The press of Play. The chirp of an incoming call in the recording.

"Well aren't you just the most chivalrous scumbag pred we've had to deal with~!" synthesized through a voice changer. Just enough to still be made out clearly.

A pause, before the reminder came that it was a "Real smart rookie move to not ditch the inflection. Is this your first time or are you just that cocky?"

It was ignored completely. Whoever it was, they had an agenda.

"Let me see, now... Oh yes! Sargeant Burney Humbolt, Precinct One and Oh, wouldn't you know it, You Have A Daughter and future In Law~!"

The disgusting, oozing way that reminding prelude seethes out through the speaker of that Cassette player in Raul's hand. The way it makes me visualize the malevolence through the feigned innocence of wide, reassuring eyes behind a soft smile.

"...Quit being cute and tell me who the hell you are to be looking at my file." he told the voice. He didn't know.

Noone could have even guessed it at the time.

"Boy, wouldn't it be a shame if your new friends at that train station couldn't keep her safe from a fucking pred that's reverting to his natural instinct?"

But the voice. It knew.

"YOU TOUCH HER AND I SWEAR YOUR LAST WEEK ALIVE WILL BE THE LONGEST!"

The pain one has to feel in hindsight, for the ignorance in the past. Where the afflicted didn't know then what's becoming so obvious now. With Eva having been allowed to join me in this emergency meeting. Keeping me just here enough to wish better for her as she feels the horror and the pain.

As terror pulls back it's skin like a curtain, with the showman's flourish to reveal a puzzle piece through the steam of an open wound in the cold.

"Oh, your primative little brain must've not understood what I did there! Silly me~! Well How About I tell you with a little more Annunciation, just like that Bull you know... What... If... They Couldn't... Save Her... From The Future Husband That Just Turned Savage?"

And she's reliving it with the Commission like we all Burney Humbert.

In that exact moment Evil revealed itself as so much more whole and absolute than just violent bludgeoning hatred. There was an exacting, refined sharpness in that distorted voice. It was methodical in it's approach. Calculated in it's execution. Clearheaded through the pride to plot with precision. It was the degree of Evil that knew to apply itself from beyond. To strike it's victim at it's most tender and delicate, with an injury so intimate and carnal in nature, the violation would mutilate and cripple someone beyond the chance of ever recovering. It knew, it planned, it watched from the security cameras running on batteries. As Burney silently realized that Nadine's fiance was turned into a monster.

Because the voice, with the omnipotence of a phantom, had possessed him into becoming one.

"Well alright, I gotta go, but I'll be sure to mail you in prison about the funeral you couldn't attend ok, bye bye~!"

The precision of certainty from a foregone conclusion.

The viciousness of words that hollow organs out of their cavities.

Burney's scream through the speaker jolting us and Raul fumbles with the pause all too late to keep us from reliving everything that just happened. Reminding me that he cried out Nadine's name as she cried out Orson's in the distance, for me to know their names, to tell Gonzalo, in my panic, the useless tidbit of who he had to get his males to stop. But they were too late. The only reason I can cope with all that happened an hour ago, is her clinging to me as my emotional life support in it's own death throws. All the while the sounds of the aftermath play outside the hall. Burney is not the source of the delirious moaning outside in the hallway. He's in the locker room.

Having screamed so long and hard his throat gave out.

He's still dismantling all of those lockers, and prying benches loose from the floor to slam them into what's left of every surface he can.

With his daughter outside by the door, because noone had the heart to tell her she needed to keep her distance. She's weeping, joined by a Hyena's sobbing for her African Wild, moaning from the pain of his mauled arm as medics look after the three of them, with as much morphine in the Wild Dog as they can give without him falling asleep and not waking back up. Desolation like an abandoned asylum. Anguish with a half life that will remain lethal longer than any of us will ever live. We're living it and there's not a single dry face in this huddle of Alphas besides my own. I have become as mute and fugue as a statue, as the delegates of each pack piece together the sum of the truth they now know from having wiretapped Burney's radio by his own request.

They never considered that, when they called out to a father to Come and See it's work in a broken Fourth Seal.

Leaving us with the most horrible truth ever recorded in a cassette tape.

Into the fury of knowing there is no coincidence of pathogen, no circumstance of remnant evolution, and no mistake of anthropology to excuse the terror we've come to know.

Evidence laid bare, Ralph lending his voice for what we can't ignore.

"...They're doing this to us..."

And the breaking up of emotions cracking up will bring the ruin. Over our faces tearing. Through our fists clinching. In our muzzles' chops peeling back. All to the recognition.

"...They're making us go savage..."

And we are all the more powerless for knowing. And just as useless as the truth itself. When there's noone out there to hear us out. Noone up there to save us, so far away from where we are in being so much closer to Hell. All that fury in all the Alphas, built up in a swell, to boil over in recognition for the conspiracy just laid bare.

It starts with Fuck cried out.

Then it takes hold over the room.

Rage exploding in the Commission. Some in The shrapnel of slurred condemnation, others in the shockwave of every fist thrown into the air and tile and drywall, the rest through debris field of tears.

For Nadine, the Hyena and her Wild Dog to not know why, only lose it, to the calamity echoing through the hall when they already have lost it.

Eva pummeling her fist into me, screaming into me, pouring her hurt and anger over my side for all we've gone through in a news cycle to have the meaning it does.

For me to just stand there. Motionless in the melee with grief in all it's forms surrounding me. But I am not done. I cannot accept this, even as it wears and tears into me like a saw because I can't help feeling I could blow through it all, if I only knew we did not accomplish all we have together for nothing to come of it. When Eva herself and everyone else taught me better than that. For us to never figure out what to do about what is unignorable of our world. And just take it, let it happen. Like I would have when I was so much older before now. That Quarantine on Predators that's coming. The Genocide that'll just have to happen because there was noone to ever figure out that keeping us from going Savage was as simple as not making us.

And I think, always being the loneliest soul in the room, that I'm starting to appreciate what it really means to be the one outlet of dissent.

Overcoming my fugue in front of everyone else's loss of control. The hard reset of my skull being put back together, undoing all that the poison of bad, brown, rotten blood coming out of the cracks has wrought my entire life. Knowing that there is still work to be done, even when the foundation is being taken out from under our feet. If I can know that, as brittle and old as I once was? They just need to do the same. Come undone enough for the kind of helping hands I've known to let put themselves back together. I'll wait for them. Allow them to let it out like I have. Unphased by it all as the one that was there, first. Already having stared into the abyss and been weighed by sin and merit.

I will be that one good digit on a pair of broken, smashed up paws for them to wonder just what the hell is wrong when it's all still as clear now as it was before the cops tried to storm. Nothing should phase me. Should phase an of us. There is nothing else to be but akin to the frog in the cream that just kept kicking until it finally got so far as to finally jump over the rim of the barrel.

"We knew from the start that the odds were against us. All that changed is that we now know why. That fucking Cassette Player has put this knowledge in our heads... and you are going to figure it out with me just how we intend to use it."

I've torn myself across their faces with that gospel. Eva's gospel. Recognized in me by her.

Eyes wide open to the reality the commission can't see and I can't be so petty as to blame them ,when Ralph has to ask on all of there behalves "Figure it out, the hell is there to figure out, what could we possibly do?!"

And that's where the terror in the doubt has to be slain. Not in what could possibly be done, but what must impossibly become through us.

"Anything besides not a damned thing at all but fixate on what we're dealing with, like they want us to, like I would've kept doing if this girl beside me did not dare to teach me better than that, if she did not try to open my eyes about the same thing you're doing right now I used to be victimized before I met her."

This is not Eva getting broken. It's her being reset. Knowing again what she managed to forget for only a brief moment and cannot be blamed when she's putting it back together, in spite of Ralph being so dead set on taking it all back apart because "...Lionheart's quack couldn't figure out why this was happening. God damn every lab can't make those Savages go back. Even the Feds can't find out where to start. What good is a bunch of Preds gonna do to save themselves, now?!"

So with this shortness of breath in the hurt, through her wounded, pleading eyes, she's got to take it upon herself to explain the infinite. Be as bold now as I was only a moment before with the eloquence I wish I could have held.

"You took over the best known train station in the world with Owen. You sheltered and fed thousands of refugees. We defended them against cops and fought and earned half of the city's acceptance for all you accomplished... You celebrated it, then. When you knew what we were grateful for wasn't gonna last. We made it that far on our own, and we know more than anyone else out there is bothering to admit or find out... Don't you get it? That the world wasn't any help before? Never going to be? It can't, and will not do anything about what it forced on us in the first place... This is our problem, left to us to make our own solution like it has been, for noone else but each other... We have done all we have without the world's help, and that fact alone makes ourselves the only ones that owe what we need! As we have been and as we can remain!"

Everything I wish I could've said.

Everything I have to be thankful for. This truth, to remind them of their very nature as Wolves when every last soul in this station needs them to know it, that hope in the void they knew before. Their courage like a galaxy of stars, to carry that light on through a future they'll never see for themselves. Their hope in sacrifice for the survival of the pack, and all they hold dear through the sense of community. With noone else's glow to nourish them but their ancestors, no greater duty than to pay it forward to the future. How rare and beautiful it is that they even have that.

An intangible thing, that I can barely do justice for when I finally find the boldness to declare that "This is a fight against the very belief of precedence's supposed immutability... We've proven it wrong with everything we've done here. We have made probable all that was thought impossible. That is all the evidence we need to know we can still struggle. So I'm going to say this one more time: What this recording has given us is a blueprint, and you are going to figure out with me and her just how we intend to apply it against them."

Because if they're making us go savage, then they've got to have a way to apply it.

If we can figure out how they're delivering it, we can try to find a way to stop it.

If not stop, then at least parry. We can find one single thing to turn this poison against itself. And it is coming, from a shot in the dark by Kurt's own voice.

"...Was it just me? Or did anyone else see a mark on that Bear's neck?"

"You mean where you tased him?" seething from Raul and "No god dammit, I know where I tased him and it wasn't anywhere close. I shot so close to his heart it would've stopped his heart if he wasn't so worked up. This wasn't blood, it was like something blue was splattered on the right of his neck."

Andrew is so quick to dismiss it with the opening volley of "What do you mean, something blue splattered?" but Kurt is gonna pull through.

He is not going to let his faith wane in me and Eva, now. He will desperately kick his way out of the cream with the best footing he can get.

"I mean it was like... Like a paintball?"

Airborne, leaping over that rim of the barrel in the Tundra Wolf Delegate's confused "...Like a paintball?" and I am seeing it.

"Holy scat, that's it! I saw an open window to the northeast, did anybody else see that?!"

And Ralph is starting to piece the two together. Paintball. Open window. Spoken by Zev in "...Shot... Friends, this has to mean that the fiance of Burney's Daughter was shot!"

Coming through in spite of Ralph's "Why wasn't he shot with a-" Dart, when it is obvious to him now that a dart would have left "Evidence, A dart would have left physical evidence-" so of course, finished by my own tongue, "Of course it would've left physical evidence, that's why they used a ball filled with whatever's making preds go savage!"

Oh my christ, on the tip of everyone's tongue when the Tibetan Delegate muses the obvious aloud in "So what we are dealing with is a sniper..." for that to mean... "WE NEED TO GET EVERYONE OUTSIDE BACK UNDER COVER!", flying from Ralph in his panic.

An impossible task, made so by the reality through the words of Tundratown's Yukon female that "Cover? Back into the Station? You're talking hundreds of tents and thousands of refugees, the groundfloor is already cramped by foot traffic!"

"But the hallways!" Kurt's desperation relents, "We can move them there, line upper and lower hallway walls with tents! We can open up the employee areas if we have to!"

We have got to do something, even as "Dost," comes from Rainforest's Indian reminder that "We cannot begin to even start evacuating if everyone outside is under threat of Sniper fire! If the sharpshooter sees we are moving into the station it will prompt him to start firing!"

But this is not a catch 22, Downtown's Italian cannot let it go unseen that "We're talking about paintballs here, not bullets, not even darts! We gotta have something that'll protect us!"

"SHIELDS!" flying out of Ralph, "We got Riot Shields from the Cops and they're up front! Round them up to give Gonzalo's Gang Unit, they're the Savage Team, anyway!"

And Kurt has gotten it, too: His "OF COURSE! Downtown, do you got any gasmasks?", combatted by it's Eurasian in "Gas Masks! Gas! You've all said as much that this is a liquid!"

"If you got gas masks to give Unit 2 It'll protect their faces! All they gotta do is keep the stuff off an out of their eyes and noses and mouths when they've gotta wrestle savages down!"

"...Oh lord, that is it, of course!" Rainforest's Tibetan proclaims in the Eureka moment Kurt's given him. "Orifices, entryways towards the bloodstream! That is why the sniper shot her Fiance in the neck! It is the same principle as needleless injection! The impact of the ball itself would cause bruising enough to have the substance pierce through the skin and go right to the coratid artery!"

Meaning to me that "...It's not just gas masks they need. If that's how this scat works, Gonzalo's crew needs to have their whole upper body covered up, anything that'll keep the juice off them!"

And Eva gets it from my own getting. "Scarves, towels, anything we can give them to wrap around their necks!"

We're actually doing this.

This desperation is not pathetic, when it is a miracle we are even daring to extinguish the cowardice in the fear of defeat.

Even as some scoff.

Even as Kurt decries "Towels?! You're talking about stopping a high speed paintball with freakan Towels?!"

Because of course it's crazy, it'd be hilarious if the stakes were not so high but no, "No, god damn it, it's a start, an idea, it's something and all it's gotta do is keep the juice off necks!"

And Eva's put it all together with "Hoodies!" flying out of her so hard she's practically dooking when "We need to get every hoodie we can from everyone in the station! Combine them with towels and gas masks and riot shields and it'll be the best equipped we can make them!"

And it's about now, when they ought to be reminding her that she's not an Alpha, that she she's only here for me and that she needs to keep out of this but they can't: All of the starts by the Commission looking to her with it all at the tip of their tongues are false. They cannot argue against her declarations. Not with her conviction, not when her certainty is so on point that it cannot be dismissed. It's easy to get nervous about the rules of conduct being ignored. It's crazy and dumb, when they were all they ever had before. But this is something greater than what they were ever given until now. Something they need, when they were already certain they would have delegates from Sousten's Wild Dogs join them with those from Jager's Clan.

There is no way to ignore that this is how things must become, etched in Ralph's face as he looks to me. "...Owen, unless somebody here says otherwise, your girl's been heard. Kurt, call security up front for the shields. I'm making an announcement on the PA for hoodies, towels and scarves after this. Only thing we gotta figure out now is if setting Gonzalo up with all this is gonna raise a flag. Let whoever's doing this know what we know."

The one last thing to figure out, when what we can't afford is antagonize whoever's behind the shootings.

Making public all we know would only have us branded as paranoid conspiracy nuts to the narrative of the News cycle.

If we even only contacted the cops in secret, if they dared to listen in the first place, would they even care? Would anyone care?

The same thoughts on everyone's mind, when Raul comes out with "Has Gandolf or the other social media guy posted a statement yet?"

Kurt's "No. I told them both to keep quiet until we're done." and my "I get we had to do that, but Orson going Savage has had to reach the news by now... We need everyone to know we're keeping the station safe after today. Not just refugees, but the City."

Raul has finalized it in his head. "So we make Unit 2 public as a savage response team. Keep Gandalf quiet that they're gang members, have him spin it that Gonzalo's crew is dressed the way they are to keep from getting mauled. It's flimsy, but'll throw suspicion off that it's to keep them from being shot."

"...Two birds with one stone. We come off proactive to the public, whoever's shooting us might buy it." comes from Kurt, for Ralph's addition of "Whoever contacted Burney wouldn't have, if they knew Downtown had the gear to record them. This can wor-"

Frantic banging from the other side of the door, cutting him off with the urgency of time running out.

Unignorable, as the door swings open to show a Indian wolf medic at his wit's end. Looking to his pack's Alphas, speaking in their tongue to the tone of lamenting.

"What is your medic telling you, Shudra?" by Zev, and the Indian delegate clinches his fist. "He is apologizing for his interruption but he and his fellow has done what they can for the Wild Dog. They have stabilized him but this has only prolonged the inevitable." He tells us, motioning to join him outside and the commission follows. The word hospital muttered under Ralph's breath as I walk behind him.

The thing that immediately catches my eye is not the gurney I'm too short to see over. I feel the pain of that Hyena girl and her boy too greatly to even look up. It's everything else I didn't catch before when I went blank that I see. The path of destruction Burney caused. Clumps of drywall littering the floor. Gaping holes in the walls. A battered locker room entrance and it's framing. Nadine, back to the wall by the door between her and her father. Slumped over with the placid, glassed over eyes of losing all she wanted in one cruel moment. Wanting to reach out. Hold something. Know anything. Staring at a wall when there's nothing there for distraction against all she's got to come to terms with.

I become lost in it all, until the moment Eva grips my paw to anchor me back to what's happening. The unavoidable I have to face with everyone else.

"He has got to be evacuated if he is to survive, Onnai had us go to Ivy Avenue with supplies to handle most emergencies... But not this. His injury is too great."

There is no questioning Shudra's call, when Rainforest brought the medical expertise in the first place. Raul is dismissing what good it'd do, his observation of "Will the cops even let an ambulance through to pick him up?" being a moot point to "Whether or not they do is on them. We must act on our own conscience and leave it to fate to decide what happens after. There is no other way around this, we must hand him over."

And the Hyena girl reels in the sobbing. She knows she won't be able to leave his side.

That they'll arrest her for trying to go with her lover. Cop protocol unable to be ignored, when her boy is ready to face it through the delirium of barbituates.

"...Just cuff me cops before, cuff 'fore they do me, coming, I know the..." is all he can barely get out. A mess jumbled up of wanting the kindness of denying the cops that one last vindictive petty outlet of spite.

"You want us to cuff you so the cops won't?" Raul asks.

His girl reeling, bending over him as he nods gently with a "Please, yes please..." for her to mirror it in "Get me a pair, too." when she already knows she'll face it, too.

Raul's Eurasian grants it in the order. "Go get them a couple of pairs, you know which suitcase they're in... I'm gonna call for an ambulance, Ralph. We're handing that bear over to the cops? 'Cause we might as well do it now."

Savannah Central's Nortwestern can't argue otherwise. "Kurt, round the shields up, bring Big Purr back and a couple of others to drag Orson up front... I'm going to the PA room to make the gear announcement. We're meeting the Hyenas and Wild Dogs at eight. Anything else that's gotta be discussed, we'll do it in a couple hours."

Nothing else to say or do. To keep the Commission from going to their stations.

Nothing to keep my eyes from wondering back to Nadine as they split up. Reminding me of where I've been before.

Even if I was only on the surface, when she's so much deeper below.

But maybe I was still close enough to how much farther off she is that I can at least walk over. Inch closer. Reach out. Give whatever I can. Eva walking up behind me to the Hyena girl before we separate, knowing what I'm doing and telling me to go in a silent nod of approval. Before looking up to the Hyena as she puts a paw on her knee. Offering what she can for her.

The same as me, treading so delicately to Nadine. Without any sudden movement, and only a quiet announcement of my presence.

"...do you want me to sit beside you?"

By her torn cloths.

By the exposed skin under the fur around her superficial clawmarks.

Next to the wounds that'll heal someday like the rest of her might not ever.

So lost, so far gone, it takes all she's got left to just barely mouth out a quiet, deathly silent yes.

The signal received a million lightyears away.

Avoiding eye contact, I drop to the floor next to her at my gentlest, least provocational. Close enough I can barely hear her, now. Through the ringing from before. Slowly stuttering in between the pauses for something like a question. Getting out a whole of two syllables with everything she has.

"...can I..."

"...anything." as softly spoken as I can make it.

Whatever she needs or wants. Nothing I could hold back if it would help.

Processed in a trickle. Coming to terms with it, and faintly, gradually lifting her left arm. Slipping her paw between my back and the wall, shaking and trembling like a female so much infinitely older. Hooking those claws under my thighs. Leaning into it when she picks me up in the scoop, bringing her right arm over me. Enveloping me in all her quaking pain. Having me feel every ounce of it. Her Fiance lost, not knowing why it had to be their future cut short and not someone else's. Why he would claw at her like whatever he became could not still appreciate, could not still recognize, could not still care for her. Why her father wasn't there again when she needed him the most. Why everything she wanted had to turn and witness it all go down the drain the way it did.

All that unanswered misery not held accountable.

All of it going back to what she won't stop lingering on, when the comfort of holding me like a stuffed mammal that's timed it's breathing with her own can finally let her find in herself to be just strong enough with her mouth to ask it.

"...why do things always have to change..."

I want to make so much better for this stranger. Make it all better like I have for so many others. Give her more than just the best I can give, when a tear falling on my forehead is the simple truth that things keep changing because of the obvious.

"...it's all they ever do..."

Consequence of cause and effect that cannot, can't ever be circumvented.

No amount of knowing if God is either all knowing or all powerful or all loving can change the fact: He's up there. and we're down here. Where it's so much closer to Hell and all it's got to offer.

Her inhale, my exhale.

My warmth to ease her off from the chills going through that incredibly large torso and her weary head.

Giving her whatever solace she can get from the stroking of my back as she squeezes me. Soaking up the medicine in my presence that's starting to soothe her. But I'm not her Fiance. Not even the thing that took his body from him.

I am just a makeshift doll for her to make a plea towards.

"...tell me i can have him back..."

And at this very moment, I don't want no victory over whoever did this. If I could drag them by an ear down the only road I've been down with every other predator, have them know suffering like this, it wouldn't change a thing.

It wouldn't bring Orson back, wouldn't change today for Nadine, that African Wild Dog, his Hyena Girl, Noone.

I just want it all back for everyone and it never will be. So in the end, it just comes down to the bittersweetest truth.

"...it doesn't matter what i say... the only thing that matters is how you feel..."

The hidden truth behind what Wallace told me when I didn't have Eva. She's feeling all that she is and that's all she can allow to matter for herself. The best she can do, all that anyone can in her position, is accept it. Ride it out. With someone's presence to give her all the comfort and reassurance it possibly can. Not enough, not a replacement or cure, only just a stopgap remedy. If only that Coyote were here in the hall with us, if I could give Nadine the exact quote I figure he butchered. If I even had what he told me to tell her in kind. Tail tucked against myself, under one arm as another keeps stroking my back. Listening to Eva doing the same as I am for the Hyena but their words are static.

They don't register.

All I can do, is to limply stay as I am.

Time's passage, me being there with her under Ralph's voice on the PA. She needs to stay like this for as long as she can, but the hallway door swung open in the distance, it's something she'll just have to be denied.

"...you're going to have to get up, you shouldn't be here when they come back around..."

Big Purr behind Kurt with more muscle coming in behind them. All of them surveying Burney's destruction, their eyes coming to me and Nadine as Kurt points his thumb to the exit. Already ahead of him and nodding confirmation of what he wants.

"they don't want you to see it..." I tell her.

"...i know." when knowing is only half of this battle.

It can't work, if knowing what she's got to do won't change the fact that she doesn't get how to use it.

"...how did you do it...?"

She doesn't know how she can even get up. Go forward. Put one foot in front the other.

"how did you keep getting from the cops? keep going when she wasn't there?"

Make her progression like time's own when she hates it so much and yet could still abide by it if she only knew it's god damned secret.

"...i don't know how... the best i can tell you is i just kept getting up when i didn't think i could. i didn't even try... it just happened."

I remember it now, this taking me back to when it all first started. Back to That damned Friday when the world pitted it's turning against me, took away what little I had to give something more back with one hand on the dial just to take it all back again with another. But I've only got myself to blame for it, and I accept it now. I lost my nerve on an Elk that just wanted to freaking help me. Lionheart wouldn't have had me to sideline Espada and this all could've gone just a little different if I had just accepted that kindness that Elk tried to give. What a damned fool I was then, but that was then and it isn't now, now when it's time to let it go, go out and start again.

I know it.

Nadine knows it now, too.

It comes with a shift of her body going forward like she will.

Loosening her grip with one last stroke of my back to start putting me down to use that momentum of letting go of me to keep herself going without even thinking or trying.

Just doing it. Like noone ever could tell her to do it, as I tug on an arm to get that squatting position towards her ascension and just like that, against all odds, she's finally standing up.

And looking to the door to her right.

"...What are you doing, Nadine?" as she slowly turns to it, with a determination I couldn't fathom her having. When I'm trying not to be nervous, but can't help raising my voice.

"I don't know... I think I need to let it happen... Can you do the same for me?" without having to explain what this is. Seeing her through what's about to happen. Go with her where she needs to be.

"...Anything I can do, I'll do it for you." I tell her. And she pushes on a door that won't budge. Tries again, keeps pushing against it, everything her exhaustion can give, and the damned thing finally relents. Against the creaking of it's hinges, and the scraping of debris against the tile. An entire locker cabinet on it's side, being why the door was so hard to open. It's legs sheared off. It was bolted that securely to the floor before he threw it. Evidence of her father's strength. But I can't be scared, when it doesn't even matter to her. I can only be amazed by her, putting one leg over it and then the other as I climb over it for her. As she navigates the two of us around the broken glass and the dangling fluorescent light fixtures. Stepping over torn off locker doors and a splintered wooden bench. Finding her way to him, leading me around a devastated corner.

The sight of his stillness, sitting there hunched over and staring at the floor.

To his mangled up fists.

Those ruined claws that left themselves in every other flat surface.

He used his paws, until there wasn't enough of them left to express just what he felt for letting her down the worst he ever has.

Not being there the one time she needed him the most.

A bastard mistake of a father, the same as he ever was to her, with nothing left to his body but a head reflecting on all he never did for her to culminate in today.

He can't even see her for what she is, right there in front of him, letting go of my paw when she doesn't need me anymore.

Unresponsive as she comes to him.

Not without idolatry, but all the more like a believer of a symbol far too frail to not need her pity.

She needs him, that hollow covenant like a marble statue watching Nero burn down Rome in silence.

Her kneeling down is not a prostration, yet a little more than just the confirmation that there's still someone there for her. She loves that god. Without a care that he was false, and with a love all the more whole than filial piety. There's someone under that torn blue uniform she's dying to break out, as the violence echoes in the hall outside. Leaning forward into that navy cage, with delicately shaking paws clinging to it, trying to find her father behind it.

Not only because she needs him when she does. But because he needs her. Needs his daughter to come back to him like he never did for her, as the thing that took Orson's body draws nearer, bellowing through a muzzle with claws clicking and scraping, while a ten foot tall feline and the rest of them struggle like Atlas with their mission.

Nadine presses her forehead against Burney's own. Soothing him as best she can, her father shaking to the reminder, that traumatic fury he could never reconcile if she was not here to embrace him for all he is. A keeper of the peace. A stoic, dutiful agent of justice. A father that will always be loved. Those tears like a king at the end of his rule. For a daughter becoming a queen before his eyes.

Alone and together at once, needing each other when they are all they've got.

His limp, broken paws lifting up in a god's prayer toward his own disciple. Placing each other along her sides when he can't even grasp her.

A choking up, a sob, a rabid animal outside like a runaway train in a struggle against it's rails and it all comes down for him.

Emotion raining down their faces, making shelter against the thunder echoing so loud outside. And I think, from the language of his body, that he knows what she's doing. What she's giving,

and what he's taking,

and what it truly means.

The relief in that for both of them, seeing each other through the calamity outside drawing further and further away.

If he had a throat, would he even have the words? Would he be able to say sorry? Would he be able to say those three words she just said in the affirmation of how she feels? That example he never led, all the times he had no choice in not being there for her. She is taking up that mantle like he never did, without it having to refute anything he couldn't do before. Because it doesn't matter, what he did or didn't do before.

Not anymore.

The only thing here that matters is how she feels now.

Choosing to be here for him.

Choosing to be her father's own daughter.

Burning in each other's intimacy against the cold dark hell they're surrounded by.

Finding that freedom from all that ever was and wasn't, in all that isn't and is. With each other's downfall being drawn further and further away. Until the calamity of Orson's possessed body is so far removed from where they are, leaning into each other so greatly, that they can't even hear it anymore.

With so much more being found than they thought was lost and gone.

But whether or not I knew I wasn't meant to see this, it's dawned on me that I'm not needed here. Overwhelmed as I am by what I've seen, I find my way back to the door that Eva's holding open for me. Aware that I was never the son I could've been for my folks, nor the male, the mammal, that I should've been. But with her in my arms and practically sweeping me off my feet, I've got the peace to know it: I have only ever been the best I could've been, and still have all I have yet to accomplish. I ask her "Where's the couple?" in that embrace, when I eventually note their absence.

It's not the thing on her mind but she tells me "Kurt and Raul moved them up front." when I can see that it's a question that's on her mind. The obvious unspoken.

"...She's alright in there. They both are... His fists looked so bad it's a miracle if he'll ever use them."

"What happened in there?" she asks, and not about what she saw with her own eyes, but what I saw with mine around that corner, splattered with blood like all the other craters he left.

"I don't think I could ever say it well enough to do right by what I saw... If it was even my place to tell you but... I think it was the best thing that happened today."

That conviction in saying it. The shock in her face when I place what I saw in there above even the fact we're still here. Above our fighting off the cops. Things change, and I'm the one holding the other, now.

Her reminding me "We ought to be up front in case they need us." is a given I can't really argue against. So I get on the radio with "I'm heading up front, New Face is safe for medical whenever they get the chance." and we go together.

Down the hallway. Through the crowds on the ground floor that never felt as sober as it does, now. This space as much in twilight as the sky above us, filled with doubt and fear at what it just witnessed. Caught between between feelings like Emergency Room and Funeral Parlor. A wake still remains from everyone clearing the way for Orson and his victim. Walls lined in the poison of distraught questions of if that's how they're gonna leave here. It's not that these muted conversations aren't sinking it's fangs into me. It's that from a safe distance, I can realize that I didn't even know how hard that life was. Believing in how uncertain the ground is under your feet. I wouldn't have thought about it if I didn't see so much of my old self in everyone surrounding us.

I haven't even noticed, until now, that Eva isn't even holding my paw. I'm making my way to the station's entrance without the reassurance of her touch as the sobriety around me starts giving way to the shouting. Big Purr's towering mass in a clearing with the others on snare duty, struggling every time the beast snarls, lunges and thrashes.

But that's not what Eva's taking me to. I lose sight of that scene through the crowd as she leads me towards the Ambulance.

A slip through Security and Prey4TheHerd's lines, with Eva calling out "Lateefa!" right on time for the two of us to see Raul securing and locking the handcuffs behind the Hyena's back. As she turns her pained gaze away from the cops she's pleading with to have our hearts sink with her own.

The hurt on her face when she tells Eva "...They won't let me go with him..." and we all know what we can't believe.

The one thing that the cops have to lord over them, is that she's not a relative, and he's not married to her.

And that Elephant is not even the least bit torn about telling her "And we told you why we can't let you go!" to draw her attention back with "No Officer you don't under-"

"I really do understand, hood girl! Ain't no vacancy for you except a jail cell if you can't handle being with your own kind!"

My stomach churns to "I love him!" because I know what the cop's gonna say and he doesn't disappoint. "Tough cookie! You should've thought about that before you got yourselves in this!"

"I'm handcuffed and turning myself in if you'd just let GO WITH MY MALE, IF YOU WOULD JUST-" Her lunging forward, Raul holding her back as some Red Stag from Prey4TheHerd puts himself in between.

The tears come to her face when she's done all she can and it's all just so damned funny to that Elephant because with a laugh, he's just got to say this: "Hey boys, the news said this savage stuff might be contagious? Look at that bitch go!"

And every time I think I couldn't get anymore sick and tired, that prey's disease just proves me wrong again.

It flies, flies so quick out of my mouth I couldn't stop it if I wanted, "HEY, WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF THAT WAS YOUR FEMALE ON THAT STRETCHER?!"

"It wouldn't be, Fox! SHE OBEYS THE LAW!"

Eva shakes her head. "You... YOU COWARD!" she declares him, to not even be able to try to put himself in Lateefa's position, when that Hyena screams "HOW HARD COULD IT BE FOR YOU TO JUST LET ME GO WITH HIM?!"

She's trying to get herself out of the grip everyone keeping her at bay and all it's doing is giving that elephant the room to gloat.

Front feet on bended knees as he hunches over, pointing his trunk at my love with that smug poison in the promise.

"Don't you worry little lady, I'll make this bitch's ghetto boy is taken Good Care Of him after we're done w-"

A black cloven pair of hooves coming from out from the line of bystanders in uniform. Latching onto that damned ghoul's trunk and pulling down so hard, that gray and aged arm thicker than my torso could nearly pull it off his face.

"AS A MATTER OF FACT, I'LL MAKE SURE THEY'LL BOTH TAKEN CARE OF! YOU!" that Cape Buffalo calls out, his free set of hooves pointing at Lateefa. His leer into his subordinate's eyes unflinching when he tells her "GET IN WITH HIM! NOW!"

This is...

This is happening.

"...Thank you, thank You, oh my Go-"

"GO! NOW!" with his keratin digit accentuating each syllable with a thrust.

I can't take my eyes off what's demanding my disbelief. I only sense it out the corner of my eye when Raul lets her go and she slips into the back as the EMTs load her boy up behind her...

This is really happening, the Chief of Police correcting one of his own right in front of us. We're speechless. He's got all the diction in the world for the example he's about to make.

"...I told every last officer here what I couldn't afford. I told you! And Here You Are, Compromising My operation That Much More?"

As selfish and ugly his posturing is, I'm somehow seeing something else like it's under a mask. One of his officers openly, proudly threatened torture on our own. There should be every reason his benefit would be an accidental afterthought to our own, right now.

I could tell myself that it's just not shame and moral outrage he's feeling, if I could not see how his face is twisting under that leer.

It shouldn't be.

So why does it feel like the Wolves around me sense it, too?

Why am I left feeling like there's a mammality in him that can't get out from years of being cold? Like he's almost cringing under that livid leer into his subordinate's eyes, bringing the pain into that Elephant when he pulls him down to make him see just a little closer, more eye to eye with how betrayed he feels?

"I will personally handpick the officers that will stand guard by whatever door is between you and that couple. If I so much as hear you've called the hospital they were taken to, I will make sure your unpaid leave becomes a dishonorable discharge. Have I made myself clear, now?"

...That wasn't a show. He actually cares.

Against everything he's built it, I am watching sympathy seep through. I was almost fooled to believe he couldn't hold such a genuine investment in others. He didn't just order her into that Ambulance to bring an escalation back down. He didn't have to. Nothing could have made him, but a sense of duty, and the volition to make his decision his own, on how he was going to live with what happened before his eyes.

"HAVE I FINALLY MADE MYSELF CLEAR?!" he bellows against that Elephant's silence of shame. And it's about now that I remember a trunk is a nose, and with that Elephant's nose pinched off, I could laugh at how he's to sound, if I didn't already have just what I wanted out of all this.

"...Sir, yes, Sir..." comes out of him like Droopy. It gets a few chuckles out of everyone else, at least. Rubbing it in his face when it's already smeared on him.

"Higgens!" from that Cape Buffalo, to get a Hippo coming into sight with another Sir. "Take Trunkford's Badge and escort him back to his desk! Make sure he leaves nothing behind then head to the hospital that couple was taken to! You're on guard duty until for them until further notice!"

Another Sir, and an unceremonious tearing off of Trunkford's gilded potsteel by Higgens makes this all about too much placation for onlookers to not be on the verge of celebrating it. By the very face of that Goliath we toppled just a few hours ago. From an act that could not have been foreseen. But this is the enemy we're talking about.

And yet I'm hearing one clap from a Prey4TheHerd idiot become another, and another and then some more. Of course they would, not having had anything close to the experience we've had that's keeping us from backing their ignorance. But it still gets Bogo's attention drawn back to us.

With Higgens leading Trunkford away, he's got to remind them, remind all of us "I still have my orders to clear Zootopia Central and so help me, it will cost what it'll cost!"

...It's a war, after all. He means that, sure. Couldn't have it any other way. But somehow, as much as he wants it to be, it just doesn't really feel like a full commitment to the war effort. Like he had to remind himself. Lash out at the momentary weakness he's afraid has been shown. He's got to have it as black and white as him being the well defined set against our narrative. He couldn't handle his position any other way, forced to do whatever it'd take for him to get the city out of the mess it made for himself.

This could've been avoided, and I think he knows.

However much he hates preds, hates us for all the things he thinks we are, he knows our taking this Station from his City, as a reaction to all his cops and his city did to us to make us do this, was the only thing we could do. The fact that the Wolves within his police force warned their own packs of the oncoming raids doesn't really change that.

...I'm mammalizing the very avatar of the system that demammalized me and everyone like me. Even as he takes back all the steps he's got to against seeing us for who we are.

What the hell am I doing?

What the hell is Eva doing, telling Bogo that thing that must have never crossed a specist prey boy's mind in the truth?

"...We just wanna live. I want me and my boy to work jobs, get money, make rent and enjoy life. We want to do all those things you can, without being held back enough that we've gotta break the law. Is that too much to ask for?"

And just like that, she's made it known that he's not impregnable. There's a person in that immaculate uniform. Not a statue but a soul that can hear them.

"Hey Officer, you think I want to be here?!"

The floodgates open.

"All you had to do was not tase us!"

The grievances will be heard.

"You want me out of here so damned bad?! I got the money! Just lemme crash at your place 'til I find a landlord that'll take me in!"

Every onlooker will attempt the one thing he's trying to keep himself from even trying.

"I just want to be around people that aren't afraid of me!"

Whether he likes it or not, they will be heard.

"You longnecks got your quarantine! All y'all just mad Wolves got around to it before you did!"

And oh god, is it starting to hurt.

"Y'all so scared of us going after your precious spoiled prey girls like we even got the patience?! I don't want no females like yours, they couldn't get me if they tried!"

Oh god, was this the last thing he needed right now.

"I can't even get upset about something without you thinking I'ma 'bout to go savage!"

The fury building up in sync with the guilt.

"Why'd you have to get me fired from the best job I ever had?!"

The knowing that the system he's serving abandoned the folks that deserved a spared rod as much as anyone else.

"None of us would've kicked you prey boys out of our station if you hadn't kicked us out of your city!"

But no, he's telling himself, it's not his fault. Wasn't ever his fault he only had what he had to work with.

"Keep talking 'bout that Mammal Inclusion Initiative like we even care! You never even tried!"

But it never mattered who's fault it ever was, when he never even tried to fix someone else's mess.

"Hey Prey Boy, all I want is to walk down the street without ending up on the news!"

But not even that matters right now.

"You don't serve the people!"

Doesn't even matter what he's hearing and what he's not because all that matters in that quaking trembling of that hoof stomped when he thrashes his body lunging forward is that he's had "ENOUGH! THAT IS IT, I HAVE HAD ENOUGH AND NOTHING YOU SAY CHANGES THE FACTS!"

...This is when the faintest glimmer of hope gets snuffed out before it.

"YOU'VE ALL BROKEN THE LAWS I SWORE TO UPHOLD AND YOU WILL KNOW THE CONSEQUENCES IN THE COMING DAYS! MARK MY WORDS, YOUR PROTEST WILL BE DISMANTLED AND I WILL GIVE THE CITY BACK IT'S STATION!"

...This is when just a simple understanding gets smashed before the groundwork was even laid down. Not even a truce. Not even an agreement. That plain as day definition in our borders of us versus them and we know it all over again: The cops don't serve us. They don't really want to know that they don't. Even if they could and did know, they never will serve us.

God damn it all is on everyone's mind. The hurt creeps back in, but it ain't mine I'm feeling. It's everyone else's. The hurt in Security, Prey4TheHerd and all these onlookers that have to meet the badge's staring down with their own. The same way you've got to size others up in a big damn fight and pick out the ones you're most likely to win against and figure out how you're gonna do it. That same thing I've felt every other time I've been here. I'm just more aware of it, now. God damn all of our sympathy for having just gone to the devil, as he grabs his radio to remind his own "ALL OFFICERS, MAINTAIN SILENCE WITH THE OP4!" because he can't have a repeat.

Not when we got as close as we did to reaching through to him. But that's even the start. He needs to raise the stakes. Take his calm between his past attempt and the next one hostage. "ALL RIOT UNITS MOBILIZE! ONE MORE PROVOCATION AND WE PREPARE FOR ANOTHER ASSAULT!" Make sure the curtain's closed between us with plexigass, when all we asked of him was a little empathy. But this rejection of us is just starting to feel like a quiet disappointment, now. A familiar expectation to only shake my head to while regular uniforms get replaced by the battle vests and faceshield helmets.

"Eva, lets just forget it and go back inside." Because again, she gave her heart up to the chance of a cop hearing her out and didn't get anything out of it but another punch in the face. We walk the space between Security and prey protesters. Looking for a gap for us so we don't have to squeeze back through. So lost in the facts, he's to my right and I walk past him without even recognizing him.

But he recognizes me.

"...Owen?" he calls out, and Eva stops as I do.

"Owen Conrad Fuchs?" he asks again. With that voice I heard before. Drawing me out of the bitterness I've sunk into while I wonder how it knows my name. I piece it together as turn my head back. To look up and see...

"My name is Bruce Hartford." the Elk reminds me. Kindly like I don't deserve to be. As a gentle haunting, dissolving what Bogo left me with, to replace it, and Eva's anger, with something reassuringly uncertain.

In our apprehension, neither of us can put a name on just he's left us feeling. But his gaze searches my own.

It's almost uncalled for, how genuinely he admits "You probably didn't hear me, the first time I told you." but somewhere, far from where we're standing, he's reliving that moment between us.

Back in the middle of that street with me, where he offered me a hoof and I gave him a scratch.

But the way he's looking to me, whatever he wants, it's not anything that I'm left to feel right about.

Like he's got some kind of peace that should be putting my mind at ease. But I don't deserve it, and challenge it with "All I remembered you saying the day before was that I was the last time you'd ever..." for him to finally finish that thought in "...Ever help someone out like you."

The way that stings, how it hurts him more than it ever could me. It's not sarcastic, me telling him "...Hell of a way to break that promise, ain't it? You sticking your neck out like this, for everybody like me." but he can appreciate the humor of this all the same. A softly distraught, self conscious smile to himself as he looks left to everybody like me.

"Well... It wouldn't be a lie, if I said I swore that you were going to be the last."

But he was right, about me not having heard him before, with my ears still ringing back then to not even make out anything I didn't want to hear. I've got to confess that the "...First time I heard your name was when I saw that video on the news. I was at a Bug Burga, caught up in the stories playing out in the other customers when ZNN broke the news that cops were looking for me. I had already lost a good friend that day, trying to get back at a bunch of specists like I didn't think I could when it was that Pig that went after me... I was alone, and suffering in my guilt over everything I was and did, as everybody started looking at me and calling the cops."

And as much as it hurts to say that, it kills me even more that it feels like I'm making up excuses.

But something about the pity on him says that he knows I'm not. That I'm just trying, when I know he deserves as much from me.

His look is telling me and Eva that he's not looking for anything else than to understand, and tells me something that feels like a needless confession. "I read in the Zootopia Times you were nearly caught there... I was looking for every reason those interviews could give me to hate you even more. You wouldn't believe how angry I was that someone convinced the rest of the customers to let you go. I hated them for it. I blamed them as much as I did you for all the chaos that happened when the cops hunted you down. Watched every clip of it on zootube I could find to validate it..."

Even though noone else would call that a sin, and I'm nearly on the verge of telling him I don't blame him when he continues.

"...But everyone the reporter interviewed kept going back to you going in that restaurant again. Only to tell a couple they needed to stay together. How you poured your heart out to them, even though you knew the cops were already en route. I still hated you, but it just wasn't the same after I learned you did that."

With some amazement at the fact I did that, his hopeful look betrays that question in his head: Did that one little thing I tried to accomplish actually help them?

And not to change the subject, but I think I need to tell him for his own piece of mind that "...Those two are in there, somewhere. Every time I've seen them, they've been... It's like he's never a doubt about deserving her since. And she's thanked me so much, I don't think..."

But I can hardly cope with how much good I did for those two, when I've been through all I have today and tonight. And he gets that, reminding me "You've had a hard day." to have it all come to a head when that's not what he meant to happen.

I don't deserve that pity, even if "Hard doesn't even start. First the cops, then the bear going savage, me having to comfort his fiance as best I could... Then watching her stumble back to her father so they could piece themselves back together-"

"It's ok, Owen." he tells me, thinking he needs to reconcile this all for me. When half of this was good. The other half was something he had no control over. I end up saying "I mean, it really isn't." when really, I'm just overwhelmed at how low and how high this date's experience was for me. But he gets that somehow, thinking for a moment and changing the subject. "...Her name is Eva, right?"

I would appreciate what he's doing, if I wasn't so hung up on "How did you..." when it's obvious how he knew her name. "...The news, right?" and then I get it. Him bringing us back to whatever want he wants, as he goes back to "I tried to keep track of you both, after they started reporting about Lionheart and the savage attacks." He laments that with all his being, softly despising the fact that "I didn't want to accept you were anything more than violent, but knowing about the couple made it hard."

And maybe he's being selfish. Maybe it's me being selfish instead, when I bring it all back around to what I had done. "...I didn't leave you much reason to think of me as anything else."

I really don't know.

But I want to know.

My face twisted, not so much about what I had done, before, as what I'm trying to figure out, now. But for a moment, he'll entertain it with "No, you really didn't." when I can see it as much on his face as I can hear it in his voice, that he's trying for something better. "...And I had made my mind up about you until four days ago, when I turned the news on and saw you reunited with her. How emotional you both were. And how earlier in the day, I enjoyed every thing Don Lemming said to you. It was good... I'm not going to tell you I wasn't petty. But I saw how wrong I was, the moment I turned my television on in my apartment to see you both on top of each other. And until Fabienne Growley said only specists would confuse it for a savage attack, I thought it was... I saw the rest of her report on Zootube. And I watched as you and Fabienne had everyone in there tell the rest of us why you were in the Station... Then I saw you both falling over each other and I saw it for what it was..."

That the two of us, as small as we are, predators though we be, criminals we've become, and for what little we had to give, we gave so completely with our fullest absolution, all of the love and nurture we possibly can. On such a profound scale that even he, a slighted prey mammal, cannot be blinded to it. And in that admission of seeing that, I'm starting to get where he's going. I just can't believe that it's where he wants to go. That he's trying to see me as more than the pred that rejected him. Leaving me to believe, more than that, he's trying to get me to come at him with the truth of why I did what I did. Everything I'm seeing on his face seems to be begging that. For the very thing I couldn't see, with him trying to make me see the same as he has.

To get me to the point that I can finally say this without guilt, only as a truth of where I was. To look back to it like he has. But I'll believe he's ready, look back on that day like I had before, and give him what I think he's looking for. "...I was angry that I couldn't just fend for myself. Get him off of me like I could have if I wasn't just a pred. It hurt so much that I couldn't just get him off me for myself, because I knew if I did I'd only make it worse."

"...You thought everyone that could have seen you fight back would think you started it." he reaffirms. Finishing that thought with "Because you were a predator."

And I could tell him that I didn't hear him, because of that Boar shouting into my ear. But what I'm caught on, when I look back, is that "...I never even saw you come. I was just hoping he'd get all his anger out of his system before he started decking me or try to kill me like he was about to." His mouth opening to say whatever he was about to, recognizing that I am not done and closing back. "I didn't see it until after you threw him back in his truck, but his wheels were turned into the left lane. He saw me splitting lanes in his rearview and was thinking of cutting me off to have me crash into him. Had he done that, he would've guided me straight into the back of another car and I would've flown."

In this moment, he recollects seeing those wheels turned towards the left lane. He's back there with me, like he wanted us to be. Together. And all that fury he felt in that moment towards that Boar comes again to him. Hooves clinching, wishing he knew where that third party is, now. With thoughts running through his head of how easy he had let the Pig go in retrospect.

But as I bring it all back to "And for how grateful I should've been that you at least tried to help me, when nobody else was..." he has to renounce it with a betrayal of knowledge he knows is going to shock.

"Nothing I could have said would make up for the things that pig did. Because all you saw was someone only acting self righteous out of Prey Guilt. Like you didn't even matter to me. That I was just looking for something to feel good about."

He met Toby, somehow. In that confusion of their counter protest against everyone that wanted us out, he had heart-to-heart with Toby. He came to that White Tailed Buck, for what hints to the riddle of my action he could get from him. For Toby to tell this Elk in front of me everything we talked about on that day Cliffside made the news. Bring himself that much closer to seeing me as I was.

"...I don't think you were completely wrong. I would like to say I wasn't as bad as Buffalo Buffalo..." he starts, making it known Toby brought Buffy up to him, obvious enough he doesn't remember for me to say "You say it eight times." while wracked with guilt and for him to ignore it all the same because like so much else, it doesn't matter to him. "...I would like to say I wasn't as bad as him, but I kind of did fit the bill-"

I don't think he's blaming himself for whatever he was, but I'm interrupting him with this while I can. "But none of that even matters. You believing and doing whatever you did, you being however much a stereotypical prey boy you were, none of it should've mattered when you came down on him... You were still being the best you could. You only tried like you were taught to and none of that even matters, when I should have just been grateful someone even bothered to help me out."

I owe him, with all of my debt, every inch of that journey he's gone through that I can give him. When all he's trying to do is look back for the sake our mutual closure. That we just did what we did as products of our experiences.

"...And you rejected it and gave me a cut straight to the bone..." he tells me, to shake that last ounce of his hatred of me out of himself.

"...To the bone?" I repeat, shocked and finally aware now of how deep my wounding rejection really went.

"I taught myself Iron Claw. When I was younger and a feline, canine only school rejected me. The nerve damage worked so well I didn't feel it, much less know how bad it was until my physician told me and sutured the cut." He says that fondly. With a little self congratulation but more or less, it comes off as just a simple statement of fact.

Leaving me floored and reminding him, again, "...I cut you to the bone, and you're here in front of me, right here with Toby's other protesters like that doesn't even matter."

But he's not gonna have it. "I know you've got the guilt to say it should matter, Owen. But it really doesn't." Not when he's trying to be a better person now, and only looking back for the sake of closure. Without guilt. Just telling me that he knew the role he played when he admits "I know as well as you, who most of my students' parents assumed their children would have to defend themselves against someday."

But I can't blame him, taking part in a system he couldn't really see for what it was, until he made whatever decisions he did to put enough distance between himself and what he was built up to be.

"...It ain't really your fault as a prey boy. All this scat the cops, the news and your kin have put us through." but that's not what he's looking for.

I can see as much in that look that he gives me, that right now, "It doesn't matter who's at fault."

That one simple statement makes it finally dawn on me, just what it's all about. This chance meeting, long overdue, realized by him having done his part between these preds and those cops.

I'm just so shocked he's come to me as he has, but I can believe it, now.

He's not looking for forgiveness, here. Nor a sorry out of either of us. Or to find any one single soul to blame. It's not about any of that.

"And I'm not here to make it up to you or any other predator. None of these protesters with me ever could... I'm not able to speak for them, but for me..."

Self conscious, aware this might not be the right way to put it, he'll power through with some gentle peace in his voice says he's done with lingering.

"It doesn't matter what you did. Nothing would make any of you less than a fellow mammal. I just want better for all of us. Do whatever I can for everyone like you."

It feels like a relief, to look to him, and receive back what I think I always wanted in someone like he used to be.

"Your kind fought tooth and nail just to have a seat at the table. I understand that better than I ever have before. How the society that belongs to both of us still tries to keep you away from it. But we have a duty, regardless of where we have come from, to go somewhere better than this together."

The truth he's getting at that I can finally acknowledge. With all that's left for us, is to accept that day for what it was. Where we both were in our lives back then. To stop fixating on blame and try to focus on how we can just fix this mess.

To have it come out of my own mouth, as a real live boy, that he's here in front of me "...Without Hubris. Forfeiting all we've known to do what must be done. For no lesser reason than the burden being on all of us to refute, against all it's logic, that definition of how things will always be."

That charge we need to accept as mammals and nothing else. A mutual, unspoken understanding that it doesn't matter if that responsibility was always there. Only that we're all the more equipped to make our society now, as much now as we ever needed before, a steward and not the circumstance as we've known it. If he was still the mammal he used to be, he would've followed up my words with something about me being articulate, I feel. But all he can do is smile back with me, without me having any doubt in my mind that he sees me as an equivalent.

"...I needed this." I tell him.

"We both did... If this world ever gets to the point we can meet at a better place..." He'll still offer.

My "Thank you." with a wave of my paw, him waving goodbye back to reassure with "Your welcome, and you're welcomed to." and I part ways.

Eva leading me through the first gap in security she finds. Back into the station with her guidance. At peace but confronted all the same. Through the crowd, but not by how everyone's still caught up in doubt.

It's a little more complete than just seeing that fear I used to have for what it was. Or that Nadine could have reconciled her father's agony through her own. It's more than both of those things, combined with a Police Chief doing the right thing and almost seeing reason, and the Elk that genuinely did.

It's everything, all at once.

Libraries of testimony to reaffirm what was always there. The simple fact I was made to believe against as a predator. I am not only that, but more. A mammal, a person, as every last predator with that lingering doubt like my old one still is, no matter all the definition we've endured. The cruelty which could not accept what we are. It's not survival instinct to say what I am, anymore. Not some fight or flight challenge to it's revocation. But the dauntless, irreconcilable truth. Self evident, like the rocks of a shore. Unburdened and remaining.

And I'm going in.

Eva feeling this from my paw. To look back, and see her boy become.

"...Guess I'm doing that thing again you hate." I admit. Thinking like a maelstrom churns.

Yet all she can do is look at me in pride, the feeling beaming out of her to let me know, with her beautiful dark brown eyes before her voice does that "...You're doing it right, for once."

We've got everywhere to go, someday. But that's neither now nor here. Paused to appreciate what's happening in each other, I could say I wouldn't be who I am without her and everyone and everything else.

But it'd be a disservice to the truth that I am.

Our paws holding each other's body, I bow my head down. For her to raise her own. For us to part our lips. Me to slip mine underneath her tongue. Her teeth to lock into mine. And unleash our love into the other, and know wholeness without question. Holding on to love taken and letting go to give it all at once. To burn to become our own beacon.