(With)out
Jessica S

***
Classification: Angst, vignette. Apart of "Shifting" series.
Disclaimer: Mutant X does not belong to me, it belongs to Tribune Entertainment. Sniff. I am ashamed I like this show, but the people are so pretty!
Author's Note: A follow-up to my previous piece, "Flightless". It also makes references to Night's fic "Ricochet", which is a follow-up to "Flightless". Read them before you read this, but I suppose you don't have to if you don't want to. It'll just make more sense if you do. Thanks for the beta, Aire.
***




The air is too heavy. It smothers him and he has difficulty breathing. The atmosphere feels too thick with emotions and electricity from his hands have to fight and shudder to fly through the air. The oxygen is saturated with anger, bitterness, apathy. He can feel it between his fingers. It is too tangible, and the sensation feels sharp and prickly against his skin. There is so much pain, too much pain.

And he cannot breathe.

"It's not my fault," he whispers painfully into the silence, twisting his hands together. "It's not my fault I fell in love with Shalimar."

But the air does not provide any reassurances. If anything else, he can hear and feel the sound waves of past accusations.

*

He slides through the dancing bodies, walks up to the bartender, orders a drink. "Bourbon, on the rocks."

Music pumps loudly across the club in transverse waves, bright lights spinning in dizzying circles. The club smells strongly of cheap cigarettes and sweat. He's never really liked this place, never really liked it's distinct smell and the roaring music. But Shalimar dragged him here, and he followed.

The bourbon is cold and slides like acid down his throat. He sets the glass done, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. He squints, eyes running over the ocean of people, looking. His eyes land on Shalimar, and he watches her fluid movements on the dance floor, eyes tracing the curve of her arms, the shine of her hair, the contours of her body.

He likes to watch Shalimar -- dancing, fighting, smiling. She possessed some sort of feline grace when she moved -- always dignified, always confident, sleek and smooth. He doesn't like what happens to him when he watches her. His hands grow sweaty, and strange mixture of emotion flows through his blood. Lust, fear, want. He doesn't want to feel like an awkward adolescent, but he can't help himself. So he watches her anyway.

Emma caught him watching Shalimar once -- after he had run his hand over her face, after his mouth met hers, after she had caught him twisted around Shalimar. The final curtain fell across Emma's eyes as her eyes met his. A brittle smile, a twirl on her heel, an end to their friendship. He winces then, remembering the hard look in Emma's eyes before she turned away. He tried to look away after that happened, tried to keep his eyes from following Shalimar's form, even when Emma wasn't in the room.

But he failed.

And he still watches her.

*

It's eight o 'clock and the kitchen is strangely empty; without chatter, without presence. The kitchen is too empty, too silent, too still. The lack of sound is agitating and he roughly opens a cupboard; slamming, clinking, clattering, anything to disturb the deathly silence. It's unnerving, and he needs to make some noise -- he needs to drown out the whispers of the demons in his head.

He grabs a mug from the second shelf of the third cupboard; blue, made of heavy ceramic. It feels cool against his sweaty, heated skin. He holds it tightly, doesn't want to drop it, doesn't want it to shatter. He's been the catalyst of chaos much too often, and he hates how the guilt crawls up his spine. He doesn't want to pick up the sharp and jagged fragments anymore. He doesn't know how. It is too difficult, and in the process, shards of glass often pierce his skin, blood pouring into his hands.

He suddenly feels the need to move, the need to work off the energy in his muscles, in his bones.

The floor is like ice against the bare soles of his feet, but his toes are still tactile. The pristine white tiles are smooth; he can easily slip and slide across the floor. He knows that if he isn't careful, he could easily fracture himself, but he is already broken anyway. Walking across the room, he pushes the tiny red button on the coffee pot, watches the coffee start drip drip dripping through the filter; cleansing, purifying. He stares at the droplets gathering slowly. He wills them to hurry, wants -- no, needs -- a shot of caffeine. His body is like a bundle of loose energy, unable to release any. The coffee sometimes helps, but he always feels jittery, and unable to do much of anything. He can't turn his energy into movement anymore, and he hates it.

The coffee is tasteless; so hot that it burns his tongue and his throat. He curses softly under his breath, for he won't be able to taste anything for the next day or two. Yet he can't bring himself to care. He can't feel anymore, hasn't been able to feel in a long time. His senses have been numbed, along with his feelings. He finds that oddly appropriate.

He walks a few steps and slumps down into a chair, setting his cup on the kitchen table with a bang. He shifts a bit, and the wooden chair creaks tiredly. He rubs his eyes with the heel of one hand, and pinches the bridge of his nose. He lifts the mug again, drains the cup in just one gulp. He winces at the heat, but he doesn't quite feel it at all. He isn't a stranger to the sensation. His world is rarely vibrant with colour, almost always bleak with shades of grey. He rarely feels alive anymore, so rarely is he overcome with sheer joy and vivid tones that he forgot what happiness really felt like.

He is gulping down his third cup of coffee when Shalimar comes down into the kitchen. Her eyelids are still half-closed, her hair still tangled and knotted. He tries to smile at her as she steps into the kitchen, but the corners of his lips will not cooperate with him.

"You look like crap, Brennan," Shalimar says, matter-of-factly, her grin softening her words.

"Thanks," he says dryly -- not because he wants to speak, but because he's Brennan, and he's expected to.

Shalimar winks at him. Tossing her head back, she saunters closer to him. He can smell the scent of her hair. The scent screams strong, bold, confident. Just like Shalimar.

He fails to return the smile with a smirk, and her grin fades. A look of motherly concern fills her eyes, and she slides gracefully into the chair adjacent to him. "Are you okay, Brennan?"

He stares at her for a moment, concentrating on the petals of light brown within her irises. He is fascinated by the emotions dancing within them. "I'm okay," he says finally, "I'm okay. I'm just tired."

Shalimar cocks her head to one side. From the way she furrows her brown, he can tell the wheels in her head are turning, verifying the truth behind his words. She opens her mouth, closes it again, then smiles wistfully at him. "You know you can talk to me, right? Whenever," Shalimar says.

He manages to smile at her then, and answers, "I know, but I'm fine, really. There's nothing to talk about."

She smiles at this, seemingly satisfied. She rises, stretches, hands reaching into the sky. "I'm starving," she groans.

"Then get something to eat," he says, infusing a laugh into his words.

"I think I will," she answers, grinning. She turns, heads for the fridge.

When her back is turned to him, the hesitant, hard smile melts off his face, like snow being attacked by harsh sunlight in the spring. The jumble of words in his mouth are fighting to get out, but he can only stay silent. He's never had a way with words, has never been able to articulate his emotions to another. He can't talk to Shalimar, he's never been able to talk to her -- really talk to her about emotions tangled together in suffocating knots. His words always bump and bruise together, never clear or concise, especially when it comes to his feelings whirling within him.

Emma was the only one that understood him, understood him without words. Yet he held her heart in his hands with a careless grasp, and broke her heart in two, leaving her to pick up the shards. She doesn't care anymore, can't care anymore. He's hurt her too much.

He has no one to talk to, no one to hold his hand, listen to his heart.

And he realizes: He is almost alone.

*

Some nights, the dreams come; images of Lorna, of people he's hurt, of Gabriel. Images that form together, blurring, screaming, until he jerks up -- shaken. More often then not, he'll stay awake during nights like these. He'd read Wilde, Shakespeare, Steinbeck.

Some nights, he would run to Emma.

But he can't wake her, can't run to her. Not now, not ever. And when this revelation sinks into his mind once again, he curses himself (again, and again). He curses himself for being this way, for not having enough self-control, for being so human.

He once woke Shalimar up once in desperation. He remembers that she was slightly annoyed, not because he woke her, but because he wouldn't talk to her. He wouldn't, couldn't, tell her what was wrong. He remembers angry words, raised voices, shrill whispers...and silence, silence from him. She eventually grew still as well, exhausted from prodding, from pleading. Eyes closing, arm around his torso. Yet it wasn't the same -- it could never be the same -- but Shalimar's warmth was better then the ice that he always felt when he was alone.

The next morning, she was already awake when his eyes fluttered open. Again: anger, shrill whispers, silence. Then: passion, anger, forgiveness. But he vowed he wouldn't do it again -- wouldn't wake Shalimar, wouldn't run to her, wouldn't hurt Shalimar by keeping her out.

He vowed he wouldn't hurt Shalimar the way he hurt Emma.

So tonight, he finds himself wandering the halls of the Sanctuary.

The darkness smells bitter and dangerous, and the blood pumps faster in his veins. There was a time he loved the darkness, a time where he craved the secrecy it provided, a time where his transgressions could be hidden from prying eyes.

But it serves as a reminder now, of all his sins. His hands have been stained crimson. He's hurt so much in the darkness. It reminds him.

Stolen goods, girls (so many girls), and Emma, hurting Emma. He remembers the soft whisper of bare flesh colliding. He remembers. He remembers. That memory is not warm, and he would vanquish that night away if he could. He shouldn't have touched her, shouldn't have lost his control. He shouldn't have followed her, he's never loved her like that -- never loved her more then a sister, a best friend. He wants to, wants to love her so desperately. But he can't. He can't.

He rubs his head tiredly with his calloused fingers. It is too warm. The air feels like fire, and a strange sensation runs up his arms -- a rush of needles against his skin. He tugs the collar of his shirt and rolls up his sleeves, rubbing his arms, numbing them again. He feels the beads of sweat gathering at the back of his neck. It is too warm, too suffocating, too humid.

He needs to get outside, needs to get out of the confinements of his home.

The glass doors feel cool against his palms, and he rests his forehead against it for a moment. He silently wishes life were simple.

Sighing, he pulls away from the door absently, steps outside, welcomes the cool breeze that hits him. He takes a step forward, hands slipping into his pockets. He inhales, tries to calm himself. The water beckons to him in the horizon. The sky is black, but the streetlights dance gracefully through the ripples. He wants to be absorbed by their peaceful song, wants to gaze into the distorted waves.

He's about to walk closer when he sees them -- Emma and Jesse. There is nothing intimate about their positions, yet his muscles suddenly feel limp, and his feet are stuck to the cement. They are suspended in time, and he watches them. He watches how Jesse touches Emma's shoulder, watches how Emma's hair falls limp against her cheek. He can see that she's crying, can see the tears glittering from a distance. And he starts to despise himself again, feels the guilt wash over him once more. He knows -- feels -- that she is crying because of him, knows it, hates it.

He watches, watches them. His stomach curls as he sees Emma's head fall against Jesse's chest, clenches his fists as he realizes she doesn't need him anymore. She doesn't need his shoulder to cry on, doesn't need his validation. She has Jesse now, and despite the fact that he has Shalimar, his heart aches because he has lost his best friend, the only person in the world who knew him at all.

He wants to bolt just then, but doesn't. After all, he is Brennan Mulwray, and he never loses face, never loses control. He just turns around, his legs leaden and spine rigid. His steps are slow and soundless as he walks back into the Sanctuary.

He flicks on the light switch the second he closes the glass doors. He is suddenly overcome with the need to get rid of the darkness, the jealousy ebbing away at his heart. He squints in pain at the sudden rush of brightness. The room suddenly seems too fluorescent, too artificial, and he misses the warm glow of pale sunlight. But he leaves the light on, for even artificial illumination is better then the velvet darkness threatening to overcome his life and his emotions.

*

The minutes feel like hours, and the incessant ticking of the clock overhead makes his heart grow heavier. He rubs his eyes tiredly and looks at the bright green numbers of his watch. 3:13 am, and they are not home yet.

Emma and Jesse are not home yet.

Adam tried to reach them over the comlink, failed, but tried to assure him that Emma and Jesse were okay. It didn't work, for at the moment, he's entertaining thoughts of Eckhart's minions, with their hands over Jesse's mouth, over Emma's mouth. He imagines her wrists burnt with bruises, her eyes pain-ravaged. He imagines Jesse stumbling into the room, hair dirty and sooty, no longer blond, imagines Jesse telling him that Emma was gone, that Emma was taken. Imagines.

But he knows the possibilities of such drastic scenarios are slim. If needed Jesse will protect her with his life. He tries to convince himself that Emma can take care of herself. She is stronger then he believes. He knows that, has felt her strength.

But he worries still, because she's Emma. She is Emma. She is still the girl he needs to protect, still the scared girl that ran to him for help. She is still Emma.

"Where do you think they are?" Shalimar asks interrupting his thoughts. Her voice laced with worry and fear, lacking the usual confidence.

He glances at her, has the need to break the oppressive silence as he watches Shalimar twists her hands together, golden curls falling over her face. "They'll be okay," he says uncertainly.

She turns her head, a hint of a smile on her lips. "You don't sound so sure."

He shrugs, "I'm not, but Adam is."

She ruefully shakes her head, "And Adam is always right."

He grins at her, ignoring the pulsing vein of worry in his wrist. "Exactly."

She smiles at this, a crooked, sly smile -- distinctly Shalimar -- and against his will, his heart speeds up. He doesn't want to touch her, this is what got him into trouble in the first place. This is how he lost Emma. This is the reason Jesse is so cold these days. He doesn't want to hurt them, doesn't want them to come home and see him licking the curve of Shalimar's neck.

But he has no self-control, and he reaches out and touches her knee. The leather is hot and smooth against the pads of his fingers, and his fingers slide down the clean lines of her calves.

"They're not usually the wild ones," Shalimar says, massaging her temples. "They don't go out partying late into the night. They call so we don't worry. They just...they don't do this. Jesse doesn't do this."

"They learn from the best," he comments, trying to diffuse the tension in the air.

He reaches over and brushes a curl from her face. She lifts her head as his fingers graze her impossibly soft skin. Her eyes are bright, and he no longer sees traces of worry in her eyes. He knows she's thinking of the nights they spent together.

Clubbing, dancing, running, fighting, and the kisses that would follow. He remembers, she remembers. She always smiles coyly at these memories, always leans closer until her lips touch his collarbone.

But he doesn't smile when he remembers, he never smiles. But he always allows her to kiss him, allows her to trace invisible lines over his stomach, allows her lips to softly drag across his collarbone. He never moves away, because that is what his body wants. That is what his body wants.

Shalimar's eyes are twinkling mischievously, her eyes hold no trace of worry. He wonders how she can forget about Jesse so easily, how easily the worry evaporates. She grins at him, touches his hand, leans forward.

"They'll be okay," he says suddenly, needing to stop this, needs to stop this before her clothes are scattered on the clothes. He needs to stop this before Emma and Jesse walk in, needs to stop this even though he wants it -- wants it so badly it echoes in his veins.

Surprise flares in her eyes and she pulls back, her eyebrows crinkling. "Okay," she says, her voice ridden with surprise and uncertainty.

"Yeah," he says, breathing heavily, "I-"

He wants to touch her hair, wants to feel her skin against his tongue. He pinches the skin between his thumb and finger, forces himself to stay motionless. She stares at him, watches the way he clenches his teeth, hears his heavy breathing. "Is something wrong, Brennan?"

He opens his mouth, doesn't know what to say. He presses his lips shut, swallows his words. He doesn't know what to say, doesn't know what to say. Shalimar cocks her head, looks at him with concern. She looks like she is going to speak.

But they both hear the heavy metal door clang, it's impact resounding throughout the room -- notes melting into silence. He quickly stands up, tries to make himself look intimidating, angry, tired. Shalimar stays on the couch, her arms resting on her knees, fingers twisted together. He can feel her eyes darting over his back. He feels her curiosity. She is not worried about Jesse, she is not thinking of Jesse. She is thinking of him. Of how he won't speak to her, won't share, won't touch her.

He ignores her silent questions, pretends they don't exist. He just concentrates at the door, waits for Jesse and Emma to walk through the door. He grits his teeth at the sight. Emma's eyes hollow, accentuated by shadows. Jesse's face coloured pancake, thumbs on Emma's hip. They are both laughing. This bothers him more then it should.

"Where have you been?" he asks. The tone of his voice is cold, demanding. He checks his watch. "It's almost 4:30 in the morning."

Jesse's smile instantly fades, his face hardening. "We know how to tell the time."

"Where have you been?" he repeats.

"At a club," this time it's Emma who speaks, her voice clipped. She is no longer laughing, no longer smiling. Instead, she looks tired, exhausted. She looks like the night she caught him twisted around Shalimar, like vines intertwined with a trellis.

"And you didn't think to call us?" Shalimar asks incredeously. He looks at her. Shalimar is standing tall, hands on her hip, golden eyes flashing. "You didn't think that we'd worry?"

"We didn't think you'd notice," Jesse answers. The expression on his face is pained, cold.

Shalimar blinks at this, "Not notice?" she asks furiously, "Not notice?"

Jesse shrugs, "We both figured you guys would be too busy making out on the couch to notice."

"Just chill, both of you," he says, catching Shalimar's arm and pushes her behind him. "Okay, all Shalimar and I are trying to say is that next time you plan a late night rendezvous, just call and let us know."

"Because there are scary things in the night?" Emma asks mockingly. He looks at her face closely, wonders if she had more to drink then virgin strawberry daiquiris.

"No, because we care, and we need to know or we'll worry," he answers her, tries to keep his voice steady, doesn't need another confrontation.

"Care," Emma says, her eyes burning. "Care."

"That's right," Shalimar snaps, "We both care about you. Is that concept foreign to you?"

But Emma doesn't look at Shalimar. Her eyes are trained on him, "You care."

He wants to throw his hands up in exasperation, but doesn't. "Yes."

She laughs at this. A bitter, harsh laugh. "Right."

"I've always cared, Emma. We've always cared."

Emma shakes her head, "No. You don't care, Brennan. You don't care. Care? You have a funny way of showing it."

"Just listen to me!" he says, raises his voice.

"Why should she?" Jesse asks, jumping into the conversation. He hovers beside Emma, hand on her arm.

He whips around, stares at Jesse in the face. "You are not apart of this conversation, so just butt out. And she has to listen -- you have to listen -- because Shalimar and I have been waiting for you for over three hours, worried sick. I think we're both entitled to some common courtesy like listening!"

"Courtesy," Emma repeats, laughing again. "Courtesy."

"Will you stop repeating everything?" Shalimar snaps. "Brennan's right. We were just worried about you, okay. I don't know what your problem is about-"

"Brennan, you don't deserve any courtesy," Emma's voice is flat. "After what you did, after you ignored me, after you came to me that ni-" she pauses, looks at Shalimar, "After you did what you did. Don't you dare talk to me about courtesy. Don't you dare Brennan."

Shalimar looks at him, looks at Jesse, looks at Emma. "What are you talking about?"

But Emma doesn't answer. She just turns around, walks away and Jesse follows. He wants to follow her, wants to apologize once again. But he doesn't, he just stands there -- tired, exhausted. He reaches up and massages his neck, listens to the deafening silence.

"What is she talking about, Brennan?" Shalimar asks softly.

"Nothing," he answers, refusing to look at her. "Nothing at all."

*

He's sprawled on the couch -- staring emptily at the stucco ceiling -- when he feels Emma walks in. It's been three days since she screamed and stomped off into the distance. Three days, but it feels like three years. He finds it strange how time seems to drag on -- distorted -- when he doesn't want it to.

He doesn't turn his head at first, doesn't acknowledge her presence, pretends he is too absorbed in the beauty of a whitewashed vision. He concentrates harder on the way the dots of plaster dimple the pale expanse. Ignores her, as she ignores him.

He doesn't think he can handle this now, the talking. He doesn't want to do it right now; doesn't want to see her face crumble, burn in anger, wilt. They both are too bruised and tender now; too emotional, burned out.

But they are still connected, and the strings still pull at him as she passes. It is a force that pulls him towards her, despite the fact that he does not want to go, doesn't want to be pulled towards her. He's certain that she doesn't want to either. Nevertheless, she comes into his vision, back turned, dark hair limp and tired. His eyes travel down the lines of her back; clean, tense.

He shouldn't this, shouldn't talk to her now. She is not strong enough. They are not strong enough. Not yet, not now.

He doesn't want to say anything, doesn't want to speak. But words are being tugged out of his vocal chords, struggling to push through. He bites his tongue to stop the words from forming, but they are stronger then he is, and they form without difficulty.

"I'm sorry," he whispers. A choke of air; so soft and quiet it is barely audible.

But she hears him, hears him loud and clear. He knows she can, because her neck muscles tighten, and she no longer walks. She is frozen in time, unable to make a move.

"I'm sorry Emma," he repeats. "I-" his voice falters, but he tries again. "I never meant to hurt you. God, I never meant to hurt you."

Emma spins around at this, her eyes flashing. "But you did Brennan, okay? You did."

"I know, okay? I know," he says in frustration, "I don't know what to do. I don't know how to fix this, how to fix us. You're...I don't know how to describe us. But you matter to me. You're the only one that understands me, the only one, and I need you for that."

When she doesn't answer, he continues, hating the desperate tone in his voice. "I don't know how to fix us, but I want to. I want to fix us. Just, tell me what to do Emma. Tell me how to fix it, fix us. Tell me what to do."

He stares at the emotions that flicker across her face. "Nothing."

"Nothing? What do you mean nothing?" His voice weak, desperate, needy.

"You can't do anything, Brennan. You just-I just, we just can't go back to the way things were," her voice is soft, sad, hurt, but determined. He winces at the finality of her words."

"You can't mean that," he whispers, "You just can't mean that. Please, Emma. God, I need you. Don't you understand that?"

A bitter smile graces her face when he says this. "You don't need me, Brennan. You have Shalimar now, remember?"

"Shalimar-" he struggles to find the words, "I can't talk to her like I can talk to you. All the words die. I can't speak, I can't articulate my emotions. I never could, I never will be able to. I love her, but with you, with you it's so easy. God, I want to be able to talk to you again, Emma. I want to be able to go talk to you, like Jesse talks to you. I-"

"I can't do it," she whispers painfully. "I can't. God, Brennan. I can't do this. We can never be the way we where. Never."

She's in the kitchen before he can say anything, before any thoughts can float through his mind. When her words sink into his mind, he angrily gets up, kicks the couch with all his might. He falls back onto the couch, winces in pain, rubs his injured toes. He wants so desperately to be angry at her, wants to desperately blame her for her lack of forgiveness.

But he doesn't, he can't. He's the one who hurt her, he's the one who rubbed salt into her wounds. It's him. It's him.

"I'm sorry," he whispers, just in case she can hear him, just in case she will forgive him. Just in case.

She doesn't.

*

He's doing push-ups when Shalimar walks up to him. He doesn't notice her at first. He doesn't notice anything, just hears his labored breathing, feels the ache in his muscles.

"Brennan," Shalimar finally whispers.

When he looks up at her, the expression on her face is tired, drained, hurt. Her eyes are slightly red, and he can see the traces of salty tears on her cheeks. It surprises him, because Shalimar never cries. She is too strong for tears.

"What's wrong?" he asks immediately, worry flooding his voice. He pushes off the floor, is on his feet in an instant.

Shalimar doesn't answer. She looks at him. "I need to know something."

He inhales, "Okay."

"I need to know why you won't talk to me," she says, her voice carefully neutral, carefully balanced.

"I'm talking to you right now," he jokes, tries to lighten the mood.

"You know what I'm talking about," Shalimar says, her voice strong. "God Brennan. You talk about how much you care about me, how much you trust me. But you don't. You don't talk to me, about anything."

"I care. God, how can you think I don't?" he says, tries to keep the calm and rational in his voice.

"I need to know." Her voice is deadly, "I need you to tell me why you're always hiding secrets from me. I need to know why you just won't tell me, won't talk to me, about anything."

He laughs harshly, "It's not like you're sharing every tidbit of your life with me."

Shalimar runs a hand over a thigh. "I don't know what to do with you! I don't know how to deal with you when you're so hard, and cold. You won't let me touch you, you won't let me comfort you. You won't let me do anything. I can't even listen. You won't even talk to me! I want to help you, I care about you. But I can't! I can't help you because you won't let me," she shouts in frustration. "You won't let me."

"I don't want to do this right now." A whisper, a hiss.

Shalimar laughs at this -- brittle, loud, cold. "You never want to do this. I'm sick of this."

He doesn't answer her then, just focuses his eyes on anything but her, anything but Shalimar. "Talk to me Brennan," Shalimar says finally, her eyes wide, sunken.

But he doesn't, can't talk to her. The silence stretches between them, and he can feel the end is coming. They are both still, and he still remembers the tableau. Shalimar staring at him, gritting her teeth, hands on her thighs, hair tangled. Him, staring everywhere, fists clenched, watching his relationships fall and fade. He captures this moment in his mind.

He watches in slow movement as Shalimar throws her hands up in the air. Her voice trembles slightly, but stays strong as she says, "Fine. FINE. If that's how you want to do it. Fine." She turns around on her heel, stalks away in anger. He watches her as she storms up the stairs, watches the empty room long after she is gone, walls of silence made of foam.

And he is alone.

*

"I'm sorry," he whispers in Shalimar's ear two days later. He sinks down beside her on the couch, turns around a looks at her. He reaches out, touches her arm. She doesn't flinch, and he almost smiles, but remembers. This is an apology, and he shouldn't smile. So he wills his his eyebrows to furrow, bites the inside of his cheek.

It takes one minute for Shalimar to look at him, but when she does, her eyes are not glassy and without feeling. They are warm, gold and brown mix together in swirls of kindness tinged with doubt. "Hey," she says.

He quirks a corner of his mouth upwards, smiles at her. "Hey."

She turns away, and they sit in silence for awhile. He hears the sound of Shalimar's light breathing, and the sound uncoils into every corner of the room. He suddenly wonders when the Sanctuary became so still, when Mutant X no longer chattered together, when the ceased to be. He wonders if Adam noticed. His knee starts to bounce as he waits for Shalimar to speak.

Suddenly, Shalimar's hand shoots out to steady his knee. "Stop that."

"I'll stop if you forgive me," he dares to say, stilling his knee.

Her eyes meet his. She arches an thin eyebrow, "Okay."

"Okay?" Surprise fills his voice.

"Yeah," Shalimar says simply. "Okay."

He sits there, stunned by her ability to forgive. "Thanks," he says finally, "Thanks."

She doesn't answer him, just stares at him. Her eyes devour every emotion on his face. But his face is carefully blank, and she's never been able to feel his radiating emotions. She sighs in frustration, "Brennan."

His eyes are on hers, and he just raises his eyebrow, acknowledges her.

"I need to know."

"You need to know," he repeats, confusion lacing his voice.

"Why," Shalimar says, the frustration radiating out of her voice, "I need to know why you don't seem to want to talk to me."

He forces a grin to appear, tries to lighten the mood. "If I'm not mistaken, I'm talking to you right now."

Shalimar shoots him a look, her face tight. "I'm serious, Brennan."

He blinks, sighs, gains his composure. "It's not you, Shalimar. It's-"

"Me?" Shalimar asks, raising an eyebrow. There is an edge in her voice. "Don't be cliché."

He looks at her, shakes his head, "This isn't easy for me."

"This."

He clenches his fists, "Talking. Talking isn't easy for me."

She touches his hand then, watches the expressions on his face. "You used to talk to Emma."

He flinches at this, "What?"

"Do you think I didn't notice?" she asks, "Honestly, Brennan. I saw...I understand you guys are close, I understand that. But I'm your...I don't know, I just need to know why you can talk to Emma, but not to me."

There is a hint of desperation in her voice, a hint of curiosity. Those emotions are barely audible, but he hears them anyway. He feels a familiar tightness in his chest. "Emma and I...We don't talk anymore. We never did talk about anything important." The lies flow naturally from his tongue, and he wonders why for once, the heavy weight of guilt does not plague him. "Shalimar, it's not that I don't trust you. You know I do."

"You don't act like it," she says, her voice soft, pained.

"I do," he says, "It's...difficult. I'm not like you, I can't...articulate. It's just difficult."

She looks at him, defeat washing over her face. "Okay," she says finally, "I just," she pauses "You can talk to me, whenever."

Her voice is soft and caring, and the emotion put into those few words makes something in him twist. He hears the dull roar of his vocal cords, and he suddenly wants to speak. He stares into Shalimar's eyes, observes the way the kindness pools in her eyes, watches the way she is trying to reach out to him. She is trying to reach out to him, and he wants her to save him.

The emotions feel like a weight within his stomach -- heavy, hard, corrosive. Life seems like a raging ocean, and he cannot swim. He is drowning.

He inhales, stares at Shalimar's face. He opens his mouth, tries to speak, wants to share his words, his emotions with her. But the weight is much too heavy, and his vocal cords cannot support them. He feels them thud into his stomach quickly, and he winces at the sensation. He looks at Shalimar's expectant face, exhales in frustration through his teeth.

He kisses her instead.

*

Everything is a blur, tinged with shadows of colour but his world is still mostly grey. Even when Shalimar's mouth curved into a smile under his yesterday, the soft colour of nimbus washed over his vision.

He is tracing patterns on the bare soles of Shalimar's feet. They are all sitting together on the couch. Shalimar, Emma, Jesse, Adam, him. They are together, and strange feeling is pulsing his veins. It isn't joy, isn't stress or regret. He doesn't know what it is, doesn't know how he should be feeling.

He's watching Adam's lips move, but he can't seem to here him. All he hears are strobing notes of silence, melting together. He rubs his head tiredly, strains to hear Adam's words, but ends up watching, reading his lips.

The silence suddenly fades, and he catches the end of Adam's words, "-sources say she should be at the club tonight."

"So what's the plan of action?" These words come from Jesse, his voice slightly over eager.

He smiles wryly. Jesse, the knight in shining armor, always looking for a poor soul to save. He studies Jesse carefully out of the corner of his eye. Jesse is caught between Shalimar and Emma. He observes the way Jesse's body is swayed with relaxation towards Emma, frigid towards Shalimar like a statue by Rodin. A part of him tightens as he watches Jesse touch Emma's thigh with his pinky, but he shakes the feeling out of his bones.

"You'll do what you always do. Split up," Adam says. "Try to help her. She's lost, and she's powerful. Emma and Brennan can team up, Jesse and Shalimar."

"No," Emma says, her voice sharp. She looks startled at her outburst. Her eyes dart across everyone's faces, except for his. Her blue eyes skip over his. "I mean, it seems with this kind of mutant, it's safer to use a softer approach, make sure she doesn't feel trapped. Jesse and I would make a better team."

He frowns, but doesn't say anything. He concentrates instead on the way the light reflects off of Shalimar's hair. He pinches the web of skin between his finger and his thumb, feeling the slight pain shoot up his arm. A feeling of numbness comes over him, and he suddenly feels as if he's watching everyone from outside the box.

"No," Shalimar is saying, "I really do think that having an aggressive person matched up with a...passive person would be the best. We don't want her to run away, we need someone to stop her."

"We can fight you know," Jesse says, bristling. "And you're forgetting that she's a strong mutant. She could probably beat you any day."

Shalimar shakes her head, "Then you or Emma will do the talking. It would work."

"I agree with Shalimar," Adam says.

"I agree with Emma," Jesse says.

"Brennan?" Shalimar asks, "What do you think?"

He feels ice crawl up his spine. Suddenly everything is tinged with red and grey, swirling like dry ice. The sky suddenly feels like it's falling, collapsing over him. And he tries to breathe. "What?" he finally says.

Shalimar exhales impatiently, "About pairing up, you and Emma, Jesse and I. How do you feel about that."

Feel. Feelings. The words slide across the room, knocking the wind out of him. His eyes travel across the room, and he realizes: This is how it will be.

Emma broken, shattered, trying to rebuild. Emma with dark eyes, hands grasping Jesse's, trying not to drown. Emma's face, carefully trained, carefully willed to a shade of normalcy. Emma never looking at him again.

Jesse hardened, Jesse torn. Jesse no longer innocent, but still the savior. Jesse the hero, Jesse the white knight. The one who didn't stain the friendship, the bond of Mutant X. The opposite of him.

Shalimar, beautiful, strong, bold. Shalimar with beautiful eyes, and flawless skin. Shalimar, the one who will forever be unable to coax the words out of him.

Adam, always the leader, always strong. The rock, but unknowing, unknowing.

And finally, him. Without words, an edge of loneliness in his heart. Cold, vulnerable, a mask that falls into place without realization. A cold, hard shell made of unbreakable steel. And a heavy weight of words within.


***
End
***