Work Header

Learning Curve

Work Text:

The door to the foaling shed opens just as David is shifting to his feet, and he assumes it must be Mrs. Slivers without giving it a second thought. His arms are covered in blood up to the elbows, and he winces, before remembering that no one here expects him to pretend to be an actual vet. They don't care that he doesn't have an office or a certificate on the wall, it's enough that when they call him their animals don't die.

The mare is nuzzling her foal, the foal already trying to get its long, skinny legs to work. David smiles, relieved that Mrs. Slivers had called him when she did. By the time he'd gotten out to her farm it had almost been too late for him to bring the horses back. He says, looking for anything to wipe the blood off, "They both made it through fine."

It is most definitely not Mrs. Slivers that answers, "I hear they always do."

David whips around, panic and nerves rushing through him without reason. It's been nearly three years since Forrester and Drak, three years of living in various tiny towns, three years untroubled. But there is a man in a suit standing in the doorway of the shed now, pulling fine leather gloves off of his hands, watching David, and just like that the city, the pain, the fear, might as well have happened yesterday.

Sliding into the man's mind is easy now, if it was ever really hard. Thoughts and memories stream past, the man's frustration with his GPS system not having all the streets in the tiny town listed, a compulsive need to smoke that David fixes absently, barely hearing the man's surprised indrawn breath.

David doesn't reach for anything to use as a weapon, because he stopped needing them years ago, just draws himself up as much as he can and says, "I'm not interested."

The man—his thoughts say he's Agent Durrell—smiles, voice friendly, "I haven't even told you what I wanted, yet." David stares back, because everything this man knows about him is laid out, his dead parents and his hermit sister, her sick boyfriend, all the things David can do with his brain. The agent's smile softens, "David, I just want to talk to you."

"You don't have to talk. I know all about you already. I know you're NSA. I also know about the agents you have circling the building and that one—" David stabs a finger out, pointing through the wall to where he can feel another mind, twisting and turning, "—should be ashamed of himself. Alyssa is thirteen."

Durrell surprises David by taking another step into the shed, because usually around the time David starts making it obvious that he's poking around inside people's heads they get real uncomfortable. Durrell is keeping his calm, and not just on the surface. His thoughts are smooth, ordered. The agent says, "If you know all that then you also know we're not here to hurt you."

And that's true. There are plenty of shadowy places in their minds, but none regarding him. It's not fear or even curiosity that drove them from the east coast to this plains town. David shifts, licks his lips and catches the foal finally making it to her feet out of the corner of his eye. He says, "And what makes you think I want to join your little club?"

Durrell doesn't smile, his voice is without an ounce of humor when he says, "You know that, too."

David sighs, looking down at his bloody hands, the animals that he saved. He says, "I need to think about this." He likes it here. It's safe here. No one bothers him in his little cottage, they call him when their livestock are sick or dying, he fixes them, and they pay him. They all smile at him when he eats in the diner, and sweet red-headed Frankie McManus at the corner store blushes and thinks thoughts that are all warmth and want whenever he sees David.

The agent is already stepping out the door, saying, "You know where to find us." David stands there for a long time after they leave, staring at the wall and wondering why the hell he's even considering this. Last time he'd tried to do the right thing it had blown up in his face.

David hasn't moved by the time Alyssa steps into the shed, her hands still dusty from feeding the chickens. He listens to her laugh and babble, watching the foal and its mother. This is a good life, peaceful, fulfilling. He doesn't need to be risking his life to make a difference. It's not his responsibility. Really.

David doesn't want to work for the government, but Julie always said he had an inflated sense of responsibility.

David isn't sure why he kept his old truck. There's a bloodstain on the seat that won't come out no matter how hard he scrubs it. The heater still doesn't work. But it was a gift from his father—or at least the man that he had always thought of as his father—and he hangs onto it.

Big cities have always been a challenge to be in. There are so many people and so few of them have mental shields of any kind. Driving through the streets is enough to nurse a constant headache behind David's temples, a pound-pound-pound that he can feel in his eyes. They're all angry or horny or happy, and the constant pressure squeezes like a vice.

He finds the office easily enough, drives into one of the employee lots, leaving a confused man at the front gate. All the other cars are low, sleek sedans, tinted windows and government plates. David snorts at his truck, rolls his eyes, and waves at the befuddled security guard on his way into the building.

The floors are white and clean and there are cameras everywhere. David ignores them, and all the people that he passes ignore him. That was a trick Julie taught him, it was easy to push the switches in the human brain that told them not to see things—especially things that they don't want to see in the first place.

David is following Durrell's memories, the path that the man takes to his office every morning. He feels out of place in his heavy coat and boots, everyone else wearing suits and shiny shoes. It's not like they're paying him any attention, but he still has the insane urge to try to do something to fix the messy ponytail gathered at the nape of his neck.

There is a receptionist in front of Durrell's office, a young man sipping coffee and tapping impatiently at the screen of his computer. David steps around him and into the office, shutting the door carefully and looking around the room.

The walls are lined with bookshelves and diplomas. David scans them, colleges from up and down the east coast, awards for valor in the field. He steps up to the windows behind Durrell's desk, stares down at the cars parked in endless, neat rows below and finally settles into one of the leather chairs in front of the desk. When he clears his throat Durrell startles and looks up.

David smiles at the man's wide eyed look of surprise, says, "If you lie to me I'll kill you."

Durrell lets out a long breath, controlled, relaxing back into his chair, "Yeah, I've read your file." David wonders how much they know about the city, about the institute and what David and his sister did to it. It had all been covered up frighteningly well, considering how many reporters had been there to see what happened.

"I've never done anything like this before." He can see what's expected of him, flashes of the thoughts through Durrell's head that David doesn't even have to concentrate to read. Himself with a haircut, in a suit, at a shooting range, standing in a hallway with a faceless partner standing by his shoulder. "I know how to shoot a gun."

Hunting had been a family affair that David hadn't been able to participate in, though his father had tried everything to coax him into it. When you could hear the animal dying, its last frenzied, desperate thoughts, it kind of took the appeal out of it. David had still learned. He continues, "But I don't need one."

Durrell grimaces, just a flash of expression across his eyes, and with it a rush of images through the man's head, the bodies that David left behind, bloody stumps at the end of their necks. David winces himself, because he's not proud of that, any of it, even though they'd all deserved it.

Hearing a mind die is bad enough. Killing it is something that still wakes him up with nightmares, at least once a night.

David is just opening his mouth to declare that he doesn't need all the classes Durrell is contemplating, that if they just put him in a room with people that know the things he needs to know, he'll learn, when the door slams open. David blinks, twisting to look over his shoulder as a man strides into the room to the protests of the receptionist.

The man is wearing a suit, smooth and in perfect order in contrast with his messy hair. He's got dark, angry eyes and Durrell is saying, voice deceptively calm, "Agent Dean, what can I help you with?" as David reaches out to the man.

There's darkness in the man's head, pain and anger that lashes back like a wounded animal. David gasps, jerking back in self defense, gripping the arms of his chair to stabilize himself. The man—Agent Brendan Dean, who ate a piece of toast for breakfast and sees blood behind his eyes—turns to look at David, his storm into the room faltering as he stares.

Dean says, "Who're you?" sharp and abrupt.

David is still reeling, because it's been a long time since he deliberately touched a mind in that much anguish, all pain and anger. He opens his mouth and nothing comes out. Durrell speaks into the silence, "This is David Kellum. He's going to be working with us."

Dean is frowning, and then smoothes the expression out, something like hesitation flickering across his face before that's pushed aside as well. Dean is a man on a mission, saying, "I need to talk to you. When will he be gone?"

Before David can even think about being irritated, Durrell is speaking, "Actually, I need to speak with both of you." And David sees the shape of things unfolding behind Durrell's eyes, things falling and sliding into place. David opens his mouth to protest because all he knows about this man is the turmoil in his head, and it frightens David in a way he doesn't know how to put into words. Durrell says, "Trust me," and then, "Please, sit down, Brendan."

And he lays it all out, sweet and ordered, and Brendan waits until he's done to say, "No."

David ends up working with a woman, Agent Cassandra Locke. She has short brown hair and bright eyes with lines around the corners and a smile that shows off one chipped tooth. The first time they meet she says, "So you can read my mind, huh?" and projects an image of a giant purple elephant.

David laughs and slides behind Durrell's eyes so that she can see physical proof of his gift, his eyes going reflective white.

Cassandra is more patient than he really needs her to be, but that's alright. She's perfectly willing to let him poke around her head, soaking in all that she's learned about the job over the years, filing it away in his own stores of knowledge. She takes him to get his hair cut and David blinks at himself in the mirror, dark blond hair curling around his ears.

The first case they work has them sneaking into the Canadian embassy. David is nervous, but Cassandra is calm enough for both of them, getting them into the building while David keeps the guards away, scanning minds as she works.

They've barely been there any time at all when David slides into a mind and finds what they're not looking for. Trying to make Cassandra understand what he's seeing takes a moment, but she gets the picture when David finally manages to explain about the bomb and the National Mall and how little time they have.

Technically it's not their jurisdiction, not anywhere close to it, actually. But the FBI is kind of short on psychics and David can find this guy, he can stop this, and that's what they came and snatched him out of his happy life to do.

A helicopter picks them up and David feels like he doesn't breathe the whole way, holding onto the stillness inside his chest against the horror and adrenaline in everyone else. And then they're landing and David is moving, impatient and itching under his skin, sure that something terrible is going to happen if he doesn't move as fast as possible.

It's easier to read a person's mind if he can look into their eyes, especially if they're trying to shield their thoughts. David abandons any pretense of being subtle, grabbing people and spinning them around, leaving them sagging and disoriented. He can hurt people, if he pushes too hard, and he clings to the fraying strands of his restraint, steadying a woman as she sinks to the ground.

There are people worried about their jobs, people worried about their kids, one man who lost his job and his wife and whose thoughts are all blood and bullets. David flinches, draws back and slugs the man, and when the man tries to get up David snarls and hammers down into the man's psyche.

The man—Eli Suns—goes down screaming, and David keeps moving.

There are too many people for him to scan them all, but he keeps going anyway. The touch of calm and anger shines through him like a star exploding. David pivots, staring at the man across the reflecting pool, the man wearing the bright polo shirt and Yankees baseball cap. And David knows.

David gasps, the man's thoughts sliding over his own, and reaches out. The space behind the man's eyes is dark and twisted, all razor edges and black shadows. It's vile, a miasma of filth and anger, and there is a gun in the back of the man's pants.

David can feel the cool metal under his fingers, a phantom perception when he wraps the man's hand around the gun. The man rails against him, tries to buck his hold but David has fought worse than him, has killed to save an individual, and there are so many individuals here.

There's a ghost-pressure of the barrel of a gun against David's temple, and he holds his breath, times it, pulls the trigger and yanks himself out of the other man's head. Across the pool there's a gunshot and screams, and David sags, breathing hard. Cassandra is there, catching him before he can hit the ground, yelling into her radio and David can feel the phantom ache of death in the back of his throat.

David has places to be, a tiny apartment in the city that he can't sleep in, a humane society that he hasn't visited yet that he wants to stop by. But he's sitting on the steps of headquarters, turning the badge they gave him over and over in his hands and wondering why it always comes back to blood and death.

His suit jacket is abandoned beside him, his tie loose, the top few buttons of his shirt open. People move around him, shifting like water to give him space, not seeing him. He's hiding in plain sight, considering calling Julie, knowing she would offer him a place to run to, but not the understanding that he needs.

When someone sits down beside him David just assumes that it's someone else who's killing time. And then the man says, "You okay?"

David blinks, looking to the side at Brendan Dean. The agent has his arms braced on his knees, jacket stretched across his shoulders, looking out across the parking lot. David shrugs, wondering how it is Brendan saw him to begin with and then realizing it's his own fault. He doesn't like Brendan's mind, the tormented mess of his thoughts, and David has been consciously avoiding straying anywhere close to the man's thoughts.

Brendan is silent for a long moment, then, "You shot that man." David sucks in a breath, remembering the burn of the man dying, the echo of splintering pain through his skull, shattering him. There's a chill walking up his spine even now, because he doesn't want this. He wants a quiet life, he wants to heal animals, to fix the broken. He wants peace and tranquility.

"Yes, I did." The words feel strangely flat. He can remember this from before, that ache that came with killing people. There's a glow that he gets from healing people, but taking lives just aches and burns, leaves him feeling empty inside.

Brendan sighs, shifting to his feet. The man stands still for a moment, staring up into the sky with his hands shoved into his pockets, "It's good that you can take care of yourself." The words are tight, distant, and David reaches out to the other man against his better judgment.

In his head there is a woman, beautiful and dying, blood bubbling up between her lips, splattered across her cheeks and forehead. David looks away, wishing that there was some way he could heal that pain, the mental anguish. There's a part of him that thinks he could, that he could just wipe it away, but it's not something he has any right to do.

When David looks up Brendan is gone. Cassandra pauses on the steps when she comes down, but David stays hidden, and after a moment she continues down to the parking lot. David stays until the stars come out, hidden somewhere behind the parking lights and the clouds.

In the morning David leaves, gets in his truck and drives, drives, drives until he crosses the mountains, and then he keeps going. He throws his suit jacket and tie into a river, pulls his shirt over his head and drops it. The edges of his badge bite into his hand and David hurls it down.

He drives some more, and keeps going, sleeping when he has to, eating when his stomach rumbles, not stopping until he's standing on the edge of the ocean. He's not sure how many days he's lost, but the sun is low in the sky, blood red and sinking against the sea.

David kicks his shoes off, wades out into the surf, watching the sun set.

David doesn't realize that there's someone in his room until he flicks on the light. Brendan Dean is sitting on the edge of the bed closest to the door, flicking through the channels on the television. David freezes half in the room, casting his mind out, three more agents in the parking lot, in the flower van. Dean says, "Leaving a string of miracle cures behind makes a pretty clear path to follow."

David says, "Leave me alone."

There's a pause, Dean clicking the television off and fiddling with the remote. "Agent Locke is dead. A mutating computer virus infected our systems, started picking agents off. We think we have it contained. But it was an inside job—obviously, and there's a good chance that whoever did it could do it again."

David isn't listening, the world tilting alarmingly on its axis. He holds the door jam for support, something tightening up his chest. Dean says, "People are going to keep dying. You have—"

David throws a hand up, the beds vibrating at his distress, "Don't. Don't tell me. Overactive sense of responsibility. You know I'll go with you." They wouldn't have come if they didn't think he'd agree to go back. "I need to pack."

Dean's smile is bright, sharp, "Taken care of." The agent pushes to his feet, grabbing the backpack full of David's possessions and tossing it across the room. David catches it, like a lead weight to his chest, and follows Dean back out to the parking lot.

His truck is still warm, and David climbs inside. Dean pauses by the door, one eyebrow raised skeptically and David says, "I'm driving my truck." The agent hesitates for a moment, then reaches out carefully, taking the keys out of David's hand.

"You need to get back fast. We brought you a ride." The agent tilts his head at the helicopter just touching down, the blades cutting through the still air. David looks at it for a long moment, before turning his gaze back to Dean, trying to read the man's face because he can't bring himself to look inside the man's head, with the death and anguish therein. "There isn't time, Kellum."

David holds his breath and makes himself look into the man's eyes. There's blood and a dying woman, there so viscerally that David can feel her in his arms, bleeding out across the cold floor. Beyond that there's gunfire and screams. And beyond that there is Cassandra, being loaded into an ambulance, a sheet being pulled up over her still face.

Dean's voice is sharp, "That's not polite."

David blinks, sick to his stomach from the blood and death, trying to shake the chill out of his skin. He says, surprised by how rough his voice is, "I could—I could wipe that away, for you, if you wanted me to." For a second Dean just stares at him, eyes shuttered, and then he steps back and stuffs David's keys into his pocket.

"C'mon, you got lives to save." And David wants to protest, he wants to remake his life, something good instead of the death that dogs his footsteps. But someone killed Cassandra, and she'd been nothing but nice to him. David slides out of the truck, runs his hand up over his face, and follows Dean to the waiting helicopter.

The flight is a strange mix of quiet and noisy, the constant noise of the helicopter and the thick silence from everyone around him. David puts his head in his hands, squeezes his eyes shut, and concentrates on that single bright point of light in the back of his head that is him and no one else. He wishes he had gone to Julie, because she would have known what to do with this.

Dean wants David to wear a jacket, worried that he'll stick out when he goes looking for the perpetrator. David just waves his hand, doesn't bother explaining that when he doesn't want people to see him they just don't. It would just lead to questions, to Dean wanting to know why David doesn't disappear on him.

David walks through the halls that are familiar from Cassandra's thoughts, scanning people, reading more minds than he has in a long time. The pressure in the back of his skull is terrible, thoughts chasing each other back and forth, all the nightmares that these people have seen playing across his eyes, because you have to look deep, deep, deep to read people's secrets.

The minds all blend together after awhile, sour and terrible, poisonous. David feels jittery, cut off from his own mind in self defense. He doesn't know how long he's been walking before he stops in front of a woman, tall and beautiful, looks behind her eyes and knows what she's done.

The woman—Agent Elle Jenkins, wife, mother, traitor—startles and jerks back and David is drawn forward. She hadn't meant for there to be any deaths, it had been an accident, a terrible accident that had gotten out of hand. It had only been meant to gather information, but the coding had evolved past her highest expectations.

Her back hits a wall, the black and white photos there bouncing with the movement. David can feel the stretch and coil of the power in his skull, the static pulse of it, anger looking for an outlet. Not all of it is his, his shields are all so wide open that the anger from everyone in the complex, anger over losing their own, is just pulsing through him.

David shivers, head jerking to the side, and the woman's eyes flutter, a pained whimper escaping her lips. Right now her blood vessels are all constricting, her heart swelling and pounding way too hard. It wouldn't take much to make it explode, he could do it, do it so easily, and they all want him to, there's the pressure of hundreds of people building behind his eyes.

Elle Jenkins says, "Please, I have a daughter," blood slipping out of the corner of her mouth.

David jerks back, running his hands back through his hair. Elle Jenkins has a daughter named Amanda, who has black hair and brown eyes and the sweetest smile Elle has ever seen. David feels the burn of bile in his throat, and breaks his connection with her.

She makes a soft sound, slumping down to the ground, her face pale, her pulse weak but still there. David walks back until he hits the wall, palms braced over his temples, trying to get his shields back up, desperate. Brendan Dean is there, sliding to a stop and saying, "Is that her? Is she the one who did it?"

And David screams. He screams because there is a woman dying in his arms, a woman that he tried so hard to save, that he failed saving anyway. He can see the light fading behind her eyes, blood colored spittle on her lips, her small fingers wrapped around his wrist, squeezing with fading strength.

It goes on and on and on, a constant loop. David makes himself concentrate, makes himself shut down his senses, searching for that tiny point of stillness inside him. When he finds it he throws himself into it, dragging his shields up desperately, his body curling up in a physical manifestation of his mental strain.

When David opens his eyes, shields up so tight he feels completely cut off, lost in his own head, Dean is kneeling over him, fingers on his throat looking for a pulse. Dean curses softly when David's eyes flutter open, a stutter of relieved breath.

Dean says, "You okay?" constantly shifting his gaze over to Elle Jenkins, who is crying softly to herself, limp against the wall. "What was all that?"

David can't think of the words to explain and so he just shakes his head, shakes his head and holds on to Dean's wrist, a lifeline, tying him to the world that he's feeling adrift in. Dean curses again, soft, and flattens his hand on David's chest, says, "Hey, it's okay, it's okay."

David nods, swallowing hard and keeping an iron tight grip on Dean's wrist.

Later, Dean gets David to sit up, gets his jacket around David's shoulders because David can't seem to stop shaking. Someone brings them both cups of coffee and David cradles his in his hands, watching them put Elle in handcuffs and lead her away.

She stumbles, pauses beside him, looks down and says, "Thank you." And David wants to tell her that she shouldn't have to say 'thank you', that he's killed people he shouldn't have and that he hates it that he's taken so many lives. He has no right, but death follows him, a pale horseman that he can't seem to outrun.

Dean says, in the silence that David has gathered around himself, "You have anywhere to go?"

David twists, looks up at him and tries to make the words make sense. It's hard to read expressions when you're used to reading minds, and David just stares blankly at him for a moment before shrugging, "Left my truck in San Francisco."

That gets a smile, a laugh from Dean. The man looks younger when he smiles, even though it does make his eyes crinkle up in the corners. The man pats his shoulder, says, "Come on, you can stay at my place tonight."

There are reasons that he shouldn't. Dean's mind is a minefield that's just waiting to blow David up, but he has nowhere else to go. He nods, lets Dean give him a hand up, follows Dean out to his car and then up to his apartment. He's exhausted, worn thin and still locked up so tight that he feels dizzy and disjointed.

David hesitates in the door, not sure where to go, bad at reading all the signs that Dean's body language might be giving away. Dean clears his throat, says, "Let me get the couch set up, okay?" And David nods helplessly, standing in the foyer until Dean comes back and gets him, giving him an odd look and walking him into the living room.

Dean's couch is covered in sheets and David sinks down on it gratefully. There's a pillow that smells like laundry detergent and David lets his head fall on it, blinking up at the ceiling. Dean leans into his field of vision, the other man frowning now, "Is this—do you need something?"

"Just quiet," David's voice is a rasp, and Dean frowns more but nods. The man steps away and after a moment the lights go out, Dean's footsteps retreating down the hall. David curls up onto his side, squeezes his eyes closed, and tells himself to sleep.

David dreams disjointed dreams, blood and a dying woman and his own eyes gazing up at him, huge and hurting. He doesn't realize until he wakes up, jerking into a sitting position, his heart pounding in his throat and the pale stretch of his own neck burned into his minds eye, that his shields have slipped down to their normal levels, and that his dreams are not so much his as Dean's.

David is still sitting on the couch, trying to figure out how he feels about that, when Dean finally wakes up. The man wanders out of his bedroom with his hair sticking up everywhere, wearing a t-shirt inside out and boxers low on his hips. David looks, because Dean has been looking at him, if the dreams are anything to go by, and fair is fair.

There's an awkward pause where they just look at each other, and then Dean motions towards his kitchen, saying, "I'm going to make coffee." And David makes a face because caffeine does odd things to his head, makes it hard to think and impossible to separate his thoughts from everyone else's. Dean, apparently better at reading facial expressions that David will ever be, says, "But I have tea, too."

David shifts, "Tea would be good." Dean smiles at him again and David wonders what the hell is going on and what he's supposed to do. But right now he's barely awake and he's being offered tea and possibly breakfast, and so he keeps his mouth shut and his thoughts out of Dean's head and tells himself to just relax.

Turns out the NSA isn't really interested in bringing David back for fulltime work. He doesn't mind. There had been too many people there for him to work comfortably anyway, and computers and numbers really weren't his things. David works much better with biological systems.

David stays in Dean's—who becomes Brendan at some point—apartment for a week, building his shields up high enough to be around other people again. To his surprise the agent doesn't complain, just gives his living room to David to settle in.

David thinks that the meals he cooks might have something to do with the other man's good temper. Peeking into the man's head to see his favorite foods is something of a risk, but David takes it anyway, tiptoeing around the painful memories which stand out like monuments in the man's mind, none of them faded at all. David has never, ever, met anyone with a photographic memory before. He doesn't envy the man.

The meals are a little awkward, because David isn't sure how to have a conversation with someone he's afraid to scan. Brendan makes up for it with exuberance over the food and a charm that David wouldn't have expected from the man. David finds himself, involuntarily, not wanting to leave.

Still, staying doesn't seem to be a real option. The NSA wants him to keep in contact, on the chance that they'll need him—and the FBI has been making similar inquiries. But David doesn't want to sit around waiting for them to need him to kill someone. He thinks he might go insane that way.

There's a town out there, somewhere, that would be quiet enough for him to find a place. He knows how to settle in, how to make himself the kind of useful that would make people want to keep him around. He makes Brendan meatloaf and mashed potatoes and watches the man stuff himself before saying, "Do you think they'd give me a helicopter back to my truck?"

Brendan looks startled, a smear of mashed potatoes caught in the corner of his mouth, and for just a moment he's projecting strongly enough to be heard through David's shields. The pang of loss is sharp enough to tighten David's throat, the images that slide around him sending chills up his spine, himself sitting on the steps of the NSA building, cooking, sleeping on the couch.

Brendan says, carefully, "Going somewhere?" There's a tightness to his expression that David can't read, and he puts his fork down, leaning back in his chair. For a half second David wonders if Brendan had just assumed he would stay here, in his living room.

David shifts, "I don't usually—staying in one place doesn't work out very well." No matter how useful he makes himself, sooner or later someone becomes uncomfortable with what he can do. It never fails, and David's gotten used to it by now, pain that he's grown to expect.

There's a pause, Brendan staring at him with dark eyes. David looks away, because the temptation to scan him when looking into his eyes is tricky, hard to resist even though he knows what he'll see. There's been enough blood and death in David's life, he's tired of having to carry around Brendan's as well.

David is surprised when Brendan says, "Have you tried?"

David stares at him. The other man seems perfectly serious, and David shifts, biting back on the impulse to read him. There's silence for a long moment, and then there's nothing for it but to say, "Yes. I tried. Had a girl and everything, but she left and everyone got scared."

Brendan is silent, looking down at his plate now, poking at his food. There's a tension in his jaw, his knuckles almost white and David gives up, slides into the corners of Brendan's mind and waits for the blood. But it's just him, a thousand snap shot images of him, and affection, attraction, blossoming and sweet.

"Oh," David hadn't meant to speak, but there it is. Brendan looks up at him, just the tips of his ears tinged red. "Oh, I didn't..." because he hadn't thought anything of the glimpses of himself that hung around Brendan's head, photographic memory meant he had no choice what he remembered.

Brendan says, "Yes, well," and pushes to his feet, David doesn't have to be scanning him to sense his embarrassment and this isn't something David had ever planned for. It's been a long time since he was with anyone, years, really. And that had been so brief, barely any time at all. One relationship that had hardly lasted three months was barely enough to base things on.

But Brendan is walking out of the room, and David is on his feet, "Wait!"

Brendan freezes, one hand braced on the doorway, his head bowed. It takes every shred of bravery that David has not to scan him, not to make sure he isn't completely misreading this. But Brendan deserves better than that, and so instead David makes himself cross to the other man, lay a hand carefully on his back, right between his shoulder blades.

Brendan shivers at the touch, and David says, "I didn't know," voice gone quiet. "I'd like to try."

There's a pause, where the world freezes. All the muscles in Brendan's back are wound up tight, hard as rock under David's hand. David takes a half-step closer to him, heart pounding hard and Brendan is on him. David doesn't have time for a breath between Brendan twisting and his back hitting the wall, Brendan's hands on his shoulders, their bodies pressed so close together that David can taste Brendan's breath against his lips.

Brendan says, his eyes dark and hot, "Look in my head, David." His voice is thick and rough, lips brushing David's with each word. David's hands are tangled in Brendan's shirt, he's not sure how they got there, but can't make himself let go. David gasps, and slides into the space behind Brendan's eyes.

And it's him. It's all him. The curls of his hair against his forehead, the trail of water down the back of his neck after a shower, the curve of his shoulders when he cooks, the arch of his foot when he sleeps. It's all overlaid with want and heat, hunger deep and begging to be filled.

David gasps, head tilting back, sinking back into himself, tugging desperately at Brendan's shirt. Brendan makes a sound against his mouth, a question, and David breathes, "Yes, yes, please," And that's all the further he gets before Brendan's mouth is on his, swallowing the words, hard and sweet and desperate.

It's been a long time since David had reason to use his touch for this, but he remembers how. The places to touch to make someone shudder and shiver, and he reaches out carefully with his mind and his hands. Brendan groans into David's mouth, pulls back enough to growl, "Jesus, David, that's—"

David can't help but grin, leaning forward to recapture Brendan's mouth, the other man's hips grinding hard against his own, and David stops thinking about what he's doing and just goes with it. His truck isn't really all that important anyway.