Conspiracy Theory
by Therienne

Slash, rated PG

Notes: This story takes place immediately after the episode "The Hunt." References to the episode throughout.

Feedback! Good, bad, all types welcome!

* * * * * *

Bruce was waiting for him when he got home. 

In retrospect, he blamed the military for what happened next. Starting wars was in their nature.  The US government might be all smiles and handshakes and patriotic speeches when they had you in their top-secret hidden underground installation, and you were telling them exactly what they wanted to hear, but that sure as hell didn’t mean they were going to shell out for first-class tickets home. 

The result was a trip that was loud, cramped, and seriously delayed. Security came damn close to confiscating his cane, discussing its silver head in a private, huddled circle a few feet away from Johnny and running it through the x-ray machine three separate times. By the time he’d actually begun to wonder if he could call Colonel Halsey for a reference (“and not only is the man not a terrorist, but he fights terrorism with his psychic visions”), the other passengers had begun to eye him nervously. 

The seats had been small and crowded together; within two hours his hip and leg were throbbing, and he was regretting his decision not to pay the extra to upgrade to first class. The man sitting next to him was a marketing advisor from Oregon.  He didn't recognize Johnny, but that was okay; he had more than enough to talk about without that particular tidbit.  Johnny closed his eyes and pretended to fall asleep.  The fact that he wasn't conscious did not deter his neighbor one bit.

The cab driver back in Cleaves Mills, on the other hand, knew a local celebrity when he saw one. He relayed every moment of the drive back to the house to his girlfriend on his cell phone. Not in English, but Johnny didn’t need to speak a foreign language to recognize his own name, or hear the feminine squeals over static.  Since the cab driver never once actually spoke to him, he couldn’t help but wonder what they could possibly be discussing.  He imagined it went something like: “Now he’s shifting in his seat. Now he’s turning to look at the mall as we drive past.  Yeah, he looks like a freak all right.  He’s probably reading my mind right now.  Do you think he’d pick some races for us?” 

About the time he was considering passing out on the back seat of the cab, they finally made it home. His driver experienced a fit of indecision at this point, clearly torn between avoiding Johnny’s touch while being paid, or accidentally-intentionally brushing up against him.  Johnny finally hurled too much money at him, grabbed his bags, and half dragged them up the back walk, pausing only long enough to frown at the wilting rhododendrons and wonder if he had forgotten to tell the gardening service he was going to be away.

He found Bruce in the kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee and glaring at the doorway, as though he’d been in the exact same spot for days, just waiting for Johnny’s body to line itself up with his scowl.  The coffeepot was on and half full, the sink full of unwashed dishes.  Bruce had a set of keys, of course, but it hadn’t actually occurred to Johnny that he might move in during his absence. 

“Hey Bruce! You’re here!” Johnny attempted to paste a cheery smile on his face and go with an upbeat greeting, but it was a makeshift, poor attempt. He wanted a shower, and his bed, and this had all the appearance of potential trouble.

“Hey John! You’re back!” Bruce's smile contained way too many teeth.

Okay, don't panic. Johnny dropped his bags and nudged them to one side with his foot. Don't show any signs of fear. “Uh, yeah… home at last. Not a great flight home, though. Sorta wiped me out… is something wrong?”

“Wrong? Nothing’s wrong.  Did you have a good time?”

“Oh, you know…” Johnny gestured vaguely, while feeling himself tense up.  “A lot of sleeping, a lot of reading. Some time on the beach.”

“Oh yeah? What beach?” Bruce was fairly sucking the coffee down now, eyes narrowed over the cup’s rim.

“Mi… Cape Cod. Little place on Cape Cod. My family used to go there. Sometimes.” Johnny felt this was a fairly accomplished recovery, considering that no one other than JJ was going to fall for the Miami Beach story once they’d taken half a glance at his skin.  Fair at the best of times, three weeks in an underground government bunker had not exactly left him looking the part of his cover story.

“Cape Cod, huh? Where on Cape Cod?” Bruce tilted his chair back onto two legs and regarded him from an angle.

“It’s… Cape Cod… not actually all that big.”  He eyed the coffee pot. Maybe caffeine would fortify him for conversation, since it didn't appear he'd be getting out of this kitchen anytime soon.  Or maybe he could take the coffee with him into the shower.

“Have a good time out there? Nice restaurants?”

“Yeah. Great food." He leaned his cane against the wall by the door, and then used both hands to edge himself along the kitchen counter in search of clean coffee ware. "Fish, and... uh, listen....

“Fresh air?” Bruce was nodding along.

"Oh yeah. Always a lot of sea breezes down there, actually."  One hand found a coffee mug, but after a moment's inspection, he added it to the pile in the sink and groped for another.  "You know Bruce, there is a dishwasher…"

“You don’t look like you got that much fresh air. You’re lookin’ pale, John. You know, I’m not sure even Conan O’Bri…”

“Is there a reason you’re here, Bruce? I’m just wondering, because, you know…” Johnny used the new mug to gesture towards the plates, the coffee, the angry man now climbing to his feet and approaching him with a grim expression. "Because it sort of looks like you've been here a while, and I’m a little tired, and I was just thinking …” Johnny trailed off feebly. Bruce had grown in the past three weeks. He even sort of loomed.

“Or maybe that’s the cold, pale look of deceit.  Where the hell have you been?” Bruce had given up the pretense, and looked just plain pissed off.

“Cape Cod!”

“John. You are not a good liar. So don't even start with that. What the hell have you been up to, and why didn’t you call me first?”  Bruce was way too close, and Johnny was aware he'd given up too much ground, was just an unconvincing liar as Bruce claimed, and that his hip had gone from a dull ache to a roaring throb.

“Bruce. I’m really, really, very tired.  If for some reason, you don't want to believe me about where I spent my vacation…”

“Do you have any idea,” Bruce's voice had gone from pissed off to terrifyingly calm and reasonable, “how worried people were about you?”

“I left messages! I called the Faith Heritage Foundation and told Purdy’s people I’d be out of touch! And I put a message on my machine so people wouldn’t worry!” He was finding the coffee mug to be a poor replacement for his cane about now, and put his other hand back against the counter to prop himself up. What was left of his energy was rapidly spiraling the bowl.  Remember not to panic. Wait, no. It's too late for that. Let's just get out of here.  He took a deep breath and tried for a more placating approach.  "Look, I didn’t mean to worry you, or anyone…"

“You took off without telling any of us, in person, where you were going. Or even that you were going.”

“…I really just thought, a little time away to myself...”

“You never picked up your voice mail. Or answered your cell phone.”

“…to get away from it all…”

“…it’s not like you’ve ever been kidnapped before, or anything, or we might have  any reason to become concerned if you just suddenly vanish right off the face of the earth without a word to your best friend….”

“…and I really did think that, you know, the messages would be sufficient…”

“…I’m not even buying this bull story. You did not just go on vacation, and now you’re standing here, looking like… looking… man, you look like crap, Johnny.”  To Johnny's surprise, Bruce wheeled away from him, retrieved his cane from across the room, and handed it over.  Johnny took it back gratefully.  Its loss definitely had not been worth the false promise of caffeine.

Bruce was frowning. “Are you in some kind of trouble?” The question was much gentler than the rest of the interrogation had been, and Johnny found himself suddenly feeling uncomfortable and dishonest.

“No! Nothing like that! I'm fine, Bruce. Honest."

“No? Okay, then spill.” And there was Bruce, right back in his face, close enough for Johnny to smell the coffee on his breath, and start getting distracted by all the wrong things.

Oh yeah. That wasn't gonna help. He pulled himself back up, knuckles tight on the cane. “There’s nothing to spill, Bruce.  You’re making too much of this.  I went away for a break, a little time to myself. I didn’t mean to upset anyone, and I’m very, very sorry, that I worried you.” He wobbled carefully past Bruce, avoiding making eye contact.

“You know, John, I don't need to be a psychic to know you're lying."

Johnny continued for the doorway. "I'm not lying about being sorry I worried you."

"No, you're just not giving me a reason you won't tell me the truth, which means something is still going on, which means I am going to find out what!" Bruce's voice held a tone of triumphant logic, and Johnny could imagine the gleam in his eye. Don't look back.  He made it to the hallway.

“I actually am very, very tired, Bruce, so, if you don't mind, I'm going upstairs now…"

“You think this ends here?” Bruce shouted from the kitchen. "You think you're ditching out that easily?"

“Gonna get a little sleep! But hey, I think there's some coffee in there, if you'd like some! Just help yourself to anything you want in the fridge, you know?”

“You think you’re not gonna tell us where you’ve been?”

“Oh, and hey, Bruce?” Johnny paused, halfway up the stairs.

"Yeah?" Bruce sounded both wary and eager.

"You know… if you're still here when I wake up…"

"Yeah?" Bruce had given in and followed him, and was peering around the doorjamb suspiciously. Johnny gave him a small, hopeful smile.

"The plane was really cramped. Maybe a massage?"

* * * * * *

Sarah was less civil than Bruce.

He could hear a voice shouting, but couldn’t quite understand the words, or remember who was talking to him, or where he was, or why he cared. After a moment or two, despite the shrillness, it began to take on almost a rhythmic quality, and he found himself drifting, less concerned with deciphering what was being said, or even where the voice was coming from….


He jolted from the pile of pillows, bewildered, and found he was clutching the phone’s receiver in one hand. He couldn't remember a phone ringing, much less answering it, but he had a better grip on who was talking, now.


“What, you’ve been away so long you can’t even recognize my voice anymore?” she snapped.

“No, I just… what time is it? I was asleep, I wasn’t expecting --”

“Not that it’s been weeks or anything, without one word, not so much as a phone call, it’s not like we consider you family or anything…”

Johnny winced at the very real pain and anger in her voice.  “Sarah, I’m sorry.  Give me a minute here, I’m only just rubbing the sand out of my eyes --”

“And I’m sure that’s the sand from Cape Cod.  On top of everything, on top of not trusting us enough us what’s going on in your life, you make up stories…”

“Wait a minute.” Johnny fumbled with the bedside clock.  8:23 pm. He’d been asleep for less than four hours.

“…knowing how we might think the worst has happened, or that you’d decided to shun human company again…”

“How did you know about Cape Cod? Who have you been talking to? Where are you?”

“…it’s selfish, Johnny. That’s what it is.”

“Is Bruce over there? Have you been talking to Bruce?”

“Where have you been, Johnny? What was it? Some damsel in distress thing? You don't want to tell us about it because you got suckered? Or is this like that thing in New York? Getting obsessed over some woman you've never met from World War II? You know, Johnny--"

“I’ve been home for less than five hours, and asleep for four of them, and you’ve had a meeting about me? Was Bruce carrying a tape recorder?” Guilt over any concern he might have caused had pretty much been displaced by a combination of irritation and embarrassment.  It was all very touching to know that he had people who cared about him. It was a little less touching to know that they trusted him about as much as a mentally stunted dachshund.  “You know, it is possible for me to do a few things, on my own, without everyone checking up on me every minute.”

“You were gone for three weeks!” Sarah had gone shrill again.

"Yeah? Well right now, that's not feeling like it was long enough!" Johnny took a deep breath, and stopped, satisfied by the silence on the other end of the phone. 

The silence grew longer and longer.  Satisfaction was replaced by unease, which was evicted by guilt, and then, far too quickly, shame.  Was she crying?

"I suppose, if those of us who sat by your bedside, for six years, don't warrant more consideration than a phone call before you vanish…." Her voice wavered at just the right pitch as she trailed off.

Or perhaps he had just underestimated her.

 * * * * * *

Purdy was vast in his sorrowful disappointment.

It filled the entire office.  Johnny could feel waves of it battering him, threatening to knock him right off his feet, until he began to wonder if this was more unwanted ESP developing, or just an up-close-and-personal example of how the Reverend Gene Purdy had come to build the Faith-Heritage foundation up from a glass-fronted storefront church, to the powerhouse that currently controlled, on days like this, far too much of his life.

“…and you can imagine, I’m sure, the many possible scenarios that presented themselves to us.”

“Well, Gene, not really. I mean, I spoke to Benjamin in person. I even had a nice little chat with him, and he told me that you were in the middle of a meeting, or I’d have spoken with you in person, before I left.”

Purdy dismissed logic with one easy backhanded wave.  Standing with his hands on the back of his chair, ceiling-high windows behind him, and the sunlight coming in at just the right angle behind him to burnish his bald head nicely, he was puffed out to an impressive stature.  Johnny thought unkindly that perhaps he should go easier on the donuts.

“Johnny. You are an integral part of this foundation. You have placed your well-being in our care, and we take that duty very seriously.”

“Could you perhaps take it a little less seriously?” Johnny muttered, feeling like a twelve-year-old called up before the principal. He knew how petty he sounded, in the face of Purdy’s show of concern. He felt strongly that it was unfair that he should have to hold out to protect government secrets from a man who’d been trained in evangelical oratory for over three decades, now.  The general should not have sent him home without some training in how to deal with this kind of situation.  He wondered if they offered classes in that kind of thing.

“Do you think this is a joke?” Purdy came around his desk, placed one hand on Johnny's shoulder.  "Johnny. Whether you realize it or not, there are those… who would take advantage of your talents. We are here to protect you from such… individuals.

Johnny felt a twinge of incredulity. "Gene. I was not out scouting for a better agent. I couldn't ask for a better manager than the Alliance has been for me."

"And yet, you chose to go it on your own, without even leaving us a number at which we could reach you in case of emergency, for three whole weeks! Almost a month. Do you know how much can happen in that amount of time? How is that letting us take care of things for you?”

“If I’d been needed, I would have known, and come back,” Johnny protested. “I had my cell phone with me.”

“Did you? How is it, then, that you never answered the multitude of messages we left for you? Even one call would have reassured us, John, but instead, you left us with a growing fear that something had gone wrong, and no one even knew where you were to have someone check on you! If you wanted to get away, to have a little privacy, isn’t that exactly the reason you agreed to have the Foundation assist you with your affairs? This is our job, Johnny, and you left us out in the cold, and frantic.  Frankly, I am hurt.”

“Gene. I cannot apologize enough, but clearly, I am going to have to try. I am very, very sorry --”

“How can we take your word for it that you won’t simply vanish again, when you won’t tell us where you were?”

"You could have a little faith in me?"

Purdy gave Johnny a look that seemed to suggest it was taking all of his power of self-control to stop himself from having John committed for even entertaining the notion.

"It was just a thought."

* * * * * *

Walt didn’t approach directly.

Johnny recognized Deputy Roscoe as his car idled past, and had brief annoyed thoughts about the ridiculousness of having him tailed by a police car when he was walking. Slowly. He’d left a hopeful message for Bruce that he’d be going for a walk, and wouldn’t mind a physical therapist around to check on how he was doing, but had received no reply. He could feel Bruce pointedly ignoring him all the way across town.

Still, this was more peaceful than telephone calls and stern lectures, even if it would start another round of rumors among his neighbors. He raised one hand and waved a greeting; after all, this wasn’t Roscoe’s fault. Come to that, he doubted Walt was acting entirely of his own free will. 

Deputy Roscoe seemed mildly embarrassed, but fairly cheerful, as he waved back.

* * * * * *

Purdy sent a lackey around for his next attack.

“I don’t understand.”

Mr. Covalesky pushed a pen into Johnny's hand, remarkably aggressive for such a prim little man.  “Your insurance coverage requires this.” Johnny stared at the pen, then at the stack of documents in front of him. “You may, of course, review them first.”

Johnny carefully put the pen down. "Why don't you just summarize it for me, okay?"  he asked, sourly.

“Well, it's really very simple.  The Faith-Heritage Alliance insures you. All of your insurance coverage -- medical, home, life insurance. And of course, they need certain -- assurances." His eyebrows rose as he made what Johnny assumed was meant to be a discreet nod.



"Such as…"

Covalesky coughed, and frowned, and looked for a handkerchief, seemingly annoyed at having to spell it out for him.  "With individuals of importance, celebrities, movie stars, certain politicians -- those who are insured for large amounts of money -- certain guarantees are required.  Prohibitions against certain dangerous activities.  Sports that might cause physical injury. And, of course, in order to ensure that we --”

"Make sure I'm not engaging in such activities, you need to know where I am, at all times? Is that it?" Johnny surprised himself with just how loudly he asked the question.

"Well, I…"

“Well, don't worry about it. I'll tell you what. Just kill the life insurance portion contract, okay?" Johnny held the pen out for Covalesky to accept back.  Covalesky stared at it, then licked his lips nervously.

"I’m sorry?"

“I don’t care if I have life insurance or not. I’ve got no one to leave it to, and if the Foundation wants to cash in on my death, that’s their issue.  I’m not signing my life away to some insurance company with a Big Brother complex..”

“Mr. Smith. In addition to your life insurance, our company covers your health insurance, your car insurance, the homeowner’s insurance on this very building….”

Johnny could actually feel the vein on the left side of his face throbbing. Any minute now, he would almost certainly have a vision of Walt cuffing him for assault and battery.  And really, two could play this game… when one of them had insider information. He stood up.

“Mr. Covalesky. I would like you to stand up now, take this stack of paperwork, go back to the Foundation, and tell Purdy exactly what he can do with it.”

“Mr. Smith! Do you think that I am just the agent for the Church’s --”

“I don’t know, and I don’t care. Don’t mess with me. I don’t actually care what you tell Purdy.  You can make something up. And you can think of a way around this document, or you can drop my insurance, or you can do any damn thing you want.  But if you come back here again --” he dropped his voice and smiled “-- then we’re going to have a discussion with Purdy about a few other things.”

“I beg your pardon?” Covalesky may have had years of practice in being supercilious, but Johnny had his reputation behind him, and, he’d been told, a fairly wiggy looking left eye. He scrunched his eyebrow as menacingly as he could.

“I have your pen, here, you know.” He held it up, and waggled it a bit. “I’m sure you’ve read about me in the papers. Something you’ve touched, that’s all I really need.”

“Mr. Smith!” Covalesky had gone from sanctimonious to full-blown panic in under ten seconds. Johnny had a split second of wondering if he should run to get the man a paper bag, but then steeled himself.  He could do this. “I cannot believe that you… that you would… the privacy… are you implying…” There was a fair amount of squeaking by the final syllables.

“Mr. Covalesky.  Why don’t you take your pen, and your papers, and explain to the good Reverend that after meeting me in person, it became clear that none of this was really necessary, after all.”

Covalesky snatched the pen back. Papers vanished, a door was flung open, and Johnny had a moment of being impressed with the speed with which the man moved, before his retreating figure was already to the front gate.

He had a momentary pang of regret he hadn't held onto the pen for further investigation.

* * * * * *

Walt met him at a local coffee shop to apologize.

“You just don’t know how she gets.” Walt  was giving the pastry selection the kind of intense scrutiny usually reserved for homicide suspects.

“You don’t think I know how she gets?” Johnny relaxed back a bit. It was a relief to be lower on someone's agenda than a crueller.

“Okay, you probably know,” Walt allowed.  “And I’ll grant you that this might seem like overkill. But after the first two weeks passed, and there were still no calls. Or messages. Or --”

“So you send a patrol car out to watch where I’m going now?”

“Well, in case you took off again. Or led us to something that would tell us where you were, since it turns out you weren’t dead, and rotting, all maggoty in a ditch somewhere, like, if you’d gone camping, and your car had run out of gas, which was her first scenario on how you died, but not the last, Johnny, oh no.” Walt broke off his intense inspection of the pies in order to give Johnny the look of a man who had put up with far more than he felt was his fair due.

“Okay, look, I feel really, really bad about that, I never meant for you guys to worry. Hey, look! Pie?” Johnny offered desperately.

Walt nodded happily at the prospect of pie, and Johnny flagged the waitress down energetically, as Walt continued. “So by then, we really were considering the possibility that maybe something bad had happened, it’s not like you’ve never holed up like a shut-in before, granted…”

“Hey, I just needed some time away from the world,” Johnny said.

“…but you’ve always answered our calls before, and it’s not like you’ve ever ignored calls from Sarah…”

“You know, that’s not true, there were like, three whole days back in the ninth grade when I wouldn’t return her calls after she made fun of my new haircut.”

“…so by then we’re considering whether someone could have forced you to leave those messages, or whether you got snatched after you foolishly took off, without telling a soul where you were going, and what exactly was that about, John? I mean, no offense, but you’ve gotta know, after everything you’ve been through, just how dangerous it is for you to be pulling a stunt --”

“Look! Here’s your pie!” Johnny snatched the plate from the startled waitress’s hands.  “Tell you what. Why don’t you let me buy you the rest of that pie to take home with you?”

* * * * * *

Dana Bright was almost more dangerous than the rest of them put together.

“I’ve got sources, John.”

“I know that, Dana. Really.” He could feel sweat breaking out on his forehead.

“And I can even justify the time, and the cost, as a business expense.  What Johnny Smith does? Is news. People want to know where you go when you disappear for three weeks at a time. It might mean something. You’re a public figure now, Johnny. Fair game.” She laid one hand on his shoulder, false sympathy shining from her eyes.  “So why not do this the easy way?”

“Dana, I swear to you, there was nothing newsworthy here. I just took a little trip.”

Johnny had already backed all the way across his own living room, to the wall just beside the mantelpiece, and was regretting, in turns, the decision to ever open the damn door in the first place to face her down and get it over with, and the fact that he was wearing such a warm sweatsuit.

“I ran your credit cards, you know. I’m sure Walt did too -- and I wouldn’t put it past the Reverend to have had someone check them out as well.  You never used them even once.”

“I paid by cash. Withdrew a big chunk before I left.”

“Not according to your bank, you didn’t.”

“Not according… Is it even legal for you to be able to do this kind of thing?”

“Of course not.” She rolled her eyes at him. “I’m really good at what I do, Johnny, you know that. So why fight this?”

“Dana, there’s just nothing interesting for me to tell you!”

“That’s not what I hear.”

“That’s because Bruce has a big mouth!” he snapped.

“Who said anything about Bruce?”

“You think I don’t know you people are conspiring behind my back? I’m a psychic, Dana.”

“Johnny… listen. If there’s nothing to it, then what’s the harm? You tell me, we have a good laugh, maybe a little dinner…,” and suddenly Dana was a whole lot closer, it was a whole lot warmer, and the sweatsuit was a whole lot less protection than he’d realized.

“I think,” he gasped, “you should probably leave now.”

“Come on… isn’t this more fun than your way? Or the part where I have to destroy another pair of shoes tracking down the information another way -- and everyone does leave some kind of trail, you know.  And then you have to chat up those little trolls with the toupees down at DMV, and they’re staring at your breasts the entire time, not to mention that morlock over at the courthouse --”

“Uh, Dana.” At some point, Dana's shirt had slipped dangerously low, one sleeve completely off her shoulder

“Oh, sorry.  Anyway. I admit it, it’s possible that that Sarah and Bruce and Gene have expressed a certain desire to have me report back. But I see no real reason this can’t be an exclusive one-on-one sort of interview.” She leaned in and smiled.

“You know, Dana… your teeth are huge.” He could feel sweat trickling down his neck.

“The better to --”


“I came by cab.”

“We’ll call another!”

“That’ll take a while… don’t worry, I know the perfect way to kill some time.” Her teeth were not getting any smaller.

Inspiration struck.  Johnny had Dana by the arm, her sleeve back on, and her coat thrown at her before even he had time to think about it.  He threw open the door and lurched forward, propelling her ahead of him onto the front porch.

“The hell, Johnny! What!” Dana’s hair was actually mussed. She yanked at her shirt and pulled away from him, glaring and patting herself down.

“Deputy Roscoe over there!” Johnny waved vigorously.  “See him, up the street?”  Across the way, Roscoe was leaning up against his car and sneaking a smoke.  He tossed the cigarette with one short sharp gesture and waved back.  “I’m sure he’d be happy to drive you home!”

* * * * * *

Bruce was sitting on the back terrace, but at least this time he’d brought beer.

“Truce!” he called out, holding up a bottle, before Johnny could turn and flee.

“By truce, do you mean, ‘truce,’ or do you mean, ‘passive-aggressive guilt trip until he breaks.’ Because, and I’m serious here Bruce, one more, and I really am heading for Cape Cod.”

“I know, I know! When I called in the troops, I didn’t realize it was going to get this out of hand. And, this isn’t a guilt trip, I swear! But you really did freak us out, John.  I was crawling the walls toward the end, there.”

“You mean Sarah was.” Johnny lowered himself down on the step next to Bruce, stretched out his legs, and accepted a bottle.

“No, John, I mean I was.”


“Yeah, really. I mean, I can see how that would be hard to believe, since you’re such an enormous pain in the ass, and all…”

Johnny shifted over slightly, bumping Bruce’s thigh with his own. Bruce grinned, and shut up.  Johnny closed his eyes and leaned his head back, enjoying the heat on his face and the coldness of the bottle in his hand.  They sat that way through one bottle, and then another.

“Don’t do that again, okay?” Bruce finally said.

“Well, not until the next time, right?” Johnny grinned at him cheerfully.

“FUCK, John!” As quickly as that, the peaceful afternoon he’d been savoring was shattered, and Bruce was on his feet and throwing a beer bottle.  It smashed shockingly against the tool shed.  “Is this a joke to you? I thought you were DEAD.”

Johnny stared up at him. “Bruce! I was just kidding!”

“I’m not laughing! I didn’t find it funny! I thought --” Bruce was moving before Johnny even realized what was happening. Huge strides carried him across the terrace and out towards the path

“Bruce, wait!”

“Fuck you, John!” Bruce threw one arm into the air, and didn't look back.

Johnny struggled to his feet, grabbed his cane, and attempted to convince his confused body of the urgency of the matter. It had been so comfortable just a moment ago. By the time he'd reached the end of the patio, Bruce was already at the front gate.  Johnny decided to attempt a sprint.  It wasn't the greatest decision he'd ever made. He hit a rock, his ankle went out, he slewed sideways, and he took out the rhododendrons all in one huge rolling tumble. 

Well, he thought mildly. Well.  

There didn't seem much to be salvaged from the situation at all. He squinted up along the side of his house and wondered if the gutters were beginning to sag.  Bruce's face was quite suddenly in the way, stopping any further inspection. 

"John? Are you hurt?"

"No, no, just… admiring the view. Paint’s beginning to peel.  You think Purdy would get my trust fund to cover repairs?"

"Johnny…" Bruce sighed, utterly exasperated, and sank down to sit back on his heels.  "You're a pain in the ass, you know that?"

"I was brought in by the U.S. military to a secret underground base where they work with psychics to help them try to locate Osama bin Laden, but I failed. Only, don't tell Dana that, okay? I'm not supposed to be telling anyone where I was."  It was truly the most ridiculous sounding thing he'd ever said.

"What?"  Bruce's expression shifted from exasperation to incredulous disbelief.

"Actually, if you could not tell Sarah that either, because she gets sort of paranoid about these kinds of things, and she's not actually as good at keeping secrets as she thinks she is.  And don't tell Walt, because he'll tell Sarah. And really don't tell Purdy, because he'll just find a way to use it to --"

"Johnny! Stop." Bruce leaned over and put a hand on his mouth.  The disbelief had faded, and been replaced by something Johnny didn't recognize.  "Are you serious? You've been working for the government for the last three weeks?"

Johnny waited until the hand was cautiously removed. "Yeah. I know that sounds really… well, absurd, but it's where I was. They've got this little bank of psychics they use, and a cone of silence, and --"

"Johnny, shut UP. And you're supposed to be keeping quiet about this, but you're telling me? And no one else?"

Johnny had the strangest lump in his throat, and couldn't look directly at Bruce anymore. "Yeah," he pushed out, his voice strange to his own ears. "I, just… just you…"

And suddenly he was not alone in the rhododendrons, and Bruce was very warm, and heavy, and unexpectedly on top of him, and his body tried to get a grip on all the ways it wanted to react at once.

"Johnny? You sure you're not hurt? Can you breathe?" Bruce's voice was low and breathy next to his ear, and it took him a moment to focus on that part of his body to interpret what was being said.

"Fine, fine," he gasped.

"You okay with this?"

Johnny wondered how Bruce kept expecting him to answer questions when his hands were doing the things they were doing, but he tried to give the question some attention.  "Well. We're in the rhododendrons."

"Yeah." Bruce shifted to one side, and Johnny thought the new position was pretty good as well. "Sokay. They were dying anyway. You forgot the gardening service, and I was mad, so I didn't call them."

"Yeah well…" Johnny  draped a leg over Bruce's thigh and concentrated on breathing. "I forgive you."


Bruce went for the kill at the side of his neck, and Johnny did his best to ignore several short sharp stems now jammed into his side.  A thought made its way amidst hundreds of other impulses clamoring for his attention. "Bruce. Bruce! Stop. We have to stop."

"What the hell for?" Bruce hissed, rather desperately. "God, sorry… you having second thoughts?"

"No, it's not that… Bruce, we're in the bushes, in my yard…"

"Yeah, so?"  Bruce was still moving in terribly distracting ways.

"So Roscoe is running surveillance on the house."

Bruce stopped dead. "He's what?"

"Out there, having a smoke, watching the house on behalf of Sarah and Walt and your little committee of Get Johnny…."

"He is not."

"He is. I even sent Dana home with him last night. But he came back."

"No, that's not… Johnny, we only sent him out to watch you that first day, as a joke.  To freak you out.  Walt couldn't really justify setting a cop to watch you, with the local government footing the bill, for a week, man.  He shouldn't have been here after… seriously? He's been watching your house?"

"Are you kidding?" Johnny said. "Every time I go outside, everywhere, there he is! What the hell is he doing out there if he isn't spying for you!"

"I don't know! I swear." They both went still, listening to the unnaturally loud sound of their own bodies rustling in the remainder of the flower bed, birds, children shouting somewhere down the block.  A car engine started up.

"Man," Bruce said, finally. "That's just creepy."

"We could go in the house," Johnny offered.

"And close all the window shades?"

"Lock the doors."

"Maybe turn up some music, or something, in case of any listening devices…."

Johnny's grin was huge, and he could feel it inside himself, down to his toes.

"What?" Bruce demanded, suspicious, but smiling himself.

“And here I thought Dana was the dangerous one.”

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