Warning! This story contains adult themes and coarse language. This story also contains and refers to sensitive topics, such as child abuse, either institutionalized or from parents. Even worse, it contains scenes of a sexual nature involving a young anthropomorphic furry character ("cub") and an actual plot. Be advised, and do not continue if you are under the age where you would be legally allowed to view such material according to the laws you are subject to.
WARNING: readers have asked me to reiterate this. This story contains details of child abuse, involuntary incarceration in a behavior modification facility and resultant trauma. Sensitive readers and those who were unfortunate enough to have similar experiences should be careful.
Itwas late. The steady red glow from the old clock-radio on the bedside table flickered as all digits ticked over to indicate a new day. He had been staring at it, the only light in his room, until it had become nothing but a meaningless red blur. Since he'd been woken.
Since they had started.
They had been at it for three hours or more now. Every time it seemed to be winding down, they'd start it again and it would get worse and worse. Young Nick clutched his quilt tighter, trying to will it all to reach some sort of end, but it was hopeless. They always went on forever and ever, no matter what he wanted. The cheetah cub couldn't make out the words very well, but he knew very well what was happening.
His father was angry.
When his father got angry, he got very angry. Especially late at night for some reason. Nicky may only have been not much older than seven and a half, but he recognized anger. He was intimately acquainted with it.
He also understood the screaming; and the harsh, shrill sound of female laughter that easily pierced his bedroom walls, manic and derisive. His mother's mindless rage was different, but just as potent. Just as loud.
They raised their voices again and Nicky clamped his ears down, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. Trying not to hear them.
But their voices got closer and closer to his small room. Heavy, rapid footfalls resounded through the wooden boards in the corridor and throughout the walls, as they brought their hateful discussion closer. Soon, despite his best efforts, Nick could make out the words.
"... Just fuck off!" his mother cried, now just outside Nicky's paper-thin door. "Leave me alone. I'm sick of you!"
"Sick of me?!" roared his dad. His deep baritone shook the walls and even the bed. "You threw a fucking plate at me! You're a psychotic bitch!"
Nick sobbed quietly, hauling his favorite blankets and quilt right over his head. It was worse when he could hear them, much worse. Many of the words he didn't even understand, which was twice as bad as merely not being able to make them out. But he could hear the fury in them, the hatred; it scared him.
As he twisted around to stick his head under his pillow, the kit gasped sharply. He'd hit one of the numerous bruises that streaked down the lengths of his arms, beneath his thin fur, on the pillow's soft edge. It stung quite a bit more than he'd thought it would.
They started to move away. But just when Nicky thought he could breathe his sigh of relief, they returned, louder than before, bringing their violent conference right back into the corridor before their son's bedroom door. Back and forth, all over the house they were arguing, screaming at one another.
His mother's derisory words pierced straight on through, and Nicky could hear her clearly again. "So fucking what? I'm sick of you and that god-damned whore!"
"I've told you. I don't even speak to her anymore!"
Nick had no idea who they were talking about, or why this fur warranted so many of these violent arguments, but she had been mentioned before. In fact, she almost always came up. Whoever it was, Nick wished she'd just stop existing.
"Yeah? I've seen your fucking call records! You're a fucking liar!"
There was a pause after that triumphant screech. Somehow, that chilled the young kit's blood far more than the yelling before it.
"You pulled up my phone bill?" His father sounded incredulous.
"That's what you get for leaving it lying around, you total asshole!"
"For fuck's sake, Allie! If you were looking at my bill you'd know I haven't called her in a fucking year!"
"Oh, bullshit! Called her nine times last week!"
"The number you saw was my fucking sister! Did you even think to check? Stupid god-damn-!"
"Shut up. You're full of it."
"Excuse me?" That just dripped with threat. Even Nick noticed that, but his mother carried on, seemingly oblivious.
"I'm sick of you. Sick of you getting pissed every night. Sick of you blowing our money on-"
"Our money?!" There was a sudden bang, and even in the dim, red light provided by his clock, Nick saw his door jolt violently, and he jumped along with it. A crumbling dent appeared in the surface, spraying what seemed to be a handful of paint flecks into the room. Nick sobbed impotently, squeezing his eyes shut again. "You don't make money, bitch. You spend my money! That's what you do; you're a fucking parasite. You can't even shut the fuck up and admit when you're wrong, can you? No surprise you won't admit to yourself that you're a god-damn useless-! "
Nicky gasped and plugged his ears. They were really scaring him now. "Stop it!" he whispered. "Stop it! Stop it!"
Hot tears leaked from his lidded eyes. A small, irrational part of him prayed they'd hear him crying through the door and cease this, but it certainly wouldn't happen at this point.
There was a brief instant of calm before he heard his mother's voice again. It was a haughty, smug tone, sounding like some kind of ultimatum or threat, though exactly what she said was lost on him. She had spoken too quietly for him to hear with his ear firmly plugged so.
Yet, there was silence after it. Nick allowed himself to hope that it was, at last, over.
He removed one furry digit from his ear, and strained to hear. For years later, he'd wish he'd never done that.
"Really?" his father's voice was deathly quiet. "Is that how you're going to play this?"
"Oh, yeah." There was a sharp impact, and Nicky blinked. What was that? It sounded like...
Bewilderingly, his father erupted into laughter. "Did you really just do that?" he said mirthfully. He sounded overly excited all of a sudden. Crazed.
"And I'll do it again, if you come near me again. Fuck you, you're finished, you drunken son of-!"
Suddenly there was piercing cry, followed by a solid, heavy thud.
Nick threw back his covers and unthinkingly hurtled towards the door. He grasped the high handle and wrenched it open.
In the narrow corridor beyond, he saw his mother sprawled on the floor, slowly pulling herself to her knees. Her expression was one of shock and she was gingerly touching her face with a shaky paw. Nick's father stood over her, a balled fist drawn back, trembling with a terrible fury.
"M-mommy?!" Nick cried, instinctively dashing to her side.
With a frustrated snarl, she lashed out. A vicious backhand blow that cracked into her son's skull and sent him careening into his door frame. "Fuck off, you little idiot!" she growled, infuriated.
Nick rebounded violently off the metal doorframe and reeled backwards into his room. He tumbled to the floor, the sharp edge of some carelessly misplaced toy digging into his back.
It hurt very much. The stunned boy could only stare at the dimly lit roof as it swayed and spun blurrily above him.
They continued. Almost as if he hadn't interrupted them. If anything, they were even louder after they shut his door.
Soon, however, the front door slammed and there was silence. It took some time to be able to move again. The ceiling above eventually stopped moving, and he didn't need to keep both eyes closed because of the throbbing pain in his temple.
Crying hard and nursing his sore head, Nick dragged himself painfully over to his small bed and clambered in, tightly pulling the covers over him.
At least it was over. It was over for tonight.
It was scary. When his parents fought, they could make it last for hours, and Nick knew no reason to believe that night would be the last time; that it would be the last time he was swatted aside like an irritating fly by his own mother.
Which was why it came to him as such a shock that it was.
Dr Andrei Czejak pushed the heavy, polished wooden doors open and stepped into the bare room he loathed occupying so very much. It was a small, bare cubicle, scarcely larger than a poor child's bedroom, with bland carpeting and two chairs on opposing sides of a simple school desk. Aside from the small security camera bolted high on the roof in one corner, there was not very much else in it.
It was supposedly an interview room, and Czejak hated it with a passion. He'd made several requests that it be made more hospitable, but the center's director seemed to be of the opinion that the Spartan soul-crushing unfriendliness of the room aided its purpose, no matter how often Czejak pointed out that it was his professional opinion that that was bullshit.
Though that was to be expected of this place, the coyote knew. Which was why Czejak endeavored to get as many youths out of here as possible, as it was also his professional opinion that this place should be closed down, and some of the staff physically chastised in public-flagellation, Czejak thought, was underrated as a punishment these days; but in the meantime he had to do his job.
"What's up, Doc?" was his sour welcome.
Grinning tolerantly, Czejak winked at the cheetah boy occupying one of the chairs, raising his head from his folded arms. His slight eleven-year-old frame was garbed in basic, plain clothing- a pair of simple gray tracksuit pants and a plain orange t-shirt- while his fair, medium-length head-fur was its usual neglected, spiky mess. "Good morning, Nick," the doctor said brightly, setting down his case. "How's it been?"
Nick just glanced at him darkly.
"That well, I see."
The cheetah sighed and looked pointedly up at the camera.
Czejak clenched his teeth, and sat down opposite the boy. "I know. Listen, Nick..." The middle-aged coyote interlocked his fingers and fixed the kit with a firm gaze. "Let's get to the point quickly. I've signed you up for something. I'd like you to try it out."
Nick blinked, and then scowled suspiciously. "What?"
"You're not going to like this, but you'd like staying here less, I'd wager."
The kit's gaze was steady and granite hard. Not a promising start.
"I've put your name forward for an experiment," Czejak said slowly. "If you do it, you'll be put in a foster house - a temporary adoption."
There was a moment's pause while Nick's eyes narrowed, then he cursed. "I'm not doing shit!" he declared. "Fuck that."
The kit looked away resolutely. He tried to make it seem like a furious gesture, but Czejak knew him too well already for that. "Just forget it!"
"I thought we were past this?" the psychologist said mildly, sitting up a little. "Come on, Nick. It's because I said 'adoption' isn't it?"
Grating his small teeth, Nick nodded. "Yeah. Fuck that."
Czejak sighed. The cheetah disliked it when he did that, he knew that, but it was the only way at times to shake the kit up; and sometimes he had to be shaken up a little. "It's not a real adoption, Nick, and it's not a real foster home. It's only for a little while. If you don't like the guy after three weeks, you can come back here."
"...What about four?"
Nick twisted around in his chair. "What happens after four weeks?"
The coyote frowned. "I don't quite... Ah. I see. Nick, if you have any problems at all, you can contact me at any time. I just want you to try this out."
"Nick, I handpicked this fur for you. I swear, you'll be fine there. You will be able to back out any time after three weeks. Or you can stay there for longer if you want too."
For the briefest of moments, it seemed Nick was considering it. Then he shook his head and stared at the ground again. "No way," he said stubbornly, with an obvious air of finality.
There was a hiatus. Czejak watched the cub, considering his next words carefully. "Nick."
"I see you're wearing that orange t-shirt still."
"Good, you don't need glasses then."
Czejak rewarded that with a little snicker. "Not yet anyway. So, you'd rather stay here for those three weeks? Not allowed to speak to anyone? Or go into the yard at breaks?" He paused. "Exactly what's available in this hell-hole that you'd rather stay here for? The menu? The company?"
The cheetah tensed.
"Give it a try. What've you got to lose? Or rather, think about what's to gain. If this works, you're out of here. I know why you don't want to give it a shot, but we both know this place isn't where you want to be. Please."
Further silence. It seemed to Czejak that there was just no sound whatsoever in the room; he couldn't even hear the kit's breathing. His gray eyes were unfocused, yet anxious, and his expression indicated he was clearly irritated with his counselor. But at last Nick bowed his head. "Can I think about it?"
"Sure. For how long?"
"A day?" The kit seemed strangely absent, diffident. Unusual but not unexpected. "L-like, tonight."
With a nod, the psychologist stood. "Yes, Nick, that's fine. I'll be back at the same time tomorrow morning to find out your answer."
"Stay outta trouble, kid."
Nick would've normally responded with a middle finger and a dismissive smirk, but this time he just stared blankly at the coyote. "I'll try."
Gary had never liked waiting rooms. The cheetah was nearing his twenty-ninth birthday, and in nearly three decades of life he'd never once enjoyed a stay in a waiting room.
It always seemed to him as if some kind of perpetual miasma of despair or sickness was stinking up the room, and inhaling filled him with a breath of fresh dread. Even though he knew that didn't make much sense, that didn't stop him feeling that way.
With a sigh, he stared into the aquarium, watching the beautiful tropical fish meander around the decorated tank aimlessly, leaving behind long strings of feces that fell to slowly settle over what looked like a miniature Gothic castle. It was... morbidly fascinating, and helped him forget where he was.
"Gary!" a friendly voice called, and he looked up.
He grinned. "Hello, Doctor Czejak!" His voice was youthful and mellow, belying his near middle-age. "How're things?"
The coyote smiled and indicated that Gary should follow him. "Surprisingly good. Come along, we've got a few things to discuss here."
Gary followed the doctor down the carpeted, warm corridor to the coyote's office. There were paintings, some abstracts and some masterfully lifelike recreations, all along the white, sterile walls, in an attempt to make the place seem more homey; and Gary had to confess that they did, somewhat. Though he did seriously question Czejak's taste in artwork. And sweaters.
When they both were in the office, Czejak locked the door.
"Alright," he began in an oddly businesslike tone. "First of all, how've you been?"
Gary shrugged. "Well enough. It was a pain at first to get my boss to accept that I'd be away for three weeks; but they've got far more capable furs than I to pass the buck on to."
"Thank goodness. Believe me, juggling this and work would probably get you sent back here as a patient." Czejak grinned winsomely. He clapped his paws. "Right. Now, I haven't actually secured the boy's consent yet, though I fully expect to; however, I can't deny the possibility that he'll panic at the last second and refuse."
"Afraid so. His life at present isn't much, but it is what he is used to by now. Change, even when desperately needed, can be a terrifying prospect." Czejak took his comfortable black leather computer chair, crossing one leg over the other and lying back indolently. "I would like to remind you at this point what it is you're getting into."
The cheetah raised a brow. "That sounds ominous. What've you left to the last second to tell me?"
"It's not that. Just want to reiterate, mostly. I want to impress upon you that you will be taking custody of a very troubled young male. You're inviting a thief, drug-abuser and a public nuisance to stay in your house; he's sensitive and scared and doesn't think he has a hope. Most importantly..." Czejak scratched his head. "Here."
He passed a large photograph up to the cheetah. Roughly the size of a post-card.
Gary frowned at it. The boy was also a cheetah- as Czejak had promised- and was a rather good-looking one too, but there was something rather discomforting about the way the kit just glared at the camera. His head-fur was short and spiky, and he was clad in a plain orange t-shirt. His expression was shockingly hard.
His eyes were narrowed and firmly fixed on either the camera or its operator with a look of intense suspicion and even aggression. He wasn't smiling.
"Damn," Gary whispered, a little awed.
"I know you're no psychologist, Gary, but tell me. What do you see when you look at that picture?"
The cheetah scratched his head. "I see a kid without an ounce of trust left in him. Whoa."
Czejak nodded. "He's been bitten more times than he can count."
"Alright." Gary bit his lip. "Um, look. Maybe it's time to explain to me what it is you're getting me into."
"My thoughts exactly."
Pulling up the unoccupied chair, Gary seated himself in front of Czejak.
"Let's start at the beginning. I'll try to go through it quickly; I have several more patients today." The coyote leaned forward. "Nick was abused by his parents. He never really had what you could call a stable household. One day, his parents divorced, and the court found neither of them capable of looking after him. He went to a foster home not long after that, but things just got worse."
Gary blinked. "Worse?"
"Indeed. His foster parents said they found him too difficult to handle, too volatile and angry; and Nick didn't like them much either. He went through five difficult placements; one managed to last five trying months, one only survived for a couple. At last, one seemed promising - until his new foster parent started to sadistically abuse him." Czejak raised his paws in a weak shrug. "I don't know either, Gary. I don't know why. All I know is that the system failed him, and badly. The ones that were meant to care for him instead stole his innocence and his spirit.
"By roughly nine years of age, he'd had enough and managed to flee-to his father, in fact. He stayed with his father for a short time, but unbeknownst to him, his father contacted the authorities, and suddenly he was back in the system, waiting for another foster home. A month before he was to be adopted by a rather brave family, he ran away once more."
"How old was he at this point?" Gary interjected incredulously.
"Nine, didn't I say? If you're counting, Gary, that was seven failed fosterage placements, and he ran away from two of them."
The cheetah scratched worriedly at his ear. "Sheesh."
"At any rate, he practically fell off the grid. He was taken in by some other, older kids, and he lived with them. Though his school attendance was very poor beforehand, he quit altogether at this point. Lived with these other boys for a time, before finally the state caught up to him." Czejak smiled wryly. "He tried to steal a banker's wallet. Unfortunately for him, the banker was a little more alert than he thought, and he found himself in the back of a police car. Which brings us to this very day."
"Wait," mumbled Gary, a little surprised. "That's disgusting! He was thrown in juvie after one crime?"
"Absolutely not. He'd committed dozens and dozens by this point, mostly pick-pocketing, property damage and petty theft; he was just good at avoiding capture most of the time. Also, bearing in mind how he responds to the concept of foster homes and adoption, what else could be done with him? He was placed in a private facility. They couldn't put him in a normal house - he was a major runaway risk."
The cheetah settled back in his chair. "What's to stop him from doing it again?" he asked. "I don't think my house is all that secure."
Czejak nodded. "I'll take care of that." He sounded sad and weary. "I'm afraid once he's in your home, he'll be there for three weeks at a minimum. I'm sure he'll try your patience to the extreme, but please, try not to..."
"Beat him up?" Gary said softly, snorting in dismissal. "I won't. I'd never."
The coyote sniggered sardonically. "Don't underestimate him. But maybe I can persuade him to tone it down a little."
With a sigh, Gary stared at the picture. This was the face of a kid he was about to take into his home for three entire weeks-at least. He tried to imagine what could come of this; he knew right from the start he wouldn't be looking after a perfect child, but Czejak made him sound impossible.
He stared at the postcard-sized picture. Czejak had told him the kid was roughly eleven-and-a-half years of age, but the scowling visage that glared up at him just wasn't the face of a child. It gave him the willies...
"I... assume there's no problem on that front?"
"What?" Gary looked up. "O-oh. No, not at all." He flushed under his facial fur.
"Thank goodness." Czejak smiled. "I picked you specifically, Gary. This is one of twenty cases we're trialing. This young boy may very well be the worst of them all, in a manner of speaking. I believe that you'll be able to get along, however."
"I'll certainly try..." muttered Gary, looking once more at the poor boy's visage. "What's his name?"
"Nick. Nick Davis."
Czejak growled to himself sleepily. His coffee flask was scalding hot on the outside still, but he had no intention of leaving it in his car as he made his way past the guards and the checkpoint into the excuse of a detention center. It was a cold autumn day, and going without a coffee at eight in the morning just didn't bear thinking about. His gaudy knitted jumper just didn't work as well as it looked it should.
He walked on through the center, escorted by a bored guard, once more taking in the familiar sights. The majority of the kits and teens wore their own casual clothes as they lounged around in the recreation rooms, or their own rooms. They didn't really qualify as cells, most of them, and frankly Czejak approved of that. Just rooms, but they were rather comfortable, and had reasonably high quality furniture; even had windows.
Some of them wore plain, colored t-shirts, which had more significance than an observer would think at first. It chilled Czejak to the bone to see even one cub dressed as such. Luckily they were definitely in the minority.
It astounded him that so many furs, with no understanding of the circumstances that surrounded most young offenders, would vehemently bawl their opinion that these children- often victims themselves- needed to be subjected to horrors in order to 'straighten them out'. That was the problem, wasn't it? They'd experienced enough horrors already. Some asses didn't deserve an opinion, let alone to voice it.
"Here we are again, mister Czejak," grunted the bored guard, a buzz-cut sporting lynx, inclining his head at the wooden door. "Call us if there's a problem."
"I certainly will!" The coyote beamed.
Czejak knocked quickly, then pushed the door open.
As expected, on the simple chair behind the desk, Nick was seated, resting his head on his downy forearms. Czejak didn't recall one instance of the boy not being in that position when he walked in. It was almost as if he never wanted to be awake.
"Morning, Nick!" he tried, dropping his stuff and taking his seat.
"Been up long?"
Nick stirred, looking up and around, as if for any interlopers. "I was up at four. Wasn't allowed to sleep until midnight too."
Czejak almost recoiled. On Nick's right cheek, visible despite his fur, was a horrible purple and black bruise that extended up all the way to his eye. "What happened?" he asked quietly.
The kit smirked wryly. "Fuck-face out there."
"What did he do?"
"Restrained me," Nick replied in a voice thick with sarcasm. "He usually don't leave any marks. I must've really pissed him off."
Czejak leaned closer. "Why?" he whispered.
"Jesus fucking Christ."
"It's no big deal," Nick whispered back. "I've been hit before."
"No, Nick, it's a huge deal." Czejak closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Nick. I got into this job to help kids like you. To get you and others like you away from power-mad assholes and places like this, or maybe get rid of them altogether."
"Yeah, right. That'll never happen. You can't change the world."
"Nick... one day, places like this won't exist. If me and mine can't do it, then yours and your generation will. I swear it."
Nick fell silent, touching a paw to his face gingerly. His expression went blank. "They killed Evie," he said, in a weak voice that was barely audible.
"I know." Czejak closed his eyes.
Fourteen year old Evelyn Karis was a young leopard that shouldn't even have been here. Still, it hadn't even warranted the front page when she was pepper-sprayed, handcuffed and left in her room. Her asthma slowly killed her while the guards and wardens resolutely ignored her weak cries for help. In fact, it never made the local paper at all. It did, however, go to court. The wardens were deemed to have acted reasonably and the death was ruled an accident.
"I... you know Ian?" Nick said suddenly. "The big guy? Asshole who robbed a joint? He was tryin' to start a fight. Had my shirt in his paw and shit. I told him to get fucked, and Captain Dickhead out there was upset that I said anything."
"Nick... let's talk about getting you out of here, alright?" Czejak sighed. "Have you thought about it?"
The kit fell silent, looking down at the desk for well over a minute.
"You said you would think about it."
"I did!" the boy insisted immediately. "Shit! Get off my back. I know what I said."
Czejak let the kit think about it some more, watching morosely as young Nick struggled with the idea. For most young furs, this would be a no-brainer. But for Nick? He knew the boy was trying to wrap his own mind around the fact that he was not going to be switching one nightmare for another. Sometimes, it was hard to truly make these sorts of realizations. To really accept it. To believe it.
Nick closed his eyes. "T-tell me more."
"What would you like to know?"
"... Why are you doin' this?" Nick demanded. "What's special about this time? Why should I?"
Nodding, Czejak straightened in his chair. "I can't give you any details..." He shrugged. "Best way I can put it is this: we want to see if a certain... type of fur is suited to helping you out."
Nick frowned. "Certain type of fur?"
"That's the big secret I'm afraid. You'll find out eventually; but Nick, listen. I swear I've done all I can to make sure this is the best guy to look after you."
"I don't need anyone to look after me!"
"Nick..." the coyote shook his head. "He has a job, you don't. He has a house, you don't. He can feed you more than once a week... you can't."
The young cheetah once again fell silent, glowering.
"Here's how it works. All you have to do is stay with this one guy- he lives alone, has a big house- for three weeks. If you like it, then you can stay longer. I'll be checking on you occasionally too. The three-week minimum is only so you'll at least give this a chance. That's all."
Nick looked right at him. "I could run away," he said, his tone perfectly neutral. "Like I did before."
"Not this time, Nick." Czejak sighed. "I don't think you'll want to run away if you give this guy a chance. But they still count you as a run-away risk. You'll be under electronically monitored house-arrest. We had to compromise in some way to get you out of here."
The cheetah cub narrowed his eyes. "Wait... you mean I'll have to wear-"
"Yes. An electronic tether. An ankle bracelet."
The kit swore. "No fucking way!" he said loudly, pushing away from the desk and getting to his foot-paws. "You're not getting one of those fucking things on me!!"
"Why not?" Czejak asked, folding his arms.
"Because they fucking suck ass!"
"Nick, we both know that's not an answer. Are you telling me you'd rather be wearing actual leg-irons than a plastic toy?"
The kit swore again. "Why do I need one?"
"Because you'll run away without it." The coyote popped open his flask and took a long drink. "Nick, all you have to do is put up with someone for three weeks and wear a bit of plastic for awhile and you'll be out of this place. Yes, the thing will restrict your freedom, but you're not exactly free here at the moment either."
"Rraghh! Fuck you!" Nick growled, turning away furiously. The table jerked and there was a clanking sound as the slender chain attached to Nick's ankle and the table-leg was pulled taut. The pair of them had almost forgotten it was there.
Czejak let him cool off for a few moments. The boy wasn't really angry; not at his counselor - if he pushed the kit immediately, he knew Nick would just push back.
Minutes passed, and the coyote cleared his throat, reaching down for his briefcase. "Nick."
The kit turned. To his surprise, the counselor was offering him a piece of paper, about the size of a postcard. Frowning, the cub took it; it was a photograph. "What is... is this the guy?"
Nick swallowed, feeling everything around his heart constrict. It was another cheetah.
The grownup was fairly cheerful looking, and he looked quite young. Not what he expected at all. His clothing was casual, and one of his ears was pierced with a neat little gold ear-ring.
But... another cheetah? Did it have to be?
"He was really interested, actually. In you, I mean."
Nick blinked. "In me?" he said quietly. "...What did you tell him?"
"Just a little about your personality. Your past. Showed him a picture too. He's excited about the idea."
Czejak smiled. "Because you're interesting, Nick. He wants to meet you."
The kit floundered for a second. "I- what?"
"Do you want to try this? You could make a friend, and much, much more, Nick. What've you got to lose?"
"I ..." Nick paused, staring hard at the photograph now. "...W-would you really let me leave after three weeks if it doesn't, you know... work?"
"This guy... he's not allowed to hit me or anything, right?"
"Only in self-defense. If nothing else, Nick, it's a chance to get out of here."
Nick bit his lip, frowning slightly. "Alright," he said, trying to sound grudging. "Whatever." Once more he looked at this picture, his eyes narrowing. "What's the guy's called again?"
Nick scowled at the hunk of plastic strapped tightly around his ankle as he sat in the waiting room of Dr. Czejak's clinic. It was already pissing him off and it had been there for no more than an hour at this point.
Much to his despair, he'd been told to change out of his pants. He argued at first, but when the threat of 'restraining' came up, Nick held his breath and changed into his only remaining clothes for that part of his body: black shorts. Now everyone could see the fucking thing.
He still remembered the smirking expression of the wolf orderly as he firmly attached the device to the boy's slender leg, locking it in place. Nick wanted to punch the asshole. It really pissed him off.
Worse than the silence was when the wolf had started explaining the tether's abilities to Nick in a smug, mocking tone. Nick had listened with mounting dismay as the guard blithely informed him just how formidable the device was. He knew they were tracking devices, but he never expected it to be so accurate - down to three feet, the wolf said.
He had held onto a hope that, if things went bad, he could pry or cut the thing from his limb, then get the fuck away before anyone knew he was missing. The asshole had delighted in explaining just how impossible that really was. Cutting the thing away would be nigh impossible without the right tools, and severing it at any point would instantly alert Nick's counselor, guardian, and even the police.
If he did break it off, he'd have to do it fast and get out of there fast.
And if he was caught, it would be right back to that hellhole.
Nick clenched his eyes shut. He wanted to grab himself and shake the stupid out. He knew his counselor was right. He had to try to make this work, at least for awhile. Running away again should not be among his first thoughts.
He stood and turned to the window, ignoring the bulky object clinging to his leg like an over-fed plastic tick. This was the first time he'd been out of the center since he'd got there, nearly eleven months ago now. It felt so good to see some place different, though he had to confess that he felt out of place and... slightly afraid.
The waiting room, thankfully, was more or less deserted. Aside from the receptionist, he could gaze out the window and take in the sights without having to carefully watch everyone else in the room.
It made him almost giddy to see all that open space. All those furs. Dr. Czejak's office was on the third storey, and Nick was much impressed by the view of the surrounding parks. He could see the many kits and adults, some on bikes, traversing the wide paths and boulevards, while packs of them instead threw balls and chased one another aimlessly. They seemed so remote, and their behavior so alien.
Butterflies invaded his stomach and he tingled all over.
It wasn't the same as the last time, no matter what he told himself. The cheetah boy had faced each supposed adoption or foster-home with apathy and bitterness. He cared not if the assholes trying to take charge of his life liked him or not. He didn't want them to, he just wanted to be left alone. Wanted them to fuck off.
This time was different. This wasn't some soulless, nameless bureaucracy trying to get him into some random fur's house, to keep him out of the way. It was... almost a favor for one of the only adults Nick had ever given a shit about. Probably the only one who ever really listened to what he said and remembered.
But if he did let Dr. Czejak down? It wouldn't bother him too much; he had 'let down' others before, it didn't worry him. It wasn't that. The butterflies were from something entirely different.
... It was happening again. Here he was again, waiting to be taken in by someone that didn't know him; that he didn't know, and he wasn't sure he cared to. Someone else who was going to lock him in his house. Someone else who thought he was just a stupid little kid who needed 'help', thinking they knew him, what he'd been through, just from some pretty pictures and a few stories. How could this adult want to help him? They never even knew one another. It was such bullshit.
Nick sighed and scuffed the floor. "Nobody wants to give and not take," he muttered, glaring at the electronic tether.
"Would you care to wager?" a dry voice asked him.
"Oh, fuck off," Nick replied instantly, turning around. Czejak was grinning at him from the door to his office, but his receptionist looked a little offended.
"Good to see you too, Nick."
A thin smile broke the kit's stony features. "Hey doc."
Doctor Czejak stepped into the waiting room. "Let's get moving, shall we?" he said warmly. "I'll be driving you down to Gary's home. No point in having him come all the way here just to take you back home, is there?"
"Though you might want to hit the bathroom quickly. It's a long drive."
Nick shook his head. "I've been."
Briskly, they left the building and headed through the car-park. Nick shuffled slowly along a few feet behind the coyote, eyes darting from side to side. There was a powerful breeze, and Nick shivered as it teased his exposed fur. The rustling of dry leaves could be heard from not far off; probably the nearby park. The kit wished he could hang around outside a little more, to really reacquaint himself with these things. But his counselor didn't seem to want to wait.
"Here we are," Czejak mumbled, unlocking his car by remote.
Nick paused and looked it over. It was an expensive car, alright. He knew very little about cars, almost nothing, aside from what ones might be worth breaking into, but he knew that this one was a rich-guy's vehicle. It was hard to believe it belonged to the friendly, self-effacing coyote.
Czejak opened the passenger door for him, but Nick froze and just stared at the interior of the car.
If he stepped in there, and let the grownup close that heavy door, he'd be trapped. Had he really made this decision yet? Once they were moving, that'd be it.
"Something wrong?" Czejak prompted. "Remember, Nick. It's just for three weeks unless you want it to be for longer. It won't be any worse than what you've left behind. I promise."
The cheetah nodded and forced himself into the car, holding his breath. He dropped heavily onto the leather upholstery.
He didn't have to make a decision at all yet. He had to remember that. Nothing was set in stone.
Czejak got in, started the engine, and they were on the road in moments. At first, Nick tried to keep quiet, and just look out the window. He rarely had an opportunity to do anything like that... in fact, this was the second time he'd been in a proper car in nearly a year, the first being when he was driven to the coyote's office this very morning. As for being able to sit in the front seat? He didn't recall enjoying that privilege at all. It felt weird, being so close to the front of the vehicle.
So he took in the sights, observing a world he'd almost forgotten existed. Fast food restaurants, where he'd once gotten every single, cheap meal; gaudy shop signs; hundreds of furs, each with their own agenda and lives...
It made him nervous, and Nick soon found himself picking up the counselor's CD cases from the nook beneath the player and fiddling with them. Spinning them between two fingers, or repeatedly flipping them around. Prying them open and removing those peculiar little booklets, then flicking through them without reading a word.
"Having fun there?" Czejak asked amusedly, not taking his eyes off the road.
Nick realized what he was doing and gasped, placing the CD cases back underneath the player. "I wasn't gonna break them," he said quickly.
"Never said you were."
After a second, Nick groaned and thumped his head on the passenger door.
"What's wrong?" Doctor Czejak enquired, looking over.
Nick sighed and fidgeted. "I'll fuck this up," he said simply.
"Why do you think that?"
"It doesn't matter."
Czejak shrugged. "Just give it a try, it might work out great."
"I said I would, didn't I? I just... it doesn't matter."
They drove a few more miles in awkward silence, before the coyote cleared his throat. "Nick, in all seriousness... try to make this work."
"Remember what I said. Try to keep yourself from getting angry too often. Remember things like 'thanks' and especially remember 'sorry.'"
No response. Nick just looked out the window. Czejak knew that would be hard for the kit. Those words in particular were difficult for the boy to say. They didn't come anywhere near as naturally- or automatically- as insults and dismissive curses.
The coyote didn't let any of it show, but he too was afraid. Nick could indeed fuck this up. Gary was not a trained professional; the first minute alone with Nick might offend him so much that the whole bet was off before Czejak himself got off the premises. Nick was a prickly young kit, to say the very, very least, and when he lashed out at someone, he seemed almost intent on making them dislike him as much as possible.
It could take ten minutes of Nick's emotions getting the better of him, and this experiment would be a failure. And Nick would be an orange-shirted 'special case' once more.
Czejak looked over at the spaced out cub.
This was important. It was one of Nick's last chances to fix everything-and he was being given a golden opportunity, really, as odd as the circumstances really were. He was going to be living for a time with a rather well-paid bachelor, in a great house, a great neighborhood and if he stayed long enough, an excellent school. If he pulled this off, he'd go from having nothing to being handed a silver spoon. And those odd circumstances... Czejak had high hopes for them, if all the other research was as solid as he was convinced it was.
It could be a new era for the juvenile justice system if it worked.
It could save lives.
And for the first time in years, the coyote was scared, and excited, about the same thing.
Nick was awoken by the sound of a train clunking its noisy way along nearby tracks, and the squeal of rusty brakes. With a grunt, he tried to straighten up, his neck cramping painfully. The cub looked around suddenly, his expression baffled. Momentarily, he had forgotten where he was. He relaxed immensely when he saw his counselor and recognized the car's interior.
"Sleep well?" asked Czejak, smiling at him.
Promptly, the boy's jaws split into a massive yawn. When he finally clamped them shut, he shook his head. "No. Still tired."
"It's good that you're up anyway. We're only a few minutes from there."
Tensing, Nick looked around. "What? Shit. Already?"
"We've been on the road for... about seventy minutes or so, Nick. More than an hour."
The cheetah paused, and slowly looked around. Seventy minutes was a long time, wasn't it? Where the hell had he been taken? Another town? Not that it mattered. The only landmark he had was the detention center.
"Where the hell are we?" he mumbled.
"It's a small town in upstate New York," Czejak replied, pressing down on the accelerator now the cargo-train had made its way off into the thick forestry.
Nick twisted in his chair to look backwards. "What one?"
Czejak smiled tolerantly. "So you can look in a map-book and plan an escape route?" he jested.
"Don't be stupid."
They drove on for awhile, with Nick continually swiveling his head around, trying to memorize landmarks. Even now he was trying to make sure he could remember the way back if necessary. Czejak prayed he wouldn't try that.
"So, what's this guy like?" Nick enquired, looking at the coyote but briefly. He rarely maintained eye contact.
"Hrm? Oh, Gary?"
Czejak shrugged. "He's about thirty years old, though he's quite... young-on-the-inside if you know what I mean."
"Huh. So he's an old fuck like you?"
The coyote snickered. That was Nick's idea of a joke. "I've got more than a decade on him, Nick. Anyway, Gary works for a big company, working with computers and all that stuff I never got the hang of."
Nick swallowed. "I can't go outside, right?" he asked. "This fuckin' thing on my leg won't let me."
"Not exactly, Nick. The allowed range is enough that you can go outside, but if you leave Gary's property, the tether will alert everyone." The coyote was forced to stop briefly at a stop-sign. "So, if you're playing with a ball or something and it goes out of his yard, ask someone to get it for you."
The cheetah nodded, lifting up the adorned leg and crossing it over his other knee. He looked at the device expressionlessly.
"It'll be alright, Nick. All you have to do is sit around playing video games all day, or, I don't know, play football with Gary in his backyard. It won't be that bad."
"Yeah, yeah." The kit sighed. Then his ears perked, and a derisive smirk arose on his face.
Play football?! He'd never played it before in his life, it was boring as hell. Did the coyote really believe that he'd be playing stupid sports-games with this guy in his garden? What a fucking joke.
"There it is." Czejak pointed ahead.
Nick looked. Much to his surprise, the coyote was indicating a large house at the corner of a block, surrounded on all sides by feet upon feet of lush grass, with tall trees and thick bushes spattered here and there. The trees were of broad trunk and dense canopy, their ochre and golden leaves rustling gently in the autumnal wind and occasionally falling to glide delicately to the lawn. Much of the area was carpeted in broad, yellowed leaves.
The house itself had at least two floors. A large, white construction of wood and brick, with surprisingly ornate doors and a simple rock garden out front. Nick had seen such buildings before, but the notion of living in one was almost laughably remote.
"A-are you serious?" he said softly. "That's his house?"
"I did promise it was a big place, didn't I?" The coyote grinned, though his charge did not reply. "Ahem. Anyway, it was his parents'. They passed away a few years ago, and... Gary was able to continue paying the mortgage."
What a mortgage was, Nick had no idea. But he had to confess it was a big house.
They pulled up alongside the house, and Czejak switched off the engine.
Neither of them moved at first.
The kit nodded.
"Alright." The coyote released his seat-belt and rested his paw on the door's latch. The door swung open with a clunk.
Nick gasped. "Wait!"
Czejak froze and looked over.
"Gimme a bit." Nick's voice was suddenly weak and breathy.
Concerned, Czejak sat back down. "Are you alright, Nick?"
The kit closed his eyes and his breathing increased sharply in tempo. "I-I can't! Not yet."
"Nick..." His counselor shut the car's door. "What's wrong?"
The cheetah held his breath for a moment. "I don't think I can do this, doc," he muttered, opening his eyes to look at the house.
"I promise you, Nick, he's not like your foster-dad. He won't hurt you. You can do this."
It took a little while for Nick to reply. Czejak just waited.
"...Okay." Nick opened the car's door and bravely swung one leg out. "What happens if I fuck this up?"
"I don't know. Back to the detention center I suppose." Czejak sighed. "This won't be easy for you; it won't be easy for him either, Nick."
Nick didn't reply.
"Just remember to keep yourself together. Try to say things like 'please', 'thanks' and 'sorry' too."
The kit stepped out slowly, his eyes fixed on the grass before him.
This was incredible. He'd fought for so long to avoid this fate, and here he was, willingly. He was even fucking walking towards it!!
It was just like the beginning all his other ill-fated placements. He felt frozen up inside. Weak. Small and scared. He didn't want to be here. He didn't want to be made to choose between the place he'd just left, and being given to someone he didn't know, who didn't know him. For them to take over his life. The last time he let this happen to him...
But he couldn't run now. It was just like some big, inexorable landslide, sweeping him away, and he couldn't halt its crushing momentum-as usual.
He bit his lip. Hard.
His counselor was at his side, and he spoke softly. "Nick?"
With Nick standing behind him, eyes downcast, Czejak knocked on the door several times. It took a few minutes, but eventually they heard the lock being undone, and the heavy wooden door swung open.
When it did, Nick chanced a brief glance upwards. An adult cheetah, a male, was standing in the doorway, clad in blue jeans and a white t-shirt, covered with some indecipherable logo in shiny silver foil. He wasn't a large fur, which was to be expected, considering his species and all, though he was taller than Czejak. His head-fur was of a short length, and that golden ear-stud glinted in the mid-day sun.
Nick frowned and looked away.
"Hullo, Gary." Czejak beamed. "Guess who I've brought with me?"
Gary blinked and looked down and behind the coyote. "Oh." He started in mild surprise. Clearly he wasn't expecting Nick to be driven down so early.
"Yeah, 'oh'," Nick muttered almost silently to himself.
"Yep, this is Nick." Czejak indicated the boy behind him.
"Cool. Hi Nick!"
After a second or so, Nick responded without much enthusiasm. "Hey."
Czejak turned and indicated for the kit to come forward a bit. The cheetah boy didn't move an inch, and Czejak sighed. "Well, shall we take the guided tour?"
"Uh, sure," Gary responded, a quizzical expression on his face. "Come on in, guys."
Even when his counselor stepped inside, Nick hesitated. Finally, he quickly bustled inside, rudely pushing past Czejak, keeping distance between himself and this new adult. Gary reached out for the door's handle.
"Leave the door please," the coyote breathed almost inaudibly at Gary.
Nick looked around, his senses on high alert for some reason.
It was as big as it seemed from the outside. A few steps to his left led the way down to a large room with comfortable, if a little old-looking, sofas and a big entertainment unit. On the right was the kitchen, and beyond it was a spacious dining room that looked as if it hadn't been used in a rather long time-things were just too immaculate.
In the center of the home was a carpeted stairway, leading the way up to the next floor.
Gary led the way, showing them things here and there, such as where the glasses were stored in the kitchen, or the downstairs bathroom. That is to say, he was really showing Czejak, as the cheetah cub accompanying him seemed too preoccupied to look at anything Gary indicated, let alone actively listen.
Gary too felt a little uneasy. This wasn't going too well, he felt. The kit hadn't really said a word since they'd met, and he was acting odd. He tried to keep his eyes averted, said nothing and usually kept the coyote between him and the other cheetah. It was puzzling. It wasn't shyness. It was wariness.
Auspiciously, the last room at the ground level was the living room, and he led the way down the stairs to the carpeted area. He pointed out the TV, the DVD player... and his collection of over two hundred and thirty DVDs, of course. At last, he mentioned the newest addition to the room.
"That's a GameStation Turbo," he said, winking surreptitiously at Czejak. "Only got a few games for it so far, though."
The coyote suppressed a grin. "I didn't know you had one of those, Gary."
"Well, when we spoke last time, I didn't. Still don't, really. This is for Nick."
The kit froze and looked up, for the briefest second, with a look of incredulity on his features. He had no idea what a GameStation or whatever was, but it did seem bizarre that Gary had bought something for him already.
"Aren't they terribly expensive?" enquired Czejak, frowning.
"Eh, not really." Gary grinned and looked around. "Now, is there anything else in here?"
Nick looked away. Out of the corner of his eye, he spied a dark wooden cabinet. Doing a double-take, he made out what was on it. Several bottles of various different kinds of liquor. Nothing that he recognized, but that didn't matter. It'd been a long time since he'd gotten drunk; maybe this'd give him something to do on slow evenings. Or mornings, whichever.
The upstairs area was smaller. A master bed-room that appeared to be rather large, with its own bathroom; another bathroom; an office room, that looked somewhat packed full of paperwork and bookshelves; and a room with six whirring computers in it, that Gary called a "server room." Finally... Gary opened one last door.
"This is Nick's room," he said, gesturing.
Czejak in turn motioned for Nick to come closer.
Unenthusiastically, the kit did so, and peeked past the door.
His jaw fell open almost instantly. There wasn't much in the room, but the neatly made double-bed with soft cotton sheets and the wooden bedside cabinet, ornate lamp and clock atop, alone were astonishing. There were significant amounts of time in his life when Nick didn't have a bed, let alone one that was clearly for an adult.
This was his room?
Recovering, the cheetah kit closed his mouth and stepped away. "Whatever," he said emotionlessly.
Czejak winked at Gary. "Is that it all?"
"More or less," responded Gary, a little baffled. "Let's go downstairs. Do you guys want a drink?"
The coyote looked genuinely pleased at the offer. "My goodness, yes. A coffee would just be perfect right now."
The kit shook his head.
Only a few minutes later, the two adults were standing in the kitchen, both nursing two small cups of steaming, pungent liquid. Nick, however, stood in the background, leaning on the wall next to Gary's stainless steel refrigerator.
His mind was blank, and he could barely hear the grownups' discussion.
He wasn't sure what to think so far. Gary did seem alright... but so had just about everyone else. It didn't mean anything. All he knew was that, once his counselor left, he'd be trapped here with this guy. What would change when Czejak left?
Czejak coughed. "Gary, is it alright if Nick has a look around the place again?" he asked. "While we're sitting here doing nothing?"
"Sure he can. It's his house too now."
Nick had no idea how he managed to keep his expression impassive.
"So, Nick, why don't you go check out your room? Or go through the movies in the living room?" Czejak took a long sip.
The kit sighed loudly and pushed away from the wall. Of course he knew why Czejak wanted him away. The doc was going to talk about him, and he didn't want Nick to hear. "Fine," he grumped, shuffling out of the kitchen. He wanted to be alone anyway.
When the kit was certainly in the living room, Czejak exhaled. "I'm sure you've gotten an inkling of what I was saying before?" he asked Gary.
"Yeah." Gary nodded emphatically. "He really doesn't seem to like me."
"He doesn't like anyone, Gary, don't take it personally. That can change in time." Czejak paused. "I've managed to make him open up to me. It's not impossible. Though I have to again ask you to be patient with him. Taking it personally will just ruin everything."
"I'll do my best, doc. Thank you... for letting me try and help."
Czejak smiled wanly. "I should be thanking you. And so should Nick, though I don't think I've heard any thanking words from him in the ten months I've known him."
"Simply put, the boy doesn't like to back down." The coyote shifted a bit, and took another long sip. "You have to look for the sign-language, Gary. Sometimes it's subtle, but you might be able to tell if he's sorry or grateful, even when he's telling you to go off and die."
"I'll keep it in mind."
"Things are going to be rocky at first, but I suspect you'll be fine." Czejak smiled. "Speaking of that, however, that brings us to a very important topic."
"Huh? Which is?"
Czejak's expression became serious. "Don't move too fast. In any way, but especially that way. If you venture that in that direction at all."
Gary blinked. "What do you mean?"
"Nick isn't ignorant in this area, not at all, but bear in mind his previous experiences."
The cheetah frowned. "Oh, right. I see. I won't. And I guessed that he wasn't ignorant about it."
"Well, I'd told you what happened in his previous foster home. Nick also made rather unusual videos with his friends in that house of theirs." The psychologist shrugged. "I don't have many details, since naturally there were issues far, far more salient than what home movies he made in order to earn a dime."
"Such as what he was spending that money on." Czejak sighed and drained his coffee cup. "Impressive. We just discussed something without once mentioning what it is we were talking about."
Chuckling, Gary too finished and placed his cup in his sink. "Now what?"
The coyote followed suit. "I guess... it's time for me to leave. You still have the journal I gave you? And all the appropriate contact numbers?"
"Don't hesitate to call them if you need to. Also, if Nick gets violent, it'd be better for you to let someone else handle it. But don't back down too much." Czejak lidded his eyes contemplatively. "I wish I had more time to go through these stupid little details with you. I suppose the journal I gave you will make up for it a little, but..."
"I'll read it cover to cover-again. Don't worry."
"You're an eternal optimist, Gary. I like it." The coyote grinned. "He's really scared of you, you know. This might be touch-and-go."
"Scared of me? He must've dealt with bigger assholes than me before. I ain't that bad."
"I've seen Nick face off with the most intimidating, devolved thugs before, but that doesn't mean he wasn't afraid. He knows, Gary. He knows how much stronger than him you are, and that you're the one in authority now; that you're in control. He's going to challenge that as much as he possibly can, to give himself as much latitude as possible, until you prove to him that you're not going to abuse your power. It's fairly simple: when we feel cornered and frightened, the claws come out and we fight out of the corner. Consider that fair warning." Czejak chuckled sourly. "After this, I may persuade you to take up psychology."
"Don't think I could handle campus life at my age, Doc."
With another sigh, Czejak motioned at the living room. "I'll go say goodbye."
When he entered the lobby, Nick was actually resting against the wall on the stairs down to the living room. He cracked his eyes open and watched the coyote approach.
"You goin' now?" he asked neutrally.
"I had to eventually, Nick," responded the counselor.
Nick snorted and looked away. "I know."
All of a sudden, the coyote's paw was in front of him. The abrupt invasion of his personal space nearly caused the cub to fall down the stairs, and he looked at the paw, surprised and wary.
"Good luck, Nick. I'll be back every Friday to check on everything."
Nick stared at the paw for a few moments. Then, with the manner of someone about to stick a limb into a fire, he tentatively placed his own small paw into the palm of Czejak's.
Czejak smiled broadly and gave the smaller paw a squeeze. "If anything happens, tell me about it. I will believe you... unless aliens and zombies get into the picture."
"Yeah, whatever." Nick's voice was soft. "See ya, doc."
The coyote was surprised that had actually worked. In all the time he'd known the kit, he had never once touched or been touched by him. "See ya, Nick," he said, walking towards the still open door. He stepped beyond, into the warm bloom of the afternoon sun, and Nick felt a subtle, insistent desire to give chase. However he just held his breath and remained motionless.
This was the hard part. It always was.
The coyote's car started with a low growl and Nick listened as the sound of the rumbling engine faded slowly.
"Fuck," he whispered, exhaling at last.
Gary slowly walked back from the kitchen, a pensive frown on his features. After a second, he smiled. "Uh, hungry at all, Nick?" he asked in a friendly tone.
The kit didn't look at him. His gaze was affixed to the floor. "No."
"Alright. Well, I haven't eaten anything all day. If you need anything, just, uh, let me know." Gary scratched his head. "A'ight?"
Nick remained motionless while the adult returned to the kitchen. When Gary wasn't able to see, he looked up and in the direction the grownup had gone.
His counselor's voice echoed over and over in his mind: he had to make this shit work. But he didn't want it to work! He wanted out of here!
With a snarl and a hard kick, he bashed the plastic tether on his ankle off the base of the small stairway's wooden banister. "Fuck you!" he hissed, his paws becoming tight, frustrated fists.
Gary didn't seem to hear him, not that Nick gave a shit if he did or not. He slammed backwards into the wall again, and slid down to sit himself on the stairs. "... Fuck you..." He glared at the kitchen. "And fuck you too."
Eventually, Gary came back, holding a small sandwich in his paw, munching merrily away. "You okay, Nick?" he asked concernedly when he saw the boy on the stairs, legs splayed and head hung.
At last the kit looked up, and he almost toppled over when his vision blurred. He was exhausted already, and he didn't know why.
"Are you tired?" enquired the adult. "You look ruined."
When he received no response, Gary mentally shrugged and squeezed past the kit to get into his living room, being sure to keep a little distance. Much to his shock, Nick instinctively flinched and his arms shot up to protect his face when Gary stepped past, his long legs and shod paws at the boy's head-height.
"Jesus," Gary exclaimed, stunned. "Whoa! I'm not gonna kick you, kid!"
Nick scampered inelegantly up the few stairs and into the lobby, pulling himself to his feet and nearly treading on his own tail. When he straightened up, his face bore an indignant defiance. He looked like he wanted to speak, but didn't seem to know what he wanted to say. He just glared at the grownup steadily.
"I'm sorry, Nick."
Nick looked away, jaw clenched.
"Are you alright?"
Still no reply. Gary swallowed and turned away, surmising the best idea would be to leave it be.
"Hey. Let's get somethin' clear," Nick said in a surly tone. Gary looked around and almost flinched; the kit's stare was flat and unfriendly in the extreme. Even a little threatening. "You ain't my friend. You're not my dad! I don't wanna be here. We're not gonna be friends. Just leave me alone and things will be cool. I'm only here so I could get the fuck out of that shit-hole."
The boy's voice was gruff and flat and contained a deep, barely hidden anger. He sounded older than his years, and he was clearly trying to make himself seem even more intimidating.
Oddly, Nick found himself regretting his words almost instantly. Gary's expression progressed quickly from shock to hurt dejection. He'd never seen his words cut someone so deeply and quickly... and visibly. Not like that, not in that way. He didn't understand.
Yet he stood firm-as best he could. He stumbled and his vision almost blacked.
Gary sighed. "Nick, why don't you go to sleep? You're fuckin' exhausted."
"And don't tell me what to do, dickhead." The kit blinked his bleary eyes a few times.
"I'm not telling you. There's a comfortable bed up there, and you're tired."
Their gazes locked. Gary's was warm and demure, but Nick's hard and freezing cold.
At last Nick turned and hastily climbed the stairway to the second floor, not looking back.
He shoved open the door to his new room, then immediately slammed it behind him.
"Shit!" he growled, scuffing the carpet angrily. He paced the room a few times, occasionally fighting the desire to kick something.
This was a total fuckup. Why had he let himself be talked into this? He was stuck here for three weeks with some random fucker, and his ankle shackled by some stupid plastic toy. How did he get himself into this shit again?!
Nick clutched his face almost painfully with one paw.
If this guy tried anything, Nick would kick his ass.
"No..." he whispered furiously to himself. "No I won't."
Who the hell was he kidding? He couldn't stop shit. Never could. Gary was much, much bigger than him, and Nick knew from experience that he was nothing to a sufficiently determined adult. Gary was in charge, and everyone would back him, not Nick, as always. Nobody was ever on his side.
Nick wiped at his suddenly watering eyes. He couldn't handle going back to the center. He just couldn't!
But what was the alternative?
He didn't even know!!
The kit's knees buckled and he ended up kneeling on the floor, head and arms laid on the bed. "Fucking damn it," he groaned, weakly clutching the sheets in his paws.
The only thing he could do now was trust his counselor.
Worried and lost, the cub rested his head on his crossed arms and tried to think his way through this. Or maybe think his way out of it.
It was hours later that a curious and concerned Gary opened the guest room door and peeked in.
Nick had fallen sound asleep, half on the bed and half kneeling on the floor. His head was resting on his folded forearms, and he was breathing shallowly.
The grownup felt his breath catch. The poor kid.
In an act of pure defiance, he had even refused to clamber into the warm, comfortable bed that Gary had painstakingly made up for him.
Was it really so important to him? It was just a bed.
Gary checked his watch. Six in the evening; the sun still peered over the trees, though just barely. Nick was certain to wake up very early. He prayed Nick wasn't going to wreak destruction on his humble house. It was, after all, one of the only things he had to remember his mother by.
"What the hell have I invited into my house?" grumbled Gary, shutting the door firmly.
Shaking his head, he retreated to his office, hoping to catch some of his friends online. Maybe distract himself with some gaming until he got some advice... or perspective.
He certainly needed some.
End of Chapter One
- Kichigai Kitsune, 2011