The next morning, after awakening early and performing her morning exercises, Vanarra slipped into the quiet and dark den of her lair to see her Nephti friend still sleeping quietly on the couch. Stealthily making her way to the Nephti’s side, Van sat on the low table in front of her friend and just smiled softly. She’d never seen Sahni sleeping before, and the Nephti looked as at peace as anyone she’d ever seen. “Proves I did my job, in a way,” Van remarked to herself.
As they had been making dinner late last evening, Van carefully probed the Nephti’s past about any conflicts or combative encounters she’d had – even as a kit growing up. To Van’s surprise, Sahni had neither a serious scrap with her sisters or a confrontation with even a school bully to fall back upon. The technologist had been far too studious to get anywhere close to the situations which generally precipitate duels between either males or females, and sadly, her experience watching the females wrestling at primals was about the sum total of her observations on the matter of conflict. While she had, of course, seen some fighting on VidStar and read about it in books, there really wasn’t anything the Nephti had to draw upon when it came to protecting herself once a fight started.
“In one regard,” Van mused, “she’s largely kept herself clear from places and situations where fights would happen, so her instincts in that department are pretty fair. However, you don’t always get to pick you situation, so you need to know … something.” Plans had been forming in Van’s mind ever since her gentle questioning at dinner had ended. Sahnassa was a smart kit, and in no time at all, she also realized that her experience was not merely lacking, but completely absent. That had made her even more disconsolate and worried, despite the minor amount of fermentum coursing through the Nephti’s body.
Realizing that Sahni would likely stay up all night fretting about how vulnerable she was, Van walked the Nephti to each entrance in her lair and showed her the very heavy doors and very good locks on each, showed her the security windows she’d had installed, plus the anti-intrusion system she had purchased. Then, she sat Sahni down on the couch and talked to her for a fair amount of time, telling her that she would spend whatever time was needed to give her friend the basics to make her ready for conflict, and that she truly could. Sahnassa allowed herself to be comforted by this, and the fatigue combined with one more dark blue berry fermentum helped her sprawl out on the couch and shut her eyes.
“It’s good that you trust me, kit,” Van thought, “but I really did fail you, here. I need for you to truly be ready to protect yourself like the rest of us can.” There was something about that thought that made Vanarra profoundly happy. “She will. She’ll listen to me. She really trusts me.” Van’s gut instinct to not take the shortest way home from the bank and swing by her business “just in case” perhaps spoke to that special connection she had developed with the Nephti. There was something wrong, and Van hadn’t realized exactly what it was until she saw the red hover marooned alone in front of her building, the Nephti standing outside of it with the hood open. It was an instinct she was glad of.
Looking at Sahni’s sleeping features, she realized that they were drawing into a smile, even as the Nephti slept, almost as if her friend could sense Van’s happiness at having been able to help her. “You’re closer to me than nearly everyone else, Sahni,” she thought. “Is this what having sisters is like?” That thought consternated Vanarra somewhat. “Pay your dues like a champ, faithful as can be, but where are they? Where’s that family help, eh? It’s not a good deal for you. Glad you are okay with having it and all, but you get the sucker’s end of it. What good’s the family house if they won’t help straighten out your own little family? I don’t have anyone to be with, kit, you should.”
That maudlin thought seemed to almost bump the side of the Nephti’s muzzle, and a twitch later, Sahnassa’s eyes were slipping open, surprised and confused. “Hey, you’re okay kit. You’re in my lair, remember?”
Van’s soft voice drew the Nephti’s gaze, and she smiled, her blush fur sailing up. “Oh! I … I’m sorry; couldn’t figure it out, there, for a moment.”
“Yeah, you should have seen me at some times in my life. I had a friend of mine wake me up, and I almost clawed her face off. You’ll notice I’m sitting back a few tracks,” Van chuckled.
The memories of the prior night seemed to pounce on the Nephti like a prowler that had been hiding in the room. “Not … my instinct. Maybe I’d just scream or … something.”
“Well, you were sleeping in a safe place, and I showed you all around last night so you’d not have any worries. This neighborhood and this lair, especially with what I’ve done to it, provide a pretty good amount of safety, and I was just thinking about the fact that, yes, while you haven’t been in or seen any scraps, that does speak well of you in one regard. You generally stay out of harm’s way, the dangerous places. However, any public place at the wrong time of the sol or under the wrong circumstances can become a dangerous place. I … have a proposal, and it’s one you can say no to, of course, but I was thinking about having you stay with me for the full sols of feasting, letting me work with you, train you up a little.”
“Spend the whole sols of feasting on me, Van?” Sahni replied, embarrassed and concerned. “That’s too much of your time.”
“Well, I have it, now that my Nephti cub has sprinted into the tall grass, and like I told you earlier, if I don’t have someone to spend the time with, I’ll just be a lonely mess the entire time which, I might add, will make me a true pain in the tail come your first sol back at work!” Van’s serious tone drew out a smirk on Sahni’s features. “In a way, kit, everyone who has come to work for me becomes someone I want to take care of – it’s why I get so angry when I have to fire them, I guess. I … it hurts.”
Sahnassa slipped her paw over and put it on the mixed blood’s which was resting on Van’s knee. “Yeah, but when I take care of them, it doesn’t. It feels the opposite. I know some other mixed bloods who have businesses, and they are cruel as can be to everyone who works for them. It’s payback, they think, for what the world did to them. I don’t want to be like that. One sol, I don’t know when, you might have to leave because you found that special cub – meaning keen, muscular, sensitive, sexy, smart, kind, with a really nice butt who treats you like a Grand Matriarch, and he wants to take you to live in his grand and exotic lair on the Taprician coast and show you all of his … best assets…” Sahni was smiling hugely with embarrassment as Van also pantomimed some of “his” proportions. “If you, when that happens, leave safer and better off than when you first came to me, then I’ve done my job – what I think I should do. I’ve … taken care of you.”
Sahnassa struggled to sit up, her eyes deeply thoughtful. “Van?”
“Your office is really … another orphanage, isn’t it?” she asked, her eyes fixed on those of her friend’s.
That realization stunned Van a bit, her eyes widening. “Well, I … I guess I never thought of it that way, kit! Wow, I wonder.”
“If one of those cubs or kits at the orphanage, when they’re old enough, need a job, what will you do?” Van’s expression back at her was all of the answer she needed. “Yeah, wow, Van. It’s true. We’re all your cubs and kits, aren’t we? Even Flint?”
Laughing a little, Van shrugged. “When I first found him, he was sitting out on the side of the trail after having been fired. It … made me mad someone treated him like that. Don’t like Thurians treating others as things. It’s wrong.”
“I agree. Thank you, Van. I would be truly honored if you were willing to invest this time in me, and I hope that, one sol, I can return the favor.”
Van hung her head, but she was smiling. “Yeah, you sorta already did that, you little purebred.” The now “tease” which had once been a slight underlined the entire period when Sahnassa started working for Vanarra. “You showed me I was being a hypocrite – a complete and total hypocrite. Do you know that since I’ve realized that and come to understand what I was doing and how wrong it was, I have been treating the other purebreds in my life, in my business, differently? A lot of the … distance between them and me has just kind of vanished. I thought it was all them. No, sometimes it is, but sometimes, it was me! I’m better at my business because of you, and it’s not just the technology pieces. You changed your boss, kit, for the better. Now, your boss is getting hungry, and I’m not as good a host when I’m starving. So, if you’re okay with the plan, I’ll get up and start us some breakfast. After that, the stores will be open for at least half the sol so we’ll go and buy you a few things to protect yourself with. Sound like a plan?” Van asked as she stood.
Sahnassa slipped up to her hind paws and embraced her boss. “Yes, and thank you, Van. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, kit. Now, you’ll find some stuff laid out in the bathroom for you. Please feel free. I keep some supplies for … guests I sometimes entertain,” Vanarra said deviously as she parted from the Nephti.
“Ohhhhh kay,” Sahni replied, shaking her head. “Thank you, though. I’ll be back in a bit.”
“Take your time, kit. I’m going to start us off right.”
A half interval later, Sahni was just finishing off her breakfast – a very good one – cooked by Vanarra while her mix blood host got through her own morning routine. Just when she was eating the last bite, her PawLink rang, and it rang with an alert she’d never heard before. “What’s this?!” she nearly yelped, grabbing for the device and pressing the silent key. Looking at the display, she saw the words, “House priority call from Matron Astalla to Sahnassa de Orturu!”
“Uh oh,” she breathed and quickly keyed the talk button. “Hello?”
“Sahnassa!” Astalla almost shouted. “Are you alright?! We received an enforcement report overnight that said you had been assaulted!”
“Oh, no! I should have known they would do that! I’m so very sorry I didn’t call, Matron. I’m alright, really. Thanks to a friend of mine, that Pantera never got anywhere close to us.”
“So glad to hear it. The report said he was stunned. By your friend?”
“Yes, Matron,” Sahnassa offered. “She’s … very experienced at protecting herself, and we started talking last night. She’s insisting that I buy a stunner of my own and keep it with me. As our firm is a catering company, we don’t always get to choose where we go.”
“Well, true, and you can end up in a lot of places such as hotels and resorts that have a somewhat broad clientele,” Astalla offered appreciatively. “I want you to know that, based upon the report, we will be pressing charges on your behalf.”
“Thank you, Matron. I can assure you that we won’t be the only ones. The owner of our business is also doing the same. She even provided a VidStar recording taken from her hover cam.”
“Oh, my!” Astalla chuckled darkly. “That was excellent. Now, just as a reminder, I would very much appreciate a call if this kind of thing ever happens again, as soon as you could possibly manage it. I wasn’t far from activating the abduction tracker on your PawLink and sending the house guard after you.”
“I’m so sorry, Matron,” Sahnassa whispered into the device. “I was just … I will, but I was pretty shaken by it. I’ve never seen anyone stunned like that before.”
“It’s not frequent for me, either, but it did come up in my self-defense classes. I’ve never had to do it, myself, thankfully enough. However, I agree with your friend; you should have a regulation stunner. Make sure you buy it from a reputable dealer and that it’s certified safe for use on Thurians. There are modified stunners out there that can actually kill you.”
“Oh, wow, okay,” Sahni breathed. “I didn’t know that! Do you mean that … my friend could have actually killed that Pantera?”
“Not likely if she was using a regulation stunner. The charge and the sedative on legal ones are certified as safe. There is the possibility that someone you stun in self-defense might have a pre-existing medical condition or injury which causes them to have a problem, but so long as you are not the aggressor and made a reasonable attempt to warn the attacker, you are legally protected. Did your friend warn the Pantera?”
“Thoroughly,” Sahnassa told her matron. “He was really intent on getting at us. Scary.”
“Well, I’m just glad you are okay. Have you told anyone else?”
“No, Matron. Again, I’m so sorry.”
“This was the first time such an event has happened to you, I understand. I just wanted to make sure you were alright, especially since I have something very nice to tell you. You’re being awarded the matriarchal commendation for charitable giving, Sahnassa, based on your work at that orphanage we talked about. I called and spoke with the proprietors, and they were exceptionally grateful of your support.”
“The children are, too. They’re very sweet,” Sahnassa offered. “The recognition is very unexpected and a wonderful surprise! My family deserves the honor, Matron.”
“Well, that may be, but this time, the honor is coming to you. I was wondering if you could put a presentation together for the awards dinner – something like a speech or even pre-recorded VidStar. Our dame will be there, and … there’s a chance someone else will be, also. Keep the length only to about ten passes.” Sahni was thinking furiously for a moment until she remembered a new Nephti cub who had been brought in, his disavowed parents had been thrown into jail. De Fantar wasn’t doing anything to help the cub, and Van had brought him into the orphanage. “Sahnassa, are you okay?”
“I … I was just thinking,” she asked carefully, “would it be okay if I told the story through the eyes of a Nephti cub who was just brought in? I’d kind of like the presentation to feature more about the orphanage itself than what I do there.”
“A Nephti cub? How old?” Astalla asked, clearly touched.
“Five seasons, and his parents are going to be in prison for the entirety of his growing up. There’s no family other than de Fantar, and … and they won’t help.”
“They will after your presentation if we don’t step in, first. There will be some de Fantar matrons visiting during the awards banquet. Just keep the mention of his old house out of the presentation. I’ll … manage the rest.”
Sahni smiled, liking the sly tone she heard in her Matron’s voice. “Then that’s what we’ll do. Do you think that presenting the orphanage there could bring a little more in terms of donations?”
“Absolutely,” Astalla told her. “It’s good exposure for them. Pass me a copy of the presentation when you have it ready, and I’ll give you feedback on it.”
“I will. Thank you, Matron.”
“Have a wonderful sol, Sahnassa, and please, stay safe.”
“I will. Thank you, again, Matron.”
As Sahnassa hung up the PawLink, Van quietly asked from nearby, “Sorry for overhearing a bit, but … were you talking to your Matron about the orphanage?”
“Yes!” Sahni explained, excited. “They want to honor me for the volunteer work I’m doing there, but I can totally use that to feature that adorable little Nephti cub who just came in! There’s a good chance he’ll get adopted out, but what’s more, is that there’s a chance the orphanage will get donations from others in my house because I’ve told them about it. I think my Matron is even going to help.”
Van tilted her head back and forth, sorting the ideas in her mind. “Normally, I’m a little suspicious of the houses hanging around, but if you think they might actually adopt the cub, then … I’d be good with it. Just be careful what you show, okay?”
Sahnassa was walking back and forth a bit, thinking. “I … I could feature their voices, voices without their faces overlaid with the children playing or studying or getting taken care of. You can’t tell by someone’s voice if they are purebred or not.”
“Our little Anati kits and cubs being able to say their peace, ask for help inside of the walls of a family estate?” Van queried, a bit incredulous. “Sure that won’t cause a problem for you?”
“My Matron doesn’t seem to think so; after all, I appear to have already been awarded the matriarchal commendation. This is just my presentation for it.”
Van shook her head. “I have to leave it to you when it comes to the family matters. I trust you to take care of us, keep us out of trouble. I mean, you’ve pretty much already saved our hides with that little golden ball thingy. I don’t think Flint will ever pick up any loose jewelry he finds ever again!”
“I understand that. I think it’ll be okay. So, what do we do?”
“Well, we go shopping. Stores will be open until mid-sol, at least, so we can get you what you need and then bring you back here so you can learn all about it. Sound okay?”
“Sounds good! Thank you, Van!” With that, both of them headed out the door.
As they settled into the hover, Sahnassa asked, “Last night, you were telling me everything that happened to you, and you said you would tell me how you got out of that awful mess. Could you, please? I worry about you.”
Van smirked a little as she started the hover. “You know I’m safe, kit. I’m right here.”
“I know, but still. Maybe I’m worried about what else happened to you, and I’m saddened by it. Again, purebreds put you in a horrible situation, wanted to use you. I can’t imagine how you could get out of that.”
“A pureblood,” Van stated as they accelerated down the trail, a wicked twinkle in her eye, and it grew when she glanced over and saw Sahni’s surprised expression. “You are certainly the best friend I’ve ever had, kit, but you’re not the only purebred who has ever helped me out of a jam. His name was Sarlankar de Vassar.”
The way Van nearly purred out the name made Sahni’s eyebrow fur raise up a little. “Uh, sounds like a very keen name, actually.”
“Wasn’t his real name – have no idea what that was, actually, but … it suited him. Yeah, it suited him really, really well. You see, I didn’t have any hope of ever getting out of jail for what I did to those three males outside the hotel…”
Vanarra found herself being escorted, in shackles and binders, back into the small little cell that had been her new home for the last two intervals. Her experience with being interrogated had been curious, to say the least. Feeling she had nothing to lose, she told the officer booking her everything she could remember, including realizing that one of the males involved had already rapemated her once. She told them not really knowing if it would do any good. “At least, it will be recorded somewhere so that someone looking for me might find what happened to me…” she thought bleakly.
Van had been around long enough to know what happened in cases like hers. Regardless of the reasons why, she knew what happened to Anati who killed or maimed the purebred avowed. Even though she could potentially afford criminal representation, no reputable litigator would take her case, and she would be left with the public defender – a horribly overworked individual who dealt with “her kind” too much to think of Van as an individual, just another Anati monster. Once convicted, she would be sent to the harshest, most corrupt prison on the continent. What she had done would follow her, and word would leak out into the rest of the prison population. Those who were purebred inmates would single her out, and she’d be dead within a moon.
The faces of little kits and cubs she had helped in the orphanage, who now really depended on her and her donations, kept playing in front of her eyes. They were there every time she closed them. There wasn’t enough money to take care of them without her, and that thought had her crying, staring helplessly forward wondering why she couldn’t have just allowed herself to be taken and used. Flint, Sheffer, the twins, and the others who worked for her would also be out of a job. Her inability to keep herself from harming those three had cost her and those she loved everything.
Not more than a pass after wishing that she had simply died when her mother had, the cell door opened, and one of the big Pantera females called for her to stand. To her surprise, this time, her hind paws weren’t shackled, and what’s more, her binders were removed. “Come with me, please. At this point, you are still in custody, so behave accordingly,” she was warned.
“Yes. I will,” Van replied humbly, but thoroughly confused by the situation. In a few passes, she was let into a large office where two senior enforcement managers, dressed in professional attire, were waiting for her.
“Have a seat,” the older one, a Nephti, ordered her, and she obeyed. There was something about this situation that he found amusing, but it wasn’t her he found amusing, it seemed to be his younger Faelnar deputy. He wouldn’t look at her, and she could easily tell that he hated her. As she studied him with stolen glances, she could also tell that he hated what he was being forced to do. Nevertheless, after his superior cleared his throat, the deputy began.
“Earlier this sol, you attacked—“ His Nephti manager growled in a low tone, and the Faelnar reselected his words. “Earlier this sol, you … responded violently to an incident where three males from honored houses were attempting to talk to you—“ Again, the Nephti interrupted, tapping his ring on the desk and shaking his head. “Attempting to harass you. One of them … even admitted, indirectly, to rapemating you during a prior encounter. While there is not enough proof to pursue any claim against this individual, it pains me to say that, based on the visual recording provided to us, you … acted in self defense.” The Faelnar turned his head and walked away as if he had undergone all of the humiliation he could stand.
The elder Nephti chuckled at him, but then he turned his gaze back to Vanarra. “I want you to understand that, while this incident was self defense and you were technically within your rights to pursue the level of violence required to protect yourself, your particular choices when striking your opponents were needlessly destructive. You may have been fighting on blind instinct; I understand that, but in the situation, it was certainly possible to disable these individuals as opposed to granting them scars they’ll live with every sol for the rest of their lives. What they did to you wasn’t right, granted, but had enforcement arrived and taken them into custody, they would have been censured and charged. It could have cost them their last names, but their bodies would be intact. Now, they’ll live, but not well. You need to think on that and own the responsibility for that. I can’t charge you with a thing, other than ask you to have a conscience.”
The Faelnar found his hind paws again and turned to face her. “We are adding your name to a watch list of potentially violent individuals, and although you don’t have a criminal record … yet, if anyone else near you comes down with a case of massive injuries, you’ll be our first target. If there isn’t irrefutable proof that you, again, acted in … self defense, we’ll let the houses have you first. You know what would happen then, Anati?” Van closed her eyes humbly and nodded, her mind clouded with emotions spanning between rage and rapture.
The Nephti leaned back in his chair and shook his head. “Alright Tarant, that’s enough. Step outside, please.” Angrily, the Faelnar complied, and after, the Thurian behind the desk explained. “Someone close by VidStar-recorded the encounter with audio, and everything could be heard. The three who went after you, once they are out of the hospital, are going to be prosecuted by the governmental litigator. You may be asked to testify, and I would encourage you to do so. Although their houses wanted to haul you out of here and stake you to a tree, they backed off once provided with a copy of the recording. Their … less than honorable approach to dealing with someone who accidently found herself in a back-alley will not reflect well. They may be looking for a new last name after this.”
“So, what’s to become of me, sir?” Van asked, as humbly as she knew how.
“Well, you have to live with the consequences, as I mentioned. Now, you didn’t do anything illegal, and you are free to go, but as I said earlier, I’d ask you to consider having a conscience. The strikes you made on those three would have killed them if help hadn’t arrived. If you could afford to use a less lethal way of protecting yourself, that would make our future encounters much more friendly.”
“I’ll … try,” she told him in angry resignation that she was being chastised for keeping herself from being rapemated. “What about my clothes, my things?”
“Your documents will be returned to you, but the clothes … we kept them for evidence. It was going to be for evidence against you until the recording surfaced, but now their blood places them at the scene of the crime. I’m sorry.”
“At … at least I get to leave,” she told him, standing up and not meeting his eye. “Can I call someone?”
“Sure. Here,” he told her and offered her his office phone.
“Thanks,” she replied and walked over. Dialing one of the numbers she knew by heart, she waited for a moment until it picked up. “Bucky?” she asked when the call went through.
“Who is this—wait, Van? Is that you?”
“Uh, yeah. I need your help, and I can’t trust this to anyone else. I sorta got myself … arrested, but they are letting me go. Problem is, I’m … a long way from my hover and stuck with their clothes. Can’t ride a public transport like this—“
“The main station? The one down town?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can, Van, and … I’ll see about finding you something else to wear.”
“Oh, thank you, Buck. You don’t know what this means to me,” she breathed, wiping her cheek fur. “I’m sorry for having to call you—“
“Don’t be sorry, Van. You took care of me one time – fair trade. I’ll be there in about half an interval.”
“Alright. Thank you, again.” Putting the LineCom down, she looked at the Nephti, her head ducked, but her eyes looking at him. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Off the record, I’m glad you weren’t hurt. You weren’t the guilty party here; they were. Take care of yourself. The booking attendant will have your belongings, and you can wait in the lobby. Give me your wrist for a moment.” She did, and he strapped a blue band around her wrist. “It’s something you can cut off later, but because you’ll be in those clothes until you leave, it will identify to our officers that you are free to go. Just make sure it stays in clear sight.”
“I will. Thank you … for being kind to me,” she told him.
“Just doing my job. Now, move along. I hope we don’t have to meet under these circumstances again.”
“No, I … I hope not, too. I have too many who rely on me for that.” Turning, she left his office and then went to find the booking attendant.
Her wait in the lobby for Buck to show up was utterly nerve-wracking. Every officer that entered that building, to a one, saw her clothes and put a paw on his projectile weapon until they saw the band, and even then, some kept their paw in place until they were out of the room. At one point, a Lupar female in robes came over and sat beside her. Without looking at her, the female quietly told her, “It was my family you struck down, tonight, but … not without cause. We realize that and will deal with the individual accordingly.”
“I wonder how many others there have been, besides me?” Van asked her quietly, and at that, the matron stood and left, her tail lashing in disgust, her ears flat down. Vanarra half wondered why the matron had even bothered to talk to her, but then her eyes saw a familiar hover slip under the overhang in front of the door. Shakily getting to her hind paws, her blush furs screaming in pain, Vanarra slowly stood and shuffled to the door, her right paw extended out from her body so that anyone passing by could see that her wrist was banded with blue.
When he saw her, Buck’s somewhat focused expression changed immediately to one of disheartened concern. “Van, damn kit!” He didn’t get the chance to say anymore because she ran into his arms and held him, crying. “It’ll be okay, kit. It will. Come on. Let’s get you in the hover.”
“You! Hold there!” an officer demanded sharply from the doorway.
Van spread her arms wide so the individual who had raised his stunner could see that she wasn’t trying to escape. “I didn’t have any other clothes,” she told him, still crying.
“Officer,” Buck requested. “Could you be so kind as to stand watch over us as we load up so that no one else tries to shoot us?”
The officer put his stunner back in its holster and just silently watched as Buck opened the hover door and directed Van inside. After he belted her in, she just put her paws over her face and wept. Buck got in and simply drove away, leaving the center of the city well behind before he said anything to her. “Thanks, Bucky,” Van whimpered. “It … it was awful.”
“Where’s your hover, Van?” he asked, and she told him where she had parked it. “Okay, I say we let you change into some of the clothes I brought in the back while I go get your hover. I’ll park in the registration spaces facing away from the building. That will give you a little privacy.”
“Oh, Buck, thank you. What … what did you bring? Sweats or something?”
“Not … exactly,” he chuckled, reaching into the back and pulling out a very lovely black dress and paw shoes.
“Damned, Bucky,” Van half chuckled, half sobbed. “That’s … that’s wonderful! I … I just feel so awful right now!”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Got cornered in an alley by three purebred prowlers. They … they were going to rapemate me, I think, but when they went after me, I just lost it and tore into them. All three ended up in the hospital. Their injuries were … bad. They’ll live, but it was really scary.”
“What did enforcement say?”
“In the end, there’s nothing against me, but early on, they didn’t know that. I … I thought I was dead, Buck,” Van offered, voice still shaking. “I thought they’d lock me away, and then someone would kill me. I’ve heard the stories.”
“Well, it’s over now, and I’m going to pull off the trail ahead and step out so you can change. You’ll find a knife in the glove to cut off that band. Then, we can dump those clothes off somewhere and be done with them.”
“You know the sad thing,” Vanarra chuckled, wiping her face, “was that they’re kind of comfortable. I want to keep them so I can see what they’re made out of. At least the tags, maybe.”
“If you wish, Van,” he laughed. “If you wish.”
Van looked in the bag and found not only the black dress and its paw shoes, but underthings, as well. “Uh, Bucky, how did you end up with all of this?”
“Well, let’s just say that … occasionally, some nice Faelnar kits happen to leave … items over at my place for … reasons.”
“Do you drive them back home nude or what?” Van chuckled, her sense of humor starting to return.
“Well, a few of them like to leave in my workout shorts and soft shirts – maybe even sometimes my dress shirts.”
“Hmm… never really developed the habit with my hunts,” Van mused. “Don’t know why.”
“Okay, here’s a spot, kit. I’ll pull over.”
“Bucky, I can’t thank you enough.” In a few passes, Van stepped out of the hover and took a look at herself. “Damned, Bucky, this is a sweet dress.”
“It’s yours!” he laughed, smiling at her. “The one who left it isn’t coming back, and to be perfectly honest, it wouldn’t be the best thing ever if my new hunt happened to find it.”
“What’s it this time?” Van asked, turning this way and that, looking at herself in the hover’s plastiglass.
“Another Faelnar. I’m boring, I know,” he sighed. “You, on the other paw, you get to have all the fun.”
“Well, nothing’s stopping you now,” she told him. “After all, it’s more about if they choose you, not the other way around.”
“Yeah, but … not like how you were treated, tonight. You’re trying to cover it well, Van, but … you’re not doing so good. Listen to me; have you had any food? Dinner, yet?”
“No,” she breathed.
“Well, then we’re going to go pick up your hover, and then you are following me to de Kestos.”
Vanarra shook her head. “Bucky, you’ve got to be kidding me, right? I just got out of jail for nearly killing three Thurians.”
“Well, now you’re dressed to kill, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Also, when you’ve had a little food and maybe a nip of something, you might be able to tell me more of what happened. Seriously, my friend, you stood by me. Let me do the same.”
“Okay, you sweet cub. I’ll listen to you, do what you suggest. I can’t thank you enough for coming to get me. I was too … embarrassed to call anyone else.”
He nodded as he motioned for her to get back into the hover. When they did, he added, “I would find it really difficult to call my partner or someone else who worked for me or, worse, a client. Better a really good friend, right?”
“Right, and thanks,” she told him, leaning over and licking him on the side of the muzzle.
“Okay,” he offered tenderly, “now you must be wearing some very nice perfume tonight.”
“Not … really. It was what they hosed me down with. You think it smells nice?” she asked.
“I do. Maybe you can find out what’s in that, too?” he pressed with a tease.
“Very well, I just might,” she told him. “Especially if it can get my dear Faelnar friend to broaden his horizons a little.”
“Maybe, but I’ve sworn off Vulpi kits, as you can guess.”
“They can’t all be bad. Some of the Pantera kits can be pretty cute, too. There are a few smaller ones that are nice.”
“Eh, we’ll see. For tonight, I’ll just be satisfied by hanging out with someone who just pulled off the impossible.”
“Wasn’t me who pulled that off – well, the fighting part I did, but not the getting me out of jail part. They said someone took a video of the attack, and it cleared me. I hope I find out who did it. I’d like to thank them, but as you said, Bucky – it’s time to get my hover back and then some food.” He chuckled, nodded in agreement, and the two headed back to the hotel to retrieve Vanarra’s hover.
“Wait!” Sahni interjected as they got out of the hover and walked into a specialty equipment store. “I thought it was this Sarlankar cub who helped you.”
“Well, he did,” Van explained, “but I just didn’t know at the time. I’ll tell you about how I met him as soon as we’re done here.
“Sounds good,” Sahni replied, clearly interested in hearing more of the story.