On My Way Home
Notes: The characters (except Sandy and Holly) are not mine, the story is, and friendship cuteness will abound! There are mild spoilers for the Doom saga. You have been warned! I apologize for the removal of the songs, but the new policy has forced me to remove them.
The girl with the honey-colored hair and dancing brown eyes looked up at him as she had many times before. "It's the only way!" she insisted, clutching the piece of paper tightly in her hand. "If we don't get this to him, a whole lot more people are probably gonna die! He needs to know what we found out about the ambush. And you obviously can't come along. You've got a little brother to watch after." She looked at him sternly. "And you know I'd never forgive you if you came with me anyway and then he got hurt!" Then, softer, she added, "Of course . . . you wouldn't forgive yourself, either." She gazed into the depths of his gray eyes. They had been friends for years, literally as long as they could both remember. Perhaps, in some locked part of her heart, she kept the secret that she loved him. But outwardly she showed none of that. After all, she thought to herself, why ruin a perfectly beautiful friendship?
He frowned, brushing the deep red bangs out of his eyes. "This isn't some kind of a game, Holly!" he scolded. "Didn't you just hear the bombs going off? It sounded like it was only a mile or so away. Every day they're getting closer! You can't just run out there and expect that you'll be safe." He didn't think he was being overprotective of his childhood friend in the least. Already he had watched first her parents and then his own die in this senseless war. His innocence had been taken from him long ago. He knew it wasn't likely that any of the rest of them would stay alive very long, either, but he didn't want to see someone he cared about deeply just throwing her life away.
"I've gone out there plenty of times!" she retorted, hiding the paper away in the sleeve of her shirt. "Just stand here and wait for me. I'm going to be right back." She looked down into the small valley below before looking back up at him and then hugging him tightly. "Don't worry yourself sick, okay?"
He blinked in surprise and then returned the hug before letting her go. "Remember, you promised," he said sternly.
She smiled and winked characteristically before running down the hill that led into the valley. He watched her go until he could barely see her any more. Then she dived into the brush and he knew she was approaching the location where her elder brother's military troupe was. For several moments more he watched and waited, growing more impatient with every passing moment. But at last he saw her again and he perked up, watching her run stealthily across the grass and under trees. Maybe she would make it. . . .
The machine gun fire was deafening. He jumped a mile when he first heard it. The next moments all were a blur. The only thing he recalled clearly was seeing his best friend fall to the ground with a gasp, blood pooling around her. She was dead.
The gray eyes snapped open abruptly, their owner breathing heavily. Slowly he raised himself up from the hotel bed, running his hands through his magenta hair as his vision adjusted to the dim light of the room around him. It was just a dream, he told himself as he rubbed his eyes and threw the comforter quilt back. And yet he knew that even though it was a dream now, once it had been reality. He had truly lost his friend in the past, during the treacherous war that had eventually claimed the lives of all whom he held dear.
Sometimes he blamed himself for it. He should either have insisted that she not go at all or that he should go with her, he often thought. But then there was the possibility that he would have died with her, leaving Miruko all alone. And so the conclusion he always came to was that he couldn't have done any differently. But that never seemed to completely ease the guilt he often felt. He clenched his fist tightly, almost drawing blood. He would never stand by and watch someone else he cared about to die, he vowed.
Now he limped over to the window and looked out at the sprawling city. For most everyone, life was going on as it always had. He could see people in their cars, frantically driving to work in determination. Others were walking, staring ahead firmly as if trying to convince themselves that nothing was going to get them down. They all seemed to have their purposes in life. He had his as well. He had two close friends to find.
It seemed hopeless, really. They could be anywhere. And what were the chances that they were looking for him in return? Well . . . maybe Raphael was. He seemed to care. Alister could almost believe that Raphael thought of him and Valon both as his surrogate family. But Valon he wasn't so sure about. It was hard for him to believe that the feisty Australian really cared about anyone other than himself . . . except maybe Mai. Alister was certain he was the person Valon cared least about. But though the brunette's ways were often foreign and confusing to Alister, and though Alister often got irritated with him, he was still going to look for him.
He glanced idly at the small calender on the nightstand. It had already been three weeks since he had regained consciousness in a strange hospital, his soul having been restored to his body after the horrors of Doom and the Orichalcos were over. Since then, he had made virtually no progress in his quest. Actually, when he thought about it, he really didn't know that Valon and Raphael had also returned or if they were even alive. Maybe there was no one for him to look for. It might all be pointless.
And why was he looking for them? He sometimes asked this of himself. Oftentimes he wasn't sure of the answer. But he had known Raphael and Valon for so long. . . . They were really all that he had. None of them had anywhere to go—no family to return home to, no house at all, no jobs. Or at least . . . Alister supposed this was the case. Maybe the others had managed to settle down somewhere. Though, it was hard to picture Valon doing so. He was too restless and impatient.
Alister sank back into the soft bed with a sigh. If the others were still alive, and were interested, maybe they could all stay together. That was what Alister was hoping. He had always acted detached and emotionless around them, but the truth—though he himself hadn't realized it at first—was that he wanted to be with them. They were the only semblance of family he had now. If they would welcome him back, as he was certain at least Raphael would do, then he wouldn't have to be alone. He hated being alone. . . .
Oh, he tried to pretend it was what he wanted. He had lost so many people he loved that he just didn't want to suffer the pain of losing anyone else. He wasn't sure Valon or Raphael even realized he cared about them. And he had told himself that it was best that way. If they didn't get close to him, then maybe they wouldn't die as well. Maybe he wouldn't have to feel that anyone else's blood was on his hands.
He fell back asleep shortly after this, again haunted by the ghosts of the past—and of his heart.
He was standing alone in a dense fog. Around him on the ground, a horrible, sticky substance was pooling. He knew it was blood. Off in the distance he heard a cruel laugh. A familiar cruel laugh. And he clenched the crowbar in his hand tightly, feeling his blood going chill at the sound of it. He hated that laugh and the man it belonged to.
"What's going on!" he yelled finally, finding his voice. He took a step forward and grimaced as the blood splashed around. "Why are you here? And who's hurt!" But he soon saw the two bodies laying still on the ground, bleeding from multiple wounds. A gasp escaped his lips. He knew them both. They were his friends. . . . His only friends. . . . His surrogate family. . . .
"Oh, they're more than hurt," came the softly accented, smooth voice. "You should know—after all, you killed them."
The blue eyes widened. "NO!" he screamed. "I didn't!" He gripped the crowbar furiously, suddenly realizing that there was blood dripping off of it and to the ground. The crimson substance was also coating his hands. And in that moment, he knew that he was, indeed, guilty.
"Yes you did!" came the uncaring voice again. "You know you did it."
He dropped the crowbar, falling to his knees in the spilled blood. "YOU'RE WRONG!" he screamed, fire burning in his eyes. He wouldn't have done this! "You did this! You were always using us for your own purposes! And now you're getting rid of us because we're not any good to you anymore!"
"It's your own fault. You couldn't control your temper."
"I DIDN'T DO THIS!"
His voice echoed forlornly off the buildings' tops and throughout the dark alley. They were both dead. He shook them frantically, but there was no response. Blood dripped from their fatal wounds, staining his hands red, but he paid no attention. In a panic he tried a crude attempt at CPR. They couldn't be dead . . . no. . . . He wouldn't have done this to them . . . never! He would never hurt either of them! They were like his family. He would do anything to protect them.
Suddenly he felt a stabbing pain as a dagger plunged into his back. "I'll spare you the pain of going on without them," the voice hissed. "Since you seem to care about them so much, you can join them in Hell!"
"THAT'S WHERE YOU BELONG!"
Raphael started awake, realizing he had been screaming out loud. And as luck would have it, he was riding a crowded bus. Everyone was turning to look at him in confusion. His expression darkened as he gazed back and then turned away to face the window. It was only a dream. He wouldn't let it bother him. He knew he wouldn't ever hurt Alister or Valon. But . . . he knew who would . . . who had. Who had hurt all of them. . . .
He hated Dartz. He had trusted and looked up to him the most of the three, whereas Valon didn't care one way or the other and Alister didn't trust him—just as he didn't trust anybody. But for Raphael, Dartz was a genius, someone who knew exactly how to fix the world's problems. But Dartz had betrayed him. He had betrayed all of them. Dartz had caused all of their misfortunes just so that he could get them angry at the world and want a change. He had murdered their loved ones and then blamed it on others to get them to join forces with him. And Raphael didn't think he could ever forgive him for that.
He clenched his fists. Both Alister and Valon had eventually fallen to the Orichalcos. Dartz hadn't cared. And he hadn't cared when Raphael attacked him in anger, either. He was not the enigmatic figure Raphael had believed he was. He didn't care who he sacrificed in order to obtain his goals.
When their spirits had been held captive by the Seal, the three bikers had been able to talk once more. In some ways, that experience had helped them grow closer. But since he had returned to his body, Raphael had found no trace of the other two. Valon was no longer at the beachhouse where Raphael had left him. Raphael supposed that Valon had wandered off again, searching for some meaning in life. Since the beachhouse had most likely been empty when Valon regained consciousness, he had probably seen no point in staying around. Valon hated staying anywhere when he couldn't see the point.
The blonde man sighed to himself. He had looked all throughout the nearby vicinity and in the nearest town, but to no avail. And knowing Valon, it was highly probable that he'd gotten himself into some frustrating mess or another. Several people Raphael had asked had seen someone matching Valon's description, but none of them had known where he was going. Any possible leads always wound up at a dead-end.
Finding Alister was even harder, if that was possible. But Raphael had no idea at all where the redhead had even been. He hadn't even known that Alister had fallen to the Orichalcos until Dartz had told him so. He had called several hospitals in Florida and other states, but none of them had on record anyone who even vaguely resembled his friend. It all seemed so hopeless!
But still, Raphael vowed that no matter how long it took, he would find his friends. If they were still alive to be found. . . . Surely they would be! Raphael was simply too pessimistic sometimes. But when he was having such trouble locating any trace of them, he couldn't help but wonder. Valon could have gotten into an accident with his motorcycle. With the dangerous stunts he often did, it was highly possible. Raphael and even Alister had scolded Valon that one day he could crash and burn and not recover from it. But of course Valon didn't listen.
And Alister . . . Alister could have somehow been killed as well. He was a skilled driver, but there were motorcycle accidents every day. One didn't have to be a novice or outrageously reckless to get into one. Raphael had heard about a motorbike colliding with a truck just the past day. The biker had been killed. Raphael couldn't help wondering if it was one of his friends who had died, but he made up his mind not to dwell on it. He wouldn't consider them dead without seeing it for himself.
And so his search would continue.
He entered the room, battered and bruised from a recent fight, and called out a greeting—but he only received cold stares in reply. Frowning, he tried again. But both Alister and Raphael were looking disgusted, and that wasn't usual, even though they were often exasperated with him.
"Hey," he said hesitantly, stepping forward, "what's wrong?"
Alister shoved him back. "We've had enough," he growled. "Neither of us like you."
"We're tired of your nonsense," Raphael added, grabbing him harshly. "You've been nothing but trouble ever since you first nosed into our lives. Now look at yourself—you've gotten into another fight!"
"Now whoever you were fighting will come here again, wanting to get even," Alister said in frustration. "You always bring your
problems home with you!"
He struggled to free himself from Raphael's grasp, the shock and the sorrow more overwhelming than he'd ever thought it would be. He wasn't wanted? Again he was being rejected, as he had been so many times in the past? It wasn't that he didn't expect it would happen again, but he hadn't thought that Alister and Raphael would turn him away. He had thought they were actually different. It looked like that had been a mistake.
"We want you to go," Alister snapped.
Raphael threw him to the floor. "And there's someone else who's disappointed in you," he announced.
He looked up as another shadow fell over him and then gasped. He recognized the woman who was standing before him—but he didn't recognize the dark look of hatred he was being given. "Mother Mary?" he cried in disbelief.
"You've been fighting again!" the nun accused, her voice loud and sharp and very uncharacteristic. "You know that is not God's will!" She slapped him cruelly. "Why can't you ever make something of yourself? You are a worthless orphan with nowhere to belong! And now you've put your long-suffering friends in danger!"
"We're not his friends," Raphael said coldly as he and Alister joined in with striking him, echoing Mary's words. Again and again they punched and kicked at him, not allowing him to get away.
He cried out, defending himself, but then felt a harsh blow from Raphael send him into unconsciousness.
Valon yelled, flailing about as he felt hands grip his shoulders and shake him. "Stop it! Leave me alone!" He tried to kick out, but he only hit air. He didn't realize that tears were trailing down his face. He hated the feelings of worthlessness. He hated them so much. . . . And what was worse, they didn't go away. He had thought power was what would make him feel good. And for a while, it had. But that was over now and he was back to feeling useless. He was alone, rejected again.
"Valon! Wake up! It's Sandy!"
Blue eyes flew open in confusion. Valon breathed heavily, gazing up at the worried young woman. Then his mind cleared and he knew he had been dreaming. He hadn't been rejected by his friends and surrogate mother. He wasn't being beaten to death by those he cared about. Instead he was in the trailer park belonging to the traveling motorcycle stunt artists whose ranks he had joined. Sandy, another of the stunt artists, had been trying to wake him up.
"Are you alright?" Sandy exclaimed. "You sounded really distressed!" She brushed a lock of strawberry blonde hair away from her face, studying him.
Valon sat up slowly. "It was nothin'," he replied. "Just a bad dream." He chuckled weakly. "I must've got one of those bad pickles you warned me about when I was gettin' a snack."
Sandy sat on the chair. "You were dreaming about your loved ones again?" she asked softly. Valon had told her how he was having nightmares about Mary and the other two bikers attacking him. This was only the latest incident of many. Valon often felt that he had nowhere to belong and that no one really cared about him. This came out in his dreams. Sandy, who had a growing crush on the young Australian, wished that she could do something to ease his pain. He had joined the stunt artists in the first place because he wanted to find a couple of friends, he had told her, and he had thought this was a good way to look for them while having fun at the same time. But Sandy was certain that Valon was not having fun.
Valon smiled sadly. "Yeah," he admitted. "But it's just a dream. . . ." It was, wasn't it? Alister and Raphael didn't hate him, did they? Well . . . of course, he really didn't think Alister liked him. But the redhead had tolerated him at least. And Raphael always seemed to get along with the both of them. He was the perfect elder brother figure/peacemaker. Valon could easily imagine that Raphael was looking for them, though he wasn't sure about Alister. Maybe Alister would be relieved to be rid of them. He always seemed to like solitude. . . .
"Your friends care about you, Valon," Sandy said at last, though she was talking of more than just Alister and Raphael. "I know they do."
"You haven't even met them," Valon objected, leaning against the bedpost.
"Well, yeah, but . . . why wouldn't they care about you?" Sandy said with a frown. "You're a good, decent person."
Valon laughed hollowly. "I probably cause them more trouble than anything else," he remarked. The only person he had ever been certain had cared was Mary, the nun, and he didn't have her anymore either. Everyone else had abandoned him at some point. Except for Alister and Raphael. . . . But how did Valon know that he hadn't been abandoned now? They might not be looking for him. And why was he even looking for them? He wasn't supposed to care about anyone besides himself. But here he was, searching desperately all over the country for the other two former Doom soldiers who had been his closest companions for so long.
"Don't think like that," Sandy pleaded earnestly. "I'm sure they're worried sick about you! I would be, if . . . someone I cared about was missing." She looked down as she spoke. She had been about to say "if you were missing," but had changed her mind. She and Valon hadn't known each other for very long. And while she was certain he wasn't interested in striking up a romance, she wanted to be his friend at least.
Valon smiled a bit. "You're a good girl, Sandy," he said quietly. It comforted him a bit that she was trying to cheer him up, but that didn't take the empty feelings away. Even here, among these other bikers who enjoyed daredevil stunts, he didn't feel that he really belonged. It was strange, he thought, that the one place where he felt at home was with two people who were barely like him at all. But all he wanted was to find them again.
Three lost souls who each are desperate in his own way to have acceptance and to be with those who will care about him. Will their paths cross again? And if so, will everything be as they've hoped? It will be their quests that we will follow in the next pages. And perhaps, we will have learned something valuable by the time we come to the tale's end. Perhaps our friends will have as well.