Author: Asuka Kureru

Garou + Part 34

The infiltration was rather easy. It was snowing heavily, and the guards' visibility was considerably diminished. On top of that, the soldiers were distracted from any outside threats -- minor military factions, vigilante factions, random terrorists, or even Gundam Pilots -- by the conference being held at this very moment. They knew that if something went wrong between Romafeller and OZ they'd have to react very fast. As a result, the two factions spent almost as much time glaring at each other, hands on their weapons, as they did watching their surroundings.

In the end, Trowa and Quatre didn't even need to attack anyone. Trowa was noticed twice while he opened the way, but since he was wearing an OZ uniform and moved like he knew exactly where he was going, no one ever thought of stopping him.

It was going way too easily for Quatre's peace of mind. He just hoped that the dozens of contingency plans he was thinking up would be enough.

+

Everyone was prattling on and dancing around subjects. Noin was bored to tears; the only things she need to do were to stand behind Zechs, watch the exits and the other assistants, and hand over documents and references when he needed them. She was frequently denied that last duty, though, because Zechs' memory worked just fine and he remembered what he needed to support his arguments on his own.

Finally, his Romafeller counterpart concluded and got up, and she sighed discreetly, relieved. End of the meeting?

Apparently not, since now they were back to exchanging empty and apparently innocent small talk. She didn't listen to the exact words; one of the reasons why she'd never rise any higher in the ranks was her total lack of interest for the underhanded, poisoned barbs wrapped in smooth smiles that were so necessary to politics.

As long as Zechs had been able to concentrate on concrete decisions, he'd been in perfect control; but when the enemy Colonel leaned toward him with a patronizing smile, patted his shoulder paternally and asked how he was feeling, he growled. Noin jumped. He was growing tense, as if about to pounce. Neither Zechs nor General Kushrenada, nor Une, Otto, or herself had managed to determine to what point the animal stayed present during the waning moon, and she had hoped...

Noin rushed to his side, touched his arm to distract him, and asked in a mildly concerned tone: "Still that cold?"

It was one of the worst lies she'd ever tried, but she couldn't think of anything else. She could see the Rommies giving them weird looks and could only hope that Zechs would play along. Luckily, he got it and started wheezing softly, as if trying to control a huge coughing fit. Cutting short the usual post-meeting proceedings, Noin excused them both and guided him -- or dragged him -- out of the room. She firmly pushed out of her mind a vision of muscles tearing under her hand, of a mouth full of fangs snapping closed on her throat. Otto followed, expressionless, and placed himself on the other side of the Colonel the second the heavy door of the meeting room closed behind them.

"Zechs?"

He growled again, his face slowly twisting in anger. Otto and Noin exchanged an alarmed look, and wondered if they should run.

"Zechs... calm down," she advised softly, hoping his aggressive instincts would go back to sleep. "What's the problem?"

He didn't answer, shouldering them out of the way before stalking with long steps down the corridor. Reaching the end, he turned left without hesitation. Noin went to follow, but Otto held her back.

"Give him some space, Lieutenant," he advised, frowning.

She acquiesced, horrified. It was the first time since the full moon that he... that he... relapsed. There, it was a relapse, she told herself as she started following Zechs, giving him a wide berth. It was an illness, a catastrophe even, but not a curse. He was still the man she'd met at the Academy. He just had a ... problem.

A problem which they were still trying to define by limits and conditions. A problem that was more than likely to be highly contagious, and could prove fatal for his circle of friends and subordinates.

Otto tapped her shoulder, pulling her out of her musings as they continued to follow the blond man.

Zechs was advancing through the corridors without hesitation, as if tracking something. He paused sometimes at the crossroads, but always found the trail again, as if pursuing clues that Noin and Otto couldn't discern.

Finally, they arrived to a computer room. Zechs stepped over the unconscious guards without even looking at them. Otto made sure they were still alive while Noin followed Zechs inside, weapon in hand.

Zechs searched the room quickly, and growled once again when he caught sight of a computer just as it went back into sleep mode.

"They left."

"Are you sure?" Noin asked, as she finished her methodical check of the rows of desks.

Zechs opened his mouth as if about to snap back rudely, then closed it and nodded, instead. Noin felt a knot of fear untie inside her -- he was returning to normal.

"I'm sure," he affirmed, his voice still intense, but less aggressive. "I'd ... smell them."

It always threw her to be reminded of his senses.

"Can you guess how long ago they left?" Otto asked calmly, as he joined them inside.

The blond man shook his head, clearly frustrated.

"Not that long..."

He sighed, giving way to his frustration, and hit the wall with his fist.

The air vent grate detached slowly from the wall and fell to the floor, clanging loudly. At the very end of the tunnel, something that could have been a rat disappeared down another conduit. Except it was a shoe.

"... I see what you meant," Noin commented in a strangled tone, as she reached out to hit the alarm.

+

Trowa already knew that Quatre was a good tactician and a good pilot, but until now he hadn't fully appreciated the fact that Quatre was also a good soldier. Oh, he knew that the blond was fully able to take care of himself. And yet the ex-mercenary could never entirely forget that while he'd been trained since childhood, Quatre only had barely two years of Mobile Suits combat experience, and a lot less than that of infiltration.

He had to admit one thing, though. When Quatre planned, under a hail of bullets, an attack that Trowa would have judged impossible -- and yet ended up not only destroying several fuel reserves, but also prevented about thirty soldiers from chasing them, and led the two of them right through three lines of fortifications -- his lack of experience didn't show.

He also had to admit that scaling a Mobile Suit, even one conveniently crumpled over a barbed-wire tipped wall, was a lot easier with pads than with boots. He could hear the soldiers who were trying to imitate them skip down the metal planes to go plant themselves in the snow.

Preventing the change from entirely taking him over was a little bit harder. He let Quatre drag him forward, tripping in the snow, the sound of his breaking bones barely covering the string of profanities that Quatre was muttering.

"You have to put your boots back on, you'll get frostbite," Trowa commented between his clenched teeth.

Quatre bore the cold badly, and the temperature was so low that it was already a miracle Trowa hadn't stuck to the Mobile Suit, padded feet or not. His toes were already a fetching purple... and also quite far on their way to becoming paws. Clenching his jaws, Trowa admitted privately that he wasn't going to be able to stop it from spreading. He fought to unzip his anorak, letting Quatre support most of his weight. The blond didn't spare him a glance, too busy scanning their surroundings.

"Status?" he asked quickly, dragging Trowa through the shadow of a huge pile of snow. He was aiming for a rift in the ground; the ice wasn't as smooth as it had been around the base, forming huge glaciers and deep chasms.

"Losing control. No injuries," Trowa replied, breathless, as he stumbled along.

Running hurt -- the bones of his feet, his joints, his straining muscles. He couldn't lower his zipper. The cloth was resilient enough to have him worrying about the results of his ribcage joining the transformation, and his arm sockets shifting angles.

Quatre ran down the steep slope of a fault in the glacier, holding Trowa against his side like a cumbersome package. Trowa held his breath and forbid himself to move, wary of compromising Quatre's already precarious control on their trajectory. Eventually, the blond lost his balance, and after a long slide, they ended up buried to the waist in a snow-drift in the shadow of the glacier.

Trowa groaned -- the ride definitely hadn't been smooth. He looked around, searching for a way out. They were on a small plateau of sorts. The slope kept going below, forming a canyon. If they slipped any lower, they would certainly be safe from infrared detectors, but he doubted that they could ever climb back out.

Quatre dragged Trowa by his collar toward a recess in the cliff wall and pushed him in, leaving him on an almost stable ground. It was complicated to move in the snow, but at least it was hard and packed there and they didn't sink down too badly.

Trowa nodded his thanks as Quatre started helping him out of his clothes. Panting, he opened his eyes -- when had he closed them? -- and gave Quatre a little smile to reassure him. The blond grimaced to see him nude, half on top of the snow, lips already blue; but the cold burn didn't last, replaced by the pins and needles feeling of fur piercing his skin. Trowa realized vaguely that it was a little thicker than the last time -- not enough, far from it, to insure a total protection against the polar cold, but still better than being naked. As long as they kept moving, he'd be fine.

He rolled on his side, still panting, let Quatre pull his clothes off, not bothering to climb out of the hole his own weight was making. At least he couldn't fall any lower, and anyway, he hurt too much to be that coordinated. He heard the blond roll up his clothes, probably to tie them to his backpack. In the distance, he could hear helicopters buzzing -- the dampened steps of a walking Mobile Suit, pieces of snow and ice breaking and rolling down the slope under them...

"Okay?"

He straightened up slowly, shaking the snow off his coat.

"Hey, careful," Quatre protested, smiling, and lifted an arm to protect himself. He was wearing Trowa's anorak over his own.

On all fours, it was easier to forge a way through the snow, even if it still wasn't perfect. They kept close to the slope, just over the ravine. Helicopters roared overhead, waiting for them to come out.

The cold was burning the wolf's sinuses, dry and biting, but he kept sniffing anyway. Eventually, he caught an air current coming from a direction that wasn't the main canyon.

There was another crack in the glacier, almost perpendicular to the canyon, but heavy snowfall had bunched up on top, hiding the crack from the surface. It was narrow, and the pile of snow seemed unstable. Quatre and Trowa exchanged a long look before stepping under it cautiously.

The roof was low; Quatre had to bend double in order to walk. "Perhaps I should transform too," he muttered.

Trowa snorted disdainfully and concentrated on images of sand, of heat waves twisting the air. Quatre grimaced, receiving the message loud and clear.

"You're right, the cheetah is probably even less adapted to this kind of place."

They continued down the secondary tunnel. The ground was notably unstable, and the weak light filtering through the ice wasn't that helpful. Several times they had to crawl, or squirm through tight spots, narrowly avoiding several falls in deep crevasses. They went through a moment of absolute terror when the roof fell on them. Luckily, it was only a small pile of snow, not tons of compressed ice; they dug themselves out eventually, but after that they were even more cautious.

After hours of stumbling and crawling, the tunnel widened and they saw a crack overhead that opened onto the outside. Their relief only lasted until they realized that even straightening up, Quatre couldn't touch the roof.

Grumbling, Trowa started to dig, pushing piles of snow under the opening. Maybe if they packed it high enough...

They went to work, their movements mechanical, barely feeling the cold. Trowa could see in Quatre's slow gestures that he wanted nothing more than to sit down for just a minute and rest, but they both knew that it was a bad idea.

Once it looked high enough, Trowa rolled on the snow pile to pack it, and then braced himself on top and waited. Quatre stared at him for a few seconds before he got it.

"Oh. Step up. ... All right."

Climbing on the wolf's back, he searched for a hold and pulled himself up through the opening. Trowa crouched and then leaped, his claws digging into the ice as he dragged his weight up, squirming through the hole. He felt the support break under his hind legs and fought to climb out before everything broke -- too late.

Quatre's hand closed on the loose fur at his neck and pulled up hard. Desperately trying to find purchase, he squirmed through the opening and threw himself as far from the crack as possible. Quatre rolled onto the snow after him. Two seconds later, chunks of ice crumpled inside the tunnel.

Panting, Quatre sat down heavily and looked around before giving Trowa a small, exhausted smile.

"You're going to go on a diet, I think."

Trowa growled.

"I was joking," Quatre assured him with surprise -- but Trowa wasn't listening to him.

He threw himself on the blond boy, tackling him into a pile of snow, just in time to hide him away from the helicopter.

+

"There! Something's moving," the youngest Romafeller soldier exclaimed. "The spy!"

The pilot spun the helicopter, moving over the area in a tight circle. The kid was pointing toward a shadowed hollow where a dark shape was curled up.

"There! Do you see? This is so great -- we're gonna catch the spy!"

"... Steve... it's just a dog."

"... Oh."

Steve deflated like a balloon.

"What's a goddamn dog doing here in the first place?!" he protested, using his fist to threaten the animal, who was crouching in the snow and baring its teeth at the copter, tail between its legs.

"It's standing on top of something..."

"Probably a trash bag. Wouldn't be surprised if it's been living on the base's trash. There's not a lot to eat around here."

"I think that's a wolf," commented another of their comrades, a tall bald man who up until now had stayed silent.

"I thought there weren't any of them left in the wild?" Steve replied, surprised.

"Who'd be crazy enough to go look for them in the middle of all that goddamn snow?" the pilot chuckled. "We're scaring that poor beast to death; let's go."

The two OZ soldiers who were accompanying them as guides glanced at each other, vaguely surprised, but in light of their inability to stand the Rommies, didn't see fit to mention that brown wolves were about as likely to be found in Antarctica as penguins in the Sahara.

+

Back at the base, Otto reached out for the radio and clicked off the button that rerouted the sound toward the loudspeakers.

"... A wolf at the end of the tracks...?" Noin whispered slowly. Suddenly, Zechs' behavior took on a whole new meaning.

"Where was that copter patrolling?" she asked, leaning over Otto's shoulder.

"North-west. I could warn..."

"That won't be necessary, Lieutenant," Zechs murmured. "Romafeller would follow us, and I don't see how we can explain our interest in a simple animal satisfactorily."

"But, Zechs!! He's..."

... like you, she didn't say. He might have answers, explanations... and she wanted so badly to make someone pay for what her friend -- and herself -- had endured.

"It's probably one of the 'five'," Otto commented, his hand patting Noin's shoulder to encourage her to get a hold of herself. "The coincidence would be too big if it wasn't."

"If it's the case," Merquise cut in, "we'll find them again. But without any risk of alerting Romafeller, this time."

The blond man gave them a predatory smirk.

"I can wait. We will cross paths again."

+

The return to their hiding place was slow. The soldiers were hard to discourage, crawling all over the place in a large area around the base. Often, Quatre and Trowa had to hide in crevasses, or even under the snow, in little hidey holes quickly dug up by the wolf. Quatre didn't regret it that much. He was too exhausted to walk for long stretches of time.

That, and Trowa was warm. The first time they were both kind of embarrassed, but by the fourth time they were almost caught, Quatre didn't hesitate anymore. As they waited, he rubbed his furry sides as vigorously as he could, warming both of them, and curled up against his chest, blowing softly on his pads, that he warmed between his hands. Trowa's paws were in shreds, cut by the ice, and Quatre couldn't say if they were worse than his own toes, so red and swollen that he was seriously thinking about walking on his knees. Ah well, he supposed it was still better than not feeling them at all.

Still, between the two of them, Quatre was still the worst off, but he tried hard not to attract attention on it.

In the end, after many, many twists and turns and large detours, they arrived back where the snowmobile was waiting. Trowa transformed back into human shape... Ten whole minutes from wolf to man. Quatre spent them counting every second, and wondering if he was just too exhausted to manage, and what would happen if he got stuck in between.

Of course, Trowa pretended that he wasn't tired at all and took the driver's seat without asking. Quatre protested, but then a copter buzzed behind a nearby cliff and there was no time left to discuss it.

The return to the hideout took hours, but at least they could relax a bit; they were well out of range, and the machine was warm between their legs. Quatre dozed against Trowa's back, arms wrapped around him. Trowa didn't seem tense or annoyed, and even though Quatre didn't know what his silent companion was thinking about it, he decided to stop worrying and appreciate the moment.

By the time they were back to their base, they'd recuperated a bit. The little cuts on Trowa's hands and feet had disappeared. They wolfed down the food they'd brought along -- Trowa was devouring as if he hadn't eaten in a week; Quatre thought there was probably a link with the speedy healing -- and then started to gather their things.

"Merquise is a were," Trowa commented thoughtfully as he started dismantling the radio.

Quatre froze, his backpack in hand. "What? Zechs..."

"Smelled like wolf," Trowa confirmed, still unscrewing things. He packed the pieces quickly once he was done, and then started gathering his own things.

Quatre stared at him. "Are you sure? Wasn't it just that he touched -- no, forget that." When Quatre was transformed, his sense of smell wasn't as good as a canine's, but it was still good enough that even he could distinguish between a scent being worn and one being emitted. Which meant there was no way Trowa was wrong.

It was extremely important information, even if he didn't really know what he was supposed to do with it.

"But how -- the lycanthropic virus is extremely rare," he started, frowning thoughtfully. "Most weres would hesitate to contaminate someone so high-profile. Everyone knows of him. Besides, he's part of a military organization; he regularly goes through medical check-ups."

"If he was contaminated, it would be a catastrophe for the packs," Trowa agreed quietly.

"Yes... OZ owns more than enough resources to search for the origin of that virus. And -- he couldn't have been born that way, or Miss Relena would be one, too."

Trowa blinked, and then nodded, still shoving clothes inside his bag. "He probably caught it from one of us. The odds of him getting it from an outside source ..." he muttered softly.

Quatre frowned once again. "From what Sally said, the virus can't survive outside of a human more than a few minutes. So when did one of us--"

"Wufei," they finished together, exchanging a troubled look.

"They probably took his blood," Trowa commented, but he didn't look entirely convinced.

Quatre shook his head, as confused as Trowa felt. "An accident, then. Wufei hadn't transformed yet. His genetic code wouldn't have shown the quadruple helix. I can't see any of them injecting that into their precious Zechs Merquise if they didn't even know what would happen."

Both thoughtful, they separated; Trowa going outside to start their vehicle and Quatre packing the last weapons. Then Quatre left the hideout, the case in hand and his backpack over a shoulder.

"Wufei didn't tell us about any accident," Trowa commented, locking the hideout behind him.

Quatre tied his backpack to the side of the snowmobile, frowning. "True... But then, what do we know about what he remembers from that period?"

"We'll ask," Trowa replied, straddling the seat, ending the conversation.

"Hey! I'm driving, if you don't mind," the blond protested, slapping his friend's shoulder. "I'm getting tired of being carried and driven around like a package. Besides, I want to leave the area more than you do."

Amused, Trowa slid back in the seat, leaving the front to Quatre. "It's colder in front," the green-eyed boy deadpanned, teasing.

Quatre didn't bother replying; he just made a face at him. For once, the cold wouldn't be unwelcome. With Trowa's arms around his waist and his body plastered against his back, Quatre was afraid he was going to be more than warm enough.

++

AN: And we go back to one chapter every ten years. (and yes, in the next chapter there's tons of Heero and Duo interaction and cuteness. Hohohoho. *is an evil tease*)

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