Hunters were common, blessed with the permission of the rangers that took care of the forest and hiking trails that ran through it. They were happy to take advantage of what wild game the forests had to offer and keeping some of the excess population in check, but none that Katsuki had met on his many hikes in those same woods used leg-hold traps.
Whoever had set the trap up had missed the memo that they were illegal. They must have dragged the thing out of storage somewhere, because Katsuki knew you couldn’t buy them legally anywhere near here.
The antiquated metal trap bore sharp teeth along the edge of its clamp and clung tight to the leg of the motionless hybrid it had ensnared. As old as the trap looked, it was sturdy and had done its job. Katsuki scrunched his nose at the smell as he got closer, glancing at the infected wound which looked to be the cause. At first, he thought a rabbit hybrid had been caught, but upon closer inspection the creature was much too large to be any sort of bunny.
The black tipped ears and long, muscled legs belonged to a wild hare.
Katsuki approached the trapped beast out of curiosity. He’d never managed to catch sight of a wild hybrid before. Combining human level intelligence with the instincts of a wild animal meant no one caught sight of one unless the hybrid itself decided to be seen. Katsuki had never been deemed worthy enough to make that list, despite his regular hikes in this area of the forest.
The poor thing was thin and the lack of movement led him to think the it might be dead, unable to escape the trap. But if that was true, why hadn’t a scavenger come to nibble? There were enough raccoon dogs in the area that any carrion leftovers would be long gone after death, even if it was a hybrid.
A kick to the face answered his question.
“Shit!” Katsuki exclaimed, falling back into a pile of leaves.
He pulled his hand away from his bleeding nose and glared at the leg still in the air after it attacked Katsuki. The hybrid it was attached to glared at Katsuki with bright green eyes that matched the color of his fur. The thin hare breathed in heavy, fast gasps, scooting away as far as it could without further jostling his injured leg.
Katsuki looked at the trap again, cursing when he noticed the release latch had broken off. The hybrid must have tried to free himself, but the most important part of the old device hadn’t stood up to time as well as the rest of it. The trap itself had been chained to a tree, the iron loops wrapped around the thick trunk and held in place with a lock that looked as old as the trap.
Who knew how long that poor thing had been out here to be in such a miserable state.
“I guess it’s your lucky day,” Katsuki said to the hare. He stayed far enough away that the hybrid couldn’t reach him and took a seat. Katsuki pulled out his phone and dialed the local ranger. “Hey, I found a hybrid in a steel trap up here. Send a hybrid doc up with some tools, would you?”
After giving them his exact location from the GPS, Katsuki settled in to keep an eye on the hare. It glared back at him, digging the claws of his furred hand into ground. Dirt smudged his human-cheeks, almost completely covering his spattering of freckles.
“Sit tight, bunny. Give or take twenty minutes and you’ll be out of there,” Katsuki said, smiling when the hare scowled at being called a “bunny.” Katsuki moved back to rest against a tree, staying quiet and making sure to appear harmless to the on edge hybrid. He read the news on his phone, ignoring the way the hare continued to stare at him while they waited.
“I have no idea how this guy is still alive with that infection,” the doc said. He used a pen light to inspect the wound while his assistant worked on destroying the lock that held the trap to the tree. “And even if by some miracle it hasn’t spread into his blood, I wouldn’t be surprised if we take him back to the clinic and find that his needs to be amputated.”
Katsuki winced. Unaware of his surroundings or the exact details of his plight, the sedated hare slept on, his chest moving up and down with the shallow breaths of sleep. Katsuki crossed his arms and considered that statement. Hybrids were as smart as any human, so he was sure this guy could figure out how to work a pair of crutches, but he didn’t imagine that made living out in the woods any easier.
“But we won’t know until we look him over,” the doc said. “Let’s go.”
The assistant snapped the lock off the tree and gathered the chain. Together with Katsuki and the vet, they carefully moved the Hare onto a small stretcher to take back down the mountain in the small all terrain vehicle. Fully outstretched, the hybrid had to be at least five feet and some, which made him pretty tall for a hybrid.
Once the injured hare was secured, Katsuki took a moment to really look the hybrid over:
Unlike most domesticated hybrids, this guy leaned more toward the animal half of his biology. Long, hare ears came from the fur-like hair on his head, green and dipped in black at the ends. Under the back of his hair, a small line of fur trailed down the back of his neck, thinning as it reached the human-like spine and staying a thin line until it spread out again near the bottom of his waist, leading into a lower half that was distinctly that of a hare from about mid-thigh down to the toes.
Fur covered his hands like gloves, ending in small claws near the nails. His hind legs were shaped like a hare’s, with large hind paws that Katsuki had become very familiar with when the hybrid kicked him in the face.
The torso, arms, face, and head, however, were all very much human-like in appearance and solidifying that this was indeed a hybrid and not just a freakishly large hare.
His nakedness was a dead giveaway as well. Almost all domesticated hybrids had taken to wearing clothes, either by their own choice or from the glee of owners picking out outfits to style their favorite pets in the latest fashions.
With his inspection of the wild hybrid finished, Katsuki hopped into the back of the truck to catch a ride back down. Finding the hybrid had killed his mood to finish his hike and now all he wanted to do was go home.
But he was curious about the fate of the furry stranger.
“What happens to him if you do have to take his leg off?” Katsuki asked, nodding his head toward the hare.
“That’s up to him,” the doctor said. “Most choose to return to the wild as soon as possible, no matter what the injury. They’re not like the domesticated line of hybrids who prefer human companionship.”
“Makes sense.” Katsuki remembered the way the hybrid had glared at him and licked his lip. That was an independent soul if he’d ever seen one. There was no doubt in Katsuki’s mind if given the choice between the life of a pet or going back to the wild, he’d choose the wild.
Katsuki stuck around the clinic long enough to hear the final word on the furry patient he’d found and left relieved that not only would the stubborn hybrid keep his leg, but after the wound was cleaned, they found the infection was not as serious as they originally thought.
They had to keep him sedated during treatment, but they predicted the hare would be back out in the woods in a day or two, hopefully taking more care with where he hopped.
The clinic staff said they’d take care of reporting the illegal trap on his behalf, and with that, Katsuki was more than happy to go home.
Up until he actually got there.
“You’re late,” Kirishima said, just on the other side of the door when Katsuki opened it. The dog hybrid did not look amused and held up his phone, pointing to a long stream of texts with Katsuki as the recipient. “And you didn’t answer my calls or texts.”
Katsuki pulled out his phone, holding it in a mirrored pose. He showed off the dead screen to his pet. In Katsuki’s boredom, and desperation to provide himself with a distraction from the staring hare, he may have been careless with the battery life. “Sorry. Something came up and I forgot to pay attention to how much charge I had left.”
“Is that something why you’re late? Or why the side of your nose is bruised?” Kirishima asked, not moving out of the way. His upright ears twisted back, unamused in his worry. Kirishima tugged at the bottom of his shirt, twisting the fabric. “Because you are really, really late—and you smell odd. Like sickness, but it’s not from you.”
Katsuki patted Kirishima on the head and gently nudged him aside so he could enter his own home. “I found an injured hybrid in the woods. His leg was infected and I stuck around until help could come get him.”
“You should have called,” Kirishima said, his tail flicking back and forth behind him. He trailed after Katsuki, his metal tags clinking together on his collar. “I really don’t like it when you go hiking alone like that, especially if you’re going to let your one source of communication die.”
“There is nothing in those woods I can’t handle,” Katsuki said, dumping his gear in the closet on its rack. He stretched out his back and debated if he wanted to take a shower tonight or in the morning. “I also always check in with the ranger station when I go hiking. Which means phone or not, if they don’t see me by dark, they will come looking.”
Kirishima didn’t look impressed by that logic, but he had enough sense to drop the topic.
“What sort of hybrid was it?” Kirishima asked. He dropped his shirt, and scratched the underside of his chin. “I didn’t think we had any wild ones in the forests near here.”
“A hare. He was a real survivor, too,” Katsuki said. He pointed at the darkened bruise and said, “He kicked me in the face when I went to check if he was dead or not.”
Kirishima frowned, ears still plastered to the back of his head.
That information hadn’t helped the poor dog hybrid’s worry at all.
Katsuki decided to take his shower in the morning and walked over to the couch intent on comforting his upset pet. Katsuki took a seat and patted the side of his thigh. Kirishima’s ears shot up, like Katsuki knew they would—like horns on the top of his head—and bounded over to jump on the couch. He curled up on his side, putting his head on the waiting thigh. Katsuki turned on the television, flipping through the channels.
He settled on a pet show, knowing Kirishima loved to watch other dogs on television.
His hybrid nuzzled Katsuki’s thigh, making himself comfortable and pulling his legs up on the cushions. He rubbed his back paws on the side of the couch for a moment before he settled properly. Katsuki massaged his fingers through Kirishima’s hair, pausing to scratch behind his ears every so often. Kirishima relaxed under the petting, his tail gently tapping against his side.
“I wish you’d let me go hiking with you,” Kirishima said into his thigh during the first commercial break. “It’d make me feel better knowing you weren’t out there all alone.”
“No dogs on the trails, hybrid or otherwise,” Katsuki said, quoting one of the more prominent forest rules posted at the ranger station. He rubbed Kirishima’s ear, rolling small circles along the edges. “It upsets the wildlife.”
“Like humans tramping through the forest don’t do that,” Kirishima said, snorting as his tail smacked the back of the couch. “And I know how to behave better than any dog.”
“Liar,” Katsuki said, tugging on Kirishima’s ear hard enough to get his attention but not to hurt. “We both know if you saw a rabbit or squirrel, you’d go sprinting after it.”
“I only did that once,” Kirishima said, grinning and putting his razor sharp teeth on display.
They’d been at Katsuki’s parents house when a rabbit snuck into the backyard, looking to nibble on his father’s attempt at a small vegetable garden. Kirishima had jerked up from his spot on the porch, attention entirely on the small cottontail before he went for it. He’d put his back paws to use, giving him the edge needed to be one step faster than the rabbit. Kirishima had used his fangs and teeth to catch the rabbit by the throat, killing it instantly. He’d come back proud, licking blood from his lips and holding his prize up by the ears.
Katsuki cleaned the rabbit for him and Kirishima helped himself to the entrails as he worked. It’d been pretty good, even if his dad had looked ill the entire time they ate it while Katsuki’s mom had cooed and called Kirishima a good boy the rest of the evening.
“You’ve only been around a rabbit once,” Katsuki countered, smiling at the memory. He ruffled Kirishima’s hair and sunk further into the couch. His loyal pup shifted with him, wrapping his arms around Katsuki’s leg to hug it while he continued to use his thigh as a pillow. “I am not chasing you around the woods because you saw something small and furry, and besides, they might count that as hunting and I don’t have a license.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” Kirishima said, snickering. “Tag is fun, by the way. You should play more.”
“I’ll let that stay between you and your buddies at the dog park,” Katsuki said. He went back to petting Kirishima’s fur, scratching the line of it at the back of his neck. “Watch your show, mutt.”
Kirishima bumped his nose into Katsuki’s thigh and went back to paying attention to the screen now that the commercials had ended. His tail continued to wag and Katsuki petted him as he felt his eyes droop shut.
At the rate he was going, Katsuki was going to fall asleep on the couch—not that it’d be the first time. He gave up fighting it about an hour into the show and closed his eyes and breathed out.
“Night, Katsuki,” Kirishima whispered.
Katsuki patted his pet’s back twice in response and let sleep claim him.
A few days later, Katsuki returned to his favorite hiking trail armed with a new portable charger for his phone.
Kirishima had picked it out when they’d gone to the store and demanded that Katsuki take it with him if he wouldn’t agree to bend the rules and bring Kirishima with him when he went hiking. Katsuki accepted the compromise and was amused that it was his dog’s favorite color: red.
Unlike his last excursion, however, Katsuki stuck to the trails. The rangers frowned upon off-trail exploration, but Katsuki had gotten permission and had the wilderness survival training to prove he was qualified. Exploring the depths of the forest was always more fun, but he’d had enough adventure this week between the hare hybrid and his own worried pet at home.
Sticking to the trails guaranteed he’d be home on time.
Katsuki climbed a steeper part of the hill, glad for cloudy weather and the lack of other people. He typically avoided the trails to avoid small talk or seeing other hikers, but the threat of rain kept the area blessedly empty.
It left Katsuki alone to his thoughts and the fresh air—or so he thought.
From the corner of his eye, Katsuki caught a flash of green. Not wanting to spook his stalker, Katsuki continued on like he didn’t notice the slip. Another mile down the trail, in an area more thickly wooded, his follower grew more relaxed and guarded his presence less and less.
By the time Katsuki stopped for a quick snack and a rest, he could easily see the hare hybrid watching him from a bush about fifteen feet away. From the distance, he couldn’t see the details of the hare’s leg injury, but he could make out where the fur had been shaved to properly clean the wound. Katsuki raised his hand and waved and the hare cracked a shy smile and waved back.
He didn’t come any closer, but Katsuki didn’t expect him to.
Katsuki enjoyed the silent company for the rest of the afternoon, happy to wave goodbye when he left the trails to go back home.
He had a good feeling he’d see that hybrid again.