I promised to write a ficlet for the winning picture in the 1x2ml art contest, based on the picture. (You can see the winning entry at the 1x2ml yahoo homepage.)
Notes: 1st person narrative, or something. Slight lime. Odd writing style, for me. Based on "Just the Two of Us" by Keiran.
I found you in the west, in what used to be known as southern California centuries ago when there were still borders and national governments. I wasn't expecting to truly find you, thinking I was just chasing another dead end. So it came somewhat as a shock to me when you answered the door of the old vineyard house, your deep blue eyes taking in the sight of me, standing there gaping on your front porch, somehow not surprised to see me.
"H-hey, Heero." I shuffle my feet restlessly on the creaking boards of your porch, not quite sure what to say, not ready to face you, sure I wasn't going to find you this time.
You say nothing, simply stepping back into your foyer, inviting me into your home with a sweep of your arm.
I shoulder my bag. It's not heavy and you don't offer to take it from me. I don't have much. I really wasn't expecting to find you.
You lead me through your house. Is it yours? I don't ask. You don't say. Up the stairs, down the hall. The blue runner looks new. How are you doing? So many questions, yet I seem to lack the courage to ask.
You show me to a bedroom. It's yellow. There are towels laid out on the dresser, almost as if you were expecting me. Were you? Did you know I was coming or have you been waiting for me to show up long before now? Or maybe they're always there, for any guest who may show up at your door. For a moment I am filled with jealousy. I can't stand the thought of someone else being here with you, when you didn't even tell me where you were. But the feeling passes and I am left alone without a word, staring at the guest room door you have closed behind you.
I don't unpack. Never know when I'll have to leave in a hurry, a habit leftover from the wars. I take up a towel, walk into the bathroom connected to the bedroom. It's nice. Quaint.
It's not you. And at the same time, it is.
I shower, not hurrying. I know you're waiting for me downstairs. You ran from me for a long time, but now that I am here you will wait. I've been traveling for days, months. Since you left I've been looking. I haven't felt clean in a long time, the grunge of traveling so much permeating my skin. But I step out of your shower and I glow. I dry off, throw on some relatively clean clothes.
How can I face you? How can you sit there, at that table, waiting for me to come downstairs as if you've been expecting me for months? I don't know what to say to you. You seem unwilling to talk to me. We sit, you at one end and me at the other, the silence so loud it's deafening.
"Have you eaten?"
I jump at the sound of your voice, shattering the silence. I shake my head. You stand up, take things out of the fridge, turn on the stove, chop. I stand up and wander over. There is no need for me to speak, to ask if you need help. You hand over the knife and move to the stove, stirring.
I chop. Watch the knife slide in and out of whatever vegetable you've given me, losing myself in the rhythmic *shop*shop*shop* of the knife against the cutting board.
If asked, I wouldn't have been able to tell you what we ate that night. I didn't taste it. I'm not sure you did either. We ate, mostly in silence. You asked me if my room was okay. I said something in reply. I offered to clean up when we were done. You disappeared into the night, the screen door of the back porch banging behind you.
I was afraid you weren't going to come back. Just a little afraid.
You weren't here when I woke up this morning. You left a note, telling me to help myself to breakfast, but I ignore it. I have to find you. I listened for you to come back last night, in my borrowed bed under the yellow quilt. I didn't sleep until I heard your step, almost silent but there, cross the creaking floorboards deeper into the house.
I wander out the back door and into ... I don't know what to call it. I didn't know all this was here when I drove up yesterday. Green, as far as I can see. Neat little rows of raised green leaves, spread out before me like some ancient offering. I see movement amongst the green. I think it is you at first, but the gait is off.
More movement. And more. Like nesting ants, people weave in and out of the neat little green rows. Where did they come from? The town I passed yesterday? A village over that yonder hill? Perhaps they appear only in daylight and will disappear when the sun sets, like some magical race of wood sprites.
I snort. I think my jet lag and lack of sleep are catching up with me.
I sit on the top step of the rickety set of stairs leading off the verandah, watching, waiting. You're down there somewhere, amongst the hidden folk, darting in and out of the greenery. How long do I wait? Does it matter? I've waited, watched for years. I can wait a little longer.
You come to me eventually, breaking free of the green, walking slowly up the little graveled path leading up to the house. I scoot over. You sit beside me.
The three feet between us may as well be an endless gorge. The unspoken questions sit between us like a barrier. Why did you leave? Where did you go? Why here? Why this?
Why was I not good enough?
I clear my throat. I open my mouth. But my courage falters at the last moment. Me, the self-proclaimed God of Death who faced down hundred of enemy soldiers all after my blood, chickens out.
"What ... what is all this?"
You look at me, as if knowing that wasn't the question I wanted to ask.
"I like it here. It's quiet."
I look away. "It was quiet in Sanq." I say it softly, but I know you hear me.
Silence again. You shift, stretching your legs out.
"Should be a good crop this year."
I look at you, not comprehending what you mean for a moment, before turning to look back at the green.
"What is it?"
A man of few words. You always were. Perhaps that's what went wrong. I didn't listen enough. You didn't speak enough.
"So... do you make wine?"
A small smile ghosts past your lips, then it is gone. "I sell them, to a winery. It's a small crop, but it's a special variety of grape. Hard to grow out here."
"O-oh." My attention is caught again by the little people in the vineyard. "And they are?"
"From the village, a few kilometers down the road. There's not enough room here for them to live with their families, and I cannot tend the grapes on my own."
It's the most you've said to me since I got here. I want to cherish each word, wrap it up in tissue and tuck it away in a pocket of my heart. It's been so long since I've heard your voice. Do you miss mine?
I want to hear more. I am greedy. I ask you about the grapes. How do you grow them? How do you take care of them? How are they turned into wine?
You answer each question methodically and thoroughly, just like the Heero I used to know had done. You're the same and you're not. You're older. We both are. But you've been alone a long time. So have I. We've changed. And I am no longer sure of how to get to know this new Heero.
You offer to show me around the vineyard. I accept, just wanting to be near you, to know you're here with me. And while the distances between us seem impossible to span, I know that the journey must begin with a single step. Baby steps if need be. I've found you at last, and I am not going to let go easily.
Your place is... peaceful. I think I am beginning to understand why you are here. You've never had peace in your life. But here, in this little green pocket, surrounded by hills, I can sense a kind of peaceful stillness. You are almost isolated from the world around you. I feel sad at that. Is that why you left? Did you need to be away from everyone? Even me?
I listen intently to your voice, if not your words. You speak with such... devotion of your little plants. You used to speak to me the same way. What went wrong? Why won't you tell me? Why can't I ask?
Dinner again is an almost silent affair. You cook. I clean. Then you disappear into your vineyard, and I climb solitarily up the stairs to my borrowed room.
My bag rests on a chair. In the years I have searched for you I have learned to live frugally out of my bag. No point in unpacking if you're not planning to stay, I always say. I don't unpack now. I don't know if I'll be staying after all. I shove my dirty clothes to the bottom and lay something clean out for the morning.
Again I lie in bed, listening for you to come back. I can't sleep until I hear your footsteps crossing the old wooden floorboards downstairs. For all the anxiousness I feel at being here and finding you, I cannot rest until I know you're home.
The days pass by in a blur. We fall into a shaky routine. You leave the house before I get up. I dress in something out of my bag, then wander down to the vineyard. Your workers are pleasant people. They take me in, show me how to tend your grapes and keep the grounds. It's harder work than I thought, but it keeps me from thinking too much a lot of the time.
You appear and disappear at will. Funny, I used to be the expert at stealth. I bet you could give me a run for my money these days. I never try to follow you, though. I am afraid if I push too hard, appear too needy, you'll run again. Realistically, I don't think you could leave what you've worked so hard to accomplish here. But it's an old fear, one that overwhelms and consumes me at times. I feel foolish for being so afraid, but I cannot help it. So I don't ask you where you go at night, nor do I try and follow you. It's enough that you come back.
Before I know it, I realize I am down to my last set of clean clothes. How long have I been here with you, getting to know the new you, yet not knowing much about you at all? I ask you where a guy could clean his clothes. You show me your small, but impeccably neat, laundry room at the back of the house. It hits me then. I have been at your place long enough to go through two and a half weeks of clean clothes, you have shown me around the grounds, yet I have no idea what the rest of your house is like. All I know is the kitchen where we share our silent meals, the small parlor where you occasionally join me to watch the news, the back verandah and my borrowed yellow room with its quaint little bathroom. The rest of the house is large enough to be a mystery.
I don't even know where your room is. I lie in bed that night, listening for your return, wondering what kind of room it is. Is it yellow like this one? Do you have a quilt on your bed, too? What kind of pictures do you look at. How big is the bed?
I feel warm at the last thought, remembering heated nights together, my body longing for what has been denied it for so long, though my heart is hesitant at the possibility at being hurt again.
The next day I find my clothes, clean and neatly pressed, hanging in the closet in the yellow room. I hadn't hung them there. No one else ever comes into your house. I take a shaky breath and kick my bag under the bed. I guess I won't be needing it after all, at least for a while.
That night, I wait for you to leave before I start exploring your house. I could have asked you to show me around, but there is one room I want to see, and I'm not sure you'd have shown it to me.
It's old. I could feel that the first day I arrived. It's also bigger than I thought. There are many empty rooms with only one or two pieces of furniture in them. I wonder what you paid for a place like this. Your bathroom is so neat and tidy that I almost mistake it for another guest bathroom, until I see your toothbrush and razor in the holder next to the sink. Other than that, there is nothing here that says, "Heero Yuy lives here."
I find your room where I least expect it, in the back on the first floor, under the stairs. It's small, smaller even than my yellow room. Small bed, small night stand, tiny dresser. Your quilt is navy. I never pictured you as a navy kind of guy. I almost expected forest green or even that sunny yellow of my room.
There are no pictures on your walls. But there is one on your tiny dresser. In a simple, dented frame - a picture of me. A lump forms in my throat and my eyes start to sting.
There is nothing in this house that reminds you of your past. Nothing except this old picture, taken sometime after the first war ended, kept in a place where it's the last thing you see at night and the first thing you see when you wake up in the morning. I have to know. If you still care for me, even just a little bit, I have to know why you left.
I don't take a flashlight; I wouldn't know where to find one. But the moon is full and bright. I head for the vineyard, the only place you could be. It doesn't take me long to find you, walking the rows, your hands stuffed in your pockets, looking up at the sky. You hear me coming, and turn to face me.
"Why did you do it, Heero?" I ask, my own hands clenched at my sides, my heart clenching in my chest.
You look at me and I can see the regret in your eyes before you look down at the ground. "I didn't think I could fit into your world."
I stare at you. "What?"
You look back up at me, moving a little closer. "After the second war, I knew. I couldn't live in a world where there was no war. I didn't know how to live in peace."
I feel like hitting you. "Of all the stupid... why didn't you let me help?"
"I didn't think I deserved you."
I have no response to that.
"All my life, I've known nothing but killing," you continue, your eyes not leaving mine. "And then all of a sudden I'm supposed to lay down my weapons, become a normal kid, and live happily ever after with you?" You shake your head sadly. "I... was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it. That I'd end up hurting you." You look away again. "I know what happens to soldiers who can't let go of the wars. They either end up hurting themselves or the ones they love. I couldn't take that chance with you."
It's hard to process what I'm feeling. Anger at you for not trusting in yourself and in me, hurt because I couldn't be there for you while you were hurting, and overwhelming joy at the thought that you never stopped loving me. I reach out and place my hand on your arm.
"Why didn't you let me help you?"
"I... I wasn't sure you could. And I was afraid that I wasn't as strong as you thought I was."
Again, I am torn between taking you in my arms and beating the shit out of you. "So you left me. Without a word, without a note." I take a shuddering breath. "Do you have any idea how that felt? To find you suddenly gone, and with no way to find you?"
"I'm sorry," you whisper, your eyes bright and shiny with unshed tears. I know you mean it. I can feel your pain along with my own. God, what screw-ups we both turned out to be.
I sigh. "It doesn't matter anymore." I let my hand slide down your arm to take your hand. "Did you find what you were looking for?"
"Yes." You curl your fingers around my palm and give my hand a little squeeze. You have no idea how good that feels. Then again, watching you watch me, maybe you do.
"After about a year," you continue, "After a year, I decided that it wasn't peace I was having a hard time adjusting to, it was myself. I wasn't the same person I had been during the wars. You had changed me. And I had messed that up before I had a chance to adjust to the new me. I decided that since I had spent my life killing, perhaps it wasn't too late for me to learn how to make things live.
"I found this place a few months later. It was... dying. Like I was, inside. We brought each other back to life. I learned to grow things, to bring life into the world rather than take it.
"The only thing missing was you."
I swallow, looking down at our joined hands. "Why didn't you come back to me?"
"I thought it was too late. I was... scared. Afraid that I would go back only to find you had moved on. And I... didn't think I could bear that. I settled here, knowing that, if you wanted, you would be able to find me."
I snort. "You didn't make it easy."
"I didn't want anyone else to find me. Only you. I knew if anyone could do it, it would be you. I hoped you would, someday. I set up that room for you, waiting for you, though never expecting you to actually come."
That hurts a little. Did he still not have any faith in us? In me? There's only one more thing I want to know.
"Do you still love me?"
We stand there, in the moonlight amidst these vines, hand in hand, me holding my breath awaiting your answer.
"I never stopped."
That's all I need to know. We can work out the details of our messed up lives later. I have my own share of problems you know nothing about. But none of that matters at this moment. No, at this moment, all that matters is that you're here, with me, and that you love me.
"I never stopped loving you either, you big idiot," I say, pulling you to me.
You let me, bending your head slightly to take my mouth with yours. You pour so much of yourself into that first kiss that I almost want to cry. How we let ourselves get to this point doesn't matter. I have you now. The rest is just details.
We undress each other slowly in the moonlight, sinking down upon our spread-out clothes among your vines. You touch me with such reverence, unbraiding my hair slowly, taking it in your hand and letting it slide through your fingers. You've missed this as much as I have.
We move slowly, carefully, relearning each other's responses. It is not hurried. We have the rest of our lives for that.
We press against each other, hands and mouth wandering over heated skin, until you cry out and I can feel your passion for me against my stomach. I kiss you until I follow, crying out your name into the darkness.
You lead me by the hand back to the house. Up the stairs to my yellow room. Our yellow room, I realize. You set this room up for us. The other was just temporary. Tomorrow I shall have to bring up that picture of me to put by your side of the bed. But you won't be needing it any more. You'll have the real me to look at now.
I watch you sleep, your arm slung over my chest. My fingers lovingly stroke your skin as I listen to you breathe. We're far from perfect, and we have a long way to go until we can get back to where we were. Only we were never really there were we?
We have a new journey ahead of us, but we will take it together. We have much to learn about each other. It will take time, but you've had time haven't you? You've learned how to make things grow.
You've learned to live. There will be no more running. Only long walks in the moonlight. And together, we will grow.
Best I could do. And no, I haven't forgotten about "Steam."