Paper Doll

Pairing:      Jesse / Brennan

Rating:      NC-17 <pause> I *think*.

Status:      Complete

Archive:      Yes

Feedback:      <brightly> But of course!  Pretty please.

Series/Sequel:    No.

Disclaimers:      Not mine.  Characters belong to Tribune Entertainment and
I merely amused myself with them until, out of the blue, a new fandom came
along to grab my attention.  <shrugs>  What can I say other than I have a
short attention span. <g>

Summary:      Jesse's new boyfriend is a little more than he appears.  Same
old, same old.  Crossed wires, denial - that sort of thing. <g>

Warnings:      None that I can think of.  <pause>  Although there are vague
references to the BDSM scene.  Soooo, if that ain't your thing you may not
want to read.

Notes:      Narrated by both Jess and Brennan.  Self beta'd.

Thanks to Nancy for putting up with me while I whined my way through writing
this.  <g>  Thanks also to everyone who's even taken the time out to send me
feedback.  <hugs>  It's greatly appreciated.

Paper Doll
By TalithaX

- Jesse -

I have had, even if I do say so myself, some reasonably good ideas in my

This, however, was not one of them.  Not even close in fact.  Christ.
Mausoleum -- AKA Goth Central -- on a Friday night.  Just what the fuck was
I thinking?


That's right.  I wasn't.  All I did was give up and wave the white flag of
defeat at the Brennan/Shalimar verbal tag-team that was hounding me.

"C'mon Jess, it'll be a laugh."

"Yeah Jess, you should get out more."

"Brennan's right.  You need to get out of Sanctuary more often."

"You'll love Mausoleum, guaranteed.  Hell, it'll broaden your horizons more
than you could ever imagine.  Who knows, you might even score.  Heh... Or
discover your hidden goth streak."

In the end it was just easier to agree to go with them than it was to argue.
The fact that I was perfectly happy with my planned evening of updating the
new mutant database before vegging in front of the television didn't even
enter the equation.  Nor did the fact that I neither wanted my horizons
broadened nor felt any overwhelming desire to pick up a stranger for a spot
of anonymous and emotionally unsatisfying sex.  One thing's for sure though,
they weren't going to take no for an answer.  If they performed the same
water on stone treatment on Emma, who looked about as happy as I felt when
we met in the garage, she's not saying.

Speaking of Emma...

Scanning the predominantly black-clad and white-faced crowd, I can't see her
and wonder where she is.  The last time I saw her she was lurking near the
front of the stage.  That was before the, and I use the word lightly here,
band came on and started blasting the joint with raucous songs of misery and
mayhem though.  Given that I can hardly deal with the full on nature of
Mausoleum's atmosphere as it is I hope she's okay.  The mere thought of
having to cope with all of it with her heightened senses is enough to make
my already pounding headache pulse just that little bit more in sympathy.

Mausoleum is the city's premier gothic/alternative club.  It has to be said
that it's not my scene.  To each their own and all that, but...  Nah.  It's
not me.  I don't like the excruciatingly awful music and the all pervading
scent of patchouli oil, combined with the low hanging smoke courtesy of both
the far too liberal use of the smoke machine and the funny looking
cigarettes every second person appears to be smoking, is making my eyes

Oh, and contrary to Shal's opinion, there *does* comes a point where too
much black leather is *far* from a good thing.  Sure, there's a *bit* of
colour thrown into the mass of black but it's few and far between.  One
enterprising individual is parading around in a black, red satin lined
Dracula cape, which is... ah... kinda special.  As is the Frank'n'Furter
from Rocky Horror ensemble he's wearing under it.  And, no, not *everyone's*
wearing leather.  There's also a good smattering of velvet, lace, and
fishnet.  I don't want to stare but just can't help myself.  It's like being
in another dimension.  Some of the males are wearing more makeup than the
females.  Well...  I *think* they're males anyway.  I could be wrong though.
It wouldn't surprise me.  Not my scene, remember?


Goddamn it!

These freakin' leather trousers are way too tight.  I tried telling Shal
that I wasn't comfortable in them and that, well, there was a *reason*
underwear was invented, but she wouldn't have a bar of it.  Apparently, if I
comprehended her lecture correctly, having a visible underwear line under
tight leather is a crime that should, in her mind at least, be punishable by
death.  Where she got the damn things from isn't something I want to think
about it.  She just materialised with them and, not content with having
bullied me into going with them in the first place, wouldn't leave my room
until I'd agreed to wear them.  Again, it was simply easier to give up.
Same goes for the excuse of a t-shirt she presented me with.  Just call me
staid, but I like being able to look down and see my nipples through a thin
sheen of black mesh-like fabric about as much as I like the feel of leather
chafing on my bare butt.

All in all, to simply say I feel uncomfortable is an understatement of
hideous proportions.  I don't want to be here and I don't know why Brennan
and Shalimar thought it would be a good idea to drag me here.  If I wanted
to stay at Sanctuary, happily doing my own thing, then that to me was my
business and my business alone.  The closest I can come to a silver lining
to the whole sorry mess is that they at least seem to enjoying themselves.
Shal in particular seems to be having a ball, a crowd of awe-struck admirers
following her every move and making sure she's never without a drink in her
hand.  Given that, in her long black wig and form fitting black dress (that
make her look somewhat eerily like Morticia Addams), she's fitting right in
at Mausoleum, the crowd of goths at her heels probably think they've found
their dark princess, their one eternal love.  Or something like that.
Maybe.  Hey.  Sue me.  I don't profess to understand the gothic mindset.
The way I see it I encounter enough despair and pain in my life as it is
without wanting to carry it over into my leisure time.

Again though, whatever turns 'em on.  If...


... If having a full back tattoo of a dragon skeleton forever marked into
your skin is what floats your boat, then who am I to comment?

Shaking my head in bemusement, I watch the owner of the scary looking tattoo
merge into the shuffling -- the goth version of dancing, I *think* -- crowd
and try not to think about what would have possessed him to have it done.
Mind you, it's still -- arguably -- better than the inverted cross on the
singer's scrawny chest...  Or the Grim Reaper on the barman's shoulder...

Am I the only person in here without a tattoo?

Okay.  Fine.  I admit it.  This place gives me the creeps.  Having been
groped more times than I care to remember I'm now holed up in a corner, back
very much against the wall, biding my time until the others decide they've
had enough.  Not even knowing that Brennan, who's just about looking as hot
as I've ever seen him, is standing opposite me at the bar is enough to lift
my mood.  Go figure.  He, like Shalimar, appears to be having a positively
wonderful time.  He's even -- in direct contradiction to the 'this is a goth
club, please check your coat and sense of humour at the door before
entering' atmosphere of the place -- grinning.  Or maybe smirking...  I
can't quite tell from over here.  Either way, it's clear that he's enjoying
himself, that something about Mausoleum is doing it for him big time.

Sighing, I look away from Brennan and continue gazing aimlessly around the
club.  Nothing I see, despite the alleged sexiness of the clothing and the
expanses of pale flesh that's being flashed, turns me on in the slightest.

Whoa.  Hang on.

I take that back.

Oh God...  As irrational as I know it has to be, I think I've just fallen
prey to the old love at first sight myth.  Leaning casually against a mock
tombstone, he watches me intently, his eyes roaming over my body.  With his
spiky black hair and striking face I don't think I've ever seen anyone more
beautiful before.  Not even Brennan.  I mean, there's no other way of
putting it.  Looking at him, I *want* him.  End of story.  Have never seen
him before, don't know who he is, but... oh boy... I've got to have him.

Pushing away from the wall, I make my way over to him as though in a daze,
his feline-shaped eyes never leaving me, a lazy smile tugging at his full
lips.  Moving away from the tombstone, he meets me half way.  Up close he's
even more perfect, like a slightly more delicate version of Krycek from the
X Files.

Flustered by his proximity, I open my mouth to stutter my name but, names
apparently not being an issue, he leans forward and kisses me hard.  More
delighted than shocked by this, I return the kiss, gasping into his mouth as
he grinds against me and I can feel his erection straining against the denim
of his black jeans.

Breaking the kiss, he slowly licks his lips and looks me in the eye.  "My

I nod, the answer not even being something I have to think about.  "Lead the

The almost feral-like grin he replies with goes directly to my cock and,
following him towards the exit, I hope like mad that he lives nearby.


- Brennan -

Leaning against the bar, I take a sip of my drink and contently survey the
crowd.  I'm not a goth -- too much wallowing in self-pity for my liking --
but for reasons I never bother contemplating I quite like the odd foray to
Mausoleum.  There's just something about it.  The awful music, the people
who take their inner darkness far too seriously, the over abundance of black
leather, the 'anything goes' nature of the place.  I dunno.  In small doses,
of course, it just works.  Shal agrees with me too.  If anything I think she
enjoys coming here even more than I do.  In a sense, and again this isn't
something I really care to waste too much time thinking about, we're not the
only freaks here.  Goths may court society's distaste by choice but the end
result is still the same - in our own ways we're social outcasts, something
that Mr & Mrs Average in their house in suburbia complete with white picket
fence simply don't want to know about.  Mausoleum may not be a home away
from home for new mutants but, you know, it's cool nonetheless.

And, yeah, okay, the visual stimulation works well in its favour too.

Spotting Jess leaning against the wall opposite me, I grin, once again
congratulating myself on convincing him to come with us.  The fact that he's
glancing around him warily and his lips are set in a blatantly unhappy line
is something I choose to ignore.  Given the glorious sight from the neck
down it's not hard to do.  God does he look hot, the leather pants Shal
cajoled him into wearing -- and that I'd just love to know where she got
them from -- hugging and highlighting all the right places.  Have to say I'm
a fan of the sheer black t-shirt too.  *Very* nice.  If I'd known he would
have allowed himself to be dressed up like this I would have tried my luck
at getting him to Mausoleum earlier.

Actually...  To hell with dressing him up to take him out.  I mean, how cool
would it be to simply dress him up whenever I felt like it?  It'd be like
having my very own living and breathing paper doll.  Let's face it, he has
the lithe figure of a model as it is, so it'd be just like having access to
my own personal fashion shoot.  Oh wow...  I wish.  Just imagine what I
could get him to wear...

"That's not very nice," Emma mutters, materialising out of nowhere and
fixing me with a disappointed look.  "If Jess knew what you were thinking
about him he'd be mortified."

"Having an uninvited trawl through my mind isn't very nice either," I
retort, turning around to place my drink on the bar in an attempt to hide my
embarrassment at having been pretty much caught out.  "I thought you said
you didn't do that," I continue flatly, reluctantly swivelling around to
face Emma.

"The club's too much for me," Emma replies, shrugging unapologetically, "and
I had to focus on something familiar.  Jess is too unhappy, Shal's *too*
happy, and, well, dialling into you was the only option I had left.  I meant
it though, Bren.  Thinking of Jess as some sort of object wasn't very nice.
He's your friend, not your play thing or someone you can just jerk around at

"I was just thinking," I protest, oddly enough not really wanting to be
having this conversation.  "You know, it's human nature to think and... and
daydream!  It's not like it was ever going to happen or I'd force him into
being my, as you so delicately put it, play thing.  C'mon Em, chill.  It was
just a harmless thought."

Emma rubs her temples and turns to face the bar, her expression pained.
"You all but forced him into coming here tonight," she mutters plainly.
"First you convinced Shal that it would be a good idea to drag him out and
then the two of you ganged up on him."

"We didn't gang up on him," I reply, shaking my head.  "If he didn't want to
come he just had to say something.  Hell, it's not like we were going to
pick him up and throw him in the car if he really didn't want to go.
Besides, you're reading too much into it, Em.  You're right, Jess is my
friend and I'd never intentionally do anything to hurt him.  This...  This
is just nothing, you know, a bit of fun.  If left to his own devices he'd
never have come here and, whatever, I just thought he needed a bit of a

Sheesh.  If I'd known it was going to cause such a fuss I never would have
bothered.  As I just said though, it was meant solely as a bit of harmless
fun.  Jess is the best male friend I've ever had, the only one I know I can
rely on unconditionally.  God knows I'd never do anything to hurt or offend
him.  Hell, it's because he means so much to me that I'm keeping my
burgeoning feelings towards him well and truly to myself.  I don't have a
good track record with relationships and common sense tells me that it's
simply easier to keep Jess as a friend than it is to try to take things to a
different level.  Thinking though...  I don't care what Emma says.  Thinking
can't hurt anyone.

"I still think you should have left him alone," Emma responds, blinking
luminous eyes at me.  "Jess isn't like you, Brennan.  If he wanted a change
in his scenery he would have gone out and found it for himself.  He didn't
need it forced on him.  Truth be told I'm actually surprised Shal went along
with your delusional plan.  You look at him and see sex or whatever while I
look at him and see misery.  And I'm not talking the cultivated misery of
all the goths either.  He's unhappy, Bren.  He doesn't want to be here and
he feels uncomfortable.  The least you could have done was stay with him."

"Fine," I sigh, rolling my eyes.  "I'll go over to him.  Okay?  Will that
make you happy?"

"Ecstatic," Emma murmurs drily, rubbing her temples again.  "Look Bren, I'm
going back to the car.  It's just too much for me in here.  My senses are in

"Are you okay?" I query worriedly, placing my hand gently on my back as she
makes to move off.  "If you want I can round up the others and..."

"I'll be fine once I'm in the relative peace of the car," Emma interrupts,
flashing me a tired smile.  "And, Bren, I'm sorry if I just chewed a piece
out of you then.  I didn't mean too, okay?  As you said, Jess didn't *have*
to come.  Who knows, maybe he's even enjoying himself now.  I'll see you
back at the car, yeah?  Don't hurry though, not on my account."

"We probably won't be long anyway," I state, taking my hand away from her
back and giving her a little wave.  If Jess is as miserable as Emma seems to
think he is then it'd be wrong to make him stay.  Let's face it, ruining his
evening was never my intention.  Despite it not being his thing I just
thought he might have derived some enjoyment out it.  As a number of kind
people have told me throughout my life though, sometimes it just doesn't pay
me to think.

After watching Emma until she disappears into the crowd en route to the
exit, I turn around and try to locate Jess.  He's moved from his position
near the wall and it takes me a couple of seconds to spot him.

Well I never.  So much for Emma's theory of him wanting to be just about
anywhere other than here.  Going by the way he and some -- admittedly choice
looking -- guy are attached at the lips over there I think his night has
just taken a turn for the better.

There being no point in going over to him, I return to the bar and order
another drink.  For some reason I suddenly feel an urge to get rip roaring


- Jesse -

According to Adam's research, by far the majority of new mutants are
bisexual.  This, needless to say, makes perfect sense to him.  Because,
let's face it, we're pretty much the modern day equivalent of lepers, we'll
take comfort and sexual gratification from wherever we can get it.  Male or
female, it doesn't matter.  If they'll have us and we're in the mood then,
hell, we're all for it.  Basically, being bi just doubles our chances of
success.  I can *still* remember cringing my way through Adam's lecture on
the subject.  It was even worse than the token gesture sex education at
school.  You know, there's just something about sitting there while someone
dissects and analyses your already not very private life that, well, sucks.
Didn't bother Adam though.  To his way of thinking it was just another
scientific discussion, one that had to be given.

Taking all of this into consideration, it's not the fact that I'm sharing a
bed with a naked man that's surprising me.  No.  I can deal with that.
Truth be told I lean more towards men than I do women anyway.  What is
surprising me however is that I literally have no freakin' idea how I got
here.  Unlike Brennan -- who to put it bluntly I sometimes think would
happily fuck anything with a pulse (well, with me being perhaps the one
exception) -- I'm not big on the whole one night stand thing.  Call me old
fashioned but for some reason I like to *know* a person before hopping into
bed with them.

So, yeah, for the sixty-four thousand dollar question, how'd I end up in bed
with this guy?  I can remember being stuck at Mausoleum but that's...



Can't remember getting here but I can remember the sex.  And how.  Again,
wow.  Just... Oh yeah... Wow...  The earth not only moved but I swear entire
continents shifted as well.

What a night.

Grinning to myself, I stretch languidly, the twinges of pain in certain
parts of my body helping to reinforce the hazy memories.  Lingering soreness
aside though, I feel good, *very* good.  Basking in the afterglow had
nothing on it.  I don't think I've ever felt as content waking up next to
someone as I do now.  Although I don't know where I am exactly, which is
usually one of those things I derive an inordinate degree of comfort from
knowing, I don't particularly care and quite literally feel as though I'm on
top of the world.  What this says about my past partners isn't something I
care to think about.

Still grinning, I roll over onto my side and watch... ah... Nate!  That's
it, his name is Nate... Nate sleep.  Lying on his back with the black satin
sheet scrunched around his waist, leaving his smooth and perfectly formed
chest bare to my appreciative gaze, watching him isn't exactly what I'd call
a hardship.  Ignoring the fact that I still can't remember what he looks
like, asleep he's beautiful.  Dark, almost black hair, pale unblemished
skin, long black lashes that the average female would consider killing for,
he looks as though he should be modelling for covers of romance novels.  It
probably shouldn't, but knowing that he picked me is something of a boost to
my admittedly fragile ego.  An ego boost as in, ha, take that Brennan, just
'cos you're blind to what's in front of you doesn't mean that others aren't


Nope.  Don't wanna think about Brennan.  I'm *sick* of thinking about
Brennan.  Thinking about Brennan is the equivalent of banging my head
repeatedly against a brick wall.  No.  I lie.  Banging my head against a
brick wall would eventually knock me out.  Thinking about Brennan on the
other hand is one of those things that could quite easily go on forever.
Mind you, both activities are equally as pointless.  Brennan and I are
friends.  I just have to accept that this is as good as it's ever going to
get, cut my losses, and move on.  Barring the never-ending stream of jokes
about my lack of a sex life, he just doesn't see me in a sexual light.

Oh well.  His loss.

Idle curiosity compelling me to gently lift the sheet, I peer along the
length of Nate's body, my eyes widening at the elaborate Celtic tattoo
travelling from his hip to just before his knee.  Unable to help myself, I
reach out and lightly trace the curls of the tattoo with my finger.  Intent
on my self-imposed task (okay, so I'm easily amused, what of it?), I'm not
aware that Nate's woken up until, stretching, his leg suddenly moves just
out of my reach.  Embarrassed, I snatch back my hand and hesitantly glance
up at Nate.  To my relief he's smiling at me, his green eyes twinkling with

"Good morning, gorgeous," he murmurs, caressing my cheek.  "Sleep well?"

"Mmm... Very," I reply softly, leaning instinctively into his touch, all the
time trying to banish the fear that the only reason he called me gorgeous is
because he can't remember my name.  "Ah... You?"

"How could I not sleep well with you next to me, Jess, huh?" Nate replies as
though reading my mind, his hand still cupping my cheek, his eyes holding me
captive.  If I've ever seen such beautiful eyes before I can't remember it.

Blushing, I'm saved from having to reply by Nate, completely without
warning, rolling on top and straddling me.  I gasp, my body immediately
responding to the feel of his warm skin against mine.  Pushing the sheet all
the way down, his looks me up and down and emits what sounds for all the
world like a growl of contentment.

"Anyone ever told you that you're beautiful?" Nate whispers, leaning forward
and leisurely licking a moist path down the centre of my chest.  "If they
haven't," he continues, interspersing his words with butterfly light kisses
on whatever part of my body takes his fancy, "you've been hanging out with
the wrong crowd."

"Maybe I have," I murmur, stifling the urge to giggle as his kisses begin to

"Then I think it's time we changed that," Nate replies, leaning closer, his
face hovering just about mine, his hands lightly stroking my hips.  "For now
however...  You don't have to be anywhere, do you?"

"Nowhere that can't wait," I whisper, pushing all thoughts of Sanctuary out
of my mind and willingly throwing myself head first into the moment.

Grinning, Nate breathes, "That's what I was hoping you'd say," before
capturing my lips with his and kissing me passionately.  My last coherent
thought is one of bliss, complete and utter bliss.

- Brennan -

Elbows firmly planted on the table, I hold my head in both hands and peer
balefully at Emma.  "Do you *have* to chew so freakin' loudly?" I complain
miserably, the industrial strength headache pounding in my skull amplifying
the sound of Emma eating her cereal to the point of her chewing sounding
incredibly like an army of jackhammers going off.

"What's the matter, Bren?" Emma smirks, making a show of popping another
spoonful of cereal into her mouth and chewing it slowly.  "You know, you
don't look so well.  Would you like me to go get Adam?  I'm sure he'd have
something for hangovers hidden somewhere."

"I'll live," I scowl, not really feeling any urge whatsoever to bring Adam
up to speed on my -- self-induced -- sad and sorry state.  "Thanks for the
sympathy though Em, it's making me feel all warm and fuzzy."

"I think you'd find that's actually all the alcohol that's still in your
system," Emma retorts, clearly enjoying herself.  "Can you even remember how
much you had?  You were certainly... ah... shall we say... well on the way
to paralytic when I came to rescue you."

"Don't think I *want* to remember," I groan, pushing the coffeepot closer to
Emma, the mere scent of it doing nasty things to my stomach.  "Um...  Thanks
for coming to get me though.  I'd probably still be there if you hadn't come
back in."

"No shit," Emma replies drily.  "As for thanking me?  There's no need.  I
went to get you for purely selfish reasons.  There's only so much sitting
around in the car that I can take, you know?"  Pausing, she shakes her head.
"God Bren, what possessed you?  I've never seen you so drunk before.  If
that nice bouncer hadn't helped me I doubt I would have even been able to
get you back to the car in one piece.  If you were drowning your sorrows do
you want to tell me about them?  You never know, I might be able to help."

"Wasn't drowning my sorrows," I mutter, rubbing my temples and wondering why
I even bothered getting out of bed.  "Must have just felt like drinking,
that's all.  It's a male thing, Em.  You wouldn't understand."  If she wants
to attempt to read the truth out of me then she's more than welcome to try.
One thing's for sure though, I ain't telling it to her.

"Something for which I think I'm eternally grateful," Emma replies with a
snort of laughter.  "Why don't you go back to bed, huh?  God knows you look
as though you want to."

"Want to make sure the others are back safely first," I mumble just as, with
her usual immaculate timing, Shalimar strolls through the door.  Black wig
in hand and dress all crumpled notwithstanding, she looks as though she
could take on the world.  Again, as usual.  It must be a Feral thing.
Although I've seen her drink as much, if not more, as I did last night I've
never known her to suffer a hangover.

"Brennan!  My God, look at you," Shal exclaims, dropping her wig on the
table and taking a seat next to me.  "You look like shit," she continues,
playfully ruffling my hair and causing my stomach to lurch in complaint as a

"Feels like it too," Emma interjects with a grin.  "Honestly Shal, isn't he
just a poster child for the anti-alcohol brigade?"

"Oh ha-ha, very funny," I mutter, shuffling further away from Shalimar and
once again burying my face in my hands.

"Hey, where's Jess?" Shalimar queries brightly.  "If there's fun to be had
at Brennan's expense it's only right that he's here to enjoy it as well."

"Where's Jess?" I snort from behind my hands.  "Good question. For all we
know he's probably dead in a gutter somewhere."

"And what, pray tell, makes you think that?"



Wonderful.  Shalimar's obviously been giving him stealth lessons again.

My relief at hearing Jess' voice somewhat dampened by how tetchy he sounds,
I reluctantly peel my hands away from my face and, with even more
reluctance, peer up at him.  Good grief.  Even through the fog in my head
I've got enough of my wits about me to appreciate the sight.  And to think I
thought the sheer t-shirt he had on last night couldn't be topped.  The fact
that I -- *really -- don't want to know where he got it from aside, I've got
to confess to being taken with the shirt he's wearing.  Black silk with
black lace panels running down the front, it's...  Yeah...  It's just...

"Hot shirt," Shalimar grins, effortlessly plucking the word I'd been unable
to compute from the recesses of my mind.  "Going by the look of you, do I
even have to ask whether you had a good night?"

Looking at Jess, who's positively glowing with that 'well fucked' vibe,
something inside just snaps.  I can literally feel it give.

"Where the fuck have you been, huh?" I demand, lurching to my feet and
banging my fist down the table.  "Would it have killed you to have checked
in?  I've been fucking worried sick about you."

"Who died and made you my father, Brennan?" Jesse retorts flatly, blinking
shocked blue eyes at me.  "You made some lame ass comment last night when
you took it upon yourself to drag me out to Mausoleum that I might score.
Well, guess what, I scored.  Happy now?  Despite my life being none of your
fucking business you got, I suppose, what you wanted."

"You should have told one of us where you were going," I bite back, angrily
shaking my head.  "What do you know about the guy, huh?  Going off with
someone you don't know is..."

'This coming from the guy who'll fuck anything that moves!" Jess interrupts,
crossing his arms defensively across his chest.  "You've got a nerve,
Brennan, you really have."

"You're not me," I protest agitatedly.  "What's more, we're not talking
about *me*, we're talking about you!"

"We're not talking about me because I'm not having this conversation with
you," Jess sneers, spinning on his heels and storming out of the room.
"Fuck you, Brennan," he shouts over his shoulder before disappearing.
Feeling flat-footed, I stare blankly at the door, both Emma and Shal
watching me through wide eyes.

"That went well," Emma comments, returning her attention to her cereal.

"I...  I'm going to my room," I whisper, the urge to retreat suddenly
becoming all consuming.

"Good idea," Shal mutters, fixing me with a look.  "If you want some help
wording your apology just let either of us know."


- Jesse -

Slamming the door with, yeah, far more force than is necessary, I stalk over
to my bed and sink down on the edge of it.  I'm so angry with Brennan that
I'm shaking.  If I hadn't left the dining area when I did I honestly think I
would have hit him.

Two-faced hypocritical bastard!

Just what gives him --
Mr-I've-Fucked-More-People-Than-You've-Had-Hot-Meals -- the Goddamn fucking
right to go off at me like that?  Hell, it's not like I haven't lost count
of the times he's staggered back in at breakfast time, the scent of his
latest conquest seeping out of him like an aura and causing Shal to suddenly
announce she needs to go to her room for a moment.  I've never said anything
though.  Fuck no.  Not my business.


I just can't believe he went off like that.  I mean, don't tell me he's
decided that, now of all times, he actually cares?  And to what extent?
Does he honestly care that I might have got myself into trouble or is he
more concerned about the fact that I scored and he, not going by the look of
him anyway, didn't?  Or, and this is probably more like it, did he just get
out the wrong side of bed this morning and decide to take his mood out on me
because I just happened to be there?


I don't care.  As far as I'm concerned Brennan can go fuck himself.  Right
now I'm so pissed off that I don't even know what it is I see in him or why
it is I've wasted so much time lusting after him.  It's not like he's ever
given me any reason to hope we'd one day be anything more than buddies.


That's it.  We're friends.  It's probably solely because I can count my true
friends on one hand that I decided I had a thing for Brennan in the first
place.  Yeah.  Okay.  That and the fact he's so damn good looking that it
took two weeks after his arrival at Sanctuary for the butterflies in the pit
of my stomach to finally allow me to look at him without raising merry havoc
with my insides.

Damn him though.  Just damn him.  Damn him for ruining my good mood and damn
him for confusing me like this.  I'd been so happy too, both the lingering
memory of Nate's gentle touch on my body and the inane delight of wearing
his shirt adding up to make me feel incredibly good about things.  And now
Brennan's just gone and ruined it.  Although I was concerned when I saw how
hungover he looked, this being of course before he launched into his verbal
attack, I now -- maliciously -- hope it ruins his entire day.  You know,
just so he can share some of what I'm feeling.

A knock on the door breaking through my increasingly sulky reverie, I sigh
heavily and hope like mad that it isn't Brennan in search of round two.  "If
that's you Brennan," I shout, deciding that a pre-emptive strike might be
the way to go,  "you can fuck off.  I don't want to see you."

"It's me, Jess," Shalimar replies, cautiously pushing the door open and
poking her head into the room.  "Can I come in?"

"Can I stop you?" I mutter, glancing at her and shrugging disinterestedly.

"You can tell me to fuck off and I will," Shal murmurs, smiling.  "I'm
hoping you won't though.  So, can I come in or not?"

"Be my guest," I mumble, shrugging again.  "Be warned though, I'm not
exactly in the mood for company."

"Don't be too pissed at Brennan," Shal states softly, walking into the room
and sitting on the mattress next to me.  "He was just worried about you,
that's all.  I'm sure he didn't mean to come across as heavy as he did."

"I don't want to talk about Brennan," I reply flatly.  "The way he behaved
was inexcusable and, I'm sorry Shal, I'm not in the mood to discuss it at
the moment."

"C'mon Jess, don't be like that," Shal cajoles, placing her hand lightly on
my thigh.  "Even you've gotta admit that coming in wearing someone else's
shirt isn't exactly normal for you.  Brennan just reacted without thinking."

"Not you too," I sigh, picking Shal's hand up and dropping it on her lap.  "
What's so fascinating about my sex life, huh?  News flash.  I'm not exactly
as naïve or virginal as you all seem to think I am.  I met a guy at
Mausoleum and went back to his place where, if you really must know, we
fucked all night.  Now, what of it?  You look as though you've just got in
too and I don't see anyone interrogating you."

Shal laughs and shakes her head.  "You quite finished there, Jess?" she
queries wryly.  "I came to get the goss on why you looked to be glowing when
you came in, not get my head bit off.  For what it's worth, I agree,
Brennan's reaction was over-the-top.  That said it's not worthy of getting
in a strop over.  When it all boils down to it all we -- and this very much
includes Brennan -- really care about is that you're safe and happy.  Now,
do you want me to leave so you can go back to sulking or are you okay with
me staying?"

"You can stay so long as the topic of Brennan is well and truly dropped," I
offer slowly, hesitantly meeting Shal's gaze.  "Okay?"

"Stuff Brennan," Shal grins, placing her hand back on my knee and giving it
a friendly squeeze.  "I want to hear about your new friend.  Hell, if that's
his shirt you're wearing I want to see him for myself!  Are you seeing him

"Tonight," I murmur, my mood lifting to the point of the smile on my face
being genuine.  "I'm seeing him again tonight.  As for meeting him?  Hmm...
We'll see."


- Brennan -

I wait until I'm convinced that everyone else is otherwise occupied before
raising the courage to so much as *contemplate* venturing out of my room.
Just call it self-preservation but after my little performance this morning
I have no real desire to risk being around the others.  You know, just in
case I open my big fat mouth without thinking again.  Which, given the way
I'm feeling, I have to say has a high probability of becoming reality.  The
extra five hours of sleep I've just had may have cured the hangover but
other than that I'm still feeling decidedly out of sorts.  It's strange.
For some reason I just can't stop thinking about Jess.

First I think of how incredible he looked last night, then I think of him
with that man from Mausoleum, and then, last but by no means least, I think
of the way I went off at him at breakfast.  Not, mind you, that all of this
thinking is actually getting me anywhere.  Hell no.  The more I think the
more confused I get.  I can justify to myself why it was perfectly
acceptable to appreciate how hot Jess looked but that's where it ends.
Comprehending the rest of it just escapes me.  A little voice in the back of
my mind whispers that I'm simply jealous, and that I need to get over it,
but I'm not buying.


Why the hell would I be jealous?  Jess is the closest male friend I've ever
had.  I trust him with my back and enjoy spending time with him.  This
doesn't however mean that I've got designs on him or view him with a
proprietary eye.  Of course it doesn't.  Sure he's hot, but, well, let's
face it, so are a lot of guys.  He's my *friend*.  And wanting to fuck your
friends never really works, right?  Not even when said friend means the
world to you and, although you've never told him this, you'd do anything in
your power to protect him, even going so far as to kill if you had to.

That's it.  Protective.  I'm feeling protective.  Because he's younger and,
contrary to his opinion on the subject, far more naïve than I am, I'm just
wanting to look out for him.  *That* I can deal with.  God knows it makes
far more sense than being jealous.  Even if the guy he met last night is the
embodiment of the perfect gentlemen it's still up to me, as someone who has
his best interests at heart, to check out his new friend's background.  The
way I see it it's the only right thing to do.  If I ever saw the same person
more than once he might even do the same thing for me.  It's what friends
are for.

Only having what he looks like to go on, I have no real choice other than to
start my search with the new mutant database.  If he's not on there --
barring getting his name out of Jess (which I doubt very much is on the
cards for today) -- I'll be back to square one, yeah, but at least I'll feel
as though I've done something other than sitting on my butt and sulking.
It's a start if nothing else.

My mind made up, I sneak out of my room and make my way to the nearest
computer terminal, all the time carefully listening for any sounds of
movement.  To my relief Sanctuary appears to be completely silent and I
breathe a sigh of relief as I sit down at the computer.  Booting up the
database, I'm halfway through entering what I remember of the guy's vitals
when, quite literally out of nowhere, Shalimar materialises next to me.  My
cool, calm, and collected façade disintegrating around my ears, I gasp, my
nerves well and truly not what they used to be.

"Damn.  There goes my bet," Shal complains, smirking in response to my
flustered reaction to her arrival.

"Huh?" I grunt, shooting her a dirty look.  "What bet?"

"The one I had with Emma about you spending the entire day skulking around
in your bedroom," Shal explains, still smirking.  "I thought I had it in the

"Sorry to disappoint," I mutter, turning my attention back to the computer
and hoping that Shal doesn't decide to linger.

"I'll live," Shal replies, perching herself on the desk and swivelling the
monitor towards her.  "Whatcha doin' anyway?  Given that you still look like
death warmed up it must be important if it's gotten you out of your room."

"Just lookin' someone up," I murmur, casually moving the monitor back in
place.  "It's... ah... nothing overly important, just something I wanted to

"And who exactly are you looking for?" Shal queries suspiciously.  "It
wouldn't happen to be Jess' new friend now, would it?"

I sigh.  "How'd you know?"

"Like I haven't already thought of doing the exact same thing," Shal snorts,
giving a dismissive shake of her hair.  "Don't forget Bren, where Jess is
concerned you're still a newcomer."

"Oh."  Silly me.  I should have known Shal would have beaten me to it.
"And?  What did you find?"

"Decided not to do it," Shal replies matter-of-factly, reaching in front of
me and switching off the monitor.  "This is Jess' call, not ours.  As much
as I want to check the guy out for myself I've decided that I can't do it,
not this time."

"Then let me," I retort, shaking my head.  "C'mon Shal, we don't know the
first thing about him."

"Ah, but we do," Shal murmurs, narrowing her eyes.  "And that's that he
makes Jess happy.  The green tinged beer goggles you were wearing this
morning may have stopped you from seeing it but, trust me, Jess looked as
though he was on cloud nine."

"I still think we should check him out," I protest.  "What if he's some sort
of asshole?"

"Then it's up to Jess to make this discovery, not us," Shal responds
quietly.  "It's his life and, whether we like it or not, we've got to learn
to take a backseat.  Don't forget it's only because of our nagging that he
went out last night at all.  Given that we all but pushed him into it we
should be happy that he's met someone."

I shake my head again.  "But..."

"No buts," Shal interrupts, hopping off the desk and wagging her finger at
me.  "Leave it, Brennan.  I know you're only wanting to do it as Jess'
friend but just don't, okay?  If I can leave it well enough alone then so
can you..."  Trailing off, she shrugs.  "Let me put it another way...  If I
find that you've gone ahead and done this behind my back then it's not just
Jess' buttons you'll have pushed onto the on position..."

My room suddenly -- once again -- beckoning, I stand up and give Shal a wan
smile.  "When you put it like that..." I murmur faintly, knowing better than
to argue.  "I...  I hope they're very happy together."


- Jesse -

Waking with gasp, I sit bolt upright and, praying that Nate doesn't wake up,
try desperately to control my breathing.  As nightmares go the one that just
woke me was as different as it was eerily realistic.  For reasons that only
a psychologist would be able to decipher, I'm, fact of life, used to
nightmares.  Being buried alive is a popular theme, one that my subconscious
never tires of slapping me with.  Just about you name an enclosed space and
I've dreamt about being trapped in it.  If you've been having them for as
long as I have though it's either a matter of learning to deal with them or
simply throwing in the towel and going mad.  Not wanting to give up my grip
on sanity, I've learnt to cope with them.  Because of this they don't
usually bother me much.  I've either seen it before of it's so far fetched
that I wake long enough to tell myself that it was a dream before rolling
over and going straight back to sleep.

This one though...

Forcing myself to lie back down, I pull the sheet up to my chin and stare at
the ceiling, all the time fighting to make sense of my creepy dream.  From
what I can remember it started off normally enough.  I was in a club, one
that I thought at first was Mausoleum.  It then slowly dawned on me that I
couldn't see any women and that the men were all wearing bondage or fetish
gear.  Not liking what I was seeing, I turned to leave but was stopped by
two burly men wearing studded collars.  They grabbed me and I didn't even
try to fight them, not even when they tore my clothes off.  My mind was
telling me that it was wrong, that I should be fighting them, but,
passively, I just let them.  Even when I was naked, a sea of leering faces
looking me over like I was some sort of thoroughbred coming up for auction,
I just stood there.  I knew I didn't want to be there, that I wanted to
cover myself, but there wasn't anything I could do about it.  From then
onwards things proceeded to get worse, far worse.  I was apparently the
'play thing' for the evening and my body was theirs to use as they saw fit.
At some point I started to beg but it didn't help.  In fact they just
laughed and went right on ahead with what they were doing.  Screaming didn't
help either.

My subconscious taking pity on me, the last thing I saw before waking was a
man that looked a lot like Nate locking me in a barely glorified dog cage.
He smirked at me as I huddled on the floor, my entire body feeling as though
it's on fire.  What would have happened next, if I hadn't woken up, isn't
something I'm in any sort of rush to know.

What makes the whole weird ass dream just that little bit worse is the fact
that it's lingering over me to such an extent that I actually feel sore, as
though some of it might have actually happened to me.  It's disconcerting.
Not even knowing that I've been alone with Nate in his apartment all evening
helps to shake the feeling.  It's just... odd.

Stretching gingerly, I flinch as certain parts of my body complain at being
moved.  It's almost enough to make me get up and go into the bathroom just
so I can confirm once and for all that I'm hallucinating.  I stay put
though, refusing to fall prey to what I know can only be the residue of the
peculiar nightmare.  Let's face it, there's no way in hell it could be real.
Given that it took place only a few short hours ago I can *remember* what
Nate and I got up to and I know for a fact that I was never restrained -
contrary to what the dull ache in my wrists is trying to tell me.

Again, it's just odd.  Like the goths at Mausoleum, bondage and the like
just isn't my scene.  That said, it's not even something I ever really think
about.  I know it exists, and have no comment whatsoever to make on whether
that's what it takes to get people off, but that's pretty much the sum of my
involvement in the subject.  My desire to investigate it further is, to put
it bluntly, nonexistent.  Because of this it goes without saying that I have
no freakin' idea why, completely out of the blue, I'd have dreamt about it.
God knows I'm still pissed with Brennan but it's not as though that'd have
anything to do with my subconscious going all BDSM on me.

Urgh.  Brennan.  Nope.  Still don't want to go there.  Close to twenty-four
hours on from his little fit at me and he's still off my Christmas card
list.  I don't want to bear a grudge, and the last thing I want is for our
friendship to suffer, but what I do however want is for him to apologise.
He had no Goddamn right to react the way he did and I want an apology from
him.  It doesn't have to be lengthy or poetic, just heartfelt.  Until then,
fuck him.

Sighing, I don't know what to do.  Do I get up and go back to Sanctuary in
case I have another nightmare (and thus avoiding the embarrassment of waking
Nate up with my thrashing around), or do I just try to go back to sleep?
The idea of going home winning, if for no other reason than I'd quite like a
shower, I'm just about to make a move when Nate wakes up.  Rolling over, he
looks at me and yawns.  "Heya," he mumbles sleepily, draping his arm
possessively over my chest.  "What's the matter, Jess?  You look as though
you've seen a ghost."

I do?  Shit.

"Nightmare," I murmur lamely.  "It woke me, that's all."

"A nightmare?" Nate repeats, frowning.  "We can't have that," he continues,
his eyes, even in the dull light, shining a brilliant green.  "Do you want
to tell me about it?"

Confused, I blink at Nate.  "Tell you about what?"


- Brennan -

"Hey Em, you seen Shal around?" I query lightly, hopefully not sounding
too...ah... hopeful.  Having waited this long I don't know if I can wait any

"She's in the lab helping Adam with something," Emma replies, glancing at me
over the top of her book.  "If you want her you might be out of luck.
Whatever it is they're doing looks as though it's going to take a while."

"Oh, that's okay," I murmur, only just managing to control the urge to sigh
in relief.  "It can wait."

"Is there anything I can help you with?" Emma offers with a smile.  "Jess is
out with the new love of his life and I'm just reading, so it's not like
you'd be interrupting anything."

"It's not important," I reply, backing out of the room, anxious - now that
the coast is clear -- to get on with it.  "Thanks for the offer though."

"Anytime Bren, anytime."

Leaving the living area -- safe in the knowledge that Shal's not going to
sneak up on me this time -- I make my way to the computer terminal furthest
away from the lab and quickly bring up the new mutant database.  Despite not
wanting to risk landing myself in Shalimar's bad books I can't go on not
knowing anything about Jess' friend.  I've tried, hell I've tried for well
over a day, but enough is enough.  I just can't deal with the not knowing.
Irrational as I know it to be, it's eating me alive.  I don't want to dig up
any dirt on the guy, I just want to know that he's, well, *okay*, that he's
not going to hurt Jess.  Only then will I be able to put my mind to rest.

For Jess' sake, I *want* Nate to be a fine upstanding citizen.  I do.
Honestly.  It doesn't mean I have to like him myself -- something I already
very much doubt is going to occur -- but at least I should be able to bring
myself to be polite about the guy once I know something about him.  And,
well, given that Jess and I aren't exactly what you'd call on speaking terms
this is the only way I can think of getting the information I need.  Shal
knows -- what Jess is letting her know -- more than I do but she's not
sharing.  Getting Nate's name out of her was hard enough as it was.

Without wanting to sound too much like a character from Star Wars though,
I've got a bad feeling about it all.  I just have.  Something's just not
right.  His anger at me aside, Jess just isn't acting like himself.  Last
night in particular was like watching a stranger walk... well, limp... into
Sanctuary.  Not only did he look exhausted but he also looked as though he
was in pain.  Although I'd -- admittedly -- only been lurking to ensure he
came home in one piece before retreating to bed myself, I couldn't help it
and had to go and ask whether he was okay.

And what a bad mistake that was too.

By the time he'd finished shouting at me I'm pretty sure the whole of
Sanctuary knew that, in his mind at least, everything was fucking peachy and
that my concern for his well being was neither desired nor appreciated.  On
the slight off chance the others had managed to sleep through his very loud
and very expletive laden sharing of the facts of life with me there wouldn't
have been a snowflake's chance in hell of them missing the sound of his door
slamming in my face.  I've never seen Jess so furious.  Again, it was like
standing opposite a complete stranger.  I'm not exactly known for keeping my
temper in check, particularly when I'm being ranted at for no other reason
than being concerned about a friend, but I couldn't get a word in edgeways.
If I'd followed him into his room I honestly think he would have hit me.
And there's no way that's the Jess I know.  While he's by no means a
pushover I've only ever seen him use force to either protect himself or
someone around him.

So, yeah, although I hope I'm wrong I just can't help but feel there's
something just not quite right about Nate.  And, not wanting to jump to any
conclusions or anything, it has to be Nate who's causing the changes in
Jess.  Until he came along Jess was fine.  Now though, after knowing him for
a little less than seventy-two hours, he's like a completely different
person.  If it's not Nate himself then maybe it's someone Nate knows.  I
refuse to accept that Jess is behaving like this of his own free will.  Nor
do I understand how none of the others have tried to chat him on it.  There
comes a time, if you ask me, when turning a blind eye, even if done so in
love and the belief that you're doing the right thing, is more detrimental
to the party concerned than it is beneficial.  We all make mistakes.  It's
one of those things that effects everyone.  Just as is the inability to see
our own errors of judgement until, usually, it's too late.

Mentally crossing my fingers that I'm not going to find anything
incriminating, I log Nate's name into the database and lean back in my seat
to wait.  Although I've got no real reason to suspect him of being a new
mutant I nonetheless fully expect to find him on the database.  Don't ask me
why, I just do.  Call it a hunch.

Give or take ten minutes later my groundless hunch is proven correct at
Nate's picture flashes up on the monitor.  Leaning forward, I study his
image while the rest of the screen fills up with his life story.
Begrudgingly I have to admit that he's exceptionally good looking, his green
eyes in particular making his a face you wouldn't forget in a hurry.

Ho-hum though.  I don't care what he looks like and turn my attention to his
bio.  Nathaniel Parker.  Age twenty-eight.  Well I never, he's a Psionic.
Figures.  Bastard has probably put some sort of whammy on Jess.

Oh.  Fuck.


Reading the next paragraph twice does nothing to lessen my immediate sense
of horror and, wanting to scream, I jump out of my chair just as Emma rushes
into the room.

"Are you okay, Bren?" she queries agitatedly, her eyes wide and her face
flushed.  "I felt... That's... ah... I *thought* I felt a surge of something
like shock arc through you."

"Go get Shal," I command, somehow sounding a lot more in control that I
feel, "and meet me at the Helix.  Jess is in trouble."

Quite possibly big trouble.


- Jesse -

If there's one thing having my fair share of nightmares has taught me it's
that -- contrary to how realistic they may seem -- they're not real.  It may
feel for all the world as though I'm trapped in a coffin but in reality I'm
just asleep, more often than not tucked safely in my own bed.  They still
effect me, and I still wake with a start, my heart trying to pound through
my chest, but they're not *real*.

Because of this, because of my, if you like, conditioning, I'm not too
bothered by the perverse  dreamscape my subconscious is currently subjecting
me to.  What's the point?  It's not real.  Any moment I'll wake up and that
will be that.  Working myself up into a state over things isn't going to
achieve anything.  Again, with the practice I've had distancing myself is
relatively easy.  I *know* I'm asleep and I *know* that none of this is
really happening.  I'm still creeped, yeah, but not to the point of wanting
to give in to fully fledged panic.  Which, let's face it, if any of this was
real panic wouldn't so much as be an option as it would a given.

It's strange.  For the second time in as many nights my nightmare is taking
the form of a dark and dingy BDSM club.  It's a different club though, I
think, and Nate's with me.  Dressed only in a pair of tight black leather
trousers, his pale skin glowing in the warm light of the flickering candles,
his beauty is staggering.  Staying a respectful distance behind him, I
dutifully follow Nate as he works the crowd.  Men, after seeking his
permission, touch me and, knowing that it's expected of me, I let them.
They touch me where they want to, where Nate allows them.  If he likes them
nothing's out of bounds.  I'm only wearing a pair of black leather shorts
and their hands on my body makes my skin crawls.  I don't complain though,
or flinch.  Not wanting to risk punishment, I don't dare to.  Something in
my memory tells me that it's better to stay in Nate's good books, that I
don't want to do anything to make him angry with me.

I don't know what unnerves me more, the fact that I'm being mauled by
strangers or what's going on in the club around me.  In a way I'm thankful
that I'm expected to keep my eyes downcast.  Hearing -- and smelling -- it
is more than enough.  The air is thick with the scent of Amyl Nitrate, sex,
and blood tinged sweat.  The sound of whips whistling through the air before
cracking down on bare flesh makes my stomach clench.  When a rough hand is
shoved down the front of my shorts I have to bite my bottom lip to stop
myself from whimpering.  Hands cupping my ass stop me from backing away and
dimly I can hear Nate saying something about patience being a virtue, that
good things come to those who wait.  The man who's groping me mutters that
he wants 'first go', causing the others to laugh.  Part of me is screaming
that I should tell him to get his fucking hands off me but I remain silent,
playing the part of the well-trained slave to perfection.  When he finally
removes his hand I only just suppress the urge to shudder.

What confuses me most about my treatment is why Nate's letting these men
play with me.  As far as I'm concerned I love Nate and I don't understand
why he's treating me like this.  Obviously I've done something to annoy him
but I have no idea what.  I thought he cared for me, that I was special to
him.  All of a sudden, as Nate shoos the men away in order to clip what
looks like a dog collar around my neck, I think of Brennan and how he'd
never treat me like I was nothing.


I wish Brennan was here.  He wouldn't let these men touch me in places I
really don't want to be touched, not by strangers, not like this.

No.  On second thoughts I'm glad he's not here.  If he saw me like this I
doubt I'd ever be able to live with the shame.

Attaching a leash to my collar, Nate kisses me possessively, the force of
his kiss bruising my lips.  "Come on, beautiful," he proclaims coldly,
tugging on my leash.  "It's time for you to really shine, to prove that all
my hard work has been worth it."

"Sir."  I murmur it without thinking, the word slipping instinctively out of
my mouth and leaving a bitter aftertaste.

A chorus of wolf-whistles piercing the air, I trail after Nate, my eyes
fixed firmly on the blood red carpet, as he leads me towards the small stage
I somehow know to be at the back of the club.  A sea of black leather parts
for us, allowing us ease of access.  Stray hands reach out and stroke, slap,
or pinch me as we pass.  Someone tries to tug down my shorts but Nate smacks
their hand away, growling that they'll pay for that later.

Once on stage, I can't help myself and hesitantly lift my head to gaze out
at the crowd.  Leering faces stare back at me, their eyes glittering in
anticipation of what's to come.  Many are stroking themselves... or their
slaves.  Like a bunny frozen in the headlights of an oncoming
eighteen-wheeler, I can't look away.  Grabbing my arms, Nate cuffs my wrists
behind my back before standing directly behind me and running his hands
proprietarily over my torso.  Knowing that to shut my eyes would be to show
weakness, I continue staring ahead, all the time willing my mind blank.

When I see what looks to be Shalimar, Emma, and Brennan shoving their way
through the crowd I tell myself that, even in the midst of a nightmare, I'm
hallucinating.  Shalimar, her eyes flashing orange, lashes out at anyone
who's silly enough not to get out of her way.  One man she hits hard enough
to send him flying into the opposite wall.  Not wanting to let Shal have all
the fun, Brennan zaps a couple of masters before leaping onto the stage and
shoving Nate away from me.  My balance deserting me, I slump to the floor,
Brennan not quite being quick enough to catch me.

"Jess!" Brennan shouts, dropping to his knees and pulling me towards him.
"Shit!  It's okay, it's over now..."

I shake my head, not comprehending what Brennan's saying.  If it's over why
haven't I woken up yet and why are Nate and Emma staring at each other as
though they'd really like to go each other's throats?  More to the point,
what gives with the glowing balls of light they're both...

A sudden flash of brilliant, blinding light killing my thought process dead,
something in my mind explodes and...


"Jess?  Jess?  C'mon Jess!  Focus!"

Oh God...

My last conscious thought before blissful darkness claims me is that it
wasn't a dream.


- Brennan -

Hopping off the arm of the sofa, where she's been perched, her fingers
plucking aimlessly at a cushion for the past forty minutes, Shalimar makes
an immediate beeline for Adam as he walks slowly through the door.  "And?"
she demands anxiously, closing her hand around Adam's arm and fixing him
with her most pleading look. "He's going to okay, yeah?"

Adam, who I can't help but note looks as beat as the rest of us, nods.  "In
time he'll be fine," he replies quietly, placing his hand over Shal's and
giving it a reassuring squeeze.  "His physical injuries are negligible and,
as embarrassing and shocking as the whole experience was, I have every
confidence that it won't have too much of a lasting effect on him."

"Was he...?" I murmur hesitantly, wanting to know but at the same time not
wanting to ask.  My mind still full of what I saw at Caligula's though, it's
a question I've just got to know the answer to.  If...  If the reply is in
the positive all I can say is God help those responsible.  And, yeah, that's
all I have to say on the subject.

"I don't think so, no," Adam responds, smiling grimly.  "I... I can see no
signs of force or other associated trauma."

"Thank God," Shal sighs, releasing Adam's arm and returning to her position
on the arm of the sofa.  "If that fucking bastard had..."

"He didn't though," Emma interrupts, shuffling along the sofa and leaning
against Shalimar's thigh.  "And that's all that matters.  C'mon Shal...  We
may have cut it fine but we got there in time and Jess is going to be okay.
Don't think about the 'what ifs', please."

"Emma's right," Adam agrees, moving into the centre of the room and facing
the three of us as, our shoulders slumped, we try to work through everything
that's happened.  Only an hour has passed since we rescued Jess from Nate's
Psionic clutches but it feels like much longer.  The near miss too close for
comfort, none of us know quite what to do or say and have been sitting in
numb silence since leaving Jess to be checked over by Adam.

"Without wanting it to sound like something your parents would say," Adam
continues, his voice calm, "there's no use crying over spilt milk.  What's
done is done.  None of us can change what happened and, for Jesse's sake
more so than anything, we have to put it behind us and move forward.  Jesse
*will* be fine.  At the moment he's suffering from a severe case of shock
but I don't expect that to last for very long at all.  When Emma used her
powers to break through Nathaniel's hold over him she not only slapped him
in the face with reality but also, in a sense, slipped him into immediate
withdrawal.  The hold Nathaniel held over Jesse was both strong and all
consuming.  From the moment they met Nathaniel was in complete control."

"Knew I shoulda done more damage to him while I had the chance," Shal
mutters, her hands reflexively curling into fists.  "Asshole.  I hope
Eckhart sticks him in a pod and forgets to turn on the ventilator.  It'd
serve the fucker right."

"We'll talk about that later," Adam sighs, shooting both Shalimar and I a
disapproving look.  "I know Nathaniel hurt Jesse, along with countless other
young men, but, I'm sorry,  I can't condone your turning him over to the
GSA.  I just can't."

"Save it Adam" Shal murmurs flatly.  "You may think you could have cured him
of his power tripping perversions but there was no way I was prepared to
take the risk."  Pausing, she shrugs.  "It was either give him to Eckhart or
turn him into an Eunuch.  And, well, given that I didn't really want to
touch him, handing him over to the GSA just seemed the easier option."

"I'm with Shal," I interject, not really caring if it earns me a black mark
in Adam's eyes.  "Nate deserves to be in a pod.  At least there he won't be
able to fuck with people's lives."  When Shal suggested cuffing him with his
own handcuffs and dumping on the steps to the GSA I agreed readily, her idea
of justice sitting all too easily on my shoulders.  The way I see it, it was
the least we could do.

"We'll talk more about this later," Adam repeats, shaking his head sadly.
"For now however I think it'd be best if you all got some rest.  Sitting
around and dwelling on things isn't going to achieve anything.  Again,
what's done is done."

"None of it should ever have happened!" Shal exclaims, angrily running her
fingers through her hair, mussing it up.  "God, Adam, this is all our fault!
Jess wasn't even acting himself and we just left him to it.  With friends
like us who needs enemies, huh.  Get this, so caught up in the belief I was
doing the right thing I even stopped Brennan from checking up on Nate.  Talk
about fucking up.  If I hadn't stuck my nose in we could have stopped this
before it had even really started."

"It's not your fault, Shal," I murmur dejectedly.  "If anyone's to blame
it's me.  It was my idea to go to Mausoleum in the first place and, let's
face it, the only reason I didn't look Nate up when you stopped me was
because, albeit begrudgingly, I happened to agree with you.  We needed to
give Jess' new friend the benefit of the doubt."

"I should have sensed Jess wasn't acting himself, that there was a dark
cloud hanging over him," Emma whispers, chewing on her bottom lip as, close
to tears, she watches Adam through wide eyes.  "When I think back about how
he was acting I can't believe I didn't sense anything, that I just continued
to turn a blind eye to his behaviour."

Walking closer, Adam crouches down in front of the sofa and places his hand
on Emma's knee.  "Stop it, all of you," he commands softly.  "Self
recrimination is nothing more than a waste of time and energy.  We can blame
ourselves -- and, yes, my mind on other things I was too busy to notice any
changes in Jesse, I include myself here -- but, think about it, what's it
going to achieve?  It's not going to help Jesse and isn't that what you all
want, to help your friend?  Nobody did anything intentionally wrong.
Brennan, Shalimar, you talked Jesse into going to that club with you because
you honestly thought it would be fun.  As for not wanting Brennan to check
Nathaniel out, I have to confess to I agree with Shalimar's initial wish to
trust Jesse's judgement.  Emma, perhaps you should have been able to pick up
on the changes in his behaviour but don't forget he himself believed
everything was fine.  I know it might seem hard, that you've all failed
Jesse in some way, but you can't think like this..."

Shalimar shakes head.  "I still..."

"Trust me," Adam interrupts, glancing up at Shal, his expression one of
understanding.  "None of you did anything wrong.  The Psionic cloak
Nathaniel had over Jesse wasn't something any of you could have either
foreseen or picked up on.  Nor could you have known that he was going to run
into a sexual predator at Mausoleum.  Now, please, stop blaming yourselves.
As I believe Emma said earlier, you got there in time and that's all that
matters.  When Jesse's recovered from his shock the last thing he needs is
the three of you walking around constantly berating yourself."  Standing up,
Adam smiles lightly and points to the door.  "It'll all seem better after a
good night's sleep," he adds, effectively ending the conversation.  "I

"Perhaps you're right," Emma murmurs, standing up and stretching.  "Let's
face it, given the point we're at now, things can only get better."


- Jesse -

Pulling the comforter over my head, I wriggle further down the mattress,
fully cocooning myself in my bedding.  The ground opening up and swallowing
me unfortunately not an option, I plan to stay here, if I have my way,
pretty much until hell freezes over.  Warm, cosy... Safe from concerned
glances and murmured well-meaning words.  The way I see it, setting up camp
in my bed is about as good as it's going to get.  Let's face it, if I stay
safely ensconced in my bedroom I considerably lessen the risk of making a
fool of myself.  And this can only be viewed as a *good* thing.  A very good
thing even.


I am *so* ashamed.  Knowing that none of it's my fault, that I'm the -- to
use Adam's word here, not mine -- victim,  doesn't help in the slightest.
The whole sordid mess playing in constant replay in my head, I can't escape
the harsh reality of how effortlessly I was played.  When Emma broke Nate's
hold over me she unwittingly slapped me in the face with everything, and I
mean *everything*, that had taken place over the past few days.  According
to Adam the sudden shock of reality being too great for my system, my mind's
compensated by all but shutting down in order to lick its wounds in peace
and quiet.  The last word out of my mouth was the 'sir' I whispered to Nate.
Since then I haven't spoken.  Not that there's been anything I've wanted to
say though.  There's nothing I can think of saying that would even come
close to sharing with the others how I feel, how sorry I am for the way I
treated them.

Ashamed.  Embarrassed.  Hurt.  Mortified.

Adam says that I'm going to be fine, that by the morning I'll feel up to
talking about it.  He also says that I've got nothing to be ashamed of, that
I was under Nate's influence and not acting myself.  I want to believe him
but can't.  Regardless of how hard I try to see the sense in Adam's words I
just can't.

Gullible.  Easy prey.  Stupid.

Nate probably saw the flashing neon sign screaming 'naïve' above my head and
thought all his Christmases had come at once.  Hell, I was most likely so
easy to dupe that he didn't even have to put much effort into keeping me in
line.  I think it's the fact that I honestly thought he was special that
hurts more than anything.  What happened at Caligula's accounts for most of
the shame but it's the belief that Nate cared for me that really stings.  As
Psionic mind games go I've gotta credit Nate's particular raison d'être with
being up there with the best.  While I was merrily going along with the
delusion that I was falling love he was priming me for my starring
performance at Caligula's.  Instead of wasting all that time and energy on
training me on the finer points of being a slave he just made me dream it
instead.  If all had gone to plan I simply would have thought that being at
Caligula's had been a dream too.  I don't know how he proposed to explain
the injuries I no doubt would have received and, truth be told, don't care
to learn.  Subscribing to one of Nate's apparent theories here, ignorance is
indeed bliss.

Again with the ignorance is bliss school of thought, the other thing I don't
want to know is how many men Nate has done this to.  From what I picked up
from Emma when she blasted him out of my head I was only the last in a very
long line.  Not all lived to tell the tale either.  Some just disappeared
while others couldn't live with the distorted memories and nightmares they
started having after their short-lived relationship with -- who else -- Nate
ended and they committed suicide to be free.  Calling him a sexual predator
in no way does him justice.  In all honesty I don't know what would.  He
preyed on men, turning them into mindless sex slaves solely for his own
gratification.  I doubt even Adam, who tries to believe the best in all new
mutants, would be able to justify his actions.

If Brennan hadn't looked up Nate on the new mutant database and discovered
that he was not only a Psionic but also a suspect in a number of sex crimes
against young men...

If Nate had noticed I was wearing my comlink...

If Shalimar, Brennan and Emma hadn't arrived when they did...


Curling into a tighter ball, I take a deep, shuddery breath and forcefully
tell myself to move on, that thinking hypothetically isn't going to help a
damn thing.  The facts are bad enough without thinking of ways in which the
sorry situation could have been worse.

My world having disintegrated around me, I have no idea how I'm going to put
this behind me.  Nor do I really want to know what the others are currently
thinking about all of this.  If they're as disappointed in my behaviour as I
am then it's doubtful they'll ever be able to view me in a positive light
again.  Not that I'd be able to blame them.  I failed.  Although I was the
only one affected by my failure this time, who's to say next time I won't
take someone down with me?  More than ever I feel like a liability.  If my
friends have written me off I'll truly have nothing.  I wonder if ruining
peoples lives is simply the cherry on top for Nate, the ultimate wielding of
control for someone as self-possessed and power hungry as he is.


Hearing my door open and someone walk quietly into my room, I tense, not
wanting to be on the receiving end of yet another kind and logic filled
lecture.  Expecting my unwanted guest to be Adam, the blanket that gets
flung over the bed comes as something of a surprise.  Knowing instinctively
who it is that's joined me though, I relax as a glimmer of hope suddenly
shines through the darkness.

"I know you're awake somewhere under there, Jess," Shalimar murmurs, sitting
on the edge of the mattress.  "If you want me to leave you're going to have
to give me some sort of sign.  You've got five seconds to make up your mind.
If you don't move I'm going to take it that you're fine with it and I'm

I want to tell her that I don't need the five seconds but, still not trustin
g myself to speak, I remain silent and concentrate on not moving.
Shalimar's presence tells me that she at least has forgiven me for being
such a failure and, yeah, desperate for a positive thought to cling to, it
gives me hope that the others might be willing to give me another chance to.

"Time's up," Shalimar whispers, stretching out on the bed and pulling the
blanket over her.  Wriggling closer, she moulds her body around mine,
hugging me through the quilt.  Although I can't remember the last time it
happened, we used to sleep like this when we first came to Sanctuary, each
of us in search of the innocent comfort that came from knowing we were no
longer so alone.  The safe sex talk Adam gave us was even more embarrassing
than his 'most new mutants are bisexual' one.  I don't think he believed us
but it was never about sex, *never*.  Nor will it ever be.  Shalimar's my
sister in everything but blood and I know that in her eyes I'm her little
brother.  We could no more have sex than we could abandon Mutant X and join
the GSA.

"Everything's gonna be okay," Shalimar adds softly as I push back against
her, letting her know that I appreciate what she's doing.  "Believe me Jess,
we're all here for you.  Hell, if not for the fact they both thought you'd
either freak or resent being squashed out of your own bed, Emma and Brennan
would be here too."

They would?

Mentally crossing my fingers that Shalimar's telling me the truth, I slide
off to sleep, things suddenly looking just that little bit brighter.


- Brennan -

Reaching the door to Jess' bedroom, I hesitate over going in, what seemed
like a good idea two minutes ago now striking me as presumptive.  I mean,
what if he's still asleep or simply doesn't want to see me?  Just because
I've got to see him doesn't mean he feels the same way about me.  Staring
down at the two cups of coffee I'm holding, I sigh and wait for inspiration
to hit.  The way I'm feeling there's a good chance the coffee will be stone
cold before I'm even close to making my mind up.  Lack of sleep, or so I've
found, doesn't exactly do a lot for one's ability to think at one's best.
Quite frankly I'm somewhat impressed that I was even able to manage the
coffee maker without having to call for help.

"For God's sake, Brennan, stop lurking!  If you're coming in then *come*

Okay.  That explains why Shalimar wasn't in her room when I poked my head
through her doorway earlier.  Fair enough.  I suppose I should have really

My mind effectively made up for me, I plaster what I hope to be a suitably
nonchalant expression on my face and casually wander into the room.  An
upheaval on Jess' bed exposes both Shalimar and a comforter covered mound
that I assume to be Jess himself.  Shal, her hair all wildly mussed, yawns
before grinning at me.  "Word of advice, Bren," she comments, her smile
widening, "if you're gonna lurk don't try it around a Feral.  I could smell
you even over the aroma of the coffee."

"I..."  I shrug, the truth coming to me easier than searching for a viable
lie.  "I couldn't decide whether to come in or not.  You know, in case he
was either asleep or didn't want to see me."

"Jess is still asleep," Shal replies, patting the mound gently.  "But I'm
pleased to see you.  Hand over one of those cups of coffee and I'll be even
more pleased."

"It's sugared," I murmur apologetically, handing her a cup.  "Seeing as it
was meant for Jess it's made to his specifications."

"Just this once I'm prepared to let it go," Shalimar smiles, swinging her
legs over the mattress and sitting up.  "God, Bren, you look like shit," she
adds, looking me over as she takes a sip of her coffee.  "Didn't you sleep

"Sleep?" I snort, rolling my eyes heavenwards.  "What's that?  Remember the
'what ifs' Emma told us not to dwell on?  Well, left to my own devices I
kinda dwelt.  I doubt I could have turned my mind off even if my life had
depended on it..."  Trailing off, I shrug again and change tack.  "What
about you?  Ignoring the statement you're making with your hair you look
like you slept pretty well."

"I did, yeah," Shal murmurs, glancing down at the bed, her expression
solemn.  "If I hadn't been here with Jess I wouldn't have though, trust me."

"Best place to be in all of Sanctuary," I agree lightly, trying not to feel
too jealous.  After everything that's happened I've finally accepted just
how much Jess means to me and that, not wanting to risk something like this
ever happening again, I'm going to have to find the courage to confess it to
him.  "Hey, he *is* alive under there, yeah?" I continue lightly.  "I've
been here a couple of minutes now and that lump hasn't moved once."

Shalimar laughs softly.  "Believe me, he's alive.  I can hear him breathing.
Don't be too surprised if stays under there all day though.  I'm kinda
getting the impression that he's not exactly in a people sorta mood."

"I thought he was claustrophobic," I muse, taking a mouthful of coffee and
hoping the caffeine boost makes me just that little bit more with it.  "Now,
I dunno about you, but if you were claustrophobic would you bury yourself
under your comforter?  It just...  I suppose what I'm trying to say is it's
kinda striking me as strange."

Small talk.  Gotta love it.

"There's a difference between feeling trapped and feeling secure," Shal
explains matter-of-factly.  'Think about it, Bren.  Jess is under there
because it's where he wants to be, no one's making him and he can get out
whenever he wants to.  Besides, haven't you ever pulled the bedding over
your head in the vain hope the rest of the world would just fuck off and
leave you alone?"

"When you put it like that," I murmur, nodding.  "Sorry.  It probably
sounded like a dumb question."

"Not dumb," Shal grins, downing the rest of her coffee in one scalding gulp
before standing up and stretching.  "I was thinking more along the lines of
concerned."  Placing the empty cup on the bedside table, she strolls over
and drapes her arm around my shoulder.  "It's going to be okay, Brennan,"
she states softly.  "Adam can huff and puff all he likes, and Emma can frown
disapprovingly while keeping her opinions to herself, but you and I both
know that what we did with Nate was the right thing to do.  The main thing
is that it's all in the past now.  Hard as it seems we've got to focus on
the future.  Things will either return to how they were or they'll improve.
I won't have it any other way."

"Here's to hoping you're right," I mumble, wishing I could echo Shalimar's

"No hope required," Shalimar declares, leaning up and kissing me lightly on
the cheek.  "And you wanna know why?"

I nod.  "Enlighten me."

"Because we all want the same thing," Shal responds, moving away from me and
slowly walking towards the door.  "There you go Bren, something new to dwell
on while you're waiting for Jess to make his mind up in respect to joining
us sometime today or not.  As for me I need a shower, more coffee, and
something to eat."

"Um...  Maybe I'll come with you," I murmur, glancing from Shal to the bed
and back again.  As much as I want to wait for Jess to wake up I'm still not
exactly convinced he'll react well to seeing me hovering in his bedroom.

Her eyes widening, Shal stifles a laugh and shakes her head.  "Don't take
this the wrong way Bren," she smirks, "but I'm not the one in this room
that's been waiting for you to offer to share a shower."

"Huh?" I grunt, confident that there's no way I translated what I thought
she said correctly.  "I... ah... didn't mean it like that anyway."

"I know you didn't," Shal replies, still smirking.  "Don't worry Bren, I
know exactly what you meant, just as you, if you finally stop doing your
best to think yourself into a corner, know exactly what I meant.  Stay.  If
there's anyone who can assure Jess that what's happened hasn't changed
anyone's opinion of him then it's you.  He'll *listen* to me but he'll
*believe* you as you're the only one who can prove it in the way it really
needs to be proven."

"I..."  This is getting just a tad surreal.  If she's saying what I *think*
she's saying then...  Nah.  She can't be.

"Remember Bren, actions speak louder than words," Shalimar states
cryptically before, with a flick of her hair and one last blinding smile,
she slips out of the room.

Clutching my coffee as though it's some sort of talisman, I stare at the
empty doorway feeling as though the proverbial rug has just been pulled out
from under my feet.  Wonderful.  And to think I was confused *before* having
this conversation.  Hell.  Now I'm not so much confused as I am inhabiting
my very own little dream world.

Biting back a sigh, I pull the bedroom door gently closed before wandering
over and settling myself in the armchair in the corner of the room.  Unlike
my armchair I don't have to offload two or three armful of clothes before
being able to take a seat and -- for no real reason -- this thought makes me

An odd sense of calm descending over me, I kick back and, my gaze fixed
firmly on the bed, wait for Jess to wake.  Although -- my crystal ball
reading skills never having been up to much -- I have no idea what's going
to happen I literally can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.

As that famous song goes, what will be will be.


- Jesse -

Waking, three realisations hit me in quick succession.  One, Shalimar's no
longer sharing my bed.  Two, she's gone but her blanket isn't.  And three,
I'm so hot that I literally feel as though I'm at risk of melting.  Add all
this to the fact that I don't actually want to be awake and it can already
be said that I've had better mornings.

Needing to cool down, and fast, I fling back the bedding and sit up.
Gasping for breath, I run my fingers shakily through my hair and try not
think about what I'm going to do with myself for the rest of the day.

"Hey, Jess...  You okay?"

Not having been expecting it, Brennan's voice startles me and, grabbing the
comforter, I scoot up to the top of the bed, my heart beating a nervous
tattoo in my chest.  Willing myself to get a grip, I glance warily at
Brennan and hope that, something going my way for a change, I've regained
the ability to speak.

"Do you want me to go get Adam?" Brennan queries, clambering out of the
armchair in the corner of my room and making his way slowly towards the bed,
his expression one of tired concern.  "Or Shal?  C'mon Jess, talk to me."

"What are you doing here?" I demand faintly, my voice coming out barely
above that of a whisper.  Given that I'd had every intention of spending the
day avoiding company, I'm not exactly rapt in finding Brennan in my room and
leap immediately to the defensive.  "No, don't tell me, let me guess...  You
wanted to see for yourself what caught Nate's eye, yeah?  Is that it, huh?
I mean, there has to be something about me that warranted the effort he had
to put into fucking me over!"

His eyes widening at my completely out of left field verbal attack, Brennan
comes to a halt in the middle of my room and just stares at me, his mouth
gaping open in shock.  "I...  I wanted to see for myself that you were
okay," he eventually murmurs, still staring at me as though he doesn't
really know what it is he's looking at.  "That's... ah... all.  If you want
me to go you just have to say."

"Contrary to my recent performance I don't need a baby sitter," I mutter
flatly, folding my arms across my chest and glowering at Brennan.  "I'm
gullible, not freakin' helpless."  The words slip out of my mouth as though
I've got no control over them.  Although just about the last thing I want is
to be having this conversation I can't seem to help myself from issuing
forth with everything that was running through my mind before going to

Brennan, who looks just about as flustered as I've ever seen him, sighs.
"You're not gullible," he replies plainly, his eyes imploring me to listen
to him.  "What Nate did he could have done to anyone, to any of us.
According to Adam and Emma his powers were so great that he could have had
anyone he wanted.  And... ah... he wanted you, Jess.  You can't blame
yourself for anything that happened.  None of it's your fault.  How could it
be, huh?  You weren't even aware that anything out of the ordinary was going

"He *used* me," I whisper sullenly, hugging my arms tighter around my chest.
"Because of him I..."  Pausing, I take a deep breath and force myself to
push on.  "Because of what he did to me I wasn't in control of my own life.
I thought I was, hell, I thought everything was peachy, but I was wrong.
I...  I was also rude to you and feel as though I've failed the team.  If
something had happened that needed our attention while Nate was... ah...
fucking with me... then I wouldn't have been there for you and... and..."

"And nothing happened so it's not something worth dwelling on," Brennan
interrupts soothingly, taking a hesitant step closer to the bed.  "C'mon
Jess.  I know it's easy for me to say, but you've got to just put it behind
you.  I hate saying it, but you're the victim here.  None of it's your fault
and you can't think that it is.  If anything..."  Trailing off, Brennan
stares down at his feet and blushes.  Well, never actually having seen the
Elemental blush before I *think* that what the pink stain on his cheek has
to be.  "If anything I'm the one to blame," he continues in a rush, his eyes
fixed on the floor and avoiding mine.  "I mean... ah... it's my fault you
were at Mausoleum in the first place.  If I...  Oh God!  If I hadn't talked
Shal into helping me talk you into going none of this ever would have
happened!  And, Jess, you've got to believe me, I'm *so* sorry.  The last
thing I wanted was for you to get hurt.  I... Please.  I'm sorry.  If you
can find it in yourself to forgive me I'll do whatever it takes to make it
up to you.  Promise."

Cocking my head to one side, I peer at Brennan and wonder how I can make it
clear to him that I don't blame him for any of it.  Or Shal.  If I really
hadn't wanted to go to Mausoleum I wouldn't have.  Simple.  Admittedly I
only went because it was easier than finding an excuse not to, but that's
beside the point.  I went because my friends wanted me to go, because they
looked so enthused by going, and because... well... because I wanted to be
with Brennan.  "There's nothing to blame yourself for," I murmur softly,
relaxing slightly against the pillows.  "It's not your fault, Bren.  I went
because I decided that I might as well.  It's not like either of you picked
me up and threw me in the car.  Besides, who's to say I wouldn't have run
into the bastard somewhere else, huh?"

Brennan shakes his head, his gaze shyly meeting mine.  "Still..."

"Not your fault," I mutter, cutting him off.  "Maybe it's no one's fault and
it was just a case of wrong time, wrong place, but..."  Shit.  Here it
comes.  I don't even know if there's an answer to the question but I've
gotta ask it anyway.  "Brennan...  Why me?  Why did Nate target me?  I keep
thinking it was because he saw me as easy prey and that in turn makes me
doubt myself even more than I used to, you know...  If...  If I'm this easy
to dupe then that makes me a liability, right?"

"The reason he chose you, Jess," Brennan murmurs, walking over to the bed
and gingerly sitting on the edge of it, "has nothing to do with the person
you are.  Nate didn't care whether you were easy to dupe or not.  Again, he
could have had anyone in the club, even another Psionic.  Trust me on this."

"There has to be something," I reply agitatedly, leaning forward.  "He can't
have just closed his eyes and decide to target the first sucker he saw when
he opened them again."

"Of course there was something," Brennan responds, smiling softly.  "You're
beautiful, Jess...  He saw you and he wanted you solely because of your
appearance.  I know it sounds simplistic but it's the truth."

"No."  Shaking my head, I slump back against the pillows and, like Brennan
earlier, avert my gaze.  "You're wrong.  There has to be something else."

"I'm not wrong," Brennan replies, reaching out and closing his hand gently
around my right ankle.  "You mightn't see it yourself but, seriously, you've
got to trust me on this, you're beautiful.  Seeing you amongst all those
miserable goths would have made Nate's night."

"Crap," I snort, pulling my ankle away from Brennan and squirming further up
the top of the bed.  "You're talking complete and utter crap.  If Nate
thought I was beautiful then he'd had too much to drink and wasn't seeing

"Nate's not the only to think it," Brennan murmurs simply, shifting closer
to me.  "You mightn't want to believe me but I think... no... I *know*...
you're beautiful and, unlike Nate, I know you."

"You're right, I don't believe you," I mutter flatly.  "In fact I'm thinking
it's time you got Adam to check your eyesight."

"It's not my eyesight that's the problem," Brennan replies, placing his hand
lightly on my knee.  "It's more my timing and ability to accept what I've
got staring me in the face."

"Give it up, Brennan," I sigh, staring down at his hand and trying not to
ignore how much I like having it resting on my knee.  "Being cryptic doesn't
suit you."

"You'd rather I was blunt and to the point then?" Brennan offers with a
shrug.  "I can do that, if that's what you want."

"Go for it," I murmur dismissively.  "I'm all ears."

"Okay, here goes then," Brennan states, nodding.  "You're my best friend,
Jess, someone who is very special to me.  You're also someone who I realise
I've been taking for granted.  This whole sordid affair with Nate has made
me wake up to myself though.  Seeing you with him made me see green.  Even
when we all thought he wasn't the predatory asshole that he is I hated him.
I tried to be happy for you, to wish you the best of luck, but I couldn't.
And you want to know why?  The reason I hated Nate and couldn't be happy for
you is because, with completely shit timing, yeah, I realised that I want
you.  I want you because you're beautiful and my friend and because when I'm
with you I can't think of anywhere else I'd rather be.  Is that... ah...
blunt enough for you?"

Oh yeah.  And how.

He chooses *now* though to come to this epiphany?  Honestly.  Shit timing
had nothing on it.

"Jess..." Brennan whispers timidly, taking his hand off my knee and picking
at his fingernails.  "I... ah...  You don't have to worry or... ah... say
anything.  The way I feel doesn't have to change our friendship or the way
we act around each other.  I just wanted you to know, that's all.  Just say
the word though and I'll never mention it again."

"I..."  Common sense tells me that this can't be happening, that Brennan
can't have just said that he wanted me.  "You'll get over it," I murmur
lamely.  "We've all had a bit of a shock, yeah, but things will soon return
to our version of normal.  You don't want me.  You might think you do, but
you don't.  You... *can't*.  Think about it.  I know you, Bren, you'd be
lost without your one night stands."

"I'd be more lost without you," Brennan mumbles, his cheeks flushing pink as
he realises how soppy his response was.  "Eurgh...  Much more of that and
you'll be forgiven for thinking I've got a thing for romance novels," he
adds with a soft laugh.  "Um...  I meant it though.  I know in your eyes I
sleep around but that's only because I never find what I'm looking for, that
they all pale in comparison to... to you..."  Pausing, he shrugs and meets
my gaze, his expression achingly honest.  "For what it's worth I think we'd
be good together.  Again though, it's your call.  If it's not what you want
I'll never mention it again."

"And what if it is what I want?" I query quietly, pushing the comforter away
and crawling over to sit next to Brennan.  "You said it yourself, Bren, your
timing sucks.  I'm feeling... ah... how does Emma put it?"

"Delicate?" Brennan suggests, watching me expectantly.

I nod.  "Mmm...  That'll do.  I'm feeling kinda delicate at the moment and I
don't want this to be something we both jump into on some sort of rebound
trip.  God, Brennan, I've wanted you for ages and can't remember when I
*didn't* think we'd be good together.  That said, it's because I care so
greatly for you that I want to be confident that we both know what it is we
think we're doing.  I mean, what if we're both wrong and..."

Brennan's lips settling over mine silencing me, all rational thought deserts
my mind as, free falling, I lose myself in the soft, tentative kiss.

Pulling back, Brennan blinks at me and grins.  "That feel wrong to you?"

I shake my head, my lips already missing the feel of his pressed against
them.  "Felt pretty right to me," I murmur, sounding as dazed as I feel.

His grin broadening, Brennan drapes his arm around my shoulders and hugs me
to him.  "Very," he agrees, planting a fleeting kiss on my cheek.  "Now, do
you wanna keep talking or do you want to have a shower with the world's best
back washer here?"

"I thought water did nasty things to your... ah... stamina," I tease,
leaning against him and placing my head on his knee, squeezing it gently.
If this is how things are going to go then, well, who am I to argue?

"Oh, it does," Brennan responds, a wicked glint suddenly appearing in his
eyes.  "You see, it's like this.  *I* wash your back, amongst other places,
and *you* take me back to bed and make sure I stay there until I've regained
my strength.  Quid pro quo, you know.  Now, how about it?"

"With an offer like that, how could I refuse," I laugh, everything suddenly
looking better than it has for a long time.  While I could have lived
without how we actually got to this point -- understatement -- all that
really matters is we're here.


~ end ~