Author: Asuka Kureru

Garou + Part 32

"That guy ain't gonna be very happy," Duo commented as he climbed into the truck Trowa had just stolen.

From behind the wheel, the boy with the unibang gave him a sarcastic quirk of his eyebrow.

"... Ooookay, you don't give a damn about him."

Trowa nodded, a small, mocking smirk on his lips.

"...You don't give a damn about my opinion either."

A second nod, the smirk widening.

"Nod a third time and you'll go back to Howard's ship on foot, Barton," Duo threatened, trying not to smile.

"I am terrified."

"Ha! It speaks."

"Where are the others?" the ex-mercenary asked, ending the exchange of jokes.

Duo pointed toward an abandoned shack.

"They're hidden there. Well, that's where I left them."

Trowa turned and drove to the shack. Duo leaned against the dashboard nonchalantly.

"Hey, from what I've seen you aren't snubbing Quatre any longer. That suits me, since I won't need to tire myself out by driving a monkey wrench up your left nostril. In any case, if you decide to try again, I saved a big, rusty one just for you."

"Thanks for your faith in me," the other boy commented dryly. "For the moment I don't plan on doing it again," he added in a more serious tone.

Duo nodded, accepting the implicit regret and promise, knowing Trowa enough to realize that he was more sincere that it sounded.

"Good dog."

Trowa bared his teeth as he parked the truck out of sight. He got out to unlock the back doors. Duo took advantage of it to slide in the driver's seat.

Wufei walked out of the shadows first, glancing around before signaling for the last two pilots to follow.

Quatre's arm was around Heero's shoulders, one of Heero's arms around his waist, as if he couldn't walk alone, and Trowa tensed. The blond had told him that his leg didn't hurt! He let Wufei deal with the back doors as he hurried toward the cheetah and his pack leader.

"Your leg?" he asked in a slightly reproving voice.

Quatre looked up, letting him see the cheetah markings darkening on his skin, and his upper lip curled up, baring a fang.

"My legs would be just fine if they weren't trying to change into paws!"

"...oh."

Quatre was holding his shoes in one hand, his bare feet on the ground. His toes ended in thick claws and the soles of his feet lengthened and shrank regularly, the bones creaking noisily. He couldn't help but grimace; it was probably very painful on top of being damn unpractical. Trowa hurried to catch his free arm and help Heero to transport him to the truck.

"What's going on?" he asked as he sat the blond pilot on the doorstep.

Heero shrugged.

"Loss of control. Adrenaline crash. Moon's influence."

"You don't have a clue," Trowa replied, annoyed.

"Exactly."

Heero's voice was toneless, flat. Trowa felt stupid for having expected his pack leader to have al the answers, but also vaguely relieved that he hadn't decided it useful to lose time dealing with the aggressive way Trowa had asked the question.

Wufei helped Quatre to crawl into the back of the truck until he was leaning against the back of the front seat and took place toward the doors, glaring darkly at the two wolves.

"We don't have time to lose with your chatter," he threw at them, visibly annoyed. "Where are we to meet with Howard's ship?"

Heero frowned thoughtfully.

"I have the general direction, I'll calculate the precise trajectory on the way."

Duo twisted around on his seat and smirked at them.

"So, are you getting in one of these days or what?"

Heero sat in the front with Duo and Trowa didn't have any choice but to climb in the back. Wufei closed the doors behind him just as Duo started, and the green-eyed boy ended up leaning against the back of Heero's seat. At first, being so close to Quatre embarrassed him a bit, and then he heard the bones creaking and forgot his confusion. 'Is it still going on?' he thought, astonished, not understanding why Quatre's transformations were so out of control.

Quatre looked up a bit too fast, reminding him of a cornered animal.

"No, I'm playing the "break my toes" game just because it's so fun," he shot back sarcastically.

Wufei threw them a weird look, but the motor was noisy, and it was possible that he had heard wrong or missed Trowa's question, so he stopped paying attention to them, turning back to the windows to make sure they weren't followed.

Trowa sighed in relief as he saw Wufei turn away, and then frowned at Quatre.

'You're taking a walk through my head again,' he thought with force, concentrating on the words themselves. He didn't want Quatre to receive his surprise and his fear of letting him glimpse too intimate things.

The cheetah jumped, and looked up at him with eyes whose irises had eaten the whites.

"... Shit."

'We will have to tell them soon,' Trowa continued to think at Quatre. The cheetah sighed and nodded, looking guilty.

"I suppose," he whispered, feeling the mental connection evaporate.

Wufei glanced back at them and they fell silent.

------------------------------------------------------------------------Duo nodded a greeting at Heero when he sat at his side, then turned around to check that his friends were sitting down. He saw Wufei reaching out to close the door and started to drive.

"Which direction?" he asked as he reached a street going along the harbor.

"Follow the coast toward the south for now," Heero instructed as he checked his watch. "Howard left the harbor a hour and forty-five minutes ago," he added, thoughtful, as he searched the gloves box, searching for an eventual map of the area.

The one he found wasn't detailed enough for his tastes, but he had to make do; the truck was too old and too sucky to be equipped with a GPS.

"If we reach the next town in under two hours, we'll have about a half hour to steal a boat and meet him."

"About? I didn't know that was in your vocabulary," Duo commented with a grin.

Heero grumbled.

"I would need more time and especially better instruments to determine the coordinates with precision. Anyway, once we're at sea, it will be less dangerous to call Howard and ask him to pick us up."

Duo nodded.

A police car was driving around the traffic circle they were bout to reach and the two boys exchanged a look. They hadn't been noticed and didn't even know if the shooting had been reported, but a little paranoia was good for survival. The windows were tinted, which would make their identification more difficult, but... The braid! Heero realized as he checked the cab for suspicious details.

"We have to hide your braid," he explained as he pulled an old, shapeless cap from the glove box.

Duo swore as he realized that his head was bare.

"My cap! Ah shit. I'm gonna have to buy another one..."

"Where is it?" Heero asked as he considered the risk that it would be found by a policeman and used as a clue in the inquiries following the death of the hunters.

"Dunno, probably in the alley. I wasn't really thinking about it --hey, what are you doing?"

Heero was twisting Duo's hair on top of his head, and soon topped the piled up braid with the old cap.

"That will do," he commented, pushing back the little wisps of hair over Duo's ears with his fingertips.

He resolutely ignored the soft blush on the tip of the ears he had brushed against and sat back down, buckling his seatbelt.

They stayed quiet the whole time they needed to leave the town, and even after the last houses disappeared from the side view mirrors.

Once they were alone on the road, Heero unbuckled his seatbelt and turned to look through the little window. He would have opened it but it was rusted shut, and he swore quietly at it before finally resolving to just knock on the glass to attract his teammates' attention.

Wufei arched an eyebrow, and Trowa straightened up, but from Quatre, he could only see bare feet. At least they didn't seem to still be transforming, though it was hard to say through the dirty, scratched up window.

"Okay?" he mouthed.

Wufei grimaced briefly, then nodded, even though he didn't look that convinced. Heero interpreted it as " it's sort of ok now, but I don't like how long it needed for that." He gave Trowa a thoughtful look; the other wolf looked serious, but not exceptionally worried, so Heero decided that it meant Quatre was better now. The Japanese teenager sat down and buckled his seatbelt again.

"So?" asked Duo.

"He seems to feel better, but since we still don't know why it even started..."

"Maybe the tension..." the American commented thoughtfully. "The shooting and everything, it probably put him on edge."

He was still just fine when Trowa and him had left to appropriate a car, but Duo didn't see any other reason for the loss of control that had lead the cheetah to transform. The full moon had been only a few days ago, so its influence was still strong, but not enough to transform them against their will in the middle of the day. Quatre had probably concentrated to keep control of his body during the chase and the shooting, and as soon as he had felt safe, he'd let go. Except that his emotions were still too intense. Yeah, the more he thought about it and the more he believed that it was probably the cause.

Heero didn't comment, his nose on the old map.

Fifteen minutes went by in the same silence, but the road was straight and there was nothing interesting to watch, so Duo resolved to find something to do.

Teasing Heero would do.

"So... Wufei AND Trowa?"

Heero blinked, and then finally noted the suggestive and vaguely mocking tone his comrade was using.

Oh. The rut.

"I needed to fuck and they were here," he answered, his tone dryer than he had intended to make it.

"Heero's harem," the braided boy commented sarcastically.

"What, are you jealous?" the Japanese teen shot back without thinking.

There was a second of tense silence during which Heero fully realized what he had said and Duo tried to keep a hold of his teasing smirk before it fell off his face to lamentably crash at his feet.

"... fuck yes," the violet-eyed boy finally answered, falsely unconcerned. "I want a harem too. With these missions right and left, it's been months since the last time I had a chance to go out on a date. Ah well, at least one of us has a sexual life..." he finished, laughing weakly.

The embarrassed silence spread in the front of the truck again.

"... Next time I'm in rut, I promise to catch you, is that okay?" Heero commented, only half-joking.

Both of them knew that unless the war finished before then it was a false promise, but it was the thought that counted. Or something like that.

"Thanks a lot. And what will I be, concubine number one hundred twenty-seven?" Duo answered, in a better mood.

"Oh," replied Heero with a quiet laugh, "you will at least be one of the thirty spouses, not only a mere concubine."

"So long as you don't make me wear see-through skirts, a sequined bra and a veil, I suppose I can deal with that."

"You're ruining all my fantasies," deadpanned Heero.

He was quite satisfied when Duo burst out laughing. He didn't like to see him morose and uneasy.

"What a pervert! I bet you imagine yourself sprawled on a mound of cushions and the four of us in harem costumes ready to serve your every desire."

Far from protesting, Heero decided to play along. It amused Duo and they would be on the road a while.

"Sally and Catherine too."

Duo's eyes widened and he glanced at him quickly, briefly forgetting to keep an eye on the road.

"Sally? Cathy?!"

"They have big breasts," explained Heero in a falsely innocent tone.

"Heero!!!" Duo shot back, offended... two seconds before cracking up. "So you decided that you're bisexual finally?"

"I will have to try females before deciding, but at least the idea doesn't disgust me."

Duo nodded thoughtfully. Apparently, he didn't have anything to answer with, and Heero had nothing to add, so the silence fell back between them. Heero would have let it settle, if he hadn't seen that the good cheer in his comrade's eyes was slowly dissipating, replaced by a thoughtful, and even, if he believed the scent, slightly melancholic mood.

"Duo... Do you think it counts as bestiality to think that someone's animal shape has a sexy tail?"

Heero had to lunge at the wheel to straighten their trajectory; Duo was laughing so hard that he had almost sent them right into the ditch.

+

The only boat they managed to appropriate was a small skiff moored away from the principal pontoons, and even then they were almost caught about a dozen times.

"Can we get up?" Quatre asked after a good fifteen minutes, shouting to make himself heard over the noisy motor.

He was lying down on the bottom of the boat with Duo and Wufei, hidden out of sight under the benches. Since the skiff wasn't really that big, they were more or less piled up on each other, and the movement of the waves, though too soft to give any trouble to Trowa who was piloting, was still deep enough to give them the beginning of seasickness. The various cuts and rashes Duo and Quatre had didn't really appreciate the salt from the puddle of cold water stinking of seaweed they rested in, and the two werecats were just as irritated by being cold and wet.

Heero, that bastard, was sitting on the other side of the windshield from his teammates, his legs stretched out lazily, casually leaning back against the glass behind which Trowa was standing. He put an elbow on top of the windshield, looking back at the three pilots piled up in the puddle, then glanced up to check how far they were from the harbor. The little town had almost disappeared and there were no other boats on sight, so he nodded magnanimously. Of course, the three started to try to get up at the same time, getting even more tangled up and knocking heads as a result.

"Erase that smirk from your face or I'll do it for you, Yuy," Wufei growled, fighting with his wet, tangled ponytail to make it look halfway presentable.

Heero's smirk widened and he pretended not to have heard.

Trowa rolled his eyes and gave the wheel a quick turn on the left. Heero almost slid off the boat and into the sea, only managing to stay on the prow because he'd been holding the windshield in the first place.

"BARTON!!" he roared over the sound of the motor.

"If you told me which direction to take, instead of annoying Wufei?" he murmured, letting Heero read his lips.

Even without hearing Trowa's comeback, Quatre and Duo were laughing their asses off, and Heero deathglared at them before turning away haughtily. Wufei sat on the bench by Trowa, a small, vindicated smile on his lips.

Muttering, the Japanese teen told himself that they could laugh as much as they wanted; they were the ones who were wet and packed like sardines. He verified where Howard was on his GPS with a quick glance and pointed Trowa in the right direction, leaning back against the windshield.

In about twenty minutes, they were close enough to see the ship. Trowa maneuvered to bring them at the bottom of the closest ladder, and their small skiff was quickly moored to the side of the massive ship.

Howard was waiting, leaning against the guardrail. Duo waved at him and climbed the rungs quickly.

"Hey, old man, so you wanted to ditch us, eh?" he joked as he arrived at the top.

Howard snickered and pretended to kick the young man in the sea. Duo twisted to avoid it and jumped on the deck.

"And here I was hoping to keep these charming young ladies to myself," the old man replied. Hilde and Sally rolled their eyes together, amused.

Behind his shades, Howard was watching the way his protégé was moving, making sure that he wasn't hurt. But he was doing his acrobatics freely enough, so he decided not to worry any more.

Sally was the next one to step closer, giving Duo a brief once over before turning to Wufei who was climbing on deck.

"Status?"

"A few bruises and cuts here and there for Tro, Quat and me," Duo replied instead. "Wu and 'Ro arrived late and thus are as fresh and unmarked as a baby's butt."

Wufei snorted, vaguely offended.

"Quatre's got pretty scratches from the bullets," continued Duo, "but nothing truly deep. Though, on the other hand," he added thoughtfully, "he did roll around in the dirt, so..."

"But nothing worse? Are you sure?" she asked, suspicious.

Duo leaned over the guardrail to check on his comrades who were still climbing. They were slow; making sure Quatre didn't fall maybe?

"Well... Something weird happened... Quatre lost control of his transformations for a few minutes, and we don't know why. He's better now," he added to reassure Sally who was starting to frown. "But for a while his legs kept on trying to switch to paws."

The young woman put her hands on her hips, annoyed and worried.

"What happened? And someone is helping him to climb I hope," she added in a peremptory tone as she leaned over the guardrail at Duo's side.

"Duo just told you he was fine now," Wufei grouched as he stomped away.

Sally ignored his tone, used to him. It was her job to worry. And these boys could never admit it when they were less than perfectly okay.

Quatre finally arrived on the deck, closely followed by Heero and then by Trowa. Sally immediately ordered him to follow her, and with an amused eye rolling toward Duo, he obeyed. He hadn't even been given any time to open his mouth.

Trowa frowned imperceptibly as he observed the rest of the group.

Heero and Duo had started a discussion about how much the modification of the boat's journey would influence their next mission with Howard, and Hilde was listening without coming too close, nibbling on her lip nervously. Wufei was probably with Shenlong and the doctor and her patient were going to the infirmary.

Someone was missing.

"Where is Catherine?" he asked Hilde softly.

The girl jumped at his voice.

"Eh? err... We left her at the harbor, Howard was saying there could be trouble and he didn't want a civilian on board."

"... oh."

He could imagine that she had not been happy to be abandoned there. It explained her absence anyway... Ah well, it was a relief, he had to admit. He liked Catherine, but he had avoided her a lot this last week by staying in Heavyarms often and he really didn't feel like facing one of her famous tongue-lashings, even if his insensitive ways deserved it.

And he didn't like endangering her, and between the war and the lycanthropy-related problems, the surest place for her was certainly not amongst them.

He looked up at his two teammates and the old man, wondering what they were talking about.

"Which excuse did you find to leave the harbor that suddenly?" Heero was asking with a frown.

Howard looked amused.

"Easy. We started a rumor about one of our snitches reporting the existence of a Spanish galleon somewhere in the area. Seeing as our, the Sweepers' job is effectively the recuperation of all sorts of wrecks, it was plausible. So when they saw us leave the harbor discretely as if we were scared someone would follow us, they all laughed a lot at us, but none of them even thought there was another raison. Trust me, no one will link us old, eccentric weirdoes to a band of kids involved in a shooting with armed men in town."

Heero blinked, confused.

"... A Spanish galleon?"

Understanding that Heero had problems finding the correct reference to get it, Duo explained.

"Ships dating back to the... er... 15th century or so, I think. They were supposed to contain gold and treasures. Lots of them were lost at sea so gold hunters regularly go on quests."

Heero stared at him, then turned to Howard to stare at him too.

"And they honestly believed that you, the leader of the Sweepers, were gullible enough to go on such a stupid search?"

Duo burst out laughing.

"Heero, look at the way he dresses. He could have sworn that he was going on an UFO hunt and no one would have doubted that it was exactly what he was doing."

Howard deathglared at the braided boy.

"So wearing Hawaiian shirts is a sign that I am...?"

"I'd say eccentric, but loony sounds better."

"Brat."

Trowa shook his head, vaguely amused. They didn't need him in that discussion, so after a moment of hesitation, he decided to see what was happening to Quatre. The blond probably needed some support; Sally could be ferocious when she wanted answers to her medical interrogations.

"So, we'll have enough fuel to compensate the longer trajectory only if we borrow from you," Duo summarized after quickly calculating the way their path had been modified from having to flee that town.

Howard nodded.

"Yes, we can restock once you leave, no problem. Was that all?"

Duo checked with a glance at Heero and they both nodded.

"It was all."

After a small nod, Howard walked away and Heero finally turned to face the girl who was still standing a few feet away, staring at her in silence for a few seconds.

Duo frowned and looked quickly from one to the other, wondering where the tenseness between them was coming from.

"Which other potentially lethal information did you forget to give us?" the Japanese teen asked in a soft voice.

Duo's eyes widened imperceptibly. Hilde bit her lip and glanced at him, but he frowned thoughtfully and crossed his arms, implicitly warning that he wouldn't intervene.

"... Nothing else," she whispered, embarrassed.

Heero gave her a doubtful frown.

"Are you sure?"

"... It's possible that the Alphas will try to make you join a Pack..."

"We already knew that," Duo commented.

"... then, no, nothing else."

Heero stared at her, suspicious, but accepted her reply.

"I want a complete and detailed list on the Were hunters organization. Number of men, chain of command, training, background, areas where they most often operate. Then you'll go to Sally. She most likely has a mission for you, and if she doesn't one of her contacts probably will."

The she-wolf whined like a lost pup. The Alpha of that territory had just clearly told her that she had overstayed her welcome. For a moment, she wanted to protest, to rebel, but it would only piss him off more.

Heero glared at her coldly a final time then turned away and left. She'd put his pack in danger and he wasn't going to forget that easily.

Duo shrugged helplessly and gave the young girl a sympathetic look, but didn't stay to talk with her.

She stayed unmoving for a long minute, and then kicked at a roll of rope. Of course, being rolled around a metal tube soldiered to the boat, it didn't move an inch and she thought she'd broken a toe, but it still calmed her a little.

She resented Duo for not backing her up, and Heero for not forgiving her, but she understood, even if she didn't want to. It wasn't something she should have forgotten.

Officially, Heero's opinion didn't have any more weight than the other pilots', but of all of them only Quatre would support her and it would be more from pity than because he agreed that she was blameless. Trowa was calculating and efficient and didn't have any emotional link with her, and she had a feeling that Wufei would despise her for that gross lack of professionalism. True, they were on Howard's ship, and he wouldn't kick her out, but... she would only annoy the pilots if she stayed. It was better to help them forget by making herself useful.

She sighed and went back to her cabin.

------------------------------------------------------------------------Duo stayed silent for a long while, and Heero relaxed slowly. He had feared that his partner would get into an argument with him about his harsh treatment of Hilde.

"You know," Duo finally said softly, "she's not the only one to blame. We shouldn't have gone out..."

Heero shook his head.

"There wasn't any military presence in the town. You had no way of knowing that they weren't the only hostile group you could deal with."

Duo gave him a sidelong glance.

"Not so long ago, you would have thought your desire to get out for a walk a stupid, useless risk," he commented, his voice still as quiet.

Heero grumbled something, and Duo gave him a curious look, wondering if he had heard right.

"Not so long ago," the Japanese teen repeated reluctantly, "I found the idea of working within a group a stupid and useless risk."

His embarrassment almost entirely disappeared when he received a smile in return. The braided boy didn't comment, understanding his need to pretend that he hadn't said anything. They walked in silence a few minutes longer.

"... How long are you going to give her the cold shoulder?" Duo asked finally in an unconcerned tone.

Heero frowned, but after a quick look at Duo, decided that he still wasn't changing his mind about supporting Heero's actions.

"You got out of here alive, but she still forgot to warn us. She was a soldier, she should know better."

"You'll let her come back?"

Heero gave him a surprised look.

"Since when do you give me authority to decide who you will hang out with outside of us five?"

Duo laughed and shrugged, amused.

"Oh, I would keep on seeing her. But if you can't stand to be around her, I just would not invite her to join us anymore. I doubt she'd feel comfortable around you anyway."

Heero shook his head. He should have known.

"We'll see how her next mission goes," he decided. "What did you learn about them?" he then asked, changing the subject. The noise the motor of the skiff made had been too loud to let them talk back then, but he'd seen Duo go through the wallets he had stolen before throwing them in the sea.

"Oh, nothing interesting. They come from about everywhere on the continent. They don't all have the same job. One of them was a barman, another raised dogs, another worked at a post office. It looks like a secret society; apart from their hobby, they don't have anything in common."

Heero grumbled. It made discovering them a lot more difficult.

"Anyway," the American continued, "we don't know how many the lot of them are, maybe it's not so much or more normal people would also know about weres. And we're still on the move... Only two of them had dogs, and without the stupid furballs, I'd be surprised if they could find us."

"Us, Duo?" the Japanese repeated, arching an eyebrow. "I don't think you're one of their targets."

Duo blushed. He couldn't help but assimilate himself to the four other Gundam pilots.

"... Okay, you," he conceded. "But still, I'm hanging out with you lot so much, I have to stink of were too. It would be possible for them to target me."

Heero gave him a doubtful look but decided not to insist.

+

[cont]