Gundam Wing and all its paraphernalia belong to Sotsu, Sunrise, Bandai and other respective owners. Rating: PG-13 Pairing: 3x2, 1xC, past 6x3 and 2x4 Warning: AU, probably been done before, OOC, strangeness

Driving

Driving is something I love to do, I got my license as fast as I could, took a road trip each of the summers after all through high school and college and now, three years later, I still get the urge to just jump in my car and take off. And driving is exactly what I did today. When I got up I was feeling restless, a definite sign something's about to happen, and during breakfast I spilled a bottle of milk, something I haven't done in years. I must have been staring at the white liquid drip off the tablecloth for some five minutes before I finally realized I was supposed to clean it up. I knew for sure something was up, by then, but I'm not precognitive, so I just went on with my usual day, trying to prepare for the worst.

~*~*~*~

The ride to work wasn't very spectacular, no immense traffic jams, no accidents, not even a police officer signalling for me to pull over to take a breath test. For a few blissful moments I thought everything was going to be all right anyway. That's when I pulled in to work and saw that both my alarm clock and watch were twenty minutes slow I was late.

Surprisingly, it took me only about a hundred apologies to placate my boss, the feared Chang Wufei, the entire office dreads facing him. He doesn't take well to slackers, idiots and excuses, thankfully I'm not one of the first two and I didn't try to use the latter. My hide had been saved and I could sit behind my desk in one piece.

My job is one of the most boring ones there are, I'm convinced of it. There can be nothing less interesting that just transferring data from paper to computer. I have a hard time believing I got a bachelors degree in English with a minor in child psychology (I wanted to teach) just to get this job. But it keeps me alive, allows me two weeks of vacation, in which I visit my sister Catherine and her most charming husband, Heero. The guy has a stick up his ass and I think he likes the feeling of it too, but they, or Catherine anyway, keep telling me they're happy so I stuck with the part of the ever-worrying, ever-single, younger brother. I'm only 24 dammit.

The first hour of my day passes in relatively calm circumstances. I have my own cubicle, so I'm not worried by any meddlesome secretaries, interns or mailmen, my computer doesn't hate me, like most computers hate their users, and data is peacefully transferred. The clock reaches 10.20 and I'm still feeling that same restlessness I felt earlier, like my stomach is one big knot. A look at my hands above my keyboard shows me they're shaking. This is insane; I'm taking my coffee break.

My cup comes out of the machine easily enough, not getting stuck, adding milk and sugar the way I want it and not sending boiling hot water all over me. I take a seat in the only chair left and indulge in the worries of Lucrezia Noin, my only friend on the job and easily my other, just not related, sister. "You look like a ghost, Trowa, I know a lot of kids try to get that effect on purpose, but somehow I doubt you do." She's a darling, Noin, even did my shopping for me that one week I was sick last year. I might not be the most social of people, but I'm happy to have her for a friend. "Didn't have too great a night, bad dreams I suppose." It's a lie and we both know it, I sleep like a log, but there's no way to explain the feeling of a big fist tossing your guts around without sounding insane and it'd be impossible to tell her why since I don't even know it myself. She runs a hand through my hair as I get back up, an act she has to reach up for, and smiles. "Finish your cup and go home, babe, you look like shit and the Wuminator wouldn't want you to become sick on the job, he'd think it was his fault." Chang got that nickname after he worked 60 hours straight to finish a project. He knows about it and is inordinately proud; he is one strange Chinese man.

Ten minutes later I'm back at my desk, Noin's words still running through my head while I stare blankly at my screen. The numbers are all messed up and I'm still feeling like a rabbit on speed, the caffeine only made things worse.

~*~*~*~

Another ten minutes later I'm out of the building. Noin was right and Chang let me go easily, even advised me to stay home tomorrow as well. Strange to discover people at work are human too. I get in my fine Corvette Stinger a 1969 classic and start my usual route home. It's not until I'm at the second crossing, waiting for an old lady and her even older husband to make it to the other side of the street with their walkers that I realize that the feeling is gone. I'm calm, collected, at peace even. It takes me only two seconds to make myself a mental checklist: the cat has food, groceries have been done, and nobody's supposed to visit or call; nothing can stop me from spending a day or two on the road. When the old couple has finally made it to the other side of the road safely I take off with a smile, changing my course of direction of to the interstate.

Twenty minutes on the road and I'm feeling even better, it's not hot not cold enough yet for me to use the airco and Meatloaf is singing about how he found paradise by the dashboard lights at full blast. Nothing can stop this day from becoming a great one, I've rolled the window down just an inch to enjoy a cool breeze and there's practically no traffic on this ordinary day when everybody is supposed to be working and most of the truckers are on strike. Most of the few other people I cross know the pleasure of driving, the freedom of going everywhere and nowhere at once.

~*~*~*~

Noon hits me soon enough and like a ton of bricks, the temperature has risen quite a lot and the airco is running to keep it nice and cool in my car. Meatloaf is still singing, telling me how he would do anything for love and my stomach is letting me know I didn't have that big a breakfast this morning. I try to ignore the feeling, used to having my lunch at 2pm instead of noon, but I fail and I drive off the road the next chance I get, parking at a diner called 'Aunt Betty's coffee and diner'. It'll have to do, I'm not exactly used to gourmet meals anyway, especially since I've switched from take-out to my own cooking.

Aunt Betty turns out to be a twenty-year-old with the speed of a sixty-year- old, who seems to think her daytime soap opera more important that her customers and their coffee refills. At least the place is clean and the food edible.

All in all I'm inside for about half an hour before I head back to my car, which is probably reaching oven temperatures by now. It takes me a second to notice that someone is sitting in the shade created by my corvette, not a drunk I hope, or an insane bum. Turns out it's a girl, short, or maybe petite is the right word, with long golden streaked chestnut hair and delicate looking hands folded neatly in her lap as she sits cross-legged on the ground by my car's door. "Can I help you?" I've decided I'm going to play this the nice way; she doesn't look crazy or drunk after all. "Could I have a ride with you?" Her voice is soft and music to my ears, but unmistakably male. She, the petite, pretty girl is a he, with long hair and soft features. I'm so surprised I hardly hear him repeat the question. "Could I have a ride?" He cocks his head and moves to stand; he only reaches up to my shoulder, a pretty boy indeed. "Where do you want to go?" At least my brain isn't completely fried and my subconscious is still well enough to not let me stand there gawking like an idiot. The boy (man? There's no way I can tell his age) smiles and it somehow reassures me, makes me feel like I'm less of a moron. "Oh just about anywhere is fine, I just need to get out of here and your car caught my eye." His smile widens and, with a random thought, I notice that his teeth are pearly white and perfectly straight. "Alright, the passenger seat is free, just dump the sweater on the backseat." I don't know why I just said yes, he could be anyone: from a pocketsize axe murderer to a transvestite from New York. With a shake of my head I get behind the wheel, start the car and drive away from Aunt Betty's.

~*~*~*~

My car doesn't purr, howl, pounce or roar, it just drives smoothly and for some fifteen minutes the two of us just appreciate that in silence. Then the boy, or at least I think he's still that young, his eyes try to tell me different, turns to me in his seat and starts to talk. "My name's Duo, in case you were wondering. It's gotta be at least kinda weird to have someone in your car you don't know anything about." His voice surprises me again, still as soft as before, but with a certain tone to it, making me feel like it slips around me and pulls me closer, nearly a caress. He sounds as if he seriously wants to know what I feel or think. Something no one but Noin or Catherine have cared about since college, when I was still dating Milliardo, but then again, that didn't end exactly like a fairytale either, more like a living nightmare. I'd gladly listen to Duo for the rest of the ride, but from his silence I conclude that I've already been lost in thought for too long and that he expects me to answer. "It's alright, it's been a while since I had some company in here. I'm Trowa, nice meeting you Duo." While I take one hand from the wheel to shake the one he's extending, I find that I would gladly know everything about him as well. When did I stop being perfectly happy keeping to myself, not wanting to hear everyone's life story? I hope this trip doesn't end with me heading to the psychiatrist again; I've had enough of those since my parents died in a car crash when I was seven. "A while? You don't have a girlfriend then?" He puts a hand on my wrist and his cold touch sends shivers through my spine, he feels colder than ice, an arctic wind, and I even half expect to see small red welts where he put his fingertips when he pulls away after only a few seconds. "No, I haven't had a date in quite some time." No use in telling him I'm more interested in the same sex that (than) the opposite one. He might just ask me to drop him off so he can walk back to Betty's to get another ride. Instead, I focus on the road, even while there isn't a curve or another vehicle in sight as far as the human eye can see. I'd be comfortable if the conversation stopped at this point. We've introduced ourselves, had some small talk, and done the niceties. But Duo apparently doesn't agree and he puts his hand back on my wrist as he speaks my name. It has to be impossible for anyone's hands to be this cold. "Trowa, I can't say how much I appreciate your taking me along with you. There aren't that many people left who still have that much confidence in people." I was, again, hit with the thought that I'd taken a huge risk in taking Duo with me, something I would never have done had I been in my right mind. But the restlessness of that morning, combined with the sight of him sitting next to my car, had thrown me off completely. "Um, sure, like I said, it's okay." Great, first I get talkative and now I don't know what to say. I feel like I'm back in high school, facing Sally Po, most popular girl with a brain. He must think I'm some kind of idiot. Strangely enough, all Duo does is laugh softly and touch my temple with those cold hands of his. "Don't worry like that Trowa, you're doing fine, even if you think you don't have much social skill." He leans in, free from the confines of his seatbelt. "What?" Is about the only thing I can say. He's so close, close enough for me to just turn my head and press my lips against his, so close I can see freckles on the tip of his nose from the corner of my eye. "You have a little vein here, it started to show when you were worrying about what I thought of you." He runs a finger down my cheek and smiles beatifically. I shiver. I wouldn't know the difference if someone would touch me with an ice cube. "You shaved this morning, didn't you?" "I, yeah..." Nearly cut myself doing so as well with the way I'd been jumping at every sound. Duo smiles again and I notice that he's really beautiful when he does so, then he sits back and disappears from my sight as I focus back on the road and the truck, first one I've seen all day, that I'm about to pass.

~*~*~*~

Some time later, around 3 P.M., Duo starts talking to me again, but the topic is much lighter this time around and he doesn't seem to expect too many answers from me. I notice how most, if not all, of the music and movies he likes are already several years old, but I don't say anything about it, because our tastes match and soon we're engaged in a semi-serious discussion about life in the matrix, with Duo making quite some funny offhand remarks. We lapse back into silence after having agreed that we can't agree about the Wachowski brothers.

When the hottest part of the day has passed and the airco can go on a setting below North Pole temperatures, he tells me about his friend Quatre. "So there we were, both covered in mud from head to toe and soaking wet, in front of Treize Khushrenada, quarterback on the school's team. We thought for sure we were dead meat, but instead he just picked us up and threw us back in the pond, telling us we stank and needed a bath." Duo is smiling at the memory and I dare to sneak a few peaks at him, the gorgeous boy/man next to me. He puzzles me, with his rather mature way of thinking, but his more boyish way of constantly moving his hands while speaking and I decide that I absolutely need to know how old he is. What if he's not even a legal adult? "Duo?" I take one of my hands off the wheel and move it to the gear stick. "Can I ask you a personal question?" He nods and pulls his legs up to sit cross-legged. He could break his legs that way, if we crashed. "Sure, fire away." "I was just wondering how old you are, that's all." I keep my eyes on the road, but, in the mirror, I can still see him get a pensive look on his face and count on his fingers. "Nineteen, I turned nineteen three days ago." He doesn't elaborate and apparently doesn't feel like talking anymore, he just heaves a small sigh and turns in his seat to watch the rather monotonous landscape flash by while I keep driving.

~*~*~*~

"And just when she passed by we jumped out of that tree and scared the crap out of her. Sure was the last time Dorothy tried to get me or Quatre to go out with her." It's 6.30pm and we're having an early dinner at a truck stop called 'Denny's '. A male and older version of Aunt Betty. I don't usually eat this early in the evening either, just like lunch. But Duo had been too cute to be refused anything when his stomach rumbled in the otherwise quiet car and he blushed beet red.

So I sit here, in a roadside diner, surrounded by people whose average weight is probably more than twice that of Duo and mine together, picking at my hamburger and fries, listening to the young man in front of me, studying him intently from the other side of the only booth in the entire business. The thought of asking for refills doesn't even come up;(comma here) it would only serve to interrupt the picture. I'm not enough of a fool to think we have something going on, but it's nice to enjoy things while they last. Who knows when he'll ask me to pull over so he can get out, tired of my quiet company and my,(no comma) probably dead-obvious, constant eyeing of him. "Hmmm, this is good." I tear my eyes away from the way he's licking the ketchup off his fingers and see that he finished his dinner already. Without a word I push mine across the table in his direction. He lights up like a Christmas tree. "Ah, Tro, you're the greatest!" And he attacks the food vigorously. "I don't think Quatre and I ever did anything separately. I had my eye on a girl called Hilde for a while, but she didn't want me, so you can say neither of us really dated much. We even made out a few times, but then my dad caught us and we both got grounded for a month." He pauses and pops another fry into his mouth, looking at me and obviously waiting for something, but what? Approval of the punishment his father had administered? Compassion? Or maybe just a new direction for the conversation. God Duo, you confuse the hell out of me. In the end, I just went with the old 'I see.' and put my hand over his. It turned out to be the right decision, because when I looked in his eyes I thought I saw fireworks.

We're on our way back to the car some ten minutes later and I think taking the booth was a good idea, some of the truckers aren't look at us all that nicely.

~*~*~*~

"So why didn't this Hilde like you?" It's 6 P.M. and it's the first time I'm actually starting the conversation. I'm honestly curious though, how can anyone not like Duo? "Oh, well sometimes you just don't like someone, I suppose, and it's not like she hated my guts either. She didn't want to go out with me because she thought I was too gay." He crosses his arms on the dashboard and rests his head on top of them. It's something he really shouldn't do, but if there's another car coming our way, we'll see him coming a mile away. I lean back in my seat and relax with one hand on the wheel, the other going to his long braid, following its every bump and curve with my fingertips right down to the end. "So were you? Too gay I mean." Since our little stop at Denny's I'm a lot more comfortable with touching him. He stretches his back and closes his eyes before answering. "I didn't think so when she told me, but Quatre got word of what she'd said and pretty much changed my mind about being gay or not." I see him grin with his eyes still closed and very briefly I feel a stab of jealousy toward this Quatre I don't know, Duo's best friend and boyfriend. "Ah, like that." I fiddle with the end of his braid and settle myself in my seat for another period of silence in the Corvette, so I'm surprised when he asks another question. "So when did you find out?" I take a moment and blink a few times to clear my head. He did not just ask that. I blink again and I'm probably giving my best impression of a dear in headlights, but I've never told anything about my so-called love life before. Catherine and Heero know what happened, but never mention it as I'm trying to forget what happened while I was in college. One look at Duo though and I cave, telling him about college and my four years of Milliardo Peacecraft, local rich boy and well-loved rich boy. "In the end he was only trying to get me to fit into his family, if he wasn't off parading his latest conquest anyway. By the end of college, three days before graduation, I dumped him. He wasn't happy of course, made a big scene out of it, but things are better in my life now, even if I'm stuck in a dead-end job." By the time I've finished my little tale of love won and lost again Duo is leaning back in his seat, but lying on his side so he can face me while I drive and talk at the same time. His expression, as far as I can explain the look in his eyes, is one of compassion and maybe a hint of anger. "Sound like a real ass, that guy, you don't deserve to be treated like that, Trowa." His words touch me, but he goes further than that and touches my cheek again with those still freezing fingers of his. He moves closer until his leg presses against the gear stick, leaning in to press a soft kiss where his fingers where just a moment ago. His lips are as cold as his hands and for a split second I wonder whether his entire body is as cold and if he knows it, but the sensation of his lips on mine takes over and I stop the car immediately. Duo, on the other hand, doesn't stop, but clumsily climbs into my lap and deepens the kiss, bringing his hands up to cup my face. Even with the strangeness of the kiss, the coldness of his touch on my skin and how sudden it came from out of nowhere, I'm more than happy to wrap my arms around him and pull him even closer. Like I thought, his entire body feels cold and I slowly rub circles on his back, trying to heat him up at least somewhat. He shivers lightly when I press on the bottom of his spine with the palm of my hand and a moment later he pulls back, leaning his forehead against mine, his hurried breath mingling with my own.

"Duo." I don't know what to say. My hands rest on his hips and my cheeks feel flushed. "Uhuh." He confirms the words I leave unspoken and tries to settle in my lap without having the wheel press into his back. "What." I try to ask him what he was thinking, but the words won't come. Duo just shrugs and we sit in comfortable silence for three minutes before climbs back into his own seat.

~*~*~*~

By the time my watch beeps 8 P.M. which means it's actually already 8.20, the outside temperature is back to bearably normal and the atmosphere in my car is just like before that small.incident, with Duo telling me about his so-maniest run-in with Treize Khushrenada, who, yet again, dunked him in the pond. After a minute his expression turns serious and he shifts in his seat to face me. "I don't mean to intrude on your trip, Trowa, but where were you going to sleep?" I hadn't even thought of it and I silently wish I could keep driving around the country with Duo forever. "Usually I go to a motel or I sleep in the car if I've got no other choice." "Oh." That wasn't the good kind of 'oh', which even I can tell. "What's the problem, Duo?" "Huh?" He grins widely at me, flipping his braid back over his shoulder. "There's no problem, I'll just sleep in the car then, okay? That way, they won't be able to steal it or anything." So that's what this is about. I wonder for a second if I'm really that repulsive, but I quickly dismiss the thought and sigh, loudly, so he knows exactly what I think of his suggestion. "If I promise to get a king-size bed and keep my hands to myself, would you sleep in the same room as me?" Again with the fireworks in his eyes, truly beautiful, my Duo. I'm starting to wish I could call him that out loud as well. These feelings I have are starting to tear at me, even after such little time, begging to be confessed, begging at me to get on my knees in front of Duo and tell him I love him. To protect and coddle him for the rest of his life, though he'd probably deck me if I tried that.

~*~*~*~

I go to motel reception, pay for a single room with king-size bed, go back outside, pick up Duo, who is still waiting in the car and take him to our castle of the night. Said castle is a relatively small bedroom, the bed nearly taking up more space than there is, and a bathroom so small I have to duck to get through the shower door. Duo, in his enthusiasm, immediately jumps on the bed and pulls his black t-shirt over his head. "I sleep in my shorts, you don't mind, do you Trowa?" He lies on the bed with his arms flung over his head, his braid already snaking around one of the pillows as he toes his shoes off. "I won't mind if you don't." I follow his example and pull my shirt off while heading for the bathroom door. "I'll just hop in the shower for a minute, make yourself at home, I guess."

Showering is a short affair with me. Just soap up, rinse off and enjoy the hot water for a brief minute to get rid of that 'I've been in my office - or car - all day' feeling. I dry off quickly and run a comb through my hair, trying to keep my long bangs from sticking to my face too much. All of it takes me ten minutes maximum and when I come back into the room with a towel wrapped around my waist Duo has settled on the bed in his boxers only, watching Dexter's Laboratory on the Cartoon Network. I turn my back to him and exchange my towel for my shorts, running a hand through my hair one last time before stretching out on the bed next to Duo.

Dexter turns into Samurai Jack and we haven't spoken a word yet, just settled comfortably next to each other among the many luxurious pillows. After a while, Duo gets up and takes his turn in the tiny bathroom. I can hear the water run and some splashing, a muffled curse, probably when he hits his head against the towel rack just like I did and the Powerpuff Girls have barely begun to save the world before bedtime when he comes back out, wrapped in the other provided towel. He obviously rebraided his hair and I see for the first time that he's not as petite as I thought him. His shoulders are obviously strong and his abs are well developed above pronounced hips that peek out from his towel. I reluctantly turn my gaze back to the TV to grant him some privacy when he changes back into his shorts. I feel more than see him come and sit next to me. He doesn't move for a second. When I'm about to look and see what he's doing, a pillow lands on top of my head, followed by a mad cackle and Duo bouncing back off the bed. I'm stunned for a moment, then grab my own pillow and chase him in small circles around the room, over the bed and around the TV a few times before finally tackling him to the bed where we proceed to try and beat the stuffing out of our pillows. It's been a long time since I indulged in this kind of horseplay, if I ever indulged in it at all. Catherine did call me a very serious child.

After a while we're just too tired to still lift our pillows up high and we make do with simply pushing our pillows against each other in a weak attempt to shove the other off the bed. "Wait, I surrender, have mercy on me!" Duo gives up at long last when I've straddled his legs and in a last effort press my pillow down on his chest. When I move he grins, and before I realize it, I'm on my back with Duo sitting on my chest. "Got you noo~oow." He singsongs, but I've never been known for giving up easily and in a quick move I grab his sides and start tickling him. The effect is even better than expected. He shrieks, squirms and laughs all at once, finally collapsing on top of me in a hiccupping pile of Duo. He fakes a pout when he pushes up to look at me. "That was low, Trowa, really low." I poke his ribs one more time to see him smile again, a plan that works like a charm, and put one of my arms loosely around his waist. He lowers himself back onto the bed, but doesn't protest against my touch so I pull him a bit closer and deliver a light kiss on the rim of his ear. Seconds later we're rolling over the bed, our legs tangled and joined by the mouth. I let my hands roam over his back while his lie on my stomach, fingertips following the lines of my stomach. Breathing is no longer needed and we settle against the headboard until I try to slip a hand into his shorts and Duo pulls back quickly. "I'm sorry Trowa, but." Damn, I screwed up. I'd better get ready to spend the night on the floor or even in another room. ".I don't think we've known each other long enough for that yet. Let's just go to sleep, 'kay?" Not as bad of a screw up as I feared then, but I should've been more sensible. What the hell am I thinking today? He's only nineteen, not twenty- four, barely out of high school even. I groan and squeeze my eyes shut for a moment, can't I fall in love with someone without wanting to jump his bones first chance I get? Duo rolls over in the mean time and for a minute I fear the he's planning on sleeping on the far side of the bed, but he quickly shuffles back and presses his back against my chest, reaching for my arm to pull it over his waist. "Comfortable?" I whisper once he's stopped moving. "Hmm." He seems to be already on the verge of sleeping so I put one of my legs over his, turn the TV and the lights off from where I lay, and promptly fall asleep as well; tired from my long day on the road, my wonderful day with Duo.

~*~*~*~

I wake up once at 3 A.M. for no apparent reason. I shift my position slightly, nestle comfortable against Duo and suddenly realize that I can't feel his bone-chilling cold anymore. It's still there though, when I take his hand it's like ice water, but touching him with my entire body surprisingly doesn't feel like walking across the South Pole dressed in just a loincloth. Is it becoming less or am I just getting used to it, like to a mole or a scar? The situation confuses me and I lay awake for awhile, carefully moving in bed so as to not wake Duo, until he rolls onto his stomach and growls in a voice full of sleep, for me to 'quit movin' 'n c'me here'. I chuckle quietly in the dark and comply easily, falling asleep as I hear the first early bird sing its song.

The sound of the TV wakes me back up around 7.30 A.M., and while I'm still blinking the sleep out of my eyes, Duo gets up from his position at the end of the bed where he had been surfing the channels, to lean over me and kiss me softly. "You're cute when you're all groggy in the morning." And with that, he waltzes off into the bathroom. This, I could get used to.

~*~*~*~

We're back on the road in half an hour in search of a diner that serves breakfast, both of us still yawning at regular intervals. Not even awake enough to make conversation, but our silence isn't a strained one at all. In very little time we find another replica of Aunt Betty's and Denny's where the coffee is strong and the waffles, Duo's choice, come with chocolate-banana topping. We wake up properly over breakfast and by the time we've emptied our plates we're discussing where to go next. I'm happily surprised Duo wants to join me further on and since tomorrow is Saturday I don't have to start the return trip just yet. "I was thinking we could go to the western border with Nevada, if we don't run into any trouble we could make it there by early afternoon." He nods eagerly and takes another sip of his coffee when suddenly a large shadow looms over us. "So little boy, how much is it for a half hour between those pretty legs of yours?" The unfamiliar voice booms and, looking to my left, I see three big truckers standing next to our table, their leader's creepy little eyes already feasting on Duo. "More than you'll ever have. Now if you'll excuse me, I was having a private conversation." I can't help but think this isn't the first time he's handled a case like this. Duo's voice is carefully devoid of emotion and he seems to be looking for a way out already. All of a sudden, the three pigs set their eyes on me, as if noticing me for the first time. "What about skinny here? Doesn't he have to pay?" They attempt a superior look, as if having made a good point and I want to react, get up and give it to them. I could take them on, three times my own weight or not, but Duo bumps his knee against mine under the table, wordlessly asking me to avoid a fight. We get up and try to move around them, but with a small gesture the leader orders his two cronies to block our only way out. "I don't think so, pretty boys." The leader says, "you're coming out back with us and you're gonna be quiet about it or there'll be trouble. Got it?" We nod in answer and they escort us out, the leader in front, the fattest of the threesome putting a greasy hand on my shoulder and the tallest of them leading Duo with what looks like an iron grip on his arm. When we reach the part of the parking lot that can't be seen from the diner, I see my car standing there, shining in the already boiling hot 10 A.M. sun. I try to judge the distance to the Corvette, but the big guy pulls me along, trying to keep up with the others. At that point I make my decision. No one manhandles me like that and I'm certainly not letting them do anything to Duo. I drop to a crouch and twist out of the fat man's hold, giving him a well-aimed uppercut under his chin as I rise to stand. Seeing the others turn as they hear the commotion, I run the short distance to them and tackle the much heavier leader of the small gang with my entire weight. He falls onto his back and (I) nearly tumble on top of him when a strong hand grabs the back of my shirt and stops me. As soon as I've regained my balance I turn, ready to kick someone else's ass, but it turns out to be Duo, who left his assailant on the ground with a dusty footprint in the middle of his chest. We nod at each other and sprint for the car just as the men start to get back up. Duo jumps into the car while I start it already and we drive off in a hurry even though their three huge trucks, the only other cars in the lot, shouldn't be able to catch up. We drive fast and I know I pass the speed limit several times, but I really don't care, I just want to get away from that nameless diner and I think Duo wants the same as he's turning to look through the rear window every twenty seconds.

Just when I think we're far enough I spot an empty parking lot next to another motel and I drive us into it, planning on taking a moment so we can catch our breath. Instead I find myself in the tiny backseat with Duo pressing up against me and the engine still running so the airco can stay on. We make out like mad rabbits and are about to pass into heavy petting when a discreet knock sounds on the window on my right. I lift my eyes slowly from that delicious spot on Duo's neck and get a shock that shortens my life by several years when I see a uniformed policeman standing next to my car. I roll down the window with Duo beet red and sniggering against my shoulder. "Yes, sir?" It's about the only thing I can say; if this is about the speeding I did barely ten minutes ago I'm afraid I'm about to die. "I'm Officer Zechs Merquise," the tall, blond man flashes his badge, "no need to look so worried, sir, it's only a minor thing I'd like to discuss with you." He gives us a rakish grin that doesn't relax me one bit and leans on the arm he put on my car roof. "I know you young people are very much in love, but try to tone it down a little, okay? Not everyone is as appreciative." He adds a lavish wink to the grin and taps the top of my car "Find yourselves a more private spot and feel free to continue, though. He pats the car again and walks away, whistling some top-50 tune I vaguely recognize. We hurry back to the front of the car after that, both bright read by now and Duo laughing out loud. As we drive out of the parking we get another smile and even a wave from officer Merquise and I drive just that bit faster to stay ahead of the embarrassment.

~*~*~*~

At 11 A.M. and 3 P.M. we took breaks to stretch our legs. We had lunch in a town that wasn't much more than a coincidental gathering of houses around a church and now we're looking out over Hoover Dam with some other tourists and a busload of Japanese people. We hold hands while looking out over the water for some time, and try to avoid jumping each other. We steal a quick kiss while the other tourists are gawking at the clocks in different time zones and then head back to the car. "Trowa." He leans back against the car and keeps his eyes on the ground, even when I come to stand right in front of him with my hands on his hips. I have the feeling I'm not going to like this. "I had a really great time, you know that, but." "It's time for you to move on?" He nods and whispers: "you have no idea how right you are." I curse inwardly, why does he have to leave now? When I'm coming to terms with what I feel for him, when I'm sure that I love him, need him, want him. "Will I ever see you again?" He nods again and finally looks up, winding his arms around my neck in the same move. "You will, I'm sure, I don't know when, but we'll see each other again and everything will be just like it was now and even better." I lean in closer until our noses bump. "You're sure?" "Uhuh." And for a moment he's the same petite boy/man as when I first picked him up only little more than 24 hours ago. "Alright then." I kiss him lightly on his lips and take my hands off him, closing my eyes as I feel him slip away. By the time I open my eyes he's nowhere to be seen. I turn back to the car, giving my tears a moment to run freely while no one can see me, before getting behind the wheel and speeding off almost blindly and certainly recklessly.

I drive until I can't keep my eyes open anymore, even with the help of the Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper I picked up, and then just park myself slightly off the road to sleep in the car. The night will be uncomfortable and my back will complain in the morning, but what's a little physical pain when your heart's been ripped out of your chest like mine was today.

~*~*~*~

As predicted morning comes and my back is one aching mass of knots and kinks, I try to work out the worst, but it just doesn't work that well on my own. On my own.I wonder where he had to go so badly that he would hitch a ride with a total stranger and why he wouldn't tell me where he needed to be, even after we'd gotten to know each other. I wonder why he had to leave so sudden, without proper goodbyes, no phone number or email address to go by either. Was he just toying with me? I doubt so, he seemed sincere when I held him, when we kissed.I wonder why he felt so cold all the time? mark Some unknown disease? Or just an extremely low body temperature? His heartbeat had seemed normal though, two nights ago. Could it be contagious? I feel my own forehead and wrists to be sure, but I feel normal and I'm about ready to slap myself for being so stupid. With a sigh I start the car and get back on the road, all the while ignoring that it's only 5 A.M. and I only really slept for some two hours.

I make a stop for gas and lunch at 1 P.M., taking a small walk as well to stretch my legs after driving for eight hours straight. I'm still trying to get the last out of my yogurt, a healthy growing boy's dessert, when I get back into my Corvette and notice that there's something in my backseat, something that isn't mine. I chuck the yogurt container into the trashcan next to my open window and reach back to grab it, whatever it is. In my hands I recognize it as an old battered wallet. Once open the first thing I notice is the multitude of pictures: an older couple (parents?), a pale blonde with curly hair and bright blue eyes (a brother? A friend?) and then several of Duo. One of him on skees), one in swimming trunks one with his hair down. and then, next to it, an ID card, belonging to Duo Maxwell, born in a town I don't know of in the state of Nevada on July 14th 1980, which would make him 23 this month. Hadn't he said he'd just turned 19? I riffle through the rest of the wallet and notice a few other strange things: both the ID card and Duo's driver's license should have been renewed two years ago, there's no money and the stubs for the train and movie tickets are both over three years old. Why would he have kept them? Do they have some kind of sentimental value? Only then does my eye catch the current address on the Duo's ID, it's only some four blocks away from my own apartment. I sit still for a moment and try to process a few things. If he still lives there, did he notice me and make this some strange kind of seduction? He couldn't have possibly known I would stop at that diner, so that can't be it. So it's just a coincidence and this is an old wallet of his, with his old ID still in it? My mind is full of questions as I leave the parking lot, but I've got a new goal now, I'm going to find Duo. I'm going to that address and make noise until he opens up or someone tells me where he is.

~*~*~*~

I arrived at what I hope is Duo's home at 4.30 P.M. and have stayed in the car since, it's 5.20 P.M. now; I've been observing the house all the time I've been here. It's a rather average house like there's probably millions scattered around the country, but what makes it special, besides Duo living or having lived in it, are the painted plants on the front of the house. Someone went through hours of painstaking work to decorate the house with ivy, wild flowers, a spider's web and at least some twenty cleverly hidden birds and small animals. The mailbox is empty so somebody has to be living here. When my watch reaches 5.30 exactly, I've taken care of it's twenty-minute fault, I gather my courage, take the wallet from my dashboard and head for the house.

The name under the bell says Winner, but against all hope and rational thinking I ring anyway. Who knows, maybe it's his mother's maiden name? About ten seconds pass before I hear footsteps in the hallway and when the door opens I'm faced with a beautiful young man about my own age with golden curls for hair and big baby blue eyes. He has to be the person from the picture in the wallet, he has to know Duo! "Can I help you? I don't buy anything but Girl Scout cookies if that's what you want." His voice is a sunny tenor, the kind they want for choirs, I wonder if he sings. "I'm Trowa Barton and I was wondering if Duo lived here? He left this in my car yesterday." I hold up the wallet to prove my words and put on my most winning smile. I must be rusty because baby blue turns to ice in the blink of an eye, a small smile remains on his face however, creating an unnerving contrast. "I see, please come in." His voice is flat and it surprises me he doesn't call for Duo, but he's probably not home yet. Then why doesn't he just take the wallet? I follow him into a cosy living room, where pictures are scattered across every available surface. For some reason all pictures with Duo in them have a small black border, I'm caught with a sudden feeling of dread. "Can I offer you something? I was just about to have tea."

As soon as we've settled around the coffee table with our drinks in hand, tea for him, cherry coke for me, he starts by introducing himself. "My name is Quatre Winner, Mr. Barton, I've known Duo all my life, from when we still wore diapers. I don't mean to insult you, but could I ask if this is some kind of joke?" I'm slightly taken aback, if this is the Quatre Duo told me so much about then he sure has changed since they last met. His eyes are still ice and his mouth spews fire. He, in a way, reminds of Chang in one of his foul moods. "Of course this isn't a joke. I picked him up two days ago at." I give Quatre a quick summary of the past three days, minus the more private things of course. I even add a few of the stories Duo told me to convince him I'm not a lunatic making up mad stories. By the time I've finished speaking both our drinks are empty and the room stays silent until Quatre speaks at long last. "This.I don't think I have a choice but to believe you now, even though in my heart, I don't want to. The description you give of Duo, it's so very him that I can't deny it. But you see, Mr. Barton, Trowa, Duo.he.Duo died in a plane crash four years ago, his parents bought him a trip to Vegas for his nineteenth birthday, which was only three days before." Quatre keeps his eyes on his hands and it shows that the death of his friend still pains him. "I don't know what happened to you on your trip, but I'm afraid it wasn't the real Duo you met." My mind just goes into overload; this is impossible, how could he not have been real? But somehow it all makes sense. His coldness to the touch, his slightly old fashioned tastes, the way I couldn't tell his age until he told me.I shiver and take the wallet off the low coffee table to look at the pictures. I feel a single tear run down my cheek as I run my thumb over the one of Duo dressed up as the grim reaper for Halloween. "Do you mind if I.?" I show him the pictures and he gestures for me to go on and take them, seemingly understanding my need. I take out all those of Duo, even the one of him as a five-year-old dressed like a dinosaur.

~*~*~*~

Quatre is as kind enough to walk me back to my car, apologizing profusely for the way he had treated me at first and telling me I'm always welcome if I want to know more about Duo. I nod but doubt I'll ever take him up on the offer. He waves me off as I leave for the short drive home to my apartment, which I know will feel empty with only my cat, a white Persian called Yuki, for company.

~*~*~*~

I spend my Sunday sleeping, staring at the pictures and debating whether or not to get a new car. In the end, I can't.

~*~*~*~

On Monday I leave for work in time and nearly miss the small note under my windshield wipers. I get in the car, the refuge of airco, and open it carefully. You never know what kind of maniac chose your car as their victim. The note is written on plain white paper with blue lines, like in any notebook from any supermarket. It's a short note, in a very flowing, slightly feminine handwriting, but suddenly work, and even the rest of my life didn't seem as much of a chore. I think I'll frame it and hang it over my bed as a reminder. A delicate copper frame, with the note reading:

Waiting for you,

Love you 3

- D.