<< Previous chapter
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.//