Walls in Chicago are made of doorways. It's the only thing that makes sense. Gabe's riding a happy buzz, a few drinks, a couple pills and a William fresh off tour and thrumming with the restless energy that comes from landing in one place and staying there. He is nowhere near fucked up enough to explain away the fact that one moment they're rushing through the midnight streets of downtown Chicago, laughing and stupid, and the next William's tugging him into an alley and shoving him against the wall and instead of a wall there's a rush of vertigo and for a second he can't breathe, his lungs are frozen and everything is white. When he can breathe again he tastes snowflakes on the inhale. And then they're somewhere else, old cobblestones underfoot and William's hands are framing his face and they're kissing under the gaslight. Gabe pulls back and gets distracted watching the individual snowflakes where they're not melting on William's eyelashes.
"What the fuck?" he asks after a moment.
William smiles bright and filled with white teeth peeking out from the frame of soft lips. Behind him there are shapes moving, a mass of indistinct shadows in the fog, cresting and fading back like the ocean in the midst of a storm. Somewhere he can hear music, thin strands fighting their way through the rushing in his ears that doesn't falter even as he tries to clear his head. William's hands are still cool on his skin, long fingers curling around his jaw and brushing at the soft hairs under his ear.
"I wanted--" William presses impossibly closer so he's speaking right up against Gabe's cheek. "I wanted to make you a part of it. I wanted you to have all of me and Chicago's a part of that. it's a part of all of us."
Gabe pushes back and wraps his hands around the other man's impossibly thin wrists, tugging them down but not letting go. The wind whips William's hair around his face, his features obscured, then clear, then obscured again like a camera coming in and out of focus. Above them, the light flickers. "What is this?"
"It's Chicago. It's just not a part that a lot of people can see. Come on, Market's tonight, I think."
And again Gabe's following William, still holding tight to one of his wrists as they dive into the fog. Instead of the cold isolation that he's expecting it's like stepping from an empty street into a busy club, heat and noise and the pulse of life pressing in on every side. The music gets louder, though still not to a point where he can pick out a tune. He knows there are people --fuck, he hopes they're people-- bumping up against him, but every time he tries to bring to mind what they look like he finds himself unable to do so. The cacophony blends eagerly into white noise and the smells eventually resolve themselves into exotic spices and dusty horses. he keeps his eyes on William, long legs encased in ridiculously tight jeans complete with stupid bandana tied around his knee, plain soft black t-shirt, the cord of his necklace under messy locks of hair still dancing at the whims of the wind. After a while he realizes that he can pick out phrases from the constant din of voices around them, a mishmash of half-heard conversations in every Spanish dialect he's ever heard. The shapes around him resolve themselves to a degree, and he can catch brief glimpses of brightly coloured fabric and wooden beads and the figures moving against him seem more human than they had when he first tried to define them. Eventually they come to another doorway, and William tugs him through. The quiet takes his breath away.
"I like to come here to write," William tells him, and when he turns to look at Gabe all Gabe can think is that the snowflakes have still not melted. The place that William’s taken them to reminds him, incongruously of any number of restaurant patios. Tables are scattered across the rough wooden floor, and he's pretty certain that some of them are occupied, he just can't say with what. William leads him over to a railing, but when Gabe looks over the edge there's nothing but grey mist beneath them. William sprawls down on the floor, legs dangling over the edge, forehead resting against the intricately carved rail.
"Be careful," Gabe snaps. William laughs at him, tugging at his hand, trying to pull him down.
"I'm not going to fall. And I've only considered jumping a few times."
"What's down there?" Gabe asks unwillingly.
William shrugs. "I've no idea. It's sort of reassuring in it's unquantifiability."
"Fuck you, that's not a word." But Gabe sits down, farther from the edge and with a hand tight on William's shoulder.
"I wanted you to understand," William says after a moment of silence. Gabe waits. "We're all-- There's something special about Chicago. It's why we all cling so tightly to that identity. it's not just the music --or it's entirely the music, depending on how you look at it-- but the city gets inside of you and doesn't let go. It claims the land and the air just like it claims the people who live there and just as it's claimed this bit of the Nevernever for itself. I wanted you to see that part of me. I want to give myself to you, Gabriel, and I didn't know how else to give you all of myself than to show you the parts that aren't mine to give away."
"This is Magic," he says, because he doesn't know what to do with a confession like this; William's so fucking young, so fucking earnest with his unconsciously poetic words and his wide eyes. And yet there is this, this entire world in which William fits so naturally, like it's no different than taking a stroll down the block from his apartment. So many of them from Chicago, Pete and Patrick and Mike and Adam and Tom and an entire procession of faces that have always been in the 'members only' club, no matter how hard he pushes, how far they wander. And even here when Gabe is feeling like the clumsy outsider, when he's terrified of letting go of William lest they become separated, William is still William, still trying to give himself to Gabe on a silver platter. 'Here is my body and here is my soul and here are my flaws and here are all of the ways I will try to push you away. Do with me what you will.' And no matter how often Gabe tries to explain that you can't fucking do that, that you can't just expect someone else to listen when the box that your heart comes in is marked "Handle With Care" William keeps offering.
"There's magic everywhere," William says, and it takes Gabe a minute to remember what he'd said. "But in the context that you mean, yes. This is magic. But you don't need to be magic to walk through a door, and you only need know where to look and you'll find one."
Gabe frowns, because there's something he's missing, something William’s leaving out, but before he can press further he hears someone call William's name. They both turn to see a couple of guys that Gabe vaguely recognizes strolling up. The taller has messy brown hair falling over his eyes and is dressed like he's just stepped out of the sixties. The other could be any of a million 'dudes' that Gabe's met over the years except that he's wearing flip-flops and it’s the middle of November. They're wandering towards them like it's any casual meeting on the street, and the cognitive dissonance of their sheer normality hits Gabe like a cold shower.
"Johnny Walker!" William enthuses. "And Ryan Rossy, hello! You look older, oh dear."
"Dude, you've been shit at time for as long as I've known you," flip-flop guy says. "Hi, Gabe."
"Sorry, bro," Gabe says with a little self-deprecating smile. "I've totally forgotten your name."
"Sorry, yeah. Jon. Wow, Bill, you kind of suck at this."
"Fuck you," William says amiably.
"I'm very confused," the guy who must be Ryan says definitively. Gabe suspects that he is also very stoned.
"I'll explain later," Jon tells him soothingly.
"Market's tonight," William says in the awkward silence that always follows pleasantries.
Jon snorts. "market's every night, funnily enough. We're not living in a Neil Gaiman book, I’m sorry."
"So no homicidal angels?" Ryan asks dryly.
"I will totally find you a homicidal angel, oh my God, you're adorable," William tells him in one breath.
"I will seriously pay you fifty bucks if you find an angel," Jon says holding out a hand. "And you can't just dress Sisky up like you did for Pete's séance thing."
"Oh those wacky séances," William says with a bit too much unfeigned fondness for Gabe's comfort. "Challenge excepted, Jon Walker. Though you probably ought to go away before we do unimaginable damage to the fabric of time."
"Shit," Gabe says with feeling. He's watched star Trek, ok? He understands.
"Dude, yeah, totally." Jon makes a visible effort to look very serious. "We didn't mean to intrude on your date."
William inclines his head slightly. "Apology accepted."
"Just." Jon shifts his weight and tugs on the zipper of his hoodie. "Can I ask you to do something for me? While I’ve got you here."
William nods agreeably. Gabe can tell he's losing interest in the conversation fast.
"Tom!" William echoes happily. Gabe rolls his eyes a little bit.
"Can you just-- Promise me you’ll be good to him? Promise that you'll know when to let go."
William tenses a bit under Gabe's hand. "Is there something you're not telling me, Jon? Secrets are rude."
"Of course there's something I'm not telling you. But I'm asking as a friend."
William shrugs slightly. "All right, I promise."
Jon taps his foot a little. "Fuck that, three times. I'm serious about this."
William's face loses the friendly smile immediately. "I'm sorry, do you find me untrustworthy?"
"I find you to be you, Bill. Promise. Please."
William crosses his arms over his chest. "I promise to be good to Tom and to let him go. I promise to be good to Tom and to let him go. Now get the fuck out of my site."
Jon just smiles softly. "Thanks, Bill."
When they've gone, Gabe drags William up against his side, wrapping an arm around his shoulder. "You wanna tell me what that was about?"
"I really don't," William replies sharply. Gabe rubs gently at his arm.
"Ok. That's fine."
It takes a good fifteen minutes of William huddling against him silently trying to pretend that he's not freaking out before Gabe's had enough. “Ok, bro, you need to chill out or actually talk to me.”
“It’s fine. It’s merely… well. When someone implies that you need to know when to let go, you naturally start imagining all the circumstances which might facilitate that need.”
It’s really inconvenient, the way that William’s vocabulary increases when he’s fucked up and Gabe’s tends to decrease. Gabe takes a minute to pick apart William’s muttered explanation. “Tom?”
“Of course Tom, fucking…” William pushes away from him, straightening up and shoving hands through his already messy hair. Gabe can see the fine tremors in his hands, the way he’s getting ready to go on one of his ‘no one understands my pain’ rants. He gets up and pets at William’s hair (it’s totally affectionate, he’s not using Bill’s head to keep his balance).
“I’m gonna go for a walk over there,” he tells the seated boy. “You… come find me when you’re cool. And don’t like, disappear or some shit, there’s no way I’m finding my way out of here on my own.”
William huffs out a breath and folds his hands in his lap. “That’s fine, it’s not like I had anything I wanted to say or anything.”
“Sweet.” Gabe picks a direction and goes with it, moving away from the railing and further into the courtyard, glancing back every minute or so to make sure he can still see William. He doesn’t want to listen to Bill’s pity party, but that doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near ok with wandering around in this strange not-Chicago completely on his own.
He’s cutting through a group of tightly clustered tables, attention caught by something that seems to be flickering between pink and gold and also hovering in midair, when something wraps around his wrist and tugs. Hard. He does not scream like a girl.
“He likes you, lucky one,” a voice comes from behind him. He doesn’t really have to turn to look in order to know it’s a raggedy old woman hunched at a ramshackle little table, but he does anyway. And then he looks down at his arm. Where there is a snake winding its way casually up his forearm. Thank you, Bill, Faeryland is fucking super. It’s a big fucking snake, too, the sort that is probably going to kill him if it keeps heading towards his neck. The old woman is grinning –toothlessly, of course—and she flicks out her tongue in his direction. He wonders briefly if he’s got the woman and the snake mixed up.
“The Cobra recognizes a kindred spirit,” the woman laughs. “He wants to tell you things. Listen.”
Gabe stares down at the snake a little helplessly. He’s got nothing against snakes, but he’s pretty sure he hasn’t got some sort of Anne of Green Gables thing going on with them either. “I think you’ve got the wrong guy.”
“Gabriel. Listen,” says the motherfucking talking snake. Seriously, if all that Harry Potter shit is real Gabe wants a refund on life.
“You are chosen,” says the woman.
“I am finally losing it,” says Gabe.
“Listen,” says the snake.
The next thing he’s consciously aware of, he’s on the ground and William is yelling at someone and the snake is coiled heavy on his chest and he can’t breathe. He grins, wide and stupid and uncontrollable. William’s face swims in front of his eyes. “No no no no. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m terrible at time, I didn’t mean to. You c—c—can’t, it’s going to make a paradox.”
Gabe snorts. His life really is Star Trek. Fucking excellent. He reaches up a hand, patting clumsily at William’s pretty cheek bones. “I’m ok, it’s ok, we’re cool. Deep breaths, Billvy. Everything’s… better than everything’s ever been.” He laughs a little hysterically. The cobra starts to meander its way off of his torso, which is awesome because Gabe is a pretty big fan of breathing. His brain feels more at piece than it has in years and it’s amazing, it’s clarity and understanding and a purpose and everything is golden. He staggers in a generally vertical direction, clinging to William until up and down and sideways have sorted themselves out.
“This is gonna be great, Bills. We are gonna be great.” He frames William’s face between his hands in a mirror of William’s own actions upon their arrival. The other boy’s jaw is clenched tight shut in the way that means he’s refusing to let words escape for fear they’ll come out too stuttered to understand. Gabe rubs thumbs against the hinge of his jaw, making soft soothing noises. William’s entire body is shaking against him. He drops one hand, still keeping physical contact with the other and digs in his pocket. He’s still got a couple Ambien from the plain ride and he fumbles one out of the bottle, takes it between his lips and kisses it into Bills’ mouth, presses and licks until he lets him in, mouth falling open in surrender.
“We’re gonna be so good,” Gabe mutters against his lips. “Everything’s gonna be so good.”
William’s eyes fall shut and his hands come up to clutch at Gabe’s arms. Gabe watches his eyelashes where the snowflakes haven’t melted.