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 13
How do you describe what it is like to stand in the snow, looking at the charred and burnt remains of what had been your life? I couldn't. All I knew was that Bran and I stood there, holding each other up, as we stared at the place that had been our home. I hadn't cried; Brandon had done that for me. It sounded like I was the strong one and he was being weak, but that wasn't the case. I needed him to need me; if he hadn't, I'd have broken down.
That last twelve hours had been a blur. Brandon's panicked return and collapse, the call to Xavier, the departure on the blackbird, and the return to the states all seemed like something out of a surreal nightmare. Of course, nightmares were real to Bran, and he couldn't even escape them by being awake. Thank God for our friends. Thank God for the Professor and the other teachers. For the first time in my life I was at a loss of what to do. All I could do was hold Bran and play at being strong.
Sheriff Carnes came up to us. "Ben, Brandon?" We nodded, almost in unison, and he cleared his throat. "The fire marshal's report states that it was a gas leak. With the snow and storms, they just couldn't get here in time."
"Did they..." God, I couldn't even say it.
"Best we can tell, they were asleep." His eyes were sympathetic, but that didn't help. "I don't think they suffered."
I nodded and buried my face in Bran's shoulder. He'd felt it; I knew he had. He'd spent the last few days with that damn unconscious sense of his. It hadn't been real to me, even looking at the house, but it was. They were gone; we were alone. I'd tried to be the pillar of strength, but I just felt Bran's thoughts wrap me up and hold me like his arms were.
I'm here. I promise, I'm never letting go.
I gave way. Bran tried to hold me up, but he eventually let us sink to the snow. He never let go. I don't remember what he said or did other than hold me and tell me everything would be ok. I didn't know how anything would ever be "ok" again. All I knew was that he was the only thing I had left. I held on for dear life.
We couldn't stay kneeling in the snow too long. Someone would try to take Ben from me if he didn't calm down. I finally had to push Ben into a dreamless sleep. I wished I could do that to myself; my life would have been so much easier. Kate helped me get him into the SUV. It didn't look like she was doing anything other than comfort me with her hand on my shoulder, but her power made Ben almost weightless. God I loved her. Not the way Ben did, but Kate was so much like a sister that I couldn't imagine how we'd have gotten through it all without her. I tucked Ben in the back seat and gave Kate a weak smile. "Think you can keep him company for a little bit?"
She nodded and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Do what you need to do, Bran. I'm not going anywhere."
Tyler was standing a ways away, staring at the burnt foundations of our home. All I wanted to do was to pull him to me and never let him go. I had Ben, but the gaping hole I felt in my chest needed more love than any one person could fill. Sure, I was still scared shitless of what it meant, but I knew I needed Ty's friendship even more than Kate's. I walked over and carefully put my arm over his shoulders. He was shivering. It was then I noticed the tears that were streaking his cheeks. "Ty?"
I didn't know what to do when he turned in and buried his face in my coat and hugged me tight. "It's all my fault."
"What are you talking about? You didn't do anything." He sounded so devastated.
He shook his head. "Maybe what I was feeling was the gas regulator faulting. Or something else that caused the explosion. I should have paid more attention."
I pulled his face up. I couldn't read him. I couldn't know how deeply he was hurting. I could read his eyes. The pain there nearly killed me. Maybe a person could fall in love over Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas; I could see that he'd fallen in love with our family. I guess, in a way, it was the first "family" he'd ever had. How the hell do you handle that? I didn't know. I closed my eyes and took a breath. Dad had always been the one to put things in perspective. I tried to imagine the feel of him when he hugged me, and I tried to imagine what he'd say if I were the one crying into his chest. It was the weirdest sensation, but it almost felt like he was holding me as I stared back into Ty's hurting face. "Don't do that, Ty. I've been there... I'm not even back from there yet. You can't control things. You can't keep the people you love safe. The best you can do is to love them and hold on for as long as you can."
He just looked at me and for the first time I really saw the need there. It made my breath catch and scared me to death. Even so, I couldn't let go. Thankfully, he broke our stare, brought his cheek against my chest, and mumbled, "I'll hold on."
I kissed his hair and held him to me as Scott came over, scowling. I was thankful his frown wasn't meant for us. "The police won't allow anyone but family and investigation personnel onto the property."
I nodded. "I was about to cross the tape anyway." I encouraged Ty to loosen his hold and I took his hand. "Want to be my cousin?"
Ty nodded and looked at his feet. "I'll be what ever you want."
God. The kid knew how to make me piss myself. I was torn between bending down and kissing him and letting go and running. I didn't do either. I squeezed his hand and we walked to the restricted area. One of the deputies looked at us as we tried to go under the warning tape.
"This area's restricted, kids." Stepping forward, he blocked our path.
"I'm Brandon Hanson, this is my cousin, Tyler. I was told family was allowed in. I want to find anything we can before the weather destroys it."
He looked like he was torn about what to do. "I don't remember a cousin on the relations list."
I wasn't going to let him make Tyler stay behind. With Ben asleep in the SUV, Tyler was the only thing I had to hold onto. I pushed a memory into the officer's subconscious. The Professor could go fuck himself if he didn't like it. The guy blinked, and I frowned. "Are you sure you don't remember a Tyler on the list?"
As he called up the memory, I pushed again. This time he fell for it. "Shit." He looked at Ty. "Sorry kid, I'd only really looked at the names of next of kin."
"No prob," Ty mumbled, and we went around Deputy Kyle. Tyler waited till we were out of ear shot before he looked at me. "You did something."
I nodded. "Sue me, I'm not in the mood to have someone tell me who can and can't come into my home."
He squeezed my hand. "Thanks, Bran."
I squeezed back. "Mom said that 'best friends' were family as far as she was concerned. Not to mention, I don't want to face these ghosts alone." Honestly, my knees were knocking.
Ty held my hand a little tighter, and when I looked at his face he wore a determined expression. "I'm pretty good at facing ghosts."
I broke our gaze before we got locked into another like the one earlier. The urge to kiss him was getting stronger than the urge to run each time it happened. I knew I wasn't ready. I was just glad he was there. I didn't think I could handle it alone.
I was pissed when I woke up back at the hotel. Brandon had knocked me out. Kate tried to calm me down, but I was irrational. I was ready to tear apart the room when Bran came in and looked at me. The moment our eyes met, I couldn't seem to pull mine away. You had no right!
I didn't want him there. I wanted to be alone. My anger lashed out at him. It was amazing that I hadn't done it physically, "You don't control me, Brandon! I'm not going to live in your damn dreams any more!" All the frustration, the hidden resentments and hurts all came boiling up and I spit them all at him. "I fucking hate you!"
He didn't even flinch. He just looked at me, tears running down face, and slowly walked to me. I couldn't break away from his eyes. I tried to back away. All I managed to do was bump up against the dresser. He reached out, but I slapped his arms away and finally broke our gaze. "Don't touch me."
He didn't listen. Why wouldn't he listen? He grabbed my hands when I tried to push him away. I couldn't break his grip. When the hell had he gotten so strong?
I'm not letting go.
I was shaking as he pressed my hands down and leaned in. At first I thought he was going to kiss me, but then he just slid to the side and rested his head against mine. I choked. He knew I couldn't push him away. I wrapped my arms around him and shook. It was like all the pain, every bit of it I'd ever had, was trying to come out.
I won't break, Ben. I won't run. I won't give up. He pulled his head back so I could see his face. "You won't lose me too."
A part of me wanted to be pissed that he knew where all the anger had come from. Yeah, I'd wanted to push him away so I wouldn't have to face losing him too. No wonder he didn't even flinch when I tried. Blinking away the tears, I whispered, "I'm going to hold you to that."
He just melted against me and breathed into my shoulder. I promise.
The funeral was at the end of the week. I was surprised that anyone showed up at all. The anti-mutant harassment started up a couple days after we arrived. I didn't even want to think about the shit they were screaming at us. I tried not to look at the signs and banners. They literally picketed the funeral home. That any of our relatives or friends came at all was amazing
The Professor hadn't been able to stay. He'd taken Ty and Kate with him, but we had Scott, Logan and Ororo with us. We were safe; physically. We'd met with the lawyer early in the week, and everything was set in motion to get the final taxes, accounts and such settled. Mom and Dad's insurance checks would arrive at the school in a couple weeks. It was sickening to think that our schooling was taken care of because our parents were gone. We'd have given it all away if it would have brought our parents back.
The flight back to New York was probably the most depressing thing I'd ever done. So little had survived the explosion, but it was weird odd things that had survived. Mom & Dad's rings had survived. There were some family photos that weren't totally destroyed. Toys had survived. That was so strange. Though charred and weather beaten, my autographed baseball had survived and so had a few stuffed animals we'd never been able to part with. There were other things, but those were the ones that came to mind as we pulled up at the school.
It wasn't till we were back in the room, with a few boxes that smelled a little like smoke, that I realized everything we had in the world was now at school. Brandon came up behind me as I looked into one of the boxes, and hugged me while resting his chin on my shoulder.
"We'll make it, Ben."
Leaning into him, I let Bran hold me up. "I'd forgotten what this feels like."
Leaning his head against mine, Bran sighed and held me tighter. "What?"
"Knowing that my 'big brother' is taking care of me." I'd missed it. Bran was the elder brother, and though I'd always been the one who did the fighting and pushed us forward, he'd always been the one to support anything I dragged us into.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to do it better, Ben." He sounded so guilty.
I pulled back up and cuffed his chest. "That isn't want I meant, Bran."
"I know. I just wish I'd been stronger."
It was amazing how quickly we'd swap roles. "That's why we're brothers, Bran. You do the supporting sometimes, I do it others. It means we don't have to be strong alone."
He nodded, and his eyes met mine again. "It's just us now."
My heart hitched. "Yeah."
"I won't let you down, Ben."
I pulled him into a hug and fought back the tears. "You never have."
It's weird to be suddenly orphaned. Ok, weird is a lame word to describe it, but it was accurate. Even my home economics students seemed to try to make things "easier" for me. It felt like the whole school suddenly made it a priority to help support the "Hanson Twins". The only person who really felt absent was Ty. Ben even mentioned that Ty had skipped out on his training sessions for the first week back.
By Sunday after we'd gotten back, I was itching for a Ty fix. I hadn't realized how much a fixture in my environment he'd become. It wasn't that I had to touch him all the time, but it was just having him around. I knew there was no point in hunting him down. I just came into the H.E. kitchen and started cooking his favorites. I cooked all afternoon, but no Tyler. Finally I just sat down, looked up at the monitoring system, and said, "Ty, don't make me hunt you down."
It was about a half an hour later when Ty came into the kitchen. He looked horrible. His hair was a mess and his clothes looked like he hadn't changed in days. The worst part was that it looked like he'd been crying the whole time. "I'm sorry..."
I couldn't understand why he was acting that way. All I knew was I was worried. "Ty, talk to me."
He wouldn't come further into the room, though I could tell by the look in his bloodshot eyes that he was hungry. "It was my fault."
"Ty, it wasn't your fault."
He looked down. "I should have figured it out before we left."
God, I wished I could read him. Getting info from reluctant people was like pulling teeth. "Ty. There was nothing to figure out."
He started crying again and shook his head furiously. "Yes there was. Your house wasn't the only one that blew up on New Years Eve."
It looked like he was about to bolt, but I had longer legs. I grabbed him before he could get to the door and he began to sob. "There were twelve mutant families' houses that blew up." He struggled, but I wouldn't let go. "There was a bomb, and phone taps, and maybe some bugs. I couldn't identify them, but I felt them." He cried into my shirt as we sank to the floor. The impact of what he was saying took the strength out of my legs. "I could have saved them. I should have been paying attention."
I held him to me and rocked him while he cried. It felt like my heart was being cut by little knives with each sob. His voice was so small. "Please don't hate me."
I kissed his hair and held on as tight as I could. "I could never hate you, Ty." I let him cry himself out while I tried not to let my heart break any further. There was one thing I knew for certain; hate was the last thing I would ever feel for him.
Ty's revelations were confirmed by the Professor the next day. I'm not sure if he'd have told us if I hadn't brought it up. The abject fury that radiated from Ben as the Professor explained what they knew was stomach turning. I was surprised that Ben didn't throw the door off his hinges as he stormed out.
I caught up with him outside. "Ben!"
He had tears of rage streaking his face as he stalked down the drive. Grabbing his arm, I spun him about. "Where the fuck are you going?"
He didn't have to say it. The images hit me like a ton of bricks. I staggered as he pulled away from me. "Don't try and stop me, Bran. You won't win."
I yelled after him as he took off down the drive. "You can't do it, Ben. You can't just hunt down any member of 'Purity' and seek revenge." I tried to keep up, but Ben was really pushing hard for the gates.
He had his hand up and I could see the power flaring as he dashed for the gate. I thrust my thoughts at him, causing him to stagger. I can't let you do it. Please, don't make me stop you.
Ben turned on me; his hand was still flaring with power. I slowed, panting a little, and continued to press at him. Are you going to hurt me too? What about Kate if she comes after you?
"They murdered our parents! How can you just stand there and do NOTHING!" I could see the power building at his finger tips. I didn't know if he'd actually do it, but for the first time in our lives I was the one who acted first.
I'm sorry, Ben. I hit him with everything I could and not actually hurt him. His power snuffed out and he crumbled to the ground like a puppet whose strings had been cut. I sank to my knees and tried to keep from being sick. It didn't help; I threw up anyway.
I woke up with Brandon wrapped around me. My head felt like it had been used as a basket-ball. It took me a moment to remember what had happened. Brandon had taken me down. He'd attacked me. I would never have used my powers against him. I could also remember him holding me, it was vague but it was there. His thoughts had come to me over and over, pleading, Please don't hate me.
The anger was gone, but I wasn't sure how I felt. A part of me wanted to sink into Brandon and stay there. The other part of me wanted to throw him off me and never have him touch me again. It took me a moment to realize we weren't alone. My eyes adjusted to the light and I saw the Professor sitting there, watching us.
Your anger is justified, Ben. Don't turn it on Brandon. He needs you.
I trembled at Xavier's mental voice. Brandon had to deal with it all the time, but I'd never realized just how overwhelming it could feel. Sinking into Brandon won out. He woke up as I started to cry. I couldn't "do nothing". It was murder; our parents were dead because of someone's hate. I had to do something.
We'll do something, Ben. Somehow, we'll do something. His arms held me tighter. Don't become a killer, Ben. Mom and Dad wouldn't want that.
The memory of how Brandon had suffered from his own crossing the line came back. He still hadn't gotten over it. Every time he used his powers aggressively he got sick. I don't hate you, Bran. I'll never hate you. I let the tears fall, and he kissed my shoulder and neck. It wasn't sexual, but it felt so comforting. Let me feel it again, Bran. Remind me why I don't want to do this.
He squeezed me harder and I felt him open the doors he'd locked around the memory. It came back, raw and painful. I think we both whimpered. My anger had dulled me to the memory, but it was back. He knew when I'd had enough, and he locked it away again. I took a slow, trembling breath and let it out. "Thanks for stopping me."
Bran nodded into my neck. "I was selfish." Bran must have felt my confusion, and I could feel his tears on my skin. "I'm not ready to let you go yet."
I could live with that.
Ty was waiting outside our defense class when I got there about ten minutes ahead. He still looked uncomfortable, but at least he was meeting my eyes. "Hey, Ty."
"Hey." Pulled out a little canvas case and handed it to me. "I made this for you... it's kind of a belated Christmas present."
I grinned and unsnapped the case. Inside was a twelve inch cylinder. I eyed it and wondered for a moment if he was suggesting something. "What is it?"
He shifted his feet and shrugged. "Remember that Logan said we needed to pick some standard type of weapon to learn?"
I nodded. "You chose a knife, right?"
"Yeah, but I remembered you really didn't want to use a lethal weapon."
It was true. Logan had been, as usual, disgusted by my refusal to choose a weapon. The requirement was that it had to be something we could carry. "Yeah, I was thinking about a blackjack."
He lifted it out of the case. "Just twist." His hands did a quick move and suddenly the ends extended to become a six foot, tapered pole. "It's called a bo staff. Gambit uses something like it, and I took the idea from his design."
I took the pole from his hand. It was incredibly light. It flexed a little but no more than wood might. It was perfect. "This is so cool."
He smiled. "Logan said if you wanted to learn bo staff he'd teach you. He apparently thinks it's a good weapon."
Our eyes locked again. Each time it got harder not to close the gap and go a step further than I knew I should. The worst part was that I was beginning to realize Ty wouldn't have stopped me. That left the responsible, moral aspect of our relationship up to me. It didn't stop me from wanting to slip. "Thanks, Ty." Why did it sound like I was actually saying "I love you"?
The swish of the danger room door broke our stare. Logan looked at me. "Got your stick?"
He had what looked like a worn, six foot wooden pole that tapered like the high-tech one Ty had given me. "Yes, sir."
"Then get in here and I'll show you how to handle that thing."
I grinned at Ty as we followed Logan in. "He's going to beat the snot out of me; you realize that don't you?"
He smiled. "As long as you don't just let him beat you bloody, I'll keep my mouth shut."
How could you not love a guy who would let you get yourself beaten to snot and still respect you in the morning?
I did get nicely bruised up, but I was used to that. At least Logan wasn't disgusted with me after our first training session. I was moving like an arthritic-old-man as we came into the cafeteria for breakfast. Kate and Ben were already at a table. Tyler and I got our food and sat down with them.
Kate grinned. "You two look like Logan used you as woop-ass recipients again."
I groaned, and Ben looked concerned. "You're ok, right?"
I grinned. "Yeah, just achy." I set my new weapon on the table and smiled. "Tyler decided on a weapon for me."
Kate eyed it with genuine suspicion as I pulled the rod out of the case. "What is it?"
"A staff," Tyler commented as he bit into his toast.
Ben nearly spewed his milk. "What?"
My eyes narrowed as I looked at him. "You know, staff fighting?"
The jokes that were percolating in Ben's thoughts had me furious. It was bad enough I had to fight my own erotic thoughts about the kid. I didn't need his sense of humor to add fuel to the fire.
"So now you're fighting with Tyler's staff?" He just couldn't keep his mouth shut.
Tyler apparently hadn't thought of the possible ways his "gift" could be construed. His cheeks were burning.
Ben didn't let up. "I didn't think kink was part of the friendship yet."
I was fuming. Tyler looked at his plate, and shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Kate looked torn between being amused and feeling sorry for us.
I pushed my anger at Ben, and he flinched. Drop it, Ben! Don't be a fucking prick.
Ben's eyes locked with mine. God damn it, Brandon. Be a man and admit you're gone for the guy. How long are you going to make him wait?
I smacked the staff down on the table, grabbed the case and stood up. "There isn't a fucking thing to wait for!" I stormed out of the cafeteria, ignoring the mental knocking at the back of my brain. Ben was just going to have to deal with silence for a while.
We didn't share any morning classes so I was able to avoid Ben most of the day. I grabbed our mail after lunch and retreated to a private space to go through the shit. My eyes were immediately drawn to the FedEx overnight letter. It was from our lawyer. I read the papers inside with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Angry as I was with Ben, I realized that our issues were suddenly very, very small.
He was just changing out of his workout clothes as I got to the room. He glared at me, but I ignored it.
"That was fucking rude, Bran. You really hurt Tyler's feelings." He tossed his sweatshirt on the bed and dropped into his chair to unlace his shoes.
I bit back my initial response; we didn't need this fight. "I'll apologize to him later." Yeah I felt guilty as hell, but I had to keep focused. I set the mail down and pulled out the envelope from the lawyer.
"Tyler thinks he's done something wrong," Ben snorted. He hadn't looked up yet. "I don't understand how he keeps his hope up. You treat him like shit."
He looked up at me, frowning. "What?"
"We can't deal with that right now."
"What else do we have to deal with, Brandon?" He stood up, yanked off his sweat pants and grabbed his towel. "Like it or not, Tyler and Kate are the only 'family' we have left. I'm not going to sit back and watch you hurt either of them. Maybe it hasn't sunk into your thick skull yet, but we could be gone tomorrow or one of them could be. Stop wasting time and make something of life before it's gone."
His monolog had been spit out so fast and so vehemently that I hadn't been able to get a word in. He took a breath and looked like he was going to keep going. I decided he had to shut up. BEN!
He almost staggered. The anger in his eyes would normally have hurt, but I had bigger concerns. "We've got problems."
"Yeah, I thought we were talking about that."
"No, -real- problems." I held out the FedEx pack, and he took it. "We're being sued."