and Excursions + Part 7 (cont)
*Easy... easy... just breathe...*
"I know," Duo panted, breath hitching as he fought off tears of frustration.
"There's just no getting through to him! He is the most stubborn, anal,
infuriating, moronic, paranoid, cynical asshole in the universe! How could
I have been so stupid as to let him get to me like that? How could I have
even considered a relationship with him?!"
*You're outgoing, friendly, always think the best of people, never
say die, silver linings, he's damn good looking--*
"Okay, okay. Point made. I am an idiot," Duo replied, sniffing
as he got himself under control.
*Not an idiot. I prefer the term optimist.*
The braided teen sank back in his seat in Deathscythe's cockpit and sighed.
"Is there really a difference?" he asked.
*Little one, you know that answer. Just because you have faith and
hope, and prefer to look on the bright side, does not make you an idiot.*
"No, but if I am wrong about Haan, just because I'm going on faith
and instinct, I'll be worse than an idiot. And I'll prove Heero right."
*Why are you doubting yourself now? Trusting your instincts is what kept
you alive for years... at least until I came along. I take credit for
everything since then, of course.*
Duo snorted with laughter. "Smug, much?" Then he sobered. "But what if
my instinct is wrong this time? What if Haan is working on some
convoluted plot? Though it would have to be something really wild to actually
work, maybe bugging us and the Gundams instead of trying to capture us
directly or something... I mean, what are the odds?"
There was a long pause before Deathscythe answered Duo's question.
*I shouldn't do this, really, but I can tell you one thing. You are
not wrong. Don't ask me why or how, I'm not allowed... I can't
tell you. But you're not wrong, Little Death.*
"'Scythe?" Duo asked, eyes wide. "What do you mean?"
*No more questions. And do not pout at me. It only works when you really
mean it. Now, Wufei is outside. You have a few choices. You can stay holed
up in here, with me, and ignore him. You can hope he gets into Shenlong
and comms us, or you can open the hatch and let him in. Which will it
Duo popped the hatch and sat on it, lowering the lift wire.
"Hey, 'Fei... care to join me?"
* * * * *
"He should be fine in a little while," Mary-girl said, closing the kitchen
door softly behind her. "He... he just gets these spells, sometimes..."
Her voice faltered and trailed off as she saw Quatre sitting on one of
the stools around the kitchen table, playing idly with the pieces of the
knife as he watched her.
"There's no flaw in this blade, and it's good steel," he said flatly,
holding the handle up and rubbing a smear of blood away with his thumb.
"If I wanted to break it, I'd have to clamp it to something and
hit it with a sledgehammer. Not to mention that he was throwing that biker
around one-handed, which isn't the simplest thing in the world, plus the
sudden personality switch he seemed to pull. That isn't a 'spell'. I'm
tempted to call it homicidal mania and hysterical strength."
"He isn't homicidal!" she objected faintly, one hand coming up to her
throat as she looked away, refusing to meet Quatre's eyes. "He's... he's
a good boy, I'd swear that on a Bible..."
"Do 'good boys' normally try to strangle people in your café?"
She shot him a sharp look, bridling. "Now you watch your tone, young man!
I'll admit it's not exactly normal behaviour, I'd be a fool not to. Haan's
just... well, he's had a hard life, I think, and he's done enough good
that he deserves a lot of leeway."
"Would you mind telling me a bit more about... that?" Quatre asked, gentling
his tone and gesturing vaguely towards the door. "I'm sharing a truck
with him at the moment, and some friends of mine are going to be travelling
with him later, so I'd really like to know if that's likely to happen
"Not unless you're planning to attack him," she sighed, settling onto
one of the other stools and folding her hands on the table. "And even
then it might not happen. I've never seen him do... that... before,
just heard about it. Apparently, he can control it unless he's badly wounded,
or under a lot of stress and surprised."
"Those bikers seemed pretty scared of him," he prodded, wincing inwardly.
Under stress? Wonderful. Is smuggling us away from OZ's trap stressing
him that much? And why?!
"Oh, that doesn't surprise me." Unexpectedly, she chuckled, smiling wickedly.
"He's got quite a reputation in some circles. You haven't heard about
'Lizard'?" she asked, pointedly eyeing his 'gang member' clothes.
"No." And I'm not going to explain why I haven't heard something that's
apparently common knowledge among the rougher levels of society, thank
"Well." In what seemed to be an almost automatic motion, she reached out
to the neatly arranged ingredients lined up on the table and began to
assemble a sandwich. "A few years back, before I bought this café and
started running it as a truck stop, I had a little sandwich shop in Brentonville.
My parents were having some hard times. Moonbeam couldn't help out, she
hadn't finished her Masters degree yet and had money troubles of her own,
and Suncrystal wasn't speaking to them -- still isn't, come to think of
it, which is a pity -- so the money I could spare to send them was about
all the money they had to live on. Even Wiccan communes have expenses,
you see," she added dryly, "especially when they were planned and started
by people who intended to live on what they grew but had absolutely no
idea of how to go about it."
"Definitely 'oops'," she chuckled, then sobered. "My shop was doing all
right; not great, but all right. I had some regular customers, and enough
drop-in traffic so that I could pay the rent, support myself, and help
my parents. I wasn't saving any money, which worried me a bit, but I was
getting by... until the local mafia imitators decided I was doing well
enough to be added to their protection racket. They had a frighteningly
good idea of what sort of turnover I was getting, cash flow and so on,
and had calculated quite nicely how much money I could, supposedly, spare
from my own needs. Of course, they weren't taking into account the money
I was sending away."
Stretching one arm behind her without looking, Mary-girl took a plate
from a stack on the bench, slid the sandwich onto it, and passed it to
Quatre. "There, get yourself outside of that; you didn't have nearly enough
to eat before things got messy. Mugs are on that shelf and the coffee
makers are on the bench behind you; the one on the left is decaffeinated."
Beginning on a new sandwich, she waited until he was seated again before
"I had a choice; I could pay the gang and stop supporting my parents,
pay the gang and stop eating, or not pay the gang and have something
unpleasant happen to either me or the shop. A couple of the local police
were involved, and doing a good job of making sure that complaints never
got anywhere, but all the local shopkeepers knew what was up; I'd thought
I was small enough to be left alone. Well..." She chuckled wryly. "I don't
look like I gave up eating, do I? And I wouldn't abandon my parents.
"Things got a bit ugly. They started small, with a couple of smashed windows
and some threatening phone calls. People were advising me to give in before
things got worse, or sell out and leave. Then, one day, Haan walked in
and ordered a sandwich."
Her hands slowed, settling the last few slices of meat and tomato onto
her sandwich, and she blinked. "He looked exactly the way he does now,"
she murmured, gazing into nothing as she remembered. "Same hair, same
eyes, same scars, same way of dressing right down to the loose high collars
and wrappings over his hands... he hasn't changed a bit."
"Same voice?" Quatre asked, remembering what Trowa had said about the
scar across Haan's throat looking relatively fresh.
"Oh, my, yes, like he'd been drinking neat whisky and eating broken glass
for years," she chuckled, shaking herself out of the memory and plonking
the top slice of bread on the sandwich with a decisive motion. "It's a
bit of a shock when you first hear it, isn't it? Sounds like it should
be coming from someone about a foot taller and three times his weight,
with a broken nose, scarred knuckles, and a name like 'Tony the Knife'."
Quatre nearly spat out his coffee, sputtering with laughter as he wiped
at his chin. "I was thinking he sounded like a jazz singer after a few
too many late nights in smoky clubs, but I can see your point!"
"Well, perhaps I was influenced by the circumstances I first met him in,"
she laughed, passing him a paper napkin. "After all, I was expecting that
sooner or later a gang tough or two would walk in and up the pressure,
and here was this young man who looked like some sort of tough;
of course I thought 'gang', and that was the image I came up with. Still,
he ordered politely and didn't immediately start breaking my tables, so
I got him his lunch and just kept an eye on him."
"And that was when the real gang toughs walked in and started breaking
tables?" Quatre guessed.
"You're so sharp you're going to cut yourself one of these days," Mary-girl
told him. "Except that they weren't breaking tables so much as overturning
them and scaring my customers, while yelling a remarkable number of suggestions
concerning what they'd do to me, personally, if I didn't come up with
their money. They were shouting, some of my customers were screaming,
I'd lost my temper and was shouting back... and Haan told them to shut
up, because he was enjoying his lunch and all the noise was annoying him."
"I'm sure they took that well."
"They turned his table over next," she said dryly. "It didn't have quite
the effect they wanted; he scooped up his plate and mug and slid out of
the way just as they did it, so all they achieved was a bit of noise.
He carried his food over to the counter, dodged three attempts to trip
or hit him on the way without losing a crumb, handed it to me to look
after, and proceeded to wipe the floor with the pair of them. Literally
-- he knocked one of them face-down in a puddle of spilt milk, grabbed
the back of his collar and waistband, and smeared him around in it a few
Quatre choked again, on the sandwich this time. "You're joking... no,
you're not, are you?"
"It's the plain truth." Her expression was solemn enough, but there was
an amused sparkle in her eyes for a moment. "After he kicked them out
and the place had been straightened up a little, he asked what was going
on, and my regulars were only too glad to fill him in. He looked surprised
for a moment, then a little angry, I think, but he didn't do or say anything...
then. A couple of days later, though..."
She pushed away from the table, moving to get herself a mug of coffee.
"A couple of days later," she continued, back to Quatre as she stirred,
"the story went around that somebody who matched Haan's description had
walked into the gang leader's house as if he owned the place and told
him the racket was going to stop, `or else'. The `or else' turned out
to be that he got shot, and his body was disposed of... wherever
and however the gang did things like that. They were bragging about it.
And less than a week after that..." She took a deep breath. "...Half
a dozen gang members and one of the police officers in their pay were
dead, most of the others were in jail or had left town in a hurry, and
Haan was back in my shop eating lunch and answering no questions."
[ note: "For the sidefic dealing with Duo and 'Scythe's meeting,
read Christy and Ashkara's 'Conversations
with Death' " ]
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