The winter had been particularly brutal in town this year, heavy snow and rain had left little food supply for any animal living on the streets. Even the foxes, usually experts at scavenging the smallest morsels of food were struggling, leaving little hope for any other animal hoping to do the same.
Bully, a white town rat, had been having a lot of trouble particularly. He normally had more of a taste for meat but, except for other rats, had seen very little of any other animal in the last few weeks, depriving him of his favourite food. Even when he scrounged for less preferable food left behind by humans he had no luck on his side. Rubbish bins were more covered than usual and less in number generally, rubbish bags seemed to have disappeared completely and any scrap of food left on pathways or roads was quickly snatched up by creatures faster than him. The snow made it a lot harder to move around and the extreme cold had meant he had to regularly retreat to the sewers after less than an hour above ground. His young friends, Brat and Spike, were also feeling the sting of winter.
"We're gonna starve if we don't get food soon," Brat moaned one day, rubbing his paws rapidly over his orange fur, trying to warm himself up after an unsuccessful scavenge above ground.
"Yeah, I ain't had nothin' to eat in ages," Spike chorused.
"Shut up!" Bully snapped, cracking his tail on the ground like a whip, "all this moanin' and complainin', call yourself rats do ya?"
"We're sorry, Bully," Brat replied timidly, "we're just so 'ungry."
Bully sighed, "you're still only young things, you still got lots to learn about bein' a true rat."
Spike and Brat nodded in unison although they didn't quite understand what Bully meant.
A few days later came the worst day of the winter; inches of snow coated the town, leaving prospects of food for any animal looking even bleaker than before. Bully would have normally taken the safer option of keeping to the sewers for the day to shelter from the worst of the weather he couldn't ignore the hunger pangs in his stomach any longer. Sneaking down the streets of the town, snowflakes coating his pale fur, he held his nose high in the air trying to catch even the tiniest whiff of food.
As he travelled down a slightly less familiar street an interesting smell suddenly drifted into his nose, partly it was the smell of another rat but there was something more interesting mixed into the scent as well. Forgetting the blistering cold he began running as fast as he could, trying to catch up with the source of the smell before any other animal could.
In an overgrown back garden he spotted it, a female brown rat dragging the body of an infant rabbit towards a small wooden building. He paused for a moment to observe her, he definitely wanted a share of the food and after his brief observation he came to the conclusion that if she refused he would easily be able to chase her away. He was larger than her, after all, and he'd used his strength well enough to dominate the rats living in the sewers.
As he cautiously approached the female rat spotted him and took a few steps forward, placing herself between him and the dead rabbit.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Bully," the white rat stood up confidently on his two back legs, "and who might you be?"
"Spite," the brown rat replied simply, "you're out 'ere lookin' for a meal, I assume?"
Bully chuckled, "you'd be right. I wonder 'ow you came across such a decent meal, though, when I can't find nothin'."
"Me and my sister found 'im not far from 'ere. Didn't take much effort to bring 'im down but some fox was snoopin' around the area too, pathetic creatures."
"Wanted it for 'imself, eh?"
"No, he wanted my sister and he managed to get 'er too," Spite sniffed a couple of times but recovered herself quickly; "at least I got somethin' to eat, though, means I won't be starvin' this winter."
"Not all of us are so lucky," Bully replied.
Spite looked at her meal for a moment, thinking hard, before returning her attention to Bully, "you're right, I suppose, if you really want to, you can 'ave some of my food."
"Yeah," Spite smiled, "you do look awfully thin, you could use some good food. Only you though, there's only so much to eat."
Bully and Spite ended up eating together in her home, a small shed shared with a couple of mice and a large variety of insects, the rabbit's carcass made short work of by the two very hungry rats.
"You've lived 'ere a while, then?" Bully asked curiously, looking around the dusty shed.
"My mum raised me in 'ere, though she ain't 'ere anymore, but I didn't wander too far from the nest," Spite yawned and lay down, rolling onto her side, "I ain't even that long out of the nest, myself."
"Still a young'un then," Bully smiled, "I was born in the sewers, myself."
"Where d'ya live now?"
"Sewers still, with most of the other long tails," Bully said, sitting next to her and sniffing the air quietly, taking in the unfamiliar smells of the shed, "it's crowded but at least its good shelter from the winter."
"It gets cold in 'ere sometimes but I like it in my own way, ya see."
Bully yawned, realising that he'd better get back to his nest and check on the other rats, he'd become quite a leader to a lot of them and they'd wonder where he'd gone. "I'm goin' back to the sewers now, see how my boys are and get some sleep."
Spite lifted her head, her ears perking up, "will you come back 'ere to visit?"
Bully, who had turned and was already leaving suddenly stopped and walked back towards her, he licked her lightly on the top of her head and she shook her head bashfully. "I'll see you soon, maybe tomorrow," he nodded slightly before dashing out of the shed and back into the snowfall.
Spite smiled to herself, laying her head on top of her paws, an unfamiliar but warm and comforting feeling invading her stomach.