Warnings: Contains references to canonical character death and a brief reference to canonical attempted child sexual abuse.
The problem was, Becker wasn't entirely wrong. Charlie had died because of Toby. Not because of anything he'd done or any choice he'd made, but still because of him. Because of who he was. What he was. If he weren't a telepath, or if his family hadn't been caught up by the Institute, or if he'd gone back quietly to the Institute when told...
"You can say that about every violent death," Michelle said. "And most accidental ones too. If only this had been different. If only that had been different. I can tell you from experience that you can drive yourself crazy playing that game, and it's not going to bring anyone back."
"I know." He'd told himself the same thing, lying in bed night after night in the days after Charlie's death. And again after his little talk with Becker. It hadn't helped.
"I've read the police report," Michelle added. "You had no way of knowing what would happen. Last time I checked, you were a telepath, not a fortune teller. Unless, of course, you've hiding your precognitive abilities, in which case now's the time to spill."
"I didn't know Charlie was doing to die," Toby said. "But I knew the man chasing me was dangerous, and I knew that she'd try to help."
"And you think that quietly going with him and giving a dangerous man control of a telepath would have been a better solution?"
Toby slouched further into his seat. "No," he admitted. Rationally, of course, she was right. But the truth was, he hadn't been acting rationally when he resisted--it all been instinct, driven by memories of his mother's fear. He wasn't sure he could have gone back to the Institute even if he had thought it was a good idea. "You know," he said, "they may already have a telepath."
"Your brother." Michelle's tone was sympathetic, but there was an underlying grimness to her expression that suggested she'd spent some thinking about that, and what it might mean.
"Yeah." It was strange when he thought about it. He'd forgotten he even had a brother. Years and years of barely recalling his mother's face, and remembering nothing at all about anyone else. How did someone forget that they'd abandoned their brother? One more thing to feed his guilt. "If I'd gone with him, maybe I could have found my brother. And Charlie would still be alive."
"Yeah, and maybe you'd be a prisoner there too. Look, your mother gave up everything--she gave up you--to keep you safe from that place. I think you were right to resist going back. And Charlie was a cop. She signed up to protect people. She died doing that. There are worse fates."
"Tell that to Becker."
"He knows," Michelle said. "Whatever else Becker is, he's a good cop. He thought maybe you'd dragged his partner into something. Now that he knows the truth, I think things will be different."
"I did drag his partner into something."
"Yeah, but not because of anything you did. You were innocent. You needed protection. Becker understands that. Or he will, after he finishes processing it all." She gave him a reassuring smile. "It's a lot to take in, you know." She leaned back in her seat and took a sip of her glass. "I guess it must seem normal to you, since you grew up with it."
"Yeah, I guess," Toby said. "I mean, I knew we could do something other people couldn't and that we couldn't tell anyone about it, but--"
"It's amazing what you can accept as normal when you're a kid," Michelle said.
"It must have been weird listening in on people's thoughts growing up, though."
"Sometimes," Toby admitted. "I wasn't always good at blocking people out when I was younger, so I heard a lot of things I didn't mean to. Or didn't want to."
"Or that you did want to," Michelle said. "Tell me the truth--were you ever once surprised by a Christmas present."
Toby laughed. "You know what surprised me? How often people think about sex. I knew more about it by the time I was ten than a lot of adults."
"Tell me about it." It had had its uses, though. Like helping him understand the dangerous from that one foster father.
Michelle glanced sideways at him. "Do you ever worry they'll come after you again?"
"Sometimes," Toby said. It had been one of his main thoughts in the days after the shooting. Surely a whole institute wouldn't stop with one man. They'd have other people to send for him. Or Frank. "I don't think the guy who came after me reported finding me. I mean, technically he was sent for Frank. I think he was hoping to bring me in alone. Maybe get some kind of reward for it. I'm hoping that means they still have no idea where I am."
"Dev's looked, you know," Michelle said. "He hasn't been able to find anything about them. About any of it. Your mother. Your original identity. Where you were held."
"Yeah, he told me," Toby said. "Maybe I'm just not meant to know."
"Or maybe your mother will come back one day and finally explain it all."
"Answers," Toby said. "That would be a nice change."
"There is something a little ironic about the fact that the guy who can get answers no one else can doesn't have any answers about himself. But you know we're here for you, right? We're your family."
"I know," Toby said.
"And if the Institute ever does show up again...."
Talk about nightmares "You have a baby," Toby said quickly. "I don't want you taking any bullets for me."
"Don't worry," Michelle said. "I'm a hell of a shot. I won't be the one taking bullets."
"I'd rather never find out than see you guys get hurt."
"But both would be better."
Toby shrugged. She was right, but he'd resigned himself a long time ago to never getting those answers.
"Maybe Dev will find something," Michelle said. "Then we can go on the offensive. Get them before they get you."
"Anything's possible," Toby said, and wondered what they'd find if they did.
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