Author: Casey Valhalla
Genre: AU/Comedy/Drama
Rating: PG-13
Pairings: 1+/x2 and the same reversed.
Warnings: Language, juvenile delinquency, minor angst, fluff.
Disclaimer: I do not meddle in the affairs of Gundam Wing, for I am penniless and own no copyrights.

Author's Notes: Bits and pieces of the past, coffee, mechanics, and free food.

Thanks this chapter go to all those who have been begging (and begging and begging and pestering and threatening) for a new chapter, also to Sol and Mal for some assistance with characterization and other random issues. Another thanks to Mal for helping with the French translations, seems how my French is both rusty and Parisian.

Translations and notes appear at the end of the post.

Great America: 4
Smiling Woman's Fry-Bread Medicine


Odelle Bike Shop and Supply consisted of an old linoleum garage teetering precariously in the prairie winds on the outskirts of the reservation town Mission, South Dakota. The roof and siding were both rusted through in places, letting in wind and rain and mosquitoes alike, but owner and proprietor Corina Odelle kept the cement floor dry somehow or other. It was all for the benefit of her customers and their tendency to be overprotective of the various vehicles passing through, not all of them, by any stretch of the imagination, being motorcycles.

The garage doors were the sort that rolled up into the ceiling, and had once worked by remote, but these days Corina spent the better part of fifteen minutes every morning hauling them open, noting also, daily, every new crack and chip and BB bullet hole in the plexiglass windows. There were two of these doors total, one in the front and one in the back, and a small office to the side with a padlock to discourage local kids and other opportunists. To the side and behind the small garage, in a hollow of the rolling prairie and badlands that stretched for miles in every direction you looked, her silver trailer sat like a polished bullet, gleaming in the sun.

On this particular morning, after the daily ritual of hauling the heavy rolling doors open to let the smell of the sweetgrass growing across the gray paved road mingle with the caustic scent of oil and engine grease, Corina noticed that her surroundings seemed quieter than usual. She also found herself restless, pacing idly back and forth the length of the garage between the two open doors, looking over the deep burgundy Harley she was rebuilding, on blocks to the left side of the garage. She watched a pair of prairie dogs skitter back and forth between the field behind the garage and a spot just outside the doors where a customer had spit a pile of sunflower seed shells in the gravel.

The shop was so quiet that she heard the approaching motor clearly, and identified it as a musician would a particular note, or an ornithologist would identify a bird by its song. There was only one hog pilot she knew of who could actually ride his Triumph into her garage.

She flipped on the coffee pot as she passed, stepping out into the tiny gravel parking lot and watching the speck of light in the distance as it grew larger. The bike was leading a blue car along the ruts in the dilapidated road, the both of them kicking up dust and disturbing the grasshoppers on the shoulder. Corina pulled three elastic bands out of her pocket, and secured her long black hair into a tail while she waited.

The motorcycle crunched to a halt in the gravel and the rider swung off, waiting for the car to pull in behind him before turning to Corina and pulling off his helmet. Trowa's shock of hair fell back over his face immediately, obscuring one of the deep green eyes that sparkled at her. "Nice place you've got here."

"Save it, Barton," she laughed, and pulled the biker into a hug. After a moment, she pushed him away by the shoulders and looked him over with a matronly eye. "You're too skinny."

"Aerodynamics," he commented, and stepped back to indicate the four people clambering out of the car behind him. One of them, a medium-height young man with vaguely Asian features, in a white tank with a jean jacket tied around his waist, rounded the vehicle from the drivers side door to stand beside Trowa. The biker shrugged one shoulder at him. "This is Heero Yuy. His radiator reservoir is leaking."

Corina looked the young man over just as she had Trowa, noting how his jeans looked slept-in, the curve of muscles under his shirt and the lack of a smile on his face, though his startlingly blue eyes were bright in the shadows of the chocolate-colored bangs that fell over his face. Good looking, for a cager, she decided. She looked over his shoulder to take in the other three. A black-haired teenager, also Asian, had propped himself on the back bumper with a lit cigarette between his fingers, wearing an orange windbreaker and a dangerous _expression. He was joined a moment later by a taller young man, blonde and pale-skinned, wearing a white dress shirt open over an equally crisp tee. The last, another teenager who looked vaguely familiar, tugged at a gray sweater tied around his waist and wandered aimlessly to the edge of the road. A long chestnut braid, showing threads of red and gold in the sun, bumped lightly at the small of his back as he walked.

Trowa chuckled, as though he knew what was running through her mind. "I found them on the side of the road."

Where all things useless and unwanted tend to fall, she thought, but was hesitant to voice the comment in the face of an unimpressed Heero Yuy. Instead, she nodded to him and smiled warmly, wide enough to show her teeth. "Go ahead and pop your hood, I'll take a look."

*

After some minor discussion and rearrangement, Heero's car was inside the garage, and he found himself agreeing to an oil change and tire rotation despite the fact that he was fairly certain he intended to get back on the road as soon as possible. The mechanic, a willowy Indian woman with feathers of gray hair at her temples, had a way of keeping people from saying 'no' to her.

Heero stirred his coffee with a cheap plastic stick that bent against the bottom of his mug; he glared at it, but the action didn't appear to have any effect. Behind him, Trowa and Corina were keeping up a rapid conversation concerning bike maintenance and repair while she prodded the underside of the Corolla and he poked at a partially assembled motorcycle. Through the front door of the garage, Heero could see Wufei and Duo kicking up dust in the gravel parking lot, involved in a competitive game of hackey-sack. He couldn't tell who was winning.

Quatre had asked to use the telephone and retreated into the office. Heero ambled towards the half-open door, sipping at his coffee. He didn't intend to eavesdrop ­ in fact he wasn't certain at all why he felt like approaching Quatre, but he stopped short just outside the door, staring blankly at the loose padlock hanging from the doorframe as the words registered.

"Non… non, je sais pas… oui, d'accord… tu comprend? Non, je ne veux pas lui parler… quoi? Ouais? Ils sont en train de gagner? Mon dieux…"

"What are you doing?"

Heero jumped, his coffee sloshing over the lip of his mug and onto his hand. He muttered a curse and turned back to the table that held the pot, looking for napkins, barely acknowledging Wufei. "I was enjoying my coffee, thank you very much."

"Of course," the boy drawled, strolling along in Heero's wake. "So, what was Quatre talking about? Anything juicy?"

"I don't know." Heero gave up searching for napkins and decided to forgo the pile of greasy rags under the table. He sucked a puddle of coffee off the bridge of skin between his thumb and forefinger. "I think he was speaking French."

"You think?"

"'Oui' is a French word, right?"

"Yeah, it means 'yes,' I think."

"He said that once. That's all I caught."

"Well, that doesn't help." Wufei folded his arms and leaned back, rocking a bit on his heels. The Chinese boy's eyes traveled back to the wide garage doors, his face drawing into a scowl. "Dammit, not again."

Heero turned and followed his gaze. Outside, Duo was standing at the edge of the gravel parking lot where dusty tire tracks spilled onto the road. His hands were shoved into his pockets, his back ramrod straight, and he shifted from side to side as his feet kicked idly at the ridge of the cracked pavement. He was facing west, and looked to be leaning forward, as though his entire being was straining toward it, his eyes fixed on the horizon.

Wufei sighed, suddenly at his elbow again. Heero was steadily growing used to how the boy could sneak that close to him without him noticing. "He's getting antsy," Wufei commented, popping a stick of gum into his mouth and shoving the pack back into the bottomless pockets of his windbreaker.

"Who's what now?" Quatre wandered over, the door to the office creaking closed behind him. "Oh, coffee."

"I didn't know you spoke French," Wufei piped up, his statement punctuated by a bubble popping.

Quatre paused with the coffee pot hovering over an empty mug, his hand wobbling slightly against the handle. He turned his head slightly, not meeting either Heero or Wufei's eyes, his _expression surprised and slightly… hurt, Heero decided, frowning at Wufei's complete lack of tact.

"You were listening?" Quatre finally asked, his blue eyes glittering at the Chinese boy.

"No, Heero was."

The young man in question carefully refrained from slapping Wufei upside the head. "It's hard to listen in on a conversation when you don't even speak the language."

Quatre stared at him hard for a moment, then his face softened and he chuckled lightly. "Yes, I suppose you're right." The blond finished pouring his coffee and proceeded to drink it black, moving to stand alongside Heero and Wufei, both still gazing out the door at Duo. Quatre's eyebrows drew together, forming a crease down the middle of his forehead. "What's with him?"

Wufei shrugged and popped another bubble. "He wants to go home."

"That's rather cryptic, in a way," Quatre said. He looked down into his coffee, swirling the mug gently. "This isn't strong enough."

"He gets like this." Wufei turned, suddenly distracted by something Trowa was doing to the motorcycle-in-progress. "Best let him have the front seat," he advised Quatre, patting him lightly on the shoulder as he passed. "He'll be hanging over your shoulder for the rest of the day otherwise."

Quatre, however, was still concerned by the state of the coffee. He returned to the small table, lifting the pot and examining it against the sunlight. Heero raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

"That explains it!" The blond announced, gesturing at Heero with the half-full pot. "I can see through it. If you can see through it, it's not coffee."

*

Corina had become somewhat irate over Quatre's opinion of her coffee, and the two got involved in a minor altercation concerning ground quality and double-brewing. Across the garage, Wufei and Trowa were disassembling something Heero was sure Corina wouldn't be pleased about. Which left him to deal with Duo.

Great.

Morning had turned quickly into afternoon, the sun beating down relentlessly on Heero's shoulders. He approached Duo slowly, letting his feet crunch loudly in the gravel, and drew up parallel with the boy without a word. Duo didn't move or acknowledge Heero's presence at all, so Heero tossed back the last of his coffee and followed the boy's gaze to the horizon. A rough line of mountain peaks were barely visible in the distance through a purplish haze.

"The Black Hills," Heero said, not sure why he decided to voice the comment. Duo's answering nod was slight and told him nothing. The uncharacteristic silence was disturbing.

They stood there for a good ten minutes, by Heero's calculation, with nothing but the sound of the wind through the brown prairie grass and the occasional ringing clang of a tool against metal in the garage behind them. Heero had just steeled himself to stand there for as long as it took to get Duo to talk to him, having decided, emphatically, that one way or another he was going to get to know this boy. Then the Indian finally spoke.

"I rode my bicycle up highway 18, once," Duo said, his eyes finally dropping to stare at the gravel around his feet. "All the way from Martin to the reservation line. I was ten years old, you know. I only knew which way to go cause I could see the Paha Sapa, and I followed them." Duo snorted and kicked the ground in disgust. "I was such a dumb kid. I didn't understand why they wouldn't let me go home."

Heero frowned. "Who's 'they'?"

Duo shifted backwards and shrugged, replying with a question of his own. "Do you have a home, Hopa? Family?"

"I have an apartment," Heero said, silently adding that he might not still have one by the time this trip was over. He got the feeling that he and Duo were carrying on two completely different conversations. "My mom lives in Lincoln. Dad has a place somewhere on the west coast. I think it was Vancouver, the last I heard."

"That's not what I meant by 'home'." Duo finally looked at him, a half-smile on his face and a strange gleam in his violet eyes.

Heero realized, quite suddenly, that he was standing a lot closer to Duo than he thought he was. A sweet scent wafted off the boy's hair, something smoky, like incense. "What do you mean, then?"

"I mean the place you're always trying to get to," the Indian said, leaning in to plant a light, chaste kiss on the corner of Heero's half-open mouth. "Even when you don't realize you want to be there."

An image struck Heero, standing there, of a much smaller Duo on an old, tarnished bicycle in ripped jeans and a loose, faded tank top, pedaling as fast and as hard as he could, braid whipping out behind him, almost blown off the shoulder of the highway every time a car sped past. Breath coming in panting gasps, eyes trained on the horizon, the dark mountains in the distance that never seemed to get any closer no matter how fast his little feet pushed the bike along.

Then the image was superimposed by one of himself, standing on the bars surrounding a ferry deck, watching the rocky outcropping of Orcas Island's shore receding along the churning wake of the boat grinding through the sound. A figure stood on those rocks, dark hair ruffled by the ocean wind, framed against the backdrop of a two-story house with large, shimmering windows perched on the rocks, surrounded by the dark green sentinels of Douglas Fir. The figure had an arm raised, waving goodbye, while his own, small, useless arms strained to reach through the distance between, fingers clawing through the air. His mother's arms were wrapped securely around his waist while her voice sobbed, "Daijobu, Heero-chan, everything's going to be fine, we'll stay together, and everything will be fine. I'll never leave you, musuko, your mommy loves you, and your daddy will always love you, even when he's far away…"

"Yeah," Heero said at length, his body deflating in a heavy sigh. "I think I know what you mean."

*

Apparently Corina was bound and determined to delay the little traveling party as long as possible, and offered dinner to the five in exchange for Quatre performing a few songs with his guitar. After several hours of distraction the maintenance work on the Corolla was complete, but the sun was sinking along the horizon, throwing the Hills into a clearer silhouette, and everyone was starving.

Thus, with only about thirty miles behind them for the day, the party decided to make camp in Corina's front yard. The mechanic, for her part, was overjoyed. Heero got the impression she was lonely and wanted the company, and so only complained moderately.

"You should never pass up free food," Wufei admonished, waving a spoon in Heero's direction. "Especially when offered, thus the guilt of ill-gotten gains does not weigh heavily on your soul. Or in your arteries. Like those doughnuts."

"Those were good doughnuts," Heero argued, digging his own spoon back into his bowl of thick stew.

"Yes, they were," Trowa agreed, settling down on the blanket on Heero's other side. "I know the woman who makes them." He held out a plate of warm, flat, golden-brown circles to the two. "Fry-bread?"

Heero and Wufei blinked at him for a moment, then, hesitantly, reached out to take a piece of the deep-fried dough rounds. Wufei retreated quickly and huddled around his food, and Heero was the one to finally reply. "You seem to know a lot of people."

"True," Trowa mused, leaning back on one elbow and munching at his own piece of fry-bread. He had removed his leathers for the night, and now looked comfortable in a faded blue t-shirt and jeans so dark they looked black in the dim light. "Bikers, mechanics, truckers, store clerks, any of a dozen different kinds of random people. Black, white, Indian, Asian, Hispanic… only west of the Mississipi, though." He chuckled lightly, a smile flittering across his face. "The east is too crowded."

Heero debated his reply for a moment, finally deciding that he had nothing to lose, and that sooner or later the small amount of money in his pocket was going to run out. He doubted that Quatre's finances were any less finite, either. "Do you happen to know people between here and Missoula?"

"Is that where you're headed?" The biker pushed the last piece of his fry-bread into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. "I suppose I could ride along, so long as I'm back in Sturgis by August."

"Appreciated," Heero said simply. Trowa nodded, laying back on the ground with his arms folded behind his head.

Duo was pacing restlessly around the trailer, his movements rustling the dry grass around him. Heero found himself watching; Duo had draped his sweater over his shoulders and tugged at the sleeves as he walked, his gaze skittering all over the rolling plains that surrounded the small garage, broken only by the speckles of twinkling lights that made up the nearby town of Mission. The corner of Heero's mouth was tingling where Duo had kissed him, and he reached up to brush the sensation away, but it held tenaciously to his skin.

Wufei's stare was boring a pair of holes into the side of his head. The Chinese boy cleared his throat, finally attracting Heero's attention. Heero blinked at him, then looked down into his half-empty bowl of stew, the fry-bread stuck haphazardly along the side of the bowl.

"Break his heart, and I'll break your neck," Wufei said clearly.

Heero's spoon clattered against the side of the bowl, and he looked up at the boy, noting the determined set of his black eyes. Taken aback, Heero said the first thing that came to his mind. "I didn't think you liked each other that much, the way you two argue all the time."

"He's my brother," Wufei replied in such a matter-of-fact tone that Heero wondered why he didn't know this already. "Not by blood or family, but you know what I mean. Don't be stupid."

"Why?" Heero asked before he could stop himself, then figured that if Wufei didn't want to answer, he wouldn't, the same as Duo had done a few hours before.

Wufei continued staring at him, hard, his eyebrows drawn together as though considering something thoroughly. After a full minute of this scrutiny, he seemed to reach a conclusion, and nodded almost imperceptibly to himself. "I was ten when they stuck him in the group facility I was staying at, in Merriman. Little place, kind of an in-between wayhouse before they sent you to one of the cities, or over to Boys Town by Omaha, depending. He was a wild kid." A fond smirk spread across his face, and he resumed his ravenous consumption of the stew, speaking to Heero around mouthfuls of food. "When he first got there, he'd only speak Lakota, and pretended he didn't understand English. Picked fights with all the other boys, broke things, and generally caused trouble whenever he could. He told me later, he thought that if he was too difficult, they'd let him go." Wufei snorted, then laughed out loud. "I didn't think much of him at first, until we both ended up in Grand Island, watching all the other kids, the white kids, walk out of the center with foster families, until we were the only ones left. That's when it struck me, and I realized no one wanted him, either."

The Chinese boy chuckled to himself for a moment, using the fry bread to mop up the last of the stew out of the bottom of his bowl. "He's been my best friend ever since. Understand now?" He polished off the meal quickly and returned to staring at Heero, his gaze lighter but still as dangerous and discerning. "You hurt him, you hurt me. You hurt me, I pound your ass into the ground. It's that simple."

Again, the statement was so factual that Heero didn't doubt for a moment that Wufei was both able and willing to carry out the threat. He nodded deeply, a sort of abbreviated bow, and the boy acknowledged it with a curt jerk of his head, but he relaxed immediately afterward. A soft snore from Heero's other side signaled that Trowa had dozed off somewhere in the middle of their conversation.

Wufei stood and carried his bowl back into the trailer, and Quatre stepped out behind him, letting the screen door bang closed. Trowa snorted softly in his sleep but didn't wake. The blond hopped off the cinder block step and walked over to where his guitar case lay on a spread sleeping bag and looked around, noticing Duo pacing along a rise in the land some distance away. "Oi, Duo! Don't wander off!"

The Indian turned at Quatre's voice and began trotting back to the makeshift camp, a few blankets and sleeping bags spread around a stone-ringed fire pit, a small fire built in the center for light more than warmth. Corina stepped out of the trailer with another plate of fry-bread just as Duo dropped down to sit beside Quatre. Wufei trailed after her, a fresh bowl of stew in hand, and returned to his place next to Heero.

Corina was smiling brightly, as she was often wont to do, her head tilted to the side as she raised one hand to waggle a finger at Duo. "I remember you now," she said, handing Quatre the plate before sliding gracefully to the ground, her legs crossed under her ­ Indian-style, Heero thought ironically. "You're from Pine Ridge, aren't you?"

"Yeah." The reply sounded… not forced, or half-hearted, but wary. Duo shifted nervously and swiped a piece of bread off the plate. "How'd you know?"

"I lived in Oglala for a while," she said, pulling her hair around to unwrap the ties binding it back. "I remember you from the pow-wows. What was it the boys called you? One-Boy Stampede?"

Wufei made a strangled sound and choked on his mouthful of food. Duo was turning a brilliant shade of scarlet, glowering at the woman through his long bangs. "That's not my name. Some guys from Porcupine started calling me that, and it stuck."

"One-Boy Stampede," Quatre echoed. Wufei had recovered from his coughing fit and was snickering quietly. "Really."

"They must have been jealous because you were a better dancer," Corina assured Duo, patting him lightly on the knee.

Duo's _expression suddenly darkened, and his fingers wrapped around the cuffs of his jeans. He looked away, off into the middle-space alongside the fire. "I haven't danced in years."

Quatre pulled out his guitar in the tense silence that followed, alleviating the lack of sound by tuning it softly. "If I'm going to play, someone has to give me a sunset." He gazed around the group, and stopped at Heero, smiling a little. "I think it's your turn."

Heero frowned, working his jaw silently before something would come out. "I don't—"

"Just do your best," Quatre said, reaching over the guitar to adjust one of the nuts. "Try to remember the details. Start by describing where you are."

"I think…" Heero trailed off, blinking at the fire and feeling lost. "I'm not good at this."

"Think of home," Duo prompted, and Heero looked up to lock gazes with him across the fire. "Close your eyes, Hopa. Tell us what you see."

Home, Heero thought, and did as he was told. "I wasn't supposed to go down to the rocks. But I did, anyway, when my parents weren't paying attention." When they were too busy fighting to notice, he added mentally, or one or the other or both had stormed out of the house. "The rocks ­ they were always wet, because of the tide, or the rain. They were covered in barnacles and moss. The big one was the farthest out. I had to crawl most of the way, and make sure I didn't step on any starfish. I always went barefoot, so I wouldn't slip in the moss." He paused, trying to remember Quatre's description from the night before, wishing he had that kind of elegance with words. "The water there, in the sound ­ it's dark, midnight blue, with a sheen of silver over the top. Especially in the evening, when the sun's setting. And cold as hell. I fell in a few times."

He paused again, and noticed that he was wringing his hands nervously. He didn't open his eyes, but Duo's voice nudged him to continue. "What about the air? What was it like?"

"Wet," he said immediately, and laughed softly. "Always wet, even when it wasn't raining. It smelled clean, like the ocean and evergreen trees."

"Pine," Duo said, almost an agreement.

"No, fir," Heero was dropping further into the memory, letting it wash over him. "Douglas Fir. It smells different, earthier, not sharp like pine. And there was always wind on the rocks, coming in from the sea past San Juan Island. You could see Friday Harbor from my back porch, and from the rocks, and all the other islands sticking out of the sound like… like turtle shells. Like the tops of mountains poking through the clouds, the way you see them from an airplane."

"What else could you see?"

"Ferries, sailboats. Barges, sometimes, coming and going from Friday Harbor and Anacortes. There used to be a pod of orcas that would come right up to the rocks when the tide was high. I was too afraid to touch one, but I could have. Sometimes there were dolphins, too." Heero's hands had gone still, a tiny smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. "And you've never seen a sunset until you've seen one over Puget Sound."

There was a laugh hiding in Duo's voice. "Is that so?"

"The sky goes red," Heero said, more assured now at describing the sight. "Every shade of red and orange you can imagine. The clouds turn pink and lavender, and everything on the horizon turns into a black silhouette, and everything else is on fire. That's what it's like. You can't escape from the sunset, because it's everywhere. It's like seeing God, and God consumes you."

Heero felt drained, and let his head droop, eyes still closed. The fire crackled in the silence until he looked up, taking in Wufei's black stare, Quatre's dazzled gaze, Corina's dreamy _expression, eyes closed, face turned to the sky. Trowa was awake beside him, eyes reflecting the orange flames. Duo looked surprised, then that slow, genuine smile spread across his face, igniting something warm in Heero's stomach.

"Well," Quatre said finally. "Looks like I'm playing a concert tonight."

*

Glossary of Various Languages:

Lakota—

Hopa: beautiful
Paha Sapa: Black Hills

Japanese—

Daijobu: It's all right
Musuko: son

French (Quebequois dialect)—

"Non… non, je sais pas… oui, d'accord… tu comprende? Non, je ne veux pas lui parler… quoi? Ouais? Ils sont en train de gagner? Mon dieux…"

"No… no, I don't know… yes, fine… you understand? No, I'm not speaking to him… what? Really? They're winning? My god…"

Biker Slang—

Hog pilot: biker
Cage/cager: car/car driver
Rice rocket: Japanese-made motorcycle

A few side notes:

There are seven Indian reservations in South Dakota: Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, Crow Creek, Lower Brule, Pine Ridge, Rosebud and Yankton. None of them include any part of the Black Hills, which have been Sioux holy ground for centuries before America was colonized.

The distance from Martin to Batesland on the border of the Pine Ridge reservation is approximately eight miles, which is how far Duo rode his bike.

You really haven't seen a sunset until you've seen one over Puget Sound.

And for anyone who's interested, double-brewed coffee is coffee that has perked, been poured back into the water chamber and brewed again with a fresh filter and grounds. Very strong and very good.

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