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Caleb 15 – Vulcan Caleb

Pain, the likes of which I had only ever felt once before in my life, lanced through my chest. I felt like my heart had literally been ripped out. I couldn’t believe what I had done. I had threatened to destroy the twins and abandon Jules, and I’d felt nothing at all - at least not at the time.

I was on my knees, on the floor of the lobby of the Steadman’s mansion, sobbing. My grief and self-loathing threatened to consume me. I desperately needed to apologize to the twins and to Jules and beg for their forgiveness. I needed to explain myself, even though, at that very moment, there was no explanation, excuse, or justification that would have allowed me to forgive myself. The idea of someone else forgiving me seemed absurd. It was more that I deserved to beg – to be that pathetic and remorseful.

When I looked up, though, I was alone. Only Terra, the biggest of the dogs, was with me, and she sat, her head on my shoulder offering what comfort she could.

I understood. I had badly hurt just about everyone that had believed in me and betrayed them in the worst possible way. I had deliberately suppressed my emotions, knowing what effect it could have on everyone around me: on the twins, for whom my love was supposed to be irrefutable, enforced by the bond; on Jules, whom I’d promised I would always love, protect, and look after; on Dean and Cheryl, to whom I’d made those same promises about their daughter - and I supposed that should be ‘daughters,’ since everyone had seemed so sure that Ness would make five as soon as she turned eighteen. I was no longer sure of that. In fact, I thought it more reasonable that she’d never want to speak to me again. I’d included her in the bond more than a week ago, only to abruptly reveal to her the coldest, ugliest side of myself.

I examined the bond, dreading what I might find there. As I expected, I felt loss, anger, and betrayal from each of them.

For a long time, I knelt on the lobby floor, clinging to Terra and sobbing into her shoulder; for her part, she sat and allowed it. Eventually, the pain receded enough for me to regain some semblance of rational thought. At first, I felt relief, but then I recoiled. Rational thought was the hallmark of that other version of me. I felt caught in a trap. If I tried to think rationally about how to begin to repair the damage I’d done to the girls and to the Steadmans, I was essentially thinking about how to best manipulate them to stay loyal – exactly like he would. The alternative, though, was pain. It was just pain, with no plan for how to ever make it stop.

“Finished feeling sorry for yourself?”

I looked up to see Dean, sitting on the stairs, watching me. I had no idea how long he had been there. His face was grim. I released Terra with a final pat on her shoulder. She huffed gently into my face but otherwise didn’t move. I sat back on my haunches, finally noticing some physical pain - in my knees, from the hard floor.

I looked up at him.

“Many times, in the Corps, we had to make hard decisions,” he said. “We had to take action that we knew might cause pain, suffering, or even worse to innocents. ‘Collateral damage,’ they called it. Most of the time those decisions were made way above our heads, but that didn’t mean we didn’t feel the effects. We were the tools – the weapons – after all. We actually did the deeds. We had to believe, in those cases, that the damage we were doing was outweighed by the result we achieved - that the suffering we inflicted on those innocents was justified by the fact that we were helping to stop worse atrocities from being perpetrated on others or preventing more deaths and suffering further down the line.”

He gave me a hard stare. “Convince me that the damage you did tonight to my daughters was justified - that you weren’t destroying Jules’ faith in the only thing that kept her alive just for petty, self-centered pride.”

“I love Jules,” I started, but he interrupted me.

“Yes, I know,” he said, “but unlike most people, you can switch that love off when it becomes inconvenient. How do I know that is not her future? That at some point you are just going to get bored and decide you have had enough of the weird girl?”

“Don’t call her that,” I snarled at him, my anger rising.

“So, convince me,” he repeated. “Explain why what you did to her, to all of them tonight, was justified.”

“I had to show them that the girls weren’t a convenient handle by which they could force me to do what they wanted,” I said, “because once they got the idea they were, it would never stop. They wouldn’t just be a chink in my armor; they’d be the obvious one – the one to use over and over again, especially if I got more powerful overall. It would start innocuously enough: suggestions and hints from the girls that I should do this or that – happy wife, happy life – but at some point, I would push back. What would happen then? How long would it be before the hints became something more? How long before they put one or more of the girls in the firing line, to force me to do something I wasn’t prepared to do for them, but would do to save my girls? And how long before they miscalculated, and one of the girls got hurt or killed because I couldn’t save them?”

“If you join the FBI,” he returned, “you’ll have to follow orders in any case. Why would they need to coerce you?”

“Oh, come on,” I scoffed. “Yes, I would have to follow LAWFUL orders. I don’t believe that you are so naïve to believe that there might not be occasions where the powerful Psi, who can strip someone of their power from half a mile away, read someone’s mind, or even kill someone without anyone around being any the wiser, might at some point in their career be required to do something else.

“And it’s not just Dianna. She’s just the tip of the spear. The whole organization needed to be shown that using the girls to try and force me into anything just won’t work. I’m sorry if it offends your sensibilities, but I would much rather Jules hate me, but be alive and whole, than for her to be secure in my love as she is bent over, and butt fucked by some demented Psi they’ve thrown her at to try and force me to do something or to punish me for not doing something that I had refused to do.”

He stood up and looked at me.

“As a Marine, I can accept your reasoning. Tactically it makes sense. You needed to remove the girls as a potential lever that might be used against you. As a father, they are MY girls, and you hurt them. I know you think you did it to protect them from greater harm in the future, but I can’t forget that they are hurting now. Make it right with them, Caleb, because right now, powers or no, the father in me wants nothing more than for you and me to go outside.”

I nodded, sadly wondering if I had irreparably damaged our relationship. Despite the ‘sugar daddy’ jibes, I really looked up to Dean. I respected him and valued his friendship. I hoped that I hadn’t destroyed that.

He stood aside, and I slowly ascended the stairs. I could see that the twins were in our room, and Jules and Ness were in Ness’s room. I could feel strong emotions from all four of them. The twins just seemed to be lost and betrayed. I could still see love, but it was muted, and tempered by the other emotions. Jules was angry - furious, even. Ness was confused and hurt. She didn’t understand what was going on.

I decided that I would go and see Jules and Ness first. I hoped that the twins would have a better understanding of what had happened.

Cheryl was standing in the passage outside of her daughter’s room. She strode up to me as I approached. Before I could say or do anything, she hauled off and slapped me. My head rocked to the side, my ears rang, and pain blossomed in my face.

By the time I had recovered, she was clinging to me and sobbing into my chest.

“Don’t you ever fucking do that again,” she sobbed. “I thought we had lost you, Caleb! Promise me: never again!”

“He can’t make that promise,” said Dean, softly, from behind me.

Gently, he disengaged his wife from me and took her into his arms, where she continued to sob. He nodded towards the door to Ness’s room.

“Go on,” he said.

Without knocking, I pushed the door open.

Jules was sitting on Ness’s bed, holding Ness, who had obviously been crying but appeared to be all cried out. They looked up as I entered.

“THAT FUCKING BITCH!” Jules exclaimed. “I can’t believe I fucking apologized to her, and all the time she was using her power, manipulating me just to get to you.”

“Caleb?” Ness asked softly. “Is that you? Is it the real you?”

“Jules, Ness,” I began, “I am so sorry.”

Ness leaped off the bed and threw herself at me, grabbing my shirt and burying her face in my chest, finding more tears.

“I was so scared,” she sobbed. “I thought you had left us, that you didn’t love us - love me - anymore.”

I put an arm around her, leaving the other open, hoping her big sister would come and join us, but Jules stayed where she was on the bed.

Eventually, I put both arms around Ness and just held her until she ran out of tears once again.

“Do you love me again?” she asked in a small voice.

“As long as I am capable of feeling love,” I said, “I will always love you.”

She turned liquid brown eyes up at me. She was so like her sister. “Promise?”

I leaned down a little and planted a gentle, chaste, kiss on her lips. “Promise,” I said.

She shivered and put her head against my chest. She was still sniffing, but I could feel that she was comforted and reassured. I also felt something else that I decided I didn’t want to investigate too closely.

Gently, I disengaged and led her over to the bed, sitting down. Immediately, Ness climbed into my lap and curled up, exactly as her sister often did. I smiled a little, and then looked at Jules.

“Jules?” I said gently.

“I’m PISSED!” she said. “You scared the living shit out of me when you went all green-blooded emotionless Vulcan on us, but I get why you did it. She needed to know we couldn’t be used against you.”

“They needed to know,” I corrected her. “It wasn’t just her. I’m sure Maggie had something to do with it too.”

“Why do you have to work with them at all?” she asked, and then immediately said, “No, you don’t need to answer that, I know. It’s a ‘with us or against us’ situation. If it’s not the fucking FBI, it would be the fucking NSA or the fucking CIA or any of the other fucking agencies, and they are all a bunch of fucking cunts.”

“Your language is getting worse,” I said, smiling at her.

“I cuss when I’m pissed,” she said, “and right now…”

“Jules,” I broke in, “you know I never really stopped loving you, don’t you?”

“For as long as you are capable of feeling love?” she asked, echoing what I had said to Ness. “Just promise me you won’t do that again, unless you really really, REALLY have to. I was so scared that you weren’t going to come back.”

“I promise,” I said. I didn’t want to tell her that I nearly hadn’t. James had warned me how easy it was to get locked into that state, and I had struggled to find a reason to come back. Somehow, a dog had dragged me back over. I still didn’t fully understand that bit.

She leaned in and put her arms around me - around us both - and we sat for a long minute, enjoying the closeness.

“You need to go talk to the twins,” she said eventually. “They are hurting.”

“I know,” I said. “They not only think their grandmother betrayed them, but that I did too.”

I looked down at Ness to find she had fallen asleep. Gently I lifted her with my TK and stood up. I laid her down on her bed, and Jules curled up around her.

“I’ll watch her,” she said. “You go and make up with the twins.”

I nodded and headed for the door.

“Caleb?” she said as I was just about to close the door behind me.

“Yes?”

“Don’t make them scream too loud,” she said giving me a grin. “It’s a big house, but sound carries at night.”

I smiled at her as I closed the door, but I could feel the sadness in my face as surely as in my heart. I doubted very much we would be making those kinds of noises.

When I pushed the door open into our bedroom, Mary and Amanda were both lying on the bed. Amanda was on her side, with Mary behind her, holding her. Both had their eyes open, staring fixedly at nothing.

I closed the door gently behind me, not wanting to startle them, but neither of them moved. Either they didn’t notice or didn’t care that I had come into the room.

I was at a bit of a loss as to what to do. I looked at the bond. Amanda was heartbroken. She felt betrayed and abandoned. Mary, too, felt betrayed and abandoned, but she had a much angrier feel to her. I couldn’t read either of their auras, although both had a lot of deep blue - sorrow. There were so many other colors visible that I couldn’t begin to interpret the whole picture.

I walked to the side of the bed, so I would be in both their eyelines, and neither moved. The bed creaked a little as I perched on the edge and reached out toward Amanda.

“Hey,” I said gently.

She pulled away from me, retreating back into the safe embrace of her sister, a look on her face resembling fear. Her rejection hurt, but it was nothing that I didn’t deserve. I had done far worse to them.

Mary sneered at me. “Happy now?” she asked. “Not only have you broken her heart, but you have also wrecked our relationship with our grandmother. Is that enough? Did you get your revenge on the big bad Eversons? Or are you after actual blood as well? Did you want to completely destroy our family?”

“I never wanted revenge,” I said sadly. “I just wanted you to see what she was doing, and…”

“Yes, well now we’ve seen,” she snapped. “The blinders are well and truly off. But now what, Caleb? What the fuck are we supposed to do now? Everyone we loved is gone. You discarded us like a used condom, and Dianna was so fixated on you that she forgot that we were anything more than tools. What do we have left Caleb? What?”

“We have…”

“WE???” she yelled. Amanda started a little, but didn’t seem to come out of the trance she was in. “There is no fucking ‘we.’ There is you and there is us. You made it pretty clear that Amanda and I were nothing more than an encumbrance to you. What was it you called us? ‘A chain,’ linking you to Dianna. You are no better than she is. All you were ever interested in was dumping your cum in either or both of us.”

“That’s not true,” I said, “I love you - both of you.”

“THEN HOW COULD YOU DO THAT TO US?” she screamed at me. “You knew what would happen when you suppressed your emotions - how that would look to us over the bond - and you knew that you would have no qualms about severing the bond if we became inconvenient to you. How did you think that would make us feel, Caleb? Wanted? Loved? Appreciated?

“You know how it felt when you blocked the bond last time - how devastated we both were - and yet you calmly contemplated doing it to us again, knowing that you were safe. You wouldn’t feel a thing in your happy little emotionless cocoon, but Amanda and I would both be destroyed. Not only would we each suffer the agony of the bond being broken, but we would also feel it from the other, while we watched them being tormented by the agony.

“Tell me something worse you could do to us because I can’t think of a fucking thing.”

I hadn’t even considered that. When I had hatched my plan, I had had no intentions of ever breaking the bond, but they didn’t know that. Moreover, it was clear to me that my emotionless self, cared little for what my emotional self would or wouldn’t do. ‘Vulcan’ me would have separated the bond without a second thought if he had thought it was necessary, and his threshold for necessity would probably have been a lot lower than that of emotional me.

In addition, Mary reminded me that they would have not only felt their own pain, but that of their twin as well, added to having to watch that twin being tortured. I felt sick to my stomach that I had even contemplated putting them in that position.

“Mary,” I said, “I’m sorry. I was trying to protect you - all of you.”

“Protect us?” she snorted. “You mean like the Dutch sailors protected the dodo? With that kind of protection, I think we are better off taking our chances. Perhaps we should go find Harold and take up with him. At least he was honest with himself about what he wanted from his women.”

That just made me mad.

“Honest?” I asked incredulously. “Is that word even in the Everson dictionary? Who was it that started this little charade? Who was sent to spy on me at school, to ‘keep me safe?’ Who was it that arranged for that little orgy at my parents’, supposedly so I could concentrate on my training? Your grandmother started all this, and you played your part, so don’t you fucking dare talk to me about honesty.

“And as for saying that all that I wanted to do was to use you and Amanda as cum dumps, tell me: who was it that initiated that orgy? Who was it that insisted on ‘sharing?’ Who was it that practically demanded that Louise rape me so you could get a go on Josh’s cock? You have a very ***********ive fucking memory about what has gone on in our relationship. All along, you have been ignoring the fact that your grandmother has been using you to try and control me, and then suddenly, when you can no longer hide your fucking head in the sand, It’s all my fault.

“Well, I’m very fucking sorry - sorry I finally opened your eyes; sorry I loved you enough to try and protect you not only from her, but from yourselves; sorry that I couldn’t think of another way to show her that you were no use to her as leverage against me, so she would let you be - so that you and Amanda and Jules would be safe from her - from them.” I was winding down, my anger dissipating and sadness creeping in to take over.

“Mary, Amanda,” I said, my voice cracking, “I’m sorry.”

“Caleb?” It was Amanda. Her eyes were filled with tears but now focused intently on me. “Please don’t be mad. I tried, honestly I did. I tried really hard to be good and not do anything to make you angry. I just wanted you to love me - to love us.

“When I saw you tonight, with no love in you, I thought it was over - that you were done with us. I was so scared, and after Dianna had gone and you wouldn’t come back to us... you just looked at us with those empty eyes, like we were just... things. I couldn’t take it.

“Please, Caleb; please tell me you still love us - that I didn’t drive you away. I promise, if you give me a chance, I’ll do better. Just please give me another chance.”

I looked from Amanda to Mary, whose eyes were also streaming with tears.

“Mary?”

She closed her eyes, resting her forehead against her sister.

“Please, Caleb,” Amanda repeated.

I reached out and cupped her cheek. This time she didn’t draw back but pressed her face into my hand.

“Amanda, my love,” I said, “you weren’t to blame. None of this is your fault, and I never ever stopped loving you, in here.” I tapped my temple. “I had to turn off my emotions for a little while, but that wasn’t your fault. It was the only way I could think of to protect you - to keep you safe and to keep us together forever. Look at the bond now. Tell me what you see - what you feel.”

I saw her eyes glaze for a second as she internalized, examining the bond. Fresh tears sprang from those beautiful tawny eyes, but she smiled.

“It’s true,” she said. “I can see it. You do still love us.”

“More than ever,” I confirmed, “and that is never, ever going to change.”

She reached for me, and I allowed myself to be pulled down into her embrace. She clutched me to her as if her life depended on it, whispering, “Thank you, thank you,” over and over again.

Mary was holding her so tightly from behind that I couldn’t return the embrace, and I was wary of putting my arms around Mary, as she still seemed mad at me. Then she opened her eyes and looked up at me, her eyes filled with pain.

“Oh Caleb,” she said. “Please. I’m sorry.”

I wrapped them both up, pulling them to me, holding them tightly against me, never wanting to be separated from them again. Unconsciously, my power flared, wrapping us all in love - pure and innocent.

+++++

I woke up hot, still fully dressed. Apparently, we had fallen asleep, exhausted by all the emotional trauma of the previous day.

Groggily, I saw someone - or rather two someones - standing at the foot of the bed: Dean and Cheryl. I shook my head a little to clear it and was about to say something when Cheryl, smiling, put her finger over her lips, indicating I should be quiet. I looked down at the twins. Mary was still behind Amanda, and they were both fast asleep. My arm was still around the pair of them. I looked to the other side, to find not one, but two dark-haired girls curled up in the same position as the twins, cuddled up under my other arm. Ness, and Jules, both also fully dressed, had obviously decided to join us at some time in the night.

Carefully lifting all four girls with my TK, I extracted myself and slid down the bed, following Dean and Cheryl out of the bedroom.

“I didn’t even know…” I began.

Dean shook his head. “I know,” he said. “I guess she just needed to be near you. After yesterday, they all did. Why don’t you go get a shower in the main bathroom? Cheryl is making breakfast, and we can wake them up with breakfast in bed.”

I nodded. He turned to walk away.

“Dean?” he stopped but didn’t turn around.

“Caleb,” he said, “we’re good.”

I nodded again and he went downstairs while I went and got showered.

When I joined Cheryl and Dean in the kitchen, breakfast was almost ready. Cheryl came over to me and turned my head, gently feeling the side of my face where she had slapped me the night before. I winced slightly.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “I deserved it. I’m sorry I put you all through that.”

“I was so scared that you weren’t coming back,” she said. “What did it, in the end?”

“A bit of everything,” I said. “What Amanda said started me thinking, and then Jules. One thing that really resonated with emotionless me was what Dean said about battle fatigue. I remember thinking about that, then Terra stuck her nose into my hand. I started to pet her ears, and it made me feel good, and I guess that’s when everything came back.”

“Handy to know,” said Dean. “Maybe if you ever have to ‘go there’ again, getting you to pet one of the dogs might be a trigger for a way back. What happened after that?”

I knew exactly what he meant. It had been very, very loud.

“When I dissociate, the emotions don’t go away,” I said. “They just get deferred. So, when I come out of it, every emotion that I would have felt just hits me all at once. I guess I got a bit overwhelmed. That was one of the reasons that logical me didn’t want to come out. He knew that it would hurt, and there was no real payoff for the suffering he knew was coming.”

“Wow,” he said. “I didn’t realize. So, you didn’t get away with it after all. You just got hit with it all at once.”

“Kind of,” I said.

Cheryl loaded up a couple of trays and we all returned to our room, where the girls were still asleep. I prodded all four of them through the bond, trying to wake them as gently as possible.

Amanda’s eyes opened, and for a second I saw concern when she didn’t immediately see me where I had been last night. I touched her leg and she looked down, relief evident in her eyes.

“Breakfast,” I said, indicating the trays that Dean and Cheryl were holding.

Ness was the last to wake, and she looked sheepishly at her parents when she realized where she had been caught. They chose not to comment, merely handing her a plate and fork.

It was highly inconvenient for so many people to eat breakfast on a bed like that, and after a short time, Cheryl, Dean, and I decided to take ours back to the kitchen and finish there while the girls ate theirs and then got showered and redressed.

It was only then that my parents made an appearance. I was shocked. I had totally forgotten that they were even there - as, I think, had everyone else. They both looked sheepish.

“Did Dianna leave?” asked my mother.

I nodded. “Last night,” I said. “Let’s just say we had a difference of opinion.”

“We heard,” my father said. “Your mom wanted to come and get involved, but I persuaded her to leave it for you to sort out.”

“How are the girls?” my mother asked, earning a little more respect from me in the process.

“Jules was pissed when she found out that Dianna had been using her power on her and her family,” I replied. “Ness was shaken up, but she’s okay this morning.”

“And the twins?” asked my father.

“Are still a bit fragile,” I said. “They finally opened their eyes to what Dianna was doing - how she was using them - and it hurt them. By doing what I did, I didn’t exactly help either. We still have some healing to do, but I think we will get there.”

“What did you do?” asked my mother.

“I’d rather not talk about it,” I said.

She looked like she wanted to press, but she decided against it.

Ness came into the kitchen and seemed surprised to see my parents there too. “Have you guys eaten?” she asked.

My father shook his head, and Ness headed for the stove, pulling a face when she saw the mess that Cheryl had left. Within fifteen minutes she had made breakfast for my parents and dropped another plate in front of me as well. As usual, I was hungry. She cocked an eyebrow at her parents, but they both shook their heads. She started on the clean-up.

Nobody felt like doing much for the rest of the day, so we spent it just lounging around the house, chatting about inconsequential things, and eating the meals that Ness cooked at lunch and dinner time.

At evening beer time, Dean and I sat out on the deck. My father came out with us, but after about fifteen minutes, he excused himself and went back inside. Dean looked at me and I just shrugged.

A few minutes later, Dean spoke. “I never had to make one of those decisions,” he said quietly. “The ones I talked about last night. As I said then, they were above my pay grade, although we had to act on them. What you did last night was a judgment call, and we don’t yet know if it worked, but you genuinely had our girls’ best interests in your mind, and that’s all anyone can ever ask of you.

“You did well, Son,” he finished.

“Thanks, Pops,” I said, without irony, using the last of my beer to swallow the lump in my throat.

He raised an eyebrow at me, but then nodded.

When the rest of the family came out on the deck, we spent the evening chatting. Jules was reading the Everson Grimoire that Dianna had loaned her. Apparently, Dianna had either forgotten it, or was honoring her promise to let Jules have it for as long as she wanted.

“In every book I’ve ever read either about magic or with magic in it,” she began when I asked how she was getting on. Then she interrupted herself, starting again. “Granted that all of them were fiction, but anyway: spells and rituals are always portrayed as being a little bit like computer programming. You assemble all the ‘code’ you need, apply power, usually called ‘mana’ or something similar, and there you go. I was hoping that these rituals were going to be like that - that I would be able to ‘dissect’ it and tell you exactly what it was supposed to do by looking at its construction.”

“I take it that’s not the case?” I queried.

She shook her head. “These are all over the place. There are no constants - no similarities between rituals that do similar or the same things.”

“Well, that kind of makes sense,” I said, “when you consider that most of them don’t seem to work. Maybe that’s why. You might be right that there is a ‘programming language’ for rituals, but since the only one you have in there that we know works is the bond, you have too small a sample size to investigate. If the rest are just pure gibberish…”

She sighed, accepting the logic. “I can’t see all of them being duds,” she said, “but without knowing which ones work and which don’t, I can’t really do much more with this book. The only useful bit of information I found is the name of the person who created the ritual. Perhaps if we find out more about her, it might help us understand it a bit better.”

“For that,” I said, returning her sigh, “I guess we would need access to the fabled Everson Library. I don’t see that happening any time soon, if ever.”

Jules took my hand. “Maybe, now that the lines have been drawn, things might settle down between you and Dianna. If you are going to be working together, you are going to be interacting with her. Perhaps one day…”

“I hope so,” I said. “The twins were devastated to lose her. Yes, they are pissed with her - and rightly so - but she is the only parent they ever really knew. They need her in their lives, just not controlling them.”

I looked across at where the twins were sitting talking to Ness, Cheryl, and Dean. They were subdued, and I could feel sadness and loss from the pair of them. I pushed love - now able to separate out the ‘horny’ - to the pair of them, and they both looked across at me. Amanda smiled, though a little sadly. Mary just looked, a blank look on her face, and I knew that despite what had happened the night before, she was still mad at me. I wished it were otherwise, but I was also still mad at her. Of the two, she was the one who had been so anti-Compulsion, who lectured me about abusing my powers, and yet had turned a blind eye every single time Dianna had done just that. Her bias - hypocrisy, even - grated, and I knew that she and I were headed for further trouble, despite the bond. In fact, I was dreading how the bond might react to our strife. I felt less confident than ever that I truly knew or understood what it was.

Amanda was different. She was just so innocent and trusting, and so happy to have me back. Her sadness and sorrow were all about Dianna. I knew I had to try and do something about that if I could.

At around my usual time, I excused myself and headed for bed. I was tired, and still, a little bit shell-shocked by the events of the day before. After my shower, I came back into the bedroom, a towel around my waist, to find Amanda, alone, waiting for me. She was naked and beautiful, but she looked nervous and bit her lip as she looked at me, not meeting my eyes.

I crossed to her and put my fingers under her chin, tilting her head back so I was looking into those beautiful, tawny eyes.

“Amanda?” I asked softly.

“Caleb,” she breathed. “Please, make love to me?”

“Are you sure?” I asked, remembering Mary’s comment about my using them only to sate my own lusts.

“I need you,” she said. “Please?”

I leaned forward and kissed her, touching my lips gently to hers.

She stiffened for a second, and then closed her eyes, bringing her arms up and around me. I felt her lips open slightly and felt her tongue starting to explore, nervously requesting entrance past my lips.

I brought my own hands up and around her. I felt her shiver as my fingertips grazed her back and neck. I could feel goosebumps raising in their wake.

She deepened the kiss, one hand holding the back of my head, while the other wandered down my back and pulled at my towel. It fell, and we were both completely naked. She pressed herself into me, trapping my hardening flesh between us. She moaned into my mouth as she felt the heat of my erection pressing into her belly.

My hands were wandering, stroking her back and down to her hips, then up her sides until my fingers grazed the sides of her breasts, before sliding to her back again.

Amanda, maintaining the kiss, started to back away, drawing me toward the bed. Once she felt the bed behind her, she released me and started to kiss her way down my body, her destination obvious.

I stopped her, pulling her back to her feet before lifting her up and placing her on the bed. I laid down beside her and leaned up and in to kiss her again. She slid her arm around me, pulling me on top of her, spreading her legs so I was laid over her. I took most of my weight on my elbows and knees, but I stayed pressed to her. She tilted her hips, her hand reaching down to direct me - almost frantically pulling me toward her, wanting me inside. I eased forward, finding her already soaked, and steadily eased myself in until I was completely enclosed. Her legs were already wrapped around me, trapping me inside of her and pressing me in as deep as she could get me.

I felt wetness on my face and broke the kiss, pulling back a little to look at her. Tears were flowing and I started to try and pull back, but she clung to me.

“No, stay,” she insisted. “It feels so good having you inside me.”

I realized then that sex wasn’t actually what she wanted. She just wanted to feel as close to me as she could get, and having me inside her was filling her need not for gratification, but for connection. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold my position indefinitely, and I didn’t want to squash her.

“Let’s roll over,” I whispered. I somehow managed it while staying inside of her. I ended up on my back with her laid on top of me, her head resting on my chest.

We lay like that for a few minutes, her flexing her Kegels each time my cock lost interest and began to soften.

“You know I was never mad at you,” I said, “don’t you?”

Amanda tilted her head up to look at me. “I saw so much anger through the bond,” she said. “Anger, frustration, and disappointment. After what you said to me after the Vardy’s, I thought that you were mad at me and didn’t want to be with us anymore.”

“I was angry at Dianna,” I said, “and, to some degree, at myself. I had allowed her to come here, knowing what she was like, and how she would most likely try and exploit the situation. I was frustrated that I seemed to be the only one who could see what she was doing. Dean, Cheryl, and the girls were vulnerable to her powers, and you two were vulnerable because of your love for her. Nor was she above using her powers on you too, but it seemed like you didn’t notice.”

“And the disappointment?” she prompted.

“Was in myself,” I said, “because I couldn’t make you see. I couldn’t find a way to make you understand what she was doing, and I couldn’t think of any way of preventing it, other than causing all of you pain. I never wanted to do that. If I was smarter, more experienced, maybe I would have been able to find a way to protect us all without causing so much hurt.”

“So, you didn’t stop loving us?” she asked, gyrating her hips to remind my little head not to nod off.

I squirmed a little. I didn’t want to lie to her, and technically I had stopped loving them, purely because I hadn’t had the capacity to love anyone or anything at that time.

“I never wanted to stop loving you,” I explained. “I never stopped loving you up here.” I tapped my head, as I had done with Ness and Jules.

Amanda pulled her face a little, understanding my meaning, before resting her head back down on my chest. I pulled the cover over us, holding her and gently stroking her back. It was only when my little friend grew soft enough to slip out of her that I realized that she had fallen asleep.

I was woken early the next morning by the sensation of someone gently holding onto my cock, and rubbing the head of the rapidly stiffening organ up and down a very wet slit. Amanda was still laid on top of me, and was nuzzling my chest, licking and nipping at one nipple while rolling the other gently between her fingers.

I moaned as the hand finally got me lined up, and Amanda thrust herself all the way down, impaling herself on me. Her eyes met mine, and I was relieved and pleased to see that they were no longer full of pain, but twinkled mischievously as she started to gyrate her hips.

“Good morning,” she said as she began to move more purposefully up and down on me. “This is your wakeup call.”

“I’m up,” I said, smiling at her.

“I no-oohhh-ticed,” she moaned, sitting up straighter and grinding herself down onto me.

I looked to my side and saw Mary. She was awake and looking up at Amanda with love in her eyes. I still got the feeling that she wasn’t ready to talk to me, which meant that that extra hand probably hadn’t been hers.

I looked the other way and saw Jules watching us both. She seemed pleased to see what was going on and I realized that it must have been her hand that had inserted me into the beauty that was currently bouncing up and down on me.

I reached up and pulled Amanda down for a kiss, reveling in the closeness of being inside of her - and of having her inside of me, as she thrust her tongue into my mouth and started battling with mine.

I ran my hands down her back and cupped her delicious ass, pulling her onto me as I simultaneously thrust upwards. She moaned into my mouth and ground her pelvis into mine, trapping her clit between us. She shuddered at the sensations.

I reached further and ran my finger over where we joined, coating it in the juices that were flowing out over me. I moved my hand slightly and circled her anus with the tip, coating that in the lubrication. She moaned again, thrusting her ass backward before once again thrusting down to take me as deep inside as she could.

She broke the kiss and threw her head back, panting, and I took the opportunity to latch onto her breast, which was hanging enticingly just in front of my face. I captured the nipple in my mouth and began to lick and nibble at it, simultaneously using my TK to replicate the sensations in the other one.

Her movements became less purposeful and more instinctive as her body took over, grinding and pounding on me, searching for her release.

I pulled her down for another kiss, which forced her to arch her back a little, and I pushed two fingers up her lubricated asshole in a sudden, savage thrust.

She broke the kiss, threw her head right back, and keened as her orgasm ripped through her.

Jules jumped up to try and stop the noise and apparently could only think of one way to shut her up. She kissed her.

The noise stopped, but Amanda was not really aware of what was going on. Still in the throes of her orgasm, she grabbed poor Jules and kissed her back. Jules’ eyes bugged out as Amanda’s tongue invaded her mouth, but she stayed the course until Amanda had ridden out her orgasm and had started to calm down.

Since I had just woken up, and had just spent the last few minutes with Amanda bouncing up and down on my very full bladder, I wasn’t going to come. Jules and I had both recognized the immediate, and deeper need that Amanda had, and we were happy to have helped her satisfy it.

Panting, Amanda laid back down on my chest, her pussy still twitching, and the occasional aftershock hitting her. I looked over at Mary again and saw her breathing heavily. She had obviously shared her sister’s orgasm, and, for a brief moment, she caught my eye. Her expression hardened and she looked away.

“Jules,” I said, “are you okay?”

She laughed. “I’m good, she just surprised me is all. I didn’t want her waking up the whole household.”

“Uum, you could have used your hand?” I suggested.

She giggled. “Now he tells me.”

Amanda had dozed off again, and I slid out from under her, leaving her in her sister’s arms while I went into the bathroom to relieve the pressure in my bladder. I had to wait a few minutes for things to settle before I could, though. Since it was nearly four in the morning in any case, I decided I might as well get up and train.

When I opened the door onto the deck, the dogs came to meet me once more. Three of them moved to their ‘observation’ positions but Terra lingered, and I knelt and stroked her head.

“Thank you,” I said, hugging her as I rubbed between her ears. Her head on my shoulder, she once again huffed into my ear. When I let her go, she went to join the other dogs, settling down and then looking up at me expectantly. They apparently wanted a show.

It was nearly six when Dean came out on the deck to tell me to go shower before breakfast.

Surprisingly, by the time I was showered and dressed, everyone else was up and sitting around the breakfast table.

“We’re heading back today,” my mother said. “Your dad has outstanding jobs that can’t wait, and Dean has very kindly said we can use the jet again.”

“Thanks, Pops,” I said to Dean, and both Jules and Ness grinned, expecting some retort from him. Their grins slipped a little when they realized that I wasn’t being facetious.

After we saw my parents off, Dean said we should go look at the tractor I had pulled out of the ditch to see if it was salvageable, or if he needed to replace it.

“Will the insurance cover it?” I asked.

“Not unless I lie to them,” he responded. “It was being operated by a fourteen-year-old at the time. Besides, if I claim, then I have to say how it happened, and then even if we say someone else was in the driver’s seat, we are back to OSHA. It’s not worth the hassle.”

I nodded.

We walked around the tractor. Apparently, the mechanic had drained and replaced all the fluids, and it ran okay. The problem was that the cab structure was twisted, so the door wouldn’t close. He had said that it could be put on a frame machine and straightened, but the nearest one capable of handling something of its size was over five hundred miles away, which meant a huge transport cost in addition to the cost of actually doing the work.

“Do you want me to see what I can do with it?” I asked in a low voice, while Jeremy, the mechanic was busy doing something else.

He nodded. “Let’s get Jeremy to talk me through what is wrong.”

“If I can do it, how do we explain how we did it?” I asked.

“We can rig some pulleys and chains to the beams in the barn,” he replied, “and say that we Rube-Goldberged it.”

“Do you think he will buy it?” I asked.

“Probably a lot easier than he would the truth,” he said, grinning at me. He had a point, but I noted that he didn’t actually say ‘yes.’

We spent the better part of the morning rigging useless pulleys and chains to the tractor, and then, while Dean sent Jeremy to go and pick up the pump that they were waiting for, for the backhoe, I straightened the cab structure. There were a couple of places where welds separated under the pressure, but I had grown up the son of a mobile mechanic. TK wasn’t my only trick. I availed myself of the Mig-Welder to repair and reinforce them. By the time Jeremy returned with the pump, I was just grinding off the welds in preparation for applying some etching primer. Otherwise, they would have corroded pretty much instantly.

Dean was taking down the chains when Jeremy came back into the barn. His face , when he saw the tractor fully repaired, was priceless.

“How the fuck did you manage that?” he asked. “None of those chains should have been able to take the strain, and even if they could, the angles seemed all wrong to line everything up.” He shook his head and sighed. There was one tense moment where I thought he was going to press the issue, but Dean and I both held our bluffs. Finally, he relented, and examined my welding. “Not bad. You have done that before.”

“My dad is a mobile farm mechanic,” I informed him. “I used to go out with him on jobs, and he taught me everything I know.”

“Give it a full inspection,” said Dean, “and if you are happy, get it back to work.” He made to leave, and I followed. He didn’t want to stick around long enough for Jeremy to ask any more questions. It was a smart move.

“Hey kid,” yelled Jeremy as Dean and I walked away from the barn. I turned. “If you are ever short of work, look me up.”

I grinned at him and waved before turning and following Dean back to the house. Almost in passing, I noted that my TK training had paid off. I had barely even felt the effort it had taken to straighten the tractor cab out. I was hungry, though.

Ness had anticipated that and had lunch ready when we returned.

The next couple of weeks passed, with me getting up early to train, working with Dean during the day, using my TK at every opportunity to try and power it up, and attempting to eat him into bankruptcy at every meal. I couldn’t believe the amount of food I was putting away without seeming to put on any weight at all. Amanda and I seemed to be back to where we’d been before my ‘Vulcan’ episode, and we had sex several times over the weeks, but Mary was still distant. I knew that Amanda was sharing her orgasms with Mary during our sessions, and Mary seemed content with that. The four of us shared a bed, but there was still a distance between Mary and me that I couldn’t seem to overcome. When I looked at the bond, I could see a mass of emotions in such a complex mix that I couldn’t put the puzzle together.

It was coming up to the time that we would have to go back to school. As Mary had told the Steadmans and my parents, we had to go back early to catch the end of summer school and sit the exams we should have already taken. We would be joining those who had to re-sit theirs, and if we didn’t pass, we would be in a bit of trouble, probably having to retake the whole year.

On the Wednesday of our last week there, Dean asked if I could do him a favor and go and pay one of his suppliers who was getting annoyed with him. His supplier wanted a card payment, and so he transferred money into my bank account, and I went into the town and paid the bill. I didn’t realize until later that it was purely a ruse, but I trusted him.

Saturday, we all spent together. We went riding again all around the farm. I spent most of the evening with Ness curled up on my lap. None of us were really looking forward to our leaving on Sunday; alas, I did not suddenly and conveniently discover the power to slow, stop, or rewind time… We packed everything into Amanda’s car after breakfast on Sunday morning and turned to say goodbye to our new family.

Ness went along the line, hugging first Jules, then Mary, then Amanda, and finally me. “You are coming back during the next holidays, aren’t you?” she asked.

“We will if we can,” Jules said, “but it depends on a lot of things. I’ll call you every day, and any time you feel lonely, look at your bond, and you’ll know we are thinking of you.”

Ness sniffled but smiled. Cheryl was next down the line, with hugs and kisses for all of us, bidding us all to take care and make sure we looked after each other. Dean followed suit, with hugs and kisses for the girls. When he got to me, he gathered me into a crushing embrace.

“Look after them,” he said, “and yourself. You know where we are if you need anything.

“By the way,” he added as an afterthought, “I dropped a little cash into your account for all the work you did, and as a thank you for everything.”

“But…” I said.

“It’s not much,” he said, and then grinned at me, “but it might help toward your food bill.”

I laughed. “Thank you.”

Amanda drove and Mary rode shotgun, with Jules and I in the back seat.

A couple of hours into the journey, I was hungry, so we stopped at the same diner that we’d stopped at on the way up, for some lunch. I magnanimously offered to pay, since Dean had said he had dropped some cash into my account. Just to be sure, though, I opened my online banking to see how much I had available.

I was stunned into speechlessness when I saw the message on the screen.

Account Balance: $50,556.75

“What the fuck?” I exclaimed and looked at Jules.

“I had to talk him down to that,” she said. “He said that with everything you did, you probably saved him about ten times that amount - possibly even more, especially if Jonas had actually died in that accident.”

“There is no way they would have let him die,” I argued. “They could have called Fire and Rescue to get him out.”

“Do you think they would have been able to get heavy equipment across the pasture in time to rescue him?” she asked. “And even if they had, there would have been so much trouble for everybody. Not that that would have stopped them calling, but you prevented all of that.”

“But I…” I started.

“Caleb,” she said gently, “he has enough. He wants to help you, to help us. Please, let him.”

“That favor,” I said. “Going to pay his supplier. That was all about getting my bank details, wasn’t it?”

She grinned at me. “He knew you would refuse a check,” she said, “or just simply not deposit it. It was the only way to ensure you accepted it.”

The waitress in the diner remembered us and seemed surprised when we sat in the first available both.

“What can I get ya?” she said. I got a feeling of déjà vu.

Amanda, Mary, and Jules all ordered burgers, although Jules once again demonstrated her preference for rare meat. - ‘As rare as you’re legally allowed’ sounded like something she said a lot. I ordered three burgers with fries and a side of onion rings. The waitress thought I was messing with her, but I finally convinced her that that was our order. I played the ‘I’m a college wrestler’ card, and that seemed to work. I was sure the memory of that hundred that Jules had slipped her last time didn’t hurt either.

“You are going to have to watch your intake,” said Jules. “You aren’t going to be working as hard once we get home. You don’t want to get fat.”

“I’ll keep an eye on it,” I said, “but for now, I’ll be driven by my appetite. If I start putting weight on, I’ll rethink. I am still going to be training my TK, though. I’ll just have to figure out how.”

I paid for lunch, once again leaving a hefty tip for the waitress, and we got back on the road. Mary took the driver’s seat without conversation. Before I got to the car, Amanda and Jules had taken the back seat, leaving the passenger seat vacant for me. As we settled into the journey, I noticed that both girls in the back seat had put earbuds in and were listening to music. I was starting to get the feeling of being set up again. I wasn’t wrong.

Mary spoke without taking her eyes off the road.

“You were wrong to do what you did,” she said, “but I understand why you did it.”

My first instinct was to argue, but I decided to let her say all she wanted to say first.

“Dianna was also wrong to try and use us to manipulate you,” she said. “Using her powers on Jules and her family was seriously fucked up. She was starting to become exactly what we are supposed to be opposing.

“You told us that James taught you how to compartmentalize so that you could continue to function if the bond was ever disrupted - not as a pre-emptive measure so that you could deliberately sever the bond, or at least threaten to. I know you think that you never intended to, but I also know that once the emotions were gone, it wouldn’t have taken much for you to decide it was a good idea.

“If Dianna was holding us over your head as a tool to manipulate you, then you were doing exactly the same in return. By threatening to sever the bond - which, no matter what you said, WOULD be a death sentence for us both - you were using us to manipulate her. That is not fair, and it is not acceptable. We are not hostages for anyone.

“So you were good with Dianna holding you over my head, but as soon as the roles were reversed it became unacceptable?” I shot back.

“We weren’t good with it,” she responded, “and we were dealing with it.” She continued before I had a chance to respond. “I also think that it was touch-and-go as to whether you were going to ever re-engage your emotions. I could see by your behavior, by the look in your eye. Things were so much clearer and easier to understand without the clouding of your emotional response. Had you not been ambushed by Terra, I think that even now you would be locked in an emotionless state, using your Empathy to fake your feelings. That would have destroyed everyone you love because we would know.”

“What should I have done?”

“You should have stayed,” she said calmly. “If you had, you would have heard Jules tearing into the pair of us about Dianna using her powers on her family, and we could have discussed how to deal with her. Despite what you think, Dianna cannot control us with her power. We can clearly see when she is using it and have been able to resist it since we were both about ten years old. Add to that the fact that you could have quashed her power, as you demonstrated when you got back.

“Running away wasn’t the answer, and you did so twice: first physically, and then emotionally. Neither was the right thing to do. When you came back, we were in the middle of sorting things out with her. She had Jules stupefied, but Amanda and I were getting through to her, and then you stormed in, and everything went to shit.

"And you were okay with her stupefying Jules?” I asked incredulously.

“Of course not,” she responded, without heat. “That was exactly what we were talking to her about when you came back and squashed her power. We were making progress, Caleb - making her understand that what she was doing wasn’t right, and then you came blundering in and… well, you know the rest.”

“And how long do you think I should have talked things over with Harold while he was raping Ange-la to try to convince him of the error of his ways?” I countered. “You say ‘blundering.’ I say ‘rescu-ing.’ You still just don’t get it. It’s a violation, it’s wrong, and it needs to be stopped before any more harm is done. Victims don’t get more innocent than Jules in that situation. She was pissed off at Dianna for all the right reasons, and Dianna violated her again to shut her up, as a precursor to reapplying what I’m telling you is just Compulsion by other means, all for her own selfish ends. And you just sat there and let it happen. To Jules. Jules, whom you’re supposed to love as an equal partner in our relationship. Jules, whom you knew had already been manipulated by Dianna, and had realized it, and was seriously pissed off about it, and was even part of the reason why it seemed like you and Amanda were finally getting it!”

“We were getting it,” she insisted, her voice catching a little, “but you have to understand she is our grandmother. We saw what was happening with Jules, and we were dealing with it, in our way. Open warfare is not the only way to deal with a situation, although it seems just now to be your preferred option. If you loved us as much as you say you do, then why didn’t you trust us?”

I opened my mouth to tell her that I did love them and trust them, but my actions had already made it plain that that was half-true at best. Without a doubt, I loved them with everything I had, but I didn’t trust that love, thinking it to be manufactured by the bond. How I hated that bond - not for the fact that I was physically bound to the twins, but for the fact it had made me doubt my love for them, and theirs for me. Eventually, I settled on a response.

“I just felt so alone,” I said. “Neither you nor Amanda seemed willing to accept what appeared blatantly obvious to me. That meant that either you were blinded by your love for her, already totally under her control, or you were okay with it. I had nobody to turn to. I couldn’t speak to Jules; she was already being controlled. My parents had already proved that they wouldn’t stand up for me. Where was I supposed to go?

“Even when Jules challenged you about Dianna using her powers on her father - not for something important, but to gain the use of his jet - it was played off as Dianna being ‘naughty.’ She was effectively going to steal thousands of dollars of fuel costs, taxes, and airport fees using her power. If she had seen a wild user doing that, she would have had them arrested.

“This bond is killing us,” I said. “As much as it has bound us together, it is tearing us apart. I think you love me. I feel it through the bond, but I still am not sure whether it is real... I don’t trust my own emotions, because I know that they can and have been manipulated.”

Mary sighed. “That is our fault,” she said. “We were using our powers so frequently, to cheer you up or to calm you down. To show you love and help you sleep. It became almost reflex, and in doing so we were engendering your distrust - making you feel that we, like Dianna, were manipulating you. I promise it wasn’t about manipulation. Amanda and I do it to each other all the time - show each other love, support, and care for each other using our powers. It has become a way of life for us because we both grew up with these powers. We understand them, and we are used to feeling them. But we heard what you said to Cheryl about the constant use of our powers. We had never considered that it would make you feel so troubled, the exact opposite of what we were trying to achieve.”

“I knew you’d overheard,” I said. “When I came out and Amanda hugged me, I felt her love, but not her power. I was feeling it as it should be felt, and it was clean and fresh and felt wonderful. I heard her thinking ‘no sprinkles’ and realized she was deliberately suppressing her power because of what I had said.”

“Sometimes,” Mary said, “we forget that you have only had your power... that you only even found out about powers such a short time ago. Your raw strength and your development are both amazing, but you haven’t really had time to mature into them. Amanda and I have known about powers as long as we can remember, and had time to learn about them, and how to use them – and we still make mistakes.

“Yes, we are all the same age, and, given that age, we can be forgiven errors, but as far as powers go, you are still virtually a newborn, yet we are expecting so much more from you. We NEED so much more from you purely because of the powers you wield. I know it is not fair, but that is just the way it is. It is up to us to help you. We need to show you that you can trust us, and for your part, you need to be willing to trust - not just us, but the love that you feel for us.

“I am certain that I loved you before the bond, and if the bond is compelling my love, then it is only forcing me to do what I wanted to do in the first place. I love you, Caleb, and even when you hurt us so badly, my love never wavered. I hated what you did. I hated even more that you made Amanda feel like it was something she did. I loved that you made up with her and proved to us both that you really did, and do, love her.”

We sat for a while longer. I was waiting for her to say something more - waiting for the other shoe to drop, or the axe to fall, or whatever else. She had already said that she loved me, although I was still uncertain about that, but how many times have lovers said, ‘I love you…. but?’

“So, where do we go from here?” I finally asked.

“I need you to make me a promise,” she said. “NEVER do that again. James told you how dangerous it was, and I am certain that, if not next time, then soon, there will be no way back. You were taught how to turn off your emotions so you could function if the bond was severed. Promise me that that is the ONLY time you will ever do that. I know you did it at the hospital when you went to take Owen Booth down, because of all the emotions you felt from the victims there. Well, you know what I say to that? SUCK IT UP!

“Learn how to deal with those emotions without closing yourself off. Norms do it all day, every day. Doctors, nurses, police, fire, paramedics... they all have to ignore their feelings and just get on with the job sometimes. Yes, it hurts, but you will survive, and learn to deal with it, like a normal person. Even without all the other considerations, turning your emotions off is dangerous, and will lead you to make very bad decisions.”

That made a lot of sense. I remembered my thoughts when I was ‘Vulcan’ me, and I recognized that my decisions, while logical, were incorrect. Hundreds of hours of Star-trek episodes sprang to mind where first Spock, and then Data, learned that logic was inherently flawed when dealing with people.

“I promise,” I said quietly.

She glanced at me again. “Another thing you need to do is embrace your powers. Work them, use them, train them.”

“I have been,” I protested. “My TK is off the charts, my Telepathy is fine, my shielding is as good as it could possibly be, and I have even managed to iron out my issue in using Empathy so I no longer send ‘horny’ with every emotion.”

“And your Compulsion?” she asked pointedly.

I recoiled. That was a complete turnaround. The woman who hated Compulsion, whose family were crippling generations of children to prevent its use, was suddenly advocating for me to train in it.

“I thought you hated Compulsion,” I said, “or at least the power. You seem fine with using Empathy in that way.” I couldn’t resist the dig.

“It’s a tool,” she said, “and the biggest one in your toolbox. We are fighting a war, Caleb, against those who misuse their powers…”

“Really?” I put in sarcastically.

She took her eyes off the road long enough to shoot me a dirty look. “You know what I mean,” she snapped. “Used responsibly, Compulsion can do a lot of good. For instance, if she really wanted to lose weight, how easy would it be for you to Compel Sue to eat healthily and exercise regularly, so she achieved what she wanted? You said she had tried all kinds of things from fad diets to hypnotherapy, so why not help her?”

“But I thought…” I argued.

“Not to mention,” she continued, “that you could have got that security guard to let go of Mary-Beth’s arm easily. He wouldn’t have noticed; she would have been far more comfortable. She wouldn’t have been so pissed at you at the house, and so the reconciliation would have been easier, and nobody would have been the wiser.

“Isn’t that the thin end of the wedge?” I asked.

“‘The thin end of the wedge’ is the argument of fanatics,” she retorted. “‘BAN EVERYTHING because even a little something is the thin end of the wedge.’ Fuck them. We decide how far is too far: Dianna, you, Me, Amanda, and Jules. Also, when it comes to dangerous situations, how much easier is it to just compel the perp to stop doing what they are doing and surrender? Owen Booth should have walked quietly out to the FBI and given himself up.”

She was both right and wrong simultaneously. I agreed that I shouldn’t dismiss my primary power for use in cases of emergency, although I noticed that she’d put Dianna first on the list of who decided when Compulsion was necessary. That told me a lot. I thought back to Owen Booth’s arrest. I could see the argument that I should have compelled him to just give himself up, rather than get arrested. Even without powers, he might have been dangerous and could have reacted unpredictably and hurt someone.

I was even warier about using it to ‘help’ people outside of those types of situations. Ever since I’d discovered my powers, ‘the thin end of the wedge’ had made more sense to me than ever. Ironically, everyone’s warnings to me about corruption never failed to mention a road to hell that was paved with good intentions to start, and Dianna had been at the very top of that list - so long as it had been my powers, and Compulsion especially, at the forefront of the discussion. Even James, who’d emphasized solving problems and minimizing immediate risk, had warned me of the same. Mary herself was terrified that an undeniably useful tool – suppressing emotions – was going to lead me somewhere dark, and I actually agreed with her. It was beyond frustrating that she couldn’t see the contradiction in her own feelings and arguments.

I still didn’t know what to make of her sudden about-face on Compulsion. My best guess was that she was trying to make herself, and her stance, different from her grandmother’s, to show me that I could trust her more than I could trust Dianna, and that she, in turn, trusted me more than Dianna and Maggie seemed to.

I just couldn’t credit that gesture, if that’s even what it had been. ‘Helping people’ was so very tempting. It was a temptation to which Mary, Amanda, and Dianna succumbed all the time. All of them, to some extent, became convinced that they knew best, and it had led to all of them abusing their powers. I was reminded of Asimov’s ‘I Robot’, where the three laws of robotics prompted the attempted enslavement of humankind ‘for their own good.’

“I won’t be a puppet,” I said, “bond or no bond. If your purpose is to convince me to give in to Dianna, then you are wasting your time. I will train all my powers, but, given how dangerous it felt the last time I used it, I will not dissociate again unless the bond is broken. My ‘bluff’ of going to the NSA or another agency might be a reality now unless I can come to some accommodation with Dianna and Maggie - and that does not mean capitulation. Make no mistake, I love you, but I don’t trust that love, or you, anymore. You and Dianna have both proved that you will do what you feel you need to do to get what you want. You use people - even your own twin sister! - and a Norm like Jules being drugged against her will barely even registers.”

She took her eyes off the road for far too long to look at me. I expected some kind of emotional response: tears, something. There was nothing. I looked at the bond once again. I still saw love from her, but it was tempered with something I didn’t recognize. I realized then that Dianna was not the only Everson I needed to be cautious about.

We stopped once more for coffee, though I also had some fried chicken. Amanda once more took over the driving, and Mary rode shotgun. Jules looked at me and quirked an eyebrow. I listened to her thoughts.

“So, did you two make up?” she asked.

“Let’s just say we came to an accommodation,” I returned noncommittally.

She frowned, not understanding, but before she could ask any further questions, I sent a message to Ness.

“Ness? Can you hear me?”

I felt her excitement over the bond.

“Hey Caleb, are you home?” she sent back.

“Not yet,” I sent, “but I wanted you to hear this. I’m telling you and Jules together. Mary and I talked, and I made her a promise that I am now making to you. No matter what, barring the severing of our bond, I will never kill my emotions again. I am sorry I put you through that. I should never have done it, and I won’t make that mistake ever again.”

Jules slid her arms around me and hugged me, and I felt a pulse of emotion from Ness. Mary turned to look at me, and I sent her the memory of the conversation, knowing that she would share it with Amanda. She nodded at me.

We were about an hour from home when my phone beeped. I looked down to find a text from Josh. It was a single word.

_Help
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