Alarums and Excursions + Part 6 (cont)

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About halfway between the OZ roadblock and the diner where Haan intended to stop for lunch, Quatre fell asleep. He hadn't intended to; he'd settled himself into the corner at a slight angle, so he could keep watching Haan out of the corner of his eye without being obvious about it, and tried to relax enough to get the painful knots he could feel forming in his shoulder muscles to go away. The seat was comfortable... the cabin was warm... the radio was playing quiet music... the truck purred along the road, rocking gently in a surprisingly soothing motion...

When you think about it, really, it's all so clear. Haan is a black hole because he's friends with Duo and Duo has enough life and energy for two people and it must have come from somewhere. Must remember to tell Heero so he can stop vibrating. Like poles repel, and Heero's a little like Haan, so of course they don't get along... Trowa seems like Heero superficially but he's not, Trowa is Trowa is Trowa trowa trowa was nice last week when he said that to me...

Ryuukossei bounced over a speed bump as it turned into the diner's parking lot, and Quatre jolted awake. He'd turned in his sleep until his forehead was pressed against the window, so that the first thing he saw was the scenery moving past outside. Momentarily confused as he emerged from muddled fragments of dreams, all he could think of was that he was in a vehicle of some sort, it was moving, and behind him where a driver should be he could feel nothing--

Lunging out of his corner to grab for the wheel and handbrake, Quatre found himself staring up into a pair of mismatched eyes, with a warm hand carefully holding him away from the brake.

"Uh..."

"I know I told the major you were my temporary relief driver," Haan said mildly, "but I didn't expect you to take it this seriously."

Quatre snatched his hand away from the steering wheel as if it was hot and sat up stiffly, miserably aware that he was blushing again. "I thought no-one was driving," he muttered, looking away. "I must have still been dreaming."

Much to his relief, Haan didn't repeat his earlier comment about Quatre being a rotten liar; he just raised one eyebrow and tapped the accelerator, pulling the rest of the way into the parking lot. "You want to climb in the back and have a nap after lunch, or would you rather get some caffeine into your system?" he asked carefully, shutting down the engine and turning to look at his
passenger. "Personally, I'd go for the nap if I were you; caffeine might just make you jumpier."

I don't know if that's possible, Quatre thought wryly, and held his hands out in front of him. They were trembling slightly. "No caffeine," he decided. "Definitely, no caffeine. Now, if I can just stay awake long enough to eat a sandwich or two, I'll be happy."

"You'd better," Haan grinned. "Mary-girl is proud of her sandwiches; she might take it as an insult if you use one as a pillow instead of eating it."

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Mary-girl turned out to be an immensely fat woman who whooped with delight as soon as she saw Haan. "Where've you been, darling?" she exclaimed, waddling out from behind the counter to throw her arms around him. "Gallivanting all over God's creation in that truck, I swear you'd take it to the colonies if you could strap enough rockets onto it, never coming to visit your old friends, what kind of life is that for a growing young man? I can see you haven't been eating enough, as usual," she 'tsk'ed, holding him at arms' length and looking him up and down disapprovingly. "Skinny as a rail and twice as tough, well, you just go sit down and we'll do something about that. The usual?"

"Two," Haan corrected her, kissing her cheek and jerking his thumb towards Quatre. "Make his decaf."

"Lord love me, child, I never even saw you there!" she gasped, abruptly focussing on him. "Oh dear, it's no wonder I didn't; you're just like Haan, thin as piano wire and pulled just as tight," she clucked, shaking her head as she turned around and bustled back into the kitchen. "Sit down, take the weight off your feet, I'll be out in just a moment..."

"Don't worry," Haan murmured as he led the way over to a corner table. "She doesn't expect people to hold up their end of the conversation."

"Oh, good," Quatre said dazedly. "Her nametag actually said 'Mary- girl', not just 'Mary'..."

"So does her birth certificate. Her parents were a little odd, but she says it's better than 'Moonbeam' or 'Suncrystal'."

"My little brother never did forgive Dad for that one," Mary-girl sighed reminiscently, nearly shocking Quatre into cardiac arrest as she appeared silently behind his shoulder and put two huge mugs of coffee down on the table. "God be praised, they had me before they moved to the commune and went completely Herbal Wiccan." Patting Quatre gently on the shoulder, almost as if she was afraid her bulk would break him, she flashed him a beautiful smile and swept off, presumably to fetch the next instalment of their meal.

"None of them have followed in their parents' footsteps," Haan continued, unperturbed. "Mary-girl is Baptist, Moonbeam is an agnostic psychiatrist who specialises in helping people rebel against their parents' expectations without going completely off the rails, and Suncrystal is an accountant. Amazingly enough, they haven't changed their names."

"How come she's paying attention to me?" Quatre whispered, tugging at the denim jacket he was still wearing. "Isn't this working on her?"

"It was, until I asked you to get her food," Haan whispered back, half-smiling. "That made her notice you... and Mary-girl regards everyone who's younger than her and asking for food as a lame duck desperately in need of TLC. She can't ignore you now, no matter what."

"There now, this'll fill you up and put a little more meat on your bones," Mary-girl carolled, carrying two large plates heaped with sandwiches over to them. "Eat up, eat up-- no, don't you even think of pulling out your wallet, Haan! The scales aren't nearly balanced yet, and until they are your money's no good here."

Quatre shot a questioning look at Haan after she left again, and got a mildly embarrassed shrug back. "I've done her a favour or two in the past," he muttered. "She attaches far more importance to them than they deserve."

"I'm glad we stopped here for lunch," Quatre sighed, picking up his first sandwich and examining it. "For once, it's you blushing instead of me!"

He'd been a little worried, after Mary-girl's comments about he and Haan being 'thin' and needing more meat on their bones, but there wasn't anything in the sandwiches to make him concerned for his cholesterol levels. After the first one, he shrugged out of the jacket and left it on the seat next to him; the diner was empty, after all, and it didn't seem to be air-conditioned.

He regretted it five minutes later.

"Shit, what a dump," a loud voice said as three young men pushed the door open and lounged in. "Doesn't even have beer! What the fuck are we stopping here for?"

"Food," the slightly older man following them snapped. "You want to get drunk this early, suit yourself; do it with your own money, and this time take the jacket off before you roll your bike and end up in jail. The Dogs don't need that sort of publicity."

Flushing angry red, the one who'd spoken first spun around to glare, tugging at his jacket. All four men were wearing black leather, with 'DOGS' in large red letters across the back and a line of short silver spikes down the spine. "Right, like you've never run off the road--"

"Sure I have. I got up afterwards and kept going, though, instead of lying in the ditch puking my guts up until the cops--"

"GENTLEMEN!" Mary-girl bellowed in a surprisingly deep voice, cutting them both off. They spun to stare at her, and she smiled sweetly, folding her hands over her ample stomach. "Now, that's much better, isn't it? What would you like to eat? We do free coffee refills for as long as you're here, by the way..."

Her attempt to settle the situation seemed to be working on the two who'd been arguing, but that left the other two free to look around and find trouble.

"Hey, Zac!" one of them called, grinning as he sauntered over to Haan and Quatre's table. "We got ourselves a couple of pretty boys over here!"

Now Mary-girl started to look anxious. "Ohhh, no. You do not want to be doing that, young man."

"Why?" he laughed. "They your pretty boys, fatso?"

Instinctively staying in character, Quatre glared at the biker, hiding his uncertainty behind a cold facade. Now what?! How should I react to this? If I seem weak, he'll just keep pushing, but if I act too aggressive I think it'll bring the other three into this. I know all the proper responses for a boardroom confrontation, but not a case like this!

"Fuck off," Haan said flatly, looking up from his sandwich.

Seeing Haan's scars and mismatched eyes for the first time, the biker recoiled slightly; then one of his companions make a slight noise that might have been a snicker, and his expression hardened. "My mistake," he sneered. "We got one pretty boy, and a jerk with girly hair who thinks he's a hard man. What makes you so tough, moron?"

Ignoring him, Haan glanced over at the other biker. "Ridgeback chapter, right?" At the man's nod, he smiled thinly. "Dingo Dan still in charge, or has Mal kicked his way to the top of the heap?"

"Dan," the man answered slowly, eyes narrowing. "Mal had an argument with a semi about six months back. The semi won."

"Really? I always thought he'd get shot. Give Dan a message for me, will you?"

"Depends. What's the message?"

Haan looked back at the biker in front of him, smile widening. "Tell him Lizard says his standards are slipping."

"Lizard?! You--"

"Fuck you, asshole!" the younger biker burst out, hand dipping inside his jacket for a weapon as he leapt at Haan. "You screw with the Dogs and the Dogs screw with-- *hlk!*"

His voice cut off in a strangled gurgle as Haan lunged up out of his chair and grabbed him by the throat, taking the switchblade away from him almost as an afterthought. Quatre scrambled away from the table as the biker crashed down between the plates, knocking the coffee mugs over.

"Hi," Haan said almost conversationally, leaning over the biker as he continued to choke him, one-handed, ignoring his desperate attempts to pry Haan's hand off his throat. "Some of your friends named me Lizard. They really should have told you about me..."

The skin around Haan's left eye-- the green one-- twitched.

Quatre almost vomited as the black emptiness hiding Haan's emotions seemed to crumble, letting him 'feel' the smuggler for the very first time. There was a metallic taste in his mouth, and prey squirming under his hand, and something cold and reptilian fighting its way up from the depths of his mind that wanted to kill every warm-blooded thing in the room...

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