Alarums and Excursions + Part 4 (cont)


Ten minutes later...

"The first three Star Wars movies are the only ones worth watching."

"The first three in the timeline, or the first three made?"

"First ones made. They went downhill from there."

"Mmm... you have a point. What about the fourth one, though?"

"*snort* Be serious! Queen Amidala, prisoner of her own hairstyle."

"True. And then there was... what's his name? The annoying alien."

"Jar Jar Binks. Ugh."

"Duo calls him 'Dur Dur'."

"*snicker* I knew he had good taste."

* * * * *

Duo and Quatre were sprawled on the lawn again, watching puffy white clouds drift across the sky, when Wufei leaned out the front door and called to them.

"Duo? Quatre? Trowa's on the com."

Quatre rolled to his feet faster than even Heero could have managed on a good day and bolted for the house, leaving Duo scrambling in his wake. "Secure or normal com?" he snapped as he barrelled past Wufei.

"Secure!" Wufei shouted down the hall after him, then leaned against the wall, chuckling. Duo jogged up the steps and stopped next to him, resting one arm on his shoulder as he shook his head incredulously.

"Ya know, Wufei, I honestly think Q-man would've left a cloud of black smoke behind him if he'd been wearing rubber-soled shoes," he said in awed tones. "Who knew he could hit mach five from a standing start like that?"

"Lying-down start, you mean," Wufei corrected him, still chuckling. "He had motivation, after all. Shall we dawdle slightly on our way in, and give him a little time to talk to Trowa alone?"

"Sounds good to me," Duo nodded, then shoved his hands into his pockets and began to mosey down the hall at a snail's pace. "Did Tro say anything other than 'hi' before you came to get us? Was Haan there?"

"Trowa's calling from Heavyarms," the Chinese pilot informed him, matching his casual pace. "He said that Haan dropped him off, and will be starting back here for his next pickup once he's made his cover delivery."

"Well, that just about proves that Haan's got accomplices," Duo pointed out. "Since he doesn't have anything else to deliver, either he's got to get somebody to sign off on a nonexistent delivery, or he's got to pick up something matching his manifest to take to the warehouse."

"Which pushes him further into negative returns on this job," Wufei said thoughtfully, "unless they're working for nothing because they hate OZ too."

"Yeah," Duo said, voice suddenly flat as he stopped dead in the middle of the hall. "Look... Wufei... what do you think of him?" he said in a rush, running his hand nervously through his bangs. "You think we can trust him?"

"You're asking me? You've been his steadfast defender all along, Duo! What's happened to make you doubt him?" Wufei asked, startled.

"I don't! Not really," Duo insisted, glancing towards the doors at the end of the hall and keeping his voice down. "It's just that, well, normally we all think pretty much alike, right? If you make allowances for Heero's institutional paranoia and Quatre's occasional Pollyanna moment, we're usually on the same wavelength. If one of us trusts someone, then given the same evidence, the rest of us will trust that person too. And we're usually right! I rely on everyone's judgement the way I rely on my own. But this time..."

"This time, Heero's opinion is so different from yours that it's making you wonder who's wrong?" Wufei asked quietly.

"It wouldn't be so bad if it was just Heero," Duo sighed, but Quatre's got kind of twitchy about Haan, too, and--"

"Really? He didn't say anything," Wufei interrupted, frowning.

"I think he didn't want to 'cause it's an empathy thing, and you know how Heero is about that," Duo snorted. "He doesn't get anything wrong from Haan, but he doesn't get anything else, either, and that makes him nervous. The thing is, when we were talking about it last night, he said something that got me wondering... Sure, Haan saved my butt four months ago," he said unhappily, "but I don't really know anything else about him. What if I am wrong to trust him without reservations?"

"I rely on everyone else's judgement, too, and I trust your instincts a lot further than I trust Heero's paranoia," Wufei scowled. "Besides, Howard trusts him too, remember? Don't start doubting yourself, Duo; you've got no reason to. Heero has his own reasons for disliking Haan, and he's allowing them to affect his judgement."

"Yeah... the whole stupid kiss thing," Duo sighed, looking a little happier. "Beats me why it bothers him so much, though. I mean, I kissed Quatre once as a joke, and Heero just called me an idiot!"

Wufei coughed uncomfortably, a faint flush creeping over his cheekbones. "Er... call it a personality conflict," he suggested, tugging nervously at his short ponytail. "In any case, I think the strongest proof of Haan's trustworthiness is the fact that nothing untoward happened when he picked Trowa up. He knew we'd all be there, with only two Gundams present to reduce the risk of being picked up by OZ, and although it was a good spot for security and privacy it was also a good spot for an ambush. It was his best chance to catch us all in one swoop, if that was his intent."

"True!" Duo said cheerfully, perking up and starting to walk down the hall again.

"Of course, this won't stop Heero from insisting that he might just be lulling us into a false sense of security," Wufei added dryly, falling into step beside him.

"Yeah, well, now that I'm back to my normal stellar levels of self- confidence, Heero can kiss my ass," Duo said belligerently, chuckling as Wufei choked and coughed violently. "Thanks, Wu-man!" he added brightly, bouncing ahead. "I needed to hear that."

"Any time, Duo," Wufei sighed, barely above a whisper. "Any time."

"...good to hear," Quatre was saying as they walked into the room, looking genuinely happy for the first time since Trowa left. "Did you have any problems going through the checkpoint?"

< < ...Not really, > > Trowa said slowly, and Heero looked up from where he was leaning against the wall.

"What happened?"

< < Haan doesn't just play with holograms. > > Trowa looked past Quatre out of the screen, raising an eyebrow. < < Is Duo there? He's going to love this. > >

One explanation later...

"Ya know, it would be sooooo useful if we could just get hold of a few of those jackets," Duo mused, hanging over Quatre's shoulder with an avaricious glitter in his eyes. "D'you think he'd sell us one or two? Or five?"

< < The impression I get is 'no', > > Trowa said dryly. < < We've survived without anything like them before, Duo; I think we'll keep managing without them in the future. > >

"How does he do it? Sonics?" Duo asked. "Some ultra-low frequencies make people uneasy. Maybe he's hit on a different frequency that makes people bored!"

< < I have no idea, > > Trowa admitted. < < I don't think sonics would be specific enough, though... or at least, I can't think of a way to focus them tightly enough to prevent people around you from being disinterested in everything. I was planning to take the jacket apart, but I didn't get a chance to, and I didn't exactly have access to Heavyarms's sensors at the time. > >

"If he's got this sort of capability," Heero said grimly, "I for one find it suspicious that we've never heard of him before."

The other four pilots hid their collective wince with varying degrees of success; then, Duo slowly straightened up and sighed theatrically, turning to face him. "Gee, Heero, and here I was just thinking that maybe we've never heard of him before because he's got all these cool widgets to keep himself out of trouble. Or maybe it's got something to do with the fact that we're all colony brats and he operates on Earth! But no, Mister Yui, He Who Suspects Absolutely Everything has spoken, so of course the real reason we never heard of Haan before I met him is because he was lying in wait, lurking around random bars waiting for a Gundam pilot to fall into his clutches, get rescued from the stereotypical Minions Of Evil, and trust him! This, of course, was only the first step in his Byzantine master plan," he continued, voice rising as Heero tried to interrupt the flood of increasingly angry words. "You know, the one where he gets us all to trust him and then hands us over to Lady Une's tender mercies. We're talking really Byzantine here, 'cause only a dedicated conspiracy theorist would believe that somebody would actually try something this complicated and chancy -- especially since, hey, would you believe it, Haan actually had a perfect opportunity to spring his hypothetical trap yesterday, and nothing happened! I guess he musta forgot, huh, Heero?!"

"It's classic deception tactics to pass up an early opportunity in order to set your enemy up for a later attack," Heero said stiffly, fists clenched.

"Ten points to Chang for predicting that line," Duo said sourly, throwing up his hands. "Not that it was hard to see coming, or anything! Shit, Heero, get the stick out of your damn ass and just admit that you don't have a single solitary concrete reason for distrusting Haan! And do it quick, all right, 'cause it's making you act like a total jerk and I'm getting sick of it. Grow a brain cell and get over this, or I'm gonna give up talking to you until you can hold a rational conversation again."

* * * * *

"Thanks for the help getting it all unloaded," the warehouse supervisor said gratefully, shaking Haan's hand. "As shorthanded as we are, I honestly didn't think we were going to get all the containers in before the local delivery vans arrived to start taking the orders out, much less get them unpacked in time!"

"No problem," Haan told him, patting him on the shoulder and then swinging up into Ryuukossei's cabin. "Got my own schedule to keep, after all."

"Well, it's appreciated. Come by the next time you're in the area, and I'll buy you a drink, okay?"

"Deal," Haan smiled, and started the engine.

There was a quiet sound underlying the usual engine noises as he drove away, a low, intermittent rumble, and Haan's smile widened as he recognised it. "Happy?" he murmured softly, patting the console in front of him, and the purring rumble got louder.

=alone. good.=

"You don't like carrying passengers?"

=not talk to me.= The mental 'voice' conveyed images and feelings more than words, and there was a definite pout in it.

"Well, I can't when humans are around. You know that."

=then not carry passengers,= Ryuukossei said bluntly.

Haan sighed. "Just four more times, I promise, then it'll be just us again. Okay?" last one?=

"How do you mean?"

=other four have big metal to hide too?= the truck asked plaintively. "Yes," Haan said cautiously, hoping that Ryuukossei hadn't abruptly decided it didn't like the spell that had kept Heavyarms hidden. The truck -- or rather, the spirit that was currently being a truck -- had taken a sudden dislike to one of Haan's security wards about two years earlier, saying it 'itched', and he'd had to stop using it.

=okay then.=

"Why does that make it okay?" he asked, startled.

=nearly awake. maybe others awake, talk to me.=

Haan blinked a few times, absorbing that bit of information, then shrugged. It's almost unheard-of for an object spirit to develop in something that's less than fifty years old, and so far as I know the Gundams haven't even been around for one... but they are the focus of the hopes and fears of billions of people. I suppose that could accelerate the process...

So could spending a couple of days inside another object spirit.

Haan snorted as a possibility occurred to him. I wonder how the pilots would react if their Gundams suddenly started talking back to them? Not that it's likely, even if the spirits do wake fully, but it's an amusing idea.

"How close to awake was the Gundam?" he asked curiously.


"The big metal," he explained patiently.

As he drove on, a good percentage of Haan's attention was occupied with imagining the look on Heero's face if Wing ever told him to soak his head.


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