Chapter 14

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AN: Many thanks to the guys on the ZAA server who read this and suggested a few fun little additions.

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Corner of 119th Street and Lakivot Lane.

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"So," Nick asked, looking around the van. "The plan?"

"Yes," Judy pressed. "The not-illegal plan. What is it?"

Jack, busy applying some fur-dye over his body to hide his stripes, smiled. "That would ruin the surprise."

"This isn't the time," the grey doe pressed, her foot beginning to tap.

"If it's any consolation," Fenneko began, "I checked the local bylaws and it isn't illegal. Just arguably highly immoral depending on your viewpoint."

"Also," Honey spoke. "You can't just go ruining a surprise."

"I'm beginning to think that we should have left you at the house," Judy grunted, only to pause as Skye cleared her throat.

"She brought over her voice recording glasses and knows how to set them up," the swift fox vixen explained. "So she can help."

"Yeah," Finnick grunted. "And it's not as if my van ain't lacking for space."

"Whereas we are lacking for time," Fenneko explained. "Because, if my theories are correct…" She stood up, slipping into the front and peeking out over the dashboard. Eyes narrowing, she scanned around, her vision focussing on a bespectacled springbok. "Eyes on the prize, here comes our big game."

"Right," Jack spoke, as he fished around in his bag and put on the rest of his costume. A pair of light tan green trousers, a black collared shirt, and an army green jacket on top. Picking up the glasses, specifically a pair with broad and round lenses in a thin wire frame, he placed them on. "Testing, testing."

"Picking you up," Honey said.

"Hang on," Judy realised. "We don't need a recording for this."

"No," Jack said, shrugging. "But I do like the glasses. Helps me get into character."

"He does look very genial," Nick pointed out. Indeed he did. His jet black shirt tucked in, he looked a little scruffy but had an underlying smartness to him, helped by the glasses (which gave him an older and more educated look) and the covering of his stripes (making him look like a regular black-tailed jackrabbit). The red fox, being used to acting a role in old hustles, would label him off as a very convincing warm and gentle (if a bit of a maverick in his field) university professor. Probably teaching history and archaeology.

And then he reached into a bag and brought out two last pieces of clothing, hanging one around his neck and fitting the other into his collar, and Nick couldn't help but speak out. "Oh, now that's clever Stripes!"

Judy looked less convinced. "Seriously, Jack?"

"Oh don't worry," he said, his voice suddenly softer. "I can assure you that the local bylaws say that this is quite legal. Now, if you excuse me, I think there is a soul in need of guidance."

And, with that, he slipped out and walked over, entering into the same coffee shop that the principal had done, watching and waiting.

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"Hi Angela!" The cheery caracal barista asked. "Your regular?"

The springbok looking back sighed and nodded, watching as a cup of mocha and a pasteis de nata were slid over. She blankly held her card over the reader, letting it beep, before leaning over to grab the items.

"I'm guessing it was a tough day," the feline spoke.

"You could say that…"

"Well, tell you what! I'll…"

"Sammy," Angela spoke out, looking down as she did so. "I… -This is something serious, and I understand if you're trying to cheer me up, but this is a situation where it would not work. I wish I could explain why, but I can't, which is part of the whole problem. So, if you could, could you please just give me some time by myself? Thank you."

Sammy's ears drooped back severely, gulping. "Cream and marshmallows?" she suggested, weakly.

The springbok gave a slight smile. "Yes please. Thank you."

It was quickly served up, a sprinkling of chocolate powder on top and a flake in the side as a final flourish, before Angela took it off.

"Feel better soon!" she cheered, as the school principal made her way down to her usual seat. Sliding out her drink and food, she looked at it blankly while fumbling with her bag. While primarily in an administrative role now, she was still a teacher at heart and did still host some lessons; albeit in the politics module, which was only an option in the final two years and little favoured. She had four separate classes, two per year, which took up twenty hours of her week, excluding homework and marking. After work every day, she'd usually settle here and spend an hour or two reviewing the work done. Today though she didn't have the heart in it. She could only sip her drink and look out of the window of Catpuccino. She didn't feel like a failure, yet somehow it made it worse.

Dammit, she didn't know what to think and do about all of it and had no-one, absolutely no-one, to turn to. A sip of her drink, the added sweetness doing nothing to lift her mood. She wondered how his cousin, Ash, was doing. She could speak from her heart to him and, in her gut, she felt that she'd done the best she could. She'd helped him, and with his family and such he'd be okay. But he wasn't the mammal in peril right now, a mammal who she hadn't even had the chance to help. What could she even say if she'd had the chance. Well, there was one thing, but would it even…

"-Oh, excuse me, mind if I sit here?"

She looked around, before blinking a few times as she saw a booster seat being walked up to the end of the table. While they were mainly used for baby calves they were also designed for smaller mammals to use and, as such, had ladders at the back. A pair of ears emerged from above the varnished wooden back, rising up and up. She was guessing from their size that it was a jackrabbit. After all, with regular bunnies you didn't have the light from the other side coming through the narrow skin, whereas with this buck you could even see the darker outline of the veins. Up his head came, giving a warm and gentle smile, before her curiosity piqued a little as she saw his white collar and cross necklace. "Sure, Father."

"Thank you very much, dear child," he said happily, as he slid down onto the white padded seat. He poured out a bottle of apple and mango juice while slowly opening up a blueberry muffin, seemingly appreciating each newly revealed face.

"Guess it's always a bit crowded in the small mammal area," Angela remarked, taking a sip of her own drink. She noted that he had a slight hispanic lisp in his voice, and she wondered where he came from and what he was doing here (and not just at this large mammal table).

"Well, it often is, often isn't, but it's more the low ceiling," he sighed, glancing down.

"What's wrong with that?"

"Oh, I'm a hare, not a bunny you see," beginning to roll it out.

"So not a burrower," Angela finished. "Claustrophobia?"

He chuckled every so slightly. "Thanks for saying it out for me." He picked out a small bite of his muffin and held it up, nibbling on it a little. "Still a bit of a sore subject."

She felt a little bit of kinship, and wondered whether it would be selfish or not to ask him about it. Would it be giving her closure if she could help him whereas she couldn't help…

"I was on an exercise out at Yena when it happened…"

"-Yena?" she asked, curiosity getting the better of her.

"Ah yes, you wouldn't know," he mumbled. ""Yena Proving Ground, a war game site for the United States Army."

"You're a veteran?"

"Not of any wars, thankfully," he spoke, rolling his paws around. "I was once a young, dumb buck, thinking that my country and guns were the greatest things in the world." There was a pause and a chuckle. "I was about twelve or so when the first gulf war hit, and I got it into my head that I wanted to be a tank driver after hearing about the Battle of 73 Easting. I was a fighter back then, like plenty of young bucks I did a lot of lapin weight boxing, and my blood was hot."

He paused, noting her slight confused expression, before his paws briefly turned into an air-beating blur. He stopped after a second or two and shrugged, smiling warmly.

"So, age eighteen after getting flat out drunk one last time on the beaches of San Dingo, I rested it off, said farewell to mother and the four younger leveretts before walking myself down to the recruiting office. Oh, I had fun there for a time, and being in a tank certainly did give you a bit of excitement. They like smaller mammals in the tanks, given that it's all largely electronic now. I was a gunner assistant, helping to feed the ammunition up, so I was holding on in the bottom and rocking along as we went through the desert, blasting out rock music or maybe Ride of the Valkyries as we went. We drove an M3 Batley, which is a light tank used for scouting, and one day this fox who'd trained on heavy tanks was transferred over to us at the last minute. Mother never really liked foxes, but he was a kindly fellow, as much as we knew him." He trailed off, looking down sadly.

"I'm guessing though that he was expecting it to handle like a heavy tank. We were on a wargame, scouting out, aiming to cross a river a few miles upstream of the main force to recon. So we were rolling ourselves along and laughing, him sticking out the top with his fur blowing in the breeze, when he must have missed a bern until the very last moment. I remember him swearing, jamming left, I was shaken to the side and then we slid over and rolled into the water, him taking the full force of it, rest his soul."

There was a long pause, Angela sighing. "I'm sorry."

"Well, I suppose you can figure out the rest," he shrugged. "It's a desert river, not deep, but it flooded the bottom half, or top, or whatever of the vehicle and three of us were stuck in there for a few days before the army realised that something was up and finally found us. The hatch to my compartment was jammed, so I was stuck in a tight space and… Well, never really liked tight spaces after that."

"So I'm guessing you left and then found your calling."

He smiled. "Well, fearing for my life and locked in there, I remembered back to that battle that had once inspired me. All those mammals, sitting in their vehicles only for it to be hit, burning and smoking as they were trapped inside with their dead brothers. I had to think long and hard about what I wanted out of life, and what I owed other people after that."

She nodded. "I happen to be a teacher. The head of a school, actually," she said, sighing. "I always had a desire to help young…" She choked up a bit, glancing away, the memory of his young fox friend and a young, wide eyed, optimistic fox who she knew colliding harshly. "Young mammals," she continued.

"A very valiant calling, and I'm sure all your students look up to you," he remarked. He took a few more bites of his muffin and a drink of his juice. "Must be hard being a child these days. I wasn't in the city for the horrible stuff that happened a few years ago, but I feel for those who had to grow up, their formative years spent with so much hate and anger flying about."

"I…" she muttered, trying to think of the right words. "Many of them did take it hard. But kits… -I think you'll find that children can be more resilient, brave and mature than many give them credit for. They survived. They'll survive." She breathed in and out, before reaching down to grab a napkin, dabbing her eyes. Dammit, she hoped that she was right.

"As long as they have someone to talk to," he remarked. "I think everyone needs someone to talk to."

"Yes," she sighed, gritting her teeth. She reached down to her drink and took a few deep gulps, trying to focus on the taste over anything else.

"You seem upset, child?"

She hissed. "I'm afraid I am," she spoke. "Let's just say that something bad happened at my school. And thanks very much for the offer to hear me, I would gladly take it if I could."

"And can't you?"

"You were in the army, weren't you?" she remarked. "Surely you understand that some things are confidential, right?"

He nodded. "I do. Though not so much from the army. From the priesthood though… -I could have a mass-murderer come in and say that he's killed a dozen young cubs and will go on to slaughter a dozen more kits. I'd have to keep that to myself."

She paused, looking over. "Wouldn't it be better to admit it?"

"Can't," he remarked. "Confession is between us and The Lord and nobody else, even the law. I legally can't be required to testify it even if I wanted to. And oh, I've thought about what happens if you do get such a person coming in, it's a mighty fright and I feel sorry for any fellow mammal of the cloth put into that position. But we all have our crosses to bear, don't we?"

"I… We do…"

"Though some can help others carry theirs…"

She looked around, her eyes dropping to stare at her tart. "In the army," she began, "could you confess to the priests?"

"Even if you signed the official secrets act. You could spill it all to them and be fine."

She took a breath in and out, before looking down. "There's a student," she spoke. "A recent transfer, he was mature, clever, intelligent. A credit to his family and species and… -Well, they found something serious in his locker earlier today and hauled him off, straight up cuffs and all."

"All souls are at risk of trespass," he remarked. "What is youth for if not for making mistakes?"

"The thing is I think his arrest was a mistake," she said. "They came because of a call to the police, saying that the stuff was present. Only it wouldn't be in his locker. It was meant to be in his cousin's locker, the one above, so maybe there was a mix up or a mistake. But I was taking that cousin back to my office after. All the police were suspecting him before and the poor kit had obviously realised that something was up. He was distraught, and he'd already had a tough few years. I wanted to explain it all, I'd have thought that it was his right to know that the call was originally against him, but the assisting officer told me to shut up about it. Now there's all these laws about what I'm allowed to say or not, I'm not sure where I lie, and his mother, who was always a sharp one, is questioning me and is likely on to it too." She sighed. "I'm not sure what to do, and all I know is that there's two scared mammals who could be helped by this information, but I can't tell them without risking my job, career, and everything. Then again, isn't that selfish, going against why I joined this profession in the first place?"

The jackrabbit priest nodded. "Well, it certainly is an awful predicament you're in. Tell me though, have you ever heard the phrase that ignorance is bliss?"

She nodded. "So it's best not to tell them?"

"Well, maybe right now they don't know what's going on. The one the call was out against might fear it, but he could write it off as paranoia or survivors guilt. You tell him though, and he has the dead certainty that it was put against him. Again, this might have been mistaken identity on the reporter's behalf. But if, say, it wasn't either of them responsible then there's a weight over his head that might be coming down at any moment. If not, if it was the kit or the cousin who put whatever it was where it was, then that might fuel resentment between them when they need to be together as much as they can. Sometimes, indeed, ignorance is bliss."

"And what if they figure it out via my moments of silence?"

He shrugged. "Then they work it out, and you saying or not and risking your career and all is a moot point. Maybe you feel that's selfish, but consider this advice I got about the whole mass murderer confession situation. How many mammals do you think turn to us for advice, for comfort, for guidance in their darkest hours?"

"Millions?"

"Likely more," he said, smiling warmly. "And they go to it because there is this sanctity. An unbroken seal of trust. Yes, in one of those million cases you might have a situation like the one I outlined and yes, telling might save a few lives in the moment. But, you then break that seal. And the seal is sacrimont. Without it, the faith in all those millions of cases is broken. You wouldn't have been able to speak your worries to me just now, as you couldn't have fully trusted me. If you, truly, as an individual feel that it's worth throwing it all away and living with your loss, then that is your choice. But in my mind, you are likely a wonderful teacher. Even in this situation, you gave guidance and support, and in the future you will carry on doing so. I think that the life giving advice that thousands of young mammals will receive from you is not worth giving away today. Arguably, to do that for the feeling that you need to help out would be the selfish option. Right?"

Angela looked away, before smiling. "Thank you, Father." She felt relieved. Things still sat uncomfortably with her, she didn't doubt that they'd sit comfortably for anyone. But, thanks to him, she'd been able to speak. It was a weight off her shoulders, and she had the feeling that she'd made the right choice. She'd go on making it. "Thank you indeed. It feels good… to talk."

He smiled and nodded. "It does. And best of luck to you and those poor kits. May The Lord watch over them."

"May he indeed," she remarked, breathing in and out and taking a bite out of her pastry. At least Kristofferson was back with his father, his family back together and able to support each other and find out the truth about this.

The priest gave her a few rights in latin, before finishing his food and slipping out.

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Jack slipped back into the van to cheers and a round of applause. "Mission one. Successful," he smirked, as Skye grabbed him and hugged him tight.

"You were brilliant!"

Nick agreed. "Way to go Stripes!"

"Naturally," he swooned back, or at least tried to. Skye had him held tight, and was fussing with him.

"Clever, clever, clever, clever… Though it's good luck you didn't try and pull that one against my family," she said, smiling as she booped his nose.

He blinked a few times, giving an exaggeratedly mirthful gaze back in response. "Oh, and why is that, Skye?"

"Well," she said, "my Dad and sister both served in the army," she continued, booping his nose. "And while our springbok was ignorant, us Autumn foxes know that machine." She booped him again. "And would ask you about the big door they have on the back, and why you didn't use that." A third boop rounded it off, the Swift Fox vixen smiling.

Jack blinked a few times, before smiling back in faux-outrage. "Ahem, Skye, you wouldn't accuse a priest of lying, would you?"

He waved his paw back at himself and shrugged as the two fennecs burst into laughter. "Damn you secret agent bun!" Finnick cheered. "I know why they call you Savage!"

"Well, my choice of career pseudonym has more than a little basis in reality," he said smugly.

Finnick nodded along. "Neat! Heck the damn whole thing was."

Fenneko agreed. "Even after a quick think through, I couldn't say it better myself."

"Don't you know it," he said, glancing up at her and winking as she returned the gesture.

"Yup," Judy said, bringing up her phone. "Technically not illegal, and given your words of support I think I'll give you a pass. But we never speak of this again."

"Oh beans and sweetgrass, yes," Jack remarked, a paw slipping behind his rear. He shivered. "Remember how Dr Silverfox said his grandmother would wash his mouth out and tan his hide? Well, if my mother heard about this, she'd rub in the face all the times I called going to church pointless when I was a kit. -She'd also throw out her furbrush and go shopping for belts."

"And Bogo will probably have our badges too if he hears that we condone this," Nick remarked. "But the critical thing is that we know the call was made against Ash, not Kris. So, maybe it was a mistake by Duke or Maisy. Maybe it was Maisy trying to sabotage whatever plans her parents had. The ZPD will know and be looking into it. Our job now, though, is to try and dig further and faster and get our kit out as soon as we can.

"Damn right," Finnick saluted, as he slipped forward and fired up the van.

Together, they headed home. Nick and Judy slipped off at the Fox family household while Jack, Skye and Honey went on to the vixen's workshop to work on more things.

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"So, how did the interview go?" Nick asked.

"Good," Felicity said. "Got the basics down, showed him the video. He'll be working hard on it. Foxy and I left while Will left for the embassy."

"Is he still there?" Nick asked, as he received a cup of tea from her. The red fox vixen nodded.

"Making sure that whatever is going to happen from that front is done hard and tough."

"Well, fingers crossed that Kristofferson's country is on guard for thee."

The pregnant vixen sighed, sitting down. "I thought it was," she said, a hint of venom slipping in at the end.

Nick paused, thinking it through for a second before getting it. He nodded silently. "What about Ash. How's he taking the news that it was called against him in the first place?"

"I think he's feeling a bit better, oddly enough. He said that at least now he doesn't have to worry about it."

"Yeah…" Nick agreed. "I mean he was dead certain about it before."

Felicity nodded, about to speak only to be cut off as Nick's phone cut in. His ears perking, he reached down and glanced at the caller, his head tilting slightly. Pressing to accept, he held it up to his ear. "-Hey Dr Twirly tail. Fancy you calling today?"

"Evening. Nicholas."

His ears folded down and he gulped. "Did I miss something?"

"I think that any pretense of confidentiality has already been broken at this point, so I'll just go ahead," she remarked. "It's come to my attention that you've been in contact with a certain patient of mine, one who you may have previously come into contact with after she escaped the mental hospital."

"Oh, Honey! Yeah, a friend knew someone with skills we needed and we didn't realise that it was her until we knocked on the door. I didn't realise that she was out."

"You didn't as she didn't make any requests to talk to you," she explained. "At least it seems that this was initially just an innocent mistake. However I'm now hearing that you're dragging her onto all sorts of crazy stuff!"

"She's just helping out," he defended.

"She's just got out, calmed down and trying to get a grip on normal life," the binturong therapist on the other side exasperated. "Nick, she suffered badly through her treatment, it was long and hard and I was hoping for her to get out and begin to settle down into a normal life. She was ready. Wobbly on her legs, but ready! The last thing I want for her to do is latch on to a new cause, a new crusade which she'll fall entirely behind at the expense of literally everything else!"

Nick's eyes were wide as he stood up, beginning to place around. "When we got there, she was terrified we'd be throwing her back in the asylum. We calmed her down, mended the bridges, and she was honest about how she feels about sheep. Heck, she was honest about herself, talking about how down the rabbit hole she was before. I don't think she's going back to her crazy sheep hating."

"That's not the point, Nick," she said. "Just having one rabbit hole changed for a different one changes nothing! I don't usually get this worried or angry, but you need to back off of her and put her down safely, for her own good. I mean, what are you planning to achieve by dragging her on to whatever mission you're dragging her on to?"

Nick paused. "Are you aware of the mission we're on? And who it also…"

"-I have a well founded suspicion," she interrupted. "And yes, it's horrible, truly. But the point still stands. If a patient is addicted to eating a hundred tubs of vanilla ice cream every day, the solution isn't to get them hooked on eating a hundred apples."

Nick paused, tapping his feet for a second or two before speaking back. "Ash talked to you about his survivor's guilt, didn't he? I've been with him most of this day and I saw him walk off to do it and then come back. You gave him an exercise, listing out all the reasons he might misinterpret it that way."

"You may have a well founded suspicion," she spoke back, and Nick couldn't help but imagine a weary smile on her muzzle.

"Well, your diagnosis was sensible and logical, but also wrong."

"Huh?"

"Doing the exercise he realised there were some things that didn't fit in with survivors guilt. We believed, and just now confirmed, that an anonymous tip was originally leveled against Ash, not Kris."

"Oh heavens."

"We were thinking that one suspect might have done it. However, Honey, all while trashing all of her previous research as garbage, happened to realise that there was a second, potential, suspect. One we'd have never thought of were it not for her."

"I…" she began, before grumbling. "You see now I'm in a sticky situation. I believe in letting mammals get into a sticky situation, making mistakes and all that, if it's all in the aid of a strong end purpose."

"Ditto that hustle with Jack Savage and the acting."

"Exactly."

"-Well, seems like the karma train came-a-callin'."

"Annoyingly so."

"Oh, by the way, I happened to introduce Jack to a vixen, not a friend at the time but is one now, and they're now a very cute couple."

"Oh, nice to hear, I guess. Never met them of course."

"Good point," Nick remarked.

"Yes, but anyway, I'm an end justifies the means mammal. And now I find out that you, in doing something that's ringing alarm bell after alarm bell to one of my patients, have potentially done a great good for a seemingly innocent mammal in a horrible situation. So, what now?"

"Well," Nick began. "We didn't ask her to do research or anything. We wanted her to get on the team because Skye, Jack's vixen, worked with her in the past. She's a mechanic, Honey is good at electronics, and had a bunch of odd spy stuff left over. Her old research, which she's largely disowned, just happened to have a useful lead. Heck, she didn't even want to tell us at first."

"Was that disgust at it, or a fear you'd take it the wrong way?" Amy pressed. Nick could hear her raised eyebrow over the phone.

"Good point doc, though I'd say there's bits of both in there. She genuinely seems to think that her past stuff is nonsense… There was a definite hint of melancholy."

"And if this thing turns out to be right, will that change it?"

"Ehhhh, million buck question, but I'd wager on no. Hopefully."

She grumbled. "I suppose that there's nothing we could do if it was a bad sheep behind this other than live with it. Now, going forward, you've let the genie out of the bottle Nick. I can do damage control, but I need you to too."

The fox nodded. "Seems fair."

"Right. Easiest solution is just to say that she's off the little investigation you're doing, period. But… But… There is another option. We use this as a learning experience for her. Sometimes you can't repress certain behavioral habits, and our mammal of interest is highly compulsive, inquisitive and obsessive. Black powder for a conspiracy theorist. Now, I had no way of tempering that so it was avoidance I chose. However, if you can show her the 'right way' to do these things, absolutely policing her and instructing her on the red lines and such, it might prove beneficial. But I'm trusting you Nick, I'm trusting you absolutely on this. Can you do that for me? For her?"

Nick closed his eyes, breathed in and out, and nodded. "I will. I'll look after her. I'll make sure that she knows that we're working as a group, and we're doing what the group decides, and we're doing this to help a mammal in need."

"I… Okay, I trust you Nick. Look after her."

He nodded. "I will."

"Thanks. And how are you doing?"

"This has been scary, but I'm holding up. I'm good, thanks. Ash seems to be too."

"Well, if you look after her as you look after him, I don't think I've got anything to worry about."

Nick smiled. "Thanks. And you'll be there to look after Kris too, when you can, I presume?"

"Yes." She said. "Poor kit. When you get him out, I'll be there if he needs me. Good luck."

"Thanks," he said, hanging up. He looked over to Felicity. "Tell Judy that I just need to talk with Honey in person. I'll be back when I can be."

"Will do," she said, as he walked off. Calling a Zuber and exiting the house, he sighed. The sky was turning dark, the sun that had risen with six mammals nursing hangovers and amnesia slowly setting, all while a dear friend was about to spend his first night in prison. He shivered, hoping he was holding up.

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Kris held his paws in front of him as they were cuffed up, the fox being led off by Officer Sarrahson from the therapy office. It had been a nice talk in there, Terrance Riotra being warm and acting like a friend, all while trying to put down any lingering fears he had. He said that he trusted him, that he seemed like a very mature and clever kit, that he was level headed and would get through this.

It felt good to have at least one friend here.

The serval marching him on was hard and silent, giving orders to stop, go and wait. It wasn't harsh per say, though he had no doubt that the serval didn't like him. He wondered if he could have worded his name correction better, though he had the sinking feeling from her overall actions that it was intentionally harsh. She seemed like a bully.

And on top of that all, there was one thing that he noticed about her in particular that gave him strongly mixed feelings. Her ears were splayed down, her fur raised a little, her claws peeking out from their sheaths slightly and her tail was forcing itself down near the floor, its tip flicking about in annoyance. While much more used to being around canids than felids, he'd shared a class with a bobcat for most of his youth. She was stroppy and rambunctious, and had often been given a telling off or sent to the office. And on coming back, bubbling from a perceived unfair and humiliating scolding, she'd been slouched down with folded ears, claws peeking out and fur slightly raised, while her low hung tail had given flicks of irritation.

He didn't know what had happened with her and anyone else after he'd left that office, but he felt confident in making a guess, one who's answer could mean many things.

Still, her actions now were more institutional than anything. But everything here was. The whitewashed brick walls, the various locks on the doors and cameras fitted to the ceiling, the fact that most of the sparse furniture in the corridor was shining stainless steel bolted firmly down. Then there were the cuffs, the low hanging underwear which he wanted to pull up, the baggy black and white striped uniform that felt thick but drafty as well. He wasn't sure if the itch he was feeling on his skin was from the clothes or the potent anti-flea spray that still clouded his sense of smell.

He was ordered to a halt in front of an imposing door, his reflection briefly showing. He looked like the little mug-shot picture on his ID tag, he looked like a prisoner. And now he was going through an airlock like corridor, a door shutting behind him before the one in front could open. He could hear noise up ahead, and smell the smell of hot and unwashed mammals. He closed his eyes and breathed out to stay his fears as the door was opened, walking out before his escorting guard could shove him.

Up ahead was the cell block, branching out in two wings to the left and the right in a sort of boomerang shape. In each wing there was an access terrace on either wall, made out of bold green metal tubing and metal sheets with regular round holes stamped into them. It almost felt like something you'd see in a school built around the turn of the millenium. As they went further away, they rose, the cells beneath getting larger and those above smaller. However, even the smallest of the upper level cells were bigger than the largest of the lower level ones, the smaller mammals staying on the ground floor.

The area dead ahead of him though, where the wings met, didn't have any cells branching off of them, the terraces ending a distance away as the two far walls on either side bent in to meet each other. Instead, the enlarged area included parted off sections containing library books, vending machines, well guarded and controlled computers and even a bank of phones. He then realised that the ceiling directly above him was notably low and, looking up, he realised that it was the guards observation area, overlooking everything. Two steep stairs came down from it either side of him, while the far side wall was entirely armoured glass, several doors allowing prisoners free access into the fenced off (and well observed) yard area.

Some were out there, some were walking past him or using the nearby facilities, a whole mix of white and grey clad mammals giving him a bare glance at most. There didn't seem to be any type or species over represented in the whole of the crowd. Most mammals though were at the far ends of the two wings. On the blank walls, a television was fitted, large crowds sitting beneath and paying them idle attention while talking to themselves.

It was cleaner than he'd imagined.

It really did remind him more of a school than a prison. White walls with flashes of coloured metal and the occasional dark blue noticeboard as opposed to oppressive grey with cold metal bars. It was lit well from the big yard window and the roof lights up above, with large bright strip lights taking over now that the sun was setting outside. There was still noise, a lot of noise, and the smell of all these mammals too, but it was better than he'd imagined.

He felt himself relax, doing more so as he was uncuffed, led towards an open cell and put in. He'd be spending his night here, 'settling down' as they put it. Were it not for the metal toilet/sink unit to his right, the place could have been a low budget hotel, youth hostel or dorm room. He had a wooden bed unit (solid and likely fixed in place), with three tall plywood upstands, the tail end one hiding the toilet from view. The other end, by the window, had a small desk and chair attached, the latter free to move but the kind of metal and plastic type that reminded him once again of his early school days. There was nothing much after that. Some basic shelves on the other wall, mostly empty but with some basic reading material, advice guides and plugs and wiring for a small television to be fitted (if he earned the privilege). At the far end was a narrow and tall window, which he peered out of, getting the grand view of a different cell block's wall no more than a few feet away.

The sound of a door unlocking pricked his ears and, looking back, he saw the door to his cell (not bars or plexiglass, but one more like a school fire escape, even having two tall and narrow windows) open. A guard placed down a tray of food and left silently, locking him back in. It was pizza slice, some basic vegetables, a chocolate flavoured (but zero-theobromine) predator-health protein shake, and a small pot of grape flavoured (canine safe) jello.

Nothing really tasted delicious, though the two sachets of ketchup helped with the pizza. Overall it was… okay. He sat down on his bed. The bare plastic mattress was a bit hard and the sheet and pillow felt a bit threadbare, but it was okay. He looked up and breathed in and out. It was okay, he told himself. It was okay. It was okay…

He could get through this.

He moved into a position to meditate, to help pass the time, only to pause as he thought he heard something. Moving his ear up to the wall, he could hear balling and crying coming from the cell next door. It was that pup, racking out sobs and crying for his mommy, over and over again.

Kris backed away and sighed. Maybe he'd be okay… That pup wouldn't be. He was going to have to occupy himself here, maybe for a long, long time. He was strong, he could survive, but that pup wouldn't, couldn't.

He settled back down to meditate. Tomorrow would be a new day. He was going to be okay. He was going to help that pup be okay too.