The breeze picked up and blew in a circle around him, announcing her presence. Brian turned and smiled as Storm approached him. He bent down and plucked a blade of grass. As he stood, the bottom three quarters of the grass blade thickened and lengthened, while the top quarter expanded and changed color. By the time he was standing straight, a white rose was in his hand. It had been a power that he had just recently discovered and he was overjoyed at the prospect of changing one object into another. He held out the rose and Storm took it, smiling. White roses were her favorite flowers; it was one thing he had discovered in the two weeks he had been there.
“Thank you, Ororo.”
Storm gazed into Brian's eyes. “For what?”
Brian smiled gently, a smile different from the one he was famous for as a Backstreet Boy. “For being there for me. You were the first one that welcomed me here and made me feel like I really belonged somewhere. I felt your presence while I was sleeping that first night. It gave me a peace and comfort that I will always remember.”
Storm found herself blushing. “I’m glad I was able to give you comfort, Brian, even if I didn't realize it.”
Brian brushed a finger against her cheek. “I think you knew you were doing it.”
As they had been speaking, Brian had been inching closer to her face until they were mere centimeters apart.
“Maybe you’re right,” Storm replied as she closed her eyes.
Brian closed his eyes and claimed her lips in a gentle kiss. Almost from the day of his arrival, he had felt a growing attraction to her. Her response to the kiss told him that she must have been feeling something similar. When they parted, Brian held her in his arms, wanting the moment to linger. He felt a familiar presence nearby and looked up. A look of shock wiped the smile from his face. How did he find me?
Storm felt him stiffen and pulled away, turning to look where Brian was gazing with wide eyes. A tall dark-haired man stood thirty feet away, watching them.
“Who is it?”
“It’s Kevin,” Brian replied. “But how on earth did he find me?”
Storm placed a hand on his back and gave him a gentle nudge. Brian broke his gaze from Kevin and glanced back at her.
“Go to him, Brian.”
“Go. I’ll wait.”
Brian smiled and kissed her nose. Turning back to Kevin, he hesitated a moment longer, then started down the path toward his cousin. He stopped just a few feet away. Neither said a word for a long time. Kevin half-turned and tilted his head toward the path in the direction he had just come. Brian nodded and followed him. They walked a quarter mile before Kevin spoke.
“AJ told us everything, Brian. To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to believe. I mean, you’re a… a…”
“Say it, Kevin. You know you want to.”
“I can’t,” Kevin protested. “I don’t want to see you hurt.”
“I already was when I left because of AJ.”
“He was just upset that Nick got hurt.”
“Because of me.”
Kevin stopped and looked his cousin in the eye. “Do you really believe that it was you?”
“If AJ told you everything, then doesn't it make sense? The cords were completely intact when the light fell on him! There’s no other reasonable explanation for it.”
Kevin hung his head, then looked out at the bay.
"How's Nick?" Brian asked.
Kevin closed his eyes and Brian could see lines of pain form at the creases of his eyes.
“Kevin? How’s Nick?” he repeated. “Please, it’s been bothering me for two weeks! How is he?”
Kevin took a deep breath. “He’s paralyzed from the waist down, Brian.”
All the breath left Brian's lungs. “No.”
“No!” Brian whirled around and tried to blink away the tears. My best friend is paralyzed because of me! Nick, can you ever forgive me? I never meant to hurt you.
He felt a hand on his shoulder. “Brian, he's been asking for you. We want you to come back.”
“Who’s we?” Brian demanded through his tears, not turning around. “You and Nick?”
Kevin stepped closer and rubbed his back. “Of course not. Howie wants you back, too. And I’m sure AJ does, underneath all his anger.”
“I really doubt that, Kev. He hates me. I'm not normal like any of you. I'm a mutant.”
“Brian, don’t talk like that.”
Brian pulled out of his grasp. “If that’s all you're going to say, you’re wasting your breath.”
Brian turned and looked him in the eye. “I can't go back, Kevin, not if I'm hated for what I am. I know how the others feel.”
“Others like me. They’re hated because they’re different from ‘normal’ humans. What’s your cover story been for the past two weeks since I've been gone?”
Kevin blinked in surprise at the sudden change in topic. “That we needed to take some time off after Nick got hurt and you're visiting family.”
“I see. How did you find me anyway?”
Kevin shrugged. “Got a phone call saying you were here. It was strange, but I had the feeling they were telling the truth. I see I was right.”
Brian remained silent and glanced out at the bay.
“Brian, please come back,” Kevin begged.
“I can’t, Kevin. Do you think I want to be in a place where I know people hate me? I’m not hated here. I’m respected for who I am and I'm friends with everyone.”
“What about the fans? We still need to work on the tour.”
Brian shook his head. “Not now. I have to stay and learn to control whatever powers I have before something goes wrong and I hurt someone else.”
“Well, what kinds of things can you do?”
“It’s really strange, even for a mutant, but quite a lot. There’s telekinesis, invisibility, changing one object into another and a few others.” Like telepathy.
Kevin jumped as he heard Brian's voice in his head. “Dang, that’s really something.”
Brian smirked, and then the smile faded. “I can’t go back, Kevin. I’m sorry.”
Kevin started forward. “But, Brian-“
Brian closed his eyes and concentrated. Hearing Kevin cry out let him know that he had become invisible and he took off at a fast run. At the base of a hill, he stopped and turned around. He could still see Kevin’s face from where he was and he saw the pain and the tears. Tentatively, he reached out and read Kevin’s thoughts.
Brian, the others may hate you, but I don't care. You’re my cousin and I love you. So does Nick. Aw Nick, Kevin turned back to face the bay, what am I going to tell him? His best friend refuses to come back all because he's a mutant and he's afraid we'll hate him. Look what you've done, AJ.
Brian drew himself out of Kevin's thoughts and made himself visible for his cousin for the last time. Tears welled up in his eyes as he called to Kevin in his mind.
Kevin. Kevin looked around but couldn’t see him. Behind you, on the hill.
He turned and saw Brian. “Please come back,” he begged.
Give me time. Let me get an understanding as to why I have all these powers, then maybe I’ll come back.
I don’t know. I’ll keep in contact with you, though. I promise. Tell Nick I'm sorry.
Reluctantly, Kevin nodded. He watched as his cousin turned his back on him and began walking away.
“Goodbye, Brian. Keep your promises.”
As Kevin began to walk away, he heard Brian's voice in his head once more.
The sun was sinking just below the horizon when Brian entered his room. He leaned against the door for a long time with his eyes closed.
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.
A tear slipped from his eye as he slowly walked to the window. He stood there and watched the moon rise and shine on the distant water. After Kevin had left, Brian wasn’t ready to return to Ororo just yet, so he had contacted her telepathically and let her know that he needed to be alone for a while. She understood, and Brian had spent the remainder of the day walking the Institute grounds. He finally sat on a bench off the path in the woods and just let his thoughts wander. It was getting late when he finally noticed his surroundings again. He returned to the Institute, telling the others that he was fine, ate dinner in silence, and then headed for the library. He wandered around for another hour, pausing as he came across some of Nick’s favorite books. One by one, he began to read them, unable to finish even five chapters in any of them. Finally, he returned to his room, unable to block the pain.
He closed the shutters, blocking out the moonlight. As he moved to climb into bed, the pictures on his dresser caught his attention. He grabbed the group picture as he remembered the one behind it. He carefully slid the back off the frame and took the second picture out. After putting the frame back together and setting it back on the dresser, he picked up the photograph. It was of him and Nick at a photo shoot in the forest, one of his favorites.
It's all my fault. Nick, I'm so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. Can you forgive me?
Brian brought the picture over to the bed and leaned it against the lamp on the nightstand. He climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep facing the picture.
Water lapped at his feet. He was standing at the edge of the ocean.
The ocean? Where am I?
Brian looked around and spotted a house a few yards away. He started walking toward it, hoping that it might have some answers for him. When he was close enough, he realized exactly where he was.
"Nick's house," he whispered.
Suddenly, he was no longer outside. He was in Nick's studio. He looked around and spotted a figure sitting by the window. Pain clasped a hand on his heart. It was Nick. He was in a wheelchair, drawing with pastel chalk of the view outside: the moon reflecting on the ocean, its light glowing all around the beach.
"Nicky," he whispered.
Nick raised his head, eyes wide. He had heard something. He listened again, but heard nothing more. He had just put his chalk to the paper when he heard it again.
"Nick, I'm sorry."
Nick's head flew up. That had come from behind him, and the voice was familiar. Slowly he looked over his shoulder. The sight that greeted him nearly made him drop the pad and chalk.
"Brian!" he squeaked. He grabbed the wheels of his chair and turned the chair around so he was facing his friend.
The friends stared at each other in silence for a while.
"Kevin called me this afternoon,” Nick murmured. “He said you're not coming home yet."
"I can't Nicky. You're hurt because of me. AJ hates me."
"But I don't."
"I know," Brian whispered. "But I know that if I come back, this will just be a constant reminder to both of us."
"You lied to him, didn't you?" Nick asked, his voice cracking with sorrow. "You're not coming back at all. You told him you might come back once you have an understanding of why you have so many different powers. But you won't.”
Brian squatted in front of his friend as tears began to fall. "Nick, listen to me. I just need to learn about why I have all these different powers. I have so many that I’ve discovered over the last two weeks, which is unusual even in the mutant community. Just give me time to find out why.”
"But how long?"
Brian thought quickly as he wiped away his friend's tears. "One week," he replied. "Give me one week. Whether I have answers or not, I’ll come back. If it keeps you happy, I'll come back."
Nick touched one of his paralyzed legs. "It'll help to bear this burden a little better."
That was Brian's confirmation. "Then I promise I'll come back. Anything I can do to help my Frack bear an easier burden, I'll do my best."
Nick smiled happily. "One week, Brian."
Brian smiled, too. "One week."
Brian opened his eyes and thought about the dream he had had during the night. Was it a dream? Or was it yet another power he had discovered? He decided to find Professor Xavier to see if he could help.
Professor? Brian called as he stepped out into the hall.
"I'm here, Brian."
I need to talk to you, sir, he requested.
“I’m in my office. Come join me.”
He acknowledged the Professor, then headed for the elevator. Xavier’s office door was open when he arrived, so he knocked on the doorframe and entered.
“Is something wrong, Brian?”
Brian took a deep breath, and then explained what had happened in his dream. After he finished, he said, "I want to keep that promise, professor, even if it was only a dream. I want to find out why I have all these powers and how I can control them. I don't want Nick to be hurting because of me."
Charles looked his pupil right in his eyes. "I'll do anything I can to help you, Brian."
Brian smiled hopefully. "Really? Thank you so much."
"Just promise me that when you return, you will do your best to keep these powers under control and hidden from the outside world. Your fans and management know nothing of this, and it is best that it be kept that way."
"What about for special effects during concerts? Our fans won't know."
"Well... that's up to you, but I wouldn't recommend it."
Brian nodded. "Okay. But for now, I just want to find out why."