Alarums and Excursions Chapter 6



Wufei jerked awake less than an hour after he'd fallen asleep, part of him still hearing his grandmother's voice. He'd been dreaming of a warm spring day, sitting in the garden, listening to stories.

*" must always remember the debt owed to Lord Haan, for it may be you who he calls upon to repay it..."*

*That one wasn't a grandmother's tale,* he thought muzzily. *That was one of the stories she told me from our clan history. It can't be _this_ Haan, though, he's barely older than me... and I think that story was very old, from back when we still held lands on Earth.*

*Perhaps an ancestor of his?*

*No... it's far more likely to have been about a Chinese. 'Haan' and 'Han' aren't that different.*

The sheets rustled as he turned over, wriggling into a more comfortable position, then the room was silent again. For about five minutes.

*Didn't the story say that 'Lord Haan' was a foreigner?*

Swearing half-heartedly under his breath, Wufei pushed the covers back and got up. "Sometimes I wish I hadn't inherited my father's scholarly curiosity," he muttered, padding across to his desk and reaching for his laptop. "Researching dubious ancient history in the middle of the night... but if I don't at least set up the search, I won't be able to sleep."

Automatically he began to log into L5's computer system, then froze, thinking. *If I just run a search, anyone who checks the access records is going to be able to see that I was looking up ancient history... and old myths, too, because I'm not _sure_ that was a historical story. I certainly don't have to answer to anyone over what I choose to access, of course, but... I can just imagine getting an email from Master O, asking how this data is going to help me against OZ.*

Sighing, Wufei began to set up a covert 'search worm', programming it to get the information he wanted and send it to him under the guise of someone else's access. *This could take days, and it will be far more difficult to explain if I get caught... but I shouldn't get caught.*


* * * * *

Wufei might have slept better after at least beginning to satisfy his curiosity, but Quatre didn't have any easy way to relieve his problems. He lay awake for most of the night, sinking into an uneasy doze from time to time, but coming fully awake every time his unwelcome bedmate moved.

*I think it would actually be better if Haan snored,* he thought with weary humour, somewhere near dawn. *At least then I'd have a constant reminder that he's there!*

It turned out to have one possible advantage, though. As morning broke and they moved off again, Haan backing Ryuukossei out of its tight quarters with the same skill he'd shown driving in, Quatre found no difficulty slipping into the proper 'arrogant, irritable and dangerous' attitude to suit his disguise. He didn't normally get short-tempered after a bad night's sleep and felt (briefly) shocked when he realised what was happening; but, after all, it was more like four nights of poor sleep, and unusual circumstances, and... Actually, his momentary feelings of guilt about his uncharacteristic loss of control were just making him feel more annoyed.

"You're doing fine," Haan murmured, glancing at his passenger as the truck swung around a bend in the road and the OZ checkpoint became visible in the distance. "Like I said, you can do more than you expect."

"Sleep deprivation helps method acting," Quatre said acidly, rolling his eyes. "Wonderful. We must remember to tell Hollywood."

Haan wheezed almost silently, shoulders shaking as he suppressed a belly laugh. "Heh. I thought you were a bit restless. Still tense?"

"Sort of. And no, it's still not anything you can help with." *Unless you can somehow turn off whatever it is that makes you a psychic hole in the world. I doubt it. And even if I thought that you could, I'm hardly going to ask you to try. I can see it now... 'Excuse me, Mr. Haan, could you please let me use my sixth sense on you? I realise almost nobody believes in functional empathy, but I'm not crazy, really...'*

Passage through the roadblock turned out to be almost an anticlimax. The OZ soldiers scanning the truck saw nothing more than what they were meant to, and the major in charge barely glanced at Quatre as he went over Haan's answers to the questionnaire.

*I see what Trowa meant,* Quatre mused, watching the officer's eyes slide over him and away for the second time. Part of his attention was occupied by imagining that he was looking at a spectacularly incompetent clerk, in order to keep the proper expression on his face, but even in his current overtired state he had no problem multitasking. *He was alert and interested, and then it just... drained out of his expression when he saw me, like watching someone lose twenty or thirty points off their IQ.*

*Ew. That's a very uncomfortable thought!*

"I wish I knew how you did that," he said under his breath as Haan put Ryuukossei into gear and drove past the raised barrier.

"I know," the smuggler replied, concentrating on the road.

"But you're not going to tell."


Biting his tongue to hold back a snappish retort, Quatre counted to ten before he continued, choosing his words carefully. "I understand your position. However... would you be willing to sell information regarding how we can protect ourselves from someone else using whatever that is on us?"

"Um." Haan blinked, obviously surprised. "Hadn't expected that question. Ah... I don't think I can tell you how to defend against it without telling you how to do it... but since I invented it, and I haven't passed it on to anyone else, you shouldn't need to."

"Given the number of times in history where the same thing has been invented by two or more people simultaneously, I hope you will forgive me if I don't find that particularly reassuring," Quatre said acidly, then winced. "I'm sorry. That was uncalled for. I'm tired, and it really bothers me that I can't-- never mind. I apologise."


*'Can't' what?* Haan wondered, glancing sideways at his passenger as the normally blond teen sat back, rubbing at his eyes. *Whatever it is, it really must be eating at him if it's making him act this differently from the first couple of times I met him.* "I don't think it's really necessary," he said aloud, "but apology accepted anyway."

"Thank you," Quatre sighed, managing a faint, false smile.

There was near silence in the cab for the next few minutes as Haan thought, running over every aspect of Quatre's behaviour he'd observed.

"Is it anything to do with me?" he asked eventually, and was rewarded by seeing Quatre jump, eyes widening.

"I-- no-- that is-- it isn't--"

"It is something to do with me," Haan concluded, not without humour. "You're a rotten liar when you're tired; better keep that in mind."

"It still isn't anything you can alter," Quatre said doggedly, blushing as red as his dyed hair.

"You might be surprised. Try me."

"I'd rather not."

Haan shrugged expressively. "Your choice. If you're worried about upsetting me, I can tell you I'm fairly unshockable... though I'm sure Duo will do his best to prove me wrong."

Quatre shook his head silently and settled back into the seat again, mouth firmly closed.

=stubborn boy,= Ryuukossei observed silently. =stupid. talking is good. haan wants to talk, i want to talk to haan, big metal wants to talk to boy... stupid boy should want to talk too.=

Stifling a sigh, Haan tapped his fingers on the steering wheel in an abbreviated pat, and drove on.

* * * * *

"...dunno. What do you think?" came faintly to Wufei's ears as he ducked under the camouflage netting and started down into the gully where the remaining Gundams were hidden.

*That's Duo's voice,* he thought coldly, coming silently to a halt, *but who is he talking to? Heero's back at the safehouse, and we're maintaining comms silence except for 'all OK' calls when each of us gets out of the cordon, so...* Mind coming up with one scenario after another, most involving Duo held at gunpoint by an OZ patrol and stalling for time by talking as fast as he could, Wufei crept closer.

A few taps of metal on metal came from somewhere out of sight, then Duo's voice again, slightly muffled. "...sorry 'bout... forgot you haven't met..." Wufei stopped again and listened intently, straining to hear the reply, but there was nothing but the wind in the trees above.

"Jeez, 'Scythe, I swear you blow out hydraulic lines on purpose, just so I'll have to spend time working on you!" Duo laughed, suddenly loud and clear.

Wufei slumped against the boulder he was hidden behind, torn between laughter and relief. *He's talking to his damn Gundam,* he realised, resisting the urge to beat his head against the rock a few times. *I've heard him do it before-- I should have realised-- damn but he gave me a fright!*

"Yeah, yeah, I know, I'd find excuses to come out here even if there wasn't anything to fix," Duo continued cheerfully, oblivious to the fact that he now had an audience. "Anyway. I wish you could give me some advice about Haan. Wu-man and Trowa seem to think he's okay, but Heero's being a jerk and Quatre's twitching like he just stuck a fork in an electrical socket. I hope he's okay... he should call in this evening, if nothing goes wrong."

There was a short pause, as if Duo was listening to an answer.

"Wu-FEI, yeah, I know. I like playing with his name."

Behind his rock, Wufei's eyebrows shot up.

"Yes, I'm sure he understands I mean it in a friendly sort of way! Jeez, 'Scythe, you're such a mother hen sometimes... 'Fei's a cool guy. He wouldn't take offense at something that wasn't meant to be insulting unless I really stepped on my dick."

Suddenly realising that he was, effectively, eavesdropping on Duo having a private conversation, Wufei backed up quickly and silently to the edge of the gully and started down again, kicking a stone ahead of him to warn the other pilot that he had company. This time, Duo had his gun trained on him as he came around the boulder, but put it away as he called a greeting.

"Good morning, Duo."

"'Morning, 'Fei! Shenlong actually need any work or are you just here to polish?"

"Computer diagnostics," Wufei told him, smiling involuntarily in response to the braided teen's grin. "And my name is Wufei," he added, automatically following their established pattern.

"Ah, polishing the electrons. Gotcha," Duo nodded; then he flicked a sudden look over his shoulder at Deathscythe, and his smile faltered. "Uh... Wufei..."


"D'you really mind it when I mess with your name, or do you just call me on it because you're going along with the game?" he blurted out uncomfortably. "I mean, if it really pisses you off, I'm sorry..."

*Duo is apologising to me because of a conversation he had with his Gundam?!*

"...I don't mean it as an insult."

"I realise that," Wufei said slowly, hoping his face showed nothing more than mild surprise. "If anyone else did it, I would mind... but if you stopped, you wouldn't be 'Duo'."

"All right!" Duo cheered. "I knew-- uh, I hoped that was how you felt. Thanks, Wu-man!"

"Wu-FEI," the Chinese pilot corrected him solemnly, smirking. "Don't bother to thank me; I have electrons to polish."

Duo almost choked on a laugh as he realised that Wufei had just thrown his own joke back at him, and Wufei escaped into Shenlong's cockpit before he either lost control of his expression or said something that would let Duo know that he'd been overheard.

*I certainly can't blame him for talking to Deathscythe,* he told himself, settling into his seat and activating the computer systems. *I'd have to be a hypocrite to disapprove. He isn't the only person who... who's projected a personality onto his Gundam... if it is a projection.*

The familiar feeling of being watched intensified, and he glanced up with a twisted smile.

"Which is it, Meiran?" he asked softly. "Am I imagining you, and deluding myself into believing that you might be real; or am I feeling you, and pretending that you're just my imagination?"

There was no answer, but somehow it felt as though the watching eyes had blinked.

* * * * *

About halfway between the OZ roadblock and the diner where Haan intended to stop for lunch, Quatre fell asleep. He hadn't intended to; he'd settled himself into the corner at a slight angle, so he could keep watching Haan out of the corner of his eye without being obvious about it, and tried to relax enough to get the painful knots he could feel forming in his shoulder muscles to go away. The seat was comfortable... the cabin was warm... the radio was playing quiet music... the truck purred along the road, rocking gently in a surprisingly soothing motion...

*When you think about it, really, it's all so clear. Haan is a black hole because he's friends with Duo and Duo has enough life and energy for two people and it must have come from somewhere. Must remember to tell Heero so he can stop vibrating. Like poles repel, and Heero's a little like Haan, so of course they don't get along... Trowa seems like Heero superficially but he's not, Trowa is Trowa is Trowa trowa trowa was nice last week when he said that to me...*

Ryuukossei bounced over a speed bump as it turned into the diner's parking lot, and Quatre jolted awake. He'd turned in his sleep until his forehead was pressed against the window, so that the first thing he saw was the scenery moving past outside. Momentarily confused as he emerged from muddled fragments of dreams, all he could think of was that he was in a vehicle of some sort, it was moving, and behind him where a driver should be he could feel nothing--

Lunging out of his corner to grab for the wheel and handbrake, Quatre found himself staring up into a pair of mismatched eyes, with a warm hand carefully holding him away from the brake.


"I know I told the major you were my temporary relief driver," Haan said mildly, "but I didn't expect you to take it this seriously."

Quatre snatched his hand away from the steering wheel as if it was hot and sat up stiffly, miserably aware that he was blushing again. "I thought no-one was driving," he muttered, looking away. "I must have still been dreaming."

Much to his relief, Haan didn't repeat his earlier comment about Quatre being a rotten liar; he just raised one eyebrow and tapped the accelerator, pulling the rest of the way into the parking lot. "You want to climb in the back and have a nap after lunch, or would you rather get some caffeine into your system?" he asked carefully, shutting down the engine and turning to look at his passenger. "Personally, I'd go for the nap if I were you; caffeine might just make you jumpier."

*I don't know if that's possible,* Quatre thought wryly, and held his hands out in front of him. They were trembling slightly. "No caffeine," he decided. "Definitely, no caffeine. Now, if I can just stay awake long enough to eat a sandwich or two, I'll be happy."

"You'd better," Haan grinned. "Mary-girl is proud of her sandwiches; she might take it as an insult if you use one as a pillow instead of eating it."


Mary-girl turned out to be an immensely fat woman who whooped with delight as soon as she saw Haan. "Where've you been, darling?" she exclaimed, waddling out from behind the counter to throw her arms around him. "Gallivanting all over God's creation in that truck, I swear you'd take it to the colonies if you could strap enough rockets onto it, never coming to visit your old friends, what kind of life is that for a growing young man? I can see you haven't been eating enough, as usual," she 'tsk'ed, holding him at arms' length and looking him up and down disapprovingly. "Skinny as a rail and twice as tough, well, you just go sit down and we'll do something about that. The usual?"

"Two," Haan corrected her, kissing her cheek and jerking his thumb towards Quatre. "Make his decaf."

"Lord love me, child, I never even saw you there!" she gasped, abruptly focussing on him. "Oh dear, it's no wonder I didn't; you're just like Haan, thin as piano wire and pulled just as tight," she clucked, shaking her head as she turned around and bustled back into the kitchen. "Sit down, take the weight off your feet, I'll be out in just a moment..."

"Don't worry," Haan murmured as he led the way over to a corner table. "She doesn't expect people to hold up their end of the conversation."

"Oh, good," Quatre said dazedly. "Her nametag actually said 'Mary-girl', not just 'Mary'..."

"So does her birth certificate. Her parents were a little odd, but she says it's better than 'Moonbeam' or 'Suncrystal'."

"My little brother never did forgive Dad for that one," Mary-girl sighed reminiscently, nearly shocking Quatre into cardiac arrest as she appeared silently behind his shoulder and put two huge mugs of coffee down on the table. "God be praised, they had me before they moved to the commune and went completely Herbal Wiccan." Patting Quatre gently on the shoulder, almost as if she was afraid her bulk would break him, she flashed him a beautiful smile and swept off, presumably to fetch the next instalment of their meal.

"None of them have followed in their parents' footsteps," Haan continued, unperturbed. "Mary-girl is Baptist, Moonbeam is an agnostic psychiatrist who specialises in helping people rebel against their parents' expectations without going completely off the rails, and Suncrystal is an accountant. Amazingly enough, they haven't changed their names."

"How come she's paying attention to me?" Quatre whispered, tugging at the denim jacket he was still wearing. "Isn't this working on her?"

"It was, until I asked her to get you food," Haan whispered back, half-smiling. "That made her notice you... and Mary-girl regards everyone who's younger than her and asking for food as a lame duck desperately in need of TLC. She can't ignore you now, no matter what."

"There now, this'll fill you up and put a little more meat on your bones," Mary-girl carolled, carrying two large plates heaped with sandwiches over to them. "Eat up, eat up-- no, don't you even think of pulling out your wallet, Haan! The scales aren't nearly balanced yet, and until they are your money's no good here."

Quatre shot a questioning look at Haan after she left again, and got a mildly embarrassed shrug back. "I've done her a favour or two in the past," he muttered. "She attaches far more importance to them than they deserve."

"I'm glad we stopped here for lunch," Quatre sighed, picking up his first sandwich and examining it. "For once, it's you blushing instead of me!"

He'd been a little worried, after Mary-girl's comments about he and Haan being 'thin' and needing more meat on their bones, but there wasn't anything in the sandwiches to make him concerned for his cholesterol levels. After the first one, he shrugged out of the jacket and left it on the seat next to him; the diner was empty, after all, and it didn't seem to be air-conditioned.

He regretted it five minutes later.

"Shit, what a dump," a loud voice said as three young men pushed the door open and lounged in. "Doesn't even have beer! What the fuck are we stopping here for?"

"Food," the slightly older man following them snapped. "You want to get drunk this early, suit yourself; do it with your own money, and this time take the jacket off before you roll your bike and end up in jail. The Dogs don't need that sort of publicity."

Flushing angry red, the one who'd spoken first spun around to glare, tugging at his jacket. All four men were wearing black leather, with 'DOGS' in large red letters across the back and a line of short silver spikes down the spine. "Right, like you've never run off the road--"

"Sure I have. I got up afterwards and kept going, though, instead of lying in the ditch puking my guts up until the cops--"

"GENTLEMEN!" Mary-girl bellowed in a surprisingly deep voice, cutting them both off. They spun to stare at her, and she smiled sweetly, folding her hands over her ample stomach. "Now, that's much better, isn't it? What would you like to eat? We do free coffee refills for as long as you're here, by the way..."

Her attempt to settle the situation seemed to be working on the two who'd been arguing, but that left the other two free to look around and find trouble.

"Hey, Zac!" one of them called, grinning as he sauntered over to Haan and Quatre's table. "We got ourselves a couple of pretty boys over here!"

Now Mary-girl started to look anxious. "Ohhh, no. You do not want to be doing that, young man."

"Why?" he laughed. "They your pretty boys, fatso?"

Instinctively staying in character, Quatre glared at the biker, hiding his uncertainty behind a cold facade. *Nowwhat?! How should I react to this? If I seem weak, he'll just keep pushing, but if I act too aggressive I think it'll bring the other three into this. I know all the proper responses for a boardroom confrontation, but not a case like this!*

"Fuck off," Haan said flatly, looking up from his sandwich.

Seeing Haan's scars and mismatched eyes for the first time, the biker recoiled slightly; then one of his companions make a slight noise that might have been a snicker, and his expression hardened. "My mistake," he sneered. "We got one pretty boy, and a jerk with girly hair who thinks he's a hard man. What makes you so tough, moron?"

Ignoring him, Haan glanced over at the other biker. "Ridgeback chapter, right?" At the man's nod, he smiled thinly. "Dingo Dan still in charge, or has Mal kicked his way to the top of the heap?"

"Dan," the man answered slowly, eyes narrowing. "Mal had an argument with a semi about six months back. The semi won."

"Really? I always thought he'd get shot. Give Dan a message for me, will you?"

"Depends. What's the message?"

Haan looked back at the biker in front of him, smile widening. "Tell him Lizard says his standards are slipping."

"Lizard?! You--"

"Fuck you, asshole!" the younger biker burst out, hand dipping inside his jacket for a weapon as he leapt at Haan. "You screw with the Dogs and the Dogs screw with-- *hlk!*"

His voice cut off in a strangled gurgle as Haan lunged up out of his chair and grabbed him by the throat, taking the switchblade away from him almost as an afterthought. Quatre scrambled away from the table as the biker crashed down between the plates, knocking the coffee mugs over.

"Hi," Haan said almost conversationally, leaning over the biker as he continued to choke him, one-handed, ignoring his desperate attempts to pry Haan's hand off his throat. "Some of your friends named me Lizard. They really should have told you about me..."

The skin around Haan's left eye-- the green one-- twitched.

Quatre almost vomited as the black emptiness hiding Haan's emotions seemed to crumble, letting him 'feel' the smuggler for the very first time. There was a metallic taste in his mouth, and prey squirming under his hand, and something cold and reptilian fighting its way up from the depths of his mind that wanted to kill every warm-blooded thing in the room...




Chapter 7

Gundam Wing




















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