Okay, one last chapter for an epilog, since Aniki19 and KatsKnit00 asked so nicely (I'm a sucker for fan requests). This one's for all the Jesse hurt/comfort junkies out there. Happy Holidays!
Jesse hadn't realized how much he prized quiet until it had been taken from him and then given back. All the monitors that beeped and whirred, all the machines that hissed while feeding fluids and medicines into his arms. The tubes that brought fresh oxygen to his nose and whistling to his ears, keeping him awake until he couldn't take it anymore. Minutes morphed into hours into days, and he lost track of how long he lay there in the bio-bed under bright clinic lights.
He had begged Dr. Robinson to let him out, and apparently it had worked. Yes, it had, he realized, remembering as if in another of those damn dreams how Brennan had helped him crawl into the damn wheelchair when Jesse could barely hold his head up, and how Lexa had pushed the damn chair to his room, skirting away from the damn computer console that he reached for en route. Even that short excursion had exhausted him; he was grateful to be lifted into his own soft bed and had fallen asleep before Shalimar could even arrange the covers over him. Was that one a dream or reality? Must have been reality, for right now he was waking up in his own bed. No beeps. No tubes.
How long had it been? Jesse remembered Lexa bringing him something cool to eat, something jiggly and blue, soothing to his throat still sore from the garden hoses stuffed down to help him breathe—wait, was that while he was still in the clinic? Or was it here in his own room? Jesse couldn't tell. It all ran together. He did remember waking up in this bed with Shalimar's hand firmly grasping his. And there was another time when Brennan had the lamp set to low so that he could read a magazine while Jesse slept. Jesse frowned; how long was it going to take him to recuperate from that damn bullet? Hadn't it been long enough yet? Obviously not.
He satisfied himself by simply listening to the sounds of his own bedroom. There was the almost silent ticking of the clock on the bed stand, the numbers turned away so that he couldn't see red light smoldering or even tell the time. There was the omni-present hum of his own personal console networked into the rest of Sanctuary. There was a long term program that he had been running that should have finished by now. He wondered grimly what had happened to it. He'd set it up to run overnight while he and the others went to the bar… Jesse shied away from the memory. The others wouldn't have known what to do with his program. Brennan probably would have just turned it off and crashed the file. Jesse sighed, hoping that Lexa had been the one to find it. The data might still be in existence.
There were more sounds, sounds that were familiar to Sanctuary: the sound of the generator humming, providing the power that kept the place warm and the air circulating, and there was the pinging as the metal walls contracted and expanded, the gentle trickling of the fountainin thewater garden. The mainframe added its share of little beeps.
But no sounds of breathing. Jesse found that he missed it, realized that there had been someone with him ever since he'd been shot, let alone released from the clinic bio-bed. There, teasing at the edges of narcotic-fuzzed memory, was the scene of an argument.
"No, Brennan, he's not ready. He could stop breathing again." It was Dr. Robinson. "He needs to stay monitored."
"Yeah, but doc, he's going crazy! Listen to him. Jesse's out of his mind, talking to people who aren't even here! He's talking to Adam!"
"That's not uncommon, Brennan. It's called ICU madness. His mind is being affected by all the drugs I've given him for the pain, and by being here in the clinic. He can't tell whether it's morning or night, and it's confusing him. He'll come out of it once he leaves the clinic."
"All the more reason to get him out of here," Brennan returned triumphantly.
"No," Dr. Robinson said firmly. "He'll snap out of it eventually. But he stopped breathing once. What if it should happen again?"
"I'll watch him," Shalimar put in.
Were they all present in the clinic, talking about him? Talking over him like he wasn't even there?
Buddy, you weren't there. You were visiting King Henry the Eighth at the Funny Farm.
Yeah, well, I'm back. Me. Jesse Kilmartin. Impervious to rocks, hard places—everything but speeding bullets equipped with proton couplers. Jesse couldn't help himself; a cold shiver of fear rippled up and down his aching spine.
Which reminded him—everything ached. It wasn't the same truly mind-wrenching pain that took away the power of thought and breath at the same time. That seemed to have faded away like the rock hard mass over where the bullet had entered. The massing had gone, hadn't it? Jesse pulled the covers away to verify what his senses were telling him. Yes, there was no sign of any leftover proton coupler activity. He could be grateful for that, at least.
But he still ached all over, suggesting that he'd spent way too much time flat on his back. And how come there was no one here in his room? He could just barely see the afghan blanket tossed carelessly across the chair in the corner, the light too dim to tell the colors. If he had to guess, he'd say that it belonged to Shalimar, and that the feral had stepped out for a glass of water or a fresh magazine. It was hard for her to sit still, he knew. Her feral nature kept her constantly moving. An image came to mind: a cat's tail, the tip tilting this way and that, never at rest. Soon she would trot back in and settle herself into the chair in the corner again.
What was keeping Shalimar? He could use a glass of water himself. His throat felt dry and scratchy, and he would just bet that Brennan had turned down the humidifier on the climate control while Jesse wasn't watching. The man hated moisture in every form except a shower, Jesse grumbled to himself. Comes from having an affinity for electricity. Didn't see Lexa behaving that way.
At the thought of the chromatic, Jesse grinned to himself. Knowing Lexa, he'd just bet that she didn't think that he'd remember her sitting by his bed, clutching his hand as though he were ready to run away. Couldn't remember if it was in the clinic or here in his room, but that didn't matter. The woman rarely let her emotional guard down, and that was one of those rare times. He'd cherish the memory, waiting until the right moment to remind her of it.
All right, this was taking too long. Maybe Shalimar wasn't coming back to sit with him. After all, he was doing a lot better now. Didn't need a baby-sitter. Not gonna stop breathing, are we, Jess? Finished with that part of the recuperation. He couldn't quite control the shudder. But not having anyone camped out in his bedroom had to be a good sign.
Didn't mean that he stopped being thirsty. And as he recalled from before, the computer desperately needed tending. There were security scans to be run, virus protections to be checked, and a certain forgotten program to look at and see if Brennan had indeed managed to destroy a week's worth of hard work. Added bonus: sitting up would start the process of getting rid of the I've-been-in-bed-too-long creakiness. Decision made: time to get up. It might be three in the morning, but he'd find that out once he was sitting in front of a LCD, bathing in the rays, looking at the time in the bottom right corner of the screen. For all he knew it could be nine AM with coffee brewing. He tossed the covers back and swung his legs over the side.
Hurt like hell to sit up, but he managed it, not even letting the whimper escape.
There. That wasn't so bad, was it, Kilmartin?
Yes, it was. And I feel dizzy.
Just sit there for a moment. It'll pass.
I really am going crazy. I'm talking to myself.
Sure, but you feel better now, don't you? And as long as you don't say anything out loud, nobody will know that you don't have all your eggs in one basket.
Jesse did feel better. The room stopped tilting, and the nauseous sensation that sat two inches above his navel subsided. And, more importantly, his back stopped aching, proving that he was right about wanting to get up. Time to press forward. He could access the Sanctuary mainframe from his computer in his room, but he doubted that he'd be able to run all the scans that he needed to from this workstation. For that he'd need one of the main consoles. That too was okay. The kitchen was a short distance further, and he could stop first for a glass of water, then settle in for some heavy duty computing. By the time he was finished, maybe the rest of him would have stopped aching. So stop malingering and get moving, Kilmartin.
Remember that truly mind-wrenching pain that took away the power of thought and breath at the same time? It was back, stabbing at his gut where the tissue hadn't yet healed. Jesse doubled over, clutching at the back of a chair to keep from going down to his knees.
Breathe. In and out, now again. Breathe. That's it, pain going away now. Another breath, you can do it. You've been breathing for several years now, you're just out of practice. Try again, one more breath. And another.
Jesse straightened up gingerly, holding the other arm tightly across his midsection. Couldn't say why, but it seemed to help. He didn't make it all the way upright, but close enough for government work. He chanced letting go of the chair back and took a step.
Didn't fall down. Good. Another step. And another. Hey, it works! He could see the lounge where the computer console sat, begging him to come play, and the kitchen located not far beyond. He leaned against the wall, trying not to fall down, trying to catch his breath. When had he gotten so out of shape? He already felt as though he'd gone three rounds with the late and unlamented Gabriel Ashlocke, and he hadn't even gotten ten feet out of his room. The wall felt cool, refreshing against his hot face.
Thirsty. Still thirsty. The kitchen now looked as though it were sixteen miles away instead of sixteen steps. Somehow he'd ended up on a damn merry-go-round, and the room was spinning. The edges of his vision were going dark, which didn't make sense because he could see a light up ahead. He thought it was in the kitchen…
A bright white light shone out of the door way, beckoning him in. There were people through there, not so much faces as souls, smiling and inviting him to come. Emma was there, with a radiance more glorious than he had ever known her to possess. Leo, too, no longer angry but more at peace with himself. He gestured, and Jesse understood: Lexa had tried to save Leo, and her brother appreciated it more thoroughly than she could imagine. He turned back to Lexa and told her so. And that it was time for Jesse to leave.
"Jesse, what the hell are you doing up out of bed?" It was Shalimar, strong hands under his arms, holding him up, preventing him from slipping to the floor, the anger in her voice more from guilt over taking a break than because of his actions. She cast swiftly around; the divan in the lounge was closer than Jesse's bed at this point, and the man was going down whether she was there or not. She wrestled him to the divan, managing to keep Jesse on staggering feet until he bumped up against the divan, at which point his legs gave out altogether and he sprawled helplessly onto the cushioned surface. Shalimar straightened him out, lifting his legs up onto the furniture, making certain that his head was down—and that her little brother was breathing. "That'll teach me to leave you alone for two seconds," she scolded. "Where were you going, Mr. I-don't-need-any-help-as-I-fall-flat-on-my-face?"
"Thirsty," Jesse croaked, trembling with exhaustion.
"Then why didn't you say so? Don't move; I'll be right back." Shalimar pushed Jesse flat, keeping her hand on his chest just long enough to ensure that he wasn't going anywhere, and was back within moments. "Here. Wait a minute, your hands are shaking. Let me help you." She propped him up against some pillows, steadying the cup in his hands and helping him to raise it to his lips. Jesse greedily gulped it down, barely able to pause for breath.
Then it was gone. Shalimar helped him to lie back down, noting with dismay the lines in his face. "You're hurting. I'll get some more of your pain medicine."
"No." Jesse caught her hand. "No more drugs. I can't stand what they do to my head. Please, Shal," he begged.
Shalimar considered. She too hated the way narcotics made her feel. "All right. But as soon as you're able to walk, it's back to bed where you belong. Deal?"
"Deal," Jesse whispered, closing his eyes in relief. Then—"computer?"
"Not a chance, Kilmartin." Shalimar kissed the top of his head. "Not the way you look."
"I hurt all over. The computer helps me to forget," Jesse said pointedly, eyes still shut, hoping that he didn't appear as weak as he felt. Then he opened his eyes again, looking around the room. "What time is it?"
"Two AM, Jess."
"Oh." And, more worriedly, "what day?"
"Thursday." At Jesse's crestfallen look, she went on. "You weren't breathing for two days, Jesse. Dr. Robinson had you hooked up to machines for that long, until the pneumonia had cleared out enough so that you could breathe on your own. You were drowning in pneumonia. It was pretty scary."
"Yeah." A momentary flash of Brennan crossed Jesse's mind, the elemental hauling him out of the raging white rapids, diving in without a thought to his own safety. Brennan, standing up to the electrical storm of Jesse's thoughts, taking whatever Jesse could throw at him.
He knew I couldn't kill him. How? I didn't know myself that I wouldn't let him down. He knows me better than I know myself.
"We all got inside your head, Jesse," Shalimar said gently, taking his hand, and Jesse realized that he'd spoken aloud. Flash of Shalimar, striding through the flames as though they weren't there. "You saw the horrific parts. We saw the part of you that we love. It was okay."
It took a moment for Jesse to digest that. Then: "I saw Emma, Shal. She was there, too. At the end."
Shalimar bit her lip. "Was she happy?"
"Yeah. And Leo. He was at peace, Shal. You think Lexa knows that?"
"Knows what?" A shadow fell across the door, faded in the dim lights of nighttime Sanctuary routines. Lexa stifled a yawn. "What am I supposed to know?"
Shalimar craned around to look. "What are you doing up, girl? Don't you know that it's two in the morning?"
"Yes, I know it's two in the morning. I heard voices," Lexa lied. "You woke me up."
Shalimar allowed one corner of her mouth to creep upward. Lexa, dressed, make-up in place, just woke up when she heard Jesse and Shalimar talking quietly? I don't think so. I think you were having trouble sleeping, girl, worrying over our little fair-haired boy here. Tough. Tonight it's my turn to watch over him.
Jesse was beyond noticing. "Sorry," he muttered. "I couldn't sleep."
"Take drugs," Lexa advised dryly. "I hear they knock you right out." She took a closer look, saw the lines drawing down the man's face. "I'll get them, and I'm not taking no for an answer. Look at him, Shal. This look like a man who should be up out of bed? What were you thinking?"
"Lay off of her, Lexa." Even lying on the divan seemed to be draining Jesse of strength. Watching the two women in his life go after each other was more than he could bear. "This wasn't her fault. I couldn't stand being in bed any longer. Everything aches," he added, trying to keep the whine out of his voice.
They could both see something melt inside Lexa, although not a muscle did she move in her face. "Idiot. C'mon, sit up."
"Sit up," Lexa said impatiently. She slipped an arm underneath Jesse's shoulders, raising him into an upright position, ignoring the sharp hiss as the movement pulled on healing flesh. "Here, put your arms around Shalimar. Lean against her shoulder. She'll hold you up. I used to do this for Leo, back when we were at Genomex. He used to come back to our room, sore and aching, after some of his sessions." Lexa began to massage the tight muscles in Jesse's back, working loose the knots put there by too many days of inactivity.
It felt good. The scent of Shalimar's shampoo tickled his nose, but the sheer relief of the agony that Lexa was pummeling away took all his attention. He let his head rest on the feral's shoulder, allowing Lexa to attack the ache in his neck as well.
"Mm. Don't stop."
"That's what Leo used to say." But Lexa did pause. "What was that you said about Leo?"
"I'm not kidding, Jesse."
"Ow. Ah, that's better."
"What about Leo?"
Jesse sighed. Shalimar adjusted her hold on him, not allowing him to drop bonelessly away. "I saw him."
"You know. When you were in my mind."
"Leo hates—hated—the cold. He wasn't there."
Flash of Lexa going invisibly through his igloo prison, dragging him out to safety. Flash of pain as Dr. Robinson used the paddles to restart his heart. Jesse shivered. "Not then. Later."
"The cave thing? Leo wasn't there either."
Lexa couldn't see the frown from behind. "He was in the light, Lexa."
"Then it was a good thing that you didn't join him, Jesse. You'd've both been waiting a good long time to see me. I produce light, I don't go into it."
"He was there, Lexa," Jesse said stubbornly. It was tough to actually think and talk while Lexa was removing the killer cramps from his back. She rotated a shoulder, ignoring the groan of relief as a muscle released. "You couldn't see him, but he was there. And he was happy. For the first time in years, your brother was at peace with himself and the rest of the world."
The kneading fingers paused. Lexa swallowed hard. "You mean it? Jess, don't play me with this."
"I mean it, Lexa. He's in a better place." Quietly.
Jesse couldn't see it with his back to her, but Shalimar saw Lexa wipe an errant tear away. He did feel the loss of her healing fingers; he tried to turn around to look.
Acid fire dripped into the not yet healed bullet wound. He crumbled, all Lexa's good work undone, his head spinning, fighting to keep his guts from spilling. Four hands grabbed him and gently eased him back flat, soothing him until the pain passed.
"Idiot," he heard Lexa say again. She said something else, but Jesse couldn't catch it. His concentration was elsewhere.
Okay, breathe. Start over again. Little set back. Not to worry. Damn, gonna cough again.
The coughing went on way too long for his comfort, the movement pulling at the sutures and stabbing into tender tissue. This time it was Lexa who held the water to his lips to soothe away the tickle in his throat while Shalimar supported his head. "Damn. Damn."
"It's all right, Jess," Shalimar told him, her own brown eyes as serious as he'd ever seen them. "You'll get through this."
"This a private party, or can anyone join?" Brennan appeared in the doorway, chest bare and soft flannel covering long legs. He yawned widely, running a hand through tousled dark hair. "Jess, what're you doing up, man?"
"If I hear that one more time—"
"Hey, no, bro, you got it all wrong. I'm impressed you made it this far, all the way to the lounge. I'd have thought that you'd fall on your keister in two steps." He grinned widely. "Bet'cha can't make it back."
Jesse suppressed a cough, hand automatically going to splint the wound. His competitive spirit flared even through the exhaustion. "Bet'cha I can."
"Yeah? Then let's make it interesting. You hit the floor with your nose, you owe me a tune-up on the Miata. Deal?"
"What do I get, Brennan, when I rub your face in it?"
Brennan thought for a moment. A smile spread across his face. "I'll spot you twenty points our next basketball match."
"No good. You suck at basketball. Come up with something better, bro."
"I do not," Brennan protested. He considered, cocking his head. "How about this? I'll monitor the next two missions from the computer for you. Deal?"
"Jess," Shalimar tried to object.
Jesse stopped her. "You were telling me to get back there as well, Shal. Look out, I'm sitting up." He swung his legs over the edge, breathing deeply, pleased that this time his side only disagreed with his action instead of starting an all out war. He waited for the merry-go-round in his head to quit.
He must have taken too long, for Brennan piped up, "Hey, man, it's okay. We can call off the bet. You're not up to this. Lie back. I'll get the wheelchair."
Jesse held up a hand. "I'm not finished, bro. Chickening out? Afraid you'll lose?"
"I'm afraid you'll do some serious damage," Brennan retorted. "You know how much trouble we'll be in with Dr. Robinson if we let that happen?"
"No. How much?"
"She's an empath, bro. And a doctor. She'll hit you in spots you never knew you had."
"Not me, Brennan. You're the one who made the bet." Jesse stood, flailing around for something to hang onto.
Lexa obliged, catching his arm. "Sit down, Jesse. Before you fall down."
"Not a chance." Jesse concentrated on breathing. It worked before, and it would work again. Letting go of the chromatic he took a step. So far, so good. Another step, balance. Yes, the doorframe is good to cling to for a moment, but won't get you much farther in your journey. Gotta let go, take another step. No, don't cough, that'll take you to your knees for sure.
He took a break in the hallway, leaning against the wall, catching his breath. The others crowded around him.
"It's okay, man," Brennan said anxiously. "You've made your point. You win. I concede."
"Not…yet…" Jesse gasped. "Half…way…there. Besides," and he flashed a grin, "you…hate…to lose."
Brennan dribbled by him, shooting a bolt of electricity to power jump the basketball into a slam dunk.
"Hey!" Jesse objected. "I thought we agreed. No powers."
"No," Brennan told him. "You agreed. I won."
Jesse rested his cheek against the hot rock face. The lava pit swirled below. "I should have remembered. You hate to lose."
"I'll make an exception. You win, I lose." Brennan slid his hand under Jesse's shoulder. "Here. Lean on me."
Jesse sighed. The dark edges of his vision were wavering dangerously, and his knees were in serious jeopardy of dumping him to the floor. He sagged into Brennan's waiting arms. "I think I'm losing this bet," he whispered.
"You can do it," Brennan encouraged anxiously. "I'll help. You can walk. Just put one foot in front of the other. I won't let you fall."
"You're wasting your time," Jesse said hoarsely. "It's the end."
"Not a chance, bro. This is only water, not hot lava. You can swim, I can swim. Just let the current bring you to me. I'll get you out of this."
"Yes, you can," Brennan encouraged. "Don't you remember? You phased the Helix. You've beaten back Genomex's goons more than a dozen times. You can do it again, bro. This is no different."
"Brennan, just let me go…"
"Jesse, I won't let you quit! Let go of the damn rock and get your ass over here!"
Jesse crumbled into the raging currents, releasing his hold on the boulder and tumbling head over heels in the water. It wasn't clear whether he had let go or been torn away by the force of the rushing river, but Brennan wasn't about to quibble. He barely managed to snag Jesse's shirt and dragged him into a fierce bear hug.
"I've got you," he yelled. "Hang on!"
"I've got you," Brennan soothed. "Hang on. Bed's right here."
Hanging on is going to be something of a problem, Bren. Fingers aren't working so good right now. Head is spinning, mouth is praying not to throw up all over you. Jesse swallowed hard, and again. And either Lexa has turned Shalimar and she invisible, or my vision is going out along with the rest of me. Where's the damn bed?
Then he felt it, up against his legs. The only reason he didn't collapse onto the firm mattress was because Brennan slowly lowered him there, Lexa's hands guiding his head to the pillow and Shalimar grabbing for his feet. They had him down and settled before consciousness left all together—he hoped.
"Jess? You all right, buddy?"
"Yeah," he whispered, wishing his voice worked better. He felt too wiped even to cough.
"You had us worried there."
Damn. Must have passed out and never realized it. Lexa pulled the cool cloth from his forehead, and Jesse sighed. Definitely passed out. Never felt her put it there in the first place.
That was all right. He felt at peace with the world himself: Lexa hovering at the bed stand, Shalimar and Brennan perched on either side of his bed. Made it a little on the snug side, but that was all right. They were together. Shalimar slipped her hand around his.
Brennan leaned over. "Gotta get you well, bro. You've got a date with my Miata."
"What are you talking about, Brennan? I won the bet." It was hard to focus on the man's face.
"Did not. I practically carried you back to bed."
"Did I hit the floor?"
"Well… That was because I grabbed you first."
Jesse smiled, closing his eyes. "I won."