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"Numbani?"

"Kutta." The golden jackal whuffed, getting to his feet with the air of the recently satisfied. They'd killed a screamer earlier, and all of their bellies were, if not filled, then a little less empty.

They walked together through the dump with practiced step, passing other little dogs. Ears flicked as they passed, but Kutta ranged about every day, and the muggy air pressed down all around, making all of them rather indolent. Even so, a gaggle of screamers soon trailed in their wake.

Numbani seemed to realize they were walking towards the tire stacks shortly, for his paws slowed. His ears were flicked forward with the pretense of picking his steps more carefully against the damp rubber, but his tail swung stiffly in disapproval. Kutta ignored him, picking out the scents in the garbage.

Even days after, Vimbo's stench still clung to overturned trash and splintered bone fragments. His scent came surprisingly close to the entrance of the den, and upon closer inspection, so did Tareq's. Kutta started digging, furiously sniffing, mulling over what she should have been here to see for herself - her hulker puppy, and the painted puppies, their scents overlapping. Kutta could only hope that Mhumhi had made a not-so-terrible decision in entrusting Tareq to Hlolwa, even if she herself wanted to snarl at the thought.

She stopped short before the entrance to glance back at Numbani - he stood right outside the Madame's faded scent markings at the first row of tires, a quietly watching silhouette surrounded by hooting screamers - before she stepped down through the tires into the den.

Cool sand rasped underneath her paws. The pleasant darkness folded around her, striped with trickles of light that managed to get through the tires. The scent of the den's inhabitants lingered, but she could not pick out distinctive features anymore. It was a fine den; Kutta wondered if, in time, coyote puppies would be born here, or even screamers.

When she emerged, Numbani had drawn closer and was glaring at the den with a look of obvious disgust that Kutta could sympathize with. "Why did you want to bring me here?"

"Well, we can't avoid this side of the dump forever," Kutta said, looking around. "It was actually pretty nice down there. Maybe other mothers can-"

Numbani interrupted her with a sharp whuff. "I doubt any of us will want to den around here for a while. Either way, that doesn't have anything to do with me. Did you want to talk?"

Kutta rotated one ear, staring off into the distance. "I suppose I do," she said slowly, tail drooping. She felt like she already knew the answer, but she had to ask: "I'm planning to go back to the city soon. Do you want to come with me?"

His ears went back immediately, and he wrinkled his nose. "Kutta, I really wish you wouldn't want to go back. We need you here."

"My puppy is there," she growled. "You know that." But that last statement had her tail droop even further. "I can't be here forever, and you won't stop me."

Numbani had nothing to say to that. He looked off in the same direction she had been staring - towards the station. "Do you even know how to get back?"

"The subway probably isn't too hard to figure out if the Madame could, and if I can't, then… Bii - he left already, following the coastline north," Kutta wrinkled her lips at the thought of the bat-eared fox. "I could just go that way."

The golden jackal hesitated then, before looking back at her. "Let's get away from the stacks first before we say anything else."

She could give him that much. They were silent as they trotted back towards the shore, away from the others' loosely defined territory. They'd scattered, the night the Madame left, and the foggy uncertain days afterwards. Many of the breaks were along species lines, but Kutta's group and one other group - the ones most loyal to Telipa, who could not forgive the painted dogs - still held together a mix of dogs.

The painted dogs. Kutta felt sour, that her brother could be lumped in with Hlolwa. He hadn't even followed her to the city. While she could make accusations for his desire to help the head of the police, Kutta could not understand his wanderlust; could not reconcile it with the puppy she'd known.

Then again, after all they'd been through…

She and Numbani were close to their "den", Sekayi's old house, when Numbani spoke up again. "What will we do without you?"

She didn't look at him. "There are still screamers in the subway dying to be eaten. And I know that Upiri and Tulpe, at least, are fine with killing for the pack."

"It's not just the food!" Numbani growled, then added softly, "you know that. I feel that we'll… forget, without you. It'll all be us little dogs, without your non-dholeness."

Kutta snorted. "My puppy is more important, and all of the others know what I think. At some point, it's not up to me anymore; they have to keep it up." She stopped as the trash under her feet started to shift with the hidden swells of water underneath. "You can't stop me from going. What I was asking was if you'd want to come with me."

He returned her yellow stare, ears flicking, before turning to the ocean. Blinking from the glare of the midday sun reflected off of the waves, he spoke carefully. "I suppose you're right; you've never made what you want a secret." Unlike your "brother", he didn't say. "We all knew you were going to leave eventually. After the Madame, I'm sure some are even happy to see you go.

"I'm not one of them," Numbani continued. “The ideals that you fiercely defend… You put into words and action something I’d thought about my whole life, but couldn’t really grasp until now. I couldn’t really see the truth until we left the city and came to this land.

”Ideals are all fine and good, but it takes many dogs to keep them going, beyond the death or… departure of a single dog.” He closed his eyes. “And if you’re going, I have to stay, to try and keep what you started here going.”

Kutta lowered her head. She’d expected that answer. “Alright.” She looked up and inland, towards the station. 

“Are you going to go now?” Numbani’s ears went back. 

“Well, there’s no better time to try,” she declared. “Everyone’s full and lazy, and no one else wants to say goodbye anyways.” 

Numbani looked like he wanted to protest, but in the end he approached Kutta, whining lowly, head down and drooping tail swaying. She matched him, and they touched noses, staying like that for a few seconds. 

Then she backed away. They looked at each other, and then without warning Kutta spun and dashed towards the station. It reminded her of when Mhumhi had left, and when she gave out a sharp whistle, a high bark responded.

They called back and forth until she couldn’t hear him anymore - his barks carried less than her whistle - and the station came into view. Kutta ran faster, speeding past confused gray shapes and ignoring inquiring barks, outstripping the screamers, leaving it all behind. Running towards Tareq. She’d see her family again, in one form or another.