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If You Could Read My Mind Ch. 01

Henry Cassidy wakes with a feeling he’s no longer used to: he feels rested. He isn’t as young as he used to be, and so far his thirties had been plagued with cramping muscles, sore back, aches and pains in every place imaginable. But today, there’s no crick in his neck, no twinge in his shoulder, no ache in his back. It is — and he is not a man to use this word lightly — awesome.

He rises from his bed and tousles his hand through his messy brown hair. Then, still half asleep, he moves his hand idly farther down, rubbing against his unkempt beard, then grazing past the thatches of chestnut hair that span his chest and his (let yourself go a bit there, eh Hen?) belly. He examined himself, looking down. Definitely not as young as he used to be, a bit of flab here and there. But hey, he was still in fighting shape, he’d proved that much to his teammates through his work in the Special Forces, and now he felt damn good too, so who gives a shit?

It lasts all of the half hour it takes to brush his teeth, shower, dress in his customary plaid shirt and jeans, and waltz into the kitchen. He has such a spring in his step that a few of his teammates eye him suspiciously from across the room. He catches Andrea at the coffee pot, and he’s in a good enough mood not to comment on the clump of blonde hair stuck to her pillow-wrinkled cheek.

“Good mornin’, doc.” He says, evoking his natural southern charm.

“Henry.” Angela, ever the team’s faithful medic, nods, face practically buried in her coffee mug.

“You say you’re not a miracle worker, but I feel better than I have in years.”

—can’t even finish my first cup—

“Pardon?” Henry asks.

Andrea squints at him, then she shakes it off. “That’s great. You should come by my office. Later, of course.” She gives him a polite smile and waves her mug at him.

— so weird, does she know—

“Sure,” is the only answer he can summon, and he lets her go on her way.

***

There’s a mission briefing around nine. As always, it’s an hour-long meeting that could be finished in twenty minutes, if only everyone could coordinate the effort it takes to quit wasting time. Henry’s mind wanders until he’s thinking about a pretty redhead, then he spends the rest of the briefing distracted, trying to remember where he’s seen her before. He accidentally meets the eye of Tom, a young blonde recruit who he’d taken a liking to, and he’s looking more through him than at him for the brief second before he snaps back to alertness, turning toward the Commander with a plastered-on smile.

At the shooting range, he’s reloading when a snatch of song pops into his head. He can’t place it, but it’s far from his usual preferences — there’s a heavy bass like a pounding heart, high synthetic sounds weaving around it, the singer vocalizing in a foreign language. When he fires again, it’s to the rhythm of that bass. When his half hour slot is over, he finds Francois, the team’s weapons expert and a Frenchman through and through, waiting patiently outside the door for his turn. Henry’s gaze lands on the pair of white earbuds running from his ears to the phone he’s idly fidgeting with. Francois notices him and flashes a reflexive smile.

At lunch, he can’t focus. His mind is running a mile a minute, unwilling to latch onto any single thing. He keeps thinking about lutefisk and those round dumplings Connie likes, which is such a distracting combination that he can barely taste his own ham sandwich. He somehow remembers vividly when Connie, the chief researcher and scientist of the team, last ate those round dumplings, sitting around a large table with her friends, bowls of assorted foods arranged in front of her on a round mahogany table. It all comes to a head when he glances at Connie, who’s in rare form today with a low scoop neck shirt, and he thinks about what she would look like without the shirt altogether. Every bit of machinery in his brain comes to a screeching halt. He catches himself staring at Connie’s cleavage. Worse, Connie catches him staring at her cleavage.

As shameless as folks have accused him of being, he isn’t, not really. He is definitely ashamed of this. Confused, too, but that’s only hovering in the background while the shame takes up the whole frame.

Connie looks away. They don’t talk about it. Henry leaves as fast as humanly possible, nearly crashing into Andrea on his way out.

Out in the hallway, he does crash into Shiro, right as he rounds a corner. He reaches out to peel them apart and steady himself, his fingers closing just above Shiro’s elbow. The clamor in his head suddenly crescendos, a wave of instinctual anger then panic, with a thrum of something primal and incomprehensible running beneath it.

He jerks his hand away like Shiro’s bare skin shocked him, and he rubs it against his jeans without thinking. Shiro watches the motion like he can’t stop himself.

—of course—

“Cassidy,” Shiro says with a tight voice, addressing Gaziantep Escort Numaraları him by his last name. “My apologies.”

“Takes two to tango. Shoulda watched where I was goin’. Sorry.”

Shiro nods stiffly then gives Henry a wide berth as he continues on his way. Henry’s gaze follows him as he stalks down the hallway.

He considers Shiro his polar opposite: a disciplined, cold, closed-off mercenary with a physique more defined than what Henry possessed in his prime. A clear contrast to Henry’s laziness, warmth, outgoing personality and build that threatened to cross into dad bod territory.

A former Yakuza, Shiro kept his silky black hair cropped short in a utilitarian cut, his beard neatly trimmed into a sharp goatee, with tattoos of tigers, dragons and other beasts that wound their way up his powerful arms.

Henry had met plenty of guys like Shiro over the years, the quiet, mysterious type. He always wondered about guys like him, how fucked up their pasts must’ve been like to make them that way. He had succeeded in getting close to a few, bonding over drinks, and they were usually some of the most loyal people he’d ever met. He hoped to get the chance to do the same with Shiro but he hadn’t found the right opportunity yet. Anyhow, he never liked seeing someone distance himself from the rest of the team. They were a squad of misfit mercenaries, scientists and mechanics just trying to do a bit of good in the world, and they often bonded together on a personal level more than you’d think. It did wonders for communication and trust in the field.

***

“Are you experiencing any side effects?” Andrea asks. She’s more alert than this morning, but the fatigue still shows in the tightness around her eyes.

“Nothin’ I can think of.”

She makes a note on her tablet. “I would like to run through a checklist, just in case.”

Henry almost nods, but he remembers he’s got to stay still. She has him strapped into another headpiece, a bizarre helmet of tubes and electrodes and gadgets Henry can’t name. Images of his brain glow on a pair of holoscreens in front of him.

She runs through some that don’t matter: weakness, fatigue, loss of appetite. He answers honestly that he has felt damn near perfect since the moment he woke up.

Then she catches him off guard. “Mood swings?”

He isn’t sure how to answer. He woke up in a great mood, but he’s had those funny spikes of unaccountable feeling today. They never felt like his though, and they were never particularly strong. They were weirdly distant, like something held them at bay. “No?”

Andrea raises an eyebrow and makes a note, but she doesn’t pursue it. “Difficulty concentrating?”

“Huh. Yeah.”

“Confusion?”

“Maybe some…” He doesn’t know if the… the glitch with Connie’s breasts counts, but he figures Andrea’s the expert. She’ll weed out what doesn’t matter.

There are other things he has no answer for, but that Andrea says will be on the battery of questions every time he visits: loss of libido, increased sleeplessness, weight loss, weight gain.

Then she comes back around.

“Can you explain your difficulty concentrating?”

“Ah, just a lot of scattered thoughts all day. Seems like they’re comin’ from nowhere, just popping up?”

—intrusive thoughts—

“I guess that’s what you’d call ’em.”

Andrea stares for a second, then blinks. “What sort of thoughts?”

—anxiety, PTSD—

He shakes his head. “Regular thoughts? Nothin’ bad, really. They’re just not… it’s like there’s more of them, and they’re loud and… take up too much space.” The description makes him feel like an idiot, but there’s no better way to explain himself.

Andrea’s a pro though. She nods and makes another note.

—ADHD?

“Have you ever been tested for ADHD?”

“Do I look hyperactive to you?” Henry scoffs.

She arches a sharp eyebrow, and he knows he’s stepped in it, questioning her authority like that. “I don’t think you know what that word means. I know you lose sleep. You are impulsive and regularly engage in high-risk behaviors. You are dependent on caffeine and nicotine. Now you say you cannot concentrate. It isn’t a diagnosis. It is only a question, with good rationale.”

“That ain’t why I lose sleep,” he mumbles, and she softens. “You asked if this was new, doc. It is. This is only about today.”

Naturally there’s not much more they can cover. It’s only been a day. She dismisses him with instructions to write down anything he thinks is different or strange.

***

The next day, he wakes up with evidence that his libido is not, in fact, decreased. He lingers in bed to take care of the issue. By his estimation, he’s about halfway through when it happens: a Hasselhoff song starts running through his head. He only even recognizes it because Gunther, his jolly teammate from good old Deutschland, would play it any chance he could on the radio in the break room. While he could probably — if somewhat guiltily — still get himself off to thoughts of the big German guy, he definitely can’t do it to the weird, retro strains of “True Survivor.”

What Hasselhoff doesn’t kill, the lukewarm shower does. He’ll make it, though. Despite the frustration, his mood bounces back. Then breakfast happens.

Everyone gathers at the tables in their usual groups, Shiro’s alone and picking at his food while he stares at his tablet, as usual. Most mornings, Henry’s out before the crowd arrives, but it seems the Hasselhoff Incident threw off his timing.

He likes his teammates. He’s not always sure about sticking with the Special Forces, but he works with good people. That’s not the problem. The problem is that he feels better starting his day with some peace and quiet, and the moment he enters, there’s a din in his ears that seems wildly disproportionate to the number of people present.

He can’t concentrate again. Thoughts flash by quicker than he can fully comprehend them, and it’s just like he told Andrea: they take up too much space. He moves on autopilot toward the coffee maker, then to wash it and ready it to make another pot when he finds it empty. He’s staring at the machine, but in his head he can see Connie smiling and Andrea pushing a lock of hair behind her ear and Francois flashing his dimples when he laughs. He can hear a song again, one he can’t place. Somewhere in the din is a weirdly primal feeling; it’s almost in his bones instead of his mind. It takes a second for him to register what it reminds him of and even then he can’t quite believe it. It felt like an onslaught of lust.

He leans his weight on his hands, fatigued by the overload of information. While he’s clenching his jaw and watching the steady drip of coffee into the carafe, he thinks of someone’s ass, fingers pressing into the meat of it. His face is already hot enough before he processes what that ass is wearing: jeans, light wash, with fraying on the back pockets, a brown leather belt in the loops, a red plaid shirt tucked into the waist.

It’s his ass. It’s his ass, and he’s not thinking of it like someone’s doing it to him — or he wasn’t, before now — but like he’s the one doing it, like it’s someone else’s point of view, someone else’s fantasy. What the hell?

There’s no way to prove what he thinks is happening, and he might be nuts for even considering it. He tries to banish the thought, glaring at the carafe as he pours his coffee.

—can’t believe she would—

—after lunch we’ll—

—beans, oats, need more butter soon—

—need him, WANT him—

The last thought startles him. Coffee sloshes from his cup as he flinches, narrowly missing spilling drops of the hot liquid onto his hand.

That thought, though. That wasn’t his. It can’t be his. It welled up from somewhere so unfamiliar to him that he’s surprised he understood it. It wasn’t even words, not really, more like a loose interpretation of an intense emotion. Lust?

But it wasn’t his. That’s what matters.

He turns to look at the room, breath coming too quickly. There’s so much noise in his head it’s almost overwhelming. Andrea can help him. She’ll know what to do. She won’t think he’s crazy — or not any crazier than she already does.

“Mornin’, doc,” he says as naturally as possible.

—what is it this time—

Her lips don’t move, though, not until she says, in her too-early-for-this-shit voice, “Henry.” Then her eyes go wide when she really looks at his face. “Are you—”

—something wrong the treatment didn’t—

“I think I need a word alone,” he says through an aching jaw. There’s a melody running on loop in his head, a song he’s never heard, and it’s the same three lines over and over. He sees his own face, dark with distress, and he knows someone, somewhere in this room, is giddy from talking to someone else.

Andrea nods with her eyes growing round, the strain of worry starting to show. “My office. Five minutes.”

“Great.” It’s the best he can manage before he leaves. Most folks on base have trickled in by now, and the feedback from half of them watching him leave, layer on layer of his own face from different angles, of his own body moving, almost makes him nauseated.

The farther down the hall he gets, the quieter the ruckus in his head becomes. He’s hovering between belief and denial, but that’s another piece of evidence in favor of his newfound ability to— He can’t even think the words. They make him feel like he’s losing his grip on reality.

Andrea doesn’t leave him waiting. He hears her footsteps down the hallway before he sees her, and he gets that weird, disorienting sense of looking at himself again. She lets them both in and waves a hand at the empty chair across from her desk. “You needed to see me?”

Henry stares hard at her, trying to hear anything she’s not saying. She blinks back at him. Then he huffs. “This is gonna sound crazy.”

Her eyes glint. “Mm, yes, very uncharacteristic.”

“Hey,” he mutters.

—worse than I thought—

Her face goes more serious, concerned. “We’re friends, Henry. And I’m your doctor. That means there are two good reasons to take you seriously, and to tell no one else.”

He nods, but it still takes a moment to summon the nerve to say anything out loud. “I’m hearin’… things.”

“Things.”

“I told you about the intrusive thoughts yesterday? Those. But I don’t think they’re mine.”

Andrea squints. “I think they’re… other people’s?” He says the last in a rush, voice so quiet she leans forward over her desk to hear them.

Then she sits back in her chair, staring at him.

—hearing voices, never considered—

“Not hearing voices,” Henry huffs, and she blinks again. “Thoughts. And… and pictures sometimes. Sounds. Can’t wait to find out I can get smells too next time someone’s stinkin’ up their bathroom.”

Andrea’s lips twitch before she schools her face again. “If true—”

“If—”

“I believe your experience is very real to you—”

“Andy, c’mon.”

She huffs, and he knows what he looks like to her, because he can see it clearly in his head: he looks like a ragged, pitiful, stubborn man. She’s stubborn too, though. She squares her shoulders then pins him with a look. “You are an astute observer of others. Have you considered that these thoughts are only your observations, and that your imagination has done the rest?”

“I’m not imagining it. You think I don’t know the difference between pickin’ up tells and hearing the explicit details?” She looks troubled. As frustrating as it is, Henry can’t really blame her. She needs it to fit into a medical model, some diagnosis, something that’s been studied and measured before. Henry sounds like a lunatic even to himself; he can’t fault her for struggling against her own understanding of the world. “I know what it sounds like, but you know this ain’t my usual brand of crazy.”

She stares, mouth pinched. Of course now when he would love to know what she’s thinking, he can’t hear a damn thing. She’s probably only humoring him, but she says slowly, “Can you give me some examples of these… instances?”

It’s a start. She doesn’t need to know about the Hasselhoff Incident, and some of the things sound like nonsense or coincidence, enough so that he’s second guessing himself before he starts. Then he smirks. “Yesterday, I think someone was staring at Connie’s boobs.”

“Don’t call them boobs, you sound like a twelve-year-old.”

“I would’ve called ’em giant knockers at twelve.”

“Henry—”

“Would you prefer ‘her ample bosom’?”

“I take back what I said about our friendship.”

It gives Henry a much needed laugh, and Andrea’s puts him further at ease with its familiar fond exasperation. “Well, whatever you call ’em, there weren’t many of us in the room, so I’m guessin’ you were the one thinkin’ real intently about her chest.”

Andrea stops laughing. She opens her mouth. Closes it. Flushes. “That’s… nothing you couldn’t have figured out without special insight.” She rubs her nose with a finger, eyes squeezing closed.

She’s right. It’s not like he didn’t have a hunch before now. It strikes him that someone with shittier people skills would be more convincing in this scenario. He wracks his brain for a single compelling example, and he comes up with nothing. “I don’t know if I can control it, but maybe I could try now. On the fly. Tell you what you’re thinkin’ about.” He thinks about Shiro yesterday, the skin to skin contact and that wave of feeling, and he reaches across the desk to put his hand over hers. “C’mon, humor me. Concentrate on somethin’. Somethin’ I wouldn’t know.”

Her mouth is firm with disbelief, but she nods and closes her eyes. They’re silent long enough that it grows uncomfortable. She peeks with one dubious eye before she squeezes them shut again. He can hear the ticking of the clock on the office wall.

Then he grins and says, “You were cute as a button in that headgear. Did you spit when you talked, too?”

Andrea sighs, and the image dissipates. “I told you fourteen was a rough age.”

***

Andrea believing him doesn’t mean she has a solution, but it’s a good step. Now he’s got to meet with her daily to check in on any other developments. She’s not convinced his treatment is the cause, but it’s a better lead than anything else. She sends him away, muttering to herself about electrical impulses even before she closes the door.

Two days ago, he was excited to be her guinea pig. He was looking forward to life without whole days spent recovering after stressful missions, and she’d get to fine tune the treatment on him before trying it out on folks with migraines of the less… unexplainable variety. It wasn’t curing cancer, but it could have helped a lot of people.

Henry normally helps people by ridding the world of the bad ones. Andrea helps them by making the world better for everyone. It would’ve been nice to do it her way for once.

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