A little healing came after an entire week without seeing even the shadow of Saporta. He thought that Victoria had not only a finger but a whole hand in it, because he knew he wanted to see Gabe again, despite his ramblings about needing time and space, and he was not nearly as obsessed as the other, so why would he have disappeared like that? It had to be Victoria’s doing. William had had to handle Carden’s disappointment and the intermittent, although very shadowed and hidden, criticism. Somehow, they couldn’t help but to wonder if they could have been main song if Beckett had been in good shape and able to write a brand new track. Between that and the urge to create new songs to prove himself that he was still able to, he had had very little time to actually mind his problem with Saporta. Victoria, Ryan, Sisky and Butcher were like a squad whose goal was to keep him busy at all times, with playing, eating, walking, gambling, talking or whatever they could pull out of their sleeves. It was nice and inspiring, but William knew that someday he’d need to face Saporta and get things done with.
That opportunity seemed to show itself when Peter called a label meeting in the office, in that same table in which Cobra and TAI had eaten Chinese together. Despite the vehemence of his protests and the unconditional support that Sisky gently offered, William could not be left behind. Carden wanted him there and he was threatening to rip his skin off of his bones in case he didn’t show up. He didn’t know about the whole Gabriel drama; Sisky and Butcher were the only ones to know in the band and Beckett wanted to keep it that way.
Beckett had two entire days to put his head in order and make sure to be able to face Gabe in a somewhat decent fashion. No ignoring. No crying. No discussing the past. He shut his cellphone down, which he knew would earn him a gigantic argument with Victoria and Ross, but he begged Sisky and Butcher to keep the others informed of his currently smooth mental state, so he thought that it would not be that bad. He managed to rummage through every one of his memories of Gabriel – from when they were kids to every little one he could collect from the tour with Midtown (those were not plenty, to be fair) and the time they had spent inside the studio. Slowly, he built up a very thin, very fragile armor that would probably get him through the day, supposing that he was not in direct and loud confrontation with Saporta.
He felt like someone trying to escape a death penalty when they showed up at the studio, Mike, as always, crossing the smooth streets of Tampa in serious risk of getting everybody inside the car killed and Conrad, as always, dead as a dog. William had found himself a short leather jacket that he zipped up to his neck and pants with pockets, deep, deep ones, in which his hands were stuck up to the first inches of his forearm, his lean, straight figure hunching in apprehension. Knowing what expected him was nice, but not necessarily awesome. It didn’t ease him much anyway.
The first person to acknowledge his presence inside the studio was Victoria. She smiled before punching him serially on the shoulder and then hugged the tall figure, strong and caring, with a concern that was in equal parts mixed with compassion, relief and joy. She kissed him in the cheek and slid her hand to his back pocket, where a still turned off cellphone lay. Tapping the keyboard a few times, she switched it on and tapped the screen vehemently when the device began to buzz hysterically.
“Do you see these?” She was pointing to the number of missing calls and unseen messages, which was escalating quick enough to bring him to the edge of vertigo. It stopped in a general account of over fifty. “You leave this shit turned off again and I’ll run a tractor through your door and your bodyguards”, she pointed at Sisky and Butcher, currently talking to each other, without distracting herself from William’s face, “and I won’t even be sorry for that. You should thank Ryan, ‘cause he’s the only reason why you’re still alive. He’s the one who actually made it through to telling me that you were not a reckless bastard. Not that I don’t think you are. I just thought you could be reckless if you were guarded. But it’s done now, ok? Don’t do any more shit like this.”
He had to laugh at the insanely smiley and psychotic way she was using to refer to him. From the messages, about a dozen were from Ryan, two from Christine and a single one from a number William did not recognize; the other twenty were Victoria-originated. The phone call’s score was Ryan: 1 X Chris: 2 X Victoria: 15 X strange number: 4. Apparently, he had left people kinda worried – except for Victoria, who had been worried sick and was incapable of letting go of him. When she started slapping and punching him like a spoiled little princess would do to a servant who had denied her pudding, he held her wrists and smiled as wide as his mouth allowed him to.
“I was gathering my strength to some useful confrontation.” He petted her hair, to which she actually gnarled. “I’m good.”
“You good my ass”, murmured her, quirking an eyebrow up. “Even I can see that your armor is as thin as tracing paper.”
“You’re underestimating me”, answered him, pouting visibly. She laughed out loud.
“No, my dear, I’m counting on Gabe’s ability to be a son of a bitch.” She patted him in the shoulder and gestured towards the office. William didn’t know what was expecting him. He couldn’t understand Gabriel yet, and how could he? After so many years apart, she was happy that they were all alive yet. In that story, probably the only one who could do something about anything was Victoria, and as the player she was she would wait for the best time to do so. “Wanna come in? He’s gotta be somewhere, but I don’t think he’s in there yet, so we can just sit down and chill out for a while. Your bodyguards have gone inside already.”
Docile, he took her lead in. The table was too small for everyone that had to be around it, so some of them were already standing. William sat down in the chair between Siska and Suarez, each band coalescing to its own side. The chair had been Victoria’s, so the girl just spread his legs open and sat on his lap, her knees between William’s legs. There were really several people in there: everyone in TAI, with Conrad being held up by a half-naked Butcher, and everyone in Cobra, except for an undetectable Gabe; Panic! beside them, with Ryan standing chatting amiably with Patrick, who was up too, by Joe’s side, while the rest of the band remained sit; there was also Gym Class Heroes, with a hopping Travie almost kicking his bandmates’ chairs. The rest of the bands involved in the soundtrack were not there, but William knew that Peter would probably have that same conversation with them later.
Peter called everybody to a halt and started to speak. For William, it was a hopeless speech; he got from it fairly little. It was a discussion about the remixes’ rights, a call that the soundtrack producers had done to ask for “fresh and vibrating channel-separate previews for each voice and instrument used in the making of the songs”, God knew why, the fact that a music video was in the contract and would have to be filmed and the overall idea that the main single, that had been heard by everyone a few days earlier would begin its recording in about ten days. Beckett actually listened to it all, but there was something very disturbing about the room, something he couldn’t pick up just from feeling it. It felt like being stared at, but there was no one who could be doing so; he had checked as much as he could with a girl on his lap. He felt anxious until Vicky-T slapped him hard on the thigh and asked him, in a threatening murmur, to stop bouncing on his chair.
Incapable of carrying on with his search, William picked up his cellphone to check on his messages. The first he opened was one from Christine, her first, which asked for the news and told him that Chicago was surprisingly alright, but she missed him. The second and third messages were about a meeting she had with his parents, and the fourth was the one that actually showed some apprehension. It read “Please call me, you’ve been too quiet lately”, a phrase that sunk Beckett’s heart. He loved that girl and he was not proud to say that she had not really crossed his mind for the past days. Swift, he typed a brief and enthusiastic response, explaining that the soundtrack thing was getting to him and that he had found some old friends from the beginning of his years as a band, so he was keeping up with their news, which meant very little free time between them and Peter’s admonishments. Of course he didn’t mention that the old friend that was giving him the most trouble was also the one she had had to help him overcome, years ago.
He kept on going, reading the messages from Ryan first – most of them asked him to please answer Victoria even if just to say he was alive, although a very serious one warned him that he might want to raise Sisky’s and Butcher’s life insurance, for Vicky-T was this close to killing them – and then going to Victoria. The range of her emotions was pretty rollercoaster-y; he found sweet, loving messages asking him if he was fine or needing anything, half-mad ones that said he was being as irresponsible as Saporta and she knew how to handle people like him and infuriatingly distressed ones that called him names he didn’t even know before threatening to kick his ass down a crowded avenue to see if he would then learn not to worry her. There was even a very scary message with two skulls and a few crosses, that she happened to overlook while he read it, making sure to translate it into a gesture, her thumb going across her throat – but she was smiling, so it was far less terrifying.
In the end, there was the unknown number. He didn’t know whose number was that at all; it couldn’t possibly ring fewer bells to him. Still, the person had been worried enough to call four times and send a message after that, so he decided to read it and possibly answer it, even if the creature was not someone he actually knew. He could always say he had lost his contacts’ list and ask who it was. The message was pretty long and fairly well-written, although touchy. It was probably someone he knew little of. “I’ve heard that you’ve been kinda not feeling well lately... Hope it doesn’t put you down. Your music is awesome and it should not be jeopardized by anything. If you want to talk, give me a call; perhaps I can help you out of it. E.” E. He had known very few E’s in his life, none of which would be of any help there. In any case, he wrote back: “Thanks for caring, mate. I don’t really remember you but I may call when I need to if you’ll tell me who you are. For now, I’m ok.”
After that, he was once again dragged to Pete’s half-monologue, interrupted every now and then by some of the artists under his charge. The meeting could have lasted an hour, two days, a week, a month, fifteen minutes or his whole life and the time spent in that room would have been as nauseatingly boring as it had. He didn’t know why Carden insisted to bring them all, if he was the one who handled all of those things. It was an unwanted and unnecessary possibility of confrontation: he could see Saporta and he would have barely profited from any information that was being given there. There was a part of him which was so ecstatic with the idea of never seeing Saporta ever again that he felt like swooning in pleasure every time he thought of it; its counterpart was a very intense care-dependent part that longed for Gabriel’s arms and the comfort, the protection, the love they gave him. This not-little-at-all part would give itself whole to understand why he had left and why he hadn’t spoken to William ever since. It was a sleep-depriving dilemma and William hated it to the bottom of his guts.
He was half-asleep when the meeting ended and people started going out. Victoria got up and kissed him in the cheek, asking him to go with her, but he denied the invitation. He wanted to stay quiet for a while longer, just thinking, just enjoying being in a Saporta-free part of the studio. She seemed like she wanted to say something, but instead she just nodded and left, closing the door very cautiously when William asked her to. He sighed and stared at the ceiling. What could he do? He couldn’t rub his will for an explanation on Gabe’s face, he probably didn’t – or did? – have this right, although Gabe was in fact the wrong one, for William had been what, six? Seven, for fuck’s sake, what did he know about life and loss? He didn’t even know love entirely.
That simple word, sounding at just above hearing’s lower-limit, was enough to make him jump off his chair, his eyes opening wide as plates. His heart began to thump so much and so loud that he could feel it in his fingertips, in his temples. His stomach fell to the floor when he saw that torturing ghost and a sudden conscience almost knocked him down: Saporta had been there through the meeting. He had probably walked in right before Pete closed the door, he had been probably behind William’s or Suarez’ chair, right next to him. That was it; that was the origin of that awkward feeling. He was too dumb to notice him but his entire body was already signaling that Gabe was there, that he was around.
In a quick, sudden gesture, Gabe held the chair and shoved it away discreetly. William was shaking, in the verge of unconsciously crying like a child out of shock, maybe fear. The taller guy proffered a hand to touch him, but he flinched and almost squealed, so Saporta couldn’t bring himself to actually lay it on Beckett.
“I wanna apologize for my behavior.” TAI’s singer was very focused at trying not to stare at him at all. “I should have been more careful.”
“About the picture.” It was not a question, but Gabriel nodded anyway.
“Yes, about the picture.” His hand was tentatively moving forward, but this time William was not paying that much of attention, so he barely jolted when Gabe tried to caress his forearm. His mind was racing, bringing up and discarding things to be presented, to be said, to be demanded. Things he didn’t want to feel or talk about but perhaps that chance would be his only one.
“You didn’t expect that. You didn’t think you’d find me.” Saporta shook his head vehemently, in a sign that could be both a full denial or a sign that William was taking it all wrong. Beckett chose the first possibility. He believed that one. “You didn’t know it was me. You didn’t recognize me.”
“No, I didn’t.” The older guy ran a hand through his hair, so close to Beckett now that even when he let go of the other, the proximity of both bodies was still enough to trap William. “I was so tired of building my hopes up that I couldn’t see what was in front of me.” He sighed, looking unable to find the right words. “William... God, this is so awkward.”
“Why?” It sounded like sheer curiosity, but it stung like a bee. “Because you thought you’d never see me again?” Beckett knew that his voice was coming out dry and rude, masqueraded by a thin coat of sugar, but he couldn’t care less. “You thought you’d never have to see how I came out? You thought that you’d never have to contemplate the consequences of your doing?”
The way he was almost smiling was not even close to be a good one. Gabe noticed it and bent slightly over him, the height difference not enough to make Beckett feel intimidated. “Willy, please, don’t be so bitter.”
His voice hardened and he stared right into Saporta’s eyes. “Don’t call me Willy. I don’t know you enough.”
The door opened and recalled their attention all of a sudden. Brendon entered the room, followed by the fading lights of several flashes that seemed to have hunted him down the hall. That was weird enough, since Pete had a strict “no paparazzi” rule while they were on studio. It was slightly deafening outside, but he closed the havoc behind him before walking towards the duo. He was flushed but smiley, which couldn’t be good.
“There are paparazzi outside”, said he, breathing heavily. “Plenty. They’re even breaking Pete’s pap-rule. Wentz said that the movie’s production sent them for publicity. They want pictures of us and you’re the only ones who have not been there yet. Peter said you should go because it would be free advertising; those pictures will be like, everywhere.”
It took a moment for the words to sink into William’s head. He detached himself from Gabe, processing the information slowly. They had been in the middle of a row. William had been this close to giving in to the temptation that was asking Saporta the reason why he had left. In his mind, he thanked Brendon for interrupting them; Gabe had been too close, too powerful on him. He didn’t know he was not free though, before Saporta moved. Shrugging his shoulders in a very lean, professional way, his confessional looks vanished altogether, Gabriel walked towards the door, his hand grabbing William’s as he went. Beckett could not leave it; Saporta had clenched his fingers around the other man’s so tightly that they felt like breaking. It was puzzling to see the same man who was almost crying in front of him regaining composure so quickly, becoming so stern, so suddenly. How could he?
Apparently, someone had shooed the paparazzi to the outer side, but when they finally reached it, there were really plenty of them. William knew exactly what they wanted; he had had his quota of cover and general pictures. His body moaned in hatred for those who were able to make him feel like merchandise in the most improper times of his life, but it was for the band and Decay, so he would handle it alright. He smiled, hugging Saporta in brotherly embraces, fooling around with him till the rest of the guys marched in and photobombed what had previously seemed to be a private shoot. Still, Gabe seemed to be enjoying the opportunity; his arms were all over William almost all the time. He even managed to put his lips to William’s ear and mumble something along the lines of “I hate it too”, which no one else listened to.
When they were finally released, William started to walk away as quick as he could, but Gabe held him by the wrist. “We still have to talk.”
“I’m not staying.” William pulled free from Gabe’s grip, but the other grabbed him again.
“William. Please. You need it as much as I do.”
An awkward silence took hold of the two of them, permeating to those who had not left yet. Before William could say or do anything, his cellphone vibrated. It was Christine, which relieved him beyond measure.
“Gotta answer this one”, said he, excusing himself and getting inside the studio, entering the first available room there was without bothering to look behind. When he got there, the incoming call sign had already disappeared; cautious, he started typing the number to call his girlfriend back. He was halfway through the long sequence of algorisms when Gabe entered the room, strong and firm, his presence pushing him straight to the nearest wall.
“I’m busy.” Beckett’s voice was incredibly steady.
“It can wait. We can’t.” Gabe moved a couple of inches to try and touch him again, to soothe him, but William slapped his hand with such force that it actually hurt. It made some of his control snap. “God almighty, Beckett, can’t you lower your fucking defenses for once? I am sorry, ok?! I told you I had no choice. I was twelve! My family owned me.”
Beckett was not convinced, but he put his cellphone away anyway. Chris could wait. He had to figure some stuff out first. He had to know. He had to find out.
“What about later?” He crossed his arms, standing firm on both his feet and moving towards Gabe, accusing him with both his body and voice. “I’ve never moved. I’ve stayed there hoping you’d come back.” Again, his voice was dry and rude, no sugar-coating this time. Again, he couldn’t care less. “You never did, not even to say ‘hi’. You fucking disappeared from my life like if you had never been a part of it.”
“William, I couldn’t go back, you wouldn’t understand it back then. You should know it now, after all you’ve been through. You should--”
Gabe’s voice caught and he lowered his head, fighting back the surge of desperation that threatened his vocal chords. He couldn’t tell William the truth. He couldn’t say that he was afraid of ending up leaving his family for him, that he was afraid of going after William and never returning, that he was afraid of how much it would hurt when he were forced to leave again, and again, and again. He couldn’t say that he had wanted to be with his little friend so much that he had caused his parents to argue because his father wanted to go back and his mother thought he was too dependent on William and should stay away from him. He couldn’t say that his parents had divorced shortly after and he had spent an entire year without speaking to his father because his mother had made the court tell him that he couldn’t move back to Chicago with him. He couldn’t tell him that he had ran away once when he was older and seen a twelve years old Beckett playing with a girl in a courtyard. He couldn’t tell him how much that had hurt, to see the age difference, to see how little he seemed to care that Gabriel was not there. He couldn’t possibly say that he returned there every year for the next four years, till he didn’t see Beckett there anymore and thought he had been gone. It was awfully disturbing to see a man of his size crumbling so clearly. Saporta proffered a hand and grabbed William by the wrist, making the other guy stare at him in confusion, anger and disgust.
“I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t go find you and get back into your life just to disappear the next day.”
William fisted his hands, his lower lip trembling. “I would have traded an entire year of my life for another day with my best friend.”
It was entirely true; William had not a doubt about that. He would have traded his own life to live a few more days with Gabriel. He would have traded anything for a couple of days with him, back then. It was not even an exaggeration.
“Can’t you just forgive me?” Gabe was pleading like the child he had once been. “I was trying to keep you safe.”
That was the last drop. William felt himself burst before he could stop it. “Safe from what?! From the pain? From the hurt, from the abandon? How do you think that not having you around would help me?! Enlighten me, please!”
Forgetting how they were trying to keep their distance, Gabe embraced him. William paralyzed at first and then wanted to break free from it, but the taller man was stronger and his arms were clenched so tight around him that he couldn’t do it, not without seriously hurting himself and Saporta – which he didn’t want to do – yet. For a moment, Beckett let a sob escape and closed his eyes fiercely. He wasn’t going to cry. He didn’t have to. He had not been wrong; he had been a kid, for Christ’s sake.
“When we were younger, you asked me to be your older brother. I told you back then that I’d rather wait for you to grow up”, murmured Cobra’s singer. “You have no idea of how much it hurts to admit this thought, to admit how I wanted to keep you for myself only when I left.” The knot in William’s throat tightened even more. “I’ve waited even more than I thought I would. I can’t do it anymore. I can’t stay still and let you slip away again when you are so close now.”
The embrace loosened a bit, making William stumble half-out of it. Suddenly aware of how despaired the other man was, his hurt seemed to synch with the other’s, keeping him put for a while longer. He had not slipped away, he had been there. Gabriel was the one who had not, right? He had said he would wait for him to grow up. He had intended to stay. Why hasn’t he? Before he could say a word, though, he felt how heartbreaking such mass of feelings was, when Gabe pressed his lips against his forehead, kissing the creased skin with wholehearted tenderness, just like he had done when they had parted years ago.
“Don’t make me wait anymore”, begged Saporta, eager to have him in his arms. His lips touched the tip of William’s nose and brushed along his cheek till his half-open, wordless lips. “I’ve missed you so much.”
He pressed his lips gently against William’s, sweetly, smoothly. Beckett thought of pushing him away, but Gabe was being so insufferably kind, so needy. So him. The long fingers of the Cobra’s singer adjusted to his jaw and he felt himself involuntarily giving in to the kiss. Warm, quietly, William felt his lips disobeying him, opening wider under the softness and dryness of Saporta’s. It wiped away everything: the hurt, the pain, the suspicion, the hate. All he could feel was the clove-like taste of Gabe’s mouth and his strong arms pulling him closer. He didn’t want to embrace him, he didn’t want to give in that completely, although his mind was taking that little, slightly arousing moment and making it a happening in which butterflies were making a mess out of his guts. Tentatively, he sneaked his hands up Gabriel’s chest, willing to push him, to let go of his mouth and arms and release himself from that spell; it was a worthless attempt. When he felt like losing control over his body and his mind was almost clear from everything but the feeling of being home that accompanied Gabriel’s embrace, Ryan opened the door with a bang, calling out Saporta’s name real loud. They both parted and fell silent, petrified, awareness creeping into their bodies. Ross found them icy as statues in the corner.
“Victoria wants you, Saporta.” For a moment, it seemed that the singer would not obey. “She said now. She said you’d regret being alive if you failed her.”
White as a sheet and with an apologetic look, Gabriel left Beckett, walking towards the door and out of it in quick, swift long strides. Awareness assaulted William like a missile; he felt the fugacity of his illusionary home, felt it vanish while his mind brought back the fact that Gabriel was leaving again, that it was all happening again and that he had known it would happen. He remembered everything that the kiss had made him put aside, all at once, while Saporta left. When the door closed, after what had seemed to be hours, William piled up on the floor beside Ryan’s feet – and broke down.