Author's notes: GASP!!! 'Hard Times!!!' How could I have forgotten to write ANYTHING on that???!!!!


Hillview State Penitentiary

"We both know you can't phase if you can't breathe, right Jess?" Brennan taunted, a thrill coursing down his spine as he gleefully forced every last bit of air on his teammate's lungs; his face breaking into a wicked smile as he increased the pressure his fingers were exerting on Jesse's windpipe, having every intention to crush it.

Man, if he had known killing Jesse was this much fun, he would have done it a long time ago.

He felt nothing but contempt for Jesse as he gloated; pleased with how the little prick's face was turning blue and the way his eyes were rolling up as he began to lose consciousness.

"Bren-nan." Jesse tried to croak, but the engulfing darkness was clouding his vision; and he could feel the strength waning from his fingers as he tried to dislodge Brennan's vise-like grip around his neck, the excruciating pain bringing tears to his eyes.

For months he had to tolerate the little scumbag, with his rich-boy air and clean-cut looks, not to mention the nauseating sweetness of Jesse's very nature; he was everything Brennan was not.

Brennan was strong. His smile grew wider, his other hand raised chest-high, his fingers flickering with deadly tendrils of electricity. And Jesse was weak. So very weak he was going to finish him. Right then and there.

At the last moment, his eyes flicked upwards. True enough, Adam, Shalimar and Emma were staring down at them in sheer terror, obviously horrified at what Brennan was about to do. Amidst the deafening cheers and stomping feet resounding in the fighting ring, Brennan smirked.

Through dimming vision, as if in slow-motion, Jesse could make out Brennan's up-raised hand as he prepared to shock him again, undoubtedly to death this time. This is it. I'm going to die.

There was no more breath in him to phase. Too bad Brennan knew that too and had no hesitation whatsoever to use that knowledge to kill him.

Nor was there any more breath in him to even bring himself to meet Shalimar's eyes, which he knew were trained on him as he fought to hang on to the very last thread of life, to tell her how sorry he was that she had to witness his death.

But he knew before he died, there was one last thing he had to do.

He had to save Brennan.

Brennan roared. His hand swooped toward Jesse, faster than even the eyes could see.

But at the brink of desperation, and death, Jesse was faster.

Jesse's bloodied hand did not waver at all as he stabbed the syringe deeper into Brennan's side, his eyes were beginning to droop but he kept on pressing the plunger, emptying the precious vial of neutralizer Shalimar managed to slip him in the middle of the fight. The steroid in Brennan's body had to be destroyed.

The syringe still in his hand, its endpoint still embedded in Brennan's body, Jesse could feel himself slipping away.

But suddenly, the grip around his neck loosened and Jesse's body, on the verge of shutting down a few seconds ago, revived with the first draught of air rushing in automatically into Jesse's burning, collapsing lungs.

His eyes flew open as he gulped in air hungrily, his wheezing audible as his chest heaved violently with every intake of oxygen.

Brennan was staring at him with an expression too complex for Jesse's throbbing head to describe.

Then, clutching his side, Brennan collapsed backward slowly, crashing onto the hard cement ground slick with Jesse's blood; a second later, he was out cold.

Jesse's hand dropped weakly, flailing to his side as he clung to the steel fence for dear life, still gasping and trembling. His whole body hurt like it had never hurt before.

Dimly, he could make out a female form vaulting off the railing and landing in front of him. Shalimar. Thank God. She's here.

It's over. It's all over.



"His vitals are good," Adam murmured, later in the Sanctuary. They had brought Brennan in straight to the lab, anxious to see if the neutralizer had worked.

He pried open Brennan's lids one by one and peered into them with a small penlight. "Pupils normal. No hemorrhage of capillaries."

"Brainwaves are normal," Emma said from where she was sitting in front of the monitor. "Blood glucose concentration a little higher than normal and his white blood cell count is rising by the minute."

Adam paused to think. "His immune system is starting to kick in. It's now recognizing the steroid as foreign and is starting to get rid of it. That's good. Jesse, how are you doing?"

Jesse was leaning against a wall, his face as white as paper. The ugly bruises were starting to form, one eye was completely shut with swelling, and purplish bruises were peeking out from the sleeves of his shirt; if Adam could only convince Jesse to get himself checked out, he was sure to find more on his body.

But Jesse had stubbornly insisted he take a look at Brennan first and very reluctantly Adam had agreed. Jesse wouldn't let anyone touch him. He wouldn't even sit down.


"Huh?" Jesse lifted his head, which was getting heavier by the minute.

"Jesse, please let Adam take a look at you," Shalimar begged, laying a gentle hand on his arm. She could only imagine how Jesse must be feeling right now. Not so much the physical pain, which she was sure was excruciating. She had heard every word Brennan said to him in the ring and knowing Jesse as well as she did, Shalimar would give anything to ease his pain. "Please? For me?"

"No," Jesse whispered hoarsely, bending over a little, as if in pain. "Not until I know Brennan's okay."


"I'm fine, Shalimar," Jesse said in a flat voice, his eyes dull and glazed.

But she stayed by his side nonetheless, glancing at his face every few seconds in concern, which was growing paler and paler by the minute. Soon, she felt Jesse lean against her, unsure if it was for support or comfort; disliking the fact that Jesse could be needing both. Brennan had worked Jesse over real good.

The tense in the room was killing her; with Jesse stoic and very possibly hurt, with Brennan lying unconscious on the bed. And as Adam and Emma scurried around him, Shalimar was torn between her own feelings of concern for the elemental and a raging anger, which was intensifying by the minute. Anger at him for what he had done and said to Jesse.

"Shalimar." The low whisper came ten minutes later, so low she thought she had imagined it. Just like how she was imagining that Jesse was getting heavier by the minute.

She turned to find Jesse looking at her, his eyes unfocused and dazed.

"Hey." She reached up to put a hand against his swelling cheek as she searched his face.

His mouth worked but nothing passed his parched lips, save for another whisper. "Shal."

"Jesse, what is it?" Shalimar was getting frantic. "Adam!!!"

Adam's head jerked up just as Jesse's knees gave way under him. Shalimar quickly wrapped an arm around Jesse's waist and held him up, her face pale with anxiety. Emma rushed forward to help Shalimar literally carry Jesse to the bed next to Brennan. Adam raced to Jesse's side.

Adam slapped his cheeks gently, his face grim. Damn it, Jesse. I told you to let me check on you. Damn.

"Adam, why won't he wake up?" Emma asked worriedly. Jesse had insisted he was fine during the flight home. She didn't tell anyone but she found herself disturbed by what she picking up from him throughout the journey back to Sanctuary.

She could pick up nothing.

It wasn't like the time when she last saw Jesse before the fight, when she visited him in his cell. Jesse told her how Brennan had tried to kill him and she could see how determined he was to take McMullen's place in the ring.

"I got him into this mess, I'm getting him out." Jesse's words rang in her ears. His fear, mingling with guilt and uncertainty had been overwhelming. His fear so palpable Emma had felt as if she was the one going into the ring.

After the fight, Emma could sense a change in Jesse. It was as if he was no longer feeling any human emotions. It was as if what happened in the ring had erased everything he was feeling before. All she could pick up was emptiness.


Adam ignored her. He pried the mask of Jesse's face, wincing as his thumb and forefinger brushed against the ugly dark bruise covering Jesse's whole left cheek. "Shalimar, pass me the smelling salts." He waved them under Jesse's nose as they all waited with bated breath for any reaction.

At last, Jesse's eyes fluttered open, staring unseeingly at the three faces hovering over him.

He could dimly hear Shalimar calling his name. But his head was hurting so much; spikes prodding the base of his skull, the unrelenting pounding-

-a flash of brilliant light burst behind his eyes-

-and once again, he was in the ring, looking up as Brennan gripped the sides of his head, bashing it to the hard, cold ground.

"Stop," Jesse had struggled to say. But Brennan kept on hitting him, and hitting, and hitting-

Voices called him from afar. Jesse yearned to answer them. But he was too tired.


"Jesse?" Shalimar frantically grasped his face. She could have sworn Jesse had called her name. "Jesse, are you okay?"

Jesse's eyes flickered open. Shalimar's face loomed in front of him, her eyes big and anxious. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Jesse struggled to hold on. He was dimly aware of sharp needles pricking his skin and the feel of something cold and metal taped to his chest.

"Jesse, stay with me," Shalimar was saying.

Emma finished extracting a blood sample from his arm and handed the vial to Adam, who snatched it from her fingers. Emma's face had drained of color as she stared at the young man lying bruised and still on the bed. Jesse was fading. She could feel it.

"He's slipping away," she said, her voice trembling. Shalimar turned to stare at her, her mouth wide open.

"No!" Shalimar stroked her surrogate brother's hair. "Jesse, stay with me. You're going to be alright."

A rush roared in his ears, and Jesse could scarcely hear what was going on around him anymore. In his mind, he could only see Brennan's crazed eyes as he sent a shock of electricity into his body. Jesse could remember the force sending him flying through the air before crashing to the ground, his already battered body taking in the full impact of the fall.

In his mind, he could only see the glint of murder in Brennan's eyes as he relentlessly hit him with his bare fists.

A single tear escaped the corner of his eye.

"Shal." he breathed out.

"Don't try to speak," the feral said quietly. "Let Adam take care of you."

"Shalimar," Jesse almost wept. "Listen to me."

Shalimar reached down to brush the fleck of tear away, her fingers caressing the slight wrinkle at the corner if his eye. She nodded jerkily, her eyes wet with tears she didn't realize she was crying.

"When Brennan wakes up-" Jesse's breath whistled through his cracked lips painfully. His eyes were beginning to close. Adam and Emma had stopped working too, their feet frozen to the ground, Emma's fingers curling around Jesse's own in a tight grip.

"When he wakes up-" Jesse tried again. His head was killing him. But he had to say it.

"Tell him I forgive him, okay?" Another tear slid down his temple.

"Jesse, you can tell him that yourself," Shalimar said forcefully, her voice cracking. "You're gonna get better, Adam's going to patch you up and you can-"

"Tell him," Jesse pleaded weakly. "Please."

Her heart wrenching, Shalimar bit her lower lip to keep from sobbing. There was a lead weight in her stomach and she felt it getting heavier as she stared into Jesse's blank, unseeing eyes.

Slowly she nodded.

One of her tears fell onto Jesse's cheek. But Jesse was already fading.

Emma could feel the strength leave the fingers she was clutching. No, Jesse. Please, no.

"Jesse, look at me!" She said fiercely. "Look at me!"

Jesse's eyes moved rested on her for a while before finally resting on Adam. Silently he said his goodbye.

"Jesse," Emma whispered, her eyes welling up.

Jesse would give anything to brush those tears away.

Then everything went black.


Four weeks had passed since Hillview.

Four weeks had passed and still the black shroud of grief had the Sanctuary enveloped in its suffocating embrace.

Four weeks and still he hadn't left the bedside, save for food and some sleep. Every waking moment he spent it there and nowhere else.

Brennan couldn't even bear the thought of leaving, even for one minute.

He remembered asking for Jesse first thing after he woke up. He remembered every single word he said, every punch, every hit, every blow-and the guilt gnawing at him was ravenous, like a wild beast feasting on its prey. It was the worst feeling in the world.

His head had been hurting something fierce but he told Adam he didn't care. He had to see Jesse.

And there he saw him, lying motionless on the bed next to him. Shalimar was sitting slumped in a chair, just staring blankly into space, her fingers intertwined with Jesse's limp ones.

For one horrible, horrible second he had thought Jesse was dead. That he had killed him.

Adam had avoided his eyes when he told him.

"Jesse fell into a coma soon after we reached Sanctuary-he was hemorrhaging, and there was some swelling in his brain. I wasn't able to revive him."

Adam's words had hung in the air, immediately ensued with a stony, grave- like silence, save for the soft beepings of Jesse's heart monitor.

Jesse had slipped into a deep sleep since then.

Brennan sighed, rubbing a hand over his face wearily. Then he stared at the hand. Slowly he raised the other one.

These were the hands, the very hands, that had bashed Jesse's head over and over again to the hard cement ground. These were the hands that slammed Jesse so hard into the steel fence he could feel the vibrations of the impact.

And today, Jesse's family was taking him home. It had been a month, Jesse was not showing any signs of consciousness and already they wanted him home.

He'd been up since morning. He didn't wake up in his own room, no.

The medical lab had been his room for the last four weeks. Adam didn't really encourage him to go on missions, at least not yet. He would always ask Shalimar or Emma to go instead, although Brennan knew they would rather spend the time at home, with Jesse. Just to keep him company, just so that when he woke up, there'd be someone with him. But Brennan had fiercely reserved the spot for his own, and his alone.

And today was the last day for him to try one last time. Before the day was over, someone would come and take Jesse away. Adam was against it from the very beginning, but the Kilmartins could be very persistent when they wanted to. He guessed they trusted their doctors more than they trusted Adam. Or maybe they were furious with Adam for letting something like this happen to Jesse, Brennan could only guess.

Shalimar was still in her room and Brennan guessed Emma was too. They would be down soon; last night they said they wanted to spend the day with Jesse. It was his last day, after all. Brennan guessed he wanted to be there first. Adam was on the phone, talking over some transportation arrangements with the Kilmartins.

Jesse's head rested on the pillow at the exact same position as it did last night, and the night before. He hadn't moved a bit. At first, it scared him to see Jesse so still. But as the days went by, he had gotten used to it. It was a lot like watching a doll sleep.

"Hey, Jess."

Jesse's face remained slack in all its marble-like pallor.

"Guess what? You're going home today." Brennan played with the edge of Jesse's blanket. He couldn't bring himself to touch him, not after what he did to him in Hillview. The last feel of Jesse's flesh against his was the grip Brennan had had on his neck, the one which had almost taken his life.

Brennan couldn't touch Jesse. He wouldn't. He was not going to hurt Jesse anymore.

He sat there for a long time. The sun was rising behind the mountain, he knew.

"Boy, you sure do sleep a lot nowadays," he commented nonchalantly. Not a smile, not a twitch, not even one of those little frowns Jesse always used to have on his face. Just silence.

"Come on, man, get up. You need to work those muscles-you're getting flabby." Brennan was lying of course. From where he was sitting, it was clear Jesse had lost a lot of weight; he was nothing but skin and bones now. His face was gaunt, his cheeks sunken, and his arms were thin as railings. Muscle wasting had definitely got to hurt. Brennan reminded himself not to knock himself out into a coma anytime soon.

"Come on, Jess. You gotta wake up." Brennan's eyes were tearing already. Damn, so soon?

"Just one minute, is-is that okay?" Helplessly, he clenched his fists into balls. "I need to talk to you. I need to-to-"

Oh God. Brennan dropped his head facedown onto the fluffy softness of the bed. "Jesse-"

He raised his face little by little; hoping, wishing, praying for Jesse to just open his eyes.

Jesse remained motionless.

"Damn it, Jess!!!" Brennan roared, leaping to his feet, sending his chair crashing backward to the floor.

The sounds of running footsteps resounded through the whole of Sanctuary; he could feel the staircase shake.

"Jesse??!!! Has he woken up?!!" Shalimar shouted, practically crashing in through the glass door, her hair wild and unruly, and her eyes bright with hope. Then her face fell.

Brennan was standing in the middle of the lab, his back to Jesse. Shalimar took a step forward cautiously.

"Why didn't you stop me, Shalimar?" His words, the tremble of his voice, sent a bolt of pain in her heart. "You knew Jesse couldn't stop me himself without killing me. You knew he would refrain from using his powers-" The elemental was shaking now.

"Why didn't-" His breath caught in his throat. "-didn't you-"

His face crumbled. It was then Shalimar rushed forward and took Brennan in her arms. It seemed to be the right thing to do. Not a word passed between them as she held him tight, her heart wrenching at the rush of emotions she was feeling from Brennan. For days, the whole team remained vigilant by Jesse's bedside and she knew those days were hardest on Brennan. But Shalimar was too deep in her own grief to care.

"Why won't he-"

Shalimar swallowed hard, closing her eyes.

"Why won't he talk to me?" Brennan said sadly. Shalimar let him go and without answering him, she went to Jesse. She reached down and brushed a few stray strands of hair off his forehead.

"I just want to say that I'm-" Brennan's guilt was killing him, Shalimar could see that.

"You're forgiven, Brennan." The ice in her voice did nothing to quench the raging fire inside. Someone had done this to Jesse. And although a better part of her knew she shouldn't blame Brennan for everything that had happened-Jesse could forgive him. But she didn't think she could.

"You're forgiven."


And together, the three of them, Emma, Shalimar and Brennan helped clear out Jesse's room, each caught deep in their own thoughts. That evening, they took Jesse back to his real home.


A few days later, Brennan woke up and saw Shalimar sitting beside him on his bed. From the look on her face, he knew she'd been crying.

"Adam had a call this morning," she whispered even before Brennan could ask her what was wrong.

"Jesse died last night."

Brennan's heart stopped.

Shalimar took in a deep breath. Then slowly, she rose to leave.

"I just thought you might want to know," she said in a flat voice and without looking at his face, she left.

The moment the door slammed shut behind her, Brennan knew that he was never going to be the same person again.

Not ever.


Author's notes: *whimper* I know it's sappy.and cheesy.but I couldn't help myself. I was playing the scenes out one by one in my head, wishing for the hundredth time this month that I was the writer for the show. Thanks for sticking with me till the bitter end. *sob*