After everyone leaves that night, Gabriel turns all the lights off and sits outside on the front porch, sharpening one of his daggers with a honing steel. He's sitting in a wooden rocker, with his feet resting on the porch rail. The half-moon is clear and provides enough light for him to see easily through the darkness. His eyesight in darkness in much better now, he's noticed, but he suffers during the day because of it. The street is deserted; it's late enough that only a few houses still have lights on inside. He finds it peaceful, even though he knows what nightmares might be lurking in the darkness.
He's more comfortable in darkness now than he used to be, he's noticed. He doesn't jump at every shadow or creaking sound, just uses his feet against the rail to push himself in the rocker absently. The honing steel makes a soft shick-shick-shick sound against the blade.
He yawns, and checks his watch. Almost midnight. He probably needs to go to bed soon, if he has to go to school tomorrow. He doesn't want to, but his friends do. If they're right that he's been mentally or emotionally compromised by the ritual, then he probably needs to rely on their advice about how to behave now. They think it'll serve him best to play by the old rules, so that's what he'll do. Much as he might find the idea of school distasteful—not to mention a waste of time.
He senses movement to his right and glances over as a familiar voice says coolly, "You're different."
Gabriel looks away from Belial, leaning against the wall by the front door, like the demon is of no consequence, returning his gaze to his blade. "I'm definitely that."
"Did I leave such an impression on you that you felt the need to go out and make yourself more like me?" Belial croons, pressing his hand to his chest.
"Don't flatter yourself."
"Well, you're much less easily riled this way," Belial says, moving so that he's leaning against the porch rail, closer to Gabriel's line of sight. "I might find you less entertaining this way."
Gabriel hums. "All the more reason for me to have done it, then."
"Why did you do it? It's not an easy ritual to facilitate."
"No, it wasn't. And I did it because of you." Gabriel sees no reason to lie. "You told me I'd never defeat you as I was. So I made myself more."
"Just like that?" Belial snaps his fingers. "Easy as you please?"
"No. I had to pay a Halfling five thousand bucks and manipulate a Paladin into stabbing me in the heart. It was complicated."
"And was it worth it?" Belial asks, a note of amusement in his voice.
Gabriel finally puts down the honing steel and stands, dagger in hand. "I guess we'll find out, if I'm able to kill you."
"Oh, Necromancer. Don't kill me yet. The fun's just beginning."
"I think we have different ideas of fun."
"Not anymore," Belial says, pushing off the rail and stepping closer. "You could work with me, you know. Rule by my side."
"Why would I want to do something like that?"
"You wouldn't have to cater to the humans anymore, for one thing."
"I don't cater to them," Gabriel says.
Belial grins, sharp and striking. "Don't you? You're skipping school, neglecting your mother's bedside."
"Have you been spying on me?" Gabriel asks, and it sounds teasing even to his own ears.
Belial's grin remains. "Join me. You wouldn't have to pretend anymore. You wouldn't have to waste your energy protecting them. It's their fault Daniel is dead, after all. If they'd just left you alone like you wanted, he'd still be alive."
That's probably true. If they hadn't been so persistent, he wouldn't have opened up to them. He wouldn't have felt coerced to tell them the truth if they hadn't been out past curfew. They clearly lack basic self-preservation instincts. Why should he bother protecting something that doesn't try to protect itself? They all would've been better off if they'd left him alone. He'd tried telling them that, hadn't he?
Maybe Belial has a point.
Gabriel frowns. "And my mother?"
Belial tilts his head in acknowledgement. "A miscalculation on my part. I wanted to teach you a lesson."
"You might've killed her. She still hasn't woken up."
"Would you like an apology?"
Gabriel glares. "Would you give me one if I said yes?"
He smirks. "I doubt it."
"I didn't think so."
Belial shakes his head. "Gabriel," he says softly, almost kindly. "Join me. Help me rid this world of all its annoyances."
"I find demons rather annoying," Gabriel retorts. "I should help you fill the world with them instead?"
"Haven't you noticed how like us you are? Even your eyes have changed."
"Then why continue to fight us? It serves no purpose anymore, does it? The Paladins don't trust you. You don't fit in with the regular humans, especially not now. You're better than them now. You belong by my side, standing above the humans."
"Tell me something," Gabriel says, voice low.
"What are you waiting for? Why haven't you already opened the gates?"
Belial tsks. "These things take time, Gabriel."
"You can't, can you? You're waiting for something."
"It's a delicate procedure. Much more complicated than the little ritual you pulled off."
This time, Gabriel tsks. "No other demon in history has pulled off that ritual. Don't patronize me."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
"Good. Now, I'm going to go inside and go to bed, because much as I might hate it, I've got school in the morning and I promised those annoyances that I'd be there." He watches with satisfaction as a flicker of anger crosses Belial's face. "I'd also like to end this on a pleasant note, because I've actually enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for giving something away about your master plan—oh, and I wouldn't bother going after the humans to teach me a lesson anymore, because you're right, I don't care about them like I used to."
He walks away then, boldly turning his back on Belial just to see what the demon will do. When he reaches out for the doorknob, he says over his shoulder, "Oh, and the next time I see you, I'll kill you. G'night!"
It's more disturbing to see Belial smiling and leaning back against the porch rail, arms folding calmly, than it would be to see him fuming with rage at Gabriel's flippancy.
He locks the door behind him when he gets inside, for all the good it'll do.
The next day, it doesn't really hit him until lunch, when he sees his friends sitting together and laughing about something. He agreed with Belial about his friends being responsible for Danny's death. When Belial was the one who broke in and stabbed Danny in the back with a fucking sword. Belial attacked his mom in retaliation for Gabriel refusing to stand aside. Everything that's happened is Belial's fault.
He doesn't wait in line for food after he has this realization. He skips the line and goes straight to the table, where his friends are already sitting. He needs someone to keep him in check, and there's only one person with the ability to do that.
"Not hungry today?" Jacob asks, gesturing to Gabriel's empty hands while crunching down on an apple.
Gabriel glances at him, but ignores his statement in favor of throwing himself in the chair beside Blaise and taking the Paladin's shoulder. "I need you to move in with me."
The corn on Blaise's spoon slides off into his lap, but he doesn't notice, staring in shock at Gabriel. "Huh?"
"Move in with me."
"I don't think we're that far along in our relationship, Nec—Gabriel."
Gabriel shakes his head. "I'm not kidding right now, asshole. I need you to pack your shit and move in with me."
"I can't move in with you, Gabe. What about your mom?"
"My hospitalized, comatose mom who might not ever wake up? We'll deal with that when we have to. But until then, I need you close by."
Gabriel opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. Blaise watches him sharply, but Gabriel is more painfully aware of the others. He doesn't feel things as strongly as he used to, but he feels his face burn in anticipation of admitting his thoughts about them last night. How little he regarded them, when Belial tried—and momentarily succeeded—in turning him against them. He can't tell them any of that. He can't watch their trust in him wither away.
"Gabriel," Blaise prompts softly.
"No, you know what? It's stupid. Never mind."
"Gabriel," Blaise warns.
He shakes his head dismissively. "Really, it's fine."
Blaise glances at the others, then returns his attention on Gabriel. "We'll talk later," he says lowly.
Gabriel thinks about refusing, but he still desperately wants to tell the Paladin that he can't be trusted before his thoughts betray him again. So he nods and pointedly turns away.
Jacob looks between them with narrowed eyes before clearing his throat and saying, "Okay, so anyway, have you guys heard about Rachel and Jodie?"
The girls nod sadly, and Gabriel asks, "Who and who?"
"They were reported missing this morning," Jacob says. "Dad texted me earlier. He's been checking in a lot. The crime spike has made him nervous."
Gabriel should probably feel bad, since he's about half responsible for that spike, but instead he's just tired. "Okay, give me details. How long have they been missing?"
"Parents reported it this morning. Apparently, they snuck out to meet some friends. Parents didn't realize they were gone and left for work. They didn't show up at school, and when the school called the parents to inform them, the parents reported it to the police. That's all Dad has told me."
"I talked to Alexis," Abby says. "She was supposed to meet them at the park, but she couldn't get away from her parents until later. When she got there, she said Jodie's car was in the parking lot, but no one was around. She thought they took another vehicle from the park and planned to drop her back off at her car later."
"They, they who?" Gabriel asks.
"Alexis showed me a text from Jodie. They met some older guys that invited them to a party."
"Where was the party?"
"Didn't say. The text just said to meet at the park."
Blaise growls under his breath.
"What?" Gabriel prompts.
"Older guys, that they haven't met before in a town this size?"
"You think they're out-of-towners?"
Blaise inclines his head. "And who do we know who said he was sticking around town for a while, who might have an interest in young girls?"
Gabriel sighs. "Alexander. Fuck."
"You should probably give him a call."
"Give him a call? I'll track him down. There's only so many places a visitor to town can stay. And he's fairly predictable."
"We should take care of him soon, even if he's not the one who took those girls. He has no place here."
Gabriel runs a hand over his face. Just another problem to add to his ever growing list. "Yeah, I'll take care of it."
"Have you heard anything from the hospital?" Cami asks.
Gabriel shakes his head.
They all share a grimace, and Jacob glances around in search of a subject change. "Hey, have you guys thought about college at all?"
The girls both nod, and Gabriel starts picking something dark out from under his thumbnail. He's like ninety percent sure it's dried blood.
"Yeah, I've—already sent in my application to a few places," Camilla says.
"Already?" Blaise asks.
She nods. "A lot of places accept early applications."
Jacob and Abby both nod. Abby says hesitantly, "I kind of...applied to UCLA."
"Yeah, same here."
Gabriel's head snaps up. "What? All three of you?"
"Yeah," Camilla says with a shrug and a smile, like it's the simplest thing in the world. "Friends stick together. We figure you'll go back to LA for your...job. You may not have plans to go to college, but at least we'll all be together."
Gabriel blinks at them. Blaise appears to be trying to hide his amusement behind his bottle of water. The rest of them are just smiling at him. "You… I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything," Abby says. "This is what friends do."
They're barely out in the parking lot, away from eavesdroppers, when Blaise confronts Gabriel.
"What's going on, Gabe?"
Gabriel sighs, digging his keys out of his pocket. Blaise is parked beside him, but he makes no motion to go to his car. He probably won't let Gabriel leave until he gets the truth out of him.
"I saw Belial last night," he admits quietly. Can't be too careful.
Blaise's eyes widen. "What? Are you okay?" He looks Gabriel up and down, like he'll be able to see his injuries through his clothes.
"No, I'm fine, we didn't fight."
Blaise draws back. "You didn't? Why not?"
"That's why I need you to move in with me."
The Paladin throws out a hand and stops Gabriel, just shy of the Mustang. "I need you to explain a little better than that. Now."
"He showed up. We talked. And you don't have any idea how much I hate to admit this, but for a little while last night, he made sense."
"What did you talk about?"
"He wanted me to help him. He wanted me to help him open the Gates. He told me I didn't belong with the humans, and he made it sound like they were to blame for Danny's death. And God or whoever help me, but I believed him. Just for a little while. Until I got here. Until I saw you guys, I lost sight of what I'm supposed to be doing."
Blaise looks terrified, not quite able to meet Gabriel's eyes. There's tension in him, like he expects Gabriel to lunge for him at any moment. "Did you...agree to help him?"
"No. I told him the next time I saw him, I'd kill him, and then I went inside."
"And he let you?"
"Gabriel," Blaise breathes, unnaturally pale.
"Okay, I'm with it enough right now to know that what happened last night was more fucked up than anything else that's happened so far, and that's why I'm telling you I need you there. My brain doesn't work the same way anymore. I need somebody there to pull me back when I lose focus."
"You want me to move in with you so I can be your Jiminy Cricket?" Blaise says, disbelieving.
He should probably at least pretend to be offended, but it's pretty accurate, so he just nods.
Blaise raises both hands to stop Gabriel from saying anything else and sits down on the hood of the Mustang. Gabriel winces at what that's probably doing to the metal, but considering the favor he's just asked, he figures he can let it slide.
"This is bad," Blaise mutters, mostly to himself.
"You agreed with him?"
"Only for a minute."
"I know!" Gabriel puts his hands on his head helplessly. "I told you I'm fucked up! I can't tell right from wrong anymore, and I wasn't even that great at it before!"
"But you know right from wrong right now."
"I don't know, maybe? I know you'll tell me right from wrong if I start fucking up again, and you'll physically restrain me if you think I can't be trusted."
Blaise slumps like he can't believe what he's hearing.
Gabriel slashes his hands through the air. "You know what? It's stupid. You're right. I'm asking way too much of you. Just forget I ever said anything, and we can just—."
"No, no we can't just!" Blaise shouts, coming up off the car and drawing a few stares from students who haven't gotten in their cars yet. "How am I supposed to forget you ever said something like this?! This is—this is a lot of responsibility for you to put on my shoulders."
"No, I'm not—I'm not asking you to do this forever, okay? I know you're a Paladin, I know you have responsibilities that don't include babysitting me. But until we take care of Belial, until I can get a handle on how I've changed, I just need someone there to remind me that I am still human. At least partly."
Blaise stares at him. The jewel blue of his eyes stands out starkly against his too-pale skin. He's terrified of Gabriel now, terrified of what he'll be capable of without Blaise's interference. Terrified of what will happen if he's not able to keep the Necromancer in check. He takes a deep breath, squares his shoulders, and nods.
"I'll move in with you, on one condition."
"You have to let me call the Guild and inform them of what's happened to you."
"No, Gabriel. If you're so far gone that you don't trust yourself to be alone, then they need to know. I'll tell them I'm handling it, and I don't consider you a danger. But especially if you plan to return to LA after you graduate, they need to know about the changes you've made to yourself. They need to know how much stronger you'll be if—." He cuts himself off.
Gabriel's mouth goes dry. "If they have to go up against me."
Blaise purses his lips like it pains him, but he nods. "And I think you and I should start sparring. You could use the stress relief, if you're still getting restless, and I need to gauge how much stronger you've gotten since the ritual."
Gabriel nods. "Okay."
Blaise scrubs a hand over his face wearily, but looks at Gabriel with something like reassurance. "We'll figure this out. And I won't let you hurt anyone."
Gabriel nods. "Good. Do you need any help getting your things?"
"No, I don't have much."
"Okay. Here, take this." He hands over his house key, and Blaise takes it with a bemused expression. "I'm going to run a couple of errands, so if you beat me there, go ahead and get settled in."
"Will you be okay on your own?"
He huffs, part amusement and part indignation. "I'm not going to go on a murderous rampage if you leave my side."
Blaise just arches a brow and goes to his car.
Inside the relative privacy of the Mustang, Gabriel takes out his phone and calls Alexander. Irritation prickles through him when it goes to voicemail twice. The second time, he says, "Call me back, you fucking asswipe. We need to talk, and if I have to track you down, it won't be pleasant."
A quick search on his phone reveals the local real estate website. He goes to the foreclosure section and searches through the short list of houses. He can swing by all of these on his way to the grocery store—because Necromancers have to eat, and no one else will do the shopping right now, tedious though it may be.
The first two are busts. The third one has a tag on the foreclosure sign out front declaring it Sold! The fourth, however, looks promising. It's a simple two storey, on the edge of town, with no close neighbors to see anyone coming or going. He slows down in front of it, but doesn't stop. If someone happens to drive by and sees a dark-clad teenager with a very distinctive vehicle skulking around an abandoned house, the cops will no doubt be called to investigate. He'll come back after dark.
When he reaches the grocery store, he's decided on a course of action. He'll finish up here, go home, help Blaise get settled in the guest room, and then go to inspect the abandoned house after dark. He doesn't want to take Blaise, because Halflings hate Paladins more than they hate the Necromancer. He'll be able to handle them just fine alone, and he's not worried about needing backup. He can handle a couple of Halflings on his own.
Blaise is sitting in the living room on his laptop when Gabriel arrives. He digs the spare key out of the junk drawer in the kitchen and tosses it to Blaise, who catches it deftly.
"I put my stuff in the spare bedroom at the end of the hall upstairs."
Before Gabriel can acknowledge that, Blaise continues. "Gabriel, we need to talk."
"My cell wasn't working, so I used your landline to call HQ. I didn't get an answer."
"They've never not answered the phone, especially when they have people in the field like this. It's protocol to check in regularly. There's always someone there; the place doubles as a school as well as a base of operations. Someone should have heard the phone ringing."
"You think something happened?"
"I did. But then your landline rang. I thought it might be them, and I was right. It was my friend, Aidan. He risked a lot by calling."
Gabriel frowns. "He risked a lot by calling one of the Paladins' own people?"
"They're coming here."
"Who's coming here?"
"Elijah, and a few others."
"Elijah? That's a little out of the ordinary, isn't it?" Blaise doesn't answer, and Gabriel's mind works double time, remembering how the Paladins' last car was attacked before it could make it here. "Is that safe?"
"I don't imagine Belial will feel the need to stop them this time," Blaise says flatly. He stares blankly at the wall, like he's having trouble processing what's happened.
"Okay, I need you tell me what's going on."
Blaise shakes his head. "We have prophets at HQ. People with the Sight, who are able to fast and receive visions of the future."
"Last week, they had already fasted for several days when a group of them received a lengthy vision, but because they were drawn so deeply into it, they couldn't break free to tell Elijah until now."
"Okay?" Is that all he knows how to say anymore? Fucking hell.
Voice breaking, Blaise says, "They saw us doing the ritual with the Halfling. They saw everything. They think I've gone rogue, they think you've lost it. They saw you talking to Belial. They think we're dangerous. The only reason Aidan called to tell me is because we're...we were...friends."
"So they're coming here…"
"To put us both down."
Gabriel rears back. "What? Just like that? Without getting our version of things?"
"They aren't interested in hearing it. It doesn't matter to them. To them, I should never have let you go through with that ritual, no matter the circumstances, much less taken part in it. They'll never believe anything we say now."
"But they're wrong!"
"It doesn't matter. We can no longer be trusted. You're too volatile, and my judgment has clearly been compromised. And...maybe they're right."
"What?" Gabriel explodes. "You can't be serious!"
"Why not?" Blaise asks, standing. "Belial almost talked you into joining him last night! After you were so sure the ritual wouldn't change how much you hated him for what he did to Danny and Debra!"
"He didn't 'almost talk me into joining him,'" Gabriel says. "I agreed with a simple statement, that's all."
"And what statement was that?"
Gabriel balks. "It's—it's not important."
"If I'm your Jiminy Cricket, then I get to decide what is and isn't important. What did he say to you?"
"Gabriel!" Blaise shouts. "I abandoned my duties for you. My own people have turned against me and are currently hunting me down for what you talked me into doing! Now so help me God, if you don't level with me right now, I will walk out that door and not come back!"
Maybe he should. Maybe Gabriel should let him. He got Blaise into this mess, maybe by leaving Blaise could get himself out. But then he thinks about standing out on that front porch with Belial in the darkness. Would any of the others be able to pull him back, if he swayed again? He trusts that Blaise would be able to, and if not, he trusts Blaise to do what's necessary to stop him. Camilla probably comes closest to filling that role after Blaise, but she'd be no match for Gabriel in a real fight, especially not post-ritual. Like it or not, he has to swallow his pride now and tell Blaise the truth.
"Fine," Gabriel relents. "He tried to convince me that the others were to blame for Danny dying."
Blaise looks disbelieving. "How'd he manage that?"
"They were persistent when I first got here. He said that if they had just left me alone, Danny would still be alive. And...that might be kind of true. If they'd left me alone, or if I'd managed to make them leave me alone, Belial would've had no reason to go after them. Danny probably would still be alive."
"And you know now that that's not true?"
"Yeah. No matter how we ended up there that night, Belial's the one that drove a sword through Danny's back. The blame falls on him, and only him."
Blaise nods. "Good."
Gabriel sits down on the couch, and after a beat, Blaise joins him. Now, they just have to figure out what to do about the Paladins.
"They'll come here, won't they? You gave them my address when you got here?"
"Okay. We'll just have to be ready for them."
Blaise frowns, looking faint. "Ready for them?"
"Well, we aren't letting them kill us."
"You want to—fight Elijah?"
"No, I don't want to, but I will if I have to!"
"Gabriel, he's our leader for a reason. He'd probably be difficult for you even with your enhanced strength."
"Well, then let's hope we can reason with them. But judging by your expression, I wouldn't put money on it." He squeezes Blaise's shoulder. "We'll do whatever we have to, okay? I hope we don't have to fight, but if they show up swinging, we'll defend ourselves. All right?"
Blaise hesitates, and a quiver of concern passes through Gabriel.
"You're not going to let them kill you, are you?"
He shakes his head. "No, I—no."
"Okay. Good. Now, when are they arriving?"
"Aidan wouldn't tell me. By the way he talked, though, this has taken priority with the Guild. It'll be soon. Could be tonight, could be a few days. Probably no more than a week. It depends on how quickly they're able to gear up and get in a car."
"Great. I don't suppose Belial will take out a second car full of Paladins, now that it would benefit us."
Blaise stares at him angrily, then sighs in resignation and says, "That's the kind of thing that's not okay to say."
"Oh. My bad."
Blaise brushes it off. "We need to be prepared for their arrival."
Gabriel brings his bag and sword in from the car. He takes out the handgun and sets it on the kitchen table, and brings down the box of bullets from its hidden hidey-hole upstairs. He loads it with regular bullets—not the special engraved ones—and tries to ignore Blaise's piercing stare as he feeds each bullet into the revolver.
Blaise picks up one of the engraved bullets. "This is kind of genius. Does it kill them, or just injure them?"
"Kills them, if you hit them just right with it," Gabriel says. He picks up one of the bullets—and hisses in pain when the metal burns him.
"What? What happened?" Blaise asks, abandoning his inspection to grab Gabriel's hand and search him for injury.
"The—the metal felt hot."
Blaise pokes the bullet in question, then picks it up. "Feels fine now."
Gabriel takes it from him, and drops it when it scalds him a second time. Blaise frowns down at it, but Gabriel draws back as the realization hits him like a bucket of ice water.
"Holy water," Gabriel mutters.
He soaks all the engraved bullets in holy water. Gabriel digs into his bag and comes up with a water bottle of holy water, with a rosary floating inside it. He pops the top, takes a breath, and squirts it across the back of his hand. The ensuing pain feels like being sprayed with boiling water. He nearly drops the bottle, but Blaise catches it before it spills as Gabriel flings himself to the kitchen sink and sticks his hand under the cold water.
"Oh, Jesus Christ," Gabriel groans as the cold soothes the back of his hand, leaning over the sink until his hand stops shaking.
"It burned you?" Blaise says. Gabriel turns to see him staring at the bottle like it's a foreign object.
"Guess the Paladins aren't totally wrong about me," Gabriel says, patting his hand dry and staring down at the burn. He has a feeling it'll take a while to heal. "Holy water only works on demons."
"You're not a demon," Blaise insists.
Gabriel nods at the bottle in his hand. "God would disagree."
Blaise opens the top and squirts some water out onto his palm. Nothing happens.
"See? Nothing demonic about you."
Blaise closes the top and sets the bottle down decisively. "It doesn't matter. You're not evil."
"That has yet to be determined. Just put that away, will you?" He doesn't even want to risk coming into contact with any of it that might've spilled over the edge.
Blaise tucks the bottle back inside the bag, and puts the holy bullets in a plastic bag separate from the rest of the bullets.
Gabriel eases closer now that the harmful things have been put away. "Well, this complicates things. I used to use holy water a lot. Wonder if I could use some rubber gloves…"
Blaise snorts. "Would you do the ritual all over again, if you could go back? Knowing what you know now, I mean."
Gabriel thinks about how Belial approached him last night, how he'd been more interested in getting Gabriel's help than beating him to a pulp. "Yeah, I would. I'm still learning what a sacrifice I made by doing the ritual, but...you should've seen Belial last night. We had a very calm discussion, whereas before, if I'd talked to him like that, he probably would've thrown me through the front door. But he didn't want to fight me. He was much more interested in talking me around to his way of thinking."
"Which almost worked."
Gabriel waves a hand. "Semantics."
"So, you think Belial sees you as more of an equal now?"
"Seemed that way."
"Well, I hope it was worth it."
AN: Am I on a roll, or am I on a roll? The answer to both is no. I'm not on a roll. I actually have...let's see...about 6 months to get the rest of this and the other stories posted (which, let's face it, probably won't happen) because *cue exciting music* I'm pregnant! This will be my second child, and I imagine that I will have much less free time than I currently have now when the new baby comes along in summer of 2018. I'm going to do my best to get my stories updated as much as possible before then. I won't stop posting when the new baby comes, because I don't see myself ever stopping writing completely, but I doubt I'll have much time to edit and post. I will do my best after the birth, but if updates become even more irregular, at least you'll all know why.