Characters/Pairing: Gabriel, Luke
Rating: PG-13 for language (repeated use of the f-bomb) and implications of past abuse
Spoilers: Specifically 1x10 “Six Months Ago.” General S3 knowledge of Luke Campbell.
Disclaimer: Heroes belongs to Tim Kring, NBC et al.
A/N: Written for the lukexsylar’s Christmas in July Challenge for speccygeekgrrl’s prompt: “AU. Instead of growing up down the street from Samson, Luke grew up a few apartments down from Gabriel. ADD teenager and quiet watchmaker BFFs, how did they get along? Obviously they didn't go birdwatching. Whose talent comes to the forefront first? Who does Chandra go to? Preferably not angsty, please.” Thanks to perdiccas for betaing.
Summary: Two outcasts find their friendship could be threatened by being special.
“And don’t come back until dinnertime!”
The apartment door slammed shut in Luke’s face as his mom’s words echoed in the hallway. Luke waited there for a few seconds, checked his watch, and practically ran downstairs.
I thought she’d never kick me out. Luke took the stairs two at a time, skipped over the landings, and vaulted over the railings to be out of the building before she could change her mind and call him back to make him clean his room or do the laundry. Hooking his backpack over his shoulder, Luke pushed out of the lobby door and began to dodge through the crowded sidewalk. He didn’t stop moving until he was six blocks away.
Luke undid the stiff lock at the back of Gabriel’s shop, slipping inside before anyone out there could notice him and call the police. Slouching teenagers with backpacks were apparently all thieves and gang members, doubly so if they were using a key to go into a watch repair store. Luke didn’t want to have to go through that crap again. People couldn’t believe Gabriel had actually voluntarily given him a key, and they were both tired of explaining it. Better for Luke to be fast and avoid giving nosy morons any ideas.
Gabriel didn’t look up when Luke came in, but Luke knew he was instantly aware of him. Gabriel paid more attention to Luke when he wasn’t looking at him than his mom when she did. Flopping down in a chair next to Gabriel’s repair table, Luke pulled out his algebra homework.
“Scale of one to ten?” Gabriel asked, picking up a tiny gear with an equally tiny pair of tweezers. Squinting through the magnifying glass hooked on his glasses frames, Gabriel’s eyes looked slightly psychotic as they focused on the small pocket watch on the workbench in front of him.
“Five for suckitude, three for difficulty,” Luke said, cracking open his notebook. Honestly, Luke would have rather thrown his homework in the trash than get it done, but trying to deliberately flunk his classes would get him his mom’s attention, and not in a good way. “You?”
“Seven done, three to go,” Gabriel said, sounding pleased.
“Cool,” Luke said sincerely, seeing the neat row of repaired watches off to one side, each neatly labeled. That was almost four more than Gabriel’s average. It was a good day for both of them.
Luke bent his head over the stupid word problems as Gabriel fitted gears, wound springs, and matching timing. If his mother could have seen Luke diligently laboring over a math book, she would have probably wondered who he was and what he’d done with her son. Whenever Luke was at home, he couldn’t concentrate for very long. He’d lose his place, forget what problem he was doing, get frustrated, and start setting his papers on fire with stolen matches.
When he was with Gabriel, keeping focused was easier. It wasn’t just because Gabriel was good at math, but because he knew how to explain things without making Luke feel stupid. He also didn’t hover. Luke’s mom would try to “help” him keep his mind on task by checking on him every five minutes, clearly resenting every second she made him take away from making dinner or watching her TV shows or anything else.
Gabriel didn’t act like helping Luke was some kind of hardship. He didn’t ignore him, or tell him he was stupid, or yell at him, or hit him. It was because of all of those reasons that Luke hung out with a guy over ten years older than him that dressed like Mr. Rogers; a respectable shop owner that never stayed out late. If someone were to mention to Luke that he had weird taste in friends, Luke would have laughed in his face.
Gabriel was the only friend Luke had ever had. When he was six, Luke had told his parents he didn’t have any friends. His mom hadn’t believed him.
“Everyone has friends. Just be nicer to the other kids,” she’d said, with her usual tone of exasperation.
His dad had said, “The boy won’t ever have any friends. He’s a freak,” in his usual tones of unalterable proclamation.
Five years later, after using Luke as a combination of punching bag and ashtray, Luke’s dad had left. Luke never even tried to make friends after that. Before his dad had left, Luke didn’t want anyone to know he was being beaten. After that, he’d never want anyone to see his scars. Besides, he was a worthless piece of crap; his mom told him how disappointed she was in him at least twice a week.
When his mom had started kicking Luke out of the house periodically, about when he’d turned thirteen, Luke had been longing to have someone, anyone to talk to. Just one person who wouldn’t tell him he was worthless. He realized his mom really didn’t care what he did, as long as he came back before she would be legally compelled to call the cops and report him missing. Luke didn’t particularly care what he did either, except that he had nothing to do.
Out of a combination of desperation and boredom, Luke had tried to join a gang. At least that way someone would want him, and he’d have something to do in his free time.
It hadn’t worked. He’d found the right kind of park, the right people, and tried to make all the right moves. All the boys there had been outcasts at one point, so Luke hoped they’d want him. He was the official definition of outcast.
Julio and his boys hadn’t been interested. Instead they’d chased him, hunting him like a dog, shouting threats that promised more violence than Luke’s dad had ever inflicted on him. In a panic, Luke had ducked into an alley, onto a small business street, and had flung himself into the first shop without even looking. Pressing himself to the side of the door, he’d held his breath until Julio’s boys had run past, not even giving the shop a second look.
Letting out a huge sigh of relief, Luke finally turned around to take a closer look at his refuge. Dim and dusty, it was hung all over with more clocks and watches than Luke had ever seen in his life. Luke stared at the front display window for what seemed like an eternity before his mind could translate the backwards writing.
“Gray and Sons. Watchmaking and repair.”
No wonder Julio’s gang hadn’t even looked in here. There was nothing to steal and nothing to sell.
Luke jumped wildly, skin feeling hot and flushed like it did when he panicked, and turned to find a tall, dark-haired man in thick, dorky glasses staring at him.
“How the fuck do you know my name?” Luke demanded, hand scrabbling for the doorknob behind him.
“I’m Gabriel. Gabriel Gray? I live two doors down from you,” he explained, looking at Luke curiously.
Luke’s brain caught up with him, remembering running into Gabriel in the laundry room, or seeing him on the stairs sometimes. He was bigger and stronger than Luke, but was always hunching over, making himself look small, unassuming. He was easy to forget.
Like himself, Luke realized suddenly.
“Uh yeah. Yeah, right. Sorry,” Luke mumbled, feeling like an idiot. Gabriel turned his head to the side, looking out the window behind Luke.
“I think Julio’s gone for now. But you can wait here if you want to. I don’t mind.”
“Seriously?” Luke asked, incredulous. There might not be anything worth stealing in here, at least nothing that could be quickly pawned, but there were plenty of things to break. Delicate-looking cuckoo clocks, glass-fronted grandfather clocks, fragile-looking watches, all of them things that seemed to spontaneously destroy themselves around teenagers.
“Seriously,” Gabriel said easily. “I’m closing up shop in a few hours anyway.”
And he wasn’t kidding. Luke thought he had a pretty good sarcasm radar by now, as well as an advanced creep-dar, bully-dar, and danger-dar. Gabriel wasn’t tripping on any of those frequencies. Gingerly, Luke sat on a proffered seat behind the counter as Gabriel sat down behind a workbench and began to arrange impossibly tiny bits of metal.
“So…” Luke asked after a minute. “What’s all that stuff do?”
Almost three years later, Luke hadn’t missed an afternoon. His mom never seemed to care where he went, as long as the principal or the police didn’t call. Luke made sure she never had the excuse to keep him inside. He wasn’t flunking out of school, and he was perfectly capable of being as obnoxious as possible to get her to “force” him out of the house. If he’d ever asked permission to go, Luke was certain she’d grill him, and then make sure he’d never see Gabriel again. She’d probably feel she would have to rant about him being a possible pedophile and then lock Luke in the apartment.
So he’d pretty much stopped telling her anything.
“Done,” Gabriel said after an hour, setting the last watch aside. Luke looked up in surprise. He was barely done with four problems, with five more to go. Gabriel had never taken less than three hours to fix three watches. Sometimes it took him longer, depending on the problem and the model.
“You’re on fire,” Luke said, smiling a little. Gabriel smiled back, but then furrowed his brow, looking a bit disturbed. “What?” Luke asked. “What’d I say? I didn’t bring any matches, promise!”
Gabriel never chided Luke for his slight pyro streak, even if he did occasionally wince when Luke would play with matches in the shop.
“No… It’s probably nothing. Things were just clicking today. How are the problems?”
The two wrangled amicably over the algebra until Gabriel got a customer, and Luke let himself fade into the background. He listened with one ear as he crunched the last set of numbers, looking up briefly to see Gabriel reach out to take a watch from a mostly-bald, bearded man with a slight accent. He started to introduce himself as a Dr. Chandra Suresh.
Then something weird happened. He saw Gabriel lift the watch to his ear, and rattle off a problem with its timing just by listening to it. And then fix it without using one of the fancy gauges or timers of any of the other diagnostic equipment on the bench.
“I didn’t even realize it was broken,” the man said, sounding impressed.
“I’ve always had a talent for knowing how things work,” Gabriel replied.
“You’re special Gabriel.” The man handed him a blue book. “Very special. Give that a read, and then call me if you want to discuss it.”
Luke stared as the man let himself out. Gabriel seemed frozen, so Luke plucked the book out of his hand.
“‘Activating Evolution?’ Sounds boring as hell,” Luke declared, tossing it down on the counter.
Gabriel shook his head quickly, as if to clear it. “I guess…”
“He can can that ‘special’ crap too. What was he, a self-help guru or something?” Luke continued, rolling his eyes.
He knew the “special” thing would get under Gabriel’s skin. This Chandra character couldn’t have picked a worse word to use. One time, and only one time, Gabriel had taken Luke along to dinner at his mother’s apartment in Queens. Up until then, Luke had always thought he had one of the world’s worst moms. Yeah, she’d never actually beat him or anything, not like dad, but she constantly told him he was worthless.
Gabriel’s mom was the opposite. While at her house, Luke had been keeping count of how many times she said the word “special.” If he’d been playing a drinking game, he could have been hammered inside fifteen minutes. She constantly gushed about how “special” her son was, and how he could be anything he wanted to be. She smothered Gabriel in kisses and hugs, unrelenting affection and motherly love, along with a not-so-subtle push that he could be more than just a watchmaker.
During that evening, Luke had abruptly realized why he and Gabriel were friends.
It wasn’t just because both of their dads had left, or their moms were at the opposite end of the psycho meter. It wasn’t because they both lived in the same building, or were both outcasts with no other friends. It was because everyone they knew was pushing them to be something, anything better than what they were. To be special. To be different. What the hell was wrong with just being themselves?
And now even strangers were doing it. Luke wasn’t going to put up with that from a stranger.
“He’s a scientist. A geneticist,” Gabriel said softly, and picked up the book. He leafed through it, eyes wide. “He could be right…”
“Is this about the watch thing?” Luke asked with trepidation. “You just knew what was wrong with it. Didn’t even have to crack the case.”
“It’s… Things have been getting clearer recently. I just know what’s wrong, and how to fix it.”
Luke leaned over to grab the book out of Gabriel’s hands, his own hands hot and itching for matches. He wanted to burn the thing, and he wasn’t even sure why. It was just a book. Just a stupid book by some stupid dude.
“So this Chandra guy thinks you have superpowers or some crap like that?”
“I-,” Gabriel stopped, and that faraway look in his eyes faded. “It sounds a lot more stupid when you said it like that.”
“Damn straight. Come on man, this guy probably just wants your money,” Luke pointed out.
Gabriel looked at the book hungrily, and closed his eyes for a long moment. Luke surreptitiously flipped through the pages himself. It didn’t look like a self-help book. And it didn’t look too technical either. Luke could actually get the gist of what this Chandra guy was saying, even if it was fairly weird stuff about cellular regeneration, human flight, invisibility, and other supposed powers “hidden in the genetic code of special individuals.”
“What if it’s true?”
“That you can fix anything? Fuck, I could have told you that years ago.” Luke pulled his watch out his pocket and set it on the counter with a clink. Gabriel had given it to Luke for his birthday last year; it was outwardly a steel-cased pocket watch on a chain. Inside the cover, it had a small digital face affixed inside. Gabriel knew Luke could stare at a normal analog watch for five minutes and still not know what time it was. So he’d found this watch and fixed it for him. Gabriel just knew that kind of stuff, and he hadn’t needed a stranger to tell him before.
Gabriel stared at it for a minute, and started to smile.
“Dude, if you want to go fix something else, just to prove you have some super mental fixit mojo or something, that’s cool. Like… I dunno, we could go fix some power plant or hell, just the plumbing in our building. That’d prove it for sure. We don’t need some random guy coming in here to tell you you’re ‘special,’” Luke said, air quoting the last word. “We don’t need anyone.”
Gabriel picked up Luke’s watch and held it for another long minute. Then he decisively nodded at the book.
Luke didn’t need to be asked twice. Dropping the book in the trashcan, Luke whipped out a book of matches from his jacket pocket. He barely needed to scrape them and they ignited, the heat between his hands enough to scorch as he dropped the fire atop the book. Gabriel nudged the can into the alley, and they both retreated out there to watch it burn.
“So, first the apartment boiler room, then the world?” Gabriel asked, raising his eyebrow.
Luke smirked in agreement, and watched the ashes dance overhead. “Whatever we want, and however we want it. Fuck ‘special.’”
Gabriel took a deep, shuddering breath, and nodded. Leaning over, he pulled Luke into a quick, hard hug. “Fuck ‘special,’” he agreed.