When Quatre pointed out on a map where Trowa was waiting
to meet them, Haan looked at him with one eyebrow nearly disappearing into his
hairline. “I thought you lot didn’t want to meet up after I got you out
of OZ’s perimeter?”
“That was the original plan, yes,” Quatre admitted, blushing slightly. “We, ah, changed it.”
“Well, it’s no skin off my nose, and I can make this connection, but I planned my cover trips on the assumption that you guys wanted to be scattered. The next three trips are heading out in different directions. Either those of you who are already out are going to have to travel to meet up with me, or there aren’t going to be any more rendezvous.”
“You can’t change your cover trips?”
Quatre eyed him suspiciously. “Was that ‘no I can’t’, or ‘yes I can, but no I won’t’?”
“That was ‘I can’t without blowing my reputation, so no I won’t’,” Haan told him. “If I don’t make my cover deliveries, I default on the contract. I’d like to be able to get jobs after this is over, thanks.”
“I see-- hold on, you don’t have anything to deliver!” Quatre objected. “Your trailer’s got my Gundam in it!”
“Give me some credit,” Haan snorted. “This isn’t the first time I’ve had to juggle loads; I do have stuff to deliver, and I’ll be doing it. Never you mind how.”
“Well, I do understand the importance of keeping your word in business,” Quatre sighed. “In any case, it’s probably safer if we don’t all rendezvous with your truck for future trips. We’ll be better off causing a little mayhem elsewhere to keep OZ busy.”
“I’m fine with that idea,” the smuggler grinned. “Anything that lowers my chances of having to dodge patrols is a plus. I’m good, but unlike you guys, Ryuukossei can’t fly or shoot back.” His voice had been getting rougher as they talked, and now he grimaced, swallowing hard.
“That sounds reasonable,” Quatre said hastily. “If you just get us out of the cordon, we’ll take care of getting together afterwards.”
“Deal,” Haan whispered, and drove on.
* * * * *
“I’m almost offended,” Wufei murmured behind the remains of his sandwich, eyes on the OZ soldiers setting up. “They haven’t even glanced this way.”
“Told you it was good camouflage,” Duo grinned.
They were sitting at the edge of a chattering group of teenagers, close enough that they could be mistaken for part of the group, but far enough away that they weren’t likely to be seen as pushing in. All of them were craning their necks to see the soldiers, pointing and staring; Duo and Wufei didn’t even have to hide the fact that they were counting trucks and troops, since everyone else was.
“I think it’s about time to go,” Duo said cheerfully, pointing at yet another truck driving into the square. “They’re bringing in barriers.”
“I bow to your superior wisdom,” Wufei said dryly, screwing his food wrappers into a ball and flicking it into a trash can ten feet away; a couple of teenagers applauded, yelling “Three points!” and giving him a thumbs-up that he returned as he stood.
“And you were worried about blending in,” the other pilot snickered, punching his shoulder as they walked off.
“So long as I don’t have to talk to them.”
“Eh, you’d do fine.” At Wufei’s incredulous look, Duo shrugged, spreading his hands. “So you don’t babble! Big deal. I can handle any babble necessary; you, on the other hand, do excellent snark. Play your cards right and you could end up practically worshipped in any high school you choose.”
“Really,” Wufei deadpanned. “My childhood dreams come true.”
“See? You’re doing it now. All you need to do is dress a little more emo and you’re gold.”
They sauntered out of town barely a minute before the OZ troops started waving people back and checking IDs; peering back around the curve of the road as Wufei shoved their ‘camouflage’ fishing rods under some bushes and hauled the motorbike out of hiding, Duo saw boom gates being set up by the last houses.
“I’d say we have an hour to get out of the house and clear of the roads,” he told Wufei, swinging his leg over the seat and settling onto the pillion pad. “We’re going to have to ditch the car.”
“Heero can drive it to the gully and roll it into the flooded section,” Wufei shrugged, kicking the bike into life and accelerating straight away. “That water’s murky enough it’ll take a full sensor scan to find it,” he added, yelling back over his shoulder.
“Cool,” Duo yelled back. “Do me a favour and pack my stuff? I’ll send Tro a message letting him know what’s up. We going to head to our first alternate location, or is that not far enough away?”
“I’d prefer second. First alternate is too close to the next logical stop on a search plan.”
“Yeah.” The braided pilot grimaced slightly, but didn’t argue. Their planned first alternate hiding place was another deserted house, but the second alternate would require them to camp out in or near their Gundams. “The roads there suck, though,” he said, almost as an afterthought. “Think Haan can get his truck through?”
“It might be better if he didn’t,” Wufei suggested, knuckles whitening as he held the bike’s front wheel steady over a corrugated section of track with sheer brute strength. “Probably safer if we take our Gundams out under cloak, one at a time, to meet him elsewhere.”
“Good plan.” As Wufei brought the bike to a slithering, gravel-spraying stop outside the safehouse, Duo jumped off without waiting for it to stop skidding and ran inside, nearly knocking the rickety front door off its hinges as he slammed it open. “Heero! Bugout, second alternate, fifty minutes!”
A slam and quick footsteps upstairs told him Heero had slapped his laptop shut and was moving. “Clean or dirty?” the L1 pilot called down over the sound of drawers being yanked open.
“Try for clean,” Duo suggested, taking the stairs three at a time and sliding to a halt in front of his own laptop. “Don’t sacrifice time for neatness, though -- they were just finishing setup in town as we came back, so they’ll be sweeping the countryside soon. We figured the car can go in that flooded sinkhole.”
“Good idea,” Heero grunted, layering clothes and weapons in his duffel bag with practiced speed. “Waiting for dark to move the Gundams?”
“Yeah,” Duo agreed, shrugging one shoulder as he typed quickly. “They’ll be running more sensors at night, but there’s no way they started a town search without getting a bunch of mobile suits into position around it. They’d get us purely on visual.”
< < Hey 3, > > Duo tapped out, < < moving to second alternate. Plan next pickup to contractor’s specs; 1 will meet. > > He paused for a heartbeat, fingers hovering as he considered adding more details; but the shorter the message, the harder it would be for OZ to intercept, and he figured Trowa wouldn’t need anything more. He might want more, Duo thought, setting up encryption and instructing his laptop to piggyback his message on the local cellphone network, and I know Q will fuss, but they’ll deal. Hell, I want more info but I’m gonna have to deal too, aren’t I?
Hitting one last key, Duo hovered over his laptop for one tense, drawn-out minute; then a confirmation screen popped up, letting him know that his message had started on its way, and he ran to help pack.
* * * * *
As Haan pulled off to the side of the road, sheltered under massive old pine trees, Quatre stiffened. “Something’s wrong.”
Haan flicked a sideways glance at him, then back ahead to where Trowa was standing waiting for them. “He’s not waving us off.”
“No, but-- something’s wrong,” Quatre repeated, unbuckling his seatbelt and opening his door before the truck was completely at a standstill. Haan snorted, but left Ryuukossei in park with its engine running rather than shutting off the ignition.
As he walked up to where Trowa was greeting Quatre with a kiss and quick hug, Haan overheard their first words. “What’s happened?” Quatre asked, returning the kiss.
Trowa smiled slightly. “I might have known you’d realise. Duo sent a burst; they’ve had to move to the second alternate hideout.”
“OZ started local searches?”
“I assume so.” He shrugged minutely. “The message just said they’d moved, and to plan the next pickup to Haan’s specifications. It’ll be Heero and Wing.”
“Hm.” Quatre’s eyes narrowed as he thought. “The nearest road isn’t much more than a one-lane dirt track... Haan, how much room does your truck need?”
“Less than you’d think,” he responded, strolling up with his hands in his pockets, “but it stands out like a sore thumb away from major roads. Where?”
Trowa pulled a map out of his jacket, already folded to show an area of steep hills and forest. “This general area,” he said, circling his finger over a deliberately vague expanse.
Haan unfolded the map a bit, spreading it out and scanning the nearer landmarks. “Can Heero make it to here?” he asked, pointing at a different road. “There’s an emergency lane that goes out of sight of the road, and three or four overgrown gullies nearby. I can load up in less than ten minutes if we move fast, and it’s even a logical road for me to take on my next delivery.”
“...Sounds good,” Trowa said slowly, eyeing the terrain lines. “I think... yes. He should be able to travel the whole way down in valleys, out of line of sight for scanners.”
“Day after tomorrow, about ten AM?” Haan suggested.
“We’ll let him know. Let’s get Sandrock out and get you on your way.”
With Haan back on track to make his cover delivery -- which Quatre still half-disbelieved -- and Sandrock under cover, Quatre climbed down from arranging camouflage netting and groaned, stretching his back. “You would not believe how much better I feel already.”
“Bad trip?” Trowa murmured, raising his one visible eyebrow.
“Bad?!” Half laughing, Quatre rubbed his hand through his temporarily red hair and sighed. “Technically it went fine; no problems coming through the cordon, no close calls with OZ. In other areas...” He paused. “You know, I’m not sure whether to hope Duo and the others can get communications back up so I can warn them, or pray we can’t get back in clear touch until after Heero has left so he won’t shoot Haan at the first sign of anything odd.”
“That weird. I found out a little of Haan’s history, and some more about his personality, and... he’s scary,” Quatre confessed. “But... do you know, I actually trust him more now? I managed to get a feel of his emotions, and there wasn’t anything there to indicate he’d break faith with us. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“So he’s trustworthy, but scary?” Trowa asked, amused, reaching out to tug at his lover’s disordered hair. “Red’s a good look for you, by the way.”
“You should have seen the rest of the disguise! And he’s more than scary,” Quatre insisted, batting at Trowa’s hand. “I think we’ve finally met someone who can make Heero nervous if he tries... or if Heero tries to make him nervous.”
“I’d say we’re guaranteed to find out who’ll win, then, because the chances of Heero not trying to assert himself are practically nil.”
* * * * *
“Argh,” Duo grumbled, trying to get more comfortable in Deathscythe’s piloting seat. “I wish I could recline this damn thing.”
And take the chance of it reclining in the middle of a fight?
“Yeah, yeah, it wouldn’t be safe. Still, G had to know that I’d be having to sleep in here sometimes; he coulda planned for it. There’s no room to lie down on the floor, and the seat sucks as a bed.”
My heart bleeds for you, came the dry reply. I’m on rocks.
“You’re Gundanium ‘Scythe. Amazing as I am, I have not yet replaced my tush with cyborg parts.”
I beg your pardon. I am currently inhabiting Gundanium, but you of all people should know that the shell is not the soul.
“What does that have to do with my sore tush?!”
Nothing whatsoever. I was hoping for a distraction.
“I’ve got a distraction that’ll work,” Duo told him.
...should I worry?
“You said I wasn’t wrong about Haan, earlier,” Duo began.
And I believe I also told you I couldn’t say any more than that.
“I know, I know, but,” the braided pilot said hastily, “that means you know something about Haan, even if you can’t tell me.”
“So. You know Haan. You know Heero. How d’you think that trip’s gonna go?”
I admit, I would love to be a fly on the wall.
Duo laughed. “You and me both! Who’s gonna win?”
Verbally, emotionally, or physically? My money is on Haan for all three.
“Seriously?! ‘Scythe, Heero’s like uber-soldier! Verbally or emotionally, sure, but--”
Seriously, Duo, Haan is like ‘uber-scary’.
“That is so not you,” Duo told him in disgusted tones.
I’m branching out... and you’re a bad influence.
A quiet beep from Duo’s communications panel distracted him from the conversation. “Awright! Message from Tro!”
< < 4 safe, > > the laconic message began. < < Contractor to meet 1 at 15:23:071 92:44:356, 1000 2 days. 3 & 4 will make noise. > >
“Ooh, Tro and Q are gonna piss OZ off some, nice. Where’s the meet?” Duo muttered, pulling up a local area map with coded coordinates. “Hm hm hmmmm... huh. Oh, I see -- it’s an emergency lane? I guess that’ll work...”
Look at the terrain overlay, Little Death.
“Oh! Right, there’s that little wrinkle sorta ridge blocking it from the road. I gotcha. Nice spot!”
The communications panel beeped again, blinking with a short-range voice transmission from Wing.
< < I don’t like the location, > > Heero said bluntly. < < It’s too exposed. > >
Wufei’s transmission came next. < < I have to agree. > >
“Look at the terrain overlay, guys,” Duo said, as blithely as if it had been obvious from the start. “You can’t see the end of the lane from the road.”
< < ...Hn, > > Heero grunted thoughtfully.
< < I withdraw my objection, > > Wufei said blandly. < < Now we just have to stay low for a day and a half. > >
“Anybody got a spare cushion?” Duo sent in plaintive tones. “I shoulda swiped one off the couch...”
* * * * *
On a nearby OZ base, approximately 24 hours later:
Une’s eyes were as cold as liquid nitrogen behind her glasses as she gestured to the main screen, currently showing footage of two giant mobile suits carving up an OZ convoy. “Explain to me, Colonel, exactly how two of the Gundams have evaded your blockade.”
Standing stiffly to attention, the colonel managed not to swallow visibly, but he could feel sweat beginning to prickle across his forehead. “I’m afraid I can’t, ma’am.”
Une’s expression didn’t change, but he thought hopefully that her glare might have lost a tiny fraction of its freezing intensity. “Really. You’re either remarkably honest, or stupid.” Wisely, he didn’t try to reply to that one. “Would you care to hazard a guess?”
The colonel took a deep breath. While technically he was the same rank as Une, everyone knew she was Treize Kushrenada’s hatchetman -- er, hatchet-woman. If she decided he was incompetent, he would be lucky to find himself merely cashiered or demoted. He picked his words very carefully. “All I can say, ma’am, is that although my men and I have done our utmost, no quarantine is perfect. We don’t know the Gundams’ full capabilities, which makes it harder to defend against them; and in our defence, ma’am, it’s possible that one or both of the Gundams behind this morning’s attack weren’t inside our cordon to begin with.”
“They were,” she said flatly. “We had very precise intelligence from a reliable source that all five were gathered in one place. Now, however, it’s clear that that is no longer the case.”
“I see.” He hid a wince. “In that case, ma’am, I can only repeat that we are doing the best we can. My men are well trained and have the best equipment available; if they didn’t intercept the Gundams as they crossed our lines, I don’t believe anyone else could have either. At the very least it seems to have taken them quite some time to pull it off.”
At that, her expression did soften fractionally. “True. Well, Colonel, I suggest you step up your search pattern and try to find the remaining Gundams before they manage yet another daring escape.”
* * * * *
The next morning, Heero was in place waiting for Haan to arrive well before the planned 10am rendezvous, having moved his Gundam slowly and cautiously under cover of darkness the night before. Wing was crouched awkwardly at the bottom of a tiny, steep-sided valley, on its hands and knees in the middle of a shallow stream, and the only position that kept it beneath the spreading branches of the surrounding trees left Heero dangling face-down from his safety harness. The quick-release buckle was cutting into his chest, one leg was going numb, and he was within millimetres of giving himself a painful wedgie every time he shifted his weight. By the time Ryuukossei stopped at the end of the emergency lane, Heero was in an utterly foul mood.
He couldn’t fault Haan’s speed, at least; as Wing straightened up and climbed up out of the valley, Haan was out of the truck’s cabin and latching the trailer doors back, ready to drop the sides. Restraining straps and clips were already in place along the bed of the storage compartment, and Wing was tied down securely with the trailer closing up around it mere minutes later.
“’Kossei, switch loads,” Haan said, and the truck’s suspension creaked as the trailer lifted.
“Why do you do that?” Heero asked abruptly, speaking for the first time.
Heero gestured at the trailer. “Adjust the suspension when you start up your sensor camouflage. You must have put in major modifications to the hydraulics to be able to do it, which are hard to do and harder to hide. What’s the point?”
“Attention to detail,” Haan shrugged, tossing Heero’s duffel into the sleeping cabin and slamming the door. “Your Gundam weighs, what? Six and a half, seven tons?”
“About that,” Heero admitted grudgingly.
“My official load weighs a fraction of that. The difference in how the trailer rides is obvious--”
“To you, maybe!”
“--to anyone who has a reasonable amount of experience with cargo trucks,” Haan continued imperturbably. “All it takes is one OZ soldier who used to drive a truck or work at a gas station seeing the trailer riding low and heeling over when I take a corner, then finding out my load is supposed to weigh less than half a ton.” He shrugged again. “If I adjust the suspension, not only will our hypothetical OZ soldier not get suspicious, he’ll look at Ryuukossei and say that there’s no way I could possibly be carrying what they’re looking for.”
“...Hn.” Grudgingly, Heero nodded, then turned to climb into the passenger side of the cabin.
Hooray for the ability to spout plausible bullshit on cue, Haan thought sarcastically, hiding a smirk.
Back on the road, Haan studied Heero’s grim profile out of the corner of his eye as he drove. In some ways he’s going to be easier to deal with than Quatre was, he mused. He’s openly hostile, so I won’t have to deal with that sort of wary, apologetic jumpiness Quatre was showing. I didn’t know what was going on, so I was tensing up waiting for the other shoe to drop. This time, I know exactly what’s going on; he’s a jealous, paranoid, self-deluding teenager.
Why did I agree to do this again?
“I have some clothes in the cabin for you to change into,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road. “I also want to see if I can get your hair into some sort of neater style. Do you actually get it cut, or just hack handfuls off with a knife?”
A muscle jumped along Heero’s jaw. No answer.
“The clothes are going to include a jacket like the one I put on Trowa and Quatre,” Haan went on, relenting slightly and deciding not to push Heero any further than he had to. “Try not to glare or look homicidal while we’re going through the checkpoint; it makes it harder for people to overlook you. Also, are you armed?”
Heero shot him a sidelong glare. “Of course.”
“Anything more deadly than a Swiss Army knife needs to go in the back,” the smuggler told him. Heero stiffened, mouth opening to object, but Haan kept talking over him. “Your friends outside the cordon steamrolled a convoy yesterday, so security at the checkpoints is up. They’re doing patdown searches, and if they find a gun stuffed in your shorts we’ll be dogpiled by half the duty watch.” Pausing, he eyed Heero sardonically as the pilot deflated slightly, closing his mouth. “Right. After we get through I’ll be dropping you off here,” he went on, tugging a map out of the door pocket and stabbing his finger at an apparently random spot. “It’s up to you to join up with the others.”
Wordlessly, Heero nodded, muscle jumping along his jaw again.
Well, at least he’s quiet. Bringing Ryuukossei to a stop in front of the checkpoint boom gates, Haan slid another sideways glance at Heero. The teenager was sitting stiffly in the jeans, flannel shirt and down vest Haan had provided, unruly hair combed and moussed into submission for once. He’s lucky I decided to be nice and didn’t break out the clippers, Haan thought, smothering a laugh.
“Not much traffic,” Heero said in a low voice, blue eyes scanning the area suspiciously.
“People are getting nervous,” Haan agreed. “Not many are travelling unless they have to.”
“That makes your ‘jacket trick’ harder, doesn’t it?”
“A little. You look different enough to help it along, though. Slouch if you can manage it, and for the love of God stop glaring,” Haan muttered back, releasing the brakes and letting the truck roll forwards as the first gate lifted.
Standing next to Ryuukossei with his arms lifted, being patted over professionally and thoroughly by two soldiers, Haan watched with a certain amount of hidden apprehension as Heero submitted to his own search, wondering if the impressive collection of deadly weapons the pilot had unloaded into a spare bag and tucked under one of Wing’s restraining straps had really been all of it. As it turned out, Heero passed the search with the only item found being the folding pocket knife Haan had approved; the officer supervising looked at it suspiciously before approving its return, and they stood back to watch the scanner team check the truck.
Only... they didn’t.
“We’ll need access to the cargo space to examine your load, sir.”
Heero’s head snapped up and he stiffened like a sprinter at the starting line, waiting for the gun. Only it’s not loaded with blanks this time-- Haan elbowed him surreptitiously as he nodded, keeping his voice casual with an effort. “Sure; it’s not locked, just latched. I need a signature on my insurance paperwork if you open anything, though, and the load’s fragile.”
“That won’t be a problem,” the officer assured him, turning away to wave his men forwards and thus missing the much less subtle elbow Heero was jabbing insistently into Haan’s ribs. “Where’s your paperwork? We just need to visually confirm the contents of one or two crates.”
“Here. There’s a space on the back of the manifest,” Haan told him, passing him a crumpled cardboard folder.
Heero was practically vibrating as the smuggler stepped back beside him, staring fixedly at the two soldiers opening the trailer doors. The officer was distracted, sorting through the creased, grubby paperwork in the folder; the few OZ soldiers assigned to keep travellers under guard were several feet back, positioned so they could shoot without endangering their comrades if it became necessary, and saw nothing to concern them as Haan shifted his weight and casually dropped one hand on Heero’s shoulder, turning his head as if to make some remark.
Heero ignored the hand on his shoulder, tensed to spring as a soldier reached up to climb into the trailer. He’ll either vanish into the hologram, walk straight into Wing, or -- if Haan told the truth about his ‘trick’ and it works fast -- go mad, he thought. Either way, they’ll be distracted for a moment. I can jump the major, use him as a shield from those two as I get his gun, disable him--
Haan’s hand tightened, thumb jabbing into a spot between Heero’s spine and shoulderblade, and muscles locked up all the way down to his feet. “Get your expression under control now,” Haan breathed into his ear, “or you’ll get us shot.”
Me?! Heero thought incredulously, unable to move. They’re about to find Wing and my expression is what’s going to doom us--?!
The first soldier up clambered to his feet with a grunt, walked to the first container, and unsnapped the fastener on the strap holding it to the wall. Standing right where Heero knew Wing’s foot was, he cut the plastic seals and levered the top of the crate up, pulling out what was unmistakably a blue-and-white ceramic vase. “This one checks out fine, sir,” he called, holding the vase out so his officer could see it. “How many crates do you want us to open?”
The major’s answer was lost in the roaring sound in Heero’s ears as he stared. What-- how--
Where the fuck is my Gundam?!
End 'Alarums and Excursions'
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