Chapter 10: "Breaking the Ice"

    Duo took the exit Wufei had indicated, and soon they were driving through what the braided boy had so dryly referred to as "hicksville". "Remember," he muttered as they cruised just above the speed limit down what Wufei assumed was the main drag, "it's a school day, so people might wonder what a groups of teenagers is doing driving around at this time in the morning. Look natural. If you look jumpy, people are only gonna get more suspicious."
    "I know that," Wufei snapped irritably, forcing himself to stare at the map Heero had grudgingly handed over, rather than look out the window at the cars and people they passed. Heero was messing with his handheld device again; presumably alerting Trowa and Quatre to their new route. Wufei took a distracted sip of his coffee and burned the tip of his tongue. Cursing in Mandarin, he looked around for somewhere to set the styrofoam cup down.
    "Such language," Duo teased.
    "Not like you understand what I'm saying anyway, so it doesn't matter, now does it?" Wufei retorted.
    Duo opened his mouth, then seemed to change his mind and said instead, "Obviously we're not going to take an exit for the interstate, so what are we looking for?"
    Wufei glanced over the map to reaffirm his guess before answering, "Follow the signs towards Arkenville. From there we'll head for Farroway, and after that we should be able to follow the back roads to Orton."
    Duo sighed. "Gonna be a longer trip than we thought. Hope you brought extra cash," he added, glancing sideways at his partner. "We're gonna need it for hotels and food."
    Heero didn't answer the question outright. "We can sleep in the jeep some nights to save money," he grunted. "And we won't stop every night. We'll drive in shifts while the rest of us sleep."
    Wufei frowned slightly, eyes out the window as he watched the small town flow by. "We can't do that too often," he pointed out, thinking of how exhausted they would all be after just a couple days of that. "Especially since I doubt you two paranoid freaks would even let me drive."
    Heero twisted in his seat slightly to offer Wufei a glare as if to say "Who's in charge here, anyway?". Wufei glared back moodily. Duo chuckled under his breath and said nothing.
    They were all a little on edge after the occurrence at the fast-food restaurant that morning, and sat in tense silence for the next couple of hours as they finally made their way out of Youthtown and followed the winding two-lane road that pointed towards Arkenville.
    The trip, however, went smoothly for the rest of the day. When they stopped for gas and food that evening, Heero took the wheel so Duo could sleep while Heero continued the drive in grim silence.
    Because Duo needed the back seats to stretch out on, Wufei found himself in the passenger seat next to Heero, who gave him no more notice than he would a bug on the windshield. Wufei managed to stay aloof and cold until close to midnight, when frustration and curiosity finally won out over stubborn pride.
    "You all seem to know each other fairly well," he grunted, gazing out at the shadows and darkened houses in the night. "I thought you said you were the only one I grew up with, and the others weren't supposed to show up until I was older."
    Wufei was a little surprised when Heero answered readily enough, "After you left, the rules were suspended for obvious reasons. They sent me to continue my training with the other three while they..." he hesitated, flicking Wufei a sideways glance. "Anyway," he continued gruffly, "you were safe enough when they found you, so they left you where you were until our training was complete. They sent Trowa to you to keep an eye on you when the war started."
    "To keep an eye on me?" Wufei sneered.
    "Yes," Heero answered bluntly, eyes on the road. "Though at least your foster mother had the sense to make sure you kept fit and knew how to defend yourself. Trowa's job was easy. And none of your enemies had found you, yet. But they have, now. And you're almost of age anyway. So it's time for you to leave." He sent Wufei a sideways look. "This isn't your real life," he said flatly. "Or your home. If that makes it any easier."
    Wufei glared out the window, chin resting on his fist. "I'm a colonist," he snapped. "Or colony-born, anyway. I guessed as much years ago. There aren't any records of my birth on earth. This trip to the space station only confirms it."
    Heero nodded slightly, and for a while they continued the drive in silence. Wufei watched his unwanted bodyguard out of the corner of his eye pensively until Heero at last gave him a hard demanding look. "What?"
    "I don't know anything about any of you," Wufei blurted, scowling slightly. "You expect me to follow meekly along even though you're all strangers to me and everything you tell me is a half-truth."
    "You know Trowa," Heero pointed out.
    "I thought I did," Wufei snorted. "He's worked for my mother for the past few years, but he did it all under a lie. I don't think I know him any more than I know you or that insane Maxwell."
    "...What do you want to know?" Heero asked carefully after a long moment.
    Wufei peered suspiciously at the other boy. "You aren't going to tell me anything about what's really going on?" he pressed.
    "No." Heero's tone was firm. "It isn't my place. You'll be briefed when we get to our destination."
    "Feh." Wufei returned his narrowed gaze to the window. "Then you can at least let me know who the hell all of you are."
    "I just said--"
    "Anything," Wufei exploded, checking his volume at the last second with a glance towards the slumbering boy in the backseat. "Christ, Yuy, all I know about any of you are your names. How can I trust someone I know absolutely nothing about?"
    Heero frowned, looking irritated and a little confused. Wufei, who wasn't even sure himself what exactly he was asking for, scowled darkly at the sky and settled into a grim silence.
    Heero was silent for so long, Wufei was sure the conversation was over. He almost jumped when the other boy's quiet tone broke the stillness. "Duo laughs at everything."
    Wufei glanced quickly at him, frowning a little at the strange statement and the calm tone.
    Heero continued to keep his eyes on the road, his face revealing nothing, his voice subdued to keep from awakening the braided boy. "He's always laughed. And smiled. No one knows why. You couldn't tell by looking at him that he'd had some tragedies in his past." Wufei turned his head slightly to eye the sleeping boy as Heero continued quietly, "He laughs when he fights, when he gets hit, when someone looks like an idiot, when he's threatened... He always grins and shrugs it off, if he can help it. You want to know something about Duo? Fine." Heero fixed Wufei with a burning stare. "Don't piss him off. You don't want him to be angry at you."
    Wufei blinked, and bit back the sneer that almost made it to his mouth. Heero was dead serious. He wasn't just handing out information, he was offering a warning. He sent another quick glance into the back seat, frowning. He was reluctant to believe that a fool like Maxwell could be any threat. Well, ok, so he could throw a knife like nobody's business. But he acted like such a simpleton all the time. Like a class clown.
    "Your turn," Heero intoned, eyes back on the road.
    Wufei looked at him sharply, caught off guard. "What?"
    "...The Wufei I knew was a kid," Heero muttered finally, and if he was uncomfortable with explaining, Wufei couldn't tell by looking at him. "I haven't seen you since then. You want information, you have to give up some of your own."
    Wufei stared at him for a long moment before heaving a gusty sigh and offering the ceiling a tolerant look. "Not much to tell," he said shortly.
    "Then why should I tell you about the rest of us?"
    Wufei glared at him, but Heero didn't even bat an eyelash. "Are we actually having a conversation?" he demanded sardonically. When Heero merely frowned, he rolled his eyes and relented. "Like I said, not much to tell," he grumbled. "I don't get out much. Too many other important things to focus on."
    "Such as?"
    "School." Wufei's eyes drifted to the window once more. "And my origins. If my grades are good enough, and if I get into the right college, I could have an opportunity to get a career that means travel to the colonies. I could find out where I came from. And..." he squirmed a little, embarrassed. "I like to learn things."
    Heero only nodded in silence.
    "Most of the kids at school who have an opinion about the world don't know their ass from their nose," Wufei muttered, following the trail of stars with his eyes. "They've never even been out of their hometown. I don't want to be like them. The only reason one should have an opinion about important matters is if they understand it. They've studied it and experienced it. Otherwise they don't even understand what it is they're arguing about."
    "You should be on the debate team," Heero interjected with the hint of a smirk playing at the corner of his mouth.
    Wufei snorted. "I didn't have time for extracurriculars like that. Too many honor classes. And in the afternoon I had homework and practice."
    "Practice-- your katas?"
    "Trowa told you," Wufei guessed, suddenly irritated all over again. "He wasn't really just there to 'keep an eye on me', was he? He was your little spy, too."
    Heero sensed his rising temper and dropped it. They both fell into a prickly silence for the rest of the night.


    Since Duo was the self-appointed driver the next morning, he insisted they grab breakfast at a donut shop. Wufei managed to choke down the sugar-coated pastries and bad coffee before settling down for a nap in the back seat. When he awoke several hours later, it was close to noon, and they were entering Arkenville.
    "We wouldn't have to stop so often," Heero said with a pointed look towards Duo's stomach, "if we stocked up on groceries instead of pulling over to eat every few hours."
    "Hey, I'm a growing boy, I gotta keep up my strength," Duo protested, looking affronted.
    "You're a glutton," Heero grunted, peering into the empty donut sack, which had contained a dozen pastries and was now empty. "Drop me off somewhere to buy food, and you go find a gas station."
    "I'm going, too," Wufei stated firmly, leaning forward to glare at them both. "If I don't get out of this blasted car and stretch my legs, I'm going to get violent."
    Heero scowled at him, but Duo nodded agreeably. "Yeah, I'm feelin' kinda stiff too. Take him, Heero; he can help carry crap."
    Heero didn't look too happy about the arrangement, but he didn't say anything when Duo pulled up by a grocery store and Wufei climbed out of the jeep after him.
    "I'll meet you back here in about half an hour," Duo called, and roared off.
    Wufei winced as he stretched cramped muscles and walked in a slow circle to get his circulation moving again. He looked on in resentment as Heero, after a few careful steps, strode easily into the store without so much as a flinch. Still stretching his arms over his head, Wufei caught a whiff of himself and wrinkled his nose as he entered the blessed air conditioning of the store. He wasn't exactly rancid, but a shower would be more than welcome. He veered off from Heero and made a beeline for the shower aisle to nab a bar of deodorant.
    He hurried to catch up with Heero, afraid the other boy's ideas of "food" ran along the same lines as Duo's did, and was relieved to find him rooting through a barrel of apples. They went through the store efficiently and silently, selecting foods that would be good for a trip, and Wufei was pleasantly surprised that Heero's tastes seemed similar to his own in that he seemed to hone in on foods that were not only healthy, but would help give them energy. Shopping with Duo, Wufei reflected, was probably a pain in the ass. And he was already certain that the braided boy would throw a spectacular fit when he discovered they'd neglected to include potato chips and candy in their shopping cart.
    But Duo knew Heero well. When they met him in the parking lot, he hefted a small bag with a grin. "I knew you'd only pick out the gross healthy stuff, so I nabbed a few goodies at the gas station," he admitted, already digging through the bag for a bag of M&M's. "Hey, Wuffers, your turn to drive."
    Wufei masked his surprise by growling, "Don't call me that," as he climbed in behind the wheel. He used the deodorant and tossed it to Duo in the back seat, who accepted it with an amused grin. "Is this a hint?" he teased.
    "A big one," Wufei growled, starting up the engine and pulling out of the lot.
    "So where to again?" Duo asked, munching on chocolate and inspecting the crumpled map in his lap.
    "Farroway," Heero intoned, glancing at Wufei for confirmation.
    Wufei nodded. "It's only a few hours away. From there, the backroads will get us to Orton. We should be there sometime tomorrow afternoon."
    "It'd prob'ly be best to get there at night," Duo put in, face suddenly serious. "We can shave off some hours by stopping at a motel again tonight."
    Heero frowned at the delay, but evidently agreed, because he kept his peace.
    "Fine," Wufei grunted. "But this time I'm picking the place."
    "You didn't think the last one was charming?" Duo grinned. "Peeling wallpaper and all?"
    Wufei didn't dignify that with an answer, and remained in stony silence for the next few hours as Duo chattered away in the back seat and Heero fiddled with his communication device.


    The communicator went off during one of their bathroom breaks, and Quatre answered it, glancing towards the bushes where Trowa had disappeared to take a leak and stretch his legs. The blond leaned against the side of the moped, tugging at his helmet's chinstrap as he opened the message from Heero.
    His eyes scanned the short transmission as he kept an ear open for Trowa's return, and he gave a little sigh of relief as the words sank in. If the others were staying at a hotel for the night, it meant he and Trowa could do the same. Trowa's stamina was incredible; he'd done most of the driving, seeming to need very little sleep. They were on the outskirts of Orton already, and Quatre was thoroughly sick of the bike. He was ready to sleep in a real bed under a real roof again. It felt like weeks rather than days that they'd been on the road. His butt and thighs felt raw from the constant driving.
    There were very few other travelers at the small rest stop. The few cars that were parked there contained mostly families driving cross-country to meet relatives, and a few groups of college students doing road trips. Quatre ignored their shouting and laughter as he slid the communicator into his backpack and rolled his head in an attempt to loose the stiffness in his neck.
    He wondered if Wufei was getting along better with the other two. He'd been understandably prickly and suspicious when they'd set out on their journey, but Quatre was hoping Duo's cheerful attitude would help erode some of that. The trip would be a lot easier for all of them if Wufei trusted them even a little bit.
    Quatre was sore, tired, and distracted, and didn't think much of the rustle in the bushes behind him until the last second, expecting it to be Trowa.
    When he glanced casually over his shoulder and finally spotted the glowering man with the gun, it was far too late to reach for his own weapon.

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