The following is a complete work of fiction.

AUTHOR'S NOTE:

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.

Disclaimer:

The following story may contain erotic situations between consenting adults. If it is illegal for you to read this please leave now.

Any resemblance between the characters and any real life person is completely coincidental. Please do not copy or distribute the story without the author's permission.

The characters of this story are the exclusive property of their original authors, publishers and production companies. No assumption of copyright has been made in this work.

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X Universe - Book 2


Ties that Bind - Chapter 2


You'd have thought I'd set off a bomb alarm. There were teachers through my door before I'd stopped clawing at the bed. I was freaked. My powers were weird enough, but I'd never seen anyone dissolve before. It took a good ten minutes to calm me down. The Professor tried to pacify my fears, but I wasn't listening.

"Brandon is a dreamwalker; he's just slipped into the astral plane." The Professor tried to be reassuring. "He's done this several times before. It will take me a little while, but I'll find him and bring him back." His voice was so calm. How the fuck can you be calm when someone vanished, screaming, right out of reality?

"He never screamed like that at home." I was desperate. After what Kate had shown me; I needed to know he was ok. "He wasn't asleep. He was awake; I know it. He looked at me. It looked like he'd been dragged away!"

"He probably lost control in a nightmare, Ben. We'll get him back."

There was a crowd of students milling about the hall, and peeking into the room to figure out what happened. Kate had pushed her way through and was sitting at my desk chair. She looked at the professor as everyone began to leave. "I'll stay, Professor." He nodded and left, having one of the students close the door behind him.

I was feeling sick. "It's all my fault; he always slept with me when he had nightmares. I wasn't there for him." I was dying. I'd never known why he'd been so afraid of nightmares. To me they were just bad dreams.

"The Professor said this has happened before, Ben. I'm sure he can handle it."

I looked at my hands and chewed on my lower lip. "I feel so helpless." I looked back at her; she was so strong; she was a hell of a lot stronger than I was. "What if he's wrong? What if Bran's gone?" I choked. "I didn't get to tell him I love him."

Kate looked at me for a moment before getting up and moving to Bran's bed. She knelt down and put her hand on the tangled sheets. Her eyes were closed but I could have sworn she was looking at something. She pulled her hand back and opened her eyes. "Let's go get him."

"Huh?" I couldn't believe what I just heard. "Go get him?"

Looking back at me, her eyes were dead serious. "If you really mean it, Ben, then I'll help you get him back. I can feel the psychic resonance on the sheets. If we do it soon, I can probably follow the trail."

I knelt down beside her with my heart in my throat. "You can do that?"

She shrugged. "I've never tried to enter the astral plan outside of meditation class." She grinned. "Dan said that we had to test our powers out in 'non-laboratory' conditions because we seldom had perfect conditions in real life."

"You're going to have to introduce me to Dan."

Her eyes flickered with uncertainty for a moment, and then she nodded. "That's a promise."

Looking back at the bed, I took a breath. "So, what do we do?"

"Lay down on the bed, close our eyes and try to slip into a meditative state." She shrugged. "I know I can do it by myself; I've never tried to take someone with me."

I slid onto the bed and scooted over. Kate sat on the mattress and then laid back. Shoulder to shoulder we could hardly fit on the bed. Slipping her hand in mine, she took a breath. "Close your eyes and try to relax."

Nodding, I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Our coach used to make us do mind clearing and focusing exercises; I could do this. I closed my eyes and waited. If you've never stepped into someone else's nightmare before, I don't recommend it; it was an experience I would never forget.


The hall lights flickered eerily as we looked around. Kate and I were in a horror version of Jefferson High, the school Bran and I'd graduated from. The place sent a chill down my spine; it was every kid's nightmare school.

"This is cheery," Kate sounded more than a little uncomfortable.

"Bran has a great imagination; I'm sure his nightmares are something that Hollywood would really like to use for movies."

"Great," Kate gripped my hand. "This isn't -real-, Ben. This is a dream. Unfortunately, neither of us are in control of it so we don't make the rules. I can probably influence some of it, being a psi, but you're powers aren't going to be much use here."

"I just want to find Bran." As if on cue, I heard a crashing sound from down the hall. I should have known where shit would be happening. "The locker room!"

Kate ran with me as we bolted for the locker room. The place looked torn to hell. Something had been wrecking it; something with the strength of a Mack truck. I could hear yelling from beyond the team rooms. It stopped me cold; I heard myself screaming at Bran.

Kate ran past me, following the sounds of fighting. I got to the team showers just after she did. The place was steamed, scalding hot, and I could see Brandon cowering in the back corner. Stalking toward him was me. I had a baseball bat in my hands, and I was spitting hate at him.

"I'm going to beat some sense into your faggot brain!" My nightmare self lifted the bat as Brandon covered his head with his arms. He was already bloody and looked like he'd taken a few hits from the bat.

"NO!" I launched myself at the nightmare and slammed into him. He didn't even budge.

He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and hauled me up like a feather. "Too little, too late; wait your turn." I was hurled back against the far wall, smashing the tiles as I felt like nothing more than a hacky-sack bag.

Kate held out her hand at the nightmare. "Back off!" Her eyes erupted in lavender light and the thing was thrown across the room in a rippling of the dreamscape. This shit was all new to me, and I was scared as hell; Kate was one in-control bitch, and she just stood there with light pouring from here eyes like a black angel of vengeance.

I scrambled across the searing tiles. Every one of the shower heads was spraying scalding water. Brandon was whimpering, "Please, stop."

I tried to pull him to me, but he flailed his arms. "Don't touch me!"

"Bran, stop it! It's me! It's Ben!" I tried to get around his hands but he was swinging in a panic. I finally grabbed his wrists. Though we were identical twins, years of individual routines had shaped us differently. I had stronger arms and upper body. Bran was a faster runner and had stronger legs. "Stop fighting me!"

He was crying. It was the first time I got to see his face. It was so fucked up. He had a broken nose, his mouth was bloodied and his cheek was busted. I wanted to cry; I knew that his nightmare version of me had done it. I wondered what kind of monster he thought I was.

The Nightmare Ben rose from the hole he'd left in the wall and stepped back through looking really pissed. I think that's when Bran realized there were two of us. He blinked at the Ben with the bloodied bat and then at me. He was really confused. I didn't have time to explain it. Nightmare Ben launched at us with a primal warrior cry, swinging the bat like a club.

"I said, BACK OFF!" Kate got between us and she flared with light again. Unfortunately, this time the thing wasn't the one sent flying. It caught her in the ribs with the bat, and she was flung out of the shower area in a sickening sound of crushed bone and bent steel.

I wrapped myself around Bran and clenched my eyes shut as the thing swung at us. I'd never been beaten before; hell, dad never even spanked us; the nightmare taught me all new meanings for the words pain and suffering.


I couldn't believe what was happening. I thought it was bad enough that I was going to die in my own nightmare. I'd fucked up Ben's life, killed our relationship and destroyed our futures. There wasn't anything to fight for anyway. Why the hell did I have to dream up Ben and Kate? Did I need to get a few last digs in before I died?

The bastard knocked Ben off me after a couple bone crushing slams of the bat. He was protecting me; just like before. Only this time, he wasn't the one with the power. Ben was screaming as the nightmare crushed his hand, then broke his arm, and then shattered his shoulder before kicking him aside. His right arm; his pitching arm. The thing glared back at me and it had my eyes; no, it had my entire face. Oh god, it was me. He grinned and dangled the bat in my direction. "Want in on this?"

Ben was squirming on the burning tiles, whimpering. My nightmare self grabbed his pants and ripped them open. He pressed the bloody bat against Ben's ass. "Hey, let's share a last fuck before we die. Not like we haven't fucked everything else of Ben's anyway?"

"NO!" I felt the room warp as I lashed out. I knew I was scum, but I wouldn't ever do that. Not even to a dream-Ben. The nightmare me flew away from Ben and exploded through the wall. I crawled over to Ben and cradled his head. "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..."

He was crying into my lap. I didn't care about the pain any more. Ben needed me, or at least the one in my head did. I wanted him to be safe; I wanted him happy; that was all I'd ever wanted. Nightmares fucking sucked.

Kate was standing beside me when I looked up. She didn't even look bruised. Putting her hand on my shoulder, she looked around. "Is it over?"

I shook my head. "No, this is just one big fear based nightmare. I've got plenty of fears to fuel it." I refused to let Ben go. I didn't care if he was only a dream representation.

"Then let's get out of here."

I looked down at Ben. He was so busted up. "It's probably better if I stay; then Ben won't be hurt anymore."

She dropped to a knee and grabbed my face. "Who the hell do you think you're holding?"

"A dream-Ben." It still hurt as I blinked through the tears. "The Ben I knew before we came here; the one who loved me."

Kate looked furious. "We aren't fucking dreams, Brandon! Ben and I came after you!"

Ben was trying to push himself up. Kate helped him, and he looked at me. I didn't want to look at him but I couldn't turn away. He wrapped his good arm around me and cried into my shoulder. "I never stopped loving you, Bran." He choked and sobbed against me. "Please... come home."

I just held on and cried. I was so scared it was only a dream; so much of my life had been lived in dreams. Closing my eyes, I followed the dream-path back; I went home.


My arm hurt; hell, my whole body hurt. There was nothing wrong with me. The Professor called it something like "post-psionic-traumatic-referal". Basically, it was all in my head. He assured me I'd probably feel better in a day or two. I didn't care; Brandon's injuries weren't some psycho-thing; he was beat to hell. He ended up with a broken wrist and nose, split lip, three stitches in his cheek, a massive black eye, fractured ribs, various bruises and cuts, and a mild concussion.

I think the state he was in when we got back was a wake-up call for the Professor. Kate and I had just "dreamed" there; Brandon had been there physically. It just hadn't sunk in that while the rest of us could only be "hurt" in an emotional, mental sense in dreams, Brandon could get killed. I was certain of one thing. We would be putting the beds together. If I was some sort of anchor keeping him here when he slept, then I was going to make sure he was anchored.

Kate was no worse for wear; at least she acted like she wasn't; I suspected she had some of that "Irish stubbornness" of her own. She hung with us for a little bit in the infirmary after Bran was patched up. As promised, she introduced me to "Dan."

The guy looked worse than Brandon did. Bran, at least, could walk and talk and do things. Dan was pinned, in casts and held by restraints from head to toe. He was also in a coma. He was Kate's hero; I suspect he was more than a few people's hero. A part of me was jealous; I'd probably never be anyone's hero.

Brandon came up behind me as I was looking at Dan, aching and feeling sorry for myself, and hugged me with his good arm. You've always been my hero, Ben.

I shuddered. He'd never actually talked to me telepathically before. It didn't feel like an "invasion" the way Kate's had. It felt like he'd always been there, but had just kept his mouth shut. I squeezed my eyes shut. I could feel everything from him; it was scary. He was so raw and scared. It took me a few moments get a grip on myself. I squeezed his arm lightly and pressed back against him. He was my brother; I didn't care if he was gay or straight or into sheep; we'd always held each other, and as far as I was concerned we always would. "Thanks, Bran."

He was still a little sniffly, and his voice was just above a whisper. "I'm sorry, Ben..." I turned into him and let him cry on my shoulder. This had been just about the worst month of my life; Bran's too. He'd always been my support system; I suppose in many ways he'd been my protector even more than I'd been his; it was about time he got some of it back.

"Let's get some rest." I grinned at him as he pulled back. "You look like shit, bro."

Bran smiled. "I love you too, Ben."

"Yeah," putting my arm across his shoulders as we left, "just don't gay out on me and start grabbing my ass."

He stopped and pulled away from me; he seemed so hurt. "I'd never do that, Ben..." His eyes were tearing up as I brought him into a hug.

"I was joking, Bran. God..." I pulled back and pressed my fist against his good arm. "How many times have we showered together?"

He shrugged. "I don't think I could count them all."

"I don't remember you bone'n up once."

He made an "ick" face. "You're my brother, Ben; that's gross."

I gave him a mock frown. "Hey, just because you have a better ass than I do doesn't mean I'm ugly!"

"Hey!" He realized I was teasing him and started to laugh. "Ok, if my straight brother can admit he notices my ass, I guess I can admit he isn't repulsive."

I draped my arm over his shoulders and we continued down the hall. "Stephanie didn't find me repulsive."

Bran laughed. "Neither did Cassie, or Monica, or Jen, or..."

"Ok, ok." I grinned at him. "Not like you didn't point me in their direction you know."

He shrugged. "Hey, I wanted at least one of us to have a sex life in high school. I certainly wasn't going to."

I let that ride till we got back to the room. The fact that he hadn't 'come out' to me before still bugged me. I sat down on the bed and looked at my hands again. "Bran, why didn't you tell me?"

His face was a mixture of guilt and sadness. "I wanted us to grow up normal. I was so scared of what would happen." He looked at me, pleading with his eyes. "I wasn't scared that you'd hate me, Ben... ok, maybe I was. But I was scared of what would have happened. We wouldn't have been able to be on the team together; you'd have had to defend me and your own sexuality; everyone would have questioned 'they're twins, doesn't that make Ben gay too?' It wasn't worth it."

It made sense. Brandon always was one to think about twenty steps ahead. He was a planner; I was a doer. That was why we made such a good team as pitcher and catcher; he'd figure out what tactic to use and I'd make it work. It still didn't really explain why. "But why not tell me? You didn't have to 'come out' to everyone by just telling me."

He was crying. "Your powers didn't kick in when mine did, Ben." He wouldn't meet my eyes as he talked. "My first dreamwalk was a run from a nightmare. If it hadn't been for Professor Xavier, I might not have gotten back at all." Taking a breath, he started pacing. "He tried to get us into school a few times before. I used my powers to keep it from happening. I knew Mom and Dad couldn't afford private school, and we were just heading for high school. I was scared all the time; the anti-mutant riots were on the news and there were still regular reports of gay bashing. I wanted a normal life." He finally stopped and met my eyes; his looked so tired. "I couldn't have a normal life; I was a freak and I knew it. You didn't; you thought you were just as normal as everyone else." He shrugged as if trying to get something off his back. "Maybe I was just being selfish and wanting to live through you, but I wanted you to be able to stay that way. We were happy; we weren't rich or anything, but we had happy normal lives. I convinced myself I was doing it for you; that you'd be better off never knowing. I think it was an excuse and I used you as a cover." He was about to say it again. I was so tired of him apologizing for living.

"Don't say 'I'm sorry', Bran." I was surprised at the harshness in my voice. He looked shocked. Trying to tone it down, I shrugged. "Ok, I admit it. I was hurt and angry, but I was hurt because I didn't think you trusted me. I could deal with the gay and the mutant stuff. I won't say I was happy about it but it wasn't anything we could change." I looked at the floor. "It just felt like we weren't bro's anymore. That really hurt; you know?"

"Yeah." I looked back up and he smiled at me sadly. "That's how I felt."

"So we're still bros, right?" I grinned at him. Things weren't back to normal, but we were going to be ok.

"Yeah, forever."


We woke up late; well, it was late for us. Ben and I had always been early risers. I woke up with Ben wrapped around me; it felt like his body was saying "mine". I knew it wasn't a sexual thing; Ben was so straight. We would later say "straight but not narrow". It felt so good to be held that I started to tear up.

I think that woke Ben up. "Hey, you ok?"

I nodded, laughing a little through the tears. "Yeah, I'm just getting all faggy on you."

Ben laughed and looked at my pants. 'Nah, you aren't even sporting morning wood."

"HEY!" I rolled away, regretting it immediately as I lost my breath. Two beatings in three weeks, I wasn't going to look good with my shirt off for at least a month. Damn, was that a gay thought or what? I was still trying to get past the aches when I realized I had stood up Tyler. Why did having a gay thought bring Tyler to mind? "Oh shit, I had a date!"

Ben rolled up on his elbow and grinned. "Tall, dark and handsome?" He was teasing me but I was too concerned about letting Tyler down to notice.

"No, short, cute, blond..." It took me a moment to realize what I was saying. I gave him a severe look. "It isn't like that; Ty's a nice kid; I like him."

Ben sat up. "Little Tyler, the techno-boy?"

"Yeah." I struggled trying to pull the dresser drawer open with only one hand. "Damn."

Ben laughed, rolled out of bed and gave me a hand. "He's one of Kate's friends."

"Yeah, I know, they're kind of like teammates." I slid off my briefs and struggled with another pair. That was another one of our differences, Ben wore boxers; I wore briefs. We would meet half way at times and wear "boxer-briefs", but that was as close as we could get on the issue of underwear.

"You know about that huh?" He handed me a shirt while he pulled on a pair of boxers.

"Yeah, Ty told me. I've met Jeff too." I struggled to get my cast through the arm hole of the sleeveless jersey he'd given me. Ben chuckled and helped me into it.

"I'm not going to wipe your ass for you. When you're on the toilet, you're on your own!"

I stuck out my tongue. "Bite me... and pass me my rag-jeans."

He gave me an odd look but did as he was told. "Why jeans? It's almost July."

I pointed down at the bruising and scraped skin. "You think I want people to see all that shit?"

"Who cares? You've had worse from sliding into home in shorts." He had on a pair of ball pants and a cut-off top. Ben had a better upper body than I did. He had wide shoulders, great arms, big chest and an incredible eight pack. He wasn't "big" as much as sculpted. I wasn't lusting after him, but I did appreciate the view.

"That for me, or are you trying to impress someone?" I nodded at his exposed midsection. Grinning, I added, "I know you can't be trying to show your ass; we've already established mine is better."

"Fuck you."

"Not if you were the last dick on the planet; I'd go celibate!"

He grunted and pulled on his shoes. "Like that's anything new."

"Ok, so I'm not a slut like my little brother. Sue me." He always hated being called that. Not really hated, it just embarrassed him.

"I'm not a slut."

I laughed, digging in a little. "Yeah, yeah you are. You had your thumper in the bush more often than Briar Rabbit."

Ben got mad. "Yeah, well at least I didn't have to dream up sex partners!"

That shut us both up really quick. I knew he hadn't meant it; I could feel the regret coming from him the moment the words were said; it still hurt. "That's true."

"I didn't mean it... you know how I hate the whole 'slut' thing." It was true; in the beginning Ben had enjoyed the idea of being a stud. Once his reputation was established, however, he found he couldn't escape it. None of the girls who might have made great longer term dating material would take him seriously, and the rest wanted to know if his reputation was well earned. He never bragged, but it was very well earned.

"Yeah, I know... sorry, bro." He smiled at me as I tried to get my shoes tied. Extra long laces were cool and great, but they sucked when you couldn't work your fingers!

We got assembled and made it to playing field after grabbing a couple bagels from the cafeteria. Ty was sitting against the big oak, looking a little depressed. I called out as we jogged out there. I wasn't going to be playing ball any time soon. "Hey, Tyler!"

He looked up and smiled for a moment; his face fell as he saw my injuries. "What happened?"

I shrugged. "Nightmare."

The concern on his face was so sincere that I got a lump in my throat. "That's why you try not to sleep?"

I tried to laugh it off; I'd had too many emotional scenes already. "Only recently." I turned and smiled at Ben. "Ty, this is my little brother Benton. Ben, this is Tyler."

Tyler's eyes traveled Ben's more "exposed" body for a moment. I had a sudden twang of jealousy before I squashed it. Ty was fourteen; there was no way I was going to get the hots for a kid. "'Little' brother?"

Ben laughed and stuck out his hand. "Yeah, a whole 'seven minutes smaller' than my 'big bad bro'." He shook Tyler's hand and added in a conspiratorial tone, "If you have trouble telling us apart, just do a quick once over. The guy with the great ass is Bran; the guy with the arms from hell is me!"

He got the reaction he wanted, Tyler tried to look at my ass. "How can you tell? He's always wearing baggies."

Ben started chuckling as my face went red. "Damn, you're doomed then. I promise we won't smack you if you grope to be sure!" He had to sit down and rock on his ass while he laughed to himself.

Tyler looked confused, and maybe a little embarrassed, while I wondered if the beatings hadn't been more fun. I was just about fed up with Ben's mirth when Kate came jogging up. "What's up with Ben?"

I narrowed my eyes at my asshole brother as he giggled himself onto his side. "I think someone got his funny bone bruised instead of his head. He's making ass-grabbing jokes."

"Oh." She looked down at him and smirked. "I must have gotten my signals crossed. I thought you were gay and he was straight." She gave me a pat on the ass and continued on her way. "I like my men with great ass anyway; now I know which one of you to target."

Ben's mirth drained away as she jogged out of ear-shot. "What did she say?"

"She said she liked my ass and was glad I wasn't gay." It was with no little bit of satisfaction I watched him squirm.

"This sucks." He suddenly sounded like a petulant child.

"Why don't you go let off some steam by showing Ty the proper way to throw a ball? That way when I get out of the cast I'll have someone other than 'Mr. Giggles' to play with." I smiled at Ty. He was looking at me curiously. "Assuming you don't mind a stand in?"

Ty grinned. "Nah, it'll still be fun."

Ben grumbled as he got off the ground and brushed off the grass and dirt. "Come on Ty, we'll get you up to major leagues in no time."

Ty rolled his eyes. "Not likely, but I'll be happy if you can help me stop throwing like a girl."

Ben laughed and mussed Ty's hair. What was it about his hair? Everyone had to touch it. "Ok sport, let's get sweaty."

Ben was great with Ty. He would challenge him, but never lord the fact that he was bigger, stronger and more skilled over him. I was lulled into a fuzzy warm haze, watching them have fun, when I felt someone step near. "I wanted to thank you for the other night."

I looked up to see Jeff leaning against the tree, watching Ty and Ben. "I hope it helped; I should have asked first."

"Yeah, it helped. Don't worry about the formalities; you were just trying to do something nice." He watched the game for a few minutes, and then looked at me. "Why aren't you..." he saw my cast and bruises, "Oh yeah, sorry." He squatted down. "You ok?"

"Yeah, I'm cool." I nodded out at the field. "Someone has spotted you."

Jeff looked up as Ty waved. "He's a great kid." Making a disgusted sound, he corrected himself. "He's a great guy; I've got to stop thinking of him as a kid."

"Why?"

Jeff's eyes looked sad. "With what we went through, he definitely isn't a kid anymore. I can see the changes. He's going to be more mature than the rest of us by the time he's sixteen." He stood up. "Think your brother would mind if I joined them?"

"Nah, he'd like the challenge."

"What's his name again?"

"Ben."

"Right." He jogged out and reintroduced himself. They'd met last night but it wasn't under the best of circumstances.

It was interesting to see Jeff play ball. He wasn't as skilled as Ben, but with his mutant powers he was able to play like a pro. Tyler bowed out after a little while and sat down next to me. "I'm glad Jeff came out."

Nodding, I smiled at him. "I wonder who's with Dan."

"Rogue. She likes time with him alone. They've got a weird kind of private bond. The rest of us don't understand it." He shrugged, and we watched Ben and Jeff go at it full force. They'd both stripped off their shirts and were sending sweat flying as they hurled the ball at greater and greater speeds. Jeff would catch it with his aura, using his throwing hand; Ben was using his glove but you could almost feel something happen when the ball hit it because it wouldn't make a smacking sound.

"That's wild to watch," I commented under my breath.

Ty looked at me sideways. "You are gay, right?"

I nodded. "Yeah, I think Kate was just jerking his chain."

Tyler whistled. "Oh, boy."

That got my attention. "What?"

"Kate only tortures people she likes. Dan's her best friend; she torments him the worst. If she's already picking on Ben, then she probably likes him."

"Well, I think the feeling is mutual." I grinned as I thought about it. "I bet she's going to run him ragged."

Ty giggled. "Knowing Kate, she'll dance him to death."

"She's a dancer huh?"

"Yeah, she's incredible."

Our heads snapped back when we heard a boom from the field. Jeff had been taunting Ben that he was throwing like a limp-wristed fag. That seemed to piss Ben off, and he hurled the ball full force. Something must have activated his powers because the ball left his hand like a bullet. He'd hurled it faster than sound. Jeff didn't even get a chance to attempt a catch. The ball smashed into him like a cannon ball. Fortunately, the guy was apparently indestructible, because the ball exploded against his chest.

"Holy shit." I was stunned. Ben was apparently just as shocked.

"Oh, my God. Are you ok?" Ben was jogging over where Jeff had landed on his ass.

Jeff was laughing. "Yeah!" He took Ben's hand and hauled himself off the grass. He was smiling ear to ear. "Remind me never to piss you off. You have one hell of a right arm."

Ben looked at his hand like it belonged to someone else. "Yeah, I guess I do."


We left the field after I'd smacked Jeff to the ground. It had really been a show stopping moment. The guys asked us to do lunch with them, and we agreed. I let Bran head for the shower first; we were ripe as hell and would probably have curdled milk if we'd gone straight to the cafeteria.

Bran was cursing as he tried to get himself clean and keep his cast from getting wet. We'd taped a bag over it but it was tough trying to hold his arm up and reach everywhere. Actually, it was funny as shit to watch. He was so frustrated. "I remember when I broke my finger and thought that was tough." He grumbled at my amusement, calling me a few unsavory things while he tried to do it all. The problem was Bran's left handed; I'm right handed. He'd broken his left wrist; his life was going to suck

I stripped out of my sweaty clothes and stepped into the shower. Bran looked at me like I had two heads. "What are you doing?"

"Getting impatient, gimp." I snagged the soap from his hand. "Since when should I be shy about getting in the shower with my brother?"

He looked away. "Since you found out your brother's a fag."

"You plan on kissing my ass?"

His eyes flashed at me. "Like you'd be so lucky!"

Grinning, I started washing him. "Then we don't have a problem. You can do my back; that's something even a gimp like you can handle."

He glared at me but it didn't have any bite. "You're enjoying this."

I thought about it for a moment and then hugged him. It was brief, and full bodied, and chaste. He looked stunned when I pulled back. "Yeah. I'm enjoying it because we're still buds." Bran looked like he was about to cry again. I shoved him to break our eye contact. "Turn around; I'll get your back."

He did, but he still got a little mushy. "Thanks, bro." I could tell there were tears in his voice.

Ok, so I was a little uncomfortable with it, but I damn well wasn't going to let Bran know that. Maybe he already did, but then he also knew that I was determined to get past it. He was the same guy I'd wrestle around with in my boxers without a thought a month ago. If I was safe then, I was safe now.

We had lunch and dinner with Jeff, Tyler and Kate. There had been a buzz about the school after I'd knocked Jeff on his ass during our game. By dinner it was clear that everyone had heard. Apparently, supersonic pitching skills weren't very common. I don't know why, but Jeff had decided we were friends after that. It was kind of like an old warrior code or something: if you can knock me down I'll respect you. Whatever it was, I realized by the looks people gave our table that Bran and I had fallen in with "the elite" crowd.

They said goodnight after eating with us; they were going to spend some time with Dan. I liked Jeff; he was so cool. It wasn't till dinner that I realized not only was he gay, but he was Dan's lover. Kate had clarified that he was his "fiancÚ". I've never considered myself a bigot, but I'd never met a married gay man before. Hell, Jeff was even more "macho" than I was. He reeked of "man's man". He'd even invited me to work out with him. I realized that if an out gay guy like Jeff could joke about things like "limp-wristed fags", then maybe I didn't have to walk on glass around Bran.

We hung out in the lounge till pretty late. Bran was reading a book, and I had my headphones on, listening to Sting's latest, when Tyler came running into the lounge. He practically knocked Bran's book out of his hands as he tried to pull him off the couch. "He's awake!" The kid looked like he was about to explode; he was so wired.

I yanked off my headphones as I sat up. "Who?"

"Dan!"