The last thing Toby wants is to give Becker more reasons to distrust him, but when he meets Alyson, Becker's young niece, and realizes she's a telepath, he can't help but get involved. It awakens memories of Toby's childhood, separated from his mother, of being overwhelmed by his powers; Ray Mercer was a lifeline then and has continued to be a supportive part of Toby's life ever since. If there's a chance that Ray can help Alyson, Toby has to interfere.
Written for the smallfandomfest07 (2010) for the prompt: Becker, Mercer & Toby; Becker's young niece shows signs of being a telepath
Note: set between "Iris" and "Beginning To See The Light"
Toby and Oz had been called to the precinct to see to a prisoner. If Toby hadn't gotten distracted he might have realised the prisoner was only faking illness and the man wouldn't have had chance to try and attack Oz. Then the officer who was present wouldn't have had to drag the prisoner away from Oz, probably doing the man some minor but this time real damage. And, Toby thought, they'd be far away from the precinct by now.
Instead, Oz was having to fill in some sort of incident report. Toby wandered the floor, his eyes alighting briefly on Charlie's empty chair; she was at some sort of forensics conference in Las Vegas. He glanced over nervously to the conference room where, behind the closed door, but visible through the large windows, Becker was chewing out a subordinate.
The last thing Toby wanted was a run-in with the sergeant. Becker had taken an instant dislike to him and it wasn't Toby's fault. Years of living with his gift, of foster homes, of reading people's minds, had left him cautious. Becker interpreted that caution as being dangerous, that Toby was hiding something criminal from him. That was the underlying cause for his suspicion, though there was more to it, now. Toby tended to show up at crime scenes, trying to help, and he couldn't explain himself satisfactorily to Becker without revealing his gift – and that was something Toby wasn't willing to do.
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed
Toby frowned and looked around him. No image, just the words of the children's song had been broadcast to him, loud and clear. He saw a young girl, maybe six or seven, sitting on a chair near one of the desks. She had shoulder length blonde hair, brown eyes, and a solemn expression that belonged to an older child.
"Hey," Toby said, wandering over to her, looking around for another adult.
"I'm seven," the girl told him, apropos of nothing. She tipped her head. "You're not a stranger, so it's okay to talk to you. You're wearing a uniform."
He glanced down at himself and smiled. "Yes. I'm a paramedic."
"You help people." The girl nodded to herself and swung her legs backwards and forwards.
"Where's your mother?" Toby asked.
"She's in Calgary," the girl told him.
Not quite what he'd meant. How to rephrase? As it turned out, he didn't have to.
"I'm here with my uncle. But he always has to work," the girl said.
"Uncle?" One of the cops? Please let it be a cop and not a criminal, Toby thought. She seemed like a sweet girl.
She nodded and pointed to the conference room. "Uncle Brian was supposed to take me to the park but work called and said he had to come in."
Uncle Brian? Toby took a half-step back as if he'd suddenly found the girl was made of C4. He didn't need to give Becker any more fuel for his fire of Toby distrust.
Maybe he's just afraid to be alone with me, like mom.
Toby frowned. Why wouldn't Becker want to be alone with this girl – and, more importantly, why would her mother be afraid of her? His curiosity was piqued and besides, his hero complex – as Olivia would put it – wouldn't allow him to leave well enough alone. If the girl was in danger or was somehow dangerous, he had to get involved.
He crouched down in front of her. "I'm Toby. Toby Logan. See, it says it on my shirt. What's your name, sweetheart?"
He gave her his most charming smile. "Hello, Alyson. How do you like Toronto?"
Alyson shrugged. "I haven't seen much of it. Buildings everywhere mostly look the same, inside, anyway."
"Did your mom send you to Toronto for a vacation?"
She shook her head and looked at her feet. "Yes." No.
"Is your mom okay?" Toby asked. Getting involved in anything that even resembled Becker's personal life was a recipe for disaster and yet he had to know.
"She's upset." She turned her expressive brown eyes to him and Toby heard a woman's voice, scared, angry, upset. The vision was clear and all encompassing.
The point of view was obviously Alyson's as she crouched by a table, wiping tears from her face. The woman's legs walked backwards and forwards as she shrieked.
"You have to take her, Brian! I can't stand it anymore!" There was a moment's pause and then she said, "I am not being hysterical! Damn you, I have never asked you for anything! Dane was a deadbeat, you were right! Is that what you want to hear? Fine! Dane is a deadbeat! And now he's gone and I'm stuck with her!"
Alyson's mother was weeping now. She sat heavily on the sofa and Toby saw her tear-stained face. She clutched the phone to her ear.
"I can't do this. You have to take her. Just for a while."
"My dad left because of me," Alyson said softly.
"No," Toby said. "No, he didn't."
"And mom hates me." Alyson's eyes filled with tears. This was not good.
"She doesn't. I promise you." Toby desperately tried to think of something to calm her down. "Do you know the monkey song? Where they all jump on the bed?"
Alyson glared at him. "That's a song for babies!" She was mortified at the idea; Toby had made an unexpected faux pas. That was the problem with mind-reading. What people really thought often differed wildly with the façade they presented to the outside world.
"What's a façade?"
Toby stared at the girl. "What?"
"What's a façade? Is it a rude word?" Alyson asked, almost hopefully.
"No." Toby's mind reeled. It couldn't be. He'd inherited his gift from his mother, long missing presumed dead, and in all the time he'd been aware of his powers, Iris was the only other telepath he'd ever met.
Chocolate cookies, Toby thought.
"What am I thinking?" he asked.
"Chocolate cookies," Alyson said promptly, then shrank back as if afraid he'd punish her for her insight. I shouldn't have done that, it's not normal, that's why mom sent me away.
Toby felt a wave of sadness half Alyson's, half his own in sympathy for her. Oh, God, she was so young to bear the burden. As he had been, of course; and Iris hadn't been legally an adult when her powers had blossomed.
"Alyson," he said carefully, "do you sometimes hear things? Only without anyone speaking?"
She stared at him fearfully.
"It's all right," Toby said. "I promise."
She nodded. They're frightened of me.
"You know what, Alyson? It's okay. I'm not frightened." Toby held the thought in his mind. Not afraid. Not afraid.He wanted her to know and believe it.
"I don't mean to hear things," Alyson said in a small voice that nearly broke Toby's heart. "Sometimes I can't help it."
"I know. I know." Poor child. She didn't understand.
Oz wandered over. "Toby, you ready?" He smiled at Alyson. "Hey."
"I need a minute," Toby told his friend. "This is Alyson. Alyson, this is my friend, Oz. He drives the ambulance."
"Hey, Alyson." Oz looked about. "You looking for her parents?"
"My mom's in Calgary," Alyson told him.
"She's Becker's niece," Toby said and no-one needed to be a mind-reader to tell from the expression on Oz's face what he thought of that.
"We should go," Oz said quickly as if he'd been caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
"Why doesn't Uncle Brian like you?" Alyson asked Toby, perplexed.
Toby glared at Oz, who looked between Toby and Alyson, confused as she was.
"It's a long story," Toby said.
Not that long.
Shut up, Oz, Toby begged, but mind-reading only went one way. Except, of course between telepaths.
"It's not nice to tell your friends to shut up," Alyson said decisively. She'd apparently decided that if Toby wasn't upset at her hearing his thoughts it was okay to repeat them. That was half of her problem right there, Toby thought, but how to explain?
Toby stood and stepped in close to Oz to whisper in his ear. "I think she's a telepath."
"No way!" Oz glanced at the innocent looking child. "I thought you were special. Are you sure?"
"I am special," Toby retorted. "Just not unique. And yes, I'm sure. I'll prove it. Think of something child friendly and Alyson will tell you what it is."
"You always telling me to shut up in your head?" Oz put in, realising that Alyson's non-sequitur was, in fact, a relaying of Toby's thoughts.
"I'll tell you out loud in a moment," Toby threatened but with no actual malice.
"What number am I thinking of?" Oz asked Alyson, who was watching their exchange with some amusement.
"Five? One? No, thirty two," Alyson said. Frowning, Toby focussed.
Wait, 4's my lucky number…maybe a big number, that would prove it, one hundred, no, too round…one hundred and sixty five…
"Oz, pick one number," Toby berated him.
"Oh, I know. What card am I thinking of?" Oz asked.
"She's not a sideshow," Toby said, getting annoyed. "And you always pick the Queen of Spades! Look, go and wait downstairs while I think what to do."
"What do you mean? What can you do? It's not like you can send her to Hogwarts!" Oz pointed out.
Toby sighed. "No, I can't. But I can get her some help."
Oz shrugged and did as he was told, heading off back to the ambulance.
"You know what Oz is thinking?" Alyson asked.
Toby nodded, crouching back down by her. "What you can do? I can do it too. But I usually keep it a secret. Because sometimes people don't understand. They get scared and that makes them angry. So I only tell people I really trust. And I try not to read minds all the time."
"How?" Alyson asked, fascinated, leaning forward on the chair.
Toby had been concentrating on Alyson and hadn't heard Becker's approach. He prayed that Becker hadn't overheard any references to mind-reading. He stood up and turned to face him.
"Hi," Toby began.
"What are you doing with my niece?" Becker demanded.
"I was just talking," Toby said, sounding more defensive than he'd intended. Becker looked harassed, untidy in subtle ways that were unusual for him. Not so well groomed, with dark circles under his eyes. "You look, er, tired."
Because I've barely slept in three days.
"What are you doing here?" Becker demanded.
"There was an incident with my partner. I'm just waiting for him to finish up," Toby said, knowing the best lie was the one closest to the truth. He tried to project to Alyson, let me handle this, please. He wasn't sure she'd heard him but she remained quiet and didn't contradict him.
"Wait elsewhere," Becker said in a low, threatening tone. Last thing I need is the goddamned paramedic poking his nose in.
"Wait," Toby said. "Can I have a word? Please? In private?" He pointed to the now empty conference room.
What the hell does he want now? Becker eyed him suspiciously. "Why?"
"Please. I just want to help." Toby gave his best puppy-dog expression but Becker wasn't so easily won over. As he made to tell Toby to get the hell out of my precinct Toby said desperately, "I grew up without my mother. I know what's like to feel abandoned."
"Alyson is not abandoned," Becker yelled, taking a step forward. Alyson chose this moment to reach out and tug at Becker's sleeve. He turned to her and the anger left him as quickly as it had come, probably because Alyson was using her solemn, tear-filled eyes, to her best advantage. Now you made her cry, Becker berated himself guiltily. Kid's already heard enough yelling to last her a lifetime.
"I can wait here, Uncle Brian," Alyson said. "I don't mind."
A moment later, Toby and Becker were behind the closed door of the conference room.
"What do you want, Logan?"
"I want to help." Toby kept his voice calm and soothing, the way he would with a patient. "I don't mean to pry. But Alyson, she's special. She said she's staying with you for a while because her father left and her mother's upset. I'm not doubting that Alyson being with you is the best thing for her right now, but I'm not sure she understands that."
Becker took a seat, leaning back to study Toby. "I'm not even sure it's the best thing," he admitted in a moment of candour. "But my sister is going through a difficult time and she can't deal with Alyson right now."
Toby nodded. "I understand. Look, there's a friend of mine at the university, Dr Raymond Mercer. He's a psychologist."
Becker made to interrupt but Toby stepped forward earnestly.
"He helped me when I was a child. That's why I brought it up, that I'd been abandoned. I was seriously messed up when I met Ray. I don't know what would have happened to me if I hadn't met him. He may have saved my life, my sanity. I promise you, he'll listen to Alyson, really listen. He's an expert in cognitive psychology and he's helped people of all ages with all sorts of problems." Toby smiled encouragingly, pausing to let Becker protest but ready to counter any arguments against this course of action. He was therefore surprised when Becker didn't immediately refuse.
Maybe there is something wrong with her. Maybe this Mercer can help. "All right," Becker said in resignation. "Set it up."
Toby felt a wave of relief wash over him. It didn't matter whether Becker was afraid of Alyson, or for her, so long as he was willing to get her some help. "I'll call him now."
"Now?" Becker halted his own protest and shrugged. "Right. Sooner the better." He stood. "Is this going to cost me?"
"He'll see her as a favour to me," Toby assured him.
So it will cost me.
Becker went to explain to Alyson and Toby took out his cell phone.
"We get to go in the ambulance?" Alyson asked.
"Yes," Toby said. Ray said he could see them now and Toby didn't want to take the time to go back to the depot and pick up his car. Their shift was over in less than thirty minutes anyway, and Oz promised to stall Ryder if necessary by exaggerating the incident he'd been involved in. Besides, somehow Toby thought Becker would feel better about his niece being in the company of two paramedics in a recognisable vehicle than with an off duty EMT in his own car.
"Can we put the sirens on?" she asked hopefully.
"No," Toby said.
Oz pulled a face. "He says that to me, too."
Alyson laughed at that. Toby helped her up onto the front seat and buckled her in. Becker had entertained second thoughts at the last minute but hadn't voiced them; the promise that he'd do terrible things to Toby if so much as a hair on Alyson's head got harmed was clear from his expression.
Oz drove with rather more care than usual, and Toby pointed out places of interest to the young girl.
"Uncle Brian said we're going to see a friend of yours," Alyson said at last.
Alyson bit her lip. Psycholo-thing. Means bad. Like than man who took Elaine's mom away.
"Ray doesn't want to take anyone away," Toby assured her quickly.
"The pyscholo man said Elaine's mom was crazy and she had to go away," Alyson insisted.
"You're not crazy," Toby said. "I promise."
Oz glanced over. "Hey, if Ray says you're crazy I'll come get you," he promised. He got caught up in his own fantasy as he outlined a scenario. "I'll run into the office, pick you up, sling you over my shoulder and run all the way back to the ambulance. I'll put the sirens on and they'll never catch us!"
Toby grinned. "You're our hero, Oz." To Alyson, he said, "Your uncle is a police detective. Do you think he'd let anyone take you away?"
She shook her head but she wasn't entirely convinced, and who could blame her after what she'd been through.
Oz and Alyson inspected the notice board while Toby went into Ray's office to brief him. Alyson had bonded with Oz, possibly because he was so approachable and childlike in his banter with her, possibly because she knew Toby trusted him. They were currently the only adults in her life not upset about her powers and that was a big deal.
"You're certain?" Ray asked, interested. He sat in his chair, fingers steepled. "Until Iris you thought you were unique. How does that make you feel?"
Toby smiled. "Less alone," he said. "But this isn't about me. Not right now. And yes, I'm sure. She's definitely picking up on people's thoughts and I was able to communicate with her a little."
"Is she distressed by her powers?"
"No. I don't think she's currently overwhelmed by them, only by people's reactions to them. I don't know when her telepathy kicked in, but she thinks it's the reason her father just waked out on her and her mother. I told her she wasn't the reason but for all I know her telepathy was a factor." Maybe Dane had been terrified by the thought of a daughter who was a mind-reader; maybe he had a secret like a mistress or a drug habit that Alyson had, or might have, exposed. Becker thought the man a "deadbeat" according to Alyson's memories, and probably not without some justification.
Or maybe it wasn't to do with the telepathy at all but Alyson's mother's unstable state of mind. Or one of the other myriad of legitimate reasons Dane might have left. Toby had very little to go on in forming a picture of the man. On the other hand, maybe Dane was just a jerk who'd walked out on his family, telepathy or not.
Ray nodded, stayed silent, let Toby gather his thoughts.
"She says people are afraid of her. Certainly I picked up on the fact her mother is an emotional wreck. Sure, her husband just left her and her daughter's reading her mind but it could be more than that. She's certainly afraid of her daughter and Alyson knows that. And I think Becker suspects something. It's hard not to, when she's answering questions you haven't asked aloud." Toby gave a wry grin. "Adults spend so much time telling children secrets are bad but keeping her abilities a secret is the only way Alyson is going to have anything approaching a normal life."
Ray tipped his head, thoughtful. "It's not keeping a secret so much as it is not mentioning it. A sin of omission, if you will. I'll explain to her that when someone asks where you're from you don't need to tell them your exact address or describe your house. They might be asking about the street, the area, even the country if they're not Canadian. It's just a matter of the right amount of information. It's a skill she'll learn, just as you did, and an extension of the normal human development that allows us to filter our responses correctly depending on the circumstances."
"I just wish she didn't have to," Toby said honestly. "I've come to terms with it. I can think of it as a gift, especially when I'm able to help people. I rarely think of it as a curse, at least now. But it made growing up a hell of a lot harder than it already was."
Ray reached for his coffee. "You empathise with her."
"This is bringing up memories from your own past." Difficult memories.
Toby nodded. "They're not all bad," he said. "Ray, did I ever thank you for what you did? What you still do? How much you've helped me?"
"Yes," Ray said. "But you don't have to. It's been my pleasure and my honour to have helped nurture a gift like yours. I don't have children of my own, but I'm always proud of my students and I care about them, and about my patients. You're something else Toby, the closest I'll ever have to a son. I've watched you grow up into a fine young man who makes the world a better place every day he's in it. And I hope you value our friendship as much as I do."
Toby went to the window and stared out at the campus grounds. The presence of strong emotions was hard to handle when they mirrored his own. It wasn't that the emotions were painful, quite the opposite. It was only that he didn't want to lose it and get weepy when he was currently responsible for Alyson. If she thought he looked upset she'd be nervous and that wasn't what she needed.
"I couldn't have done this without you," Toby said at last. "I wish you could read my mind and see how clearly and utterly I mean that. You taught me control, you were never afraid of me, never judged me, were the one person I could rely on throughout it all. I never knew my father. I hope he was like you, because that love, that support, that's what I needed from him. What I got from you." A shoulder to cry on, a watch on his sixteenth birthday, letters of recommendation whenever they were required. Small but important things.
Ray stood. "We should stop travelling down memory lane," he said. "I'll do my best for her, Toby. And we'll tell her that this is a gift. A difficult one to live with, but a gift nonetheless."
"We'll tell her she's special," Toby said, a faraway look in his eyes. "Every child needs to be special to someone."
Oz waited in the ambulance, radio blaring while he tapped along on the steering wheel. Toby took Alyson back inside the precinct. She held Toby's hand as they climbed the stairs.
Five little monkeys were jumping on the bed Toby thought.
Alyson giggled. "It's a song for babies," she reminded him.
"Hey, I like it," Toby retorted. He'd let her know it was always okay for her to relax around him and never worry about reading his thoughts. The control required to block the telepathy could be draining and he wanted her to have people around her who would let her be free from that.
Becker was at his desk and stood as they approached. He ran appraising eyes over Alyson as if he truly did think Toby would have let her come to harm. His expression softened as they drew nearer.
She's smiling, Becker thought, and it was part amazement and part relief.
"Hey," Toby said.
Alyson pulled her hand free and made her way around the desk to him. Becker put one arm protectively on her shoulder.
"What happened?" he asked.
"I talked to Ray like you said. He's really nice," Alyson said. "And I drew some pictures."
Becker glanced at Toby, then at his niece. "Alyson, wait here a minute while I talk to Toby." He gestured to the conference room and Toby nodded.
With the door closed behind them, Becker asked, "So?" Toby held out an envelope.
"I don't know," Toby said honestly. "It's a letter, from Dr Mercer. Anything in it is private. He did say, though, that it would be beneficial if he could talk to Alyson's mother."
Becker studied the envelope a moment. "Fran might not be up to that."
"I know," Toby said gently. "You said she was having a hard time. But Ray thinks that talking to them together would be helpful. If she could travel to Toronto for a few days, well, maybe a change of scenery would help her too."
Becker tore open the envelope and scanned the enclosed letter. Toby tried hard to give him some privacy, to avert his eyes and to keep his mind closed to stray thoughts.
"He says Alyson is a special case," Becker said at last. "You said she was special, too. What did you mean by that?"
Toby hesitated. Becker clearly had his own ideas about Alyson's abilities as well as Toby's.
"Some people are incredibly intuitive," he offered. "They can infer what someone is thinking or feeling by their body language and tone of voice. I think Alyson has a gift for reading people." It was a plausible lie that was achingly close to the truth. "You know what that's like. Don't cops sometimes rely on their gut instincts?"
"We prefer evidence," Becker said dryly but he'd been persuaded, at least for now. A niece with a heightened version of the cop senses he relied on was something he could accept.
Toby nodded. "So, you think you can get your sister to come to the city for a while?" He looked out of the window to where Alyson was sitting on Becker's chair, patiently waiting. "I just…I don't want her to end up in the system."
She won't. The response was immediate and forceful.
"I won't let that happen," Becker said aloud, voicing his determination. Closest I'll probably ever have to a daughter. I'd die before I'd let anything happen to her.
Toby nodded, but his mind was reeling. It had never been his intention to eavesdrop on such private information but it was too late now.
"What's your deal, Logan?" Becker asked, and perhaps he was back on the defensive because he knew he'd exposed some vulnerability – though thankfully he didn't know how much.
"My deal?" Toby asked, confused.
"Why do you care about this so much?"
Toby sighed, ran one hand over his face as he gathered his thoughts. "Isn't it what we do? Why we chose the careers we did?" Emphasising the camaraderie, he added, "We're on the same side, Becker."
From the look on the detective's face it wasn't quite enough and Toby gave in. "Look, I remember what it's like. Foster care. Feeling alone. Being a kid, scared and confused. Ray helped me and this is just one of the ways I pay that back. There's nothing sinister here, and this isn't about you or what you think of me. This is just me trying to do what someone did for me when I needed it."
Becker stared at Toby for a long moment. "Thank you," he said at last, and, before Toby could interrupt, added firmly, "This doesn't make us friends."
"Understood." But it was a start.
Toby left the conference room and said goodbye to Alyson. He hurried downstairs and to the waiting ambulance. He grinned as he climbed up into the passenger seat. Oz turned the radio down.
"You look happy. Things are okay then?"
Oz nodded. "Best any of us can ever hope for," he said and started the engine.