Rating:NC-17(ish), language, sexual references

Status: Complete


Feedback:Would do wonderful things for my fragile ego...

Series/Sequel:Not at this exact point in time, no...

Disclaimers:Characters belong to Tribune Entertainment and I merely
play with them because I don't seem able to find a better way to kill time.

Spoilers:Set after the episode 'Hard Time'

Summary:Basically Brennan guilt tripping over what went down
in Hillview.

Warnings:None that I can think of.

Notes:Narrated by Brennan. Self beta'd.

And for the purpose of the fic I'm kinda ignoring the last scene in Hard Times.That was just *way* too easy and angstless...

Last but by no means least, thank you to both Nancy for supplying me with -- what was very nearly becoming my very own holy grail -- Hard Time and to everyone who's sent me feedback!



If I could change I would
Take back the pain I would
Retrace every wrong move that I made I would
If I could
Stand up and take the blame I would
If I could take all the shame to the grave I

Easier To Run ~ Linkin Park


Disclaimers etc in part 0...

By TalithaX

Handing my entrance fee over without comment to the half-comatose looking
doorman, I step through the door into Fantasia.  Loud, pulsating dance music
assails my hearing and I bite back a sigh as my eyes adjust to the dim,
ambient lighting of the club.  Despite the witching hour having come and
gone hours ago, Fantasia is buzzing.  I can't see the bar for the throng of
bodies pushed against it.  And, well, let's just put it this way, it would
take a braver man than me to try and elbow my way onto the packed dance
floor.  Scantily clad bodies bump and grind against each other, lost in the
rhythm of the music.  Be it thanks to alcohol or other, less socially
acceptable drugs or not, everyone looks happy.  I don't know whether to be
envious of their simple, inane pleasure or to feel pity for them.

Having come to Fantasia for reasons far removed from a desire to drink,
dance and be merry, I glance around me, carefully looking for what I know is
hidden here.  Spotting it in the form of an unobtrusive looking door next to
the bar, I make my way towards it, carelessly pushing my way through the
crowd.  Those that want to tell me to watch the fuck where I'm going take
one look at my face and quickly decide not to bother, that I'm best left to
my own devices.

Reaching the door, I read the small, silver print stencilled on it and know
that I'm in the right place.

Fantasy.  Members Only.

Noticing my interest in the door, a man dressed in a pair of tight fitting
black leather trousers and nothing else places himself in front of it.  "No
membership, no entry," he states disinterestedly, his cold, blue eyed gaze
flicking over me.

Prepared for this, I stare flatly at the man and, bringing the fingers of my
right hand together, spark up.  He watches, his expression impassive, as I
hit the electronic keypad protecting the door with just the right voltage to
open it.  "I forgot my card," I mutter, shrugging.

His eyes briefly glowing orange, giving away his Feral nature, the man steps
back into the shadows.  "Enjoy your visit," he murmurs, bowing slightly.

Ignoring him, I push through the door and, leaving the public face of
Fantasia behind me, step into Fantasy.

Fantasy.  The city's premier club for the discerning gentleman with liberal,
extreme tastes and the ability to turn a blind eye.  Adam calls it a new
mutant brothel.  The fact that all his attempts to shut it down have been
unsuccessful isn't something he likes to talk about.  Me, I have no opinions
on the subject.  To each their own and all that.  Those that work here do so
of their own volition, and get paid well for it.  Contrary to Adam's
vehement opinions on the subject it's more of a gay sex club than it is a
brothel anyway.  Members pay an exorbitant yearly fee for the privilege of
having their fantasies brought to life while new mutants, because it helps
the club's reputation, get in for free.  Again, to each their own.  God
knows I'm not here to judge.

Framed photographs of scenes that would make Adam see red line the walls of
the reception area.  Picking up a preference questionnaire from the
unattended desk, I pay the pictures no attention and concentrate on placing
ticks in the relevant boxes.

Top or bottom?

Safe word?
No, I don't need a safe word and understand that by ticking this box I
absolve Fantasy from any blame for any harm that may come to me.

Preferred Mutation - Elemental, Feral, Psionic, Molecular?

If you have any specific requests in respect to appearance, please list them
Don't care.

The ticks come to me effortlessly.

I've just finished completing the questionnaire when, right on cue, a slim
man in white, loose fitting silk pants materialises behind the desk.
Wordlessly he takes my sheet and, his expression unreadable, gestures that I
should follow him.  A dim part of me thinks that I should find the whole
scenario surreal, but I don't.  Quite frankly I'm too numb to care much
about anything at the moment.

All I want is to be abused, for my body to ache like the blackness consuming
my heart.


No, need.


No, deserve.

I'm here because -- he won't, would *never*, do it -- it's where I deserve
to be.

For the high cost of the past week, I deserve the pain.  And if this is the
only way I can achieve it then, well, so be it.  I'm here and I'm going to
take it because it's what I deserve.

Want.  Need.  Deserve.  Crave.

Anything to alter the source of the obliterating pain.

Following the man in the white pants deep into the bowels of Fantasy, I feel
nothing as I take in the debauched scenes taking place around me.  An orgy
is in full swing in what I suppose has to be the main room.  In the centre,
sprawled on a mound of brightly coloured cushions, an overweight middle aged
man is having sparks of electricity shot through his cock and balls by a
young, bored looking Elemental.  In another room two naked and muscular
Ferals are wrestling each other for the prize of getting to top while men
stand around watching and stroking themselves.

I look at these scenes and still I feel nothing.

Stopping in front of an open door, my guide indicates that I should step
into the room and, autopilot well and truly ruling me, I do just that.  The
room is empty save for a double bed, a black lacquer chest of drawers, and a
large, floor length mirror embedded in one of the blood red walls.  For a
second I'm almost disappointed.  I don't know why, I just am.  Perhaps I was
expecting an BDSM dungeon.  Who fucking knows.  I sure as hell don't.

But, hey, what else is new.

Walking further into the room, I turn to face the man just as a list of
instructions are flashed Psionically into my mind.

// Undress.  Relax.  Make yourself comfortable.  Your choice will be with
you shortly. //

His job done, the man hesitates over closing the door and, pausing in the
doorway, gazes at me.  "Your motives are pure, yet misguided, dreadfully
so," he comments softly, shaking his head.  "The one you do this for would
not want it.  Nor, seeing things differently to you, would he understand.
It is however, as I can read so clearly from you, your choice, one that I
know I can not sway you from."  With that, his cryptic piece said, he pulls
the door shut and disappears.

Alone, my heart beating dully in my chest, I stare at the door for a moment
before deciding to get undressed.  Just like that.  As the saying --
sorta -- goes, I've made my bed and now I have every intention of lying face
down on it.  Or, to put it another way, I'm going to see through what I've
started.  It's not, not if I want the darkness in my head and heart to
shift, like I have any other choice.  Not to my way of thinking, anyway.
There just isn't.

Stripping quickly, perfunctorily, I throw my clothes carelessly in the
corner and stand naked in front of the mirror.  Although it's just about the
last thing I feel like doing, I stare, unblinking, at my reflection, my dead
eyed gaze finding fault in everything being reflected back at me.

Unblemished.  Uninjured.  The perfect fucking specimen.

Despite being the cause of everything, my skin is not tainted by so much as
one bruise or cut.  If not for the full force of Adam's antidote taking
immediate effect I would have been able to walk out of Hillview unaided.

It's not right.  Not by any stretch of the imagination.

I'm the one who should be needing industrial strength painkillers in order
to simply get out of bed, not Jess.  Just as it should be my body showing
the full impact of what went down, not his.  The fact that it's all my fault
yet I have nothing, well, not physically anyway, to show for it is like some
sort of sick joke.

Sensing the air shift behind me, I turn away from the mirror and watch
impassively as the man I've come here for phases through the wall.  If he's
expecting me to be impressed by his party trick he hides his disappointment
well.  Time stands still as we look each other over.  His eyes betray
nothing as he checks me out.  Not caring what he thinks, whether he likes
what he sees or not, I stare back at him, my blank expression not even
something I have to concentrate on effecting.  I note with neither interest
nor care that he's about my age and blandly attractive.  The fact that he's
big, bigger than I am, does however interest me and, pleased, I smile

Returning my flat, detached smile, the man shrugs out of his black silk robe
and stands before me naked.  He has a good body and a more than adequate
cock.  Noticing the angle of my gaze, he masses his cock, pointing it at me
like a weapon.

Oh yeah.  Show time.

Nodding, I walk over to the bed and clamber inelegantly onto the mattress.
My breathing sounding both loud and ragged to my ears, I position myself in
a way that saves the man from wasting valuable energy on having to think
about what he's doing.  Palms flat on the mattress, knees spread, ass in the
air.  Barring coming out and commanding him to fuck me I couldn't be any
more freakin' obvious if I tried.

C'mon, big boy, I can take it.

For some, being rammed by a massed cock might be a dream come true, for me
it's meant as penance.  There may be better, less sordid ways, but if there
are I can't think of them.  I need to pay for everything I've caused and I
know that Jess would never do it, would never give me what I know I deserve.
Hell, the mere thought would be distasteful to him.  I know that as well as
I know anything.  He's only ever massed that part of his anatomy for me once
and that was only to put my idle curiosity, that I kept harping on and on
about, to rest.  To this day I can remember, even though we'd been lovers
for months by this stage and I was *well* acquainted with his naked body,
how embarrassed he was, how he couldn't just laugh off my ill advised
attempts at jokes.  Sex, to Jess, is about love.  Not punishment.

Bracing myself for what's to come, I'm somewhat nonplussed by the fact that,
well, nothing  *does* happen.  A slight 'whooshing' sound coming from the
vicinity of the door surprises me a little but I don't turn around.  I'm so
far gone that I don't even care if we have an audience.


Oh God.

"Charming view..."

A voice.  An all too familiar voice.

"... shame I didn't bring a camera with me."


I now know the 'whooshing' sound was actually that of one Molecular phasing
another Molecular through a wall.


Releasing a breath, that I hadn't even been aware I was holding, I flop down
on the bed, my mind threatening to call a stop work meeting on me.  "What
are you doing here?" I mumble into the pillow, well *and* truly not wanting
to look over my shoulder.

"Good question," Jess replies conversationally.  "It's actually one I'm
hoping you'll be able to answer for me."

I sigh.  Heavily.  "You never should have left Sanctuary."

"Disappearing like that, you didn't leave me much choice," Jess murmurs
matter-of-factly.  "What was I supposed to do, huh?  Just sit around and
twiddle my thumbs while worrying myself silly?"

"I *didn't* disappear," I mutter wearily, my attempt at sounding querulous
failing dismally.

"No?  You mean it was just absent mindedness that made you leave your
comlink on the bed then?" Jess responds, making no move to shift from his
position near the door.  "Oh!  As for the Mustang's GPS, don't tell me, your
finger just slipped, turning it off, right?"

"Something like that," I sigh, counting to ten before biting the bullet and
rolling over onto my back and sitting up.  "I didn't know I needed
permission to..." Trailing off, I take in the sight of Jess and flinch.
Dressed all in black, his battered face a ghostly death mask, he looks as
though even the simple act of breathing is causing him pain.  "Oh dear God."
Unbidden, the words slip softly out.

"I'm taking it that's your way of telling me I should steer clear of small
children for the next couple of days," Jess murmurs, wincing as he shakes
his head.  "Thanks for the vote of confidence, Bren."

"Huh?" I grunt, not quite following.  "Small children, I don't..."

"Your expression tells me that I look bad enough to frighten children," Jess
interrupts, shrugging.  "It's okay though.  Tell me something I don't know."

"You shouldn't be here," I reply weakly, glancing down and feigning
fascination with my knees.

"Again with the telling me something I don't already know," Jess replies.
"First Hillview and now Fantasy, honestly Bren, you take me to the nicest

"I didn't bring you here," I mutter flatly, looking up and gesturing at the
door.  "You don't belong here, Jess."

"And you do?" Jess queries, raising an eyebrow.  "Given that I'm not buying
it for a second, you can tell me all about it during the drive back to

I shake my head.  "I'm not going back to Sanctuary, I'm staying here.
Whether you buy it or not, Jess, I came here for a reason."

"You're not going back to Sanctuary?" Jess repeats quietly, his too bright,
almost feverish blue eyes boring into me.  "Oh."

"I'm staying here," I confirm, making a performance of running my hands over
my torso, pretending that I'm merely here to have my previously uncommented
on kink scratched.

Jess nods, his fingers starting to undo the buttons on his three-quarter
length woollen coat.  "Fair enough," he comments, shrugging out of the coat
and dropping it on the floor.  He then, biting back a hiss of pain, pulls
his sweater over his head, throwing it down to join the coat.

"Um..." I have to ask.  I don't really want to know the answer, but I have
to ask. "What do you think you're doing?"

"This is a sex club, right?" Jess murmurs, untucking his t-shirt and
beginning to pull it off.  "And, well, seeing as you're not going to leave
with me and I'm going to have to wait -- oh, and by the way, Shal dropped me
off in the Helix, meaning you've got to give me a lift whether you like it
or not -- for you to achieve whatever the hell it is you think you need to,
then, think about it, I'm going to have to kill time somehow..."

"Uh-uh!" I exclaim, the word horrified not doing what I'm feeling justice.
"God, Jess, you've got to be freakin' kidding me!"

"Your choice, Bren," Jess replies, glancing down at his bare, motley looking
torso and shrugging.  "We both leave now or I stay, it's your call. Given
the anything goes nature of this place I'm sure someone will want me.  Hell,
if anyone's got a thing for bruises they'll think all their Christmases have
come at once."

"You're...  You're being silly," I murmur faintly, not wanting to look at
the damage I did to Jess' chest yet unable to look away.  As bad as the
bruises are, the scorch marks are worse.  *Far* worse.  "Jess...  Just go
home.  Call Shal on your com, she'll come back for you.  I...  Listen to me!
I belong here, you don't.  You should..." I shake my head, frustrated with
my inability to even express myself clearly.  "You should get away from me,
Jess.  Cut your losses, forget about me.  It's...  It's for the best, okay?"

"No, it's not okay," Jess responds quietly, his hands stilling on his fly.
"None of it's fucking okay.  I've got a good idea in respect to what's going
through your mind but, to hell with it, Bren, you've got to talk to me!  I'm
not as delicate as I swear you think I am.  While I'm at it, you should know
by now that I'm not a quitter, that I'll fight for what I believe in.  And,
Goddamn it, I believe in you.  Do you hear me, Brennan, huh?  I believe in
you, in *us*, and I won't let your misguided need for fucking penance
destroy any of it."

His eyes flashing, Jess pauses and fixes me with a look.  "If you want to
stay, to have some stranger fuck away your perceived guilt then, stay.  I
can't make you leave.  I will however, assuming of course my new friends --
the ones I just know are waiting to make my acquaintance out there -- have
finished with me, be waiting for you.  And then, after the painkillers I've
got in my pocket, and that I *might* be willing to share with you, have
taken effect we're going to talk.  Got it?"

"You're not going to take no for an answer, are you?" I whisper, rubbing my
hands over my face.  "Jess, I'm not worth..."

"If you're going to talk now and pass on the anonymous fuck I'd quite like
to get the hell out of here," Jess interrupts hopefully, his bravado visibly
flagging.  "Please, Bren.  I tracked you because I want to talk, not to make
a scene.  If...  If for whatever reason you're doing this because of me
then, think about it, don't you owe it to me to talk about it?"

"Fine," I sigh, standing up and walking slowly over to my clothes.  Hell,
what else am I supposed to do, just let him wander out into the lion's den
to be further torn to pieces?  Having done enough damage for the week, I
really don't think so.  "You win.  If I had a white flag I'd wave it in
defeat.  I don't know what I'm going to say but, yeah, whatever, we'll

Smiling wanly, Jess nods.  "Good.  Now, hurry up and get dressed so you can
pass me my clothes.  I'm... ah... not very good at bending over at the

There being nothing else I could in all conscience do, I hurriedly pull my
clothes on before helping Jess dress.  Goosebumps prickle my skin as my
fingers brush over his cold flesh.  Being so close to him, touching him,
brings its own version of hurt.  When he's fully dressed, his coat once
again buttoned all the way up, Jess reaches into its pocket and brings out
my comlink.  "Here," he murmurs simply, placing it in the palm of my hand,
folding my fingers over it.

"Thanks," I whisper, slipping it on my finger and watching it react to my
DNA, feeling, as usual, a sense of awe that something so small could mean so
much to me.  "Um...  Ready to go?"

"More ready than you could possibly believe," Jess mutters, grabbing my hand
in his and squeezing it.  "C'mon, I know somewhere where we can go to be

"Just tell me where," I murmur, opening the door and gesturing that Jess
should go through it first.  Following him, his hand a welcome, undeserved
weight in mine, I walk out of the room without once glancing behind me.
We've barely made it a few steps down the corridor when, his expression
decidedly sour, the Molecular that had been going to be 'mine' for the
evening steps through the wall and positions himself in front of Jess.

Scowling, he jabs a pointed, massed fist into Jess' chest.  "You have some
explainin' to do!" he growls, his annoyance clear.

I'm about to take matters into my own hands when Jess glances over his
shoulder and winks at me.  "This is going to kill," he murmurs, "but it's so
going to be worth it."  With that, he exhales, phasing the pair of us, and
leads me directly through the man.  Once I'm all the way through he, with a
groan of pain, returns us to normal density.  Behind us, the man stammers
and stutters an expletive laden diatribe but makes no attempt to follow.

"Oh yeah, well worth the pain," Jess comments mock brightly, tightening his
grip on my hand and leading me towards the exit, his gaze never deviating
from straight ahead.  "Nice place this, Brennan.  Been here before?"

Embarrassment slowly creeping over me, I shake my head.  "No...  God, no."
Go figure.  Now that we're out in the body of Fantasy I'm beginning to feel
embarrassed.  Being discovered with my ass in the air wasn't a great concern
but, now, now I'm bothered by the whole scene.  Good one.  I don't think.
"This... ah... this was the first time I've ever been here."

"First and last, I would hope," Jess replies mildly, opening the door that
will take us back out into Fantasia and waving me through it.  "I don't know
about you but, speaking for myself here, I think I can live the rest of my
life without ever stepping foot in the place again."

Fantasia still in full swing, I'm saved from having to reply by the
deafening music being pumped out by the somewhat insane looking DJ behind
the mixing desk and merely nod when Jess glances behind him.  If anything
has changed since I stepped through the door into Fantasia it's that Fantasy
is even more packed, the dance floor a sea of gyrating bodies, the music
even louder than it was earlier.  Flinching at both the noise and mass of
people, Jess lets go of my hand and, squaring his shoulders, sets off
determinedly across the dance floor.  Turning around and retreating back
into Fantasy not an option, I hurry after him, trailing in his wake.  Those
blocking his route only have to take one look at his pale, bruised face to
quickly move out of his way, their drug-induced smiles slipping for all of a
split second in the process.  Knowing that he's only here because of me is,
as far as I'm concerned, yet another black mark against my name.

Although it seems to take near on forever, we eventually make it outside,
the cool night air a welcome relief from the suffocating heat of Fantasia.
A malfunctioning street light, its globe flickering on and off in a staccato
rhythm, alternates between illuminating Jess in a harsh light and painting
him in shadow.  Neither is flattering.  Wrapping his arms around his chest
in an attempt to keep warm, he winces as his battered ribs complain about
the strain he's putting them under and, not wanting to let on that he's
suffering, bites back a sigh.  "The car far?" he asks, glancing up the

"You tracked it, you tell me," I mutter, forcing myself to keep my defences
up.  As much as I want to drop to my knees and beg for his forgiveness, I
can't.  For Jess' sake more than mine I have to remain strong.  Contrary to
what he may think, he's better off without me.  The whole Hillview debacle
proving it once and for all that we were simply never meant to be.

"Smart ass," Jess wheezes, rolling his eyes.  "Well, are you gonna take me
to it or are we gonna stand here freezing our butts off all night?"

"Come on then," I sigh, striding off down the street.  "It's just around the

"I know that," Jess replies, a hint of smugness entering his voice as he
follows me.  "I was merely checking on the levels of obtuseness you've
currently got running around in your system."

"And you had the nerve to call *me* a smart ass," I retort, only just
managing to stop myself from laughing.  "Hey, you going to tell me how you
tracked me here or am I going to have to wait to tickle it out of Shal?"

"Let's just say you're sadly mistaken if you think the GPS is the only
tracking device attached to the cars," Jess murmurs.  "I found the car and
then Shal tracked your scent into Fantasia.  It wasn't exactly hard."

"I'll remember that," I reply drily, rounding the corner and retrieving the
car keys from my pocket.  "Now, where are we going?  Are you sure you don't
want to go back to Sanctuary?"

"I'm sure I don't want to go back to Sanctuary," Jess responds, leaning
against the passenger door of the Mustang as I unlock the car with the
keyless entry.  "Whether you want to or not, we've got to talk and, before
you say anything, I won't take no for an answer."

"Where to then?" I query, lacking the energy to argue.  God knows I don't
want to talk but, if that's honestly what it's going to take to end it then,
really, I don't have any choice in the matter.  One way or the other, it all
comes to a head tonight.

"Safe-house six," Jess replies, opening the door and clambering slowly into
the car.  "You'll see why when we get there."

"If you say so," I mutter, shutting his door and walking around to the
driver's side.  By the time I'm settled in the seat and placed the key in
the ignition, Jess is either fast asleep or doing a very good impression of
it.  My hand stilling on the key, I look at him and contemplate throwing
caution to the winds and simply turning the car in the direction of
Sanctuary.  God knows it'd have to better than safe-house six.  Hell, the
last time I was there it had been all but gutted.  Not to mention that it
was always the smallest and grottiest of the safe-houses anyway, one that we
only ever used if we were truly desperate.  Honestly, why Jess would want to
go there escapes me.

But, and this is all that really has to matter, it's where he wants to go.
Shit hole or not.  And, blind hope always springing eternal, I need every
little bit of help I can muster to stay in his good books.

Sighing, I turn the key in the ignition and, pulling away from the curb,
start towards safe-house six.  As I'm becoming increasingly used to, a numb,
empty feeling settles over me and I drive as though on autopilot.  Although
I have the Mustang's heater working overtime I feel chilled, like my heart
is pumping ice through my veins.  Jess, his hands tucked up in the arms of
his coat, sleeps on.  His features relaxed, he almost seems at peace.  I
look across at him, my eyes devouring the bruised and cut face of the man I
love, and...

And I want to scream.

My fault.  All my fault.  All.  My.  Fucking.  Fault.

Should have been stronger...  Should have kept him at arms length... Should
have accepted that we never stood a chance instead of listening to my
heart...  Should never have fallen in love...  Should have insisted he stay
the fuck out of Hillview...

Honed and hardened by years on the street, common sense always told me that
we'd never make it, that our differences -- background, beliefs,
personalities -- were just too great to allow us to make a go of it.  Poor
little rich boy with his computers, robots, and far too sensitive nature -
there was a time I would have eaten him alive for no other reason than I
would have felt it was my white trash duty.  When I found myself warming to
him in ways that went deeper than just -- begrudgingly -- viewing him as a
friend, I told myself that nothing would ever come of it, that the day he
looked twice at me would be the day Eckhart set off down the Yellow Brick
Road in search of a heart.

And, when months later Eckhart was still sans hiking boots and our naked
bodies were entwined and flushed from lovemaking, I told myself that it was
only a one night stand, that he must have been either curious or just plain

As it turned out he'd raised the courage to come to me because he'd had
enough of waiting for me to make the first move.  And it wasn't a one night
stand either.

Although, to this day I don't really know how, we somehow fell into a
relationship.  Together, despite our differences, we were happy.  Despite my
early attempts at trying to convince myself that it was, it was never just
about the sex.  Confused as I was by what was taking place, I just went with
the flow.  The way I saw it was that it'd be great while it lasted but that,
really, was all there was to it.  Logic (or quite possibly paranoia)
dictated that Jess was satiating his taste for 'a bit of rough' and that
once he was over it he'd, after thoroughly washing his hands, move on.

Not, it has to be said, that Jess himself actually did anything to feed
these coldly clinical thoughts.  No.  Unable to accept that he loved me and
didn't care that I was little more than a glorified criminal with a neat
line in shooting electricity from his fingertips, the belief that it was
never going to last was mine and mine alone.  And, what's more, wanting to
protect myself from what I saw as inevitable heartache, I fought to keep it.
Even as I realised that I loved him and that nothing was going to stop my
heart from shattering when he left me, I clung to the knowledge that at
least I was going to be prepared, that there was no way I was going to be
able to say that it had came as a surprise.  To me, my twisted, convoluted
logic made perfect sense.

I *expected* Jess to leave me.  It was just one of those facts of life that
I'd resigned myself to.  What I never expected however was for his loyalty,
determination, and love to leave me feeling so fucking worthless.  Nor, for
that matter, did I ever expect that it'd be down to me to end it.  I don't
want to, but that's beside the point.  For Jess' sake I have to.  He might
be able to forgive me but, weighted down by my own perceived failure, I
don't think I can.  I just don't.  My behaviour, even before I was dosed up
with Regas' happy juice, was nothing short of deplorable.  From the very
moment I learnt of Danny's escape I treated Jess like shit.  Faced with my
past, with the error of my ways, I reverted to type without so much as a
backwards glance.  Dimly recalled street cred told me that I was doing the
right thing, that Danny and the 'look after your own' mentality of my
brethren meant more to me than Jess ever could.  It also told me that,
coming from the suburbs, he'd never understand.

Once again, it made sense at the time.  The only reason I let Jess tag along
at all was because he wouldn't take no for an answer.  I hated it though and
didn't want him with me.  At the time I thought it was because I didn't want
to be seen in any of the old haunts with such an obvious yuppie in tow but I
realise now that that wasn't it at all.  The real reason I didn't want Jess
with me was because I didn't want him to see the harsh reality of my old
life.  Talking to him about it, sharing the odd titbit here and there, was
one thing but letting him see it for himself was something else entirely.
When I couldn't talk him out of tagging along I went on the defensive.  When
I wasn't ignoring him I was trying my hardest to bite his head off. I just
couldn't help myself.  Not only was I worried about Danny but I was also
worried that Jess would take offence at my past.  And, oddly enough, I
didn't know which one worried more.

So, yeah, I got narky.  Incredibly so.  Jess was only trying to help and I
responded by making snide comments and belittling him.  Proving once and for
all that he's a nicer person than I am, he stuck it in without comment.
More than once I wished that he'd just turn around and yell at me that I
could go fuck myself before stalking off in disgust, but he never did.  He
didn't even hold the fact that Danny -- *my* Danny -- tried to rearrange his
face for him against me.

And, being the magnanimous sort of guy that I am, I repaid him my dragging
him through Hillview.  Adam will argue that it was his call, that Jess went
in solely because it was what he'd decided, while Jess will argue that no
one forced him, that, ultimately, it was his decision and his alone.  I know
that it's all down to me though.  It simply has to be.  If not for both my
past and my misguided loyalty none of it ever would have happened.

Regas' serum was simply the cherry on top of what was already a heinous fuck

A hand lightly resting on my thigh breaks through my reverie and,
reluctantly, I turn to face Jess.

"Stop it," he murmurs softly, his tired eyes imploring me to listen.  "I
know you're running through things in your head and I want you to stop.
You've already justified everything to yourself no doubt a thousand times
over and, believe me, it isn't helping.  We need to talk, not hold one sided
conversation in our heads."

"You Psionic now, are you?" I mutter flatly, turning my attention back to
the road, unable to meet his gaze.

"Don't have to be where you're concerned," Jess replies, giving my thigh a
squeeze.  "I can read you like a book, Bren."

"Mmm...  One that's never going top the best seller list," I snort, picking
his hand up and dropping it back on his lap.

"This is going to be a long night if you're going to remain on the
defensive," Jess sighs, stifling a yawn.  "If I wanted to bang my head
against a brick wall I would have stayed at Sanctuary and done it in the
comfort and warmth of my own room."

"You should have stayed there anyway," I reply, stopping the car in front of
the old abandoned pharmacy that passes for the public façade for safe-house
six.  "Have you ever thought that if I'd wanted to talk I wouldn't have gone
out, hmmm? Never forget that this is your idea, not mine.  I was perfectly
happy where I was."

"Oh yeah, looked it too," Jess mutters, shooting me a look before opening
the door and laboriously climbing out of the car.  "If that's perfectly
happy," he adds as I join him on the pavement, "I'd hate to see miserable."

"This is your idea," I repeat, striding towards the back entrance.  "Whether
I was happy or not I was where I wanted to be."

"And that's exactly why we need to talk," Jess replies, trailing after me.
"Blaming yourself isn't going to achieve anything, Brennan, nor is it
warranted.  Come on, think sensibly about..."

"I could have killed you!" I exclaim, choosing hitting the lock with just
enough voltage for it to disengage over waiting for Jess to drag out a key.
"Goddamn it Jess!  Why are you taking everything so fucking calmly, huh?
And don't give me any of that 'it was all the serum's fault' bullshit
either!  Things were shot to hell long before that ever come into the
picture.  You proved your point by saving me but now the time has come for
you to wake up, cut your losses, and leave me the fuck alone!  Contrary to
what you might think, I'm nothing but bad news and the sooner you realise
this the better."

My -- not overly eloquent -- piece said, I shove the door open and, my mouth
dry and my heart hammering, stalk inside.  To my disgust I'm shaking.
Great.  Just great.  I'm already wrecked and we haven't even started yet.

"Well, that was a start, I suppose," Jess comments, following me in and
switching on the overhead light.  "Not exactly what I'd call a good one, but
a start nonetheless."

Grunting noncommittally, I stand flat-footed in the middle of the room and
glace around me, my mind not quite computing what my eyes are telling it.
No longer coldly functional and decrepit, the safe-house now resembles a
five-star motel room.  A highly personalised, inviting motel room at that.
To my considerable surprise it's like a hybrid of everyone's, and this
includes Adam's, bedrooms back at Sanctuary.  From the safari coloured
bedding and leopard print cushions covering the queen size bed to the Indian
design wall hanging and bookshelves neatly stacked with books, it's
literally like a miniature home away from home.  Kitchenette.  Sofa.  Home
theatre system.  Computer.  It's all but a baby Sanctuary.  Well, almost.  I
can see signs of everyone but Jess in the room.

"Well?" Jess queries softly, shutting and locking the door before moving
further into the room.  "What do you reckon?  Worth the slave labour I've
been putting into it or not?"

"Looks good," I mutter, grudgingly.  "What's it for though?"

Reaching the bed, Jess sinks down on the edge of it and shrugs.  "I just
thought it would be somewhere nice to stay if any of us get stuck in town,
or even if we just want somewhere else to go, somewhere private, you know.
I've been working on it in my spare time as a surprise."

"What about you?" I murmur, gesturing around the room.  "You've made it a
hybrid of everyone's tastes but your own.  I'm looking but I can't see you
in here anyway, Jess."

"But I didn't do it for me," Jess replies, looking puzzled.  "I did it for
you, and Shalimar, and Emma, and Adam...  I did it for my friends.  I..."
Trailing off, he shrugs again.  "I just thought it would make a nice

"It's lovely," I sigh, backing away and leaning against the wall, wanting to
keep as much distance between us as I possibly can.  "The gesture, the
décor, everything.  You've done a good job."

"Thanks," Jess responds quietly, dismissively, "but I didn't bring you here
to talk about my interior decorating skills.  Without wanting to sound like
a cracked record here, we've got to talk."

I shrug.  "So talk.  I'm here and a captive audience.  Knock yourself out."

"Fine, if you want me to start, I'll start," Jess mutters wearily, undoing
the buttons of his coat but other than that making no move to take it off.
"Is that what you want, Brennan, huh, for me to start?"

"Again, knock yourself out," I mutter, folding my arms across my chest and
doing my best to adopt a bored, disinterested expression.  Given how weak my
knees are feeling, it's hard.

Nodding, Jess fixes his dull blue eyes on me and smiles wanly.  "You've got
to stop blaming yourself for what happened, Brennan," he states plainly.  "I
know you think it's all your fault, but it isn't.  We all had choices to
make, not just you, and you've got to remember that."

"You're kidding yourself if you don't think it's my fault," I whisper
hollowly, looking down at the floor and wishing like mad that it would open
up and swallow me whole.  "If not for me none of it would have happened.  If
I hadn't got the bee in my fucking bonnet to go after Danny you'd still be
in once piece and, Goddamn it, none of it would have freakin' happened!  You
may be forgiving by nature, Jess, but I'm realistic.  I'm to blame and
that's all there is to it."

"Danny was your friend," Jess replies matter-of-factly.  "Going after him,
wanting to help him, was a natural reaction.  You weren't to know what had
been done to him or where it would lead us.  In your position any of us
would have done the same thing."

"I'm to blame for what happened to you in Hillview," I murmur dejectedly,
changing tack slightly.  "I either should have put my foot down and not let
you go in there or I should have looked after you better.  I'm sorry, Jess,
but I failed you.  Thanks to me you could have been killed.  I... Oh God!
*I* could have killed you!"

Jess shakes his head.  "Again, not your fault.  Not really.  Besides, look
at it another way, if we hadn't gone into Hillview that lowlife warden and
Regas would still be up to their necks in it and prisoners would still be
being beaten to death in the name of, and I use the term lightly here,
sport.  You can't deny that, really, we did good.  I don't know about you,
but I'm proud of what we achieved."

"You could have died," I mumble, shaking my head.  "Stopping those fuckers
was good, yeah, but..."

"But nothing," Jess interrupts vehemently.  "You've got to stop this,
Brennan, this being eaten up by guilt and self-loathing.  You think the
costs were high, but they weren't.  Look at it this way, we're both still

"No thanks to me," I state, my voice barely above that of a whisper.  "If
I'd had my way you'd be taking up space in the morgue.  Hell, let's face it,
it's not like I didn't try my hardest to put you there."

"I put myself in that ring," Jess replies emphatically.  "It was my choice.
Not only that but, well, don't forget that it was my fault you came to the
warden's attention in the first place.  If I'd just let McMullen walk all
over me none of it would ever have happened."

"You were right to stand up to McMullen," I murmur, hesitantly raising my
head and glancing across at Jess.  "I know I said to just ignore him but,
given that it was clear he was never going to let up on you, I was wrong.
If you hadn't hit back he would have just kept at you.  I think he had..."
Nope.  Can't say it.  Thinking it is more than bad enough without actually
voicing it.

"He had designs on making me his bitch," Jess responds, shrugging.  "I know.
In hindsight I almost wish I'd just let him.  Given what happened, it can't
have been any worse.  I snapped though, and I made a mistake, a mistake that
we're still paying for and one I regret.  If it would have kept you out of
the ring I would have gladly shut up and taken it."

"Well I wouldn't have!" I exclaim, agitation washing over me at the thought
of McMullen getting his meaty paws on Jess.  "No!  No fucking way!  He'd
only have had to have laid one finger on you and I would have been all over
him like a fucking rash whether you fought back or not.  McMullen was scum
and there was no way I was just going to hang back and watch him beat on
you.  I chose to intervene, Jess, no one made me."

"And I chose to go into the ring with you," Jess murmurs quietly.  "You
wouldn't let McMullen hurt me and I refused to let him have a go at killing
you.  Actually, no, I lie...  I didn't choose to take McMullen's place as,
ultimately, I didn't have a choice.  If I wanted you to live I had to."

"Of course you had a choice," I mutter, hating being the cause of the pain
in his eyes.  "I'm sure Adam or Shal could have got the antidote to me some
other way."

"I didn't have a choice," Jess repeats dully, rubbing his hands over his
face.  "I'd seen one of the matches already, remember?  And...  Oh God,
Bren...  I've never seen anything like it.  It was obscene.  Two men
controlled by blood lust and pitted against each other to the death.
Wrestling is dumb ass entertainment, boxing is barbaric, and dog fighting is
just plain wrong, but this was all three rolled into one big horrific
package!  The only thing worse than the look of rage on the prisoners' faces
was the punters' expressions of glee and the amount of cold hard cash that
was being bandied about!  There was no way I could have sent you in alone to
face that."

"You should have," I whisper haltingly.  "For your own sake, Jess, you
should have left me to fend for myself.  Perhaps I could have even taken
McMullen.  Hell, the way I was feeling I could have taken on a tag team of
Mike Tyson and The fucking Rock and still had aggression to spare."

"You're right, perhaps you could have defeated McMullen," Jess replies, a
scowl flashing over his features.  "Defeating him wouldn't have been enough
though, would it?  You wouldn't have stopped until he was dead.  And how
would have that made you feel, huh?  McMullen was scum, yeah, but that
doesn't mean he deserved to die.  Besides, there'd already been enough
deaths.  I did what I had to do and it's a decision that I stand by.  Put
back in the same position I'd do exactly the same thing."

"I beat you to within an inch of your life," I murmur, running my fingers
through my hair in a classic nervous gesture.  "And, you mightn't think
it... or even *want* to think it... but I knew what I was doing.  I knew it
was you, that you were on my side, but it didn't fucking matter.  The desire
to kill was overwhelming.  If you hadn't got to the antidote in time it
would have been all over."

"But I *did* get to the antidote in time," Jess sighs, exasperation battling
the exhaustion for dominance in his voice.  "What's done is done, Bren, and,
unlike you, I'm not taking it personally.  The serum was bottled blood lust.
It wouldn't have mattered who you were up against as you would have reacted
exactly the same.  Adam.  Emma.  Your favourite teacher from high school.
Some stranger picked up off the street..."

"I remember what I said to you in the cell," I confess flatly, cutting him
off.  "How can you say it wasn't personal when I took your private
insecurities and threw them back in your face?  Listen to me, Jess!  I
appreciate all the effort you're putting into me but, honestly, for your own
sake you should just drop it."

"The personal attack was a by-product of the serum," Jess responds, sighing
again.  "Not only did it amp up the victim's levels of aggression and
physical strength but it also made them more cunning and vindictive.  To put
it another way, it gave them the ability to know instinctively how best to
unnerve their prey.  Trust me, it was the serum talking, not you."

"You're just saying that to make me feel better," I mutter slowly, the
faintest glimmer of hope flaring in the pit of my stomach.

"Call Adam up on your com if you don't believe me," Jess replies quietly,
his eyes somehow mirroring the sudden ember of hope I'm feeling.  "The
warden liked to record his death matches and through them Adam's been able
to list the effects of the serum.  And, yeah, one of them was instinctively
knowing your opponents' weaknesses and what it would take to really push
their buttons.  The inmate McMullen killed had a wife and two young
daughters on the outside and McMullen revved him up by telling him in
graphic detail what he was going to do to his children when he got out.
Compared to that creative use of the English language, what you said to me
was positively tame.  Hell, mundane even."

"Oh..." Meeting Jess' eyes, I manage a weak smile.  "Thanks... Ah...  I
didn't know that.  For what it's worth, Jess, I didn't mean it... Any of it.
I don't think that you're useless -- far from it in fact -- and I hate that
the serum made me say those things.  I...  I actually think that you're
pretty amazing.  I also think that you can do better, that I'm not good
enough for you."  Pausing, I take a deep, shuddery breath before pushing on.
"Maybe you're right, Jess, maybe I'm not entirely to blame for all of this,
but I feel as though I am, that it's all my fault.  I..."

Here it comes, what's quite possibly the crux of the matter.

"I pride myself on my loyalty," I continue hurriedly, the words spilling out
of my mouth in my haste to finally share them.  "Although I hadn't seen
Danny for years I knew, because he was a friend and an integral part of my
past, that I had to do anything I could to help him.  I like to think that
there isn't anything I wouldn't do for a friend.  Now, that's all that Danny
was - a friend.  He was a friend and I willingly put everything on the line
to, if you like, avenge his death."

"And?" Jess queries, looking at me questioningly.  "What are you trying to
get at here, Brennan?  You don't have to tell me about how far you're
prepared to go for a friend as I already know."

"But this is it!" I retort, my voice inching up in volume.  "I'm loyal to my
friends but I turn on you, the most important person in my miserable
existence!  I know it was the serum, and that I didn't have a choice and
blah, blah, fucking blah, but that's beside the point.  It made me turn on
you, Jess, and I just freakin' hate it.  Although I'd never willingly hurt
you it made me want to tear you from limb to limb and, Goddamn it, it kills
me that there isn't a single thing I can do to take it all back."

"But it's okay," Jess murmurs, attempting to stand before giving up with a
wince and sinking back down on the bed.  "I'm alive and I don't blame you.
Hell, if you want to hear me say it, here it is... I forgive you for any and
all of your perceived fuck ups, okay?  More importantly though, I want you
to forgive yourself.  What I don't however want is for you to beat yourself
up either mentally or physically about it.  Yes it was shit, and yes it
sucked, but it's all in the past now.  While I'm at it, seeking misguided
absolution in places like Fantasy isn't going to achieve a damn thing
either.  We've just got to move on."

"You should have massed," I sigh, apropos of near on nothing.  "In the ring,
you should have massed and given some of what I was giving you back."

"And you think that, feeling like I do now, would have made you feel better
about things?" Jess replies, his expression one of bemusement.  "I didn't
mass because I didn't want to hurt you.  You were so off your head that I
suspect a sudden influx of pain would have pushed you over the edge.  Yet
again, it was my choice."

"C'mon Jess," I mutter, shaking my head, "I deserve to be feeling some of
the pain and discomfort you're feeling.  Look at me.  I'm uninjured.  You
can't tell me that that's fair."

Stifling a yawn, Jess shrugs wearily.  "I'm glad you're not in pain," he
murmurs calmly.  "If it helps I think I'm in enough pain for both of us.
Hell, I feel as though I've been driven over by a fully loaded car-carrier.
And, yeah, okay, so what if you were the one driving it?  Listen to me,
Bren.  I don't care, okay?  Now, I don't think I can put it much simpler
than that.  I honestly just don't care.  Ignoring the serum, we both made
our own choices and did what we felt we had to do.  I don't blame you, I
don't hate you and I don't want you to be hurting like I am.  What I do want
however is for things to return to how they were..."

"You can't..." I whisper disbelievingly.  After everything I've put him
through he still wants us to be together?  "God, Jess, don't be such a

"Martyr!" Jess exclaims, his eyes narrowing as his voice cracks with raw
emotion.  "Is that what you think I am, huh?"

Ooops.  Shit.  Perhaps I shouldn't have said that...  "I'm..."

"I haven't finished," Jess interrupts, glowering at me.  "Like you, I too
pride myself on my loyalty to my friends.  Unlike you however I can count my
friends, my *true* friends, on the fingers of one hand.  You still have
friends from your childhood, Brennan, I don't.  If you wanna know the whole
truth of the matter I didn't even *have* friends when I was young and it's
because of this that I take the ones I have now so seriously.  I love you,
Bren, and there is nothing that I wouldn't do for you.  If you think that
makes me a martyr or a sucker, or even a fucking doormat, then, I'm sorry...
Okay?  I'm sorry.  It's just that I thought I was doing the right thing...
that what we have is something worth fighting for.  Again though, I'm sorry.
Maybe I was wrong.  Who knows, perhaps being stupid goes hand in hand with
being a martyr."

Yep.  No question about it.  I should have kept my big mouth shut.


"Forget it, Bren, I've had enough," Jess murmurs dispiritedly, his gaze
sliding away from mine.  "I don't know what else I can say to get through to
you.  I've tried to cut through your guilt and I've tried to convince you of
my side of the story.  If there's anything left for me to try it's currently
escaping me.  You win, okay?  I'm going to bed.  Stay, sulk, come to bed
with me, return to Fantasy and hook back up with your friend the hard body,
self-flagellate until you pass out...  It's your call, Brennan.  I know what
I want, but it's down to you.  I've done all that I can."

Flustered by the second chance I'm effectively being handed, the ability to
speak deserts me and I watch silently as Jess drags himself to his feet and
slowly strips down to his boxers.  Despite having seen them earlier, I still
flinch at the sight of the myriad bruises and abrasions marring his pale

"It isn't fair," I whisper hoarsely, the words slipping out of my mouth
before I can stop them.  "It just isn't fair."

"What isn't fair?" Jess replies, glancing over his shoulder as he pulls the
comforter back.  "The fact Danny fell foul of the warden and his punch-happy
serum?  Or is perhaps the fact that I look like this and you don't?  I know,
you're just pissed that I pulled you away from Fantasy, right?  For fuck's
sake, Brennan, wake up to yourself.  If you really want to get down to the
nitty-gritty, whoever said *life* was fair, huh?  We've just been through
hell.  I *get* that.  What I also get however is the fact that life goes on.
We can't bring back Danny and we can't erase from our memories what took
place in Hillview.  Without wanting to put a too fine a point on it or
anything though, shit happens.  We've got to put it behind us and move on."

"You make it sound easy," I mutter, making one last ditch effort to argue my
case.  I'm wavering though.  God knows I'm wavering.

Shrugging, Jess clambers into bed.  "That's because, to me at least, it is,"
he murmurs, settling back on the pillows and pulling the comforter up to his
chin.  "You might think I'm either stupid or just plain desperate and, well,
that's your prerogative," he adds quietly, closing his eyes, "I know that
I'm not though and that's all that matters.  I'm here, trying to get it
through your thick skull that I still love you and want to be with you,
because it's where I *want* to be.  Again though, it's your call.  I've said
my piece and now I'm going to go to sleep.  Do what you want, Brennan.  It's
your life."


"Good night, Bren."

The time for talking apparently being over, I push away from the wall and
slowly make my way over to the light switch.  Reaching it, I flick it off,
immediately enveloping the room in velvety darkness.  Although there's a
good chance I'm making a mistake, one that could possibly lead to more
heartache, I'm not leaving.  Part of me, the part that sent me to Fantasy
with my tail between my legs in the first place, wants to.  Hell, it wants
me to bolt out the door without so much as a backwards glance and to keep
going until I hit the border.  I can't do it though.  I just can't...  I
can't leave Jess.  Common sense screams that I should, that the reasons for
my guilt are still sitting on my shoulder and gnawing away at my conscience,
but my heart, battered and confused as it is, is casting the ruling vote.

I fucked up.  I know in myself that I'm to blame, if not for everything then
at least for a fair whack of what went down at Hillview.  Not only could I
have got Jess killed but I could have even killed him myself.  It's
something I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life.  To put it
simply, I made a mistake.

A mistake that I'm being offered absolution for.

To err is human.

So is to love.


My willpower disintegrating, I hesitantly walk over to the bed.  If this is
all about choice, as Jess appears to think it is, I choose to stay and fight
for a second chance.  Life moving in mysterious ways, perhaps my penance is
to slowly work up to feeling worthy of his faith and understanding.  Given
how I feel, I suspect it'll take a considerable amount of time too, time
that I'm only too willing to give.

Stripping down to my boxers, I gently clamber into bed, nerves making me
hold my breath as I wait for Jess' reaction.  When, with a sigh of relief,
he wriggles over to my side of the mattress, bringing our bodies in contact,
I literally feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from my

Be it deserved or not, I can't deny that somewhere a deity is smiling down
on me.

Carefully draping my arm around Jess, I hold him in place against me and
kiss the top of his head.  "Jess?"


Although there's so many things I could say, so many apologies and speeches
about not being worthy that I could make, I keep it simple.

Simple, truthful, and heartfelt.

Very, very heartfelt.

"Thank you."

~ end ~