-The Introduction (that Gabe doesn't Need)
The next day comes soon enough. Gabe struggles to stay awake through his classes and trudges back to Cameron House on the icy sidewalk, all but soaked to the bone.
It's only later, about ten minutes until two o'clock, that Gabe gets completely warmed up. The doorbell rings. Gabe and Henry are the only two in the living room. Ezra is holed up in his room. Auggie is upstairs in his and Gabe's room working on a lab assignment, while Zane and Benji haven't made it back from their twelve-thirty classes. Henry gets up to get the door and freezes when it's halfway open.
"I didn't know you lived here," was Declan's greeting.
Henry's half a second from slamming the door in Declan's face when Ezra emerges from his bedroom.
"Oh, hey, Declan. I wasn't expecting you for another ten minutes."
Henry spins on his heel and glares at Ezra. Declan takes this opportunity to step inside of the house and shut the door behind him.
"Why don't you take a seat?" Ezra suggests. "I've got to talk to Henry about something, but then we'll get down to business."
"Take your time," Declan says, walking over and taking a seat in one of the armchairs. "Hey, Gabe."
"Great—you know each other," Ezra says.
"We met last semester. I'm a theatre major; he's a theatre minor."
Ezra looks over at Gabe for confirmation. Gabe shrugs; Ezra takes that as a yes. He then turns to Henry and nods his head toward the kitchen. Henry glares at Ezra until they're both in the solitude of the kitchen. Ezra motions for Henry to sit down; Henry reluctantly obliges. Ezra sits in the seat across from him.
"I didn't expect him to be early. I should have talked to you about this last night, instead."
Henry snorts and rolls his eyes.
"Look—here's the situation: there are four boys who are looking to switch their housing assignments. Each is eligible for Cameron House. I talked to Dottie a couple of days ago, and it's recommended we fill the vacancies in here ourselves or she will have no choice but to place the two with seniority in here."
"So let her do that," Henry snaps.
Ezra sighs and shakes his head sadly.
"I don't think you'd want me to do that."
"The way you're talking, Declan doesn't have seniority."
"Oh, he, in fact, does have seniority."
"Then what's the problem."
"The other boy who also has seniority."
Henry has a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that starts to triumph over the anger coursing through his veins.
"Wait—who are the four boys?"
Ezra tries to smile but ends up grimacing.
"You've met all four of them: Declan, Finn, Ryan, and Lincoln."
At the mention of Lincoln's name, Henry's mind flashes to the picture of Gabe lying in his own blood. Henry suddenly has the urge to vomit, but he swallows against it. He feels all of the anger leave him as he starts to understand Ezra's difficult decision. Ezra, after all, has a very hard choice to make: does he sacrifice Henry to Declan or Gabe to Lincoln? To Henry, that's not a difficult choice at all.
"Lincoln has seniority, doesn't he?" Henry forces himself to ask.
Ezra nods once as if nodding a second or third time would be too painful to do. Henry curses under his breath and almost cannot believe he's the one who says the next few words.
"I'd rather Declan live here than Lincoln."
I'd rather hurt than Gabe hurt.
"That's what I thought, but I still should have talked it over with you before deciding."
Henry shakes his head.
"It's been three years, Ezra; you don't have to baby me about that subject anymore."
"Yeah, I do," Ezra contradicts him. "It doesn't matter how much time has passed, H. That's still with you and with me and with Declan. We can't pretend it didn't happen."
Henry swallows against the lump in his throat. He blinks his eyes furiously to keep the tears from spilling over his cheeks.
"But you know, H, we can't let our past dictate our future, either."
Henry nods his head. It's a few minutes before either boy gets up from the table and returns to the living room. When they do return, they find Gabe and Declan are ending a conversation about their theatre class this morning. They look up at Henry and Ezra.
"I'll give you the grand tour," Ezra suggests.
Declan likes the idea. He gets up and follows Ezra back into the kitchen. Henry steps aside to let Declan pass. The second the door swings shut, Henry releases a breath he didn't know he was holding and visibly relaxes.
"I'm sorry," Gabe apologizes, his gaze carefully trained on Henry.
Henry looks over at Gabe and keeps his expression guarded.
"If I wasn't—well, I mean, you know, Lincoln—" Gabe stutters, but then realizes he has gotten his point across. "What I mean is: if things were different, you wouldn't be forced to live under the same roof as Declan."
Henry closes his eyes and sighs. It's a long moment before he says anything in response.
"The situation between Declan and me is completely different from the one between Lincoln and you. If I'm being totally one hundred percent honest with you, I'd rather live with Declan than have you anywhere around Lincoln."
Henry finally opens his eyes back up and stares into Gabe's. Gabe is startled by the amount of sincerity he sees. He can almost forget the fact that Henry has avoided him for the past few months.
On a split second whim, Gabe reaches out his hand and lays it on Henry's. Henry immediately turns his over and grasps Gabe's. He smiles down at their hands before looking up at Gabe.
"Sometimes I think it was fate that acted that day Lincoln ended our relationship. I mean, I did meet you that day."
"I would never have imagined you believed in fate."
"I don't," Gabe admitted, "but there's always a chance to change."
Henry nods in agreement. His thoughts leave the present time and trudge up memories of the past. He sees a bright winter day. He can almost feel the cold piecing his skin. His hands are dug into his pant pockets. The dark haired boy that walks beside of him leaves his hands out of his pockets despite the fact that the air is icy and he's wearing no gloves. He just wants Henry to hold his hand. He just wants some sort of recognition that he truly matters. But Henry doesn't remove his hands from his pockets. He doesn't let the world know that he's the lucky soul who the dark haired boy is in love with. He keeps his face pointed straight and his hands buried in his pockets.
The front door slams, knocking Henry out of his reverie. He snatches his hand from Gabe's hold before he can think and immediately grimaces at the shocked expression that flits across Gabe's face. He starts to lay his hand back in Gabe's, but Gabe balls up his fist and places his other hand on top of it.
"Does anyone else realize how damn cold it is outside?" Zane complains as he shrugs off his winter attire and drapes them across the bench by the door. Benji does the same at a much less irritated pace.
"Nope," he says smugly. "I remembered my thermal underwear."
Zane glares at Benji. Benji laughs as he crosses the room and sits down in an armchair. Zane sits down on the other couch a fraction of a second later.
"Where's Ezra and Auggie?"
"Auggie's doing homework. Ezra's giving Declan a tour of the house."
At the mention of Declan, both Zane and Benji turn their attentions on Henry. He puts on a brave face.
"He's better than the alternative."
Henry's eyes flash to Gabe, telling Zane and Benji who the 'alternative' actually is. They both grimace in sympathy.
"I guess we should go in and introduce ourselves," Zane says.
"Yeah, I've got a date with Alexa at two-thirty so I need to be leaving soon."
"Are you serious, man?" Zane asks in surprise as the two make their way to the kitchen.
Benji nods his head.
"I thought you didn't have a chance with her."
"Women find TV stars hot, you know."
"You're not a TV star, Benj. You're just a local sports broadcaster."
The two disappear into the kitchen, Benji's laughter floating behind him. The door swings shut behind them.
"I think I'm going to go upstairs and work on some homework," Gabe says, shooting Henry an apologetic glance.
"I've got to do some laundry anyway," Henry says as they stand up. "Do you need anything washed?"
"Thanks, but I did my laundry over the weekend," Gabe says with a smile.
They walk towards the stairs and start ascending them.
"Before Benji flooded it?"
"I think I've learned my lesson to do my laundry before Benji even touches the machine."
"That's probably a good idea," Gabe says.
They're on the second floor landing now, and they part ways. Henry goes to his room. Gabe goes to his.
"Declan's here," Gabe announces to Auggie as he shuts the door behind him.
Auggie looks up from the sheet of calculations laid out in front of him.
"Does Henry know?"
"He was the one who opened the door."
Auggie grimaces and shakes his head. Gabe sits down on his bed and gazes curiously at Auggie.
"Do you think I'm heartless?" Gabe asks.
Auggie lowers his eyebrows in confusion.
"Why would you think that?"
"Because I'm too cowardly to handle Lincoln, Henry has to live with Declan."
"Gabe, I'm only going to tell you this once, OK?"
I don't want to waste more time on you.
"I think—and Ezra tends to agree—that it'll do some good for Henry to live with Declan."
Gabe doesn't say anything in response. He just swings his legs onto his bed and lays on his back, staring at the ceiling.
Eventually, there's a knock on the door. Gabe is too caught up in his own thoughts to answer it. Auggie's finished with his homework, anyhow. He opens the door. It's Ezra and Declan.
"Hey, Auggie. This is Declan; he'll be living in the vacant room downstairs with Finn."
"Hey, Declan. If you ever need anything, don't hesitate to ask," Auggie tells him in a friendly voice.
Declan thanks Auggie distractedly. He's staring over Auggie's shoulder with a horrified expression on his face. Auggie glances over his shoulder at Gabe and then back to Declan in confusion.
What Auggie doesn't know is that Declan has seen a scene similar to this before. It was a dark and stormy night. He had been called by a boy sobbing furiously on the phone about being stupid and selfish and that he was sorry. Declan paid the sobbing boy no attention. All that mattered was the boy lying in his own blood on the floor staring up expressionless at the ceiling through unseeing eyes. There was nothing Declan could do. Even if he had wanted to rush to the boy's side, his muscles were rigid; he was frozen to the spot in horror.
"Well, uh, why don't we go fill out the appropriate paperwork and let these two guys get back to whatever they were doing?" Ezra suggests, sensing where Declan's thoughts have traveled.
Ezra has to tug Declan away from the doorway before Declan tears his eyes away from Gabe. He shoots Ezra a sheepish look and leads the way down the stairs. Ezra follows him closely, leaving Auggie to deal with Gabe.
Auggie steps back inside of his and Gabe's room and shuts the door.
"Kyra and I are going to the bookstore in town if you want to join. She's wanting to pick up the new book of the series she's been reading. Why don't you join us?"
Gabe looks over at Auggie. He's tempted to say no, but he knows Auggie will either drag him with them anyway or ask someone else to babysit him while their gone. Gabe decides to make it easy on himself.
"As long as we can stop at the coffee shop on the way back."
"You actually think Kyra or I will pass up a coffee shop?"
"I suppose not."
Auggie inclined his head.
"Put some shoes on, Gabe, and let's get going."
Gabe doesn't hesitate to comply. In a matter of minutes, he and Auggie leave Cameron House for Kyra's place. Gabe pushes aside any thought of Lincoln or of Henry and Declan. He tries to ignore everything except for how it feels to be in the presence of his friends.
A/N: Review? :)