Dark themes ahead, mateys. Brace yerselves.
Warren inhaled deeply, the balmy air of the May night settling in his lungs like a cool drape. Normally, he'd be spending his night with Kendra, watching Netflix, or with Seth, doing some dumb shit, or with Dale, determining where to plant the next set of ridiculously expensive flowers they managed to acquire over the last week.
Or, if the stars were really in his favor, he'd be spending the evening with Vanessa, working on repairing their relationship. Sometimes they'd take long walks through the trees, saying nothing and needing only the other's presence. Other times, they'd break out his old Nintendo systems and the junk food or something along those lines, desperately seeking joy and laughter amidst the chaos and stress. And still other times, they'd talk and act more intimately, in a way that felt foreign, and new, yet so right.
And, finally, there'd be nights like this. Where they couldn't even be in a room together, the tension too thick. After a long day, the cabin was a powder keg, and they both knew they were dangerously close to dropping a lit match.
The two of them had been excavating the basement of the house, looking for extra notes and journals Patton likely left regarding Eternals. Earlier, they had both been training with the kids in a hot yard all day. Normally neither minded, but the Sphinx had shown up to help Seth, putting him on edge. Vanessa, however, had practically basked in his presence. He complimented her forms, her teaching methods, all day. Warren was ready to deck him. Vanessa may not be his, or anyone's, right now, but she was certainly not the Sphinx's. They'd worked too hard to go back there. His foul temper had lingered, thickening the air in the stuffy basement, until they were both ready to fight at the drop of a pin. Warren had escaped for air.
"Hey." he heard her voice behind him, knew she was leaning in the door frame.
"Hey yourself." he replied, trying to keep the sneer out of his voice. She caught it anyway, and tensed up.
"Something wrong?" Vanessa's tone implied that she knew exactly what was wrong, yet wanted him to say it anyway.
"Somethings, someones, sure." He bit back. Four lines in and they were not doing well. He scrubbed his hand across his tired eyes, steeling himself for the next hour or so.
"Oh?" her voice had dropped octaves, low and dangerous now. He'd be lying if he said he didn't find it attractive, but he was looking for a different release at present.
"Oh." A few beats passed, and finally he couldn't take it anymore. He rounded on her, surprising her momentarily. "What was that shit earlier with the Sphinx? You two were getting real cozy out there in the yard today."
Her already present glare intensified, her dark eyes smoldering at him as her lip curled high. "Don't, Warren. Don't go there. I was just trying to be cordial and make it easier on Seth. He instigated every conversation, and I replied accordingly. Do not accuse me of what I think you are."
He raised an incredulous eyebrow, laughing cruelly in disbelief. "Oh that's rich. Even for you," she narrowed her eyes in anger at his pass as he changed his voice to mimic her higher, accented one. "'Oh, Rhodes, tell me again about how well I teach. Oh Rhodes, compliment my form again. Oh Rhodes, objectify and ogle me all day, it's not like I'm working on establishing a committed relationship with a guy who cares about me, who's right fucking there!"
Vanessa looked ready to attack him, he was close enough now he could see she was shaking. A small voice in the back of his mind told him to stop, look at the damage he'd already done, and reel it in. This was the same voice that often told him not to jump off cliffs and take arrows for his companions. Per usual, his adrenaline squashed it.
"How dare you?" her voice was low, and he strained to hear it over the blood rushing in his ears. "How dare you accuse me of flirting with, and, and enjoying that asshole's eyes on me all day. You think I enjoyed that? You think I enjoyed having to tolerate that all afternoon? I wanted him to die! How fucking dare you!"
They were nose to nose, chest to chest now. Her last bit of shouting he had heard loud and clear. She seethed at him, her teeth bared and fists clenched at her side, as if physically holding herself back from jumping him. He pushed forward, forcing her backwards into the house. If they were going to get into it, he didn't need the entire preserve knowing.
"What about you, huh?" she resumed as he shut the door. "You just stood there and let it all happen. 'Guy who actually cares' my ass! You just sat there, all day, and let him repeatedly approach me, when you should have known how I felt. And then, later, not a word of apology, or comfort, or anything! So, you're right, it's all my fault isn't it?"
Warren turned around again, his anger not subsiding for a second. That voice in the back of his head became sharper, warning him not to follow his fury. Vanessa continued on, not noticing his advance.
"No, let's keep blaming Vanessa, it's not like she's ever been the victim in anyway."
He knew she was right, that now was the time to let up, but it was as if he was possessed. His anger swirled, finding a new target; himself.
"Let's just have her abusive ex come by every week, that won't affect her or her relationships in anyway, right?"
He heard the tears in her voice, and felt the loathing and hatred in his heart spike, his wrath finally simmering over. As she opened her mouth to speak again, several things happened.
Warren grabbed her by the upper arms, hard enough to bruise.
"Do you ever shut up?" he roared, eyes boring into hers, and finally, finally, the deepest, most twisted part of his heart leapt to see the fear in her eyes. 'Warren, stop!' that voice begged again. He couldn't, though.
He couldn't see anything aside from her eyes, the rest of the world bled away into hazy watercolor. Time seemed to halt for a few beats. Then, like a rubber band snapping, awareness rushed back to him. When everything settled, and his vision and conscious came out of their vitriolic coma, Warren thought he was going to be sick.
Vanessa's eyes had never left him, but her entire body was twisted toward his left. Her right hand had come up in a blocking position near her left ear, and as he turned, he saw why. His right arm had lifted off his body, above his head, and formed a loose fist. He brought it down slowly, not believing it was his own appendage. His head snapped back to Vanessa, to the questioning disbelief all over her face, the pleading gaze she had leveled at him. He let go of her other arm as if she had burned him, and started backing away.
"Warren?" Vanessa reached an arm out, speaking softly. He didn't deserve such soft words, he had been about to- "Warren, what was that?"
"I'm sorry," his voice sounded hollow, and far, to his own ears. "I'm so so sorry, Vanessa. You should leave. I should leave." He had started hyperventilating, and swallowing to keep the bile down his throat. "You didn't deserve that."
"No," she maintained a soft tone, following him cautiously across the room, as if he were a wounded animal. "No, I didn't. And you know that. Which is why we need to talk about it."
"No. Not tonight." Not ever. "It's best if you leave. And maybe don't come back."
She looked visibly stung for a flash of a second before she pulled herself together. Warren closed his eyes tightly, willing the tears pushing against them back. He slumped against the wall in the corner of the room he had backed into. He had really fucked it up this time. There was no fixing this, he knew. She deserved better, she had to leave him. She-
She was hugging him.
Vanessa had closed the distance once he shut his eyes, and wrapped her arms around his broad torso once near. He opened his eyes slowly, not daring to look anywhere but her. This was a goodbye, it had to be. She was smarter than this. The "strong man" part of him willed Warren to not move, to let her do this and leave, but his softer heart, his weaker half, won. He straightened, and wrapped his arms around her smaller frame desperately, like a drowning man that had finally found a piece of driftwood. He pulled her impossibly close, folding around her further, dropping his head to her shoulder. A few brave tears slipped out, dripping onto the bare skin of her neck.
"That wasn't like you, Warren." Her voice was steady, but wary. "I've never known you to...Warren, what happened?"
His resolve to get her to leave and never turn around was crumbling. He wanted to confide in her, turn himself inside out and bare his heart to her, and be reassured he wasn't a monster. That he wasn't fated to be one.
"Vanessa," he whispered her name like a benediction, and she held him tighter in response. "Vanessa, I'm so screwed up."
"Join the club. We meet Thursday at 8."
Warren choked out a laugh, and then before he knew it, he was sobbing. His legs gave way, but Vanessa caught his weight, and went to the floor with him. She never let go, holding him and carding his fingers through his hair as he began speaking.
"I'm so sorry, Nessa."
"It's not ok. It's so not ok, oh God."
"No, it's not. But we're going to make it ok."
"You need to tell me what happened, and why."
Warren took deep shuddering breaths, trying to establish some kind of order to the thoughts in his head. He gave up after about 3 minutes, and just started word vomiting.
"My dad," he began, shifting to lay his head in Vanessa's lap. She resumed running his fingers through his long locks. "Was an asshole. He, he did terrible things to us, to me and Dale and our mother. It started when I was maybe 4. Dale was 9, and he was still Daria at the time." He paused as Vanessa took in the information. To her credit, she only hummed a bit in surprise. "When he told my parents what he wanted, who he wanted to be, who he felt he was, they weren't happy. My mom kept it to mostly-quiet muttering, but my dad kind of flew off the handle. He started drinking real heavy, and hitting Dale real bad, especially in the chest and..elsewhere.., saying all kinds of phobic things, slurs, you name it. I was still little at the time, but I knew that wasn't right. That you don't just get to punch the things you don't like in life. Or the things you love." He paused here, as they both risked a glance at the other. "Anyway, I started taking the beatings for him, especially once the therapy started. He needed his strength, and I was pretty healthy. But then our dad started really enjoying hitting me, because I was still too young to know how to fight back. It got worse and worse, and only ended when I was 13, and he killed mom and himself, and they shipped us off to live with Ruth and Stan."
Vanessa had been silent the whole time, but as he looked up, he could see the tears slipping down her cheeks. He sat up, and started speaking again, before she could say the words he knew were coming.
"I always thought I'd be better at the whole love and family thing. And for a while, I was. I had Kendra and Seth to teach me how to be a real role-model, a real father figure. I had Stan and Ruth and Dale to show me families could still have love in them, because for a long time, I thought that was all some big elaborate hoax." He laughed bitterly, and reached out to cup Vanessa's face, thrilling when she didn't flinch or stop him. He brushed the tears from her face with his thumbs as he continued. "And then you came along, for real this time, and I began to see what all those crappy romance novels and chick-flicks were getting at." She laughed brightly, suddenly, and he let it wash over him. "I started to see that one person really could brighten a whole room for me, or be my best friend, or strictest confidant, or any of that stuff. I knew what falling in love felt like."
Her tears had started again, but as she opened her mouth to speak, Warren ran the calloused pad of his thumb across her lower lip, begging her silence for a few more seconds. She brought her hands up to cover his, tangling their fingers together in response.
"I don't expect you to forgive this, or look past this. It's too much to ask. I almost hit you, and I'm never going to be able to live comfortably with that. But maybe we can keep being friends, and someday move on. I'm sorry, Vanessa."
Warren bowed his head, letting his hands slip off her cheeks. Vanessa caught them in her own again, though, and folded them together in her lap.
"I'm gonna need you to shut up for like 5 minutes so I can tell you how this is really going to happen."
Warren snapped his head back up, meeting her steely, dark eyes with his own wet hazel, not quite believing what he was hearing. He listened anyway.
"Warren, you didn't hit me. That fact is concrete. You stopped yourself, and that's what matters."
"If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas."
"You hang out with Ruth too much."
"Noted. Now," she wiped the growing smile from her face, settling back into a more serious countenance. "You are not your father. You didn't hit me, and that is what matters, and will always matter. I am not angry, or upset, now that I know where this stems from. You can't help what others have done to your mind. Trying to take the blame for others' abuse will drive you mad, trust me." She ran her fingers along his, tracing grooves and cuts, not meeting his gaze. "And I'm not afraid of you, physically or mentally. I still trust you, implicitly, with my life and my love. Nothing has changed that." She lifted her head, and met his gaze head-on. He nodded in understanding, and relief.
"I'm still sorry, and I don't think I'll ever stop feeling that. I almost hurt you."
"Well, there are plenty others who actually did, so thank you for being the outlier."
Warren felt his breath catch, anger flaring up from the dead coals again. "Who?"
"Well, Rhodes wasn't always the kindest, nor was Errol. And Torina was always ready to brawl, but that wasn't quite the same. There was Cassandra, but she was more manipulative than physically abusive. But, yeah…" Vanessa trailed off, looking slightly past him.
"I want to hurt him." Warren ground out, clenching his hands into fists. Vanessa grabbed one in her two hands, gently uncurling it.
"I do, too. But we can't. Not now. The kids need him around, and peace must be kept."
"You're too kind."
"Hardly," Vanessa snorted. "I'm just patient. When the time is right, the vengeance is sweeter."
"Spoken like a true blix."
"Aye," She flashed him a wink before climbing to her feet, stretching her stiff muscles. "My butt's numb."
"I can fix that." Warren waggled his eyebrows at her, forcing a laugh out of her as she offered her hand to help him up. He took it.
"No, thanks," Vanessa chuckled. "I'd rather just let the blood run it's course."
"Fair enough," Warren laughed softly with her, pulling her close once he was upright. He whispered into her ear, "We're ok?"
"Sí, Warren. Better than ever, if you ask me."
He pulled back, meeting her warm eyes once more before covering her lips with his own. She sighed, leaning into him and the kiss, bringing her arms up to hang loosely around his neck while his rested about her hips. After a few blissful heartbeats, they pulled apart softly. He kissed her cheek softly, and she hugged him tighter.
"Let's go to bed," Warren murmured. "Tomorrow's gonna be hell again."
Vanessa grabbed his hand as she turned to move toward the bedroom.
"We'll get through it," she yawns. "Together."
Warren is very dear to me, as is Vanessa. I enjoyed fleshing out his character, and intend to continue to do it. Eventually. Hope you all enjoyed! I take requests, btw. Just give me something angsty and I'll make it work. Love to all!