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Nine: Closer Relationships

“Okay,” Kevin said as he searched frantically for his jacket. “Now, Ella said she’d be here at eight, unless she gets off early… usually she’s on the slightly late side, so probably-“

“Kev,” Howie said smoothly, “just go. The flower shop the next street over closes soon, and if you want to get her a bouquet, you need to stop talking and hit the sidewalk.”

“Yeah, Train, we can handle it if she shows up early,” AJ said as he rolled his eyes. “Relax, go find something nice, and come on back. It’s not rocket science.”

Kevin put on his leather jacket and checked his keycard and wallet. “Okay, I won’t be too long… and guys?”

Four heads turned his way.

“Yah?” AJ asked, raising an eyebrow at Kevin’s pleading tone.

“Um, don’t scare her off or anything. I mean…”

“Go,” Howie laughed, shoving the oldest towards the door. “You don’t want to miss your own date!”

With a sheepish grin, Kevin exited the suite. Not ten seconds passed before the room erupted into laughter.

“Oh, man, that boy’s got it bad!” AJ said, shaking his head.

“I dunno why he’s so nervous all the time,” Nick said, a sparkle in his blue eyes. “I mean, she’s nice, she likes him, he likes her… and they’ve gone out on, like, a dozen dates!”

“Not quite a dozen,” Howie corrected with a grin. “But it is funny to see him so flustered.”

Brian shook his head, slowly. “It’s funny, but…I don’t know. I suppose I should be glad he’s taken an interest in someone. I know the thing with Kristin was really hard on him.”

“You’ll like El,” Howie said to him. “I think she’s good for him. What are you worrying about?”

“I just don’t want to see him get hurt, especially so soon after the breakup,” Brian said seriously. “You know Kev, he puts his whole heart into things, and when they fail, it’s devastating to him.”

“Ella would never hurt him,” Howie said firmly. “Matter of fact, if there’s anyone I know that can help Kev over this particular time, it’s her.”

Brian scowled, then crossed his arms. “Well, he’s on the rebound,” he said. “And from what you said earlier, she’s kind of a flirt.”

Howie shook his head. “It’s not that way at all. Sure, El’s a flirt, but… I don’t know how to explain it. She makes people feel good, and flirting with guys is a part of that. Heck, she calls everyone ‘hon’, and does whatever it takes to bring up smiles on her customer’s faces.”

“She even got me to try some soup that first day we went there,” Nick said, defending the waitress. “Which was kind of a miracle in itself."

“We’re here in this city on a temporary basis, guys,” Brian pointed out. “We’re going to leave, eventually, and that’ll be the end of their relationship. It’ll only amount to a short affair. How is that going to affect him?”

“You don’t know what will happen,” Howie argued. “And so what if it isn’t permanent? Kevin is happy now; he’s moving forward and making plans for himself and the group. If you had seen him right after that call from Kris… you’d be singing a different tune, Bri.”

Brian shrugged. “Well, I’m going to reserve judgement until I meet her. I can’t promise anything beyond that.”

AJ spoke up. “That’s all anyone can expect, B-Rok. But I have to agree with Howie, I think this is just what Kev needs. I’m all for it."

The discussion was dropped as the four tidied up the main room, not wanting Ella to see how ‘casual’ they kept things most times. When the suite’s phone rang, Nick picked it up. A short conversation later and he put the receiver back down, turning to his brothers.

“That was the front desk,” he said. “Ella’s here, waiting in the lobby.”

“I’ll go get her,” Brian said suddenly.

Howie raised his eyebrows. “She doesn’t know you, Brian. Let me go down and-“

“I want to meet her, alone,” Brian said flatly.

“How come?” Nick said cautiously.

“Because I can get a better reading on her when there’s no interference,” he answered honestly. “Or did you forget I’m an empath?”

Nick solemnly shook his head. “I could never forget that,” he whispered.

“But Brian, Ella’s-“

"Never mind, Aje,” Howie interrupted before AJ could finish. “Go ahead, Brian. Meet her and escort her up here. We’ll be waiting.”

“Right,” came the blonde’s answer. He left the suite a moment later.

“Howie, why didn’t you tell Brian she’s an empath too?” AJ asked with a frown.

"She's a what?” Nick asked. “You mean she’s like Brian?”

Howie looked at the youngest. “She’s a mutant, yes. But she’s not like Brian… no one is like him. Ella is a pretty strong empath; she picks up everyone’s emotions very easily.”

“Like… like what’s worrying you, what’s making you so down,” Nick said, more to himself than anyone else. He looked up at his brothers. “Is that why she knows how to make you feel good again? Because she… understands?”

“Yeah,” Howie said. “That’s what happens.” He sighed. “She’s got some telepathic abilities, but really she’s not that powerful. She’s nowhere near the level that Brian is.”

Nick scowled. “How come you guys know that?”

Howie answered. “Well, I dated her sister… that stuff runs in the family, but El’s the strongest of the bunch. So of course I knew. Once we met her, it kinda came up one night when AJ and I were talking… that was pretty soon after Brian had left. But I never mentioned it to you because… I don’t know, you were kinda focused on other things then, and I guess it didn’t seem important.”

Nick gave a soft sigh. “Yeah, I guess I was kinda out of it,” he admitted. Then, another thought hit. “Does Kevin know?"

“El let him know that first time we ate at the café,” Howie said. “I think that his openness to that little bit of news really started things going between them.” He blinked and glanced at his hands. “Not everyone reacts positively to the news you’re a mutant, even if you have very small abilities.”

A silence followed his words; all three of them had witnessed that particular prejudice.

“How come Brian seemed so… against her?” Nick asked after a bit.

“You heard him,” AJ said. “He’s worried about Kevin being hurt again, that’s all. If anyone can keep an open mind, it’s Brian.”

~~

Brian stepped off the elevator and scanned the lobby; it didn’t take much to spot the woman his cousin had seemed so taken with. He paused a moment to observe her. She was tall, perhaps 5’10”, with a trim figure and delicate features. Her hair… a rich red… was pulled in a simple ponytail held in place with a decorative silver barrette, and she was dressed simply in a dark emerald silk dress. He heard her laugh as she chatted with the desk clerk; it seemed genuine, full of honest humor. She leaned over and touched the young man on the arm, then said something Brian couldn’t hear. The clerk smiled broadly, chuckled, and made some kind of reply. Obviously the man was enjoying her company, but Brian knew appearances could be deceiving. A pretty package didn’t guarantee anything.

He walked over to the desk, trying to tune into the woman there. With a purposeful mental touch, he reached out carefully…

His step faltered when he felt awareness coming from her… awareness, and an instant block against his probing. She’d turned away from the clerk with a puzzled expression on her face, her focus on other levels.

Who? came the gentle question as her eyes searched the lobby.

Brian blinked, then put forth a stronger probe. Ella? he sent, shocked that she seemed aware of his scan.

Her blue eyes widened as she locked gazes with him. Brian?

You’re a telepath? he asked, surprised.

I’m an empath, she corrected. I don’t have much range as a telepath. I didn’t know…

Neither did I, he said, his thoughts colored with irritation. They didn’t say anything to me about it.

They told me you were a mutant, she answered, but nothing about what your abilities are.

Brian forced his feet forward; he didn’t want to draw attention from the few people occupying the lobby. Can we sit for a minute?

Sure, she said, stepping away from the desk and walking over like she was meeting an old acquaintance.

They sat on a small loveseat in the lounge section, far away from prying eyes and ears.

“Kevin had an errand to run,” Brian said, speaking out loud.

“I’m a bit early,” she explained. “The new waitress at the café needed some overtime, so I was able to cut out an hour sooner than usual.”

“I wanted to meet you one-on-one,” he confessed. “Without interference.”

She regarded him, then nodded as a slight smile crept on her face. “Checking me out, huh?”

He blushed a bit. “Something like that.”

“I could feel you trying to scan me,” she said. “You’re very subtle, very powerful.”

“You have some of the strongest shields I’ve ever encountered,” he said. “I was kinda surprised.”

She fidgeted in her seat. “Comes with the territory, you know? Being empathic teaches you to be careful.”

"Don’t I know it,” he said, frowning at old memories. “I don’t mean to invade your privacy, I just wanted… well…"

“To protect Kevin,” she finished for him. “I understand that. It’s good to know he has someone that loves him that much,” she said with a soft smile. “Do you still want to?”

“Still want to…”

“Scan me?” She swallowed, then glanced around for a second. “I... I trust you. Kevin’s told me so much about you, about all of you, that I feel I can trust you.” She looked at him with expectation.

He was surprised at that; for an empath to willingly leave themselves open to a direct probe, it took a lot of courage. In that instant, all his misgivings about Ella eased.

“That’s a pretty big offer,” he said.

“A sincere one,” she said.

“Okay,” he replied after a moment. He reached out and took her hand; physical contact wasn’t always necessary, but it did make the impressions stronger. At first he was met with a solid wall, but when he felt her other hand on top of his own, the wall vanished.

Ten seconds told him more about her than ten months worth of words ever would. He saw her true spirit… the unique mix of honesty, caring, compassion, humor, understanding, love and doubt and fear and joy that was Ella. He saw, in those few seconds, how much she truly cared not only for Kevin, but for all his brothers as well. Not wanting… or needing… to search deeper, he withdrew his mental touch and sat back with a smile.

“I’m sorry I doubted you,” he said, relieved that he found no trace of deception or manipulation in her mind.

“Caution is important,” she said, forgiving him. “Kevin doesn’t need to be hurt any more.”

He took her hand in his own. “Thanks for being there for him,” he said. “Especially when I wasn’t.”

“You’re here now,” she said. “That’s what counts. Kevin tells me that Nick has come along really well since you returned.”

“Yeah,” Brian said, ducking his head. “I’m glad he’s so quick to forgive.”

“He loves you,” Ella said simply. “You five have a very special bond, something that little can truly touch. I’m so happy that you’re back together now.”

“We’ve been working on some new songs,” he said, relaxing. “Some really good stuff, lots of potential.”

“You have an important message to get out,” she said, giving him a true smile. “I do know that Kevin is pretty excited about it. We went out to breakfast the other day and it’s all he talked about.”

Brian rolled his eyes and grinned. “Sometimes he’s got a one-track mind. And once he focuses on something, nothing can sway him from it. We call him Train because nothing stops him once he gets going.”

She giggled. “Oh? Well, now, that’s some useful information to have,” she said. “He just keeps going, huh?” The look on her face was unmistakable, and Brian’s eyebrows arched high.

“Ella!” he said, picking up on her mischievous thoughts.

She shrugged, unrepentant. “What can I say, you have a very sexy cousin!”

"I’ll take your word for it,” he said, shaking his head. “Hey, why don’t we go upstairs, I’m sure the other guys want to see you before Kevin sweeps you away.”

“Okay,” she said, accepting his hand as he helped her up. “Then he can surprise me with flowers when he comes in.”

Brian laughed. “How did you know about the flowers?”

“Oh,” she said as they moved towards the elevator. “I have my ways. It didn’t hurt that I saw him from across the street, heading towards Millie’s Floral like his pants were on fire.”

He gave her a grin. “I think we’re going to get along just fine, Ella.”

She nodded and smiled back. “Yes, we are.”

By the time Brian and Ella stepped off the elevator and headed for the Boys’ suite, they were laughing and talking like old friends. Just as they reached the door, Brian paused and pulled out his cell phone.

“Who are you calling?” Ella inquired.

Brian smirked. “You’ll see.”

After two rings, the person answered. “Hello?”

“AJ, put the silly string away,” Brian requested.

AJ squawked, “How on earth did you…”

Brian laughed. “AJ you know perfectly well how I knew you had silly string and were waiting for us to enter so you could spray Ella.”

Ella giggled at Brian’s accuracy. She had sensed some mischief coming from the suite, but she hadn’t been able to figure out what it was. Brian had done that with a simple phone call. Finally, it was safe to enter the suite. Nick wheeled up and Ella bent down for a hug in greeting.

“Hi, hon. You look like you’re doing much better.”

“I am, now that Brian’s back,” Nick replied.

Ella turned back to Brian and gave him a look as if to say “See? What’d I say about that special bond?”

Brian rolled his eyes and looked back at the door. “Kev’s coming,” he announced.

Ella smiled and headed into the living room. She chuckled as she looked around. Why do I get the feeling that this isn’t your normal “casual” Brian?

Brian laughed. You know us well, Ella. He turned around and telekinetically opened the main suite door just as Kevin reached it. With barely noticeable hesitation, Kevin stepped inside.

“She here?” Kevin asked.

Brian nodded. “She’s in the living room.”

Kevin hurried into the living room. “Ella!” he cried in delight.

Ella threw her arms around him as their lips met in a kiss that slowly intensified in passion.

“Get a room you guys!” Brian laughed.

Ella broke away and smirked at him. Like you and Ro don’t yearn for something more?

Brian blushed six shades of red and looked away. I plan on waiting for marriage. The others laughed.

“What did you say to him, Ella?” AJ inquired. “Nothing makes him go that red."

Ella giggled, but didn’t answer.

“Well, we’d better get going,” Kevin announced as he gave the bouquet to Ella and led her to the door.

~~

Brian and Howie sat together on the couch, speaking in hushed voices over some things written in Howie's notebook.

“This is amazing stuff, D,” Brian supplied. “You could combine those two verses and you’d have half of a song already.”

“You think they work together?” Howie remarked as he rewrote the two different verses onto another page.

“Sure,” Brian replied. “They’d make a great ballad-type song or an upbeat one. It all depends on how you felt while you were writing.”

Howie sat back and thought back to when he had written the verses. It had been a night when he’d felt extremely troubled and helpless and couldn’t sleep a wink. He’d picked up his notebook and wrote the first words that came into his head.

“They made me feel peaceful,” he observed as he shared the memory with Brian.

Brian observed the memory and nodded in agreement. “Sounds like we’ve got another ballad.”

“And how many of those have we written in the past month?” Howie inquired.

“A lot,” Brian replied. “We need some more up-tempo stuff, or we’ll be sitting in the stools for the entire concert.”

“What, you don’t want to do that?” Howie joked.

“I’d rather fly around as a hawk for the entire time.”

Howie chuckled. He’d seen Brian’s transformation to a hawk several times in the past month after they had left Pocatello whenever he needed to get out and there was no way to get out because of the fans. He’d just change into a hawk and one of the boys would open the window and he’d fly out and wait for the others.

“What about these?” Brian suggested, pointing to some more phrases on a different page.

Howie studied them and nodded. “Those could do for a more upbeat song.”

“Boy, imagine what Fatima could come up with for this one,” Brian chuckled.

“How’s it going in here?” Kevin asked as he entered the room, a small stack of papers in his hand.

“We’ve come up with more ballads than anything else,” Brian explained. “But it’s all going good. How about you, Kev? You look like you’ve been working hard."

“Well, I’ve tried,” Kevin admitted as he handed the papers to Brian. “I’m not sure I’m too pleased with some of them, though.”

Brian’s eyes scanned the first page of lyrics and his eyes went wide in wonder.

“How long have you been working on this one, Kev?” he asked as Howie leaned over to read.

Kevin looked at the floor. “Since the first time you left.”

Brian looked up at him, and Kevin met his gaze. After a moment, Brian smiled, and Kevin returned it.

“It looks great, Kev. I can’t wait to hear how it should sound.”

“Me, too,” Howie added. “Let’s get started.”

Kevin nodded. “AJ and Nick are right behind me.”

Nick rolled in after Kevin, his sketchbook open in his lap. Brian noticed and asked about it.

“What were you doing, Nick?"

Nick looked down at the sketchbook nervously. “Just sketching some background ideas for a video.”

Brian smiled. “That sounds great! Can you show us?”

Nick bit his lip. “Um… maybe later.”

“Oh. All right. What do you say we start working on some melodies?”

The other boys agreed, and Kevin sat down at the black baby grand piano by the couch. Kevin began to play, and for the next hour, the boys worked out different melodies and harmonies. At last, they created songs that were to their satisfaction. Kevin flexed his fingers, stood up from the piano and stretched. He glanced at his watch and did some quick calculations in his head.

“I’m going to go call Ella,” he announced, heading to his bedroom for privacy.

Just as his door closed, Ro came out of her room, her white robe covering a red cotton nightgown. She sat down in front of Brian so she could lean against his chest and rest her head on his shoulder. Brian wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the cheek.

“Can’t sleep?”

“I thought you were coming to bed a long time ago,” Ro remarked.

“We got caught up in writing our songs,” Brian replied.

"I could hear you,” Ororo noted. “It all sounded beautiful."

“And it’ll sound even better when we record it and sing it for our fans.”

Soon, Brian and Ororo bid goodnight and headed for Ro's bedroom. Brian gave Ro a kiss as he removed her bedrobe. They lay down together on the bed, wrapped in one another’s arms.

“How are things back at HQ?” Brian inquired.

“They’re going well. Charles says to give you his best. Wolverine, Gambit and Jubilee all said to say ‘hello.’ I think Jubilee is sweet on you.”

“I thought it was Logan she was after,” Brian noted. “Besides, I’ve got you.”

Ro smiled, certain that the love that she saw in Brian’s eyes was reflected in her own. She relaxed into him, breathing in his scent. She felt his breath in her ear.

“I love you, Ro,” he murmured.

Ororo smiled. “Sing for me.”

Brian held her close and began to sing.

I hope the man upstairs
isn’t mad at me
Because I have one of his angels
And she’s here with me
When I see her precious smile
And she spread her wings
It takes me to a place where love
Meets eternity

Oh no
I’m not letting go
I don’t want to be alone
In this crazy world
Oh Lord
How I love her so
And I’ll sacrifice it all to have her
In my life

I found my girl
I’ll tell the world
That heaven is missing an angel
My dreams came true
When I found you
Yes heaven is missing an angel

Not a day goes by
That I don’t thank God for you
He blessed me with my angel
Though I don’t deserve you
Until I found you girl
Lonely was my best friend
Now that you are in my life
I am stronger within

That last verse was true for Brian. Ever since he had met and fallen in love with Ororo, not a day had gone by when he’d kneel in prayer for thanks that she was with him and that they loved one another. He’d felt lonely and empty until he met her, but now he felt as though he could accomplish anything at all.

I can’t wait to kiss my angel
Late at night
And watch her go to sleep
Until I see her rise

I found my girl
I’ll tell the world
That heaven is missing an angel
My dreams came true
When I found you
Yes heaven is missing an angel

All that I do is for you
Me without you girl just won’t do
Oh no
Your love’s all I want to know
Angel don’t you ever go
Life won’t be the same without you

As Brian sang, a small box floated out of his pocket so Ororo could see.

I found my girl
I’ll tell the world
That heaven is missing an angel
My dreams came true
When I found you
Yes heaven is missing an angel

Ororo saw the box and gasped quietly, catching it as it came to her. Brian put a hand over hers and looked into her eyes.

“Ro,” he said, “I love you with my entire being. And it would make my world if you would spend the rest of forever with me. Will you marry me?"

After a few moments, Ro replied, “I think you know my answer, Brian. Of course I will.”

Brian’s smile could have lit up the room as he removed the ring from the box and placed it on Ro’s finger, leaning down for a kiss. He sighed happily when they parted.

"Good night, love," he said as he rose. He needed to head back to his room, since not only was it best to wait until marriage, but the temptation to go further would be too strong. He blew a kiss, then left.

*Heaven Is Missing an Angel by 98°

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