imagine a world like that
When he was alone, it was easier to discern what was a vision and what was a dream.
Now, it was harder to separate the fiction of his mind from the uncertainty of future events.
Indrid sat at the table in his camper, pencil twirling between his fingers absentmindedly as he stared down at his completed sketch. He stopped fidgeting for a few moments, breathless at his own rendering (of what, he still couldn’t tell) before he tore out the page from his sketchbook and tossed it aside. In his haste, he hadn’t even crumpled it up, so the offending image still looked up at him from the floor of his camper. The dark eyes in the drawing reflected off the red glass that protected him, and he felt a strange sensation crawl up his spine.
His posture straightened as he moved his head to peer at his corkboard. Once there had been scattered drawings of horrifying events that Indrid had seen and done nothing to prevent. Now, those had been tossed and replaced with much more specific drawings of The Pine Guard in action, facing off against the newest abomination plaguing the forests of Kepler. Having people in his life that he was close to seemed to narrow his field of view when it came to his visions, and he wasn’t sure if he liked that or not.
Sure, the friends were nice. Aubrey Little was a bit eccentric, which Indrid could certainly appreciate, and Ned Chicane really did have a heart of gold underneath the rough exterior (even if that gold heart was stolen from somewhere else). Of course, Indrid found himself having a soft spot for park ranger Duck Newton, which he tried his best to repress every day to no avail. He wasn’t entirely sure why.
It started with one phone call that changed the course of history in Kepler forever. Before he met Duck, Indrid had never met another person who saw visions like he did. Sure, Duck didn’t have future vision, but his role as a chosen warrior allowed him to dream about what the future had in store for him. Not only that, but Duck had been the only person who had changed all of Indrid’s visions by choosing to spare a monster rather than kill it. Everything was different because of Duck, and Indrid’s adoration only grew as a result. The strange feelings in his gut didn’t start until Duck had rescued him from the clutches of the abomination, and they burst forth when Duck asked Indrid to stay, even though someone in the town had seen his true form and his instincts were telling him to run away as fast as he could. He was kind, brave, and selfless almost to a fault. What wasn’t admirable about that?
Now, as his drawing of Duck, looking disheveled at the door of his camper, gaped up at him from the floor, Indrid could feel his discomfort coming back to him in waves. Everytime he was around Duck, he tried to tell himself that he didn’t like the feeling of his stomach twisting up in knots or having his face burn hot behind his glasses. He tried not to recall what Duck’s deodorant smelled like when their shoulders had accidentally brushed in the confines of his living space and instead focused on the memory of Duck punching him in the face. Surprising to no one, Indrid recalled that memory with a particular fondness, because he remembered what it felt like to be rescued by Duck. (Unsurprisingly, his brain had supplied him with the possibility of being swept off his feet by his handsome park ranger in shining khaki pants. Indrid mentally kicked himself.)
With his hands raking through his tangled, white mop that was supposed to be hair, Indrid found the inner strength to pull himself away from the table and start moving toward his bed. His bare feet padded softly on the floor of his camper, but he only made it a few steps before he found himself being hit with a familiar vision.
Duck, looking disheveled at the door of his camper, in approximately 3 minutes.
Indrid silently cursed at himself as he scooped up the drawing from the floor and tacked it on his cork board along with the others. So it had been a vision, and not a fantasy conjured up by the dark part of his brain that had a stupid crush on Duck. He really needed to figure out a way to tell the difference. If only his brain could develop its own filing system to separate future visions with daydreams.
Those thoughts occupied his mind until he heard a few soft knocks on his trailer door. He tried to mentally compose himself before he opened it.
Duck was still dressed for work, in a full suit of beige, name tag and Monongahela Forest patch on clear display. His hat looked a little worse for wear, tipped to the side of his head as a mop of brown hair clung to his face, plastered there by beads of sweat. He was breathing hard, one hand leaning on the door frame to stabilize himself, the other clutching a coiled-up Beacon. “Indrid, thank god…” He took a deep breath. “This may be a, uh, strange request, but-”
In one future, Duck asks for baking soda and vinegar. In another, equally likely, he asks Indrid out for coffee. Indrid allows himself to hope, despite not fully understanding
he would hope for something so trivial like a date with Duck, and doesn't interrupt for fear of ruining his chances.
“-you wouldn’t happen to have baking soda, would you? Or maybe vinegar? Or both? Actually, both would be the best case scenario.”
Indrid tried not to let the disappointment show on his face. “Unfortunately, Duck, I’ve never had the need for either of those, but,” he managed to smile in spite of himself, “I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to check.” He stepped aside and motioned for Duck to come inside, who happily obliged. He took a seat at the table while Indrid shuffled over to the cabinets, sweatpants dragging on the floor with every step.
As he began to sift through what little he did have, Indrid found moments in between his searches to steal glances at Duck, who had his cheek resting on his hand while he sat at the table. His hair was on full display now that he set his hat and sword on the table next to his sketchbook, and Indrid was reminded that he wanted to sketch Duck from real life rather than his visions at some point in the future. Of course, he couldn’t find the time to ask, and the request on its own was a bit strange. Still, the need to sketch Duck in his uniform continued to pull on Indrid’s heartstrings.
In the very last cabinet, Indrid found a box of baking soda that had long since expired. Well, at least he tried. He pulled it out and handed to Duck for inspection, who gratefully accepted it without bothering to check the label. Clearly, that wasn’t what he really came for. “Thanks, man. I appreciate it.”
“Happy to help.” Indrid walked back to the table and sat across from Duck, pushing a few empty cups to the side. “What exactly did you need it for?”
“Well, Aubrey’s been on a bit of a, uh, potion making binge, so she sent me to get some stuff for her.” Duck rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Mama had the truck, and Ned already turned in for the night, so I just ran over.”
Indrid raised his eyebrows, coming to an interesting revelation. “The store was much closer to the lodge, Duck. Why did you come all the way out here?”
Duck’s eyes widened, and Indrid could feel the lie coming from a mile away, even without the help of his visions. “Well, it’s, uh, a funny story actually. You see, Leo一no, fuck. Aubrey wanted me to come h-here because she, uh一ah, shit一said your stuff might be…I dunno. More magical? I guess?”
Indrid chuckled softly and smiled at Duck’s feeble attempt at a convincing lie. “How interesting. You know you really are a terrible liar.” He leaned back in the seat as Duck let out an audible groan. The longer Duck stayed and the more they talked, the more visions Indrid had of Duck asking about that coffee date. He really wanted to push his luck it seemed, and so he peered at Duck through his glasses after pushing them up on his nose and asked, “What did you really need from me?”
Duck looked completely taken by surprise, and seemed a bit caught off guard by the sudden questioning. He rubbed his face with his hands, and the shadows cast by the dim lights made him look much older, more worn out than he actually was. Still, Indrid couldn’t help but stare at the dark circles underneath his eyes and the gentle creases in his forehead. It took every ounce of strength within him not to reach out and touch the worry lines with his hands. He wasn’t even sure what he would do once he got Duck to ask about that coffee date. For once, he was indulging in a fantasy and didn’t think that far ahead. Surprising behavior, for a man who can see every possible future so vividly.
“The truth is,” Duck’s voice barely wavered when he broke the brief silence. “I came here because I, uh, I wanted to see you.” His face was beginning to show the early stages of embarrassment. “It worries me that you’re out here by yourself, and I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Especially after our last encounter.”
Oh. Not quite what he had been expecting, but Indrid was pleasantly “surprised” by the outcome (he had seen this future, it just hadn’t been as probable as some of the others). He found himself reaching for Duck’s hand, but instead redirected it to an old cup sitting on the table. If Duck noticed the change, he didn’t comment on it, instead awkwardly clearing his throat and standing up from the table as Indrid pretended to inspect the cup’s contents. Dried up eggnog. Indrid didn’t know what else he could have expected.
Duck collected his belongings and began making his way towards the door again, when Indrid spoke. “Duck.” He turned around to look at Indrid, who was wearing a pleasant smile on his face. “It was good to see you. I always appreciate your company.” Duck’s shoulders visibly relaxed and he smiled back at Indrid before showing himself out of the camper.
As soon as the door closed, Indrid moved to his corkboard to crumple up the drawings from discarded future timelines. It seemed his brain was messing with him yet again. As if Duck would ever ask Indrid on a date. Why would he ever entertain that thought? Still, the persistent idea lingered in his brain as he filled his wastebasket with more paper. What would Indrid even do if Duck were to ask? The idea of dating was such a foreign concept to him, he wasn’t sure if he could actually handle that level of commitment to physical intimacy. The Winnebago was parked in the middle of the forest for a reason. As much as Indrid loved humans, he had trouble interacting with other people.
Despite those reservations, Indrid still wanted Duck, no matter what that entailed. Even if it was just daily visits to his trailer for a few minutes, that would be far better than only ever seeing him for business reasons.
For the first time, Indrid allowed himself to imagine a world where he and Duck could be together.
The weeks dragged on, and Duck did come to visit more frequently than normal, but Indrid found himself growing more frustrated than anything else. He enjoyed Duck’s visits immensely, but every single moment they spent together was constantly interrupted by visions. Visions of Duck and Indrid doing disgustingly domestic activities with each other, like snuggling up on Duck’s couch for a movie marathon, or making a late breakfast after sleeping in until noon. Indrid seemed unable to really spend time with his friend without constantly wondering if his lips were soft or not.
It was maddening, imagining a world that could never exist.
Still, that didn’t stop the visions of destruction that seemed to follow the Pine Guard wherever they went. Another abomination came and went, and the distraction, although dangerous, was a welcome change from the fluffy business that Indrid told himself he had no interest in. That, of course, didn’t stop him from worrying needlessly about Duck’s well being. If anything, it heightened his worry so much that he spent more time pacing in his camper than he did sketching out less probable futures.
One late night, before deciding he was tired of sketching, Indrid found himself hit with a vision that he didn’t quite have time to decipher before seeing something much more relevant.
Duck was coming over, and he had something on his mind. Indrid couldn’t hear a conversation, but he could see it written all over Duck’s face and the radiating insecurity through his posture. Whatever uncomfortable conversation was coming in six minutes, Indrid found himself both looking forward to and dreading it. Emotional confrontation was not his strong suit, but he had to at least try to be there for Duck, despite his discomfort.
As Indrid began cleaning up his trailer, discarding old dishes by simply throwing them in the sink, he started getting flashes of more possible futures. Five minutes. Duck is sitting on his bed. Four minutes. Duck is holding Indrid’s hand. Three minutes. Duck is smiling with such softness that Indrid might just melt on the spot. Two minutes. Duck looks crushed, and Indrid wants to make his creases go away. One minute. Duck is holding Indrid in his arms, crushing him with a hug that he never wants to let go of.
Before Duck can get his hand on the door, Indrid swings it open, lips parted with a soft sigh of relief when he sees Duck dressed in his uniform. Of course. This was just official business, something Indrid could handle with ease. “Duck, good to see you. What can I help you with?”
“Listen, Indrid, I need to一”
“一talk to you about something.” Indrid spoke, mouth movements mirroring Ducks almost exactly. He had seen this future moments ago. He saw all the possible ways this conversation could go and was in no way prepared for any of them.
The temptation to turn him away was looking more attractive by the second.
“Wait, you knew I was coming?” Duck suddenly looked extremely embarrassed. “Shit, you probably already know what I’m going to say then.”
Indrid has an out. He has the perfect opportunity to escape an inevitable future. Instead, he opens up the door and tells Duck, “You should probably come inside.” So, he does. Duck comes in and stands inside of Indrid’s trailer, face flushed as Indrid looks down at him. He tries not to look like he expects anything out of the terrified man in front of him. “I will tell you, Duck, I don’t know what you’re going to say, but I have seen how this conversation plays out between us. Some situations are more favorable than others, that much is a given, but the probability of you fucking this up is slim to none. Whatever you need to say, rest assured you can feel…comfortable saying it.”
Duck didn’t say anything for a long time, instead opting to look down at his shuffling feet. His normal stature was more slouched than usual, and Indrid folded his arms across his chest. He knew he had taken a far too analytical approach with this conversation, and his mind began to race as he searched for better words to comfort Duck. For a few minutes they stood in front of each other in uncomfortable silence, Indrid wanting to reach out and touch Duck, but resisting the urge. Instead, he just paid attention to the lines in Duck’s uniform and traced them with his eyes rather than his hands.
Time ticked by until Duck rolled his shoulders back and seemed to grow a few inches, eyes finally meeting Indrid’s with a new sense of determination. “I like you, Indrid.”
Oh no. “You…” Indrid tried not to start shaking in fear. “You like me?” He should have seen this coming. The gentle touches in his visions were not dreams after all, but actual possible futures that he was getting a glimpse into. And if these futures existed, that had to mean that Duck must have felt something for him. Why had he ignored them so profusely? He could have seen this more clearly had he just paid more attention to his own feelings for the park ranger. “I…Duck I don’t know what to say.”
Which was true. Indrid had been so intent on blocking out those futures with Duck that he failed to pay attention to the specifics. He wasn’t sure what to say so that he didn’t majorly screw this up and ruin his chances. But… was that really what he wanted? Did he really want to enter a relationship that could potentially change the course of his entire life so suddenly? He could never face Duck again if their relationship were to end poorly. Maintaining a working relationship was more important than fulfilling his need for interpersonal connection, which, admittedly, was extremely finite.
Sensing his apprehension, Duck looked away from Indrid. “I, uh, I understand if you…don’t see me that way, because honestly I’m not really the best一”
“Don’t finish that thought, Duck Newton.” Indrid huffed. “My reaction has nothing to do with evaluating your worth, so please don’t assume so. You need to understand that I…” He paused, trying to choose his next words carefully. “I have not experienced any sort of intimacy for a very long time. The thought of being that close to someone, to be quite frank with you, scares me more than you could possibly ever know.”
“Is it…uncertainty? No, that’s not really a thing for you, is it?”
Indrid laughed softly. “No, it’s more like…apprehension. I’m not worried about the future as much as I am worried about ruining my relationship with…” He felt his eyes widen with realization. “I don’t want to hurt you.” The words came out as a whisper, and as soon as they left his lips, he saw Duck move in to wrap his arms around Indrid’s lanky form.
The embrace didn’t surprise him, but rather the immense warmth that he felt when Duck was holding him so tightly. He couldn’t remember anything enveloping him so wholly, almost as if he had forgotten what it felt like to be wanted by another person. Suddenly, his mind was flooded with visions of a future with Duck, and he didn’t stop himself from drowning in them. Something about the ideas they evoked in him created a pleasant feeling in his chest, which settled in like a weight at the bottom of the ocean. As he buried his face in Duck’s neck and gripped the back of his shirt, Indrid felt like he was whole again. He was flying and falling all at once, stomach dropping with every breath he took. He wondered if this is what real human connection was supposed to feel like.
“We’ll go slow, if you want.” Duck murmured into Indrid’s shoulder. “But I want to try, at least. I really want to be in a relationship with you and do all that dumb, couple shit that people do.”
“What if I hurt you?”
“You would never do it on purpose.”
“You don’t know that.” What if you don’t know me as well as you think you do?
“I do.” Duck spoke firmly, his grip around Indrid’s waist tightening. “All you’ve ever done since we met is protect the Pine Guard. I don’t think you have a malicious bone in your body.”
Indrid couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out of his chest and pulled away just enough to look at Duck, who was smiling so wide, Indrid thought his cheeks must have been sore. Dim light came down from the ceiling of the trailer and seemed to illuminate the man in front of him. Despite his initial reservations, it seemed like he would make Duck happy, and in this moment, that was enough for him. They were going to take their time and make sure they did this properly, and if that was the case, then Indrid had nothing to worry about.
This isn't love. Not yet, but someday it could be. He just had to be patient.