Suicide is not something that can be taken lightly, and I hope that with this story people will see the effects a suicide can have on a family.
When someone decides to end their life, whether to escape something or because they feel they are worth nothing, they leave loved ones behind with nothing but pain and sadness. This is a story about what happens to the people who know and love someone who has decided to give up on life.
To those of you considering Todd’s path, I want you to know something. No matter how bad things are, no matter how terrible life seems, remember this fact:
You mean something to someone, and that person will miss you when you are gone.
Do not give up on life, because there is always hope.
I want to thank Ryobreed and Alex for helping me edit this chapter.
They have been a huge inspiration and help with the last few chapters.
And now the annoying warning message:
This story deals with sex between males, in graphic detail. If you're not over 18, this is illegal for you to even look at, so stop right now. If homosexual content is not your cup of tea, you can leave the tea party. The characters and story are copyright Teiran’s player 2006, do not redistribute without permission. Otherwise, enjoy!
High School Days Chapter 21:
The Consequences of Love
Keith murred softly as he woke up and shook his head a little to clear the cobwebs of sleep. The wolf pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, stretching his back out like he did every morning. He pushed down on the bed, arched his back and yawned loudly; his jaws open wide so that all his teeth gleamed in the morning sun. The gray wolf’s ears flattened against his head involuntarily. He shook out his tail and then the rest of his body, fluffing his fur slightly as he sat up on his knees. Keith’s paws rubbed his chest sleepily, his lips smacking a bit as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes and smiled. He hadn’t had such a good night sleep in a long time. It felt…
Keith opened his eyes wide and gasped a little as Todd’s lingering scent triggered his memory. The wolf put his paws up to his nose and breathed in deeply. Keith laughed as the rich, earthy scent of fox musk filled his nose. Todd’s scent lingered on his fingers and fur, which was matted and stuck together in places from the fox’s cum. Keith laughed a little more, his tail wagging back and forth as he relived everything that had happened the night before in his mind, every moment he had spent with the fox. Every moment he was inside his lover. It filled him with a bright, warm feeling and he yipped with joy. Keith was grinning ear to ear as wide as he could as he bounced naked out of bed. He had never felt so happy in all his life. He rushed to his phone and called Todd, fingers eagerly twisting the cord he was so excited at the idea of hearing the fox’s voice again.
The phone rang and rang, but no one ever answered. Keith looked at the receiver in confusion when the answering machine at the Hayes house picked up the phone. He licked his nose and left a rather eager message for Todd to call him. Maybe Todd’s family had gone out for breakfast.
Michael Hayes waited patiently beside the nurse's station in the Hadenview Intensive Care ward. While it had been hours since it happened, his ears were still ringing from the sound of his wife’s scream and his heart still thumped in his chest. The hospital staff moved around the fox without comment, and the scent of blood and bleach filled Mr. Hayes’s nose. At first the various nurses who worked this station had demanded to know who he was, but now they passed him by without even a word. They knew there was nothing they could do for him. All he could do now was wait.
As he waited for the doctor to see him, the first few heart wrenching moments of the morning repeated themselves over and over in his head. He remembered the fear that clutched at his chest at the sound of his wife’s scream, how he had rushed up the stairs and met his wife at Todd’s bedroom door. The way she threw herself into his arms and screamed that their son was dead still made his tail fluff out.
Todd’s body had been so heavy in his arms. Michael had been crying when he picked up his blood-covered son, just trying to prove to himself that Todd wasn’t really gone. His son’s body had been covered in so much blood. His nose had been dry to the touch, and when he forced them open Todd’s blue eyes were vacant and glassy. Mr. Hayes had almost given up hope when he saw Todd’s chest rise weakly, and relief flooded his heart when his fingers found a weak pulse at his son’s throat. The drive to the hospital had been the worst twenty minutes of his life. His wife cradled Todd in the passenger’s seat of their car and he drove like a bat out of hell. Michael still had his son’s blood all over his shirt, the dark brownish red a sickening contrast to his otherwise red and white fur.
Now he was just waiting; waiting for an answer as to why this had happened. A few feet away, separated by four inches of plexiglass and a maze of tubes, wires, and monitors, his son lay unconscious on a hospital bed. A respirator smoothly forced the young fox's chest to expand, keeping him breathing as IV's provided his son with much needed blood. Michael and his wife had donated blood for their son immediately after arriving. The On-Call ER doctor who had been assigned to Todd was an older looking otter in the traditional white lab coat. He stood beside the young fox’s bed, checking Todd's vitals and test results with a nurse.
Michael sighed and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his fingers twitching as he waited. He had to know what caused Todd to do this. They had been in the hospital for nearly two hours now. The ER had worked so fast, giving Todd blood and cleaning the cuts on his wrists. He was in surgery minutes after they arrived to repair his damaged arteries.
Mr. Hayes felt like he had become a zombie. The smell of antiseptic and bleach was so strong his sensitive nose burned from it, but he did nothing about it. All his emotions had just abandoned him and he felt like he was waiting for death to come for him. He watched his son just lay there, waiting. Waiting as the doctors in the intensive care ward worked.
Eventually the otter left Todd’s side and pushed his way out of the busy ward, pulling off his facemask. The older otter named Dr. Mitchell tried to force a smile as he said, "Mr. Hayes? Let's talk about your son."
Mr. Hayes cleared his throat, his ears flicking backwards as he nodded a little, and the doctor looked rather uncomfortable. "I think we have him stabilized now, thanks to you and your wife's transfusions. But...” The doctor swallowed a little nervously, checking his charts again.
Mr. Hayes stared at the otter blankly. Nothing the doctor could say at this point would shock him. "But?" He said evenly, his emotions still numbed.
"Well Mr. Hayes, when a child Todd's age attempts suicide there is always a reason. State law requires us to do a lot of tests to check for drugs and the like. We don't normally do...” The otter hesitated, tapping his long tail against the floor as an orderly went by. The otter continued once the orderly was out of ear shot, "a rape kit on boys who come in, but one of the nurses smelled it on him and well...” the doctor faltered under the stoic gaze of Todd's father.
"I am well aware that my son is gay, Doctor Mitchell.” Mr. Hayes said flatly, his tail twitching in just a bit of annoyance that this was delaying the doctor’s diagnosis. “Please get to the point."
Dr. Mitchell nodded again, smiling a little weakly. "Ah, I see. Well then that makes things simpler. I don't believe Todd was forced, Mr. Hayes, the examination did not show any evidence of that, but your son did have sex with a male wolf sometime in the last few hours."
Mr. Hayes closed his eyes and hung his head. He pressed his paws to his face, and sighed slowly. It felt like the doctor had just set a 2-ton weight on his chest. He had the answer he was waiting for; this must be why Todd had done this to himself. Mr. Hayes sighed slightly because knowing why this was happening did not bring his son back, but it made things easier to deal with. This was all happening because Todd felt guilty about being happy without David. It had to be.
The otter continued when Mr. Hayes lowered his paws, “As far as his current condition goes, Todd has stabilized, but he's lapsed into a very deep coma. It may be the result of brain damage; lack of oxygen to the brain due to blood loss can be quite dangerous. I'm amazed he's still alive at this point, really. He cut himself quite deeply, and with no signs of hesitation. If you had been an hour later in arriving here, or if both you and your wife not been here to donate blood for him I doubt he would have survived.” Mr. Hayes’s tail twitched slightly, sickened by the idea that if his wife had listened to him and let Todd sleep late, his son would have died.
The otter checked his chart, now much more business like. “We'll have to keep him here, and he should be off the respirator soon. Then we can do some tests to see how permanent the damage is." The otter fell silent, and Mr. Hayes just nodded once.
"Thank you doctor." Mr. Hayes said softly, and turned and walked out of the ICU ward without another word.
The otter looked at the nurse behind the counter, "He was rather calm about that, wasn't he?" The doctor muttered.
The nurse behind the counter just sort of shrugged at the otter. "Takes all kinds, doctor."
Mr. Hayes pushed his way out of the ICU and staggered a little as his wife plowed into him, her arms hugging his neck tightly. Mr. Hayes slipped his arms around her as she whispered, “Do not tell me he’s gone… Don’t.” The vixen whispered fiercely as she stared into her husband’s eyes.
“He’s not dead.” Mr. Hayes whispered softly, and he felt his wife collapse as all the tension left her body in one breath. “But he’s in a coma.”
Mrs. Hayes trembled, and she buried her face into her husband’s chest. “Oh my god no… My poor baby.”
Mr. Hayes hugged his wife gently; his paw softly petting her hair, a finger touching the vixen’s flattened ears lightly. “I know. I know honey, but he’s going to be all right now. You found him in time.”
Mrs. Hayes began to shake violently, tears falling into her husband’s fur. “Why did he do this? What could he have been thinking? I should have been there for him, been waiting for him to come home. I could have done something…”
Mr. Hayes held his wife as tight as he could trying to comfort her, but she looked up into his eyes in total despair. “I… I should have been there for him Michael.” Her voice broke into a sob, “I know he hates rainstorms. I should have been watching him closer. I shouldn’t have left him alone, I did this to him…”
“No.” Mr. Hayes said with such ferocity that his tail fluffed out and his hackles rose up, his suit puffing out slightly as he bristled. Rebecca Hayes jumped as her husband clutched her tightly. “Todd did this to himself and it had nothing to do with us. Todd wasn’t alone last night Rebecca.”
“You did not cause this,” Michael Hayes said with enough conviction that his wife stopped crying. Mrs. Hayes sniffled softly, staring at her husband’s fiery green eyes. They left no room for argument.
“Todd was with a wolf last night Rebecca. He slept with someone of his own free will, and then did this to himself because of David. Not because of you.” The fox pressed his muzzle against his mate’s cheek, hugging her fiercely. “He survived because you found him.”
Rebecca Hayes wiped away her tears, nodding gingerly as her husband held her tight. His arms made the world feel right again. “Is he going to, be alright?” She whispered in her husband’s ear, a dull calm settling over them both.
“He will live.” Mr. Hayes whispered back, rubbing his muzzle against hers affectionately as he stared into his wife’s brilliant blue eyes, “and he will recover if we are there for him.” Rebecca nodded solemnly, and they held each other for a long while as the Hadenview hospital moved around them.
Keith's truck rumbled unsettlingly, the engine clunking as he drove down Todd's street. The wolf slowed down, keeping an eye on the couple of young kids who were playing along the side of the street with a ball. His truck sputtered, clunked, and rattled. The wolf sighed as the beat up old pickup spat a big cloud of smoke out of the tail pipe and died, coasting to the curb just two houses down the street from Todd’s front door. Keith pulled his keys out of the ignition, shrugging slightly.
"Oh well, got me far enough." Keith said with a grin, grabbing the flowers he had bought and jumping out of the truck. Normally, having his car die would be a horrible start to his day, but not today. Nothing could ruin today. The wolf bounded up to Todd's front door with a happy grin.
The gray wolf rang the doorbell and waited, his tail wagging. He hid the dozen roses behind his back in case Todd was the one who answered the door. Keith tried to brush his head fur down, which wouldn't stay put, and he fluffed out his tail as it wagged back and forth. He couldn't wait to see Todd's face when he gave him the flowers. Todd hadn’t picked up the phone earlier, but he would be home by now and Keith had the whole day planned out.
First they were going to the mall, and then Keith was going to take the fox to a movie and dinner and everything. They might even make another stop at the lookout point again. Keith blushed, his ears lying down flat as his sheath swelled at the thought of what they might do together again. He was going to make Todd so happy. Keith waited on the porch, his wagging tail barely expressing the joy he felt. Time passed, and nothing inside the Hayes house moved.
He rang the doorbell again, and it seemed to echo through the house. Keith peered through the frosted glass of the Hayes's front door. The fox’s front door had a big oval shaped piece of glass set in it, and the wolf's ears flicked backwards as he lifted himself up on his toe claws so he could see inside. His paw pads began to sweat as he looked and looked to see if anyone was coming to the door, but there was no one there. He could see lights on in the kitchen, and the pots and pans on the stove made it look like someone had been cooking something, but no one was there now.
The wolf waited, unsure what to do now, his tail drooping as the minutes crept by. Keith began pacing in small circles on the porch, glancing through the carefully carved glass every few moments and ringing the doorbell anxiously. Keith's ears perked up as the sound of a car driving into the back of the house reached them. He grinned, almost bouncing in place as he hid the roses behind his back and rang the doorbell again. He could see someone moving towards the door from the inside, and the face of Mr. Hayes appeared through the glass as Todd's father got close to the door. The older fox frowned and unlocked the door.
Mr. Hayes held the door open only a few inches, his muzzle barely peaking out of the open door. "Yes Keith?"
"Can I see Todd, Mr. Hayes? I've got a surprise for him." The wolf barked happily, and Mr. Hayes could just make out a cluster of flower stems peeking out from behind the wolf's back.
The red fox flicked his ears backwards as the wolf gave him a big dopey grin. The boy looked so happy and he was trying to keep his tail from wagging too hard. Keith must be the wolf Todd had been with the night before. How could he tell the boy what Todd had done after their night together? The older fox felt his tail droop as he said, "Yes, I can take you to see Todd."
Keith blinked, his head tilting to the side in confusion. The young wolf's ears drooped just a bit and his tail stopped wagging. Mr. Hayes watched as nervousness crept into Keith’s happy face, the wolf’s big grin wavering just a little. He knew something was wrong. "Where is he?" Keith whispered.
Mr. Hayes told Keith what had happened, and the wolf's roses fell from his paws to the ground, forgotten. The wolf choked, his eyes watering as he nearly collapsed, but Mr. Hayes caught him, giving the wolf a much-needed hug. The red rose petals scattered across the porch as Mr. Hayes took Keith inside, and blew away in the wind.
Keith squeezed Todd's black furred paw, just below where the white bandages stopped. He sniffled just a little bit as he stared at the fox’s bandaged wrists, but he did not cry. He had not been able to cry. The wolf put his nose to the fox's small paw pad and sniffed, trying to catch Todd’s scent. He pressed Todd’s paw to his cheek, trying to recapture the feeling of Todd touching his face.
The smell of disinfectant filled the small hospital room and covered up Todd's familiar scent. The fox's fingers did not grip his muzzle. The wolf licked Todd's paw pad, and only barely caught the taste of the fox he loved. Keith closed his eyes and wondered why this was happening.
Mr. Hayes had driven him to the hospital without any questions. When he got there, Mrs. Hayes had let the wolf take Todd’s one free paw. The fox’s other paw was cut much worse, and had been immobilized to keep it from being damaged should the fox wake up.
Todd's parents understood why he was there. They didn’t ask him questions or accuse him of anything, or shout that he had no right to be there after what he had done. They had both just hugged him gently and left the room, letting him be alone with the comatose fox for a few minutes.
Now that he was alone with Todd, Keith had no idea what he was supposed to do. The fox he loved was just lying there, breathing laboriously with the help of a respirator. Most of his face was covered with a mask of tubes designed to keep him breathing and hydrated. Keith knew he should be crying, that at least made sense, but the wolf could not bring himself to shed tears. It just felt like all his emotions had become stuck inside his chest, trapped behind something that prevented him from thinking right or even breathing deeply. It was all too much for the wolf to handle.
Keith wanted to cry. He tried to. The whole way to the hospital, Keith had sat silently in Mr. Hayes's car, his eyes blankly staring at the scenery as it passed by, wishing he could cry. He had wanted to howl, to scream and shout out in anger and anguish, and yet he could not make his muzzle work. No words formed on his tongue, and no tears flowed. He felt nothing but a tight, stabbing pain in his chest where his heart was that made it hard to breathe and prevented him from so much as speaking.
The gray wolf leaned against the hospital bed, the metal bar on the side digging into his throat as he buried his face in the sterile sheets wrapped around Todd’s body. He wanted to die inside. He had done this to Todd. How could he have hurt the fox so badly that Todd had tried to take his own life? What kind of man was he, that he let his lover do this? The wolf wanted to fix it somehow, to go back in time and spend the night with Todd instead of leaving. Anything, just so he could keep the fox safe even from himself. But Keith could not do that; he could not undo what Todd had done. All he could do was sit here beside the fox he loved, as a respirator and medicine kept Todd alive.
There was a shuffling sound, the door opened and words were spoken. Keith wasn’t sure who said what, or to whom. He just sort of looked up as if coming out of a daze when a gentle, but firm paw came to rest on his shoulder. The wolf’s muzzle tilted up towards Todd's father with tears in his eyes, silently begging the adult for answers. The older fox just squeezed his shoulder and began to pet between Keith’s ears gently.
"It's going to be alright Keith." Mr. Hayes said simply, his eyes not on Keith but on Todd’s still form. “This isn’t your fault. Really, it’s not Keith. You have to understand, Todd had been alone for too long.” The older fox paused, and he petted Keith gently on the face. The older fox looked Keith right in the eyes when he said. “I’m glad you were with him at least once. He needed someone like you.”
Keith put his ears back as the fox's paws stroked his head fur again, the older fox’s words unlocking something in the young man. The wolf turned around and pressed his face into the older male's stomach, and Mr. Hayes held the wolf gently as Keith cried his heart out.
Keith’s truck pulled up to the curb outside his house the next day, his paws trembling on the wheel. He had spent the night at the hospital, taking turns holding Todd’s good paw with Mrs. Hayes. Keith had lied to his parents when he called home and told them he was spending the night at Todd’s house. It had been true in a fashion.
It had gotten easier to be by his side once they took Todd off the respirator. At least, it had seemed that way. Seeing Todd’s slim muzzle without all those tubes shoved in his throat and nose… Keith shuddered a little at the thought. It had been hard to look at Todd like that, and the wolf was very glad Todd was off the life support. If the fox was strong enough to breathe on his own, he might recover one day.
Mr. Hayes had driven him back to his truck and helped the wolf fix it, but the drive home had been murder on the wolf’s emotions. The inside of his truck practically reeked of Todd’s scent. The smell of Todd’s musk drove the wolf to tears and he nearly wrecked his truck twice as he drove home. Keith got out and leaned against the side of his truck, trying to calm down a little before he went inside. The wolf brushed the tears from his eyes as the sun began to set over the rooftops of his street.
Keith looked down the row of cookie cutter houses that made up his street, every fifth house exactly the same as the sun sunk below the horizon. Further down the street, a few cubs were playing in a yard under the watchful gaze of a neighborhood mother. Keith watched them for a while, as the young boys enjoyed a game of tag and the girls sat off to the side and played with their dolls. They were so happy in such an innocent way, and he could hear them laughing as they played. The wolf wiped his eyes again and let out a rattling sigh. He squared his shoulders and went up to his room, avoiding his parents entirely. He needed to get some sleep. He had school tomorrow after all.
Keith lay down on his bed, and the young wolf cried into his pillow when he realized he would not be picking Todd up in the morning.
The sun was just cresting over the rooftops on Alan’s street when Keith pulled up to the curb on Monday morning. Alan climbed into the battered truck with a big grin that Keith didn’t even notice. The rat turned towards his friend and posed on one knee to show off his new look. He straightened his leather jacket, adjusting it so Keith could see how cool his new clothes looked. “You like the new look?” Alan said happily, teeth showing as he grinned. He even ran a paw through his head fur so the newly cut bangs fell into place over his eyes.
The wolf just sort of glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, but he obviously didn’t really see the rat. Keith muttered numbly, “Looks good,” as he popped the truck into gear again and hit the gas.
Alan shifted back into a sitting position as the wolf drove off, a little faster than normal. “Okay…” Alan muttered, sitting back down normally. He cast a sidelong glance at Keith, a little freaked out by the wolf’s strange appearance. He would have been annoyed that the wolf couldn’t be bothered to even notice his own new look, but Keith just looked like shit this morning.
The wolf’s fur was matted all over, as if he hadn’t brushed it after sleeping the last few days. He wasn’t even wearing his football jacket, just a dirty looking shirt that, from what the rat could smell, he had probably been wearing all weekend. He even smelled funny, vaguely like antiseptic and ammonia. The creepiest part was that the wolf’s eyes were so blood-shot they seemed to glow red instead of their normal soft blue.
They drove in silence for a long while, and Alan found himself fidgeting nervously. Keith wasn’t talking, and Alan didn’t know how to ask what had happened to the wolf. Something had obviously happened, but Alan had no idea what. He hadn’t talked with the wolf all weekend. Then the rat caught the scent of fox in the small truck cabin underneath the wolf’s scent, and he realized that they were already crossing the bridge heading into Hadenview without picking up Todd. Hoping to break the tension, the rat asked, “Aren’t we picking up Todd today?” It was obviously not the right thing to say.
Keith yelped and swerved at the mention of Todd’s name. Keith slammed on the brakes as horns blared and oncoming cars swerved to avoid the wolf’s truck as it skidded into oncoming traffic. The truck’s tires squealed as the wolf fought for control of the truck as is swerved towards Lake Haden, giving Alan a up close an personal look of the drop to the water below. Alan grabbed the dashboard and the rat swore like a sailor as the truck weaved back and forth like boat caught in a storm. Both boys were trembling by the time Keith got the truck back into the right lane. Alan stared at the wolf, his mouth open in shock. Keith looked just as shocked, like he was about to have a heart attack. His fur was bushed out and he gripped the steering wheel tightly with a wild look in his watering eyes.
“He’s not feeling well.” The wolf said in choked whisper. The anger and fear rolling off him was palpable in the wolf’s scent, and Alan relaxed slowly as the wolf kept the truck on the bridge and out of the oncoming lanes of traffic. Alan shifted uncomfortably on the seat and looked out the window, his heart thumping in his chest. Whatever had happened to the wolf over the weekend, it had definitely involved Todd, and Alan was not going to ask about it again.
At least, not while Keith was still driving.
Alan waited until Keith pulled into the school parking lot and found a space to park. The rat cleared his throat as the wolf turned off the truck. “Alright, what the hell’s wrong with you this morning Keith? You nearly got us killed back there.”
Keith’s paws tensed on the steering wheel, his fingers gripping the leather tightly enough that it creaked. He looked for a second as if his body had locked in place. His ears were pressed flat against his head and he was breathing slowly. The wolf’s tail even slid across the seat and pressed against his leg, as if it were trying to curl up between his legs. The wolf stared straight ahead out the windshield, refusing to look Alan in the eyes. “I… it’s just…” He started to say something more and then feel silent.
The wolf hung his head in shame. Keith wanted to tell Alan what had happened, but how could he? Alan had been his best friend forever, since they were both pups, but the rat would never understand this. He would just get angry that Keith cared about Todd more than him and then probably freak out that the wolf was a tail raiser.
Plus, the conversation was only going to make him cry and he could not deal with that right now. Too many people would see him if he started bawling in the school parking lot. It would get back to the football team or a teacher, and then there would be a lot of questions he did not have the strength to answer today.
Keith drew in a shuddering breath to calm himself down. “I can’t Alan. Not, not now.” The wolf looked at Alan, with big, bloodshot eyes and pleaded, “Can it wait till after school? I’ll tell you everything on the way home.”
The rat’s muzzle dipped downward in an all too familiar frown. “How about once we get home? I don’t feel like going for a swim in the lake.” Keith blinked, staring at his friend for a moment before he realized that the rat’s lips were actually curved into a slight grin at the edges of his muzzle. Keith laughed just a little for the first time in days as the rat patted his shoulder, “Come on wolf, we’re going to be late for class.”
They climbed out of the truck and Keith followed Alan up the hill towards Hadenview High. Alan scrambled up the hill that separated the parking lot from the high school easily, dodging through the trees growing on the hillside to the small turn around where parents dropped kids off in front of the main stairs to the school. On the steps leading up to the building kids were waiting around for their friends before heading into class.
Keith jogged after his friend, and when he crested the hill he got his first real look at the rat’s new appearance. Alan’s hair was cut different, and instead of a jet-black color the rat’s head fur seemed to shine in the light, glimmering with the hint of a rainbow in the morning light. His bangs fell across his eyes in a really seductive way and his black leather jacket set off his gray fur perfectly and went nicely with his new black jeans. They were real black too, not the dusty faded black everyone else wore. The rat was all slick, jet black and waves, and his t-shirt had a rippled blue pattern. The rat’s whole body seemed to be framed by clothing just caught in a gust of wind or a wave, as if he had just stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine. He looked amazing, and Keith was embarrassed to find that Alan’s look turned him on a little.
“Whoa, when did you get those clothes Alan?” Keith asked as they crossed the courtyard in front of the school towards the steps that lead up to the main building.
Alan laughed, turning around so he was walking backwards, “This weekend. I got to hang out with a couple of really cool guys and they helped me pick it out. They made me get a whole new look so I can join their band.” Keith smiled, his ears perking up just a bit as Alan spun in place to show off his new look. He hadn’t seen Alan smile, like actually smile, like that in a long time.
“Wait, you’re joining their band? I thought you wanted your own.” Alan rolled his eyes, but he kept smiling. “Yeah well, they’re already playing clubs and stuff. Besides, they really want me to join and I like the name, so…” the rat sort of shrugged, as if to say it wasn’t that important.
The wolf smiled at the rat, “Well that’s cool, when do they play next? Maybe I can see you play with them…”
“Hey Keith!” Alan and Keith flinched as the voice boomed across the small courtyard. They both turned as Kyle and Nick came up over the hill together. The tiger ruffled Keith’s short head fur from behind, his big orange paw covering the space between the wolf’s ears easily. “Missed you at Leon’s party on Friday, where’d you go?”
Keith was forced to duck a second time as Nick ruffled his head fur from behind just like the tiger had. The big black wolf paw covered Keith's face for a second as he and Kyle walked by. "You’ve got to come to Leon’s next bash man, we still have to celebrate your touchdown." The bigger wolf padded away with a flick of his tail as the two jocks walked up the stairs and into the school.
Alan frowned at them. "Jerks," he muttered. The rat’s muzzle bobbed in acknowledgement towards David as the kangaroo padded up behind Keith, who was straightening his head fur. "Hey David. This is my friend Keith." Alan said extending a paw towards Keith.
David sort of just nodded at the wolf, but Alan was a little surprised that Keith stopped straightening his fur, dropped his paws to his sides and turned on the kangaroo with his mouth slightly open. David eyed the wolf a little strangely and said, "Things work out with Shane, Alan?" to Alan casually, glancing around the courtyard as people passed them by.
The rat grinned, his whiskers spreading out as he showed off his new jacket. "I'll say. I think he wants me to join his band."
David nodded, “Yeah he said he liked you. So..."
Keith did not hear the two of them as they continued to talk. He was fighting just to keep breathing as he stared right at the kangaroo from Todd’s picture. David was taller now and his frame was filled out with lean muscles, but the eyes and ears were the same. The last two years had not been kind to the baby faced kangaroo from Todd’s pictures, but it was definitely the same guy. Keith choked on his words, his mind racing as he forced himself to speak. "You're David?" Keith barked, his voice strangely high pitched. "David Weathers?"
The kangaroo squinted at the wolf, "Yeah... why?" David took a step back from the suddenly growling wolf.
Keith’s hackles rose, and he wanted to jump the kangaroo right then. It was pure instinct that told him to do it. David was his rival for Todd’s affections, the reason Todd was hurt, and Keith would not lose the fox without a fight. Keith’s heart leapt into his throat at the thought of Todd, and his growl died. He had already lost Todd. The fox had chosen David in a rather dramatic fashion, and now the kangaroo didn’t even know what had happened. He couldn’t know.
Alan felt his tail stiffen as Keith growled at David, the wolf’s hackles rising up as his tail bushed out. Keith was balling up his fists as if he were about to explode in anger.
David did not get mad, he just dropped his backpack and rolled his shoulders to loosen them. The kangaroo had the look of someone who had done this before, and if Keith started a fight then David would respond. Alan took a step back from them both as David squared off across from the wolf. Alan’s ears flicked backwards as the two bristled at each other, Keith angry and growling while David was calm and posed to strike. “Wait, what’s going on?” The rat said, paws held out a little.
"You're Todd's David?" Keith almost shouted. The wolf looked like he was about to hyperventilate he was gasping for air so fast, as his angry tone turned into an almost desperate bark. "You're here?"
Alan squeaked and scrambled a few steps backwards when David lunged forward and grabbed Keith by the wolf’s shirt. The wolf yelped too as David got right up close to his face, but the kangaroo still wasn't angry. Instead he was suddenly very, very desperate.
"You know Todd?" the kangaroo asked, nearly shaking Keith as he shouted, "Where is he?" The wolf whimpered, his paws grabbing the kangaroo’s arms as David lifted him up almost off the ground by his shirt. One gray paw reached out and touched David's face as if he were checking to make sure the kangaroo was real. David bounced in place once, shaking the wolf again, pleading, "Where is he?"
The kangaroo’s heart was racing, and he felt like he was about to faint. This wolf knew where Todd was! The joy in David’s heart made him bounce in place, and he gingerly set the wolf back down so he could talk.
Alan glanced back and forth between the two of them. Keith had his paws on David’s muzzle and he was panting so hard he was wheezing. He looked like he was going to burst into tears or faint.
David was the exact opposite. His eyes were wide, and he was gasping for air too, but he looked like he was about to go wild with joy. “Please you have to tell me, where’s Todd?” David said excitedly, his words running together as he stepped back a little, fidgeting in place so badly he almost hopped off the ground.
"David, how do you know Todd?" Alan asked. Both boys turned their heads and stared at Alan like he was an idiot. Both of them glanced back at each other, and then stared at Alan again. Alan flattened his ears and glared at them both. "What?" the rat asked, his tail whipping back and forth as they went back to ignoring him and glared at each other.
"Where is Todd?" David demanded quietly.
For a moment the two larger boys just stared at each other, their chests puffing out as if they were testing each other. Alan’s eyes flicked back and forth, watching them stare each other down. Keith’s gaze was full of anger and shame while David’s eyes were almost pleading and filled with so much joy. The wolf looked away first, and started to speak just as the bell for class began to ring.
All three boys jumped and looked up at the Hadenview High School building. Keith growled as the bell stopped ringing, signaling they had only five minutes to get to class. "Screw class. Come on." Keith waved for David to follow him and then dashed towards the parking lot. David took off after him without a word to Alan, leaving his book bag behind, completely forgotten.
Alan watched as they both ran down the hill, taking the steps two at a time. Keith was pushing his way through the crowd of people coming up the stairs like a linebacker and David followed in his wake, leaping over anyone the wolf knocked down as they raced for the wolf's truck. Before the second bell even started, the wolf’s beat up pickup was peeling out of the parking lot.
"What the hell was that about?” Alan shouted after them as he flared out his whiskers in anger. The crowd filed into the school for class, some of Alan’s fellow students even rubbing their shoulders. Alan picked up David’s fallen book bag and headed for class. Before lunch was over, everyone would be talking about the scene Keith and David had caused.
Keith stood in the hospital elevator beside David. The wolf kept his head down, not sure exactly what he was supposed to do now. All the anger he had felt at seeing David at his own damn school had passed on the way to the hospital. The kangaroo had only been in town a week. How could he have known where Todd was? They had no classes together. David had no idea where the fox had moved. Keith could tell just by the way the kangaroo bounced at the thought of seeing Todd again that he would have found Todd immediately if he had known where to look. After that realization, his anger with David had just melted away and left a hollow sadness in his chest.
David’s happy mood had dissolved just as quickly once they reached the hospital, and somehow that made it even harder for Keith to do this. The wolf couldn’t bring himself to tell the kangaroo what had happened, but he couldn’t deny him either. All he had said was Todd had been in an accident. Keith didn’t know what he was supposed to do.
Well, what he was really supposed to be doing was going to Physics. Instead, he was watching a kangaroo he’d just met, the kangaroo that had captured the heart of his lover, the damn kangaroo he was taking to see Todd, have a nervous breakdown.
David was bouncing up and down as he paced back and forth, the kangaroo’s shifting weight disturbing the elevator’s smooth ride. The wolf could smell the fear rolling off the kangaroo as David wrung his hands, his thick tail slapping against the ground and the wolf’s legs. The brown kangaroo was shaking all over as he sniffed and held back tears. The kangaroo stopped pacing, bouncing slightly in place in front of Keith. “Has he talked about me? Does he still… love me?” David whispered. Keith looked up into the kangaroo’s big green eyes, so filled with hope and yet so full of dread.
Keith wanted to slug the kangaroo’s snout as hard as he could. He wanted to tackle David right here and fight him for the right to love Todd. He wanted to yell, to scream at the kangaroo and drive him away but he didn’t. He couldn’t. Todd had made his choice and he loved David. The fox had been rather dramatic about that.
“Yes… He still loves you.” Keith muttered bitterly, looking away from the kangaroo. A smile started to form on David’s muzzle, and he almost asked another question but the ding of the doors opening startled him so bad he jumped clear off the floor.
David hit the ground running. The rooms flew past him and he skittered around a corner, following the room numbers higher and higher as he dodged past nurses and orderlies. He had to find Todd; he had to see him again. He rounded another corner, saw the door to room 317, and grabbed the handle. “TODD!” He yelled in delight, crossing the room in a single bound as he opened the door, landing beside Todd’s bed.
David barely noticed Todd’s mother in the corner, who let out a yelp of shock as he burst into the room. He ignored the small tubes feeding the fox oxygen thru his nose, and the IV’s in his arms. He didn’t remember the cold nights alone, he couldn’t feel his scars from the academy, he didn’t care he was missing class or that he was in a hospital. None of it mattered. All he saw was the sleeping form of his lover beside him.
Todd’s face was just as he remembered it and there was a slight smile on his lips. His scent was still earthy and rich despite the smell of antiseptic, and it made David’s heart beat faster as it brought back so many happy memories. The fox’s fur was still silky soft like a kit’s and his tail was still too large for the rest of his body, the fluffy appendage hanging over the side of the bed like a big poofy flag. David’s heart ached and he could feel tears running down his face as he laced his fingers with Todd’s, his heart bursting with joy just to hold Todd’s paw again. They were finally together again. David squeezed the fox tightly, his chest pounding as he nuzzled the fox happily, oblivious to all the people around him. He’d finally found Todd.
David caressed the fox’s muzzle to wake him up, whispering his name again. “Todd, wake up baby.” The kangaroo’s smile didn’t fade when Todd did not wake up. “I’m here, I found you. Oh god I love you so much,” the kangaroo whispered a little louder, leaning in close to rub his snout across the fox’s muzzle, giving the fox a soft kiss on the cheek. “Time to wake up, Todd.” David whispered as he stared into the sleeping face of the male he loved. The kangaroo’s paw squeezed the sleeping fox’s paw as hard as he could as he kissed Todd gently.
He rubbed Todd’s paw, leaning over the bed so his face was right next to Todd’s, their muzzles rubbing together. “Come on Todd, this isn’t funny, wake up…” David kissed the fox on the lips again, but Todd’s muzzle just fell to the side under his touch, his head moving limply. David shook the fox’s shoulders slightly, “I’m here… I love you… Wake up…” David nuzzled the fox harder, “Please Todd wake up, please… I’m here Todd… You’ve got to wake up…I’m finally here… I found you…” the kangaroo’s cheek brushed against the fox’s, leaving streaks of tears in Todd’s fur as David began to cry in fear. The kangaroo closed his eyes and squeezed the fox’s paw as tightly as he could.
Todd’s paw did not squeeze David’s back. The fox’s eyes did not flutter open. The only sign Todd was alive at all was his chest rising and falling as he labored to breathe and the beep of a heart monitor. David blinked, staring for a moment at the fox’s still face, his smile fading slowly as the kangaroo’s fingers brushed against the bandages on Todd’s arm.
“No… oh god no…” David whispered, and he glanced around he room in desperation, searching for some sign that he was wrong about what happened. The kangaroo stared at the thick white gauze wrapped around Todd’s wrists, fear rising in his chest. He had seen bandages like that on some of boys back at the Academy, the ones who could not find a way to deal with the hell they were living in. He knew what they meant.
Mrs. Hayes was crying loudly, her eyes red as she looked away from David and buried her head into her husband’s shoulder.
Mr. Hayes closed his eyes in pain and the older fox hung his head in shame, his ears pressed flat against his head as he comforted his wife.
In the doorway, Keith refused to meet David’s gaze, his arms crossed protectively over his chest as he leaned against the doorframe, tail tucked firmly between his legs.
David felt his heart break as he looked back at Todd and the bandages on his arms that meant Todd had tried to kill himself.
“No… This can’t be happening.” David brushed his paws across the fox’s face, the soft red fur running through his fingers. David could feel someone moving behind him, but they didn’t matter. “You can’t do this Todd, you’ve got to wake up. Please Todd…” David blubbered, “Wake up Todd…!” David felt his knees give out, and he collapsed against the bed, his face buried in the chest fur of his silent lover.
“WAKE UP!” David screamed into Todd’s chest, a cry of complete desperation that drowned out the busy sounds of the hospital. A deep stillness settled over the tiny room, as it died away, and was filled only by the kangaroo’s muffled sobs and the beep of the EKG.
David felt a paw rest lightly on his shoulder, and he looked back at Todd’s father as Mr. Hayes squeezed his shoulder gently from behind. “David… I’m so sorry David…”
“When did it happen?” David whispered quietly, his arms sliding around the older fox’s neck as he stood up. “When did he do it?” David sobbed softly, knowing full well what his lover had done.
“I’m so sorry David,” Todd’s father whispered, “He cut his wrists Friday night.”
David had never heard such a chilling, sorrowful statement in his entire life. Mr. Hayes’s voice sounded as if the older fox was dead inside, as if all the light in his world had gone out. His lips moved and he was standing there, he was even hugging David back but he was as lifeless as his son was. David understood exactly how he felt.
David pressed his face into the older fox’s neck and whimpered, “Why? ” Mr. Hayes looked away from David, and the kangaroo’s paws gripped the fox tight. “Tell me! Why would he do this? What made him?” David’s muzzle brushed against the older fox’s as the kangaroo pleaded with the only male he had ever looked up to.
Mr. Hayes met David’s gaze, tears running through the red fur on his cheeks. Telling David this hurt the fox badly. “He thought he had lost you. He gave up hope of being with you again.”
David’s tail slapped against the ground as it went limp, his ears fell out to the side. He stared into the older fox’s eyes, choking on his emotions. Mr. Hayes grabbed the kangaroo swiftly, guiding him to a chair as the kangaroo’s knees gave out again.
David whispered, “He did this… because of me?” The kangaroo’s muzzle twitched, his paws shook, and tears ran freely down his cheeks as he sat beside Todd’s mother. He gasped and gave a long drawn out shudder before he began to sob.
David howled again, a wordless cry of anguish, but this time Mr. Hayes was there. He knelt down to put his arms round the young kangaroo and hugged him fiercely. David collapsed into the embrace, struggling for air as grief overtook him. “Noooo… this can’t be happening… I found him… We’re supposed to be happy.” David’s fingers dug into the suit the older fox was wearing as the kangaroo hugged Todd’s father tightly. “Please…” He sobbed quietly. “Tell me this isn’t happening. We’re supposed to be happy.”
Mr. Hayes closed his eyes as David sobbed into his chest. The kangaroo’s body was shaking uncontrollably as Mr. Hayes whispered, “I’m sorry David… I should have protected him better.” Mr. Hayes let the tears fall from his eyes as he held onto David. “I’m sorry son.” He whispered, petting David’s head.
“What… what am I going to do?” David sobbed, his eyes flicking wildly back and forth, “This is my fault! I, I should have found him faster! He was right here, I was so close…”
“NO!” Mr. Hayes barked, and everyone in the room flinched except for Todd. “You did not cause this. NO ONE caused this.” The older fox shot a glare around the room, meeting his wife’s blue eyes and Keith’s blood-shot ones before the wolf ducked his head again.
“You could not have found him faster than you did, David. If that were even possible, you would have.” Mr. Hayes hugged the kangaroo firmly, “You are never going away again. You are part of this family, and we are not losing you again. Understood?”
Mr. Hayes hugged him tightly, and David felt Mrs. Hayes take one of his paws in a tight grip. He looked at her, and her eyes were filled with a sad joy to be reunited with one son while losing another. David drew in a shuddering breath and hugged the foxes tightly, closing his eyes in pain. It felt so good to be hugged by family again.
David had found his home again, even though he had lost Todd at the same time.
Keith looked away from the scene of shared grief as the Hayes family comforted each other. He slipped out of the room and around a corner, rushing away from the room. The wolf collapsed into a chair in a waiting area a short distance away, his chest aching as he tried not to cry. No matter how much he loved Todd, no matter how much he cared about the fox’s happiness, he was not part of that family. He was not the lost son returning home. He was the ‘other man’, the one who caused all the pain the Hayes family felt now. The wolf pulled his knees up to his chest, hid his face under his arms and wept silently. Alone.
Mr. Hayes walked out of his son’s room and closed the door as his wife sat David down and started to talk with him. He glanced through the tiny window in the door, watching as David sat beside his son’s sleeping form. The kangaroo had not stopped crying since he had arrived. He was taking things much worse than Keith had.
The older fox straightened his shirt, which was rumpled from the poor boy’s hugs and made his way to the nurse’s station. He waited till one of the nurses looked up at him. “Yes?” The wolf behind the counter asked.
“That boy who just came needs to be put on a suicide watch.” Mr. Hayes said quietly.
The nurse frowned, her ears twisting backwards a little. “I’m afraid you don’t have the authority to request that. You’re obviously not his father.”
Mr. Hayes stared at the older wolf woman for a moment before putting his paws flat on the counter top and lifting himself up eye level with her. He leaned in close to her, and she leaned back in surprise. The fox’s green eyes had a fire in them that did not look pleasant.
“Madam, two years ago I failed to protect that boy from his ‘father’. My own son is in a coma now because of that fact. I have not seen David in two years because I failed him once before, and I will not fail him again because of you.” The fox waited for a moment, and the wolf blinked in surprise at the sheer anger in his words. “Do you understand?” Mr. Hayes said in a quiet growl that sent shivers down the spines of the nearby nurses.
The wolf nodded and called a doctor. Within five minutes, an orderly was stationed outside Todd’s room to make sure David did not follow his lover’s example.
Once he arrived, Mr. Hayes walked away from the nurse’s station, away from his son’s room, and away from all the despair. He stood in the hospital waiting room, just to calm himself down. After a moment, he noticed Keith curled up in a chair in the corner. The older fox frowned slightly, watching the gray and white wolf as he cried by himself. Mr. Hayes went over to him, and sat beside the distraught wolf. Keith looked up just a little when the fox’s paw touched his head, and then he put his head back down and continued to cry, as Mr. Hayes just sat besides him and petted his fur gently.
It was the only thing he could do for the poor wolf.
David sat in the chair beside Mrs. Hayes, crying softly into her shoulder. The fox's ears flicked backwards, and she tenderly caressed the young kangaroo's face. "David honey?" She said quietly after a while.
David sniffled softly, lifting his head up a bit, "Yeah?" He said, his voice sounding really weak.
"Where are you staying? Is there anybody I can call for you?” The vixen’s eyes narrowed slightly, and her paw stroked the side of David’s muzzle, wiping away some of his tears, “You're not, living with your parents are you?" The concern in her voice was deep, and the hint of worry made David smile into the fabric of her shirt.
David shook his head slightly, sniffling a little as he pulled back from her shoulder. “No, no they… they sent me to a special school where…” David choked for a second and his face flushed. He did not want to tell Mrs. Hayes what had happened to him in the last two years. The thought of Todd’s mom being disappointed in him made the kangaroo’s stomach twist into knots, but the vixen just nodded slightly and hugged him tenderly. “I’m in a foster home now.” David whispered.
“It’s okay honey, you don’t have to talk about it.” Mrs. Hayes wanted to know, but she was not going to press David right now. The way David looked said everything she needed to know. The last two years had been hell for him, and she did not want him to relive that now. “Let’s just call your house okay? Let them know where you are.”
David nodded slightly. “Okay,” the kangaroo sniffed as Mrs. Hayes handed him the room’s phone. David stared at the phone as Mrs. Hayes left the room to speak to her husband. He started to dial Mrs. Perez, stopped and then hung the phone up and dialed the one person he actually wanted to talk to instead.
Shane's cell phone rang at probably the worst possible moment.
The raccoon nearly leapt out of his fur as his phone buzzed and shook in his jacket pocket, and everyone in the conference room turned and looked at him disapprovingly except for JD. Shane flattened his ears as JD’s eyes flicked to him for just a second, but the hyena did not stop and interrupt his presentation further. This was too important to stop. This was their final pitch for the new band to the Diamond Records executives. If things went well here, he would be the leader of a brand new band with a three record contract. If things went badly, the raccoon would have nothing.
Shane fumbled to turn his phone off, but when caller ID displayed the name of Hadenview Memorial Hospital's number on the raccoon’s slim black phone, his eyes widened and he knew he had to take the call. There was no way to leave the room though.
The big conference table they were all seated at filled the room on the top floor of Diamond Studios downtown building. Ringed around it was a dour group of furs in black and gray suits. They were the corporate types that kept the books balanced and the paychecks on time. They managed the CD production and marketing campaigns. They were the lawyers who kept the censors at bay, the middle managers who made the business run. Bumping and jostling half of them just to get out of the room would make a lot larger scene than just taking the call.
Shane felt terribly uncomfortable in the room. He and JD had dressed up in the new clothes they had bought to show off the look their band would have. Shane was in thin mesh silk tailored to show off his died fur and JD was decked out in leather with short metal spikes and silver earrings. That made them the only people in the room not wearing a three-piece suit besides Derek Diamond himself. The Doberman wasn't even sitting at the table; he was lounging at the far end of the room in the corner eating an apple, one leg tossed over the arm of the comfortable chair he had plopped down into just before JD started his presentation. He had snuck in just as everyone had gotten settled, and had not said a word throughout the meeting.
Shane showed the phone screen to JD, and the hyena’s earrings swung back and forth as he flipped his ears back and nodded at Shane once, not even breaking his carefully prepared speech. The raccoon spun his chair around and leaned into the back corner of the conference room. The raccoon's ears burned as he held the phone up to it. "Hello?" he whispered quietly, and he knew that every ear in the room was turned toward him, listening intently.
"Shane...” David's voice came onto the line, and the broken, desperate kangaroo’s voice grabbed Shane's heart. "I found him... he's...” David's words broke into a short sob, and Shane felt like dying as he listened to the kangaroo cry his heart out.
"You found Todd?" Shane whispered, and the words sounded loud in the suddenly quiet conference room. The only other sounds were of JD talking and Derek taking a big bite out of his apple as Shane asked, "Where is he, are you both alright?"
"No…” David's voice broke and Shane could almost hear the tears rushing from his eyes. "He slit his wrists Shane... Friday night he just slit his wrists and…” David's crying was loud enough to carry over the speaker of the small cell phone, and Shane was sure that everyone in the room could hear the kangaroo's sorrow.
"Are you still at Hadenview Memorial?" Shane's voice was determined and calm. He was going to fix this for David if he could.
"Yes," was all David could manage as an answer.
"I'll be there in half an hour." Shane spun his chair around and got up. He leaned over JD's shoulder and gave a whispered explanation to the hyena. JD's eyes widened, and he glanced at Shane for a second, their eyes meeting for a moment. Shane rarely saw anything but confidence in JD’s eyes. The hyena was always so cool, and collected, but in that moment Shane saw a flicker of fear in the hyena’s eyes. The hyena’s eyes became determined, he nodded his permission and he looked back at the executives as he whispered, "Go." to the raccoon. The raccoon grinned, knowing that JD would take care of things here and that the hyena understood perfectly how important this was.
Shane grabbed his jacket and made his way to the door, forcing a whole row of middle aged, portly executives to squeeze themselves closer to the table to let him past. One of the executives, a tiger who headed up marketing said, "Are you really leaving Mr. Hughes?" Shane did not answer him as he slid behind the seated executives and reached the door. "You realize, that this kind of behavior does not bode well for your chances of having a career with us?" the tiger continued, apparently quite happy to have found a way to sink this project.
Shane jerked the conference room door open and turned on the tiger. "If my career,” the raccoon growled angrily, "means that I ignore a friend in the hospital and his lover who just slit his wrists, then you can take this fucking record deal and shove it up your striped ass." The anger in Shane's words lingered in the room after he slammed the door shut behind him.
The executives all shifted in their seats, squirming uncomfortably in the awkward moment as the tiger smiled triumphantly over at JD and then at Derek. JD just sort of sighed and sat down, while Derek let his feet drop to the floor. The Doberman got up with a chuckle, his square jawed muzzle splitting into an ear-to-ear smirk that rivaled his hyena friend from across the table. "You sure picked a lively one, didn't you bro?" Derek said, taking another bite of his apple.
JD just shrugged and grinned slightly. “Like you would do things any different.” The hyena said, smirking slightly. JD tried to look as cool and collected as he could, but inside he was worried. Derek did things his own way, and even after knowing him for a lifetime JD was not always sure how the Doberman would react to a display like that.
Derek tapped the tabletop with his knuckles, and gave the marketing executive a sidelong look. The tiger smiled confidently, folding his paws in front of himself with a pleasant look of satisfaction on his face. The Doberman’s lips curled upward into a grin. "Sign him." Derek muttered, tapped the table twice with his knuckles and turned to leave the room.
The tiger’s confident smile dissolved, "But, sir, he's obviously not reliable! They don't even have the rest of their band chosen! How can we justify...” The tiger's fur fluffed out, and his eyes sought help from his colleagues as he tried to justify his position. "It's just not good business sir to..."
"Do it, Mr. Tines. Sign him, and whoever else he wants in his band.” Derek said casually as he tossed the apple core in the trash. The executives squirmed slightly as the flustered tiger sputtered and tried to find an excuse. Derek ended the protest before it started. "Or you're fired." The door clicked shut behind the Doberman, and the executives in the room all sighed in exasperation, some shaking their heads wearily. JD shook his head and chuckled slightly, gathering up his presentation notes to follow Derek out the door. His friend was not easy on the men who wore suits and ties and kept his record label running.
Shane got to the hospital room, and looked around it in trepidation. A slim vixen turned to look at him, and her head tilted a little to the side when she saw his purple head fur and rainbow tail. She looked Shane over carefully, but did not say anything. She just looked over at David
Shane caught his breath a little when he saw the kangaroo kneeling on the floor beside Todd’s hospital bed, his head lying on the lap of the comatose fox. David was draped mournfully over the edge of his lover’s hospital bed. It looked like it was a painting. It was as if someone had somehow captured the feeling of sorrow and thrown it onto canvas to excise the pain they felt in their heart.
Shane set the bag he brought down as David noticed he was there. The kangaroo lifted his head up and looked up at him, his fur matted with tears and his eyes blood-shot. The kangaroo stood up slowly as Shane put his arms around his friend’s shoulders, and the kangaroo cried hard on the shoulder of the shorter raccoon. Shane patted the kangaroo’s back, looking past David and down at Todd.
The raccoon had never met the little fox before; he had only heard David’s loving descriptions. Shane had always been sure that if he ever met Todd he would hate the fox who held David’s heart, but there was no way Shane could hate the little fox lying in front of him. Todd seemed so small in the big hospital bed, his muzzle pointed up in the air with a pair of oxygen tubes taped to the fur of his muzzle. He just laid there, arms wrapped in bandages and a heart monitor beeping in the corner. His long fluffy tail hung over the side of his bed, just limply dangling there. The raccoon was sure it was the saddest thing he had ever seen in his life. He looked back at David, and the kangaroo sniffled a little as Shane’s paw gently caressed the kangaroo’s face. David silently pleaded with the raccoon to comfort him somehow.
Shane smiled just a little and said, “You found him. He’s going to be alright.” The kangaroo dipped his muzzle a little bit, as the raccoon stepped back out of his embrace. “Now, when’s the last time you ate, David?” The raccoon dropped his backpack, and smiled a little bit. “You need to eat if you’re going to stay by his side until he wakes up.” Shane turned to Todd’s mother, forcing himself to smile widely at her, despite the pain he felt. “Would you like something Mrs. Hayes?” The vixen smiled slightly and nodded, as Shane moved a chair over to Todd’s bedside, and David sat back down beside Todd.
Hours had passed now, and Mr. Hayes had gone back to the room, leaving Keith to sit by himself, his face still buried in his paws. After Todd’s dad left, no one had bothered him or asked him why he was there. The nurses had all seen him in the last few days, and they no longer needed to ask who he was. So everyone just left him alone with his thoughts and tears.
Keith felt someone brush his shoulder with something warm, and the wolf looked up to find a raccoon in a dusty black silk shirt holding out a hot sandwich and a cup of coffee to him. Keith blinked, staring at them silently “You going to take these, or should I eat them?” The raccoon said softly, a slight grin playing across his muzzle as he shook the purple head fur out of his eyes.
Keith took the food and unwrapped it, his nostrils flaring when the smell of juicy turkey and gravy sandwiched between warm French bread flooded his muzzle and made his stomach ache hungrily. The wolf began to eat the sandwich ravenously as the raccoon sat down across from him. He finished the sandwich in moments, before gulping down the hot coffee. The wolf choked as the burning liquid slid down his throat and the steam opened up his lungs and nasal passages.
The wolf’s eyes watered in pain instead of sorrow, and his lupine nose burned with the overwhelming smell of coffee. He coughed, and the raccoon took the half empty cup away from him. “Careful, it’s hot.” He said, with a slight grin, crossing one leg over the other like a female would.
Keith blinked tears away from his eyes, coughed and thumped his chest with a fist, gulping the cool air in the hopes of stopping the pain. Tears streaked down his muzzle, but this time they were from the pain in his throat and not in his heart. “Oh gods…” he muttered, still gasping for air. “That was such a bad idea.”
The raccoon laughed a little as the wolf huffed and puffed, “Just a bit.” The two boys laughed a moment, and the wolf relaxed as the pain faded away, his feet coming to rest on the floor. They fell silent for a moment just watching each other, and Keith got his first real look at the raccoon. Keith didn’t recognize him, but he seemed older by a couple of years and his head fur was a deep shade of purple that was obviously a dye job, and the gray rings of his tail were dyed as well so that his tail formed a rainbow with his hair, red at the tip and then up to his purple head fur. “Who are you?” Keith said quietly.
The raccoon smiled. “I’m Shane. I’m betting you’re Keith.”
The wolf nodded, rubbing his muzzle slowly in an attempt to dry the fur on his cheeks. He was suddenly embarrassed to be caught crying in front of a stranger, even it was a really effeminate guy. “Yeah I am. Do I you know?” Keith said a little bitterly.
Shane’s smile slipped just a little. “No. I’m David’s friend.”
“Oh.” The wolf muttered, his eyes flicking to the ground.
“Yes,” Shane said softly, shifting in his chair and sipping from the coffee cup, “and from the way you were crying, I bet you are Todd’s ‘friend’ too.”
The wolf looked warily at the raccoon, wondering if the emphasis the coon had put on the word friend meant what he thought it did. Shane just smiled and flicked his rainbow colored tail back and forth with a slight smile.
The wolf turned his head to the side, blushing a bit as he covered his face and laughed in embarrassment. If that wasn’t a dead give away that the coon was a tail raiser, nothing was. “Oh god…” Keith muttered, running a paw though his head fur. “This day just gets better and better.”
“I bet it has,” the raccoon said with a smile, “but look on the bright side. You can only go so far down.” Shane said, looking down into the coffee cup. “Can I give you some advice?” the raccoon said quietly.
“Sure, why not?” Keith said.
“Let him go.” Shane said with a great deal of sorrow in his voice.
Keith felt the anger well up inside him again, and he snarled. “No.” The wolf’s growl was so loud a nurse walking by jumped, and Keith shrunk under her glare and released the arms of his chair, where he had dug tiny grooves in the fabric with his claws. Shane however, did not even blink.
“Trust me Keith.” The raccoon said quietly, “David has gone thru a lot worse than Todd did in the last two years.” The raccoon shifted uncomfortably in his chair, arching his back a little as if he were in pain. “I’m sure about that. He did not give up on Todd then, even when he had the chance, and he won’t now.”
“Neither will I. I love Todd.” The wolf growled, his tail lashing against the chair.
Shane raised his eyebrow at the wolf, “Yes, but does he love you enough to leave David?”
Keith just sat there quietly and fumed as the raccoon got up and walked away.
The afternoon sun beat down on Alan as the rat waited by the curb for his bus as school let out. The rat sighed, fiddling with David’s backpack, resigned to taking the bus home today. Keith had not been in any of his classes and he had not seen David all day either. Then he had missed all his friends at lunch because the stupid football coach thought his new jacket was against the dress code. It wasn’t, and the principal even said so, but that didn’t matter to Coach Riley.
Hoping to find out where Keith had gone, Alan had braved the locker room to ask Coach Townson if he had seen either of them, but the wolf hadn’t. Alan rubbed the back of his neck, which still hurt from when Tyler Barnes had grabbed him and shook him hard enough to make the rat drop his books just for the fun of it on his way out of the locker room. “Stupid football team.” He muttered.
Jeff and James padded their way out off the school and stopped by the usual spot.
“Hey Alan, where were you at lunch?” Jeff asked, squinting in the bright light as he hopped up on the low wall.
“My new threads got me detention.” Alan muttered bitterly, spreading his arms out so the foxes could see the jacket.
“Hey, looks worth it.” James said happily. “Did Todd come to school? We’re supposed--”
“--To do a science project with him.” Jeff finished as his brother hopped up on the wall beside him.
Alan flicked his ears backwards and shook his head, his earrings jingling slightly. “We didn’t even pick him up this morning. Keith seriously freaked out when I asked him about it.”
“Oh.” Both foxes said together, their ears flattening against their heads in unison. They glanced at each other, a worried look on their faces.
“What?” Alan muttered at them, confused by their reaction.
The fox twins looked very guilty, and Jeff said, “Um, nothing. We heard about the fight Keith got in this morning. Do you know why it happened?”
Alan hissed in annoyance at an otter as he zipped by on a skateboard and bumped into him and nearly knocked him down. “No, I don’t know, and they didn’t get into a fight. They just sort of, shouted at each other. I wish I knew why though, he and David just ran off and now I’ve got no way home.” Alan brushed the dirt off the shoulder of his jacket.
Chris padded down the sidewalk towards them and waved hello. “Yo guys. How was your weekend?” The leopard gave a nervous laugh as he said the words, his whiskers twitching slightly.
Alan smiled and shook his head, letting his head fur fall into place just like it was supposed to, posing for Chris as he smiled up at the leopard. “Pretty good, yours?”
Chris did a sort of double take when he caught sight of Alan, and the rat thought he saw the big cat’s smile crack just a little. The cat’s rounded ears flicked backwards for a second, and Alan imagined he saw a blush creep into the leopard’s spots. “It, it was fine.” Chris muttered, looking away from Alan quickly. “Nice look,” the big cat said with a slight cough, and the twins burst into laughter at them.
Chris and Alan shot the two snickering foxes a glare and they stopped smiling as their tails swished back and forth. A fur dressed all in black leather gunned a motorcycle past them and up the drive to the school, and Alan followed the rider with his eyes because he looked familiar. Then he spotted Kevin coming out of the school doors, but the dog did not look like he was going to come over and talk with them. “Hey Kevin!” Alan shouted, waving at the dalmatian.
Kevin turned his head when Alan called his name and spotted the waving rat. Kevin was about to come over and talk to him, but he noticed that Alan was standing right next to Chris. The dalmatian blushed and ducked his head before jogging away towards the parking lot, his head down and his tail tucked between his legs. Kevin headed for the parking lot without looking back once.
Alan sighed, his ears drooping a little, “Dang, I was hoping he could take me home.” The rat muttered, and then he turned and looked up at Chris. “You heading across the lake tonight?” the rat said with a big grin.
Chris looked away from Alan and rubbed the back of his head, his tail flicking back and forth. “Well, um not really. I got to go guys. I’ll see you all at lunch tomorrow.” The big cat muttered under his breath and jogged off away from the group, his tail pinned to one leg. Alan grinned a little bit, and for just a second he was sure the leopard had been blushing.
The twins perked their ears up when the big cat turned the corner at the bottom of the hill, almost out of sight, before doubling back and heading for the parking lot. “Where’s he going?” James said, straining his slim muzzle up in an attempt to see where he was going.
Jeff shrugged. “Not sure. He and Kevin are both acting weird.”
Alan frowned at the twins, who were only slightly taller than him while sitting on the wall. “Yeah, well everybody is acting weird today. Which sucks, because now I have no way home.”
“So you’re looking for a ride, hot stuff?” A voice said loudly, and the motorcycle that had pulled up behind Alan gunned its engine. The twins yipped in surprise at the loud sound, and Alan turned around just in time to catch a black helmet in the gut. The rat laughed as JD pulled off his own helmet. “Come on Alan, hop on.” The hyena said happily, patting the seat behind him.
“What are you doing here?” Alan said with a laugh, his paw passing over the chrome finish of the hyena’s motorcycle. It was one of the massive bikes that two people could ride cross-country on.
JD’s muzzle cracked into a wide grin, “Shane called me and told me your ride ditched you this morning. Now hop on, we haven’t got all day.” JD flicked his tail out of the way as the rat climbed up behind him, dropping his two bags into the motorcycle’s side baskets. The rat whooped and hugged the hyena from behind as the hyena popped the kickstand up and gunned the engine, and the twins cheered at them as the bike sped away from the school and into the falling night.
Alan’s clothes whipped in the wind, and he felt like he was flying as JD’s motorcycle raced down the street, coming to a stop at a traffic light that turned red. Alan laughed, patting JD on the chest and grinning though the plexiglass helmet at the hyena. “This is great!” Alan shouted, and the hyena’s white teeth flashed under the plexiglass face of his helmet.
“Glad you’re enjoying it! Now make sure to hold tight, I don’t want to lose you off the back and make another trip to the hospital.” Alan laughed as the hyena reached back and forced Alan closer to him, using the movement to grab the rat’s ass rather lewdly. Alan didn’t care, he just grinned and enjoyed hugging the strong male riding with him tightly. The rat could not believe how frightening and thrilling the ride was, especially because he got to hold onto JD in such an intimate way. Sure, there was leather and fabric between him and JD, but his slim body was still pressed close to the big, strong hyena. The ride was long, and Alan loved every second of it. As they pulled up in front of Alan’s house, JD turned the bike off and popped the kickstand down.
Alan got off the bike and found his legs were trembling slightly. He pulled off his helmet as JD did the same, grinning like a fool as he stumbled a bit, laughing happily.
“Wow,” the rat said, grinning ear to ear at the hyena, “That was awesome.”
“Glad you enjoyed it.” The hyena pulled his helmet off and flashed Alan a big grin, “I guess I’ll be the one to pick you up when we have our band tryouts in a few weeks.”
The rat’s smile widened. “You’re having auditions soon?”
The hyena nodded slightly. “Yep, we got the green light today. I’m sure you’ll make a great bass guitarist, if you practice those songs Shane gave you.” The hyena laughed a little, poking Alan in the side slightly.
Alan grinned and laughed, his tail flicking happily back and forth. “That’s so awesome, I can’t wait to tryout.” The rat smiled, because the way JD said it left little doubt that Alan would be part of the band. “Thanks for giving me a ride, I missed the bus and my Dad would have been pissed coming to get me.”
The hyena’s grin shrunk a little bit. “Hey it’s cool. Sorry Shane couldn’t drive you, he’s a little busy right now.” The hyena said happily, but it seemed like the words were forced somehow. Alan got the feeling that the confident hyena was hiding something from him.
Then a thought struck the rat, and he turned his head to the side in confusion as he handed the helmet back to JD. “Um, how did Shane even know I needed a ride? I mean Keith just ran off this morning. I didn’t call Shane or anything.”
JD’s smile widened a bit, and now Alan was sure that the hyena was forcing the smile. “Well, that’s a bit tricky I guess. He’s with your friend Keith, and I’m sure he’ll explain later…”
Alan blinked, and his paws tightened their grip on the black motorcycle helmet as the hyena tried to take it back. “When you first picked me up, what did you mean by ‘go back’ to the hospital? Is Shane at the hospital with Keith?” The rat’s eyes widened, tail went limp, and his heart began to race when the hyena sighed deeply. “Is he alright, what happened?” Alan said quickly, and the rat realized he wasn’t sure which of his friends he was worried about.
The hyena shook his head slightly, knowing he had said too much at this point. “Shane and Keith are both fine. It’s just… complicated.” The hyena said quietly, obviously hesitant to say more than he had.
Alan stared at JD, and after a moment the hyena’s green eyes just watched him. “It’s Todd.” The rat said quietly, his heart going cold as he put the pieces together. “It’s got something to do with Todd. He’s sick, or something happened to him.” The rat squinted at the hyena, who said nothing this time and Alan just nodded, his whisker’s spreading out as he shouldered his bag and the kangaroo’s. “You’re taking me there. I’ve got to tell my Dad where I’m going, but you’re taking me to the hospital. If you leave, I’ll…”
The hyena’s smirk was genuine this time. “Never forgive me, right. Just go deal with your dad,” JD said casually, a real grin spreading across his muzzle as his eyes sparkled. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
Alan’s smile flickered across his muzzle for a moment, and then he raced inside his house.
JD sighed and leaned back across the seat of his bike, staring up at the clouds. It was going to be a long night.
When JD and Alan got to the hospital, the nurses at the front desk directed them to Todd’s room on the third floor. JD had been very calm when he told Alan what Todd had done, but the rat was really shaken that the fox was in a coma. Alan was even trembling a little bit, the rat’s tail twitching back and forth as they walked to Todd’s hospital room. When they got to the door, Alan peered in the small window, afraid to just go inside.
Inside, Todd was laid out in a hospital bed and the fox was obviously unconscious. Shane was sitting nearby, slouched in a large armchair in the corner of the room. Alan had expected to see Keith inside sitting in the chair beside Shane, but instead it was David who was talking with the raccoon. The kangaroo looked heart broken, as if he had been crying for hours.
Alan looked at JD when the hyena padded up close and leaned against the wall beside the doorframe. “David knows Todd?” the rat asked quietly, and JD said nothing as the rat continued to talk, “Is that why Shane’s here? Shane and David are old friends but…”
JD shifted his stance a little as Alan peered back though the window. “They were more than friends once,” the hyena said quietly, and Alan blinked in surprise. He looked back into the room just as Shane reached over and took David’s paw in his, patting it gently as he spoke with the kangaroo. Alan was taken aback as the kangaroo leaned over and cried on Shane’s shoulder, and the raccoon hugged him to comfort the kangaroo. Alan’s mind raced as he watched the two sit with Todd. He knew the raccoon was gay, but David was on the soccer team wasn’t he? He couldn’t be gay.
The rat flicked his tail back and forth, the anxious feeling in his chest growing as he thought things through by talking, “What does that have to do with Todd? David seemed frantic to find him, like he… loved Todd…” Then Alan remembered how horrible Keith had looked, and the scent in his truck.
The rat jerked his head back from the window and looked over at JD in surprise, having finally figured it out. The hyena just looked back at him evenly, leaning sideways against the tiled wall, leather jacket open to reveal he was wearing no shirt underneath, his square muzzle tilted to the side a bit. The hyena’s creamy brown fur didn’t move, and JD’s eyes stayed as fixed as the hyena’s spots, locked on Alan’s face.
“David and Todd were lovers, weren’t they?” The rat said quietly, “Before they moved here, before Todd met Keith.” and JD’s tail just flicked back and forth. Alan licked his lips, afraid to ask his next question. “That, that’s why Keith was so worried… Because he and Todd… were…” Alan shut his mouth, unable to continue as his tail began to lash back and forth.
JD’s muzzle dipped downward, his eyes still on Alan’s face, “Probably,” the hyena huffed quietly, and in that one gruff word he confirmed everything the rat had said.
Alan closed his eyes and tried to breathe normally, but his nostrils flared wide as the anger built up inside him. The rat felt like he was going to be sick as he began to understand just why his best friend had been ignoring him while becoming so close to the fox. Keith was in love with Todd, and Alan hadn’t even seen it.
It was bloody obvious now. The looks Keith gave Todd, why he drove out of the way to pick him up when Todd’s parents were more than willing to take him to school. Keith had been acting different all year because he was falling in love, not because his new friends on the football team were changing him. Alan balled his paws into fists and closed his eyes tight.
The wolf had been changed all right, but in a totally different way than Alan had thought. The rat cursed under his breath, hating himself for not noticing Keith’s affections for Todd. He had been too wrapped up in worrying about the wolf’s lack of interest in him.
That made Alan feel like somebody had punched him in the chest because now, knowing the wolf was probably gay made his disinterest in Alan even worse for the rat. It didn’t matter that Alan wasn’t even sure he was gay himself, the idea that Keith might be gay too and wasn’t interested in him hurt the rat badly.
The rat looked away from JD, gasping for air through clenched teeth. Alan pulled his arm back and nearly punched the door hard, but JD’s paw snaked out and grabbed his wrist. The hyena said nothing as he pulled Alan off balance and into a fierce hug. The hyena held Alan in a tight embrace against his bare chest, a paw on the back of Alan’s head forcing the rat to tuck his muzzle under JD’s chin. The rat’s paws unclenched and his finger’s dug into the hyena’s chest fur as his heart broke. Alan pushed his face into the short fur of the hyena’s chest and closed his eyes tightly, trying to block out the world. Alan’s body shook in the hyena’s grasp as he forcibly held in a sob and willed himself not to cry into the hyena’s fur. They stayed like that for a long while, JD just holding the rat tightly as Alan came to terms with everything he had figured out.
There was a slight click as the door behind Alan began to open and the rat pulled back from JD, his eyes watering as he held back his tears. Shane blinked in surprise when he saw the hyena and rat standing together outside Todd’s room, but he let the door close behind him before saying, “Alan, what are you doing here?” The raccoon’s eyes flicked up to JD’s face. “I told you to take him home.”
Alan lifted his muzzle a little, and slid past Shane with an angry glare. “Todd’s my friend too, Shane, and so is David. I have every right to be here.”
The raccoon blushed, and ducked his head at the rat’s outburst, “I, that’s not what I meant…”
“I know that,” Alan cut the raccoon’s apology off, his words still angry. Then he hung his head slightly as he rested a paw on the door handle. Alan’s voice was choked with tears as he said, “I’m sorry Shane.” The rat lifted his head and looked the raccoon in the eye, “I just… I never thought this would happen.” The rat looked at his two new friends, his eyes pleading with them. “This is all so screwed up and I’m screwed up and I just… sorry.” The rat looked down again, ashamed he had snapped so angrily at the raccoon.
Shane nodded a little bit, and he put a paw on Alan’s shoulder. “It’s okay.” The raccoon said quietly, and the rat nodded a little and went into Todd’s room.
Shane turned to face JD as the door closed behind Alan. They both just stood there, sort of looking at each other for a moment in a pregnant silence. Then the hyena reached out and hooked a paw on the back of the raccoon’s head and pulled him close, fingers digging into the raccoon’s purple head fur as he hugged the raccoon tightly. Shane let out a long sigh as JD wrapped the raccoon up tight in his arms. It was a heavy exhausted sound that let out all the tension that had built up over the last few hours. “I’m so glad you’re here.” The raccoon’s words were muffled by the hyena’s chest, his face buried in the brown fur of the man holding him.
JD said nothing, his ears just flicked backwards as he hugged the raccoon tighter.
David glanced up when the door opened, and he was a little surprised to see Alan. The gray rat’s tail dragged across the floor as he padded up to Todd’s bedside, staring at the sleeping fox. David waved at him a little, and the rat smiled back nervously. It surprised David just how different Alan was from the angry rat he had meet Friday night. Instead of an underfed, angst filled looking punk teen, Alan looked like a real rock star decked out in leather and silk.
David stood up slowly, and the rat’s eyes flicked towards him. The kangaroo moved slowly to Todd’s beside and stood close to the rat’s side. Alan reached a paw out slowly and put it on Todd’s upper arm, his fingers sliding slowly over the red fur on Todd’s arm until they reached the bandages on his wrists. The rat pulled his paw back, and his tail twitched when the kangaroo’s elbow brushed against the rat’s side gently. Alan looked so confused, as if he wanted to ask the kangaroo a million questions, but couldn’t bring himself too.
So David broke the silence. “Hey Alan. I guess you’re one of Todd’s friends.” The kangaroo said quietly.
“Yeah, I…” the rat stopped, swallowing nervously as he stared down at Todd. “I brought your bag.” The rat said lamely, setting David’s school bag beside the bed without looking at the kangaroo.
“Thanks.” David said quietly, crossing his arms as he stood beside the rat. David had no idea what to say to Alan. They just stood beside Todd’s bed in silence. For a moment David saw the rat’s paw begin to tremble, but Alan clenched that paw into a fist to stop it. Then the rat swallowed again and looked up at David.
“We met in gym class… he talked to me all the time. I… really like him.” the rat felt so awkward saying that to the guy who was probably Todd’s first lover. Alan looked back down at the fox, unable to look David in the eye when he asked, “How did you meet Todd?”
David swallowed and took Todd’s paw gently in his own, not looking at the shorter rat standing beside him. “He used to live next door to me, back in our home town.”
“You were, lovers right?” Alan asked, a hint of fear in his voice.
David nodded and smiled, turning his muzzle so he was looking at Alan. The sadness in the kangaroo’s eyes told Alan just how much he loved the fox. “Until my dad found out. He dragged me out of Todd’s house, and threw me in a military school.”
“Oh.” The rat said quietly, his muzzle dipping towards his chest as he looked down at Todd. “I wish he had told me.” Alan said quietly, and the kangaroo nodded just a bit.
David reached over and took Alan’s paw in his own. “You know, he’s going to be okay.” David said quietly, and Alan blushed a little bit as the kangaroo’s larger, strong paw squeezed his clenched fist.
The rat folded his ears back, and he looked down at Todd. They were silent for a moment, before Alan said, “Do you really think so?”
“I… have to.” David said quietly, and the two stood together beside Todd’s bed, watching the fox breathe slowly.
After a while, Shane came back to the room. The raccoon had a ruffled look to his fur and his eyes were puffy, as if he had been crying. JD lurked in the doorway as Shane put his paw on Alan’s shoulder. “We’ve got to go,” the raccoon said quietly, “Visiting hours are over soon, and only family can stay in the room overnight.”
David turned and nodded slightly, giving the raccoon a hug. “Okay Shane, I guess I’ll see you guys later then. Mr. Hayes will take me home, and I think Keith already left.”
The mention of the wolf’s name made Alan’s ears flatten against his head, so Shane quickly changed the subject. “Well come on Alan, I haven’t eaten in hours. Let’s go get some food and then I’ll take you home, okay?” The rat smiled a little bit, and he nervously stood beside David, wondering what he should say to the kangaroo. David solved the rat’s problem by giving him a friendly hug. Alan followed Shane out of the room, blushing slightly.
When it was just JD and David left in the room, the hyena came to Todd’s side, and petted the fox’s head fur gently. David dipped his head, when the fox did not respond at all to the hyena’s touch. JD looked at the kangaroo, and smiled slightly at him. “We keep running into each other.”
“Yeah, we do.” David said quietly, shaking his head, “It’s good to see you again JD, sorry I didn’t recognize you at the mall.”
The hyena smirked slightly, “It’s cool. Shane didn’t exactly introduce us.”
He just stood by David silently for a few seconds, both of them looking down at the sleeping fox. The hyena looked at David, then down at the fox and then back at the forlorn kangaroo. Then suddenly the hyena leaned over, cupped the back of David’s head with his paw and gave David a kiss right on the lips. The kangaroo tried to pull back, but JD put his other paw on the kangaroo’s muzzle and forced David to just kiss him.
It was a slow kiss, and it was filled with so much sadness it surprised David. It wasn’t a kiss of passion or lust; it was just a kiss to show the kangaroo he understood the kangaroo’s pain. That feeling matched the look in the hyena’s deep green eyes when he broke the kiss and looked David in the eye.
David blinked, and just stared at the strange hyena. JD’s head was tilted just slightly, and somehow the way he looked at David told him that the hyena understood better than anyone else what David was going through. “Why?” the kangaroo asked quietly.
JD licked his lips a bit and looked at Todd again as he said, “Because Todd couldn’t give it to you himself.”
With that the hyena just let go of David’s muzzle, turned and walked out of the room. David looked back at Todd as the door closed behind the hyena, and he put a paw to his mouth as he looked down at Todd. It was the strangest, most comforting gift the kangaroo had received since finding Todd again.
A kiss from his fox, even if someone else had delivered it.
It brought the kangaroo to tears.
It was just after midnight when David finally found a way to sleep in Todd’s hospital room. He had to pull one of the large stuffed chairs close to Todd’s bed so he could lay his head on the fox’s slim lap, holding Todd’s long fluffy tail in his own lap. It wasn’t comfortable, twisted on his side and draped over the hospital bed, but at least one of the nurses had helped him by lowering the metal railing on the bed so the kangaroo could sleep without a metal bar pressing into his throat. He was almost unconscious when the door opened.
David lifted his head up, and blinked wearily as a small family of foxes stepped into the room. The kangaroo recognized Todd’s older bother Rowan and his wife Deanna. The young vixen was holding a sleeping fox cub in her arms, and Rowan looked like an older version of Todd as he stood in the low light of the hospital room.
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence before Rowan coughed and said, “Hello David. It’s been a long time.”
The kangaroo nodded, his ears turning backwards. “Hi Rowan.” He said with a little uncertainty. He had never been very comfortable around Todd’s older brother. Deanna leaned over and whispered something in her husband’s ear, and took the sleeping fox cub out of the room. David shifted so he was sitting up normally, and Rowan took the other chair, sitting awkwardly across from the kangaroo. The fox looked haggard, and he had probably been driving all day to get here.
“So, Pop told me what happened over the phone. I was hoping you could clear some things up for me though.” David smiled a little bit, shaking his head. The fox was wearing normal clothes, but just the way he said the words made David feel like he was being interrogated again by one of his old instructors. The way Rowan sat just screamed ‘Cop’ to the kangaroo.
David had been through enough interrogations in his years at the academy to know when he was being questioned, even if Rowan meant well. “Sure,” David muttered, a slight smile pulling at the edges of his mouth, “but only if you drop the cop routine. You don’t have to interrogate me.”
Rowan chuckled slightly, looking away from the kangaroo with a slight smile, “Is it that obvious?” The fox muttered, leaning back in the chair. “I just want to find out what happened to Todd.” Rowan sighed heavily, looking over at his younger brother with sad eyes. “Are you going to tell me where you’ve been the last two years David?” The fox’s ears swiveled backwards, and his muzzle dipped a bit. “I know I wasn’t always keen on you two being together. Mom and Dad might not need to know, but it’s my baby brother lying in that bed. I think I have the right to know.”
David sighed softly, nodding a little. “Yeah, you do. I don’t think I could tell,” and then David hesitated. He had almost called Mr. and Mrs. Hayes ‘Mom and Dad’, but decided against it in front of Todd’s brother. “Michael and Rebecca what happened to me.” The kangaroo drew in a shuddering breath, his paw rubbing at the side of his muzzle. “I spent the last two years at the Roosevelt Academy for Troubled Boys,” David said softly.
Rowan whistled softly, a paw running through the ragged fox’s head fur. “Oh god, your parents put you in that hell hole?” Rowan looked at the floor, and the fox’s tail drooped along with his ears. “Well, that explains why you couldn’t even call.” The fox shook his head slightly, muttering a curse David did not catch under his breath.
They were both silent for a moment, as Rowan stared at Todd’s sleeping form. “You don’t have to tell me anything else David. I don’t need to know what they did to you in there. I know that place’s reputation.” The older fox turned his eyes on David, and he had a haunted expression on his face. “That’s the place every hateful, white bread cop we kick off the force gets a job. I’m sorry David.” The fox and kangaroo sat across from each other, heads hung as they listened to the slow beep of Todd’s heart monitor.
“It’s okay Rowan, it wasn’t your fault.” David said softly.
The fox reached out and grabbed David’s knee. “It wasn’t yours either. You couldn’t…” Rowan stopped as the door opened, and his son came scampering into the room.
“Unkie Todd!” the little cub yipped, his paws grabbing hold of Todd’s long tail and tugging on it gently. “Wake up Unkie Todd!” the little fox said brightly. The kit was wearing a pair of miniature blue overalls and a white t-shirt, and the way he looked up at the sleeping fox with such innocent happiness told David that he had no idea what had happened to Todd.
Rowan reached down and scooped the little fox up. “Come ’ere squirt,” Rowan said, lifting his son up into his lap. The little cub held on to Todd’s tail, and the long fluffy foxtail stretched across the room from the hospital bed to his small black paws. Rowen carefully extracted the black tip of Todd’s tail from his son’s paws, and the fluffy red flag came to rest on David’s lap as Rowan looked into his son’s eyes.
“Now you need to be quiet Jake, your uncle Todd is sleeping.” The young police officer smiled, holding his son gently. David smiled too. It was a quiet, peaceful picture, a young father holding his son. It made David wish his own father had been caring enough to hold him like that.
“When’s he gonna wake up?” the little kit said, putting his small black paws on his father’s muzzle. “I want to play ball wiff him.” The little kit yipped, his tail wagging back and forth like crazy. Rowan smiled and even David chuckled, because it was just such a cute innocent statement.
“Not sure, son.” The older fox said softly, his voice a little choked up by the emotion of the moment as he petted the little fox’s ears gently. The cub laughed, smiling for a moment before he noticed David sitting beside Todd.
“Who’s that?” the kit said brightly, turning his face to look at David, the little fox smiling just like Todd once used to.
“That,” Rowan said quietly, a smile spreading across his muzzle, “is your Uncle David.” The older fox smiled as his young son wagged his tail and climbed into David’s lap. The kangaroo barely kept himself from crying as the little fox sat in his lap and talked to him happily.
Alan was the first one to sit down at the lunch table. The lunchroom was quiet, and the deserted feeling did not help the rat’s disposition. It was strange to sit down at the empty table and just wait. He had always just assumed that Todd would be the first one there. The fox was always waiting at the table when he got there. The rat stared at the slightly squashed sandwich and pudding cup he had brought from home, but all he could think about was the fox.
Alan had not wanted to come to school today. The rat had been up all night tossing and turning as he thought about what Keith and Todd must have done together in the wolf’s truck. Just the thought of seeing Keith, much less driving all the way across the bridge to school with the wolf had made Alan’s stomach twist into knots so badly he had almost provided himself an excuse to stay home by throwing up breakfast.
Even if he had thrown up, it probably would not have helped. His dad was not going to accept any of the usual excuses about being sick after Alan had stayed out all weekend, and Alan sure as hell couldn’t tell his dad what was really going on. His dad would never understand. So he had taken the bus to school and avoided everyone he knew as long as he could. He was just trying to get through the day.
The rat rubbed his muzzle with his paws, brushed the moisture from his eyes, and ruffled his short whiskers as he sighed heavily. The gray rat smoothed the fur on his face out and shook his ears a little in an attempt to break himself out of his depressive thoughts as the twins down at the table.
“Hey Alan,” James said happily, and Jeff chimed in “Back to the normal clothes huh?” The foxes stared at him for a moment, and Alan just sort of stared back at them with a blank expression. Then they both said, “Are you alright?” in perfect sync.
The rat smirked just a little bit and nodded. “Yeah, yeah I’m fine.”
The truth was, Alan looked as horrible as he felt. He was dressed in his old ratty clothes and his head-fur was uncombed. Instead of the sleek, confident, and attractive rodent he had been the day before, Alan was once again a scrawny, disheveled rat. At least today he didn’t care as much. Today his appearance was the least of his concerns. Today all he cared about was getting through the day without crying in front of his friends and acting like a fool.
Alan intentionally avoided looking at his friends. He kept his head down as the others started to arrive, and the unease at the table began to grow. The rat fidgeted as Chris and Kevin sat on opposite sides of the table from each other, and Keith took the seat farthest from him as well. Only the twins were trying to talk, coaxing single word answers out of everyone as the whole table tried to avoid looking at each other or at the empty chair beside Keith where Todd should be sitting.
Eventually, James leaned over and began to whisper in his brother’s ear, and Jeff looked at his brother with concern. The little fox set down his sandwich and climbed up on his chair so he could put his paws in the middle of the table. “Alright,” the little fox yipped loudly so everyone at the table would look at him, “What’s going on?”
Chris, Alan, Kevin and Keith all stared at Jeff for a few seconds as the fox’s tail flicked back and forth. Jeff looked back and forth at his friend’s faces, and Alan felt sorry for the little fox. No one said anything, and Jeff’s temporary bravado waned under everyone’s blank, uncomfortable stares. The little fox’s ears turned backwards and his cheeks turned red under his white fur. James even tried to hide behind his brother’s tail, before the fox sat back down in complete embarrassment.
Alan cleared his throat as everyone shifted in their seats, “What is it Jeff?”
The little fox looked away from Alan and rubbed his paws together. “I just…” Jeff mumbled, “Something is going on with Todd and no one wants to talk about it.” The little fox’s tail flicked back and forth, and his muzzle dipped down.
James scooted closer to his brother as the twins both looked up at the rest of the table. “Todd’s still not at school today, and no one answered at his house when we called last night.”
Chris and Kevin actually seemed to be relieved that the twins were talking about Todd. Alan watched as Keith’s ears flattened so far against his head they almost disappeared into his fur. The wolf shifted, his shoulders hunched forward as he stared down at his food. The rat stared at the wolf, waiting for Keith to tell them all what happened. The rat narrowed his eyes at Keith as the wolf looked at him out of the corner of his eye. Keith had a haunted look in his eyes, and somehow the rat knew he wasn’t going to say anything.
“You’re not going to tell them, are you?” Alan muttered at the wolf bitterly, “Just like you didn’t tell me.” Keith looked away from Alan, and he looked so ashamed in his plain white shirt and ruffled fur, it made Alan almost feel sorry for him. Almost.
Alan looked around the table, because now everybody was watching him. “Todd’s in the hospital,” the rat said with a hint of anger in his voice, trying to keep himself from crying,
“What?” Chris shouted, and the leopard nearly leapt out of his seat, “Did someone attack him?”. The twins gasped in shock and Kevin dropped his soda with a fizzing thud. Jeff and James started talking, their words tumbling over each other as they both tried to talk at the same time. Chris started shouting questions about what happened, demanding to know who had put Todd there so the leopard could kill them for this, while Kevin just sat there with his mouth open and his ears drooped. Keith reacted with shame and embarrassment, his ears pressed flat against his head as everyone tried to talk at once. His jaw tightened as he clenched his paws into fists and looked away from his friends, as they all shouted over each other, focused on Alan.
The rat couldn’t think fast enough to hear them all, and he clutched his ears. “Stop, STOP!” Alan shouted at them, and the table fell silent. Even an otter passing by the table stopped and listened. Alan panted slightly, licking his lips as everyone calmed down. “Okay.” The rat said softly, steadying himself. “Todd tried to kill himself Friday night, and now he’s in a coma.”
Chris sat back in his seat with a thud. The leapord’s eyes were wide with shock, as if he couldn’t wrap his mind around it. James clung to his brother’s side, and Jeff put his tail and arm around James’s waist. Kevin leaned forward, and licked his lips nervously, “Okay. Umm… why did he do it?” the dalmatian asked quietly.
Alan tensed, and he felt an evil urge to tell everyone exactly why the fox had done this. There was a crowd forming, and if he ever wanted to make Keith pay for the way the wolf had been treating him lately, now was the rat’s chance. Then Alan looked at Keith and the anger he felt at the wolf turned cold. Alan wanted to out him, to make him pay for the way he’d ignored him, but he couldn’t. Alan shook his head and lied, unable to expose the wolf like this with everyone hanging on his words. “I don’t know why he did it,” the rat said quietly.
“It’s because of me.” Keith whispered. “He did it because he’s gay.” The wolf’s eyes shifted back and forth as every muzzle at the table turned to look at him slowly. “And so am I.”
The table was silent as the wolf licked his lips and went on, “He went to the game with me, and after I won the game we drove home together.” Keith’s eyes were fixed on Alan, his ears turned backwards as everyone else’s ears cupped forward to hear him better. Everyone at the table seemed to be holding their breath. The rat just watched Keith silently, already knowing what had happened.
“We stopped on that little bluff over the lake… and…” the wolf stopped, closed his eyes and breathed in slowly. It was a shuddering sound as the wolf built up the courage to finish. “We made love.” The wolf whispered, and his voice choked on the word love. “After I dropped him off, he, he…” Keith closed his eyes and covered his face with his paws.
Alan lowered his muzzle in shame as Keith began to cry, attracting the attention of a large crowd. The otter that had been listening was sneering at the wolf, a disgusted look on his face. Alan frowned as a small crowd began to gather around the table. The rat looked at his friend with sympathy before shouting at the crowd, “What the hell you looking at? Beat it!” The otter shifted his football jacket and turned away, and the rest of the crowd went with him. Alan flicked his tail once and sat down as the table was left alone again. No matter how pissed he was at the wolf, Keith didn’t deserve to have everyone watching him like this.
Chris flattened his ears and edged away from Keith, a nervous look on the leopard’s face as the crowd dispersed.
Kevin looked on the verge of tears as well, as if someone had punched the dalmatian in the gut repeatedly. James put his paws on Keith’s shoulder, trying to comfort the wolf as he put his head on the table and hid from his friends.
Jeff was the first one to speak, nervously leaning forward, “You and Todd had sex? So why would he…” the little fox swallowed nervously and stopped when Keith sobbed loudly, unable to finish the question. The wolf tightened his arms around his head, hiding from everyone as best he could.
“Todd was already with someone else.” Alan said quickly, because it was obvious that Keith wasn’t going to be able to finish telling them what happened. “David, that new kid? They were lovers before they moved here.”
“Wait, David, on the soccer team? The kangaroo who joined last week?” Chris sputtered, his eyes widening. Alan nodded, and the rat caught the look on Kevin’s face out of the corner of his eye. The dog looked like he was going to be sick, and he slunk down in his chair as if he wanted to disappear under the table and die.
“Yeah, that David.” Alan said quietly, “Only, Todd didn’t know he was here. He and Todd lost track of each other because David’s parents sent him to some kind of camp to ‘fix’ him.”
The whole table fell silent except for the sound of Keith’s quiet sobs. No one wanted to look at each other, as they wondered if their own family would do that sort of thing to them.
Michael Hayes stood in the hallway outside Todd’s hospital room with his wife. The two foxes stood close together as they spoke to Dr. Mitchell. Michael glanced at his wife, as the vixen clutched his paw so tightly the fingers went numb. He knew that the last few days had been hard on his wife. The sleep deprivation and worry had ground her normally happy attitude away. The slim vixen’s eyes were haunted, as if she was being chased by something, as the otter went over Todd’s chart.
Mr. Hayes slipped an arm around his wife’s shoulders and narrowed his eyes as the otter in front of them rattled off a lot of technical information about Todd’s condition.
“Look doctor, we don’t really need to know the details about what is keeping Todd unconscious. We just want to know what his chances of recovery are.” Michael said evenly, knowing that if he let the fear he felt in his heart creep into his voice his wife would only become more concerned.
The otter sighed, checking the notes on his chart one last time. “Alright, I’ll be blunt then. I have no idea if your son will ever wake up. Todd’s condition is stable now. He can breathe on his own and swallow, and the scans show good mental activity. I don’t see any signs of brain damage, but it is impossible to be sure as long as he is unresponsive.” The doctor crossed his arms over his short body, his thick tail tapping slightly against the ground. “I have no medical reason for why Todd is still in a coma, and no idea what might bring him out of it.”
Rebecca closed her eyes and hid her muzzle underneath her husband’s chin, blocking out the hospital sights and smells with her husband’s fur so she would not cry. The thought of her son being like this forever terrified her beyond words.
Michael squeezed his wife gently, and nodded slightly. “Thank you doctor.” The otter tilted his head to the side and nodded once at Mr. Hayes before he walked away.
Michael held his wife for a long time, and Rebecca clung to his side as if he were the only solid object in the world. The fox brushed a paw through his wife’s hair, his chin gently rubbing against the bridge of her muzzle. “It’s going to be okay honey.”
Mrs. Hayes lifted her head, and stared into her husband’s eyes. “It doesn’t matter.” She said quietly, her paws straightening her husband’s collar. “I don’t care if he never wakes up. He’s our son,” she whispered with a slight sniff.
“And we’ll always be there for him,” Mr. Hayes said quietly, his paw caressing his wife’s face. They were about to share a kiss when someone jostled them.
It was a broad shouldered tigress that had pushed against them trying to make her way into Todd’s room. Whoever the woman was, she was definitely not a nurse in her low-cut dress and big, curled hair. “Scuse me folks,” she said loudly, and started to push the door to Todd’s room open.
Mr. Hayes grabbed the door handle and pulled the door closed with a sharp bang. The fox glared at the tigress, looking down slightly at the short woman. “What do you think you’re doing?” Michael demanded, “That is our son’s room.”
The tigress took a step back and drew herself up. Mrs. Clarice Perez was not used to being talked to that way, and while she did not quite reach Mr. Hayes’s height, even with her hair, she gave the fox a damn good glare. “Well,” she muttered, “Sign says 317. That’s the room that nurse gave me for David Weathers, which means it’s my son’s room not yours. Now please move.”
“What do you want with David?” Michael said with a hint of a growl in his voice, moving protectively in front of the door handle so the tiger could not reach past him.
“What do I want?” the tigress said with a growl of her own, “I want to take him home, that’s what. What do you want?” Mrs. Perez was unaccustomed to fear. She had been the mother of nearly twenty children and as a tiger was not prone to the instinctive frights some people were. Yet when those two slim, mild mannered foxes growled at her, she took a step back all the same.
Mr. Hayes flicked his tail back and forth and was about to say something when the room door opened and David poked his head out, wondering what was going on. “Mr. Hayes? Did you need me…” The kangaroo swallowed nervously when he spotted the tiger, his ears flattening against his head. “Mrs. Perez.”
“There you are young man. Come with me right now mister, I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing…” the tigress reached out to grab David’s collar, but Mr. Hayes grabbed her wrist.
“Keep your paws off him.” The fox said with a growl so loud his lips pulled back in a snarl. Mrs. Perez took another step back, startled by the sheer anger in the fox’s voice and the way his wife moved to block her view of David.
“No one is taking him anywhere.” Rebecca said sternly and gave the tiger a glare that could have taken the fur off her hide.
Mrs. Perez tilted her head to the side and crossed her arms. “Oh really? Well, I think I’m taking him home,” the tigress said evenly, and the look in Rebecca’s eyes made her add, “Right after somebody explains what’s going on here.”
“Yes David, what is going on,” Mr. Hayes asked evenly, “Do you know this woman?”
There was a moment of shifting silence as the inside of David’s ears turned red and he squirmed under the gaze of all three adults. “Yes.” The kangaroo muttered, “She’s my foster mom.”
“The one you called yesterday?” Mrs. Hayes said quietly, and David’s eyes went right to the floor. Rebecca put her paw on the kangaroo’s shoulder, “Oh David…” she said sadly.
The kangaroo flinched at the tone of her voice, “I’m sorry,” David whispered.
“Well ‘I’m sorry’ is not going to cut it David,” Mrs. Perez said angrily, “What the hell were you thinking boy? I’ve got every social worker in the county calling me, wanting to know why you haven’t been in school for the last two days. You’ve only been with me for two weeks; are you trying to give me a heart attack or something? Do you want to go back to that school you came from? I can get them to send you back like that.” The tigress snapped her fingers, and almost instantly regretted her words.
David’s face fell and he began to stutter, desperately trying to explain what had happened. Mrs. Perez had never seen a young male dissolve into tears so easily. The kangaroo’s words came out as a jumbled mess, and before he started to sob uncontrollably. Michael gently pushed the blubbering kangaroo into his wife’s waiting embrace.
“It’s okay David, we’ll handle this.” Michael said reassuringly, and the kangaroo just bawled into Mrs. Hayes’s shoulder.
Mrs. Perez blinked, stared at the crying boy, and then blinked again. She had never expected the kangaroo to react like that. She expected yelling, curse, or even a brooding glare, not open crying. No teenage boy did that in front of any adult. Something about all this was wrong, and she had blundered into it by mistake thinking she had another rebellious boy on her hands. She turned her attention back to the glaring fox in front of her, her gaze softening somewhat. “Well?” she said expectantly.
Michael’s nose dipped slightly as he stared the tigress in the eyes. “David is gay. His parents yanked him out of his old life and our family two years ago, when he was in love with our son, who,” Mr. Hayes pointed through the small window at the bed Todd was laying in, “slashed his wrists on Friday because he thought he would never see David again. My family has been searching for David for two years now, in the hopes of preventing something like this from happening. So if you have any illusions about taking him away now, you are sorely mistaken.”
The tigress flicked her tail once to make the fur lay down again. She was truly frightened by the determined, almost angry look in the fox’s eyes. She glanced at David, and the kangaroo’s embarrassed silence as he clung to the vixen beside him told Mrs. Perez what the fox said was true. She knew damn well no teenage boy would let someone claim he was gay without a fight unless it was true. She had been the mother of too many boys, foster and her own, to think otherwise.
Mrs. Perez shifted the way her arms were crossed across her chest and sighed. “Oh,” Mrs. Perez muttered. “Well that changes things,” the tigress said quietly. She spent a moment mulling over the situation Mr. Hayes had dumped into her paws. “Alright, he can stay. I still need a good reason for him to miss school though.”
“I’ve placed him on suicide watch.” Mr. Hayes said quietly. “That should do nicely. The nurses can give you the details if you need proof.”
“What?” David said, but Mrs. Hayes shushed him quickly. The kangaroo’s pained surprise made Mr. Hayes close his eyes for just a second.
Mrs. Perez pitied the man standing in front of her. She had enough experience to know when a man was a good father, and how sometimes that meant doing things you didn’t want to do.
The tigress brushed a paw through her long head fur, tossing her hair over one shoulder. “That should satisfy the blood suckers at social services. David,” she said sternly, “I’ll bring your school things and your make up work tomorrow.”
“We’ll make sure he does it.” Rebecca said quietly and the tigress nodded.
“I’d appreciate that. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. School let out an hour ago, and I will have a crowd of kids standing outside my door by the time I get home.”
Mr. Hayes turned to David as the tigress left, and waited.
The kangaroo stared at the fox with a hurt look on his muzzle. “You put me on suicide watch?” He asked in disbelief.
“Yes.” Michael said flatly, “I am not going to lose a second son.”
David stared at Michael, and then he just nodded once. “Okay. That makes sense,” the kangaroo said quietly, rubbing the side of his head slowly. Then with an embarrassed grin he hugged Michael, squeezing the slightly shorter fox as hard as he could. “Thank you.” David whispered in Michael’s ear, and the fox smiled as he hugged David back.
Mrs. Perez walked away from the very strange family of foxes, and promised herself to find out more about the next boy she took in from ‘Roosevelt Academy’. The look on David’s face when she had threatened to send him back there haunted the tigress as she waited for the elevator. When the elevator doors opened for Mrs. Perez, she was not surprised to see a familiar face waiting for her in the lift. Too many strange things had happened for her to be surprised now. The tigress nodded and said, “Hello Ryan,” forcing a smile.
“Afternoon Mrs. Perez.” Ryan Johnson stepped out of the elevator, and Jeff and James followed close behind their father. The tigress glanced at the family of foxes and shook her head slightly just before the elevator doors closed.
“Who was that, dad?” Jeff asked quietly.
“Mrs. Perez, a rather nice lady.” Ryan said as he began leading his boys down the hallway. “She’s one of the few foster parents in Haden County. I’ve worked with her on a few cases,” he said briskly, checking the room numbers as they walked down the hall together.
Ryan adjusted the suit he was wearing. The fox was feeling a little awkward just by being an attorney in a hospital. Grieving families rarely appreciated an ambulance chaser interrupting their private tragedies.
“So, she might know David then?” James said from behind him, his voice hushed as he rushed to keep up with his father’s longer stride.
“It’s possible,” Mr. Johnson said absently, making sure to keep his voice even so that his boys couldn’t detect any hint of the worry he felt. If what the boys had said about Todd was true, and the fox had attempted suicide, Jeff and James might not be walking into a good situation. Ryan would rather come and see what Todd’s condition was on his own first, but the boys had been so adamant about coming to see Todd today that there was no arguing with them.
Now they were growing more and more nervous as they passed a nurse’s station and some very sick patients in the hallway. Ryan wasn’t too surprised that the twins were scared now that they were actually inside Hadenview Memorial, and he did not want to make things worse for them by sounding worried.
The older fox smiled slightly when James grabbed his tail and bumped into him from behind when he paused, just the way he had done when he was a very little cub. Jeff was more confident, walking beside his father, but Ryan could see the worry in his son’s face and the way he curled his tail.
By the time they approached room 317 and spotted Todd’s family standing in the hallway, James was practically hiding behind his father and Jeff was standing much closer than before.
“Mr. and Mrs. Hayes I presume?” Ryan said cheerfully, extending his paw to the male fox who turned around at the sound of his name. “I’m Ryan Johnson, and you must be David,” the fox said happily as Mr. Hayes returned the handshake.
“Oh, hello.” Michael said, a bit of surprise creeping into his voice. “You’re Jeff and James’ father. I remember you from a parent teacher night.” The other fox glanced down, and then around Mr. Johnson to where his twin boys were almost hiding. “Hello Jeff, James. I guess you’ve heard about Todd from Keith.” Mr. Hayes glanced briefly at David, and then said slowly, “I don’t know if you two have met David yet.” The kangaroo sort of waved at the twins weakly.
“Hey guys.” The kangaroo muttered, and the twins responded in kind.
Jeff raised a paw back at the kangaroo, “So, um, you and Todd were…”
“Together?” James finished with a whisper, and the hallway was filled with awkward silence as five foxes and a kangaroo looked at the floor.
“Yeah,” David said quietly.
James nodded once, his paws rubbing together, “Well, umm…” the little fox paused, his ears splaying out in embarrassment before Jeff finished, “can we see him?”
David nodded once and pushed the door to Todd’s room open. The twins hesitated, staring at the open door fearfully until Ryan coughed and said, “I’ll be right here if you need me, okay?” The twins looked up at their father, and their slim muzzles broke into a momentary smile of thanks before they went inside.
Mr. Johnson sighed as the door closed behind them with a soft click. He peered through the door window at the comatose young fox laying on the gurney. Ryan had only seen Todd a few times, but the young man did not look good. The fox cleared his throat and turned to Todd’s parents, keeping an ear turned towards the room for any sound that his boys needed him.
“So, how is Todd doing?” Ryan asked in the hushed tone people reserve for awkward questions they don’t really want the answers to.
Rebecca Hayes looked away, and her ears flattened tightly against her head. Michael Hayes shifted his weight and sighed. “He’s in a coma. The doctors don’t know why.”
Ryan nodded once and sighed. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say besides that.” The other male fox nodded, and Ryan licked his lips before saying. “I wish he had told my boys. They could have all dealt with being gay together.”
“You mean your boys are gay too?” Mr. Hayes said quietly, his eyes moving towards the room where the boys were having an animated discussion that involved at least one of them crying loudly. Ryan watched the two other foxes carefully, gauging their reactions to his son’s sexuality. Neither of the Hayes looked angry, just neutral.
Ryan chuckled softly, his tail swishing back and forth as he nodded to hide the slight grin on his muzzle. It was refreshing to meet a set of parents who weren’t upset at their child being gay. “Yes well, I’m afraid it runs in our family.”
Rebecca’s ears leapt up and she looked at Ryan with a bit of surprise in her blue eyes, and even Michael’s ears cupped forward as well. The coupled turned to face him more directly, and Ryan was amused by the surprised look on both their faces.
He rubbed his black-socked paws together, looking down at them as he continued. “I’ve tried to keep my boys from facing the same problems I once did. I’m just sorry I couldn’t offer Todd a measure of security too.”
The Hayes looked at each other, blinking before Rebecca reached a paw out and squeezed Mr. Johnson’s arm softly. “Thank you. When Todd gets better maybe you can talk with him some?” The vixen’s head tilted slightly to the side, a hopeful look in her eyes.
“I would be happy to.” Ryan smiled, and this time the other two foxes shared it with him. It was a genuine smile between parents who cared about their children.
Mr. Johnson dug a paw into his coat pocket and pulled out one of his business cards. “Here, I want you two to have this. You’re probably going to run into trouble from the state in a couple of days. I’d be happy to represent you both, pro bono.”
Mr. Hayes took the card, but he seemed really shocked by the gesture. “Thank you,” he said hoarsely, “but do you really think the state will get involved?”
Ryan’s muzzle curled into a tight smile, and one ear turned backwards, “I do a lot of work with social services around here, and they have a surprisingly backward outlook on this sort of thing. They’re sure to send someone, especially if David is in foster care.” The fox tapped his foot against the tile floor for a moment, “I saw Mrs. Perez leaving, and I assume she was seeing David?”
Michael and Rebecca nodded, and Mr. Hayes slid the card into his pocket. “Yes, she was rather understanding about David remaining here.”
“Then yes,” Ryan said evenly, “You’ll be seeing them for sure. You had better be prepared for a fight with the state, especially if you intend to get custody of David.” Ryan knew immediately he had over stepped his bounds with the last comment. He watched as Michael’s muzzle shot up and he stared right at his wife. Mrs. Hayes slid her paw into her husband’s, and for a moment they just looked into each other’s eyes.
Mr. Hayes was careful to keep his voice steady, and not betray the fact that the idea of adopting David had never even entered into his head. He had just assumed, flat out, that the kangaroo was coming home with them once Todd woke up. “Yes, I can see how someone less accepting might have a problem with us doing that.”
Mrs. Hayes turned to look at Ryan. “Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for helping us.”
“It’s no problem. I think my boys would like me to do it.” Ryan said, his paws disappearing into his pockets as he looked inside the room again. He swished his tail back and forth, rocking on his heels for a moment as he smiled at the relieved couple. “The boys will probably be a while. What do you say I go get us all something to eat? You two look like you could use a break from hospital food.”
Rebecca smiled at him, her ears perking up at the mention of food, “Thank you, we would.”
Michael reached out and shook Ryan’s hand with both paws. “Thank you.” The fox said, and he smiled for the first time in days.
Ryan just smiled and shook the other fox’s paw firmly. “No, thank you. I don’t get to meet many parents who love their gay son.” With that, Mr. Johnson turned away and went to get some fried chicken for everyone.
David sat next to Todd, holding the fox’s limp paw gently. The hospital room was quiet once more. The orderlies had come and changed the fox’s sheets and bedpan again, so the smell of antiseptic and bleach was fresh. It almost overpowered the smell of sickness that had crept into the room over the last week.
A tray of food sat beside the chair David had occupied for most of the day, now long cold. Mrs. Hayes had brought him the food fresh from the cafeteria, but she had not been able to stay and force David to eat it. Todd’s parents had gone to talk with the hospital administrators about getting Todd moved to long-term care facilities. After a week with no signs of recovery, the hospital needed to move him out of the main building. The thought made David’s eyes water, and he brushed a tear from his face. It sickened him that the hospital no longer had time to deal with Todd.
At least other people had not forgotten the fox.
Shane had come to visit every day and he made sure David was as comfortable as possible. He helped the kangaroo wash Todd’s fur, and forced David to eat lunch every time he stopped by, just like Mrs. Hayes was forcing the kangaroo to have dinner every night. JD had visited one day when Shane could not, holding Todd’s paw for hours so David could catch some much needed sleep on the floor.
Kevin had come on the fourth day. The dalmatian had sat silently with David for a few hours, holding Todd’s paw tightly before just breaking into tears and hugging David. David had hugged the dog back tightly, and they grieved silently together. David suspected that Kevin had needed the hug for more reasons than his grief over Todd, but he was not about to pry into the dog’s life. After all, if they had pried earlier none of this might have happened. The dalmatian had been particularly heart broken about that.
Mrs. Perez had even come back again to check on David, dropping off a fresh load of homework for the weekend. The tigress seemed strangely nice, and had even kissed him on the forehead and apologized for how she acted the first time she had come by. It made David wonder, because the first time she had dropped off homework she had been irritated by having to come all the way up to the room. This time, she just set the stack of papers down and looked at David with quiet eyes, kissed his forehead, and left.
There was only one visitor David dreaded seeing, and that was Keith. The wolf stopped by each day after school, but would not come into the room. He just stood at the doorway, watching David as the kangaroo cared for Todd. Today, when the wolf left he had given Todd a real kiss goodbye, and then glared at David with so much hatred in his eyes it turned David’s stomach.
The kangaroo understood why the wolf was so angry. Mr. Hayes had told him what had happened, that Keith and Todd had been together. It didn’t really matter to David if the wolf was in love with Todd, and he certainly didn’t care that they had slept together. David squeezed the fox’s paw gently as the overhead lights dimmed exactly at 7pm, and an artificial night fell in the little hospital room.
Nothing like that mattered now.
David shifted the way he was sitting in his chair and laid his body over the side of the bed, so that his head rested on Todd’s lap. He had to arch his back at an odd angle to gets his head in Todd’s lap, but he slept like this every night. It hurt; it hurt all night long, but David had grown accustomed to it by now. It was the only way he could actually fall asleep. David stared up at Todd’s face as the fox lay there, as if he were sleeping, his head tilted to the side and his muzzle open slightly.
David reached up and stroked the underside of Todd’s throat, closing his mouth so the fox would not drool during the night. He couldn't bear to wake up again to find Todd's shoulder covered in drool again. Todd's Adams apple bobbed as the fox swallowed, and David watched as one of Todd's ears twitched slightly. David held his breath for a moment, but the fox's ear remained still and Todd did not move again.
David exhaled a painful sigh. The kangaroo picked up the damp towel he kept near the fox's side and brushed it across the fox's head slowly, wiping the sleep from Todd's eyes and cleaning his face gently. It broke his heart every time the fox moved like that. That was the worst part of all this. The fox still moved and breathed, but he wasn't awake. Todd wasn't dead, but he wasn't alive either.
The fox was constantly shifting in his coma. His tail would move from side to side and his legs would twitch as if he were running in his sleep. Todd's ears would flick backwards if you touched them and follow you around the room when you talked loud enough. He could still swallow, and the hospital hoped that would prevent the necessity of a feeding tube. David had insisted on feeding Todd at least once a day. The worst thing of all was the fits the fox had begun having. Sometimes the fox would shake so hard David and the nurses had to hold him down just to keep him from pulling the stitches from his wrists or falling out of the bed.
None of Todd’s reactions or movements meant he was waking up. The otter who was Todd’s doctor had been very clear. Todd wasn't responding to anything David said or did, the fox was in too deep a coma to respond mentally to anything. His body was just reacting physically to natural stimuli. That was why he never opened his eyes or made any real sounds, just strangled cries of pain. He never woke up because his mind was gone. David closed his eyes, tears running down his cheeks again as he tried to sleep. There was no point in staying awake. He might as well join his fox in dreamland.
David was just beginning to drift off when Todd's legs began to move, fidgeting under the sheets beneath David's head. Todd’s breathing grew fast, and his head lashed back and forth suddenly as his muzzle contorted in pain. The fox was gasping for air as his back arched, his arms flailing out wide.
David grabbed the fox's upper arms, gripping Todd's shoulders tightly and making sure to keep Todd's arms still like the nurses had shown him. Todd's head thrashed and his legs kicked, but David kept his arms still so the stitches and IV would not get pulled out as the fox convulsed. "It’s okay baby, I'm here Todd. It's okay," David pleaded as the fox’s body was wracked with spasms.
The kangaroo's pleas fell on deaf ears, and David cried as Todd's body shook in his grip. The fox let out a low moan of pain, the first intelligent sound he had made as David tried to comfort him.
David sobbed as Todd whimpered and clawed at his fur. It sounded so pitiful, as if the fox were dying in pain. David put his arms around the fox's head and embraced him, holding the fox's head to his chest as he tried to hold Todd down just to keep him from hurting himself more.
Todd's arms wrapped around David’s chest and the fox embraced the kangaroo with a surprising strength. The fox let out a gasp and his back arched, the fox's muzzle pressing up under David's neck. Todd's body shook for just a moment longer, pressing up tight against the kangaroo as his breathing slowed, and then Todd was still again.
David cradled Todd's head as he stared at the fox's suddenly still face. David tried to lay Todd back down but the fox began to twitch and struggle the moment his muzzle left David’s neck. So the kangaroo hugged the fox tightly and just held him, the fox’s slim muzzle tucked under his chin.
A nurse came running into the room, drawn by Todd’s cries. The older woman was a wolf, but the urgency left her face when she saw that David had calmed him. She patted David's head gently and checked the IV in Todd’s arm to make sure it was still in place and had not ruptured anything. David was glad she said nothing, and simply turned out the lights on her way out.
David pulled himself up onto the hospital bed alongside Todd and put his head on Todd’s pillow, holding his lover gently to keep him calm as they lay beside each other for the first time in nearly two long years.
Eventually, David fell asleep holding his comatose fox gently to his chest, his head laid gently on top of Todd’s.
David felt like he was floating and the warmth of sleep embraced him. He pressed his muzzle against the top of Todd’s head, nuzzling at the fox’s slim muzzle as they lay together with their arms wrapped around each other. Todd's eyes were nearly closed, but when David nuzzled the fox gently, Todd opened his eyes and the fox’s blue orbs stared into David's soul. They held each other gently, staring into each other's eyes as David held the fox close to his chest.
David slowly brushed his paw through Todd's short head fur, and he knew this was a dream. He had held his fox like this in every dream ever since they had been parted, and the fox's soft smile was by now very familiar.
"Hey,” David whispered softly, brushing his lips across Todd's in a gentle kiss. Even if this was a dream, he was going to enjoy every moment he had with his lover. Todd slowly kissed him back, the fox's mouth opening slowly and his head tipping to the side, so that their muzzles meshed as they kissed each other tenderly.
Todd's eyes were watering and the fox swallowed slowly when their muzzles parted, "Hey," the fox whispered hoarsely. Todd's black paw reached up and caressed David's cheek gently, and the kangaroo smiled softly, tears running down his muzzle.
"I knew you would be here..." Todd whispered softly, "I knew you would have found me if you were still alive.” The fox’s head pressed against David’s chest, as he sobbed, “I missed you so much David."
David frowned, caressing the fox gently. Something was wrong. Todd never cried in his dreams, never said things like that. David blinked and pulled Todd's paw away from his face, staring at Todd's arm. The black fur of Todd's paw gave way to white bandages wrapped tightly around his forearm, and an IV stretched away from his forearm into the gloom. David looked around the small hospital room as they lay together in the darkness, lit only by the displays of the machines watching Todd’s heart beat. He glanced back down at his fox, panting in fear as he looked at Todd's face.
The fox's eyes were closed again, and his body was still. David put Todd's paw against his face again and sighed. The kangaroo cursed himself for being so foolish as to think his dreams were real.
Until Todd's fingers gently curled around his cheek, and the fox's eyes opened again. The two boys stared at each other, both fully awake now.
David's chest tightened and he kissed the fox suddenly and forcefully, tears rushing down his cheeks. David could barely speak. "Oh god you’re awake. You’re alive." David sobbed as he hugged the fox so tightly Todd let out a strangled yip, and David loosened his grip with a sheepish grin.
"Don't you ever do something like that again, do you understand me?" David whispered, his heart breaking with joy as he held Todd and the fox kissed him back. “Don’t ever leave me again Todd.” David said, tears running down his face. The fox sobbed and nodded his head against the kangaroo’s shoulder. Todd and David held each other tightly, tears running down their faces.
They were together again, and nothing else mattered.
Go To Chapter 22: Coming Home