fantasy

Fic: Corbel & Squinch, part 5

Whew. Finally broke 10,000. Wasn't sure if it was going to happen. Still behind schedule, but I'm catching up.

I'm not sure why there's been so much drinking of tea and such so far, unless it's me being a product of my environment. Making someone a mug of something hot has always been to me a way of showing that you care, I suppose.

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If he’d been at home–although at the rate things were going, that would probably be Gabe’s apartment in short order–he’d have sat down and done his homework.

*


After the incident with the milk bottle, Ian went back to the livingroom and the safety of the couch. He wanted to do something–he could feel the restless drive to move, to act, to get out of the apartment and go anywhere that was away–but he also didn’t want to move. He settled for picking at one of the multitudinous patches holding the coach together.

The apartment was safe. The couch was safer. Oh, Gabe could be careless of him at times, and had, by his own actions, stolen from him the ability to enjoy tea–for a little while, at any rate–but he was reliable, and would never do anything to hurt Ian.

Neither would the couch, although Gabe was a lot easier on the eyes, and didn’t smell nearly so musty.

And Gabe would probably cut his own heart out, if he thought Ian needed him to.

The thought was both frightening and reassuring, and made feel even more like curling up into a ball. His life was falling apart, and the only thing that could make it worse was someone else letting theirs go to pieces because of him.

Not that Gabe was likely to do so–he had too much control over himself, and valued few things outside his family–but the possibility was always there. Because Gabe cherished so little, he would do nearly anything he thought necessary to protect it. Knowing that was probably what had led Ian to his cousin’s place, but now it was on the verge of driving him away again. Ian hadn’t yet come up with how Gabe could sacrifice himself, but he had little practice in such matters. There were ways; he simply hadn’t had the time to think them all out.

"Stop." Startled, Ian glanced up from his half-hearted destruction of Gabe’s furniture. "Whatever you’re thinking–just stop." Gabe crouched so that his face was level with Ian’s and shoved a mug of hot chocolate into his hands. Ian took it reflexively, fingers curving around ceramic almost hot enough to burn. "You’re not a bother, and I’m not going to go out and do something crazy to try and help you–not as long as I can keep an eye on you, at least. I have no pressing homework, nothing to do at the moment except go grocery shopping. And you are still in shock, whether you want to admit it or not." He rocked back on his heels, studying Ian’s face as he had many times before. "Stay, Ian. Until you’ve got feet under you again, at the very least."

Ian tightened his grip on the mug, trying to find some argument that would let him escape before it was too late and Gabe had irrevocably tangled their lives together again. The severance had hurt horribly the last time, and he didn’t want to derail Gabe’s life by dragging him down.

A drop of hot liquid fell on his knee, scalding it through the fabric of his jeans, and he glanced down to discover that his hands were shaking again. Gabe stood and took a step back.

"You should probably drink that," he said, gesturing at the mug. "I promise there’s nothing in it but milk and what came in the cocoa tin." Ian considered pointing out that he’d probably burn out the inside of his mouth, but took a hasty gulp instead.

It did in fact help, which didn’t seem quite fair, somehow. But he was feeling miserable enough to keep drinking anyway.

Gabe disappeared into the bedroom, evidently satisfied, despite Ian’s silence on the matter, of his houseguest’s staying put for the moment. For a while there was a lot of opening and shutting of drawers, accompanied by the almost-ghostly sound of him whistling ‘My young love’. Ian drank his hot chocolate and wished he didn’t feel quite so sleep-worn and left adrift.

Eventually, long after Ian’s mug was empty and cold, Gabe emerged from the bedroom with a stack of clothes, which he handed to Ian in exchange for the mug. "Go get cleaned up so we can go shopping."

It was amazing how much clean clothes did for his sense of well-being. Once he was wearing something that hadn’t been slept in, he felt almost himself again, almost able to handle the current crisis–although Gabe had ordered him to forget about it until after they were done shopping.

The shopping itself was more enjoyable than he’d anticipated–Gabe kept up a running commentary on prices and ingredients, and it was almost enough to blur over Ian’s memories of being dragged from aisle to endless aisle by his mother when he was young. For once he was allowed to make suggestions as to what should be bought, although Gabe shot down the majority of them. They got increasingly outrageous as Ian fell into the old pattern of teasing Ga be just to see him be visibly stoic.

Things got a little out of hand when they reached the cereal aisle though.

"We don’t need any," Gabe repeated patiently, but Ian grimaced and tightened his grip on the box. His mother had never let him have this particular brand of cereal, although he’d pleaded long and often, and for the first time in years it looked like he might actually have a chance to get some.

"Are you sure? I mean, you never know–" The cardboard was beginning to crease around Ian’s fingers, distorting the pretty pictures on it. If he damaged the box, perhaps Gabe would be forced to buy it.

"No, Ian."

"But–vitamins! Essential minerals!" It did say as much on the front of the box, in big, cheery letters. Not that Gabe seemed impressed by the claim. He sighed, and began prying Ian’s fingers away from the box, which hurt.

"Sugar, Ian. Dyes. A complete lack of anything non-artificial. Despite what the box says, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about this stuff."

Ian retaliated to these lies by trying to pull away from Gabe, a move which resulted in them both overbalancing. They landed hard, Gabe on top Ian, smashing the box as they fell. Cereal went everywhere.

The fall shocked Ian back into some semblance of maturity, and he winced at the crunch of cereal particles as Gabe pushed himself off the floor. "Sorry." Gabe only sighed and gave him a hand up. "Promise I didn’t do that on purpose." Dusting himself off, he glanced around, fearful of the incident having been witnessed. No one was in sight, but that wouldn’t last long. "Let’s get out of here before someone notices what just happened."

"Yes, let’s," Gabe agreed, managing to look bemused and annoyed at the same time. "Being thrown out of grocery story does tend to put a damper on the day, and I don’t fancy trying to clean it up ourselves."

They left in a hurry, and walked back to Gabe’s apartment building, arms full of papers bags. Six blocks was a long way to carry that many groceries, Ian discovered.

"It’s too bad you don’t have a car."

"Don’t need one," Gabe shrugged. "Most of the time I can do it with my bike. But I only have the one, and I figured it would be kind of rude to make you walk by yourself." He sidestepped to avoid a rather nasty looking lapdog on a very long leash. "Besides, this way is more fun, really." Ian couldn’t bring himself to agree with that sentiment, and so spent the rest of the trip in silence, trying to keep the bags from ripping before they got to the apartment.

They stopped to pick up Gabe’s mail, an operation which required much delicate maneuvering of bags, and resulted in Ian having to carry almost everything. He was very grateful to discover that the building did in fact have an elevator, although it was in bad enough shape that he wouldn’t have used it under any other circumstances. It rattled and groaned the whole trip up, and at one point seemed to consider stopping between floors–which would have been nightmarish, had it not continued after a long hesitation. Once deposited safely on Gabe’s floor, Ian swore off all elevators in the future.

The door to the apartment was open, which was good; by the time he reached it, most of the bags were beginning to split, and he was on the verge of dropping everything anyway. Staggering in, he was irked to find Gabe sitting at the table, calmly sorting mail, and making no motions to provide aid.

He stood by the door for a moment, bags making ominous ripping noises, and glared. Gabe continued opening envelopes, of which there appeared to be an inordinate number. One of the bags gave way completely, and suddenly Ian was juggling cans as well as bags.

"Look, if you really feel like cleaning raw eggs out of your carpet, that’s fine with me," he finally snapped, then winced as a thing of canned peaches landed on his foot. Gabe shrugged and put down a half-opened envelope.

"I was waiting to see how long it would take you to ask for help."

Between the two of them it didn’t take long to put everything away, although Ian couldn’t help feeling that after the stunt with the groceries he deserved whatever kind of cereal he wanted. When he pointed this out to Gabe, all he got in response was a shrug and a "maybe next time", which was more irritating than anything.

After lunch, Gabe retreated again into his bedroom, claiming the need to pay bills, which was nonsense, since it was Saturday and so there wouldn’t be any mail the next day. This left Ian alone in the livingroom, with only about a hundred books and nine torn brown-paper bags for company.

He tried looking through the books for something to read, but couldn’t stay focused on anything for more than a page or two. Although he normally would have been quite happy to settle down with Murtle’s Definitions of Reality (which was a lot funnier than the title suggested), the enigmatic Garden of Forking Paths, or Black Ashes Painted (which really was Featherly’s best work, no matter what anyone else said), what he needed was something to do with his hands.

If he’d been at home–although at the rate things were going, that would probably be Gabe’s apartment in short order–he’d have sat down and done his homework. His one professor was eternally assigning him to draw out diagrams of various things, and it was the one class where he consistently got scores of over a hundred. The rest of the class all moaned about how time-consuming it was, and how impossible to do correctly, but Ian found a kind of peace in drawing out lines in certain angles and ratios, and in creating spirals that fit just so.

There was paper enough in the grocery bags, however oddly torn it was in spots; all he needed was something to draw with. Determined to be a good and undemanding houseguest, he ransacked the kitchen and livingroom rather than disturb Gabe. Five minutes’ search rewarded him with two pencils and a piece of white chalk, which would actually work best on the dark paper.

The chalk came off on his fingers as he used it, and the table wobbled as he drew, but those things didn’t matter. All he cared about was the way the lines formed themselves as he went, and how the diagram slowly emerged from a single point, a flower of chalk emerging from a brown-paper rosebud. It was soothing, something he could do that not even his father’s abandonment could take away from him, and for the first time that day, the minutes flowed away like rainwater.