Chapter 3: And Bobcat Drove a Green Triumph
by Casey Valhalla
The glass double-doors of the neighborhood market pinged merrily as they slid open, but Mark didn't look up from the magazine he was flipping through. A black motorcycle helmet and a pair of riding gloves landed lightly on the counter beside him.
"Ah, wondered when you were going to pass through here," he commented without raising his head. "Two months early this year, huh?"
"It's never too early," a soft voice replied, laced with the smirk Mark knew would be on the biker's face. "How's your rice rocket?"
"Still in one piece," the cashier said in a challenging tone. "How's the pile of bolts you venture to call a motorcycle?"
A light chuckle sounded. "As much as I'm sure you'd like to hear otherwise, it's purring like a kitten." A folded five-dollar bill was presented beneath Mark's nose. "I'm sure you aren't paid to read magazines and ignore loyal customers."
Mark straightened and popped his back a few times before finally looking directly at the biker in front of him. "I don't think showing up here twice a year like clockwork before and after the Sturgis rally quite accords customer loyalty."
Trowa Barton folded his arms across his black leather jacket, and a smile flickered across his face. "I'd like my coffee now, if it's not too much trouble."
"Sarcasm will get you nowhere," Mark replied coolly, smirking as he turned to the espresso machine. "Double almond latte, coming up."
Trowa brushed his long fall of auburn bangs out of his eyes and turned the magazine on the counter around to flip through the pages. "So, what's the news around town?"
"You forget," the cashier chided as the machine whirred to life, "this is Thedford, Nebraska. Not like anything remotely interesting goes on here."
"Is Jaimie's shop still open?"
"Nope, not enough customers. Had to move the business to North Platte or go broke." Mark filled a carafe with milk and stuck it under the steam nozzle, glancing back occasionally to take in Trowa's disinterested posture. The gleam in the biker's green eyes gave him away.
Trowa flipped another page. "Corina?"
"Set up shop somewhere in South Dakota. Hold on, the name's coming to me." Mark leaned against the counter and rolled his eyes towards the ceiling, still swirling the carafe under the steamer, almost absently. "Mission, that's it. Rosebud Rez."
"I'll remember that."
A comfortable silence fell as the cashier completed constructing Trowa's drink. He set the cup down next to the magazine and started, raising one hand with a finger pointing randomly. "I lied."
"Hm?" Trowa glanced up from his perusal, green gaze curious.
"Something interesting *did* happen, this morning, right here," Mark dropped his finger to tap the countertop in emphasis. "Roz was telling me about it when my shift started, and I forgot."
"Must have had a lot on your mind."
"Or nothing at all, yeah, I know." The cashier smirked again, and was rewarded with a rare smile from the biker. "Some delinquent or other made off with a box of doughnuts this morning."
The one eyebrow not hidden by Trowa's fringe of hair quirked up slightly. "Yeah?"
"Not just any doughnuts, either - the expensive ones, you know, the one's Deb makes?"
"Powdered sugar with raspberry filling?"
"Those are good."
"Very. Roz was furious. Some young punk. She kept swearing up and down he was an Indian. Going off like she does."
Trowa nodded and made a low humming sound in his throat, both an agreement and an urge to continue.
"Anyway, what got her goad was that he distracted her by asking about the cost of money orders and managed to swipe her keys off her belt. Ten minutes later the kid was gone, and so was a pack of smokes from behind the service counter. The keys," he concluded with a grin and a cockeyed glance, "were hanging from the display that said to ask about our low rates on money orders."
The laugh began low in Trowa's chest and bubbled up until he was bent over the counter, wiping his eyes.
Mark snorted. "Knew you'd appreciate a fellow smartass."
"You know what this needs?"
"I'm afraid to ask."
"Give me the matches, Duo."
Heero had already unrolled a sleeping bag across the blue tarp and collapsed on it. He didn't have the energy left to so much as wriggle in place to find a comfortable position on the hard-packed ground. The two urchins huddled over the fire pit never seemed to run out of energy, however.
"What do you think you are, a Boy Scout?"
"Neither of us were ever Boy Scouts, and you know it!"
"Then what makes you think you know how to start a fire?"
"I don't know. You're a fucking Indian! You should have some kind of ingrained genetic knowledge of how to build a fire *without* the use of explosives or flammable materials!"
or noise, either.
Quatre was settled against a log off to the side, his feet stretched out in front of him, legs crossed at the ankles, a brown paper bag at his right side, his guitar case propped against the log on his left. He was sharpening a long stick with a pocketknife, and appeared completely unperturbed by the campfire-related bantering.
"That wood isn't dry, it's not gonna light."
"Oh, so *now* we're the fire-building-master, are we?"
"It's called common sense, kola, not that you'd know anything about it."
Heero growled halfheartedly from his position on the ground, but no one seemed to notice.
"No fire, no dinner," Quatre commented flatly.
Duo and Wufei froze in place, hunched over the fire pit, and simultaneously turned their heads, slowly, to take in the blond. Quatre stared back at them, his blue gaze cool over the top of his sunglasses.
Five minutes later, a small fire was burning merrily in the pit.
Dinner was a simple affair of stick-roasted hot dogs and the bag of red grapes Wufei had picked out at the grocery store. Heero managed to cook his own hot dog and eat it without moving from his place on the sleeping bag. By the time the meal was finished, the western sky was darkening to the reds and oranges of sunset.
About this time Wufei finally expended the last of his energy and dozed off on his own sleeping bag, wrapped up in the old yellow quilt from Heero's trunk. Duo actually fell silent for once, seated next to his sleeping friend and gazing absently at the fire. Still at his place by the log, Quatre had drawn out a small pad of paper from somewhere in his coat and was scribbling away at it with a black fountain pen.
Heero was sure he had only closed his eyes for a few minutes, but when he opened them, it was dark. Duo and Quatre were still in the same places, talking softly to each other. The blond had removed his cap and glasses and was lounging comfortably against his log, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows. The evening was warm, balmy, with the barest hint of a cooling breeze.
"You'd be in hip-waders, walking through the tide pools between the tundra grass," Quatre was saying, his voice low and melodic. "Summer is the best, you'd see red swaths of fireweed across the rolling landscape, and patches of snow, like someone took a paintbrush and added little sweeps of color to the brown." The blond man laughed lightly, gazing up through the treetops at the early twinkles of stars.
Heero blinked across the fire at Duo; the boy had taken his hair out of its braid. A mass of chestnut waves rolled over his back and shoulders, long tendrils hanging against the sides of his face, reflecting gold and red in the firelight like a captured sunrise. The hemp-and-leather wrap dangled over his forehead, brushing back and forth over the boy's crossed legs as he worked a black pocket comb through a handful of hair.
"You'd come to a rocky shoreline," Quatre continued, "crunching under your boots, and look out across the bay. The water is a dark blue-gray, as far as you can see, breaking against the rocks on the low tide wall. The wind would be high, slicing right through your clothes, and you feel a cold so deep it freezes your bones. There'd be white caps across the surface of the water, and the narwhals sounding, and glimmers of orange light from the sun setting behind you."
His voice broke off for a moment, and Heero noticed that Duo had closed his eyes, swaying slightly in place while he continued to comb through his hair. Quatre picked the description up again, his tone stronger.
"It smells like salt water, and frozen earth, and ice. Clean, and cold. You watch the sky darken to purple, until the horizon disappears. All you hear are the breakers and the water lapping around your ankles, the wind whistling in your ears, and the snow geese honking over the bay."
Quatre had fallen silent, and Heero left it that way for a moment, listening to the fire crackle as a log split. Duo opened his eyes after a moment and stopped swaying, staring rather distractedly at the fire.
Once the quiet had grown lighter, Heero shifted slightly and spoke. "You should be a poet."
Quatre and Duo both started at the sound of his voice. Duo grinned brightly at him, and Quatre chuckled lightly.
"I write lyrics, not poetry."
"Where is this place, the one you were describing?" Heero settled himself on his side, propping his head up with his elbow on the rolled-up t-shirt he'd used as a pillow.
"Hudson Bay," the blond replied, a wistful smile across his face. "Along the coast in Nunavut."
"Never been there."
"Sounds cold," Duo piped up, effecting a mock shiver. "How about a little performance now, huh? Please?"
Quatre leaned back further and stretched. "I think you owe me, first. Tell me about this. how did you say it, Paha Sapa?"
Duo waved him away and pulled his mass of hair over one shoulder, combing through it with his fingers. "You'll see it for yourself, soon enough. Me, I wanna see that guitar."
For a moment, Quatre looked as though he would argue - playfully, of course, by the way his eyebrows rose and his eyes brightened. Then, with a rueful sigh, he twisted sideways and began unlatching the guitar case propped against the log. Duo rebraided his hair quickly, winding the wrap back through the plait, his fingers flashing among the chestnut locks. He kept his eyes trained on Quatre, watching as the blond opened the case and lifted the instrument out.
The guitar was black, polished to a high gloss that twinkled in the firelight. Turned upright with the neck pointing straight up at the sky, the body resembled a pear, with a curving divot on the right side as though the pear were trying to thumb a ride. The fingerboard alongside the strings was rich ebony, matching the wood finish, and the neck was inlaid with bars of pearl. The fixtures under the strings were gold, as well as the nuts on the tailpiece, and the knobs along the lower curve of the body indicated that the guitar was electric. A stylized pearl inlay on the tailpiece read 'Gibson.'
Duo crawled closer to Quatre and sat back on his heels for a better view. His eyes were wide, reflecting indigo in the shadows. "That's not-" he started, and reached forwards to touch one of the pearl inlays reverently. "That's not a Black Beauty, is it?" he finished, somewhat breathless.
Quatre laughed out loud, tossing his head back even as he leaned forward to situate the guitar in his lap. "I only wish!" he exclaimed, drawing a pick out from between the strings. "It's a custom Les Paul, that's all." He chuckled a bit. "Not to say it wasn't expensive as hell anyway."
Duo poked the blond in the shoulder. "You gonna play, or make me sit here and look at it?"
The young man narrowed his eyes. "Only if you go to bed."
Duo scrambled backwards and tugged at Wufei's sleeping bag, nudging the other boy over so he could curl up under the blanket beside him. The Chinese boy shifted and grumbled in his sleep, but didn't wake, as though he were used to this kind of abuse to his slumbering person. Duo pulled his sweater off and folded it up under his head, settling in like a child waiting for his bedtime story.
Quatre strummed absently at the guitar a few times, the strings echoing metallically in the still evening. He started plucking a melody, haunting and familiar, his left hand sliding easily along the neck as he picked out the chords. Duo's eyelids were already drooping by the time Quatre began singing softly, in a rich baritone.
"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone. it's not warm when she's away." The blond's voice dipped and soared, still remaining quiet enough that it wouldn't be heard outside the campsite. "And she's always gone too long. anytime she goes away."
Heero lowered his head to rest on his upper arm and relaxed into the music, blinking blearily at the fire. His gaze drifted, and inevitably came to rest on Duo, snuggled up beside Wufei on the other side of the fire pit. The boy was adrift in sleep now, one arm crooked with his hand curled next to his face, the other arm resting across his stomach, rising and falling steadily with every breath.
The Japanese man found his thoughts drifting, and he idly wished Duo was sleeping next to him, instead. In a more awake state of mind he would have immediately dismissed such indulgent ideas, but as it was he allowed the notion to entertain itself, and pictured the boy cuddled up beside him, head tucked under his chin, pressed lightly against his chest. Heero could drape his arm across Duo like so, and wrap his fingers through the plaits of the boy's braid, and allow a warm, fuzzy feeling to creep over him.
warm and fuzzy?
"Wonder this time when she's gone. wonder if she's gone, to stay." Quatre's singing broke through Heero's fantasy neatly. ".this house just ain't no home. anytime she goes away."
Heero resisted the urge to glare at the blond for what would essentially be no reason, and shook his head slightly. What was this warm and fuzzy business? One of the synapses in his brain must not be working properly.
His eyelids dropped closed and the mental image of Duo was still there, still snuggled securely in his arms. He sighed mentally and indulged the fantasy again for a few more minutes, telling himself he'd dismiss it entirely in the morning, once he had a few cups of coffee in his system. The fantasy-Duo had other ideas, however, and after a moment of shifting Heero found himself with a pair of imaginary lips pressed against his.
"Only darkness every day."
Heero's eyes snapped open as Quatre's voice cut through his psyche yet again. He blinked. Wasn't there supposed to be a series of repetitive 'I know I know' lines in there before the last verse? Had he missed them somehow? He reached up to run a hand through his bangs and touched his lips instead, as though he could still feel the imagined touch there.
"Ain't no sunshine when she's gone."
Quatre's voice faded away slowly, and Heero had the sudden urge to slap himself. What the hell was he thinking? That boy was off-limits, plain and simple.
Heero shook his head. There didn't have to be a reason, he just was, and that was final.
With that in mind, Heero allowed himself to drop into a restless sleep, the sound of Quatre's guitar thrumming softly in his ears.
"What is it *this* time?" Wufei was standing on the lip of the driver's door frame, clinging to the roof and the open door for support.
Heero grunted and threw up the hood, reeling back as a cloud of white smoke billowed out. He waved a hand to clear some of it away and get a look at the engine. "Overheated. We'll be here for a while."
"At least we got across the border!" Duo called cheerily from the back seat.
Wufei snorted. "Twenty fucking miles from the border! We've barely been on the road for an hour!"
"If *someone* hadn't slept in," Heero commented gruffly, bent over the engine, "we wouldn't be driving in the dead heat of day."
Duo slapped a hand to his forehead. "Ake iyayapi."
Quatre opened the passenger door and stepped out, leaving his coat on the seat and pushing his sunglasses up his nose to regard the landscape. "It's only a few more miles into Mission, isn't it?"
Wufei hopped down from his perch and folded his arms. "I am *not* pushing again, so don't even ask."
"At least make yourself useful and get one of those jugs of water out of the trunk," Heero shot back. He leaned back over the chassis, examining the radiator reservoir, and was surprised a moment later when Wufei appeared at his elbow, water-filled milk jug in hand. Heero raised his eyebrows but took the jug without comment and filled the reservoir. In the background he could hear Duo climbing out of the car and joining Quatre behind the rear bumper. The pair were chattering on about something or other.
"You have a leak," Wufei said suddenly.
Heero looked from him to the radiator and back, and frowned. "Where?"
The boy was bent over the side of the car, towards the windshield, and pointed at the far side of the reservoir. "Here. See?"
There was a slow drip at the bottom corner, a round lens of water clinging to the underside of the plastic. Heero groaned. "Great. Just my luck."
Wufei's brow drew together into a line for a moment, then he nodded to himself and crouched on the blacktop, digging through his pockets. Heero watched him, perplexed, and his attention was caught by the sound of Quatre's guitar strumming from behind the car. He couldn't quite pick out the words Quatre and Duo were exchanging, but he heard Duo laugh out loud, a note of recognition in the sound, and start clapping in time to whatever the blond was playing.
Wufei dropped a few items on the ground, a spool of fishing wire and a half-full pack of gum. Quatre launched into a long guitar solo, the strings twanging against the pick. Heero didn't recognize the melody, but Duo seemed to be enjoying it, so he shrugged to himself and tried to keep his attention on Wufei.
More random items fell into the pile, a pair of needle-nose pliers, a packet of pretzels, a pink eraser, a shoelace looped and tied against itself. Heero cast a look over his shoulder to see Duo and Quatre seated close together on the gray-faded pavement.
Wufei shook a few paperclips out of his right pocket and reached inside the windbreaker, searching the interior pockets and cursing under his breath. Two packets of hand wipes and a sealed tumbler of salt joined the pile, and Wufei's eyes brightened suddenly. The orange fabric of his jacket wiggled where his fingers were grasping at something. After a moment he yanked out a small roll of electrical tape and presented it to Heero triumphantly.
The sounds of the guitar drifted off into a final chord, and Heero kept and ear on the muffled conversation behind the car, even as he started repairing the leak in the reservoir. Quatre's breathless laugh was a peal of bells, Duo's amused chuckling a staccato against the sound.
Heero handed the roll of tape back to Wufei, who was busy stuffing all the random items back into his coat. The boy looked up, squinting in the sunlight, unlit cigarette caught between his lips, and gave Heero a rare smile. After a moment of feeling caught off-balance, Heero smiled back, and cuffed Wufei lightly on the shoulder. "Thanks. I owe you one."
"No you don't," the Chinese boy snorted. "That was part of the deal. None of us owe each other anything."
Heero blinked. "I don't remember saying that."
"No," Wufei agreed, "but you don't know Duo. Trust me. It's part of the deal."
The boy scrambled off to the rear of the car to join his friend, and Heero dropped the hood back into place, staring down at the chipping blue paint thoughtfully. He's right, he thought, revisiting the urge to smack himself for the second time over the past twenty-four hours. I don't know Duo. Not at all, really.
But I'd like to.
He circled the car to see his three passengers grouped on the pavement, sitting in a semi-circle, the two urchins prodding Quatre for another song. Heero sat slightly apart from them, his back against the bumper. "We got it fixed. Give it a little bit longer to cool down, and we can go."
"Cool," Quatre commented.
The Japanese man did his best not to stare at Duo's brilliant smile and focused on the road instead, though he could swear the lilting tones of Duo's laughter were vibrating against his skin. A single headlight appeared in the distance, the way they had come, and he watched as it steadily grew larger.
"*We* who?" Duo asked, his eyebrows dipping into a mock-frown, almost believable but ruined by his laughter. "Is there an army nearby?"
"Wufei and I," Heero answered idly, still watching the approaching headlight.
"Whaaa?" The Indian's mouth fell open comically. "Since when do *you* know anything about cars, kola?"
The low thrum of an engine accompanied the approaching headlight, the sun reflecting against chrome and a glossy, deep-green finish. Heero squinted and leaned forwards slightly, making out a tall, slim figure in black leather astride a gleaming motorcycle.
"I don't," Wufei replied with a smirk. "The bottomless windbreaker saves the day yet again."
Duo groaned and shook his head. Wufei grinned impishly at him, and Quatre started picking out another tune, a light strum. He eyed Duo over the top of his sunglasses, and the boy's expression brightened.
Heero lost focus on the guitar-playing activities as he watched, and the details of the biker became clearer. A black full-face helmet covered the driver's head, the darkened shield hiding his features. A line of glare from the sun followed the curve of the helmet, like a line of white paint across the surface. A full pair of chaps covered the biker's legs over a dark pair of blue jeans, high boots buckled around his lower legs, and a leather jacket puffed out around the arms and above the tight waist. As the motorcycle drew closer, the driver lifted a hand, palm flat, touching it against his helmet and drawing out in a kind of salute. His hands were also covered in leather, riding gloves with the fingers cut out, and little holes that bared the knuckles.
The music was drowned out as the bike drew to a halt beside them, the engine still rumbling as it idled. The bright chrome and matte black guts of the bike were exposed, the metal brilliant in the sunlight. Green finish covered the front and rear fenders, and most of the gas tank save for a sweep of gold across the front, and a silver inlay with the stylized word 'Triumph.' There was a rack above the rear wheel, behind the pillion seat, where a stack of various bags were held fast by mismatched bungee cords.
The driver's head turned slowly towards them, hidden behind the helmet. A soft voice asked simply, "Car trouble?"
Heero slid to his feet, brushing absently at his legs. "Overheated. Just needs some time to cool down."
The alien-like helmet nodded, and the soft voice asked again, "Need help with anything?"
"Well." Heero considered the question for a moment. "Do you know somewhere nearby where I can get the leak in my radiator reservoir fixed?"
The biker reached up and unbuckled the helmet, lifting it up carefully. A shock of auburn hair fell over his face, and he flicked a finger at it in irritation, green eyes taking in the assembly on the roadside. "I know a mechanic in Mission. I can lead you there, if you like."
Wufei appeared without notice at Heero's elbow yet again, and snorted. "Driving a Triumph? Right. We'll be pushing that *and* the car into town, and getting *both* of them fixed."
The biker's eyes landed on Wufei, cool and appraising. "Not *my* bike."
A tense silence sprung up between the two, Wufei wrinkling his nose in disbelief, the biker's expression remaining perfectly neutral. Neither moved.
Heero finally broke through the standoff with a deferential agreement. "Once the car's cooled down, I'd appreciate it."
The biker's mouth twitched into a small smile for a moment, making a humming sound in the back of his throat. He pulled off his gloves and dropped them in his lap, holding out a hand to Heero. Figuring he had nothing to lose by trusting another complete stranger, the Japanese man stepped forward and shook it, firmly.
"Call me Trowa," the biker said simply, his voice still soft and unassuming. "Trowa Barton."
The other three passengers took over the introductions, and Heero discovered that he was still carrying around the half-full water jug. Chastizing himself for being easily distracted, he turned and popped the trunk hatch open. A box fell out and clattered to the ground. Heero groaned. "Duo, don't throw your trash in the trunk."
"Sorry!" the longhaired boy announced, grinning.
Heero bent to pick up the empty doughnut box, and felt the biker's gaze on him without having to look up. He straightened and stuck the box in a brown paper bag, not turning back to acknowledge Trowa until he had replaced the water jug and closed the hatch.
When he did look up, the biker had a bemused expression, his eyes glittering faintly. "Out of curiosity," he asked slowly, keeping his voice carefully nonchalant, "what kind of doughnuts were those?"
Heero's eyebrows twitched. "Powdered sugar, I think. With raspberry or something in the center. Why?"
"Oh," Trowa drawled, shrugging a bit in a display of disinterest Heero didn't buy for a second. "No reason."
Lakota 101 -
Kola: (koh-LAH) friend, heart-brother
Paha Sapa: The Black Hills
Ake iyayapi: (ah-KAY ee-YAH-yah-pee) again they go/there they go again
Quatre's guitar is a Gibson Les Paul Custom. Check it out here: http://www.gibsoncustom.com/Custom/LesPaulModels/LP_Custom.htm
Trowa drives a Triumph Bonneville T100 with a Goodwood Green/Aztec Gold finish. Check it out here: http://www.triumph.co.uk/site/bikes/page.cfm?BikeID=80
The song used in this chapter was Aint No Sunshine by Will Young, and is used without permission.
In addition, I have never been to Hudson Bay, so if my description is off, I apologize. I garnered what I wrote in there based on a few articles and some pictures. Ideally, I would like to have actually seen all the places I describe in this fic, but unfortunately I can only present myself as a witness to roughly half of them.
Also, if you want to follow the boys' route through western America, here's a quick overview. Our story began in a parking garage in Omaha, Nebraska. Duo and Wufei managed to get as far as North Platte heading west on Interstate 80, where they met Heero. From there the boys took US Highway 83 north to Thedford, continuing on, and met Quatre about a half-mile from the junction of Hwy 83 and US Highway 20, continuing north to Valentine. Incidentally, the campground they stayed at was near Bryan Bridge scenic overlook. Continuing north out of Valentine on Hwy 83, the boys are currently in South Dakota, about three miles south of Mission, in the Rosebud Indian Reservation.
Just to belay any confusion. ^_^