Fandom: Thoughtcrimes/Boa vs. Python
Word Count: 4035 (part two)
Author's Note: shetiger's rather belated exchange fic. I am so sorry. I didn't forget about you, Brendan and Emmett are just being bloody secretive.
Summary: If anyone had bothered asking Brendan, which, of course, they hadn't, he would have told them that the last thing he needed was enforced isolation away from everyone he knew.
Monday afternoon saw Brendan almost wishing he'd kept the old Canon SLR he'd had in high school. Emmett had taken him to two caves, after which they'd headed to the nearby rock climbing highlight.
"You're one of those, aren't you? The ones that will climb upside down to get to the top," Emmett asked, sounding almost resigned.
"Totally," Brendan responded, grinning, watching the tiny climbers scale the side of the formation. If his shoulder weren't for shit these days, he would have signed up right then to go up. He suddenly was looking very forward to having a good arm again, and even the hell of getting its strength back.
They ate the lunch Brendan had packed at the summit of Spruce Mountain, so Brendan could have the pleasure of saying he'd been at the top of West Virginia, Emmett said. The weather, however, changed pretty quickly once they'd settled in; they had started their day blocking sunlight from their vision and soon after arriving clouds started racing across the sky. As the wind picked up, Emmett insisted they leave and by the time they'd descended a steady rain was falling.
"I suppose it was for the best," Emmett said. "I have to be at the high school by 5:30 for the pet show."
"Pet show? Seriously? Tell me you're not entering." Brendan kicked at the five pound bag of mining rough he'd picked up at one of the gift shops. He'd thought about picking up a panning sieve too, but decided some nice coffee table books would carry the joke better with Freya instead.
Emmett laughed. "No, judging the reptiles. Actually, threatening to enter is what got me banished to the realm of judging. I still say that what's said in Beander's should stay there, but apparently no one else goes for that rule. The husband of the head judge was there on the wrong night and next thing I know I'm grading pets."
"And you still haven't learned, have you." Friday night had seen them back at Beander's, filling up with the students after leaving the forest, and Emmett nearly being pressed into 'the strong man thing' the next morning because of his pets (behemoth monsters, as stated by one woman rather emphatically), or so the argument had eventually run.
"God doesn't like cowards," Emmett muttered and Brendan just laughed.
He was still buzzing come Saturday morning from the precision motorcycle exhibition he'd seen the night before, because they'd performed again that morning. The second time he'd made sure Emmett came along. He'd missed the previous night's, and even though he said they were there every year, he picked Brendan up two hours early so they could have a walking breakfast and stake out a good location for the show.
By the time afternoon rolled around Brendan had succumbed to the mob mentality of buying chintzy stuff from the vendors, mentally slating each hand-crafted purchase for one of his backstabbing coworkers.
A '57 Porsche Speedster had just rolled by, cherry red and gleaming, when Brendan was surprised by a buzzing from his pocket. He pulled out the cellphone and stared at the screen, reading the blocky UNKNOWN without immediate comprehension.
He pressed receive, feeling his gut coil in nervous anticipation. "Hello?"
There was a small pause, followed by a quiet, "Hi, Brendan."
"Freya," he breathed, putting a finger to his opposite ear in a valiant attempt to drown out the crowd. He started edging towards the buildings, away from the barricade, but the noise just got louder the further away from the street he got. "How are you, are you-?"
"I'm good. Better."
Brendan could barely hear her and he wasn't able to contain his growing frustration; he might have been only a few seconds from screaming at the people milling around him if he hadn't been distracted by a hand on his shoulder – Emmett, pressing keys into his hand and pointing up the street. God, yes.
"Just a second, I'm going someplace quiet." The crowd dispersed to normal downtown noises within two blocks, but it wasn't enough.
"Where are you?" Freya asked, and it was such a relief to hear the laughter in her voice. Some part of him hadn't really believed he'd hear it after what had happened. The last thing he remembered was her crying and her voice screamed hoarse.
"I'm apparently in the middle of a Forest Festival," he said wryly.
"On purpose, or by accident?"
"Well, mostly... both." Freya laughed quietly again. She sounded tired, like talking was actually taking up her energy and he mentally drew a picture of dark bruising under her eyes, waxy skin and emaciation. He reached the car and slipped into the driver's seat, locking the doors. He breathed and listened for a moment, to comfortable quiet and Freya's breath hundreds of miles away. "How are you?" he murmured into the air.
Freya sighed, but it wasn't impatient or irritated. "I've graduated to walking around my room. Sometimes I make it out to the porch and watch the horses, but it's getting colder here. Mostly I just stay in and read. I'm tired and cold all the time, but even I've noticed I'm feeling better."
"And your-" Brendan couldn't finish, because he'd never found a smooth way of referring to Freya's telepathy. Your brain? Your mind? It struck too close to sounding like she had a sanity problem. Asking about her powers was just too cartoonish. Freya had always gotten a kick out of his dilemma, but was usually too nice to poke him about it.
"I've got almost all my blocks back. At least I can be in the same room with someone who isn't holding back now. It took about a week and a half before I could handle that much."
"Nobody would tell me anything. Until Welles showed up I didn't even know if you were alive or..." or sane, but he didn't want to say that.
"I don't think they knew, Brendan. Michael told me they kept me in a coma for the first three days to let the drugs get out of my system, and for the next five after that I was completely non-lucid. I don't think any of us knew. Michael gave me your number a couple of days ago. I'm sorry I didn't call, but-"
"No, it's okay." It really, really was, because at least now he knew she was getting better, and if he'd been listening to her speak with a washed out voice, exhausted and recovering, it would have been worse than the wait.
"So how are you?"
"Me? I was evidently well enough to banish."
"Brendan, seriously. Michael's been pretty worried. He never said anything to me other than you'd been released from the hospital and were on leave, but. Every time I've asked about you it's been there in his eyes."
Brendan didn't say anything. Freya eventually continued.
"One of the doctors here was there when they got us. Michael's tried to keep him away from me, but I saw... I think you scared the hell out of everyone. It, it looked like you were just covered in blood and that's all I keep seeing-"
"It wasn't that bad, Freya," Brendan interrupted. "They stabbed me in my shoulder, remember?"
"Not really. I don't remember much past them shooting me up with whatever it was."
Brendan was pretty sure it had been heroin; Freya had looked pretty blissed out there for the five minutes before the screaming had started. "Anything they saw was from that. I had a hard time getting us out of the building and it bled a lot over both of us."
It hadn't been his shoulder that had kept him hospitalized for 9 days, it had been the electric shocks they'd given him.
"You kept me sane, you know that right?" Freya's voice sounded small, almost helpless. It made Brendan so angry he could barely see. When Freya had started screaming, he'd started yelling, first at the guys holding them and then at her. He'd thought he would have to watch her lose her mind right in front of him. "Brendan..."
"Don't, Freya. Don't... say it." He thought he heard a muffled sniff.
"So, you're okay, right?"
Brendan gave a wet laugh. "Yeah, I'm here in West Virginia."
They'd been partners for too long, because he could tell she'd picked up on his unspoken don't tell anyone. He knew it couldn't have been much of a secret, certainly not now. But when he'd first left New York he'd been so angry that he'd actually contemplated just disappearing. He'd rented the most common car in America, closed out a bank account and really thought about vanishing. He hadn't put the battery into the prepaid phone he'd purchased until his 3rd morning in Elkins, once he'd had time to lick his wounds and sulk.
"I've been doing some hiking, hanging around with the locals, visited some caves. Hey, I got you a gift."
Freya made a noise he'd graciously count as a laugh. "It had better not be a wood carving or some plastic tourist trap piece of junk, Brendan Dean. I have standards, you know."
"I know. I got you a bag of dirt, instead." He knew she thought he was joking, which is why he was looking forward to plunking the thing down on her desk when they both got back.
"It's good hearing your voice," she said, returning fatigue drowning out any leftover outrage.
"Same here. Listen, tell Welles..." It was an odd paradigm shift, thinking that Welles had actually been worried about him. "Tell Welles I said thank you."
Freya was quiet for a moment. "Okay. I'll do that. I'll talk to you soon, okay?"
"Hope so. Go get some rest," he said and closed the phone.
Brendan leaned forward and rested his head against the top of the steering wheel. Knots of nervous tension where suddenly letting go with the relief of talking to Freya, hearing her coherent and intelligent. When she'd been drugged, he'd been tied down already. He'd yelled and railed at her to pay attention to him, to listen to him not to them and started cycling through television shows and movies and books in his head until he'd caught her attention. He'd lost her every time the bastards had given him another shock.
The last time he'd seen her she'd been losing focus again and Welles was sticking a needle in her arm to knock her out.
A light tapping on the window across from him made him look over. Emmett stood there, head cocked, watching him patiently. Brendan unlocked the doors.
Emmett assessed him quietly. "You wanna get out of here?"
"I-," Brendan couldn't concentrate on sorting out the answer, which pretty much was the answer. "Yeah."
Emmett nodded and slipped into the passenger side. "Fire it up. We can head to the Reserve. It's good there."
The Reserve turned out to be the elusive Longreen Reserve that Emmett was director of. The turnoff wasn't marked by more than a white and black sign stating no trespassers and visitors must be logged in at all times. About a mile in there was another sign pointing the way towards the main building and the road opened to a pleasant looking campus and a large modern glass and concrete building with a granite facade carved into the surrounding forest. Not exactly what he'd been expecting.
They pulled around to a side entrance and Emmett used a key and touchpad to unlock the door and let them in. They settled in a carpeted room dressed in dusty reds and browns. There was a nice table and a couch, a television and a laptop, and when Emmett suddenly reappeared in front of him with two bottles of cold beer Brendan realized there was also a refrigerator in the general vicinity.
The cap was already popped and he took a few deep swallows, feeling the icy chill swirl around his stomach. Emmett didn't ask any questions, didn't even show he might be wondering at Brendan's sudden downhill plummet in mood. It gave Brendan the opportunity to try and sort himself out. He picked and rubbed at the shiny branding beneath his fingertips until the bottle was nearly empty. Emmett still hadn't said anything, leaving them both in a sort of uncomplicated quiet.
"NSA," Brendan said, pulling at a corner of the beer label.
Out of the corner of his eye he could see Emmett look up, but Brendan didn't look over. It wasn't forbidden to tell people where you worked like it had been back in the day, but outside of work Brendan tended to follow the old – and still encouraged – rules for various reasons. Mostly because it sounded pretentious and there was absolutely no cause for assuming coolness in working for the NSA; the reality was depressingly boring and bogged down with regulations and poor allocation of assets. But there was also that working for the NSA still had the thrill of the illicit, and some people liked illicit targets, good or bad.
He and Freya gave their real names on the job, but both their apartments were rented under aliases.
"I work for the NSA," he repeated. "My partner and I were... out knocking doors. We ended up at the wrong place and..."
"How long?" Emmett asked, after Brendan stopped.
"Six hours and forty minutes. I was conscious for every second of it. No fucking time at all." His nail caught at a small tear where condensation had weakened the label. The paper separated with a messy silence.
After a while there were soft clinks and Emmett pulled a chair in front of him, setting a couple of glasses, two bottles of liquor and two more bottles of beer in front of him. Brendan finished his beer and reached for another, eschewing the bourbon while Emmett poured himself a gin.
"Time enough," Emmett said, taking a drink.
Brendan couldn't argue with that. "I was told to take some time off on them. Get out of the city, away from the job while we both recovered. Jesus Christ."
His stomach started to sour towards the beer and he set his bottle on the table in front of him. He had a headache that was growing out of proportion and he cradled his head in his hands, more to block out the light than anything else.
"She's okay," he told himself, aloud, Emmett as a witness. "Freya's okay, and that's all that matters."
"How long have you two been partners?" Emmett asked, affecting a soft cadence.
"About, um... Oh, about five years now. Working on six."
It sounded odd, off to Brendan. "What?"
If he'd been in a better mood it might have been fun to watch the conflict in Emmett's face. As is was, Brendan was pretty numb.
"Okay," Emmett said, obviously coming to a decision. "I will only ask this one question and to be clear, I do not in any way expect you to answer it. I always thought the NSA was information and analysis only and others handled actual investigations. Since when the hell do they have field agents?"
"Okay, how the hell do you know this stuff?"
Emmett's laugh was short and almost bitter. "You'd be surprised how useful it became to know who was coming knocking when my research became semi-public. The FBI was by a few years ago. A few years before that the CIA. After them I thought it would behoove me to know about anybody who might turn up. I know a lot about Russia and China, too, so don't feel bad. I had to waste a lot of money on security, but it's been worth it, I think."
Brendan was willing to attest to that. They had passed through two levels of security to get to this break room, though he supposed technically this might be an office or meeting room of some sort for Emmett.
"What exactly are you doing here?" No, seriously, what could he possibly be doing here that would draw attention like that? He should have logged into the Bureau's intranet.
Emmett filled his glass again. "Ostensibly I'm working on a universal antivenin. People aren't interested in that, though. They're just interested in weaponizing what I've got here."
"Weaponizing an antivenin?
"What? No, the snakes I use for the research. Nobody's actually interested in the research, outside of the victims and maybe Doctors Without Borders. So I started checking."
"That..." It sucked and it wasn't fair and there wasn't much he could say.
Emmett shrugged. "Mm. So Freya's doing better?"
Brendan could feel himself relaxing, because she was. She was. "Yeah. Yeah, Freya's doing better."
Emmett dragged Brendan to a lunch for the college on Sunday by calling in a favor for the extra seat. Brendan used the sauna to steam the one set of work clothes he'd brought, put on his tie and afterwards they went to a coffee shop to unwind for hours. On Monday they were back at Longreen, and Brendan got the opportunity to hang out with two cool constrictors for a while, each about 10 feet long and determined to use him as a climbing tree. Emmett was off in deeper parts doing whatever he did, though periodically he or somebody else would poke their heads in to see how he was doing. (Or to see if he'd been eaten yet, as one person had told him.)
Soon enough the hours rolled into Brendan's third Tuesday in Elkins. He celebrated by going for a long early morning hike down a trail that paced a river. The air was starting to crisp and the trees were turning more quickly than they had a few weeks ago and Brendan found himself meandering off trail when something looked interesting enough. He started circling back when he felt himself getting hungry, which was the only reason he made it back to his cabin in time for the cell to ring.
The first shrill notes startled him; one, he'd forgotten to bring the phone with him on his hike, which was just stupid and two, he'd completely forgotten his twice weekly phone call with Munslow. Completely. He almost let it go to voicemail, but no, he took the call instead.
They talked Freya and work and his recovery and the time he'd been held both in the warehouse and the hospital. Munslow commented that he sounded more relaxed, less resentful and after the phone call was long over Brendan considered for the first time that maybe Munslow had been serious when he'd told Brendan the decision to exile him hadn't been made lightly. He wanted it to hurt that Munslow had been right about taking a break, but for the most part he was just relieved that he was starting to feel what passed for normal again.
Emmett had swung by the Lodge after his final class on Thursday, so Brendan took him to a late lunch at the restaurant and afterwards they'd settled down in the cabin to a game on ESPN, lobbing insults back and forth over team choice.
"You know, we never did get you out to the Speedway. We should try for Saturday before the weather starts to go," Emmett said during a commercial. "At least then you won't have such pathetic taste."
"You know, last year they made it to division," and really, at this point the argument was more to rile Emmett than any real support of the team.
"Yes, that was last year before they fucked up this year's line up."
Brendan was cut short from responding when the cell started to ring. He stared at the phone glowing and blinking on the end table.
"You going to answer that?" Emmett asked after another ring.
Brendan didn't move. Munslow had already called several hours earlier, Freya had called again yesterday. He somehow didn't think it was her. Frowning, Emmett got up and retrieved the phone, looking at the display.
"No number," he said, tossing it over.
There wasn't. No number, no area code, not even an unknown. On the fourth ring Brendan finally flipped it open and put it to his ear.
"This is Dean."
It was Harper.
"Hell of a long drive to get back by tonight."
"Yeah, well, if they needed me that badly they would have told me to fly out," Brendan said, grabbing the bag Emmett was holding towards him.
"Are you kidding me? It's probably quicker to drive, unless you're talking about a direct charter. In which case, sending a chopper."
"I don't know where you're getting this impression that I'm somebody important in their grand scheme, because seriously: I'm not."
"They gave you and your partner open ended medical leave with no penalties. That makes both of you pretty damned important and if you try to claim you aren't I'm not going to believe you. They would have given you unpaid leave instead."
Brendan didn't answer, just finished packing the trunk and slamming it closed. When he was finished he turned around, squinting a bit as the angle of the sun caught his eyes badly. The light felt good on his skin. Emmett was standing two paces from him, relaxed with his hands tucked into his jean pockets.
"So there's skiing around here, huh?" he asked. Emmett smiled a bit, looking around the hills surrounding them and nodded.
"Yeah. It's not Vail or the Tetons or anything, but it's still pretty good."
"I should see if I can make it out here for winter." Official leave or not, that didn't mean he'd actually get his vacation time.
"You should. I think you'd like it."
Brendan kind of thought he would, too. "I suppose I should get out of here. Listen, thanks for showing me around. This ended up being a lot better than I thought it would be."
Hating that a handshake seemed so insufficient but not really knowing how else to express his thanks and appreciation, Brendan held out his hand. And held it out.
Emmett didn't take it, didn't even look at it. He stared at Brendan with a minuscule smile and then breathed deeply, letting it out in a noisy gust.
"Oh, hell," Emmett said, looking away. "This'll probably effect your decision ever to come back to Elkins, but whatever."
And before Brendan could do anything Emmett was kissing him. Slowly, persistent, until Brendan opened his mouth and responded, kissing him back properly. Then it was Emmett reeling him in closer, hand on his neck, or maybe it was Brendan doing that because he seemed to be as involved in the kiss as Emmett was. He knew it was him that backed them up until they were resting against the car bumper, Emmett warm and solid against him.
Brendan broke the kiss because propriety could only let him go so far. They stayed close though, breathing each other's air. "I guess maybe just became definitely," he said, so not smooth.
"Hey, I'd be happy to host you," Emmett replied immediately, and then started backpedaling, "No strings attached, of course. Not host you like that. I just... fuck."
It made Brendan want to laugh, and there was a strange giddy ball growing in his chest that he couldn't suppress, even as Emmett moved away from him.
"You should get going."
"Yeah, I suppose so. Can I e-mail you?"
Brendan watched Emmett's fingers disappear back into his pockets. "E-mail, call, visit at random intervals. Feel free." They stood watching each other for a few more moments. "Get going. Drive carefully."
"Yeah." Brendan smiled and pushed off the car, heading towards the driver's seat. "Take care of yourself."
He slid in and shut the door, starting the car. Emmett walked over and leaned in the window. "You too. Stay safe." Emmett stepped back and thumped the roof a couple of times.
Brendan watched him in the mirrors until the road curved and Emmett disappeared from view, before finally concentrating on the road in front of him. Thumbing on the radio, he settled in for the drive. He was feeling pretty good.
Additional A/N: Point of fact that the 6-Degree people in the audience might enjoy: When googling to make sure I got Longreen correct, I typed in the phrase 'longgreen snake reserve emmett' and got the most interesting response, 4th down, from a news blog: The team of Ian Glyn-Jones and Emmett McKay-Lodge, meanwhile, just couldn’t seem to catch a break. Emmett McKay-Lodge? Are you kidding me?