see part 1 for warnings, notes, disclaimer
The heat was back. It was heavy,
stifling and black. I groaned, shifted against it instinctively. I could
hear my own breath wheezing fast just behind my ear, barely audible over
the pounding rush of my frenetic heartbeat. I blinked, trying to see,
but couldn't focus.
I could hear water, lapping at its banks, laughing as it moved over rocks,
pattering through leaves. Rain, and a stream, maybe. I couldn't tell.
I couldn't think clearly enough to.
I was sticky. Sweat rolled down my face, or maybe it was the rain. I felt
grit against my damp skin, felt damp hands travel over me. They groped
across my stomach and chest, my shoulders and arms. I reached back, found
a hard body over mine.
My partner shifted forward, and his hands landed hard on either side of
The arms, pale shadows in the dark, were coiled with strange designs.
I looked for the snake swallowing its tail.
The body moved over mine. He was part of the heat, part of the dark and
I could hardly make out the tattoos. The dim or my own blurry vision turned
them into arcane patterns.
Skin rasped and stuck, stuttering against skin...
Vaguely, I thought I could make out a knot under his left elbow where
the snake should be. I couldn't tell the colors, but it didn't matter.
I knew them anyway.
Fingers curled--mine on his thighs or his in the dirt, it didn't matter.
My back bowed up, my mouth open around a noise that wouldn't come out,
eyes squeezing shut on their own.
I tasted warm, stale water, sweat, smoke. Salt and bitter.
A shudder passed between us, starting in him and moving to me.
Was it the snake?
I woke all at once, sitting up. My stomach was thankfully steady, but
my heart was racing in my ears and my whole body pulsed in time. Consciously,
I slowed the rattled pace of my breathing. I don't know how long it took
for my body to quiet, but it seemed like a very long time to me then.
My hands shook when I lifted them to scrub at my eyes.
Duo was still asleep in the other bed. He lay on his back, braid trailing
across the pillow. His breathing was soft and regular, not quite snoring.
I couldn't really make out his face in the dark, I realized, just the
lighter shape outlined against his hair and bedding. I groaned as the
blood which had been pounding in my ears pooled somewhere lower, and let
myself fall back to the mattress.
So, I wondered, why wasn't I screaming, "What the fuck?" That was probably
my line right about now. One disjointed dream isn't hard to shrug off.
Two should be less so. But I found myself inclined to do just that. It
wasn't apathy. I did care about the dream and my reaction to it. But I
wasn't sure how to respond, and I couldn't see how was worth getting upset
My brain worried at the problem while I lay there. Finally, it supplied
me with a question I could see the importance of: was I attracted to him
I studied the ceiling while I thought, my eyes tracking the blotched shadows
that wheeled across it whenever a car drove by. The curtains didn't keep
out all the light. In fact, they seemed to let in more than enough to
get around by.
Was I attracted to Duo? Was that why I had these dreams?
I couldn't answer immediately. I hadn't actively thought of Duo as attractive,
nor had I looked for anything compelling in him.
I couldn't think of having ever found another man attractive, but again,
I couldn't think of ever looking at them either. Women were the standard,
and there had been women. I remembered finding things in them interesting--the
soft curves of their hips and thighs, the shape of a breast, their slim
fingers and wrists.
My wandering mind went back to Duo's forearms, how different they were
from a woman's, muscles and veins well defined beneath the skin and ink.
They weren't soft or sleek. They were sinewy, and looked like they could
do things, like my own. I swallowed as more details flashed through my
mind's eye. The texture of hair over his tattoos, catching the light through
the window at McDonalds. The way the muscle slid easily as he gestured.
Speculations about what his upper arms and shoulders might look without
a shirt appeared, followed by how his collarbone might arch over a hard
chest. His neck wasn't thick, but it wasn't slender either. It was long,
and the faint lump of his adam's apple moved when he talked or when he
I thought of his mutable smiles, shifting from friendly to abrasive as
one corner of his mouth hitched up higher than the other. When his smile
slid away, it left a strange, unreadable expression on his face, something
almost a sneer, but not. His eyes changed, but the emotions behind them
remained indecipherable, like the water of a very deep lake.
I thought of his hands moving along with his words, how they fidgeted
with a cigarette, hiding one bad habit with another, when he'd fingered
his first tattoo as he pointed it out to me, the way they'd touched me
in my dream.
One of my hands went unconsciously to rub the erection pressing against
my jeans. Yes, it was safe to say I was attracted to him.
Sighing heavily, I relented to the unpleasant reality what I wasn't going
back to sleep. I was too warm, had too much energy thrumming through me,
and my dick was begging for some attention. I swung my legs over the side
of the bed, stood up, and went to take my own shower.
The water came out hot and strong, sluicing over my body. I bent into
it and washed quickly, scrubbing until my skin was pink. It felt like
washing away a lifetime's worth of grime, but I had only left four days
ago. I had trouble believe it had only been that long. Thinking too much
about what came before that made the bottom drop out of my stomach and
the skin between my shoulders twitch, as though I thought someone was
going to come and drag me back.
I kept the shower short. Lather my body, wash my hair, jerk off. It was
disturbingly like being home again. I closed my eyes and shook my head,
denying the similarity. A moment later, I turned off the water and stepped
out of the shower.
Drying off, I realized that I didn't have anything to wear. Nothing that
I wanted to wear. Everything with me had seen at least a day of action,
if not more, and I was hesitant to put any of it on when I finally felt
I was still pondering the dilemma of my dirty clothing when Duo woke up.
He found me with a towel wrapped around my hips, blinked sleepily, and
asked why the hell I was standing around naked. Not, he added, that he
was complaining. Just curiosity.
I told him. He laughed. I scowled.
"Hold one just a minute," he said between snickers, then crossed the hotel
room and turned on the lamp on the nightstand. In the light, he unzipped
his duffel bag and picked through it. After studying and discarding a
few items, he picked out a long sleeved black tee-shirt and a pair of
camouflage pants. He wadded them up and tossed the bundle to me.
I caught it one handed.
"I must be a really nice guy," Duo said, smiling wryly, "letting a gym
bunny like you stretch out my clothes."
Grunting, I studied the bundle of clothes skeptically. I could picture
Duo wearing them and not exciting a reaction. He looked like the kind
of person who would wear this sort of thing just because it was there,
because he'd bought it cheap. On the other hand, I had the feeling I'd
look like one of those kids who listen to deathmetal and wear jewelry
with spikes on it. The fact that a shirt that fit Duo right would be too
small in the shoulders and chest on me wouldn't help any. It was the difference
in our builds, and our personalities.
"Thanks," I said after a minute, making a mental note to stop at a laundromat
at some point, and a Good Will.
"No problem. Now get dressed and we can fuck this popsicle stand."
I snorted, not quite laughing, and got dressed. It didn't occur to me
until after I changed that I'd done so in front of Duo. It wasn't something
I worried about under normal circumstances, but with that dream still
fresh in my mind, I caught myself throwing a glance his direction to see
if he watched and trying to remember how he'd looked at me with just the
towel on. He was watching me, but his blue eyes and crooked smile were
"Yeah," he said with mock sadness, "you are definitely gonna stretch out
my shirt." Maybe he was jealous. I wondered if the fact the pants were
too long would make him feel better about that, and decided not to bring
it to his attention.
Duo dressed while I brushed my teeth and hair. I could hear him rummaging
through his duffel bag and moving around. Getting ready to go, even though
there really wasn't that much to do. Neither of us needed more preparation
to leave than grabbing our things. If we wanted, we could probably be
in the car and on the road again in less than fifteen minutes. That was
a strangely comforting realization.
In reality, it took more like twenty five minutes.
It was dark still when we got back on the highway, but the sky was turning
blue by the time we were away from cities again. Duo smoked his first
cigarette in the car and talked to fill the silence. I listened to the
steady rise and fall of his voice rather than the words. When I looked
his direction, I noticed that he wasn't fiddling as much with his cigarette
as he normally did. I looked more often than I should have.
I missed the punch line of the story he was telling about his friend who
worked at the DMV while I watched his thumb playing idly over the butt
of his cigarette. He looked at me expectantly, anticipating a response,
and I pulled my attention back to the road.
"What was that?" I asked. I could feel his gaze on the side of my face
like something tangible. Heat or wind or rain.
"Don't worry about it," he said after a moment. He was smiling. I heard
it in his voice. "It's not worth repeating."
I tried to keep my eyes forward after that. Duo made no such effort. The
weight of his gaze was firmly fixed on me, making me only too aware of
the fact that I was pale, the circles under my eyes deeply scored despite
a finally getting some sleep. I'd seen it in the mirror in the hotel room,
and but it only affected me there. I knew my hair refused to do anything
but stick out in a haphazard tangle. The long silence that followed was
not comfortable for me.
Duo's clothes smelled like him. Cigarettes, exhaust and road dust, with
something musky and unidentified behind it. I learned that when we stopped
for food at a drive through and turned my head nearly into my shoulder
while ordering. Afterward I couldn't help but be aware of it. A part of
me wanted to smell it again and try to name that strange, lurking scent
as aftershave or incense, but Duo would have seen it. The thought of him
laughing kept me still.
It became more and more difficult not to look, too, and every time I looked,
Duo saw it. With the fixed weight of Duo's gaze on me, I didn't for a
moment pretend he hadn't noticed that time this morning when his hand
had sidetracked me so completely. I couldn't pretend I hadn't been distracted
by it. There was something about his hands--once I noticed them, I couldn't
help but be fascinated. They made me think of the tattoos crawling up
his arms. They reminded me of my dreams.
They were strong, capable hands, and suddenly I very much wanted to know
what it would feel like to be touched by hands like that.
I took a scenic highway. It was an arbitrary choice that I tried to justify
to myself with less traffic and the potential to try the BMW's handling
on something tighter than broad freeway turns. Then I realized that if
I wanted to go that way, I could.
For a long while there wasn't much to see: broken rocks, sage brush, and
the occasional scrubby pine tree.
That changed at sunset. Red light spilled over the grey ground and stained
the mountains an ashy purple. The boulders and bushes cast long, dark
blue shadows. It was like because the land was harsh and empty, all the
colors could rush in to fill it. The sun was a deep orange that didn't
belong in an early winter sky. We pulled over at one of the many view
points. I didn't remember deciding to; it just happened that way.
After a long, quiet moment of watching the sun inch down the sky, Duo
shrugged into his leather jacket.
"I'm gonna get some air," he explained, opening the door. Then he stepped
outside and the car door shut behind him.
Outside, he lit a cigarette and leaned against the hood of my car. Red
and yellow caught in his hair and made oily reflections off his coat.
I thought about getting out to join him, stretching my legs, but I liked
being able to watch him watching the sunset. It was cold outside, but
the late sun slanting through the windshield was comfortable. The smell
of Duo's shirt seemed stronger, as though it had needed the warmth to
bring it all the way out. I still couldn't place it. Musky or spicy or
bittersweet--it wasn't something I could name.
The twilight made Duo look pale and travel worn, his eyes shadowed. He
finished his cigarette and tossed the butt in the gravel. I thought maybe
he'd come back, but he just folded his arms and waited. It was a long
sunset, colors deepening from indigo to violet, and finally a clear, almost
perfect blue. The brightest stars started to peek out. Before long the
sky would be full of them.
Duo tilted his head back, baring the lean curve of his throat to the sun
as it fell under the horizon. It would have been more dramatic if there
were wind to stir his bangs, but the air was still.
I thought of my dream, of him over me, moving with me. My waking mind
lent clarity to the nighttime fantasy, providing me with clearer images
of what he would look like with sweat rolling down his body and how it
might feel to be that close to a body that wasn't soft, that wasn't smooth
or delicate. Vaguely, I remembered the smell in my dream, thick and unknown.
I breathed in the scent around me and wondered, but my memory wasn't that
More stars had appeared and the light was a thin lavender band on the
horizon before Duo came back inside. Cold and sage and smoke clung to
him instead of humidity. He didn't say anything. I could hear the creak
of the leather upholstery taking his weight, feel the car shift.
"You ready to head out?" he asked, eventually, stripping off his jacket
I didn't answer. I wasn't sure. Part of me was anxious to be moving again.
That restlessness was always in the back of my mind. But I thought, perhaps,
that I'd rather stay here awhile longer.
Duo was putting lotion on his new tattoo again. He rolled up his sleeve
and found the same tube he had before. Without the dome light, the marks
scrolling along his arm were like those in my dream: indecipherable as
anything other than whorls of line against the lighter shade of his skin.
"May I see?" I heard myself ask.
Angling a guarded look through his hair, he offered me his left arm. His
pupils were large in the dark. Swallowing hard, I reached out and grabbed
it, turning it over so I could see the snake curled around itself and
swallowing its tail. It was the first time I'd touched him; the contact
jolted through my hand. His skin was hot and cold at the same time.
My eyes strained to trace the lines of his tattoo in the near darkness.
I could see it when I focused, though the colors were all lost to grey.
I could see the tendons in his arm and the veins that ran from wrist to
elbow, disappearing beneath his shirt. In the light, they would have been
bluish at points. Not like a woman's arm at all. Even his skin seemed
harder. I licked my lips, but my tongue was suddenly dry. My thumb moved
over one of the tattoos absently while I studied his arm.
He was speaking. I think he'd been speaking the whole while, but I only
now heard it. The words were irrelevant, but I heard the rasp in his voice.
The sound trickled down my spine.
I wanted to see more. I wanted to see all of his tattoos, wanted to see
what was hidden under his shirt and his jeans. Touching him burnt my hand,
but I couldn't let go. Suddenly my palms were sweaty, slick and sticky
against the short hair on his forearm. The heat of my dream crawled into
my gut, seeped into my limbs and clouded my mind.
"Heero," he said, my name lancing through the haze briefly. "Do you know
what you're doing?"
For an answer, I leaned in slowly and kissed his wrist. His pulse danced
under my lips and his breathe caught audibly in his chest. That seemed
to be all the reply he needed.
He caught my chin between those fingers of his and pulled me up to kiss
his mouth. I tasted his cigarettes, harsh and bitter, and salt from his
upper lip. I cupped his cheek, surprised to feel rough stubble. Duo took
the lead for the moment, his tongue darting past my lips to swipe at my
teeth. Opening my mouth, I invited him in.
His acceptance was eager. He ran his tongue across mine and tasted the
smooth flesh of my cheek, pulled my lower lip into his mouth and scrapped
his teeth over it. Then his tongue dove in again, tangling with mine,
drawing the kiss out. I groaned. Small, furtive sounds vibrated against
my lips. Pushing me back into the seat, he half-climbed over the center
console. His callused hands held my face, tilted my head back and to the
And his eyes were open the whole while, nearly lost in the dark. My own
eyes felt weighted at the corners. I saw him through my eye lashes. I
saw the intense look that came into his face when he kissed me, and knew
he couldn't be young.
My hands went to his waist, rose again under his shirt. Strong muscles
shifted under my palms. I could feel the ridges of his vertebrae, the
sinuous line of his backbone. Shivering, I pulled away. I wanted the shirt
I'm not sure whether or not I said something. Either way, he didn't protest
when I pulled the shirt over his head. The sleeve caught on his watchband;
he yanked it free, and then pulled his hair out. The braid fell against
my shoulder, slithering between us before he tossed it behind him.
His chest was pale, skin almost glowing in the light off the dashboard.
Tattoos wound up his right arm nearly to the shoulder, where they became
thinner and less finished. It made him look unbalanced, with one arm completely
covered and the other only half done. The black ring through his right
nipple added to the impression.
My eyes were drawn to the jewelry. Some comment he'd made before fluttered
through my mind without finding a hold as I studied him. I touched his
flat abdomen, watching as his skin twitched in response. I traced his
body's contours, following them up, fascinated by the way his breathe
made his ribs expand. One finger looped through his nipple ring, and I
tugged it softly.
Duo hissed sharply. I started to let go, but he caught my hand. "Don't
tease me, Heero."
I swallowed hard, panting, and wondered when the inside of my car got
so hot. Sweat beaded on my skin. My borrowed shirt clung to the small
of my back and stuck to the seat beneath me. I tugged again, harder, and
he gritted his teeth.
Duo moved, awkward in the confined space, scrambling the rest of the way
over the console and straddling my legs. I only had to lean forward a
little way and bend my neck to catch the ring in my mouth. It tasted of
metal, cold as I flicked it with my tongue. A shudder ran up through him.
Then his hands were in my hair, blunt fingernails raking across my scalp
and tipping my head so he could kiss me again. His lips pressed against
mine, demanding. I licked those lips, worried them gently between my teeth.
His hand dropped to the front of my pants, rubbing at the erection that
pressed against the cloth. He flipped open the button, pulled the zipper
down one tooth at a time. I pressed up, a frustrated noise in my throat.
He shushed me, caressing my neck and running fingers through my hair.
His thumb played over my ear and gave me a tingling shock. I swear I could
feel the heat of his hand before he finally reached into my pants and
pulled out my dick.
My dream flashed through my mind, contrasting with the interior of the
BMW. There was no water. No strange sounds. Only the dark, and the noise
of the car's shocks responding to our movements, and the stars coming
to life in vivid, milky clusters outside.
Duo flat-palmed my erection, snapping me back to the moment. His mouth
touched my neck, teeth an unyielding edge behind soft lips. His fingers
wrapped around me, moving in slow, sure strokes. It only occurred to me
to wonder how far he'd take us when the seat abruptly started to recline.
Or maybe I knew from the beginning, the second I kissed his wrist, or
touched his skin, or saw his tattoos. The first time I saw him walking
down the side of the road. The first time I saw his arms in my dream.
I didn't know, and I didn't care.
I held his hips while he kissed me and stroked me. They were as firm and
angular as the rest of him, and somehow it was like this was what I'd
wanted all along. I knew, in some corner of my brain, that I had enjoyed
the feel of a woman's hips, the way they flared down from her waist, the
soft give of a feminine body in my hands, but I couldn't imagine how.
I reveled in the planes of his stomach, the play of bone and muscle visible
above his jeans.
I hooked my fingers into the top of his pants, dragging them down as much
as I could.
Duo took the hint. Stretching along one side of me and pressing close,
he reached down to take off his boots, then squirmed out of his jeans.
The stainless steel glint of his other piercing caught my attention, made
me blink. Duo's grin shown similarly. "What do you think?" His breath
ghosted against my cheek, carrying the words with it.
I wanted to answer, but I couldn't think at all. I turned toward that
smile, met his mouth with mine. Lucky Strikes and salt, and something
almost sweet. My eyes hooded, but I still watched him, tried to see our
lips as they brushed over one another and our tongues. I could smell sage
and pine still clinging to him, unable to hide the smell from my dream.
I did recognize it. I still had no idea what it was.
He pulled himself on top of me again, balanced on his knees and toes,
and I slid down in the seat, pressing my hips to his.
"What now?" I asked, and my voice was thick. My hands wandered over his
calves and thighs, back toward his chest.
His grin changed, became something dark. He leaned in close to me, nuzzled
the collar of his shirt. I heard him breathe me in. "What now?" he repeated,
like it was a joke. "Let's see..."
He reached past me, opened his bag. I heard him search, saw his arm work,
tattoos wavering as I looked at them. He braced himself with one hand
on the seat next to my head; a warm rush went to my groin where it curled
out into a full body flush.
It wasn't long before Duo found what he was looking for. He pulled back,
leaving empty air next to me. I felt cold with out him there. A noise
of protest fought its way up from my chest. I could see the bottle, though,
and I knew what it was.
He didn't waste time, wetting one hand and stroking me again, then taking
care of himself. He was quicker than I would have been if it was my ass,
but I understood his rush. I shared it. Urgency charged the air like static
electricity. When he was finished, he tossed the bottle to the passenger
I lay there very still, trembling while he moved over me. I think I was
afraid that if I made a mistake, I'd wake up, even though I knew it wasn't
He lowered himself onto me, a pressure that dragged against me. I couldn't
hear over the sound of my pulse in my ears and my own ragged breathing.
My eyes squeezed shut. There was only that grip, the feel of his body
over mine. Then his hands hit the leather by my head and I opened my eyes,
turned my head to look.
It was so familiar, but so different. The heat that pressed against me
and fogged the windows was only us. It was all only us. I arched into
him, feet looking for purchase on the floor-mat.
Duo didn't wait. When he's taken my dick as far in as he would, his legs
flexed, thighs cording as he lifted himself. Down again, taking me further.
The feeling of his muscles under my hands was new, but not strange. I
went for his nipple ring again, flicked it, tugged on it. I couldn't help
myself. I liked the noises that he made when I did that, and the way he
grimaced. Duo set the pace, insinuating his body closer to mine with every
roll of his hips.
Dreams and reality blurred. He was wearing a watch, which had never been
there before, but I'd never seen him take it off, and the impression it
was wrong confused me. Sensations spun through me, damp cloth and sticky
leather, skin. The teasing glint of metal at the head of his cock, drawing
my hand to it. I felt like a magpie, attracted to the shine, but Duo didn't
protest when I took hold of his erection. Unlike the nipple ring, I had
no idea what to do with this. I stroked up his length, played with the
ring as I circled the head with my fingers.
He grunted. Not a loud noise, but it reached me. Had he gasped like that
in my dream? Had he moaned? I couldn't remember, but I wanted to hear
He was steady over me, dipping in, rising up on arms and legs.
I thrust into him, matching his rhythm as well as I could.
It was fucking. It was fucking in the front seat of my car, no less. There
was no extra room, and in some corner of my mind I hoped that no one drove
by, and that neither of us hit the clutch or the parking break. I'd be
lying if I made it sound more romantic than that, but it was what we both
Duo's head lolled, chin to chest while his face screwed up in an expression
that would have been funny under any other circumstance--like he was baring
his teeth, and at the same time fighting to swallow. His eyes were slits,
brows drawn down and puckered. I touched his face, scraped his bangs away
from his forehead. His hair was damp with sweat. It clung to my hand.
He pressed a clumsy kiss to my palm. That one point was like a brand pressed
to my hot body.
I choked, forgetting how to breath.
He came first. His rhythm broke. Tense one moment, relaxed and swaying
above me the next. I saw his mouth hanging open, his eyes finally shut.
There was a mess on his shirt, warm against my stomach.
I followed a moment later. Steadying his hips, I pushed up into him. I
remember my temples pounding, whole body thrumming like an engine. I remember
opening my mouth and saying something. If it was his name, I'd be amazed.
I'm not sure I knew my own.
...dripping, sated heat. Red sky, partially hidden by a canopy of leaves.
Arms held me close. We coiled together like snakes in winter. And like
reptiles, neither of us really had any warmth to share...
The flash of dream leaked out of my mind and I lay wrung out, trembling
beneath Duo. Shaking, he sat back. I slipped out of him with a wince.
After a little scrambling and clumsy maneuvering, he flopped down in the
passenger seat. His panting was an uneven counterpoint to my own.
That strange, almost sweet smell was thick around me, mingling with the
atmosphere of our sex. Hardly thinking, I popped my door open and a shock
of cold air rolled over me. A few deep, controlled breaths brought me
down slowly from the high.
Duo choked in surprise, and I remembered he was still naked. I muttered
an apology. He waved it off, though. Shaking himself, Duo pulled on his
jacket and his jeans. I noticed he left the button on his jeans undone
before he leaned back in his seat.
I lay back, closed my eyes, and let my head clear.
I think I dozed off. It was later than it should have been when I opened
my eyes again, and I was cold. My clothes had dried to me, and I realized
with a sort of belated embarrassment that I hadn't even zipped up my fly.
Running hands through my hair, I found it clumped and sticking out at
haphazard angles--nothing I could fix without a comb.
"I think," I said, then stopped to work some moisture back into my mouth.
I tried again. "I think we should get cleaned up, and find some place
to do laundry."
His lighter snicked; cigarette smoke wafted my direction.
"Sounds like a plan." His voice was rougher than usual, huskier. It brushed
at the back of my neck.
I nodded, straightening myself out cursorily, and brought my seat back
upright. Duo still wasn't really dressed. His bangs matched my hair, dried
into dark spikes and sticking to his face here and there. His nipple ring
peeked out from under his coat as he shifted lazily to bring the cigarette
to his mouth.
Closing my door, I started the car. Reverse, glance at the mirrors as
though there was something to see, pull back. The actions were familiar,
and they helped ground me. I needed something to concentrate on other
than the man next to me; the smell and the feel, and the taste that lingered
in my mouth.
I found myself thinking about my family, and how they'd react if they
knew about this. Any of this. Picturing how I would tell them, I started
to script the scene in my head. I would couch the words in the code I'd
grown up with, the one that's supposed to sound polite. In reality, it
always sounds minced and condescending.
I could see my brother's jaw--the one he'd inherited from his father--tighten.
His wife would get that look of hers, turning up the edges of her eyes
while she bared her teeth and pretended it was a tolerant smile. She wasn't
as good at that as Duo. Mother, she would just blink twice rapidly. She
might draw back just a little, depending on how she felt about homosexuality,
and if she believed that I was gay. That was the only way she ever showed
She would recover first. She'd ask me about Duo. What does he do? I mean,
does he have a career or a plan...oh. What do you know about his family?
Do you know anything about him at all? The whole while, she'd be choking
on her own propriety. She'd have that light her dark eyes. The one that
said that she wanted to yell, she wanted to cry and worry, but wouldn't
crack her face to do so.
I might tell her I didn't know. I hadn't been looking for a relationship,
and I still wasn't. It just happened.
My brother, who would have been trying to stay reasonable, would lose
his temper then. He didn't have our mother's control. Or maybe he's barely
more than two years younger than I am, and he still remembered fighting
He'd demand to know why I didn't tell them if I was gay. He would assume
that was the case, and that I had hidden it from them. It would explain
why I didn't want to get married and have a brood of children. He never
could understand that having a life like that just didn't appeal to me.
So why did I let them know this way? Why didn't I tell them before? I
could hear him saying that they were my family.
I could hear them talking about responsibility and sympathy.
But first, he would demand what the hell I was thinking.
Would you believe I wasn't?
Gritting my teeth, I was suddenly glad to be on a deserted side track
in the middle of nowhere, alone with a man I hardly knew and had just
had sex with. I didn't think I could be the person who sat through my
family right now. It just took too much energy to shrug off their good
Duo didn't talk while we drove, which was fine with me. He smoked another
cigarette, then put on his boots without socks. His smile was more a smirk.
It was a lazy, humorless expression, neither young nor old.
I almost chuckled. My family would have hated him, and he wouldn't give
a good goddamn.
Around five in the morning or so, we hit a town just big enough to consider
itself a city. After stopping and checking the listings at a payphone,
then wandering through what passed for downtown for the better part of
half and hour, we managed to find a laundomat. It was all white appliances
and harvest gold linoleum under stuttering florescent lights. Other than
one woman sorting her clothes at the end of a row of washing machines,
the place was deserted.
The woman cast a look over her shoulder at us when we entered. Her eyes
flicked from Duo to me and back again before she turned away. I think
we frightened her a little; I could feel the tension from her. I shouldn't
have been surprised. Knowing what we looked like, I can't say I blamed
Duo picked a washing machine and started pulling clothes out of his duffel
bag, making a pile on the floor. In my hands was a plastic sack with my
entire small wardrobe inside. It wasn't even two complete changes of clothes.
I frowned, thinking about it. I couldn't remember a time I'd been so unprepared.
I took more with me on a day trip to the beach.
Catching my attitude, Duo interrupted my thoughts. "I'm clean, if that's
what you're worried about."
"It wasn't," I told him, meeting his gaze. It occurred to me that it probably
should have been, all things considered. I hadn't even thought about it
until he mentioned something. Our encounter flashed through my head again,
and I saw the notable lack of a condom. I didn't have one, though. I also
remembered the lube in Duo's bag. He seemed to have planned ahead.
I commented on as much.
"I believe in always being prepared," he said and snickered.
"You don't strike me as much of a boy scout."
"Oh, I wasn't." He paused to smell a shirt, winced and threw it in the
pile. "But I did end up with Crisco up my ass once, and after that I decided
it was better to be prepared."
"Crisco?" I asked, before I could stop myself. I'm not sure I would have
held it back if I could.
Shrugging, Duo elaborated. "You use what's around. Crisco, butter, suntan
oil, beer--I'm happy to say I wasn't bottoming on the beer experiment."
I wondered if my face was as blank as it felt. I guess it was, because
he changed the subject. "So what were you scowling about?"
"I need to go clothes shopping," I said aloud, though more to myself than
Duo smiled wryly. "You think?"
"Probably not as often as I should."
The comment took Duo off guard. His eyes widened a little and his smile
took on an incredulous edge. His mouth opened a little, as though he was
about to say something, then closed again, and he gave a shake of his
head. I don't think he made that face often, but I liked it. It was open
in a way that highlighted just how reserved most of his expressions were.
He recovered quickly. My bag was snatched out of my hands, and its meager
contents dumped on top of his pile of clothes. An indulgent smile firmly
glued itself to his face. "You go shop. I'll take care of these."
"It's not even six in the morning," I said.
"So?" Duo asked, looking me over. He arched one eyebrow, then went back
to sifting through clothes. "What time does Wal-Mart open?"
I had no idea. The smile took on an edge. Something cold and bitter, like
day old coffee.
"Ever been to a Wal-Mart, Heero? Could be sort of educational. Fat women
in stretch pants. Townies with nothing better to do than get high and
wander around the aisles." He chose a shirt seemly at random and threw
it at me. I caught it, unfolded it, and looked at the front skeptically.
It was white, with colored bubbles and the words "Wonder Bread" written
across the chest.
"Staying true to my roots," Duo explained. "But you'll probably want to
change out of that shirt before you go." Sensing that I was being dismissed,
For the record, Wal-Mart opened at seven. The coffee kiosk across the
street, on the other hand, opened at five am, and I had an hour to kill.
I was thirsty for something warm. It was a chilly morning, just above
freezing, and the wind soaked through my clothes like cold water. Duo's
Wonder Bread tee shirt wasn't up to the challenge of holding it out, even
under my coat.
When I looked at the menu, nothing was what I wanted. There wasn't a line
behind me so I didn't feel any pressure to hurry. On the other side of
the counter, an Asian girl with blonde streaks bleached in her dark hair
eyed me up and down. Tucking her shaggy bangs behind her ear, she said,
"If you have any questions, I'd be happy to answer them. I've tried just
She smiled a wide, waxy pink smile that showed off straight white teeth.
I nodded and went back to looking at the list.
The coffees had cute names. A white chocolate mocha with an extra shot
of vanilla was called White-on-White. A triple shot mocha with chocolate
sprinkles on top was a Black Hole. The Morning Buzz had honey in it. I
winced inwardly as I read them. Whoever named some of these had a warped
sense of humor. "The Virgin was served with a cherry. Get it?" That sort
of sense of humor. I got it, but it still wasn't funny
There was a Duo Espresso, with or without cream. My mouth twitched involuntarily
at that one; already had it. I nearly laughed. It was stupid, but a wave
of relief hit me hard, breaking through the post-coital depression and
The girl's face told me that I was taking too long. The smile was thinner,
less inviting. Her nails clicked audibly against the countertop. I abandoned
the menu and just ordered the house blend. She didn't roll her eyes until
she thought I couldn't see it. Pulling my coat tighter against a gust,
I waited for my coffee.
"Dollar-fifty," the girl said when she came back. I paid and took the
cup. Even through the insulation, it was warm enough to burn my cold fingers.
I stood there for a moment, letting the heat work into my hands.
"Thanks." I took a sip of the coffee. It wasn't really that good, but
it wasn't awful either. The warmth crept down my throat and hit my empty
stomach, spreading out from there. I sighed and savored the feeling.
The girl's smile came back full force and she nodded. Her bangs fell forward
from behind her ear. She shook her head to clear the hair in front of
her eyes. "Come again," she said. "You can try something else next time."
"I'm only in town for the day," I told her and took another drink.
"Oh," she said, looking a little disappointed. Then she asked, doubtfully,
I shook my head. "Just passing through."
She leaned forward, elbows on the counter, arms crossed beneath her breasts.
"Where are you coming from?"
I tried to remember the name of the last town and couldn't. Most of the
little towns struck me as about the same. Gas station and convenience
store, sometimes in one, a bar, and more churches than they had restaurants.
I looked over my shoulder, and up at the blank, early morning blue sky,
then gestured the direction I thought was northwest. When I turned back,
there was a line between the girl's brows.
"So, that's like Tri-Cities?" she asked after a moment.
I shrugged. "I think so, yeah. I was there a couple days back."
"Wow. So, have you heard about the murder then?"
I looked up. Her eyes had a sparkle in them. "No. Should I have?"
"It's in this morning's paper," the girl told me. "That makes three."
She was excited to tell me about it. I could almost feel it, the vitality
prickling in the air like static electricity. Her smile turned into a
"Three?" I could guess, but the word was out before I could stop it.
"Bodies," she explained obligingly. "They were saying the first two might
be unrelated, but with a third... it's like a serial killer or something.
They're not releasing all the details, but I guess it's pretty weird.
No pattern yet, except that all the bodies have neck trauma."
I took another sip of my coffee and glanced at my watch. Forty more minutes.
I made a noise and let her decide if it sounded interested or not.
Apparently, she thought it did. "Yeah. They just found the last one yesterday.
Some guy in the Tri-Cities." She made a paper appear from under the counter
and held it out so I could see the picture on the front page. It showed
man around thirty or so, I guessed, with rings through his nose and eyebrow,
and dangling from his ears. A tattoo crept up his neck. The tag line under
the photo said that the missing tattoo artist had been found dead in a
drainage ditch near his parlor yesterday afternoon.
Duo's tattoo flashed through my mind unbidden, the possibility unfolding
as a pressure in my chest, a tightness in my throat. I pushed the half-formed
idea aside forcibly. Just because a tattoo artist had been killed in the
area didn't incriminate Duo. It wasn't that big a coincidence. My attention
moved to the headline, but it was more or less the same information. From
what I could see of the article, it dealt more with the dead man and his
family than the murder.
"This is today's paper?" I asked.
The girl nodded. "Yeah, it's today's. Are you alright?"
"Fine," I answered without thinking. "Were the other murders in the same
area?" If they were, it would have to be a coincidence.
It was probably a coincidence anyway, I told myself sternly, but the image
of Duo's freshly colored arm and opaque blue eyes was fixed in my mind.
"No," she said, pulling the paper back and opening to the second page.
Her dark eyes skimmed down the lines. "The first showed up about a month
ago on the other side of the Stateline. The other turned up at a rest
stop off the Interstate. The police think it's a transient." I got the
feeling she was paraphrasing from the article.
"It's crazy," the girl commented, setting aside the newspaper. "But I
suppose if it happened in New York or L.A or somewhere like that, no one
would even blink. People expect murders in places like that."
I nodded absently as she spoke. Remembering my coffee, I took another
slow drink. People got killed. It happened.
"I guess that's why I stick around here. I always wanted to go somewhere
bigger, but I don't think I'd feel safe."
I grunted a reply to that. "I know what you mean." A lot of people seemed
to do or not do things because they wanted to feel safe. It was like that
line of commuters going to work the morning I left, doing the same thing
day after day because it was familiar, and it felt safe. I'd done that.
It seemed like another life.
"But you're traveling," she observed inanely.
"Yeah, I am," I told her. A smile tugged my lips, and I turned away. "Have
a nice day."
"Take it easy," she replied as I left.
I told myself that Duo hadn't done it while I walked back across the street,
but my brain seemed bent on turning over that possibility. Not because
it was frightening, or it worried me, but because it was there. I wasn't
afraid of Duo. Or maybe I wasn't afraid to die. I remembered his touch,
his taste, the way he looked above me awake and the way it felt dreaming.
I wondered if he'd killed three people. Would he kill more?
A serial killer doesn't stop killing. I know that. My stomach turned,
roiling with coffee and acid, and I took another sip. The hair on the
back of my neck stood up. Morbidly, I guessed I would know the next time
a corpse surfaced whether or not it was Duo. Again I tried to push the
thought out of my head, and again I failed. I still had more than a half
an hour before Wal-Mart opened, and there was nothing else to do but watch
for glimpses of blue smocked employees and watch the sky slowly lighten
with false dawn.
It could have been him, I ceded to myself finally. But that didn't mean
it was. If I had heard that a gas station had been robbed, and knew someone
had gotten gas that day, I wouldn't assume that they had done it. There
was no reason for this to be different. But it was different. Because
it was Duo, it was different. I sighed, drank my coffee, and fought aside
the temptation to add a pack of cigarettes to my shopping list.
How had the tattoo artist died? The girl has said neck trauma. I guessed
that she was quoting straight from the paper when she said that. She hadn't
said that was the cause of death, either, just that they all had neck
In the end, I bought a paper from one of the racks in front of the store.
The article wasn't much help. The tattoo artist's name was Jacob Rueben,
he was thirty-two, and his murder was similar to those of Christina Mathieu
and Aaron Rosario. There was a short interview with his wife inside and
a picture of their four-year-old son, Brock. I skimmed over it, looking
for more details about the murder itself. The police were promising to
release more information as it became available. It looked so mundane
I flipped back to the front page to look at the picture again. Jacob Rueben
looked back, smiling at me from his photo. He was dead, I thought, and
it felt unreal. I didn't know him in the first place. How could he be
dead when to me, it was as though he'd never existed at all? I wasn't
sorry he was dead, though I suppose I felt a pang for his family. I knew
it hurt to lose someone. The emotion was subdued.
I scanned the headlines. Sports scores, local politics, a spread on an
author who was doing a book signing; nothing that attracted my attention.
I threw the paper into a trash can near the door, followed by my empty
coffee cup, and checked my watch again. I only had a couple more minutes
until the store was open and I could get my shopping over with.
Duo had teased me because he could tell I had never been to a Wal-Mart
before. In retrospect, it seemed ironic to tease someone because Wal-Mart
was below their economic level of consumption. It made sense in terms
of Duo, though. Just another facet of the perverse streak that seemed
to be at the core of him. Walking into the vast, pale interior of the
mega store, I didn't see how it was enviable compared to mall shopping.
The lighting was high and harsh, and it did nothing to disguise the quality
of the products that filled the shelves and racks. The floors were white
in a freshly bleached way. Recycled air pressed in on me, stale and immediate.
I chose a direction that might lead to men's clothes and went that way.
I kept my Wal-Mart experience as short as I could. Nothing about the store
inspired me to linger. Ignoring the few other shoppers, I looked for what
I needed, picking up jeans and tee shirts and sweaters without doing much
more than checking the size and making sure that there were no large images
or logos on them. I almost forgot socks, and buying them made me realize
I was still wearing my Hush Puppies. I bought a pair of ugly yellow work
boots to replace them.
I hurried, but even so, the place was busy by the time I was ready to
leave. There seemed to be people everywhere, worse than in a mall. I couldn't
walk down the aisles without having to navigate through the bodies, and
most of them were heedless about who they brushed up against or bumped
into. When a child scrunched up his face, looked at me curiously, and
asked his mother what that smell was, I gladly pushed my cart to a check
out line and called the effort a success. I had clothes.
I returned to the laundromat. Duo waited for me on the curb, smoking a
cigarette and hiding from the morning glare behind his dark aviators.
He smiled when I rolled to a stop, then tossed the end of his cigarette
into the street. Sliding the glasses down his nose, he looked at me over
the dark wire rims and said, "I knew you wouldn't leave me."
I snorted. There was humor in his voice, but the blue eyes were still
as cold and unfathomable as a deep water lake. I recognized why I was
no longer concerned that he'd killed that artist or those others before
him, when I looked into his eyes. I had almost understood it when the
girl told me about the murders, but I had been too distracted by the murder
itself to realize it. It didn't matter, one way or the other, because
either way he could have killed them. If it suited him, he would. I didn't
know why he'd do it, but I understood it in the same way that I've occasionally
met someone and pinged on them as coming from a broken home or having
a rigid upbringing. He was a killer.
I saw his smile turn into a smirk. "So, we ready to go?"
"Yeah," I said, popping the lock on his door. "We're ready."
He laughed and climbed in. The car door slammed shut behind him, made
my heart lurch.
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