The first night of full Moon came at last. The pilots had moved to another
property rented by Winner Enterprises, a big house perched up atop hill, with
miles of woods full of game, and not a soul at less than one hour by car.
The closer the night was, the more Quatre hurt. Deciding that he had been insufferable enough this last week and that his three friends didn't need to bear his moods more than necessary, the little blond-haired pilot had taken refuge in a swing on the terrace, and was rocking himself, jaws clenched, trying to forget the cramps that attacked without warning.
The sky was beginning to be tinted pink when Quatre realized he wasn't alone anymore on the terrace.
"I was looking for you", the young man admitted. "I was wondering how you felt …"
"I'll be alright", the Arab answered courageously, directing a strained smile at him.
'oh no, he seems to feel worse and I can't do the first thing… An aspirin wouldn't do much… but something stronger would probably be contraindicated…'
"You're right. And aspirin makes the blood more liquid, I don't know if it would be a good thing," Quatre answered distractedly. "Bah! It won't be long now," he added resolutely, "but thanks anyway for worrying for me, Trowa…"
"Do you realize that I didn't open my mouth?"
The little Arab ceased to push himself mechanically and turned his head toward his friend, eyes wide open.
"It’s happening again?"
'do you hear me?' wondered the acrobat.
But the Arab didn't react, so Trowa shrugged, while sitting on the swing beside him.
"It seems to work only by short flashes, does it not…"
"Or only when I'm absent-minded…"
"That too", the brown-haired boy agreed.
They stopped speaking, not knowing what to say, and let themselves enjoy the sunset on the woods in front of them. It was pretty …But the both of them were probably more preoccupied by their own thoughts than by the landscape.
"Trowa…?" the blond murmured after a few minutes.
"I'm afraid…" he admitted in a little voice.
Not knowing what to say, Trowa cursed himself for his lack of ease with words and contented himself with a friendly tap on his friend's knee. Quatre put his hand on Trowa's and squeezed it, head hanging low. Trowa turned toward him and put his other hand on his shoulder.
"You'll be ok, Quat… All will be right…"
Quatre dedicated him a more miserable than reassuring little smile… then his eyes widened and he uttered a surprised cry, his hand clenching Trowa's painfully.
"I… I… Allah… hurts…" the Arab hiccuped, trying to breathe deeply to undo the knot of pain which had taken root in his chest.
He let go of his friend's hand, conscious that he was crushing it, and bent forward, blinded by his tears of pain.
"Quatre?!" Trowa exclaimed and got up from the swing to kneel in front of his friend. "What's happening? Is it beginning?!"
"Don't know … but… Oww!"
His legs couldn't bear his weight anymore; he fell off the swing into Trowa's arms, which lay him down on the ground and tried to calm him by caressing his hair.
"Stay calm, little one, Stay calm… it will go away soon, don't be afraid…" his friend reassured him while asking himself what he could do to help him a little.
The answer was: apart from trying to get him to think of other matters, nothing at all.
Quatre rolled slightly and tried to make a ball of himself in a derisive effort to escape the pain, his muscles contracting by waves, his stomach protesting loudly. He felt things happening in him, but refused with terror to let them invade him.
His chest seemed to close itself up, and he was seized by a rising panic, which only worsened his reaction. He stopped to breathe, breathed again, stopped again, hiccuped. Trowa's breath hitched in sympathy.
"Heero!! HEERO!!!" shouted the banged boy, dragging the blond's head onto his lap and trying to get him to stop moving around so much.
When wolfboy got to them, he found the blond pilot rolling about on the ground, groaning with pain even while trying to keep the sounds inside. His face was damp with sweat and tears and his jaws were clenched tightly together, so hard it was a wonder his teeth didn't explode under the pressure.
"Hurts… Hurts… It huuuurts…" he moaned, panting.
"It will go away, Katoru-kun …" Heero whispered while kneeling by him and putting the boy's head on his own knees.
He turned toward Trowa and Duo who had followed him.
"Get back in the house," the Were ordered.
Not wanting to let his friend alone, Trowa tried to answer back, but a murderous glare helped him to forget every single rebellious notion he had. Duo understood that Heero probably had a good reason to ask them to leave them both alone, and caught Trowa's elbow to drag him off.
Heero stayed with the boy, still wracked with pain, talking softly to him, with a tender voice he hadn't even known he possessed. He tried to calm him by caressing his sweat-damp hair, but it didn't seem to be of much effect. He divested him of his clothes, still talking to him in a low, purring monologue.
"Don't resist, Quatre, the more you resist, the more it will last … I know it hurts, but you have to not push back the pain. Accept it. Let it go. The more you wait, the more you'll hurt … Let the beast go. Release it… Let go, Katoru…" he sing-sung, his original accent coming back with a vengeance from the stress. "Let it go… I am here. I'll look after you… I swear I'll be here to catch you. Let yourself go…"
Trembling with pure fright, Quatre let the transformation loose, totally abandoned himself to the change.
He felt himself drift at the limit of losing consciousness, felt ill with the changes his body was undergoing, the strange sensations assailing him from all sides, the disgusting sounds the organs made while modifying themselves…
His ribcage suddenly felt like someone was smashing it with vicious kicks; it was changing from a flat shape to a triangular one, and he thought someone was driving bamboo splinters under his fingertips when dark and thick claws pierced the surface, taking the place of his pink and well-trimmed nails.
Heero wondered if his own transformations took him that much time. He didn't know… When it happened, he never knew how much time passed. He was always under the impression that it lasted centuries and seconds all the same.
His worry for his comrade helped him to keep the Wolf calm, to let the human in command and to inhibit the transformation. It was surprisingly easy: he couldn't help his friend if need be if he was a wolf, and the Wolf worried for his packmate as much as the human for his friend, so he permitted him to stay in control without struggling too much to free himself. He should remember about it… The wolf let him alone if he felt the human Heero could do things better than him, even while the moon was full.
The transformation was happening too slowly, much too slowly.
Then Heero thought he would have a panic attack, when he heard the young boy's frantic heart miss one beat, then two.
He pricked up his ears, but heard only silence.
"KATORU!!!" screamed the brown-haired werewolf, refusing to imagine exactly how he would treat a body whose ribs were modifying, or even an animal body. How did one do mouth-to-mouth reanimation to a beast?
He thought he would cry out in relief when Quatre's heart began to pump again by itself, slower, in a slightly different rhythm. Then, at last, when the rest of the transformation was nearly achieved, the animal's coat appeared.
Immediately, Heero understood that they had a slight … situation.
Quatre's hairs were golden, like the hair on his head. It was to be expected: after all Heero's fur was mostly of the same chocolate brown color as his hair, too, apart from the creme white markings on his tail end and throat. Well, Quatre's fur was a little… short … frankly short even, but after all why not…? …Couldn't it still be a wolf from a country with a warm temperature, maybe? …after all he was Arabic…
No, what was slightly bothering him was … the… trail of …spots, there wasn't any other word, spots, black spots, on his back and flanks. Pretty, little, round spots, approximately as big as a penny, appearing nearly everywhere on the animal's body. And the long and fine paws, and the supple and thin, lashing tail.
The transformation finished, Quatre stayed panting in the same place for a few minutes, before lifting his head.
Heero groaned and sat back down on his haunches heavily, suddenly extremely tired. The short muzzle, framed by sinuous black lines coming down from the blue-green eyes of the animal Quatre had become, was indubitably a feline one.
* * *
From the house where they were observing the scene, Duo and Trowa reacted the exact same way when they saw the golden-furred animal get up on all four:
"WHAT THE HELL?!??"
"That's not a wolf, that…" Duo protested while pulling on his braid to calm himself.
Trowa didn't answer, too hypnotized by the feline his best friend had changed into.
"Trowa? Tro-man, you're the animals expert here … WHAT is THAT?"
"A…A cheetah…" the clown whispered as he recognized the elegant lines of the animal.
They glanced at each other, and let slip the same reaction again.
"What the fuck happened?!"
* * *
Meanwhile, Heero had slowly stepped back to give the big cat space to breathe, and was letting his own transformation take a hold of him without stopping his staring, pushing as much as he could with his might to make it go faster. The animal wasn't a canine, he didn't know how he would react. If Quatre, drowned by the instincts, attacked him before he was fully in wolf form…
But the big cat didn't aggress him, contenting himself with crouching on the ground and looking up at him, seeming lost and miserable.
"Katoru?" growled Heero while he could still speak.
When the feline let loose a small and lost mewl while tentatively sniffling his immediate surroundings, the wolf's overdeveloped protection instinct automatically dialed up to maximum. Totally transformed now, Heero approached slowly, his attitude as unthreatening as he could make it, and sniffed the cheetah's nose. When the said cheetah let him do it without wincing as if expecting to be bitten and returned the act, he began to sway his tail back and forth in greeting and invited him to follow in the woods with a movement of his muzzle.
Quatre didn't seem to understand at first, still too wrapped up in what was happening and disoriented by the sensory deluge that requested his attention from all sides. But finally, he understood what the wolf wanted, and left the terrace behind him, with still uneasy long steps.
* * * * * *
The day before
Treize kept an eye on the orderlies who were installing the boy on his bed. He was as pale as his sheets, his usually golden skin a sickly yellow. His brows were frowning in distress. He seemed so small, so lost, in the middle of that bed too big for him … Just a child. A child he wanted to rock, to protect.
Was he really the same person as the fire being he had found so desirable in the gardens? It was hard to believe… He was only a young boy still. Treize felt like a pedophile. It was the man shining through the boy that attracted him, the one he would be one day, but the child he had been was still too perceptible for him to be at ease with that idea. What did he admire that much, anyway? The purity without concessions of his views and his values, did it come from the adult or from the child? His passionate way to jump, head-on, against every obstacle, was it the mark of an untamable adult, or of a rebellious child not yet broken by the ways of the world?
Who was Chang Wufei?
* * *
Wufei didn't awaken once in all of that day. Deadly worried and feeling responsible, Treize refused to leave his bedside. It was his fault, if he hadn't lied, tried to protect the boy against his will… How it was laughable now to have only thought about it! Wufei was so strong, so courageous, he didn't ask for protection, from anyone…
He had his dossiers and a table delivered in the boy's room, so that he could work anyway, but he quickly realized that he couldn't do much as long as the young man wasn't awake; he always had an ear pricked up, jumping, his concentration broken, as soon as his respiration changed rhythms.
But Wufei didn't move once in the whole day. He vaguely moved around when night came, but as soon as the sun went up, he went back into an even more immobile and deep sleep. You would have thought he was in a coma, but his vitals showed that he was only sleeping. All day, each try to awaken him was concluded with a vague shivering of muscles.
And then night came.
It began with fingers spasmodically stirring up, flexing and opening again, gripping the covers; then by starts, first in the arms and legs then with all of his body, like convulsions. Then his head which was rolling from one side to the other, slowly first, then faster, as if he was negating something. A long moan escaped from his throat, and his forehead went covered in sweat. His legs and arms began to hit at the air, and Treize, worried, got up and put a hand on his arm to try to calm him down. But at the contrary, its only result was to agitate the boy even more. The General tried grabbing one of his wrists and was hit several times before he could catch it. The few seconds during which he held it back were enough to realize that the boy's cardiac rhythm was too fast, even for a nightmare.
"Wufei, wake up!! Wufei!! WUFEI!!!"
But even when he caught his shoulders and shook him, he only succeeded in agitating the boy even more… and what were leaving his throat now were screams. Strange, unarticulated screams, from far within his throat, deep and shrill alternating. And then Wufei kicked him in the middle of his chest with his two heels and sent him to sprawl on the floor, breathless. When Treize succeeded in getting back on his feet, the boy had rolled on his belly and was backing up against the wall, grunting and growling funnily. His eyes were half opened but empty, as if he didn't see anything of what happened in front of him, only what was happening in his head. The sweat covered his whole body, made his hospital gown stick to his skin, and he raked at it, trying to get it off.
Treize tried to touch the boy again, and jumped back swearing. Wufei had struck with a stunning precision for someone half conscious … Three bloody lines were showing on the back of his hand.
He turned around to call for the base's doctor and several orderlies. The boy had to calm down, fast.
He didn't see the strange markings that appeared, fugacious, on his skin, darkening for a few seconds before disappearing again.
* * *
The orderlies were tall and strong, but four of them had to get at it to overpower the slender adolescent so that the doctor could inject a drug in him. Treize stayed in a corner, staring at the scene, trying not to hear the hoarse, bestial screams, full of the fury of a captured animal, coming from the Asian boy.
The doctor was frowning and mumbling something under his breath and Treize stared at him, an eyebrow up.
"He should be under already, General…" explained the doctor, observing the progressive slowing of the boy's movements and the struggle of the orderlies trying to immobilize him.
Finally, after several long minutes, Wufei slid into a sleep that was still agitated, but less violent, and after having finally succeeded in tying his arms and legs to the bed, the orderlies let him go with gratitude. One of them had a broken and bloody nose, and they were all covered in bruises and deep gouges made by the boy's nails. The doctor examined them before letting them go.
Treize stayed there, staring at the boy, silent. Wufei was frowning and giving off little cries, and even knocked out by the drugs and blocked by the leather straps, he nearly succeeded in moving around enough to be dangerous. Even if his head had forgotten his hand-to-hand combat skills, his body did remember, and fairly well at that. The man rubbed at his torso. He would surely have a hell of a bruise … He was lucky not to have had his ribs caved in by the impact. The sheer force there had been in the strike made it a more than definite possibility.
* * * * * * * * *
The morning after the first night of full moon, Duo was leaning against the couch in front of the bay window and watched the dawn color in pinks and oranges a cloudless sky. Trowa had woken him up without meaning to when he had been making yet another coffee pot to keep awake till the two Weres came back. He didn't want to talk about it, even with all of Duo's persuasive dialogue, but he was being eaten alive by his worry. Yet Duo wasn't stupid enough to contradict him, when he insisted on not being sleepy. Cathy had taught the boy many other things apart from being a target, as far as knife-throwing went.
A brown flash in the bushes on the other side of the barrier alerted the American. A dark, barely discernable shape was climbing the hill toward the house… followed by another shape, much less experimented and much more visible, that one a black speckled gold that made it very easy to spot in the middle of the browns and greens of the wood.
"Tro-Tro? They're here," Duo called.
Two seconds later, Trowa had abandoned the coffee maker to its fate and had dashed off to the French windows, God and Trowa Barton only to know how he had done it and not looked rushed at all. He opened the door and slid out on the terrace, just as the two animals disappeared to their sight, too near to the barrier now to still be spotted over it. Duo followed, a smile on his lips, amused by his impatience. He hadn't even heard the nickname.
Suddenly, the brown wolf appeared over the two and a half meter high barrier. He landed with ease, and his elegant gesture seemed to be a natural continuation of his jump. He trotted toward the terrace for a few meters before stopping and turning around to the wall, one ear prickled toward it.
The two human pilots waited for the cheetah's appearance with bated breath.
Finally, Quatre's golden body appeared over the wall. But far from landing with the ease and grace Heero had shown, he stayed vacillating in an unstable stance for a few seconds on top of the wall before letting himself fall like a sack of potatoes on their side, out of balance. The cat approached limping, his head low, and Heero had to push him with his muzzle to encourage him to climb the stairs leading up to the terrace, where their comrades were awaiting them. Trowa hurried toward the big cat and crouched in front of him. Mewling pitifully, Quatre gave him his front paw, and Trowa began to verify if he had sprained it or something. At his side, Heero was laughing the lupine way, showing his big teeth, tongue lolling, and got an annoyed hiss, fangs showing, from Quatre, and a tail slap in the nose to boot. He yelped, and Quatre snorted at him.
Carefully and with an ease given to him by habit of taking care of big cats, Trowa bent over the cheetah and took his paw, bending it to take a good look at the underside. He didn't need a long time before spotting the big thorn stuck between his pads. He got it out easily, and Quatre purred with relief, reflexively rubbing his big head on his comrade's knee.
Trowa flushed slightly and got up, trying to look as if nothing was happening or had happened. Heero and Duo exchanged a look that spoke an entire library before beginning to snicker. The Arabian's aquamarine eyes blinked several times when he smelled the changing scent of his friend, but, still not that used to it, he couldn't put it on an emotion he recognized. Then his Uchuu no Kokoro kicked in and he jumped. Duo's laughter doubled when he saw the inside of his ears going pink.
"What?" grunted Trowa, glaring menacingly at him.
"Nothing, nothing," smiled the American detachedly, walking away to the house by the wolf's side.
* * *
Once inside, Heero climbed on the large leather couch and made himself comfortable.
"You'll get fur on the couch …" joked Duo.
"Yeah, yeah, I luv ya too," mocked the braided boy, scratching the top of his skull, before swiftly taking his hand back to avoid the snap of fangs the other had given by pure reflex.
The cheetah walked into the room, dragging his paws in a way that showed his intense tiredness, arriving before Trowa who was closing the French door behind him. Noticing Heero already nearly asleep, he didn't think to search elsewhere and climbed on the couch too, curling up against his back, his chin on the wolf's shoulder. They squirmed a few seconds, trying to find a comfortable position, then fell asleep as fast as if they had hit a switch.
"It's utterly adorable. We should take a picture, what do you think, Tro-kins?"
"… they would kill us," remarked the green-eyed boy.
Duo made a face.
"True…" the American sighed dejectedly.
"My camera is in the hall. "
* * * * * *
One hour later, when the sun had been up for an hour at least already, Duo and Trowa were having breakfast when they heard a whole two minutes of uninterrupted curses and swear words in Arabic, followed swiftly by the sound of someone dashing toward the stairs. By the open door, they just had the time to catch a glance at a bit of pink skin hurrying toward the stairs.
"Tell me I didn't just see Quatre running around butt naked," Duo asked after having blinked twice or thrice.
He turned to Trowa, who was trying to hide his slight flush behind his bang, and burst out laughing.
"Nope, I wasn't mistaken!!" he guffawed.
"Stop laughing at Trowa," said Heero's deep and calm voice.
This time, it was Trowa's turn to discreetly mock Duo. His mouth opened wide, cheeks scarlet, the boy was staring with bulging eyes at a certain Heero Yuy, standing on the kitchen's doorstep, totally naked, and not in the least trying to hide it.
"HEERO!!! PUT SOME CLOTHES ON!!!!"
Yuy blinked placidly.
"Don't you have any body-shyness !?!"
"No, what for?" asked the pilot of Wing, with such an innocent expression compared to his usual face that it just had to be false.
"RHAAAAH!!! GO DRESS YOURSELF!!!"
Heero looked at him, looked at Trowa who seemed ready to burst out laughing (well, burst out laughing at a Trowa Barton level, which would correspond to a slight snicker for common mortals), looked once again at Duo, then shrugged and turned around to leave, gifting them with a totally unobstructed view of the magnificently arched small of his back and his wonderfully muscled tight rear end.
Barton used with gratitude the golden occasion to give Duo's back slightly stronger slaps than necessary.
"Oh, you, shaddup …"
They were getting back to eating when the American's toast stopped short of his mouth.
"They were butt naked because they just untransformed?"
"… I believe so…" admitted Barton who didn't understand where Duo was going.
"Probably happened when they were still sleeping… like when Heero Changed for the first time and when he woke up the morning after, he was human…"
"Mm?" Heavyarms's pilot encouraged him patiently.
"They woke up, they were human already … Do you remember the position they were in when they fell asleep?"
Trowa's slightly bulging eyes proved to him that he had just had the same mental picture as him.
Discretely, the European got the tissues box back from the American and wiped up the blood drop that was appearing under his nose.