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Working in the making of a song with the guys in Cobra was being ten times more of a handful than he had ever expected it to be. Victoria had shown up in his bedroom in his hotel room and sat with him for over eight hours to force and compel him to focus on the song like a perfect dictator in thighs and high heels. The recorded preview was far from clean, one channel, just barely mixed, almost acapella, and what would now be William’s voice was, at that time, Ryland’s. Vicky-T played Maja’s part, which William didn’t think sounded bad at all, although she had just flung a pillow at him when he had said so. She read and reread the lyrics with him, then practiced the vocals and pitches with him, teaching him how to control his voice on the high notes he couldn’t sustain because the demo showed Gabe’s voice. Victoria was that much of a sadistic to keep it running on the background while he tried to raise his voice higher and louder than Ryland’s because she knew that, deep down inside, it was Gabe’s voice that kept William going somehow.

After some time, they got to each other’s nerves in every way they could. She took him off his cellphone while he was in a call with Ryan and prevented Tyson from visiting, aside from not letting anyone contact him in anyway, which made him throw his phone at her. She outsmarted him, dodging and hitting him hard with her elbow. He had bent over the bed and spilled his guts on the floor and after that they had become almost civilized with each other. William had been one to release stress while working, but his stress was all about working with Saporta and Vicky-T wouldn’t have any of it. She had taken upon herself to make them be fine with each other by the time the recording process was over, or else she’d lock them up in the same room and bury whoever died first. She couldn’t understand the scene they were making: so William had a girlfriend and Saporta was not worth his weight, what was the big deal about that? They had to grow up and it didn’t matter what they’d lose along the way – because they would lose something. Their innocence, maybe. They’d have to make concessions, which was never an easy thing. Later that night, the day before they had to record their separate channels and finish the song, Victoria had let her big sister’s side show up and took a sleepy William in, his head resting on her legs on top of the bed, in her bedroom, curled up like a baby boy. He held her knee with gentleness and a hint of possession; she raked her hands through his hair in small, caring movements, close enough to sleeping too. Gabe had not come back to sleep in Cobra’s apartment after having found his own. She thought hazily of how things would turn out once they got into the plane, once they reached California, once the script for the music video was fully finished. She prayed that they’d come out alive and that was all she could hope for.

Victoria’s dreams that night were wilder and more vivid than any other she’d had during the previous weeks. They all ended in a black hole that remained for a couple of minutes before she woke up. It was a riled up night, filled with wicked premonitions and reliving of old fears, not all of them referring to Gabe and Beckett. All in all, Victoria had her demons too, a past she thought best unrecalled and things she’d soon have to face.

They were woken up by a very excited Nate who knocked them out of bed with loud screams and some drumming at the door. Sleep-drunk, they took a look at the clock marking precisely noon. They had gone far last night but William was finally ready. Maja, alongside with Nate, stared at them too. She had spent the night with Ryland, although no one could pinpoint how sexual that “spend the night” had been, and it was his the shirt she wore over tight jeans. Everyone would recognize Ryland’s shirt but she couldn’t care less: she’d record whatever she had to exactly like that. Victoria took in the deepest of breaths and poked William, admonishing him to go shower while she’d do the same. She chose cold water, which seemed to pierce through her skin but woke her up. It was their first testing, that day, the first forced cooperation. She knew that after that, the trip would be the biggest of their problems and resurface everything they were trying to hide. Anxiety didn’t come close to defining what they felt.

When William showed up, looking dragged from his beauty sleep for the hundredth time in a row, Victoria was sitting across the sofa, a long distance put between her and Maja. Beckett didn’t pay it any attention, especially when the brunette got up and hugged him while they walked their ways out of the hotel and into the cabs. The boys spent their time talking about general nonsense while Maja and Vicky-T had only their silences to keep them company. When they reached the studio, Gabe was at the door, waiting for them. Peter had threatened them with imprisonment and murder: if they didn’t show up at the appointed time, they’d have to record the whole song in a single channel, which would make up for dozens of hours. He was inside the open room, giving them his oks and signaling them all in. William frowned.

“Hey, Beckett!” Travis saluted his, showing up from behind Gabe and half-hugging the other. “Hey too, Maja. Imma get in, Gabe wants to be the last but I don’t think he will; what are you gonna do?”

William shrugged and entered the studio, Victoria giving Gabe a despicable look when he saluted Maja with a quick peck on the lips. Peter waited until everyone was inside to explain what they were about to do. Gabe would go first and they would follow, maybe listening to what he had sang, maybe not, while synching their voices. Victoria raised her hand slowly, very Hermione-like, and asked him if William would go right after, because in case he didn’t they’d fetch themselves some breakfast. Wentz all but yelled at her, since it was afternoon already, agreeing to let William do his part later to avoid him collapsing inside the studio. They decided what they’d do and left, Vicky-T and William, sliding to their everyday coffee shop to grab anything they could eat. Beckett raked his hands through his hair, his elbows firmly set on the table while Victoria bought him an espresso and a blueberry muffin and chose herself something else. Now that he had to actually sing the song they’d been practicing so much, he realized he didn’t feel like it. Having seen Gabriel and noticing that he barely looked at him had been a minor but sturdy blow to his ego and he didn’t enjoy the feeling. He could but thank that Peter didn’t feel the need to lock them all up together, although there was a hint of disappointment inside his guts he didn’t seem to be able to get rid of. Decidedly giving up, he stretched his arms on the table, head following suit to rest partly on them, partly on the gleaming material beneath them. When Victoria came back, he didn’t bother looking up.

“You see, you’re not the brightest of stars today.” She sighed and pushed a doppio to him. “Would you mind cheering up? Peter is dying to get at you for profaning the hall by making out with Ritter and you’re giving him a hell of an excuse to.”

William’s brows furrowed deep when he looked at her. “He saw?” How could he have? They had been hiding, after all. They were good at hiding.

“According to Gabe, every living creature with functional eyes who came from a certain corridor did.” She smirked. “Made quite an impression on him, the lot of you.”

“I can’t believe Gabriel talked to you about it.” He toyed with the fading coffee foam on top of his cup.

“Well, and why wouldn’t he? He was understandably upset. Called you a few fouls. Looked concerned.” She sipped her coffee, licking away the milk foam in her upper lip, and picked up a tiny macaron. “He’s worried more than anything, I guess.”

“I have a feeling I was not supposed to be acknowledging it”, said William in a murmur, burning the tip of his tongue with the heavenly hot drink.

“He didn’t bid me to keep it secret.” Victoria shrugged. “Now spill. Tyson is not a guy to shit around and neither are you.”

“He’s a friend”, answered him through almost-gritted teeth. “He keeps me company and is a nice distraction.”

“By sticking his tongue all the way down your throat.”

“You don’t have to approve it.” He turned the cup a few times before sipping some more coffee.

“I just want to understand it.”

“Look, it’s just young fooling around, ok? He makes me feel normal and hormonal without the perks of romantic involvement. It’s cozy too, because he doesn’t fret over silly favors we do each other and I know it’s just lust-relief so I don’t have to be ashamed of it.”

“Will, look at me.” He clasped both hands around the cup before shyly doing so. “Is Ty part of the reason you’re not resorting to Gabe?”

She looked so tired William couldn’t lie to her. “Gabriel is the reason I’m resorting to Ty.”

“Oh, for crying out loud.” She munched another macaron angrily. “I’m sick and tired of being in the middle of you both and your ramblings. I can’t figure you out. If you’re doing and dropping with a guy you don’t love already, what keeps you from doing Gabe instead? It would be good for both of you.”

He parted his muffin in half and ate one of the crumbling pieces in long chews, downing it with gulps of the unsweetened coffee. Victoria kept staring intently at him. Eventually she got tired of it and sighed wearily.

“You know, I can see why you’d think my question rhetorical but it wasn’t.”

“But you answered it yourself.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. When you said I’m d&d-ing a guy I don’t love.”

William.”

“What do you want me to say, Victoria? I might get back to loving him.” He shrunk in his chair, fiddling with his cup. His eyes lowered fast, hiding their true intent from Victoria, afraid that she might read them for what they were showing, instead of what he wanted them to show.

“Not even you believe it completely.” She shook her head wanly. “Other than that, would it kill you?”

“It might as well. Leaving almost did.”

“Can’t you let go of this fucking fear of leaving?” The words were rude but she stretched a hand to touch his with tenderness. “He’s a coworker now. You have my number. The only way any of you is leaving is if one of you dies.”

“I can’t.” He pulled away from her, holding the cup tighter and shaking his head vehemently.

“You bloody well can, Beckett.” She rested back on the chair, folding her arms. That was going too far from where she wanted him. “And if you at least care about me, you will. I am really tired.”

She ate some more and finished the rest of her cappuccino with deep lines of frowning clinging to her face. William did the same, the food scratching its way down to his stomach. Coughing and drinking the rest of his coffee, he sighed almost as unenthusiastically as she had not long ago.

“I didn’t mean to be a liability, you know. If it soothes you, I will find a way to make things work with him somehow. Even knowing I should not forgive him yet for the sake of my sanity, I will call in a truce, ok?”

And give in eventually, he thought in a suspiciously calm corner of his mind, never saying it aloud. She took his hand on hers. He returned the grip with far more sureness than he felt. “I know I’m asking a lot, William. Thank you for understanding.”

They chatted for a while longer before they decided they had wasted enough time away from the studio. When they got back to where they were supposed to be, they found out that Gabe was not anywhere to be seen. Inside the booth, Maja performed her part, her voice inaudible although she was visibly singing at the top of her lungs. By a chair, sprawled on the floor like a puddle, Travie counted the lines on the ceiling while he waited for his turn. Victoria stood in front of his collapsed body until he acknowledged her being there. He smiled and raised his hand to an awkward high-five with the brunette, who only then sat on the chair by his side, throwing her legs casually over its left arm. William took a seat in the chair across the narrow hallway, overlooking their interaction with anything but true interest. He might even have dozed off while Vicky-T questioned McCoy about Gabe’s whereabouts and the quality of his recording. Beckett took in tidbits of random information: Pete was almost satisfied, Maja entered before Saporta was completely done, the mixer was supervising the quality of the channels with Wentz, and Travie had changed some of the lyrics to his part. In no more than fifteen minutes, he was already joining Travie on the floor, both guys’ legs, stretched side by side, taking most of the walking space. McCoy joked about it but he really barely paid attention to it.

He didn’t know how long it had taken for Maja to leave the studio and he missed the moment when she was replaced by McCoy and vice-versa. Instead of talking cheerfully to Maja as she had with Travie, Vicky-T started rummaging through her cellphone, looking for something and typing furiously after a couple of minutes. Ignored but not hurting, Maja touched William’s ankle with her feet, throwing him out of balance enough to call in his attention. She smiled beautifully, sliding to his side and holding out a perfectly manicured hand. She had mildly callused fingertips, one of the signs that said she could play at least one string instrument with some practice if not sheer ability. William’s fingertips where just the same, maybe even less sensitive especially right below his trimmed nails, but his digits noticed that the rest of her finger’s skin was as smooth as Victoria’s. They shook hands like the first acquaintances they were and she presented herself formally. He replied with his full name, to which she smiled, and made a movement to let go of her hand. She never let him. Maja picked up his other wrist instead and threw his arms on top of her shoulders, smiling yet more absentmindedly when he instinctively pulled her closer.

“You’re cold”, he noticed with a hint of amusement. Somehow, he never took Maja for a cold person.

“Damn right I am.” She had an accent to her voice that William couldn’t quite pinpoint where it came from, but it was hardly American. “Recording drains my strength like nothing ever could.”

He nodded understandingly. That he could relate to. Recording required so much of his body that the only things he could do that took more of him were live performances. He was prone to overdo himself in a stage, which his bandmates thought too dangerous when he was already not the best person to eat and sleep properly under stress.

“Are you up to eating something?” He didn’t know why he was offering, but it felt like he should do it, so he did.

“Thanks, but I’ve had a candy bar already. Gabe knows how things are with me and he gave me one before taking the call.”

“What call?” William didn’t mean to intrude, of course not, although not many people took calls when recording… Cellphones were forbidden inside the booths because of the distortion they could cause.

“His mother, I think. Something about his half-brother, if I’m not mistaken. I think she wants him to go home for Christmas, but he’s not very fond of this idea, you know? It was very hard for him to get over the divorce, although he does love his little step-brother. His little brother is a whole different matter. In fact, if I’m to be honest, I don’t even know how many brothers he actually does have. I know he’s got at least three, but hellhounds bite me if I’m certain of their ages and stuff. He’s cut some ties after their parents’ divorce and my impressions are that they were never rebound.” She shrugged and yawned, smiling even wider once she was done. “But how far did we go! Hope I wasn’t TMI-ing you. Gabe’s kinda prig when it comes to his past.” She giggled inwardly. “Well, scratch that: he’s a whole fucked up matter when it comes to his past. Sometimes I wonder if there’s anything of it that he retained and chose to keep close. He never speaks of it, you see. Neither of his family nor old friends or lovers. It took me forever to find out he’s Jewish. I think he erased it all for some reason, although you can only count on Vy to know it for sure. He likes keeping people he doesn’t really trust in the dark, and who the fuck can blame him for that.” She didn’t seem to be put off by the fact that according to her reasoning Gabe didn’t really trust her. “It’s harder than it sounds, trusting people. Showing your vulnerable self to them, letting them in. It’s even worst to allow them to stay. People are treacherous; they are despicable in the most obnoxious ways. I for once am never gonna let anyone that close to me again.”

William knew that he was staring at her with dumbstruck eyes, his face a placid reflection of a thrilled listener. There was an unexpected prejudice being taken down with a strike there: Beckett knew very little about Maja and Peter had presented her based on her music and scenic skills; he had never thought her capable of going into such profound conversation without intermissions of any kind. Very few people really could when confronting someone they knew so little about. There was a thin layer of honesty in every word she spoke, a little of her life unveiling for him, for someone she’d barely ever seen at all, despite her claim that she wouldn’t let people close. That took courage and self-sufficiency in ways Beckett could not begin to imagine.

Maja must have noticed the way he was staring at her, because she nudged at his chest with an uncomfortable giggle that sounded somewhat like a highschooler’s. “Hey, you can speak now. There’s no need to let me monopolize this conversation.”

“I was thinking your considerations of utmost importance to me, actually.” He knew he wasn’t lying. “I know very little about Gabe and it is not helping us getting to work together.”

“My, this is unexpected.” William quirked an eyebrow up, which made Maja shrug her shoulders once. “Saporta never goes on with something that might damage his career or that of those around him. He’s very self-conscious when it comes to his money-making strategies. Nothing ever shows up for long enough to jeopardize it.” She frowned. For an incomprehensible reason, William looked up, but Victoria was not there. He felt bad for not having seen her leaving. The sound of Maja’s voice took him from what would certainly be an overreaction before it could spark up. “Are you sure he’s not making efforts towards you? No, wait, this came out wrong. Gabe’s not one to make efforts like this, I’m afraid. What I mean is, seeing that the both of you are not working together the way you were supposed to, hasn’t he sought any kind of relieving of these tensions?” William’s mouth remained shut, a gesture Maja took as a negative. “That’s remarkably unusual. I wonder if Victoria has spoken to him already. She’s got a keen eye on such matters, especially when Gabe’s fails for whatever reason.”

“I think she’s spoken to him”, murmured Beckett in a thinned voice.

“And you’re still not working well together?” Her electric-blue eyes pierced right through him in a much less delicate way than Victoria’s had ever done. “Are you sure you’re not the one withholding the development of whatever it is that must blossom between you so you can make it? Maybe you’re a truster and haven’t realized it yet.”

“I’m a what?”

“A truster.” She underlined the word, staring at him impatiently. “Maybe you need to know those you work with to be able to work with them. Maybe you need to know that they’ll be there for you too, that you won’t suffer through everything on your own. I can relate ‘cause this is just how I am. It’s pretty damn hard to work with Gabe at first if you’re a truster, but he is trustful, that I can assure you. He makes lifetime commitments. He held Midtown together until they all decided they had to break. It was a popular topic not long ago; everyone knew that it wasn’t his fault. Gabe made it look like it was not anybody’s fault, in fact. That’s just who he is.” She clapped her right hand on his knee twice. “Just in case you’re a truster, which I don’t know if you truly are but still, come clean with him. Don’t fuss about shit that ain’t worth it.” The seriousness wiped itself away from her face and she smiled. “But then again, that’s just me. You go do what you think you ought to do.”

William couldn’t help the smile and the snorted spasm of laughter that escaped him. He almost expected to see Maja picking up a teacup and sipping from it very diplomatically. Still laughing inwards, he relaxed a little. What the hell had happened to his life in the past days? Why the fuck everyone suddenly had an opinion towards his relationship with Gabe? Was that a set up? Were things that bad? He sighed. Maybe he was already late in getting going for a truce after all. When Carden and Butcher started picking on him because of it, he’d know things were too far gone already. Siska was ok; he knew a lot about his private life and usually managed to understand him in speechless ways that saved his life when they were touring. Carden had no interest at all in William’s private life and Butcher only intervened when Sisky went to him begging him to please help William out of whatever bottom of hole he had reached. Siska had already dragged Butcher along the day William found out that Gabe was his Gabriel, so something inside him whispered quietly that said begging was not far from becoming real.

He was so tangled up in his own thoughts about strategies and ways to get over that fear of Gabe that he missed the moment when Maja closed his eyes, that was followed by Victoria’s return and McCoy’s leave from the booth. Travie poked at him hard with the side of his shoes to take him out of his reveries.

“It’s your turn, dude.” He made a signal towards the booth, where Peter awaited. “Go on before the imp gets mad. He’s being a pain in the ass today and believe me, you don’t want your ass pained.”

William nodded absentmindedly, holding Maja for a few moments until she opened her eyes and sighed. She had not been truly sleeping, but he felt bad for disrupting her peace still. She waved him off, begging him to go inside and record, and Beckett was surprised to see Victoria going in alongside him. He held out a hand for her, feeling the coolness of her hand in his and smiling faintly.

“You’re coming in?” Peter frowned at her, his eyebrows becoming one.

“Can’t I?”, asked her innocently.

“The hell you can’t. You’re pretty much the only one who has managed to get anything outta Beckett for the past weeks.” He locked them in and walked to his spot. Beckett adjusted the mike and the headphones, splaying the chart of his lyrics on the music stand. Peter’s voice boomed over their heads, preceded by a minor distortion. “Right, I know Victoria has practiced the entire lyrics with you, so warm up with them, ok? I’ll give you the bass line and one of the guitars only and we’ll see if your timing isn’t rotten.” He nodded. “There’s water in there somewhere, too. If you faint today, I’ll get you dismembered and sent overseas.” He nodded again. “Great. Hold Victoria’s hand if you might.” Beckett didn’t restrain the smile that plastered itself on his face. “Take your time.”

It was incredibly easy to focus on the song inside a soundproof booth, with only Victoria as his active audience. There was one big window on one of the walls that showed the corridor. The shutters were not closed, but that part of the studio was deserted except for them that day. He missed the beginning of the song several times, causing Pete to curse at him every time and Victoria to burst in rapid laughter after the fifth time. He had sang-along, and Vicky-T would never be one to tell him, but she knew he had been using Gabe’s cues to find his. After some time, though, when his voice had warmed up and he was feeling several times freer inside the booth, he finished the entire music, choking a little in one of the high notes. Wentz praised him like an owner would his dog, making him carry on soon after he took his water. A quick, subtle tap on the window showed that Maja was staring at him, observing him as if she had never seen anyone recording before. Travis was by her side, giving him thumbs up just to tease him. Pete tried to shoo them off, but they reappeared in the middle of the song. William had no problem with them, as long as it was just them.

“Good but not awesome, Beckett.” Wentz’ voice was nowhere near happy. “You’re still coming in too early. I know we can just mash your voice into the song, but seriously, you’ll have to make do with this song eventually, so you’d better nail it now, don’t you think? It can’t be that hard.”

Beckett had just signaled his understanding when Victoria asked him to open the channel. “Put Gabe’s voice in.” William’s eyes narrowed at that request. “Let him remember the song as it originally is for once, Wentz. You’re not that much of a fucker, come on.”

Wentz seemed to disagree, but he indulged the girl nevertheless. At the window, Maja and Travie made gestures that comprehended a wide amount of expressions along the lines of “what the hell happened”, to what Beckett just shrugged. Pete decided to carry on with the version with Gabe’s voice, recorded earlier and somehow a little rougher than he expected it should be. As Victoria wisely thought, he didn’t miss a single timing that time. His highs were still not high enough, though. There was a hesitation in his voice that made it tremble. Pete noticed it, of course, and knocked on his window, asking him to stop.

“I think we should just take five.” He raked his hands through his hair and took an awfully deep breath. “Your timing has come back to what it is, but you’re dead inside, Bill. How am I supposed to fix the sound of your voice? You managed beautiful things with ‘The Phrase that Pays’ and now you’re shitting me when there’s so much at stake. Your highs are sounding like an impaired chicken giving birth. Go hydrate and make some respiratory exercise to see if that goddamn trembling comes out of your voice.”

Victoria smirked. “Maybe he needs someone to hold his hand.” William glared at her, but she kept staring at them innocently. “What, it’s only fair you have someone, since you’re the one who had less time to practice.”

“I don’t need any hand-holding, Victoria”, growled he, taking the tap off his bottle. “I just need to warm up a bit and relax.”

“She might not be that wrong, you know.” Peter’s voice was pensive, calculating. “Wait a minute.”

He went out of their field of vision, leaving Victoria to giggle and William to draw air in and let it out in the sequence of breathing exercises that helped him relax whenever he was faced with a strange song. He knew that there was still some uneasiness regarding Gabe inside of him that was dangerously close to anxiety, the kind of anxiety that meant something grand had been achieved and left his throat dry and rough like sandpaper. He knew that it was probably what was strangling his highs, but he didn’t know what was happening exactly. He was even feeling more condescending towards the other and he hadn’t even looked at him yet.

When Pete came back, he was holding someone’s arm. Beckett felt it before he saw it: Gabriel’s presence, mounting and hovering above him the moment the other entered the booth. He recklessly wiped his mouth on his arm, nodding to greet him. Inside him, his stomach churned. Hell if Wentz wouldn’t know just how to give voice to all his fears. Actual voice, that time. He invited Gabe to sit down and looked at both guys.

“I want you two to find Beckett’s chords and bring them back to life before I slap you. And don’t even finish this smirk, Saporta, because today was not one of your top performances and I’ll make you do it all over again as soon as I’m done with William.” He breathed in like an exhausted mother. “I’m taking five myself, with the channels out. Figure yourselves out and make me understand why the hell you are always biting each other but make the best things you can with your voices side by side. Both of you are sucking big time today and I hope it will be solved by the time I’m back.”

He grabbed Victoria by the wrist and went away with her, locking them up again. The click of the locket was not audible from inside the booth, but William could bet that they would not be able to open the door by themselves. Shaking his head, he picked up a bottle and tossed it at Gabe, who caught it with a perfect flick of his wrist. The taller guy thanked him, taking in a huge gulp of water and putting the bottle down to dangle in his hands, between his knees.

“Guess we fucked up our great marketing opportunity, didn’t we?” Finally, he smirked. There was nothing negative about his face. “Vy has told me you were doing great before.”

He shrugged and folded his arms, crossing his ankles. His bottle hung on his fingers by its lips, still open and almost emptied. “Lost the spark, I guess.”

“We both did, then.” Saporta drank some more, looking at William expectantly then. “Pete wants us to rely on each other for this song. He says our performances are the ones that are giving him trouble and he suspects it’s because of our personal issues, though he didn’t verbalize it.”

“He suspects?” William laughed out loud. “How blind of his.”

“He believes we’re past that. We’re not, though, are we?” William shrugged again. “I thought so. Do you think you can lean on me so we can finish this bloody song and go live our lives?”

“I don’t know. Can I?” There was very little sarcasm in his voice, being the uneasiness and the first drops of a binding initial trust the things that Saporta would get a grasp on more effectively.

“You have to tell me.” He shrugged, making it sure that it would be his own choice to do so. “You rely on other people all the time and they are not half as important to your future as I am right now.” Beckett bit back a response that would remember Gabe that the others had never been as close to him as Gabe had been. Maja had already cleared that for him. It was enough to his mind that out of everything Gabe had chosen to keep from his past, he had been the one he felt good with. He sighed instead.

“If you’re referring to Ty, he’s just a friend. I was confused and he took me in, as he’s always done.”

“Being straightforward, William, you still are. Confused, I mean. You can’t get a grip on yourself to sing, for fuck’s sake. I can’t either, but I know how to stop it and I’m trying it now, so if you’d be as kind as to help me figure yourself out so we can get on?”

William chewed on his bottom lip for a moment. “Have you ever considered that we’re singing this song with each other, to each other?”

“And?” He didn’t show any signs of impatience.

“And we’ll be singing it to each other when the video production starts and after it too, if Pete gets his way and send us on tour like he intends to.”

“And?”

“And I don’t think it will be nice, Gabe. I don’t. I’ll be your partner then and I think I won’t make it because I don’t trust you.” He stared intently at the other. “Maja said I’m a truster, and what if she’s right?”

Gabe giggled, unbelieving. “Yes, Maja would know that about you.” He shook his head and got up, leaning on the wall close to William. “Willy.” He smiled broadly. “You are my partner already. We are making a song together. We’re in the same label. We’ll tour together eventually, you said so yourself.” He laid a hand on Beckett’s shoulder. “You can trust the amount of work I’m putting into this song, if you can’t trust me for myself yet. Unlike my earlier suggestions, we don’t have to fuck each other to be able to trust each other and work together, my boy.” He withdrew his hand and folded his arms. “You know, when I saw you and Ritter, I was so shocked I got drunk and spilled my emotional and actual guts on Vy. But you’re not my boyfriend and according to her you’ll never become anything close to it unless I give you time and space to figure yourself out. So take your space and get used to me again, if you must.”

“Why are you being so rational?” There was an edge of suspicion to William’s voice that could not be denied.

“Because one of us has to. One of us has to know that, regardless of what we once meant to each other and regardless of where we stand now, we’re partners. We’ll work together. We’ll be seeing each other on a daily basis. You’re friends with quite some of my friends. I can’t keep from feeling what I feel, but I won’t shove it down your throat anymore. There’s no reason why our relationship can’t become somewhat like the one you and Ty have, for an example. And it’s just an example. We can end up like you and Sisky, or Victoria and I. What I mean is… there are no reasons for us to treat each other differently. It pains me to acknowledge so, but things are what they are and not what we want them to be. I’ve tried to win you back and it’s all backfiring at me. It’s tiring. I don’t give you space to become comfortable around me and therefore we never get to know each other properly. Maybe I can find out that I like you very much and don’t yet love you like I thought. You might find out you don’t despise me as you want to. And that’s fine. You have to understand that discovering each other is just fine.”

William munched at his own lips for a couple of moments. “What about the…” He motioned his hands in the air, gesturing vague and widely.

“Physical contact?” He nodded embarrassedly. “I swear to God that the next breach in our work-only scheme will come from a whim of yours, not of mine. After that, it will be your choice. I’ll make sure it remains your choice.”

William raised a brow at the prophetic tone of Saporta’s voice but chose not to comment any further since Pete took that moment to open the locket to the room. Gabe mussed Beckett’s hair up, a gesture that didn’t ring as intimate now as it would have some days before. A light glowed inside William’s heart at that. With Tyson being so eager to ease the sexual tension between them, now William thought that he could try to relate with Gabe. Hadn’t he been able to talk to him in a decent way? It had been a marvelous experience not to feel his heartbeat raising in volume and speeding up frantically while he tried to come to terms with the other.

“Just consider what I said, will you?” He smiled fondly at him. “We’ll talk again by the end of the day.”

William compromised with thinking at the same time that Pete opened the channels and asked them to move their sorry asses to their recording positions so he could evaluate them both before dispatching Saporta and wrapping things up with Beckett. They cleared their throats and Gabe helped himself to a headphone, although there was just one microphone on the room. William noticed it and, unlike anything he would have done before, he stepped aside to let Gabe take his place by his side and use the same equipment. Wentz was right. They had to figure themselves out and if Gabe was willing to make himself available to be trusted, William wouldn’t be the one to sneak off of his responsibilities. Running away had given no results so far; maybe concessions would do better.

He realized that their new approach to each other was probably the best when Pete chimed in, after some repetition, and approved of both of them. “Now I think you can record without sounding like someone’s skinning a cat.” They had to laugh at that. “Saporta, out. I’ll get back to you when this one’s done.”

Gabe stared at William while he gave his headphones up, nodding in trust and something that looked remarkably like joy at him. Beckett acquiesced slowly, willing to take that trust that time. Maybe he’d have to evaluate it every time, but he’d try. He knew what his answer to Gabe’s proposition would be already when he turned his back to him and began singing like there was no tomorrow.

Saporta closed the door to the booth and walked towards Victoria, who had been expecting him with a smile such as those of queens. She opened her arms and he hugged her close, pulling her slightly from the floor. She petted his hair, still smiling. “I’m so proud of you.”

“It’s taking all of my self-control and every bit of my love for him to stick to it already”, murmured the guy, tightening the embrace.

“I know, and it makes it all the more worth it.” She kissed his cheek slowly. “Look at him, Gabe. He needed this truce just as you did. This renewal of trust is the best thing that’ll happen to you.”

Saporta stole a glance at the booth, where William sung at the top of his lungs, his eyes closing when he reached what Victoria and Gabe knew had been a perfect high in a very long “goodbye”. His heart shrunk a little when he realized how deep his scar on William had been, so that he needed to be freed by Gabe in order to carry on. He sighed and put an arm around her waist to stare at him. “Do you think he’ll take it?”

Victoria laughed inwardly, resting her head against his shoulder. “Gabe, dear, he already did.”

They kept looking at William and discussing Gabe’s approach for some minutes; when he started repeating specific parts, told by Peter to do so, Victoria picked up Gabe’s attention by asking him his plans for the music video. He could talk about it for several minutes, and he did so, only stopping when Peter asked him to go do his job. It was William’s time then to sink on the ground with Victoria by his side, snuggled up against his chest. He caressed her hair slowly while he stared at the window. Gabe had made it on purpose, positioning himself in the way that would allow people to look at him with less effort, so William stared shamelessly. He was a natural; that had to be said. He made singing seem effortless, made the song perfectly audible just by the movement of his lips. It was a gift and, for a daydreaming moment, William wondered if it wouldn’t be nice for him to be a part of that gift. He could get used to being in good terms with Gabe, he thought to himself.

Victoria was still being cuddled when Travie and Maja showed up excusing themselves by saying they still had issues to tend to and they’d like to get going before it was too late for them. Wentz had obliged since they had been the less problematic that day. William thought that it was a good sign, but it probably also meant that Pete would exploit Gabe and him some more. After saying their goodbyes, Victoria told William that Gabe had rented a car and could drive them home, if he didn’t mind being in the same vehicle as the other. Beckett shrugged, knowing that the true meaning of the offer had been to hide Victoria’s tiredness, and nodded slowly. His hands carried on raking through her hair and caressing her back; sooner than he thought possible, she was asleep, her breathing carrying on in sudden puffs as if the exhaustion was too big to let her indulge in a peaceful nap.

Beckett gave in to the fondness that had been surging inside his chest and kissed her forehead tenderly. Victoria had been honest when she said that she was too tired. He could see it now that he wasn’t just worrying about him and Gabe. He knew that he would have to repay her attention and care and he would do it of his own free will, as soon as possible.

Time drained around them; when Gabe showed up again, William had lost track of it. Victoria mumbled something in her sleep and moved, urging William to hold her closer. Saporta noticed it and kneeled beside them.

“Is she ok?”

“Just asleep.” He smiled affectionately at her before staring at the other, the remnants of the smile still on his lips. “Are you done yet?”

“For good, if Wentz’ keeping his word.” He slumped on the floor next to the other two. “Is Maja around?”

“Nope, she left with McCoy not long ago.” William yawned. “I had forgotten how recording could be tiring… Victoria said you’re to give us a ride and I didn’t object.”

“I told her I would, yeah.” He stared at the sleepy woman and then back to Beckett. “Pete’s gonna give me the heads up soon; we can leave then, but not before.”

“I understand.” William chewed his lips absentmindedly. “Look, there’s a snack machine in the lobby. You should pick something to eat. Maja told me you gave her your candy bar and Victoria would be pretty pissed if she found out I let you leave without eating anything.”

Gabe smiled hearteningly at the other, but nodded without saying a word. William thought he had done it to buy him some time away from Saporta, but no: he was really caring about the other singer. It didn’t feel that much different from caring about Vy or Tyson or Siska, so he shrugged it off and indulged in caressing the brunette’s hair some more.

Gabriel returned with chips and some Snickers, tossing one of the candy bars at him and getting back to his first sitting position, taking his time to open the bag of salty goods and munching a handful of them before offering it to Beckett. He denied the offer with a shake of his head. Gabe didn’t insist. He had already taken the candy bar and Gabe thought there was no need for him to push him any further. They ate in silence, hearing some of the loud yells and shrieks that went to them from the half-open door of the studio, where Pete was assumingly chatting with the chosen mixer.

It was about six o’clock when Peter finally told them the channels were ok and they could go. They knew they had stick by the studio to supervise the first settings and Wentz had them do so to make sure there was no need for remakes of any kind, just as Saporta had thought. William tried to wake Victoria up, being rewarded with quite a resistance and a lot of nonsense mumbling that sounded really annoyed. Gabriel laughed at that and at Beckett’s desperate look, kneeling and brushing the crumbles away from his clothes before picking Victoria up. She was not light as a child, of course, but Gabe was not complaining. It seemed to be something he had done before.

They followed to the parking lot with little exchange of words, mainly because Gabe was putting most of his effort in carrying a grown-up sleeping woman. He did ask for William to pick up his keys, though, and the symbol on it was enough to make his eyes widen. Somehow, Gabe had a put his hands on a metallic-graphite M5, its lean lines showing perfect care from whoever had been its renter before Saporta. The interior was sleek, dark leather with satin-like patches of water-resistant red fabric where stains were more likely. The transmission was manual and the back seat had a lot of space. Saporta encouraged him to go on when Beckett looked from the car at him, mouth agape.

“Open it and help me put her back here.” He nodded, doing as Gabe said. Victoria entered the car still more asleep than awake, found a sweater and hid her face in it, looking like a little girl hugging a teddy bear. They closed the back doors and Gabe stared at him for a while, smiling broadly. “I reckon you enjoyed my car choice?”

“Are you crazy? Who wouldn’t? This car is something.” William’s hand caressed the vehicle with a gentle touch. “It must be costing you a fortune.”

Gabriel shrugged. “I’ll only have it for some days. Pretty sure my bank account can handle this luxury.” He tapped the hood of the car and quirked an eyebrow up. “Wanna drive?”

William did his best not to answer with a shrill laugh. He was a skilled driver, but he felt his shoulders hunch. He hadn’t practiced enough for the past months. Being an artist gave him little time to indulge in such earthily pleasures. Gabe pushed him a little.

“Come on. It reaches 199 mph, according to the guy who lent it to me. It’s in perfect conditions, engines and all, and with a full tank. Victoria is perfectly safe and tied back there. We can take a less traveled road.”

“You want me to fly an M5 through a semi-deserted road in Tampa?” His fingertips went white when they pressed against the car. “I don’t know, Gabe. What if I hit something?”

“Nonsense! We have airbags, insurance and money. We won’t be running like maniacs, you know.” He entered the car on the passenger side and opened the driver’s door. “Come on. You’re running out of time if you’re intending to have room service bring you something not on the re-heated side to eat.”

William realized what little choice he did have, sliding to the driver’s seat with the surge of power taking over him. He was proud of never having been in a car accident ever since he got his license. He knew he wouldn’t ruin it then. He had always been one of those people who could fly a car for sheer pleasure, for the knowledge of the horizons passing him by in high speed, for the adrenaline rush that fustigated his cheeks and flushed him scarlet when he so much as thought of it. He felt the steering wheel beneath his fingers, the rubbery feeling driving him to the over-conscious state that made him such a good driver. He maneuvered out of the parking lot and into a dimly illuminated speedway that would represent a huge curve on their everyday route. Gabe didn’t seem to mind. He tapped the buttons on the car and a string quartet began to play a quick, motioning melody. Victoria didn’t even move as he sped up and felt the car react to his every wish like nothing else ever would.

He was running at 80 mph, a steady, light pace. There were few curves and the car was stable enough not to tilt on them, even at a somewhat high speed. Gabe followed the music on the car with his fingers playing an imaginary instrument, leaving William free to enjoy the ride. He didn’t worry about his own safety. He trusted William too much to think that he could put them at risk. He knew that, even if Beckett had been suicidal, he would never hurt Victoria, and he rejoiced in the fact that he’d probably never hurt him too.

They eventually reached the hotel. William parked with a screech of the tires, checking Victoria out and smiling brilliantly at Gabe when he noticed they were whole. He was exhilarated, flushed, a mild tension installed on his shoulders. He looked obscenely kissable and beyond fuckable. Saporta almost hid his own groins with both his hands at the sight of him, so free, so careless, so young. He was a sin he could, would make. Someday.

Beckett stretched his fingers a couple of times and thanked Gabriel for the opportunity. It was very different to see him at ease. He was more approachable and exquisitely happy. The vision of it helped Gabe’s heart to soothe and make some peace with Vy’s suggestion of truce. Speaking of which…

“Have you considered what I proposed you?” William’s eyes narrowed for a moment before he nodded, still rather hazily. “And you’ll take it, I guess?”

He seemed to think it through for a while before nodding. That couple of subtle head movements drained away the last remnants of his willpower that had been building so many walls against Gabe. Saporta knew better than to smile, especially because it was not that happy an occasion – yet. It was a deeply serious one. Something good could come out of it, but also a great load of nothing could greet them from the other side of that decision. He had no guarantees and no will to push him any further to achieve them. William had been the pusher when they were little. He used to have the looks, powers and persuasion to force Gabe to bend under his every commanding whim. The main reason why the boy inside Gabe failed to recognize what he was doing – and he did not recognize it, had never – was the wrongness of the moves used. Gabe wasn’t really supposed to push.

“What changes?” William’s voice came out between weak and coarse, barely audible but all the most exciting for it. Saporta stared clueless at him, trying not to give away how much that conversation was straining him. “Come on, Gabe, you’re smart. You wouldn’t make me such an offer if you were getting none with it. So please, don’t make fools out of us.”

That time, he smiled. “First of all, this changes.” He gestured at the whole atmosphere inside the car: light, calm, fight-free. “We get to be civilized around each other and this is a lot to start with.” William nodded, but it was clear he expected the rest of Gabe’s reasons. He could have lied then. It would have been so damn easy to just say he had grown up during the past days and seen the light. He could have said that he loved William too much to put him under such remarkable amount of stress or that his prior behavior had been fairly inexcusable to say the least, but he couldn’t lie to him. He was trying to rebuild some trust in there. If they turned out to become anything, he wouldn’t forgive himself to know it had kind-of-started with a lie, no matter how white said lie had been. He lowered his head for a moment before facing the other again. There was a half-smile that looked embarrassed and he scratched the back of his neck. “Well, in the end, this is… well, Victoria. Have you noticed how tired she is?”

“I did, yes. She’s not been sleeping. She’s been worried with something, but I don’t know what it is. I must say that between the recording and this”, he motioned his hand towards the space between them, “I didn’t have much time to figure out what’s wrong.”

“We are wrong.” Saporta shrugged. “She told me so explicitly.”

“Yeah, same here.” Gabe only nodded. The guilt and the reassurance in that little gesture were enough to make Beckett give it a try. It was all or nothing, it had ever been with them. He stared at Saporta intently, not his eyes nor voice ever faltering. “Are you willing to commit, Gabriel? Willing to understand my reservations or their lack thereof and back me up instead of taking every chance you have to make me feel goddamn uncomfortable?”

“Yes.” He could have said something much more elaborate, such as the typical “if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here”, or the blunt “of course I am, I love you”, but what William was asking him was not just an answer. He wanted honesty and clarity; he wanted Gabe to be clear for once. It was harder with him because he could get grips on pretty much any innuendo left behind by anyone. “I am willing to respect you, William. It includes your personal space, by the way.” Beckett found it in himself to smile. Not smirk, not scowl, but truly smile, almost grin. Gabe did the same and held out his hand. William frowned and hesitated, but took it anyway. It was a firm, subtle handshake; still, none of them let go for a while. “I want us to face our fears and grow up for good. I am not willing to have you if doing so will break you and it’s important that you acknowledge so yourself, in your own time. I’d rather be like this for the rest of my life.”

William’s hand twitched in Gabe’s grip. He didn’t pull it out, though. “You can start by not being that clear as of your intentions towards me supposing I’d let you do as you please.”

“Oh.” Gabe’s hold loosened and he was dumbstruck when Beckett enveloped his hand with the other too.

“It’s not bad, just uncomfortable. You disturb me more than anyone else.” Gabe kept staring at his eyes, unable to deflect the innocence in that look. “You mess with my head because we have a past. You mess with my body because you are gorgeous and I do desire you. I am young, Saporta. I like sex as much as the boy next door. But I can’t do to you what I do to Ty and did to Ryan because I can’t be sure you’d be willing to take it as a joke or stress-relief like they do.”

“I could do it if you wanted me to.” Saporta controlled himself not to bit his lower lip. He was not so sure how long he could play friends with benefits with William if the opportunity arose, but he’d try his best to find out.

“Right now, I don’t want you to. I don’t need you to. Right now, it’s enough that you are listening.” William sighed and gave up completely. “I know we’re not bound to be a fling, Gabriel. You know that too. We’re going hard or going home.”

Gabe squeezed William’s hand and felt his heart leap inside his chest, fearing that it would be visible to the other. “I know.”

“Good.” Beckett let go of him and unbuckled his seat belt. Saporta’s heart somersaulted erratically, his fingertips numbing when William held his face with both hands and got closer. Was that it? A single conversation had been enough? He wouldn’t take it. He couldn’t take it. William smiled and looked into his eyes. Gabe was not dumb enough to think that look meant nothing. “Thank you.” He turned Gabe’s head and placed a quick kiss on his cheek. Saporta had lost count of how many walls had tumbled down there and then. He feared for a moment that it was the adrenaline speaking, but would adrenaline unleash such honesty? He realized he didn’t want to know. “Now let’s take Victoria upstairs.”