"They're charging me…"
She couldn't help but replay what he'd said over and over in her mind. It just seemed to taunt her. When she needed help and protection the most, the city had decided to take it away from her…
She then remembered that the mayor had effectively slandered her, and all she could do was sniff some more. Grit her teeth some more. Hold onto her pillow a bit tighter, even though her claws were pushing through the fabric, and cry into it some more. She didn't even bother to hold in her powers, she didn't care.
It wasn't worth the effort.
She'd just cried into him, then run off back to her own room, so she could wallow in her pity.
Her musings were broken off by a knock on the door, and her ears rose as she heard Bogo speak out. "May I come in?"
She heard him enter, walking over and setting himself down on her bed. Slowly, she unwrapped herself from her bedding and made her way to him, wrapping her arms around him for comfort. He put one of his around her too, which helped. It reminded her of when she was really young, three or four, and her parents were these big giant things who'd stand tall above her, ready to protect and love…
She sniffed a bit. "After this… -Can I go over to my family for a bit?" she asked.
Bogo looked down at her and gave a little smile. "You're an adult, you can do what you like," he reminded her.
Brittany couldn't help but chuckle. She didn't feel like an adult. She felt like a stupid little kit.
"There's that golden new smile of yours," the cape buffalo said, earning another chuckle. "I was wanting more of that."
"Well," Brittany mumbled, "things got in the way."
There was an awkward pause, before he picked up again. "Fangmeyer's going to town over what Bellwether did," he stated.
Looking down, Bogo smiled. "She may not be a mammal's mammal, but Kristen was always very protective," he said. "She's written a speech, and should be on air soon, ready to defend you and rip our new mayor to shreds."
"Oh," Brittany noted. "Do I… -have to watch it?"
She felt nervous, not wanting any reminder of what had happened, so it was a relief when Bogo shook his head. "She originally wanted you to be ready to give your side of the story tomorrow, but Ben and I advised her to give you a bit more time."
"Right," she noted. "Thanks."
"Meanwhile," he began, "I've got a lot of savings which could be used to help your family sue that ewe to high heaven." He chuckled a little. "A bit of karmic revenge for your family, life the sound of that?"
A little smile grew on her muzzle. "It's certainly appealing," she said, before pausing. "But can I… -you know, heal and calm down first. I really don't want to think about any of this."
"Yeah," she agreed. "I'd rather feel better than have some revenge, to be honest"
He paused as she said it, before leaning forwards and ruffling her blonde hair. "It's things like that which I admire about you, Brittany. You've made me proud," he said. "And you're a better mammal than I am."
The red fox paused as he said it, before turning down and looking at her paws. "Maybe not," she said quietly. "I'm… I was willing to kill those attackers back then, -and I know they wanted to attack me, but…" She paused, and Bogo moved in to comfort her, only to stop when she carried on. "I… -I know there probably wasn't a better way, but I didn't know it back then," she said. "I just went for the bad way that came to me and went for it. Then, with Nick's help, we found a better one." There was a sniff, and a faint chuckle, as she looked up. "I guess that makes you and me the same."
"No, it doesn't," Bogo said slowly, shaking his head. "You're young and had to decide a matter of life or death in the heat of the moment. I was old and experience but blinded myself for years. I… -There's all the difference in the world."
She shook her head. "I don't think so," she said, hugging him tight. "I'm not mad at you for what you did, you just wanted to help Skye… I… -I just wish you wouldn't be taken away."
"There's no point running," he said firmly. He pushed Brittany away and looked into her eyes. "If you learn one thing from me, please let it me this. When whatever you've done comes to bite your tail, don't run. Stand tall, face it, and take it. -It's all I can do now."
"And I'll stand by you always," she said, before hugging him tight and sniffing some more. The white frost on her fur dusted Bogo as he held her back. "I… I love you."
The large cape buffalo sniffed, before standing up. "And I love you too Brittany. You've made me prouder than you can imagine." He closed his eyes and breathed in, before turning and walking out the door. "
Brittany slept throughout that night, waking up earlier in the morning. She still felt a bit rotten though, a feeling only partially remedied by a giant breakfast. She didn't have any scheduled shifts today but, trying to keep a focus on something, she dressed up in her ZED gear, just in case there was a giant fire that suddenly needed her assistance.
Was she selfish or weak for not wanting to take her attackers' life? Was she an unstable mammal, like the mayor had alluded to? She wasn't quite sure who she was or what she was doing right then, instead feeling like she'd been tossed up and around like a salad or something. Clawhauser had agreed to have a session with her later in the day but, for now, she could do with some alone time. Returning to her room though, she saw a little figure waiting outside. "Hi there Larry," she said warmly, only to pause as he jumped and bounded towards her leg, giving it a little hug.
"You were upset, as the mayor said nasty things about you," he said, before licking her a few times. She giggled a bit as his attempts at preening failed, his tongue too small and smooth and his attempts sending them against the grain of her fur, rather than with it. When he broke off, hacking and coughing and trying to clear the fur from his tongue, she couldn't help but laugh.
"Aaaaawww, thank you Larry."
Finishing cleaning his tongue, he looked up and frowned. "You foxes are weird."
"No," she replied warmly, holding out her paw for him to jump onto. "We're just built differently." She stuck out her long tongue and let it hang far down, to the point where it was longer than he was, letting him see it up close. He looked on and gasped as he examined all the backwards facing spikes on it, even touching one with his paw.
She waited for the right moment before faking a giant bite forwards. "NOM!"
Larry scrambled back, only to pause and giggle. "CHOMP!" he said out loud, gnawing his teeth at her.
She was feeling better already and knew then what she wanted to do. "Let's go back to your room," she said. "Find some things to play with."
So, as the day carried on, they brought out an old marble run set. It was a bit too small for Brittany, a lot too big for Larry, but they made it work. He loved scrambling up the towers as they grew, offering suggestions as to which new piece would go where. When the marbles were released, they'd make bets as to where they'd come out. He even loved getting close, for instance holding onto the green loop piece as the marbles raced down, up, over and around. At one point, he even climbed inside a bit that reminded Brittany of the cyclone flume on the cruise, marbles coming down then getting launched into a shallow funnel. They'd circle around the hole in the centre, slowly losing speed, before they'd eventually fall in. He said that he'd be able to dodge all the marbles that entered. Brittany entertained him, sending a barrage of marbles from the top and down. Many of them went a different route, splitting at a fork and falling into the Larry's funnel from above, not the side. He hadn't thought about that, but it didn't matter much. He'd already failed to escape pretty much all the marbles that had been coming in the main way.
Afterwards, after comforting him a bit, they were deciding on something new to do when a soft knock came from the door. "Come in," she said, turning to see Clawhauser enter. She then gasped as her parents and Kinsey came in behind. "What are you doing here?"
"Cheering you up!" Kinsey proudly announced, before jumping into her sister's arms. Brittany hugged her tight, impacted by the shock, before turning up to her parents. Delilah stepped forwards and spoke.
"When we heard what the mayor said about you, about what's happening to Bogo, and hearing from Ben that you were really down, we thought you'd need a big cheer me up!"
"We've got lots of surprises waiting for you," Nigel said, smiling.
"Lots and lots!" Kinsey cheered, joining in.
Brittany couldn't help but sniff. She noticed that she was radiating a bit of heat, but that didn't matter. "Guys…" she began, stepping up and smiling. She brought her parents into a tight hug. "Thanks so much, but…"
"But…?" Kinsey asked fearfully.
Brittany looked around, chewing her lip slightly, before glancing down. "I… I've been kind of nervous about stepping off of the campus. I don't want to put you in danger or anything."
"It's fine," Ben replied. "We'll give you an emergency call button. Press it, and Fangmeyer herself will come."
"The Commander…" Brittany gasped. She paused, smiling. "That kinda makes me feel a lot more safe," she said with a giggle. She stood up, taking in her suit. "I'll want to change into something casual, and…" She paused as she looked over at Larry. "Ben…" she began, looking up. "Can I take Larry?"
The cheetah's face slowly began transforming, his mouth going into an 'O' shaped and his paws tuckering up into his chin. "Aaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwww! Sure you can!"
Both her parents looked at each other and nodded their heads. "If he behaves, then sure," her father said, though he rapped his fingers against each other nervously as he said it. "-Will he behave?"
"He's been getting a lot better," she said, looking down at him and feeling proud. "You're going to behave, aren't you?"
"Yes Miss Brittany. I'll behave really good. I promise. I super pro…"
"-I don't believe you!"
All eyes turned to the mammal who'd cut him off. Kinsey. She stood there, keeping a close eye on both Larry and his… -Brittany flinched back as she realised that all the marbles were gone, only to look around and spot them floating up in the air and out of reach. Kinsey was concentrating hard to keep them there, out of his way. "You could just be lying," she said, angrily. "You were mean and hurt my sister last time! This is her special day. You're not gonna do it again!"
"I…" The squirrel began, only to sniff. "I…"
He looked up at Brittany, who looked at Kinsey, then back to him. "How about you apologise to her. And Kinsey, if he says sorry and really means it, will you give him another chance?"
The younger vixen looked on unconvinced, but it didn't matter to Larry. He walked out, staring down at his feet as he did so, and mumbled out an apology. "I'm sorry I was mean. And angry. I'm sorry for climbing on you and hurting Brittany. I won't do it again."
Taking a deep breath in and out, Kinsey relaxed a bit. "You can come," she said, with an air of authority. "But I'll be keeping an eye on you."
Soon the family were out on their excursion. The first place they called at was an all sizes play area. Similar to a giant jungle gym, it was there to allow kits of all sorts of sizes to play with each other. Because of that, though, you'd also get a fair number of parents playing along. Brittany found herself playing with her sister, playing tag while navigating the 3D maze that had been set out. Delilah was playing too, though she was far more cautious and thus slower. As for Larry, the area for mammals like him was separate, but the tubes and tunnels interviewed with the larger mammal area. He loved being able to climb and encounter other similar sized mammals. Especially other squirrels. For a while, Brittany and Kinsey would try and race after him, keeping up with the better climber. Eventually, though, he found a new friend. A chinchilla called Chet. Brittany chose to leave them together, practicing parkour, while she went after Kinsey. Brittany was IT, and she had to catch that little mammal if it was the last thing they did. She ended up chasing her down a long slide and into a ball pit, cornering her. "Not going to get out of this one!" she teased.
Kinsey just closed her eyes and focussed, and Brittany yelped as all the balls around her leapt up and into her, both hitting her and then staying put, smothering her in a ball suit.
Despite all the rattling and noise from the balls bumping into each other, Brittany could still hear Kinsey giggling. Even worse, she heard Larry and his new friend laughing.
"Oh Balls!" the squirrel shouted, before they all burst into laughter.
Luckily for Brittany, it made Kinsey lose concentration. The balls dropping, she saw her sister just as she realised her mistake. It was too late though, as Brittany coiled up her back legs and pounced, coming in right down on top of her and carrying her into the pit.
Afterwards, they all went to a restaurant for a meal. The foxes filled up on meaty and fishy burritos and other mexicat food. Larry, meanwhile, enjoyed stuffing himself with acorn meal tortillas, along with guacamole and other stuff. He even tried a bit of the meat and liked it, and so he had a little side of BBQ pulled chicken donated to him by Kinsey.
"I wasn't going to finish it all," she said, pausing as she looked at him. "And he is getting nicer."
"Yeah," Brittany replied. "Took a bit of work, but he's getting there."
Her father nodded in agreement. "You know…" he began, only to pause, his eyes going wide. "Brittany," he said blankly. "What's up with your tooth?"
She looked at him and smiled, revelling in how he became even more shocked. "I was wondering when you'd notice this," she said with a chuckle.
"Notice wha…." Delilah began to say, only to trail off as she too saw what her husband and notice.
Kinsey looked over and gasped. "Woah! That's cool!"
"I know," Brittany giggled.
"I'd disagree… a bit…" her father began, only to be cut off as she chuckled some more.
"Come on," she said. "It was the same cost to me as a boring white tooth, and the ZED were paying anyway!"
"And this is totally cooler," she announced proudly, pulling up her top lip and exposing her new gold canine tooth for all to see. "Besides…" She began, before baring her teeth and holding her knife in her paw like a sword. "It is I! The dread pirate Brittany Goldfang! ARGHHHHHHHH!"
"Well," Nigel said matter-of-factly as he turned to his wife. "I guess this one was on me."
Brittany just laughed, before turning to Kinsey and Larry. "You two love it. Don't you?"
They looked at each other, nodded, and then looked at her. "Aaaaaarrrrghhhhhh!"
After the meal, the day was rounded off with a trip to the cinema. While fairly full, they got two buckets of popcorn from the coyote at the stand and settled down to enjoy the film. They were like any other family… Almost. Brittany couldn't help but feel a sense of Deja-vu for some odd reason. The film hadn't started yet, the adverts still rolling, and Brittany excused herself to go to the toilets. That, and to think. Why… why was she feeling like this?
"I thought it was you."
She paused and froze, turning around. There, not far away, stood the coyote who'd served her family. "Do I know you?" she asked.
He paused, his muzzle twitching, before he looked down at the ground. "You… kind of…" he said. "Lyle Canston… -we met at the natural history museum."
It took a few seconds to process, but then her eyes went wide. He was the empowered mammal who'd tried to steal the moon rocks, and who she and Judy had stopped. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Working. Weekend job."
Brittany blinked a few times. "Ask a stupid question," she muttered, before shaking her head.
"Get a stupid answer," he replied. He paused, clearing his throat a bit, before carrying on. "I'd like to… -uhhh…. -well, thank you. To be fair."
"Thank me?" she asked.
He nodded. "I… I learnt about my powers only a few years ago and was sort of keeping them a secret. But… -have you ever suffered from 'the call'?"
Brittany shook her head. 'The Call' was the name given to the overwhelming urge that some mammals had to use their powers or to enhance them. It was what often drove some of them to the more cartoony side of villainy and, thinking back, he seemed like a textbook case. "No," she replied. "Though a friend at the ZED does. But it just makes him want to create lots of plants and flowers."
She thought she heard the coyote mutter 'lucky' under his breath but paid it no mind. She instead just listened on. "It was like this horrible drive. This.. this desire," he explained. "And at first I could cope, but it grew and grew and grew. By the end, I'd look up and see the moon during the day and could only focus on it, everything fading out. Or my mind would be so swimming with desires, I couldn't sleep. By… by the end, I was beginning to pass out, and my grades had tanked." He looked down, shaking his head. "I was an idiot who didn't want to tell my parents. But, in the end, sometimes the migraines… -they seemed like they were clawing at me, and some moon rook would fix it all. I guess…. -I just couldn't take it anymore, so I went out to steal that rock, and you got in the way."
"I guess it must have sucked."
"Yeah," he said. "I felt such a relief when I got that rock, you know. Like all my troubles had been swept away, and I felt like a god with these little figures by the side that I could play with. Like I was on top of the world, and then it was all taken. And I felt the call come back, more horrid than ever." He looked down glumly. "That, and I was terrified that my family would hate me, and I'd be dumped in jail for years… -I felt like I just wanted to stop existing. If… If I could… -I'd of killed myself while in that holding cell."
"I was in a power dampening field, so I couldn't use my powers anyway. It helped my call a bit." He paused though, before smiling. "But they put me on these special drugs, and… -and it was like I was normal again. I… -That's why I'm thanking you."
"Well," Brittany replied. "That was more Judy's work, but thanks."
"Yeah," he replied. "I'm… I'm on probation now, but all I need to do is take my drugs. Apparently, I'm legally fine using my powers for normal stuff, and if I ever have enough money to buy a moon rock legit, it should all be fine. But… -well, I don't want to mess with those powers for a long long time. Just had to spend the whole summer catching up with schoolwork and putting my life back together thanks to them."
"And thanks to me," Brittany replied. "But… -I hope you the best."
"Thank you," he replied. "And you too."
After all that, Brittany went to the toilet and then returned, just as the film proper started. She and her family watched and enjoyed it, though by the end they were getting tired. As the credits rolled, Nigel happily announced that they'd be heading home to their place for a bit.
"Yeah," Brittany agreed. "Sounds like a nice way to end the day." She was getting a bit tired and was carrying Larry on her shoulder, holding him up with one paw as he dozed off.
"It's not the end of the day," Kinsey announced.
"Isn't it?" she asked.
"We've got one last treat for you, both for today and most of tomorrow," her father said.
"What is it?"
Kinsey immediately answered, jumping up and down as she did so. "SLEEPOVER!"
Brittany gasped, before smiling. "So soon?"
"We've got it all arranged," Delilah explained. "We go home, get her stuff sorted, relax a bit and then drop you both off!"
"They've got some tests and stuff for her to try out too," Nigel said proudly. "All thanks to you. I'm so proud of you, you know?"
"We both are," her mother agreed, as she came over and gave Brittany a hug. The older vixen couldn't help but sniff a bit. "Guys…" she said. "Thanks. This sounds so good!" She meant it too, she really felt better after this whole recharge day. She was going to make a joke or something, only to get caught off as Larry began wiggling. "You waking up there?" she asked, as he mumbled in his sleep before settling down. "I guess not…" she added, before petting the back of his head a bit.
"You really care for him, don't you?" her father asked.
"Yeah," she noted. "Well…."
"It reminds me of your mother, with both you and Kinsey," he said, moving forwards. "I think you've fallen for him, you know?"
Her feet figuratively froze to the floor, and she stayed rooted there, looking at the little squirrel kit resting on her.
"Oh crap," she muttered, before mentally kicking herself as she realised that she was holding Larry just that little bit tighter. She looked down at him and, thinking it through, realised that she didn't want to let him go. She wanted to keep him by her. She was a total goner. "Oh crap," she repeated. "Oh total crap…"
"Hey," her father said, coming forwards. "It's not bad!" There was a pause, and a little chuckle. "In-fact I think it's quite cute."
"You don't understand," she said, looking up at them. "I promised to find his mother! I promised to reunite them, and I promised that I would not replace her!" She looked down again and cringed as she tried to push him away from her but found she didn't. Her urges to keep him next to her, and warm and comfy, won out by far. "-And I'm breaking it now…" she said.
Her father looked on silently, before her mother came out. "Dear," she said, hugging her. "I think you know the answer to this problem. Don't you?"
She shook her head.
"He can have two families. Just like you."
She felt the weight taken from her shoulders in an instant, before she went forwards and hugged her tight, still carrying Larry as she did so. "Thanks…" she said, feeling so relieved. "I guess we'll see what will happen."
After getting back to the apartment, Brittany joined her mother in the kitchen, slowly getting to grips with baking cakes. There was talk about the mayor, and the family agreed that they'd take Bogo's offer up. The prospect of paying her back, now the dust had settled, did feel rather good. That talk over, the mother and daughter activities continued much to Brittany's great enjoyment, though something else was on her mind. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched as Larry woke up, before starting to play a little videogame with Kinsey. They were getting on well together.
She was going to have to tell him the truth about her feelings soon. Very soon. Because she was not going to lie to a little Kit. That was a red line that she would not cross.
Finishing a round of cupcakes and putting them in the oven, she settled back and wondered. Closing her eyes, she used her vision to look into the ZED, where she spotted several of the new families. In their rooms, they were playing games or watching TV. Opening her eyes, she looked at the little family of her own.
She felt good.
She didn't need to be this perfect action enforcer, always at the edge of danger, to be a hero. She didn't need to be battling like in the war game, or at the restaurant, or with mammals like the reformed coyote. She could be a hero doing the little things. Bringing families back together. Loving and helping a young and angry child. It was the kind of hero she wanted to be.
She pulled up her phone, wondering if it was from Skye. The reception the fox got out there was awful, so it might have taken her some time to get the message across. She opened it and read.
It wasn't from Skye.
It was from Ben.
The DNA test results had arrived, and she could look at them later on. Looking up at Larry, she held herself tightly. Tonight, she was going to be a hero.