Michelle hesitated her knuckles an inch from the door as she wondered why on Earth she was there. She wasn't good at this sort of thing. Acts of consolation and sympathy had never been one of her strong points. She never knew what to say. She usually ended up feeling awkward. She'd nod and make odd sympathetic noises, and then grow uncomfortable until her fingers would start to fidget and she'd find herself obsessively reorganizing everything within reach.
She was doing this because it was Toby, she reminded herself, and he was a friend.
IIB had graciously offered Toby a week off after what happened at St. Luke's. Toby had agreed to take a few days and insisted he was fine. Michelle knew that was bullshit. For a guy who could read minds, he wasn't so hard to read himself. You just had to look at his face to know how devastated he was by Olivia's death.
It had been less than a day but Michelle had already had the urge to check up on him which was why she was now standing outside his apartment and feeling like an idiot. She was really beginning to regret giving in to the urge, but she had come this far and it was pointless to hide now. Between the glass panels in the door and Toby's gift, he probably already knew she was there.
Peering into the apartment, she tried to spot Toby through the glass. The normally quite tidy place was in a bit of disarray, clothes, dirty dishes, and the week's mail haphazardly placed anywhere and everywhere. She wondered as she always did when she came by if Toby had chosen the glass walled apartment on purpose as partial atonement for all the invasions of privacy he performed on a daily basis, a small offering that let people see into his life the way he saw into theirs.
There was movement and a figure approached, but it wasn't Toby.
"Oz," she said once the door had opened. She was surprised but knew she shouldn't be. Of course Toby's best friend would be there keeping an eye him.
"Hey, Michelle," said Oz. The normally jovial and joking paramedic sounded tired. His eyes were red and his face was drawn.
"How are you doing?" she asked because that's the sort of thing you're supposed to ask.
Oz shrugged. "I don't know. Okay, I guess."
"How's Toby?" She tried to see past Oz into the apartment. "I came by to see how he's doing."
Instead of letting her in as she'd expected, Oz actually pulled the door a bit more closed and remained steadfastly blocking her entrance. "It's rough, but he's dealing as best he can," he said not quite meeting her eyes.
Michelle frowned sensing something was off. "Can I see him?"
Wincing, Oz cast a quick nervous glance over his shoulder. "Now really isn't a great time."
"Oz, is something wrong?"
"No," he insisted quickly, too quickly. "I mean, not really. Nothing major."
"Is Toby okay?" Michelle asked becoming more concerned by the second
"He's fine," replied Oz once again too quickly.
Michelle stared at him using the gaze she regularly used on the most reticent of criminals.
Oz crumbled instantly. "He's just... well... He's drunk," he finally blurted out somewhat reluctantly.
"Oh." This wasn't what Michelle had been expecting. It wasn't good but it wasn't the worst thing either. After what had happened, it was actually pretty understandable. "Can I see him anyway?" She'd dealt with plenty of drunks before including various criminals and her ex-husband. It wasn't something that was going to throw her even though she found it hard to imagine the normally calm and in control Toby Logan drunk. "I'd like to talk to him and it would be nice to see for myself..."
"I don't think that's such a good idea," interrupted Oz.
Oz sighed and cast one more anxious look over his shoulder before he spoke. "Listen, I've known Toby for over five years and I've only seen him drunk one other time. It was after Charlie died and that whole thing with his... um..." Oz paused and made a face as if he'd realized he may have said too much. "There's a good reason why Toby doesn't get drunk," he continued switching tracks. "He goes a bit, ah, weird."
"What do you mean?"
"No, no, no!"
The sudden frustrated cry came from somewhere inside the apartment and made both of them jump.
Michelle's eyes widened as she recognized Toby's voice.
"Not taupe," continued Toby at a slightly lower volume. "Nobody likes taupe. Taupe is stupid." The 's' of 'stupid' was said with an obvious slur.
Michelle turned her incredulous, shocked gaze at Oz.
He shrugged. "Apparently one of our neighbours is trying to choose what colour to paint his living room."
"Just call him, you idiot," Tony began again. "You'll never know if you don't call him."
"And another neighbour is having some relationship issues."
"Pickles and peanut butter. Who eats pickles with peanut butter?"
"And another seems to be having some interesting cravings."
Peering around Oz, Michelle again tired to catch a glimpse of Toby, but all she saw was some spiky dark hair near the couch. Was he sitting on the floor?
"Oz," came Toby's voice, the short nickname drawn out as long as possible. "We are not having... not eating... not messing about with pickles and peanut butter. You hear me."
Oz cleared his throat. "And that would be me. Okay, Toby. I hear you," he called out. "No food experimentation tonight."
"So, he's reading people?" asked Michelle in confusion.
Oz nodded emphatically. "He's reading everyone, everyone in this building and possibly a few people out on the street. I don't think he can stop. He can't shut them out or even tell what's being said out loud and what's not. It's like the alcohol messed with his off switch."
"Not a robot," Toby interjected drunkenly.
A drunk telepath, Michelle thought as she realized just how disastrous such a thing could be especially in terms of Toby keeping his secret. No secret would be safe in such circumstances.
"Nothing's safe," said Toby echoing her thought.
Michelle flinched slightly and Oz obviously noticed.
"Listen, I know you want to help," he said, "but if Toby reading every stray thought that comes through your head is going to make you uncomfortable, being around him right now is probably not the best thing."
Michelle wanted to deny that, wanted to say it didn't matter especially in light of what Toby was going through, but she was uncomfortable. She knew it was hypocritical of her considering how much she used Toby to invade other people's privacy, but she didn't like the idea of him reading her thoughts. She liked her private thoughts to remain private. Toby had agreed when they started working together not to read her unless it was an emergency, though he had explained that some intense thoughts might still be heard, and he had always been extremely respectful about any thoughts he read. That didn't seem to be the circumstances at the moment.
"No one cares if the walls match your damn couch cushions," said Toby randomly, apparently focusing once more on his neighbours.
Biting her lip, Michelle cursed herself. She should be stronger, able to put Toby's feelings ahead of her own, be there for him even when he's being a bit of a drunk ass. He'd already had a hard life. He didn't deserve more sorrow.
"You're sweet, Michelle," Toby slurred. "Really sweet like toffee apple sweet."
Oz smiled sympathetically. "If it helps, I doubt he'll remember any of this by tomorrow."
Sighing, she gave in. "You've got this?" she asked.
"I've got this," replied Oz with a nod.
Sometimes it was good to know when to let go and leave things with the experts.
"The only thing or things Oz is any expert in is take-out menus and foosball," declared Toby.
Michelle and Oz shared amused smiles.
"Thanks for doing this," she said as she turned to leave. "And I'm sorry. I know Olivia meant a lot to you too."
"Yeah, well..." said Oz looking away. "She was that sort of person. We'll all miss her."
Michelle placed a hand briefly on Oz's shoulder before she walked away. It hurt to know Toby was going through a rough time and there was nothing she could do, but at least she knew he was in good hands.
Closing the door, Oz paused a moment leaning his back against it. He would miss Olivia. He would miss her a lot. It's strange but he had been so caught up in both Toby's and Sandy's grief he hadn't had time to think about it until now. It still didn't seem real. He couldn't imagine rolling into St. Luke's and not having her there. Who would defend him when he pissed off the nurses? Who would he worry with when Toby was off doing something stupid again?
A sniff came from floor beside the couch. "I don't do stupid things," Toby mumbled.
Oz smiled a heartbroken smile. "Oh yes, you do. Lots and lots of stupid things." He gazed down at his friend.
Toby was sprawled along the ground, his back propped up against the couch, a nearly empty whiskey bottle in his right hand.
"Like this for instance."
Toby muttered something incoherent, and then his eyes screwed shut and he pressed his hands against his ears. "Shut up, shut up, shut up."
Moving over to the window, Oz glanced out and saw a large group of teenagers passing by on the street. "It's okay, Toby. They'll be gone in a minute."
Oz watched as the teenagers disappeared around the block. As soon as they were gone, the tension left Toby's body. He took his hands from his ears and opened his eyes.
"Taupe really is a stupid colour. Do you think she'll forgive him for not being there?"
"Sure, she will," Oz said really not sure who they were talking about now, but that was a common theme in their recent conversations. He sat down on the floor beside his friend.
Toby's head lolled slightly until it was resting on Oz's shoulder. "Thanks for staying with me," he said strangely coherent for once even though he sounded close to passing out.
"Yeah, well," said Oz patting Toby on his outstretched leg. "Where else would I be?"