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.
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.
If you would like to be updated of new stories and chapter releases, please join my yahoo group at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/artistic_biguys_library/
Please feel free to send any feedback or comments through the writing
journal or you can send it directly to artisticbiguy[at]aol.com. Please just
remember to add something in the subject line so I know it's not Spam.
X Universe - Book 2
Ties that Bind - Chapter 8
I felt like I'd had my head and guts scoured out with sandpaper. I hurt, plain and simple. It took me a while to realize I was lying on the floor, curled around Ben, and still in the clothes I'd been wearing when we had our fight. That jolted me back to reality; the fight. I could feel the crusted blood on my lip and knew it was swollen up. Ben was holding onto me as tightly as I was clinging to him. He hadn't let go.
I felt so raw. I began to feel the fear in the pit of my stomach again. He'd seen me; me, not the illusions or the images I tried to keep around myself. I'd been so tired; I couldn't keep up the fašade any longer. I just let him have it, all of it, and now I began to fear the worst. What if I'd hurt him? What if he really did hate me? My fears were beginning to make some really good jabs at my gut when I felt Ben tighten his hold.
Stop it. I know his lips had moved, but it felt like he was talking into the center of my brain.
I flinched. Since when could you read me?
Ben opened his eyes and looked at me. "Since you stopped shutting me out." I just looked into his eyes. They were bloodshot, tired, worn, but there wasn't any hate or anger in them. God I loved him; I don't think I could have survived if he'd let go. His eyes glossed over and tears started dripping down his nose. "I love you too, Bran. I wish you'd believe it."
I don't know what possessed me, but I pushed in and kissed him. It wasn't sexual; that would have made me sick, but I needed something physical to express the emotions. He didn't even flinch; he just cupped my face and kissed me back. When we finally pulled back, Ben looked at me seriously and then grinned. "That answers that."
I blinked. "Answers what?"
"I'm definitely not gay."
I couldn't help it, I laughed. We ended up on our backs, holding our sides and gasping "ow" between giggling fits. Leave it to Ben to know what to say to break the tension. When we finally stopped, I looked back at him. "Not a fair assessment. I'm not exactly a good kisser; especially with a fat lip."
He shook his head as he sat up. "Nah, you kiss fine... for a guy, but like it or not, you had a few moments of 'excited' there. I didn't."
That caught me off guard. I thought about it and realized he was right. I hadn't been turned on by kissing my brother, but there was still a part of me that acknowledged I was kissing a guy. I frowned. "I can't believe you're okay with that... I'm not sure I am."
Ben started laughing and threw his chair cushion at me. "Get over it, Brandon."
I threw it back and shot him a confused look. "Since when are you so bright and cheerful? Especially when you look like shit."
"Oh, like you're a cover model?" Ben's grin didn't go away. I have my brother back, Brandon. Let me enjoy it, okay?
I flinched. It was too weird to have him be able to send to me. "That's going to take some getting used to."
Ben finally got serious, and he nodded. "I know. It scares me, a lot, but I'm a lot less scared now than I was feeling disconnected and helpless."
"You really don't hate me?" Ok, so my demons were far from set to rest.
Ben frowned. "Well, you got as much of me as I got of you, Bran. Do you hate me?"
That wasn't really true. I'd always been able to read Ben and knew him. I guess I never expected anyone to reciprocate. "No."
Shrugging, Ben pushed himself off the floor. "Ok, so there is stuff in there that worries, scares and even sickens me." He held out his hand, and I took it. He looked into my eyes as I stood up. "You don't have to be perfect, Bran. Not for me or anyone." He hadn't let go, and he squeezed my hand reassuringly. We're brother's. I won't give up on you.
I dropped my head to his and just let the demons scream at me. For the moment, at least, I had refuge from them. Maybe, with help, I'd be strong enough to face them when I had to. I never really doubted it... you know that, right?
Ben smiled. Yeah, but it feels a lot better having you say it.
For all of my bravado after the sharing, I came to realize that the euphoria of knowing that Bran loved me wouldn't last. The love didn't fade, but the "high" I got from it did. I had to admit that it was hard to not pull away. There was a lot of Brandon that was difficult to be aware of. The only thing that gave me the strength to hold on was realizing that Brandon had always seen all of me and had never pulled away. If he could take me, good and bad, then I could take him. It took a little while, and I even had to have a few sessions with the Professor to help accept some of it, but by September, I'd worked out most of my issues.
Kate helped too. She let me talk about it. If anyone knew what it was like to see parts of people that you really didn't want to, it was a telepath. I finally just had to ask. "Do you see all that when you're with me?"
Kate shrugged. "Not in detail. I probably know more about you than you'd want me to, but not everything." She smiled. "Honestly, Ben, mystery is part of the attraction. I try pretty hard to let things come out as they happen instead of just 'reading ahead'."
Sighing, I lay back on the grass and looked up at the oak. That tree had become the center of so many heavy discussions. I wondered if any of it clung to it. That was a weird image. "He really is 'beautiful', you know? I never really understood how he saw people before. Sure, he's got a lot of demons in there, but when you get past them..." I choked. I hadn't realized my eyes were tearing up. "Damn, Kate... it was just so intense."
She slid down beside me and pressed her cheek to my chest. "I know..."
We stayed like that till I looked up and saw an amused smile beneath sparkling blue eyes looking down at me. "Sure, just set me aside for a pretty face."
I shuddered. "Oh shit, Tyler, I'm sorry."
He grinned. "You aren't late, but you would have been. Do you want to call it off for today?"
Kate sat up. "Oh no, I'm not going to be used as an excuse for skipping out on you, Ty."
I smirked, "Damn, foiled again," and looked at my watch. "There's no way I'm going to get to the room and down to the gym in five minutes. How about we postpone for fifteen?"
I had to admit, Tyler did have a cute smile. That had taken me a while to deal with. Though I hadn't turned "gay", a lot of Brandon's impressions of people had blended with mine. It was weird to know how deeply he was attracted to Tyler. In a way, I was jealous, but I got over it. I wasn't ready to take Brandon aside and say "go for it," but I was no longer dead-set against it either. Kate had been right about one thing; a guy like Ty was just what Brandon needed. I just wished he was a few years older.
"Sure." Ty grinned as he started toward the gym. "Some day I'm going to be a hot stud, and you're going to be able to say 'I did that'."
I laughed. "Get to the gym you nut. I'll be there in a few."
He jogged off, and I smiled at Kate. "He really is something else."
"Yeah." She looked doubtfully after him as Tyler jogged toward the recreation building. "I just hope he's doing all this for himself."
I blinked. "What do you mean?"
"I just hope he isn't doing it all in an attempt to be what he thinks Brandon would want."
That shook me. I had images from some of the faded aspects of Brandon that lingered. I didn't want that either; if what he wanted happened to match up with Bran's fantasies, great, but remaking yourself to please others was never a good thing. "Do you really think that's what he's doing?"
Shrugging, Kate began to walk back to the dorms. "I know that's part of it, which is ok. I just want to be sure he knows why he's doing it and doesn't have false hopes."
"Want me to talk to him?"
She grinned. "Yeah, actually I do. There are some things guys just can't talk with girls about, or girls with guys."
"Ok, I promise."
She pulled me into a soft, warm, promise filled kiss. "I don't want you to get a swelled head, but every so often I have to agree with Ty."
Breathlessly, I looked back into her amethyst eyes. "What's that?"
"Sometimes you really are the greatest." She just smiled, and pulled me into walking again. I followed in a bit of a haze; I think that was the first real compliment she'd ever given me.
Boo. Ben's mental voice snapped me from the chapter I was reading, and I almost jumped. I still wasn't used to his being able to do that.
"That's fucking rude, Ben." I wasn't actually mad, but I was embarrassed.
"Yeah, yeah. Cry baby." He roughed up my hair before heading for the dresser.
"You are so annoying!"
I love you too, bro. Stop trying to act macho and deal.
God, I hated the fact he was right. Fine, you want to play with mental speech, you got it.
You want to take a break and come work out?
I had an image of his putting Ty through his paces and it made my groin twitch involuntarily. I closed my book. "No, I think I'll go for a run."
He chuckled. "Chicken."
I frowned and went to the dresser for my own stuff. "Look, I don't tease you about Kate, Ben. I don't discourage you, and I've tried not to be jealous. Do me a favor and give me a break, ok?"
Ben looked guilty for a moment and shrugged. "Sorry, bro. I guess I'm being a prick."
"No, you're just being you." I grinned. "And sometimes that resembles a prick."
He hit me with a pair of running shorts. "Asshole."
We were grinning like loons when I finally got my clothes. "Thanks, Ben."
He laughed. "For what?"
"For not pulling away."
He looked at me for a moment, and smiled self-consciously. "You're worth it."
Ok, so maybe he really did know how much I needed to hear it, but that didn't diminish the effects. The last few weeks, since the sharing, had been turbulent for me emotionally. It was hard to have your illusions stripped away and to feel naked all the time. Ben was right there with me, just as vulnerable, and his faith kept me going. You're going to get me crying again, bastard.
Ben grinned, but I could see a tear or two in his eyes. Right back at you, freak.
I was still smiling when he left for his workout and I finished tying my shoes. Yeah, I had the greatest brother in the world; that, at least, had never been an illusion.
Tyler was chewing on his Detour Bar as we walked out of the gym. The kid was like a bulldog with a bone when he did his workouts. I was finding that it was more important for me to keep him from pushing too hard than to inspire him to push hard enough. Some people had the idea that working out meant "no pain, no gain". That wasn't true. Sure, you could ache or go to your edge, but "pain" meant injury and it was not a good thing.
I bit down in my OneWay Bar and grinned. "You're making this too easy on me, Ty. I'm not going to know what to do with clients I'm going to have to motivate."
Ty shrugged, and talked around his bar. I couldn't blame him; the things tasted great and he was trying to pack in quality protein. "Have you thought about training here after you pass your certifications?"
Once again, the little shit had been ten steps ahead of me. "What are you talking about, Ty?" Honestly, I'd never even considered the option.
"Since you're here at school for another year or two, getting your associates, why not use the time constructively?"
Rolling my eyes, I swallowed down my bite of protein bar. "Do you ever do anything without making plans for a half dozen more things?"
Ty stopped and frowned. "No, do you?"
I laughed and took another chew. "Hell yeah. I'm lucky to think two steps ahead of where I'm at, and that's if I'm planning it out."
Giving me a doubtful look, he bit off another piece of bar and shrugged. "That's weird."
Shaking my head, and nodded out at the oak. "Wanna go cool off?"
We wandered to the tree, finishing our bars, and I handed Ty his water. "You think too much."
"Yeah, probably." He shrugged and looked at me. "Happens when your brain can't shut up."
That would be a bummer. "That must suck."
He shrugged again. "Can't miss what you never had. I can't remember a time when I wasn't thinking about something."
"So, you have this whole 'new body' thing planned out?"
"So, Mr. Ten-Steps-Ahead, what are your plans? Why are you trying to remake Tyler?" I'd said it in good humor, but I could tell by the look on his face that he took the question seriously.
"I guess I'm like Brandon. I really never liked who I was." He gave me a weak smile. "I'd never really thought about it till Dan came along; I'd really just sort of existed. Everything was an intellectual puzzle to be solved."
That sounded so strange. "So what happened when Dan arrived?"
Ty shrugged. "His grandmother died, and when he was told the news he freaked out. He disrupted everything."
I didn't get it. "So?" I took a swig of water.
"He disrupted my connection to the computers." Though he tried to hide it, I could tell the memory wasn't pleasant. "I spent about ten minutes without any access to anything; and I felt completely desolated." Ty took a sip. "For a guy who can tell you to the time down to the nanosecond, ten minutes is a really long time."
I could see that. I had no real concept of what that would be like, but if it was anything like the months I spent feeling disconnected from Brandon, then it must have sucked. "You were ok afterwards, right?"
Ty smiled. "Not really. The connection came back, but it wasn't the same. I'd never experienced life outside of the machines. When I hooked back up, they didn't feel like 'family' anymore... they were more like 'friends'." Ty shrugged and took another swig of water. "In a way, that's what drove me to Dan. At first it was an obsession of 'he took it away from me', but as I watched and figured things out, I realized he was just as isolated and alone as I was. Yet he managed to make friends, be happy, and have a life. So I kind of tagged along for the ride."
Nodding, I leaned back against the oak. "So now you have a life?"
Ty smiled. "Yeah, and, for the most part, it's pretty good. I've got friends, people who love me, and some pretty good ideas of what I want."
"So, how does the 'new Ty' come in to all this?" He had pretty efficiently caught me up to speed without actually answering the question.
Ty sighed. "I don't want to be a stereotypical geek." He smiled at me as he pushed up his glasses. "Ok, I'll always be a geek, but I don't want that to be all I am. I don't have to be just the 'brainy guy'."
"Ok, so you want to be more than the nerd-boy. Why?"
Ty frowned. "Why, not?"
Ty looked at his hands. "You think I'm doing this to impress Brandon."
I knew he was, but I couldn't believe he would do all of the work for that alone. "I don't know, are you?"
"Yes and no." He looked really uncomfortable.
"Hey, Ty." I squeezed his shoulder. "I didn't mean to put you on the spot; I just wanted to be sure you were clear on why you were doing this. I mean, do it for you."
Ty smiled. "I am. I just hope that maybe Brandon will stop seeing me as a kid if I stop looking like one."
"Easier said than done." That was the truth. Even if Ty was taller and stronger, he'd still look young.
"I know." He gave me a brave smile. "Positive outlook, right?"
"And if he doesn't?"
Tyler shrugged. "Then at least I've built a body I can be proud of."
Laughing, I grabbed Tyler around the neck and began to nuggie him. "You're so weird, but I like you."
He squirmed and laughed, but he couldn't get out of the headlock. I don't think he really wanted to; I came to learn later that Ty was pretty adept at getting out of binds and kicking the asses of guys a hell of a lot meaner than me. "Fag abuse! Fag abuse!"
I finally let him go and grinned like a cat. "Don't pull that bullshit, bud. If Logan and Scott are gay, then you have no leg to stand on."
Ty grinned. "Yeah, I guess I want to 'grow up' to be that kind of gay. Tough enough to say 'make an issue of it, wimp'."
I laughed. "You keep with the program, and learn to be a kick ass combatant like Logan, and you won't be anyone's limp-wristed stereotype by the time you're eighteen." I had absolutely no doubts about that. Tyler could do it. Grinning, I mussed his hair. "Actually, you already aren't."
"Thanks, Ben." He looked back at the dorms for a moment, and his smile faded. "Do you think I have any chance with Brandon, or am I wasting my time?"
Talk about blunt. How the hell was I supposed to answer that? Did I really want to encourage him? What would Kate want me to say? "Honestly, Ty, I don't know. What ever happens, know I'll support it either way, ok?"
Ty smiled. "Ok. I guess that was cheating anyway."
"Nah, they say 'alls fair... etc. etc.' so you're just playing the odds." I thought about it and decided a little encouragement wasn't a bad thing. "They also say 'patience is a virtue'."
Ty grinned. "Oh, you are so subtle."
"Sue me; I don't have a 250 IQ."
"That's ok; I still think you're cool."
That had me grinning. Maybe it was the effect of Brandon's sharing, but I really liked the idea that Ty thought I was cool. "Ditto."
It was hard to learn about myself. Anyone who hadn't had to really take full stock of who they were had no idea how difficult it could be. Oddly, I found it more difficult to accept the "good things" and my unique strengths than it was to accept the bad and ugly parts. There were a few dark aspects of myself that were pretty hard to look at. One of the hardest things to admit was that I was jealous of Ben. That was one demon that all the bonding and love couldn't seem to shut up. A part of me resented the fact that he'd lived the safe, happy life. Of course, that was my own doing; I'd wanted him safe and happy. Internal drama sucked. I had gotten exactly what I'd wanted, and I was resentful and jealous of it. How twisted was that?
I think the easy friendship he was building with Ty forced me to take a really good look at that particular demon. Every time I saw Ty and Ben together, I got the stab; my eyes should have been green, not hazel. Of course, my eyes did turn greenish depending on my emotions. That was one of the subtle differences between Ben and I; my "hazel" was brown-green while his "hazel" was brown-blue/grey. Normally, our eyes were brown with a thin inner ring of the other color; when we were in certain moods, though, they shifted.
It was during that time of self-observation that I realized I was nearly as jealous of Kate as I was of Ben; for different reasons. Ok, maybe not entirely different reasons. I was jealous because Kate was filling more and more of Ben's heart. The love was almost painful to witness. Of course, he didn't show the intensity on the outside, but I always knew when he was having "Kate thoughts", or if he was looking at her with "love". His love for her was so much more intense than for me. It was just hard. I suppose in truth, I was just a jealous person. I felt like everyone had it easier than me. It was ridiculous, but most hates and fears are.
Demons; my personal little stable of them was crammed full and busting at the seams. The worst part of it was that I'd hand picked, fed and nurtured every one of them myself. The Professor was always encouraging me to work on myself, because any demon I'd made I could unmake.
The Professor was looking at me curiously, sipping his tea, while I stared longingly out the window. I wasn't anxious to be outside; I wanted to be as happy and carefree as so many of the other students seemed to be. "You'll get there, Brandon. It takes time."
I smiled. Sure, I knew he was reading me but it didn't matter. I had so much more respect for Xavier than I had when we arrived. I hadn't realized how much restraint he had, how much control over his own dark desires he had to maintain, and how easily he could hurt people if he didn't. I'd always seen him as the "icon of psychic power", with no struggles or problems. Learning my icons were "human" was both frightening and liberating. I was really growing fond of the Professor; ok, I admit it, I loved the guy. It wasn't a sexual thing, but it was honest.
The Professor sipped his tea again and smiled as he took another bite of shortbread. "These are excellent, Brandon. You really should make use of the faculty kitchen more often."
Grinning, I moved from the window and sat back down. "You just want fresh shortbread."
He smiled. "Yes, but I think you would find more enjoyment in life if you were to start doing the little things you derive pleasure from." His eyes met mine. "You have so many talents that have nothing to do with mutant abilities. You really must get over the fact that they aren't classically 'masculine'."
I looked at the tea I'd fixed for our session. It helped me relax to cook, and I found it easier to come to our counseling session after time in the kitchen. Usually I just left the results of my "therapy" in the lounge for anyone to enjoy. It was always pleasant to come back later to find the plates with only crumbs as evidence of the consumption. I even had a sense of satisfaction when a few students figured out the "schedule" and started showing up in the lounge shortly before my sessions.
"It's hard to let go, you know?" I shrugged. "I love cooking. Oh, lets face it, I love being domestic. Decorating, sewing, cooking; I even enjoy keeping Ben's dresser clean." Grinning, I sipped my tea. "Kate is in for a rude awakening; Ben's a slob."
Xavier smiled warmly at me. "You should see how your entire being relaxes when you talk about it. I wish you would consider my offer. I think you would enjoy the challenge."
I shrugged. I knew why I was resistant to the idea of teaching home-economics. It was such a "gay" thing to do. As much of a homebody, domestic as I was, I wasn't swishy or effeminate. I didn't lisp, and I had no desire to wear frou-frou clothing. It would, however, give me access to all the top quality appliances they had for that class. "I suppose Christine could use the time off." The present home economics teacher was seven months pregnant and was showing like she was nine.
He smiled. "I think the two of you should discuss the curriculum. Hank tells me that Christine should be off her feet soon."
Grinning, I snagged a cookie. "That should be a feat." Christine was one of the most dedicated members of the faculty; if something needed to be done, she was always a part of it.
"Yes." He eyed another of the cookies, but chose to sip his tea and do without. As I said, the man had restraint; my shortbread really was good. "I do not relish the idea of challenging her on it."
I smirked. "Oh, and you expect me to take over one of her classes?"
"Don't worry, Brandon, I can handle Christine." Christine may have been only "human", but she still commanded respect from everyone, and a certain amount of fear if you crossed her.
Xavier did handle Christine, and after some token resistance she yielded. I think she argued more out of habit than actual desire to keep working so hard. Other than the fact that I was thrilled to have access to all the equipment and supplies, the best part of taking the job was that I got paid. It wasn't much, because I insisted it be applied to my room and board to make it easier on my parents. I wish I'd been making enough to cover both Ben and myself, but that's asking a lot out of a part-time teaching position.
It was a couple weeks into the class when Kate came into the kitchen. I was trying out a new recipe, and smiled as she came in. "I didn't know you knew what a kitchen was, Kate."
She shot me a spiteful glance but then grinned. "Hate to burst your bubble, queer boy, but this southern minister's daughter knows all about the kitchen."
I lifted a plate of banana bread. "Slice?"
She took one and broke off a bite. "I've got a problem."
That was new; Kate never came to me with her problems. "Do you need to 'go private'?"
She smiled. "No, not that kind of problem." She took another bite and eyed the bread. "Something about this is different. More flavor."
"I soak the nuts and bananas in rum before I make the bread." I was glad she noticed. It was a pain to soak the stuff for a few days in the fridge, but it really did make great loaf.
"Really?" She looked at the plate. "Where's that going?"
"Teacher's lounge. I think I can summon Logan with this stuff."
Laughing, she took another bite. "You're an evil man, Brandon. You're trying to make everyone fat."
"Nah, I'm just trying to sweeten a few dispositions around here." I snagged a piece for myself and smiled. "Ever notice how much attitude there is in this place?"
Kate rolled her eyes. "Well, duh!"
"Anyway," I settled on one of the stools, "what's your problem?"
She shrugged. "I've been offered a modeling job."
That snapped my attention to her. "What?" It wasn't that I didn't think Kate had the looks, but it seemed so out-of-left-field.
"Remember when I stayed in Miami an extra week?"
"Well, one of the guests at the wedding was a photographer who'd just finished a shoot. He mentioned that he would love to take a few shots because I had 'an exotic look'." She took another bite. "This really is great, Brandon."
"Yeah, yeah. Get back to your story."
She grinned nervously. "I didn't realize it, but he had me do practically all the shots he'd done with another model before the wedding. Apparently he showed them to his client, and they loved them."
"So what's the problem? It sounds great."
"I'm going to have to leave school. Well, at least some of the time. The Professor says I can do most of the work correspondence and the rest when I'm not on a job."
I still didn't get it. "Ok, so?"
She looked at me like I had two heads. "Brandon, what do I tell Ben?"
Ok, now I saw the problem.