“Very heroic, having me dragged here.”
“I told them not to hurt you,” Archangel said. Seeing Isaac again, up close, was as dizzying as blood loss. He itched still, damningly, to reach out and touch. To soothe bruised jaw and tension corded shoulders, release chafed wrists and press kisses to every inch of his skin. “We didn’t want to hurt you.” He stepped closer. “You brought this upon yourself.”
His basement was small and padded and grey, equipped only with the chair and shackles that Isaac was bound to. The shackles dwarfed him and his slender wrists. It was ridiculous.
“Why am I here, Gabriel?”
It was strange to hear that name after so many years. Just a little bit wrong feeling. And yet, on those lips, it was achingly easy. Intimate. He released a breath. “I’ve been trying to find you for a long time.”
“I know, I’ve been avoiding you for a long time. That’s not what I asked.”
He fumbled, uselessly, frantically, for the threads of Isaac’s mind. Nothing there. There was only maddening, shuttered, impossible silence like the grave. It seemed to seep into everything. What are you thinking, Isaac? Archangel stroked his powers over the minds of others, instead – Spring on guard just outside the door.
He wished he’d thought to bring in some sort of barrier with him. Coffee, even. The files. Try just talking to him, reasoning with him – what sort of idiotic idea had that been when the very sight of him had Gabriel bent over the ropes with the match bell ringing?
“I need your help,” Archangel said. “We need your help.”
“I need you to stay the hell away from me, but here we are.”
“You didn’t have to let me believe you were dead!” It burst out of him. It was the exact opposite of the patient calm and control he’d wanted to radiate. This time, even when he knew he absolutely shouldn’t, he couldn’t resist touching. Just to check that he was truly there in front of him, warm and alive. Just because he hoped it fucking hurt Isaac even a fraction as much.
Isaac bit down on his lip at the small caress of fingers on his jaw. A choked sound caught in his throat. His head jerked like he wanted to twitch away, though he couldn’t.
Archangel could feel the power buzzing beneath Isaac’s skin, could literally watch Isaac’s fledgling grey eyes turn as white as a fresh sheet of paper. In an instant he could hear every thought in the house, feel the tug of them like strings ready to be woven into a tapestry of his pleasing. I’m so tired, spaghetti carbonara for dinner, just a few minutes of rest, be good, train harder, I should make coffee, I wonder what they’re doing in there…
The thoughts stretched farther, further, a rush of hundreds of voices and souls going about their life. He could hear every thought except the ones he most wanted to hear, but a person’s power never worked on Isaac when they touched him and Isaac’s own gifts kicked in. Everyone else though…
Their gazes locked. Isaac’s breath had gone shallow and his body taut. He gave Gabriel a look of exquisite agony. He didn’t, however, give an explanation. An apology. Nor did he offer up any useful information.
Archangel let his arm drop and forced himself to focus. “You’re too powerful for me to leave you alone, you know that.” His voice was only a little hoarse. “I couldn’t let you fall into the wrong hands; I’m not the only person who’s been looking for you these last few years. Would you rather it was one of them who found you, instead of me?”
“Better the devil you know, Archangel?”
“I’m not the devil.”
“No. You’re a regular hero, right? Let’s just call this detaining a threat instead of fucking kidnapping your ex like the other freaks get.”
Perhaps spitefully, Archangel reached out a hand again, carding his fingers through Isaac’s hair. There. A quiver of breath, a slight surrender, a skin-hunger. How long had it been since someone touched Isaac like this? Or touched him at all? Had the last time been Gabriel too? The power rushed beneath his hand, all the possibilities that he once thought died bleeding out on their bedroom floor.
“Indifference is a form of evil, Isaac. Doing nothing means letting evil win.” Letting me mourn you was evil. Isaac’s hair was overgrown, tangled, greasy with hiding out and matted with cold sweat. He’d have to get it cut. “Don’t you dare pretend I’m the bad guy here.”
“Gabriel.” Isaac’s gloved fingers flexed again on the arms of the chair. His power pulsed wildly, magnifying Archangel’s telepathy in one moment, shrinking it the next until his head had gone quiet with only the whisper of foreign thoughts. But it always went back to the magnifying. Isaac had told him once that everything in his whole body lit up with their mere proximity to each other. He couldn’t get enough of it, kept the point of contact up for a beat longer, two.
“Gabriel.” Pleading. Point to him. Archangel let go, offering reprieve again as Isaac squeezed his eyes shut for a few seconds and cleared his throat. “So, you found me. You caught me. What happens to me now? You can’t keep me tied to a chair forever – that would be cruel. No one here wants to hurt me, remember? Least of all you.” His cheeks were flushed.
“The chair is a temporary arrangement until I can be sure you don’t do something stupid.”
“Until you can get inside my head and make me behave like a good boy for you?”
“Is that really what you think of me now?” Archangel’s voice stayed steady with effort, practice. His face faltered for only a split second. It was, unfortunately, a split second that Isaac caught.
“I think you think what you’re doing is the ultimate right. I think you think you’re protecting me. I think you’re an arrogant delusional prick who thinks anyone who doesn’t share his particular view on the world is immoral and needs to be saved.”
It was true, but not like that. Isaac twisted everything.
Archangel circled the chair, placing himself behind him. Giving himself a brief reprieve too, perhaps, from the look on Isaac’s face.
Gabriel had always loved broken things, he loved to put them back together. Isaac had been a stained glass window of a boy when they first met. Startling colours, beauty, torment, and absolutely shattered into a million pieces. He’d loved him instantly. With his eyes blazing white and his body shuddering like a magnet trying to connect he looked devastatingly in need of Gabriel to save him again. Whether he was too stubborn to admit it or not.
“I know she was in your head, it’s how we finally found you.”
“You think I’m a Trojan horse gifted to bring your kingdom crashing down?” Isaac laughed, without amusement. It was a horribly scratchy noise like he’d grown unused to making any. “Feel free to let me go whenever you like. I’d hate to be an inconvenience.”
Archangel didn’t laugh. He studied the back of Isaac’s head, as if it would magically open up for him and make sense again. “I think she’s clever and slippery and cruel, and I know what having her in your dreams is like. I think you’re terrified to have anyone in your head ever again, especially me, which is why I’m asking. Nicely. What did you talk about with her?”
Isaac’s mind remained closed to him. So did his mouth.
Archangel’s lips pressed thin. “For fuck’s sake.” He did his best to clamp down on his frustration. He clung instead to the quivers of Isaac’s breath, to the fact that even when Isaac tried to close his eyes and ignore him he was inevitably drawn back. Unable to keep from focusing on Gabriel, from looking at him, any more than Gabriel could resist reaching out to touch all reassurances and strategy aside. Isaac had refused to even speak to anyone else, let alone co-operate with them. Surely the fact he kept responding, however reluctantly or defiantly, meant something?
Or maybe Isaac just knew how to play him.
He moved to stand in front of him again, expression composed and shoulders drawn back. Radiating patience, calm, rationality as much as he could when he hadn’t slept in over seventy two hours. “You know I can’t leave your head unchecked,” he said. “I can’t let you go to her – we wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“Nobody here wants to hurt me, but you’re more than willing to make that sacrifice for the greater good if you have to.” Isaac raised his brows, lips curling into some mocking imitation of a smile. “That’s it, right? Probably suits you just fine considering how quickly you gave up asking nicely. It means you get to play jigsaws with my head after. You like doing that.”
“She’s poisoned you against me – I’m trying to protect you.”
“Sure, if you say so. That’s it.”
A fresh stab of irritation needled him at the fact Isaac had the audacity to eye-roll at him with that comment. Why did Isaac have to make everything so bloody difficult? Why did he always insist on forcing Gabriel’s hand? As if making Archangel run around the country chasing after him like a fool hadn’t been bad enough.
“I’m not your enemy, don’t make me into one.”
“You don’t change, Gabe.”
You do. You have. What has she done to you?
Archangel slammed his powers against Isaac’s mental barriers.
THE INCITING INCIDENT
“We should start a society for people who like villains,” Gabriel said. “We could make a hero one too. They could play off each other – you know, like the assassins society. Fake missions. Assigned prank targets, movie nights and book recommendations. That sort of thing.”
Isaac twisted his head to look at his best friend.
Gabriel slouched on the other end of his narrow student bed, all long limbs and hard edged looseness. Gabriel sprawled wherever he went. He took up space without thought, without apology – he looked like he belonged on Isaac’s bed more than Isaac did.
Isaac snorted. “You just want to be a superhero.”
Gabriel had been like that since they met, possibly it was the reason they were friends though he tried not to think about it too much. Saving people was Gabriel’s favourite hobby and it had been obvious from the start that, to his eyes, Isaac was a boy in desperate need of saving.
Most of the time, Isaac didn’t mind.
Gabriel straightened on the bed, his jaw tightening. His stare and attention skittered away like Isaac was simply too stupid to get it. “It was just an idea,” he said. “A bit of fun. You know, fun. Some people have it.”
Isaac’s fingers tightened on the stick of charcoal blackening his fingers.
A burnt orange sunlight filtered in through the gap in the cheap green curtains, spilling across the room and catching all the soft edges of Gabriel’s face. Before Gabriel, he never knew that edges could be soft. Right then it only irritated him more.
Gabriel tugged a hand through his hair, before reaching out and gently taking hold of the sketchpad so he could examine his paper likeness. “It was just an idea.”
The boy on the paper was Archangel. A telepath with a propensity for hacking computers. Gabriel was never really supposed to see them at first, but he’d eventually snuck a glance and then laughed in more delight that Isaac had ever heard in his life. He seemed to smile involuntarily again now, holding the pad like it was the most precious item in the whole world.
It softened Isaac. God he was so fucking weak. He reached for a scrunched up wad of loo roll on his desk to wipe his hands. Not that it did much to clean the almost-permanent stains off them, but it gave him something to do other than staring at Gabriel as if he’d personally hung and hand painted the sun into his sky.
“Sure. I mean, why not? Like you said, could be fun. But I’m not being your bloody sidekick.”
If Gabriel knew he could get Isaac to do whatever he wanted just by smiling he’d never hear the end of it. His best friend would be insufferable.
Gabriel’s face lit up and he looked at Isaac again. “Yeah?”
“Sure,” he said. “League of Evil. League of Heroes. I’ll even let you play the hero, just cause I’m so nice.”
That was the first time Gabriel ever kissed him.
Gabriel reeled back from the memory, breathing heavy. It felt like a horse had just kicked him in the chest. Irony. He pressed a hand to the side of his head. Not Gabriel, Archangel. Archangel.
Isaac stared him down, panting from exertion. “Painful memory? I can do worse. Your little league don’t know what you’re capable of, do they? Would you like me to tell them what happened?”
“Clever trick,” Archangel allowed.
“You’re exhausted,” Isaac said. “Sleep deprivation makes you easy. You can only stay awake for so long before it kills you.”
“And that would make you happy, would it? Her killing me?”
Isaac didn’t reply to that one, of course he bloody didn’t.
Archangel attacked again, again and again.
Even they only had so many memories between them for Isaac to try and hurt him with.