Word Count: 2500
Summary: It was easier than he thought.
It was easier than he'd thought it would be, in the end.
At first it was strange, all new words and places. He'd been here before, sure, but he'd never experienced it like this. It had been all smoke and shady nightclubs, seeing not cities but venues, fast food places, truck stops on the road. He'd dealt in credit cards and not the strange, foreign money. It was easier that way.
But now he couldn't. There was no way to hide if he used his cards and even though he saw the inside of more than one shady nightclub, now - he knew them all like the back of his hand; the music they played, the nights there were covers, everything - he saw the rest of the city for what it was. He experienced the pizza places and the salons, the grocery stores and the little quirky shops where he bought his clothes.
He'd been gone for six months, exiled here by his own hand because he just couldn't stand it, couldn't sit there and watch everything fall apart around him. It was stupid because he could have stayed at home, stayed locked up in his apartment downtown but there was no way he could've risked facing them. So he'd put an ocean between them. It was easier that way.
He knew they wondered. He'd taken fifty grand out of the bank and dumped it on a bunch of pre-paid American Express cards, brought them with him in his carry-on. The last trace of him was a plane ticket to Berlin and then a rental car that he never returned. He ditched it on the side of the road just outside of Munich. It hadn't been hard to pick up from there, with nothing but his backpack and a duffel bag slung over his shoulder, hitchhiking his way across Europe.
He stayed in hostels, mostly, but sometimes he slept on the side of the road with his duffel under his head, curled around his backpack. He didn't care that he'd wake up dirty, covered in the mist from the morning dew. It was fine. He was fine.
What mattered was that he wasn't there.
He'd made it across Germany in a week. He'd never had much interest in Germany, but he'd met enough nice people during that week to make him think twice about never going back. He couldn't, now, at least not for a while. At least not until he was sure his family would stop looking there for him.
It was too bad, too. He really wanted to go back and find Frederich. They'd spent the day in the city and even shared a kiss under a street light, before Taylor hitched his back pack back up onto his back and said goodbye in the best broken German he could manage.
He'd wished, once he reached the border of Austria, that he'd been able to stay with him. He could never believe in love at first sight, but he could believe that he and Frederich had a certain chemistry that had ignited. Maybe it had been what he had come to Europe looking for. He'd come for something, other than the obvious - to escape - but he was pretty sure that love wasn't it, exactly.
He didn't stay long in Austria. A girl recognized him in Salzburg and he was off the next day, skirting the border until he slammed into France.
He'd been gone more than three months by the time he made it to Paris. He wasn't sure exactly the day, but he knew the month had changed over at some point, that it was getting cooler - not exactly cold, not yet - and he made plans to head further south, towards Italy and Greece and spend the winter by the Mediterranean sea. It would be warmer there.
He met a girl in Paris, Angelique, who took him to the top of the Eiffel tower. He didn't have the heart to tell her he'd already been there, once, in what seemed like another life. They spent the day by theSiene and he made a point to smoke in a cafe, just like he'd always seen in the movies, while he sipped a cappuccino. It wasn't Starbucks - it was better, and when he told Angelique that, she'd muttered something in French he couldn't quite catch. From what he did understand, he was almost glad he hadn't heard the whole thing.
Taylor avoided newspapers, the news, anything where he might be pictured. The last thing he wanted to see was any report of the missing Hanson kid, the one who just took off on a red-eye to Berlin the night before he was supposed to be married. He kissed Angelique goodbye at noon on some idle Friday in front of a newsstand. He didn't look behind him when he turned to leave, and he walked faster when he heard her gasp. He didn't want to know why; if she'd been surprised by some report on the front page of some newspaper or something. He doubted that he deserved that much notoriety, but there was no doubt that his family would make an issue of it.
He laid low after that, spending more time just walking the lonely roads, headed east if his compass could be trusted. He spent a whole day walking south, just following one long dirt road through some vineyard in Chablis. That night, he caught a ride in the back of a beat-up Chevy pick-up some hundred miles and them he was left again, not knowing where he was. He slept there, where the truck dropped him off, on some back-road that smelled of rotting grapes.
When he woke up, he shouldered his backpack and carried on.
He made it to Italy before December. He spent Christmas eve on a beach, resting on a blanket he bought from some little shop with a bottle of wine and a prepaid cell phone. He'd only put five dollars on it and he waited until it would be early morning at home to call.
The cheery Hanson answering machine was eerie to him, a reminder of how nothing had changed since he left. Maybe they weren't looking for them at all.
"Hi," he said into the machine. "I. Uhm." It was more awkward than he'd been counting on. "Merry Christmas," he finally settled on, before sighing into the phone and pressing down on end.
He turned the phone off and stowed it away in his backpack. There was probably still enough money to leave a message on New Year's. He'd missed Zac's birthday, and his son had probably been born by that time, but it all seemed so inconsequential as he sat there, staring out at the low, rolling waves of the Mediterranean.
Taylor missed home, but not enough to ever go back.
The days faded slowly into weeks as he worked his way down the coast of Italy, swinging back up as the weather started to warm back up, as February turned into March and his birthday passed, unnoticed by anyone. He was better at speaking Italian now and that meant he was making friends. He stayed too long in Porto Tolle , got too attached to a boy that looked a lot like Frederich had - Alberto, his name was, and Taylor left him without a word. He felt terrible about it afterward, when he made it up to Venice, but he comforted himself in knowing that Jean, the student staying with Alberto's family, would be happier now that Taylor was gone. Alberto might even learn to love Jean, and Taylor would be glad for that. They would do much better together than he ever would have done with Alberto.
He spent four months in Greece and he realized, belatedly, when it was nearly August, that he'd been gone for over a year. He wondered if he would ever go home, if flying back to America was ever something that he would do, or if he would spend the rest of his life walking Europe. He'd done a good job of it so far.
Taylor spent the winter on Crete, relishing in the never-ending summer of the lower Mediterranean. When winter faded away, he was planning on heading north again, to see England and Ireland. It would be strange to speak English again, now that he had a shaky mastery of Greek and Italian.
He spent his nights in Crete with Athos, and he could never think of anything but the three musketeers when they were together. The name was so old to him, something straight out of Alexander Dumas, and they laughed about it under the moon after too much wine and not enough food.
It was Athos that shook him, though. "You run," he'd told him, his English shaky but Taylor understood the significance of Athos saying it to him in his mother tongue. "You always run, Taylor. Away from family and lovers. Too much running. Stay with me."
"I can't," Taylor had murmured back. He couldn't remember the last time he'd spoken English - probably the call to his parents the previous Christmas - and it was odd to form the sounds on his tongue after so long.
Athos told him that he could, that there was nothing stopping him, but Taylor just shook his head and silenced him with a kiss. He'd have to leave in the morning. They'd gotten too attached to each other. But that night, when Athos took him to his bed and kept his arms around him, Taylor didn't leave. He didn't kiss him goodbye under a street lamp or leave him by a newsstand or just leave without a word. He stayed that night and the better part of six more weeks, until he told Athos that it was time for him to go, that he'd write him every day, but his journey wasn't quite over yet.
He made his way back to the mainland, up through Bulgaria and Romania, across Austria - he tried not to think of the girl who recognized him in Salzburg . It had been so long and he looked so different, now. He skirted the edge of Switzerland and then he took his time in France. He caught a ride across the Channel and into England. He spent October in London, walking the streets with friends he made along the way. He sent Athos a letter, like he did every day, telling him about everything he saw and where he was going next. He always left it a little vague, a little open. Not so Athos wouldn't come looking for him. It was in case someone else would come looking for him, that his family had found out about Athos and the winter in Crete.
He traveled north to Scotland, relishing in the rolling hills and laughing as Peter and Amy - the unstoppable duo he met up with on the very first day he was in London - chased him along the countryside. They were the first people to travel with him, and they thought he was the most interesting creature they'd ever met.
He supposed that he could have been pretty interesting. He was American but hardly ever spoke English. He didn't have a home anymore, at least not one with his own things - he stayed on couches, when he stayed anywhere at all.
Another Christmas passed, and he called his parents from a phone box in London. He wished them a happy Christmas, with a little too much London invading his voice. He stayed long enough to celebrate the New Year - 2005, already - before he kissed them both goodbye and left again, back across the Channel and down into France.
He was finally starting to run low on money. His fifty thousand dollars had dwindled down to seven and, loathe he admit it, he was either going to have to go to an ATM somewhere or fly home. He put aside two cards to book a flight and spent a day at an internet café in Paris. It didn't take him long to find a flight to Boston, and from there he could make a choice. Go home, back to Oklahoma and his parents and his mistakes, or find the nearest Bank of America and start all over.
He scheduled his flight for the following month, at the end of February, from Greece, and slowly made his way down. He wanted to say goodbye to Athos, in person if he could, and as he made his way down the winding streets with the same dirty backpack and patched-up duffel bag that he started with, he wondered if he could still take Athos up on his promise. He wanted to stay, now. It was better than going home, even if it meant he would make another set of mistakes here.
Athos had been right, of course. He kept running and running, never staying long enough to leave too much of an imprint behind because he was terrified of what was across the ocean, what he had done to his family and to Natalie and the son he didn't know. There was too much baggage back there and he didn't know if he could handle it after spending almost three years weighed down by nothing but a backpack and a duffel bag that doubled as a pillow.
Athos met him in Athens with a bouquet of wildflowers and a kiss. Taylor asked him why he'd picked wildflowers and Athos only smiled, telling him that it was obvious and that Taylor should think about it on his flight.
Taylor did, and when he couldn't figure it out at all, he rearranged the bouquet and found a note.
You are my wildflower, it said, and that left a smile on Taylor's face for the rest of the flight.
The landing was easy. He passed through customs without a second glance and he figured he would. He may have ran away, but he was an adult when it happened and an adult now, so he'd broken no laws. When he made it out to the terminal and into the dark outside of Logan, he stood there for a while, gripping his duffel bag and watching the cars race by, missing the lonely, dark roads in France. Missing the slow, warm places in Italy where he spent his first winter.
Taylor closed his eyes and when he did, he could almost imagine being back there, watching Athos run along the beach with his dog, listening to Alberto shout to his friends as they walked down the streets of Porto Tolle together.
The majesty was broken by the sound of a bus thundering down the closed in street and he sighed, turning back around and heading into the terminal. He picked up the phone and dialed collect, then his parents' number, and leaned against the wall as it rang.
"Taylor?" his mother said in a rush. The language was so unfamiliar, so different from what he was used to know - the romances, the Cyrillic, the Germanic - that he had a hard time coming up with the proper response.
She was crying, he realized, and he suddenly wanted to get back on a plane and fly back to Greece, fall into Athos' arms and forget that his family existed in Oklahoma. He didn't, though. It was time to come home.
The wildflowers had not survived the flight.