Fic: Corbel & Squinch, part 6

Gah. Right now I feel very much like this whole thing is horrible, and all I really want to do is go back and give it plot and style-and characters who are consistent. If it wasn't for that deadline. . . .

Oh well. It's good for me, right? I just have to keep telling myself that.

This entry is a little short, but that's just because a lot of what got written today is in later sections, and I'm only posting consecutive bits of narration.

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Gabe almost laughed at that, an odd, despairing sound which was all wrong for him.


By the time Gabe showed his face again, Ian’s diagrams had used up eight bags, most of the chalk, and had involved breaking both pencil-leads. There was a reason Ian used only mechanical pencils, given a choice in the matter. Chalk dust covered most of the exposed table, Ian’s arm up to the elbow, the surrounding floor, and parts of Ian’s face from when he’d rested his head on his hand.

He was almost happy for the first time in a while, and he wasn’t sure if it was the task, the location, or the company.

“Having fun?” Gabe didn’t mention the mess Ian had made, instead picking up the diagrams and looking through them, careful not to smudge anything.

“Yes, thanks.” Ian stretched, and was surprised by how stiff he’d gotten. “How long was I doing that for?” Setting the diagrams down again, Gabe shrugged.

“I don’t know, but if you started when I left, an hour and half. Maybe two.” He began poking through the now-full cupboards. “What do you want for dinner?” Startled, Ian blinked, and set down the remaining stub of chalk.

“Isn’t it a little early to be thinking about that?”

Gabe shrugged again and shut the cupboard doors rather harder than necessary. “Maybe.” Tension was visible in every constrained motion he made, belying his nonchalant response. “But things tend to take longer than you’d think, and require more effort than would be expected.”

That was obviously a warning, although it wasn’t needed. Ian was quite aware that he had no idea how much it would take to get him through his senior year, but he knew it would be hard. Few of his friends had been so completely looked-after by their parents, and he’d spent many hours sympathizing with those trying to juggle schoolwork, jobs and a social life. He hadn’t ever expected to become one of them, but he was well informed of at least some of the difficulties he’d be dealing with.

Back complaining about being abused for so long, he abandoned the chair he’d been in for the couch, and watched Gabe through the kitchen door, uncertain of what had prompted this change in mood. Something must have happened to drive Gabe so far from his usual even-tempered attitude, but Ian couldn’t imagine what. There hadn’t been any phone calls, and there wasn’t anything that might be conveyed in a letter that could produce such a response–at least, not in the letters Gabe would be receiving.

Inexplicably chilled, he pulled the blanket off the back of the couch and curled up around a rather dubious-looking throw-pillow. At some point in time, someone had embroidered it with a lumpy unicorn–probably Gabe’s sister–but at least it smelled like pinecones instead of dust.

Gabe came out of the kitchen, bringing with him a glass of orange juice and an air of foreseen doom. He sat down on the floor and stared at Ian for a while before draining his glass too quickly to have been able to actually taste what he was drinking. When he put down the emptied glass, he looked very tired, like someone who’s run a marathon only to discover that the finish line was moved at some point, and he has to run another half-dozen miles or more.

“I’m currently holding down three part-time jobs, a merit-based scholarship, and still need my folks’ help with tuition. How are you possibly going to manage?”

Ian curled into a slightly tighter ball, and tilted his head, setting the room at an unlikely angle. Hearing Gabe sound so defeated before they’d even begun made him remember the tone of his father’s voice, back before he’d gotten his current, highly lucrative job. If his father had felt the panic which even now hovered at the back of Ian’s thoughts, it explained much.

“My parents made do on two part-time jobs while providing for three kids,” he told the rug, although he hoped Gabe was paying attention; if he was going to make Ian do his job for him, he ought at least to listen. “Things were pretty rough at times, although they never let us know it. It’s doable.” Shifting so that he could see Gabe again, he added, “Besides, I promise not to ask for fancy cereal anymore.”

Gabe almost laughed at that, an odd, despairing sound which was all wrong for him. Unable to stifle his discomfort, Ian closed his eyes so he at least wouldn’t have to see Gabe shut himself down as he always did when things went to pieces. He didn’t stop functioning, he just stopped being himself for the duration of the crisis. When he’d first noticed this tendency, Ian had almost panicked, kept from it only his need to get Gabe back. Later he’d realized that it was simply Gabe exposing the cool, analytical piece of him that was usually hidden by humor and a taste for condiments. It was a marvel of self-discipline, but that didn’t make it any easier to watch.

“Do you even know what the current cost of tuition is?” There it was; the despair already retreating, replaced by a hard certainty. Ian hated it, although he wasn’t sure despair was any better. It was more human, at least.

“No, but it doesn’t matter.” And it didn’t, no matter what Gabe thought. “I’ll go talk to the administration, start looking through the classifieds. Don’t tell me it can’t be done.” He sat up, almost angry, though he couldn’t tell whether it was with Gabe for seeming to have given up, or with his father for having put him in the situation in the first place.

Oddly, Gabe looked somewhat pleased. “Well, with that sort of attitude you’re probably right. I just want you to realize how hard it would be. We’d both have to work pretty much nonstop, so no more parties with Thomas and the gang.”

“There weren’t ever really that many,” Ian pointed out, but it didn’t matter. Not really.

Gabe grinned at that, unexpectedly, sliding back into his normal self without visible effort or showing any signs of having noticed that he’d ever been away from it.

“Yes, well, there won’t be any now.”