by for Connie.
Secret Santa had never seemed like a worse idea than when Gabriel pulled Rob's name out of the hat.
What was he supposed to get Rob? The two of them hated each other; Gabriel had no interest in getting personal enough to buy him a gift. But Kaitlyn had insisted they all go to the mall to get presents and she'd be suspicious if he came out with nothing. And she'd know if he just bought something for someone else- they'd been blending minds enough lately that she knew pretty much everything about him.
How the hell was it supposed to stay a secret when they could all read each other's minds?
Now here he was in the mall with Kait, Anna, Lewis, and Rob, and he was not in a good mood. The past few years he'd tried his best to avoid interacting with Rob at all costs. Gabriel would never forget all the times he'd been subject to Rob's holier-than-thou, "righteous" loathing. There were too many times when Kessler had made him feel like he was worthless; too many times where he'd gotten angry with Gabriel over things he didn't even understand. Rob kept his distance from Gabriel, too, so he assumed the dislike was mutual.
They didn't go to college together, so they had no reason to see each other on a regular basis. Actually, all of the five but Rob were going to the same college- Rob hadn't gotten in. Supposedly after-effects of the brain damage he got in the accident that gave him his powers. His "deficits" went further than not knowing what girls were for. He still didn't understand entirely about that either. He and Anna had broken up last year because, as Anna had put it, there was just "no chemistry".
So while Gabriel was in school getting training to be a paramedic (he was a bit of an adrenaline junkie), in a steady (well, actually not too steady but at least it was there at all!) relationship with Kaitlyn, and playing in a band, Rob worked at a local fast food restaurant, flipping burgers for a living. It was the best job he could get with his credentials; no one liked to talk about it.
"So my friends have been watching this show lately," Lewis said loudly, interrupting Gabriel's train of thoughts. It took a second for Gabriel to think of what friends Lewis meant: apart from the psychics, Lewis hung out with the artists (and stoners) on campus. He was studying photography. "It's basically just pornography, but it's got a great plot."
"Oh, Lewis," Anna said, rolling her eyes. "What's the plot?"
"Well, it's just like there's this guy, they call him the Director, and the whole time he just works to manipulate these people to get them in bed together. Forces them together and directs the events of their lives until it happens."
Kaitlyn snorted. "What's the point?" she asked. "And why's the guy do that, anyway? How does that even ever work?"
"It just does!" Lewis said. "And I haven't watched the show, okay? I don't know why the guy does it."
"Well, it sounds stupid," Gabriel said. "I mean it can't work every time. People have their own free will. They should be able to reject someone, no matter how much 'the Director' wants them together."
"Gee, thanks for your opinion, Wolfe," Lewis said. "I'll have to get one of you guys the DVD for Christmas. You're gonna love it, Kait."
Kaitlyn glared at him, stopping in her tracks. "You drew my name? Lewis, it's supposed to be a secret! You don't say things like that!"
Suddenly, Lewis's voice was in all their heads. Jesus, Kaitlyn. It was a joke. I got Anna.
"That's enough!" Kaitlyn said, as Anna looked disappointed (no one really wanted to get a gift from Lewis- he was known for giving gag-gifts). "We're splitting up, and no one's going to say anything else about the Secret Santa. Just buy the present- secretly- and get it over with. Okay?"
When she was standing like that in front of them, using her incredible eyes to their full potential, there really was no saying no to Kaitlyn. Personally, Gabriel was glad to get away from the group. Solitude suited him just fine, especially if it meant being away from Rob. He didn't say much anymore- didn't have anything to say, probably- but just his presence set Gabriel's mind on edge.
He passed scores of stores as he walked away, still having no idea what he could possibly get Rob. Maybe a self-help book of some sort? How Not to Be an Insufferable, Self-Righteous Idiot. Could Rob even read? Probably, Gabriel thought, but he didn't remember ever seeing him do it.
The mall was strangely empty that evening, especially for December. Gabriel entered a generic looking department store, figuring he'd just buy Rob a boring t-shirt or something. There was almost no one there; Gabriel didn't even see any employees standing around, waiting for someone to help. It didn't bother him (the less strangers the better, he thought), and he moved to a rack of blank shirts. What size did Rob wear? Maybe Gabriel could buy him size small and act surprised when it didn't fit. Or better yet, extra-extra-extra large. But Kaitlyn would know, and things had been so rocky between the two of them lately, Gabriel didn't want to do anything that could upset her.
Resigned, he pulled a properly sized t-shirt off the rack roughly and walked towards the counter to check out. He was several feet away when he realized there was no cashier in sight.
"What the-?" He looked around. There wasn't another person in the store, as far as he could tell. It made the Sears feel bigger than it should have, and any small noise seemed to echo off the walls. Something wasn't right....
Gabriel started towards the door he'd come in, throwing the t-shirt on the ground in a decision to just go to another shop, when it began to close. The huge, metal exit was sliding down, making a horrible clanking noise. "Hey!" Gabriel shouted, but there was no one there to hear him. "I'm still in here!"
He dashed towards the door, hoping to make it through before it closed all the way, when suddenly everything went black.
It was so surprising that Gabriel stopped in his tracks, and a second later, when he realized he should have kept running, he heard the door clatter as it hit the ground.
Swearing furiously, Gabriel ran up to the door and pounded it desperately. He couldn't see a thing in here. What were you supposed to do when you were stuck in a pitch-black, closed Sears? How the hell would he get out? Or was he going to have to stay here all night, waiting for it to open up in the morning?
"Hello?" he called out. "Is there anyone in here?"
There was no answer.
Maybe there was a phone somewhere in here? He stumbled to the counter, wishing he could see anything. When his hands fumbled on a cord, he pulled on it until he found the phone.
He tried to use it, but it didn't work. There was a computer on the desk, too, Gabriel realized as he felt around, and it was out of power, too.
Kicking the desk, Gabriel reached put with his mind for Kaitlyn or anyone else who could help. Maybe if they heard him, they could get someone to open the store up and let him out.
KAITLYN, he thought, his knuckles whitening as he clenched his fists, concentrating as hard as he could. Anna, Lewis, someone! I need HELP! There was no response; he couldn't feel anything, until...
Gabriel? Is that you?
Rob? he thought.
Yes! Are you okay?
Gabriel sighed. Where was everyone else? It was just a shopping mall, it wasn't nearly big enough for their web to be broken. So why was Rob the only one there? Had the others left?
Gabriel? Rob's voice was loud and clear in Gabriel's head. I'm kind of stuck here. I need you to come over and help me.
Nope, Gabriel replied, offering no explanation. Whatever Rob's problem was, it would have to wait. Or he would have to get someone who actually cared about his well-being.
No, Gabriel, really, Rob thought. I'm stuck in a department store, and the power's out. I can't get help.
Really, what were the chances? Gabriel glared at nothing in particular, and thought loathingly, Is it a Sears?
Yes! Yes it is! Rob sounded so excited, Gabriel almost felt sorry for what he was about to tell him. Are you nearby? But then again, it was Rob.
Nearby? I'm stuck in here, too. Couldn't you hear me yelling? Where are you, anyway? I can't see anything.
I can't see anything either, Rob thought, and he sounded hopeless all of a sudden. If you're trapped in here, too, how are we ever gonna get out? I can't get in touch with anyone else.
"I don't know," Gabriel said, out loud now because if Rob was in this same store there was no point in letting him in his head right now. They could just talk. "ROB? CAN YOU HEAR ME?"
There was a thump somewhere across the store from Gabriel, and a second later Rob yelled, "YEAH, I CAN NOW!"
Gabriel didn't want to seek Rob out, so he stayed put (and silent) as he staggered towards him in the dark. How would Rob being there benefit Gabriel in anyway? It would just stress him out even more and make it harder to think his way out of the situation. Plus, with Rob, a whole ton of Gabriel's ideas would suddenly no longer become options, because if they could even possibly be conceived as illegal Rob would refuse to let either one of them do it. He had dealt with Kessler before; there was no compromise, no shades of gray in his mind. He probably just wanted someone to sit with as they waited to be let out in the morning.
He could hear Rob getting closer and his fists balled up again. "Look, maybe it's best if we don't team up right now, okay?" he said.
"What? How come?" Rob's voice was closer now, but a few feet too far to the left of the counter. It really was so dark that no one could make their way through here.
"What will we be able to do?" Gabriel asked. "I mean, the stores closed. Can you think of anyway to get out?"
"Maybe there's a phone somewhere around here," Rob replied, even closer. "We could call someone."
"No power," Gabriel informed him. "Phone doesn't work."
As he said that, he felt Rob get closer all of a sudden, and heard him bump into the counter. He recoiled slightly, marveling at how dark it was. Could there really be no light source in here? And shouldn't his eyes have adjusted a little by now?
"Are you there?" Rob asked, and waving his hands around until they hit Gabriel, who flinched and pushed him away.
"Yes, I'm here," Gabriel said. "Great. We found each other. Now how the hell do we get out of here? Do you have any ideas?"
The room was quiet for a moment as Rob thought. Gabriel strained his ears to hear anything from outside the store, or even just another person inside of it, but he couldn't. It was just dead silent.
"I guess we just wait until morning," Rob said finally. "It's too dark to search for a key or something and if the powers really out we're outta options."
To Gabriel, waiting in the store all night with Rob was not an option. What if it didn't open in the morning, anyway? It hadn't exactly closed in a normal way, so expecting it to open as usual was ridiculous. There had to be someway out, or at least a way to attract someone's attention outside of the store. If they only had some sort of light he could get around here freely... as it was now too dark to even see Rob's face, exploring wasn't an alternative.
So basically, Gabriel didn't have anything to do, but he couldn't do nothing. "Can you reach out again for Kait and Lewis with me? Maybe if we do it together, it'll work."
We can try, Rob thought hesitantly.
HELP, they sent out together, probing the very edges of their minds. But nothing came of it. All Gabriel could feel was Rob, and his mind was dangerously close. Quickly, Gabriel put up walls, big, thick and icy so that Rob couldn't try to get in even if he wanted to.
They stood there together without making a sound for a long time. Then Rob made a moaning noise and said, "Why are you shutting me out?"
Gabriel didn't answer, because he didn't feel like there was any need to. If Rob thought he deserved to get inside Gabriel's thoughts he was more brain-damaged than he'd thought. Being all alone with him was bad enough without getting in each other's minds.
"Why do you always shut me out?" Rob said.
"You really don't know?"
"Gabriel, I just don't understand! I know we've never got along but haven't you ever wanted to, I dunno, fix that?"
Again, Gabriel didn't answer. What was the point in trying to remedy their relationship? What would either of them get out of that? It wasn't like if Gabriel stopped hating Rob suddenly everything would be great and they could all just skip out happily into the sunset.
"Please, talk to me," Rob begged. "It's dark in here, we're trapped. It's bad enough without you tuning me out."
If Rob was scared, that was his own problem. Gabriel sat down on the counter, combing his mind for a better escape idea. How could they break down those doors? And would Rob try to stop him if he did?
But then, there was a noise, several feet ahead of both of them, and Gabriel jumped.
"What was that?" Rob whispered, but Gabriel shushed him, because if it was a person, if there was someone else in here with them, they needed to figure out if this person was stuck like them or was the cause of the whole problem. Was it even a person at all?
Keeping his walls firmly in place, Gabriel reached out with his powers, feeling for a mind.
What he found instead made him retch.
He'd never really believed anything could be completely evil. There was always an in between for him- nothing was black and white. But this... whatever this was, in the room, it was bad.
And it certainly wasn't there to help them.
Rob, we need to-
His thought was cut off, and not by Rob.
While he was still trying to get through whatever barrier, an unexpected, blinding light filled his vision, and he gasped as a person- the person they needed to get away from now if they were to be safe- came into view, standing calmly in the middle of a spotlight that came from nowhere.
At least, nowhere Gabriel could see. But he wasn't looking to hard for the source of the light; it seemed just as likely it could be coming from the person himself. He was absolutely radiant as he stood in front of them.
Dressed in a sleek black suit that made him look like some sort of god, the villain had white blond hair and impossibly perfect, out-of-this-world features. Perhaps most extraordinary were his eyes, though: they were a shade of blue that Gabriel had never seen before, let alone on a person, and they were framed by amazingly dark eyelashes.
Gabriel didn't normally find himself staring at other men's bodies for so long, but this was just so dazzling he couldn't help himself.
Rob seemed as dazed as he was, maybe even more so, as he stood there staring, his mouth hanging open wide. "Who a- what are- do you...."
He couldn't even complete a single coherent thought, and the man smiled. "Who am I?" he said, and Rob nodded. "I don't think you need to know that. But you can call me Julian."
His voice was smooth and seemed to fill the room, coming from all sides. Gabriel was getting over the stun of the light and this man, and he realized fully how vital it was that he- and Rob too, he supposed- got away from this man. He was dangerous. He was out of this world. And he didn't want to do anything good to the two of them.
He tried to send those thoughts to Rob, but that wall was still up between the two of them.
"Rob, we have to go," Gabriel hissed. Julian smiled again: it chilled Gabriel to the bone as it stretched across his face. One of the problems was, it didn't reach his eyes, which just continued to watch them, bright blue and disquieting.
"Okay," said Rob, tearing his eyes from the light and glancing back at Gabriel. For the first time since getting locked up Gabriel got a look at his face, and was surprised to see the fear in his golden eyes. He started backing away, around the counter, but for every step he took back, Julian took a step towards him, that disturbing smile firmly plastered onto his beautiful face.
"I don't think you two really want to leave now," he told them, alarmingly calm, like a sociopath about to kill his victim, or a cat about to catch a particularly easy mouse.
Rob and Gabriel, after exchanging a look of pure terror (whatever this man was, he was way out of the league of anything they'd faced before, nothing they'd handled in the past), broke into a sprint away from Julian. They were running for maybe a second before the lights in the room went off again. This time Gabriel knew better than to let this stop him, and he grabbed Rob's arm and pulled him along.
They were going nowhere, really doing nothing, but at the moment, nothing seemed more important than to put as much distance between them and Julian as possible.
"You can't get out," Julian said, his voice reverberating in the room and in Gabriel's mind. "I'm not done with you two yet."
Then the lights came back on around them, so they could see where they had run. And Gabriel realized right away that something had gone badly wrong during the time they'd tried to get away.
This room was not Sears.
"What in the world?" Rob gasped, as Gabriel swore profusely. They were in a hallway now; it was long and dimly lit by fluorescent lights. Gabriel recognized it right away. It was a hall from the youth detention center he'd been locked up in for years, and it was not a welcome sight.
"Julian," Gabriel murmured, looking around for him. There was no doubt in his mind that he'd caused it. Probably the entire blackout and the store closing. But how did he do it? And how did he know about the detention center? What else did he know?
"He's gone," Rob said, staring around the hall.
"Don't be so sure," Gabriel advised him. "He's probably watching us right now.... What is he?"
"Dunno," Rob said. "Where are we?"
Gabriel just shrugged, not wanting to get into it. The lights on the ceiling were flickering slightly, and the floor was grimy and dusty. It was funny; now he was here he wished he could be back in the Sears, waiting for morning in the dark with Rob. It was better than trying to figure out what the hell was going on here.
"Think we should look around?" Rob was looking at Gabriel for guidance here, obviously unsure of what they were to do here. It struck Gabriel as strange how different that was from the Rob he'd known several years ago, who wouldn't hesitate to take the lead. Maybe he'd changed in the past years and Gabriel had failed to notice- maybe he realized that he wasn't always right.
"Let's check out this room," Rob said, erasing all those thoughts from Gabriel's head. Rob was still Rob.
The door he was walking towards was the door to some offices, Gabriel remembered, and he didn't think going in there would be of any use, but it was better than standing in the halls, right? Besides, was any of this even real anymore? You don't just teleport to places across the country.
They pushed open the door, and stepped forward together.
There was no ground below their feet.
"Oh my GOD!" Gabriel yelled, because they were falling. This was no office- Gabriel could hardly see around him now, but they were out in the open now, over what seemed like a field and it was daytime. All these skips around to different places were disorienting him.
Squeezing his eyes tight shut, Gabriel felt something bump into his hands from the front and grabbed onto it tightly, knowing it wouldn't do much to stop his fall. But somehow, holding it seemed to help, and he felt almost like he was gliding more than falling.
He opened his eyes.
He was on a hang glider, and so was Rob, right next to him, his eyes wide open and staring in horror.
"ROB!" Gabriel shouted across the air. Rob barely turned his head to acknowledge him. His jaw was locked and he was focused straight ahead of them, where there were some hills- or maybe they were mountains, Gabriel had no idea how high up they were. "ROB, WHAT IS THIS?"
He seemed to remember that the accident that had changed Rob was a hang gliding accident, and this didn't seem to bode well for them.
"HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO KNOW?" Rob yelled back, but he sounded rather like he had a good idea of what it was, he just didn't want to admit it to anyone.
"ROB, IF THIS IS FAMILIAR TO YOU IN ANY WAY-"
Rob cut him off by shaking his head rapidly back and forth. His eyes were still glued straight ahead and sweat was dripping down his tanned skin. "IT'S NOT, IT'S NOT!" he screamed.
Gabriel bit his lip. It was strange- he'd never been hang gliding in his life but right now, he was finding it perfectly easy. Maybe it was because it didn't feel like they were actually doing it, but more as if they were being guided through by unseen forces (Gabriel would bet big money that it was Julian- what exactly the man was up to, he didn't know, but whatever it was it was beginning to feel kind of terrifying).
This had to have something to do with Rob's accident. Hang gliding wasn't exactly very common. Hey Rob, Gabriel thought, tired of yelling, and he was relieved to find that whatever obstruction had been there before was gone now. In fact, their psychic link seemed stronger than ever, and Gabriel could feel Rob's emotions right now, even hear glimpses of his thoughts. He wasn't doing a particularly good job of hiding them.
Rob, if you have any idea what this is, please tell me. I know you were in a hang gliding accident when you were a kid, so....
NO! Rob thought. No, this can't have anything to do with it. This must just be another teleporting thing, like with the hallway. We've gotta find our way out of here fast, because, because....
I don't believe it. Gabriel glared a Rob across the air. Don't tell me you're such an idiot you honestly believe this has nothing to do with that accident. He's taking stuff from out past, I know it. That hallway we were in? That was from the detention center I was put in. Now tell me, what happened to you here?
Rob just shook his head, and Gabriel lashed out with his mind, trying to put him through as much pain as possible so that he would answer.
ARGH! STOP! Rob's face was contorted in pain, and as Gabriel had hoped he would, he got angry. What are you doing? Trying to kill me? Look, I've already told you what I know about this, which is NOTHING-
STOP IT! Gabriel's mind voice was as loud as he could make it. If there's nothing wrong here then why are you so scared?
You didn't let me finish. I told you I know nothing about this because I don't. I don't remember any of that accident, Gabriel. I don't remember going hang gliding at all. My granddad had to tell me what happened, because all I remember is waking up in a hospital bed, not being able to move a part of my body.
Gabriel was silent, listening, still trying to get more information. If Rob knew- even if it was just because someone else had told him- what had happened, maybe they could get out of here, which was growing steadily more important. They seemed to be losing altitude, and the hills below (rocky and hard looking) were going to be getting in their way anytime now.
Gabriel, all's I know is that we're going to crash, okay? That we are going to crash and I won't be able to do anything to stop it and we're going to be broken all over our bodies. And I can't do this again. I won't survive it. I've already got problems with my back and my joints. Not to mention my head. It'll kill me!
That was not what Gabriel wanted to hear right now, not when they were flying straight at a gravelly looking hilltop.
"ROB!" he said out loud. "THERE HAS TO BE SOME WAY TO CONTROL THESE THINGS!"
The autopilot that he had been grateful for at first was now leading them to their deaths.
"YEAH," Rob said, "BUT I DON'T KNOW IT!"
They were maybe twenty feet from crashing.
"ROB-" Gabriel began tugging at his hang glider, trying to move it, but it didn't react to his touch. Then an idea entered Gabriel's mind: it was crazy, but to him, at least, it made some sense. This was Rob's accident. Maybe if they were to escape, Rob had to be the one to change it. Rob, I need you to change the direction of your hang glider now. Just trying moving it at all. Please. Our lives depend on it. Get us out of here.
For a second, Rob was still, and Gabriel hated him more than ever, but then, with a determined look, he leaned over hard on his hang glider and turned it to the right, away from the hilltop.
As Gabriel had predicted, when Rob turned, he did too.
"Thank God," Gabriel said. "NOW WE'VE GOT TO LAND!"
With much concentration, Rob began gliding slowly to the ground. Gabriel's hang glider followed, perfectly in sync. Finally they landed, only somewhat bumpily, and Gabriel tumbled out of his hang glider. So did Rob, and they rolled down on the ground, away from their crushed vehicles.
Somehow after all the tumbling, they ended up right next to each other on the ground, Rob's arms sprawled across Gabriel's chest.
"Hey," Gabriel said weakly, pushing him off. "You saved us." For now, at least, he left out the fact that it would have been Rob's fault if they died, too, so it wasn't that heroic. He didn't think it needed to be said.
"No, if you hadn't yelled at me, I never would have, so it really was thanks to you," Rob said earnestly. "Thank you."
Gabriel took a minute to catch his breath, staring up into the clear blue sky they'd been in moments before, the sun glaring down into his eyes. Wherever Julian had taken him was separated completely from the reality Gabriel knew. It was nighttime- it shouldn't have been sunny.
But normal rules did not apply here. Gabriel sat up and Rob followed. They looked around briefly until they found what Gabriel had expected would be there: inexplicably, there was a door in the side of one of the hills, just sitting there looking inconspicuous, like it belonged. Rob and Gabriel exchanged a look and then both started walking towards it, prepared to accept that this nightmarish night wasn't over yet.
"I'm exhausted," Rob said. "I never knew I'd be able to face heights like that ever again."
Gabriel didn't reply. Rob was walking too close to him for his comfort at the moment, so he sped up and grabbed the door's handle, swinging it open.
"Shit," he said.
Gabriel knew this scene, he recognized it immediately. And he knew what Julian wanted to happen: Rob had relived the hang gliding, and now Gabriel would have to watch all of this.
The door had opened up to Durham, the psychic center where Gabriel and Rob had gone when they were just kids. It made Gabriel cringe to see what was waiting in front of him now: him and Iris, his sort-of girlfriend from back then, sitting together, wrapped in both each other's arms and minds.
Rob was in the room a second after Gabriel, and closed the door behind him. Right away it dissolved back to become a part of the wall. But no one was watching that. They were watching the kids on the bed.
Did Rob remember how this ended too?
"Gabriel...." Iris moaned on the bed, and Gabriel had to look away. He couldn't watch what was happening now.
"What is this?" Rob whispered.
"Gabriel, stop-" Iris was saying, but Gabriel knew how he'd felt back then: he couldn't stop. They were too far into their mind blending, and Gabriel was too inexperienced back then with his powers to get out.
There was some gasping, Gabriel couldn't tell whom from, and then Iris threw back her head and screamed.
There were yells from other parts of the institute in reaction to this, but in the room, now, was where things really happened. The Gabriel on the bed had let go of Iris when she screamed and reared back, trying to break the black hole that was forming between their minds, sucking out her energy. But it was too late; he couldn't break the bond, and Iris kept screaming, her eyes squeezed shut, tears of pain streaming down her face.
In the room now, Rob was clearly horrified. He made a move to try and help the people on the bed, but when he got to them, he couldn't seem to touch them. In the end he just backed away to watch the events unfold.
The past Gabriel was gaping at Iris as she fell back onto the bed, her screams dying down as she ran out of the life to keep fighting. Her skin was paper-thin and pale against her black hair, and she began to stiffen, corpselike.
When she had stopped moving completely, it was Gabriel who screamed. He leaned over the bed and began to shake her body, but she couldn't respond. And no matter how many times he said her name, she didn't wake up.
"Oh Lord," muttered Rob, who was clutching at his heart while watching it all. Gabriel couldn't face him. He didn't want to be reminded of this memory. He never wanted this to happen in the first place.
On the bed, Gabriel stopped screaming and just stared at Iris's body, too shocked for words. He was watching her when the door opened to their room and three people entered: the head of the research center, an old man with a full head of long black dreadlocks, Iris's roommate Claire, and Rob, who looked ridiculously young to Gabriel now.
"What's going on here?" asked the old man.
No one said anything. They were all too busy looking at the body.
"IRIS!" Claire shrieked, running towards her friend.
The old man didn't seem to be able to move, but the young Rob pushed past him to the bed. He put his hands on each of Iris's shoulders and focused for a moment, his eyes closed and his mouth pressed into a frown. Everything was silent, except for Claire's sobs.
Finally Rob looked up, a sad expression on his face. "I can't save her," he said. "He really took it out of her."
"Who did?" Claire said, sounding hysterical.
"Gabriel," Rob said, a look of pure loathing on his face. "Sucked her energy right out of her. All of it." He scowled at Gabriel. "Why'd you do it?"
The Gabriel on the bed didn't say anything. He was still in shock.
"Mr. Kessler, are you suggesting that Gabriel killed- that he-"
"He took the energy right out of her," Rob said again, very matter-of-fact. Then he adopted a look of vengeance. "I've heard of some psychics, they call them psychic vampires. 'Cause all they do is steal the energy from other people until they're full up. Suck it right out like a black hole."
Claire sobbed louder then ever, and the head of the center seemed to regain control of himself, and the situation. Gabriel couldn't watch anymore; he looked away and covered his eyes and ears, knowing what was going on in the room: people, swarms of professionals and doctors and experimenters all coming in and out of the room, taking out the body, Claire out of control, no one looking Gabriel in the eye or even talking to him, and that whole time, Rob standing there, looking so smug and righteous it sickened Gabriel.
This went on for a long time. When it was finally quiet, Gabriel looked at the empty room.
"I didn't remember it that way," Rob said, his voice hoarse. "I guess, I never wanted to."
"I never wanted to remember it, period," Gabriel said, throwing himself onto the bed. They could touch things now; the show was over, and now they could explore the stage.
Rob began pacing the room, rubbing a hand through his blond hair, mussing it up. As Gabriel watched him, he hated him. He hated everything about him from his stupid accent to his being the good one to everyone. He was always the good one; whenever he and Gabriel and fought, he'd always won. Because he was simple and gentle and right at all times. Even now, when they were all in their twenties, and Gabriel was ready to be rid of all that, whenever Rob and Gabriel had a disagreement Kaitlyn and Lewis and Anna and everyone always sided with the golden boy.
"Look, I'm sorry about that," Rob told Gabriel. "About how I handled that whole situation. I should have tried to talk to you... not just about you... I mean.... I'm sorry."
"But if it happened today, would you handle it any differently?" Gabriel asked. "I mean, after all, you came in and I was sitting there with a dead body on my bed. And I did kill her. You were right about that."
"No," Rob said. "You didn't mean to. I never wanted them to kick you out. You've gotta understand that."
He walked over to the bed, a pleading expression on his face.
"Look, Rob, no one cares if you're sorry," Gabriel said. "That was seven years ago. We can't change it. Besides, what did you want to do, anyway?"
He glowered up at Rob's tear-filled eyes.
"I wanted," Rob said, "to do this."
Before Gabriel could move, Rob leaned in and kissed him full on the mouth. And he held it, long and passionately, for several seconds, though Gabriel did not move to recuperate.
He pulled away, and he was crying hard now. Gabriel did not know how to react. He had nothing to say.
"I never knew what it was about you," Rob said, his voice hitching. "I never knew why I cared so much about everything you did. Why it hurt when you hated me. And then I... I never liked Kaitlyn the way I was supposed to. She was just a friend- a good friend, but still... and, but when I saw you with her... I realized that it wasn't her I was worried about losing."
Rob, Gabriel thought, slightly dazed. What are you saying?
"I like you, Gabriel," Rob said. "I like you a lot. And I'm sorry that I kicked you out of Durham and that I just... I never tried to understand you, I don't know...."
Gabriel knew was Rob was feeling bad for now. For judging him constantly. For always telling him he was bad.
He'd never imagined that Rob had a thing for him. It had honestly never crossed his mind. It put Rob's behavior over the years into some perspective. But did it make Gabriel forgive him?
To this Gabriel knew the answer right away. No, it didn't. Maybe Gabriel didn't hate Rob completely anymore. He'd seen him afraid more times tonight than he had in the rest of their years together combined. He'd learned to see Rob as a human. But Rob had always had a knack for making Gabriel feel inferior. For making him feel bad. And Gabriel did not have a thing for Rob. He didn't want to pursue a relationship- one kiss had been enough for a lifetime- and he definitely did not want to be friends.
Gabriel stood up slowly, and shook his head at Rob, whose face crumpled pitifully. This was how it feels to be rejected, Rob, Gabriel wanted to tell him. This is what it's like for someone to finally see you for all you are and to say, nope. Still not good enough. And it's about time you felt that way.
They stood there for a long time, until the lights in the room began dimming, going down. The room was pitch black for a second, but then it lit up completely to reveal the interior of the Sears.
Julian was sitting on the checkout counter, swinging his legs back forth, looking bored.
"That was anticlimactic," he said in a deadpan voice. "I'll admit I was looking forward to watching you two hook up."
"Well, too bad," Gabriel snapped, ready for this whole night to end all ready. He'd had enough. "If that's all you want, then go find someone else."
"I would keep pushing it," Julian said, "but I've had enough fun with you two tonight. And besides, I've got a honeymoon to go crash. Can you imagine someone wanting to marry a person they've known since the second grade? Talk about dull."
In a blink, he disappeared into some shadows, and was gone. The moment he left, the metal doors of the store made a horrible cranking noise and began opening up wide.
"We're free!" Rob said, his face (which was still red and puffy from tears) lighting up.
"Finally," Gabriel said. "It's about time."
They ran to the door together, and Rob jumped back into the hall. He turned back to see if Gabriel was following him.
Instead, Gabriel was picking the t-shirt he'd found earlier off the floor and looking at it. "I'll be out in a minute," he told Rob, who nodded, and walked away into the crowded mall. After a moment of consideration, Gabriel put the shirt back on its hanger and left the store.
Rob deserved a slightly more personal gift than a blank t-shirt.
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