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"Alright Marcus," Zach said as he and his foster pup stood apart from one another in their front yard, both wearing baseball gloves, "the game of catch is simple. You just try to catch the ball and then throw it back to me, okay?" Zach and Vanna had been discussing different ways they could try to bond with Marcus and not make him think they were putting him to work, and Zach came up with the idea of slowly introducing the boy to baseball. His plan was to start small, with catch, and then gradually move up from there.

 

"I th-think so, uhm, M-Mr. Hunter," Marcus said, staring down at his glove in curiosity.

 

"Please, Marcus, remember that you can call me Zach," Zach said, internally wishing that Marcus felt comfortable with calling him 'Dad'.

 

"Uh, right, Zach," Marcus said.

 

"Okay, here we go, I'm throwin' it to ya now," Zach said, before gently lobbing the ball to Marcus underhand. Marcus looked scared but managed to catch it. The boy looked confused, but also smiled. "Great job! Alright, now toss it back to me!"

 

Marcus nodded and plucked the baseball from his glove. He then reared back and threw it... only the spin his hand put on it caused it to go straight up, and land actually a little behind him.

 

Zach smiled. "That's okay, champ, that was yer first try. Pick it up and try again. And maybe let go of the ball a little earlier, okay?"

 

Marcus nodded and bent down and picked up the ball. Pulling his arm back, he threw it, and actually managed to make it sail all the way to Zach, who happily caught it.

 

"Great job, buddy!" he said. "Okay, here it comes again!" From the window, Vanna watched Zach and Marcus playing catch, letting out a happy chuff. Dorian and Audrey were watching from the window of their own house, both happy to see their son and grandpup playing catch together.

 

"So," Zach said as he decided to change to overhand with the next throw, "how did you like meetin' yer cousins?"

 

"Oh, uh, th-they're all cute," Marcus said, feeling awkward as he caught the ball and readied to throw it back.

 

"That they are," Zach said, "and they really seem to have taken a shine to ya. And, uh, that reminds me..." Zach now looked uncomfortable but decided to just say what was on his mind. "Yer Auntie Dawn and Uncle Vern are both concerned that they don't know enough about humans fer li'l Lily's sake. Would it be alright if they asked ya some questions later on?"

 

Zach caught the ball and quickly threw it back, which Marcus caught. "Uhm... o-okay..."

 

"Great! Because those two have been frettin' over her fer awhile now," Zach snickered as he caught Marcus' ball.

 

"And y'all finally got to meet the rest of yer uncles and aunts," Zach added, "I'm sure that that must've been a little overwhelming, but y'all seemed to handle it just fine yesterday, when they all finally started arrivin'."

 

"O-oh, y-yes. Miss Giselle was very pleasant, and Mister Wade seems nice. And Miss Qali seems... energetic..." Zach snorted at this, knowing that Marcus was putting it lightly. "... and Mister Trent seemed really nice too."

 

"Well, I want ya to know that everyone in the family has got yer back and will be there fer ya, whenever ya need it." Zach said. "Even yer Uncle Yuri, although he may not show it." Marcus nodded at that, looking a little lost as he did so.

 

Still gettin' used to havin' an actual family to be a part of, Zach thought.

 

They continued to play for the remainder of the morning, stopping as noon rolled around. After lunch, they resumed playing catch, Zach amazed at how good Marcus' paw-eye coordination was and feeling confident that baseball would be a good try for the boy. Marcus did seem to get a little distracted by the scent of Audrey's pies baking, as well as someone screaming and hollering, accompanied by what Zach identified as Trent's laughter, and smiled, knowing that there was going to be a funny video for him to watch in the near future. It wasn't much longer before they both heard Audrey's voice.

 

"MY PIE!" Audrey called out, sounding displeased. Dropping the ball, Zach nodded in the direction of the ranch, and both he and Marcus made their way there.

 

"Alright, y'all get in there and think about what y'all done!" Audrey said as she put a chastened-looking Princess Callibrie into her pet carrier, closing and latching it.

 

"Grammy," Lily said, making Audrey turn to see her standing there next to Trent and Yuri, the latter of whom was holding this tail and rubbing the end of it.

 

"I'm sorry, Lily, but it looks like yer lizard got into the cherry pie I baked and left to cool on the windowsill and ruined it," Audrey said, pointing to said pie lying underneath said windowsill, smooshed on the wood patio. At that point, the entire Hunter clan had arrived to see the commotion.

 

"But that's not possible," Lily said, rubbing her chin with her hand similar to her mother doing so with her hoof.

 

"Whatcha mean, Darlin'?" Vernon asked, looking down at Lily, who now had everyone's attention. However, from the look of concentration on her face, she seemed not to notice.

 

"I mean, Uncle Yuri was playin' with Princess Callibrie over by the pumpkin patch," Lily explained.

 

"Dang lizard almost bit the tip of my tail off," the black wolf growled, before being quietly shushed by Dorian, whose ears was perked and his attention was focused on Lily, his tail slowly starting to wag.

 

"But she ran off towards the side of the house where the pie was sittin' on the windowsill, Lily," Trent said.

 

"True, but y'all showed me the video ya filmed, and from start ta finish, it took Princess Callibrie and Uncle Yuri ten minutes and forty-five seconds to finish playin'. I know because, before Gramma called us over, Uncle Trent kept gigglin' and restartin' the video at the part where Uncle Yuri screamed." Yuri shot Trent a dirty look, who tried to look innocent, while the other assembled brothers snickered.

 

"And Gramma said that it was less than two minutes from when she set the pie in the sill to when she checked on it again, right Gramma?" Lily asked.

 

Audrey nodded. "That's right, sweetpea, I know because I checked the time when I set it down, because I had another two minutes, exactly, left on the timer I set fer the pumpkin pies in the oven, and that was at 1:24."

 

"And Uncle Trent set the timer on the microwave himself today, and he used his phone to set it, right down to the second. So, based on the time on his phone, combined with the video, that gave Princess Callibrie only around ten er maybe twelve seconds to run from the pumpkin patch to the side of the house there, climb up and get into the cherry pie, knocking it over, and climb back down. Which doesn't fit, meaning... uh... OH! Meaning I just established Princess Callibrie's alibi!" Lily said with a giggle. Dawn had to stifle her own, while Vernon looked a little concerned, especially at how his father was looking at Lily with rapt attention.

 

"That's right, Li'l Miss," Dorian said, striding over and petting Lily's headfur.

 

"But that's not all. When Gramma caught Princess Callibrie, she only had some of the cherry pie on the right side of her mouth. I've seen her eat lots of times, and she always gets her entire mouth and front feet covered, that's why Mommy makes her eat her wet food outside." Dawn nodded for confirmation at this.

 

"Based on that, it's most likely that when Princess Callibrie ran around the corner, she happened upon the real pie thief who, seeing an opportunity, smeared some of the cherry pie filling on Princess Callibrie's face before running off to avoid being caught!" There was a gasp.

 

"Woah there, Little Miss," Dorian said, kneeling down to get close to eye level with his grandpup, "right now that's just speculation, fer all we know, the wind coulda knocked the pie outta the sill and when yer... lizard, ran around the corner, she saw an opportunity and was quickly interrupted by Gramma pickin' her up."

 

"Not likely," Lily said, gingerly picking up the pie tin, careful not to get any filling on her hands. "I've seen Gramma put pie tins this exact same size on the windowsill to cool before, and she always puts them near the center of the sill, but with a little bit hanging off inside, so that if they do fall off, it'll be less than an inch and onto the counter, safe and sound."

 

"That's true," Audrey said, smirking at her own ingenuity.

 

"Plus, look at the patio under the window," Lily said, pointing to three small crescent scuffs forming a large triangle. "You and Uncle Wade and Uncle Xavier and Daddy all stained the wood this morning, at a little after nine. And I remember Uncle Ully telling me that wood stains have intricate messages made into them by invisible aliens, and that that's why it takes about four hours for it to dry." Everyone looked to Ulric who was happily nodding.

 

"And that's not even the worst of it, for those messages contain secret--" Ulric was interrupted by Yuri clamping his muzzle shut... once again.

 

"Shut yer yap," Yuri growled low, before turning to Lily, the corners of his muzzle rising. "Go ahead... Lily."

 

Lily smiled and thanked her uncle before she continued. "And so I watched it for a little bit with Uncle Ulric, because I wanted to see the alien messages... but then I saw a pretty butterfly and decided to follow it instead. That's when I saw Uncle Zach teaching Marcus how to play catch! Anyways, those scuffs weren't there until recently."

 

"But what're they from?" Giselle asked, squinting and not seeing the scuffs. She was self-conscious about her glasses, despite Wade's assurances that they were adorable on her.

 

"Well, if I had to guess, I'd say the step-stool from inside, the one Gramma lets us use to help her bake pies," Lily said before darting in and coming out with the green stool. She placed it down over the marks and, sure enough, the ends of the legs matched up with the scuffs perfectly. There was another gasp, and everyone turned to see Audrey, her paw on the side of her muzzle.

 

"By Oldwyn's beard, I remember now! Right before I went to check on the pie, I noticed that the step-stool wasn't in the kitchen, I even took a second to look for it, but it wasn't anywhere in the kitchen. But when the whole ordeal with the pie happened, I forgot all about it!"

 

"Which means that at some point while or after you went outside to grab Princess Callibrie... the real pie thief put it back! Because I just got this from right next to the counter, where it always is!" Lily said triumphantly.

 

"It also means that whoever tried to take the pie... well, they needed the step stool to get it. Since they're probably short like me, it woulda been easier to try and take the pie from out here, than reach all the way over the counter for it. So that rules out Daddy and all of the uncles, Grammy and Grampy. That also rules out Auntie's Vanna, Ada, Giselle, and Honey! And since I was with Uncle Trent and Uncle Yuri, and y'all can see me in the video too, a couple of times, so that rules me out too! Also, Marcus is ruled out for being too big too! So the only suspects left are Mommy, uhm, sorry Mommy," Lily said, shuffling her feet like Marcus, "Trevor, Allie, and Auntie Qali!"

 

"Hey!" Trevor said, indignant. "I didn't take the pie!"

 

"I know you didn't, Trevor," Lily said with a bright and excited smile. "You and Alice were playing with Uncle Xavier," Lily said, oblivious to the snort Wade gave. He had rescued the pups from one of Xavier's "exciting" tales of court proceedings as a defense attorney, by instead offering to teach them field hockey, much to Xavier's annoyance. "So y'all's alibis check out. The only two left that I can't account fer there whereabouts at the time are Mommy and Auntie Qali. But wait, there's one more thing!" Lily said, giggling and putting on her Junior Detective Badge that Vernon had noticed her carrying around ever since she got the kit, that and the notebook.

 

"Whoever tried to take the pie got some on their paws or hooves, see?" Lily said, turning the green step-stool revealing some splotches on a couple of the steps. "The thief smeared some of the filling on Princess Callibrie's mouth and then, in a panic, grabbed the stool before they ran to replace it. I also remember how badly that red filling stains fur and wool! So, whoever's got the red smears or the scent of filling on their paws or hooves is the thief!" Lily said, excited.

 

Dawn held up her hooves for inspection, while her sister-in-law fidgeted, keeping her paws hidden in her hoodie's pockets.

 

"Snowball," Trenton asked, nudging his shorter mate, noticing her tucked tail. I thought that that first gasp from earlier had come from her, he thought to himself with a smirk. Lily's good.

 

"Auntie Qali, would you please show us yer paws?" Lily asked.

 

"Th-this is ridiculous!" Qali nervously snapped. She then whined when she saw the sad look on Lily's face, staring right at her, boring through her very soul with her wide, soulful blue eyes. "I'm sorry," she said, pulling out her paws and holding them up, the fur stained with the cherry pie filling.

 

"It was an accident," the arctic vixen insisted. "I was just gunna sneak a piece. And like Lily said, it was easier to pull it from outside, so I wouldn't have stretched over the counter to do it. But it was still too hot and I burned my paw and dropped it and it just splattered!" she said, her words coming out in a rush. "Next thing I know, I'm panicking, and I hear Audrey coming. Then I turn and there was Princess Callibrie. R-remember, I was still panicking, so I smeared some on her face, and then grabbed the stool and ran, just as I heard Audrey coming. I made it around the corner, ran in through the house, set the stool back in the kitchen, and came out just when Audrey started to call for Lily." Qali hung her head in shame.

 

"So y'all were caught, literally redpawed, by a seven-year-old," Dorian said, a bright smile on his muzzle, a note of pride evident in his voice.

 

"And I proved that Princess Callibrie was innocent all along!" Lily cheered.

 

"Iffin' anyone can call that monster innocent in general," Yuri whispered, jumping when there was a hiss from behind him, from Princess Callibrie having just been released from her pet carrier by Audrey.

 

"I'm sorry, little lady. I'll make ya a special treat," Audrey said, giving the reptile a pet that she leaned into, making a happy murr sound. Audrey then snapped her head up and regarded Qali. "And Qali, yer on dishwashing duty tonight, understood?"

 

"Y-yes, Mama Hunter," Qali said dejectedly, like a scolded kit. Her mate simply chuckled and nudged her.

 

"C'mon, ya gotta admit that that was pretty impressive... and cute," he said.

 

Qali, her hyper energy returning, exclaimed, "I know! That was just adorable! I didn't stand a chance with Detective Lily on the case!"

 

The kowmodo dragon then scuttled over to Lily, who hugged her. Dorian backed up a little, but still smiled down at his grandpup. Vernon inwardly groaned, already able to see that the inner gears of his father's mind were already turning.

 

"I'm a detective?" Lily asked, her eyes filled with glee, and Vernon had to stop himself from groaning. He knew full well that there was no way that his father was not going to try and subtly push for Lily to consider a career in law enforcement.

 

"Could use a little refinement, but that was wonderful, Li'l Miss," Dorian said, plucking his wide-brimmed uniform hat from atop his head and setting it down on hers. It was a few sizes too big, but that did nothing to deter Lily's excitement.

 

 

Just After Dusk...

 

 

"Oh, hey, Kitten," Zach said, walking up and slipping an arm around his tigress' waist, "ya seen Marcus anywhere? I was gunna see if he felt like playin' some more catch."

 

Vanna smiled down at her mate before leaning over and giving him a peck on the cheek. "You're so sweet with him, Zach. And he just went to bed. He said he was feeling a little tired after all of today's excitement."

 

"Huh? Really?" Zach asked, looking off at their house, confused.

 

"Yes, why?"

 

"Because it looks like he's climbing out of his bedroom window," Zach said, pointing. Vanna followed the direction of his paw and, sure enough, she could make out in the deepening gloom of dusk Marcus, wearing his blue coat and carrying a small red case, looking around suspiciously, before jogging off into the woods.

 

"Musta not seen us 'cause of the corn," Zach said, gesturing to the nearby stalks.

 

"He certainly looked like he was in a hurry," Vanna said, a note of suspicion in her voice.

 

"Kitten?" Zach asked, before he suddenly found himself chasing after his mate, who herself headed into the woods to follow Marcus. He quickly kept up with her, despite her long strides with silent feline grace.

 

"Quiet, or else he'll hear us," Vanna whispered loud enough for her mate to hear behind her. They didn't walk very far, just until they came to a clearing, where Marcus had stopped. There was a creek flowing next to a tree near the center. Marcus looked around before walking over to the tree.

 

"Oooh, whatcha think he's doing?" Qali asked.

 

"Not sure, at first I thought he was running away, but now... Qali?! What are you doing here?" Vanna asked as she actually noticed the arctic vixen standing next to her.

 

"Well, I had just finished up washing the dishes when I saw you two heading into the woods, and I got curious." Qali said plainly.

 

"Look, you shouldn't be here, so just head on back to the ranch, okay?" Vanna said while Qali pouted.

 

"Who shouldn't be here?" Trent asked, stepping from behind a tree.

 

"Trent?! What're you doin' here?!" Zach asked, surprised while Trent just chuckled.

 

"I saw my snowball here hightail it into the woods, so I followed her to make sure she wasn't going to get into any trouble, like getting her head stuck in a tree hollow." Trent casually leaned up against a tree.

 

"Trenny! That only happened once, and it was because I thought a bird had stolen my earring!" Qali said.

 

"You've done it three times, that I know of, since we've been dating, and your sister said that you've gotten your head stuck in a bunch of different stuff lots of times."

 

Qali pouted and crossed her arms. "My sister's a blabbermouth!"

 

"Makes sense though, Fluff, you gettin' yous head stuck insida sumthin'," Ada said, now standing on Vanna's right, making the tigress jump a little.

 

"Ada? What are you doin' here?" Qali asked, now noticing that Yuri was there as well, trying to look bored and disinterested.

 

"I overhoid Kit-Kat here and thought I'd tag along, and make sure that she ain't gunna invade on Marcus' proivacy," Ada said, looking pointedly at Vanna with a raised eyebrow.

 

"I thought that maybe he was running away... or maybe up to something with that case he took with him," Vanna mumbled, looking a little chastened.

 

"Is it the red one that he keeps locked," they all heard Ulric's voice ask from above. Looking up, the group saw him and Honey in the tree branches, Ulric holding some sort of portable satellite dish-like listening device and recorder.

 

"I take it that y'all were watchin' my boy already?" Zach asked, sounding indignant.

 

"I was only watching him to see what he's got in the case! Honey and I have a bet going, and I have thirty bucks that it's a portable microwave gun that he fires into other's heads in order to change their thoughts!" Ulric said.

 

"And I say it's probably a sentimental keepsake he keeps protected," Honey said.

 

"And I say that that explains why I couldn't find any tin foil at the house," Audrey said with her paws on her hips, frowning up at her son.

 

"I tried to stop him, Audrey, but I can only do so much," Honey started, until she cocked her head and looked at the older she-wolf. "Wait, when did you and Dorian get here?"

 

Everyone did a sort of double-take when they saw Dorian and Audrey standing amongst the trees with them.

 

"Just a little bit ago. Dorian saw everyone heading into the woods, and so I decided it would be best if we tagged along to make sure everything was alright," Audrey said with a smile.

 

"She dragged me fer most of the way here," Dorian said, earning himself a swat to the back of his head.

 

"Well, this ain't a family affair, so if y'all don't mind," Zach said.

 

"I dunno, Zach," Vernon said, stepping from a bush, "Marcus is a part of the family."

 

"That's right, Puppy!" Dawn said, sitting on her mate's shoulder.

 

"What'd a memo go out?!" Zach said, before being shushed by Vanna.

 

"He's opening the case," she said in a loud whisper, her frown in a hard line. The rest of the assembled family crept forward to look as well. They saw Marcus as he set the small red case down and knelt in front of it. He unlatched it and opened the top. From within, he pulled out a violin. Even through the gloom and from the distance away that they were, it was very clearly an expensive and well cared-for violin.

 

"Oh, betta watch out, or else he might poke someone's eyes out with dat violin bow," Ada said with a derisive snort, crossing her arms.

 

It was then that Marcus reached back into what has been revealed to be a violin case and pulled out... a photograph. While none of the family could see it, Marcus smiled down at it and kissed it. "Happy Birthday, big sister." His voice floating back to them turned into an icy spear of guilt that pierced Vanna's heart.

 

"I... I didn't kn-know," she whispered, turning to see Ada standing there with her paws on her hips.

 

"You's twos should know bettah than ta be spyin' on yous kitten! We all should! Dat boy dere's been trew much more than any kitten evah should! What he needs now is to feel safe, cared for, and trusted!" Ada said. Being a hyena, and having a tough Barx accent, she knew what it was like for mammals to develop the wrong impression and find someone suspicious. However, before anyone could say anything further, there was a note that suddenly caught their attention.

 

Turning back, they saw Marcus, the photo propped up against the side of the case, violin and bow in hand, begin playing. The song that they all heard was hauntingly beautiful, with gentle highs and lows that brought to mind misty green hills. The song finished after a few minutes, and Marcus continued on into another one. The pacing changed and was much faster, bringing to mind the smells of foreign spices and bustling streets. Marcus then drifted on into something that sounded classical, like it belonged on stage with an orchestra. He played several songs, the last one as beautiful as the first, but with a forlorn undercurrent to it, one that left none who heard it with dry eyes, least of all Marcus.

 

"That was just beautiful," Dawn said, removing her glasses to wipe her eyes. Vernon sniffed and did the same, and noticed that Yuri was using his shirt collar to dap at his own moist cheeks.

 

"Yuri?" he asked.

 

"I-I just... I got dust in my eye damnit!" Yuri growled, trying to quietly sniff.

 

"That boy's got some serious talent," Dorian said, his teary-eyed mate hugging him close and nodding.

 

"H-he told m-me th-that them scars on the backs of his paws was from... a musical instructor... for messin' up!" she said, biting back the urge to howl all the emotions she was feeling. Several members of their group growled, especially Vanna, whose eyes were streaming quiet tears, unable to look away. Marcus, now finished, tears running down his own cheeks, started to put away his violin, carefully. Then he picked up the picture and sniffed.

 

"I miss you, Rose," he said, sniffing again, and lovingly tucking the picture inside the case, he then closed the lid, and started to do the snaps. Vanna's eyes went wide as she heard this, and not due only to the feeling of more spears of guilt striking her, but also from a realization.

 

"W-we have to go, all of us! Marcus can't know that we just spied on his... ritual! Go, now!" Vanna said, lightly shoving Zach and Ada, while Trent scooped up a still openly weeping Qali. Yuri fell out of the tree, but dusted himself off.

 

"Okay, we don't know for a fact that that wasn't a microwave gun disguised as a violin," he said, before Honey, who dropped down into a crouch and started to jog, grabbed his paw and dragged him along.

 

"We can discuss how I won the bet when we get back," she said. Vernon was hurrying along, making sure that Dawn wasn't going to get knocked off by a low hanging branch. Eventually, they all burst out from the trees and, seeing Zach and Vanna's house, all ran around the corner to hide. They were all panting, until they heard some twigs snapping, announcing Marcus' arrival, that was when everyone collectively held their breath. They listened as Marcus grunted, climbing back into his window... and promptly knocking over his bookshelf. There was a pause, as though Marcus were waiting to listen if anyone heard him, and then shut his window. They could hear him in his room putting things away.

 

"Okay," Zach said in a hushed voice, "I think that this goes without sayin', but none of us," he looked pointedly at Ulric as he said this, "can ever let Marcus know what we did."

 

"But I want to ask him how he transcribes the notes he played into the secret code of the flying octopus--OPH!" Yuri interrupted Ulric with an elbow to the gut.

 

"We ain't sayin' nuthin' to him, end of discussion!" the black wolf said.

 

"That was just so beautiful," Audrey said, with a great sniff, "and it made me just want to hug him close."

 

"I know, Darlin'" Dorian said, hugging his mate. "But you can hug him all you want tomorrow, and tell him it's just 'cause or somethin' like that."

 

"Well, of course I will!" Audrey said, almost sounding a little offended.

 

"Okay then," Vanna said, feeling lousy for spying on Marcus like that, "we're all in agreement?" Everyone nodded. "Okay then... and, Ada, you were absolutely right. I was worried about him... but I was also a little suspicious about what he was up to. And I feel terrible for it."

 

"Of course I was right," Ada said happily, "but don't go an' beat youself up too much, Kit-kat, yous two are still new to the whole parent ting. Yous'll get better at it... eventually."

 

"At least we don't have to worry about that," Yuri said, his usual smirk having returned, not that it was enough to draw attention away from his red and puffy eyes.

 

"Oh! I know, we can bake Marcus a violin-shaped cake!" Qali said, receiving a chorus of groans and several rolled eyes.

 

"Qali, we're trying to keep our watching Marcus tonight a secret. Since he hasn't shown anyone what's in that case, don't ya think he might get a little curious as to why he was given a violin cake?" Trent lightly admonished.

 

Qali tugged at her headfur and stamped her foot. "Oooooh, you're right, Trenny," she said, while Ada snickered. While Zach and Vanna headed inside, everyone else dispersed. As the couple headed upstairs, they ran into Marcus, who was wearing his pajama top, and a pair of jeans, looking guilty.

 

"Hey there, Marcus," Zach said, "we thought we heard a noise comin' from yer room. Everything alright?"

 

Marcus looked away and was fidgeting. "O-oh, I, uh, st-stubbed my toe on the trunk i-in my room is all. I j-just felt like... uh... getting a glass of water."

 

Even without his knowledge of the truth or his intuitive Hunter's Nose, Zach could tell Marcus was not telling the truth... not that he was going to say anything.

 

"Oh, well, so long as you're alright, buddy," he said, "ya know you can talk to us about anything... right?"

 

Marcus nodded his head... and looked guilty. He started to tremble before he surprised the two and wrapped his arms around Vanna, crying into her stomach. Zach and Vanna shared a look of surprise before they heard Marcus sob out, his voice muffled, "I snuck out!"

 

"Oh, honey, that's okay, I'm sure that you didn't do anything wrong," Vanna tried to placate, rubbing Marcus' back. He pulled away a little and, with tear-filled eyes, looked up into her face.

 

"I'm sorry! I just... today is m-my sister's birthday and... I always p-play a song for her on i-it, f-for h-her memory!" He then resumed hugging and crying, while Vanna hugged him back, assuring him that it was alright. It took a few minutes to get him to calm down, and when he did, Marcus let go.

 

"M-may I go get a glass of water," he asked, still sniffling.

 

"Of course," Vanna said, surprised by another hug.

 

"Thank you," Marcus said to the two of them, and headed downstairs. Vanna smiled after him, and turned to her mate, to find Zach standing there, his arms crossed, pouting.

 

"What's wrong, Goofball?' she asked.

 

"I've been working at getting closer with Marcus than you have," Zach said, petulantly, "and yet he hugs you. That's just not fair."

 

Vanna rolled her eyes at that. "You can be such a kitten sometimes," she said. Zach's response was to stick his tongue out at her, which of course, made her chuckle.