Legal disclaimer: The Listener belongs to CTV. Chantelle, Puggsy and the whole story that spawned this plotbunny ("Dichotic Memory", which, by the way, I strongly recommend) belong to spiketherat, who was kind enough to let me play with them.
Factual accuracy disclaimer: I know nothing about Toronto and even less about the life of the homeless there, and I suspect the descriptions are exaggerated in some places, so forgive me for any gross mistakes. Or even better, drop me a line and I'll correct them. (Yes, I'm trying to talk you into giving me some feedback ;)
Rated T to be safe – nothing too explicit, but growing up on the streets isn't pretty.
Italics denote telepathy.
Chapter 1: Newcomer
She was perfect. Her golden hair shimmered in the few rays of light that made their way through the dirty and boarded windows. She wore a tight shirt that, albeit crumpled, nicely accented the generous curves of her body. A slender waist contrasted with full hips that swayed invitingly with each graceful step she took up the stairs – all that combined to a lure none of the young men in the decrepit apartment building could turn away from.
But it wasn't just her appearance that captured Toby's attention, although it had been the first thing he noticed about her – he was, after all, a fifteen-year-old red-blooded male, and despite some unusual facts in his life, he couldn't ignore a woman like that. It was something else that struck him. It took him a moment to filter the new "voice" out of the jumble of thoughts. Jimmy, leaning by the window, was pondering whether he should go to a shelter for the next meal, knowing the police were looking for him because of that business last Tuesday. Sheila up on the rooftop had already had lunch, so her thoughts weren't punctuated by pangs from her stomach, but as she was lying in the feeble autumn sun, she struggled not to think of home and her little brother, who was probably still in tears about her disappearance. As usual, the scene was dominated by Puggsy's strong, decisive mind. It was currently filled with a cold pride in his newest... acquisition. Toby shivered as he pinned down the feeling – or lack thereof – their leader had for the young woman. Puggsy was the only person Toby knew who could look at someone like her and see nothing but another pair of hands to steal, trick or carry out whatever else he ordered. But after peeling away all the familiar voices, Toby managed to focus on the newcomer's thoughts.
She was appalled. The writing and doodling on the smudged walls sparked little more than passing interest in her, but the smell – Toby had stopped noticing it long ago, but to her nose it was strong, and repugnant; a mixture that spoke of unwashed bodies and poor sanitation. One look at the ragged, discoloured blankets made her skin crawl with the thoughts of fleas, mites and who knows what other bugs. She noticed the tear on their leader's leather jacket, and how the soles were peeling off the boots of that young, scrawny boy staring out the window. On the only couch sprawled a woman, fully clothed but fast asleep, her make-up smudged, and her hair badly needed to be cut. And the young man slumped in that corner – his pupils were dilated so wide she could barely make out the bright blue irises, and he stared past them with an empty expression on his face. Probably on drugs, in the middle of the day; and he looks even younger than I am... A mixture of pity, disgust and worry coloured the assessment. Toby shook off the thoughts, trying to school his features, but the woman had already averted her eyes from him. So much for a good first impression, Toby thought.
But there was something else in her mind, other than the unpleasant realization that this wasn't the Four Seasons. Used to a miasma of fear, anger, hopelessness and all too often powerful, primal things like hunger and cold, it took Toby a moment to recognize the feelings of the newcomer: this girl was actually relieved to be here.
Author's note: I know everything about that first paragraph screams Mary Sue, but trust me, I'm aware of it and doing everything in my power to keep the girl from stealing the show...
That said... What did you think? Come on, you know what to do - just press that little green button and make my day!