Author: Mel
Principal Beta Reader and Suggester of Cool Lines: Christy
Pairings: 3x4, more later.
Warnings: Yaoi, language, AU, magic.
Disclaimer: Gundam Wing, Sazan Aisu and the Mermaid Saga are not mine, no matter what I like to pretend. And I borrowed the name of Haan's truck from a short-lived character in Inuyasha.

Alarums and Excursions + Part 3

Three days later, an immense truck drove slowly along a narrow dirt road, coming to a stop in the shadow of a taller-than-normal stand of trees. Haan pushed the driver's side door open, took one last look at a display on the dashboard, and dropped easily to the ground, flicking his hair back and adjusting his headwrap as he did so.

"That's the all-clear signal," Quatre observed quietly, hidden some way back in the trees. "How about our end of the road?"

< < Sensors say it's clear, > > Trowa's voice came from the small comlink in his hand.

"Let's get started, then."

Haan looked up and smiled as Quatre stood and walked forwards, waving to call the other pilots out of their camouflage. "Good to see you again," he murmured. "Everything seems peaceful in this area, so we shouldn't have any surprises while we load. Who's going first?"

"Trowa and Heavyarms," Quatre told him, carefully not wincing at the memory of the arguments they'd had with Heero before the Japanese pilot had finally agreed to let someone else take the risky first trip. "It's marginally bulkier than the other Gundams, so if we're going to have problems fitting them in we'll find out right away."

"Oi, Haan, nice truck!" Duo called from the other side of the road, jogging down a slight slope ahead of Wufei. "Is that Chinese?"

"Japanese," Wufei corrected him before Haan could reply. "The characters are slightly different."

Haan nodded, grin widening. "Meet my truck, Ryuukossei," he said, gesturing towards it. "'Dragon-bone-spirit'."

A silver oriental dragon with blood-red eyes was painted down both sides of the huge cargo trailer, frozen in the act of snarling and rearing up to strike. The angle of the head and claws made it seem as if it was targeting a spot just ahead of the seriously chromed radiator, and something, presumably the truck's name, was painted in kanji across the cabin doors.

"It's a magnificent piece of work," Wufei said slowly, "but I certainly didn't expect a smuggler's truck to be so... ah..."

"Memorable?" Haan raised an eyebrow at him. "That's the point. If I'm driving something this flashy, I must be legitimate. Besides, I can change it in a hurry if I need to. I don't expect that; I've got a short-term contract for half a dozen trips to explain why I'll be going in and out of OZ's perimeter, so I want them to get used to seeing the same truck."

Branches creaked and shed leaves as Heavyarms pushed through them and stepped onto the road, followed by Wing. < < Let's get this over with and get back under cover, > > Heero snapped through Wing's speakers. < < It would only take one OZ plane flying over to blow this wide open. > >

"Stating the bleeding obvious, Heero," Duo muttered, rolling his eyes. "Need a hand, Haan?"

"Not really," Haan shrugged, strolling towards the truck's rear. "Come watch if you want."

"Why not? I might see something I can use!"

The other teen snickered, swinging the trailer doors open and pushing one around to latch it back against the side panel. "I doubt it, but you're welcome to try."

Duo leaned into the cargo compartment and squinted around the cavernous interior, estimating measurements, and grimaced uncertainly. "I dunno if this is going to work. I mean, it looks big enough to hold a Gundam, but it's still gotta get in there, you know? Even if Trowa manages to crawl Heavyarms in, he's gotta end up with the Gundam on its back or he won't be able to get out."

"Not a problem." Haan latched the second door back and quickly checked to see where everyone was standing. "All clear... Ryuukossei! Open up!"

The huge truck shivered slightly as a series of latches clicked open, and then the walls of the trailer slowly leaned outwards. The two halves of the roof folded down against them as they settled slowly to the ground, and the faint sound of hidden motors stopped.

"...Haan?"

"Hm?"

"I think I'll stop having last-minute doubts now," Duo grinned.

Haan snorted and waved towards Heavyarms. "Hop on," he called. "Just shift the weight slowly so the suspension can adjust."

----------

Less than ten minutes later, Heavyarms was properly positioned and secured, and the trailer was quietly closing up around it. Haan waited until the latches in the various seams had all closed, then swung the doors shut but didn't lock them. One hand still resting on the warm metal, he glanced up at Wing.

"Getting a good sensor picture?"

< < I can see Heavyarms in there just fine, if that's what you mean, > > Heero replied shortly.

"Keep watching." Making a fist, Haan banged twice on the door and raised his voice. "Ryuukossei! Switch to the manifest load!" Suspension groaned as the trailer abruptly rose five inches, as if the load had lightened, and a startled noise came out of Wing's external speakers.

"Now what do you see?" Haan asked, poker-faced.

< < Fragile-item shipping containers, > > Heero replied slowly. < < With ceramics in them. > >

"Imitation Ming vases and small statuettes, according to my load manifest," Haan informed him, now visibly suppressing a smirk.

"And if someone looks in the back door?" Wufei asked, managing to sound matter-of-fact.

Wordlessly, Haan pushed one of the doors open, revealing... stacks of bulky plastic containers, liberally plastered with 'FRAGILE' stickers, strapped securely to either side of the trailer with a walkway left clear down the middle.

"I think it'll pass a visual inspection," Trowa said calmly.

"How are you doing that?" Quatre asked wonderingly, stepping slowly to one side and confirming that yes, his perspective did shift. "Holograms? Nobody's been able to make a stable projected hologram bigger than a six-inch cube..."

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Haan grinned, swinging the door shut again, "and you couldn't pay me enough to tell you, anyway."

"If you ever do decide to sell the idea," the Winner heir told him seriously, "I'd appreciate it if you'd consider talking to me first. Even if you can only project still 3-D pictures, this has the potential to make you a lot of money."

"But then you wouldn't be able to use it to piss OZ off, right?" Duo asked, shaking off the effects of seeing boxes and empty space where large chunks of Gundanium should have been.

"And I already have a lot of money," Haan agreed, snapping a locking bar over the latch. "Shall we get going?"

Trowa nodded, swinging a small backpack over his shoulder, and bent to kiss Quatre. "See you," he muttered, nodding to Duo and Wufei, then waved briefly up at Wing before walking off towards the truck cabin.

* * * * *

"How attached are you to that hair?" Haan asked abruptly after a couple of hours of driving.

Trowa blinked, startled out of his thoughts by the unexpected question. Haan hadn't spoken since they set off, except to point out the rack of CDs, and Trowa had been quite comfortable in the silence, falling into a quiet reverie.

"...What do you mean?"

"I mean, can I cut it?" Haan glanced across for a moment, frowning. "It's the first thing people recognise you by."

"I suppose so." Trowa pulled at his fringe and squinted at it, going slightly cross-eyed. He felt a little uncomfortable at the idea of losing the smooth fall of hair, but suppressed it. If it's a choice between cutting my hair and getting caught, I'll cut my hair. Quatre teases me sometimes about hiding behind it... I suppose I do. Well, it'll grow again.

"How are you planning to disguise the others?" he asked curiously.

"I'm not planning to cut Duo's hair," Haan said dryly. "I've got a few ideas for him, but nothing solid yet. I might dye Quatre's. Wufei..." He shrugged. "I'll see what he looks like without the ponytail."

"What about Heero?"

Haan snickered, grinning nastily. "I'm tempted to give him a buzz cut. I know where I can get clippers."

"I'll sign your casts when you get out of hospital."

In the end, Haan didn't shorten Trowa's bangs very much; he just trimmed them enough so that they didn't make a cowlick on the back of Trowa's head when he slicked his hair back with gel. He produced new clothes, too, scruffy jeans and t-shirt, with a bulky down jacket that made Trowa look much more heavily built than he really was.

"Try not to look as if you're scared they'll fall off," Haan advised, nodding towards Trowa's hips. The European pilot blushed and stopped hitching up the baggy jeans.

"I'm not used to wearing clothes this loose," he admitted. Except in the circus ring!

"The waistband isn't loose, and that's all that matters. See?" To prove it, Haan grabbed the front pockets and yanked downwards. The jeans didn't come off, much to Trowa's relief. "We're going the long way across OZ's search zone, so you've got twenty-four hours to get used to it."

"Why can't I just ride in the cargo space? If you can fool the OZ sensors that well, why risk having someone recognise me?"

"It wouldn't work," Haan said flatly. "It doesn't work on living things." Trowa raised a mildly sceptical eyebrow, and Haan's mouth twisted into a humourless smile. "Well, it would work up to a point. The sensors wouldn't see you... but anything more advanced than a plant that spends more than a couple of minutes in there," he jerked his thumb towards the trailer, "while my 'trick' is operating, ends up either dead or insane. I contracted to deliver Gundam pilots, not walking vegetables or slabs of 'the other white meat'."

About to say more, Haan suddenly choked and doubled over, coughing violently. He clamped one hand over his mouth, supporting himself with the other hand on his knees, and managed to suppress the coughing fit, but stayed bent over for a long moment, breathing hard. When he took his hand away from his mouth, Trowa saw blood.

"That anything I need to know about?" he asked quietly, not reaching out to Haan but ready to move if he needed support.

"Talking too much," Haan rasped, and muffled another cough. Slowly straightening up, he grimaced and wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand.

Trowa could think of several things that would make somebody cough up blood. Most were at least potentially fatal, and an uncomfortably large number were infectious. "What is it?" Tuberculosis? Ravenna's Disease? Maybe he's not interested in making money because he knows he won't live long enough to spend it..."I'd like to know if I have to worry about you dropping dead, you see," he added in a bland voice when it didn't look like Haan was going to answer right away.

----------

I'm not dead yet! I'm getting better! Haan thought, suppressing a slightly hysterical laugh that would only hurt like hell and give Trowa entirely the wrong idea. I feel happy! Squashing the urge to keep quoting Monty Python to himself-- And how long is it since I've thought of that scene without wanting to get drunk? --he tugged the collar of his turtleneck down with his clean hand, displaying the ugly ridged scar running across his throat and down onto his shoulder.

"Nasty," Trowa observed dispassionately, reaching out to pull the cloth lower. "Looks like somebody tried to kill you."

"You could say that," Haan whispered hoarsely. Or you could say that he was trying to find out if something would kill him, and needed a guinea pig, but I don't feel like getting into a full explanation.

"Scar tissue on your vocal cords, too?"

Haan nodded, pulling away and readjusting his collar. "I normally go months without an episode," he whispered. "Duo's a bad influence."

A faint smile tugged at the corners of Trowa's mouth. "He is very good at getting quiet people out of their shells," he murmured. "Do you need to see somebody about it?"

"Years old. Not gonna get better."

----------

That explains his voice, Trowa mused, walking back to the truck and resisting the urge to hitch up his jeans again, and why he stopped talking so suddenly when we started driving. His throat must have started hurting. Or started hurting more...

That scar didn't look years old. It looked a couple of months old at most, still red and tender... but why would he lie about it?

* * * * *

[cont]