Fandom: Mutant X
Summary: Jesse finds his personal sanctuary--outside of Mutant X. (Set in Season 3.)
Shalimar had pulled some meat out of the refrigerator and was preparing it for grilling. Ben and Jesse joined her in prepping side dishes to accompany the steak.
"What happened to Brennan?" Ben asked.
"Brennan doesn't cook," Jesse explained.
"And believe me, it's better that way," Shalimar quipped.
"I heard that," Brennan said as he entered the kitchen. "And contrary to what they said, I make a mean salad."
"Yeah, but who wants a mean salad?" Ben and Jesse said in unison. They glanced at each other and returned to their tasks.
"Aren't they cute?" Shalimar said.
"Did you know about this?" Brennan asked.
"About what, Bren?" Shalimar asked benignly.
"About them," Brennan said with a gesture of his head toward the couple at the far end of the counter. He picked up a head of lettuce and took it to the sink to wash.
"Oh, them," Shalimar said with an impish smile. "Yeah, I knew about them."
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I wasn't aware I was supposed to report to you on who Jess was seeing, Bren," she replied.
"Why should she?" Jesse asked. "And, for that matter, why should I?"
"Hey, man, I thought we were friends. Friends talk to each other."
"You didn't tell me you were seeing a guy!"
"I'm sorry," Jesse said unrepentantly. "It never came up in conversation. Bren, I'm seeing a guy. Happy now?"
"Forget it," Brennan said petulantly.
"Brennan, Jesse has a right to his privacy just as you do, you know. He didn't feel like talking about his relationship and we have to respect that. Jesse didn't tell me about his relationship with Ben until I'd figured it out for myself and called him on it."
"How did you figure it out?" Brennan asked.
"Don't go there, Bren," Jesse said. "It's gross."
"It's a feral thing," Shalimar said as she looked up and met Ben's eyes. They flashed a silent communication at each other and smiled.
"Stop that, you two," Jesse said. "It's tough enough dealing with you one at a time."
"He's so cute when he blushes," Shalimar said.
"I keep telling him that," Ben said, "but he always argues with me."
"Please stop before Brennan gets nauseous," Jesse said. Once again, Ben and Shalimar exchanged a glance, but they continued to work in relative silence. When Shalimar had seared the steaks, she put them into the oven and left the kitchen. Brennan followed her.
"I still can't believe Jesse is involved with a guy."
"Did you get a look at that guy?" Shalimar said. "Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't do him if he offered. I certainly wouldn't refuse him."
"So is that how it happened?" Brennan asked. "It must have been because I don't recall anything in all the time I've known Jesse to suggest that he was gay."
"Get over it Bren. They're involved, all right? Deal with it."
"Hey, I'm cool with it if he is."
"Oh, he is," Shalimar replied. "You've seen how he's been lately."
"Yeah, but I would never have connected that with...that."
"Oh, Brennan, sometimes you're hopelessly...hopeless," Shalimar said as she walked away. In the kitchen, meanwhile, Jesse and Ben finished their part of the dinner preparation. Jesse washed up while Ben finished sautéing the vegetables.
"Come on," Jesse said, "I'll show you around while we wait for the steaks to finish." He dropped his towel on the counter and led Ben back to the lounge. "This is the main living space."
"Are we underground?" Ben asked. "There aren't any windows."
"Very observant; no, we're not underground…not technically, anyway."
"Why all the cloak and dagger? What's so important about this place I had to be brought here blindfolded--or whatever that thing was that Shalimar used on me."
"I'm sorry, Ben. It's not that we don't trust you," Jesse assured him. "But Mutant X has made some powerful enemies and Sanctuary has been a coveted prize for most of them. We don't let anyone know where we are." Ben gave him a dubious look.
"You could probably find your way home if you had to, anyway, right?" Jesse surmised. Ben shrugged noncommittally.
"I guess," he said as he looked around. "So where's this lab I've had to pry you out of more times than I care to think about?" Jesse chuckled and led the way to his domain. When they arrived, they found Lexa sitting at Jesse's keyboard.
"Hey, you've got your own computer, you know," Jesse said as he entered the room.
"I know, but yours has the latest intel on Barrett," Lexa said. "I need to gather as much information as I can so I can get a good head start on finding him before you and your friends blow it." Ben moved to stop her, but Jesse stayed him with a hand.
"Let her look. She won't find anything."
Lexa turned and glared at him.
"Haven't I mentioned that I've been building my own domain? After we were invaded by that cybernetic mutant a while back I thought it would be best if some of Sanctuary's systems operated independently. And as long as I was creating new domains I figured I should give myself one as well, since we'd need an emergency back up that no one else could access. So dig around all you want, Lexa. All you'll get is the stuff that you've seen before."
Lexa swore and slammed her fist on the desk. She lifted her hand to take aim at the monitor, but Ben growled and took hold of her wrist. She pulled away and stormed out of the room.
"Is she always like that?" Ben asked as he sat down in the seat she'd vacated.
"No, sometimes she gets upset," Jesse quipped. "She's got a real bug up her ass about Barrett, though, and I can't say I blame her. I want him stopped just as much as she does."
"We'll get him."
"Yeah. So how did Shal talk you into this? Last time I looked you were dead set against the idea of Mutant X being involved in your investigation."
"Mutant X will not be involved in my investigation," Ben said as he pulled Jesse into his arms. "I'll be involved in yours. And she ultimately persuaded me by appealing to my only weakness."
No explanation was necessary. Ben pulled Jesse closer and kissed him. Jesse wrapped his arms around Ben's neck and deepened the kiss. After a minute, Ben abruptly pulled away.
"What's wrong?" Jesse asked.
"Dinner's ready!" Shalimar called through the intercom.
"I told you so," Ben said. "I heard the timer go off."
"We'll come back to this later."
"Undoubtedly; don't forget where we were," Ben said playfully. "On second thought," he said as he walked down the hall behind Jesse, his eyes on Jesse's hips, "forget that. We can start all over again." Jesse grinned and entered the dining area. He took a seat at the table beside Shalimar, which put him opposite Lexa. She glared at him as he sat down.
"Go ahead and be angry, Lexa. I'm still not letting you take on Barrett alone. He's bad news."
"Don't worry," Ben added. "I won't be underfoot for long. My captain's been begging me to use up some of my leave so it was easy to wangle a week off. If it takes longer than that to find Barrett, you'll be on your own."
"What, after a week Jesse's ass loses its value?" Brennan teased. He quickly sobered when Ben turned his steely gaze on him.
"I don't intend for us to fail," he said, "and whether or not we do, Jesse will be safe."
"Say, something just occurred to me," Brennan said as Lexa and Jesse began to clear the table a while later.
"What is that, Jess, twice this week?" Shalimar asked.
"Maybe; I was too busy moving lab equipment or lying in a dark hole to keep count."
"Very funny, you two," Brennan said. "I just realized who you meant when you said that maybe some feral sense rubbed off on you."
"You thought he meant Shalimar," Ben said, not amused. "Shalimar is not rubbing anything on him."
"Hey, lighten up, big guy. He's really a sweetheart when you get to know him," Jesse said with a wink. "Honest." Shalimar winked back at him as Jesse quickly rose to his feet and followed Ben, who'd left the table in search of a bathroom.
"You can use the one over here," Jesse said. He led Ben to a lavatory and hovered outside till he emerged. "So, if you have the week off does that mean you'll be spending a little time on my turf for a change?"
"For a day maybe; someone's got to feed Bear and if I can't get a hold of my housekeeper I'll have to go and feed him. Otherwise the neighbor's kids will be in peril." Ben smiled and chucked Jesse under the chin. "Meanwhile, why don't we finish the tour?" Jesse readily agreed to the scheme and showed Ben the genetic research lab, the dojo, and the Sanctuary garden. Ben was particularly intrigued by the presence of a garden inside what was obviously a fortress.
"Tell me something; how can you live here? I mean we're obviously underground or inside some sort of bunker. How can you live here if you're claustrophobic?"
"Thanks, Ben, I'd never thought about that before now," Jesse said wryly. "But the truth is that I feel perfectly safe here. Even if there is no view to the outside there are wide-open spaces here and I've never felt closed in. I do freak out in small, enclosed spaces but Sanctuary has never felt like that. Besides, Sanctuary has been my home for so long I can't imagine living anywhere else."
"Ever?" Ben asked gently. Jesse averted his eyes but quickly recovered and looked up again.
"That's not what I meant, Ben."
"What did you mean?" Ben persisted.
"I've just never thought about it before," Jesse admitted.
"Would you be amenable to considering it at some point?"
"I suppose...given the right incentive," Jesse said mischievously. He dodged Ben's grasp and strode toward the hangar. "Say, would you like to actually see the Double Helix?"
"You mean it's not always invisible?" Ben asked. "I thought it was like Wonder Woman's jet."
"Ben, Wonder Woman is fantasy. The Double Helix is real," Jesse said. "Look." Ben gaped as he entered the hangar and caught sight of the aircraft. He whistled and did a slow walk around it, admiring it from every angle. Jesse stood and watched Ben, who looked for all the world like a ten year old at his first air show.
"I still can't believe that Shalimar landed this is a school yard two blocks from my apartment," Ben said. "May I board her?"
"Yes, but she's an 'it,' Ben. It's the twenty-first century, for Pete's sake."
Ben smacked Jesse on his backside and followed him on board. The two of them examined the interior of the craft and its controls. Jesse learned that Ben, like himself, was a licensed pilot with instrument certification.
"You'd be amazed what the Helix can do. Shalimar's pretty impressive, too," Jesse said.
"Yeah," Ben admitted. "And she knows your value, so that makes her very good people in my book."
"My value?" Jesse said as he pulled Ben into his arms. "What am I worth?"
"Take me to your room and I'll show you," Ben replied. Jesse smiled and took Ben by the hand and led him off the jet. They were more discreet as they walked through the halls toward the sleeping quarters, but as soon as Jesse closed his door, all pretenses were dropped and Ben pulled Jesse into his arms for a long overdue kiss. They started pulling at each other's clothing and fell on the bed. Ben growled as he tore Jesse's tee shirt off of him and began to lick his chest. Jesse groaned and threw back his head when Ben's hand traveled down his torso to grope his crotch. Jesse returned the favor and Ben cried out just as the door to the room was thrown open.
"Jesse, are you out of your mind? Brennan just told me that you showed Ben the entire--."
Neither man paid any attention to Lexa as she stood in the door staring at the unexpected sight of the two men writhing on the bed.
"Maybe you should come back later," Shalimar said, coming up behind her. She drew Lexa away, still gaping, and closed the door. "Man are they hot together," Shalimar said fanning herself as she put as much distance as she could between herself and Jesse's quarters and still remain on the premises. But though she could no longer sense them, her imagination still ran wild.
Ben and Jesse were lying in each other's arms, exhausted and sated from their exertions, when Ben abruptly sat up and sniffed the air. Jesse reached up and lazily caressed his shoulder. When Ben did not return to him he, too, sat up frowning.
"Hello? Earth to Papa Bear," he said. Ben growled, but not at Jesse's tease. "Ben?" Ben looked down at him with feral eyes. "What's wrong?" Ben laid back down and pulled Jesse into his arms.
"Nothing. Go to sleep," he said softly as he nuzzled Jesse's forehead.
"If you insist," Jesse said around a huge yawn. Ben closed his eyes and both men fell asleep.
Ben awoke a short while later. He kissed Jesse's brow and carefully slid out of bed so as not to rouse him. Padding to the door, Ben opened it and listened for signs of activity beyond the room. He heard a tiny sound and searched around in the dark for his pants. He shrugged into them and left the room. Ben found his way back to the kitchen more by scent than memory, but his ears would have led him there anyway. He entered the room and looked up to see Shalimar perched on top of one of the upper cabinets. She winked at him conspiratorially.
"I keep a secret stash of--."
"Oatmeal raisin cookies," Ben said for her. Shalimar flashed a feral grin and alit to the floor.
"Have one?" she offered, extending the bag.
"No milk?" Ben teased.
"A girl's got to watch her figure," she explained, "but you're welcome to have some." Ben poured himself a glass and followed Shalimar into the lounge, where she sat down and gestured for him to do the same.
"So you compensate for this indulgence," he replied with a glance at the cookie in his hand, "by skipping milk."
"Hey, everyone has a weakness. Yours is Jesse, mine is oatmeal raisin cookies."
Ben's expression hardened.
"What were you two doing in Jesse's room?"
"I was only there to get Lexa. She accidentally walked in on you."
"Is she in the habit of barging into his room?"
"I couldn't say, but I think I can safely guarantee that she'll never do it again."
"What's her problem?"
"Do you mean her Type-A personality or her sense of entitlement where Jess is concerned?"
"She's not entitled to Jess," Ben said firmly. "That boat sailed before I even entered the picture."
"I think she knows that now," Shalimar said with a smirk. "She didn't say anything, but she was not a happy camper." Ben was wholly unmoved by Lexa's plight. He growled and Shalimar smiled. "Yeah, she pisses me off sometimes, too." She observed Ben in silence for a moment as he continued to glower at his milk. "Your feral persona seems to be fairly close to the surface." Ben looked up.
"What do you mean?"
"Based on what Jesse's told me of you and what I've been able to observe myself, your feral mutation is rather pronounced."
Ben merely blinked and Shalimar wished she had waited till Jesse was around to begin this discussion. But after a moment Ben shrugged.
"I guess it is," he said shyly. "Jesse said that the only people he's ever seen who were more feral than I am were living in the wild." Shalimar unsuccessfully attempted to suppress a smile. She'd had the same thought.
"When I first came to Sanctuary I was almost completely feral. I had run away from the mental institution my dad had had me committed to. I'd spent months there supposedly learning to 'behave' like a proper human," she said with obvious disdain. "I was on the run for over a month before I came here and I'd almost completely lost touch with my human side."
"And when you came here?"
"I got treatment: meds to suppress my feral traits, counseling, therapy. It was a long haul, but I learned to control my powers."
"From this Adam that Jess has spoken of?"
"He told you about Adam?"
"Only that he's the man responsible for creating Mutant X."
"Yes, it was Adam who saved me," Shalimar said. "He saved all of us. But right now I'm more interested in your story." Ben shrugged.
"There isn't really much to tell. I grew up in Connecticut, mostly. Lived a normal life until I was fifteen and suddenly found myself clawing at the walls--literally. Ironically, no one paid too much attention at first. My twin sister Beth is a telepath and her powers began to emerge around the same time. She had headaches and seizures and spent months being dragged from doctor to doctor for a meaningful diagnosis. As far as my parents were concerned, I was just acting out in a shameless play for equal attention."
"Surely, your folks must have known that there was more to it than that."
"Not really," Ben said. "I was ornery and restless and I occasionally blew through the kitchen like a hurricane. In that sense, I was a completely normal male teenager. My grandmother invited me to spend the summer with her and I spent nearly all my time out in the woods running wild. I'd come back looking like hell and she'd simply send me up to shower. And then we'd have dinner and talk. I guess that's what grounded me. I felt comfortable enough to tell her what was going on--as much as I could understand of it--and she gave me unconditional support.
"When I returned to school the following fall I got into trouble. I couldn't sit still in class and my folks were called in. They threatened to put me into counseling. My grandmother bailed me out again. She went out and got a bunch of books about animal behavior and psychology and meditation. That's what ultimately worked. I learned to focus my energies and was able to suppress my feral side enough to get through school. I went into policing because I figured it was a field in which I could put my unusual talents to good use."
"I imagine you have to repress your nature even there."
"Yeah; it's not always easy. My partner at the precinct knows I'm a feral and he's been able to help me a bit. But I have to struggle to keep myself in check all the time."
"I know the feeling. I've used Tai Chi and other disciplines to focus myself for years, but even then I occasionally lose it," Shalimar admitted.
"Yeah, so have I--and with devastating consequences. I lived with someone for six months before she saw my feral side. I'd suppressed it to the point where I'd almost convinced myself that I'd succeeded in eliminating it. I was beginning to believe I could face a normal future with the woman I loved. Then something happened and I lost my temper. It wasn't directed at her, but it scared her so much that she moved out the next day."
"She was my last," Ben said. "I didn't trust myself around women for a long time after that. That's not why I came out, by the way. You should no more assume that than Lexa should assume that her rejection of Jess is what drove him into my bed."
"I have no doubts about what drove Jess into your bed," Shalimar said archly. Ben smiled and his entire demeanor changed as he began to talk about Jesse.
"He's the best thing that ever happened to me. I've never felt freer or happier in my life. I've never had to repress my feral side with him and paradoxically, it's been easier to control as a result. I know that doesn't make sense, but--."
"You've got an outlet for all that feral energy," Shalimar suggested.
"I guess so. I hadn't really thought about it."
"I have. A lot," Shalimar smiled. "Your grandmother essentially did the same thing when she let you run wild."
"Yeah, I suppose she did. She's the only one in the family who knows that I'm a mutant besides my sister. She knows about Beth, too. When she went into the underground, we told our parents that she was hiding from an abusive ex-boyfriend."
"Would they have taken it badly if you'd told them the truth?" Shalimar asked gently.
"I don't know. I come from a very loving family. I know my folks would love us no matter what," Ben said. "But Beth and I decided that our folks didn't need to know that they'd been duped into becoming part of a sick medical experiment. They know that Beth has some sort of extra-sensory perception but think it's just some quirk of fate. We decided to leave it at that. There was nothing to gain by telling them that their son is part bear. I've done my best to spare them that grief." Ben sighed wistfully. "I guess it's different for other kinds of mutants. Jesse seems so 'normal,' you know? If he doesn't use his molecular powers for a few months he doesn't go nuts the way I do when I repress myself for too long."
"No, I think it's us ferals who struggle the most with that balance. We've encountered several who've either given up the struggle or never bothered to fight their primal urges. They're among the most dangerous mutants out there."
"Like the Black Widow," Ben said soberly. But a moment later he smiled again. "Jesse once told me that I gave him balance, too. I apparently combine his needs for both a lover and a pet."
"That's terrible!" Shalimar laughed.
"That's Jesse," Ben shrugged. "Did he always have such a twisted sense of humor?"
"Jesse?" Shalimar said incredulously.
"Never mind," Ben said, rising to his feet. He reached for the empty glass.
"I'll take care of that," Shalimar said.
"In that case I'll bid you a good night."
"Same to you," Shalimar said. She watched Ben stride down the corridor and sighed as he turned the corner. "Good for you, Jess."
Ben returned to the bedroom and slipped out of his pants. Jesse stirred as he slid into bed.
"Where've you been?" Jesse asked groggily as he crawled into Ben's arms.
"I was having a word with Shalimar," Ben replied. "Go back to sleep." Jesse sat up.
"Why is it that every other time I ask you to do something you do the exact opposite?" Ben sighed.
"You're doing well to get a fifty percent compliance rate," Jesse replied tartly. "Why did you go and see Shal?"
"I had a question for her."
"She answered it," Ben said with an air of finality. However, he knew better than to expect Jesse to be satisfied. Relenting, he sat up and leaned against the pillows. "They were in here."
"Shalimar and Lexa."
"In here?" Jesse said, his voice cracking as he imagined what they might have been witness to. He scooted to the end of the mattress and stood.
"Where are you going?"
"To lock the door," Jesse said. He returned to bed a second later, frowning. "I didn't hear anyone."
"Nor did I--not that either of us--."
"Yeah, really," Jesse said. He sighed and leaned against Ben's chest. "Mood killer."
"I think not," Ben said. Jesse gave him an appraising look.
"Maybe not," Jesse said as Ben smiled and wrapped his arms around him. "What do you suppose they were doing in here?"
"Endangering their lives," Ben said as he began to nibble Jesse's throat.
"I think they were checking out a damn fine piece of ass," Jesse said as he slapped Ben's flank. Ben's eyes flared dangerously. Jesse laughed at him and Ben was charmed out of his mood.
"Fine piece of ass, hmm? You want a piece of this?"
"Yeah; I thought you were supposed to be showing me something," Jesse replied.
"I just showed you a damn fine piece of ass, didn't I?"
"No, you just showed Shal and Lexa a damn fine piece of ass. I already knew how perfect it was. But you said something earlier about showing me what I was worth."
"Oh yes," Ben said, shifting Jesse onto his back and lying on top of him. "My offer still stands."
"I'll take that offer," Jesse said, "after you tell me what you said to Shal."
"We just talked about feral stuff--you wouldn't understand," Ben said smugly. "Oh, and I mentioned what a sexual deviant you were."
"When have I ever deviated?" Jesse asked. Ben smiled.
"Wicked, wicked boy," he whispered in Jesse's ear.
"Never mind damning me with faint praise, get on with it!"
"Impertinent whelp," Ben complained lightly before nipping Jesse's shoulder. "As you can plainly see, I'm more than ready for you." Jesse made a show of lifting the sheets and eyeing Ben's erection, in spite of the darkness of the room.
"Then why are you wasting time chewing my ear off?"
"Hey, if I chewed on your ear, you'd know it," Ben said as he pinched Jesse's bottom. "Are you ready for this?"
"If by 'this' you mean "you," hell yes," Jesse said impatiently.
"Lube, Ben. Make it quick, will you?" the blond mutant said as he handed Ben the tube.
"Got somewhere to go?"
"Just over the moon...assuming we ever get started."
"Why did I fall for you again?" Ben asked.
"Because I'm a damned fine piece of ass?"
"No, that's me. You're the cute one."
"You know, I'd tolerate your calling me cute a whole lot better if you'd just--."
"Shut up, Jesse."
He never finished the sentence.
As was his wont, Ben arose early. Jesse rose as well--both to keep him company and to run interference should any friction arise between Ben and the other members of Mutant X. They showered and dressed--Ben in one of his own shirts that Jesse had worn home one morning--and went to the kitchen to rustle up some breakfast.
"I'll make the coffee if you'll make the eggs," Jesse said, reaching into the cupboard for the canister that contained coffee beans. He yawned as he scooped beans into the grinder.
"Why don't you go back to bed for another hour?" Ben suggested, continuing an argument they'd begun back in Jesse's room. "You look all done in. I think your fatigue is finally catching up with you." Jesse ignored him as he ground the beans. When he was done he reached for the scoop and started to measure out coffee for the machine.
"Jess... I am capable of dealing with them on my own, you know," Ben said evenly. Jesse gave him a dubious look. "I mean it. Go get some rest. You're still recovering from your ordeal and you need some sleep."
"Thanks, but after the way you behaved toward them yesterday I'm not about to let you face them alone--especially given what you told me last night about Shal and Lexa."
"I've got no problems with Shal. She was only in your room to get Lexa, who had apparently come barging in for some reason or other. Does she do that often?"
"She's never been in my room--except one time when I was recovering from an injury. She was with Brennan," Jesse added hastily. Ben didn't look terribly impressed. Jesse bent his head to inhale the aroma of the coffee grounds. "I'm awake now, anyway; I may as well stay up."
"I agree with him, Jess," Shalimar said as she entered the kitchen and took the scoop from his hand. "You should get some rest. You look like hell."
"Are you going to let her talk to me like that, Ben?" Jesse said teasingly. Both ferals glared at him. "What--are you two in the same feral mother hen union? You know I wouldn't be so tired anyway if--." Jesse took a step backward when Ben bared his teeth and growled softly. "I think I'll take a nap. Let me know when breakfast is ready," he said before he left the room.
"I'll have to try that the next time he's being stubborn," Shalimar said with an approving smile at Ben.
"It won't work for you," Ben replied as he began to break eggs into a bowl.
"Jesse knows you'd never actually bite him. Want some eggs?"
Shalimar just stared at Ben for a moment before she found her voice and said yes. He shrugged and continued to break eggs. Shalimar suppressed a smile as she reached into the refrigerator for a package of sausages.
"And all this time I was thinking those were love bites on his neck."
"Some of them are; well, most of them," Ben corrected with an impish smile. "But he will bait me."
"You know, you're seeing a side of Jess I never knew existed."
"I think we all saw a side of Jess last night we didn't know existed," Lexa said as she entered the kitchen.
"For the record, that was his backside you got an eyeful of last night," Jesse said from behind her. He walked past Lexa and headed for the coffee pot.
"You're supposed to be resting," Ben said.
"Yeah, yeah," Jesse replied insouciantly. "I thought I'd wait for a cup of coffee."
"Before you go to sleep?"
"I'm caffeine immune," Jesse replied defensively. Of course, Ben knew exactly why Jesse had stayed up but he didn't gainsay him.
"So Jesse," Lexa said casually as she reached into the refrigerator for orange juice. "I had no idea you played on both sides of the fence."
"Who's playing on both sides?" Jesse said. "I climbed over and settled in quite comfortably." He stared blankly at the coffee machine as he spoke and sighed wistfully.
"Jess, go back to bed," Ben said softly.
"A watched pot never boils, Jess," Shalimar concurred. "Go back to bed and I'll bring you a cup when it's done."
"Thanks, Shal. Maybe I will," Jesse said, yawning. He glanced at Ben, who was working at the stove. He didn't look up but Jesse caught a glimpse of his smile.
"Wouldn't you rather have Ben serve you coffee in bed?" Lexa sneered. Jesse smiled.
"No; the only thing I want from Ben in bed is--." He paused when Ben turned around and looked at him warningly. Jesse's smile grew even wider and he fell silent, but he sat down rather than leaving the room.
"Have you got a problem with our relationship?" Ben asked Lexa with deceptive calm.
"Me? Why on earth should I care one way or another?" she replied tightly. Shalimar smiled knowingly.
"There's absolutely no reason on Earth why you should concern yourself in Jesse's love life," Ben said. He looked at her until he was certain that Lexa got the message and then turned away. The subject was closed.
"So Ben," Shalimar asked impishly, "do you ever take part in hostage negotiations?" Ben shot her a look and she saw a hint of a smile. Jesse nearly laughed himself out of his seat. Shalimar and Ben turned to look at him. "So--not the patient type?" she concluded.
"So not," Jesse said.
"Do I have to drag you in there and tie you to that bed?" Ben said with a squint at Jesse, who rose and gave him a peck on the lips.
Ben growled, but Jesse's smile only grew wider. Ben sighed and shook his head.
"Do you two do this a lot?" Shalimar asked from her perch on the counter.
"This is your fault," Jesse said. "You're the one sitting here flirting with my boyfriend instead of bringing me my coffee."
"Oops. Well, since you're obviously not going back to bed, why don't we haul Bren out here and get started on our strategy session?" she said as she slid off the counter and went to fetch him. Jesse poured himself and Ben some coffee and sat down at the table opposite Lexa, who averted her eyes. Ben brought his over to the table and placed it in the space next to her. He went back to the counter and returned with plates bearing eggs and sausages for Lexa and Jesse and then fetched plates for Shalimar and himself. Jesse took a forkful of eggs into his mouth and smiled blissfully as he closed his eyes to savor the taste.
"Not only are you one damned fine piece of ass, you cook like--uh..." He smiled guiltily and lowered his eyes to his plate. "This is good."
"Thanks," Ben said with a tiny smile for his lover. Jesse looked up and returned the smile. "And will you stop talking about my ass?"
"I'll stop talking about it," Jesse said, pausing significantly, "thinking about it will be another matter entirely."
"I think I'm going to throw up," Lexa said pushing her plate away untouched.
"Can I have your sausage?" Jesse said. "I know Ben won't give me his--not at the table, anyway." Ben's mouth fell open at the obvious double entendre.
"You've just shattered my last illusion," Ben said. "I really thought there was one place on this planet where you behaved yourself." Jesse laughed again, but ended up yawning. "And you are going back to bed after this."
"Jesse only behaves when he's very, very busy--with computer work," Shalimar said as she returned to the kitchen. "Why do you think we keep him chained to his desk all day?"
"Chains--why didn't I think of that?" Ben said with a feral grin that made Lexa flinch.
"Is there any for me?" Brennan said as he entered the kitchen and observed the breakfast being consumed.
"Have mine; I'm out of here," Lexa said, rising to her feet.
"We're going to discuss our next steps," Shalimar reminded her. Lexa sighed and sat down again. She pushed her plate to Brennan, who sat down with a cup of coffee and immediately dug in.
"So what's the plan?" he asked after swallowing a mouthful of eggs.
"You found Barrett's new lab; now you've got to find his old one," Ben said.
"He's probably on the run," Brennan said. "After tying up all his loose ends here his next move would be to get out of Dodge."
"With my blood," Jesse said dismally.
"He couldn't do much with a few vials of blood, could he?" Ben asked. "I mean he can't clone you." Jesse looked at his lover.
"In all likelihood, Barrett took the opportunity to collect some of Jesse's tissue as well as a blood sample when he had the chance," Shalimar said. "That would be more than enough to map his DNA and to clone him if he wanted to."
"Oh, I'm sure he wanted to," Jesse replied. "Hey, wait!" he said as he suddenly recalled something. "Barrett isn't running away. If he wanted to conduct timely experiments he'd have to have some sort of growth accelerator. I can't imagine that he'd be willing to wait a dozen and a half years to see results."
"I'm not following you," Ben said.
"Barrett wants to produce super soldiers," Jesse said impatiently. "An army of newborn Jesse Kilmartins would be useless to him."
"So cloning is out?" Ben asked, still confused.
"You know, sometimes you are just a pretty face," Jesse said with a wry smile and a wink at Ben. "Try and follow: he would have to clone me in order to get his prototype--after manipulating my DNA. But without some means of accelerating the growth of the clones he produces, he'd have to wait at least eighteen years or more before he'd have a viable end result."
"So you're saying that in order to conduct his research Barrett has to have some sort of special machinery somewhere," Lexa concluded.
"Special machinery he's not likely to abandon," Shalimar clarified.
"Exactly," Jesse said. "He didn't kill all those people and put me into cold storage just so he could get out of town. He did it so he could operate with impunity."
"So you're assuming that his equipment is here in town," Ben said. "Why?"
"No, I'm not saying that. I have no idea where his other lab is. But if it is here I don't think Barrett's going anywhere."
"So his other lab is likely to be nearby," Shalimar said.
"That makes sense," Jesse said. "After all, there are only twelve phasing moleculars in the entire mutant database. Three of them are deceased. Now, until Barrett and the Black Widow came along, four of them were living within a fifty mile radius."
"Where are the other five?" Brennan asked.
"Scattered around the country," Jesse answered. "A couple of them disappeared into the underground. My point is that if Barrett is going by the same database it makes sense for him to set up his base of operations near here, where he'd have the most concentrated supply of subjects."
"Why would he kill those two?" Ben asked. All Jesse could do was shrug.
"Maybe he was trying to manipulate the mutation in his two live subjects. That would be much harder to accomplish and far riskier."
"But if he pulled it off he wouldn't need to bother with cloning or growth acceleration," Shalimar said.
"So..." Ben prompted.
"Barrett probably failed in his early experiments and decided to go the other route. That being the case, we should concentrate our search in the immediate area," Lexa concluded.
"Exactly," Jesse repeated. "I'll get right on it. I can get a reading on the energy signature from the growth accelerator in our genetics lab and try and see if I can match it in an area search." He rose and carried his plate to the sink.
"Whoa," Ben said. "You aren't going anywhere but back to bed."
"Fine. I'll do my research from my room," Jesse said smugly. He walked out of the kitchen and Ben quickly followed. He heard Shalimar's laughter as he chased Jesse down the hall. The door slammed shut inches from his face and locked before Ben could prevent it. Ben growled and Shalimar appeared behind him, still laughing. He turned a glare on her and she raised her hands in surrender.
"I did warn you. Jesse is fiercely dedicated to the cause and neither of us is going to stop him from getting the job done."
"He won't be of any use to anyone if he doesn't get some rest," Ben said sulkily.
"He will. Jess always dozes off when he works in his room. That's why he prefers to work in his lab." She turned and walked away, leaving Ben to his thoughts. As soon as she was out of sight, he turned and banged on the door. He got no response and banged again.
"Jesse!" he shouted angrily. A moment later the door opened. Jesse turned and walked back over to the bed, where his laptop was open. "I'm going to ignore for the moment the fact that you just slammed a door in my face," Ben said as he closed the distance between himself and Jesse. "You're supposed to be resting." He bent over to grab the laptop but Jesse was faster and moved it out of his reach.
"I will rest," Jesse answered tersely. "I'm just starting a meta-search for unique energy signatures within a fifty mile radius. The program will map them on a GPS grid and later I can make a comparison with the energy signature of our growth accelerator."
"You can do that after you've rested," Ben said in a low and dangerous voice.
"Or I can set up the search now and sleep during the three to six hours it will take to identify all the signatures." Jesse slid off the far side of the bed. He placed the laptop on the desk and plugged it into a jack. He typed for several minutes as Ben looked on impatiently, barely containing his anger. Finally, Jesse hit enter and turned away from the desk to confront Ben's glare. "Now, I'm going to sleep." He strode to the bed, boldly glaring at his lover. Ben sighed and looked away.
"I am an adult, you know," Jesse said. "I can put myself to bed."
Jesse sighed and pulled off his shirt. He dropped his pants, kicked them across the room and crawled into bed, defiantly wearing his shorts.
"Turn off the light, will you?" he said. Ben opened his mouth, shut it again and went to the door, where he flipped the switch. He watched Jesse settle under the covers and sighed again. Throwing caution to the wind, he walked back over to the bed and kissed Jesse's hair before he left the room. Jesse sighed as he opened his eyes to watch him go. "Silly old bear," he grumbled affectionately.
Ben had just opened the door to check up on Jesse when he got up to monitor the progress on his search. As he looked on, Jesse groggily dragged himself out of bed and went into the bathroom. He emerged a minute later and went over to the desk, punched in a few instructions and stared at the screen before stumbling back to bed. Ben amusedly watched from the door. When Jesse pulled the covers up around his ears he started to pull it closed.
"I can see you, you know," Jesse said without opening his eyes. Ben smiled and stepped into the room. He closed the door gently and approached the bed. "What have you been up to for the last--," Jesse opened his eyes and peered at his watch. "...Four hours?"
"I've been in your lab combing the police databases for information on Barrett or anything that might give us a clue to where his base of operations could be. I won't ask how you managed to tap into that database, by the way."
"Hey, it wasn't me," Jesse protested. "Well, it wasn't my idea, anyway," he amended when Ben turned on the lamp and stared at him soberly. He sat on the edge of the bed and ran his fingers through Jesse's hair.
"I--I'm sorry about my behavior earlier," Ben said hesitantly. "I wasn't trying to treat you like a child, Jess. I never do. I love you. I just get a bit over-protective at times."
"You mean overbearing," Jesse said, but there was no bitterness in his voice and he took hold of Ben's roaming hand and held it.
"Shal gave me a lecture on anger management," Ben said sheepishly. "She said that my personality was a function of my ursine genetics and that I'd be a lot better off if I learned how to control it."
"Well, she's half right," Jesse said as he sat up and caressed Ben's cheek. "I think you're naturally ornery," he said before he put his hand behind Ben's head and pulled him close enough to kiss. Ben felt the smile touch his lips and his heart swelled.
"I did promise to try," he said.
"You do realize that if I wasn't okay with 98% of your behavior I wouldn't bother," Jesse said.
"I'm just very grateful that you do," Ben said. Jesse pulled Ben into a hug and grinned into his shoulder.
"Silly old bear."
"Will you stop calling me that?" Ben growled. Jesse pulled away and gave him a sardonic smile. "...Unless you want to continue to do so," Ben said, lowering his head and sighing softly. Jesse burst into laughter and pulled Ben into his arms again. "Laugh it up, kid."
"I love you, Ben," Jesse said shifting his position and getting a firmer hold on his lover. "You don't have to change for me. The same thing you said to me that day applies to you. I'm not out to make you into something you're not. I fell for the person you were, Ben," he said earnestly. "I just wish you'd lighten up a bit. You haven't been yourself these last few days."
"I wonder what brought that on. Let's see; first you up and disappear for the better part of the week with no explanation. Then you return, with a case of mild shock and a wild story about being kidnapped and drugged for the second time in as many months--and this time by a mad scientist. That has a way of trying my humor," Ben said.
"I'm still here, Ben. I'm alive and I'm safe and I'm well! I thought I'd convinced you of that yesterday when I finally talked you into making love to me," Jesse said earnestly. Ben laughed lightly, and pushed Jesse down onto his back among the pillows.
"Believe me, Jess, nothing you said had any influence on me whatsoever," he said. Jesse reached up and pulled Ben into his arms.
"I bet I can influence you again," he purred in Ben's ear. He began to kiss along Ben's throat and had just reached his chest when his computer began to beep. "Hold that thought," Jesse said as he released Ben and bounded out of the bed. Ben groaned and crumpled to the mattress. "We've got results," Jesse said after a moment. Ben sat up and waited to hear the findings, but to his surprise, Jesse hit a key to save the search and returned to bed.
"What did you find?"
"Nothing that can't keep for a little while," Jesse said as he reached for Ben's shirt and pulled it out of his pants.
"You're supposed to be resting," Ben reminded Jesse, though he did nothing to stop the molecular's progress. Jesse smiled.
"Oh, that's right," he said as he dropped his hands and laid back on the bed. He continued to smile at Ben, who rolled his eyes.
"Well, as long as you're already up..."
Jesse grinned and resumed unbuttoning the shirt. Ben bent to kiss him and grabbed his hands.
"Actually, maybe we should wait. I told Shalimar I would just check up on you."
"Are you serious?" Jesse said. Ben sighed and reluctantly nodded. "You are serious." Ben cleared his throat as Jesse leaned in and nibbled his throat again. "You're sure. Absolutely sure?"
"Last chance, Ben..." Jesse wriggled out of his boxers and waved them in front of Ben's face.
"You are going to be the death of me," Ben growled as he snatched the shorts away and tossed them over his shoulder. He bit Jesse's throat and pushed him back on the bed.
"What took you so long?" Shalimar asked when Ben returned to the lab.
"He was awake," Ben replied simply. Shalimar smiled.
"In that case, back so soon?"
Ben smiled and took a seat beside her. She had already become his third favorite mutant, after Jesse and his sister, Beth.
"So what have I missed?"
"Not very much," Shalimar sighed. "I'm afraid there's just not much on our man out there. I'm hoping that Jesse's search will give us the clues we need to locate him."
"So, as usual, you all expect me to save your asses," Jesse said as he entered the room. He softened the remark with a kiss to Shalimar's cheek.
"What have you got, handsome?" she asked as Jesse pulled up a seat beside her. Ben stared at Jesse as the molecular opened the laptop he'd brought with him. He smiled at Ben with a glint of defiance in his eyes.
"I'm not sure yet," he said, still eying his lover. "I've got six unique energy signatures in the area. One is obviously the power plant and another is Sanctuary. I've got to isolate the signature of our growth accelerator and then see if I can match it to one of the remaining four."
"How long will that take?" Ben asked.
"I don't know," Jesse replied.
"Wouldn't it be simpler if we just went to each of the four sites and just looked for the thing?"
"Would you know a growth accelerator if you saw one?" Jesse countered.
"You could let me take a look at yours before I went," Ben shot back.
"And I'd probably have the results of my analysis before you reached any of the sites," Jesse concluded smugly. "Besides, the machine is not likely to be in plain sight and you'd have no idea what you'd be walking into if you stumbled onto his lair."
"I noticed that didn't seem to stop you from waltzing into Barrett's lab," Ben said sarcastically.
"Live and learn," Jesse said with an apologetic smile. Ben simply glared at him, but Shalimar saw his eyes soften into a look of pure love. She quickly averted her attention to Jesse's laptop screen.
"This one is not far from where Barrett tried to set up his new lab," she observed.
"And that's midtown," Jesse said as he dragged his eyes away from Ben's and peered at the screen. "I doubt he would have been centrally located."
"Why not? Where better to hide than in the place you least expect to find him?" Shalimar asked.
"Why don't we stop speculating and get the facts, hmm?" Jesse rose and carried his laptop to the genetics lab. The others followed him. While Shalimar watched Jesse work, Ben looked around the lab.
"What do you guys do in here?" he asked.
"We don't do anything in here," Jesse replied. "This place hasn't been used since Adam left, but before then this is where he did his research."
"What kind of research?"
"Hold on," Jesse said as he typed into a computer panel on one wall. A piece of equipment came to life and Jesse stepped back and looked at it for a moment before he plugged his laptop into the panel. "It should take just a minute or two to pick up the signature. Then I'll look for a match."
"Would Barrett's lab look something like this?" Ben asked.
"Maybe," Shalimar said, "but I doubt that it'd be quite this stylish. We don't know what kind of resources he's got. The lab that he was building was pretty Spartan."
"What are the minimum requirements?" Ben asked. Shalimar frowned. "Well, Jess said I wouldn't know a growth accelerator if I saw one. I want to know what we'll be looking for."
"Well, Shal is right; Barrett's equipment might not look like ours," Jesse said. "What we have here is state of the art. If Barrett's not being bankrolled by someone with deep pockets he might not have the latest equipment. Add to that the fact that most of what he'd need is custom. You can't just buy a growth accelerator on Ebay."
"Who's bankrolling Mutant X?" Ben asked bluntly.
"We can't tell you," Shalimar said. Ben looked at Jesse.
"I'm sorry, but I can't, Ben--at least not now," he said. Ben growled softly, but turned back to his exploration of the lab. "Sorry, big guy," Jesse said softly. Ben didn't reply and Jesse sighed as he exchanged a glance with Shalimar, who nudged him lightly. She pointed at the laptop computer.
"That's it," Jesse said, focusing on the computer. He disconnected the laptop from the machine and turned off the accelerator, then began to type into the machine. Before he was done, Ben had rejoined him. "Got it!"
"The signature and its match. And what do you know?" Jesse said, smiling up at his lover. "You were right, Shal! It is located in midtown!"
"Great," Ben said, leaning in to look at the address on the screen. "Let's go get this bastard."
"Whoa, big fella! Let's not go off half-cocked." Jesse began to type again and pulled up information on the office building from which the signature emanated. "We can't be a hundred percent sure that the signature is a growth accelerator."
"You just said--."
"I said that the signatures matched. I didn't say that I'd found the generator."
"What else could it be?" Shalimar asked.
"I don't know," Jesse said, "but we don't want to go barging in on some innocent guy, now do we?"
"So now what?" Ben said, disappointment writ plain on his handsome face.
"Now I double check my data. In all likelihood this is the spot, but I want to be absolutely sure," Jesse said. "After all, how likely is it that Barrett's using the growth accelerator just a day or two after getting my DNA?"
"You tell me; you're the smart guy," Ben said. Jesse smiled and turned back to the genetic lab's computer panel.
"Actually, I'm just the answer guy," Jesse said. "However, I do know this: Barrett would have to culture the tissue he got from me and manipulate it before he put it into the accelerator. So it's unlikely that he's got a Jesse Junior in the cooker just yet."
"And if he's not ready to start the cloning process..."
Jesse nodded at Shalimar.
"Then there's no reason for him to have the accelerator going," he said.
"Suppose he's processing one of his earlier experiments?" Ben asked.
"Good point," Jesse admitted. "We'll see. I still think we ought to double check everything before we take any action."
"Ben, I hate to admit this but about ninety percent of the time we regret not listening to Jesse's advice," Shalimar said.
"All right," Ben said reluctantly. "We wait."
"So why are we sitting here when you've got four good leads?" Lexa asked impatiently. "Give me the addresses and let me check them out."
"So you can go and torch them?" Ben spat.
"Look, I've had just about enough of you," Lexa said. "I thought you were here to help us! All you've done so far is keep us from getting the job done."
"All I've done is what Jesse asked, which was to wait for confirmation that we've got the right site."
"Yeah, right! You're stalling us here while your police pals move in on Barrett," Lexa shot back. "Well, I'm done waiting," she said rising to her feet. "Are you coming, Bren?"
"Sit down, Lexa!" Jesse commanded as he entered the room with Shalimar on his heels.
"The hell I will!" she replied. "I've done nothing but sit on my ass since you brought your little friend over to help out. Maybe you two want to play house. I want to get Barrett."
"That's precisely what we're going to do," Jesse said, unperturbed by her outburst. Ben, on the other hand, growled dangerously. Jesse placed a hand on his arm and he quieted. "I redid the entire search, which is a good thing. Our first read was a false positive. It turns out there's an engineering firm in the building that has been experimenting with next generation MAPP gas technology."
"What the hell's that?" Brennan asked.
"That's not important," Jesse replied. "What is important is that the energy requirements of their equipment produced an almost identical energy signature to the growth accelerator."
"So we don't have a match," Ben concluded.
"We do have a match," Jesse said with a smile. "While I was re-running the data a fifth signature appeared. It's Barrett."
"How can you be sure?" Brennan asked.
"The signature came from a place less than half a mile from where I was taken by the Black Widow," Jesse said. "It's in a quiet suburb, in a barn at the back of a property far from the prying eyes of nosy neighbors."
"Why didn't you find it before?" Ben asked suspiciously. "You told me that you searched for his lair before you went undercover."
"We looked both outside the city and in, but we weren't searching by energy signature. Moreover, Barrett probably didn't have the DNA he would need to start up the generator anyway."
"But you said that it's too soon for him to be trying to grow your clone," Ben said. "And if he was using DNA from the two moleculars he kidnapped weeks ago, why didn't we pick up that signature earlier? The machine wasn't on during your first sweep, right?" Ben sat down beside Jesse and frowned. "I don't like this. He's onto you."
"Onto us?" Lexa snorted. "Not likely."
"No, Lexa, I think Ben is right," Shalimar said. "Based on what we know, there's no reason for Barrett to have started up that accelerator when he did."
"Unless he knows something we don't," Brennan said.
"...Or he's trying to trap us," Jesse said. He sat back and sighed, resting his head on Ben's shoulder.
"Hey, just because he's expecting us is no reason not to go and get him," Ben said.
"Well, you've finally managed to say something I agree with," Lexa said. "Let's go."
"Not so fast," Ben said. "We need a plan."
"You need a plan," Lexa said. "All I need is the address. Give it up, Jess. I'm tired of being told what to do and when to do it."
She moved toward Jesse and the laptop in his lap. Ben moved so quickly that it was all Jesse could do to grab his arm and hold him back as he went completely feral and snarled at her. Lexa jumped back and raised her hands to defend herself, but Shalimar grabbed her and turned her away before she could aim a laser at Ben.
"Ben!" Jesse cried. Ben instantly froze at the sound of his lover's voice. Jesse pulled him back and he sat heavily and closed his eyes as Shalimar hustled Lexa out of the room. "Ben?" Jesse repeated softly. Ben opened his eyes, himself again. Jesse smiled reassuringly and caressed his cheek. "It's all right, Ben. Come back to me." But Ben knew he'd lost it and ran his hands over his face, averting his eyes from Jesse.
"Don't be; Lexa needed a reality check," Brennan said, much to Jesse's surprise. "She thinks she can walk all over people and she's made Jess her favorite doormat."
"That's no excuse," Ben said wearily. "I've got to learn to control my temper. I could have hurt her."
"But you didn't hurt her, Ben. You stopped," Jesse said soothingly.
"You stopped me. If you hadn't, I would have mauled her," Ben said in a voice close to a whisper. Jesse looked at Brennan, who seemed fascinated by the proceedings. He turned back to Ben and gently took hold of his arm. Rising, he tucked his laptop under one arm and led Ben to his room. Once there he told Ben to lie down and laid beside him, pulling the feral into his arms.
"You saw that? He tried to attack me!" Lexa shouted.
"You threatened Jesse, Lexa," Shalimar replied reasonably.
"I was going for his laptop!"
"Doesn't matter; you threatened Ben's mate. All he was doing was protecting Jesse."
"He's insane! And you brought him here to help?"
"Look, Lexa; whether you like it or not, Ben is here and he's absolutely devoted to Jesse. Don't try to get into Jesse's face again and you'll be fine."
"No, you look, Lexa. This is how it's going to be from now on."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that Ben is going to be a part of Jesse's life for a very long time. Get used to it."
Onto Part Seven