It had been about two months since Retsuko ended her relationship with Tadano, but the first couple weeks had been hell for her. Nearly everyone from the office was asking her about it, and some wanted more details about how the relationship had been going before the breakup. But Retsuko being Retsuko, she simply grinned and said they had different ideas about the future and left it at that. Fenneko chose not to pry for once, trying to respect her best friend's privacy, and tried to keep conversations at work as distracting as possible.
Haida, on the other hand, wanted so desperately to cheer her up. He had been there the night of the breakup, and while he hadn't heard what had gone on inside the karaoke bar he knew that Retsuko was more hurt than she was letting on. On a few occasions he had asked the red panda if she wanted to join him and Fenneko on a trip to the bar to hang out, but she politely declined every time with the excuse of being tired from all the work Director Ton had given her and she just wanted to go home.
The more days went by, the more distant Retsuko started to become. She started focusing much more on her work, seeming to fully accept any extra duties without any complaint, and she became a lot less talkative. Gori and Washimi noticed this as well when she started declining their invitations to the karaoke bar.
Haida's phone buzzed next to him on the table, releasing him from his thoughts about what his best friend must be going through right now. He knew heartbreak was hard on Retsuko, and he felt like a horrible friend as he tried to help her over and over with no results. He couldn't watch her continue this mindset. After downing a large gulp of beer, he picked up his phone to see a text from Fenneko.
"Is Retsuko with you?"
The hyena's chest tightened suddenly as he quickly texted back,"No, why? What's wrong?"
His phone rang in his hands, and the fennec fox's face popped up on the screen. He answered.
"I don't know where she is!" Fenneko's voice was layered with fear as words quickly poured out of her mouth into Haida's ear. "She was staying late to do work, I told her to call me when she left and she didn't! After a while I tried calling the office and no one answered. So I tried calling her cell, she didn't. Answer."
Whatever Fenneko said next was ignored as Haida quickly paid his bill and raced out of the bar with the phone still attached to his ear. "Fenneko, keep trying her cell, and if you have anyone else's numbers from work give them a call to. I'm gonna see if I can find her." His voice was commanding, but damn was he trying to not sound worried. Fenneko said a quick "okay" before hanging up.
"What the hell, Retsuko?" Haida thought to himself as he picked a direction and ran. It was late, most people were home by this hour, but anyone he did pass he asked if they had seen the tiny red panda. As he searched, he kept trying to call and text her as well while keeping in contact with Fenneko. No one had seen her since everyone left work.
He didn't know how long he had been searching for, but after some time he found himself standing in front of Retsuko's apartment building. Out of breath, Haida quickly ran up to her front door and banged on it multiple times. Nothing. The panic finally started to settle in when he realized she hasn't been home since this morning.
"She's not home!" He texted the fennec fox, his throat tight. He felt like he couldn't breathe, and it wasn't from wandering around half the city.
"I've already called the cops," she texted back. "They're on the lookout for her, too."
Haida sighed and leaned over the side of the guard rail. Where else could she possibly be? He decided he couldn't stop looking, made his way back to the ground level, and kept walking.
The universe, God, or some kind of energy was with Haida because he only had to walk another block and a half before his ears pricked forward. He tuned in on the sound... Crying? He walked a little further and followed the sound into an alleyway. As he peered behind the side of a dumpster, his eyes widened.
He had found her, dirty and bleeding slightly, but alive. Her tail was puffed more than usual, her work jacket was missing and her skirt was ripped in one spot. When she looked up at the sound of her name, Haida saw tear streaks running down her face and a small scratch mark across her cheek. The tip of her ear was bleeding as well.
Haida fell to his knees and slowly reached forward, hoping, praying that this wasn't real. He was so happy he found her, but not in this condition.
"Retsuko, wh-what happened?"
"Haida...?" She silently stared at him for a few seconds, then suddenly burst into tears. "I left late, an-and missed the train. I de-de-decided to walk hoooome."
Haida scooted closer to Retsuko and gently pulled her towards him. She clung to his jacket as she sobbed into his chest. The hyena rubbed her back and squeezed ever so slightly, hoping this was comforting her.
"I-I was almost home, but I didn't see-"
"Shhhh," Haida hushed gently, trying so hard to make her feel safe. "Just breathe, I'm here." He eventually got her to take deep breathes with him, and after a while her shoulders stopped shaking and it became easier for her to tell him what happened.
He almost wished she didn't.
"Haida, there was a panther."
The hyena tensed, and a growl started to form in his throat. "Did he do this to you?" There was malice in his voice.
Retsuko nodded, her head still buried in his chest. "And... He tried to do more..."
Haida gritted his teeth and squeezed Retsuko even tighter. He was going to make sure nothing happened to her. "It's okay, you don't need to explain. Why didn't you go home?"
"I was worried he would follow me. I've been hiding here since, trying not to make any noise in case he found me again."
Haida sighed, absorbing everything that she had just told him. He pulled away and smiled at her. "Everything's okay now. I'm here, let's get you home where it's safe." The red panda nodded in agreement.
Standing up, Haida called Fenneko to let her know he had found Retsuko. He told her to inform the cops that he was bringing her home and to look out for a panther. When asked about what had happened and where her friend had been, Haida just replied "I'll explain later, right now I gotta get her home."
Haida peeked out from the alleyway and observed his surroundings with sharp eyes. When he didn't see anything or anyone, he smiled back at his friend. "It's okay. Just stay close to me. Can you walk?"
Retsuko nodded and followed close behind him. She could see her apartment from where they were, and she cursed herself for not trying to get home sooner. She glanced up at Haida, and immediately noticed the little details that showed he was still watching the environment around them. His eyes were darting from side to side, and his ears kept rotating in different directions. His head was held high, and his body was tall to make himself look more intimidating.
She grasped his hand in hers.
"Hey, are you okay?" Haida asked, looking down and blushing slightly at the sudden contact.
"Oh, um, yeah," Retsuko stuttered, also blushing but looking at the ground. "I just want to... Feel safe."
Her friend smiled as he led her closer to her building. "Don't worry, I'll keep you safe, Retsuko."
When the pair got to her front door, Retsuko shakily unlocked it and they stepped inside. Everything that had happened suddenly felt like it was locked outside, and Retsuko felt so thankful to finally be home.
"Hey Retsuko," Haida said gently as they walked toward her bedroom, "go relax in the bath and I'll make you some tea." The red panda nervously fiddled with her hands and looked at the door. "Don't worry, I'll only leave if you ask me to," he reassured her.
She smiled a little, and left for her bathroom. Haida walked into her kitchen and dug out some chamomile tea to help her sleep later. While the water boiled, he answered a call from a police officer. His voice was calm on the line as he explained the order of events that had happened in his search and what Retsuko had told him, despite feeling horrified and scared about almost not finding her. They thanked him for the information, and he sent a text to Fenneko.
"She's safe at home, I'm making tea for her to help calm her down."
"I feel bad, Haida. I should've stayed with her, especially knowing how her mind has been lately."
After a long pause, Haida responded "Me too. Some friends we are."
Once the tea was ready, Haida also managed to find a bottle of peroxide and cotton balls. Putting everything on a tray, he knocked on Retsuko's bedroom door.
"Come in," she said softly. Haida opened the door and found the red panda sitting at the table already in her pajamas. She looked a lot cleaner and a lot more comfortable. Haida placed the tray on the table and offered her the tea.
"Chamomile," he simply said. "You might need help sleeping tonight." Retsuko nodded her thanks and took a long sip.
After putting the cup down, the hyena grabbed the peroxide and cotton balls and sat next to her to help clean the scratches on her face and ear. She tried extremely hard not to blush as he placed one hand on the back of her head and leaned in close to inspect the cuts.
It was silent for a long time.
"There, that should do it," Haida said with satisfaction as he finished up. "Drink some more tea, and then get some rest."
Retsuko nodded again and sipped at her tea. Her mind was racing; she had let herself get so distracted about her breakup that she hadn't been paying attention to anything around her. She was jumped, she ran, she hid. She put her phone on silent, but had felt so guilty as she saw all the calls and texts coming in from her friends and coworkers. Fear had overtaken her, she couldn't have risked answering in case that panther heard her.
And then suddenly, Haida appeared. As soon as he did she felt so much safer and like everything was really going to be okay. He was one of her best friends. He's done so much for her in the past. So why does this feel different?
"Retsuko? Hey, what's wrong?"
Retsuko felt tears running down her face again, and she gripped at the warm cup. "I worried you... I worried all of you. All of you were looking for me."
Haida smiled sympathetically and wrapped his jacket around her (it swallowed her, but neither one cared). "Of course we did, we care about you."
Sniffling, Retsuko chugged the last of the tea and wiped away her tears. She pulled Haida's jacket tighter to her and mumbled something about going to bed. Chuckling, Haida stood up and easily picked her up in his arms knowing she was too exhausted to protest.
His jacket still wrapped around her, he placed Retsuko on her bed and tucked her in. He sat on the bed next to her, making sure she knew she was safe until she fell asleep.
"Haida," she mumbled softly, the tea and dying adrenaline taking effect.
Haida blushed at the sudden request. "Are-are you sure?" Retsuko opened her eyes and looked up at him pleadingly. Haida smiled back. "Okay, okay. Lemme go get a spare blanket."
Quickly grabbing the thickest blanket he could find, Haida came back to the red panda's room and laid it down on the floor. He looked at her when he heard her whimper with embarrassment.
"Um... I was actually wondering... Um..."
Haida's eyes widened suddenly as he realized what she was asking. Would this be inappropriate? He promised her he'd keep her safe, but they were still only friends. His mind was made up as she buried her red face further into his jacket, and he could hear her trying to hold back tears again.
Taking the thicker blanket, he threw it on top of Retsuko and climbed into the bed next to her. He tried to keep an appropriate space between them, but the size of the twin bed made it somewhat difficult.
"Are you sure this is okay?" He asked again, wanting to make sure this is what Retsusko wanted.
She peeked out from his jacket, tears staining her face again. "I want to feel safe. I don't want to be alone."
His heart pounding, Haida took her hand in his. "Retsuko, you're my best friend. I promise, I will keep you safe. You're not alone, and I'm not leaving."
Retsuko squeezed his hand and suddenly felt relaxed. Letting go of his hand, she turned over and scooted closer to Haida.
Haida, ignoring his heart pounding in his ears from how close she was laying next to him, risked everything in this moment. He was gonna keep her safe, dammit, no matter the cost. He wrapped his arms around her small form and gave her a small squeeze.
Relaxed and content, the pair let out a deep sigh.