I have secretly been working on the beginnings and plots of new stories for a while now, but I was adamant to finish Warheads first because I was afraid that the "old story" would bite the dust inspiration-wise if I would already start on a new story. I really hope you will like this story. I am so grateful of all the people who have read and commented on Warheads. I really hope this story will one day be finished too and hopefully to your liking :)
On a practical note: someone asked me why I reply to reviews at the start of each new chapter rather than sending each individual reviewer a personal message. This has two reasons.
The first reason is that some people leave anonymous reviews and I want to be able to respond to those as well, so there would be responses at the start of the chapter anyway. I figured I would keep things in order by replying to everyone that way.
The second and most important reason is that a reader might be interested in the answer to a question a reviewer has asked, but doesn't want to bother asking the exact same question. By replying at the start of the chapter rather than sending a message, everyone can read my responses to the reviews. After all, the reviews are public, so I think my responses should also be.
It might be a little unorthodox, but after all those Warheads chapters I have gotten used to it, so that is how I will be doing it this time around as well :P If someone prefers a private response for whatever reason, they can just let me know :) I hope that though I have been asked this question, it doesn't bother anyone.
- You can travel the loneliest road together, but you will always be alone. -
"I don't believe it..."
"Isn't it great?"
Great, was probably the last adjective on my mind. A mind otherwise preoccupied with a lot of thoughts contrasting with the enthusiasm that bustled beside me. When Duo had burst into the living room and had gleefully announced he had a surprise for me, the excitement in his eyes and in his voice had deceived me into thinking this surprise would be to my liking also. He had guided me outside, insisting on covering my eyes with his big, warm hands. I had nearly fatally tripped over the threshold of our front door, surely this surprise must be quite something, for it to be worth that, is what I thought. Oh how naive. I should have known that occasionally, Duo becomes infatuated by an idea that seems incredibly romantic and perfect in his mind and in theory, but there and there alone. I reality I had often come to conclusions such as impractical, time-consuming, ill-advised and that one time: a little dangerous. This surprise was all of those things, wrapped into one.
So no, "great" was not the word my tongue had been fumbling to form. As a matter of fact, I could barely refrain myself from exclaiming: "this is bordering on idiotic!" I was very aware of his feelings, he was so happy and excited and from his face I could tell that he expected me to share in this experience. I was already going to disappoint him enough without adding insult to injury with insensitive, sarcastic remarks.
"What's wrong? Don't tell me you don't like it!" He kept that smile to his face.
I looked back at the faded mint green, convertible sports car of classic make, parked in our driveway, obstructing our trustworthy, American made black SUV, from access to the road. The roof of the car was folded back, exposing the fake, white leather seats to the sun. Some of the seems were torn, some of the thread fraying in a selection of places. There was a big dent in the hood, I could only assume from the vehicle hitting something heavy. The metallic frame of the windshield appeared a little warped. Dark orange rust was eating away at the side panel above the left front wheel. The trunk of the car was held shut with an elastic rope.
"Don't tell me you do." Finally slipped out of me. I couldn't take my eyes off the mint green monstrosity.
"Heero, it's an American classic."
"Yes, I could tell from the original rust on the classic side panel."
He sighed dramatically, walking around and crouching down to inspect the attack of rust. "You always see the bad things."
"Duo, it's one giant bad thing. For me not to see it would require it to be invisible but I doubt it is equipped with that. If it is even equipped with any of modern day technological advances. Like air-conditioning." I couldn't help myself, I was so shocked by it's presence on our driveway. The fact that he had called it a classic also alluded me to the possibility he might have spent more of our savings on this thing than I could bear.
"It's not that bad, it's just a little rust." He wiggled a dark, rusty corner and scrunched up his face when he broke about three square inches straight off the side panel. He rose and wiped his hand on the back of his pants, repeating optimistically, as is in his nature: "It's not that bad."
"Why would you buy something like this?"
At my question he beamed. He proudly patted the dented hood. "For our road trip. I thought we could drive this baby East, to Washington D.C."
I sighed, feeling heavy emotions burden me anew. "Duo, it's not a road trip." I reminded him.
Duo scoffed. "We can make it a road trip, head out a little earlier, take our time, see some random stuff. And you can't take a road trip across the USA in anything other than an old school American classic!"
He was so enthusiastic, I realized in part for my benefit, but it wasn't helping me in the least. It was kind of him to try to make the best out of a difficult situation, that had been giving us both a hard time ever since it was brought to our attention, but it couldn't alleviate any of the weight that I had been carrying around on my chest for the past few months now. I doubted that it could for him. "If you really insist on taking a car instead of flying, why can't we just take the SUV?"
"Because this is a proper road trip car." He gestured to the "classic". He looked back at the shiny black SUV and noted with dismay: "That one is so proper. You won't even let me eat in the SUV."
"That's because I can still smell cheddar cheese coming out of the seat when I turn on the heat." I shot back.
Duo chuckled the issue away. "Come on, Heero, it would be so much fun! Having the top down, feeling the wind in our hair..." He trailed off wistfully.
I adamantly shook my head. I wasn't going to travel all the way across America in a battered old car for which it would be impossible to arrange spare parts should something break, which judging by the poor state the vehicle was in, was bound to happen. I stubbornly voiced my concerns.
"Oh please," Duo refuted, "we might have changed a lot since the war, but we are not completely different people! I doubt there is anything that can break that we can't fix."
Clever abuse of the fact that I prided my less violent skills acquired for and during the war, but I wasn't falling for it as easily as he may have hoped. I would still prefer us booking a first class flight and saving ourselves the trouble of a multiple day trip either with the SUV or with the Rust Ranger. However, ever since the date had been set Duo had incessantly insisted on making a fun trip of it. I presumed to function as a futile attempt to take my mind off things and to allow us a last few days alone, to reconnect before his life and consequently mine, would be turned upside down. His intentions weren't of ill origin, but I just wished he would acknowledge that it wasn't working and that he would give up already on trying to smirk and grin his way through this very real problem that had been hurting our relationship since a phone call six months ago. That was a long time of hurt that could not be erased with a last minute, impromptu vacation, which, to be honest, felt like an insincere gesture on his behalf.
He should have never done the thing for which he is now so obviously guilty, stumbling over himself to find new ways to apologize and make it up to me. I hated apologies and make-up offerings, I'd prefer people to just refrain themselves from doing anything that required something of the like.
"Look at it this way," He continued, walking around the car, inspecting it with a decidedly less than critical eye, "at least in this one you won't smell the cheese."
Strange as it was, that was actually the closest he had come to a valid argument, seeing as I hated cheese, or did after having to drive around all winter in a vehicle absolutely reeking of it. I was still unconvinced though, reluctant to spend what could be up to nine days, in the confinement of a vehicle as the dreaded day approached, when I just felt like everything would implode and the basic structures of my life would crumble. I tuned Duo out, but watched him as he raved about the car, turning even disadvantages into advantages, like one might sell a sock with a hole in it as a sock with a unique built-in ventilation system. Duo was the most important pillar that supported my life, my very being. Everything would lose it's meaning without him, it would just be events and memories pointing in the direction of an empty space. I wish something as little and insignificant as a road trip could cure me of my worries, could bind him to me indefinitely, could offer me any reassurance that this pillar of strength that I had been leaning on, was mine to lean on for the rest of my life. But nothing could offer me that security. I thought I had that kind of security, but it crumbled with that phone call, leaving me unsure about everything. If even just a phone call could change our lives to that extent, how was I supposed to have faith?
"And it's not like you can't take time off work." He continued.
Another truth. As a freelance computer specialist I was unbound by designated work hours or workdays for that matter. Going to work was a matter of answering desperate calls from companies and private owners all throughout San Francisco and surrounding areas. Not going to work was as simple as not answering my work cell phone. Duo had much of the same freedom, owning his own garage downtown, which was pretty much self-sufficient and didn't require his constant presence nor constant supervision.
"Please, Heero," his voice started to register again, "try to imagine it, driving across a long, empty stretch of road, the wind caressing your face and tousling your hair, each night a different, romantic hotel where we can make love." He closed in on me and wrapped his arms around my waist. His mouth was smiling but his eyes betrayed his inner suffering. Sometimes, when I looked into his eyes, I thought he might equally suffer from his betrayal as me. But then I remembered the devastating hurt I had experienced and I realized he couldn't possible feel what I felt, or he would have known better.
I looked at the car with a sigh, already starting to feel my resolve weakening. His body pressed against mine had that effect on me, that effect of just wanting to be quiet and let him hold me, giving into his every request because I just longed to be with him, close.
"Please." He whispered into my dark chocolate colored hair. Was he still begging me about the car? His voice sounded different, like it had sounded when... "Please." He repeated and he kissed me on the top of my head, then my forehead, then my brow, then my nose and then finally, thankfully, my lips, briefly and innocently, but it was his best argument.
When he released my lips I breathed: "Okay."
"Yeah?" A layer of sparkle hid the dark depths of his eyes.
"Yeah. Let's do it. Road trip." My voice hadn't been this monotonous in years, but my reply excited him.
He kissed me again, deeply and passionately this time, but I didn't feel it, hadn't in a long time. "It's going to be great Heero, you'll see. This is exactly what we needed." He said once our lips parted. He gave me a tight hug and then announced that we should start packing as we should leave no later than tomorrow morning if we were to make it to Washington D.C. in time. We had only nine days to cross the distance and Duo wanted to make the best of that time, promising me to show me as much as possible along the way.
Having surrendered to my fate I followed him upstairs and we both packed a duffel bag worth of clothing and personal hygiene products. We did this in complete silence, which I think reflected the state of mind we were both really in, as opposed to what we decided to show each other. I watched Duo as he went to retrieve his camera, complete with video function, from downstairs and securely placed it in a shoulder bag that he would be keeping with him, whilst our duffel bags would be placed in the trunk. I wasn't sure if he intended to take pictures during the trip itself and presumed its purpose to be related to the destination.
He reminded me, though there was no need to, to pack as many clothes as would fit, after all, we would have to make the return journey and there was no knowing how long we would stay in D.C. for. We just knew we had to be there September twenty-first. Everything else was shrouded in uncertainty.
When I was done my duffel bag was completely full, but that was okay, I carried my concerns in my chest cavity anyway. We put them in the hallway by the front door. I started preparing dinner as Duo made some calls to friends, telling them we would be gone for a couple of weeks. He kept the conversations short and to the point and thanked them as they apparently wished us a good trip. For his final call he crept out of the living room, connected to the open kitchen, I heard his footfalls come to a halt in the study at the front of the house, from where his voice - even with my acute hearing - was nothing but an indistinct mumble. What a silly precaution, as if his unsubtle departure didn't instantly make it clear to me who he was calling and what he would be saying.
His attempts to spare my feelings were increasingly futile and only added to the ache.
He kept the conversation equally short and returned to help me set the table without so much as a single word. Dinner had never been that quiet. The sound of our cutlery scarping over our plates was deafening in comparison to the silence from our firmly shut mouths. After dinner, Duo's talkative and upbeat nature returned to him, apparently he just needed the quiet to think and process in the aftermath of the phone call. Obviously he had a lot on his mind too, it were uncertain times for him as well, but for different reasons. As if out of nowhere he produced a map of North America, folding it out over the table just as I walked the last of the plates to the sink.
"Hey, Heero, come look at this." He beckoned.
I would have been happy busying myself with the dishes passive aggressively. I closed the faucet and walked back over. The road map was a chaotic collection of erratic lines that appeared to be like a piece of modern art. Not to say it was beautiful, or even remotely esthetically pleasing, but I had equally little understanding of it and it both left me completely unimpressed.
Duo had a yellow marker in his hand and used it to highlight a highway that cut right across America, from the West coast to the East coast. He marked it from San Francisco, the city that I had come to call my home, to Washington D.C., the nation's capital and my destination of pure dread. "We'll take this highway." He said, as his hand moved, dragging the end of the marker across the paper map. "It's the US-50, it goes all the way from San Francisco to Washington D.C. They call it the "loneliest road", because of this stretch here, in Nevada."
How fitting, I mused bitterly. We might as well be going alone, considering how distant we had both become lately. All this time we had been living in the same house, sleeping in the same bed, but we were miles apart. He may as well already be on the East coast. His mind I oftentimes discovered already drifting there.
"I'm going to take my Tablet with me, so we can search the internet for cool stuff to do along the way." He said without looking up at me, or the expression on my face might have alerted him to my worries, he kept his focus on the map, studying the dots that represented cities along or close to the highlighted line. "Hey look at that, it passed by Reno! We're going to make some money! You still know how to count cards, right?" He briefly grinned up at me mischievously.
I smiled back, he turned away before he could tell it was fake. I was not looking forward to this trip. As September twenty-first crept closer and closer still, it became more difficult each day to fight the urge to stay in bed all day, curled up in the fetal position, cradling my own pain. I wasn't used to being such a cry-baby, I had never been before. But that bomb had just been dropped on me as much as it had been dropped on Duo and allowing myself to silently and secretively wallow in my pain was the only way I had learned to deal with it. In hindsight it had been very reminiscent of a traumatizing experience and my behavior in the first few following days after the unwelcome message via phone, was not unlike Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I flinched every time the phone rang and had to stop whatever it was that I was doing to focus my energy and thoughts on preventing a panic attack. Strange, I've killed numerous and put my own life in hazardous situations with similar frequency, but a simple enough phone call is the thing that has me precariously on the edge of PTSD.
Luckily that initial shock had worn off, now I was just stuck with the dull, constant pain that had it's way of becoming sharp and stabbing whenever I thought about it, or could tell from Duo's detached expression that he was thinking about it.
"Look at this." Duo said, still trying to cheer us both up and get me excited about this trip. He showed me his digital tablet that displayed a picture of an obese man standing next to a big ball of something, taller than the man himself was. "Just outside of Montrose: the biggest ball of chewing gum in the world." He spoke with an evenly distributed mix of fascination and disgust.
I leaned more to disgust, wrinkling my nose just looking at the picture. I had something else to dread, Duo's idea of road trip fun. I had a feeling we would be pulling over for the most ridiculous and random of things.
The evening came to a thankful end, I was becoming tired from pretending to listen to Duo as he searched the web for the exact same things that I feared. When we undressed in our bedroom, our backs turned towards each other, he said to me: "Thank you for doing this to me."
His sentiment extended far beyond the insignificant agreement to go on this meaningless road trip with him. But I played dumb and responded: "No problem. Maybe the biggest ball of chewing gum is interesting to see after all."
We crawled into bed, meeting in the middle for a chaste, habitual kiss before returning to our own sides of the bed, settling in for the night. With the remote Duo turned off the light, the room went pitch black.
I would not get much sleep and neither would Duo beside me, but we both feigned sleep and pretended not to be aware that the other was also still awake and that we were aware of that.
I wondered if it was dread or anticipation that kept him up during the night preceding our epic journey. After all, for him, the phone call hadn't been all bad news.
As I couldn't find sleep anyway, my mind wondered back to the day, the day when our world was our own and safe. The phone call violated that and burst everything like a sharp pin to a bubble. I was upstairs, working on the laptop of a client. I had been keeping myself busy for months. A virus had infiltrated the machine and disallowed any access by the owner. Through a protected hardwire I had linked the laptop to my own and managed to break through the barrier to start snooping around, trying to locate the virus hiding in the business files to eradicate it. That is mostly what I did on any given day. It wasn't very exciting, but that was exactly why I liked it. I had tried to take myself away from the risks, from the harm and from the pain, by starting my own freelance business years before that day, when I hadn't known risks, harms and pains would always come looking for me.
Working on the infected laptop, I found an abundant pornographic collection under files of innocent names, it had no longer been a wonder where the virus had come from. It was always the same.
I tilted my head as I curiously looked at a particular image, trying to figure out the intricate position the threesome had been captured in, trying to make sense of which limbs belonged to whom.
Then the phone rang.
Since I was working I had figured Duo would answer it, but after three rings and no sound of rushing footsteps, I realized he was probably in the garage - his own hide-out place from the risks, harms and pains - where he couldn't hear the ringing. I answered the phone myself.
"Heero Yuy speaking."
"Hello, Heero..." A female voice spoke hesitantly. "It's Hilde."
As if I hadn't instantly recognized her voice. I wish I could forget it, but I knew I never would. I didn't say anything, I was too dumbstruck that after three months she dared to call thereby neglecting the one thing I asked her to do the last time she visited; to leave us the fuck alone and die.
"I'm sorry." Sounded her words, softly through the telephone. "Can I please talk to Duo?"
Her request infuriated me. How dare she ask this of me? How dare she invade our lives like this, after what happened! But I wanted to be a better person than I knew myself to be when it came to this, so I stiffly told her to hold. I covered the receiver with my hand and took a deep breath. The thought crossed my mind to hang up on her, but I knew she would call again sooner or later. We've been through this before. With a surrendering sigh I got up and walked downstairs, my heart pounding, overwhelmed with a sordid mixture of varying negative emotions.
I opened the garage door where I found Duo kneeling by his dirt bike, turned upside down.
"Damn thing is broken again." He said, but he said it with a smile, he loved it when things broke down because he loved fixing things. And lately he appreciated any excuse to politely keep his distance from me.
How sickeningly profound that he enjoyed fixing things, considering what had been broken by his own doing and what he was still working on fixing.
That day it would only break even more.
This is not a dirt bike we are talking about. This is my heart.
"Who is it?" He asked, nodding to the phone cradled in my hands. He always tried to keep the words light-hearted, even though both our hearts must be burdened by tremendous weight.
I looked at him with dead eyes. "It's Hilde." I declared.
His entire face instantly drained of all it's color. "Why would she call here?" He asked perplexed.
"I don't know. She wants to talk to you." I snapped.
He slowly approached me. "Are you okay with that? I'll only talk with her if you are okay with it."
Sometimes I think I should have stopped this conversation from ever happening. But I doubt it would have changed much and even if it did, I didn't think I would be pleased by that in the end, I would not be guilt free.
I demonstratively held out the phone towards him. "After everything, I think I'll be able to handle this." How wrong, how very wrong.
He swallowed loudly at my comment and hesitantly took the phone from me, bringing it to his ear. "Hello? Hilde?"
I probably should have left, but why would I offer them the decency of privacy? They sure hadn't gone out of their way to honor me with a sense of decency.
Hilde talked first, I couldn't hear her side of the conversation, but it was clear what she had said when Duo responded: "Anything you have to say to me, you have to say to Heero as well, so no, I won't ask him to leave."
The conversation that followed, if possible, made Duo's face whiter still, his face expressed his severe shock.
I stood there with my arms folded across my chest for the duration of the conversation. Duo said very little and nothing of any meaning, only mindless repetitions of "Oh" and "Right" and the infrequent: "Yeah, I know".
He hung up after what was in hindsight a surprisingly short conversation. I guess Duo had been just too shocked to continue it.
When he summarized the news in a single sentence, of only three words, my face had gone as pale as his.
I turned over to look at the ceiling. Listening to Duo's breathing, it appeared he had finally fallen asleep. In the back of my mind I could still hear him saying those three words, his voice shaky, his eyes wide. I could hear it so clearly it was like he was saying it to me all over again. "Hilde is pregnant." That is all he said and all he needed to say. I knew instantly that Duo had gotten her pregnant. Why else would she call us? Sometimes I blamed her for not keeping this news from us, she lives on the other side of the country, we would have never found out, we would have never contacted her anyway after what happened. But that was a terrible thing of me.
Due to a history of complications during childbirth on her mother's side of the family, Hilde's doctors had decided it would be safest for her to be induced in the hospital as soon as the pregnancy was full term. The date that had been set was September twenty-first. That was the day Duo and Hilde's child would be born. Their child. Their baby. And of course, after things had settled over the past few months, Duo wanted to be there, to witness that special moment. He wanted to witness the birth of his child. Something I had nothing to do with, but he had begged me to accompany him, almost as if he was completely insensitive to how hard this was for me.
I wish I could have made him stay with me, force him to stay, but I didn't have the heart for it. I hated Hilde, I hated what they had done to me, I hated how I felt, I hated the thought of it which I just couldn't suppress. However, I did not hate Duo. I loved him and for that reason I would not deny him this, I would not deny him the chance to be a father, because I knew how much he yearned for that. Who was I to take that away from him, for the selfish reason of my own hurting?
So we were to travel to Washington D.C., where Hilde lived, before September twenty-first, so father, mother and child could be together.
We would travel there together, but I feared I would be returning home to San Francisco alone. After all, in Washington D.C. he would have a family, in San Francisco, he only had me.
So there it is, the first chapter of my new story. I would really like to hear your first thoughts.
I must admit, it is sort of scary starting all over again... :S
This chapter is rather short, but I expect that, as it did with Warheads, they will get more substantial in the future :P
Thank you for reading this new beginning :)