The sudden pain in her head made Freya wince. She reached up and brushed beneath her nose, surprised to find blood on her fingers for the second time in two days though there had been no accompanying pain last time. This time she recognized a breach of her mind's defenses. Reaching out with her mind again, she tried to find the source of her nose bleed but there were too many people, their thoughts bombarding her open mind so she toned it back down to the bare minimum.
"You okay? Freya?"
She blinked rapidly and glanced at her worried partner, taking the handkerchief he offered with a murmured, offhand thanks before checking around cautiously once more. Just before the pain she had felt something, a tickle inside her mind as if someone was in there with her, reading her thoughts or seeing through her eyes. It was the weirdest sensation, far stranger than anything Michael had mentioned when he trained her to use her telepathic skills to bring down terrorists and other criminals. What she hadn't felt though, was any malice and, if anything, the other had seemed intrigued about something or someone rather than intent on prying into her mind. She sensed he had not meant to hurt her and was surprised when she reacted to his presence.
Somehow she knew it was a *him*, a man not a woman. Something about the structure of the mind moving inside hers; the tendrils of thought that whispered across her own, caught by her natural telepathy. She cast about again but felt no echo of familiarity that could lead her to the man who had slipped into her mind so easily. It was a little creepy to be on the other end of a telepathic scan, and very unsettling.
The urgency in Brendan's voice brought her back, along with the biting grip of his fingers on her arms.
"I'm okay. There was someone..." She frowned because she couldn't really explain. "I need to speak to Michael."
Hours later, she watched Michael pace the room. She could tell he knew something but was either reluctant to explain or simply couldn't find the right words. Eventually he sighed and sank down into his chair, still worrying at his lower lip.
"Scanners. That's the name they called them. They were the unfortunate side effect of a pregnancy drug that never made it passed the human trials... thankfully. Ephemerol." He took a deep breath. "I've only worked with a few because most are too unstable, mostly insane. They experience the same problems that put you into a mental institution, unable to shut out the voices in their heads. Except, they have the ability to fight back at those voices with a dangerous mixture of telepathy and telekinesis."
"He was sane."
"Was Special Agent Dean with you at the time?" Freya nodded. "Please ask him to come in."
Freya raised both eyebrows at the request because Michael and Brendan had some weird rivalry going on over her so they tended to keep their distance. She crossed the door and opened it, peeking out until she spotted Brendan and beckoning him inside. She smiled as he bristled, sensing Michael's similar posturing and wished she could tell them both to cut it out. Although he'd tried to hide it, she was fully aware of Michael's infatuation with her and knew he saw Brendan as a rival. What Michael didn't seem to know was that Brendan's interest in her was Platonic. He liked women but he liked men more, seeing Freya as family more than as a colleague. Brendan's problem with Michael was one of being overly protective. He thought Michael was taking advantage of his 'little sister'.
Michael turned away first and pulled some files from the cabinet behind him. He turned back to Brendan. "I know about your photographic memory." He began to lay a series of photos onto the desk top. "Any of these faces familiar from earlier today?"
Brendan gave Freya a tight look and she didn't need to be a mind reader to know he was wondering if she'd passed on that little bit of information about him even though it was practically common knowledge in the NSA. She noticed instantly when one grainy photo caught his eye, of a blond-haired young man. Brendan tapped the photo.
"He's changed since this was taken. Hair's short and darker, face less angular, broader, but I recognize the mouth and eyes."
Michael nodded. "This was taken about ten years ago. His name is David Kellum, and he is the grandson of Paul Ruth."
"The doctor who created Ephemerol?" Brendan stated and Freya noted Michael's raised eyebrow. He'd obviously not expected Brendan to know anything about Scanners. Brendan winced. "There was a Scanner problem a few years back."
"Yes, I wondered about that one at the time." Michael nodded but it was obvious he wasn't going to explain any further. She'd just have to get the details out of Brendan later. "Back to David Kellum. Ruth used his own wife as a guinea pig, not realizing it had a serious side effect on the fetus, producing two of the strongest known Scanners, Daryl Revok and Cameron Vale. When they discovered what was left of Vale's body, the authorities assumed he'd been killed by his older brother but the truth was far different. Vale had taken over Revok's body. He and Kim Obrist went on the run together to start an underground movement to help other Scanners. When the authorities started to close in on them, they left David with friends, the Kellums. Vale and Obrist never came back for David so the Kellums brought him up as their own. David was reunited with his older sister after the murder of his adopted parents, and together they stopped a corrupt official who was responsible for their parents' deaths and who was part of a secret operation to exploit Scanners for illegal activities."
Freya watched as Brendan picked up the photo and stared hard at the face even though he would have committed it to memory back in the streets hours earlier. She noticed his reluctance to let go when Michael took it from him.
Michael continued. "David and his sister proved that *some* Scanners could survive in the community, that they could develop mental abilities to block off the voices." He looked to Freya. "Working with Julie, in the early parts of this project, helped me to develop the methods I used to help you."
Freya frowned. "I'm a Scanner?"
Michael gave a small, embarrassed laugh. "No. No. Not a Scanner, but the problem was the same. Learning how to build walls to block out the voices."
Waves of confusion emanated from Brendan. "If you worked with his sister then why not with him?"
"At one of the early official meetings to discuss how to treat and integrate Scanners, someone in the public gallery sprayed the room with bullets. Both David and Julie were injured, but David's girlfriend was killed outright. He said he needed time, and I've been waiting for him to come back since then."
"And his sister didn't know where he'd gone?" Freya asked.
"Oh, Julie knew. She kept in contact with him but... I honored her request to give her brother time." He snorted. "Something I regret now because I didn't realize exactly how much time he'd need. Though I should have guessed because he had a very quiet upbringing."
"Why did he scan Freya?"
Michael shook his head. "That I don't know. What I'm hoping is that he's considering coming back in, and was just testing the water... metaphorically speaking. Probably to make sure I've not turned into another Paul Ruth or Forrester." Michael's expression turned serious. "If he does contact you then tell him. Tell him he's always welcome here."
David glanced around the corner and smiled when he caught sight of Freya and her gorgeous partner leaving the NSA office in New York. Originally, his interest had lain only with Freya as he'd seen Freya McAllister with Michael Welles. Slipping into her mind to check on her perception of Welles had been simple, and if his libido hadn't stood up to attention as soon as he saw Brendan Dean then she might have been none the wiser.
Perhaps he shouldn't have been surprised when she noticed him stealing into her mind so he could take a closer look at Brendan Dean through her eyes. It was obvious now that she was no normal human but he instinctively knew she was not a Scanner either. She could read minds but from her reaction she couldn't do anything physical with another person using her mind. Strangely, it had never really occurred to him that there were telepaths who were not Scanners. It should have though, especially as Julie had worked with Welles on his theories as part of her plan to help Scanners integrate into society.
Dean made a visual sweep around him just as he had done the other day, and David smiled again, wondering if this was NSA training or natural paranoia. Whichever, it was also hot. The smile froze on his face when he realized Dean was looking straight at him with recognition. David's first instinct was to flee but Dean made no move towards him, not a single step. Instead, Dean raised a hand as if to say 'hello'. Freya had turned too and she smiled, her mind open and easy where she had clamped it tightly shut after his intrusion the day before. He felt the tendrils of her mind reaching into his carefully, felt the warmth with no malicious intent.
He stepped out into the open and watched as they took slow steps towards him, until he could see Dean clearly through his own eyes. Up close, Dean was even more handsome, with green/gold hazel eyes filled with intelligence and curiosity, and a mouth that simply begged to be kissed.
"David?" Freya asked but it wasn't really a question. "Michael wanted us to tell you that his door is always open for you."
David couldn't help his gaze shifting to Dean, resisting the temptation to open himself up a little and read Dean's thoughts just to see what he thought of him. Though, if the heat in his cheeks and the way his pupils had dilated were any indication then David hoped it was reciprocal interest rather than Dean getting ready to hurt him; the rest of Dean's body language didn't seem aggressive though. Then her words penetrated and he cleared his throat.
"I've been meaning to pay him a visit."
The institute in upstate New York was exactly as Julie described in her last letter, and David loved the place right away when he saw the horses.
Before he discovered he was a Scanner, he'd intended to become a veterinarian for he'd always had an affinity with animals, knowing instinctively when and where they were hurting. They had always seemed to trust him and for those he could not save, he felt them slip away pain-free with just a bittersweet thought. Perhaps he should have realized he was different from other people but his parents, the Kellums, had home-schooled him for the most part, and the rest of his schooling had been in a small classroom consisting of only a dozen kids. Looking back, he understood the headaches that had made his early school days not quite so enjoyable, until he taught himself how to make the pain and the jumble of sounds recede far into the background.
In the remote town where he'd grown up, it hadn't been so difficult to shut out the noise but cities still bothered him even though keeping his walls up had become an automatic response nowadays, like breathing. He could still hear them though, like a dull rumble against his mental walls, aware that he could never lower his defenses inside a city or he'd become lost in a sea of thousands of voices.
Here at Michael's institution, standing in a room full of people, he lowered his wall as the noise of voices abated until he was met with silence from all but one person. David smiled because he didn't mind hearing Brendan's thoughts. They were flitting between attempts to raise his walls, the Scooby Doo theme song and the thoughts Dean was desperately trying to conceal with his walls and Scooby Doo. He welcomed those thoughts as a guilty pleasure because they confirmed David's interest in Dean -- in Brendan -- was returned in full.
Michael stepped forward, holding out his hand in welcome. "David."
"Michael. Call me Michael." Michael indicated towards a private office beyond the main area, far enough away that David would be able to tune out the others easily once they lowered the walls surrounding their thoughts. He indicated back towards the others.
"None of them were telepaths or Scanners."
"And their walls wouldn't keep you out if you wanted to get in."
David nodded, surprised and pleased by Michael's honesty in admitting their weakness. Yes, he had seen how flimsy their walls were compared to his. Perhaps they could hold off a weak Scanner or a lesser telepath than Freya but David knew he could push through them with ease should he wish to do so. He didn't want to though, aware that he felt guilty enough at sneaking through Freya's walls earlier and for not blocking Brendan's thoughts now.
When they all turned for a tour of the facilities, David hung back until he was walking next to Brendan.
"If the Scooby Doo is just to irritate me then it's not working. If it's to block your other thoughts then that's not working either." David carried on walking while Brendan froze in his tracks. He looked over his shoulder and smiled shyly. "I like you too," he mouthed and turned away, his smile growing when Brendan caught up and fell in step beside him. This time there was no Scooby Doo theme tune to hide Brendan's thoughts, and David happily shared a few thoughts of his own that had both their heart rates climbing in anticipation.
If Freya or Michael did notice Brendan's hand moving to the small of David's back in a possessive gesture, and remaining there as they went from one room to another on their guided tour, then they said nothing. Instead they shared a quiet smile and slowly faded into the background, leaving the two men free to walk a new path together.