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Babes

“What would you do if you could suddenly read minds, and you could tell Connie maybe wanted to, y’know…” Henry gestures vaguely, wincing at his inability to actually talk about any of this.

Fortunately Andrea understands him well enough. Well, halfway. “I told you I’m taking her to a nice Italian restaurant on Friday. I do not need further encouragement, thank you. Look straight ahead for me.” She shines a light directly into one eye, then the next.

Henry blinks away the spots before he can say more. “Right, congrats, but that’s not… What I’m askin’ is for you to put yourself in my shoes.”

She pauses, and he can see the moment she catches on even though he can’t read her thoughts through her mental wall. “Does someone have a crush?” she asks with a smirk.

“I… sure. Yeah. We’ll call it that.”

“What do you— oh.” She can’t quite manage not to pull a face.

“Just because you don’t want my ass doesn’t mean nobody does.”

She snorts. “I both do and do not want to know what you’ve seen now.”

“Someone might wanna know, but you definitely don’t. It’s uh. Graphic.”

“Do you feel… okay with this?” she asks carefully.

It takes Henry a moment. “It’s not not- okay, if that’s what you’re askin’. It’s weird as hell, but it’s not… Nobody’s actin’ badly.”

She nods, biting her lip. “You know it is still possible for men—”

“This is not that kinda conversation. They’re just thoughts. It’s weird, but there’s no pressure and it’s nobody’s fault anyway.”

“Okay.”

“So… what would you do?”

“I don’t know. Nothing, I suppose.” Suddenly she laughs. “Wait. You asked if it were Connie.”

“Or anybody, really,” he says quickly. Andrea raises an eyebrow. “Anybody who wouldn’t be… a total turnoff for you?”

She isn’t smiling, but it’s a near thing. He can see it at the corners of her mouth, trying to come out. “Of course. Well. If it were me, and I could read Connie’s thoughts, and she thought of me naked or something, I would be incredibly flattered, if perhaps uncomfortable, depending on the timing. And then I would… I don’t know. I shouldn’t really have that information, should I? I suppose I could tell her, which risks embarrassing her and perhaps appearing to leap to conclusions or expect something from her.”

“Right, because a few dirty thoughts don’t mean you wanna act on ’em.”

“I could go on as if I don’t know anything. If you use the information without telling him, it is questionable at best, and outright manipulative at worst. So you have to decide if you would prefer to tell him the whole truth or behave as if you know nothing. I assume it’s a ‘him,’ or you’d be… less concerned, I think.”

Henry sighs. “I’ve been tryin’ to act like I don’t know. Not like I can just say, ‘Oh, hey there, Shiro, I know you wanna grab my ass, you wanna get a drink?'” Andrea’s lips press tightly together, and Henry sighs again. “Yeah, it’s Shiro. Figured you would do that math on your own quick enough.”

Andrea suddenly blanches. “This explains so much about training the other day.”

“Is he that obvious?”

“Him? Henry…”

“Because he’s just constantly in my head! It’s worse than anybody else, actually, like if he’s around he just hogs all the brainwaves.”

Andrea rubs a hand across her mouth, and he gets the impression her face is not saying what it should. “I can’t help you. Not right now. You have to pay me in whiskey for this, and I can’t drink on the job.”

She kicks him out of her office, and he’s left to fend for himself. He didn’t get much from the conversation, but Andrea’s ability to lock him out did inspire him a little. He’s been operating under the assumption that he shouldn’t change anything, but maybe Shiro deserves to know. If nothing else, maybe he deserves the opportunity to learn to block Henry out so he can have some privacy again. It means admitting to something that’s going to embarrass them both, but maybe it’d better in the long run.

Henry can’t tell if his own motives are selfish or not. Maybe he just wants to take this burden off his own shoulders, at Shiro’s expense. Maybe telling him would only humiliate him. Maybe what Shiro doesn’t know won’t hurt him, and this is some fleeting attraction he’ll move on from in another few weeks. Henry rubs at his chest like that will release the knot of anxiety inside.

***

He doesn’t get a chance to make up his mind before the next mission.

The Commander has them working in pairs, scouring a massive shipyard for a single container. Shiro is stuck at Henry’s side. His thoughts are only a distant buzz again. Between the team’s chatter from the comm in his ear and all the confusion Shiro’s presence brings, Henry’s grateful for the relative quiet.

It should be a simple mission, so of course it isn’t.

—ask for a raise—creepy as hell—here somewhere—

Henry glances at Shiro, it seems extremely unlikely that those thoughts are coming from him. He turns casino oyna off his flashlight and he reaches for Shiro, a quick tap of fingers against his wrist to get him to stop moving and listen. Shiro’s light goes off too. They stand still, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the dim industrial lighting. Soon enough they can hear several pairs of booted feet on the other side of the nearest container.

As quietly as he can, Henry flicks on his comm. “Think we got company.”

“Who?” asked the Commander, tinny in his ear.

“No eyes on ’em yet.”

Shiro’s head is cocked to one side, listening carefully. He rubs a hand along the orange metal wall of the container, then he points upward and looks back at Henry. There’s an image there of what Shiro’s trying to do: he can scale it easily, but it will be less noisy with Henry’s help.

Henry’s already moving to help brace him before he’s thought enough about it. Shiro’s surprised, but if it comes up later, it’s easy enough to wave off with a joke about great minds thinking alike. Even so, Henry can sense the curiosity buzzing while Shiro steps swiftly into Henry’s steadying grip and hoists himself onto the top of the container. He presses himself nearly flat up there, shimmying to the far edge.

There’s a quick image of at least half a dozen red helmets before Shiro retreats. Henry knows exactly what that means: Red Falcon, a terrorist group that somehow seems to always be one step ahead. Figures they’d show up to fuck over what was supposed to be a simple undercover mission. Shiro comes back down the way he went up. Once he’s done using Henry as his personal step ladder, he holds up eight fingers.

Henry catches a flash of where the small squad is heading, and he wordlessly herds Shiro in the opposite direction, around the corner and into the shadows. “Red Falcon. Eight on us,” Henry murmurs under his breath into his comm. Shiro makes a face in the dark that he can’t make out, but Henry’s focusing on the enemy movements too much to care right away.

“Four near us,” Tom whispers.

“Six baddies in my sights, and a sniper on one of the cranes in the west corner.” Francois sounds grimmer than Henry’s ever heard him.

Gunther chimes in gruffly, “Eight here too.”

“Tom, if you only see four…”

“Update: definitely six.”

“Ambush.” Shiro growls, so low that Henry’s not sure whether he actually spoke at all.

“There are more inbound. They’re surrounding you,” the Commander confirms. “Evacuate. Now. I’ll ping an extraction point.”

The conversation ends, and without the distraction, Henry can sense the thoughts of the enemy squad nearby, they’re closing in rapidly. He pushes Shiro around the next corner of their container, pressing him against the metal wall. Shiro’s thoughts clang in Henry’s head. It’s a mighty inconvenient time to remember Shiro’s had at least one memorable fantasy involving the two of them in this position. Neither one moves, but Shiro’s chest hitches as he tries to get his breathing under control, and it brushes against Henry, which doesn’t do either of them any favors.

Every step on the other side of the container seems to ring in his ears, and he instinctively pushes further into the shadows — and against Shiro. It feels like it takes a thousand years for the enemy to walk by, but eventually they do, and Henry feels safe moving again.

“Sorry,” he mutters, and Shiro only shoots him a look that he interprets as, Shut up and focus.

The squad is definitely fanning out, searching like they know someone is nearby. Henry’s never actively tried reaching for someone else’s thoughts before. It takes more concentration than he expected, but he can do it. Their steps are louder than Henry’s and especially Shiro’s, which is as good a cover as any for how well Henry can predict their movements.

He carefully steers Shiro away from the enemy. They’re in the far corner, closest to the water and farthest from the strip of warehouses that lead eventually back toward the city’s industrial park. Eventually Shiro resists Henry’s herding, yanking him instead into a dark recess between two containers.

“Where are you taking us?” Shiro hisses.

“Just tryin’ to keep us outta sight.”

“The exit is behind us.”

“If we can get to a boat—”

“You want to walk us into a dead end?” Henry pauses, and he realizes the nerves radiating off Shiro aren’t from their close quarters or even from the present situation. He’s suspicious. Of Henry. “Or are you planning to swim in your body armor?”

“There’s plenty of places to hide on a boat. Can wait ’em out.” Shiro isn’t satisfied, but it doesn’t matter, because Henry catches a flash of a gun, sights, and a target right in the middle. “Tom, get to cover.” He whispers quickly into his comm.

He waits, holding his breath, for the gunshot to sound. It never comes.

After a moment, the comm crackles to life again. “Thanks,” is all Tom says, but he sounds rattled.

Shiro canlı casino takes a step back, eyeing him from head to toe, more prickly suspicion coming off him in waves.

Henry reaches for him, and Shiro wrenches away from him. “What was that?”

“Nothin’. They’re close by. We gotta get goin’.”

“How do you know that?”

—right into a trap—what is he—

Shiro is immovable, and the thoughts flitting through his head make Henry’s stomach clench. Henry reaches for him again, but instead of pulling, this time he gets him by both elbows and steps into his space, praying that if anything works, it will be this. “Shiro, please. We can’t do this right now.” Shiro is frozen, startled by the way Henry’s touching him, but it hasn’t taken any of the edge off. Quietly panicking, Henry asks, “If I promise to tell you how I know once we’re outta here, will you trust me?”

Someone is coming. They need to move. Shiro stares wide-eyed at him, then he blinks hard and shakes himself from the stupor. “Fine. Lead the way.”

It’s obviously a pragmatic choice. Shiro’s other option is to go it alone and leave Henry behind. If he’s wrong, he’s leaving behind a teammate; if he’s right, he’s leaving an enemy at his back. Shiro thinks Henry could be working with them, and he’s arguing with himself about it, a distracting flurry of thoughts so loud it makes it difficult to focus. But what matters in the moment is that Henry leads, and Shiro follows.

There’s a sniper nearby, and Henry reaches out until he sees the shipyard from their position: it’s swarming with Red Falcon agents from end to end, including over by the docks. The good news is that the sniper doesn’t see any of their teammates.

He’s forced to concede that Shiro’s right about the boats, especially since they’re already being guarded. He guides them slowly, painstakingly across the yard. His heart pounds in his throat with every step. They get the quiet check-ins as two pairs of their teammates arrive at the extraction point, but they’re still creeping along. It gets easier to maneuver when they reach one of the warehouses at one end, but the space between this building and the next is too large and too open.

There’s a break room on the bottom floor, though, with a thick, heavy glass window and plenty of metal tables for cover. They manage to pick the lock and get inside unseen, then they stay out of sight of the window while Henry informs the team of their position.

They both sit against the wall just below the window. Shiro scowls his way like Henry didn’t just navigate hostile territory to help save his ass. A beam of light passes over their heads and into the room, and Henry carefully readies his gun. There’s some chatter outside, muted by the dense glass, but he knows the room looks empty to them and too open to hide anyone.

Nobody enters. The agents walk away.

Henry does what he can to tune out Shiro’s racing thoughts, and neither of them speak. They sit until Henry’s ass goes numb and his tailbone begins to ache, until his whole body is shouting at him to move before it locks up entirely. It’s plenty of time for Henry to figure out how many opportunities he gave Shiro to see that something wasn’t right.

Eventually, they get the third check-in but not the all clear. Red Falcon got the container they were after, but nobody in Special Forces got caught. The Commander’s not yet ready to risk giving away the drop ship’s position, in case Red Falcon’s still keeping an eye on them. Their orders are to stay put until they’re contacted with a safe pickup location or they’re sure there are few enough Falcon agents left that he and Shiro can fight their way out.

Henry groans at the orders the moment he’s turned his comm off again. He’s starting to get hungry, and he’s dreading talking to Shiro.

He doesn’t know how much longer they sit in silence before Shiro breaks it abruptly. “You knew they were Red Falcon.” His voice is quiet, but it’s somehow still too much after the long silence. It’s rough with disuse, and he clears his dry throat afterward.

“Didn’t you? They love their red helmets.”

“You knew before you saw them.” When Henry looks at him in the dark, he can just make out Shiro staring straight forward, jaw clenched.

“What exactly is your point, here?” He thinks he knows, but even with access to Shiro’s paranoid mind, Henry doesn’t think he’ll believe it until Shiro says something out loud.

“They knew we would be here, and you knew they were Red Falcon.” This close, Henry can feel how tight Shiro’s throat is, can feel his heart racing and his nails digging into his palms. “Explain that.”

“I’m a mind reader,” Henry says as nonchalantly as he can. It’s been weeks of this, and it still feels crazy as hell to say it aloud.

—could have died— traitor of course—

Shiro rounds on him, furious, and then Henry’s pinned against the wall remembering just how many ways Shiro kicked his ass in training. “This isn’t time kaçak casino for your jokes.”

—why wouldn’t he be—what you deserve—foolish to think—

Henry’s careful about it, but he gets his hands between them, only resting them on Shiro’s shoulders. He tries not to put up enough of a fight to set him off. “Not a joke, I swear to you. It’s— I can. I saw ’em because you saw ’em. I’d never sell us out. I’d never put you in danger like that.” Shiro hesitates, wanting desperately to believe him, but it isn’t good enough. He tightens his grip on Henry, staring defiantly back at him.

“Shiro, you know me.”

“Do I?” he asks, and Henry’s chest aches with a dozen different feelings he can’t name, Shiro’s mixing with his until he can’t separate them. But some of the pressure lets up.

“I know it sounds crazy, but c’mon, just try me. Think of something.” Shiro scowls, and an image starts to form. Henry feels something like hysteria writhe inside him when he realizes Shiro’s fucking threatening him with his thoughts. “Last time you had a guy in this position, you killed him with your bare hands. No weapon. It was two years ago in Shibuya. He was a human trafficker, and you wanted him to suffer, but you knew it couldn’t undo the shit he put people through, and you drank until—”

“Stop,” Shiro growls. He lets Henry go, though, rubbing his hands on his pants legs like that will undo it. There is barely time for him to process relief before the doubt and guilt come crashing in, fear that anything he did to Henry actually hurt him.

“I’m fine,” Henry says, and Shiro’s gaze snaps back to his. “No hard feelings. It made sense. I would’ve thought the same. Done the same.”

“Don’t do that.”

Henry shuts his mouth and swallows hard. Shiro takes his place beside him against the wall again. Henry’s pretty sure he’s not just imagining there’s more distance between them this time. There’s a lengthy silence while Shiro’s thoughts jump around, a jumbled mess of things, and Henry tries to ignore them.

Then Shiro asks, “Why didn’t I know?”

“I don’t know. Was hopin’ it was temporary, I guess. Didn’t want to have to explain it to anybody or deal with whatever might happen because of it.”

“So it is a secret?”

“Yeah. If you wouldn’t mind keepin’ it that way.”

Shiro nods, and Henry can hear his solemn agreement without him saying a word. Then a frisson of anxiety moves through them both. “‘Temporary’. How long?”

It feels like a trap, but Shiro’s suspicion is only half-formed. Henry closes his eyes and drops his head back against the wall. “Six weeks, give or take.”

He can feel Shiro wracking his brain, counting backward through the days, and this time the pang is purely Henry’s. “You never sought me out before, and then…”

“It was a coincidence. The timing. I didn’t know you were there.”

“You have never used this on me?”

Henry rubs a hand over his face. “I might have… prodded.”

“You ‘guessed’ I would like the matcha buns.”

“Yeah,” Henry sighs. It feels worse now, knowing what it has to sound like to Shiro.

“Why?”

“I don’t— I was just tryin’ to be nice. You’re not easy to talk to and I had this brand new trick I couldn’t control but it worked and… I promise it was nothin’ worse than wanting to get to know you.”

There’s a flutter of thoughts, Shiro flitting from one to another like he isn’t sure where to land. “You can’t control it?” he asks carefully.

“Not really. Not very well. I’m not… digging around in other people’s heads so much as their thoughts are shouting at me.”

“Ah.” Shiro chews on the information, conflicted all the way to his bones, but he seems to be forgiving enough of Henry’s unintended breaches of his privacy. At least, until a thought hits, striking a chord of gut-wrenching panic. “So you have seen…”

Images flicker too rapidly, Shiro’s guilty conscience over ogling him. Henry laughs nervously. “Yeah, uh. That stuff too.”

He glances over at Shiro, whose face has taken on a slightly dazed expression. Several things happen in rapid succession. First it’s like a hole in the ground opens up to swallow him, humiliation so deep that it makes Henry’s breath catch. It’s followed by a wave of hurt. “I see,” Shiro says tightly, and then a wall of silence slams into place.

Shiro’s blocking him out, better at it in a moment than Andrea after weeks of practice — although Henry supposes Shiro’s got a lot more experience shutting out his own emotions.

“Shiro, I—”

“Do not.” His jaw is clenched so tightly that he’s practically speaking through his teeth.

Henry’s going to say more, but the comm crackles to life in his ear. “Enemy has cleared out. Who’s ready to go home?”

***

The thing is, it could probably be resolved with a conversation. Henry knows this. He might feel like a dumbass, but he’s not that dumb.

It could be that easy, but Shiro refuses to let him speak. He then spends the entirety of the trip back casually putting as much space between them as he can, so that wherever Henry is, Shiro’s on the opposite side. It’s an impressive talent, really. Shiro’s so much better at avoidance than Henry was.

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