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In Darkness I Hide: A Zootopia Story

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Savannah Central – The Fox Den on Roaring St. – Against the Tundratown Border Wall
Thursday – 6:23 PM – Clear Skies with Scattered Clouds / Gusty Winds

Steven was terrified. Even though he wasn't fond of Anthony, his own father-in-law was getting pummeled upstairs alongside his colleague, Ralph, and he was alone with this mysterious fox who was supposedly involved in some shady business, to including a potential kidnapping of his Mom. The fact he was trapped wasn't helping matters. The only way back out was either right past the fox before him or into the river, which he was not sure how far it was before the next bit of landing.

"You all right? I asked you what your name was." Billy repeated, looking concerned for the little skunk.

"Stinkman…S-Steven Stinkman." He responded without thinking. His eyes were darting around the place, hoping there was some other form of escape that didn't involve getting near this criminal or drowning in the water.

"It is very nice to meet you. Might I ask who you are with? It's not every day I get a visitor down here quite like you. How did you find me?" Billy pressed. It was clear that he was moving closer and into a position where it would be near impossible to get around him without coming into contact. Steven was being cornered.

"I'm with my…Dad, Anthony. We're looking for my Mom here." In his panic, Steven was just spilling out anything without a thought to what he was actually revealing. His breathing was rapidly increasing, and he would soon hyperventilate if he didn't use his medicine soon.

"Your…Mom?" A curious look crossed over Billy's face. It was as if he was making a few connections of his own. "Does your mom…happen to be a wolf?"

Steven's eyes snapped back to Billy. "Why…why do you ask?" He inadvertently pulled the small, scent can of putrid, musk out of his pocket, finger ready on the trigger to spray.

Billy's eyes grew wide as he got excited at the prospect of finally meeting the creator of the musk Murana supplied him. In his fervor, he had completely forgotten his manners, his eyes locking onto the small weapon in Steven's paws. "That canister of yours," He said pointing, "Might I borrow that for a few?"

"Excuse me?" Steven stood aghast, his paws clutching at his precious scent. Swirling thoughts of being in the musk mill all over again dominated his mind. Fear gripped him as he saw before him nothing more than yet another mammal wanting him for his musk. "No! Get away from me!"

Eyes bulging as Steven made a dash between the fox's legs, Billy reached out to grab the skunk, narrowly snagging his tail by a small margin. "Stop! I'm not trying to hurt you! I just want to talk! I think we can help each-" He groaned as Steven quickly rolled onto his back underneath him and kick upwards into his groin, causing daggers of pain to knife up into his loins.

"You're just trying to use me! Just like everyone else!" Steven's fight or flight response was paramount.

He scrambled out from under Billy, his paws slipping on his scent can. It clattered out of view behind a workbench. Cursing that he lost his only protection, he skittered over to the shack and began fumbling around underneath the table trying in vain to find where his can went to. It was becoming harder to breathe and he knew he needed his inhaler soon, but he didn't feel like he had time to take a pause to inhale a puff. The growl of Billy just beyond the doorway sent shockwaves of terror through him. The fox was sure to come kill him now that he was injured!

"Steven!" Billy roared, staggering up to a standing position, his legs wobbly from the blow to his nether regions. "Look, I'm trying to help you! Just calm down and we can work things out! There's been a misunderstanding!"

"The only misunderstanding is that it was wrong of me to come here!" Steven freaked, finally finding something that looked like a bomb perched perfectly on a rack nearby several other weapons of similar build to the ones Anthony had found in Tail Hollow. Grabbing it and holding the bomb aloft, he stepped out into view. "Stay back! I'm not afraid to use this!"

Billy put both his paws out to ward off Steven's ire, "Whoa…now just hold on there. You don't know what you're dealing with here. That is a very potent stink bomb. It'll knock the two of us out and probably everyone else above. I'd advise you to very carefully put that down."

Steven looked at the device a bit more cautiously, but refused to bring it down. "Thanks for the warning. Maybe this is exactly what I need! Now stay back and let me leave. I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

Billy found it odd that even now, the skunk was apologizing for his behavior when it was evident he was scared out of his wits. He needed to find some way to pacify this skunk before it got out of hand. "Let's make a deal, you hand me that and I'll help you find your scent can and we can both come to a mutual agreement about what to do next, alright? After all, it was you who came barging into my home here, so I'd say that is fair."

Steven hesitated at this. Other than AJ, he hadn't had many good experiences with foxes before, and now that his one good fox friend was allowing a full-on beatdown of his only parental figure available, he wasn't sure of any of them. The prejudice against foxes ran deep in Zootopia and this situation warranted nothing less than caution. Billy was saying soothing words, but to Steven, there was nothing that proved otherwise that he wouldn't stab him in the back when he first got the chance.

Seeing that Steven was about to shake his head in defiance, Billy made a command decision to bum rush the little skunk and make a grab for the bomb. Steven shrieked as he fell backwards, his rump pointing high into the air with tail rigid. Billy knew the telltale signs of danger too late as he tripped over the skunk's tail as it jerked out beneath him during the fall and flew face forward between Steven's legs.

"Wait…no!" Billy yelled.

It was too late, the terror took over and pants on or not, Steven let loose. His scent glands tightened as his spray seeped through his shorts. The silver fox got a face full of it that made him retch, his eyes rolling up into his head before flopping over and passing out. Embarrassed that he soiled himself and nose cringing at his own stench, Steven shakily backed off from the comatose fox. Quickly snatching the stink bomb that had rolled out of his paws a short distance, he tore up the rocky steps into the dark gloom leading back to the club in hopes he was not too late.

The pounding of the music was reaching a fever pitch as AJ rocked the DJ stand with a freshly made remix of his own, concocted on the spot for the ensuing scuffle. The sight of Ralph and Anthony was all but gone now. Steven could only imagine their bodies mangled and bloodied by the mile of mammals now congregated in one part of the dance floor, bouncing and stomping like the crazed animals they were.

Scampering along the edges of the dangerous rave pit of doped out mammals, Steven nearly squealed when a rhino slammed up against the wall in front of him, nearly crushing him. The rhino slumped over with a thud and was out cold, tongue lolling out in a state of drugged up bliss. Trying to breathe in deeply, Steven could barely get in any air as his lungs ceased up. He needed his inhaler badly, but Ralph and Anthony needed him more. He needed to get to AJ now!

"AJ! Stop the music. Tell them to leave my Dad and Grayz alone!" Steven shouted right next to the fox, hoping he'd hear him over the din.

AJ's ears were as sharp as ever. Without even looking at the skunk, "Oh, so now you're buddy-buddy with asshole down there? I'll stop after this song. I promise."

"No, you will stop right now!" Steven screamed, thrusting up the bomb into the air above his head. "I'm not afraid to use this!"

Instantly recognizing the weapon for what it was, he tried to make a snatch for it. "Hey, Stinkbug! That isn't funny! Give that here before someone gets hurt!"

"The only ones getting hurt are my friends down there!" He jabbed a finger in the direction of where he thought the bodies of Anthony and Ralph lay.

"I will stop once you give me that." AJ made another lunge.

"I won't stop until…" Steven couldn't hold on any longer, his anxiety caught up to him.

His lungs couldn't draw in anymore air. His eyelids drooped as he went limp. AJ killed the music and yelled for the crowd to disperse as the bomb slipped from Steven's grip and hit the ground. Everything moved in slow motion. Steven was barely aware of the noxious gas diffusing through the club as his body crumbled to the floor. Nothing registered as he lay there on the ground, his eyes glossing over the multitude of bodies dropping like flies.

The last thing he remembered before blacking out was one final thought, "Mom, I hope you are safe. I love you."

Savannah Central – The Fox Den on Roaring St. – Against the Tundratown Border Wall
Thursday – 9:51 PM – Overcast / Light Drizzle

Steven wasn't sure if it was the sudden, loud clang heard from outside the cabin or the rocking of the boat that woke him up. His eyes flew open. He wasn't sure what happened or how he got here. He was in a small room that appeared to be inside of a schooner, complete with rectangular port holes that looked out onto the deck. The undulating light filtering in through the glass indicated he was still underground and most likely on the boat he saw earlier when he met Billy. Was that all a dream?

Groaning, fighting back a piercing headache, he sat up and surveyed his situation. He looked down and saw he was no longer wearing the clothes he came here with, but rather a loose fitting set of cargo shorts and t-shirt with a gaudy clothes fashion line logo. The thought that someone had changed him while he was out hit him like a shot as he squeaked and backed up into a sleeping body next to him that he hadn't realized was there.

"Hmmm?" The large mass mumbled, shifting over, still half asleep.

Frightened, Steven shied away from the large figure sharing the bed space, but his eyes immediately melted in relief as he recognized the wolf beside him. "Mom!" He cried out with joy and hopped onto her, giving her smothering kisses and breathing in her scent deeply, finally at peace that he had found her at last.

"Aaah!" Murana shrieked as she flung the tiny skunk off of her. She brought the covers up to her chest as she scooted back to the far end of the bed, her terrified eyes locked onto Steven. "Who are you?! What do you want?! Leave me alone!" She cried out in a voice that was quite unlike her. As if she was attempting to be younger than she was.

Steven was confused. "Mom? It's me, your son, Steven. Don't you remember me? I've been looking for you all day!"

"I don't know you! I don't have a family! They all died!" She began shaking her head violently, trying to erase the memories that were flooding back again.

"Hey, it's alright! It's just me, Billy. Steven here is a friend!" The silver fox came hurtling in from the left down the stairwell from the above deck. Steven jolted back at the sight of him, but held still as he could see that the fox was visibly calming Murana down. "You are safe here. No one is going to harm you."

"You sure?" Murana looked pleadingly up at the fox leaning over her, a paw on each of her shoulders.

He nodded affirmatively, "I'm sure. Just lay back down and get some rest. We're just discussing where to go next to keep you safe. Steven here," He motioned over towards the skunk, "Is here to help find a place for you to stay."

"Alright. Thank you, Billy." Murana fussed, trying to get back into a comfortable position to sleep, but it was clear she'd probably not be resting again anytime soon.

"If you'll come with me." Billy said firmly, beckoning Steven with a paw to follow him up top.

Nervously, Steven trailed after the fox and peeked his head out of the opening leading to the bow of the ship. He could see Billy standing beside AJ, who was sitting next to an injured Ralph, helping him treat his wounds. Anthony was opposite them on the starboard side, angrily glaring at AJ and preferring to treat himself alone. The two foxes were talking in hushed tones with Ralph keenly listening in.

At length, Billy turned around to address Steven, "I apologize for earlier. I did not mean to frighten you. I felt it best to redress you in some fresh clean clothes I had and lay you beside your mother when you awoke to help calm your panic. Knowing that she was safe, I figured you'd be more amicable to hearing out what I had to say."

"That's…very considerate of you." After a few moments thought, Steven pointed at AJ. "Hey! You lied to me! You acted as if you didn't know where Mom was and she was sleeping here this whole time!"

AJ put his hands up to defend himself. It looked like he was about to retort, but Billy stepped in and interjected. "He was just doing his part in making sure she was safe. I wouldn't expect him to trust some random wolf and wildebeest with her whereabouts, even if they were traveling with her son, Steven. I can explain the situation, if I may?"

"By all means, do explain why Grayz and I had to get beaten up just to find out my wife was here all along." Anthony growled, his teeth bared, all sense of etiquette gone. He turned back to licking his wounds as he listened.

"It started a very long time ago. Murana has been an old client of mine. I don't like to divulge my business with others and I prefer a code of secrecy with my dealings, however in this instance, I am willing to make an exception since Murana is very dear to you both." Billy's eyes traveled from Anthony to Steven. "She and I met during a mutual…shall we say, transaction and we realized that we saw eye to eye on a lot of things. So we started a partnership then. She keeps the worst criminals off the streets and provides me funds, and I get her the very best gear for her job."

"And you've known she was the Dark Flame Wolf this entire time?" Anthony asked Steven with apparent shock.

Scratching the backside of his neck, Steven responded, "Well…yeah. I've known the moment I met her. Not sure if she told you, but she rescued me from a musk mill where they used me only for my scent."

"That's disgusting." Anthony wrinkled his snout. "Why would anyone want essence of skunk? That stuff is terrible."

Billy twitched his nose, memories of being face first into a full-on skunk spray coming back to him. "Well, it isn't so bad." At an odd look from Steven, Billy coughed and continued, "Despite the abhorrent nature of the spray, it does have a lot of weaponized uses and sells for a high price on the black market. Murana herself was using the stuff and came to me often with bottles of it to develop and create weapons for her."

"Did you know she was using your musk like this?" Ralph was curious.

Feeling a bit self-conscious with all their eyes looking at him, Steven turned away as he sheepishly admitted, "Yeah…I mean, I knew she was going after the really bad mammals for a long time and she requested a long time ago if she could use what I have to help assist in stopping them."

"And you were okay with her killing everyone in the process?" Ralph's voice grew stern.

"What? No! I only found out recently that she was not really arresting them or helping them go to jail, but instead just burning them alive. If I had known she was doing that, I wouldn't have helped her at all." He said, with some indignity.

"You mean this whole time, you didn't make the connection between the burned victims all these years and what your Mom was doing?" Ralph grilled, leaning forward now.

"Lay off the boy!" Anthony snapped.

"No, it's alright." Steven put a paw up. "It's a very good question. I honestly didn't follow any murder cases since I don't do well with such things. I preferred instead to cover happier and less dangerous stories for ZNN. I just passed off any information I got on bad people to Murana and just left her to do her thing."

"Blissful ignorance, basically." Billy supported Steven in his innocence.

"Where did you get this information? Who was your informant?" Ralph was insistent.

"I think we're going off the rails here." Billy stepped between them. "Point is, she was my client and I do everything in my power to take care of my customers. So when we discovered her lost and wandering the tunnels just inside the barrier wall linking us to Sahara Square, I knew we needed to bring her in and care for her."

"When did you find her?" Anthony asked, genuine worry etched onto his muzzle.

"I found her in the early hours of the morning after my club closed." AJ offered, hopping into the conversation for the first time. "I had just locked up the place and was heading home in my car when I saw her on the side of the tunnel, completely delirious and acting as if I wasn't even there. So, of course I had to bring her back here since she'd be the safest with Billy."

"What happened to her?" Steven looked back down the steps to the sleeping form of Murana.

Billy shrugged. "I'm not entirely sure. She was wearing the suit I made for her, but it was completely shredded." He walked around the primary housing cabin and pulled something out of a chest along the side before tossing it on the deck before them. It was a crimson suit very reminiscent of what the Dark Flame Wolf wore. "I'm actually quite upset that it ended up in this condition. I spent a lot of time on it. I personally would like to know who did this to her."

"What's wrong with her? It's like she didn't know who I was." Steven whined. He wanted nothing more than to snuggle up under the covers with her right now and sniff her paws until he fell asleep alongside her.

"That's the funny thing." Billy huffed. "She didn't recognize me or AJ either and I doubt she'd remember either of you." He nodded his head towards Anthony and Ralph.

"Well, technically we've not formally met." Ralph pointed out.

"Regardless, the last time I saw her was Tuesday, not even two days ago. Whatever happened yesterday must have shocked her so bad that she's regressed to the mind of a child." Billy explained, pacing back and forth on the deck.

"What do you mean?" Anthony asked warily.

"What I mean is: she is going through some form of PTSD that was triggered by some memory or experience in her past. It was so traumatic that she's reverting back to coping techniques that saw her through those awful times." He stopped and turned towards Anthony. "She most likely doesn't remember any of us because we weren't there when whatever event happened to cause her to be like this. To her, we're all strangers that could harm her."

"Trust me, I tried to get her to remember who I was and what we meant to each other." AJ offered, which elicited a low growl from Anthony. AJ extended a paw for understanding, "Look, we have a good history together and I was hoping some of that would be remembered. Apparently none of it was." He looked down in regret.

"Murana means a lot to all of us…" Billy gave a sidelong glance to Ralph, "Well, most of us anyway. We all want to see her safely home. To that end, I want your promise that you'll keep my client safe if I give her to you to take home." Billy's voice was soft, but the promise of threat was clear if not followed.

"Of course. I won't be leaving her side at all tonight!" Steven proclaimed, puffing out his chest. All he wanted was to protect his Mom.

"What about all the murders she's done?" Ralph probed.

"Now's not the time!" Anthony snarled, all eyes giving the wildebeest scathing glares.

"She's in no condition to answer to any of that, and besides, I'd have to stop you if you were to arrest her now." Billy warned.

"And you're not in any condition to win that fight." AJ chimed in, looking dangerous and foreboding as his face was like stone, belying nothing of his true intent.

"Speaking of which, why shouldn't we just arrest you both for assaulting two police officers and harboring a known criminal and dealing with black-market selling of dangerous weapons and chemicals?" Ralph accused, thrusting a hoof at both AJ and Billy, standing up himself to look down on the foxes.

"Because you came barging into our place of business without proper clearance and sans warrant on a case AJ tells me he is positive you weren't even supposed to be a part of, thus violating a lot of regulations within your department at the ZPD." Billy chuckled, crossing his arms as he smugly looked at the two cops. "If anything, you'd get in far more trouble than we would. Without much legitimate proof to tie us to any wrongdoing, we'd get nothing more than a slap on the wrist after a few days in jail and sent home with a warning. You have no power here right now. If you still want to pursue this course of action, by all means, go secure a warrant and we can talk more seriously about this matter."

"We managed to track you down just fine using what we found." Ralph snorted.

"On pure dumb luck. Nothing that can concretely tie us to anything you are accusing us of." Billy said with finality.

"Hey, I just want to go home! I just want to take care of Mom!" Steven shouted, standing up on the side bench built into the boat. All eyes turned to him. "Look, I get that my Mom has done bad things, but she's also done a lot of good as well. She saved me and a lot of other mammals from certain death or captivity for the rest of their lives. She's protecting innocents while punishing the guilty. More so than that, she took me in when no one else would have me. I owe her my life. I just want to see her safely home. We can sort all this other nonsense out later."

"Well said, Stinkbug!" AJ whooped, feeling proud of his little skunk friend.

"Why is everyone shouting?" A soft voice emanated from the doorway leading into the cabin hold below.

Everyone focused on Murana, who was wearing a rather tight shirt and set of shorts, clearly meant for a smaller mammal. Ralph had to look away to maintain a sense of propriety. Although taller than half the people present, dwarfed only by Ralph and Anthony, she appeared to be very meek and timid. She was hunched over, clutching the doorframe tightly as she fearfully gazed upon each one of them, tail tucked between her legs. This was not the bold, confident Murana they remembered.

Billy immediately swooped to her side, wrapping an arm around her waist as he led her towards the edge of the group. "It's alright, honey. We're just deciding where you're going to stay tonight. It's not entirely safe here and we need to move you or else the bad guys will come find you."

"The bad guys?" Anthony's brow furrowed, his need to protect his wife burning fiercely.

The silver fox shook his head curtly, make a signal at the neck to knock off that line of questioning right now. "This nice wolf and skunk will be escorting you to your new home."

"I'm being adopted?" Murana's ears perked up, a look of hope glistening in her eyes.

After looking around the confused group, Billy had to play along, "Yes…yes, you could say that. They'll be your temporary family for now. They've agreed to make sure you are safe and loved."

"You're talking to her like a child." Anthony hissed, trying not to draw too much attention to his vexation at how this fox was treating his wife.

"That's because she is…right now." Billy asserted more firmly, giving Murana's shoulders another squeeze.

A sudden buzzing shook everyone. "Oh, sorry about that!" Ralph excused himself, digging into his pocket before pulling out a phone. "It's my wife texting me." He took one look at the message and his face blanched. "Um…I'm going…to have to go to the hospital now. Some nurse named Grisele has been trying to contact me for the last few hours. My wife collapsed and is admitted into the hospital. I'm not sure where my son is right now."

"All the better!" Billy said cheerfully. "Best place to get your wounds tended to." He gritted his teeth at their severity, amazed that both Anthony and Ralph were putting on a brave face over them. "Seriously, I apologize for my colleague's actions back in the club. He was meaning well to protect both myself and Murana. He hasn't had many good encounters with law enforcement in the past. It's made him a bit jumpy."

"I'll be fine." Anthony muttered, maneuvering his arm a bit, hearing some satisfying pops. "I just want to take my wife home and get this stench off of me." He curled his snout at the lingering musk hanging over all of them.

"But we only came in one cruiser and I have to get to the hospital." Ralph pointed out.

AJ rose his paw, "I can take grass grazer over here to his wife in my car. No big deal."

"You sure? I thought you hated us cops?" Anthony retorted.

"Hey, I know you think I'm an asshole, but I'm not heartless. Consider it me trying to make it up to you guys, alright?" AJ waved him off with a paw, gathering his things in preparation to leave. "Come on, buddy." He tapped Ralph on the arm, "Follow me, we'll get you to your wife and kid."

"Thank you again." Ralph looked over at Anthony and Steven. "I'm sorry I have to leave you two now, but I need to attend to my family."

"Of course, do what you need to do. I need to attend to mine." Anthony smiled, nodding as Ralph got up onto his two hooves, limping as he followed AJ.

The buff fox stopped within millimeters of Anthony. Leaning close so only he could hear, AJ whispered, "Just so you know, I care about Murana. A lot. You take her home. You keep her safe. If you hurt her in any way, I will find out and I guarantee you won't be walking this one off when I'm finished with you."

Without waiting for a response, AJ marched off down the plank to the pier below and both him and Ralph receded into the darkness leading back up into the club. Wrapping a fresh quilt over Murana as he felt her shiver, Billy regarded the others.

"Alright, I'm entrusting the safety of my client back into your hands. Even though I just met you both for the first time tonight, I have a feeling you'll do right by her." He gave a piercing look to Steven, "And to you, little one, I apologize for my behavior earlier. I was just very excited to finally meet the creator of the musk that I've smelled for so long."

"Uh…thanks." Steven didn't really know how to take that sort of compliment.

"And Officer Wolford?" Billy caught the wolf's eyes and held them. "You did not see me here, correct?"

Anthony could gather what the fox was getting at. "Yeah, yeah. We were never here. Don't worry, there will be no cops showing up to your yacht here." His tone softened as he admitted, "Thanks again…for taking care of Murana."

"My pleasure." Billy beamed, tipping his bowler cap in return and gently moving Murana into their arms. "It's alright, honey. You'll be safe."

Anthony wasn't sure what Billy had to do to keep Murana calm in her current state or to even gain her trust in the first place. All he could observe was her backward glances as they slowly walked her out until they couldn't see Billy or the boat anymore.

Savannah Central – The Red Lion Apartment Suites – Forest Penthouse Suite – Den 23A
Thursday – 11:28 PM – Overcast / Steady Rain

"And this…is your home!" Anthony said with gusto, turning the key in the knob and swinging the door open wide to reveal the grandiose apartment beyond, complete with grass flooring that seemed too good to be true.

Murana's mouth dropped open in shock as she looked wide-eyed all around her, clearly not recognizing any of it. "This is where you live?"

"This is where you live." Steven corrected.

Murana held a paw to her breast, taking a few steps back. "No…no, this is all wrong. I don't own this. I don't deserve this. I'm a nothing, a nobody! I can't have this!"

"Shhh, it's okay! You can have it now." Anthony cradled her in his arms as she bumped up into him trying to escape back out into the hallway.

"It's about time you showed up, Murana! I've been waiting all day for your sorry ass!" a sassy voice boomed from the hole in the wall. Out popped a mongoose with nothing more than a single one-piece nightie on. She looked rather furious and intent on giving Murana a piece of her mind.

"Zoey, now is not the time." Steven advised, trying to give her a meaningful look so that she'd follow suit.

"No, I think this is the perfect time! She gets all upset at the truth of her mistakes and actions, leaves in a fuss and then disappears for two days, worrying her friends and family sick? That is not what a responsible adult does! She needs to own up to her-" Zoey was heated and it seemed like she wasn't going to stop until Steven grabbed her by the arm and nearly yanked her off to the side. "Hey! What are you doing that for?!"

"Steven, please see to our neighbor. I'm going to get Murana comfortable for bed." Anthony rolled his eyes as he ushered her towards the bedroom.

Steven could hear his mom's confusion, "Anthony, who was that? I don't understand. Why is she so angry at me?"

Steven turned back as the door closed. "Zoey, look, now is not a good time to be discussing family squabbles. Something is wrong with Mom."

Peering over his shoulder at where she had last seen Murana, she sighed and stared back at Steven with irritation, "Okay, fine. What's wrong with her? If she's just doing this to escape responsibility, then she's got another thing coming!"

"She's hurt." Steven said plainly.

"Hurt?" Zoey cocked her head curiously. "How so?"

Steven scratched his neck, "We're not entirely sure. She was found by AJ and Billy, delirious and wandering the tunnels near Sahara Square." Zoey nodded as if she knew who those two were. "She doesn't remember anything. She-"

There was a short scream and shattering of glass as both Zoey and Steven burst into the room. Before them was Anthony trying to get a struggling Murana under control, screaming bloody murder and trying to snatch at a picture that had fallen to the floor, its frame broken and glass splintered. Steven walked over to pick it up and saw two fully shaved and naked wolf pups huddled in a red wagon, the older hugging the younger from behind.

"Why do you have it?! Why do you have it?!" Murana screeched.

"What the hell is going on?" Zoey clambered up onto the bed and was getting ready to dispense one of her classic 'get-yourself-together' slaps for her.

After some thought, Steven came to a realization. "Of course she'd remember this. Anthony, she's regressed back, right? She's blocked out everything that's happened past the point where she's at now. This picture is still in her memory." He took the photo out and shook it a bit to get any stray bits of glass shards off and brought it over to the heaving Murana. "Mom, who is this in the wagon with you?"

Her eyes focused like an eagle onto the image. She stopped fighting against her husband and stared at it for a long time. "That's…my brother. He's dead. Why do you have our picture?"

"It's your picture, honey." Anthony exhaled, tired and wanting nothing more than to sleep. "You brought it in here when we got married."

Murana's face roved between the two of them. "What did you call me?" She asked of Steven.

"Mom. I called you Mom." Steven said, hope rekindling in his irises.

"No…that's…I'm too young to have a son and be married. You're just joking with me, right? Trying to get me to do things I don't want!" She began to struggle again.

This time, Zoey did smack Murana upside the head, which stopped her short. "Okay, I don't know what happened to you, Murana, but you're clearly not yourself. Even if you don't remember me, or Anthony or even Steven, the fact remains is that we won't hurt you. You are safe here. So how about stop treating us like the enemy and just let us do our jobs to protect you?"

That calmed her finally. "O-oh…okay." She said submissively. "I'm sorry for being trouble again for you guys. I was wrong. Please punish me."

"Punish you…what?! No, we're not going to do anything of the sort! Where did you get a crazy idea like that?" Anthony responded, finally getting off of her and just laying back on the sheets, propped up on an arm.

She slowly sat up, "Isn't that what happens to bad boys and girls? They get whipped and chained before losing food for the week?"

"Sweet tar and feathers, Murana!" Zoey gaped. "Where the hell have you been living where that's normal?"

"It's her past…" Steven said ominously.

Anthony caught onto his train of thought, "She never talks about it to me. She wakes up sometimes with nightmares. Remember earlier this week? It was one of those times. She's always been guarded with what happened to her when she was young, but I'm starting to see the demented nature of what she had to grow up with and I'm beginning to hate whoever did this to her more and more."

Zoey put out a paw for the photo and took a gander at it, "Well, when you see clearly what was done to these two pups, I can see why. So what happens now?"

Anthony regarded his wife. "Well, given her current…state of mind, I'm not entirely sure if it is appropriate for me to be sleeping in the same bed as her." This statement caused a very strong reaction. Murana tensed up, bringing both her legs up to her chest as she wrapped her arms around them. "Yep, definitely not a good idea." He concluded.

"Guess you got the couch!" Steven said smugly.

"Oh, and where will you be sleeping?" Zoey slapped his arm, causing him to rub it tenderly.

"The couch as well, of course." He looked shocked.

"Uh-huh, well my apartment is always open…if you want." Zoey gave him a meaningful wink.

"T-that's all right. I'll be fine just chilling with Dad here tonight." Steven smiled fruitlessly. The title caused Anthony to regard him oddly.

"You need to work on your lies more, little boy." Zoey booped his nose before hopping off the bed. "Let's all get some rest tonight. I want a full report tomorrow morning." She sauntered off, shaking her tail sensually to hopefully entice Steven to follow. It sadly didn't work.

"Come on." Anthony groaned, sliding off and standing up. "Let's set up our nests out there." He turned to Murana. "The bathroom is over there if necessary and if you need anything at all, please, don't hesitate to let us know. We're here for you."

She scooted up to where her back rump hit the headboard of the bed, "O-okay. Thank you." She tried her best to smile.

Anthony was grumbling the entire time as he pulled out spare blankets and pillows from the nearby linen closet in the corner of the living den. Spreading them out over both couches, he set up two bedspreads. Flopping down fully onto one couch, he draped his arm over his eyes as he made a loud murmur.

"Been a while since I've had to sleep out here." He reminisced.

Steven snickered, "Yeah, she was not happy with you that day, was she?"

Chortling back, "No, no she wasn't. It was worth it though, just for the humor alone!"

"You think she's going to be alright?" Steven anxiously asked, his eyes going back to her door.

"I hope so. Either way, it's best that she has family close by in case she needs anything." Anthony began to settle in a bit more, getting relaxed. Despite it being on the couch, this was far more comfortable being back home than in Nick Wilde's apartment.

Steven ruminated a bit on the day's events. "How do you feel about Mom being the Dark Flame Wolf?" He was gauging Anthony's stance on what they were going to do with Murana.

A deep rumble reverberated in Anthony's chest as he answered, "I don't know how I should feel. I'm still processing everything. I'm a bit stunned, honestly."

"You think we should report what happened?" Steven inquired, pulling the blanket over himself.

"Report what, exactly? The story already is weird enough as it is. No, I think we should just keep this to ourselves. She's home safe now and that's all that matters." Anthony grunted, rolling over onto his back as if that decided the matter. As an afterthought, he called out over his shoulder, "Good night, Steven."

"Good night…Anthony." Steven struggled. He still wasn't any good at calling him Dad. It would be a long road before that would be earned. Still, he had to respect his position in Murana's life, even if she didn't remember it right now.

It wasn't long before he could hear Anthony's snores. Steven tossed and turned and realized he just wouldn't be able to sleep tonight. Horrifying thoughts ran rampant through his mind as to what exactly happened to Murana these past few days. He hoped this temporary amnesia due to PTSD was temporary and that he'd get his wolf mom back. He wanted nothing more than to be curled up in her arms, spooning him as he fell asleep beside her like they did when he was growing up.

Steven couldn't stand it anymore. He had to talk to Murana one on one. Sneaking out from off the couch, he crouched low and snuck over to her bedroom door. Carefully twisting the door knob, trying not to make it clunk as the lock disengaged from the frame. He opened it slowly. He could see her sleeping form underneath the sheets. Her rate of breathing indicated she hadn't fully fallen asleep yet, probably still nervous about being in a 'new' place.

"Mom?" He whispered, taking a few steps through the grass inside.

"Who?" She bolted over, her gaze locking onto him instantly. It was quite startling the speed at which she did it that he froze in place.

"It's just me, Steven." He responded, seeing her visibly relax at this. "Can we talk?"

"Ok." She agreed simply.

He crawled up onto the bed and sat beside her, her larger form overshadowing his in bulk. He wanted to nestle closer to her, but decided it best to keep some distance from her so as to not scare her. "So you really don't remember me at all?"

Murana shook her head. "No, I'm sorry."

"Don't be. You rescued me a long time ago from a very awful place. They were using me, probably like they were using you." Steven figured they might have had similar pasts given what he knew of her. She was guarded even around him when it pertained to anything in her youth.

This shared experience seemed to lower a barrier between them as she scooted up to sitting. "So what happened to those who hurt you?"

"Well, you killed them." A look of horror and shock caused him to follow up quickly, "They were all bad men and most likely deserved it, given what they were doing to us all." She nodded glumly, her eyes lost in thought, probably trying in vain to remember this. "You saved me. You adopted me as your own son and we've been living together for most of my life. We love each other very much."

Murana buried her head into her paws, tears erupting now as she sobbed. "I'm sorry I don't remember anything! I don't know what to think!" She raised up her adult paw, "I see my body is huge, but I don't remember ever growing up! It's like I've lost a huge part of my life."

Steven's heart broke for his Mom. He sidled up and put an arm around her, laying his head on her bicep. She only tensed for a moment before melting into the touch. He let her cry into him. It felt odd to now be the one who comforts. There was many a time where she would do this for him as he cried into her arms, so to have it reversed was such an odd experience.

"It's okay, Mom. We'll get your memory back. Maybe something will happen and it'll all come back to you." Steven hoped wistfully.

"I'm sorry, you seem like an alright kid, but I don't think I'd ever adopt a skunk." Murana said truthfully, trying not to be offensive.

"First off, stop apologizing, Mom. It doesn't suit you. Second, you said the same thing when I first came to live with you. You actually didn't want a son then, but we grew on each other and in the end, we became family." Steven dreamily remembered the good times they shared.

"Sounds…nice." Murana nuzzled into Steven. Whatever was going on inside her head with her younger self, it was clear she was starving for some touch and affection. What horrors his Mom had to go through to get to where she was now. He acquiesced her nonverbal cues and snuggled up next to her.

"Please, I hope you don't feel it too weird of me if I ask if we can curl up and sleep together?" Steven cringed a bit, hoping this wasn't going to set her off.

He probably was about the size of her younger brother in that photo. In fact, he could see on the other side of her, laying face up on the bedsheet, was that picture. She had probably been staring at it this entire time. At length, she nodded in the affirmative. "I'd like that. Thank you."

Excited yet cautious to not ruin this moment, Steven got into position like he normally did, letting Murana mold herself behind him, wrapping her arms and legs around. He nearly purred with contentment with the warm, fuzzy feeling of his Mom enveloping him in her warmth and comfort. He had missed this when Anthony moved in. He wanted to fall asleep right then and there, but knew he needed to make sure she was okay with this.

"You doing alright? Does this bring back any memories?" Steven whispered back to her.

"No, but this is nice." She squeezed him tight, feeling much more at ease with having someone sharing the bed with her, especially someone smaller than Anthony. It was apparent that as long as she was like this, she would always be hesitant to be close to Anthony this intimately.

Steven reached down with his foot paws and played with Murana's. "What about this? We used to tickle each other all the time right before bed like this."

Murana giggled, but still shook her head. "No, but you're silly."

"I know." Steven tried to be chipper, but this was making him depressed. They did this almost every night when he was still resided in her home. How could something like this not bring back anything? A dreaded thought pierced his heart. What if she never regained her past? Would they have to establish their relationship all over again?

They just lay there for a time, her breathing getting calmer and more rhythmic as her body was shutting down to sleep. He was drowsing off himself, but an idea occurred to him suddenly. Without waiting for permission, he was going to try one last thing. The first fresh scent he smelt on that day leaving the musk mill was the scent of her foot paw. To him, it was the smell of freedom and it bound him to her forever. He would follow her to the ends of the earth for what she did for him that day.

Shuffling out of her grip, he sneaked down beneath the covers and curled himself up around her paw pads, wrapping his tail like a big ball of fluff around her legs. He buried his face into her paws and breathed in deeply. He loved his Mom and this was one of the very few things to be able to calm him down, even when he didn't have his medication to control his panic attacks.

Steven jerked his head up as he heard a gasp from her. Her toes flexed and felt out his face. He wanted to rub up and massage his cheeks into her toes, but he let her discover him with her foot paws. This went on for several minutes, her toes covering every inch. Her entire body shook as she cried out softly. He wasn't sure if something was wrong and he should stop. He flung the sheet back off of him and watched her with concern.

"Mom, is everything alright?" He asked tentatively.

Murana looked at him with deep wells of recognition in her eyes. It was like nothing had changed at all between them. She gave him that grin of hers he loved so much, "Of course, Steven. What happened?" She gazed all around her apartment, as if seeing it again for the first time. This was not the last place she remembered being at before she went missing.

"You were lost and now you're found!" Steven cried out as he jumped into her arms, burrowing his face into her neck. "I'm so glad you're here, Mom!"

A bit taken aback, but still holding onto him tightly, "I'm glad you're here too. How are you, little stinker?" She gave him kissing licks on the cheek.

"At peace." He said, breathing in a big, ragged sigh, a huge smile on his face.