Warnings: 4+3, 3+4?, some blood and violence. Not so much of Heero
and Wufei; this is still a Quatre, Duo and Hilde (and a little Trowa) chapter.
Heero and Fei and the 1+2 stuff come back in the next chapter, promise.
The man with the Doberman had to admit that the kids had more resource than he'd expected. The hunt shouldn't have lasted more than half an hour, but two hours later they were barely starting to gain ground on their targets.
Sometimes they managed to catch glimpses of their prey, but never long enough to aim properly. And fuck but Blondie was a fast one! If it weren't for him they would have already caught the brunette they had tracked there.
There was something weird though. He didn't know where the braided human had gone, yet the net was tightened to the maximum, so it wasn't as if he could have gone through unnoticed... Had one of the other hunters let him through? They would have to make sure that he didn't call the police. They had two or three friends there -- informants, sympathizers and the like -- but not enough to make sure that the boy's story would go unnoticed.
Well, it wasn't that important. If he'd been lost during the hunt that was a good thing, as it would be regrettable to have to eliminate him. After all, they were only trying to protect the innocents like him.
* * *
Hilde stumbled once again, and this time Quatre nearly let go of her hand. He was getting too tired to keep running too, fast approaching the limit of his endurance, but their hunters were still tightening the net. They'd managed to get Duo out by distracting the men from his hiding place in a very flashy and very dangerous attempted escape. It would have ended very badly if Hilde hadn't managed to follow his rhythm. He just hoped Duo had succeeded or they would be caught for nothing...
The hold the girl had on his hand tightened painfully. He lowered his eyes to notice thick, black claws replacing her shortening fingers.
"Hilde, your claws!" he exclaimed, dragging her into yet another narrow street.
She shook her head desperately.
"Can't! The moon's too close!!"
He could smell her panic, a heavy, communicative scent, and realized a bit late that he was also starting to change, invaded by uncontrollable feelings. His arms, or at least the bits he could glimpse in his run, were covered with darkening dots.
His tactician brain was desperately searching for a solution, but every plan coming to him would have needed a better knowledge of the area to implement it. And he was having a harder and harder time ignoring the impulses of his inner beast.
"There!!" Hilde indicated, pulling him to the side.
There was a hole in the fence, barely large enough to let them through. He noted worriedly that it seemed to be leading to an enclosed area, filled with small boats up for sale and opening on one side on a pontoon. He looked around for other exits, since they wouldn't go far if they tried to swim. But there wasn't any other option to try out. The little street they'd been following would have brought them to the sea eventually.
He pushed Hilde through the hole and threw himself after her, not really noticing the scratches the wire left on his skin. The girl was already dragging a pile of boxes toward the hole to plug it. He got up to give her a hand, then dragged her out of view, behind one of the boats.
"No open exit. Just the gate," she panted as she looked around.
She leaned heavily against the side of the boat, out of breath. In the alley they'd just left, dogs were barking already. Quatre turned to get Hilde and drag her up... and saw her pulling her shoes off.
"What are you doing?!"
He didn't need to wait too long for an explanation, she was already growing black fur all over.
"Sorry, I can't hold back any longer," she explained in a voice that sounded like a growl.
Quatre turned his back on her, blushing a bit when she pulled off her T-shirt. Even though it was dangerous to make herself vulnerable now, he couldn't blame her for transforming, the full moon was still letting them all feel its influence and the stress of the chase added to the impulse. Himself had a hard time silencing the yowls of the cheetah inside his head, the instinct that whispered to him that if only he was on all four, his enemies wouldn't have a chance to catch up...
"What do they want?" he demanded. "They're not OZ soldiers..."
"Were hunters," Hilde growled. "Musta followed me when I left my pack's territory..."
She fell silent, her jaws now unable to let through articulate words.
* * *
Their stalkers hadn't been duped long. The dogs were already barking at the wire fence, the men trying to kick the boxes away from the hole.
Quatre bit his lip, glancing at the young girl. She was in the very middle of the transformation and would be vulnerable for two or three minutes longer, and already a hunter was climbing over the fence.
If only he had one or two of his teammates with him, it wouldn't have been so hard. He knew what they could do together. But he had to protect Hilde, and didn't have a clue about her limits and skills. She was a soldier, true, but not an elite, and she certainly was not at Gundam pilot level. And for the moment, as a half-wolf, she was more a handicap than anything else. Of course Duo was free and probably planning an intervention, but Quatre couldn't count on his help as long as he wasn't sure of his position and what he was intending to do...
"Hilde, I'm going to distract them. You go to the sea and get the guys."
The black she-wolf growled softly as a protestation, but he closed a hand around her muzzle to shut her up.
"Please. Go get them. You're only slowing me down."
She flattened her ears back. He was right, as painful as it was to admit it.
* * *
The she-wolf jumped out of their hiding place, dashing between the boats, not leaving the hunters any time to shoot. Sadly, the advantage of surprise could only last so long.
One of the men, seeing her run, lifted his rifle and aimed. The other turned to see what he was targeting.
Quatre jumped out in plain sight. Surprised, they almost all started to turn back toward him. But the man with the rifle only gave him a glance, not letting himself get distracted so easily.
Hoping that the time back at the barn hadn't been an accident, Quatre pushed in his direction.
'Look at me!!!'
Jumping, they all stared dumbly for a few seconds, all looking more or less dazed. It was enough to let Hilde cross the large empty space between the last of the boats and the sea.
But the sound of her body hitting the water shocked them out of their weird trance.
"MERDE!!!" the man with the rifle swore, targeting the cheetah instead.
Quatre threw himself down, rolling in the dust. Half a dozen bullets hit the boat behind him, showering him with wood splinters. One of them got imbedded in his cheek, just under his eye, but he didn't notice. He'd already jumped to his feet and was zigzagging, as fast as his legs would go.
The two men with the Dobermans let go of their leashes in unison. Two of the other men ran to the pier to check if the wolf was still in range, but she had disappeared, and they abandoned the idea of nailing her to chase the blond one. A simple wolf would make a poor trophy compared to a cheetah, anyway.
* * *
Fifteen minutes later, they had backed their game in a corner. It had managed to kill the dogs and avoid the bullets, but it now found itself trapped in a small, narrow cul-de-sac between two grim-looking, almost windowless houses, the entrance half-hidden behind a handful of trashcans. It was finished.
After sending a few men to circle the buildings in case there was a second exit, the hunters circled the entry of the dead end, slowly stepping forward, ready to stop the were-cheetah when he would jump out of his hiding place. The leader stepped forward, standing in front of the dark mouth of the cul-de-sac with a triumphing smirk on his face. Not close enough for the beast to reach him before his men shot it down, though. He wasn't stupid. He could see a dark shape crouching on the ground at about a meter or two from the mouth of the dead end, and clear eyes with too large irises reflecting the feeble light.
"You'd like to jump for my throat, wouldn't you?" he hissed with delectation. "You'd love to tear me up like an animal. Because you ARE a fucking animal. An abomination, that's what you are. But you know what, kitten? You try to get your head out of your hole and as fast as you are, my men will still put a bulled through your hea..."
The shot surprised the men so much that the ones who managed to react only did so by reflex, but given the angle, the bullets glanced off, and no cry of pain rose to tell them that they had hit the target.
Their chief was slowly crumpling back to the ground in a pool of blood and gore, the back of his head a messy contrast to the almost clean little hole between his eyes.
"THE WERE'S GOT A GUN!!!" exclaimed Doberman Two as he dashed for cover.
Before even he arrived at his shelter, the spotted beast had jumped out of its hole a second time to shoot him, before disappearing once again in the darkness. The man fell with a startled scream, his voice downed by the returning gunfire. The blond thing was already hidden away.
Doberman Two flattened against the wall as one of his comrades dragged their injured teammate to a safe place. Werebeasts weren't supposed to use weapons!! They were supposed to be proud of their physical superiority over humans, supposed to trust their senses and their unnatural strength... But... If that one didn't trust those, they couldn't predict how it would act; they didn't know how to hunt it.
That hunt was starting to be a lot less easy than he'd believed it to be.
"Less fun when they manage to fight back, eh?" whispered a low, purring voice in his ear.
He didn't have the time to turn around that he was falling dead, his spine pierced neatly between two vertebras by a slim knife.
The noise of his body collapsing on the ground made two of his comrades turn around, but his assailant had already disappeared.
Quatre didn't wait for the hunters to crawl out of their shelters. He ran to the back of the dead end and jumped up, using an old wooden box to propel himself higher. His claws narrowly caught the rusted gutter running on one of the houses, his feet found a crack in the plaster, and two seconds later his body was hitting the wall blocking the back of the alley. He pulled himself over the tiles covering the top and fell on the other side, immediately flattening back against the wall of one of the houses in case there was still a hunter around.
The stench of fresh blood caught his throat, and he realized that what he'd believed to be a garbage bag was the body of the man with the trench coat. His throat was slit from one ear to the other and his spine broken on top of it. Signed Duo, that. The young man allowed a sinister smile to play on his lips as he slid out of the dead end to give his comrade a hand.
* * *
Trowa knew that he was getting close when he stumbled on a corpse.
He hid in the shadows, listening. He didn't need to wait long before hearing the gunshots ringing in the maze of narrow streets. He glanced at his locator to check where Duo and Quatre were, but the machine wasn't really precise at that scale and only gave him an approximation. The ex-mercenary decided to keep his back to the wall. It would be so very stupid to get shot by his own allies.
* * *
After the first moment of surprise, the hunters retreated neatly, and Duo had to admit they weren't that bad, even though they didn't give the impression of being used to defense. Those bastards had reacted fast, proving that they had received extensive training for that kind of situation. Now they had secured an old, abandoned house, and the two Gundam pilots were only able to play snipers with them. Except that with the way Quatre was saving his bullets, Duo knew that he probably didn't have a lot left. It was hard to aim precisely with a handgun, past a certain distance, and Quatre had never been the best with a firearm, that privilege going to Trowa and Heero.
But though they both wanted to, they couldn't leave the hunters in their hiding place and go. Quatre didn't have any other choice than to abandon all cover for a few dangerous meters, and he may have been fast but they were waiting for him. And they had rifles and shotguns. Duo had only managed to off three of them when he was playing shadow assassin earlier, and he had nearly gotten caught on the last. They had understood too quickly that turning their backs on the shadows had a tendency to be fatal.
He was too used to Ozzies, probably.
Duo and Quatre exchanged somber looks. The blond one would need to risk forcing the way, the hunters wouldn't stay on the defensive indefinitely.
The American pilot nodded dryly as a signal, then started shooting through the windows of the house where the hunters were hiding. The cheetah dashed out of his shelter, running as fast as he could.
Duo forced a sniper, two snipers to retreat before they could aim.
He didn't have any bullets left for the third one.
In the time it took him to reload, Quatre was stumbling, a red splash dirtying the paved sidewalk.
A fourth hunter was already aiming and he was still reloading his gun. He gave a horrified look at his stumbling friend.
Quatre yowled a challenge at the shotgun aiming at him.
* * *
Trowa barely had enough time to study the scene. Someone was shooting at his friend; if he had taken the time to think, he could have believed that the gun had just materialized in his hand. He didn't think; he just covered Quatre.
* * *
When Wufei and Heero arrived, it was already over. Half the unknown assailants were dead, and the other half had disappeared in the maze. Duo was in the middle of the street, turning the bodies over to make sure of their state and searching their pockets for any kind of ID or other clues as to who they were and what they wanted.
Wufei blinked, pulling on Heero's sleeve to redirect his attention from the American one to the last two Weres.
Trowa was... undressing Quatre...?
"We must have missed an episode," the black-haired teen muttered, frowning.
Heero snorted and went to Duo, ignoring to the best of his abilities the half-disconcerted, half-exasperated looks that the cheetah was sending him over Trowa's shoulder. His cheeks were marked with the black tear tracks of the cheetah and one of them was dirty with blood, but from his annoyed expression, it must not have been that deep. Ignoring his protests, Trowa was examining his body methodically, counting every one of his bruises. And he didn't let the clothes he was encountering slow him down.
"Duo?" the Japanese teen called as he went to his comrade. "What happened exactly? Hilde didn't get any time to tell us..."
Duo gave a short amused laugh as he glanced at the blond, who was still giving him desperate signals for help.
"We were taking a walk, and those guys started to chase us. From what I understood, they're Were hunters, not military. But they're dangerous too; we only managed to get so many of them because we surprised them. So... There was a shooting, Quatre got grazed by a bullet, Trowa came, the survivors ran away and the unibanged one started to molest Kitty-Quat."
Heero nodded thoughtfully.
"Hilde told us it was probably her fault, they must have followed her when she left her pack's territory," he muttered, still thinking. "They probably didn't want to risk getting in right away, just lower their numbers by catching the wandering weres..."
"Prolly," Duo agreed as he went back to the bodies.
* * *
Quatre was seriously wondering if maybe he had knocked his head somewhere. One moment he was verifying that the last of the assailants had left... and the next second, Trowa Barton, who since the last full moon had perfected the art of pretending that he didn't exist, was reaching under his clothes. At first, Quatre hesitated, not knowing how to react. He still felt so guilty...
And then Trowa leaned down to feel his legs. The blond teen gaped.
"Hey! What are you doing?!"
"You're injured," Trowa replied, not looking up at him.
The Arab bit back the "no kidding" that was trying to get out. He knew that he was still edgy from the shooting, and he tried to control himself so that he would not regret anything later. Trowa was worried; he was not going to kick him off...
"It's a scratch, that's all. It bleeds a lot, but it isn't deep," he patiently explained, his hand brushing against his blood-covered cheek, trying not to think too much about the strong, long hands closed around his thigh, just over his knee.
"You fell," the green-eyed boy retorted, still not looking at him, and cleaning the cut on his leg Quatre hadn't felt before.
The smattering of dots on Quatre's outer thigh, which had been turning paler, darkened suddenly, and Trowa didn't need an explanation to understand that he was starting to get on his friend's nerves.
"I was put out of balance, that's all," Quatre shot back, more dryly than he had intended.
The brown-haired teenager straightened up and let go of his friend. He was behaving in a ridiculous way. His comrade seemed to use that leg without problem. Maybe his movements were a bit stiff, but then he was bruised all over. He had no reason to worry.
"... Sorry. It's... the smell of blood..."
It was invading his nostrils, making his throat tighten. From a few feet away, Quatre had smelled drenched in it.
Quatre nodded slowly. A canine's sense of smell was more sensitive than a cat's. He had stopped paying attention to the scents all around, but now that he was reminded about it, he couldn't help but notice how the street stank with the stench of death, rubbish, and yes, blood. No surprising that Trowa had not been able to determine how much of it was his own.
"I'm fine," he told the wolf in a carefully neutral tone.
A part of him was incredibly happy that Trowa was paying attention to him, relieved by the end of the silence, hoping that it was the sign of their reconciliation. Another part of him wanted to yell 'Where the fuck were you those last days? I needed to get killed to make you notice my existence?' But it was irrational. He understood why Trowa had felt the need to take his distances. And for so long he'd wanted nothing more than to have Trowa talk with him again, so, now that he seemed disposed to do it, Quatre wouldn't spit on his peace offering.
They stood face to face in silence for a few seconds, neither one looking up, and then Trowa decided to begin.
"Listen... we have to talk."
"About your contamination?" Quatre asked quietly.
"... No. About the kiss."
The blond pilot barely reacted, but he wanted to change the subject so very badly. He was ready to give a lot to keep Trowa's friendship, but it didn't mean that he felt ready to hear the fatidic 'sorry, you'll never be more than a friend to me' speech without hurting, even if he was expecting it.
"... I suppose, yes," he agreed, his voice toneless.
He wondered if he could convince Trowa that it had never happened and start everything again just like before his coming out. Hopeless dreams hurt, but less than no dreams at all.
"Hey! You coming?"
The two pilots jumped and looked toward the source of the voice. Duo and Heero had finished piling the bodies behind a dumpster and Wufei was back from his guard. The Chinese teenager was waiting for them at the other end of the street, hands on his hips.
Quatre blushed. For a moment, he'd forgotten where they were.
"We'll talk later," he said as he walked past Trowa, his eyes lowered, hoping that when later happened the European one would have forgotten about it.
Trowa held him back, tugging on his sleeve for a second, letting the other three leave first.
"Right now, I'm not really convinced that it's a good idea, you and me that way."
Quatre gritted his teeth.
"I know, I don't intend to..."
...'force you,' he would have said if his friend's fingers hadn't pressed across his lips.
"I'm not convinced yet," repeated Trowa, his eyes serious but strangely soft. "I hope that you will manage to make me change my mind."
Trowa turned away and left, not looking back.
Quatre stayed frozen in place for a few extremely long seconds, an incredulous smile slowly stretching his lips, and then he started to run after him.