Disclaimer: The following work is fiction only, not intended to infringe on copyright(s) or make a profit. Tribune Entertainment and various other people own Mutant X; I'm merely playing in their sandbox and will return all seats to their original upright position when I'm done. Please don't post, redistribute, or sue without permission from the author.

Story info: Story one of the Claddagh series and also an epilogue for I Scream the Body Electric. Assume spoilers for any episodes up to and including that one. Also assume a male/male romantic and sexual (eventually) relationship, language inappropriate for our younger audience, and the occasional reference to things the author thinks are funny.

I appreciate Angel and Carolyn's help in betaing this story, but I can't blame them for any remaining mistakes, as much as I might want to. I also appreciate any constructive feedback, including and especially suggestions for improvement. I'm new to writing slash and writing Mutant X, so I'll take all the pointers I can get.

Claddagh: With This Ring
by Katie

I think I'm engaged.

No, Jesse didn't go down on bended knee when he handed me the ring, and Adam's "I never wanted to work with someone like you" comment wasn't exactly a heartfelt proposal. In fact, the whole ring ceremony was a little on the bizarre side. I wasn't completely kidding about the secret handshake; I half-expected Adam to christen me with some freaky superhero name like Electro Man or Lightning Bolt. If spandex had made an appearance, I would have been out of there so fast I would have looked like a lightning bolt.

But instead there was this deceptively low-key exchange. Emma and I agreed to fight for truth, justice, and decency everywhere. Shalimar handed Emma a ring and got a hug. Jesse handed me a ring, and I'll be damned if he didn't look a little disappointed when I didn't hug him. No spandex, no comic book names, no drum rolls or fanfare, but I had a sneaking suspicion the entire world had shifted under my feet. I wasn't sure yet whether I liked the feeling.

I was sure it was making me paranoid. It was a new gig, sure, and it only made sense to keep my eyes open and learn the pecking order. It took me about twenty minutes to figure out that Jesse would have stretched out across a puddle and let Adam use him as a bridge if he thought there was a need. I thought at first that Shalimar and Jesse were doing the horizontal tango, then decided it was Shalimar and Adam, and finally ended up concluding that Shalimar flirted with everyone and didn't mean anything by it--unless maybe she did. The woman could make you feel like she'd fucked you with just a smile. Adam was a hard read, but I could see he was dedicated to his mission, and I was inclined to trust him, at least until he gave me reason not to. Emma was so determined to fit in and contribute that she seemed to focus on nothing else.

So I liked them. I was edging toward trusting them. They were freaking me out.

My certainty that something was going on started with the conversation I had with Adam--or maybe I should say, Adam had with me--after we'd left the GSA facility. We stopped at a diner, theoretically because Jesse and Shalimar were starving, but I didn't have to be hit over the head with a brick to figure out something else was going on when Adam steered me away from the rest of the group and toward a booth in a back corner. He just asked me innocuous questions at first, details about Eckhart's organization that suspected he already knew the answers to, but after the waitress had brought over my hamburger and fries and refilled Adam's coffee, he finally got to the point.

"You're not sure what to think of all this," he said quietly. It wasn't a question.

I shrugged. "It's a lot to take in, but I'm a quick learner."

Adam smiled faintly. "I have no worries about that." He took a sip of coffee. "I have a proposal for you."

I'll admit I wasn't exactly surprised, but my stomach tightened a little anyway.

"You want me to join you."

"I want you to listen to what I'm proposing. Think hard, and make a decision you're sure you can live with." He wrapped his hands around his cup, searching for the right words. "We're fighting a war, Brennan, one we can't afford to lose."

"I've seen what the other side has to offer." I wasn't going to tell him how much it scared me. "If they win this fight, we'd all be better off dead. I don't want to die, and I don't want to live the way Mason Eckhart wants me to live."

Adam nodded, but he was still studying me like he was the one with the psychic abilities. "There's more than one option for escaping Mason Eckhart. Many of them don't involve risking your neck on a regular basis."

There was something he wasn't saying. I hadn't survived for so long without being able to read people, though. "You think I'm going to betray you," I said finally. It wasn't a question.

"No." Adam's gaze dropped to his cup. "No, but I'm not sure you completely understand what I'm asking of you. What it means to be part of Mutant X."

"If you're going to tell me I have to give up my life of crime to fight for the good of mutantkind, I'd kind of figured that out already."

"Brennan." Adam looked at me again, his expression deadly serious. "In order for Mutant X to work, we have to be completely, exclusively dedicated to each other and to our mission. If we can't trust each other, we won't survive. It takes total commitment and dedication, faithfulness till death, if necessary."

"You make it sound like getting married." I meant it as a joke, but Adam didn't smile.

"There are no quickie divorces here. It's not going to be an easy fight, or a short one."

"I'm not a quitter."

"But are you willing to die for people you barely know? Whose only claim on you is a shared strand of DNA? Because it might come to that."

It wasn't a question I could give a flippant answer to. After a few minutes, Adam stood, putting a hand on my shoulder and squeezing gently as he walked away. But when he asked again, when Jesse held out the ring, I said yes. Eckhart's world just wasn't one I was willing to live in.

As I put on the ring, I had a sudden memory of my joke about getting married, and thought wryly that I'd been more right than I'd known.

But even with that, it didn't hit me until several days later. Jesse and I went out on our first rescue mission. My first, his who-knows-how-many. We were bringing in David Cervantes, a new mutant who had the ability to manipulate light waves with his mind, allowing him to create any illusion he could think of. The talent was impressive, and so was his ego. The GSA apparently thought so too; if it weren't for Jesse jumping in front of me just in time, I would have been on the ground, leaking blood out of several bullet holes.

In spite of knowing that Jesse could increase his body mass, I still could feel my pulse racing as I rolled behind the dumpster where David was already hiding and waited for Jesse to join us.

"You okay?" he asked me, like he wasn't the one who'd just been shot. Sort of.

"Yeah, fine. That's some trick," I said, trying to sound casual. Like I didn't have my heart lodged in my throat.

He shrugged and grinned. "It's come in handy a time or two."

"Aren't you two supposed to be protecting me?" David whined, and I resisted the urge to throttle him for the twenty-second time since we'd met.

Jesse and I exchanged a look, and I knew he was fighting the same urge I was. Luckily for David, the GSA goons took that moment to try to storm our position, and we had to put our minds to saving David rather than killing him.

By the time we got David to a safehouse and got back, I was wiped out from the activities and adrenaline rushes of the day. We all ended up gathered around the meditation pool talking about the mission, but as the night grew older, the conversation wandered pretty far off course. I'd settled back, leaning against the wall, and let the others carry the conversation. Emma had given up sometime earlier and dozed with her head pillowed on Shalimar's leg, and Jesse was a warm, solid weight against my shoulder. He and Adam and Shal were doing most of the talking. I was watching the light reflect gently off my ring, tired enough that it was almost hypnotizing me.

It still reminded me of a wedding ring, even with the strange black etchings. Except I was wearing it on the wrong hand. Left hand for marriage, right hand for . . . engagement, wasn't it? A symbol of a promise, faithfulness and commitment, forsaking all others, till death do us part. I yawned, smiled as I heard Jesse and Shalimar laugh at something Adam had said, and thought drowsily that if this were an engagement ring, that must make Jesse my fiance.

And I was tired enough that the thought seemed perfectly logical, just as logical as Jesse pulling me to my feet some time later and pointing me in the direction of the sleeping quarters.

"Where we going?" I asked around a yawn.

"Bed. Unless you want to sleep on the floor here?"

I rubbed a hand over my face, which did nothing to wake me up. "Bed's good. You coming?"

Jesse snickered as he pulled me back from falling into a small, recessed section of the floor that held a herb garden. "Right behind you, buddy."

I was sufficiently out of it that everything kept making sense right up to the point where Jesse pulled the blanket up over my shoulders and turned out the light. But when I woke up from a deep sleep, straight from a dream in which Jesse and I were arguing about which of us was going to wear the bride's dress to the wedding, the logic had somehow completely fled. Where the hell had that dream come from?

That's when the paranoia first attacked, leaving me more than a little freaked out and completely convinced that there had been more to that ceremony than I'd been told, and that everyone knew about it but me. Why else would Shalimar tell Emma it was her "honeymoon period" when Emma complained about not getting to go on any missions? Why else would Jesse be around almost constantly? The first few days, I could understand. I was new, they didn't know for sure if they could trust me, the electronics that ran Sanctuary were complicated enough that the uninitiated could blow up a small third world country while trying to make coffee. Having a shadow made a certain amount of sense.

Then I tried telling myself it was a hormonal thing. Maybe Shalimar was getting extracurricular with Emma. Maybe Jesse had the hots for me. Which I could get into; Jesse had this sexy-as-hell innocent thing going that had to draw people to him like ants to a picnic, and for all that he wasn't very tall, every inch of his body was sculpted muscle. Anyway, as much as I'd never admit it to anyone, Emma reminded me of someone's kid sister and Shalimar scared me more than a little.

I had figured out pretty quickly that Jesse's innocence wasn't an act, which only served to mess with my mind--and other regions--even more. He wasn't stupid, but he had this underlying belief that the world and most of the people in it were essentially good and deserving of his help. I had my doubts about that, but I was quickly coming to believe in Jesse. To want him, too, but that innocent thing he had going was undermining my theory and making me suspect that maybe he was just being friendly. Maybe I should have gone ahead and made a play, but I wasn't ready to take the risk of scaring him off and losing the friendship I could feel building between us.

I decided to ignore my baser instincts and bizarre suspicions so I could channel my energy into learning all the secrets of Sanctuary, so as to avoid blowing up small third world countries. I could have spent months on the computer system and not figured out everything it had to offer, and Jesse was more than happy to show me how it worked. I got the feeling that Shalimar and Adam, for all that they knew how to work the system, didn't get the same enjoyment out of it that Jesse--and I--did. But at the back of my mind, I was still trying to figure out where the power structure lay, because every instinct I had that wasn't focused on Jesse's ass was screaming at me to learn the gig before I got myself or someone else killed.

But after a week or so, I felt like I was starting to prove myself, and yet every time I turned around, there was Jesse. When we sat down to eat, he dropped down next to me every single time like it was his assigned seat. When we worked out, I always ended up paired with him, even though Shalimar was a more than even match for either of us and Emma would have benefitted from sparring with someone significantly taller and stronger than she was. None of these things by themselves would have made me take notice, but after that weird dream, I felt like each individual fact was hitting me over the head to get my attention.

In the end, I could only come to one conclusion. It wasn't anything stated, but it was there: I was Jesse's, Emma was Shalimar's, and I had no idea what that actually entailed. Was I just Jesse's trainee, or were these visions I kept having of me and Jesse as Ma and Pa Gothic more on target than I was ready to deal with?

That was the image stuck in my mind when I finally worked up the nerve to ask Emma if she thought there was anything to the rings other than the obvious.

"You have the weirdest way of looking at things," Emma said, not hiding her laughter as she walked away.

I didn't know if she was laughing at my question or--knowing Emma--at my thoughts. Neither option was very comforting. I wasn't left with any other options, either. No way was I asking Jesse. No way in hell I was asking Adam. Shalimar still scared me.

So what could I do but sit back and wait to see what developed? Except maybe plan my trousseau, complete with spandex tights.