DISCLAIMER: I do not own 'High School Musical' or any related characters.
A/N: As promised, the continuation of this one-shot! Hopefully, this'll tie up the loose ends, you'll enjoy it and it'll get me back into writing!!
She hadn't been home in a week. She'd absolutely refused to leave the safety of her boyfriend's house, refused to even drive past her house when she knew her brother was stewing on what had happened, coming up with ways to 'protect' her from the harshness of life. Her mother had had to drop fresh clothes over to the Bolton's, when she had; she'd been full of understanding and had spoken to both of Troy's parents, all had agreed that she could stay there until Aidan saw sense or calmed down and accepted that she was living a life that didn't need his approval. Gabriella knew that he was trying to play father to her; he'd been trying to be her dad ever since their real father had passed on after the long battle with cancer. In a way she understood what he was trying to do, but even that understanding didn't change what had happened or the fact that while, to some people, it wasn't a big deal but to her it felt like her world was slowly crumbling away. Her family had been her everything ever since her father had passed on and now that Aidan wasn't talking to her, wasn't even acknowledging she existed, she could feel that everything lessen and it hurt more than when he'd stormed out of the Troy's house after they'd both told her to stop trying to protect her.
Gabriella shut her eyes tightly as tears threatened as she thought about her brother and what she was enduring. Sometimes, when she dwelt on it, it hurt that just little bit more. Swallowing, she reopened her eyes and glanced at Troy's alarm clock. He was going to wake up any minute and she burrowed herself deeper into his arms. They'd been sharing his bed for the week, she hadn't been able to sleep in the guest room and the Bolton's had allowed her to sleep with Troy as long as the door stayed open and they both slept. Closing her eyes, Gabriella concentrated on the feeling of his chest tight against her back and smiled slightly. Troy had been the only person she'd let in ever since Aidan had stormed out of the house. He understood why she was so upset, understood the importance of her brother to her and had held her every time she'd cried about it. Opening her eyes slightly, Gabriella's smile grew when she felt Troy kiss her behind her ear sleepily, his morning greeting.
"Morning." He whispered in her ear, very much aware that she was wide awake and thinking about what had happened.
"Morning." She replied quietly and rolled over so she could look him in the face. Smiling softly at his relaxed face and sleep blue eye, Gabriella reached up and brushed away some hair from his forehead.
"You really have to stop analyzing it, Brie." He said with a yawn and Gabriella frowned at him.
"I can't help it Troy, you know I can't." She whispered and Troy sighed before pulling her tighter against him and kissed her hair as she snuggled closer.
"I know. Just promise me you won't think about it until we get to school?" He asked hopefully and Gabriella giggled slightly and nodded. Both fell silent and Troy eyed his alarm clock with disdain as he watched its numbers change, bringing them one minute closer till his alarm went off and they had to be up and out of bed. Kissing her head again, they both groaned when the alarm sounded shrilly. Troy reached over her and slapped the snooze button as Gabriella moved away from him and sat up. She stretched as Troy leaned back against his pillows and examined the girl in front of him, watching as her shirt hitched higher and the sheets fell lower. Gabriella yawned slightly, before throwing the covers back and getting out of the bed. The shirt she wore skimmed her thighs and allowed Troy's mind to wander to things that shouldn't be done at six-fifteen in the morning.
"I like you in my clothes." He said absently as he got out of bed himself. Gabriella sent him a warning look and Troy grinned back cheekily.
"I like wearing them." She replied and Troy laughed slightly, before going to his closest and rummaging around for a fresh pair of jeans. Gabriella watched him for a moment, captivated by the way his back muscles rippled as he searched and then grabbed her own clothes. As she left the room, she made the decision to call back to him.
"Your jeans are on your desk chair." She called and heard his grumble even as she headed for the bathroom.
"So, you haven't spoken to Aidan at all?" Gabriella glanced at her best friend, Taylor as she rummaged around her locker for her books. It was free period and she was searching for some work to do, or at least that's what it seemed like to Taylor. The truth was, Gabriella was searching for something that was incredibly important to her. Finding it, she clutched it in her hand and sighed in relief.
"No." She replied shortly and Taylor raised her eyebrows, and then decided to let it go. She could see that what was happening was hurting Gabriella more than she let on and although Gabriella hadn't confided in her, Taylor could tell just by looking at her friend that she was slowly wearing away. Shutting her locker, Gabriella turned to Taylor.
"Oh. Well, are you going to?" Taylor asked and Gabriella shrugged, and slipped her hands into the pockets of her jeans.
"I don't know," Gabriella said and then continued before Taylor could say anything. "I want too, sort of. But I don't really want to do it without Troy, he's the only reason Aidan didn't do anything really stupid. He made sure I was safe." Gabriella said and Taylor nodded, before speaking.
"So basically, Troy protected you?" Taylor asked and Gabriella nodded slowly.
"Yes." Gabriella replied but didn't elaborate as she thought about what Taylor had said. Yes, Troy had protected her from Aidan, stood up for her, so why didn't she have a problem with Troy protecting her? Gabriella knew the answer even before she made up her mind to speak to Aidan alone.
"Tay, I have to go and do something. I'll talk to you later." Before Taylor could reply, Gabriella was pushing through the throng of students, some hurrying to class, other idling. She had a vague idea as to where she was going and could only hope that she would spot him before he entered the gym. When she did, she sighed in relief.
"Aidan!" She called out and her voice alone stopped him in his tracks. He turned around and stared as he watched his little sister make her way toward him. Even as he looked at her, he felt the swirling mess of emotions that had haunted him ever since he had stormed out of the Bolton's house. Rage was one of them, guilt another, but this time the guilt outweighed the rage. He could tell even from that far away that he had hurt her more than he cared to think about. He could suddenly see that maybe he had been hurting her for years and never noticed. Swallowing as Gabriella came to a stop in front of him, he shoved his shaking hands into his pockets.
"Hi." She said softly and he exploded, rage suddenly tipping the scale.
"How could you not tell me about you and Troy? How could you sneak around behind my back for so long? Why did you suddenly decide that you could go out with one of my closest friends?" He all but shouted. Gabriella froze completely and took a shallow breath, wishing suddenly that Troy was there.
"Aidan you're not Dad," She replied quietly and Aidan stared at her as she looked up at him with pleading brown eyes.
"Like hell, I'm you elder brother, I took over the job of protecting you when he died!" He shot at her and Gabriella closed her eyes and took a deep breath as she reopened them.
"What were you meant to be protecting me from Aidan?" She asked softly and he worked his jaw in a circle, trying to calm the rage that had overtaken him.
"The world, getting hurt again, you need to be protected Gabriella. You don't understand any of it." Aidan replied shortly and Gabriella's own temper flared at his words.
"I don't need to be protected Aidan! For God's sakes, I'm seventeen years old, not seven! I understand more than you think I do! As for protecting me from the world, don't you think the world snapped me in half the day Dad died? God Aidan, you're not Dad! You never were! I don't know where this idea that you have to protect me came from, but all you've done is smother me! Do you honestly realize how unhappy you've made me in the past?" Gabriella drew breath as Aidan stared at her in complete shock. "Do you remember those times you came home and I was sobbing in my room? I wasn't crying because of Dad. I was crying because you yet again were trying to be Dad and scared away any real chance I had of having really close friends! You weren't protecting me Aidan, you weren't even overprotecting me, you were downright strangling me! How many times do I need to say that to you for it to penetrate your thick skull? You were killing me Aidan, you really were. Why is it now, when I'm actually happy, do you have to take that away from me?" Gabriella yelled at him and Aidan just stared, completely and utterly shocked at what had just come out of her mouth.
Gabriella stared at him for a few moments, desperately waiting for something from him. When he didn't say anything, just continued to stare, she shook her head and turned away from him. Her bottom lip was trembling and it was only then that Gabriella realized that her entire body was trembling. Taking deep breaths to calm her down, she began to walk blindly through the school. Not taking any notice of where she was going or who she smiled at because she knew them from somewhere. Closing her eyes for a split second, Gabriella opened them as she connected to a solid wall of muscle.
"Whoa, Brie!" Gabriella heard Troy's laughing voice and instead of laughing with him, launched herself at him, wrapping her arms tightly around his neck as she hid her face in his shoulder. Troy wrapped his arms around her instantly and leaned against his locker as she breathed deeply against his shoulder.
"I talked to Aidan, actually," Gabriella sniffled slightly as Troy's arms tightened around her, "I yelled at Aidan. I've never done that before." She said and Troy stiffened in shock when he heard her confession.
"You yelled at Aidan, why?" He asked and Gabriella moved her shoulders, her face still buried deep in his shoulder.
"He said something about me needing to be protecting and I think I just lost it." She replied in a half-whisper and Troy didn't say anything for a moment, not entirely sure how to respond to his girlfriends latest admission.
"Well, what did Aidan say after you yelled at him?" Troy said and Gabriella moved her head so she could look at him.
"Nothing. I walked away," she replied and Troy sighed. Dropping a kiss on her forehead, he set her down.
"Why did you talk to him alone?" He asked, and Gabriella looked up at him intently, trying to decipher his mood and tone. When she couldn't, she looked at her feet.
"I think, I think because I had to do this alone. The protecting part anyway, Troy, please just listen," she begged when she saw him open his mouth. "The protecting part is between Aidan and me, just us. The part about you, me and him, you get a say in. But this part, the one that I've been analyzing for the past week is my part, the one I have to deal with by myself." She said and Troy studied her for a long moment, his eyes softened slightly when he saw the determination and strength in the soft brown eyes that had always fascinated him. He suddenly understood that she had to do it alone, nodding his head slightly; he leaned down and pressed his lips to her forehead. Lingering there when Gabriella's hand touched his cheek as her eyes closed.
"Alright," he agreed and she smiled up at him as the bell rang.
"Thank you." She whispered and then was forced to run as students hurled out of the classroom doors, leaving Troy with a feeling that no matter what, Gabriella was going to settle her demons and wrench herself free of her brother's grip.
Aidan watched Gabriella carefully as she placed her books in her bag. He watched as Taylor walked up and hugged her goodbye, and as Troy wrapped his arms around her and kissed her for longer than necessary, before whispering something in her ear that made her giggle. And he could see that she was happy. He'd spent most of his day dwelling on what she had said, unable to believe that he had been so blinded to her happiness, when all he thought he was doing was protecting her. He hadn't meant for it to feel like he smothering her, he'd only thought that he was doing the right thing by her and doing the thing that his father had wanted the most. Aidan made sure that there was no-one around them when he approached her. Carefully, he stretched out a hand and touched her shoulder.
"Troy! I tol – Aidan, what are you doing here?" The sparkle in her eyes went out as soon as she'd seen him and Aidan knew he was to blame.
"Wanna take a walk in the park?" He asked her quietly and Gabriella stared at him. She'd never seen him like this before; for once he actually seemed older than his eighteen years. Much, much older and much, much more worn. He'd been thinking, contemplating, she could tell that by looking at him. Slowly, she shut her locker door and nodded her head.
"Okay," she replied and heard the barely audible sigh of relief he gave. Silently, she followed him out of the school and towards the park. For a brief moment, she wondered if she should send Troy a message telling him she'd be back later than planned and then decided against it. He wouldn't worry. Very carefully, Gabriella sped up slightly and fell into step beside her brother. She folded her arms as they entered the park and wondered why he had wanted her with him. As they walked, Gabriella was under the impression that Aidan was mulling over what to say in his head and hoped that he'd say it soon.
Slowly, he halted and stared at a gigantic oak tree, well over a hundred years old. Gabriella looked at it too, for a moment all they did was stare at it and then he spoke.
"When I was little, I always thought Dad would be around forever, kind of like this tree," he indicated with his head and Gabriella looked at him. "When he got diagnosed, I was what? Fourteen? And I still thought, no, no, he won't die. He's like those trees that live forever." He turned his head to look at her and Gabriella looked at him. "I don't think I ever told you this, but a couple of weeks before he passed away, when I was around sixteen, he took me out for the day? Do you remember that?" He asked and Gabriella nodded.
"Yeah, Mom and I went shopping and you went out to do 'secret men's business'." She replied and Aidan laughed slightly at her words.
"Yeah, that day. Well, on that day, while we were having lunch, Dad made me promise that when he died, I would always look out for you. I would protect you from harm, all the stuff, he said, a father should do with a daughter." Aidan gave a hollow laugh. "That was the day that I realized he wasn't going to live forever." He added and Gabriella felt tears prick her eyes.
"Aidan, that didn't mean you, had to become Dad." She whispered and he shrugged.
"I know. But I did and I was trying so hard to protect you from getting hurt, that I didn't realize that I was hurting you." He said and Gabriella felt a tear slide down her cheek. "I'm sorry Gabster, I really am. I didn't mean to be so overprotective of you; I just promised Dad that I would protect you from everything." He said quietly and Gabriella felt another tear slide down her cheek as she watched him morph from an old, worn man to a small, helpless child. Without thinking, she slipped an arm around him.
"I miss Dad Aidan." She whispered and his arm wrapped around her shoulders tightly.
"I miss him too." He replied softly and Gabriella swallowed hard as she leaned against her brother and they both gazed at the giant oak tree. Gabriella's understanding of Aidan and Aidan's understanding of Gabriella growing as they watched the barely seen movements of the age old tree. After a moment, Gabriella spoke.
"Aidan, I have to get back to Troy's." She said quietly and he tensed before nodding.
"Sure, come on, so Gabster, are you going to move back home anytime soon?" Aidan asked casually as they began to walk out of the park. Gabriella shrugged.
"I don't know, I like waking up next to Troy every morning." She replied teasingly and Aidan laughed at her, his dark brown eyes sparkling much like his sisters did.
"Of course you do, and I'm betting there are side benefits to that as well, right?" He asked and Gabriella pushed him as she laughed.
"Yuck Aidan, I thought you didn't want me talking about something like that!" She exclaimed and he shrugged, not at all ashamed of what he had said.
"Yeah well, I had to find out from one of you and I'm certainly not going to ask Troy about it. That could just be awkward." Aidan shrugged and Gabriella giggled slightly, as they drew closer to Troy's house. Gathering her courage, she looked at him.
"So, you're alright with Troy and I being together?" She asked softly and Aidan blew out a breath, already having an idea that, that particular question was going to escape her mouth.
"Not really, but I guess I'll have to deal with it huh?" He asked and Gabriella looked at him curiously as they came to a stop in front of the Bolton's house. Nodding her head, she glanced behind her and saw Troy sitting on the front step of the house, watching them closely behind sunglasses that shielded his eyes from the setting sun.
"Yeah I guess you will. Aidan, I, uh, I have something for you," digging the small, square keychain out of her pocket, Gabriella gazed at the picture it held. "I found this when we moved here and I wanted to show you it ages ago, but I never got the chance." Gabriella handed the keychain to her brother and watched as his eyes widened as he looked at the photo of the two of them and their father, all grinning like they'd just seen the best comedy in the world.
"Thanks Gabs." He whispered and Gabriella smiled slightly. Impulsively, she leaned up and hugged him.
"You'll always protect me Aids, but you'll be my big brother when you do it." She whispered in his ear. Releasing him she waved goodbye before, walking towards Troy, whose chin was resting on his linked hands. As soon as he saw her coming, he stood up and waited until she was close.
"How'd it go?" He asked softly and Gabriella looked at him, before turning around to watch her brother's retreating figure, the keychain, she knew, clutched firmly in his hand. Feeling Troy's arms slip around her waist as he pulled her back against his chest, she tilted her head and looked up at him.
"I think, I think he knows that I don't need to be overprotected anymore." She replied and Troy pressed a kiss to the side of her head, before resting his chin on her shoulder as they watched the sun sink behind the horizon.
A/N: All done, as I said it probably wasn't very good, but there you have it! I hope you all enjoyed and I hope this means I can get back to my two stories!!