Man, this one was fun to write. (Yes, yes, I say that all the time. :P)
Author: Mel and Christy
Pairings: 3x4, and more to come.
Warnings: Yaoi, language, crossover, AU, magic. Heero's trying not to be a dork, but he’s not quite there yet.
Disclaimer: 'Gundam Wing', '3x3 Eyes', and the characters from them, all belong to the wonderful people who wrote them. Mixing them together was our fault. ‘World of Warcraft’ is developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment; we figured it’s responsible for delaying a lot of our chapters, so it can help write one or two as well.
“I believe you owe me five credits.”
< < Huh? > > Duo sounded distracted. < < Dude, can I have those pants? > >
“You can’t wear them,” Wufei objected mildly.
< < Not on this toon I can’t, but they’d be a major upgrade for my druid. > >
“Oh. Fair enough; they don’t match my spec anyway.”
< < Thanks! Sorry, what were you saying? > >
“I believe you owe me five credits,” Wufei repeated, a little smugly. “I’m not playing a paladin.”
The other pilot laughed. < < Yeah, I shoulda guessed monk would suit your style better. Where to now? > >
“You’re the expert,” he said, sitting back and eyeing his character on-screen. The blood elf monk looked around and then shook his head in disapproval; the timing was perfect for him to seem to be reacting to Duo’s warlock running up to him, and Wufei snickered. “I think we’re done with this zone, though.”
< < Yup. Wanna go to Western Plaguelands next? > >
“That doesn’t sound like an attractive environment.”
< < You’ll like the quests though, half of them deal with improving the place, > > Duo said temptingly.
“All right then, lead--” His communications panel chimed at him, and he broke off. “Hold on.”
< < I got it too. Hey! Message from Heero! --Aw, crap. > >
Wufei blinked at the short, cryptic message. “...What did he do?” he wondered aloud, and Duo made an aggravated growling noise.
< < Who knows? Something stupid, I guess. > >
< < Next stage delayed, > > the message began abruptly. < < 1 to stay with contractor to relay comms. Await further info. > > There was a line break, and then a less formal addendum: < < I broke the jacket. Sorry. > >
* * * * *
“Where are we going?” Heero asked.
The smuggler shot one quick sideways look at him, then turned his attention back to the road. “First, we’re taking care of my cover delivery,” he said, in tones that gave no room for argument. “Then we’re heading to one of my safe houses, and I suggest you forget its location once we leave.”
Haan made a snorting noise. “What? No argument? No accusations of ulterior motives or incorrect priorities?”
Heero winced. “I’m sorry.”
“What do you want me to say?!” he burst out. “I screwed up, I broke something that I can’t fix, I’m sorry! I’ve put Wufei and Duo in more danger, I can’t fix that, I have to trust you to fix it, and I’m not going to argue with how you go about it because I have no idea how you’re doing any of this and if I mess with it I’ll probably screw up and break something worse!”
“Well,” Haan said mildly after a tense pause. “So long as you recognise that, I think we’re going to get along a bit better from now on.”
They drove in silence for another few minutes, until Heero summoned up the courage to ask the question that had been nagging at him since the evening before.
“...Is it really magic?”
Haan sighed. “Yes.”
Heero swallowed. “Is-- are there-- do you know of other people who can--”
“I have met two other people who could do some of what I can do,” the smuggler said evenly, eyes on the road. “They’re both dead. So, no, while there are probably a few more people with... unusual abilities... out there, magic is not common and you aren’t likely to run into it again.”
Good. “If it’s so rare, how did you learn it?”
“None of your business.”
He automatically opened his mouth to argue, caught another sardonic sideways glance from Haan, and subsided. “...Fair enough.”
“You can learn,” the smuggler murmured, mouth curling up into a rather nasty smirk. “I was beginning to wonder.”
The delivery this time was to a mall megastore, not a warehouse; Haan backed Ryuukossei down a long enclosed ramp that made Heero nervous, judging by the tense way his eyes flicked back and forth in his nearly expressionless face, and then spent an hour and a half watching the loading dock staff transfer crates into the freight elevator.
Heero fidgeted at his side, glancing at the ramp out yet again. “This would go a lot faster if they’d just let us help,” he muttered under his breath, and Haan grimaced in agreement.
“They’re not working slow, at least,” he muttered back, and then lowered his voice even further. “And I’ve delivered here before, so I know three separate routes out through the mall if anything happens.”
The pilot sighed, relaxing slightly; then he tensed again, and Haan rolled his eyes.
“No, I can’t read your mind. It was just a logical thing for you to be thinking.”
Heero was never sure how they reached Haan’s base. The smuggler had called it a ‘safe house’, but that term didn’t quite fit; it was too extensive, too complicated... too large. He couldn’t work out how Haan kept it hidden, either, and then decided not to think too hard about that question.
They hadn’t travelled far from the mall. There were many little wilderness areas nearby, left undeveloped because they were a maze of small, steep hills and valleys; Haan had been driving along a quiet road next to one of them. He’d dropped a map on the floor, Heero had leaned down to retrieve it, the truck had lurched-- and when Heero straightened up again, they were on a narrow dirt track with trees on both sides, close enough to brush leaves across the edges of the windscreen.
“How the hell--?!”
Haan was grinning.
The track ran up to an overhanging cliff and then turned to parallel it. The overhang leaned out further and further, an immense weight of rock and dirt looming over them, until suddenly a dark tunnel gaped open just ahead. Haan steered the truck into it with the ease of long practice, flicking the headlights on after a few tense seconds while the truck cruised forwards into pitch blackness.
The smuggler’s voice was sarcastic when he spoke, and when Heero glanced across at him he was startled to see that Haan’s cheekbones were slightly flushed, barely enough to see, certainly not enough to call a blush. “Welcome to my humble home. One of them, anyway.”
Heero faced forwards again, just as the tunnel opened out in front of them. The truck coasted to a halt, engine shutting off.
“...Nice cave,” he said, struggling to keep his voice expressionless.
“It is,” Haan agreed, sitting back and looking at his base as if he hadn’t really paid attention to it before. “I was lucky to find it. Didn’t even have to enlarge the entrance much.”
“How did you get it all fitted out?” Heero asked, twisting in his seat to look around and then upwards, examining the lights hanging from the high ceiling. “Without giving away its location, I mean?”
“Same answer as before,” Haan snorted, opening his door.
Heero grimaced. “None of my business?”
“Ah. No. The other answer,” the smuggler corrected him, grinning again. “Magic. Not to do the installations, that would have been a waste of time and energy, but to keep the people who did do the installations nicely vague on exactly where the worksite was.”
“So... even if I don’t forget this location the way you asked, I’m not going to be able to find it again either.”
Halfway out of the truck cabin, Haan wobbled, caught himself on the door, and twisted to stare incredulously at him. “‘Good’? Seriously?!”
Heero snorted. “You’ve got abilities that would let you capture us without any need for subterfuge, so I’ve stopped thinking you’re going to sell us out,” he explained. “I’m still not sure what your motivations are, I’m still not comfortable with all this, and I still don’t like you, but I’m willing to accept that you’re genuinely on our side. Or Duo’s side, at least,” he added. “Anything that increases your capabilities or security is therefore good for us.”
Haan drew in a breath as if to reply, winced, swallowed hard, and waved vaguely at him as if dismissing that subject. “Come on,” he said after a pause, voice suddenly rougher, and dropped to the ground, setting out across the cavern.
It was a very nice cave, large and airy, cool without being cold. The floor undulated gently, some areas exposing the natural rock and others filled in with concrete; the walls had been left mostly untouched, banded in different colours of stone and sculpted by long-gone water into fantastical curves and ripples. The ceiling was the same, curtains of flowstone and stalactites hanging down in a few places, but there were no stalagmites to match them and no sign or sound of water still flowing -- here, at least; there was a faint mineral scent to the air that Heero automatically associated with damp rock.
There was furniture, old and comfortable-looking, clustered in different areas like rooms without walls; one like a living room with a squashy sofa and low table, a kitchen and dining area against one wall, a spot like a study with a huge antique roll-top desk that looked out of place beside metal filing cabinets and a thoroughly modern computer.
“Here,” Haan half-coughed, waving him over, and Heero walked over to join him near one of the walls. The smuggler pointed at one of the many recesses, deeply shadowed by the angle of the lights, and Heero saw something pale stuck to the rock; a rectangle of paper, looking a lot like the one he’d pulled out of the ‘Jedi Jacket’. “These are important,” Haan rasped, looking pointedly at his guest. “Hands off.”
“Understood,” Heero said flatly, privately resolving to check for bits of inked paper before he did anything. The last one he’d interfered with had delayed Duo’s escape; who knew what the next one would do? Bring down the roof?
“Food,” Haan went on, pointing at the kitchen area. “Serve yourself. Bedding in the truck, sleep there,” pointing at the sofa. “If you need me, I’ll be there,” pointing at what seemed to be the entrance to a smaller side cavern. “Try not to need me,” he finished, and walked off.
Some hours later, Heero decided that he should have asked Haan exactly how long this was going to take. Whatever ‘this’ was.
He wasn’t bored. He was far too disciplined to be bored. He just didn’t have anything to do. He’d considered doing a little cautious hacking in an effort to find out how far along the OZ search had progressed, and discovered that his laptop couldn’t connect to any network. Presumably Haan’s computer could, but even if it hadn’t had painted strips of paper and something that looked like plaques of carved bone hanging from its cables he wouldn’t have touched it.
I would have yesterday, he admitted to himself, staring warily at the maybe-bones... no, definitely bits of bone, he decided on closer inspection. Ugh. If I thought I could get away with it -- and I would have been certain I could get away with it! -- I would have hacked his system, looking for hidden files or communications records showing contact with OZ.
A familiar tickle of suspicion prickled along his spine, and he squashed it ruthlessly. Stop that! he told himself, turning away from the computer and its morbid attachments to pace around the perimeter of the main cave. Everything that made me mistrust him is understandable, now that I know about... that. Why he’s so secretive, why we’d never heard of him, how he’s stayed clear of OZ, why he wouldn’t explain things.
‘It doesn’t explain why he kissed Duo,’ a treacherous little voice whispered in his head, and he scowled, hands clenching into fists.
That’s not a valid reason for thinking he can’t be relied on! It’s entirely reasonable for trustworthy people to want to kiss Duo! Hell, I want to kiss--
There was a long, frozen moment as Heero stared at nothing, eyes widening.
Wufei was right.
Utterly miserable and unable to think of anything better to do, Heero went looking for Haan.
* * * * *
“I’m about to say something utterly clichéd,” Wufei said dryly.
< < Uh-oh. Okay, I’m braced for it. Sock it to me! > >
“It’s quiet. Too quiet.”
< < Augh! Wu-man, no! Never say that! Oh, you’ve done it now! > > Duo’s voice was amused, laughing through his pretended horror, but there was a trace of tension as well. < < You realise what you’ve done, don’t you? > >
“Yes. Now that I’ve said that, it’s going to stop being quiet in the worst possible way. I believe it’s a subclause of Murphy’s Law.” As he spoke, he was bringing Nataku’s systems up towards readiness, reactivating everything that could be brought online without betraying emissions. In one display, he saw the World of Warcraft login screen blink to show ‘You have been disconnected from the server’ as Duo shut his end down before Wufei closed the game. Good. Either he saw it too, or he’s taking me seriously. “All joking aside--”
< < Yeah, I know. The civilian cell phone network went dead a minute ago, and the satellite networks we’ve been carefully not logging into are dropping out, which means OZ are coming to the party. You’d think they’d learn, > > Duo snorted, professionally offended. < < They came much closer to catching us last time, when they didn’t give us prior warning by trashing communications. > >
“It’s not as if we need those channels,” Wufei agreed. “Thoughts?”
< < Sit tight unless they stumble right onto us? They’ve got a commsat that’ll be in line-of-sight for the next couple of hours, they’ll spot us if we move. > >
“Agreed. Use the lake to evade pursuit if we have to fight clear of a search party? I didn’t see any submersible suits on those transports back at the last location.”
< < Me neither, so that sounds good. > > Duo sighed, aggrieved. < < We could run rings around them for years if they didn’t have satellite overwatch backing up the local ground-based radar. The terrain around here is awesome for ditching an opposing force. > >
“I have an idea about that,” Wufei murmured, and paused.
< < ...You’d better be going to tell me this idea, dude, not just hinting mysteriously and letting me wonder. > >
“You’d be sure to get your revenge on me if I did. I’m fairly sure the Manguanacs are free at the moment, and -- knowing them -- would love to have something useful to do. Suppose they took out the OZ satellites that cover this region? By, for example, flying a ‘delivery’ shuttle across their orbit and dropping stealth mines? As you said, we’d have a much easier time evading the search parties until they were replaced. The Manguanacs could even take out some extra satellites along the way, just to confuse matters and make OZ think we were making a break for it in that direction instead of sitting tight and waiting for transport.”
Duo had started snickering about three sentences in. < < Oh, dude, that is brilliant. I bet Rashid’ll be all for it, too! Can I suggest a tweak, though? > >
< < Have the Manguanacs follow up in two different directions, not just one. That way the OZzies might get stuck trying to decide which of them is the decoy-- > >
“--instead of realising that both are?” Wufei finished. “I like that.”
< < Yeah, and they might end up scrambling to move assets to cover both feints, and leave replacing the overwatch here until last. Can’t count on it, but it would be nice. > >
“It would certainly make things simpler.”
< < And now we sit here, twitching quietly, while we wait for OZ to show up. > > Duo sighed again. < < It’s so much more fun when they’re the ones waiting for us to ruin their day, y’know? > >
Wufei stifled a snicker. “Into each life a little rain must fall,” he said sanctimoniously, and Duo blew a raspberry at him.
* * * * *
Haan was checking the large, complicated diagram that sprawled over the floor for errors when his not-entirely-welcome guest appeared in the doorway and froze, eyeing the pattern warily.
“Something wrong?” he asked, not looking up as he carefully touched up a thin spot. He was painfully aware of the tattoo on his right hand and arm, partly bared by his rolled-up sleeves, but moving to cover it would just make it more obvious. It’s not like he’ll understand what it is, anyway. I don’t have to hide it any more.
“No,” Heero muttered. “I just... wondered what you were doing.”
That sounded like a lie. When he finally looked up, the pilot’s expression was a perfect cold blank, entirely unreadable, but something about his posture suggested that he was unhappy. Though that could just be because of me, or the idea of magic, or whatever, Haan admitted to himself, and sat back onto his heels to stretch his back. His throat was no longer raw, but still felt scratchy, so he wasn’t inclined to make conversation.
But he is. Deciding that the diagram was indeed finished, Haan tossed the lump in his hand to Heero, who caught it neatly. “Has to be a natural mineral. Unprocessed,” he said shortly, nodding to the irregular off-white chunk, clearly not a commercial product. “So, chalk; or graphite, clay, ochre... chalk is convenient.” He couldn’t help a slight smirk as he stood up and tapped one toe on the floor, smooth concrete painted matte black. “This is blackboard paint.”
Heero blinked, looked down, and huffed a surprised half-laugh. “Efficient,” he admitted, almost managing to smile. “Where should I put this?”
One whole wall of this chamber was lined with old-fashioned wooden apothecary cabinets, rank upon rank of tiny drawers; Haan pointed with one chalk-dusted finger as he walked across to his workbench. “The second cabinet should have one drawer open; there’s a cloth to wrap the chalk in.” He watched Heero out of the corner of one eye as he washed and carefully dried his hands at the tiny sink, suppressing another smirk as the pilot’s hand hovered for a moment over the other drawers then drew back, not prying.
“None of these are labelled. You have them all memorised?”
Haan raised one eyebrow at the faintly incredulous tone of Heero’s question. “Of course.”
“Ever forget where you put something?”
“Nothing important,” he grinned. “Mysterious fuzzy objects in the ‘fridge, yes; spell components, no.”
The pilot watched silently as Haan assembled a range of items on a large tray -- vellum, brush, ink stone, ink stick, a tiny pot of water and a small, sharp knife. Acutely aware of his observer, Haan realised he was making a point of opening the correct drawer every time without counting rows and columns. Show-off, he told himself, snickering inwardly.
“Now what?” Heero asked, and Haan waved him towards a stool.
“This is the tricky part,” he began, and Heero almost choked.
“That wasn’t ‘tricky’?” he asked, pointing at the elaborate diagram.
“That was tedious,” Haan corrected him. “This bit can explode. If you want to watch then you sit there, you don’t talk, and you don’t move once I start.”
“...Okay,” Heero said, a little dubiously, but he set his jaw and sat down.
“Part way through it’ll start to feel weird,” Haan cautioned, starting to pick his way through the chalked lines. “That doesn’t mean anything’s going wrong.”
“Okay,” the pilot repeated. “Uh... weird like in the trailer?”
“Not that weird. Itchy, maybe.”
This isn’t the smartest idea I’ve ever had, Haan mused, kneeling in the centre of the diagram and setting the tray down in front of himself. I haven’t done this with an audience in... damn. Three, four hundred years? Let alone a twitchy audience who’s already demonstrated he has no idea how to behave around magic.
He does seem to be learning. At any rate, I’d rather have him where I can see him, and he’s a little more comfortable to be near than he was to start with. He might even get to be restful if we end up able to trust each other...
...and I need to start concentrating, or this will explode.
Clearing his mind, Haan settled his hands in his lap and closed his eyes.
He said not to move once he’d started. Has he started? Heero wondered, eyeing the silent smuggler warily.
Haan was just sitting there, back straight, eyes closed, hands folded in a way that reminded Heero of a Buddha statue. Meditating? Was it part of the spell, or just preparation for it?
I’m going to assume he’s started, Heero decided, and settled himself to watch in silence. It was almost like a stakeout, he thought with a trace of humour; close observation without disturbing your target.
Nothing happened for several minutes, except that Haan’s breathing grew slower and shallower until it was barely perceptible. The smuggler’s expression was peaceful, permanent semi-frown smoothed away; his eyebrows had levelled out, and the crease between them was gone. He looked younger... and for a moment, a trick of the light perhaps, he looked like Duo.
...It’s the hair, Heero told himself uncomfortably. Though it’s not really that similar, Duo’s hair is darker, and wavy when it’s not in the braid... and it would have to be Duo asleep, since he’s not grinning and bouncing. A mental image of Haan grinning and bouncing -- Duo’s bright, open grin, not the sarcastic baring of teeth he preferred -- nearly made him snicker out loud. Not his style, he thought, smirking.
Haan sighed and opened his eyes, reaching out to the items on the tray in front of him. His movements were slow and dreamlike as he poured water and picked up a short black stick; the scent of ink rose as he rubbed the stick on the wet stone, familiar to Heero from the couple of times he’d seen Wufei practicing calligraphy in a safe house. Wufei’s ink sticks were formed into decorative shapes and touched with gold leaf, though. Haan’s was a lumpy oblong with no luxurious extras.
Maybe it’s the same as the chalk? Heero wondered, tilting his head slightly for a better look. That had to be ‘natural’, so I suppose the ink has restrictions too. For all I know, he has to make it himself.
The hair prickled on the back of his neck, and he almost lifted a hand to rub it without thinking before he stopped himself. ‘Don’t move’ meant ‘don’t move,’ after all, and while Haan might have just intended ‘don’t move around’ or ‘don’t get off the stool,’ Heero wasn’t about to take a chance. Not after what had happened when he damaged the paper from inside the jacket, and Haan’s comment about explosions.
The smuggler had the brush in his left hand now, poised above the tray as he waited for something, right hand pinning down the paper with finger- and thumb-tip... and the chalk lines of the diagram were starting to glow.
Haan brought the brush down, wet ink glistening on the vellum as he drew the first characters. Power was gathering smoothly, flowing from the chalked lines on the floor into the centre where he sat, forced into a useful shape as it passed through him and stabilised by the binding he was writing onto the vellum. The characters formed in pairs, spaced around the edge of the ward to balance out the stresses.
He was aware of Heero, a little knot of alarm and determination at the edge of the inrushing flow; the power fluttered slightly and he felt the pilot react, alarm spiking higher for a moment before determination rose to match it. Huh. He’s a little more sensitive than I would have given him credit for, he thought vaguely, most of his attention firmly fixed on the spell he was constructing. Doesn’t feel annoying like this, either. Good.
All the fine hair on his arms and neck was standing on end, prickling like needles as the energy filling the room looked for a way to discharge. He could feel the shape of it, pinned down around the edge of the vellum and bulging upwards in the middle, thin streams and whiskers of power linking it to the main mass still held in the glowing diagram, waiting. Nearly done.
He laid down the brush for a moment, picking up the knife; as he brought it across to his braced right hand and cut across the back of his wrist there was another flare of alarm from Heero, sharper this time, nearly shaking him out of his light trance. Before anything could go wrong he dropped the knife and snatched up the brush again, dipped it, and painted the main design down the length of the ward in one fast scribble. ’Turn aside,’ it said, ’eyes and mind and memory, be thou bound.’
The trickle of blood had started to puddle on the back of his right hand. Left thumb into the little pool, excess wiped across the back of his fingers, print firmly stamped onto the vellum as he whipped his right hand away before the blood could overflow and spoil it all--
I really should have slept first.
Every line and curve of the diagram blazed up with white fire, the stool went over backwards as Heero scrambled away from the sudden heat burning his face, and Haan fell over sideways with a sodden *thump*.
End 'Alarums and Excursions'