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 12
"Mom?" I couldn't believe how nervous I was. Ben had made the suggestion, but I still felt like a seven-year-old asking for his first sleepover.
"How were exams, honey?" Since Thanksgiving, we'd called back home about twice a week to keep our parents up-to-date. Just that basic level of communication made the emotional dynamic so much easier.
"Pretty good. Don't think either of us aced anything, but we didn't choke either." My fingers were tangled in the phone chord and I had to stop myself from chewing on my lower lip. "I've got a weird question to ask."
"Ok, what?" I could hear the momentary "uh oh" pause, but Mom recovered pretty quickly.
I'd psyched myself up to make the call. Hell, I'd dialed twice and hung up before we'd been connected. It was neurotic; all I was asking was if a friend could come home for the holidays. Yeah, right.
Ben had mentioned how much of an effect Thanksgiving had had on Ty, and I'd been watching since then. He really wasn't looking forward to the holidays alone. Sure, Xavier and the teachers tried to make the holidays bright, but there was nothing that replaced an at-home Christmas.
I wished I could talk to them face to face about it. Suddenly, I realized I could. I changed tactics. "Could I come home and talk to you guys?"
You could almost hear the "boing" on the end of the line. "Brandon, what's wrong? You're coming home at the end of the week anyway."
"Actually, this is kind of a 'dual purpose' thing. They've had me working on some things, and I'd like to show you guys." Ok, it was more than that.
"I hear an 'and' in there." Leave it to mothers to know when you're hedging.
"And I've got something to ask that I'd feel better asking you guys in person."
I heard Mom cover the mouth piece and call out to Dad. He came on a minute later after some muffled sounds of conversation. "I'm not sure we could get you a flight this close to the holidays, Bran. You sure this needs to be in person?" His voice always had a calming effect, and I smiled.
"You two just hang up the phone, go sit down in the living room and think happy thoughts. Oh, and don't freak. This is cool." I hung up and Ben looked at me from the bed.
"That was such a cop-out."
Frowning, I plopped down in my chair. "You could have asked them, Ben."
He gave me a disgusted look. "Jesus Christ, Brandon. He's -your- 'best friend', remember? Yeah, he's my friend too and I think we should invite him for Christmas. The guy needs a chance to see the world away from 'mutant high'. If anything will get them to agree to it, it's you asking."
He was right, of course, but I was still in major denial about Tyler. Hell, I even knew I was in denial. How perverse was that? "Well, you're going to hang here for me to come back, right?"
"Yes, I will be your return ticket." He rolled his eyes in fake annoyance. We both knew he thought my ability to consciously dreamwalk was incredibly cool.
I looked at the clock. "Think they're ready?"
Ben grinned. "I think they're sitting in the living room wondering what's going to happen, but I don't think anyone is ready for you doing your 'phantasm' thing." He'd come up with that nickname during the second training session they had me in for learning to control that power. I'd been surprised at how easy it was.
"Well, you've got to admit that it could potentially cut down on travel time and cost." Ok, so I'd had fantasies of dreamwalking to Tahiti and other exotic places. Sue me.
"Get home, deal with this, and come back. We've still got to ask Tyler."
Yeah; I was looking forward to that about as much as a dental cleaning. Life would have been so much easier if I'd just given in and accepted how I felt. I closed my eyes and let the sensation of "sinking into myself" happen. That was the only way I could describe what it felt like to step into a dreamscape. I really couldn't describe what it felt like to actually be in the flow of the "collective unconscious". Traveling along the dream pathways was easy though, at least for me, because I had some sort of navigational sense. I only had that sense when I consciously dreamwalked; when I slipped into dreamscape while sleeping, I had a much harder time controlling what went on.
I found Mom and Dad's "happy thoughts" after focusing on them. I don't think I could have done that with a stranger; ok, maybe, but it would have taken a lot of searching. Finding people I knew, or people I'd had telepathic contact with, was fairly simple. Distance wasn't really a factor. With a little shove, the world formed around me and I was standing in our living room. There were two wide eyed parents sitting on the couch, speechless. At least they didn't freak.
"Surprise?" I gave them a sheepish grin and shrugged.
Dad found his voice first. "Your mother had described that, but actually seeing it..."
"Ben thinks it's cool." The tension was a bit tough to take, but I managed.
Mom stood up and touched my hand and then my face. It was like she was trying to make sure I was real. "You can go anywhere?"
"Anywhere people are... I kind of have to 'hitch a ride' on someone's dreams, or daydreams, in order to get there." I squeezed her hand. "I'm real, Mom."
"Was this what you wanted to talk about?" Dad knew different; I could feel it.
"No," I shrugged, "I guess I thought this would be dramatic enough to make what I wanted to ask a little less weird."
Mom looked at me again; I could feel her concern. "Brandon, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, I'm just being stupid." I was, and I knew it. "Ben and I want to invite Tyler to spend the holidays with us." Looked back at them and grinned. "I've never even asked to have a friend sleep over before; stupid huh?"
Mom's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "He's a charming boy, Brandon. Are you sure his parent's won't be inviting him home?"
I nodded. I wished his parents would, but after ten years it was kind of a lost cause. "Yeah, I think that's a given. Xavier would have to give the okay, but we wanted to be sure it was alright with you first."
Dad pondered it for a moment. "You will be sleeping with Ben?"
I nodded. "Yeah, unless that's a problem."
They both shook their heads. I think the issue of 'brotherly love' had been laid to rest. "He can have your room, dear." Mom looked like she was planning. "We'll have to be sure we have presents for him under the tree..."
I beamed; they were letting us do it. "So that's a 'yes'?"
"Of course, it's a 'yes'." Mom shot me a disapproving look. "I'm not about to let a friend of yours spend his Christmas alone."
I pulled her into a hug. "Thanks, Mom."
She melted into the hold and then patted my back. "Get back to school, Brandon. We'll see you at the end of the week."
"I love you guys." God it was great having parents again.
"We love you too, dear. Give our love to Ben." Mom stepped back to give me 'space' to leave. I didn't need it, but it was kind of cute.
Dad stood up and gave me a warm hug. "Be safe, Bran."
I held on for a few extra moments, memorizing the warmth, and then faded out.
Tyler looked depressed as he came into the lounge Friday afternoon. I couldn't think of any reason for it; our parents had extended the invitation and the Professor had given his permission for Tyler to spend the break with us. I gave him a funny look.
"Ty, what's got your face slagged?"
He shrugged. "The blizzards have hit the north central and north east. There's no way your truck is going to make it through."
Brandon grinned and I laughed. "Is that all?"
He flopped down between us on the couch and sighed. "I know; I'm being stupid. I guess I was really looking forward to a Christmas away from the school."
After a few moments, Bran put his arm on the back of the couch and Tyler leaned in. I don't think either of them was consciously aware of it. I just turned a little, settled against the arm of the couch and watched. After a few minutes, Bran's arm drifted down and gently pulled Ty in to him. Ty had his eyes closed, and Bran was watching the TV. They fit together so perfectly; I wondered if Kate and I looked like that.
Bran must have picked up on my thoughts, because he flinched and his arm immediately returned to the back of the couch. Ty noticed, but he stayed in place. Put your arm back down, Bran. It's not like you're groping him.
He looked at me for a moment, and then looked at his arm. He literally watched it as he moved it back to drape over Tyler's shoulders. It was like he didn't trust it. If it wasn't so painfully stupid, I'd have laughed. We watched the later night weather report, and it confirmed Tyler's earlier news. There was no way we'd be able to drive home. Fortunately, Brandon and I had already discussed that possibility.
Ready? I raised my eyebrow at him, and Bran nodded.
Yeah, no time like the present. Let's call home and tell them the switch.
I got up and headed for the room. You tell the Prof. and then get Ty's bags to the room. I stopped, and looked back. You sure you can do this?
He contemplated it for a moment and nodded. Yeah, no problem.
We decided not to mention to Mom about the fact that Tyler didn't sleep. Ty spent the night lying on my old bed, zoning. He was up early Monday morning. I didn't know why, but my sleep had been restless, so I had gone down for a cup of warm milk. I smiled at him as I wandered in.
"Morning," I yawned as I went for the fridge.
"How'd you sleep?"
"Ugh..." I pulled the milk out and pulled a pan out of the cupboard. "I'm making some warm milk, want any?"
"Sure." He looked a little distracted.
He nodded and refocused on me. "I hadn't realized how quiet it would be here."
That seemed like an odd comment. "What do you mean?" I put the pan on the stove, turned on the burner, and poured in the milk.
"There's so little digital data moving through the house. I'm used to being surrounded by security systems, mainframe computers, and hundreds of electronics and personal systems that the students have." He shrugged. "Your house has less than a hundred items I can communicate with."
I hadn't thought about whether he'd miss the continual connectivity of school life. I turned back to him. "Do you want to go back?"
He jerked his head up and looked at me like I'd just asked him if I could kick his dog. "No!"
"Sorry. It just sounded like you were uncomfortable." He certainly looked uncomfortable.
"Nah, it's forcing me to pay more attention to the other details." He looked around the kitchen. "The house is really pretty."
I grinned. "Stopping to smell the roses, huh?"
"Something like that." He paused and just looked at me. I don't think we'd ever really just spent quiet time looking at one another. It gave me a warm, buzzing feeling just below my navel. After a couple minutes, his eyes flicked to the pan. "You're burning that."
"Shit." I spun about and started stirring the milk. It hadn't burned, but it was damn close.
Dad came in, dressed for the office, and smiled. "Good morning, boys."
"Morning, Mr. Hanson."
He pulled the now full pot from the coffee maker, and poured himself a mug. "Coffee?" He looked at each of us, but we both declined. Dad always drank his black. Ben was the coffee drinker; I preferred tea.
Dad sat down at the table as I poured out a couple mugs of warm milk. He looked at Tyler. "I understand you're a computer wizard?"
Tyler smiled. "I'm pretty good with electronics."
I snorted, and he shot me a dirty look. I grinned and ignored him. "You'll never find anyone who can do what Tyler can do with computers."
Dad smiled. "You wouldn't care to make a few bucks on the side, would you?"
Tyler's eyes perked up. "Problem?"
Dad laughed. Tyler looked like a puppy with a bone being waved at him. "Yeah, our office got a new network a couple months ago and the damn thing hasn't worked right since it was installed. The IT group is giving us the song and dance. I personally don't give a shit what the problem is; I just need it fixed."
Ty was practically salivating. "I'd love to." He may have been trying to get accustomed to a quiet, non-digital life at our house, but he needed his hook-ups.
Dad smiled. "If you want to ride in with me, I'll show you the horror and see if you can figure it out. We've got so many people out for the holidays that if you needed to shut off systems or whatever, it wouldn't disrupt much."
Tyler looked at me and I shrugged. "Ben and I could drive over to Dad's office later and we could do lunch."
"I'll get changed." Tyler swigged down his milk and almost jogged out of the room.
I leaned over and gave Dad a quick hug. "Thanks, Dad."
He grinned. "We actually do have network problems, Bran. But I see what you were saying; the kid is really a techno-junky."
"Anything to give us a chance to go shopping. We didn't want to go over ideas with Mom on the phone; Ty can track any electronic communication."
Dad just shook his head. "That's amazing."
I nodded. Ty certainly was.
Ty had had no clue that Mom and Brandon had plotted to make certain he had a complete Christmas. I don't think Mom had put so much effort into Christmas since we were kids. The house smelled continually of fresh baked goods, and there were more decorations than I'd ever remembered. Watching how Ty lit up with each new thing reminded me of the innocence of life before our powers. It also made me appreciate our lives so much more. Our parents weren't perfect, but they loved us and accepted us. They opened their hearts to anyone we told them we loved, even if Brandon copped out and only presented it as "friendship". Mom and Dad knew better.
It was late Christmas night when I got off the phone with Kate and realized Brandon hadn't come up yet. I looked at the clock; it was nearly one in the morning. I'd talked to Kate for three straight hours. Ok, not only to Kate. Her younger brother, Anthony, whom I'd met briefly at the wedding, and Cynthia both said 'hi' and wished us a Merry Christmas. I came down the stairs. The lights were out. Mom was standing at the archway into the living room.
I came up behind her and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Bringing her finger to her lips, she nodded into the room. Brandon and Tyler must have stayed up talking, or at least that had been the intention. Brandon was out like a light and snoring quietly; he normally didn't snore, but he had a slight cold and his head was tilted back on the couch. Tyler was stretched out, his head was in Bran's lap, and he was watching the fire. Bran's hand was resting in Tyler's hair. It was such a tender sight.
Mom let out a soft sigh and turned to go into the kitchen. I followed her. She wiped away a tear as she sat down and sipped her tea. "When he's asleep, how much he cares really comes out."
"Does it bother you, Mom?" I was most worried about Mom's reaction to Brandon's attraction to Tyler. To my surprise, she shook her head.
"I thought it would, but I also thought that being gay was all about 'sex'." She frowned. "I've been reading everything I could find from PFLAG and their recommended books. Watching them these last few days helped too." She grinned. "I think the only part that worries me is that Brandon has my stubbornness. He's going to fight this every step."
I groaned and sat down. "I hope Ty can hold out. If Kate were sending me so many mixed signals, I'd go insane."
Mom smiled. "Brandon was never one to take the easy road, Ben. He wants an easy, simple life, but he thinks life is too complex to have it."
I looked at Mom. I was always amazed at how much she was really aware of. "You're really amazing."
She smiled and studied me with a warm look in her eyes. "I have to be; I had two amazing kids." Suddenly she blinked as if a stray thought had hit her. "You know, I've never actually seen what you can do?"
I thought about that. She'd heard about it and seen the results, especially the destruction I'd caused at school, but I'd never displayed it. I guess after how she freaked when Brandon 'phantasmed' in front of her the first time, I was worried I'd scare her too. "You sure you want to see?"
She nodded. "I want to know my children, Ben. We've focused so much on Brandon that we've practically ignored how this must be affecting you. I'm sorry."
I smiled. I hadn't really felt neglected. Ok, maybe a little, but Brandon had needed the help more than I had. "I never doubted you guys, Mom."
She smiled. "So... dazzle me."
Talk about being put on the spot. Most of my powers were so destructive that there was no way I would display them for my mother. I lifted my hand over her tea and concentrated. I absorbed the gravity that was affecting the tea, and then took my other hand and lifted the cup. When I stopped the cup, the tea continued floating up. Mom watched in silent fascination as I set the cup down and then brought my right hand up beside the floating liquid. I hit it with infra-red, which she couldn't see, but the tea began to boil. I kept it up till the stuff had boiled away.
I put my hands down and grinned. "Not all that dazzling, but that's one of the less dramatic examples." On a whim, I lifted my fingers and let a faint light radiate from my right palm.
Mom brought her fingers up and touched my hand. The light didn't add any heat or anything, but she almost stroked it. Finally, she smiled. "Thank you, Ben. That was beautiful."
"Merry Christmas, Mom."
She gave me a kiss and headed off to bed. Yeah, life was pretty good when you had people to love.
The storms had gotten worse since Christmas. By the thirtieth, when we were supposed to fly out to England for New Year's, the airports were shut down. Telephone and power were sporadic at best. Ben snarled at the phone and nearly smashed it against the cradle.
"Fucking great; got cut off again!" He looked like steam would be rising from his ears any second.
Tyler was sort of staring out the window with a glazed look in his eyes. I wiggled my fingers in front of his face. "You okay?"
He blinked and frowned. "Yeah, I guess it's the power fluctuations and phone problems. I keep sensing weird shit that I don't recognize."
Ben came over and looked out with us. "This sucks. Kate was already at the airport. She'll be in New York tonight and we won't be there to meet her."
Tyler looked at Ben. "She have her cell?"
"Yeah, was just on it with me when the phones went out again."
Tyler turned and went up stairs. I shrugged at Ben; hell, I didn't know what he could do about it. He came back down a few minutes later with a small box and his laptop. He flipped open the box, and it became a flat panel array of some sort. After plugging it into his laptop, he plugged in a headset and looked at the screen. He smiled. "We have link up, call away."
"What's that?" Ok, maybe I was ignorant but I'd never seen anything like it
"INMARSAT Portable Wireless ISDN." He grinned. "I had no idea if you guys had high-speed out here or not, so I brought my own." He eyed the keyboard and I saw the phone application activate and dial out.
"Kate?" Ben was almost tap dancing. "Sorry, our phone cut out again." He paused and then laughed. "Tyler brought a satellite thing, so I'm talking to you from it." They went back and forth about the storms and the cancelled flights. Hell, even if the planes were flying, we'd have never made it to the airport. The interstate was stand-still. "Yeah, babe, I know. I really wanted to be there too. At least you'll be with Dan and Jeff for New Year's." He listened for another minute, and then grinned. "I'll have to do that myself; Brandon's such a wimp." He laughed and then touched the headset tenderly. "Fly safe... I love you." I'd never actually heard him say it to Kate before. He clicked off the headset, bent down, and kissed Tyler on the cheek. I think Tyler and I were both stunned.
"What was that for?" Tyler didn't sound upset, but he was non-plus'd.
"Kate said for me to have Brandon pass a kiss on to you for her, but he's such a wuss that I thought it'd be easier to do it myself." He grinned mischievously at me. I was not amused.
I'm not going to play this with you, Ben.
I narrowed my eyes. He deserves better than to have me kiss him because of a dare. Back off.
He shrugged and mussed Tyler's hair. "Thanks, Ty." Ben left the room with that cocky "I'm the stud of the world" walk of his.
I eyed the computer for a moment and grinned. "Do you have Dan's number?"
"Yeah, but it's almost midnight over there."
I grabbed the headset and pulled it on. "I'll take the heat, Ty. Dial it."
He shrugged and the computer did the automatic dial thing. After about seven rings, Jeff picked up the line. "Watkins residence."
"Jeff, it's Brandon."
"Hey, Bran. You guys already on the ground?" I heard him cover the mouthpiece and call out to Dan.
"No, actually, we're snowed in out here."
Dan had picked up the other line. "Oh, that sucks. You mean you guys aren't coming?"
"Kate is about to be airborne, and I was wondering... Would you or Jeff would be willing to play psychic anchor for me?"
There was a pause on the other line, and Jeff asked. "What's that?"
Grinning at Ty, who just realized what I was going to suggest, I explained my idea to the guys. They both thought it was a hoot, and since I'd already been in contact with Jeff it was decided he'd be my anchor. I hung up and smiled. "You repack your stuff and I'll tell Mom and Dad what we're doing."
Ty smiled back. "What about Ben?"
I thought about it for a moment and then laughed. "Yeah, I'm taking him too. He'd never forgive me if I ruined his chance to have New Year's with Kate."
We stood a short ways from the arrival area at Gatwick as Kate came down the ramp pulling her suitcase behind her. She didn't look as excited as I'd expected; Dan was her best friend. She smiled at him and Jeff, and after hugs she told them we wouldn't be coming. I couldn't actually hear them, but Tyler was reading her lips through his camera's digital zoom. He'd make a great spy or private detective.
We followed them at a discrete distance till they got to the rail platform. It was so hard not to just walk right up and give Kate a hug. Dan loved one-upping her, and I'd had to agree to their terms or else Brandon threatened to leave my ass back in Michigan. Finally, Dan nodded and we closed in.
"Need help with that, miss?" I reached for her bag while trying to maintain a fake British accent.
She caught me by the wrist and I felt her power wrap about it. "No thank..." She turned and looked at me like I was a ghost. "Ben?"
I pulled her up into a kiss before the surprise was off her face. She was completely dumbfounded as I set her back down. God she smelled great. "Surprise."
Bran grinned at her. "Teaches you to try and trick me into kissing younger men, Ms. Brown. Next time I'll leave your boyfriend at home."
She gave us happy hugs and Merry Christmases all around as the train pulled up. We took over one of the first class areas of the train and settled in for the forty-five minute ride to the transfer station. Kate was beaming and doing everything but sitting in my lap. It felt so great to hold her again. "This is going to be the best New Year's ever."
New Years Eve was a blast. It was so great to experience a new place with friends. We were up till nearly four in the morning. For us that wasn't so incredibly late, so I tried calling home to wish our parents a happy new year. There was no answer. The lines must have still been down. I didn't think much of it, but my dreams plagued me. When I woke up New Years Day, I tried again. Nothing. By the second day, and after two nights dreaming of smoke and flames, I was getting upset.
It was after my fourth attempt in two hours when Ben shook his head. "Leave it to the phone company to fuck up repairs for this long."
"I'm going to go check on them, Ben. We didn't even get to tell them we'd arrived safely. Mom's probably worried sick." I hadn't told him about my nightmares. He was sleeping with Kate; no, he wasn't getting any, but I think that time was getting near. The dreams were probably just something I was picking up without having him to shield my sleep.
"You're probably right about that." He smiled. "Give them a hug for me." We had originally planned to spend the first week of the year with Dan and Jeff. London had been really cool thus far, but I wasn't going to be able to enjoy it until I'd resolved the feeling that was slowly eating away at my gut.
Dan and Jeff looked up and watched. Dan was especially fascinated by my ability to slip in and out of reality. I think he was trying to figure out how it was done. I closed my eyes and fell in on myself. The dreampaths flowed around me and I reached out for Mom or Dad's dreams. I couldn't find them. I began to reach further and more urgently, but I couldn't find anything. I looked for familiar minds, any at all, and I had no difficulty. I could find the Professor, Scott, Logan, Jeff, Kate, Ben, and a few others I'd touched a few times. The only familiar minds I couldn't find were Mom and Dad's.
I latched onto Ben's mind before my panic took over, and reality materialized around me. I was so near panic that I actually fell over. Ben caught me as I went down.
"Bran, what's wrong?"
I was shaking. The burning sensation in my gut had grown to an inferno, and the images from my dreams came back. I gripped onto Ben and tried in vain to calm down. "They're gone."
Ben blinked at me; what I said hadn't clicked. "What do you mean, gone?"
My vision was blurring as tears began to flood my eyes. "GONE, Ben! I can't find their thoughts at all."
I was hyperventilating; the panic had me almost paralyzed, and my body's response to the realization of what it all meant had me bent over and retching on the carpet. I think at that point I passed out.