Mental Games

Rating: R - swearing, mild violence, angst

Status: Complete

Feedback: Would encourage me to perhaps write again in the fandom...

Series/Sequel: No

Disclaimers: So not mine! Think a large percentage of ownership rights goes to Tribune Entertainment Company. Whatever. Not mine. Just borrowing, No harm done. Honest.

Spoilers: No.

Notes: Slight canon free-zone in that both Eckhart and Ashlocke are roaming free and causing havoc. Plot device. What more can I say. Oh, and written using British spelling. Think that's about it.

Status: Things are not always as they seem.


Why him?

Why not.

The prerequisites are all there in one broad, buff package. Dark hair, check. Dark eyes, check. Knowing smile, check. Tall enough that I have to look up to meet his eyes, check. In the dim lighting I prefer for such encounters they could pass for clones. Almost.

It's enough.

For now. At least.

He says his name is Ryan. I believe him. If he's lying to me I don't care. It's not like we're going to be buddies or anything. I wonder if he too knows what I know. That this is a once off, a release.

The momentary filling of a void.

Nothing more.

We go to a motel. Sunshine Lodge in a part of town not exactly renowned for its sun. I pay. Cash. Of course. The décor of room number eighteen whispers of decay and of a heyday long before Reagan ever turned his Hollywood sights to politics. Devoid of all the beauty of Sanctuary -- of home -- it's a sordid dive.

It's perfect.

The small talk in the bar having achieved our shared objective, the time for words is over. It's time to get down to business. He strips. I watch him. A low growl of approval escapes from the back of my throat as I let my eyes devour his naked body. Nice. Very nice. No tattoos though. Which is a pity.

My turn.

His eyes never leave me as I make short work of undressing. The gleam of desire in his dark eyes tells me he likes what he sees. His appreciation pleases me. It shouldn't, but it does.

He moves first, taking the lead. I let him. Wrapping his arms around me, he holds me tight, kissing me hard. I don't usually kiss. I want to protest. Something stops me. It feels...

It feels right.

But it can't be.

I push him away, my hand automatically straying to my lips, rubbing them clean.

He looks puzzled. Maybe even a little hurt. "But..."

But nothing. "Fuck me."

His face lights up, my abrupt dismissal of him already forgotten. "Your wish is my command." As he says this his hand moves to his cock, stroking it.

I see my cue and take it.

"Let me." I close my hand around his cock, feeling it push instinctively into my palm. He smiles. I close my eyes, willing my imagination to do its work.

The heat of the moment taking over, we lose ourselves in pleasure. The sex is good, better than I'd -- hoped -- expected it to be. He's an experienced and considerate lover. I give myself over to him in ways that I hadn't with any of the others before him. His tongue does things to me that I'd long forgotten were possible. A thought niggles at the back of my mind, stopping me from fully giving myself over to the fantasy. He's treating me like a lover, someone he actually cares about and not just a one-night stand picked up at Perry's. My second orgasm overrides my concern though, relegating it to the black hole of lost, unwanted thoughts that I swear takes up half of my head.

I silently scream his name as I come. His. Not Ryan's.

He screams mine. "Jesse!"

Warning signals explode in my brain. I hadn't told him my name.

What's going on?

The very second he's out of me I roll over onto my back, the afterglow taking on the form of an icy cloud settling over me. I don't know what to say. Fight or flight? Demand how he knows my name or just get up, get dressed, and get the fuck out of here?

Christ. Why can't anything ever be easy? Once again some unknown deity with a warped sense of humour must be laughing themselves silly at my expense. Ironically I'd convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by giving in every couple of months or so and randomly picking these men up. As demeaning as the experiences are I'd still thought they were preferable to the alternative.

I can live with whoring myself to strangers better than I can being laughed at. Or, worse, fucking up the status quo that's so important to all of us.

I glower at him, my mind refusing to tell me what to do.

He smiles back at me, oblivious to my inner turmoil. "Surprise."

Oh. God.

Oh God. Oh shit. Oh fuck. Oh Christ.

No. It can't be.

My eyes refuse to comprehend what they're witnessing.

What can't be fucking happening.

I jump off the bed, my mouth moving frantically up and down but no sound coming out. I want to scream.

I also want the ground to open up and swallow me whole.

His smile...

Brennan's smile slips as I desperately snatch up my clothes.

Brennan! Fucker! He must have been being cloaked by a Psionic.

A Psionic that I'm going to flatten if I ever get my hands on them.

"Hey, Jess..."

"Don't." The word comes out as a hiss.

He looks concerned. If I wasn't so intent on hastily getting dressed I'd tell him it was a touch of shutting the gate after the horse had bolted. Too little. Too late. Bastard.

"C'mon Jess, calm down. You enjoyed yourself, didn't you?" Pausing there, he laughs, the sound to my ears like nails scratching down a blackboard. "What am I talking about? I know you enjoyed yourself."

"Don't..." I shake my head, not knowing who I'm angrier at. Him or me. It's a hard call. "Don't talk to me."

Don't look at me. Don't talk to me. And don't fucking say my name again.

"There's no need to be like that. It was just a bit of fun. I've been watching how you pick up men that just happen to look like me and, well, thought I'd give you a performance of the real thing."

Wonderful. My disgrace is now official. And to think I'd thought I was being discrete. Joke. Funny Jesse. Ha fucking ha.

"Go to hell Brennan." The words don't come out so much as halfway as vehement as I wanted them to.

"Hey, I'm sorry. C'mon Jess, I didn't mean to hurt you." His expression now uncertain, he gets off the bed and moves towards me. Escape becomes my number one all consuming priority. Gotta get away. Gotta get out of here. A quick pat to my pocket confirming that I still have the car keys on me, I phase through the wall, needing to distance myself as swiftly as possible.

The sound of Brennan calling my name follows me as I run towards the car, my heart pounding in my chest as silent tears stream down my cheeks.

I feel...

I feel as though my world is falling down around my ears.

How could he?

Perhaps more to the point, how fucking dare he?


I drive straight back to Sanctuary. I don't particularly want to but can think of no other place to go. The money I have in my pocket will buy me a bed for the night but not the peace I know I can only get from my own bedroom. If he too goes straight back there then, fuck it, it's just a risk I'm going to have to take. I can't run from him. However much I feel like it I just can't.

My hands shake as I drive. Slow building anger replaces the tears. I can't remember the last time I felt this pissed off. Or violated. Perhaps foolishly -- poor gullible Jesse, when will he ever learn? -- I can hardly believe that he did it to me. I thought I knew him better than that. But, hey, obviously not. Tonight's little display of deception just goes to show that I don't really know him at all. Like everything, it hurts.

A lot.


I just can't believe it. Any of it.

If he knew I was in the habit of picking up men who just happened to look like him then why didn't he fucking say something, huh? Make a joke. Tease me. Rub my face in it in front of the others. Anything would have been better than this. This... Well this is just plain cruel. I feel as used as I do stupid.

Okay. I admit it. Falling for Brennan was hardly ever likely to make it in my top one hundred list of my life's accomplishments. Sue me though. You know, shit happens. Hell, I know. It happens to me frequently. Gay. New mutant. It's impossible to say which is the biggest kicker. I was obviously asleep when God was handing out breaks. Again though, shit happens. I am what I am. Sure I've wasted copious hours on wishing I was something I wasn't but when it all boils down to it I'm usually pretty content with my lot. Some days I even like who I am. And, yeah, other days my computer is my very best friend in the entire world. But you get that.

All in all though, I'm happy. Perhaps not happy-go-lucky or complacent, but definitely happy. I like my life. Now. It took me long enough to reach this point and I don't want to disrupt it. Mutant X is everything to me. For the first time I feel not only useful but also a part of a family. Christ, it wasn't like I wanted to be attracted to Brennan. For months I actively went out of my way to all but ignore him. It was hard though and eventually my defences crumbled. I couldn't ignore him. I wanted to, but couldn't. He became a friend, joining the small ranks of people I knew I could rely on. I enjoyed his company and began to search it out. Although I've thought about it I can't exactly pinpoint when I realised the feelings I had towards him weren't entirely brotherly. For all I know I simply woke up one morning and -- that was it -- just knew it.


I fell for him.

Despite all my good intentions I fell for him hard. It annoyed me. A lot. Affairs of the heart have never been my forte. Everyone I've ever loved has always screwed me over. Who knows, perhaps it's just me. Maybe I'm the one to blame. I just don't know. What I did know however was that falling for Brennan was a mistake. Why? Because nothing would -- could -- ever come of it, that's why. Although I had the sneaking suspicion, having often watched him in action in clubs, that his tastes ran to both gals and guys I knew that, ultimately, it didn't matter a damn. His tastes could have predominantly ran in the direction of slim guys with dirty blond hair and it still wouldn't have done me any good.

Brennan, for the sake of both Mutant X and my self-respect, was off limits. End of story. Look but don't ever, ever think of touching. I told myself it was for the best. We were friends and I just had to make do with that. To put it bluntly though, there comes a time in every man's life when he tires of his right hand. If you get my drift. The itch just needs scratching, you know what I mean? One-night stands aren't high on my list of ways I like to spend my time but, it has to be said, they fulfil a purpose. And, yeah, okay, the men I have been picking up over the last six months or so have looked uncannily like Brennan.

I never once sensed that he'd been following me. That too rankles. I'm supposed to be constantly alert. The security of the underground depends on it.

Goddamn it! Goddamn it to fucking hell and back! How dare he? Just how fucking dare he?

If he knew I had the hots for him why didn't he fucking say something? There's easier ways to let people know that you're on to them. Or to teach them a lesson. What he did, and I honestly never thought I'd say this about Brennan, was hateful. I thought, over and above my pathetic feelings towards him, that we were friends.

I thought he liked me.

I've been made to feel like shit plenty of times in my life but never quite like this. This is just something else entirely. He tricked me, used me, and made a fool out of me. Three strikes and I'm well and truly out. I don't even want to contemplate what effect this is going to have on the team. The thought of working with him after this...

No. I don't want to go there. Not now.

Reaching Sanctuary, I park the Audi in the garage and slink inside. Wanting to be quiet I choose phasing through doors over opening them. I needn't have bothered. Even in stealth mode Shalimar picks up on my return and calls out from the living area. "Hey Jess, wanna come watch some atrocious TV with me and Em? Police Academy the twenty-eighth or something is on and it's so bad that it's hysterical. Knowing your dodgy taste in movies you'd probably love it."

I pause, hoping she can't smell Brennan on me. I may want to beat the crap out of him but if Shalimar knew what he'd done she'd just do it. Friend or not. I have to keep moving. "Thanks but no thanks. I'm beat and am just gonna go to bed."

"Your loss." Emma this time. "Night Jess."

"Night." I leave them laughing, a part of me longing to give in and join them. My bedroom beckons though and I make a beeline for it, thankful for seeing no signs of either Adam or Brennan. Adam would only have to look at me to know that something's wrong and God knows talking about it is the last thing I want. Thinking about it is more than bad enough.

Slipping into my room, I shut the door behind me and take in the familiar surroundings. I want to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head but can't, not without showering first. Walking into the en suite, I strip off and step into the shower. The warm water cascading over me feels like heaven and I wash myself carefully, wanting to rid myself of the memory of his traitorous touch. Once I'm clean I get out of the shower, dry myself off, clean my teeth and, content that I'm as clean as I'm going to get, return to my room. Although I usually sleep naked I pull on a fresh pair of boxers before turning the lights off and sliding into bed. Don't ask me why but it kinda makes me feel better.

Sleep, not surprisingly, is a long time coming. I don't hear Brennan return though. Something for which I'm pitifully grateful.



I leave getting out of bed until I'm assured all the other residents of Sanctuary are elsewhere. I do this not because I'm enjoying a sleep in but because I don't feel up to dealing with anyone. Just not in the mood had nothing on it. If I slept for longer than thirty minutes at a time I can't remember. My head, like my heart, aches with a dull intensity. I have this scary suspicion that I couldn't be nice to someone today even if my life depended on it.

Confident that Shalimar and Emma are off doing the rounds of the safe houses and Adam is doing whatever Adam does every Saturday morning, I venture hesitantly out of my room. If Brennan's around I can't sense him. Part of me hopes he's unconscious in a gutter somewhere. Another part wishes he'd just materialise in front of me so I could vent. While I don't know what I want to say to him I nonetheless know that I want to say something. And that I want to say it loudly. With many expletives.

The idea of breakfast not sitting well in my stomach, I avoid the kitchen and head straight for the Dojo. Until I see Brennan I'll just have to take my considerable frustrations out on some poor unfortunate simulations. The way I see it is working up a sweat is far preferable to just sitting around stewing. Which I could quite easily do. I'm hurt and I'm angry. I still don't know which is the dominant emotion. If I could I'd make all the simulations look like Brennan.

The simulations don't know what hit them. Even if I do say so myself I'm in fine form. I've never fought with such raw passion before. What my moves lack in grace is made up for in power. The simulator runs out of energy before I do and I curse Adam for installing the automatic cut off function. Knowing it won't let me back in for at least another hour, I wipe the sweat from my eyes and flop down cross legged on the floor. Adrenaline courses in my veins. I feel as though I could take on the entire GSA. There's no point attempting to trick the simulator into letting me back in because Adam's made it all but hack proof. It's true. He knows us better than we know ourselves. There are times, like how I'm feeling now, that if we could we'd fight until we could no longer stand up.

Breathing deeply, I'm contemplating going to the kitchen for a bottle of water when, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flicker of movement below me.


Show time.

I note how tired and dishevelled he looks and feel nothing. He looks as though he's just come in.

"Jesse... About last night..." He can't meet my eyes. Interesting. "We need to talk."

I shrug, not willing to give him an inch. "You look like shit." Which, I feel like adding, is about what you deserve. I don't though. I have to pace myself if I'm going to get through this without losing it.

"I didn't sleep last night."

I shrug again, wondering whether he expects me to feel sorry for him. "Aaaaww... Poor you." Whoever it was that said sarcasm is the lowest form of humour can go fuck themselves. I'm not trying to be funny.

"Jess... Please. I'm sorry." Contrite doesn't sit well on Brennan. Either that or -- God forbid -- he's genuinely uncomfortable.

Not that I care.

"Hallelujah for you. What do you expect Brennan, forgiveness? Absolution?" Because, if he does, he's fresh out of luck.

"I'm sorry."

"I heard you the first time."

"I didn't mean to hurt you."

"It's too late for apologies."

"The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt you."

"Too late. Actually, and excuse me for asking this, but just what the fuck was it that you thought you were doing, huh?" Here goes. I'm revving up now.


"I what? Was it meant to be a joke?"

He shakes his head, his gaze still avoiding mine. "No. It wasn't meant to be a joke. I... I thought, no, hoped it would be a surprise for you."

"Well it was fucking surprise alright. One I could have done without. You..." I let out a deep hiss of breath. "You used me."

"You enjoyed yourself... Shit! What I mean is..."

"Physical pleasure isn't the issue here Brennan, and you know it." My voice rises in volume as I fight to remain in control. "I thought you were someone else. What you did to me was one small step away from being rape."

Brennan's mouth drops open and his eyes almost bug out of his head. "Rape? Oh God, Jesse, no. You can't say that." Oddly enough he looks quite literally mortified at the idea.

Again, not that I care.

"No? Why not? You betrayed my trust and that, to me, is tantamount to rape. Tell me Brennan, how would you feel if someone like, say, Ashlocke, pretended to be me and crawled into your bed? Think about it. How would that make you fucking feel?" The words leave my mouth in a rush. I can feel myself tremble as I say them.

Paling, Brennan shakes his head as though in denial. "I... I never thought about it like that."

"No shit!" And now for the sixty-four thousand dollar question. "Incidentally, what were you thinking? Assuming of course you were thinking anything. Don't tell me the famous Brennan charm had failed to pick up and you decided you'd play with me for something to do?"

"It... It wasn't like that at all..." Desperate to get me to believe him, he finally looks me in the eye. I meet his gaze and return it, unblinking. "I... I honestly thought it would just be a surprise, a... a nice surprise. As I said last night, I've been watching you go off with men who just happened to look a bit like me and... And..."


"And it gave me hope..." He looks away from me again, his fingernails apparently requiring close scrutiny.

"Excuse me?" Hope? Hope for what?"

"I..." He sighs deeply, fingernails still far more compelling than I am. "Seeing you choose those men gave me hope that... ah... you may have possibly been interested in me. I kept waiting for you to say something to me and when you never did this, yeah, okay, admittedly dumb ass, idea came to me. I hoped that you wanted me and were just too shy to do anything about it. So... er... I thought I'd push your hand. I'm sorry, Jess, it was a stupid idea. A really stupid idea. But... Shit! Goddamn emotions are a pain in the ass!"

I blink slowly, my mind refusing to compute what my ears think they're hearing. He hoped I wanted him? I don't get it. "I don't understand."

Brennan sighs again and rocks on the balls of his feet. "I like you Jesse. A lot. When I saw that there was a chance that you might like me too it kinda went to my head. I waited for you but you never made a move. What can I say? I'm impatient. I know I could have said something but nothing ever struck me as the right thing to say. I thought, stupidly, that if you were confronted with what I thought you wanted that we'd... ah... get the ball rolling. It... er... made sense to me at the time."

Oh. "You... like me?"

He nods. "I do. You're very special."

Throw me a curve ball, why don't you. "You have a fucking funny way of showing it."

"I'm sorry. It was a mistake, a heinous one. If I could take it back I would."

I snort. "Big of you. Why don't you get your little Psionic friend, the one who applied the glamour, to wipe our memories? God knows it'd be the best thing you could do."

"I could. But I won't. I've interfered enough. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn't. I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt or offend you." Pausing, he finds the courage to glance up at me again. "Jesse?"

"What?" I'm suddenly very, very tired of this conversation.

"Was I right in thinking you liked me?"

Will I? Won't I?

What's done is done. For what's it's worth he may as well know.

I stand up and walk down the Dojo's steps. Brennan watches me, his expression bordering on hopeful.

Curiously it gives me no pleasure in crushing it.

"You're right about using the past tense."

My words hang heavily in the air as I walk out of the room, leaving Brennan standing flat-footed behind me. For the second time in twelve or so hours I feel like crying.


The days that follow, no surprise here, suck big time. I'm sick and tired of everything and behave like a sulky little brat. What makes it worse is that I know I'm doing it. If I tell Shalimar one more time that nothing's the fucking matter I think she's going to give in to the urge to shake the truth out of me. Emma, thankfully, knows better than to try to probe me. I've caught her watching me though. They both know that's something up between me and Brennan and I don't know for how much longer I'll be able to hold off their questions. Adam knows too. He hasn't said anything. Yet. But he knows.

Brennan keeps trying to talk to me and I keep brushing him off. Being in the same room with him hurts.

Goddamn it! Everything hurts. Knowing why he did it hurts more than the event itself. We're both so fucked up that there's a good chance we deserve each other. I like him so I sleep with men who look like him. He likes me so he pretends to be someone he isn't to sleep with me. There's a good chance in somewhere like Narnia or Oz that this might make perfect sense. I kinda doubt it though. Even in the realms of fantasy this is too far out to be believable.

Although I know it makes sense I can't bring myself to sit down with Brennan and explain my side of the story to him. I just can't. It's now not so much what he did but why he did it. Just as I never knew he'd been following me to clubs I never knew that he felt anything for me other than friendship. I hid my feelings towards him because I didn't want to upset the status quo and he hid his feelings for me because... Because he didn't want to rock the boat either? Because he didn't really believe that I was interested? Because he's shyer than he lets on? I wish I knew.

No. On second thoughts I wish none of this had ever happened. At least before this I was happy. I'd rather have Brennan as my friend and to contently lust after him from afar than this. Now we can't even talk. To add insult to injury I find myself at odd times thinking about how good the sex was. Maybe it is gullibility on my behalf but, yeah, I do believe Brennan's explanation. It's the sort of thing he would naively do.

Forgive him?

In time. Probably.

Trust him again?

Probably. In time.

I still care for him. I don't want to, but I do. There's been so few people in my life that I've genuinely cared about that I find that I cling on to them. I don't want to lose anyone else.

Thing is, I don't know what to do. I feel cornered, as though there isn't really anywhere for me to turn. Ironically, life was easier when I knew -- thought -- my feelings were unrequited. As big as it is, Sanctuary is slowly becoming suffocating. Signs of Brennan's presence are everywhere. Paranoia tells me that he, unlike me, has told the others about what happened and that they're talking about me behind my back. I don't seriously think this is the case but there are still times that I can't shake the feeling that everyone's whispering about how pathetic I am.

When Adam offers me the task of meeting a new mutant who's expressed an interest in being placed in the underground I accept it almost gleefully. He tells me that I'm to take Shalimar with me but, when after searching out all her favourite haunts I can't find her, I decide to just go on my own. Brennan's washing the SUV in the garage. He watches me get into the Audi and I imagine he's trying to decide whether he wants to risk my reaction by offering to come with me or not. I don't wait for him to reach a decision and, with tyres squealing, reverse out of the garage. Flight or fight. Again. I can't deal with this.

I reach the rendezvous point early. The usually populated suburban playground appears to be empty. Although I find this odd I don't really think anything of it and get out of the car. A man in a dark suit steps out from behind a tree. I ignore him. According to the intelligence the target I'm meeting is a red headed female in her early twenties, a Feral. The guy in the suit looks at me strangely, as though he's trying to recognise my features. I stare back at him, suddenly uncomfortable. When I see the earpiece it clicks.


It's a trap. I've walked into a trap.

Shocked, I react too slowly. The agent in the suit I manage to fight off but not the other six that seem to literally come out of nowhere.

I'm still screaming from the taser blast that brings me to my knees as the governor is embedded in the base of my neck.


"Sanctuary?" Like I'd tell you, asshole. "Isn't that a bookshop on the corner of Fifth and..."

The balled up fist landing heavily in the centre of my gut tells me that the rock-ape isn't buying.

"Are you sure?" It's amazing how unfamiliar my voice sounds when it's being ground out through clenched teeth. "I know! I remember now. It's a bar that goths frequent. Apparently they do a mean absinth and laudanum cocktail."

Or not. Hey. Don't mind me. I didn't need that particular rib anyway.

"Well, you asked..."

This time I give the rock-ape and his handler the satisfaction of screaming. It doesn't help. My body is one big ball of pain. If by chance they're interested in how much a Molecular can take before bruising then by God they've already got their answer. My torso is more purple and blue than flesh coloured. It aches, oddly enough, like an addict in the throes of cocaine withdrawal. I'd throw up only there's nothing left in my stomach.

"I do hope that you're aware that you're not helping yourself, Mr Kilmartin." The expression on Mason Eckhart's pale and pasty face is one of extreme disappointment.

"Bite me."

Or, as you apparently prefer, get your rock-ape to punch me. Again. The service in this place sucks.

Eckhart shakes his head sadly. "Why do you insist on making things so difficult for yourself? You tell me what I want to know and I'll make the pain go away."

"Pain? What pain?"

Ah. There it is.

Eckhart makes tsking sounds of annoyance between his teeth. "I will only ask this one more time Mr Kilmartin, where is Sanctuary?"

This is getting very tired.

"And I'll tell you yet again that the only way you'll get the location out of me is if you devise a way to pry it out of my stone dead body." Concentrating hard, I raise the energy to smirk. "It's been nice talking to you, Andy -- or do you prefer Mr Warhol? -- but..."

Fuck. The rock ape has even less of a sense of humour than Eckhart does. I bite my lip so hard that my mouth fills with the sharp metallic taste of blood.

"You know..." If I'm going to beaten to death I'm going to go out mouthing off. Famous last words, anyone? "... Mason, I think you've got the look all wrong. I know you've got to hide the forked tail and horns somehow but, disguising yourself as Warhol? Doesn't that strike you as a bit ironic? I mean Warhol woulda loved new mutants..."


If that slap didn't just shatter my cheekbone then it'll be nothing short of a miracle.

Sighing, Eckhart turns away and starts to move towards the door. "I'm a patient man, Mr Kilmartin, but you tire it. If you will not tell me the location of Adam's precious Sanctuary then you will remain my guest indefinitely. In fact I do believe there is already a pod with your name on it."

Shit! Shit, shit, shit! I won't panic. I won't. I...

I can't breathe. Already. I can't breathe already.

Oh God. Help.

"Mr Cassidy, if you would be so good as to escort Mr Kilmartin to his new accommodation..."

The grin that takes up immediate residence on the rock-ape's face chills me to the core.

"No! You can't do this to me! Nooooooo!"

I may as well save my breath. He can. And he does.

And I'm my very own private version of hell. It doesn't matter how hard I scream. No one can hear me.

I still scream though.

I scream until I pass out.


Days, I think, pass. Maybe it's weeks. Or only hours. I wouldn't know. I have no concept of time. Time is only relevant to those able to wield some control over their own destiny. I have no control. Ergo the meaning of time escapes me.


I'm trapped. And I hurt. And I'm afraid.

And even though I know they're currently unable to come for me I wish like mad that I hadn't cut everyone off in the week leading up to this debacle. Hindsight being a bitch, I now regret my inability to talk about the mass of confusion that had been running rampant in my head. I also wish that I'd said goodbye. Not to mention letting everyone know just how much they mean to me. Everyone. Brennan too. What he did was wrong, sure, but, now that I've had so long to think about it, it wasn't worth cutting him out for.

I should have spoken to him.

Although I've got no right to, I hope his memories of me are fond ones. I know mine of him are. His smile. The way he always came through for us. The incongruous sight of him reading poetry. The way his eyes lit up when he was teasing someone. The way he made me feel that night in the motel...

Memories. They're all that I've got left. Eckhart appears to be holding true to his word. I wouldn't tell him what he wanted to know so he's relegated me to a pod. Just another new mutant left to rot. I suspect he's keeping me conscious out of spite. If he thinks I'll fold though, that if he keeps me in here long enough I'll sell Adam out, he's sadly mistaken. I just have to be patient. They'll come for me. Eventually.

Like a Psionic email, I received a message for Emma shortly -- I think -- after being placed in the pod. Ashlocke's upped the ante and they're having to use all of their resources to keep him at bay. They know I'm here and want to assure me that they'll rescue me as soon as they possibly can. Until then I just have to be strong and hold in there. If there was more I didn't receive it. I have this feeling that Emma probably wasn't able to deal with the panicked feedback my mind was returning.

I understand Ashlocke being their priority, and I appreciate Emma taking the time to let me know, but...

Being trapped here is killing me on so many fronts. It's praying on all my fears... That I'll suffocate... That I'll die alone... That I'll let the team down... That they'll realise they can function without me... That, like a prisoner kept too long in solitary confinement, my brain will turn to mush before they get around to rescuing me... That I'll never get another chance with Brennan... That I'll never get another chance, full stop, period...

Given a choice I'd rather take my chances with Eckhart's rock-ape. Physical pain I can deal with a hell of a sight better than I can this. My mind races constantly. It's all I can do to control my breathing. My hands balled tightly into fists, I can feel my fingernails embedding themselves in my palms. I know it should hurt, but it doesn't.

I wonder how long it'll take before my hands forget how to uncurl. I wonder a lot of things. Most of which are unpleasant. I toy with the idea of wanting to die.

When the power regulating the pods suddenly goes off I stop toying with the idea. Okay. Uh-huh. I've made my mind up. With air no longer coming into the pod I give up whole-heartedly and welcome with open arms the concept of dying. Terror, the like of which I've never experienced before, consumes me. I open my mouth to scream but nothing comes out.

My oxygen levels depleting, I close my eyes and wait for the Grim Reaper to claim me. Although I've always considered myself a fighter there's nothing I can do. Nothing. Not a damn thing.

Goodbye cruel world.

I tell myself that I have to be hallucinating when the lid of the pod glides back and cool air rushes over me. Willing my eyes open, a strange image of what looks for all the world like Brennan wearing a GSA lab coat floats before me before everything goes black.


Being freed from one of Genomex's Godforsaken pods isn't as simple as you'd no doubt would expect it to be. Open the lid, disconnect the cords attached to places that, really, cords have no right being attached to, stand up, get out and, lo and behold, good as new. Right?

Yeah. Right. And the movie Starship Troopers is actually an award-winning documentary.

Escaping from the pod is only the start of the long road to recovery. It's like being handed a one-way ticket out of Hades only to discover at the bus terminal that you've misplaced your papers and have to retrace your steps to find them. Oh, and the next bus is days away. Assuming you can even find the papers, that is.

I think I've lost mine. Either that or the ticket was nothing more than a hologram in the first place.

I have to admit, albeit exceptionally begrudgingly, that the pods are immensely clever. Cruel, claustrophobic and inhuman, yeah, but clever nonetheless. It would come as no surprise to me to learn that Eckhart's father had reported straight to Hitler during the Second World War. I mean, surely the obsessive hatred and relentless desire to 'experiment' had to start somewhere. Being released from a pod can actually mark the beginning of the end. Although designed primarily as containment vessels, pods also have the secondary function of keeping their unfortunate resident alive and chemically preserved. In a decidedly perverse way getting out of a pod is almost like being born all over again. And like a newborn you're entirely dependant on those around you to ensure that you don't starve to death or do something that you shouldn't. Free from your controlled environment you're as helpless as kitten. Your legs won't hold you, your head spins and both your eyesight and sanity comes and goes in waves.

It sucks. I suspect going cold turkey from a four bottle a day Jim Beam habit would be easier going.

As if being weak and overwhelmed by your freedom isn't enough you're also, just to add insult to injury, operating in your very little own world of confusion. You know who you are just fine, it's just everything else that does your head in. Your mind plays tricks on you constantly, telling you that what you're seeing isn't real and that you're actually still trapped in the pod. Not knowing any better, you believe it too. What's more it makes a peculiar degree of acceptable sense to you. If nothing else believing it is easier than believing you're safe and slowly recovering.

I mean, as if.

It's just Eckhart getting his rocks off by playing his favourite game of mind fuck. Assuming of course he still has rocks... But let's not go there. The mess in my head is disturbing enough without contemplating Eckhart's sex life. Oh God no. It just doesn't bear thinking about.

I feel ill. Whether this is because of the unwanted mental image of Eckhart masturbating or because of physical reasons isn't something I know the answer to. Given that if I'm awake I feel sick, it's a feeling I'm all too used to. It doesn't bother me. Nor do the myriad aches and pains in my body. Having more faith in my body than my mind, they alone tell me that I'm alive. I ache therefore I am.


Or maybe not.

Contrary to what I'm meant to believe is reality I can't help but think I'm still trapped in the pod. What I'm seeing is just a result of the hallucinogens Eckhart has to be pumping into the air. It has to be.

I'm not free. Brennan didn't come for me. Nor is he, his face drawn and pale and his gestures gentle, caring for me in an oddly familiar looking motel room as I sweat and whimper through my withdrawal symptoms. The Brennan in my head tells me that I was in the pod for five days and that all the chemicals and the like should be out of my system in the next couple of hours. He also kisses my forehead and murmurs soothing platitudes.

"It's okay, Jess. You're safe now. C'mon Jess, just a bit longer and you'll be firing on all cylinders again."

I don't believe it for a second.

Any of it.


"For God's sake Jess, I'm not going to hurt you."

The Brennan hallucination looks as though he's nearing the end of his tether. Dark circles haunt dark eyes. Like that of a dogcatcher approaching a wary animal he extends his hand towards me.

"Leaveme'lone," I mumble, shaking my head numbly and doing my best to squash myself even further into the corner. Although I still ache I no longer feel ill. Nor am I quite as confused. I am, however, afraid. How do I know that the man who was sitting on my bed when I woke up is actually Brennan? Sure, he looks like Brennan. But Brennan can be made to look like Ryan. Which means that Eckhart or one of his punch happy grunts can be made to look Brennan.

I wish I was still asleep. For the first time in what feels like too long I'd been having a pleasant, dreamless sleep. Then I woke up and all hell broke loose. The Brennan hallucination smiled and tried to squeeze my hand and I just lost it, jumping out of bed and -- in a spectacular case of not thinking -- cornered myself. I can feel my heart pounding a nervous tattoo in my chest. Instinct tells me to phase through the wall, to escape, but memory warns me of the governor.

"C'mon Jess, it's okay. Trust me." The Brennan hallucination stops a safe distance away from me, his arm hovering in mid air as though he doesn't quite know what to do with it. "Your fever broke while you were asleep, that's why everything's so new to you. You've actually been here for days. I know it's a shock but, believe me, there's nothing to be afraid of."

I shake my head again, not daring to believe he's telling the truth. "Don't... believe... you..." Each word requires a tremendous amount of effort. I sound like a Neanderthal. Sitting here cowering in the corner, I probably look like one too.

The Brennan hallucination shrugs, his gestures a mirror image of my friend's familiar movements. He seems to be at a loss as to what to do with me. Either that or he's afraid I might bite. "Have it your way then. If you don't believe me you're free to leave."

If not for the door being on the other side of the Brennan hallucination I'd probably give it a go. As it is though I can't see the point. I move forward. He stops me. Game over. It's easier to just sit here.

"If the door's too far away you can always just phase through the wall."

Oh great. The Brennan hallucination thinks he's a comedian. I try and phase and the governor fries me. Decisions, decisions. Even the simple task of choosing the lesser of two evils defeats me though and I remain hunkered down in the corner, my eyes fixed on the Brennan hallucination. What Eckhart could possibly be getting out of this pathetic performance escapes me.

"You can, you know, the governor's off." He says this matter-of-factly, his eyes imploring me to believe him.

My hand strays, reflexively, to the back of my neck. When my fingers touch nothing other than skin an ember of hope flares deep inside me. Could this actually be real? Could the Brennan hallucination actually be Brennan? I cock my head to one side and, on the spur-of-the-moment, realise there's only one-way of finding out. Taking a risk, I exhale and, standing up, move back into the wall. It works. Only the familiar pain greets me and, keeping going backwards, I find myself in a small bathroom. It looks like a bomb has gone off in it. Toiletries, clothes, and towels cover almost every available surface. I recognise the clothes. And the brand of hair gel leaking over the vanity unit. By the toilet, the tasselled tail of a bookmark peeping out between its pages, marking the reader's spot, is a hardback collection of Sylvia Plath's poetry.

I smile. My lips fight the unfamiliar movement but I manage. It feels good.

Hearing the door open behind me, I turn to face it. His expression still wary, Brennan enters the room. When he sees me he too smiles. It's a tired smile, but a smile nonetheless. Seeing it makes me feel even better.

"Believe me now?"

I nod, my relief knowing no bounds. "Yes."

There's no need to elaborate. I believe.

Silently, we gravitate together, instinctively embracing. Feeling Brennan's arms around my body warms me to the core. Having been through so much I don't ever want to have to let go. It's not just Brennan I'm hugging, it's life and the knowledge that I'm free. It's not a feeling I honestly believed I'd ever experience again.

When Brennan steps back I whimper in disappointment, immediately missing the feel of his body pressed against mine.

"You're better..." Gently, gently. "... but you're not fully recovered yet, Jess. You need to rest."

Not really being in a position to argue, I nod my capitulation. "You're the boss."

Although I don't want to admit it I can feel myself weakening even as I stand here. I'd like a shower but know that it'll have to wait. My legs quite literally feel as though they're made of Jello and I have to lean against Brennan for support in order to make it back to bed.

Once I'm settled, propped up against a mound of pillows and with a bottle of spring water roaming free on top of the comforter, Brennan fills me in on what I've missed while I've been out of it. I listen intently as he talks, my gaze never leaving him. I don't interrupt. Nor do I feel compelled to jump in with my meagre side of the story. Besides, I suspect he knows it almost as well as I do. Foolishly go off alone, get captured by GSA goons, get stuck in a pod, go momentarily insane. Not much to tell, really.

Ten days have past since I hopped in the Audi and roared out of Sanctuary. Ten days. It feels longer. Much longer. By the look on Brennan's face he feels the same way. Although they quickly worked out that Genomex had me they couldn't do anything about it because Ashlocke and his kooky Strand chose the exact same time to try some other lame ass scheme for world domination. Or whatever it is that floats Ashlocke's boat. Somewhere in the pandemonium that followed it became known that Ashlocke had designs on finding the whereabouts of Sanctuary. Something tells me that letting either Eckhart or Ashlocke know that they share a common goal wouldn't be good for my life expectancy. Oh well. It's not like I'm exactly in a great rush to meet either of them again.

Anyway, because of Ashlocke sniffing around Sanctuary Brennan wasn't able to, just to be on the safe side, take me back there after rescuing me from Genomex. Hence the dingy motel room doubling as a makeshift medi-bay. The fact that he was able to stabilise me without access to all the technology and equipment contained in Sanctuary astonishes me. Not so much that he succeeded in keeping me alive but that he had the patience to put up with my psychotic ramblings and paranoid behaviour. God knows I wouldn't have made for the most pleasant of patients. When he shows me a bruise on his arm from where I was flailing about in my sleep I can't look. I now know why he looks so tired. Although I've only just rejoined the land of the living I've been out of Genomex for three days. If I'd been back at Sanctuary, with Adam constantly overseeing my condition, it would have only taken twenty-four hours to come down from my time in pod. Brennan apologises for not being able to get me there but I don't hold it against him. When it all boils down to it the results are the same. I'm here. I'm alive. In the grand scheme of things two days is really nothing.

Besides, how can I hold anything against Brennan when he single handedly rescued me? I can't. Not even if I wanted to. Unable to send the whole, or what was left of it, team in, Adam agreed to let Brennan mount a solo operation on the understanding that he knew he was on his own if it went pear shaped. He mumbles this part of the story, the mantle of hero not sitting comfortably on his shoulders. Although I want to know all of it I let the subject drop for the time being. Later, when I'm not fighting to stay awake, I'll get the full details out of him. I need to know whether his actions were governed by guilt or another, stronger emotions. It mightn't matter a damn but I want to know.

Patience not being one of his virtues, Ashlocke is already recalling his Strand and divvying out new tasks for his misguided acolytes. Sanctuary wins yet again. Shalimar and Emma are using the Helix to place a few members of the Strand who saw the light deep into the underground otherwise they'd come and pick us up to take us home. Hearing their voices on the comlink thrills me. As does hearing their obvious relief when they learn that I'm going to be okay. Shalimar in particular sounds all choked up. She also makes me promise that I'll never go off on my own again. I suspect I'm going to be on the receiving end of a lecture when I see her and the thought makes me smile. Adam too sounds pleased to hear that I'm getting better.

By the time Brennan's finished explaining things and I've reassured the others that, albeit battered, my sanity is still intact, I can barely keep my eyes open. I'm also no longer propped up by pillows, more lying flat on my back, burrowed under the comforter. I can't even remember having moved. Noticing my evident exhaustion Brennan gets up from where he'd been sitting on the edge of the mattress and crouches down near the top of the bed. From the expression on his face he has one last thing to say.

"I'm sorry."

For the glamour? For what happened to me?

Neither matter any more. The only way is forward.

Letting actions speak louder than words I manoeuvre my hand out from under the bedding and reach for his. He takes it hesitantly. When I squeeze it he squeezes mine back, causing us both to smile.


My fingers toying with the key in my pocket, I swivel around on my bar stool and survey the crowded club, searching for my friends. As always I spot Shalimar first. Just look for a crowd and there'll be Shal. Surrounded by a small group of men, all of who are sporting oddly identical expressions of equal parts lust and fascination, she's dancing up a storm in the middle of the dance floor. Standing a short distance away is a group of women with stony, sour expressions. They too are watching Shalimar. The men love her; their girlfriends want to be her. It's a scene I've seen over and over again. Little do they know that Shalimar's completely oblivious to all of their stares, her mind on the music, not her transient fan club. She's here, like we all are, to celebrate Ashlocke's momentary retreat, not to pick up.

Looking away from Shalimar and her circle of admirers, I take a mouthful of my drink and, after a few moments of looking, locate Emma standing near the back wall. She too has an admirer. Her expression tells me he's an unwanted one. I don't know why. His sprayed on black jeans and billowing lime green sheet are very... ah... Eighties. The less said about the amount of product in his hair the better. I'm sure he's a very nice person. Either that or he's completely clueless.

Catching me looking, Emma rolls her eyes and twirls her finger around her ear in the universally accepted gesture of 'loopy'. I laugh, causing the guy buying drinks next to me to shoot an odd look in my direction. What he sees makes him look twice before averting his gaze. I could tell him that it looks worse than it feels but don't bother. The slowly fading bruises on my face are of no business of his. I'm here to have fun with my friends, not because I want to give the general public something to point and stare at. Although it's taken years I'm gradually beginning to accept that I don't have to concern myself with the feelings of everyone around me.

So I'm a bit pale and look as though I've been roughed up by a football team, what of it? I may not look it but I'm actually incredibly happy. The last fortnight has been hard but, refusing to let the past weigh me down, I'm doing a good job of putting it all behind me. Being back at Sanctuary and surrounded by those I love has helped the healing process no end. I'm not even letting the nightmares get to me. Dreaming about being trapped in a pod with Eckhart's face smirking at me through the glass I can deal with a hell of a sight better than the real thing. All in all I'm getting there. Rapidly.

Like my enforced stay in Genomex World the tension between me and Brennan is in the past. I hold nothing against him. Life, as we're increasingly being made aware of, is just too damn short. If anything we're both equally to blame anyway. With the benefit of hindsight it's astonishing what can be achieved with a short conversation. We should have talked about our growing feelings before we ended up where we did. And that's pretty much it. I'm easy to hurt and Brennan's quick to act without thinking of the consequences. I never should have repressed my feelings and he never should have decided to let me know how he felt for me the way he did. But I did and he did and now it's all relegated to the realms of history. Nothing more. The future however is ours to use as we wish.

Finishing the rest of my drink, I slip off my stool and, catching Emma's eye again, wave goodbye. She waves back before calmly fixing her gaze on nerd-boy and no doubt giving him a gentle Psionic nudge in the direction of another nearby patron. Sure enough he's off striding over to a blonde in a too tight leather skirt before Emma's even looked away. The blonde greets him enthusiastically, leaving me to wonder whether Emma kindly implanted a thought in her mind too. Oh well. I hope they're very happy together.

Spotting Brennan standing by the door, all thoughts of Emma's Psionic matchmaking leave me and I make a beeline for him. The smile that lights up his face as he sees me causes a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. I smile back, my fingers once again toying with the key in my pocket. It still seems like the right thing to. More importantly it's what I want. Waiting time is over.

"Ready to go?" The initiative's mine and I know that I have to run with it.

An expression of confusion crosses Brennan's face before he nods slowly. 'But we only just got here', is what I know has to be going through his head. "Um... I'm ready if you are."

I nod, smiling. "I'm ready."

Biting the bullet, I dig the key out of my pocket and quickly press it into Brennan's hand. He looks at it as slow dawning recognition makes itself known on his face. Lips parted, eyes wide, he stares at me.

Sunshine Lodge. Room number eighteen. A place of memories. The room Ryan took me to, the room Brennan looked after me in. While not a five star motel it holds a significance in our lives that we'll never be able to escape. It's as good a place as any to celebrate a new beginning....

And to christen a new relationship.

Brennan's eyes hold mine. "Are you sure?"

It's not a question I even have to think about.


~ end ~


Created on ... April 29, 2003