8-2-00 - OK, everyone. *weary smile* It's been a really long summer, and yet I find that I didn't have nearly enough of one. I tried to keep up with my writing, but it really didn't happen. This is the only thing that I have to offer you and it's new. *sweatdrop* If you're not familiar with White Wolf and/or the World of Darkness, you might want to try going here for some background on that role-play system (though its really a hell of a lot more detail than you really need). I'm going to try to write this so you don't have to be an expert on WoD to understand what's going on, but I can only explain so much without it hanging up the fic.

Anyhow, this fic takes place in an alternate Gundam Wing Universe of my creation. It's a World of Darkness Universe with the Apocolypse very likely around the corner. Nothing is entirely sacred, though I've tried to keep everyone as in-character as I can manage - given their altered natures. ^_^ Not everyone is a shapechanger/supernatural being, but there are a few - and some of them are older than they appear. *g* I've been having fun writing this and I hope you have some fun reading it - if I feel like it later, I'll do up a couple of character sheets for those who warrant them. ^_^ Enjoy!

Some terms that would be useful to know:

Gaia - The Earth - The Garou were originally created to be her protectors.
Garou - A werewolf, one of Gaia's children
Gifts - In a nutshell, magic.
Hakken - An Asian werewolf, usually a Shadow Lord
Hengeyokai - An Asian shapechanger
Hispo - one of the 5 forms of the Garou, essentially a dire wolf. (For those of you who don't know, a dire wolf is a very large wolf.)
Homid - A Garou's human form
Ju-fu - magic based on the art of paper-folding - origami
Kinfolk - People who carry the werewolf gene (and are most likely related to at least one Garou), but in whom the gene is dormant.
Kitsune - A were-fox
Shadow Lord - one of the 13 Tribes of the Garou Nation
Umbra - The Spirit World

It was quiet - one of those lazy, hot, humid days that practically begged you to do anything but work. A pity that Duo Maxwell couldn't listen to the pleadings of the day. Shinigami had taken a pretty horrendous beating in the last fight and he needed repairs. The entire drive system was nonfunctional, and until he got it up and running again, his dear partner would be going nowhere but this hangar.

Duo raised an arm to his brow and wiped off a sheen of sweat. Well... it wouldn't hurt anything to pause for a drink, now could it? I just need a break from this heat. How Quatre stands it, I'll never know. The long-haired pilot slowly levered himself out of Deathscythe's cockpit and lowered himself down to the floor. He already felt about 10 degrees cooler. Now for that drink...

A low, whining growl interrupted his quiet musings. Duo froze, his entire body going still. As far as he knew, none of the Maguarnacs kept dogs and there were no local people around, either. And there was certainly no way a stray dog could have made it across the desert to the Maguarnacs secret hideout - not without assistance anyway. Duo eased his gun out of its shoulder holster and dropped into a wary crouch. There was something odd about that growl...

He started creeping quietly towards the sound, senses straining to catch anything else that might give his quarry away. He dropped down behind one of the packing crates and peered into the shadows. There... If that's a dog, then I'm a monkey's Uncle. That thing's freaking huge! Through the darkness, he could just barely make out the distinct shape of a four-legged animal - a very large four-legged animal. It was easily the size of a small pony. The animal was crouched over its foreleg, whimpering as it licked a gunshot wound in its shoulder. In spite of himself, Duo felt a surge of pity for the creature. Bullet wounds hurt like hell.

Quietly, so as not to startle the animal, Duo stripped off his gun holster and laid the gun on top of it on the floor. He might not have Trowa's talent with wild animals, but he knew a few tricks - and this poor guy clearly needed help. With a small smile, Duo pulled a small piece of charchoal grey origami paper from one of his wide pants pockets. He contemplated the animal lying in the shadows for a moment, then folded the paper into a small wolf-like origami. He smirked lightly at his creation, imbuing it with a small surge of power. He felt the quiet rush as this small magic took effect - ju-fu was always rewarding. He tested the magic of his illusion, moving each of his limbs in turn. Good - he could just catch the layer of the illusion out of the corner of his eye. When he stepped out of the shadows, he should look and sound just like another... whatever-that-thing-was.

Duo knelt next to the now-shivering creature and began quietly speaking to it, "Do not fear me, brave one. I am a friend. May I tender my assistance?"

The animal picked up its head, eyes wide - apparently it hadn't heard him approach. The animal whimpered again, licking at its wound. Duo inched a bit closer, "That looks painful... I am something of a Healer - perhaps I can assist you?" The creature looked him up and down, a disconcerting aura of intelligence in its gaze. Finally, after quietly appraising him for what felt like an eternity, the creature nodded.

As he waited, Duo had felt a half-formed idea coalescing in his brain. He left the little puzzle to lie for a while as he regarded his strange new friend. When the beast nodded, Duo bent to examine the injured shoulder. He wasn't altogether surprised at what he found when he removed the bullet - it was coated in silver. He pocketed the bullet and extended his hands over the injury. After another quiet moment of introspection and the initial resistance any torn flesh gives to being rejoined, the beast's shoulder Healed. Duo smiled and wiped another sheen of sweat off his brow, "There you are, my friend. All Healed. Though if I were you, I'd take care not to let something like this happen again. You may not be lucky enough to stumble upon a Healer, next time."

The creature nodded solemnly, eyes still almost humanly bright, then rose from his crouched position and padded out the door into the sunlight. Duo whistled in appreciation as he finally got a decent look at the beast - it was huge. He mentally re-evaluated his earlier opinion - it wasn't the size of a small pony - it was the size of a very large pony. Duo quietly unfolded the little paper wolf and tucked it back into his pants pocket. A secretive little smile wove its way across his face, even as he started to worry over the unexpected presence of a werewolf in his territory. Since he hadn't been aware of any shapechangers in the area, the sudden appearance of this one could mean trouble... but then, what was life without a little fun?

Once the young werewolf was safely tucked out of sight in the Umbra he allowed himself a deep sigh of relief. He certainly hadn't expected to run across a Hunter in the desert, and curse-it-all, he hadn't been prepared. Oh, but his mentor would be ashamed to see him now... The infernal human had snuck up on him while he'd been preoccupied with something else. He'd begun the shift up to Crinos but the Hunter had shot him before he'd gotten farther than Hispo. He'd dropped to the floor in pain as his foreleg gave out on him - and that had been all that had saved him from the second shot... which had been aimed at his head. He winced as the memory of the silver bullet imbedding itself into his flesh flashed through his mind. He'd been half-mad with the pain, and the next thing he remembered was waking up in the middle of the desert near the Maguarnacs headquarters.

What had happened next... his brain still hadn't entirely processed. He had managed to get into the hangar that housed the Gundams and had crouched down in the shadows. The sounds of some sort of rock music blaring in the background had kept him awake enough to try to focus on his wound, but not enough to completely hide his presence. Apparantly his presence had been noted by someone - someone who had been another Hakken to all outward appearances. The other Garou had knelt beside him and offered him advice and Healing before sending him on his way.

He finished his long-ago interrupted shift up to homid and felt around his shoulder. No sign of the injury. And that other Garou had been a puzzle in more ways than one. First and foremost, he had been in Hispo form - and Healed him in Hispo. The few Healers that he'd known among his old Pack had never done that - not unless it had been an emergency. Secondly, and more importantly, he had handled that silver like it was nothing. No werewolf that he knew of could do that. Which meant that, despite what his senses had told him, that Garou had been no Garou. It disturbed him. Greatly.

He sighed - puzzles weren't exactly his favorite passtime, they had been his wife's specialty. He had the feeling that this one was way out of his league. Not for the first time since her death, he found himself pining for her. There had been no romantic feeling between them - they were too young, and the marriage had been for convenience only, but still... She had been his perfect complement. They had often found that they completed each other's thoughts and sentences. She had been the Rage to his quiet strength, and he the temperance to her wild frenzies and passions. Kinfolk she might have been, but she had a heart and soul that would have done any Garou proud. He had had no doubt that over time the lacking aspect to their marriage would develop. But they'd run out of time. He had lost her before he even got a chance to love her. It still hurt.

With a deep sigh, the young Garou stood up from his crouch and flexed all his muscles. There were too many puzzles floating around and he was too tired to deal with them. It was time to go home - before something else jumped up and bit him. He took quick stock of where he was in the Umbra and began heading off in a direction that would take him home.

Duo smiled at Quatre as he strolled into the kitchen, arms stretched over his head. He'd spent another few hours working on Shinigami after his encounter with the strange Hakken. He felt he had the drive system mostly back in working order. He'd run some tests on it later that night once it cooled down and he had the cover of night to work with, but for now... he'd worked enough. He threw himself down on one of the kitchen chairs with a tired "Oof" and a wince for stiff muscles. Quatre looked down in sympathy - it had been a long day full of mundane tasks for everyone. In a way, Duo was almost glad of it - his life had been far too active of late.

Quatre finished drying the dish that he was holding and sat gracefully down in front of the long-haired pilot, "How did the repairs go?"

Duo shrugged, "Same old, same old. Nothing that I couldn't handle." He flashed the Arabian a wide grin before settling into a comfortable slouch. He eyed the pile of clean dishes, "And what have you been up to?"

Quatre shrugged, crossing his legs and folding his hands into his lap, "Not much of anything, really. There were some minor repairs to be done on Sandrock, but nothing of any real consequence. Trowa stopped in earlier for lunch - he said he would be back later tonight. He has an ammunitions pick-up scheduled for this evening."

Duo allowed his mental smile to stretch a little wider. It was almost too cute - the relationship between the pilots of Sandrock and Heavyarms. You asked what one had been up to and almost invariably learned what both had done. You asked how one felt and invariably learned that both were feeling fine. It made him want to pinch Quatre's cheeks whenever he caught him at it. And they thought they were so descreet... He covered his inner amusement and returned his attention to the blond, "And Wufei and Heero? Are they back, yet?" He tried to keep the hope from his voice - though he had no doubt that Quatre heard it anyway. He had tried not to pine over the cobalt-eyed pilot of Wing, but it grew more and more difficult with each passing week that he knew the boy. But Heero didn't even seem to know he existed. Talk about frustrating...

Quatre's eyes filled with sympathy - he knew of the often hopeless attraction that Duo held for Heero, but as with so many things, there was nothing he could really do to help. His voice was quiet as he spoke, "They returned from their mission late this morning. As far as I know, they both retired to their rooms to get some sleep. They looked like they needed it."

Duo nodded, "So it's you and me for dinner?"

Quatre smiled, "It looks like it. Unless you'd like to peek in on Heero and Wufei and see if either of them are hungry...?"

Duo's mental grin quickly spread to his face. He needed no further invitation to cause mischief for his friends. He leapt up from his seat and sprinted up the stairs towards Heero's room. Hmm... Now how to wake Heero up without getting a gun shoved in his face for the trouble? That was the question. He was still torn between yanking off his friend's covers and tickling him into wakefulness when he reached the door. Finally decided to leave it to chance, he slowly turned the knob, not wanting to give himself away before he got a chance to have his fun.

He crept quietly towards the bed, hands outstretched in mock claws, and pounced on the bed, reaching out to tickle his opponent mercilessly. A cold, nasal voice penetrated his haze of glee, "What are you doing, baka?"

Duo froze, terribly confused. He turned around to find Heero standing behind him, clad only in his biker shorts and looking as if he had only recently risen from his bed. His expression slowly fell as the implications set in. He bowed his head and said morosely, "You heard me coming?"

Heero nodded, "The way you gallop up the stairs is rather distinctive."

Duo sighed, "I'll remember that next time."

Heero raised an eyebrow at his sometime partner, "Next time?"

Duo slowly raised his eyes to meet Heero's. He allowed a small smirk to creep onto his face, "Was that a challenge?"

Heero's expression didn't change in the slightest, but his eyes lightened one small fraction of a glimmer. Duo read it as the smile that it was. He chuckled softly in response. It had taken him a long time before he could read Heero's non-expression, but it had been a study that was well worth it. If he didn't know better... he'd almost say that Heero was relaxed in his presence. He could only hope that that were so. For if it were... then there was a chance.

He shifted around to put his feet on the floor and stood up to be face-to-face with the cobalt-eyed pilot, "Well, since you're up, Quatre sent me to let everyone know that dinner is just about ready. So, if you'd like to join us..."

Heero nodded curtly and turned to retrieve his tanktop, socks, and shoes from the desk chair. Duo took that rare moment to stare at Heero's backside. A dreamy smile tried to creep across his face, but like so many of his expressions, Duo kept this one internal. Heero wasn't the only one who could play hard-to-read.

Once Heero was dressed and on his way downstairs, Duo headed down the hall to Wufei's room. This time, he decided on a full frontal assault. He threw open Wufei's door and leapt for the bed... to find it empty. He let out a small scream of frustration, "You guys never let me have any fun!" He turned around, slowly scanning the room. He found Wufei standing in the doorway to the bathroom, hair still slightly damp and a confused expression on his face.

Wufei raised an eyebrow at Duo, "May I help you?"

Duo stood and stalked over to Wufei, all set to explode in his face... when he gave it up. Apparently, he wasn't going to get to scare the bejeezus out of any of his teammates tonight. He'd just have to take it like a man... and find some other way to get back at them. His mental smirk now back in place, he answered calmly, "Dinner's ready. Coming?"

Wufei nodded serenely, "I will join you shortly."

Duo nodded once in response, then turned to leave, thoughts firmly turned to thoughts of how he was going to get revenge on his staunch and steady teammates.

Wufei listened until Duo had retreated down the hall before dropping his pose of casual indifference. He rubbed painfully at his shoulder, wincing as he hit yet another sore spot. He had hoped that the scalding hot water of the shower would take some of the ache away, but apparently his hopes had been in vain. His shoulder ached abominably, in spite of having been Healed. Probably a result of his blood and muscles having too long a contact with silver. Well, whatever the case, he wasn't going to be much good in a fight for the next day or so. Especially since the injured shoulder was attached to his sword-arm. He sighed. Today just hadn't been his lucky day.

He awkwardly tried to pull his hair back into its customary ponytail and failed. His arm was just too stiff to reach that far. Grumbling, he brushed his hair until it fell in a smooth wave down to his shoulders, invoking a Gift to re-order whatever part of his appearance that he was too stiff to care about. Once he was satisfied that he looked decent, he made his way down to the dining room.

Quatre was seated at the head of the table with Duo on his right. Heero was seated in his customary spot next to Duo. Trowa's spot was empty. Wufei eyed the table with a mental curse. Taking his customary spot (at "Trowa's" right) could be construed as an implied rudeness. Yet, if he sat down immediately at Quatre's left, then it forced him into a bad position. He would have to pass the dishes to Quatre with his right arm - and the soreness in the muscles wouldn't support much weight. And as far as Heero knew, he hadn't been injured in the mission. Damn. I suppose there's no help for it. I'll just have to be careful not to drop anything... He made his way around the table and sat down at Quatre's left.

Duo immediately clapped his hands in glee, "Wu-man! What a difference! You should wear your hair down more often. It looks awesome on you! Got someone to impress? Ne? Come on, man, give!" He jumped up from his chair, leaning on the table until he was practically in Wufei's face.

Wufei leaned back, trying to keep a dignified expression on his face, "My last remaining hair-band snapped. I must wear my hair this way until I can drive into town and get more. Is that quite all right with you, Maxwell?"

Duo pouted slightly and settled back into his seat, "Well, I still think it looks better than that tight little tail that you always wear. Doesn't that hurt your head, Wu-man?" He patted his own loose braid and winced, "I think it'd give me a headache."

Wufei closed his eyes, silently asking Gaia for patience. But, before he could utter a response, Duo let out a little yelp of pain. It was with no end of amusement that Wufei saw Heero's hand holding tightly to the end of Duo's braid. He gave Duo one of his infamous blank stares and the braided boy quieted, slumping slightly in his seat. It was at this point that the servers placed all of the dishes on the table. Wufei took a piece of chicken from the first and lifted it to pass to Quatre. He exercised another Gift to suppress the pain and managed to get through the action without a hitch. He breathed a mental sigh of relief as he was finally able to relax and enjoy his dinner.

Duo hid his shock at Wufei's appearance behind a wall of chatter. He'd never known that the Chinese pilot could look so... so... exotic. He looked like an entirely different person with his hair down in a soft wave like that. With Wufei across the table and Heero at his right, his poor hormones sent him on a minor roller coaster ride. He wasn't even quite sure what he was babbling about.

Eventually, however, Heero unknowingly saved him by yanking on his braid. His hold on the end of Duo's hair forced him to look the cobalt-eyed pilot in the eyes... and he was trapped. Heero's eyes held a long-suffering look in them. Heero never did like it when he ran off at the mouth like that... Oh well. He let himself slump into his seat, ready to settle down and just eat... when he caught it.

Duo abruptly sat upright as he caught the unmistakable scent of Hakken magic - and very nearby. Perhaps his visitor from this afternoon. He slowly extended his senses to cover the house as he took the chicken from Quatre and absentmindedly put a few pieces on his plate. There it was again... It was very close. In this room, as a matter of fact.

His mind worked furiously at the puzzle as Heero began to fill everyone in on what he and Wufei had learned on their last mission. That was when he saw it - Wufei was trying to hide the fact that he was rubbing his right shoulder - as if it were sore. But... he hadn't been injured on this mission. Heero had been almost proud of how easily it had gone - in and out with no complications. A mental frown nearly tugged his lips down.

He focused his senses on Wufei and finally caught the last piece of the missing puzzle. His own magic. On Wufei. Oh brother... Chang Wufei was his mysterious werewolf? Well now... that was certainly something he never would have suspected. Not in a million years. He almost snickered out loud, but stifled it at the last minute. Now was definately not the time to reveal his knowledge. Absolutely not. But as he settled back in his chair, he couldn't help the slightly smug grin that crossed his face. Now... the only question was: How could he best use this knowledge to his advantage? A mental snicker accompanied that last thought. This had the potential to be so much fun!

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