Ted stretches and pops the vertebrae in his back. It's almost midnight- long past the time he should've closed up shop- the last of the research team that's still there. He grabs his things and takes the elevator to the ground floor. He waves a sluggish 'night' at the guards when one of them says, "Booster Gold is outside."
That makes Ted rock in mid-stride. "Booster? What in the world is he doing out there?"
"Er, judging from the cameras, he's sleeping."
"For how long?"
That gets him confused looks. "I went down to tell you when he returned after escorting Jaime Reyes home over four hours ago."
Ted's jaw drops. "He's been out there four hours?"
"No clue, sir."
Ted's head is whirling about as he says a little numbly, "Okay. Uh, goodnight, gentlemen. I'll see you tomorrow." He stumbles out and there, sure enough, is Booster with his back propped up by the door and chin cradled to his chest. Ted has no idea what to say so he kicks lightly at Booster's leg and says, "Hey. Hey, wake up."
Booster blinks. Then he scrubs at his face and groans. "Oh. That does not feel good."
"I don't doubt it. What are you doing here?"
Booster peers out from between two fingers, as if remember where he is and who's talking to him. "Jaime's mother called and found out you were still working, even though it was past seven. So she sent me down with leftovers." He holds up a thing of tupperware. Ted takes it and peeks inside.
"What are these? Calzones?"
"Empanadas. Hope you like chicken and cheese. And, you know, other stuff."
The empanadas smells really good, even if they were cold through. "Why were you waiting here for so long?"
"Because Mrs. Reyes would know if I didn't give it you and I really don't want to make her mad."
"Couldn't you just leave it with security?"
"You disabled my access badge."
Ted hides a wince. "Oh." He watches Booster yawn again and finds himself offering, "You can hitch a ride back to the compound with me." At the surprised, questioning look, Ted gives a self-conscious shrug. "It's late and it'll probably be chilly flying back."
Still obviously waiting for the other shoe to drop, Booster cautiously says, "Okay."
They climb into the car and Ted just sits in the driver's seat for a moment. Then, because he's kind of a sap and knows it, he pulls out Booster's phone and hands it back with a low, "Here."
Booster takes it, blinks at it and turns it over in his hands. He's silent for a long moment. Then, "You re-fabricated the casing."
"It got kinda damaged when I threw it."
"So you re-fabricated the entire casing?"
Ted turns over the engine to mask his discomfort. "I felt kinda responsible-"
"You threw it. 'Kinda' is an understatement."
Ted glares, "You know, you're good at making me not want to apologize to you."
"Sorry." There's a slightly pause and Booster looks up and Ted can't help thinking he's like a puppy trying to make up for piddling on the carpet. "Look, I know I can be a bit much sometimes. I'm not actually trying to get you to hate me."
Ted's automatic snark mechanism almost goes off, but he bites it back.
"So- you know. Sorry about earlier. And all the other times I got you yelling. You really need to loosen up a bit, though."
Ted let's out a bark of laughter- someone's actually telling him to lighten up! Wait until Babs hears about this! "Honestly? I'm hardly ever this short tempered. I'm just... I'm really worried about Jaime and this scarab."
"Why? He's got it under control."
"We don't know if he actually does. It's a piece of something that came from outer space, Booster. We don't know what it's capable of, who made it, if it's safe or if it's slowly poisoning him-" Ted abruptly cuts off, the muscles in his jaw twitching. "The only reason we know it's a weapon is because it attached to on of our researchers and killed people before we could stop it." Hands tighten knuckle-white on the steering wheel and gear shift. "And removing it killed the guy it was attached to."
Booster must've read it in his face because he asks quietly, "Who was it?"
Ted's throat tightens and his eyes prickle and he doesn't want to think about it- forced himself to not think about it since the day it happened and he's trying to block out the memory of the funeral and the black suit that's in a crumpled heap in the darkest corner of Ted's closet. "Dan. He was my mentor and one of my best friends." His voice trembles, just like his jaw. "I can't let the same thing happen to Jaime."
A hand cover's Ted's and Booster says quietly, "I won't let him get hurt, Ted. I promise."
And, for the first time, Ted believes him.
A week goes by and Ted and Booster don't argue once. Well they have stupid, simple little arguments that don't mean anything, but they haven't yelled at each other which is something. It's not just something on it's own since Jaime's disposition gets better the longer the two go without a fight and with it, Jaime's control over the scarab grows. Obviously it responds to Jaime's mental state and apparently Ted and Booster's relationship plays an important part to that.
Ted isn't certain how he feels about this revelation.
A month after the first dinner invite, Ted gets another one. It's a little less awkward than before but it's nice to hear Jaime being, more talkative. He talks about his classes and it sounds like he's made a friend at his school. Paco, his name is, who also works at the same garage Alberto does under a work permit. Ted has the crazy urge to do a background check on the guy, but pushes the thought away. Instead he listens to Booster encouraging him, taking as much an interest in his life as Jaime's parents do.
Ted can't help but feel like a complete stranger at the table.
Ted goes to pick them up and finds that neither Jaime nor Booster are waiting for him out front. As he goes to park and knock on the Reyes's door, he finds the two on a bench, hunched over a book. Ted gets out and he can hear Booster explaining- rather accurately, Ted's surprised to find -wave-particle duality. Jaime scribbles something down in his notebook and hands it over to Booster. "Like that?"
"That's it exactly!" Booster rubs Jaime's head with a bright, fond smile. "See? I told you this stuff was easy!"
Ted knows instinctively that it's easy for Jaime because Booster is there watching out for him. Ted feels his resolve slipping.
They're trying to get a power reading on the scarab when it causes the meter to explode. That causes the armor to reactivate and the scarab is going haywire again. Ted is barking out orders to his researchers to use the same electrical charge they had to stop it the last time. Booster yells back that Jaime can handle it, just give him time.
They don't have time- people's lives are on the line!
If Jaime is keeping it, he has to learn to regain control!
They can't chance it! It's too dangerous!
Have so damned faith in the kid! Stop beating him down and support him for once!
The scarab probably would've killed them but Booster shoves Ted out of the line of fire and flies at Jaime, encasing the two of them in his forcefield.
Ted can barely hear them over people shouting at each other and the electrical fires that have sprung up. "You can do this, Jaime," Booster is tell him, not in the least bit afraid of the vice-like hands clamped down on his arms. "You did it before, I know you can do it again. Just calm down and think, Jaime. You know what you want, you know what you need to do. If the scarab won't listen, then make it listen."
And then, to Ted's shock, the armor starts peeling back and reveals Jaime flushed and panting. He practically collapses against Booster's chest and Booster just holds him close. "Good job, Jaime. I knew you could do it."
Ted turns away and, after all the fires are put out and everything has been shut down, he sends everybody home. Then, in the half ruins of the lab, he starts redesigning the place with equipment and tests to help Jaime control the scarab.
Dinners at the Reyes house is apparently going to be a monthly thing. Afterward Milagro drags Jaime and Booster in the living room to play with her and Ted offers to help with the dishes. When he and the parents are alone in the kitchen Ted says, "I think Jaime should keep the scarab."
Bianca hesitates for one brief moment as she puts the dishes in the washing machine. "Is that so?"
"I know what I said before and I know you know what happened to... to Dan. But Jaime is different. I really think he can overcome this."
There's a silence that stretches uncomfortably, broken only by dishes being rinsed and put away and leftovers going into the fridge. Eventually Alberto says, "To be honest, we've been thinking something similar ourselves. Jaime has been getting more confident since he came here. He's been happier, more energetic and certain. I don't know how much of that is Booster's doing or Jaime asserting himself over the scarab and, right now, I think they're pretty much tied together in Jaime's mind. Take the scarab away, you take away the reason why Booster is around and you take away Jaime's source of confidence."
"I don't want that thing inside my son," Bianca says, "but if he thinks he can control it, then I believe him."
Ted smiles at them, feeling as reassuring as he wants them to believe he is. "He's a brave, strong kid. Jaime can do this. I know he can."
While the lab is being rebuilt, Ted has Jaime and Booster with him in a testing chamber. "We're going to try something a little different," he tells the teen. "We're going to try to have you activate that suit of yours. Not the entire thing, just something small like your hands, okay?"
Jaime is hesitant, curving over himself like a wilting flower. "I-I don't know. I might loose control again."
"That was only because it took you by surprise. If you activate it yourself, you should be able to control it."
"But... what if I hurt you?"
Booster is nearby, ready to toss up his forcefield but looking convincingly relaxed. Ted just smiles and says, "I trust you."
Jaime searches his face for a moment. He takes a deep breath, uncurls a bit and says, "Okay."
Jaime has to stay late at school to work on a social studies project with his partner. Ted, knowing Bianca is on the evening shift and Alberto should be home watching Milagro, offers to pick Jaime up for them. Booster insists on going with him.
They don't talk much and the silence constantly toes the line of comfort. Ted checks the mirrors to change lanes and notices Booster watching him.
"Nothing," the blonde man says. "Just thinking about how you've changed is all."
Has he changed? Ted can't feel a difference. Maybe he'll ask Barbara sometime. "Is it a good change?"
There's a shrug. "I guess."
"Since your first meeting, Mr. Kord has become 83% more receptive, 46% more talkative and his rate of smiling has gone up 215%." It takes Ted a moment to place that voice, eyes darting to the earpiece Booster has. "Likewise, Booster's receptiveness has gone up 68%, openness 59% and, in fact, in the past few weeks even the mere mention of Mr. Kord causes a heart rate increase of-"
"That's enough, Skeets," Booster interrupts a little sharply. "We get the idea."
"Why are you wearing Skeets, anyway?" Ted asks. He's glad Booster's taken to wearing civilian clothing out in public, now. He doesn't have time for superheroics and Ted had warned him that if he tried to advertise himself in Chicago, he'd be paying for his own way.
"Skeets may be just an articulate robot to you, but he's a friend to me," Booster says. "He helps pass the time when everyone else is busy."
Ted can't help stealing a glance at Booster, wondering how he could've missed the suddenly obvious loneliness in the man. Not knowing what to say, Ted keeps quiet as they pull into the school parking lot. His eyebrows jump and he says to Booster, "Do you see that?"
Sitting on the curb is Jaime. Next to him is a pretty Asian girl, smiling and leaning in close. Booster gives a low whistle. "I feel bad for coming here, now."
"No kidding." Ted wonders if it's possible for them to sneak away and spy from a corner or something but Jaime catches sight of them and stands. He says goodbye to the girl and jogs toward the car.
"Hey, guys," he says, obviously surprised to find someone that's not his parents there.
They return the greeting and before Jaime can get in Ted asks, "Does your friend need a lift?"
"Traci? She said she lives just a few blocks away. She was just keeping me company."
Ted and Booster exchange glances. "Well, we can still drop her off a few blocks away. Go ask."
Giving them an odd look, Jaime turns to do as Ted says. They watch the teens talk, Traci biting her lip in thought before smiling and nodding. Booster reaches over pat Ted's shoulder. "Nice thinking."
Ted grins back. "I am a genius, you know."
It's surprising how quickly Jaime was learning to use the armor. Within a few weeks he was able to enclose any part of his body at a moment's notice with little effort. He found he had wings and Ted added flight principles and dynamics to the training program. They focus more on the little abilities such as the scarab's ability to sense electric currents, pulses and various wavelengths, the ability to record data, mimic electric signatures and hack various kinds of electronic security. It's all just a mere fraction of the scarab's possibilities but it's exciting. And at the same time frightening as Jaime prepares to go full armor for the first time.
Booster is talking lowly to Jaime when Ted approaches, apparently giving him a last minute pep talk. When Booster steps back, Ted goes up to put a hand on Jaime's shoulder, "How're you feeling?"
"Nervous," the teen admits, "a little scared."
"That's normal," Ted tells him, "and it's okay to be a little afraid of the unknown. You just have to have faith that whatever happens, you can handle it."
"You really think I can do this without losing control?"
Ted smiles a bit, "What do you think?"
There's a pause. Then a determined, "I know I can."