Chapter 9: "Road Trip"

    When Duo had said the drive would be a long one, he hadn't been joking. Wufei judged it would take at least two days on the road for them to get to their destination, and that was if traffic was good and they drove in shifts instead of stopping for the night.
    They split up; Duo and Heero took a run-down jeep, while Trowa and Quatre claimed a motorcycle hidden in the high grass in the backyard. It was obvious where Wufei was going to have to ride, and the thought didn't please him. While his faith in Trowa had been soundly shaken since yesterday, he still knew the other boy, while the others were more or less complete strangers. Rather than listen to Duo's inane babble or put up with Heero's calculating stares, he claimed the back seat. He stretched out, using his bag for a pillow, and had fallen asleep before they'd even left the town. He didn't want to be awake for the drive because he was afraid that if he saw familiar settings through the window being left far behind, he might do something rash. So he slept, while Heero drove and Duo lounged in the passenger seat and talked about this and that.

    The jeep wasn't exactly the smoothest ride in the world; every bump and sharp turn was a magnified lurch, and Wufei couldn't ignore it forever. He finally roused himself after a brief nap and checked his watch. They'd only been on the road three hours. Carefully lowering his hand by his side, he glanced towards the two boys up front, neither of whom seemed to have noticed that he was awake yet. They were deep in discussion about something, and it took Wufei a moment to pick out their words over the sound of the wind and the tires bumping along the road.
    "..don't see why it has to be this way," Duo was muttering, inspecting dirt under his fingernails. "Quatre feels the same way. I feel bad for the guy, yanno? It's a hell of a wake-up call. And he doesn't even know what's really going on yet."
    "We aren't telling him," Heero reminded him firmly, eyes on the road.
    "Yeah, yeah, I know," Duo huffed. "The old man would skin us alive. Besides, I really don't think Wufei would believe us in the first place. Worst case scenario, he'd bolt."
    "He's not a coward," Heero said flatly.
    "Didn't say he was, did I? Just sayin' it's a bit much for one guy to take in all at once. Hell, if I was in his shoes, I'd probably laugh in your face. Take this exit."
    Heero obediently turned the wheel, face still a mask of impenetrable stone. "He doesn't have a choice," he reminded his companion.
    "None of us do," Duo agreed, voice a bit more sober as he gazed out at the passing scenery, hat tugged down over his brow. "Not that you'll ever convince him of that."
    The two of them fell silent, wrapped up in their own thoughts. In the back, Wufei felt a frown tug at his mouth. It wasn't exactly the type of thing he'd expected from one of his abductors. Still, he wouldn't allow Duo's seeming sympathy to cloud his judgment. The fact remained that they were taking him somewhere and he had no say in the matter-- as Heero had just so firmly reiterated.
    He waited a few more minutes before stirring, making an obvious stretching gesture to get their attention. Duo craned his neck to look at him, banishing his earlier serious expression with a wide grin. "Look who's up," he teased. "Have a nice nap, sleeping beauty?"
    Wufei scowled at him, sitting up carefully and trying to knead some of the kinks out of his back and neck. He glanced out of the window and watched the empty desert roll by. They were still on the main interstate, but there weren't many cars on the road. Glancing over his shoulder, he searched for Trowa's motorcycle.
    Duo guessed the reason behind his puzzlement. "They're taking another route," he explained, digging in a cooler at his feet. "It's a little safer that way. Head's up."
    Wufei caught the can of soda Duo tossed back to him.
    "Might as well go back to sleep," Duo advised, "unless you're up to a game of Roadtrip Bingo or something." He rolled his eyes. "Heero's not going to let someone else take the wheel until he's about to drop dead from exhaustion anyway."
    Wufei popped the soda lid and hastily covered the opening when they hit a bump, keeping the soda from splashing him just in time. "You know it won't be long before someone starts looking for me," he pointed out moodily. "Even if my mother doesn't say anything, the school will start asking where I am, not to mention Hilde."
    "That cute little firecracker chick you always hang out with?" Duo's grin grew more interested. "Say, she got a boyfriend?"
    Wufei fixed him with a level stare.
    After a moment, Duo blinked and exchanged a quick-- worried? --look with Heero. "Oh. Sorry, man. Uh.. you guys aren't serious or anything, are you? Cuz, um.."
    "Wha-- No," Wufei snapped. "We aren't dating."
    "Oh." Duo looked vastly relieved. Wufei got the suspicious sense that Duo was more relieved to find that Wufei wasn't the one dating her, rather than whether Hilde herself had a boyfriend. "Well, as long as we're on the subject," Duo continued with exaggerated casualness, "you ever gotten serious with a girl? No promise rings, pregnancies, anything like that, right?"
    Wufei gaped at him. "What kind of question is that?" he demanded furiously.
    "I know it's kinda personal," Duo apologized, scratching his nose and averting his eyes. "But it is kinda important."
    "It's none of your business," Wufei spat.
    Heero glared at him in the rearview mirror. "Just answer the question."
    "Since when are my personal relationships anybody's business but my own?" Wufei raved, embarrassed and angry all at once.
    "Relationships plural?" Duo repeated, looking worried again.
    Wufei made a strangled noise of disgust. It would shut them up if he just told the truth, he realized. Still, it rankled him that they would demand something like this from him. Someone's love life was intensely personal, not something to be shared with strangers. "I haven't had the time for such foolishness," he snapped. "Now keep your nose out of it, Maxwell."
    Duo grinned instantly. "Right. OK. Sorry. Just making sure."
    "What's it to you, anyway?" Wufei growled. "What does that have to do with anything?"
    "Ummm..." Duo coughed. "'Fraid I'm not exactly at liberty to say."
    Wufei wasn't number one in his class for nothing. It took only a few seconds for something to click. "Does this have anything to do with that 'her' you keep mentioning?" he asked Heero angrily.
    Heero and Duo exchanged a swift glance, then Duo laughed ruefully. "Guess we gotta watch what we say around you, man. Look, just forget it. It'll all be explained when we get to our destination."
    "Which is?"
    "You'll see," Duo said mysteriously. "Go ahead and get some shut-eye. I'll wake you up when we stop."
    Wufei seethed in the back seat for a few more minutes, but it was obvious he wasn't going to get anything else out of either of them. Finally he stretched out, turned his back on them, and went back to sleep.

    He must have been more exhausted than he'd previously thought, because he didn't wake up again until there was a light touch on his shoulder. Still half-asleep, he thought it was his mother until Duo's cheerful voice by his ear said, "Wakey wakey. I can't drive another fucking mile, or I'm gonna keel over."
    Wufei shrugged off the hand irritably and sat up, looking out of the window. It was evening already, and they were parked in front of a seedy looking motel. Heero was nowhere to be seen, and Duo was sitting in the driver's seat, smacking gum loudly.
    "Heero's getting the key," Duo explained, muffling a yawn with his hand. "We're just gonna take a quick break."
    Wufei opened the door and slid out, dragging his bag with him. He stretched hugely, wincing as all the sore spots on his body from the bumpy ride made themselves known. He walked around the jeep a few times to wake up his cramped legs, and then Heero came up with a key. "Room 112," he announced. "We'll start out again at dawn."
    The room had two small stained beds and didn't look much better than the outside. The wallpaper was faded and peeling, the shower looked unsanitary, and the only good thing going for it that Wufei could see was the sturdy deadbolt on the door.
    Duo took in his look of distaste and chortled. "It ain't exactly the Plaza, but it's cheap, and we're only staying a few hours."
    "I'll take first watch," Heero declared, dropping his duffel bag on the floor by one of the beds. It clanked when it fell, and Wufei wondered morbidly if Heero was smuggling weapons in with his clothes.
    "I will," he argued. "I slept the whole way. I'm not tired." Heero looked at him steadily, and Wufei glared back. "What?"
    "No offense, 'Fei," Duo coughed, "but what's to say you don't grab the jeep and hightail it out of here?"
    "Don't call me that," Wufei snapped. "And I'm not going anywhere. I've been trying to get to space my whole life. You four imbeciles just provide a convenient excuse."
    "Just the same," Duo drawled, kicking off his shoes and stripping off his shirt, "I think I'd feel better if Heero took first watch."
    Wufei bristled, but Heero ignored him. He grabbed the desk chair, set it in front of the door, and made himself comfortable.
    Wufei glared at them both, but he knew there was nothing he could say that would change their minds. He seated himself haughtily on the bed and tugged off his shoes.
    Duo was stripping as he made his way towards the tiny bathroom, and Wufei averted his eyes with a small scowl. Did the boy have no decency?
    "Dibs on the shower," Duo sang over his shoulder. He paused in front of the mirror by the sink to undo his braid with nimble fingers.
    A shower didn't sound like a bad idea. Wufei felt gross and sweaty from riding all day in the jeep in the desert. Pushing his shoes under the bed, he reached up and started rubbing at his shoulders in an attempt to get rid of the aches and kinks he'd developed from the rough ride.
    Duo caught the motion in the mirror. "Hey, you should let Heero do that for ya," he offered. "He's got a real gift for it. Trust me, it's better to let a little dignity slide and let him do it than wake up stiff as a board the next morning. So to speak."
    Wufei forgot Duo's state of undress for a moment and turned a glare on the other boy. Duo's hair was down, now, and cascaded down his back, wavy from its tie-- and thankfully long enough to cover his backside. Wufei quickly looked back at the floor, scowling darkly. "I don't need his he--"
    Heero must have taken Duo's suggestion as a friendly order, however, and had already come up to the bed. Wufei jumped as Heero's weight made the bed creak as the other boy settled himself cross-legged behind him and calloused hands fell on his shoulders. He jerked away, startled and furious.
    "Knock it off!" he snapped. "I can take care of myself."
    Heero hesitated.
    "Take a chill pill, dude," Duo sighed, seizing a towel from the rack and heading into the bathroom. "He's not gonna hurt ya."
    "I didn't say he was going to h-- Get your hands off me, Yuy!" Wufei snarled as Heero looked like he was about to reach for him again.
    Heero let his hands drop in his lap and glared. "Duo's right," he said. "You'll be stiff tomorrow, which could encumber us if we have to move fast. You obviously don't know what you're doing, so just let me--"
    "I know what I'm doing," Wufei retorted.
    Heero just stared at him, patient as a rock.
    Wufei felt like grinding his teeth. "You're not going to drop it, are you?" he growled.
    Wufei turned his head to glare at the opposite wall and said nothing.
    After a long moment, Heero reached out and gripped his shoulders again. His hands were rough and surprisingly strong, and Wufei almost twitched away again. "It wouldn't hurt if you wouldn't tense up," Heero informed him a little impatiently.
    Wufei offered a choice phrase in Mandarin, but forced himself to relax marginally. Heero's hands continued to knead at his shoulders, and bit by bit Wufei made his muscles relax. It stopped hurting after a few moments, and slowly Heero began to work the knots out of his shoulders and then his neck.
    Pride aside, it did feel damn good. Not that Wufei would ever admit it out loud. As his muscles loosened, the hands got less rough, and Wufei's whole upper body relaxed. He realized his head had started to loll onto his chest just a bit, and straightened it quickly. If Heero noticed, he didn't say anything. He moved his ministrations lower, working on Wufei's lower back, and Wufei arched slightly in relief as the pain subsided under Heero's strong, steady hands.
    Heero froze at this reaction, and Wufei blinked, quickly dragging sense and reality back to him like a cloak to ward off the feeling of relaxed numbness he'd almost succumbed to. He started to move away, but Heero had already withdrawn his hands and was getting to his feet. His face was strangely blank.
    Wufei felt suddenly uncomfortable, though he couldn't figure out why. He avoided Heero's gaze, mumbled a grudging thanks, and turned his attention on his bag, rooting through it to see if his mother had thought to pack a toothbrush.
    She had, thankfully, and he used it as an excuse to move to the other side of the room, brushing his teeth vigorously over the sink and avoiding looking at the mirror and risking catching Heero's eye. There was a strange tension in the room, and when he returned to his bed, Heero was in his chair and staring fixedly at a spot somewhere on the wall. His face was its ordinary stone mask, and Wufei couldn't decide if he felt the tension as well or was simply absorbed in his role of door guard.
    It must be because men didn't do these sorts of things, Wufei deduced. They were both strong, independent teenage boys, and boys their age didn't get in each other's personal space. Heero had done him a favor, but he must have felt just as awkward as Wufei had. It was comforting, in a strange way.
    All of this made perfect sense, so Wufei decided to ignore the corner of his brain that was still twitching uncomfortably away from something he couldn't quite put his finger on.
    Duo's shower took a full hour, and by the time it was Wufei's turn, the water was barely lukewarm. He managed to wash up and get out just before the water turned frigid, and he offered Duo a narrow look as he padded out of the bathroom, tying the front of his sleeping pants.
    Duo, busy plaiting his hair on the bed, pretended not to see the look. "Right, I'm catching a few Z's," he declared once he was done. He jerked on some boxers while Wufei glared at the far wall, then dumped himself unceremoniously on the closest bed, not bothering to pull out the sheets. He punched his pillow a couple times, and within a few minutes was snoring softly. Wufei watched him for a moment, envious at the boy's ability to crash out so quickly.
    He glanced towards Heero, immovable as a rock, and decided any chance at a late-night run to clear his head was most likely out of the question. After his nap in the car, however, he couldn't imagine trying to go back to sleep. As he stared at the hard-faced boy, the full realization that he was in some respects their captive began to really dawn. "Are you there to keep the boogey-men out," he demanded a little waspishly, "or to keep me from running away?"
    Heero leveled him with an unflinching gaze. "I don't think you're stupid enough to try to run or hitchhike the eighty-odd miles back home, and unless you know how to hotwire Duo's jeep, I don't think you'll be going anywhere soon," he pointed out flatly. "In case you'd forgotten, there are men after you. Get some sleep."
    "I already had enough sleep in the car," Wufei shot back. "You sleep. I'll stay up."
    "I'm not tired," Heero said with a tone of finality.
    But Wufei had never been good at taking orders-- even ones veiled as suggestions. He felt his eyes narrowing. "What are you, a machine?" he snapped. "Or a reject soldier? You walk around like a robot-- no emotions, no original thoughts in that thick head of yours, and no respect for other people."
    A rare flash of emotion went off in Heero's eyes, his mouth tightening irritably. Wufei half expected him to just take the verbal abuse as he had at school, but surprisingly, he responded coolly. "I would rather be a 'robot' than an arrogant, touch-phobic boy who's in denial about everything going on around him."
    Wufei could only gape at him for a moment. For the first time since he'd met the other boy, Heero was speaking like a boy his age instead of some glorified soldier or too-cool hot shot. And the words stung a little more than he would have liked to admit. "You don't know anything about me," he snarled.
    Heero stared at him for a long moment before responding a little quieter, "No. Not anymore. The only thing that hasn't changed about you is your temper."
    "I still run," Wufei shot back sarcastically. The words were out before he had time to think about them. He shut his mouth fast, eyes widening a little in astonishment and confusion. What on earth had made him say that? 'Still'? He shook his head sharply, trying to clear his thoughts. He didn't remember Heero-- or his presumed childhood with the other boy, for that matter. Yet as he'd said the words, it had seemed.. honest. Something in his subconscious had made him say those words, but try as he might to grasp the wisps of faint memory, they faded away almost instantly.
    Heero's eyes had widened a little. "I thought you didn't remember anything."
    "I don't," Wufei insisted, scowling. He shook his head again. "I don't know where that came from," he muttered. "Never mind."
    "No," Heero said slowly, eyeing Wufei intently, "you did. You used to run." He hesitated. "We used to run," he corrected himself. His eyes seemed a little unfocused, as if he was looking at something Wufei couldn't see, a slight frown tugging at his mouth. "You always wanted to race-- to get your way."
    "Who won?" Wufei demanded impulsively.
    Heero looked at him steadily. "You did," he finally said. "You always won."
    "You beat me on the track that day," Wufei pointed out.
    "That's because Yuy's a sore loser," came Duo's muffled voice, startling them both a little. "The fucker runs five miles every day now. Now can you please just shut the fuck up, both of you, so I can get some sleep?"


    By the time they left the hotel just before dawn, Wufei's sleep schedule was completely out of whack. He'd slept most of the previous day, and ended up staying up all night, ignoring Heero and flipping dully through the TV without really seeing anything on it. Now he was getting tired again. Duo drove first, while Heero catnapped in the passenger seat, so Wufei decided to get a quick nap as well. He set his watch for two hours, then roused himself forcibly when the timer went off. The nap would hold him out for most of the day, and he needed to stay awake in order to readjust his body to sleeping at night.
    Heero was awake already and fiddling with a small hand-held device. Duo had cranked up the radio and was singing along quite loudly, though his voice was decent. Wufei sat up carefully and readjusted his seatbelt. Duo's eyes flicked towards his in the rearview mirror as he fumbled in the glove compartment for sunglasses. "Mornin'," he said cheerfully. "Glad you're up. We just passed a sign for some kinda fast-food joint just up the road, and I'm starving. I'm gonna pull over and grab some breakfast."
    "I thought we were in a hurry," Wufei pointed out, ignoring his own stomach's pitiful requests for nourishment.
    "I don't care if Babylon is burnin' behind us," Duo retorted, settling the glasses on his nose firmly. "If I don't get some goddamn coffee, this trip is going to get real unpleasant real fast."
    "Duo needs his caffeine," Heero said firmly, eyes still on the device in his hands. He spoke as one who had been witness to a caffeine-deprived Duo, and the undertone to his voice promised very grave consequences for all if such a thing were to occur again. Wufei decided not to argue anymore. Besides, his stomach was really beginning to put up a racket. He hadn't, he realized, eaten anything since yesterday morning.
    Duo took the next exit and parked in front of the small restaurant.
    "Drive-through, Duo," Heero intoned, still not looking up. "We're in a hurry."
    "We're in hicks-ville, Heero," Duo informed him, already clambering out of the jeep. "There is no damn drive-through. You want the usual?"
    Heero grunted a reply. Wufei decided his legs could use the stretch and followed Duo inside. Duo flashed the blond behind the counter a grin and ordered a number one for himself and a biscuit and orange juice for Heero. Wufei, who kept his diet as healthy as possible, rarely ate at fast-food restaurants, so he chose the same thing Duo had. It ended up being a piece of what was supposedly sausage slapped in the middle of a hard biscuit, a side of greasy tatertots, and a coffee. He made a face at the food, and grabbed extra napkins. As he turned to fill his coffee cup, he happened to glance out of the window.
    It was just after seven, and they were two of the few customers. Aside from their car, there had only been a beat-up pickup truck and two other cars when they'd pulled up. There was a fourth one, now-- a dark one, with tinted windows. Wufei stared at it, and almost poured the coffee on his hand. He glanced around quickly, then headed over to Duo, keeping his face calm.
    Duo was dumping pack after pack of sugar in his coffee, and he glanced up curiously when Wufei stopped beside him. After a moment he followed Wufei's eyes towards the window.
    "Isn't that the same car from the school?" Wufei asked in an undertone.
    Duo's face grew uncharacteristically grim. He tossed the empty sugar packs aside and quickly put a lid on his coffee cup. "Yeah. Get to the car. Act casual. Heero's probably already spotted 'em, but we don't wanna make a scene if we don't have to."
    "How do you expect to lose them on the interstate?" Wufei demanded as he led the way to the door.
    "You let me do the thinking," Duo muttered out of the side of his mouth as they stepped outside and headed for the jeep, carefully not looking at the dark car. "You just get in and keep your head down."
    "How did they find us?" Wufei couldn't help but ask.
    "Hell if I know. They got their sources, I suppose. C'mon," Duo urged as the car door opened and a man in a suit stepped out, staring directly at them.
    Heero was sitting tensely in the driver's seat, eyes glued to the rearview mirror, but Duo pushed him aside. "Move over, buddy, we both know I'm better with the high speed chases."
    Heero reluctantly scooted over to the passenger side, and Wufei hesitated, half in the jeep, his own gaze locked on the mirror. The man who had gotten out of the car was walking towards them briskly, hand dipping into his jacket.
    "Let's go, Wufei," Duo said sharply. Wufei slid into the car and slammed the door as the engine roared to life. Duo slammed the car into reverse, twisted the wheel savagely, and laid into the gas.
    The tires squealed in protest against the asphalt as they shot backwards-- directly towards the man in the suit.
    Duo, Wufei realized in a sudden moment of clarity, would run the guy down. No problem. He opened his mouth to shout, but his voice was snatched away by the wind, and then...
    The man jumped aside at the last second, and they barely missed him. Duo didn't slow down at all, he just kept right on going-- and barreled right into the man's car. The screeching of metal and the blare of the other car's alarm were deafening. Wufei was nearly thrown into the front seat from the collision, and Heero had to grab the dashboard to keep himself from sailing through the windshield.
    "Seatbelts, everyone," Duo sang out belatedly. Then, laughing wildly, he jerked the gear into drive and roared out of the lot onto the interstate. Wufei managed to turn around just in time to get one last glimpse of the wrekage left behind. Several customers and workers had come running out at the noise and were gaping at the jeep as it sped off. The man in the suit was standing in rigid fury by his car, the front rumpled like an accordion and steam pouring from under the hood. Wufei had go give credit where it was due, however grudgingly. The man wouldn't be able to follow them now.
    "Not bad," he muttered.
    Duo didn't hear him over the rushing wind and engine. He was racing along at an alarming speed, blue eyes darting constantly towards the rearview mirror. "That fucker's sure to call in the reserves," he shouted over the wind. "We're gonna have to find another way to Orton-- we're too easy to catch in the open here on the highway."
    Wufei slitted his eyes against the wind, clasping his hand atop his head to restrain stray locks of hair as he wracked his brain. "Take the exit towards Youthtown," he finally called back. "It'll mean cutting through Hurver and a few other small towns, but the back roads could make it difficult to find us."
    Heero was already struggling with a flapping map, frowning disagreeably. "That will take us out of our way by almost a hundred miles," he pointed out.
    "It's that or stay on the interstate," Wufei snapped. "I know this state better than you, so either do it or think of a better goddamn idea."
    "All right, all right," Duo shouted to interrupt. "We'll try your way. Heero, call Tro and let him know we'll be pretty far behind him. Personally, I'd rather be a little inconvenienced rather than risk running into those goons every ten miles. Quit arguing like an old married couple."
    The glare both boys sent him cut off that conversation rather quickly, and they spent the next hour in tense silence, eyes constantly straining for a glimpse of anyone following them.

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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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