“You’ve never seen Babylon 5? What do you mean you’ve never—that’s—oh, hmm.” He quiets down, realizing why she wouldn’t be up on any television from the past five years. “Well, we’ll just have to make sure you watch it.
“I don’t know, I was never really into sci-fi.” Before. In her mind, she terms everything as “Before” and “After”—maybe to signify that she’s a different person, though really it’s that everything else is different and she’s the same.
He raises an eyebrow at her—which, yes, she’s a mind-reading telepath working for the NSA, she can’t exactly get on a high horse about science fiction—and they both laugh.
She’s so used to the warmth and affection at every touch, every I’m-too-close-to-you-to-block-everything-completely-mind-brush with Brendan, that she doesn’t think about it beyond seeking it as a source of comfort and reassurance when the world is too gray and she needs something clean, untouched, and happy.
How Brendan Dean, experienced field agent who has seen and heard things that make many ordinary people’s blood curdle, a grown man with his own insecurities and “mess” of a life (his own words), equates to something warm and fuzzy, Freya never really questions.
They work well together. They take turns saving each other’s lives and everyone else’s, and over the course of stake-outs, exhausting all-nighters, and working dinners and lunches spent puzzling over cases, become friends, of a sort.
Tonight, they’re actually watching TV instead of working, bowl full of multi-flavored popcorn between them (present from Michael, she’d kept stealing from the jar he kept in his office), and Brendan is wearing jeans and a not-black (forest-green, actually, making his eyes change from indecisively hazel to get-lost-in-me deep, though he doesn’t seem to realize this) sweater and sprawled over half the couch in a way that makes her inordinately happy. His eyes are intent on the screen, sometimes he forgets to bring the popcorn all the way to his mouth, and his thoughts are a jumble of wordless glee and running commentary. He looks warm and comfortable and safe, and it’s only when her hand has landed on his arm, and he turns to her with eyes soft and happy, flashes to a mental image of leaning in and—kissing?—so quickly suppressed she can’t be sure, that she thinks anything at all.
“I’m going to get hot chocolate, want some?” she’s already up and headed for the kitchen, stalling the blanks suddenly filling in.
“Uh, yeah, sure, want help?” he’s absent and hasn’t noticed, thoughts glowy and now involving hot chocolate and it’s…nice.
Nothing like the presumptuous and invasive thoughts of most men that she’s starting to take as par for the course, though she suspects some of the mental images will never stop being sickening. She’s learning to not let it interfere with her composure, and if she’s a little flinty or decidedly malicious in subsequent dealings with said men, it’s nothing they don’t deserve. But this—
Brendan hadn’t even—it had seemed instinctive, familiar, and just as instinctively tamped down until only the reassuring warmth remained.
He must be training himself to block. It makes sense, of course. He’s been spending more time with Michael lately, and Brendan values his privacy (who wouldn’t?) more than he does most things, and he knows that even at her best, she can’t help but let things slip through in close proximity.
And with the exception of maybe Michael, Brendan is the single person she spends the most time with.
Freya doesn’t mind this, though she hasn’t had to think it through until now. She doesn’t mind at all, and knows he’d never push, never even let on, even in his thoughts, if he could help himself.
If she could help herself.
When she said she wasn’t ready to date, he’d taken it as a sign that the topic was not under discussion and ribbing about her personal life became strictly non-romantic from then on. So this—whatever it is, well. It's acceptable.
She has to be careful with it, yeah, but acceptable.
In the winter months, the TV-watching becomes routine. They work their way through Brendan’s collection of badly scripted and acted and often bizarre (but apparently iconic) sci fi collection.
The city’s all lit up with festive holiday cheer, and it seems to catch up everyone eventually. Office rumor has it that Harper may have smiled at something Merriweather said.
June takes a day off for gift shopping and helps put up lights and decorations (snowflakes and baubles they forgot they’d made back in elementary school, paper stars covered in smudged glue fingerprints and glitter).
Freya learns to make eggnog and also to leave the more complicated kitchen-related maneuvers to Brendan just as he learns to trust the more complicated insider-knowledge-required field maneuvers to her, and they both gain a vast and unwanted experiential knowledge of head injuries.
Brendan gets better and better at blocking; Freya’s present (a book on cryptography and mathematical puzzles, wrapped in bright red reindeer patterned socks. “Your boots are very serious. I’ll feel better knowing something ridiculous could be under them.”) actually comes as a surprise.
She likes how normal it makes her feel; to not know.
The Grunberg case leaves them too exhausted to find DVDs to put in, just staring blankly at the screen burbling with post-holiday specials.
Freya has her feet in Brendan’s lap (not the first time she’s done it, but she doesn’t remember when it started), and reaches over to the table for the bowl, slowing as she catches on to the feel of his eyes on her, wistful want seeping through the fingers he’s suddenly keeping awfully still on the soles of her feet.
The edge of her sweatshirt has ridden up and he’s flashing to the mental image of stroking his thumb across the half-inch of exposed skin above her jeans and sliding to his knees, kissing his way up her belly—it’s momentary, but still long enough for her to catch and for his eyes to go huge with horror. He opens his mouth, but no words come and he turns and grabs his keys, is out of there before she can say anything more than, “Brendan?” and gulp, heat flashing through her in a way strange and unfamiliar even in the memories from Before.
Michael takes one look at her face and pushes over a pile of manuscripts, going back to scribbling on a legal pad. She browses through the text, accounts of what may or may not be telepathic abilities in modern times. Michael’s effortless silence is always calming and eventually a knot in her chest loosens enough that she can speak.
“I still don’t like sci-fi.”
Michael nods, as if this is not a complete non-sequitur.
“But maybe I’m ready?”
“For sci-fi.” Michael’s smirking down at his desk and his voice is dry.
Freya laughs, slightly hysterical, but mostly calm. “You know there’s this thing called having a life. It involves not working. Ever tried it?”
“I thought that was what I was doing,” the smirk grows a little as he looks up, dropping his pen to steeple his fingers under his chin. (Someday she’s going to figure out what it is about his gaze that makes her awkward and comforted at the same time, like maybe there should be a hug involved except, weird. But anyway, it’s nice.)
Brendan’s waiting when she gets back, huddled against her doorway, cheeks dark with windburn. His thoughts are a blur too fast to be coherent words, but the gist isn’t hard to sift out.
She fights the inner distress at how he won’t meet her eyes or follow her upstairs, stopping just inside the door.
“I know you’re not—” ready, he finishes in his head, swallows miserably, “I’m sorry.” I’m really really really fucking sorry. Freya I know you can hear me. I know you can tell. Please, Freya, just,—his thoughts derail, because he’s not sure,—just what? Forgive me? Just ignore it? Don’t leave, don’t—“I’ll understand if you,” he glances up at her quickly before looking back down at his shoes, “I can’t promise it won’t interfere since I can’t really control my thoughts” damn it, I tried, I thought I had it down. I should’ve—I was too tired, and,
“Brendan,” she says, quietly, hand over his mouth to stop at least one flow of words, and locks her eyes with his, “it’s alright.”
His shoulders slump. (Relief, hope, resignation, reliefreliefrelief.)
“And,” Freya ducks her head and looks away, smiling a little, “for what it’s worth,” glances back quickly, “me too.”