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FIC: Across the Line - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
FIC: Across the Line
Title: Across the Line
Author: Jalabert
Fandoms: Mutant X/Once a Thief
Rating: Mature
Summary: Jesse takes a vacation and unwittingly becomes involved in international intrigue.
Author's Note: This is the second of my "blast from the past" posts. It must date to about 2006 and it's a crossover between Mutant X and a brilliant but tragically short-lived Canadian show called Once a Thief. There's an active LJ community on the show here and a brief Wikipedia entry here. But you really don't need much of a background in OAT or Mutant X in order to enjoy the story. But maybe that's just me.

"Ah, Mr. Ramsey, you've finally deigned to appear. Have a seat. I have a job for you."

"You told me I had the week off while Vic and Liann went to their little spies' convention," Mac complained. He glared at the Director with no appreciable effect.

"I lied. You should know better than to trust me, Mac," she said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "I thought I taught you better than that. And it's not a 'spies convention,' it's a--. Never mind. Sit." Mac took a seat, pouting as he did so.

"I should have left town when I had the chance," he muttered.

"As if that would have stopped me. Here; I have a very simple baby sitting operation for you," the Director said as she passed him a folder. "And a very fine baby he is, at that."

"Who is he?" Mac asked as he peered at the young blond man in the surveillance photos he found inside the folder.

"His name is Jesse Kilmartin and he's something of a mystery. He comes from a very prominent east coast family and had a very privileged upbringing, but there's very little known about him after he left school. Up to that point his life was practically an open book."

"And what makes him worthy of our protection?" Mac asked. The Director ignored his jaded tone and continued.

"He recently arrived in Toronto. We don't know why he's here; what's important is that he has attracted a lot of attention from a number of very interesting parties, two of which followed him across the border from the U.S. I want to know why."

"Who are these 'very interesting parties'?"

"The first is a man by the name of Mason Eckhart, erstwhile head of the supposedly now-defunct Genetic Security Agency."

"What the hell is that?"

"The GSA was a crackpot organization whose mission was allegedly to protect the world from what they claimed to be a coming invasion of a race of genetically-engineered mutants."

"Are they serious?" Mac said incredulously.

"So serious the agency was publicly funded," the Director said dryly.

"Geez, those Americans will spend tax dollars on anything," Mac sneered.

"We routinely track agents of foreign governments who wander into our jurisdiction. A team of Eckhart's minions arrived in Toronto within hours of Kilmartin's appearance," the Director continued. "That, I am certain, was not a coincidence. Eckhart didn't cross the border himself. Rumor has it that he is suffering from some dread disease."

"Maybe he's mutating."

"Very droll. Whether he's mutating or not, someone from that organization is after Kilmartin."

"You said there were several parties after him."

"Yes. One of the others is—not surprisingly, given Eckhart's involvement—a biogeneticist. Scott Rhodes is the CEO of a company that has been in the forefront of genetic research for the last five years. His interest in Kilmartin is most intriguing. Rhodes was accused of undertaking some highly questionable experiments before he decided to relocate his company on this side of the Canadian border."

"Human cloning...that sort of thing?"

"Yes, which makes me wonder about Kilmartin—if the former head of the GSA is after him, perhaps he's got something Rhodes wants as well."

"Maybe Kilmartin is one of those mutants the GSA is after and Rhodes wants to catch him and do a little research," Mac suggested brightly.

"It's far more likely that Kilmartin has followed his father into the espionage business," the Director said, not at all amused. "Now that was an unexpected little discovery. His father is Noah Kilmartin. He is a former secret agent—current whereabouts unknown—who has had numerous run-ins with the GSA and Genomex, a firm Eckhart worked for before prior to founding the GSA. Our people are on the lookout for the elder Kilmartin. Perhaps the son is acting as a courier and came here to meet up with him."

Mac frowned and picked up the photograph of the young man in question for a second look.

"And here's the most fascinating pursuer," the Director said as she pushed another folder across the desk. "Another import; his name is Brennan Mulwray. He arrived in town a day or so after Kilmartin and has been making inquiries about him ever since."

"And where did he come from?"

"His affiliations are unknown, but unlike the others he's not being at all subtle about his search. The man has a criminal past; he's been in and out of trouble since he was a juvenile, so it's unlikely that his intentions toward Kilmartin are friendly."

"Maybe he's one of Eckhart's minions," Mac suggested.

"Perhaps, but he doesn't appear to be, at least not on the surface," the Director replied as she sat back and regarded Mac. "He's working independently. Dobrinsky will tell you where to find Kilmartin. I want you to keep an eye on him and let me know if any of his admirers show up."

"And if they do?" Mac asked. The Director pondered the question for a moment.

"Just keep an eye on him. Kilmartin seems to be quite capable of taking care of himself. He fought off two of Eckhart's men with relative ease two nights ago. That's what first attracted our notice."

"If he can take care of himself why was I dragged in on my week off?"

"You were dragged in, Mr. Ramsey, because I want to know what Rhodes and the GSA are up to. I want to know why they're so interested in Jesse Kilmartin. And on second thought, I want you to bring Mr. Kilmartin to me."

"Suppose he objects? He is a foreign national, after all."

"Since when have you shied away from an opportunity to create an international incident?"

Mac glowered at the Director as he rose to his feet. He opened his mouth, reconsidered his words, and went off to find Dobrinsky.

**

Mac entered the hotel's lounge and found a seat at a table opposite the bar. He ordered a beer and looked around for Jesse Kilmartin. It didn't take long to find him. He was sitting alone at the bar, though not for lack of potential company, Mac noted. As he nursed his beer he watched the man fend off the determined advances of no less than three prospective companions. Mac became increasingly curious. He wanted to know what made the young man so seemingly irresistible. Without considering the potential consequences of his actions, he rose and approached him at the bar. It wasn't till he'd reached it that he realized his mistake. If Jesse Kilmartin blew him off as he had done the others, he would have a far more difficult time shadowing him afterward. Mac claimed the empty stool beside his quarry and ordered another beer.

"What's your secret?" he said without looking at him.

"Excuse me?"

"You're practically beating them off with a stick. Wish I had that kind of draw," Mac said easily. "Mind if I sit here and catch the rejects?"

"You're welcome to all of them," Jesse replied with a wry smile. "I came here to be alone." Mac hazarded a glimpse at the somber man beside him. He was attractive, but not in an extraordinary way—not at first glance, in any event.

"Broken heart?" Mac asked bluntly as he allowed himself a closer look. Jesse was gazing into his beer so Mac stared openly. Jesse snorted at his question and smiled.

"I wish it was that simple." He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak. He shook his head again and laughed bitterly before looking up to meet Mac's eyes for the first time. "Sometimes it's feast or famine, you know?"

Mac tore his gaze away from the blond man and quickly scanned the room. His eyes alit on the two women and the man who'd unsuccessfully tried to engage Jesse's attention.

"That might have been some banquet," Mac said. Jesse shrugged.

"Yeah, but if you aren't hungry for what's on offer..." Jesse let the rest of the comment slide, leaving it open to wild speculation on Mac's part. But Mac clamped down on the question that immediately sprang to his lips. If he played his cards right he could make a friend. His assignment would be a good deal easier if Jesse welcomed his company.

"...And life is already complicated," he said instead.

"Exactly! The last thing I need is another complication in my life. I've got enough of those back home."

"Where's home?"

"The States," Jesse said cryptically. "How about you?"

"Vancouver; I'm in town on business."

"I'm just here to see the sights," Jesse said as he signaled for another round for both men. They exchanged names and fell into easy conversation, during which Mac learned surprisingly little about the handsome stranger. The two men parted after an hour with a promise to meet up for drinks the following night.

Mac made some excuse to avoid entering the elevator with Jesse and wandered around the lobby for several minutes before going up to his room. He was frustrated. In the course of the evening he'd learned only two things about Jesse: first, he did indeed possess an irresistible quality about him and, second, Jesse was openly flirting with him. Mac had to concede that it was more like baiting than flirting, really, as though Jesse was testing him. Mac wanted to know why.

While Jesse gave every appearance of being open and engaging, Mac realized--shortly after they'd parted in the lobby and gone to their respective rooms--Jesse had been very reticent about himself. Mac, on the other hand, had been quite voluble and in the course of an hour he'd told so many lies he doubted he'd be able to remember them all, much less keep them straight. He pulled off his jacket and laid it across a chair, flopped on the bed and reached for the remote. Turning on the television, he wondered what the man across the hall was doing.

**

Jesse opened his laptop and plugged his cable into the jack before booting up. In a couple of minutes he'd tapped into a database and was conducting a search.

"All right, Mac Ramsey—if that's really your name. Who are you and what were you up to tonight? You're pretty hot and though it's very tempting to flatter myself that you were just trying to get into my pants, I don't believe it. I certainly gave you enough openings but you didn't make a move and you don't strike me as the shy type. No, you were far more interested in concocting an excuse for being at this hotel. But you certainly don't sell that software you were babbling about; you almost panicked when I asked a simple question about system requirements. And I've never seen a software sales rep carry a gun. So if you aren't hot for my bod and you're not a sales rep, what are you? More importantly, why are you so interested in me?"

Jesse typed in the name "Mac Ramsey" and downloaded the image he'd captured from his miniature camera. In minutes he'd cracked the mystery.

"Well, well, Mac; you're a government agent! That would explain the guns but it doesn't explain your motive for checking me out. Let's see what you're made of..."

**

"Hey!" Jesse said, feigning surprise when he saw Mac emerge from the room across the hall the following morning. He'd already learned the previous night that Mac had the room opposite his own. "I wish I had known you were right across the hall. I would have invited you in for a night cap."

Mac returned the smile and followed him to the elevator as he pondered Jesse's meaning. He was definitely being tested but Mac couldn't be sure why. One thing was certain; Jesse Kilmartin knew far more than he let on and Mac was determined to even the score.

"Headed for breakfast?"

"I could eat a horse," Jesse replied as the elevator doors opened and they stepped out into the lobby.

"I know the feeling," Mac replied.

"So what are you up to today?"

"I'm not sure. I've got to check in with my office and see what the boss has in store for me," Mac said. As he spoke he caught sight of a man standing near the entrance. He was scanning the lobby and Mac recognized him as one of the GSA men from the surveillance photos. He turned his head to glance at Jesse, but the other man was nowhere to be seen. Mac did a full turn in one direction then reversed himself and found Jesse standing at his side. The man at the entrance was gone.

"Lose something?" Jesse asked innocently. Mac was at a loss to explain his confusion so he merely shrugged and led the way to the cafe at the rear of the lobby.

"Come on, I'm buying," he said as he held the door. They were seated at a table and placed orders before Mac excused himself to make a call. He stepped out into the lobby again and called the Director. While he reported in he noticed a second man from the surveillance photos. Brennan Mulwray was speaking to a clerk at the reception desk.

"Stay with him. If the wagons are circling they're undoubtedly about to make their move," the Director said. "Don't let Kilmartin out of your sight." She ended the call before he could reply.

"Yeah, right," Mac said as he pocketed the phone and returned to the cafe. "It's a little too late for that." He strode back to the table, taking advantage of his dark glasses to check out Jesse as he approached the table.

The blond, slightly younger man was reading the complimentary newspaper that had been left on the table. His long denim-clad legs were stretched out before him and he gave every appearance of being completely at ease. But as he looked up and smiled benignly Mac couldn't help feeling that he was the butt of some very obscure joke being played at his expense.

"So what's on your schedule?" Jesse asked.

"Nothing. The boss lady wants me to hang out and meet with a potential client she's been trying to get a deal with but it's not till the day after tomorrow."

"What will you do till then?"

"She said I could have the two days off—if I take them as personal leave. Did I mention that she's a complete bitch?"

"Several times last night," Jesse replied. He lifted his mug to his lips and smiled before he took a sip. "Want to hang out with me today?"

Mac tried not to appear too eager. He didn't trust Jesse, for all his apparent sincerity, and he strongly suspected that he was being tested again.

"What have you got planned?" he asked casually. Jesse shrugged elegantly.

"I don't know. I thought I'd just take a walk and see where it leads me."

"I'm up for that," Mac said as their breakfast arrived. They ate as they discussed a possible itinerary for the day. By the time they were finished with breakfast, they'd made plans. Of course, it only belatedly occurred to Mac that his eager suggestions belied his claim of having only visited Toronto once in the past, a point Jesse made as they headed toward the entrance.

"You know for a non-native, you certainly seem to know your way around," he observed with a wry smile.

"I ought to," Mac said, thinking on his feet. "I spend all my time on planes and in airports reading travel guides in case I have to entertain a local client." Jesse nodded thoughtfully and Mac briefly struggled with an urge to slap him.

They were two blocks from the hotel when all hell broke loose. The duo was suddenly surrounded by four men, one of whom appeared to be carrying some sort of device Mac didn't recognize. It looked vaguely like an oversized bar code reader, but he didn't stop to ask questions. As soon as the first man charged, Mac leapt into the fray. He tried to keep Jesse in his sights as he fought but the smaller man proved to be very elusive. One of the assailants took a few swings at Jesse with some sort of club and it seemed to pass right through his body. Mac stood gaping at the scene before him until someone landed a blow to his shoulder blade. He spun and rejoined the combat. The fighting was in close quarters and mostly hand to hand. Jesse managed to hold his own and though he lacked Mac's finesse in the martial arts he took few blows. It was over as quickly as it had begun. The attackers jumped into two cars and took off. Mac and Jesse leaned against a wall to catch their breath.

"Are there lots of daylight muggings in Toronto? I was under the impression this was a reasonably safe city," Jesse said as he reached back and felt for his wallet. Mac rolled his eyes. He was in no mood for games.

"You really think those guys were after your money?"

"I don't know," Jesse shrugged. "Why else would they attack us? I don't have anything else they'd want."

"Don't you?" Mac asked bluntly.

"I'm just a tourist, Mac. It seems to me that if anything, they were after you."

"Why would anyone attack me?"

"Well, you're the one who works for the big software company. Corporate espionage, a disgruntled customer--there could be any number of reasons why those men would be after you."

Mac laughed at Jesse's attempt to deflect suspicion.

"Yeah, someone gets a faulty program and sends a team of assassins after a sales rep. Makes perfect sense to me."

"Well what else could it be?"

"All right, game over," Mac spat. "Those men were after you and you know it. I want to know why."

"So do I," Jesse said calmly. "I've got nothing they--."

"Damn it, Jesse!" Mac glared at the shamelessly uncommunicative man. "I'm trying to help you out here. Think; is there anything, anything at all that might explain that assault? You said yesterday that your life had complications..."

"Those are personal," Jesse replied. "I doubt that any of my friends would send a team of hit men after me."

"Well, what are these complications you spoke of? There has to be something--."
Before Mac could finish a blue van pulled up and two burly men emerged.

"Another county heard from," Mac muttered as he braced himself.

This time the men were armed. Mac opened fire and managed to hit one of the assailants before the other gave up and helped his comrade make an escape. But Mac was more concerned about Jesse. When the shooting started, Mac immediately dove behind a car, but Jesse had been in the open and fully exposed. He was sitting on the ground and Mac feared the worst as he raced to his side. At least two shots had been fired within point blank range. Jesse looked up as Mac reached him and began to scramble to his feet.

"Easy there," Mac said as he grabbed hold of Jesse's arm. He wanted to get a look at Jesse's wounds before he allowed him to stand. But to his amazement, Jesse withdrew his arm and stood, apparently uninjured.

"I'm all right."

"That's impossible! That guy would have to have been firing blanks to have missed you at that range, even if he was blind," Mac said. Jesse shrugged.

"I guess God is looking out for me today," he said with an enigmatic smile. "Let's get out of here before someone else shows up." He started to walk away. Mac just gaped at him, till something caught his eye and he bent to pick it up. Then he ran after Jesse and caught hold of his arm.

"Whoa, big fella! The hotel is the last place you should go right now."

"Don't you mean you?"

"I mean either of us. Come with me."

Mac led Jesse to his car, anxious to put some distance between them and the scene of the two attacks. But he wasn't ready to take him to headquarters just yet. He suspected that Jesse Kilmartin was a nut even the Director wouldn't be able to crack. And in any event, Mac wasn't going to turn Jesse over to her until he had the answers to a few questions of his own.

"Are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me?" Mac said wearily after a few minutes.

"Maybe it's time you answered a few questions," Jesse countered. Mac angrily pulled the car over and stopped. But Jesse forestalled his tirade by ticking off a few points. "Hey, you're the one who claims to be a sales rep for a software program that's been off the market for about three months now. You're the one who's carrying a gun and displaying fighting skills I've never seen outside of a Hong Kong martial arts movie. It seems to me that you've got a far more interesting story to tell."

"Actually, I can easily explain myself," Mac sneered. Jesse raised a hand.

"Don't bother, Mac. I already know that you spent your formative years in Hong Kong under the tutelage of the country's top crime family. After a reversal of fortunes you did a little time in jail, where you were recruited by Canada's top secret security agency and you've been working there for the last two years. Do you really have four black belts?"

Mac's mouth fell open, but he quickly masked his shock with a smile.

"I never imagined that the Agency's records could be that easily hacked."

"You're very good at what you do," Jesse said smugly, "I'm very good at what I do."

"Yes, I'm truly impressed. But you know, superior computer skills don't explain this," Mac said as he reached into his pocket. He extended his hand and dropped a flattened slug into Jesse's palm. Jesse stared at it open-mouthed for a moment. Then he turned a stony gaze on the view out the window.

"You were hit."

"Obviously not," Jesse said dully.

"That bullet fell off of you as you walked away, Jesse."

"Maybe it landed on me."

"You're a weapons dealer," Mac surmised. "You've got some sort of technology that deflects bullets and that's what they're after." Jesse burst into laughter, but he quickly sobered.

"Yeah, that must be it."

"Come on, damn it! Level with me now or I'll have to take you to headquarters."

"You're going to take me to headquarters, anyway, aren't you?"

Mac ran a hand through his hair. After a moment he made a decision.

"No. Tell me what's going on and it'll stay just between us."

"Why?"

"I just--I need to know. I saw things today that I know were impossible," Mac confessed. "In fact, I thought I was imagining things till it happened the second time. What is it, some sort of energy field?" Jesse shook his head.

"Okay," he sighed, "I'll be completely honest with you. I'm not an arms dealer and I really did just come here on vacation. I've encountered that first set of goons before, but I have no idea who those other guys were or why they were after me."

"But you do know what the first group wants," Mac prompted. Jesse nodded.

"Let's just say I have a few unique talents," he said softly. "They want to lock me up so I can never use them again."

"You're a--."
"I'm a new mutant."

Mac restarted the engine and put the car into gear. Jesse fidgeted for several minutes before he broke the silence.

"Look, I'm not some sort of freak or monster," he said defensively. "I'm merely the result of a failed genetic experiment carried out in the United States about thirty years ago. My mother was unwittingly made a part of that experiment when she was pregnant with me. She thought she was receiving treatments that would help her to produce a healthy child. The consequences of that drug didn't appear until I was about fifteen years old. There are approximately a thousand others like me out there, each with some sort of genetic mutation."

"Pardon me, but what kind of drug could give someone the ability to stop a bullet?" Mac asked sarcastically. "And how soon can you get me some? It could come in handy in my line of work."

"Be careful what you wish for," Jesse said. "It's more of a curse than a blessing. My mutations will probably kill me well before I reach retirement age. My mutation is still evolving and past experience says it can end pretty badly."

"I'm sorry," Mac said soberly. "So those guys chasing you were from the GSA."

"You did do your homework." Jesse smiled. "Yeah, the GSA and I are old friends."

He told Mac the history of Genomex and how the company that created the new mutants later turned against them and became the GSA. He never mentioned Adam Kane by name or any specifics of his or any other mutant abilities, nor did he mention his affiliation with Mutant X, the clandestine organization that had helped new mutants evade the GSA for years.

"I know all this is hard to grasp, but you've got to believe me. It's real," Jesse said.

"It's an incredible story," was all Mac could say.

"I know, but you've seen living proof that I'm telling you the truth."

"I can fill in a couple of blanks for you," Mac said after a moment of indecision. "I think that second group is working for a geneticist by the name of--."

"Scott Rhodes?" Jesse assayed.

"Wait a minute! You just said--."

"I didn't know those men," Jesse insisted. "But I have heard of Rhodes and I know he's into some very dangerous research. I'm surprised your agency hasn't stepped in and put a stop to it."

"To tell you the truth, I wouldn't put it past my agency to fund his research. They've crossed over to the dark side before," Mac snorted. Jesse nodded.

"It wouldn't surprise me," he replied. "It's never been acknowledged but I've long suspected that Genomex was working under the aegis of some top secret military research project. It's the kind of nightmare that would have been hatched sometime during the cold war. The technology was perfected in the 1970's and they tested it on an unsuspecting civilian population, preying on the hopes and dreams of young couples trying to start families with the promise of miracle cures."

"That's sick," Mac said.

By the time they reached Mac's apartment Mac's head was reeling. He tried to take everything in but it all sounded like science fiction. In fact, he would have discounted the entire story had he not seen impossible things with his own eyes. Mac offered Jesse a seat and went to put on a pot of coffee. It was too early in the day for anything stronger, although he would have preferred a stiff belt of something to jolt him back to reality.
He pulled out a couple of mugs and retrieved the milk and sugar, keeping himself busy while he tried to wrap his brain around what he had just seen and heard. His head was so full of questions he didn't even know where to begin. Then he remembered something.

"There was another guy making inquiries into your whereabouts. Does the name Brennan Mulwray ring any bells?"

Jesse blanched and Mac was intrigued.

"He's here in Toronto?"

"So you know this guy, too," Mac said.

"Yeah; Brennan and I have some history. He's one of those complications I mentioned."

"If this 'complication' is going to start shooting at me I want to know what I'm dealing with."

"Brennan isn't going to shoot at anyone. He's on our side," Jesse said wearily. "I just wish he'd stayed home."

"Home? Are you two guys together?" Mac asked carefully. Jesse laughed bitterly.

"No. It's not like that--it's a long story."

"I've got nothing but time," Mac replied. Jesse glared at him.

"You'll just have to take my word on it," he said with an air of finality.

"Wait a minute," Mac replied. "If he's on your side, why is he here trying to track you down?"

"I'll have to ask him if I run into him," Jesse said smugly.

"You've been trying to avoid him, is that it? What's going on?" Mac demanded. Jesse averted his eyes to his mug and downed the remainder of his coffee. "Look, I can't help you if--."

"I never asked for your help, Mac," Jesse spat back. "I appreciate you giving me a hand back there, but I can manage things on my own." He rose from his seat but Mac rose to prevent him from moving toward the door.

"I think it would be a mistake to try to leave just now."

"Oh, and are you going to stop me?"

"If I have to," Mac sneered. Jesse smiled and Mac knew he was totally fucked.

"Just how do you intend to do that?" Jesse said smugly. Mac recalled what he'd seen earlier and sat down. If Jesse could repel clubs and bullets what kind of chance did Mac have of laying him out?

"Where are you going to go?" he asked. "They obviously know where you're staying. You can try to go back to the States but you'll have both the GSA and Rhodes' goons on your tail."

"I suppose you're going to offer an alternative?" Jesse asked.

"Let us help you."

"'Us,' as in you and your agency; thanks, but I'll pass. Now if you're done with this little interrogation--."

"Hey, I'm just trying to help you!"

"By bringing me here and trying to make me talk?"

"I brought you here because it's the safest place I could think of for you."

"And it would be a lot easier to convince me to come here rather than your agency headquarters, right? You should have done a better job of hiding the bugs, Mac. I did warn you that I knew my stuff." Jesse turned and headed for the door and this time Mac only followed him.

"Jesse, wait!"

"I think we're done here, Ramsey," he said as he headed for the stairs.

"I didn't wire the apartment. I didn't know about the bugs!" Mac shouted as he raced to keep up. Jesse stopped abruptly and he nearly collided with the smaller man. "All right, I did know about the bugs, but I'd forgotten about them. My director is a sicko who likes to keep tabs on her minions. She's got bugs in every agent's place. It's practically a standing joke." Jesse frowned at him doubtfully.

"I swear it's true. I'm sorry, Jesse. I really never meant to lie to you or expose you to the Agency."

"Don't worry," Jesse replied as he continued toward the steps. "I haven't told them anything they couldn't learn elsewhere."

"So where are we going?" Mac asked a minute later as he led the way to his car.

"Back to the hotel."

"Are you nuts?"

"Nope. I've just decided to let you help me after all, Mac. We'll go back to the hotel and flush out Rhodes. Then your people can take him in and find out what makes him tick while I take myself and my little friends from the GSA back across the border."

"Why would you want to do that?"

"I don't want the GSA get any ideas about trying to establish a foothold in Canada."

"You've got people here, haven't you?" Mac concluded. "There are new mutants in Canada."

Jesse didn't respond, not that Mac expected a confirmation. It annoyed him that he still felt woefully out of the loop. Jesse seemed to have all the answers and Mac didn't even have all of the questions yet.

"Just out of curiosity," Mac asked, despite his better judgment, "how long did it take for you to make me as an agent?" A tiny smile curved Jesse's lips.

"Ten, fifteen minutes, maybe; I knew right off the bat that you weren't in sales, but then lots of people lie about themselves in bars or clubs. So I put out a few feelers to see what you were really after."

"You were flirting with me!" Mac accused.

"And you didn't take the bait," Jesse replied mildly. "That told me that you had another agenda."

"And what if I had taken the bait?" Mac asked, stealing a glance at the other man. Jesse licked his lips and smiled slowly.

"Maybe you should...next time you're on assignment."

Mac rolled his eyes; Jesse was still teasing him. After a few minutes, Mac decided that he liked it. Being assigned to Jesse was proving to be far more interesting than he ever imagined it would be and Mac was glad for once to be working alone. Having Vic or Liann around would have put a real crimp on things. Mac couldn't imagine Jesse flirting with Vic. Then again, it might have been fun watching Vic be frustrated by the elusive young man. Liann, on the other hand, would be putty in Jesse's hands. All things considered, Mac was pleased to have Jesse to himself.

Jesse was equally distracted. He was about to embark on a dangerous scheme. There was no doubt in his mind that Mac was right when he said that his agency might be interested in exploiting genetic research. Getting a hold of Jesse might save Rhodes and the Agency years of trial and error. But setting a trap for Rhodes would carry a big risk; in spite of Jesse's instincts to trust Mac, there was ample evidence to suggest that his boss kept her agents on a very short leash. That could prove to be a major problem should she try to interfere with Jesse's plans to draw the GSA back across the border.

Mac's growing attractiveness was another matter Jesse would have to deal with. It was an unexpected complication and Jesse had had far too many of those in his life lately. He would have to fight his instincts there as well.

They rode back to the hotel in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. Mac was admittedly having difficulty focusing on the case. He was jolted back to reality, however, when his phone rang. There was no doubt in his mind who the caller was.

"Where the hell are you, Mac and what the hell did you think you were doing, taking Kilmartin to your place?

"We had a little encounter with both the GSA and Rhodes' people."

"And you were told to bring him to headquarters!"

"I realize that; Jesse was less than willing."

"Since when do we give people a choice?" the Director sneered.

"Has it occurred to you that we might need his cooperation in this?" Mac replied recklessly. The Director was momentarily stopped by his remarks.

"I'm listening."

"He's the one they want, right? How can we flush out the baddies without the proper bait?" Mac stole a glance at Jesse, who returned an eloquent look. Mac shrugged and continued to plead his case to the Director, who seemed intent on venting her spleen in spite of the fact that she had to concede Mac's point. She was particularly miffed that Mac had told Jesse about the Agency. Mac's protests that Jesse already knew about the organization fell on deaf ears. He let her rant as he drove up to the hotel. Jesse smiled in quiet amusement at Mac's long-suffering expression.

"Let me make myself perfectly clear, Mr. Ramsey," the Director said menacingly. "You are to bring both Rhodes and Kilmartin to me. If you do not, you will suffer greatly. Do you understand me?"

"Yes," Mac said before snapping the phone shut. He glanced at Jesse. "Did I mention that she's a complete bitch?"

"Yeah," Jesse said dryly. They crossed the lobby and entered a waiting elevator. "Listen, why don't we meet up again for dinner?" he asked as the stepped out of the car.

"What are you planning to do till then?" Mac asked.

"I want to do a little research. Don't worry," Jesse said with a disarming smile. "I plan on staying in my room and you'll be right across the hall."

"I hope you don't mind if I'm a little paranoid," Mac said as he pulled his gun and moved past Jesse and into his room. He gave it a thorough going-over as Jesse watched from the doorway. Satisfied, Mac turned back to him with a slightly sheepish grin. "I'll just be over there," he said.

"I'll call you if I need anything," Jesse replied. He watched Mac's pupils dilate slightly before he closed the door. "I've really got to stop doing that," he said impishly.

**

Mac spent the remainder of the afternoon pondering all that had happened. He'd seen some very strange things since joining the Agency, but never anything like what he'd seen during that fight. He remembered it clearly: in the midst of battle Jesse suddenly seemed to become transparent, allowing first the club and then one of the assailant's fists to pass through his body. And then there was the bullet; it was inconceivable that it had missed hitting Jesse. Mac pulled the flattened slug from his pocket and examined it closely. It was impossible to explain, unless Jesse's body was impervious to steel.
Jesse admitted to being a mutant and said that there were perhaps a thousand people walking the earth with strange mutations. If, as Mac strongly suspected, some of them had fled to Canada to avoid persecution by the GSA, it was possible that he'd already encountered one or more of them. The very possibility boggled Mac's mind, as did the potential consequences if the Agency ever found out about them. Or the bad guys, for that matter; the thought of confronting an army of people incapable of being injured in battle was quite daunting. Mac had to wonder why--or if--the military had ever given up on the experiment.

Mac couldn't help wondering if he was doing the right thing in withholding information from the Agency. After all, he only knew what Jesse had told him. Mac had no way of knowing the full extent of his powers or what his true motives might be. Suppose there were ten thousand mutants out there, or even more? Suppose they weren't interested in leading normal lives and were colonizing to amass greater numbers so they could take over? Suppose Jesse was their leader?

"All right, dude," Mac said aloud as he turned off the television. "Put down the remote. No more science fiction for you."

But before the smile faded on his lips he'd begun thinking again. He'd just spent the morning with a man who had come through two physical assaults completely unscathed--no, three, according the Director. Exactly what was Jesse? He said he wasn't some sort of freak or monster, but was he truly human or something more? Mac felt somewhat unequal to the situation he found himself in. He took a deep breath and decided to trust Jesse--at least for the time being. He hoped he wasn't about to make a huge mistake.

**

Jesse spent most of the afternoon collecting intelligence on Scott Rhodes and the nature of his research. He learned that Rhodes had apparently made previous attempts to capture new mutants and presumably succeeded. At least one new mutant who'd relocated to Canada disappeared three months earlier and another had sent a warning through the mutant underground to be on the look out for Rhodes and his henchmen.

When he was done with his research, Jesse considered calling Sanctuary to touch base, but he opted instead to send Shalimar an email message using a code the two of them developed when they first joined Mutant X. Jesse smiled as he typed "safe & sorry" with a winking emoticon. He hit "send" and shut down his laptop.

Jesse stowed the laptop away and went to take a shower. He'd just emerged from the bathroom and was pulling on a pair of pants when Mac knocked on the door. Jesse smirked at his timing and zipped his fly as he went to answer it.

"Hey," he said before turning and walking back to the dresser, where he picked up a polo shirt.

"No need to dress on my account," Mac quipped as he sat down and took in the view of Jesse's lean, muscled chest, narrow hips, long legs and bare feet. Jesse ignored him and slipped on a pair of loafers before he pulled the shirt over his head. Mac grabbed Jesse's wrist to stop his movement and peered at a small black and blue mark just beneath the first rib on the left side of Jesse's chest. "Do you always get a bruise like that?" he asked. Jesse shrugged out of Mac's grasp and pulled the shirt down to cover the mark.

"How often do you think I get shot at?" Jesse replied testily. "And, for the record, that mark was not made by a bullet."

"The hell it wasn't," Mac said rising to his feet to confront the smaller man toe to toe. It was a mistake, he realized belatedly as he was confronted by the triple threat of cool blue-grey eyes, the fresh, citrusy scent of Jesse's shower gel, and an expanse of bare, smooth, moist skin. Mac withdrew a half step as his senses reeled, cursing Jesse's propensity to throw him off balance and wondering if that was a natural talent or a byproduct of his mutation.

"Do you really believe that if my skin was tough enough to stop a bullet it would bruise so easily?"

"You've got a bruise, haven't you?" Mac countered smugly. Jesse pulled off the shirt and tossed it on the bed.

"Look again."

Mac sighed and did as he was bidden, promptly surrendering to the impulse to touch the spot. He felt Jesse stiffen slightly and withdrew his hand.

"I got that from one of those GSA goons who attacked me two days ago. He hit me in the ribs with the butt end of a hockey stick, of all things."

There was a brief, tense silence before Mac conceded.

"When in Canada," he said contritely as he reached for Jesse's shirt. "Here, let's get out of here. I'm hungry." Mac strode purposefully toward the door. Jesse smiled and pulled the shirt on before grabbing a jacket and joining him.

They repaired to the restaurant where they'd met the previous evening and settled in with a couple of beers. They ordered dinner and before it arrived they'd completely relaxed and fallen into easy conversation. Mac asked Jesse about his childhood and to his surprise, Jesse answered without hesitation, speaking easily about his exploits at the exclusive boarding school he attended. Mac was tempted to ask how his mutation affected his upbringing but he had the sense that Jesse was deliberately avoiding that topic. After a while, Mac forgot about his curiosity and regaled Jesse with stories of his own youth, which was decidedly different from Jesse's.

"I was probably just the sort of kid your folks told you to avoid," Mac said. "Not that we were ever likely to travel in the same--."

He paused, his eyes on something across the room. Jesse frowned and turned to see what had caught his attention. Mac quickly cleared his throat and continued but Jesse had already seen Brennan Mulwray at the bar. He averted his eyes for a moment. When he looked up again Brennan had disappeared.

"Look, I know this is none of my business," Mac began.

"You're right."

"Who is he? What is he to you?" Mac asked nonetheless.

"We're..." Jesse weighed his choices carefully, "associates." Mac waited for illumination. "Look, I've been working with a small private organization for several years. Brennan works for the same organization."

"So you work together?"

Jesse nodded at his beer.

"You're trying to tell me that he's a tech whiz, too?"

"Brennan? No," Jesse chuckled.

"So what does he do?" Mac pressed.

"He does a bit of everything, I guess."

"And what is this organization, exactly?"

"I thought you weren't going to interrogate me," Jesse said, arching his brow challengingly.

"All right," Mac said, "I'll put away the bright lights and the rubber hose if you answer one more question." Jesse sighed and sat back.

"Why did he follow you to Toronto?"

"I don't know," Jesse said evenly.

"Aren't you curious?"

"You said one more question," Jesse said with a sly smile. He took a sip of beer and licked his lips before smiling smugly. Mac leaned forward and propped his chin.

"I think I know why he's here," he said. Mac wouldn't let Jesse out of his sight if he could avoid it. He suspected Brennan felt the same way about the enigmatic man.

"Do tell."

"Tell me something," Mac said instead, "do you make him as crazy as you're making me?"

"Another question, Mac?"

"You can't blame me for trying," Mac said provocatively.

"Am I making you crazy?" Jesse asked ingenuously.

"You have no idea."

"Don't I?"

Mac blinked a few times then sat back and signaled the waiter.

"I need another one of these," he said when the waiter approached. "Jesse?" The other man nodded and two more beers were brought to the table. Mac steered the topic of conversation to something more innocuous but the air was charged with tension nonetheless.

"The waiter is giving us funny looks," Jesse observed mildly after another round.

"Who gives a shit?" Mac said as he signaled for the check. Jesse looked on as Mac finished his beer and signed the bill. "Say, why don't we move this party upstairs? We've got some strategizing to do before our next encounter with our friends."

"You should have said that before we decided to have three beers with dinner."

"I don't know about you, but I'm still fully functional," Mac said pointedly.

"I'm happy for you," Jesse said, refusing to rise to the bait. "But as far as strategy goes, all I need to do is sit back and wait for Rhodes to come after me again. He certainly knows where to find me."

"Well, why don't you come up to my room for a nightcap, anyway?"

"Mac, it's not even 9:30."

"Then it may be a very long night," Mac said softly as he rose from the table. Jesse threw back the last of his beer and rose. They crossed the lobby at a leisurely pace, in no particular hurry to get to the elevator.

"Doesn't your agency have any fraternization rules?"

"Who's fraternizing?" Mac asked. Jesse stared at him and Mac shrugged insouciantly. "All right, I'm fraternizing. But I can't help it. You're just so darned cute," he said playfully. Jesse squinted at his companion.

"Are you actually any good at your job?"

"Jesse, I'm crushed!"

"Well, I have to ask; for someone who was assigned to protect me you certainly did a lousy job of threat assessing this morning. You were also blithely indifferent to the fact that your own apartment had been bugged--."

"Hey! I explained about that," Mac interjected. "And don't forget that when the shit hit the fan I covered your ass--twice."

"And now you're trying for a third chance," Jesse muttered as they stepped into the elevator. Mac heard his remark and smiled to himself. When the elevator reached their floor he glanced at Jesse, who looked somewhat apprehensive.

"Well? Shall we?" Mac said as he backed out of the elevator. He put on his most engaging smile but Jesse was staring past his left shoulder. Mac turned to look at what had captured his attention and got his first look at Brennan Mulwray up close.

Brennan was standing outside Jesse's room, hands shoved into his pockets. He and Mac were about the same height and coloring, but there the resemblance ended. Where Mac had a deceptively slim physique, Brennan was more muscular and dressed to accentuate his form.

"Jesse," Brennan said as he stepped forward in a blatant attempt to intimidate, although it was hard to say which man he was trying to impress.

"You want to introduce me to your friend?" Mac asked.

"No," Jesse said as he moved past Mac to stand between the two men. "Would you excuse us, Mac? I want to talk to him for a moment," he said carefully, with emphasis on the last word. Jesse pulled out his key card and opened the door. Standing back to let Brennan precede him, he glanced at Mac. "This shouldn't take long."

"Are you sure you don't want me to stick around? I don't trust this guy."

"I can handle this alone," Jesse said before he gently but firmly shut the door. Mac sighed and reluctantly went into his room to wait.


On to Part Two</ljcut>

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