Author: Casey Valhalla
Genre: AU/Comedy/Drama
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: None yet, but knowing me…
Warnings: So far, language and juvenile delinquency
Disclaimer: I do not meddle in the affairs of Gundam Wing, for I am penniless and own no copyrights.

Great America: 1
The Hawk as a Bird of Prey

The phone was ringing.

Heero picked up the handset en route to the kitchen and wedged it between his ear and shoulder, mumbling hello half-consciously. When the contraption continued to ring shrilly he remembered to push the talk button and attempted the greeting again.

"Hello?"

He flicked on the kitchen light at winced, rubbing at sleep-weary eyes with the back of his hand. "Oh, hi mom."

There was a styrofoam take-out box on the counter. "Yeah, I got your message." He opened the lid tentatively, wrinkled his nose, and drew away quickly. Best leave that be. "I've been busy, you know. Working."

He opened the refrigerator and took a cursory glance around the interior. Condiments. Bread. Another questionable take-out box. Orange juice. "No, I signed up for fall quarter." He grabbed the carton and stepped back to lean against the counter, kicking the door closed with a bare foot. "Because I don't want to. I'll go back in the fall."

He paused with the carton halfway to his mouth and sighed silently, rolling his eyes to the ceiling. There was a brownish water stain next to the fluorescent light fixture. He watched it carefully and took a long draught of orange juice.

"Mom."

The phone continued to buzz in his ear.

He jerked the carton away from his mouth and nearly spat the contents all over the orange-tiled floor. "Mo-om."

The orange juice was shoved unceremoniously back into the fridge, and the freezer was yanked open hopefully. Ice. Popsicles. "No, there isn't." He moved on to the cupboards. Rice. Sugar. Corn flakes. Lemon tea. "I'm sure she is." Lighter fluid? "Not really, no." Tostitos. Slightly stale, but otherwise edible. "I know. Yeah, I know, mom. Yeah, I do. No, I'm not."

He heaved himself up on the countertop with a light groan, and sat with his heels kicking absently against the dishwasher, munching at the stale tortilla chips. "I have enough money." Perhaps ketchup made a good makeshift dip. "Yeah, I'm eating. I'm eating right now." He crunched on a chip for emphasis. It stuck to his teeth. "I know you don't. But the pay is good, and it's in a good neighborhood." He blushed a little, around the ears, and brushed some crumbs off his jeans. "Yeah, I love you too, mom. I have to go to work."

He leaned back until he was resting against the wall, in a slightly awkward bent position, but it was better than sitting upright. He frowned at the stain on the ceiling again. "Sure. Yeah, sure. Okay. Okay. Okay. Yeah, alright. Bye."

The phone dropped to the counter on one side of him, the half-empty bag of chips on the other. He pressed both hands against his aching eyes and pushed upwards until his fingers ran through his unruly hair. Then both arms flopped, exhausted, back on the counter.

"If I were any more bored I'd be dead."

*

"It's too damn cold to be June."

Duo dropped to sit on the sidewalk in front of the Circle K, hugging his knees to his chest. Wufei was already on the ground, cross-legged, taking a long drag off his cigarette. "This was your idea, let me remind you."

"You've been reminding me every thirty miles. And every mile on the dot since we ditched the car."

"Good. You shouldn't be forgetting any time soon, then."

Duo pulled the sleeves of his sweater down over his fingers and picked idly at the fraying edges of the hole in the right knee of his jeans. "So, are you planning on sitting here all night, or are you gonna help me get some food?"

"After walking for five hours I rather prefer the prospect of staying off my feet for a while." Wufei snapped the collar of his windbreaker closed against the evening temperature and sniffed. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Duo hunch over his knees and peer at him past his folded arms. Only his eyes were visible between the worn gray fabric and the boy's long bangs. Wide, blinking purple eyes.

Wufei canted his head to meet the _expression. "What?"

"Please?"

"No." He turned away and sucked another drag off his smoke.

"Pleeeeeeeease, kola?"

Wufei's eyes flickered back and forth between Duo and the black pavement in front of him for a moment, then he sighed and stamped the cigarette out on the ground. "Fine. What's your plan?"

Duo lifted his head and darted a quick look around the gas station, braid whipping back and forth behind him like an agitated snake. Then he leaned back on his elbows for a view of the interior of the convenience store. "That cashier in there… oooo."

"What are you mooning about?"

"He looks oriental or something."

"Rugs are oriental, Duo. People are Asian." He leaned over slightly for a quick look. "And that guy is Japanese, specifically."

Duo shrugged. "You all look the same."

"Insolent Indian."

"Native to you, buddy." Duo rolled a bit until he was curled over the ground on one hip and one elbow, craning his neck for a better view. "Daaaaaamn," he drawled, shifting back as a customer walked out of the store so as not to appear suspicious. He leaned closer to Wufei once the man had passed and returned to his car. "That guy ­ he has blue eyes. Blue!"

"Are you sure?"

"Positive! I saw them when he turned his head, when the customer was leaving." Duo sighed dramatically and dropped backwards to lie with his arms behind his head. "Never seen an oriental guy with blue eyes before."

"Asian."

"I know worse words."

"One syllable and I'll start calling you Red again."

"Point taken." Duo fell silent for a moment, staring at the awning over the sidewalk, one foot tapping irregular beats against the pavement. Wufei drew his knees up and let his arms rest against them, his hands dangling, until the braided boy shot back upright. "Miyaca initiative, variant C."

Wufei wrinkled his nose. "I thought you decided you didn't like guys."

"I just changed my mind. Hold this." Duo tugged his sweater over his head and dropped it on the Chinese boy's shoulder, smoothing out the black tank top he was wearing underneath. He fluffed out his bangs a bit and adjusted the braid over his shoulder. "How do I look?"

"You have dirt on your nose."

"Damn it, Fei."

"Okay, you got it."

"Ready?"

"No."

"Too bad!" Duo leapt to his feet and started for the door.

Wufei remained seated, muttering to himself. "How do I always get talked into this?"

Duo's hand shot out, grabbing him by the collar and yanking him to his feet.

*

Heero leaned over the counter and scribbled idly at a clipboard. Best to look like he was busy, despite the late hour and the fact that the store was empty. Swing shift had a tendency to be dull.

A pair of sharp tones signaled the door opening, and he glanced up with only mild disinterest at the two customers wandering in. The first was a Chinese boy in an orange windbreaker, nondescript save for the length of his hair, which was pulled into a tight tail at the nape of his neck, and the scowl that creased his features.

The second, though…

The second boy dropped the door casually behind him and sidled up to the register, languidly, as though he had all the time in the world. He was unduly skinny, which made him look taller than he actually was, and his narrow hips seemed to barely hold up a pair of jeans that had seen better days. A thin black tank top covered his torso, clinging to his skin, which had an olive tone, darkening into a summer tan over his shoulders and arms. He had an astonishing length of chestnut hair, falling in a braid to his waist. A narrow wrap of hemp and leather thong started at his left temple and was pulled back, woven in with the braid, glimmering with hints of glass beads and the glimpse of an occasional feather. His face was round, his features striking, a nuance to the bone structure that Heero couldn't place at the moment. And when he looked up from the magazine racks, his eyes were a startling dark purple.

Heero straightened and set the clipboard aside. "Can I help you?"

The boy leaned against the counter on his hip, peering at the cashier's name badge. "Hero, is it?"

"Heero."

"Hilo."

"Heero."

"Heero," the boy finally repeated, correctly. He shrugged apologetically. "Not used to Japanese pronunciation, yanno."

The boy in the orange windbreaker snorted from somewhere among the coolers.

"Anyway," the braided boy continued, as though he hadn't heard the noise, "I need a pack of cigarettes, cheap."

Heero narrowed his eyes. "Are you old enough?"

"I'm old enough for a lot of things, hopa. What've you got?"

"GPC's are two dollars a pack," Heero replied, breaking away from the suggestively glimmering purple eyes. "If you want to pay a little more, Camels are two for the price of one. Limited time offer." His voice was flat.

The boy shifted and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the counter. "What do you recommend?"

Heero shrugged. "I just work here."

"Must be a boring job." The boy peered at him through his bangs, a sly grin spreading across his face. "You look like you could use a little fun. When does your shift end?"

Heero frowned. He'd just figured out what was tickling his memory about the boy's face, the definition of his cheekbones. The cashier blinked. "You're an Indian."

Another snort from the Chinese boy, somewhere near the Fritos display.

The braided boy straightened abruptly, folding his arms across his chest. His mouth twitched as though he wanted to correct the statement, then he shrugged and dropped his arms, hooking his thumbs through the belt-loops of his jeans. "Lakota, yeah."

"Your eyes are purple."

The boy bristled defensively. "So? You're Japanese, and your eyes are blue. Explain that."

"I could, but it would involve a long discussion on biology and the behavior of dominant and recessive genes, so I think I'll pass."

"Fair enough." The boy shrugged again and returned to his initial pose of leaning one hip against the counter. "I'll go for the Camels there, Heero. Might as well make the money stretch."

"ID, please."

The boy sighed lightly and reached for his back pocket, drawing out his wallet. Every move was slow, casual but flowing in a way that drew the eye. Heero's eyebrow twitched.

"So, are you gonna tell me when your shift ends, or am I gonna have to hang around here till you leave, and drag you off by the ear?" The boy slapped a plastic card on the counter, a slow smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Don't tell me you don't want to hang out with me tonight."

Heero spun the card around and examined it carefully. Duo Maxwell. Really, now.

"You got something better to do, hopa?" The boy was leaning over the counter again, casting a shadow over the identification card. When Heero didn't reply immediately he continued. "You don't, do you."

Heero smirked. "No, actually." He looked up from his thorough scrutiny of the card to find himself inches away from this -- Duo Maxwell -- and blinked at the blatant invitation in the boy's eyes. He snorted internally, but kept the smirk on his face.

"Meet me later, then?" The voice had dropped to a breathy tone.

Heero leaned closer until their noses were almost touching. "You know," he began, mimicking the husky whisper, and tapped the ID card with a fingernail, "your lines are terrible, and this card is fake. Tell your friend to put the goods back and get out of here before I call the cops."

One could almost hear the sound of screeching tires and a sudden crash.

The boy jerked away from the counter, a flash of what could have been fear passing through his eyes before he grinned nonchalantly and raised his hands in surrender. "Hey, look, I don't know what you're talking about. I was just being friendly, yanno?"

"Bullshit." Heero stood his ground behind the counter, folding his arms over the company polo shirt he was forced to wear on a daily basis. His voice pitched louder, so the other miscreant was sure to hear it. "Put the merchandise back and leave the store. Now."

The boy changed tactics and dropped his arms. "Come on, man, we haven't eaten since we left Omaha. Give us a break."

"I am giving you a break. I'm asking you to leave instead of calling the cops. I'd say I was being damn lenient."

"Alright, then." The boy took a few faltering steps backwards from the counter, and jerked his head towards his companion. "Kola," his voice rang sharp, suddenly commanding. "Ho iyaya yo."

Heero eyed the Chinese youth as he scurried past towards the exit. It didn't look like he had anything… The braided boy grinned suddenly, disarmingly.

"It was the truth, you know," Duo Maxwell said, still backpedaling towards the door. "You are hopa. Beautiful."

Then his friend yanked him through the doorway by the belt-loops, and they both vanished.

*

Heero was still busying himself ­ or appearing to be doing so ­ with the clipboard at five minutes to three. He stifled a yawn and dropped his pen with a clatter against the counter, straightened, and stretched, turning with the movement to glance at the clock. The last five minutes were always the longest.

Beautiful, huh?

He'd been rolling the word around in his head since the two shoplifters had turned tail and ran. He suspected they were still nearby, and suspected the Chinese one had some merchandise hidden in his jacket, but he never really intended to call the police. Didn't really care enough. That was all.

Hmm, beautiful.

He'd been called 'handsome' before, of course, as well as 'cute,' which he didn't care for, and he'd heard himself described as 'hot' on a few occasions, which he just didn't understand. A girl in high school had once called him pretty, and he decided immediately that the word was even worse than 'cute.' But no, no one had ever referred to him as 'beautiful,' that he could remember.

He wasn't sure how he felt about that, but had come to the loose decision that coming from the mouth of an equally beautiful creature, it was an acceptable description.

The dual tone of the door bells sounded, and Heero grimaced, knowing it was just his replacement and not a customer who would see the _expression. He hated those bells. He heard them in his sleep, quite often, and would start awake in bed thinking he had nodded off on the job. Yes, the bells were evil.

"Go home, Heero, before you scare away the Hostess rack with that scowl."

His replacement was an over-exuberant middle-aged woman with a French twist of obviously dyed red hair and granny spectacles, named Darla. Heero didn't completely despise her, and thus kept his surlier comments in check. "Do you think I'd get fired if I did?"

Darla raised one penciled-in eyebrow. "If you really want to leave so badly, hon, then just leave. You're young, you can find better things to do with your time, in better company than a cash register." She patted him lightly on the shoulder and stepped off into the staff room.

"Leave," Heero repeated to himself, once the door had closed behind her. Yeah, I want to leave, he thought, pushing away from the counter and nearly ripping the name badge off his shirt. I want to disappear without a trace, just up and vanish into the wind without a word, to somewhere else, anywhere, any place other than North Platte, Nebraska.

But I shouldn't.

The air outside was chilly for June, especially when the days were already climbing into the nineties. Heero fastened two buttons on his denim jacket and flicked his car keys out of the pocket, swinging them idly on one finger as he circled the convenience store and walked to the street where his car was parked at the curb.

It was chance, perhaps, or coincidence, that his gaze shifted to the side for an instant, otherwise he would never have seen the flicker of movement across the street. His footsteps slowed as his eyes tracked along the line of parallel parked cars. In the space between two bumpers a pair of figures were crouched, and his ears caught the bare tones of frantic whispering. As the forms shifted, he saw the flash of an orange windbreaker, and the shadow of a dangling braid.

Heero caught a gesture, one of them pointing back towards the gas station. He turned slightly as he stopped next to the door of his car, and saw that a police cruiser had pulled in beside the pumps. He frowned to himself, opened the door, climbed inside, shut it, and sat for a moment staring at the steering wheel. His fingers flicked idly at the keys, shoving them absently into the ignition. His eyes flicked to the rearview mirror, noting that the officer had just entered the convenience store.

Then Heero Yuy did something he was never able to explain later.

He started the car quickly and flipped a U-turn on the empty street. He hit the breaks in the middle of the road, leaned across the seats, and opened the passenger door right next to where the two boys were hiding. They stared at him for a moment, eyes glimmering in the shadows of the streetlights.

"Get in the car."

The Chinese boy was the first to scramble inside, slipping through the gap between the bucket seats to tumble into the back. His braided friend followed, slamming the door behind him and hunching down on the floorboards.

Heero hit the gas and sped off into the sleeping city.

They were several blocks away before anyone moved or spoke. Duo Maxwell ­ if that was actually his name, Heero muttered to himself ­ was the first, finally peeking out from under the dashboard.

"All clear?" The boy grinned and slid up into the seat, leaning back to poke at his friend. "Yo, Fei, you can come out now."

"I'm hiding from my own dishonor," came the muffled reply from the rear floorboards. "Leave me in peace."

Duo curled back into the seat and turned his dazzling grin on the scowling Japanese man. "Thanks, yanno, we real--"

Heero cut him off. "I don't want to know why you were hiding from the police," he said, his tone flat but not necessarily threatening. "I can make a few guesses about that."

Duo laughed nervously and scratched the back of his head. "Ah, heh, yeah, well--"

"I'll make a deal with you," Heero interrupted again, forcing his voice to sound a little more friendly. It came out cool and slightly perturbed. "You tell me where you're going, and I'll take you there. No questions asked."

Duo's eyes narrowed, his face suddenly serious. "How do you know we're going anywhere, huh?"

"You said you'd traveled from Omaha. I made the assumption you were passing through, that's all." Heero smirked. "Plus, that ID you showed me was from South Dakota, however fake it might be."

"Observant." Duo's voice was sarcastic.

Heero turned his head to look the boy up and down before returning his eyes to the road. "You really expect me to believe you're twenty-five?"

Duo smiled again, but it was different from the brilliant grin he'd been using. A slow, quirking half-smile. "Okay, you win, hopa."

"It's a deal, then?"

The boy held up a hand. "Kicicic iya."

Heero stopped the car at an intersection, looked over at Duo for a moment, then, tentatively, shook his hand.

The Chinese boy's head popped up between the seats. His eyes were narrowed to glinting black slits. "There you go again, Duo, sealing my future without so much as asking my opinion."

"This is Wufei, by the way. Fei, this is Heero. He's gonna take us to Missoula."

Heero started out of the intersection and cast a glance at the two. "That's a long way."

Duo's high-voltage grin was back on his face. "No questions asked, remember? Take highway 83 north out of town. After that near miss I'm not keen on getting back on the interstate."

"I KNEW IT!" Wufei jerked forwards through the gap, jostling Heero slightly and grabbing Duo by the collar of the threadbare sweater he was wearing. "You're hauling me back to the Reservation. Again."

"Chill out, kola," Duo replied, still grinning, and leaned forward to bump his nose against Wufei's. "We are going to Missoula."

The Chinese boy growled slightly and let go, falling back into his own seat with a huff. "If you say so."

"Doesn't mean we can't make a few pit stops here and there, though, does it?"

Heero tuned out the banter, focusing on the road ahead. A little voice in the back of his mind was nagging, wondering what the hell he thought he was doing, reminding him of all the obligations he had, of all the people who would be worrying. The more he ignored it, he found, the easier it became to tune it out.

By the time they left the city limits and were on the highway north, he couldn't hear it anymore.

Lakota 101:

Ho iyaya yo: (hoh ee-YAH-yah yoh) Let's get a move on/get out of here.
Hopa: (hoh-PAH) beautiful
Kicicic iya: (don't ask) something along the lines of 'we are joining together for a cause.'
Kola: (koh-LAH) friend, 'heart-brother'
Miyaca: (mee-YAH-chah) prairie wolf, coyote.

[prologue] [part 2] [back to Singles a - k]