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 9
ACE, NFPT, IFPA; those were the three certification bodies Tyler had helped me narrow my choices to. What a horror. For ACE and IFPA, the testing would be within a month of one another in late October and mid-November. NFPT could be done whenever I could schedule it at a testing facility. I had only about five weeks before the IFPA exam. I felt like my brain was going to explode. It was weird to feel so driven to do the certifications; I only had one client. I guess it was the idea that I could do something that would have a future; that was cool.
I'd switched to Dr. McKoy's anatomy and physiology class, after a bit of prodding by Tyler, and that was making the studying a lot easier. It helped to have someone to go to when the texts went Greek. I was just about to hit one more chapter when I felt Brandon tapping on my brain, Knock, knock.
I groaned. He liked to torture me with bad "knock, knock jokes" in retribution for all the times I'd been able to spook him with "boo". Who's there?
Knew you would hate this joke.
BRANDON! It was irritating to be able to feel his grin. What do you want?
I have some fresh baked, banana rum bread down here.
Bastard. I had always known Brandon could cook, he'd been cooking since we were kids, but once he started having fun with it I realized that I was going to have to add another hour a day to my workouts. I was glad he was becoming more comfortable with the things he liked, but I wasn't so sure it was going to be to my best benefit. Of course, I also liked the fact that he cooked us private meals every so often; his cooking was so much better than the cafeteria. I closed the book and grumbled. I'll be right down.
Yeah, that'd be great. I needed the caffeine.
I got to the H.E. room and smiled. Kate was sitting at the center island, sipping some coffee and having some of Bran's bread. "Hey."
"Hey." She smiled, but something in her eyes didn't seem happy. It was then I started picking up the nervousness Brandon was trying to hide.
"Why do I feel like I've been set up?" I wasn't quite nervous, but I was getting there.
Kate sighed. "Because you were." She looked at Bran, and he grabbed his coffee and one of the plates of sliced bread.
"I'm going to pass out some joy."
Ok, now I was nervous. I sat down where Bran had left my coffee, and grabbed for a slice of hot bread. At least I could have some comfort food while I waited to find out what was going on.
Kate looked at me. "I've made a decision I'm not sure you're going to like."
My heart sank like a stone. She was going to break up. I hadn't realized how much it would hurt till I was staring it in the face. I think she saw it in my expression, because she reached over and squeezed my hand. "I'm not breaking up with you, Ben." She still looked a little sad. "At least I hope not."
That had me feeling a little better. She seemed worried that we might break up over her news. I squeezed back. "Ok, so what's this decision you've made?"
"I've accepted a modeling job."
I was stunned. "That's it?" The relief was so incredible I felt like I was going to float off the stool. "No 'you have this horrible habit', or 'we just aren't working out', or 'I've met someone else'?"
"Ben, it means I'm going to be gone for weeks or a month at a time."
"So?" I was confused; it wasn't like that hadn't been a possibility. It was just coming sooner than expected. "If one of us went off to college this would happen."
Kate seemed surprised and maybe a little disappointed. "I don't know. I guess I thought you'd be upset."
I thought about it. Yeah, I wasn't happy about her leaving, but she wasn't saying we couldn't try to work it out and it wasn't forever. "I'm not upset if you're saying we can keep dating." I squeezed again. "How long are you going to be gone?"
I felt the tingle, and then she smiled self-consciously. "Sorry, I guess I was nervous. I'd like to keep dating; I really like having you as a boyfriend." She thought about my question for a moment. "Three weeks. I'll be back by mid-October."
"Just long enough for me to be going crazy." I grinned. "Sounds like the perfect way to torture your boyfriend." She looked like she was about to object, but I leaned in and kissed her. For once, she melted. I smiled when I pulled back. "How many guys get to say his girlfriend is a model?"
She smirked. "I'm going to have to bring back photos, aren't I?"
"Oh, definitely." I leaned back in. "But I'd settle for you coming back safe and telling me you missed me."
She brought her lips close to mine and whispered, "That's a promise."
There was one noticeable effect that Kate's absence had; Ben started hanging around with me more. Ok, maybe I was being greedy, but I liked it. Of course, that also meant more Tyler because he wasn't hanging around with Kate, and to find Ben he usually found me as well. The best part of it was I had my own private taste testers. Ok, that wasn't the best part. The best part was though Tyler obviously liked Ben, he generally sat closer to me.
Yeah, though I wouldn't admit it, I was falling for the blonde kid, hard. I realized it one day when Ben thought about the stuff I'd been baking and commented on it. "When did you stop liking chocolate?"
I scratched at my chin. The itch of trying to grow a goatee was killing me. "I love chocolate, why?"
He shrugged. "You used to do lots of stuff with chocolate; I loved the short breads you'd dip in dark chocolate."
My mouth was watering. "Oh shut up; now I'm going to have to make some."
He grinned in triumph as Tyler came in from his afternoon classes. I slid a plate his way as he came around the counter. Ty snatched one of the fruit and custard pastries and took a bite. "You make the best fruit stuff, Bran."
Ben shot me a dark look and then smirked at Ty. "I like his chocolates better."
Ty shrugged. "Chocolate's ok. I just like fruit more."
His thoughts dropped in like a bombshell, even though he was thinking softly and with more than a little humor. I see how this goes. Make the kid happy and starve your own flesh and blood
I glared at him. Just the thought of it made my gut clench. I wasn't cooking things just to please Tyler. You're getting your chocolate, addict.
Uh huh, whatever.
Tyler was eyeing us suspiciously. "I can always tell when you two are doing the 'twins thing'."
Ben laughed. "And you think we're automatically talking about you?"
Ty chewed down the rest of his treat, and blushed. "No."
"Oh, you are so full of shit." Ben leapt off his stool and began to chase Tyler around the island. They laughed, and I just got my stuff out of the way. I actually enjoyed watching the show. Ben finally caught him when Ty made a dash for the door. He stretched out his left hand and absorbed Ty's momentum. He had Ty around the waist and was mussing his hair with abandon to loud protestation.
"That's cheating! You used your powers!"
Ben just smiled broader and mussed Ty's hair more. "Prove it, short stuff."
After another minute or two of roughhousing they calmed down. Tyler gave Ben an incensed look. "You realize I could have gotten away if I wanted to, right?"
Ben shrugged. "Yeah, but you don't want to cripple your trainer."
That seemed to brighten Ty up. "Oh, how are the studies going?"
Groaning, Ben let Ty go and went back to his stool. "Fine. I know I'll do ok, but I keep thinking I should study more."
I laughed. "If you push any more information in before you digest what you have, your brain will leak."
Ben sighed. I knew his anxiety wasn't over the tests. "Yeah, I know."
Tyler cocked his head. "That's so weird."
We both looked at him. "What's weird?"
"I just don't get how two smart guys can have problems learning. It's just data; you input it and store it. Most of this stuff isn't something you have to 'process', it's just regurgitation of information." Every so often, Tyler would say something that illustrated exactly how different the way his brain worked than other people's. That was one of those moments.
"That's why you're the genius and we are just 'average'." I shoved the plate at him. "Fuel yourself, brain."
Ty looked at the tarts longingly, but shook his head. "Can't, my trainer would hurt me."
Ben grinned in triumph. "I love the power."
Shrugging, I moved the tarts to a plastic container and put it into the fridge. I had enough left over pastries, cookies and such to feed a small army. "I'm going to have to start putting stuff out for the kids again. Logan threatened to eviscerate me if I put any more sweets in the faculty kitchen or lounge."
Ty grinned. "I bet that would get a round of cheers. When you started cutting back on the large batches of baked goods, I noticed there were more than a few unhappy faces about."
God I loved hearing that. Just knowing people enjoyed my stuff was enough to make me want to whip up another dozen batches of anything. I smiled at Ty and for a moment, we just looked at each other. Finally, I looked down embarrassed. "Thanks Ty."
He had a goofy smile on his face when I looked back up. God he was cute. "Welcome."
I was shifting nervously from foot to foot as the train pulled in. Three weeks. Sure, we talked almost every night and I got some really cool postcards, but I was still aching to touch her again. I hadn't realized how empty I would feel being away from Kate. Waiting for the passengers to disembark was torture. I was going nuts after a couple minutes, and Brandon's thoughts came to me. Three cars down; she's just stepping off. God, Ben... chill, you're giving me an ulcer.
I pushed my way through the crowd and spotted her. She was looking around expectantly for a few moments before she saw me. The grin that curled her lips made my pulse race. I slowed my rush to get there and tried to act cool and confident. Her grin was a full power smile when I stopped a few steps from her and calmly said, "Welcome back."
She laughed and raised an eyebrow. "Do you call that a greeting?"
Stepping in, I slid my arm around her waist and pulled her in. "Had something else in mind?"
Oh stop the macho shit and kiss her for Christ sake!
Kate must have picked up on Brandon's irritation, because her eyes smoldered as they met mine. "You know, he's got a point."
I cupped her head and pulled her in. Ok, so I was trying to act all independent and strong, but she just fit right. The moment she was in my arms again, the world was fine. I pulled back and breathed. "I missed you."
She kissed me again and melted against me. "It's good to be home."
We rode back in the truck. Brandon drove, Kate sat in the middle, and I had the door. Of course, Kate was a bit closer to the passenger side than the middle. "How was it?"
"Exhausting." She snuggled against me. "The first week was scary but exciting. The second was cool, but the third was tiresome. Worrying about what you eat, having your hair done a couple times a day, having them sprits you with stuff that makes you look all glistening and damp but it isn't water." She grunted. "And the runways?!? Those are a nightmare. You have to get in and out of the outfits in a panic but look cool and collected on the walk."
"Sounds like you had a good time," Brandon's sarcasm made Kate smile.
"Ok, so it was great. There was stuff about it that I hated, but all in all it was cool." She looked at me. "It'd have been better with company." That seemed to spur an idea, and she sat up. "What are you guys doing for New Years?"
"Nothing special; we'll probably just spend the night with the 'rents."
She grinned. "I got to see Dan and Jeff while in London. They want us to come over for the celebration."
I laughed. "Oh sure, we'll just pull out our gold cards and book some tickets."
Kate rolled her eyes. "Please, like the guys would invite us without a plan."
Brandon laughed. "Now you're making them sound like Ty."
"Trust me, if you guys make sure to have your passports by then, the transportation will take care of itself."
I eyed Brandon and he shrugged. "Ok, sure. We've never been out of the country."
"I wonder what Mom and Dad will think?" Brandon seemed concerned about that, but I didn't care what they thought.
"They'll think it's cool."
Ben passed his certifications without a hitch. Kate being back seemed to calm his brain down immeasurably. Though I was still jealous, I was getting over it. Anyone who could make Ben happy just by being there was too important to have hard feelings at. I smiled at Kate as she kissed Ben goodbye. We had to get on the road if we were going to make the drive in two days. Thanksgiving break was going to be spent mostly on the road, but it was going to be the first time we'd been home since June.
She grinned at me. "You make sure not to daydream on the drive."
I saluted. "Yes ma'am, I'll be certain to see him safely there and back again."
"Goof." She kissed my cheek and I felt the tingle. Thanks, Brandon.
Hugging her, I smiled. For what?
I squeezed her a little tighter. I knew she was aware of how invaded I felt having to share Ben, but I'd never talked to her about it. I can't keep him to myself forever; at least he didn't fall for a bitch I couldn't stand.
She pulled back and laughed. "Just a bitch you liked, huh?"
"You said it, not me," I laughed and looked around. Ben looked amused, but said nothing. Finally, I saw Tyler coming down the steps. I stepped up and grinned. "Remember, there are your favorites sitting in the tub labeled 'Ty'."
Ty frowned. "Jerk." He stuck out his hand. "Drive safe, Bran."
I looked at his hand and realized there was no way I was leaving like that. I scooped him up and gave him a hug. "Friends don't shake hands, Ty."
He wrapped his arms around my neck and sort of buried his face into my shoulder. God I didn't want to let go. Ben saved me from making a fool out of myself by coming up and tapping my shoulder. "Hey, I get a goodbye too."
I let Ty down, and tried to ignore the grin on his face. I also tried to ignore the fact that my jeans were feeling way too tight. He gave Ben a quick hug and congratulations on passing his certifications. "I'll have some business cards designed up for when you get back."
Ben mussed Ty's hair. "You're too much, Ty."
With that sentiment, I had to agree.
God it was weird to be home. The town felt, different. It was a little dingier, or maybe just a little less perfect than I remembered. I looked at Brandon as we pulled into the drive. "Is it just me, or does the town feel different?"
He nodded. "Yeah, probably my fault."
What the does that mean?
Brandon flinched. "We can't do that around Mom and Dad, Ben." He looked back at the house. "I don't know what I mean; I spent so much time trying to make this place 'perfect'. I guess I never saw it for what it was."
Mom was coming out the front door as I squeezed Brandon's shoulder. "Maybe for a while it was, Bran. I'll remember it that way; we have some great memories at least."
He seemed distracted and looked at Mom nervously. "Yeah, some really great memories." Something about how he said that took a little bit of the joy out of being home.
Mom and Dad wanted to know everything about school and how we were doing. We'd written and called, but that wasn't the same as face to face conversations. We told them about the trip to Miami, though we skipped the whole argument and search for Brandon. Dad seemed to find the whole wedding thing fascinating, but Mom looked uncomfortable. I think Mom's attitude came out pretty clearly when she asked, "So, have you made any normal friends at school?"
Brandon flinched and looked at his feet. God that made me angry. I looked her straight in the eyes. "No. All our friends at school are mutants, Mom. And I don't ask for sexual preferences since I've already got a girlfriend."
Mom had an amazing talent to brush past the obvious. "How's Kate? Do you have any pictures?"
Brandon got off the couch, mumbling, "I'll get them," and vanished up stairs.
I glared at Mom. "That was rude, Mom."
"What?" She looked genuinely shocked.
"Any -normal- friends? Why don't you just say 'any body who isn't gay like Brandon'? That's what you meant."
"Benton, that's not what your mother meant." Dad looked offended, but Mom looked more shocked by my bluntness than actually upset.
"Really? Well by 'normal' she couldn't have meant 'non-mutant' since we're at a mutant school. So I guess I'm just confused; what did you mean Mom?"
Mom stood up. "I won't be interrogated by my own son." She left as Brandon came back down with the photos.
He looked confused. "What's up?"
Dad frowned and got up to check on Mom. "Your brother was being an ungrateful brat, Brandon. I hope he will apologize to your mother."
Bran looked at me, but I locked down my thoughts. "Don't ask."
It was difficult to sleep in a single bed with Ben. We hadn't even discussed what we'd do when we got home; it was just assumed I'd be sleeping with him. At school we'd been able to push our singles together. I finally gave up when I heard Dad's car leave for work. Ben could sleep through a hurricane, but I wasn't so lucky. I felt Mom's eyes on me as I came out of Ben's room. For a moment, her fears filled my head. I actually staggered from the intensity of them.
I looked at her as my eyes fogged with tears. "I'd never do that."
She didn't say anything; she just went back down stairs. I actually had to sit against the wall and get my breathing back under control. I could ignore most people's subconscious thoughts, but my family was nearly impossible to keep out. It took every ounce of courage I had to descend the stairs and go into the kitchen for some breakfast.
Mom acted like nothing had happened. "Do you want cereal, toast, juice?"
I shrugged. "I'll make it."
She poured herself a coffee and I could feel her eyes on my back as I made some toast and poured myself some juice. I sat down across the table and avoided her gaze. She sipped her coffee and looked away. "So, have you met anyone?"
I practically choked in my toast. "No."
"Well, I'm sure there's someone out there who will be special for you."
I wasn't hungry any more. I swigged down my juice and scraped the toast into the garbage. Ben was coming in as I fled the kitchen. "Hey, wanna go for a run?"
I stopped at the stairs. "Sure, I'll meet you outside." I went up to get my shoes on.
Ben tried to draw me out during our run, but I wasn't ready. How do you tell your brother than your Mother is scared of you molesting him? How could I say she thought I was doing it and rewriting his memories to make him forget? I wasn't molesting Ben, but I had rewritten her memories and the memories of a lot of other people for years. I knew she knew. I shouldn't have come home.
I didn't tell him. He tried to get me to talk for the rest of the day, but I couldn't. Ben looked at me like I was an alien when I went to my bedroom that night. "Hey, where you going?"
I shrugged. "Sleeping in my own bed; it's too cramped on the single."
"You sure?" God I loved him; the worry in his eyes made me want to cry.
"Yeah." I gave him a brave smile and closed the door.
I wish I'd been brave enough to keep my nightmares to myself. I was struggling to keep from being dragged off by a dark image when I felt Ben there. Bran, wake up.
I snapped my eyes open and Ben was kneeling beside the bed, his hand gripped in mine. "You ok?" I swallowed a few times and nodded. He wasn't buying it. "Shove over, I'm climbing in."
I panicked. "No!"
Ben looked shocked. "What?"
I felt so dirty. "We can't."
He made a disgusted sound. "What the hell are you talking about?"
I just couldn't say it. I looked away but let him have the images I'd gotten from Mom. When I looked back, he'd gone white. "Holy fuck." I tried to let go of his hand, but he held on. He climbed onto the bed and wrapped his arms around me. I was trembling, but he held on and pressed his head against mine. You'd never do that, Bran. I know it.
I cried myself to sleep in Ben's arms. He kept reassuring me that he loved me and trusted me. Some dark part of myself was giggling at me, teasing me, because I knew if I wanted to I could have done that and so much more.
I didn't sleep at all. I was so pissed. That Mom would even think such a thing about Brandon had me ready to scream. She didn't know him; she didn't know how good he was, or how hard he struggled. Mom had lived the safe, easy, middle-class life. She had her two kids, white picket fence and doting husband. Having a gay, mutant son wasn't part of that reality. That was too fucking bad; we didn't ask for it either, but that was the way it was.
I heard her get up, and I slipped out of bed. I wanted her to see me come out of Bran's room. I waited till she was walking past and I opened the door. She looked shocked, but I just gave her a confident look and said, "Morning." I swear she looked as white as a ghost.
She was shaking by the time I'd followed her, unrelenting, down to the kitchen. She could see the anger in my eyes and I didn't care if it scared her. "Stop looking at me that way, Ben."
"Like what, Mom?"
"Like you hate me."
"Why not? This is how you look at Brandon."
That seemed to take the rest of the strength out of her. She sank into her chair. "I don't hate your brother."
"Oh? I think you do. I think you're scared he'll turn me gay like him."
Mom glared at me. "Don't say that!"
"Don't say what? I'll become like Brandon?"
"You aren't like him; you're my son. You're a good man."
I slammed my palm down on the table. "Brandon's a good man too, Mom!"
She looked away. "How do I know that? How do I know any of it?" She looked back at me and I saw how haunted she was. "How do you know? He spent years making us believe what he wanted us to; what's changed?"
I cringed. I knew why he'd done it. I knew how hard he'd struggled to make everything right. But there was a small part of me that said "yeah, how do you know?" I looked back at her and reminded myself of our sharing. "Because I love him, Mom. I believe in Brandon."
She looked down at her hands and I saw tears sliding down her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Ben. I can't."
That took the wind out of me. I sank into the chair and stared at her while she cried. I didn't even realize Brandon was there till he spoke.
"I'm sorry." We both looked up. He had tears running down his face and had his book bag and suitcase in his hands. "I'm sorry I'm not the son you wanted."
I tried to say something, but he just closed his eyes. I felt it; our connection was strong enough that I knew what he was planning before it happened. He opened his eyes, and they were windows beyond. Mom screamed.
I tried to grab for him as the darkness swirled from his eyes and consumed him, but all I hit was air. He vanished, and I felt a cold lump in my heart. He was gone.