<grins> Well, Bob finally returned from carousing with Reggie... and brought a little idea with him. Unfortunately, it has nothing at all to do with O&O, but since it's a ficcie, I suppose I'll forgive him.

Important stuff: Yaoi, AU, OOC, not mine, never will be, no money, please don't sue (the Bursar's Office already cleaned me out and you'd get *nothing* but pocket lint). This little piece of weirdness takes place in a sort of alternate universe where the guys are college students or something like that. Aw, hell, just read it and find out. ^__^

The Hitchhiker by Lys ap Adin

"Damned rain... can't see anything in this weather," complained Wufei, peering through the windshield into rainswept darkness. "Trowa, how in the hell can you drive in this?"

"Trowa can drive through any conditions," Quatre told the Chinese boy from the back seat. He leaned forward, poking his head between the two front seats. "Now, remind me again why I have to sit back here?"

"Because you couldn't find your way out of a paper bag, much less read a map and navigate us all the way to Deluth," Wufei replied.

"I could too," Quatre protested.

"Oh yeah? Remember that left turn in Albuquerque that you *insisted* we take? And how we drove in circles for three hours until you realized you were holding the map upside down? There's no way I'm letting you sit shotgun and get us lost again," Wufei said firmly.

Quatre made a horrendous face at the back of Wufei's head. "Trowa, Wufei's being mean to me again. Make him stop!"

There was no comment from the driver's seat. Quatre sighed, and then smiled fiendishly. He settled back into his seat and then began kicking the back of the passenger side seat. He reached the count of thirty-five before Wufei exploded. "Stop that!"

"Stop what?" Quatre asked. Thirty-eight, thirty-nine...

"Kicking my seat!"

Forty-two, forty-three... "Why? Is it bothering you?" Forty-seven...

"Yes! Now stop it!" Fifty-one... "Trowa, tell your boyfriend to knock it off!"

Fifty-nine, sixty... "If the two of you don't stop bickering, I'm going to turn this car around and go home," Trowa finally said, deadpan.

Quatre stopped kicking Wufei's seat. "God, I'm bored," he groaned, trying to stretch. "How long have we been in this car, anyway? Ten hours?"

"Something like that. How much longer before we stop for the night, Trowa?" Wufei asked, rummaging through the bag of snackfoods. "Hey, who ate all the chips?"

"You did, somewhere in Oklahoma," Quatre told him.

Trowa sighed quietly, wondering what had possessed him to agree that a road trip would be a relaxing way to spend a vacation. Especially a road trip which enclosed Wufei and Quatre in the same small space for hours on end. Not only had they spent the day inventing new and elaborate ways to insult each other, they had kept trying to enlist his aid in their little war. *I'm going to need a vacation to recover from this vacation,* he thought wryly, listening to his best friend and his lover wrangle over who had devoured the last of the potato chips.

"This rain doesn't look like it's going to let up. Let's stop at the next town for the night," he suggested.

Quatre tried to see through the sheet of water running down his window. "Good idea," he agreed. "'Sides, I'm sick of sitting in this car."

"What in the name of--What the hell is that?" Wufei exclaimed, leaning forward in his seat, trying to see more clearly through the gentle swishing of the wipers.

Trowa slowed even more. "It's a hitchhiker," he exclaimed, just barely able to discern the figure through the gloom.

"In this weather? Good grief," Quatre grimaced. "Think we... oughta offer a ride?"

A moment of silence, as the figure loomed larger, a sodden cardboard sign clutched in one hand, the other extended in the classic pose, thumb jutting out.

Then Wufei spoke. "Nobody deserves to be out on a night like this..."

Trowa was already slowing and pulling off to the shoulder. Quatre began shifting in the back seat, trying to clear away candy wrappers and empty soda bottles in order to make enough room for a fourth person to sit. Wufei sat quietly, watching the dark-clothed figure toss aside the sign and scoop up a backpack before jogging over to the idling car. The hitchhiker paused by Trowa's slightly opened. "Where're you heading?" Trowa called through the crack.

"Anywhere but here!" came the rejoinder.

Quatre leaned over and opened the door, allowing the extremely soaked individual to slide into the car, dropping the dripping backpack onto the pile of trash in the floorboard and tossing a soaking chestnut braid over a shoulder. Grinning violet eyes peeked out from beneath a misshapen black ballcap. "Thanks for the lift, guys... I'd just about given up on anyone coming through tonight." He pulled off the cap and pushed wet bangs away from his face. "Name's Duo, Duo Maxwell."

Quatre introduced himself and the other occupants of the car. "We're not heading much further tonight," he apologized. "In fact, we were going to stop at the next town for the night."

Duo grinned broadly. "Hell, that's fine with me--that's where I was heading anyway. Just hadn't counted on the rain catching me."

Wufei turned around to scrutinize Duo. "Why hitchhike?" he asked. "That's kind of dangerous."

Duo shrugged. "Eh, it's not that bad, not really. I've been doing this for a while, and I haven't had a real problem yet."

"Really? How long have you been hitchhiking?" Quatre asked. "And why?"

"Sometimes it feels like I've been doing this for years," Duo chuckled. "I'm sort of doing research, you might say."

"Research? On what?" Wufei asked.

"Oh, this and that. Right now I'm collecting stories about this stretch of highway. Apparently there's a local legend that's grown up in this area, and I'm trying to get to the bottom of it," Duo explained. "It's always been my hobby to investigate old folktales, so I wander around a lot."

"That sounds interesting," Quatre said, intrigued. Then he glanced to the front of the car. "Hey, Wufei, how much longer till we get there?"

Wufei busied himself with the map and a few calculations. "Well... a while. Maybe an hour. There's just not a lot along this highway, and the weather's keeping us from going too quickly."

Quatre made a face. "I've been cooped up in this car for too long," he complained. He glanced back at Duo. "So, what's the story about this highway?"

"Hmm?" Duo looked away from the window. "Oh, that. Well, I'm a little sketchy on parts of it, but I'll tell you what I know. Well, a while back, there were these two guys who were really close friends, lived in this area, I guess. But they had an argument one day about this girl they both knew, right?"

Wufei snorted. "Figures there would be a woman involved."

"Don't mind him--he's still sore that his girlfriend dumped him," Quatre confided to Duo.

Duo chuckled. "It's okay. Most of the trouble I've ever run into in my life traces back to women, too. Anyway. One of the guys decided that he'd bow out gracefully, let his friend be happy with this girl. So he hops in his car to go see the both of them, tell them that he won't stand in their way, but along the way, he gets into an accident and dies. But the thing is, he doesn't realize he's dead, so he keeps trying to get to his friend's house and talk to him. The way I understand it, he walks along the side of the road, hitchhiking, but after he gets in the car, he disappears without a trace."

Duo's audience was silent after he finished his tale, until the braided man began laughing. "I wish you guys could have seen your faces just now," he chortled, wiping away tears of mirth. "You looked *so* freaked out. Geez, relax, I just made that story up to see what you'd do."

"I knew it was just a joke from the beginning," Wufei said stiffly.

Duo laughed harder. "Oh, please, spare me! If I had yelled 'Boo!' you would've wet your pants."

"Hmph." Embarassed, Wufei turned around, busying himself with the map again.

"So those're the kind of stories you go around collecting?" Quatre asked Duo, trying to hide how flustered he'd become.

"Pretty much, yeah. Nearly every place in the world has stories like that one, though. The idea of the ghostly hitchhiker is common. It's the variations that I'm interested in," Duo grinned. "Man, I really had you guys going there for a minute."

"Can you blame us?" Quatre asked. "It's the perfect night for a ghost story."

Duo stretched, catlike. "Well, if you're interested, I've got a million and one of them."

"Might as well kill some more time," Trowa said quietly.

"Well, like I said, it's really the variations that get my attention, which is why I'm out tonight. This particular area has *two* ghosts, y'see," Duo began. "I've already told you about the first one. The second one belongs to the other friend, or so I've been told. The entire situation with the girl was a complete misunderstanding, and he realized it a little too late--when someone called him to tell him his buddy had been in an accident. He was rushing to the car wreck, hoping to get there in time to at least apologize and stuff, but it was a really stormy night, a lot like this one, and there was this bridge that had washed out... They say that sometimes on a dark night, you can see his car racing down the road, the driver never seeing the danger..."

Quatre shivered. "How sad," he whispered.

Duo nodded. "Yeah, I just heard this one not too long ago, from a girl named Relena. Thought I'd check it out."

A lull fell over the conversation for a few moments, broken only when the car's engine began making an unpleasant noise.

thunkathunkathunkathunkathunkathunka

"This is just great," Wufei groaned as Trowa pulled the vehicle over once again. "Could this possibly get any worse?"

"Relax, Wu," Quatre sighed. "What's the worst that could happen--we spend the night in the car? Surely somebody will come along before then."

The engine sputtered and died, and Trowa shook his head. "Better go have a look at it."

"I'll do it," Duo volunteered. "I had a friend who was pretty good with cars--he taught me everything he knew. And I'm already wet, anyway."

"Well... if you don't find anything, I'll take a look," Trowa agreed, reluctant to get soaked by the pouring rain.

"Okay, be right back--Oh, and if you see any ghosts, be sure to give me a yell, okay?" Duo winked at them before going out into the storm.

"Strange guy," Quatre observed.

"He's crazy," Wufei muttered.

"You're just ticked because you got scared," the blond teased him.

"Oh, shut up. Make yourself useful and keep watch for headlights," Wufei grumbled.

Quatre snickered, but held his peace. There was no sense in antagonizing Wufei if there was the possibility that they'd have to spend the night in the car.

Within a few minutes, Duo returned, dripping wet once again. "Well, the problem's pretty obvious--you've got a broken fanbelt. Looks like we'll be sitting here for a while, eh?"

"Well, keep an eye out for other cars then," Trowa said pragmatically.

Duo's eyes lit up. "Hey, maybe we'll get to see the second ghost," he said eagerly.

Wufei scoffed. "You've told one too many ghost stories. There's no such things as ghosts."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Duo argued. "I've seen some pretty weird stuff, believe me."

"Someone's coming," Trowa interjected quietly, pointing through the windshield at a dim glow in the distance. The glow brightened rapidly as he spoke, swiftly evolving into two headlights.

"He's going too fast," Duo said softly, watching the oncoming light.

Quatre nodded, wondering how anyone could be so reckless under such dangerous conditions. "We ought to flag him down--" he suggested, but Duo was already exiting the car, extending a thumb.

"Lunatic," Wufei muttered, but whether he was referring to Duo or the speeding driver, no one was certain.

"There's something funny going on here..." Trowa murmured, staring at the oncoming car with narrowed eyes. "Cars--don't move *that* fast..."

"I think this one does," Quatre whispered. "Guys, I don't think that car is--"

He never finished that sentence, as the car flashed past in the darkness, leaving nothing but a blurred series of impressions in its wake: a driver hunched over the wheel, cobalt eyes wild and determined; a subtle, eldritch glow overlaying strangely transparent metal; wheels that didn't make true contact with rain-slicked pavement; most of all, the complete silence of the apparition... It sped past, seemingly oblivious to the hitchhiker or the audience within the other, stalled, vehicle, and Wufei exhaled noisily. Then, nearly fifty feet down the road, the ghostly car halted abruptly, backing up rapidly to draw even with the other car--and the hitchhiking Duo.

The braided man bounded over to the car, becoming with each step increasingly translucent. He seemed to exchange a few words with the driver, and then, grinning widely, crossed around the car to get in the passenger side. Duo waved at the dumbfounded trio in the other car, mouthing words that they could hear clearly despite the distance and the storm as the driver put an arm around his shoulders. "Thanks for the lift, guys."

The ghost-car sped off into the rain-lashed night, fading away as their own engine roared back to life. After a stunned minute, Trowa, with hands that only shook a little bit, pulled back onto the road.

No one said anything until they reached the safety of a small, nameless town. As they pulled into the motel parking lot, Wufei muttered, "Last time *I* ever pick up a hitchhiker."

 

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~~Owari~~