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Jesse knew it was a mistake even before he got to make it. He just knew in his gut even when he boarded the Double Helix with Brennan, he knew it the moment Adam told them they were to go to Vegas after a powerful new mutant with the ability to mass hypnotize. He knew in his heart of hearts that the whole damn night was damned.
“Now remember”, Adam had said, “Skylar Hill is an enchantress in the truest sense of the word. Do not in any circumstances make eye contact. She is also an ace con artist. She uses her hypnotic gaze to entrance people and then she and her partners make away with all the cash in the house. Her favorite haunts are small banks, charity balls and casinos.”
Casinos. Figures this would be one of the places they’d find her in.
Awkwardly, longingly, Jesse stood outside a glittering gateway to a world taboo to him. It was a big night in Vegas, fight night. Through the doors, loud music filtered out to his ears. Glasses clanking, lights shimmering and beautiful people gliding across a glamorous scape all contributed to the knots in his midsection. Adam’s voice rang over the comlink.
“Jesse, she’s going into the MGM. Don’t lose her.”
“Yeh, I got you Adam. I was … just…”
Adam realized what his youngest team member was hesitant about.
The MGM Grand, only the biggest casino this side of the globe, haven for gamblers and fortune hunters, was one of the places Jesse could not, rather should not, phase into.
You see, Jesse Kilmartin has a history with gambling. Having gotten addicted at an early age, he’d spent a lot of miserable time skipping school, stealing money and objects of value, first from his own home, and soon from the homes of his friends and acquaintances to fulfill his cravings. He’d gotten into trouble with his parents, friends, school authorities, the police and even the crooks frequenting the joints he’d begun to frequent. He’d been through juve, probation, psychiatric counseling, endless lectures and detentions and groundings in the process.
Lotto, horseracing, roulette, poker, especially poker… there was nothing he hadn’t tried his luck at. Money was irrelevant. It was the thrill of winning, the illusion of beating lady luck at her own games… the joy of bouncing back from each loss… And try as he might to control his wanton soul, Jesse was hooked. Jesse was addicted.
“Its okay Jesse, is Brennan around?”
Jesse looked around for his partner and boyfriend but they’d kissed and split not so long ago. Dumb luck that Jesse spotted the girl and that too just when she was going into the casino.
“No I don’t see him. Brennan where are you?”
“On my way Jess. You follow her in, I’ll be right behind you.”
The vote of confidence he heard in his lover’s voice enthused him. What’s the worst that could happen anyways?
//Fuckin hell I’m an adult now, surely I can handle myself! Right?//
Throwing caution to the wind, he walked into the casino, head held high, eyes darting, taking in everything he hadn’t seen in quite a while.
//Focus Jesse. Find the girl!//
But try as he might, Jesse couldn’t ignore the insistent thumping of his rapidly beating heart.
Mistake number one.
Back at the Sanctuary, the boys reported to Adam after having failed to locate Skylar. After the girls left, Adam addressed Jesse.
“Jesse can I speak to you?”
Adam noticed the gesture of protectiveness as Brennan reached for the small of Jesse’s back once but let his hand quickly fall.Adam smiled.
“You can stay Brennan if that’s okay with Jesse, I’m sure he knows what I need to discuss.”
Jesse knew this was coming. The knots in his gut returned. He turned to Brennan and nodded his assent.
Adam began, “Jesse I want you to think back to the time at the MGM…”
“Think hard and tell me frankly… is it possible you were distracted? And that’s why maybe you weren’t able to keep track of her?”
Jesse let out a huge breath, as if in admittance, which it was. Brennan looked on with love and concern brimming in his eyes. He knew all about Jesse’s gambling troubles in the past.
“Adam I’m sorry. I guess… it was just…”
Adam halted him in mid-sentence. He placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“That’s okay Jesse. I am not surprised, and it’s completely natural. I just want you to not think about it too much okay? If you don’t delve on it, it’s sure to go away soon.”
Jesse was visibly relieved.
“Don’t worry about the girl, we’ll get her some other time. Meanwhile, I want you to stay at the Sanctuary for a few days and practice some more simulation combat with Brennan. I don’t think you need to make any outside visits for awhile.”
Jesse had been nodding and listening intently. But what he heard suddenly spiked a long-lost rebelliousness in him.
“You’re grounding me?”
“Jess…” this was Brennan. But Jesse was not listening.
“This is just like in school! In case you forgot, I’ve been refraining for a long time now without you or anyone watching over me. I don’t need this. I am not a child anymore Adam.”
Adam was expecting this sudden outburst as well. “I know you’re not. This is just a precautionary measure that’s all.”
Adam turned around to signal an end of discussion but Jesse was not satisfied.
“Come on Jess.” Brennan took his arm but he shirked him off.
“Adam this isn’t fair. If you don’t trust me then you might as well just say it out loud so we’re clear.”
“Jess stop it.”
“Brennan you’re with him too? You guys just think I’m a stupid naïve kid don’t you?”
“Jess you know that’s not true, we’re just trying to help you so you don’t succumb to your addiction problems again.”
“I don’t have addiction problems!”
“Yeh right Jesse. Look at how you’re behaving right now!”
“Oh fuck off!”
Brennan was stunned. He felt so much resentment emanating from Jesse and he’d never even thought this boy would be capable of so much anger! He moved to say something but Adam stopped him. He didn’t want this issue to turn into a lovers’ feud.
“Brennan its okay. Jesse this isn’t about trust. I trust you with my life you know that, now why would I do that if I thought you were stupid?”
Jesse didn’t know how to respond, just as Brennan held his hands at his waist and gave him one of his intense stares.
“Problem or no, you need to do this. Now unless you want me to change the time from few days to a few weeks…”
Okay now Jesse was livid. Ignoring Brennan’s restraining arms, he stalked out and towards his room, just like he used to as a kid. This was all so déjà vu. Memories from his past came rushing back to him, of all the times in the early stages of his addiction, he’d wanted to reach out for help but instead had only been slapped with another detention or grounding. He remembered how he’d finally given in to his temptations and how free he’d felt of a sudden… how cool it felt to defy authority, who needs them anyway? Back in the present, he felt utter rage at being treated like a child again, and this when he did not even deserve it!
//People think they can just order me around? It’s my life damn it!//
As with the grounding, it was obvious what Adam thought of him now. Jesse was hurting. No one trusted him then, no one trusts him now. Not even Brennan. Well fine! If that aint an issue anymore…
Mistake number two.
The next day, Adam had to leave for Westchester on an urgent mission. He left Shalimar in charge, leaving a clear instruction not to let Jesse go out.
Brennan is really bad at cooking. Or so he claims, maybe to get out of kitchen duty. But that morning, he got up way early and was found clanking utensils in the kitchen. Shalimar could have sworn she was sleepwalking.
“What are you doing?”
Brennan looked too cute in the chef’s attire to not notice, but she had to ask.
“What does it look like dearest?”
“Oh… another one of your sex games maybe?”
Brennan gave her a bad bad scowl that she had to laugh at. But she still couldn’t believe it.
“Believe it. I just wanted to take some breakfast to Jesse in bed. Last night we kinda had an argument and…”
“Yeh I heard.” Shalimar came over and helped him load beans into the coffee machine. Emma had filled her in on what had transpired and she was equally concerned.
“Jesse sure can be a handful when he’s upset.”
“You.” Brennan pointed accusingly at her as he made coffee, “You have spoilt him.”
Shalimar gave him a mock aghast look, “Me? What about you? You’re always fending for him, letting him get away with everything.”
Brennan chuckled, that was true. He couldn’t see a shadow of discomfort on Jesse’s face.
“Fact is Shalimar, we’re Both culprits.”
Shalimar shirked his concerns off, “Oh come on, he’s just a kid.”
“Oh yeh, quite the kid when he knows it can be used to his advantage. You know its not like I’m not used to Jesse in one of his moments. But last night, it was so weird seeing Jesse that worked up. I have never seen him so angry and … almost crazed.”
Shalimar sighed. “Well he did have a huge problem in school, which mind you was hardly three years ago. It almost ruined his life. Obviously it’s been hard getting away from. I think it was Adam who really and truly helped him get over it.”
“Well, soon after I joined Adam and he had just a half-baked idea of something he wanted to call MutantX, we got to know of a young molecular that the GSA was trying to get their hands on.”
Shalimar nodded. “So we tracked him down. Turned out GSA wasn’t the only one after him. He’d gotten into trouble with the local mafia and even the police because of his skills at poker. And this despite the fact that he was once an A-grade student, champion swimmer, came from an elite background and could make any college he wanted the following year. The kid was a loner, painfully aware of his freak status, hiding and shying away from everyone, not even his parents knew about his mutancy at that time.”
“Yeh we’ve all been there haven’t we.” It wasn’t a question, Brennan and Shalimar knew too well how that kind of loneliness felt.
“Nothing interested him. He seemed to have no motivation, no purpose… except this… gambling streak of his. Seemed like this was his way to deal with his burden of mutancy, his fear of being different. He really had no need for the money. Obviously he enjoyed the thrill, the danger, the sneaking. He reveled in his amazing abilities with which he could get in and out of any joint without people finding out he was underage, or broke, or both.”
“He was addicted.”
Brennan grimaced at the use of the word that had ticked Jesse off last night.Shalimar continued.
“So anyways, to cut a long story short, when we brought Jesse here to the Sanctuary, it was like for the first time, he had a purpose in life. Adam pacified his fears, helped him accept his abilities as a gift and not a curse. Adam showed Jesse the great possibilities his powers offered and none of them as destructive as his gambling. He jumped at it.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.” Shalimar beamed with pride she felt for Jesse as she said this. “And he’s needed no counseling ever since.”
Brennan smiled too. //That’s my boy.//
Jesse could be an extremely determined kid. But it seemed they might be facing a possible relapse. Last night’s encounter might have roused the dormant cravings to try his luck again.
“Well… I just hope he can bounce back this time too.”
Shalimar patted his hand. “He will. We’ll make sure he does. Right now, you guys aren’t going out until Adam or I say so okay?”
Brennan threw a mock salute at her as she grinned at him and turned to leave. Brennan picked up the breakfast tray loaded with his morning’s hard work and coffee, and moved to Jesse’s chamber.
Jesse was somewhere between sleep and wakefulness when the sweet whiff of fresh brewed coffee roused his senses. Soon he felt the warmth of his lover slide in beside him, and pull up the covers around his naked form protectively.
He smiled the smile of a contented man who could die this very instant, in the embrace of his final salvation, and he’d have no regrets. He turned over so he could nestle into the broad chest as strong arms engulfed him and pulled him close.
“Wake up sleeping beauty.”
“I hate it when you call me that” He smiled into the kiss Brennan pressed to his lips plush from sleep. And ended up pushing it away.
“Brennan you might be comfortable with morning breath but I’m not.”
“What morning breath?”
Brennan chuckled and dove in for another kiss at which Jesse whimpered but allowed reluctantly.
“You’re fine baby, don’t worry. I love you just the way you are. Every single moment, night or day.”
Jesse beamed. His boyfriend was always saying things like that, mushy-wushy and everything, and he loved him for it. With all his heart and soul. But his comment had also reminded Jesse of the argument they’d had the night before.
“I’m… sorry about the way I talked to you last night. I… I don’t know what got into me.”
Brennan hushed him, “Its okay Jess. I know you didn’t mean to be hurtful.”
“But I was.”
“No you weren’t. I just hope you understand that Adam is only trying to keep you from hurting yourself.”
Jesse was not entirely convinced. He truly believed Adam and Bren were being distrustful of him. He began to protest again but his lover sensed his restlessness and cuddled him closer, holding Jesse’s face in his elegant hand to make him meet his eyes.
“hey… I’m staying grounded with you. We don’t need to go out as long as we’re together right? And look at it this way… you and me get to spend all day together…”
Jesse pouted, trying to hide the fact that he was actually liking where this was going.
And the shy smile broke through. That was his cue. Brennan tickled him until Jesse was shrieking like a toddler and the boys began their day frolicking in bed. Then they made love.
//Hmm maybe it’s not going to be so bad after all.//
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Shalimar couldn’t stop pacing. She was angry and upset and angry and she couldn’t stop pacing. Emma was reluctantly going over the entire story for the second time at Brennan’s request, occasionally looking at Shal, trying to pacify her and get her to stop prowling. The electrical stood rigid, arms crossed, shoulders hunched, eyes fixed undeterred at the computer screen. He refused to turn around. He refused to look at anyone, including Jesse.
Jesse was sitting at the last stair to the training arena, knees between his arms, head lowered. To the casual eye, he seemed casual. But fact was, he was clutching his knees extremely tight and his knuckles were turning white. He was trembling from head to toe and his palms were sweating profusely. His head came up now and then only to see if Brennan would look at him, talk to him, but each time he’d be disappointed and had to go back to staring at his shoelaces. He was anxious, he was sorry, he was so sorry… and he was scared.
The truth had been out the moment Emma had called out for help over the comlink. Shalimar and Brennan were airborne at the time, mission aborted, on their way back when they heard Emma screaming for Jesse but they didn’t hear any response from the latter. Obviously something bad was going down and they were miles away to do anything. But Jesse? Where was Jesse?
Emma and Jesse had returned to the Sanctuary from their encounter to find Shalimar and Brennan docking the aircraft. The latter had some context from what they’d found out over the comlink, and demanded to know more.
“What took you so long Jesse?” Shalimar had asked. Jesse had been unable to answer. Eventually, other questions had followed. But none were from Brennan. He chose not to say a word. Jesse would have preferred his lover’s yelling to his silence, which was slowly choking the life out of him.
“You put your WHAT at stake?”
“For God’s sake how could you gamble with your ring!?!”
“I don’t believe it!”
“Your ring is supposed to be your religion Jesse. It’s the mark of Mutant X. It’s the symbol of us! Doesn’t it mean anything to you?”
“Do you realize what could have happened?”
“There were eight of them. No nine of them Jesse. NINE!”
Emma tried to get Shalimar to simmer down. “Shalimar he did bail me out just when…”
“That’s not the point Emma. He was supposed to have protected you, been with you in the first place. Saving lives is what we do, that’s our job and needs no extra credits. But being irresponsible here is a crime Emma, it’s murder!”
Jesse closed his eyes.“I’m sorry.”
Shalimar stopped to look at him. She shook her head.
“That’s not good enough Jess.”
Emma was feeling slightly guilty for Jesse’s current dilemma and offered to take part of the blame.
“Shalimar it’s my fault. I never should have taken him out.”
“Yeh why did you Emma? When Adam told you clearly not to?”
“Because I asked her to.” Brennan finally spoke up. Jesse looked to him with meek hopefulness but his boyfriend was steadfastly ignoring him. Shalimar turned to him.
“You? Why? Why when you… why?”
He replied somberly, “Because I wasn’t expecting him to break his promise to me.”
He finally looked to Jesse who was both relieved to have his attention, and at the same time miserable with the realization that he did lie to Brennan and break his promise to him. It also occurred to him that everyone called him Jesse but Brennan would always call him Jess. That is until now. He bit his lip and tried to apologize.
“Bren I’m sorry. I… I don’t know what got into me…”
“Where have I heard that before?”
The comment was as sad as it was sarcastic.
Shalimar spoke up, “Brennan you shouldn’t have.
Brennan looked uncomfortable. “I folded okay. He said he was unhappy. He was upset that we didn’t trust him and that he didn’t get to go to Hawaii with us and… he’d been holed up for three whole days and…”
“When was this?” Emma asked.
Brennan paused only for a second and it was enough. Emma began.
“Guys I’m sorry but there’s something else I didn’t tell you. I should have and maybe this wouldn’t have happened. Jesse hadn’t really been holed up for three whole days…”
//I’m dead. I’m dead.//
Shalimar grimaced, she so did not want to hear this. But when she and Brennan came to know that Jesse had defied their trust not once but twice, it got way too much.
Jesse panicked at the sudden shroud of silence that descended over his teammates. He’d rather have them whaling. He got up, trying to make one last attempt to justify himself.
“Guys… look… I’m sorry okay. I know I’ve caused you all a lot of trouble and…” he looked at Brennan who was back to his silent sulk mode, “and… I’ve betrayed your trust and God knows I’m sorry for it. I was out of control … I swear it will never happen again, please…”
He didn’t know what else to say.
“And you say we didn’t trust you.”
Jesse was nearing his wits end now. “Emma I did reach you didn’t I?” Immediately realizing that was absolutely the wrong thing to say, he retracted.
“Look I’m sorry. I’m sorry okay, I’m telling you it will never happen again. What else do you want me to say?”
“There is nothing you can say Jesse.” Brennan called him Jesse again!
//Why is he being so cruel?//
“I guess we should just let Adam do the talking.” And he made to move out.
Jesse panicked. The thought of how Adam would react made him shake uncontrollably.
“Brennan wait! You… you cant tell Adam!”
Brennan turned slowly to him. “Why not?”
“Be-because … Shalimar please… you can’t tell Adam, you wont tell him will you?”
Shalimar ignored him and answered Brennan’s question with another question.
“Do you realize what Adam might do if he found out?”
The silent glances exchanged between the two and with Emma were enough to realize telling Adam would be disastrous. Adam would never forgive Jesse, and things could drastically change at MutantX.
The relationship of the young mutants with Adam was like a group of children’s with their parent. Strict parent. They knew trust and honesty was of the utmost importance to Adam and he would have no tolerance for what Jesse had done. At the same time, like the tight, close-knit family they were, they couldn’t just let one of their own get in trouble with Adam. Jesse was the youngest and most pampered member of their family. However angry and dismayed they might personally be, they just couldn’t do that to him.
“Guys please, Brennan listen to me… Have I ever let you down before? I… give me this one chance will you? I swear to you this will never ever happen again. I pro…”
Emma interrupted him. “How can we believe you Jesse? This gambling of yours has turned you into a complete different person. I looked into your eyes this morning and could swear you were totally honest with me. I believed you when you promised me that last night would never happen again. But here we are…”
Shalimar decided to say something on behalf of Brennan since he obviously wasn’t interested.
“And didn’t you promise Brennan you’d stay out of trouble? What happened to that promise Jesse?”
Jesse was panting with the effort of trying to keep his cool. Obviously that wasn’t meant to be.
“What do you want me to do huh Shal? WHAT?? JUST TELL ME! WHAT??”
Shalimar was quiet for the longest time as she looked at Jesse, his temper flaring, his stance obstinate and defensive. She could sense the guilt, but she also smelt defiance. She knew that even though the run-in with GSA had shaken him up a lot, the yearning for tempting his fate was still there. What she wanted to do was stamp out the fire once and for all. To make this whole ordeal leave an everlasting impression on the boy so that in future, he would think twice before giving in to temptation.
After a few prolonged moments of silence, she’d made her decision.
“Come here Jesse.” She beckoned to him softly, sadly. Jesse noticed the change in her, bit his lip and walked up to her. She sat down at the stairs and Jesse joined her there. Emma and Brennan continued to linger nearby. Brennan still wasn’t keen on meeting Jesse’s eyes, because every time he did so, he felt tears welling up in his. He was extremely hurt, and he didn’t know how to express himself. So he paced.
Shalimar began, “Jesse, tell me, do you realize what you did was wrong?”
Jesse nodded ever so slightly.
“You do realize this has consequences?”
Another hesitant nod.
“If you hadn’t reached Emma on time, the consequences would have been completely out of our hands. But luckily you did. So as of now, we can control what these consequences should be. Right?”
Jesse looked up at Brennan, who had stopped pacing and was looking at Shalimar intently. Shalimar, not him. Shalimar brought his attention back to the conversation.
“Now we obviously don’t want you to get in trouble with Adam, because that would be… well, that would be just too much so… we wont tell him.” and she looked up at the other two for their approval. They agreed. Jesse was relieved.
“But, we cant leave things be. Emma tried that and look what happened.”
Jesse looked to Emma but couldn’t meet her eyes so lowered his head.
“Jesse, are you prepared to take responsibility for your actions?”
Jesse didn’t know where this was going, so he looked up at Shalimar. He found no anger, only undiluted concern and compassion, and sadness in her eyes. He swallowed and nodded again.
Shalimar sighed. “Alright then Jesse. I want you to go to your room, and we’ll call you in awhile. Okay?”
Jesse was confused. He felt a huge foreboding but couldn’t muster up enough courage to ask what she had in mind. He looked at Brennan, who was now… looking at him. He felt like the sun came out shining just for him. There were lines of sadness and disappointment on his face, which broke his heart. But he consoled himself with the fact that he could see no anger on his lover’s face. Not anymore.
Shalimar tugged him out of his reverie and quietly, he walked back to his room.
Jesse had been about twenty minutes in his room when Brennan paged him on his comlink.
//Jesse again. Jesse again!//
With a thumping heart, Jesse walked out the safety of his room.
He found Shalimar and Brennan sitting at the stairs right where he’d left them. Brennan was half lying on his side, lost deep in thought. When he saw Jesse approaching, he sat up and beckoned him over.
“Come on here Jesse.”
//Well at least he’s talking to me.//
Jesse joined them and sat a stair below. Emma was pacing, arms crossed, deep in thought again.
Shalimar took his hand in both of hers and began. “Jesse, Brennan and I have reached a decision. We’re happy to see that you realize your fault, but that isn’t enough. You understand this cant be allowed to go unpunished right?”
Jesse was trembling.
“Wha-what do you want me to do?”
He felt Brennan’s hand at the back of his head, stroking him gently. It gave him comfort, it gave him courage.
“You know what corporal punishment is Jesse?”
<< Previous chapter
Jesse was up in a flash. “WHAT?”
Shalimar rolled her eyes, as if expecting this very reaction. But she continued.
“The number we’ve agreed on is sixty. Thirty each between Brennan and me. Emma wont be part of it.”
“No paddles Jesse, we’ll only use hands.”
//And that’s supposed to make this okay?? What the hell is wrong with you Brennan? And what the hell is wrong with me?? Why cant I get a word out of my mouth?!?!//
“No! No! No! No!”
Brennan stood up. “This is the only way Jesse. We’ve thought this through. And you said you would cooperate.”
“No! No! No!” Jesse was retreating steadily.
“No Shalimar please… no please no! No!”
“Okay this is how it works Jesse, the more you resist, the higher the number goes. And its seventy now.”
“FUCK YOU! I’m not doing this!” He turned around to leave.
“Stop Jesse or…”
“Or what? You wanna tie me down and whip my ass? What is this some sick perversion of yours? I’m not doing this!!”
“I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU!”
“Fine Jesse. Go ahead and leave. We wont stop you. We wont force you. Just remember…”
Jesse didn’t let Brennan complete again. “You’ll tell Adam! That’s what you’ll do isn’t it? Be my guest, I’ll take my chances with him!”
“We’re not telling Adam.”
Jesse didn’t understand. He looked at Brennan with an accusatory glance reserved only for true loves. He got one in return, but this one wasn’t filled with contempt or rage the way he felt his own must be. He waited for his boyfriend to say something, to take it back, to make it all okay.
“I wont give you up Jess.”
“And I know I Will soon forgive you for betraying my trust, Our trust, for endangering Emma, and disrespecting our very order by gambling with your ring. I’m just sorry to know that you’ve taken advantage of my blind faith in you, my love for you. And you intend to continue doing so. Frankly, I don’t know if I can ever trust you again.”
Jesse was stunned. He had feared it would eventually come to this, but had manically been pushing away the disturbing thought. He loved Brennan. Surely he wouldn’t do this to him? His eyes burned with unshed tears.
“Don’t say that Brennan please…”
“You wanna know what Adam said to me that night after you slammed your door on us?”
Jesse couldn’t find the words.
“He said - be careful Brennan, you’ve taken a young lover. And that’s a huge responsibility. I’m responsible for you Jess. Its not a nice feeling to know I did such a lousy job. You made a mistake, that’s fine. To err is human.”
Brennan was close to eruption now. “But you made the same mistake twice. I wasn’t able to stop you, and you ended up throwing everything away. Everything that’s important to me and I thought was important to you too.”
“No Bren I…”
“And it obviously doesn’t matter to you where we go from here. Because you’ve made no efforts to regain our trust, except for making promises that you’ve already amply demonstrated you cant keep. This gambling of yours has driven you away from us Jesse. You think we could just sit and watch you destroy yourself?”
Jesse was hyperventilating.
Shalimar took up the baton. “Jesse we’re doing this so you can remember. The most important lessons in life are always learnt the hard way. And you’ve seen how bad it can get. But its not yet made the impact it should have on you. Jesse, I can see it in your eyes you’re just dying to get your hands on a deck of cards.”
Okay that hit home. Even when in his room a while ago, Jesse had had a hard time resisting the online poker game.
“Would you want something else to happen to you or us… your family before you quit gambling?”
Jesse bit his lip miserably. “No.”
There was silence for a few seconds as everyone waited for Jesse to say more. He broke, broke into a run and didn’t stop until he’d reached the top of the simulation training arena. He stood at the top most stair, with his back to the rest of Mutant X. Fists clutched tightly on his sides, his shoulders heaved with heavy gasps as he blinked back tears. He felt trapped and helpless, and without a choice. Finally, he conceded this was truly his own fault. This was all his fault.
//And I ought to pay for it.//
Shalimar noticed the hunching shoulders and climbed up the stairs to reach Jesse. Brennan soon followed.
She placed a loving hand at his shoulder and turned him around. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried not to tremble so much. Shalimar drew him into a gentle embrace and he melted into her.
“My brave little boy…”
She sank to the stair with him and rocked him as he shook himself apart. Jesse hoped if he never let go of Shalimar, they might change their minds and cut him loose. But that was not to be. It was Brennan who pried him away from Shalimar and started chanting his no’s again.
“Brennan come on, please…”
Emma stayed below, not really comfortable with the new developments. Jesse noticed and gazed at her longingly, as if her intervention could put a stop to this right here.
//I'm so sorry Em...//
She read him loud and clear, but she couldn’t help him. It was not in her hands anymore. Brennan took hold of his shoulders and turned Jesse to himself.
“Jesse. Do this. For me. For us.”
Jesse exhaled and Brennan didn’t wait. Shalimar and Brennan slid to the second stair from the top and propped up their knees together, Brennan on the left and Shalimar on the right. They drew a reluctant Jesse over their laps so his legs rested against the topmost stair, his butt on their laps and his upper torso suspended beneath. Jesse thought he would fall down the stairs if the hands holding him let go. And that seemed a much-preferred prospect right now. He was facing downwards and could see Emma looking up at him so sadly. He didn’t want to meet her gaze and closed his eyes, he was too ashamed by the whole ordeal.
He struggled only half-heartedly as it was now clear this was going to happen no matter what he said or did. His insides coiled up in knots when he found himself pressed in that vulnerable position over the legs of two people he loved and trusted the most in the world. He felt Shalimar’s hands rubbing his back. And then he felt Brennan’s hand slide beneath him to unzip his jeans. He jumped.
The rubbing became vigorous, as a hand pressed into the small of his back when he tried to get up.
“Shhh Jess, this isnt up to you.”
And before he knew it, his jeans and boxers had been pulled back to his thighs. He flushed furiously red with embarrassment. The blue tee was too short to afford him any modesty. He struggled in earnest but the hands restraining him were too strong.
“I’m here baby, I’m right here.”
And without any warning, the first swat landed on his left buttock.
It was harder than what he’d expected. But he stubbornly resolved not to scream or cry. He would see this through quietly.
“You're never gambling again Jess. You hear me?”
Another loud thwack. Jesse jerked with a stifled scream. God it hurt!
This was followed by four quick smacks, on each cheek alternately. Jesse couldn’t make out who was spanking him, Brennan or Shalimar. All he knew was the searing heat and pain across his ass, the brutal stabs of humiliation, and the shocking disbelief that this wasn’t happening. This wasn’t really happening!
With every hit, Jesse would bite back a scream and jump and his punishers had to hold him down. He was beginning to struggle like anything. The blows continued to rain and the pain got worse.
“Ahh it hurts! Shal come on!”
“Think about what could have happened. Think of how much *that* would have hurt kid.”
Jesse glanced at Emma again, who was sitting with her head lowered. He remembered how willingly she’d believed him in the morning. How vulnerable she’d looked knocked to the ground by the Steve guy and how scared she’d looked as agents advanced upon her. He closed his eyes in sheer disgust for himself, wishing he could erase the memory of those dreadful moments.
More hits in succession. And Jesse was struggling so much, they had to hold his wrists behind his back in a tight grip. His legs were flailing and he couldn’t get rid of the annoying feeling of being suspended in air. Brennan brought his long leg around his calves to hold him down more effectively.
Brennan whipped him with a strong hand, while he continued to writhe.
“I’m sorry! Please stop already.”
He squeezed his eyes shut as his rear continued to burn. Brennan was doing the current ten while Shalimar was holding him down. His face creased with lines of worry and regrets himself. So often he’d looked to Shalimar silently pleading with her to quit. But she had replied with an equally troubled, but determined look to see this through. They had to do this, for Jesse’s sake. They couldn’t let him get away this time, they’d done it way too often just because he was the youngest and everyone was way too lenient with him. Not this time.
Jesse groaned, “Never again, please!”
Brennan decided to keep talking, “Never what Jess?”
“I’ll never gamble again.”
Thwack! His behind was red hot now.
“And what Jesse?”
“…and I’ll never lie to you again. I promise… I’ll keep my promises always!”
Jesse resisted still. “And… and… I’ll never… oww!”
“Say it Jesse.”
They had switched and now Shalimar was doing the next ten. She made sure to evenly cover every inch of his exposed butt and not concentrate on one spot, which would really hurt a lot.
“Jesse you’ll never what?”
Every contact with his butt was torture.
“Yes baby… “
“Tell us Jess, what else did you do that was wrong?”
More blows rained. Amidst the loud smacks on his butt that seemed to reverberate throughout the Sanctuary, and his own conscience screaming at him inside his head, Jesse could barely hear what was being said.
“Jesse answer us!”
“I’ll never … I’ll never lose my ring again!”
Thwack! As if in reward for his correct answer.
“That’s good Jesse, and what else?”
“… ahh… I don’t know! I don’t know!”
Most of the spanks had fallen on the crests of his ass, but now they shifted to redden the lower curves.
“You will never take us for granted Jesse. You will never play us the way you did Brennan and Emma. You understand?”
Jesse panted and nodded, but managed to speak.
“I ow! thought… the I’ll never ugh lie thing covers it oww!”
Shalimar smiled, so did Brennan. If they’d worried earlier, they relaxed now. Jesse will be fine, just fine.
Just then, Jesse started to ghost. But it was totally unintentional. All Shalimar had to do was point it out in her usual quiet manner.
He stopped and came back to his normal self. Brennan gripped him tighter, although he knew he wouldn’t be able to stop Jesse if he completely ghosted.
“I-I’m sorry… couldn’t control it.”
They had to believe him, but a warning was issued nonetheless.
“That’s what this whole exercise is for Jess. You need to learn to control yourself. You can’t expect us to take care of you all your life!”
More hits followed to drive the point home as Jesse continued to squirm to get out of the firing range, but there was nowhere to go. His wrists hurt as Shalimar unknowingly dug her fingernails into him.
“Promise us you will learn to control yourself and not give in to temptation.”
“And specially not to get back at me or Adam. Don’t hurt yourself because you’re angry with me!”
The emotion in Brennan’s voice was what finally broke him down. He was already regretting the moment he’d walked out into the night to get another taste of his destructive addiction. He remembered how he’d given it up the first time with nothing but sheer determination. But how this time he’d given in so weakly and easily. He hated himself for having become the cause of so much pain and trouble not just for himself but also for Brennan, and Emma, and Shalimar. Tears ran down his face and he sobbed quietly.
He’d gotten so lost in his anguished thoughts, that he didn’t notice when the blows stopped and the hand that had earlier been rubbing his back lovingly returned. He felt the pressure of hands holding him down dissipate and instead the bodies flanking him drew closer as if to embrace him. He couldn’t believe it, he must surely be imagining it. Jesse went limp in their grasps. Suddenly his need for air seemed to have quintupled and his entire frame shook with the effort. The sobs gradually dissolved to guttural gasps as two hands worked to soothe him down.
Its over. Its over.
After a few minutes, he heard his loved one’s gentle voice.
“Its over Jess. You can get up.”
Slowly, Jesse moved to support his own bulk. He brought his hands in front of him to draw his boxers and jeans up. It stung to have the fabrics push over his sore bottom but he bit his lip and bore it. Brennan offered to help but stopped when he noticed him flinch away ever so slightly. Shalimar was still rubbing his back and now brought up her hand to wipe at his tear-stained face, very gently shushing him. He was still sniveling, not looking at either of them. When he tried to sit up, a cruel pain scorched his seat and that’s when he realized he wont be sitting comfortably for days. He yelped, failing to catch the sound in time, and stood up quickly. So did Brennan and Shalimar.
Brennan so wanted to pull him into his arms. Shalimar was dying to do the same thing. But they had still to wait and see what Jesse’s next reaction would be. Jesse continued to avert his eyes from them.
“May I … go to my room now… please?”
//No you may not!//
Shalimar started to stop him, hold him, rock him… but Brennan stopped her instead. Jesse needed some time to process this. He needed to think. And it was better that they let him do so before they started fussing over him again.
“Go ahead Jesse.”
Quickly doing up the catches of his jeans and grimacing at the effect, he started down the stairs. Emma still sat below, her face a mask of compassion and sympathy. She didn’t stop him and with heavy strides he disappeared into his room. Brennan’s heart went with him as he murmured to himself.
//Jess please don’t slam your door. Don’t slam your door.//
Jesse didn’t slam his door.
<< Previous chapter
Jesse had been in his room only minutes. The rest of MutantX stayed where they were, sleepless, not wanting to get on with normalcy so soon. They couldn’t. Emma tried reaching out to Jesse psychically.
The boy was lying on his stomach on the bed, crying. His body listless and mind exhausted, he was trying to muffle his sobs with his fist, and failing miserably. Emma’s heart broke. And before she knew it, her own face was stained with Jesse’s tears.
“Emma?” Shalimar came up to her.
“What? Oh God.” She hadn’t noticed her own weeping, she’d been so lost in the agony of the mind she was trying to touch. She explained as much to the others.
“Emma don’t do it yet. Let him be for awhile, he needs to think about what just happened here.”
“Yeh? Okay, meanwhile why don’t you guys enlighten ME on what happened here huh?” Emma was disagreeing with them again, the way she had after they’d sent Jesse to his room and before they’d called him out to be …oh… spanked.
Brennan sighed, “Emma can we please have this conversation later. I’m really not in the mood.”
And that was that. Emma went back to her room in a huff. Shalimar and Brennan were dying to go to Jesse but it was simply too soon. And time refused to cooperate tonight.
Twelve midnight. About half an hour had passed. Brennan caught Shalimar in another of her prowls around the rarely accessed regions of the Sanctuary.
Shalimar nodded. “I think so. But Emma just told me he is sleeping.”
“Oh good. He should rest. Yes.” Brennan was slightly relieved his lover was not crying alone in there. And now the tables were turned, he thought he was making Jesse wait. But his beautiful boy had gone off to sleep making him wait instead. He smiled at his own bad joke and looked at Shalimar. She smiled back reassuringly at him.
“I think he’ll be fine.”
“Yeh. I think so too.”
“You know he wont wake up before morning.”
“Maybe you should go catch some sleep too.”
Shalimar tugged him in the direction to the sleeping chambers, but he didn’t budge. “I should, but I wont.”
Shalimar sighed, and looked at him understandingly… she couldn’t sleep either.
They put arms around each other and walked up to Jesse’s bedroom. They quietly opened the door and peered in. Jesse was fast asleep in the same position that Emma had envisioned him. Brennan trembled with so much love and regret he thought he could just die if he didn’t touch Jesse this very instant. Shalimar had no intentions to refrain either. The two went in, crouched by Jesse’s bedside, and just… sat there watching the boy who ruled their hearts sleep. Had they gone too far? Had they pushed him away? God they hoped not.
They kissed the upturned side of his face very lightly, pulled up the covers and left.
So Shalimar decided to vile time in the kitchen preparing a dinner none of the members of MutantX wanted that night. Emma had tried to sleep but couldn’t. So she came back out to lurk, and Brennan sat at the video monitors watching Jesse sleep in his chamber. He twirled a ring of lightning around his index finger, not really appreciating the beauty himself, but remembering how much Jesse liked to see him do ‘magical tricks’ like that. The gamut of feelings overwhelming his senses was just, indescribable.
When Emma started bawling into her soup and told them Jesse was up, Shalimar and Brennan fought over who got to go to him first. They had decided not to gang up on him or it might intimidate him. Finally, grudgingly, she let Brennan win. Not surprisingly, the electrical was off with lightning speed.
Jesse had woken up with a start. And immediately regretted it.
The pain in his backside had reduced to a throbbing, but it still stung horribly every time he so much as moved. But that wasn’t the only reason he didn’t feel like moving from where he lay. Tears flowed unabated as memories of his punishment came back to him in a huge rush. And he knew he deserved it. In fact he deserved worse… if Adam got to know what he’d done, he was sure he’d be asked to leave MutantX for good! Now that he thought about it, he couldn’t for the life of him fathom how he’d put his ring at stake like that. He hated himself to think how he played Brennan, lied to him, broken the promise he’d made to Brennan. It would be no wonder if Brennan did not want to be his boyfriend anymore.
His felt his heart shatter to a thousand pieces as he recalled what Brennan had said to him earlier.
//I don’t know if I can ever trust you again.//
If it didn’t hurt so much, Jesse would have just loved to curl up and die.
A light knock on his door hushed him into silence. He didn’t reply, didn’t know how to, and the intruder opened his door and walked in. Jesse sensed Brennan’s presence in his room and felt vaguely comforted by the nearness alone. Yet, a terrible foreboding came over him that gave him the strength to get up and stand at the farthest corner of his room. With his face towards the window and the moonlight outside. His back towards Brennan.
Jesse didn’t respond. Brennan could sense his confusion, his sadness from that distance itself. And yet he couldn’t be sure if Jesse was angry or indignant about the fact that he’d been punished.
“How’re you feeling…”
Jesse wasn’t about to reply. Brennan took a step closer.
“Are you hungry? Shalimar whipped something up, its terrible but…”
“Are you angry with me?”
There was a slight movement of his head as if he was about to turn to look at him, but didn’t.
“Do you… want me to leave?”
No response again. Brennan’s heart sank. He didn’t know what else to do, so made to move back out.
Brennan stopped in his tracks and turned around, his heart thumping. Jesse hadn’t moved at all. He’d just stopped his life from leaving the room. Brennan spoke up again.
“You know, out there, Shalimar and me… we were fighting about who gets to see you first. I won… I so wanted to… you had a good sleep?”
“Don’t you want to talk to me?”
After another prolonged silence, a soft hesitant voice reached Brennan’s ears and he couldn’t have been more relieved.
“I… I was thinking… of what you said to me… back… there…”
“…about when you said that I cant expect you to take care of me all my life…?”
Brennan closed his eyes. Fearing the worst.
“I guess I… I did think that you would… take care of me all my life…”
And added softly, “…I still do.”
“Jess… my sweet boy…”
A pained gasp escaped the grieving boy. Brennan went up to him, and stood behind him with his hands on the hunched shoulders.
“I will… as long as I can…”
And Jesse whirled around to bury himself into Brennan. He shed quiet tears into his chest as Brennan held him tight and stroked his hair lovingly. For an eternity, they stood entwined like that, bathed in the moonlight.
“I love you Jess. Nothing will ever change that.”
Funny how he had no need for the tears now, and yet they wouldn’t stop. He felt the pain ebb away with his tears, and his peace of mind returning. In that night, Jesse had learnt the true meaning of love and family, and faith and trust. He’d lost everything and found everything again. And he thanked his mother’s Jesus with all his heart for the second chance.
Brennan wiped the tears fallen from his own eyes and then Jesse’s. He kissed him with all the love in his heart, holding Jesse’s face in his hands ever so gently. Everything else forgotten, Jesse was content being in Brennan’s arms, knowing he hadn’t lost him. He still had Brennan’s love.
//I love you Brennan. I love you!//
When Brennan pulled him closer, he happened to lightly brush his backside and Jesse winced in pain. Brennan winced with him.
“oh! I’m sorry baby.”
Jesse looked up at his concerned face, rubbing his face dry and bravely attempting to smirk, “Yeh you should be.”
Brennan bit his lip and smiled too. “Come on, lets see to that red behind of yours.”
Jesse was anxious. “What are you going to do?”
Brennan gently rubbed his finger along Jesse’s lip as if to shush him. He scooped him up into his arms and carried him to the bed. Jesse first laughed at the surprise move then clung to his boyfriend. At the bed, Brennan gently placed him on his side and sat beside him. Then pulled a sleek tube of aloe out of his flannel pocket.
Jesse blushed, as he raised himself on the bed. He bowed his head, only to have Brennan place his thumb under his chin and raise it up to meet his eyes.
“We should do something about it, or it might hurt longer than necessary.”
Then he unbuttoned Jesse’s jeans and with Jesse’s help, got the boxers and jeans, socks and shoes off him. Jesse had never been shy of being naked in front of Brennan, but tonight he was blushing and Brennan found it adorable. He climbed onto the bed and cuddled his boyfriend, kissing him and murmuring sweet assurances to him. Jesse finally got over it and laughed.
“Okay get it done already.”
He nudged Brennan away, and turned to lie on his stomach, propped up on his elbows, offering his sore behind to Brennan to do whatever he pleased. Brennan was hit by a pang of guilt at the redness and generously applied aloe to the injured area. Jesse noticed how quiet he got and decided to add some sound effects to brighten the moment.
“Sorry about that Jesse.”
“Don’t you oww! dare call me owww!! that!!!”
Brennan squinted at him, “What else?”
“Jess.” Jesse turned to face his boyfriend, “I am Jess to you aren’t I? When you call me Jesse its like…”
Brennan looked at him intently, “like what?”
“like, you’re angry with me or somethin.” And Jesse pouted, some things never change he knew. And he knew his pout would continue to work till eternity.
Brennan was filled with immeasurable love and protectiveness for the boy at those words… and that pout. He snuggled closer to Jesse and kissed him long on the side of his head. Jesse closed his eyes and sighed contentedly.
“Ow!!” this was a genuine ow.
Brennan chuckled and apologized, “Easy *Jess*.”
He continued to cover the prone buttocks with aloe, with Jesse loving the cool soothing effect instead of the searing pain from before.
“I really am sorry.”
“Shhhh no more.”
“No I just…”
Brennan rushed to hush him again. “I know Jess. I know you didn’t intend things to go so wrong even though they did. And I am SO proud of you, and how you stood up to take responsibility for your actions.”
“Bent over actually…” Jesse quipped.
Brennan stared at him for a second to figure if he was joking or… he was joking! He broke into laughter and ruffled the boy’s hair, who was grinning away himself. Then he got serious.
“I know what you want to say Jess. And you never ever have to go through that again, I promise.”
“Promise?” His voice full of such hope.
“Promise. Unless of course, you do something this extreme again and deserve it.”
Jesse sighed and smiled sarcastically. Brennan laughed and gathered Jesse to himself again. Jesse curled up into his chest and Brennan rolled over so Jesse now rested on top of him on the bed. He wrapped strong arms around the boy and pressed kisses into his hair.
“Sleep Jess. I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
Jesse couldn’t sleep just yet. “Bren?”
“Is Shalimar still angry with me?”
“Nooo, not at all. She loves you way too much. Can never be angry with you for longer than a minute you know that.”
Brennan felt slight shivers rack the body in his arms and he tightened his vice.
“Don’t worry baby. Everything’s just the way it was. Way it’s always been. Nothing’s changed.”
Jesse whispered ever so softly. His eyes filling up with tears he hoped Brennan didn’t notice. Brennan did, and stroked Jesse’s back, resolving to caress all the sadness out of his beautiful boy. He propped one knee up and settled for the night.
“So how was your day?”
Brennan had to laugh at that. His Jesse, always the verbose one.
“Sucked. We lost Skylar. But Adam thinks she ran off to some other geography and hopefully out of the reach of Genomex as well so… it's cool. For now.”
Jesse sounded drowsy now as Brennan’s hands rubbed him down.
“Mine sucked too. I won sixteen grand and left it lying on the floor.”
Brennan snickered, and continued to indulge Jesse like he was a precious treasure he couldn’t let go of. Wouldn’t let go of. Tentatively he brushed fingers over Jesse's ass.
"I feel something big… and hard… poking me."
Brennan gasped as Jesse wriggled, rubbing his own organ against his, teasing him.
"Umm… that would be me."
Jesse smiled, "Nice to know I still do it for ya."
"Dude, you are my undoing."
Jesse put his hand between himself and Brennan to stroke the latter's hard-on. Brennan shuddered into his grasp. Jesse raised his head to look up into the brown intoxicated eyes.
“Tell me honestly, did you… did you get off spanking me?”
“NO! NO OF COURSE NOT! HOW COULD YOU EVEN… okay maybe a little… OW!!”
Jesse could be real wily if he wanted to…
“OW HEY you asked me for honesty this is how you repay me OW! YIKES I’M KIDDING JESS OWW!!”
<< Previous chapter
So, picking up where we left off, I was telling Emma what I hoped to accomplish with my methods of discipline. I don’t expect her to agree, but at the very least I want her to see my point of view. True, my beliefs are unconventional, which would be understatement of the decade, but they’ve been tried and tested and found to be extremely effective. Uh-uh.
Look there are three things Emma – one: making him realize the wrong he did. This is most important or everything else is useless. If Jesse was completely addicted, he wouldn’t have realized his fault, but he did. Which means there is hope yet. Two: making him accept responsibility for his actions, making him understand that every misdemeanor has consequences. Be consoled by the fact that it could have been worse. You were in grave danger Emma. Adam could have kicked Jesse out of MutantX. Would you want that? And Three: Forgiving. Redemption. To tell him that despite everything, we still love him and will always be there for him, that nothing changes between us. It’s this love that ultimately works… it will show him what we did, was all out of love and concern for him and his well-being. And that love will bring him closer to us, not push him away as you suggest!
Emma wants to buy it, really she does. “We’ll see about that wont we?”
I sigh again. Seems I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. “Yes we will.”
But I really should go see for myself first, before I start bellowing my horns to Emma. Brennan has been in there for ages now. I can’t hear any yelling or see things flying so, I’ll assume things are under control. Have to say Brennan has been good for Jesse. Of course I was skeptical initially, but when I see them together… I find myself trusting him more and more.
Oh Jesse. How I long to hold him, kiss him, hear him call to me in that playful voice of his. Adam says ferals have acute maternal instincts, and I say he’s right. As usual.
I sometimes think of Adam and me as having started this family. And Jesse was the first one we brought into the fold, our fold… our family. He’s also been the youngest, demanding the maximum attention, getting into maximum trouble. I am smiling to myself at the memories. And Emma is looking at me like I’ve lost it. Well feral or no, I love Jesse the way I’d love my children… when I have them, that is. And no parent is at peace after punishing or grounding an errant child. So I prowl, I growl, I totally freak Emma out, and now I can’t wait any longer.
Very silently, I open the door to Jesse’s chamber and step in. Jesse sleeps, curled up over his boyfriend, face hidden in the crook of Brennan’s neck, one hand gripping Brennan’s flannel in a desperate bunch, the other lying twisted carelessly beside him. Brennan’s arms around my boy, holding him, offering him the safety I cant. Brennan’s propped up knee barely hides his nakedness from me. I feel uninvited, unwanted, like an intruder. So ignoring the cold knife in my heart, I turn around to leave.
I’m spun around. “Yes.”
He’s awake, he peers at me heavy-eyed, he’s seeking words to say to me… what is it darling?
I take a step closer. And another.
‘Jesse I just… I came to see if you were up, which you were not, so I was leaving when… you got up and now…”
I am surprised to see Brennan awake too and chuckling ever so quietly at my way with words. I glare at him and kneel by the bed right by Jesse. He fixes me with an intense stare, as if reading me. He is confused, I can tell. So am I Jesse, so am I.
“How’re you feeling?”
And that somehow was the wrong thing to ask, he is reminded of the spanking and blushes furiously. I touch his cheek with my hand, which I hope isn’t cold and clammy.
“Jesse, does it hurt too much?”
He shakes his head.
I stand up and for a moment he looks alarmed, like maybe he thinks I was leaving? I smile at him reassuringly, draw up the covers over him and Brennan and come back to sit by his side again. Now he smiles. Now he doesn’t.
“Shal I’m sorry.”
“Shhh…” I press my finger to his lips, and Brennan looks at me almost gratefully. Did he expect something else?
Okay so I aint too good with words. There is so much I want to say, to do. Maybe it’s another feral thing, not being able to express my emotions unless its anger, of course. Maybe I know Jesse would just make his irritated teenager face at me if I get all fussy and mushy-wushy. Maybe I don’t give a damn about that but I would just rather expose my soft *maternal* side when Brennan is NOT around. Who knows. I know what I needed to know. Jesse will be fine, just fine. And there will be no more relapses, Jesse’s past will never rule his future again.
I kiss his cheek ever so softly, even stop to rub noses with him. Okay he didn’t scrunch up in disgust. Which is good. Very good. I decide not to push it.
“Sweet dreams, both of you.”
I get up to leave. But he stops me again. “No. Don’t go.”
What? My heart gives a little jump as I look into his expectant eyes. He wants me to stay? Jesse wants me to stay? Brennan shifts to make space on the bed and gathers up the covers.
//My baby. My sweet baby.//