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Only Human

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Sanctuary is quiet now, the background noise of buzzing computers providing the only defence against an all-consuming silence. This is not unusual, even if such noises are normally ignored except in the early hours of the morning, when all sounds of habitation cease as the occupants sleep.

Adam often works through the night, finding solace in his work when sleep evades him, or when his dreams are filled with memories he'd rather have forgotten long ago.

But these are not the early hours of the morning. Somewhere outside of Sanctuary the sun has not yet slipped unseen behind the peak of the mountain, but the comforting sounds of laughter that have grounded and reassured him in the past are now ominously silent.

His own footsteps are the only sign of life as he walks alone from room to room, the hope that he might see some small sign of normality returning to his team slipping away with each step.

He won't ever stop looking.

Nor is he surprised that things have become this bad. Their infiltration of Hillview had become too personal, and even the thought of all the lives they'd saved in stopping Wallington's horrific scheme doesn't stop Adam from wishing that they'd never undertaken the mission in the first place. He is ashamed to admit it even in the privacy of his own thoughts, but in bringing Denny's murderers to justice, Mutant X paid too high a price.

Part of him would rather have let Wallington carry on killing if it could have kept his team intact, stopped them from splintering like this. Their real work is too important to be sacrificed for one man. Unfortunately there will always be another Wallington, another man who doesn't care who he hurts in his quest for power, but that is what the police are for, and the FBI, and a thousand other organisations set up to protect the human race from itself.

Who else but Mutant X would protect the mutants?

Sometimes it feels like he is the only person in the world who realises that, who can see the true enormity of the task that they face. Adam never thought he would see the day when he actually missed Mason Eckhart, but without the constant threat of the GSA to focus them on their true mission, they have become little more than a special ops team, called in whenever the Government needs plausible deniability, or when there is a mission so dangerous that no-one wants to risk the lives of non-mutants.

This isn't what Adam had envisaged for his team and he hates it. It's even harder when they question him, demanding to know why he's sending them into fire fights over nerve gas and dangerous weapons that, while important, have nothing to do with the mutant cause that was the reason that they all signed up to the team in the first place. He stands by his decisions because he has no choice, because they expect him to lead them, to be the father figure that none of them ever had, and how can they respect him if he has anything less than one hundred percent conviction?
But that doesn't mean he finds it easy.

Adam wasn't ready for the burden of fatherhood back then, and part of him isn't sure that he ever truly will be, but it was a responsibility that he accepted because he had to - just one more aspect to the complicated life that he now finds himself living. Nor does that mean that he doesn't love each member of Mutant X. He cares deeply about them and what happens to them, but that just makes his role that much harder. Because sending friends out on missions knowing that they might not come back is difficult enough, but in spite of his fears Shalimar, Jesse and the others have become his family, and the thought of losing them is almost too much to bear.

He still wakes up at night, face stained with tears, haunted by the memory of how he felt when Emma was killed, when Shalimar's heartbroken voice over the com link had plunged him into his worst nightmare long before she'd managed to choke out the awful words.

"Emma's dead. I didn't make it in time."

He was spared that time, because Caleb's death gave Emma a second chance at life, but there have been so many close calls since then. While Shalimar may have a legitimate reason for having nine lives, Adam knows that sooner or later one of them won't be so lucky. As head of the team Adam knows that ultimately he carries the burden of responsibility for their safety even if he rarely goes out into the field, a fact that Brennan often reminds him of, and Adam is well aware that however many times they succeed, regardless of the miraculous escapes they pull off, the odds of their survival never improve. All it takes is one mistake, for one enemy to get lucky, and Mutant X will be destroyed.

Hillview was a case in point, with Mutant X nearly losing half of its family in one dreadful night, but the fallout from Brennan's fight with Jesse has barely started, and that is what now poses a real threat to the future of Mutant X. The soft whisper of fabric on cold floor attracts Adam's attention and he turns just in time to see Shalimar leaving her room. She glances his way and their eyes meet for just a second before she abruptly turns away, moving gracefully down the corridor without uttering a word, but the anguish on her face is plain to see.

The fight between Brennan and Jesse has sent shockwaves through Mutant X, and somewhat unsurprisingly they've all retreated to the solace and safety of their rooms, avoiding all but the necessary contact while they try to absorb the consequences of what happened.

Shalimar surfaces occasionally, her feral nature making her the most restless of them all, and she's taken to roaming around Sanctuary, sometimes venturing into the other's rooms, but more often than not she simply walks, working out her frustrations on hundreds of holographic adversaries, some of which look like Rigas, and some, Adam has been disturbed to notice, bear a more than passing resemblance to Brennan. At first Adam tried to talk to her, to talk through her obvious anger at what had happened, but Shalimar simply brushed his concerns aside, bluntly denying any suggestion that her anger was directed at anyone other than Rigas and Wallington.

He may have dropped the subject, but Adam is far from convinced. Shalimar is fiercely protective of the rest of the team, and of Jesse in particular because they've grown up together. Adam can only imagine what being forced to stand by and watch Brennan come so close to killing him had done to her feral instincts.

He hasn't seen Emma for days. The psionic had barely waited around long enough to make sure that Brennan and Jesse were both out of danger before distancing herself from them all, only admitting to Adam, when pressured, that she was finding it hard to cope with the tides of overwhelming emotion swirling around Sanctuary. He couldn't say that he was surprised. While on the surface at least he's seen Brennan and Jesse square away any bad feeling that may have existed, he certainly hasn't missed the way that Jesse stays in his room most of the time now, surfacing only to make his way to the kitchen, eyes focussed firmly on the floor as if hoping not to be noticed.

Nor did he miss the moment when Brennan had walked round the corner by the lab just as Jesse had been walking down the stairs. Calling out to him, Brennan had paled when Jesse flinched at his shout, before managing a shaky smile and excusing himself with hands that weren't quite steady. Adam had the feeling that it would be a long time before Jesse felt comfortable around the Elemental, if he ever did. Certainly, the broken ribs and myriad of bruises and abrasions Jesse was trying his best to hide would serve as reminders of that night for a long time to come.

And yet, strange as it may seem, all of this is not what concerns Adam the most. The fallout from Hillview is merely a symptom of a deeper problem, and however traumatic the fight had been for all of them, and Jesse in particular, he knows very well that it wouldn't have been anywhere near as hard if Mutant X hadn't already been starting to fray.

Jesse hadn't said anything, but Adam was already well aware that he and Brennan had always had their differences, a suspicion that had been proved when he had ventured into Emma's room on the night of the fight to find her in tears, completely overwhelmed with the pain and unrest emanating from the others.

They'd talked for hours, and some time in the early hours Emma had revealed to him what she'd left out of her initial report. While she couldn't read minds, she'd become adept at interpreting emotions over the years, and when she'd related what she'd picked up from Jesse after he'd seen Brennan in solitary, Jesse's shock at the strength of Brennan's feelings against him, even allowing for the effect of Rigas' serum, Adam had known the team was in serious trouble.

Everyone in Mutant X, Jesse included, was well aware that ST1277 only increased the aggressive tendencies of its victims, fuelling the adrenaline and bloodlust of the fight but no more. There was no way it could be used to explain away the things that Brennan had apparently said to Jesse in the prison, nor the things that Adam had heard with his own ears during the final moments of the fight. None of the other combatants, all of whom had known each other from the prison, had hurled insults at each other while fighting the way Brennan had with Jesse, and there was nothing in the serum that could explain away why the fight had become quite so personal. It was only then, trapped uselessly in the stands, forced to listen to the hurtful words spilling from Brennan as he did everything he could to kill Jesse, that Adam realised the true extent of the gulf between the two men.

That gulf, Adam knows, is more of a threat to Mutant X than any outside force could ever be.

And yet they think he doesn't see it. Emma related the story to him as if expecting him to be shocked, and while Adam had been surprised by the force of the problem, he has been aware of its existence for months.

Shut away in his lab, surrounded by the harsh, simple logic of science and genetics they forget about him, perhaps assuming that he is too busy to care, but he has always known.

The discord reaches him in a thousand different ways - through com links, whispered conversations or simply carried by the air, each angry word increasing his own fears tenfold.

It never used to be like this.

The bickering itself is nothing new, not really. The arguments have existed since the beginning, are in fact inevitable when dealing with a group of such strong-willed adults thrown together by little more than circumstance and shared tragedy, but even before the fight there has been an edge of resentment to the words, throwaway insults used carelessly in the heat of the moment that are never quite taken back.

Nor is he himself immune to human emotion. With every questioned order, every sign of frustration at the life they are forced to live, he wonders if they blame him, if they resent his role in the history of Genomex and what was done to them in the name of science. He is sure that they do, especially since their encounter with Gabriel Ashlocke and the strain it put on the team as a whole. Shalimar even accused him outright, the accusation that it was like Genomex all over again, that he cared more about science and the pursuit of knowledge than their own safety haunting him long after she'd apologised for the words themselves.

He blames himself, knowing that nothing can ever make up for the things he did, for the blind devotion to science that stopped him from seeing the consequences until it was far, far too late. Sometimes he is almost able to convince himself that the burden of blame is not his to bear, that he could not have known what Eckhart was planning or what his research was really going to be used for, but deep down he knows that naivety is no excuse. He should have known, should have been more careful, kept more control over his knowledge instead of basking in the glory of being hailed as the saviour, the bright young star, allowing his ego to blur the moral dilemmas he should never have forgotten.

Now every death, every mutant driven crazy by the pain of being so very different in a world where normality is the ultimate holy grail, brings with it blame that he lays at his own door, their faces haunting him through every sleepless night until all he can do is try to atone for his past sins and do what little he can to make things right, to balance the scales in their favour.

He knows he'll never succeed.

But none of this is new to him. Adam has carried his burden ever since Ashlocke's behaviour forced him to confront the true legacy of his work, and he knows that he'll take his regrets to his grave. The team is now his primary concern, the only chance he has to make up for what he's done, but they are also his greatest fear, as he is forced to stand mutely by and watch human weakness tear them all apart.

He'd known that was a risk when he chose them. Bringing four strangers together as a family was bound to bring its own share of inevitable conflict and so he'd tried to match personalities as well as skills, choosing Shalimar over Nikki for just that reason but in the end his choices had been limited, and he'd had to compromise in favour of their mutancy, and the physical abilities that Mutant X badly needed.

And yet they aren't the only ones who have made sacrifices. As much as he sympathises with the life they are forced to live, the secrecy and danger preventing them from having anything truly normal, he is also well aware of what he too has lost. Creating Mutant X, trying to right the wrongs committed in his name has cost Adam any semblance of a normal life, any chance at a real family, a relationship, children, all the things people of his age aspire to. He knows that they are firmly out of his reach now, has come to terms with it in all but his darkest days, and yet is acutely conscious of the way that none of the others seem to acknowledge the fact, ignoring his position in favour of their own plight. Some nights, when his mind is too tired to sleep and he lies awake facing his own demons, he resents their blindness.

The gulf between the team is the widest it's been for a long time, perhaps ever, and Adam wonders what will happen if Mutant X deteriorates further. What will happen if the divide between Jesse and Brennan forces the rest of them to take sides, if Emma's powers continue to develop beyond even her own control, if they simply find partners and move away, spreading their wings to choose another path in life. Children always leave home in the end, and the parents are the ones left behind.

He fears that it's already started.

As they all get to know each other more, begin to take each other for granted and it becomes more difficult to hide the differences between them, it's no coincidence that they are all spending more time alone, and away from Sanctuary. It may have served as a refuge from the GSA, but it does nothing to protect them from each other.

Steadily, human emotions and fundamental differences in upbringing are slowly destroying a bond that even Genomex couldn't break.

In his heart, Adam knows that it is only a matter of time.