Branching Out

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The ominous doors of the school loomed over Ken as he looked on at the building, quietly staring at the place. He hadn’t wanted to be here, and every instinct inside him was telling him to flee and run back home as fast as his legs could carry him. Knowing that this wasn’t an option though, he simply stood at the door and stared, frozen for several moments in fear. His black-and-white fur stood on end, and his long tail flicked wildly back and forth; he knew what was past those doors, what would begin the second he stepped through them. The thought of it terrified him. He didn’t want his life to go down that path just yet, he was still too young for any of those things to happen to him. He had a lot left to learn, admittedly, but he could learn it other places as far as he was concerned. He just wasn’t ready to throw himself to the wolves, quite literally, as they were known for being rather rude.

This notion proved true nearly the instant Ken thought it, as a wolf bumped headlong into him, yelled something in a language Ken didn’t understand, then kept right on going whilst chatting with the other lupines with him. The jolt startled Ken, and made him drop the book he had been clutching so tightly. He leaned down to pick it up, his ears flattening to his head as his nervousness gave way to shyness. He was not at all capable of being confrontational while so nervous, and as such the rude run-in with the canine had startled the fear right out of him for at least a few moments. He could feel it returning nearly immediately, and knew that unless he just strode right through those doors while he still had control of his legs, he would be outside gawking all day. That would get him in far more trouble than going inside the building ever could, so he pushed forward with what little resolve he had left and willed one leg in front of the other. It was a strenuous task, but he managed it as best he could, in spite of looking rather foolish to the other furs that saw him jerkily walking into the building.

After the longest ten steps of Ken’s life, he was inside, and instantly swept up into the tide of other teens. It was easily the most furs Ken had ever seen crammed into one space, and he had to fight very hard to not begin panicking. Fighting that urge was almost as hard as it had been to not flee the building on sight as it was to not turn around and leave, but as he was quickly being pushed away from the door by the mass of anthros around him, flight wasn’t an option anymore. He needed to find another feline to help him, to give him some sense of direction. Of course, that was easier said than done in the ocean of colors and breeds around him. He could barely tell an ursine from a lupine from a lapin in this mess, and finding another feline like himself would be even harder; his county was known for its mess of species. He kept his eyes peeled though as he went with the flow of anthros, trying as hard as he could to make sense of anything about where they were all going.

Several moments of being jostled and funneled along later, Ken spotted another tiger like himself off to the side. He instantly began fighting his way over to the black and orange beast, his belongings held tighter to his body than ever as wading through the sea of bodies was a lot easier said than done. Not only was he having to fight the general flow of all those around him, but he had to fight it while moving sideways, which made it even harder for him. He made plenty of progress though with just weaving in and out of the many moving masses, getting closer and closer to his target in a matter of moments. The other seemed to notice the progress, waving Ken over to him. Ken immediately redoubled his efforts, trying his hardest not to push and shove but still work his way over quickly.

“Come on freshie, almost here.” The tiger taunted, looking at Ken as he struggled through the last wall of anthros before finally making it over to where the second tiger was standing. “About time freshie, whaddya want?” Ken cowered slightly at the question, his ears flattening a bit. The other’s tone was very condescending, and now that Ken was standing beside him, he could see how much older the other was. Intimidated and still nervous as could be thanks to all the other bodies around him, Ken contemplated taking his chances again in the crowd. He had made it to the tiger though, and wasting all that effort seemed just pointless in the face of trying to trust the large group. “Well?”

“Wh… Where am I supposed to be?” Ken croaked, eyes trained on the floor in submissive fear.

“Orientation for felines. Follow the signs, and you should see a lot more of us once you start getting close.” The other’s tone was a lot less condescending as he explained, and when Ken chanced a look up at him as a result of this, his face seemed a lot kinder. “What’s yer name freshie? It’s not often we get a malt here.”

“K-Ken…”

“Ken? Alright, I’ll remember that. Seeya around freshie.” With that, the other tiger’s look got tougher again, and he turned around to go. Ken wanted to stop him and ask for his name, but also was still a bit too much in shock to talk. Kindness from others at a school wasn’t something he was used to in any sense at all. He had to fight to get the seven words out in their previous conversation too, and asking anything more of his helper was just too nerve-wracking. So he turned and stepped back into the flow of anthros, which had ebbed considerably since he had stepped out of it. This made it easier to navigate, and thusly find where the older tiger had told him to go. He wasn’t entirely sure if he should listen to such advice (senior furs were known to prank), but he didn’t have much choice in that matter as he had no way to prove the information was false.

Ken began looking at the walls, seeing signs with arrows pointing every which way for various orientations. The feline one happened to follow the flow of traffic in the halls, so Ken just rode the sea of anthros to his destination with a fair amount of ease. It thinned more and more the closer he got to his destination, as many other orientation rooms were along the way. He finally made it to the room though, and was greeted by a few felines standing at the door giving him rather judgmental looks. Ken’s only guess was that he was running late, so he quietly approached with his ears pinned back to his head. The tallest of the three big cats at the door, a wall of lion, looked down at Ken with a frown before stepping aside and gesturing into the room. Ken quickly complied, his ears still as flat as they could go and his tail drooping behind him. He could hear talking from within the room as he opened the door; he was late, and would be interrupting. No choice though, so he opened the door and stepped in as quietly as he could, making every effort to keep his claws from clicking on the tile beneath him.

“…and that is why you need to make sure to keep a map on you at all times. This school is a massi- Oh, another latecomer. Find a seat anywhere.” A jovial voice greeted Ken, coming from a rather plump leopard standing at the front of the class. The female looked to be later on in her years, light patches of her fur looking thinner and less healthy, as well as a certain dullness in her eyes. Her voice was calming though, and her demeanor as she stood at the front of the room gave off an air of kindness, which put Ken at immediate ease. He stood in the doorway for a moment, looking all throughout the room for an available seat before settling on one in the middle. He started that way, and as he did the female leopard began speaking again. “Now, where was I… Oh yes, your maps. You will keep those on you at all times, as well as a schedule of classes for the first several weeks here. Any student caught without those will be subject to a rather harsh lecture from either myself or the other vice-principal, Mr. Ambrosso, as we don’t tolerate tardiness.”

The kind air Ken had picked up on was beginning to fade as the leopard’s words got harsher and more dictatorial as she spoke. Ken found his seat and sat, putting his sole book down on the table in front of him as he did so. He noticed a blank paper requesting some basic information in front of him as he did so, as well as a writing claw. Ken looked over the writing claw for a moment, fiddling with the strap as it was not meant for paws as small as his, but he got it working on his two small middle digits. He listened idly to the vice principal talk as he began to fill out the paper, unsure of what it was for but figuring it was important and not wanting to disappoint the leopard at the head of the room.

“Now, as for speaking to your fellow species, I know most of you have your own universal translators. For those that do not, please stay after this orientation and we will provide you with one. For those of you that do, you will need an update which will be provided inside your lockers once you go to them. If your locker does not have one, find your team’s leader, which would be me, and request one. This is crucial, as no other school in the state has this many species in it, and we want you all to be able to communicate and learn on an equal footing. This means speaking in a tongue you know the universal translator won’t recognize; that will not be tolerated at all, no exceptions.”

“As for rules of the school, they are outlined in the handbook which you will find in your lockers as well. The biggest ones are no fights of any kind, no drugs or alcohols, and respect those in any sort of position of authority. Respect the other species in the building as well; any fights due to different species will be an instant suspension for the instigator and a severe warning for the victim, if not a suspension if it is ruled that they also partook in goading the attacker. Consult the handbook for any questions or specifics of those rules, or feel free to ask your first few teachers to explain anything. They will break down any questions you could have, but will also have their own rules for classroom expectations. Keep those rules inside your handbook for reference, or memorize them and throw them out; just don’t break them. We have a very low tolerance here for disrespect to your teachers, so if you start breaking rules, expect severe consequences.”

“Those are the basics I suppose: remember your maps, check your lockers for a translator update and handbook, show respect and fairness to the other species around you, and have a good first year of high school.” With that, the leopard raised her arms and every fur in the room stood and began to file away from the tables which filled the classroom. Ken followed suit, quiet and meek as he let others go ahead of him. Each of the students dropped off their papers on the desk at the front, and Ken was no different than the rest in that regard. The leopard beckoned him over to her though, and with his ears plastered back, Ken made his way over to her. A couple whispers were heard behind him as he did so, but Ken was barely paying attention to them, as his eyes were trained at the floor and his heart was beating in his ears. He was terrified about getting a lecture on being late, even moreso because he had interrupted an important figure at the school on his first day there.

“You got lost I take it?” The leopard’s tone was back to being friendly and kind, putting Ken at a little more ease as he looked up at the female.

“Yes ma’am…”

“Well you missed the beginning of my speech. It was basically introducing myself as your vice principal, Ms. Egis, and explaining that this school has more species in it than any other in the state. Do I need to repeat either of those to you?”

“No ma’am.”

“Good, now I assume you filled out the sheet for a locker and introducing the basics of yourself to the faculty?” Ken nodded feebly. “Alright, good. It’s very rare we see a malt like yourself in our building, so you should be fairly memorable to everyone. You’re going to go to locker assignment and class scheduling now, which is done at your counselor’s office, or wherever they wind up going. Your last name starts with a…”

“L ma’am”

“L, alright, you’ll be looking for Mr. Johannes. Here is the other paper that you missed explaining that,” she said flatly as she gestured to a stack of papers on the desk. “Get going, Johannes isn’t a patient eagle.”

“Yes, thank you ma’am” Ken then nodded before taking the paper and all but running out of the room. He wanted to get away as fast as he could from that hot-and-cold leopard, as she intimidated him more than most ever had in his life. The fact that she pointed out how much he would stick out wasn’t helping his frayed nerves either, as he wanted to blend in and hide for the next few years, not stick out like a sore thumb. He needed to think, to breathe, and to calm himself down from being so nervous. That wasn’t going to happen as long as he was around someone that powerfully tied to his fate in school though, so the faster he got away, the faster he could stop and take a breath to process all he had just heard.

Ken stopped on a locker a few meters down the hall, leaning against it and taking a few deep breaths to regain his composure. It took a few big breaths, but he was able to control his bubbling up emotions and keep his head screwed on, in spite of the events that had just happened. He needed to find out where he was going, and quickly as he didn’t want to be late again. The tiger then spotted another feline, a tabby, and decided to follow her in hopes of being led to his destination. He knew the chances were slim, but part of him figured that all of the offices for the counselors would be in one place, as that seemed to make sense to him. He could always ask someone at the other’s destination which way to go too, and that was enough of an answer for him to continue on.

He slowly followed the tabby, staying far enough back to not get spotted, but close enough to keep sight of her in the somewhat-crowded hallways. Everyone seemed to be milling about in a million different directions this time, instead of the river of fur from before, and that threw Ken for a loop as he tried to wade through the mess of anthros. It was still just as hard as before, but he was beginning to figure it out, as he was small enough to do so effectively. He was also determined to stay within sight range of his impromptu guide, so those two facts let him be a little more stealthy and nimble than he previously had in the overpopulated hallways. It was by no means a practiced art, but it beat shoving his way along or trying to find the way on his own.

The tabby stopped soon enough at the cafeteria, and from where Ken was standing he could see a literal mess of furs. He could see letters dangling above the groups of them which surrounded an older looking fur, but nowhere did he see an ‘L’. Ken’s ears drooped in defeat, but then he remembered his little cheat sheet he had picked up a few minutes prior. He glanced down at the sheet of paper he had received from Ms. Egis, and sure enough it said that L wasn’t in the cafeteria, but in the auditorium past the cafeteria. Ken had at least gone in the right direction this time, and took solace in that as he set off down the hallway which had a very nicely labeled ‘Auditorium’ sign in it.

The hallway was short, and very narrow, which made traversing it rather difficult for most of its occupants. Ken didn’t have any real problems though, as he was able to navigate the hall quite expertly now that he had somewhat figured out how to maneuver through the crowds. He did get stuck at one point behind a slow-moving bear and his large badger friend, but a quick sidestep and he was around. He made sure to cling to his sole book and the couple of papers he had already acquired like his life depended on it. They were his sole possessions aside from the ones in his pockets, and he wanted them to stay that way. He didn’t suspect any one of the surrounding anthros was exactly out to take them, but he didn’t want to stumble and drop everything, only to lose it under the slow-moving stampede of fur and scales.

Ken made it to his destination with no incident, and a lot faster than he thought he would considering just how many other furs were headed to the same location. He had to use his newfound method of crowd-weaving to get through the narrow entryway of the auditorium, but found that once he was inside he could walk normally again. The room was massive, easily larger than the cafeteria, and able to actually support the number of beings in it. Ken looked around at the mass of anthros in the room, seeing clusters just like he had in the cafeteria, only this time with letters being held up by a sole counselor in the middle of those clusters. The tiger searched for L, hoping he would spot it quickly so that he could get moving. The letter was nowhere to be seen though, so with a heavy sigh Ken ventured further into the room to search some more, as he ventured a guess that he just wasn’t at a good enough vantage point to spot it.

Taking a few more steps into the room, Ken had to dodge a few running hyenas; twins that had found where they needed to be. They all looked so excited, with their perky tails, happy little trot, and pointed ears held high. Ken envied that, as since he had walked into the building he could almost feel his ears receding into his head in both fear and nervousness. As he actively browsed for the ‘L’ while continuing on, Ken wished he could be like that. He wanted to just be happy where he was, but he was a little too scared to even begin venturing what it would take to make himself like that. He was trying to hold himself together and prevent a panic attack, not make himself all giddy and perky. He wasn’t going to dwell on his state of mind though; that would make an already nerve-wracking first day in a strange place even worse. To stop that train of thought, he refocused on finding that ‘L’ sign, in hopes it would distract his mind enough to clear the thing up.

It worked, for not a moment later, he found the sign and breathed a large sigh of relief. Starting towards it immediately, he looked at the eagle that was holding it a little more closely. The avian was easily six feet tall, if not more, and built like a wall; buff, but apparently not afraid to indulge in seconds and thirds of any meal. Ken instantly felt something stir in him as he eyed the eagle again and again, but pushed it to the back of his mind as hard as he could. It was hormones talking, nothing more; he had to have been confused and thought he saw breasts or something along those lines. He needed to keep a clear head, and judging from the canines in his group, keep any sort of those thoughts out of his mind. Ken had no intention of going down on the first day as the horny Maltese tiger, especially a gay horny Maltese tiger. He wasn’t gay. So, stifling every emotion he could, he took the last few steps to the circle of furs surrounding the eagle and joined into its outskirts.

Ken sat down on the hard floor once he had found a good, somewhat secluded spot towards the outside of the group. He watched the eagle for a few moments more before turning his attention to his fellow students. An obvious couple of badgers, a couple loners like himself, a few of the popular furs yakking away as they were known to do, an uncomfortable looking bull jock… It was quite the cast of characters surrounding the counselor, and yet all they had in common was the first letter of their last name. He hadn’t experienced anything like it in his life, so the entire gathering was just so foreign to him he couldn’t truly wrap his mind around its purpose. It almost made Ken laugh inwardly, to think that such a simple thing could bring so many random beasts together. It was as if the school was trying to inter-mingle the species as best it could, when every single fur in here knew that segregation outside these walls was commonplace.  Their reasons for doing such a thing were beyond Ken, but with his limited life experience, he almost expected to not understand the whole thing just yet.

“Let’s get a headcount, shall we?” The eagle’s voice was deep and booming, sound just as powerful as its owner looked. The voice snapped Ken out of his thoughts and back into reality, where none of his musings about the school’s motives mattered. The eagle began to slowly turn around, making a nod to each and every one of the furs around him as he mouthed out their numbers. It was impossible to tell what he was saying thanks to his beak, but Ken still watched regardless as he rarely saw avians in his daily life. This may have had something to do with where he lived, but Ken didn’t want to venture down that mental path just yet. He needed to keep paying attention, as it looked like the bird was finishing up his counting and would begin his lecture shortly.

“We’re a couple short, but I’m going to start anyways. My name is Mr. Johannes, and I will be your guidance counselor for this year. You will come to me for class issues, grading concerns if a teacher will not work with you, college prep when you are ready, and any issues a teacher can not, or should not, handle. Now that being said, I have about 400 of you students this year, and most of them are in the upper classes so they will need me almost daily. There is only one me though; I can’t remember all of you, and I don’t have the time for every little thing. If it is important, come and see me about it and I will see what I can do. If it can wait, even a little while, leave a note in my box outside the door to my office and I will make sure to get to it as fast as I can.” Mr. Johannes’ tone was condescending and annoyed, as it was blatantly obvious he did not want to be there and dealing with the fresh meat surrounding him. Ken picked up on this immediately, and stayed silent, but secretly dreaded any time he needed to have an exchange with the eagle.

“Now, I’m going to start handing out maps, locker assignments, and class schedules. You should be getting these in the mail today or tomorrow as well, so make sure to keep this one on you until then. When I call your name, come up here. I’ll give you a locker number, the combination, and your schedule, then you’ll go off and that will be that. Got it?”

“Yessir,” mumbled Ken and several of the other furs in the circle. The eagle then began calling names, a stack of papers in his feathered paws indicating just how many names he had to call. The list seemed to be in alphabetical order too, so Ken knew he would be last, or very near it; his last name was Luvros. So Ken lay down on the hard carpet of the auditorium, sighing heavily to himself as he stared up at the ceiling. The rough carpet rubbed his fur the wrong way, and he could feel the static building as he squirmed a little bit to try and get comfortable. He hated having his winter coat coming in as early as it was, but the weather had been unseasonably cold that year. Just wearing pants as he was probably had been a bad choice, but shirts were so uncomfortable, and coats were even worse for him. Ken just wanted to be comfortable, and as such he wanted nothing to do with clothes in general in truth. He did like his modesty though, so he dealt with pants as best he could.

Ken let his minder wander around, glancing on the topics of clothes, the school’s real motivations for cross-species mixing as much as possible, what his homework would be, how many classes he would have, whether or not any of his friends from earlier grades would make it into the school, and a whole slew of other things. He was completely spaced as he did this, staring up at the lights on the ceiling through slit eyes and barely listening to what names the eagle was calling out. He knew his name would be last, so he didn’t even attempt to pay any sort of attention to what was going on; he was using this time to sort his brain out. His thoughts often went like this; rapid-fire and everywhere. Coupled with the series of new, and frankly terrifying events of the day thusfar, and Ken’s brain was utterly addled. The little bit of patchwork he had done after the run-in with the vice-principal hadn’t been enough, and thusly Ken was doing more to get his brain sorted out so that he could go back to being quiet, and not terrified.

“Ken Luvros.” Ken sat bolt upright, instantly putting a paw to his head as the sudden motion had made his head hurt. He then slowly got to his feet, brushing his back off as best he could with his free paw while still clutching his belongings in the other. Mr. Johannes watched him, tapping a taloned foot impatiently as the tiger took a moment to come over. Ken saw that and hurried over, taking the final piece of paper from the outstretched paw of the eagle with a polite nod of thanks.

“Thank you sir.” A grunt was all Ken got in reply, as the eagle bent down to grab his briefcase which he had put on the floor beside him. Ken frowned a little, but then turned to walk away, as he knew he wasn’t going to get anything more from the cold eagle. To think that he was going to be stuck with Mr. Johannes for an entire year… Ken’s frown got bigger as he slowly made his way towards the exit of the auditorium. He may be at the bottom of the totem pole, but in his mind there was no reason to be treated with such disdain. It wasn’t as if he had done anything to deserve it; he had been on time to the meet up, polite and quiet, and even paid attention. It was unfair to Ken, and he knew there was little he could do about it but try and change the other’s opinion through action over time.

Dwelling on that while he had to get to his locker, and then first class, wasn’t going to help matters. Ken set off from the auditorium back towards the main part of the school, quietly moving along with the mass of other furs just like he had when he first arrived in the building. He was looking at his map, trying to make heads or tails of the thing and where his locker was in relation to all of it. There were no locker numbers on the map, so he had to try and find some lockers, see what order they were in, and then go from there on figuring it out. That was a lot more detective work than he thought he was going to have to do, but Ken didn’t mind it; it gave him more time to quietly think.

There were no lockers in the hallway he was in at the moment, so he went with the herd of anthros back past the cafeteria and into the first hall with lockers in it. ‘2189’ was the first one he saw, and as he continued to walk, along, he saw more and more with the number two as the first number in the locker number. He assumed that meant that all the ‘2’ lockers were on the second floor, and since his was a ‘3’, he would be on the third. Ken looked down at his map again, searching it for a nearby set of stairs in relation to where he was. His sense of direction was awful, but he did manage to at least sort out where he was after a moment thanks to the school being laid out very grid-like. Stairs were at the end of the current hall he was in on his left, and from the looks of it, where a lot of his fellow students were headed. Ken joined them in their trek, quiet and clutching his belongings again very tightly as he got into the thicker crowd near the stairs.

There was a traffic jam going up the stairs, and thusly everyone was moving along very slowly. Someone had apparently fallen and dropped all their things, so it was a single file line around the small, feeble-looking muskrat who was trying desperately to pick up the many papers that had scattered everywhere. She was an art student, or at least had several art-oriented classes, as most of what she had dropped was hand-drawn sketches of various poses, scenery, and other assorted doodles. Not a single fur was stopping to help her clean up the scattered mess, which aggravated Ken quite a bit. Doing that would have not only been the nice thing to do, but it would get traffic going smoothly again. That aggravation was enough to make Ken step out of the line and begin helping the muskrat, pulling up a few pieces of paper and offering them to the smaller fur with a very faint smile as he perked up just a smidge thanks to doing something good. “Here, you need a hand?”

“No, I’m fine!” The muskrat shouted, glaring up at him. Ken’s ears instantly flattened again, his tail drooping even lower than it had been, which was almost a feat in and of itself as it had been nearly dragging on the ground at that point. The muskrat might as well have kicked him for how much that had insulted him, Ken’s mood was that deflated. He dropped the paper’s in the stack she had formed and slinked back into the line moving past her, not saying a sole word or even giving her another look. Ken was just too stunned to even begin to think about what had just happened. Offering help to be yelled at and treated like you had been the one to cause the incident? Is this what high school was? Ken tried not to dwell on it, but he had heard the stories, and so far they were looking to be truthful. Hostile environment, don’t help anyone, all the teachers and counselors are jerks, hole up and survive it… What had he gotten himself into by stepping through that front door?

The lump of fear and panic Ken had suppressed so well, and even mostly removed thanks to being able to clear his head as much as he had, came flooding back as soon as he let that thought in. His instinct to flee came back along with it, and it took a shaking paw on the handrail of the stairs to keep him from bolting right then and there.  He needed to get back in control, to keep his mind and fear at bay just until he calmed back down from all the doubt and nerves that had become much more raw thanks to the scolding he had just received. He didn’t want to have to think about what had just happened, or what fears were coming to light because of it, or what stories he had heard. He wanted to focus on what was happening right then, as he finally reached the top of the stairs and began to walk out into the hallway at the top. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he tried his hardest to do so, as getting this upset all over again would make the day seem a lot longer than it had to be.

Armed with that thought, and still terrified and worried in spite of it, Ken started down the hall to look for lockers. He saw them almost immediately, noting the numbers and seeing that he had indeed guessed right. He then checked which way the numbers were going, and saw right away that he was headed in the wrong direction. There wasn’t nearly as much traffic in this hallway, as apparently the seas of fur he had been in earlier were because all the fresh meat was headed the same direction. Now that they were all spread out, the halls seemed manageable again, and Ken could head the opposite way without needing to fight the flow of anthros. That was a welcome relief to him, as he hated crowds, and constantly being trapped in one would make his life at the school a lot worse than it needed to be. It also wouldn’t help him to calm down, and he took the aid in getting his head screwed back on straight anywhere he could get it.

Now that the tiger was headed in the right direction, Ken began to try and push some more doubt from his mind. Doing so alone when he had no one to reassure him of how things were going or anything like that was a lot harder task, but he had to try so that the urge to just run wouldn’t come up and get him again. He was afraid of what would happen if that urge came up in class, or even worse at lunch or something, when that was a very viable possibility. Lunch was outside for him today that day too, and trying to resist leaving while he was out in the open air, with nothing but the school to his back… It was going to be nearly impossible unless he steeled himself. That was far easier said than done, as he had tried to twice before already in his very short day, but he needed to give it one more try so that he could make it through the day, before the day even really began for that matter. Finding his locker would help, the tiger was sure of it, and quickened his pace slightly to try and get to that destination slightly faster, as he knew one less thing on his mind was one less thing for him to fret over.

Ken kept a passive eye out for locker numbers near his own as he wandered around in his mind. The incessant chatter of the students around him wasn’t helping him regain his calm, but he did his best to just ignore it and turn it into background noise. That was going to be an acquired skill, he very quickly had to admit as he had next to no success ignoring the passing conversations. It was a dull roar of voices and squaks and woofs and various other noises that he tried to discern from one another, but only succeeded in giving himself the beginnings of a headache. Headaches were bad for spacing out, but he had already put the thing into motion, so he just rubbed lightly at his head with his free paw while continuing on down the hallway.

The groups eventually thinned, as he got to a less populous area of the school. There were still several, just far less than anywhere else he had seen yet. He was getting close to the number of his locker, but with the space between where the lockers were that students his grade had and how empty the hall was, Ken was beginning to get slightly nervous. The three grades above him were getting their locker assignments the next day, and since there were so many empty ones in this part of the building, it more likely than not meant he would be next to two older students. Ken was afraid of what that would entail, especially with some of what he had seen already from the tiger who had told him where to go. In groups, he could only imagine how intimidating and bossy they were all capable of being. It set a whole new slew of doubts and fears loose in his head, but he quickly remembered how that hint of kindness had come through the tiger.

He settled on that each and every older fur couldn’t be bad, and that calmed him back down as he approached his locker at long last. It looked slightly beat, and the lock appeared to have a few of the numbers scratched off. Ken could figure out what they were supposed to be though with relative ease however, and had the thing open in a few quick turns of his claw. He undid the latch, and opened the door slowly. He wasn’t exactly sure what he would find in there, but upon taking a peek in and seeing nothing other than what was supposed to be in there, he opened the locker fully and sighed. It was a top locker, luckily, so he wouldn’t be bending down the entire year to try and get things out of it. That thought was his attempt at taking solace in the little things, something he desperately needed to do more often.

He took the guidebook from the locker, sliding the papers he had been holding inside the front cover of it almost immediately so that he would not lose them. They stuck out a little from that book though, and he frowned; they weren’t going to stay in there if he just left them. He decided instead to fold his schedule and map and put them in his pocket; they were the important ones after all. The other paper could stay in the book, for if it got frayed or even lost, there would be little to worry about because of it. He then took the small pen-looking device out of the locker, eyeing it for a moment before remembering that it was his translator upgrade. He held it up to his ear for a moment, next to the large plastic-looking earring that was near the base of it. He left it there for a moment, his paw above his head, until he heard a loud chime. The software had been transferred over, and he could now hear everything a little clearer. He had been running rather outdated software, but that was more due to his own laziness at updating the thing over the summer rather than any sort of lack of money to purchase it.

Ken had expected a little more of an upgrade the way it had been made out to him, especially since it had to be mentioned by the vice principal. He shrugged it off as a lack of funding and little more, then went on to thinking of just how much he would need to walk to get to his next class. He had the book in the locker and the book he had been carrying, nothing else, and yet that was all that he was going to need. It felt like too little, as he pulled his paperwork out from his pocket and began to peer at his map and schedule to see where he needed to go next. The map was labeled by departments, as the school was laid out rather ingeniously; all departments had their own section of a floor, and were put in such an order that the departments on one floor were all related in some way. Ken could appreciate that, and set himself to finding the English department.

It was on the third floor, just like him, just on the other side of the large building. He had to work out the quickest way there, which seemed to be going to the far end of the hallway and then going right. The hall was all but abandoned that way, so Ken was a bit nervous about going somewhere completely empty. The entire building had been nothing but filled for the most part since he had entered it, and that had been stifling and unnerving. Now that it was empty and Ken had to walk through that bit however, it was not only unnerving, but eerie as well. There was something about the fact that he had no one to follow, and that the hallways were far wider and taller than he had first suspected. The building had suddenly tripled in size in his mind, and Ken didn’t like that either.

He chalked his sudden dislike of the calm to his general attitude that he had towards being in the school in the first place. He didn’t want to be there, and as such he was going to be coming up with reasons not to be there as much as he could. Those reasons didn’t have to hold water, but he was still hearing them in his head and having to fight with himself not to listen to them. It was an uphill battle, as they came in rapid-fire and kept getting him to the point of wanting to flee the premises. Fighting that urge was taking a toll on the poor tiger, as his mind was so occupied thinking about his current predicament and barren surroundings that he very nearly missed the turn he was supposed to make. He knew that he had to keep fighting it though, as best he could, since he would be a dead feline if he went home without having finished the entire day of school.

Starting down the second hallway he needed to go down, Ken quietly began humming to himself. It was some song he had heard on the radio; nothing fancy, but something that he could distract himself with and that helped pass the time of the long walk down the mostly empty halls. He barely remembered the tune, and filled in the bits that he couldn’t remember with what sounded about right. The patchwork melody echoed around him somewhat, partially thanks to just how sensitive his hearing was and how empty the halls were as he slowly walked along. He could have sworn that he was running late, but at the same time he was sure that he couldn’t have been; no one had seemed to be in any hurry that he had passed in the last hall. It was a little mystery in his head that played alongside his musical attempt, barely able to coalesce alongside the music as it was what held his attention.

Ken spotted a couple other furs at a door after walking for a little bit more, still humming as he did so. They both looked rather confused, staring from pieces of paper, at the door, and back at the paper. Ken peered at his own paper to see his schedule, and as he looked at the door he was passing, it looked like he needed to be in the same room that the others were staring at. The tiger approached cautiously, his humming stopping the second he realized he would have to interact with any other student. He had wanted to finish his little song in peace, but that wasn’t going to happen, and probably wouldn’t until his long walk home; unless the buses were coming today like he had heard. That was a problem for considerably later on though, so Ken pushed it from his mind and continued up to the others. He held onto his books tightly as he stopped a few feet away from them, silently looking up at the door number then down at his sheet just to be absolutely sure he needed to be there.

“You too?” One asked, a smaller female mare wearing glasses. Ken nodded his reply, not wanting to talk just yet as he was still far too afraid of the situation to open his mouth. It wasn’t as if he didn’t want to talk; he was curious about what the both of them were doing at the class at all, as this was an advanced English class. ”I’m Min by the way, and the mutt is Kris with a K.” The dog behind Min waved quietly, apparently suffering the same lack of will to talk that Ken did. “What’s your name?”

“Ken…”

“Well nice to meet you Ken. Looks like we don’t have a teacher for the time being, and I don’t want to wait for too long. You two going to wait?” Min looked to Kris first, who nodded feebly at the question before moving to sit down on the floor. The horse sighed and then turned to Ken, who nodded as well. Ken had no intention of leaving a class, especially not one where it seemed the teacher wasn’t going to be around for a while; it was free time to think. Ken moved to sit down too, following Kris’ lead as sitting near the door seemed like a better idea than standing. “You two are such wusses, just sitting like a couple of tamed cubs waiting for mommy to get home.” Min snapped at both Ken and Kris, her gaze shifting between the two sitting males. Seeing this was getting nowhere, she then sighed before continuing, “I’m gonna go look for the teacher, or someone who knows where he is.”

The little rant over, Min left in a huff down the hallway in the direction which Ken had come from. He didn’t want to stop her; a mare on a mission was an impossible thing to stop. Ken knew that, and didn’t want to take his chances on trying to do the impossible, so he simply slumped to the floor and looked at the couple books he had in his possession. Nothing fancy or elegant, just a simple handbook for the school and the notebook he had been instructed to bring in order to take notes on teacher for the first day. He stole a glance over at Kris, and saw that the canine had the exact same set of materials. He also noted the canine’s posture was different too; instead of leaning against the wall, he had to lean forward to give his large tail room to wag, swish, and generally do things canid tails did.

Kris caught Ken’s gaze, and returned it for a moment before looking at him curiously. “You’re new here, right?” The question was barely audible, but Ken made it out and cocked his head to the side. As far as he knew, everyone was new to the school on that day save the teachers.

“Yeah…” Ken mumbled, reverting his gaze back down to the floor. He could still see Kris out of the corner of his eye, but was trying to pay as little attention as he could to the canine now that he was being forced to interact with him. Ken didn’t know him, he was already scared, and to top it off he was starting to think he was going to be in trouble for missing a class.

“I meant to the district. I don’t remember you from the graduation ceremony.” Kris’s voice was louder and less timid this time, which put Ken at ease somewhat; if Kris could get comfortable, so could he.

“Yeah… I was in Fallville.” Ken looked back at Kris at this point, as it was the polite thing to do during a conversation. Kris returned the sentiment, his tail slowly twitching as his ears began to perk up from their previously-flattened state.

“Doesn’t Fallville have its own high school?”

“Not as good as this one, and I live on the border of Fallville and Krotown…” Both Ken and Kris’ voices had become more relaxed with each passing second. Ken saw that Kris wasn’t a threat, and having someone to talk to in order to keep his mind off the potential reprimand for missing a class was pretty important at that moment. Kris seemed to think the same thing, as he was now looking over at Ken with a faint smile as his tail wagged behind him. Canines were so easy to read thanks to that thing, and it made Ken chuckle inwardly as he returned the smile. “My parents wanted me to go to a school that wasn’t full of drugs and had structure to it.”

“And they sent you to this school? Well…” Kris paused, looking thoughtful for a moment. Ken knew what was going to come out of the dog’s mouth, but he wanted to hear it firsthand so that it could sink in. “You’re in for a surprise malt.” Ken gulped at that thought, nodding feebly as he let that statement sink in. He knew he was never going to be able to escape drugs at high school; that was part of the experience. He had at least hoped to find a place that he could go that had some structure though, so that he could walk away from high school in four years having learned something that he could use in life, rather than learn next to nothing. He hadn’t seen for himself what the surprise was just yet, so not all of his hopes were dashed, but hearing such a thing from Kris had really put a damper on any academic aspirations he had held.

“Is it really that bad?” Ken asked after a moment of silence, his voice meek and timid again as his tail twitched in nervousness behind him. He could feel the fur on the back of his neck slowly rising, but not out of fear; he was upset.

“Not bad, just different. There’s structure here, but it isn’t what you’re used to, and it takes a lot not to fail in it.” Kris’ tone was one of knowing this a little too well, but Ken wasn’t sure he wanted to know just why the canine seemed intimately familiar with the school’s rumored high failure rate. He didn’t know the dog well enough yet to ask either, so he just nodded and then resumed staring at the floor. His peripheral vision caught Kris doing the same, and part of Ken was a little saddened by this. The two had had a fairly good rapport going there for a brief moment, and it was rare for Ken to get that with anyone. Judging by how Kris looked as he stared at the floor, it was the same way for him as well. It was a little upsetting to the tiger, but he didn’t know how to get the conversation going again, so silence lingered in the air as he leaned against the lockers and watched his tail flick around down by his feet.

The pair sat in silence for a few minutes, doing little more than looking at the floor and their respective tails, as Kris had caught his and was idly playing with it out of boredom. They said nothing, didn’t even look at one another; they just existed. The sound of hooves broke that silence though, as Min’s returning stomps broke the silence that the two were sitting in. Ken jumped a bit at that, and Kris just seemed to perk up somewhat. It had been obvious that he knew the headstrong mare, and as such looked to regain his less-nervous attitude when she returned. This wasn’t to say he was suddenly chatty or anything; he just looked more perked up and less terrified of his surroundings now that something familiar had entered them.

Ken was the exact opposite, as the mare frightened him to a small extent. He didn’t want her to come back, at all. He wanted her gone and to be not talking and insulting and just being a semi-leader of the little trio that had formed in the absence of any true leadership. His fur bristled with annoyance, something which it rarely did, but since Ken was in such a heightened state, it seemed like a natural response for the time being. Ken resented any sense of entitled authority, and this mare reeked of it; almost stiflingly so. He just wanted to see if she had news, and then he was going to head off on his own little expedition to someone who might actually know, rather than roaming the halls like she most likely had. Still, she had not fully made it back yet, and didn’t look like she was going to be shouting what was going on in the empty halls, so it seemed that for the time being he was going to just have to sit patiently and wait for her slow-paced clop to come to an end.

“I didn’t find anything about the teacher here, but it looks like a lot of the teachers are gone from what I saw. I also saw a lot of others lost too… I don’t know what is going on, but I did get someone telling me to stay put and not go wandering off.” Ken frowned, his fur standing on end still. His tail flicked around underneath him, bouncing to and fro on the floor as a sign of his restlessness. His ears slowly started to flatten as well as he began to ponder what he would do next. If Min’s words were true, then leaving would be a bad idea. If she were lying however, then leaving and going off to do something else in order to search would most likely be his best option. He had no reason to doubt her though, and confronting her to find out where she had gotten the info seemed like a bad idea. Ken was considerably too nervous to do it on his own too, so instead he just took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down.

“It looks like we wait…” Kris muttered as Min walked over to him and leaned against the lockers, her long tail waving behind her as it does with all equines. She looked down at him and nodded slowly, turning her gaze to Ken who nodded as well. The trio now had nothing to do other than idle in front of the door, and that seemed like a colossal waste of time to Ken. He wanted to be out looking for a teacher, or just out of the building in general if he had that option. The need to flee was still chewing at the back of his mind, and that was making sitting there and just waiting with nothing but his thoughts for company especially hard. Contrary to what his mind had been telling him, he wanted interaction and to have to talk to others. His own fears alone were the sole thing preventing him from starting any sort of conversation in general. He wanted to be distracted, to have to think and interact so that he could keep his mind clear. That wasn’t going to happen though, so instead he just had to sit and wait for something to happen that would nab his attention again.

Claws clicking on the tile floor got all three of the furs’ attention as they all peered down in the direction they were coming from. A tall muskrat rounded the corner, and instantly Ken’s features softened. His ears perked up, and his tail stilled itself as calm washed right over him. He knew that muskrat, and that muskrat knew him as he threw a hearty wave in his direction. Ken slowly got to his feet, using the lockers to brace himself as his rump had fallen asleep from sitting on the hard floor for so long. It wasn’t something that he was used to, and as such he wasn’t able to really compensate for the discomfort by doing anything other than hoping for the best. The best hadn’t come though, so as he stood and waved at his friend, his other paw rubbed at his sore hindquarters to try and make some blood flow back into them. “Hey Jake.”

“Howdy K. How’re ya doin’?” The heavy southern accent on the muskrat showed up almost immediately, as he smiled quite widely. His southern attitude showed through as well, as he walked right on up to Ken and gave the smaller tiger a big, friendly hug. Ken couldn’t help but chuckle and hug the taller fur back, a light, involuntary purr escaping his muzzle.

“I’m alright Jake. What’re you doing here?”

“I’m guessin’ waitin’ like you. You in AP English?” Ken nodded, which made Jake smile brighter. Ken also smiled brighter as well, as he had fully expected to be in the class alone rather than being able to have his best friend in it. The fact that it was the first class of the day made him even happier, as he hadn’t expected to see anyone he would recognize until lunch at the earliest, if not until the end of the day. His tail bounced around with joy, but a cleared throat from Min sunk his mood faster than the Titanic. He had nearly forgotten about the others there, and Min announcing their presence rather rudely had done nothing but made him wish that he had permanently forgotten.

“This is Min and Kris,” Ken said with a trace hint of distain in his voice. He meant it all for Min, but apparently Kris was the only one who picked up on it as his ears flattened. Ken would need to remember to apologize later, and explain that he wasn’t too fond of the mare to the dog. “Min, Kris, this is Jake.”

“Howdy y’all.” Jake said, his usual smile and southern hospitality breaking through in the polite greeting.

“Hi” they both said in unison, and gave polite nods to the muskrat. Their reply was a bit more curt than Jake was used to getting, and as such he looked lightly insulted. Ken didn’t like seeing his friend looking like that, so he gave the taller fur a nice pat on the back.

“We’re waiting on the teacher to see if they show up at all, or if they’re just going to be invisible for the entire class. Min,” he stated with a little bit of a stronger bit of disdain in his voice than before in hopes that Kris would pick up on that bit too, “went out looking earlier and turned up nothing. She did say we were told to stay put though, so I guess we are going to be waiting here for the time being.”

“Sounds alright to me. I can show ya some of the cool shit me n’ Sorak got into ov’r the summer.” Jake said as he sat down excitedly, digging into his large pocket to get his camera out. Ken raised an eyebrow at the name Sorak, slowly joining the muskrat on the floor.

“Who’s Sorak?”

“New neighbor. Moved in the last day of school last year; I think I told you ‘bout him. He’s a rusky bear… Dad’s got a whole mess of money or somethin’, and that means we get to play ‘round on his yard way more ‘an mine.” Ken nodded, leaning in a little closer to his friend as Jake booted up the camera and began to scroll through pictures. The thing took a moment to fire up, and when it did it took Jake a few moments of awkwardly fumbling with the piece of tech before he got it into viewing mode. Once he did though, he was easily able to start showing off his many exploits of the summer to Ken.

Pictures of dirt bikes, fishing, and various other shenanigans began to scroll across the screen. It wasn’t as if he was doing nothing in those shots either; Jake was the center of attention in most of those shots. A few of Sorak did show up, but mostly it was Jake doing what Jake did best: be the center of attention. It was odd to Ken, that he was such a shy fur who was friends with one of the most popular and charismatic furs of his school, and had been since they were but cubs. That hadn’t been too long ago when Ken really thought about it, but it had been more than long enough to forge a fairly unbreakable bond between the pair. Ken treasured the friendship, as it was one of the few he had thanks to being such a quiet introvert.

A picture on the camera snapped Ken back to reality, and instantly he was far more interested in what was on that camera than what he had been thinking. The picture had been of Sorak, only completely nude and looking rather sultry on the bed. “Go back.”

“Why? It was just Sorak goofing off with my camera. I didn’t take that one.”

“Yeah right you didn’t. That was the only good picture of the bear in here too, so I want to see.”

“He’s… Ya know…” Ken frowned at Jake, who sighed and handed the camera over to the tiger. Ken then smiled again, taking the camera and scrolling back a few pictures to find the one he had wanted. He looked at it for a few moments, gazing at the gentle curves of the ursine and seeing just how amazing the bear looked without clothing on. It was startling what was bubbling up inside of him as he studied the picture for a rather long moment, taking it all in and mentally doing horrid things to it. He handed the camera back, and instantly realized just what he had done in his mind. He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay… And yet he had just taken a mental snapshot of a nude, male bear and loved every inch of it. He was just too stressed from the day, and with all the hormones of being his age mixed into the mental mess that he was, it was a sheer coincidence this hadn’t happened sooner, or so he told himself.

“You looked at that a lil’ too long there Ken… I gonna haveta worry ‘bout you?” Jake’s voice was one of concern, but at the same time a bit of prejudice came along with it. Ken knew how devout Jake’s family, and Jake himself, were in their religious beliefs, and that having a gay friend would be disasterous. He wasn’t gay though.

“I was just wondering why you had this on your camera at all. It’s kinda… Ya know…” Jake laughed at that, a very faint twinge of nervousness in that laughter as he hit the delete button on the picture. He then hit Ken in the arm for even suggesting something like that, and even though it was a playful hit, Ken still toppled over onto his side. He hadn’t been ready, or balanced for that matter, so him falling into a heap was just par for the course. His reflexes kept the topple from hurting, but at the same time that didn’t stop his arm from feeling a bit of pain shoot through it. Jake was always stronger than he let himself be, and that often got Ken bruised or something else. Jake never meant any of it though, as was made clear by his reaction.

“Oh shit! Ken, you ok?” Jake asked, his voice panicky as he leaned over and helped Ken up immediately. He looked almost in shock that he could have hit the tiger so hard, and his voice was shaking just a little bit. That was Jake, at least the one that Ken knew; a gentle giant that couldn’t hurt a fly, but he would kill it on accident then feel bad for a week. Ken liked that about Jake, as it made the often-brash muskrat seem a little bit more like a normal fur, rather than an elitist or the rich, smug ass that he was capable of being. “I hit ya too hard again, didn’ I?”

“Yeah… I’ll be alright. Just try and tone it down, k?” Jake nodded feebly, looking as sheepish and meek as he always did whenever he hurt Ken in any matter. Ken heard a stifled chuckle from his left, and peered over to be greeted by a rather smug Min looking at him. She must have picked up on the disdain in his voice as well, and as such was probably reveling in his recent pain. Ken glared at her rather angrily, his fur bristling up again as he was getting more and more angered by her attitude. He couldn’t stand it, and to think that he would have to put up with her for the entire year was something that he dreaded. He was almost terrified of having to have that much patience, but at the same time he was angry that he would have to at all. If it weren’t for Jake in his class, he would have transferred out immediately, but that muskrat would make the class worth it. Ken was going to suck it up to have at least one class with his friend, as he wasn’t sure when or even if that would happen again.

“Alri’, I’m sorry… Can ya forgive me K?” Jake’s voice still shook a little bit, though not nearly to the level it had been earlier, as he was already calming down.

“Duh I can Jake, don’t worry about it.”

“Okay,” Jake said with a grin, his normal demeanor returning pretty much instantly. It was a night and day shift from him in the amount of time it took to blink, and yet it wasn’t much of a surprise considering just how flamboyant the muskrat was at times. It was his southern roots coming through as well as they did, and making him look almost too happy to be back in Ken’s favor. The tiger thought nothing of it, as that was what he was used to, but a smirk from Min gave away that it probably wasn’t as normal as he thought. He wasn’t gay.

“What Min?” Jake asked, looking over at her with a slightly narrowed gaze. Ken knew the tone that dripped off Jake’s voice; it wasn’t a good one. Jake abhorred being judged, and since Min was doing just that to both him and Ken, it was doing to get ugly quickly unless Ken could defuse the entire situation. He wasn’t sure of how he was going to, but as Min’s glare got worse and the fur began to bristle on Jake, he knew he needed to think of something. He couldn’t think of anything though, as his brain was so far into panic mode that getting anything productive out of it was going to be like pulling teeth for him. He needed to try though, for Jake’s sake, as the muskrat was a little too aggressive for his own good sometimes, and that had gotten him into trouble.

“Oh, you’re all here, good.” The four students all jumped in unison, Kris letting out a surprised yelp as he was by far the most startled. They all turned to the deep voice which had gotten them all startled, to be greeted by an aging, rotund lion. The older, chubby beast patted his forehead with a damp cloth for a moment, looking a little bit out of breath and clammy in his size-too-small suit. He was carrying a large briefcase, and a map in one paw that looked to be a little crumpled. “I’m Mr. Felden, and I’ll be teaching you four for the year. Now…” He trailed off as he began looking in his pocket, or trying to rather as he had to fight with his tight pants just to get his fat paw down into the small thing. It was a squeeze, but he managed after a few tries and got his paw in there. He rummaged for a minute before smiling and pulling out a small key ring. A few popped seams could be heard as he pulled his paw out, which made him blush a rather bright shade of red.

“Everybody in after me please,” he said in his milky, deep voice as he lumbered over to the door and fumbled with the key to get it over the lock. It wasn’t easy for paws as large as his, but he somehow was able to do it, and with a push of his paw, he held the door open for the now-standing group of furs to go on. Min went in first, squeezing past with a light smirk on her snout. Ken noticed it, and said nothing, as there was nothing that he could say that wouldn’t make the already-bad relations worse. He had no intention of that, so instead he just kept his mouth shut and filed in after Kris, leaving Jake to take up the rear. Mr. Felden came in last, patting his head with the damp rag again and sighing to himself. He said nothing for a moment, just lumbered over to his desk and put his briefcase down on top of it. He then went back to the chair behind the desk and sat down with a loud fwoomp. The chair made several angry noises for being asked to support such a large amount of lion, but it did so in spite of that, and that seemed to make the feline quite pleased.

Min, Kris, Ken, and Jake all took their seats at the head of the class, sitting in the first couple rows of tables after a little bit of angry staring between them. Jake and Ken sat on one side of the aisle, and Min and Kris on the other. Mr. Felden didn’t seem to notice, as he was too busy fanning himself with the map he had apparently failed at using. “Oh jeez, this school seems to get bigger and bigger every year. Either that, or I just get wider and wider.” Min and Jake chuckled at the little quip, which made Mr. Felden smile as he stood up, joining the chair in a loud groan. “Ooook… Now then, this Is your A.P. English class. As I said, I am Mr. Felden, and I will be…”

**********

The little lecture lasted for about a half an hour, as it had to be cut short thanks to the lion’s late arrival. It was just the basics of the class, with nothing unexpected or surprising thrown into the mix whatsoever. There was a little bit of an odd rule set, as it seemed the lion had quite the sense of humor when it came to everything. Ken had it all on a sheet of paper, which he tucked into his school handbook to keep it safe for the time being. He had paid very close attention to everything the teacher had said in that lecture, knowing that it would be incredibly important for later, and that he would need to memorize all of it for now since it would be something that he would need to know for the rest of the year. It wasn’t as if it was anything too complex, but it was knowledge the tiger would need to retain, and for that, it was important. So he learned it, kept the piece of paper that had it all written down safe, and did little more than to make sure that he would be able to retain all of it.

Mr. Felden had just finished talking as the bell rang, and both he and Jake were the first ones standing. Jake had his schedule out already, and was looking at both it and his map to figure out where he needed to go next. Ken was slower to do the same, having to dig them out of his pockets once he remembered where he had put them. A math class on the first floor was his destination, so two flights of stairs and fighting his way through the crowds of his peers were what awaited him.

“Where ya headed?”

“Algebra 2, you?”

“Some science class… Damn do I hate that stuff. I jus’ wanna know howta blow stuff up, thassit.” Ken chuckled at his friend’s sentiment, nodding in agreement. Neither one of them was very good at scientific anything, and taking a science class in general was something neither wanted to do, but was required of them. They only needed two of the classes to graduate though, so two years of science would be all that they would take. “Good luck with tha’ math crap.”

“Yeah, try not to blow too much up.” The pair had made their way to the door, and waved as they parted ways to head to their separate destinations. Ken was a little sad he didn’t have math with Jake, as the muskrat needed the help in it nearly constantly. They lived close together though, so he would be able to help the other fur fairly easily no matter the lack of time in the classroom together. It still didn’t sit very well with Ken though, as he slowly started to meander down the hallway towards the stairs at the end of it. He knew Jake’s fears of anything scientific, and his struggling with math, so he had to hope that either the teachers Jake got were good or that Jake would make a tutor friend quick.

Ken’s mind came to a screeching halt after he went down that path in his head; he was sounding like an old geezer. Ken was still essentially a cub as far as most were concerned, and yet here he was, walking along through an unfamiliar building which sent shivers down his spine thinking not of himself, but how to best help his best friend academically. It was absurd to him, that he could even be such a worrier about something that had so little to do with him. Why had he even let his mind go down that path at all, when he had so many other pressing concerns. It was a good distraction, sure, but it had distracted him so much that he had nearly missed the staircase he needed to descend to get to the first floor. Jake was just a friend too, not his brother or anything… He wasn’t gay.

Shaking his head to try and clear it, Ken started his descent with a blank mind. Jake had been forcibly removed from his thoughts, and in his place, there were concerns brewing about how Ken was going to survive his next class. He tried to fight those doubts, as he didn’t want to go back into that frame of mind, but it was a futile attempt; there was no denying those feelings. Ken didn’t know anyone in his next class, at all; he was certain of that. He also didn’t really know where the room was, and since a normal-level math class was going to be a lot more populous than an advanced English class, it wasn’t going to be as easy to just spot the group of furs sitting outside an abandoned classroom. Ken could only hope the bottom floor was as well-labeled as the top had been, as he hit the second floor and started down the next flight of stairs for the first. He had to merge with every other anthro going that direction as well, and there were plenty of them, but at least he knew he was headed in the right direction.

Halfway down the stairs, Ken peered down at his map to check which direction he would need to go once he left the line of furs. The stairs had gotten considerably busier as Ken had hit the second floor, and as he was going down to the first, he had already had to stop twice. It was a horrid traffic jam, but that was more likely than not from the others being as lost as he was. Ken hoped that things wouldn’t be this bad every single day for the entire year, as he slowly moved down another step thanks to how jammed traffic was. He was finally able to at least see the cause of the most recent hold-up; a group of wolves were at the foot of the steps in a circle, chatting and just being in the way, and everyone had to push past them. It was just plain rude, but Ken wasn’t about to say anything to them whatsoever; that would be far more outgoing than he was ever going to be capable of being.

It took another minute of slow-moving, but Ken was able to escape the cramped stairs into the considerably-more open hallway, in which he took an immediate left. The math department was just down the hall, and with such an easy trek between his English class and Math class, Ken was at least mentally celebrating that small victory; it made his life a lot easier to not have to go across the entire school to get from one class to the next. The little swell of contentment from victory faded quickly as Ken saw just how crowded the hallway up ahead of him was. It was still easily passable, and nothing like how things had been when he had first arrived at the school, but it was a lot more full than he was expecting. Ken was even taking a semi-advanced math class, and yet here he was in the middle of a pretty populated hallway. He dreaded finding out that his class was full up of other advanced kids; Ken was only in the class by the fur on his tail, and hoped that it would be easy. If it was full of other ‘math wizzes’ like he had been called, he was terrified of being left behind.

Ken had to try and not think about that now though, as he knew that he still had time to transfer out of the class if things didn’t work, even if it didn’t feel like it. He was also more than a little nervous about approaching Mr. Johannes about anything, but if the class was going to be a problem, he would have to. It was quite the dilemma for the tiger, and he was wrestling with it as he began to look at room numbers to see where he needed to be. His mind was racing, but at least having to be observant was helping to keep the thing somewhat quiet. It looked like he was going to be towards the end of the hall, and since there were far fewer furs down there, it seemed like Ken was going to be in a little bit of luck; he might have a small class after all. He saw a couple of his peers enter a classroom though, and instantly his fear of a large class returned. The tiger didn’t know that the teachers were already set up and ready, but the second he thought about it, the entire thing made sense; his English teacher had been late to a first period class. No teacher would be late to a second period class, so they were all in there and ready to go, rather than being late and leaving every one of their students outside the class.

Nerves making his heart pound in his head, Ken found his classroom and pushed the door open with a lightly shaking paw. He wasn’t the first one in the room by any means, but he only saw around five or six others in there at a passing glance. That must have meant he had another small class, which killed several of his fears instantaneously. The removal of those trepidations did not help Ken’s confidence though, as he stepped into the room just as timid as ever and quickly scanned for an empty seat away from everyone else.  His heart may not have been pounding in apprehension anymore, but he could feel the stares of the others as he took his seat near the front of the room and silently placed his books down on the desk. That did little to help his nerves, but he knew it would happen if he was not the first in the room, so he just had to deal with it for the few moments that everyone would be interested in him before returning to doing whatever they had been.

Those few moments seemed to take a lifetime, but another fur walked through the door and everyone’s attention instantly shifted to the newcomer. It was a rather tall alligator, bundled up in the usual garb reptiles had on for this time of year. Her clothes were a little more flashy than the ones most of the gators and crocs wore around the school, but just looking at her sunglasses gave away that she came from a whole lot of money. In spite of that fact, Ken wasn’t envious of that need to be so clothed for a nice portion of the year around the area, since it looked pretty uncomfortable. He knew it was a necessary evil for the poor reptiles though, so he made sure to never say anything and just quietly acknowledge them. This particular alligator was a little harder to just acknowledge quietly though, as she all but demanded attention the minute she stepped through the door. She did not say it, but she didn’t have to say it; her body language said everything for her as she sauntered over to a desk and slid into it rather nimbly.

Ken looked away as soon as the young gator was in her seat, not wanting to seem rude and keep staring. He also didn’t like looking at those gaudy, tasteless clothes for too long. They were not what Ken considered good-looking by any stretch of the imagination, in spite of their expensive branding. Ken got his pants and winter coat from clearance racks and second-hand shops, meaning branding was utterly lost on him. His interest in the gator was more in her attitude and the way that she showed herself off to those around her. This class was meant for those who were smarter than most, and yet the furs who fell into that category rarely ever tried to flaunt anything. Ken knew several of the nerds like him would kill to have the self-confidence that the alligator sitting behind him somewhere was oozing out and infecting the room with.

“Mmmm… A malt. I ain’t seen ona yew in a dayum long time.” A thick accent which Ken couldn’t quite pin down came from behind him, and he turned to see who had said that. The alligator was sitting directly behind him now, leaning forward onto the desk and peering a little too closely at Ken. He cringed a little bit at how close the other was, shrinking into his seat as his ears flattened in nervousness and his fur bristled out. He felt cornered, and cornering a tiger was a bad idea, even one as meek as Ken; the last fur who had tried was in the hospital for weeks from what little Ken remembered of the incident. Such a result was thanks to Ken having nearly eleven years of mixed martial arts training under his belt, and that only made him more nervous about causing a scene again. “Take it easy, I ain’t gonna bite ya. Just curious aboutcha.” Her tone was all that it took to get Ken to calm down enough to regain control and back off from being ready to pounce and attack.

“O-Ok. I’m Ken…” Ken’s voice wavered, still fairly rattled as he took a couple deep breaths to calm himself back down. It was easier said than done when there was a gator staring at you, but Ken was managing as best he could with his frayed nerves.

“Shaina. Nice ta meetcha Ken,” Shaina said politely as she slid out of her current desk and into the one next to Ken’s. The tiger involuntarily gulped out of nervousness at that act, as he had no idea what to expect now that the pair were sitting next to one another. He didn’t even know what to say, so he just quietly sat there and looked down at his desk. Shaina, on the other hand, put her scaly arm on the desk and leaned on it to stare at Ken. It was awkward for Ken, and in spite of knowing that the other posed no threat whatsoever, he couldn’t help but feeling his fur start to bristle again. He needed to try and clear his head, or at least see what the female wanted, as that would put him at some ease. He didn’t know where to begin though, as he had demonstrated a few times earlier throughout that day already; Ken sucked at conversations. He knew it as much as he hated it, and yet there was no foreseeable way that he could improve on that. “So Ken, whatcha doin’ here ‘n this class?”

“I took Algebra last year…” Ken murmured, barely able to tear his gaze from his desk due to his nervousness. His heart was pounding again, as he knew this wasn’t going to be a quick and easy conversation. The teacher seemed too distracted with making sure that all the students had arrived to keep tabs on what was happening. Ken was on his own on this conversation, and though the other was being as friendly as could be, it was still hard for him to do anything less than panic inwardly. Best intentions or not, the outgoing demeanor of the other wasn’t sitting well with Ken at all, and he wanted to stop the conversation as soon as he could. He didn’t want to be rude either though, as he would have to see this gator every day for the entirety of the school year. That was something that he needed to weigh as he debated how to proceed, a bit of his predicament that he had not even thought of until the panic had really set his mind reeling.

“Oh ya did? Wow, thas impressive. I just barely got pas Algebra las’ year…” Shaina trailed off, her voice dying down. Ken was a bit surprised at the sudden drop in volume from the reptile, but when he turned to look and see what had caused it, he instantly saw the reason. The teacher, a lithe bear with pointed glasses, was standing in front of her desk with her arms folded as she waited for the room to die down into silence. That was going to be a long wait, as several more students had filtered in during the brief chat between Shaina and Ken, and a lot of them were either catching up on their summers or just ‘introducing’ themselves to the others in the room. A low murmur perpetuated through the room as the ursine remained standing at the head of the room, her gaze narrowing to a glare as her patience began to ebb. Her claws began to drum on her arm in a display of her irritation, but as the murmur began to swell in volume, she looked to have enough.

“Stop talking. Now!” Her shrill voice filled the room, a stark contrast to the one of Mr. Felden; unlike his creamy, smooth, and comforting voice, the bear’s was piercing, loud, and anything but comforting. Each voice stopped almost instantly, all eyes turning to her leaning form as her claws continued to drum on her right arm. It took a moment, but once the ursine was sure she had every single fur’s undivided attention, she unfolded her arms and turned to walk to the chalkboard. She paused at the chalkboard, turning around to survey the crowd of fur, scales, and feathers behind her for a brief moment before picking up the chalk-claw and starting to write on the board. “My name is Mrs. Stienbrend, and I will be your Algebra 2 teacher for this year. We have a lot of ground to cover…”

**********

The math class couldn’t have felt longer as Ken sighed and stood up. Mrs. Stienbrend had droned on and on about goals and rules and a various amount of other things which, while they did matter, they had just been reiterated on so many times that even Ken was sick of hearing about them. He had hoped that there would be structure, but this level of structure, with rules about handwriting in homework assignments and tests… That was just too much work for him. He hoped that there would be another Algebra 2 teacher that he could transfer into so that he wouldn’t have to suffer through the class day in and day out. 180-plus days of having to listen to that bear drone and condescend could have been enough alone to get Ken to approach Mr. Johannes and request a transfer to another class. Ken was still a little too fearful of the eagle to try it though, so he would need a couple more reasons to go and request some rearranging to his schedule.

Ken’s pondering of what to do next let him ignore almost everything else, and a tap to his shoulder snapped him out of his pre-occupied state of mind. It was Shaina, with a toothy smile and a nod to the hallway. The gator wasn’t as bad as Ken had feared once he got over his initial fear of talking at all. That put him at relative ease, but still made him a bit apprehensive to follow her as he stood up and returned the smile in kind. All the stories of just cruel pranks to by his fellow fresh meat were still lingering in his mind, and in spite of the kindness he had been shown, his feline instincts screamed at him that it would be a bad idea. In spite of them though, he had to follow Shaina as she was headed in the same direction as he was. He had no choice in that decision as he looked at his map while slowly following in step behind the reptile; his next class started in a few minutes, and getting to it from where he was looked to be a challenge.

He had to traverse the entire second floor, as his next class was on the opposite side of the building. It was a trek Ken dreaded, but as he neared the stairs and started to observe the flow of furs, that dread ebbed. He took a look at his map again, and began to smile slightly to himself as a rather helpful realization dawned on him. All of the furs around him were using this set of stairs to head up, and ignoring the stairs on the opposite side of the first floor. If Ken could head over there and sneak up that set of stairs instead, it would cut down on his travel time by a lot since it would put him right where he needed to be, minus a lot of his peers in the way. The tiger was starting to get the hang of how to move around the building already, and that made him swell with pride inwardly as he stepped around the crowd at the foot of the stairs as best he could. He gave a light wave to Shaina as they parted ways since it seemed the polite thing to do, then started down the fairly-empty hall in front of him.

Ken didn’t even take notice if Shaina returned the wave, as he was striding along quickly once he had broken free of the mob at the stairs.  His tail swished behind him in satisfaction, and his fur seemed to puff out just a little in pride. Even his ears, which had been flattened nearly the entire time since he had entered the building, perked up and began to listen as he neared the first corner he would need to round. Ken wasn’t as scared of the building now; he had figured out a trick or two of it, and that was putting him at ease. It was still a little unnerving to go from a densely populated area to an empty one, but even that was beginning to lose its fear-inducing sheen. Ken was getting comfortable here, and it was a huge relief to the feline. His want to run was all but evaporated, and he was letting his mind do less reeling as he pondered the few doubts about the school he had left. This wasn’t to say Ken liked it there or wanted to stay any more than he had when he first arrived, but his trepidations had ebbed to background noise, rather than taking center-stage in his mind.

This change had been fairly sudden, and as Ken rounded at the end of the hall and continued down the next one he would need to traverse, he wondered what had brought it on. He had been terrified of talking to Shaina initially, the math class hadn’t gone well overall, and yet here he was not being worried about much of anything at that moment in time. He couldn’t figure out what had happened between the time he had entered the math class, and when he had ended it, but something in his mind had clicked and suddenly he was a lot less apprehensive about the day. Ken could only guess that a combination of making a new friend of sorts and just being able to finally level his fears with what was actual fact had somehow eschewed many of his worries. Those worries were still there, still nibbling at his mind, and he could feel them getting a little bit more foothold as he kept walking down the empty hallway. It was nothing like how he had been when he first entered the building though, or even after he and Jake had parted ways after the first class of the day; it was all quieter up there. It was an odd sensation to Ken, to be just nervous rather than terrified so suddenly after fear had been all he had known, but at the same time it was a welcome relief to his heart constantly pounding in his ears.

He stopped his mind before he could analyze his feelings anymore, as he was beginning to feel like he was worrying about his worries. He felt like he was about halfway down the long hallway he was in, and as such set his mind down a new path to finish the remainder of his walk in. His next class was a Government class, another Advanced Placement class. He could only imagine how small the class would be, as he had needed to specifically request that one in order to get put into it. That class was the only one Ken had wanted to go to that day, and his general apprehension returned as the got closer to it. He feared that the teacher would be annoying like his math teacher had just been, or that he would be in a small class with an elitist student like his English class. His biggest fear though was being in the class completely alone, as he had heard of that happening in a few of the AP classes. He had also heard of the AP classes being just classes for juniors or seniors that got sat in on, and that made him even more nervous.

Ken dreaded that latter scenario, but refused to let it ruin his calmed state as he just took a couple deep breaths to get his mind calmed back down. The likelihood of that happening was slim to none as far as he was concerned, and even if it did happen, Ken had seen that not even fur who was above him in grade was as evil as they had been made out to be. The rumors had been a lot of Ken’s worries, he was slowing coming to realize, and as he went throughout the day and proved more and more of them false, he was calming himself down. He was only two classes into the day, and yet more than half of what he had heard before was already false. Granted, some of it had been true, but it was vastly outweighed by what was false. Ken perked back up somewhat has he let that thought sink in, just  allowing it to fill his mind with what resembled hope. He still was worried as could be about the whole thing, but a part of him was willing to try and allow that small amount of hope that was building from the dispelled rumors to get in there and take care of him. It wasn’t enough to quite take care of his worries and fears, which were quickly beginning to come back, but he had conquered enough of them to make it so that he wouldn’t need to start from scratch again.

Ken began to hum again to distract himself further, trying to keep his head from fogging with doubt again even more than it had started to. The tune was the same from earlier, with the improvised parts being changed somewhat from his lack of a consistent thing to base them off of. It wasn’t much different, but it was unique this time, and Ken took the same small pleasure in customizing it as he had earlier. The song was working in terms of keeping his spirits up and from sinking back into the depths of his brain. His pace slowed as well as he hummed along, still moving forward at a decent clip but looking like he was in less of a hurry. He didn’t need to hurry just yet, as he was already a few short steps rounding the turn at the far end of the long hallway. From there, it was a simple trip up a flight of stairs, a left, and then he was close to where he needed to be.

He rounded that corner, and instantly he smiled to himself. The stairs were empty, and that meant he could just shoot up them and to his next class unimpeded. His pace quickened now that he was on the home stretch to his destination, though not for any excitement in getting to a class he was fairly apprehensive about attending. Ken was more pleased with himself for finding such a back way to get to the classroom, and the glee that came with such a discovery had made him as giddy as a cub for that moment. His tail swished along behind him as he took the final few steps to the stairs, passing through their entryway and bounding up them two at a time. His bare paws made next to no noise on those steps, and had he not been rushing as much as he was, he could have been utterly silent ascending the stairs. He wasn’t concerned with making noise though, so he simply went up them quickly to get some of his exuberance out of his system so that he could calm back down and think in class.

At the top of the stairs, Ken came tumbling back down off his temporary high of outsmarting all his classmates as he stopped dead. The doorway into the second floor was blocked by a myriad of furs, all trying to get in from the third floor. The traffic jam seemed to be caused by a pair of rather wide bears who had decided the doorway would be a great place to talk. This was the second time such a blockage had occurred in the day for the tiger, and he was getting annoyed with it. It wasn’t fair to him or any of the others who were going to the school. Ken wasn’t about to confront the two bears about it though, as they both were not only taller than Ken by a good foot, but also wider in both their chests, and waistlines. Both could have probably crushed the smaller tiger with ease, and Ken wans’t one to try and find out about that.

He was still feeling a little adventurous from his trip throughout the halls though, as he was a feline after all. Part of his mind told him no, but Ken couldn’t resist it; he walked right up to the bears and snuck between them as fast as he could. Ducking down enough so that they could see eachother and his intrusion would mean little, Ken got by with no interruption or call to get out of the way. This was hardly daredevil material as far as anyone was concerned, but for Ken it was as if he had just jumped the Grand Canyon on little more than a scooter. It was something forward, something not timid or nervous, and very unlike how he had been the entire day to that point. He was giddy inwardly, but that was just barely able to worm its way to the surface in the form of a very faint smile as he started on down the next hall towards his destination.

His tiny bit of navigation had put him ahead of the vast majority of the others headed to this floor, and as such he was able to walk down the hallway, his tail swaying idly behind him, with nary an interruption. He was humming to himself again, quieter this time, as he strolled along seemingly carefree. His mind was still doing all that it could to get him nervous and apprehensive about entering his Government class, but he was still riding the small high that came from doing something as brave and resourceful as he had. This was helping to keep some of his other doubts at bay, at least for the moment. It was a quick fix, just as the hope on the first floor had been, and he knew it. It was a fix still, and it let him keep himself perked up on his first day in a new place rather than in the downtrodden state he had been for those first couple hours. It was all in getting the hang of things and keeping the lies and rumors he had heard of the place from getting into his mind; a task easier said than done, but it was what he was going to try his utmost to do.

He rounded the final corner before his destination, having been looking at room numbers as he had walked along. The room was the next one over from the corner, and looking at it, he was instantly less worried about being completely alone in that class. There was one other student there waiting, so he wasn’t going to be the only freshie in the room. That was a huge relief to him, and quieted even more of the few concerns left swirling in his mind. Those concerns got joined by new ones though, as the room was dark inside. As Ken approached the other fur, he started to get slightly apprehensive about that fact. The other looked to have been waiting for a minute or two, staring blankly up at the ceiling as his tail twitched behind him. He held his books to his chest much like Ken did, quietly rocking back and forth on his large, bare paws.

Ken wasn’t sure of how to talk to the other, so he simply walked over as slowly as he could and stood on the other side of the door, leaning against the side of the lockers there and silently looking at the floor. He was nervous as could be now that he was alone with the other fur, all his earlier confidence evaporating as fast as he had earned it. It wasn’t as if the other was threatening, just a lot bigger and alive; that was enough to make the tiger nervous. Couple that fact with the amount of raw nerves Ken still had, but had managed to gloss over in his latest attempt at keeping himself calm, and it was all that he could do to not panic as he stood opposite the spaced-out fur. He wasn’t nearly as scared as he had been approaching and standing with the two furs for his very first class, but fear still made his heart pound and his mouth dry.

Ken’s lack of attention let a paper slip from his grasp, and it fluttered to the floor. As he bent down to pick it up, the other must have heard the rustling of his clothing or some other noise, for he stopped spacing and turned around to face Ken. The other was an overweight bunny, something which Ken should have figured out from the ears, tail, and stance. Lapins generally didn’t like being referred to as just bunnies though, there were so many different subsets of their species that Ken rarely ever tried to speak first, or address them as anything other than their name. As such, he hadn’t wanted to try and guess the other’s species just yet, as he was hoping for something other than a lapin; and a fat one at that. He had nothing against the weight; he had gotten just a smidge bit pudgy over the summer himself, it was just a little surprising to see a fat bunny. He almost never saw one, considering how active they were and how hard it was to lumber around with their widened thighs thanks to their extra padding, so to speak. “You drop something?” The other asked, in a voice which took Ken very much by surprise.

“Y-Yeah…” Ken muttered as he leaned down to get it. He was apprehensive, gingerly squatting down to a sitting position before reaching a paw out and placing it on the paper. The bunny seemed to watch him the entire time, silent and a little curious, as his nose constantly twitched and his ears swiveled in place. Lapins were always restless though, so Ken thought little of all the movement; he did take notice of the staring though, and quickened his retrieval of the paper so that he could get out of being looked at. Pulling the sheet back to him, he stole a glance at it to see what he had dropped. It was the map of the school, so his effort of getting it back was well worth it, and he let out a faint sigh of relief that he still had the thing in his possession. He put it back in his pocket quickly, standing back up once he had just to get back away from the lapin and to leaning against the lockers opposite him again.

“Was it important?” The lapin’s voice was smooth and deep, if not a little fast. It gave away the hyperactive nature of all bunnies, but at the same time had something almost velvety about it which melted Ken down to the very core. He could listen to that bunny talk all day, and then some… He wasn’t gay.

“It was… Sorry it hit you,” Ken murmured, his voice still barely audble thanks to just how nervous he was. His ears were flattened and his tail had lost all its sway, just dangling behind him as if he had been scolded. He hadn’t been, in any sense, but part of him was nervous about the other’s reaction to anything at all really.

“It was paper dude, I think I’ll survive getting hit by a paper.” That voice again, it was making Ken blush just hearing it, as he had to look down at the floor and nod feebly in reply. He didn’t want to give away how much it was affecting him just hearing it, but that was hard to hide as his ears began to perk up a little and his tail started swishing about. Damn his feline responses, and he wasn’t even gay. It was all Ken could do to keep the other from seeing his blush beneath the white fur on his face, but hiding movements like his tail and ears was an utter impossibility. “So what’s your name malt?”

“Ken… What’s yours?” Ken almost froze with fear as those last two words left his muzzle. He never asked any other fur for their name, ever. Here he was being forward and asking for it though, and from a bunny that was making him weak in the knees no less. He wasn’t gay, he had to tell himself again. That lie wasn’t working in this case though, and that was a whole new level of scary to the tiger. Ken was still too terrified and in denial of that reality to admit that fact to himself, let alone others. He had to try and maintain some semblance of control over his tongue, or this encounter could end badly. He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay.

“Keith. I just moved here from the Northeast. Nice to meet you Ken.” Keith stuck out a stubby arm, and Ken took ahold of it with his own lanky one. They shook just once, then returned their paws to their sides and just stood looking at one another for a moment. Ken was still beet red beneath his fur, which he was sure came through in spite of the fact that it was his very thick winter coar. His heart was racing, and his mind was reeling with all the embarrassing things he had just done. He had been so forward, and though the other had responded politely back and had seemed quite friendly, Ken was sure it was just out of kindness. They were alone in the hall though, so there was no need to feign kindness for just the tiger’s sake… Was it that the other was just genuinely nice? That would be a rarity as far as Ken was concerned, especially given what he had seen throughout the day so far. He wasn’t about to test out that little theory; he could barely even form a coherent thought after all that, let alone a sentence.

“So Ken, what’s there to do around here?” Ken looked up, having heard the question but still surprised it was aimed at him. He hadn’t expected to get any sort of small talk, and yet here it was, waiting for him to take the bait and return the talk in kind. This shocked Ken, and for a moment he looked as though his mind was going to explode. Had his life been a cartoon, steam would have been pouring from his ears at that point with all that was screaming through his mind. Should he answer? What should he say? What did the other like to do?

“I-I just hang out with my friends all around… I wouldn’t know where to start…” That was as truthful an answer as Ken could give, and probably as quiet of one too. Keith’s large ears still barely made it out, but it was enough of an answer for him to nod and lean back against the locker while staring up at the ceiling.

“Start at the beginning then. Talk louder too dude, I can barely hear you, even with these giant things.” Keith chuckled to himself, twitching his ears as his frame shook somewhat while his paws held onto the upper shelf of his large paunch. The poor shorts underneath that spare tire strained and groaned somewhat as the weight they were being asked to contain shifted, and Ken could’ve sworn he heard a seam pop as the bunny calmed down from his little bit of laughter and settled in against the locker. The tiger had to push that from his mind though; he wasn’t gay. He also had to think of just what the beginning was, as there were plenty of beginnings in his short life. The beginning of a social life, the beginning of his friendship with Jake, the beginning of schooling here… Ken needed to decide just what start in his life he was going to use, and that was easier said than done for him as indecisive as he was.

He started at the beginning of his social life, which wasn’t that long ago as soon as he thought about it. He hadn’t really been going out and doing anything for very long at all; he had always been mostly a shut in or too preoccupied with school to have time for friends. Middle school had changed that, and as he started to explain, he began to realize just how much of a loser he was sounding like. He had no crazy childhood stories of jumping into someone’s pool after sneaking into their yard. No stories of stealing. Nothing adventurous… His zaniest story was one of jumping a dirt bike over Jake. Granted, that was pretty cool in its own right, but it made for no real tales of grandeur or places to hang out. Ken just had no real ideas, so he rambled on as best he could, trying to think of an answer for the bunny.

Keith was a good sport, listening and even chiming in a couple times to the initial story. It wasn’t a long one, but the way Keith interacted with Ken as he told it made Ken swell with pride inwardly as he started to tell more tales. Those mundane stories he told took a life of their own as he told them to Keith, each more interesting than the last it seemed. Keith even interjected some of his own tales, albeit briefly, and it gave away that his life had been even more dull and normal than Ken’s had been. This was somewhat of a relief to the tiger, but it made talking no less difficult. The words were pouring like a nervous avalanche from his mouth, and with his mind as racing as it was, it was a miracle he never once slipped up and said something stupid, or made a fool of himself. More than he already had of course.

The small talk about past fun in life didn’t last long, as the teacher came along after about four or five little stories of misadventures from just a few short years ago. A younger-looking badger, the fur was wearing a pressed suit and looked to be all business as he strolled up to the door with a set of keys in his paw. He casually waved the key over the lock, then pushed the door open and strode inside like he owned the place. Ken and Keith shrugged in silence to one another, slowly following the badger into the room. He was already behind the desk, rummaging through a few papers he had apparently put in there earlier, but doing so without paying any attention to the two furs who had followed him in. Both Keith and Ken found desks towards the front of the room, as they were the only two who were in the room aside from the teacher, so sitting way in the back made little sense. Ken hoped the seating wouldn’t be permanent, as he didn’t like the look of the new teacher almost immediately. He also hated being in the front of the room, especially if he was going to be there with older students behind him.

The rummaging by the badger stopped after a minute or so, and he pulled up two stacks of three pieces of paper. He strode over to the two sitting furs, handing each of them their own stack to read at their leisure. Ken started in on it immediately, browsing the headers of each paper. It looked to be rules, a rubric, and a list of major projects that would happen throughout the year. Standard stuff for a student to get, although it seemed a little overkill as it was all just the basics save the year outline. Ken didn’t want to say anything though, so he put the sheets down on top of his two books and waited to file them away until later. Keith had done the same, and just sat there with his arms on his desk while he waited for the lecture to begin. Ken was also waiting, though in his mind he was somewhat dreading it. The badger’s attitude thusfar meant that the lecture would most likely be boring, and about as rule-riddled as Mrs. Steinbrend’s had been.

“Well you two, looks like you’re the only ones here today. I’m Mr. Kinkade, your Government teacher for the remainder of the year. We’ll be joined by some…”

**********

“…and that’s why Locke lost the ’04 elections.” Keith said triumphantly. His head was held high, his ears perked up and his big teeth showing more than they should thanks to his proud grin. Both Ken and Mr. Kinkade applauded politely as Keith took the best bow he could for his size and lapin figure. The bunny then returned to his seat, as the badger looked up at the clock with a light frown.

“Well, as much as it has been fun you two, the bell is going to sound in a minute. I hope you’ve gotten some of an idea for how this class will be run throughout the ye-“ The bell went off before Mr. Kinkade could finish, the loud ring interrupting him. He frowned again, shaking an angry first to the speaker above the clock from which the noise came. Ken and Keith both chuckled at this, standing and taking their things into their paws. The bell stopped it’s noise-making, and no sooner had it than Mr. Kinkade and his lightly-accented voice continued on. “Anyways, I will see you two, along with several juniors, tomorrow. Have a good day!”

Ken and Keith both smiled and waved to the badger as they exited the room. The teacher had been nearly the exact opposite of what Ken had expected, and he counted that as a very pleasant surprise. It wasn’t as if he had expected the absolute worst, but he had expected a cold and calculating teacher, especially since the demeanor he had first seen from Mr. Kinkade was just that. Thankfully that wasn’t who he was though, so Ken stood corrected in his mind and just took solace in the fact that the class was going to be a lot less scary than he had originally feared. The mix of upper class furs in the room wouldn’t help to ease some of his worries, but at least the teacher was going to be friendly enough, and the format that he had discussed with Ken and Keith about how the class was going to work was very unique. It was something Ken loved to boot, so he was looking forward to starting that class properly the next day.

Ken thought little of just walking out of the classroom beside Keith, as he was a new friend who Ken was quite pleased to have made. The tiger had thought about looking at his schedule back in the classroom, but that thought had vanished as soon as he was standing and on his way out the door. His mind was wandering around aimlessly, and yet it wasn’t panicking as it had been before. There was plenty to panic about: the older furs that were going to be in the class, his current class that he needed to get to, his lack of friends aside from Jake and now Keith… There was a list in his head of things that he could be worrying about at that moment. Ken chose not to think about any one of them though, as he wanted nothing more at that moment than to just wander around for a few moments with Keith in silence, and in peace. It was a break for his brain; from sorting, from listing, and from worrying. He desperately needed it, and as he walked alongside Keith in silence, all he could think about was just how comforting the silence was.

Keith’s twitching tail as he walked alongside Ken gave away that he was thinking about something, and Ken was almost brave enough to ask. Almost, but not quite enough, as he just stayed silent and walked alongside his newfound friend for a short while more. Spacing out like he was helped Ken to not think, but looking at Keith again, the bunny seemed to be doing the exact opposite. Ken wasn’t even sure what his next class was, but he was going to head towards a set of stairs before he looked because with how things had been going so far, he expected that he would need those stairs. Keith seemed to be taking the exact opposite of action, as he was fumbling with his schedule while he plodded along as best he could. For Ken’s relaxed mind, that plodding was quite the sight to watch, as Ken hadn’t seen many bunnies before as large, or as tall as Keith. That wide gait and awkward walking motion were almost comical to watch, but fascinating at the same time; it was like watching one’s body rebel against oneself. Keith was handling the so-called ‘rebellion’ fine though as he kept pace with Ken, albeit with a bit more effort.

Upon reaching the stairs, Ken looked to Keith with a faint smile. Keith returned it, then started up the stairs with a groan. The bunny apparently knew where he was going, and as Ken watched him depart up the stairs, he instantly remembered that he needed to know where he was going too. The tiger dug into his pockets as soon as he thought of that, searching for that all-important schedule to help guide him to his next class. The thought of class and all that it entailed sent the river of worries and fears loose again in his mind, but the brief period of solace he had taken while walking was enough to make it manageable. He still didn’t like that it was there though, as he had been becoming more and more like himself and less of the timid, meek tiger that had entered the building. This wasn’t to say he wasn’t always timid and meek, just not to the point that he had been the first couple classes of his day. He was starting to get into the swing of things, and as he did, he was coming out of his shell. Slowly of course, but it was better than not being able to even look at other furs like he had been.

Looking at his map, with the schedule next to it, Ken’s next class was on the floor above him. This was hardly a surprise to the feline, but it wasn’t a fact that he liked thinking about. The class, Basic Planetary Sciences, was at least pretty much directly above him, so there would be little travel time between where he was and his next room. That was little solace though, as it still meant a flight of stairs and having to deal with all the traffic that came with it. He had no idea how these things were going to function the next day with all the students that would be added to them. It was bad enough with just the fresh meat on the stairs, but toss in three more grades of furs and it would be all but impassable. He was sure there had to be some sort of way things would balance out, but he tried not to think about that as he merged into the flow of furs and began to ascend the stairs towards his next class.

The ‘flow’ which Ken had merged into was moving at a good pace, much faster than before when Ken had needed to stairs. It wasn’t stopping at all, for once no others were blocking the door, and he never once needed to stop on a step. He was pleasantly surprised by this fact, as it was not something that he expected whatsoever when he had initially started towards the steps. He had expected another traffic jam, or another set of rude furs clogging the door, but it looked as though all his peers had finally figured out how to properly climb stairs. This may have also had to do with the fact that the whole crowd felt a lot smaller than it had before, so there was less potential for a hold-up in the first place. Ken wasn’t sure which it was, but he didn’t really care about the cause. The end result was what he was after, and that end result was what he liked.

The top of the stairs, and the subsequent third floor that they were attached to, came up rather quickly. Ken needed to make a left once he got out into the hallway, and almost wasn’t ready for it as he was nearly shoved into the hall by the furs behind him. Their pace was pretty quick, and his meandering, spaced out one was not conducive to this. As such, he was getting a little bit more jostled at the top than he had on the way up, and he didn’t like that. It wasn’t comfortable, it made him feel claustrophobic like he had felt earlier in the halls, and most of all it just didn’t seem polite. He wasn’t as afraid of it as he had been earlier though, more just annoyed. He was still far too nervous to say anything though, so he just kept his mouth shut and moved along as quickly as he could, taking that left that he needed to and padding down the hall.

The hall the way he was going was fairly empty, save for a few furs here and there. Ken knew he was headed in the right direction, as he had double-checked his map on the way up the stairs to make sure. The lack of any others around though was making him question his navigation though, so he fumbled with his papers for a moment before getting to the map in order to triple-check it. He stopped once he had the map out, stepping to the side of the hall and looking it over for a brief moment. It was hard to spot where he needed to be on the thing, but he found it after a quick perusal of the material and saw that he was indeed heading in the right direction. There was still not a single fur around though, and that made all of the fears Ken had worked so hard to squelch rear their ugly heads. He was suddenly nervous about the halls being empty again, about the building being too large, and that urge to flee was building inside him like nothing else.

Ken wasn’t about to let nearly 3 hours of internal wrestling be for naught though, so he swallowed down his trepidations and started on towards the class he needed to be in. It was around the corner at the end of the hall, a place he was fast approaching in near-silence. He hadn’t even tried to start humming, as he knew that wasn’t going to help in this case; he was too busy trying to fight back his inward urge to flee. That thing had come back in full-force, and it was enough to put Ken on edge even though he had nothing to truly worry about. All his classes thusfar had been small, so why would this one be any different? Why was it that he was so worried about all this, when in fact he had only one semi-bad experience the entire morning. There was nothing to fear, and yet here he was terrified as he neared the corner. He didn’t get why his mind was reacting so aggressively to all the new changes and thoughts that came from the new place, but he needed it to stop; it was going to drive him mad having to constantly keep himself in mental check.

Starting down the final hall to his destination, Ken breathed a small sigh of relief as he saw a few other furs near a sole door. He hoped that was his class, and by peering at the numbers above the doors around it, he ascertained that it indeed was. This was a little bit of a relief to him, as he knew he wasn’t going to be having class alone. The fact that his peers were there too, and a large number of them, meant that he would at least have something in common with the others in the room. This wasn’t to say that all his fears had been taken care of, but Ken at least was breathing a little easier as he approached. He wasn’t as afraid of the class either until he saw just how many others were there. The number of other freshies, twenty specifically, was more than all of the other classes Ken had been to thusfar, and that made him start to become nervous again as he approached the small group and joined them in waiting.

The tiger did a quick perusal of the classmates he was going to have for the year, and didn’t recognize a single one of them at first. He expected that though, as he leaned against a locker at the outskirts of the group and stood in silence. They all were quietly talking or doing the same, just waiting for the teacher to return from wherever he, or she, had vanished off to. It was the same as it had been for the other classes, just standing there and waiting, though this room at least had a light on, which meant that there had been a teacher in there, or there was and he/she just weren’t ready for the students yet. Ken wasn’t sure of which, but he didn’t bother trying to guess as he stood in silence and just stared at the floor, unable to even look at any of the others around him. He was still trying to contain his fears, and that wouldn’t work if he was giving attention to the others he didn’t know.

“Sorry to keep you waiting folks, come on in.” A rather tall, large elephant opened the door, holding it open with her trunk to let the students in past her. The others began filing in, Ken taking up the rear as his gaze refused to leave the ground until he entered the room. He quickly scanned it for an empty seat, opting for on the far side of the room as that was the most secluded spot at the time. He made his way over once he found that spot, his books held tight to his chest as he took cautious steps along in front of the rows of desks. His ears were flattened back, and his tail drooping, but that was how he had been since he had made it to the third floor, he was just now thinking about it. It probably looked foolish, with his demeanor and body language as submissive and meek as it was in spite of the lack of things to fear. The rarity of those like him in the school wasn’t going to help others remove that image from their heads either; and that made Ken frown inwardly. Ken didn’t want to think about that though, so instead he just shoved all his thoughts down and took his seat, sliding into the chair and quietly putting his books down.

The elephant at the front of the class was smiling, her trunk curled a little bit as she surveyed the class. Her demeanor seemed friendly enough, though Ken was horrid at reading elephants since he rarely saw them outside of school. They were usually teachers, and now that Ken thought about it, the fact that this would be his first elephantine teacher was a little surprising to him. He was used to more, and yet there hadn’t been at this school… It seemed odd to him. Analyzing it futher was impossible though, as the teacher had stopped her browsing and cleared her throat. “Alright, twenty-two of you? Bigger than my class last year… I’m glad. My name is Ms. Lilia, and I will be…”

**********

“…toxic wastes.  So that is why that theory was wrong, Jim.” The bell sounded no sooner had those words left her mouth, and the class was over. Ms. Lilia groaned as it did, lifting her arms and trunk up during the ringing. Ken stood as soon as the bell finished, along with every other fur in the room, and Ms. Lilia smiled to herself. “Always wanted to do that, makes me feel like a conductor… See you all tomorrow!” She smiled again, a sight which Ken was considerably more comfortable with now that he knew how the elephant was. Her attitude was fairly aloof, though she did have somewhat of a mean streak, as she showed when a couple of his peers hadn’t stopped talking during the class. Ken’s ears were still ringing a touch from that, but such was an elephant’s trumpet when they wanted it to be. All in all though, she seemed nice enough, and with the very simple rules she had put forth for the class, Ken decided that this would be another one that he would like.

Lunch was apparently the next thing on the list of his things to do that day, so Ken started his way towards the cafeteria, stopping after going a few steps as he didn’t know which way that was. Lunch was divided into sections so that the students would never fill the cafeteria, and those sections were decided by what class was in your lunch block. Ken had lunch before his class that day, so he was lucky enough to get to into the cafeteria before all the food got cold, and taken. He wasn’t in a rush to get there though, as he doubted he would know anyone, and further doubted he would have a place to sit. Keith and Jake’s chances of having lunch at the same time as him were very slim, and that made Ken apprehensive about even going to lunch at all. He had heard he could show up at the class early, but that was the fastest way to have oneself branded an utter loser, or so he had heard. Ken wasn’t about to do that, so he took out his map just a few steps outside like he needed to in order to find his way, plotted his route, then started off.

Folding the paper and sticking it back into his pocket, Ken sighed and scratched at his belly fur lightly. He hadn’t cleaned himself all day, and his fur was beginning to get sticky because of it. Ever the neat-freak, like much of his species was after all, Ken decided a little detour into the washroom was in order. He wouldn’t dare use the bathrooms in the school; those were just foul. He only wanted to wash up, and since there was a washroom near the cafeteria, that seemed like the safest bet for him to get cleaned up before eating. It would take a couple minutes off the time he would need to awkwardly sit alone, as he had all but decided that eating alone was going to be his only option at that point. He would need it after eating as well, so leaving a few minutes early seemed to be in his plan as well as he continued on to the cafeteria; less time spent in there alone was better after all.

Ken’s trek to the dining hall was blocked by his newfound nemesis: stairs. He needed to be on the second floor, but so did about half of his grade from the looks of it, as the usual traffic jam had formed just like clockwork at the top of the stairs. Ken sighed and looked at the blockage patiently; he was in no rush to get anywhere after all. He instead just surveyed for a time, watching for his chance to slip into the river of fur and scales which was slowly making its way down the stairs. As he did, the tiger could hear the reason for the roadblock from where he was standing; a fight was brewing at the bottom, and that made his fur stand on end just slightly. His reaction seemed to be in line with others as he looked around, a few sets of bared fangs and some bristled fur were common as other furs came within earshot of the argument.

This took Ken by surprise slightly, as he slipped into line behind a small gecko. He was expecting others to ignore the fight and move on instead of just listening and getting as annoyed as he had. It was probably instinctual for them to react that way, as that was what it felt like to Ken. Some of those furs didn’t have the same instincts he did though, so he had to wonder whether they had heard the same thing he had… That the fight was over a species’ right to be in the building. That seemed just out and out dumb to him, with the true melting pot of furs and scales that the building was, and yet sure enough he heard it again; the fight was about whether or not a doe had a right to be there. He was taken aback that such a common species would be singled out in the first place, but also that this would even be allowed to be spoken of so early in the year. He was sure that a teacher had to be on the way, or something like that.

As he got nearer to the incident though, his faith that someone would come along dwindled. It was three large bears ganging up on a smaller doe and her friend, circling them both and taunting. One of the deer was crying, and the other was shouting some pretty venomous things at the group of circling, taunting bears. They were all saying just as cruel things back, their circle closing in slowly to the two females. Things didn’t look good, and Ken wasn’t about to try and step in to stop them. Not only did he not have the strength to do it, he also didn’t have the gall. He would just have to hope that another would take care of the situation, as telling any teacher would be as bad as stepping in for him; both would get him recognition, and all he wanted was whatever the opposite of being recognized was. That in mind, he simply kept on walking around the incident like all the others did in front of and behind him.

As he passed the altercation, one of the bears just happened to see him. His meek demeanor, with ears flattened and tail drooping and fur made him easy prey to the beast, and the instant Ken saw the bear looking at him, he knew what was coming. He tried to hurry up his pace, looking back at the floor as soon as his eyes met the bear’s. It was too late though, for he hadn’t taken another step towards freedom till he felt a paw on his shoulder pulling him back. He tried to squirm out of it, but the paw enveloped his entire shoulder, and part of his arm; he wasn’t going anywhere. It was a sudden jolt to him, and his mind went into full panic mode the second he realized that he was trapped. He didn’t want this to happen, yet he had no choice in the matter as the paw began to tug him back against the flow of traffic. As the tiger brushed against a few others, he tried his utmost to squirm away, an instinctual mew escaping his muzzle.

Not a sole fur even attempted to help though, and as Ken started to truly panic and flail a bit, a couple even looked at him with disdain. He was the victim, and yet a few others were looking at him as though he was asking for it? Ken’s mind was already reeling from the thought of getting stuck in the circle like the two does, but to have such lack of compassion from his peers… That just threw another thing into the deluge of emotions screaming through his body. He was mad, confused, terrified, hurting, timid, anxious, apprehensive… All those things hit his body, and in spite of the loud noise and rumbling bellows of the bears, all Ken could hear was his heartbeat in his ears. Terror had gripped him finally, and it had taken over every other feeling in his body. His urge to flee was back, stronger than it had been even at the entrance to the school at the start of that day. His eyes darted back and forth, looking for any sort of exit that he could find. His fur was puffed out as much as it could be; even his claws had come out for this one.

The paw released Ken and he stumbled back, glaring at the large bear who had taken him aside with as much malice as he could muster. His outward appearance was one of attacking, but inwardly, he was as scared as a newborn cub. He had no idea where to begin to get away, and fighting them was out of the question. He knew he had to look brave though, and put on the best show he could to his newfound captors. Ken wasn’t even sure if he was doing it right, but as the bear who had taken him aside approached him, that didn’t seem to matter. “Whadda we got ‘ere? A tiger so scared even his colors went off to hide?” Ken didn’t have a response to that, so he simply glowered back at the bear. “Come on faggot, say something! Why are yer colors all fucked up?”

Ken still gave no response, which prompted the bear to come within inches of him. Ken could feel the other’s warm breath coming down onto him through the two flared nostrils in front of his eyes, and that only served to terrify him more. He knew he was going to get hit, and what would happen afterwards… He wasn’t sure. Maybe they would get in trouble, or maybe he would get lucky and another fur would step in? He was trying to trick his mind into thinking either one of those scenarios would come to pass, but it just wasn’t working; he knew how much apathy was in that building. He had to just brace himself for impact, and hope for the best. That in mind, he stood his ground as best he could and just glared at the bear.

“Fuckin’ faggot! I’m doin’ is askin’ a simple question and yer being an asshole! I know yer kind is a bunch of orange queers, but you…” The bear grabbed Ken by the scruff on his chest, hoisting the tiger off the ground. “You sure as shit aren’t orange. Momma’s pussy scrape the color off you when she spat your faggot ass out? Daddy suck it off while he was making you his little bitch? Huh?” The grip tightened, and as Ken stayed silent, the bear’s eyes narrowed and he looked at Ken with such anger and hatred that it scared Ken to his core. He knew this wasn’t going to end well, and with as much hatred as the bear had, he could only imagine what was in the other two bears. “Or is this just what happens when a stripey cat goes around and fucks other stripey cats you inbred homo?” Silence had taken over the hall by this point, eyes turning on the shouting bear and the tiger he was holding inches from the ground. “Fuckin’ tell me why, now!”

No response again, as Ken wasn’t going to give the brute the time of day if he didn’t have to. The grip on his chest tightened after another moment of sheer silence, making Ken wince slightly with pain. He had dropped his books by this point, his arms moving to grip the one holding him up by his chest fur. His eyes were still darting around in panic, as despite his collected appearance, he was so close to having a full panic attack that he could feel his airway closing up. His peers had stopped at this point to watch what was going on, as even the does had stopped whimpering and the other two bears were looking on. So many eyes on him wasn’t helping… Ken needed out, and fast. “So that’s how it is, huh? I guess Mom and Dad were right; all you tiger inbred fucks are a bunch of pussy ass faggots.” And with that, the bear wound up his fist to bring it down square on Ken’s face. Ken blinked, bracing himself for what was about to happen, but not preparing to get hit.

The bear’s fist didn’t connect with the tiger’s face; it connected with nothing at all. Ken had twisted himself a split second before the fist could land so that it missed his entire body. He had done this by gripping the bear’s arm and twisting that rather than himself, which in turn twisted his own body as a result of that motion. The twist had been towards the bear’s claws too, which while sharp, were not the best for hanging onto the soft flesh of Ken’s chest. This meant that the tiger was able to get out of the bear’s grip with only four large cuts to his chest rather than losing several teeth and getting seriously injured; he could handle cuts. His paws, still tightly gripped to the bear’s arm, though now that he was free of said arm, could use the grip he had on the large appendage to his advantage. Taking what little strength he had and using the leverage of the bear’s lost momentum to his advantage, Ken bore down and heaved as hard as he could towards the wall.

It worked, and the bear left his feet in an instant and was sailing through the air at least four feet off the ground. Ken barely even got a chance to let go of the other’s arm, as it was almost too easy to throw him with such strength to take advantage of. Using that leverage, Ken got some distance out of the bear, smashing him hard into the wall between the two other bears and the does. He missed both of them by scant inches, and a loud crunch was heard the second his flesh and bone hit the brick wall. The bear didn’t stick in the wall like the movies though, instead bouncing off the bricks of the wall and tumbling to the ground in a heap head-first. Ken blinked again, though it was more of a cringe at the sound of the bear landing on his head and left shoulder on the tile floor than a blink. The whole thing had happened so fast, that not only had he just started to bleed from the gashes on his chest, but he hoped few would actually have noticed.

To those around that hadn’t blinked, of which there were several, the sight was jaw-dropping. For a tiger of Ken’s stature to throw a bear nearly ten feet as if he weighed nothing, especially with what now was fast turning into a gaping chest wound… It was unbelievable. Not a single fur on the stairs said a word, and for a few moments the only sound that could be heard was the groans and howls of pain from the thrown bear. They all just stared at Ken, dumbstruck and in awe of what had just transpired before them. Ken hadn’t been prepared for that sort of reaction, as he simply stood there just as silently and still as the crowd of furs behind him. He was partially in shock from what he had just done, and the implications of it. Most of his mind wanted to grab his books and just flee the scene though, but he knew that would probably be a bad idea. He was bleeding a little too much now to try that, as he had underestimated the wound those claws would give him. It wasn’t as bad as it looked, but he would still probably need to be stitched up by the nurse; though it was still a far better alternative to being an unconscious punching bag.

A hoot of approval broke the silence, soon followed by a clap. Ken was stunned as he heard that; he was getting applauded for standing up for himself? His reaction had been instinct, and nothing worthy of applause or anything along those lines. He had probably just seriously injured that bear too, as well as possibly gotten himself suspended. There was a building of applause though, along with several hoots and hollers of praise coming from behind him. Ken was completely dumbfounded, only fanning the flames of the shock which was now freezing every vein in his body. He couldn’t speak; he couldn’t even move consciously he was so stunned and scared. All those eyes on him, all that attention; it was enough to drive Ken to nearly bursting with fear. The tiger had to bend down to grab his dropped books and papers just to keep from looking at any of them and letting the fear make him vomit. As he did, Ken was starting to feel dizzy as he was getting so overwhelmed with the situation a split-second reaction had caused. He couldn’t faint though; he refused to give in and let his mind win this round, even if it meant choking down puke and standing with a clear wobble.

His resolve wasn’t going to help his balance unfortunately, and as he stood back up from retrieving his books, he started to lose his footing. Reaching out towards a handrail to steady himself, Ken felt several paws hold him up. Now all his peers wanted to help, after Ken had taken out the main source of fear. It sickened Ken, and had he been more cognoscente he may have even said something about that newfound bravery every one of the furs around him was suddenly experiencing. Instead, he simply put a paw on the nearest arm he could reach, steadying himself for a moment before removing that paw and standing back up straight. He was going to be alright; he was going to have to be alright if he wanted to make it to the nurse. His head was still spinning, and he was still barely able to even see straight thanks to how dizzy and terrified he was of the results of his actions. Nausea was beginning to truly grip him as well, as his stomach was slowly twisting into knots now that his mind was settling into the several bad things that were going to happen to him. He wasn’t going to make it out of this without a scolding, he was sure of it, and that scared him more than even the bleeding from his chest did.

“H-Hey…” A rabbit came forward from the group of furs near Ken, barely larger than Ken himself. Ken turned his gaze to the rabbit, and looked at him for a brief moment before turning his gaze to the ground in both shame and fear. The lapin seemed almost scared of Ken, which was another surprise to the still-terrified tiger; he wasn’t scary. He had just thrown a bear more than double his size, so that might be seen as intimidating, but scary wasn’t something that Ken was. He looked at the rabbit for a moment again, trying to convey that by a look alone. It didn’t seem to work though, as the fear in the rabbit’s eyes, twitching nose, and pressed-back ears didn’t ebb in the slightest. It only seemed to get worse in fact, as though Ken was sizing him up or something. That was far from the case, but as Ken opened his mouth to speak, he found that words were still unable to even be thought of, let alone formed.

“Y-You…Ok?” The lapin barely muttered, his eyes now glued to the floor and his voice wavering timidly. Ken was unable to answer that, so he simply shook his head; the pain in his chest was starting to push its way to the forefront of his mind in spite of all the noise that the panic had set off.  He was still mentally in a tailspin, but he was hurt, and he knew it now that the initial shock had given way to some level of thinking. This level of thinking was rudimentary at best, but it was all his body could do against the onslaught of rebellion from his limbs. His body wasn’t his at that moment, and his mind was just barely. It was enough to make Ken want to run as far away as he could, but he couldn’t; he’d brought enough attention to himself for one day “I-I can s-show you to the nurse…”

Ken nodded feebly, and the rabbit quickly scurried past him. The lapin gave a wide berth to the bears, as the two left standing were huddled over their downed companion trying to ascertain whether or not the ursine was still even alive. Ken was sure that the bear was still alive, just in what state was to be determined. That thought sent a pang of fear through his veins oncemore, and it visibly shook him as he reached for the handrail to steady himself once again. The lapin looked concerned at that, but he didn’t move to help; fear was still plastered all over his face. That bothered Ken too, but nothing could be done about it. He wasn’t in the shape mentally to handle consoling another at that point, nor would he be physically for too much longer as the pangs of pain from his chest began to spread throughout his entire torso. It wouldn’t be long before the pain would be too much to bear when coupled with all that was racing through his mind, so Ken decided that quickening his pace towards the rabbit would be in his best interest.

As he started down the stairs, one paw clutching the handrail and the other holding his books, the rabbit looked up at him from the landing below with a both concerned and fearful expression. Ken winced with pain as he took that first step, his torso not liking that movement at all. He would have to press on though, so he just sucked down the pain with a hard swallow and took the next step. It was enough to make him wince again, but he was already starting to feel the pain less from just that one burst of resolve he forced upon himself. The third step was even less, and he barely even winced on the fourth. Ken took that as a good sign, and slowly started to get his speed up as he descended the final few steps. He was walking mostly normally by the time he got to the landing, which prompted a very faint smile from the rabbit.

Some of the furs who had watched the entire affair were still looking as Ken went down the stairs, but most had begun hauling out and onto their next destination. Ken was thankful for this, but at the same time he couldn’t help but worry about the bear he had left in a heap at the top of the steps. Granted, the bear had deserved it and Ken did feel little remorse for what he had done when he thought about it rationally. He still did feel a little twinge of guilt though as he looked up the stairs one last time at the bear, who was now in less of a heap thanks to his friends. He was still groaning in pain, and the other furs passing him watched and listened. They were all talking in hushed whispers, gesturing down at Ken as he stood there for a moment observing them. It was like watching a dream in slow motion, all that whispering, the stares, the glares from the three bears which he had humiliated… Ken was getting dizzy again.

He reached for the railing to steady himself again, tearing his gaze away from the scene he was leaving as he vainly tried to focus on descending the stairs in front of him. He still had seven more stairs before he would be on the ground floor, and from there apparently the rabbit he was following knew how to get to the nurse. The tiger slowly started his way down those stairs, gripping the handrail harder as he had less adrenaline and fear powering his weakening frame. That shock had taken more out of him than he wanted to admit, and coupled with his injury, it was going to be tough to make it all the way to wherever he needed to go without sitting and collecting himself. His lapin guide was waiting for him at the foot of the stairs with a both impatient and concerned look, watching Ken take each step slowly. The fear in his eyes had finally given way to worry, though it was still somewhat present as Ken looked for it.

Each stair was easier than the last for Ken, as gravity was helping him along so he had to do little work himself. The final step was easiest again, though that was a task in and of itself as the fear was starting to wear off now that the visuals of the incident were no longer constantly reminding him. His footfalls were heavy for a feline as he slowly approached the lapin, but he wasn’t trying to be stealthy at that point; he just wanted to get to the nurse as quick as his fatigued frame could. The rabbit saw this, and quickly scurried up the hallway in front of Ken as only a lapin could. It was quite the sight, and Ken could’ve sworn part of him thought it looked cute to watch that fluffy tail hop along. He wasn’t gay. It was just the pain and the shock working their way into his mind. He had to keep that thought out of his head, and thusly he redoubled his efforts on concentrating at putting one footpaw in front of the other.

That was an easier task the further he got from the stairs, and the less his mind went berserk. It was starting to calm down at long last, the shock all but gone by the time he caught up to the rabbit at the corner of the hall. It was replaced by dread and pain, which were feelings, and better than being numb and unable to even think in his opinion. This isn’t to say that was what he wanted, as he still was fighting the very strong urge to flee at every turn, but that was calming down too as his instincts realized there was no escaping from this. That was quite hard for his mind to admit; he was a predator after all, and predators didn’t generally lose fights. He hadn’t lost that one, but the repercussions of it were things he was most likely going to lose, and that was an impossible concept to wrap his head around while his body was still in attack-mode. The whole mindset was wearing off with every step he took, and that was making it easier to accept, but as he rounded the corner, he knew it would take a little while longer before he was fully back to being able to manage his mind again.

The lapin had hopped just a little bit further up the hall, stopping at a door and waiting with his nose twitching. He was all concern now, but it wasn’t warranted in Ken’s mind. The pain had ebbed slightly as he had walked, and though it was still fairly bad, it wasn’t as debilitating as it had been when he had first noticed it. He didn’t dare look down at his wound thanks to his fear of both blood and seeing himself hurt. He knew it was bleeding though as his torso felt fairly warm down to his stomach, and that was sign enough for him to think that he would need stitches to fix himself up. He knew the school could do it, but he hoped that it wouldn’t cost money for it to be done; his dad would never forgive him for costing the family money. He couldn’t think about that though, as he had enough worries in the here and now, and focusing on those was more important.

He finally made it to the door the lapin was standing beside, following smaller fur inside the room. Ken had made it, and instantly he felt a wave of relief wash right over his body. The last bits of adrenaline and apprehension in his system fell away thanks to that, and for a split second his mind had nothing in it but peace. “Ms. Lokheart! Nurse!” The lapin shouted that out as soon as Ken was inside the room, making that feeling of relief stay in Ken for a moment longer. He was going to get himself stitched, he could explain what happened with the lapin as his witness, and it would all be alright. He hoped for that at least, as he had to catch himself on the desk thanks to the sudden drop in energy. He wasn’t going to be able to stand for too much longer; he was too drained. That surge of hope and loss of any remaining adrenaline was going to be the last nail in the coffin for him if he didn’t fight it, and luckily he still had an ounce of fight left.

“What? What is… Oh gods! Come here dear, right now.” The nurse as an older gorilla, and looked shocked to see such an injury on Ken. She looked conflicted as to whether or not to help Ken move, so instead she rushed over to the beds that were lined against the far wall. She patted the closest bed to her, gesturing for the bunny to bring Ken over. Ken shook his head though, seeing the fear in those flattened ears return the second the suggestion had clicked with the rabbit. Ken could do it, as he didn’t want to burden others with his own predicament more than he already had. He gave a nod of thanks to the rabbit as he walked past, very faintly smiling over a grimace as he started moving again. Starting movements always hurt the worst, so managing a smile while he did it was a feat in and of itself for Ken.

That was enough to get the rabbit’s ears fully-flattened, as he sighed and wrapped an arm around Ken. He then took Ken’s empty arm and draped it over his shoulder, supporting the tired tiger as he slowly made his way over to the bed. Ken was shocked by the sudden display, as the rabbit had done all he could the entire trip to the nurse to stay far away from Ken. Yet here he was, touching the tiger without any real fear or trepidation. It was a complete 180 from earlier, and tossed another wrench into Ken’s mental workings as he slowly walked with the lapin supporting him. The smaller fur wasn’t helping a lot in holding Ken upright, but having some balance added to his frame did wonders for keeping himself steady, and thusly made moving about a lot easier for Ken. The trek over to the bed would’ve been hard, but with the lapin’s help Ken was able to manage it just fine.

Once he got there, he eased himself down onto the bed with a loud groan, dangling his legs off the end and looking up at the gorilla which loomed over him. He was a touch nervous now that he saw just how large the elderly primate was up close, but that concerned look and gentle paw that rested on his leg as he sat there put him at ease almost immediately. She looked at the lapin after a moment of looking at Ken’s chest, frowning and using a rather stern tone as she spoke. “Now, tell me what happened.”

“A bruin picked ‘im up by the chest, threatening to beat him to a pulp. This tiger here though… He did some kung-fu stuff on that there bear and went him flying into a wall. It was epic!” The lapin’s tone was full of admiration, as if he had been trying to hold that in the entire time. What Ken had done he hardly considered epic, but the rabbit seemed to think otherwise, and looked at Ken with an approving nod once he finished telling the nurse the very short version. Ken just feebly smiled back, his head still spinning in circles but not thanks to dizziness anymore; that had gone away the second he was off his feet. His mind wasn’t calmed though, it felt worse in fact as the noise got louder again. It would take at least hearing that he wasn’t going to be in serious trouble for what he had done to truly calm him down.

“Did the bear start it, or our feline friend?”

“The bruin just yanked ‘im out of the crowd. I was standing a couple furs behind ‘im when it happened. I saw the entire thing, and I can tell you that this tiger is innocent. One hundred percent.” The lapin nodded again, his demeanor changing by the second to one of aloofness and pride. He had just helped a school hero the way he was acting, and it made Ken flush slightly under his fur. In trouble or not, it was kind of nice to have such back up from a complete stranger. He took solace in that, and eased some of his concerns knowing that he was at least going to be vouched for should anyone want to question his story. He was still worried about the reprecussions from the bears though, but that wasn’t something he would need to worry about in the immediate future, or at least he hoped… That other bear would probably need to come down to the nurse too.

“Alright, what are your names?”

“Oh I’m Luke.” The rabbit said enthusiastically. He and the nurse then looked at Ken expectantly, who paused for a moment before swallowing and uttering the first sound he had since the entire incident had occurred minutes before.

“Ken…” he uttered, barely audible.

“Well Ken, that’s a pretty bad wound you have on you. I’m going to need to have a look at it to see if you need stitches or not… And if you do, I’m going to need to call your parents to get approval before I stitch you up. That other bear you attacked-”

“He didn’t attack ‘im! He was defending ‘imself!” Luke blurted out, looking at the gorilla with a frown. She glared right back; apparently she wasn’t a fan of being interrupted. The look shut the rabbit up and made him flatten his ears, but he still looked to be mad about the insinuation the gorilla had put forth. Ken was a little perturbed by it as well, but he wasn’t about to try and saying anything that would be construed as defending his actions. He had attacked in his mind, though out of self-defense. Thusly, that made his actions indefensible.

“As I was saying, that bear you attacked, was he hurt?” Ken shrugged, as he genuinely didn’t know what had happened to that other bear. He hadn’t tried to hurt him, but flinging him as hard as he had must not have felt good. “Where did this happen?” Another shrug; Ken didn’t know which stair it had been in without looking at a map. “Ken… You have to give me something to work with here. I need to send someone out or have a teacher check to make sure that other bear is ok. Your friend here can vouch for you that you defended yourself, but if we leave a student injured and alone, we could get sued.” Ken nodded, though unsure of what answers he was going to give to the nurse. “Now, where did this happen.”

Ken reached into his pocket, pulling out his map after a moment of fumbling around inside the fabric case. He unfolded the thing, looking at it for a moment to get his bearings. He was feeling dizzy again, probably thanks to the nerves of what he was about to point out. It was coming back to him too, as he had already been able to forget just a little. He just wanted to forget, and that wouldn’t happen as long as he needed to point out where he had taken the bear down. So he looked over the map quickly, trying to find where he was so that he could point out the stairs on the map. He was obviously frustrated with it, as his muzzle scrunched up into a snarl and his ears flattened.

After a moment of just staring at the map, puzzled and getting moreso by the second, Luke’s paw entered Ken’s field of vision and pointed at the stairs which it had happened. “Here, on the second floor.” Ken looked up at Luke, who was smiling back with a large grin that prominently displayed his large teeth. It looked cute, and Ken wasn’t going to remind himself of his denial this time; it was perfectly reasonable to say that face was cute.

“Thanks…” Ken murmured, a bit more audible this time as he slowly regained control over his vocal cords. They were still somewhat frozen, but it had been long enough; he needed them back now, and his body seemed to agree finally. After muttering what he had, he looked at the nurse with a nod, pointing to the stairs as well. She looked back and nodded, sighing and turning to head into her office. She turned back around to take one last peak at the map to confirm where the incident had actually happened. Once she was satisfied, which took nary a second, she headed off for her office. It was just a few steps from where she was, and once she was inside she shut the door behind her and pushed her palm down on the phone to activate it.

This left Luke and Ken alone in the room, with Ken looking at the floor and putting a paw on his chest while Luke leaned on the bed next to him. That paw made a rather disgusting noise as it squelched against the bleeding wound on the tiger’s chest, but Ken did his best to just ignore it. He didn’t want to think about the pain right then; he wanted to be somewhere else entirely, both mentally and physically. His body screamed at him to make this so, and he had to truly fight it to keep anything from happening. This was thanks to his natural instinct to flee beginning to rage through his mind, as the one which was making him want to fight his way out had finally gone back into dormancy like it was supposed to. That fact was a small victory for Ken, but one that he needed in order to make sure that he would be able to maintain control over his body. With fight gone though, flight posed a new threat, as it has been hiding behind the predator instincts Ken had been feeling up until the nurse had started towards her office.

“That hurt?” Luke’s voice broke Ken’s train of thought, and for a moment he wasn’t sure where the voice had even come from. The tiger gathered his senses quickly though, and looked to Luke with a nod and a feeble smile. It still was a task for him to talk, so he didn’t want to try, but instead would just nod as much as he could. “It looks like it. Yer a brave one ya know? I wouldn’ be able to do anything like that. Nope, not me.” Luke shook his head, that admiration he had once held in his eyes returning as he looked up at Ken. It was still a little surprising to Ken, but his thoughts were starting to settle into two camps of both dread and acceptance. The acceptance camp did love the praise, and took it with a blush and another smile. The dread camp just saw him as a witness to what had happened, and for the faintest of times, Ken felt that instinct to kill seep back into his blood. It wasn’t strong and he barely even noticed it, but it was there and he was terrified that he could even think such a thing.

“It… It was nothing…” Ken murmured, his voice barely above a whisper.

“That was hardly nothin’, it was… It was like watching a Kung-Fu movie happen right in front of ya! Ya moved so damned fast, and the way that bear went through the air…” The rabbit’s admiration was there, in full force, as he spoke. Ken barely registered it that time though, as his eyes were starting to feel heavy at that point, making him feel as though he was going to pass out. His body certainly wanted to, the stimulus to his system gone and nothing else there to keep his mind going. This isn’t to say that his thoughts had calmed down whatsoever, but more that he had finally begun to breathe a little easier, and as such was starting to lose that rush which had kept him awake. The high was waning, and with it was his consciousness. Ken needed to stay awake though, and he knew that… However the call of sleep, or even just shutting his eyes, was just too strong to resist at that moment in time. Had it been any other time, or any other place, he might have been able to fight it, but this was just too much for his small frame to handle. Ken knew his limits, and he knew he had passed them.

“Ms. Lockhert!” A voice bellowing from the door snapped Ken out of his drowsiness and into reality again. It gave him that surge of excitement he needed to stay awake, and as such let him focus back on reality and calming his mind down further. His mind was still going rapid-fire, still reeling and still thinking of the many possibilities for reprimand that could come about of throwing another student ten feet through the air. It wasn’t like each one was bad, but most of them were, and most of them didn’t take into account that the act was indeed self-defense. Ken wasn’t inherently violent, and all the witnesses had been there to see what had happened… Ken was just still afraid he would be to blame for the other’s injuries, even if they had been inflicted while the tiger was trying to keep himself from getting injured. That thought alone was what made most of his preconceived fears viable, for if he removed that from the equation; innocence reigned supreme.

A light gasp from the bunny beside Ken caught his attention, and he looked to the rabbit to see what was going on. Luke’s eyes were glued to the door, and Ken knew why even before his gaze joined the bunny’s. The bear was standing in the door, supported by one of his friends with the other taking up the rear. All three of them saw Ken the second they entered, and while it was clear that they were not happy about it, they all seemed more concerned with getting their friend checked than anything else. The bear that Ken had tossed like a rag doll did indeed look hurt, as one of his arms hung limp by his side and he was groaning with pain. Ken hoped that it was nothing too serious, in spite of the fact that he knew the ursine had been asking for it the second he had begun threatening Ken. All the tiger cared about was his conscience, which was screaming at him at that moment to get up and go see if his adversary was truly seriously injured. His inner predator wanted to attack again however, to keep his adversary at bay, and that alone abolished any ideas of talking to the bear from his mind instantly.

The bruins made no moves towards Ken at first, instead moving right towards the nurse’s office and knocking on the door as soon as they could. She held up a hand, signaling for them to wait just a minute. They didn’t want to however, and banged again. She then turned to look, gasped, said something into the phone, and then put her paw over it to hang up. She then raced to the door, opening it and pointing to a bed beside Ken. All three bruins frowned and instead went for the bed furthest from Ken. “No, I need him next to the tiger so that I don’t have to run up and down.” The gorilla apparently didn’t care that the bruins were the ones that had been in the fight with Ken, or she just wasn’t putting two and two together. Either way, the bears had no choice but to start hauling their friend over to Ken and Luke, which made Luke’s ears flatten back and his nose twitch nervously.

Ken watched the entire thing as his heart started to pound up in his throat. His fur was starting to bristle again, and he could feel that fight or flight urge building inside him. Fear prompted that urge more than anything, and though it wasn’t as strong as before, it was still there and causing more havoc in his mind. The closer the trio of ursines got to him, the more he felt it. This was going to be a long stay at the nurse, and if Ken had his way, he would’ve just left then and there. Unfortunately for Ken though, he knew, and had finally accepted, that leaving would be even worse for him. Thusly had to fight less of that urge to flee, but that didn’t mean he was completely safe in his head. His urge to attack like a cornered beast was coming out in force though, and his bristling fur and fast-flicking tail gave it away. His muzzle involuntarily curled into a snarl as the bears got closer still, and he could see the same on them as he looked. All three snarling beasts bearing down on him was making hiding the need to defend himself harder; Ken could even feel that fear coming from Luke. This wasn’t going to be pretty, and Ken could feel that as the tension in the room rose.

“Both of you had better get your acts together right now or I’ll have Ms. Egis come down and make sure you two behave.” The gorilla’s tone was serious, and Ken knew it. He did his best to clear the snarl from his face, but the bear seemed to just not care and continued growling faintly. The fear which came from that, which gnawed at Ken’s chest and nerves like rabid vermin, only got stronger as the ursines’ actions persisted. It was becoming almost dangerous for Ken, as the fur was going to fly if nothing changed. He knew that, he could feel it, and with the three of him against both himself and Luke… The results were very unlikely to fall in his favor. Though, if they were all as bad at fighting as the bear had been… No, he couldn’t have a repeat of the stairs in a room with two innocent bystanders and so much medical equipment, which was undoubtedly expensive.

The nurse watched the entire exchange, and her frown grew stronger as her own muzzle contorted into a snarl as it worsened. She gave the bears a few moment to collect themselves and make any sort of effort to try and calm down as Ken had, but once they didn’t, she got angry. “Ok, you three either calm down right now or get out. In fact, the two of you who are fine, if you aren’t in class in two minutes I will have you suspended.” The bears didn’t respond immediately, and that did nothing to help the primate’s demeanor. “Now!”

“Yes ma’am,” they muttered in unison, casting last glares at Ken before turning and heading towards the door as slowly as they could. Neither completely turned their back on the feline, and both looked ready to race over and defend their friend if needbe. Bears weren’t ones to be in packs, so Ken found this a touch confusing, but he had little brain power left to see it in any other way than that. He was concentrating on watching them leave, his fur slowly flattening back out as his ears perked up again. He still wasn’t back to normal by any stretch, as there still was his attacker in the bed next to him. He was at least calming down though, as the bears reached the door and took one last, glowering look back at Ken before opening it. They paused for a moment, the door open as their eyes narrowed to slits and they looked at the tiger for a time. Ken looked back, his eyes more fearful than glaring as he tried to shrink down into his bed; fight or flight had shirked its responsibility and turned into hiding.

The two ended up leaving after a brief staredown though, and that was enough for Ken to finally take a breath. His apprehension went down immensely after they had gone, as he somewhat knew the bear in the bed next to him wasn’t going to attack; he couldn’t even if he wanted to from the looks of things. It wasn’t as if there was going to be some sudden surge of strength from him after all… Ken had done some damage, and for that he was at least momentarily thankful. He wasn’t proud of what he had done still, but he was relieved that he had done it enough to make sure that he couldn’t be attacked. It was a consolation prize of sorts, though Ken wished he didn’t even need to have a consolation prize at all. He still wished it hadn’t happened, and probably would for as long as he continued on thinking about what had happened. Pushing it from his mind as long as he was sitting next to his ‘victim’ wasn’t going to happen though, so he instead tried to just accept it and move on.

“Now, you two are going to behave and sit in silence until I get off the phone with the vice principal. I don’t want to have to come out and separate you two, and if I do… May the gods help you both.” The gorilla’s voice was stern, and yet some part of it was kind hidden beneath the annoyance. She did genuinely care what happened to the both of them; Ken could tell. He appreciated that, and gave a feeble nod of agreement to her demands. The bear did the same, looking a lot more feeble than he had while his friends were around. Luke did as well, his ears still pressed against his head and his nose twitching in nervousness. He looked like he was about to bolt; he was just a witness after all, and Ken was a little worried that his witness leaving would have dire consequences for him. That couldn’t happen, but it wasn’t like Ken was in any shape to stop him, so he wanted to try and do what he could to keep Luke around. “Ok, you all be good. Oh, and I need your name bear.” The ursine muttered something that Ken couldn’t hear, which was for the best as putting a name with his attacker would make it seem almost  too real for him.

Satisfied, Ms. Lokheart went off to her office again, quietly shutting the door behind her as she entered it. She went straight for her phone, pushing a paw onto it to start the call again as she stood, looking at the three furs in her room. She watched them for a few moments as she spoke to her phone, then turned away once she started the conversation with the vice principal. Ken gulped the second she turned around, his gaze leaving her and meandering over to the bear beside him. The bear was looking right at him, and for a while the silence was awkward, and tense to say the very least. He looked to want to say something, but Ken also wanted to say a great many things to him as well. Both were quiet though, and didn’t try to utter a word for a long moment, instead just choosing to look at one another in the silence of the room. It was so quiet in fact that Ken’s heavy breathing seemed almost grating to the feline, and he concentrated for a moment on making it slow down and be quieter.

Ken felt Luke squirm on the bed beside him, as his foot kicked the tiger’s bed. The feline let out a light yelp of surprise and turned around to look at Luke, who was working his way to standing. Ken’s expression was one of panic as soon as he saw this, for he didn’t want the rabbit to leave at all yet. He in fact wanted that lapin to stay the entire time to not only keep him company, but to be a witness in case something else was going to happen. Ken knew deep down nothing else would happen, but that fear of something happening still lingered in him, and it was a persistent feeling to say the least. He didn’t want to say all that though, as not only did he have no idea where to begin, but he also didn’t want to make the rabbit even more uncomfortable than he surely already was. He felt as though he would have to though, but opening his muzzle and making words tumble forth was going to be a difficult task.

Luke was on his feet by that point, looking down at Ken with the same fear in his eyes that he had expressed when he had first spoken to the tiger. The fear wasn’t directed at Luke now though, it was more aimed for the bear in the bed beside Luke, who was looking at the rabbit too with a light frown. That wasn’t helping Luke’s waning desire to stay and hang around the tiger, and Ken could see this as his expression began to turn more and more fearful. His tail twitches, his ears were plastered back, his nose was going wild… The poor bunny had even begun to shake slightly. Ken wasn’t going to have any of that; this rabbit had shown him compassion, and being intimidated away by the bear was unacceptable.

“H…Hey, stop looking at him like that…” Ken barely managed to squeak out, turning back to look at the bear with a frown. The bear turned his eyes back to Ken, narrowing them slightly as he simply huffed and rolled onto his side. He was facing away from both Ken and Luke now, and as soon as he was Luke’s paw gripped Ken’s arm tightly. That short arm meant the rabbit was close to Ken, and for a split second Ken felt as though that closeness could linger for a great while. He wasn’t gay. He turned to Luke after reminding himself, and gave a slightly quizzical look to the rabbit. Luke’s face was contorted into both fear and gratitude, a mix which was odd to Ken to say the least. He wasn’t sure of what to say in that moment, but Ken knew something needed to be said to calm Luke back down; the lapin was still shaking. “You ok?”

“Y-Yeah… Thank you.”  Luke stuttered, sounding much like Ken had throughout the morning. It was a slight shock to Ken, the stark change in the lapin’s personality just from how terrified he had gotten… And Ken was pretty upset by it. He was still trying to collect his own thoughts, and in his selfish need to do that, he hadn’t even thought about the rabbit’s. He didn’t want to even try and think about how nerve-wracking it must have been to approach him after he had thrown the bear like that. He wouldn’t have been able to do it in the slightest, and that was on a good day. A bad one like this, he would’ve just kept walking and not even been able to watch what had happened. He was just that afraid of others, and this lapin was starting to seem like he was too… So why had he come over to Ken and helped him? Not a single other fur had, and yet the one who seemed incredibly similar to him had done so just out of kindness… It was another thing Ken was going to agonize over for the next few days, and he knew it.

For now though, he was going to focus as best he could on trying to keep his mind from exploding with all the thoughts that were tearing through it. The bear’s silence and listening to orders had thrown him for a loop, Luke’s fears hadn’t helped matters, and then when coupled with just how much was already running though his head… He was sure something was going to explode in his mind sooner or later. Dwelling on that was going to make it worse too, so he was right now just trying to focus on some sort of external stimulus. Luke’s paw, which had only just released his arm, would have been a good thing to focus on. He wasn’t gay though. Luke certainly wasn’t either, so that pretty much destroyed that train of thought before it got started. A down train meant Ken had to search for other things to distract himself, and as he did, he noted that The bear was still facing away. The ursine was nursing both his back and right arm quite gingerly, still groaning occasionally in pain. It was a bit of a sight to see, and Ken could only imagine just what he had done to those two things.

He began to think about how much damage he may have caused, his mind meandering around the possibilities of broken bones and dislocated joints. He didn’t get a chance go do down that thought path for very long though, for as his mind started to take that into more worrisome places, the nurse opened the door to her office and came out shaking her head. She looked at the three furs in the room for a moment, her gaze shifting from Ken to Luke, then back to Ken. “Luke, please come in here for a minute. I need you to explain to the vice principal exactly what happened.”

“Yes m’um,” Luke got up and quickly scurried over to the Ms. Lokheart, making it in just a few quick hops. Ken smiled inwardly at watching that, as it was rather cute to see that fluffy tail hop up and down above such… He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay. He needed to keep reminding himself that, and stop letting his mind go to that place.

“You two are going to keep behaving and stay quiet. Same rules as before.“  The nurse’s tone was less stern than before, and even had a hint of worry in it as she spoke. She let Luke into the office in front of her, looking out at Ken and the ursine for a long moment before shaking her head again. She then stepped into her office and shut the door, waving her paw over her phone to resume the call.

“You fight good for a wrong-colored stripey faggot.” The bear muttered as soon as the door shut, not even bothering to roll over. He lay there instead, facing the far wall from Ken while still rubbing his sore arm. Ken was a bit surprised by the sudden speech, but that surprise nearly instantly faded to anger once he processed what had been said. There was no need for such insults, and yet here the bear was, just tossing them out as though nothing had happened. It was shocking to Ken, but this was a bigoted bear if the tiger had ever seen one that he was sitting beside; was it really as shocking as he was making it out to be? Surely there were more shocking things going on then, such as Ken’s attitude shift or his ability to even think about this in spite of all the noise in his mind ,or even Luke still sticking around. “Still not gonna talk, huh? Tha’s fine. I’ll talk and you listen then faggot.”

A low growl left Ken at that last sentence. His fur was starting to stand on end oncemore, and his tail was getting twitchy again. His ears were folding back too, but he had managed to keep that snarl from his face for the time being. He was still getting there though, as he could feel his blood starting to boil. He just hated that word period, and the fact that it was getting thrown around by the bear like it was nothing… It was aggravating. Try as he might however, he couldn’t place a paw on why was it getting to him so much. He wasn’t gay. Ken had heard many of the same insults before, some far worse and far more often than the bear was throwing them out. He had never reacted like this before that he recalled though, and thought it may have something to do with his heightened state of agitation. That tension in his blood was thanks to just how much had transpired over the previous twenty minutes or so; the tiger had done a lot, both mentally and physically, over that time. It was a safe bet that he wasn’t going to be himself because of all that, and yet here he was trying to think like himself.

Satisfied with his explanation, Ken tried to relax again, just taking a deep breath and waiting for the bear’s next volley of rude speech to begin. “Well, faggot,” apparently that wait wasn’t going to be long. Ken had hoped for more, but as the bear continued, he knew it was going to be some time before the firing ceased. “Because you tossed me like that I’m hurting something awful. My buds are probably gonna make me hurt worse for getting my ass beat by a scrawny little fuckin’ fag like yourself too. I don’t want that to happen, and neither do you now, got it? So unless you can come up with something in that puny feline brain to make this all go away, I’m gonna beat those damn stripes off you. I don’t want to have to beat on such a small, faggy piece of shit like you, but I have to do what I have to do in order to make sure that my rep stays intact. So, start planning or get ready to have your ass pummeled, and not in the way you like it either faggot.”

The last sentence dripped of sarcasm and disdain, so much so that Ken almost had to wince as he heard it. Just to hear such insults thrown at him, and trying to process all of it while he listened, was almost too much for him to bear. He wanted to interrupt the ursine and go on the defensive for being called what he had been so many times, but it was just too much to ask while trying to survive that volley. It had been quite the shot at him, and had the nurse not been making her way towards the door of her office once the bear had finished, he would’ve said something back that he probably would’ve regretted later. It was just too much for him to try and keep his mouth shut after such a blatant attack on him, but he would have to do so now that the gorilla was going to be back in the room. Luke didn’t look to be joining her, as he sat in a chair at her desk with his paws in his lap. It was just going to be the nurse rejoining the bear and Ken, and that was fine by Ken as the gorilla came through the doorway and looked at the two for a moment; her presence meant the bear had to be quiet.

“First, Ken, come in here with me and Luke so that you can give your side of things. I suspect I won’t need it though, as my second thing should make this a lot easier to decide who is going to be suspended for fighting. I can read lips Nevin,” the bear visibly drooped at this. Ken’s ears perked up, and any fear or anger he had been feeling had vanished in a poof of smoke now that he knew someone else had seen just what had been said to him. It was a teacher too, and that meant he had authority on his side… He was going to make it out of this. “You’re going to be in a world of trouble once the vice principal comes down. Such speech is strictly forbidden, as is threatening another student, and starting fights. You will be lucky to get out of this with a suspension, especially on your first day here.”

Nevin shrunk down into the bed, looking deflated and defeated. It was all Ken could do to not start grinning like a Cheshire, as he was now in the clear thanks to the bear’s latest admission of not only guilt, but that he planned on doing things like that again. Ken was elated inwardly, his perked ears and wide, happy eyes doing everything they could to convey that. Even his tail swayed back and forth in pleasure, as he slowly got to his feet with a faint groan. Moving still hurt him, but he was basking in the joy of knowing that he wasn’t going to get into serious trouble for having hurled another student through the air, and that made everything tolerable. It was like Christmas as far as he was concerned, and he planned on taking advantage of that feeling to abolish a lot of the doubts which had taken up residence in his mind. He wasn’t going to have an easy time of doing that, as they would be there until he heard from the vice principal that he would be fine, and that he wouldn’t need stitches to heal all the wounds he had on his chest, but there would at least be some breathing room in his head now that he knew he was going to be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Shuffling his paws along the tiled floor slowly, Ken was able to make his way over to the door after a few moments. He didn’t want to hurry, as that would aggravate the cuts on his chest, but at the same time he was trying to get over to the door as quickly as his shambling paws would take him just so that he could escape the tension of the room and get somewhere a lot friendlier. He wanted to be able to gloat to someone as well, and Luke seemed like a good fur to gloat with; the lapin had an issue or two with the bear just like Ken did. So Ken padded into the office, able to walk a bit more normally now that he had some blood flowing through his system again. Sitting still surely hadn’t helped him one bit, and as such he was more inclined to keep moving once he passed the threshold of the door. Ms. Lokheart shut the door behind him, as she apparently wanted to check on the bear first before she came back in and started her conversation with Luke and Ken and the vice principal.

“Damn brilliant that nurse is. She didn’t even need me in here really, she just brought me in so that she could watch what that Nevin jerk was gonna say to you. You got an ally in her Ken my friend.” Luke’s tone was chipper again, and his smiling, happy demeanor had returned in full force. It was a good thing for Ken to see, and he smiled genuinely for the first time since the entire fight had happened. There was little fear left in him now, and his mind was quieting down to the point of being able to think finally, so he was able just make expressions instead of forcing them out. That was a huge step for him, as he knew words would come shortly after, and he wanted to be able to talk. His voice was probably going to be hoarse, as he needed a drink of water. It would be something though, some sort of conversation with the fur who had shown him so much kindness with the expectation of nothing in return… And that would be a great thing to help Ken along with getting his mind back to normal.

“I’m glad… Are you alright now?”

“Yeah, I’m fine now. Tha’ bastard out there had me nervous as all hell though; I swear I was near to pissin’ meself. You sayin’ somethin’ to him got him right scared though… Damn cool to watch, I can tell ya that.”

“Scared me as much as it did you to be honest… Do you think I’m gonna get in trouble?”

“You? In trouble? You didn’ do nothing tiggy, why the hell would ya get in trouble? You may’ve busted up our mutual nightmare out there, but he earned it.” Ken smiled as he heard that, his gaze going to the ground again as he breathed a sigh of relief. It was nice to hear that from somewhere other than his own internal monologue, as he was still having trouble convincing it to even say that. Luke’s words sounded supremely confident though, and with such a level of certainty coming from the lapin, Ken had little choice but to believe it. He wanted to believe it too, and now that he had another source for his belief to gather strength, he was going to whether or not it held true. He still had that nagging feeling of apprehension, but he was going to try and fight it with all he had now, as he wasn’t fighting anything off anymore. “So you feelin’ alright tiggy?”

“Tis but a flesh wound,” Ken said in his best British accent, using the joke to distract himself. He figured quoting Monty Pachyderm would ease some of the tension in the room, and at least make the other laugh. Luke’s reaction was rather priceless though, as the lapin immediately burst out laughing rather loudly. Ken laughed lightly too, as any more than that hurt to do since it stretched the tender flesh on his chest. He was still trying to keep that from moving too much after all. Luke laughed with little abandon though, and took several seconds to even calm down enough to speak.

“I think ya did more than bleed on him tiggy.” Luke got out over a chuckle, as he leaned over and patted Ken on the shoulder. More contact from the bunny meant Ken needed to remind himself again; he wasn’t gay. It was a harsh reminder this time, and almost seemed more like he was scolding himself, but he would analyze that later. Right then, he was going to try and focus on the moment and just enjoy the time he was spending with his new friend. “And yours does just look like a flesh wound really. My mum’s a doctor, and she’s just glued worse scrapes than that.”

“Glued?” Ken asked quizzically. He had never heard of glue being applied to a wound before, but then again he had never gotten this badly hurt before. He had broken bones, sure, but no cuts like this on him ever came along before now. He usually just let them heal on their own truthfully, but this would need attention.

“Yeah, some odd medical glue stuff. Saves ‘em time and money on stitches, and I don’t think ya want some giant bandaid in all that fur, do ya?” Ken shook his head fervently; he had needed a bandaid once, and getting that thing off had been an utter nightmare. He didn’t want a repeat of that, and even thinking that he may need one was enough to make him shudder silently. “Guess ya know what I mean then eh?”

“Don’t want a bandaid… But won’t the glue wash off or get stuck or something?” Ken was curious now, and since Luke seemed to know about the stuff, he wanted to know.

“It washes off after a week or so. You can wash the stuff, and it won’t tear, it stretches with your skin… It’s damn brilliant if ya ask me.” Ken nodded to this, smiling to himself for a moment before he started to formulate another question. The nurse came in at that moment though, so he simply stopped his train of thought mid-track and shut his mouth. Luke didn’t seem nearly as afraid to speak while she entered, and looked like he was about to start going into how amazing that glue was again when she cut him off.

“I’m going to start that call again. Ken, do you think that you’ll be able to explain your side of the story. I already got Nevin’s… Or at least the version he wants to give me. Luke told me the whole thing, and if your and his versions match, then I think we have what happened.” Ms. Lokheart paused, placing her paw on the phone again for a moment to reactivate it. It beeped to life, and instantly Ms. Egis’s voice came through with a loud sigh. “Sorry to keep you waiting so long Mary. I have Ken all ready to start explaining.”

“Ah, Ken… We spoke earlier today. I hoped I wouldn’t need to talk to you again so soon, but I guess you just love hearing my voice.” Her tone reeked of sarcasm, and even Ms. Lokheart cringed a bit as she heard it. “Please, start telling me why I need to hear from you again so soon.” Ken gulped, looking at Luke with a wavering, very faint smile. The bunny simply gave him a nod of approval and that same aloof grin he had worn earlier, and that was all the spurring on Ken needed.

“Uhm… I was walking…”

**********

“…And that’s it Ms. Egis.”

“Excellent. Well, your story and Luke’s match pretty much exactly, save for a little bit of embellishment from Luke of course. I’ll need to figure out what to do about Nevin, but for the time being I want you to get patched up and then come to my office. Fighting will not be tolerated, by either party, and though you were defending yourself I will need to at least give you a formal reprimand. Nothing serious, so don’t get worried… But I do need it to be noted that I at least spoke to you for record’s sake. Regardless…” The feline’s voice lowered, and for a second Ken thought she was just going to leave it at that and let him have to agonize about what was going to be said. She didn’t though, and continued on, “between us, good job taking that bruiser down.”

“Th-Thank you ma’am…”

“Fix him up quick and send him down Sandra. Luke too, as I don’t want to keep either of them from class for longer than I have to. I want you to make sure that you take care of Nevin until I can get over there to deal with him too, please.”

“I’ll have them down to you in a few minutes Mary. Talk to you soon.”

“Count on it Sandy.” With that, the line went dead and Ms. Lokheart sighed loudly. Ken also breathed a loud sigh of relief, as he had spent the entire time he had been talking to Ms. Egis holding his breath. He was terrified of that fur, even if she didn’t seem that threatening at all. She certainly sounded like she had a mean streak though, and that would be enough to keep Ken on edge until he had left her office and was cleared of everything. He wanted this behind him, and with those words of confidence and compliments from the vice principal, it looked like he was a very short ways away from having that happen.

“Now… I’m going to glue you back together, as it looks like the bleeding has already stopped on its own. That’s good, and you should heal up quick, alright?” The nurse’s voice interrupted Ken’s thoughts, but as he heard what she said, he smiled and nodded. Hearing that his wounds weren’t as serious as they seemed and that he would be on his way out quickly, rather than needing to wait and get shuttled off somewhere to be patched up. This also meant his parents wouldn’t need to hear about the whole fight, and thusly he wouldn’t get into any trouble for having done what he did. It was just a rain of good news for Ken as far as he was concerned at that point, as the whole thing couldn’t have gone better as far as he was concerned. His pessimistic attitude towards the entire incident was being proven more and more false, just as his one towards the day had been taken and thrown out the window once he had really begun to see how the school was. Granted, he still was very worried and apprehensive about some things, but he was beginning to become hopeful about them too, rather than doubtful. Good news did wonders to any fur, but when it came in the sheer amount Ken had been experiencing it since his scuffle; it was almost euphoric.

Ken’s mind wandering around as it had meant he spaced out, and thusly missed Ms. Lokheart’s first request to move his paw. “Ken, please… I need to be able to get to your cuts to fix them.” Ken jumped slightly, coming out of his mental maze in a jolt and looking up at the primate with a sheepish smile. He flushed for a moment, putting his paw gingerly down to his side and exposing the cuts on his chest to the air for the first time in several minutes. Bits of blood still flowed from them, but it was nothing like how it had been when he had first cut himself. The wounds looked to be healing, and that bit of a realization made Ken smile to himself. He couldn’t see the cuts necessarily, but he could feel them, and they felt much less severe than he remembered. He was still very sore though, and he imagined there would be a giant bruise on his chest come the next day. That would be alright; Ken had many a bruise on him even at that moment from his training. He knew how to handle the pain of a bruise; the pain of a cut was another matter, and now that it was truly ebbing to just a dull throb, he was starting to handle that much like did the pain of a bruise.

“Now, I’m going to have to clean these, and it will bleed more and sting. Please try not to move, alright?” Ms. Lokheart’s voice was soft and soothing, and did wonders to put Ken at ease. He wasn’t nearly ready enough for more pain, but having a warning and a very kind caretaker was making it easier to just grin and bear it. He had done that when he initially got hurt, so why couldn’t he do it now? “I’m going to start in three, two…” Ms. Lokheart touched the cotton ball in her paw to Ken’s chest, wiping a large swathe of blood off the area in one pass. The ball had been dipped in rubbing alcohol to kill any germs in the cuts, and as such it stung a great deal any time it rubbed along a cut. Ken winced and grunted with pain, but did not once cry out or even move. He did twitch his tail wildly around behind him, and his paws were clenched into tight fists, but he was staying perfectly still for the nurse, just like she had asked.

She took a few more passes with the cotton ball, getting the dried blood up from around the cuts with those large passes. Her paws were very gentle and careful, getting as much as they could as lightly as they could. It was over fairly quickly, but it was still enough for Ken to not want the entire thing to ever happen again. The nurse seemed to know that, and tossed the cotton ball aside in favor of a wet piece of gauze which she used to clean up the remaining blood. It was much less uncomfortable to Ken, and he was glad to get all that dried blood off his black and grey pelt. Granted, he still felt the cold piece of cloth and did recoil from it ever so slightly. He was just glad it wasn’t making him sting like the alcohol had, and that it was getting him clean again. He would still need to try and clean himself once he was done in there too, as was customary for any feline.

The quick wipe down got him clean, and once it was done Ms. Lokheart tossed both the gauze and the cotton ball into the biohazard bin. She then went to a cabinet on the other side of her office, standing in front of it for a moment before opening it and grabbing something off a shelf at about waist-level. It looked to be a needle of sorts, but one made entirely of plastic and looking like a cub’s toy. It was comically large too, and as such didn’t make Ken worry that he was going to be injected with anything. He instead just wondered what was going to become of that needle, since the nurse came back over to him with it and knelt down in front of him. She pulled the cap off the large injector end, and a ropey, blue goo came out of it the tip almost immediately. Ken could only guess that this was the medical glue which Luke had explained to him earlier, but he wasn’t about to ask as he figured the nurse would explain it to him instead.

“This is medical glue. I’ll put it on those four cuts, and then wrap your chest in a bandage to keep everything from getting infected. The bandage needs to stay on for at least a day, but try for two if you can. Don’t shower or wash over the bandage that entire time, as any water will dissolve the glue prematurely. That would be bad, and would mean I would need to have you in here again to fix it. So, please, try and be careful to take good care of this?” Ken nodded fervently; though no showers would be quite a challenge for him, as he was a little germ-phobic. Re-opening a gaping chest would was not on his list of priorities though, and came in ahead of staying clean, so he just decided that going without bathing for a day or two would be perfectly acceptable. “Alright, this will feel really cold for a minute or so. Please just try and bear with it… And sit perfectly still.”

Ken sat still again, bracing himself for a really cold sensation. He wasn’t prepared for just how cold the fluid was, and instantly cringed the second it touched his skin. He tried his hardest not to move with the cringe, but failed and as such made a little bit of a mess of the glue down on his pants. The nurse was ready for this, and had a wet piece of gauze there to wipe it all up and take care of the mess. He was glad for that, and thusly prepared himself again for the liquid to hit him. Ms. Lokheart had to finish cleaning up the spill though, and as she did so, Ken couldn’t help but wonder why that stuff was so cold. It hadn’t been kept in a freezer, and it certainly didn’t look that cold when it came out of the tube. It was more likely some sort of chemical reaction with the air or something like that, but Ken wasn’t even remotely clued in as to what caused it. He had no idea where to even begin with that scientific stuff, and as such he wasn’t going to try to start thinking about it.

“Ok, we’re gonna try again, alright?” Ken nodded again, more prepared for the cold this time now that he knew what to expect out of the liquid. It was still going to be cold, and he still would probably cringe, but at least he knew not to move his chest… Hopefully he wouldn’t this time. The nurse seemed to hope that too, as she held her paw steady and had the gauze under the syringe this time to catch any spills. Ken shut his eyes and grit his teeth, getting ready. “Ok, here we go again.” Ken nodded, and within an instant of doing so felt the glue on his skin again. It was absolutely frigid, and had he not been steeling himself as much as he could, he probably would’ve recoiled yet again. He was already causing enough trouble for the school as it was though, and being more of a pain by rejecting the treatment because it was too cold just wasn’t going to work for him. It was indeed guilt which held him still as much as his resolve, and adding to his already insurmountable guilt for all that he had done that day wasn’t something Ken was about to do.

The first strand of glue done, the nurse moved onto the second. It was just as cold, and yet Ken was starting to already just feel it less. He was thinking as many warm thoughts as he could; summer, sunbathing, riding on ATV’s with Jake… He wasn’t gay. That little snip of a reminder pushed some of his warm thoughts from his mind, and made the third strand of glue seem to take even longer than it did. It was the fourth that Ken was dreading, as it was for by far the biggest and longest of the gashes he had on him, and the main reason he had been worried about stitches. He still feared he may, as he saw the nurse pause and inspect the found for a moment. She looked rather apprehensive about putting glue on, but then decided to do so anyways and pushed out some more of the blue paste onto Ken’s chest. It was a lot thicker than the others, and thusly a lot colder as it went on. He was barely able to hang with it as it went on, his mind and body screaming at him retract from the cold and get somewhere warmer immediately. He wasn’t about to listen to those demands though, as he was going to make it through the cold no matter what; he owed it to the nurse at the very least.

It took what felt like an eternity, but the nurse’s gauze wiped the last bit of the long strand of glue from his fur, just like she had when she finished all the others. Ken breathed a large sigh of relief as he felt that, knowing full well that he was finally done putting up with the entire experience of the cold on his chest. This wasn’t to say that the glue had warmed up yet at all; it was still freezing and he was shaking ever so slightly in a feeble attempt by his body to warm up. This wasn’t going to be enough though, so instead he just tried to calm himself down enough to let his body warm up on its own. The nurse had told him it would take a while for everything to warm up again, and as such he didn’t want to have to wait on that. He knew he was going to have to though, and found no solace to take in that at all.

“Give it a few more moments, alright? You should already be feeling a little numb. I’m going to get the bandages, alright?” Ms. Lokheart’s voice was just as soothing as it had been before, and Ken needed that now more than he had before. It was enough to calm his nerves and just let his body do what it needed to in order to warm up. He did just that too, as she rose to standing again and went back over to her cabinet of supplies. The tiger didn’t need to do much, as he was indeed already feeling numb, and thusly less cold. There was still some cold lingering on his chest, and inside him was starting to get a little chilly as well as the glue worked its way into the wounds. Ken just gave it time, as the nurse had said to, since she had to know more about how the glue worked than Ken did.

That strategy worked perfectly, as Ken started to feel a little warmer after another couple moments of sitting there and not thinking about the glue as much as he could. He still had it on his mind, as it was hard not to think about something as invasive and strange as being glued back together like a shattered model. He wasn’t focusing on it though, instead putting his mind on whatever the first thing that popped into his head. Lunch was that thought, and Ken really began to feel hungry the second it entered his mind. He wondered if he would even be allowed into lunch now that he had taken so much time out of the day in order to deal with the fight and his injuries. He was hungry, and hoped that Ms. Egis would give him some spare time to eat a lunch… But Ken wasn’t too optimistic about that; he had already made a mess of the vice-principal’s day, twice, and as such was probably going to be on her bad side for a long time. Ken didn’t want to think about that, but it was too late as he began to think of all the way she would probably make his life hell.

“So, nice and numb and warmed up now?” Ms. Lokheart asked, looking at Ken with a warm smile. Ken nodded slowly, looking at her for a moment before returning his gaze to the floor. She knelt down in front of him again, taking the bandage in her paw and beginning to unravel it so that she could wrap it around Ken. Ken watched her paws, quiet as could be as he did so. His mind was beginning to speed up again, as it had been slow and silent nearly that entire time. That made clearing it get harder with every passing second, so he needed something to focus on. Those paws, unraveling the bandage as fast as they could, were almost mesmerizing to him as he stared and continued to try and keep his mind blank. It helped, but it wasn’t going to be enough, so Ken just hoped that she would finish soon so that he could start towards the vice principal and get probably the hardest conversation of the day over with. He wanted it done, and that wasn’t going to be happening while he was waiting to be bandaged.

“So ya almost done fixin’ ‘im Ms. Lokheart?”

“I am Luke, then you and Ken are off to Ms. Egis to both get talked to.” She smiled faintly at Luke, barely hiding her annoyance with the rabbit’s bouncing and chipper attitude. This made Luke’s ears flatten a bit, but Ken barely even registered that; he had all but forgotten about the bunny for a brief period. The tiger knew that wasn’t very nice of him at all, and instantly felt bad for it, but at the same time part of him was a bit glad that he had moved on that much in his head that he was even able to forget at all. He didn’t want to forget Luke, but the other’s name was already fuzzy to him, and just what had been said in the ‘fight’ was barely even memorable. He was getting what he wanted; a lack of recollection about the fight. That made him ecstatic inside, and yet the only evidence he showed of this outwardly was a faint smile to no one in particular. Ken didn’t want to seem like he was odd or anything; or more off than he was going to be perceived for being able to hurl an ursine easily twice his size like a javelin.

“Now Ken, raise your arms please like this so I can wrap your chest please.” The nurse splayed her arms, looking like she was being crucified as she stood in front of him to demonstrate. Ken nodded and did that, still as silent as ever. Ms. Lokheart crouched back down once he had and begun wrapping the long bandage around his midsection, taking care to keep it secured in one place on his back as she started. Around and around her paws went, her arms keeping the bandage tight by hugging it to Ken’s sides. It was a rather awkward position, as Ken was essentially pressed to her chest. The nurse was dressed modestly, and honestly Ken had no interest in anything along those lines… He wasn’t gay. That last reminder had almost seemed unnecessary, but it had distracted his brain for a moment, and that was just what he needed. He didn’t want to be thinking about getting wrapped like a present, or that he was going to have to find some shirt at home for a couple days to keep the bandage hidden. The tiger would also need an excuse for that shirt, and a reason to wear it as little as possible… Maybe locking himself in his room to ‘work’ would do the trick.

The wrapping took a couple of minutes, during which Ken thought of other excuses and just sat silently. Luke was getting anxious behind him, as Ken could feel the floor shake slightly from the fidgeting bunny tapping against it. He didn’t mind that anxiousness; he envied it somewhat in fact, as he wished he could be that energetic and ready to be moving. He was mostly just dead at that point, not wanting to move from that spot or exert any more effort than he had to. This was probably partially from hunger, and a bit more from blood loss, so Ken thought little of it. He did know a bit of it was his mood though, as he was still incredibly worried about everything that was going to be going on for him. A phone call home, a lecture, missing a class… All these things were piling up in his mind, and while there was no reason to fear most of them, all at once they were a monster gaining strength in his mental maze. Ken still had control over himself, and wasn’t nearly as panicked or worried as he was earlier, but he was beginning to think that he wasn’t as calmed or ready for the entire trip to the vice principal as he once thought.

He began to prepare himself mentally for that, and as such was starting to try and think of what he was going to say. He was also thinking about what would be said to him, and as such was trying his utmost to not worry himself with what he didn’t know at that point. He did that all the time though, so he knew that was going to be a futile battle for him. Still, it didn’t hurt to try, and as such he was trying as much as he could. That involved a lot of lying to himself, a lot of denial, and a lot of thinking about other things. There wasn’t much else left to sort out though, and distracting himself was an old trick by this point; Ken was stuck thinking about it whether he wanted to or not. He refused to accept that though, and furrowed his brow a bit as he began to try and just make up good scenarios instead of the bad ones which were plaguing his mind.

“And all set there Ken. Be careful with it for now alright? You will be sore here for a few days, but just don’t forget to not wash it for a couple days and you’ll heal up nicely.” Ms. Lokheart smiled, backing up and inspecting her handiwork for a moment. The primate then smiled again and gave an approving nod to Ken, offering him her paw so that he could stand. Ken took it and braced himself on the chair so that he could get to his feet. He struggled to stand for a moment, his legs still weak from all the events and just how much it had taken out of him. Lunch would probably fix that, but right now he had to get moving to the vice principal’s office. “Now you and Luke get to Ms. Egis’ office right away, alright?”

“We will m’um. Come on Ken.” The tiger nodded, looking back at Luke with a slight smile as the bunny hopped to his feet. Luke was just bouncy and giddy as ever as he scurried over to the door well before Ken, opening it and stepping outside so that Ken could follow him through. Ken smiled inwardly at the gesture; it wasn’t often he had doors held open for him. He just got them shut in his face more often than not, and as such was rather surprised to think that Luke was going to be doing this for him. Ken took a few moments to make it to the door, walking gingerly towards the door as he didn’t want to tear his new glued chest. He was also trying to be careful about his tired legs, as they didn’t fully seem up to propelling him forward at the moment.

“Alright, just leave here and head down the hall you two, ok?” They both nodded in unison, turning around and smiling to the nurse. Ken was at the doorway by this point, and leaned against it a little for support. He was more just using it for balance really, but he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t going to tumble over too should his legs decide to give up the fight.

“We’ll be alright m’um, thank you.”

“Thank you Ms. Lokheart…” She smiled and nodded to them both, and they both turned around and started out of the office. From that particular door, the door out to the hall was just a few steps, and Ken made those easier than he had the steps to the office door. It was probably a part of getting the blood flowing in his legs, and as such now that he was up and moving, there was plenty of it to keep him going. He was still exhausted, but he wasn’t as dizzy as before, and had all but erased the doubt he had on his legs giving in on him. That did make walking less worrisome, and slowly did make him feel less drained. He would still need a nap when he got home, but feline laziness dictated that as much as the scuffle did. He was trying not to think about home though, so he pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind and tried to think of something that would pass the time in the short walk to the vice principal’s office.

“So you know what yer gonna say?” Luke question saved Ken from having to think of anything; rather conveniently. “She didn’ sound so pleased ta hear from ya tiggy.”

“I was late to orientation earlier… She had to stay after to explain a couple of things to me.”

“That wasn’ a good way ta make an impression… Good luck.” Ken hadn’t been paying attention to their progress along the hallway; he had more been on autopilot following Luke. The tiger still deep in his thoughts, and now that he stood outside the door to the office, those thoughts started raging again; forcing their way to the forefront of his mind. Worry and doubt and fear came rushing back in, and as Ken pushed the door open, he swallowed hard in nervousness. Ms. Egis had said there would be nothing to worry about, and yet he was still terrified. The feline was in a position of power, and could arbitrarily decide to change her mind or any other myriad of things.

She was waiting in the main room of the office though, and not inside her own office, so Ken didn’t have time to even begin to truly get lost in his fears. He gulped again, pushing the door open wider so that Luke could get inside. The rabbit hopped in, and then froze as he saw the leopard leaning against the counter inside the main office, looking expectantly at the door. His ears flattened and he stopped moving; a deer on stage is what he looked like. Ken saw that and gulped again, his nerves getting even more frazzled from his friend’s reaction. He had to face the music though, so he stepped through the door as well and stood beside Luke, his own ears flattened and tail swishing in apprehension behind him. “Well you two certainly took a while to get here. I’ll need to say something to Sandy…”

“Sorry ma’am.” The pair said in unison, both looking down at the floor as Luke thawed out somewhat. He was still not moving most of his body, but at least his eyes could look somewhere other than the predator.

“Quite alright. I have a fairly easy day thanks to just you freshies being here. Now then… Ken, no fighting in school, ok? It’s bad.” Ken nodded fiercely, his eyes not leaving the ground. “Look at me when you’re agreeing with me please; it’s only polite.”

“Sorry ma’am.” Ken looked up at her, just barely brave enough to meet her gaze. She was smiling, and didn’t look upset in the slightest; that was unexpected. Ken was sure that she was going to be angry and scowling at him, and yet she looked like even having him and Luke here was a joke. It was mind-boggling, but Ken wasn’t about to question it; he was just going to accept that surprise.

“Alright, I think I’ve talked to you enough. You and your friend are free to go; just steer clear of those bears for a few days please. I don’t want to have to see either of you again so soon.” With that, the leopard picked up the tray of lunch beside her and started towards her office. Her tail swished as she walked, looking all happy and upbeat in spite of just having ‘reprimanded’ the two furs behind her. Luke and Ken both just stood, mouths agape, as they watched her retreat into her off to her office. She shut the door as she went in with her free arm, smiling faintly to them as her face was hidden behind the door.

“Did that just happen?”

“Yeah…” Ken murmured, looking over at Luke slowly. Luke was already looking at him, a small smile curling onto his muzzle. The terror was melting slowly from both their bodies, as Luke’s ears were perking back up at about the same pace as Ken’s. Ken could feel his heart sinking back down into his chest, and his tail was starting to sill itself as calm washed back over him. Doubts were dropping like flies in his mind, and for the first time since the bear had been in the air above him; Ken was relaxed. It was a new feeling, and he embraced with his entire being. He shut his eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. It felt as though he was exhaling his worries and problems with that breath, and as he opened his eyes he could see Luke smiling at him with the same chipper demeanor he had shown before.

“She’s damn brilliant… Just hope we never get on ‘er bad side eh?” Ken shook his head, chuckling lightly to himself as he did so. He had been utterly terrified, just like Luke had, and yet there had been no reason to be whatsoever. It was silly, and he felt like a fool for it, but there was nothing that could be done about it now. He had gotten into his ‘trouble’, and as such was finally free to get back into the routine he was going to have to adopt for the next several months. It was a nice realization, and one that furthered the calm through his mind, and thusly his body. One by one his muscles relaxed and thawed, and he stretched slightly as a result of that. Luke did the same, looking at Ken for a moment. “We need ta get lunch eh?”

“Yeah… Won’t we get in trouble for being late too?” A worry spewed from Ken’s mouth before he had time to analyze it. It was out in the open though, and now that he was thinking of it, he knew that he was right to have said it. The lack of a note or proof that he had gotten held up could be very bad.

“Yer right… Ms. Lokheart can help with that I think though. You take it easy n’ get up to the lunchroom, I’ll get us notes.”

“Ok… Thanks Luke.” Ken nodded and smiled as best he could, the rabbit waving it off as though it were nothing.

“It’s alright, I dun want ta wait forever for yer slow arse. I’ll meet ya at the lunchroom tiggy.” With that, Luke took a step back out the door and started a brisk hop down the hallway back to the nurse’s office. Ken was left standing in the doorway, a paw rubbing his chest gently. He had his books in his other paw; he wasn’t about to forget them anywhere, and had subconsciously been holding onto them the entire time. He just now noticed them, and how heavy they suddenly felt. He noticed his whole body felt heavy in fact, and he wanted to take a seat because of it. The lunchroom wasn’t a far walk though, just up the stairs and down the hall at the top. He didn’t want to make that walk though, but he knew he would have to in order to not only get his note, but to get food and restore his strength.

He swallowed and started, shuffling along the hall with his tail drooping behind him. He knew he looked pitiful, but he was starving and felt like crud thanks to the blood lost from his chest and the lack of excitement to keep him attentive. He wasn’t feeling faint or nauseous, just tired, and that was an unwelcome feeling in and of itself for a feline. In spite of that, walking was almost boring to him now, slowly moving towards the stairs all by himself. Whereas before Ken had welcomed silence and alone time with welcome arms, now he almost wished it away. Luke’s company had been pleasant, if not a bit loud, and the tiger almost missed it now that it was gone. He knew he would get it back soon though, so he pushed on and started towards the stairs, which were just a few steps down the hall in front of him.

Ken started up the stairs slowly, one paw in front of the other. He wasn’t actively thinking about it, but he was at least trying to make sure he didn’t stub his sensitive toes on any of the steps thanks to not picking them up high enough. He knew taking a tumble while the glue was still drying would be a bad idea, and as such was being extra careful. One paw in front of the other, one paw in front of the other… His brain was almost chanting as he went up each step. It was almost relaxing, and for a moment the rhythm was lulling him into a sense of security. He started to hum again to keep his mind from getting too relaxed, the same tune as before with new spins on it yet again. The tiger had no idea how he was able to tweak this particular song so well, but he just liked it enough that he thought nothing of it.

A loud roar of pain reached his ears as he stood on the top step. It sounded very ursine, and instantly Ken knew what it was from. He had felt the bear’s shoulder pop when he had thrown him, and that impact on the wall had only exacerbated the injury. To think that he had dislocated such a large beast’s arm… It was hard for Ken not to feel at least a tiny wave of pride in himself as he shuddered at the loud roar. He still wasn’t proud that he had hurt the beast, but that it was that much… Part of him was proud of himself for doing it, whether he wanted to be or not. The roar died down after a moment, and Ken continued on, trying to push it from his mind as he slowly meandered down the hallway.

He knew where he was going, as he saw the doors to the cafeteria almost the instant he came out of the top of the stairs. It wasn’t far for him, and he slowly walked along the hall towards the sets of doors leading into the large room. It was as though the room was beckoning to him, and he looked to it for a moment just to see how far away it was. He felt like it was miles, and though it certainly wasn’t the fatigue in his bones was catching up with him on the slow trek there. Each step seemed to take an age, and Ken could swear he could hear time coming to a grinding halt as he walked along. It was arduous, and yet somewhat relaxing. The events of the past while had been stressful and rapid-fire, and the slow walk to the cafeteria was a relaxing one, even if it felt like it was being dragged out and zapping all of his strength out of his weakened body. The hall just kept getting longer and longer, and it was going to be the death of Ken if he didn’t reach the end soon.

Dramatics in his mind made the trip feel even longer, but soon enough he was to the doors and standing outside quietly. He leaned against the wall, just standing there with his paws at his sides and his eyes at the ground. No one was in the room, or outside of it for that matter, so Ken was quietly standing there and just waiting. His books were held in his dangling paw, and as such were just barely balancing on a couple digits in his paw. This wasn’t to say that he was going to lose grip on them; he was more just not motivated to hold onto them tighter. He had been clinging to them for dear life earlier, and even on the walk up the stairs his grip had been tight. Somewhere on the walk to the cafeteria though, his mindset on his books had shifted and a part of him just wanted to let them fall to the ground and get away from him. He didn’t want to be there, and that urge to flee was welling up in him again. It wasn’t like before either… This one was new, and it was a lit more sneaky than the others had been. He was hurt; that was a perfect excuse to leave early to go home and get some rest.

“Ken!” A voice snapped Ken from his thoughts, and for a second he had no idea where it was coming from. He looked around, wondering just what had nabbed his attention, and as such he looked down the hall at Luke. The bunny was hopping quickly down the hall, two notes in his paw and the usual chipper smile on his face. He looked like he was as happy as could be, his ears perked up and his bouncing step looking to have every ounce of excitement in it. It was cute to see… But he wasn’t gay. He needed to stop thinking like that and start thinking like a normal fur his age. That wasn’t going to happen if he had to keep telling himself to stop thinking like a gay fur, so he needed to get those thoughts reigned in as soon as he could. “I got us notes and some free lunch passes. Ms. Lokheart said to just bang on the kitchen doors and that they’ll have leftovers for us.”

“Ok…” Ken murmured, his voice again almost silent as he went back to looking at the floor. Inwardly he grimaced; he knew what leftover school food was like, and he had no desire to eat that whatsoever. It was better than nothing though, so he needed to eat it whether he wanted to or not. Having no strength for the remaining classes of the day wasn’t something that he wanted to deal with, so he just had to accept a crappy lunch and move on. He wasn’t going to be paying for it either, and that was an added bonus to the disgusting food, so it made the prospect an easier one to swallow.

“So, did I keep you waiting?”  Luke asked as he came to a stop in front of Ken, offering the note to the tiger. Ken took it in his free paw, looking down at it quickly but not to read the note; he more just wanted to see what the piece of paper was. It was green with a time filled in and a signature; nothing more. He couldn’t read any of the words with his quick glance, but it was enough to look official to him, so he was satisfied. He then looked up at Luke with a light smile, eyeing the rabbit for a moment as he bounced from what foot to the other.

“No… Thank you.”

“Not a problem tiggy. Come on,” Luke beckoned, opening the cafeteria door and stepping inside slowly. He held the door for Ken, who hurried through as best he could behind Luke. He stepped inside and slowly made his way into step behind the rabbit, who was slowly hopping towards the doors to the kitchen, which were a short ways away. The room was empty; not a soul in sight as Ken looked around quickly to see if there was a fur in the room aside from himself and Luke. Not a one was there; and it was eerie to Ken in every way possible. He expected a bustling room full of furs and noise, but quiet like this was not only disconcerting; it was almost unnerving. He put up with it though, and followed Luke in silence as he just looked at the rabbit’s feet.

Luke stopped at the door to the kitchen, knocking on it with one of his short paws rather hard. A loud grunt was heard from the other side, and Ken peered over Luke shoulder as he heard it. Luke pushed at the door, finding it sticking for just a moment before it swung open into the kitchen. Inside was a stereotypical school kitchen, with little more than a few leftovers that hadn’t been cleaned or disposed of just yet still sitting out. A couple female bears stood behind the counter; in full lunch-giver outfit. They were required to wear what almost looked like hazmat suits to keep their fur out of the food, but now that they were no longer cooking, they just were wearing the suits with the hoods down behind them. It was an odd sight to Ken, as he looked at them both for a long moment before Luke snapped him back to reality.

“Ms. Lokheart sent us up here with these… Said you could give us something?”

“Well c’mere hon an’ let’s see what we can getcha, alright?” The bear’s accent was thick, but very kindly, and put Ken at ease even more than he already had been. He had never once seen a grouchy lunch-fur, and as such wasn’t surprised at all by the kindness being shown here. He was a bit surprised by how little food was left out, but part of him figured that was because of the far smaller body of students in the building.

“Here you go,” Luke stated as he handed the two tickets off to the bear. She peered at them through her glasses, looking for a long moment before she looked at both Luke and Ken. She sighed and shook her head slowly, turning around for a moment and yelling something back to the kitchen. Ken couldn’t understand it quite, as he was still a little fuzzy with his native ursine; it wasn’t one of the languages fully understood by modern science yet either apparently, as his translator made garbled gibberish come through. “Uhm…”

“We’ll give ya two somethin’ ta eat hon, okay? Just wait right here.” Luke nodded, and Ken did as well, and they both had to watch as the bear started back towards the back of the kitchen. They both looked at one another as soon as her back was to them, shrugging a little and just generally looking confused. It wasn’t as if they had any idea what was going on, so they both didn’t know what to do when they saw her leave like that. It was as if she had just up and forgotten about them almost instantly, because she was already yelling things which they couldn’t quite make out. Ken didn’t know what to do, and part of him wanted to just leave and cut his losses. Two more classes and he could head home; he had missed his lunch class almost entirely.

He figured he had the energy to do that, but as he started to turn to leave, he couldn’t even get quarter of the way around before Luke cleared his throat. Ken turned his head around to look at the rabbit, and there was a pleading look staring back at him. Luke apparently didn’t want to be left alone with the lunch-doling ursines, and Ken couldn’t blame him in the slightest. He did need food too; even if it was going to be lunch food and he would have to wait for it and whatnot. That in mind, he decided to wait with Luke, not sure of what would happen. He hoped the wait would be worth it though, as another shout reached his ears. Something about a bear’s mother; Ken was getting more worried again as he heard it.

********

Ken left the lunchroom holding his books in one paw and his stomach in the other. He had gotten to eat his fill once the bears had delivered, and it was quite the fill. They had whipped up something from leftovers in a matter of minutes, and it was almost as tasty as the best school food Ken had ever had. He was very impressed by the effort, and made sure to thank the bears profusely for going through all the trouble. Luke was much less showy in his display of gratitude at first, but once he got a few bites in, he was much like Ken in his gratefulness for the meal. They both were quite stuffed; and to Ken it was like he had been recharged as well. Walking was no longer a massive task, and his wound hurt a lot less since he had gotten a chance to rest and relax.

He hadn’t talked to Luke much while they ate; both his and the lapin’s muzzles had been full too often to do much talking. They both said a few small things to one another, and through that talk Ken found out he shared the class at lunch with Luke. The school felt very small with that little reality, and yet it was so massive the second Ken stepped out the doors of the cafeteria alone that he almost longed for Luke’s company again. It was nerve-wracking, to be alone in the huge halls once again. Ken needed to get to the class before the period ended though, or else he would hear about it the next day. Ken hoped that he had left enough time when he got up from his table, where Luke had been sitting and digesting his small feast.

The bell rang just a few steps from the door to the cafeteria though, and when it did, Ken’s heart sank. His mood plummeted at the same time, and nerves which had been smoothed over by the meal and bandaging were quickly springing back up to aggravate his mind once-more. It was an attack on his brain; the missing a class compounded with the nagging doubts that he would be able to hide his injuries when he got home. He didn’t want to get in trouble for either of those things, but he needed plan to avoid any repercussions from his two mistakes of the day. It wasn’t as though he was afraid of serious ones for the bandages; Ken was good at coming up with excuses for injuries by this point in his life. He was more worried about missing the class, and as he stood stock still while the bell finished its ringing, he desperately racked his brain for a solution to that new problem.

He didn’t get far on his train of thought though, for as soon as he started trying to think of a way out of his current situation, another one cropped up in his head. The tiger was going to be late to his next class unless he saw where it was and started walking almost immediately. Subconsciously he dug out his map and schedule, holding them next to one another and looking them over with a furrowed brow. He wasn’t sure of just where to go until he saw the schedule, but that was quickly remedied by studying the thing for a moment. He saw that he had a computer class, then found the technology department on the map almost immediately. It was just down the hall from where he was, and that made him breathe a large sigh of relief. He didn’t need to travel far, and as such he could take his time and sift through the thoughts in his mind.

Ken started off in the direction which he needed to go, his paws slowly getting put one in front of the other. It was a slow trip, with few furs along the way to distract his eyes and keep his mind at least somewhat distracted. The tiger wasn’t that fortunate; he instead was stuck in his sea of thoughts trying to figure out how he would get to the class he missed before he went home. His last class of the day was a health class, and he had about 20 minutes before the buses arrived to take all the students home… He may be able to make it after class. He hoped the teacher would be around for that though, for if he/she wasn’t, then Ken was going to have a problem. Going after-hours was his only real option, and though he doubted that a phone call to his parents was going to happen, he didn’t want to risk it. Ken knew what would happen if his parents heard from this school, ever, and it wasn’t good news. He did not want that kind of punishment to ruin his life.

Even at the tiger’s slow pace of walking while he thought, he still got to his destination just as he finished his short train of thought. It was quite a surprise that he made it so quick, but when he looked down the hall at how close it was to the cafeteria, and that he had been heading this direction anyways as his previous class was supposedly this way too, it was less surprising. He still was pleased with it though, as he approached the door and peered in quickly to see who was in the room. The class was empty save for a plump lion; one Ken instantly recognized as his English teacher. Ken opened the door slowly once he saw that, unsure of just why the English teacher was also teaching a computer class at that time. “Ah… Oh, hello again Ken.”

“Hello Mr. Felden…” Ken said, his eyes looking at the lion’s feet in submission. Ken was still intimidated by the big cat, in spite of not only knowing him, but having no reason to be whatsoever. He knew the other feline was a nice one, and that he was in for an easy class if he had the feline twice in a day. It was still unnerving for him though, as the feline held authority over him in two ways now.

“Have a seat anywhere, the others should be sho-… What did you do to your chest?” Mr. Felden inquired, his voice piquing with curiosity as he rose from his chair with a groan. He slowly approached Ken, shifting his glasses a couple times as he looked at the bandages through wide eyes and with a worried expression. “I’m sure you weren’t bandaged like that this morning.”

“It’s nothing sir… Just got into an argument.”

“Nothing doesn’t look like that Ken,” Mr. Felden rumbled, his tone almost annoyed as his arms folded over his chest. “What happened? The short version too, we have maybe another minute before your fellow classmates get here.”

“A bear tried to beat me up… He had me by the chest, and his claws cut me when I got away…” Ken muttered, almost embarrassed to be speaking. His eyes were pinned to the floor now, and his face was burning red as he spoke. He didn’t want to have to be explaining this to the teacher; he was going to be getting enough of it from his fellow students. Only two teachers would need to know after Mr. Felden though, and hopefully each would ask for the short version, so he took faint solace in that.

“Did you get a good hit in at least?” Mr. Felden’s voice was hushed as he spoke, his head lowering to Ken’s level. Ken looked up with surprise, and the older feline was wearing a smug smile as he awaited an answer. The younger tiger was shocked by the question, but at the same time a surge of pride came up in him as he thought of his answer.

“He went flying sir,” Ken blurted out quietly, and just as quickly regretted saying. He wasn’t going to be able to take that back, and with Mr. Felden’s wide eyes now looking at him incredulously, he wished to hell that he could.

“A little bit of fight in you huh malt?” Mr. Felden was the third fur today to say something to Ken about his maltese looks. Ken had never thought much of them, but to have them pointed out three times in one day was a little unnerving to him. It also made him a touch self-conscious, though he knew he had little time to worry about that since there was so little time left in the day. “Good on ya cub,” Mr. Felden pat Ken’s shoulder, gesturing towards the desks in the room. “Take any seat you want; they’re all free.”

“Thank you sir…” Ken nodded feebly as he started towards a desk, having his eyes set in one just a row back from the front. Ken saw that it had the newest monitor in the room, and wanted it for that reason alone. He knew that a new monitor meant a newer computer, and for a computer class; that was something Ken wanted. Granted, the class wasn’t going to need much in the way of processing power, but Ken was fairly sure that he was going to be doing more than classwork at least some of the time.

“Seats are assigned from where you sit, so I’ll mark you there… And here are some more of your classmates.” Mr. Felden smiled warmly as a couple more furs entered the room, then a couple more, then a few more after that. It was a steady stream of various furs for almost a minute, slowly bring the classroom to near capacity. Ken was a little bit unnerved by how fast the room filled, but he was also glad that he wasn’t alone in the class. The teacher knowing him and being as friendly as he was made the whole thing a little easier to process as well; Ken liked the familiar after all. A full room meant less chance of him having to speak in front of all the others, and less chance of him getting picked on for anything too. The tiger was satisfied with his few justifications for why he had nothing to fear about each and every computer in the room having a student at it. He wasn’t entire secure with it, as one of the bears in the back row had given him a look when he entered, but Ken was at least somewhat alright. It was better than he had been at the beginning of the day, and considering the class’ content, he was even less worried about things.

“Ok, every one of you is now in Typing 101. I’m Mr. Felden and I will be…

**********

The bell ringing startled Ken, as he had been so absorbed in what he had been reading about a dirt bike online that he had completely forgotten the time. He had finished the lesson plan in about five minutes, and that had given him nearly a half hour to surf the web on his computer. Mr. Felden seemed to have planned the class like that, as he had been doing the same on the front computer, as well as occasionally putting links up on the front projector and talking idly about them. The few students in the front had taken interest; brown nosers that they were. Ken wasn’t one of them though, and had been far more interested in what was going on with the latest from Kawasaki. He couldn’t afford a bike at all, but he was still curious about what was going on with them since he was sure that he was going to see it with Jake.

Ken sighed and stood up once the bell had shut off, taking his books in one paw and clicking off the computer with the other. He made sure to be completely logged off, as he wanted no other furs to use his account whatsoever. He didn’t want to get in trouble for what they looked at, and more importantly, he didn’t want them to delete any of his files. He was paranoid about that, but at the same time he was more concerned that some other fur would find his history and report him to the teacher. That was unlikely to happen at high school, as most other students likely did the same things, but Ken wasn’t going to take a chance. He made sure to be logged off, and clear his history before he did because of it.

He gathered up his books again, holding them to his side while another paw rubbed his chest. The wound was still healing nicely, and was a lot less sore than it had been even at the beginning of the class. It was still a bit painful to move with the thing though, as his flesh constantly shifting and moving around with the wound on it hurt and stretched the skin just a little more than he wanted. He wasn’t afraid of it ripping though; that would’ve happened by that point if it was going to rip. He was more nervous about the pain, and still having to go home and face his parents now that he knew he was going to need to be bandaged for a couple days. It wasn’t something that he looked forward to, but he was becoming more and more at ease with it with every passing moment. He knew that he was going to get in trouble, but it was diminishing in his mind from a grounding for life, to simply a stern reprimand about fights. No call home had been made, and the medical supplies hadn’t cost money; what reason would his parents have to get him in trouble after all?

Ken stopped and thought for a moment longer about that, using the time to take out his schedule and find his final class of the day before locating it on the map. He knew his parents would get him in more trouble, and yet here he was thinking that it was going to be nothing. Something was wrong with that sentiment in his head, as he never thought like that. He always thought that things were going to go their absolute worst, not their best, and now that he was thinking that things could work out in his favor, he was beginning to panic and wonder just how messed up the fight had left him. Sure, he was feeling a lot better physically, but mentally… Where had the sudden burst of confidence come from? It was unnerving to him, and he didn’t want it to stick around. This wasn’t to say that he didn’t like its effects, but he didn’t like what it was doing to his mental state. He wanted to be able to think like Ken, not a tiger who wasn’t afraid of anything.

The tiger took a deep breath, trying to clear his head as he sighed and shook it. He wasn’t sure just how he was going to get his head entirely cleared, but he was going to have to try something out as he knew that just standing there and staring at his map wasn’t going to do him any favors. His last class was Anatomy, a mandatory class for all furs in high school. This wasn’t a class that he was particularly fond of, but he did find it interesting in some ways as there was always something new to learn. The class never talked about the same fur twice, and always had some new data every year as science progressed further and further in mapping out the unique traits of each and every species which dotted the planet. It was fascinating to him, but he wasn’t terribly good at the material in the class. This made him a touch nervous about attending, but he knew that it was mandatory and had little choice in that matter. He also knew that he was going to at least enjoy it a little bit, so he put little stock in his worries and just went to the class.

He saw that the class was on the second floor, and since he was already on the second floor, he smiled again; so little travel was quite the easy thing for him. The class was located in the main hall, the one and only lecture room in the entire building. Ken guessed that this was because the class had to be taken all four years of high school, by each and every student in the building. It wasn’t something that he relished, as he knew that would mean having to interact with the older students on a daily basis, but another class of his at least was already going to be like that, so those nerves were somewhat fried already. He just would have to suck it up and deal with it, and as such was going to do that thanks to how he had no other choice in the matter. That fact, and that he was still so curious about the class that he knew he would have to go.

Ken started his trek down the hall, only just noticing the others around him. He was somewhat amazed at just how fast all the furs around him had become little more than background noise. This wasn’t to say that he still wasn’t aware that the building felt crowded, but compared to how he had felt that morning, the place was starting to seem a lot bigger and less cramped. He was sure that becoming more comfortable with his surroundings was a huge part of that, and chalked much of his change in mindset up to that. It wasn’t as though he was worried about that change either; he welcomed it with open arms. He was just amazed at how fast it had come, considering that it had taken him nearly three days to warm up to his middle school. He hadn’t made two new friends on the first day at that school either though, so he was sure that had something to do with it. He was fairly sure his age and the fight had something to do with it too, but both of those things weren’t in the forefront of his mind, and thusly not going to be reasons he thought of.

He was more thinking of his friends, and the new ones he had made over the course of the day. The tiger hadn’t thought much about them all day, as he had been too busy worrying or agonizing over the fight or otherwise preoccupied in class to really give his newfound group of friends much thought. He hadn’t seen Jake again since the English class that morning, and Luke had been a real great friend to him. He felt bad leaving the bunny alone, but at the same time he almost felt a little glad now that he had a chance to think. The last friend, Keith… That fur stuck in his mind like no one else. He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay. He was going to have to keep saying that if he wanted to think of Keith in any light as a friend, or anything even remotely like that. Such denial wasn’t going to be healthy, and Ken was beginning to see that he was going to have to accept reality one day. He didn’t want to though, and instead had to force Keith from his mind to try and avoid it.

That denial had been his reality for nearly three years, and as such it was something that he had lived with, and learned to foster to the point that it was engrained in his mind. It had been worn down as of late, and was beginning to crack as he was getting exposed to far more furs, and choices, than he had ever been before in his life. He was terrified what admitting his sexuality to himself, and any other fur around him, would do to him. He had heard rumors of lynchings, seen beatings, and could only imagine what would happen if his father heard of him being a gay tiger. It was something that Ken was more afraid of than anything else he had ever known, and yet he had to live with it; so he just denied it and hoped that would work. Keith was bringing that denial down with a sledgehammer though, and Ken was becoming more scared with every step he took down that path in his mind.

Thankfully for Ken, the class he was headed to had finally come into sight. He had walked past the cafeteria and auditorium to get to the room, and as such was a little surprised he had made it so quick. His thoughts had been strong though, so he was sure that they had made him focus on them rather than the trip. He was a little shocked at just how many furs had gotten there before him; over a dozen of his peers were already standing at the door, filing in one after another with more on the way. It was a sight to see for Ken, as he hadn’t even been in a class that large before. Some part of him figured that it was preparation for a larger college-level lecture, and thinking on that for a moment made it make sense. The school was the precursor to college after all, so preparing its students for the trials that higher education would bring made sense.

Ken merged with the line as his mind still reeled about Keith and the implications of such a large class. He was sure that he would be ignored, but with a class this large, would he learn anything if he got lost on a lecture? If he ever had to present a project, how would he handle that? Where was Keith right then? He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay… That argument was becoming even more invalid. “Ken!”

Ken turned around, looking at who had called his name and almost freezing in place as he saw Keith hopping along at a lumbering pace towards him. He instantly looked at the ground, his face turning a bright shade of red as he saw who was approaching. He couldn’t face Keith right then, not when he was so confused mentally about what was going on with himself. “Hi…”

“You got this class too dude? Great, at least I will know a fur in the room.” Keith grinned, coming to a stop next to Ken and putting a paw on the tiger shoulder. Ken’s blush got hotter as he felt that paw, the closeness making him panic. He was trying very hard not to shake with both fear and nervousness, but he was sure he was as his ears flattened and his tail twitched wildly behind him. He didn’t dare touch Keith in return; that would just be more than he could handle, as he was at his breaking point right then. It was as though his world had frozen and then decided to cave in on him; the tiger was unsure of anything at that point, and he knew that he was going to have to start getting sure quickly if he wanted any chance of making it through the class. “So having a good… Damn, what happen1ed to you?”

“A fight…” Ken whispered, still looking at the ground as he shuffled into the class behind a rotund badger. Keith was behind him, following him with his ears perked and waiting to hear more. Ken could feel the rabbit’s eyes boring into his back, and he almost wanted to turn around and say something to Keith. The tiger was far too terrified to do anything like that though, as he knew that something would happen and he would say something to embarrass himself. His mind was barely his own at that point, and he knew that speaking at this point was going to be disastrous.

“So, a fight… Did you at least win?”

“Yeah…” Ken found a seat about halfway towards the back of the room, which was shaped much like a small auditorium or movie theatre. He liked the layout a lot, and was glad to have come to the class rather than panicking or going right to his counselor and trying to get himself transferred out of the class. Keith followed him the entire way, sitting down beside him and still looking at both his wounds and his face. The tiger was still blushing beneath his thick fur, which he was grateful for at that moment as it hid his blushing quite handily. He wasn’t sure how Keith would react seeing such a thing, but he didn’t want to guess and find out, so he just thanked his lucky stars that it was hidden and tried to keep his gaze as far from the other’s as he could.

“You going to tell me what happened, or am I going to have to ask half the fuckin’ class in here?” Keith’s tone was slightly annoyed, and Ken looked up as soon as he heard those words. Surveying the room with a quick glance, he saw that the room was indeed focusing mostly on him, with several whispers and points coming towards him. A couple chuckles and scoffs could be heard, but most were whispers of either admiration of fear. He couldn’t blame the fear at all; he expected it after what he did. The admiration he had come to expect after his time with Luke, though he still was unable to grasp it. The stares and points were all that he really care about though, and as he looked around he could see many gazes turning away from him and going into more whispers. “Well Mr. Popular?” More annoyance riddled that tone; Ken was trapped.

“I threw a bear after he tried to beat me up and called me a lot of names.” Ken blurted out in a hushed voice; the class was somewhat started now anyways, so he needed to keep it down a little.

“You… Threw a bear?” Keith’s eyes were wide, as he looked on at Ken like the tiger had just said he had three heads or something along those lines. He wasn’t sure of what to say, and that was obvious to Ken as he too began to panic. He could see Keith visibly squirming in his seat, and that feat which had coated Luke’s face was beginning to show as well. The tiger had done it now, just when Keith was being friendly. He wasn’t gay…

“He’s alive. He had it coming too…” Ken ignored the pride in his voice as he spoke; denial was what he was best at after all.

“Just… Wow Ken, you don’t look like the type that could do that. What’d he even say to you dude?” Keith’s face was looking a lot less fearful already, and was looking more like the admiring, soft face which Luke had worn. It was a lot nicer to look at on Keith though, and for a second Ken paused to just look. He wasn’t… That lie was wearing thinner and thinner every time he used it. He barely even believed it after all he had seen and felt in just the short time he had known Keith and been in the building. He needed to keep using it though; to keep trying to convince himself that he wasn’t gay.

“Called me things I’m not going to say…” Ken muttered, his eyes glued to his desk now and his head hung. He sat like that for a moment, his paws in his lap. He was ashamed of himself, truly ashamed, and it was because of his fears and pause around Keith. The rabbit had more than earned to at least be looked at and talked to like a normal fur, and yet here Ken was muttering and looking at his desk like he was slow. Ken wasn’t about to start trying to act completely normal out of the blue, but he was trying to at least act more civil, and as he looked up at Keith in his first attempt at that, he felt a paw touch his arm lightly.

“You ok dude?”

“Yeah… I’m fine…” Keith nodded as he heard that, eyeing Ken for another moment before he simply pulled his paw back and put it on his desk. Ken could’ve sworn there was something more in Keith’s eyes as he pulled them away; something more in that touch. It was his imagination though; it had to be, what were the odds that… He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay. He wasn’t gay.

“Tell me about it later, alright?” Ken whispered, leaning over close as he looked back at Ken. Those eyes had that look in them again, and for a split second Ken was able to admit his sexuality to himself just to see it. It was a fraction of a fraction of a second, but he admitted it; that wall of denial was permeable. Panic instantly started to run through his blood as his mind went into overdrive from that realization. He had no idea how this could’ve happened to him. The tiger had been fine earlier that morning, and yet the wall was coming down all around him in just a few short hours of meeting what he thought was the most ha- He wasn’t gay! He wasn’t!

The teacher clearing his throat snapped Ken back to reality, tearing his eyes off his desk and bringing them to the front of the room as he looked at the teacher through hazy eyes. He could barely even see straight his mind was going so fast, and the first couple words which stumbled from the gazelle’s mouth at the front of the room were completely inaudible. Ken was completely unsure whether or not he was going to be able to understand any of that lecture, but his mind was in survival mode. Every ounce of his thought was going into rebuilding that mental wall around his denial of his true nature, and that was going to take all of it for a very long time. It had taken months to do; months of forcing himself to try and masturbate to females. Months of looking in the mirror and lying. Months of reminding himself that he was straight and that was that. All that work was coming down around him, and Ken was panicking so badly he was visibly shaking from it all.

He tried to focus on something else; anything else. The teacher’s words were still inaudible, the other students were all either looking at him or at the teacher with mock fascination. It was rare to see a gazelle at least, so Ken had a very mild distraction that lasted for a split second. That wasn’t going to do anything though; there was no way he was going to be able to distract his mind, and he could feel his pulse rising. His heart was back in his throat again, and his ears were down on his head. His tail swished beneath him violently, and hit his chair almost painfully hard a couple times as he tried to get it under control. There was no stopping it though, and he could feel the fur on his frame starting to bristle as there was going to be no stopping that either. Panic was winning this fight, and the food Ken had eaten was going to be the first casualty if he didn’t calm down immediately.

He could feel the vomit building in his stomach; all the torture of his mind unsettling his earlier meal to the point that it was going to come back out half-digested. He wouldn’t go down in school as the fur who not only beat a bear in a fight, but puked in class on the first day; there was no way that was going to happen. He instead just held it in as best he could, trying his utmost to simply swallow it back down. At the same time, he was thinking of everything he could to just get his mind calm, to keep the stress and shock of his minute admission from turning him into a gibbering idiot. His mind raced, zipping around it’s innards to find anything that would fit that bill of calming him down. Nothing sprang up though, and Ken was about to wretch when he felt a little tap on his shoulder.

“Ken… You ok?” It was Keith, who had apparently seen the tiger go ashen and begin to shake. “It’s alright dude, I’m sorry I asked you about the fight… “ His voice was hushed, but it was the only sound Ken heard as all others were paling in comparison to hearing Keith’s voice. Each word was more velvety and calming than the last, and as the last one fell forth from the lapin’s muzzle, Ken couldn’t help but focus solely on them.

“It’s ok…” That was hardly an answer, but it was all Ken could muster in his current state. He was trying his hardest to hang on still, but he could feel the vomit sinking back down into his stomach. His heart was still racing, and his mind was still going a million miles per hour. It wasn’t enough to get him sick anymore though, and that alone was enough to calm him down further.

“Good… Now, pass this down?” Keith handed Ken a stack of papers, which apparently were the rules of the class. Ken had missed all of the lecture to that point, and as such was a little sheepish as he took the papers. He blushed a bit under his fur, taking one of the stack and passing the next along to one of his peers to his right. He had no idea what was going on with the lecture, but as he looked down at the rules, it became apparent quick that the gazelle was just reading off the sheet. The tiger sighed and took a deep breath, shutting his eyes for a moment to try and regain his calm. It came, albeit a very small amount, but it was helping to stem the tide of panic which still flowed through him as strongly as his blood. That was going to have to be enough, as he opened his eyes and turned what little of his attention he had to spare to the teacher.

“…gum or anything like it is not allowed in this class. I don’t like to have to come around and…”

**********

Mr. Lindi was just finishing up as the final bell of the day rang. Ken sprang to his feet, having been watching the clock for nearly five minutes prior to it going off. He needed to get to that class he had prior that he had missed because of the fight, and as such needed to hurry. Keith gave him a look from springing up so fast, but Ken ignored it and held his books tight as he shuffled out into the aisle of the room and then began to rapidly descend the stairs. He passed the sole paper Mr. Lindi had asked for in on the teacher’s desk, barely even making sure it landed in the proper spot before making a beeline for the door. He was in a rush, and it was obvious as more than a couple furs got out of his way to let him by.  Most simply chuckled, thinking he wanted to get home or something along those lines, but a couple were offended and gave him rather snide remarks. Ken didn’t care though; he needed to get to the third floor, immediately.

He took a hard left out of the classroom, making his way for the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him. It was a rather long trek, as the hall was fairly long for being alongside the gymnasium. The stairs at the end of it put him next to the room he needed to go to though, so Ken was in luck that the class was so close to his current spot. His pace quickened, and for a moment he was able to use that to keep any of his thoughts from returning his mind to full-blown panic mode. He was still focusing on just what the teacher would say to him too, and what he would do if the teacher had gone home already. He hoped both of those things were false, so he had a slight amount of good thoughts in his head. Most were still on rebuilding the walls of denial around his psyche though, and as such he wasn’t truly invested in getting to the class.

He reached the stairs, taking them two at a time as there were no others furs around to stop him from doing so. He made it to the top within a couple moments doing that, but wince at the pain in his chest wound with every set of double steps. He wasn’t doing to do that again, but he was still in a hurry, so he did what he had to at that point. He had to ignore that pain too, as trying to focus on that wasn’t going to help him in any way whatsoever; that was a bad thing to focus on, as it would make the wound hurt again. Ken was finally to the point that the throbbing was dull and barely noticeable, and focusing on the cuts would bring it back to a place that he could remember it. He wasn’t going to go there, so instead he just went back to rebuilding walls.

He rounded the corner at the top of the steps, seeing a teacher leaving a classroom which looked to be the one he needed. It was an older cougar, black as night and thin as a rail. Ken broke out into a run, hoping that feline was the teacher he needed and that he could get to him in time. “Excuse me!”

“Yes?” The feline stopped, turning around to face the running figure of Ken coming up behind him. It was a sight to see; a white and black tiger running as fast as his legs could down about fifty yards of hallway full tilt. The panther didn’t even flinch though, he just waited calmly next to his door until Ken got there and stopped, taking a couple deep breaths. The tiger winced again, as the pain was coming back in full force from that run and the breathing. The cougar just calmly stood there, waiting for Ken to get his breath back and wipe the wince from his face before speaking again. “Can I help you, freshie?”

“Yes sir, sorry…. I was supposed to be in your lunch class…. Something came up though. I have a note…” Ken went to dig into his pocket, but the cougar stopped him by holding up his paw and looking at the tiger for a long moment. Ken swallowed, his nerves as frayed as ever as he looked on at the cougar’s expression. The pitch-black fur on the other’s face made it hard to read, and for a moment Ken was about to panic in thinking that he had done something wrong.

“You’re Ken then? Alright, Ms. Egis called ahead for you and said you weren’t likely to make it. Good of you to take the initiative to seek me out though, makes me glad to have you as a student. I will give you the learning materials for the day tomorrow, and you can go over them during lunch. Sound fair?” Ken nodded fervently, his worries evaporating with every tilt of his head. He wasn’t getting into trouble again, and that shook him almost to his very core. He was so sure he was going to at least be reprimanded, and yet the vice principal had saved him yet again. “Don’t be late again though, or I will have a problem.”

“Yes sir… Thank you.” Ken said, nodding again. He was relieved, but at the same time a little nervous thanks to that last line. The voice the cougar had used wasn’t threatening on the surface, but Ken read a little into it and saw that there was definitely a threat in there; this feline meant business. He wasn’t sure what to think of the teacher, as he didn’t even know the cougar’s name, but he did know that the feline was serious. It was a good thing to have a serious teacher, and he took that in stride as he slowly backed away.

“Have a good night now Ken. I’m Mr. DeLacourse by the way.” The cougar held up a paw to wave, and Ken did the same as he backed away towards the stairs. He turned on his heel and started walking back towards them, his paws shaking slightly with nervousness as he walked along. He hadn’t expected that little wave of farewell from the cougar, but he hadn’t been terribly surprised by it either. It was the polite thing to do he guessed, and as he neared the stairs, he just thought that he was making it out to be a bigger deal than it actually was. He wasn’t entirely sure of why he was panicking over the small things like that, but he knew that his mind needed to calm down so that he could think clearly again.

He began to hum again as he entered the stairway and started down the steps. A couple of his peers were on those stairs, idly chatting as they walked up. One or two recognized him, looking for a moment longer than necessary as he walked past. Ken tried to put it out of his head, as he knew that was going to be happing for a long while thanks to what he had done earlier. He didn’t like the attention at all, but he was just going to have to accept it and move past it as best he could. None of it seemed to be bad attention either, so maybe it would be a good thing in getting him to come out of his shell. Granted, that shell was cozy and he had never once tried to leave it, but he was starting to doubt a lot of things that day… And maybe his shell should be one of them.

His rebuilding of his mental walls had come to a crashing halt as he had talked to Mr. DeLacourse, and it wasn’t until he was halfway down the stairs that he thought of them again. He wasn’t remotely done fixing them, but part of him started to question why he was even trying. Lying to himself, about his sexuality, his openness, his friends… All of it wasn’t going to get him anywhere, and as such he was trying his hardest to look for a place that he could just dump those walls entirely. Maybe it was just the sense of denial was finally getting to him, or maybe it had something to do with how tired of lying to himself he just was after a long day of having to do it over and over again. He wanted the entire thing to just stop so that he could go on and not have to worry about needing to try and hide everything. That wall was looking so ominous though, so hard to break… How he was going to get it to shatter was just beyond his ability to comprehend.

He kept thinking on that as he headed down the hall at the bottom of the stairs, following the general flow of furs towards the doors of the school. Admitting that he was gay… He wasn’t though… He was though. He couldn’t get his mind to admit it entirely, he was in denial even if he knew that it was the truth in some deep part of him. He wanted that part to shut up and leave him in peace so that he could start trying to process everything that had transpired that day, but he knew that wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t as though he was going to have to try and do this all in one day either, so he knew that leaving it alone for the time being wasn’t going to kill him. He just couldn’t mentally drop the subject though, as he was so sure that it was something he needed to do… It was tearing him up, and as he waded through the sea of furs which clogged the hall leading to the exit, he just agonized over it.

Ken didn’t need to stop by his locker, a thought which had crossed his mind briefly as he saw all the other furs at theirs. He didn’t need anything from the empty shell of metal, though tomorrow he very well may as he was going to have to start bringing a bad into the building. He wasn’t looking forward to that reality, but at the same time a part of him welcomed it. He knew that it was going to be an exciting step on his journey to becoming comfortable in that building, and yet it was also a sort of admission that this was going to be a huge part of his life for the next several months. Ken didn’t mind that nearly as much as he did in the morning, but he still didn’t want to have to come into the building day after day knowing that he was doing to have to see some of the furs he had seen that day. Those bears, the beaver from earlier who’s name escaped him… He didn’t want those furs in his life, and thusly shuddered a bit thinking of them.

The beaver was the only one he would have to see with any regularity though, and that was a little thing he took solace in as he kept on walking, getting closer to freedom with every step he took. He wanted that freedom, and to not have to worry about everything that was going on in the building that came with it. He was so sure that it was going to be just something that he could revel in that his pace quickened somewhat towards the doors. He didn’t get pushy or start to try and weave through the crowd, but he wasn’t slinking along as he had ben when he had first gotten to the second floor. He was trying to get to the exit; to his place to think and process and make sure that he was going to be alright with everything that had happened to him over the course of the day. He needed that, more than anything, and that need grew larger with every single step that he took. He wanted those walls gone, he wanted to start planning out his next move should the bears come after him again, and he wanted to be able to walk through the school without worrying anymore. All those things could only come if he had a chance to think, and it was staring him in the face as a set of double doors.

Several sets of them were actually what he saw, the secondary exit of the school that the buses picked students up at right in front of him at that point. He was on the home stretch to escaping from the longest day he had had in a very long time. He was just steps from it, and putting one paw in front of the other was all that he could think of in terms of getting himself out. One paw in front of the other, one paw in front of the other… The rhythm of that walking kept his mind somewhat blank, in spite of all the things screaming at him in the background for attention. That wall was just begging for attention again, and the look of the problems that were awaiting him at home, not to mention needing to go over rules and get a couple things signed that came with the school’s handbook… He was just swamped with things the more he tried to get his mind to be still and just let him calmly leave the building.

That wasn’t going to happen though, as just a few steps from the door a large paw was on his shoulder and tugged him roughly aside. Ken felt the claws dig into his arm, and he winced lightly as he did so. He looked at the fur; brown, just like the bears had been earlier in the day. Panic started to set in as he was pulled out of line by the strong arm and into a circle of six or seven ursines, each looking down at him with a  light snarl on their muzzle. None of them spoke, and Ken did all that he could to not cower in fear in front of all of them. He was terrified, and his bristled fur and flicking tail gave it away almost immediately. He was so scared that something was going to happen again that it took all he had not to just start fighting them all; he could win, and he knew it. He wasn’t going to show it off unless he had to though, as two fights on his first day in the building wouldn’t be a good thing.

“What’s your name cat?” The oldest-looking bear spoke, clearly a senior who had been tasked with helping out today.

“K-Ken…” Whispers followed his admission, quiet stares and a little bit of finger pointing.

“You’re the only malt I’ve seen so far… You seen any others?”

“No…” More whispers followed that one too. Ken was starting to get even more nervous as he looked up at the bears. He wasn’t sure of what was going on, but a teacher’s voice in the background brought him a small glimmer of hope. No hostilities had erupted yet though, so that glimmer started to take root and grow as he looked around at his ‘captors’.

“So you’re the one who tossed Nevin like a sack of potatoes then?”

“Yes…”

“You? Hardly seems like you could, but Rick and Klive are fairly insistent that it was you. So, if it was you… I want you to know that none of us are going to be coming after you. Nevin is a bigoted ass and not a fur we like associating with. Klive and Rick are sorry for intimidating you earlier, but it was instinct-“

“And fear…” One of the other bears chimed in, looking down in shame as soon as he did.

“That too. Anyways, I fursonally want you on the fighting team here if you really are that talented. Stop by the gym tomorrow if you think you can handle it, and know that there is a late bus if you do get involved. Sound good?” Ken nodded feebly, looking down at the ground as his ears flattened. His heart was still pounding in his ears, but he was beginning to calm down. His fur was slowly coming down from being as fluffy as it had been; he hated that reaction, and yet it happened so often today that he knew a long bath was going to happen when he got home just to get himself cleaned and matted back down.

“I’ll try…”

“Here, you’ll need this.” The bear gave Ken a sheet of paper with some basic information and some spots for signatures at the bottom. This fight team was serious apparently, and looked to cost a little bit of money. Ken only skimmed the paper very quickly though, so he had no idea if that was the case, but hoped that it wasn’t as a small part of him wanted to do this now that he had the invite. He wasn’t sure just what he was going to do with it, or in the team for that matter, as he was undoubtedly going to be the smallest member, but… He needed to grow a spine, as that was part of what was running through his mind and had been all day. He knew that he had needed to for a long while, and part of that was going to be branching out and finding others who he could be friends with aside from the few he had made today. A fight team could be a good place to do that… “Hope to see you tomorrow cat. Bears?”

As the bears dispersed around Ken, leaving him just standing there clutching the paper in one paw and his couple books in the other, he was racking his brain for reasons why he shouldn’t join the club. He came up with very few, and most of them were very minor. There weren’t any really good ones that he could latch onto in order to convince himself that this was a bad idea. Years of training that he had, the need to get out and so something, his dad’s earlier demand that he take at least one sport… All of it was falling into place, and yet he hadn’t even thought about the bulk of those things for the entire day. He had figured he would wait until the next day to tackle those problems, but they were solving themselves, all courtesy of a fight. Had Ken not been in public, he would’ve almost laughed at how utterly insane his day had been, but he instead just started to merge back with the crowd and take the last few steps for the double doors.

Ken’s train of thought was derailed instantly as he thought of what would happen after the fight, and brought any progress of leaving the school to a grinding halt. He stood there for a moment, thinking of what it would take in the locker rooms… All the denial, the lies, the having to avert his eyes every chance he had. He wasn’t even open to himself, but all the bears, as big as they were, with all the other species that were inevitably going to be in there and fighting… How would he maintain control in his current state. He began to panic all over again, and this wasn’t like before in his mind; this was panic about staying in denial. He needed to come to terms with what he was, who he was, and just what he was going to do about it. It was going to take effort, and all he had to come around that corner and just admit it to himself, but… He needed to do it if he wanted to last in the locker room.

That resolve pushed him forward, and though he was still terrified of what would happen to him by admitting his sexuality to himself, he couldn’t help but think what would happen if he didn’t. He had been living in a lie for over 3 years, and it was eating him up. Having to remind himself of that lie was just admitting it was a lie, and that he needed to change. This had been a day of change for him in may aspects, and making one more as he stepped out of the building and into his freedom wasn’t going to make things much different. Granted, it would change immensely how he felt about himself, but Ken was starting to think he was ready for that. It scared him more than anything had that entire day, and yet… He felt ready for it.

He smiled to himself as he thought that, turning his head towards the doors of the school he had glowered at that morning. They looked much less ominous now, almost inviting in fact as he looked at them. He was going to be okay with everything now. Except if his parents found his bandaged torso, or the note from his teacher about being late. Those, he could live with though… As getting out of denial had been something he needed; it had evaporated each and every one of his worries. So he walked to his bus, one paw in front of the other, his ears perked and his tail swishing behind him as he hummed a little bit. This tune was new though, and much more upbeat than the one he had hummed through the halls. He found his bus, just a couple down from the end, and approached it as one thought entered his mind and stuck in it for him to both stew over and finally take a semblance of pride in, after years of hiding it and trying his hardest to change it.

He was gay.

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