William had a window seat. He shot the shade up as soon as he got into the seat, before he even sat down, so definitely before he fastened low-and-tight or shoved his notebook into the seatback. The woman in the aisle seat crossed herself as they took off, staring straight ahead with stony composure, but William kept looking out the window, watching as they lifted off straight into the sky over the ocean, no mucking about. He kept it open even when the beach dwindled and the last lights disappeared behind them. There was so much nothing outside that all he could see was his own reflection, the woman over his shoulder, but he still kept it open. It distracted him just a little from the fact that he was trapped in a tincan with two hundred and thirty-six other people for the next fourteen hours.
Gabe showed up about point-five of a second after the seatbelt light blinked off, leaning his elbows against the overhead compartments and saying, "There you are," in a tone that suggested he'd been looking half his life for William, which was clearly partaking of the usual Saporta relationship with the truth because never mind the point-five of a second, it'd only been fifteen minutes, tops, since he'd slapped William's ass on the way past as they boarded.
"Here I am," William agreed. "Did you teleport out of your seat?"
Gabe gave him a what-the-fuck frown. "If I could teleport, would I be on this airplane in the first place?"
"Probably," Gabe admitted, pushing back off the compartments to look up the aisle, where the flight attendants were getting their whatever on. "But only," he leaned back in, sudden and grinning, "because I love you all and don't want you to suffer without me for fourteen hours."
Like William needed a reminder. Ryland levered himself out of his seat a few rows up the plane, and Gabe did a little dance towards him, and the woman in the aisle seat rummaged in her purse for something that William suspected might be painkillers, or at least a sleeping pill.
It was going to be a long flight.
They were scattered all over the plane, because the airline fucked up or perhaps because the flight planners had a sneakier sense of self-preservation than William had hitherto suspected. Not that it really mattered, because the flight wasn't full ("Like, half-empty," Gabe said, and William said, "A quarter," because it said, right there on the screen in the departure lounge and it wasn't actually difficult math, if you weren't busy playing hopscotch amidst people's carry-on luggage) so Gabe hadn't been the only one out of his seat like a shot. Wherever they'd been previously, the Panic kids (he'll stop calling them that any day now, probably) ensconced themselves across a middle row, though William couldn't see how that had ever seemed like a good idea to them.
A bag thumped into the window seat in front of him; Sisky leaned over the seatback, the reading light haloing his head, and held out a hand, with what Chiz insisted on referring to as fun-sized bottles of bourbon wedged by the neck between each finger. "You're gonna need one," he said.
William took one, because Sis was right, he was. But only one, because William was getting too old to be drunk for fourteen hours straight and halfway across the Pacific was no place to get a hangover.
Gabe obviously disagreed on one point or the other, because when he showed up after they'd cleared away dinner (and William had his notebook and half a dozen scraps of paper spread out on his tray table) he was tipsy. Not so that anyone would notice, really, but William knew that particularly liquid lilt to his chuckle and the stretch of his chin, and would've put money down right then on the plastic cup in Gabe's hand being more bourbon than ice or coke, but Sisky had his headset in his ears and - by the giggling - was watching the movie. He probably wouldn't have taken the bet anyway. Siska tended to believe Gabe was always drunk unless a blood test proved otherwise.
"What?" William demanded, one hand flat across stray ideas.
Gabe did that eyes-widened oh-my-god thing at him, so possibly even further along than tipsy. "We've lost Nate," he declared.
"You can't have lost Nate," William told him. "This is an airplane."
"I know," Gabe said, getting slightly distracted in leaning over in front and prodding Sisky, who slapped his arm. Gabe chortled. "What was--Yeah, I know. That's it." He leaned forward, getting into the light, and the woman on the aisle made a disapproving-librarian noise and looked up. Gabe didn't even notice, saying, "Have you seen him since we left LA?"
"We did not leave him in the airport," William said, rubbing at his eye. He'd had it figured out, how long he needed to stay awake to not have jetlag, but now he'd forgotten.
"Look," the woman on the aisle said to Gabe, in a curt Australian accent, "do you want to swap seats?"
By the time William had managed, "That won't be--" Gabe had already said, "Sure!" He bounced back, giving her plenty of room now to throw things back in her purse, pull her shoes out from beneath the seat in front. "This way," he said, pointing up the plane. "Thirty-six."
They went off up the aisle, and William sighed, shuffled his bits of paper back into his notebook, shoving the lot back down the seatback pocket.
He didn't really wake up because he hadn't really been sleeping, his forehead knocking against the window and a crick in his neck. William's reading light was still on; he blearily found the switch and turned it off, blinking in the sudden darkness and realising that the rest of his row was empty. Gabe hadn't come back.
In the darkened cabin, the scattered reading lights were like spotlights, gilding islands of alertness. William squinted at the face of his watch, tilting it to try and catch the light, but he'd only just made out the angle of the hands when he let it drop again. It was meaningless. He couldn't remember what time it had been before he'd fallen asleep. Couldn't remember whether he'd already set it to Sydney time. Had no idea where or when they were.
Lurching towards the rear of the plane, William kept one hand on the seatbacks, pushing his hair back. A few rows back he had to step over a familiar tattooed arm, the Butcher sprawled across the four middle seats with the blanket pulled up over his face so his bare legs stuck out the other end. Across the cabin, William spotted Mike standing in the aisle, talking to someone sitting down. In the final row before the cabin ended, Nate was sitting in the aisle seat, head tipped back and buds in his ears.
William stopped, backed up a step, and stared at him.
Nate's eyes were closed, but his fingers were tapping regular rhythms against his thighs; William thought if he'd been more alert he'd have been able to recognise what he was listening to just by the drum patterns. Instead, he reached out and tugged one of the buds out of Nate's ear. Nate jumped, eyes flying open and hand coming up to push his hair across his forehead as he blinked up. "Huh?" he said.
"Have you seen Gabe?" William asked quietly. Not that the background noise of sixty-five tons of aircraft labouring through the heavens wasn't good cover, but it was the middle of the night. Or felt like it, at least.
Nate scowled and picked his earbud up again. "He's got to be around somewhere. This is a fucking airplane."
William stared at him, and Nate said, "What?" and William just shook his head and staggered on to the restrooms. He almost fell over the toilet getting the door closed, and when the bolt shot home he flinched away from the sudden brightness of his reflection in the mirror.
His row was still empty when he got back. Outside the windows the horizon behind them was the faintest crescent of blue. William pushed up the armrests and stacked up three pillows on the abandoned aisle seat, wedged a knee against the fuselage, and went to sleep.
"Helloooo," Victoria crooned. William pushed the camera out of his face, pulled the blanket up over his head, said, "Mmph." There was liquid laughter, and William's fingers curled in the blanket as he dropped back into sleep.
William's knee was screaming where his jeans cut into the back of it and his arm was dead. Two of the pillows were gone as though they'd never been, one was halfway down the back of his t-shirt. Looking at his watch was reflex, but he had even less idea now what relation it bore to reality.
The window was cold, a dusting of ice crystals across the inside of it, and outside the sky burned with watercolour fire, as the dawn chased them towards the west. There wasn't a cloud in sight.
William almost fell over the blanket getting out of his row. In the aisle, he stretched, reaching tingling fingers up to touch the ceiling and trying not to feel enclosed by that. There was a family in the middle section of his row, two children a tangle of limbs and their mother asleep on the aisle with a line etched between her eyebrows. William rubbed a hand over his face and turned up the aisle, stepping carefully; not turbulence, just his knees.
In the emergency exit space outside the galley, there were shadows loitering. Unsurprised to recognise them, William leaned on Suarez's shoulder as Ryan edged aside for him. Nate was tucked half under Gabe's shoulder against the bulkhead, but William had barely had a chance to start glaring before Gabe was saying, "Bill, my man," only to be hushed by Nate. He continued, half a whisper now, "You're a member of the Mile High Club, right?"
"What?" William frowned. He felt swamped by darkness and quiet and the flicker of the entertainment screen in the corner of his vision. But even as Gabe opened his mouth again, leaning forward with eager explanations, he added, "No, of course not."
"You're not?" Sisky - William hadn't even seen him there before now - sounded utterly disappointed by this. William hoped there hadn't been money riding on it.
"What do you mean of course?" Ryan asked.
William glanced sidelong at him. "You've been in an airplane restroom, right?" He would blame the edge to his tone on lack of sleep or the jitters of long-distance incarceration, but face it; he was regularly scathing. "Maybe you and yours can fit multiple people in there."
"Hey," Ryan said, drawing himself up, and, "That's the pot calling the kettle skinny," Alex murmured, but it was Gabe who said, "You can totally fit; c'mon," and grabbed William's wrist as he pushed past, spinning him around.
"What?" William said. Behind him, Nate's hushing sounds faded beneath Suarez engaging a curious flight attendant with diversionary requests, and even were he fully awake, William had grown accustomed to the effortless co-ordination of Cobras.
Gabe's grip stayed firm around William's wrist, even when they both almost fell over something (possibly William's two lost pillows) in the aisle. The Butcher's row was empty, blanket flat, and when they reached the rear of the cabin and Gabe stopped dead, William cannoning into his back, he could see it was because Victoria and Jon and the Butcher were packed into the back corridor. Victoria had her video camera in one hand and a steaming cup in the other; the scent of coffee cut through a little of the fog in William's head. She lifted the camera, and Gabe leaned right into the lens to say, "Nothing to see here!"
And then he pushed William into the restroom.
William did fall over the toilet this time, staggering against the wall and bracing a hand on Gabe's back as he stepped in as well, turning to close the door.
"This isn't--" William started, and caught an elbow in the chest as Gabe tried to turn around. He jerked his head back out of the way, sagging against the wall, and started laughing. The light came on, and he closed his eyes.
"Totally works," Gabe said, his voice ricocheting around the tiny space, breath against William's jaw. William felt it when Gabe wobbled, could feel the hand he flung out to the counter to keep his balance. "Hang on," he said, shifting, and William flailed, teetered, braced one hand against the mirror and the other on Gabe's shoulder to try and get both feet into actual supporting positions. Looking down was useless - he couldn't even see the floor - and when he looked up, Gabe was right there.
He was grinning, of course, but one corner of it quirked upwards. His eyes, when William looked, weren't looking back, but down. "Oh hi," Gabe said, a little twitch in his voice.
William rolled his eyes and tried to shove, but there was nowhere to shove to, and they just ended up with Gabe's arm even closer to around William's waist, his thigh even snugger between William's. "Don't even try," William said, "to pretend you didn't do this on purpose."
The grin broadened, like the sun coming over the horizon, and William knew it, knew Gabe, knew he wasn't entirely that crazy, or outrageous, or (sometimes) drunk, and somewhere in there, somewhere in limbo, was the reason he leaned forward and kissed him.
Gabe made a noise that was a close relation to a squeak, and then his arm really was around William's waist, thumb hooking in his jeans beltloop. Opening his mouth with Gabe's was easy with their hips together, thighs entwined. Gabe tasted of bourbon, coke and pretzels and William didn't even want to consider the inside of his own mouth, but though Gabe was muttering something that might even have been English between kisses, William didn't think he was complaining. The world shifted (the plane) and William braced his feet, hips tilting forward against Gabe's and oh, yes--
There was a crash, and Gabe jerked back, his thumb snagging at William's jeans and overbalancing him, sending him sprawling back against the wall with an ungainly thud even as Gabe held his other arm gingerly, fingers flexing and elbow near the compartment corner he must have smacked it on.
Quiet knocking on the door, and Victoria's voice said, "What are you doing in there?" William started laughing again.
"Fuck," Gabe said, and William leaned around him, their faces close together, to pull the bolt back. The light went dim.
"There isn't room," William said, and pressed a kiss to the corner of Gabe's mouth before shoving him out of the restroom. "I win."
"Smooth moves," Victoria said, grinning behind her video camera. "Waiting another fifteen seconds before coming out of the restroom. You've done this before."
Gabe was nowhere in sight, lost amidst the shifting shadow of the dimmed cabin, but Ryland had joined the huddle in the back crosswalk and he had a steaming cup as well. "I'll tell you," William said, distracted, "if you give me a cup of coffee."
"Tell us first," Victoria commanded regally, but Jon was already passing a cup across the Butcher's outstretched legs.
The coffee smelt like burnt paper and tasted more than a little like stale cigarette smoke. It was fucking great. Reality was no firmer, but William didn't particularly care.
"Well?" Victoria demanded.
He smiled beatifically. "I have no idea to what you refer." He switched the coffee to his other hand so that when she hit him none got spilt.
Gabe was asleep in his traded seat, one leg splayed out half into the aisle, but he woke up enough when William climbed over him to mumble, "oh baby," and tug at the leg of William's jeans. William fell into his own seat, and Gabe turned towards him, eyes closed again (if they'd ever been open). He said, "Maybe..." and trailed off into a slow smile. William pulled his notebook out of the seatback, looked up again when Gabe said, "Maybe." His eyes were half-open now, head tilted back, lazy. "Maybe the restrooms in business class are larger."
William laughed. "Maybe you should get some sleep."
Gabe's eyes were already closed again.
He didn't bother turning his reading light on again; there was enough dawn light now, falling in through the open window to splash across the promise of blank paper. Gabe's hand lay on the seat between them. Between verses, William drew a smiley face on the back of it, and Gabe didn't even stir.
They touched down without so much as a bump, and William set his watch to the local time, watching the sun shining on wet tarmac outside his window. In the aisle seat, Gabe said, "What? Fuck. Ow." And then, slightly clearer, "What the fuck is this?"
William turned his back on the window. Said, "Give me your other one, I'll do you a matching tragedy." Grinned with Gabe's fingers tangled in his and his pen on Gabe's skin and Gabe saying, "Have you been writing lyrics? Matching tragedy, you fucking bard..."