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I don't know how I keep forgetting to post my yuletide fic! I feel like I'm about a month behind in brain activity.

And this old world is a new world
By sweetestdrain. Jarod, Kyle (or Jarod/Kyle). The Pretender.

"That's all going to change, now that we're together. I promise you." Jarod and Kyle escape. AU after the events of 'Red Rock Jarod'. Warning for mild incest and adult themes. Rated R.

Written for Azpidistra in yuletide 2006.

Read on the Yuletide archive here, or

*

Dry River, AZ

Jarod is gasping, feeling every breath like a rush of fire. This can't be happening, part of his mind screams. This isn't fair. The rest of him has already discounted "fair" and is scanning from weapon to weapon, evaluating the situation, grasping at possibilities. Lyle's mad eyes and tight grip on Miss Parker momentarily leave Jarod without a solution, and something in his chest seizes.

His eyes flick over to Kyle, whose hands are steady on his own gun; he sees the exact moment when his brother figures out what Jarod has overlooked.

Kyle doesn't blink, simply casts his gaze at Lyle's side. "How's that knife wound?"

Jarod isn't even sure that Kyle waits for Miss Parker to drive a vicious elbow into Lyle's side before he fires; she twists away, knocking Lyle off-balance a mere instant before bullets rip two jagged tears in his chest. A split-second pause, and a third tear appears in the middle of Lyle's forehead.

He is dead before he hits the ground, the thump of his body almost an afterthought.

Miss Parker gasps once in the sudden silence, a streak of blood across her cheek, eyes wide. Jarod sees the little girl in her face, only a flash, knows it's only a matter of moments before the girl is pushed back and the hunter returns. He doesn't know where the Centre goons are, or whether he and Kyle have a chance in hell of escaping from this; he turns to Kyle, but Kyle is already a brush of warmth by his side, a breath of sweat and blood and something like gunpowder.

"Jarod," says Kyle urgently, "Let's get out of here."

Jarod feels unbalanced, like he's missed a vital step in an equation and is still playing catch-up, but he knows enough to trust his brother. He takes off running, following Kyle, and hears Miss Parker call What are you waiting for, go after them! like she actually thinks she can catch Jarod now, now that he's got his brother.

Rounding the corner of the building, the two of them nearly collide with Sheriff Delmont. Delmont looks them over for a split second and jerks his head at his jeep.

"I don't know what you two have done to piss these folks off, but – I owe you. Take it and get out of here." Delmont turns toward the direction of Miss Parker's voice, raises his voice, says, "Hey, lady! Freeze!"

Jarod can't even nod his thanks, Kyle's grip steady and relentless on his wrist, pulling him along.

Kyle. Kyle is with him. They're together. Together.


*


They drive the sheriff's jeep for hours before ditching it near a police station in Tucson. Shortly afterward, "Jarod Costello" obtains an innocuous white Camry from a rental agency, license plate EFT 499. The car is not reported missing for another two days.

"You can be Kyle Abbott," says Jarod, smiling widely. He found a discarded pair of sunglasses in the glove compartment, but the evening's shadows are starting to lengthen; he takes them off and hooks them above the sun visor.

Kyle looks at him blankly.

"It's a – Abbott and Costello. They're a comedy duo. You'd like them. I'll... show you later."

Kyle nods wordlessly.

Jarod's hands flex on the steering wheel.

Kyle closes his eyes, leaning back against the passenger-side window. The highway streaks along outside, nothing but red rock and dry, browning brush. His face glows orange and cruel in the light from the setting sun, his brow furrowed and the speckles of scars on his cheek turned dark and cragged. He looks tired.

Jarod looks back at the road. They're both tired, covered in dirt, gasoline and worse. He entertains thoughts of stopping for the night, grabbing a shower. He wonders if they've traveled far enough away from the Centre sweep team yet, or if their trail is already being picked up by those bloodhounds.

"Where do you want to go?" Jarod asks Kyle, keeping his voice soft just in case Kyle is asleep after all. "We can go anywhere you want."

Kyle opens his eyes. "Doesn't matter," he says curtly. He pauses, gives Jarod an unreadable look. "I mean -- as long as we're away from here. Wherever you want."

Jarod's mouth tightens, but he nods. "All right. Away from here, it is."

"Sorry," says Kyle. "I didn't mean it that way."

"I know," says Jarod, eyes fixed on the view ahead. "But you should be thinking about it. Anywhere you want to go, anything you want to do, we'll do it."

"Like what, a trip to Disney World? I'm not a child, big brother." Kyle pauses. "I never was."

Jarod doesn't respond, just starts scanning their surroundings for a rest stop, or better yet, an exit advertising a motel. It's getting dark quickly, the sun draining out of the sky like some celestial being has pulled the plug.

They drive three more miles in silence.

"Costello," Kyle says abruptly.

Jarod gives him an inquiring look.

Kyle glances back at him, an eyebrow quirked. "I'd rather be Kyle Costello," he explains. He smiles – a small smile, a slight twist at the edge of his mouth.

Jarod starts to smile back, then just gives up and sends his little brother a full-fledged grin.


*


Jarod sheds his clothes and steps into the shower. The stream of water is warm and cool by turns, and the pressure varies. Oddly enough, the two fluctuations don't seem to be connected.

Jarod can't spare much annoyance for the quirks of the plumbing; he's just thankful that he's getting clean. The complimentary bar of motel soap is turning gray, and Jarod's skin feels tight from the soap and the sporadic heat of the water. He turns the shower off, and eyes his discarded clothes for a moment before deciding just to wrap a towel around his waist. They can visit a Wal-Mart tomorrow to pick up some new clothing and supplies.

A glance in the mirror shows the source of the throbbing pain in his head: a swollen, purpling bruise covers one temple from where Lyle struck him. The bleeding stopped a while ago, but he adds bandages and antibiotic ointment to his mental shopping list.

When Jarod gets out of the bathroom he finds Kyle leaning against the headboard of one of the beds, half-bent over the metal case containing the DSAs. The light from the tiny screen plays across Kyle's face; Jarod can hear his own childlike, agitated voice emanating from the tinny speakers.

Kyle looks up at him, his eyes blank and dark with the reflection from the screen. "They recorded everything," he says, his voice flat. He looks back at the screen. "I always knew, but I... didn't think about it."

"It was hard for me to forget," says Jarod. "The cameras... I could always feel them there. Watching me."

Kyle nods, slowly. "Yes. Watching. Always watching. I knew, but... I guess you could say I had other things on my mind."

Jarod makes his way over to Kyle's hunched form, sits next to him on the scratchy motel blanket. The DSA that Kyle is watching shows a fairly tame simulation: Jarod had to pretend to be a worker at a nuclear power plant that discovered some anomalous readings.

Sydney had said that it was to help make sure that no such disasters happened again. Jarod liked to think that he had been telling the truth.

"I keep these so I remember," Jarod says. "So I know." On the screen, the simulation has ended, leaving the young Jarod gasping for breath. Sydney's sternly comforting voice is unmistakable, even with the volume turned low. "Not that I could ever forget what they did to us."

"Jarod," says Kyle. His voice is flat. "I don't regret what I did. Lyle deserved to die. "

"I know," says Jarod, but he shakes his head. "Lyle was a monster. The things he's done – but that's where it has to end. Killing them all? It makes you no better."

"I don't pretend to be better than them, Jarod. I know I..." Kyle trails off, although Jarod is sure it's more through an unwillingness to remind Jarod of his past actions than through any hesitancy to admit them to himself.

"You are better," says Jarod. He reaches out and squeezes Kyle's shoulder, ignoring the surprised flinch of muscle under his grip. "You have a gift that you can use to help people. You saved the sheriff's wife."

"You saved the sheriff's wife," says Kyle. "I helped shovel."

"No, I – I couldn't have gotten there in time. You made the difference. You're a hero, Kyle."

Kyle only shakes his head, then motions toward the bed. "You should get some sleep."

"I will. You too," says Jarod.

"I'm not tired," Kyle says, and gives Jarod a nudge toward the other bed. "Sleep. I'll keep watch."

"They're not coming tonight," Jarod says, giving Kyle's shoulder another squeeze. "You should rest."

"You're wrong," says Kyle, waiting until Jarod's already in the other bed before he speaks. "They're always coming."


*

Jarod wakes up to the sound of Kyle's strangled groans. In the next bed, he can see his brother's head tossing wildly, see the uneven jerks of limbs too deeply tangled in blankets.

He reaches the other bed just as Kyle lets out a frightened moan that sounds like Jarod's name.

"Shh," he says. "Shh, little brother." He lays on the bed next to Kyle, close but not touching, careful not to place any weight on his brother's form. Kyle has been restrained enough for one lifetime. The one concession Jarod makes is to place a gentle hand on Kyle's cheek.

Kyle stiffens.

"Jarod?" Kyle's voice comes weak with sleep. "You're alive."

"Shh. Yes. I'm here. It's just a dream," says Jarod. He's lying, of course – after growing up in the Centre, nothing is "just" anything anymore. But that doesn't mean it's important.

"Okay," Kyle says after a long moment. "Okay. I fell asleep?"

"Yeah," says Jarod softly. "Yeah, you did."

"Sorry," Kyle says, his voice still groggy. "I was supposed to keep watch."

"You were supposed to rest. Now go back to sleep."

Kyle nods, closes his eyes. Jarod squeezes his eyes shut too, breathes deeply, and tries to find the part of himself that doesn't want to rip the Centre apart for what they have done to his brother. It's easier tonight, knowing that his brother is still alive. Being able to touch him.

Despite his rationalizations, Jarod stays awake most of the night. He lays there, breathing, thinking, and watching his brother's troubled face.


*


Kyle doesn't like Wal-Mart. He casts suspicious gazes at most of the people around them, even the middle-aged women in their hot pink jogging suits, and the bright florescent lights and high ceilings surrounding them make Kyle look otherworldly and hunted. Jarod is beginning to think it was a bad idea, and that he should have let Kyle wait in the car, when Kyle's interest is suddenly attracted by a brightly colored display.

"Jarod," he says, and Jarod is there instantly.

"What is it?"

"These are those things that you like," says Kyle, and holds one of the packages in front of Jarod's face. It's a Pez dispenser with the head of Simba from The Lion King. That's another movie Jarod's never seen, he realizes. He'll have to add it to his list.

"Right," says Jarod. "Pez. There's candy –"

"—Under the head," Kyle interrupts. "I remember."

"You never know when you might need Pez," Jarod says.

Kyle gives the Pez dispenser a solemn, considering look, then places it back on the rack.

He turns to Jarod. "What else do you like?" Kyle's face has gone slack, looking strangely young. "What else have I been missing?"

Jarod grins, his chest feeling lighter. "I'll show you."


*


They keep moving. Jarod introduces Kyle to ice cream and Silly Putty and fake dog doo, to the Three Stooges and spray cheese and rabbit's feet. Kyle studies each new item intently, his face lined with a type of confusion that Jarod remembers intimately from his own first days out of the Centre. Kyle has been free for months, both from the Centre and prison, and still hasn't had the chance to appreciate the world outside. Jarod hopes to remedy that as much as he can.

This world they're in, these people that they protect, that they hide among; it's all as full of caring and laughter as it is tragedy and pain. Jarod's first few months after he got out were spent learning how to be part of it. He can only hope that Kyle learns the same.

The two brothers begin to develop an odd routine. Neither of them sleep much. Cheap hotel rooms and rundown apartments are their living places of choice, confined spaces that force them to awkwardly navigate around each other at all hours. Jarod spends most of his time researching, trying to find leads on anything related to the Centre and what happened to their family. Kyle helps, investigating other angles, other clues. He makes notes in one of Jarod's red notebooks with the cover torn off.

Jarod calls Kyle "little brother" more often than his actual name. Kyle does the same with him: hey, big brother, look at this. It's like they're both seizing the opportunity to say it out loud, to finally claim the family they thought long-lost.


*


Indianapolis, IN.

Things start to go bad when Jarod takes them to Indianapolis. There's an injured school girl, a malfunctioning traffic light, corruption in the office of a city official and Jarod has a notebook full of details.

He's Jarod Garrett, an investigator for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Kyle is Kyle Greene, a bright and promising intern in the city official's office.

Everything goes perfectly until the final confrontation. The evidence is in the hands of the proper authorities, and the city official is trussed up in front of a TV screen where Jarod has recorded a parody of an anti drunk-driving tape. The video shows scenes from the crashes at the intersection, of which there have been three. Jarod has included close-ups of the fatalities, of their shattered bodies. There are even police photos of young Anna Carlisle's broken and mutilated legs.

But the man is showing no remorse, not even fear for his life and career. He's meeting Jarod's eyes squarely, not even flinching at the images on the tape.

"He's a monster," says Kyle, standing in the shadows at Jarod's side.

"He's an idiot," Jarod says in a growl. He turns back to the official, who is chuckling throatily at them, his rotund form shaking with amusement.

"I didn't get this job by being pansy-assed," the man tells them. "I knew that there would be some repercussions." He shrugs, the motion awkward due to his bindings. "Looks like they've finally caught up with me."

Jarod opens his mouth, but Kyle is already there in the man's face.

"You're a fucking monster," Kyle snarls. And suddenly there is a click, and a gun appears in Kyle's hand, heavy and black with an ugly shine.

"Kyle, what the hell are you doing?"

"Teaching this bastard a lesson," Kyle says, his gaze never wavering from the official's face. He levels the gun at the man's forehead. "He's never gonna learn, brother."

"Kyle. No."

Kyle flinches, just slightly. "He's killing kids, Jarod."

"Kyle," and Jarod makes his voice as hard as he can, a plea and a command all at once. "We're done here. Come with me and put the gun away."

Kyle hesitates, just a moment longer, then nods.


*


Jarod is furious.

"Why did you even have the gun, Kyle? That's not what we do. That's not what we are." He can't seem to stop yelling. He wants Kyle to react, wants him to acknowledge what the consequences could have been.

Kyle is nodding. "I fucked up. I'm sorry."

"But do you even know why?" Jarod is seized with the sudden fear that this will never work, that Kyle will never understand. Maybe the damage from the Centre, from Raines, is just too great.

He stops before he thinks sociopath.

But no. This is his brother. His brother is not a monster – not like Lyle or Raines, who would break families apart for their own thirst.

Kyle is just staring at him. "Why do you even trust me?" he asks abruptly. "After all that I've done?"

And Jarod breathes, because despite his anger, despite his fear for Kyle's sanity, he does trust him. Jarod trusts Kyle with his life. Jarod trusted him to put the gun down when he asked.

He just isn't sure Kyle would ever put the gun down without Jarod around.

But the answer is much simpler. "Because you're my brother," says Jarod. He sits down and shrugs at Kyle. "Isn't that why you trusted me?"

"That's different." Kyle's tone is dismissive. He gets up and walks to the window, looks out.

"How is it different?"

Kyle smiles an ugly smile. "You're not broken."

"You're not broken either, Kyle. The Centre –"

"The Centre fucked me up, big brother. Raines reached in my head and took things out. I know that. He left me enough of myself to know that I'm wrong."

"You're not wrong," Jarod says. Maybe Kyle is a lot of things, but not these words that Kyle tosses out like epithets. "Kyle!"

Kyle is starting to pace, staring at nothing. He scrubs a hand through his hair, shakes his head like he's trying to jostle something loose. Jarod's seen him at some of his worst moments – times when Kyle was unfeeling, uncaring, full of hate from what Raines did to him, sometimes downright terrifying – but he's never seen Kyle this way. Like he's breaking apart.

"Kyle, it's okay."

"I can't do this," Kyle hisses. "I told you I couldn't do this. I'm wrong – I'm bad and I can't do this like you. I can't – can't be you." He's nearly shouting, his voice already hoarse. "Why are you making me be you?"

"I don't want that, Kyle," Jarod says desperately. "I just want you to be you. You hear me? Just yourself. No one else's."

"Raines made me his. You're just like him. You're making me – but no, no, I wanted it." Kyle stops pacing, shudders once. "I wanted to be yours. Your brother, your –"

Jarod doesn't know if he should touch Kyle when he's like this, but he can't stop himself. He gets up, folds his arms around Kyle, and holds on tight. Not too tight, but tight enough.

Kyle starts shaking. "I wanted –"

"Shh," says Jarod. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't mean –"

"Not," gasps Kyle, "Not your fault. I just – I can't think. It's – it hurts. Bad. Goes too deep."

Jarod, without letting go, guides Kyle over to the bed. Kyle's knees won't bend, so Jarod lays him down flat on the bed, arms loosening so that they're not trapped under Kyle's weight. Jarod blankets Kyle with his body, lays a hand on Kyle's forehead.

Kyle is crying, gulps of sobs that shake his body where it touches Jarod's. His face is twisted, his teeth bared, like his emotional pain is translating itself to physical agony. Maybe it is. He wonders when Kyle last cried.

Jarod is crying too, but he thinks he might've been crying for a while now. He ignores it.


*


They don't try another pretend after that. Jarod drives them to Illinois, then to Missouri. Kyle takes the wheel and drives them to New Orleans in time for Mardi Gras. They rent a cheap apartment that has one bedroom and a couch. Kyle takes the couch.

When they go out that night, pushing through the yelling, shouting, singing groups of people, Kyle seizes his wrist like he did in Dry River. Jarod thinks about telling him that they're not running from anyone this time, that Jarod's not going anywhere. Instead, he twists his wrist around and laces his fingers through Kyle's, squeezing their hands palm-to-palm.

Kyle gives him a quizzical look, then squeezes back. Jarod looks down, and the ground is covered in strands of purple, gold and green, sparkling against a backdrop of spilled beer and trash.

He realizes that he's never thought about coming to Mardi Gras; wonders if this is something Kyle wanted to do, something he wanted to see.

They stumble into another group of revelers, all wearing masks. Jarod is reminded of the Day of the Dead celebrations he studied, the weeks he spent mourning Kyle. It had hurt badly, only knowing his brother a few short days and then thinking him dead.

Kyle's hand is warm and strong in his.


*


New Orleans, LA.

After Mardi Gras is over, Jarod and Kyle hole themselves up in the apartment and watch every Disney film ever made. Jarod suggests they do them in order of popularity, but Kyle prefers chronological, so they start with Snow White. Jarod figures they'll make it to The Lion King eventually.

Kyle seems better. He smiles more. He laughs. Every time Jarod witnesses either one, he can't help but smile as well.

Jarod has never experienced anything like this before. It seems like family seems to have the unique ability to create happiness out of the most dire of circumstances simply by being together.

He lets himself imagine scenarios where he and Kyle find the other members of their family: mom, dad, sister Emily. Who else? Uncles? Cousins?

Jarod can only dream what it might be like to have a home.


*


It's when they finish all the Disney films and move on to Star Wars that it happens.

"I knew this girl," Jarod begins, then falls quiet. He doesn't know why he's talking about this, even though he still remembers her face vividly, the way she felt against him.

Kyle gives him an arched eyebrow. "A girl, huh?" Then, at Jarod's silence: "Oh."

Jarod watches Luke Skywalker ignite his lightsaber for the first time. He remembers soft, brown skin, her long hair caught around his fingers.

"Tell me," Kyle says, almost too quietly to hear.

"It was the first time," says Jarod. "I was awkward and amazed. She was... beautiful. And very kind. I'd never been touched that way before."

Kyle is silent. Some piece of a puzzle slides together in Jarod's mind. A Rubik's cube makes another turn.

"I think that moment when the sheriff's wife hugged me was the second time anyone has touched me without being afraid," says Kyle. "Or angry."

Jarod doesn't have to ask who the first was. He sets his jaw, remembers the touches that he and Kyle have shared over the past few months. Perhaps not enough.

They're both silent for a while.

"I promised to show you how good the world could be," says Jarod quietly. "How good it could feel."

Kyle doesn't acknowledge his words, or even nod, but after a few moments Jarod knows he has his answer. He rolls on the bed, coming upon his side next to Kyle, and leans down to kiss his brother's mouth.

Kyle is unresponsive for a moment, then begins to kiss back. His mouth is wet, wider and thinner than the mouths Jarod has kissed before. His stubble is scratchy, and Jarod finds small, invisible scars along the inside of Kyle's lower lip. Rather than ask the cause, he explores each one with the tip of his tongue.

It's almost strange when Jarod realizes that Kyle tastes familiar because he tastes like Jarod. There's something else in his taste, too; something bitter, like tears, or like cigarettes from the pack that Kyle keeps in his jacket pocket and never smokes.

He keeps kissing Kyle, softly and carefully, until Kyle lets out a muffled noise and grinds up against Jarod's leg. Jarod breaks away from Kyle's mouth, waits until Kyle focuses on his face.

"Does this feel good?" Jarod asks.

Kyle nods, wordless. He lets his legs fall apart until Jarod's thigh presses between them, and his eyes flutter shut. Jarod strokes his thumbs softly beneath Kyle's closed eyelids, then across Kyle's collarbones, catching the neck of Kyle's t-shirt on the edge of his thumbnail.

"Jarod," Kyle gasps.

"Shh," says Jarod. "Shh. I've got you, little brother."

He takes Kyle's hand – his right hand – and brings it to his mouth. The scar on Kyle's hand is old, white spidery flesh stretching across Kyle's thumb and the web of his palm.

Jarod can still remember the noise the acid made on Kyle's skin, a nasty sizzle that had startled both of them equally right up until the second Kyle started screaming.

Jarod traces the burn with his mouth, draws his tongue along the foreign ridges of flesh and the startlingly smooth patches in between. He wishes he could blame himself for this scar on his brother, one of the few that lie on the outside, but yet again all blame rests on the Centre.

Kyle twists beneath him, dragging himself against Jarod's thigh again with an impatient noise. Jarod laughs a little and ducks his face into Kyle's neck, breathing in the skin he finds there.

He's beginning to come to the uncomfortable realization that Kyle was not the only one who needed this.


*


"Sydney."

"Jarod?"

Sydney's voice is surprised, relieved. Jarod grips the phone a little more tightly, casts a look at Kyle's sleeping form. Pale, scarred skin glows under the light from the bedside lamp.

"Where have you been, Jarod?" Sydney asks. "You and Kyle – I knew you were capable of disappearing, but Parker is pacing the halls. You left her without a trail to follow. That's not like you."

"I don't know what's 'like' me anymore, Sydney," says Jarod. "Maybe I never did."

"And you're safe?"

"Yes." Jarod looks over at Kyle again, still sleeping soundly. "We're both safe."

"Good." Sydney is silent for a moment. "It's good to hear your voice, Jarod."

"It's good to hear yours. I –" Jarod breaks off abruptly, squeezes his eyes shut and swallows back sudden tears. He feels like a boy again. But then again, the only times Jarod ever feels grown-up around Sydney is when he's angry at him.

"Jarod," Sydney says gently, "Why are you calling?"

Jarod swallows again. "If you do something you know is wrong – and you know it's wrong, but you do it anyway because it helps someone you love and it doesn't hurt anyone else – is it still wrong?"

He can hear Sydney's measured breathing, his contemplation.

"That depends," Sydney says at last. "How does this action affect you? Not the person you love... but you?"

Jarod leans his head back against the window frame. "It... feels good."

"But you think it shouldn't." Not a question.

"It's my responsibility," says Jarod. "I. I don't know."

Sydney sighs. "I don't know either, Jarod. But people have done terrible things for much less reason than to help others."

"Yeah," says Jarod. "I know."

They're both quiet, thinking.

"Speaking of helping others," says Sydney, finally. "We haven't found one of your red notebooks in a while."

"No. You wouldn't have."

"I don't understand." Sydney's voice is confused. "You haven't been—"

"We're laying low, Sydney. Can you tell me that some Centre goons wouldn't be after us the split second one of us steps out the door?"

"Of course they would, Jarod," Sydney says. A long pause. "But is it better to live in fear?"

"Goodbye, Sydney."

Jarod presses "END" and tosses the phone on the desk. He turns back to bed, and finds Kyle's alert gaze meeting his.

Neither of them speak.


*


Two days later, Kyle says "I think I'm holding you back."

Jarod glances up from the potatoes he's slicing for dinner. "What?"

Kyle sighs exasperatedly. "You're supposed to be out there!" He waves at the door. "Helping people. Saving them. Making lives better. Not cooped up here with your psycho brother."

"Kyle, no." Jarod shakes his head. "You're not the reason. The Centre is on high alert – any trace of activity and they'll be after us in an instant."

"Exactly," says Kyle. "But that shouldn't stop you from doing what you always do."

"Our safety is worth more than that," Jarod says. He won't lie and say he doesn't miss it, he does -- Jarod sees news headlines all the time about people who could use his help, and still thinks about the boy in Dry River, wishing he could have figured out some way to find a new heart for him. But Kyle is worth giving it up. Family is worth giving it up. He regrets nothing.

Kyle gives him a considering look.

"What is it?"

Kyle shakes his head, a self-deprecating smile on his face. "Nothing. Forget it."

They sit down to eat. Afterward, when clearing away dishes, Jarod touches Kyle's arm, as he has for the past two nights. This time, however, Kyle moves away.

"I –" Kyle doesn't meet Jarod's eyes. "I don't think we should. Do that."

Kyle's words, along with the way he flinched away from Jarod's touch – Jarod feels a slow, sick twist of guilt in his gut. "Have I – made you feel uncomfortable?"

"No," Kyle says quickly. "I just." He seems to gather his thoughts, then looks Jarod straight in the face. "I like it. I like the touching. It's – it's good. But I know other people wouldn't think it's right."

"No," Jarod says quietly. "They probably wouldn't."

"And they'd be wrong," says Kyle. "But –"

He struggles with the words, gesturing vaguely at his head. "—But I keep trying to remind myself of what's right. Have to keep telling myself all the time. And I can't pick and choose what is and isn't. Can't trust my own gut. Not yet. Maybe not ever."

Jarod nods, taking a step back. His hands hang loose at his sides. "I understand."

"Yeah," says Kyle. "Yeah, I know you do."

"I'm sorry." Jarod swallows. "I shouldn't have pushed you. I should have known."

"You didn't push me." Kyle steps across the gap between them, his hand makes an abortive motion toward Jarod's wrist. Then he stops, lays his forearm against Jarod's side and moves forward, lacing their bodies together in the most awkward hug Jarod's ever encountered.

After a moment, Kyle lets out a breath and his shoulders relax. He tightens his grip, hugging Jarod fiercely. Jarod makes a soft noise and hugs back, feeling the hard muscles of his brother's back, the rough, sweat-damp cotton of Kyle's T-shirt.

Kyle kisses the rim of Jarod's ear, the side of Jarod's jaw. "You never pushed me. You made me feel – loved." His breath is hot against Jarod's face, his voice barely above a whisper. "Even if we never do it again, I'll always remember that. Forever. You hear me, big brother?"

"Forever," Jarod echoes. "Me too."

Jarod thinks, later, that he should have realized it then. But at the same time, part of him probably already knew.


*


When Jarod wakes the next day, he finds a note on the desk, folded carefully and tucked beneath a couple of Pez dispensers. Beneath the feeling of dread, Jarod feels oddly proud that his brother seems to have adopted some of Jarod's sense of humor.

Big brother –
this won't work. too dangerous for you. you won't see me again. not for a long time. I have a lot of things to figure out, and I have to do it myself even if it means I die trying. but you knew that already.

when you find our family, tell them I love them tried my best.

Stay safe.

Thank you for everything
.

Jarod wants to feel angry. He wants to feel surprised. Instead, he sits, slowly, and runs his fingers over the surface of the paper, traces the hard indentations of ballpoint pen, the squat, angular letters. This is not what he does, not quite – he's not empathic, he cannot soak up his brother's reasons from a page. Jarod relies on intuition, and on the ability to predict emotion to a fault. But surely, with this, with Kyle...

He closes his eyes and puts himself in his brother's place.

Between one breath and the next, Jarod slips into a sea of emotion. A fragile construction, a pocket of Kyle that has been left in his hands, ephemeral as a soap bubble. He feels Kyle's frustration. His relentless anger. His fierce love. And somewhere, in the midst of that raging emotion, he feels a flickering, sputtering ignition of hope.

The candle against the darkness, Jarod thinks. Perhaps even the spark to ignite a wildfire. With that thought, Jarod flinches, presses too hard, and the feeling of brother collapses, leaving him alone again.

Jarod's hands are shaking, and the note he still holds is getting crumpled. He doubts he'll ever be able to do something like that again, but it doesn't matter. He has what he needs.

Hope. The dream of a future. Something that Jarod had wanted his little brother to have. And now, the very thing that takes his brother away from him.

Jarod understands. Of course he understands.

That doesn't make it easier.

It takes a moment for him to turn back to the desk. It takes another moment for him to realize that the two Pez dispensers are not his.

Jarod picks them up, inspecting their shiny plastic faces. He doesn't recognize them at first, but their tiny hats and faces – one long, one short – finally trigger realization. Abbott and Costello.

He stares at them for a long time, then tucks them into his jacket. After all. You never do know when you might need some Pez.


[end]

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
thepouncer
Jan. 18th, 2007 02:04 am (UTC)
I read all the Yuletide stories offline, on my palmpilot, and thus was bad about feedback. I came across this on SGA Noticeboard's friendlist and had to stop to tell you that I really enjoyed this story. I started watching Pretender because I caught the episode where Kyle and Jarod are trying to connect with each other, and this is a lovely alternate take on how that could have gone. It doesn't shy away from all their issues, and both of them seemed true to what I remember of the show.
sweetestdrain
Jan. 25th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it, and thanks for taking the time to tell me what you thought. It's great to hear that it seemed true to the show.
vagabondage
Jan. 18th, 2007 02:02 pm (UTC)
OMG this was wonderful! You have killed me, in the best way. You've captured the feel of Jarod and Kyle magnificently, really got inside their heads, and gave me so much more than the series ever could.

HOT HOT HOT sex, but even more devastingly beautiful is the intimacy you weave between. I am absolutely in love with this!
sweetestdrain
Jan. 25th, 2007 04:47 am (UTC)
Yay!! I'm so glad you liked it. Thank you so much for the lovely feedback. And I'm glad that you thought the sex, ahem, worked well -- especially considering there wasn't very much of it!

It's funny -- I was always really interested in the Jarod and Kyle interaction on the show, but this fic was one of those things I didn't even realize I wanted to write until I got the yuletide prompt. They're really rather tragic, and despite the relative angst-level of my fic, what actually happened on the show was so much worse. Sigh.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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did not catch sight of you yet
sweetestdrain
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