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Loneliness is the Killer

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"So what do we have?" Brendan asked as he glanced around the team of NSA researchers gathered in the conference room.

They all shifted around nervously, glancing across the table at each other, leaving Brendan raising his eyes in Freya's direction. She shrugged and shook her head, meaning they didn't have any new information for him, not even half-baked thoughts. He sighed deeply and rubbed the back of his neck wearily because that left them having to backtrack several years to the only previous known connection to the terrorist organization known as Égide Obélisque--Jean Paul Brunet. The problem was that Brunet was dead along with the only other known associate, an innocent banker called Jack Larkin who'd gotten in over his head and paid a high price with his life.

"Then let's go back over what we do have." He didn't need the paperwork in front of him having committed it all to memory at the first glance weeks earlier--one of the major benefits of having a photographic memory--but he waited while everyone else started to turn through the pages. "Brunet approached the Toronto-based Gardner-Ross bank with an investment that rumor-has-it was worth 175 million Canadian dollars. Something went wrong when Brunet's security company were exposed as mercenaries for hire. Égide Obélisque was implicated in the car bombing of Ann Krywarik, Larkin's girlfriend and co-manager of the investment. Larkin attacked Brunet--who turned up dead with his throat slit--and absconded with the 175 million, on the run with a murder charge hanging over his head."

"Which was later disproved and the real killer caught and convicted," Agent Sears added.

"True, but the company wanted their money back so they hunted down Larkin, setting up a sting... and killed him when they realized he no longer had the money." Brendan looked around the table. "As we don't have anything else, let's follow the money. How did Larkin get the money transferred in the first place? Who took it from Larkin? How? And why?"

"Whoever it was...they were good," Sears stated. "Égide Obélisque have never traced it and that has caused them some serious problems with their worldwide contacts. After all, who wants to trust a company that cannot even take care of its own problems. Unfortunately, they've rebuilt their reputation and that trust and have started up operations in South America."

Freya leaned in. "I'm not exactly a financial wizard. Can't even balance my own account but... wouldn't an investment bank be filled with people capable of moving money around?"

Sears grimaced. "Yes...and no. Moving money around is one thing. Hacking into an account and moving the money may be overlapping skills but we're talking of someone highly skilled in both areas, possibly with access to a password or passphrase. Égide Obélisque took a close look at all the major players in Gardner-Ross but couldn't find a link. The only suspicious activity was the bank owner, Sally Ross, who came into a substantial amount of money a few months after Larkin's death. But the money seemed to come from a string of good investments with the bulk coming out of a Swiss bank account held in her father's name that could have been building for years. Her father was the original owner of the bank and it could easily have taken a year or more to have offshore accounts transferred into her name after his death."

"Still it's a starting point," Brendan contended. "Let's see if our financial wizards can dig up something on that Swiss account...just in case it wasn't an inheritance from her father."

Agent Jackson cleared his throat. "I was thinking..." He paused, obviously gathering his thoughts. "Sally Ross knew Jack Larkin well. This could be nothing but there was a minor building security incident recorded on the day the bank gained word of Larkin's murder. A derivatives trader in the firm attacked her and had to be escorted out of the building. She didn't press charges."

"Do you have a name for the trader?"

"Jansky. Grant Jansky."

"Get me everything you can on him." Brendan gazed thoughtfully at Jackson. "Good work."

Six hours later, Brendan knew the official history of Grant Jansky from his abandonment into the foster care system as a child to his nervous breakdown a month earlier. He knew Jansky was now on anti-psychotic medication--Haloperidol--and had returned to Gardner-Ross as a derivatives trader. More importantly, he discovered that Jansky was an uncertified genius who had been brought into Gardner-Ross by Larkin, and who had shared an address with Larkin and another guy for a short time.

"I think we need to pay Grant Jansky a visit," he murmured, unsurprised when Freya pulled out two flight tickets to Toronto. "I thought you were a mind-reader, not a clairvoyant."

"You've been broadcasting a desire to see Jansky in person for over an hour now. Thought I'd save us both a little time. Flight leaves in less than two hours."

"Have I ever told you how amazing you are?"

"Constantly. But I like those thoughts better than the Mickey Mouse or Scooby Doo theme so don't stop," she replied cheekily.

***

Toronto's financial district was busy at this time of day but the cab successfully negotiated the traffic, pulling up outside a tall building on Bay Street that had the logos of several major financial institutes proudly displayed, including Gardner-Ross. Brendan paid of the driver and stepped out with Freya, eying her carefully as she was still a little uncomfortable in crowded places with so many voices battering at her mental shields. They stepped inside and took the elevator up to the floor belonging to Gardner-Ross. The door opened onto a reception area and beyond it, behind a glass wall was the trading floor, filled with people talking animatedly and typing on computers while a ticker-tape flashed across the room with abbreviations and numbers for stocks and share prices.

"Can I help you?"

Brendan turned his attention to the receptionist and displayed his credentials. "I'm here to speak with a Grant Jansky."

"Certainly. I'll just make a call."

Freya leaned in and spoke softly. "She's calling the bank's current head, Adam Cunningham."

Brendan nodded, glad of the forewarning. An older man came down a flight of stairs and headed towards them and Brendan recognized him from the photos of the bank's major executives. The man greeted them. "Adam Cunningham. Can I be of assistance, Special Agent Dean?"

"Actually, we're here to speak with Grant Jansky."

"You'll have to forgive me but there was an incident in the office two nights ago. My head trader was stabbed by a deranged young woman. Mr. Jansky was one of the people who found him, and we seemed to have misplaced him since then."

Brendan didn't need to be a mind reader to feel the waves of concern flowing off the man but whether that concern was for Jansky as a person, for his business, or for why the NSA wanted to speak with Jansky was something only Freya could answer. She leaned in.

"It's a little of the first, a lot of the others."

Brendan nodded as Cunningham continued. "Perhaps we can discuss this in my office."

"It's a private matter between us and Mr. Jansky, but if you have any idea where we might find him?"

"I'm sorry. I have no idea."

Brendan noticed Freya's eyebrows twitching up imperceptibly but she made no attempt to engage Cunningham over the obvious lie so Brendan offered a polite good day and they left. He waited until the elevator doors had closed--leaving them alone--before turning to her, not needing to ask aloud.

"Apparently, one of the other traders saw him at the hospital yesterday evening and Mr. Cunningham believes he might still be there now." Freya narrowed her eyes. "You know he's going to phone the hospital."

"Yeah...but there's not much we can do about that except hope Jansky stays put."

"If he's even there."

The doorman called a cab for them and they rode in silence to the hospital and up into the Intensive Care Unit where Marty Stephens was recovering from the stabbing. Jansky was not in the waiting area and Brendan saw no sign of him during a quick glance into Stephen's room, almost closing the door carefully before Freya stopped him.

"Either Stephens is a schizophrenic or there are two people thinking in that room," she stated softly.

Brendan slipped into the room, his gut instinct telling him to look down under the bed. With surprise he found a pair of wide blue eyes staring back at him.

"Are you a nurse?"

"No. I'm Special Agent Dean of the NSA."

"The nurse said she'd throw me out of the hospital if she saw me in here again."

"Why?"

"I'm not family...but Marty shouldn't be alone. Barb will be back soon."

As if called by his words the door opened again and a woman stepped into the room, looking surprised to see Brendan on his hands and knees half under the bed and Freya standing just inside the doorway. Then her expression cleared.

"Come out, Grant. I'm back."

"Barb?"

"Come on." She gave Brendan and what-can-you-do shrug that was filled with affection, and next to her Freya smiled, no doubt reading those kind but exasperated thoughts.

Jansky scrabbled out from beneath the bed, head popping up on the other side of the mattress like a prairie dog with eyes all big, wide, blue and full of childlike innocence.

"Are you security?" Barb asked. "He wasn't doing any harm. He just wants to keep Marty company."

"No, ma'am," Freya replied. "We just needed to speak with Grant concerning another matter...and his firm seemed to think we might find him here." It wasn't technically a lie.

Brendan eyed her strangely for using first name terms but it seemed to work as Jansky climbed to his feet and gave Freya a shy smile. Brendan couldn't help smiling too as there was something so artless about Jansky. He'd read all the psychiatric reports and knew Jansky was some sort of savant and having now met him he could see how easily someone he trusted could take advantage of him. Jansky blushed when Freya looped her arm in his and walked him out the room and down the corridor to an unoccupied room. Brendan followed and gently nudged Jansky to sit down in the only chair.

"Tell us about Jack Larkin," Brendan asked quietly.

Sorrow filled the soft eyes. "Jack's dead."

"Yeah. I'm sorry about that. I just--"

"Did you know Jack?"

"No...but it doesn't mean I can't be sorry he's dead."

"It was my fault."

"Why?"

Jansky clammed up, making a zipper across his lips so Freya stepped in and crouched down in front of him. "Sally said it's okay to tell us." He looked at her with uncertainty. "She was so sorry for what happened."

"I forgave her."

"Was she the one who took the money from Jack?"

Jansky nodded. "She said it would make him come home...but they killed him. All my fault. I wanted him to come home."

Brendan crouched down beside Freya, having learned to go with the flow. "Wasn't your fault. You weren't to know they'd already traced him to where he was hiding. Grant, they were going to kill him anyway... as soon as they got the money. And if our sources are correct then he only realized the money was gone when he went to transfer all of it across to someone working for them...the same person who was hired to get the money and then kill him. A sting with a twist."

Brendan glanced questioningly at Freya when Jansky didn't react to his words but she nodded. "He understands."

"Did you transfer the money into Sally's Swiss bank account?"

"She wasn't supposed to use it. It was Jack's money because they killed Ann."

"Did you take the money from them in the first place? For Jack." Jansky nodded. "And what about before then, when they first gave the money to Jack?" Jansky nodded again. It was a long shot but Brendan had a feeling it might pay off. "Do you remember anything about their accounts?"

Jansky reeled off a list of numerals. It had to be an account number but it wasn't any of the ones Brendan had seen in the file on Égide Obélisque. "Where is that account?"

"Cayman Islands. The first few digits give the--"

Brendan pressed a hand against Grant's chest. "Yeah. Thank you."

Jansky smiled brightly, head dipping in embarrassment before he looked up straight into Brendan's eyes. "I like you." Before Brendan could react he had an armful of Jansky hugging him tight, and strangely it didn't feel weird at all, as if Grant fitted perfectly against him. He patted the man's back a little awkwardly nonetheless but Grant seemed disinclined to let go until Freya, holding back a laugh, helped to disentangle them. He wondered how long Grant had been waiting so desperately for the chance to tell someone about this and realized they were probably the first people to learn the truth. Brendan suspected that Grant knew more but the problem was that now they had approached him the chance of someone else--one of the bad guys--checking him out had greatly increased, following their lead. They needed to get Grant to a safe place where they could question him further and protect him at the same time.

"How about we go for a little trip?" Brendan asked.

"Marty?"

"Will be fine. He has Barb..." He floundered there and was grateful when Freya took up the slack.

"And Ziggy. Niko will visit too...and even Chris." Brendan knew she was drawing the names out of Grant's thoughts. "He won't be alone....and we'll let Adam know we're taking you away for a few days."

Grant stared at her then blinked, making Brendan aware of the incredibly long, light-brown lashes. "Okay."

This time Brendan blinked in surprise but another glance gained a simple shrug from Freya. It really had been that easy to convince Grant to go with them, and that worried Brendan because it meant Grant was far more vulnerable and trusting than he was led to believe from Grant's mental health records. Not enough to make Grant dysfunctional but certainly enough for Brendan to worry about the man's safety--and hence Sally Ross's safety too. Admittedly, he felt less inclined to worry about her though as--intentionally or not--she had taken full advantage of both Grant and Larkin to line her own pocket.

"We'll take the stairs," Brendan stated softly.

Perhaps Brendan should have taken greater note of that gut feeling earlier. Instead his only warning before the attack came when Freya started yelling at them to get down. He ducked on the landing halfway down, trying to draw Grant out of the line of fire only to hear a small cry of pain. Brendan fired back twice, aiming up where Freya indicated and was rewarded by the clatter of a gun on the stairs followed by the heavier thuds of a falling body. The man came to a halt almost at Brendan's feet and a quick glance at the weird angle of the man's neck showed that if the bullet hadn't killed him then the fall definitely would have done so. Worriedly, he glanced across at Grant, seeing the man's face white with shock and etched in pain. He was holding his arm close against his chest, rocking and sobbing quietly while Freya tried to comfort him. Brendan breathed a small sigh of relief because it looked like a flesh wound, though he knew it would still hurt a lot.

Freya looked at him. "More are on their way. We need to go."

He nodded and grabbed hold of Grant, dragging him to his feet and forcing him down the remaining stairs to the lobby where people were still scattering in all directions. Brendan could see a cab pulling up outside and charged towards it, almost knocking over the person getting out. The cab driver looked stunned but moved away quickly when Brendan shoved his ID at the man, glad that the Canadian government had an agreement with the US government concerning certain agencies--the NSA being one of them as they worked close together to prevent terrorists entering the US. Squashed into the back of the cab, neither of them was able to see to Grant's wound so Brendan asked the cab driver to pull over a few more blocks further on and around a corner.

"Hey. Just need to check this out, okay?" Brendan murmured softly, tilting up Grant's chin so he could make eye contact. "I'll try not to hurt you too much but I have to stop the bleeding."

"Sir? I have a medikit in the trunk."

Freya grabbed it but took the front passenger seat so Brendan had more room in back. They moved on, heading west from Toronto East General hospital towards the airport where there was a private hangar used by the US and Canadian governments for national emergencies. Brendan had already decided that this could be classified as one. They reached the airport without incident and made it through the restricted barrier using Brendan's NSA identification to find a field agent already waiting for them. Brendan explained quickly while another agent paid off the cab driver and ensured he left the restricted zone. It took another twenty minutes of wrangling before Brendan could convince his boss that he had a solid lead on Égide Obélisque through Grant Jansky and needed to take him into protective custody. Yet another twenty minutes passed before the agent told him the helicopter was being prepped to take them into the US to North Buffalo, having been cleared with their counterparts in the Canadian security services. During that time, Grant's flesh wound was properly treated and bandaged by the experienced field agent.

On entering the helicopter, Brendan placed Grant beside him and Freya sat opposite; he buckled him in before they took off, aware of Grant watching him with big, pain-filled eyes despite the pain relief medication. The noise made it impossible to talk so he wrapped an arm around Grant, letting the scared and hurting man lean on him, his head dropping onto Brendan's shoulder. Gradually, the erratic warm breaths evened out until a questioning look towards Freya gave him a mouthed response, "Asleep." Brendan nodded and held on tighter, quickly burying his thoughts deeper when he realized he was wishing he was holding Grant under far different circumstances, having gone too long without the feel of a man's body in his arms.

Freya merely grinned and then mouthed, "You're never dating my sister again!"

Brendan winced, wondering if she'd already known about his preference for men despite occasionally dating women--like her sister. He hadn't hidden it deliberately, he had just never made it an issue, deciding that Special Agent was enough of a label and that being gay, straight or bi had nothing to do with his ability to do his job. And it didn't change who he was. Looking back across the helicopter he caught her watching him closely; she nodded and smiled.

"I knew," she mouthed. Her eyes twinkled with devilry. "You look cute together."

Brendan could feel the heat rise in his cheeks but felt his grip tightening on Grant, holding him more securely. It was almost a shame to wake him when they came in to land in North Buffalo but Brendan could see a car already waiting to transfer them to a safe house. What he was not expecting was a two hour drive passing by places where he knew the NSA or FBI had safe houses but it all became clear when they turned up a country lane which Freya recognized. After another ten minutes, the car pulled up outside a small house and Brendan was not surprised to see Doctor Welles waiting for them, though why he'd take an interest in Grant Jansky was a mystery. Grant wasn't one of his psychics, just a guy with a brain chemistry imbalance--admittedly a very intelligent guy.

As Freya led Grant into the house that she had once occupied as she learned how to raise and hold her mental shields, Brendan waited with Welles for an explanation.

"I owe the director of the NSA a favor....plus he has interesting brain chemistry."

"He's not a test subject."

"No. Of course not."

"Well, if you'll excuse me then I have to see how far my people have progressed with the information he's provided so far."

"Certainly Agent Dean."

Brendan sighed as Welles turned and started to walk away, back towards the distant facility where he did most of his work. Turning back to the small house he was surprised to see Grant standing in the doorway watching him.

"Is he a psychiatrist?"

"Yes, but you don't have to talk with him." Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Welles had stopped, curiosity getting the better of him.

"I--I need a refill on my prescription." He held up a small container, shaking it, and Brendan could hear the rattle of only a few pills inside. "I got upset and threw some away before Ziggy stopped me."

Welles came back and took the small bottle. "Let me take the details off the bottle." He smiled warmly, made a mental note and handed back the small container. "Why don't you go inside and get some rest. Freya will watch over you...and I'll be back soon with Agent Dean."

"Okay."

Brendan frowned but followed Welles along the path leading to the main facility, waiting patiently for Welles to tell him what was on his mind.

"Haloperidol is used as an anti-psychotic as well as for a few other ailments. Nausea in chemotherapy for instance, but we both know that's not the case here."

"According to his psychiatric evaluations, he had a psychotic episode and this was prescribed...successfully."

"I've read his file. He's one of those borderline cases. No one's quite sure if he should be labeled with Asperger's or another psychological disorder. His high IQ and obsessive focus certainly pushes him towards Asperger's as a diagnosis but he's not a typical case. There are...differences." Welles stopped and gave a sly smile. "Are you aware he scores as high as you on the IQ tests."

Brendan tensed and straightened, bristling at the thought of Welles going through his file. Welles raised both eyebrows.

"Did you really think Freya was dropped in with you without us assessing you first? I needed to have grounds to trust her partner. Her ability to read minds coupled with your ability to recall everything you see was the perfect combination, especially as you understand the significance of what you see and can extrapolate from the presented facts." Welles narrowed his eyes. "You could have been anything you wanted...but you chose the NSA. Why?"

"My life choices are my own business."

"You have a doctorate in criminology and law enforcement...but how many of your colleagues know that?"

"They don't need to know."

Welles nodded. "I'm not your enemy, Brendan. I know everything you're hiding and it really doesn't matter to me. None of it."

"I'm not hiding anything."

"Misplacing? Misdirecting? What would you call it?" Brendan remained silent and Welles continued, indicating towards the small guest house. "He's almost your opposite. He hides only what he's been told to hide. For his work. For his friends. But everything else is an open book. No shades of grey."

"And your point?" Brendan had to ask because he really didn't get what the problem was.

"Don't hurt him." Welles stated softly then sighed. "Don't get me wrong. He's not a child despite certain naive qualities, but he is vulnerable and it's almost too easy to take advantage of that."

Brendan wished he could argue with Welles but, in truth, he'd already figured that much out about Grant from the short acquaintance.

Welles smiled. "I'll fill his prescription for now but I'd like to run my own tests and see if I can get him on something else. Haloperidol is old school and there are some far better medications on the market these days that don't have the adverse side effects."

"Sure."

Brendan watched him walk away this time without glancing back before heading to the small house where Freya waited patiently with Grant. When he saw her talking and smiling softly to Grant, treating him with so much gentleness, Brendan marveled again at this amazing person who had come through such a traumatic ordeal seemingly unscathed.

"Never underestimate the power of a good book." She looked up at Brendan and smiled. "I did a lot of reading to keep myself sane."

"Books! I love books." Grant grinned, including both of them.

Brendan smiled back and sat down next to Grant. "We need to talk about Jack, and Brunet and the accounts."

"Sally said we had to keep quiet or they'd come and kill us too."

"Yeah. They're dangerous people. Except you're with us now and we'll protect you."

"And Sally?"

"Agents have been sent to let her know what's happening."

"She shouldn't have spent Jack's money."

"Technically, it wasn't Jack's money."

Grant looked down but Brendan knew Grant was no idiot around money. He heard him sigh.

"It was drug and gun-running money," Grant stated softly. "Jack said they paid the Colombians to kill Ann because they didn't want Jack involved in her crusade against the drug overlords." He looked sadly at Brendan. "She took their drugs and had an overdose and then she went away to stop taking drugs." He frowned. "I sat with her in the hospital and she told me she hated me, and to go away but Jack said it was just the drugs talking."

"Yeah...I'm sure it was."

"So Jack wanted to take their money."

"Not to keep! Jack said it was just to teach Brunet a lesson."

Brendan didn't bother to mention that Larkin knew that the lesson would come from Égide Obélisque with Jean Paul Brunet paying a heavy price for failure. All Larkin had wanted was justice for the woman he loved, Ann Krywarik and it was just unfortunate that the evidence had initially pointed to Larkin as the killer, forcing him on the run with the money.

"Tell me about the money, and the accounts."

With Freya monitoring Grant's thoughts and helping him to keep focused, they had everything they needed to know going direct to the NSA offices on a secure line. Even as they talked, accountant specialists were working to uncover the money trail that would take them right to the top echelon of Égide Obélisque, and see them fall. For a moment Brendan knew how Elliot Ness had felt when he realized how he could bring down Al Capone--not with a gun but with a pen...or maybe that should be the modern equivalent of a computer.

With nothing more to do except sit and wait, Brendan settled in beside Grant, not surprised when the heavy toll of the day finally wore the injured man down and he fell asleep curled up against Brendan's side. The account details would give the NSA everything they needed so Grant's part in all this was no longer critical. He wouldn't be required to testify as anything beyond the accounts would be hearsay only so Égide Obélisque had no reason to want him dead other than revenge. Unfortunately, Brendan knew that revenge was a strong motive with these people. They had murdered Jack Larkin for that reason alone so Grant would probably have to go into hiding for a while--or into the Witness Protection program permanently. The latter was not a great option as Grant would be forced to leave everything he knew behind for good, and Brendan was uncertain if Grant could handle that much change alone.

"There is a third option." Freya waited until Brendan was looking at her. "Michael will let him stay here."

****

Freya was right. Two months later, Grant was still at Michael Welles's research center but employed as a computer technician creating some fantastic programs that built on his earlier concept of an Artificial Intelligence--similar to the one he had tried to download his mind into while he was having the psychotic episode many months earlier. The work and company kept Grant happy and Brendan found himself accompanying Freya at every opportunity as his friendship with Grant grew deeper and stronger.

Brendan had even come to see Michael in a fresh light, opening up to him and forging a friendship. It actually felt good to be able to talk about how his ability had set him apart from his peers and how he had down-played his talents simply because he wanted to fit in. He never had fit in and was embarrassed to admit that he had only a handful of people he could call friend rather than acquaintance--and that Freya was probably his best friend.

"You know, if you ever decide that you've had enough of the NSA then I'd easily find you something to do here," Michael offered.

"Maybe one day I'll take you up on that."

Grant had moved out of the small house--which was needed in case Michael found another potential psychic like Freya who needed distance from other people. He moved into staff housing on the other side of the facility, keeping him closer to his new working colleagues but still giving him the privacy he needed. There was even a small park area with a bench that Grant had taken to including on his daily routine, spending an hour each morning trying to entice the squirrels from the nearby trees before heading in to work. Brendan joined him there whenever he was visiting, listening to Grant as he described his work and his new life with such pleasure. It was crazy how much he had come to enjoy simply being with Grant, realizing they had a lot in common such as movies and books but still more than enough differences in taste to make it a pleasure trying out new things together. Brendan missed him when they were apart, often finding excuses to call him in the evenings when he was certain Grant had left work for the day.

If he didn't know better then he would think he had fallen for Grant.

True to his word, Michael had weaned Grant off the anti-psychotics. After all, Grant had survived years without any drugs at all so Michael had suspected a change in dietary habits and all the additional stress of losing first Ann, then Jack to be the root of his imbalance. It hadn't helped that within a year of losing Jack and Ann, Grant had lost others too--Donald, Ziggy for a time, and even Amber, who had walked away when Grant stopped paying her for her companionship on Ziggy's advice. It seemed they had both misplaced their affection, loyalty and respect on people who hadn't deserved it, and had both fallen hard each time. Except Grant had found it harder to get back up on his feet eventually creating the AI simply because he could no longer bear to be alone anymore. It had sent him over the edge with its own loneliness.

All that had changed here.

***

Another month passed and the most recent case had left Brendan falling to the ground with a knife deeply embedded in his thigh. It had nicked the femoral artery and if it hadn't been for Freya's quick thinking then he might have bled out long before the paramedics reached him. They had saved his leg but his days of field work were over and Brendan was surprised to realize that it didn't matter as much as it might have only months earlier. He had changed. They offered him a desk job, aware of his academic credentials but Brendan asked for time to go away and think about his options.

In the past he would have had no one to turn to for advice but this time he had Freya and Michael--and more importantly, it seemed, he had Grant, who could be remarkably astute. One week after the injury, he climbed into the passenger seat beside Freya and closed his eyes as she headed towards the place she still considered home even after all these months.

When they reached the institute, Michael and Grant were waiting for them and Brendan actually enjoyed all of Grant's excited fussing as he was hugged tightly before being assisted into Michael's office. He could tell from Michael's abstract glance that he was communicating something to Freya and, sure enough, she spoke up.

"Grant? I think Brendan could use a glass of water, and maybe a...small bite to eat?"

Grant looked to him for confirmation and went off happily with Freya to fetch something, leaving Brendan alone with Michael.

"The offer still stands. I could use someone with a doctorate in criminology and the experience to back it up."

"Can I take a few days to think about it?"

"Of course. I'll send you all the paperwork to look over." Michael looked a little shifty for a moment. "I hope you don't mind but the guest house is occupied. I thought you might stay with Grant this week."

"Sure. As long as Grant--"

"Oh, Grant's pretty excited about it."

Brendan smiled, and it explained Grant's fussing and excitement on meeting him moments ago. When Freya returned with Grant, Brendan made a valiant effort to eat the sandwich presented to him even though he and Freya had stopped off at a diner only an hour earlier.

"Grant, why don't you take the rest of the day off and help Brendan settle in?"

Grant urged Brendan up onto his feet, running ahead a few paces before coming back to his side as eager as a puppy, wanting to show him where he'd be staying. The small house was only a short walk away thankfully, easy to manage on the crutches but Brendan was still relieved to drop onto the comfortable couch where they had spent many a happy hour watching movies or sport.

"I'll leave you guys alone." Freya backed out of the house, offering him a small wave and a double twitch of her sculptured eyebrows to remind him of her words to him in the car on the way up here. Her eyes flicked to Grant and then she was gone, eager to put her own plans for Michael into operation. Brendan smiled because he hadn't needed to be a mind reader to guess how she felt about Michael. Her words came back to him though.

"He's not a child, Brendan," she had said. "He's had a very interesting and varied sex life with Amber...and with Jack once or twice."

Freya had made it pretty clear that Grant was no innocent, blushing virgin with women...or with men. At least, from what she had read from Grant's thoughts, Jack had never forced himself on Grant or tried to take advantage of him. If anything, Grant had been the instigator on every occasion.

Brendan rubbed at his thigh carefully as he watched Grant potter around him, wondering what it would feel like to have Grant's hands on him, massaging away the ache deep in the muscle. He hissed as he caught a sore spot. The wound had started to heal but the muscle would require extensive physiotherapy but it didn't so much hurt as ache now. However, it was a constant reminder of the new choice he had to make in his life.

By the time he was settled it was already getting late, with night seeming to fall earlier away from the bright lights of the city. He felt relaxed for the first time in weeks, with all the tension draining out of him as he sipped on the one beer he would allow himself in case he needed the pain meds later. Feeling mellow and at peace, he leaned into Grant's strong frame and waited for Grant to look at him before moving in just a little more and kissing him softly, almost chastely. Brendan pulled back, licking at the unique and heady taste of Grant on his lips while he waited for Grant's reaction.

Eventually Brendan had to ask. "Well?"

The slow smile told Brendan everything he needed to know moments before he had an armful of Grant happily wrapping himself around Brendan and trying to suck the life out of him with the dirtiest, deepest kiss of Brendan's life. Brendan held on tight, body twisted at the waist, moaning as Grant's clever fingers made quick work of the buttons of his dress shirt, dragging the material out of the waistband of his pants and pushing it down his arms.

"Let me. Let me," Brendan insisted, sighing in pleasure as Grant took full advantage of the space between their bodies to take off his own shirt.

They tossed the shirts aside without a care to where they might land before diving back in, and Brendan gasped as he felt fingers sliding through his thicker chest hair, a nail grazing over a nipple, dragging a guttural moan of want and lust from him. More moans and whimpers came spilling from his lips as Grant's fingers stroked over him with an artist's sure touch. Brendan let his head fall back as soft lips and sharp teeth grazed down his throat, moving lower as fingers made deft work of Brendan's pants, drawing down the zipper and the waistband of his boxers to release his already hard cock.

Any remaining doubts of Grant's innocence fled as a hot mouth slid over the head of his cock, tongue and teeth finding just the right pressure as warm fingers wrapped around the base, stroking him firmly. Unable to resist the tight, wet heat, Brendan tried to thrust up into the perfect mouth but Grant pulled back, the blue of his eyes just a ring around lust-dilated pupils. His lips were red and swollen, glistening as he licked them hungrily, his eyes traveling slowly down from Brendan's face to his cock, intention all too clear.

"Let me," he whispered, echoing Brendan's words from earlier, and Brendan felt his desperation melt away, his muscles relaxing beneath the caressing hands, and head lolling back as that hot mouth wrapped around him once more. This time he let go. He let Grant move him and touch him, let him coax the climax from his body with sure strokes of hands and mouth. His bones seemed to melt as the pleasure washed over him, through him, lifting him high before letting him drift gently back into Grant's warm embrace.

When he could finally open his eyes again, he found Grant watching him--eyes bright with wonder and pleasure. Brendan felt a momentary twinge of guilt until he realized Grant had come too, wondering which of them looked more wrecked from the experience and decided he had won that contest when Grant at least managed to stand up and bring back a washcloth to clean them both up.

He slept in Grant's bed that night, tucked up tight against his new lover, and in the morning he let Michael know he was staying for good.

In the years that followed, wrapped in the affection of Grant's selfless love, he never once regretted that decision.

END