"Amaxophobia" by s1ncer1ty
* Aaah, more cathartic fiction. This came to me on another particularly stinky commute to work, when I realized just why it is that I dislike morning rush hour as much as I do. It's not the crazies on the road, it's that feeling of complete and utter claustrophobia. I hate driving. I live in N.J. What you've heard about Jersey drivers is more than likely true. And we complain about our insurance rates while doing 90 on the Parkway at peak traffic times. Freaks. Anyhoo...
* 'Amaxophobia' is the fear of riding in a vehicle, according to various web-lists of phobias I hunted down.
* Sorry if it seems like I'm Koushiro-bashing. Everyone has their negative sides -- his just came out a bit more predominantly in this fic. I tried to give him some saving grace... I'm just not sure how successful I was.
* Oh, and this is Yaoi/slash/shonen-ai. Did you expect otherwise? Flamers will be summarily beaten with large bludgeonous objects. :)
"What was it you wanted?
Could it be I'm haunted?
It's not so bad --
You're only the best I ever had.
I don't want you back --
You're just the best I ever had."
Jou hated to drive, but, because he lived on the other side of town, he didn't have any other choice but to commute to class. There were no bus routes that came remotely close to his apartment, and it was certainly too far to ride his bike to University. Instead, he'd been forced to purchase the faded yellow Volkswagen that his brother Shuu used to drive when he was on assignment in Kyoto. It ran raggedly, sometimes stalling at red lights in really cold weather, but the radio and CD player still worked. Sometimes it was his only solace when the traffic of the city was almost too much for him to handle.
It wasn't the traffic itself that made Jou intensely nervous -- it was that feeling of claustrophobia that always swept over him while jammed in a seemingly neverending stream of morning commuters that scared him the most. He worried constantly about being cut off, or run off the road by the angry person tailgating behind him. He found his chest would constrict tightly when he was sitting at a dead stop amid a pile of harried drivers stuck on the road because of an accident several miles ahead. Worse, his shoulders would ache in a constricted knot in the center of his back that his fingertips just couldn't reach.
But, more than the intense claustrophobia, Jou was bothered by the feelings that driving brought out in those around him. On the road, he saw the worst sides of people, seen faces and gestures he'd never thought imaginable. It depressed him to recall the string of curses flung at him as he changed lanes to let the souped-up, stealth-black sports car pass him, when he'd already been going well over the speed limit to begin with. Other nights, he'd be plagued by nightmares of the woman who'd been irresponsibly putting on her eye makeup while zipping down the fast lane -- neither hand on the wheel.
The commute was killing him. He knew he had to get out of the cycle soon, before he dropped dead from stress at the age of twenty-one.
The driver of the red car behind him hadn't given his horn a rest since the evening commute slowed to a crawl five minutes ago. Sure, Jou was moving, as was the rest of the traffic, albeit at ten miles per hour or less. He couldn't help that three lanes of evening rush hour traffic were helplessly deadlocked in a jam, but the man behind him -- dressed in the immaculate suit of a stock analyst or an upper management position -- had been taking it out on Jou, as if it was his fault. Through his rearview mirror, he could see several obscene gestures made in his direction. If he weren't in the center lane, he would have pulled over into the shoulder many miles ago to let the man pass.
As he cars in front of him pulled to another dead stop, Jou leaned over and opened the glove compartment, easily producing a small bottle of antacid pills. He despised the chalky taste, but it was better than suffering from nausea for the rest of the evening. His stomach was already in such a knot that he didn't think the pills would be much of a help in the first place. Tilting the bottle over his hand, he counted three large, white tablets, hesitated, then shook out a fourth, which he popped into his mouth and crunched with a grimace. He was going to be so late meeting Yamato for dinner.
Jou leaned his head back against the car's headrest, his chest rising in a light sigh. He was in the middle of a horde of people, and he'd never felt so alone in his life. No, that's not completely true, is it? he thought to himself. Towards the end of his last relationship, the emptiness had been astounding. A rift had expanded into a chasm by the time they'd broken off, spawned by something as trivial as a drive to the movies.
Koushiro sat belted into the passenger seat of the car, gazing impassively at the cars that passed on either side of Jou's little Volkswagen. He yawned despite the early hour and drummed his fingers against the window ledge before turning his eye towards the dark-haired young man driving. The stiffness of Jou's shoulders didn't escape the younger boy's attention.
"You okay, Jou? You look tense."
"I just wish I knew where I was going. Why did we say we'd meet the others at the theatre across the river?"
"It's no big deal," Koushiro replied. "Taichi gave us exact directions, and the traffic tonight really isn't all that ba--"
Jou immediately cut him off. "Don't say that. Knowing my luck, the moment you say that is the moment we get hit by a flying wildebeest out of nowhere!" He knew how silly it sounded, but his mind was focused primarily on driving.
Koushiro snorted at another of Jou's usual flights of fancy and regression to the pessimistic days of childhood. "A wildebeest?" he asked incredulously. "That's not the slightest bit logical."
"You never know," Jou replied, his voice tight. "It could happen."
"Don't ask me to even calculate the odds. It's silly to think that, Jou. Now, the odds of getting into an accident or getting lost -- those are more in your favor."
"Way to make a guy feel better, Koushiro," Jou sighed. The passing streetlights flickered in sporadic bursts across the lenses of his glasses.
"You just missed our exit."
Jou's eyes widened, his fingertips turning white as he clutched the steering wheel. "We missed the exit? Oh, god..." he stammered, snapping his eyes to the rearview mirror to pull into the exit lane.
"It's too late now. Relax, Jou. We can take the next exit and turn around. It's no big deal."
"No big deal? You had to go and open your mouth about getting lost, didn't you?"
Koushiro folded his arms across his chest defensively. "It's not my fault. You were being irrational with your talk about flying wildebeests."
"It was an expression. I was exaggerating!" It was now Jou's turn to be on the defensive.
"Don't be mad at me. I was just -- Jou, watch out!"
Seemingly out of nowhere, a sports car tore past them, straddling two lanes of the road and honking its horn as the driver flipped a rude gesture towards the two boys. Jou slammed on the brakes, causing both him and Koushiro to snap forward, only to be caught by their rigid seatbelts. The car shimmied, and Jou was just barely able to keep it from spinning out entirely. His hands shaking badly, he pulled into the shoulder and came to a full stop.
"Koushiro... I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he whispered, turning a pale face towards his companion.
The red-headed boy's face was nearly the color of cream, his eyes like two oversized pools of oil. His breath caught in his throat for several moments, but soon enough Koushiro recovered. Shifting his eyes from Jou's terrified gaze, he murmured, "It's okay, Jou. That person was driving like a maniac."
Jou shifted the car into park, unbuckled his seatbelt, and leaned over to wrap his arms around Koushiro. The younger boy could feel Jou's shoulders shaking, but he hesitated before returning the embrace. Already, the seeds of doubt were growing, deep inside the boy's heart. It wouldn't be long before he and Jou were arguing like snippy siblings again, not long before it would be time to break off the relationship in order to save a more important bond of friendship.
That had been nearly a year ago.
The insistent blatt of the horn behind him spooked Jou from his reverie. Gasping, the dark-haired man opened his eyes and saw that the traffic ahead of him had begun to move, the congestion on the roadway starting to clear. Letting out a stifled breath of relief, he stepped on the accelerator.
Too hard. The engine almost immediately flooded, and the car stalled.
Jou could feel the blood draining from his face, the sweat trickling down his temples. Pulling the gearshift into neutral, he cranked the key again. The engine sputtered, coughed, and gave out a second time without catching. The loud horn from the man behind him became a nonstop, continuous blare.
"Ohgodthisisn'thappening,thisisn'thappening," Jou whispered frantically. His fingers slid from the keys as he fought to get his car started. Again and again, he twisted the keys in the ignition, yet the engine continued to strain. If it didn't catch soon, Jou knew he'd drain the battery completely dry. Then he'd really be screwed.
Finally, with a squeal of belts and whine of the pistons, the engine of Shuu's secondhand Volkswagen caught and started. Jou let out a terrified squeak, immediately yanking the gearshift into drive. The car lurched forward, and Jou's glasses slid from the bridge of his nose. Nearly blind, he punched the emergency flashing lights and slowly pulled the car into the shoulder. Again, he was nearly creamed by a small Toyota sitting right in his blind spot.
He rested his face in his hands once he managed to pull into the shoulder, unmindful of the curses thrown his way as the now-moving traffic swiftly passed him by.
Way to go. Was that a special trick they taught you in Driving School for the Inept? the mocking voice of a ghost-Koushiro mocked in his mind.
"Shut up. Just shut up," Jou moaned at the voices in his head.
He hated driving. He absolutely hated it.
By the time Jou had found the courage to pull back into traffic, he realized he was nearly an hour late. Pulling into the parking lot of Yamato's apartment complex, he prayed that his friend wouldn't be too upset with him -- or too hungry from the wait. Food was the last thing on his own mind; the antacid pills had done little to ease the knot in his stomach.
Glumly, he trudged up the stairs -- somehow, Yamato had obtained an apartment on the second floor of the high-rise -- and wondered just how he'd tell his friend what had happened. He could hear Koushiro's voice again echoing through his head. Gee, Yamato, sorry we're late. Jou just had a panic attack in the middle of evening rush hour, pulled into a lane where a car already was, and nearly killed us both and several others in the process. How has your evening been?
But he couldn't say that. What other explanation could he give to Yamato, though? As he approached the door bearing '207', he found himself unable to raise his hand even to knock. Pacing, he wracked his brain to come up with some excuse, any excuse... Koushiro would never have stood for traffic and a fit of anxiety reasons for why I'm late.
The door swung open before him, revealing a cool-eyed Yamato in the doorway. "I thought I heard you out there. What took you so long?" The blond-haired boy laced his arms across his chest.
"I ... It's just ..." Jou stammered, his cheeks flushing a faint shade of pink.
"I'm hungry," Yamato insisted, though not completely unpleasantly.
"There was traffic," murmured Jou, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets.
"You could have at least called to warn me."
Jou nodded weakly. He knew he could have -- he should have dialed Yamato on his cellular phone, but he'd been too shaken from the drive to even hit the tiny buttons.
"Don't look so bummed," the other young man said suddenly, giving Jou's shoulder a nudge. "Was there an accident downtown?"
Jou didn't know exactly why traffic had slowed to a crawl, but an accident seemed the most likely of sources. It was the reason behind most jams in the city. Again, he nodded.
Yamato was silent for a moment, his calculating blue eyes looking his taller companion over assessingly. "You know, you're really pale, Jou. Are you feeling okay?" he asked quietly.
Biting his lower lip, Jou tried to force out the words, tried to tell Yamato that he really was okay, but nothing came from his lips except a tired moan. Yamato wrapped his arms around the older boy and drew his head to his shoulder, noting with some alarm just how much Jou's entire body trembled.
"You're late." Koushiro stood in the doorway, staring impatiently at his watch.
Jou ran a hand through his hair, brushing the longish strands from his eyes. He'd been trying to grow his hair out, but now it was at that awkward stage between long and short. The dark strands usually hung directly over his eyes, annoyingly. "Sorry. I heard on the radio that the main freeway was crowded, so I took the back route to your apartment."
"Jou, that's five miles out of your way!" Koushiro was annoyed with him again. It seemed that they'd been squabbling nearly nonstop for the past month or so.
"I know. I just didn't want to hit rush hour traffic, that's all."
Koushiro rolled his black eyes. "Rush hour is two hours from now."
"I said I'm sorry," Jou muttered defensively. "Come on, let's get going. We don't want to be too much later for your meeting."
"Forget it. I called Taichi, and he'll be giving me a ride." Koushiro wouldn't meet Jou's gaze, as he never did when he was upset. The boy was never good at expressing his emotions, instead always retreating from them.
Jou shook his head and leaned an arm against the doorframe, staring down through the awkward strands of his dark hair at Koushiro. "You called Taichi? He's a maniac behind the wheel!"
Koushiro's black eyes suddenly snapped up to meet Jou's, a blaze of anger within those endless depths. "Well, it's better than than listening to you moan about how much you hate driving! If it's such an inconvenience to you, then you shouldn't bother to offer in the first place!"
"It's not an inconvenience to me," Jou said calmly, although inside he felt like screaming at the boy, the one who was supposed to be his partner and soulmate forever. "Don't think it's anything personal, Koushiro."
Koushiro sighed and dropped his eyes again. "I know it's not, Jou. It just ... seems that way sometimes."
"Yeah," Jou said softly, dropping his hands into his jacket pockets.
"I guess I should go downstairs to wait for Taichi," Koushiro murmured, avoiding direct eye contact. He edged past Jou in the doorway, and the older boy shut the apartment door behind him.
Jou swallowed, a gut instinct telling him that something in his life was about to shift... "I hate fighting with you."
"Me too," the boy sighed.
"We've been doing too much of it, I think," Jou murmured to Koushiro, who had his back turned to him. "We should stop. I love you."
Koushiro was silent, heartbreakingly so. Jou had seen this coming, and, although it hurt terrifically, it was almost a relief that it was finally coming out.
"It's nothing personal, Jou. You're a wonderful guy, my first love ever. I'll never forget that. But we've grown so far apart these past few months. You can't ignore the logic -- I ... I think it's best that we part ways."
Jou raised an eyebrow, confused and a little angry. "You stopped loving me because I don't like to drive?"
Koushiro shook his head sadly, still refusing to meet Jou's gaze. "There's more to it than that. Some things weren't meant to be. I... just didn't want to have to tell you like this." He turned around and extended his hand. "Let's always be friends?" he whispered, a teary tremor in his voice.
Jou gave Koushiro's outstretched hand a brisk shake, as if he were merely a business associate or a distant relative. "The best," he replied.
"You'll always have a special place in my heart, Kido Jou," Koushiro murmured before turning his back and walking down the hall, away from Jou and out of his life forever.
"You're sure you're fine, Jou? We really can stay home, and I could cook us something," Yamato said, pulling the seatbelt across his chest.
Jou shook his head. "We had plans to go out for sushi. I was looking forward to it," he murmured, though it was only a half-truth escaping his lips -- before the evening became a chore, he'd been looking forward to dinner. Now, he was simply looking forward to the company, and he hadn't seen Yamato in some time
Yamato smiled wryly. "Then why do you have that look on your face that says, 'I think I'm gonna barf'?"
"No reason," Jou said quietly, casting a forced grin in his companion's direction. It was nice to see a face that showed something other than annoyance at his odd quirks. Taking a deep breath, he shifted the car into gear and pulled out onto the road.
The traffic was only moderate coming out of Yamato's apartment complex, which was definitely a relief to Jou. He had an easier time dealing with slower, local traffic than he did the high-speed drag-race that was his morning commute on the freeway. Still, he kept his eyes riveted to the road, unable to glance in Yamato's direction once or twice as they made small talk.
Jou, why won't you look at me? I like to see your eyes when I'm talking, came Koushiro's ghost again.
I'm concentrating on the road, Jou thought, recalling a conversation from one of his and Koushiro's last squabbling days.
You mean you're not paying attention to me? Koushiro had been hurt, evident in his voice.
I am, Koushiro. I am. I don't want to get either of us killed out here, either. There's too many people on the road today.
"Jou? Earth to Jou? Come in, Jou," Yamato said smoothly. Jou flicked his eyes momentarily in his direction, and he gave a faint smile. "Houston, we have a problem."
"No problem," Jou replied, his fingers wrapping around the steering wheel, clasping it too tightly. "I'm just thinking, that's all."
"Don't tell me you're thinking about Koushiro again," he said, his voice softening a notch.
Jou shrugged and felt several hairs stand up against the back of his neck as he found himself caught in two lanes of thickening traffic. He'd started to see signs warning of construction, and he fought to keep his terror at bay. "Well, maybe I was. Just a little."
"You still want him back, don't you?"
"Huh?" Jou asked, surprised at such a calculated question from his friend. "Actually, no, I don't."
Jou's brow furrowed lightly, and he slowed the car down some more. He saw some cars ahead of him starting to merge with his lane -- the other lane was shut down for the construction, apparently. He felt his chest begin to constrict, and he thought for certain he'd be wheezing by the time he passed the actual work site. "Well," he murmured, trying to keep his thoughts on the subject at hand, "he'll always be someone special to me. You don't forget your first love all that easily. But he's behind me now. We've moved on."
From the corner of his eye, Jou could see that Yamato's clear blue eyes were sympathetic. His own long-standing relationship with Sora had ended several months ago, though they parted on amiable terms. "What made you think about him, then?"
"He didn't like the fact that driving makes me... well, twitchy. I was just remembering some conversations we'd had. That's all."
"You've really got a problem with driving, don't you?" Yamato asked, his unusually deep voice gentle in tone.
"No problem," Jou replied, forcing a grin for what seemed like the thousandth time that evening. "I just get nervous."
"Mmh. You're white as a sheet, breaking out in a cold sweat, and I can see the grooves in your steering wheel from where you've dug your fingernails into it," he said softly. "Just nerves, huh?"
Jou's breathing picked up as Yamato spoke, his heart racing partly from the associations of the conversation and partly from the heavy traffic ahead. That, and the aggressive driver the next lane over who was desperately trying to cut ahead of him. He found that he couldn't answer Yamato, for fear of beginning to hyperventilate.
"Relax," Yamato whispered, unbuckling his seatbelt and, for some strange reason, hoisting himself over the passenger seat and into the back.
Jou didn't concern himself with Yamato's action, though under less panicked circumstances he would have been annoyed at such recklessness. But now he just kept his eyes riveted on the road, that knot at the center of his back tightening again. Unexpectedly, he felt a pair of warm, strong hands clasp his shoulders. "Yamato? Wh-what are you...?"
"Ssh. Relax," the younger boy returned. "Relax."
Jou could feel his friend's fingers -- the long, nimble fingers of a musician -- gently kneading his shoulders. He took a shuddering breath and let it out in a half-sigh, feeling the rigid muscles in his back beginning, slowly, to loosen.
"Ohh. That's nice," Jou whispered, restraining himself from closing his eyes. Prying his attention from the traffic ahead would be a bad thing. As Yamato continued to work at the painful knots in his shoulders, Jou slumped lightly against the back of his seat; and when the car edging its way into his lane finally forced itself in, he barely batted an eyelash.
"Man, you're tense," said Yamato, his fingers pausing upon a particularly stubborn knot of muscle in Jou's shoulder. He leaned forward, nearly wrapping his arms around the driver's seat as he leaned his weight into the massage. Jou winced visibly at the increased pressure against his aching muscles. "Too hard?"
"Yeah," Jou murmured, his voice tight. "But don't let up."
Silently, Yamato returned to his work, his deft fingers sliding lower down Jou's back and kneading out the tight muscles. However, he knew he'd have to get Jou in a different position -- preferably lying on his stomach upon a hard surface -- to completely work out all the knots in his back.
Once the congestion of traffic began to ease, Yamato gave Jou's shoulders one final squeeze and proceeded to return to the front seat, crawling awkwardly over the center console. Jou gave a contented murmur of appreciation. Yamato could see his fingers resting lightly on the bottom of the steering wheel, moving only to keep the car centered in the lane. The construction was behind them, and the crowded lanes were beginning to thin out again.
"How did you learn to do that?" Jou asked quietly, after a few blocks of unhindered driving. The massage had not only relaxed him, it brought out calm conversation that he'd held back previously this evening as well.
"Sora used to get the most awful backaches sometimes from being on her feet all day at the flower shop. I took a massage course a while back to help her out when she was feeling badly."
"I didn't know that."
"Yeah, well..." Yamato trailed off, shrugging.
"Do you miss her?"
"Sometimes," Yamato admitted. "Like you said, you never forget your first love. You just need to know when to move on."
Jou glanced quickly at his passenger, smiling faintly. "Is there anyone in the picture now?"
"Maybe," Yamato murmured, his own glittering gaze meeting with Jou's for an instant.
"She's lucky, then, whoever she is."
"Who said this person was a she?"
Jou raised his eyebrows. "But I thought you were --"
Yamato snorted, shaking his head with a sly grin. "I don't like distinctions or definitions. I like who I like."
"Oh, wonderful. That means twice as much competition for me, then." Jou spoke with a sarcastic edge to his voice, but he smiled nonetheless.
"You should try me, and find out." Was Yamato actually ... flirting with him? A second later, that impish grin slid from his lips as something outside the car caught his attention. "Jou, you just passed our restaurant."
Jou glanced at the neon sign of the sushi bar that zipped past, and he merely shrugged. "I'll just go around the block then," he murmured calmly, putting on his turn signal and slowing the car down.
For the first time that night, Jou actually felt good enough to laugh as he pulled his car down the unfamiliar sidestreet and proceeded to wind his way back to the rushing highway to turn around.