Chapter fourteen: desperate, but not hopeless
gabriel; by rhetoric
word count: 951
The highways stretched out before him for miles. He and Ash let the silence hang in the space of the car; Persephone and Skyla had fallen asleep hours before, and neither man had made an effort to speak. The radio hummed quietly from the back speakers, too low for the words to be made out.
Gabriel did not feel the need to fill the silence with chatter. He preferred having the chance to think quietly to himself; it was a chance to not be disturbed as he attempted to figure out the mess of his current reality. Somewhere along the line, things had gotten out of hand. He felt as if he were juggling flaming swords, he could almost feel the tips of his fingers bleeding with the knicks and burns from his task.
Every now and then his vision would blur and his head would spin as if he'd been twirling in endless circles for days. Each time the nausea got worse. He would close his eyes but the image of the highway never left his sight, as if his consciousness were pummeling ahead of him.
He doubled over in the seat suddenly, the queasiness launching itself up into his throat; his fingers clutched desperately at the wheel as he slowed the vehicle down, attempting to blindly navigate to a safe stop on the side of the road.
He felt around manically for the emergency brake, yanking it up as he shoved open his door. He moved so swiftly it almost felt like the automobile spat him out; he stumbled for footing as saliva pooled in his mouth. He swallowed desperately but it was too late.
When he spit up the last of the contents of his stomach, he wiped his mouth with the back of his burned hand and took in a greedy breath of fresh air. He was panting when Ash opened his door and stepped from the vehicle.
The silence between them was no longer comfortable.
Ash stood casually, his feet firmly planted on the ground and his hands in the pockets of his jacket. He was staring at Gabriel, his eyes too smart, too alert, for comfort. He was tired of waiting for answers, it seemed, and Gabriel was tired of trying to find them alone.
"I do not have any answers, Ash." His voice was gravelly; the action of speaking burned his throat. He ran a hand nervously through his hair, letting his head fall forward in a show of resignation. "I can only hope someone else will, at the colony."
"I'm supposed to accept that?" Ash's tone was calm, almost deliberately careful not to sound accusatory, but he was a deadly kind of serious.
"That's all I have." Gabriel coughed up a few more sputters of blood onto the dirt beside him. Every word felt like acid sliding down into his stomach; with his stomach freshly empty and his body fatigued, he knew he should have expected the dull ache of hunger to bubble up in his throat. He wondered if he would just puke up another meal.
"You expect me to risk her safety on something like this?" It wasn't the lilt to his voice that caused Gabriel to meet the eyes of his friend, it was the arrangement of words. He wasn't certain he had ever heard Ash refer to the safety of someone else as his responsibility before. Gabriel wondered when he'd met this woman, and what it was that had him behaving so oddly.
"You don't have to travel with us if you think it is dangerous," Gabriel said evenly.
"I know it is dangerous," Ash said, letting the unfinished sentence hang in the air, his eyes never wavering from their focus on him. The silence stretched for a long while and Gabriel wondered if the girls were still sleeping, or too frightened to get out of the vehicle. Ash spoke again and it startled Gabriel enough to cause him to flinch. "What do you see when you black out?"
"Little things. Insignificant things."
"I saw Persephone in a towel. I heard you knock at the door. I could see the highway a mile ahead," he hadn't thought about his answer, it had simply flown from his lips as the breath from his lungs; but now that he'd heard it, confirmed the hazy jumbles of words in the back of his mind, it began to make sense. The moments began to reveal themselves as nearly-glowing marks in the frame-by-frame events of late.
"When was the first time this happened?"
"At the beach, with the hunters," he said it as a fact, but once it had been uttered he felt it was, in part, a lie. "But other things happened first."
He would have said more, he would have let it all spill from his lips in a waterfall of confessions; but before he could open his mouth, a wave of surreal nausea rolled him. He could see the small frame of a woman climbing from the open door of the back seat. He lifted his head, gasping for air as if he had been drowning. His eyes met Ash's for only an instant before a pair of sneakers emerged from the vehicle.
Skyla said, "Is everything okay?"
He didn't want to beg Ash to keep the truth confidential, he didn't want to grovel for some semblance of control over his own life. Instead, he met Ash's gaze with a stern challenge in his own; the shift from vulnerability to confidence happened instantaneously. Gabriel rose to his feet.
He said, "Everything is fine, we're coming right back." He never looked at Skyla, he kept his eyes firmly on Ash.