They'd stopped to take a quick rest on the edge of a greenish-blue tinted lake on the edge of a rocky and inhabitable piece of mountain they'd soon be crossing over.
Hige had of course found the softest piece of rock he could and promptly started snoring away, while Kiba settled into a meditative pose and stared out across the dead water. Tsume had planned on just sitting back, but the runt's actions were ruining the quiet.
For always complaining about being tired, Toboe had found his second wind and was prancing about the rocks, acting out some situation where he was a hero and rescuing some girl. Leera, he kept shouting, as he dashed amongst the boulders.
"Runt! Would you frickin' shut up?" Tsume growled upwards, hands crossed over his chest and a scowl on his face.
Toboe peered over the edge down at Tsume and stuck his tongue out. "Aww, c'mon Tsume. Don't you ever want to have fun?"
Toboe pouted and disappeared, and Tsume was glad that the young pup had finally seemed to quiet down after a few minutes of silence.
But then it was too quiet. Only Porky's snores cut the thin air and Tsume sighed in irritation. Kiba would get all pissed off if something happened to the runt because Tsume snapped at him. And although the grey-haired wolf didn't give a damn what their so-called leader thought, he couldn't help but feel a twinge of worry towards the youngest of their pack. Not that he'd ever admit it.
Besides, something about this place made his hackles rise and the sooner they could get moving out again the better. Climbing gracefully to his feet, Tsume hopped up on top of the small cliff Toboe had been playing on, sniffing the air when he saw no sign of him.
Toboe had a distinct scent – old perfume, apricots, dirt, and medicine– and it wasn't hard to pick it up at all. Leaping across small chasms and scaling a few smaller cliffs Tsume found him about fifteen minutes away, playing down below on the rocky ground. He jumped down to the runt's level, the boy not even noticing him as he continued to fight off fake bad guys. Tsume shook his head. The runt's carelessness would one day get him in a shit load of trouble.
"Hey!" he barked, stomping over, making sure that irritation was the only expression on his face and not the small bit of relief he had at finding Toboe.
Toboe stood up, rubbing the back of his head. "Ah, hey Tsume."
"Don't you know it's dangerous to be out here by yourself?" Tsume snarled, pinning the younger wolf down with a glare.
"Well, you were the one yelling at me for being too noisy. So there."
"That doesn't mean you go this far. It means play quieter. Come on, we should be heading out soon again."
"But we just got here!"
"And that's why we're leaving." Tsume's eyes scanned the terrain, feeling that cold prickling on his spine again. He didn't like being down here, at the base of the cliff and surrounded on all sides. It made him feel vulnerable and he didn't like it. Not that he liked a lot of things, but this was different. He had a feeling about this place, and he always listened to his instincts. It's what had allowed him to survive this long.
"Sheesh, you're always being so mean," Toboe grumbled as he made his way towards Tsume, kicking up little stones in his path.
Tsume didn't bother with a response, just took another sniff of the air. The sharp scent of metal hit his nose and he stiffened, golden eyes searching again. Someone was there. Watching them.
"Let's go," he said gruffly, nodding at where he'd come down, deeming it at least safe. As Toboe shouldered past him, Tsume caught the slightest glint from across the canyon. It was all the warning he had.
"Get down!" he shouted, yanking on the back of Toboe's collar as both dropped. Tsume vaguely felt something sting his arm and he glanced down, noticing a small dart sticking up against the leather. With a snarl he pulled it out and ignoring Toboe's yelps yanked them both down behind a large rock.
"Tsume, what's going on?" Toboe whimpered, eyes darting fearfully around. "Did someone just shoot at us?"
Tsume went to stand up, but felt a wave of dizziness wash over him and he stumbled forward instead, barely catching himself before he hit the ground. Toboe was by his shoulder in seconds, peering at him anxiously. "Tsume? Are you hurt?"
"Shot with a tranquilizer of some kind," he said, tongue already starting to feel heavy.
"Well… that's good, right? At least you're not hurt."
"That's a funny way of looking at it, Runt."
Tsume closed his eyes, willing the vertigo to pass. "Tranquilizers imply one thing, Toboe. That the damn human wants you alive. Why? So they can sell you for a higher price. Dead, you aren't worth much to them." And a wolf never wanted to be captured alive. It really made the words "a fate worse than death" ring truer than ever before.
"Then… then we should get out of here. C'mon Tsume, let's go."
Tsume remained silent for a moment, weighing the odds. If the hunter was using tranquilizers then at least they weren't in any immediate mortal danger should they make a break for it. He still felt a little dizzy, but there weren't enough sedatives in the dart to keep him really down. He'd be fine, at least until they met up with the rest of the pack.
All they had to do was dodge out from behind the rock and climb the steep incline immediately to their left and then once they were up top they would have much better mobility and be able to get away. As much as Tsume hated running, this man was obviously more of a sniper than a close shot like Quent and that was highly, highly dangerous. If he tried to attack he could get shot before he even got within range.
"Okay," he growled softly, rising to a crouch. "On my count you're going to sprint to the left and go up the cliff, got it? Head straight back for Kiba and Hige."
"What about you?" Those honey colored eyes turned on him, worry shimmering beneath the surface. "Aren't you coming too?"
"I'm going to try to draw the fire away from you. If you get hit by one of those darts you'll be down in minutes. Got it?"
Toboe nodded, getting into a sprinter-like start position. Tsume resisted the urge to roll his eyes and instead started to count. "All right… three… two… one… go!"
Toboe burst out like a jackrabbit and Tsume ran around the other side of the rock, eyes leaping to where he'd seen the glint of metal last time. Nothing. Damn sniper had changed position.
He sniffed the air again, searching desperately for that scent of metal. It assailed him and he turned, just in time to see something smash into the rock where his head was moments before. And as far as he knew, tranquilizer darts didn't pulverize rock like that.
"He's shooting!" Tsume shouted, ducking down just as another bullet sailed past, so close he could feel it whip by. Toboe was already halfway up the slope and glanced down, and made as if to come back.
"Keep going," Tsume shouted as he finally located the sniper, perched a good 200 yards away. The grey wolf cursed, shooting from that far and almost hitting him each time meant the asshole had some skill. And Toboe was going to be in danger because of it.
But why was he shooting bullets now? Hadn't he wanted them alive?
Cold dread began to settle in his stomach as he came a conclusion. That first dart hadn't been meant for him, it was for Toboe. He'd pushed him out of the way. The hunter didn't want someone like him, someone older. He wanted the younger wolf. And only Tsume was standing in his way.
"Fucking hell," he muttered, finally getting a good sight on the sniper and standing defensively, ready to dodge a bullet should it come his way. A sniper was only as good as his position and with Tsume's sharp nose and sense of trajectory there really was no perfect place to hide. It was the only advantage they had.
"TSUME!" came a panicked cry, and Tsume turned in Toboe's direction, only to feel a sharp, burning pain in his shoulder a second later and he stumbled backwards, shock apparent on his features. Where had that shot come from? The sniper wasn't in that direction.
A man stepped out not fifty feet from the older wolf, a cruel smirk on his heavily bearded face. A smoking pistol was in his hand and the acid smell of smoke was noticeable. But this human had no scent.
Tsume growled low in his throat, pressing his back against the rock, trying to keep both sniper and hunter in sight. Blood was pouring freely down his arm now and he gritted his teeth, trying to tell himself it didn't hurt. But now he didn't have the luxury of time he'd been hoping for with the sniper. If the guy had buddies closer in this was going to get bad. And fast. And why the fuck did this human have no smell?
The bearded man cocked the pistol as if getting ready for another shot as he drew steadily closer. By this point Tsume knew the only thing that might get him out of this was to attack this man and hope the sniper didn't shoot him while he was engaged.
A sudden crackle of electricity startled Tsume a bit and he realized that it was coming from the collar of the man's coat – a two-way radio?
"What do you think, Black?" came the distorted voice of the sniper. The gun-wielder, Black, pressed back on the collar, gun still trained steadily on Tsume. The wolf wanted to rush him, but the man seemed fully confident he could talk and fire at the same time. That kind of confidence wasn't born from stupidity but backed by skill.
Besides, knowing what was going on at this point was better. And if Tsume had to guess, perhaps the man didn't know he could hear them from that distance. Although if he'd gone as far as to disguise his scent he had to assume that he knew Tsume could hear their conversation.
"Older, just like you thought. I'd put him in young -twenties. Pretty coloring though."
"Think he's worth it?" the voice crackled again.
Black looked at Tsume, eyeing the wolf like one would a piece of meat. Tsume growled but held his ground, mind still foggy from that first dart. He knew if this lasted much longer he wouldn't be of much help, but right now standing still was keeping him grounded.
"Dunno. I think we'd get a good price for him; some buyers I know would be very interested. He took the tranq though and is still standing… might be a bit hard to control."
"Try another tranq. See if he goes down. If not, shoot him."
Enough waiting, Tsume decided as the man went to reach into his other holster, no doubt to pull out a tranquilizer gun. He knew if he was hit by another one of those he'd probably be knocked out in minutes. Toboe was counting on him to get them both out of this and he'd be damned if he let the pup get sold into what sounded like a wolf slave trade.
He shot off his feet like he'd been released from a canon, feeling his body change fluidly into that of a wolf as he opened his jaws, teeth gleaming. Both eyes watched the guns and he managed to dodge the tranquilizer that was fired, and jumped up in the air, prepared to sink his fangs into the man's neck.
And he would've, if the man's ridiculously high collar didn't seem to be made of freaking iron. Tsume almost felt a tooth break as he jumped away, tail standing erect and lips pulled back. "Stay up there," he barked at Toboe, as the boy moved down a few more feet. "Hurry up and get back to Kiba. Go!"
What disconcerted Tsume the most was that the hunter hadn't even seemed to be afraid of him lunging at him. No wild shots, no screams of panic as he went in for a normally fatal kill. Just a smug smirk that pissed the grey wolf off to no end. With that kind of reaction though, Tsume had to wonder just how many times he and his partner had done this to other wolves. Enough times to know the neck was the number one kill spot, that was for certain.
"Going to give me another shot?" Black asked, spreading his arms wide. "Come on, pretty wolf. Let's see what you've got."
Tsume would have charged the arrogant bastard again, except the smell of metal once more overcame him and he instead moved right, just as another dart from the sniper hit the ground where he'd been. Black fired one as well and he just barely dodged, vision faltering for a second from the sedatives still coursing through his system. His right shoulder was burning now and the limb felt like it was going to collapse beneath him from all the strain. While he had faster agility and more offensive power in this form, he wouldn't be able to continue fighting if his leg wanted to go out. At least in his human form the injury wasn't affecting his movement as much.
"Pretty good," Black commented, as the wolf formed into a man once more, golden eyes flashing angrily. "Think you can dodge again?"
"Fucking try me."
Tsume palmed the knife he kept on his belt and charged forward, zig-zagging in such a pattern he hoped the sniper wouldn't be following. He saw Black pull the trigger on the tranquilizer and moved to the side just enough so it slid by. Still though, as he approached the man's smug expression never faltered.
And Tsume quickly found out why.
Pain exploded in his leg and only momentum kept him stumbling forward before he collapsed, black dots spotting his vision. He lay there for a few seconds, feeling the man's footfalls through the ground, no doubt readying another dart. Tsume smirked into the ground. Like he was going to give him the fucking chance after the bastard had shot him twice.
He leapt up in a whirlwind of kicks, his own smug smirk forming at the look of surprise on the hunter's face, and threw the knife, the weapon hitting its mark and sinking into Black's chest. The man let out a gasp and vaguely Tsume heard Toboe's cheer as the man staggered back.
Tsume wasted no time and took immediately off to where Toboe was, blood pouring freely from both his wounds and fire lacing in his veins. "Move it, Runt," he growled, reaching the base and jumping up, swaying for a second before forcing himself up.
"Tsume, you're hurt really bad."
"Way to state the obvious kid. Just move."
Tsume knew that if the man had protected himself so well from potential bites to the throat, he probably had some type of armor on underneath his jacket. And that meant Tsume's knife had been more of a distraction than a cause for actual harm.
And when a bullet pinged off the rock wall just in front of Tsume's nose, he knew their free few second were up. Black was advancing, pistol raised and a slight grimace on his features as blood stained the front of his chest. Another bullet rushed by and Toboe let out a frightened yelp as it brushed past his arm, a thin trail of blood in its wake.
"What do we do?" Toboe whimpered as Tsume yanked him down to at least present less of a target of himself, even though they didn't appear to want to kill Toboe yet.
"Give me a moment to think," Tsume snapped.
He didn't even have that.
He heard something clink a little farther up on the cliff and glanced up. A grenade greeted him, falling almost innocently.
The cliff face exploded in that instant and Tsume felt the rock below him drop out and heard Toboe scream. They fell a good fifty feet, landing sharply on broken rubble and boulders. The dust gave them cover for a few seconds, but Tsume wasn't even thinking about that.
Only pain was registering for him, agony tearing into his body. It took every bit of his willpower not to scream as his injured limbs smashed against pointed rocks and the breath disappeared from his throat.
Toboe was by his side within a few seconds, blood streaked across his face with smaller cuts down his arms. "Tsume?" he whispered, gingerly reaching out and shaking the older wolf. "Tsume, wake up. Tsume!"
"Shut… up. You want… to give away… our position?"
Tsume cracked his eyes open to see Toboe's brimming with tears. "This is all my fault," the brown wolf sniffled. "If I hadn't wandered off this wouldn't have happened."
He wanted to agree and say "damn straight" but he knew that it wasn't true. These men had to have been tracking them; there was no other way they'd be right here. And even if it was true, he wasn't so cruel to make the runt even more upset and guilty.
"Let's just… get out of here," Tsume managed to say, trying to pick himself up and only managing a sitting position with Toboe's help, the pup hovering around like Tsume was going to keel over any second. Which he might.
"Are you trying to hide in there?" came the voice of Black. "It's not going to work you know. As soon as this dust clears, you're as good as dead, pretty wolf."
Tsume put a finger to his lips and changed back into his wolf form, wincing as now two limbs bore the brunt of his pain. Toboe followed suit, lying belly down on the ground and resisting the urge to whimper.
"Don't move," Tsume growled. "Your bracelets are too loud. I'll take him out, and then we need to run."
Toboe nodded and Tsume stepped silently forward, straining his nose and eyes in the rock dust gloom, managing to pick out the scent of blood. The human couldn't hide that. He made his way carefully towards the man, keeping low to the ground. Black didn't seem to be aware of him, staring cockily into the dust at another angle, only his pistol out.
Tsume eyed him from his spot, trying to figure out the best way to take him down. The front of his throat was unprotected, but that would mean giving away his position to attack. And the hunter had proved to have very quick reflexes. Biting a leg wouldn't kill him, and going for his heart was a waste of time; Tsume couldn't skewer him with his teeth.
The neck it would have to be, if he even wanted a chance at this. If he came quickly but quietly the man might not even notice before it was too late. He only had one chance though, and if he failed it was both his and Toboe's lives on the line. And, as his eyes flicked down to the scar on his chest, he knew he wasn't going to run this time.
Seeing the mark of his cowardice was all he needed to spur him forwards, running at the hunter. Black tensed, swinging around to face the spot where the slight shifting noises were emitting, but by then Tsume had already pounced, claws extended and fangs sharp. He leapt onto Black just as he felt an explosion of pain emit from his stomach, but that didn't stop him from sinking his teeth as deep as he could into the man, claws holding on by digging into Black's torso.
The man's scream was cut off as Tsume bit right through the jugular, crimson liquid dripping from his teeth as the man collapsed in a boneless heap. Tsume staggered off, transforming back into a human as he fell. The taste of blood was heavy in his mouth, but it wasn't all Black's. He gave a deep, choking cough and spewed his own, overcome with such pain and dizziness he collapsed on his knees, one hand going to his stomach and coming away soaked in blood.
The dust was beginning to fade now, and Toboe came dashing across, tears streaking his cheeks as he fell next to Tsume, incoherent mutterings escaping him.
"Not… dead yet… Runt. Stop your… whimpering," Tsume coughed, more blood flecking his lips. "Where'd… the sniper… go?"
Toboe took a breath and sniffed, trying to ignore the over-powering scent of blood coming from Tsume and the body behind him. "O-over there," he said, pointing in the direction Tsume had been searching before. "But… I don't see him on top the cliff anymore."
"You need to go," Tsume grunted, forcing himself so he was sitting on his knees and not looking so damn pathetic. "Go get Kiba and Hige."
"I'm not leaving you!" Toboe glared at Tsume, as if daring the older wolf to tell him to leave again.
Tsume did. "I'm not joking around, Toboe. That sniper is going to be here any minute and you need to go."
"He'll kill you," Toboe whispered, tears flooding his eyes again.
"And you'll be sold into slavery," Tsume retorted, done trying to be nice. "You know what happens to young wolves like you, Toboe? Do you know what they'll do to you?"
The pup swallowed but held his ground. "I'm not leaving you behind."
The cold sneer made both wolves turn, watching as the sniper came into view, hunting rifle strapped to his back and a gun held steady in his hand, aimed at Tsume.
"Black was right," the man continued as both wolves continued to look at him, Toboe with fright and Tsume with hatred. "You do have pretty coloring. Very nice eyes. It'll be a shame, but you're much too violent to do us any good. I mean, you went and killed my partner. How do you think I'm going to replace him?"
"Fuck off," Tsume growled, trying to rise but only managing a few inches before he collapsed, biting his lip to keep the scream contained. Quieter he added, "Toboe, run. Now. Please."
The desperation in his voice made the young wolf's eyes widen, heart start to thud painfully as he realized just how serious Tsume was. And, he realized, that was what made him get up from his crouch and walk around to stand in front of Tsume, arms spread wide and a look of grim determination on his features.
"What are you doing?" Tsume growled.
"You've always protected me, Tsume," Toboe said softly. "It's time that I protected you. We're a pack and that's what packs do. We look out for one another."
The sniper let out a loud laugh, pulling another gun – one loaded with tranquilizers – from his holster. "You're quite funny," he said, aiming at Toboe. "I'll enjoy this."
"Move!" Tsume screamed and Toboe closed his eyes, waiting for the sting of the dart or the bite of metal. But the only thing he heard was a low, guttural growl to his left, a howl to his right, and the sudden scream of the hunter. When he opened his eyes Hige was biting deep into the man's leg, blood trickling down one of his paws from where the hunter's bullet had grazed him. Kiba was leaping off the man's shoulders, bloody teeth marks gouged into the pale neck.
The hunter collapsed almost silently, eyes rolling up in the back of his head. Hige rose, changed back to a human and winced at the deep scratch on his arm. "Guy packs a wallop, doesn't he?"
Toboe offered him a weak grin before all of his attention went back to Tsume, who had finally fallen to the effects of their battle. "Tsume?" Toboe whispered, reaching out a hand and nudging the wolf's shoulder.
Kiba was a bit more forceful and completely rolled the grey wolf over, icy eyes narrowing as he saw the bullet wounds. Tsume was still breathing, as evidence by the slight fall of his chest, but his eyes were shut and his jaw clenched, breath coming in sharp gasps. Hige helped him to sit up, noticing the wolf's hand lightly trying to push up on the ground.
"Toboe?" he whispered after a few seconds, as Kiba went about methodically ripping his shirt to use as temporary bandages, head bent forward and only not falling over due to Hige's support.
"R-right here," Toboe answered, laying one of his hands on top of Tsume's.
The golden eyes opened up, taking in the slightly bloody, dirty, and shaking figure. "Don't you ever fucking do that again."
Toboe smiled through his tears and leaned forward, wrapping his arms gently around the older wolf and rested his head against the bloodied leather. "You're part of our – my – pack, Tsume. I can't make that promise."
Despite the pain he was in a soft, and rare, smile graced Tsume's lips. "You stupid runt."
And while Kiba pulled bandages around Tsume's bloody frame and Toboe wanted to know how they found them –"The giant explosion was a great clue," Hige'd said – Tsume gradually tuned out the chatter fade and let himself finally rest.
And even though he knew Hige would tease him incessantly for it later, he found himself keeping one hand around Toboe's wrist, just to ensure that he was there and he was safe.
They were a pack, they were a family.
And they were loyal to one another to the end.
This is a companion piece to this picture I originally drew, go check it out (just replace with . : icypanther1[dot]deviantart[dot]com/#/d2yvjik
I hope you all enjoyed it. I don't know when I'll be updating Racing for Freedom or any other fic, but please take this as a consolation gift.
I just love the brotherly relationship between Tsume and Toboe! So cute! Plus I figured this fandom needed some non-yaoi pieces of the two of them. If you have any other good non-yaoi pieces please recommend them to me!
Reviews and comments are loved. Thanks much!
Disclaimer: Don't own Wolf's Rain!