Quatre closed the door to the living room behind him as softly as he could
to let the Chinese teen rest, and rejoined the three other pilots in the kitchen.
"I finished examining him," he announced to his friends who were staring at him in silence. "He doesn't seem to have a concussion or any mental trauma, or it has already been gone for a while. Apart from a few bruises and scratches he probably got when trying to hide from Heero in that bush, he doesn't bear any marks. The wound on his thigh probably dates back to his capture; it’s just a pink scar that shouldn't take long to disappear. It had been really well treated. No infections."
"Tortured? No, apparently not. In fact, he is clean and well nourished… I think he’s even gained a pound or two. He was probably eating well…"
Imagining the reaction the Chinese boy would have to waking up in a sumo's body, Duo snickered behind his hand. Wufei was even more obsessed by his body's maintenance, especially to his ideal weight and level of musculature, than Wing's pilot himself. And it was a good bet that he hadn't had much time to do his exercises when he had been a prisoner of OZ, probably losing some tonicity and flexibility.
"He's gonna get pissed… When he…"
He brutally sobered.
"Will he remember?"
"There are good odds that he will," Quatre reassured him with a smile. "I am not a specialist, but… If his amnesia was caused by a blow to the head, it was a physical cause, that is, probably a blood clot in his brain, compressing a part of it. If like Heero says, his memories are coming back on their own, it's that the clot is disappearing by itself and didn't make any permanent damage on his memories. And he doesn't seem to have undergone damage to anything else, did he Heero?"
"No. He was afraid, but he was entirely lucid and very logical. His movements weren't handicapped. He still has his suspicious instincts too…"
"He was afraid?" repeated Duo, staring funny at the Japanese. "Chang Wufei?"
Heero shrugged and stared at the table, frowning pensively.
"He doesn't remember having been a warrior. It is as if he was nothing more than a normal schoolboy. In his place, anyone would be afraid to see someone with a weapon coming after them."
"True…"agreed the American, playing nervously with his braid.
"If it comes to the worst case scenario, we can always take him to Sally…" suggested Quatre with a smile. "She'll give him a scan to verify the internal damage, that way we’ll be sure…"
"Where is she now?" asked Duo.
The last time he had heard of the young woman, she had been lost somewhere in China, coordinating the actions of the different resistance groups, but she had already been talking about going on a mission elsewhere as soon as they wouldn't need her to play liaison.
"Her cover is school doctor," answered Heero. "In the States."
"Ouch. We can't go right now then," sighed the braided boy. "It's slightly too far from South Europe to go just like that…"
"It is not as if he is in an unstable state. We'll get him over there as soon as the full moon is finished and we have explained everything to him…"
"Hey, while I'm thinking about it, Sally's gonna realize…"
"We would have to tell her anyway," Trowa said, shrugging. "And we need to have a doctor knowing about that… particularity."
"You're right. So, what are we gonna do with Wufei in between?"
"I know as much as you do…" sighed Quatre, running a hand through his hair.
"What we should be thinking about first," answered Heero, "is deciding what we are going to do with him tonight. I don't know what they did to stop something from happening last night, because I can't smell it on him as I normally would have if it had happened. But tonight the same thing will not work. It's getting easier to smell already…"
"We should tell him about it beforehand, so that he doesn't panic and knows what to expect… don't you agree?"
"Yes, we should," agreed the Japanese boy.
"So, who's doing it?" Duo asked innocently.
All eyes turned to him and he half-jumped out of his chair, one hand forward as if warding off the idea from their heads.
"No no no no no no no no… You're joking right?! He's never gonna believe me! He's gonna think I'm nuts!"
The eyes didn't look away. Quatre even gave him an encouraging smile.
"Oh, Duo, it will only be a small explanation… You're much more gifted than us with rhetoric, I am sure you will find an angle which will let him understand much better … We are with you. If needed, Heero will give him a demonstration… ok?"
"You're gonna owe me big time," grunted the American.
"Of course, Duo," answered Quatre in a discreetly relieved tone.
* * *
Wufei woke up to the headache from hell. Grimacing, he lifted a hand to his forehead, feeling by reflex the scar between his eyes. Bloody hell, he could nearly hear bells… He would be better off if he called one of Treize's doctors, he was in serious need of something stronger than an aspirin.
He heard voices in the background, and froze, an old habit making him stay unmoving until he had identified the people.
They were young voices, boy voices. Voices of people he didn't know. And too young-sounding to be soldiers. But as they didn't sound as if they were in the same room as him, he decided to open an eye. Yep, he was alone. He was lying on a sofa, in a salon covered in wood panels, with big French doors, and the half-opened shutters let orange rays of light shine through. It was probably evening already. And he was not in Treize's base anymore, that he was sure of.
"So, what are we gonna do with Wufei in between?"
"I know as much as you do…"
He frowned. They were talking about him… To be more precise, they were trying to decide what to do with him.
/like a caged animal, no choices, no freedom/
"What we should be thinking about first," intervened a cold voice that he very much recognized, even having heard it once only, "is deciding what we are going to do with him tonight. I don't know what they did to stop something from happening last night, because I can't smell it on him as I normally would have if it had happened. But tonight the same thing will not work."
Yesterday? What had happened yesterday? Probably nothing, he had had a fit and had spent the night knocked out by drugs. With the dose they had probably injected him with, he had surely spent his time snoring the night away.
That voice … It was the blue-eyed boy, the one to whom he thought associated with the name Wing, even if he kind of felt that it was not really his. The one who looked so dangerous /and knew his name/… Where had he taken him? Where was Treize?
'But Treize is an enemy …'
He didn't understand the first thing from what they were talking about, apart from the fact that something was supposed to happen to him. But he knew something. He didn't want to stay here and wait to find out, letting himself be manipulated like a puppet.
And the French door was not bolted.
He wondered for a few seconds if maybe, they did have a good reason to trust him so much, but finally he shrugged it off. As long as he didn't have any proof… Too bad for them. Maybe he would come back when he made a better opinion on the situation. For the moment…
He slid outside in silence, vaguely surprised when he found in front of him a forest landscape as far as his eyes could see.
/To run in the forest … to be free, at last… /
He shook his head. Later, he would deal with the strange impulses. He went to the garage as fast as he could. A rather banal car was parked next to a four-wheel drive and a black limousine. What to choose… He vaguely wondered how he knew that he could drive; after all he wasn't even sixteen yet. But even if he didn't have precise memories of himself driving, he knew that he had learned to drive, as he knew that he could read.
His eyes fell on the motorcycle in the corner, and the decision was taken out of his hands.
* * *
When Duo ran out on the terrace, followed closely by the other pilots, he only had the time to catch sight of a bike disappearing behind the bushes framing the path, in an enthusiast roar of motors.
"He took his bike… Goddamn shit!"
Quatre blinked at the violence in Duo's voice.
Without having to talk about it, the four boys jumped in the four-wheel jeep, Trowa driving, the others on the back platform. The car roared to life and jumped onto the path in the woods, speeding after the bike.
The wind rushed around the three boys who were on the platform, throwing back Duo's braid and making Quatre's clothes and Heero's tanktop flutter.
Heero was leaning against the bar between the seats in the front and the platform and stood up straight, nose to the wind, trying to catch the floating smell of a bike. Hs senses were sharpening even more, and he was conscious of the fact that it was not just because of needing them that he was forcing them to concentrate. It was the second night of the full moon after all. And night was coming fast. He felt the Wolf just under the surface, pushing, in a hurry to be freed…
As for Quatre, seated on the floor at the back, he was in an even more advanced state. He was already covered in a fine fur, golden spotted black, his irises had invaded the whites of his eyes, making his orbs an absolute inhuman blue-green, and he was happily getting rid of his clothes, finding insufferable to be imprisoned in all those garments. A small remnant of modesty made him keep the pants on, but that was all.
"Left, Trowa!" shouted Heero when he caught sight of the deep marks in the ground at a crossroad.
The three boys had to brace themselves when the ex-mercenary turned fast. Quatre, being sitting in a corner, wasn't too shaken, but the momentum threw Duo off balance and his shoulder bumped Heero's side. Heero, still standing behind the bar, leaned a hand on his shoulder to immobilize him, helping him to stand at his side.
"Why the hell did he run away?" grumbled the American while taking place at his comrade's side.
Heero shrugged, and turned to face the wind.
"He doesn't know who we are. He doesn't trust us."
Duo lowered his eyes, dismayed.
"I know, but…"
The road was all sharp U-turns and Trowa was driving very fast to rejoin the Kawasaki. Heero couldn't let the bar he was clenching go. But the tone of his packmate's voice was so depressed… He wanted to cheer him up. His uninhibited inner animal being closer to the surface than usual, he just rubbed his jaw against the braided boy's shoulder to mark his solidarity.
Instinctively, Duo turned his face toward the other boy when he felt the contact, and drew in a shaky breath when he realized that Heero's short hair was tickling the tip of his nose. Troubled, he stayed unmoving for a heartbeat, then his body, barely, leaned closer to Heero's. Heero looked up when he felt him move, and they both froze when they realized suddenly that their faces weren't a breath apart. Both surprised, they stared, their eyes widening slightly.
The car had just jumped violently on a pothole, and their forehead had knocked into each other. Losing his balance, Heero gripped the bar with his free hand in a hurry… and realized, a little late, that he now had one arm on each side of his friend's waist. But Duo didn't realize, too occupied with rubbing his bump and cursing like a sailor. Heero pulled his hand away as if he had been burned.
They both jumped when they heard a stifled laugh coming from behind them. Quatre had his hand across his mouth and was trying not to burst out laughing, but his snickers came anyway, uncontrollably.
"Ah, you're so silly!" he grinned at them.
Duo blushed, and stuck his tongue out at the cheetah.
"Bleedah," he answered, making a face to hide his unease.
Amused, Heero gave him a microscopic wink, and rubbed his jaw against Duo's shoulder, just once, before taking his vigilant pose again, as if he had done nothing out of the ordinary.
Duo blinked. What the hell…
"Hey, you're really touchy-feely today, what's going on?"
Heero gave him a slightly guilty glance and leaned away.
"Sorry, it's the moon. Does it bother you?"
"No, not really. Just surprised me, that's all. And what's with the rubbing your face all over me stuff?" he whispered so that Quatre couldn't eavesdrop.
"You remember Quatre and Trowa?" asked Heero.
"The marki… Heero? You talking about the marking territory stuff?? You're fucking MARKING me??!"
"Yes I am. What of it?" hissed Heero, suddenly tense.
Great, not another confrontation… Duo sighed. "Why?"
"Just don't want any other Weres to get ideas. You're from MY pack."
Maxwell really wanted to get angry at Heero's possessiveness. But the unconscious pout and the frown on Heero's face were so cute and so incongruous that finally, he couldn't prevent himself form chuckling.
"No. I'm protective. There is a difference."
"Yuy, I don't…"
"I know you don't need my protection, but… I feel better when I can give a small measure of it to you. Allow me that?" he asked, looking right at him from behind his dark lashes, his eyes so intense.
Damn. When had he learned to manipulate him like that, thought the American. Duo was the one who was supposed to be able to push all of Heero's buttons like a professional!
The braided boy sighed. As Heero had apparently understood, Duo couldn't refuse the boy when he expressed a personal preference coming from a genuine emotion. He just couldn't.
"Ok, ok. If you like marking me so much. Not as if I could smell it anyway."
He never really wondered why Heero didn't mark Trowa the same way.
* * * * * *
Speed, the wind from the front, the strength of the machine between his legs, and all that road in front of him… he had already lived that.
And visibly he still liked it as much as ever.
Wufei was taking a turn, and he was barely refraining from shouting his joy and his speed intoxication, when a wave of a strange faintness made him feel all light-headed. The bike yawed wildly, and he barely straightened it in time. He gritted his teeth under the intense and unexpected pain, hoping that the attack would pass fast.
Images, sounds, voices, feelings were pressing in his head, turned and whirled at the edges of his conscious mind, struggling to get out in the open, rendering him nearly unconscious of what was happening outside of the little world under his skull. Absorbed, he tried to push the memories back, to drive them back to the bottom. He was going too fast to take the liberty of being distracted. He was going to…
… to crash…
He hadn't closed his eyes more than one second … but when he opened them again, he was unmoving, so unmoving that he felt ill. He rolled on a side, vomited bile in long and painful spasms, his throat dry… and after a few instants of pain so strong that the world seemed to become black, succeeded in pushing the fainting spell back and regained enough awareness of his surrounding to realize that he was not on the bike anymore. He was lying on his back in the grass, on the side of the road, and was looking at the darkening sky. For a few minutes, or a few hours, he stayed there with his arms spread open, not thinking, letting the pain flow out of him like water out of a broken vase, content with appreciating the coolness of the air and the grass on his fevered skin, with admiring the darkening skies, going through roses that were changing to mauves and violets. He felt like he was floating, detached from the Earth, detached from his body, as if he had been drugged. He felt good.
An aftertaste of smoke was tickling his nostrils, and something that he didn't identify right on as motor oil. But it was not close enough to be of any concern to him.
At first, he didn't even pay attention to the motor noises, slowing to look at the crash then speeding again. He was listening to the birds chirping, snuggling in their nests for the night, to the little animals that were crawling in the bushes only a few meters from him, all those little Nature sounds. But when, ten minutes later, another vehicle stopped just a close distance to the place where he was resting, bothering the animals and breaking the peace of the woods, he was forced to pay attention.
Shouts, steps coming closer. He growled low, leaning on an elbow, and gave a pissed off glare to the imbeciles who dared to come and annoy him, just when, for once, he had felt at peace.
"Why the hell do we need to take a look at this place, damnit!?"
"Because it's part of our accord with the local police," sighed another man in a voice implying that he had already repeated that little tidbit of info more than enough to his tastes. "They need reinforcements, we needed more influence, not too complicated…"
Three soldiers were examining something… the remnants of what had been his bike, a few dozen meters away,
'I fled on all that? wow… I was lucky I didn't hurt myself …'
and were chatting with animation while looking at the bits of twisted metal. Two other men were looking around, he didn't know for what. They all turned to him when they saw something move in the shadow of the bushes, taking out the guns.
They were in his personal space, approached as if stalking him… Wufei snarled, menacing, warning them to stay away.
The men paused, surprised. Then one of them lighted a torch, flashing it full in his face, giving him the impression of receiving glass splinters through his eyes, to his brain. His growl became a roar. He pushed himself up on his forearms, facing them, staying crouching low. He felt strong, aggressive, and ready to fight, if they wanted it so much. They were nothing more than prey.
"Oh man, stripes…" he heard one of the men whisper.
His head didn't hurt as much as before … this time, it was much, much worse, no comparing. His skull gave off the impression of compressing inward. He was hurting all over, violent pulses of suffering, even in the morrow of his bones. His muscles were protesting the slightest movement, as if they were slowly tearing under a tension he could feel grow, grow… and his pain gave birth to a mad rage, a need to dissipate his pain by inflicting it upon others.
His vision briefly blurred, became nearly black- then cleared out, more so than before, as if it was twilight still and not nearly night.
"Oh man," he heard once again- but the words had lost all of their meaning.
The intruders made noises, shouted, but their chatter only made him understand one thing.
He didn't want them there.
* * *
When the car stopped in front of the abandoned military van, and that Heero, Trowa and Duo jumped out, gun in hand, they only found the still smoking remnants of Wufei's bike… and three shredded corpses.
Once they had made sure that no one was there, Quatre got out too, his hand clenched over his heart. He had decided not to get any weapon at all, his mind too close to the animal within to really use a gun in a fight. His tail was swinging in wild arcs behind him, like a cat feeling uneasy. He wanted to change so much… He stared at Heero, who visibly had the same problem if you judged by the hypertrophied canines showing under his periodic snarl, when the need became too strong.
The brown-haired boy was sniffing at the scene, his eyes half-closed.
"He wasn't hurt. I don't smell his blood."
Duo sighed in relief.
"Look at that," said the American, lifting from the ground the shredded and dirty rests of white pants.
"It's Wufei's," assured Heero after having sniffed at it. "He Changed."
"Changed… Changed?" asked Duo, making quote marks with his hands.
Heero snorted, mocking, then lifted a finger to show him the moon, already beginning to light the clouds in the distance. His eyes were strangely glowing with the light coming from Trowa's torch, as if they were reflecting the lights. They had a red tint.
"Oh. Well at least we know that he didn't have any complications, like Quatre did… And? Can you know what he is?"
The Japanese pilot shook his head no.
"No. Neither a wolf nor a cheetah, anyway."
"Great…" sighed the American. "I like surprises."
"He chased two other men out of here. I'm going after him."
Duo found himself holding Heero's gun.
"But…" he blurted out.
The Japanese boy's weapon was extremely important to him, nearly like an extension of his own body, something that he didn't leave behind ever, not at school, not even when sleeping. Why was he giving it to him?
He turned his eyes away when he realized that the boy had just shed the T-shirt and the holster behind, and was bending to get out of his shoes and socks. Heero made a ball of his clothes, threw on top of that the shorts he was wearing, dumped it all in his braided comrade's arms, and walked to the forest, with steps that were nearly dancing with the energy he put in them.
Duo, with much effort, turned his eyes away from the muscled ass walking away in the darkness, an ass that was surmounted by a line of fur already lengthening in the beginning of a tail that only accented even more the curve of his lower back.
"Go back home, you can't do anything," advised Heero, turning toward them just before getting in the woods. "Tomorrow, if we haven't have found Wufei, we'll meet you on the terrace at dawn. We'll get together to launch a search. Quatre?"
"Coming," called the boy, purring with the pleasure of being able to let the cat out.
The transformation hurt, but he clenched his teeth and let himself be swept by the tidal wave without a sound passing his lips, clinging to the memory of the freedom, the strength he obtained after that. This time, it was a little less painful than what he remembered… and much faster. He hoped that the more he got used to it, the less it would hurt. Maybe, one day, he wouldn't feel anything at all? It would be great…
The golden-haired cat stretched his body, surprised at feeling the way his muscles responded, rolling under his skin, full of a barely restrained strength. It was a very compelling sensation. He felt in a much better mood than the day before at the same hour. He was far from being as afraid, and the nervousness due to mistrust had nearly fully disappeared. Quite the contrary. He felt content, nearly happy.
The cheetah and the wolf briefly sniffled at each other's nose, acquainting themselves once again with their comrade's scent, and then disappeared into the woods, Heero with his nose to the ground, tracking the beast Wufei had become, Quatre dancing like a mad kitten at his side. Drunk on the way his body was responding, the cheetah was jumping on the smallest leaf that had the bad luck of fluttering in front of him, clawing and biting at it till it was torn before jumping on the next one, jumping like a mad hare in a grass field… Heero even caught him once running after his own tail. He snorted, amused and slightly surprised by those actions whose reason he didn't quite catch, then continued trying to find Wufei's trail.
They searched for half an hour before finding another corpse, shredded by large and strong claws, his belly opened, entrails spilled out for a few meters.
Quatre mewled, slightly disgusted by the look of the cadaver, but his animal side prevented him from pitying the man. It was prey; it had been caught by a predator, that was all. Normal. Even if he found strange that this prey had not been eaten; it was pure waste. If the prey hadn't been marked in another cat's smell, well…
'it would be cannibalism!!!' protested a little voice, but he snorted and didn't listen. Cannibalism? He was not a two-paw!! And for a stomach, it was just dead meat after all…
Heero bumped into him with his shoulder and showed a bit of fang when Quatre stared at a little animal as if he wanted to jump on it, and, contrite, the Arab tried to rein in his animal side. But it was not easy; there were so many scents, so many presences to discover…
/Can't he calm down? all game hears us coming a mile away … Wufei will escape/
Quatre flattened his ears back and took on a shameful stance. Oops, Heero didn't seem to be in a patient mood… But he was right, Quatre would warn Wufei, and he was not sure that the boy would recognize them… Maybe, because of his amnesia, was he totally gone into his animal side, and didn't even remember enough what it was to be human to master the beast in him.
The cheetah tried to bring himself under control and to take the most silent walk he could. He tried to smell Wufei's trail, but he didn't have as much of a sense of smell as Heero and finally, he just followed his comrade, only glancing back once to a shrew that was running away.
* * *
The big cat was dragging his latest prey under a bush when he caught in the wind the scent of two other big predators. He uncovered his fangs up to the gums in a silent snarl, furious that someone would dare to enter his hunting grounds.
But they were two and he was alone … and to fight, if it came to that, that place wasn't the best.
He abandoned the game he had been dragging and jumped with grace over a fallen log, before flowing between the trees, silent as a shadow.