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FIC: Across the Line Part 3) - Hotitudinosity
fiction by jalabert
jalabert
jalabert
FIC: Across the Line Part 3)
Title: Across the Line (Part 3)
Author: Jalabert
Fandoms: Mutant X/Once a Thief
Rating: Mature

At that moment Mac sat on a park bench beside Brennan deep in thought. He wracked his brains trying to recall anything that Jesse might have done or said that would give him a hint as to where he might have gone to ground. The sound of Brennan's phone distracted him and he turned to watch him give Shalimar an update. When Brennan slid the phone back into his pocket, something occurred to him.

"Doesn't Jesse have a cell?"

"Yeah, we all carry them, Brennan said.

"Well, have you tried calling him?" Mac said impatiently. Brennan retrieved the phone and punched up Jesse's number. He sneered at Mac as it began to ring.

"What's the matter--didn't he give you his number?"

"No need," Mac replied complacently, "we've been inseparable the last few days, remember?" Brennan clenched his jaw and turned his attention to the call.

"He's not answering."

"Text message?" Mac suggested.

"I know," Brennan snapped.

"It's M-A-C," Mac said. He could almost feel Brennan's temper rising and smiled puckishly.

"You're a real prize, you know that? I can see why Jesse finds you such scintillating company."

"I can't imagine what he ever saw in you," Mac countered. "Of course, tall, dark and handsome gets you big points but tell me honestly, Bren, is there anything going on at all beneath that thin veneer?" Brennan growled and brought his hands together. Mac saw a crackle of energy and took hold of his wrist.

"Now, now, Sparky, we're in public. You don't want to bring the GSA down on our heads, do you?"

Brennan angrily pulled his arm out of Mac's grasp.

"On second thought," Mac said, "maybe we do."

"What are you talking about?"

"Keep doing that and Rhodes and the GSA will come to us."

"Go to hell," Brennan said. He turned toward the far end of the bench and stared at a group of attractive women a short distance away. Mac was intrigued; he'd been distracted by them himself, but now he watched Brennan with fascination.

"So can Jesse do that little high voltage trick, too?" Mac asked, though he would have preferred to ask him about his relationship with Jesse.

"Huh?" Brennan asked. He realized Mac was observing him and averted his eyes. "Oh, no; Jesse's a molecular."

"And that means--," Mac prompted. Brennan sat back and focused on the question.

"That's his classification. The scientists responsible for creating the new mutants worked in four basic categories. Psionics have telepathic, telempathic or telekinetic powers," Brennan said. Mac frowned in confusion but didn't interrupt. "Ferals," Brennan continued, "have the characteristics of members of the animal kingdom. Shalimar, for example is a feral with the qualities of a cat."

"Rrrowl."

"Exactly!" Brennan grinned. "Now, I fall into the class called elementals. They're able to control various elements of the natural world, such as the weather or, in my case, electricity."

"What the hell kind of gene splicing do you have to do to pull that off?" Mac asked seriously. Brennan shrugged.

"Haven't a clue," he admitted. "And I can't even begin to imagine how they made Jesse, either. He's a molecular."

"So you said; what does that mean, exactly?"

"He can alter his body density at will. He's extremely rare--a molecular who can be both intangible and impervious."

"Walks through walls, stops bullets? Yeah, I've caught part of his act," Mac said lightly.

"He once phased a jet and everything in it," Brennan said proudly.

"Uh...why?"

"We were trying to escape hostile fire but they were closing in on us. Thanks to Jess, the missile passed right through us."

"You were being shot at with missiles?" Mac asked incredulously.

"Using his powers can really take its toll on Jesse. He was out of it for nearly a week after that."

"What the hell were you doing that had someone going after you with missiles?" Mac persisted. Brennan gave him a dark look.

"That's classified."

"Do a lot of classified stuff, do you?"

"Yeah, most of what Mutant X does is classified," Brennan said. Mac smiled wryly.

"Oh, that would explain why Jesse hasn't told me anything about his powers, Mutant X, or his life back in the States, except, of course, when he was venting about you," Mac said, as Brennan's jaw tightened even further. "Oh, and then there was his enthusiastic response to my question about whether he liked to top," Mac teased. Brennan growled and lunged at Mac and was unceremoniously pinned on the ground with lightning speed.

"I wouldn't try that again if I was you," Mac said, all playfulness gone. "Unless, of course, you plan on frying me to a crisp--in which case you'd only end up being an even bigger loser in Jesse's eyes." Mac pulled Brennan to his feet. Brennan brusquely pushed him away and dusted himself down. "What's your problem, anyway? You don't want Jesse; why begrudge him a chance to find someone who does?"

"You?" Brennan spat. "He deserves better."

"I won't argue with you there," Mac said. "But he's old enough to decide for himself what he wants."

"Yeah, well, I'm not totally convinced of that." Brennan said softly.

"Because he wanted you?" Mac asked bluntly. Brennan turned away and Mac knew he'd hit the nail on the head. "You don't think you're good enough for him, do you?"

"And you do?"

"I'm not stupid enough to sell myself so short." Mac said as he gestured with his head for them to start back toward the car. "Has it ever occurred to you that Jesse might be a better judge of character than you think? Maybe he saw something in you that you wouldn't give yourself credit for."

"Is that your plan for resurrecting yourself?"

"We're not talking about me, Brennan," Mac said.

"We're not talking about this, period," he said as he walked on ahead. Mac sighed and followed.

"You decided that Jesse deserved better than what you had on offer and figured you'd show him what a lout you were before he could find out for himself," Mac surmised.

"Just drop it, okay?"

"He was willing to love you, warts and all."

"Mac!" Brennan shouted. He cut off his next words when his phone rang. He stopped and pulled it from his pocket. "Jesse! Are you all right, man?"

"Yeah, for the moment," Jesse replied. "You?"

"I'm fine, but I've been worried sick since you didn't answer me earlier," Brennan said, turning away from Mac's knowing look and speaking softly.

"Sorry about that," Jesse said contritely.

"Where are you now? We'll come and get you."

"Put Mac on," Jesse said. Brennan hesitated. "He's the one who knows his way around Toronto, Bren," he said reasonably. Brennan reluctantly handed over the phone.

"Hey," Mac said, relief evident in his voice. "Where are you?"

"Chinatown--I figured you'd know your way around here," Jesse said with a smile.

"You figured correctly. Where are you, exactly?"

"I'm at the intersection of Bathhurst and College."

"Good," Mac replied. "I want you to walk south on Bathhurst; you'll come to a teahouse at number 49. Go in and tell them you're a friend of mine and that I've asked for you to meet me there."

"They won't hurt me, will they?" Jesse asked teasingly.

"They'll probably treat you like a firstborn son. Eat what they give you--you like eel?"

"Huh?"

"Never mind; we're on our way. Stay put." Mac handed the phone back to Brennan.

"Eel?" Brennan asked as he pocketed the phone.

"Come on," Mac said.

He strode back to the car and in less than fifteen minutes they pulled up in front of the tea shop. Mac removed his shades as he entered the shop and as he expected, Jesse was ensconced in a table at the rear of the shop being doted upon by the matronly aunt of the owner. Mac smiled as he approached and greeted the woman in flawless Cantonese. Brennan and Jesse looked on as she ushered him into a seat and went to fetch something.

"Where did you learn to speak Chinese?" Brennan asked.

"It's Cantonese and I learned it in Hong Kong."

"When were you ever in Hong Kong?"

"Let's see; from the time I was ten until just before my 24th birthday," Mac said. "You may as well sit down, Brennan. We aren't getting out of here without eating something. Hey, Pretty Blond," he said with a smile for Jesse.

"Hey yourself," Jesse replied. "Brennan," he added with a nod for his associate.

"Hey man, you okay?"

"Perfectly," Jesse said as the matron brought out a tray and placed several small dishes before the new arrivals. She urged them both to eat, which Mac did without hesitation.
"Where did you find him?"

"He showed up on my doorstep shortly after you pulled your disappearing act at the hotel," Mac replied around a mouth full of shrimp dumpling. "The big lug was worried about you."

"Hey, Shalimar panicked when she got your message," Brennan said defensively. "She insisted that I go looking for you."

"Did he give you a hard time?" Jesse asked.

"Yeah, but I've dealt with worse," Mac replied.

"He's not so bad," Jesse said. "A little rough around the edges, though; he thinks it gives him a certain charm."

"Charm?" Mac asked doubtfully. Both men turned to look at Brennan, who glared back.

"Will you two stop discussing me as though I wasn't here?" he demanded. Mac shrugged and picked up one of the small bowls. "What is all this?" Brennan asked as he eyed the bowl's contents with suspicion.

"Dim sum," Mac replied. "Barbequed pork rolls, steamed cuttlefish, abalone, shrimp dumpling, fried wontons, chicken feet..." Brennan made a face and sat back. "And it's extremely rude to refuse to at least sample the offerings of your host."

"I'm sure I'd give greater offense if I barfed at the table," Brennan said. Mac begrudgingly conceded the point with a shrug.

"What's this one I'm eating?" Jesse asked. "It's delicious."

"That's a shark fin and seafood dumpling," Mac said as he reached over to snag one from the dish. "Shark fin is supposedly nature's performance enhancer," he said with a suggestive waggle of brows. "Not that either of us need it." Jesse smiled briefly, but sobered when he caught a glimpse of Brennan's facial expression.

"So what's happening?" he asked.

"The Director is on the warpath," Mac said. "She wants you and Rhodes and the GSA at headquarters, preferably yesterday."

"Well, the GSA has been on my tail since I left the hotel," Jesse said. "It took me quite a while to lose them. I would be very surprised if it took us long to find them again."

"Good," Mac said. "They'll be first on our agenda, then." He turned and spoke to the hovering woman. She went back into the kitchen and returned with another bowl. "Ah, here's the eel."

"Eww," Brennan said. "The Chinese actually eat that?"

"Yeah," Jesse said as he reached for a bit of the fish with his chopsticks. "And so do the Italians, French, Japanese, and every other country with access to an ocean. Hey, this is good!"

Brennan shook his head disparagingly. Mac turned and spoke to the woman once more and she went back to the kitchen. She emerged a moment later with a plate and placed it in front of Brennan, grumbling something as she returned to the kitchen.

"What's this?" Brennan asked.

"Shrimp fried rice and you'd better eat it," Mac said as Jesse suppressed a smile. Brennan picked up a fork and put it down in favor of chopsticks. "Now, where were we? We might be able to appease the Director temporarily if we can turn over the GSA, but if they're just Eckhart's muscle she won't be satisfied for long. Her real goal is to get a hold of either you or Rhodes."

"Why Jesse or Rhodes?" Brennan asked.
"Oh, I think she really wants Rhodes. I don't know if she wants to stop him or recruit him, but either way she's not above using Jesse as bait."

"She wants to recruit him? We cannot let that happen," Brennan said firmly.

"Finally! We've found something we agree on," Mac said.

"It's not the first thing," Brennan said evenly. The two dark-haired men regarded each other as Jesse looked on in confusion. After a moment they turned their attention back to their respective plates.

"So what's the plan?" Jesse said after prodding the chicken feet with a chopstick. He shrugged and placed a small piece on his plate.

"Well, the Director will have people watching the hotel so we won't be able to return there," Mac said.

"Maybe we should," Jesse said. "Even if her instincts tell her to keep an eye on the place, that'll be the last place she'll expect to find us if she gives us any credit for common sense."

"Maybe you; she never gives me credit for anything," Mac replied, pouting.

"More importantly," Jesse continued with a brief smile for Mac, "that's also where the GSA and Rhodes will be looking for me."

"You aren't thinking of setting yourself up as bait, are you?" Brennan asked.

"How else can we draw them out in the open?" Jesse reasoned.

"I don't want you putting yourself in harm's way."

"What other choice do we have, Bren?"

"Let them go after me. The GSA knows me," he argued as Mac looked on. He remained silent as he observed the interaction between the two would-be lovers.

"Your lack of faith in my abilities is really encouraging," Jesse said sarcastically.

"Hey, I know you can handle yourself, Jess, but I've got more experience in this sort of thing," Brennan replied.

"That's because you always go jumping in before 'poor little Jesse' ever gets a chance."

"Hey! I'm just looking out for you, man!"

"You're just treating me like an incompetent, inexperienced--."

"We both know I've got more street experience than you!"

"Only because you hog it all for yourself; I've had to save your ass on more than one occasion because of it. And you know what? I did it all by myself. No one even had to hold my hand while I crossed the street." Jesse sat back, reining in his anger. "Let me do this, Brennan."

"No way!" he replied stubbornly. Mac took that as his cue to intervene.

"May I say something?" he said. "Jesse's right."

"Oh, why didn't I see that one coming?" Brennan sneered.

"Listen to me," Mac said, his own hackles rising. "As far as we know, the GSA is only aware of Jesse's presence in Canada, right? That's got to be a good thing. If these particular agents have never had any run-ins with you it's to our advantage to keep it that way." Brennan opened his mouth to protest but Mac raised his hand and held him off. "The last thing we need is for Rhodes or the Agency to start a witch hunt for mutants in Toronto. At this point, I doubt that either of them knows the true nature of Jesse's abilities."

"Rhodes' men saw me take a bullet at point blank range and deflect it," Jesse said evenly. Mac glanced at him, surprised by his admission.

"That can be explained away. You might have been wearing a vest, the bullet could have been defective... If you were my henchman and came back empty handed telling some fantastic story about how your quarry stood up to a hail of bullets, I'd say you were nuts or making lame excuses. And on top of that, I'd be pissed; I'm sure they had orders to bring you in unharmed. So as far as we know, Rhodes has no knowledge of who or what you are."

"Are you kidding, man?" Brennan scoffed. "Why else would they be after Jesse?"

"They're after Jesse because the GSA is," Mac said. He turned to Jesse and smiled as he suddenly had a revelation.

"What are you talking about?" Brennan demanded.

"I read something about your father in the Agency files," Mac said, completely ignoring Brennan and addressing Jesse. "Wasn't he involved in the theft of crucial data from a genetic engineering company?"

"My dad stole records from a company called Nexxogen," Jesse said dolefully. "But I personally destroyed all the information. No one will ever get his hands on it again."

"Suppose Rhodes thinks you've still got it? The Director certainly did when she assigned me to you," Mac said. Jesse looked up with a tiny gleam in his eye.

"So Rhodes' interest in me might have nothing to do with my being a new mutant at all," he said with a sly smile. "Why didn't you tell me this before?"

"I never thought about it before. It makes sense, though, doesn't it? Based on all the information Brennan gave me earlier it stands to reason that Rhodes probably knows far more about the GSA than he does about Mutant X, if he's ever heard of it at all."

"You told him about Mutant X?" Jesse accused Brennan with an incredulous look.

"Hey, he tricked me. Made out like he already knew about it," Brennan said defensively. Mac feigned a look of innocence. "Anyway, how does that help anything?" Brennan asked. "And while I'm on the subject, just why are you helping us?"

"Oh, come on, Bren, we both know what's in it for me," Mac replied shamelessly. "Truthfully though, I'd just as soon the Agency stayed out of the 'playing God' business They've tried it before when they dabbled with mind control drugs and the results were catastrophic. I don't want the Agency to make genetic engineering its new hobby."

"And the best way to keep that from happening is to take both Rhodes and the GSA back across the border to the U.S. with us," Jesse said decisively.

"Huh?" Mac and Brennan said in unison.

"We can't allow Rhodes to fall into your agency's hands," Jesse said to Mac. "It's too dangerous, Mac."

"How do we get Rhodes across the border?" Brennan asked, more to interrupt the looks two men shared than anything. "And what do we do with him once we've got him there?"

"I bet I can dig up something," the blond mutant replied. "He started out in the U.S. and fled to Canada after running afoul of federal regulations about testing on human subjects. I'd be willing to bet that there are outstanding warrants on him."

"So if you can lure Rhodes out of hiding--."

"And you've just given me the perfect way to do it," Jesse finished for Mac.

"I don't like it, Jesse," Brennan warned. "You want to set this guy up and--."

"Hey, don't worry, Bren. I'll have both of you watching my back, right?"

"I'll be watching your back. Lover boy here will be watching your backside," Brennan said derisively. Mac smiled.

"Guilty as charged," he admitted. "Either way, we won't let you out of our sight."

"So where do we go from here?" Jesse asked with a reproachful look at Mac.

"We can't go back to the hotel. The Director will be waiting for you," Mac warned again.

"Well, why don't we go somewhere else and just steer clear of her?" Brennan asked.

"We've got to go back to the hotel," Jesse insisted. "How else do we lure Rhodes out into the open?"

"True. Hey, I have an idea," Mac said. "Brennan, you and I share an interesting criminal past; ever do any con jobs?"

"A few," Brennan said, curiously. "What did you have in mind?"

"Well, first I have to spin a little story for the Director," Mac began.

"Say, who's this Director you keep talking about?"

"You don't want to know," Mac said with a dramatic shudder.

"What's the scam?" Brennan asked, not amused.

"You're the wild card here, Brennan. Rhodes doesn't know you and neither does the Director. So you become the muscle hired by Nexxogen to recover their stolen merchandise. Let's call you a bounty hunter."

"Okay," Brennan said, intrigued.

"You go to Rhodes with an offer; you've been following Jesse in hopes of recovering the merchandise and you've managed to locate it. You'll offer to sell him the Nexxogen disk if he can outbid your employers."

Jesse smiled, but Brennan was less than convinced.

"How does that get him across the border?"

"We'll work out the specifics later. Maybe you agree to the deal here but insist on doing the transfer back in the states," Mac said. "The important thing is that we get Rhodes on the hook."

"How do we get the Director to back off?" Jesse asked.

"You let me worry about that," Mac said. "I'll go to her with intel on Brennan and his plans for screwing Nexxogen out of its database."

"But then she'll go after Brennan," Jesse argued.

"Hey, I can handle it," Brennan insisted, ignoring Jesse's scowl.

"She wants Rhodes," Mac said, "and she has absolutely no idea where to find him. Brennan will be the key to getting him so she'll let him sell his disk and then move in."

"That's all well and good except we don't know where to find him, either," Jesse said.

"And how do we know she won't just take Brennan and demand that he turn over the disk?"

"It's not her style. Given a choice, she goes for clever and devious every time. She'll let Brennan do her dirty work and then close in for the capture of Rhodes."

"Since you've got all the answers, smart guy," Brennan said, "how do we find Rhodes?"

"We let him find us. We go back to the hotel and wait," Mac replied.

"You call that a plan?"

"Have you got a better one, Einstein?"

"One that doesn't involve putting Jesse's life on the line, you mean?" Brennan spat back.

"Hey, we'll both be with him, dumb ass!"

"Hey, you two!" Jesse cried. "This isn't getting us anywhere. For what it's worth, Brennan, Mac is right. Our best bet is to return to the hotel and let Rhodes' people find me. When they show up you let them know that what they're after is no longer in my possession. You tell them you want to speak to their boss in person and how to contact you."

"And before we go, I'll give the Director a heads up to let her know that I've found Jesse," Mac said. He slipped out of his seat and walked to the door to make his call.

"You trust this guy?" Brennan said when Mac was barely out of earshot.

"Yes, I trust him," Jesse replied firmly.

"You're too gullible, Jess. We don't know anything about him. He could be leading us right into a trap."

"Why should he?"

"Hello? He's one of them!"

"I think he's sincere about protecting new mutants up here and keeping Rhodes out of his agency's hands."

"That guy's only sincere about one thing and that's getting you in bed," Brennan insisted. Jesse sighed exasperatedly. "You've been with him what--three days, Jess? How many times has he propositioned you?"

"He hasn't propositioned me at all!" Jesse said defiantly. "Well, once, sort of; you showed up before he got very far." Brennan threw up his hands and shook his head in disgust.

"Look, I know Mac comes across as fast and loose, but he's got a good head on his shoulders and he knows when to play games and when to be serious. We need him in this, Bren."

"We can manage on our own. And if we can't we can call Sanctuary for reinforcements."

"No; the lower our profile the better it will be for all concerned. We only alert the others if things go royally down the tubes."

"Well, with that loser hanging around that's highly likely."

"Brennan!" Jesse rolled his eyes. "Trust Mac. He'll get us through this."

"You really like him, don't you?" Brennan said after a moment.

"Yes, I do."

"Well, if he's what you want..."

"This is not about what I want. It's about what we need to get out of Canada with Rhodes. You know, it might be good for us to establish a reliable contact up here."

"Good for you, you mean."

"Good for Mutant X and the underground."

Brennan sighed.

"Whatever you say, man."

**

Mac flipped his phone open and dialed the Director's number. He was put on hold for several minutes and he worried his lip as he watched Jesse and Brennan engage in a terse conversation while Mrs. Lau cleared the table of empty dishes.

"Mac, if you're calling with another excuse..."

"I've located Jesse," Mac said bluntly.

"Where is he?"

"We're on our way back to the hotel."

"Bring him to me."

"I really think you want us to go back to the hotel."

"And why should I want that?"

"Because the answer to all our questions is there; seems Jesse hid something in his room before he did his disappearing act. He's not saying what it is, but I'm guessing it is the disk his dad stole from Nexxogen."

"How very interesting. Bring Mr. Kilmartin and the disk to me."

"I live to serve." Mac closed the phone and went to pay the check before he made his way back to the table. "Let's move," he said. Jesse rose to his feet but Brennan glowered at Mac for a moment before following suit. He led the way back to the car while Mac stopped to speak with the owners of the teahouse.

"What about when this is all over?" Brennan asked when they reached the car.

"What about it?" Jesse asked quizzically.

"You and him?" Brennan asked as he gestured toward Mac with his chin.

"What I said last night still stands, Brennan," Jesse said evenly. "What I choose to do with my life is my business."

"Not when it affects Mutant X."

"And this has nothing to do with Mutant X!"

"You just said it did! Or did I not just hear you say we needed someone up here?"

"I was talking about him!" Jesse said angrily. "Geez, Brennan, are you even listening to yourself?"

"Am I going to have to separate you two?" Mac said as he unlocked the doors with his remote. He had heard the heated words, but chose to pretend that he hadn't. Jesse slid into the passenger seat and Brennan climbed into the cramped back seat of the car for the ride back to the hotel. When they arrived, they split up. Mac escorted Jesse upstairs and Brennan entered the hotel separately and went to the bar.

"Home again, home again," Mac said as he watched Jesse slide his pass card through the electronic lock. Before he could open the door, however, Mac grabbed his wrist. "It's probably bugged and I'd bet my left lung that it's also been searched. Of course, Brennan's already stolen the disk, theoretically, so make a scene," he whispered in Jesse's ear.

Jesse nodded and reached for the knob, but Mac stopped him again, this time grabbing him by the shirt and pushing him up against the wall beside the door. Jesse's mouth gaped open to protest, but before he could utter a sound Mac pressed himself against the startled man and gave him a searing kiss. Jesse quickly recovered and gave as good as he got, but it ended far too soon for either man's liking.

"Sorry," Mac said unrepentantly, as he backed off and straightened his jacket. "I had to do that--in case I didn't get another chance," he said staring at Jesse's succulent mouth.

"Oh, you'll get another chance," Jesse said, licking his lips like a cat. "I guarantee it. Hell, you just guaranteed it," he grinned as he turned toward the door. He looked up at Mac. "Anything else we need to cover before I do this?"

He smiled at Mac's groan and pushed the door open. As he stepped into the room, Jesse did a quick visual sweep. He spotted the camera easily; there weren't many places to conceal it. Jesse pulled off his jacket and tossed it on the bed as he forced his attention away from the smoke detector.

"I'll just be a minute," he called out into the hall. He went into the bathroom and came out a moment later swearing. Right on cue, Mac banged on the door and Jesse let him in.

"What's wrong?" Mac demanded, reaching for his gun.

"It's not here!" Jesse cried. He went back into the bathroom. "I don't believe it! I checked it before I left earlier. There's no way it--." Mac drew Jesse out of the bathroom and sat him on the edge of the bed.

"Calm down and tell me what's missing," he said.

"It's personal," he said stonily as he rose and began digging through the top drawer of the dresser. "I must have moved it and forgot," he said as he began to throw clothing on the bed as he frantically searched for the missing object.

"What are you looking for?" Mac asked as a pair of black briefs hit him square on the chest. He was certain that it was no accident and suppressed a smile as he plucked the garment from his chest and reluctantly dropped it on the bed. Slipping them into his pocket would have made the Director all too happy. Jesse didn't respond; he was too busy pulling the drawer out of the bureau. He carefully checked the underside and back and sighed when he found nothing. He placed the drawer on top of the bureau and sat down heavily on the bed amid his scattered laundry. "Jesse," Mac said as he placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Talk to me, man."

"It's not here," he said in a strained voice. He ran his hands through his hair and if Mac hadn't coached him in the hall he would have sworn that Jesse had really lost the disk in question.

"What's not here?"

"The disk. It's a data disk I brought with me. It contains valuable information and I always made a point of hiding it in a safe place before I left the room."

"Why didn't you just take it with you?" Mac asked as he sat down next to Jesse on the bed.

"With those guys after me?" Jesse scoffed. "Are you insane?"

"Jesse, is that why 'those guys' are after you?"

Jesse averted his gaze and Mac idly wondered if he was ever going to be able to get a straight answer from Jesse about anything.

"A few months ago, my father called me out of the blue and said he needed my help. Some people were after him and he needed--well, long story short, he left something with me for safekeeping. I put it away and forgot about it until he called last week and told me to come up to Canada."

"What did he say, exactly?"

"He told me to check into this hotel and that he'd make all the arrangements."

"So he booked this room for you?"

"Yeah," Jesse shrugged. "Why?"

"It's possible that he's the one who took whatever it is that you're hiding."
"Why would he sneak in here and steal it? All he'd have to do is ask for it."

"Jesse, your dad passed you something he'd stolen, didn't he?"

Once again, Jesse averted his eyes and Mac fought the urge to grab him and kiss him again. He never imagined that stubbornness could be so damned sexy.

"Why would he sneak in and leave again without seeing me?" Jesse said after a moment. He flicked Mac a pained glance that told a story Mac could well empathize with.

"My dad has used me more times that I'd care to admit," he replied. He rubbed Jesse's back soothingly as he spoke as a wave of old disappointments washed over him unbidden.

"I don't believe it," Jesse said bitterly, shrugging off Mac's hand and returning to the bureau, where he began digging through another drawer. "Maybe I put it somewhere else. I moved it every day, sometimes twice. I was feeling pretty paranoid about it."

"Jesse did your dad say that he was going to meet you here or did you just assume he would?"

Jesse froze and straightened up but he would not turn and look at Mac.

"Has he been in contact with you since your arrival? Did you ask at the desk whether he'd made a reservation for himself?"

Jesse finally cracked and turned around.

"He wouldn't--. I don't believe it," he said plaintively.

"Give me another explanation, then," Mac reasoned. "Who else knew about the disk?"

"Well, obviously those guys who've tried to beat me up three times. And there was that dark-haired guy at the airport."

"What dark-haired guy?"

"Tall, handsome, muscular, well-dressed--I got the impression he was following me, but I could be mistaken. I'd seen him before, though--once or twice back home and then twice here in Toronto in four days."

"Not very likely you were mistaken, then," Mac said.

"Not that I'm saying he's got anything to do with this," Jesse replied. "But I won't be convinced that my dad would sneak in here and make off with the disk. Not when there are more plausible explanations, anyway."

"You're right," Mac said speculatively. "It could have been the GSA."

"What's the GSA?" Jesse asked so ingenuously that Mac looked up sharply. "Are those the guys who've been after me?"

"Don't you worry your pretty little head about it," Mac grinned.

"Why would they chase me all over Chinatown today if they've already got the disk?"

"Subterfuge; they know what a kick-ass fighter you are so they kept you busy elsewhere while they searched your room." Mac rose to his feet. "Stay put. I have to check something out."

Jesse regarded him quizzically, but he nodded and sat down as Mac headed for the door.
Mac stepped into the elevator and pushed a floor at random. He pulled out his phone when he stepped out and called Brennan.

"Mulwray."

"Hey, Bren," Mac said sarcastically. "We're going to need you upstairs." He quickly cued Brennan in on the updated scenario. Brennan was immediately suspicious.

"You give us a plan and fifteen minutes later you're changing up on us? I don't like it. Put Jess on," he demanded.

"Jess isn't here," Mac began.

"You've lost him again? Damn it, Ramsey! I'm on my way up!"

"Listen, shit head! I haven't 'lost' Jesse. He's in his room. I stepped outside so I could call you without the bugs picking up our conversation. Of course, with you yelling like that they might just hear your half of it from the first floor," Mac said angrily. "Now, get up here and do your part. Remember, everything you say and do will be captured for posterity, so don't blow it."

"Hey, I know my job."

"Do it. Be up here in five," Mac spat before he shut the phone and stepped back into the elevator. He returned to Jesse's room.

"Where have you been?" Jesse asked as soon as he'd let Mac in. He'd removed his shirt and had apparently been washing up when Mac knocked on the door. Mac inhaled
sharply at the sight of his bare chest and walked past him into the room.

"I've been making inquiries," Mac said as he picked up a discarded tee shirt and tossed it at Jesse, who took the hint and pulled it on. "Your father hasn't reserved a room."

"Maybe he's staying at another hotel," Jesse suggested. Mac returned a doubting look.

"Look, I know you want to believe that your father wouldn't do something like this to you, but--."

"I know, I know," Jesse said as he sat on the edge of the bed. "I should know better. This wouldn't be the first time he's snookered me. I guess I want to believe that things will change but they never do, do they?" Mac sighed empathetically and shook his head.

"As a kid I lived in constant hope that my dad would change--that one day he'd come back for me. He never did. I didn't see him again for twelve years."

"Ouch," Jesse said. "Well, I guess I have to face the reality that my father's come and gone and my job here is done." He rose from the bed and looked around the room. "There's no point hanging around. Dad obviously left no message so I have to assume he has no intention of seeing me."

"The Director still wants to see you," Mac reminded him gently. He knew they were playing a scene but Jesse was plainly speaking from the heart and Mac felt lousy about unintentionally dredging up old wounds.

"What for? I can't tell her anything. I never knew what was on that disk and I don't have any part in or knowledge of whatever my dad has in store for it."

"Let's just humor her, shall we?" Mac said with his trademark grin. It broke the tension slightly and Jesse smiled.

"She's a real bitch, isn't she?" he said mischievously. "I can just tell she scares you shitless."

Mac's eyes went wide but before he could reply, there was a knock at the door. He signaled for Jesse to stay put and went to open it. Jesse frowned in confusion at the sight of his associate.

"What do you want?" Mac demanded.

"I have business with Mr. Kilmartin, if you don't mind," Brennan replied. He brushed past him and strode into the room.

"What are you--?" Jesse blurted before he could stop himself.

"The name's Brennan Mulwray," he said as he came to a stop before Jesse, "and I represent some very important people who have reason to believe that you are in possession of something that belongs to them." Jesse frowned and glanced at Mac while Brennan walked over to the chair, pausing to pick up the pair of briefs that had fallen to the floor. "Don't you have maid service? This place is a pig sty," he said as Mac grabbed the briefs from his hand and surreptitiously shoved them into his pocket.

"What's this about?" Mac asked, ignoring him.

"Who are you?" Brennan asked.

"He's a friend," Jesse said quickly. "What's this about?"

"As I told you, I represent--."

"Yeah, we heard that," Mac spat. "Cut to the chase."

"Your friend needs to learn some manners," Brennan said with a sly smile. "I was hired to recover the data disk your father stole from Nexxogen and left with you for safekeeping."

"Well, he no longer has it, so why don't you slither back to whatever hole you dragged yourself out of?" Mac spat. Brennan shot him a venomous look and turned his attention back to Jesse.

"I'm well aware of the fact that you no longer possess the disk. It's been moved to a safer location--hotel rooms are all too easy to break into," he said as Mac grabbed him up from the chair. Jesse quickly intervened.

"Mac!" he shouted as he pushed in between the men and fended the taller man off. Brennan straightened his jacket and smiled. "What do you want?"

"It's simple," Brennan said. "It seems to me that there are at least four parties that want what's on that disk. It stands to reason that there are plenty more out there, so I've decided to hold an auction. The disk will go to the highest bidder."

"What?" Mac cried. Jesse shot him a look.

"Why tell me?" he asked. "I don't want it."

"Oh, but your daddy does," Brennan said as he straightened his jacket. "I just hope his pockets are deep enough to make a serious bid." He walked past the other two men and went to the door. "I'll be in touch."

Mac stared at the door, fighting the urge to follow Brennan out into the hall and beat him senseless. He seriously disliked the man and he'd played his part so convincingly that Mac had to remind himself that they were on the same side--for now. He gathered his wits about him and turned to look at Jesse.

"We don't even know for sure that he's got the disk," Mac said.

"What are you talking about? You heard him!"

"I saw the guy's rap sheet. He's a thief and a con artist. I wouldn't put it past him to try and scam both his employers and the competition."

"What? How?"

"Suppose he knew that your father had already taken the disk? All he'd have to do is contact Nexxogen or the GSA and tell them he's got it. They pay him a king's ransom and he skips off leaving them with nada."

"If that's the case, why tell me?"

"It's his way of convincing the other parties that he's on the level. He wants you to leave town so all the other players will focus on him."

Jesse sat on the edge of the bed and ran his hands through his hair.

"What?" Mac asked.

"What if he didn't steal it from my room? What if he took it from my dad?"

"Let's go to down to headquarters. If there's any intel on your father it'd be in the Agency database," Mac said. He took Jesse by the arm and led him to the door, pausing only long enough to allow him to grab his jacket. They headed to the elevators in silence. It wasn't until they reached the car that Mac broke out of character and winked at his companion.

"'She's a real bitch, isn't she?' 'I can just tell she scares you shitless'? Were you trying to give me a coronary back there?" Mac laughed.

"Who, me?" Jesse said innocently as he pulled a small device from his pocket and turned it on. He aimed it at the car, waited a few seconds. Mac frowned at the green light emitted by the device and leaned against the car.

"What's that?"

"It's a bug detector, among other things," Jesse replied as he switched it off and slipped it into his pocket. "You're clean." They got into the car.

"I want to go and work for your side. You've got better gadgets," Mac said boyishly as he fastened his seat belt.

Where are we going?" Jesse asked as Mac started the car.

"You heard me; we're going to see the Director."

"Does Brennan know?"

"Not unless you told him."

Jesse smiled briefly and pulled out his phone.

"Bren?"

"Jess! What's going on up there?"

"We're no longer 'up there.' We're headed down to Agency headquarters."

"Are you nuts?" Brennan cried. "I don't want you anywhere near there!"

"I'm frankly not crazy about the idea, myself, but it's necessary."

"I don't like it. How do we know this all wasn't just a set up so Mac could lure you downtown?"

Mac could hear Brennan swearing into the phone. He plucked it from Jesse's hand and shut it off before handing it back.

"He's a little overprotective sometimes," Jesse said sheepishly.

"The man is crazy about you, you know."

Jesse didn't respond. He stared out the window as the car moved briskly through light city traffic. Mac didn't force the conversation and the silence persisted until they reached Agency headquarters.

"I don't know if you'll be searched, but you will be subjected to a security screen. You may want to leave your gadgets out here," Mac said. Jesse nodded and placed a small case the size of a handheld computer in the glove compartment, along with the flash drive to his laptop and a small multi-purpose tool. Having emptied his pockets he glanced at Mac, who locked the compartment and smiled briefly before turning to exit the car.

"Maybe you should empty your pockets, too," Jesse said. Mac looked back at him as Jesse reached into his pocket and removed the purloined briefs. "Kinky."

Mac shrugged and smiled shamelessly as he took the briefs and shoved them into the cup holder. The exited the car and walked to the entrance.

"Dobrinsky, ever the Director's faithful watchdog," Mac said when he saw the tall, black agent waiting for them.

"She's waiting for you," Dobrinsky said as he eyed Jesse head to toe. Jesse coolly mimicked the gesture before he followed Mac inside. As expected, Jesse was made to walk through a scanner as was Mac, who off-loaded an impressive array of weaponry into a small box before walking through.

"Paranoid, are you?" Jesse said as he watched Mac re-holster three guns, a knife, and a length of fine wire.

"No, but my regular partner is; I only carried two guns before we started working together," Mac said as he finished and gestured with his head. The pair walked to the elevator and took the ride down to the lower level. They stood a few feet apart and stared at one another. Mac intended to say something but it completely slipped his mind as he stared at Jesse's wry smile. Mac smiled back and took a step closer to Jesse just as the car stopped and the doors stood open. He sighed and turned to exit the car, but froze in his tracks. The Director was standing before him with her hands on her hips.

"Well, it's about time," she deadpanned. She turned her glare on Jesse and her demeanor became predatory. "Well, Mr. Kilmartin, we meet at last."

Jesse blinked back at her with that same tiny smile. She gestured for him to exit the car and led him down the corridor to her office.

"This ought to be very interesting." Mac muttered as he followed the pair. The Director barred him from entering the office, however.

"Go do something, Mac. I'd like to speak with Mr. Kilmartin alone." The Director shut the door before Mac could respond. He remained where he stood and did a slow burn while the interrogation took place.

On to Part Four

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