Dark Clouds

"Dammit, Jack." Lawrence's fist was quick. If he'd dared to fight back, Johnny Cage could have avoided it. But "Johnny Cage" was less and less in evidence. He was Jack Carlton now. The scar on his face and the blurriness in his right eye had ended his career in movies about five months after he'd returned from the Mortal Kombat competition. These days he taught self-defense to women's groups and ran a small production company. Lawrence was more than his business partner. They'd been living together for three years now. The fist that slammed into his jaw wasn't pulled. He wiped away the blood from his split lip with the back of his hand. "How many times do I have to tell you to come straight home from the office?"

"I just had to drop by the store for dinner." Jack kept his voice soft.

"I told you straight home. That means no stops. Why is this so hard for you to get?" Lawrence shook his head. He was Jack's height with beach-tanned skin and brown hair streaked with blond. His eyes were chocolate brown. He shook his lover harshly.

"I just figured it would be a nice treat. I didn't mean to upset you."

"You never mean to do it, but you always do. You could always have gone out after you came home. It's simple. You do what I tell you, I don't have to hit you, baby."

Jack dropped his eyes to the floor. "I'm sorry, honey," he replied.

Lawrence leaned forward. "Are you drinking again, Jack? You know I hate that."

"Nothing stronger than coffee."

Lawrence snorted. "Right. With whiskey in it?"

"Well, my family is Irish, but no." It was Bailey's, Jack thought. It made everything hurt less when he had a little insulation from the world. He'd made sure to brush his teeth so that Lawrence wouldn't be able to smell it or taste it. Lawrence was smiling now. That always made him look devastingly handsome. Jack smiled back a little hesitantly.

"See, baby, life can be easy. Come on, let's eat dinner."


"Jack, what happened?" Lori asked. He frowned at her for a minute.

"Oh, my lip." He shrugged. "A private student who hasn't learned to pull punches yet." He shook his head. "Came from the right and I didn't catch it in time. Could have been worse. How's the new apartment?"

"Great." She enthused about her new, less-expensive place for awhile. "You sure you're okay?"

"I'm fine, Lori. I promise."

"Jack," she said quietly, "I'm a social worker. I know you're lying to me."

He shook his head. "I'm not a case for you."

"You're a functional drunk in an abusive relationship," she contradicted as she helped him pull out the equipment. "And I want you to know that I'm here when you decide you need help."

"Thanks for the offer, but no." She sighed and he could tell she was frustrated. They had this discussion at least once a month, more if she thought he was drinking before class. The fine tremor in his right hand came from the fear that she'd figure out that sometimes it was more than alcohol. He could lose his teaching gig over that. The injuries from the "incident" that had scarred him had left him with a mild addiction to demerol that he indulged in only when the bruises were deeper than usual.

"Johnny, or do you really prefer Jack?"

"Jack. Johnny's not who I am anymore."

"Jack, then, why teach this class?"

"I'm good with female students."

"Why not use it?"

"Because I'll do a lot more damage than he does." He looked her dead in the eye. "I can handle this, Lori. You're not my shrink. You're not my mother. Let it go."

"I like to think I'm your friend. I'm not going to let it go. This will kill you one day."


That shock shut her up. He smiled brightly and went to greet the first of his students. Lori would watch him like a hawk now, but it was worth seeing the gaping fish-mouth on her just once.


"Mr. Carlton, not good to see you in here so soon." Dr. Matthews was blunt, but he was also the best. "What's wrong?"

"My vision's getting worse."

"Damn. I thought we'd stabilized it." The exam was quick. "Did you hit your head again?"

"I got caught on the jaw by a student, but that was mild. I got a split lip, but that's it."

"I warned you to be careful."

"I was careful. It's all been body blows." Jack grinned. Matthews saw the actor he'd known for a minute.

"What the Hell am I going to do with you?" he asked with a long-suffering sigh. "I'm telling you, most of the martial artists I see don't get bruised up. You're doing stunt-work again aren't you?"



"Well, it's money isn't it?"

"And you're broke."

"Well, for some reason my medical expenses have been going up."

Matthews snorted. "Find an easier way of making money."

"I'm having fun."

"Don't sulk. I'm sending you in for a CT scan. I think there may be bleeding. Don't whine. Don't sulk. Just do what you're told. Oh, and John, get into rehab."

"I'm fine."

"You're killing yourself. If you want to die, buy a gun."

"You're just a fucking ray of sunshine."

"And I don't know how you manage to hide this shit from your lover." The panic in the bright blue eyes made Matthews relent. "I won't tell him. But, please, don't make me bury you. Not after all the hard work I've put in to keeping you alive."

"I'll be careful."


"What did. . ." the rest of the sentence trailed away when Jack hit the wall. He blacked out. When he came too, there was an EMT checking his eyes. "What?"

"You were unconscious when I got here. You'll have to ask a cop. We're taking you to the hospital. Can you tell me your name?"

"John Carlton."

The EMT raised a brow.

"It's my real name. Honest." Jack grinned. "And I also know the date and the name of the president. I've had concussions before. And my right eye has been blown for awhile, so don't worry about it."

"We're still going to take you in. You're bleeding and there may be something worse. Just relax and let us do our job, okay? We're going to be putting a neck brace on and immobalizing your head, understand?"

"Yeah. Where's Lawrence?"

"Don't worry, he's being taken care of. Tell me about him?"

"Let's see, he's two years older than me, but denies it. He has a little brother named Jeffrey. Jeff hates him and me. He's been in the industry since he was sixteen. His first film was Bikini Beach Slaughter. He played a boyfriend who got killed in the opening sequence. His favorite movie is currently Star Wars. We've seen it about fifty times in the past two months and I'm seriously considering burning the tape. It should snap any day now." The EMT encouraged him to keep talking as they maneuvered him onto a gurney and out of the house. Then, as they hit a pot-hole, he blacked out again.


"Why won't you tell me where Lawrence is?" Jack demanded of the police officer. The officer sighed.

"Mr. Carlton, I just need to get a statement of what happened in your own words."

"I got home at about six o'clock, which was a miracle considering the traffic. By the time I got there, Lawrence was screaming at someone on the phone. I'm guessing a director, since we've been having trouble with a couple of them. They want more money and we're holding them to their contracts. I put my keys down and turned and I don't really know what happened. I'm guessing I lost my balance and hit the wall. I woke up to the EMT."

"Do you have a history of balance problems?"

"I've had a lot of concussions over the years. Dr. Matthews had me in for a CT scan a couple days ago. He wasn't thrilled with the results, but it wasn't an emergency, so we put off surgery." The young man's hand rose to touch his shaved head. "I'm guessing they had to go in. Could you move a little bit to the left. I can't really see you well where you are." The officer shifted. "Now, where is Lawrence?"

"I think that's all, sir. There will be a detective around to talk to you."

"Where is Lawrence?"

"Calm down, sir. The detective will be able to answer all your questions. I don't know."

"Sorry. I just expected him to be here. He usually is." The officer patted his hand and left.


"Tell me, Mr. Carlton, how often did you hit Lawrence?" Detective Abbott asked.

The blond blinked at him. "Hit Lawrence? I've never hit him. He doesn't even spar with me."


"Martial arts practice. He's not into it."

"So he's not a private student?"

"Lawrence? No way. I asked him once and he said and I quote 'I'll leave that Chinese crap to you.' Where is he? What's happened?"

The young man was starting to get agitated. Abbott looked at the scar and the bruises. He didn't want to take this to a prosecuter. This kid had obviously been through Hell and wasn't done with the tour yet. His eyes were old, scared. "Mr. Carlton, Lawrence is dead."

"No. No way. Lawrence can't be dead. How did he die? Was there a car crash on the way to the hospital? They told me he was being taken care of."

"Lawrence died from a broken neck. The coroner says it only took one well-placed blow. Crushed his windpipe."

Carlton pulled his knees up to his chest and curled over them. "Crushed his windpipe? He soffocated?"



"Kick to the throat, considering the impact mark."

"Oh, god."

"When did you start hitting him?"

"I've never hit him. I never would."

Abbott sighed. "Take me through the night one more time."


"Listen, like it or not, you need a defense lawyer. I can't see why you want a public defender." Nina Timmons shook her head. "Tell me what happened."

"I already told you what I remember. Everything else they tell me must have happened, but I just don't know. I can't believe I'd kick him that hard."

"You don't remember?"


"What drugs do you take? Be honest with me, John."

"Call me Jack or Johnny, but not John. John is my father's name." He was charming, she had to admit. And the jury would love him, if he turned that smile on them.

"Okay, Jack. What drugs?"

"Demerol for my aches and pains. I had a nasty incident." He gestured to his face.

"And how often do you drink?"

He licked his lips and crossed his arms over his chest. "Just one a day. Lawrence doesn't like me to drink."

"And what else did Lawrence not like?" she asked. This was it. This was the real story. Shit, she'd been blinded by the fact that Jack seemed so confident.

"Me not getting home on time. Or when I forget to do paperwork. He gets pissed if I don't remember to pick up the dry cleaning. Little shit." He shrugged. "Why?"

"Just trying to get a sense of your life. And the women you teach at the Y. Do you think any of them would testify?"

"Why would they? They weren't there?"

"I'm trying to build up a history of your life."

His eyes shut down and he slumped back. Nina felt like a bitch, but it had to be done. "Oh," was all he said. "Lori, I guess. She's been on my case about rehab for awhile, but I'm functional." He shrugged. "I frequently drop the demerol until I get hurt. But my body's so used to it that aspirin just doesn't do anything for me."

"Do you have any family you can stay with?"

"No, they're all dead. Master Boyd's missing. The only other person I might be able to crash with hasn't returned my phone calls in two years." he shrugged. "That's life. You can let them keep me here. It's not a problem."

"I know. You're up on two assault charges."

"I just really didn't feel like saying yes to a dealer who had that many tattoos. I'm not that desperate."

Nina sighed. "It's not making the case that you didn't kill Lawrence any easier."

He blinked at her. "Give me a good reason why I should care. I don't have anything left. This trial will finish off what was left of my reputation. Fuck it. I may as well let myself die in a prison fight."

"You really want to die in a prison fight? Would that really be a fitting end?"

"To my story? Shit yes. Hell, it could be the best thing that's happened in ages. Even the fucking gods have abandoned me. And you know who you are, you bastard." He looked up at the ceiling with a glare. His face evened out and he looked at her. "Obscure death in prison. It'll make a wonderful end to the E! biography on me. They just love tragic stories." He shrugged.

"And did the dealer give you a good deal on whatever you're taking?"

"It was just some surplus evidence." The young man's voice was snide now. She noticed scars on his arms.

"I'm going to have you put into solitary pending a psych review. You'll take a full-spectrum drug test. Don't kill anyone."

"I haven't. I just knocked him around. He thought he was better than I was. He was wrong."

"Don't give the gaurds any trouble."

"Why would I? I don't want to be gunned down by a cop. It isn't any fun."

Nina kept herself from screaming by sheer force of will.


"Well, Ray, what do you think. Blue suits me, doesn't it?" Jack asked the thunder clouds he could see through the high window in the psych-eval room. He shook his head. "I don't know. Was it worth it?" He fiddled with the handcuffs on his wrists. For some reason they thought he was too dangerous to leave un-cuffed. Well, maybe if he'd been arrested for possession or something they'd have eased up. He hummed to himself. "So, why the gloomy sky today? Someone piss you off?" Thunder crackled in the distance and Jack laughed. The psychologist walked in. The guard that had been outside stepped into the room.

"Please leave us alone."

"Doc, he's dangerous."

"I can't lift my hand to scratch my nose. Besides, why would I attack him?" Jack shook his head. "Just goes to show that public education is getting worse and worse. They really need to start teaching logic again. Ah, fuck it, Dr. Martins. Have a seat and lets finish this stupidity as quickly as possible. Yes, I know I have a mild drug problem. No, I'm not suicidal. What else is there?"

"How long were you abused," Martins asked bluntly. Jack stared at him.

He looked away. "Shit."

"I've got your medical records. Are we going to try the truth for this?"

"Truth about what?"

"The abuse. I know he was hitting you, I just need to know how often and how long."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"So you'll admit to the drugs, but not the abuse, interesting." The gaurd was beginning to look uncomfortable. "Did he ever rape you?"

Jack stared at Martins. "Why do you care?"

"Because I want to know what we're dealing with."

"If I pretend to be depressed will you forget the rest of it?"

"No. I've worked with too many actors over the years. Does anyone in your family know you're gay?"

"My family is dead."

"And now so is Lawrence. What other supports did you have? Religion?"

Jack's lips twitched. He glanced out at the storm clouds. "You could say that. I bitch at a god every once and awhile."

"So, no friends?"

"I didn't have any to begin with. Well, except Lawrence. They all cut out when this happened." He gestured to his face. "No big loss."

"Had to hurt."

"Not really. I knew it would happen." He shrugged.

"You told your lawyer to let you stay here, why?"

"Because I don't have anywhere else to go."

"Your apartment?"

"It's nothing without Lawrence being there. I've never liked the place. Not close enough to the water."

"Then why stay there?"

"Lawrence liked it."

Martins nodded. "And the women you teach self-defence too, what do you think they'd say to see you here?"

"Depends on the woman, I'd guess." Jack shrugged. "What exactly did Nina expect?"

"To find out whether you need to be on suicide watch or not."

"Oh, that. I was just teasing her."

"Bullshit. You are depressed, Jack. I could see that when I walked into the room."

"My best friend is dead. Of course, I'm depressed. You must be a cold bastard if your lover could die and you wouldn't be depressed."

"When was the last time you were happy?"

"I don't remember. When I was five or six maybe. I had a puppy." He shrugged.

"Have you had memory problems recently?"

"I can't remember what happened when I got in the night Lawrence died. But that's about it. I was unconscious though, so not a big deal."

Martins nodded again. "I have a test I'd like you to take. Here's a pencil."

"Do you have a clipboard or a book?"


"Because I can't lift my hands to the level of the desk. They think I'm dangerous." He grinned at the doctor then. "Can't imagine why."

Martins shook his head. "Gaurd, unlock his wrists from his waist."

"Sorry, sir, I can't do that."

"Why not? He's shown no agressive behavior towards me or any of the gaurds."

"He's put three prisoners in the hospital."

"They'll be fine. I pulled my punches." Jack tried his most winning smile on the psychologist. "I'm normal. Honest."

"Why do you talk to 'Ray' when you're alone?"

Jack shrugged. "It's better than talking to myself."

"And does he answer?"

Jack snorted. "Right. Haven't heard from him since, well, I don't remember him ever answering when I was cursing the heavens." He laughed and shook his head. "That's the point. I can yell all I like and it doesn't upset anyone."

"So is Ray an ex? A family member?"

"Nickname for a god."

The young man saw the penny drop and Martins relaxed. He had just escaped the schizophrenia diagnosis. Jack almost cheered. "Which god?"

"What, you don't think that Jesus changes into Ray? Well, actually, Rayden is the god of thunder and lightening and protector of the human race. Learned about him in Hong Kong one year."

Martins smiled. "Just fill out the test for me. I'll give you some time with it." He settled the test on a pile of papers on Jack's lap and handed him the pencil. He took out a journal and started reading. Jack adapted to the awkward position and started the test.


Nina paced the length of the consultation room and back. Her client watched her with impassive eyes. He was rubbing at the handcuff around his right wrist, but it seemed to be an unconscious action. "You're not helping me any with this."

"You know what? I don't care."

"That's obvious. Damn it! I know the truth. You know the truth. Why won't you tell it?"

He looked at her. "Why should I?"

"Because you are going to go to prison if you don't."

"I think you're better than that." He yawned. She looked closely at him.

"Is your eye getting worse?"

"I'm completely blind in it now. Dr. Matthews warned me it would probably happen last time I went to see him. There's no bleeding. The doctor here checked it out."

"And you're still getting into fights. Why won't they put you in solitary?"

"I'm not suicidal. Besides, they're having fun betting on me versus the new guys. I don't hurt them too badly. Just their pride mostly."

"Damn it, Jack!"

He flinched and she knew then, without a shadow of a doubt, what Lawrence's favorite phrase was. "It doesn't matter. The gaurds like me. The other idiots in here respect me. And I don't have to worry about ending up someone's pet as long as I fight."

She rolled her eyes. "So you're seeking out fights?"

"No, they just come to me naturally. Nina, listen, I don't care if I go to jail or not. It doesn't mean anything to me. If I go to prison, I meet up with assholes who are bigger and nastier. If I stay out, I scrape by on stunt-work and teaching becase sure as shit no one's going to want to work with me as their producer. Besides, half of the company is dead now. Partnership implies that two people are involved in it."

"So you're prepared to go to prison rather than defend yourself. Why are you protecting him?"

"He's all I have left. I have to protect his image. What more can happen to mine?"

"You are not going to be convicted of a crime you didn't commit. I'll be back next week. We have an arraignment hearing on the tenth. I'll get you out for awhile."

"Don't bother. Just see if you can get the trial moved up."

"Jack," she warned, "don't start this right now. You won't win any fights with me."


"Jack Carlton is released into the custody of Dr. Robert Martins until his hearing in one month's time."

"What?" Jack asked. He looked at his lawyer. She smiled sweetly at him. She patted his hand.

"Don't worry. Dr. Martins will take good care of you."

"Mr. Carlton, did you have something to say?" The judge's smile was kind, but Jack didn't want to see it.

"Can't I just stay in jail?"

"Why do you want to stay in jail?" The judge was shocked.

Jack looked to the door. "It's safer."

"In what way?"

"In the news office smelling a story way. They can't ambush me in prison."

The judge frowned. His eyes narrowed as he looked down at his notes. "Why are you worried about the press?"

"Gay producer killed by his ex-actor lover. Or no, wait, let me think. Ex-star Johnny Cage arraigned in murder of his gay lover. Yeah, wonderful. I'd rather fight drug dealers every night! I told both of them I didn't want to be released unitl after the trial, but they weren't hearing it."

"You'll be staying at my clinic. No one will know you're there," Dr. Martins assured. "It'll be fine, Jack."

"Does the word bullshit have any meaning for you?"

"Yes, it's everything you've said to me during our evaluations."

"The baliff will take you back for processing, then you'll leave with Dr. Martins." The judge left the room. Jack was left standing with his council and Dr. Martins.

"Hey, Cage," the prosecutor said with a smirk, "you going to plead guilty for me?"

"I've never backed down from a fight, Richie."

"Maybe you should consider it one of these days."

"See you in court, Richie."

"You know him?" Nina demanded as the man left.

"I taught his wife self-defense once. He came to make sure I wasn't hitting on her."


"Lawrence was there. It wasn't an issue."

"We'll get him off the case then."

"I know a lot of people. None of them well, but I know them. Besides, we used to travel in similar circles. Tell me no one knows about this yet."

"I won't lie to you."

"Please, I'm asking you to lie to me."

"No one knows anything," Nina said. She was smiling, just being nice. "Don't worry."

"Right." Jack looked up at the sky. "Lightening bolt right to the head? It'd be quicker than the rest of this." He shook his head. "Let's get this stupid dog trick going then. Damn, and I had a fight scheduled for tonight."


"I'm sorry about this, Jack, but you will have to be locked in at night."

"That's okay. I have a roommate?"

"Not yet."

"Fine. Goodnight." He stretched out on the bed and stared at the cieling. Dr. Martins gritted his teeth.

"Dinner first, Jack."

"Why? I'm not hungry."

"I'm not your enemy."

"That's a matter of opinion."

"Are you that desperate to go to prison?"

"Yes. Goodnight."

Dr. Martins admitted defeat. It was just the first battle though, not the war. Jack Carlton was a tough patient, but not the hardest he'd ever had to crack. "I'll see you for dinner, Jack."


"Ray, why the Hell are they doing this? No one cares about me. I'm just a fucking footnote. I'm nothing, no-one. And now these two assholes are conspiring to drive me insane. You should take offense to that. I thought that was your job." Johnny's voice was full of confusion. Rayden watched him curl in on himself. "I don't want to be here, Ray. It's so much easier to live in that jail cell. I do what the gaurds tell me and I don't get hurt. Someone attacks me, I fight back. And it doesn't matter because I don't care about them."

Rayden sighed. He didn't mind being Johnny's outlet. If the young man asked, he'd steal him away, or heal his wounds, or erase his past. He'd do anything but let him die. He let a gentle rain patter against the windows. He saw the small smile.

"Thanks," Johnny whispered. He touched the scar on his face. "Now, if I just figure out how to get rid of them, I'll be doing fine. Richie'll make sure I go down for manslaughter if nothing else."

Why, Johnny? Rayden asked silently as he listened to the soft words spilling out. Why do you want to die so badly? Did I do this to you? Just ask me for help, Johnny. I'll do whatever you need. Not what you want, but what you need.


"Johnny," Martins said calmly. The young man frowned at him. "You're going to have to say something eventually."

The blond smiled, then turned away. He stared out the window.

"If you want to go out, you're going to have to prove to me that you aren't a danger to yourself."

"I'm only a danger to other people," he said. It was almost too soft for the psychologist to catch. He walked to the window and stared out. It was a beautiful day, with bright fluffy clouds in the sky.

"Tell me about Lawrence."


"Because you need to talk about him."

"No, I don't." The young man's voice was stronger now, more like the arrogant man he'd met in the jail. It wasn't necessarily a good sign.


"Don't call me that. Call me 'Jack.' Johnny Cage is dead and good riddance to him. He was even more useless than I am."

"Why do you think you're useless?"

Jack turned to face him. "Do you think I'm not?"

Martins' lips twitched. "I want to know what you're thinking."

"I'm thinking that you're going to drive me crazy. Why can you not accept that I'm not worth all this effort?"

"Because you are worth the effort. I'm not going to let you get yourself sent to prison. I don't believe you killed him."

"I could have. I just can't remember."

"And it scares you."

"That I could kill a man unconsciously? Yes, it does worry me. What does that say about what I could do in my sleep?"

"No more than some of the vets that I work with here. It takes a long time for soldiers to stand down. How did you get the scar, Jack?"

The change of topic obviously surprised the young man. "I don't know."

"Tell me what you remember."

Jack shivered. "I remember waking up in the hospital after surgery. They managed to save my life. My eye wouldn't focus and Dr. Matthews was upset, but said that it should stabilize at that level. It didn't. I'm blind in that eye now. I remember pain. Just pain, then numbness. I didn't care about it. About anything. My hands were broken, and my shins were cracked." His eyes were unfocussed. "I don't know how Lawrence found out about it, but probably because he was the only one who actually looked for me when I didn't show up to the shoot. They said it was mugging, but no one believed them."

"And you, what did you believe?"

"That it was Kano's organization. They were probably trying to get to Sonya, but they didn't realize that we were barely talking. Went through two more surgeries. They managed to repair my mouth enough to let me smile. I thought that was good enough."


"Criminal. Sonya was tracking him. He'd killed her partner."


"A cop I met a few years ago. We had a little fling." He shrugged. "I assumed someone had seen me with her, but who knows. I haven't seen her in ages."

"What's the last thing you remember before the hospital?" Martins was trying to pull the details together. This was the important part. This is what started the slide that ended here.

"I was at a bar, drinking."

"With someone?"

"No, alone. There were other people there, but I wasn't with them or interested in being with them. I was dealing with some things."



"In what manner?"

"I was raised Catholic." Jack paused. He turned back to the window. "It was a bit of a shock when I found out I was interested in both sides of the fence. My family is dead to me. My father disowned me. One of my stupid decisions was coming out to them. The church wasn't a good fit anymore. So I found something else."


"Ray." Jack nodded. "Elemental god who didn't care that I was arrogant or fought as long as I used my skills properly. I could hear him in the thunder-clouds and smell him on the air before a storm. He was energy and ozone and didn't want me to go to church every Sunday. I spent some time at his temple when I was in China and I liked what I found there. So I kept him."

"And this was what you were dealing with before you got hurt?"


"Tell me what the bar looked like."

"It was just a bar. Nothing special. It was trying to be an Irish pub. There was just a jukebox though." Jack shrugged. "Maybe I got too drunk to remember. Or maybe the smacks to my head and the cut keep me from remembering. I don't really care. It happened. It's over."

"And how did you end up with Lawrence?"

"He was there. We were friends. He took care of me."

"And so you sold your house?"

"I did. There were bills to be paid. And it was just too big. I miss the sea though."

"And you moved in with Lawrence." Martins led the story along each time Jack seemed to get lost. He wondered if Jack knew how long he'd been depressed.


"Were you already in a relationship when you moved in?"

Jack nodded. "He stayed with me when everyone else cut out. We were friends. We could do the stupid shit that friends do together. It just sort of happened. One minute we were watching a film and the next we were watching each other."

"Did you start it or was it Lawrence?"

"Lawrence. It was always Lawrence. I'm," he paused. "I'm shy, I guess. I don't really start relationships. I guess I did start the thing with Sonya, but that was just for fun. I was never serious about it. I mostly did it to piss her off." He shrugged again. He turned to lean against the window. "You aren't afraid of me."


"You should be."

"Would you attack me?"

"Probably not. But I would have put money on me never hurting Lawrence." Jack's arms were crossed over his chest. "Will you tell the interns that I'm allowed to practice in my room. They keep thinking its some sort of sign of schizophrenia or something. They keep asking me if I want a sedative."

"Of course. How did you get that cut on your wrist?"

Jack looked at the cut for a long moment. "I'm not sure." I must have caught it on something."

"Really? Can I look at it?"

"Sure. It doesn't look like it bled. It just cut a little bit."

Martins looked at the wound. It did look like it had gotten caught on something. What worried him was that Jack didn't remember it. He'd have to get the nurses to check his arms for knicks and cuts for a few days. "Doesn't look serious. How's withdrawl?"

"From what?"

"The demerol."

"Oh, I only take that when something hurts." Jack waved that away.

"Tell me about Sonya?"

"What's to tell? She's a cop. I'm not. We haven't talked in years."

"Since before the accident?"

"No, we talked about two years ago, but I think they reassigned her and she didn't leave a forwarding number."

"And you didn't look for her?"

"I assume she went undercover."

"What sort of cop is she?"

"Hush-hush. She's federal."

A lightbulb went off in Martins head. Jack was scared that he'd become a target if he looked for her. She probably assumed that he didn't want her to call because he hadn't looked for her. But he still worried about her because he didn't have news. "And what did Lawrence think of Sonya?"

Jack's face went blank. "Why do you always ask those sorts of questions?"

"Because I need to know about your relationship with him."

"It doesn't matter. You've done your eval. The trial starts in three days. Then I'll be out of your hair one way or another." Jack turned and stared out the window.

"Why are you still protecting him?"

"Because he's important to me!"

"He's dead."

Jack rested his forehead against the window. "I don't want to talk about him anymore."

"You'll have to talk about him at the trial."

"No I won't."


"I know my way back to my room." Jack left the room and Martins looked out at the lawn, praying for the answer to getting into this man's mind.


"Hi, Jack."


He was already defensive, but she didn't take that personally. He looked pretty good for someone who was going to be on trial for murder. "This place seems good for you."

"You're seeing things. It's just the lighting. Why did you come here? And how did you find me?"

"I wormed it out of your lawyer. Why do you have a public defender?"

Jack shrugged. "She graduated law school. She seems sincere. So?"

"You can afford and attorney."

"I don't want one."

"Then why not plead?"

"Because Richie's the prosecutor. I couldn't give him the satisfaction. You saw what he did to Debbie."

"He's in counseling."

"Only because I didn't catch him before the cops did."

"You aren't seriously doing this because you don't want to give in to him? Jack, there's no way you killed Lawrence. I won't believe it."

"That's your choice."

"You don't believe it either."

He looked down and away. "I don't know why you came. Did Dr. Martins get frustrated enough to call in reinforcements?"

"No, I'm your friend. You don't have enough of those to worry about you."

"I don't want you to worry about me. I don't want you to care about me. Lori, we teach well together, but that's it. There is nothing personal between us. You aren't my counselor or my confessor."

"You'd never hit him, Jack."

"You don't know that."

"I've seen the bruises. I've see the fingers imprinted in your skin. I will not let them make the jury believe you were abusing him. I know what he's done to you. I've heard him and I've seen him and I won't be quiet."

"You should be. It was between him and me. It was my decision to stay and I could have left any time. Leave it alone, Lori."

"He treated you like shit, Jack."

"He was good to me. You just don't see that."

"He beat you. He enabled your drug habit. He enabled your drinking."

"He hit me when I drank, Lori. He stole my stashes and threw them away. He wasn't enabling me. We used each other. I'll admit that it wasn't the healthiest relationship+, but we were fine."

"No, you weren't. I watched your interactions. He controlled where you went, what you ate, what you wore. He told you when to come home and when to go to work. He was a controlling and abusive bastard. No one has the right to hit you for being late getting home!"

"Leave it alone, Lori. It's not your problem."

"I'm making it my problem." She turned on her heel and stalked away. She could hear his muttering as she left.

"Ray, did you hear that one? What bullshit."

She felt tears building. It was so hard to remain objective when you knew the person you were trying to break through to. He honestly didn't believe that she could care about him. Damn Lawrence to the deepest levels of Hell for destroying whatever confidence he'd had left after the accident.


"Ray, really, what is it with people? Why won't they leave me alone?" Johnny had settled on the bed in his room and pulled his knees up to his chest. He rested the ruined side of his face on them and sighed. There were no tears. There never were. Rayden longed to gather him into a gentle embrace and hold him close for the rest of his life.

What had he been thinking? He'd allowed a warrior to return to a land where he wasn't welcome. Johnny's world didn't allow for warriors or heroes, not real ones at any rate. The young man had hidden his discomfort well, but after witnessing the attack that had left him scarred, Rayden knew that he had been faking it all along. There was pain in that too. He hadn't noticed Johnny drinking more often than any other human, nor had the drugs seemed any more threatening than aspirin. Yet, here were two people alleging he was addicted to the substances.

Rayden hung his head. He wished he could do more, but unless he was asked, he would not interfere in Johnny's life. Please, ask me to help you, Johnny Cage.

"Really, you'd think people would learn. It's useless to love me. I'm not made for it. I can't return it." Johnny sighed. "Sometimes I wish you'd just tell me what to do. Hell, that's why I stayed with Lawrence for so long. It was so easy to follow orders. I forgot sometimes, but still it was nice to have someone else decide things for me. Make it rain for me okay? I don't want the trial to be on a nice day. It'll encourage reporters."

Rayden smiled and shook his head. That at least he could do. He started a gentle shower to comfort his champion. Johnny's eyes closed and he relaxed, listening to the rain on the window.


The young man who wanted to see Jack was wearing a red colored robe. His English was perfect, but he was nervous. Dr. Martins looked at him for a long moment. "Why do you want to see him?"

"I wish to speak to him of Lord Rayden. There are not many of us in this city who believe."

Martins smiled. "Of course. If you'll wait in this room, I'll bring John to see you." The psychologist was determined to get through Jack's lack of enthusiasm. If that meant enlisting the aid of a monk, that's what he'd do. "You have a visitor, Jack."

"Tell Lori to mind her own business." Jack was laid out on his stomach reading.

"It's not Lori. It's a man in a red sheet."

Jack sat up with a jerk. "Shaved head?"


"Damn. Damn. Damn. I better see him then." He rolled off the bed. "You need to work on the security of this place. That's two people who've found me already!"

Martins laughed at that. The man was undeniably charismatic when he wanted to be. Jack bowed to the man in red and the man returned the bow with a Chinese greeting. Jack looked at him with a raised brow. Martins shook his head. "You know I'm not allowed to leave you with visitors."

"You left me with Lori."

"Lori works here."

"Fuck. Fine." Jack turned back to the monk and they fell into conversation, in Chinese. Martins had to admit defeat. He'd be there, but he wouldn't understand a word of it.


"Champion of Earth," Ho-Li greeted.

"Follower of Rayden," Johnny responded. "What can I do for you?"

"I have news of what really happened. It took me time to find where you were."

Johnny tried to rid them of Martins, but it didn't work. "What happened?"

"I am the one that killed him." Ho-Li bowed his head. "I was coming to speak with you. I saw him hit you and move in to do more. I simply reacted. I thought you should know the truth before I went to the police."

"No. Don't go to the police. You acted to protect me, and I cannot fault you for that instinct. But if you go to the police after all this time, they will think you're lying or that you had another reason to kill him."

"Champion, I must. What I have done was wrong. I should never have left you there to face this alone."

"You called the ambulance."


Johnny gathered the younger man's hands in his. "Look at me," he ordered gently. When he had the monk's eyes, he spoke again. "What you did was for my protection. Let me protect you. That is my duty isn't it? All I ask is that you pray for me. They won't believe that I killed him. There's no evidence for it."

Ho-Li bowed his head again. "Of course, I will do as you say. But," he raised his head again, "Lord Rayden has often spoken of his worries for you. Ask for his help and he will stand with you."

"I have never doubted that. Thank you for telling me the truth."

"I have a question."


"Why did you allow him to hit you? It was not the first time."

"Were you sent to watch me?"

"I was."

Johnny laughed. "Nosy bastard, isn't he? Why not just ask me himself?"

"Our lord believed that you should be protected as much as possible. I wasn't able to do that."


"Because he was afraid he would lose you to this." The monk touched the scar reverently.

"Three years?"


"I see."

"Now, will you answer my question?"

"Because I was afraid I would kill him. And I simply couldn't do that."

"Thank you."

"We had better finish this up. The doctor is getting restless."

The monk nodded. They rose together and bowed. The monk left Johnny alone with Dr. Martins. He looked at the doctor. Martins was smiling. "You won that one," he admitted. "I didn't know you spoke Chinese."

"Most people don't."


Martins studied his patient. Now that the monk was gone, Jack seemed sadder. "What happened?" he asked gently.

"Nothing I can explain to you."

"You said you left the Catholic church when they turned their back on you."

Jack blinked. "Oh, no, it's not that. He was upset because he couldn't protect me."

"From the police?"

"From Lawrence."

Progress in admitting to the abuse, wonderful, Martins thought. "He's a friend then?"

"No." Jack smiled. It was sad and soft. "The master of his temple was worried about me. He asked him to check on me and keep me safe without interfering in my life. If I'd known I would have kept the truth a little more closely."

"He witnessed the abuse?"

"He saw the bruising. I've seen him around the neighborhood, but I assumed he was Buddist."

"So he was part of the background of your life. You recognized him."

"I notice people. It's a habit. You look for their unique traits. How does an old man walk? How does a mother hold her child? Will that asshole attack me for my wallet or not? What does that child think of the puppy? It's all little things."

"You're poetic today."

Jack nodded. "I've been reading Whitman. I'll see you later, doctor."


The day of the trial was dark and wet with wind whipping through the streets and punishing laces of water slicing through the air. Johnny turned his face up and let the water plaster his hair to his head. He grinned. "Thanks," he whispered. Even the most tenacious of the scandal rag reports had gone inside. Nina was waiting for him. Dr. Martins shrugged at her. Rayden shook his head. They should have guessed Johnny was stubborn by now.

"You like this weather?" Nina said, mouth hanging open. "And why didn't you wear a suit?"

"I'm not subjecting my suits to that weather. Deal with it." His outfit was business casual and he wore it like it was couture. Maybe it was. Rayden couldn't tell the difference. Clothing meant nothing to him, though he did admit that Johnny looked good in anything he wore. Lori waved to them as they passed. Nina jumped when a young woman flew into Johnny's arms.

"You'll always be my hero," she whispered in his ear before easing back to stand on her own two feet. She saluted. "One annoying yet faithful side-kick reporting for duty."

"You are supposed to be at school," Johnny replied. "Why, pray tell, are you here?"

"Because thou doth need my attentions, dear sir." She gave him a deep curtsey. "I am here to offer morale. Mom says she's in your corner, but she can't take off from work."

"Your mother? The same one who thinks I'm the spawn of Satan?"

"No, no, that was gram who thought you were a demon. Mom knows better. Besides, paying for school has softened her up."

Nina cleared her throat. "Melinda Clarke, this is Nina Timmons and Dr. Martins."

"A pleasure." A voice came over the loudspeaker. "That's us. Let's go."

"Great. Hey, Johnny, you'll be happy to know that you are currently in discussion in almost all of my classes."

"You have got to be kidding me."

"Nope. I'll talk to you later." She kissed his cheek. "For luck. Knock 'em dead, Dad." She winked.

"Brat." Rayden shook his head as Melinda took a seat. Where had she been for the past three years? Rayden wondered. The courtroom was packed by reporters. Johnny had been kept carefully ignorant of the fact that his case was the focus of media attention.

As soon as the opening rituals were done, the prosecution called his first witness. "Jason McKidrick."

Johnny turned to see the man walking in. "Hey, babe," Jason greeted on the way by. Johnny nodded a hello with a lopsided grin. Jason settled on the stand.

"Please state your name and your relation to the accused."

"Jason Patrick McKidrick. Ex-boyfriend."

"Tell me Mr. McKidrick, is it true that Mr. Carlton used to hit you?"

Jason blinked. "Johnny? No way. Where are you getting your information?"

"But you were in an unusual relationship, correct?"

The young man frowned at the prosecutor. "What do you mean?"

"You were in a sadomasochistic relationship, correct?"

Johnny started laughing. He slapped a hand over his mouth. Jason's lips twitched. "Sorry to disappoint, but Johnny's vanilla. That's why we broke up. Incompatible tastes. Besides, what does that have to do with anything?"

"He was used to getting beaten up wasn't he? He looked for that in a partner?"

Jason's mouth dropped open. "Um, no. I'm a sub. As in, I'm the one who likes it. He was never into that sort of thing. We stayed friends. I lost his phone number when he moved though." Johnny scribbled his number onto the pad in front of him. He passed the sheet back to Melinda knowing she'd take care of it. "In fact, I think I still have his jacket in my apartment." Jason shrugged.

"Your witness." The lawyer stalked to his seat.

"Defense waves its right to cross-examine," Nina said, lips twitching. Jason blew Johnny a kiss as he left and the actor looked away with a blush. Melinda caught Jason's arm and handed him the paper. She winked. He left the room.

"Prosecution calls William Barrett." The string of witnesses continued. Some following Jason's lead, others painting Johnny as a washed-up actor using Lawrence's influence.

"Prosecution rests."

They broke for the day. Melinda wrapped her arm around Johnny's waist. With her blonde hair streaked with red and braided in feathers, she looked like a wild bird. Her clothes were artfully tattered. "I'm coming with you to dinner," she told Johnny, Dr. Martins, and Nina. "And you're the shrink, huh? Dad's not insane."

"I will be if you keep calling me that. Your mother was going to sue for alimony. I told her that since I didn't have the fun part, I wasn't taking the kid."

"Sucker," Melinda grinned. "You're stuck with me."

"You look like a deranged parrot today."

"Oh good. That's the look I was going for." Her smile never faltered. "You like a man in need of food. You're not eating properly."

"I eat."

"Right." She drew out the word. "So, Nina, what's it like having the biggest case of your career turn out to be a gay domestic violence case?"

Nina glared. Johnny tugged on a chunk of Melinda's hair in reproof. "I think the two of you should get dinner. I'll meet you tomorrow at the same time. Doctor," she nodded her goodbye to Martins.

Martins looked at Johnny. "If you think I'm leaving the two of you alone to plot your way out of my clutches, think again."

Johnny rolled his eyes. "Come on. Dinner's on me. This little brat can buy the coffee tomorrow."

"Sure thing. I'll just take your wallet."


Jack leaned back in his chair. He couldn't wait to see what Nina had prepared for today. He could sense Mel behind him. It wasn't hard. She was wearing the perfume he always got her for Christmas. Her multi-layer skirts were rustling and he guessed that she was finding a book to read. He felt something soft and fluffy against the back of his head. He didn't move and eventually, the stuffed rabbit made its way over his shoulder to drop into his lap. He caught it automatically and set it on the table in front of him. It was wearing a handmade tee-shirt that said, "sidekicks rule." He bit his lip not the laugh. He turned the rabbit so that it faced the jury. Nina glared at him and he looked innocently at her.

"Defense calls Dr. Robert Martins."

Jack zoned as Martins started his evaluation. "Clinically depressed. . . Adjustment disorder. . . blah, blah, blah." It was bullshit. Of course, Jack felt that most psychology was bullshit. He didn't want to know what Martins really thought of him. He felt eyes on him and looked up to find the judge looking at him with a frown. He tried a small smile, but it wouldn't show up. Maybe Martins was right about the depression. He met the judge's eyes squarely. Judge Hong, he thought the man's name was. The man's dark eyes turned back to the psychologist who was still answering questions.

Jack was gripped by the sudden urge to throw something at him. As if he'd caught the tought, Martins threw a "behave" glare in his direction. Jack wondered what exactly was in the pills Martins had been feeding him. He didn't really care. They left him nicely cushioned against the world. Then, Richie was questioning the shrink. Jack hid his sigh as Nina sat down next to him. "What is wrong with you?" she wrote on the pad.

"Not sure," he responded. "Shouldn't you know? You just finished with my new shrink."

"He thinks you're suicidal."


"Are you sure?" She pushed the pad toward him. It was like being in high school again.

"Don't care one way or the other. Live, die, it's all the same."

Nina studied him. "You're not kidding are you?"

"No." She let it drop and turned her attention to Richie's antics.

Martins should be able to handle the prosecutor easily enough, Jack thought and gave it no more attention. Shit, Ray, I'm so fucking bored I could scream. I should have died the last time he hit me. Then, this wouldn't be an issue.


Rayden frowned as Johnny's thoughts turned sour. He could hear any thought addressed to him, and Johnny was just as likely to think a running commentary as speak it. Sometimes it just helped the young man to talk out loud. Other times, it was like this. The dark thoughts were colored by fractured anger. Don't self-destruct on me, Johnny. Thunder crashed and that seemed to catch Johnny's attention. He looked out the water-whipped windows.

Rayden smirked to himself. The weather in LA had been unseasonably stormy, but he didn't care what mortal weathermen thought. His only conscern was for the young man sitting behind a table in court, seemingly numb to the drama that would decide his future. Rayden longed to shake him, zap him, anything to make him react as opposed to accept the strictures that each new damning word the psychologist said placed on him.

Nina squeezed Johnny's wrist in absent comfort as his eyes turned towards the bench once more. He was listless, exhausted. He needed to be forced to care. Ask me for help, Johnny, Rayden begged. I can't interfere until you ask me to help.

Don't wash the city away, Ray. I wish I could see the ocean today. It's probably gorgeous.

It is, Johnny. It is.

Why won't they let me go? I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the pity, of the eyes that slip away from my face, of the agent who keeps pretending that I'm the same man I was before this all happened, of the ex-friends who suddenly want to contact me, and of having to pretend for everyone that I'm okay. I'm not okay. I haven't been for a long time. You knew that when you chose me, didn't you? I wasn't fine even then. I'd just sent Mel off to college. I didn't have to pretend anymore. I should have let Goro kill me, but then he would have killed one of the others and I couldn't let that happen. What happens to me is one thing, I can't hurt anyone else. What am I going to do, Ray? How do I get out of this one?

Ask me. You're so close, Johnny, just say the words.


Melinda watched the back of Johnny's head with concern. She'd never seen him this out of it. She'd seen him down before. Martins had no real idea how long the actor'd been depressed. She'd been there, hiding in the back room with her head-set on, pretending not to listen, when Johnny and his parents had fought it out over his "lifestyle." She'd understood it even back then. He wanted his folks to know who he was.

"Dad, just listen to me before you start screaming this time," he pleaded.

"You are not my son. No son of mine would fuck a man. This is the last straw. I put up with you moving out here. I put up with the acting classes, the clothes, the manicures even, but this? I will not accept that my son is a fag. This family is dead to you, Johnny. Do you understand? Dead. Goodbye."

"Dad, please, listen to me." The door slammed. Melinda turned up the tape and buried her nose in a book. Much later she'd gone to fix dinner and pop in a movie. They'd spent the night pretending nothing had happened, but before she'd left she'd hugged him for a full five minutes. She wanted to do that now. Maybe that would stop this steady slide into existential nothingness. Whoever's up there listening, please help him. Save my hero.


"I want you to take the stand," Nina said quietly over lunch.


"Why not?"

"What are you expecting me to say?"

"I'm expecting you to tell the truth in answer to my questions once you're under oath." She smiled at him and his eyes narrowed. "And don't even try to claim you've been telling me the truth."


"And I want your daughter on the stand too."

"No. Mel is out of this completely. She's just moral support. She hasn't seen me in three years."

"Hey, don't I get a say in that?" Melinda protested.

"Sidekick," Jack said flatly.


Jack smirked at her. He turned his attention back to Nina. "You don't think I'll incriminate myself?"

She shook her head. "No, I don't think you will, but I cannot force you to do it."

He shrugged. She saw the deadness come back into his eyes. "Whatever."

"So you'll do it?"


"And you will tell the truth."

"I always tell the truth." Melinda snickered. He smacked the back of her head. "I do."

Nina nodded. "Dr. Martins thinks you need more than just a few weeks with him."

"Dr. Martins is about as interesting as dirt."

"He's worried you'll kill yourself."

Melinda made a little strangled sound. He reached over for her hand. "I still have responsibilities here."

Nina frowned. "Fine. We'll put you on the stand this afternoon."

"So soon. Didn't you have anymore ex-friends to put on the stand?"

"Well, there's Lori yet to go."

"Oh, shit."

"She worries you?"

"Hell, yes."


"She'll tell the truth."

"About what?"

"Everything. She's one of the most frustrating people I've ever worked with. I don't know how she's survived LA this long."

"Define everything."


"No, I'm interested now."

Melinda squeezed Jack's hand. "She knows I drink. She knows about Lawrence. I don't know what else she's figured out."


"I don't know what she thinks she knows about me. She always has theories about why people do the things they do."

Nina frowned. "Try telling me the truth. I'm you're lawyer."

"I think she might have guessed I. . ." Jack stopped. After a long pause he started again. "I'm addicted to demerol. My doctor never had the heart to cut me off after the surgeries. I don't use it all the time, but if I get hurt or have any other excuse, I use it. I didn't think it would be that hard to say it."

Nina closed her eyes. "So you have a legal source for it?"

"Yes. And since I keep getting hurt, there's no reason for him to stop giving it to me. It's more of a matter that nothting else I've taken has any effect." Jack rolled his glass between his fingers. He studied the wine.

"Talk to Dr. Martins about it tonight," Nina stated.


"Why not?"

"I don't trust him any further than I can throw him. Well, not even that far actually."

Melinda snickered. "Dad, how long are you planning on stonewalling your shrink?"

"As long as I need to."

"Let's finish up and get back."


"Defense calls Lori Smith."

Jack didn't bother to look up from the intricate doodle he was drawing. This was the only testimony he was interested in hearing, but you'd never know it from his body language. He was a good actor, no matter what any critic thought. He was projecting an air of complete disregard for his life, but he'd never backed down from a fight. He wanted to live.

"Tell me about how you met Mr. Carlton."

"I met Jack at the Y. He was proposing a class in self-defense at the same time I was pitching a proposal for self-esteem councelling. He asked me if I wanted to work with him to develop a program for women and we combined the two classes. It's worked out really well."

"And did you ever meet Lawrence Black?"

"Several times. He used to drive Jack there and home every class."


Lori hesitated. "He'd had brain surgery and couldn't drive. I think Lawrence kept doing it for awhile because they weren't sure he'd pass his driving test again."

"And how would you characterize Mr. Black?"

She frowned. "Abusive, controlling, mean-tempered, sadistic, with overtones of obsession and possessiveness. He never liked Jack to talk to other guys. He didn't mind him being surrounded by women. But the instant he talked to or laughed with a guy, Lawrence was there staking his claim."

"Explain what you mean by abusive."

"I'm a social worker. I know the results of physical abuse when I see it. Besides, any lover that tells you constantly that no one else wants you and that you're nothing without them is abusive. And Lawrence never made a secret of it. He was proud of controlling Jack."

"How long have you known Mr. Carlton?"

"Two and a half years."

Jack switched off the testimony. He didn't want to hear anything else. He hated the picture this trial had painted of his life. Just because Lawrence was the only person who cared enough to stake a claim on his time, they. . . he shut down the thought. I know he hurt me, Ray, he thought desperately. But he was all I had left. No one else even called when I was recovering. He grabbed the bunny from the table and held it to his stomach. Why did I agree to go up there? Thunder rolled across the sky and he relaxed a notch. Lori was talking about his drinking.

The prosecutor was attempting to get her to say damning things about his abilities, but she maintained that he wouldn't kill anyone. "Self-defense is not for beating up on people. Of course, since your wife got strong enough to walk out on you because of it, you might be a little biased." Jack's lips twitched. Lori never had liked Richie. He raised his eyes to witness the confrontation. Richie's face was red.

"No more questions." He stalked to his table and sat down heavily. Jack couldn't help but send him a glare. Richie smirked back at him.

"Defense calls John Carlton." Richie started as did most everyone in the room. Jack set the rabbit back on the desk. He took the stand.

"I so affirm," Jack said in response to the ballif's charge. That raised a few eyebrows as well. The thing was, he just didn't know Rayden's policy on swearing. He turned his head slightly so that he could focus on Nina's face.

"Walk me through the night Lawrence died."

He sighed. "I got home from the office at about six. Lawrence was yelling at someone on the phone. I lost my balance and fell into the wall."

"How did you lose your balance?"

He chewed at his lip as he considered. "My vision in my right eye was getting worse. I. . ." he trailed off. "I think I ran into something. I didn't have any peripheral vision in my right eye at the time even though I could still see blurs. I had a mild concussion at the time, so I think it was a group of factors."

"According to the EMT that was on-site, there was severe bruising on your cheek."

Jack shrugged. "I don't have a lot of feeling there. I wouldn't even feel it."

"How did you end up living with Lawrence?"

"He was there after I got hurt. He came looking for me at the hospital. He took care of me. I couldn't be alone and I was crashing on his couch. Things just happened."

"What sort of things?"

"I sold my house. I needed a new start. My career was over. Lawrence was used to having me around and didn't want me to move out. So I didn't. There really wasn't any reason to not stay."

"And when did you start your relationship?"

Jack shrugged. "One night when we were arguing about movie direction and title credits and he kissed me." He smiled a little at the memory. "It wasn't a huge surprise. We'd had a few dates before when we were working together, but niether of us had been looking for it."

"Did you love him?"

"I don't know."

"Explain that."

"I don't know if I loved him or if he was just safe. We were friends, business partners, lovers just sort of happened. It was comfortable and comforting, so I think I must have. But I. . . I've had my heart broken more than I like to admit, so sometimes it's easier not to love someone. I love him as a friend. I enjoy being with him. I enjoy knowing that when I come home, he'll be there."

"How did he die?"

"The cops said that his throat was crushed. They said it was a kick that did it."

"Could you deliver a blow of that strength?"

"Of course."


He thought about that. "I'm not sure. It would depend on how desparate I was. If I were fighting for my life? Probably. There's a lot you do when you're fighting to live that you wouldn't normally do."

"When you were in the hospital, what did the police tell you had happened?"

"They just asked me to walk them through the night. They told me Lawrence was being taken care of. One of them asked me if I hit him, which was bullshit. I've never laid a hand on him. He doesn't even like martial arts enough to spar."

"Did he ever hit you?"

Jack swallowed. "Is there any way you'll let me get away with not answering that?"

"No. Did Lawrence ever hit you?"

"Yes." The word was a whisper.

"When and why?"

He shrugged. "If I was late or didn't do what he wanted me to do or forgot to do what he'd told me to do. Sometimes if he knew I'd been drinking he'd get pissed."

"Why did he hit you?"

"Because he was mad at me."

"Did you ever hit him back during this exchanges?"

"Are you insane? He'd kill me if I did that. Besides, I might have hurt him."

"What do you mean by hurt?"

"I could have broken his arm or put him in the hospital. I couldn't risk that. I couldn't risk over-reacting."

"So you drank and took pills to keep yourself from hurting."

He flinched. "Just a couple drinks a day. It's perfectly normal. Lawrence's father was an alcoholic though, so he hated to see me drinking."

"And the pills."

"I can't take aspirin or Advil. It just doesn't work anymore. I started taking demerol for after the second surgery. They were giving me morphine at the hospital."

"What sort of surgery?"

"To minimize the damage from this." He gestured to his face. "They managed to save the muscles of my mouth and stopped the bleeding from doing serious brain damage. They had to realign my shin bones." He shrugged. "A few other things that were actually cosmetic, but could be done."

The door slammed open, drawing all eyes to the men standing there. They spread out through the room quickly. Jack checked on the balliffs. More men had come through the back doors. The doors were closed and blocked. The leader slid forward, looking rather like a big, hungry cat. He had a large bag slung awkwardly over his shoulder. He pulled a sword out of his long coat. "I challenge you, Johnny Cage," he said formally in Chinese.

"Why should I accept your challenge?" he answered in English. "Or do you only speak Chinese?"

"You would prefer this in English then, pretty one?"

Jack's brows rose. "I'm hardly pretty."

"Come then, champion, it is time to fight."


"Because once I kill you, the Emperor will rule this pathetic excuse for a world."

"He already had his chance. He lost. Game over." Jack glanced at Dr. Martins, who, since he'd given his testimony, was actually in the room. The psychologist was quietly dialling his phone.

"No, you are the last champion left. When you are dead, we will have won."

"I don't believe you. If you challenge, state your name."

"Hsung Chao."

"Matching names, how cute. Did you pattern it after your master or did he name you?"

"You mock me."

"It's what I do best. If you challenge is with me, why are we here?" Jack gestured to the courtroom.

"I could not let you go to prison. Not so close to my goal, pretty one. It wouldn't be fitting."

"No, no, Sonya's the pretty one. I'm the hero's side-kick, didn't you get the memo?"

Chao snorted. He opened his bag and took out two large, wax-sealed jars. He set them on the prosecutor's table. Richie was frozen, face suffused with shock. Jack got down from the witness stand carefully and approached them. He peered into the jars. "You recognize them, of course."

"Liu and Sonya," he stated. His voice sounded flat to his own ears. "Didn't you get the sequence backwards?"

"Oh, I tried to kill you, pretty one, but you destroyed four of my best men, then disappeared. Luckily for me the papers found you. Killing your lover? A champion? Never. Therefore, someone must have decided it was time for me to find you." He stroked the actor's scar with the handle of his sword.

"How did you get that in here? They take nail-files from women's purses."

Chao laughed. "You know exactly how."


"Very good. Now, we fight. Then all of these people die."

"Your challenge is with me, let them go."

"No, I could never deprive you of an audience."

"Why draw this out? Why not kill me when I was down?"

The killer smiled. It was a gentle expression that was at odds with his pronouncments. "Oh, pretty one, there would be no honor in killing you after you had fought off so many men. I was foolish to think you would be easily captured. The beloved of Rayden are never so foolish as they might appear."

"Listen, I know a good shrink. You should talk to him. Now, if you don't mind, I was in the middle of. . ."

"Damning yourself to hide even further from me. That will never do." Chao's voice was soft, soothing. "Now, it's time to fight me."

"Why, so you can put my head in a jar?"

"You think I'm not serious." Chao spun, pulling his sword. It swept by Jack's shoulder, then decapitated the prosecutor.

"Hey! He was mine. I've been planning to kick his ass since I found him beating up his wife!"

Chao wiped the blood from his blade. "Fight, or the woman is next." He nodded towards Nina. "I am a Shakespeare fan."

Jack smirked. "I understand the impulse. But, honestly, to kill a man in front of so many witnesses and a closed-circuit camera?"

"I know you think the police will save you, but they will not. They have no idea that we are here. What weapon do you prefer?"

"Staff, but don't worry about it. Put down the sword."

"By the rules of competition. . ."

"By the rules of competition you may only used integrated weapons or talents. I don't see that sword attached to your body. Although, I could insert it for you."

"If I thought for a moment you weren't devoted to your god, I would steal you away." Chao smiled. "I could do with a lieutent of your strength."

"Immaterial. I'd never work for a raging psycho like you. Oh, wait, not counting directors."

They were facing each other full on now. "If any of these fools try to interfere or get away, kill them," Chao ordered his men.

Rayden, if you're listening, please, help me get these people out of here safely. The fight was joined a moment later. Jack ducked the sword blows, trying to judge Chao's reach. He took a slice to the arm to get close enough to wrench the sword away. He threw it in the direction of the defense table and saw Mel catch it. She tucked it away under her seat. He didn't spare it another moment's thought. "Ray, I could use some help," he snarled under his breath. Chao was using Jack's blind spot to great advantage.


Rayden timed his entrance to the last moment of Johnny's demand. "All you had to do was ask," he said mildly. The young man kicked Chao away from him.

"Too you long enough." Johnny and Chao circled looking for openings in stance. Chao seemed disconcerted. "Can you take care of him?"

"I wouldn't want to deprive you of your fun."

"Fun? Bastard." Johnny moved suddenly, catching Chao in the ribs. The crack could be heard in the back of the room. Chao launched himself at the young man. Johnny ducked, taking the blow on his back. He shuddered, then pulled himself to his feet. Chao signaled to his men and they began killing the people in the room.

A large ball of lightening formed in the center of the room. It threw out bolts of electricity at any person attacking. The witnesses stared in muted horror as blood dripped from broken bodies. Melinda moved quickly. She grabbed Nina's arm and dragged her into the seats with her while everyone else was staring at the ball lightening above their heads. Rayden watched her carefully. He'd have to see about her training.

"Get them out," Johnny hissed. The blood that ran down his arm was bright red. He was holding his own, but it was obvious that his injuries were getting to him. "This is going to get nasty. Get them out."

"Just finish him," Rayden stated. "It doesn't matter how. This isn't some competition. He'll kill you."


"Isn't your life worth the same consideration you'd give another's? Fight, Johnny Cage. For once, just fight."

The words seemed to enrage Chao. "You give me less than your full strength, champion. Fight me or more will die. I'll do it myself." He'd changed to back to Chinese.

"Your fight is with me, not them. Let them out of here!" Johnny answered him in the same language.

"No. If you want them to live, you'll have to kill me."

"Fine." Johnny's stance changed. He moved with quiet efficiency. He broke one arm. His ruthlessness surprised the god that watched them. Rayden's winced as a blow caught his favorite in the ribs. The actor seemed to shrug it off, but Rayden could hear the cursing in his mind. The young man went for a groin shot making Chao turn. Johnny simply modified his motion and landed a painful blow to his opponent's side. "I'd say I'd let you give up right now, but I won't," he snapped as he dislocated Chao's leg. He snapped a kick to the man's face and dazed him.

"Finish it, Johnny," Rayden said quietly. "Or it will never end."

"It will end. He'll go to prison or be locked away in an asylum. You heard him admit to murdering two people and attempting to kill me twice. I'm not a murderer."

"Finish it." This time the order was sharp. Chao surged up. Johnny reacted without thinking and snapped his neck with a kick. He stood shivering over the body, blood dripping down his arm.

"Your leader is dead. Put down your weapons. Do not resist the police and you will not be harmed." Johnny raised his head and glared at the men. The ones that could still move, put down their weapons and surrendered. The stunned ballif called for reinforcements. Once he saw that everything was under control, Johnny collapsed to sit on the floor. He gripped the slice on his arm. "Rayden?" he said softly. The god gathered him up carefully. He tucked the young man's head under his chin and held him firmly. He ran a finger down the wound, cauterizing it. Johnny hissed in a breath. "Damn, that hurt."

"I'll let the doctors do the rest." He brushed his fingers through the short-cropped hair. "This is the most important question I'm going to ask you. Do you trust me to do what's best for you?"

Johnny nodded.

"Say it."

"I trust you, Lord Rayden." The formality was at odds with the sarcastic tone of voice.

"Then rest as I tell you what to do. You will go back to Dr. Martins' facility and let him help you. You will build your life again, this time for yourself, not another. Then, when you have learned to be yourself, I will return and teach you how to love. Melinda will return to you after school and you will teach her. I will still whisper to you in the rain. Feel free to lean on me as you have for the past three years. Lean on me for the rest of your life. There is no shame in your scars. There is no shame in your fears. But you will have to choose to live. Will you do that for me?"


"Rest your eyes for a moment, I'll take care of everything." Johnny nodded again.


Mortal Kombat Bedroom