Duo'd been expecting flimsy affairs, just four wood-or-steel supports at the corners and see-through slats on the sides; but the bunk beds in the dorm looked more like what you'd find in a spaceship, save for standing in rows instead of being bolted to the walls. The lower bunks were close to the ground, almost entirely enclosed save for half a side left open and an aeration grate at the foot, like the lack of gravity might turn out to be a concern in the middle of the night. The upper bunks had no "ceiling", as it were, so if Duo sat up in one he'd be visible from mid-chest up, but it was still more cover than he'd expected, and enabled him to just roll over the guardrail from three different sides for ease of escape.
He jumped off the ladder and peered inside the lower bunk. It was noticeably wider than the top one, and the thin mattress stood barely calf-high. "Huh. Wolf cave, is it?"
"Most of the wolves like to pile up together in the middle of the room, but..." Wufei shrugged, eyed Killer, who was investigating the carpet over there, ears tilted back doubtfully. "Most also like their space from time to time. If it's really necessary you can use one of the attached rooms over there, but it has to stay for emergency use. They also serve as whelping rooms or for wolves recuperating after an injury, so there needs to be at least two free at all times."
Duo nodded, tried not to let his brow furrow. He'd chosen the farthest unoccupied bunk, tucked all the way in the far corner -- they were on the first floor so the window would work as an emergency exit, and Duo could probably even use it as an emergency entry point, though getting Killer in through there would require more work than strictly necessary for a building they weren't supposed to infiltrate. He wasn't sure it'd be distance enough.
"Over there is the rec room, a couple of smaller offices in case you need to work without distractions -- you have your own laptop?"
"Mmh." It was in his backpack, which was getting heavy, even though Duo was traveling with the bare minimum. He dumped it in the locker at the head of the bed and pocketed the key. It felt strangely meaningful.
"Some of the men share the lower bunks with their brothers. Cramped, but..."
Duo snorted. "We used to share cardboard boxes. It'll do fine."
Wufei shifted his weight minutely, a flicker of embarrassment that Duo guessed at more than he truly read on his stone face.
"So which one is your bunk?" he asked with a 'trust me, I'm trustworthy and not planning anything!' campy grin.
"Maxwell, I'm an officer." Faint smirk. "I rate a single."
Damn, thwarted. Duo grimaced at him. "I'm not calling you sir, that'd be way too fucking weird."
Wufei shrugged. For me too/abnormal/I'd think you're mocking me.
Duo grinned a big unrepentant grin. Probably would be!
From the way Wufei's eyebrow arched and then quirked in mock-irritation, this one had gone through as planned. Awesome. (Glen had wandered off somewhere to do god knew what -- made Duo wonder if maybe they were the codependent ones, always doing shit together -- and Killer wasn't even paying attention, which made him wonder once again how the telepathy thing even worked between wolfbrothers, if their wolves weren't actively relaying shit.)
Also it made him hope a little bit that maybe he and Wufei could become real buddies. Fellow Gundam pilots was a pretty tight bond already, but not always a comfortable one.
"Okay, good! I know where to sleep and where to find food and all those fun curfew hours and other regulations." He parked his butt on a convenient rung and crossed his arms, stared at Wufei who still stood at the foot of the bed like he had nothing better to do with his day than hang out. "Awesome. Totally something I couldn't have figured out from a couple flyers, too. Now tell me about that other shoe you're waiting to drop on me, yeah?"
Wufei gave him a slow blink, and then a dry snort. "I'd forgotten you could be quite that pessimistic."
Didn't deny it, though. Duo quirked an eyebrow. "Fair warning, buddy. Tell me you're just staying to socialize -- during work hours -- and I'll laugh my ass off at you. Might give myself a hernia, even."
"It's nothing so dire, I just figured you'd prefer hearing it from me than from the drill instructor in two days. First there's the uniform regulations--"
"I'm not cutting my goddamn braid."
An unimpressed, ironic look. "Has my own ponytail suddenly become invisible? No, shut up about how tight it is and that you thought my skull was just painted that color, I've heard it all before."
Duo obediently closed his mouth. He pinched his lips, too, else he'd probably start laughing. Now which suicidal idiot had said it in Wufei's earshot? Even Duo had never dared to go that far.
(Urgh, he hoped he hadn't accidentally telepathed that at him.)
"Preventers was founded by three women, two of which have long hair. It was never even in the regs. I don't see you going on assignment with your hair loose anyway, so it won't be a problem. No, it's about Killer."
At the other end of the room, nose in a bunk that most certainly did not belong to him, Killer rotated his ear in their direction. Keep out of there or they'll probably bite you, Duo sent, knowing better than to bother trying to get a wolf to understand 'don't do it to them if you wouldn't like them doing it to you'.
"What about the Furmeister?"
"He looks like he was dragged backward through a hedge," Wufei threw bluntly. "And he's dusty. I don't know your old grooming habits, Maxwell, but he needs a wash, and he most certainly needs a brushing."
Duo's cheeks started burning.
The next second Killer was trotting back to him, head low and pointing forward, looking like he was about to revoke Wufei's tentative 'non-edible' status. For a second Duo hadn't been able to help remembering being eight year old in borrowed clothes and being told he smelled. Killer hadn't liked it much better back then; Father had to lock him in the cellar for the next week as Duo went back to school, or half-grown, awkward cub or not, there would have been an incident in the school yard. (Another incident, that was. A worse one than a mere children's brawl.)
Wordlessly, Duo held out his hand; Killer veered around Wufei at the last second and ambled to him, though he kept watching Wufei from the corner of his eye even as he wound himself around Duo. Scritching behind his ear, Duo had to admit Wufei was right. Killer looked half-wild. Hell, even wild wolves were better groomed, because they didn't taste like motor oil and could do it themselves. ("Gutter trash, smelly, piggy, you stink like a sewer.")
"A weekly brushing is part of regulations," Wufei continued as if he hadn't noticed, even though there was no way he hadn't; "more if he sheds a lot. Washing is only supposed to be when they get themselves dirty, I'll spare you the lesson on fur and natural oils. The supermarket on the next block sells wolf shampoo, in case you're low, but if you need a specific brand you'll have to ask our vet."
Whenever Duo washed Killer it was always with the harshest soap, because nothing else would get the gasoline stains out.
Bam! A slap of ozone and burning wires to the nose.
No! Bad puppy stop.
Not a 'shittiest brother'! Mine. Mine, so best.
Duo chuckled faintly and wrinkled a velvety ear between his fingers. "Okay, okay. Well then! Sorry buddy, I know you liked the moon rock dust, but it's gonna have to go."
Killer tilted his head at him in confusion. Duo chuckled and ruffled his ears, making him grumble and nip his hand. Then he felt like he could look up.
Thing was, Duo knew Wufei was being considerate, in his way, because if it hadn't been him saying it, it would have been the drill instructor, and likely in front of the other recruits. Still mortifying, mind.
Their eyes met. They stared for a couple of seconds.
"Glen will show him the best car washes," Wufei said, perfectly deadpan. Duo sputtered.
"Oh god, don't tell me he really does, I thought you were kidding."
"He's been known to try. Sadly, there are often actual cars in the way." Wufei allowed himself a tiny, barely there smile. Duo cackled. "Mostly he likes to bite at the jets of water."
"Cute. Killer just bitches me out when I get any in his ears. Or up his nose. Or anywhere on him, actually. Alright then, let's go get wet! Urr, only I'm not sure where to find towels and crap. Should probably buy my own, huh."
"I'll lend you some for today." Wufei took a step back, curled his hand in invitation to follow. Duo gave Killer a pat and went to catch up. "When you're done you should go to Requisitions and get your uniform and Killer's new tags, you won't have time to go before they close."
"Okay, that works. Guess I'll go shopping afterwards then."
"Oh, no," Wufei said, all silky and immediately raising a dozen alarm flags in Duo's head. "Once you're done with that your colleagues will be waiting to meet you."
Duo had to stop on the doorstep and give his emergency exit window a longing look, hands clenching on both sides of the doorway only halfway for the purpose of melodrama. "Oh good lord. Think that ship that took us down is still docked?"
Wufei snorted at him. "Don't make me get Glenfiddich to sit on you. He weighs approximately the same as a Leo. You'd come out very streamlined."
Old whisky and deer on snow sits on you, I bite, Killer assured him cheerfully, and headbutted him in the back, popping him through the doorway like a cork. Only a little flat.
Two hours later Duo was in possession of a clean, if still somewhat damp brother (Killer hated the hairdryer), a clean if still really damp ass-length braid (of course Killer had shared the joys of showering, and once he was done getting washed and more dry than not he wanted to be gone from that devil place straight away,) drenched civilian clothes in a plastic bag, two clean and pressed uniforms (one in a clothes bag, one on himself -- quartermaster had insisted; the jacket was okay and he was used to high shirt collars, but dear lord did he hate the way the slacks pulled too tight across his ass like they'd split if he had to kick someone in the face) and a stack of papers to fill to complete Killer's registration.
"... 'che," he grumbled to himself as he trudged after his wolf back to the dormitory. Killer gave a perfunctory flick of his ear to pretend he was listening, nose to the ground tracking some fascinating bit of ancient history. "I don't get how 'I'm from L2' explains why all my papers are either fake or three year old at best and that's fine, but when it's about you, it's all le gasp what do you mean you don't even know his dam's name how is that even possible you must be mistaken."
"You don't know his dam's name?" a man asked, leaning in through an open floor-level window. Duo jumped.
"Gack! Don't startle me."
The man laughed as he leaned his elbow on the window. He was young, twenty, twenty-two, Asian-looking but in the way Heero was -- European ancestry somewhere in there. Button-up shirt, Preventer badge pinned to his chest. "Sorry, sorry. New hire?"
Duo ambled up to him to offer his hand. Might as well be polite. "Yeah, just got in this morning. Duo Maxwell, and the lump over there is Killer."
"Adan Makisig," the man replied as he took Duo's hand, and then suddenly there was a cream-furred head bursting through the window and big fuzzy paws scrabbling for purchase. Duo jerked back out of reach, yanking his hand free and reaching instinctively for the gun at the small of his back that he wasn't carrying.
!!! dry earth and rocks and rabbit !!! hi hi smellweird (cannedair metalweird) wanttosmell hi!
"Killer, incoming!" Duo yelled. His brother screeched to a stop in a shower of dust and pebbles and threw himself flat on the ground. Duo had never been as grateful for ingrained training as he was now. He took in a shuddering breath and took a single, long step to his brother, crouched down with a knee on his neck to keep him pinned down, even as Killer started snarling, no shrapnel no bomb liar!
Puppy! Duo snarled back. Puppy! Just a puppy. Look, he's tiny. From the angle at which the other wolf leaned on that window he was barely German Shepherd-sized, if that much; probably wasn't even six months old.
The man at his side had a hand on his brother's head to keep him from jumping through the window, and was blinking in mildly alarmed confusion. "Er. Something wrong?"
"Uh." Duo sighed, ran a hand over his face. He patted his brother a last time and straightened up, keeping a close eye on the wolf, but Killer's thoughts had gone from dispatch threat to grumpy who-the-heck-are-you. Duo let his wolf get back up and make his slow, cautious way to the window, neck stretched. "Sorry. He's ... kind of on a hair trigger right now. New territory, new people, etcetera."
The window ledge was about chest-high on Duo, which meant Killer's head barely had to point up to meet the cub's.
Hi! Newone bigwolf ewsoapysmell.
Not my fault! Mean mean ozone-and-sparks-and-engine, all wet and scentless now hrrrn. Hi.
They were touching noses, big gray head and smaller, rounder cream, and two black wet nose tips. Duo couldn't help grinning, relaxing all at once. So cute. "What's his name?"
Makisig blinked, erasing the worried frown on his face as he looked from Killer to his brother. "--Oh, right. This is Chiquito. So called because he used to be the smallest of the litter." A playful eyeroll. "Look at him now, he's four months old and big enough to be five."
Duo laughed, half from amusement and half from relief, that this was going well, that it could go well.
Hell, if Killer was relearning friendliness then Duo could relearn turning on the charm, maybe. He grinned up at the other man. "I did that the other way around. When I named Killer he was this little round ball of fuzz that couldn't even walk in a straight line but was, like, fated to slay all dustbunnies in the Earth Sphere. I thought it was hilarious. Then I turn around and suddenly he comes up to my ribs. Whoops, less ironic now."
Chiquito's tail wagged so hard even his shoulders quivered. Killer gave a hesitant wag of his own, and a second one in a wider, more confident arc, and propped his chin on the windowsill to sniff farther inside. Makisig sighed, good-humored.
"Alright, I'm not going to get any more work done for now. 'Scuse me, Mister Killer." He sat on the edge of the window and swung his legs over, landed just in time to catch his cub bodily as Chiquito wriggled through after him. "Hey! No jumping from high up for you yet. Oof."
Seeing the two wolves side by side it was even more obvious Chiquito was still very young; he was fuzzy and plushy-furred all over and round-bodied and his paws were huge compared to the rest of him. He could walk under Killer's barrel without needing to hunker down more than a couple of inches. Killer jerked when he did it and sidestepped, but it seemed more reflexive unease and confusion than true, aggression-edged wariness.
After that of course it was butt-sniffing time. Urk. "Thanks for sharing, buddy."
Shh quiet. Important smells!
"Yeah, I'd say. So, the pup likes burritos?"
Makisig gave a guilty snicker. "Probably shouldn't let him have them, but oh, the soulful eyes. Anyways, you were going somewhere?"
"Yeah, training grounds, to meet some of the pack. Agent Chang was supposed to meet me there, couple more guys..."
"Well then, come on, I'll show you the way."
Duo could have found it on his own, wasn't like the grounds map was that complex, but he couldn't stop stealing glances at Killer and grinning a little wider every time he caught the furmonster giving the dancing, bouncing cub a confused look and hesitantly following after him. Chiquito's thoughts were wide open, wordless, scattered, though if they had been any more constructed they would have been a litany of delighted play! play!.
Killer wasn't playing yet, seemed kind of baffled by the concept to be honest, or -- since he did play with Duo -- the lack of concrete knowledge about how one went about playing with other wolves. Which was sad, but Duo didn't doubt the puppy would show him.
The wolves' yard was behind the dormitory. There were a couple of outdoors tables and benches off to the sides, and a lot of grass, and some agility contraptions that Killer might like testing himself against.
There were also a trio of adult wolves on them, jumping walls and shuffling along balancing beams and zigzagging between poles. One of them was a huge brindled male, possibly as big as Glenfiddich, only with Glen you could tell some of the volume was merely fur. With this one, not so much. Duo stopped at the edge of the yard to watch, Killer gone still at his side, ears up. The cub butt-wriggled his way back to them, whining in confusion and why'dyoustop whywhywhyyy.
"... Looks like Chang isn't here yet!" Duo said through a smile he didn't mean anymore. There were people at the tables, two women and two men, turning to look at the both of them, an older wolf sprawled on the grass beside them. Duo gave them a nod, now they'd seen him, but didn't move to them, let Killer decide.
Chiquito bounced his way to the resting wolf, and cautiously Killer followed, picking his steps through the grass like each tuft might be hiding a tiger pit. Duo went with, hands in his pockets and glad that the other people weren't getting up, were letting Duo and his brother come to them.
"Hey there!" one of the women greeted, Black with her hair pulled back tight in a way that almost matched Wufei's, only Wufei's ponytail didn't puff out like a dandelion. Twenty-five or thirty, high domed forehead, scar on her eyebrow concomitant with busted brow ridge why was he noting down her description and identifying features. "Lissie Wangai Sharksister."
Heh, traditional. Though the formal name was a bit softened by an amused gleam in her eyes. Duo gave her a mock-serious little bow. "Duo Maxwell Killersbrother, nice to meetcha."
He shook her hand -- overly firm grip, gun calluses -- watching the other wolves from the corner of his eye. They'd stopped playing and now stood unmoving on the equipment, heads turned to look back at the humans. Killer was very cautiously sniffing the gray wolf's nose, this time staying out of reach of a quick bite. Duo knew he'd only gone that far because the cub was still going back and forth between them, all friendliness and glee.
"Hey. That your brother?" Duo asked to the man who got up next, hand held out in greeting and eyes suspicious and narrowed in a way that screamed nothing if not cop. Made Duo want to slouch and grin in a way that dared him to prove he'd stolen anything today, only that was kind of counterproductive. He put on another smile, a nicer one. "He's got the prettiest coat I've ever seen." He really did; the gray was uniform on his whole body save for the black legs and muzzle, blueish with white-tipped guard hairs so he looked like gunmetal threaded in silver.
"Mnh. Hassan Benziane." A nod to the gray wolf. "Smoke."
The other two were Mathias Gustafson, over thirty and indeterminately white -- "Pussycat's the grayish-brown lump by the crawl tubes" -- and Safiya Dagher, with her bronzed skin and short flyaway black hair, who made him think of a North-African Dorothy Catalonia, who tilted her head the same way and at the same instant as the gold-beige bitch. Which meant the brindled tank of a dog-wolf was Wangai's Shark.
"Chang's not here yet?"
"Something came up," Wangai replied with a shrug, even as Benziane grunted an "Agent Chang." She sneaked Benziane a quick look and quickly changed the subject. "You're in the newest trainees' batch, right? Me too."
"Yeah, us too," Makisig said with a little nervous laugh, and went to perch on the edge of the bench at Dagher's wordless invitation. Duo stayed on his feet, turning a little to watch the wolves. Weird how he hadn't caught anyone's scent-name already. He nudged Killer's mind with his, but his brother was on lock-down. It helped that Smoke hadn't bothered to stand up and was still sitting. Not aggressive, not a threat; from Smoke's brother's attitude Duo would have expected otherwise.
"Wait, Chiquito's old enough for training?" Duo remarked, to keep the conversation flowing. One of the wolves over there was quivering with tension and the need to come bouncing up to check on the newcomer; so far he'd been obeying his brother's will and stayed back, but it might not last if Duo didn't keep things relaxed. (Also it was hard to believe the cub could obey a command to sit and stay seated more than two minutes in a row.)
"Uh, well, not really -- he chose young, his sibs are nowhere near ready," Makisig said with a little flush of embarrassed pride, "but I figured... Well. I'm not actually a field agent."
The two women and the last man laughed. "Seriously," Gustafson said. Makisig ducked his head and gave a chagrined laugh, and Gustafson chuckled, teasing. "Brand new hire. He was in the accounting pool, what, three weeks? when Bianchi moved her pups to the copy room. Which was not in any way a pain in the ass for everyone. She likes the smell of toner, the crazy thing! Cubs being cubs, they started getting themselves into everything straight away. And then bam, there it was."
A burst of vividly-remembered delighted astonishment burst through even Killer's block, blooming through the pack sense; Makisig tried to stop smiling like a soppy, besotted idiot and failed as the others grinned indulgently. Duo swallowed a teasing 'aw'. Man, the guy really was a kid, no matter that he was likely older than Duo was.
"I still don't know if I'll stay with Finances or go be a field agent, but hey, I figured, he's going to be a running machine, be nice if I could follow him at least a couple blocks before falling over. I doubt we'll go far this session, but by the next I'll have a better idea of what we want to do and he'll actually be old enough to remember all that training."
"Huh, good plan."
Silence fell. Killer had taken a step back, and was considering Smoke, head a little tilted but otherwise inscrutable. Smoke watched him back for a couple of seconds and then turned his long muzzle away and started grooming his shoulder. Duo relaxed, even though Benziane's frown deepened. His badge said he was a senior agent; Duo didn't really want to piss him off by rubbing it in his face, so he didn't smile. But still!
... why happynow?
... Killer didn't even know what it meant that Smoke had looked away first. Duo felt a pang of something unpleasant, painful. He says you're stronger, see? Bigger, younger, stronger wolf. Won't fight you. It's good.
Killer's ears slowly pricked up; he took a step closer, went back to the business of sniffing Smoke, but from much closer now, nose brushing fur. Smoke grumbled but pulled himself up on all fours. Whee, butt-sniffing time again. Oh, wolf friendships.
"So, er. I was meaning to ask..."
Duo turned to Makisig, who was looking around the group with his eyebrows furrowed in something halfway between puzzlement and worry.
"The pup's not great yet with the pack sense, but... uh."
"You're starting to pick up things," Dagher prompted. She had a surprisingly low, scratchy voice. Must be a smoker.
"Uh. Yeah. So I'm going to just... go and ask. What's the issue with Maxwell and Killer?"
From the others' reactions Duo could tell they knew the general shape of things -- Wangai's little grimace, Gustafson's awkward glance away, Benziane's heavy scowl. Only Dagher didn't change expression at all, which meant she kept reminding Duo of Dorothy, which meant he was starting to wonder if she'd found the best place to stick a knife in him yet or was still deciding.
"He hasn't seen another wolf since the war, and he'd never seen any before the war." Duo shrugged. "No pack, no socialization skills, which means he's got no idea how to deal, and can I thank you guys for keeping your brothers back? It's helping a lot."
Makisig might be a kid who had never been in the field, but Duo could see why a wolf had chosen him and why he was being offered a place as a field agent from the way he zeroed in on him. "... His littermates didn't teach him. You -- don't know his dam's name. You named him when he was fuzzy and couldn't walk in a straight line. You had some kind of... registration trouble..."
He didn't sound friendly and relaxed anymore, a kid excited to hang out with the cool adults -- he sounded puzzled, looked on the verge of frowning. He hesitated for a brief moment when Duo did nothing but look placidly back.
"You -- how young was he when he was separated from his mother?"
"Not a clue!" Duo said with cheer he should have kept bottled up; he knew it was bad to sound flippant in this situation and it was still reflex to do it anyway, a challenge, gonna make anything of it? Killer looked up at him, and his ears twitched back, his weight subtly shifted to the tip of his toes, his hips lowered in preparation for springing. Duo sank a hand in his neck fur, finding a little bit of damp under there near the skin, tried to soothe them both.
"But you've got to know if--"
"He was a Gundam Pilot," Dagher interrupted, voice almost bored, eyes sharp as blades as they flitted from Duo's clenched hand to his face. "Not really going to get the standard military experience."
"Some of us weren't military," Benziane countered, and rested an elbow on the table, loosening his spine. Smoke's hackles slowly smoothed back down.
Things were buzzing through the pack sense and Duo could get at none of them. It was an attempt at defusing, though, one Duo hadn't expected from the man. Especially since now that Makisig the newbie had been brought up to speed they all knew what he used to do during the war, huh, unexpected. Uncomfortable, too, though he should have expected it. Keeping secrets of this size in a pack would have been doomed to failure. Especially since Wufei and Trowa were plugged right in the pack sense and there was no way the rest wouldn't have known that about the two of them from really early on.
It felt like he'd dodged a bullet he hadn't known was on its way totally on accident, but he couldn't tell if someone was going to try to shoot at him again.
"Yeah?" he asked Benziane. Civil, he could do civil. He could even approximate interested. "What were you? Cop?"
Benziane dissected him with another suspicious look, and then looked away in a show of blatant disinterest -- contempt, rejection?
No, silly puppy! No fighting, ozone-and-sparking-wires bigger meaner.
... Oh. Wow, hey, you're right. Heh.
"Huh, wouldn't have expected that."
Awkward silence. Urr. Now what.
"I was OZ," Wangai said with only barely forced cheer. "Specials, actually. Had me a nice little Taurus. Never got to be anywhere near one of you guys, though, which I am so heartbroken over you have no idea! Only not really. Gus was in the UESA ground forces division." Gustafson made a moue and a slight wave of his fingers, as if to say 'no hard feelings'. (Or maybe 'I can play piano,' who the fuck could even tell. Duo could only blink.) "Dagher's the one who used to be a cop." A cheerful, white-toothed grin. "And as you've heard Makisig used to be a baby accountant. Sorry, Maki, you're the one everyone really wonders what the heck he's doing here."
"... Hey!" Makisig drew himself up in baffled offense; Chiquito pounced on Wangai's knee, started chewing on her boot, letting out little high-pitched growls that were about as threatening as a fat housecat's purr. Duo startled himself with his own laughter.
"So," Dagher said casually once everyone was done chuckling. "Barton's a mute and Chang's a fortress, so we actually know jack shit about how you guys were trained."
"Are your wolves from the same litter?" Makisig asked. The ex-military duo of Wangai and Gustafson winced in tandem.
"Dude. Glenfiddich used to be General Kushrenada's brother. There's no way."
Well. That was harmless enough. Duo shrugged. "Nah. Different colonies. We're not all wolfbrothers anyway, only three out of five to start with, and those of us who are all came to it differently. I was there when Chang brought back Glen after the last battle, but Barton and that other guy... They're pretty much as chatty as each other so I have zero clue." Well, no, he knew Trowa had a mercenary background, it wasn't hard to figure out where the wolf came from. Heero, though...
"Huh, you weren't trained together?" Wangai asked, tilting her head.
Duo snorted, flicked her a quick smile as he weighed the pros and cons of revealing info. Surprisingly enough there were mostly pros, it wasn't like it was still relevant and it might induce them to trust him more, if they thought he wasn't acting too horribly secretive.
"Didn't even know the other guys existed. We all thought it was going to be a solo mission going in. Talk about a surprise. ... But anyway, wolves! If Trowa wants you to know he'll tell you, though it's just as likely that nobody asked him and he didn't figure anyone'd be interested in the story, but I think Coyote was three or four during the war. So, young adult. The third one was still half-grown."
Dagher gave him a thin smile that seemed to say how discreet he wasn't avoiding naming names; he smiled back, the same way. Wasn't his info to reveal, that one, even if someone else had already told. "How old is Killer?"
"Urr. Lemme math it up. Eleven? Yeah. Almost twelve. Wow, he's even older than Glen." And not even half as well-socialized. Duo repressed a wince, thinking about it. No doubt Kushrenada had bonded during his last years of flight officer training, seventeen or so...
"... How old are you?"
Aw, damn it. Time for another bright bullshitting grin. "Legal in Europe! What else matters?"
Wangai threw a meaningful look at the other woman, though Duo had no idea what it meant; it seemed to be a little charged anyway because after a few seconds of staring at each other Dagher gave a low throaty laugh and flicked her hand as if to say 'it's dropped, it's dropped already.'
And then Wangai asked what was so visible she thought was a safer question. "So where did you and Killer meet, then?" Duo couldn't help laughing at that one. Oh hell.
"God. My old man used to tell me never to ever let anyone know, or they'd have their brothers eat me alive." Okay, disclaimer disclaimed, and now for a harmless wincing look... "Uh. Alright. Here goes. One of my friends wanted to make himself a name as a burglar, broke into the local military base and stole him right off his mom's bed."
Horrified silence. Pretty much what he'd expected. That'd be pretty much child kidnapping for a pack.
"... So... how many pieces she chewed him up into?" Benziane asked. (Smoke's ears were up in alert and he was staring at Duo like he was wondering what the fuck; it was a remarkably human look. Maybe because he was old, they'd been bonded a while, started leaking all over each other.) "Because I have to say, stealing a nursing she-wolf's cub, that counts as wolf-assisted suicide, legally speaking. I'm not kidding."
"No pieces, but we had to hide in the sewers for over two weeks before she gave up." He'd been planning to wince, look ashamed, only Wangai and Makisig looked so horrified he just couldn't help it. He let his slums drawl swamp his voice, eyes hooded, grin gallows-cheerful. "And then he was like, 'the fuck do we do with that? Oh well, it's meat.'"
Makisig wrapped an arm around his pup's neck, dragged him against his knees, shuddering. Chiquito whined, confused. "But but but bondwolves are sentient! At least semi sentient, I mean -- dude -- okay obviously Killer didn't get eaten but -- you were kidding, right?"
Solo hadn't been. No parents, no nothing. Starving had been a legitimate concern, and what they knew or cared about bondwolves would have fit on a stamp with room to spare.
People thought of eating rats as repugnant, horrifying -- but most days they'd counted themselves lucky to catch one. It was protein.
Sneaky as fuck protein, with teeth.
I like rat, Killer said, and nosed at his side. Duo broke out into a laugh, ruffled his ears. "Oh god, don't remind me. Yeah, so. He was too cute to eat." And he could track rats with unerring accuracy, once he understood -- probably gleaned from their minds -- what they were looking for, even if he was still too wobbly-pawed to hunt them down. Boy had Duo had to bargain to keep the cub around even long enough to prove that, though.
"... And... after that?"
After that was the plague which they'd been prime candidates for, hiding in the sewers as they had been. Not anyone's business but his own. And after that...
"The good Father at my orphanage was surprised when my mutt puppy turned out to be a bondwolf, but by then it was kind of too late." A casual shrug. He tucked his thumbs in his front pockets, rocked on his heels. "And that's the story of how Fuzzbutt MacLunch became Killer Duosbrother. Roll credits."
They were all still staring at him. It was making him tense; he tried to relax before Killer picked up on it, though the memories previously rummaged through hadn't helped, already.
"You didn't know he was a bondwolf either, did you," Dagher said, smirking once again.
Damn. Stop reading my mind, you goddamn witchcop, he thought, mostly playfully. She smirked wider.
"Not a goddamn clue!" he admitted. "And then I was like 'Sister, the puppy is talking in my head', and she was like 'yes, yes, and there's trolls to hunt in the garden, I'm sure your ferocious brother-wolf can help'. Pff. I swear they didn't believe me until he started getting taller at the shoulder than I was."
"... Well, that's a story that'll be hard to top at the next pack reunion." Gustafson still stared at him, head shaking slowly in either disbelief or astonishment. Duo breathed a little, because mentioning the pack reunion -- sounded like he was pretty much saying Duo would be there, chatting with people.
Telling them all about his oh so prettily checkered past. Argh, fuck them, he didn't want to.
He'd have to, they'd be in his head before long -- maybe not too deep but he didn't even know how to choose what to broadcast and what to keep back; he was going to slip up, it was pretty inevitable. He already hated it.
Still. He hadn't expected it to go so well, awkwardness included, and he'd been expecting that Wufei would be around to smooth things out and in the end he'd managed without, so all in one he could probably start feeling cautiously optimistic.
The gray wolf nosed Killer's shoulder a last time, gave his chin a cautious lick -- Killer seemed torn between baffled confusion and hesitant satisfaction -- and turned to Duo. The old male's dark muzzle pointed up, ears angled forward, aiming all his attention, and then Duo could smell cigarettes and mint -- menthol, he thought, and someone said yes. The wolf's scent name was a puff of menthol cigarette, and his brother's a much more acrid smoke, and an aftertaste of stale, dirty water that caught him by the throat -- what was left in the ruins after a house fire, soot-stained bricks and a basement full of soupy ashes.
The smell at the Maxwell Church had been different enough -- no firefighters, deficient sprinklers, so it'd burned itself out instead of being drowned (plus a generous portion of carbonized flesh) -- that he managed not to flinch. Immediately after, someone else pushed ozone and the sea and the distinct stink of fish at him, giving him enough of a backlash that he had to close his eyes and breathe through his mouth, not that it ever helped.
So Killer saw the coming wolf first.
He was trotting up to them, huge brindled mass of muscles and dominant, tail curled way up, stare direct, still sharing his cheerfully smothering stormy sea and fish and blood, and he had no intention to stop until he was crowding the two of them and Duo was upset, something had upset Duo and this stranger wolf was charging at them.
Duo lunged; he was too late. His fingers skimmed Killer's tail, closed on nothing, and then the wolves were on each other and Killer wasn't playing, he so wasn't playing, and Wangai was trying to run to them and when Duo grabbed her by the arm (Killer would maul her too, wouldn't hesitate) she punched him in the jaw, a good solid left hook that shook his brain.
Shark was growling, hostile and confused, offended. Killer was silent, not bothering to display, fangs only bared at the tips. People were touching Duo, grabbing his arms to drag him back; it was reflex to twist in their grasp, to slip free. He fought his wolf's impulse to kill, disable, escape.
They had Wangai contained; he lifted a hand, palm up, still in control stay the fuck back (he wasn't lying much), turned to his brother.
It was like yelling into a hurricane, it always was whenever they were so sharply at odds. He gritted his teeth and tried again.
The wolves made another pass, whirlwind of teeth, trying to catch a hold, testing each other's defenses for holes. Duo felt the vicious spark of satisfaction when Killer found one. He lunged to catch his tail, yanked.
He felt a flash of betrayal but Killer knew it was him so he didn't switch targets to snap his teeth closed on Duo's arms, just took a step back to gain himself some slack, make the enemy think Killer was running and press his advantage -- now!
Shark pounced. Killer dropped low, head tilted, striking snake.
The presence in their minds was so strong, smothering, they stumbled back, not knowing where their hands and paws were, sat, plop. Killer whined. Duo whined. Maybe? Both. Sorry. Bad puppies sorry.
Sit. Stay. Bad.
Duo blinked, shook his head. Wow. The fuck. Just... Wow. He forced himself to scan the grounds around them; Killer jerked, flicked his ears. Where the hell... oh.
Oh. Wow. If this wasn't the oldest bitch wolf Duo had ever heard of. She'd probably been basic wolf-brown a long time ago; now she was salt and pepper, muzzle ivory white, one eye blued by cataract. When she walked across the field to them she moved stiff with arthritis.
She wasn't big, but she didn't need to be. The man beside her was well in his seventies, tanned, lined skin, bald on top and the rest steel gray, but beside the wolf he barely caught the eye.
Killer growled, but it came out a complaint instead of a threat, ended in a long, unfair! whine.
The queen wolf felt like... Duo didn't really have words. He felt small in her mind's eye, small and bumbling and silly and like he'd broken a vase or one of Sister's brooches, and she...
She was annoyed, and disappointed, but he was still hers, and if he was sorry enough there would be forgiveness and it would all be good again and maybe she would lick his head. Uh. Pet his head? ... Something.
Damn. Wow. Now that was a mindfuck. Duo climbed back to his feet, cautious; he wasn't about to lose his balance, but it felt weird in his head, a bit cottony. Killer kept sitting, head low and ears flopping down. A couple of feet away big muscled Shark was laying down, head between his paws and whining quietly. When the old bitch wolf came in range he crawled to her, head lifted to lick her chin. She allowed it, waited a few seconds before licking his nose back. Shark's tail started wagging in the dust. Killer was squirming, lost and confused.
She turned to look at Duo's brother. Killer cringed, but didn't look away.
My pack, she sent, not even really in words but it didn't translate to anything else, all the wolves and all their brothers inside the building and all the wolfless people who worked here, hers, her litters of puppies and her adopted puppies with four legs and with two to teach and feed and protect, and pack was not prey.
Killer whined quietly. Bad puppy.
A weirdly human harrumphing noise. Bad puppy stop.
Killer whine-yipped a protest, which was a sound Duo hadn't heard him make since he'd lost his baby fluff. I stop!
He'd been taken from his mother too young, Duo thought, he didn't know about the licking chin thing, he didn't know the signs, the body language, anything. It was so wrong that he'd communicate better with other wolves using words.
He can learn again, said a voice Duo didn't know. He looked up at the queen's brother, who looked back, patient and vaguely amused. Nothing but time, and my girl's a good teacher.
That ancient matriarch, being called a girl -- heh. I hope, he tried to send back, he didn't know if it came out in words at all, or maybe only a sense of uncertainty and worry and inability of trust.
Killer was hunkering down and making his slow, hesitant way to the old queen in turn. Shark stepped back, eyeing him warily, but Killer wouldn't have paid a lick of attention to him unless he actually pounced. He lifted his nose, unsure, sniffed at her. Hot asphalt and rust on steel mingled with the powerful scent of leather, the lather off a tired horse's coat.
She licked his ear. Killer whined softly and licked back at her jaw, letting the smaller wolf groom the top of his head. She put a gnarled, faintly trembling paw on his shoulder and nudged. Completely dumbfounded, Duo's brother allowed himself to flop on his side.
Good, she said, satisfied, and kept him down with more ear grooming. Good puppy now. (my puppy now.)
Killer's hesitant happiness caught in Duo's throat. This -- this was something he'd never known to give to his brother, his soul-partner, never could have anyway. He couldn't wish he'd given Killer back as a puppy even so, he didn't know how to live without him, didn't want to learn, didn't even want to imagine how he could have survived this long, but that this had been the price to becoming Duo's...
"Drico Rosca Folhasbrother," the old man (dark, rich field soil after a heavy rain) said mildly, hand held out to shake. Duo shook, a little lost, wolf-happy and self-sad and guilty. "Welcome to the pack, Killersbrother. Now you have the look of a man who needs a beer."
Duo started laughing, a little despite himself. "Wolf witchery! How could you guess."
Rosca might pale beside his queen, but his eyes were knowing, his mind still sharp; he'd been dangerous once upon a time and he might still be -- maybe not physically but there had to be a reason why a queen-wolf had chosen him as her match -- and somehow this only made Duo relax, because she was on Duo and Killer's side and so he was too. "I'd say experience, but you're right, this is a grievous misuse of pack bond. Now be thankful we're in Europe where there's actual drinkable beer in range."
"Are you impugning the good name of Budweiser, sir?" Duo countered, and let himself be herded out of the Preventers compound and toward their favorite bar, Folha stiffly trotting ahead on the pavement with Killer and Shark and Chiquito trailing her like kites on strings, no leash necessary.
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