+ Part 15
Heero could hear the calls of killers in the darkness, the deep call of were lions and the snarls and roars of fierce creatures he didn't recognize. Death could come out of the darkness in any direction, especially as he neared the scent of water.
Heero twitched again and looked around him carefully, ears straining for the slightest sound over the swish of the grass in the breeze. Aside from the twinkle of stars, darkness reigned. Instinct told him that there was something there, though, something watching him and making the air scent with anticipation.
Heero bolted, but it was a second too late. A very large body landed on top of him and a deep voice chuckled in his ear as he was easily pinned to the earth. "You are a handsome thing," the voice said and a familiar rumbling purr made the air vibrate as a large tongue licked along Heero's flattened ear. A were lion, Heero realized, and felt himself tremble as he saw the two plate sized paws, armed with razor sharp claws, on each side of him. He turned his head and looked into the shadowy, fanged grin, of a stranger.
"My little brother lifts his tail for you," the were lion said as a hand felt crudely underneath Heero and found the sensitive flesh between his legs. "Ah, so you are like us after all, at least in this respect." Again the tongue licked his ear and Heero couldn't help a growl, his hackles rising. "Duo isn't so perverted after all."
Heero snarled. "If you've hurt him-!"
"My own brother?" Solo chuckled nastily. "You should shut your mouth, dog, before I take off your head to stop your stupid tongue. He's King Zech's now. He'll already have lifted his tail for him and joined his Clan again. Zechs can be very... persuasive." He said the last in a nasty, suggestive tone.
"Duo is my mate!" Heero snarled and tried a desperate buck to get free of the were lion. It was a useless move.
The fanged mouth grinned. "Really? I suppose he would have to be. Do you know what would happen if Duo mated you?"
Heero was dominant. It wasn't something that he had really considered, but he was certain that Duo wouldn't hurt him, no matter what they did together. He was ready to close his ears to this were lion, knowing that he was only being taunted, but he wasn't prepared for the large jaws closing on his neck and the clawed hands jerking him into a mating position. The were lion was impossibly large and powerful, fangs and claws meant for ripping and tearing flesh. His muscles were meant for bringing down large prey and Heero remembered Duo's easy grace, his impossible leaps, and his ability to bring down even a large prey with ease.
"Should I continue, or are you smart enough to see?" the were lion growled.
Heero panted. "Why..."
"To show you that you are too different," Solo told him. "To show you that you are a puppy in the jaws of a beast that can crush you without realizing it. Were lions mate with claw and tooth and instinct, not the cultured niceties of ritual and civilization. Duo will kill you, eventually, when he forgets that a were wolf is fragile and no match for one of our kind. He has a future with Zechs, a place in the new empire. He will be a prince among the clans. His concern for you will only get him killed."
The large body flipped Heero easily and pinned him while Solo tied him with rope. He found himself looking up at a young, but almost full sized were lion. Heero's tail tucked between his legs without his conscious thought and Heero's ears went back in fear. Une had been an impressive creature, but this beast, with its full mane, seemed even larger and more capable of killing.
"I have been ordered to bring you alive," Solo told him, jaws inches from Heero's face, "but I warn you to reject Duo when you see him next. Give him nothing to turn him from the path he must walk. What's between you will never work A were lion and a dog can't mate."
Heero snarled, "I am a were wolf!"
"There's a difference?" Solo chuckled.
Heero showed his teeth and met Solo's eyes defiantly. "You will find out that there is."
"You will not bring Duo to his death," Solo warned him, "but you will bring about your own if you don't do as you are told."
There was a roar of anger and another were lion came from the darkness. Duo was a whirlwind as he savaged Solo, short mane bristled and purple eyes wild with desperation. He didn't stay within Solo's reach but missed a powerful swipe of claws and sprang back, teeth barred and ready to protect Heero.
"You're being stupid," Solo warned him. "I don't know how you escaped Zechs and his males, but I'm sure they are hot on your trail. You're going to die for this dog. Come to your senses!"
"I have," Duo told him as he planted himself firmly in front of Heero. "I've decided to be where I am loved and where I am free."
"You're the mad were," Solo hissed. "I know where your friends den. I will bring the others and they will separate you from your dog prince."
Solo was gone between one flicker of shadow and the next. Breathing hard, Duo crouched and spat, "He was always the coward."
Duo untied Heero and licked his face, nuzzling him and lying very close. "I am a creature of the Savannah, not the forests, but this can't be my home, not while Zechs rules."
Heero kissed him deeply and then rose, ignoring cuts and bruises and a leg that had folded awkwardly when Solo had pounced onto him. "Your home is with me, Duo, as mine is with you." And then the wind shifted and he caught the musky scent of a males's release on Duo.
Heero wasn't sure what happened, except that he was suddenly on Duo, eyes blazing, hands and nose searching, trying to memorize and identify that trespassing odor that marked his mate as he prepared to erase it in the only way that he knew how. The clawed hand slamming into his face brought him back to his senses.
Heero had been thrown down and Duo was following, face in his and seething. "Yes, he marked me, but that was all!" Duo snarled. "Shall I re-mark you because Solo's scent is on your back?"
Heero's head was reeling. He touched his cheek, came away with blood and the sting of scratches, and then took a steadying breath as he regained control. His nose was still filled with 'enemy', but he backed away and hung his head, blood throbbing in his veins with anger. "I'm going to kill him, " he promised, "for touching you."
Duo showed his fangs, half humor, half despair, "We'd die together, because I want to kill him too and I know that neither of us are strong enough. I was lucky that some of the females were eager to try and please a prince, and did as I told them, or I wouldn't have gotten away. Zechs is... very strong and he is undeniably their king."
"We have to get back," Heero said as he shook his head to clear it. "We have to leave here."
"Too late for that," Une's voice purred as her stripes suddenly separated from the shadows. "This was so much easier than I expected." Her tail lashed as she approached.
"Not so easy," Wu Fei said. "I came to see why it was taking My Prince so long when water was such a short distance away."
Une laughed. "Will you fight me, dragon?"
Wu Fei's crest rose and rattled. He drew his blades. Without looking at Heero, he told him, "Go, My Prince. I will hold her here until I defeat her or at least cause her difficulty before I die."
"No," Duo replied.
"No," Heero agreed. "We will fight her together, my dragon."
Wu Fei looked annoyed, but then he snorted, amused. "Now you choose to act like a prince."
Une flickered her tail and her ears went back. "There is only one were that I am required to bring back. Leave him to me and you may live."
Wu Fei sneared. "Are you afraid Lady were?"
"I think that she is shy of getting her face scratched," Duo growled.
"What do you hope to gain?" Une wondered angrily. "You will die before you ever leave the plains."
"I won't serve someone like Zechs," Duo shot back. "I won't help destroy our way of life. I won't help attack and conquer the weres around us. The clans belong on the Savannah."
"Are we invited to this party?" Trowa asked as he padded out of the darkness with Quatre at his side. "We wondered what was keeping you."
Quatre's ruff was bristled, his long ears erect and forward. "You are outnumbered. I suggest that you leave."
Une's tail lashed again. "It's true that I don't relish getting marked, but are you seriously suggesting that even your number is a match for me?"
Wu Fei began to advance. "We will see."
Une leapt without warning. Wu Fei ducked under claws and brought his weapons up, slashing at her underbelly. She twisted aside just in time, but Duo was leaping as well. He latched onto her head with all of his claws and sank jaws into her neck. Her skin was loose, though, and her fur thick. She tossed Duo aside as if he were a kitten and he landed hard. Heero was there to protect him, before she could press her advantage, and Trowa attacked her from the side, while Wu Fei regrouped and came at her from behind.
"Die mountain dog!" Une shrieked as her razor sharp claws raked Trowa and sent him flying in a splatter of blood.
"Love!"Quatre shouted in horror and then he was furious. He leapt onto Une's back and clamped jaws on her spine. His surprise move was more then enough to throw Une off balance and send her to the ground. She began to twist around to reach him, though, and he was seconds from meeting a very messy end.
Heero was on her instantly, ignoring fangs and claws to save his friend. He felt his skin raked, and felt her hot breath as she opened her mouth to snap him in two, but Heero found her soft juggler and clamped down on it with his jaws. Holding her, Wu Fei was able to finished her with his knives, stabbing down into her heart between were wolf and were fox.
They all lay still, then, panting, as Une died, terrified to let go and too terrified to believe in that death. A tongue licked Heero's face and a cheek rubbed against his own. "Let go, Heero," Duo urged. "It's over."
Heero's vision cleared and he rolled his eyes to see his mate. Slowly, his jaws aching from the pressure he had exerted, he let Une go, her blood hot on his tongue. He spat it out and felt ill. Duo tugged at him and made him step away. Quatre was already leaping off and seeing to Trowa, who was sitting up and hissing at the claw wounds marring his skin.
"We won, but now we have wounded," Wu Fei said in trepidation. "We need to leave the Savannah before others come."
Duo looked pained, but he was nodding. "They will come quickly."
"I can travel," Trowa grumbled as he slowly rose to his feet.
Heero grimaced as he rose too, feeling the stabbing pain of wounds. He wasn't so certain about his own ability to travel. Wounded and facing a climb over mountain heights yet again, he wondered if he would live to see the other side. He said, making a sudden decision, "We're not going home. Quatre, will we be welcome in your land?"
"As friends of mine? Of course!" Quatre exclaimed, dancing in place with nervous excitement and his tail bristling. "It will be so much easier and a much shorter journey."
"It may be what they least expect as well," Wu Fei said thoughtfully.
"They wouldn't dare attack my people," Quatre said with confidence. "The desert tribes are strong and cunning."
Duo made a face. "My people have a dislike for endless sand and rock."
Quatre looked reproving. "It's so much more than that, Duo. My tribe lives near a broad river. There is green, fish, deer, goats, and palms aplenty for shade. Perhaps we don't have grasslands, but it has comforts all the same."
Trowa was frowning. "There is a desert between us and that river," he pointed out.
Quatre grinned and nuzzled him. "I know the way through it. Don't be frightened."
Duo sighed, but then looked resigned. "I will go to your home, Quatre. If everyone else is in agreement, we should leave now."
Wu Fei looked pleased, but Heero supposed sun baked rocks and sand would appeal to the were dragon. As he and Duo wrapped his wounds with what scraps they had, he said, "I don't require that anyone follow Duo and I. You can return home."
Wu Fei's crest rattled in anger. "You insult me and our friendship by suggesting such a thing."
"Maybe I'm tired of cold and mountains," Trowa said. "I think I would like to warm myself in new lands. Besides, I have an interest in sleek, tan were foxes with big ears."
Quatre laughed and his earrings tinkled together. He let Trowa lean on him as he took the lead.
Wu Fei and Duo helped Heero, even though he tried to shrug them off and walk on his own. Duo's strength was more than enough for the task, though, and speed was important. He subsided and allow the help, calming his male pride in favor of survival.
Behind them carrion birds began to settle on the body of the fallen were tigress.
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