The following is a complete work of fiction.
This is the 2nd story of my "X Universe" series. The story began in "Resolutions." Please read the first book before starting this one; things will make more sense that way.
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X Universe - Book 2
Ties that Bind - Chapter 11
Ben and Tyler were looking at me. I must have gone white. Could I face them? Does it have to be alone?
No. If you wish, I can bring them back to meet you wherever you'd feel most comfortable.
Ok... we're in the home economics lab, kitchen. His thoughts left, and I was shaking. "They're coming back."
Ty shut off the hologram disc and looked at me. "Want me to go?"
I shook my head. I needed him there, almost as much as I needed Ben. When I wasn't panicked about how wrong my attraction to Tyler was, he really did have a calming affect on me. I didn't want to feel them. "I could use the support." My eyes locked with Ben's. I don't want to read them, Ben. I don't want to see. I'm so scared.
Ben got off the stool, walked behind me and wrapped his arms around me. Maybe I can be your psychic blinders. It felt like he was trying to wrap himself around me. Things did seem to fade a little.
I know it sounds like we thought my parents were ogres. They weren't, and we knew it, but I wasn't feeling able to face them. You have no idea how hard it is facing the most important people in your life and having to deal with the never spoken, brief impressions and thoughts that most people pushed aside and never knew about. I didn't have that option; even Kate was spared that. Most telepaths were actually; they dealt with conscious thoughts. I had a hard time reading conscious thoughts, but subconscious desires, fears and impressions came to me from everywhere. The subconscious is a raw, harsh place; it isn't controlled and polished like the conscious mind.
Xavier wheeled in a couple minutes after he'd contacted me, and our parents followed him. Mom looked so haunted; I felt so guilty. Dad looked tired and sad, but that was about it. It was a good thing Ben had hold of me, because the anxiety that came flooding to me and had my gut twisting. I gripped Ben, squeezed my eyes shut and tried to block; it didn't help. I can't... I can't take it.
Ben squeezed me, but he had no idea what to do. I don't think he really could have done anything. Thank God for the Professor. There was a sudden sense of separation, and the pressure of my parent's worries and desires disappeared. I took a slow, deep breath and opened my eyes. It felt like someone had a hand on the front of my head, just above and between my eyes. I'm here, Brandon. The Professor's mental voice was so gentle.
I had tears in my eyes as I looked at him. He showed no outward signs of it, but he was bracing me mind and soul as much as Ty and Ben were. I could do it. I looked back at our parents and struggled to find my voice. "I'm sorry."
Dad spoke first. "How are you doing, son?"
I tried to give him a brave smile, but I just couldn't. "Not so good. You can't see it, but I've got three people trying to keep me from falling apart." I did manage a grin as I turned to look at Ty. "The blonde to my left is Tyler; he's my best friend."
The smile that lit Tyler's face took away some of the ache. Just acknowledging his importance seemed to mean so much to him. I wished I'd done it sooner. He looked at my parents. "Hi."
"Hello, Tyler." Dad, as usual, was completely calm.
Mom looked at Tyler, me, and then back at Tyler. Her eyes softened. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Tyler."
"Ben's keeping me from running away." I squeezed Ben's arm and he just rested his chin on my shoulder. He really didn't need an introduction. "And the Professor is keeping me from seeing the painful subconscious stuff."
Mom looked at me. She was scared, but she held her ground. "What 'painful subconscious stuff'?"
I shrugged and looked at their feet. It was so much easier than looking them in the eyes. "You know; the stuff no one ever intends to say and really doesn't believe, but it pops up anyway. Like: if only he were straight; why couldn't I have had normal kids; it's all his fault anyway." Yeah, I'd heard all those from them, and Ben. I knew it wasn't how they really felt about me, but hearing it all didn't help. I hadn't realized I was crying till Mom had come close and pull my face up with her hands.
"Is that what it's been like for you?"
I nodded and looked into her eyes. "I'm sorry I freaked." I couldn't stop crying. "It just hurt so much to hear it all. I knew it wasn't real, but I couldn't block it out. It was easier just to leave."
Mom wiped away a couple tears of her own. "We love you, Brandon. I don't know how to stop the fears and worries. I'm trying to accept things. I'm trying to accept that not only do we have a gay son, but that our sons are mutants." Her voice was cracking so badly and she was beginning to sob. "I never wanted to hurt you."
I couldn't even talk any more. I just clung to her, and Mom cried into my hair. Pain was one of those things I was getting used to, but that didn't make it any easier. We just clung to each other and cried. I wanted so badly to make it all right, but I'd tried that before and it hadn't worked. All we could do was live through the pain and hope there was still something left when we got to the other side.
I've never been good at watching people I love suffer. I was a doer, not a watcher. I wanted to make it better; I wanted to fix it. Watching Mom and Brandon cry was one of the most painful things I'd ever had to do. I think in a lot of ways Brandon and I took after our parents; I was a lot like Dad, and Brandon was like Mom. All he'd ever wanted was the same thing she did. He wanted a simple life, full of simple pleasures and love; no glory, no fame, no great accomplishments.
Dad and I always looked at the horizon. We wanted more. Dad had given up so many of his dreams for Mom. He didn't blame her; he'd made the choice willingly and was happy. He'd passed up promotions and opportunities because they would have uprooted his family. I wanted to see new places, meet new people, and make a name for myself. It was so appropriate that Brandon and I were Gemini's. I'd never gone for the whole astrological thing, but in our case it seemed to be prophetic. We were bound and balanced opposites of the same coin.
I'd pulled back to let Brandon hold Mom, but I hadn't let go completely. I noticed that Tyler was lending tactile support as well. I grinned at him and squeezed his shoulder. He understood; he really was a hell of a lot more mature than I gave him credit for.
When Mom finally pulled back, Dad came up and wrapped his arm about her waist. He smiled at Brandon; it was soft, warm and understanding. It was too understanding; something in his look made me flinch. "We're proud of you, son. Give it time; we'll be a family again."
It was after one a.m. by the time the Professor suggested we get some rest. He offered a guest room to Mom and Dad, and we said goodnight. Brandon and I were too keyed up to sleep. Brandon decided to read for a while; I needed to wear myself out. I'd spent most of the day traveling in uncomfortable seats. "I'm going for a run."
Bran nodded and hunkered down for a good read. "Okay." He looked back up before I got out the door. "Thanks, Ben."
"I love you too, fag."
He rolled his eyes. "Go shake that ass of yours, slut." He smiled. "Should I get my shower now?"
As weird as it sounded for a straight guy, I really did like taking showers with Brandon. We didn't do it often, but I always felt like it helped us keep in perspective. As naked as we were physically was never quite as uncomfortable as how naked we were mentally. "Nah, I think we both need some comfort time. I'll be back in a little while."
I'd gone for a pretty hard run around the gaming fields and was on my way back to the dorms when I saw someone walking along the sidewalk. He wasn't trying to hide, and I was curious, so I jogged up. I was surprised when Dad smiled at me. "Looks like we both needed some fresh air."
"Yeah." I pulled up beside him, started walking.
After a couple minutes, Dad sighed. "How are you dealing with all of this, Ben?"
I shrugged. "Ok, really. Bran's had it a lot harder than I have with all the shit that's happened." It was true. "I didn't make it any easier for him in the beginning."
"I'm concerned about Brandon too, but I was asking about you."
"Honestly Dad, I'm doing okay." I grinned. "If anything, I'm a lot more secure about who I am and my sexuality." I started chuckling. "There's nothing like having a gay twin to cause you to do some self examination."
Dad stopped and looked at me for a few moments. "You really don't have an issue with it, do you?"
"No, I really don't." I shrugged. "I can't say I didn't in the beginning, but I've gotten over it." He was looking at me with such a thoughtful expression that I just had to ask. "Dad, can I ask something weird?"
He studied my eyes for a few moments and he smiled. It was a sad, tired smile. "The answer to that question is, 'yes'."
I blinked. "You sure you know what I was going to ask?"
He started walking again. "I love your mother, Ben. She's probably the only woman I've ever loved and ever will. But that doesn't mean I don't know how Brandon feels." He looked at me. "I've never regretted my choices, Ben. I love you and Brandon more than life; nothing can change that."
"Are you going to tell him?" I wasn't stupid enough to ask if he would tell Mom; that was a resounding "no".
Dad stopped. "I was just trying to decide how. I could see how hard he was struggling with it back in June before you two left, but it wasn't the right time." He put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed. "And I was worried about how you would take it."
Honestly, I didn't know how I was taking it. "It's freaking me out a little."
Dad tentatively pulled me into a hug. I didn't resist, but it took me a moment to be able to relax into it. Dad had always held and hugged us as we'd grown up. As strong and masculine as he was, he was also one of the tenderest people I'd ever met. Closing my eyes, I let memories of being held when I was young and frightened wash over me. He was the same man who'd protected us from monsters under the bed, picked us up when we fell and always had time for us. It was more than the hug; it was his smell. He just smelled like "Dad". I hugged him hard. It just didn't matter. If he said he loved Mom and us, then he did, period.
I pulled back and smiled. "Thanks, Dad."
He ran his fingers through my hair. I'd never really paid attention to how lovingly he always did that. "I'm so proud of you, Ben. You've grown into such an amazing man."
I smiled. "You know, Brandon is still awake."
Dad pondered it a moment, and then nodded. "I'd probably sleep better if I got this out of the way." He looked at me for a moment. "Was I reading things wrong, or is there something between Brandon and that boy... Tyler?"
I sighed. "Sort of. Bran's not ready for it and is trying to deny it really hard."
"He is kind of young."
I nodded. "Physically, yeah; but Tyler is one mature guy. I was freaked when I first realized what was happening, but I'm okay with it now." I grinned. "I kind of know how that whole 'love at first sight' thing goes."
Dad grinned at me. "The girl in your photos, Kate?"
I couldn't help smiling. "Yeah. She's amazing. Not like anyone else." I laughed. "And probably the only girl I've ever met who could pound me to snot if I made an unwelcome move on her."
Dad smiled. "I hope we'll be able to meet her."
"She's down south, spending the holiday with her family." I was missing her, but with all the drama of the past couple days I'd been too busy to notice. I looked back at Dad, "You aren't going to have a problem with her being black, are you?"
He laughed and draped his arm over my shoulder. "Your father just told you he's gay, and you're worried if he's going to condemn you for the skin color of the girl you're dating?"
I suppose it was silly when you looked at it from that point of view. "I take that as a 'no'?"
He just shook his head and kept walking. "That is most definitely a 'no'. If you love her, that's all that matters." He looked in my eyes and I could see he really meant it. "Trust me, I know."
We made it back to the room and Brandon looked up. I tried to smile reassuringly as he blanched. "You have a visitor."
Dad looked at me with his patented "calm, patient" expression. "Hello, son."
I didn't have Xavier shielding me. Dad was anxious and was worrying about my feeling betrayed and rejecting him. What I didn't know was what he was worried about. "Hi."
"Can I come in?"
I nodded and looked at Ben for reassurance. This is important, Bran. He was nervous too. That really didn't help.
Dad came over and sat down on the edge of the bed. I struggled not to pick up on the subconscious images he had flashing through his mind. "I'm sorry I haven't given you more support, Brandon. I know, at least little, of what you've been going through."
I shrugged. "You weren't counting on having a gay, mutant kid."
It was almost impossible not to read him when he brought his hand up and cupped my cheek. He felt guilty, but mostly what I sensed from him was love. My eyes misted again. Even though it felt good, it was still hard to deal with. "Xavier tried to explain what it is like for you. I couldn't imagine living with your gifts. I do, however, know about the rest of it." He pressed his forehead to mine and closed his eyes. I shuddered. I saw images of boys and men from before he'd met Mom; desire, denial, and love all whispered at me.
I'd tried to hide what I'd known about Dad. There were things that no child should ever know about his parents; knowing your father was gay and living his life in the closet was one of those things. At eleven I couldn't handle it; at eighteen it wasn't much easier. It took me a moment to realize that Ben knew too. I was about to pull back, but I could feel Dad's worry and fear. Instead, I pressed in a little so that there was more pressure against his forehead. I love you, Dad.
He shuddered, and his normal restraint let loose. I'd never sent to my parents telepathically before. He pulled me in and hugged me. It wasn't the hard, desperate hug Mom had. Dad's hugs were always warm and strong. This one was no different. After a moment, I melted and let him hold me. I was six again and he was keeping me safe from the dark. "We love you, Brandon. You and Ben are everything to us; don't ever doubt that." At least for a little, I was safe. I wanted to stay there forever.
Mom found me late Wednesday morning in the H.E. lab. She was less tense, and it was easier not to listen to the background noise of subconscious fears and desires. Of course, my being calm helped as well. I found if I remembered the safe, warm feeling of Dad's hugs it helped keep things from hitting me so hard.
"Your father and I had a talk with Professor Xavier this morning."
"I know. He said he was going to suggest you two stay and have Thanksgiving here at the school."
She looked at me curiously, and her worry pressed against my warm safe zone. "Is that what you'd want?"
The hard part of answering was that I wanted to give her the answer she wanted. I didn't know what answer she wanted, because I was actively trying not to know. "It wouldn't be much of a Thanksgiving alone, Mom."
She smiled and brought her hands up to my face. I'd never realized how delicately she'd always touched us; it was like she thought we'd break if she held on too hard. "It wouldn't be much of a Thanksgiving without you either, Brandon." We were both tearing up, but Mom found a well of strength I hadn't. She grinned. "And this year I won't have to clean up the mess."
I laughed. "You could if you wanted to." I smiled at the lab. "I've got more than enough here to make one whopper of a dinner."
She seemed to consider that. "We wouldn't have to eat in the cafeteria?"
"Not if we don't want to. The Safeway is still open, it will be a madhouse with today being the last day before turkey, but we could get the stuff, bring it back and have a Hanson family dinner right here." I had gotten my love of cooking from Mom. She always joked about how if she was rich she'd have her own cook and would never see a kitchen again, but it was all talk. "Or we could eat in town. The Oaken Cellar is supposed to be really good. Several of the visiting parents are taking their kids there tomorrow."
"What is your friend, Tyler, doing for Thanksgiving? Is his family here?"
I frowned. "Tyler has been a ward of Xavier's school since he was four."
"Four?" Mom was shocked; when I'd found out, I had been too.
"His parents couldn't deal with him. I don't think they do anything other than call once a month to check on him." It really was sad. I could see why Tyler had spent so many years being more attached to computers than to people.
"Then I think it's about time the boy had a family Thanksgiving." She picked up her purse. "I'll see if your father can call us a cab." Pausing a moment, she looked at me. "Do you know what he likes to eat?"
I laughed. Did "I" know? Hell yes. I was getting enthused, Mom saw it, and we both stopped. "Mom, why do you want to do this?"
She smiled, reached out and squeezed my hand. "The boy is your best friend?"
If I'd had the guts, I'd have admitted Ty was a hell of a lot more than that, but I swallowed it down and nodded. "Yeah."
"And he doesn't have his family here?"
I nodded again.
"Best friends aren't just anyone, Brandon. In your entire life the only person you ever said was your 'best friend' was Ben." I had never thought about that. Even before my powers emerged, Ben had been the focus of my social and emotional life. "I don't care if Tyler is fourteen or forty, has blonde, blue or green hair. If he means that much to you, then he's family."
I remembered how Mom would welcome any friend of ours with open arms as we grew up. Though Dad had been our example of dedication and devotion, Mom had been the teacher of unconditional love. Sure, she had her fears and problems like anyone else, but once she had her feet back on the ground, she was ready to give it her all again. I pulled her in and kissed her hair. At least the love I'd grown up with hadn't been one of the illusions I'd created to give us "perfect lives".
"I love you, Mom."
We both had tears in our eyes and she laughed. "We keep this up and I'll never be able to wear mascara again."
I saw the image that came to her for a brief second. The image was so ridiculously funny that I had to laugh. "No Mom, I'm not into make-up or girls clothes."
Her smile wavered, but she brought her hand up to cup my cheek again. "That's all they ever are, sweetie... just silly fears and concerns." She traced my uncooperative goatee with her fingertips. I'd been trying to grow it out since September, and it was only beginning to look decent.
I pulled her hand down and squeezed it. "I know..." Somewhere, there was an imp at the back of my brain that made me add,. "Not to mention, I'd look better than that."
Her eyes narrowed dangerously. "Brandon Hanson, if you ever try to imitate a woman I will personally beat some sense into you with your own makeup bag!"
Of that I had absolutely no doubt.
Mom and Brandon went all out for Thanksgiving. We all knew that more than a few dishes had been seasoned with a liberal amount of tears. I watched them going over what they would make and the time table, and witnessed the power of two people who knew their way around a kitchen. Brandon definitely got his cooking obsession from Mom.
I thought Tyler was going to bust at the seams when we asked if he'd like to have Thanksgiving Dinner with us. He hung around the kitchen for almost the entire cooking experience, and Mom took to him almost as much as Bran had. There was something about him that was totally irresistible to the two of them.
Thanksgiving was full of laughter, tears, and a lot of love. It wasn't the "perfect" Thanksgivings that I remembered, but something about the imperfections and sincere attempts to make it as good as possible meant more. We flew back to Michigan on Friday, and Brandon and I drove back to school Saturday and Sunday. Brandon was a lot more relaxed and happier on the drive back. We discussed what we were looking forward to for the next semester and talked about the impending exams. Mostly, we just rode back with a sense of family that had been missing when we'd come to Xavier's back in June.
I met Tyler in the gym Monday afternoon. All the food we'd consumed on Thursday did not lend much help to either of us in our fitness goals. The workout was okay, but I could tell there was something off. Tyler was quieter and less focused than normal.
I squeezed his shoulder as we walked out of the recreation facility. "So, are you going to tell me what's got you distracted?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I'm just feeling a little down I guess."
Yeah, right. Tyler not knowing what he was thinking was like having a computer say it couldn't compute. I pulled him to a stop. "Yo, Ty... this is Ben, you're trainer and the brother of the guy you've been jonesing over since June?"
He frowned at me. "Pining fruitlessly is more like it."
"He's getting there bud." I knew he was; the way he looked at Ty all through Thanksgiving dinner had made it pretty clear he thought Ty was the next best thing to sliced bread.
As was usual with heavy discussions, we ended up out under the Oak. We were in winter coats, sweats, and were standing in six inches of snow, but that oak was just the spot. Ty looked tired. "I guess I'm feeling a little jealous."
That was a surprise. "Of us?"
He nodded, but didn't look at me. "Your parents are so cool, Ben. Sure, they've got issues, but everyone has issues. They just included me in what should have been a family thing. No one's ever included me in a family function before. I guess I'm just realizing how badly I've wanted it."
I squeezed his shoulder. "I don't think you have any idea how big a deal it was for Brandon to call you his 'best friend'." I had to admit; when he'd said it I'd flinched. He'd been searching for a non-sexual way to express what he felt for Ty. I knew that, but it was hard to have him use the term he'd reserved for me for someone else. "Mom and Dad picked it up immediately; that's why they suggested you be included. As far as we're concerned, Ty, you're family." I shrugged. "In a way, I'm a little jealous of you."
He looked at me, and I smiled reassuringly. "I was the only person Bran ever called his 'best friend' our entire lives."
A slow, warm, happy smile spread from his lips to fill his face. That was the Ty we all depended on; he was life's cheerleading section. "Thanks, Ben."
"Think you can wait him out?"
He nodded, and I was so glad to see the life back in his eyes. "I'm going to give it one hell of a try."
God, I hoped he would.