Judy hurried through the hallway, doing her best to ignore the tortured, mangled screams that echoed endlessly around her. Her goal was just ahead now, the double doors to the twisted hospital’s last operating room. After almost two years of hoping, searching, the end goal was finally in sight.
She leapt the last distance, kicking the door open and rolling to a stop. Her eyes darted across blood-splashed walls, shattered screens, a clawed-up surgical table dripping scarlet. A sharp gasp cut past her lips, her tranq-pistol dropping from nerveless fingers.
The red fox stood with his back to her, his tail, bristled in fury, lashing at the hem of a pale hospital gown splashed with blood. Long, piercing claws of black metal twitched where his hands should have been, blood dripping from each tapered tip. Loose wires snaked from the appendages, trailed in the crimson puddle at his feet. Now consumed by the same twisted bio-tech as his hands.
Frozen, she watched as he slowly lifted one of those claws, spotting the snapped IV at his sleeve, his own blood arcing out to join the scarlet sea surrounding him. A hard, metallic growl echoed, the claws flying down to rip the chest of the mammal at his feet. The scarred deer barely had the strength to gasp, but his weak cackles continued, even as the blood bubbled past his dying lips.
The voice was hollow, crueler and deeper than it should have been. A faint whirr filled the air as those claws slowly curled in a fist, the flicking lights above glinting coldly off them. A snarl ripped his lips apart, uncovering teeth black and jagged as stones.
“You did this to me!”
He brought the fist down, the deer’s skull giving way beneath the blow. That brilliant, shattered mind was finally over, scattered with the bits of brain that littered the floor.
His breath rasping, Nick slowly straightened, sweat trailing along the frayed wires hanging past his neck, his sharp, metallic ears twitching back. The fur around them was thick with blood, dripping from opened wounds to stain his collar. She couldn’t help but gasp again, the fox freezing before whirling to face her. The rage fled his eyes, clouded forest green surrounded by red as tears streamed through his fur.
Hearing his voice, now filled with anguish, drove her forward, her hand reaching stiffly out…
“W…What have they done to you?”
Judy snapped awake, her throat scratched and dry from screaming. Her nose was buried in warmth, hardness covered by silky fur. She clung to it, her broken sobs racking her body. A subtle coolness trailed along her cheek, tilted her head back to meet the eyes from her dream. Only now, they were clear, calming her like nothing else could.
“You saw it again, didn’t you?” his voice was low, laced with regret. It wasn’t as rough as it had been, but they both knew it would never quite be the same. That coolness was back, brushing the fresh tears that stained her fur. She sniffled, nodding.
“I-I can’t stop seeing it,” she snuggled deeper into his chest, trying to take comfort in the steady thump of his heart. That would never change, she knew, and she’d vowed never to lose it again. “I…I-I just…”
“Shh,” his claw traced over her lips. It had taken months to reshape them, to get them as close to his natural hands as possible. They had done the same with his ears and feet, the terrifying tech now no different from normal prothstetics. He draped his tail around her, nuzzling the top of her head. “It’s in the past now, its over.”
She wanted so hard to believe that, but she knew it never would be, not really. It had taken him over a year to recover, his broken psyche slowly piecing itself back together, and she’d been at his side every step of the way. Reaching up, she traced his own lips, her mind flashing back to the black daggers that had filled it. They had been replaced with a gleaming smile of white ceramic, each just a little sharper than his teeth should have been.
He took her hand in his, lightly kissing it. His grip was so gentle, it was hard to believe those same hands could put holes through concrete. He held her gaze, reading the emotions that flashed through her eyes.
“You were the only thing that kept me going, Judy,” he whispered. “No matter what they did to me, no matter how they tried to break me, I’d just imagine your smiling face. The first face that would greet me when I finally came home.”
He’d admitted that to her a thousand times, each one earning another piece of her heart. He hugged her more tightly to him, lying on his back so she was on top of him. Regret filled him again, causing his grip to harden, but he made sure it was never enough to hurt her.
“That monster had strapped me down again,” he went on. “He said I was the only one who’d survived that long, that he was going to ‘reward’ me by giving me new eyes.”
He shuddered at the memory, his teeth flashing as his lips curled back.
“He’d just started to drug me when I heard the sirens, and I guess I just…” he swallowed, drawing in a shaky breath. “I just snapped. I clawed my way free, only caring about getting revenge on him. I just…saw red.”
He brushed her cheek again, loving how her eyes glimmered in the moonlight.
“I don’t know how far I would’ve gone if you hadn’t found me, i-if you hadn’t…”
His voice broke. He pulled her down, hugging her tightly. She clung to him, returning it eagerly.
“I’d let myself become the monster he’d been trying so hard to make, but when I heard your voice, saw how terrified you were, it all faded,” he pulled back, looking away from her. “All that was left was guilt, the shame that you’d seen me like that, the fear I’d let you down.”
He sobbed again.
“I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that, for any of it. I-I should’ve been able to…”
He trailed off when she touched his cheek, turning back to see her face was barely an inch from his.
“Stop thinking like that,” she said firmly. “The only monster in that room was that deer, and he deserved everything you gave to him.”
Her eyes steeled further, her blunt claws digging into his skin.
“Because of that, he’ll never hurt anyone else. There’s no telling how many lives you saved that day. You’re a hero, Nick, and you have nothing to feel guilty about.”
She pushed herself up, crossing her arms and gazing smugly down at him. He stared silently back at her, his mouth slightly gaping. It was a shock when he moved, grabbing her head, pulling her back to him. Before she could speak, his lips were on hers, roughly guiding her into a long, hot kiss. She panted when he ended it, her lip sore where he’d nipped it, her wide eyes glassy.
“I’ve wanted to do that since I woke up in the hospital,” his voice was husky. “Seeing you smile like that, so bright and relieved, i-it made me realize how much I loved you.”
She was silent, her eyes slowly coming back into focus. When they finally did, he was barely able to see what flashed in them before she swooped down, their tongues clashing before he’d even realized she’d kissed him. He moaned into it, wrapping his arms around her, the sound catching when her legs tightened around him. When she pulled back, her eyes were gleaming wickedly, the sight as enticing as it was terrifying.
“Let’s see how good you are with those hands,” her palms slipped up his chest, her grin widening when she felt his racing heart. “Shall we?”
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