'...like an angel, walk like an angel, talk like an angel... but I got wise...'
Trowa had called him crazy when he had first suggested it. In retrospect, Heero had to agree he probably was. Still, he had made the choice and he was not about to back out. The old sedan was not that old, and the air-conditioning still worked reasonably well - for Massachusetts. Not even an Ohio summer was going to ruin this trip. His vacation was going to be a good one - even though much of it would be spent on the road.
His plan was simple enough; follow the interstates all the way from Boston down to Arizona. That route ought to bring him there with the utmost efficiency - and preferably in the shortest time possible. His destination certainly took precedence over sightseeing along the way.
Heero glanced over at the passenger seat, took note of the artifacts lying there and snorted to himself, making a bitter smile. He recalled how he had frowned at Joan and Harvey when they gave him those things on his last day at the store. It was meant as a gag gift, but the roadmap Heero figured could prove useful. The compass he was less sure about. Even so, he had folded out the map before he left Boston and drawn a line with a thick, purple marker pen along the interstates leading him almost across the continent, winding steadily southwest.
'For when you get lost', they'd said. Heero had frowned at them. Like he could get lost, given how he planned to follow clearly marked highways at all times.
He should have known. As they say, no plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Nor did his sense of direction survive Ohio. Suddenly, all the jokes at the state's expense seemed less funny. Perhaps it was a cursed place.
He had left Boston a bit behind schedule, courtesy of a few last minute items he'd forgotten to pack. Trowa had told him to prepare for all eventualities. Knowing his friend, Heero consequently opted for an extra suitcase, keeping one set of clothes ready to face Alaska rather than Arizona. He'd tossed in two pairs of swimming trunks too, extra towels and even a thin grass-green plastic sheet. His budget depended on cheap lodging underway, and he wasn't about to trust those establishments to stick to strict codes of hygiene.
Westbound on I-90 he had made good time, barely taking a breather to stop for the occasional refill of fuel - be it for the dark blue sedan or himself. Evening had set in by the time he reached Ohio, and after more than ten hours on the road, weariness had seriously grown on him. He'd pulled off the interstate and found himself a nice bed and breakfast at the coast of Lake Erie.
The bed and the breakfast were pretty much in the same class.
At least it was cheap.
Not staying for seconds, Heero had left the B&B around nine and headed back to the highway. He reached Cleveland quickly enough, but that was also where his troubles started. His roadmap proudly proclaimed how he was to follow I-71 out of town and head southeast, aiming for Columbus.
Unfortunately, Heero had misinterpreted a roadsign and made a turn too early, leading him to head south down I-77 instead. While suspicious of his error, he didn't acknowledge it until he reached Canton an hour later. After a pit-stop and some growling, he had checked the map and decided to seek out the thin, grey line out of Canton that seemed to lead him back towards the thick, purple line of the interstate.
The plan to head west along that road might have worked - if he hadn't made a blunder once he reached the city of Wooster, soon enough bewildered out on a yet smaller road, heading southwest.
Again, it took a while for him to notice. He passed through some place the signs barely identified as Loudonville by poorly maintained roadsigns. Foolishly, he ignored the voice in the back of his mind urging him to stop and ask directions and opted to stay on the current road rather than tempt fate with another try at reaching the purple line.
After all, the compass said he was heading southwest, and it appeared to be the right direction for Columbus. It would just take him a while longer.
The way every community Heero passed seemed smaller than the last didn't encourage him. The road he was currently on didn't appear to be on his map at all. The landscape grew ever more rural, albeit farming fields at least suggested he was still close to civilization - or whatever you call rural Ohio. After overtaking his third Amish carriage in ten minutes, Heero started to wonder if he was even within ten miles of a lightbulb anymore, short of the headlights of his car.
The medieval condition of the road and the suppressing speed limit was getting to him - but he was not about to challenge either. The first could wreck havoc on the sedan, and he had no intention of spending the night in an Ohio jail cell after getting caught violating the latter.
Coming over the next hill he slowed down, taking note of a pedestrian along the road. She had apparently heard the car, since her thumb was already up - albeit, she kept on walking ahead without turning around. Heero glanced at the map in the passenger seat, sighed to himself. Perhaps it was time to swallow his pride and ask directions. Stopping to ask a hitchhiker felt less inconvenient than overtaking a horse buggy and ask for the fastest way back to the closest metropolis.
He slowed down. The shift in engine sound was enough to make the hitchhiker pause and look. It was about then it truly dawned on Heero the girl in cut-offs and T-shirt wasn't a girl at all. The long, brown braid that snaked down over his backpack had tricked Heero at the first distant glance. Judging from how the skinny guy's face appeared trapped between that of a boy and that of a man, he couldn't be out of his teens yet.
Heero shrugged. Not that any of that mattered. He shut down the stereo, cutting Elvis off, hit the switch for the power window to lower the glass on the passenger side and slowed the car to a complete stop.
The young man leaned down to peer inside, his expression mimicking the yellow smiley at his chest. He rested his hand on the window frame, and the brim of his cap butted against the roof.
"Where to?" Heero casually asked. He wasn't about to admit he was lost right away. Perhaps he could work his way around it, somehow.
The young man appeared to think it over for a second. "Where are you headed?"
Heero made a mild frown, not sure how to take that question. "Out of state," he answered truthfully enough. The details were of no importance to this stranger.
The baffled expression and the big grin suggested they did. "Seriously?"
So did the hitchhiker. "Then that's where I'm going."
Heero's frown shifted towards a scowl, and he could feel the hairs at the back of his neck bristle. He hit the switch for the power window and put the car in gear.
The man's grin vanished instantly, but he kept his hand on the window glass as it rose. "Hey, hey, hey-"
Heero gave the man his best glare. Joan had once berated him how that could scare away any troublesome customer - as well as any others at the store. He'd told her that was why she and Harvey dealt with the customers instead of him. At least inventory and accounting books weren't as easily intimidated by a scowl.
The hitchhiker sighed, pulled his hand back as the last half of the window went steadily up. "Fine, go," he stated sullenly and took a step back. "Just... Look, you're the third one today that has brushed me off and driven away. Could you at least tell me what I'm doing wrong here? It's the thumb I'm supposed to use, right?"
At but a finger's width gap left, Heero let go of the button, taking some pity on the guy. Still, he remained wary. He kept his eyes peeled and his foot on the gas, just in case. "You're too eager, that's why."
"You're too eager to get into the car. What you just said - it made you sound like a carjacker."
The way the man gaped suggested that thought had never occurred to him. Not an experienced hitchhiker, then. Heero would have thought differently; the way the fellow had fooled him had undoubtedly worked earlier that morning too. Perhaps the others had taken off once they realized he was a man, not a woman. Heero didn't know - and didn't care.
The guy cursed and clenched his fists before looking away, sighing. "Okay... Thanks, pal. Sorry to have bothered you." Keeping his eyes on the man, Heero nodded. He was about to push the button again when the hitchhiker looked over his shoulder. "I'm not, you know."
Heero cocked his head, studied the guy with curiosity. "Not what?"
"Not a thief." He turned around. "Do I look like a thief?"
Heero gave him a quick once-over. Indeed, the skinny guy did not. The Levis cut-offs and the black cotton T-shirt with the chipper yellow face didn't make him look particularly intimidating. The dark sunglasses tucked over his forehead, right under the brim of the black cap, made the hitchhiker look more like a goofball than a criminal. The small, dark green backpack wasn't exactly something Heero thought a felon would carry, either - but then again, how many thieves other than the occasional pickpocket or shoplifter had he ever encountered? "Well, you do wear black," he finally answered.
The man tilted his head, gave Heero a glance, then looked down at himself and chuckled. "Okay, I'll give you that much - but I'm not a thief, and I'm not a goth or a satanist, either." Brief pause, straightening up, arms akimbo. "Look, I'm not armed or anything. Hell, you can frisk me if you want, I'm clean. I'm not carrying." Flash of a grin. "Well, I've got a Swiss army knife in my backpack somewhere, but that's all."
Heero hesitated, his finger on the button. He considered closing the window and driving away - except, there was another matter he'd almost forgotten - and this guy found just the right time to remind him.
"You're not lost, are you?"
Heero clenched his teeth, loathed to admit it outright. "Why do you ask?"
"You don't have Ohio license plates, that's all. I mean, Massachusetts, all the way out here?"
Heero's one-handed grip on the steering wheel tightened, and he stared down the road, expecting to see a buggy come over the hill any minute. "Where were you headed?"
"Where were you going? I can't imagine you'd start walking unless you had a destination in mind - something closer than out of state."
There was a soft chuckle. "Goes to show how little you know me..." the man mumbled. "Well, for starters, I was heading for a city a bit down the road. Place called Mount Vernon. Was told there'd be a bus depot there."
Heero nodded. "Fine. I can give you a lift to the bus depot, if you help me find the fastest way to Columbus."
He was met with a grin. "You got a deal."
Again, Heero gave a curt nod. Heero moved over to unlock the passenger door. The hitchhiker opened it and quickly took off his backpack. Heero folded the map together and put it and the compass on the dashboard, allowing his passenger to sit down. The bag went between his legs. Heero gave him another distrustful glance, but a deal was a deal. "Fasten your seatbelt," he cautioned.
The man did as ordered. "Okay - first things first. From what the bus driver told me, this road will take you first to Mount Vernon, and from there you should easily find your way to Columbus. I'm hoping to catch a bus heading that way, actually."
Heero had already begun driving, making reasonable progress amidst the wheat and corn fields, the occasional grazing cow or sheep disturbed sufficiently to look up from their patches of green. "The bus driver?" he asked, curious.
He nodded. "Yeah. I was on a bus heading south, but it broke down back there, outside some place called Jelloway. The bus driver called for a tow truck, but it could take all day before it showed up. Given that I was the only passenger left, the driver didn't really have much to offer me. I could have stayed around, but that wouldn't exactly have gotten me any further. He suggested I walk to the next town and catch another ride there. Got a refund on my ticket."
"Were you headed for Mount Vernon in the first place?"
The man shrugged. "Honestly, I didn't know where that bus was headed. Just got on the first, best bus this morning." Snicker. "Sure wasn't a Greyhound, though. Won't make that mistake again."
Heero frowned. "You're travelling without a destination?"
He made a saddened smile. "Kinda... Just... had to get away for a bit, that's all. Was thinking I'd see some more of this country." He turned to look at Heero. "Planned on getting to California, eventually." Sensing Heero was about to enquire further, the hitchhiker went on the offensive. "So, where are you coming from?"
Heero considered lying, but didn't see the point. "Boston," he answered truthfully.
The man grinned, gave Heero a once-over, took note of his beige slacks and crisp, white short-sleeved shirt. "Let me guess - MIT student, right?"
Soft frown, hard look down the road. "I didn't go to college."
"Really?" He shrugged. "Well, you still look like it." They passed another roadsign, fast approaching Mount Vernon. The man grinned as he read it. "Anyway - looks like you're heading for Academia now though, Boston."
Heero offered his passenger a glare after following his pointing, but he didn't comment beyond that.
Said passenger entwined his fingers, turned his hands around and cracked his knuckles. Heero winced. "So... Where are you headed after Columbus?"
"Flagstaff," Heero answered. "I'm going to visit some friends."
Disbelief came across the guy's face. "Flagstaff? Wait, you don't mean Flagstaff, Arizona, do you?"
Heero's jaw tensed up for a second. "Yeah."
That earned him a look of skepticism. "...and you decided to drive to Arizona?"
He quickly nodded. Heero did not want to go into details. Stubborn pride made sure of that.
Surprise shifted towards a grin. "I guess you must really like driving, huh?"
Heero flipped the stereo back on and focused on the road ahead. There were some things he'd rather not talk about - this being one. Having been called a fool by Trowa was bad enough. As for the passenger, he decided to deflect any further attempts at conversation. They would reach the bus depot soon enough - and then, he would be off to Columbus at best possible speed, alone. He had lost time to make up for.
Trowa was waiting for him - and Quatre probably even more so.
He would do well to avoid being labeled a missing person at this rate.
'We can't go on together...'
Mount Vernon turned out to be of a reassuring size, compared to the last few communities Heero had driven through. Grazing areas and wheat fields gave away to brick, concrete and pavement. It was good to see a city again - and other cars, for that matter. Even more comforting was the sign marking a road out of town headed for Columbus.
Heero had found the bus depot quickly enough and stopped at the gas station across the street, deciding this was as good a time as any to fill up. He had said goodbye to his passenger and watched him run off. Heero popped the gas cap, stepped out and fed the pump a couple of bills.
The car's hunger attended to, he decided to get something for himself. A quick trip into the station saw him return with a handful of candy bars, a couple of soda cans and four bottles of water. He wasn't all that hungry, but the sunshine was getting to him, despite the best efforts of the air-conditioning. He checked his watch. One thirty PM glared back at him in the LCD display. The cool nightfall was still a good distance away. Briefly, he considered the advantage of driving during the night rather than the day.
He had been a bit surprised to see the hitchhiker by his car again, leaning in against the hood, a shaky smile on his lips. "Uh - hi again."
Heero's brows furrowed slightly. "What, didn't you find a bus heading for Columbus?"
The young man scratched a spot at the back of his neck, stared into the asphalt. "Well... There'd be a bus heading there tonight, but..." He looked up. "Are you seriously driving all the way to Flagstaff?"
Heero gave a curt nod. He put the plastic bags containing his purchases down while he unlocked the car door.
"Uh - do you think - could I keep riding with you to Arizona?"
Heero had been about to pick up the bags, but the handles slipped out of his hand. He stared at the hitchhiker like he was crazy, then frowned. "Arizona isn't exactly a daytrip away," he stated.
The guy looked frustrated. "I know that - look, I wouldn't be a bother. I could sleep in the car, and-"
"I would not let you sleep in my car," Heero countered sternly.
"Fine, I'll pay for my own room at the stopovers." He paused briefly, looked at Heero with some concern. "You don't plan on spending nights at the Waldorf Astoria or something, do you?"
Heero shook his head. "I'm travelling on a budget, too. I was thinking of stopping at whatever motels I came across on the way."
The hitchhiker pushed away from the car, shifted his weight from one foot to the other and hesitantly looked at Heero again. "...so... can I go with you?"
This was certainly not in Heero's plans. He had no intention of being slowed down by some stray passenger. It was bad enough he'd lost several hours on the current detour. Still, he found the guy hard to refuse. The pleading, expectant expression on his face made him seem far more of a boy than a man, and Heero couldn't help but feel pity. He sighed in defeat. "I want to get to Flagstaff as quickly as possible," he started, giving the guy a hard look. "That means I'll be driving for as long as possible in a stretch. For instance, I'm still planning on reaching St. Louis today. I'm not going sightseeing or taking any unnecessary stops or detours, got that?"
Sensing he was winning, the hitchhiker grinned. "That suits me just fine. Can't wait to see California."
"And if you get on my nerves," Heero warned, "I withhold the right to toss you off at the nearest bus or train station - agreed?"
The chuckle was followed with palms momentarily raised in defense. "Hey, I'll be good - quiet as a mouse; you won't even know I'm sitting next to you." For emphasis, he made a jest of zipping his lips shut.
Somehow, Heero suspected that promise would be hard kept. Still, he felt sorry for the kid. There had to be a reason he wanted to travel across the whole continent - and Heero had to admit to himself that he was curious as to why. Plus, the guy didn't seem dangerous - but looks could be deceiving. He had already thought the guy a girl once, for instance.
The hitchhiker extended his hand. "So - we got a deal, then?"
Heero looked at the offered hand, at the man it belonged to. Hesitating for a minute, he met him in a handshake.
As soon as their hands parted, the guy was making his way around the car. "Great! Then, let's get a move on, Boston! Arizona is waiting for us!"
Heero unlocked the car, opened the door, gave a soft grunt. "My name is not Boston. My name is Heero Yuy."
The hitchhiker nodded. "In that case, glad to meet you, Heero. I'm Duo - Duo Maxwell." He made a mock salute, opened the passenger side door and ducked in as Heero gave a brief nod of acknowledgement.
Heero put his purchases away in the back, got seated and put the car in drive. Beside him, Duo was already unfolding the map. As the compass threatened to slide off the dashboard for the third time since it had been put there, Duo grabbed it and tossed it in the glove compartment, flashing another big smile at Heero. "Don't worry, Heero - I'll guide you safely all the way to Flagstaff. First, like the sign says, take the next road on the right. Looks like that's the fastest way back to the interstate. We'll leave Ohio behind in no time, you'll see."
Heero didn't quite share Duo's enthusiasm, but he made the turn as advised.
Columbus was calling.
'...you can burn my house, steal my car...'
"Okay, take the next exit on the right, towards Dayton. That ought to get us to Indianapolis, right along this purple line of yours."
Heero nodded and prepared to do as ordered. This way, they would skid the outskirts of Columbus and follow interstate 70 right into St. Louis, barring another refuelling stop. It was nice to be back on the right road. While there was the occasional Sunday driver to overtake, at least there were no horse-drawn carriages in sight. He stepped on the gas, bringing them to the brink of legality, if not a notch above.
"Duo?" he stared.
"Could you hand me one of the cans of Coke from out back? They're in one of the plastic bags behind my seat."
He grinned. "Sure." Duo hastily folded the map away and tugged on the safety belt to allow himself to lean over. The next turn caught Duo unaware, and he grabbed for Heero's seat for support, ending up with a shaky hold of his shoulder instead. "Sorry about that..." Duo made another attempt.
"Get one for yourself while you're at it," Heero offered.
Duo didn't have to be asked twice, sitting back up with two cans in his hands. He popped one and offered it to Heero. "Sure you can handle one-handed driving?"
He sounded off a snort. Glancing at the can, he took aim and grabbed it. "As long as the road is this straight, I think I can manage..." He downed a swig, glad at the sooth it provided his throat.
Duo snickered, popped his own can and raised it in salute. "And thanks."
Half a can later, Duo nodded towards a roadsign. "Looks like our exit is coming up."
Heero nodded in acknowledgement. "Roger that..."
Silence fell for a moment again.
"Just where do you come from? Cleveland?"
Duo shook his head and took another chug of his Coke. "Nope - Started out of Pittsburgh yesterday. Slept on the bus, switched when I got to Cleveland." He stopped after a single chuckle. "Looks like I wasn't quite awake when I did that, though. Sure didn't get aboard the bus to Columbus."
Giving Heero a quick glance, Duo's grin remained. "What, you got a problem with Pittsburgh, Boston?"
Heero return an equally brief frown. "What made you take off to see the US of A by bus?"
Duo stiffened momentarily, looked ahead on the highway and shrugged. "Woke up and wanted to see the world, I guess..." Before Heero could ask another question, he yawned loudly and elaborately, making a sheepish grin right after. "I'm still a bit tired - mind if I take a nap?"
Heero shook his head. He wasn't dumb, he could recognize avoidance when he saw it. Even Duo had to realize Heero pegged him for a runaway. At least he didn't seem like a thief - not that Heero was ready to trust this stranger. "No," he answered.
"Okay," Duo replied, reaching for the wheel to recline the seat. "Wake me if you need me, or when we reach Indianapolis."
Until the outskirts of Indianapolis, Duo's soft breathing made for a distraction. Heero gave him the occasional look, wondering just who he had picked up - and if he'd get rid of the extra passenger before Arizona.
At least, Duo hadn't been a big bother so far.
But the day was still young.
'...that's when those blue memories start calling...'
Half an hour of silence out of Indianapolis, Duo was getting progressively bored. He'd picked up a magazine from his backpack, but reading while riding in a car didn't sit quite right with his stomach, in the end. He put the magazine away and stared out at the traffic. He skimmed the signs as they passed while he picked at the edge of the map, rifling the pages.
That at least proved mildly entertaining, because he could see the faint twitch the annoying sound produced around Heero's eye. Even so, he didn't want to push it. Duo trusted his ride would make good on the promise of eviction if he became too much of a nuisance.
"So..." he began. "What's your friends like? The ones you're going to visit, I mean? Old friends of yours?"
Heero gave him a puzzled glance, unsure what Duo would possibly want to know that for. Idle conversation was not his forte. "I've known Trowa for as long as I can remember. He always seemed half a head taller than the rest of us, but that was because he had an early growth spurt. A real athlete, too - nearly all the sports teams at school wanted him, but he never took those offers. He shocked us all by taking music classes instead." He grinned. "He's a good guy - a bit reserved, but very determined when he knows what he wants."
"You went to school together?"
He nodded. "Right through high school. He went to college for two years, and after that, he moved to Flagstaff with his boyfriend."
Duo looked taken aback by that. "Wait - Boyfriend? You've got fag friends?"
Heero's grip on the steering wheel tightened, and he softly pushed his foot on the brake, slowing down. Thinking back to any number of fistfights he'd had at Trowa's side in senior year, he gave Duo a fierce glare. If Duo was of the same mettle as those guys... "Do you have a problem with that?"
Duo shirked back, put both palms up in surrender and formed a deflective grin. "Nope, no problem at all. I've got nothing against gay people, Boston." He chuckled softly as Heero's face mellowed down again. "I'm just not very PC, is all. Sorry, meant no offense."
After some consideration, Heero nodded at that.
Half a minute of eerie silence followed. "So... the boyfriend, what's he like?"
He started a quirky smirk. "Quatre... Quatre is... deceptive, you could say." He glanced at Duo, then at the road. "Well, he's devious, and he has this whole 'innocent' look about him - but he sure as hell isn't. He goes after what he wants too. Turned out he wanted Trowa. I'm not really sure which of them wanted the other first. I'm pretty sure Trowa chose the school band over the sports teams precisely because Quatre played the violin in the band."
Duo nodded sagely. "Or perhaps he wanted to avoid being chummy with a bunch of sweaty, naked guys on a regular basis."
Heero flagged a brow at Duo.
"Showers," Duo hastily explained. "Well, I figure that'd be hell for a horny gay boy, right? Watching a lot of naked straight boys and getting turned on, but not be allowed to show the hard-on that results in?"
Heero didn't speak, merely kept a curious eye at Duo. Was the guy fidgeting?
"Anyway - what instrument does Trowa play?"
"The flute," Heero casually mentioned.
Duo snorted a laugh.
He flashed a glare. "What's so funny?"
A broad grin met him. "Uh, nothing, nothing at all. Flute, huh? I'm sure he's pretty good at it."
Heero nodded. "From what I've heard, yeah. Quatre says he's got excellent finger control and just the right, soft blow."
At that, Duo couldn't help himself anymore, laughing out aloud, earning another glare. "Look, I'm sorry," he said as soon as he regained control of himself, "But did you hear what you just said? Think about it, Heero!"
He did. And flushed a bit as he tugged on a smirk again.
"I suppose you were Trowa's confidante too, huh? Sounds like you're his best friend."
Pausing for a moment, Heero followed up with a weak sigh. "I probably was - until he hooked up with Quatre, at any rate. A friend can't quite compete with a lover." He shook his head. "He never told me he was gay, though. I had my suspicions, but that's not the sort of thing you ask a friend about."
"...then how did you find out?"
He made a lopsided grin. "I walked in on them. Him and Quatre. I was over at his house to ask if he wanted to go see a movie. His parents' car was gone and the door was unlocked, so I let myself in. I figured he was in his room, deep in some book or another, like he usually was. Instead, I found him in the living room, on top of Quatre, engaged in a serious make-out session." Heero let go a singular chuckle. "They didn't even notice me until I made a fake cough. Then they sure did. Everything crashed down after that, since they both decided to go public."
"Were they tossed out by their folks?"
Heero shook his head. "No. They both have fairly understanding parents. I know Quatre's father is uneasy about the whole thing, but Quatre is his only son, and he's still proud of the man he's become." Pause. "Quatre's father runs a fairly sizable enterprise - that's why he and Trowa moved to Arizona. Quatre is showing off his skills at that branch of the family business in order to take over the whole thing someday. Trowa had to be at his side, of course."
Duo snickered a bit, but there was something fake about his mirth. Eerie silence returned for a few minutes. "Heero...?"
"Are you gay?"
At that, Heero's foot slipped off the accellerator. He gave Duo half a frown, put the hammer back down. "What are you getting at?"
He made a defensive grin. "Nothin' - I was just wondering, that's all. I'm not dumb, I know having gay friends doesn't mean that you're gay yourself, but..."
Three times during Duo's chatter, Heero had given him hard glances, finding it difficult to focus on traffic. "No," Heero finally answered. "No, I'm not gay."
"Ah," Duo tersely replied, considering his follow-up. "Got a girlfriend, then?"
Heero thought the question over, smirked to himself and shook his head.
"Really?" Duo answered, sounding surprised. "I mean, I would have thought the girls would have been all over you, 'cause you're pretty good looking..." His grin turned decidedly mischievous. "Or did your personality chase them away?"
Heero didn't dignify that with an answer beyond a weak grunt. He'd heard from several people that he came off as a bit cold; that you had to get to know him to see his softer side. Trowa had said it, Relena had said it, Quatre, Joan and Harvey had said it, all of them in different ways and magnitudes.
"Have you ever even had a girlfriend, Boston?"
Heero gave Duo a long glare, then focused his eyes back on the road where they belonged. "I'll have you know that I've had several girlfriends - and stop calling me Boston already."
Duo's smile suggested he wouldn't. "But not many, right?"
It dawned on Heero he was beginning to loathe his passenger. Quiet as a mouse, indeed. Worse, this mouse was good at picking him apart. "What's it to you, anyway?"
He shrugged. "I'm just curious, that's all. I mean, we still got a long road ahead together, so we might as well talk a bit, maybe get to know each other. It'll pass time. Talking is what people do, right?"
"So, tell me about them. Your girlfriends - I mean, your ex girlfriends."
Heero frowned and gave Duo another harsh look.
Undeterred, Duo pushed on. "If you'd like to, that is..."
Heero sighed and shook his head.
"Please?" Duo added in a quieter tone of voice. "I'm curious - and bored," he amended. "I'm sure there are some things you'd want to ask me too. You scratch my back, I scratch yours?"
There certainly were questions for Duo in the back of his mind, but pride intervened, not allowing him to disclose that information. Still, what harm could it do? "Fine," he gave in. "I'll tell you a little about my first girlfriend - Relena."
"Great!" Duo perked up instantly. For a second, Heero could have sworn the young man jumped in his seat. "What does she look like?"
"Long blonde hair, blue eyes, thin nose - an impeccable dresser, too. Unwavering determination, a real talent with words and people. She was the star of the school debate team - got them to the state finals twice. Her parents are well off, but like Quatre, she was sent to public school. I don't know why. I never dared ask."
"Rich, stylish and a good looker... Sounds like quite the catch."
Heero shifted his hands along the steering wheel, going for a lower, firmer grip. "I suppose you could say that - except, she was always the one going after me, not the other way around."
He nodded softly. "She had a crush on me since we were six years old. Being a fairly normal boy, I found that sort of attention incredibly embarrassing - I mean, she was a girl."
Snicker to his right.
"I never approved of her feelings back then - I kept rebuffing her advances, told her to get lost way more than once. A few times, I even threatened to kill her." He caught the look of surprise on Duo's face in the corner of his eye. "That usually happened after she'd caused me some real embarrassment because of her fawning. It just wasn't cool to be with girls when you were ten."
Duo smiled secretively. "Yeah, I know what you mean..."
"Anyway... We inevitably hit puberty, and she started evolving..." The word stuck in his throat. "...certain things," he compromised, "And I started having an interest in- in-"
"Certain things," Duo finished for him, chuckling all the while. "Sheesh, pal - you can say boobs." Grin closing on a leer. "Or are you more of a cunt man?"
Heero's face was warming up nicely, and without looking in the rearview mirror, he was pretty sure it showed, too. Trowa always pointed out that the funniest part about teasing Heero was the look on his face during and right after. "Now, that is none of your business," he answered irritably, cheeks turning ever more reddish.
"Oh, come on... Big tits, long legs - what's your favorite pleasure of the female body?"
Heero didn't dignify the question with an answer, but sensed Duo was still waiting for one. "What about you?" he asked in an effort to buy time - and to avoid answering.
Duo started to answer, but the words got caught in his throat. Instead he looked ahead into the dashboard, a sad smile forming on his face. "Well... I guess I'm more of an ass man, myself..." He made a quick glance to Heero at the impending silence and opted not to let Heero dwell on that for long. "So, what happened with you and the princess? I take it you got together?"
"Yeah, we did..." He sighed. "And then I suppose we grew up. She realized I wasn't the knight in shining armor she'd dreamt me to be, and given how we'd grown up together, I realized she felt almost like my sister, not someone I'd want to- to-"
"Fuck," Duo helped.
"Kiss," Heero substituted, the color of his cheeks not subsiding. Never mind how Duo's choice of words was closer to the truth - they had never gotten quite that far, though. "Relena and I broke up right before high school. Trowa keeps saying it was the biggest scandal of junior high, the one thing nobody thought could happen." He shook his head and gave Duo a quick look. "He's joking, of course. It wasn't a big deal, not even to Relena and me. We've remained friends since then. She moved to Washington for an internship last year. Haven't seen her too often after that."
Duo's whistle pitched steadily down. "Going up in the world, huh?"
Heero made a faint smile. "You could say that... I'm not sure if she's aiming for speechwriter or front-row politician yet. She could easily do either of those things - or both."
"Suppose I should remember her name, huh?"
He snorted softly. "If you ever read the name 'Relena Peacecraft' on a ballot, vote for her. She's good, hard-working and truthful. She's what all politicians should be like." He grinned. "I keep telling her that's why she won't become one. I've teased her about lacking the backbone for the dirtier plays in politics." Glancing at Duo, he kept the grin. "That's usually when she kicks me in the shin and tells me to shut up."
Duo started laughing. "Yeah, she sounds good alright..."
Looking down the road, Heero breathed out a mellow sigh. "She is..."
Duo gave him a moment of respite, but he was not quite done. "And the next?"
"Your next ex?"
"Oh... That'd be Evelyn. She was a bombshell. Brunette, dark green eyes, a bit on the short side with a compact but soft body... We didn't last more than two weeks, but she taught me a lot of things."
Duo made a big grin. "Oh yeah? Like what?"
He smirked. "I'll leave that to your imagination."
There was a flicker of brows. "Sure you dare to?"
"Can't be worse than reality." His leer almost matched Duo's. "After that, there was Rachel in junior year. She was Evelyn's opposite, in most ways. Curly brown hair, bright blue eyes, at least an inch taller than me. Really shy, awfully cute. Trowa set us up. We dated a while, but it never really got serious. Broke up sometime during spring." Heero shifted his hands along the wheel. "There were a few more, both during high school and after, but none of those relationships lasted." He shook his head, looked at Duo. "Enough about my past flings - what about you?"
Duo shrugged. "Not much to tell, really. Went on a few dates, got rejected a couple of times, got lucky on occasion... Kinda mean to say this, but there's only one girl I've been with that strikes me as worth mentioning."
"Hilde Schbeiker." Duo laughed a bit at Heero's expression. "Yeah, the name's a mouthful, I know. She's a great girl, though. Got a lot of spunk in her. My height, filled out in all the right places. Her eyes are almost a shade of purple - which is fine, since that's her absolute favorite color. She looks good in purple. Her hair is dark, almost black - looks kinda like yours, only a bit less messy."
Suddenly self-conscious, Heero ran a hand through his bangs and backwards. It was not his fault his hair didn't always cooperate with his intentions.
"We split up in junior year." Duo's grin saddened over before he raised the barricades again. "Guess you could say we found out we weren't meant for each other, after all. We stayed friends. Became a bit harder after I moved last summer, but we talk on the phone and online fairly often."
"And where does she live?"
Duo shrugged. "Well, her family moved too - I think she's somewhere in Oregon now, but she's applied for college. Bet she's gonna make it, too. Anyway, I-" He stopped short, looking ahead, grinning. "Look at that, Heero - it's a river! A big one! We've reached St. Louis!"
"So soon?" Heero checked his watch, seven thirty-three PM glaring at him. "This can't be right..." He looked ahead, swept across the horizon as they approached the bridge. "This is the Mississippi...?"
"Must be," Duo stated. "I mean, we headed right out from Indianapolis, and kept on going after that last pit-stop just outside town, and-"
Whatever he had to say next got caught in his throat, as he'd just caught sight of the sign welcoming them to Kentucky. Swallowing hard, he slowly ventured a glance to his left.
As they crossed the Ohio river, it was clear Heero had noticed, too.
Grinning sheepishly, Duo wondered if Louisville had any west-bound bus routes.
'I hitch-hiked all the way down to Memphis...'
"Again, I apologize," Duo began, his fifth attempt by now, the first four having gone unanswered short of Heero's sour face. "I don't know what happened - I mean, except for that brief stop after Indianapolis, we never drove off I-70. I don't know how we ended up on I-65."
They'd gone through a large cloverleaf and entered Louisville, upon which Heero had taken the first possible off-ramp and scouted for a place to park. They'd ended up near the riverfront before stopping. All the while, Heero hadn't said a word. His face spoke aplenty, though.
Heero had taken the map and studied it intently while Duo kept talking, very much worried of losing his ride westward. Using the magnifying glass attached in the square compass, he focused intently on Indianapolis. His expression shifted from discontent to indifference. He sighed, folded the map away, wishing he'd paid attention to the compass earlier. There was no way he would ever tell Joan or Harvey about this. "It's not your fault. You're right, we never left I-70 back there."
"I-70 became I-65 in Indianapolis. The roads merge when they pass through the city. We were supposed to have made a right turn somewhere in there to get back on I-70." After tossing the map and compass in Duo's lap, Heero leaned forward to tap his forehead to the top of the steering wheel repeatedly. "Fuck..."
"Uh..." Duo wisely began, unsure of what to say without risking his ride. Tentatively, he reached out for Heero's shoulder. "There, there... It's only a bit out of the way - there's an interstate heading west from here, right?"
Heero gave him a short-lived glare out of the corner of his eye before he slowly straightened back up. When he glanced at Duo's hand, it was hastily removed.
"Look, I'm sorry I missed the sign. I promised I'd be the navigator, but-"
Heero tentatively shook his head. "You were still groggy after your nap. Should have seen it myself."
Silence. "Well... Done is done, right?"
He let go a soft snort, started half a smile. "Unfortunately, you're right." He took a slow breath. "Well, I could use a break from the wheel. Hungry?"
Duo flashed a lopsided smile. "Gotta admit I'm tired of chocolate bars. We've been driving for... how long?"
Heero checked his watch. "It's been more than five hours since we left Mount Vernon. Did you have lunch?"
He held up a carefully folded piece of candy wrapper.
Smirking, Heero nodded. "Same as me, then. Definitely time for a good meal." He made a quick look around. "So, where should we go? There's a Subway over there, and I'm pretty sure we passed a McDonald's a block back."
Duo put the map and compass away in the glove compartment. "Well, given where we are, I suppose we should scout for a KFC joint - but I'm not really in the mood for chicken."
Despite his mood, Heero snickered.
"There's a diner over there," Duo said, pointing across the parking lot.
Heero squinted, a frown in close pursuit. The building looked like an oversized trailer, all the sharp edges smoothed away. More than anything, the shabby diner looked like a lost relic from the seventies. Apparently, the redevelopment project along the river hadn't quite reached here yet, judging from the ramshackle dark cluster of riverfront warehouses and storage tanks the place overlooked. "Sure that's even safe?"
He chuckled. "Hey, don't judge a book by it's cover, Boston."
Duo sent his seatbelt whirling up. "Yeah, I know. Come on - let's go, Heero."
Heero grabbed his arm when he was halfway out the door. "Fine, I'll come along - but I'm going to park the car where I can see it from a window, okay?"
He shrugged. "Just fine by me."
'...then one night in desperation the young man breaks away, he buys a gun, steals a car, tries to run...'
The window was crystal clear, easing some of Heero's concerns. Moreover, the sheer number of them along with the liberal lighting of the place made sure even the car out on the lot remained well-lit. Theft seemed unlikely.
Heero had half-expected the interior to be a smelly, stained grease-pit, with the wallpaper coming off the walls and clean air a rarity amidst the haze of cigarette residues. He'd been wrong. If anything, the tables, seats, bright green and white floor tiles and matching wallpaper were so scrubbed down it looked more like an operating theater - all the light and the waitress' anything but revealing uniform only added to that impression.
The place was also nearly devoid of people. After a look at the short menu suggesting a dependency on quick reheating, Heero surmised whomever owned the place kept open for business out of sheer tenacity rather than a wish for profit.
The radio on the shelf behind the counter was playing at a low volume, but the station was fond of easy listening music, and it echoed rather well in the open structure. It was distracting enough that Heero didn't catch Duo's order, but the strange look the waitress gave him made Heero wonder if Duo had asked for things far off the menu - fresh lobster perhaps, or Dom Perignon, or a can of instant noodles.
He quickly placed his own order and hoped the plate of ham, eggs and potatoes would look as appetizing in reality as the illustration photo. At least he could see a sample of the apple pie desert standing under a clear plastic tin on the counter, and that looked appealing enough.
Their drinks arrived first. Heero nodded contently as the waitress handed him his root beer, but caught himself staring at Duo's bland glass of water after his first sip. Still, he let it slide. Water is good for the body, there was no questioning that - albeit, he preferred something with more flavor himself. He had wanted tea, but doubted this place carried any of the sorts he preferred. It was better to play it safe.
They joked a bit about the interior, conversation soon enough drifting to the road ahead.
"I still want to reach St. Louis today."
Duo glanced up at the round clock on the far wall, shook his head with exasperation. "It's almost eight. There's no way we can reach St. Louis before midnight - not without some major speeding."
Heero shrugged. "We won't know until we try."
He grunted softly.
Further arguments were prevented by the arrival of their food. The waitress brought Heero's plate first - and at that point, his stomach took control of the rest of him. He wolfed down of the dish until the hollow sensation started to fade.
Pausing for a swig of root beer, he was about to tell Duo how great the ham tasted - only to feel his satisfaction fade at the sight of Duo's plate. He'd barely noticed the small salad, thinking it was an appetizer and not a main course - but judging from the tiny helping of fries and sausages Duo was currently picking at, he had to wonder. It looked straight out of the kiddie menu. The way Duo had all but drowned the dish in ketchup didn't help. For a moment, Heero wondered if Duo was a believer in the theory that anything is edible with enough mashed tomato covering the taste. Then he remembered the ketchup was free.
Done with his main meal, Heero shuffled his plates and brought up the apple pie. His fork made contact with the crust, but didn't cut in. Instead, he suddenly realized it had no counterpart at the other end of the table. "Aren't you having desert?"
Duo mopped up the last of the ketchup with a small chunk of sausage. "Nah."
His brows furrowed. "You mean, that's all you're going to have? A bit of greens and a helping of junk food?"
He scratched the side of his jaw. "Well... I'm just not that hungry," he excused himself, washing down the meat with water.
"We still got a long drive ahead of us. You really should eat-"
The mask of a grin disappeared in an instant, irritation fast replacing it. Duo sighed and dropped the fork to his clean plate. "Fine - want the truth? I'm trying to save money, that's all. I don't have all that much to start with, and if I'm going to afford those motel rooms, I figured I have to save my money where I could."
Heero cocked his head a notch, studied Duo's face for a moment. "Can't you call home for more money, or something?"
At that, Duo visibly cringed, hiding himself behind another helping of water.
Heero was not deterred. "Tell me the whole truth, Duo. You really are a runaway, aren't you?"
The close to empty glass hit the table a bit harder than intended and Duo immediately took to playing with it, balancing it off to one side, spinning it in circles, putting it upright only to tilt it again. It took a good five minutes before he finally met Heero's look, sighing as Heero's questioning mien remained. "It... depends. I'm over eighteen, so I'm an adult now. Plus, it's not like he'll even notice I'm gone - not until he realizes the trash isn't taken out, or something like that."
Heero leaned back, his face relaxing again. Perhaps he should just have gone on driving back in Ohio. Perhaps he should turn around now, with Duo - but that would be futile. Duo would in all likelihood not come willingly if he changed course for Pittsburgh now.
"I have an aunt in California," Duo pushed on. "That's where I was thinking of going. She'd probably take me in for a while. With some luck, I'll find a job, too."
Heero looked at his hand, his fingers still locked around the fork, albeit the utensil had broken crust and gone halfway down by now. He let it go, flexed his digits to work out the spasm. "...if you want, I can buy you a-"
"No," Duo quickly cut in, tone of voice not opening for negotiations on the topic. "I pay my own way. I insist - it was part of our deal, and I'm a man of honor." He flashed a grin. "Even if you aren't convinced just yet."
"It's no big deal, Duo. I-"
"Look," Duo started, exasperated. "I don't want charity, okay? So, can we drop this?" He paused. Worried Heero was about to argue, he added "Please?"
Heero looked at him for a bit, then caved. "Fine," he said, suddenly weary. He grabbed his fork, cut off a chunk of pie and shoved it in his mouth and chewed carefully.
Bliss. Courtesy of hovering above the grease pit, it was still warm. Soft texture, but not so dry it crumpled. It was almost as if this had actually been made at the diner, not bought from a bakery. Heero couldn't tell for sure.
He was halfway through before he thought he knew.
And then, he looked at Duo playing with his glass again.
With some effort, he swallowed down the piece in his mouth, glanced down at his plate - and put his fork down. "Well, I'm full," he announced, pushing the last bit of pie to the middle of the table. "Want the rest?"
Duo glanced at the pie, at Heero. "You sure? You seemed to enjoy that..."
He dared a smile. "I did - but I can't take another bite."
Scepticism gave way to a slight smirk. "Well, it'd be dumb to let it go to waste..." Duo reached for his discarded knife and fork. With precision, he cut off the sliver separating what Heero had already eaten from the section of pie that vanished down his own mouth in a matter of minutes.
It was with some sympathy Heero watched Duo carefully calculate a precise tip to leave, adding just the percentage courtesy demanded - even knowing it was probably more than he could afford, long-term. Duo's original travel budget had probably included both meals and bus tickets, but Heero suspected it had not included spending nights anywhere other than on a bus, or stretched out on a bench under newspaper blankets waiting for a bus.
Still, as long as Duo was determined to follow through with his independence, Heero did not feel committed to push the matter.
It was with quite some relief he drove across the next bridge, abandoning Kentucky in favor of returning to Indiana. From across two states, St. Louis was beckoning. From the speakers, the third companion to their travel party showed off his singing.
"Don't you listen to anything but Elvis?"
Heero's brows tightened, and he looked away from the road long enough to give Duo hard look. "Do you have a problem with the king?"
Duo shirked back a bit at Heero's glare, for a moment fearful he'd jeopardized his ride even more than before. "Well, no - I'm all for royalty and all, but... Don't you feel it's a bit monotonous?"
Heero gave Duo another glance, less touchy this time. He fought the craving to argue of how versatile Elvis' style was - the man made records for more than two decades, after all. Not too many contemporary artists could claim the same.
Instead, he decided to give Duo a slight reprieve. He reached for the controls and switched the radio on.
Half an hour and a very brief argument later, Elvis was back.
'...why am I so doubtful whenever you're out of sight?'
Since they left Louisville, Heero judged they had made decent progress. While their current goal was still far ahead, there wasn't much traffic, and with the sun having set, the air-condition system could even relax somewhat.
From the corner of his eye, he noticed how Duo kept a sharp lookout for every large roadsign they passed, determined not to lead them astray again. In a compromise, Heero had pulled out the empty ashtray and stuck the compass there, making sure they were still headed westward.
Then, he noticed Duo's head followed the large sign as they passed the exit it was there to inform about.
Duo quickly turned around towards Heero. "You missed it!"
Another quick glance after ensuring the eighteen-wheeler ahead of them kept a greater pace. "Missed what?"
"The turn-off," Duo explained. "There was a gas station there."
Heero shrugged, nodded towards the dashboard - in particular, the gas indicator. "We still have more than a quarter tank left. We'll get by. It'll last until the next gas station. Can't be that far off."
Duo's hands shifted somewhat in his lap, and he leaned forward, a grimace on his face. "The car might last, but I probably won't..."
Looking at his posture and taking in the sheepish grin, Heero realized what was going on, foot soon enough on the brake, slowing them down, the eighteen-wheeler disappearing in the distance. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Immediately on the defensive, Duo snapped back. "What, was I supposed to ask for permission to go pee, like I was some damn kid?!" At the slight pause and Heero's consequent look of disapproval, Duo stared into the dashboard and shook his head. "Sorry, it's just - sorry. The complimentary water got to me." His hands pressed even tighter against his crotch as he fought man's oldest battle against the forces of nature.
At a soft whimper, Heero groaned and swiftly slowed the car down to pull up on the shoulder. They came to a full stop near some underbrush. He nodded to Duo. "Go. I'll wait."
Duo eyed him suspiciously. "And just what's to stop you from driving away without me and taking my stuff with you?"
He snorted. "I'm not that much in need of a Swiss army knife," Heero started. "Want me to come with you, then?"
Duo didn't answer, but made a grimace.
"Want me to-" Heero started to repeat.
A desperate groan, clenched teeth and warm cheeks followed. "I can't go while someone's watching, okay?!"
Rolling his eyes, Heero quickly turned the engine off and handed Duo the keys, promptly depositing them in his crotch.
Duo looked down, then at Heero, disbelievingly.
"Go," Heero admonished. "I'll wait right here."
Thinking it over for half a second was more than enough. Duo pocketed the keys, unbuckled his belt, threw open the door and stormed out in the night, heading for the nearest patch of large bushes. Nightfall was a mixed blessing; while there was hardly a car passing by at this hour, the lack of lighting along the road made sure it was also a hazard to stumble about in the dark undergrowth.
It was with quite a bit of relief Duo shuffled his way back to the car.
Soft laughter ensued as Duo turned around to grab the seatbelt. "Yeah, lots. Thanks." He handed the keys back.
Accepting them tentatively, eyes lingering on Duo's hand, Heero voiced a concern. "You don't trust people much, do you?"
"And this from the guy who thought I was going to rob him blind if he let me get into his car."
Heero made a lopsided smirk. "Potentially, you still could."
"What, with my deadly Swiss army knife?"
"I still only have your word that you're not carrying something more dangerous."
Duo rolled his eyes. "Well, I offered-"
Quickly and curtly, Heero cut him off. "I know." Keys in the ignition, he went for a fast start. "If you're all done, can we go on now?" Not waiting for an answer, he pushed on. "Or should we plan for number two in the next few hours?"
Duo gave a slight grunt, looked away, face growing a faint flush. "...I suppose I could probably go for a soda or something in an hour or two."
Smirking, Heero met Duo's embarrassed look, then nodded. An hour or two from now would probably be a good time to fill up on gas too.
'If you lend me a dollar, I can buy some gas and we can go for a little ride...'
The release in the pump handle's grip clinked, signaling the tank was full. Heero gave the handle a couple of quick shakes as he pulled it out, then turned around to put it back on the pump. He read the display again, and shook his head at the gas price. He was not looking forward to the next bill on his gas card; it was not going to be pretty.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, he looked over the pump. "Finished?"
Duo met him with a line of a smile. "Yeah."
Heero nodded, glanced over at the service section of the gas station. "I think I'll get some snacks or something for the last leg today. You want anything?"
Duo shook his head, and as if on cue, his stomach chose to complain loudly. Grinning sheepishly under Heero's firm look, Duo hurried around the car, opened the door and sat down at the passenger side.
Heero slowly shook his head, screwed the tank lid back into place and closed the metal cover. On his way over to the service section, he made up his mind.
'...send to the store and let's buy some more...'
Duo was browsing a compact comic book when he got back, quick to put it away when Heero opened the door. "Help me out here, would you?" Heero began, handing him a half-full, sagging grocery bag. Duo took it and made to put it in the back. From the intermediate storage on the roof, Heero proceeded to hand him a six-pack of Coke cans, gaining a suspicious look in the process. Heero grinned and stood back up. Grabbing the last of his purchases, he carefully slinked down in the seat, then turned to face Duo.
Still holding the six-pack, Duo stared at him like he was nuts.
Then again, perhaps he was. After all, he was holding out four hot dogs with assorted levels of condiments. "You want one?"
Duo closed his eyes and exhaled out his nose. "Heero..."
He glared at Heero. "I told you, I can take care of-"
"Well, I'm only offering," Heero cut him off. "Besides, I can't eat all this myself."
"Then why the hell did you buy it?"
It was Heero's turn to look away and take a deep breath. "Look, Duo - I know all about pride, believe me. I know you're hating me right now for putting you in this situation, but would you think about mine for a minute?"
Duo's face made the epitome of a question mark.
"Your stomach," Heero indicated with a nod, "Do you have any idea how nerve-grating that tummy rumble of yours is? For the last hour, your intestines have driven me crazy!"
Duo's baffled expression quickly gave way to mirth and laughter.
Heero's lips curled into a satisfied smile.
Grabbing one of the hot dogs, Duo nodded. "Fine, then. Thanks, I accept your offer - but only because I don't want my body distracting you."
Smile faded, Heero opened his mouth as if to speak, but as Duo pushed a good portion of the hot dog complete with bun and condiments into his mouth and bit down slowly, his eyes closing as he savored the taste, Heero's words were lost. Finally, Heero closed his jaw, swallowed and shook his head, putting the smile back on. He put the remaining hot dogs down on the dashboard, careful not to let them tip over. Bad enough with the few stray pieces of candy wrappers, if he weren't to dirty the car with bits of shrimp salad or spiced mustard stains as well. He closed the door and started up the engine, eased the car forward enough to park at the rest area further down from the pumps. Only then did he join Duo for supper.
Heero finished his part of the meal quickly, eager to get back on the road. Indiana was starting to get to him, and even high on sugar and caffeine, courtesy of the soda, weariness had started to set in.
'...I feel I'm heaven bound...'
Heero was starting to hate headlights - particularly those of tall large trucks and semitrailers fond of flashing every bulb on the carriage, making them look like something out of a Coca Cola Christmas commercial or a Las Vegas tourist promotion.
It didn't help his mood any, either. For the last half hour it had deteriorated rapidly, and at Duo's every attempt at starting small talk, he'd resorted to single syllable answers or other avoidances, trying to focus on the road. St. Louis was still so far away, and it was getting very late.
"So, I was thinking..." Duo said beside him, the rest of the words lost on Heero. A few seconds later, not getting an answer, Duo frowned his way, watched him yawn and blink his eyes slowly. "Heero, I- Look out!"
Heero's eyes went wide, his body tense, his grip on the steering wheel tightened as he instinctively hit the brakes and made the car swerve, looking desperately for the threat Duo had noticed as a car horn behind them blared. "Huh - what-" He caught a glimpse of Duo's grin.
As the car slowed down further and Heero signaled his way to the shoulder under the thunder of a furious, passing honk, Duo took a deep breath. "Okay, that was a dumb thing to do, and I apologize." At full stop, he got a fierce glare. "Heero, would you just look yourself in the mirror? You're not fit to drive much further than this. If you don't get some rest, we'll have an accident."
"What makes you think there's a 'we' from this point on?"
He rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on - I already said I'm sorry. Look, I know how badly you want to reach Missouri tonight - but you're more likely to end up in a ditch here in Illinois. Why don't you let me drive for a while? I've had catnaps."
While the glare softened minutely to mere suspicion, Heero was not about to agree to something like that. "Are you even old enough to apply for a license?"
It was Duo's turn to frown. "Hey, I'm eighteen, damn it! I'm my own man!"
Half expecting Duo to thump his own chest to boot, Heero snorted, a wry smirk growing on his face. "By how many days?"
The answer was caught in Duo's throat, and he deflated just a bit before giving a lopsided smile. "...about three - but I'm still over eighteen, and yes, I do have a license. It's in my backpack."
"What about driving experience?"
The smile shifted to a sheepish grin. "Well, in that I'm a bit lacking, I admit that - but I know how to drive, Heero. Even a stickshift like this one."
Heero studied Duo's face intently, looking for any sign of deceit. He found none, but after considering Duo's suggestion, he still decided against it. "Thanks for the offer, Duo - but I think I'm good for now."
"...if you say so," Duo mumbled, highly dubious to that fact.
Heero opted to ignore that. "You concentrate on reading the map. That was our deal, right?"
This mildly surprised him. "You mean you still trust me after that last screw-up?"
Heero smirked as he turned the ignition, signaling back to the road. "I don't trust you at all - but I figure you'll try a bit harder not to make another mistake, as a direct result of our Kentucky detour."
Frowning, Duo snorted, but unfolded the relevant part of the map - and just in case, he glanced down at the compass, relieved to find they were still westbound.
'Well, I'm tired and so weary... but I must go along...'
Duo glanced at the digital clock display in the dash board for the sixth time in the last half hour. Eleven thirty-four PM glared back at him. "Heero..." he began.
Heero gritted his teeth. Once more he forced his eyelids up and strengthened his stranglehold of the steering wheel.
"Heero, it's almost midnight," Duo pushed on. "You've got to face it, pal - we're not gonna reach St. Louis tonight." He leaned forward to get a better look at Heero's face, his look not met. Sighing, he sat back, the seat belt at ease. "Look, you need to get some rest."
Heero blinked, slowly. Duo was right. He had been right for the past hour - and more. Heero's stubborn streak had prevented any form of reasoning on the matter, however - until now.
"Looks like there's a city up ahead," Duo stated as they passed another highway information board. "Going to pull off the road for a bit?" he cautiously asked.
Heero made a sigh of defeat for show. "Fine..."
With a lopsided grin, Duo faced straight ahead. "Glad to hear that, Boston. I was this close to giving you a Tea Party."
A swift glare was the only answer Heero afforded him as they left the interstate.
And his eyes widened a tad again at the roadsign welcoming them to Mount Vernon.
Duo snickered. "Well, what do you know. Think we're back where we started?"
Heero nodded to the sign. "Says Mount Vernon, Illinois - so, I sure as hell hope not. Okay, I'll drive around a bit to look - tell me if you see a motel."
"Sure we can't sleep in the car? I'm sure there's a rest area-"
"I already told you, I'm not sleeping in the car."
He smirked softly. "Well, I'm sure we could find a nice park bench for you, and I could sleep-"
"Not in the car, Duo - and that's final."
Duo chuckled. "Sheesh - fine, Boston. Whatever you say."
Heero frowned. "Quit calling be Boston."
"I think it suits you."
"Tough," Duo countered, quick to follow it up. "Hey, over there - isn't that a motel?"
Heero followed the direction of Duo's nod and quietly agreed, turning down that road. "Looks like it's still open, too. Well done, Duo."
Duo grinned, scrambling to tidy up the worst mess of candy wrappers, empty soda cans, paper napkins and the other assorted junk that had piled up since Columbus. "Hey, any time."
Heero pulled up before the low building at the side he presumed held the reception. At least, the neon arrow going on and off, intermittently welcoming them to Bellevue Roadside Inn, suggested this was the case. "Doesn't look like too much..." Heero mumbled.
"Hey, don't jinx it, Heero. Might be like Hilton on the inside."
He snorted. "I very much doubt that. Are you coming with, or should I book a room for you too?"
Barely perceptible, Duo winced, glanced at the chalkboard the arrow was flashing at. At seeing the going nightly rate for a single room, he grimaced again. "Uh - you go ahead, and I'll clean up the car."
"Okay..." Heero started as Duo resumed tidying. He waited for a few more seconds.
And Duo caught on. "Oh!" He adopted a decidedly sheepish grin. "Sorry, Heero. One sec." He unfastened his seatbelt and leaned in between the seats, going for his backpack. He unzipped a side pocket and groped around inside for his wallet. He glanced at the chalkboard again, studied the contents of the slim wallet and hesitantly counted up a few bills, handing them to Heero. "That should do, I think..."
Heero's fist closed around the money. He reached around the steering wheel for the car keys. "I'll be right back."
He closed the door and walked towards the reception. Halfway there, he glanced over his shoulder to notice Duo already at work stuffing the trash they'd made into an empty plastic bag. Shaking his head, he went on.
'...although it's always crowded... you still can find some room...'
Duo was tying up the bag by the time he returned. Heero gave him a slight start when he opened the door, all signs of that gone by the time he'd been seated. He grabbed Duo's wrist, turned his palm upright and slapped cash in it. "Here's your change." With that, he popped the trunk and stepped out of the car.
Duo stared first at the money, then at Heero's back, then at the chalkboard with the rates. "But I thought I gave you the exact change for the cheapest single-"
"I booked us a double," Heero hastily explained, his back taut.
Heero's shoulders slouched just a bit, and he turned and leaned forward, looking into the car again. "A double was cheaper. I thought you'd appreciate that."
Duo frowned. Sure, being economical had an appeal, but-
With half a grin, Heero thought he'd figured the reason for that face. "Separate beds," he added. He certainly didn't want Duo to think he'd have to 'offer up' for his ride in any way - not that guys interested him like that in the first place. The part of his mind proudly hosting absurdities flashed him an image of a Duo in drag, short of make-up. He fought to suppress the consequent smirk.
Duo was not entirely convinced of Heero's good intentions, but if sleeping in the car was out, this wasn't a half-bad alternative - Especially if the beds were single. "Well, I suppose that's okay..." He gave the back of his neck a scratch. There were other matters that got complicated in sharing a room, though. "It's just..."
Duo looked away, into the dashboard, making a quirky smile as his face warmed up. "Look, I like to sleep naked, alright? I can't sleep well if I'm not..." He groped for the right word. "Free," he finally decided, glancing at Heero again. "Know what I'm saying?"
Heero fought back a laughter, but settled for a smile. He nodded. If that was all...
"Is that gonna be a problem?"
Heero scratched his chin, pretended to think it over. After what he'd been put through over the course of the day, he took some small delight in keeping Duo on edge, nervous. As they say, revenge is sweet dish, best served cold. Even simply cool sufficed. "Do you sleep without covers, too?"
Duo shook his head. "Well - not unless it's really hot, I suppose."
Again, Heero nodded. "Then I don't see a problem - as long as you keep to your own bed and don't go out of your way to flash me, that is." He smirked.
Duo didn't, first snorting, then frowning. "Why the hell would I do that?"
Why indeed, absurdity offered, part of the package deal that had offered the term in the first place. Heero chalked it up to his lack of sleep. He straightened up and went to get one of his bags out of the trunk. The suitcase would remain there until Flagstaff - he'd planned this carefully during packing.
As Duo stepped out of the car and took out his backpack, the soft blush lingered on his face. Heero smirked to himself and shook his head. Perhaps he'd tormented the boy enough for one day. Duo was clearly embarrassed for explaining his little problem, but Heero wasn't exactly unfamiliar with weird hang-ups. One such was the very reason he was driving across most of the country and back, after all.
"Oh, and one more thing," he said, slamming the trunk shut. "The Swiss army knife stays locked up in the car."
Duo checked the lock and closed the car door, grinning. "Still don't trust me, huh?" He put the backpack on the roof and opened it. "Well, it's not like I was planning of assaulting you during the night, anyway..."
The faint glimmer at the corner of Duo's eye as he tossed him the knife made Heero wonder if that was entirely true. He took a long blink, wondering if he'd imagined it.
It was a good thing he was a light sleeper.
'...can it be that you're too shy... to give yourself a little old push...'
It turned out Duo was right; the room they'd gotten wasn't half bad. Sure, the interior had seen better days, but compared to the facade it was still spectacular.
Heero couldn't care less about most of the frills and fixtures. After taking dibs on the bathroom and taking a load-off, the bed was all that interested him. After he passed Duo in the bathroom doorway, he made his way straight there, going for a full frontal crash-landing. He told himself that he really ought to take off his shoes and slacks, but he could not be bothered enough to listen.
He'd almost fallen asleep as Duo cautiously touched his shoulder. "You okay, Heero?"
"Hmm..." Heero muttered, grabbing harder at the pillow.
Half grinning, Duo walked over to his own bed. "Are you really going to sleep like that? Don't you think that'll be a bit uncomfortable?"
Heero wasn't sure he cared. He was about to retort as Duo crossed his arms and removed his black T-shirt in one swift go, his braid trailing through the neck hole. A faint metallic clink caught his fleeting attention. Duo put the T-shirt aside and shook his head, making his braid dance into place before going for his zipper. Heero's gaze lingered at the tip of Duo's braid as cut-offs and underwear came off in one fell swoop.
How had he mistaken Duo for a girl in the first place? Maybe it had been the clothes. Looking at Duo's naked backside, there was simply no way he could still be deceived by the long hair alone. For a girl, the hips were wrong, and the waist was wrong, and Duo's long legs were simply too hairy for most proper young women - and of course, there was Duo's subtle pose. Guys tend to have a need to place their feet a tad further apart.
Duo had put his last garments aside and stretched his arms to the ceiling, then engaged in a brief series of exercises to soften the muscles. He bent his arms backward until they popped and followed that up by cracking his knuckles and rubbing his shoulders in succession as he rolled them about a bit. His neck was the last to be loosened up. Straightening up again, he flipped the cover of his bed aside, and turned around.
Heero's eyes drifted up in a hurry, meeting Duo's eyes. Heero started to focus intently on Duo neck and up, not wanting to let his gaze fall again. Staring blatantly at another guy - a naked guy, to boot - just didn't sit right with him. A queasy feeling he couldn't quite peg brewed in his guts.
He couldn't help glance down at the dogtags adorning Duo's neck, though.
Duo caught his look, grabbed the two chained metal plates and flashed him a grin. "What, this? It's a memento from my stepdad. The only thing he ever gave me that I really liked. Got my name on it and everything. Wanna see?"
Duo had already taken two steps closer before Heero shook his head furiously. He did not want a naked young man he'd just met that close. His stomach couldn't take it.
Duo merely shrugged it off and returned to his own bed, swiftly scooting in under the covers. He yanked the chain of the lamp above his bed. "Well - night, Heero. Don't run out on me tomorrow, okay?"
A soft snort was all the answer Heero mustered before rolling over on his side. A good five minutes later he realized Duo had spoken the truth; sleeping with his clothes on would not be pleasant. He sat up and removed his shirt, shoes and socks, unbuttoned his slacks and, with his last bit of strength, stood up long enough to strip himself of them.
He made a point of retrieving his wallet and car keys, hiding both under his pillow before going under the covers. Lazily, he yanked his own chain, and let his arm fall to the mattress.
He was well on his way to doze off when soft snores grated his ears. He blinked, listened. Again, the sound. He looked over his shoulder and glared into the dark, in Duo's general direction. In the intermittent light provided by the flashing neon outside, he saw Duo toss and turn, obviously asleep, if not at rest. One of his legs momentarily fell outside the covers, leaving most of his hip exposed. Heero felt his mouth dry, a bit relieved when Duo rolled over again, covering himself up - and even better, cutting his snore off.
Heero shook his head and settled down, once more focusing on his own sleep. Before dreamlessness took him, he managed to check for his wallet and car keys again, feeling safe knowing they were securely tucked under his pillow. He was not about to get robbed. Duo seemed like a nice guy, but he was pretty much still a stranger. Sympathy was admirable - but precaution was the way of the wise.
'Baby, one of these mornings...'
Bellevue Roadside Inn did offer a limited breakfast to its guests - but given how the cost was included with the already cheap rooms, Heero dejectedly accepted the small buffet in the reception for what it was.
This at least was one bad book the cover couldn't hide.
Feeling adventurous, he tried one loaf of bread - only to have it crumble to dust in his mouth. The meat looked like it had been out on display for a few days, and the cheese had recently been trimmed - but not good enough; one edge still sported splotches of dark white mold.
After checking the milk - one of the few things recently replaced, and even still cool - Heero and Duo opted for the fairly safe option of cereal. Remarkably enough, there was no extra protein in the form of small six-legged beasts added to it.
At least they'd gotten a good night's sleep. The beds had been fine, and while a little warm given the lack of air-conditioning, the room had sufficed aplenty.
Given that the food came with the already-paid room, Duo took no less than three helpings worth of cereal, beating Heero who stopped at a mere two. After that, the milk ran out.
"So, what's your goal today? We'll definitely reach Missouri."
Heero pushed his empty bowl away. "I was hoping to cross the state, at the very least. Maybe get a bit into Oklahoma, if not Texas."
Duo made a high to low whistle. "Ambitious as ever, huh?"
He grew a smirk. "You'd better believe it." He nodded to Duo's bowl. "You finished?"
"Then I suggest we get back on the road." Heero made to stand up, but halfway there he noticed Duo hesitate in following. "Or are you staying?"
"Hm?" Realizing what Heero had implied, duo sent his chair screeching. "No! No, I'm coming, it's just - we'll pass Scott on the way to St. Louis, won't we?"
"Scott? Who's Scott?"
"Scott Air Force Base," Duo explained as he reached inside his rumpled T-shirt, pulling out the dogtags. "I lived there once."
Heero gave him a curious, but somewhat doubtful look. "I can't quite picture you as being in the service, airman or otherwise. Even if there was some kind of extreme junior program..."
Soft laughter answered him. "No kidding... No, afraid I'm not the military man of the family - but I did live there for a couple of years. Last place I stayed before we moved to Pittsburgh."
"And where you met Hilde?"
Duo nodded. "Yeah - but her family moves around a whole lot more often. She's told me she can hardly wait to get into college so she can settle down already."
Heero gave half a smile as he picked up his bowl and half-empty glass of orange juice. "She'll be the odd one at campus, I'd imagine. Aren't most people going to college to get unsettled?"
Duo grabbed his own bowl and followed Heero to the used dishes depository. "You tell me, Boston. You've got MIT, and all."
"I told you, I'm not MIT - and I'm not Boston, either."
He grinned. "Whatever you say, Heero. Come on, the highway beckons."
'...the warden said, 'hey buddy, don't you be no square...''
Before they had packed up and left the Bellevue Roadside Inn, Duo had opted to switch from his battered sneakers to a pair of flip-flops, making him look all the more like a beach bum or accidental tourist. Heero dismissed the notion with a quirk at one corner of his mouth.
After the first half hour, his own clammy feet - fighting both the thin socks, form-fitting shoes, increasingly warm weather and struggling AC unit - made him realize Duo's wisdom in choice of footwear. Sandals were, however, one thing he'd forgotten to pack. There was a pair of running shoes in the suitcase, but they'd fare little better than the loafers he currently wore.
Over the background hum of Elvis rocking up the county jail, Duo pulled up his seat from its reclined position. "We'll be passing Scott pretty soon..."
"Probably," Heero answered, starting to pass the uncharacteristically slow semitrailer up ahead.
"Uhm, I know this is a lot to ask, but..." He looked into the dashboard, drummed his fingertips at his kneecaps. "Think we could make a short detour?"
For a moment, Heero eased up on the throttle and gave Duo a glance out of the corner of his eye. Without answering, he accellerated.
Duo's hands stopped with coordinated slaps. "Oh, come on, Heero," he began. "It wouldn't take long, I promise. Just want a quick look-see, that's all." He smirked. "Hell, It'd give me a chance to show you the place where I did a lot of my growing up!"
Heero made a soft snort as he pulled in before the slow-moving truck, some pushy guy in a flashy sports car behind them demanding the lane for himself. "Seems to me like you should have stayed a bit longer."
Duo gave his shoulder a light punch.
Heero flashed him half a grin, then turned serious again. "Even if we did go, do you really think they'd let civilians onto base property that easily?"
"If old man Willie is still at Shiloh, that shouldn't be a problem. The older kids used to rely on him for sneaking off-base and into town, as well as getting back again, all without permanent records. I think he'd remember me, but... you're right, that was five years ago, and the world has changed since then - at least as far as base security is concerned. I found that out the last time I went to visit Hilde. I knew the armed forces were fond of red tape, but that was ridiculous." He paused, let go a sigh and shook his head dejectedly. "Fine, forget it. I suppose if we got lucky, there'd be a base tour running, but what are the odds of that, huh?" he said, his grin weakened by his real mood.
Heero observed his passenger's rambles from the corner of his eye, still expecting more - but only silence followed. "I'd rather not waste time," he started, "I told you I'm not on a sightseeing trip - but I suppose we could make it an early pit-stop."
Duo brightened up. "Seriously?"
He nodded and struggled to suppress the uneasy feeling in his gut. "If we're picked up by base security for snooping around, I'm going to blame you for everything."
Duo chuckled as he straightened up and crashed his back to his seat. "Deal."
'The summer's gone and all the flowers are dying...'
They'd pulled off the interstate and were driving slowly down a road at the west side of Scott AFB - at least, the compass suggested as much, relative to the chain-link fences. Another construction truck pulled past them, before turning off down one of the streets leading to the gate named Shiloh. "Guess Willie is long gone..." Duo said wistfully, looking past Heero. "Looks like they're building a whole new gate there. Like I said, whole new world."
Heero nodded. "That up ahead looks like a bus depot."
"It is," Duo explained. "Best way on and off base is by bus. The gates aren't always open - and I bet they're even more tightly guarded now than when I used to live here."
"Where on site did you live? The base looks pretty big."
He showed half a smile. "Why do you want to know?"
Shrugging, Heero put on his best expression of indifference, even though he suspected it wouldn't fool Duo. "I'm curious, that's all."
Duo studied him for a moment, then pointed ahead. "Down that way, several houses down. It was a nice place - but it looks like they're rebuilding the residential areas too. For all I know, they've torn it down..." He fell silent for a bit, then leaned back in his seat, taking a deep breath, briefly closing his eyes. "So much for memory lane, huh?" He chuckled to himself. "Thanks, Boston - I'm good now."
"Are you sure? We could-"
"I'm sure," Duo cut in. "Let's go see the Mississippi and the Gateway Arch - straight through and right on to the promised land."
Heero frowned. "There's no road through the arch - and I told you, I'm not a tourist."
Duo shrugged his shoulders. "Maybe we'll see it from the car - you can see the arch from the highway, can't you? I mean, it's gotta be big, right?"
"I don't know," Heero answered truthfully. "I didn't study the sights. I just checked the maps for the fastest roads leading to Flagstaff."
They came to another crossroads, and Heero made a quick, if somewhat illegal U-turn. As neither police or SPs intervened - although a dump truck blared its loud horn at them - they made their way back out on the interstate.
'...come with me... while the moon is on the sea...'
Ten minutes of silence short of a low-volume Elvis followed. For the first time in a long while, Heero didn't think the King was enough to get by - especially not with all the questions brewing within him. "So..." he began, "Your father was in the air force?"
"Stepfather," Duo corrected. "Yeah, the geezer was in the air force - still is, technically. Hasn't flown anything bigger than Pipers in a while, though - and he only did that to keep his license. He hasn't been the same since they put him behind a desk."
"He was a fighter pilot?"
Duo shook his head. "Nah. More like cargo. Flew KC-135s - you know, those airborne gas stations?"
After thinking about it for a minute, Heero recalled the designation from a flight simulator he had occasionally played in an arcade back in Boston. He supposed there was a reason nearly all flight sims depicted the fighters rather than the mid-air refuelling planes. For that matter, he couldn't recall ever having seen a bomber or recon flight sim, either.
"Anyway... him and I never got along very well. We kinda made an undeclared truce at some point, just to placate mom. She didn't like us arguing." He paused, looked up ahead. "When she died... Well, Frank and I didn't get along too well."
"Frank?" It wasn't until the question had left his mouth that Heero realised he'd let his curiosity get in the way of proper decorum. "I'm sorry," he hastily added, "about your mother, I mean."
Duo glanced at him, then stared ahead again. "Don't worry about it, it happened a long time ago. And yeah, Frank. Franklin Briggs - that's my stepfather's name. I kept my mother's name when they married. She took both."
Undisturbed, Elvis went on about his Pacific island paradise for a while.
By the time Heero thought it prudent to poke further, Duo interrupted. "Hey, look up ahead - it's the river!"
Heero did - and indeed it was. The road was rising to the bridge, and the muddy blue line of the Mississippi was spread out before them, weaving its way through the city of St. Louis. Heero started smiling, content at finally reaching Missouri. Arizona was one step closer now.
"Over there, Heero," Duo suddenly called, pointing slightly to the right up ahead. "That's the Gateway Arch, isn't it? Geez, it's huge!"
With a soft snort, Heero dismissed the sight after a quick glance, more worried about which road to take at the next cloverleaf. They rose above the water and drove from one half of the country into the other.
Elvis was on to praise the virtuous, sparkling city further west.
'...all you need's a strong heart and a nerve of steel...'
Heero glanced at the rearview mirror for the third time in as many seconds, all but scowling by the last. While luck would have it they'd found their way through St. Louis unscathed and found I-44 heading southwest, traffic was turning ever more dreadful.
He hadn't even noticed when Duo shut the King down in favor of some urban radio station playing soft pop.
"That car," Heero growled, looking up in the mirror again, "That car is driving much too close. It's dangerous."
Duo shrugged. "So just drive a bit slower and let them get past."
"Duo, we're in the fast lane, and unless we're running short of gas, I don't intend to fight my way out of here."
He chuckled. "Fine, whatever - I wouldn't advise pushing the speed limit any more, though. You never know, it could be an undercover highway patrol in that car behind us."
"I very much doubt it," Heero stated. Checking the speedometer, he eased up on the gas. The car up ahead was slowing down, too. He prayed the one behind them followed suit. "You know... I'm tempted to make a spontaneous brake test. What do you say?"
"I'd say you were freakin' crazy," Duo deadpanned. "We're on the interstate, damn it! If you made a huge pile-up and survived, which jury would accept an excuse of 'but I had to, your honor, a cute kitten had strayed onto the highway. Unfortunately, it ran off before anybody else saw it'?"
Heero's nostrils flared, if barely perceptibly. "Sounds good to me."
Duo nodded to the information sign before their next exit, focusing on the advertisement below it. "Dinner sounds better. Let's stop for a moment and grab a bite to eat. We've made good time so far, haven't we?"
Heero's stomach chose that moment to signal its agreement. As he shifted lanes towards the off-ramp, he couldn't fight the nagging suspicion Duo's statement would jinx their luck so far.
'...ain't never caught a rabbit, and you ain't no friend of mine...'
Duo reached for the AC control panel again and tugged at the knob, to no avail.
"It's already at full," Heero commented.
"Sure doesn't feel like it," Duo stated as he leaned back in his chair. He took a deep sigh, fluffed his soaked T-shirt. "Are you sure it's even on?"
Heero frowned. "It is. Can't you hear it?"
He could, but the way the car had been warming up since they left St. Louis, he wasn't sure he believed it.
As if he'd read Duo's mind, Heero continued. "We've been in constant sunshine since this morning. It doesn't look like there's much of a breeze outside, either. It's only natural that it gets a bit warm."
"Yeah, outside. I thought the air-conditioning was supposed to prevent that from happening inside the car."
Heero shrugged. "It's an old car," he opted for an excuse, then made a crooked smile. "Boston usually doesn't become this hot and humid. This car is perfect during winter, starts up without any trouble at all."
Duo snorted, put his elbow to the side of the window and rested his chin in his palm. "Yeah. Doesn't look like we're gonna drive into a blizzard any time soon, though."
There might have been an insulted counterargument, but Heero opted to let the opportunity pass. Instead, he quickly unbuttoned the top button of his shirt and gave the collar a shake while Duo's attention was focused elsewhere.
"Mind if I roll down the window?"
Heero dislodged one clammy palm from the steering wheel and geared down to match the traffic. "That'll just ruin the effect of the air-conditioning system." He threw a glance to the side. "It wouldn't do you much good anyway."
Duo shrugged, pulled at his seatbelt. "Hey, I just wanted to see if it worked, that's all."
"What, the window?"
He grinned mischievously. "No, the dog thing."
Heero wasn't sure he got that last part right. "Dog thing?"
Duo chuckled, leaned forward to unglue his back from the seat for a moment. "Yeah - You know, how dogs always stick their heads out the window to breathe the passing breeze, tongues out and everything? Always been curious if that works for humans."
Heero snorted and eased his foot off the gas. "I wish you wouldn't. Your braid would probably get caught in one of the wheels, and then I'd be stuck with a stubbed neck gushing blood all over my car. I'd like you to avoid losing your head."
It had been said in such a deadpan voice that Duo couldn't help but stare for a moment. Then he burst out laughing. "Heero, that's gross - but fine, I'd like to keep my head attached too. Have kinda grown used to it."
They slowed down even more. "Besides," Heero said, nodding ahead. "It doesn't look like you'll have much of a wind to lean into, at this rate. Looks like there's some congestion up ahead."
Duo growled, slammed the back of his head against the headrest. "Damn..."
Heero chose to say nothing, but he mirrored Duo's sentiment.
Especially as traffic came to a near complete halt. In the distance, he saw flashing yellow lights.
Gritting his teeth, he prepared for another unscheduled detour. He prayed this wouldn't keep up.
'The road to love is full of... danger signs... too many guys were lost... who crossed those double lines...'
Roadwork outside of Rolla thus sent them off their planned route and southbound again. Heero had hoped the detour was a short one, but they'd already been driving for half an hour, and there was still no sign of the interstate they'd left behind.
The sun kept baking them too. Heero had opened another shirt button as well unbuttoned and rolled back his sleeves.
Duo had no such options; it was everything or nothing. At least this was the conclusion he finally came to. "Heero?"
"Mind if I take my T-shirt off? It's so damn hot in here, I feel like a steamed vegetable."
Heero gave him a glance out of the corner of his eye, then shrugged. "Do as you like."
"Thanks," Duo said, proceeding to wrest his T-shirt off as best he could without unbuckling his seat belt. He gave himself a few quick swipes with the balled-up shirt and leaned back, very glad Heero's car had fabric seat covers and not leather.
They passed another intersection, and like several before, there was no arrow to guide them back to the interstate. Heero muttered a curse to himself and pushed on. Sooner or later, they would have to be directed back to the highway. Traffic had become steadily lighter, though.
Heero had a sinking feeling, but dared not voice it.
Duo leaned forward, looked out the clear sky, shook his head and sat back. "Haven't seen a sky like that for years. There's not a cloud in sight anywhere!"
He grunted. "Enjoy it while you can?"
A lopsided grin shaped on Duo's face. "I did last time."
He nodded, arched his neck backwards. "Yeah... Hilde and I went off on a road trip, sorta."
Heero's lips curved to a smile. "You're a seasoned runaway, huh?"
"We didn't run away. Not... exactly. We caught a bus to a small town north of Milwaukee. She has relatives there. It was summer, and the weather was just like this - bright sun, no wind, no clouds. Not as humid, but still... We went lakeside as often as we could - swimming was the only good way to cool off."
Heero nodded in agreement - although he'd never experienced that side of the temperature scale. Nearly frozen his rear off, on the other hand...
"That's not the best thing, though... Hil' and I shared our first kiss up there." His smile widened. "And second... and third..."
Heero smirked, if slightly bothered. "I get the picture."
"Don't get me wrong," Duo hastily added. "Hilde and I never went all the way."
"Sounds like you still enjoyed the part of the road the two of you shared."
Duo cocked his head and grinned at Heero for a while. "I did. I like to think she did, too. Never dared ask."
Heero sounded off a faint snort, slowed down to make the next hard turn right.
"What about you, Boston? What was your first kiss like?"
The steering wheel slid in his hands, the path of the car straightening out to match the road. "If I answer that, can I ask you something in return?"
Duo shrugged and tugged at his seat belt, repositioning it to keep it from digging into his bare skin. "Sure."
Heero nodded, and was about to talk of the first time he and Relena kissed - an event he'd struggled to make perfect, although it was impossible to live up to all the expectations Relena seemed to have of him. It didn't matter, because it dawned on him that had not been his first kiss. He closed his mouth, licked his lips, thinking of how to phrase it best. "Actually... my first kiss... was with Trowa."
That caught Duo's attention. "Trowa? You mean, that gay friend of yours?"
Hesitantly, Heero nodded. "It wasn't serious," he started. "We were about thirteen, I think. It was right around that time I first discovered I had an interest in Relena. I confessed as much to Trowa - I was really nervous about the whole deal. Told him I wanted to do everything right from the start, I didn't want to make mistakes. He suggested we practice."
Again, Heero nodded. "We only did it twice. The first time we messed up more than around. We bumped noses, clanked our teeth, lost track of where the arms went - we had all sorts of trouble. I learned a few things from that. Trowa learned more, though."
"Yeah... See, some months later, right before I was going to tell Relena I kinda liked her, we kissed again. Trowa had gotten a lot better at it. He told me he'd practiced on his own, and he showed me how to use my hand for it. Couple of weeks later, Relena and I were going out together. Would still be a couple of months until our first kiss, and despite all preparations, it turned into a disaster."
Duo started snickering, but caught himself. "Sorry. Want to talk about it?"
Heero shook his head. "Not particularly... I'd rather forget." He let go a quick sigh. "And the rest is history. Relena and I broke up, I stumbled onto Trowa and Quatre on the couch... you know, I never thought about our kiss as a gay thing. I don't think I even knew what 'gay' was, back then."
"Did he ever make other advances on you?"
"I wouldn't call our experimentation making a pass - but I suppose it's the closest thing we ever got to it."
"What would you have said, if he'd asked you to be his boyfriend?"
Heero's jaw went lax, and he mulled on the question. "I honestly don't know. Trowa and I have been friends for as long as I can remember. It would have been too weird to change that, I think." He shook his head. "Besides, it's a moot point. I'm straight, and Trowa's with Quatre now - and I wouldn't go easy on anyone trying to come between them. They're as close to made for each other I think it's possible to come."
"You're a loyal friend, huh?" Duo's grin widened, and he rested his back against his seat, muttering "Glad to know that..."
Heero shot him a curious look, but focused on the road again. "Okay, my turn. Ready?"
He started closing his eyes. "Shoot."
"Why did you run away from home?"
From the corner of his eye, Heero could see Duo cringe, lids closed. A left swerve in the road distracted him for a moment.
"Me and my stepfather... don't get along much," Duo cautiously started. "I decided to go away for a bit." He nibbled at his lower lip, turned to give Heero a firm look. "But I'm not on the run! Like I told you yesterday, I'm an adult!"
Heero snorted. "By three days, was it?"
"Still an adult..." Duo muttered before turning the guns. "Besides, you don't look that much older than me, Boston." He put on a grin. "Bet I'm even taller than you."
Heero glared back. "So I'm a bit short of growth, big deal..." He steadied the wheel with a knee and dug into his pocket for his wallet. He flipped it open to flash his license. "See? I'm twenty-two." He smirked. "By little over four months."
Duo's grin turned a lopsided smirk as he studied the image. He started chuckling.
"What?" Heero close to growled.
Smirk to silly smile now, Duo shook his head. "Oh, nothing... It's just... Well, I never figured you for a one-time combed-down bowl cut, is all. Your hair looks like it's never met a brush before, much less been this orderly."
Heero frowned and snatched the wallet back. Surely, someone with a braid like that had to know hair products were good for something. He'd used great quantities of gel for that picture. Never mind how he'd regretted it since. The horrid picture wouldn't last beyond the next license renewal, that much was certain.
"Twenty-two, huh...? Well, you look younger."
Heero didn't answer. It wasn't the first time he'd heard it. It wasn't his fault he never had that last growth spurt, or that he had trouble shaking his boyish appearance. Joan teased him about it often. Harvey simply said he'd be glad to be considered younger than his age soon enough.
Heero still didn't believe him. "Duo?"
"You didn't answer me."
"Why did you run away? I understand you and your stepfather have some issues - but what sort of issues?"
Duo gave a quick shrug. "A lot of things. I like my hair like this, he doesn't. I don't care so much about a grade or two slipping while I catch up on other interests, but he sure does. He's submitted my room to a thorough search more than once, expecting to come up with drugs, porn or alcohol." He grinned faintly. "If I had any, I'd think of better places to hide my stash."
"Do you have a stash?"
Duo stared out ahead. "I've smoked pot a few times. Don't keep stock. Same with booze. Got a couple of porn mags hidden away, though." He snickered, shook his head. "Ever since mom died, Frank and I have had trouble getting along with each other. Mom used to mediate between us. After she died, Frank got very insistent on me seeking a career in the military. He didn't like my constant refusals." Duo smiled sullenly and sighed. "Never could get through to him that he can't run a family like a platoon. Frank sticks to a 'his way or the highway' kinda management style. I guess I chose the highway this time."
Heero briefly wrinkled his nose, brushed a stray bang of hair away. "Duo, lots of kids fight with their parents - that's not a good enough reason to just take off and go halfway across the country. I'm sure he's worried about you."
Duo shook his head. "I'm not. Maybe he'll just be glad I'm gone... Our last 'talk' was really just a lot of yelling back and forth."
"What did you fight about?"
Duo opened his mouth to speak, stopped short, looked away, then fast back at Heero again. "You could say I pulled a Trowa."
"Frank walked in on me making out with a friend. A guy friend."
Heero shifted his foot from the gas to the brake pedal and turned to look at Duo. "Come again?"
Duo's sad grin met him. "I guess he didn't like finding out his stepson is gay. He scared the shit out of the guy I was with too. He ran out, and I never saw him again. I'm pissed about that - he could have been a good boyfriend. My first, too."
"You're saying you're..."
"Yeah, I'm gay, Boston. Don't look so damn shocked. You said you've got a gay best friend - one you've kissed. Anyway, I figured we both needed some space - especially between us. I remembered that whole marriage rush in San Francisco some time ago. California sounded like a good place to go, and like I said, I have an aunt there."
Heero gave a snort. "You could just have come to Massachusetts instead. We're about as advanced in legislature, I think. Would have been a much shorter trip."
Duo's grin strengthened. "That's sort of the point, isn't it?" He sensed the car had slowed down. "You're not nervous about sitting next to a shirtless gay guy, are you?"
Heero focused on the road again, formed a wry smirk, albeit there was a twitch at the corner of his mouth. "Not as long as you don't make passes at me."
"...and what if I did?"
Heero eyed Duo suspiciously, but figured he was joking, judging by the cocky smirk and playful wink of brows. He leaned forward and studied the sky. "You know, I sure wouldn't want to be out walking today," he commented as he sat back.
Duo snorted. "Point taken. I'll be a good boy."
Heero took Duo's word for it, for now - but he wasn't sure he dared trust it indefinitely.
'...memories that make my heart grow cold...'
"This can't be right..."
"This," Heero stated, gesturing at the winding road ahead. "It's been ages since we left the interstate. The detour can't possibly be this long."
Duo shrugged his shoulders and flipped the page of his comic. "So maybe we missed the turnoff."
Heero shot him a glare. "Don't even say that," he muttered. "I've had enough delays on this trip as it is."
Duo closed up the paperback comic and put it away in his backpack. "The unexpected is part of any journey in life." Noting Heero's dubious appraisal, Duo grinned. "Something Frank likes to say. He's got tons of 'em."
It was Heero's turn to not care less.
"Look, it's not all bad. We did manage to find cloud cover, didn't we? It's even possible to breathe again." He tugged at his clean T-shirt replacement, fresh out of his backpack. "Heck, I'm even feeling a bit chilly now." He pursed his lips, his eyes giving Heero a quick once-over. "Sure you don't want to stop and change out of that shirt? Can't be good, sitting in a clammy shirt like that."
"I can manage," Heero muttered. He checked the compass, and to his dismay it still pointed south - and worse, it was starting to lean towards the southeast. "Duo, check the map again."
Duo rolled his eyes. "I just did ten minutes ago. Heero, I'm sorry, but I can't find a good point of reference. I'm not even sure if this road is on the damn map. I told you, we could just stop somewhere and ask-"
"No," Heero flatly stated. The last time he'd done that, he'd ended up with his current sidekick. Heaven only knew who or what he'd pick up next. It felt safest not to tempt fate further. "Let's just take a right at the next intersection. If we head west, we ought to find the interstate again, right?"
Duo didn't miss the hope stuffed in Heero's last sentence. "Sure," he said, not convincing either of them. His idle hands grabbed the end of his braid, and he started brushing the end strands against his thumb. It was a habit, one he tried to avoid - but as all habits, it was hard to suppress.
Heero caught sight of it before Duo became aware of his actions. "Duo? Can I ask you another question?"
The thumb halted, waited. "Sure," Duo repeated in the same lax voice and started playing with the strands again. "But I might not answer."
Heero nodded. "Fair enough. I'm curious - why the long hair?"
"Why did you grow your hair that long? Why do you braid it?"
Duo had to laugh. "Because it's a hell of a lot more manageable tied up than all let loose - and it's really too long to go well in a ponytail, unless I use three or four dispersed hairbands to tie it up."
Heero could accept that as truth. "It's even longer out of a braid, isn't it?"
"Yeah. Takes a lot of time and effort to keep clean too. Frank liked to mutter about the bill for the water heater."
A thin smirk appeared on Heero's face.
"As for why..." Duo shrugged. "Well, I like my hair like this. That's the main reason."
Heero hesitated, hoping Duo would continue on his own. After a minute in silence, he opted to probe further. "...and the other reasons?"
Duo rested an elbow against the door, put his cheekbone against his knuckles. "I guess it started with my mother. Mom let me save up my hair when I was a kid. See, I didn't like the hair salon. Always thought it smelled creepy. Hell, I even liked my dentist more than my hair stylist. We kinda cut a deal once it reached my shoulders. It stayed at that length for a while, but once I started school, I decided to have my own unique style." He shrugged, a sad smile forming on his lips. "I think I had a bit of an attention complex back then."
"I had the opposite," Heero remarked. "Relena kind of helped with that."
Duo gave a low chuckle. "I think I can picture that... You all grouchy, and the princess throwing herself at ya..." He slowly shook his head. "Anyway... after a couple more years, I thought about cutting it. All the cool guys had this fluffed, short haircut, and I wanted to be cool too. It was just that... one day, mom suddenly told me my long hair made me look just like my father - my biological father." Duo studied his reflection in the side mirror. "That's when I decided to keep it. Mom had smiled when she'd said that, and I wanted to see it again. Mom's smiles were always so sad looking, but that time she seemed genuinely happy." He pulled his elbow from the window, scratched his jaw and started to grin. "I don't know if that makes any sense."
"I think it does," Heero said.
Duo glanced at him, nodded. "It grew. Had to keep it tied up somehow. Mom was the one that suggested I braid it. She taught me how. Felt a bit girly at first, but it was better than keeping it all loose." He sighed. "Then, mom met Frank... He wasn't too crazy about my long hair, or the rest of mom's excess baggage. In return, I didn't like the look of his crew cut, or the rest of him. When they got married, my braid became a way of getting back at him. Mom always sided with me, so I got to keep it." Duo's lips formed a lopsided smile. "Teasing Frank has become a sort of hobby."
Heero shrugged it off, slowed down before the next sharp turn. "Well, most kids like to test the boundaries of their parents."
"I'm not a kid," Duo muttered. "But yeah... Frank and I fought plenty, but he could never really raise his voice when mom was around. I don't know how she did it. At one time, I felt like I was one of the hexed servants watching Beauty and the Beast romance each other." As the car straightened out again, he glanced over at Heero, reached out to touch his hair over his ear, tucking a lock back into place. Heero was momentarily startled by the move, and Duo pulled back. "Speaking of hair... Looks like you've saved up a fair bunch yourself."
"Not intentionally." Heero frowned and hand-combed the bangs across his forehead. "Cutting it is almost pointless. It grows right back out."
Duo burst out laughing. "Sorry to break it to ya, Boston, but hair is supposed to do that."
Heero gave him a quick glare. "What I meant is, it grows back fast." He gave his bangs another tuck, the result the same futile one. "And it takes this shape every time, no matter what I do. I've learned to live with it."
Duo's grin remained. "Yeah, but it sure doesn't make you look like MIT material, Heero."
He snorted. "And you look too much a hippie for Pittsburgh - you look like you belong on the west coast."
Duo stopped his first retort just as it was coming out of his mouth. He closed his mouth, cocked his head to the side. "Well... I am Californian, originally..."
He nodded in affirmation. "Born and raised in a tiny outpost along I-5."
Heero made a high whistle going low. "I was wondering about that - you have a bit of an dialect, but I couldn't quite place it... I-5 - Is that close to the coast?"
Duo shook his head. "More like a cross-cut of the whole state, top to bottom."
Heero nodded. He was about to ask if Duo's lived in the northern or southern half to narrow the picture down when Duo beat him to the punch.
"What about you? You got an accent too, and I don't mean New England."
He gave a lopsided smile. "You're right... Call it an inheritance from my grandmother."
"I'm half Japanese. My father ran into my mother during a business trip and ended up staying longer than he'd planned. In the end, he settled down on this side of the ocean. I was born a year later."
"And your grandmother?"
Heero looked dead ahead, not just to keep an eye on the road. "My dad kept asking my grandparents to come live with us. Dad's an only child, and he felt obligated to support his parents - but doing it across the Pacific wasn't easy. My grandparents weren't enthusiastic about the idea of moving halfway around the world, either. I can understand - the whole world they knew, all their friends, all of that was in Japan."
Heero fell silent for a bit. Duo got impatient. "So, what happened?"
"My grandfather had a heart attack. Didn't make it. Dad went back for months, did his best to talk grandmother over. He managed it, in the end. So, I met my grandmother for the first time around the time I learned how to walk. I suppose that's how it happened - she became my nanny. She didn't understand a word of English, so she and dad talked Japanese all the time. That tainted my speech pattern a little." He shook his head, sighed. "Poor grandmother... I can't even imagine how traumatizing it was to come to a completely foreign country, without even knowing the language. She never did learn English - but I never could pick up much Japanese, despite hers and dad's best efforts, so I guess we're even."
Duo had more than one question, but chose to wait. There was something in Heero's saddened expression.
"...she died just before I started school. I think she never stopped missing her home. Dad made sure she got back, in the end... And that's the only time I've ever been in Japan." He gave Duo a long glance. "Have you ever seen a Japanese graveyard?"
Duo shook his head. "Not for real."
"Be glad," Heero muttered. "Just the thought of all the cramped-up memorials makes me gloomy. It's not that Western burial grounds are cheerful places, but compared to where I said my last goodbye to my grandmother..."
He gave an involuntary shudder, shook his head again.
Duo balked on his original curiosity, but didn't want to leave them silent at such a note. "Japan... I'm sort of a fan of Japan. I watch those Japanese cartoons all the time."
"Anime," Heero corrected.
"That's what they're called. Not cartoons. Anime."
"Isn't that just 'cartoon' in Japanese?"
Heero shrugged. "Could be. Like I said, I never could learn the language. After grandmother passed away my father hardly spoke a word of it, almost as if he wanted to forget that part of his life entirely."
Duo stared into the dashboard, gritted his teeth, thinking of a better approach.
Heero pre-empted him. "I guess I'll ask Trowa about it. He's the big-time anime junkie."
"Oh, yeah. He knows I'm half Japanese, but he says he has trouble believing it when he knows more Japanese than I do." Half a smirk. "Not my fault I was raised as a proper patchwork American."
"Don't watch cartoons, huh?"
Heero shook his head. "Despite Trowa's best efforts. He's gotten to Quatre, I think - even if he won't admit it."
Duo chuckled. "Well, I suppose you can't blame Quatre for caving in - they live together, right?"
"But he never got to you, huh?" Duo sighed, but kept a slight smirk. "I guess you don't have time for fun stuff - I mean, you probably aced everything at MIT, didn't you, Boston?"
Heero growled. "Duo, I wish you'd stop with that. My name is not Boston, and I did not attend MIT. I told you, I never went to college."
"Sure about that?" Duo teased. "Something about you just screams MIT..."
He snorted, his head making a slow turn right. "Not more than how everything about you screams army brat, braid excluded."
Duo started to snicker. "Touché, Boston..."
Heero sent him a glare, but didn't rebut. Instead, he mulled on whether or not to tell Duo. After a couple of minutes, he made up his mind. "I run a shoe store."
Duo's expression couldn't make up it's mind between surprise and mild shock. "You're a shoe salesman?"
The left corner of Heero's mouth twitched at Duo's tone of voice. He nodded.
While his jaw relaxed, the grin remained. Duo shook his head. "Ah-uh. Not gonna fall for that one, Boston. MIT undergrad or bust."
Heero sighed. This particular topic was getting tiresome. "I'm afraid not, California. I'm sure an MIT student would have been more interesting, but that doesn't change facts. I'm the general manager of a small store in Mattapan."
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Of course I'm serious," Heero all but growled. The truck behind them was getting way too close. He glared daggers at the little duckie of a hood ornament through the rearview mirror.
"Shit..." Duo muttered. "Fine, I take your word for it. It's just - I never would have figured you for a salesman. No offense, Boston - but you don't exactly strike me as a people person."
Heero shrugged and stepped on the gas to gain some distance. "You're not the first to tell me that... But like I said, I'm the manager. I deal with inventory and accounting books. Joan and Harvey tend the store. I don't deal that much with the customers." He smirked wryly. "I don't think Joan would let me. We've got few enough of them as it is."
"You don't run a franchise?"
"Nope. More or less inherited the store from a crazy old uncle of mine. He's a shoemaker by trade - but in life, he's been somewhat of a jack-of-all-trades. Mom doesn't like me consorting with him." His smirk sharpened. "I suppose that's why whenever I argued with my parents, he was the one I ran to. And he is a crazy bastard."
"Hn... Do I dare ask if he was the guy who invented high heels?"
"What, you crossdress too?"
"Hey!" Duo gave Heero's shoulder a good-natured shove. "Now, that's prejudice. Just 'cause I got long hair-"
"I know," Heero cut in. "Sorry. And no, I don't think he is - but he could have been. He's the embodiment of the Cheshire cat. He even has claws."
"What, he's got inch-long fingernails, or something?"
"No. Prosthetics. He lost an arm in Vietnam. He's got several, but he prefers one he pretty much made himself - got three claw-like fingers reacting on nerve signals. That used to scare me as a kid. When you add the insane grin of his, the bracers he has to use to support his legs and the creepy pair of glasses... Hell, if you were four and put in his care for a day, you'd freak too."
Duo made a mental image of it and grinned. "Your uncle sounds like a damn interesting fellow."
Heero snorted. "Not quite the word I'd use, but I suppose that shoe fits him too. I hope you never meet him."
Duo scratched an itch at his left elbow. "Well, at least I'd be sure to recognize him now..."
Heero nodded, checked for the truck in the rearview mirror, pleased to see there was a slight gap now. They weren't speeding either. Not by much.
"So... like a good shoe salesman, do you spend all your dough down at the nudie bar too, Boston?"
Heero caught the reference. "Selling shoes does not make me Al Bundy - and would you quit calling me Boston already?! My name is Heero! Heero Yuy!"
Duo's easy-going smile did not abate. "You know, you're cute when you're angry."
Caught in the attempt to retort, Heero's fluster remained. He mumbled a string of expletives to himself, focused on the road ahead for a while.
"California..." Duo whispered.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking... California is a damn mouthful for a nickname, right?"
"Duo, I do not want a nickname, and I wasn't planning on giving you one, either. Do you want to walk to California?"
He started laughing, if softly. "Can't say the idea tempts me."
Heero was rewarded with a few minutes of silence.
It couldn't last. "California... Cali - Kali!"
"My new nickname!" Duo stated with enthusiasm. "Kali - god of death and destruction. I kinda like that symbolism."
Heero thought it over, and soon enough grew a lopsided smirk. "I suppose Kali is fine..." The smirk went to full. "Except, Kali is a godess."
Duo made like a guppy fish. "Oh..."
With a great grin, Heero nodded. "Kali it is, then."
"Hey, now - I was just-"
"Just planning to quit calling me Boston?"
Duo bit down his initial answer, ultimately deciding no answer was the best one.
For the first time in quite a while, Heero felt triumphant. "Kali... I think Frank would have been proud."
A grunt was all the reply he got for a good ten minutes.
Their past discussion at some distance, Duo leaned forward and looked to the heavens. "The sky is growing darker. Looks like it's gonna rain."
As if on cue, there was a not-too-distant roll of thunder, clearly audible even inside the car.
'Keep a-moving, move along, keep a-moving...'
Duo reached over to pop the driver's side door open. He barely managed to nudge an opening, but it was enough for Heero's shoe to get a hold of. He swung the door free and slid into the car, careful not to drop any of the goods he was carrying. His breathing was erratic. Given that he'd run through the rain from the corner burger bar, this was not too surprising.
Heero handed Duo his share of the junk food, slammed the door shut to keep the hard, straight rain outside. The lack of wind was a minor blessing when walking through the rain felt like swimming.
Duo wisely chose not to comment Heero's drowned cat look, even as he tried to hand-comb his soaked hair back to the brink of order. After all, the guy had offered to do the food run, and Duo was glad to escape the duty.
Of course, he'd done so at a promise. "I checked the map again."
Heero fumbled with putting a straw into his Styrofoam cup of Cola. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. I think we took a wrong turn at this place called Licking." He grabbed the map, currently folded so that Missouri was on display. "See there?" He tapped the tiny spot on the map. "See the line heading west?"
"I see it," Heero growled and drowned his bad mood with a sip of his soft drink. "And did you find out where we are?"
Duo shook his head. "I think we're in southern Missouri somewhere, but I don't know where, exactly."
"Look for a place called West Plains. I think I saw a roadsign with that name on it."
"One sec..." Duo balanced the map on his knee and against the dashboard while he struggled to unwrap his cheeseburger. "Found it!" he suddenly exclaimed. "And damn... We're way off course, Heero - look there." Again, he put his finger on the map.
Heero followed the digit and started to frown. "We're in southern Missouri, all right. We're closer to Arkansas than Oklahoma, for crying out loud. Damn it!" He slammed a fist against the door. "Fine, so we got off track. Do you see any roads nearby heading west?"
Duo shook his head. "Not unless we double back quite a bit - and the road we're following looks like it'll turn even more towards the southeast."
Gritting his teeth, Heero tore at the corner of his burger wrap. "Great... Just great..."
As Heero took his first bite, Duo flashed him a crooked grin. "Guess you could say we took a Licking and kept on ticking..."
Heero swallowed. "Or driving."
Duo nodded. "Exactly." He dug in on his cheeseburger.
After another chug of soda, Heero slammed the cup against his knee, sloshing the contents but spilling nothing, courtesy of the lid. "Okay - here's what I think. Next intersection we hit, we take a right turn and follow any backroad heading west we can find." He nodded towards the ashtray. "Might as well take advantage of the compass when the map fails us."
"Okay... but what if there aren't any roads heading west?"
He grunted. "I'm almost certain there are. Look at the map. No great lakes, no great mountains. There's got to be a bunch of small roads in southern Missouri - this map doesn't show every road there is. I was off the map when I ran into you, for instance."
Duo wolfed down another chunk of burger, nodding. "Fine," he spoke around the meal, "But can't we ask directions just in case?"
Heero gave him a hard glance out of the corner of his eye and packed the map away. "Let's try heading west first."
The flat Cola was great at washing the dry burger down with. "Can't get yourself to ask anyone for help, can you?"
Heero didn't answer, focusing on his meal. Above them, the skies rumbled.
'...address unknown... no such number... no such zone...'
The road was in poor condition, but even the potholes and patches of mud swirling in across the broken asphalt were rendered hard to detect in the pouring rain. Most were noticed as they were driven over.
Then, the road shifted to gravel.
"Okay, now we're definitely lost..."
"We're not," Heero denied. He tapped the compass. "We're heading almost due west."
Duo gave a weak snort. "More like straight down south and under."
Heero didn't bother replying. He checked the gas gauge, relieved to note they were still good. It didn't look like they'd hit a service station any time soon. Absentmindedly, he skimmed the rest of the dashboard too. Wherever they were, it was eight minutes past nine.
"I'm this close to believing we'll turn that next bend and see a sign welcoming us to Hank and Mary's Possum Farm..."
Despite himself, Heero grinned. "Well... I wouldn't rule that out - but an alligator farm, not possums."
The corner of his mouth tugged up a bit. "We're not that far south, Boston. I doubt there are gators in these creeks."
Heero shrugged, keeping his grin. "Whatever you say, Kali..."
Duo tilted his head to offer his disgruntled look to Heero. "Very funny, Heero."
"Does my goddess have issues?"
Duo slapped the back of his hand to Heero's shoulder. When Heero started snickering, he wanted to repeat it, only with a balled-up fist. "Careful, or I'll put a hex of death on you."
"Actually..." Heero started, "I think Kali is a goddess of both life and death. She only got a bad reputation in the west because some of her followers took to sacrificing British tourists in India during the eighteenth century."
A devilish smirk on Duo's lips. "The original killer vacation, huh?"
Laughing lightly, Heero slowed down for the next bend of the road. "I suppose..." The path ahead straightened out. "No welcome sign," he sighed.
"Not to a possum farm, at least. Slow down, Heero."
While dubious, Heero obeyed the request. "What?"
"Over there," Duo pointed. "There's some kind of old sign hidden in the weeping willow branches."
The car came to a halt, and Heero squinted out into the dark. Finally, partly illuminated by the lowbeams, he saw it. "Lafayette Motel, three miles..."
Duo suppressed a yawn. "Sounds good, doesn't it? How about stopping early tonight?"
Heero frowned as he put the car in gear and got them moving again. "I want to get out of Missouri tonight."
"What makes you think we're not out already? We've got to be damn close to Arkansas, if we're not already there."
Heero pretended he hadn't heard that.
"At least we could ask for-"
"No," Heero cut in.
Duo sighed, shook his head. "You know, you've got issues, pal. Fine, I'll ask where the hell we are. Saves you the embarrassment, right?"
Again, Heero didn't want to answer. He still had to go through with a full yawn, though.
"See? You're tired too. Can't blame you - you've been driving all damn day, not to mention the day before. Do we have to repeat last night to get you to stop?"
The gravel road came around another bend. Somewhat in the distance, off to the right, was a long, low building. Lights were on in some of the windows, although it was all dampened by dark drapes. The two bowl lamps flanking the stairs to the wooden porch were bright as day, though.
"Heero..." Duo warned.
Allowing himself a growl, Heero decided to listen to reason. Out of habit, he signaled off the road and took one of the many empty spaces along the porch, close to the lights. Duo's arguments were sound. A long night's sleep sounded good indeed. A warm shower even more so.
This close the place looked even more ramshackle. He frowned, and wondered if his last request would even be possible here. He cut the engine. "Well..." he said. "We're here."
Duo nodded, looked out and up. It was still pouring down. He unbuckled his seatbelt and reached between the seats for his backpack. He flashed Heero a grin. "See you up under the porch roof?"
Heero's frown deepened at the thought of having to get the light suitcase out of the trunk. He glared daggers at Duo as he ducked out of the car, slammed the door and ran towards the stairs. Heero reached over to lock the passenger side door and prepared to face Mother Nature's hissy fit.
He did not reach the porch unscathed. Not for the first time that day, his shirt was thoroughly soaked. He wasn't quite sure what disturbed him most - Duo giving him a slow once-over glance, or the old crone in the rocking chair staring at his chest outright.
"Hey, Heero - I was just asking Claire here where we are, exactly."
The old woman gave a hoarse cackle, patted her pipe and started the rocking motion again. "Bit east o' Gainesville, boys. Welcome to the Lafayette. Want rooms fo' th' night?" Her big grin lacked a couple of teeth.
"Gainesville..." Duo muttered. "We're still in Missouri, right?"
Again, the woman burst out laughing. "I sure reckon so, boy. Now, you want me to fix you up for the night, or not?"
"Yes, we'd like a room."
"Something cheap," Duo cut in.
"Ha!" she exclaimed. "They're all cheap - but I'll let you hog the porch for a dollar."
Heero wasn't sure she was joking, despite the grin. "I think... we can afford a little more than that. Do you have a room with a tight roof, two decent beds and a warm shower?"
"Demandin', aren't you, boy..." Claire muttered as she rocked herself out of her chair, pipe clenched in her teeth. "Come along," she waved, and led them down the porch. "Reckon number six ought to please ya. Haven't seen a roach there for months." She sounded off her dark coughing chuckle again before taking another deep breath from the pipe.
Feeling uneasy, Heero struggled to resist the urge to run back to the car and keep on driving. Maybe they'd find something better in Gainesville. He studied the hostess limping ahead before them, the big metal ring of keys rattling in her hand as she moved forward.
Claire stopped. "Here we are," she said, picking at her keys to find the right one. She inserted the key, but didn't turn it. "That'll be sixty dollars, payment in front, cash."
Heero frowned. The woman's sharp eyes met his own glare. She patted her pipe again. Heero wasn't sure which of them were more crooked. "That's steep."
"You're welcome to find sometin' better and cheaper, boy. This here is my motel, so my word's final. Sixty-five dollars."
"I want to see the room first."
She huffed, turned the key and pushed the door ajar. Heero peered inside. It really didn't look too bad - though certainly it wasn't worth that much for a single night. "Don't like it?"
"I suppose it'll do," Heero muttered.
"Good," Claire countered. "That'll be seventy dollars."
Heero gritted his teeth and could barely restrain the urge to give the old crone a good shake. He might have, had not Duo put a calming hand on his shoulder.
"We'll take it," he said. "Thanks, Claire - uhm, is there a restaurant near here? We've been driving all day, and we haven't had a proper dinner yet."
She nodded all sage-like. "Been eatin' junk food, hm? Won't keep you growin', boy."
Duo grinned right back at her. "I've never been fond of vegetables, I'm afraid."
She puffed herself up and grunted. "Shame, boy. Cryin' shame. And no restaurants around, but I can fix you up with some grits, on the house." She turned to glare at Heero. "Five bucks extra for you."
Duo could barely suppress a snicker at Heero's expression. He reached for his wallet and started counting up his share.
Heero grudgingly did the same - including the additional five bucks. The woman was fleecing them, but the thought of hitting the road again was not particularly tempting.
'Ask me... if I wanted... to caress you.. and I'd confess...'
All in all, the evening hadn't turned out too bad. Hands behind his head, Heero rested against his pillow, staring up in the ceiling, listening in the dusk. There was the rain outside veiling the soft tinkle sounding from the bathroom, his own breaths, the breaths of Mother Nature occasionally shaking the walls.
Claire's cooking had, unlike the room, not been steeply overpriced - not when you considered the size of the platter. He'd had trouble clearing his. How Duo could ask for seconds, he didn't know. Perhaps it was easier to enjoy the food if it was free.
The warm shower had been a blessing. A clean, dry T-shirt afterwards had also been good. The soft, warm bed had been more than welcome.
Now, if only there wasn't the buzzing of a mosquito in the dimly lit room keeping him awake, even through the sleep-inducing rain.
He barely registered when the shower cut off. Heero tilted his head and looked across the room. Duo's nightstand lamp was still on. He cursed the bothersome little insect for not seeking out the light. He closed his eyes, tried to fall asleep again, but failed. For the twenty-seventh time in the last ten minutes, he tried to kill the mosquito, but his clap of hands missed once more. Growling, he ground the back of his head into the pillow again.
The floorboards creaked. Heero opened one eye to a slit, looked into the room and saw Duo walk out of the bathroom, a big towel wrapped around his head, trapping his hair - but beyond that, the dogtags were all that covered his body. Heero watched Duo's back as it moved towards the light. He heard the mosquito fly away, too.
And saw Duo pause, search, attack.
Heero gave a faint grunt as he saw Duo brush off his hands. At least the insect was dead now. He closed his eyes again, breathed slower, listened to the rain and gushes of wind. Without the high-pitched buzz about, sleep wasn't far away.
He'd almost fallen into a slumber as he suddenly started feeling alert again. At first, he wasn't sure why. He listened intently, his own soft breathing the only thing he detected at first. It took him a couple of minutes to make out the second set of breaths and motion in the night, so much closer than he'd first assumed.
If he hadn't been prepared, he would surely have jerked back as he felt the faint brush against his cheek, only after the fact reasoning it had been a fingertip. He struggled to keep from shuddering and sucking in more air than sleep required.
He sensed his bangs be cautiously lifted back off his forehead, the same flighty touch grazing his forehead. Soft lips touched the exposed skin so lightly Heero wasn't sure it had happened until two fingers tentatively brushed against his cheek, preceding a kiss to the tip of his nose.
He tried to swallow as inconspicuously as possible, hoping the dark would hide it. His hands curled the sheets.
Heero suspected what was coming, but still wasn't prepared as those lips sought out his own in the faintest of kisses, barely touching. Even so, it was enough to make Heero arch his neck slightly, prolonging the sensation for a split second before his acting caught up with him.
His known assailant hovered above him, barely inches away. Heero felt Duo's warm breath against his skin.
Then came the barely perceptible whisper. "...mind if I just watch you like this for a bit...?"
Heero didn't have to open his eyes and see to know Duo was kneeling beside him, looking down at him in the dim light of the nightstand lamp across the room. "...I'm awake, you know..." he finally whispered back into the night.
There was no surprise at all in Duo's reply. "I know..."
The sound of the rain was all there was. Duo's warm breath caressed Heero's cheek, soon followed by a faint touch of his fingers. Heero opened his mouth to speak, closed it again. "...are you naked?" he dared mumble.
The touch ceased, and a light chuckle pierced the near silence. "Would it really matter if I put my boxers back on?" Duo spoke in a low voice.
Heero swallowed. "I suppose not..." He was about to give up all pretense of masquerade when Duo smoothed his bangs back over his forehead.
"Keep your eyes closed, Boston... Maybe this is all a dream..." he whispered before leaning close again. Another light kiss, and again Heero felt himself lift after Duo's lips, not breaking off until his head felt too heavy. He fell back into his pillow.
He heard Duo shuffle to his feet and cross the room. Despite Duo's advice, Heero opened his eyes to slits. From the corners of his eyes, he watched Duo's retreating rear in the poor light, the silhouette of Duo's curves all that he really saw, except for the brief moment Duo passed the strip of moonlight shining through their single window, offering him a glance of Duo's tailbone.
Heero licked his lips as he rolled over on his side, closed his eyes and calmed down as best he could, sleep overcoming the slight fear that Duo planned on molesting him during the night.
A dream, indeed...
'...don't you kiss me once or twice, then say it's very nice and then you run...'
His grip of the steering wheel was somewhat tighter than it ought to be, and his intent focus was far down the road - although his thoughts were not quite as sharp.
Duo's attempts at casual conversation and sporadic comments to the small road and lush landscape didn't help.
Heero had woken up first that morning, and it had taken him some time sitting up in his bed to recall yesterday. He'd looked across the room to Duo, watched as the boy rolled over in his sleep, mooning him for an instant before the covers slid into place.
Heero had hesitated, wondering if the young man was still playing his game. A few minutes later, he concluded Duo was in fact asleep. The sudden grunt of a snore backed that theory up.
Unchallenged at first dibs on the bathroom, Heero had finished up quickly, packed his suitcase and brought it back to the car before Duo had woken up. Upon his return to the room, Heero heard him rummage about in the bathroom.
Heero had gone over to Duo's bed, at first intending to make the bed. He'd paused upon putting his palm down on the still warm indentation Duo had left. The sound of the bathroom faucet cutting off had made him finish the task at hand.
Claire had been gracious enough to offer them and the few other guests breakfast - at a premium, naturally.
They'd hit the road before nine AM, and just in case, Heero has opted to stop in Gainesville to fill the gas tank and store up on driving snacks.
Throughout the morning, Duo had done his best to keep a conversation going, more than once teasing Heero with his nickname. He would talk about everything, except what Heero wanted to discuss - and Heero was reluctant in bringing that topic up himself.
Was it all a dream, after all? Had he fallen asleep without even noticing it, and dreamt it all up? He wasn't sure, but didn't think so. Still, if that was the case, why was Duo acting as if it never happened? Or was it simply that it didn't matter much to Duo?
Far more importantly, Heero wondered why it seemed to matter so much to himself.
For the last half hour, he'd barely listened to whatever Duo chatted on about, tuning in only every few seconds in case his sidekick started talking of pink alien elephants or other 'are you really paying attention' topics. At the very least, Heero offered him the occasional acknowledgment of existence.
Until Duo cried out. "Heero, look ou-"
The car bumped against the obstacle, Heero hit the brakes and signaled off out of reflex rather than need. The road was deserted - at least it had been vacant of cars. "Fuck..." Heero muttered as he killed the engine and wrestled free of his seatbelt. He got out and ran back towards whatever it was they'd hit. While he hadn't been in the best of moods, killing an innocent animal was not something he'd planned.
He stopped a few feet away, staring at the gross sight.
Duo caught up with him, put a hand on his shoulder as he grimaced. "Well, Boston... That might have been a possum once..."
"Yeah..." Heero breathed out.
Quick chuckle. "Think we can safely say we didn't kill it. Poor critter is way too pancaked."
"Yeah..." Heero repeated.
Duo paused. Just like a train wreck, there was no way he could shift his attention from it, even though it was hardly a pleasant sight. "You know... I don't think I've seen something that gross since the first time I pulled back my foreskin."
"Y-" Heero flagged a brow, hurriedly turned to look at Duo, not quite certain what Duo was getting at.
Flashing him a grin, Duo scratched the back of his left wrist. "You know what I mean, right? One thing is seeing a caked-up toilet, but when it's your own plumbing..."
Heero gaped at bit, finally catching on - and without thinking, he blurted out "I wouldn't know - I'm cut."
The Cheshire cat had nothing on Duo. "Really? So, you're a hardhead, huh?"
Frowning, Heero was about to voice his disagreement. Through biology class supplemented by the school of life, he knew of the benefits of remaining intact versus being circumcised, but he certainly hadn't hurt from his parents' decision all those years ago. "It's not hard," he rebutted.
Duo laughed. "Good thing for you there's pills for that now."
The furrows in Heero's face deepened as he glared daggers at Duo. Even so, he started to smirk at the absurdity of their conversation.
He didn't like being the butt end of the joke, though. Short of a verbal comeback, he tackled Duo from behind on impulse, tickling his sides and belly. Duo's consequent yelp and strained laughter was his reward. It only took the young man a few seconds to struggle free, but Heero couldn't help but think the effort half-hearted. "Damn it, Boston," Duo hissed while gasping for air. "Don't do that!"
Heero grunted, fixed the smirk on his face. "I haven't heard a squeal like that since Quatre got one of his nipples pierced..."
"So sue me," Duo retorted, annoyance in his voice if not on his face. "I'm ticklish, damn it!" A step forward. "I'm also vengeful. Eye for an eye, Heero."
The smirk faltered. Heero put both palms up in defense. "No, Duo - wait-"
Too late. Duo made a strike for Heero's side before he could properly dodge it. Heero counterattacked, but with little success. Duo's fingers landed a hit against his belly, while Heero barely managed to scrape up against Duo's upper arm.
Their mock duel lasted only moments, but that was enough. In retrospect, Heero couldn't remember how they ended up halfway embracing each other, faces barely an inch apart. They both froze, shared the look into each other's eyes, shared the hesitation, shared air through the soft breaths they exchanged.
No dream, Heero convinced himself as he leaned his head forward, hoping Duo would meet him. As he closed his eyes, he noticed how Duo briefly wet his lips.
A second too soon, the sound of an approaching car ruined everything. By the time the pickup truck drove past them, they had untangled and stepped apart.
Heero faced the long deceased animal again, uncertain of what to think, much less say or do. He was not gay. Why had he wanted to kiss Duo? Why hadn't Duo pushed him away? Yesterday couldn't have been a dream.
He didn't have the guts to ask Duo flat out. Asking directions was hard enough. Asking about something like that seemed infinitely more impossible. For a moment, he hoped Duo would take the burden off his shoulder.
To no avail, he surmised as Duo stepped up behind him and patted his shoulder twice, sighing. "Maybe we should do something - have you got a shovel in the trunk?"
Heero's eyes remained fixed on the blotch of flat, dry roadkill. "I don't think a shovel would do much good. Whatever this was, it looks too embedded in the asphalt to be scooped up."
"Scrape it off, then?"
"Maybe - but I don't have the right tool for that job."
After a quick snort, Duo turned around. "Guess we've exhausted our options here, then. Should we call somebody?"
Heero made to follow. "Like who?"
Duo raised both palms to shoulder height, not looking back. For a split second, Heero imagined him a preacher. "I don't know - wildlife services? The highway patrol? The department of motor vehicles? Which of them is it that drives around and scoops up roadkill?" He looked over his shoulder and grinned. "Or should we just wait for some hillbillies looking for dinner?"
Heero wrinkled his nose, but smiled nevertheless. "I think we'll leave just leave this mess for someone else - whichever of the above gets here first." As Duo nodded and walked over to the car, Heero took a deep breath, the smile fading. He glanced up, studied where the sun shining through the sparse cloud cover was hiding.
Whatever had or had not happened up until then, one thing was certain - Heero was intent on leaving this state of Missouri long before dinner time.
Provided they could find the interstate by then.
'Pardon me if I'm sentimental...'
Courtesy of Duo demanding they stop and ask directions, they'd gone north from the gas station in Walnut Shades and finally met up with I-44 in Springfield. As long as the nearly empty road didn't suddenly and mysteriously clog up with traffic over the next bluff, they'd hit the state line in a fairly timely fashion. While they'd reach Oklahoma far behind schedule, at least they were on the fastest route to Flagstaff again.
Duo had been quiet for the last half hour, though. Up until five minutes ago, that was the result of reading a paper they had picked up at the last stopover. It didn't appear anything worthwhile had happened in the world at large since he'd left Boston.
Or maybe Duo's mind were on closer matters than world affairs - like the thoughts his own mind kept lingering on.
Heero's left palm slipped on the steering wheel, and he swallowed quickly. "Yes?"
"How come you're so into Elvis?"
Then again, perhaps Duo was thinking of something completely different. Heero shot a glare down on the radio before he turned the volume down, content at having the king as a backdrop. "It's a long story..."
Duo huffed, nodded ahead at the straight road. "I think we've got time."
Heero gave a lopsided smirk. "Well..." he started, "I think you could say it started with my grandmother."
One brow up, one brow down. "...I thought you said she didn't know English..."
"No, not her - my grandmother on my mother's side. She was the obsessed one, according to my mother. I wouldn't know, I never met her - she died before I was born."
Heero shrugged it off. "Don't be." There was someone standing on the shoulder of the road, hand out. He slowed down and signaled to avoid the woman. One hitchhiker was enough. In the rearview mirror, he saw the semitrailer coming up behind them slowing down, clearing him of the slight touch of bad conscience. "It started when I played hide-and-seek with Trowa one day. We were four at the time, so we were small enough to hide in places no adult could find us easily. Our attic was full of such hiding places. As luck would have it, I came across a big box of 45s. Most of those were Elvis records. You know what 45s are?"
"Some sort of old gramophone discs, right?"
Heero shrugged. "Close enough. There was a player in there too. Trowa and I got mom to set it up for us. We thought it sounded strange - but like I said, we were four. Everything sounded strange to us, including the current radio hits. We did develop an interest in how Egyptians walked, though. Mom had trouble explaining that."
"The Bangles?" Duo asked.
Heero nodded. "You've heard the song, then?"
"Yeah," Duo stated. "Even if it is as old as I am. I'm fond of eighties music." He snickered. "Hey, don't give me that look - my eclectic tastes have always been a bit strange - and you're grooving to music that's a hell of a lot older."
Heero cocked his head to one side. "I give you that much..." He turned the volume up a notch. "At first, we just listened for fun. I listened to it some more even after Trowa went home. It grew on me." A thin smile formed on his face. "My mother helped in that regard. She had Elvis on LPs and cassettes too, so I got to hear some of the songs all over again, only in better quality. By the time I started in school, I'd caught the bug that got my grandmother and mother. By the time dad noticed, it was too late - though he kindled an interest for classical music in me later."
"...so, my choices are to listen to Elvis all the way to Flagstaff, or switch to Beethoven?"
Heero had to laugh. "Something like that." He turned to grin at Duo. "Sorry."
Duo shrugged. "Your car, your rules. Besides, some of this ain't half bad, Boston."
With a grunt, Heero faced forward and stepped on the accelerator. "You know, my mother actually had 'Elvis' on the shortlist of names when I was born..."
Duo's mirth did not abate. "About to tell me you've got a middle name?"
"Thankfully, no - my father was a little too conservative for an 'Elvis Yuy' in the family."
"So, 'Heero' is a common Japanese name?"
Heero clenched his teeth momentarily. "I wouldn't say that... but it fits better with my last name, doesn't it?"
Duo let go a chuckle. "Sure does. Besides, I'm having trouble visualising you sporting sideburns and a tight white suit with sequins."
He snorted. "I only dressed up as Elvis once, a third grade costume ball. Learned my lesson then."
Duo snickered again. "So, you're not sickly obsessed with the guy, only crazy about his music? You're not one of the crazies claiming he never died?"
Heero tilted his head a tad. "That would be my grandmother," he stated tentatively. "She would have claimed he never died and meant it. My mother would be more of the sort that would say 'as long as Elvis and his music is alive in our hearts, he lives on'."
"...and you?" Duo hesitantly asked.
Heero shrugged, sighed. "I'm a bit more pragmatic about it. The king is dead. Long live the king."
"He sure lives on in this car."
"You said it best. My car, my rules."
Duo grinned. "Hey, not complaining. I'll just think of it as an education in a different era."
"Several eras," Heero felt inclined to point out. "And several forms of music. Elvis had a long and diversified career. If his heart hadn't given out, he might have new hits on the Top 40 even today."
"I thought he did - I'm sure I've seen a couple of Elvis songs listed."
"Not new ones," Heero muttered. "Either re-releases or remixes."
Duo nodded. "Yeah, I think I've heard the remixes. Those were good."
Heero frowned. "Not compared to the originals."
"I wouldn't know."
With a smirk, Heero reached for the stereo panel again, intending to shuffle forward a couple of tracks. "We'll fix that soon enough. Can't leave you stranded in the eighties forever."
"Hey, there was a lot good music made in the eighties!"
"A lot of bad music, too."
"Are you saying Elvis never made a flop?"
Heero's hand froze on the button, and he gritted his teeth. "...that depends on taste. There are some songs of his I'm not quite so fond of."
Duo didn't push for which. He was glad to discover this much. Perhaps there was hope in widening Heero's musical horizons too. Until then, he thought it best not to mention his occasional weakness for questionable German synthpop along the lines of Modern Talking.
A new track started as a big sign welcomed them to Oklahoma.
'...listen to the music, drifting through the summer breeze...'
They'd stopped for lunch an hour away from Tulsa. The small city of Vinita had provided them with a good and fairly cheap restaurant. Unfortunately, it had also provided them with pranksters.
They'd returned from their meal to find one of the tires had gone flat. The valve had been wrapped with tape so that it would keep leaking air. The tiny plastic cap was just next to the wheel. The culprits were nowhere in sight - but as Heero struggled to fix the problem, more than one car owner returned to the parking lot only to let go strings of expletives. Sharing the same fate eased Heero's anger somewhat - but not much.
At first, he'd tried to inflate the tire with the handpump he had stored in the trunk - but he met little success. At Duo's suggestion, they had instead replaced the deflated tire with the spare. If nothing else, that solution would let them drive to the nearest service station, so that they could fix the regular tire.
They'd gotten as far as searching Vinita for a gas station with an air pump. Again, Heero muttered a curse on whoever had delayed them like this.
Duo had been more pragmatic. "So we lose half an hour. At least they only did one tire, and they didn't slash it outright. I knew kids who did that for kicks."
Heero flagged a brow. "And what about you?"
Duo shook his head, grinning. "Nah, I was a good boy. Well, except this once... I was eleven, and there was this asshole colonel I wanted to get even with. Slashed all four tires on his jeep."
Heero gave him a long look. "...Your father?"
Again, Duo shook his head. "No. Frank and I aren't exactly best buddies, but I've never been that pissed with him. Only disappointed."
"Did you get caught?"
"No," Duo said, grinning wickedly. "This guy was a master at getting people to hate him. It wasn't just me. I sorta disappeared in the crowd of suspects." He looked out the window again. "Hey, Heero - over there!"
Heero followed Duo's pointing, saw the gas station. "Looks promising." He pulled over, searched for, found and parked next to the self-service air pump.
Duo helped him get the original tire back into place, then excused himself, claiming he wanted to grab a few extra candy bars from the store. "Do you want anything?"
Heero shook his head and focused on how to operate the air pump. He was all done by the time Duo returned. The few extra minutes he'd sat drumming a beat against the steering wheel to the rhythms Elvis poured out the speakers did little to influence his lack of patience. He was prepared to glare at Duo for taking so long, but was pre-empted. The moment Duo got into the car, the moment Heero opened his mouth to grumble about tardiness, Duo also offered him a handout - a CD still in its plastic wrapping.
"For you," Duo had said with a crooked smile.
"You shouldn't have," Heero said in a grumpy tone as he accepted. Then he read the cover. "You really shouldn't have."
Duo snickered. "Hey, it was on sale - besides, I think even the king could use a rest."
Heero flashed Duo with the cover again. "But a 'best of' Shania Twain?"
"Hey, she's got a good voice!" Duo protested.
Feeling guilty, Heero decided not to argue further. While he could agree to that much, from what little of hers he'd heard, he wasn't sure he would enjoy listening to her as much as Elvis. Still, the picture on the cover reminded him of a couple of Shania Twain music videos he'd seen on TV. "She's got a good lot more than that..." he muttered in compromise.
Duo grinned at the suggestion at her physical appeal, but opted to play stupid, shrugging. "This li'l gay boy wouldn't know about that... Not that Elvis pushes my buttons either."
Heero gave him a suspicious glare. "Thanks," he finally mumbled.
"You're welcome," Duo returned in a chipper tone. "Come on, Boston - you've got to admit her music would fit better now. I mean, we're outside of the 'kingdom', right? This far west is more her territory, isn't it?"
While ready to start an argument over that, Heero tempered himself. Duo's gift was unexpected, but not completely unappreciated. Listening to it rather than Elvis for a while was the least he could do to pay Duo back.
He disliked the situation he'd been put in for the same reason he didn't like asking directions - both left him feeling indebted, and Heero loathed such unfinished business.
As they headed for Tulsa, the king got a rest.
He was back on by the time they left Oklahoma City - but every so often, Heero was courteous enough to let the spotlight shift to the lady.
'stop, look and listen, baby, that's my philosophy...'
Duo's gift had not been entirely altruistic. Since he wasn't especially concerned about paying Heero back for the ride, that was hardly the main reason. Far more importantly was getting a break from Elvis; revolting against king and aristocracy.
And then there was the mere gender factor. Both singers surely had wide repertoires, but there was no denying both centered on lovesongs - and therein lay the difference. Shania Twain, to the best of Duo's knowledge a straight woman, sang lovesongs of men. Elvis, presumably a straight man, sang lovesongs of women.
Rules rarely come without exceptions, though. The chorus where Elvis sang about 'my boy' had piqued Duo's interest - but it had waned just as quickly as he caught on to the rest of the lyrics.
Finally, he considered singing along to specific parts of Miss Twain's songs, just to gauge Heero's reactions. Yesterday had held promise. Duo wished to explore that further - but preferably without being too obvious about it.
He'd cursed the stray car that had passed them and the squished possum at the most inconvenient moment for several hours. At least Heero hadn't been particularly body-shy in his attack. If only he'd been more prepared for the assault... Duo couldn't help wonder if he could have grazed more interesting places, had the skirmish lasted longer.
They'd just made another pit-stop, having traversed nearly all of Oklahoma. Texas was not too far away - but it was already well into the afternoon. Their lunch had been a healthy one, so they had agreed to postpone dinner until later. Heero had expressed a wish of reaching Amarillo before stopping for the night. At this point, it looked as if they could make it - if barely.
Duo had taken pump duty this time, leaving Heero to browse the store shelves. Something cold to drink was high on the shopping list. Duo was already done and seated in the car by the time Heero returned, handing Duo two chill cans of Coke and a submarine sandwich. "Thanks, man," he lit up. He put the cans in his lap and balanced the sandwich in one hand while digging for his wallet with the other.
"On me," Heero cut in. Seeing Duo was about to object, he grinned. "I got it cheap."
Duo raised a brow and studied Heero's face, then eyed the sandwich just as intently. "Has the mayo gone bad, or something?"
Heero closed the door, placed his own sandwich at the dashboard and put the car into gear, slowly driving them away from the pumps and over to the small parking area at the side of the station. "I don't think so - but we can switch, if you want."
"No thanks..." Duo muttered. "And thanks. I owe you."
Heero shrugged. "Consider us even - but no more CDs, okay?"
Duo chuckled, popped one of his cans. "Deal - but she's good, isn't she?"
Heero wrinkled his nose, smiling wryly. "She's no Elvis."
"And thank God for that," Duo commented before stuffing one end of the submarine sandwich in his mouth. After candy bars and chips, something this solid to bite into was a blessing. He ignored Heero's brief glare.
They ate to the quiet backdrop of Shania Twain, as Duo had taken the moment of solitude earlier to switch CDs. No doubt his grace period wouldn't last beyond this stop, but for now it would suffice. Sanity needed remarkably little time to recuperate.
"You know..." Heero cautiously started. He grabbed a napkin and wiped his mouth before continuing. "They have a pay phone in there..."
"Oh?" Duo washed down another chunk of bread with soda.
"I called Trowa. Wanted to let him know I might run a bit late."
"You were planning on reaching Flagstaff tomorrow, right?"
Heero nodded. "We might still pull it off - but it'll be really late." He paused, realized he'd been distracted. "Duo, you should call your father and let him know you're okay."
"Stepfather," Duo firmly corrected. "And I doubt Frank is sweating much over my absence - if he's even noticed I'm gone yet."
He frowned. "Stepfather or not, he's still your legal guardian."
"Was," Duo pointed out. "I'm over eighteen now."
"A couple of days hardly makes a difference." A thought struck him. "...is that why you left?"
"Did Frank forget your birthday?"
Duo gave him a long look, clenched his teeth and turned away. "...he walked in on me getting my other present - the only one I wanted. He never could give me much of that himself..."
Briefly, Heero wondered just what sort of relationship Duo wanted with his stepfather. Then reason caught up with him. Not nookie or even kisses, but perhaps... "Love?"
Duo paused his sulking long enough for a glance. "Attention," he compromised. "Nothing I did was ever good enough - so I stopped caring about doing good."
Silence. Heero pursed his lips. "You should still call."
Duo refused to answer, content at scowling out the window at the big billboard on the wall of the gas station.
Heero opted to give Duo his reprieve. There would be time to mention this again later. He started working on the rest of his meal.
"Look at that..." he heard Duo mutter.
"That," Duo repeated, pointing at one of the larger posters on the wall.
Heero squinted to catch the words. "Come visit the tallest point in the southern Great Plains..." he read aloud. Furrows grew on his forehead. "A tourist trap."
"Ah-huh," Duo said with enthusiasm.
It was Heero's turn to clench his teeth. He could sense where this was going. "It's a hoax, you know it is. All those roadside freakshows are."
"Sure - but it's still worth a look, isn't it? The directions says it's west along I-40, so it wouldn't be much of a detour, either."
"Duo..." Heero all but growled.
"Oh, come on, Boston - it's not like it'll kill your itinerary to visit one attraction on your way across America."
"Whatever you say, my goddess..." Heero thought Duo's cringing was an interesting - and sufficient - reward.
"Tell you what," Duo started, facing Heero fully again. "If we go there, I'll make it worth your while."
Heero raised a brow, any number of ideas to that statement coming to mind.
Duo grinned wide. "I'll stop calling you Boston."
There was no way for Heero to deny he was relieved - and a tad disappointed to boot.
"I'll even call Frank afterwards. What do you say?"
"Damn it, Heero - do I have to go all Bambi on ya? I can do a fair impression, you know."
Not doubting that for a second, Heero still wasn't convinced. Then, Duo started fluttering his eyes. Heero groaned, leaned forward to tap his forehead to the steering wheel twice. "Fine," he growled. "We'll go - but we won't stay for long, got that? I'm not on a sightseeing trip here, I've told you that repeatedly."
Duo didn't bother to hide his snickers. "Sure thing, Heero. We'll just take a peek."
"They'll probably be closed by the time we get there anyway," Heero muttered as he put the car in reverse, ready to head back to the interstate.
'My hands are shaky and my knees are weak...'
They'd entered Texas and passed Shamrock by the time they saw the next sign guiding them to the promised lookout point. Remarkably, the advertisement held true to its promise; once they left I-40 at the designated off-ramp, their destination was not far away.
Twilight had descended on them already, giving the dusty ground around the tiny paved parking lot an eerie reddish glow. Heero pulled up before a welcome poster easily ten feet high. Before them, the highest hilltop in the area loomed before them - but hardly threateningly so. Heero scowled.
"Wow..." Duo whispered in anything but a climactic tone. "Well, at least you can't say it's closed. No fences anywhere. Probably not anyone taking entrance fees." He chuckled. "Guess that means we won't get a guided tour." He undid his seatbelt, turned to Heero again. "And you said it was a tourist trap..."
Heero frowned back, nodded his head towards the ramshackle shops at the end of the parking lot. "There's the real trap."
Duo looked past him, wrinkled his nose. "Hot dog stands, snackbars and souvenirs?" He sighed. "I guess this place has seen better days - but we're here. Come on." He tapped Heero's shoulder before stepping out of the car.
Heero reluctantly followed. He felt he might as well get it over with. The sooner Duo was content, the sooner they could get back on the road. Amarillo was not far away. He locked the car and trotted after Duo up the side of the hill.
At least until Duo grabbed his wrist and pulled him ever upwards in a slow jog. It wasn't until then he noticed what they were approaching.
Resting atop the small hill was a watchtower; an unsteady looking contraption that surely predated the shops further below. He could feel his heart sink. Only when they reached the first ladder did Duo let go of him. It took some effort not to shuffle off, muttering excuses - if not flat out run away.
Duo took a firm grip of one of the steps and shook it a bit. The low rattle of the wood reverberated in Heero's bones. "Let's go, Heero - I can't wait to see Texas from up there." He grinned. "Maybe we'll even see Arizona."
Heero grunted, his palms growing clammy. "Across New Mexico? I doubt it very much."
"We won't know until we check, will we?" With that, Duo started his ascent. He paused at the first, largest platform and looked down at Heero. "Come on, would ya? It's not like a little climb will kill you."
Showing signs of disagreement and considering a comment that the fall might do the job, Heero shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
"Come join me at the top, Heero. Just a quick look-see, and then we'll leave."
After taking a deep breath, Heero gritted his teeth and approached the stepladder. Tentatively, he raised himself off the ground, one deathgrip and step at a time.
He reached the first platform, looked around for Duo, looked up - and saw him waving from the third platform, the highest and smallest of them. Steeling himself as best he could, he walked over to the next ladder and climbed much faster this time, wanting the ordeal over with.
The floorboards of the second platform seemed to buckle and bend at each step. Heero wondered if they'd ever been replaced since the tower was erected. Then he caught sight of the plaque at the base of the last stepladder, telling the construction was older than either of his parents by a wide margin, perhaps even more ancient than all his departed grandparents. He didn't feel like doing the math to know for sure.
As he grabbed a hold of the third ladder, he prayed the tower wouldn't choose tonight to fall over dead.
The breeze caught him halfway to the third platform. He froze as the ladder shuddered in the wind. He took a full minute to calm himself down, not even registering Duo's question from above.
He did register Duo taking a hold of his arm, helping him the last short distance. "Heero, are you okay?" Duo repeated for the third time. He looked at Heero's clear and intense eyes, felt the chill of his hands. "Sheesh, buddy - you're pale as a sheet. What's wrong?"
Heero's heart was pounding like the dirt of a derby track on race day. It didn't get any better as he dared raise his gaze from Duo's feet to the thin railing - and the view of the open Texas landscape. There was no denying this was the highest point in sight.
When the next gust of wind came, shaking the tower enough to make the floorboards rattle, his panic reached a pinnacle. Without thinking, he threw his arms around the closest steady object and held on for dear life.
"Heero..." Duo hissed a moment later, caught between wanting to help Heero and helping himself. "Can't... breathe..."
Heero blinked, islands of reason popping up in the raging sea of his mind. He released his hold sufficiently to hear Duo draw heavy breaths, but still kept it firm, resting his chin on Duo's shoulders, his eyes pressed shut, his mind trying to convince himself he was merely standing on the ground - the flat, featureless ground, a soft summer breeze all that bothered them.
At the next gust, he changed his mental venue to that of the deck of a small boat, moving with the whims of the waves.
"Why the fuck didn't you tell me you were afraid of heights?" Duo growled in his ear while returning the embrace, rubbing slow circles against Heero's back. "God, I would never have pulled you up here if I knew-"
"It's okay," Heero cut in, not wanting to be reminded where they were. "It's okay. I came of my own free will. My own folly."
They fell silent again. Over Heero's shoulder. Duo studied the landscape, watched as the sinking sun painted the patches of sand a dark ochre, tufts of sturdy grass shivering in the wind even more than the man in his arms. They could never share that, he realized with a slight pang. He leaned back a bit and Heero's chin slipped off of his shoulder. He tilted his head a bit. Heero's eyes remained close, his mouth slightly agape. "Heero..."
"Heero," he repeated with a tad more force. "Heero, look at me. Open your eyes."
Tentatively, Heero did, glad Duo's face was close enough to block out almost all of the terrifying view beyond - and beneath.
Then, Duo blocked everything out - first by slowly leaning forward, then by touching his lips to Heero's, a soft kiss, steadily stronger. Not a dream, a flighty voice whispered in Heero's mind, before it too vanished, drowned out by the now requesting all his remaining synapses, all of which were flaring up.
Then now turned to history. Heero barely noticed. The warmth in his cheeks, on his lips and in the pit of his stomach lingered. Duo hadn't moved far away, thankfully. His smile sent another shiver down Heero's spine. "...why?" he finally summoned the nerve to ask.
"...because I wanted to?" Duo said, his smile growing sheepish. "Because you looked like you needed something else to think about?"
There was no denying it had served that purpose. Heero clenched his teeth. "Yesterday..."
Duo nodded. "Same answer. I kissed you because I wanted to - and if you don't mind me saying so, you didn't seem to mind much..."
Again, this was true. "...I wasn't sure it was for real."
With a soft chuckle, Duo tightened his embrace, chins resting on shoulders again. Heero closed his eyes on reflex. "I wasn't sure either," Duo teased. "You're something else, Heero - whether you know it or not."
"Then why," Heero hissed in Duo's ears. "Why did you act like nothing happened this morning?"
Duo hesitated in answering. "...because I was a coward? Heero, I guess it's safe to say I'm attracted to you. You seemed to care when nobody else seemed to, and you're kinda handsome..." He grinned. "Even if you still look like a kid."
Heero frowned minutely, tightened his grip for a second, trying to strangle Duo's snicker at its source.
"And... I didn't want things between us to get more awkward. I mean, kissing a straight guy, jeopardizing my ride... Pretending it never happened seemed a better idea. I kinda thought you'd bring it up if it still bothered you - or if you wanted it to be more than something random..."
Heero responded by clutching tight again, touching his lips to Duo's neck, taking a deep breath of his hair. Somehow, the faint trace smells of shampoo calmed his nerves even further. He'd almost stopped noticing the shudders and creaks of the wooden platform. "Duo..." he whispered.
"Get me down from here... then we'll talk."
Duo nodded, his cheek rubbing against Heero's.
'...you seemed to change and you acted strange...'
Though he wasn't Catholic, Heero had rarely felt a greater empathy towards the papal gesture of kissing the ground. Only the last shreds of his dignity prevented him from acting on the impulse. Having climbed down the ladders with Duo just below and just behind him, cradling his climb like that of a child, had been enough of a blow to his self-esteem. It had been Duo's suggestion they go down that way, and Heero had readily agreed. There was something appealing in Duo's winning argument. "If you fall, I'll be right there to plummet to death with ya."
Never mind how he'd felt Duo's eyes drill into the small of his back the entire time - if not a tad lower.
From the base of the tower, Heero scowled towards the top. He should have known better than to follow Duo up there. He did know. He also wanted to get back on the highway as soon as possible. He'd been foolhardy.
He caught sight of the signpost next to the tower. He'd seen similar ones elsewhere; posts marking the distance and directions to several well-known cities; Washington, London, Paris, Moscow, Tokyo, New York, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg... Below these again were more local cities and townships, Amarillo and Oklahoma City among the largest around them. He pulled one corner of his mouth up in a short-lived crooked smirk as he noticed two towns at roughly the same distance away.
Fitting how this place had been tucked midway between Shamrock and Conway.
He turned to the voice, the grumpy face back with a vengeance.
"You said we'd talk..." Duo cautiously reminded him.
Heero did, all too well. Unfortunately, now that his feet were back on solid ground, the proper words had left him. The mood that instigated them had left him.
Duo's grin gained a touch of sadness. "Are you going to deny anything happened now?"
Heero stiffened up, but he didn't speak.
"We kissed, remember?"
He shifted his attention to the base of a tower pillar.
"You kissed me back, too," Duo added.
Heero slowly gnashed his teeth, recalled the warmth, the traces of taste...
Duo chuckled faint-heartedly. "It was intense."
At this reminder, Heero faced him again, snapping back. "In case you've forgotten already, I was there too. Yeah, I know. We kissed. We kissed good!"
Not grinning anymore, Duo responded in kind. "Then why are we fighting?"
"We're not fighting! We're talking!"
Duo growled. "Arguing, then!"
Heero pressed his lips together. This was not the way to go, that much seemed obvious. He tried to come up with the right words. His mind groped about but found nothing worth it, nothing that couldn't only fuel the bad fire burning.
Duo shared his hesitancy, but broke the silence by sighing, starting a shuffle back down the hill. "Sorry..." he muttered just loud enough for Heero to hear. "Didn't mean to put the straight guy on the spot..."
Heero heard the footsteps, but didn't turn around. He clenched his fists, released them, balled them up again, gritting his teeth all the while. "I think..." he finally said aloud. "I think you've proven I at least have... tendencies."
The footsteps stopped. There was another of those solitary, sad snickers. "Oh yeah? So, what do I have to do to convince you completely?"
Heero opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. The loss of words was complete, his mind a blank.
To his utter relief, Duo seemed to understand some questions couldn't be answered so easily. "Hey, Heero... You hungry? Looks like the shops down there are still open."
Heero started to nod. "Sure..." He turned around slowly and followed Duo down the hillside. Twilight was already fading, and green, red and brown shifted steadily towards blue, grey and black.
The monotony of the walk and the relative quiet of the impending night left Heero to at least begin sorting out his emotions. To admit he was attracted to Duo didn't sit quite right with him. On the other hand, he could live with accepting he was fascinated by the young man.
There was also no denying he'd never met a better kisser - unless Trowa had improved in the last scant decade.
He was not about to chance death by Quatre's hand to find out.
'...and when things go wrong, dear...'
Heero had half-expected this moment ever since they got back on the road. He'd even tried to prevent it. Granted, at a superficial glance the three shabby fast-food joints looked equally bad, but when you noticed racoons rummaging the garbage of two of them and not the third, it made you wonder. It wasn't that the last place had a decent lock on their overflowing garbage can.
While he hadn't pointed this particular observation out to Duo, he'd insisted Duo's first choice was a bad one. Duo had been stubbornly opposed.
Duo's hot dog came cheap, even with the load of condiments. Too cheap. Heero had wrinkled his nose in disgust, not wanting to even guess at the bacteria count. He'd then studied the crumbling sandwiches he'd gotten from the neighboring establishment and felt even less hungry, nibbling at it for little other reason than keeping Duo company.
The quick meal over, they had left the tourist trap.
Heero had wondered how close to Amarillo they'd get, not if they'd get there that night.
As Duo's face grew steadily more pale, he knew the answer was coming. Duo's breaths were short, and suddenly he put a palm across his mouth. "Pull over..." he mumbled before squeezing his lips shut.
Heero didn't waste time, bringing the car to a halt on the shoulder as smoothly as possible, not wanting to burst Duo's bubble with him still in the car.
At full stop, off went Duo's seat belt. He groped for the door handle and stumbled on out in a hurry, heading towards the nearest shrubs.
Heero closed his eyes and gritted his teeth at the first sound of hurls. At Duo's third heaving he killed the engine, activated the emergency lights, grabbed the keys and stepped out of the car, heading towards Duo.
Once there, he did his best not to look at the remains of the hot dog and its entourage. It had been a sickening enough sight the first time around. As Duo started heaving again, Heero tried to steady him, comfort him by rubbing a palm against his back, keeping his braid from falling into harm's way - or worse, down into the puddle on the ground.
Duo's belly didn't have all that much to get rid off, but the dry hurls kept up for a while. "God..." Duo muttered, before another round started.
Tempted to be an 'I told you so', Heero resisted. There was no reason to add to Duo's aggravation.
Another few minutes passed in the same fashion. Duo gasped for air to chill his abused throat. "Fuck..." he growled before making a final dry heave. Waiting followed. Slowly, he straightened up, legs wobbly enough to make him appreciate Heero supporting him.
Duo wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Better..." he croaked out.
Heero nodded, led him back to towards the car. At the grassy side up against the shoulder, he paused. "Sit here for a moment?"
Duo nodded and let himself be lowered to the curb, feeling as empty of body as of mind. At least the ground stopped spinning when it was this close.
Once he convinced himself Duo could at least sit up straight, Heero went back to the car and grabbed a couple of soda cans from the backseat. They were hardly cold anymore, but they would do for now. He walked back, sat down next to Duo and handed him one of the cans.
Duo looked dubiously at the offering, but after a few seconds of hesitation, he accepted it. It took him some fumbling to pop the cap off, but the flat Coke did wonders at washing away the awful taste in his mouth. A few more chugs, and he felt able to speak again too. "Shouldn't have had that hot dog..."
Heero merely glanced at him from the corner of his eye and took another swig of his own can.
The crickets some distance away got the night to themselves for a while.
Duo turned his can over, shook it twice to confirm it was all empty. "Okay... I'm good to go now, I think..."
"Are you sure?"
While still fairly pale, Duo grinned softly. "Yeah... Nothing left now."
This much, Heero could believe.
"Let's get in the car and head for Amarillo, Heero."
Heero shook his head. "We're not going there tonight. I've followed the roadsigns for a while now. Conway is only a couple of miles away. We'll find a place to stay there."
"But I thought-"
Heero crumpled his own empty can in his palm. "Duo, you've just chucked up all you ate today, which isn't a whole lot. You're not fully recovered, and we could both use a good night's sleep."
Duo shrugged, not inclined to disagree. A warm bed sounded mighty attractive, sleep even more so.
Heero got to his feet, offered his hand. "Come on, I'll help you back to the car."
Duo stared at Heero's hand before pushing himself off the ground. While he got upright, his gait wasn't exactly steady as he stumbled back towards the sedan.
Heero's lips curled towards a smirk as he watched Duo's efforts. By the time Duo was halfway there, he followed.
'Maybe I didn't treat you... quite as good as I should have...'
It didn't take them long to find a motel. It did, however, take them some time to find one with the 'vacant' sign still lit. Heero's brows slid a bit tighter at each failure. At their third attempt, they found shelter.
Heero drove as close to the entrance as he could get. For a moment, he was tempted to take one of the spaces reserved for the handicapped. If they questioned him why, he figured he'd show them Duo.
If it wasn't for the fact Duo would probably kill him for pulling such a stunt, he might have done it.
Duo had recovered enough to shuffle into the small lobby on his own, and he was intent on showing it, right up until Heero turned around. "Duo?"
"There's a payphone over there..."
Duo followed Heero's directing nod. "So?"
"Your promise," Heero coaxed. "You should call your f-" Brief pause. "Call Frank."
Duo glared at him.
Heero didn't show any sign of noticing. Instead, he reached for his wallet and pulled out one of the plastic cards. "This is my phone card," he said, handing it to Duo. "It's almost full. When I get it back, I want it to be empty."
Duo sighed, still angry. "Look, Heero - Frank probably hasn't even noticed-"
"You don't know that," Heero chided him, but regretted it instantly. "Duo... there's a store across the street. If you're a good boy and call your stepfather, I'll get you something for your upset stomach, and maybe something better to drink. How does orange juice sound?"
At first, Duo wanted to object being called a boy - but at Heero's offer he got other things to think about. "Fresh orange juice?" Duo question with suspicion.
Heero smiled. "Is there any other kind?" But this wasn't enough. He could see Duo's hesitancy still. "I'll even throw in a backrub."
Duo stared at him for a moment, but didn't answer.
"You promised," Heero said as a final resort. "Are you the sort of guy that breaks his promises?" Again, he extended the phone card.
Duo glared at the card, at Heero, back at the card. Growling, he snapped the card and trotted off towards the pay phone. "Get us a good room," he called out over his shoulder while he tried not to imagine Heero's triumphant smirk.
Still mumbling a few choice words about his traveling companion, he reached the pay phone. He skimmed the instructions, shoved the card in the right slot and started dialing.
When it rang for the third time, Duo was ready to conclude Frank wasn't home. Not once had he ever heard it reach more than two. In the middle of the fourth, it was answered. "Briggs residence," a deep, weary voice spoke.
"Frank," Duo started. Immediately, he heard something crash to the floor at the other end.
"Duo? Duo, is that you? Where are you? Are you all right?"
Duo was hard pressed to remember a time his stepfather had sounded this agitated. "Yeah, it's Duo... And I'm fine, Frank."
"Thank God..." he heard Frank mumble. "Duo, I've been worried sick about you, kid. Where the hell did you take off to? Why the hell-" Frank's voice cut off, and Duo imagined him gathering his thoughts. Calmer, he continued. "Duo, I'm sorry. About a lot of things. We need to talk, but not like this. Come home, okay?"
Duo didn't answer. He'd never thought Frank would be upset at him being gone. And it'd only been, what, four days?
"Duo? Tell me where you are, and I'll come pick you up. I know you cleaned out my wallet, but there wasn't much money there to start with." He sighed. "You didn't even write a note, damn it! I've never been this scared in my whole life! Did you know you have to wait two hellish days before you can get the police to file someone as missing, much less lift a damn finger to help?! If Helen was still alive-" Again, he cut himself off.
Duo knew why. He'd almost hung up at the mention of his mother. Frank would know this. Their arguments tended to end with one of them fleeing the scene once his mother came up.
"Duo, I'm sorry, I really am. I shouldn't - shouldn't have thrown a tantrum like that when I walked in on you and your... friend," he finally opted. "I was just caught off guard, that's all. I never suspected you were-" Again, he stopped.
Duo waited for his stepfather to say it, but ran out of patience. "Gay, Frank?"
"Well, I am."
"I... I understand that, Duo. I understand that now, and... I accept that. I'm sorry I blew up on you and your boyfriend. If you... if you give me his name and phone number, I could call him and apologize too. I didn't mean to scare the shit out of him like that."
Duo sighed. "Don't bother... he was only a potential boyfriend..." And Duo didn't believe for a minute Frank's apology would make it any easier to patch up that fledgling relationship. He was doing a poor enough job with this apology.
"Duo, I want you to know I'm proud of you. I know we've fought a lot, but I've always been proud of you. You're my son, Duo. Please come home."
"You're not my father," Duo snapped back, all too eager to lash out, all to eager to embrace his anger and suppress the pressure build-up in his eyes.
It took a long time for Frank to speak again. "Come home, Duo. Please." He paused. "Where did you run off to, anyway? Uncle Brian in Philadelphia?" Brief pause, worry infecting his voice. "Please don't tell me you went to New York. You didn't, did you?"
"No, Frank... Not New York." He tugged at one corner of his mouth. "You could say I made a detour around Boston, though."
"Boston?" Frank questioned. "How did you get-"
"But I'm somewhere in Texas right now," Duo cut in.
A second of silence followed before the outburst. "Texas?! How in blazes did you wind up there?!"
About to answer something about buses and thumbs, Duo paused to reconsider, smiling faintly. "Dumb luck, I guess... Maybe fate."
Again, Frank went silent for a moment. "Duo, have you been drinking? You're not high on something, are you?"
Duo frowned at the very suggestion. "I don't drink, smoke or shoot myself up. You've inspected my room often enough to know that, Frank." It was stretching the truth a bit, but the occasional can of beer was hardly enough to get smashing drunk on.
Frank's voice grew fainter, regretting the questions already. "I'm... sorry, Duo. It's just... I worry about that a lot. Your father is-" He cut himself off. "I worry, that's all," he attempted to correct.
The damage had been done, though. "My father?" He scowled into the keys, slammed his fist against the supporting wall. "Frank, you knew my father? My biological father?" Then, he recalled the tense Frank used. "You mean he's alive?!"
A long pause followed. "...yes," Frank said with great reserve. "He and Helen and I... we knew each other since we were kids."
"Mom knew?! Why didn't you ever-"
"It was her wish, Duo. I-" He sighed. "You're his son. You have the right to know. I argued with Helen about that often, but she insisted, and you know how stubborn your mother could be..."
He knew. He knew who he had inherited that trait from. Maybe. "Does.... he know about me?"
The payphone clicked again, ticking away the money on the card. "Yes," Frank all but whispered.
Duo spread thumb and forefinger of one hand to rub at his temples. "Then how come he never - didn't he want-"
"Duo, come home, and I'll tell you everything - I'll answer all your questions. That's not what Helen would have wanted, but you're almost an adult now. You ought to know about your past - and why we never told you. Duo, I know you don't like me saying this, but you are my son. Please come home."
While he hadn't drunk, Duo was fast developing a killer headache. "Frank... I've got to go."
"Duo! Duo, wait!"
He lingered for a moment, wanting the old man to sweat a bit. "Yeah...?"
Frank sighed, part of relief, part disappointment. "If you don't want to come home just yet, that's fine. Just promise me you'll stay safe."
"Sure, Frank - and call off the missing person thing, would ya? I'm not."
"...alright," came the hesitant answer. "If you call me every day to let me know you're okay."
"Once a week," Duo countered.
"Every other day," his stepfather argued.
Duo sighed. "Look, I'll call again soon. Three days, tops."
Moments of silence followed. "...okay, Duo. I'll be waiting."
For a few seconds, Duo looked at the receiver in his hand. The payphone gave another click, and the card popped back out, all spent. Dial tone set in, but was cut abruptly. Cursing to himself, Duo hung the receiver back up with a tad more force than caution demanded.
'He was gone but still his words kept returning...'
Heero had been pleased. While he hadn't gotten the best of impressions of Duo's stepfather through Duo, he didn't feel any parent deserved to be cut off so abruptly. It had taken him some time to reason Duo was biased in the matter. Pushing for a simple phone call was the least he could do.
Part of him was glad Duo had gotten sick. Convincing the stubborn guy would probably have been hopeless if he wasn't already weakened. Of course, that same affliction led him to his current task. He approached the desk clerk with fast, firm steps.
He was met with a haughty look and a slowly rising brow. "Sir...?"
"I'd like a room for the night," He inquired, trying not to show his resentment for the clerk's self-important air. This was hardly the Ritz.
"You're in luck," the man drawled sharply. "We've got one single room left."
Heero frowned then. "Party of two."
The clerk paused with his hand on the key. "Ah, then I'm sorry. Not only is it a room for one, it's also our single remaining room." He eyed Heero carefully. "I take it you're here for the concert, not the medical convention..."
Again, the brow lifted just enough to be perceptible. "You aren't aware? The Chamber of Commerce in Amarillo decided to host a series of events to boost local businesses. Unfortunately, they managed to double-book this week. The Republicans got their high-profiled medical convention, the Democrats their glamorous rock concert, and the Liberals opted to arrange a flea market." With the faintest of smiles, the desk clerk continued. "I suppose the Liberals chose the most profitable enterprise..." He waved his hand across the empty wall of keys. "Although, you can't say I'm complaining. There's hardly a room left in this part of Texas by now." He faced Heero again. "I'm afraid you are out of luck, sir."
Resisting the urge to punch the fairly innocent man, Heero slowly counted to ten. "I'll take the single room. Do you have a folding bed to spare?"
The clerk rubbed the left end of his pointy moustache. "I suppose we can arrange something... At added cost, of course."
"Of course," Heero growled.
After paying the rent up front and signing in, he got the keys and directions. The desk clerk promised the extra bed would be brought to the room as soon as possible. Heero questioned the truth of that pledge, but not aloud. He didn't want to sleep on the floor, and no matter what Duo said, the car was not an option - especially not tonight.
He considered asking for a bucket too, just in case, but decided not to. Duo had said he was fine. With some pills to stabilize his guts it would probably be alright.
Duo met up with him as he entered the lobby. "Hey..." Duo started dejectedly.
"Hi," Heero answered. "...how did the call go?"
Duo shrugged, not wanting to go into details. "Okay, I suppose..."
Looking at Duo's face, Heero doubted that. He'd done his share of pushing for today, though - and he had more than one promise to go good on, himself. "I got us a room," he said. "Now, it was the only thing left, and-"
"I don't care what it cost," Duo cut in. "I'll pay my share. I just..." he chewed on his lower lip, then made up his mind. Two steps forward, and he embraced Heero, hugging him tight.
Startled by the move, Heero tensed up. He struggled to relax again, even more so to return the hug. The call definitely hadn't gone okay, he reasoned.
Hesitantly, Duo whispered against Heero's ear. "Heero... would you mind if... if we slept together tonight?"
As if the first shock hadn't been enough, Heero froze completely this time.
Duo sensed as much. "I didn't mean-" he mumbled, resting his chin against Heero's shoulder. "Just sleep, Heero. Nothing else. Just... sleep. Would you-"
"Okay," Heero quickly stated, gulping. "Okay..."
"Thanks..." Duo all but breathed out, clinging to him for a while longer.
"Duo... The room," Heero croaked out, his throat all dry.
He figured he'd get enough fresh orange juice for himself, too.
'To have, to have, to hold, to hold tonight...'
For once, Heero considered himself in luck. The store across the street sported not only antacids, plastic cups, orange juice and a bit of ripe fruit. Remarkably enough, there were still a few day-fresh pastries left, despite the late hour. Duo accepted his share of it all with enthusiasm - but insisted on paying for it. Heero put up a mock resistance, but gave in quickly enough.
The folding bed was even delivered in a timely fashion - and while Duo was in the bathroom brushing his teeth for the third time that night. Heero did his best to tuck it away under the single bed in their small room. It seemed the easiest way to avoid complications - either with Duo or with the hotel staff. He made a mental note to rig it up again tomorrow before returning the key. Hopefully there would be no judging looks, much less questions.
Duo had recovered admirably - and with at least some fresh contents in his belly, his stomach gave up complaining. Perhaps it would be possible to sleep tonight, after all.
Heero sat down at the bed and pulled off his socks. He reached for his collar and got to work on the buttons. Wrists loosened and half the shirt unbuttoned, he glanced at the pile of clothes at the other end of the bed. Pants, socks and a T-shirt were all bunched up there, crowned with a pair of boxers. He looked at the door to the bathroom again and heard Duo gurgle. His gulped as his heartbeat increased a fraction.
Trying not to think too much, Heero took off his shirt and folded it together with great care. It was with some hesitation he stood up to remove his slacks. In a similar manner, he put them away with his shirt and socks, at a safe distance from Duo's pile. The faucet was turned off. Heero glared at the bed, as if accusing it of not being wide enough.
Still, he'd agreed to Duo's request - not that he hadn't had uneasy second thoughts since then.
And quite a few other thoughts as well.
Frowning as much at the bed as at himself, he flipped the covers aside and slid in under them, leaving one short corner flap open. He ground his head against the pillow and struggled to find a comfortable position - given that he'd have only half the bed for himself. Briefly, Heero considered rolling over on his side and face the wall, but as this would expose his rear to someone he didn't quite yet trust enough not to take advantage of it, he decided against it.
Having his back against the wall didn't feel right, either.
Heero closed his eyes just as the door to the bathroom swung open. Through slitted eyes, he saw Duo's full figure walking closer. He swallowed again and mocked sleep. He didn't fool anybody, but Duo didn't bother pointing it out.
Instead, Duo stood there for a moment, studying Heero's face and overall tense posture. Tentatively, he reached out and grazed the back of a finger against Heero's cheek. The slight twitch around Heero's eye betrayed him. Duo smiled nervously to himself. Perhaps this wasn't the best of ideas, after all.
Then, Heero's eyes opened, met Duo's. His smile matched Duo's as he grabbed the covers and opened a much larger gap in invitation. "Get in already."
Duo hesitated as he glanced down the side of Heero's body, right from his left foot to his head and back again. Of what was out of the bedclothes, only a band at the hip remained dressed. He already knew Heero wore briefs, but he'd never thought a strip of gray could be that teasing.
It dawned on him he wasn't the only one looking. For some reason, Heero also focused on the only thing that was still worn. Feeling oddly self-conscious, Duo clutched the dogtags in his palm, swallowed again. Still, he'd asked for this, and the floor didn't really have that much appeal.
So he put a knee at the bed, lingered there.
When Heero touched his ankle, he nearly jolted. "If you don't want to, I can-"
Duo shook his head, took one quick breath and laid down next to Heero, barely fitting within the bed. He tried to find a comfortable position, but failed. "This isn't working," he started. As he caught Heero's bewildered look, he continued, pushing up from the bed. "You put your arm under me, and I'll roll over on my side. Best way to avoid crushing our arms, don't you think?"
Heero thought it over, nodded slowly. He extended his right arm. Duo scooted down a bit before turning to rest his body against Heero's side, one leg sliding in over Heero's. He moved one arm in across Heero's chest and rested his palm on Heero's left shoulder. At least the blankets covered them both now.
Duo felt Heero tense up again. He put his cheek against Heero's right shoulder, fingertips making a circle against the left. "...only because I want to," he muttered. "Not because I owe you anything. Got that?"
Heero dared smile again, if timidly. He brought his right arm up to take a cautious hold of Duo's body, taking great care not to tickle his side by accident. "Got it..." he mumbled back. "I'm not expecting anything beyond... this."
Duo started grinning, touched his lips to Heero's skin. "Now, don't you go say that..." He scooted up a bit, rubbed his leg against Heero's, his thigh grazing gray cotton. He pushed up from the bed to look in on Heero's face again. "It would be kinda sad if you weren't hoping for something to happen... eventually..."
Heero's smile had faded away, but there was a tingle raging from his fingertips to his toes, anticipation as Duo leaned closer. He tilted his head to match Duo as he closed his eyes, parted his lips just so before they met Duo's.
For how long, he could not tell afterwards. He vaguely recalled pauses for breath and silly, short snickers, the touch of Duo against his skin, not only through his hands.
But it didn't move beyond that. At some indeterminable point, Duo must have felt enough was enough. They'd settled down again as before, Duo using Heero's chest for a pillow, hair tickling Heero's chin and throat, warm breaths against his skin.
There was no denying their make-out session had had side-effects, too. One threatened to escape the field of cotton, the other pressed against Heero's thigh.
Duo stirred again, came to rest. "Heero..." he mumbled, already halfway asleep. "I jus' want to say sorry in advance..."
"For what?" Heero asked back, his fingers playing with a few stray strands from Duo's head.
"If I make a mess on the sheets tonight... Or on you..." He smiled. "I think I'm gonna have a good dream..."
Heero's fingers paused, and he struggled not to resemble hardened steel all over. It took a long time before he spoke again. "Duo...?" he whispered into the dark room. There was no immediate answer. "Duo?" he repeated.
The snore was much fainter than two nights prior, but so much closer.
He smiled as he fought down a laugh, not wanting to disturb his bedmate.
It took a long time before his mind finally settled down enough to sleep, perchance to dream. The naked gay guy halfway draped across him saw to that.
But strangely enough, he didn't think he'd have wanted it any other way.
'Today I stumbled from my bed... with thunder crashing in my head...'
Heero didn't realize it when Duo started waking up. It wasn't the first time that night the young man had stirred, and not much distinguished it from the rest, not even the faint moan-like sound Duo made.
When Duo muttered slowly something incomprehensible and started to yawn, the game was up, though.
Heero moved his fingers along Duo's side, just enough to get his attention. "Good morning," he whispered.
"Mmm... hi," Duo mumbled back against Heero's chest, if possible half-hugging his pillow even closer.
With part fright, part anticipation and a great deal of curiosity, Heero asked "Did you have a good dream?"
Duo smiled, touched one side of his mouth against Heero's skin. "Could have been better..."
"Was I in it?"
At first, Duo considered not answering that, but Heero deserved to know. "I don't think you were..."
"...but reality is good enough for me," Duo muttered as he rubbed his thigh against Heero's, delighting in his sudden short intake of air and consequent relaxation. "Thank you for... this, Heero. Really didn't want to sleep alone last night..."
His throat dry, Heero was barely able to hoarsely whisper back a "You're welcome..."
They lay like that for a few more minutes. Then, Duo yawned again and decided enough was enough. Still draped in over Heero, he started stretching his legs and his one free arm. He ground his cheek against Heero's chest as he did so. With a deep breath, he pushed free from both Heero and the blankets.
The cold rush of air wasn't pleasant. Heero knew it was coming, but had been distracted by Duo's first moves, half wondering if the 'nothing else' of last night would be 'something else' that morning. As the blankets came down again and Duo sat at the side of the bed, his bare back against him, he didn't think so. His eyes took in Duo's spine from top to bottom as the boy stretched his arms in a big 'Y'.
It took him a moment to recover enough thought to scoot up on his elbows, before finally sitting upright. A mix of numbing tingles and pain coursed his left arm, and the way he winced and clutched it betrayed him.
Duo studied him as he failed to mask it. "Does your arm hurt?" he asked.
Heero looked at his right hand clasping his biceps and grimaced. "A bit," he said in a low voice.
He nodded. "Lie down and roll over."
Duo grinned. "I'm not planning anything naughty... not really. I just thought I'd return the favor from last night - the backrub? Only, for your arms too?"
Heero briefly remembered the tentative massage he'd given Duo last night. He'd been very careful where he put his hands, not wanting to give Duo ideas - or get ideas himself. He wasn't sure Duo would restrict himself in a similar fashion.
Maybe that was why the offer was so tempting.
Even so, he decided to pass. He shook his head. "Thanks, but I'll be alright. Just need to get the blood flowing again." He nodded towards the door at the far side of the room. "You take dibs on the bathroom."
Duo gave a brief snicker. "Okay." He hesitated for a moment, then leaned down to plant a kiss on Heero's lips; a light one only, but slow enough to make Heero lean after Duo as he pulled back again.
Judging from Duo's expression, the young man had noticed, too. Heero smirked to himself, watched the end of Duo's braid as it moved across the small of Duo's back, his eyes drifting down more than once in the few seconds it lasted. As the bathroom door closed, Heero collapsed back on the pillow and yawned. Maybe he'd rest for just a few more minutes. His numb arm fell in the spot where Duo's residual heat remained.
A thought struck him. He reached for his thigh and swept his fingers up along the skin, coming up with nothing.
Perhaps he wouldn't need a shower - but one of his last conscious thoughts was that a change of underwear was probably in order.
He was asleep by the time Duo got back.
'...though you're not good for me...'
From across the table, Duo eyed Heero with great concern. He swallowed the bite of sandwich in his mouth, put the rest of it back to the plate. "Hey, Heero - you okay?"
"Hm?" Heero answered distantly. "No, I'm fine..." he mumbled.
"Ah-huh..." Duo said. "So, you want orange juice on your cereal?"
He paused, opened his drooping eyelids enough to glance at Duo, at the carton in his hand, at the bowl in front of him. "No," he growled and put the carton away. He grasped for the milk carton, but missed at the first attempt.
Duo kept watching him. He'd not been too worried when he'd found Heero back asleep the first time, or when he'd watched Heero stumble into the bathroom. He'd even asked if he needed help - as a joke, of course. Heero hadn't seemed to take it as one. In fact, he hadn't seemed to notice it at all.
Heero had sent Duo out to look for a place to have breakfast. It hadn't taken all that long, but the place was packed. He'd run back and met Heero by the car, all but hauling him over to the diner. They'd been lucky to find not only a table, but even some items that weren't already stricken from the menu for being out of stock.
Duo had ordered for the both of them, leaving Heero to occupy the table. It had seemed the best idea, as Heero was still drowsy. By the time Duo got back, Heero had almost fallen over on his side.
"Heero, are you sure you're okay?" He paused, gave it thought. "...did you get any sleep last night?"
Heero gave him a faint glare before he proceeded to struggle with aiming the flow of orange juice into his glass.
"Fuck..." Duo muttered. "You should have woken me up. I could have slept on the floor."
He frowned, landed the carton hard back against the table. "No!" he snapped. "I would not have let you sleep on the floor, Duo. I would have done that myself instead, but..." he paused, pursed his lips. "But your idea sounded better."
Duo started to grin. "Thanks..."
Three mouthfuls of sandwich later, he tried to get his concerns across again. "Heero, you're in no shape to drive. If you haven't slept at all-"
"I've slept," Heero muttered. "I just... woke up a lot."
His smile went rather sheepish. "Sorry." Duo picked up his nearly empty glass and swirled the contents. "I guess I'm more of a heavy sleeper. I haven't slept that good for a long time, Heero."
The remark registered, but got no feedback.
"Heero... Let me drive today, okay? At least until you've taken a decent nap, or something."
"I've told you, I won't-"
"Heero!" Duo cried out, part amused, part afraid - not only for Heero, but for himself. "You can barely get through breakfast! What makes you think you're in any shape to head out on the interstate?"
Grudgingly, Heero had to agree to that.
"Look, I do have a license. I can drive. Besides, we only have to follow I-40, right? I thought you said it went straight to Flagstaff from here."
Heero nodded. It did. Still, that hadn't stopped them from taking lengthy detours earlier that week.
He lifted his gaze from his half-empty bowl of cereal, showed Duo a surly face - if only because Duo was right. "Fine..." Heero growled. "You drive - but you'd better be damn careful, okay?"
Duo couldn't help but grin, even though he knew that was probably not the best expression to show Heero right then. "Sure, you can count on me, pal. I'll get you to Arizona, safe and sound."
Wanting to believe that, but unable to, Heero stuffed another scoop of soggy cereal in his mouth.
'...and you'll surely find the way...'
It had taken some time for Heero to fall asleep. His initial distrust at the state of Duo's driving skills made him force his eyes open. It was merely self-preservation at work.
Eventually, Duo won out - but not before Heero had played backseat driver for most of the way to Amarillo. At the city limits, he'd dozed off, and by the time Duo left the highway in search of a badly needed gas station, Heero was fast asleep. If anything convinced Duo of this, it was the fact there was no outcry when he reached for the volume knob and completely silenced the already subdued king.
It had taken him a while to find that gas station, though - and afterwards, he'd suffered a brief panic spell trying to make his way back to the highway. It had been with great relief he'd hit the onramp and continued down the road.
As they left Amarillo behind, the road became ever smaller. This was not unexpected; most highways expanded where there was need - and in the more remote areas, four lanes in either direction would be overkill. Even a single lane each way seemed to suffice, as the time between sightings of other cars increased steadily.
Duo occasionally slowed down to check on Heero in the reclined passenger seat. Now that he wasn't giving commands of where to turn or how to adjust the speed, Duo felt he was quite likeable. The relaxed look of sleep suited him well.
It was while returning his attention to the road from one of these observations Duo's gaze accidentally dropped to the ashtray and the compass still lodged in it. As always, the red metal tip pointed northwards.
Unfortunately, the needle was also pointing dead ahead.
Duo's heartbeat raised a notch, and he could almost feel the pressure build-up in his eyes. His hands slipped at the steering wheel, and he almost veered out on the narrow shoulder.
Regaining control of both himself and the sedan, Duo's mind raced for ways out of the mess he'd apparently gotten himself into. Even after all that boasting about how he wouldn't get lost, he had - and he also had the feeling Heero would give him that message when he came to. Get lost.
As the road persisted heading north, Duo became convinced they were on the wrong road, not merely in a large bend of I-40. At a soft murmur at his side, he gave Heero a nervous glance and gulped. Wherever they were was not exactly populated. Walking for miles along a deserted road had to be even more of a pain out here under the sun than in rural Ohio. There, at least, there was the occasional natural shade and shelter to seek out. The current bleak landscape offered little of that.
He contemplated pulling over and checking the large fold-out map - but doing that carried a high risk of waking Heero. He'd know something was wrong in no time flat. It seemed far better to Duo that Heero stay blissfully ignorant for the time being.
In the end, he decided to do what Heero probably would have done, judging from past experience - gamble at the next turn left and pray. New Mexico was still somewhere west of them, Duo hoped. They couldn't have driven that far north. All he had to do was find a road heading west. Even North-west would do for a start.
And for the jackpot, he prayed he'd find the interstate before Heero woke up.
'Having no way to tell you...'
Duo held his breath every time he heard Heero stir towards wakefulness, intensely relieved with each false alarm. He resisted the urge to drive faster than the roadsigns designated. Highway patrol sirens and bullhorn orders were some of the last things he wanted Heero to wake up to.
He checked the compass again. While they weren't heading due west, he'd at least gotten them on a road leaning in that direction. He would have to backtrack south for a bit, once a promising road showed up. Unfortunately, there hadn't been a large crossing for some time now. The few roads latching on to their current one were mostly dirt and gravel roads, some which didn't give the impression of having seen traffic since before there ever were cars.
If only Heero would stay asleep a little longer... No, a lot longer, and he might come out of this unscathed. A delay, he could explain away. Traffic was a major random factor, after all. Getting lost was not.
Heero moved again. Duo froze and silently prayed Heero would just try to roll over in his reclined and strapped position, maybe itch his nose again like last time, or rub his legs together, as the time before that.
He had no such luck.
Heero started yawning, stretched his arms, then tensed up his entire body and groaned to satisfaction.
Duo gulped and stared dead ahead while clutching the steering wheel in a deathgrip. "Morning, Heero."
"Mmm," Heero replied before yawning again, too late in covering it up with his palm. He rubbed his eyes, glared out at the bleak landscape. "Where are we? Have we passed Albuquerque yet?"
It was with some effort he refrained from wincing. "Not... quite..."
"Uhm - we hit some heavy traffic earlier," Duo said. It was true enough - if for only a few minutes in downtown Amarillo. "We're not in New Mexico yet."
Heero frowned as he glanced at the clock in the dashboard. Fortunately for Duo, he didn't look down. "I've been asleep for a while - even with delays, we should have reached the state line by now."
"It can't be far," Duo replied, quietly reciting a prayer that reality wouldn't make him a liar. The half a minute Heero spent digging a soda can from the backseat and opening it ended with Duo's faith boosted just a little. He grinned. "Heero, look!" He nodded up ahead.
Heero's expression softened slightly at the huge billboard sign welcoming them to New Mexico. "Good..." he started. He opened his mouth to suggest he take over the wheel again, only to take note of the rest of the information up there. He blinked, tried to read it again to confirm his suspicions, but they were already past the sign by then. He looked around them as he took another swig. "This doesn't look like the interstate..."
"It narrowed down a bit. Not much traffic out here."
Heero gave a slight grunt. For the next few minutes, he said nothing. Then they hit another road marker. Heero scowled at it after reading the number. He shot Duo a glare before reaching for the glove compartment, hunting for their roadmap.
Duo gritted his teeth, aware the game was up. Still, he said nothing.
He checked the compass, confirming his suspicions they were off course. "Okay, Duo... I'll ask you again... Where are we?"
"...in New Mexico?" Duo said, grinning sheepishly, crouching together in his seat as best he could, fearing Heero's outrage.
The deafening silence was almost worse.
Duo couldn't stand it for long. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? We were running low on gas when we hit Amarillo, so I left the interstate to find a gas station. I got a bit lost - I thought I'd found the interstate - it was a highway when we headed up the onramp, I swear! I don't know how it turned into... well, this..." The last few words, he mumbled. "And when I finally noticed, we'd been driving for a long while, and I know how you feel about detours - I didn't know how to tell you I'd gotten us lost again, especially after I promised-" He gritted his teeth. "I'm sorry, that's all. Tried to find a way going west, but this was the best I could do. Didn't want to wake you, because... I was afraid you'd toss me out."
Heero still didn't say anything. Instead, he'd closed his eyes, his lips a firm line across his face.
To say it was unnerving was an understatement.
After a deep breath, Heero returned to the land of the living. He checked the map again, tapped it when he found what he was looking for. "I think this is the road we're on. We should reach a city soon - Clayton. When we do, we're going to stop. Then, we're going to talk."
Duo nodded. Until the car stopped, this was the last exchange of words they had.
'The drive-in's cozy when the lights are low...'
Duo hesitated in finding a place to park once they reached Clayton. Even so, he obeyed when Heero pointed towards a ramshackle diner at their left. Duo activated the parking brake and killed the engine.
Without looking Duo's way, Heero undid his seatbelt and held out an open palm. "Keys," he demanded.
Tentatively, Duo obeyed.
Heero's hand snapped shut around the keys. He opened the door and got out, rushed to flip the lock and close the door again. Duo followed suit, but almost forgot to lock the door. An angry glare of Heero's reminded him. That done, he rushed to follow Heero towards the diner, grasping for the words of grace. "Look, I'm sorry, okay? I didn't mean for this to happen. I-"
Heero pushed the diner door open with more force than was strictly necessary, the arrival bell chiming off repeatedly. "I can't believe I trusted you!" he close to shouted. Half a second later, he had checked the vacant room, sought out the table he wanted and started heading that way.
Duo followed and sat down at Heero's opposite. "I told you I'm sorry! So, I made a mistake. So, we got a bit of a detour and we'll get to Flagstaff a bit later - but we'll get there!" He puffed a jet of air into his bangs. "And I didn't get us lost the last two times - You cleared me of Louisville yourself!"
Neither of them noticed the middle-aged waitress approach, not until she was already upon them, holding out two single-sheet menus encased in new plastic and old grease. Heero snapped one for himself, but didn't as much as look her way, busy directing his anger elsewhere. "But your lousy map reading skills sure led us straight to the lair of that bloodsucking profiteer of an old hag back in Missouri!"
Duo shirked back just a tad, lifting both palms off the tabletop in his defense. "Okay, I'll accept partial blame for that, even if you should have picked up where the detour ended before I did - but you messed up all by your lonesome the first time - that's when you found me, remember?!"
"I sure wish I hadn't!" Heero growled and focused on his menu, all but curling the plastic edges.
Duo stuck out his tongue as he grabbed a menu for himself.
Heero caught glimpse of it. "Oh, very mature, Duo. Not that I should expect differently from you - you got us lost, and you didn't even see fit to tell me!"
"You were asleep!" Duo yelled back, gesturing exasperation to match. "And I knew you'd be flying pissed about it! I was afraid you'd toss me off right when and where I told you, and this wasteland didn't exactly look hospitable!"
Heero gave him another glare and looked at the menu again. "What makes you think I won't toss you out now?" he growled.
The waitress tapped her pencil to her notepad, but neither of the two young men seemed to acknowledge her presence. Frowning, she started tapping her foot in a slow rhythm.
Duo bit at his lower lip. If he'd shown restraint so far, there was no point holding back any longer. "What sort of an idiot drives across the whole damn country to see friends, anyway? Why the hell didn't you do what normal people do and fly to Arizona?!"
After glancing at the source of the taps, Heero all but shoved the menu back at the waitress, but focused on Duo. "I'm afraid of heights, moron! It doesn't matter if I see it or not - I've got a very sensitive inner ear! Didn't you pick up on that back at the tower?!"
Duo slammed his menu down to the tabletop and slid it towards the increasingly sour-faced woman. She scooped up the menus and stuffed them in the large pocket of her stained apron. Her fingers brushed across the carton of menthol cigarettes there, and it was with great restraint she refrained from picking it up. "If you're that prone to vertigo, why the hell did you follow me up there in the first place?!"
Heero balled his fists. "Because of your promises - it seemed like the fastest and simplest way of getting us back on the road. And you were so damn insistent about it!"
Not wanting to admit as much, Duo backtracked and attacked again. "Driving all that way is still damn stupid - haven't you heard of trains?"
"I don't like trains - or buses, for that matter. I don't like to just be along for the ride. I want to feel I'm in full control of my own destiny - and right now, my destiny says I ought to be in Flagstaff, Arizona, and sure as hell not in this dump!" He gestured the general surroundings.
The waitress had heard enough at this point. Mental calm cried out for her vice. She pocketed the pencil and notepad, and before Duo could mount a retort, she intervened by slamming both palms against the table top, and in a raspy voice clearly marked by decades of indulging that same vice, she burst out "And just how long have you boys been married?!"
Silence followed. Both Heero and Duo looked at her, at each other, at the table top.
She coughed violently into her fist and straightened up. "Now, I've seen a lot of sorry-ass fights in this place, but this sounds like complete hogwash. I gather you boys got a bit lost, is that it?"
"We were headed for Arizona..." Heero started in a meek voice. He cleared his throat, glared at Duo. "At least until he got us off track again, and-"
Duo was about to defend himself, but again, the waitress cut in. "Big deal, little man. Wherever you were going ain't running away from ya." Again, she entered a short coughing fit. Calming down, she shifted her voice as far from razorblades and towards honey as she could muster. "Let's start this over, shall we?" She reached into her apron and pulled out the menus again. "Hello, my name's Vivian, and I'll be your waitress today, seeing how this dump-" She glared at Heero, with the result of the young man shrinking in his seat. "Is my damn diner," Vivian pushed on, "And nobody else is on duty, except the no-good lard-ass of a cook. Now, there will be no more arguing on my shift, or I'll have the cook chase the two of you out of here with a goddamn meat cleaver. Are you boys with me so far?"
Stunned at first, they both had the sense to nod, if reluctantly.
"Good," Vivian drawled, handing them the stained menus. "Now, please have a decent look at your menus and tell me what you're going to have."
Grudgingly, they accepted.
Vivian reached for her pen and notepad again. "Here's a word of wisdom for you, kid," she started, addressing Heero. "Detours aren't all that bad. Sometimes, they lead you right where you wanna go, and you don't even know it. Look back at your life for a second. Maybe you had a teacher sometime that inspired you to make a special choice. Maybe you had teachers that talked you down, and you were dumb enough to believe 'em. Maybe the girl you had a crush on found someone else and broke your heart. Maybe the girl found you. Maybe you were at the right place at the right time for a whole new path in your life to open. Maybe there are thousands of paths you never even knew you could choose. Thing is, you never know where you're gonna end up. That's life for ya - and I recommend the stir-fried chicken and rice. Now hurry up and order, I need a cigarette, and I'm trying to keep this a non-smoking establishment."
Considerably deflated, Heero all but mumbled "Chicken and rice sounds good..."
The waitress nodded curtly and trained her scopes on Duo. Grinning defensively, he glanced up from the menu and tentatively asked "...uhm, what's the cheapest dish..." The glare that came down across her hawkish nose made Duo's voice trail off. He swallowed, grin wavering. "Two of those. And water. The water's free, right?"
She huffed in reply. She made a chicken-scratch at her notepad and started heading back towards the counter. After packing pen, notepad and menus away again, she put a palm to her mouth and yelled "Yo! Elvis! Two house specials! Get your ass moving, I don't pay you to sit on it!"
At the sound of the chef's name, Heero and Duo had exchanged startled looks.
This bafflement did not abate as they heard an old man's voice from the kitchen shout back "A-huh-huh!" in ascending tones, followed by a slamming sound - and in short order, a cry of pain and a ruckus from falling kettles and kitchen utensils impacting the linoleum floor.
Vivian rolled her eyes and hurried for the swing door to the kitchen. "I told you not to use your hip to close the stove anymore, you old fool!" She yelled, pushing the door aside. "You'll bust something - and I don't mean the stove!"
They did not hear the hurt chef's reply to that - short of the groans as Vivian helped him get back on his feet and the vague outlines of her rants and curses and mumbles about someone thinking he was still in his damn thirties.
Duo licked his lips, and after some hesitation he dared speak what he was fairly sure Heero was thinking, too. "You don't think..."
Heero understood, and shook his head. "I sure as hell hope not. This is not a place fit for a king."
Duo shrugged his shoulders. "Christ was born in a stable. Who's to say this place ain't royal in it's own way?" He dared to smile, even though Heero didn't look quite pleased with his statement. At least the anger had toned back to mild annoyance again. "Why don't you ask Vivian to meet the guy, just to rule it out? Or are you afraid of discovering your grandmother was right after all?"
He dismissed that notion with a grunt. "Even if Elvis didn't die back then, he wouldn't have ended up here."
Duo might have pushed further, but Vivian chose that moment to back out the kitchen door, turn around and head their way with two glasses of water. Placing them on the table, she cleared her throat. "Elvis is fixing up your dinner right now. It'll be a few minutes, though - I'll be out front for a smoke if you need me." She glanced around the room. "And you damn well had better not go anywhere," she muttered as she headed for the door. "You're my first customers for the last couple of hours. Damn fair across town stole all my regulars..."
Again, Heero and Duo exchanged looks, Heero venturing a chagrined smile. "Weird woman," he mumbled.
"Yeah," Duo said, slowly spinning his glass around. "But she's right. You never know where you'll end up."
Heero nodded. "Or with whom."
Duo brightened up at that, but said nothing. He opted for a sip of the fresh tap water. It wasn't cold, but at least it was clear.
"Flagstaff isn't that far away..." Heero began. "But you're on your own from there, like we agreed."
Again, Heero nodded, grabbing his own glass.
Duo's grin broadened. "Thanks a lot, man..."
Until Vivian was back with their order, smelling like her raspy voice implied, they didn't speak.
'I heard about a king who was doing swell...'
While not exactly a luxurious meal, the stir-fried chicken and rice was acceptable. For that reason, Vivian merited at least a standard tip - though Heero chose to play it safe and padded it a bit. One lecture from strangers a day was sufficient.
"Duo...?" he started.
"Yeah?" Duo answered, swirling his glass around.
"You never told me about how the call went last night."
The water sloshed as the glass froze. "You're right. I didn't."
Heero paused, for a moment expecting Duo to continue, soon enough realizing it wasn't going to happen. "You still have my phone card, right?"
He checked his pocket. "Yeah - want it back?"
Heero shook his head. "If there's still some cash left on it, there's a phone booth outside."
Duo started to frown.
"Call Frank, Duo. I have a hunch the two of you still have stuff to talk about."
"Look, Heero - that's my problem. I'll deal with it when I feel up to it, okay?"
Heero's expression matched Duo's. "Duo, don't make me feel like some damn kidnapper. Call him and make my day a little easier, would you?" He lingered there for a moment, then added "Please?"
They engaged in a brief contest of light glares. In the end, Duo admitted defeat. He growled as he pushed himself up. "Fine, I'll call - but after this, you stay out of it. Deal?"
Heero nodded curtly as he studied the tab trapped under his empty glass. He didn't look as Duo stomped off on his errand. He dug out his car keys from his pocket, played around with them for a bit, then slammed them to the table. He stuck a finger in the ring, made circles at the table top. The only thing that kept him from returning to the car was the fact he didn't want to appear to eavesdrop on Duo's conversation. Like he'd said, it was his problem - at least mainly. If Duo had told Frank about him, Heero wondered if there was a warrant for his arrest out already, charging him with kidnapping.
At least there'd be none regarding taking advantage of a minor - provided Duo's license wasn't a very good fake. Heero didn't think it was. Duo knew how to drive, if not how to find directions. Heero could hardly fault him for that.
The thud of a big, red plastic box broke him out of his monotonous reverie of swirling keys. Startled at first, he'd snapped up his keys. The elderly heavy-set man broke out a grin and a rag, and started swiping one end of their table down like a good bus boy. "Hey," he greeted.
Heero nodded in return, watched as Elvis proceeded to stack away the dirty dishes. He carefully put the glass aside and scooted the tab and money off the side-plate over at the clean end. Then, he got to swabbing down the other side. Done with that, he grabbed the box and trotted off towards the kitchen doors, a slight limp in his step.
Heero recalled Duo's remarks. The man had the name, and had the king lived on, he would have been around this age. The sporadic gray and white whispers of hair adorning this head might once have been black - there was no way to be sure.
Except perhaps one.
The man paused, turned around slowly. His grin had remained throughout, and certainly didn't diminish now. "That's my name, kid - Elvis Peasley. Don't wear it out." He started a cracking snicker.
Heero tried to analyze the voice, compare it with many an old record and soundbyte he'd heard over the years - but it proved futile. The mature bus boy's vocals were far too marked of age, too broken, perhaps through sharing Vivian's vice. It was nowhere near a perfect match, but it didn't rule out the possibility... No, it had to be all in his head, he concluded, right before slowly asking "You're... not... him, are you?"
Elvis took a moment to study Heero's expression, then broke out in that hoarse laughter of his again and humped the last few steps to the kitchen. He pushed one of the swing doors open with his back, but paused at that. He gave Heero a wink. "I stopped giving out autographs a long time ago, son. I'm sorry." And he was gone, the flap of the door all that remained.
Heero's face set into a deep frown as he stared into the table. No, it definitely couldn't be. Legends that die young don't deteriorate to something like that, he surmised. His denouncement had nothing to do with not getting an autograph.
Comparing signatures would only have been a last resort.
"Hey," another voice called out.
Heero looked up to meet it. "Hi. How did it go?"
Duo shrugged. "Like yesterday."
"That doesn't tell me a lot."
He started a faint smile. "I know. Anyway, I'm good to go. You?"
Heero looked at Duo for a moment, then studied the swing doors as they finally came to rest. There was a clutter on the far side; someone had begun dealing with the dishes. "Yeah..." Heero started as he stood up. "Nothing of interest left here." He gave Duo another glance. "Almost nothing." Without elaborating, he made for the car.
Duo was convinced he was missing something. He looked over his shoulder again, and a thought struck him. Grinning, he ran off after Heero, intercepting him out on the parking lot with a pat on the shoulder. "So, did you get to meet him?"
"Elvis, of course!"
"You mean the cook."
Duo shrugged. "Same difference. Think it was really him? I mean, like, for real?"
Stopping for a moment, Heero let go a long sigh. "It doesn't matter. Either way, the king is definitely a thing of the past."
"Bet your mother would disagree."
Not having expected that, Heero gave him a long, scrutinizing look, then broke out smiling. "Maybe... Now, let's get going. We need to figure out the fastest way to Flagstaff from here, and-"
"No need," Duo interceded. "I had a talk with Vivian after I'd finished with Frank. The best way would have been the US-56, but that's partly closed for maintenance now. She said we ought to head along US-64 to Raton, and head south along I-25 from there. Might not reach Albuquerque today, but at least we'd be that much closer, right?"
Heero had to give him that much. At least they got steadily closer to Flagstaff. At this rate, tomorrow, at the latest. There really wasn't enough road left for major detours - unless they took a left at Albuquerque, or something.
'...California on my mind...'
They'd barely left Clayton when Duo decided to ask something that had been bugging him for a while. "You must really miss those friends of yours..."
"Driving across a damn continent to spend some time with them, I mean. How long are you staying? A month or two?"
Heero shook his head. "About a week or so. Then I have to head back."
"A week? You serious?"
He gripped the steering wheel tighter with his left hand and geared up. "What makes you think I'm not?"
"A week..." Duo shook his head, half amused, half appalled. "Hell, you'll spend more time on the road than with your friends! You really should overcome your fear of heights, Heero. Flying would have been so much easier."
"It would," Heero tersely replied. His lips curled to a tilted smirk as he added "And I wouldn't pick up strays."
Duo slapped the back of his palm to Heero's shoulder in response, hard enough to emphasise gender, soft enough not to bruise. "Still leaves trains. Would have been easier."
He snorted at that. "What, delays and cancellations, breakdowns and missing the next train in the chain of interconnected lines I'd have to take? Better to take my chances on the highway. At least I'm in control."
"You said that earlier, too..." He clenched his teeth a couple of times, sent a jet of air up in his bangs. "You really have issues with trust, don't you?"
"What do you mean?"
"You don't trust people easily. Not the train engineer, or the motel clerk... or me."
He resisted the urge to bite his lip. "I di- I do."
Duo shook his head slowly, a sad mien coming over him. "You don't. Perhaps you did, for a while. You did let me drive, after all - but I blew it."
Heero eased his foot off the throttle. "Maybe you did - but it's over and done with." He paused. "It's not that I don't trust people. I just find it difficult to rely on others."
One corner of Duo's mouth curled upward. "Not much of a difference, is it?"
He raised his shoulders, but didn't answer.
"So..." Duo drawled. "You're obviously obsessive-compulsive, pushing yourself on all-day drives just for a short visit. Not to mention crazy, but it's not always easy to separate those two, is it? Oh, and there's your fear of heights, obviously, and your affinity for dead rock stars - even if that's kinda inherited. And you sell shoes for a living. Boston, I'm not exactly an expert, but I'd say you need help. A lot of it, and fast."
If nothing else, it earned him the sideways scowl he'd planned for.
"But all those issues are trivial. Your biggest issue is the one you're hiding in."
Heero overtook a convertible cruising at much too mellow a speed. "I'm not sure I follow you."
"The closet, Boston. Stop thinking you're not gay. You are, even if you haven't fully realized it yet." Duo grinned. "Why won't you come out and play, Boston?"
Heero's frown had eased up for a moment, but now it was back in full. "You promised you'd stop calling me Boston!" he snapped. "You know, I could drop you off right here and now," he said, gesturing to the bleak landscape with one sweep of the hand. "This is still my car, my rules!"
Duo shook his head. "You wouldn't dare."
"Why the hell not?!"
"Because you want to have sex with me!"
Heero choked down the breath he'd meant for a scathing reply. His control of the car was briefly affected, but he caught up with the swerves, calmly hit the brakes to slow down, but not stop. After several false starts and matching expressions, he glanced at Duo, caught somewhere between shock, outrage and the slight smug face of someone being caught red-handed. "I do not."
Duo laughed, for a number of reasons. "Like hell you don't! I wasn't sure for a while, but after last night? You want into my pants, first chance I give you."
He clenched the wheel, stared forward. "Duo, I-"
"You think I didn't notice the spare bed? Or that nice bulge in your underwear this morning? Or that you barely slept at all last night?" He started smirking. "What I wouldn't give to know what you were thinking of..."
Heero's cheeks grew rather warm, but he fought it back.
"Actually," Duo said as he leaned back in his seat, stretched his arms forward, interlocked his fingers and cracked his knuckles. "I was a bit surprised you didn't try anything - anything at all." He sighed, face toned down to the shade of a smile. "I was sorta disappointed, too. I thought there was something wrong with me."
"There isn't," Heero replied without thinking. After three seconds of doing so, he smirked. "Well, there is, but not about your-" Again, he paused to think. "Duo, I barely even know you! We met three days ago!"
Duo closed his eyes and shrugged the argument off. "And we've already kissed many times - and you've seen me naked."
Heero let go a snort. "During high school I saw plenty of naked guys - but that sure didn't make me want them the way-" the way I want you.
Tormenting silence followed.
At length, Duo started smiling again. "I knew I wasn't the only one who wanted to share that bed..."
Heero didn't bother refute it. There really wasn't a point to it. It still made him consider something else, though. "Duo... About Frank..."
The smile vanished, and Duo sighed. "Would you quit getting back to him all the time? He's my stepfather, not yours. My problem."
"Your parent," Heero chided him. "You won't tell me anything about those conversations you've had, but there's something else to them, isn't there? I don't get the impression you've fought, and you obviously didn't make up, since you're still with me and not heading home."
"Your point being...?"
Heero nibbled at his lower lip, wondering whether his next train of thought was worth whistling through. In the end, he waved the green flag. "...were you planning on using me to get even with your dad? Go all the way, first chance you got? And I don't mean to California, Duo."
At that, Duo seemed to wake up again, straightening up. "Heero, that's not true. I like you, I give you that - and hell yeah, I'd like to see how far we could go together - but not to spite Frank, for Pete's sake! I don't give a damn what he thinks of my choice in lovers. If I did, you think I'd have pushed my ex for a birthday present?"
Half a smirk formed. "Is that what you call it? Was that why you gave me that CD? So you'd get a return gift?"
Duo rolled his eyes, raised his palms for a moment and crashed back against the seat, frustrated. "You really don't trust people, do you, Heero? Fuck..."
Heero resisted the urge to push, and opted for a moment of silence.
"...Frank told me some things, that's all." Duo finally mumbled. "Turns out my dad is still alive."
Heero shot him a look. "You mean-"
"Yeah..." Duo slowly answered. "My biological father. I'd have to go home for the details, but... Mom never told me. She chose not to tell me. Even Frank wanted to... Do you have any idea what that feels like? The one person I trusted the most, lied to me."
"She didn't lie - she merely left certain truths unsaid," Heero corrected.
"Big difference," Duo muttered. "She should have told me - at least when I wasn't a kid anymore."
Heero chose not to point out that technically, that was only a few days ago - much too late for his deceased mother to have mentioned this part of their joint pasts.
"I'll go home," Duo finally continued. "Just... not yet. Need some time to think, cool off, that's all. California sounds like a nice place for a breather. Isn't that what they say? Live in New England once, but leave before you grow hard - and live in California once, but leave before you grow soft?"
Heero started to smile, and ditching the first, cruder comment that came to mind, he said "I heard it with New York and Los Angeles, but yeah..." He hesitated, gave Duo another long glance, careful not to stray from the straight road ahead. "Your aunt... Are you absolutely sure she'll take you in?"
Duo shrugged as he slouched down into his seat. "Nothing's ever certain, Boston - but I like to think she will. Been a long time since I saw her. I don't know if she'll even recognize me..."
He let go a grunt. "If you've had that hair for as long as you claim - I think she will. You stand out."
He smirked. "Yeah, I'm outstanding, all right - just like you, Boston."
Heero's brows closed up, but he still smiled for contrast. "You promised you'd stop calling me that..."
Duo started a snicker. "Yeah, I did. Sorry. Old habits, and all that. I'll try harder."
"I..." Heero started, but saying he didn't mind would have been lying. The nickname was certainly still annoying - but nicknames have iffy ways of growing on you, even the less flattering ones. He could do far worse than 'Boston'. Heero was sure Duo could, too - and that was not a Pandora's Box he wanted a peak in right then. "I'm sorry too - for interfering."
"Nah..." Duo breathed out, getting comfortable in the passenger seat again. He closed his eyes. "I chose you, come to think of it. Back in Mount Vernon. If I'd gone on the bus instead, you'd never have had a chance to. Glad I stuck with you, though - thanks."
"You're welcome..." Heero muttered. For a while, he focused on the road ahead, affording more than the occasional glance at Duo's face. "Duo... are you sure you'll be okay when we get to Flagstaff?"
"Sure - there's bound to be buses heading west from there, right? If there isn't, I guess I'll just hitch a ride westward. I'll get to California, you'll see."
Heero hesitated on his next question. "...and Frank?"
Duo pressed his lips together, but didn't open his eyes. "Eventually. Pittsburgh can wait for a while. I'm not sure I want to talk to Frank just yet - not more than will keep him from calling the cops." He brought up a wry grin. "Eighteen, innocent and with my own parole officer. Not bad for a rookie delinquent."
Heero gave him a look. "Well, two out of three isn't bad."
At that, Duo popped one eye open. Noting Heero's smirk, he blew him a raspberry. "Idiot... Anyway, I think I'm gonna nap for a bit. Wake me up if you need a third-rate navigator?"
"Will do, Kali."
A snort was all the reply he got before Duo slid his cap down over his eyes.
'...feel my temperature rising... higher and higher, it's burning through to my soul...'
Sleep came hard to Duo. The motions of the car, the sounds of the road and the constant backdrop of Elvis - even on a near-inaudible level, which only made it all the more noticeable - were altogether more than enough to prevent a proper nap. A slight drowse with heavy elements of daydreaming was as close as he got.
All in all, it wasn't too bad. There had never been a problem with his imagination.
Heero brought them past another sleepy New Mexico hollow. He glared down at the compass, still signaling northwest. It was with a quick, quiet prayer he wished this place called Raton wasn't too much further down the road. He could barely wait to get on the southbound interstate. At least, there should be more signs of life there. It had been a good fifteen minutes since he'd last seen a car, unless the derelict pickup truck marking the turn-off of the last hamlet counted.
A low snicker brought him out of boredom. He looked to its source and caught Duo's big grin. The odds of him still being asleep appeared low, indeed. Mesmerized, Heero watched as Duo opened his mouth, licked his lips and ground back against the headrest. It took some effort to focus on the straight, deserted road again. "Penny for your thoughts," he offered.
Duo's eyes flew open as he tilted his head towards Heero and smirked. "Sure you can handle the truth? You didn't do too good earlier."
Something in Duo's challenging expression went straight to his gut. He wrongly blamed the strange warm tingle to gas, but rightly realized curiosity was getting the better of him. "Whatever you can dish out, I can take, Kali."
This earned him a laughter. "Fine, Boston - but remember, you asked for it!" He moved a hand up his thigh. "They say a picture tells a thousand words..." he muttered as his palm rubbed over his crotch, calling for Heero's attention. Only then did he pop the top button of his shorts, the rest following as he spoke. "So, picture this, Heero..." His fly open, Duo reached inside his boxers and brought out his erection. Closing his eyes briefly, he moved his hand lazily along the length and groaned contentedly.
Heero gaped. Each glance at Duo lasted longer than the ones at the road ahead, and as Duo's sound effects began, Heero momentarily lost control of the car, enough to let the rumble of wheels crossing rifled road markings wake him up. He focused on the road again, swallowed as his mouth dried out. "F-fine," he stuttered, doing his best not to look anywhere but dead ahead. "So you're horny. Point taken. Now, stuff that back in your pants."
"Oh, I can't do that..." Duo teased, fingertips caressing the base. "It's too big now, it couldn't fit anymore, not without it becoming painful." He cocked his head towards Heero. "And you don't wish me pain, do you?"
Heero gave him a look that screamed 'don't be so sure'. "Don't get full of yourself, Duo." He glanced down at Duo's crotch, upon which Duo proudly tipped his cock towards him, then back up. "It's not that big. I've seen bigger."
Duo started chuckling as he played with himself. "So, finally admitting you snuck peeks at the guys in high school after practice, huh?"
There were definitely no bends coming up. Heero started to smirk. "Who said anything about looking at other guys?"
That, at least, gave Duo pause. He raised a brow and gave Heero a skeptical look, then moved his attention down to give Heero's crotch a quick appraisal. Meeting his eye again, he said "Now who's being cocky?"
Heero simply snorted, trying hard to keep his heartbeat down. Blood was already starting to sing in his inner ear, among other places. "Duo, just button up. If a patrol car came by-"
He grabbed a firm hold of himself. "But I haven't even told you why I'm horny yet... Don't you want to know?"
He did. He thought he knew. He hoped he was right, scary as the alternative was.
"You..." Duo all but mouthed. He closed his eyes and leaned back into the seat, sighing.
In Heero's mind, a voice screamed 'Score!'. Beyond that, he had trouble doing anything but listen.
Duo pushed a hand up under his T-shirt, exposing much of his flat, vaguely outlined stomach. "I'm thinking of you raining butterfly kisses all over my chest..." He swept fingers across a nipple. At the third pass, it was as stiff as his dick. "Thinking of you, rubbing my cock in this delicious, slow way..." As if to demonstrate, he gave himself a couple of lazy pumps. "I'm thinking of how you smooth a palm up the inside of my naked thigh..." He spread his legs slightly, moaned from deep down his throat. "Your fingers leaving my dick for a moment to caress that soft spot just behind my balls..." Again, he demonstrated, lifting his testicles aside to sweep across a spot still obscured by his boxers.
It took Heero by surprise when Duo tilted his head towards him and opened his eyes again. The hand landing on his knee almost jolted him.
"Thinking of me... trying to return the favor..." Duo's palm slid steadily upwards, curving in on the way.
Heero's mouth ran completely dry. He didn't know what to think, much less what to say. He had enough to cope with just watching now, and when the questing hand was barely two fingers' breadth from the bulge in his slacks, he croaked out "Duo!"
Duo grinned wide. "Yeah, just like that... you're crying out my name just like that in my fantasy too..."
Half in panic, he clutched the steering wheel. He cleared his throat, coming down from falsetto. "Duo, just tuck that thing back in before-"
"Before what?" Duo asked, loosely grabbing his hilt. "Before you're tempted to drive my stickshift instead of the sedan's?" He swayed his erection back and forth.
Again, Heero's jaw relaxed. At a lack for words, he pursed his lips and glanced at Duo's cock, just as the boy tugged at his foreskin and moaned again. Heero barely managed to keep quiet in response.
"You can touch it, if you want. I don't mind..."
Heero swallowed. Yes, he'd figured that much from Duo's demonstrative recital. Briefly, he toyed with the idea of acting stuck-up, perhaps even insulted - but the truth was, he wanted to. Worse, Duo knew, judging from his satisfied expression. Hesitantly, Heero eased down on the brakes, slowing them down. Tentatively, he shifted his right hand towards Duo, fumbling against Duo's thigh while his eyes were forward, barely allowing a rare glance to coordinate better.
Duo intervened, grabbing a hold of his wrist. Heero drew a short breath as his fingertips grazed the cockhead. Soon enough, Duo was in his palm, Duo's hands closing his own down, coaxing it to move. Very slowly, Heero started the motion on his own. At another of Duo's throaty groans, his own pants felt immensely restricting.
Content at what he'd started, Duo eased back and put his hands behind his head, relaxing his entire body under Heero's servicing. He was not above vocally letting Heero know how good it felt.
Heero was barely able to keep one eye at the straight and narrow road ahead of them. Most of his attention was focused at the man leaning ever further back beside him.
"Yeah..." Duo hissed under Heero's light massage. "Like that, Heero." He opened his eyes as slits, watching the good movement. "Mmm... Feels nice..." He shifted his hip a bit, breathed out. "Aah.... Just- Look out!"
Duo's unexpected scream startled Heero out of his reverie. Immediately, he focused on the road and started a swerve to avoid whatever the hell the thing fast approaching them from the right was, missing it by good margin. The tumbleweed passed unscathed behind them at its own erratic pace.
Duo had been just as inattentive of the landscape, but recovered enough to start laughing aloud at it - right up until it was cut short by a yelp of pain as delayed nerve reaction set in.
Already slowing the car down, Heero gave Duo a look, following Duo's eyes down at- Immediately upon understanding, he released his stranglehold on Duo's cock, Duo's own palms quick to cup his crotch while he muttered a string of rather vivid expletives, keeling forward.
Some of the expressions, Heero had never heard of. And that last one was definitely not anatomically possible. His cheeks flushed, more from how he'd all but crushed Duo's dick in his hand than Duo's demonstration of non-traditional vocabulary. "God, Duo - I'm sorry, I'm so sorry - I didn't mean to-"
Still hunched forward, Duo afforded him a pained grin. "Yeah, I know..." he wheezed. "Just- God, it hurts - just remember, choking junior is fine-" He groaned again. "-but don't strangle the precious, okay? I only got this one."
Heero nodded, staring straight forward again, briefly checking the speedometer. Even a T-Ford could outpace them now. He dared another glance at Duo, the feel of guilt rising steadily.
Duo drew in another sharp breath. "When was the last time you cut your nails, anyway?" He braved himself to inspect the damage.
Heero didn't dare answer, convinced that anything he said would be taken the wrong way. "Are you bleeding? Should I try to find a hospital, or-"
He struggled to calm his breath. "No, not cut - just... crushed." He put on a grin, squinting one eye shut. "Not exactly the place I expected to get bruises, ya know?"
He thought about it for a moment, then made up his mind. The car slowed down further, and the wheels hummed as they passed the road markings and out unto the narrow shoulder. Complete stop ensued.
He killed the engine, undid his seatbelt and turned to Duo. They shared a brief look before he focused on Duo's crotch. Heero took hold of Duo's hands and lifted them aside. He studied the wounded, crouching fellow, tentatively touched it, caressing its base, brushing through Duo's crass pubes. He nudged the sac with two fingertips, licked his lips as he looked at Duo's face again. "Kiss to make it better again?"
Duo's mouth remained agape for a few seconds, and he barely got himself together long enough to nod. "S-sure..."
With permission granted, Heero leaned over, scooting back as he tilted up on his side, lowering his head down in Duo's lap. He stuck his tongue out, touched tip to tip, tasting the slick, salty drops there. He swirled around the crown, then rubbed his tongue against the underside. His lips encased the recovering erection, and he descended, taking more of Duo into his mouth.
With a hiss, Duo clasped the sides of the seat. He closed his eyes briefly, fully aware of how Heero slid down around him, then back off until he was almost out, down again... With a whimper, he decided to look. As Heero's tongue started a delicious wiggle, Duo ran one hand through Heero's dark curls, fisting into his hair, coaxing his motions.
Reality beat fantasy any time of the week.
Except perhaps in the grittier details.
Heero's mouth working him was too much. He'd already gone hard for a while, and despite Heero's 'crush' on him, his body retained much of the pressure build-up from earlier. Feeling the back of Heero's mouth with his cock was doing a number on Duo, and he barely kept from thrusting up into Heero's mouth. There was no denying they were fast approaching the end, though. Duo sensed the tell-tale warmth spread through his guts, felt his cock grow even more rigid under Heero's now rapid bobbing pace. Duo had long since released his grip of Heero's hair. "Waitwaitwait - Heero, a tissue, a rag, something - I can't hold - I'm gonna-"
In response, Heero plunged down to his deepest level yet and sucked hard, flicking his tongue at the base, Duo's pubic hair tickling his nose, the stark scent overcoming him. Accompanied by the guttural sound from above, he felt the first of it hit the back of his throat. He sucked and swallowed as best he could, lapping up all that came. Through a strategically placed palm, he felt Duo's thigh tremble, then relax, the short gasps of Duo's breath calming down.
Heero lingered for a moment. Slowly, he slipped Duo's cock out of his mouth. He pumped him softly to get the last of it out, which he promptly licked up. Deciding to swallow had been rash, but this taste of Duo wasn't bad - not really good either, but definitely not bad. Not quite ready to face Duo, he rubbed Duo's balls, played with the head of the fast limping erection, toying his tongue against the slit.
Duo hissed through his sated grin. "Heero... if you keep that up, I'll be hard again in no time..."
He smirked at that, and for another minute or so, he kept going - but eventually, he decided enough was enough. He sat up straight again, content at letting Duo soften completely.
A hand caught his neck, and before he knew it, Heero was pulled in for a sloppy kiss. Surprised, but not to be outdone, Heero shoved his tongue into Duo's mouth, intent on giving him a taste of his own medicine.
Duo accepted the offering and sucked at Heero's tongue, wrapping his own around it. He'd tasted his own come before, purely out of curiosity - but that had been nothing compared to this. Heero added more than a little spice to the flavor. As they pulled apart again, Duo couldn't help but notice the slight trail that slid out of the corner of Heero's mouth. Apparently, he hadn't caught it all, after all. Briefly, he entertained himself with the thought of not saying anything, wanting to see if Heero even noticed before it crusted over. It would have been fun to see the face of a highway patrolman eyeing that, if they were pulled over later.
He thought better off it, though. Duo leaned in, startled Heero a bit by licking up the trail, and upon reaching the end, they kissed again, if less intensely. "Thanks..." Duo murmured.
"You're welcome..." Heero muttered back, and without breaking eye contact, he fingered for Duo's underwear. A few tries later, he hooked the waistband with two fingers and pulled it back up. Duo interfered to help with the buttons.
The stickshift had been poking Heero in the side for a while, and it was finally getting to him, now that he was short of distractions. He sat back up in his seat, sighed contentedly and closed his eyes.
It took some effort to keep them shut when the hand landed on his thigh, giving his flesh a quick squeeze before moving upwards. It would be far too late to cover up his own enthusiasm provoked by earlier actions - but he didn't really care. Especially if that palm would only slide a bit further...
He heard Duo shift in his seat, figured he leaned in - but was still taken by surprise when Duo's tongue flickered against his ear, coordinated by the hand cupping the large bulge in his pants. He drew a sharp breath, struggled to keep his eyes close.
"Want me to return the favor...?"
Duo's warm whisper made his crotch throb under the palm. He figured that would be answer enough. Still... He pulled back and looked at Duo. "I..." He glanced down, and the hand retreated. "Yeah, I do - but not here."
His brows closed for a moment. "I told you earlier - someone could drive past us at any minute. I don't want to be caught with my pants down, that's all."
With a crooked grin, Duo snorted. "Sissy. Why would that bother you now? Didn't seem to matter a couple of minutes ago."
Heero managed a shaky smile. "I wasn't the one flashing my cock around then."
Duo gave a stunted chuckle. They both looked back down the road, then locked eyes.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
He flashed Heero a grin. "I don't know... Do your thoughts include riding crops, whipped cream, handcuffs and a deflated rubber chicken?"
Heero eyed him with skepticism for but a flicker before Duo burst out laughing.
"Only toying with ya, Boston - but I would like to pay you back sometime."
Heero nodded. "Believe me, I want you to - but not in the car. We drove past a small town back there, didn't we?"
Duo touched two digits to Heero's knee and moved them in slow circles. "Yeah... and I think I saw a motel sign, too..."
His mouth started to run dry as Duo's fingertips started working up his thigh.
They dipped down between Heero's legs upon reaching the crotch, slowly circling upwards. "How fast do you think you can get us there?"
Heero flashed him a look before going for the car keys.
'...fool about my money, don't try to save...'
Heero flicked the signal, turning off the road. "Okay, we're here - would you please remove your hand now?"
Duo snickered, but obeyed. "Was only keeping your engine running..."
Heero shot him a look and snorted lightly. "I think you'd get me going again in no time..." He parked the car and removed the keys. "I'll get us a room. Be right back."
Duo nodded at Heero's rear. He struggled not to laugh as the guy walked just short of a jog up the stairs to the reception. Once Heero was out of sight, Duo glanced about in the car and started tidying up the worst mess of candy wrappers and empty soda cans. If they were stopping, they might as well take advantage of a waste bin.
Heero had rushed straight up to the desk. The clerk was in, but had his back turned, seated by a small table at the back, browsing a newspaper and enjoying a cigar. He scratched his shoulder just beneath the strap of his string vest and puffed out another smoke ring.
Heero's eyes went to the desk bell, which he promptly slammed his palm down on repeatedly.
The clerk was still sluggish to respond. He turned to give Heero a scowl when he didn't stop. With a growl, he put the paper aside and got his considerable bulk to his feet, stumbling over to the desk as he scratched his badly shaved chin. "Calm down, kid. Where's the fire, huh?"
"I need a room."
The clerk snorted as he opened the registry book. "You're in luck, then. We have some."
"Do you rent by the hour?"
The man paused, gave him a look, then started a sleazy grin. "That sort of fire, is it?" He gave off two beats of gruff laughter. "Yeah, we do. Write you down for one hour?"
Heero glanced back towards the door. They weren't planning anything more than quid-pro-quo, but you never knew. For the first time, there was a hold-up on the trip he didn't really mind. "Make it two."
"Right..." The clerk flashed his bright yellow teeth as he made a quick note in his registry. "We've got a special on a room with a Jacuzzi. Plenty of room for two. Three, in a pinch."
Heero met the man's eyes with a glare. "Fine, I'll take it. Just hurry."
Chuckling to himself, the clerk made another scribble, then lifted the book onto the counter. "Twenty bucks, up front. Sign right there."
Heero forked over the bills, wrote off a John Hancock and pushed the book back, exchanging it for a key he all but ripped out of the clerk's hands. He checked it, but found no number plate.
"Number twelve," the clerk explained. "Now, you treat her good, ya hear? Don't want any trouble."
He'd opened his mouth to snap back there wasn't a 'she', and that it was him getting the good treatment this time. He thought better off it, though. He had the distinct impression he hadn't been the first young guy out in this errand. This motel was probably a safe haven for young couples still living at home yearning for some private time. He closed his mouth and walked towards the door.
"Oh, son? Do yourself a favor and stop by the vending machines down to the left there on your way out."
Heero shot the clerk a puzzled glance over his shoulder, but he still took that left right before the door.
After three steps, he froze.
Greeting him were vending machines offering all sorts of condoms, even a few types of lubricant. The one at the far end even provided assorted small accessories.
If he'd been in doubt of this place being a port of call for illicit or young affairs, they were all wavered now. It made sense. Stuck pretty much in the middle of nowhere between several ramshackle towns, it would be a good escape for horny youths and others in need of a bed and some privacy.
He dug around in his wallet for coins and surveyed the selection. There was nothing wrong with being prepared. He would just have to make sure Duo didn't find out. This was not payment, and it would be wrong to expect anything more than tit-for-tat.
Heero didn't see anything wrong with hoping, though.
'Whoops, there goes a teardrop... rolling down the face...'
They'd wasted little time upon entering room twelve. Duo had excused himself to use the adjoined bathroom first, but Heero hadn't minded. It gave him a precious few moments to lift the contents from his pants pockets and hide them in the bag he'd brought with him. He figured Duo might notice if there was more than one bulge in his slacks.
He'd barely hid the bag under the pillow of a chair by the time Duo was back. With some jitters, Heero watched him walk over, but once in Duo's embrace, he relaxed, even thought to return it. They kissed once, twice, and Heero felt himself being coaxed sideways towards, then down onto the bed.
He let himself be guided. This was all Duo's show, and Heero was more than content with letting him run it. Heero worked his cuffs as Duo started unbuttoning his shirt from the neck down. They kissed again, sloppy, unfocused. Duo shifted down, touched his lips to Heero's chin, then in short grazes down the expanse of skin he was opening, button for button. At the last, he tugged the cotton out of the slacks.
Heero grasped at the covers as his fly went open. He hissed when Duo pressed a warm palm against the obvious bulge in his underwear. "There's - I got-" Duo's lips closed against the outline, slid up. Heero gritted his teeth and suppressed a moan. "My wallet - a condom, if - if you don't want to-"
Duo lifted his eyes to look down Heero's bare torso, taking his time. "Nah, that's okay. Don't like the taste of latex, anyway." Still, he hesitated. Heero's comment had broken some of the momentum. He reached for the hem of Heero's underwear and slid his fingers along the inside of the waistband. "Just so you understand... I'm not doing this to pay you back or anything, okay? Not for the blowjob you gave me in the car, either. I'm doing this... because I want to. Got that?"
Heero nodded - a little too eagerly, but Duo could tolerate that much. Heero rested his back against the bed and looked up at the ceiling. As Duo started tugging at his briefs Heero raised his hips, allowing Duo to slide his slacks and underwear down his ankles. He felt his erection slap back against his belly, taut and slick already. His heart pounding, he closed his eyes and fists, surrendering himself to whatever Duo wanted. He'd probably have to change shirts later, and his socks were itching in his shoes. With his pants pooled at his feet, shoes and shirt was pretty much all he could be said to be wearing.
Luckily, that was all he needed for service.
Duo pushed Heero's knees further apart and leaned closer to Heero's crotch. He jerked back a bit as the cock twitched. The sticky puddle of precome caught his eye, and he gulped. He'd had a taste of his own, but this would be something new.
Then again, all of this was something new. He had a pretty much naked man spread out in front of him; at his mercy. Duo was well aware of what was expected of him now, but he slowed his approach. His nose butted Heero's abdomen as he latched his lips to the dry base of Heero's dick.
Heero moaned and shifted his hips, enjoying the slight friction and the tickle of Duo's tongue. They'd barely begun, but already his sac had tightened up. He blamed that on the long lead-up. One thing was clear; he wouldn't last long. Then again, he didn't care.
The faint salty taste of Heero's skin didn't get to Duo nearly as much as the potent smell of his crotch. Heero didn't have much in the way of extraneous body hair, for which Duo was glad. The patch of dark pubic hair was enough; his balls were nearly hairless.
Duo shifted downwards and sucked one of the nuts into his mouth, playing against the surface with his tongue. Heero's hiss made him smile. He rubbed a palm up and down Heero's thigh and slacked his jaw to engulf the other one too.
This was good. This was very good. His cock shifted again, weeping more precome onto his belly. Duo's oral massage of his balls was a hell of a turn-on, and Heero started to wonder if he'd climax before they got much further. His crotch was warming up nicely, heat pooled in his guts and his fists yanked at the cover sheets when Duo let go of his sac in favor of the slim expanse of skin just behind them.
He had heard of rimming, but Duo wasn't sure the thought appealed to him. Moreover, he wouldn't be able to spread Heero's legs sufficiently for it, courtesy of the makeshift ankle shackles. He slithered his tongue upwards again, around the sac and through dark, stiff, pungent pubes. His hands trailed up the insides of Heero's thighs, thumbs in a vanguard sweep.
And still, he dodged the main issue, licking a path up Heero's hip bone, circling wide towards his belly button.
The truth was, Duo was afraid - afraid he'd like the flavor and feel of Heero's cock. Afraid Heero would like having it rammed into his mouth. Afraid either of them would ask for more than what they'd come to a quiet agreement on. His tongue trailed through the sticky substance splattered against Heero's skin, and he broke contact long enough to taste it, deciding he was indifferent to the flavor.
"Duo..." he heard Heero close to whimper.
He sensed Heero's anticipation and impatience, especially as his dick shifted again, thumping against his cheek. Tentatively, he touched his lips to it, slid his way up to the head and lingered there. Finally, he stuck out his tongue and lifted the tip of Heero's cock into his mouth, starting a few soft bobs.
Heero writhed under Duo. After that build-up, the actual blowjob felt all the better. He had little to compare it with, but it beat his right hand every day of the week. Duo's mouth was working him; Duo's thumbs were rubbing the lines between his legs and crotch. The pressure in his guts was reaching its limits.
Heero's panting was heavier now, his breaths more frequent, more intense. Duo wasn't stupid; he could read the approaching finale. He pulled off Heero's dick and flickered his tongue along its underside. At the base, he latched his lips to it again and swept the crack of Heero's ass with a thumb.
That did it. With a thrust of his hips, Heero let go a cry and came, streams of warm, sticky come hitting his stomach - except one stray pulse, which splattered against Duo's cheek, making him wince. At least it missed his eye, or perhaps worse, his hair.
Duo shifted back and more onto the bed. He took a hold of the base of Heero's cock and pumped the last of it out.
Heero couldn't see straight. Even opening his eyes didn't help. He panted as the last good shivers pulsed through his body. Flesh sated, his thoughts went groggy, his body heavy, the faint chill in the open air of the room finally registering with him. He grinned as he managed to roll his head over to one side, facing Duo. "Thanks..." he breathed out, not quite able to focus on Duo's eyes, especially as a pair of fingers slid up his far side and curled in over his chest, circling a nipple.
It took him a moment to see the drop trailing down Duo's cheek. With some effort, he was able to lift his right arm over and around Duo's neck, coaxing him over. Expecting a kiss, Duo went along with it. Still, the final alignment made for a miss, and he felt Heero's tongue lap at his cheek.
He shrugged it off. There were worse ways of cleaning it up.
Heero's tongue flickered against Duo's ear. He'd meant it to be erotic. Duo's snickers was not what he'd hoped for.
"Sorry," Duo quickly excused himself, landing a peck at Heero's lips. "I'm sorta ticklish there." He leaned down again for a more proper kiss and a quick sparring of tongues, then rolled back over at Heero's side, sighing contently. "So... how long did you rent the room for?"
"Two hours..." Heero muttered, not bothering to tell anything but the truth. His mind was not clear enough to come up with a believable lie, anyway - and of this, at least, there was no need to.
Duo started chuckling. "Well, I guess we got fifteen minutes down. What should we do for the remaining hour and forty-five minutes?"
Heero looked at him as he grew a smirk. "I've got some ideas..."
The knuckles of Duo's hand brushed against his exposed hip, heading down. Heero struggled not to shiver. "I'm sure you do," Duo replied. "Don't let them go to your head." He glanced at Heero's abdomen. "Either of them."
He grunted at that. "Did you see the Jacuzzi in the bathroom?"
Duo rolled his head over to the other side. "Yeah, I saw it." He took a deep breath. "A bath sounds nice..." He faced Heero again. "No offense, but the seats in your car aren't all that good for long trips. My back ain't happy."
Heero was well aware of that. It wasn't as if his own spine hadn't gotten a rough ride.
He tugged at the end of his braid. "I'm sure I can find some way to keep this out of the water, but I don't have any trunks with me. You fine with skinny dipping together?"
He grinned as he nodded. He would have been sort of disappointed with any other scenario.
'You love him so much... you're too blind to see...'
"Look, Heero - that's the interstate, right?"
Heero squinted towards the upcoming roadsign. Approaching it, he slowed down to read it carefully. "Yeah, I-25, finally."
"Drive under and to the left, now..."
He snorted. "I'm not stupid. I don't want to visit Colorado today."
"We've taken wrong turns before."
Heero shot him a look, but instead of snapping back, he curled one corner of his lips. "Or just the right ones. Vivian had a point."
"Viv- oh, the chain-smoking waitress?"
He nodded as he signaled and made the turn, bringing them up to the southbound side of interstate 25.
"Maybe..." Duo conceded, then fell silent. He took to looking out the window, taking in the outskirts of Raton. It was already past six PM, so he doubted they'd reach Flagstaff tonight - but tomorrow was almost a certainty.
Heero shot him a glance every few minutes. The sudden quiet wasn't unwelcome, but it felt strange. They'd even given Elvis a rest now.
He'd enjoyed their rest stop, there was no doubt about that. He'd enjoyed Duo's company, Duo's lips, Duo's body... He shook his head. It was not the right time to reminisce.
And it dawned on him he wanted more.
He'd never thought himself gay. Hell, even after sucking and being sucked by another guy, he still wasn't sure. He hadn't felt anything about men in general - but Duo had definitely found and pushed his buttons, hard. It was strange. A few days ago, he didn't even know Duo existed. Now, he could even tell of funny birthmarks in hard-to-find places - not that he planned to tell anyone.
Gay was a big step. Being lustful, he could at least accept - especially when it came to Duo. Still, he'd be hard pressed to admit even that. Things had felt awkward ever since they left the motel. Their trip would never be the same.
Duo suddenly turned around, and Heero immediately focused on the road ahead. He still caught Duo's grin from the corner of his eye. He'd seen he'd been watched, then. His heart pounded just a little faster, picking up another beat as Duo's hand landed on his thigh.
He glanced down at the hand, circling slowly upwards. "For what?" he croaked out, voice dry. He cleared his throat.
"For a lot of things..." Duo teased. "Like the hand-job in the tub. I enjoyed that..."
"I did too," Heero answered truthfully. It had started out with playful footsie in each other's groins, but had escalated when Duo had come over to sit between Heero's legs, supposedly for a shoulder rub. "You're welcome." He gave Duo another look, and his eyes lingered at Duo's neck. His T-shirt had slid down at the left shoulder, revealing the hickey Heero had made there. The mark went straight to his crotch, as well as to his left shoulder. He steadied the wheel with his knee and rubbed the sore spot.
"Does it still hurt?"
Heero couldn't miss the thick concern in Duo's voice. Duo blamed himself for it, that much was obvious. Heero didn't. The tub had been slippery, and when Duo had arched his back upon coming, he'd accidentally crashed back against Heero's chest, toppling them both. That incident had sort of killed their mood. "Just a little stiff," he said, grinning. "The porcelain wasn't all that hard."
Duo snickered, muttered "Liar..."
They exchanged smiles. A pause followed.
"So... can I drive again soon? Just hitching a ride is getting awfully boring, and I think you could use a rest from the wheel, and-"
"No," Heero answered flatly.
"Oh, come on! I even sucked your dick, for crying out loud!"
"Being good at blowjobs doesn't mean you're good at driving." Heero looked at him. "And you did it of your own free will, not for favors - you emphasised that yourself!"
Duo let go a grunt. He knew that, but it was worth the shot. He still felt a little snappish, though. "You're unbelievable, you know that? You trust me not to bite your little head off, but you don't trust me enough to drive your battered, old junker."
"It's not a junker," Heero bit back.
"And don't give me that line about control again - you were perfectly fine with having me drive back at the motel."
Heero pursed his lips. Damn Duo for being right. "It's not the same thing."
Duo started to smirk. "Damn right, it isn't." He paused. "So, I was good, huh?"
Heero shot him a quick glance, then focused on the road ahead again, starting to smile. That was all the answer Duo was going to get.
"You were too," Duo admitted. "Maybe we could do it again sometime." For emphasis, he grabbed at Heero's thigh.
A good shiver raced Heero's spine. He could feel the hair at the back of his neck prickle. His leg had jerked, too - and Duo had taken that as a sign to remove his hand, to Heero's regret. He didn't dare speak it. The fact remained, Duo was a young man, barely legal in some states, and on the run from home. There was no doubt in his mind a good lawyer would find plenty of things to sue him for as it were. Duo seemed willing to go further than they had already done, but that carried risks. A jury might not see it that way. Was it worth adding an alleged rape to the list?
He made another sideways glance.
Yeah, Duo probably would be, if their trysts so far were anything to go by. It was a small risk, anyway. From what little he'd heard of Franklin Briggs, he didn't think he'd sue the pants off whomever eventually - perhaps inevitably - deflowered his willing boy.
For a moment, he wondered if the problem could be avoided entirely, if he were the one to spread his legs. The thought was new to him; he hadn't considered being on the receiving end in such a coupling. He knew Duo's girth, as well as his own. Surely, that would have to hurt. Still, gay people had sex, and as far as Heero knew, both sides tended to enjoy the experience. He'd never asked Trowa and Quatre who wore the pants - figuratively speaking - more often. Their sex life was really none of his business.
Although he was tempted to call Trowa for advice now.
He chased the notion away. No, if he were to call Trowa, it would be to confirm his final arrival estimate. They wouldn't make it tonight, but sometime tomorrow...
Again, he shot Duo a look. Tomorrow. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but Duo beat him to it.
"Hey, look at that!"
"Hm?" He followed Duo's gaze, caught the roadsign.
"Looks like we're coming up on Maxwell, New Mexico." He flashed Heero a grin. "Gotta be a nice place, don't you think?"
Heero snorted at Duo's enthusiasm. "There's got to be a dozen villages and towns in this country with your name on it. It's a fluke."
Duo shrugged. "Maybe. We Maxwells have always been fond of travelling. I know there's one place in California. Mom and I drove through it once when I was a kid." He paused, locked the memory back away. "It didn't look like much, to be honest."
Heero tugged at a smile. "You're still a kid, Duo."
He punched Heero's good shoulder lightly. "At least I'm a big kid -and if you're gonna say I don't look like much next, don't expect to get away with a soft slap like that. I'd deck you - after you'd stopped the car, of course."
Heero didn't answer. He acknowledged the first part, and the second joke didn't sit right with him, anyway. Duo looked good.
The fact he thought that, concerned him more. Perhaps he was only gay for Duo - if that was even possible. He'd have to sit down with Trowa and - perhaps - Quatre, and have a long talk about this. Until a couple of days ago, he'd been sure of his sexuality, if reserved. It had been a while since his last date. Years, come to think of it. He didn't want to wake up and realize his sessions with Duo had merely been his body seeking release from the first available source.
Duo deserved far more than that.
But they'd be in Flagstaff soon. He licked his lips again, swallowed. "Duo, I-"
"Heero," Duo cut in. "Mind if we take a break in Maxwell?"
He shrugged. "No reason. Just want to have a look at the place, and we still haven't stopped for dinner. It's been a while since the diner, and I'm starting to get hungry. Besides, you don't pull over unless I remind you."
Heero tilted his head. That was true enough.
"Besides, you really should get another rest."
"Like last time?" Heero teased. "You horny again?"
Duo huffed at that and crossed his arms indignantly. "Despite what I've said and done, I can live without playing with your dick, Heero. Or my own, for that matter."
"Bet your life wouldn't be half as much fun."
He shot Heero a look, but started to laugh. "Maybe... Fine, take the next turn-off, and I'll treat you to dinner. Eat with Maxwell, in Maxwell. What do you say?"
Heero opted not to ask if he could just eat Maxwell instead. Truth was, the growling needs of his stomach weighed more than his libido, at least right then. "I say... are you sure?"
Duo wrinkled his brows. "Look - I might be on a budget, but I think even I can afford two Happy Meals from a drive-through somewhere."
He smirked as he made the turn. "Sounds good."
"Yeah..." Duo agreed as he beheld the hamlet bearing his name. "Provided they've got a drive-through in this place."
Heero shrugged. "This is America. If it can't be done from a car, it can't be done. We'll find something."
Duo's hand landed on Heero's knee again. "I think I already did..."
He glanced down at the hand, his chest growing warmer, his cheeks starting to flush. "Oh?"
The hand made two quick taps. "Yeah, right over there - there's a McDonald's out here too. Can you believe it?"
Heero slouched forward, thoroughly deflated. "Barely," he muttered, and made the turn. At least there was no queue to speak of.
'I got a wishbone in my pocket...'
The first hour out of Maxwell had been largely forgettable. The dark landscape gave away little, not that there was much to start with. Elvis was back on, albeit on a low volume - a compromise made in return for a kiss and a quarter of Duo's fries.
"We did take the right highway, right? We didn't accidentally head towards Nevada, or something?"
He shot Duo a glance. "Why do you ask?"
Duo nodded up ahead, towards a roadsign.
Welcoming them to Las Vegas.
Heero frowned, resisting the urge to slam his forehead into the steering wheel. This - this simply wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening. Sure, they'd been under the influence of Elvis, but not even the king's magic could bring them that far off-track in just an hour.
Then, the compass caught his eye, showing they were driving southeast. Somehow, he didn't think they'd gone the long way through Colorado and Utah without noticing, nor crossed through Arizona. The car was good, but it couldn't make that distance in that sort of time. "It's got to be a mistake."
Ahead of them, the lights of the upcoming city reflected in the night sky. "Doesn't look like neon..."
"Check the map."
Duo went for the glove compartment and started folding out the big map. "What am I looking for?"
"Any place called Las Vegas in New Mexico. This has got to be a fluke. We can't have gone to Nevada in just one hour."
He scrutinized the map for a few seconds, collapsing it to center on the area of interest. Then, he found it, tapping his finger on the spot. "Hah! Yeah, looks like there's a Las Vegas here, too. I thought cities that big escaped duplicity. I can understand small places like Maxwell, but... Las Vegas?"
Heero shrugged. "Las Vegas wasn't much a century ago, Duo. Small places can grow big in a hurry if someone's dreams make it happen."
"Yeah..." He stuffed the map away again, not bothering following the creases. As many times before, he landed a palm on Heero's thigh. "So... What do you say to a night out in Vegas, Boston?"
He glanced at the hand, shot Duo a quick glare. The offer was tempting, but... "This isn't the Las Vegas, Duo. I don't know what the legislature in New Mexico is like, but I doubt there's gambling and shows worthy the city of sin here..."
"That's okay," Duo said, tripping his fingers upwards. "I think we can gamble, show and sin all on our own..."
Again, something Heero was sure was true. "Duo, I don't know - if we push on, we can probably reach Albuquerque tonight, and-"
"And miss Vegas?"
He frowned. "It's not Las Vegas!"
Duo shrugged. "Doesn't mean we can't make a good evening out of it. The town looks big enough. I'm sure they've got a decent hotel in town, probably a decent restaurant or two... And Flagstaff isn't going anywhere."
Heero so badly wanted to make the easy choice and give in. He was convinced Duo would make it worth his while, and Flagstaff would be there tomorrow... tomorrow...
"Oh, come on, Boston."
He tugged on a smile, half rolled his eyes. "Yes, my goddess..."
Duo let go a huff. "Look, deal with the nickname without the backfire, and..." The fingers crept ever more up Heero's leg. "I'll try to make it worth your while..."
Pretty much rubbing his bulge now, the hand caught Heero's undivided attention for a moment. He steadied the car and looked at Duo again. A devilish grin faced him, supporting the promise. Indeed, it was a version of Kali sitting beside him, promising both to revitalize and kill him, probably at the exact same time. "Duo, I don't know about this..."
He worked at the top button as he leaned in to whisper in Heero's ear. "Don't think. Listen to your body. It knows."
It was becoming increasingly difficult to cope with driving. Perhaps taking an early night was worth it. "I want you..."
His throat dried up. To say he didn't want Duo too, would be lying. Right then, saying anything was difficult, though.
Duo latched his lips onto the earlobe and slipped down, grazing it with his front teeth. "How fast do you think we can find a good hotel...?"
Wisdom and caution could take a hike, Heero decided. He only had one life, and he'd wasted years as it was. Succumbing to Duo's wiles, he pushed the pedal to the metal and raced into Las Vegas, New Mexico, dangerously close to speed limits.
Things had passed in a blur after that. Heero vaguely remembered finding a hotel and ordering a suite. They had raced past the restaurant next to the lobby, and in the elevator up, he pointed it out to Duo. "We could go there after we-" He swallowed. "Go there later."
Duo pushed him up against the wall for a thorough kiss and pressed their bodies together. "There's room service," he said. He tugged at his black Batman T-shirt. "Your grey flannel shirt might fit, but I'd only get stared at."
Heero reached for the stray strands poking out near Duo's ear and tucked them back in. "Only because you're beautiful."
That earned him another push up to the elevator wall, but not a kiss. "I'm a guy, Heero. Don't make me prove it to ya before we get a room." He glanced up at the camera in the corner and smirked. "Or do you want me to, you kinky bastard?"
He grabbed Duo's wrist. "Mine. Mine alone."
Duo had started to snicker. "I can live with that..." The elevator bell sounded off, and the doors opened. He grabbed a hold of Heero's hand as they all but ran down the corridor, blissfully vacant. "Besides, there's really only one thing I'm hungry for right now..."
Heero gave him a look, was met with Duo snapping his jaws in his direction. His heartbeat raised a notch.
"That's it!" Duo pointed ahead.
Heero nearly lost the keys in the struggle to get the door opened. Having Duo shove his hands down his pockets didn't help. Together, they stumbled into the room, only to break apart. One went for the light switch, the other set up the 'do not disturb' sign and locked the door.
Bags were dropped by the door, clothes shed in a hurry and bedspreads pushed aside. Lips locked, hands wandered, a leg pressed in between others, two erections ground against each other.
Heero kissed Duo's lips, his nose, grazed his cheek going for his ear and hissed as Duo's fingers bit lightly into his back. "How far?" he breathed out, before backtracking for another sloppy kiss.
"Wherever," Duo replied, hooking one leg around Heero's, rubbing their calves together. "If you want..." he got cut off by Heero's hungry lips, moaned as Heero rocked their hips together again. He smoothed a hand down to clasp at a buttock. He stared up in the ceiling mirror, admiring another side of the man on top of him. "Fuck me, Heero..."
He paused from the hickey he was working on at Duo's neck, body slowing down. "Are you sure?"
Tentatively, Duo nodded. "Yeah... I don't think it'll get better if I wait... and I don't mind if the first time is with you..."
Heero started to smile, glad to feel Duo pull him down for a quick touch of tongues. "This is new to me too."
"I know..." Duo murmured with a grin. "Not forcing you."
He scooted down, kissed a path to one of Duo's nipples. He swept his tongue over it. "You wouldn't have to."
"Good... But... I don't have condoms. I think I can find something in the bathroom for-"
Heero pressed a finger down across Duo's lips, then trailed it down and off. "I have some. Condoms and lubricant."
Duo flagged a brow. "I can understand a straight guy packing condoms, but... lube?"
His cheeks were growing heated, and he knew it wasn't just from the situation he was in. He reached around to scratch the back of his neck. "Back at that motel... They had some vending machines."
With a snort, Duo reached up for Heero's flushed cheek, pinched it lightly and wobbled it. "You bad boy - I was right, you were gunning for my pants all along, weren't you?"
"I was not!" Heero denied, suddenly aware of the palm cupping his balls. He glanced down, then at Duo. "It was just in case-" he hissed as the palm closed tight. Not crushing, but not quite comfortable, even though it did make his cock twitch; good pain. "I hoped, that's all! I swear!"
Duo offered him release, slipping his hand up along Heero's length. "Good to know..." He flickered his thumb across the tip. "So... where's your stash?"
Heero nodded towards the bag he'd brought.
"Go get it."
He had no trouble obeying that, albeit untangling himself from Duo for even a moment made the room feel much colder. He fought the zipper until it nearly ripped apart, dug in for a tube and a couple of plastic wrappers and hurried back, promptly pulled down for a kiss, then rolled over on his back.
They lingered like that for a moment, Duo halfway draped across him, the dogtags sliding down Heero's shoulder. Duo's hand sought out his crotch, flat palm rubbing both balls and cock. Heero moaned against Duo's lips, panted as he got a breather. Only luck kept him from bursting the tube trapped in his fist.
Duo pulled back and repositioned himself, resting at Heero's side, but with his face to Heero's groin. "You've got to prep me, Heero. It should hurt less if you lube and loosen me up beforehand." With that, he leaned in for a quick lick of Heero, base to tip.
Heero barely managed to nod before his body shivered in response. Only with some effort was he able to shift closer to Duo's rear. He grabbed Duo's hips, trying to make the young man more accessible. He undid the cap and looked between the lube, the condoms, his hand and Duo's butt. "How...?"
"Figure it out," Duo managed to say without laughing, before taking some of Heero into his mouth.
He might as well have asked for the world. Thinking was not a task Heero found easy at that moment, with Duo's dogtags intermittently pooling in his pubes and Duo's tongue flickering like that. With some effort, he ripped one of the packets open and rolled a condom onto his index finger. With a bit of desperation, he undid the cap and smeared some of the slippery stuff onto the covered digit, hoping to keep the mess to a minimum. He put the lube aside, forgetting the cap. With his free hand, he clasped Duo's hip, and with some trepidation, he grazed his finger across Duo's pucker.
Duo shivered at the touch and tried to calm himself. At least he only moaned around the head of Heero's cock, resisting the urge to close his jaw. He resumed his bobbing as the finger slipped inside him and wiggled about tentatively. It felt more weird than painful, at least this far.
Heero scooted on his elbow, bringing his line of sight more aligned with Duo's ass. He worked his digit around for a while, then decided to up the ante. It had nothing to do with how Duo had started massaging his balls.
He pulled the finger out, tried to work the condom so that two fingers went inside. It should have gone just fine, but his grasp of the latex slipped every time. In the end, he gave up. Harvey had once told him sex wasn't supposed to be neat - the messier it was, the better it was. Heero figured they would give the maid something to earn her keep. Perhaps something to blush about too. He wasn't sure how often the maids here came across stained and wrinkled sheets.
He was willing to bet not nearly as often as they would in the real Vegas.
Heero grabbed the lube again, applied a generous amount on his fingers and lathered them up. He wiped his palm on the sheets, steadied Duo's hips and brushed two fingertips to his anus.
Duo tensed up and let Heero's cock slip out of his mouth. He took quick, deep breaths and willed himself calm. "Just do it," he commanded, lowering himself to kiss Heero's abdomen just below the belly button. Heero's erection thumped against his cheek, craving his attention again.
Heero obeyed, sliding both of them in, tentatively flexing them apart, feeling Duo's flesh resist, not quite ready to surrender - but giving in. It would take a little while longer.
It would take him less, the way Duo was currently sucking him off with shallow, but intense bobs. "Duo..." he breathed out. "Easy... If you keep that up, I-" he hissed as Duo tried to devour him entirely, failing sufficiently to come completely off and start coughing.
Done, Duo turned his head to flash him a sheepish grin. "Sorry..."
Heero grunted, and shoved three digits back in. Duo hissed as he collapsed onto the mattress on his elbows. He flexed involuntarily, fought his body down. "God..."
"I'm just a place. You're the deity," Heero teased, removing his fingers again. "Want to try?"
Shakily, Duo nodded. He rolled over on his side, waited for Heero to crawl in above him again. "Kiss me, Boston."
Heero did, as soundly as he could. He cupped Duo's cheek and slid a palm down his hip.
Duo moaned into the kiss, shifted his legs further apart, allowing Heero's soft rocking motion to affect them both equally. He wrapped his arms around Heero's neck and hooked his fingers as Heero's tongue flickered against his ear. A good chill went down his spine and curled up in his belly. "Fuck me..." he breathed out, voice trembling.
Heero heard him, but still lingered where he lay on top of Duo. The words had gone straight to his little head, but his larger picked up on the hints of fear as well as desire. He slid down, landed a kiss at Duo's collar bone.
"Now..." Duo hissed.
His heads reached a compromise; obey, but take it slow. He crawled off of Duo, grabbed one of the condom packets and ripped the plastic wrapper open with his teeth. His fingers fumbled with the rubber, and after what seemed like an eternity he managed to roll it on properly, leaving a bit of room at the tip. Most of his patience spent, he went for the lube, squeezed out a liberal amount and lathered the latex up hurriedly, swiftly wiping his greased palm on a corner of the sheets, figuring he might as well give the cleaning lady some extra overtime.
Duo watched intently, taking in Heero's size. Heero's struggle with the condom left Duo enough time to make rough estimates, and he gritted his teeth. It wasn't that Heero packed a monster, going from what porn he'd watched to make comparisons with. It was definitely big enough to concern as much as thrill him, though. One thing was certain; he was never going to believe in Asian stereotypes again.
As the butterflies in his stomach multiplied, he looked away from Heero applying lubricant and caught sight of a pillow. Thinking ahead, he reached out for it, pushed his hips off the bed and shoved the pillow in under the small of his back.
Heero crawled back in between Duo's legs. Duo pushed his thighs against Heero's, then twisted one leg to rub his heel just below Heero's butt. Momentarily distracted by it, Heero gave a huff and smirked down at Duo, taking a hold of his legs behind the knee, coaxing them aside, exposing Duo's crotch.
Leaning forward, he smoothed one palm up Duo's chest, loosely grabbing at his pec. With his other hand, he reached down to give Duo's erection some soft pumps, shedding the last of the lube against his skin. He alternated the lax motion with cupping Duo's balls, gently massaging them.
Duo was having trouble keeping his legs still, and had already started closing them around Heero again. He'd long since made fists in the sheets, and he pulled at it as he felt the head of Heero's cock graze against his crack. Unable to keep back his appreciation, he moaned deeply, giving Heero pause. "Get on with it," Duo growled, his heart racing.
He almost regretted the order as his dick and balls were left alone. Duo closed his eyes as he felt Heero take aim, nudging the very tip against him. Duo swallowed hard, fought his body to relax, trying not to think too much.
Heero chose that moment to pinch the nipple he'd been palming. As Duo let go a yelp and arched slightly off the bed, Heero started a slow descent into Duo's body, hoping the brief pain would distract Duo for just long enough.
He miscalculated somewhat. Not quite fully seated, he sensed Duo's body offer increased resistance and stopped, watching Duo pant. He tried not to sound as concerned as he was, not wanting to stress Duo more. "Does it hurt?"
Duo managed to focus on Heero's face, offering him a sound glare. "I've got-" he breathed, "A huge dick jammed up my ass!" He gritted his teeth in a hiss. "Of course it hurts!"
He caught sight of Heero's expression, making him wonder who was in pain here. Regretting the snap, he raised his arms to claw after Heero's neck, at last reaching around. Gently, he pulled Heero down for a kiss, hoping to make up for it. He missed with the final aim, leaving it but a sloppy graze of lips, but that was enough.
Heero shifted just a bit down, his wayward bangs tickling Duo's cheek as he latched onto Duo's neck, giving him a soft bite, matched by the clawing of Duo's fingers into his back.
Duo rubbed his legs against Heero's as best he could, feeling calmer now. "Okay," he hissed out as Heero's tongue brushed tender skin. "The rest of it now..."
With some trepidation, Heero pushed himself upright again, scrutinizing Duo's face, trying to convince himself he wouldn't hurt Duo more by their plan of action. Tentatively, he pushed in deeper, pausing as Duo let go a short breath through clenched teeth. Duo's glare made him close the last, short distance, his pubic hair prickling against Duo's ass. Fully seated, he lingered, feeling Duo's body close and flex around him.
Even though his arms felt heavy, Duo went for Heero's chest, prodding him right below a nipple, grinning. It still hurt, but not as much. "Move, you bastard..."
Heero's eyes met him, asking what he didn't say. For an answer, Duo tried pushing his hips against him, glad to see Heero give a curt nod. Heero carefully pulled back, then forward in a slow, firm thrust. He repeated the motion as he attempted to steady Duo's hips. Leaving one hand at his side, he parked the other palm at the mattress level to Duo's chest and leaned in on it, hovering over Duo as he moved his hips against Duo's, for a moment concerned with why Duo wasn't looking at him, but past him.
Then, he realized.
Duo panted as he watched Heero fuck him in the roof mirror. The burning feeling was fast dissipating, especially as Heero had started rubbing against a sweet spot. Duo knew what it was, but he'd never felt this before. Not that he cared, as it felt good. He tried pushing his heel against Heero's rear, wanting him to pick up the pace. He grazed Heero's spine, then curled his fingers at a particularly vicious, delicious thrust. A corner of his mind hoped it hadn't been long since he'd cut his nails. At that point, he didn't really care if he would have trouble sitting tomorrow.
His free hand stroked down Heero's chest, brushing across nipples and sweat-stained skin on its slide down, fingertips barely touching Heero's belly before his hand landed in his own crotch. He groped his own cock and started jerking himself off, trying to time it with Heero's motions.
It became tricky as Heero leaned down to land fleeting kisses against his shoulder, his neck, his cheek, his chin, finally a sloppy one against his mouth, the thrusts almost broken then, as Heero struggled to meet both ends.
Heero broke off the attempted kiss, focusing at the other and just as pleasurable task. He caught sight of Duo's hand in motion, slowly raised his gaze to meet Duo's face. A good shiver went down his spine at the sight of the lax grin and the devilish glint in Duo's eyes. "Race you..." Duo wheezed, "To the finish line."
Not cutting his pace, Heero glanced down at Duo's crotch, catching on. His own breath strained, he grunted out "Prize?"
Duo hissed at the next thrust. "We'll think," pause, "Of something."
And the race was on. Duo moved his hand faster, his abdomen pounded from both sides, his sac already taut, Heero's balls still slapping against his ass. He grinned to himself.
Heero struggled to pick up the pace. He straightened up and put both hands on Duo's hips, watching Duo work himself. Even as he slammed harder and faster into Duo, he knew it was futile. It was clear Duo only enjoyed his sharp prods now, and by the looks of it, he was in for a loss. Heero started to smirk. He should have expected Duo to give him a bet he couldn't possibly win.
Then again, he had no problem with that. He was having his prize.
Duo didn't even notice when Heero's pace slowed down, not until it was too late. He barely had time to give Heero's smug expression a surprised glance before the pooling heat in his guts cried for release, not waiting for permission. Arching his back, crying Heero's name, Duo came, warm splatters landing on his stomach and chest.
Panting heavily, arms collapsing at his sides, he flashed Heero a sated grin. "I won..."
"Maybe," Heero stated flatly, continuing his slow, shallow thrusts. "But I'm not done with you yet..."
"God, I hope not..." Duo replied, his leg pliant as Heero took hold of his ankle, raising it up to rest against Heero's shoulder as the man straddled the other leg.
Duo had heard the expression 'fuck me sideways' somewhere before. Experiencing it was a different matter, and he doubted whoever came up with it had actually experienced it - for it felt damn nice. Again, he bit his teeth together as Heero brushed the sweet spot, and he made another set of wrinkles in the sheets.
Heero tilted his head to kiss Duo's calf, eased himself forward against the leg, right up until he saw the pained twitch around Duo's eye. He relented, slipped the leg down and rolled Duo over on his back again. He coaxed Duo to raise his knees, keeping his slow pace of thrusts until Duo's knees were almost at his chest.
Duo nodded eagerly, willed himself to relax. The pain was gone now; pleasure all that was left as Heero started pounding into him again; fast, hard, shallow thrusts. Even with his mind hazed and groggy, Duo tried flexing his ass muscles, well aware Heero had to be close now, going from the sweat falling from his soaked bangs, his stressed panting and deep groans.
"Yeah, fuck me, Heero..." Duo called out. "God, yes, harder - ha-" his soft cries were cut off by Heero latching onto his lips for another sloppy kiss, and he moaned against them.
Two breaths for air more was all he managed, "Duo-!" Heero managed to hiss out before reaching his own release, not stopping his thrusts as his body emptied itself into Duo's. His heart still racing, his body shivering in warmth, fast growing heavy, he still refused to stop, struggling to hover over Duo and keep his hips rocking. When he finally stopped, his arms started to give in.
Duo welcomed him down, shifting his legs to better accommodate the man between them. He felt Heero's softened state slip out, his sweat-soaked torso against his, warm, stressed breaths grazing his neck. Duo hugged him as best he could, with arms and legs alike. "Love you, you bastard..." he mumbled against Heero's ear.
Heero tensed up immediately, and he stared into the mattress, glancing towards the back of Duo's head. Fighting to relax again, he knew it was too late. Duo had to have noticed. The hands smoothing across his back felt nicely soothing, adding to his calm.
Right up until Duo's impatience got the better of him. He snaked a hand in between them and pinched Heero's nipple, hard.
Gasping, Heero pushed himself up and off Duo, glaring down at him. Duo's laughter dispelled his upset and indignation. He managed an unsure smile in return. "I... I think I love you too..."
It took him but a few seconds to see that wasn't quite the right answer - or at least not the one Duo was hoping for. Feeling sheepish, Heero rolled off to the side and worked off the spent condom, tying it up. He put it aside, swiped his crotch and stomach with a corner of the sheets and lay down next to Duo, taking due note that the grumpy expression lingered. Hoping to save the situation, he flipped over on his side, one leg over Duo's thigh, cupping his cheek with a soft palm. Then, he kissed Duo with all his might, tongue and all.
Duo wasn't objecting. He groped Heero's side, slid his hand down to squeeze his butt, pleased to hear Heero moan into their kiss.
The necessity of air reared its ugly head eventually, breaking them apart for a moment. Heero glanced down Duo's body, and on impulse, he shifted his palm down Duo's side to this hip, then moved his knuckles through the fast drying smears at Duo's belly. He put the slick digits to his mouth and sucked hard on the sticky fingers, making sure Duo watched him.
"...if that's you being uncertain, I can't wait until you know for sure..."
Heero snorted for a response, then kissed Duo again, just slightly less intense. At next air break, he muttered "Idiot..."
With a snicker, Duo grabbed another corner of the sheets and wiped the worst mess off of himself. At least they'd kept the biggest wet spots away from where they lay - which was good, as the only thing left on his mind was fast becoming sleep, surpassing even present company.
It was a good thing the room was warm enough to fall asleep on top of the sheets.
And for once, he didn't sleep naked alone.
'...the sound of your breathin'... has made the mood I'm in...'
The room was as bright as they'd left it when Duo woke up. Cutting the lights hadn't really been a priority the night before. Barring the fact he had to squint to shield off the brightness, it didn't bother him too much now, either. He was about to move his hand in to shield his eyes, only to note it was stuck. At least his left arm seemed free. He blinked, starting to recall things. Then there was that tickly feeling at his throat. Duo glanced down, and realized why his right arm was feeling mostly dead to the world.
Heero had rolled in over it - as well as half of Duo's side, content in using his chest for a pillow. Heero's bangs brushed against his neck and chin. Duo started to smile, surmising he'd curled up against him sometime during the night. He found he liked having Heero just like that - except for the numbness of his arm.
Slowly getting used to the light, he looked up at the ceiling, momentarily confused at the image of themselves. He grinned as his thoughts defogged enough to enjoy the view from above. He watched himself try to move the trapped arm up along Heero's back, fingertips grazing Heero's side.
The touch triggered a stir and a soft groan. Duo thought he could feel the light prickle of an unshaven morning cheek against his skin.
Heero tilted his head up, slowly figuring out where he was, who he was with - who he was halfway draped across.
"Morning," Duo offered, lips curled in a smile.
Heero met his eyes for a moment, blinked, then put his head down again to rub his cheek against Duo's chest, comfortable with his makeshift pillow, vaguely recalling Duo having done something similar before. Now, he understood why. "Mmm..." He closed his eyes and yawned. "...time is it?" he managed to mutter.
Duo tilted his head to glance at the alarm clock. "Four thirteen AM, looks like."
He groaned at the news. "...too damn early... sleep more..."
He started a light chuckle. "Not much of a morning person, are you, Boston?"
Sluggishly, Heero moved the arm draped across Duo's stomach upward and flicked a finger across Duo's nipple, playing it taut. "You're not either..."
"True..." Duo answered with a soft exhale, staring up in the mirror. Life was good. Still, he couldn't let Heero get away scot-free. He spasmed his fingers at Heero's side, doing his best to tickle him, hoping he'd respond.
He did, far beyond Duo's expectations. Shocked awake, Heero all but jumped away from Duo and to his knees. At first, he gave Duo a grumpy glare, but as Duo's laughter subsided, he mellowed to a wicked grin. "That's it, Duo. This means war - now you're going to get it."
Duo flashed him a cocky smirk. "Oh, but I already got it..."
Heero gave a snort as he crawled in over Duo. He leaned down, their noses close to brush against one another. "Then... you're getting it again..."
"Don't mind..." was all Duo managed to say before lips brushed; crushed against his. Heero pressed down against him - not just his lips, but chest to chest, belly, crotch - even legs, if less perfectly. The weight and warmth of Heero's body was not unpleasant, as Duo tried to let Heero know - a task not easy when your mouth was preoccupied.
He still had a throat and two free hands, though.
Eventually, Heero broke off their kiss, only to scoot a bit lower and get to work at another hickey at Duo's neck. Duo sighed his appreciation. "Mmmm... Now, this will be something to tell the grandchildren..."
"Hm?" he felt Heero murmur against his skin.
"That I had my first time in Vegas, in the company of the sexiest man alive..."
Heero started a brief, deep chuckle, his breath tickling Duo's neck. He gave the hickey a pause to rest his chin against Duo's shoulder. "Thanks... but Duo?"
"You're gay, aren't you?"
It was his turn to snicker. "What, did I do something to make you think otherwise?"
"Then... how are you planning to have children?"
He paused for a moment. That little fact had slipped his mind. "Right..." He relaxed, shrugged slowly. "I guess we could corrupt nephews and nieces, then?"
"I thought you were an only child."
"I am... You?"
Heero stiffened, Duo's hands at his back easing him back down. "Same..."
"Damn," Duo hissed. "Maybe we could adopt, or something."
Heero bit his tongue. There was no point stating harsh realities regarding that scenario. What mattered was that Duo had wanted to raise kids with him, if he could have. Then again, it was probably a good thing it couldn't happen just like that. Kids were more than Heero dared think about right then. Duo and himself... that would be more than enough to cope with for a while.
Reality reared its ugly head again to remind him regarding that as well. This was in all likelihood the morning of their last day together.
Frowning to himself, he returned to the hickey-in-progress, content at doing that for a while.
Too bad reality refused to be suppressed, perfectly willing to hit him with more pot-shots. As Duo moved below him, one thought started to hit home, forcing him to abandon Duo's neck again. He pushed away from Duo and off to the side, slowly sitting up in the bed, glaring towards the foot of it.
It took half a second for the sudden chill to register with Duo. He opened his eyes, saw Heero's expression and scooted up on his elbows. While Duo wasn't sure what was wrong, he could guess. "Having regrets?"
Heero looked at him, embarrassed and angry at himself for being so obvious. "No..." he started, flushing under the scrutinizing look Duo gave him. "Not..." he sighed as he brought up a knee to hug and rest his chin at. "It was great, Duo, it really was, but..." He briefly nibbled at his lip. "We only met a couple of days ago, and now look at us!"
Duo found he preferred looking at Heero alone. He shrugged. "Well, I guess that sometimes, a couple of days is all it takes, you know? Are you saying you'd rather we went dating for months first? We were sorta pressed for time, Heero."
He knew that, but he didn't want to say it. "It's not really that either, I just... I just wish I knew you a little better first - you know, beyond body and bed?"
He couldn't help but snicker. "Yeah..." Duo muttered as he lowered his head back to the mattress, stretching his arms before interlocking his fingers behind his head. He looked up at the mirror, glad to see Heero lay back down too, one lax hand across his stomach, the other at his side. They studied their reflections for a while longer. Finally, Duo licked his lips. "I sleep naked..."
Heero tilted his head to look at him directly, then up at the mirror again. "I know that. Why-"
"I don't like grapes. They don't agree with my stomach."
Ever so slowly, Heero caught on. "I... I squeeze the toothpaste tube in the middle."
Duo glanced over at the lubricant. "So I see..."
Heero tugged at a smile. "I like board games."
"Snakes and Ladders?"
"Damn... Well, I guess we could play a few..." He grinned. "I once got in a fight with a beefcake of a sergeant."
"Did you win?"
"More like a draw. I broke an arm, he sprained a leg and got a hell of a reprimand. A colonel caught us when I had him in a headlock. That's tough on a guy with no neck."
"And with a broken arm, no less."
Duo chuckled. "Gotta build my reputation somehow."
Heero let go a huff and scratched his belly. "I... I like Elvis."
"Only for his voice, I hope..."
He started a smirk. "I have you for the rest."
Duo gave a snort. "If you put on 'Love Me Tender' for mood music, you're gonna follow up with 'Are You Lonesome Tonight'."
"I'm all shook up."
He gave Heero a sharp look. "Don't be cruel."
Heero flashed him a grin. "Ow... I got stung..."
Duo matched him. "I feel so bad..."
"Treat me nice."
He rolled his eyes. "Too much - and I mean that, Heero."
"Fine," he snickered out, looking up in the mirror again. "I like cats... but I've never had one. Don't have room for one."
"Maybe I'll get some ears and a tail sometime, then..."
Going from Duo's reflected expression, Heero wasn't sure whether Duo was joking or not. Then again, he liked cats, and he liked Duo. The combination couldn't be that bad - unless Duo intended those props for him.
"I sometimes drink straight out of the carton."
"Do you put it back?"
Duo grinned, but that was his only answer.
"From now on, you won't," Heero stated.
His grin widened. "Sure..." He took a deep breath to relax. "I'm in love..."
Heero's hand fell still as he looked up in the mirror. He started to smile. "...so am I."
Duo tilted his head. "Oh? Made up your mind, have you?"
Heero met his eyes directly. "Long time ago. I just didn't know it."
"Good answer," Duo replied as he rolled over on his side. With some effort, he pushed off the bed and crawled halfway in over Heero, leaning down for a quick kiss - which fast grew more intense, especially as Heero started caressing his sides, leading Duo to lie down on top of him. Things started looking up.
And it felt that way, too.
He dared a quick glance at the alarm clock. "Still not four thirty. A bit early for breakfast..."
Duo's palm slid in under his cheek, tilting his head upright again, just in time for a brush of lips. "I figure..." Lips grazed nose. "We can find..." He brushed aside Heero's bangs and kissed his forehead. "Ways to pass the time..."
"Yeah..." Heero growled as Duo rocked his hips against him. He pawed at Duo's rear, slid his hands up to his sides and tugged him just enough downwards for Duo's mouth to align with his own again. The cool metal of Duo's dogtags brushed his throat.
He put his palm on Duo's shoulder, gave it a faint push, breaking their liplock. "Duo...?"
"I... this time... could you..." he looked away briefly, Duo's grin too much for him.
"What, fuck you?"
"Make love to me," he moderated.
Duo shrugged quickly. "Same thing."
"I don't want it to be," Heero stated. "Not with you..."
Duo's grin faded. "Okay... We'll make love, Boston, but... are you sure? About...?"
He nodded, tried to cover up his gulp. There was no denying he was nervous, but Duo seemed to enjoy it enough last night - and he wanted to know what it felt like, especially with Duo. "Please."
After a quick peck at Heero's lips, Duo's impish grin returned. "Then I hope you'll forgive me, Heero."
He felt his heart sink. "Why?"
"Because... I plan to do my best to send you flying, fear of heights or not."
At that, Heero gave a quirky smirk and slid his hands up Duo's chest, trapping his nipples between thumbs and forefingers.
Duo glanced down, first at the hands, then at Heero.
"Heero, don't you dare-"
"Airmen, start your engines!" he announced, and promptly twisted both nipples.
Duo made sure to get even for that soon after. He would not be the only one yelping that morning, be it of pain or subsequent pleasure. As for mood music, what sounds they produced, accompanied by bedsprings and the jingle of his dogtags, were more than sufficient.
He made good on his promise.
'Seven lonely days and a dozen towns ago...'
Heero had been the first to wake up the second time, and had thus taken dibs on the shower. He'd packed his bag and left the room early, a quick errand in mind.
By the time he returned, Duo had finished in the bathroom too, already at work shoveling his stuff down into his bag. He chose to pretend not to notice when Heero walked up behind him.
His reward was Heero's arms around his waist, warm lips and breath against his neck. Heero seemed intent on keeping those hickeys alive. Duo didn't really mind. If he did, he'd have put on something that actually had a collar, and not another T-shirt. "Hey..." he answered, reaching around to sift his fingers through the hair at the back of Heero's head. It wasn't as if his rough hand-combing would get it much out of place. Heero's hair looked perfectly 'just been shagged' nearly all the time - another thing to love about the guy, Duo decided.
"Hi..." Heero whispered against Duo's ear, stray strands of damp hair tickling his nose. "Got something for you..."
Duo tugged on a smile. "We have to be out of the room soon, and I've just finished cleaning up..."
Heero let go a snort, released his embrace and stepped back, waiting for Duo to turn around. "Here," he said, offering Duo a small plastic card.
Duo eyed it, then took it. "Another phone card?"
He nodded. "I got two. There are some payphones in the lobby. I thought... Maybe you should call Frank on our way out? You shouldn't make him worry."
"Shouldn't make you worry, you mean..."
Heero's smile was shaken, but remained. Still, there was no denying it. "Please?"
Duo looked to the ceiling, raised his hands momentarily to match. "Fine..." He grabbed the dirty Batman T-shirt, jammed it into the bag and pulled the zipper up. "Okay, good to go. You?"
Heero picked up his bag. "Whenever you are."
"Then let's get to Flagstaff," Duo stated. He still lingered for a moment before following Heero out the door, taking in the room one last time. Too bad he couldn't take the sheets as souvenirs.
On the elevator ride down, he figured he'd make do with the memories.
As they reached the first floor, Heero pointed Duo towards the phone booths. Once Duo had closed the door and started dialling, he rushed down the wall to the booth at the very end. He shut the door, inserted the card and hurriedly stabbed in a familiar number, barely resisting the urge to tap his foot, waiting for the hum to be replaced by a voice.
"Trowa? It's Heero."
"Heero? Hey, man - where are you?"
He looked into the lobby. "I don't think you'd believe me if I told you. I'll be in Flagstaff today, for sure. Tonight, latest. I'm in New Mexico now."
"Great - I'll let Quatre know. He's been worried about you."
Heero started to smile. "I bet... Uh, Trowa?"
"I know it's a bit late to ask, but... is it okay if I bring a friend with me?"
His heart pounded hard as he waited for the pause to end. "...I guess that's probably fine, I'll have to talk to Quatre - but why didn't you ask us earlier, before you started driving here?"
He licked his lips, figuring he might as well tell the truth. "I hadn't met him yet then."
He could almost hear Trowa smile. He had never been able to keep secrets from that guy for long. It was as if Trowa had x-ray vision to his soul, one thing he didn't even have versus Quatre, where it would surely have been more useful. "Him, huh?"
Heero clenched his teeth. Had Trowa picked up on even that already? Was he really that transparent? He made a mental note to ask Duo about it later.
"Okay, Heero. We'll look forward to meeting your... friend, when you get here."
Somehow, Heero was no longer sure this vacation was going to leave him much chance to rest. Trowa knew him well. Too well. "Trowa...? Promise me one thing."
"No embarrassing anecdotes, okay? I'd really like his company on the trip back, too."
Mild laughter came across the line. "Okay, Heero. I promise. Can't make it for Quatre, but you know him. I think your secrets are safe with us."
"Oh, and Heero?"
"About the guest bedroom - should we make up two beds, or is one enough?"
He really hated that x-ray vision. Briefly, he wondered if they made sunglasses with lead lenses. "Trowa!"
Snickers followed. "Don't worry, Heero. The walls here are pretty thick, and there aren't any peepholes - should I make some before tonight?"
Heero didn't have a chance to retort before dial tone met him. Still, he started to smile. He wondered if Duo would go along with putting those walls to the test. Perhaps they were more like paper than Trowa thought.
Quatre's reaction would be just as priceless.
Then again, he didn't want to stay at motels while in Flagstaff.
He pocketed his card and rushed down the line of phones, just in time to see Duo exit. "How did it go?"
Duo shrugged the question off. "Same old... He still wants me to come back home ASAP."
Heero lingered on the question, figuring the look was enough.
It was. "Not just yet," Duo replied. "I don't think I can cope with all that right now."
He nodded, not wanting to push the issue. "Want breakfast?"
"You bet. Damn hungry, since we missed supper last night - but not here, okay? I swear, that old crone over there has been scowling at me and my 'Give 'em Hell' shirt ever since I got down here."
Heero turned to look, and hurriedly gave the woman a smile and a nod. She scowled back, puffed her short, grey hairdo and smoothed a palm across her fine dress, the fake jewelry jingling. "I think she's just jealous of your braid."
Duo reached around for the end of it. "What, this old thing? Well, she can have it. It's a bitch to wash clean. Even with the blow-dryer, it's still wet."
Heero put his hand around Duo's and brushed his thumb across the hairs at the tip of the braid. "I like it, though."
He started to grin. "Guess I'll have to endure it, then."
"Next time, maybe I could help you wash and braid it."
Duo opened his mouth to answer, but the words caught in his throat. The grin faded away, too. "Yeah... Next time." He shook Heero's hand off, only to grab it again by the wrist. "Come on, Boston. The promised land beckons."
Back in the car, Elvis was left with a prime solo gig well past Albuquerque.
'...I want you, I need you, I love you...'
They passed another information billboard. With his cheek against his palm, Duo studied it indifferently. "Looks like we'll hit Flagstaff in a bit..."
"Yeah..." Heero managed to reply.
"Just... drop me off at the bus depot, okay? Flagstaff has got to have at least one. I can probably get to California from there."
He shot Heero a glare. "Look, if you're gonna ask me about heading back home again, just can it."
"I..." he clutched the wheel, then made up his mind. At the next off-ramp, he signaled off.
It took a moment for Duo to realize. "Hey, what are you doing? This isn't it, Heero."
"I know," he replied, turning in on the smaller road. They drove on for a few minutes, all the while he scouted for a place to park. In the end, he signaled onto the shoulder and killed the engine.
"Are you gonna toss me out here? Heero, if I said anything to piss you off, I didn't mean-"
"I'm not!" Heero hurriedly snapped, immediately wished he hadn't used that sharp a voice. "Sorry, I just-" He bit his lip. "Duo, I was going to ask you about going home-"
He tossed his arms up, then went for his seatbelt, ready to flee. "I knew it!"
"But it's not what you think!"
Duo glared at him. "Oh?"
"I want you to come home with me."
The glare gave way to bafflement, and Duo couldn't quite keep his jaw up. "Come again?"
He undid his seatbelt. The strap was becoming uncomfortable against his throat. "Duo, I'd like you to come with me - come with me to visit Trowa and Quatre, and after that... come back to Boston with me."
Duo studied Heero's face for the longest of times. "You serious?"
"Yes," Heero stated firmly. "We could go by Pittsburgh first, maybe pick up your stuff and let you have that conversation with Frank - and a last chance to change your mind."
He shook his head. "I wouldn't, I'm too stubborn - but... Heero, are you sure about this? You seriously want me to come live with you?"
He nodded. "I'm not going to lie to you, Duo - my apartment is small, even for one person. We can look for something bigger later, but..." He started to smile, if with more uncertainty than hope. "If you don't mind crowding in on me for a while..."
Duo eyed him and started to grin. "That hasn't bothered me so far, has it?"
"I suppose not..." Heero carefully suggested.
His heart skipped a beat, and he started a silly grin of his own. "We'll have to sleep on top of each other."
Duo chuckled. "Sounds even better. Think I'd find a job in Boston?"
"I could hire you for the shoe store."
He shook his head. "What, and make me the guy who sleeps with the boss? I don't think so."
Heero licked his lips nervously. "I could support you until you find something - I'm sure you will."
Duo's grin tilted just a bit. "And make me pay you back with sex, huh?"
His throat ran dry, and he was sure he was blushing. He didn't give a damn about that, albeit he felt rather small as he answered. "It's not like I'm going to force you to... but I wouldn't mind, either."
"Neither would I," Duo said truthfully. "Are you sure your friends are okay with another visitor?"
Heero nodded with vigor. "I've already called ahead and told them I'm bringing company."
At that, Duo started to smirk. "That sure I'll say yes, huh?"
He shook his head. "No. That hopeful."
Duo started laughing softly. "Boston, you're one of a kind."
"Thanks... I guess."
He reached for Heero's hand, took it into his own and squeezed it. "It's a hell of an offer to a runaway."
Heero met the pressure, trying desperately not to crush Duo's fingers to prevent him escaping. "Please say yes."
"I'm thinking," Duo teased.
He swallowed, remembering a line he'd overheard Harvey use once. Perhaps he would have more luck with it. "We've got a glass slipper in stock - just the one, though. Would you come back to the store to check if you are its match?"
Duo raised a brow and stifled a laugh. "You know, if I'd been a girl, I'd probably have said that whole Cinderella thing was really sweet."
"And since you're not?"
His grin was both disarming and alarming. "I'm contemplating whether to hit your gorgeous face or kick you hard in the shin."
Heero's smile wavered, but he hoped it was all a joke. If not, he could accept the bruises. "Something I can say to make you forego my punishment?"
Duo let go of Heero's hand in favor for hooking it around his neck. "No, I don't think so," he started, leaning closer. "But you could probably do something..."
Heero let himself be pulled towards Duo. "Like what?"
Their noses brushed, quickly corrected for on final approach. "...I think you're on to something..." Duo muttered against Heero's lips, finishing just before impact.
Elvis got through no less than four songs before their make-out session ended, well underway with a fifth as Heero and Duo locked eyes again, both carrying the same silly grin. Elvis reached the chorus, crying out 'I want you, I need you, I love you...'
"What the king said," Heero stated.
Duo snickered. "Well, ditto..." Keeping one hand safely hooked around Heero's neck, he fumbled around the radio with the other. At length, he found the off-switch, killing Elvis just as he finished the song. He pulled Heero closer. "But let's make our own music from now on, okay?"
The kiss was brief, barely a touch. "God, that's cliche, Duo."
He tapped a finger across Heero's lips. "That's godess to you, Boston."
Heero started to smirk. "Whatever, Kali. Bottom line - come stay with me? Please?"
Duo leaned in for a quick peck at Heero's check, then hugged him as close as he could. "Sure - on one condition."
He perked up instantly. "Yeah?"
"On the way back, I get to drive," he whispered against Heero's ear.
Immediately came a frown, and he tensed up. Of all the things Duo could stipulate as a demand... Then again, he could have demanded no Elvis for the whole trip. Heero was not about to give him that idea. "I don't know..."
"Come on, Heero. Love is all about give and take, you know."
He huffed against Duo's neck. "I feel like I'm about to give a lot and not get much back."
Duo leaned back, meeting his eyes. "You'll get me. Isn't that enough?"
Heero started to smirk. "It'll have to be."
He raised a brow, but kept the grin. His fingers at Heero's neck took a hold of skin - and gave it a light twist.
Despite the pain, Heero laughed. He'd expected a response like that. "Fine," he hurried to apologize, "We'll alternate on driving. Good enough for you?"
Duo gave a quick shrug. "Sure, if we alternate on other things too..."
Leaning forward, Heero mumbled "I can live with that..."
Again, the kissed, one graze of lips after the other, each lasting just a second longer than the last. It would be a good dozen or two before Duo pulled back enough to give them pause. "Heero? Aren't you forgetting something?"
Heero chased Duo's lips for another brush. "Like...?"
Duo received that one, reciprocated with one of his own. "Flagstaff?" Twice. "Friends waiting?"
It was hard to think with Duo's lips to his own, and when he felt the tip of Duo's tongue slip along the back of his teeth, it became close to impossible. Finally, he got his priorities straight. Flagstaff surely wasn't going anywhere in a hurry, and he'd never told Trowa exactly when they would show up. Trowa would never know if they arrived an hour late.
Heero briefly thought of telling Duo as much, but figured there were other ways to do that than words. "Later," was all he said for a good while.
It would only be a minor delay. He was not going to make Quatre uncomfortable.
Not until they could put those walls to a sound check.