Author: Mel
Principal Beta Reader, Suggester of Cool Lines and Duo-chaneller: Christy
Pairings: 3x4, and more to come.
Warnings: Yaoi, language, crossover, AU, magic.
Disclaimer: I own nothing; I'm just playing with all these fun toys.

Alarums and Excursions + Part 5

Once again, Haan was picking up a Gundam and pilot; this time, though, his answers to Duo's cheerful banter were slightly distracted. More than half his attention was on Sandrock (currently being loaded onto Ryuukossei) and Wing (standing guard), trying to sense whether or not they were 'inhabited' by more than just their pilots.

I'm pretty sure there's nothing spiritual happening to Wing, he mused, regretfully discarding his private daydream of a self-aware Gundam someday telling Heero what he could do with his paranoia. It's not surprising, I guess... Heero may spend a lot of time working with it, but I'm sure he's never personified it in his own mind, and without that stimulus the creation of an object spirit is nearly impossible. Sandrock, though...

Straightening up after tightening a restraining strap around Sandrock's legs, Haan laid one hand on the sun-warmed metal and concentrated, closing his eyes. There was a faint flicker of something, just at the edge of his awareness, but he couldn't tell if it was what he was looking for. It could just be the fact that Quatre obviously loves his Gundam; I could be picking up on the echo of his feelings, imprinted into the metal. Or it could be a spirit that's just on the point of coming into existence; if that's it, though, it's a spirit that has absolutely no interest in communicating with me--

"You okay?"

The faint sense of 'something there' vanished as Haan opened his eyes and found himself looking straight at Duo's concerned face. "Uh... yes. I'm fine."

"You sure? You looked kinda spacey for a moment there."

"Just thinking about something," Haan said dismissively, stepping over the end of the restraining strap and bending to tighten the next one. I'm not going to be able to work out if that really is a spirit without setting up a full-scale focus circle around Sandrock, and somehow I think that would be a little more difficult to explain away than 'looking spacey'. It's not that important.

Besides, I can always ask Ryuukossei later.

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"Will you be all right travelling with Haan?" Wufei asked quietly, helping Quatre strap down one of Sandrock's arms.

"Yes, of course," the blond pilot said, just a fraction too quickly. "Why wouldn't I?"

"Duo... mentioned that you can't 'feel' him, and that makes you uncomfortable." Wufei shot an unreadable glance at Quatre, then bent to pick up the next strap.

Damn. Quatre could feel a blush heating up his cheeks, and knew his voice sounded a little strained as he answered. "I'll be alone with him for less than two days. I can manage." He hesitated for a moment, then swallowed and went on. "I realise it sounds irrational, but--"

"I don't think it's irrational," Wufei cut him off, voice still low. "I'm willing to accept that you can sense things I can't. One of my cousins can hear higher pitches than I can, right up to bats' sonar; I'm not going to call him irrational, just because I can't confirm those sounds exist with my own senses."

"...There's a slightly larger degree of difference in my case," Quatre pointed out wryly. "You can at least sense some sounds, so it's easy to accept that the others are real."

Wufei chuckled. "True. True. But I believe in radio waves, too, and I can't sense them at all... and yes, I know that's not a very good analogy either, because I can see their effects on my instruments. Every time you've had a 'feeling' strong enough to risk telling the rest of us about it, though, you've been right. I believe in things that give demonstrable results. Besides..."

"Besides, what?" Quatre asked, when it was clear that Wufei wasn't going to continue.

"Besides," Wufei said, a little reluctantly, "my clan has a history of... ah... dealings with things that could be termed 'supernatural'. I was raised to believe that there are more things in this world than can be explained scientifically. I was also raised to be sceptical until hoaxes and conventional causes have been ruled out, of course," he added dryly, "but I don't think you're trying to swindle me out of my life savings by pretending to pass on messages from my ancestors, so..."

"So you're not going to tell me that I'm either delusional or hysterical?" Quatre said, a little more bitterly than he'd meant to.

"Exactly. To misquote Shakespeare, 'there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Heero's philosophy'. He doesn't even believe in chi energy, so-- hm." Eyeing Quatre, Wufei decided there wasn't any point in continuing, since the Arab pilot probably wasn't going to stop laughing any time soon, and moved on to fasten the next strap with a smile on his face.

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"What's the fake load this time?" Duo asked cheerfully, standing next to Haan as they watched the walls of Ryuukossei's cargo compartment fold up around Sandrock.

"A different batch of reproduction Ming vases and statuettes," Haan told him, glancing sideways at Quatre and Wufei as he swung the doors closed. "Bigger ones. --Ryuukossei! Manifest load!"

Following Haan's look towards the other pilots, Duo grinned. "C'mon guys, tell me what's so funny!"

Quatre snickered quietly, and Wufei's serene smile widened a fraction, but they didn't answer.

"Sheesh... they've been chortling to themselves for the last five minutes, and they still won't explain," Duo grumbled half- heartedly. "Oi! Heero! Scanning OK?"

< < Fine, > > Heero snapped. < < Now let's clear the area before an OZ patrol turns up. > > Without another word, he turned Wing around and walked off into the forest, vanishing from sight.

"'Goodbye, Quatre'," Duo sing-songed under his breath, glaring after the departing Gundam. "'Have a nice trip. Say hi to Trowa. Good luck going through OZ's perimeter.' Would it really have been so hard for him to say something like that?"

"Apparently," Quatre sighed, reaching out to stop Haan as he began to lock the doors. "May I have a look before we go?"

Haan swung the doors open again, and Quatre peered in with an almost awed statement. "That's still amazing," he murmured, looking at the ranks of plastic shipping containers strapped to the walls of the cargo compartment. "I know it's there, but I can't even see the boundary where the false image ends and reality begins."

"Talk about attention to detail," Duo said, looking over Quatre's shoulder. "There's dusty footprints on the floor, and you've even got a 'loose strap' on one of the containers!"

"Don't try to tighten it," Haan advised, beginning to close the doors once more.

"No, Trowa told us what you said about it not being safe in there while your anti-scanner whateveritis is running," Quatre assured him, stepping back. "Besides, I'd feel rather silly trying to tighten a strap that isn't actually there!"

"Just hope that no OZ jerk tries it," Duo snorted, scooping up Quatre's bag in one hand and throwing the other arm around his shoulder. "Not that anyone would notice if some more of them went insane... Hey, maybe if we got Psycho Bitch Une to search Haan's truck in person she'd turn normal!" Laughing, he towed Quatre off towards Ryuukossei's cabin, and Wufei rolled his eyes and followed.

"I don't think so," Haan muttered under his breath, watching them go. "Catatonic maybe, but not normal..." The instant all of the pilots were out of sight around the corner of the trailer, he leaned in, grabbed the loose strap and yanked it tight, slapping the fastener to make sure it was secure.

That could have been a problem, he thought grimly, straightening up and locking the doors behind him. Quatre might find the idea of a perfect hologram a little harder to accept if the 'illusionary' packing crates came loose and started sliding around, complete with loud smashing noises from the 'fake' pottery inside!

"Need a hand with anything?" Duo asked, poking his head back around the corner. "Locking up? Polishing the headlights? Test-wearing one of those cool jackets you probably weren't planning on telling us about?"

"I take it that Trowa didn't stop after filling you in on my 'trick's' side effects?" Haan said, calm face showing no sign of how glad he was that Duo hadn't come back a few seconds earlier.

"Yeah, well, a Jedi Jacket is way too cool to be kept a secret from your friends," Duo said mock-reproachfully, falling into step beside Haan as they walked. "I don't suppose you make bigger sizes? Like, XXXXXXXXXXXXXX-L sized?"

Haan just looked at him with an eyebrow raised, and Duo grinned sheepishly. "Thought not... but it was worth asking."

"Yes, Duo, I could make one big enough for Deathscythe to wear," Haan said dryly, "but it wouldn't work. A Gundam, no matter where it is or what it's doing, is even more suspicious-looking than you would be if you were caught in the middle of a secret OZ base, grinning insanely, dripping explosives and fumbling with a timer, while wearing a pink tutu and a T-shirt that said 'BOOM'. Even I can only do so much."

* * * * *

"Something wrong?" Haan asked abruptly, half an hour down the road from where he'd picked Quatre and Sandrock up.

"Uh, ah, no," Quatre stuttered, startled. "Um, I guess... I'm just a little tense."

"I noticed. Anything I can do something about?"

"I don't think so."

Haan shrugged. "If that changes, let me know. In the meantime, try not to look like you want to jump out and run for it," he added, softening the instruction with a half-smile.

Quatre managed a weak grin, sitting back and trying to make himself relax. Spending time alone with Haan was turning out to be harder than he had thought...

I never realised how much I depended on my empathy, he thought miserably, until now. I've finally met somebody it won't work on, and it feels horrible!

Haan was a living, breathing presence next to him, able to be seen and heard and even smelled, a faint musky scent that seemed to come from his hair and clothes. Quatre could feel the seat shift under him as Haan moved, knew that if he reached out he'd feel warm cloth and skin... and as far as his sixth sense was concerned, there was nobody there. He'd learned very quickly that it was best to sit so that he could always see Haan out of the corner of his eye, since if he didn't he had to fight down the urge to lunge across and grab the wheel because it felt like nobody was driving.

It didn't help that he hadn't slept well since Trowa left, either. He'd thought that his anxiety dreams would stop once Trowa contacted them to say that he got out safely, and the call had made him feel a little better... but then there had been Duo's argument with Heero over Wing's pilot still being suspicious of Haan, and Duo and Quatre's argument with Heero over whether he or Quatre should go next, and everybody's argument with Heero over whether they should work together or separately after they made it out of OZ's search zone. It had been a pleasant surprise to have both Trowa (via the comm) and Wufei taking their side against Heero, but it still had been very stressful. Instead of dreaming about his lover walking into danger with a drifting black blob next to him, Quatre had spent the night dreaming about watching himself walking into OZ ambushes while the colour leached out of the world around him.

"You mind having some semi-permanent dye in your hair?" Blinking, Quatre looked over at Haan. "Um, no. No, that would be fine."

"Good. It'll wear off eventually," Haan added, "but I want something that won't come off if you get rained on, and the dyes last longer in pale hair. It'll take a while."

"That's all right. What colour were you thinking of?"

"Red. A lot of redheads have blue eyes, so it won't look strange."

Quatre blinked again, trying to imagine himself with red hair and not having much success. "I'd wondered if you changed Trowa's hairstyle as camouflage," he mused, half to himself, "but I guess not..."

"Camouflage?"

"Er..." Quatre could feel himself starting to blush again, and silently damned his fair complexion. Though it will make it easier to pretend to be a natural redhead! "When I found out about what that jacket you lent Trowa did, I thought perhaps you'd disguised him to keep him from wondering why nobody recognised him, rather than to keep OZ from spotting him. But if you're going to disguise the rest of us even though we know about the jacket now..." He let the last sentence trail off, and Haan grinned.

"It's still worthwhile. I don't know if Trowa told you about the sp-- jacket's limitations, but the less you look like yourself, the less work the jacket has to do... and if you're seen through a surveillance system, or somebody who already knows you is at the roadblock, a physical disguise is the only thing that will help you."

'Sp-- jacket'? Quatre thought. What starts with 'sp' that could cause the effect that jacket has?

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[cont]