-Echo: The Painted Phoenix-
A sweat covered Echo hit the large blue mat, and hit it hard.
The painted dog let out a low growl as she laid on her face for a few seconds before putting her arms down onto the mat and pushing herself upwards.
"You act like that wasn't suppose to happen," a painted female said as she hurried over and tossed a clipboard to the side. The canine reached down and looped her shoulder under Echo's arm and began to help her up.
"It shouldn't," Echo growled as she reached up and grabbed the wooden beam she had been using for support when she first started walking down the mats.
"You were actually always a bit clumsy," Came a shout from a seat nearby.
Echo looked over at her brother, her teal eyes on fire which made even the confident Bravo shrink back in his chair.
"Echo remember what I said," The painted female began as she helped Echo stand up once more, handing Echo a small gym towel so she could wipe the sweat from her face at least. "You will fall, you will fall a lot. You cannot get upset about it."
"I know…"Echo let out with a sigh as she caught her breath and leaned against the balancing beam. "I just want to stop being a burden as soon as possible."
"Oh please there is only one burden in our family," Delta said as he walked onto the mats and handed his sister a bottle of water. "And he is currently sitting in the corner."
"I heard that!" Bravo shouted as he looked up from his phone.
"Shush Burden, the adults are talking," Delta said without even looking at his brother who started to look for something to throw at Delta.
"You are already ahead of our preliminary schedule," The female painted dog said as she reached down and scooped up her clipboard. She placed a pair of black-rimmed glasses down on her nose and inspected the reports.
Echo noticed how Delta glanced out of the corner of his eye at the painted female who had been helping them. She couldn't blame her brother but still, the urge to smack him was overwhelming. The way their family friend looked in a tight green shirt and capris would have had most canine's howling for a little attention.
"Thanks, River," Echo began as she took a swig of water. "But still, we need to hurry and get me back in tip-top shape."
"Why?" Delta asked, his circular ears going up. "You got a date or something?"
Echo snorted and nearly spat out her water before swallowing what she had in her mouth.
"No," She said with a laugh. "I just don't want all of you to miss your own things."
"What things?" Delta responded quickly.
"Oh come on," Echo said with a sigh. "You mean to tell me you all have nothing better to do than sit around and watch me fall flat on my face all day."
"I mean I would pay good money to keep watching this," Bravo chuckled from his chair.
"I have nothing going on right now," River said as she brought the clipboard against her chest and smiled at Echo.
"So your free Friday night?" Delta asked the now surprised looking painted female next to him.
Echo looked at River and gave her a sweet smile, "River could you excuse me for a second while I fall on my brother and beat the paint out of him."
River gave a nervous giggle and stepped back as Echo hobbled after Delta who tried to escape. Echo however simply leaped at the retreating canine and clumsily landed on top of Delta.
"Fight fight fight," Bravo began to chant as he hurried over.
These were Echo's days now.
A few weeks ago they would have been filled with work. Waking up at the station, responding to calls, running drills, or just sitting around a large table with her fellow firefighters as they enjoyed a moment of peace from their otherwise busy schedule.
Now though it was the same thing day in and day out.
She would wake early and pester one of the nurses, pleading with them to let her hit the gym early. They would always turn her down and she would be forced to wait for her family to arrive.
Delta and Bravo would sometimes take turns but always made a point of seeing their sister on a daily basis.
River, while not a blood relation, had been a family friend for ages. The younger painted dog had gone into physical therapy and when she had heard about Echo she had dropped everything and moved to Zootopia to be Echo's personal physical therapist until the wounded canine was back on her feet….foot.
While Echo was grateful for all the support she had felt like she was burdening her family. Every time she fell she felt like it was a step backward from recovery. She felt like every slip was another day she would be holding them up from their lives.
They would always tell her that it wasn't true but she wouldn't believe them. How much fun could it really be just sitting around watching her hobble about?
"You are improving a lot Echo," River said when the little scuffle was over between Echo and her brother.
Echo rolled her eyes as she was slowly helped down onto a bench by River who had helped her across the room. It was a little awkward at first to rely on someone like this but Echo decided if it helped her recover quicker then she wouldn't mind.
"You however just got your butt kicked," Bravo said as he stood over a dazed-looking Delta who was still laying on the bright blue mats in the middle of the room.
Echo let out a soft groan as her muscles ached.
River quickly reached over and without even hesitating grabbed Echo's right leg and began to gently run her paws up the other female's muscles. Her grip was strong but felt amazing as it helped ease some of the soreness Echo was experiencing.
This was something else she had had to get used to. River being a physical therapist didn't really hesitate for some kind of physical contact. If Echo had a muscle problem you better believe River was putting her paws somewhere on Echo to help with the problem.
At first, Echo had been a little hesitant but thanks to River's magic paws it didn't take Echo long to not only get used to it but even ask for help on occasion.
"So we ready to try this with two legs?" River asked softly as she looked up at Echo, her amber eyes filled with an encouraging warmth.
Echo let out a sigh as she glanced over at a case that had been placed nearby. Inside of it was a temporary prosthetic that had been provided by the hospital.
She hated it. It was simple in design and would help her learn how to walk again but whenever she was on it she felt so weird. Like she knew it didn't belong to her.
Apparently this was common with most mammals who had to deal with this kind of thing. It took time but she was told most folks would make the new limbs their own eventually. Whether by redesigning it or putting stickers of some kind.
"Not sure…"Echo mumbled, not taking her eyes off the case.
"Well I am," River said firmly.
River's job wasn't only to watch Echo fall on mats and help her up again. It was to ensure her mental health was also intact. She would sometimes try to push Echo a little harder both physically and mentally. She understood how important it was to make sure Echo was prepared for not just the physical trials ahead but the emotional ones.
"Do...do they have to watch?" Echo asked in a hushed whisper.
Two sets of circular ears over on the mat twitched and both Echo's littermates looked over.
"Sooner or later they will," River said as she stood up slowly and brushed off her capris before heading over to the boys. "But today I think we can send them on a jello run."
Echo felt a little embarrassed and even regretted suggesting this but she just wasn't sure if she was ready to be seen by anyone with her new leg.
To her, it was one thing to have lost her left leg. To have something that was gone was like a battle scar. She felt like a wounded yet brave warrior who had survived some terrible battle. The thought of being on a prosthetic, however, took away thoughts and replaced them with a mindset that she was just some wounded pup that would need someones help every day for the rest of her life.
"Red or Green?" Delta asked as he made his way over to his sister and put a paw on her shoulder.
"Jello flavor? Red or Green?" Delta asked with a friendly smile as he gave Echo's shoulder a squeeze.
"Green please," Echo said with some hesitation.
"Green flavored it is," Delta said with a smile. Before he left however he leaned down and placed his forehead against Echo's. "You got this sis. Text us when you are ready for jello."
Echo closed her own eyes and felt a tear roll down her cheek as she nodded. She felt a great deal better knowing that her brothers held no resentment about being shooed out of the room for now.
"Maybe we can sweet talk the nurses and get you two jellos," Bravo suggested as he gave Echo a pat on the back.
Echo let out a soft chuckle and nodded.
With that, the two brothers excused themselves from the training area and made their way towards the cafeteria.
"So what do you think?" Bravo asked as the two painted dogs made their way casually through the halls.
"She is getting better," Delta mumbled as they passed a nursing station where several mammals in scrubs busied themselves with paperwork and forms for their patients. "But the next part is hard."
"Well, I was talking to River-"
"Bet you were," Bravo said with a chuckle.
"-She told me on occasion some mammals start getting depressed at this phase of the rehab."
"She lost her damn leg," Bravo pointed out. "She has every right to be depressed for a bit."
"She does," Delta agreed. "I know I would probably be a wreck but we both know how stubborn Echo can be."
The two turned a corner and made their way through a set of large double doors that led into the public section of the hospital.
"Apparently in some cases though the actual emotional stuff doesn't appear until therapy begins. The realization that certain aspects of her life are now different is going to all come at once."
Bravo let out a sigh.
"Guessing you are going to have to be one part of that realization," Delta said as he looked over at his brother who had a serious look on his muzzle.
"Spoke to some friends and then the chiefs," Bravo began as they made their way into the cafeteria. "They just aren't sure about her return to work."
"It is a physically demanding job," Delta pointed out.
"It's not just that," Bravo muttered as they arrived at the jello display. "They are worried about her. What if one day her leg gets in the way and someone gets hurt? You know what that would do to her?"
Delta remained silent, his ears lowering as he looked at the various bright-colored deserts before them.
"Delta she is tough. There is no doubt in anyone's mind about that. We all make mistakes though. It happens. No one is perfect," Bravo continued as he reached out and grabbed two green jello cups. "The first minor mistake though...what do you think she will say? Where will her mind go?"
"I see…" Delta said with a sigh as he grabbed his own jello.
The two paid for their snacks and made their way into the dining area. Several tables were spread around the room. A few TV monitors hung from the ceiling with different news networks on the screens.
"Well she may not even have to worry about returning to work," Delta said with a smirk as he nodded towards one of the monitors.
Bravo looked over his shoulder and watched a news story play out. An image of the once magnificent Grandidier was on the screen. Quickly replaced by a video of the inferno it had become.
"-The trial is set for later this month. Officials have deemed that after an investigation that the construction company and architect group who had designed the megastructure had taken several shortcuts during its construction leaving them liable for the many suits that they are now facing-"
It was old news to the painted canines currently sitting in the cafeteria.
"How much you think she is going to get?" Bravo asked as he looked back at his brother.
"Not enough to replace what she has lost.."
"Because my birthday is coming up and I was thinking of asking her for a car," Bravo continued as he opened his jello and began to enjoy some of his sweet treats.
Delta let out a laugh and shook his head.
The fire had cost a small fortune to fight and took days to finally put out. Half of Zootopia could see the warm glow from the embers at night while the other half could see the smoke trail rising up from the Savanna district.
When the flames had settled though and the smoke finally cleared everyone was able to see the true damage that had been caused. The building was completely destroyed.
That's when the lawyers showed up. Investigations began, inquiries were made, and that's when a rather interesting picture started to come into the light.
As it turned out the disaster could have been avoided and when that was finally realized all sorts of problems began to come out of the woodwork.
Building inspectors had been paid off, construction crews had been told to cut corners, and the owners of the building had taken out some serious insurance. What surprised everyone was how dumb the mammals involved had all been. The paper trails had been easy to follow, the mammals that had been bribed hadn't been given a proper alibi, and finally, there were the whistleblowers who showed up with folders filled with information.
For the most part, Echo hadn't paid much attention to the happenings outside the hospital. She had been so engrossed with getting better that she was shocked when one of the lawyers had come and visited her in the hospital. Apparently this zebra had been hired by the fire department to represent the first responders that had been injured or lost in the fire.
Echo had to hold back tears when she heard some of the names of the mammals no longer with them. A few of them she had known in life and to hear that they were gone made the canine's heartache for the families.
The attorney had advised Echo that she was to be taken care of in this case. That she would not have to worry about legal fees or court appearances to which Echo was grateful.
It was because of all this that Echo had not really paid much attention to the legal proceedings. She got daily updates from her attorney and whenever one of her friends from the firehouse visited but for the most part, Echo had just one thing on her mind.
Echo let out a sigh as she helped herself up. River stood by and watched as the painted female struggled a bit.
"It's not a race Echo," River said as she watched the female on the mat struggle. "Remember elbows first, balance, then rise."
Echo let out a pained sigh as she closed her eyes. She had fallen so much lately. Ever since they had tried the new leg. She had thought it would have gotten easier but instead, it was so much harder.
"Hey…" Came a whisper just in front of Echo.
The painted female opened her eyes and looked at a pair of bright yellows in front of her.
Casi was laying on the floor in front of Echo. The panther's tail swishing behind her as she gave her friend an encouraging smile.
"Remember, elbows first," Casi said in a hushed tone as she got up on her elbows.
Echo let out a sigh and mimicked her friend.
Slowly and steadily Casi repeated the steps for Echo to get back up and before long they were both standing on the mat. Echo swayed slightly as she tried to maintain her balance, the beam she had been using before had been pushed against the far side of the room for now.
"Looking good beautiful," Casi said as she opened her arms and wrapped her sweaty friend up in a hug.
Echo closed her eyes and let out a sigh as she rested her head against her friend, "Thanks Cas."
It had been a few days since they started using the prosthetic and while Echo was making progress she had been having trouble.
"You are resisting your own leg," River pointed out as she strode over.
"My prosthetic…" Echo corrected which made River roll her eyes.
"You keep calling it that and that is all its ever going to be Echo."
"That's all it is," Echo grumbled as she began to hobble towards a bench nearby, refusing to put any pressure on her left side.
"That's all it ever will be if you keep fighting it," River said as she followed the annoyed canine who finally reached the bench and sat down.
Echo opened a bottle of water and drained half its contents in a few gulps, she was drenched in sweat from the days training and needed a rest.
"Hey now, why so angry at the gear?" Casi asked as she sat next to Echo.
"It's not gear," Echo grumbled as she looked down at her prosthetic.
"It is," Casi snapped back. "It's like all the equipment we use at the firehouse."
"You use, I ain't ZFD anymore remember?" Echo corrected which caused both Casi and River to glance at one another.
The news had come in yesterday. While Echo would be allowed to return to the ZFD it would be in an administrative role. Which she had turned down.
"You are ZFD," Casi said, holding back a tear. "Don't you dare think otherwise."
"Really?" Echo asked as she raised her voice. "Because this right here does not look like ZFD!"
Echo waved her paw over her missing leg and growled. She then reached down and began to pull the prosthetic off.
"Echo!" River shouted as she hurried over but the fire in Echo's eyes told River that this was not a fight she would win.
In her rage, the painted female struggled to get the prosthetic off. Eventually, she tried tearing it only to fail at that as well. After another moment or two Echo stopped. She sat still for a moment before she burst into tears.
Casi was on Echo in a flash. The panther wrapped her friend up in her arms and held her close as the painted dog wept. The canine grabbed Casi's shirt and buried her head into the fabric as the tears flowed.
"I don't know what I am going to do Cas!" Echo said through the tears. "What am I going to do?"
"You are going to let all this out," Casi said as she rested her head between Echo's ears. "You are going to let all this out and then we are going to get up and try again ok?"
Echo began to shake as she continued to let it all pour out. All the emotions she had bottled up over the past weeks came tumbling out of the poor pup.
"We are ZFD and we don't leave our own behind," Casi whispered as she squeezed Echo close before pressing her lips to Echo's head. "You are ZFD, and you are not going to be left behind."
Echo continued to sob as Casi rocked her back and forth.
To River, the scene was truly eye-opening. She had been working with Echo for a while now. The painted dog had proven to be stubborn, brave, and tough. However, even mammals who tried to act like they were tough as nails had their moments when they needed to break down.
River did not look down on Echo at this moment. If anything she saw something. She saw how truly tough this painted female was. How she had held onto these emotions for so long. How she had continued to push forward with this baggage buried deep down inside. How she didn't push Casi away when she was weak but instead embraced her, knowing she needed someone else's help.
As Echo continued to let her emotions out River looked down at the prosthetic currently attached to Echo. A thought suddenly crossing her mind.
Echo had been in the hospital for almost 3 weeks now. Her burns had all healed though some of her fur was permanently burned away and she had a scar or two around her waist. For the most part, though she had been lucky enough to avoid infection and Dr. Bitter was very pleased with Echo's progress.
So much so that she was comfortable giving Echo a release date. For the longest time, Echo had wondered if she would just end up living in the hospital. She would constantly pester her physician and some of the nurses about being released.
She had been somewhat worried that River might hold up the operation though. Echo had still been having trouble walking on her own. It wasn't until Dr. Bitter had told her that physical therapy was not required for her release that Echo breathed a sigh of relieve.
It wasn't that she didn't appreciate River and all she had done. It was just the fact she missed having a life outside of the hospital and the sooner she was released the better….not that she had a job.
What she did have though was a rather pleased lawyer who had advised Echo that thanks to a settlement out of court the painted female would be set for a very long time if not the rest of her life.
To Echo though it felt like a hollow victory.
Sure she had some money set aside now, but her life had been tossed upside down.
Her parents had offered Echo to move back to Manta Bay so they could look after her. She, however, didn't want to burden them. Both her parents had lost it at the suggestion that she would be a burden. They playfully shouted and argued with her how she would never be a problem to them….her brothers, however, were a different story.
Echo had made some progress on her physical therapy though. She could hobble far enough to get whatever she needed and had even started to depend on her fake leg. Though she still didn't like it she understood she would need it if she intended to live on her own.
The day before Echo was to be discharged she continued with her normal routine. She woke up and had some breakfast with her family who were all planning to stay close by and see her out when it was time for her to leave the hospital.
Once breakfast was done Delta wheeled his sister down the halls towards the gym where they would meet River every day for Echo's sessions.
While Echo hated being wheeled around it was suggested for her to take it easy before each session so River could help her warm-up.
Today though something was different.
When Echo, Bravo, Delta, and their parents arrived in the large workout space several mammals were waiting for them.
River had a smug smile on her face as she stood with her paws behind her back. Casi was grinning ear to ear.
Two other mammals were waiting.
Lt. Bernard Liones stood at attention, a look of hesitation on his large muzzle. Next to him stood a koala in a set of mechanic overalls with a ZFD patch on the chest, a large steel case in his arms. Echo recognized him as one of the mechanics that worked at her old firehouse.
"Lt." Echo said softly as the lion approached. She held out a paw that Bernard took gently.
"Echo," The lion said as he mustered up a smile.
Everyone could tell that the lion was still in some pain over what he had had to do to rescue Echo. He had however been in contact with her and Echo was happy to hear he was in therapy now and was to return to work very soon.
"Lt. Liones," Echo's mother said as her lips quivered.
The painted dog hurried over, her arms opened as tears began to well up in her eyes.
"Have we thanked you enough for saving our daughter?" Echo's mother asked.
Lt. Liones was speechless but gave the teary-eyed female a pat on the back. His paw was taken up by their father next who gave him a firm pawshake.
Casi made her way over with a box of tissues and passed them out to those who needed them. She then stood next to Echo's chair, a large smile on her muzzle.
"What's with the tissues?" Bravo asked Delta in a whisper.
"Guess she knew mom was coming and we all know how she gets," Delta suggested.
"Actually it's for what's next," Casi let slip which caused the painted dogs to all look at the smug feline.
"So I am not sure if you remember when we first started but I told you how your prosthetic was just a temporary one till we could get a custom one ordered for you," River said proudly.
At this point, the koala took a few steps forward and set the steel case in front of Echo.
"Gabe here has taken it upon himself to help out in this regard," River said as she nodded at the koala who grinned up at Echo.
"Wish I could take all the credit but Jeff over from 72 and then Mallory from 50 helped out with machining some of the parts."
Echo's ears flicked as she looked at the koala in some confusion.
"Now before you see it," Gabe said as he undid the latches on the case. "I know you. You are going to cry and say we didn't have to and feel bad that we spent all our free time on it."
A few of the mammals chuckled.
"We chose to do this. When River reached out to us we jumped at the chance to help one of our own. So just remember that ok?"
The anticipation was killing Echo who nodded quickly before looking down at the case.
Gabe slowly opened the lid and a collective gasp came from the painted dogs who looked down at the contents.
Inside was a new prosthetic leg. This one, however, was like nothing any of them had ever seen before.
Gabe cleared his throat as he reached down and picked up the leg, holding it in both his paws. He then began to explain what he had created for Echo.
"We got a mold of the leg from River who volunteered to be the model for it. Seeing how you two are almost the same size it worked out pretty well. We got the measurements from your files at the ZFD."
Echo tried her best to hold the tears back, a black paw slowly moved toward her, the case of kleenex still in Casi's grasp. Echo quickly took one of the tissues and dabbed her eyes.
"So from the get-go it is designed to be for a canine," Gabe said as he pointed at the bottom. "We even made a paw for you. We utilized the materials we had at the stations. So the base is a carbon fiber mix that they are using on the new rigs. We managed to get some spares and melted them down and molded them where we needed. The bolts are from one of the trucks we retired a few weeks ago. Bernard had to go dumpster diving for it but he eventually found it at one of the laydown yards in Tundra Town."
Echo looked at Lt. Liones, tears flowing down her cheeks. She mouthed the words "Thank you" to which he gave a polite nod.
"So its light and durable which is what you want of course. We followed all of River's designs of previous prosthetics and added our own firehouse charm."
Gabe then showed Echo the side where a series of numbers had been jotted, "Also we gave you a truck number because the way we see it you have enough firetruck in this thing that it can count as a rig. So we put together your birthday, hire date, and cert date and made ya a little number to remember us by."
"Gabe its…. it's so beautiful," Echo croaked as she held out her arms and took the leg.
"We did want to go with a firehouse red on it but River said it was a bit flashy. So we went with the natural carbon fiber black and a nice medic white on the back parts," Gabe then leaned close to Echo. "Just give us a call though and we can get that made for you in dress uniform blue and even fire truck red."
"Firetruck red," Delta grumbled before gagging.
"So how are you liking the new gear?" Casi asked as she leaned close to her friend who was trying and failing to hold back tears of joy.
"I love it!" Echo let out as she held the leg in one arm and then opened her other, looking right at Gabe.
"I ain't much of a hugger," Gabe said hesitantly.
He didn't have much of a choice as he was quickly picked up by Bernard who plopped him on Echo's lap.
"Alright alright!" Gabe said as he wriggled in Echo's grasp. While he tried to put up a fight everyone could see the smile on the koala's face and knew he was enjoying the gratitude from Echo.
After a few more minutes of paw shakes and teary-eyed thank yous River and Gabe took Echo to the side to attach her new gear and make sure everything fit just right.
It took a few adjustments at first but they soon found a set up that was comfortable to Echo. As it turned out it wasn't as simple as just attaching the darn thing. River had to do a few checks and Gabe constantly had a tool in paw to make minor adjustments here or there.
"Remember just call me or Mallory if ya need adjustments. Or just swing by the firehouse and we can fix it up," Gabe said as he stood up and inspected his work.
Maybe it was because this leg had been made just for her, or maybe it was because it felt so much better. Whatever the reason Echo managed to adjust rather quickly to her new leg.
She stood up just fine on her own and after a few awkward steps she was walking on her own. There was a slight limp at first which was perfectly natural but for the most part it was night and day compared to what Echo had been doing before.
She wouldn't be entering any marathons anytime soon but to perform a task that others took for granted like walking meant the world to her and her loved ones.
There was a stumble here and there and even a fall but Echo got right back up without missing a beat.
She walked side by side with her brothers, waddled to her mother for a hug, even did a slight jump with Casi, much to River's annoyance.
Eventually, however, Echo's father cut in and said there was something he wanted to do with his daughter.
The older painted canine nodded at Casi who pulled out a mini blue tooth speaker from her bag. She flipped on her phone and soon a song began to play through the training area.
Echo beamed as her father put a paw on her waist and took her by the paw. While she had spent most of her life acting like a tough tompup she would occasionally be reminded that she was still daddy's little pup.
The two shared a dance, Echo resting her head on her father's chest as they swayed together to the music coming from Casi's phone.
Delta and Bravo meanwhile were talking to Bernard who had taken a seat on a bench nearby.
"So how is therapy going?" Bravo asked bluntly.
"Its going ok," Bernard admitted hesitantly. "Made some real progress, my doctor suggested I be here today...you know...to see her walk again."
Delta put a paw on the lion's shoulder and smiled, "We are glad you made it bud. Think she is really glad too."
"Anyone else giving you trouble?" Bravo asked as he glanced at his sister and father sharing a father-daughter dance.
"A few are but nothing I can't handle now."
"Just give us a call and we can boot their vehicle," Delta suggested.
"Or we can just go beta them up for ya," Bravo added.
Over on another bench, River and Echo's mother sat watching the lovely moment between Echo and her father.
"Thank you so much River," Echo's mother said softly as she leaned against the other canine. "You have no idea how grateful we are."
"Of course Auntie Anne," River said happily.
"Your parents should be proud of you, you have truly followed the mantra of Service over Self," Anne said as she smiled at River.
"I didn't do it because of that," River said without looking away from Echo. Their eyes met for a moment and Echo beamed at River. "I did it because she is family, and family means no one is left behind."
The next day felt like Christmas to Echo. She was excited to finally be released from Savanna regional so she could head home and sleep in her own bed.
She had made quite the impression on much of the staff, many of them coming by to say their goodbyes and wish her luck. Many of them reminded her that if she needed anything she just needed to call their cellphones and they would come to help.
Delta asked a few of the ladies what would happen if he needed help, most of their responses were to just limp to the hospital. One or two however quickly pulled out a pen and wrote their cellphone numbers on a slip of paper.
"5 bucks says he doesn't call a single one," Bravo teased.
"Ladies love a dog in blue," Delta said as he waved the numbers in Bravo's face.
"Must be out of pity," Echo joined in.
Dr. Bitter, unfortunately, was swamped with patients and had to be attending a meeting when Echo left. She did make sure to leave a message for Echo at one of the nurse's stations. Echo read it and suddenly blushed before folding up the note.
"What it say?" Delta asked, noticing how flustered Echo had gotten.
"Nothing!" Echo said with a smile that fooled no one.
The three made their way towards the front of the hospital. Echo sitting in a wheelchair, which was a policy for patients leaving the hospital, that was being pushed by Bravo while Delta carried her things.
Echo noticed how they were heading towards the back entrance to the hospital, "Arent we parked out front?"
"Had to move the car," Delta said simply as he texted something out on his phone.
"Yeah darn cops keep booting vehicles," Bravo teased.
Echo didn't buy into it, she could tell when her littermates were scheming.
She didn't have to wait long though to figure out what they were up to.
When they finally reached the sliding glass doors Echo's eyes went wide before instantly closing as she tried to fight back the sudden tears welling up. Bravo didn't stop though and continued to wheel Echo outside where quite the reception was waiting for her.
Several fire trucks from different departments from around the city sat lined up near the exit. Their lights flashing in the midday sun. Two ladder trucks sat on either side of the gathering. Their ladders raised up high into the sky. The ZFD flag had been hung from one ladder to the other.
"Present Arms!" Came a shout.
Echo opened her eyes and watched as all her friends from the firehouse suddenly stood at attention and gave her a curt salute.
She spotted Casi in the crowd. The panther looking lovely in her firehouse shirt and BDU blue pants.
She recognized several other mammals from different departments.
Thompson was standing next to Bernard, both of them beaming at Echo who tried to wave but put her paw to her eyes once more to try and hide the tears of joy.
Her fire chief, a panda, strode forward and held his paws out towards Echo who reached out with her own. Though he was larger and stronger than Echo the chief had a kind of gentle touch about him. He took a knee in front of Echo and held out a small silver badge. Echo looked down at the polished object and then at her brother Bravo who simply smiled and nodded.
"I refuse to accept your resignation," The chief said overall the engines of the firetrucks that surrounded them. "You are ZFD, no escaping that just because you stubbed your paw."
Echo let out a laugh, her chief always did have a sense of humor about him.
"When you are ready you call me," The chief continued. "You are always going to be apart of this family you got it?"
"Yessir," Echo said proudly.
"Even if your brother is with the ZPD," the chief added, glancing at Delta who simply rolled his eyes.
"Don't you have a recliner to sleep in somewhere?" Delta shot at the chief who let out a laugh.
The panda then stood up and gave Echo a salute.
Not to be outdone though Echo surprised them all by standing up from her wheelchair and returning the salute.
The crowd of firemammals broke out in cheers and several of the trucks sirens blared in celebration as everyone hurried over to Echo.
The painted dog was swarmed with well wishes, pats on the shoulder, and hugs. All of which she thoroughly enjoyed.
Thompson hurried over and extended a hoof which was quickly brushed aside by Echo who reached down and lifted the surprised gazelle off his feet and held him close.
When Bernard approached the firefighters made a path for him. He too received a hug from Echo. The sight of the painted dog embracing the lion must have made a few of them realize what they had been doing to the lion. When Echo and Bernard parted the Lt. was shocked to see paws extended his way, many of the mammals present taking a moment to thank the lion for rescuing their friend.
It took almost an hour for the last of Echo's old friends to finally depart. They were all on call afte rall and had to hurry back to protecting the city.
Just before Echo and her brothers had left though she managed to have a word with her fire chief.
"I know you aren't one for the admin side of things but it could just be temporary until we figure something out," The panda said as the two strolled around one of the ladder trucks. "I mean you are already back on your feet which I have to say is rather impressive."
"Thanks, chief," Echo said with a sigh as she ran a paw over the polished red truck. "To be honest though while I was upset with the decision I have to agree with you all. Think my days of running into burning buildings is done."
"That choice is completely your's Echo," the panda said firmly. "You are a good firefighter and a good friend. There is been an obvious void since you left."
"One that you may have to fill," Echo said simply as she turned and gave the panda a smirk. "I am not saying I don't plan to return. For now, though I just need to figure things out."
"Take all the time you need Echo," the panda said before a smile appeared on his lips. "Just remember though you are still expected at all team building functions. Chief Rollo still thinks his crew can make a better chili."
"Oh hell no!" Echo exclaimed as she waved a paw about. "At best they have a 2 alarm chili."
"That's what I told him but he keeps saying he has a secret weapon."
"Unless he plans to just use our chili as his own then it will always be a 2 alarm."
The panda let out a chuckle before reaching over and giving Echo a pat on the shoulder, "Then you best show up with your best recipe. I wanna see smoke coming out of mammal's ears."
Once the three painted dogs had finally loaded up in Bravo's truck the decision was made that it was time for a drink. Echo had been through so much in the past few weeks and her brothers were proud of her, so much so they insisted she buy them a drink with all the money she was apparently getting from the lawsuit.
"Oh gee thanks," Echo grumbled from the backseat as she took a moment to adjust her leg. "Well you two pick and I will drink whatever."
"Tundra Pub?" Delta suggested.
"Last week. Polite Hannahs?"
"They ain't so polite to mammals who wear blue," Delta pointed out.
"Your kidding," Bravo said in slight annoyance.
"Nope, my trainer Wolfard got kicked out the other night because they realized he was ZPD."
"Well, where is there to drink then?"
As the argument about where they could sit and enjoy a drink played out in the front Echo looked out the window. They passed a few storefronts here and there. One or two of them had rental signs in the window, hoping to attract new business.
"I tell ya its hard to find a place to drink these days that ain't a chain restaurant," Bravo grumbled as he pulled up to a traffic light.
"Yeah and all the regular bars just get packed with drunks who try and start fights or grab your tail."
Echo's ears flicked as she became lost in thought.
"Too bad we can't just drink at the firehouse," Bravo teased. "Few drinks in Casi and I am sure she wouldn't mind you grabbing her tail."
"Oh yeah, that would be great. Flirting with a ZFD cutie in a firehouse surrounded by hose draggers."
"Hose draggers make the best drinking buddies," Bravo insisted.
Echo blinked a few times and looked at the front seat and just like that, she knew what she wanted to do with her money.
A few days and a few for rent signs later an exhausted-looking armadillo fumbled with the realtor lockbox that had been installed on a large wooden door that had been painted black. She felt this place was a longshot but she refused to give up this commission. Especially since it had just been dropped in her lap by her boss, apparently he just couldn't find the right place for this rather picky client.
She groaned as the box refused to open. She gave it a quick tap against the chipped door and suddenly realized the door had been left unlocked.
Of course, it is…
"Right this way Echo," the armadillo said as she tried to muster some level of excitement.
The two trotted inside and the armadillo reached for a light switch. A few fluorescent bulbs flicked to life, most of them had burned out long ago though.
"So this space was originally supposed to act as a kind of office storage place," The armadillo said as she opened a folder she had been carrying. "Since it was supposed to be a business the door is rated for max mammal size. There is also a smaller one at the bottom corner in case you get any smaller clients."
Echo slowly walked through the wide-open space, a broad smile on her muzzle.
"It has restrooms and more storage through that doorway there," the armadillo explained a she looked up and nodded towards a large door on the sidewall. "While it appears to be a two-story building on the outside as you can see from the raised ceiling it is just one floor. Suppose they put lots of high shelves up there to-"
The armadillo almost dropped her paperwork when she heard Echo's outburst, "It...it is?"
First try?! No way! Suck it, Trebek!
"Yes, it's just what I need," Echo said as she took a few steps back and looked at one of the walls. She held her paws up to make a square and began to take mental notes of what she wanted to do.
"Well, that's great!" The armadillo exclaimed. She looked around the old empty room and suddenly realized something, she had no idea what the painted dog was even going to do with the space. "So what's the plan? A new storage space? Maybe a workshop. Think it would be a great place maybe for a computer repair center."
"A bar," Echo said with a pleased sigh.
Echo turned and grinned confidently at the armadillo, "I am going to open up a bar."
first off since this is getting posted on October 7th and since I am stateside I get to say this: Happy 10-7 day! Well drinks will be 10% off while domestics will have bucket specials. Please see your bartender for more deals.
Seriously though this one kind of came in under the wire. I am currently enrolling to return to school for my masters so I am sure you can guess how busy I have been.
I did, however, want to get another chapter out on this special day and wouldn't ya know it the 10-7 had a chapter that was pretty much at the ready. What an emotional rollercoaster this one turned out to be. I had so much fun at the end when I got to write about how our girl Echo managed to get on her own two feet again.
So now that we have the space for the bar its time to get it set up. Next chapter is gonna be a fun one because we get to meet the first bartender: Em.
Till next time.