"I'm exhausted!" AJ cried as he lay down right on the stage after Fatima declared that practice was officially over.
"Right there with you, Bone," Howie agreed as he sat down and picked up his water bottle.
Kevin said nothing as he followed A.J’s example and lay down on the stage. Brian walked around, water bottle in hand. Nick watched them in amusement and with a little bit of jealousy.
He sighed. "You never appreciate what you have until you don't have it anymore."
"Yeah, but at least you don't have to complain of exhaustion, Nick," AJ pointed out. "All you have to worry about is remembering the words to the songs; you don't have to worry about the dancing."
Brian laughed. "He's got a point, Nick."
Brian smirked and said nothing.
Howie spoke up. "You know, I could do with a big bottle of ice cold lemonade."
"And yet, all we have are big bottles of ice cold water," Kevin remarked.
"Not a problem," Brian pointed out as he took Howie's bottled water from him.
"Hey, give it back!" Howie protested.
"Just hold on, D!" Brian told him as he concentrated on the bottle.
Howie sat there watching him while AJ and Kevin craned their necks to see what he was doing. Nick wheeled closer to watch the water change color to yellow. Brian handed the bottle back to Howie. Howie took it warily and brought it to his lips.
"How'd you do that?" Kevin asked, sitting up on his elbows.
"One of the many powers I have, remember? I can change one object into another. Obviously that means liquids, too."
"What else can you do?" Howie inquired.
I can talk to you through the mind.
The boys jumped as Brian's voice entered their minds.
"Telepathy!" Nick remarked. "Wicked."
"It is, isn't it?" Brian chortled.
AJ sat up, suddenly wary. "Brian, you're not planning any pranks with these powers of yours, are you?"
"Well... it does give me an advantage... but I don't think so," Brian replied, then smirked. "Not yet anyway."
"You're lucky no one else saw that, Brian."
Brian whirled around at the voice, surprised that he hadn't felt her presence. Seeing the woman that he secretly admitted to being his heart's desire standing in front of him gave him no end of joy. He leaped off the stage and took her in his arms.
"Ororo, I'm so glad to see you!" he greeted before pulling her into a kiss.
"Brian who is this?"
Brian pulled away and turned to Nick. "Nick, this is Ororo. Ororo, this is my best friend, Nick Carter."
Ororo smiled. "Hello Nick. Brian's told me so much about you."
"Brian's told me a lot about you, too," Nick replied as he shook Ororo's hand. "He tells me you helped him not feel so lonely when he first arrived."
"I welcomed him, certainly..."
"Ororo, he's serious," Brian replied, putting a hand on her waist. "You really did help me feel not so lonesome."
A woman’s voice joined them. "Brian, I’m afraid that I’ve got some bad news… oh hello, who are you?"
Brian looked up to see Fatima appear on stage. "Fatima, this is Ororo Munroe. Ororo, this is our choreographer Fatima Robinson."
Fatima and Ororo shook hands. "Nice to meet you. As I was saying, I have some bad news for Brian. Alyssa has fallen ill and won't be able to dance for a while."
Brian groaned. "I'm sorry to hear that. I hope she feels better."
"Who's Alyssa?" Ororo inquired.
"My dancing partner for our concerts," Brian explained. "But now that she's sick, I don't know what we'll do."
"What about Ororo?" Kevin suggested as he stood up. "Can you dance?"
Ororo nodded. "I watched you boys for a while and I think I can learn quickly."
Brian cast a hopeful glance at her. "Really? That would be great."
"Of course I will, Brian."
Brian grinned and hugged her. "Oh, thank you so much."
Brian rubbed his hands together as he and the others gathered for their group prayer before going on stage. He was worried; he hadn't seen Ororo since they arrived at the arena and he really wanted to see her.
"Calm down, Brian," Kevin commanded. "She and the other dancers will be here soon."
The boys turned at Ororo's voice and saw her enter with the other dancers. Brian's jaw dropped. Ororo was wearing a metallic bronze shirt, and calf-length leopard-print spandex pants. Brian could only stare at her in astonishment as they all gathered for prayer.
Howie leaned forward to whisper in Brian's ear. "Breathe, Brian. Breathe."
Brian then realized that he hadn't taken a breath since Ororo's appearance and inhaled. Ororo smiled and took his hand as everyone else held hands for the prayer. Howie offered it, and when they finished, Ororo followed the other dancers out onto the stage. Brian raced to grab her just before she went onstage and kissed her.
"I love you," he whispered.
Ororo stared at him in surprise. This was the first time he'd vocalized his feelings for her.
"Ororo, let's go!"
"I'm coming!" Ororo called over her shoulder, and then turned back to Brian. "I love you, too."
Then she pulled him into a deeper kiss, leaving him breathless when she pulled away and followed the other dancers onto the stage. Brian stared after her, then lightly ran a finger over his lips, her kiss still lingering.
She loves me, he thought. She really loves me.
Brian smiled and pumped his fist, then made his way back to the others. Kevin was the first to notice his cousin's smiling face. He was on cloud nine.
"What's with the dopey grin, cousin?" he inquired, although he had a pretty good idea what the answer would be.
Brian's smile grew. "Ororo just said she loves me."
"All right, B-Rok!" Nick called.
"Come on, gentlemen. Time to get in your places."
The boys hurried to their places on stage as the music to the first song began. The boys felt a breeze and wondered, since they were inside. Brian looked up and smiled. Up above them, Ororo had formed a cloud and it was beginning to drip rain. The thunder growled low. A flash of magnificently controlled lightning struck the stage between the boys. That was Brian's cue to start the song.
We've been through days of thunder
Some people said 'They don't belong'
They tried to pull us asunder
But here we stand together and we're millions strong
Unknown to the fans, Storm and Brian created about half the special effects because of their mutant powers. All the fans knew was that for the past ten concerts since Brian's return, there had been a little more pizzazz in the shows and they loved it.
There was so much love and excitement that it was a shock for Brian to feel a sudden burst of hatred from a single entity in the room. It caused him to pause in a dance and look around in confusion. Who on earth could possibly feel such hatred for them? He saw no one in the audience that strengthened the feeling. His gaze was drawn upward to where Kevin flew through the air on his harness. It got a little stronger there, but it wasn't him. His eyes moved further upward and Brian found his prize.
It was Carlos, an ex-mechanic for the BSB. He had been fired because he wasn't doing things right. Somehow, he was taking things apart and causing more problems than before he'd tried to look at them. They'd realized shortly afterward why it was like that. He, like Brian, was a mutant. Brian could feel vengeance emanating from him. His eyes widened as he saw Carlos reach for the harness connection.
Kevin saw Brian looking above him and followed his gaze just as his harness snapped and he fell through the air. The air filled with the frightened shrieks of fans. Suddenly, Kevin stopped in mid-air. Brian's hand was outstretched toward Kevin, and he was slowly bringing him back to the stage. All eyes followed the action between the cousins until Kevin was safely back on stage. Brian rushed to Kevin's side.
"Are you all right?" he asked, covering his microphone.
Kevin could only nod, since his fast pulse and rough breathing prevented him from answering. Brian squeezed his arm in comfort, and then he and Kevin started back to the others. Something flew through the air and hit Brian in the ear. He yelped in pain and put a hand over his ear.
"Freak!" someone yelled.
"He's a mutant!"
Murmurs of surprise and anger filled the air and Brian could feel the rage and shock buzzing through the arena. Some started taunting him.
He looked at the others when they were together and whispered, "I'm sorry."
Within a nanosecond, Brian was gone from view. Although he couldn't see Brian, Nick could feel his hand on his shoulder as Brian passed by.
I'll be on the bus, Brian told him.
Should we finish this by ourselves? Nick inquired.
We're gonna have to, Kevin replied, speaking to all of them through Brian's telepathy.
Nick and the others nodded. Kevin turned back to the audience and announced that they would continue the concert without Brian.
When the concert was finished, the boys found Storm on their bus comforting Brian. Brian was in tears, absolutely shocked at all the hate he had felt coming from so many people in the arena. Not all of them, but too many to number. AJ knelt in front of him and placed a hand on his knee. Brian raised his eyes and AJ saw such a deep anguish that it pierced his heart.
"I saw him, Brian. I saw Carlos, too. I should have known it was him in the first place instead of blaming you. We all knew that he was a... a mutant."
"And a lot of our people hated him for being what he was," Brian replied. "Just like they hate me."
"You saved my life, Brian," Kevin said, sitting next to his cousin. "I'm sure it'll be gone soon."
Brian shook his head. "Not a chance, Kevin. The hate for our kind is going to be around for a long time. Tonight just made it worse." He stood up, escaping the arms of those that wanted to give him comfort and headed to the bunk area. He climbed into one of the empty bunks on the bottom and curled up beneath the covers.
Why, dad? he wondered. Why?
One discovery he kept to himself ever since he had found out that he'd been nothing but an experiment, was that his own father was on the team that created this experimentation of mutant powers. When he'd seen that in his father's mind, the small shreds of his heart broke further. It had hurt him beyond belief to know that his... that Harold Littrell Jr. had been on the team that had created him, this thing that belonged in a society where so many people held so much prejudice against them.
Why me? he wondered as he drifted off to sleep.
I'd hoped you'd never ask me that, son.
Brian's eyes flew open in shock. It couldn't be... could it? Are you…? he began.
No, I'm not telepathic, Brian. You just somehow created a connection with me.
I saw the secret you wanted to keep hidden from me. You were on that team that created me.
There was silence, and Brian could feel his dad's sorrow through their connection.
Yes I was.
Why? Did you and your "colleagues" find some sick amusement in trying to create a mutant?
It was not amusement for me, Brian, Harold replied. It was curiosity.
Brian felt compelled to voice a sudden concern. Are there others like me?
There was a long pause before Harold answered again. None alive. We tried a few. Four or five, I believe. But the others died either while still in their mother’s womb, or died in infancy. You were the only one to survive.
Brian squeezed his eyes shut and punched his pillow. He was the only one. There were others like him in the way that they had mutant powers like he did, and yet the others really like him did not survive. That one thought struck him hard.
He was alone in this world. Totally and completely alone.
It wasn't until much later that he realized the connection with his father was gone, but that no longer mattered to him. What mattered was that no one, not even Ororo, his heart's love, could help him through this.
^ ^ ^ ^
Kevin glanced back at the bunk area. Brian hadn’t moved from his bunk since he had escaped from them earlier that night. After 10 minutes, though he would never say a word to Brian, Kevin was certain he had heard shuddering breathing, indicating tears. Having known the man from birth, Kevin knew when something more was bothering him than was obvious. If there were time, he planned to ask.
The bus slowed; they were near the hotel. He headed for Brian’s bunk and knocked on the wall. “Bri, we’re here.”
No reply. Kevin quietly pulled the curtain aside to see tears on his face. More was indeed going on then he and the others knew of. Kevin shook Brian’s shoulder. With a moan, Brian opened his eyes. His face was drained.
“We’re back at the hotel, B.”
For another moment he didn’t move, and then he nodded and sat up.
“Anything you’d like to talk about?” Kevin whispered.
“Why would I want to talk?” Brian snapped, slipping into his shoes.
Kevin leaned back. “It… just seems like you know more than we do, and I wanted to know if you were up to sharing.”
“Well, I’m not!!” He stood and brushed past Kevin to the front.
Howie caught up with Kevin as they made it inside the hotel. “Did you talk to him?”
“Tried to. Didn’t do so well.”
“He’ll talk when he’s ready,” Howie advised. “We just need to let him know that we’re there for him, no matter what.”
Kevin nodded, though he knew it wouldn’t be easy anymore.
It takes a lot to know what is love
It's not the big things, but the little things
That can mean enough
A lot of prayers to get me through
And there is never a day that passes by
I don't think of you
Kevin’s eyes widened. Given the circumstance, the song chosen to play in the entrance hall was the wrong choice as they remembered what Brian had told them. “The Perfect Fan”; the song Brian had written for his mother to show his love.
"My parents... oh, heck, I can't even call them that..." Brian swallowed and shook his head in disgust, "they lied to me. There was a group of people that got the idea of creating their own mutant, their own probe child. They would test this to see how many powers this one child could hold."
Kevin, Nick, AJ and Howie stared at Brian with wide eyes as understanding came to them.
"You were that child."
Brian nodded. "All my life... just the product of an experiment. They lied to me!"
Waiting at the edge of the atrium in the center of the hotel, Brian stiffened. Scowling, he quickly moved to the elevator and rapidly pushed the button as though it would bring the elevator car faster. Alex was at his side in a moment, sliding a hand onto his shoulder.
“Everything will be all right, Brian. You’ll get the truth someday.”
Alex sighed inwardly at the bitterness in his friend’s voice and followed him into the elevator. The ride was silent; nobody wanted to speak due to the tension prickling the air like electricity.
As they stepped off the elevator, Howie asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
“They called me a freak and threw things at me. What’s there to talk about?”
Howie shook his head at his friend’s sarcasm. “Not much, other than how you might feel about it. I know I was absolutely shocked when they started doing that. I don’t understand how they can be so hateful.”
Brian sighed, his shoulders sagging. “They hate what they don’t understand. Remember how some of us used to feel about mutants?”
He hurried his way down to his room and soon sensed the aura he recognized as Kevin following close behind him. He glanced over his shoulder, but remained silent; for the time being, he’d let the man stay. Though his mind argued for time alone to sort out the mess of this evening, another part of him was glad to have a family member here with him that accepted what he was.
“You hungry?” Kevin asked. “I know I didn’t eat much at dinner.”
A shrug. “Little bit.”
Kevin didn’t catch his eyes rolling as Brian sensed the quick wave of frustration and worry from his cousin. He headed to his bed and set out his nightclothes, then grabbed his toiletries and headed for the bathroom.
“Don’t be long,” Kevin remarked.
“Yeah, yeah.” I’ll take as long as I darn well want. I deserve it after tonight. He tensed up at the memory, squeezing his toothpaste hard enough that it nearly exploded. With a sigh, he dumped his things on the counter and turned the water on. He began to shed his clothes when the sound of running water faded into the angry cries of the arena. His shirt and jacket fell from his hands as the memory began to press in on him. He shook his head and tried to undo his belt, but his hands were shaking and his fingers slipped. The burning anger from many, whirlwind of confusion from most, electricity of shock from everyone.
“No,” he gasped. One hand went to his ear; he winced at the sting of pain. Dried blood was on his fingertips. Breathing quickly, he tore the rest of his clothes off and practically leaped into the shower after grabbing the shampoo and body wash. But the voices didn’t cease as he scrubbed his body. He had only tried to help Kevin from falling to severe injury or even death and how had he been rewarded? Something sharp thrown at him! He hadn’t deserved that! So what if the fans hadn’t seen what he and AJ had seen, it was still unnecessary.
Brian reached for the shampoo and hazily recognized the buildup of energy; it had happened only a couple of times while he was at the Institute and he needed to find something for release otherwise he’d destroy something. Maybe the hotel wouldn’t freak out if a couple of lights burned out. Closing his eyes, he reached out and found the electric patterns of the bathroom lights; with a deep breath, he began to channel the energy away. The bathroom lights began to flicker. But it still wasn’t enough; he had to go farther out.
The bathroom door flew open. “Brian, what’s going on? The lights are flickering all over the place.”
He winced at the sudden burst of panic. “I’m fine, Kev,” he said stiffly. “Just a little too much built-up tension. And please tell me you just mean our room.”
“I haven’t checked outside. What’s wrong?”
After a moment, the door closed. Brian closed his eyes. Tighter focus. Remember what Xavier said. He allowed one of the bathroom bulbs to blow up from energy overload and another one to dim considerably, then shut off the water and climbed out.
He had just finished changing into his pajamas when Kevin returned.
“It went as far as next door to the guys’ room,” he remarked, “but that’s as far as it went.”
Brian sighed. “Thank goodness.”
Kevin was leaning against the wall. “So what happened?”
“Just built up tension from tonight, that’s all,” Brian replied smoothly, deciding not to share what Harold had told him tonight.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
Brian shook his head. "Not yet. I’m still having a little trouble digesting it all myself."
Kevin hung his jacket in the closet; if he remained silent, Brian would eventually talk. He turned around and saw Brian holding the Gideon Bible that came in every room. A moment later it began to hover above his hands.
“Can you turn the pages too?”
“Haven’t tried.” Brian scowled. “Don’t want any peeping fans to burst in and throw something else at me. Or you, if you’re in the way.”
“I’m not leaving for that very reason,” Kevin remarked as he sat on his bed.
Brian glanced over at him; the book plopped into his lap.
“You saved me, Brian. If that hadn’t happened, I would have been in the hospital critically injured or worse. If only they could have understood that.” He moved to sit at the foot of Brian’s bed. “You didn’t deserve what happened tonight.”
“None of my people deserve what happen to them,” Brian said sharply. “Yet they face it nearly every day and survive.”
“They don’t exactly have your background though, do they? They’re not famous pop artists that suddenly have to deal with being a mutant and being in the spotlight of the world at the same time.”
Brian sighed heavily and looked back at the bible in his lap. When he remained silent, Kevin tapped him on the knee and then went about his nightly ritual. Returning from the bathroom, he saw the Bible floating toward him. He moved to catch it but it changed direction and headed toward the balcony window; the book thumped against the glass and fell to the carpet. It shivered, and then lay still. He glanced at Brian; the man looked incredibly tired.
“Get some sleep,” Kevin instructed. “The book can stay there for tonight.”
Brian simply nodded and lay down facing the balcony. Lights were turned down and Kevin got into bed. Good thing we have a half-day tomorrow, he thought. We’ll need it to recover. I don’t understand why Brian has to face this, but Howie, Nick, AJ and I won’t abandon him.
After a while, he realized that he had been staring at the ceiling instead of trying to sleep. He glanced at the clock and realized that half an hour had gone by and he was still as wide awake as before. He stilled and listened for Brian. Uneven breathing; Brian was awake.
“Talk to me,” he whispered.
There was no response, but he knew that waiting was the key.
"It was so strong,” Brian murmured.
Kevin rose up on his elbow. “What was?”
“The hate was so strong, and then the vengeance. When the fans saw that I was a mutant, the shock and anger… it was just too much.”
"I bet it was. I can't even imagine what it felt like for you, being able to feel the emotions of people around you."
"There are times when it's good, and times, like tonight, that I hate it... I hate..."
Kevin had to lean in closer to hear what Brian said next.
"I hate myself."
Kevin gasped quietly. Although he could somewhat understand why Brian would feel that way, it was still a shock actually said out loud. “Don’t say that Brian! You are who you are, and that’s what makes you special.”
“A freak, you mean,” Brian muttered, pulling the sheet tighter.
“No, that is not what I mean. If I meant ‘freak’ I would have said it. And you would have made me regret it. But I said ‘special.’ We’re all special in our own ways. You’re just a little more unique than the rest of us.”
After a moment, Brian replied, “I guess you’re right. G’night, Kev.”
Kevin could hear the smile. He had made his point. “Night, Brian.”
^ ^ ^ ^
Brian felt himself return to consciousness, but refused to open his eyes just yet, unwilling to face the world outside. He heard Kevin’s shuffling feet.
What time is it?
"It's eight in the morning," Kevin replied.
Do I have to get up yet?
"Not if you don't want to. We've got the morning off; remember? Then there’s a press conference right after lunch."
Brian groaned. “What are we going to say about last night?”
“We could try the truth.”
He rolled his eyes and sat up. “They’ll just twist it around into a pack of lies.”
“No they won’t.”
“Kevin, you didn’t sense their feelings as they waited for us at the hotel. They’re starving for a juicy story and what happened at the concert gives it to them. Those jackals will pick our story apart for anything they could exploit.”
“Well, aren’t you the ray of hope this morning?”
There was a knock at the door.
“It’s the guys,” Brian said with a smile. “They’re hungry.”
Kevin let them in and seconds later Nick entered the room and plopped next to Brian. “Man, I’m starving. You two gonna join us for breakfast or what?”
“Not all that hungry,” Brian attempted.
“Come on, you need your three squares a day, man.”
Brian smiled and shook his head. “Not much of an appetite after last night.”
Nick’s smile fell and Brian could see the ‘oops’ in his eyes. “Sorry. How’s your ear?”
“I can still hear out of it.”
“How are you feeling?” AJ asked.
He sighed. “Confused and in shock about the way that a lot of the fans reacted last night; upset, angry and confused that my background was kept from me.” He frowned. “And to make that worse, I found out that dad was on the team that created me.”
There was silence.
“Were there others?” Howie asked.
Brian nodded. “Some of them didn’t make it past infancy, others… miscarried.”
“Then,” Nick said slowly, “you’re the only one really like you?”
“Suddenly, I’m hungry.” Brian stood quickly. “Let’s get some breakfast before Nick starves to death.”