25,156 / 50,000
Summary: His knees kept wanting to bend, and weren’t doing so only because the wall was supporting most of his weight. Walking home–to Gabe’s apartment, that was–wasn’t going to be fun. He really must be tired, to slip up like that, he decided somewhat blearily. Whatever Gabe’s apartment was, it couldn’t possibly be home.
Dinner was quiet and brief, Gabe being less interested in talking that in whatever he was reading, and Ian too anxious about the upcoming party to care. And not just about the party, but also about how Gabe would react to him going to it. There wasn’t any logical reason why he shouldn’t go, just as there wasn’t any for why he should, but here, in Gabe’s apartment, Thomas’ opinion wasn’t the one that mattered anymore.
He made several attempts to inform Gabe of his plans for the evening, and each time chickened out about three words into the explanation. This led to him telling Gabe that one of the couch’s patches was loose (which it was, but only because Ian had been fiddling with it), the icebox’s fan was making a funny noise (which it wasn’t), and he’d forgotten to bring toothpaste ("Use mine," Gabe said, without looking up from his book). Eventually it was nine o’clock, and Ian couldn’t put it off any longer, if only because it would become a little obvious that something was going on when he went to change.
"I’m going out," he said, choosing the path of least information.
"Okay," Gabe said, and turned a page.
"I’m not sure when I’ll be back," Ian continued, rather like someone poking at an injury to see when it would start hurting. When this got no reaction from Gabe, he continued, "There’s a party tonight at Benny Carmichael’s, and I told Thomas I’d go."
"Well, then," Gabe said, still not looking up from his book. "Don’t stay out too late. If you want my keys so you can get back in, they’re on the kitchen counter somewhere."
Ian retrieved them, and then stood for a minute in the middle of the livingroom floor, staring at Gabe. "Right, then," he said eventually, still off balance from the lack of hysteria which had greeted his announcement, and went to change.
Once he was there, the party turned out to be pretty much what he’d expected–too many people in too small a space, with too much beer and music that was too loud. After about five minutes he retreated to a corner and waited for someone to show up who was worth shouting at. Everyone else seemed determined to forget that the next day was Monday, and Ian really shouldn’t have been surprised by the amount of alcohol some of the people were putting away. Despite the music, no one was bothering to appear even remotely interested in dancing, aside from a couple girls gyrating in one of the other corners.
Thomas was nowhere to be seen, and no one Ian had shouted with had seen him.
In Thomas’ absence, Ian sat by himself, unnoticed by the rest of the people in the room, and stared at his shoes. He had enjoyed this sort of thing, at some point–he must have. The week before, he’d gone to two such parties. Of course, he’d gone with Thomas and Joe and the rest of his friends, but still. It was hard to believe that he’d changed so much in two days.
A girl came up to him and shouted something, but he just shook his head at her, unable to make out what she was saying. She tried again, obviously asking him something, but he shook his head again, emphatically, and waved her away. After another attempt, she gave up and wandered off toward the group of people making the most noise.
After that, Ian began watching the people around him, noticing for the first time how young and almost desperate they looked, as if they had to have fun or risk the world coming to an end. Had he looked like that? He hoped not, but suspected he had. At times it had felt like everyone else was enjoying themselves, and if he just made a little bit more of an effort, he would too. It had worked, a few times–unless he was just fooling himself.
The party continued getting louder and more frantic, and he stuck his fingers in his ears as surreptitiously as he could manage, which wasn’t very much. However, no one appeared to notice–he quite easily might have been nothing more than a shadow, given the amount of attention he received.
If Thomas would just show up so that he could leave, or at least try to have a somewhat meaningful conversation–
He shut his eyes. Maybe when he opened them, Thomas would be there, and he could make his excuses and escape. Given a choice, he would have left hours–or at least what seemed like hours–ago, but he didn’t want to confirm Thomas’ fears that their friendship was dissolving. Except if Ian had to wait any longer–
"Hey," someone said in his finger-stuffed ear. He removed the finger and opened his eyes. Gabe stood in front of him, expression more unreadable than usual. "Having fun?"
Torn between despair and something like relief, Ian grabbed his wrist and dragged him out of the stifling room. Out in the hallway it was a little quieter, and smelled less of spilled beer and sweaty bodies. His ears were still ringing, but at least he could breathe. He slumped against the wall, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. When he opened his eyes again, Gabe was still there, looking faintly amused.
"What are you doing here?" Ian demanded. Gabe shrugged.
"I just came to see what was going on. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a party, and I wanted to see if my memory of them was accurate."
"Yes." Gabe leaned back against the wall opposite Ian and folded his arms. "You know, I’m wondering why you were in there, when you were so obviously not appreciating this particular party’s effusive charms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you look quite that miserable–even the other night pales in comparison." Ian didn’t feel particularly like confessing that he’d been wondering the same thing.
"Thomas asked me to come, so I did."
"Funny," Gabe said, not sounding particularly amused. "I don’t recall seeing Thomas in there. Was he simply invisible or well hidden?"
"He hasn’t shown up yet," Ian admitted, suddenly aware of how exhausted he was. His knees kept wanting to bend, and weren’t doing so only because the wall was supporting most of his weight. Walking home–to Gabe’s apartment, that was–wasn’t going to be fun. He really must be tired, to slip up like that, he decided somewhat blearily. Whatever Gabe’s apartment was, it couldn’t possibly be home.
"You’ve been in there, waiting for him, for what–three, four hours?" Gabe demanded, and Ian nodded, even though it couldn’t possibly have been that long. "Well, then." Sounding impatient, Gabe pushed himself off of the wall and stepped toward Ian. "We’re leaving. Where’s your coat?"
"In the bedroom somewhere, I think, but–" Ian grabbed at Gabe, intending to explain that he couldn’t leave yet, but Gabe had already disappeared back inside the apartment. It was too much effort to go after him, so Ian just stayed where he was, eventually giving into his knees’ demands and sliding down until he was sitting on the carpet–which was only slightly less dubious than the one in Gabe’s apartment building.
He went back to waiting, but with the knowledge that Gabe was bound to reemerge soon. It might take him a minute to find the coat, but once he had that he wouldn’t let anything delay him. Which was a comforting thought, since Ian really shouldn’t have been feeling so utterly drained.
"Hey, Ian!" Before he realized what was happening, someone was pulling him to his feet. "Been here long?"
"A little while," Ian managed, wishing rather bitterly that Thomas had shown up five minutes later–or several hours earlier. "Where’ve you been?"
"Pizza place. They kicked us out about fifteen minutes ago–they’d been waiting to close up for a while and finally got tired of waiting." Thomas grinned, looking unreasonably elated. "It’s good to see you here–I wasn’t sure you’d show up."
"Well–" Ian started, not really sure of what he was about to say, and was rescued by the arrival of Gabe. Too tired to keep up appearances, Ian turned to him with undisguised relief. "Did you find my coat?"
Gabe produced it without comment, and handed it over rather more ostentatiously than Ian would have expected of him. Ian put it on like armor, and turned back to Thomas.
"Look–I’ve been here for a while, and I’ve got class tomorrow. I’d stay, but–" He shrugged, drawing strength from Gabe’s presence. "I’m sorry to leave now that you’ve just shown up, but I need to go now."
Thomas didn’t say anything in reply, but the way he looked at Gabe suggested what he thought of the situation. After a minute he nodded thoughtfully, eyes narrowed, and went into the apartment. The brief blast of noise made the semi-quiet of the hallway more apparent.
Ian put a hand out to steady himself against the wall, and considered what a fool he had been. For a brief instant the world around him seemed to pause, not so much stopping as simply dropping away into nothing. Then an arm was slung across his shoulders, and Gabe was regarding him with a thoughtfulness that was nothing like Thomas’.
"Let’s get out of here," he said, and Ian didn’t think he’d ever heard sweeter words.
Going into that apartment had been one of the hardest things Gabe had ever forced himself to do, but he’d never admit that to Ian. It hadn’t been the noise or the number of people, although those things had made the experience more unpleasant, but rather the way in which the place had fairly pulsed with unhappiness, like a particularly nasty shade of green with a headache.
Which was a rather confused simile, but it was the best he could come up with while still dealing with the after affects.
The night air hit him like shock-induced sanity, and he felt Ian stumble beside him. His cousin’s eyes were unfocused and almost closed, and unless Gabe did the steering for him, he showed a tendency to drift away to the right. If Gabe hadn’t known better, he would have thought Ian had been drugged. But he had seen this before, and knew it was only a combination of exhaustion and sensory overload. Given sleep, Ian would be fine.
But first they had to get back to the apartment, which would take some doing, given the way Ian was stumbling along. Gabe tightened his hold around Ian’s shoulders, and slowed his pace so that Ian could keep up. They had about fifteen minutes of walking ahead of them, in the biting cold, but walking faster wouldn’t do any good if Ian ended up falling down because of it.
The streets were empty, eerie in their silence and stillness, the only sounds those trailing along behind Gabe and Ian. Gabe had never before wished for pigeons, but he would have been happy for anything to reassure him that they weren’t walking through a dead world. Determined not to be spooked by it, he focused instead on guiding Ian, matching him step for step.
"I’m not sure why I went," Ian said unexpectedly, about five minutes after they’d left the apartment building, in the middle of a patch of disintegrating sidewalk.
"Oh?" Gabe said, mind occupied with where he was placing his feet and making sure Ian didn’t turn an ankle.
"I mean, I didn’t really want to, but I didn’t not want to, if you know what I mean," Ian continued, somewhat absently. It was possible he wouldn’t have noticed if he had turned an ankle.
"I see," said Gabe as he negotiated them around a particularly fragmented bit.
"It was just that Thomas looked so hurt about me moving in with you, and it felt like I was dropping him for you, and I didn’t want that. There wasn’t any reason why I shouldn’t have gone, so I said yes." He tripped on a loose brick, and grabbed Gabe’s arm like a lifeline. It took them a moment to regain their balance. "And then I spent all that time by myself in a roomful of people, and Thomas doesn’t have to decency to make even a passing appearance."
They began walking again, Ian’s renewed grasp on Gabe’s wrist strong enough to hurt. Gabe deliberately didn’t contemplate what they would look like to any passerby.
"Is this what people mean when they talk about things going to hell in a handbasket?" Ian didn’t sound like he expected an answer, but Gabe considered the question anyway.
"No," he said finally, a couple silent blocks later. "It may feel like it right now, but that’s just because it’s past your bedtime, and you just spent several hours killing your hearing while waiting in vain for someone to show up."
"Thomas did show up," Ian protested half-heartedly, loosening his grip on Gabe’s wrist a little.
"But not, I’m guessing, when he told you he would." Gabe pointed out, and Ian shook his head. "I’m sure things will look better in the morning."
"You sound like my mother," Ian complained, and then fell silent again.
They finished the journey without any further conversation, silence broken only when Gabe asked Ian for the key. Ian dug it out, and, once inside the apartment, summoned enough energy to strip himself of coat and shoes, falling onto the couch without undressing further. Gabe locked the apartment door, and then went into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
Once the door was between him and Ian, he let himself collapse onto the floor, and spent a minute staring into the dark, unable to bring himself to grope around for the light switch. It was well past one in the morning, and if he hadn’t gone to fetch Ian–
He stood up and flailed in the general direction of the switch, hitting it on the second try. Whatever other repercussions the night had, at least Ian wasn’t likely to go gallivanting off to any more parties. He’d sounded less than enthusiastic before the party, and now it seemed unlikely that he’d even consider going to another one. Which was good, although it was a shame about Thomas.
Gabe sighed, and went about the process of getting ready for bed. The following day was bound to be a painful one, but dwelling on the various possibilities wouldn’t help things. So he put it from his mind, and went to sleep, the comforting hum of the apartment the only thing occupying his thoughts.
And because I had a lot of fun writing this but am not sure where it will fit into the story:
construct, see magical construct
magical construct, term for any device which is powered by magic. In general use, refers to creatures created out of wire and bone, which are then animated and given rudimentary self-will, such as an animal might have. Most are created to serve as expensive, immortal pets, passed down through the passing generations of the owning family. Although they are not limited to one family, the more people they belong to, the more of a personality they develop. There are cases where the magical construct has gone mad, and was of necessity destroyed. They are also employed as finders of magically enhanced explosives and similar illegal devices, and as guards for places such as the presidential mausoleum. It is suspected that the living gargoyle which plagues most cities in Europe and North Columbia was once a construct that somehow managed to reproduce. Magical constructs are often referred to simply as ‘constructs’ or 'wireworks'.
gargoyle, decorative spout projecting from a building so as to throw out the rain water from its roof. The term may apply to the water outlets in the form of lion heads upon the cornices of Greek and Roman buildings and to other such spouts, but usually refers to the highly interesting Gothic examples carved in the form of grotesque composite monsters leaning far outward from parapets and cornices. Those of Notre Dame, Paris, are perhaps the most familiar. On churches they are in stone, while the gargoyles of minor and domestic buildings often are of lead. They are frequently used as anchors for the wards on the buildings. The term is also used in reference to the large stone cats which are found in most large cities in N. Columbia, Europe, N Africa, and W Asia. A few unsubstantiated sightings have been claimed in S India and China. The gargoyle’s substance is granite, marble, and rarely lead, with the same range of colorations. There is no apparent differentiation of gender, nor have there been any sightings of gargoyle young. Larger specimens sometimes measure 8 to 11 ft. from nose to tip of tail, and weigh the amount proportionate to their substance. The gargoyle, despite its predatory form, eats only rock and occasionally metal. Gargoyles sometimes travel in groups. Usually they are not aggressive toward man. In general symbolism the gargoyle represents constancy.
The entry on gargoyles is based pretty heavily on the entry in my old Columbia desk encyclopedia.