Adam never knew what to expect when it came to his boyfriend's superpowers, but this was probably the least likely out of all of his guesses to be what would occur in this particular timeline.
Then again, he shouldn't complain. Things could be a thousand times worse than this, especially in regard to what had happened a year earlier. Hell, they were both lucky to be alive.
Not to mention, no one actually ran the facility anymore. It wasn't like his once-beloved aunt was going to pop out somewhere from the shadows--though, admittedly, based on everything he'd heard about her "other faces," as Mark had put it, the paranoia encircled his brain like smoke.
Mark's jittery reactions to every small noise and crack in the ceiling didn't help the situation, either. Not that it was the guy's fault, of course. Besides, despite Annabelle being his relative specifically, Adam knew that he ought to be the least affected by this place out of everyone.
Caleb wasn't handling it well, either. His hand was unbelievably sweaty, which only made Adam want to grip it tighter. He couldn't tell if the trembling between them was a result of his or Caleb's nervousness, if not both. Then again, it didn't matter; Adam wasn't the empath, right?
"It's so... musty," Caleb finally said, breaking the silence of the group.
"Yeah, no shit," answered Adam almost too quickly in a pathetic attempt to lighten the mood.
A short, single laugh escaped the runningback's lips, but it wasn't enough to convince anyone that his mental state was better than the rest. "No, I mean... the overall feeling of it. Like it's some haunted house that‘s just been sitting here... waiting to be found. But with emotions, like... They're a thousand years old. All of it." He swallowed. "Like they've been waiting."
Adam looked up at him quizzically. "Well, yeah. Of course they have." After a brief pause, he brushed Caleb's hand with a thumb. "Unless you were referring to someone else."
“Ghosts," came Caleb's reply after a moment's hesitation.
"Their feelings are like ghosts. Trapped inside. And I can't tell where any of them are. It's like... they're all feeling the same thing, sort of. Like they are the house. But they also hate it here."
"Huh," replied Adam absentmindedly. "...Makes sense." His attention was drawn to a sign that had different wing designations inscribed into it. The lighting that surrounded it was as eerie and in-place as the rest. He felt the urge to physically slap himself when his wandering emo ass actually considered taking a picture of it purely for the aesthetic. He overrode the thought by asking, "You okay?"
Caleb nodded, looking straight ahead at the next winding corridor as they grew closer to the victim Chloe was so adamant about reaching first. There were probably fifty rooms they'd already passed with at least one atypical for every three, but she was dead-set on a very specific patient on the third floor, who apparently knew Adam personally.
The atmosphere was still again. With the exception of the machines, the only noise that existed within Adam's earshot were the group's footsteps.
Being smack-dab in the middle of them had its advantages, even though Adam wasn't in the least comfortable with Damien trailing behind. Sure, Frank was waking beside the man, but it didn't soften the queasy ball forming in Adam's stomach. Than again, it was better than Chloe being last. Had it been a freakishly intense episode of Scooby-Doo, Damien would be picked off first, which, silly as it was, Adam found comforting.
Dr. Bright was a different story. Something about her stature and general tendency to remain calm no matter what was thrown her way made Adam feel almost as guarded as he did with Caleb per usual. He then remembered that she also had memories here that he was positive she rather not dig up, but was keeping her cool for her brother. He admired her, to say the least. Not only had she inadvertently convinced him to find a therapist of his own, but even after everything that happened in this building, she barely batted an eye (though he swore he could make out audible breathing from her at times, usually when they'd round a corner). She was awesome, plain and simple.
In more ways than one, she was basically like Annabelle.
Just not secretly evil...
Or an egomaniac.
Or terrifying when provoked.
Mark walked next to her right in front of Adam and Caleb, but behind Chloe. No, that wasn't right; he practically clung to her, and he would have done the same to Sam had she come along. Why he would ever want to come back, even for the sake of someone else being rescued, was beyond Adam's comprehension. He knew better: people never really do just "get over" things.
He knew Sam was mind-numbingly jealous that Damien was brought along over her, even though she technically volunteered to stay behind with Rose to discuss future plans for the Fantastic Nine (or whatever new terrible group name Damien invented in his spare time). In the end, everyone knew that she believed her own ability to be useless in missions like these, and the fact that they also needed Adam more than her put him on edge long before entering the abandoned AM did. Logically, he knew that he was mainly here to keep Caleb grounded, which in turn would benefit everyone else. Still, he knew that Sam was beating herself up over it, which Adam sympathized with all too easily.
He also knew that this was the most significant journey he had ever undertaken. And not just with recovering immobile or unconscious atypicals in his missing aunt's workplace. Ever since Caleb tackled his way into Adam's life (okay, absolutely ridiculous way to phrase that, but still), he had transformed him from a drowning gay kid with eyeliner into a somewhat-okay-and-also-hella-heroic gay kid with eyeliner.
He wasn't supposed to admit to himself that he was a hero. "It's what any law-abiding citizen would have done, we must all work together to protect and serve our community, let me kiss this random baby," etc. But he wouldn't have done any of this if Caleb's life had nothing to do with it. Not just because he wouldn't have known about it, but also because he knew he was a helpless coward at heart. Caleb... helped him to forget that. And for that, for doing something completely beyond what he thought was capable of this mundane world and becoming acquainted with some of the most unique people in the multiverse, by all definitions necessary, he was a comic book description of one. He was a god. Damn. Hero.
And it was all thanks to that tall kid in third period with the letterman's jacket who abruptly asked him to hang out at lunch.
He peered in a general direction upward to marvel at the dilapidated ceiling to catch a glimpse of a cracked pattern forming underneath the rolls of splitting paint. It was oddly... beautiful, in a way. He almost wanted to take a piece for himself. And yet, his better judgement decided that he never wanted to step foot in this godforsaken hell on earth for as long as air remained in his lungs.
Okay, so the thought was super dramatic for a place that no longer was run by deluded ambits in white coats. But even without an ability, he could smell it everywhere here.
He could smell her.
He hadn't noticed before her final days, but Annabelle reeked of pure, pristine, calculated murder. On her clothes, in her house, in her hair.
On Caleb when she would pick him up in her car sometimes after school to surprise her "favorite nephew."
Wait. How did she even do that? She wasn't legally permitted to if her name wasn't on his contact records. What, did she just snatch him off the street?
She'd hugged Caleb before. Several times. Her grimy, sweaty hands with the gloves of an innocent sister. An aunt. A mentor. A friend.
God, he hated her now. More than anything. Rotting in her grave or not, he hated her. The smell burned his nostrils during the occasional panic attack ever since it happened. The worse he felt, the stronger it grew. But Caleb never noticed the smell.
This particular anger was different somehow. It was more of a... a faint chatter in the back of his mind. A small hive of imaginary punches and stabs. Just little ones. Nothing to worry about. Everyone has dark thoughts sometimes, right? Especially towards people that have hurt them... or hurt someone they love.
Adam impulsively shook his head to bring himself out of the dissociative trance. "Yeah?"
Chloe stopped and turned to glance at him apprehensively. "Are you okay?"
"Uh... Yeah? Why? I mean... as okay as I can be in this situation, you know."
She nodded carefully and squinted with confusion. "Are you sure? You can be honest with us if you'd like."
He could physically feel himself sweating underneath his hoodie. The others paced to a halt and faced him as well. Caleb looked the most concerned.
"Woah, Adam... I didn't know that was coming from you... I'm sorry. Are you okay? I wasn't paying attention to how you were feeling because this building was... overlapping, and..."
Shrugging, Adam examined his shoes, unable to make eye contact with any of them. They'd all prevented themselves from advancing further to rescue victims from an abandoned government facility just to make sure he was okay. Damn it, guys. Do you always have to care so much? "What‘s coming from me?" Playing dumb wasn't going to get them anywhere, but he needed to stall for as long as he could.
"You're the one feeling it," Caleb pointed out.
"Feeling what?" He could feel the irritation dripping from his words, but he suddenly felt so shitty that he couldn't help himself.
"It's not a big deal, okay? Can we just go on with the mission? My mood's always been an issue. So what? You knew that. Everyone knows that." Without thinking to stop himself, he muttered, "It's kind of impossible to hide it from you all, anyway."
Caleb shook his head and took a step back. "This is something different. What's going on with you?"
"Babe, can we... Can we please not focus on me right now? Okay? We're kind of in the middle of something."
And of course Frank had to jump in. "I feel it, too. You'd best listen to Chloe's advice, Adam. I know how just about how much damage bottling yourself up can do, as does Mark."
But wouldn't you also know how much someone wouldn't want to talk about something? Especially about their own aunt who tortured, belittled, and ripped apart anyone who stood in her way?
Chloe, come on, please. Please just say something to get rid of this. I can't do this right now. I don't want to. But I think Damien does... Make him stop, please. Distract him. I'm not important enough for this attention...
Chloe sighed. "We should really talk about this later. I'm sorry everyone. We need to get going. We... Oh-oh! Her thoughts! They're getting louder for some reason... She hears us!" She gasped. "Oh, that's so sad."
"What?" uttered an annoyed Damien, which was the only thing he'd said at all since they went inside.
"Come on, let's go. I think I found a short cut."
If by "short cut," Chloe meant a rickety old elevator that creaked and groaned with every foot that pattered into its vicinity and threatened to drop them all to their deaths, she was right. But she was optimistic, as always, and who was he to oppose a telepath, right?
But it’s not like she can read the thoughts of a fucking elevator, now can she?
“Watch it, Adam,” Chloe murmured, shooting him a disapproving look.
He shrank under her glance.
“Are you sure you want to come with us?” asked Caleb, gently squeezing Adam’s shoulder. “You can go back in the car or something if—“
He shrugged himself away from Caleb’s touch, something he only did when he was seriously pissed. “Can you just stop? I’m not a baby. I can take care of myself... And I want to help.” Even without any ability, of course Adam knew he hurt his feelings.
Time to be all sweet again, even when I feel like shit. Great. “Besides, I’m sure you’re feeling worse.” Before Caleb could answer, he added, “And I know that doesn’t make my problems any less valid or whatever, but logically speaking, the last thing you need is to worry about me, right now, of all people.”
Caleb sighed. “Okay.”
God, finally. I love you, but... Adam didn’t even notice that they were on the right floor until the doors screeched open. He wanted to make a remark about how the squeaky effect it made reminded him of a cheesy horror game, but because he was officially in a bad mood according to the rest, he couldn’t just change it now, right? The last thing he wanted was more wandering eyes around his consciousness, and...
His thoughts were snowballing.
Taking a deep breath, he tried looking for more eye candy for one of his blogs, beginning to hate himself again.
Just as they were about to approach the end of the hallway and turn around a corner, he felt two strong arms pull him back and prevent him from screaming.
When he realized that the arms had a red sweater around them, he relaxed a bit, but still startled. He wanted to yell, ‘Caleb, what the fuck?’ But for obvious reasons, that couldn’t be done.
He wasn’t sure of whether to freak out or calm down when Caleb mumbled in his ear, “You are not okay.”
When he let go of his mouth, Adam decided to use something a little less sharp: “Caleb, what the hell are you doing? We need to—“
“We need to stay here and talk about this. We’ll catch up with them.”
“Why am I suddenly more important than anyone else in the world, including people who have been left behind in the AM, which is rotting to the ground as we speak? And don’t answer with some ‘cause you’re my boyfriend’ thing. I do not need that right now, Caleb.”
“Adam, just stop.”
“You stop!” He was on the verge of tears, and they both knew it.
“Just talk to me. Please. This isn’t anything I’ve ever felt from you before—or from anyone before—and I need it to stop right fucking now, for both of us.” He was shaking, but his grip hadn’t loosened any. “I can’t focus on anything else right now, and if I’m feeling this bad, I can’t imagine what you’re going through, so please. Talk to me.”
“...Aren’t the others going to wonder where we are?”
“I told Chloe already.”
“What? I haven’t heard you say anything to her since we... Oh.”
“Adam, focus. Please. I feel like I’m dying or something. I hate being selfish, but I feel like the room is spinning, and it’s like... the worst guilt trip ever. What happened, Adam?”
“Nothing happened!” Adam could feel himself sweating so badly now that he feared an attack was on the way.
Caleb tugged at the front his own hoodie, wincing. “Adam, this is so much.”
“I’m... sorry.” But it’s not my fault that you can feel it, he thought bitterly, popping free from Caleb’s embrace and taking a few steps back.
“What did you do?” Caleb demanded.
“I didn’t do anything!”
“You did something, and now it’s following you, just like it was for me last November. I know how it feels. It’s there! Adam, you—!”
“What? I what?” he demanded. “I’m sorry, Caleb, but there are some things that I can’t even tell you about. And you need to respect that. Not everyone is as open as you.”
“But it’s eating you up inside.” Caleb’s posture began to crumble. “You can’t just hold onto this and expect it to get better without talking to anyone about—!”
“It wasn’t Damien!” The world began to grow fuzzy around Adam’s vision. A harsh ringing in his ears. The taste of bile up his throat. He barely felt himself fall to his knees.
“...What?” Caleb drew closer with care. “What are you talking about?”
Adam couldn’t speak. Couldn’t even find the words. He was nothing. Tons of desert sand could have consumed him instantly and he would have still felt nothing. He gagged and held his head, ready to scream.
“Adam... Adam, hey... Can you hear me?”
Everything began fading in and out, like some bad cutscene. Noises sounded so distant and submerged in water. “Caleb?”
He wasn’t even sure if Caleb could hear him. He barely had the strength to make a sound at all.
“Deep breaths, okay? You’re going to be okay. I promise. Be okay. Just be okay. Okay?”
He knew that when Caleb repeated a certain word, he was close to panic. He tried calling out to him, but any move he made felt like concrete on his back. He reared back his body and roared, “I killed Annabelle! I killed her, I killed her! Caleb, I killed her. She’s dead. Not missing. Dead! I killed her, Caleb.” He was definitely crying now. “I killed her. I killed my own aunt. She’s dead. I killed her. No one knows, but I killed her. I killed her.”