link?"
"Pretty damn close, if we can pick up on intimate stuff like that, I'd say," Richard replied. He was tempted to make some flippant comment and try and leave it there but something drove him to probe further. "Did you pick up anything else, Craig? Could you sense what I was thinking about?"
"I don't know. I definitely picked up on the physical sensation, there's no doubt about that, but the rest of it's all a bit vague and nebulous. Of course I know that you were with that blonde who has been eyeing you up ever since we came to this hotel. I saw her slip you her room number yesterday so I guessed you must have taken advantage of her offer. But that might not be because I picked up your thoughts. I'd seen the way she looked at you and I've sensed you're attracted to her too, so it's pretty obvious it would be her- isn't it? I have no idea if I got that from the mental link or just through general observation."
If Richard hadn't been seated he would have fallen down, the relief he felt was so overwhelming. The truth was he hadn't been with the blonde from the hotel last night, he'd been with Janet. By sheer coincidence she'd been invited to attend a wedding close to where Richard and Craig had been sent on the mission and she was actually staying in a hotel just a street away. Janet had left a message at reception suggesting that Richard stop by if he had any free time. She'd said that her body clock was all over the place because of the time zone change and he could call any time of the night or day. So, last night, he'd gone to the lobby and put a call through to her. He'd been delighted to discover she was not only awake but also eager to see him. He'd gone round straight away and found she was just a little drunk. She'd started kissing him immediately. At first Richard had been afraid he was taking advantage of the fact that she wasn't quite sober but soon realised that she knew perfectly well what she was doing. There had followed a very enjoyable interlude for them both and then, with promises to see one another again as soon as his mission was complete, he'd returned to the hotel.
Craig had thought it was the blonde from their own hotel that Richard had been with. So, although he'd been able to pick-up the physical sensations, he had no idea who Richard had been with or what was going on in Richard's head at the time. His thoughts were his own; he didn't have to share them. God bless Janet, he thought. The mental link was still going to be difficult to cope with at times but it was no longer such a threat to his peace of mind. No more sleepless nights worrying about what secrets might be uncovered while he slept. He could go out on dates once more. He could enjoy the gifts they'd been given without fear of his life being intruded upon to an intolerable degree by them. He felt a great rush of happiness as he looked across at Craig, who had returned to his study of the files. Just as a final test and, if he were totally honest, for the sheer fun of it too, Richard mentally went over the whole scenario with Janet last night. He smiled to himself as Craig serenely continued to read the paperwork. Yes, his private thoughts were definitely safe. With a sigh of satisfaction, Richard began to read through the notes in front of him with renewed vigour. The speed at which he was able to get through the papers filled him with renewed gratitude for what the Tibetans had given him. It was great to be alive.
A few days later the two men were conversing over a coffee in the works canteen when Craig said,
"Uh oh, I know you had your eye on Janet but you've left it a bit late I think. Looks as though someone has beaten you to the draw."
Richard looked up to see Janet being handed an enormous bouquet from the local florist. He grinned at the expression of delight on her face. She picked up the card that came with the gift and, as she read it, her face briefly registered the confusion she felt. This quickly gave way to pleasure as she inhaled the wonderful scent and admired the beauty of the flowers she held.
"I wonder who they're from," Craig said.
"Who knows," replied his friend. "Whoever he is he has great taste."
Richard smiled to himself as he watched Janet turn the card over and read the 'Let's meet again soon,' that he'd had inscribed to go with the simple 'Thank you' on the front. She looked across at him and mouthed,
He stole a quick glance at Craig who was looking down, busily stirring his coffee. Richard nodded almost imperceptibly and smiled happily to himself, his inner world was safe and his mind was at peace at last.