Alarums and Excursions + Part 5 (cont)

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A little later, Quatre was finding out that he looked damn good with red hair. He was distracted from this discovery, however, when Haan brought out the clothes he was expected to wear.

"I can't," he insisted, actually backing a couple of steps away from the boots Haan was holding out to him. "I wouldn't look right. I can't act right. It won't work!"

"They'll fit you," Haan said matter-of-factly.

"It's not whether or not they'll fit me!" Quatre protested. "It's whether or not I can project the sort of attitude that goes with that outfit, and believe me, I can't!"

The jeans and jacket were black denim, scuffed and worn, embellished with chains and studs in strategic places. The t-shirt was at least white, but it was torn and looked like it would be a couple of sizes too small. And the boots... The boots were a leather-and-buckle fetishist's wet dream, that was the only way to describe them.

"I can't," Quatre repeated, looking decidedly squeamish.

"Yes, you can."

"Really, I--"

"I don't have enough voice left to argue you into them," Haan interrupted, scooping the outfit into a ball and bundling it into Quatre's unwilling arms. "Put them on, and I'll explain."

The only consolation Quatre had as Haan stared him down was the thought that once Haan actually saw him in the clothes, even he would have to admit that the idea was ridiculous. It certainly seemed ridiculous to Quatre...

Even when Quatre was standing in front of him, though, feeling very small and embarrassed, Haan still seemed to think it was possible.

"I would need to swagger to make this believable," Quatre said quietly. "Duo can swagger. The others could stalk, and glare, and make it work. I'm the only one who can't."

"In other words, you're always polite and self-effacing, and would never dream of doing something like this yourself," Haan said bluntly, making it a statement rather than a question. "That's why it can work for you. Nobody who knows anything about you would think that a redhead in tough's gear could possibly be Quatre Raberba Winner in disguise."

"That won't help if I can't behave the right way!"

"You can. You just aren't thinking about this from the right angle. You don't need to act like a violent gang member. You just have to act... arrogant," Haan told him, smiling faintly. "As if you can do whatever you want, whenever you like, and nobody can stop you. Nobody impresses you. Quite the opposite. Imagine..." He paused, thinking, and the smile widened. "Imagine that you have just walked into a conference room," he said softly. "Facing you are several men who think they are in control. Following you is an assistant, carrying the documents that prove you now own 51% of their company's stock. You know they are all incompetent, you have heard disgusting stories about their personal habits, you intend to fire every last one of them, and they can't stop you.

"Get the idea?"

"...I think so," Quatre admitted eventually. "I can do that sort of arrogant, I think, if I'm careful to stay in the right frame of mind. I'll need to do it well to outweigh my disadvantages, though."

"What disadvantages?" Haan asked incredulously. Just as incredulous that Haan couldn't or wouldn't see what was so obvious to him, Quatre stared back.

"Look at me!" he sputtered, holding his arms out to the sides. "I'm hardly the most physically impressive person around!"

"You're--" Haan's voice cracked painfully, and he winced, one hand lifting towards his throat. "Damn, I hope this isn't going to happen every trip," he whispered, tugging at his turtleneck. "You're a Gundam pilot," he hissed, glaring so intensely that Quatre forgot all about asking if he were all right. "You have to be stronger than average to do that. Don't even try to tell me you're weak!"

"No, but-- I'm short, and I don't look strong--"

"Gods save us from people with bad self-images," Haan whispered wearily. "Quatre... how tall are Heero and Wufei?"

Automatically, Quatre held his hand flat, a couple of inches above his own head.

"No. They are exactly the same height you are. They just seem taller to you because they act strong and confident, and sometimes arrogant, and you're subconsciously interpreting that as added physical presence. Trust me," Haan rasped, forcing the last few words out through uncooperative vocal chords, "people either won't notice that you're short, or they won't care."

* * * * *

Duo was beginning to think that he should have let Heero take the second trip out, after all.

"Ya know, it would've been easier to deal with Quatre moping without Trowa than Heero in Uber Paranoid mode," he muttered bitterly.

"For you, perhaps," Wufei muttered back. "Myself, I find that there are only so many times I can say 'there, there' in a soothing tone of voice before I develop an overwhelming urge to do something violent."

"Well, if you feel the need to be violent, there's a suitable body upstairs to be violent at," Duo snorted. "You'll find him in front of his laptop, as usual, and as annoying as hell, also as usual."

Wufei looked at him a little strangely. "I thought you were... ah... chasing him?"

"You noticed, too, huh?"

"Duo," the Chinese pilot said flatly, "I think that Yui is the only person who didn't"

"Yeah, well, I've given it up for Revised Lent," Duo said flippantly, staring out the window at the trees around the safehouse. "'Revised' as in 'for good', that is. It's not like it was getting me anywhere with him, after all."

"I never could work out why you started," Wufei said under his breath.

It didn't go unheard. "I'm beginning to wonder myself," Duo sighed, suddenly serious. "I honestly did think it could work as a serious relationship, if I could just get him to notice me... but now, I just want to smack some sense into him, and surely the attraction wouldn't evaporate so fast unless it was just a crush to begin with. I mean, I'd already backed off a bit because I was tired of getting no response... I dunno. Maybe I was just fascinated by the challenge."

"You took Heero on as a challenge?" Wufei raised one eyebrow. "That's rather more masochistic than I've come to expect from you."

"It would only be masochistic if I'd made a conscious decision to beat my head against that particular brick wall. I didn't."

"Crypto-masochistic, then."

Duo picked up a battered sofa cushion and threatened Wufei with it for a moment, then sobered again. "Aah, can the pseudo-analytical vocabulary, will ya? I never thought of it this way before, but Heero is the only person I've ever found even vaguely attractive who hasn't reacted to me in some way. Even if people aren't interested in doing anything, they at least notice that, hey, there are other people out there who are sexual beings, right? I noticed Quatre and Trowa, they noticed me, you noticed me, and I sure as hell noticed that Heero is a damn fine physical specimen who presumably has a libido buried in there somewhere with the rest of his suppressed hormones! But as for noticing other people, from what I've seen, Heero evaluates everyone around him as collections of strengths and weaknesses, nothing more." Dumping the cushion back in place, he flopped down on top of it, scowling morosely.

"...He might not be quite that oblivious," Wufei said cautiously.

"Well, it's all academic now. I've had enough. It's not worth trying anymore... is it?" Duo asked, suddenly uncertain. "Look, Wu-man, you're the most grounded, focussed, objective person I know. Do you think I'm cutting off my nose to spite my face just because I'm currently narked at Heero?"

There was a long pause before Wufei answered, and he wasn't looking at Duo as he spoke. "...I may not be the best person to ask about that."

"Huh?"

"I doubt I can be objective on this subject," Wufei admitted. "I want to tell you that you're making the right decision, that it's a good idea to give up on Heero... but I don't know how much my opinion is based on the fact that I have found it incredibly frustrating to watch you trying again and again to get Heero to notice you, while he just types obliviously at his laptop!" His jaw clenched as he looked away again, then he sighed, tugging at his ponytail. "I can't really advise you one way or the other," he said quietly. "However... Heero has noticed you. I'm pretty sure he still has no idea that you've been chasing him, but since Haan turned up the first time, he's been noticing you."

"A couple of weeks ago, I would have been delighted to hear that," Duo replied, a little sadly. "The way I'm feeling now, it might be too little too late."

* * * * *

Haan stopped for the night at a rest area, tucking Ryuukossei neatly into a gap between trees that Quatre would have hesitated to take a smaller truck into. "Nice driving," Quatre said, a little nervously, eyeing the gnarled branch that was hanging a centimetre in front of the windshield. "Very... precise." Repressing the urge to ask if Haan was sure he could get out in the morning, he tugged his duffel out from under the seat and opened his door, slowly at first until he was sure no trees were in the way.

"Door to the sleeping cabin's just behind you," Haan told him, no longer having to whisper, but still sounding rather raspy. "I'll be around in a second."

Quatre nodded and shut the door, and a second later Haan heard him open the sleeping cabin. Taking a brief chance, he patted the dashboard and leaned forward, lowering his voice.

"Not too bad?"

=interesting,= Ryuukossei silently replied.

"Interesting how? Is the big metal awake?"

=yes... but not talk to me.=

"Why not?"

=only want to talk to boy. boy can't hear yet. i talked to big metal anyway,= Ryuukossei said, a trace of wicked humour leaking into the mental communication. =annoyed it.=

Haan stifled a chuckle, shaking his head. "Well... have fun," he told the truck, reaching for the door handle.

=not tell me to stop and be good?= Ryuukossei asked, faintly surprised.

"No," Haan grinned, opening the door and swinging out. "I've been having fun annoying Heero, and I'm not going to stop. Why should you?"

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Quatre had been distracted from his discomfort when Haan had argued him into wearing the 'tough guy' clothes, and had managed since then to keep his mind focussed on maintaining the proper attitude to go with the outfit. Now, however, unavoidably faced with the fact that he was going to have to sleep next to the black emptiness that radiated from Haan, not even exploring the tiny sleeping area could prevent him from becoming more and more nervous.

It was a pity, really, since he could tell that under normal circumstances he could have been fascinated. Brought up in huge mansions, where bigger was better and everything took up a lot of room, he had always been delighted by the sort of space-saving design found in boats and caravans, where things folded up or tucked away in unlikely corners, and Ryuukossei's sleeping cabin was a beautiful example of the style.

"Don't fold the bed down yet," Haan advised, nudging the door open with his shoulder and climbing up the inset steps below it. "Takes up too much room. Get ready first."

Sidling past Quatre in the confined space, he flicked catches open and wordlessly showed him storage cupboards, a tiny sink hidden behind a sliding panel, and a larger panel that folded down to become a shelf, revealing a kettle, hotplate, cutlery and crockery racked in the space behind it. "Toilet's in here," he said shortly, tapping a narrow door, "but I don't use it when there's public loos nearby. The tank's a pain to pump out."

"Understood," Quatre nodded, trying to avoid contact with Haan without being obvious about it.

"Fridge," Haan went on, displaying one that was just big enough to hold a carton of milk and some eggs. "Chairs. Your bag'll fit here. Back in a minute." And he was out the door and gone.

Quatre changed quickly, pulling on a loose t-shirt and shorts to sleep in, and pushed his bag into the empty cupboard Haan had indicated. The disputed boots followed it, stuffed out of sight with perhaps a little more violence than was really called for, and there was nothing more for him to do except wait for Haan to come back. He unfastened the clips that held the bed folded up to the wall and lowered it a bit, just enough for a quick look, then closed it up again. It was larger than a normal bunk bed, but still seemed awfully small for two... especially when one was him and the other was Haan. Pulling one of the collapsible chairs out of its slot and folding its legs down to give himself a place to sit, he sighed. "It's going to be a very long night," he whispered.

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