Like a fleeting memory of a melody heard in a dream, the song that Siren sang to the monolith still played scattered among Traveler’s thoughts. It had awakened anew the turbulent emotions she had thought she had suppressed, broken through the practical wall that she had put up to deal with the emergencies at hand.
Although she had been able to ignore it, now her conversation and confession/apology to Deirdre intertwined with parts of the music in her head. She ran the track with fierce determination, trying to get the courage up to go to the one person that she needed most to talk to.
Am I running to him or away from him? she asked herself, her steps pounding faster and faster. Finally stopping, she bent over, her hands on her knees as she found her breath and with a soft curse, ported to Jason’s office and knocked on the door.
Jason had allowed himself a moment of pride when the Greens responded to Deirdre’s song. It was a long shot, and the results weren’t clear yet.
He’d considered pressing the Feds to use Pantheon on volunteers to help “shake up” the Red Devices, whatever they were. He didn’t like the idea, especially after his own struggles with the drug. If it took great effort and a near death experience for him to reach this place; he still longed for the confidence and pleasure the drug gave him and he didn’t want to try it on an unsuspecting public, volunteer or not. And, if the drug gave the volunteers powers, they might not take “no” for an answer when the drug with withdrawn. Still, what other hope did they have to save the planet, when so many others had fallen. But this small success made him reconsider. If they could get the Greens to help, if only to send a few paradox machines each to help, Tyler’s plan might work. The Green Monoliths were well placed, all over the globe, almost always near the Reds. That might cover the needed firepower, and not run the risks of Pantheon. He was trying to decide whether to share all this with the Feds. They had more right than he to make the decision, but something held him back. The Feds wouldn’t want to be dependent on this kind of a long shot from races of aliens that failed to free themselves. They also were more likely to do both, use the Greens and the Pantheon, and who knows the risk that might pose.
He let the thoughts float over his mind, when there was a knock at the door.
“Come,” he called.
Cassie opened the door, fixing her face in a pleasant, but neutral smile. “Mind if I come in? You aren’t too busy right now, are you?”
She waited at the door, paused on the threshold, still unsure if what she would say would fix things between them. The last time she had been in here. . . well. She noted the new furniture with an inner nod. The alarms had been Jason.
Jason felt a knot in his throat.. “Uhh. sure. Come in.” He felt strangely guilty and realized he was keeping his thoughts from Cassie as much as anyone else. Part of him wanted to let her in, but for some reason he held back. There was a wedge between them. He gestured to a seat, and as he did, he remembered the way she used to just slide in, unannounced, slip behind his chair, her hands on his shoulders. Now it all seemed so formal.
She couldn’t help but draw a long breath, as if diving into deep water. Shutting the door behind her, she settled into the seat before his desk.
He was so close and yet so far away. It was so easy to speak to the mask that was Quotient. It gave her an illusion. But this was Jason, his face grave and ever so slightly drawn as he watched her settle into the chair.
“That was amazing, what Dee did. Who knew that such a simple communication could be so elegant?” She looked down at her hands and then gathered her courage and looked into his eyes. “I’m sorry Jason. I should have told you everything. I should have trusted you.” She paused and then said softly. “I do trust you. More than I ever trusted anyone.”
Why is it that it seemed easier to bridge the gap between two species than the one which had erupted between them? Jason felt his heart pounding in his chest. "Cassie. I’m sorry I came down so hard on you. I don’t know why it got to me so much. We’ve all got secrets. God, I am always the one pushing for us to keep things secret. " He leaned back in his chair. “Here I am practically lying to the President of the United States, complaining about what you did?”
Her lips parted and then closed. “Thank you.” The words were almost a question, but she forced them into a statement. “But Jason, that doesn’t change the fact that I should have told you.” Her mouth quirked abruptly. “The President?” she asked, an eyebrow raising.
Jason smiled slightly this own bit of spy craft. "I’ve taken this secret identity thing to new heights. On one I am Jason Duncan, principal of Power Analysis, and consultant to the Presidential Committee on Powers. One the other, I am Quotient, chief recipient of her good wills, funds and authority. I advise the most powerful force that will determine our fates. Same thing I did with AFPD, on a somewhat grander scale, just part of keeping abreast of all things powers related. If they are going to round us up, brand us, draft us, or exterminate us, I want to know. Still, if it came out I was “playing both sides” it could all come down very hard. Assuming we survive this whole…" he gestured around helplessly as her blue eyes twinkled with bemusement.
Jason loved that look on her face. He blushed a little realizing he was bragging as much as confessing. Still trying to impress her. He felt the Brute’s pull in the form of a rush of adrenaline and blood pulsing through his veins. He suppressed it with effort. He pushed aside his desire for her. He was walking a tightrope trying not to let his emotions take hold of him. He knew if it did, the Brute would take hold. He couldn’t hold it back. The other day prove that. He had to head it off at the pass, keep himself from having to fight it.
He shook his head. "I really should have done a better job. You were hurting, badly. I should have known. For god sakes I am goddamned psychiatrist! You’d think I would have been more observant. I should have done something to help you. Of all people I should know, you need to establish trust before you can expect that kind of openness.”
He stopped. The words just seemed to come out unbidden. He quickly tried to explain them away.
" I mean… I’ve been too self absorbed. I let myself be the brute. He is so selfish, practical a solipsist. The passion blinded me to your pain, and to the consequences of my actions, both with you and with…." He trailed off.
“Jason, it wasn’t completely your fault,” Cassie stated, shaking her head. "The passion, that drive is part of your charm. And you—-” A moment of panic twisted in her stomach as she fumbled for the words. Are. . .were my boyfriend?
“Are amazing,” she finished with a light smile. “But even you can’t know everything. And I’m not your patient. You didn’t need to study me. I just needed to reach out for you. We just need to remember we have each other.”
She bit her lip. He was so damned handsome and everything inside her pulled towards him, wanting his arms around her. The world seemed so distant in his arms. But somehow, the doctor was still talking to her, making her feel inadequate. Cassie studied him, almost feeling his frustration, the turmoil inside.
I want the man! she screamed inside, watching. Just let go! It was my fault, not yours. For once, dammit Jason, let someone else fail beside you.
“You taught me to accept the Brute, and.. and that is okay. That part of me has its uses.“ He tried poorly to send a reassuring look. “But, it is hard to control. And it’s true, I’ve been too focused on myself.”
He leaned back taking on the air of a professor who had made a discovery.
“Then I realized; that was my problem. I was too focused on what I personally can do. Not that that doesn’t make some sense. I mean, with the power of the Brute, why not? Right? Such a power makes every problem seem like something you can smash. But this experience with these Monoliths, that has been proven wrong. It isn’t through brawn that that we are going to win this one.”
He seemed to look past her, seeing the broken form of the bystander killed by his misplaced shot.
“I’ve been going about this all wrong. My training, my life before powers was out-thinking the bad guys, and helping the good ones. I’ve relied too much on the Brute, on punching my way through things. We’ve been flailing at this problem with our powers thinking that is how we solve it. Half the time we use our powers it is out of frustration, and the results, well, they speak for themselves. We can’t begin to address global problems if we can’t even manage ourselves. Maybe these monoliths are a test of just that. I should’ve known better. I’ve let you down. You… and the rest of the team, I should have been trying to help you all like I’ve done with the rest of my clients. I let myself “turn off” being a psychiatrist, out of selfishness. So I could be with you; so I could lead young people like Denny and Alexander into danger. So I could let my inner brute make the calls. And we’ve seen what that did."
She was so still that she thought that she had turned to stone, but the words kept coming and the building emotion made her head begin to throb. “Like the rest of my clients?” she repeated more quickly than she had meant, the words staccato. Her fingers tightened on the arms of the chair.
“We are not your clients, Jason,” she almost snarled. “We are your teammates. If we wanted a team psychiatrist, we would have found one.” Her jaw worked as she fought to keep her voice even. “So you plan to be logical and rational in everything? Because emotions make you make wrong decisions?” She rose to her feet, her eyes electric. “God forbid that you let the man inside out. Heaven forbid that the good doctor give in to those horrible, irrational moments. Were you surprised to find that you were human, Jason? Was it that horrible letting go enough to love me?”
Jason felt his tears coming, his blood pressure rise, and threaten to boil over. The tightrope he was balanced on began to sway and shake. What is worse, is that he wanted to give in. He wanted to tell her how much he loved her, to hold her, and let her hold him, but if he gave in to this passion, then what? Would he be able to control himself, or the Brute when the world needed him to do it? He swallowed hard and forced the brute down with an extreme force of will. He knew he risked losing control to the Brute. But he couldn’t let that part control him, not now. Not until the world and Cassie were safe: safe from these monoliths, and safe from him.
The strain of holding back the deluge of emotions was difficult. He couldn’t simply divert it or distract himself. He had to focus on control, on keeping the monster at bay. He summoned up all his knowledge of psychology, every defense mechanism written about. And to his great astonishment, he was able to hold it in check. He felt a serene calm come over him. The pressure was gone, he was one level ground, he was in control. He took a deep breath, stood up, and looked at the irate woman across the desk.
“Cassandra. You’re obviously upset. I am not saying I regret our… our relationship.. but, we need to think beyond ourselves. The whole world is watching, waiting to see what we do. The whole world depends on us. We can’t be distracted by.. our.. own.. little problems.”
Cassandra?! What the hell? Cassie watched the maelstrom erupt inside the man in front of her, her own indignant fury rolling with it and then subside as a wave of deep and unsettling guilt washed over her. She shivered lightly, suddenly insecure under the kind regard of his serene gaze. There was no hot blooded emotion, no raging monster about to erupt; if anything she sensed only pity.
He didn’t deserve the tongue-lashing. And he was right. Who was she to bleat for his attention when the world needed them? She who was always the calm, responsible, reliable one. . . The world was ending and all she could think about was her own petty needs. Perspective. She had lost perspective.
She closed her eyes. Maybe she was losing her mind. Maybe, Jason had deduced that and was being kind. Letting the crazed woman go. The gentle breakup. From his life, from his team. She felt her cheeks color lightly and opened her eyes to see him looking at her. Suddenly feeling stupid and small, she fumbled for words. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.” She stepped back, blinking back tears. “I’m wrong. There’s something wrong with me.” She fumbled for the door panel, reaching backwards for it. “I shouldn’t have disturbed you. I’m sorry.”
She was in the hallway without knowing how, walking away, feeling like a failure. Her steps began to quicken, soon running again. She knew for sure which direction this time.
Jason felt a strange and yet familiar euphoria in his veins. Control. It felt like he taken a dose of Pantheon. And like that, he felt this distant shame, guilt, and loss, like something had left him, something important, but for the moment, he couldn’t quite place it.