Gabe was halfway through his third drink and had barely even begun his intricate (and foolproof) plan to chat up the hot blonde when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He didn't even need to check it to know who had timing that bad.
The mirror over the hall table was far too public, and there was someone already in the bathroom, but Gabe had always figured Ryland for a vain fucker, and sure enough there was a full length mirror inside his closet. Pete was already grinning out of it when Gabe swung the door open.
"What, man?" Gabe demanded. "I saw you, like, four hours ago."
"No way." Pete shook hair out of his eyes. "Really?"
Pretty as hell, but they all sucked at time. "I am not watching any more Gossip Girl with you until at least Tuesday," Gabe warned, swigging from his beer. "I'm about to start dressing like Chuck Bass."
"As if you could," Pete shot back, but his heart wasn't really in it. Which must mean he was under orders from Ashlee, because there was precious little else that could pin his attention down for more than five seconds together. "There's something I want you to get for me."
Which was a slight confirmation, and also an amazingly open-ended possibility. Gabe just waited, because it could be anything from a pizza to the lost testament. Gabe had been places and seen things (and, frequently, stolen them, or at least borrowed them) that probably would've blown his mind if he hadn't grown up with Pete.
"It's in Chicago," Pete continued, looking so bright and cheerful he practically sparkled. "I can give you, like, directions and shit."
After twenty-whatever years, Gabe almost trusted the directions to be useful. "Chicago," he repeated with a sigh, and thunked his beer down on Ryland's bedside table. "Fuck, man, you owe me."
"You know where I live," Pete declared easily, as Gabe kicked the closet door shut.
"Something" turned out to be tall and slender, soft-haired and sharp-featured and, when Gabe arrived, bare-foot and -chested.
The usual lines of attack all appeared to be clear - no shrouds on the mirrors, no filters on the phone or powerlines, no horseshoes above windows and doors - but there was always the possibility that this guy was a more subtle sorcerer than Gabe (not difficult). Pete had been completely useless about why, precisely, he wanted this person brought to him and even more useless about what he was. Could be anything from the King of Tir na nOg's bastard get to a pretty piece of fluff Pete had spotted in his wanderings and conceived a fancy for.
When he finally laid eyes on the guy, Gabe raised the likelihood of it being the latter, but before he came into the apartment (through the window, the old-fashioned way) he'd had to assume hesitation might get his soul ripped out through his ears. So he had a blending glamour on (courtesy of one of Pete's relatives in town), defensive charms racked on his necklace and a knock-out spell stowed like a marble under his tongue.
The lock on the window might've been good steel to keep out the fae, but it had fuck-all effect on Gabe jimmying it. He was over the sill and halfway across the room inside before the guy got to his feet, notebook fluttering to the floor, squinting behind his glasses to see against the glamour. He teetered, off-balance, one hand coming up, and he had a pen between his fingers. That could be as bad as a wand for focusing energy. Gabe grabbed for that wrist first, keeping the hand pointed at the ceiling, and the other flailed, so he grabbed that one too. The guy frowned, opened his mouth. With both hands occupied, Gabe lacked a better method of delivery; he pulled the guy forward, mashed their mouths together, tonguing the spell between the guy's teeth.
The guy made an urgent, affronted noise and jerked back. He got as far as, "Do you--" before his eyes rolled closed and he went down like a sack of potatoes, sagging against Gabe's hold on his wrists until he managed to stagger forward and drop him down onto the armchair he'd been sitting in less than a minute before.
Entry a success, Gabe now had an opportunity to relax for a moment and take stock of things, like pertinent details of the currently-unconscious package he'd been sent to cart back to New York. Even sprawled inelegantly in just jeans with his hair in his face, the guy was pretty. Maybe especially like that. Very pretty. There could easily be fae blood in this one.
The spell, frankly, had tasted fucking appalling. Gabe located the fridge and rummaged in it until he found a beer. As he drank it, he browsed the cupboards, cast his eye along a bookshelf (jumbled literature, popular history and mythology - nothing actually useful) and poked through the things scattered over the bench. There were fliers for poetry readings, album launches, parties, art openings. There were catalogues and a newspaper folded to show a half-done crossword and a couple of photographs, the guy looking much more animated and in various company. And in between all of that, Gabe unearthed a utilities bill addressed to a Mr William E Beckett.
"William," Gabe said out loud, coming back into the main room. He considered the slumped form in the armchair. "Will? Bill? Billy?"
He shrugged; it didn't really matter what he was called, just what he was capable of. There were more bookshelves in this room, piled willy-nilly with novels, poetry, science and history and all sorts of other random crap, but not a single thing that flagged his attention. Gabe couldn't even find a copy of The Golden Bough, and even he had that one, albeit currently in a pile of other stuff acting as a doorstop. He stuck his head into the bathroom in case William Beckett had turned his bath into an alchemy lab - wouldn't be the first time - but the strangest thing he found was a bottle of Old Spice. "Seriously?" he called over his shoulder, and tossed it rattling into the sink.
Basically, no help here. Maybe the guy was absolutely nothing special. Maybe he was so good, so instinctive, that he didn't need any of the accoutrements, the documents, the materiel. Nothing for it but to throw him in the car, get going, and play it by ear.
Fucking great. Pete owed him so hard. Gabe deserved something good for this. He was talking full-on Blair Waldorf faeryland fantasy time, here.
The sun was just rising when Gabe saw a hand in the rearview, flailing up over the back of the seat. When Gabe found a safe place to pull over and hit the brakes, there was a slither and a curse, and Gabe turned to see a tangle of shirt and bony arms and hair that was even more tousled than it had been last night. Fingers curled around the passenger-seat headrest, and a voice scratched, "I'm going to be sick."
Gabe wasn't really surprised.
By the time William was finished retching into the bushes, Gabe was leaning against his side of the car, box of kleenex in one hand, bottle of water in the other. William eyed him suspiciously, dragging the back of his hand across his mouth, but he edged close enough to grab the water, casting Gabe sidelong glances as he rinsed his mouth out, then downed half the bottle in three long swallows.
"You," William croaked, and then winced, pressing a thumb between his eyebrows as though trying to smooth out the frown that had sprung up there.
"It'll do that for a while," Gabe said, sympathetically.
William looked sidelong at him again. "What?"
"About twelve hours," Gabe hazarded. "Not my spell, so I can't say for certain, but that's pretty average. Don't try any of your own, it'll just make it worse."
"What?" William repeated, more desperately.
"Sorry," Gabe offered. "I keep asking them to fix that, but they don't seem to understand the problem." Faeries, what could you do? He shrugged, said, "I'm Gabe, by the way," and took a step forward.
William took a hurried one back.
Gabe stopped dead. "Hey," he said. "Hey." He lifted his hands, palms out, bracing, like William was a nervous animal. The irony always annoyed him: if he had the faery charm, William wouldn't currently be eyeing him like Gabe was spattered in the blood of his favourite pet. Of course, if he was fae, he couldn't have gone into William's house uninvited, laid hands on him, slung him over his shoulder and made off into the night.
"Hey," he said again, "I am not going to hurt you. I'm sorry about how it went down last night, but you were supposed to be asleep, dude; it was three fucking AM." William's eyes flicked away and down, but jumped back again when Gabe eased the tiniest amount forward. "I just got a job to do," Gabe tried, "and that's taking you to my boss. Who will not hurt you!" he added hurriedly, as William's chin went up.
For what it was worth, it was true. They didn't understand pain like they didn't understand a lot of things.
But that wasn't going to help, and William backed up another step without Gabe even leaning forward. "Look," Gabe tried again, firm now. "I want this to be as easy as possible, ok? I want it to be fucking civilised. But if you try to bolt on me, I'm going to have to truss you up with your own hair."
William turned and ran.
"Dammit," Gabe muttered, and dropped into a crouch. The roadside grass was sun-and-sap warm against his palm, and from a little way off there was a squawk and a thump.
Gabe got back to his feet and jogged the dozen feet William had made it before he'd apparently tripped over a shrub. Some sort of flowering creeper was twined around his skinny ankles for good measure, reluctant to release him even when Gabe knelt down to pry the tendrils away.
"Why me?" William asked the sky as Gabe untangled the greenery. He had an arm flung half over his face and his shirt had snagged on the shrub; Gabe unhooked it and draped it back across his chest, and William flinched, burrowing his face into the crook of his arm.
"Fuck's sake," Gabe said, grabbing for that wrist to pull it away from William's face, and plucking a hair from William's scalp at the same time. "I'm not having my way with you on the side of the goddamn road." He reached for the other arm, held both wrists together in one hand as he looped the strand of hair around them once, twice, thrice before letting go.
William stared at his bound wrists, breathing hard and fast. "What the hell?" he demanded, voice rising.
"I did say," Gabe pointed out, but William didn't appear to be paying attention. He was, in fact, so stunned that he didn't even fight Gabe slinging him over his shoulder to carry back to the car, which was just as well. It was hard enough as it was.
Blair and Chuck time, dammit.
Gabe drove a little further, keeping an eye on the roadside signs, so that when there was movement in his rearview (tousled hair heaving up, being huffed out of a face, convoluted manoeuvres to get his still-unbuttoned shirt straight) he was already turning into a parking lot.
In the silence after Gabe killed the engine, William's voice from the backseat said, "Your boss is here?" with an inflection that Gabe thought was probably affront. You've kidnapped me to bring me to a Waffle House?
He almost giggled, and hid it by leaning over to rummage in the bag that had fallen off the passenger seat into the footwell. "No," he said. "Just breakfast. Plus, I thought you might like to wash up a bit." He straightened up and tossed the rattling toiletries bag into the back.
William caught it clumsily, half in his lap with his arms twisted, wrists still bound together. He twisted them around further, frowning at the silver logo on the side of the bag as though it were something offensive. "This is mine," he said, accusingly. "You went through my bathroom?"
Gabe draped his elbow over the front seat and grinned. "Don't worry, your Old Spice shame is safe with me."
"It was a Christmas present," William declared, like a kneejerk reaction, and glared for good measure.
"Sure," Gabe agreed easily. "Whatever you say."
William was twisting his hands around more, staring fixedly at the hair-restraint twined around them. "This is so weird," he muttered, almost to himself. "It won't give, but it's not cutting in at all."
"Because it's yours," Gabe said, and got a sudden, startled look. He shrugged a shoulder. "Just the way it works. Give them here," he added, and beckoned.
William eyed him with extreme suspicion, but eventually extended his arms. Gabe steadied his wrists with one hand, and snapped the hair with a finger. William pulled his wrists apart an inch; stared at them; stared at Gabe. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"Just the messenger," Gabe said. "With tricks up my sleeve. So believe me this time when I tell you that if you say anything to anyone in there about what's going on here," he stirred one finger around idly in the air, "then I will steal your voice."
"Ok," William said, brushing the remnants of the hair off his wrists. He looked up, met Gabe's eyes, and said, "ok," more defensively. "I won't say a thing."
Gabe snorted. "You can talk, just don't go hollering for help. Come on."
They'd been in the Waffle House for ten minutes, Beckett had been in the men's room for six, and the waitress had just turned away from the table with the order when a tiny voice squeaked, "Gabe! Hey Gabey! Hey!"
There was a tiny, winged person pirouetting madly on the dented pinnacle of the salt cellar. Gabe used one finger to flick it off, and it went tumbling across the red tablecloth to fetch up sprawling against the napkin at William's place-setting. "I know," Gabe muttered at it - him, since the little thing was obviously male - as it lay there giggling breathlessly.
He stood up, tossing his own napkin over the pixie, and grinned at the waitress. "Sorry, left something in the car. I'll be right back."
As the door swung shut behind him, Gabe could see her turning to tell the cook not to start on the order, pegging him for a runner. The delay wouldn't be appreciable, and Gabe could mend his fences when he came back.
Around the back of the restaurant, half a full-sized person was sticking out the window of the men's room. "Hey," Gabe called as he walked up, and William jerked and stared at him guiltily. Gabe leaned against the painted brickwork beneath the window and said easily, "I thought we'd better order, but well, y'know, I'm vegetarian and I just assumed." He waved a hand. "But I can go back and get you some bacon or something, if you like."
William stared at him, and Gabe grinned back, and after a moment or two, William closed his eyes and sighed. "Yeah," he said, "ok."
"Great," Gabe declared. "I'll do that then. Oh." He paused in turning away. "Did you need a hand?"
"No," William said through gritted teeth. "I'll be fine."
Gabe whistled his way back to the car to get the bag out of the passenger seat footwell. As he came back into the restaurant, he held it up and gave the waitress a grin. "Forget my ass if it wasn't bolted on," he said cheerfully. "And can my friend get some bacon with his order?"
When Gabe picked up his napkin, there was no little person, winged or otherwise, hiding under it, and three minutes later William threw himself down on the other side of the booth. He'd buttoned his shirt, and washed his face if the damp hair he brushed aside was any indication.
"Here," Gabe said, and pitched the bag across the table.
William caught it with a fit of trepidation passing over his studied nonchalance. That was it until he peered inside, at which point he passed rapidly through surprised to baffled. "This is my stuff," he said, pulling out a t-shirt to make sure.
"Save the fresh clothes for later," Gabe suggested. "We'll stop properly in a few hours so I can get some sleep and then you can actually shower."
William was staring at him like his head was on backwards. "You are the worst ki--" And then he stopped abruptly, pressing his lips together, as the waitress brought their food. When he resumed, it was much quieter, leaning forward over his plate. "You are the worst kidnapper," he said. "You don't give me a reward after I've tried to escape."
"I'll bear that in mind," Gabe said, mouth full.
William left off going through the bag until they were back in the car. (As they walked across the parking lot, Gabe spun the keys around his finger and said, "You wanna sit in the front? I hate feeling like a fucking taxi driver." Which earned him another look, and if Gabe had known William was going to be such a stickler for the Kidnapper's Guide to Successful Whatever, he might've just left him bound and gagged in the back from the get-go.)
Anyway, they were back on the road when William resumed rummaging and, shortly thereafter, came up with the notebook. So Gabe supposed it was time to stop thinking about it and start talking.
"So you're a poet, huh?" he said, eyes on the road. He could still see William at the edge of his vision, blue denim and the shadow of hair, long fingers braced against the dash.
When Gabe snuck a sidelong glance, William's other hand was picking at the dog-ear of one corner of the notebook's cover. "I work at the Gap," he said.
Gabe snorted. "Yeah, and I wait tables at a Spanish restaurant. But what you are is a poet."
In the corner of his eye, William shrugged, turned away to look out the window. Gabe didn't particularly need any confirmation. The notebook was the one William had been writing in when Gabe had come through his window, the one that had fallen from his lap in the struggle, the one Gabe had only found last thing as he'd started considering how to get six foot of gangly downstairs and into his car. The one that had pretty much answered the lingering question of why Pete wanted this guy.
"And you're a pretty good one," Gabe added, which at least got William to turn back towards him.
"You are a connoisseur of poetry." Even with a quick sidelong glance, Gabe could appreciate how good William could make sceptical look. He still hadn't entirely ruled out the ornamental as a reason for acquisition. Flower-draped and languid, William would be fucking beautiful, even if Gabe thought it'd be a dire waste of all those sharper edges.
Eyes on the road. "Hey," Gabe said easily, "you hang with the crowd I do, you pick it up."
There was a moment before William said, "Criminals," and the scorn wasn't as certain as it might have been.
It made Gabe smirk. "You know many criminals who can do what I do?"
A longer moment of silence, and when Gabe glanced sideways, William looked away quickly, out the windscreen, and shrugged. "I don't know any criminals," he said, both pointed and offhand at once.
Gabe grinned, and shifted down to overtake a truck. "Well, I've known lots of poets."
He'd seen them seated beside Pete's throne, traded smalltalk with them in the courts of other kings and queens, watched their eyes as he gave them updates on a world that was no longer the one they'd left behind.
Gabe drove until just after noon, when he almost dislocated his own jaw yawning. Thirty-eight hours or however many it had been was a pretty paltry total up against some sleepless stretches he'd pulled in the past - there were spells that could keep you going until you dropped, but there was also a motel right there, and no real reason to be an idiot about it.
As Gabe signed for the room (fuck faery gold, he had faery platinum) he realised the guy behind the counter was staring over his shoulder, out the window into the parking lot. With a smirk, Gabe followed his gaze; leaning against the side of the car with his ankles crossed and hands in his pockets, shirt still half unbuttoned and hair a mess, William looked like a mile and a half of cheap promises. Gabe grinned at the clerk as he handed the form back, took the room key, and didn't bother correcting his leapt-to conclusions.
William glared at Gabe as he came back across the parking lot. When he got close enough that no one else was likely to overhear, William snarled, "You stuck me to the fucking car."
"Well," Gabe said, tone eminently reasonable as he pushed his wallet into his back pocket, "you did try to run away earlier. I just don't want you to be disappointed with your first kidnapping experience." He cocked his head, and leant one hand against the roof of the car next to William's shoulder. "Hang on. Or is it your first. Is that why you're so picky? Are you a kidnapping connoisseur?"
William rolled his eyes away from Gabe, turning into profile with his mouth pressed closed, and Gabe grinned. But then something twitched in the set of William's chin, and it wasn't laughter he was holding in anymore. Gabe moved his hand from the car to William's shoulder, closing over its flinch as he said, quietly, "Hey." William blinked and looked at him, and Gabe tugged him forward, releasing the low-level bind he'd set. William tilted a little, testing it, sliding out from under Gabe's hand. Gabe stuck it in his jeans pocket instead, jerked his head, and said, "Grab your stuff. We're in one-twenty-six."
Letting William have first shower, despite the fact that he was dying for one and almost fell asleep before William got out of the bathroom, was not an entirely altruistic gesture on Gabe's part. After all, he really would be the worst kidnapper in the world if he let his charge just walk out while he was in the shower.
William came out with his jeans back on, and a towel around his shoulders catching the drips from his wet hair. By that time Gabe was long finished with his chores and had been channel-surfing, until he found a Mexican soap-opera so bananas even he was having trouble following it, but at least it was keeping him awake. When William took two uncertain steps back into the room, Gabe tossed the remote aside and bounced to his feet, already pulling his t-shirt up over his head.
"If you've used all the hot water," he told William, dropping his shirt on his bag and elbowing his way past into the bathroom, "we're going to have fucking words, man."
He closed the door on William's blankly baffled expression.
There was still plenty of hot water, even after Gabe wallowed under it for five empty minutes, vaguely contemplating jerking off (Pete had dragged him away from that party and Gabe hadn't been laid in, um, a while, and he'd had a half-naked piece of fine, lanky ass tied up in his backseat for half the morning) but mostly just not quite falling asleep standing up. Eventually he just shut the water off, climbed out of the tub, and scrubbed a wet hand across the fog clouding the mirror.
And then he stared at his own reflection blearily. He probably should call up Pete. To remind His Ditzy Majesty of what Gabe was doing, if nothing else, but there wasn't really anything to report. Got your package. A particularly fine one. Weather mediocre, wish you were here.
The mirror fogged up again while Gabe was dithering. Fuck it. He wrapped the towel around himself and left the bathroom.
William, seated on the edge of the nearer bed, looked up so quickly that Gabe automatically glanced at the room door. But he would've felt if William had been tampering, and he could still see his bindings in place - they hadn't even been touched. Gabe felt weirdly affronted by that. Seriously? Gabe had been all this time in the shower and William hadn't even tried the door?
The television abruptly shut off, and William set the remote on the bedspread, standing up. He shoved his hands in the back pockets of his jeans and looked down at the highly questionable motel carpet, hair falling in his face. He still hadn't put a shirt on, and Gabe seriously reconsidered the decision he'd made in the shower. And then William said, "You said you weren't going to have your way with me on the side of the road."
Gabe fumbled tossing his jeans aside, and they slid off the arm of the chair and landed on the floor. "Huh?" he said, brilliantly.
William glanced up, almost sidelong through the fall of his hair, and said, "What about now?"
That probably would've had Gabe stuck to the spot by itself, but the sight of William biting gently on his own bottom lip as he took a couple of sinuous steps towards Gabe was as good as a binding spell. He was close enough that Gabe could smell the motel soap on his skin, could hear perfectly when he whispered, "You could, if you wanted."
Gabe had never felt less tired than right now, skin prickling. He wasn't stupid, but he was only human. "William," he said--
And then William's mouth was on his, catching the last syllable of his own name, licking at the trace of it at the corner of Gabe's mouth. Shit. He was only human, and the curve of William's bare waist fit his hand so fucking perfectly, and surely it couldn't hurt to tug him closer. To open his mouth and kiss him properly, deeply, persistently, until William's spine arched just a little beneath the hand Gabe seemed to have spread over it, pressing. Until William tucked two fingers under Gabe's towel against his hip, and half of Gabe's brain purred yes even as the other half said wait.
Ah, fuck it.
William made this tiny noise as Gabe's hands on his shoulders eased him back, and Gabe very nearly pulled him back in again. But he straightened his arms instead, and William swayed, opened his eyes, focusing pretty quickly on Gabe's face.
"I have no doubt," Gabe said easily, "that you're magnificent in bed, but I should probably tell you that it's never going to be good enough to get me to let you go."
The soft cast to William's features was gone in half a second, and he yanked his hand from Gabe's towel to shove his hair back angrily.
"Nor," Gabe persisted, letting his hands fall as unnecessary now. "Nor am I going to let you tie me up. Much as I'd like to. Sorry."
Wearing him out also wouldn't change the efficacy of the bindings on the door, but since William was already spinning on his heel to stalk away to the far bed, actually saying that out loud seemed unnecessary. Gabe just grinned, crouched down to rummage through his own bag for a pair of boxers. By the time he climbed into his own bed, William was lying primly on the far side of the other one, scribbling industriously in his notebook. "Good night," Gabe sang as he shoved a beaded charm under his pillow; he caught William's sidelong glance and rolled away, still grinning.
The charm was just to keep the locals out of his dreams - he needed some proper sleep, and faeries were fucking nosy. If William thought it was some sort of defense, that was hardly Gabe's fault, was it?
The prickle of his bindings being tested dragged Gabe out of sleep. He shoved the pillow out of his face enough to say relatively clearly, "Do not fucking make me get up," and fell back into oblivion.
They hit the road again shortly after the sun set, drive-thru dinner in their laps and the homeward stretch ahead of them. Well, Gabe's homeward stretch. Gabe drove one-handed, and at one point wedged his knee against the steering wheel to deal with a recalcitrant bit of packaging, but William either didn't care about road safety or was really enthralled by getting the last of his soda up the straw.
Dinner was a lingering scent of grease and the world outside the car was black when William said, all of a sudden, "So," and Gabe almost swerved off the road in surprise.
"Jesus," he muttered, steadying the wheel and stealing a sidelong glance. There wasn't much light off the dashboard instruments, but enough to catch the highlights of the seriously unimpressed look William was giving him in return. "Give me some fucking warning," Gabe said, defensive.
"Warn you that I'm going to speak?" William demanded, incredulous. "How? Carrier pigeon?"
There wasn't a lot Gabe could say to that, so he went with, "So what?" He glanced sideways at William's frown, and added, "You said so. So what?"
William resettled himself pointedly in his seat, crossing his legs and pushing a knee against the glove compartment, until he presumably felt his disgruntlement had been well communicated, when he relented and said, "So what are you?"
A hand waved in Gabe's peripheral vision. "I'm not a retail wage-slave, I'm a poet. You're not a Spanish waiter. So what are you?"
"The worst kidnapper in the world," Gabe replied blithely.
"Uh huh," William said, and Gabe had absolutely no trouble imagining the sceptical look he was presently being given. He was a little troubled at how little trouble he had, but then William was going on with, "You get into my apartment, knock me out, get me out without even one of my incredibly annoying neighbours noticing, so maybe you are just a good kidnapper, but then you..." There was a pause; the pause of a rational, reasonable, twenty-first-century mind lining up concepts it never quite expected to be dealing with. "You tie me up with a hair. And I barely even touched the fucking door this afternoon."
Huh. So that had been William. He'd been asleep on his notebook when Gabe woke up this evening, and Gabe had wondered if maybe it had been housekeeping or some aspiring criminal trying to get into the room.
Gabe slouched a little in his seat, hooking his wrist over the top of the steering wheel. "Don't get excited," he warned, smile wry. "I'm just a guy."
"Just the messenger," William repeated, pointed to the verge of sardonic. "With tricks up your sleeve." There didn't seem much point answering that, so Gabe just tried to pay more attention to what was in front of him than beside him until William said, "Whose messenger?"
"Now you're asking the right questions," Gabe noted, and was almost surprised at how approving he sounded.
Less surprised at how irritated William sounded as he shot back, "Are you going to answer them?"
"Are you sure you want me to?" Gabe took advantage of a straight bit of road to actually look at William; he was turned towards Gabe, with a determined set to his jaw. Still. "You won't believe me." Probably. Maybe. Even if Gabe wanted him to.
"Try me." William answered so fast he practically talked over Gabe.
Who grinned, looked back at the road, and said, "I owe my allegiance--" and his life a few times over, and most of the more outrageous fun he'd had "--to his Fae Majesty, Pete Wentz." Gabe shrugged a shoulder, and added, "And a bit to his Queen too, I guess, but not really." Don't get him wrong, Ashlee was awesome, but she hadn't been there all of Gabe's life.
Silence from the other side of the car. Gabe wondered how long he'd have to wait, but only a moment later, William was saying, "The fairy king," like Gabe had just suggested he worked for the Easter Bunny. Just like that, in fact.
"A fairy king," Gabe corrected, lifting one hand off the steering wheel to emphasise the point. "He covers... New Hampshire to Missouri. Sort of. A bit." He waved his hand vaguely. Geography was so not a one-to-one translation, but you couldn't even start to explain how it worked until halfway through a bottle of hard spirits. "His realm's big, but it's just one realm."
More silence. Gabe sort of regretted not having pulled over at the start of this conversation so he could actually watch William's face. Too late now, really. "Pete the fairy king," was what he said next, in a tone like he was more hoping for Gabe to laugh now, rather than expecting it.
"You prefer Oberon?" Gabe shrugged. "Pete's fond of humans. He tries to keep up with the culture." And the clothes, and the language, and the television, which he viewed as a sort of entertaining cheat-sheet for all of the above.
"If... Pete's territory includes Chicago, why are we driving?" When Gabe snuck a look sideways, there was a little frown creasing William's brow that was almost as cute as the idea that he could make the fae adhere to rational explanations.
"Because his throne's in New York," Gabe answered, and wondered if there was another kidnapper's-handbook telling-off in his future for revealing where they were going. "We could've crossed over in Chicago, but on that side the journey might've taken a couple hours, or it might've taken a couple weeks. That's why I try not to set foot in the realms unless I absolutely have to." Well, it was one of the reasons.
William slid down in his seat. Gabe thought he was actually taking this really well, until William drummed his fingers on his knee and said, "I don't even know why I'm asking questions. You're right. I don't believe a word you're saying."
Gabe shrugged. He'd said, hadn't he? No one ever believed it. You had to be face-to-face with it, and even then half the time people decided it was aliens instead. Gabe probably wouldn't have believed it if he hadn't grown up with Pete tumbling out of the shadows in a spray of fairydust every second night.
Ten miles further on, William said, just as out of the blue as the first time, "Can you prove it?"
Could he prove it? Like the fae realms were a triangle on an exam paper with find x written underneath. In a few hours time they'd be in New York and William could immerse himself in proof. Well, more than a few hours, because Gabe was not crossing into the realms hungry, dirty and above all tired, but comparatively soon. "Why?" Gabe asked, looking across curiously.
To find William looking back steadily. "Because if you can - if you can prove to me that you're--" He waved a hand, as though dismissing the notion as ridiculous already. "--away with the fairies - if you can prove that, then I'll come along perfectly quietly. I won't even try to escape again, I won't be any trouble."
Gabe could've pointed out that William hadn't precisely been trouble thus far, but just because he'd managed to catch him every time didn't mean it wouldn't be sort of charming to not have to bother. There were about a hundred and fifty ways William could disappear in New York. "You realise I can make that promise actually binding," he noted.
"If you're telling the truth," William shot back.
Gabe grinned in the dark, and pulled onto the shoulder. Gravel crunched and popped under the tires, and William braced a hand against the dash. When Gabe turned the engine off - but left the headlights up - he looked across to William staring wide-eyed back. "I'm telling the truth," he said, releasing his seatbelt, "and there's too much steel and shit in the car. C'mon."
William left his door open when he came across to meet Gabe, hands in the back pockets of his jeans, not quite the perfect portrait of reluctance, but not a bad impression. There was a wooden post a few feet away, the remnant of some long-gone fence, not quite far enough that the headlights were no help. Gabe waited there for William to join him, wading through the long grass.
"I will show you proof that the realms and their occupants are real, and I am associated with them," Gabe declared, and held out his hand over the top of the wooden post.
William eyed it, hesitated a moment, then said, "And I will do anything you say."
Which... wow. That wasn't quite what Gabe had been expecting, but William was shaking his hand, the bargain a fading spark in the air between them. Gabe reclaimed his hand and said, "Ok." There was a possibility he wouldn't be able to fulfill his half anyway, that no one would be around. The only thing you could rely on the fae for was being unreliable.
So Gabe pushed his palm flat on the top of the wooden post, let himself feel its memory of being alive, down into the ground, and then through both to what lay beyond. He didn't cross over, just opened the threshold, caught a glimpse of sunshine and impossibility before he blinked and said aloud, "Anyone there?"
William watched him. A car went past on the road. Nothing happened. Fucking faeries.
Gabe sighed, and lifted his hand off the post, and in that moment a flash of glitter appeared between them, somersaulting wildly down to bounce off the top of the fencepost. As it sprang back up into the air, it unfolded limbs and wings and chirped, "Gabe!"
William's mouth had fallen open. Gabe grinned and said, "Hey, little guy."
"Guess what, guess what?" the pixie demanded, turning loop-the-loops that sizzled for a moment in the air. "I saw a unicorn out in the western glade and the Countess of the Morning - she's the most beautiful..."
Even as the pixie launched into a babbling recounting of whatever was on its mind right now, a second tiny figure trailing effervescence zipped down out of the night, catching the first one in a flying tackle that spun them both down towards the ground like a miniature, shrieking comet. There was a third one standing on the fencepost now, hopping from one foot to the other and shouting at its companions.
It broke off just as suddenly as it had appeared, tumbling backwards away from the hand William lifted towards it. William - whose eyes were so big Gabe wondered if they might fall out - froze, hand outstretched, and the pixie bounced back to its feet, standing proud and tall with a glint of something in its hand.
"Whoa, hold up," Gabe announced, reaching forward to snatch the pixie up. It waved its needle-sized sword, and he added, "Do not fucking stab me, you little bastard. Hands off him as well," he added, talking now to the other two pixies, who were hovering behind William; William spun around, stumbled back with a hand atop the fencepost to steady himself. "He's for the King."
"So shouldn't you be taking it to Him?" a new voice said in the darkness. William turned around again, pushed his hair out of his face, as beside them a human-sized figure stepped out of nothing. His only clothing was a pair of ragged jeans, but an ornate and glittering swordhilt stuck up over one shoulder, and the crosswise-slung strap of the scabbard had a climbing rose twined around it. The night was suddenly full of the dizzying, blood-red scent of the blooms.
"Ryan Ross," Gabe declared with a grin, and the faery turned his glare away from William. "Long time no see. Where's your crew?"
Ryan looked unimpressed, but Gabe had never seen him looking any other way. "Well met, Gabe Saporta," he returned. "And they are busy, upon the work of his Majesty. As you should be."
"I'm working on it," Gabe said blithely.
"I'm sure," Ryan drawled, and snapped his fingers. The pixies hovering at William's shoulders disappeared; the one still clutched in Gabe's fist wriggled its way free before also vanishing. Ryan waved a pale hand around in front of his face. "Make sure you close this up properly. We have a fucking treaty to keep." And then he, too, was gone.
It took Gabe a minute to get the car started again, which was hardly surprising under the circumstances. The third time it refused to turn over, and Gabe sighed and draped his wrists over the steering wheel, William said, "Drugs."
Gabe blinked at him. "What?"
William turned to look at him, dead serious. "You've been drugging me, haven't you?"
Gabe laughed. "You're not getting out of it that easy." He tried again, and the engine leapt into life. "For someone who's apparently been high," he added, "you've been kind of boring."
There was a pause, during which William didn't mention his failed seduction - well, not failed; mis-purposed - and Gabe didn't think about it, so of course he didn't smirk. Instead, he checked his rearview and the blind spot, and pulled back onto the road.
Half an hour later they stopped for coffee, and giving his order to the guy behind the counter were the first words William had said in all that time. Gabe wondered if maybe he had done this all wrong. Maybe he should have just stuck to being the kidnapper. Kept William tied up and driven through the day and handed him over at the end none the wiser. Got back to his own life.
But back in the car, William said, "How does just a guy come to be working for a fairy king?" He was looking out the window at the passing darkness, his coffee cup clutched to his chest despite the fact it wasn't a cold night. One knee was jiggling, and his hair was pretty much a hopeless mess, and he glanced over and said, "Eyes on the road, Gabe, for fuck's sake."
Gabe twitched the car back between the lines. He tried to remember if that was actually the first time William had used his name. "It's not really like that."
"Like what?" William asked.
"I'm not his minion. I haven't sold my soul to the devil. It's not even a job. He doesn't pay me." He couldn't. Gabe had once spent three and a half hours trying to explain money to Pete, and had got absolutely nowhere. The concept of fixed value completely escaped them. "I do him favours. He does me favours. We hang out."
There was a moment of silence from William's side of the car. "Are you saying you're friends with the king of a fairy realm?"
Gabe had dozens of friends, a handful of really close ones, and none of them were anything like Pete. He said, "I've known Pete since I was six. I grew up and he hasn't aged a day. Sometimes I see him once a month, and sometimes he spends four days straight in my living room while I try to explain the behaviour of Serena van der Woodsen."
"Who?" William demanded.
"Gossip Girl," Gabe explained with a grin. "He doesn't have any problem with Blair or Chuck, all ego and urges and arrogance. They're practically fae. But Serena's always trying to be nice and he does not fucking get it."
"Huh," William said. He was sitting facing Gabe now, one foot tucked up on the edge of the seat, dangling his coffee from the hand of the arm he had propped over his knee. "I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, you realise."
Gabe shrugged. He supposed it wasn't really important, though Pete would have objected. He'd been taking it all extremely seriously, right up to the point where Gabe's television had finally succumbed to the electronic fuckery caused by Pete's very presence. "He gives me things," he continued. "Or just leaves them around me when he forgets about them, I don't even know. And sometimes it's interesting shaped twigs and sometimes it's fucking diamonds and sometimes it's, like, an original page of Shakespeare's first draft of Midsummer Night's Dream."
"Seriously?" William interjected, and when Gabe just grinned at him, he added, "What did you do with it?"
"What can you fucking do with something like that?" Gabe laughed. "I got it framed and gave it to this actor friend of mine as a birthday present. Maybe one day some relative of his will be that guy in the news with the surprise ancient artifact in his attic."
"So." William drew it out like maybe one syllable was going to last until things made sense. Gabe wished him good luck with that. "So he gives you detritus and priceless antiques, and you give him trashy television and me?"
Implying you were a trade for an original page of Shakespeare was a piece of arrogance even Gabe would've been proud of, but he suspected William had just been going for good scansion rather than deeper correlation. In any case, "You're not a gift," Gabe corrected. "You're a favour. He asked for you."
"He asked for me?"
"There are rules, right?" Gabe explained, wriggling up straighter in his seat. "Places he can't go, things he can't do, that none of them can. Like you have to come to his throne, you can't be brought by a faery. Stuff that needs a human. Most of the time they can't even come out into the world unless they're specifically invited, which is probably just as well. I took Pete to this baseball game once--"
"He asked for me?" William interrupted.
Which Gabe guessed was fair enough, really, but it still made him laugh a little. "Oh yeah," he said. "Not by name or anything, I cheated that off your mail, but he said go to Chicago, get me this, gave me your address - well, close enough. He knows who you are, and he's waiting for me to bring you to him."
"How?" William demanded.
Gabe's turn to give him a look like he was crazy. "You've been here for that part, though allegedly you were high."
"No," William said, exasperated. "How does he know who I am? I haven't..." He waved a hand. "I'm not published. I've performed a bit, but..."
"That's all it takes," Gabe told him. "Wind blowing the right way, the boundary just a bit thin, someone overhears. Hell, a jaunting pixie could've flown over your open notebook and told someone about it. They'll talk to anyone about anything."
"So now what?" William asked. "What... what does he want from me?"
But Gabe just shook his head. "I couldn't say." He glanced sidelong at William, and emphasised, "No, really, I have no idea. Even if Pete had told me when he sent me to Chicago, that was a couple days ago now. He might have changed his mind. He might have forgotten."
"But you're still taking me," William noted.
Gabe lifted his coffee cup again, but it was empty; he wedged it back into the holder between their seats. "Pete asked me to," he said.
Gabe hadn't bothered with a watch in years - enough exposure to the fae could even make clockwork malfunction - but he thought it was probably somewhere around two in the morning when he finally pulled up in front of his apartment block. The music he'd had on for the past couple hours cut out with the engine, and William twitched in the passenger seat, dragging a hand over his face and arching into a stretch. "We're stopping?" he mumbled.
"We're here," Gabe corrected.
William blinked at him, soft with sleep, but then he jerked up straight in his seat, twisting around, eyes wide.
Gabe laughed. "No, not here here. Just my place. Pete can wait until tomorrow." Naps in the car notwithstanding, William was tired, hungry... vulnerable. Pete had asked Gabe to bring William, not hand him up gift-wrapped on a silver platter. "Come up," he added, smothering a yawn of his own, "get some sleep in a real bed. Well, a real couch. There might even be leftover pizza, if my roommate hasn't eaten it all."
William trailed after him up the stairs, hanging back in the doorway after Gabe unlocked the door and strode right in. A voice from down the corridor called, "Gabe?"
Gabe called back, "Yeah," and tossed his keys onto the table, his bag onto an armchair. "You still up?"
Nate padded down to the end of the corridor on bare feet, rubbing at his eye, pushing his hair out of his face. "Kinda," he said, leaning against the wall as he scratched his chest in the middle of the big, faded, happy bear face on his tshirt. "Hi," he added, to William.
"Nate, this is William. William, Nate." Gabe waved a hand between them. "Are you going to come in?"
William came in, closing the door behind him. "Hi," he said, nodding carefully and consideringly to Nate.
"Nah," Gabe said, "he's hundred-percent human."
"What?" Nate said, and yawned, hugely. He waved a hand. "Whatever. I got work in the morning." He padded away again. "Pizza in the fridge, but eat my chili and die," was the last thing Gabe heard before a door closed.
There was two-thirds of a pizza, and that got William all the way into the room, dropping his bag at his feet as he leaned one bony hip against the counter. They ate the whole thing and they ate it cold, like it was some sort of competition, but by the end of it William was leaned over the counter, propped on one elbow as he chased olive shards around the corners of the box.
Gabe waved a hand with his mouth still full, and said, "Couch." He swallowed. "I'll find you a pillow and shit. Bathroom at the end of the hall." He yanked open the hall closet; blanket, but no pillow, so Gabe ducked into his room to snag one off his unmade bed.
When he came back out, William was standing in the middle of the room, doing that thing where he looked at Gabe. He got his hands out of his pockets fast enough when Gabe flung the pillow at him, but kept looking, one eyebrow up now.
"Seriously," Gabe said, "I have about six." He dumped the blanket on the end of the couch, and looked back. "What?"
William shook his head, and tossed the pillow down on top of the blanket. "And now I'm sleeping on your couch. It's just plain fucking weird."
"Whatever," Gabe declared, with a grin. "It's not like you can try to escape or anything. We have a deal." His grin widened. "Anything I say." William rolled his eyes, but Gabe wasn't going to be put off that easily. "What the fuck, dude," he said, conversationally. "I mean, really, far less would've been fine."
"Yeah," William said. "Well." He met Gabe's gaze, direct and pointed, like Gabe was being an idiot, but he couldn't keep it up and glanced down, hair swinging over his face as he shrugged a shoulder. "You could've waited fifteen minutes before saying what you did."
It took Gabe a moment to figure out what he was talking about. Then he snorted. "Dude. Please. An hour." And he had a wide, leering grin waiting when William's eyes rolled again, the corners of his mouth twitching upwards. "Sweet dreams," Gabe offered, and headed back to his room.
When he woke up, the sun was assaulting his blinds and the door to his room was still at precisely the same not-entirely-closed angle. Probably for the best. He had to take William to Pete today.
Except that when he slumped his way out, yawning and smearing his shoulder against the wall and scratching at stubble he was trying to get motivated enough to shave off, the blanket and pillow were piled neatly at one end of the couch, and the room was empty. Gabe stuck his head into the kitchen, but there was nothing but the empty pizza box. He went back down the hall and nudged Nate's door open with his foot; no one there save the full-size cardboard cutout of Padme Amidala with her blaster pointed at Gabe's head.
Gabe stared at her staring implacably back, and said, "Fuck." How? How had William found a way around the promise? It had been as binding as Gabe knew how to make a deal, and that was pretty fucking binding.
Shock, that's what this weird feeling in his chest was. Shock and--
A key scraped in the lock of the apartment door. Gabe skidded and almost fell over on the hall rug, and William looked up at him, mildly concerned, as he juggled the door and a paper bag and a tray with a pair of coffee cups in it. "You were just vegetarian, right?" he said, attention back on getting the key out of the lock again. "Or should I have got soy?"
Of course he couldn't have found a way around the promise. Of course. Gabe stepped forward, took the coffee and bag from William's hand. "Non-soy's fine," he declared, peeking into the bag. "Awesome. Nate took you to the deli on the corner, then."
"He pointed it out." William finally got the key free again, and held them out diffidently. Gabe recognised his purple snake keyring. "I borrowed them," William confirmed. "I wasn't sure how much longer you were going to sleep."
There was something in his face, in his whole posture... "Are you excited?" Gabe demanded, setting the coffee aside to take his keys.
William tossed his head, but there was a faint flush across his cheeks. He blew hair out of his face, and shrugged. "You're taking me to see a fucking faery king. Sure, that's totally mundane for you, but for the rest of us it's kind of interesting."
"You couldn't sleep." Gabe started laughing. "Like a little kid at Christmas!"
William grabbed the bag from Gabe's hand. "Drink your fucking coffee," he said.
As they waited for the uptown train, Gabe was still thinking about it, but the coffee was long gone, and so was his laughter. When the train came it was half-full, but they stood anyway. They didn't have that many stops to go. They could've just walked, in fact, but it was all part of the process, the modern-day equivalent of walking widdershins.
"Hey," Gabe said, nudging William's elbow with his own.
"Huh?" William stopped frowning at public service announcements in Spanish and frowned at Gabe instead.
And Gabe wasn't really sure what he wanted to say, except he was remembering his father saying, "I tried my best." Sitting on the end of Gabe's bed with Pete pulling faces from the mirror behind him and Gabe had been trying not to giggle and hadn't really understood what his father had been saying until a long time later. Maybe had never really understood.
William's frown deepened a notch, and Gabe said in a rush, "Be careful what you say. To Pete. To anyone. While we're in there. Silence is never implied agreement, but they can twist your words."
William stared at him. "What?"
"Just be careful." Gabe glanced out the window. "This is us."
Halfway up the stairs, Gabe yanked William aside on the landing. "Where are we--?" William managed, before Gabe opened the door and William blinked, hard. "Huh," he finished, and followed Gabe through, into a narrow brick corridor. At the other end, Gabe held aside a heavy curtain to let William into the room beyond.
For an underground room shrouded in dark curtains and populated by only a few people in the corners, it was very well lit. Candles grizzled the long wooden bar with their wax drippings, but behind the spidered barricade, a bright grin blossomed in the bartender's dark face. "Gabriel Saporta," he drawled, reaching across to grip hands. "And William."
William blinked, but shook his hand. "Er," he said. "Do I know you?"
"Not yet, clearly," the bartender noted, and clasped his other hand over the handshake. "Travis McCoy."
William got up to the B before he was smothered by Gabe's hand over his mouth. When William's eyes rolled pointedly in his direction, Gabe said, "It's hokey, I know, but there is actually power in names."
William struggled backwards, regained his hand from Travis and used it to tug Gabe's hand away from his mouth. "He gave his," he pointed out, not quite petulant.
Travis was still grinning behind the bar. Gabe shook his head. "Only a fragment."
"He knows yours," William retorted.
Gabe's turn to grin; Travis was laughing now. "Yeah, but you don't fuck with Gabe Saporta," Travis said. "Or Pete Wentz fucks with you." He flourished a hand and produced a martini glass as though by magic. "Drink?"
Before Gabe could even open his mouth, William was saying, "Just how stupid do you think I am?"
Gabe laughed out loud, lounging against the bar and clapping William on the shoulder. "Attaboy," he said fondly, and William arched one eyebrow at him.
They stepped out into green, blinking in the sudden dazzle of golden sunlight that seemed to evaporate instantly, leaving them in a narrow alleyway. Grey walls towered up to the grey sky; water trickled between uneven cobbles underfoot. The door closing behind them made a sepulchral boom, but when Gabe stepped away from the wall, William was running his fingertips over unbroken brick. "Right," he said, and looked around, staying at Gabe's shoulder.
Past a looming dumpster, a handful of foxgloves were growing incongruously between the cobblestones. At the sound of William's voice, the blooms exploded in puffs of light and colour, and three pixies went hurtling up into the air, whizzing about in mad designs. "Him again!" one shouted, as another crowed, "Gabe!"
"Hey guys," Gabe said, as they went spiralling around their heads. "Where's the court?"
"This way!" all three chirped, and took off in different directions.
There was laughter over his shoulder, but William was still beside him; when Gabe turned around, there was a youth almost falling off the lowest level of a fire escape, hanging onto a listing railing with one hand. He was naked save a pair of khakis and a wildly-waving coronet of full-blown pink and yellow frangipani blooms, their scent limning him like a halo. "Why do you even talk to them?" he chortled.
"So they'll talk back," Gabe answered, and stepped forward so he could see properly the curving scabbard attached to the youth's belt. With a grin, he added, "Nice sword, Urie."
The youth grinned as bright as his flowers. "Isn't it awesome?" He leapt down from the fire escape, landing lightly on the cobbles with the blade bared. He struck a pose that Peter Pan would have envied. "Finally!" he declared, the blade gleaming as he brandished it.
"Brendon," a new voice said, sounding tired. "Must you?"
The new arrival hadn't been there a moment ago, leaning against the wall further down the alleyway. There was ivy twined around his arms, wound around his torso, clawing down the legs of his black trousers, so much of it that it looked as though the bow slung over his shoulder might be growing out of it.
"Hey Spence," Gabe offered.
And got a nod in return. "Ryan said you'd be along. We'll take you to the king."
The staircase was wide and shallow, bounded by heavily carved banisters and sweeping grandly up towards a hall that soared aloft into kaleidoscopic windows framed by alabaster-branched marble pillars. When they crested the staircase, a short, madly-grinning figure splashed out of a fountain and launched itself at them, shouting, "Gabe, man!" Barely halfway through a complicated handshake, he declared, "Urie! Looking good!" and ducked past them to greet their escort.
William lifted an eyebrow. "Large breed of flightless pixie?"
Gabe grinned at him, even wider when William smiled back. "His majesty Pete Wentz," he corrected.
William turned around, but Gabe slung an arm around him, pulling him forward (well, backward for him) towards the riotous tumble of the fountain. "Don't be in such a rush," he chided, heaving William along. William clutched at his shoulder, laughed, hair swinging, and Gabe knew it didn't really mean anything; everyone laughed in faery. The realms brought joy to the surface, bubbling out of your pores like sweat. Gabe hugged him close, swinging him around, feeling William's laughter running up his arm. "Come on," Gabe said, "you've got a whole court to gawp at."
Which William would have more than enough time to do if he was to be kept here.
Gabe stopped mid-step, and William was two paces ahead, still grinning as he turned back, tucking his hair behind his ear. Looking beyond him, past the burbling fountain, Gabe could see Ashlee lounging on some impossibly elegant piece of furniture, all red velvet and gold rococo curliques. Various of the court were gathered around her, arranged as artfully as a cast of runestones - this one crouching nonchalantly upon the back of her couch, impossibly patterned butterfly wings stretched out behind him; that one draped against a nearby pillar, all flyaway hair and billowing skirts.
Others of the court (Gabe saw, as he turned slowly to survey them) were gathered around a large chessboard, involved in some convoluted game (for the fae were appallingly absent-minded when it came to rules, and tended to invent new ones every five minutes) with pixies and toadstools as playing pieces. One of the players waved at him, which caused another half-dozen to look up lazily and mark him, while another pair took advantage of their distraction to cheat, and then fell to bickering.
On the other side of the hall were the warrior clans, proud and suspicious, joking and boasting amongst themselves, save only for one rose-entwined figure, who glanced over to Gabe - almost approvingly - as his clanmates, escorted by the gesticulating King, joined him.
Gabe looked back to the Queen, laughing now with one of her handmaidens, one of her hands resting lightly on the shoulder of the young man sitting just in front of her. No faery he. His mortal face was smiling as he tipped it up, following the Queen's jests, his laughter somehow brighter than theirs. His name was Robert; he'd declined to give any other. When Gabe had first come to the court, something like twelve years old, Robert had drawn him aside, begged news of the world. Pressed his hand, and said, "What year? What year?" His face had fallen upon receiving the answer. He'd never spoken to Gabe again.
"Gabe?" William asked, stepping into his line of sight, concern sliding his smile aside.
And Gabe remembered waking up that morning. Thinking William had gone. Feeling relieved.
"Gabe!" another voice hailed, off to the side, and Gabe turned to face his King, reaching out blindly for William. He'd intended - as much as he'd intended anything, as much as he hadn't just been acting on an instinct he barely even dared to think about right now - to grab William's wrist, but instead fingers twined with his own, just as Pete, striding towards them, grin and arms wide, said, "What have you got for me?"
Gabe took a deep breath, and now he did intend, and the air shimmered. He saw as if in slow motion Ryan, behind Pete, reaching over his shoulder, swinging his wickedly gleaming sword out into the light. Beside him, Spencer had his bow unlimbered already, an arrow nocked.
He let fly just as Gabe stepped in front of William, and dragged him back across the border.
They landed in a food court, surrounded by loud teenagers and oblivious businessmen. William staggered sideways, knocking a tray off a table only slightly bigger than it was. There was a grimace on his face that looked like Gabe always felt when he crashed back into the mundane.
Except this time it was... strange. The edges of everything were jagged in his vision, leaping out at Gabe when he turned his head, but he couldn't seem to care, lassitude curling into his body, spreading up his arm.
"What happened?" William was demanding, as Gabe yanked the sleeve of his shirt up past his elbow. There was a black circle in the meat of his arm, like a big mole, if a mole was made of smoking black stone.
Even as Gabe's fingers closed over it, it burrowed all the way beneath his skin.
"What the fuck?" William's hand closed over his wrist, but it and his voice seemed a long way away.
"Elfshot," Gabe said, and his knees gave way.
He was floating in deep water.
He was staggering along the sidewalk with William's shoulder in his armpit.
He was watching ivy-covered fingers upon the brutal curve of the bow as it flexed, the string slack and reality knitting itself together too slowly.
He was lurching back against brickwork with hands on his chest trying to press him up against gravity's insistent slide.
He was lying upon the roof of the forest as the stars wheeled overhead.
He was clutching at William's shirt, stopping him yelling, saying, "No, not an ambulance. Don't let--"
(No, wait, that was earlier.)
He was lost in the mist.
He was shot.
"You can go now," he said. "You should go."
He was shot.
Victoria. He had to get to Victoria.
He was fevered and flinching from the burning ice touch of stainless steel, the rail sticking to his skin, lights dancing before his eyes.
He was sleeping beneath the mantle of the earth.
He was sinking deeper.
He was alone.
He opened his eyes and his mother was a shadow in the doorway, crying, saying, "How could you?"
He opened his eyes and Pete was bouncing on the edge of his bed, tilting the world, saying, "Come flying with me," and frowning disbelievingly when he said he didn't know how.
He opened his eyes and William was watching him from the other pillow, smiling softly, mouth still soft when he licked against it, brushing his hair away to cradle his jaw, kissing him slow and quiet.
He opened his eyes and sunlight stabbed into his brain, a discoball of pain. He tried to lift his arm to block it, but it was pinned to the bed by steel and acid. "Fuck me," Gabe gasped.
"Still not tempting," a cool female voice said.
Gabe arched against sheets clammy with his own sweat, but even that much movement sent agony zinging up and down his arm. She leaned into his vision, a sweet face, dark hair, a hand like ice on his forehead. "Victoria," he rasped from a dry throat.
"Yeah," she said, and smiled. "I think you're through."
The next time Gabe opened his eyes, the room was dark and his head was clear; the ceiling stayed where it should and he even recognised it. He turned his head to find the ridiculously large stuffed frog on the chair under the window (yep, Victoria's spare bedroom) and the movement made pain flare up past his elbow again. It was just a dull throbbing ache now. Gabe pulled his arm out from beneath the sheet. In the low light the wound was simply a shadow against the skin of his forearm, but if there'd been more light, Gabe knew it wouldn't have looked much different. He'd have an indentation there for the rest of his life. He might not have been shot before, but he still wasn't stupid enough to poke it yet.
Since clarity seemed to have returned, Gabe sifted through his memories, discarding the ancient and the clear hallucinations, the deluded fever dreams and the threads of faery kindling in his brain. He hadn't even thought of his mother in years, and William...
William should be halfway back to Chicago by now. Gabe had told him he could go; he was sure that was a real memory. And he remembered watching his finger against the subway map, feeling like it was someone else's, but here he was at Victoria's.
Here, and healed. And starving.
Standing up worked ok if he took it slowly; his arm felt heavy, a faint tingle in the fingertips, but otherwise fine. He was still wearing his jeans, but he suspected Victoria would probably have had to cut his shirt off him. Pity, it had been one of his favourites. He stepped into the bathroom to splash water over his face, but didn't bother even glancing at his hair in the mirror. Victoria had seen him worse than this before, and he was hungry.
He heard Victoria's laughter before he got all the way down the stairs, and he came around the corner into the kitchen already declaring, "VickyT, I could eat a fucking--"
He stopped. Victoria, sitting at the table with her feet up on it, stopped laughing and grinned up at him. And William Beckett, leaning against the counter, folded his arms and lifted an eyebrow, staring at Gabe.
Gabe stared right back.
In the silence, the coffee machine clicked itself off. Victoria said, "Better make it three cups, William."
He was here. He was here, moving around Victoria's kitchen like he'd gained a bit of familiarity with it. He was here, dodging around Victoria as she got out a bowl of leftover pasta bake (not even bothering to heat it up, just sticking a fork in and handing it across to Gabe; girl knew her shit). He was still here.
Gabe ate standing up, in a hurry, like a man half-starved (just like, in fact). He kept his eyes on his bowl, tuning out their voices, trying to figure out how long he'd been under. Definitely more than a day. Probably more than two. Shouldn't have been more than three. How long did he have?
William handed him a mug of coffee, but when Gabe tried to take it without making eye contact, it jerked out of his grasp, nearly spilling all over the floor. He glanced up - surprise and reflex - and met William's gaze, sharp and close, too close, so close it shocked words out of Gabe: "You shouldn't be here."
William's jaw twitched, and after all that had happened between them, Gabe almost couldn't believe this was the first time he'd seen William angry. Furious. "If I wasn't, you wouldn't be either," William spat.
A hand tracing the route map on the subway train wall. Not Gabe's at all. William had got him here.
Gabe slid his empty bowl onto the counter, kept his eyes down until he could say perfectly evenly, "Thanks." He glanced up, then; made himself meet William's eyes when he said, "But you still shouldn't be here."
William's mouth twisted, and so did something inside Gabe; indigestion from eating too fast, maybe. William shoved the coffee mug onto the counter, sloshing over the rim and onto his fingers. "Fuck," he snapped, shaking the scalding liquid from them even as he stormed past Gabe, out of the kitchen.
Into the living room, Gabe thought, closing his eyes a moment. If Gabe had been in the spare room, William would have been on the couch. It wouldn't take him long to get together the few things Gabe had brought with them. He could be out of here so fast. It might not be too late.
A sharp swathe of pain exploded across his cheekbone, and Gabe took a step back, opened his eyes wildly, caught the wrist of the hand Victoria still had raised. He blinked the dancing sparks of light from his vision - Victoria had an arm on her - and gasped, "What?"
"You bastard." She was close enough to hiss and still be sure he'd get all the anger in her voice. "He watched over you."
And maybe Gabe felt a little fevered all over again, but he whispered back, "I defied the King, Victoria. They are going to find me. If they find him too, it's all been for fucking nothing."
She drew back a little, catching her bottom lip under her teeth, but then she looked towards the door and shook her head. "You can't let him leave like this," she said. And did she think he wanted to? But even as he opened his mouth, she said, "No!" and grabbed his arm, her palm over the shot mark, which throbbed once, like a muted firework, as she said, "This is my price. Tell him."
The tingle raced up his arm, through his body, and Gabe grit his teeth against it. He was pretty sure he was glaring at her now, but she was meeting his gaze just as fiercely, and there was no way out of this. All the times she'd helped him, and she'd never so much as required he do the washing up in repayment. All the things he'd never demanded she settle accounts for. Now this.
Footsteps rang out on her hardwood floor, heading towards the front door, and Gabe was moving before he'd even thought about it. No real choice, with her demand pressing into his flesh. William was at the door when Gabe caught up with him, slammed a hand against the door, shoving it back into the frame and yanking the handle out of William's grasp. William turned fast, tossing his hair out of his face so he could glare at Gabe unimpeded. "You've made your point," he said, voice only shaking a little. "I'm done throwing myself at you, so just let me go."
He was too close, way too close to be saying things like that. Gabe stepped back, let his hand lift from the door, but before William could turn and open it again, he said, "I didn't do it for you."
William frowned, settled his bag more firmly on his shoulder. "Whatever."
"I did it for me," Gabe continued, need pressing inside him. "It was purely selfish. I didn't want to give you up to them."
William was watching him, steady and considering. Poet's eyes, that saw deeper than the surface. "I talked with Victoria," he said. "She told me..."
He trailed off, but Gabe could see it in his eyes. She'd told him everything. Victoria, barely seventeen when her friends had dared her to wander into the wrong clearing in the woods; not quite nineteen when she'd been returned to the world, all of those friends now dead and their children aged, no one but Gabe to help her find a way to live.
He could see it in William's eyes, which were softer now, and Gabe found he'd drifted closer again. He curled his fingers into a fist to stop them reaching. It wasn't Victoria's price urging at him now, but something else entirely, and Gabe shook his head. "I can't," he muttered, and was nearly undone by the spark of hurt in William's face; he pressed his knuckles against the door, saying more urgently, "William, I can't. They're Fae. They have the attention span of a goldfish on speed, but revenge runs in their veins. They're coming for me, they will always remember me, but you..." Far too close now. Close enough to smell Victoria's shampoo, somehow completely different on William. Close enough to be certain that kissing him hadn't been a dream. Gabe took an unsteady breath. "If you aren't here, they'll forget about you. You'll be safe."
"I thought I was safe before you came through my window," William murmured, the sardonic edge to his voice blunted. "Look where that got me." His fingertips trailed across Gabe's chest, feeling like the tingling trails of more obligations, abruptly removed as William twitched his hand back, fingers drawing in towards his palm. He lifted his chin, eyes slanted aside, and said, "What are they going to do to you?"
Gabe kissed him. Lurched forward, catching one hand around the back of William's neck, trapping his hand between them with his palm flat over Gabe's thudding heart. He chased William's little startled noise into his open mouth, where he met his tongue and tangled. And then William's hand was on Gabe's jaw, dragging him closer, and they were kissing deep and desperate and honestly and aware. Victoria's door rattled in its frame beneath their combined weight, Gabe sucking blood to the skin of William's throat as he arched blindingly, and Gabe wanted William gasping his name so badly it took him a moment to register it was actually happening. A moment, and William's fingers tugging in his hair, and Gabe lifted his head, breathing heavily, to pant, "What?"
William's mouth was curved like a sharp, slick promise, his eyes heavy-lidded, and he said, "I'll go."
It took Gabe a moment, and perhaps he held William a little closer as he said, "You'll go?"
"If you'll come with me." William curled his arm around Gabe's neck, mouthed at his jaw, then after a moment, as Gabe's hands remained still and startled on his hips, he levered back enough to frown slightly. "Gabe?"
"Ok," Gabe said, quick and rough. He swallowed hard, and repeated, "ok."
William grinned, and it really was dazzling, bright and beautiful. He straightened up as Gabe stepped back, smile barely dimming at all as he said, "Now?"
"I don't know how much time we have," Gabe said, wavered back in to press his mouth to William's again, fervent and quick, before he added, "It'll be enough. It'll be fine."
He hoped so hard that for a moment he thought maybe it would. Maybe he truly, honestly, actually might be able to get on the train alongside William. Make it all the way out of Pete's territory. Start some sort of new life.
Fucking stupid of him. It was impossible. Because he'd lied to William (more than once, this wasn't even the most recent, just perhaps the biggest).
He did belong to Pete. Maybe he'd never sold his soul into this, but regardless, he was owned, by powers older and stronger and deeper than the devil.
There was nowhere he could run that would be beyond Pete's reach; he'd been Pete's reach, and there had been nowhere he couldn't go. Nowhere far enough that he couldn't still feel the leash snug around his throat, a promise and a reminder. No chance at all.
But maybe William - William who hummed happily at Gabe's side; William who'd turned his whole damn world upside down since Gabe broke the lock on his window; William who really had a lot to learn about how to make a promise binding...
Maybe he could still get away.
They made it to Pennsylvania Station. Far enough that Gabe had almost begun to hope again, when they were halfway down a wide arcade in the labyrinth of the station, and behind them, a light fuzzed out.
It was late; the shops that lined the arcade were closed and shuttered up, and there was no one else in sight when Gabe looked over his shoulder. As he looked, the exit sign sputtered, then died as well. He grabbed William's arm, urged him faster, but when they turned forward again, Gabe stopped dead, William skidding out of his grip.
Between them and the end of the arcade, where no one had been half a moment before, now stood a lanky youth, frangipani in his hair and cutlass in his hand.
"No!" William half shouted, but Gabe dragged him back by the shoulder anyway, turned him so he could look in his face and say, "You have to go," even as William shook his head, gasped, "No, I won't, I can't."
They didn't have time; Gabe pried William's hand off his arm, gripped it with his own, and said, "By the promise that binds you, get on that train."
William jerked in a breath, like he'd been stung, and Gabe avoided his eyes as he turned away. He didn't even really listen for his receding footsteps; he knew he'd hear them, and he was focussed now on Brendon, who was grinning dark and bright as Gabe strode towards him.
Gabe grabbed his necklace, wrapping the charms up in his fist, tugging it free. He whipped the ends of the chain around his knuckles, ducked under Brendon's first wild stroke, brought his fist up beneath his chin. As he lurched backwards, Gabe planted a foot in his chest and kicked hard; Brendon went tumbling over backwards, sword striking sparks off the cement, but he bounced back to his feet like dandelion fluff. He leapt forward again with a harsh bark of laughter, sword aloft.
Gabe caught it, hand closing around the blade, but he was forced down on one knee, and he heard the sharp pop of the charms being overwhelmed. He could feel the press of the cutlass edge now against the heel of his hand.
Brendon grinned down at him, chuckling with the pure delight of the struggle. This close, the sweet press of frangipani scent was almost dizzying. "The others will be here any minute," he promised, like it was something Gabe should be excited about.
Gabe didn't care. William's footsteps were long gone. They'd all come here, drawn by Brendon's excitement like moths to a flame. He'd get away.
It was enough.
So Gabe grinned back at Brendon, and said, "Is this all you got, Urie, seriously?" and it could have been any of a dozen times they'd tussled, except the grit of the floor beneath his knee was nothing of faery, and there was a tendril of blood starting to creep down his wrist.
In the next moment, his other arm gave a cold twinge, and that was all the warning Gabe had before hands grabbed the shoulders of his shirt and yanked him up. He didn't need the scrape of ivy against his neck, didn't need Brendon's pout and his whining, "Spencer!" to know in his bones the one who'd shot him. He grabbed at Smith's arm, leaving bloody fingerprints on the ivy-twined wrist, but there was no point in struggling.
They were here. Fae warriors lounged against the tiled pillars, swung from the shop signs, stalked towards Gabe from all directions, their eyes sharper and brighter than the weapons in their hands. It looked like all the clans, every single one of them, and Gabe supposed he should feel a little flattered about that. The lights were going crazy; those that hadn't blown their fittings already were pulsing into deep orange, back out to white, making the whole scene veer crazily in Gabe's vision.
There was a sound like the ripping of wet cloth, and darkness blossomed a few feet in front of Gabe, midnight blue and bruise purple, and from the middle of it stepped Pete Wentz in his full black-eyed, red-mouthed glory.
The lights screamed into phosphorescence and burst asunder, glass raining down into sudden twilight. Faint sulphur-grey light filtered into the arcade from the corridors at either end, and through it Pete stalked, trailing his shadow like wings. He was here - really here, not in human guise, not just an image - and it was almost too much even for Gabe. His vision was fraying at the edges, his mind frozen; he was on his knees, gasping. The King loomed above him, was the whole world, dark and beautiful and terrible.
Far distant, at the edge of Gabe's swoon, a voice called, "Your majesty!"
The pressure eased; with the full weight of his regard removed, Gabe could blink and bring the world into something like focus, could almost think, could turn his head and see.
See William, pale and inert, upon a bed of blood-red roses. Unconscious in the arms of Ross, his hands and feet dangling limp.
Gabe tried to lunge forward, tried to leap to his feet, but his limbs would barely obey, and Smith's hand yanking at his collar put him easily back on his knees. "No," he croaked, stretching out his bloody fingers as though he could ever reach William. And then with more force, "Pete!"
Then Pete's gaze was back on him, and Gabe was fighting just to stay conscious. Fingers tangled in his hair, dragged his head back, and his touch - his touch - had Gabe on the verge of rapture, gaping up into his face as Pete hissed, "You are mine."
His kiss was like hitting deep water from a vast height: shattering, enveloping, obliviating.
Gabe came to blinking in the sunlight. There was clover soft beneath him, the warm green scent filling his head. When he pushed himself up to sitting, the world spun lush and verdant around him, but only for a moment until it settled into a forest glade, dappled in golden sun, amidst slender, whispering young birch trees. Gabe turned around, but the forest went in all directions, uninterrupted and serene.
William was lying in the clover beside him, and Gabe slid across hurriedly to curl his fingers around one skinny wrist. There was a pulse, calm and sure, but he hadn't even twitched. Gabe pushed William's hair gently away from his face. His mouth was soft in sleep and his eyes moved beneath closed eyelids. The dreams of faery were always rich, luscious, of an intensity life could never match.
"What's so fascinating about him anyway?" a voice asked, petulant as a sulking child.
Gabe stroked a knuckle down William's cheek. "I don't know," he said. "Everything." He stood, and turned to face Pete.
Just Pete, here. He was diffused through his realm, not overwhelming at all. He had his arms folded over his chest and no hint of a smile. "I should tear your bones out," he said, conversationally, "and leave them for the wolves."
Arguably, what Gabe had done was a minor infraction, hardly treason at all, but the fae didn't measure - a thing was, or it was not, and Gabe had defied his liege.
So all he said was, "There aren't that many wolves any more."
"Feral dogs. Heavy metal fans. I'll improvise." He tossed his head, flicking his hair back out of his eyes, and looked even more sour. "Why do you all change?"
It was sort of like deja vu - all these years of Pete stepping out of his mirror, or appearing beside him in the library ("It's fine if no one else can see") and asking endless questions. Why do humans laugh? Why do you wear shoes? How does sleep work? Gabe had thought television might make it easier to explain things, but the questions never stopped.
This wasn't like all the other questions. "We just do," Gabe said. "Time passes. It presses on us. It leaves a mark." He watched Pete steadily, watched that face that hadn't altered since Gabe was six.
"You..." Pete began, and frowned, looking confused. "You were my favourite human. You never got boring. They always get boring eventually. And then I let them go." He stomped his foot - actually stomped it on the clover like a child demanding an ice cream. "I don't want you to go!"
"I don't want to go!" Gabe protested, hands up, like he could prove anything. "You've been there my whole life, and just knowing you has been awesome, but the shit you've shown me - the shit we've done..." Gabe didn't have a descriptor that did it justice. "Pete, I fucking love you, man."
Pete tilted his head. "You're usually a lot drunker when you say that."
Which Gabe ignored, because this was serious. "I don't want to go," he repeated. "I'd serve you even if my father hadn't--" He stopped there, because they'd never talked about it. Gabe didn't even know if Pete remembered. "The vow's got nothing to do with it. I'm happy to serve you. I owe you more than I can ever repay, and I don't want to be anywhere else."
Pete looked a little mollified, but he still crossed his arms again and said pointedly, "But."
Gabe swallowed. "But I just couldn't hand him over."
At that, Pete flashed into anger, like a child thwarted. "I sent you for him," he snapped. "He was never yours."
Gabe opened his mouth, but another voice said, "He was," and Gabe spun around, startled, to see William clambering up to one knee, pushing himself to his feet. He looked a little dazed, and Gabe was amazed that he'd managed to wake from his fae dreams at all. But though William teetered a little, he stood under his own power, then reached out to grab Gabe's wrist. "I am," William added, voice gaining strength. "And I claim him from you by that bond."
William wasn't looking at him, he was staring hard at Pete, but Gabe couldn't take his eyes off him, tired and smudged as he was. He didn't need to see Pete roll his eyes; he could hear it as the King said, "That's love."
He couldn't. He couldn't possibly. This was faery, and nothing but the real thing would do, but it had barely been three days (that Gabe had been conscious for, at least) and William couldn't possibly mean it. Even if Gabe's heart turned over at his sidelong glance, even if he was charmed beyond measure by the faint sweep of a blush across William's cheeks, even if he thought one day, actually, maybe...
William coughed, and turned back to Pete, tossing his hair out of his eyes. "Gabe said you were a modern sort of guy. I was hoping you'd go for frustrated lust and a serious crush."
Pete's laughter lingered, dancing around the little glade, long after he'd vanished.
William let Gabe's wrist go to scratch at the back of his neck; now he was looking abashed. Gabe stuck his hands in the pockets of his jeans and fought for a moment not to grin too hard, before just accepting defeat. "Not as ignorant of faery lore as you seemed," he commented mildly.
And was rewarded by a little sidelong glance, out from under William's hair, and a tiny curl of his lips to match the tiny twitch of his shoulder. "I'm a poet, of course I know Tam Lin," he said, and Gabe wasn't sure if his tone was scathing or fond or some mix of the two, but he was sure he wanted to hear a lot more of it; his grin broadened, and so did William's, even if he did roll his eyes. "Now what?" he said pointedly, and waved a hand at the trees surrounding them. "Can't we just..."
From the way William trailed off, even he suspected it couldn't be that easy. Gabe shook his head to confirm it. "Just because you can't see the walls doesn't mean we aren't in a prison cell. You walk into the trees, in a minute, or two, or thirty-five, you'll just walk out of them and be right back here again."
William looked around, chin up, but there was nothing to defy and no one to challenge, just endless trees. There was little more to distinguish one patch of ground from another, but he picked a spot very carefully, and sat down in an elegantly folded if slightly sullen heap.
Gabe threw himself down nearby, far less gracefully. "It was a good try anyway," he noted, worrying the stem of a dandelion between his finger and thumbnail.
William glanced down, as if watching him do it, and made a non-committal noise. After a moment, he said, "Would've been better if I actually had been... y'know."
Once Gabe had the dandelion, he wasn't actually sure what to do with it, twirling it between his fingers. "It would've been a little troubling, actually, if you had been," he admitted.
William flopped back onto the grass, his hand not far at all from Gabe's. He was smiling faintly, but blinking heavily, and he murmured, "I'm so tired."
It wasn't fatigue pulling at his eyelids; Gabe could feel the coaxing to sleep settling over the clearing, like a warm blanket of torpidity. But he said anyway, "It's been a long week." Spun the dandelion again, and added, "I'm sorry I dragged you into all this."
William's hand moved the last inch and covered Gabe's; he turned his hand up to thread their fingers together, looking up to catch William's sleepy smile, his eyes fluttering closed as he said, "Don't be."
If he wasn't asleep at the end of the sentence, it didn't take much longer. When Gabe leaned over and tucked the dandelion behind his ear, William didn't even stir.
There didn't seem to be much future in fighting it, so Gabe lay back on the grass as well, his fingers still tangled with William's. What will they do to you? William had asked, earlier that afternoon and a hundred years ago. Despite his chat with Pete, Gabe had just as little idea now as he'd had then, but he was having trouble caring, and he didn't think that was just the enchantment dragging him down. There was nothing he could do about it. What was done was done, and now the price merely had to be paid.
And lying there, watching William's peaceful face until he too slipped into slumber, Gabe found he wasn't entirely sorry to have dragged William into this after all.
He woke up in his own bed, and everything about it - the angle of the morning sun, the Fugazi poster on his wall, the smell of his sheets - was unsettlingly familiar. He sat up in a startled twitch, and nearly planted his hand in the middle of the body lying next to him in bed.
William grumbled and rolled over, pulling the sheet up around his ear and coincidentally stealing all of the covers off Gabe, who was completely beyond caring. He was still wearing the same jeans and shirt, but someone had either taken off his shoes or vanished them. He hoped not the latter. He'd liked those shoes.
There was noise from the living room coming through the inch the door had been left ajar, and the clock (when Gabe's eyes jumped to it) said it was too late in the morning for it to be Nate making it. Gabe did his best to be silent in slipping out of bed and the room, but William didn't seem inclined to wake up anyway.
When he got out to the living room, Pete was sitting on top of their widescreen, kicking his heels against the plastic rim and holding the remote upside down as he squinted at it suspiciously. Gabe tried to be surprised, he really did, but it just wasn't happening. As he shuffled further into the room, Pete looked up and held out the remote. "Make it work," he ordered.
"For starters," Gabe said reasonably, "get your fae ass the hell off the electronic equipment."
"Hey," Pete said, "you're not out of the dogbox yet. That's majestic fae ass to you." But he hopped down from the top of the television, landing lightly on the balls of his feet. He bounced twice, grin blooming. "So I've sorted it all out," he declared. "Everything is going to be awesome now."
Common sense suggested that anyone wearing an expression like that should be distrusted, let alone a faery claiming to have sorted anything out. But Gabe had known Pete Wentz since he was tiny (Gabe, not Pete - Pete was always tiny; actually, he claimed he'd been an impressive figure when he'd first started manifesting in human form, and it wasn't his fault the human race had discovered good nutrition and started getting freaky tall, and he wasn't going to pander to their ridiculous height fetish). He just smiled, sat down on the couch and turned on the television. Well, tried to. It was going to take it a minute to recover from Pete's butt, apparently.
"I have," Pete insisted, like Gabe had contradicted him. He stepped up onto the coffee table just to fling himself onto the couch beside Gabe, jostling his shoulder. "You are my favourite human, after all, so I arranged a suitable present!"
It took a moment, because Gabe had only just woken up from enchanted fucking sleep, and Pete's rewards tended to be completely unsuitable; Gabe was trying to figure out how he'd cope with being the Prince of Luxembourg (and whether there was a Prince of Luxembourg, not that it mattered, because there'd be one if Pete said there was one). Pete waggled his eyebrows and tilted his head towards the hallway, and grinned even wider, and Gabe finally got it, and gaped. "But. He's not yours. You can't give him to me."
Pete frowned. "But you want him, don't you?"
The most fucking stupid question Pete had ever asked, which was saying something for someone who'd once asked why grass wasn't vacuumed. "Like you wouldn't believe."
Pete waved both hands. "Well then. Arranged an opportunity, removed obstacles, blah blah whatever. Keeping him is totally your own responsibility, and good fucking luck with that."
Pete kept talking like Gabe's mild protest hadn't even happened. "And also Ross has really got a bee in his bonnet about him so you can't bring him into the realms until he's forgotten about that."
Gabe snorted. "So what, five minutes?"
"Something like that." Pete grinned. "The other thing, of course, is that you disobeyed me. And broke your oath, but you renewed that already, so that's cool."
Gabe blinked, and then remembered saying it - I'm happy to serve you. Just like that. Fuck, and he'd warned William about watching what he said in the realms.
Pete was still talking. "So it's just the disobedience thing, and I have thought of the best punishment!"
He was grinning wider than ever, but that was no reason for Gabe not to feel a flutter of nervousness as he asked, "What?"
Pete flourished a DVD case that he had absolutely not been holding a moment ago. Gabe caught his wrist to hold it steady, but even before that, he'd recognised the blur of the logo on the front. "Gossip Girl," he confirmed.
"The entire second season!" Pete crowed. "We're going to watch it all. All! And there are extras!" He beamed, then asked, "What's an extra?"
Before Gabe could answer, a voice behind him said, "You are not watching it all today."
Gabe turned around so fast his neck twinged, even as Pete sang, "Good morning, sleeping beauty!"
William was leant against the corner near the hallway, one sleeve of his t-shirt still turned up and his hair still tousled. There was a small smile curling one corner of his mouth up, and when Gabe asked abortively, "How long have you been...?" the smile broadened, fucking unfurled like a flower opening, and by the time he said, "Long enough," Gabe could barely remember what his question had been.
Pete was whining. "Whyyyyy can't we watch it?"
William looked completely cool, saying, "Gabe has other plans for this morning." He even arched a nonchalant eyebrow, and Gabe told himself he was absolutely not going to get hard from just that and the scalding promise of the swift flick of William's eyes towards him.
In the corner of his vision, Pete threw down the DVD onto the coffee table. "Fucking humans," he snarled, and then started giggling. "Fucking humans. Get it?"
"Pete," Gabe said warningly, turning to fix him with a look. Then he had to try not to get the giggles himself, because Pete was curled up in a ball of infectious humour, and holy shit, everything seemed to have actually worked out well. Extremely well.
"Whatever!" Pete declared, still grinning. "I will be back in an hour and you'd better have pants on."
And he vanished.
William was in Gabe's lap two moments later, straddling him on the couch, tugging at the hem of his t-shirt. Gabe didn't really have any objection to that, so he lifted his arms and let William pull it off before he caught his wrists, stilling his movement. William made a tiny, annoyed sound, like the vocal signifier of the crease that appeared between his eyebrows. "One hour," he said. "Come on."
"Take it easy," Gabe said, grinning wide and lazy as he kissed William lightly, and ducked back out of range. "They're completely fucking shit with time. We may not see him again for three weeks."
William stopped trying to twist his hands out of Gabe's grip, and tilted his head consideringly. Consideringly, and then, with just a tiny twitch and the curl of his mouth, seductively. This time, Gabe wasn't going to fight it. "Three weeks," William repeated, settling against him more languorously. "That might be just enough time."