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Disclaimer: I do not own the Pretender series, or any of the characters. I am just a fan adding her two cents in, without making any money out of fan fiction, so please don't sue.
Author's note : All my thanks go to Jacci and Topanga, my amazing betas, without whom this piece wouldn't be half as good as I hope it is now...
Lost and angry. That's how he really felt, as he followed the older man into the shabby olive green motel room. Quite frankly, the musty smell did nothing to improve the situation. But he knew that wasn’t the correct answer; his “guardian” expected something else.
"I'm just tired," he sighed, dropping his bag on the stained green carpet and resting the back of his head against the dirty pink flowers which decorated the aging wallpaper.
The lie came to him mechanically, acquired through a lifetime of conditioning and unbeknownst to Gem, it was also the auto-response of every teen across the U.S., when questioned by a parent. He knew he hadn't convinced anyone but he also knew his lie wouldn't be questioned. He knew he should feel remorse, but he also knew that the feeling had been erased from his psyche a long time ago. He knew so many things; only now, facts were no longer enough.
Instead, his new “guardian” kept talking about emotions - things foreign to him – things like safety, caring, trust, love, family. Telling him how important they all were. Gem understood of course, he was a genius, after all. He just couldn't believe the hollow words had any substance. And from Gem’s perspective, neither did the Major, really, but the old man was too scared of this truth to see it. As much as Gem was hurt by the other man's cowardice, he also understood it. After 30 years spent chasing the missing pieces of his family, it would destroy him to acknowledge that the whole picture had changed somewhere along the way; it was his fantasy to keep – for now.
But the cruellest part of it was that without this realization, there would never be any place for Gem in the family... He closed his eyes and tried to swallow the unfairness of it all. Sometimes he really hated being a Pretender, it would have been so much more comfortable to assume the old man was just a cold, indifferent fool.
Gem lifted the blue rucksack containing his few clothes and his secret stash of stolen sweets and dropped it on one of the beds, claiming it for the night. Had he been braver, he would have said something to Major Charles about choosing a better motel next time, but he was just too scared that Jarod's father would tell him to pack his things and find himself a more suitable place to sleep. There was more than one coward in the room. Hearing the mattress squeak when he sat down to test it, the thought crossed his mind, not for the first time, that if Jarod had done his job properly and simmed out all the scenarios for the exchange at the airstrip, they wouldn't be here, two wounded strangers stuck together by the desperate words of a frantic man... How was that supposed to work when the only link between them had chosen to be taken back and leave them to their own devices? That had to be one of the worst decisions Jarod had ever made, at least that was one thing both he and Major Charles agreed on.
Yet, out of respect for Jarod, and after days of being told that it was okay to speak, even without being spoken to, even though he was pretty certain that the idea was a bad one - but what if he was wrong, what if there was even one chance in a million to break the loneliness, to stumble and fall but fall into welcoming arms? - Gem had tried to let his "father" in.
One morning he declared out of the blue that the only feelings Donoterase had not suppressed completely in him were fear, anger and loneliness, that yearning for attachment had been the last one to die out, that- but before he could get any further, the look of horror and pity on the other man's face had stopped him dead. The Major just wasn't ready for this. No matter what he had said about being there for Gem, no matter that he wanted to be there for Gem, he didn't want to know, not the details, not when his real son had endured a similar fate for thirty years. Not now that Jarod was back in the Centre's clutches after his incomprehensible sacrifice at the airstrip.
No matter how much he wanted to, Gem couldn't blame the major, not when in all his life he had only ever met two people who really wanted to know the truth: one was likely being tortured at the moment and the other... The very memory of her visit, as soothing and intense as her penetrating blue eyes had been, was a sanctuary to him. At least one person in this world cared. Whether anyone else ever would, remained to be seen. He knew that he needed to learn how to interact in social situations, but without anyone to guide him, without any reference material, Gem found it extremely problematic. Being honest about his past only served to scare the major away, yet he couldn't think of another way to reach out. So after that first botched attempt, Gem had never tried to explain again. From then on, he had always spoken carefully, each word calculated to cause as little disturbance as possible.
Sighing at the obvious brush-off, the Major did not press Gem for an answer. They were at an impasse, both caught up within their own inner turmoil and at a loss for how to cross the great divide.
"You'd better go to bed soon, then" he answered, but his attention was already on something else.
As usual, the first thing he would do that night was to set up his computer and secure an Internet connection; he was already counting the number of outlets in the room.
While the Major was busy unpacking and connecting everything, Gem slipped into the bathroom to get ready for the night. He quickly changed into his well-worn Centre clothes which he still slept in, despite the pointed looks he wouldn't fail to draw from his roommate in the morning. They were familiar and acted as an anchor for the young Pretender. Because he knew that tonight, like every other night since he had been "rescued," the world would start spinning as soon as he laid down to rest. The familiar clothing could not protect him from the stream of shifting images which spiralled in his mind: flashes of the SIM lab, of his cell, captured instants of his days with the major, the lab again, props from past simulations scattered on his desk... doctors in white, incongruous in the sunlight, and what were they all doing at the reception desk? But before he could figure it out, he was back in his cell again, isolated for awhile... Maybe now he would be able to make sense of things. And when Dr Raines' wheezing voice started echoing in his head - It's all here Gemini... all you need to know... Why can't you make sense of it?- the familiar feel and smell of the grey cotton reminded him that he wasn't insane. His last tangible link to his former life, the proof that what swirled in his head had actually happened, that he wasn't suffering from a psychotic disorder.
Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, Gem crossed the distance to his bed in three quick strides and slipped into the cold sheets, trying to slow his breathing down in order to relax. He made a conscious effort to unclench his fists and forced himself to ignore the raspy threats fluttering around his mind – they were always worse at night- focusing instead on his immediate surroundings, like the lumpy pillow beneath his head, Major Charles' slightly slumped shoulders outlined against the whiteness of a computer screen and the sound of fingers tapping quickly on the laptop.
Was the older man really that blind that he did not see the silent war which Gem fought every night against ghouls and memories? Didn't he care? The teenager took a deep breath and clenched his teeth, purposely pushing away his resentment at the major's seemingly oblivious attitude.
Even if his new existence was confusing, even if he felt a barrier between him and the rest of the outside world, it was still better than the life he had led before. Even if he was the Major's reluctant second chance at being a father. Even if every look he got from his "dad" was a mixture of pity, hatred and misguided love. At least the old man was trying. At least he wasn't Dr Raines. At least Gem hadn't been beaten in 72 hours. At least now, the only things assaulting him at night were nightmares and memories.
Fears and frustrations he could repress. And for the Major's sake he would pretend to be alright, just like Jarod did. And then, when it was all over, when Jarod came back to them and they were free... Gem's mind latched onto this idea and obediently started what had become the boy's favourite simulation and best way to find some kind of peace at night. Funny how it hadn’t occurred to him that his sim was the same as the Major’s fantasy.