"Haan?! Haan! Let him go, Haan, you don't want to kill him, not really!"
The worried voice was hardly more than a buzz in Haan's ears, drowned out by his own heartbeat. He bared his teeth in a grin that had absolutely nothing to do with humour, and part of him laughed inside as the rapidly darkening face in the centre of his vision twisted in fear. A different part was screaming for him to stop, to let go, but his eye and arm were throbbing and that always meant it had gone too far... no, it was simpler to just finish it. Finish it and kill the others and deal with the consequences later.
*Mary-girl's here! She'll die too, I can't--*
Different voices, male this time. "Let go of me, fuck you, he's killing Cy!"
"That's Lizard, you idiot, there's no way in hell we can take him!"
His sleeve seemed a little tighter.
*--maybe she'll run -- please let her run -- run now, she won't get far enough away if she doesn't run now--*
A new voice, lighter, on the verge of panic. "What's the matter with him? He-- I can't--"
He knew that voice. *Duo's friend. Quatre. He-- I can't kill him, not Duo's friend-- and if I don't he'll see, he'll tell Duo and-- NO!*
Pressed up against the wall behind his chair, Quatre stared at Haan in horror. *I thought it was bad when I couldn't feel him at all, but this-- is he like this all the time?!*
He could feel two sets of emotions coming from Haan, two completely different sets of emotions that he would have sworn couldn't possibly come from the same person. One was a confused swirl of determination and fear and pain, mixed with a dragging weariness and depression that made him wince, holding on to control with a desperate effort; the other was nothing but bloodlust and hunger, cold and callous, and if he could have pushed his way through the wall to get further away from that feeling he would have done it.
*What's going on?! Is that-- has he got multiple personalities?! One doesn't even feel human--!*
Haan's showed no sign of hearing Mary-girl's voice as he leaned a little closer, eyes flat and dead-looking, and bared his teeth at the biker he had pinned to the table. A thread of dark amusement joined the cold, violent set of emotions, and Quatre found himself remembering the day he'd gone to a zoo with Trowa and seen a saltwater crocodile from Australia's north coast. It had been nearly twenty feet long, lying on the bank of the pond in its enclosure, watching the people who came to gape at it with cold yellow eyes... he'd heard someone laugh, and say 'Look, it's wondering what we'd taste like!'
Beside him, Trowa had shaken his head slightly, green eyes calm as he returned its gaze. 'He doesn't have to wonder what humans taste like,' he'd murmured softly. 'He already knows.'
*I was sure he was right... and I was so glad, then, that I can't feel animals' emotions! If I could, would that crocodile have felt like this?*
Haan's canine teeth were unusually long and sharp. He'd never noticed that before. It seemed appropriate.
"Let go of me, fuck you, he's killing Cy!"
"That's Lizard, you idiot, there's no way in hell we can take him!"
The skin around Haan's left eye was twitching, too, and seemed to be flushing darker, greenish like an old bruise...
*...and does everyone here know more about this than me?! Mary-girl wasn't nervous until the bikers noticed Haan -- she knows him, she must have known this could happen -- and once the bikers heard him say he was 'Lizard', at least two of them recognised him--*
*What the hell is going on?!*
"What's the matter with him?" Quatre burst out, not sure whether he was more afraid of what was happening, or angry that he'd had no warning. Being afraid was making him angrier, in fact. *I really do get short-tempered when I'm this tired, don't I? Better watch that... later.* "He-- I can't--" *--I can't tell what he's going to do, not with what seems like two personalities fighting for control, and how in Allah's name am I supposed to plan for things like this if nobody gives me any facts in advance?!*
*I wish I had my gun. I really wish I had my gun. I'd have to decide who I should shoot, which right now would not be an easy task, but at least I'd have the option of doing something!*
There was a sudden flash of panic through the emotions he was feeling, panic that even seemed to touch the cold killer side--
--and Haan straightened up and threw his arm back, letting go at the last second and sending the biker staggering into the arms of his mates.
"Cy! Cy, man, are you okay? Say something!"
The half-choked man coughed and wheezed for a moment, colour rapidly shading down from an unhealthy purple to a more normal red flush. "...Bastard..." he gasped out eventually, twisting to glare at Haan's unmoving form. "Fucking bastard... *wheeze* ...'ll show him what it means to mess with the Dogs... *cough* Why the hell didn't you assholes do something?!"
"How many times do I have to say it?!" the older biker almost screamed. "He's Lizard!"
"Like I *kah*cough* ...like I believe in that fairy-tale shit!"
"Maybe you'll believe in this," Haan rasped, voice even harsher than normal as he turned smoothly, bringing his left hand up, showing the switchblade knife he'd taken from the biker. He was holding it strangely, fingers laced over the blade so that his middle finger was on top, index and ring fingers underneath, thumb and little finger held clear.
*He's still so close to killing them,* Quatre realised, watching with narrowed eyes as the smuggler cocked his head and smiled thinly, showing no external signs of the emotional struggle Quatre could feel still going on. The cold killer was being slowly forced back 'down', but hadn't given up; Haan's right hand was hanging by his side, half-curled into a claw and twitching slightly, and *it would be so easy, so easy to just reach out and snap there and slash there and--*
Quatre shuddered, mentally flinching away from the murderous thought, trying to block it out. *That-- that was more than just emotions!* he realised, shaken. *And that was closer than I ever want to get to someone else's mind again!*
"Oh, yeah, I *kaff* believe in that knife," Cy was saying, shrugging off his friends' hands and taking up a ready stance, grinning nastily. "I believe in cold steel. Why don't you *kaff* give it back, and we try that little dance again? You won't get me with that trick twice--"
Haan slowly clenched his fist, and the knife snapped.
"I believe," he said into the following silence, "that I can snap you like that. Easier than that. And I'll do it, too, if you don't leave now." The two pieces clattered to the floor as he opened his hand; a few drops of blood followed them, then stopped. "Don't forget to tell Dan I said 'hi'." The smile widened, starting to bare teeth again. "Ask him if his leg still aches when it's going to rain."
"We're going," the oldest biker assured him, grabbing Cy by the back of his collar and hauling him towards the door before he could snap out of his stunned daze and object. The other two followed them out, walking sideways and shooting uncertain glances back at Haan, eyes flicking from the broken knife to his face to his hand and back to the knife. The door banged shut behind them, motorcycle engines revved to life outside, then gravel pattered as at least one of them spun their wheels in their hurry to get away.
"Haan?" Mary-girl said quietly. "You just sit down, okay? No harm done, I'll clean up the mess and get you some more sandwiches, how's that?"
He seemed to crumple, left hand coming up to cover the bruised-looking area around his left eye, right arm going limp. Quatre felt the bloodlust subside, now that its main targets were out of reach, and then he relaxed a little as Haan's emotions vanished from his senses again, swallowed up by the black void as it reappeared.
*I never thought I'd welcome that!*
"...I'm not hungry," Haan replied, voice barely above a whisper, and slumped back into his chair, ignoring the mess of spilt coffee and sandwiches as he rested his head on the table. "Just... leave me alone for a minute, okay? Just a minute..."
"Sure," she said gently, waving Quatre away from the table as she moved to the front door, locking it and turning the old-fashioned hanging sign around to 'CLOSED'. "Nobody's going to bother you, hon. Just let me know when you're feeling a bit better, all right? We'll be in the kitchen."
She started to pull down the blinds, covering the windows and plunging the interior of the café into twilight. "Go on ahead, child, I'll be there in a second," she told Quatre, voice calm but expression serious. One hand pointed to Haan's silent form, came up to cover her mouth, then flicked across to point urgently at the door behind the counter.
*I don't need lessons in sign language to understand her message,* Quatre thought wryly, scooping up the pieces of the knife as he passed, fingers careful to avoid sharp edges and broken points. *'Not a word, and go NOW.' She knows more than me about what's going on, so I'll do as she says, but she'd better be planning on telling me what all that was about!*
* * * * *
*This situation is driving Duo crazy,* Wufei thought, absently stirring the stew he was fixing for lunch. *He's hardly left his room at all today, except to work on his Gundam this morning... No, it's Heero and his paranoia that are driving Duo crazy! Well, since Heero seems determined to go next, that'll get him out of here and give Duo a break...*
*Of course, that would be the ideal situation, for both Duo and myself. Duo would be able to relax a bit without Heero's rude comments and blatant distrust to stress him... and I'd have the chance to spend some time alone with him. Talk to him, see how he feels about me, maybe--*
"Chang, is lunch ready?" Heero's voice startled him, and he dropped the ladle against the side of the pot.
"Yes, if you'd set the table, I'll go get Duo," he replied, stepping away from the stove.
"I'm here," the braided pilot said quietly, stepping into the kitchen, taking three bowls from the cupboard and placing them on the table. Adding glasses, silverware, salt and pepper, he sat down and stared at the bowl in front of him, avoiding any eye contact with either of the other two.
Wufei sighed under his breath, filling the bowls as Heero took a seat, then joined his teammates.
The room was silent except for the slight clinking of spoons against bowls.
*This is not right,* the Chinese teen thought almost angrily. *Duo should be making comments on my cooking... wondering how Quatre is doing... joking about _something_! I thought the situation was driving him crazy, but if this keeps up I may end up killing Yui myself!*
"Chang," Heero said shortly, breaking the silence, "You'll go on the next trip. Then Maxwell will go. I'll stay until the last trip--"
"OH HELL NO!" Duo exclaimed, violently pushing away from the table and jumping to his feet.
"It's the safest and most logical way. If Haan tries anything--
"No fucking way, Yui!" Duo shouted at the Japanese teen. "There is no fucking way I'm staying cooped up in this place with your paranoia and distrust for any longer than I have to!"
"Duo, calm down..." Wufei cut in, standing and reaching for the other pilot's arm. "Let's talk this out--"
"I am sick to death of talking to a stone wall!" Duo ranted on at Heero, oblivious to his Chinese friend's attempt to calm him down. "I am sick of banging my head against said wall, trying to make you understand. I'm sick of the constant bad temper and arguments! I'm sick of your delusional fixation that Haan is out to get us for some evil plot of his own! I'm sick of you treating me like I'm an idiot, whose judgement isn't to be trusted! I am not stupid or gullible or foolish or naive -- if I were, the L2 streets would have killed me long ago--"
Wufei watched, amazed, as Duo's eyes glazed over slightly and his rant cut off. Then the braided teen shook his head and ran out, the back door slamming behind him.
"Well, I'd say that didn't go exactly as you planned, did it?" Wufei said, turning his attention to the other pilot remaining in the room and managing to not laugh out loud. Heero was sitting ramrod straight, a thoroughly pole-axed _expression on his face.
"Chang..." he said finally, "what just happened?"
Wufei snickered. "To use one of Duo's favourite phrases, 'you just screwed the pooch'."
"Stepped on your dick," Wufei continued blithely. "Buggered yourself. That little order of yours -- speaking of which, by the way, what the hell gives you the right to give us orders? -- was the straw that broke the camel's back. Personally, I think Duo's been incredibly patient about this."
"Patient, hell!" Heero almost shouted. "He won't listen to a word I say about Haan--"
"He would if you were making any sense! And you won't listen to him either!"
"While we're on the topic of not making any sense, what caused this sudden switch in your plans?" Wufei went on, not giving Heero a chance to object. "It was 'me first me first' until we shouted you down, then it was 'me next me next' until we shouted you down again... why suddenly switch to 'me last me last'? Just this morning, you were still insisting that the 'safest and most logical way' to proceed would be to let you go ahead of us, presumably so you could discover whatever nefarious deeds Haan is planning and stop him. Justice triumphs and a grateful Duo leaps into your arms, was that the idea?!"
Wufei would have laughed at the shocked expression on Heero's face if he hadn't been getting angry, himself. It had been funny to start with, and in a way it still was, but now that he'd started yelling at the L1 pilot it was incredibly hard to stop.
"I-- uh-- I thought about it some more, and I realised that it made more sense for me to leave last," Heero managed finally, almost stuttering. "The most dangerous time will be--"
"You mean you thought about it some more, and realised that this way you would get to be alone with Duo for several days.
"What?! I-- no! I just--"
"Why else order me to leave next?!" Wufei snarled, leaning forward over the table. "It's Duo you want to protect, isn't it? Why not send him to safety first? Hah? I'll tell you why not! It's because you're not really thinking about safety or tactics right now, you're still thinking with your damn hormones!"
He turned to follow Duo, but stopped at the door.
"You wanted to go next. That's fine by me; you're damn well going on the next trip if I have to shoot you and throw your bleeding corpse into the trailer with Wing. That will get you away from Duo, long enough for him to calm down and, if you have any operational brain cells left, long enough for you to start thinking again. Oh, and--" he paused in the doorway for a second, glaring back over his shoulder-- "If you happen to be considering killing Haan, I'd advise you to reconsider. Think about it. He's our only reliable way out of the OZ cordon. If he's gone, how is Duo going to get out of here?"
The door slammed loudly behind the Chinese pilot as he stormed off.
Heero leaned back in his chair and sighed, staring into his bowl of congealing stew.
**Easy... easy... just breathe...**
"I know," Duo panted, breath hitching as he fought off tears of frustration. "There's just no getting through to him! He is the most stubborn, anal, infuriating, moronic, paranoid, cynical asshole in the universe! How could I have been so stupid as to let him get to me like that? How could I have even considered a relationship with him?!"
**You're outgoing, friendly, always think the best of people, never say die, silver linings, he's damn good looking--**
"Okay, okay. Point made. I am an idiot," Duo replied, sniffing as he got himself under control.
**Not an idiot. I prefer the term optimist.**
The braided teen sank back in his seat in Deathscythe's cockpit and sighed. "Is there really a difference?" he asked.
**Little one, you know that answer. Just because you have faith and hope, and prefer to look on the bright side, does not make you an idiot.* *
"No, but if I am wrong about Haan, just because I'm going on faith and instinct, I'll be worse than an idiot. And I'll prove Heero right."
**Why are you doubting yourself now? Trusting your instincts is what kept you alive for years... at least until I came along. I take credit for everything since then, of course.* *
Duo snorted with laughter. "Smug, much?" Then he sobered. "But what if my instinct is wrong this time? What if Haan is working on some convoluted plot? Though it would have to be something really wild to actually work, maybe bugging us and the Gundams instead of trying to capture us directly or something... I mean, what are the odds?"
There was a long pause before Deathscythe answered Duo's question.
**I shouldn't do this, really, but I can tell you one thing. You are not wrong. Don't ask me why or how, I'm not allowed... I can't tell you. But you're not wrong, Little Death.* *
"'Scythe?" Duo asked, eyes wide. "What do you mean?"
**No more questions. And do not pout at me. It only works when you really mean it. Now, Wufei is outside. You have a few choices. You can stay holed up in here, with me, and ignore him. You can hope he gets into Shenlong and comms us, or you can open the hatch and let him in. Which will it be?* *
Duo popped the hatch and sat on it, lowering the lift wire.
"Hey, 'Fei... care to join me?"
* * * * *
"He should be fine in a little while," Mary-girl said, closing the kitchen door softly behind her. "He... he just gets these spells, sometimes..." Her voice faltered and trailed off as she saw Quatre sitting on one of the stools around the kitchen table, playing idly with the pieces of the knife as he watched her.
"There's no flaw in this blade, and it's good steel," he said flatly, holding the handle up and rubbing a smear of blood away with his thumb. "If I wanted to break it, I'd have to clamp it to something and hit it with a sledgehammer. Not to mention that he was throwing that biker around one-handed, which isn't the simplest thing in the world, plus the sudden personality switch he seemed to pull. That isn't a 'spell'. I'm tempted to call it homicidal mania and hysterical strength."
"He isn't homicidal!" she objected faintly, one hand coming up to her throat as she looked away, refusing to meet Quatre's eyes. "He's... he's a good boy, I'd swear that on a Bible..."
"Do 'good boys' normally try to strangle people in your café?"
She shot him a sharp look, bridling. "Now you watch your tone, young man! I'll admit it's not exactly normal behaviour, I'd be a fool not to. Haan's just... well, he's had a hard life, I think, and he's done enough good that he deserves a lot of leeway."
"Would you mind telling me a bit more about... that?" Quatre asked, gentling his tone and gesturing vaguely towards the door. "I'm sharing a truck with him at the moment, and some friends of mine are going to be travelling with him later, so I'd really like to know if that's likely to happen again!"
"Not unless you're planning to attack him," she sighed, settling onto one of the other stools and folding her hands on the table. "And even then it might not happen. I've never seen him do... that... before, just heard about it. Apparently, he can control it unless he's badly wounded, or under a lot of stress and surprised."
"Those bikers seemed pretty scared of him," he prodded, wincing inwardly. *Under stress? Wonderful. Is smuggling us away from OZ's trap stressing him that much? And why?!*
"Oh, that doesn't surprise me." Unexpectedly, she chuckled, smiling wickedly. "He's got quite a reputation in some circles. You haven't heard about 'Lizard'?" she asked, pointedly eyeing his 'gang member' clothes.
"No." *And I'm not going to explain why I haven't heard something that's apparently common knowledge among the rougher levels of society, thank you.*
"Well." In what seemed to be an almost automatic motion, she reached out to the neatly arranged ingredients lined up on the table and began to assemble a sandwich. "A few years back, before I bought this café and started running it as a truck stop, I had a little sandwich shop in Brentonville. My parents were having some hard times. Moonbeam couldn't help out, she hadn't finished her Masters degree yet and had money troubles of her own, and Suncrystal wasn't speaking to them -- still isn't, come to think of it, which is a pity -- so the money I could spare to send them was about all the money they had to live on. Even Wiccan communes have expenses, you see," she added dryly, "especially when they were planned and started by people who intended to live on what they grew but had absolutely no idea of how to go about it."
"Definitely 'oops'," she chuckled, then sobered. "My shop was doing all right; not great, but all right. I had some regular customers, and enough drop-in traffic so that I could pay the rent, support myself, and help my parents. I wasn't saving any money, which worried me a bit, but I was getting by... until the local mafia imitators decided I was doing well enough to be added to their protection racket. They had a frighteningly good idea of what sort of turnover I was getting, cash flow and so on, and had calculated quite nicely how much money I could, supposedly, spare from my own needs. Of course, they weren't taking into account the money I was sending away."
Stretching one arm behind her without looking, Mary-girl took a plate from a stack on the bench, slid the sandwich onto it, and passed it to Quatre. "There, get yourself outside of that; you didn't have nearly enough to eat before things got messy. Mugs are on that shelf and the coffee makers are on the bench behind you; the one on the left is decaffeinated." Beginning on a new sandwich, she waited until he was seated again before continuing.
"I had a choice; I could pay the gang and stop supporting my parents, pay the gang and stop eating, or not pay the gang and have something unpleasant happen to either me or the shop. A couple of the local police were involved, and doing a good job of making sure that complaints never got anywhere, but all the local shopkeepers knew what was up; I'd thought I was small enough to be left alone. Well..." She chuckled wryly. "I don't look like I gave up eating, do I? And I wouldn't abandon my parents.
"Things got a bit ugly. They started small, with a couple of smashed windows and some threatening phone calls. People were advising me to give in before things got worse, or sell out and leave. Then, one day, Haan walked in and ordered a sandwich."
Her hands slowed, settling the last few slices of meat and tomato onto her sandwich, and she blinked. "He looked exactly the way he does now," she murmured, gazing into nothing as she remembered. "Same hair, same eyes, same scars, same way of dressing right down to the loose high collars and wrappings over his hands... he hasn't changed a bit."
"Same voice?" Quatre asked, remembering what Trowa had said about the scar across Haan's throat looking relatively fresh.
"Oh, my, yes, like he'd been drinking neat whisky and eating broken glass for years," she chuckled, shaking herself out of the memory and plonking the top slice of bread on the sandwich with a decisive motion. "It's a bit of a shock when you first hear it, isn't it? Sounds like it should be coming from someone about a foot taller and three times his weight, with a broken nose, scarred knuckles, and a name like 'Tony the Knife'."
Quatre nearly spat out his coffee, sputtering with laughter as he wiped at his chin. "I was thinking he sounded like a jazz singer after a few too many late nights in smoky clubs, but I can see your point!"
"Well, perhaps I was influenced by the circumstances I first met him in," she laughed, passing him a paper napkin. "After all, I was expecting that sooner or later a gang tough or two would walk in and up the pressure, and here was this young man who looked like _some_ sort of tough; of course I thought 'gang', and that was the image I came up with. Still, he ordered politely and didn't immediately start breaking my tables, so I got him his lunch and just kept an eye on him."
"And that was when the real gang toughs walked in and started breaking tables?" Quatre guessed.
"You're so sharp you're going to cut yourself one of these days," Mary-girl told him. "Except that they weren't breaking tables so much as overturning them and scaring my customers, while yelling a remarkable number of suggestions concerning what they'd do to me, personally, if I didn't come up with their money. They were shouting, some of my customers were screaming, I'd lost my temper and was shouting back... and Haan told them to shut up, because he was enjoying his lunch and all the noise was annoying him."
"I'm sure they took that well."
"They turned his table over next," she said dryly. "It didn't have quite the effect they wanted; he scooped up his plate and mug and slid out of the way just as they did it, so all they achieved was a bit of noise. He carried his food over to the counter, dodged three attempts to trip or hit him on the way without losing a crumb, handed it to me to look after, and proceeded to wipe the floor with the pair of them. Literally -- he knocked one of them face-down in a puddle of spilt milk, grabbed the back of his collar and waistband, and smeared him around in it a few times."
Quatre choked again, on the sandwich this time. "You're joking... no, you're not, are you?"
"It's the plain truth." Her expression was solemn enough, but there was an amused sparkle in her eyes for a moment. "After he kicked them out and the place had been straightened up a little, he asked what was going on, and my regulars were only too glad to fill him in. He looked surprised for a moment, then a little angry, I think, but he didn't do or say anything... then. A couple of days later, though..."
She pushed away from the table, moving to get herself a mug of coffee. "A couple of days later," she continued, back to Quatre as she stirred, "the story went around that somebody who matched Haan's description had walked into the gang leader's house as if he owned the place and told him the racket was going to stop, 'or else'. The 'or else' turned out to be that he got shot, and his body was disposed of... wherever and however the gang did things like that. They were bragging about it. And less than a week after that..." She took a deep breath. "...Half a dozen gang members and one of the police officers in their pay were dead, most of the others were in jail or had left town in a hurry, and Haan was back in my shop eating lunch and answering no questions."
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