The Lost Boys

by D'Artagnon

Chapter Nine

Tick Tock

"Are we there yet?" Sammy whined.

"Sam?" Andy asked, his voice low.

"Whut?" the smaller boy replied, also speaking softly.

"We need to be cautious and alert. Savvy?"


"Savvy means understand, fur for brains," Josh grunted.

"Shuddup, airhead!" Sammy hissed back. "We been hiking for hours."

"It's barely been twenty minutes since the fishing spot," Tom countered. "Reminds me. When I met you out here, Josh, I was looking for my wrist watch. It was my uncle's. I lost it out by the Watch someplace."

"You mean this?" Sammy held up a silver watch from his kangaroo pouch.

"Where did you find that?" Tom asked, reaching for the silver watch. Andy was also curious about this. He hadn't noticed the wrist watch along the trail, or Sammy picking it up.

"Back when we came up outta the secret tunnel. It was by a fallen tree. I saw the shiny and had to scoop it up. Here!" Tom took the watch and placed it in his pocket, noting the clasp had broken.

"So, how do the bad guys, whoever they are, know about us?" Josh asked.

"That I don't know yet. However they know, they managed to track down and capture Max. Not sure how they did it, but it stands to reason they'll be after all of us before long. They only got on to Kyle because he's been using his powers."

"Oh?" Josh asked, interest piqued.

"His hockey scores are far and away more spectacular than anyone else in the state. He doesn't realize that his prowess is part skill and part super human agility, strength and reflexes. I've seen him play. He was so clearly better than everyone else on the ice. Sadly, his teammates resent both his talent and his father's activities."

"Super hockey dad type, huh?" Josh replied. Andy nodded and frowned slightly.

The tallest boy, Tom, stopped beside a boulder easily as tall as he was, his palm on the stone. Sammy, marching beside Tom stopped as well, looking up to the older boy, quizzically. "Hey, guys. You smell that?" Tom asked.

"Your nose is better than ours," Andy said, but he too stopped and inhaled sharply.

"I thought you said we all had enhanced senses?" Josh asked the boy with the glasses. Andy's eyes closed, slowly, his spine straightening to his full height.

"We do, and I'm trying to access them now."

"Kewl! How d'ya do that? How do we do that?" Sammy asked, excitedly.

"You focus. Start with your breathing," Andy intoned. "Center your thoughts on hearing every heartbeat in your own body. Inhale deeply, feeling every particle of scent pass through your nose. Breathe in, listen, focus, smell."

Josh watched Andy intently. He noted the way the Fox's chest rose and fell, slowly, pulling air deep into his body. He closed his own eyes, focusing on his own breathing. After a few deep breathes, he felt a change. His ears seemed to feel like they were expanding. He gasped as he heard tiny sounds, gurgling nearby. Rhythmically. He snapped open his eyes and focused his eyes on the source of the sounds. His eyes landed on Sammy, who was watching Andy intently. Josh felt his whole world expand, and his eyes focused on a small patch of flesh on the side of Sammy's neck. Barely visible above the collar of his hoody, Josh watched a small vein in Sammy's neck, and saw it pulse in time to the gurgling sound he was hearing. Without consciously realizing it, Josh reached out and put his finger directly on the fluttering spot, as if trying to make absolutely certain that it was the source of the sound.

"Dude!" Sammy exclaimed, his hand flailing wildly, pushing Josh's hand away so quickly that the older boy actually took three steps sideways to recover his balance. "What's your damage? Why'd you poke my throat?"

"I… I heard your pulse. I could see it," Josh said, wonder in his voice.

"Good job, Joshua," Andy whispered. Josh heard it clear as if they were speaking into each others ears, embracing. Josh blushed at the thought of being that close to the spy with the glasses. He imagined what it would feel like to do certain private things with his senses thus magnified. His blush deepened, a momentary flash of him sharin g that time with Sammy or Tom or (shudder) Andy.

"You heard my pulse? Like in my wrist?" Sammy asked.

"I think he heard your carotid artery, tiger boy," Andy answered. "I hear it now, too. You're heartbeat is very strong."

"But he poked my neck."

"Where would you like him to poke you?" Andy asked, noticing Joshua's discomfort. Josh turned away, blushing even more, if possible. Sammy raised an eyebrow skeptically. "What is it you smell, Tom?" Andy asked, taking attention away from the thought he'd planted in both Josh and Sam's minds.

"Lots of things. Sawdust, but with a weird green smell. And some kind of odd scent."

"Close your eyes, try to describe it," Andy offered, coming to stand by the tall boy.

"This will sound weird but, it smells like a bathroom."

"Eww! Did they at least flush?" Sammy asked, wrinkling his nose.

"I don't think he means what happens in a bathroom. I think he means like when the bathroom is clean. Like chemicals, antiseptic soap," Andy inhaled deeply. "And… tile?"

"Like wall tiles?" Josh asked, trying to inhale and filter the scents as well. He was suddenly overwhelmed with the scents of the forests, the grass, the soil, the trees, even the scent of the scattered large boulders, touched here and there with lichen. His balance swam for a moment and he reached for a smaller boulder, suitable for sitting on, and steadied himself. Sammy was at his side in a flash, supporting him as he let the heightened senses wash back to normal.

"Oohhh," Josh called out, getting Tom and Andy looking back to where Sammy helped Josh take a seat. "What happened?"

"The sensations can be a bit much at first when you open everything like that. I try to only open one or two at a time. It can be disorienting."

"No kidding," Josh deadpanned. "Thanks, Sam."

"No worries, Birdy. You owe me a fly though," Sammy grinned.

"Soon as I get it figured out better, you're on."

"I smell people, too," Tom said, keeping his focus forward, up the hill. "A bunch of them."

"We're expected then," Andy said, his hand reaching up to stroke his chin in thought. "I'm too late. Damnit!" The spectacled boy turned and walked in a small circle, his expression grim.

"We can't just leave ," Tom said. "If Kyle is one of us, and he's up there, in trouble…"

"We wont abandon him," Andy replied, coming to a stop. "If it's a trap, we at least know it's a trap. So we can plan for that."

"How?" Sammy asked. He had unconsciously started rubbing Josh's back as the older boy recovered from his sensory overload.

"We use our gifts to our advantage. Sammy, you and Tom can make the most noise walking up the hill. That will be a distraction and will draw out anyone waiting for us." Andy looked to Josh. "If you can fly, then you and I will come at the top of the trail from above, flanking Tom and Sam. We stay out of sight until things happen."

"And when things happen?" Tom asked, fearing he knew the answer already.

"You do what you have to," Andy said, grimly. "You have claws and teeth and massive physical strength. You use them to defend yourself. You too, Sam."

"So we get to kick some butt?" Sammy grinned, almost gleefully.

"Yes, little brother," Tom said, looking back up the hill.

"Awesome!" the smallest boy hissed, fist pumping near his hip.

"What about us?" Josh said. "I can barely control my flying, and I'm not strong like those two."

"You have strengths inside you that you haven't even begun to discover yet, Josh," Andy said.

"I'm not Superman. I'm not even Superboy."

"No. But you have speed, courage and agility. Trust your instincts, Josh. You were born to fly." Josh stared at Andy for a long moment after hearing that, remembering the log truck and the fight at the Watch. He nodded, exhaling greatly.

"So, we hide and watch their backs as they go up the gut?" Josh asked.

"Yes. I'll be in the trees. Sammy's seen what I can do up there, so he'll know what to expect."

"He's like a ninja turtle!" Sammy agreed. "When stuff happens, like he'll shoot out of nowhere and like BAM, TWACK, SU-MASH!"

"Well, maybe not that dramatically. Trust your strengths. S am, in tiger-form you are agile and strong, and you have a low center of gravity. That makes you stable and capable of explosive bursts of speed. Tom, in your werewolf shape you have tremendous strength and amazing quickness. Utilize that. Josh, your key strength lies in not only your mobility but your speed. Stick and move, don't let them get you on the ground. It will keep whoever awaits us up there off balance."

"And you?" Tom asked.

"Like Sam said. My spy training included how to fight against bigger, stronger people, even how to fight groups of people all at once."

"How often have you had to use that training?' Josh said, almost regretting asking as soon as he said it. Andy turned his eyes towards Josh, without saying anything, pushing the center bar of his glasses to adjust them. Josh decided he'd have to work on his impulse control, especially with his sharp tongue.

"Just enough to still be breathing," Andy replied. Tom noticed the edge in Andy's voice and watched the reaction with the other two boys. Sammy didn't seem to notice, adjusting his clothing so he could shift forms easier. Joshua, however, seemed to understand that there had been times in Andy's past that he probably didn't want to talk about just now. Tom filed that away for further thought.

"What if they have guns?" Tom asked.

"Then we deal with it if they do," Andy said. "Look, there aren't any choices here. If they already have Kyle, it's only a matter of time before they find us. This may be our only chance to get to Kyle, take the fight to them before they know who we are, and where you all live." Andy let his eyes drift to each of them. "We are together. Okay, we just met, but we know the stakes. And they don't know we know."

"And if they do?" Sammy asked. "We'll just crush 'em! Right?"

"Either that or make them know they've picked on the wrong kids," Andy said, pride puffing out his chest. "Are we ready?"

Tom rolled his shoulders and shook his neck out, preparing for the change. He nodded.

Sammy cracked his knuckles loudly, getting a wince from Josh. Sam looked eager. Josh looked skeptical, but he nodded as well, if reluctantly.

"Together?" Andy asked, glancing between the other boys.

"Together," Josh agreed, lifting off the ground.

"Let's go save Kyle," Tom said, turning uphill, Sam shuffling forwards to join him. The youngest looked at Josh for a moment, smiling, then he bounced off a boulder, calling out a silent "ouch," as he turned to catch up with Tom.

Josh let his eyes drift back to Andy's, even as the Fox turned Josh's way as well. For a moment, something passed between them. An unspoken sort of connection. Andy felt himself wanting to reach out and touch Joshua, drown in his green eyes. He wanted to slow time and stop the Earth spinning and just take a moment to see if Josh felt anything his way as well.

Joshua felt the connection in that moment too, but he didn't trust it. Too many times he'd been hurt in the heart to allow something so fast to sweep him away. He needed to think, to sort out his feelings. But he felt the longing and interest from Andy. Joshua still wasn't certain what to think about Andy's dual nature. He wasn't sure to what to think about these powers and people wanting to hurt them because of these powers.

"When all this is over, we need to have a long talk," Josh said, looking around to see how far up the hill Tom and Sammy had gotten. The passed between two large boulders near the edge of the tree line, sticking to the trail.

"Agreed!" Andy said, but his voice to Joshua sounded distant, partly deflected. Josh turned back around and Andy was gone.

"I think I'm gonna hate when he does that," Joshua said softly, lifting off into the air and skirting off to the left of the path. He kept Tom's dark hair in sight as he drifted through the tree tops.

Johnson wasn't happy. The Doctor in his "care" had far too much control in this situation. They should come in with overwhelming force, take the kids quietly, quickly. A simple matter of knock out gas at close range should be enough. Too much of t his was screaming at him, from a tactical point of view, as wrong.

For example, how did the old man just know that by going after the one boy, the others would come to his aid? Screw the fact that he was right. How did he know, from all the way in Virginia, that some random sports kid in Massachusetts would emerge with powers? Okay, granted, the old coot had based himself in this small town for decades, continuing to practice his science despite the good citizens of Canterbury supposedly killing him once before.

He didn't like the man. His eyes were wild at times, behind those thick glasses. Johnson had the feeling that the old man didn't so much need the glasses as he used them as a barrier between himself and the rest of the world. A mask of sorts, magnifying and clarifying things around the old man but keeping him separate from events. Almost a scientific professional distance personified in those simple round lenses. Madman behind glass.

But it was more than just the appearance of the man that upset Johnson. It was his arrogance. His lack of anything like human emotions. He lived for his science. His tortures, more like, Johnson thought, bitterly. If it wasn't his mission to protect this lunatic and keep him in possession, Johnson would be more than happy to make a certain accident happen to the sick fuck. What he did to make the Hounds turned Johnson's stomach. Hard wiring the brains of young athletes who had suffered traumatic brain and brain stem injuries, making them into almost zombie warriors, programmed and controlled, it all seemed like such a violation of human life, human potential.

Johnson kept his hand in his coat pocket, ready to trigger the sub-dermal taser pads surgically inserted into the old man's trapezius muscles. The remote control/tracking device was a comforting weight in his pocket. Why the hell Dr. Conrad gave this head case such latitude in this manner was not only unacceptable to Johnson, but showed a strange lack of foresight. This man, Dr. Stamos, had survived m ultiple attempts on his life, outlived the Nazi regime, escaped from Federal custody in America three times, and he still had the savvy to talk himself into getting his own way.

Men like this, Johnson realized, were often above the concerns of the law. They might be captured, they might be indentured, they might even be held and contained for a time, but eventually, such men returned to their true nature. They broke free and did as they pleased. And they cared not who stood in their way. Obstacles to goals were what such men lived for, Johnson realized. The dark side of research, discovery and exploration; one side of the coin led to knowledge and enlightenment, the other led to corruption, enslavement, and pain inflicted for the joy of it.

Johnson most certainly didn't like it, any of it. Enough so that when he'd heard that Dr. Conrad had okayed this little junket, this field test for the Hounds as well as the capture of gifted individuals, he'd insisted on leading the security team keeping the Doctor under control. Conrad had given strict orders to let the crazy scientist run things in the field as far as the observation and capture of any subjects. Johnson chaffed under that order, but he was determined to carry it out, even if he tried to speak reason to the freak.

Mad science and monsters, Conrad thought, angrily. Is that what we've become at DARPA? he thought, lifting his eyes to where his agents waited.

"Comm check," Johnson spoke to the small microphone draped along the side of his throat.

"Beta, good. Hounds 1 & 2 status ready." Johnson had handpicked the agents on this mission, specifically for their qualifications. Men without families, experienced with high technology, trained in close combat and, to Johnson's mind the most important trait, men who understood honor, duty and restraint.

"Gamma, mike check clean. Hounds 3 & 4 status ready. Four is showing a slight overheating in transmitter delta six bee, but it's not critical."

"Keep an eye on it Gamma. What's our estimated contact?"

"Looks like the terrain is slowing them," Beta responded. "I show two solid contacts, putting out lots of thermal. Could be them grouped in twos."

"How sure of that are you?"

"Hard to tell, sir. The rock strata of this area is putting out some geo-magnetic interference. Sensors keep rebooting and I'm having trouble keeping them synced up."

"Doctor," Johnson said, leaning beside the old man as he reclined on Kyle's father's car. He saw the boy hanging slack between the trees and hated the situation even more. "Beta is reporting some ground based magnetic interference with the sensors. Gamma says that unit four is showing an overheat in one of the neural transmitters."

"Which transmitter?"

"Delta six bee," Johnson replied. The old man's brows furrowed together, contemplating the implications.

"It is of no consequence," the doctor said, dismissing the idea with a lifting hand gesture. "That transmitter is only a back up to the right arm chemical booster regulator. It should be fine."

"And the sensor spikes Beta is reporting?"

"We will deal with that after the capture. This is so exciting!"

"I need you to focus, Stamos," Johnson said, purposefully not using the man's title, getting a stern glance from the old man.

"Need I remind you that I am in charge here, Agent, "

"I am well aware of the situation. I hope you are."

"Bah! When we return to Virginia, I will have long discussions with your masters about this insubordinate attitude of yours."

"I look forward to it."

"Gamma to Alpha. First two subjects coming to the top of the hill, nearing the boulders."

"Stand by," Johnson replied with clipped tones. "Here we go."

Kyle felt the sun on his face, felt the shift as the sun climbed higher. The sense of feeling had returned to his limbs, but he still felt weak. Behind him, he could hear his father softly sobbing, calling his name. Something about the tone of his father's voice sounded wrong to Kyle. He wasn't sure what it meant, but it sounded a lot like defeat.

Kyle lifted his eyes, looking around as best he c ould, still trying not to let on that he had mostly shaken off the tranquilizers he'd been shot with. His eyes seemed sharper, his hearing picking up the tiniest sounds in the forest, which had become unusually quiet when the Hounds had come out of the van. He could feel the shifts in the autumn air, sensed the motions of the wind in the trees, scattering leaves along the ground.

As he watched, he saw a dark haired boy, about his own age, stride up the path between the boulders. Close by the dark haired teen was a smaller boy, maybe 13 years old at most. He recognized the older boy's face, one he'd seen in the hallways at school most of his life. Tom Gabrielli, his mind forced the name to match the face. The smaller boy he had no clue. But he felt a sudden surge of fear for this smaller boy. They had no idea what they were walking into. If they showed Tom and the small kid in the hoody the same kindness they'd shown his father…

Kyle… got… pissed!

"Holy crap!" the smaller boy called out. "Dude! We gotta cut him down!" The little guy bolted towards Kyle, his shorter legs pumping hard to cover the open ground. Tom was two steps behind, but his head was on a swivel, whereas the shorter boy was making a straight line for Kyle's side.

"Crap, their splitting up. Gamma, cover the smaller one. Beta, take down the older one. Keep your eyes peeled for the other two," Johnson called into his mike. The double clicks on the comm told him his orders were received.

Beside Johnson, Stamos stood up, his hands clutching together almost painfully. "Now, my beauties. Show us what good Hounds you are," the old man said with a creepy tone to his voice, something almost sexual. Delighted, perhaps. Certainly excited with expectations to come. He glanced to his silver watch, as if to mark the exact time for posterity. "Show us!" he nearly hissed.

Johnson diverted his eyes from the mad doctor and brought his dart rifle up to his shoulder, loading a bolt in case one of the gifted children somehow moved in a position to thre aten the doctor. Despite his serious misgivings about the man, the operation and the scope of what was about to go on, Johnson's duty was clear. Protect the mad scientist and keep him under control.

He brought the weapon up and put the younger of the two boys under his scope.

Further down range, the Hounds moved in.

Joshua saw the movement as he flittered through the trees, in the shadows of branches trying hard to dump their fiery foliage. He saw two figures, big, sort of misshapen to him as they were as screened by the trees as he was. He realized that they had extra stuff on, like worn, perhaps. He saw the two figures step from the underbrush and rush right at Sam, who had gone into a full out sprint. The short light brown haired boy ran directly for a small copse of trees. From his angle, Joshua couldn't see why the kid bolted like that, leaving Tom nearer the trail head. But the incoming figures he saw were focused entirely on Sam, and he clearly didn't see them coming.

That was all the impetus Josh needed. He'd nearly hurt the little Kat earlier. He'd only known the scamp three hours at most, and already he kinda liked him, even if he was like an annoying little brother. The kid had heart, he had spunk, he had a touch of charming innocence and, Joshua had to admit, he was kinda cute, too.

But Sammy was also willing to help someone he didn't know against enemies they had no idea about at all, and damnit if that Andy hadn't been dead on right about the enemy laying in wait! Joshua wasn't about to let go of his more-than-healthy sense of skepticism, but he had to give his new partners credit where it was due. He wasn't about to let them down.

Gaining altitude for energy, Joshua sighted in on the two looking to blindside Sammy, pushed his fists ahead of himself like a superhero, and dove, pouring on the speed.

Andy waited. He watched. It was what he did. The Fox was ready to spring, but only when it would be most effective. He wasn't the physical powerhouse that Tom and even little Sammy were. H e had training, he had patience, he had amazing reflexes, but all would be for naught if the first move he made got him in over his head.

Later, he promised, there would be time to train the others. They'd learn to work as a team, how to hold their own in any fight. They'd learn to force their opponents to making bad decisions. If he'd had the time, Andy told himself, he'd have taught them already. He'd waited too long to gather them. He'd waited too long for so many things that had gone wrong in the last few months.

This is not the time to worry about the past, Andy berated himself. He could sit back and analyze things later. He needed to act in the Now. He needed to lead in the Now. More importantly, he had to trust himself to wait for the right Now to arrive and capitalize on it. Fortune favors the bold, as his grandfather used to say. I'll do it right this time, Gramps, Andy promised.

He stepped furtively between patches of underbrush, his steps silent despite the carpet of fallen leaves. His pace had been close to that of Tom and Sammy as they climbed the path up between rocks towards the clearing at the top of the hill. Evidence of trees marked for clear cutting dotted Andy's passage, and he took note of how the ground would open here and there under the brush, in case they needed to retreat in this direction.

A shout from the trail head brought Andy's head around, almost breaking his cover. Sammy had reached the top and bolted ahead of Tom, his little legs pounding the ground with speed and fury. Andy followed Sammy's vector and saw the reason why the little Kat had surged ahead. Kyle hung, suspended, spread eagle style, between two elms. The hockey star looked injured or drugged, Andy couldn't be sure which. Sammy, leading with his heart, rushed to the other boy's aid.

Then Andy saw the other movements in the field. Quickly, he analyzed the unfolding events before him. Two roughly human shaped creatures moved in on Sammy's left rear, with Joshua breaking cover to dive on those two heading after Sam. A sharp glance back to Tom showed the older boy rushing to catch up with Sammy, but not able to match the younger boy's quickness. Andy knew that Tom might actually be faster than the tiger-boy, but the Kat's initial burst of speed was probably the best out of all of them, save maybe Josh in the air.

And then he saw two similar shapes break their cover from behind and to the right of Tom. They'd been so perfectly camoflauged that Andy only noticed the heavily outfitted shapes as they moved in. Kicking himself for not seeing them sooner, Andy knew his first moves had to be to aid Tom. Once they'd dealt with the two agents attacking Tom, they could help the other two. Surprise was on Andy's side. Position was on Andy's side. Training was on Andy's side.

It was time to move, and move he did.

Tom was already in motion when he heard the snap of twigs, the rustle of leaves as the two Hounds broke cover behind him. They came at him fast, one running in like he planned to spear tackle Tom through the mid-section. The other leapt at his head, hands outstretched, clenched in clutching claws. He managed to duck to the side from the tackler, taking a grazing blow from the first Hound's hip, but the second slammed into Tom's chest, landing halfway on the Wolf's upper body.

Tom rolled with the hit. His body just seemed to know what to do. He rolled clear of the Hound on his chest just as the creature swung out his hand in a clubbing strike. Had that landed, Tom realized it would have landed on his throat, likely crushing his larynx. That blow could have killed him. Tom got mad.

The tackler got to his feet and leapt over his partner, attempting to stomp down on Tom's gut with his full weight. Tom barely rolled to the side, and then was forced to roll further still when the Hound tried to kick him through the ribs. The dark clad Hound's booted foot connected, but only briefly as Tom rolled and wound up catching his own stomach against a small, narrow tree stump. Tom got madder still.

The second Hound had regained its feet and moved to kick Tom from the other side, landing a solid blow to Tom's right knee cap. Tom felt his Rage rise. He'd had enough. The pain and anger and frustration triggered his change, and it happened in less than three seconds.

The Hounds weren't phased. The second one moved in to kick the now changed werewolf in the head when a heavy log smacked into the left side of the Hound's head. The log snapped off a good chunk of its mass at the point of contact. The Hound took notice, but did not go down. It stopped its assault on Tom and turned to look at its new target, Andy.

"Oh, not good," Andy said, looking at the broken log still in his hand. The Hound clicked its head left twice, before rolling its shoulders and advancing on Andy. The log dropped from Andy's hands and he ducked under a vicious swipe at his own head.

Tom took advantage of only having one dance partner to spin to his feel, raking his claws across the Hound he was facing's abdomen. His claws encountered something hard, heavy and semi-loose in the creature's clothing. It hurt his hand to hit it, but he heard the satisfying crunch of something in the suit breaking.

The creature had other plans, however. The claw attack had pushed it back slightly, but not completely out of range. The Hound punched, and connected hard, with Tom's werewolf jaw. The shot was hard and on target and Tom felt his head rock back from the impact, taking a few involuntary steps backwards as he did.

Tom got madder still. Rage surged in him and he felt its power.

Andy, for his part, went purely defensive. He ducked and dodged the Hound's attacks, realizing that the thing was using a variation of special forces close combat techniques. The Hound was fast, Andy was quicker. He had the creature chasing him, making probing strikes of his own to try and find a weak spot. But Andy was canny and kept his distance. Stick and move. Control the fight. As he maneuvered the Hound, Andy also took note of things going on around him. Situational awarenes s, his grandfather had told him. Perhaps something in the environment or some other aspect of the fight could be used to his advantage. The best weapon a spy had was always his brain, and Andy intended to use that weapon to its fullest effect.

Sammy almost reached Kyle when he heard the heavy treads behind him. Strangely, he turned to his right to look behind instead of to his left, so he saw Andy's log failure and Tom's partly successful claw strike before he saw the lanky, armored Hound closing on him from behind. The nearer Hound took a swipe at Sammy, getting the young boy to yelp in surprise as he ducked. The Hound's clawed hand snagged in Sammy's hoody and hooked deep in the fabric. The movement caused the hood to actually twist on the Hound's claw, tightening its tenuous grip on Sam.

True to his mercurial nature, Sam ducked away, twisting, pulling his arms in through the loose material and popped out of the hoody, already changing. His transformation took far less time than normal, but strangely, there was no pain this time. His mind was awash with adrenaline and he got ready to take the fight to the Hound. For its part, the Hound had taken a step back when Sammy's weight no longer entangled his claws in the hoody's twisting fabric. It shook the cloth free and focused his attention on the now shifted tiger boy.

The second Hound that had been sent after Sammy was already occupied as it advanced. Joshua came down at a steep angle and switched his body position in the air, coming down feet first towards the Hound's head and shoulders. He connected and shoved with all his leg strength, uncorking like a human cannonball. And then promptly fell flat on his back. The Hound also fell over, but only dropped to one knee.

Josh rolled on his side, feeling pain sliding through his legs. He'd never kicked or stomped on anything so hard in his whole life and all that energy seemed to rebound through his bones up to his hips, back and ribs. His knees were clenched in a cramping he'd never felt before, se eming to be numb and locked up at the same time that they pulsed with intense crushing pain. Fuck! Josh thought, He told me not to get caught on the ground and now I'm flat on my back!

Sammy felt a little strange being in tiger form while still wearing his jogging pants. At least they were loose enough to allow for his switched leg shape. He'd walked out of his sneakers as his feet shifted and his tail seemed to push out just past the elastic waistband. He hunkered down low as the Hound moved towards him, remembering what Andy had said about his strengths. As the Hound charged in, its arms spread wide to trap and capture Sammy, he charged as well, his mouth opening wide to reach for the Hound's shin.

Josh saw Sammy move in and grab the Hound by the ankle, twist his head suddenly and drop the creature in one smooth motion. Unfortunately, Sammy didn't see the second Hound, the one Joshua tried to knock down, move in behind the tiger and lift a boot high through Sammy's soft midsection. The little Kat sagged as the kick connected and was booted ten feet into the air, to sail twenty feet further along and land on the trailer behind Kyle's father's car.

He didn't get up.

"NOOOOO!" Kyle screamed and he surged forwards, snapping the ropes holding him to the tree. This little kid had come to help him and now just got booted like a soccer ball from mid field. He felt a surge of feeling throughout his body, and his anger was a burning fire that fueled his motion. Kyle grabbed up a hand axe from the piles of wood stacked around and whirled on the Hound that had booted Sammy. He charged towards the creature only to have the Hound on the ground slash an open hand through Kyle's legs, dropping the hockey star to his knees.

Kyle's scream got everyone's attention. The Doctor seemed to grin with greater glee as the supposedly tranked boy broke free. Andy and Tom both saw the flailing form of brilliant orange and black fur go flying in a tight arc before landing in the trailer with a sickening thud. Joshua stared in horror at the power these things, these Hounds had, struggling to get to his feet. Agent Johnson shifted the scope around to Kyle and considered putting another few tranquilizers into the boy, but Stamos simply put his hand on the barrel of the gun and pushed it down.

"Keep both your eyes open, Agent Johnson," the old man said with evident joy in his voice. "Look what my science has created! Look how I wield the power of God himself!"

"Fuckin' lunatic!" Johnson muttered, freeing his weapon from the old man's palm.

Tom watched Sammy's body fall in a limp heap into the trailer. His mouth hung open in shock and surprise. The force the Kat had been hit with looked nothing short of supernatural. And the way the tiger boy hit and rebounded and came to a loose pile of bones and skin in the trailer, draped over spilled piles of logs, angered Tom more than anything else in his life ever had.

The Rage took him, and Tom went berserk.

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[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]

* Some browsers may require a right click instead