A/N: Written for alphabet_soup challenge over at LJ. Prompted by katikat, beta read by Tania. The character of Vince is taken from the episode 1.2 Emotional Rescue.
M is for Madness
"I'm telling you Toby, this is madness," lanky fifteen year old Vince whispered as they were sneaking out of the house.
"Come on, man. Don't you wanna have some fun?" Toby asked with a sneer and unlocked the back door. He was only a few months older than Vince, but he already had much more experience in switching foster families.
"How did you get the keys?" Vince looked at him with awe and Toby almost smirked when he heard him think 'Wow. What a badass!'
"I have my ways," he said easily as he waited for Vince to follow him, and then locked the door behind them. It wasn't a great neighborhood and he didn't want to leave the house vulnerable just because he'd decided to take a walk. The Aufreys weren't the greatest of foster parents, but they weren't the worst either.
Tucking the keys back into his pants, Toby thanked his good fortune. A day ago they'd run out of milk and the adults didn't feel like going to the shop, so they sent Toby, giving him the spare key to the back door. He spent almost three months on his best behavious, finally managing to the keep lid on his nightmares, or on tapping into anyone else's dreams, thus waking up the whole house. It was one of the reasons he had had to leave his last family, and he'd learnt his lesson. Never let them see you hurt, always stay silent. So after being the good boy he was, the Aufreys didn't mind giving him the keys to the house. The first thing Toby did was stop by the key shop and make a copy. It wasn't a typical move of his, but then again, most of families he'd lived with didn't lock up their house each night or make the kids wait outside if they misbehaved. Still, as that was the worst punishment the Aufreys could come up with, Toby decided he could live with it. Or work around it, as was the case.
"So, what do you wanna do?" Toby asked languidly as Vince looked up and down the street carefully. It wouldn't do to get out only to be caught by a cop or spotted by a neighbor.
"Me? I thought you had a plan. You know... To have fun?"
"It's your birthday, not mine," Toby laughed and they crossed the street, putting some distance between them and the house.
"I dunno. Just don't wanna get caught."
"Hey, relax. It's barely nine and it's Friday. Plenty of young kids out on the streets. Not everyone gets an eight o'clock curfew, you know," Toby snorted.
"What's with that anyway? The last family I was with didn't even have curfew. They were happy if we went to school and were in the house when the social worker stopped by to count us."
Toby gave a half-assed grin. "Cool. So why did you move?"
"Well, one day the count didn't add up. Two kids ran away. They were gone for almost a week before anyone noticed, actually. There was a big fuss over it. Mostly, everyone was pissed that the folks were being paid for kids that weren't living with them anymore." Vince explained a little sheepishly.
"Why did they run away if it was such a great place?"
"They were almost eighteen, maybe they figured it would be better to split before they got kicked out on the street anyway. They got arrested for squatting three weeks later… The girl was pregnant." Vince shrugged. "Shit happens."
"Yeah, it does," Toby agreed then shook off the sudden melancholy. "Come on, it's still your birthday. Time to make the best of it."
First place they stopped at was the arcade. It was filled with youths, chatting away and playing games. Toby reached into his pocket and pulled out a hand full of change. "Come on, my treat," he said and Vince's eyes lit up.
The next hour passed with the two kids barely exchanging words. They were too busy shooting and driving cars to really talk. Toby enjoyed the senseless games, the sounds all around were loud enough to block out most of the unwanted thoughts, his own as well as others. All he had to do was aim, pull the trigger and then aim again. It was made better by the fact Vince was having fun too. Toby could tell the kid hadn't had a lot of fun lately, if his dreams were anything to go by. Toby tried to talk to him frankly, but each time he breached the subject of Vince's own family the boy shut down. Not even a thought escaped. After two months of being roommates Toby was ready to accept it, but today the melancholy seemed to settle deep with Vince and Toby had had enough. He needed to get out and he needed to take Vince with him, or he would snap.
As the hour turned into two and the arcade started to get empty, Toby spotted two guys by the counter with the owner. The guy went quietly went and Toby frowned.
"This is your second warning, Landry. If any of those kids are under fifteen, you'll get a fine. Third warning and you are out of business." Toby blinked at the sudden flash. It must've been the owner's memory of the last visit. This must've been the third one, and while Toby and Vince were fifteen, they had nothing on them to prove it. Which meant they would be taken to the station and the Aufreys would get involved, and Toby didn't want to think where they would be put next.
"Shit. We gotta go," he grabbed Vince and pushed him toward the men's room.
"What's going on?" Vince asked a little irritated to be pulled away from the game when he was winning, but one look at Toby made his heart skipped a beat. "Toby?"
"Cops. It's past ten, we don't have ID's. I don't wanna have to explain to the Aufreys how we got out of the house. Now come on, we don't have much time." Toby pushed Vince inside the room and headed straight for one of the cubicles. Vince blinked, and then followed him. There was a small window, and to Vince's relief there were no bars.
"It's too high for anyone to get inside through it," Toby explained even as he stepped on the closed toilet and opened the window.
"Isn't it too high to get out then?" Vince asked, uncertain.
"Hey, it's better to bust a leg than get busted," Toby replied. "But it's up to you," he added and looked at Vince expectantly. He saw a bunch of images from Vince's old foster families and felt the fear of being sent into another one.
"I'm just saying, I don't like heights," Vince said then threw one look at the bathroom door, as if waiting for it to open suddenly. "But I don't like cops either." With that he nodded at Toby who gave him a smile.
"Don't worry, it's not that high."
"If I break my leg, you'll be the one explaining it to the Aufreys."
"I'll even patch you up," Toby said and pulled through the window. There was a dull thud and a groan.
"You okay?" Vince asked, peeking out of the window and seeing Toby hobbling around, cursing.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Come on, move it. They will be checking the bathroom soon."
"Okay. Catch me?" Vince asked with a grin and Toby laughed.
"Dream on. You're not a princess and I'm not your knight. Now get your ass down here."
Vince pushed off and landed with much more grace than Toby, finishing off with a roll. This time it was Toby who was impressed."Dude, and I thought you were scared of heights!"
"I am. But at the last place, I was bunking with a dude that was totally gonna be a stuntman. He also loved to jump out of windows, and pulling all that vanishing crap. He taught me a trick or two."
"And you couldn't have given me a hint before I jumped and almost broke my leg?" Toby asked, incredulous.
"You didn't ask. Besides, I thought you were a pro."
"Gee, thanks for the vote of confidence," Toby snorted then grimaced as he put weight on his leg.
"You okay?" Vince frowned.
"Yeah, it's just a sprain I think. Come on, let's get outta here."
"Are we going home?" Vince asked a little disappointed.
"Nah, the night's still young. But I think it would be best to stay away from the streets," Toby added, thinking that going out Friday maybe hadn't been the best idea. Figured that there would be raids.
"Remind me to get us some ID's next time," he muttered and Vince just raised his eyebrows. Funnily, he didn't need to ask where Toby was planning on procuring those. There were two guys at his school who could get practically anything, for the right price.
"If we don't get caught tonight, sure. Where to now?"
"I know a place where we could get some booze," Toby half smiled, half grimaced as his ankle gave a throb. Vince saw no reason to protest.
An hour later they were sitting under a bridge over the river, listening to the traffic above their heads while watching the moonlight rippling through the water. They each had a beer bottle in hand. Toby had taken off his shoes and socks, and was currently soaking his right ankle in the cool water.
"Sorry for not getting the booze," Toby said, a little pissed at himself for forgetting that the guy he knew didn't work Fridays, thus leaving Toby no choice but to deal with his brother, who had refused to sell them anything stronger than beer.
"It's okay, man," Vince said, taking a gulp of beer. "I'm not that big on booze anyways. Hey, do you want a smoke?" he asked, pulling out a joint. Toby frowned and shook his head.
"Thanks, but no. It doesn't sit with me."
Vince shrugged and lighted up, taking a deep breath and relaxing.
"Where did you even get it?"
"When you were in the shop and I was waiting outside, another dude was smoking it. He asked if I wanted some, and I had my birthday allowance with me," Vince smirked.
Toby watched him, a little envious. Vince looked relaxed and happy, as if all his troubles had been washed away. Toby wished for that feeling, but knew that marihuana wasn't the way to get there. When he and Ray had the talk about drugs, Ray especially warned him about drugs. They didn't know how Toby's brain worked exactly, how his gift worked, but Toby didn't need anything that would open his mind to more stimuli. Drugs messed with brain chemistry, and that was bad. It was enough that Toby had some weird reaction to prescribed drugs.
The beer on the other hand seemed like a good solution. It was numbing him, pushing the voices to the background. When he first tasted alcohol, real alcohol not beer, Toby was ecstatic. He'd found something that could push the voices back, something that made him feel less of a freak. But the joy didn't last long. The hangover the following day had been excruciating, only made worse by the fact that Toby's protective walls were down. He couldn't stop the voices, and listening to every damn thought with a headache wasn't worth the few hours of silence. So two or three beers was his current limit.
Vince laughed suddenly and Toby looked at him. "What's so funny?"
"The lights, on the water. They're all swirly and beautiful," Vince sighed contentedly and Toby allowed himself to look into his mind.
For a moment, he felt free. All there was were the lights and silence. But then there were voices, talking and screaming and Toby pulled out. "You hear it?" he asked with a frown, but Vince looked at him with the smile still on his face. He obviously wasn't bothered by any voices.
"What? The music?"
"Yeah," Toby said with a sigh. It seemed like there was no escape for him.
"Isn't it crazy?" Vince asked out of nowhere and Toby blinked.
"Everything. The lights, the sounds... People. I love getting high. It's the only time I don't feel like I am going crazy," Vince said wistfully and Toby looked at him, confused.
"I don't understand."
"You do," Vince chuckled and that was the end of their conversation. It was the next night, as they were both lying in the dark trying to fall asleep, that Toby decided to ask.
"Last night, at the river. You told me you felt like you were going crazy. What... What did you mean?"
There was silence and Toby tried really hard not to look into Vince's mind.
"When I am high, everything's gone. Have you never been on a bad trip?"
"No, I told you. I can't do that stuff."
"Some people have bad trips. When they think about bad things, or when they're scared. I was scared for most of my life, Toby. When I smoked my first joint, I was pretty sure there was nothing worse to see."
"Did you? See something worse?"
"No. But I stopped seeing the bad that already happened."
Toby didn't ask what could've happened to him that was so bad. They all had their own past, no kid he knew was in foster care because it was fun and sunny. "How often do you smoke?"
"Just when the memories get too much," Vince said and Toby could've sworn he heard him shrug. "What about you?" Vince asked suddenly and Toby startled. "Do you ever feel like you're going crazy?"
Toby blinked in the darkness, prowling at the question. Vince heard a snort coming from the next bed, and then laughter. It wasn't happy laughter, but more like the kind that could turn into a sob at any time. It didn't though, and after a moment Toby pulled himself together.
"Do I ever feel like I'm going mad?" Another snort. "All the fucking time," came the whisper.