"Armstrong. Armstrong's the one in charge," she tells Brendan.
It's always names.
"Ever been to Succasunna?" she asks the woman. "You have, haven't you. Recently. You hid the box under a railway siding near Horseshoe Lake," she says, and smiles at the silent shock on the woman's face.
"Ask him about Cardoso," she says, and Brendan does and the man goes pale and starts talking.
She's become an expert at this now, knowing the right questions to ask or offer Dean as prompts, listening for strings of names (people, places, companies) and picking out the ones that are most hidden or the weightiest, the ones that scare the person most. They're always the names the NSA wants.
The names in her dreams are names she doesn't know. They belong to faceless people, but their thoughts are always loud and clear.
She wonders, sometimes, as she shares the elevator in her building with this neighbor or that, if it's their dreams she's having.
She was supposed to move on after Gazal.
Jon Harper had plans for her, and they didn't involve attaching her to one agent permanently. He made that abundantly clear. She was an asset, his to use wherever he saw fit.
"Fine," she said. "I'll work on whatever cases you need me on."
He didn't gloat, exactly, but he was used to winning, wasn't a man to back down, so there was a smugness in his mind at her answer. She felt it falter as she carried on. "But Agent Dean works on those cases too," she said. No trace of a question in her voice, no hint that she'd be persuaded otherwise.
He'd looked at her silently for a while, then nodded. "If he agrees," he said, and Freya felt a moment's doubt. Brendan was still uncomfortable around her, she knew that. But she trusted him, and she thought he might just come to trust her, even if she had to save his life a few more times before they got there.
He'd said yes, of course. He must have known it would be good for his career, that he'd get the high profile cases, the priority ones, if he had Freya on his team. But when he'd come back down from his meeting with Harper, it wasn't only his career prospects Brendan was pleased about. He was thinking he'd have missed her if she'd been sent somewhere else, and that he'd kill for a donut right now, and he was thinking he wanted to take care of her. She raised an eyebrow at that, and watched him mentally review his last few thoughts.
"Well, you know, it's a mutual thing, obviously, and okay, so far it's been you saving my bacon. I get that. And I'm cool with that. I'm not one of these guys who can't deal with being helped out by a woman or anything. But I can show you the ropes, you know, stuff like that," he'd rambled, and she'd just grinned at him.
So she saved his life a few times and he saved hers, and they settled into something like a partnership. It works.
She's training, back at the farm. A checkup, she assumes.
Dr. Welles is holding up flashcards—four at a time, as fast as he can look at them—when she asks.
"Circle, wavy line, square, circle." It's easy, effortless. "Where are the others?" she asks, because that's more important than how many separate thoughts she can distinguish at a time.
"We've had to cut back on staff since you left," Dr. Welles tells her, and for once the peace and quiet here isn't a relief. She wants to read him, wants it so badly she bites her tongue to stop herself trying to force her way in.
"That's not what I meant," she says, holding back her irritation at his deliberate misunderstanding. "The other telepaths, where are they?"
"I told you before, you're unique," he says, but she's not forgotten how to read body language and his screams lies and misdirection.
"So how did you learn how to train me? It wasn't all theoretical knowledge, was it? You've been working on this project far longer than you've known about me."
He holds her eyes, doesn't look away. "The details of this project are classified. You know that, Freya."
She thumps her fists on the table in frustration. "All I'm asking for is a simple answer," she says.
"There's no such thing as a simple answer to a question like yours," he says, and that's the end of their training session for the day. It's weeks before she sees him again, and they don't talk about her question.
"Papa," she cries, and she doesn't know why he's crying on such a beautiful fall day when the leaves are all golden and crunchy underfoot and she got two gold stars from her teacher.
"Papa, what's wrong?" she asks, and he hugs her so tight she can hardly breathe.
"Is it Mom?" she asks June when Papa lets her go. June's face crumbles like one of the leaves when Freya stomps on it, all broken and ugly.
That's when Freya begins to cry, even though she's still not sure what's happening.
She wakes up slowly, huddled in on herself like she's still a little girl who's just lost her mother. Her face is wet.
She prefers the faceless dreams.
It's four months before she asks Brendan why he joined the NSA. She's not sure if it's a forbidden question, too personal. But they talk now, they share, they even spend off-time together, a game and a beer, usually at her place, Brendan complaining that he can't afford a TV half the size of hers. He doesn't really begrudge her the apartment, but he likes to act a bit jealous at times, even though he knows she sees right through him.
The commercials are on, and she's gotten past the stage of finding them all new and fascinating, so she turns to him and asks.
She hears a name in his head. Quinn. And then a tumbling of thoughts, hurt and jumbled. She'd thought maybe it was a desire to serve his country—he's that kind of guy, that sort of honorable—but it's messy, nothing so simple. It's shock and disappointment and an old pub on the corner of the block where he grew up, and a knife and someone dying, and he was only young, hadn't known death could be so ugly.
"I'm sorry," she says, and turns away from him as she blocks it all out.
"I guess you got the gist of it," he says, and he's staring at the television too, both of them riveted by a commercial for Purex laundry detergent.
"I didn't realize," she says, and feels selfish that she's assumed all along that she's the one with the sad history, that she's the one who's had it tough.
When she was little, her mother always made her French toast when she was ill. There was something soothing about the warm scent of it, and it always felt like a special treat. She'd be wrapped up in soft blankets on the sofa, cartoons on quietly on the television, and her mother would sit next to her and hand her a plate of French toast. They'd share it, giggling over the cartoons, and afterward Freya would be sleepy and would curl up with her head on her mother's lap and fall asleep to the sounds of Scooby-Doo.
Her mother always knew what she wanted. Freya never had to ask for it. She thinks it was just part of being a mother, one of those things mothers can do for their children.
A little part of her wonders if it was something more.
Brendan is oddly observant for a guy. She supposes it comes with the job—he didn't get it by being ordinary—but it still surprises her sometimes, the things he notices. About her.
She's sitting at the desk in the office. Kunzel and Patel are out on a stakeout, and it's just her and Brendan. And a room full of other agents, but they don't count. The room is individual little clusters of people, none of them interacting with each other. She thinks it's inefficient, right hands that don't know what the left hand is doing, but it's the way the NSA works.
"You want to know more about your training, don't you? About other telepaths?" he asks, though they're not so much questions as statements of fact.
He has this expression sometimes—open and honest and full of you can trust me with a side of I want to fuck with the system. He's wearing it now, but she can tell he's wearing the open and honest part primarily for anyone else in the room who might be observing. Or anyone not in the room—there are cameras, even here. He already knows she trusts him—he doesn't need to ask her to. The I want to fuck with the system part, though, that's all for her. He's angry for her—his thoughts get more jumbled but louder when he's angry—and it touches her. That somewhere along the way they've become a them, a team, Brendan and Freya and if you mess with one you mess with us both.
"Yeah," she says, and that's when the phone rings, Jon Harper on the other end, calling them both up to his office for a briefing.
Later, Brendan promises her in his head. We'll pick this up again later.
She doesn't like lying to June, but she's scared to tell her the truth. She can handle anyone else rejecting her, or thinking she's a freak, but she doesn't want to lose her sister again. So she keeps up the lie the NSA formulated for her, even learns about ciphers and codes so she doesn't get caught out.
June's still not sure whether or not to believe Freya, but she's being as careful as Freya to hold onto their new fragile relationship, so she doesn't question Freya. Not out loud, at least.
They meet up regularly, every week or two, sometimes just the two of them, sometimes June's friends or Freya's colleagues. Once or twice June's brought a potential date for Freya, but she doesn't push, and Freya's still not ready for anything new, not when she's still trying to piece together answers to her own life.
Tonight it's just the two of them, a meal out at Jimmy's. When they leave, June goes to hail a cab.
"Let's walk some of the way, catch a cab later," Freya says. Because she can. She can walk along a busy street now, no need to run, no more trying to run fast enough to leave the voices behind.
"Why?" June asks.
"Because it's a beautiful night. Because if we look up we can see the stars, even through the city lights."
"You always were a dreamer," June says, but she drops her hand and they walk together, side by side through the city.
It's probably the most normal evening she's had in years.
"My mother died when I was young," she tells Brendan.
They're in the car, Brendan driving. He's humming a tune silently, sounds like a show tune, though Freya doesn't recognize it, and she's having trouble keeping a straight face at that, which is strange when she's talking about something like this.
He looks across at her briefly, then nods. She assumes for a moment that he knows, that maybe he's read her file somehow, even though it's above his clearance level, but he doesn't. He's pleased she's telling him about her past, likes the idea that she's opening up to him, and, briefly, worried that this makes him gay or something.
"I'm not gay," he says, identifying her snort correctly.
She shakes her head. "Never thought it for a moment. Though the show tunes—" she says, and leaves the thought hanging. She grins at him, and he grins wryly back at her.
"Do you remember your mother?" he asks.
Freya nods. "Little things, random memories. I don't remember her going away, but I remember the day my father told me she'd died. Well, he didn't exactly tell me, but I knew she wasn't coming back."
"Was she a telepath too?" Brendan asks.
And that's it. The question Freya's been asking herself. Out in the open.
"I don't know," she says. "I don't even know if it's genetic or not."
The key is in her mother's name.
She starts to listen out for it. Puts it in the front of her mind and keeps herself tuned into it.
There are a lot of Margarets around. It's a month before she hears anyone think about Margaret McAllister.
It's a visitor to Jon Harper's office. Someone she's never met before, but when she's introduced to him, her name said out loud, he knows all her. About Dr. Welles and the program. His thoughts keep going, don't stop at that. He remembers her mother.
It's a shame, he thinks, such a waste of potential. If only we'd gotten to her first. And then there's an image, a woman hanging from bed sheets noosed around her neck, and Freya runs to the toilet and throws up, over and over until there's nothing left.
Brendan doesn't say anything when she gets back to their desk. She knows what she looks like—she fixed herself in the mirror as best she could, but her make up has run and she's still shaking.
She doesn't want to know what he's thinking, so she blocks it out. Sometimes it's better to communicate the normal way, words and eyes and body language. She doesn't need to know everything.
"Want some coffee?" he asks eventually, and she nods. He comes back with hot milky tea instead, and it's oddly comforting.
"My mother was like me and she killed herself," she tells him over the lip of the mug. She takes another sip of tea, grateful it's staying down. She feels empty.
"Did you ever—?" he starts, and then check himself. "Sorry, none of my business."
"It's okay," she says. "And no, I don't think I ever considered it. Though it's hazy, what I can remember from back then. I can remember my prom, and I remember first hearing the voices, those first few minutes when it all started, but the days and weeks after that, the years—" She shrugs. She remembers the books, the peace they brought her, but she doesn't remember individual days or time passing.
She looks at him, and for a moment she forgets to block his thoughts. So much faith in her, he's got so much faith in her strength, and she hides herself in the mug of tea.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was her favorite book when she was in the institution. She doesn't remember much, doesn't recall the minutiae of life, eating or bathing or even getting up each morning, but she remembers the peace Alice in Wonderland gave her, the magical way the words filled her head and shut out everything else. The world was quietest when she lost herself in the tales of Alice and the white rabbit and all the other nonsensical creatures.
She keeps a copy by her bed even now. She often wakes up with her head pillowed on the book, pages creased and matching lines on her face where she's been pressed up against it. She knows the words almost by heart, but they're still soothing. Meaningless names to fill her mind and help block out the dreams.
Brendan asks her sheepishly, as though he expects her to make up an excuse or go reluctantly.
"It's my brother's birthday this weekend," he says. "We usually have a family dinner—Mom loves to get all of us under one roof and cook for us—and go out after. I don't suppose you want to come, do you? It'll be boring, and I totally understand if—"
She interrupts him before he tries to talk her out of it. "I'd love to come," she says, and that's settled.
He sets out some rules on the way there. "No asking my mother for embarrassing stories about me, and definitely no asking my brother."
Freya grins. "I bet they've got some good ones."
"Exactly why you're not going to ask, and you're not going to say anything that will make them think about them, and if they do start to think about anything that involves me and any embarrassing situation, you block them out," he orders.
"No unless. No exception."
"You spoil all my fun," she says.
"You can have as much fun as you like. Just not at my expense."
"But that's always the best kind," she says, and he hmmphs and doesn't really mind.
Dinner is good. A table crowded with family, elbow to elbow, all talking over each other, and a few months ago this would have been a nightmare for her. Now it's fine. She talks to Brendan's niece, Gemma, about school and pop groups Freya's never heard of—she's still not caught up on everything she missed, nine years in an institution—but she listens to just enough of Gemma's thoughts to hold her own in the conversation. Afterwards they flop out on the couch and the floor in the living room and play Trivial Pursuit, and Freya's careful not to cheat, so she does incredibly badly on sports and leisure, and entertainment, but holds her own in geography and science.
And then Brendan's mother (call me Rose, dear, please) brings out the photo album. Brendan and his brother, James, both groan, and Brendan glares warningly at her. Freya just grins at him, promising nothing.
She doesn't peek at any thoughts though, just enjoys the pictures of Brendan in hideous seventies outfits (she's not sure which are best, the flares or the ruffled shirts), and shyly holding hands with a girl with long blonde hair and braces. "His first girlfriend, and he was so shy about her, he didn't want us to know he was seeing anyone," Rose tells Freya.
Right at the end of the album there's a group photo. Freya recognizes Brendan (barely—he has a pudding bowl hair cut that flops over his eyes) and James, but the other boys aren't ones she's seen in any other photos. "School friends?" she asks, and Brendan just shakes his head. He looks pale, and his mother closes the album quickly, as though she'd forgotten that picture was in there. Just for a moment Freya loses control, looks at Brendan and hears what he's thinking. It's a name: Quinn.
They're hanging around in the lobby waiting for an elevator the next time Brendan mentions her mother.
"You'd like to know more, wouldn't you? About your mother?" he asks quietly, although there's no one close enough to hear.
Freya nods, not sure she trusts words for this.
"You get leave time, right?" he asks, and now that he mentions it, she's never asked, never been told. "You could maybe visit folks, family friends—" He trails off, uncomfortable, wondering if he's said something wrong, and she should tell him that no, it's fine, he can say things like that. It's just that she's swallowing, and there's a lump in her throat too big for words to get by, and however much she needs to know, she's still scared.
The elevator arrives and they walk in. Brendan presses the button for their floor and she's still not answered. It's later, when Patel's collecting their lunch orders, that she turns to Brendan.
"You're right," she says, and she's about to elaborate because she doesn't really expect him to know she's talking about a conversation they had hours ago, but he just nods and knows what she means.
She doesn't demand things or get angry the way she did when they first brought her into the NSA. Not that she's forgiven them, exactly. She still thinks it was underhanded, and someone should have told her what was going on, what was going to be expected of her. But she's not angry about it any more. It's just the way the NSA works. Secretive and always reluctant to do anyone a favor unless they're getting something in return. She doesn't like it, but she's never going to be able to change it, so she lives with it.
Which is why, when she asks for leave, she doesn't demand it or ask why she hasn't been offered or given any yet. She's smarter now.
"I'm feeling a bit rundown," she tells Jon. "I wouldn't mention it, but I'm worried that my performance might suffer. You'll let me know, won't you, if you have any concerns about my work?" She's very professional, makes it as impersonal as possible.
Jon nods calmly. "Of course," he says, and he's only partly lying. He'd speak to Dr. Welles first, and then Brendan, and only then would he come to her. But she's not bothered by a half lie. Not when he's thinking maybe she needs a break.
"Thank you," she says, and turns to go.
"Freya, wait a moment," he says when she's at the door, hand out for the handle. She turns. "You have some leave due. Take a break, a week, two if you like."
She lets herself look surprised and pleased, and he's not sure if she's reading him or not, but he's a little relieved she won't be around for a while.
She holds her smile even as she hears that thought, but she leaves quickly.
Even those who want her here aren't always happy about it. Brendan's the only one who knows what she is and is genuinely glad to have her around. And she thinks he'll be the only one who'll really miss her.
Except he doesn't get to miss her, because next morning her bell rings, and when she presses the buzzer it's Brendan outside. She buzzes him up, puzzled.
"Aren't you going to be late for work?" she asks, and then notices the polo shirt and jeans. He's coming with her, and he's determined, and he's thinking so hard he's practically shouting in his head at her.
"Reckoned you might need someone to drive you," he says.
"Do I get a say in the matter?"
"You're not going to hum show tunes all the way, are you?"
"Probably," he says, and grins, wide and easy.
Freya drives. She's spent too many hours in the passenger seat, and Brendan's a horrible driver. Great if he's chasing down terrorists, not so great at switching into ordinary, safe driving mode.
"We're going to take forever at this speed," he complains, and she tunes him out the way she blocks out his thoughts.
She's grateful for his company though. She has a list of people to visit, family she vaguely remembers from childhood Christmases, old friends of her parents. Her great-aunt Mabel, her mother's bridge partner and best friend, Liam's mother, their next door neighbor. No one she's seen in over ten years. No one she feels any connection to any more, and she can't help but feel nervous.
Everyone asks after June, and that's easy. Freya tells them how well June's doing at work, about her recent promotion and her new boyfriend. She's brought a few photos too, mostly of her and June. She doesn't say much about her own job, just the basic cover story of deciphering codes—she makes it sound dull enough that no one asks questions. She goes through the same spiel with each of them about Brendan. "No, we're not a couple, just friends and work colleagues," and she sees most of them don't believe her, but she shrugs it off. It's not as though she can explain that's he's her closest friend these days because he's one of the few people she can be honest with, and because they've gotten into the habit of saving each other's lives.
"Would you rather I wait in the car, pick you up later, maybe? Save you having to explain me," Brendan offers, but she's glad to have him with her. It's less depressing if there's one person in the room who doesn't pity her. Because overlaying everything, that's what they all feel.
When she works her mother's name into the conversation, it's always the same. Overwhelming pity. For her mother, and for Freya.
Such a shame, and so young too, when she got taken ill. Never thought I'd see her again, especially after her mother—
Hmm, she seems all right now, but you just never know with things like that.
Thank heavens my Jonathan never took up with either of the girls. Not that they're not lovely girls, and Freya's turned out real pretty, but with insanity in the family, you just can't be too careful.
She doesn't learn anything new, though. Nothing to suggest there are any other telepaths in the family, or that anyone other than her mother and Freya were affected.
She takes her leave as quickly as seems polite. Goes through the promises to pass on their regards to June and to drop in next time she passes by.
Brendan drives on the way back. Freya doesn't argue. She feels empty and disappointed, and angry too. She still knows so little about what's happened to her, why she is the way she is.
"It's so frustrating, coming all this way only to hit a blank wall," she says, fists curled up on her lap. She wants to punch something.
"You didn't learn anything at all?" he asks.
She shakes her head. "Nothing I didn't already know. Or that I didn't need to know, like how much they all pity me."
"I hope you're not thinking of giving up," he says, sternly. That's not like you, he thinks.
She isn't. She's never been a quitter. She just needs to forget about it for a little bit, so she leans against the window and reads Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
"Don't you get travel sick, reading in the car?" Brendan asks, curious.
She shakes her head, and carries on reading.
"Would you mind reading out loud?" he asks.
She starts to read about the Duchess' cook and the soup with too much pepper and the baby that turns into a pig. The nonsense words fill the car and after a while she stops feeling so angry.
The next time Freya saves Brendan's life, they're not on a case. James phoned to invite Brendan out for drinks and Freya was right next to him, so he invited her along too.
They go to an Irish bar, and it's obvious that James and Brendan know it well.
"It's the first bar Brendan tried his fake ID on when he was in high school," James tells her.
Brendan shrugs. "Didn't work. The bartender knew me," he says ruefully. "Not the smartest thing I ever tried."
"He dragged Brendan home by the ear and dad grounded him for two weeks." James looks gleeful at the memory.
Freya can picture it clearly, even though she's blocking their thoughts. She imagines a younger Brendan, still too skinny like he was in the photos, hair even unrulier than it is now, looking much younger than his age. She'd bet he got carded even when he was old enough to drink.
"One week, actually," Brendan says, "but I snuck out for Bobbie-Ann's birthday, and Mom caught me climbing back in, so I got another week."
"He had an enormous crush on Bobbie-Ann," James says. "Not that she ever noticed him. Especially not when Peter Hayward was around."
They ramble on. Freya's drinking Coke. She doesn't drink much out—it makes control harder, and she has no desire to find out what would happen if she got drunk. So she sips her Coke and listens to James and Brendan trade stories that get sillier and sillier.
She doesn't listen to their thoughts. But her mind wanders, and she finds herself people watching. She's tired enough that she doesn't block as carefully as she might, so she catches stray thoughts, the ones that people are shouting inside their heads.
One drink's not gonna hurt, surely. Just one. They'll notice if I don't drink anything, and I can't have them guessing about the baby, not yet. Not until I know what I'm doing. I'll just have one drink. That'll be all right. And then no one will be suspicious.
I want to bend you over the table and fuck you until you scream. Bet you'd like it, you filthy little slut.
I am so bored. Bored, bored, bored. I wonder if he'll even notice if I look at my watch. Bet he won't. He's just so absorbed in his stupid little stories that go on and on. Half an hour, I'll give it another half hour, then I'm out of here. And if Siobhan so much as suggests a blind date again...
Thoughts frequently don't match faces or expressions. Freya learned that a long time ago. The bored girl is smiling charmingly, looking riveted, and the pregnant girl looks perfectly serene. So when a hunch-shouldered guy with a blank expression starts thinking about a bomb, Freya ignores his face. Doesn't take any notice of how ordinary he looks, or how calm he is. She just focuses on the front of his mind, whether he's just playing with thoughts, or whether he's really planted a bomb.
It's not a game. He's gleeful about it, is going to stand outside and watch the bar explode and he wants to hear the screams. He's looking forward to it, and Freya gets all that in the two seconds it takes her to know she has to tell Brendan.
She gets up from their little table, and slips, falling onto Brendan clumsily. She makes it look like she's drunk, an accident—she doesn't want to give the man any clue that she's on to him.
She whispers in Brendan's ear, everything she's gathered as succinctly as possible. "Ten o'clock to you. There's a man, gray hoodie and jeans. He's set a bomb and it's going to go off. The bomb's in the bar."
Brendan swallows then nods and thinks at her. Is it on a timer or remote controlled?
She listens, and she can hear the man counting down inside his head.
"A timer," she says. And before he's able to fully think are you sure she says, "Yes, I'm certain. We've got three minutes seventeen seconds."
"Are you okay, Freya?" James asks, and she's not sure if it's the first or second time he's asked that because she's been concentrating so hard on what has to be done.
"Fine, yes," she says. "Just slipped."
He's looking at her oddly, and it doesn't take a telepath to know he's wondering what's going on between the two of them.
"I'm gonna go—" Brendan says out loud, and thinks at her, hard. As soon as I've got the guy, get out of here, both of you.
She doesn't argue. She's found it best just to ignore him and deal later.
She sits back down next to James, her back to the man. She follows Brendan's thoughts, and the man's thoughts, so she knows a moment before Brendan pushes the man face down onto the table.
"There's a security issue," she explains as quickly as she can to James. "I need you to evacuate the bar as quickly as possible. Try to keep people calm, but get them out."
He's puzzled, wondering what went on that he didn't see, and maybe one day she's going to have to explain things to him, but he's as quick on the uptake as his brother and he doesn't question her. Just heads straight for the bar, has a word with the barman, and jumps up on the bar and calls for silence.
And then Freya's wincing, because there's just one word, a name, in Brendan's head.
Brendan's faltering, and she turns towards them and sees the guy—Quinn—struggling. He's going for a knife in his pocket, is planning to stab Brendan and make a run for it (he knows Brendan, knows him by name), so Freya shouts at Brendan, as loud as she can over the sudden commotion.
"Knife, right trouser leg," she shouts, and Brendan's blocking him and cuffing him and Freya takes a deep breath. She hadn't realized she'd been holding her breath until she shudders from the relief of breathing again.
She has to fight against the crowds heading for the exit to get to him, and Brendan's glaring at her, shouting inside her head for her to get out.
"No," she says. "You're gonna need me here." She doesn't need to explain why. They've got a couple of minutes at most, and the bar's never going to be clear in time, and there's no hope of any help getting to them in time. So it's the two of them.
"I want you out," Brendan tries again, anyway. "Harper will kill me if I let anything happen to you."
"Nothing's going to happen to me. We can do this," she says, and she's not just saying it. She knows they can. They just have to be fast. "Where's the bomb?" she asks Quinn.
"Like I'm gonna tell you that," he spits at her. Under the table.
"It's under the table," she tells Brendan, but he's still struggling with Quinn, and he can't knock him out because she needs him conscious. So she kneels down. "I can see it," she says. She rummages through her handbag and finds a pair of nail scissors. They'll have to do.
"Freya," Brendan says, and he's pleading with her, he's scared for her, he wants her to run out and leave him. But she's feeling remarkably calm considering that she's crouched on the floor next to a bomb that's going to explode if she doesn't defuse it.
It looks like every bomb she's seen on television. A timer, big red numbers, and a jumble of wires.
"Which wire should she cut?" Brendan asks Quinn. He trusts her to do this.
Quinn laughs. "We're all going to die," he says. "Boom." The red one first and then the black and she hasn't a snowball's chance in hell of figuring that out, the dumb bitch.
She tries not to look at the numbers, but they're right in front of her. 00:33 it reads. She swallows, and her hands are shaking, and for a moment she wonders if his thoughts are truth or lies. If there's any way he can know she's reading his mind and is lying to her. If she's going to cut the red wire and have everything explode. If she's about to kill Brendan, and anyone else still left in the bar. James is still inside, trying to get the drunks out, not knowing there's only thirty seconds on the clock.
It's all down to her now.
She cuts the red wire.
The countdown continues. 00:24.
I trust you. Brendan shouts it into her head loud and clear. 00:19.
She cuts the black wire.
She doesn't ask him about Quinn. She reckons it's best to let him tell her in his own time.
For once, his own time is there and then, Quinn dispatched in a police van for processing, and the aftermath of the evacuation still around them. He'd told James to go home, and he argued a moment then gave in.
"We were at school together," Brendan says, leaning against a wall wearily. "Quinn was two years ahead of me. He wasn't a cool kid, not really—too much of a loner for that—but he always seemed to know what he wanted. And he'd just go for it."
"You admired him," Freya says.
Brendan nods. "Except that when he got older, going for whatever he wanted got nastier. It started off with little things, escalated pretty fast. By the time he was a senior he'd spent time in juvie. And I knew he was bad news—my Mom sure knew he was, always warned me to keep away from him—but I guess I was young and stupid and still thought he was pretty clever."
He pauses, and Freya can see he's feeling the beers he had earlier, that he's slowing down. The adrenalin is wearing off both of them.
"The boy he killed—you saw that, right, in my memory?" he asks, and she nods. "That was outside a bar a couple of blocks away."
"You saw it?"
"I was heading home from soccer practice, turned the corner and saw the tail end of the fight. He knifed the boy in the gut, and for a second I saw the look on his face as he did it. He enjoyed it. No one else saw, though, so I didn't say anything. Wasn't sure what I could say, really, or even if anyone would believe me. After a while I told myself it was my imagination, but it wasn't. I saw that look, and I saw it on his face again today."
"So how is it he's out of prison?"
"He pleaded self-defense, and even though there were plenty of witnesses, no one agreed on exactly what happened, so there was no proof it wasn't. Maybe it was." He shrugs. "But the boy he killed, his name was Motallebzadeh. He was Iranian, and Quinn was always fighting with him. Called him—well, called him all sorts of names there's no need to repeat. It wasn't the first time I saw someone hate someone else because of what they were, but it was the first time it really hit home to me. What people could do."
"People's minds are scary places, sometimes," she says.
"Guess you'd know that more than most."
"Do you think there are other telepaths out there? Like me?" she asks Brendan. "In institutions still, or ones who've been trained, in other government agencies?"
"Let me guess. Dr. Welles still isn't being too forthcoming on the matter."
"No," she says. "I just—I just want to know if I'm part of something larger. If there's a reason for this, if there are other people like me out there. How they cope. If I'm—" she trails off.
"You're not a freak, you know that, right?" Brendan says. His perceptiveness doesn't surprise her any more.
"Yeah, I kind of am."
He shrugs. "Well, yeah, you are," he says, and Freya can't help but laugh. It doesn't sound so bad, somehow, when he says it. "We'll get answers," he carries on. "It might take time, but with you and me on the case, we're guaranteed success."
He grins at her, cocky and confident.
"I'm going to go to college," she announces. "I want to study psychology, maybe some other courses too. Might help me find answers."
They're stuck in the car on a stakeout, watching the back entrance of an apartment owned by a Syrian terrorist called Amir Suhrawardi, and the most excitement they've had in the last three hours was a cat jumping off a fire escape onto the hood of their car. It made Brendan jump, though he swears it was a sudden cramp in his leg. The car stinks of greasy junk food, Brendan keeps humming irritatingly catchy songs, and Freya's oddly content.
"Seriously? That's great," he says, and he sounds happy. He's thinking he's going to miss her though, and that it's going to screw up his career if he loses her now, only he tamps down on that thought immediately and mentally kicks himself for being selfish.
She smiles at him. "Part time. I'll still be working for the NSA, just going to college one day a week. I just—I missed out on all of that, and I need to get back some of the life I missed."
He's thinking how proud he is of her, and he's a little embarrassed at how relieved he is that they're still going to be working together, and most of all, over all the thoughts, there's a feeling of contentment that echoes her own.
"Just don't think you're gonna get out of stakeouts," he says, and that's when she looks up and sees Suhrawardi at the window and he knows they're there and he's waiting to watch them be executed. There's a van on the way, about to turn into the alley, and he's going to have them gunned down. "Get us out of here, now," she screams at Brendan, and they screech out of the alley while Freya listens to Suhrawardi's mounting fury as he watches them go.
Business as usual. It's not her dream, but Freya wouldn't change it for any other life.