chapter twelve: enhanced realities
Gabriel; by rhetoric
word count: 940
Gabriel's entire body hurt. A deep, throbbing soreness relayed from nerve ending to nerve ending in a constant loop around his body. He could feel himself healing beneath the burns but the scars remained, even as the pain dissipated.
He waited in the living room, seated on the brown leather couch across from the small counter-top island that separated the kitchen and living room, his foot tap-tap-tapping on the carpet in sharp, impatient motions. His fingers twitched on his knee.
The water turned off in the bathroom and a flash image covered his vision for a milisecond. Persephone, wrapped in a peach towel, her auburn hair in wet curls against her collarbone. Steam rose from her skin. When he blinked, it was gone, and he felt dizzy.
He rose from the couch, tired of the pressure on his burns, and immediately the world went out from under him. Everything blurred and he felt the dull crack of his knees hitting the floor.
He heard a knock at the door and the sound reverberated harshly in his ear canal. He clamped his eyes closed tightly. For an instant the pain was pinpointed and fierce, one hand instinctively moving up to cup his ear, and he wondered if he would discover blood when he pulled his hand away.
He stood up, again, a distant ache in his knees, and walked over to the door. His fingertips reached the doorknob and he felt the knock vibrate down through the wood.
"Christ, don't be so impatient," he snapped, irritated, and swung the door open.
Even mildly peeved, the sight of Ash lifted the tension from him. It had been too long, he thought. He offered the other man a wide smile and stepped aside to let them in the house.
Habitually, he did a cursory scan outside as he closed the door. He bolted it behind him.
"It's good to see you, Ash," he said, offering his friend a familiar pat on the shoulder. He turned his attention to Skyla and nodded at her. "I'm Gabriel, you must be Skyla. I'm afraid Persephone isn't quite done with her shower yet." He gestured down the hall and shrugged. "She wasn't feeling well," he offered the two of them another smile, but it wavered. He said, "I'm sure she will be out in a minute."
Skyla gave him a light smile, awkward and unsteady but compassionate, and said, "That's all right. It's nice to meet you Gabriel." She and Ash took seats on the stools, also upholstered in brown leather, at the island.
A few moments stretched on between the group of them in a stilted silence. He could hear Persephone's soft footfalls in the bathroom as she dressed.
Ash cleared his throat, whether nervously or uncomfortably, or both, Gabriel didn't know. What he did know, however, was what his friend was about to get at. He braced himself for the question, for the fumbling explanation that would surely come from his own lips. How could he explain?
How could anyone else understand?
"So Gabe," Ash started, his tone low and serious; as if he were treading a minefield and even the vibrations of his voice could set them off. "Anything we should know?"
Immediately, Gabriel looked to Skyla, unsure of her and her presence and whether or not he should reveal any precious information in front of her. He chewed over his first impression quietly, letting his gaze linger on her face before he looked away.
He scowled at the floor; angry over a situation he couldn't change, bitter that he couldn't change it. His shoulders tensed beneath the fabric of his shirt and the left side of his body tingled with a fresh wave of pain. He kept the flinch to himself.
"Yeah," he said, rubbing his eyes with his thumb and index finger, despite the pain on one side. "Sometimes," he paused, hesitating with the words on the tip of his tongue. "Sometimes Persephone bursts into flames, I guess."
He didn't even have a chance to gauge their reactions. For the third time, his vision clouded and he felt as if he were falling backward. He grabbed the island counter-top for balance and hoped the head rush would pass quickly.
As if from far away, perhaps through a fading phone connection or from the end of a curiously long hallway, he heard "I knew it was me." His heart collapsed into his stomach and the guilt readily took it's place, pumping inky regret through his veins and up into his lungs.
He felt he would be drowned by it. Taking in a desperate gasp for air, he opened his eyes and everything was normal again. The room was still, his vision was clear. Ash stared at him, his startling blue eyes wide with a knowledge Gabriel wasn't sure he wanted anyone else to have, yet.
He struggled to push back a sense of penitence for a wrong he couldn't place.
From behind him, "I knew it was me," she said, the tone of her voice haunted and broken. A dam about to burst.
"I was never going to keep that from you," he stumbled over his own words, frantic to placate her misery before he continued, "but it wasn't the important thing at the time." He turned so he could face her, his burgundy eyes promising her whatever discussion she wished, only later on. "Persephone, I would like you to meet Ash and Skyla. I believe they will be our travelling companions on our search for a colony. Speaking of," he said, returning his attention to their visitors, "we should not loiter here."