Thank you for the great feedback, everyone. It was much, much better than the aspirin. ;)

The same disclaimer applies, and it's still freakishly long.
SPOILERS for this part: Blood Ties and Signs from Above.


The gate of the mansion he hasn't seen for seven years stares back at him with all of its imposing grace.

I'm not a freak.

It is an automated response, triggered by what is in front of him now. He is not a freak. Not a freak.


All these years, it still comes down to one thing. Jesse would laugh if he could, but he doesn't feel like laughing. In fact, he doesn't feel like doing anything at all. Doesn't feel like standing here like this. Doesn't feel like breathing. Thinking. And thinking. And mostly he doesn't feel like walking through this gate.

He collects life, of its disappointment, regret, and love, always love. He collects the moments of truths like a kid holding onto his treasure box and its content that would look like junks to anyone else but him. A broken seashell for a memory, a jaded rock for another, a fading photograph burning into reminiscence. All this, because he knows these moments can be taken away from him any second, any moment. Fate is fickle and unkind and wretched.

At the end of the gate are the people he has to call his family, what's left of them, and some of the memories he has kept in his precious box. But memories don't hold him together any more.

Turning around, he slips into the convertible and drives away. He's not ready. Not after two days of wandering. He isn't sure if he'll ever be ready, but surely the moment isn't now.

He drives through the nearest downtown, the streets that shine with the last glimmering twilight. He used to love this place, for all of its darkness and pain that don't belong to him and shame him. The picture of poverty is stark with the juxtaposition against the gate he cannot enter, and he is trying hard not to remember why he has left in the first place.

It is suddenly hard to breathe. He parks at the first parking space he sees and gets out from the car. Breathing in, breathing out. It doesn't help much. It is as if the world is submerged in the water and no matter what he does, it'll drag him down to its darkest pit.

It's the flood, he thinks. The flood has come.

"You're in my light."

He turns to the source of the voice. A man, squatting on the filthiest corner of the street, is counting cigarette butts on the ground around him.

With a slow drawl, the man spits, "You're in my light. Sit down or get out."

The sun is slowly sinking and there is not much light to speak of. For no apparent reason, Jesse is intrigued. "Actually, I don't think I want to do either."

The man stares at him for a second before shrugging. "Suit yourself."

The man goes back to counting the seemingly endless amount of cigarette butts. Jesse tries to imagine just how long the man has to have stayed here and smoked to leave this much of evidence for it.

Jesse squats down beside him. "May I?" he gestures toward an intact cigarette pack -- or something that looks like it -- on the ground in front of them.

If he says no, you will get up and leave, Jesse tells himself. You'll go back and enter that gate.

And if he says yes?

He hasn't really decided the answer to that question when the man, giving him a look of pure annoyance, hands Jesse the pack himself. "Just one," the man warns.

This is rather unexpected, and Jesse is no longer sure about this. He doesn't smoke and he isn't about to start, but bravely he takes out one from the pack.

The man lights it for Jesse with an already used-up match. Jesse ventures, rather doubtfully, and the tacky smoke soon fills his lungs. He coughs, hard.

The homeless man flashes a crooked smile. "Virgin lungs."

Jesse coughs a few more times before getting a hold of himself. He would prefer fighting more GSA goons than this. "Wow, this stuff is bad."

Apparently taking that as a criticism, the man grumbles, "Yeah well, we all love what we shouldn't, don't we?"

He thinks about the cigarette butts on the ground that can possibly pile up like a small hill, the large metallic gate that he doesn't want to enter, and the people he shouldn't love but does.

"Yeah," Jesse agrees. "We do."

The brown eyes under the hunting cap that must have been to every corner of underground sewage system regard him keenly for the first time. "What's your deal?"

He thinks about replying but there is no point when he doesn't know the answer. He glances at a Bar & Grill across the street, and thinks about how he doesn't want this. This. Going back. Entering that gate when a man could sit here counting cigarettes and perpetually starving. This everything. "I'm thinking of buying myself dinner," he says. "Fries, burgers, the whole deal."

"With gravy?" the man asks, trying really hard look uninterested.

"If you want. On me, for the smoke."

The man thinks about it for a second, and obviously deciding that Jesse doesn't look like a psychotic serial killer (or that the risk doesn't outweigh the opportunity of a free meal), takes his offered hand and follows him up.

When they enter the bar with the jukebox, the wooden floors, and everything else that is synonymous with greasy, a little bell rings, and people inside turn to look at them instead of the TV that is nosily turning out words and music. Jesse thoroughly ignores the glances they receive and goes straight toward the bar. Orders two special plates with extra-gravy on them.

"What's your name, kid?" the man asks while devouring a meaty burger and gravy-dipped fries and swallowing a bottle of Budweiser.

Jesse doesn't feel like eating, especially because watching this man eating like he hasn't touched food for weeks should make any man feel guilty about actually having warm meals before. Jesse pushes his untouched plate toward the man. "Jesse," he answers.


The man is still not looking at Jesse, but the single word is spoken with enough meaning behind it. That single word has more truths than anything he has heard in a long time.

He made no proper goodbyes except to Emma, who didn't know what to say. She has eyes that make it impossible for anyone to see through, her dark eyes and her serious expressions that are so different from the ones that belong to the girl they rescued a long time ago. She reads minds, yet she couldn't tell him. No one did.

Emma who doesn't know what to say and Brennan who doesn't know what he wants. Adam, who he cannot read, and Shal, who he cannot love nor hate. The memories that no longer hold him together.

He leans against the chair, eyes closed. The thought always tires him.

With his eyes closed, he begins to hear something else other than the chatters and loud noises inside the bar, a professional, impersonal voice narrating.

His eyes snap open and he turns to the TV screen. Flashes of images. Senator Kline. The blood in his room. Cuts to the official investigative reports. Suspects. Official. Arrest warrant. Adam. Adam.


Not just Adam. There are rather hideous pictures of everyone. Brennan. Shal. Emma. And his.

A very hideous picture of his.

He stares at his own image for a long moment. It is no longer recognizable, not any more, not to him anyway. But maybe there are still some resemblances between him and the picture him, because, he soon realizes, everyone in the bar is now staring at him.

The man sitting beside him has also seen the TV, but he only turns his attention back to his plate.

"Why don't you ask?" Jesse asks him, knowing every other eye in this place is on him right now.

"Does it matter what I think?"

He's not sure. "Maybe."

"Seems like you and your friends are in trouble, that's what I think. Seems like we all love what we shouldn't, but what does that matter, that's what I think. I'm gonna smoke after this so you better pay for these before you walk out, that's what I think."

I'm breathing, Jesse realizes, suddenly. Maybe, for the first time since he left, he is breathing.

The water is draining out from the world, disappearing, and the blue no longer lingers, and he can breathe.

He pays for the meals and stands up. No one stops him. He takes in the atmosphere, the sepia-colored images of this bar, the homeless man who might have saved his life. Another addition to his treasure box.

He has built his life around the memories. Memories that no longer hold him together.

But maybe they're not that important any more.

The Lord said to Noah, "Go into the ark, you and all your household; for you alone in this generation have I found to be righteous."
-Genesis 7:1

For Jesse Kilmartin, the prelude to the flood started in a morning that was like any other morning, the peace before the storm.

He woke up with a light, musical hum of the computer system that echoed through the walls of the automated Sanctuary. Today he was allowed to miss the morning exercise that usually left him with severe or light bruises, depending on the sparring partner and very severely on Shal's mood. Skipping breakfast, he went straight to a relatively peaceful aspect of his life: regular scanning for related information on any emergence of New Mutants. Peaceful, because they were not kicking some GSA ass at the moment, no loose mutants with uncontrollable power at their bay, threatening to destroy all.

Jesse clicked away, scanning and searching. The system had been giving him errors for the past few days, and he was occupying himself with getting to the bottom of this problem when he felt a sudden appearance of soundless presence behind him. He sighed--yes, it was like any other morning. "How long?" he asked begrudgingly.

From the sparkling blonde to the clicking high heels that defied their purpose and made no noise whatsoever, Shalimar was all sunny. Irritatingly so. "Five seconds," she stated smugly. "Already kicked your butt several times and over."

"Five seconds? Can't be." Was he getting actually slower? That was a scary prospect. Shal with her feral movements was hard to detect when caught unguarded. He'd gotten as quick as a second, but never more than four. It really didn't help that Brennan never got over two seconds, and there was no fooling with Emma.

Shal made a dismissive hand gesture, her eyes warm. "Still early in the morning. You were immersed in work. *And* you are still recovering, you know. Your leg feeling okay?"



"I'm fine."

"So you say."

"So I say."

Shal immediately took on the 'older sister scolding the troublemaker kid brother' look that he wasn't overly fond of. "And what would Adam say?"


"He would remind Jesse very gently," a teasing voice joined the conversation before Jesse could reply, "that he needs to take it easy, and the slower reflex time is to be expected."

Adam was all grin, but the stern look and the worrying glint in his eyes were hard to ignore. Jesse tried, nonetheless, "C'mon, guys. If I take it any easier, I would be wrestling with pillows on bed all day."

"If we had it our way, you'd be tied to the bed," Shal spoke lightly as a joke, but her hand was firm on his shoulder. "You're not made of steel, Jesse. And I don't appreciate you playing a human shield for us."

Ah, but he was supposed to be. That was what he was for, after all. "So," Jesse said loudly, "two of the people we sent underground failed to contact us for the regular checkup yesterday. Haven't got anything from the safehouse yet. Should we go check it out? And there's also some sort of a glitch in the system and it keeps giving me this error. I think I'll take a look with Liam today when he comes over."

They were all aware of his attempt to change topic, but they let him get away with it. They had worked too long, too hard, together to wastes unnecessary words like 'Don't ever do that again,' or, 'Careful the next time.' They all knew he would do his desperate best not to make the same mistake again.

"Jesse, before we get into that," Adam handed him a brown parcel, his expression oddly solemn, "this came for you today."

Jesse took the box, weighing it, and frowned. A parcel? Through what route?

Adam nodded at him, and taking it as a sign that he had already taken the necessary precaution, Jesse gingerly opened it. The parcel, to his complete surprise, revealed a heavy leather-bound book that smelled of the dusty library and felt like the time itself.

"What is it?" Shal asked, peering over his shoulder to take a look.

Jesse stared at the cover, and when he registered what it said, leaned back against the chair, eyes shut. He knew what this meant. What it had to mean.

"A Bible."


On his eighth birthday, his grandmother gave him a book, heavy and thick, with a great worn-out reddish leather cover and golden streaks that liberally decorated the bookends. Overall, doubtlessly expensive and doubtlessly boring, especially to the eye of a boy who was only eager to play with new computer gadgets.

He wrinkled his nose and rather sulkily noted that it was merely a book, not the promised turbo exo-scanner.

"It's not *a* book," his grandmother chided him, "It's *the* Book."

His grandmother took a joy in her oldest grandson and had been the only company of his when he was a child. His grandfather was of an old-money lineage whose legacy consisted of constant complaints on the contemporary society that no longer held any kind of value for him, and a sudden heart attack to remember. Jesse's mother was a social butterfly, whose kisses on his cheek were ever-brief and automatic, always given to him in between leaving to or coming from various parties that never ended. His father left his son top-notch technologies and computer gadgets to play with and never came home while he played his own spy games, unsuccessfully and all in deception, and insisted his son to call him by his name, Noah.

Later, much later after he grew up, Jesse imagined a conversation. He would regularly visit his grandmother but would not tell her that her mysterious government agent son had gone rogue, that Jesse himself had traced his father back to Argentina doing God-Knows-What. He wouldn't tell her that Noah had betrayed his son's trust, because a father was always a father and blood was blood, whether he liked it or not. He would only tell her that her oldest son came to visit, and he looked great.

His grandmother would digest the information and, after a long while, answer only with, "I want great-grandkids."

Jesse would choke on the milk tea he would sip at her insistence. "You've got to be kidding me, Grandma. I'm still--"

"Old enough to give me a few healthy great-grandkids named Krissy, Robin, and Jesse the second."

The idea itself would be enough to horrify him for nights to come and scare him more than Genomex coming after him with nuclear bombs, and having accomplished this, his grandmother would proceed to offer him more cookies and get him to read her favorite parts of the Bible.

Creation myth, any myth, was always the same, a birth of the tragedy that was common enough to spread through people's psyche yet carefully unconcerned with its effects. So if in the beginning there was nothingness, something had to come along. By some miraculous -- Big Bang or God or Yahweh -- power, there came 'something'. That something led to gas nebulae and proto stars and planets ("There would be light.") and Sun and Earth, and little itsy bitsy mammals called Human Sapiens Sapiens living on it ("And He found it very good.").

But men, like an errand child who wanted all the candies in the store, didn't find it very good. The fire of Prometheus wasn't enough. The world given to them by God to cultivate wasn't enough. They succumbed to the God-like power at the first glance of chance. And these totally unintelligent beings, greedy and arrogant and ignorant, decided to play God.

So, on the eighth day, men created men. The freaks of the nature. Thus began the tragedy.

Of course, Grandma wouldn't hear this part. In fact, she would never hear that Jesse Kilmartin was a product of men playing God. She would forever think of him as a boy who enjoyed the story and believed his dad to bring on the Ark that would save the mankind, her adoring only grandson. Not a freak of nature who had to walk out from the household, never to be seen back, never to belong.

Jesse had left her gift when he'd left home.

It turned out that Jesse was on board of an ark, but not Noah's. He was with Adam, the first man in a different sense, in this refugee for the freaks of nature.

They had been waiting for the inevitable flood.

And when the Bible arrived, the storm clouds were marching past on the horizon.


Stars shone brightly that night, the moon-washed shore glittering with brilliance. Another moment for his treasure box, more precious because Jesse wasn't sure how long this would last, how long he could last.

Liam mindlessly picked at the grass around him, obviously not concentrating on the molecular structure regeneration. Jesse leaned back, following Liam's example and lying down on the grass with his arm as a pillow. On this hill, on his favorite hiding spot against the rock mountain of the Sanctuary, they could watch the waves of the ocean tiding in and out on the shore, and the night sky seemed close enough to grasp.

"I like them," Liam said, one hand reaching out to the sky.

"The stars?"

"Yeah. How they're just there, constant, but not really, because actually the universe is expanding, and all bodies in universe are continuously drifting apart."

The theory was from the basic astronomy, Jesse remembered. "The Hubble Law? Didn't know you were an amateur astronomer."

Liam shrugged. "It's like life. Unless you have something to cling to, like something massive with gravity, you drift even farther apart."

Well, it wasn't true, not technically. No matter how massive the body, it was supposed to drift apart as the universe expanded, and there was no way around this fate for every single object in this universe. But Jesse didn't have the heart to correct Liam and his sentiment.

"The beauty of the world and the tragedy of the existence is one needs another to live, to cling to?" Jesse summarized Liam's thoughts with his own. "Cool philosophy."

"Of course you knew all that, right?" Liam said, sheepishly turning to him. "You know lots of things."

"Nope, I just learned from you," Jesse lied.

Liam grinned, half shy, half proud. He seemed to think Jesse was a big brother who knew everything. Which of course didn't make Jesse feel bad. At all.

"Where are we exactly anyway? Sanctuary?" Liam asked, his eyes on the dark ocean.

"Sorry, secret." Even though Jesse felt this was ridiculous to keep Liam in dark of their location when he had been coming over practically everyday for training, but protocol was protocol.

Liam nodded, not offended. His hand continued to grasp at the grass. "Did Jeff and Miriam contact you yet?"

"No." And Jesse was starting to get worried. They were recent additions to the underground, and they had failed to let him know how they were doing. They were never this irresponsible.

"Maybe they've, you know, jumped off the wagon, and into the sack. Together. You know how they were looking at each other."

Jesse almost smiled.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" Liam asked, out of blue.

The question inevitably brought up a dark image of a smiling face. Amanda, her dark hair and dark eyes, all the allusions to her fierce passion for life. Around her, he had felt that he could love life as much as she did, appreciate the life he didn't have to fight for to live in. The life granted to every being. Just to be happy.

"Had," Jesse answered after a long moment. "She didn't want to be a part of this world. But it came after her anyway."

Liam stopped playing with grass. "Whatcha mean? She...gone? Like, dead?"


"Wow--I mean, sorry. That sucks."

What else was there to say? "Yeah."

Liam seemed to have read his mood. "Sometimes life sucks. So meaninglessly boring. Meaningless, period. It's like...ever tried phasing into the water?"

"Once," and it wasn't a pleasant memory. Blue had been everywhere, and it was a shattering, lonely feeling. "I know what you mean."

"I did, too. A few times. Tried every single thing that seemed dangerous."

This boy, too, was suffering from the perpetual loneliness. One foster home to another, a petty thief, a slightly less elegant version of Brennan's past life. Only Brennan and Liam hated each other's guts from the moment Brennan caught Liam stealing his wallet using the molecular ability a few weeks before.

"C'mere," Jesse ruffled Liam's disheveled brown hair, trying to sound confident. "No one is an island, Liam."

"If you say so," Liam shrugged, clearly not believing it.

Jesse didn't either.

Liam stopped pulling off the grass with his hands. Instead, with a single touch, he revived a dying flower with a cut stem. It bloomed again, slowly yet distinctly. It was beautiful.

Jesse had seen Liam's this particular power a few times before, but every time he marveled at its magic. It was a power of creation, not of destruction. Not like his. Not really.

He thought of the Bible, and the law of the universe. The beauty of the universe and the tragedy of the existence. They needed one another to hold on to.

But, see, all bodies in universe were constantly drifting apart. No fate could avoid it.

Jesse pushed himself up. " Come on, Liam. Let's get inside."

Liam looked disappointed to leave. He grumbled, "What's the hurry?"

Jesse thought Liam would do well in the team. And even make a good foil against Brennan and annoy him to no end. The thought almost made Jesse smile. Almost.

"I have something to tell Adam."


He had shaved as a way of goodbye, and now his hair needed a cut. He glared at himself on the mirror, and looked down doubtfully at a pair of scissors.

"*What* are you doing?"

Shalimar was standing at his doorway with an amused grin, her arms crossed, watching his vain effort not to cut off a chunk of his own hair.

He sighed dramatically. "Need to look presentable for the bodyguard duty, remember?"

"Didn't know you took that MiB business so seriously. You know, maybe some good things *are* coming out from this mission, actually getting you to shave and all."

"If you're not gonna help--" he made a threatening gesture with the scissors.

Shal burst into laughter. "Alright, alright, but it's gonna cost ya."

"Name it."

A mischievous smile. "Later. Think you can handle it?"

Jesse looked at himself on the mirror once again, then the scissors. "Think I don't have any choice."

"A good answer." Shal suppressed the obvious laughter again and immediately went to work, coming around to stand behind him. She stopped to stare at his shoulders. "Sometimes I forget you're taller than I am."

"I've always been taller than you."

"Hah, in your dreams."

"Nope, in my dreams, you're like this giant--"

"Are you, like, even aware that I'm about to cut your hair using very sharp tools?"

"--and a very beautiful one at that."

"Nice save. I'll buy it."



"Are you happy?"

Her hands that were reaching for a clean towel to cover his shoulders stopped in midair. She probably would have answered with 'Of course, whatcha talking about?' or something akin to that, a meaningless answer. But she saw his expression reflected back in the mirror. She knew what he was talking about.

Her expression turned somber. "Yeah," she said, "I think I am."

He pushed back every emotion that rushed to surface because he didn't trust any of it. "Good," he said, more to himself than anyone else. "Good."

She studied his face, her eyes infinitely affectionate. "Is that what got you down lately, worrying about me and Brennan? You know you don't have to."

"I know now," he said, smiling like a reassured brother.

She doesn't remember, he thought. She never did.

It was like drowning, this sinking feeling. It was like unfolding a piece of memory he had held clutched in his fist for all these years and finding it shattered. It was like a cup of his favorite coffee that had lost its steam and left him with no consolation. Nothing left.

There was no regret.

A few minutes later, his hair was short again. When he examined himself on the mirror, he thought his hair had been short like this before, when he left his home years ago.

Somehow, it was appropriate.


The good news was, her coma state didn't last longer than a few hours, one of the longest few hours in his life. The bad news was, with or without the feral side, Shalimar always dealt with panic and confusion with the standard feral response -- anger.

"Why don't I remember anything? Why can't I?"

"Look, it's okay, it's all right," Brennan said, his hand on hers and trying as desperately as he possibly could to get her to lie down again.

Shalimar didn't even try to struggle with the rage threatening to erupt with her every gesture. "No, it's *not* all right! For all we know, I could've been the one who killed the senator!"

Jesse watched Brennan's completely ineffective attempt to soothe her from the doorway. He thought he had no right to interrupt the two of them. Because Jesse could only be grateful that she turned out to be all right, and that was all that mattered.

As all right as she could be.

This was useless. Jesse sighed. "Shal, we all know it wasn't you."

Her eyes, strange without her golden glint, turned to him. Hopefully, desperately, and lividly burning. "How?"

"Because we do."

She considered his firm answer, considered his expression, and sat down on the infirmary bed again. Anger had dissipated from her completely and there was now embarrassment. "I know. I know. Sorry I snapped."

Brennan couldn't hide the relieved expression from his face. "Look, Shal, it'll come back to you. It will. Right, Adam?"

Adam, standing behind Jesse, nodded with an encouraging smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Of course it will. Shalimar, you'll be fine. Just be sure to rest for now."

Adam gave Jesse and Emma a look, and the three of them left the room, leaving the couple alone. Jesse thought he could hear the soft murmurs exchanged behind him.

He smiled, weary. This was the only role he was allowed. To be grateful that she was all right.

"Adam, how *did* Senator Kline die?" Emma asked, all-business, her rigid expression obviously hinting her effort to push away all sorts of dark emotions she might feel from everywhere. "There much blood."

Adam led them to the next door lab and stood in front of the screen, his eyes suddenly looking more tired than ever. "Some of his cells, and every single one from important organs, were completely obliterated. I don't see how that's possible."

"A new type of weapon, maybe?" Jesse suggested, looking at the photos on screen. Remembering how his heart almost stopped at Emma's scream. At Shal's cold body, closed eyes. The blood. How he felt like the sky had already shattered and the storms on the horizon had tided in with all of their frightening might and he could not stop it. Any of it.

She was all right now. All that mattered.

"If it was, it didn't use the projectile weapon or anything resembling gunpoint," Adam told them. "It destroyed the organs of his body simultaneously, at once."

Something about this analysis didn't seem right, almost too familiar, but nothing seemed right at this point. Jesse turned to see, really see, Adam. "You look tired. Adam, Shal's okay for now. Maybe you should rest."

Emma backed him up, "Jesse's right. I'll see what I can find from the coroner's preliminary report and we'll keep working on this. You should sleep for a bit."

As expected, Adam shook his head. "Out of question. Emma, I need you to look into the list of Kline's enemies again, see if any of this matches."

"I'm on it," Emma nodded and quickly left.

"Jesse, look into the database and see if this style of assassination has ever taken place before."

Jesse nodded as an answer, but his eyes were on Adam. The lines in Adam's face were becoming more prominent, and he wondered just how quickly their leader had aged the last few days. Wondered how much of it was his doing. "I'm sorry about Senator Kline," he offered quietly, "I know he was your friend."

Adam didn't turn around. His eyes were still on his computer screen when he suddenly said, "Kevin Killmartin called an hour ago."

Jesse stopped. It took a bit of time for him to conjure up a calm voice, "I didn't know my uncle knew our number. If he even knew where I've been all these years. What a surprise."

"Jesse, the funeral--"

"Was today and I couldn't make it. My grandmother is already gone. Shal isn't."

"There are other members of your family, waiting for you."

What was Adam telling him? Jesse didn't understand. Yes, he had been ready to leave before, at least for a few days to attend the funeral, to take care of the estate and to take time to think where to go from there. Now Shal was hurt and everything was changed and different and confusing and frightening and--Adam couldn't possibly expect Jesse to leave now, like this, right? Adam wouldn't think Jesse would leave them like this. He wouldn't.

"I'm sure my uncle is eagerly waiting for me to hand off my share of the estate to him," Jesse answered, carefully hiding resentment that wanted to surface. "I'm certain he wouldn't mind waiting a little bit more."

Adam turned around to face him, finally. There was nothing in his expression. "If there is a chance of reconciliation with your family, you should take that chance."

"Adam, why are you in such a hurry to get rid of me?" Jesse asked lightly, jokingly, but it was never a joke and they both knew it.

Adam sighed, and the lines on his face became more visible. "Jesse, I'm only saying this recent...situation and the rest of us shouldn't be the reasons for you to stay. If you want to go, you should. You have a choice."

It seems like, Jesse thought, everyone in this world knows precisely how to break one's heart except me.

"Is that what you really think?" Jesse asked flatly.

"I--" Adam paused. Maybe there was a hint of hesitation, maybe there wasn't. Adam's eyes turned resolute again. "Yes."

So there it was. Had he wanted Adam to stop him? Beg him not to go? Take this as a chance to get him to stay and say nothing of his previous decision to leave? Had he wanted all these?

But why? Had he not known any of his moments, anything that was good to him and good for him, could be taken away from him?

Jesse went back to work without a word.


The tight police grid everywhere around the McGary's, and Brennan declared, "Okay, this outing is now officially teetering on dangerous if not suicidal."

Jesse pushed back annoyance to the very edge of his mind. It took some effort. A lot of effort. "I didn't ask you to come along."

Brennan gave him a broad smile. "All the more reason for me to stick around."

'I can take care of myself' lacked originality as a snappy reply. 'Since when do you care?' would sound stupid if not hollow. 'Get lost' was just mean, and Jesse Kilmartin didn't do mean, not even now. In the end, he ended up saying, "You want back or front?"

"Backdoor, and Jesse," Brennan fidgeted with his feet for a second before resuming with a quick, unnecessary, "Thanks for looking out for me, man. Didn't meant to, you know, snap. It's just...looking at Shal like that. Know what I mean?"

Yes, and that was the problem, wasn't it? "Yeah, I know," he said, after a moment. "Don't worry about it."

Brennan disappeared into the dark alley after giving him a quick nod. Jesse tightened the dark coat around his body and walked across the street. Nodding at the usher at the entrance, he walked in. The McGary's, the epitome of booze and raves and all that came with the impulsiveness the allusion of youth offered, was fairly subdued this early in the evening. Like a wake that was yet to begin.

A wake. Where he was supposed to be now.

The last time he'd seen his grandmother, she was behind her business desk, her gray hair styled impeccably and her gray suit in place instead of her smile that had once been benign and thawed. He would not think of this again.

On the other end of the spectrum, someone was sleeping at the infirmary bed right now, suffering uneasy dreams.

Adam was wrong. It was never Jesse's choice to make. It never had been.

He could not leave.

The music inside the McGary's was loud enough for him to forget the memories, at least for a moment, and he quickly scanned the place for the familiar brown hair among the dancing crowd and the intoxicating sensation of disarray.

Not seeing Liam anywhere, Jesse went straight to the bar. He didn't know tonight's bartender, so he prepared a twenty bucks. "I'm looking for Liam. Twenty-three, brown hair, hazel eyes?"

The bartender chortled. "Look, pal, look around. How many guys fitting that description do you think are here tonight?"

It was still early, and there were not so many customers to keep track of. He slipped another twenty across the bar. "But I'm *sure* you have a great memory."

The bartender looked at the bill once. "Well, I *might* have seen a guy fitting that description. Might. Might not. See, I might be developing a memory problem."

Before Jesse could say anything, Brennan was at his side at once. "Well, then, let me jog it a bit." Brennan grabbed the bartender by his shoulders and dragged him up above the counter. "How is your memory problem now?"

"Backroom, 4th one on the left!" the bartender screamed immediately, causing half of the club population to turn to stare at them. Jesse strained to smile back broadly in the manner of 'Nothing to look, folks. Just a friendly banter or two'.

Brennan lowered down the bartender and made a grand gesture of brushing off dust. "See, easily fixed."

"Thanks." Jesse smiled sweetly at the bartender who was now trying hard to breathe, and grabbed the money he'd paid the man before. As they walked toward the backdoor, he glared at Brennan. "Ever heard of subtlety?"

"Nah. Not my thing."

"Of course not."

When they opened the door leading to backrooms, Jesse felt Brennan bristle slightly. He, too, felt something was amiss. Granted, it was still early, but why wasn't there anyone--

The question was answered when strong hands grabbed him from behind and Brennan was picked up and tossed aside. Five, six men in unmarked uniforms emerged from the dark corners and crowded the narrow corridor they were in.

Jesse phased immediately and rolled out from the tight grip. Brennan electrocuted the two in front of them.

"Here we go again," Brennan muttered as he straightened up into a fighting position. Jesse thought that Brennan might even be enjoying this, another target practice of a sort for the elemental who was always itching for some action.

It did turn out a little different from other regular target practice, however.

They barely had any chance to counterattack when the rest of the men were onto Brennan right away, and two of them came after Jesse. He massed once to deflect an attack, but as soon as he de-massed, another began to choke Jesse, perfectly coordinated. It was as if... as if they knew Jesse's power.

Before Jesse could figure out the implication of this between trying to get out and trying to breathe, Brennan basically fried everyone on his way and the man holding Jesse.

"You okay?" Brennan helped him up.

God, he felt sore all over, and maybe slightly envious of Brennan who could use his power for long-range attacks. "Yeah, thanks. These guys..."

"Strong. Way too strong," Brennan agreed quickly, alarmed. He glanced at the unmarked uniforms. "Military. Special Ops, maybe."

Jesse didn't like this. Didn't like this at all. He rushed to the 4th room and opened the door.

Liam was knocked out in the middle of it.

"Liam!" Not dead, not dead. Please. Jesse felt a strong pulse underneath his fingertip pressed under Liam's neck. Thank God. Not dead.

Liam's eyes fluttered open. As soon as recognition returned to his eyes, he sat up, groaning. "God, what the hell happened?"

"You tell us," Brennan crossed his arms, standing behind Jesse, "Why did you ask Jesse to meet you here?"

"Jeff and Miriam called. They didn't show up. *They* showed up instead." Liam pointed at the bodies outside. "Jesus, they were quick. Before I could phase out, they were onto me. Just like that."

Jesse let the new information sink in. Was this related to Senator Kline's assassination? It had to be. And these men knew exactly what to expect from them.

Somehow, Jesse didn't think they'd seen the last of them.

"What do you think happened to Jeff and Miriam?" Liam asked, angry and confused and concerned.

Jesse thought about a few politicians who knew about his team. He thought about the glitches in the Sanctuary security system that had been bugging him the past few days. He didn't answer Liam.

"You were right," he told Brennan as they slipped out the police grid, "This was a dangerous outing."


"Someone could've broken into our firewalls," Jesse speculated, his arm perched on the table and staring at the screen that didn't seem ready to sprout any answers.

"Well, that's downright impossible," Liam objected. "Between you and Adam, who could? Besides, if someone's capable of that, wouldn't they be more careful not to leave any hint of doing exactly that?"

It was indeed a good point. If this someone was good enough to elude both him and Adam, then it shouldn't be that difficult to hide their track completely. Yet Jesse wasn't ready to believe these were unrelated events -- the assassination, Shal, the attack at the McGary's, and this. Now this.

When Jesse was about to suggest breaking down the schematics and checking every program for a trace, Brennan appeared from the corner.

"I thought you were with Shalimar," Jesse frowned.

Brennan rubbed his eyes, drained with exhaustion. "Yeah, well, she decided that she wants to use the simulation practice."

Jesse sprang up from the chair. "She's in nowhere near the condition--"

"Yeah, yeah, told her exactly that and more and it didn't work. I need cavalry. Will you go talk to her?"

That stopped Jesse. "Uh, what makes you think she'll listen to me?"

"You can use that sincere, puppy-dog look, tell her you can't do anything unless she gets herself back to the bed. Works every time." When he blankly stared back, Brennan exclaimed, "You mean you didn't even know about it? Liam, tell him."

"Yep, works every single time," Liam easily agreed to Brennan, which rarely happened and therefore may actually be true, "You didn't notice?"

And they were telling him this only *now*? Well, there was a useful information he had known nothing about. "You two didn't fight or anything?" he asked Brennan.


Jesse frowned, "Brennan."

"No, geez, no. Just go talk her out of the exercise, will you?"

Liam was looking at him expectantly. Brennan pretended to look away and stare at the computer screen with all the nonchalance. Jesse sighed.

He gingerly headed to the exercise room, thinking how this wasn't his role, how he didn't want this, at all. On the way, loud voices from the lab stopped his steps.

"That's it, I'm going to kick his ass, power or no power!"

That voice *had* to belong to Shalimar. Suppressing an amused grin, he walked into the lab, where Adam and Emma were looking definitely frazzled with a very much angry Shal.

"Gosh, what did Bren do this time?"

Everyone in the room froze as soon as his words left his lips. Jesse imagined the room's temperature dropping several digits. And why were Emma and Adam looking at him with enough sympathy to suffocate him? And Shal still hadn't turned to face him. Which should have been a hint for him to get the hell out.

But he was never that smart. "Uh, Shal?"

Even if there hadn't been enough hints, Adam and Emma leaving with all the attempts to be inconspicuous should have been enough. But, again, he was never that smart.

The silence had settled between them like a familiar friend that had no wish to go away. Her back was still on him.

He wished she would turn around, that she would at least see him and for him to see into her eyes. "Shal--"

"You were planning to leave," Shal said, her voice shaking. Never out of weakness. Just anger. Plain anger. Strong Shal. Strong and beautiful.

He might have understood everything at that moment. Why he was sinking.

"You were. Without telling us. Me."

He said nothing, because it was all true.

She turned to him, literally shaking with anger. And her eyes, no longer gold but somehow still the same. "I can't possibly hate you more than I do right now, you know that?"

The dilemma was, he knew all too well that he might not be important enough for her, but still important enough. Jesse tried to smile. The way he knew she wanted to see. "That hurts. You still are kinda my favorite person in the world."

"You liar," she said, still angry, but not really meaning it.

"I don't kid about this kind of stuff, you know."

"Yeah, you just omit to tell me some really important stuff about your life."


"What?" She crossed her arms, pouting and fuming but seemingly unable not to relent to him.

"I'm sorry."

At that, her expression immediately softened, her futile attempt to keep up with her anger melting away. "Jesse, god, Jesse," she whispered, her voice feather-like, "they don't deserve your love."

Then who does, Shal? Who does?

He didn't ask.

Instead, he tried to smile. Again. "I just thought I should at least listen to her last wish. My uncle seems to think that she left the half of the entire estate to him and the other to me for a belated family reunion, me taking Noah's place."

She could no longer be angry with him, knowing his past the intimately as she did. Her anger changed its target. "Your grandmother abandoned you."

He swallowed a weary smile. "She couldn't accept the truth."

"All of them couldn't, Jesse! And I hardly think they can now! You didn't want that life."

"I didn't choose that life, just like I didn't choose this. I was too young on both accounts. Now I think I am old enough."

For all her new-found happiness, her blindness, she still knew him. She stepped closer and watched his face. Her expression slowly hardened -- she saw through him. "Tell me you were planning to come back. Tell me it was going to be just for a few days and you were planning to come back."

He didn't answer, because he couldn't lie.

"Tell me," her fingers were shaking again, "shaving, haircut, the question...tell me they weren't your goodbye."

He could not lie. Not to her. He tried, tentatively, to explain, "I'm not going anywhere, Shal."

"Why?" her anger was not subdued, "Why not? You were all ready to go. But not now, why? Because of this, because of *me* like this?!"

No, that wasn't it. No, that wasn't--

This time, her anger was from the different plane. He remembered seeing her like this, before.

A single memory out of the treasure box, one that had been buried underneath the new because he had been afraid of losing it. A memory that should have been jaded but wasn't. A long ago, one morning, his first step into the Sanctuary. In this vast, foreign, barren space he had been lost. The sunlight had shone magically through the blinds, and not knowing what to do, he had followed the trace of sounds, any sound.

At the end of the sound was someone who was venting out all her frustration on a harmless dummy.

He had never seen any person that angry in his life.

Anger was a quiet thing in the Kilmartin family. Quiet, silent, and cold. This was different. This girl across the hall was different. Every part of her body was angry, including the eyes. The eyes that he had never seen before. Golden. Like her hair.

"You lost?" she had asked him, in the casual way that indicated she didn't give a damn about him yet did. In that strange, paradoxical way.

He had thought he might not be lost any more.

And now, Shal was standing almost exactly the same way. If she were to ask him the same question again, he would gladly take it. Answer it.

But, no question came.

Shal bristled, "You can go now. Go. I don't need *you* to take care of me. If you haven't noticed, there're three others in this place who can."

He wanted to close his eyes, but didn't. It was an odd feeling, the need to see, with eyes wide open, how the world was shattering into pieces around him. "Yeah, Shal. I noticed."

It was like drowning, this sinking feeling. It was like unfolding a piece of memory he had held clutched in his fist for all these years and finding it shattered. It was like a cup of his favorite coffee that had lost its steam and left him with no consolation.

"I'm not gonna be an excuse for you to put off your past. Go. What's stopping you?"

He thought about the flood, the blueness of it all. How it might have just arrived for him and how he was going to jump out from the Ark. And her, standing right in front of him, demanding an answer that he knew she couldn't accept.

Jesse wondered what would happen if he did answer her question. If she would understand. If the world would change from telling her the truth.

It didn't.

He may have expected this end.

Fate was fickle and unkind and wretched.

Memories are just where you laid them
Drag the waters 'till the depths give up their dead
What did you expect to find?
Was there something you left behind?
-Hemorrhage, by Fuel.

He wakes up. Like emerging from the dark underwater, he breathes in, taking in all the air he can, ignoring the pain and the memory that is momentarily like a blank sheet of paper. Tabular Rasa and the likes.

The voices come back first. Have there been voices? One voice -- impersonal and imposing, leaving no room for anything but surrender -- has at one point boomed through the every corner of the spacious, empty halls of the Sanctuary.

Like: "Stand down, Adam. We would like to make this as painless as possible."

And the other, the ever-familiar voice: "You should've thought about that before coming in here, Sperling. No real warrant has been issued, and as far as I'm concerned, you're nothing more than burglars."

"And you are the security risks."

"Who decides that? You? The last time I checked, this was a democratic country."

"You are well aware that the need of the many outweighs the need of the few. And oh, Adam, no funny business. Your security system is being overwritten as we speak. You have no way out."

No. Way. Out. The phrase boomerangs back and forth.

And it occurs to him--this is his Sanctuary. He's in the Sanctuary. When has he come back from his nostalgic trip to the past? Yes, right after the Bar & Grill. The TV announcer said something about the Most Wanted, and he--

A white hot needle shoots down his spine and breaks down every part of his bone on the way, and when he regains his senses, he realizes he's already collapsed on the floor. That he has been like this for a while.

And he remembers. Oh, does he remember.

He knows that statistically it is not possible to avoid every single one of a hundred bullets aimed to kill him, not possible to get every timing right. The thing about bullets is that even if you avoided a million, just one of them would do its job. One lousy timing, one miscalculated breath, and it has come to this.

It is a decidedly strange sensation, being shot. Blood gushing out and slowly dripping on the floor, hands and clothes pressing onto the hole making not much if not at all difference, and accordingly the world gradually turns surreal and foggy and light. Everything is exactly the same, except little by little, you get to realize something is off. Like the ceiling, for example. It isn't supposed to be spinning, the speed of Moon revolving Earth. Or the sounds. They break down steadily in sync to his breathing, and he has to strain to listen.

"No, no, Jesse, stay with us!"

That hysterical voice, he thinks, sounded suspiciously like Shal's. He's not really sure, with every outline in his vision blurred and her familiar face not to be seen.

"Jesse, no, don't you dare, don't you dare..." her whispers are frantic again, and he thinks he's never heard her like this before. And it may not be because her powers are lost.

A warm, strong hand is on his arm, and he's back to earth again, steady. When it's constant, the pain can be ignored like the tick of the clock. So, steady. The hand over the spot where the pain is shooting through his body. It is her hand that's steadying him, and he is grateful for being able to feel it, if not for anything else.

The dripping stops. Something soft covers his chest. And suddenly he's breathing easier. Steady, steady. His eyes blink open again. Once, twice, and there they are. Shal's near hysterical face and Emma's grim one, looking down. The world is slightly more stable. He tries to smile but hot needles retaliate at his lower chest and he realizes it isn't a good idea.

Emma's hands, Jesse notes, are stained in crimson. And when she leans against the wall, her shoulders sinking, it leaves a stark mark against the gray wall, the stain bleeding into the grayness of all.

"Don't," Shal warns in a husky voice when he tries to get up. Her hands are tight and reassuring and a little too painfully rigid. There are no tears in her eyes, and he's glad. Her golden eyes should not be for tears. The pain, when constant, can be ignored. Like the tick of the clock. Tick. He pushes himself up.

Then he sees something he shouldn't. A body. Or is it? And the familiarity of it all.

No. Not Adam. Not Adam. Can't be.

But it can.

He wonders if the world is going right. If this makes sense to anyone, anybody. If they have blinded themselves to death and decided not to wake up.

"He's alive, but he's not snapping out of it," Brennan says, kneeling in front of Adam. Brennan, the poster child for the Devil-May-Care, is panicked as Jesse has ever seen him, and he thinks this might really be a good time to be frightened.

The several dozen intruders, wearing electricity-proof suits, have come prepared after their brief encounter at the McGary's. They've known exactly what to expect, where to hit, and made his home -- his, Adam's, Emma's, Brennan's, and Shal's -- into their playground, a maze trap for the mice they've come to hunt.

"They're coming," Emma says, her voice absolutely dead.

And they're frozen. Brennan is lost in front of the uselessness of his powers on the intruders, Emma with her fury that is about to burn everything around her, and Shal with her absolute silence.

He pushes himself up, because there is no one else who can do this. "Emma, you have to take the front. Brennan, get Adam. Shal, help me."


"We get out, now, like we planned. Brennan?"

Almost instinctively, Brennan understands and jumps into action right away. Emma is a different story. For the first time he can remember, he hears her voice clearly in his head. /No, Jesse. You know you're in no condition--/

"No other choice. My car's parked right outside the wall. We make for that spot," Jesse tells them with finality.

Shal's strong arms (Really, it doesn't matter she is no longer a feral, does it? She's always been the strong one, and she always will be, and he'd like it if she realizes this for herself) hold him. Brennan drags up Adam's limp body. Without a word, Emma takes the point. No more questions asked, her eyes glaring and ready to blast any of the intruders.


They move together, steps entangling with each other. Endless gray walls of the comforting Sanctuary now become narrow and narrow until the only light he sees at the end of the tunnel is the darkness.

And it ends. They reach the particular dingy corner of the Sanctuary, the one Adam told them as the point of entry, the thinnest spot of the thick metal wall and energy barriers that surround the Sanctuary, when Ashlocke had taken over their home.

Breathing is not supposed to be this difficult. He can feel the wall in front of him that he's supposed to dissipate. He can hear Shal breathing hard beside him, smell the blood, the sweat. Yet he can't breathe. This makes no sense, this isn't--

Then it hits him. The shot. Adam's comatose state. Adam's words before he tried to push Jesse out of the way. Jesse, who's been trying clumsily with his already-wounded body to shield his friends from being shot. Adam pushed away Jesse halfway, not completely and enough for both of them to be affected by the shot.

He yelled--"Jesse, no, what they're using now isn't that kind of--"

--the projectile weapon his massed body can shield.

It left him powerless and Adam in coma.

His mutations. They're gone.

Like Shal's.


Shal and her grief. The footsteps coming closer. Emma reading his mind and trying not to summon her rage that will burn everything. The footsteps coming closer. Brennan and his helplessness and Adam. Oh, Adam...

There is no one else to do this.

Just once more, he tells himself. Once more. Just one more time. His mutations, his power, his curse. Please. Help me.

He pushes himself, as tightly as he can, into the wall, ignoring Shal's gasp. Adam's body might have deflected some of the influence. Please, he whispers to the wall, his words a prayer. Just once more. Help me. Help me.


Then the world dissolves.


Emma hears him. For a fraction of a second, her eyes contain something dark and serious and the Please-Don't glint.


She might have understood him. He's not sure. She drags Brennan and Adam into the dissipating wall. A red flare and two dark specks disappear from his sight. Brilliant gold flickers, and it's dark again. The world is corporeal. And he cannot move. He's known. He cannot move.

He falls. The solid ground meets him.

He may have expected this end.

Because creation myth, any myth, begins with an end that is already decided. Because he collects life, of its disappointment, regret, and love, always love.

And he can say it now. "Shal, I don't think I want to be your brother any more."

Blood tickles down from his forehead. How strange. He vaguely remembers blood is supposed to taste like salt. It doesn't.

They arrive a few seconds later.

END Part II.
Next Up, Part III: The Third (Brennan).
(Two down, three more...agh.)