A/N: From the first episode of Tower Prep, I just knew I was going to love these two. And I do. Very much. This is my first fic for them which means that both might be slightly OOC, but once I get my bearings, my future fics with these two will improve.
Tower Prep does not belong to me, but we are discussing letting me own Dyana Liu for a few days.
Gabe can hear him breathing.
There's some kind of odd comfort in that, knowing Ian is just a few feet away. He's right there. Gabe can hear the air slip through his parted lips and come back out, can hear the echo of his breath against the walls of their room. He matches his pace so they breathe in time with each other; in. Out. In. Out.
Gabe's never really felt safe before, but knowing that if he really wanted to, he could move across the room and shake Ian's shoulder and wake him up, he could, makes him feel better about the dark. About being here. About being trapped. Ian does strange things to his hands; makes them sweat, and shake, and even though he's really good at keeping himself calm doesn't mean his mind isn't a whirlwind whenever they're together, when they're alone. Ian also does strange things to his knees, when he's training, when he's changing across the room, when he wakes Gabe up in the morning. They shake and wobble and threaten to buckle right under him like his scrawny little frame is too big to hold. The weirdest thing, though, is that Ian does strange things to his heart.
It floods and pumps and beats and bangs like it wants to jump right out of his ribs and Gabe always finds himself pressing a hand to his sternum to calm it down, like he could hypersuade himself into peace. But it doesn't matter; no matter what, if Ian looks at him the right way, if he helps him up when he trips, if Ian just sighs in the right manner, Gabe's heart is preparing him for a marathon and the blood rush to his head should knock him out.
Ian shifts. Gabe turns and watches the other boy roll on his side, facing him. His mouth is open but his breathing is quiet and soft and Gabe watches the way his chest rises and falls in this steady tempo that only sleep can provide. And he remembers Ian saying once that his favorite part of the day is when he can go to bed, because if he's sleeping he's not here.
Gabe sits up and runs his hands through his hair, legs crossed, torso bowed. His heart is acting all weird again, funny and strange, leaping in his chest. He closes his eyes and remembers the way it was when he first saw him; it wasn't like there was this explosion inside of him the moment Ian graced his pupils, it wasn't instant. It was slow and progressive, like a painting, and every time Gabe saw him, every time Ian spoke, there was more strokes of the paintbrush, there were more colors and more details and now he's a masterpiece and Gabe feels obligated to marvel at him.
He jerks, whipping toward the sound of the other boy's voice on total instinct to see that Ian's propped up on one elbow, rubbing at his eye. His brown hair is disheveled, strewn about at random points about his head and there goes Gabe's heart again, fluttering inside his ribcage like a trapped bird.
"You all right?" Ian sits up a little, swinging his legs over the side of his bed. He sounds genuinely concerned and it tugs at the strings pumping Gabe's heart as he looks away, at the hands in his lap. He didn't have friends before Tower Prep. His own parents barely acknowledged that he lived in the same house, and hearing someone speak to him like he actually matters ... it's weird, it's odd for Gabe to feel like he means something. Even if it's just a little something.
"Yeah," Gabe mumbles, rubbing at the back of his neck nervously. "Can't sleep."
Ian yawns, arms stretching over his head and Gabe can't help but stare and be thankful to whatever entity created them because Ian almost never sleeps with a shirt on. His muscles flex under the skin and even though the room is dark, the moon filtering in from the window washes Ian in this off-white plane and Gabe can see the brushstrokes that make up his being. And then he's standing up, waddling across the small room and plopping on the edge of Gabe's bed, wringing his hands in his hair.
"Are we ever going to get out of here?"
Gabe blinks in surprise because Ian's voice is so soft, so ... tortured, and he's never heard it like that before. He's so used to Ian being strong and level and this rock that he and CJ and Suki rely on, but here in the cascading shadows of their room, Gabe's staring to see the paint peel away and he can see the weakness beneath it.
He reaches out instinctively, pressing a hand to Ian's shoulder. The other boy doesn't move and Ian's warm under Gabe's finger and for a moment he forgets that he's trying to comfort hi, slipping closer to him on the bed. Ian heaves a sigh that rattles and echos in their small room and then he's looking up, his eyes dark and sad and Gabe can't take it, can't handle seeing Ian like this because the rest of them are supposed to feel like that, not him. Never him.
"You're supposed to be the strong one." Gabe's hand is still on Ian's shoulder and with a flush of embarrassment he lets it fall heavily into his lap. Ian turns, one leg resting on the bed, facing Gabe, but Gabe can't find the will or the courage to meet the other boy's eyes because they're too sad and he can't handle it. Gabe needs to know that someone isn't as lost as he is. He wants Ian to be forever bold and courageous like he always is.
"You don't think you're strong?"
Gabe glances up, brows fluttering as he meets the other boy's gaze. Ian's studying him, hands balancing on his knees, slightly slouched, as he's much taller than Gabe.
"No?" Gabe frowns slightly. "I'm not strong."
And then Ian's lips do this tug, this smirk, and Gabe's hands clench at his sides and if he wasn't already sitting, his knees would make him, and there goes his heart, bump-bumping against his ribs. It isn't even fair how his body reacts so viciously, how Gabe is suddenly very, very are (perhaps even hyperly so) of how close Ian is, and that Ian is on his bed, and that it's dark, and Ian is looking at him and Gabe hopes beyond all hope that the whirlwind of thoughts inside of his brain aren't showing on his face.
"You're just as strong as me. And CJ, and Suki."
Gabe can't help but snort at the incredulous idea that he's strong at all, let alone as strong as Ian, as the girls. He turns away from the other boy, more because the intensity of Ian's eyes on him is going to make him vomit, but also because the thought that Gabe Forrest could ever be on the same level as Ian Archer. Even though Ian's been here for a little over a month, everyone knows where he stands. He's at the top with all of the other highly-gifted students. Because, let's face it, Ian's abilities are much more desirable than his own and he gets that. Ian could kick ass through pretty much anything, and Gabe ... Gabe can't. He knows that.
He reaches over the bed to the nightstand beside it and plucks his glasses from the surface, sliding them up his nose. Everything immediately sharpens, especially Ian, who's still watching him, waiting. Gabe purses his lips and shakes his head again. "No, Ian, I'm really not."
Ian's still smirking and Gabe's heart is still bump-bumping and then Ian's reaching across and his hand is on Gabe's knee and it's warm and Gabe can't breathe and Ian squeezes his knee and says, "I'm sorry you don't see it."
Gabe's eyes stare down at Ian's hand and then flick up, meet his eyes, and he doesn't know when Ian decided to lean in but now he's close, very close. Gabe flicks between his lips and his eyes and he swallows hard, the sound of his throat struggling to flush down his own spit echoing hard in the room. He tries to take a breath but it catches in his throat and makes this hiccup sound and then Ian isn't smirking anymore. He blinks curiously across from him, his hand slipping from Gabe's knee.
"Are you okay?"
Gabe takes in another breath but that breaks apart too. "Yeah," he manages, nodding furiously. And then he's sliding away from Ian, pushing his back to the headboard and trying to catch his breath.
"Is something wrong? You can tell me." Ian's brow is creasing and Gabe still can't get over the fact that this kid actually cares about him, that he's sitting here and looking at him like he's not a freak, like he's actually worth something. But Gabe isn't used to this, isn't used to someone reaching out and doesn't know how to take it, how to accept it, how to react to this kind of kindness. So he just stares, he just stares across at Ian on his bed and listens to his heart in his ears.
"It's nothing. It doesn't matter," Gabe mumbles.
Ian frowns and with a pang in his chest Gabe realizes that his words have hurt him. "You don't trust me."
"No!" Gabe's hands fly up and then he's clutching Ian's shoulders, sliding back across the bed. "No, no, trust me, I trust you more than anyone I've ever known. Ever."
Ian continues to frown. "They why won't you let me help you? You're, like, my best friend, you know? I want to help you."
Gabe frowns right back at him, his hands dropping back to the bed. "I'm not used to people giving a crap." He huffs slightly, his fingers twirling in his lap. He doesn't know how to talk about what's bothering him because no one has really asked before, that and Gabe really isn't sure. It's Ian. But it's not that there's something wrong with Ian, and Ian doesn't bother him, it's just ... Ian makes his body do all of these weird things and he doesn't know what they mean. "I'm just really ... confused."
Gabe huffs again, rubbing at his neck. He still can't meet Ian's eyes so he settles on his bare chest instead, eyes tracing the muscles beneath and he's trying so hard to ignore the voice in his head that is more than aware of what all of this means because he can't be gay on top of everything else. He just can't do it.
But Ian's looking at him like he's a person, like her matters, and the words spill out of him before he can stop them. "About you."
Ian blinks in surprise and Gabe expects him to turn away, to back off, to give him a quizzical look and retreat back to his bed. But he just sits there and waits and then Gabe's running a hand through his hair and nervously pushing his glasses up his nose. "I just feel weird about you sometimes and I don't know what it means and I don't know what to do about it because I've never really felt like that - like this about anyone else and it's stupid and that's why I wasn't going to say anything because it doesn't really matter -"
"Woah, woah." Ian holds up his hands and Gabe shuts his mouth with an audible click. "Why do you always say that?"
Gabe hesitates. He had said a lot of things and he wasn't sure which part of his word vomit that Ian was referring to. "Uhm."
"You always say that it doesn't matter. That it's no big deal. That it's nothing." Ian reaches out and his hand is on Gabe's shoulder and it makes his chest fluctuate like crazy. "It does matter, Gabe. You matter. To CJ, to Suk. To me."
Gabe hates the way his throat is starting to tighten and he ducks his head slightly, wishing his hair was long enough to hide behind it. But then Ian's hand is on his cheek and then his finger is under his chin and he's forcing it up and Gabe's heart pounds so hard he's sure the other boy can hear it. He glances up and Ian's face is frozen, lips parted in a silent gasp and Gabe has seen this face before, this look.
He's seeing something that hasn't happened yet.
Ian's face clears then, the moment short and gone and then he's looking into Gabe's eyes and the shorter boy frowns slightly, unsure of what to do.
"What did you see?"
Ian looks torn between confusion and apprehension, gauging Gabe slowly, and there goes his hands, sweating, and his knees, trembling.
"I saw ..." Ian's hand smooths along Gabe's cheek and the sensation makes his spine have about as much density as pudding. "This."
Ian's hand hooks behind Gabe's head and pulls him forward so fast Gabe gasps in surprise, but the noise is swallowed, muffled, because Ian is kissing him.
Obviously, he's dreaming. Right? Gabe's mind is whirling, eyes wide open but Ian's are closed and he can feel Ian's hand on the back of his head, the warmth of his lips on his own, and they're soft and careful and hesitant. And then Gabe's eyes flutter closed and the strings that have pulled him toward Ian since the moment they met are instructing him, arms wrapping around Ian's neck. It's his turn to gasp, the sound leaving his lips as the kiss breaks but then Gabe's arresting him in another, and another, and Ian's leaning over him, hands on his chest, and their tongues are wrestling and Ian tastes like mint and surrender.
It's Ian who pulls away first, which is probably a good thing, because Gabe has about as much brain function as a vegetable at this point. His heart is simply going to break under all this pressure, his eyes opening to look up at a panting Ian above him.
"That was -" Ian coughs to readjust the sudden soft volume to his voice, "- unexpected."
Gabe sits up slightly, fixing his crooked glasses. He's very aware of Ian's hand on his leg, very aware of the taste that's lingering in his mouth that is Ian, and he's very aware that paintings look so much better up close.
"You're the one with the visions." Gabe's breathless but he manages a chuckle and Ian Archer actually blushes and looks away, releasing a nervous laugh. This is new. This is different, and Gabe's heart is still pitter-pattering and he feels like he's looking at a piece of art in the very beginning stages. This is Ian at the most basic. This is him without the ability, without Tower Prep, without everyone else. This is just Ian.
"I guess ... I ..." Ian glances at his bed and frowns and Gabe follows his gaze before twisting his hands in his lap. And then Ian turns back to him, offering that same cocked grin. "Are you a blanket hog?"
Gabe blinks, lifting his eyes with confusion and when he finally realizes what Ian is asking a crimson rush floods his cheeks and he's scooting across the side of the bed and making room. "No, no, I'm, I don't think so."
Ian smiles, peeling back the blankets to slip in beside him. And then his naked chest is on Gabe's back and he twists his head over his shoulder, just to make sure that this is real. That this is really happening, because a part of him is expecting to wake up at any minute and see Ian twisted in the blankets of his own bed.
"Your heart is going crazy," Ian says, voice soft, one hand slipping to rest just under Gabe's collarbone.
Gabe smiles, twisting just enough to kiss Ian once more and he fears for a moment what he's going to find in Ian's eyes when he pulls back, but the other boy is simply grinning down at him and slipping his glasses off of his face and setting them on the nightstand.
And even though the world is fuzzy, Ian's sharp and bold and painted beautifully beside him.