Quatre shivered and made his fur stand on end to try and gain a little warmth,
but his hairs were so short that it didn't make much of a difference. Sneezing,
he envied with sadness the thick coat of fur covering the wolf. Quatre hadn't
been made for damp and cold climates.
Quatre jumped at the perceptible annoyance in Heero and flattened his ears back. He mewled feebly in question. Had he warned Wufei with his sneeze?
Heero pointed forward with his muzzle, groaning and grunting like a pissed off bear.
They were in front of a river. Wufei had to have used it to cut his trail. But had he gone upstream or had he let himself float downstream, had he gotten out on the same bank or on the other side? To know that, there was no choice...
Quatre mewled, disgusted. To cross water... Eww.
* * * * * *
It was nearly dawn when, after hours and hours of turns, tricks and mad runs, Heero finally found, for certain, Wufei's trail. His paws were hurting from the stone fields the other had made them cross, his fur was full of thorns, small branches and dead leaves, and to be truthful he was beginning to get fed up with tracking the moron.
But Wufei was too good at cutting his trail; if Heero let him get too much ahead of him, he would probably never find him again.
Quatre had had enough in the middle of the night, and had returned to the house alone. His long paws were made to gallop on flat ground, not to slide between thorny bushes and along rocky grounds. And he didn't want to get a thorn between his pads again, thankyouverymuch! It was something that was really annoying, on top of being painful. So, two times in a row... He had made sure that Heero understood what he was doing and wasn't bothered by having to chase Wufei alone, then had left him, knowing fairly well that anyway, as long as they were animals, the best thing for Wufei was to let him run to calm down, while making sure that he didn't go too far, to be able to get him back by morning. And the animal he was now would surely feel less threatened by one predator on his grounds than by two.
Even if the cheetah wasn't really a danger... Quatre knew instinctively that his claws, thick and non-retractable as they were, wouldn't be of much use in a fight. His only strong point was his speed, but in a forest he couldn't really take advantage of that.
* * *
Dawn was approaching when the brown wolf finally stopped at the edge of a small clearing, silent as a shadow. The thick bushes hid the place well, the river was flowing on one side at the bottom of the little slope, procuring an evasion route, and the thorns everywhere would be good at discouraging most intruders ... It was a good hiding place. The grass was tall, visibly comfortable ... but it wasn't in the grass that the beast had chosen to lie down.
In the clear brown sand at the edge of the river, one of his paws trailing in the cold waters, his muzzle resting on his other paw, a tiger was spread, half-sleeping, the contrast with the sand and the first rays of the rising sun making the warm tint of his pale golden fur glow. The lines marking his coat were thin, emphasizing his curves, and a black so dark it seemed blue. The beast had a long and muscled body, even if the length of its paws indicated that it wasn't yet out of adolescence. And the werewolf could see that the tiger was much heavier than him, and higher on its feet too.
A dangerous adversary, if he chose to fight him... but he didn't want to fight in the least. He could only hope that if the feeling wasn't mutual, he would realize it before the tiger was too close to escape it.
The wolf observed in silence for a few minutes, entirely immobile. The tiger wasn’t moving, apart from a few short jumps of his whiskers from time to time. He seemed to be deeply asleep.
Sitting back on his haunches, Heero wondered how the inverse transformation would happen. Would Wufei feel disoriented? What affect would that have on his memory?
He had not betrayed his position, but when the tiger lifted his head and opened his eyes, he was looking right at him anyway, as if he had known precisely where he was all along. The wolf didn’t move, the tiger didn’t either. For a long moment, they stayed staring at each other across the clearing.
Wufei’s eyes were of an abyssal black against the pale gold of his fur, and the dark stripes all around the dark orbs acted like mascara, making them larger and accentuating the slant. Two lines left in a diagonal from the inner corner of his eyes, giving the impression of perpetually frowning eyebrows. A line of clearer hairs barely discernable went between his eyes and to his muzzle, following the scar of the wound that had contaminated him.
A bird fled away, provoking the awakening of the woods population and making the predators blink, marking the end of the staring contest. Wufei stretched his paws out, unsheathed his claws, and yawned, unveiling fangs of an impressive whiteness, as scary-looking as Heero’s. Then, stretching like a cat, first his haunches, then his front paws, he got up and walked nonchalantly toward the still staring wolf. Heero stayed immobile. The other didn’t show aggressive behavior, just defiance in the way he was looking at him.
He sat down in the middle of the clearing, in front of the wolf, and they kept looking at each other for a while. The tiger seemed confused, his tail lashing around his haunches, proof of his unease. Heero tried to be as unmoving as he could.
Slowly, very slowly, Heero lay down on the ground, sphinx-like, and waited again. The tiger crouched and his tail went to curl around his paws, his eyes not leaving Heero’s, visibly extremely disoriented.
* * *
/eyes blue as ice, blue like outer space, deep and cold/
Like... The boy. Wing. The one who had stalked him in the roses garden.
But it wasn't possible.
Wing was a /two-paws/ ’a human', not a four-legged predator like him... ‘but I am not a four-paws either...or am I?’
The tiger shook his head, confused, attacked from all sides by all sorts of mental pictures, sounds, and feelings, all without any meaning. Humans with whom he...hunted? Killed? At whose side he fought /but humans are preys/, with whom he talked...
‘how can I understand them? I don't remember, but I know it's important...’
'Stupid, that wolf can't be the two-paws, not logical...'
But he knew that even if they weren't the same being, he knew that animal anyway. He confusedly remembered seeing his dark shape jumping between bushes, running right and left, and his own laughter and that of his friends when by reflex he ran after some rabbit...
Wufei blinked and shook his head, trying to straighten his wandering thoughts. And then he started and jumped, totally caught by surprise.
In front of him suddenly, to his total astonishment, the other’s scent was totally modifying, was going from wolf to a two-paws, so frail, nude, exposed. His body was slowly shifting, his fur disappearing back under his skin or just falling off to leave the place to fragile, brownish-pink skin. A moment, the man-beast directed on him two eyes so blue, so human, in the middle of a face that was still halfway between wolf and man, and he jumped. He had seen that face like that already, he had already seen ‘Heero’ like that, feral human baring fangs, plunging forward for his throat ...
He had been in the living room with... Wing? Heero? And another, a silent one with eyes as green as grass, and they had been angry, dominance conflict, and Wing had attacked, and ...changed...
The boy with the green eyes ... his name still evaded him ... But he remembered him, vaguely... silent presence in the shadows, but always there. And...two others... he thought.
‘who am I? it's hard to remember...'
The memory when he had been at Treize's. Metal and fire... a black-furred two-paws, fallen before him, a girl, not a true woman yet /my mate still/ fallen in his arms, her blood, her life escaping through his fingers and hers
‘my hands are red...’
Rage of the combat, vengeance, ferocity, nothing else for him anymore than the cold of the metal, no warmth, no life... by leaving she took with her everything.
‘my hands...’ he repeated, staring at his striped paws, knowing, feeling, that it was not what he should have been seeing.
‘Nataku, goddess of the war I'm fighting, armor of the hardest metal
* * * * * *
After having spent half of the night wearing a hole in the floor with their pacing, Trowa and Duo had abandoned the very idea of going to sleep in their respective rooms, and had moved out onto the terrace, rolled into the covers the American had brought with him to make the wait more comfortable. From time to time, one of them got up to walk along the guardrail, but the darkness didn’t reveal the slightest thing.
The American sighed loudly and leaned back on the swing at his comrade’s side, tightening the covers around himself. The tip of his nose was nearly anesthetized by the cold, and his pants were too short to protect his ankles very much. He should buy another pair, he had grown up a little and it was beginning to get annoying. Shivering, he slid his feet out of his boots and tucked them under him, nestling into the cushions. Only a conscious effort prevented him from nestling against Trowa’s side, but he didn’t dare, even with the cold.
He didn’t know why, but even if he was big on physical contact, he couldn’t touch Trowa as easily as the others. Heero, he touched him to annoy him ... well, at the beginning, he had done that because it annoyed the Japanese teen, and after a while, because he found it comfortable, and he knew that even if Heero protested and groaned about his touching habits, be kind of enjoyed it a little, too; and now he seemed to be petting Duo all the time. Quatre loved hugs so it was absolutely not a problem. And Wufei... Wufei bitched for hours, but he never pushed him back, using the pretext of humoring the lunatic to accept a human contact he needed more than he wanted to admit. But Trowa... Each time Duo touched Trowa without him expecting it, it was as if the ex-mercenary changed into stone. He never dared to say anything, but his discomfort was palpable, and much more real than the two Asian boys’ hands-off attitude. Duo wanted to share the well-being he felt, not make him ill with barely held back nervousness. Duo was seriously beginning to wonder how he had been raised, to be so spooked by simple contacts.
Well... It could just be his character. But their friendship was still too new and too superficial for him to be able to ask that kind of question.
He sighed, sad. He was cold, and he was worried about Wufei, and now there was the Trowa mystery running in circles under his skull ...
"Hm?" muttered the other boy without turning toward him, his eyes still fixed on the horizon the sunrise was turning pink and gold.
Duo swore mentally. He had not wanted to speak out loud, but it had escaped without his consent! An idea, fast, fast!
"We’re the last two non-Weres now... We’re the minority. Feels strange, doesn’t it?"
The other boy nodded, but didn’t add anything. Augh, did he even have a tongue? Duo told himself that he would have to ask Quatre to see about it for him one of these days ... and then remembered with a surge of sadness that they couldn’t. It was one of the first things Heero had told him, back in the first days, when Duo had admitted that he kind of liked the 01 pilot. Even one kiss would contaminate him.
"Wonder what it feels to be a Were ... To be able to shapeshift... To have such open, powerful senses... to feel the animal inside ... Heero seems happy like that. He’s getting so open compared to before. Quatre, I don’t know yet, I suppose we didn’t see enough of his post-transformation personality to judge, but at least the mood shifts should disappear, I know he felt bad about that ... I was more or less expecting the sudden bursts of anger from Heero, but it always looked strange to see lil’ Quat' throw a temper tantrum and then burst out in tears because he had been angry with us... He’s gonna feel better now," he repeated with confidence.
"True. He tormented himself often about the changes in his personality."
"I suspected that, but he never wanted to talk to me about it. I hope he was at least open for you... It would have been too hard for him otherwise."
Trowa nodded soberly.
"We talked ... a little."
Duo smiled at him.
"It’s a relief. If anyone could help him, it’s you, Trowa. He’s always had so much trust in you, yanno? Even if you just listened to him, I think it helped him more than I would have been able to."
The clown didn’t answer, lowering his eyes, looking seriously bothered by the praise. Duo didn’t insist.
"I hope they’ll be able to get Wufei back..." he sighed before letting his head fall on the headrest, pensively staring at the sky over the swing. "And I really, really hope it’s not gonna mess with his memory even more..."
"Amen to that," murmured Trowa.
* * * * * *
The transformation took Heero by surprise, and as he was very calm and his human side had been in control even in the animal, he couldn’t prevent the Change from taking place before he was already halfway there ... too late to change back into a wolf. If Wufei decided to attack now, he was dead. After several seconds of indecision, he tried to hasten his return to human form. As long as he was in between, his mobility was too strongly compromised. He was vulnerable and he hated it.
The tiger jumped when he saw him change, and Heero stared for a few seconds. The beast seemed troubled... Slowly, the Japanese pilot lifted his hand toward the tiger’s muzzle, palm upward, giving him the opportunity to sniff at it if he wanted, but Wufei was so surprised that he didn’t react.
And then, slowly, the striped fur began to shrink and the limbs to creak under the Change. The sun being up, the moon's influence on their bodies had stopped. Wufei had been so deeply immersed into his animal body that he had managed to hold on longer than Heero had, but apparently he didn't desire to stay a tiger strongly enough not to change back after a while.
Heero just hoped that the adolescent he had got back at Treize's would not throw a fit when he found himself butt naked in the middle of the woods with another nekkid guy in front of him, and too vivid memories of a strange dream to give out a background to those strange scratches the brambles had covered him in.
Wufei panted a few minutes, then looked up at the young man who was crouching in front of him. They stared at each other once again, as they had been doing all night long... And then the Chinese boy gave a long sigh, closed his eyes and relaxed, leaning on the ground. After a few seconds, Heero slowly caught his wrist to make sure that he was still alive and ok. He was sleeping, so deeply that the contact didn't even make him stir. The Japanese teen gave an imperceptible sigh.
The moment of post-transformation tiredness was past, his muscles had their old strength back; he lifted his comrade across his shoulders and began his trek back to the house. With a little chance, and if he didn't damage his feet, he would be home in something like three hours... providing Wufei would not wake up in a mood to try to run away once again.
* * * * * *
When Quatre arrived, calmly trotting by the path between the trees, the two boys felt intensely relieved. But the feeling didn't last. In all the time the cheetah needed to rejoin them on the terrace, there was no other four-footed being walking after him.
"Quatre? Where are the others?!" exclaimed Duo, throwing his cover back and dashing off to the edge of the terrace.
The big cat mewled while turning the corner of the wall and climbed the steps tiredly. Barely arrived, he sat back on his haunches heavily and yawned widely, showing off his fangs... and the fact that his chops and his throat were dirty with large, half dry blood splotches, as were his front paws and his ribcage. Duo barely had the time to blink that Trowa was already kneeling at the cat's side, his hands delicately, but with some urgency, feeling around in the fur to discover the source of all that hemoglobin. The cat blinked, surprised, then mewled, gently pushing the boy back with a paw on his arm before rubbing the top of his head on Trowa's arm to calm him down. Then he let his hold on the mind of the feline go.
A few minutes later, Quatre was lifting on them tired eyes, sitting butt naked on the cold slabs as he was, his hair all tangled, and little bits of dried blood crumbling on the ground. His mouth was circled with dark red tracks that gave him the looks of a fallen angel turned vampire. He yawned again, stretching, then shivered. Duo hurried to give him the cover he had been using to keep warm himself that was still on the swing. When he turned around, Trowa was verifying, obstinately, that the little blond wasn't hurt, despite the boy's tries to escape the inspection. Trowa was so worried that he didn't even realize that he was getting his hands all over a nekkid Quatre, laughed the American.
"It's ok, Trowa, I'm not injured..." the teenager reassured him as he was taking the cover and throwing it across his shoulders. "It's not my blood."
"From where did it come then?" asked the green-eyed pilot, chasing a patch of dried blood off the boy's chin.
A smile expressing absolute bliss completely took over the boy's face.
"I hunted, Trowa! There was a deer in a field and I caught it all alone! You realize? Me alone! It saw me and ran for the woods, and I knew that I'd lose it if I let it go, and I ran so fast, it was like I had been flying! It seemed like my paws didn't touch the ground anymore, I was running so fast... It's nearly better than the first time I flew my Sandrock! And I pounced on it, wham! It was a hell of a shock, but it was still able to get back up, so I jumped for its throat. It tried to run, but I didn't let go, even if ... well, ok, it slightly stepped on me, but I'm ok, Trowa, I assure you! It was so great!!!!"
" You ate it?" asked Duo, heroically fighting his laughter.
"Not all of it, but I hid it in the woods, I hope no one will take it... If those damn foxes try to steal it away from me, I'll dig them out of their burrow and I'll ... well, I'll..."
Quatre realized the childish glee with which he had been describing the events, and blushed like a tomato. He got up, using the hand Trowa was offering him to propel him up, and raked a hand through his hair. Some little bits of unidentified substance fell off and he grimaced.
"I think I'll go take a shower..."
"You'd better, yeah ... Wait, where is Heero?!"
"He... err... he thought that I was acting like a mad kitten and so, he went to track down Wufei alone... I explained to him, he agreed. He has better chances of finding him than me anyway, I don't have any sense of smell and I couldn't stay discreet... He wanted to follow him from a distance until the transformation wore off, I suppose it's happening now ... We only have to wait."
"Ok," agreed the American, before something hit him. "...Waittaminute."
Quatre turned around and gave Duo a curious look.
"You said that you told him, that he thought... But you were animals, weren't you? So how could you..."
Quatre's eyes went wide for a fraction of a second. At the moment, he had not realized, but Duo was right... Quatre had again... Again... He gave Trowa a panicked glance, not knowing what to do to extinguish the braided boy's suspicion.
"Oh, err... Picked up his body language's clues... it's much easier when you're an animal... I'm going to take a shower. See you later!"
Duo blinked, surprised. Why had Quatre seemed so embarrassed by the question?
"That's strange..." he whispered.
Trowa only shrugged one shoulder, as if he couldn't even be bothered enough to shrug on both sides, and picked up his own cover before walking back inside. Duo's eyes narrowed.
"Apparently you know something that I don't ... Interesting."
It looked too much like a challenge for him to accept to just let it go.
* * * * * *
Heero was still half an hour away from the house when he felt the body on his back tense slightly. Wufei was waking up, muttering unintelligible words. Cautiously, the Japanese teen put down his burden on a patch of thick grass, supporting him in a half-sitting position with his right arm, and waited with impatience for his eyes to open.
The dark, thick lashes fluttered once or twice before slowly lifting over two still confused eyes. The light of early morning was falling on Wufei's face at a strange angle, making his eyes a golden brown, showing that his irises weren't truly black, only a very dark brown.
Heero caught his breath. Wufei seemed so fragile... Nude, his golden skin chiseled by the shadows and the light of dawn, his long ebony locks falling on his bare shoulders and across his face ... So frail, so... totally foreign.
The Japanese boy mentally crossed his fingers. He didn't know what he was hoping for exactly, but he was hoping with his whole heart that he wouldn't have to knock out the other teen to get him back to the house. If he would only accept to follow him...
The Chinese teen's eyes turned to the person leaning over him, and he narrowed his eyes, trying to clear his vision. Dark steel blue eyes were staring at him with intensity through tangled bangs.
"Heero?" he whispered, unsure.
The immediate smile he received in answer was... Dazzling. And totally unexpected. He blinked, perplex. Was he truly the person Wufei thought he was? He was positive that he had never seen him with that sort of expression. It was so ... disconcerting ... Yes, a total metamorphosis.
"Hai," answered the other, his lips falling back in their usual place.... But the smile still dancing in his eyes.
"What the ...?"
"What do you remember?"
The Chinese pilot shook his head and briefly lowered his eyes ... and realized that he was totally naked, as was his comrade, and that said comrade was helping him to sit up by making him lean against his own, naked, body.
"Yuy?!?" he yelped, jumping back. "What am I doing in the buff in the middle of a forest and alone with you?!"
The Japanese teen blinked, then snorted. His comrade frowned, even more confused. It was definitively not the reaction he had anticipated.
"What do you remember, Wufei?" repeated the boy with patience.
The raven-haired boy tried to put back in place the bits and pieces of memories he had from the night before.
But it was totally nonsensical.
"I woke up ... in a house, that I didn't know... And I heard voices that I didn't recognize. Wait, I did recognize you, but from Treize's garden, not from before... I took the bike to get away... And then I started to hurt, and I lost control of the bike, I fell... and after ... men... they were pissing me off so bad, I was feeling so good and they were bothering me, so I ... I..."
He lifted a hand to his head. A migraine was beginning to make itself right at home there.
"I struck..." he added, in an unsure-sounding whisper, unconsciously miming the gesture, his fingers clenched like claws.
He froze and stared at his hands in silence, his eyes wide, trying to conciliate them with his memories of two big, meat-hook-type striped paws, hitting, gutting, men screaming with terror.
"And then?" his comrade’s low voice encouraged him.
"I ran..." he muttered, lifting a hand to his temple, trying to understand those flashes where he was sliding between branches, hunted on all four, flowed through bushes as easily as if he had been made just for that task.
He lifted incomprehension and fright-filled eyes on his comrade.
"I don’t get it ..."
"Hey, calm down, everything will come back to you soon," whispered Heero, rubbing his shoulder, trying to be comforting. "No need to freak out, it’s not that important..."
The Japanese boy patted his back, and with a tired sigh, Wufei relaxed and briefly leaned his forehead against the other teen's shoulder, silently asking for his support. Heero slid an arm around his shoulders and gave a brief squeeze.
"I can't sort out my damn memories... And some are just too unbelievable and just plain strange for me to know what to do with them!"
"Trust them, Wufei... Tell me only what you do remember, ok?
"I was running in the forest ... on all four, and I remember feeling strong, so strong... and I was the absolute master, nothing could touch me ... I felt so powerful, so sure of myself... I was the... the..."
"The predator on top of the food chain?" suggested Heero.
"Exactly! How did you...?"
"You know how, Wu ... You know how."
The Chinese teen’s eyes widened.
"The wolf ... the wolf with the cold eyes ... And you ... But how? It’s impossible..."
"You don’t remember what happened before?"
Heero bit his lip. He had been overjoyed when Wufei had remembered, but apparently, the teen still had gaping holes in his memories.
"I know what you felt tonight ... it happened to me too. Wu... What do you know about me? Don’t think, just tell me what goes through your head."
The Chinese boy straightened up and disengaged from his comrade’s loose embrace, slightly embarrassed to have relaxed so much now that he was getting back his self control.
"Firstly... You wouldn’t call me Wu. You never called me that. You ... should be cold, and distant, not... Not smiling to me like that, not... touching me like that ..."
"I’ve changed since you met me for the first time," admitted the Japanese pilot with a little smile. "But I have to admit that the month you were missing was the one to see the most changes. We all were so worried... We didn’t know what had happened to you, not even if you were still alive ..."
Wufei shook his head. It was so difficult to admit that Heero Yuy had really openly admitted having been dreadfully worried about him. He didn’t know if he should feel flattered or concerned.
"Me and the other boys ..."
"The other voices I heard? ... I remembered a little just now, but I am not very sure ... There was... the silent one, he has... green eyes, doesn’t he? And... and two others... but the only thing I have on them is that one is... nice ... and... when you called me Wu, I thought that... it wasn’t like you to call me that, but more like "him", I guess this him is one of the two? But apart from that, I don’t remember anything at all," he sighed. "I get memories sometimes floating around in my head, phrases, moments, but... I can’t tie them to each other. I can’t get a complete picture, just those bits of the puzzle..."
"It will come back to you when you meet the boys, don’t worry..."
"It’s so strange ... When I look at you, I know that I know you. I know approximately what you’re going to do, how you’re supposed to react ... I know the words you’d rather use, your facial expressions, everything... but when I try to remember the way I acquired all that information, everything turns white and I’m not even sure I know it anymore, maybe I’m just imagining things ..."
"Relax and trust your gut feelings. Everything will come back to you."
Heero wondered if the boy remembered the Gundams and their fight, but he didn’t want to add to his confusion just now. He’d ask later.
"You've got time. Come on, we're going back."
He got up and gave his hand to his comrade. Wufei caught it, slightly blushing when the fact that he was naked kindly made itself know once again.
Heero couldn’t help winking saucily at him, and nearly burst out laughing when his comrade’s cheeks turned bright red. Turning around, he began to open a path. After a few seconds of hesitation, Chang followed.
"I just hope we won't meet any lost hikers..." he muttered under his breath.
Heero's laughter rang far under the trees.
[Definitive Evolutions] [Wolf Songs]