Not Wanting to Acknowledge
"Brynnley, dear," Mr. Wolfe finally says, a falsely friendly smile on his face. Brynn's shoulders tense, waiting for a blow she knows is coming. This levity won't last long. It never does. "I have been worried about you. Running away from home like that. It was very irresponsible."
Jack's head whips back and forth between her and Mr. Wolfe, settling on her in shock. "You live with him?"
"Why, of course she does, Jack." At Jack's continued confusion Mr. Wolfe lets out a barking laugh. "Brynnley, you didn't tell him? Shame on you!" She squirms in her seat as he stares at her, full of devilish intent. He knows she doesn't want Jack to know the truth. And he's going to torture her with this for as long as possible. "But we'll get to that in a moment." He turns to Jack. "It's good to see you again, Jack. I was so disappointed to hear that you did not wish to return to my employment. I was hoping perhaps I could convince you to reconsider."
"I don't think so," Jack growls. "When I told you I was out, I meant it."
Mr. Wolfe chuckles softly. "Oh, Jack, your naivety has always been a great source of amusement to me. Who said anything about you having a choice?"
From one second to the next his expression changes, the polite smile replaced with cold fury. He snaps his fingers and his men converge on them. One places Jack in a headlock. Another grabs Jack's left arm, holding it down on the table. And a third forces Jack's fingers to splay out on the table top and pulls out a knife.
Mr. Wolfe leans forward, resting his elbows on the table. "No one leaves me, Jack. No one."
Brynn moves to do something, anything, but Sebastian places a hand on her shoulder in warning. She freezes. There has to be something she can do. The man with the knife places the blade against Jack's pinkie finger. Jack begins to panic, attempting to struggle, but the combined strength of the men holding him is too strong.
"Stop it!" Brynn pleads with Mr. Wolfe. "Please, you don't need to do this!"
"The way I see it," he says, looking at Jack and ignoring her, "you don't need all of your fingers to drive. So you could stand to lose a few."
"Please, stop it!" Jack grunts as the knife begins to bite down. A line of red seeps up as the skin is broken. And she knows there's only one way to make him stop so she calls Mr. Wolfe the word they both hate. "Dad!"
Movement catches her eye and she looks over Mr. Wolfe's shoulder to see Seth's head poking through the door. His eyes are round with shock and horror. And then he disappears.
He left her.
Mr. Wolfe, her father, snaps his head to her and the cold fury quickly builds into a raging storm behind his dark eyes. He holds up a hand and the man with the knife halts, taking the knife away from Jack's hand. Mr. Wolfe then slowly rises from his seat, placing his palms on the table to lean over her. "I told you," he says in a deadly whisper, "never to call me that!" He lashes out, backhanding her across the face, and her head snaps to the side. "You piece of filth."
She keeps her eyes averted as pain and tears wash down her face. He can say whatever he wants to her now because it doesn't matter anymore. It's out now. Mr. Wolfe is her father. Jack now knows it. Seth now knows it. Most likely Sara knows it, too, either by hearing it or reading Seth's mind. She's been so careful to keep the information out of her head. But it's all over now. She's lost them. No one ever wants to be friends with the monster's daughter.
"You-You're?" Jack grinds out and Brynn closes her eyes, wishing this were all just another one of her nightmares.
"That's right, Jack," Mr. Wolfe says as he sits back down, sounding calm again but there is still that dangerous undertone that means he could still snap at any moment. "Brynnley's full name is Brynnley Leann Wolfe. My daughter."
"Dunning," she spits out, finally looking up at her father in hatred. "My last name is Dunning. That's what it says on my birth certificate and that is the only name I'll accept."
"Just because I didn't know you were mine until after you were born, that doesn't mean you still aren't mine," he sneers. "You see, Jack, Brynnley's mother was a girl who used to service to me and my men, among other girls, of course. I like to keep quite a few around the house, as you know. Keeps the men from getting irritable, keeps them in line, though you never took pleasure in their company. When Samantha became pregnant she led me to believe the child growing inside of her was someone else's. If I had known it was mine she knew I would have forced her to have an abortion. I already have sons who are well-bred. I don't need any mongrel offspring, especially from prostitute trash. The man she claimed to be the father played along, out of sympathy I suppose, but a few months after the child was born he messed up a job of mine and bartered the information for leniency. I was quite surprised at the discovery and, naturally, granted him leniency by killing him quickly. I then took Samantha and Brynnley into my home. I thought about killing them many times over the years but Samantha was very enthusiastic in her payments for her and Brynnley's life, especially when it came to protecting her daughter. Which is why, seven years ago she decided to run away with little Brynnley."
"Nine," Brynn corrects, fists clenching in her lap. "It was nine years ago."
"Really, that long ago?" he asks, faking interest. "How time flies. Well, Samantha tried to leave me, taking my daughter with her, and I couldn't have that. So I made an example out of her by killing her." He says it so indifferently, like he's just commenting on the weather, and shrugs his shoulders. "I could have had Brynnley killed then, too, but she's such an amusing little pet that I kept her around. However," he shifts again, the cold hardness coming back, directed fully at her, "just because you're my daughter, that does not make you exempt from punishment." He nods to Sebastian and the man grabs her by the wrist, pulling her out of her chair and flinging her to the floor.
She tries to crawl back using her hands and feet, but then she runs into the legs of someone else. Four men suddenly surround her, Sebastian squatting down at her feet playing with a knife in his hands. "You see, Brynnley," he says. "Mr. Wolfe is getting a little tired of your antics. You've caused him quite a fuss these past two days. You're his property and he doesn't like it when what's his thinks it has the right to run away. So he gave me and the boys permission to teach you a lesson."
Jack struggles against the man still holding him in a headlock. "Leave her alone!"
Brynn blinks in surprise. Even after finding out, Jack still doesn't want her to get hurt?
"Aw, don't worry, Jackie," Sebastian says as he stands. "We won't hurt her. Much. But just you wait till you're older, kid. We'll show you the types of things we used to do to your mom. But for now." He kicks her in the side and she cries out. Her ribs were still pretty beat up from what her father did to them a few days ago and everything that happened yesterday. Now it feels like they're on fire. One of the other men kicks her in her other side and she curls in on herself as they continue to beat her, pleading in her mind for someone to help her. Or to just let her die. But she will endure it as long as she has to. So long as the focus is on her, Jack won't get hurt.
She recognizes that voice.
She peeks between her arms to see Seth phase through Sebastian to lay himself over top of her, keeping most of his weight on his arms and legs. He's taking the hits for her, except with his abilities he can make himself as hard as stone. One of the men kicks Seth only to cry out in pain, clenching his hurt foot in his hands. Then suddenly a chair flies out of nowhere, hitting Sebastian and knocking him to the ground. More furniture is flung at the other men, knocking them down as well, and she can see Jack break out of the headlock, elbowing the man who was restraining him in the face. When the coast is clear Seth gets up to kneel beside her.
"Brynn, are you alright?" he asks, voice and face filled with concern.
She uncurls from herself, her muscles protesting loudly. "Not really," she says through clenched teeth.
Sara rushes over to kneel next to her as well. "We must leave this place immediately before these men awaken."
"What about m…Mr. Wolfe?"
Brynn looks over to see Mr. Wolfe slouched in the booth, unconscious, and Jack shaking his hand out, apparently having punched him. There's a lot she wishes she could do to her father to make him pay for what he's done to her, but that will have to be justice enough for now.
Jake comes over to them, hooking an arm beneath her knees and behind her shoulders, lifting her up. She cries out a little as fresh pain spreads through her system. "Sorry, kid, but we gotta move fast."
"Why are you helping me?" she asks. "You heard him. I'm Mr. Wolfe's daughter. Why aren't you just leaving me here?"
He pauses, looking down at her. "Because if I've learned anything since you got into the back of my cab, it's that you're a good kid. You're brave and selfless and kind and absolutely nothing like Mr. Wolfe. I like you, Brynn, and that's not going to change just because of who your dad is."
She wraps her arms around his neck and places her head on his shoulder. "Thank you, Jack."
She didn't lose them. They know the truth, but all three of them are still here.
With Jack carrying Brynn, the four of them head back out into the convention, going upstairs in order to look for Alex. Screaming comes from one direction, over towards the booths, and Sara tugs on the sleeve of Jack's jacket to turn them towards the slot machines.
"Why is there screaming?" Jack asks.
"The Siphon is here," Seth says grimly. "That is why we came searching for you."
"Great," Jack deadpans. "Terrific."
Brynn looks behind them over Jack's shoulders and her eyes widen as she sees three men in black suits coming towards them. "Jack, the Men in Black are back!"
"Of course they are." He tightens his grip on her. "Hang on, kid." They run into the middle of the slot machines, weaving between rows in the hopes of losing them, but instead more men appear and they end up surrounded. They stop. "Sara, are you listening to what I'm thinking?"
In answer, Sara pushes her hands out, palms down, and all of the slot machines go crazy around them, making a ton of noise. Everyone jumps up from their seats at the machines, shouting excitedly as coins spill from the slots. The crowd converges around them in the chaos and they allow it to engulf them. They use the distraction to run, the crowd keeping the agents from catching up to them. On their way towards the exit they run into Alex, having just gotten off of the elevator, and Sara grabs her arm to tug her along with them.
"What's going on?" she asks Jack. She notices Brynn in his arms, looking worn. "Oh my gosh, what happened to you?"
"It's a long story," Brynn says. "We'll explain later, but right now we need to get out of here."
"We can't take the cab," Jack says. "They'll be looking for it."
"Then what do we do?" Sara asks.
"I have an idea," Alex says. "Follow me."
Alex leads them back to Harlan's trailer where they tell him more of the bended truth, that government agents have caught up to them and they need help to escape. Harlan jumps at the chance to mess with the agents, along with his two assistants, and they trade the cab keys for the keys to his trailer. With parting waves and good lucks, they drive off in Harlan's RV without anyone giving them any trouble, only stopping long enough to pick up Junkyard.
Brynn shifts uncomfortably where Jack placed her seated on the couch, Seth and Sara sitting on either side of her. Sara looks at her with worry. "Are you alright?"
She moves again, trying to sit up more. Pain stabs through her chest and she takes in a sharp breath. "I'm not sure. I don't think anything's broken though."
"Here, let me see." Alex gets up from the passenger seat at the front of the RV and carefully walks back to them to kneel in front of Brynn. Gently, she feels along Brynn's arms and legs, searching for the feel of broken bones.
"I thought you were a Ph.D., not M.D."
Alex smiles as she slips her hands beneath Brynn's shirt to feel her ribs. "I am only a Ph.D. but I have brothers who were very accident prone when we were little. Still are, actually. They've had broken bones often enough for me to know what they feel like." Her hand presses on a tender spot on the right side of Brynn's ribs and Brynn gasps at the pain. Alex hums thoughtfully, feeling around the spot a little more, and then retracts her hands. "Well, nothing seems to be broken. You definitely have a couple of bruised ribs though. You'll be tender for a couple of weeks, but you'll be fine. Maybe we can find you some painkillers somewhere around here."
At the mention of painkillers, Brynn looks at Seth hopefully. "Do you still have any?"
He smirks, digging into his pocket and handing her more of those leaves he gave her the night before. "Not so disgusting now, are they?"
"Well, it's like you said. Good medicine never tastes good." She eats the leaves, her face screwing up slightly at the gross taste but when the numbing tingling starts to spread through her body she sighs in relief. "Yeah, never going to complain about those things again."
"What is that?" Alex asks, taking one of the leaves from Seth and examining it curiously.
"It is a plant from our planet that acts as a potent pain reliever," Sara says. "It helps the body to heal faster as well."
"Amazing," Alex says softly. "It looks exactly like plants you could find here on Earth. I would love to analyze it further."
"You can do that once all of this is over," Jack says from the driver's seat. "Right now, we need to get to Witch Mountain."
"Right," Alex says, holding down her excitement. She gives Seth the leaf back and returns to her seat next to Jack, pulling out the maps Harlan gave them.
"How long will it take to get there?" Brynn asks.
"A couple of hours," Alex says. "In the meantime, you guys should try to get some sleep."
"Good idea," Sara says. She moves to get up but Brynn takes her hand.
"Wait," Brynn says, looking down at her lap. Sara sits back down and Brynn takes a deep breath. She needs to know, for certain, where they stand. After everything. "You heard, didn't you?"
"Yes," Sara says. "We know that Mr. Wolfe is your father."
Brynn closes her eyes tightly, speaking barely above a whisper, "Do you hate me?"
"Why would we hate you?" Seth asks, and the amount of surprise in his voice makes her look up at him. He really doesn't understand? She is the daughter of that monster. His blood runs through her veins. She's tainted. Ashamed. Why would they ever want to associate with someone like her?
"Oh, Brynn, do not think such thoughts." Sara grasps both of Brynn's hands tightly in hers. "You are our friend. Knowing now who your father is changes nothing."
"We knew nothing about you when we first met," Seth says. "How did you put it? You could have been a psychopath for all we knew."
"Sara would have known if I was a psychopath," Brynn points out. "You know, mind reader and all."
He looks at her, unimpressed. "Not the point."
"Anyway, we knew nothing about you, yet took you with us. My sister is right, the knowledge of who your father is changes nothing. It simply means we know more about you now." He wraps an arm around her and draws her closer until she's leaning against him, her head on his shoulder. "And I would like to get to know you more," she hears in her head since Sara still holds her hands.
She smiles, turning her face into the crook of his neck. "I would like that, too."
Sara squeezes her hands. "You two are adorable."
Brynn jerks upright, looking at Sara with wide eyes and feeling a blush quickly spread across her face. Just what is Sara getting at?
But Seth's arm doesn't fall from her shoulders. He does give his sister one of his death glares though. "Sara," he says slowly, a warning.
Sara smiles innocently. "I simply speak the truth, Seth." She rises from her seat. "Perhaps now we should take Alex's advice and get some rest. We still have a long journey ahead of us."
"Right," Brynn says quietly, suddenly feeling exhausted, but she's afraid to go to sleep. Sara moves to lay on one of the bench seats at the dinner table across from the couch, her small frame allowing her to fit into the narrow space comfortably. Seth goes to join her on the other bench seat but Brynn grabs his arm to stop him. "Wait."
He turns to look at her, his blue eyes clearer than she's ever seen them. The usual coldness is now replaced by a soft warmth when he looks at her. "Yes?"
"Can you stay, please?" she asks, hating the weakness in her voice, but Seth said it's okay not to be strong all the time, right? And even though that bench seat is only feet away, right now it feels like miles. "You can have the couch and I'll take the floor but…please. After what's happened today, I'm afraid the nightmare's going to come back."
"It is no problem," he says softly. "I will stay with you." Before she can move to get up to let him have the couch, Seth carefully lifts her in his arms and maneuvers them until he is lying on his back on the couch and Brynn is curled against him, partly on the couch but mostly on top of Seth. The blush returns and she's unsure what to do at first, but then Seth's arms wrap tightly around her and she relaxes into him. She presses her face into his chest, trying to memorize the smell of pine trees and the feeling of being in his arms, because she wishes that Seth could stay with her, deep down in that place inside herself she's too afraid to acknowledge yet, even though that part of her also knows that, in the end, he won't be able to.