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Lesser Fleas

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Brendan watched as two CIA agents escorted the terrorist to the interrogation room. Manacled hand and foot, he shuffled between the two suited men, like a bull elephant between two mahouts. The overhead fluorescent lights gleamed off his skull through the dark stubble growing in and turned his orange jumpsuit a sickly color.

"So that's Raoul Shannahy."

"Interesting," Freya commented. "He looks like a WWE wrestler."

Brendan squinted up at her from his seat. "What? How do you know about that?"

Freya rolled her eyes at him.

"I have a TV, Brendan. I'm not an alien."

"If you say so," he teased before returning to the files.

Brendan didn't look up again from reading and memorizing the terrorist's file. Greenway hadn't wanted to hand it over, but that was the price of borrowing the NSA's best interrogation team. Freya perched on the desk and glanced at any bits that caught his attention. She'd dressed in what she called her 'business bitch' outfit and everyone in the CIA-leased office who could was watching her swing her legs in those high, stiletto-heeled boots.

"He's confident."

Why wouldn't he be? The CIA had caught him, but not before his cell had successfully stolen a weapon-ized bacteria from a government lab. Right now, all he had to do was keep his mouth shut and let the rest of his right-wing 'brothers' complete the plan to use it on a major US city. Brendan was hoping they got sloppy and the bacteria killed them before they could manufacture enough of it to use for the attack. He didn't really think it would happen. Shannahy was dangerous because he wasn't stupid and he'd recruited with more discretion than most fundamentalist nut jobs displayed. It wasn't going to matter though, because he and Freya were going to pick Shannahy's brain and use everything he knew to shut his operation down.

Nasty piece of work, Brendan thought, aiming the thought at Freya.

He had to think at her deliberately. Between weeks spent learning to shield under Dr. Welles' tutelage and Freya's respect for his privacy when they weren't in danger, she wouldn't pick up his thoughts otherwise.

You won't like his head.

Freya patted Brendan's shoulder. "Don't worry about it."

Brendan took his turn rolling his eyes.

He'd bet she'd be wanting a couple of the aspirin from the bottle he'd begun carrying in a pocket all the time lately before they were finished with Mr. Shannahy.

After his first freak-out over the idea of anyone reading his mind, Brendan had told himself it was too late to hide much anyway, and if Freya hadn't already run screaming from whatever she'd heard in his head, he could – would have to – deal. Learning that, unless she really concentrated, Freya would only 'skim' what he was actively thinking on the surface had still been a relief. It even came as sort of compliment, being chosen to work with her. Yes, they would have pulled him from the Ghazal investigation if he hadn't worked with Freya, but many agents wouldn't have been offered the chance, before or after learning the truth about her talent.

He'd gotten used to working with a telepath since. Once he'd gotten to know her, Brendan had quickly recognized that the telepathy had been a curse for most of her life. He even took Freya's talent for granted sometimes; it was just part of her. She was his partner because of it and he never wanted her to change.

Even her reliance on Dr. Welles made sense once Brendan understood how her telepathy had shaped her life; Welles had shown Freya how to wall the hell out of her head.

Freya's skimming and Brendan's eidetic memory and pattern-recognition skills made them the NSA's best, better than any other team out there. Good enough even the CIA wanted them.

He finished reading the file on Shannahy and his activities then closed it and his eyes for a minute, letting the information slot itself into place. When he'd processed it all, he'd be able to picture it in his mind and see the patterns. Being able to remember everything and how it fitted together was Brendan's strength as an investigator.

As a de facto interrogator too – he and Freya had become a team.

"I'm ready too," Freya said when Brendan opened his eyes.

Greenway, the agent in charge of the investigation, who wasn't all that thrilled to have to ask for help from the NSA – it didn't take a telepath to figure that out – strolled over.

"Ready to do your voodoo?" he asked. "We've got Shannahy set up."

Brendan caught Freya's gaze and they both smirked. There were a lot of nicknames for the two of them floating around, from The Weirder Twins to the Voodoo Duo.

"Lead on, Agent Greenway," Brendan said.

Freya and he walked side by side just behind Greenway, out of the main office space to the specialized rooms down a narrow corridor with gray walls and brick red carpet. Two guards, their suit coats fitting uncomfortably over their shoulder holsters, were stationed outside a plain door.

Greenway paused in front of the door before that one.

"Care to take a look before you go in?" he asked.

"We saw him when you brought him in," Freya said.

Greenway scrubbed one hand over his short, thinning ginger hair. "Up to you. There's video and audio surveillance in there. Our psych teams will be analyzing his every reaction for any clues."

Par for the course. Those same shrinks would be analyzing everything Brendan and Freya did and said too if given the chance. They'd end up as completely puzzled as all the others who watched them work did, but that wasn't the plan.

Brendan shook his head. "You know the agreement is that there are no recordings and no observers."

"That's insa–"

"You agency agreed, because you need what we can get from Shannahy."

"So you're going to torture him," Greenway said. He looked from Brendan to Freya and twitched, obviously imagining their methods.

"The NSA guarantees that any subject we question will be untouched," Brendan pointed out.

"Then why not let us observe?"

"Take it or leave it," Brendan told him. They couldn't afford for anyone to observe that they could pluck answers from thin air whether Shannahy answered them or not.

Greenway opened the door to the observation room and ducked halfway inside. "Cut the surveillance. All of it."

"I know you mean to leave on the infra-red monitor," Freya said to Greenway sweetly. "We don't mind."

Greenway twitched again.

Brendan snickered silently.

Freya thwapped his arm.

"After you," Brendan told Freya.

Greenway gestured to the guard to open up for them.

"Just knock when you're ready," the closest guard said.

"Shave and a hair cut, two bits," Freya replied and swept inside.

Brendan smirked, wondering what she'd skimmed off the guy's thoughts to put her in a snit. He knew exactly what the guy saw, picturing the view down Freya's cleavage in that deep-cut jacket. At the very bottom of the vee, the tiny triangle of maroon satin camisole had him begging for more to be revealed. Probably that.

Freya glared at him.

Definitely that.

The interrogation room had a mirrored wall, cameras covering every angle, and three chairs. Shannahy was chained to the one bolted to the floor. The overhead lights were angled to illuminate his face and had the added benefit of half-blinding him, silhouetting Brendan and Freya in glaring halos.

Freya picked up one chair and shifted it to the side where Shannahy could turn his head and see her better. She smoothed her skirt and sat, crossed her legs, and set her hands on her lap. She cocked her head causing the light from the overhead light to slide over the blue-black sheen of her hair.

Shannahy looked at Freya, then visibly dismissed her.

Brendan sprawled as comfortably as he could in a straight chair. Shannahy couldn't see both of them at the same time and had to shift his gaze. All part of the game.

Time to begin.

"This is what we know," Brendan started. He could see Freya and when he hit on something that brought useful information to the surface of Shannahy's thoughts, she'd swing her leg. They were so attuned that sometimes Brendan almost heard her telling him, Keep him focused on that.

Freya's silence and Brendan's apparent disinterest in forcing Shannahy to speak visibly freaked the man out. Brendan's imagination was getting better. Sometimes he imagined he could see the things and people he was describing from the files, even when there had been no photographs to memorize. He described the lab they theorized the Righteous Truth had set up, down to the yellow window sills, and Shannahy gaped at him and began sweating.

Freya swung her leg back and forth.

Brendan named the state the Righteous Truth were in, then made one of the leaps that he was famous for and added, "The lab's in Huntsville."

He knew he was right by the way Shannahy jerked, even before Freya's held up her hand in an a-okay to signal she'd skimmed the same information.

"What the hell do you two want?" Shannahy yelled and rattled his manacles when Brendan finally stopped. "You're playing some god damn game, but I won't tell you anything. I'll never tell you what I know.

"Sure you will," Brendan said. His throat was dry. He glanced at Freya. Have you got what we need?

Freya nodded.

"In fact, you just did," Brendan told Shannahy. "Thanks for your cooperation."

They went to the door while Shannahy cursed and yelled. Freya knocked and smiled at the guard when he opened up.

Greenway was leaning against the opposite wall.

"Did you get it?" he asked.

"It'll all be in our report," Brendan said. He glanced at his watch. If they moved fast, they could hand it over and catch the next flight back to New York. He had a date he didn't want to cancel. "We just need a quiet office for a couple of hours."

"We know where the bacteria is being manufactured," Freya reassured Greenway. "They aren't ready to distribute it yet."

There were things Freya didn't tell Michael. Things she hadn't mentioned to Brendan either. She considered them personal in some cases and in others they were private, things she'd learned skimming that no one had a right to know. There were things Michael didn't tell her, after all; he was terribly good at shielding, unlike Brendan who, though almost as good, seldom bothered to block her out.

Michael had picked Brendan for her, to be her partner and her friend. Freya knew that. She knew he was jealous too, though he must have expected she would love Brendan. Very likely, he had known Brendan would love her too.

Brendan was her partner and her friend.

Brendan trusted her.

And so Freya was ashamed, another thing she hid, because it was inextricably wound together with the tricks she'd learned to do with her talent and the temptation she'd felt for some time now.

The temptation to skim the mind of whichever woman Brendan was dating.

No, to do more than skim, and not to protect Brendan, but because Freya wanted to know. She wanted to know what it felt like to have a man touch her body, what sex should feel like. There had never been a chance before the institution nor in it and the prospect of losing her shields while having sex kept her from trying now.

Brendan was the only one she'd trust to try now, but asking him would change their partnership. Freya wasn't willing to give up what they had. It could go so badly.

It wasn't fair, it wasn't right, but she wanted to do it so badly.

Brendan didn't date often. There had only been three women since his two awkward dates with June: Barbara Alba, Cindy March and, now, Anne Tully.

Freya hadn't met her yet. Whenever Brendan tried to arrange a meeting, something happened – usually Anne canceling.

It was almost enough to make Freya suspicious.

One of the things she hadn't told Michael or anyone was that she no longer needed to be close or to look at someone to skim them. Not if Brendan was there. She chose to not abuse that ability and if Michael knew, he'd ask her to use it.

Freya could always feel Brendan in the back of her mind, no matter how distant, a soothing song of here and alive and everything that made him Brendan, her anchor, part of her. No matter how deep she probed a subject, Freya could always find her way back to herself following the thread of Brendan's connection to her, concern and pride and confidence in her braided into something unbreakable.

She could skim anyone around him now, without being in the room, without being in the building, and, she suspected, without even being on the same continent.

It would make her more valuable – and Brendan too – but more dangerous. She'd skimmed Harper's head enough times to know that the prospect of any hostiles grabbing her worried him. Harper didn't like to think of having to kill her to deny her ability to an enemy. Kill both of them, because Brendan would defend her against anyone and die doing so.

After writing up their reports for the CIA, they flew home and parted at the airport. They'd parted with his agreement to pick her up to go to the NSA's offices in the morning.

Brendan had been relieved he would be able to see Anne as he'd promised, despite the exhaustion that dragged them both down. Freya had noticed him swallowing more aspirin after he fetched coffee for both of them from a kiosk at the airport terminal. It required an effort not to urge him to cancel and go home.

She padded around her apartment in her socked feet. She made herself tea. She switched on the TV and switched it off.

Somewhere in the city, Brendan and Anne Tully were together.

Freya touched his thoughts.


She withdrew before she could steal more.

But Anne was there, her thoughts just outside Brendan's unconscious shields – when had he started shielding when Freya wasn't there? – and Freya could just peek.

For an instant, she rationalized to herself, just to make sure Anne was good enough for Brendan.

Not because she ached to know.

After all, there was no guarantee Brendan and Anne would be in bed together, though she could learn when they would be with little effort.

Freya took her tea mug back to the kitchen and rinsed it out, then left it to air dry on the drainer by the sink. She stood for a moment. June would tell her not to do this. So would Michael.

Brendan would feel betrayed.

He wouldn't know. He couldn't read her thoughts.

Freya gave in.

She swayed and gasped, then ripped herself free of Anne Tully's thoughts, before folding up on her couch and hiding her face in her hands.

"'Friendly' Freddie," Brendan said to their new subject as he walked into the interrogation room. This one had a table. The SEC lived large. Frederick Breyerdahl wore the same orange jumpsuit they'd last seen on Shannahy, but no one had bothered to chain him to his chair. His crimes weren't violent. "So, how's prison treating you?"

Breyerdahl examined his fingernails and ignored Brendan. His gaze flicked appreciatively over Freya, right until he raised his eyes up to her stone-cold visage. Whatever she'd skimmed off Breyerdahl's thoughts had filled her with contempt.

"Missing your manicures?"

"Is this sort of childishness necessary?"

"No, but it makes up for my headache," Brendan replied. The one pounding behind his eyes despite coffee and aspirin and a danish. He felt like he hadn't slept at all, despite Anne leaving his apartment early after their date. He'd dreamed all night, soundless slide-shows crowded with faces and places from the all the files he'd memorized: always an observer without volition in someone else's body.


Freya glanced at him, eyes sharp with speculation, and Brendan began singing Waltzing Matilda in his head to see if she'd wince.

She ignored him instead and seated herself at the table. She arranged a small notebook and pen in front her.

"I don't suppose I could get some coffee?" Breyerdahl asked Freya.

"No," Freya snapped.

Brendan settled into the seat beside her.

"I'm cooperating, you know," Breyerdahl said.

Right. Breyerdahl had been convicted on all the counts he'd been indicted on, but even so, he'd be out in ten years. He had no intention of turning over the account numbers and location where he'd stashed the millions he'd defrauded from his clients or revealing how he'd managed to get the money out of the country without the bank regulators noticing. Breyerdahl wasn't cooperating, he was obfuscating; anything he said would be meant to mislead.

Anything he said.

Despite the pounding in his temples, Brendan grinned nastily.

"Why don't you go ahead and show us that cooperation?" Brendan said. He glanced at Freya. "Ready?"

She picked up her pen. "I am."

"No recording devices," Breyerdahl insisted. "That was the agreement."

"Freya's taking notes."

"What do you know about money management?" Breyerdahl asked. He leaned forward minutely and smiled. "It's complicated, but let me explain. You'll pick it up quick. I want to cooperate."

He smiled and Brendan smiled back involuntarily. You couldn't help liking the man, even knowing what he'd done. Brendan wasn't going to help him escape or do anything wrong, but Freddie didn't deserve to be treated so badly. He'd be sure to put that in his report. He wanted to, because Freddie wanted him to.

Freya growled.

It broke Breyerdahl's concentration on Brendan and snapped his attention to her. The amicable haze blurring Brendan's thoughts cleared and he wanted to growl himself. When Kemp had told them Breyerdahl could turn on the charm, they hadn't realized it was more than a skill. No wonder the prosecutor had worked so hard to keep Breyerdahl from testifying himself. He might have mesmerized the jury with that voice.

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda, you'll come a'waltzin', Matilda, with me. The ear-worm helped Brendan shield against Freya skimming and it distanced him from the nearly physical force of Breyerdahl.

Breyerdahl was staring at Freya.

"What's the matter?" Brendan asked. "Doesn't it work when she knows what you're doing?"

Breyerdahl began breathing faster. He glanced to the door. "I don't want to do this after all," he blurted.

"Oh, too bad," Brendan said. "Now, let's start again. You can tell us the banks and the account numbers where you stashed all that money."

Freya began writing it down.

Brendan thought his head might split. The headache was worse. He saw Freya through Breyerdahl's eyes. Her eyes were down, focused on the page, and her lashes cast shadows over her cheekbones. The door behind her had a glass inset. Kemp, the lead investigator for the SEC, was watching through it.

Brendan turned his head.

Kemp was watching.

He folded his hands into tight fists and asked the next question as soon as Freya finished writing.

This had to be something Breyerdahl was doing.

Freya handed Kemp the notebook page with the names of Breyerdahl's banks, his account numbers, and the instructions on how to access them.

Kemp stared at it.

"You – "

"Don't ask," Brendan told him.

Kemp hadn't wanted them. He'd been clear and he'd been sure they wouldn't get anywhere when none of the other Feds had.

"It has to be a lie. Another fake out," he blurted. "This guy, he lies. He'll make you believe it, too, just like he did all his victims."

"I got a dose," Brendan said.

He squeezed his eyes shut for a breath. Was this what it was like for Freya? No, she got voices. He hadn't had a headache like this since his teens. He glanced back at the door separating them from Breyerdahl and frowned. Maybe the headache was just a side effect of fighting off whatever Breyerdahl kept trying on both of them. It felt like something had broken inside his head.

"He's scum," he remarked, "but I think we're lucky he was more interested in money than anything else." Lucky that Breyerdahl's charm didn't work through television.

Kemp looked up, surprise written across his features.

"What do you mean?"

"Think about what kind of damage he could have done if he'd been a religious zealot," Brendan answered, "or a politician."

Kemp folded the paper and tucked it inside his jacket.

"Yeah, you might be right."

How do I tell him?

"Tell me what?" Brendan asked. He flexed his fingers against the hard plastic of the steering wheel in irritation. Freya kept repeating that under her breath, had been all morning, soft enough only he heard it. It was making him crazy on top of his headache. He needed to find out what the problem was, but he'd waited because the car offered more privacy than the office.

He might have to pull over and let Freya drive. The headache had expanded through his head and begun affecting his visual field. He kept getting flickers, overlays of the street in front of him, glimpses of the gray sidewalks and brownstone buildings passing beside them.

It was strange Freya hadn't noticed, but she'd been preoccupied when they'd met earlier in the morning, and distant right up until Breyerdahl pulled his trick. After that, they'd both been intent on resisting whatever the crooked financier did. Brendan was sure that was why his head was about to split.

"I said, tell me what?" he snapped. "You've been muttering about it all morning."

Freya jumped in her seat.

"I haven't said anything."

She twisted to frown at him and a view of himself from the side made Brendan close his eyes against vertigo.

"Brendan!" Freya shrieked. "Are you trying to kill us!?"

He snapped his eyes open and swerved the car out the wrong lane as a green-and-orange garbage truck blared its horn at them. A high, downward-angled picture of the sedan drifting head on into the opposite lane masked Brendan's view through the windshield. The side of the sedan squealed as it scraped against the truck for a second. Hands shaking on the wheel, Brendan managed to steer off the road into a parking lot. A kaleidoscope of images spun through his vision. He stopped the car with a frantic jerk.

"Stop it, Freya!" he gasped. He clenched his fingers in the hair at his temples and whimpered as the pain sliced through him. His eyes were closed and he could see himself, curling almost into the steering wheel, his features twisted in pain. "Stop looking at me!"

What's wrong with him? He almost got us killed! This is too much – too much like when I'm overwhelmed in the subway or a crowd. No, this can't be happening to him too. He's not like me – Oh, God, what if I've made him like me? I can't, I can't, I can't –

"Brendan," she said. Brendan.

Brendan twisted his neck to face Freya as he forced his eyes open. He could see her, expression alarmed, dark eyes filled with concern. Her hair had come loose and she absently tucked it behind her ear then reached for him. All what he expected to see.

Only, over that he could see himself through Freya's eyes, sweating and pale, even how his pupils were so dilated only a rim of hazel iris remained visible. He could see his Adam's apple rise and fall in his throat as he swallowed down bile.

What was happening to him?

The rear end of the car pool sedan, brake lights flared brilliant red, superimposed itself in Brendan's field of vision as the driver of the car stuck trying to get around them in the tight parking lot began leaning on his horn. Brendan saw the man's hand, dark hair sprinkled over its back, wedding ring on one finger, pressed against the center of a steering wheel. Rain distorted the view through the windshield before wipers swept it away.

Flicker and he saw a red-and-white polka-dot umbrella bloom open before a woman stepped out of the lobby of the building across the street. Flicker and a computer monitor showed a Facebook page. Flicker and he was staring into a stranger's face in a mirror as she reapplied her mascara. Flicker and flicker and faster and faster, until Brendan didn't know where he was or what he was seeing from all the other pictures in his head. He tried closing his eyes, but it didn't stop.

Vomit rushed up his throat. Brendan shoved the gear shift into park by feel, slammed his door open and threw himself out of the car. Braced on his hands and knees, he threw up, the misery so strong it blanked out everything else, even the constant barrage of swooping, uncontrollable images. Rainwater soaked through the knees of his pants. The chill made him shake.

The car behind their's honked loud and long again.

"Go somewhere else!" Freya yelled at the horn-honker. Brendan squeezed his eyes shut, then snapped them open at the picture of himself kneeling on the pavement that superimposed itself on the back of his eyelids. He concentrated on the oil-slicked black pavement, on the pebbled texture invisible except so close, on the cold shivers running down his spine.

Stop it, stop it, stop it, he chanted to himself.

With a final "Screw you, assholes!" the car behind the sedan reversed away with a screech. Freya yelped as dirty water splashed on her as she made her way to Brendan's side. Her hands were warm through his already damp jacket, though, when she crouched beside him.

"Talk to me, Brendan," she said. "Tell me what's happening to you."

He spat until his mouth was clear and lifted a shaking hand to wipe anything still on his chin away. The onslaught didn't ease, but being out of the car and motionless helped the nausea and he could separate the conflicting visuals from himself.

You're scaring me.

I'm scaring me, he thought.

"I heard that," she murmured.

Freya was strong for her size; she pulled Brendan closer and he went with it, grateful for the shelter of her arms and the physical sensations that helped ground him in his body.

"I keep seeing," he muttered into her neck.

"What do you mean?" Freya asked.

"What you're seeing and others – that jerk a minute ago, the truck driver, others, I don't know," Brendan blurted. "It's too much. They come and go."

Freya froze.

He's lying. It's a trick. It's a sick practical joke. It doesn't work like that. I thought he didn't hate me –

"Freya, no!" I don't hate you, I never hated you, you know, you have to know. I need you, I need you, I need you to make this go away. I feel like I'm going insane. "This isn't a joke."

Her arms tightened around him again.

"You're not going insane."

Help me make it stop.

"I'm calling Michael."


Just make me stop seeing out of other people's eyes.

"Circle, star, wavey lines, window, floor, nice ass – "

"Brendan, if you aren't going to take this seriously why waste our time?" Welles interrupted.

Brendan snapped his eyes open and spun the chair he sat in around to face the line of scientists holding cards.

"Hey, I can only see what you guys look at," he snapped. He pointed at one of them, a man in horn-rimmed glasses. "He's sneaking looks at her ass between every card." The woman next to the Horn-rims glared at her admirer, while Horn-rims (Brendan decided to call him Horny) turned pink. Two of the others wouldn't met his eyes; they'd been respectively looking at the plank floor and out the window at the overcast sky.

Four weeks at the Lincroft Institute and Brendan could block most of the input from others, though it was easier when they were actively blocking. He could pick out whose eyes he was looking out from when he did 'peek'. It was beginning to get boring. Definiely a lame superpower compared to Freya's telepathy now that he had a handle on it. He'd wandered around the little town on a 'practice' outing the day before and only seen through his own eyes. He still wasn't certain about driving, but he'd have it down by the end of the month.

Welles was disappointed. Brendan couldn't skim thoughts the way Freya did. All he got were images, as if he tapped the signal from the optic nerve to the brain. He couldn't – didn't want to – direct where anyone looked.

"All right," Welles said. "Bernice, Larry, the rest of you, take a break."

"What about me?" Brendan asked.

"I want to try a different exercise next."

Great. Another one. Brendan was sick of being the new prize guinea pig. He had no love for the converted stable full of scientific equipment or any of the people at Lincroft. He missed Freya and doing his job. He missed his crappy, cramped apartment. Welles had set him up in the same house where Freya stayed when she visited; it was comfortable, but not home. "Do we have to? All I want is to stop peeking out of someone else's eyes. I've got that down."

"You don't want to explore what you can do?" Welles asked. His expression gave away bewilderment.

"No," Brendan replied. "It's creepy." Not to mention nauseating, though he had a handle of the vertigo now that he could separate what he 'saw' in his head from the input of his own senses.

"Even so, it would be better to determine your limits here under controlled circumstances, don't you think?"

Brendan shrugged his agreement. He didn't want to get blindsided again.

"What's the new exercise?"

"I going to have one of my people that you haven't met wear a blindfold. I want you to try to see any visual memories generated by a series of verbal prompts."

Huh. Brendan could see where this was going. If it worked, he'd be able to use his new 'talent' for interrogations.

"Yeah, okay."

The wood handle had begun to split and the shovel blade had gone dark and dull. It cut into the wet dark dirt under Browne's heavy boot over and over until the hole gaped deep and black. Browne abandoned the shovel in a pile of frost-frayed leaves. His gaze swept past the dizzying panorama of winter empty woods and colorless sky to the black plastic-wrapped shape of the body. It filled his vision the way it filled his memory, larger and larger until he saw nothing else.

He peeled the plastic away. Flickers of birthday presents and bright paper came and went. Drops of water glittered crystal and silver on the plastic, shifting and running down as it moved under Browne's gloved hands.

They knew that Browne burned the plastic and the gloves after each interment.

Peeping memories was frustrating. The pictures weren't really what Browne had seen, only what had impressed itself, what thrilled him. Blood never dried, faces distorted into horror masks, events jerked forward and backward, tangled into other associations, angels and alligators, a slice of cake revealing raw flesh, the hole in the earth like the hole in Browne's head, unfathomably shadowed. Fall in and never hit bottom.

"He's headed for ADX Florence when we finish with him. He can rot there with the rest of the monsters."

Brendan had seen the tunnel leading into the Federal Supermax in Colorado as the FBI spoke. Lola Cassidy had been there before. He blinked it away using the blocking techniques Welles had drilled into him over the past weeks. The way he kept Freya out served as a foundation to keeping the images from creeping in. It had been easy enough in Lincroft, upstate, with its lower population and easiest with Welles's people, who were all trained to block their thoughts and now images too. Dealing with the city came harder; pictures still slipped through sometimes.

If he hadn't known Freya, Brendan would have been convinced he'd gone insane.

"You're supposed to be the best. See if you can get where he buried the rest of his victims."

Without Welles' help, he would have crumpled under the pressure of too much input. How Freya had endured all those years alone amazed Brendan more now.

The girl's hand fell away from where Browne had laid it over her opened chest before wrapping her. Rigor had passed before he disposed of this one. Her skin had drained of color to a blue-brown. The scarlet polish on her nails riveted Browne's attention. The small brush moved smoothly over each nail extension, turning it glossy as blood. Her hand was limp; she'd been dead already.

"Hickory dickery dock," Browne recited, smiling at Freya. He looked at the bronze button holding her jacket closed over her breasts. "Do you wear a bra? Is there... lace? Pretty satin ribbons?" He cocked his head. "Does it match your panties?"

Brendan clenched his jaw.

"Melissa Nagel," Freya said. "Do you remember her?"

"Pretty is as pretty does."

Dark blonde hair and blue eye shadow, the pallor of her bare legs under a miniskirt just at the edge between shadows and the street light. The other whores were old, hags in monster masks, licking sharp teeth and slavering like animals. The window glided down and Browne gestured the new girl in the red tank top over. His finger-nails were bitten to the quick, dotted with blood.

"He remembers her," Brendan said. She wore a red tank top.

Freya picked up his cue while Brendan tried to find anything in Browne's visual field to tell where he'd been.

"You like red, don't you, Gareth?"

"Red sky at morning, sailor take warning, red sky at night..." Browne licked his lips, nearly the only motion he could make, manacled hand and foot and strapped in his chair. "...sailor's delight."

"You paint their nails and their lips crimson," Freya went on.

"Love is a red, red rose."

Scarlet and gold tube of lipstick in Browne's hand, his other holding the girl's jaw as he rubbed it over her slack lips. Tiny print on the sticker at the base: Crimson Clover Candy.

Browne used different lipsticks each time. Sometimes he even used his victims' own lipsticks. Tracking him down through cosmetics purchases had been a dead end.

"When you finished with her, you wrapped her up and drove her out to where you buried her, didn't you?" Freya prompted. They knew this from the investigation. She wanted Browne to remember, to draw the memory to the surface where she could skim a name or a place from his thoughts or Brendan could peep at what Browne remembered.

The FBI had Browne's car and his house, but he had a library on forensics that rivaled anything at Quantico, and there was no trace evidence. A freak coincidence had stopped him, pulled over with a victim in his trunk because he matched the BOLO on a drug dealer.

Watching through the windshield, slowed to a stop at an intersection, looking right, then left, then right again. The road sign skimmed past, not even noted. Turning left after a faded blue pick-up. Iowa plates.

"County Road 83 and Delahassy," Brendan identified it. "Left."

Farm land turning to woods as he drove, the swift early dark of winter shading the surrounding to gray and mauve. A mailbox.

"Past the Jenkins' farm."

Narrow-faced Fed, pale and drugged-looking. Eyes glazed.

Browne was staring at him.


"How many miles past?" Freya asked.

Browne scowled at her, distracted from Brendan.

A dirt turn off that curled behind several trees, the shade black as a tunnel. Out of the car, pushing brush away to reveal a rusted padlock holding a length of equally dark chain holding a wire gate closed. The key flashed in Browne's gloved fingers, bright brass, sliding into the lock and turning without effort.

Brendan pushed what he got to Freya.

Drive through the open gate and deeper into the leafless woods, far beyond where anyone could glimpse anything from the road. Hard to see without headlights in the lowering dark.

Nothing useful.

Try the next name.

"Olive Auspplen."

Knife blade flash, runnels of blood up to his elbows, slick organs, steam coiling from the open cavity –

Brendan gagged. Freya shot him an alarmed glance. She couldn't know what he'd just seen. They'd made the decision before coming in that she wouldn't probe Browne beyond the absolute surface. They'd both seen the pictures of the bodies that had been found in Browne's freezers and buried under the basement dirt. Those had been bad enough. She didn't need to know what Browne thought and felt as he committed his atrocities. The immediacy of what Brendan saw was bad enough; feeling it would be unbearable.

He shot to his feet and paced to the back wall, not caring what anyone on the other side of the observation mirror saw. They couldn't hear, any more than Brendan heard anything from his 'visions'. He propped his forearm high against the wall and leaned his forehead against it.

Keep going, he thought at Freya and sucked in a couple deep breaths to clear his head.

"What did you do with Olive Auspplen after you wrapped her up?" Freya asked.

Slung into the dark trunk, the bulb removed so that no light would give it away when it was opened in the woods. Willows at the water line, redbuds, swamp oaks and slender trees with pale trunks, the papery bark peeling horizontally. The shovel sank into the wet dirt easily. Mud clung to Browne's steel-toed boots. He stepped on a loose bootlace, grinding it into the dirt.

Brendan's photographic memory provided a comparison.

White swamp oak and river birches. Common to low and swampy areas where the soil would be moist.

Good for digging.

Bad for preserving bodies.

Southeastern Iowa.

Forensics still had all of Browne's belongings, including the boots. The laces might yield traces to narrow down where he'd been digging.

Turn west onto the interstate, windshield wipers sighing, wet black asphalt, the speedometer hovering just five miles over the limit. Stop once for coffee at a busy truck stop, yellow sign with Kenny's in blue, pay in cash. The cashier's fingernails are painted red. One quarter, two nickels, three pennies. Oval face, brown eyes, mole on her jawline. Name tag pinned to her yellow blouse. Penny.

They had a picture of her too. Penelope Rodriguez. Missing for three years. Disappeared from the parking lot of the truck stop where she worked.

Brendan turned and leaned his shoulders against the wall. "You picked out your next victim before you even buried Olive, didn't you?"

"She picked me," Browne replied. "They all do. They want me to let the red out."

An older woman than his other victims, lying on her bed in her best dress, the razor still glued to her fingers, the careful cuts letting the red out all over her bed. Fingernails painted red, lipstick incarnadine.

"Like your mother did," Freya choked.

Tick, tick, tick. Browne's mother. The great grandparents had owned a small farm in southeastern Iowa. Outside a town called Klavally. Brendan found it on the map in his memory. Investigators had no reason to think Browne had ever been there; the farm had been repossessed during the Depression.

"Did your mother tell you stories about where her mother grew up?" he asked.

That's it, Brendan.

He basically hated the peeping, no matter how thrilled Welles was with the development, but being able to hear Freya almost made up for it.

"Mama said," Browne whispered. He gave Brendan and Freya a wild-eyed look.

"You went and checked it out," Freya said.

County courthouse, records, checking plat numbers and deeds, squinting at old, scratching cursive entered into heavy, aging ledgers. Fingertip tracing under a name. Empty county roads, narrow two lanes, potted with holes and cracks deep as China, fields dotted with trees against the blue sky horizon. Slowing to read the mailboxes.


Big new farmhouse within sight of the road. Roll past. Down the curve of the road, into the trees standing by the river, another overgrown turn off. Climb over the old wire fence, pants catching on a barb, and walk up the overgrown track. The barn is gone, its roof fallen in, one wall still standing. The farmhouse is a burnt skeleton. Daffodils, persistent as hope, poke through the crush of weeds in what must have been a garden.

"You were curious," Brendan said.

"She made it sound like a mansion," Freya added. "That's what her parents said."

"Liars and failures," Browne dismissed.

Turning, horizon spin, and the woods again. Down by the river.

"The basement was too small and you worried someone might smell something," Freya whispered.

"So you started burying them on the farm, in the woods," Brendan added. "Melissa Nagel, Olive Auspplen, Penny Rodriguez, all the others."

"In Flanders fields," Browne said.

Brendan caught Freya's gaze.

"We've got what we needed, let's get out of here."

"It can't be too soon for me," Freya agreed.

She knocked on the door. Brendan followed her out once the guards unlocked and opened it.

Behind them, Browne called out, "You'd look lovely in red!"

"Do you want the gag again?" one of the guards threatened.

The FBI agent, Lola Cassidy, was waiting for them, her arms crossed over her chest.


"Klavally, Iowa," Freya said.

"He buried them in the woods near the river on the farm that used to belong to his maternal great-grandparents. It's owned by a family named Jenkins now. They have no idea," Brendan added.

Cassidy gaped at them.

"How did you get him to tell you that?"

"We figured it out." Brendan scrubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. "I need a drink."

No alcohol, remember?

He glared at Freya. Welles had told him that. Alcohol lowered inhibitions and slowed reflexes and made mental barriers more permeable. Brendan was never getting drunk again. Narcotics and hallucinogens were forbidden too. Anything that might cause him to lose control was out.

He hadn't slept with Anne since coming back. Sooner or later, she'd start wondering what was wrong with him, but he wouldn't be able to tell her. Even if it wasn't classified, she'd think Brendan was crazy.

"Coffee and aspirin," he amended.

"All right, I admit, now I'm impressed," Cassidy said. "I'll even spring for your coffee." She gave Brendan a smile.

She's hot for you.

Freya! Brendan gave her an annoyed look. He'd stopped blaming her for his life falling apart on him. That didn't mean they were the same as they'd been before. Some things were easier and some things were harder. He didn't want another reminder of his new freak status and any date with Lola Cassidy would devolve into her trying to get the secret of his and Freya's success out of him. Not interested.

I'll get her telephone number for you, Freya teased.

I've got a girlfriend.

At least he hoped he still did. He should call Anne. He hadn't seen her for weeks, between the manifestation of his psionic 'gift' and taking sick leave to spend at Welles' institute learning to control it.

He caught Freya's expression going stiff and wondered. Every time he thought of Anne, she went quiet. Freya was better at blocking than he'd ever be; he couldn't catch a hint of what she was thinking.

Michael, despite his blocking, radiated smug satisfaction when he paused at Freya's desk after meeting with Harper. Freya had come to accept that his concern for her would always be laced with a certain sense of justification; he had been right. She was his first great success. It didn't mean he didn't love her.

"Any problems?" he asked her.


He worried about her. She'd always be the fragile, tormented girl he'd rescued, overwhelmed by her gift and the outside world.

The converse, which she'd discovered when he brought her to the NSA, was that loving her didn't mean he wouldn't use her.

The NSA funded Michael's research and Freya had been the pay-off.

The first pay-off.The next step.

Michael's shields were sloppy today.

Freya frowned at the cup Brendan handed to her. Heat seeped through the thick ceramic to warm her chilled fingers. The NSA offices, with their open plan spaces, fluorescent overheads, and constant air conditioning to cool the supercomputers hidden in the basement, always felt too cool.

The lights made everyone look pale and sick too, including Brendan.

"Any more headaches?" Michael asked Brendan.

"Nothing an aspirin doesn't handle." Brendan opened a file and began reading. When he bent his neck, the ends of his dark hair parted and revealed a glimpse of his nape. He needed a haircut, Freya reflected.

"No problems with the Gareth Browne interrogation?"

Brendan glanced up and answered, "Nothing I couldn't handle."

"Harper's very happy with both of you."

"We do know," Freya said, letting amusement color her tone. "We could hardly miss it." Harper didn't block at all. Freya tried not to skim him, but sometimes she couldn't help it. He'd been worried lately – not about Brendan and Freya – about something from higher up.

Michael smiled in acknowledgment. "We'll talk again next week. Maybe you'll let me take you to lunch if you aren't too busy."

"As long as you're paying," Freya agreed.

Not a problem. Dean's manifestation means more funding. It's better than I'd hoped for; Harper says they've become his most productive agents.

Brendan gave a half-assed wave as Michael left. They just didn't like each other. Freya smiled a little wider and took a sip of the coffee to hide her pleasure. She woke her computer and checked her e-mail.

Michael paused just outside the doorway and watched them as they worked. Freya could see him from the corner of her eye. He didn't know she was aware of him and his stream of consciousness teased at her until she had to listen.

The profile was right. Working with Freya triggered Dean's latent ability. I can use this success to convince DARPA to let me test all through the armed forces for other latents.

The coffee burned as she swallowed too fast.

I have to find a way to study Breyerdahl too. The 'charm' Freya and Dean described has to be a psi talent. I can't be sure he didn't trigger Dean becoming an active. The man could be useful too.

"You okay?" Brendan asked.

"Drank too fast," Freya evaded.

Michael had known or at least meant for Brendan to become like her. It had all been a set up, even more than she'd known. Michael and Harper had known she would find Ghazal's name in Gabriel's mind. Brendan had been assigned to head the hunt for Ghazal before she'd even finished learning to focus her talent. All the dominoes had been in place before she'd stepped foot in the NSA offices. Freya turned her head away and pretended to read a memo from HR. Another addition to the list of betrayals she was party to in some way. She blinked fast to force back sudden tears.

She'd always believed Michael insisted on partnering her with Brendan because Brendan was at heart kind and mentally flexible enough to accept working with her once he discovered the truth. Of course he hadn't reacted well at first, but no one had offered him any kind of warning.

Now she realized Michael wouldn't have cared how Brendan treated her or how it made her feel. It had all been about catalyzing another telepath. In Brendan's case, what Michael had dubbed a teleidete. Freya and Brendan had just been pawns.

She stabbed her finger down and deleted the memo on how to respond to workplace harassment.


Brendan twitched and looked up from his file again with a frown.

What did I do?

Not you, Freya sent. Michael.

"What did he do?" Brendan asked. I could always punch him. Not like I haven't wanted to before anyway. He'd hated every day he was forced to spend at Lincroft and owing gratitude to Michael for helping him. Michael hadn't helped the situation by telling Brendan how lucky he was to have a 'gift' when Brendan saw it as destroying his life.

She let a small, hiccupy laugh escape. Brendan would likely want to do more than punch Michael. She knew Michael had left the building, but Brendan could peek into his visual centers at a distance, so she answered to keep him from trying. He'd be angry this way too, but probably wouldn't go after Michael.

"Check out how he got the funding for the next five years of the project." Subject: Dean, Brendan. She pushed the file index number through. 85% chance subject has latent psi-abilities. 70% chance exposure to a high-functioning psi will trigger active psi episodes.

A hiss escaped Brendan. His hazel eyes narrowed angrily. "He set me up. That son of a bitch." His hands closed into white-knuckled fists, but he stayed at his desk.

Does he know you skimmed that?

Freya shook her head.

Michael taught himself to block. But I've gotten better at picking things up. Sometimes he slips.

Brendan shoved his hands through his hair. The look he gave Freya wasn't fond and she recoiled, even knowing he had a right to his anger.

Can't undo it now. How the hell could he know this would happen? I'd like to beat the crap out of him. I'd like to fucking kill the lying bastard. He said Freya was one of a kind... He frowned at the computer monitors, obviously not seeing them. Wait, he said... she cared about every voice. So not quite a lie, but it served the same purpose. But, she's not lying to me. God, I hate this.

"He doesn't mean us any harm," Freya said. She impulsively patted Brendan's hand, where it rested on the paper file. He turned his palm to hers and held on for a moment. Neither of them cared who saw; everyone in the office had learned to ignore their weirdness. I know it probably wouldn't have happened without me, but what if you'd started getting visions without knowing me or having Michael's techniques?

Brendan rolled his eyes at her.

I'd have gone insane and it would have been his fault. He did this to me. We can never trust him, Freya. Do you realize that? It's just us. I can't tell Anne, you can't tell June. There's just us.

Freya flinched and looked away.


She ducked her head and drew her shoulders up. "I've got to tell you something."

"Something I'm not going to like?" Brendan asked, his voice rough. "Something worse?"

"I think so," she whispered. "I did something."

To me?

She shook her head.

Brendan didn't look at her. His shoulders were tight with tension. "Tell me later." Out of here. "We've still got work to do."

They actually made it out of the office for lunch. Brendan made it happen. An outdoor café within walking distance had become a favorite when the weather permitted. It had rained that morning, but the sky had cleared and the tiny tables and chairs were outside and mostly dry when Brendan and Freya arrived.

Brendan liked the café because the scones reminded him of the one's his grandmother had made when he visited her as a child. Freya had skimmed that from him the first time they tried the café, intrigued by the flash of delight in his expression when he tasted one. She found them flat, but the vicarious memory made her order one every time.

Brendan was so easy with letting her share the little pieces of himself that normally never seemed important enough to communicate verbally that Freya sometimes forgot how uncomfortable he'd been with her at first.

Nothing had been said about Michael since earlier. It seemed like Brendan was working at keeping everything light and normal. Normal as the two of them could be, at least.

"The guy across the street is watching your boots like he wants to come over and lick the heels," Brendan said.

Freya twitched in surprise and reflexively skimmed the man's mind.


Brendan raised his eyebrows.

"Was I right?"

Freya smirked at him. "You do not want to know what he wants me to do with my boots."

His face scrunched up in horror. "You're right. Don't tell me." His gaze drifted past Freya's shoulder again, the warmth in his expression fading into narrow-eyed attitude. Freya caught the start of fear the man across the street felt when he realized Brendan was staring at him and his resolve to hurry away.

"Too bad I can't arrest him," Brendan muttered.

"You frightened him."


Freya frowned.


"Why?" she asked. "He didn't do anything. He didn't have any intention of doing anything. He just thought – it was a fantasy." People were all so damaged and alone. The things she heard were sad as often as inane. Boot man's fantasy would never progress beyond that; Freya felt sorry for him, not frightened. He would never trust anyone to know that part of him.

"A disgusting one, you said," Brendan pointed out.

"Yes, but – everyone thinks things they'll never say. Don't you think that it's wrong to judge them on that?" You didn't want me in your head.

Brendan turned the question around as he fidgeted with his plate. "You're the telepath. Do you think it's wrong to judge someone on what they really think if you know they're lying?"

She didn't, but there was still something wrong with the argument. Freya crumbled her scone into crumbs as she thought. Brendan's example was too specific.

"Hey," he murmured, looking concerned.

What if Brendan peeked through her eyes when she was alone, naked and looking at her body in the shower, Freya reflected. He wouldn't, it wasn't in his nature, but she knew he could. Didn't everyone have the right to the privacy of their own minds? People assumed they had it. None of the subjects she and Brendan interrogated had a clue that their thoughts and memories were being plundered without their will or permission.

None of their interrogation subjects would have given informed permission to have the privacy of their thoughts violated. If Freya wasn't a freak, if telepathy wasn't a science fiction pipe dream in most people's estimation, they'd refuse. They'd would insist on the mental right to not incriminate themselves, if telepathy were as common as bugging devices or surveillance cameras... or as date rape drugs that stole the victim's ability to refuse consent.

There would be cultural mores and laws to protect people from the psi talented like Brendan and her.

People like Harper and his superiors would keep what Freya and Brendan could do classified as long as they could, just so no one would write those new laws. If an act didn't exist, it couldn't be illegal. They and others would use that as long as they could, while Michael found or made them others with the same talents.

"I just worry sometimes," she said, "about what we're becoming."

Brendan pushed his plate and the scone he hadn't touched away.

"I know."

She mustered her nerve and decided the time had come to confess her own mistake. "I need to tell you something about Anne."

Brendan gave her a wounded look. "Freya– "

Don't. Please. Don't.

"Not today, okay?" he said.

"I'm sorry," Freya answered and pushed what she'd skimmed from Anne Tully's thoughts into Brendan's head.

"You're sure about this?" Harper asked after Brendan and Freya requested a private meeting.

"Brendan asked me to vet her," Freya lied.

Brendan stared out the wall of windows behind Harper. His thoughts were as blank to Freya as his expression, shields up and tight. He'd been blocking her furiously since they left the café.

"But you've been dating this woman for how long?" Harper asked Brendan.

"Four months," Brendan replied.

"Yet you only thought to investigate her now?"

"I did a background check before our second date."

Freya straightened her shoulders. "I thought it was an invasion of privacy," she said. It had been, but she'd done it anyway. She kept to the truth. "Ms. Tully deliberately avoided meeting me, too."

"So she has some idea of what you can do?" Harper asked.

"She didn't believe it, but followed orders."

Brendan's blocking slipped and Freya heard: I should have known. Stupid, really, really stupid, Brendan. She was too perfect. What kind of girlfriend would just accept me disappearing for the four weeks I spent locked up at Lincroft? I can't believe I was such a sucker.

Harper paced back and forth before the windows. "And does she believe now?"

"No," Brendan said. "I never discussed Freya or any of my work with her." He laughed almost bitterly. "I figured doing that would be a great way to scare her off."

"Good, good," Harper said. He stopped and grimaced. "Sorry."

Brendan shrugged. "I know what you meant."

Harper's gaze flickered to Freya then back to Brendan. "The background check came back clean?"

"Probably too clean," Brendan said. His shoulders slumped as he sighed. "But, yeah, just a traffic violation and a drunk-and-disorderly from back in college."

"Professional," Harper agreed. Just enough dirt to look real. "Freya, could you determine who she works for?"

"She's a DIA agent tasked to DARPA." She glanced at Brendan sympathetically. "She thinks the operation is a waste of time, but she's enjoying it."

Big kick fooling the dopey NSA geek. I should have –

Stop it, Brendan. This isn't your fault.

"Dean," Harper said.

Brendan braced himself.

"I know this is difficult, but can you continue the relationship and feed this Tully woman misinformation?"

Only a hitch in his breath gave away any difficulty Brendan had with the prospect as he answered, "I'll do it." I'm not sleeping with her again. That would be sick, both of us fucking and lying and using each other.

Freya flinched because Brendan had meant her to hear that, a comment on her own reasons for skimming Anne Tully's thoughts.

"It will mean refraining from beginning any other relationships," Harper warned him

Brendan gave him a weak smile. "Believe me, right now, that's the last thing I want to do." I always mess up my relationships anyway. It figures the best one I've ever had was a lie. At least I'm good at the job. Maybe an op is the only way I can ever have a successful relationship.

Freya wanted to kick him. Instead she gave him a narrow-eyed glare. Sometimes she thought that even after her years in the mental institution, she wasn't half as messed up as Brendan.

"All right," Harper said. "We'll put together a false backstory on Freya and a series of details you can let 'slip'. In the meantime, Freya, if you could back track who she works for? I want to know how they found out enough about you to target Agent Dean. We may have a mole in this office."

There was no need to research or theorize, no waiting for warrants, when they could take what they wanted directly from the guilty. Anne Tully led them to her case officer Herman Padalecki, Padalecki revealed a connection to Alan Sennet at DARPA, and an interview between Harper and Sennet while Freya and Brendan watched via CCTV let them both snag Sennet's source.

"Hello, Laura," Freya said as she sat down at the dining room table across from the woman.

Laura flinched and her eyes widened.

Blocking. Blocking. Blocking.

The walls in the converted stable were still painted the same pleasant green. Nothing at Lincroft had changed except Freya and the way she regarded what had once been her refuge.

Brendan had never liked Lincroft: to him it was the place where he was sent, away from family, friends, work, and home. Punishment for developing an ability even stranger than his freakish memory. He hadn't been happy to come back and was lurking at the dining room doors, arms crossed and shoulders tight.

Harper had been pleased that the trail took them back to Lincroft and Michael's people rather than the NSA.

Laura knew all about Freya. She'd been part of Freya's training, the first day Michael started her learning how to use her talent to protect herself.

"That really won't do any good," Freya said.

"You can't – " Laura whispered. "Not when I'm blocking."

Oh God, oh God, they'll find out about Ralph and the bank account. I should have quit. I should have gone to Mexico or somewhere, somewhere they wouldn't look, she's such a freak –

"I resent that," Freya said. "So who's Ralph?"

Laura lurched to her feet, her chair falling backward, the table shoved toward Freya. Freya anticipated the move and caught the table's edge against her palms. Brendan caught Laura's upper arms in his hands from behind her.

"Going somewhere?" he asked.

"Let go of me!" Laura shouted.

The other scientists in the dining room stared silently. They'd always been a slightly creepy bunch, though Freya thought they were only translating blocking around her into audible silence too.

"You should all leave now," she told them.

They fled in a flurry of white lab coats.

Brendan released Laura, who stood quivering and leaking panic like a too strong perfume into the air, and righted the chair.

"Sit down."

"Ralph," Freya prompted and skimmed Laura's reaction. Fear had shattered her ability to block Freya at all. "Ah, Ralph Fremont."

"How much did he pay you?" Brendan asked.

"That much?" Freya asked.

"Aruba?" Brendan added. "Really?"

Tears began trickling down Laura's face. "You have no right," she whispered. "I know what you're doing to me. It's wrong. You have no right."

"You're right, of course," Freya said. "We don't."

"We just don't have any choice either," Brendan added. He'd been quiet and angry since their discovery of Michael's duplicity. He hadn't been sharing with Freya, but she'd had the sense he was thinking about their situation constantly.

Someone, somewhere, was always watching. DARPA, DIA, CIA, a half hundred other intelligence agencies and criminals, all would want what they could do, and if they weren't doing it for the NSA, there would be someone who found a way to make Freya or Brendan do it for them. Freya had June, after all, and Brendan had his family, and they both had each other. Anyone they cared for could be used as a hostage against them if they ever refused to do their work.

Freya thought of Breyerdahl and his 'charm'.

They weren't the only ones, either.

"Aruba sounds good, doesn't it?" Brendan said abruptly. He glanced at Freya. "Maybe I can convince Harper to send us down there to recover the money. I just got the account number and passwords."

"It's not right," Laura whispered.

And while we're there, Brendan thought, it might be a good idea to divert a little of that money and set up an exit strategy for both of us. Just in case things go bad here.

He raised his eyebrow at Freya, knowing she'd skimmed his thoughts. Us. So that was what he'd been contemplating the last couple weeks. It would mean giving up who they were and everyone they cared for in their lives...

"Is that why you told Ralph about what I can do?" Freya asked Laura while she thought at Brendan:

I think you're right.