Title: Almost Lover
Author: Calex
Rating: PG-13
Warning: Sliiiiiiiiight insinuation of incest, angst.
Notes: Sixth and final official ficlet of the Holly and Gabe 'verse. There will be more ficlets/drabbles but this is the last official one. Who knew when I first started this series that this would be the ending?

"I think we should break up."

"Eh?" Gabe dropped the book he was pulling out from the shelf, eyes wide as he turned around very slowly to face Holly, who was staring at him with a look of utter seriousness. Gabe swallowed, felt himself starting to sweat before he glanced down at the book lying innocently on the ground. It was a fairly old book and seeing as it was in the antique bookstore that Holly's brother, Braeden, owned, it was probably pricey. And he was pretty sure that dropping pricey old books was bad for them or something. Slowly, he crouched down to pick it up, dusted it off to give himself time to gather his thoughts but it seemed almost pointless, seeing how his mind was whirling with what Holly said. Break up? What was he talking about? They couldn't possibly break up –

"It's not you, it's me," Holly went on, tone earnest as he leaned forward a bit on his chair, elbows on his knees. "I mean, I love you, I do but there's just something… missing. I mean, I've known you for ages and what we have is so comfortable but I think that's the problem. I think I've been relying too much on that and we've, that I've, completely forgotten about the passion. We're just stuck in this comfortable rut of ours and I've been content but I can't let this go on anymore. You deserve so much better than what I've relegated our relationship to, and you know it. It's just been hard and I've been thinking about it for a while and it's just not working out so maybe… maybe we need to stop this, see other people, you know? To learn about ourselves again. To feel the passion again."

Gabe just stared at his best friend, his companion of over a decade from his knees and felt his hands clench over the book hard, so hard that his knuckles whitened with the pressure he exerted into his hold. What the hell was going on? What the fuck was Holly talking about? Passion? And okay, maybe the decade had contributed to the rut he was talking about but to completely cut off relations because they've been together for so long was a bit much and what the fuck was he thinking having the conversation in Brae's shop, in his territory where apparently Gabe meant not a damn thing when Gabe had always thought he'd meant – if not everything then – a hell of a lot. But maybe he'd been fooling himself and Holly was getting sick of him and how the hell do you get sick of someone you've known since you were ten and oh god, maybe he'd just answered his own question.

It hurt. It hurt so damn much and it hurt even more looking at Hollly who was still staring at him with that earnest look on his face like he really did have Gabe's best interests at heart when that was complete bullshit because it was definitely not in his best interest to cut things off with Holly, especially like this. He felt pathetic, he felt stupid and it was just so fucking typical of Holly to do this, and he'd known because dammit, hadn't Holly done this so many times to so many others already? Maybe that was why he'd been complacent because no matter how quickly Holly got bored of other people, no matter how many others Holly'd left behind, that person had never been Gabe. And he'd been thinking about this for a while? How long was a while? Ten years was a while and don't tell him that Holly'd been thinking of leaving since they were kids because fuck that hurt even more than anything – And Holly was looking at him expectantly, lips curving in a smile. Gabe just felt even more confused and it wasn't exactly a comfortable addition to have, considering his already considerable amount of confusion about the whole business. So he leaned back, sitting on the floor, leaning against the bookshelf and narrowed his eyes at his best friend.

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"How does that sound?" Holly asked, curiously. "Is that good? I mean, would that work? I thought about it a lot and then I finally decided to just wing it because you can't prepare for shit like that but was that too much? I mean, I gotta let him down gently and stuff because he really is a nice guy – "

And everything fell into place. Gabe his body sink more completely against the shelf behind his back and covered his face with a hand so that Holly wouldn't see the turmoil there. That mother fucking idiot and he was going to kill him.

"What. The. Fuck were you thinking, practicing your break up lines with me like that? Do you want me to kill you or something? Son of a bitch, Holly, stop that shit. That was way weird even for you and I thought you'd gone insane."

Holly tilted his head to the side, brows furrowed in confusion. Then his expression cleared and he smirked, smirked at Gabe and got out of his chair, walking towards Gabe before dropping down on his lap, arms twined around his neck. The position was uncomfortable, seeing as how Gabe's legs were under him so he wrapped an arm around the blond's waist to tug him closer before straightening his legs and letting Holly rest as he was previously. Much better, at least it was more comfortable. Well, as comfortable as having a twenty year old, slender male mage in his lap was. Which, unfortunately, was pretty damn comfortable. And also unfortunately, he'd gotten used to it, seeing how long he'd known Holly and Holly's penchant for not respecting anyone else's personal space.

"Were you scared?" Holly asked, tone sly after they'd gotten comfortable. And Gabe scowled because dammit, of course Holly would call him on that one. So he turned his head away, muttering defensively:

"Of course I wasn't."

"Liar," Holly laughed, snuggling closer, laying his head on Gabe's shoulder before moving fluidly to straddle him, cupping his face in his hands. "I know you were worried. You know you can't hide anything from me, I've known you too long." Gabe scowled again, but knew better than to move because despite his fragile appearance, he knew that Holly was pretty damn strong. And while he might just be stronger, he couldn't do anything without hurting Holly and Holly knew he'd never do that to him, and took shameless advantage of the fact.

"Maybe I was a bit," he conceded, gruffly and Holly laughed, pure delight in the sound as he moved forward to brush his nose against Gabe's. Gabe's hands tightened on Holly's hips because that was way too close for comfort but as usual, Holly didn't care, just rested his cheek against Gabe.

"I love you, Gabe," he said on a chuckle, sighing happily. "And I say this with the utmost love I have in my heart for you: you're a big, fat liar."

"And you're a jackass."

"Maybe," Holly agreed, readily. Then he smirked again before moving in to brush his lips against Gabe's in strangely chaste kiss… for Holly. "But you love me anyway."

"God knows why I do," Gabe muttered, and then sighed as his arms wrapped themselves around Holly's waist almost reflexively. "I think all the time I've spent with you has killed my brain cells or something."

"And that was totally unnecessary, jerk," Holly pouted, flicking his nose. Gabe flinched because that hurt and he glared at the blond in his lap before pinching him in the side, making him yelp. They play fought for awhile before finally just resting, Gabe's arms around Holly's waist again and Holly's around Gabe's neck before Gabe stirred just enough to ask the question that had been running in his mind for the past half hour.

"So who's the unfortunate soon-to-be-ex?"

"Hmm?" Holly asked, distracted and almost purring from his contentment. "Oh, Andy."

"Andy?!" Gabe shot up at that, upsetting Holly from his lap and landing the blond on his hip with a hard thud, making him curse and glare at Gabe. "You're breaking up with Andy? Wait, you were going out with Andy? Since when did that happen?"

"Three months ago?" Holly answered, vaguely, rubbing his hip in exaggerated motions to emphasize his supposed pain. "About the same time as you started going out with Ian, I guess. I didn't mention it?"

"No." It was Gabe's turn to glare as he poked Holly in the side. "You should mention things like that, bitch. And shit, three months? Isn't that a record for you? No wonder you mentioned a rut."

"Shut up, jerkface," Holly scowled. "I've… done… three months…" At Gabe's disbelieving look and snort, he rolled his eyes. "Okay, so maybe I haven't, but I've been close. And what's the big deal, anyway? You tried to hide your thing with Ian from me.

"Because you were being a bitch and set us up!" Gabe snapped. "I told you right after we started dating officially."

"Look, it just slipped my mind, okay? Things were going on and I just forgot that I hadn't told you. It's not that big of a deal. Stop making it into more than it is."

"I'm your best friend, I thought you'd at least mention the fact that you were dating Ribizzi. I mean, you told me last year that you had a thing for him, so why the hell wouldn't you tell me when you started dating him?"

"I already said that I forgot about it!" Holly got to his feet, moving back to his chair and throwing himself on it with a huff. "Fuck, don't make it into a big deal, already. We were both busy and you were too caught up in your little boyfriend, anyway. It's not like you even noticed that I was dating someone and you always notice when I don't spend time with you. So shut the fuck up about it already."

"Why the hell do you always have to make it about me and how I fuck up?" Gabe demanded, getting to his feet as well. "Why the hell do I always have to take the goddamn fall when it's you who messed up? I'm fucking tired of that shit."

"Well fine!" Holly shouted, surging to his feet as well, arms fisted against his side. "You screwed up, I screwed up and it's so fucking like you to get this angry about something so small. Go play with your boyfriend, I'm sick of you."

"Well that's just perfect, because I'm fucking sick of you, too!" Gabe snarled, before whirling on his heel and stalked off, brushing hard against Brae and Ainslie at the door. The two older Grants stepped back quickly, eyes wide as they stared at his retreating back and his stomping steps down the stairs before turning with identically raised eyebrows at Holly who was glaring in the same direction. When he noticed their looks, he snapped.


"Nothing," Brae said, carefully, shutting the door behind him. "What's going on?"

"What the hell does it look like?"

"You being an immature brat and picking a fight with Gabe," Ainslie answered promptly, then winced as Braeden sent an elbow into his side. "What, it's the truth!"

"Oh fuck you!" Holly shouted, grabbing his jacket and messenger bag from the floor, stalking towards the door. "It fucking figures that you'd be on his side. I love you too, bros. I'm fucking out of here."

"Wait, Holly!" Braeden called out to him, but he didn't turn back, just yanked the door open and got out, slamming it close behind him. Braeden sighed, slumping against the wall before turning to Ainslie. "You could've handled that better."

"I just call 'em as I see 'em."

"You know how volatile Holls gets, especially when it's about Gabe."

"Those two drive me batshit insane," Ainslie snorted, before moving to the chair that Holly recently vacated, dropping down on it with a sigh. "I wish they'd just realize that they're fucking head over heels for each other and just fuck already. It'd definitely make things easier around here."

"I don't think realizing that's the problem," Braeden snorted, before sitting carefully on the sofa. "I'm sure they both got that years ago. It's the actual… sleeping with each other stage that's yet to happen."

"Come on," Ainslie said with a grin. "You can say it. Repeat after me: fuck."

"Oh shut up," Braeden snapped, cheeks flushing. "I can say it."

"Only when you're swearing, which doesn't happen a hell of a lot. Come on, bro. say it. It'll make you feel better."

"Only cretins rely on crude language to get a point across, or even to relay their frustrations," Braeden said primly, making Ainslie laugh.

"I swear you're adopted, Brae. Well, that'd make things easier and fuck knows it's always Sod's law when it comes to us. It'd definitely make things easier for us if you were, eh?"

"Shut up," Braeden said, quietly. "Don't joke about that, Ainslie. Anyway, we know that's not true, so there's no point wasting our breaths contemplating it. Anyway, what do we do about Holly and Gabe?"

"One of these days, you're going to have to accept the fact that we can't just ignore it and hope it'll go away, because we both know that's not going to happen, despite what you wish for."

"Ainslie – "

"But," Ainslie cut in with a shrug. "We'll play it your way this time. And I don't have a single clue. I don't know, lock them in a room together or something?"

"Like that's going to work, what with Holly being mage level and all," Braeden said sarcastically, before throwing Ainslie a grateful look that his younger brother carefully avoided. Braeden ignored the pang of hurt that elicited and pushed on with the issue at hand. "In any case, we could just… maybe locking them up together isn't a feasible plan, but we could just throw them in each other's paths as much as possible. Maybe that'll get them to talk. God knows their fights never last for more than a day, anyway."

"Yeah," Ainslie agreed. "They'll probably cave an apologise by tonight. No big. Anyway, can we get to cleaning this place up already? I've got a date tonight."

"Oh?" Braeden said, striving to keep his tone casual despite the clench of his gut at the news. "Someone new?"

"Yeah, she just transferred in from Spain and has got the hottest body this side of the planet. Her name's Eva, and she's got this really sexy accent. I'll introduce you," Ainslie said, easily. Braeden just made noncommittal noises before getting up to walk to the bookshelves.

"Alright, I need you to make sure that everything's put in the right place. You remember the system right?"

Ainslie sighed, before getting up. Time to be put to work.

They hadn't spoken for two weeks. That was two weeks longer than any of their previous anger-filled silences and everyone was on edge. Holly was snappier and bitchier than he'd ever been and that was saying something. Gabe was curt to the point of stoicism and despite Ainslie and Braeden's attempts to get them together, they just ignored one another until the silence got so awkward and tense that others had to fill it in themselves. Things weren't looking good, and everyone had noticed the cause.

"Since when do Holly and Gabe fight?" Ian wondered, slumping in the chair of the bistro he worked in. He was on his break, and Ainslie and Braeden had turned up to talk to him about the situation. All three looked exhausted trying to keep up with the strain of being with an angry Holly and Gabe. "I thought they were conditioned to always get along or something."

"Oh they fight," Ainslie said grimly, exhaustion, frustration and annoyance clear in his tone. "But it's never lasted this long."

"And from what we've gathered, it's over the stupidest thing possible."

"Which is?" Ian asked, curiously. Ainslie just rolled his eyes.

"Holly dating Andy."

"Well, it's more about the fact that Holly didn't tell Gabe that he was dating Andy."

"Wait, hold on, Holly's dating Andy? As in, Andy Ribizzi? Really hot werewolf guy from the Italian restaurant that he's apparently been eyeing for over a year? And Gabe's pissed off that Holly didn't tell him?" When Ainslie and Braeden both nodded, Ian looked incredulous. "That's it? Man, from the way they've both been acting, I'd have thought that it was something along the lines of Holly sleeping with Gabe's boyfriend or something. You know, if I wasn't Gabe's boyfriend and definitely haven't slept with Holly."

"That's happened before," Ainslie said grimly. "Gabe didn't give a fuck as much as he does about this. He just yelled at Holly and sucker punched the boyfriend before breaking up with him. Then he was just a bit testy with Holly for about a week before things got back to normal. And it happened more than once, probably because Gabe wouldn't hit Holly and Holly's…"

"Like you," Braeden said dryly. "Which means that he doesn't know how to keep it in his pants. And probably because since they were kids, Holly's always seemed to be obsessed with finding out just how far he can push Gabe. But they've never not spoken like this."

"And it's because Holly wouldn't tell Gabe he's dating Andy." Ian sighed. "Man, they really need to just get it over and done with and just screw each other, already." At Ainslie and Braeden's shocked looks, he looked defensive. "What? Just because I'm seeing Gabe doesn't mean I'm blind. It's really fucking obvious that they want each other bad, but just haven't had the guts to do the deed, yet. In a way I'm glad because that gives me time with Gabe, but I'm not crazy enough to think that this is permanent. I mean, I could never fight with Holly, because as much as it hurts, I know that Holly's number one to Gabe. I'm lucky if I'm even in the top ten."

"And you're okay with that?"

"Well, obviously not," Ian snorted. "But it doesn't mean that I'm just going to give Gabe up. I want to see how far this thing goes before we self-destruct. I want to be with Gabe for as long as possible, even if I know that it's not forever. That's Gabe and Holly's deal, not ours. And you know, we're having a pretty good run. I like Gabe, he likes me. The sex is great so it's not like I can ask for more, you know?

"Well, you could – "

"If I want it to be over faster than I can say Holly D. Grant," Ian cut in, wryly. "I know Gabe that much at least, by now. Gabe doesn't go for relationships where he's emotionally invested. I'm lucky we've even gotten this far. I know that three months is pretty much the longest deal with Gabe's relationships these days and it seems like we'll go on for a bit more. So it's not like I'm completely gutted or anything, you know. I feel pretty good that he likes me this much."

"You're a good guy, Ian," Ainslie said, after a moment of stunned silence. "A bit weird, but a good guy. Maybe that's why you've lasted so long. Most of Gabe's boyfriends have given him the ultimatum of 'it's Holly or me' and, well…"

"To Gabe it's a no-brainer," Braeden sighed. "They've been together too long. And what they have is special, and the thing is, everyone's seen it. But I guess with someone like Gabe, you can't help but hope that you'll be different from the rest because Gabe's a good guy. No, he's an amazing guy. And everyone can see it."

"And Holly's a bratty little shit that everyone thinks is not good enough for Gabe, so they try to cut him out from Gabe's life, which is like an instant death penalty to Gabe."

"Are you trying to make me feel better?" Ian said, after a moment, dryly. "Because if you are, I've got to say that it isn't working."

"Sorry," Ainslie said, sheepishly. Then he straightened, shrugging. "Anyway, the point is, how do we get them to stop being such fucking asses because I can't take more of this ice out treatment. It's pissing me off."

"Well," Ian said with a sigh. "We could always lock them up in a room together."

"Yeah, well, Brae already ruled that one out – "

"As much as I hate to say it," Braeden cut in. "I think it's the only option we have, now. I don't have any idea what else to do and it's the only thing that makes even a bit of sense. Which worries me a bit, because that means I've been spending far too much time with you two for my peace of mind."

"Wait, are you serious?" Ainslie asked, incredulously. "You're actually saying that we should lock them up together? Greetings, starshine, the earthlings would like Braeden Grant back, please."

"Cute," Braeden scowled at Ainslie. "In any case, that's all we have. Anyone opposed to the idea?"

"Not particularly," Ian shrugged. "It was my idea, anyway." Ainslie shook his head as well, and Braeden sighed, closing his eyes.

"Alright, then this is what we're going to do…"

They were broken up. It was ironic that something Holly'd taken as a big joke that he'd believed Holly was actually "breaking up" with him two weeks ago was actually turning out to be true. It'd be laughable if it didn't hurt so much. But still, he wouldn't give in, because he knew he was in the right. Holly should've told him, they'd always told each other everything, especially the important things and this was pretty damn important. Holly had never held out on him before when it came to his relationships, and the fact that he had this time hurt like hell. So he would be damned if he caved in first. Holly was going to have to apologise and admit he was wrong. Unfortunately, he knew that it wasn't going to be easy. Holly was stubborn, had been since he was young, and Holly probably thought along the same lines as him. So they were at an impasse, both too stubborn to admit that they were wrong and not talking.

Gabe knew it was stupid. He'd had two weeks to cool down, after all, but dammit it still hurt. It hurt a damn lot so maybe that was why he wasn't conceding. Holly should've told him and the fact that he'd held out on such a big part of his life hurt Gabe like hell. He didn't know what Holly's deal was in their little cold war, and that hurt too. It hurt that Holly wouldn't concede this once, when before Gabe had always conceded in the name of their friendship. He hadn't even done more than yelled at Holly every time he'd slept with Gabe's boyfriends in the past, and he'd done that way more often than he should've. Maybe he'd gone too easy on Holly in the past. Well, no more. He definitely wasn't going to make it easy for Holly this time. So the cold war dragged on. And on. And maybe he should've expected Holly's brothers to get into it, to make them stop fighting. And to a certain extent, he had been expecting it. What he hadn't expected, however, was for Ian to butt in. That had taken him completely by surprise. So when Ian had asked Gabe to help him find a magic book in Brae's store, he hadn't expected the ambush. When he did, it was too late and he and Holly were locked in Brae's private library above the store.

He banged his fists against the door, yelled, but nothing came of it. He whirled around to face a sullen Holly who was sitting on the sofa with his arms crossed, scowling. Holly looked just as pissed off as he was and even though it was irrational, that pissed him off even more that Holly didn't seem to want to be in the same room with him. He knew it was stupid to be angry at that when he himself hated the situation, but emotions were never logical, and his definitely weren't when it came to Holly. But it didn't stop him from snapping.

"Why the fuck are you just sitting there? Do something, aren't you a mage? Unlock the door!"

"You think if I could I wouldn't have?" Holly snapped back, glaring at him. "I already tried that, genius, but apparently my brothers and your fucking boyfriend found a spell that I haven't studied yet. It's probably Ian's fault because this is like nothing I've ever seen before."

Okay, that made sense, even if the hurt he felt didn't.

"I'm sorry that being with me is such a fucking chore."

"God, will you fucking pick one thing to be mad about and stick with it?" Holly shouted, shooting up to glare at Gabe. "First you're fucking angry because we're stuck together. Then you're angry because I can't open the door. Now you're angry because I'm pissed off about the same thing that you are? Fuck you!"

"You wish, asshole. I wouldn't fucking touch you with a ten foot pole. Wouldn't know where you've been, after all," Gabe sneered. And right after he said it, he wished he could take it back because Holly sucked in a breath and all colour drained from his face.

"Fuck you, Gabe," Holly repeated, tone quiet. "That was low and you know it. I don't fucking want to breathe in the same air you do right now."

"Shit," Gabe sighed, sinking to the chair by the sofa, raking his fingers in his hair, eyes screwed shut. "Shit. I'm sorry, alright? I'm sorry I said that because you're right, it was low and you didn't deserve that, not from me. Not from anybody. Fuck, what the hell's wrong with us? Why the hell are we fighting like this?" Holly didn't answer, just looked away. He had his arms crossed, fingers digging into the soft material of his thin cashmere jumper. It was too large for him, slipping down his shoulder and revealed the prominent line of his collarbones. Gabe sighed again, sitting on the other chair opposite Holly's and studiously avoided looking at him. After a long moment of silence, however, he caved a bit. "I'm not going to apologise. I can't, not this time. Not if you don't even realise that you've done something wrong." Holly didn't say anything to that, just looked away, knuckles turning white. Gabe just watched him, watch him keep quiet, watched his teeth sink down on his lower lip and mostly, watched him refuse to apologise and that just about broke his heart. Was he really worth that little? Did he really not deserve an apology from Holly? Did he really care more for Holly than Holly cared for him? He squeezed his eyes shut, head bowing down because as stupid as it was, as embarrassing, he felt like he was on the verge of fucking tears and that fractured something inside him, fractured that thing that was kept whole and pure from the time he was ten years old and he first met Holly at that playground so long ago.

"Fine," he finally said, defeated. "Fine. I guess – " he broke off with a bitter laugh before shaking his head, getting up to walk to the door. "I guess I know that you don't actually give a damn about me. It only took me a decade."

"Gabe," Holly whispered, and Gabe's shoulders tensed but he didn't turn, couldn't turn because even if he was sort of resigned to the tears that pricked at his eyes, he didn't want Holly to see. Not because he was embarrassed, oh no. It was because some small, stupid part of him didn't want to hurt Holly with them, even as he questioned whether Holly would really be hurt by the fact that he'd hurt Gabe. "Gabe, please, don't – "

"Don't what?" Gabe asked, tiredly. "Don't walk away? We've been walking away for nearly three weeks. Don't say it? Why the hell not, it's true, isn't it?"

"Gabe, I can't, you know I can't. I'm not good at this, just Gabe, I…" Holly broke off weakly and Gabe hated that he knew Holly so well that he knew that Holly was shrugging helplessly, that he was still hugging himself because Gabe wasn't hugging him and saying that it all didn't matter anymore, that they were okay. Like always. Like he'd always done. Broken himself into pieces so that he could fit Holly perfectly, so that he could be what Holly needed, always Holly, Holly who'd been the most important person in his life, sometimes more so than even his parents.

"I'm not going to make it easy for you this time, Holly. I can't. I can't let you get away with everything, anymore. Even if the reason's stupid, I'm just too fucking tired of having to bend over backwards for you and not getting a damn thing in return. I'm tired of it all."

"Are you tired of me?" Holly asked, and his voice was so small, so vulnerable that Gabe had to lean his forehead against the door, had to grip the doorknob hard so that he wouldn't turn, wouldn't give in. No, like he'd said, not this time.

"I don't know," he answered quietly, honestly. "I just don't know, anymore."


Devastated. Holly sounded completely and utterly devastated. Gabe couldn't resist turning around and when he did, he could only stare. Holly's wide, startlingly blue eyes were spilling tears unchecked. His face was pale and he looked like he didn't even realise that he was crying, except he was, he was crying and Gabe had never, never seen him cry. Not since they were kids, and even then it was infrequent. Never like this, never like Gabe had torn out his heart and stamped on it and laughed in his face. He was trembling and even as he watched, Holly's knees gave out and he sank to the floor and just like that, just like that Gabe was by his side, just like that he'd gathered Holly close and was rocking him as Holly gripped his shirt in his fists and cried with the complete abandon of a child. Gabe smoothed his hands down Holly's back, and realised for the first time that Holly'd lost weight. His shirt and neck were soaked, and Holly was shaking and couldn't even speak, was just crying into his shoulder and Gabe didn't know what to do, was completely helpless and it killed him.

He pulled back slightly, cupped Holly's face in his hands and wiped the tears with his thumbs but more came, so much more that his hands were wet with Holly's tears. He didn't know why he did it, but the next thing he knew, he tasted salt on his lips, tasted Holly's gasped breaths as he continued to sob against Gabe's mouth even as Gabe kissed him, over and over again raining kisses on his lips and murmuring words of comfort that only made Holly cry harder.

"Holly," Gabe murmured against his lips. "Come on, Holly, stop crying. It's okay, it's okay."

"Don't leave me," Holly choked out, and he sounded so small, so scared, so desperate that Gabe had to close his eyes and hold him tighter. He pulled Holly into his lap and it was so reminiscent to the day when it had all gone wrong that he had to bite back a hysterical laugh. "Please don't leave me, I don't know what I'll do if you weren't with me. Gabe, please, please don't go, please."

"Shh, I'm right here, okay? I'm right here with you. It's going to be okay."

"No it's not, it's not because you're sick of me and I can't… I can't have you leave me, Gabe. I don't know what to do if you leave me."

"I'm not…" Gabe swallowed and forced the words out because he knew, fucking knew despite his words earlier that what he was going to say was true. "I'm not going to leave you. I'll never leave you."

"Please, Gabe."

"It's okay, it's going to be okay." Except it wasn't because everything was wrong and it wasn't going to be okay again. Things were different and he didn't know how to get them back to normal, or even if he could get them back to normal again. So he kissed Holly, really kissed him like he'd been holding himself back from doing since he'd realised, at sixteen years old, that he was in love with his best friend. "I'll never leave you."

"I love you," Holly confessed on a shaky breath and Gabe felt his heart stutter. The words that he'd stopped himself from saying hundreds, thousands of times over the years with any true meaning, the words he'd always thought was just seconds away from being uttered by Holly was now out in the open, raw and bleeding and honest. "I love you so much that it scares me."

"I know," Gabe said, after a moment of silence. And fuck, he sounded just as scared and vulnerable as Holly and his arms tightened around him. "I know, Holly."

"I love you." And Holly said it again, and again, and again as though he couldn't stop, not now that the words were out in the open. He said each one like it was a shameful confession, said each "I love you" as though he was praying before letting himself be sacrificed for something terrible. And each time he said it, he kissed Gabe, kissed him desperately like he didn't want to stop and finally Gabe shut him up, stopped the words from coming out with lips and teeth and tongue.

Holly shuddered under him, and he hadn't even realised that he'd pushed him down, had drawn off his jumper. Hadn't realised that he'd taken off his shirt. All he knew was the feel of Holly under him, under his hands, the taste of his mouth, his tears. They had sex on the floor of Braeden's library above the bookstore, quiet and furtive like they both knew that what they were doing was wrong but were unable to stop themselves. Holly's name on his lips, his name on Holly's and those were the only words they said to each other. He stared, transfixed, at the graceful arch of Holly's back as he drove into him, the pleasure and shame and love and worry etched onto his face. Knew that those same emotions were on his face. Their fingers were intertwined and he brought one hand up to press a kiss against Holly's wrist. Holly wrapped his legs around Gabe's waist like he didn't want to let him go and it was so gentle, so slow, so hesitant like the moment was a held breath waiting to be exhaled, fragile tension in the air waiting to be shattered.

And when he collapsed next to Holly, panting softly against Holly's neck, it was Holly's back that his best friend presented him with, a back that was trembling in a way that made Gabe know, just know that Holly was crying. He drew Holly into his arms and Holly's hands gripped his, legs entwined and already regret was spread thick in every shallow breath that broke the still silence.

"I wish I never knew," Holly said, finally. Gabe buried his face against Holly's hair and could only agree silently. They stayed that way for a few moments before Holly carefully extracted himself from Gabe's unwilling grasp, sat up and started to draw on his clothes. Gabe slowly did the same and when they were done, both went to the door. This time, it opened under Holly's quietly worded and magic infused voice. They passed Brae, Ainslie and Ian at the door, but pushed past them, Gabe unwilling to touch, to even look at Ian when he still smelled so strongly of sex and Holly. Didn't want to touch him, because it would be an insult to both of them, to his gradually developing feelings for Ian and his not-so-secret love for Holly. Holly didn't look back, was going to leave but Gabe touched his shoulder, forcing him to pause and look back, but when he did he only smiled, sad, and mouthed a few words that had Gabe's fingers curl into his fist before he let his hand drop back to his side. Holly smiled sadly again, before he turned and walked away and Gabe could only watch him, at his retreating back, and wonder if they could salvage what they had destroyed.

Gabe stayed with Ian. Holly didn't break up with Andy. And it would be another three weeks before they spoke to each other again. It was never the same.