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The One Where Cobra Starship Have Really Bad Boundaries

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I.

Gabe mostly ends up with his tongue in other people’s mouths because he is very good at consoling people, if he does say so himself. That’s why when Pete calls him up after Ashlee finally files for divorce, Gabe does what any good friend would do--he drops everything, hops a plane and then a rental car, stops at the liquor store on the way, and breaks out a travel-sized mouthwash bottle while he’s waiting in line.

Of course, as much as Pete genuinely and obviously needs to get hammered, he also has a kid, so the liquor store stop probably wasn’t so necessary--Pete isn’t about to get wasted with Bronx sleeping in the next room.

They do have a few drinks, though--they drink past sad and sorry ("We both knew it was coming--really, I can't blame her,") through frustrated ("She could have given some warning, seriously, we could have tried, it might not have done anything but I would have tried,") straight on to genuinely angry ("I don't need her anyway--how fucking dare she question--") back to sad. Pete is a pretty mercurial guy, he moves through stages of grief faster than you can blink. Which would be good, only then he cycles back through them again, often out of order. It's not easy to predict, but Gabe is good at unpredictable.

He's good at unpredictable largely because he understands it, and one of the things he understands about unpredictable people is that it's not enough to just accept their unpredictability and work with it. Sometimes you've got to throw it right back at them instead.

That's his reasoning, anyway, when Pete slides back out of "I thought we'd gotten past--" and into mirthless smiles and bad ideas, and Gabe leans over and kisses whatever ill-advised undertaking Pete was thinking of proposing right out of his mouth, then pulls away for a second with his own this-is-probably-a-bad-idea smile and says, "You, my friend, need a little distracting," before leaning in again.

It's not awkward the next morning, and Gabe thinks that's probably because of his reputation--Victoria seems to think having A Reputation, the kind with the capital letters, is something he should be avoiding, but she helped make his, so Gabe doesn't take her too seriously. It certainly makes his morning a little easier that he can just quirk an eyebrow when Pete comes into the kitchen the next morning and make a crack about having an interesting night before settling in to bitch about the comfort level of Pete's couch, instead of having to have some kind of conversation about what it all means.

Last night doesn't mean anything, and the fact that it's Gabe and Pete is all it really takes to prove it--it's not like they've never made out before, at parties playing stupid drinking games, after shows running on adrenaline, once in front of Ashlee before she pounced and dragged Pete back to the bedroom for the night, leaving the rest of their guests to catcall as they exited and then clean out their cupboards, though that one doesn't seem like as good a memory now.

It's okay, though, because it doesn't mean anything, so Gabe doesn't worry, just stays for breakfast and then leaves to try to get something done before the day ends.

II.

Victoria doesn't mean to be the start of Gabe's questionable reputation, and will swear to the death that really, she isn't, which is true enough--Gabe had been a household name in certain circles years before she ever met him, back at home in Jersey and then expanding west to Chicago once his band took off. That was just for fun, though, and often for show. Vicky-T knows Gabe well enough these days to know when he's being sincere and when he's just having fun, and it is not always an obvious distinction.

Anyway, the night Gabe likes to bring up in order to make his point sometimes, but never really goes into detail about, happened months before Victoria was in the band--actually it was probably the night they met. Gabe claims to have met her at another party months before, but Vicky's theory on that is that he only said that when he walked up to where she was sitting on the couch as a conversation starter, and that he'd never expected to see her again so she could call him on it, and now he won't admit he did it as a matter of pride. Her reasoning is sound--Gabe won't admit that she's right, but he has said that if he did do what she said, he would probably react the exact same way. Victoria knows when to accept a subtle victory when a blatant one isn't ever going to happen, so after he admits that, she lets it go.

The night in question wasn't a good night for her, which is why she's pleased by the surprising amount of tact Gabe shows by bringing it up and then letting her memory fill in the events without saying them out loud or, you know, telling other people that she'd been downcast and lonely and missing an ex who'd felt horribly important at the time, though these days, his face is a little blurry in her memory. Gabe doesn't remind her of the casual way she'd taken in his offhand flirting before leaning in and telling him, "I don't know where you think you're going with this, so I'm just going to tell you right now--I'm sad and thinking about someone else and I am not going to sleep with you. If that's a problem, you can go. If you're cool with that, c'mere, let's make out."

It's one of the boldest speeches she's ever made at the time, although a couple of years of touring with her guys makes it seem pretty tame by comparison. At the time, though, she was shocked at her own boldness.

Gabe grinned at her before leaning in for the kill. When she finally ended up leaving that night, her mouth felt kind of chapped and raw. She’d been smiling like she wouldn't have expected to be possible when she came in that evening, and Gabe was smiling at her in a way that she could already tell was surprisingly serious for him, handing her her coat and telling her to take care. She thinks maybe she set the stage for getting into the band that night--not in a creepy way, she doesn't think, or not in a way that is any creepier than anything else Gabe is associated with, but just in as much as she’d made an impression.

III.

Nate lives in Gabe's basement for months without any hint of inappropriate landlord-to-tenant contact. Or, well, sort of. Nothing that could be counted as sexual harassment, anyway, which way too many people think of as a success for Gabe. Honestly, kissing Nate is one of the more hetero experiences of making out with dudes Gabe has ever had, which is a weird enough distinction to actually be kind of memorable.

The problem is the six degrees of separation game. The problem is also the fact that Nate has the nerve to lust after their Victoria without even trying to do anything about, and Victoria is way too good for any of that moony, pining bullshit. Gabe tells Nate so, and Nate has the good grace to look ashamed, so Gabe decides to forgive him for it. It’s not Nate’s fault--he’s from the south, and some bad habits, like politeness, can’t be easily eradicated.

The problem, though, the real problem, is that Nate starts trying to count his degrees of separation from Victoria. Because, see, Nate kissed Bill once. That is, Bill attacked Nate with his lips once, because Nate was his knight in shining armour who defended the whiskey from a traitorous Mike Carden one night when Bill was indisposed. Most of the time, Nate kind of likes to pretend that never happened, but apparently it is now an asset, because Nate has kissed Bill and Bill and Gabe have made out, as Gabe points out, on numerous occasions, Nate has not experienced the pleasures of kissing William Beckett in any real way, not like Gabe has, and Gabe has kissed Victoria. That is three degrees of separation, which is half of six (“Are you sure about that?” And Nate actually checks, counts out on his fingers before he shoves Gabe’s shoulder and tells him to fuck off) which is, all in all, not bad.

Gabe doesn’t think that’s anything to be proud of. “You could just see if she’s interested, man. I mean, you’ve lived with her on a bus and she hasn’t killed you yet--I’d say you have a chance. ” But that’s not what Nate wants yet; he just wants to bridge the distance, cut out one or two or the middle men, not all of them. He wants to limit those degrees of separation into the kind of weather Gabe wouldn’t want to be outside in, Celsius or Fahrenheit, and Gabe is slightly concerned by the fact that this makes sense to him. He’s even more concerned that it makes sense to Nate, who should know better (maybe Gabe is rubbing off on him), but it only matters a little because, Nate is actually a really fantastic kisser.

Gabe should have known.

Nate talks to Victoria a few days later, and Gabe likes to think his lips were a kind of lucky charm, making it go as well as it did. You can’t skip steps, Nate had said that night, you need to cut out each link in order, or the whole chain will just come apart.

 

IV.

Gabe is convinced that Ryland is sad and lonely. It’s actually kind of insulting--he keeps saying things about how, as a bro, it’s his duty to keep Ryland from fading away to nothing. They keep telling him that he can’t get away with calling himself a bro, but it doesn’t stick. Sort of like how Ryland stopped hinting and started telling him to leave about an hour ago--Gabe is good at not listening to what he doesn’t want to hear.

He says, “It’s just because you’re a freak, dude--you guys are practically married, it’s not healthy, you’re out of the habit of being all alone.”

Ryland decides he probably doesn’t need to mention the fact that they don’t even technically live together--it’s kind of a copout argument anyway, with the way Ryland’s place mostly exists as a place for Ryland’s keyboards to live. Alex keeps a spare acoustic there, too, and sometimes they head over there and jam and end up falling asleep, but it’s hard to argue that it’s a separate residence, especially now. The clock in the kitchen just keeps ticking later and later and Gabe’s feet are still on the coffee table, and Gabe may be being an asshole about Ryland getting lonely with Alex off in San Francisco, but he’s not wrong. He’s just not giving them nearly enough credit for dealing with it.

That is, Gabe is still not gone, and it’s about time for Ryland to make his way over to the computer, sign onto Skype, and place a call. Gabe follows him, settling on a corner of the bed, out of the way but still quite obviously present. Ryland is probably not going to be convincing Alex to get naked for him tonight--he’s going to accept it now and move on. It’s not so bad--he’ll only be gone a few more days, and webcams can be kind of unsatisfying substitutes, anyway.

“I’m gone three days and you’ve already replaced me with Gabe?”

Alex doesn’t look like he just got back from DJing at a club so much as he looks like he got caught in a flashmob on his way to the library. With glitter. It’s a good look for him. Gabe leans across the gap between the bed and Ryland’s chair, leaning his bony chin on Ryland’s shoulder to grin at the camera. “Why? Are you jealous? I just didn’t want Guy Ripley here getting lonely.”

Alex smiles, says, “Yeah, I’m not too worried--I think I could take you,” and Gabe protests and Ryland smiles at the thought and it’s good. It’s really good. Alex asks, “So how are you going about being replacement me?” and he’s still not talking to Ryland, but he’s grinning like he’s got a plan, and Alex may act like the reasonable one now and then, but his plotting rarely ends well, though it’s often fun. Gabe starts a list of lies, claims to have baked a souffle, beaten Alex’s record at Modern Warfare 3, worn Alex’s favorite jeans commando, found the meaning of life, and Alex just laughs at him and asks, “Who do you think I am?”

Ryland is about to let the subject drop, ask about how Alex’s set went, or something else which will seem disgustingly domestic ten seconds later when Alex says, “You’re not a very good me if you haven’t even made out with my boyfriend yet.”

The words are just hanging there in the air as Gabe tugs at Ryland’s shoulder until he lets the spinning desk chair swivel around to where they’re only facing Alex in profile. It’s not like Ryland should really be surprised.

Gabe doesn’t let dares go. It’s one of those defining characteristics that sometimes leave him standing on the top of a bus in one of the areas that pass for urban in Iowa, doing the macarena in his underwear, and apparently sometimes it results in a surprisingly leisurely kiss at an awkward angle, Alex looking on with interest in the background. Ryland is pretty sure the days till Alex gets home are going to fly by.

V.

Gabe likes to think of himself as a humanitarian, but really, he loves his band. They’re also smokin’ hot. Kissing them was never a hardship. Of course, to be fair, neither was kissing Ryan Ross, the first time around. This was mostly because the first time was Ryan all stoned and happy and just falling into his hippie phase, leaning into Gabe and being all flirty right there on camera on the red carpet, and it was pretty much a promise that Gabe didn’t even want to make him wait to keep. But he’d had a job to do, so he’d done the responsible thing and got himself recorded fucking with Bilvy’s lyrics and staring when that lady’s top had slipped down and shown off exactly how braless she was, and then afterward, he’d tracked little Ryan Rossy down again and made good on that dopey smile, that slightly slurred, “Best friends.”

Tonight, though, Ryan is fucked up on more than just a little weed and he’s pointedly not talking about that interview last week, and the fact that after Spencer had seen it he’d called Ryan up and left him a piece of his mind on his voicemail. He’s all prickly comments and pointy elbows and Gabe mostly doesn’t even want to get near him, but a true humanitarian doesn’t balk from an unpleasant duty, so Gabe pulls Ryan aside with a suggestive grin.

Ryan seems pretty down with that plan, but mostly, apparently, because he wants it to get kind of rough. Gabe is usually down with that just as, you know, a personal life choice, but in this case it feels like it would probably be counterproductive to the mission. Though it would probably be pretty fun for Gabe.

That’s not the point, though. Gabe isn’t tugging Ryan’s bottom lip between his teeth, isn’t pressing him up against the wall of the hallway and sliding a hand down his back to cup his ass because he wants to, or anything. He just thinks that Ryan needs to slow the fuck down, before he snaps. Ryan is pretty much a friend, Bill’s occasional drunken claims to blood feud aside, and Gabe does not actually want him to have a breakdown. Spencer would be pissed--even more pissed than he is now--and Gabe will not be held accountable for that. Spencer Smith is one scary motherfucker when he wants to be.

That’s why, when they’ve made their way down the hall and out of the way, to the weird little couch in the laundry room Gabe remembers from the last time he was at a party here, Gabe does press Ryan into the cushions, but he doesn’t keep up the frantic, biting pace from the hall, and he doesn’t make any move towards getting either of them undressed. Instead, he leans close and says, kind of softly, “Slow the fuck down,” right into the curve of Ryan’s ear, the soft skin there. Then he leans in again, and this time it works.

+I.

So Gabe thinks of himself as a professional, making Ryan Ross act like a human being and all. There are very few people who can claim to do that and then, you know, not be lying. That’s why he’d thought he’d be the man for the job, cheering Pete up. Because the break-up of a marriage and the break-up of a band aren’t that different, Gabe assumes, and even if they are different, wouldn’t kissing be an even more appropriate comforting technique in the face of a broken romantic relationship than a musical one? Gabe is sure he’s right.

Or he was sure. He may have made a miscalculation, though, in not taking into account that this is Pete. Pete who sort of got tangled up in Gabe’s life when he was the stupid kid who didn’t know what he was doing, on his first tour west and heading through Chicago. Gabe knew Pete when he was dating fifteen year olds and when he was trying to make scene queens fall in love with him, and when he was pretending he was only playing up a crush on Patrick for the fans and when he’d burned all of an ex’s clothes in a trashcan in his backyard and when he kissed Ashlee in a room full of people and looked like he’d actually forgotten they weren’t alone, just quiet and so invested it was like he was trying to sink into her skin. Gabe had known, just known, that it would have been the worst time in the world to stop suppressing the things he’d been not thinking about for so many years, so he hadn’t; he’d just shoved them down and moved on and that should have been that.

Apparently it wasn’t though, which sucks, because Gabe is only just figuring this out now, driving away from Pete’s the next morning. The damage is already done, which might be a good thing, because, you know, at least it worked. Pete seemed a lot more cheerful that morning at breakfast, although a traitorous, annoying portion of Gabe’s brain is saying that he could very well have just been playing cheerful for Bronx’s sake.

He’s not far from the airport, but LA traffic is always a nightmare, and when his phone rings he almost doesn’t answer it. He does mostly try to be a law abiding citizen, except for the stupid laws like recreational drug use and public nudity. And also right now that fucker is trying to cut him off and Gabe just can’t let this dude get away with shit like that--he needs to learn that it is uncool behavior or how will he evolve as a human being? He glances at the screen anyway, though, and it’s Pete, who knows that Gabe is driving, so it’s probably important, and oh, he should probably look at the road, some jerk is beeping at him and Gabe doesn’t actually want to die so he signals and then pulls over at the next opportune moment.

Of course, the phone has stopped ringing by the time he does, but Gabe punches in a quick call back and waits till Pete answers to say, “Hey, so, what? Did I forget my toothbrush or something?”

Pete laughs. “You brought a toothbrush?”

“Fuck you man, I have mad dental hygiene,” Gabe says with as much dignity as he can muster, staring out the passenger side window and absentmindedly counting the green cars that pass. There aren’t many green cars these days, it’s not the most popular car color around, but today seems like a pretty good day for them, here in sunny Los Angeles. Three whizz past in the space it takes for Pete to answer, “As far as I know, your alleged toothbrush is with you,” and he sounds way too serious for that sentence.

Gabe asks, “Pete?” and Pete sighs and Gabe thinks, with a sinking feeling, that maybe he is losing his touch. That, or he’s not up for the task, is out of his league, competing with Pete’s now going-to-be-ex wife, the mother of his child. Not that Gabe wants to compete. Not here. He doesn’t like to take challenges it looks like he’ll lose. Not about personal things, anyway. Not about--his friends.

Pete says, “Do you have to get out of town this fast?” And Gabe thinks about it, because he doesn’t, really, he doesn’t have any really pressing things to get back to, and flying out to LA for just one day and then back the next just sounds kind of stupid. Then, though, Pete has to go and say, in that quiet, serious tone that Gabe almost never heard from him before he’d become a parent, “I think maybe we should talk about some things.”

Pete is not supposed to want to talk about things. He does the over-think-y thing, sure, but that’s mostly about his doomed romances, not drunken makeouts. Gabe was supposed to be providing an alternative to that kind of angst, not another reason for it. He’s pretty sure that serious tone is a sign of failure. Gabe isn’t big on failure, but this one he’s a bit conflicted about, because a part of him suspects that not being a meaningless throwaway experience for the guy who is, at this point, one of Gabe’s oldest friends, may not actually be a bad thing.

Gabe is not entirely opposed to talking. About things. He’s not going to bring it up, though--if Pete is going to go all communicative, Gabe is willing to go there (willing to try anything once, even open, honest communication, if he’s got to) but he’s not going to help or anything, so he says, “Talk about what?” as casually as he can.

“Well,” Pete says. “You know,” and maybe Gabe does know but that doesn’t mean he’s going to say it, and after a second, Pete goes on, “Last night. What was that about?”

And that one’s easy. Gabe tells him, “You were sad.”

Pete laughs. “Yeah. My wife left me, or we left each other, or, you know, something. Of course I’m kind of sad.”

Gabe nods, still staring out that passenger’s side window, squinting at the lettering on the side of a passing commercial truck. “So yeah.”

“So you decided to take one for the team?”

It’s hard to get a read on Pete’s voice right now, but Gabe isn’t about to lie, even by omission, so he guesses it doesn’t really matter. He drums his fingers on the steering wheel and says, “Shit, dude, of course not, it wasn’t like that,” but then Pete says, “So you were serious?” And that doesn’t sound so good either, going after a not-quite-divorced father of a young child, even if it is Pete.

Gabe says, “I wasn’t trying for anything,” which is true, but also not really an answer and Gabe knows it and yeah, this was all kind of a mistake, maybe, friendship or not, and as soon as he can get off the phone he is flying back to New York and crashing on Ryland and Alex’s couch and eating all of the leftovers in their fridge, he swears.

Pete sighs, says, “That’s good, I guess. I mean. It’s not like it’s a great time.”

Gabe nods.

“I’m kind of a mess,” Pete goes on. “It wouldn’t be very responsible.”

Gabe waits. Apparently, though, those are all the objections Pete actually has, and they’re all problems based around the thing with Ashlee--that is, they’re all specifically now problems, not not ever with you kinds of problems. Gabe points that out and Pete pauses.

“Yeah, I guess they are.”

Gabe waits, then asks, “So are there some others, maybe? More objections to add to the list?”

Pete laughs. “I guess not? Why, are you looking for some?”

Gabe ignores that. “So when you said did I have to leave so soon--”

“Gabe. Gabriel. Gabanti.” Pete sounds weirdly careful. “You were right, I am kind of a mess right now. I’m not in a position to start anything new just yet, and I wouldn’t feel right asking you to wait.”

It’s Gabe’s turn to let out a loud breath this time, playing with the end of his keychain distractedly. “What if you didn’t ask. What if I just did? How long would we be talking about?”

Pete sounds amused now, says, “You know I’ve never been all that patient.”

“Bronx already likes me,” Gabe says and doesn’t know why, wants to take it back as soon as he has, but Pete just says, “Yeah. He does.”

And that’s how it goes. Gabe hangs up the phone and starts the rental car and drives to the airport. He gets on the plane and sends pissy texts about not being able to fit his legs until takeoff. When he gets in to JFK, though, there’s a text waiting for him, telling him, come back soon.