Usual Disclaimer: all theirs, nothing mine. Scenes (in italics) from "In Between" have been lifted wholesale for use here, and credit is given to those writers.
Spoilers: this is Part Two of 'In Between', which should have been a two-parter from the start. Why should Brennan be the only one to go messing with Jesse's head?
After In Between
"Hey, bro, good to see you up." Brennan punched the molecular lightly in the arm, far more lightly than was his usual. "You must be feeling better."
"Yeah." Jesse lit the room up with his smile, a smile that Brennan was grateful to see. Almost lost that smile forever. And if the expression was a little crooked around the edges—well, Brennan was willing to live with it. Jesse grinned. "After a week of living in pajamas, I figured it was time to move on. You ready for me to whup your ass at basketball?"
"Like you ever could," Brennan smirked, knowing that it would be at least another three days before Jesse was ready to do more than shuffle across the floor and sit down at the computer unassisted. That too was okay. Just yesterday Brennan had had to help the man stumble to the john and back to bed, and the day before was when Dr. Robinson had allowed him to be moved from the monitored clinic lab bed to his own room. Today was an improvement.
"Anytime, Brennan. Anytime. You suck at basketball." Jesse seated himself gingerly in front of the console, hand automatically going to protect the damaged muscles at his mid-section, wincing as the sutures pulled at delicate healing tissue. The computer beeped at the molecular, and Brennan could have sworn that the machine greeted Jesse with as much affection as any of the New Mutants. More, actually, if Brennan averaged Lexa into the mix. An odd woman, that one. Brennan wasn't certain what Jesse saw in her. Ice cold one minute, then pulling a rabbit out of a hat for her team mates the next. Well, to each his own…
"And you suck at computers. Look at this thing," Jesse said in disgust, fingers dancing over the computer keyboard. "Hasn't anyone run the sweeps? You'd think that Sanctuary was a kiddie camp with a fourteen year old baby-sitter in charge of security."
"I did my share," Brennan defended himself.
"Right. Nobody's re-aligned the photon sensors. The motion detectors are set to recognize nothing smaller than an elephant, and the temporary cache on the mainframe is overflowing with invitations for someone to sneak a virus in. You call that protection?"
"What can I say? This place is lost without you. That'll teach you to step in front of a speeding bullet."
"Brennan? What happened?"
"You took a bullet for me, man."
Only seconds ago Jesse had been writhing with the pain of the bullet in his gut. Then Dr. Robinson had given him a telempathic jolt of endorphins, and Brennan could see the lines in Jesse's face smooth out with relief. And bewilderment.
"But I was massed."
"Special kind of bullet."
"Oh." Then—"it hurts, Brennan."
Shalimar did a double-take as she walked by. She halted, back-stepped, and poked her head into the room to look at where Jesse sat absorbed in the computer. The vid screen appeared to be all work; no online computer games hiding in a separate window, no little tag bars indicating conversations elsewhere. The vaguely green light bathed his face with an unhealthy glow but Shalimar could see the gentle red in his cheeks that indicated returning strength. She smiled. The computer games would wait until Jesse had restored the neglected defenses. That was more important to the molecular than any game invented.
Brennan toyed with wire basket that he had twisted together out of spare electronic parts, half-lounging on the divan to one side of the room. He was engaged in attempting to spark the wires into welding themselves together, pretending that his actions had purpose. It didn't work; Shalimar instantly recognized the ploy for what it was—an excuse not to leave Jesse alone. The wire sculpture had no merit whatsoever. Keeping watch over Jesse did.
She sympathized, for she felt the same way. It had been Shalimar who had persuaded Brennan to take a break the first time that horrible night. Even after removing the bullet it had been touch and go for much too long a time, Dr. Robinson trying to suture the wound and the still fluidly-shifting tissue refusing to hold the sutures in place. It was close to four AM when Dr. Robinson finally declared that Jesse out of immediate danger, and Shalimar, who was the liveliest of them all at that hour, insisted that the others sleep as best they could. Lexa had set up six hour shifts, six hours on and twelve off, and then ruined her own plan by showing up after a mere four hours, eyes haunted and dark, to take over the vigil.
Shalimar grinned. New day, new week. It looked very natural to see Jesse hunched over the computer screen, fingers tapping away with the same type of intensity that Shalimar herself had when she went feral, and she had to remind herself not to jump on top of him with sisterly playfulness as she usually did. "Looking good, Jess."
He glanced up at her, wincing briefly as the action pulled at the stitches, then determinedly replacing the expression with a welcoming grin. "Hey, Shal."
She snuggled herself onto a stool, pulling it close enough to look at the computer over his shoulder and placing a light hand on his shoulder, careful not to drag on him. "Don't work too hard," she cautioned him. "Seriously, should you be up out of bed this soon?"
"I haven't 'worked too hard' in a week. It's time to get back to work. I'm fine, Shalimar."
"No, you're not." Shalimar hugged Jesse fiercely, trying not to remember how close they'd come to losing him. "But you will be. Promise me you'll rest."
"Been there, done that, tired of doing it now. Not a chance. Look at these systems." Jesse indicated the offending computer read outs. He coughed, trying to splint the incision against the inevitable stab of pain that accompanied the movement and pretending that it never happened. "I can rest later. In fact, this is resting for me."
Brennan put his wire toy down. "Listen to the lady, bro. I will carry you back to bed if you don't take it easy. You've already been up almost an hour now. That's enough for one day."
"Guys…" Jesse looked from one to the other and sighed, leaning back in his chair. Both of his team mates looked grimly ready to insist. He put up his hands in defeat. "No contest, guys. I surrender. Give me a minute to shut the computer down."
"Good," Brennan grunted, not at all pleased at winning. Jesse had given in too easily, too quickly, which was an indication of how weak he felt despite a week's worth of recuperation. You need more, bro. "You're seeing the doc tomorrow, right?"
"Like I have a choice?" Jesse retorted, trying to put energy into it. He coughed again, cringing when the incision pulled again at less than healed flesh.
"Guys, behind you!" Shalimar cried out, too far away to do more than shout a warning.
Time stretched out for the feral. The dark fedora-topped figure aimed, and a bright orange fire spit out of the long-nosed pistol. A projectile hurtled toward Brennan, splitting the air with a high-pitched shriek. Jesse turned at Shalimar's scream and dashed in front of Brennan, knowing that to act as a human shield was the only way to save Brennan's life. He massed, confident that the bullet would bounce harmlessly off his diamond hard surface as so many had done so many times before.
It was the look on Jesse's face that would haunt Shalimar's nights: the look of utter shock and disbelief. Even the pain was secondary; it was the complete impossibility of this situation that hurt. He crumbled into Brennan's strong arms, consciousness fleeing into the night.
"Here, come lie down on the divan," Shalimar urged when the shutting down process threatened to move past the ten minute mark. "Relax for a few. You can finish it up later."
Jesse resisted. "Just a little bit more, Shal. There are only a couple more systems to check—"
"They've waited a week, they can wait another few hours." Brennan came up on Jesse's other side, grateful to be able to do something more useful than to twist wires into pseudo-geodes. He tucked his hand underneath Jesse's arm, lifting him inexorably out of the chair. "You can nap right here if you're tired of looking at the walls in your room."
"Damn right I am," Jesse grumbled. The room jumped onto a merry-go-round, but he tried not to seem obvious as he clung to Brennan's arm to keep from falling over. Taking a deep breath helped, even though it pulled at the sutures. The dizziness receded. "Ow. Watch it."
"Serves you right for getting up too soon." Brennan covered over his worry with a lecture. "Here. Lie down." He eased the molecular onto the divan that he himself had just vacated. Shalimar came up with a throw cover to toss over Jesse, mutely insisting that Jesse relax, rearranging the pillows behind him.
"I don't want to lie down," Jesse said, sounding more like a petulant child than a member of Mutant X, eyes sagging shut in spite of himself.
Shalimar chuckled, and clucked at him. "I know you don't, Jess. Just do it our way for once, okay?"
"For once? Who always gets stuck behind here at Sanctuary, covering your asses with computer research? Who always—"
"Who just got shot?" Shalimar kissed him on the forehead, cutting off his complaints. The color was still in his cheeks, but the rest of his face was pale. That didn't look natural. The man really had been up for too long, and every one of Mutant X was going to see that matter rectified if they had to sit on top of him and pin him to the bed. "Go to sleep, Jess."
"I'd rather work on our security systems," Jesse said pointedly.
"I'd rather you eat something, then go back to your room and sleep for a while." Lexa stood in the door, tray in hands and a tart expression on her face. "What the hell are you doing out of bed? Trying to kill yourself? Believe me, Jesse, there are plenty of people out there who want you dead. They don't need your help."
The gray-bearded man on the computer screen eyed her with suspicion. "You surprise me, Ms. Pierce. It sounds as if you are losing your objectivity with regard to Mutant X."
"Well, what did you expect? I live with him; I work with him. He's saved my life! Of course I care about him!"
Shalimar heard the end, just before the gray-bearded man cut the connection. "Was that real, or just an act?"
"Does it matter?"
Does it matter? Yeah, it mattered a whole lot. And it mattered even more that none of Mutant X suspect the real answer. Games within games, Lexa dear; games within games. Where does the circle stop, and the lines begin? Certainly not with her. The best way to keep Mutant X guessing was to not know the answer herself. Yeah, it mattered a whole lot. And it mattered even more that none of Mutant X suspect the real answer. Certainly not with her. The best way to keep Mutant X guessing was to not know the answer herself.
"Since when are you allowed out of bed?" she asked waspishly. "And who's the genius that aided and abetted? Brennan?"
"Not me," Brennan defended himself. "This was Jesse, all by his little lonesome."
But Jesse had caught sight of the tray that Lexa held in her hands, and the contents sitting on top of the tray. His face fell. "Tell me that's not blue gelatin wiggling up there. I've had enough of trying to eat stuff that moves faster than I do. Bring me something decent, like barbecued ribs in hot sauce."
"Oh, and I suppose you'd like a keg of beer to go with it?" Lexa pushed. "Nice dream while it lasted, Jesse. Why is it that the bright boys are always the hardest to convince to do the right thing?"
"Oh, I don't know." Shalimar snuck a sideways glance at Brennan. "Some of the bad boys aren't so bad in that department, either." She looked over the tray that Lexa settled on Jesse's lap. "Yum, applesauce. And a lovely cup of hot tea."
"Lexa," Jesse tried to complain.
"Makes you want to go see the nice Dr. Robinson tomorrow, so she'll let you have something more filling than sherbet, doesn't it?" Lexa was unmoved. She peered closer at him. "Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm fine." To prove it, Jesse successfully scooped up an escaping blob of blue gelatin before it could wiggle off of the tray.
Lexa felt his forehead and frowned. "You're hot. You've got a fever."
"No, I don't. I can prove it. Take my temperature."
"Right. Stick a thermometer into your mouth after eating cold gelatin. Try again, Jesse. Your mouth isn't where I'll be sticking that thermometer."
"That's a threat if ever I heard one," Shalimar said in an aside to Brennan, who snickered at his team mate's discomfort.
Jesse tossed them a glare, and changed the subject. "You screwed up three of the security scans, Lexa."
"I upgraded them, Jesse. There's a difference."
"You're right; being able to detect the presence of beluga whales in the water garden will be of immeasurable importance in the days to come."
"I added in the specs of cetacean DNA," Lexa shot back in defense. "Don't try to tell me that genetic research has bypassed the inter-twining of mammalian DNA with human. Shalimar over there is a prime example."
"Hey, leave me out of this."
Jesse set the spoon back down on the tray, and sighed heavily. "You're right, Lexa. I wasn't thinking." He closed his eyes briefly, then focused on Brennan and Shalimar. "You were right as well, guys. I was pushing it. Brennan, give me a hand getting back to my room? I'd hate to fall down and ruin all of Dr. Robinson' fancy stitchery." He set the tray aside, and the blue gelatin wiggled in protest.
"Sure, bro." Now it was Brennan who exchanged a glance with Shalimar and with Lexa, this time worried. Asking for help was something that the molecular wasn't likely to do often. Jesse's style was to offer the help to others while remaining ferociously independent himself, just to prove that he could. "You want me to get the wheelchair?"
"No." Jesse sighed heavily. "I should be okay. Just need to rest." He allowed Brennan to help maneuver him to his feet, taking a moment to find his balance. Brennan caught Shalimar's eye over the molecular's head and mouthed silently, get the wheelchair. Shalimar nodded, and trotted off. Jesse didn't notice that she'd left. He did notice Lexa taking hold of his other arm, propping him up on the other side. He flashed her a weak smile. "Thanks."
"You've definitely got a fever, Jesse." Lexa didn't know whether to be more annoyed or worried. "You're burning up. Why didn't you say something?"
"Lay off of him," Brennan told her. "Let's just get him to his room. Hang on, man," he said as Jesse coughed and almost doubled over. "We'll get you into bed, and pump you full of pain-killers. You'll feel a lot better in no time. Which way are you going?" he asked Lexa, surprised. "His room's this way."
"The lab bed is this way." Lexa indicated the route with her chin. "Or don't you think we ought to ask Dr. Robinson to make an emergency house call?"
"Hold him down." Dr. Robinson probed with gentle fingers, trying to determine the exact location of the bullet. It wasn't easy; the molecular was almost out of his mind with pain and shock.
"C'mon." Lexa pulled at Shalimar. "We can better help him by finding out who did this."
Shalimar paused to caress the head of the man who was as close to her as any brother. His eyes were already closed, no longer holding hers with a mute appeal for relief. "Be strong, Jess," she whispered, praying that he would still be alive when next she saw him. She padded off in Lexa's wake, battling a foreboding sense of dread, human intellect forcing her into the correct actions against her feral need to stand by her pack-mate.
"Where does it hurt, Jesse?" Dr. Robinson probed with gentle fingers at the incision she had created several days ago in her first attempt to excise the projectile. The ends of the wound were jagged, torn further apart in a hurried effort to get the bullet into an explosion-proof container before the detonator went off, but healing well despite the rough treatment. The skin was pink, showing signs of being nearly cured, and the sutures made little black marks against pale skin. "Here?"
Jesse winced, forcing himself to remain calm on the clinic lab bed, surrounded by his teammates. "Only a little. Mostly my chest. It hurts to breathe," he admitted reluctantly. His words were muffled by the oxygen mask over his nose and mouth, but when he went to remove it to speak more clearly Dr. Robinson stayed his hand.
"Let's leave that where it is," she directed. "I'll be running a few more tests." She glanced over to the ECG monitor, watching the regular beeps marching along the screen, turned away—then did a double take. All three bystanders saw it. Nobody understood what she saw, but all understood the significance of her actions.
"Twelve lead," she murmured, hooking up a multitude of electrodes across Jesse's chest. "Want to check out those ST depressions. And while I'm waiting…" She adjusted the ultrasound to scan his torso, the picture imaging up onto a colorful screen above his head. "Hmm."
"I hate when doctors say that," Lexa whispered to the others.
Brennan took the more direct method. "What is it, Dr. Robinson?"
"What I was afraid of." She pointed at the screen, setting the paper containing the ECG down on the table next to her. Jesse tried to lift himself to see. "Lie still, Jesse. You're shifting the view."
"Sorry." Scared, more like it.
"We went through this a few days ago, when you were first shot. I had hoped that it was resolved; I thought that it was. Obviously I was wrong." Robinson pointed to that part of the picture that looked strangely solid and bulky in the flowing movement of the real-time ultrasound. "The bullet, as you are all well aware, involved extraordinarily high-tech electronic gear that, teamed up with a proton coupler, was able to link with Jesse's nervous system to cause uncontrolled massing."
"But Jesse was able to control it," Brennan contradicted. "You said so yourself at the time. You linked me into his mind to remind him of that, and it worked."
"And so he did, on a conscious level. Maybe 'semi-conscious level' is better terminology, given the situation at that time." Robinson moved on. "The point is that while he was able to shrink the massed area and prevent his immediate death, not all of his organs are currently free of this massed status. Continuing sequelae include latent effects from the proton coupler which is leading to the current cardio-vascular status." She pointed to specific areas of the screen. None of her onlookers could easily identify what Dr. Robinson was indicating, and she took pity on them. "Here is the lung. This is the precipitating event that started the chain. This lobe here is massed solid. Look here: the rest of the lung is breathing in and out, providing him with oxygen and removing the carbon dioxide. This part isn't moving. It's acting like a dead weight, a scar on the rest of the organ."
"Keep going," Lexa requested. "I've heard of people living for years with only one lung. Why is this one lobe a problem? It's not even the whole lung."
"It has become a repository for infection," was Dr. Robinson' answer. "In his weakened condition, Jesse is a natural for a secondary infection to set in. This lobe of his lung in its massed state is unable to clear the normal secretions, creating ideal conditions for a pneumonia."
"So give him some antibiotics," Shalimar said, knowing that there had to be more. The doctor wouldn't have overlooked so basic a solution.
Shalimar was correct. "I've already started," Dr. Robinson replied, indicating the intravenous hanging from the ceiling, "but that's not the only problem." She didn't keep them in suspense. "The infection has caused the massing to restart, even without the proton coupler being physically present. These solidified areas that you see—here, here, and here—these are all new. If we compare them to the last set of images that I took three days ago," and she superimposed the pictures over each other, "you can see that the new areas are larger than before."
"Easy solution," Lexa declared. She put a firm hand on Jesse's shoulder. He opened his eyes to look at her. "Jesse, you need to un-mass those spots."
"Jesse, you need to stop the massing," Brennan found it tough to keep from shouting, terrified that his teammate was dying in front of him.
"I can't!" The pain of the projectile was regaining its foothold. "I don't know how!"
"You have to, Jesse!"
"I can't!" The cry was ragged. Jesse twisted, trying to escape from himself. "I can't!"
Dr. Robinson aimed another endorphin jolt at the molecular, and Jesse collapsed into himself, muttering. Brennan turned stricken eyes on the doctor. She didn't try to soothe him with false hope. "You have to go in now. Before it's too late."
Jesse mumbled something at her, trying to keep his eyes open.
"What?" Lexa pulled the oxygen mask slightly away from his face.
"I can't," Jesse told her, words slurring with exhaustion. "I don't know how."
"Yes, you do," Lexa insisted. "You did it before. You un-massed those areas, Jesse. You know how. You can do it again."
Dr. Robinson held the chromatic back. Lexa was ready to become frantic; Jesse did know how! But the doctor stopped her. "He doesn't know on a conscious level, Lexa. I've seen this sort of thing before. The level of control is so deep that it can only be accomplished by the sub-conscious."
"Then you do it." Lexa turned on the doctor. "You're the telempath. Go into his mind and convince him to do it."
The doctor's eyes were sad. "I wish I could, but he doesn't truly know me. He needs the three of you to do it. He trusts you; he needs you. He'll fight me if I try, and he'll die. He needs you. There's no one else."
"No," Jesse protested weakly. He pulled the oxygen mask off of his face, the better to make himself understood. He tried to speak clearly, pausing between phrases to catch his breath, harsh wheezing muddling the words. "You're asking them to risk their lives for me, all of them. I'll take my chances with the antibiotics."
"No, Brennan!" The molecular was adamant, trying to get his point across. He coughed, too hard and too long. "You almost died with me the first time! I can't let you do it!" He coughed again, the wheezing growing more pronounced.
Brennan caught at Jesse's hand, forcing the mask back over Jesse's nose and mouth. "You don't have a choice, Jesse. I haven't done all of this just to let you go now. None of us will."
"You have to hurry," Dr. Robinson broke in. "Look at the screen—the massed areas are growing more swiftly. Jesse, calm yourself! It's your agitation that's causing the massing to spread." Without waiting for his response, she aimed a telempathic jolt of endorphins.
It had the right effect. Jesse's head lolled back against the pillow, his eyes drooping, barely aware of what was occurring, andDr. Robinsonfollowed it up by pushing a clear liquid into his intravenous line with a syringe.She turned back to the rest of Mutant X. "There isn't much time. I've just given him some morphine to relieve the pain and to relax him, but it won't last long. You have to hurry."
"What do we do?" Shalimar asked.
"Sit down," Dr. Robinson directed, indicating the chairs along the edge of the clinic. "Brennan, you've been through this before but each time it can be different. No one knows what kind of psychic images Jesse has regarding this. Right now the most important massed area to correct is the heart." She pointed at a point on the screen where a beating heart could almost be discerned through the colors. "Here, right here. This is the most immediate area of danger, the piece that will kill him if we don't correct it immediately. This area of the heart isn't moving. The closest analogy I can give you is that Jesse is suffering a heart attack. That chest pain he told you of? That's from lack of oxygen to the heart muscle, caused by the uncontrolled massing of the left ventricle. Go into his mind and convince him to restore the ventricle to its natural state."
"What do we do?" Lexa wanted to know.
"Sit down, next to each other," Dr. Robinson directed. "Join hands; I'll send you in as a group. Now relax, this won't hurt a bit…"