They say you can't find happiness at the bottom of an empty bottle; Al would disagree. His solution was to order more bottles, until he found the happiness that he came to The Sloshed Fox for. The bar was a bit too small for Al's tastes, but he had already been banned from Pack Pub and Tiger's Eye, two of the other bars close to his home location of Pack Street. He and Marty were having a good time earlier in the night, but now Al found himself on the sidewalk in front of the bar, as per the barkeeper's request.
Al wondered if the happiness he was looking for could be found in the company of the three timber wolves he was staring down. His memory was fuzzy; there was something about the female timber wolf among them, and maybe something about spilling drinks. All these bar fights had started to blend together. The reasons ceased to matter; only the fights were of importance.
Al noticed Marty was no longer on his shoulder, or anywhere nearby. As if that mattered; the stoat wouldn't be any good in a fight against wolves. Probably slunk off somewhere.
The night air felt crisp and cool, and Al could hear a soft cacophony of chatter coming from inside the bar as some patrons spectated the fight that was brewing. A large crowd of mammals were watching Al from behind the large front windows of the bar.
The two timber wolves were gesturing in front of him, making a display of aggression. Al wanted to say something back, but he couldn't form a coherent reply. He wasn't even sure what they were saying. Instead, Al steeled his nerves, trying to rush all of his blood into his head. He went on high alert, gathering every ounce of willpower and sobriety he could muster. Al gave a mighty snarl, and made a feint to intimidate the two male timber wolves. The large tundra wolf gave a wicked smile upon seeing the two smaller wolves flinch at his display. Their female stood behind them, on edge. Al knew he was big, even amongst other tundra wolves. Al knew he was mean, and one hell of a fighter.
And most importantly, Al knew that this fight would bring him the happiness he desired.
With drunken rage, Al felt something mighty consume him as he lunged at the two wolves. It was something much more fulfilling than alcohol, and it lit a warmth inside of him that burned twice as hot.
The wolves sidestepped him in their own drunken way. One punched Al square in the gut, but between the fat, muscle, and booze he wasn't stunned. Al couldn't help but smirk at how strong he felt, and gave the wolf a punch to the gut in return, knocking the wind out of the wolf and bringing him to his knees. His friend brought out claws, swiping Al across the chest, which caused Al to let out a cry of pain. He could feel blood beginning to spill from the wound.
"Claws? Come on, I thought this was a fair fight?" Al grumbled venomously in his deep voice. "Now you made me do this!" Al emphasized with a kick to the kneeling wolf's face. Al laughed, seeing the wolf go down for good. He could see blood pooling on the sidewalk from the wolf's nose.
The wolf who had clawed Al stood there shocked for a moment. Al made a feint towards the collapsed wolf, as if to strike him again, which sent his friend rushing at Al to intervene. Al quickly turned to intercept the charging wolf with a bear hug. The wolf connected a punch to Al's cheek, but Al had shifted his head enough to shake it off. Adrenaline gave Al a bout of strength as he lifted the wolf up and threw him onto the ground. The wolf bounced slightly, and attempted to recover his footing, but Al was upon him too quickly. With a single haymaker Al had knocked this wolf unconscious as well.
Al slowly shambled back into a standing position and looked over to the female wolf. She was small for her species and looked rather frail. She winced upon seeing Al stare at her, as her friends were no longer there to protect her.
"When your boyfriends wake up," Al slurred, "tell them never to fuck with Al again. You got that, bitch?"
The girl was shaking, but she had enough sense to at least nod at Al before invoking any more of his rage.
The manager, an upset, middle-aged vixen, came out and told Al he's not welcome at this establishment again. Al snorted, realizing there was no response to give. He didn't care enough to argue; there were plenty better bars in Zootopia.
Instead he shambled down the sidewalk, wounded and inebriated. He walked for a good five minutes, hoping he was heading in the direction of Pack Street. The night was cold, even for a tundra wolf with copious amounts of fur. Fur that was currently roughed up and covered in blood in certain patches. Al gently touched his chest where the wolf had swiped him, and felt the warmth of fresh blood on his frigid paw. He felt dizzy and his body felt slightly sore from the energy he had exerted.
These feelings combined caused Al to laugh. He let out merry laughter that would have impressed Ozzy. Al felt warm, powerful and alive. His laughing fit continued as he walked, completely unsure of why he was feeling this way. The best part of feeling this way was he didn't need to have a reason; Al was completely separated from his thoughts. Right now nothing mattered because his brain was on vacation and his body was swimming in alcohol and testosterone.
Before long, though, his laughter turned into coughing, and then coughing turned into retching. Al let out a mighty heave and fell to his knees, vomiting onto the pavement. His vomit reeked of alcohol mixed with the putrid mash that was his dinner. Suddenly, Al felt the warmth leaving him, and his brain was not functioning enough to know why. He felt empty for reasons other than having expelled all of the contents of his stomach, and his head felt as if it were under pressure. The night air began to pierce his fur, for he was no longer shielded by the warm fortitude of booze. Slowly, he felt the rush of endorphins from the fight leave his bloodstream.
Al's arms shook, no longer able to support his weight, and he fell into the puddle of his own vomit. The world seemed bleak, and Al couldn't quiet the dark hopelessness in his own mind. He just wanted to be happy, but alcohol gave him a little less happiness each time, it seemed.
"Somebody help me..." Al mumbled weakly before blacking out.
Al swam through the murk of drunkenness and roused himself enough to crack open his eyes. What he saw was two hooves in front of him on the sidewalk. There were some other voices, but he only cared for one. The voice was soft, feminine, and soothing. Al looked up and saw the face of a female deer. She was poised above him, and gently descended down closer to Al's face. The street light behind her hurt Al's eyes, but framed the deer perfectly, as if she came from the light itself.
"Al..." the deer spoke with sorrow and concern in her voice.
Upon hearing her speak his name, Al's drunken mind was convinced that she would heal him. He laid his delirious head back down on the concrete and allowed this angel to safely take him with her.
Although he was quite fond of the couch in his apartment building's main lobby, he wasn't so sure he would call it heaven. Al slowly opened his eyes and looked around, and saw Remmy and Ozzy standing above him in front of the couch. An eternity full of Ozzy's laughter and Remmy's company; maybe this was hell.
"G-guys he's awake!" Remmy bleated out in surprise.
"Al! Al!" came Marty's voice, "Are you okay, man?"
Al gave a groan. "What the fuck happened, and where did you run off to? Too scared to at least watch my fight?"
Marty let out an exasperated, frustrated noise. "Fuck you, man! It was just you and me tonight; no Ozzy, no Avo, for fuck's sake, not even the twins were with us! Even if you didn't pick a fight against those two timber wolves, I could tell you were going to need help getting home from the sheer amount you drank. What the fuck was I supposed to do, carry your fat ass all the way back to Pack Street?" The stoat was practically jumping up and down in righteous anger.
"And who the fuck do you think you're talking-" Al retorted weakly, failing to sound as aggressive as he wanted from his exhausted state.
"No! Shut the fuck up, Al! I'm talking and you're listening this time. I'm not drinking with you anymore. I still haven't gotten any thanks for sprinting all the way here to get help, and then running all the way back to fish you out from swimming in your own vomit! Not to mention all the other times I was there for you when you were drunk. You need to thank Remmy, Avo, and Ozzy for carrying you, as well; you're not exactly light."
The room was dead silent. Nobody talked to Al that way. Especially not Marty, his best friend, who was on Al's side about everything.
"Thanks," Al stated, a hint of bitter regret in his offering.
The room was silent once again. Avo, Ozzy, and Remmy all exchanged nervous glances, bewildered by Al's uncharacteristic behavior.
Marty began again, now much more calm after his outburst, sporting an apologetic tone. "Listen, man, I'm sorry. I-I didn't mean to yell at you but you've been out of control lately. Let's just drink here from now on. No need to get banned from any more bars. Plus it's cheaper. Does that sound good, Al?"
"Sounds good," Al replied flatly. He didn't want anyone mad at him or worrying about him. Right now he just wanted to be left alone. "Thanks to the lot of you for the help. I mean it, you all did a good job. Now get out of here and let me rest."
Marty, Remmy, Ozzy, and Avo all made their way to the stairs.
"Oh, and if you want to know who cleaned you up, it was the new girl. She came with us to find you, and then tended to your wounds once we got back. Thank her too, if you want," Marty called out to Al before going up the stairs.
Al laid on the beat up old couch in the lobby, wondering what Marty meant. He gave a twitch of his pointy ears and a few sniffs of his long, canine snout, trying to sense if anyone else was in the lobby. He picked up the scent of deer, and suddenly a vague memory from the sidewalk came flooding back to him.
Al looked up to the ceiling and closed his eyes. He took a moment to compose himself before speaking. "Come on over here where I can see you."
There was a soft clacking of hooves on the tile floor behind the couch, and Al tracked the sound until they were in front of the couch.
"Sit down at the end of the couch. We're gonna be a while," Al deadpanned.
More clacking on the tile, until he felt the deer sit down next to his feet. Al nearly took up the whole couch in this position, but there was a bit of room at the end for the deer to seat herself.
"It's nice to see you, Al," came the soothing voice from last night. She spoke softly, as if afraid raising her voice would upset nobody in particular. She was quiet and sweet. She always had been.
"That's a lie. Why are you here, V?" Al spat out, a hint of annoyance in his voice.
"Al, I'm 25 now. You're 26 now. I've graduated college, got a job...I've been self-sufficient for a while now. I don't need to rely on my parents anymore. My mom and dad, your dad...they no longer dictate our lives."
"Yeah, you have an education, a job, and money. So why the hell did you come to Pack Street?" Al asked his rhetorical, venomous question.
"I came here for-"
"Don't you dare say you came here for me." Al warned her coldly.
She shut her mouth and seemed to shrink into herself.
"This will be easy," Al thought to himself, "she was never bold enough to stick up for herself."
"I came here for you," V spat out quickly, afraid of backlash.
Her words were like a slap in the face to the alpha wolf.
"Oh yeah?" Al asked, voice growing loud and irritated. "All that education clearly didn't stick in your brain well enough for you to be doing something this stupid. You saw firsthand what I've turned into. Is that who you want to be with? Do you find a drunk like me appealing, V?"
He looked at her as she drooped her face down towards the floor, afraid to answer. He knew that she didn't; Al was a sorry sight. Even on a good day, Al was an alpha wolf through and through. He could tell by looking at her fashionable white sweater, her matching skirt, and her timid demeanor that they had grown too far apart. He could sense her fear as she sat close to him, trembling slightly. She was an uptown prey and he was a pred living in the slums.
"We ain't kids anymore, V. I let that promise go, and you should have too. We aren't getting married. You're gonna marry some lucky buck, have a few kids, and teach them not to go near anywhere near a place like Pack Street. Meanwhile, I'm gonna do what I do best; have sloppy sex with the she-wolves around here and get into bar fights."
"And you're happy with that? Without me?" asked V. She sounded as if he were on the verge of tears.
Al took a moment to respond. "Perfectly happy," he lied, "Now go home."
Al could hear her crying in earnest. "But...I already moved out of my old place," she managed to say between sobs. "I want to talk with you more. I'll find a motel tonight and then I'm coming back tomorrow when you feel bet-"
"Like hell you are."
"Why not move in with me?" came a promiscuous voice from the stairs.
Avo strutted into the lobby, her movements as slick as oil. The Egyptian wolf gave her pink lollipop a lick, and began to gingerly bite on it with her sharp teeth. A devious grin made its home on her face.
"Avo, this isn't the time for any jokes. Know your damn place." Al growled at her.
"Are you going to get up and stop me, Al? You're looking worse for wear," Avo sang teasingly. "Besides, you know I've been wanting for a new roommate. I'm tired of having to pay for two rooms on my own. I almost surrendered and was going to move into a single. But then..." Avo trailed off, motioning to the doe with a paw.
"Valerie," V politely replied.
"I'm Avo. Charmed," Avo introduced herself quickly before turning back to Al. "But then Valerie shows up and she's everything I was looking for."
"A deer is what you were looking for? You're just trying to piss me off, and it's working. Don't think I won't get you for this, Avo," Al threatened.
"Yeah, but you're not the landlord. So it's happening whether you like it or not," Avo retorted with a glare down towards the recovering alpha. "As long as Valerie agrees, that is."
"I'd appreciate that, Avo," Valerie thanked her softly, eyes still watery.
"I'd warn you that this is Pack Street; full of predators with only one other prey animal in this building. But from what I happened to, ahem, overhear from your conversation, you don't mind predators one bit, do you? Quite the opposite, am I right?"
"V, do not-"
"Oops, sorry, Al. I don't think you have a say in what Valerie does. It's not like you're her boyfriend or anything, so she doesn't need to listen to you barking at her," Avo teased, flourishing her lollipop in her paws. "Valerie, no need for official documents just yet. Trust me, the twins have had plenty of guests stay over for long periods of time, and the landlord never noticed. Take your suitcase up to my room and make yourself at home." Avo proceeded to give Valerie her key and directions to their room.
"Thank you," Valerie trailed off wearily, making her way towards the stairs. She took shaky steps up the stairs on her hooved legs. Normally her walk was dainty, but right now she looked downright wobbly, visibly shaken from the argument.
Avo slinked over to the couch, looking down at Al. If looks could kill Avo would have no hope of surviving; Al's eyes were burning with fury and his face was contorted into a snarl.
"Why are you still here?" Al asked coldly.
Avo snickered. "I'm here to laugh at you."
"You stupid fucking bitch," Al sneered up at Avo who was looming above him, as if she were a harbinger of torment.
To her credit, Avo was having fun with the tormenting. "Tut, tut, alpha. You ought to behave yourself, because right now you don't look the part of an alpha. You look like a miserable, mess of a wolf."
"Cut the shit, Avo. I know you like fucking with everyone but I'm not playing around when I say that you're gonna have hell to pay when I get up and start moving again. Don't forget your place."
Avo rolled the lollipop stick between her claws, gazing into the shiny pink surface of the candy. She watched the light reflect off of it as if it were her crystal ball, considering her next move carefully. Avo decided that right now, she would be Al's fortune teller.
"You know, Al. I do know my place," Avo began dryly, "and my place affords me to study everyone above me. I watch you intently, Al. I've learned what makes a good alpha. You're a fine wolf, even if a bit too grouchy. Everyone here thinks highly of you because you have always been such a great leader, and they probably still do. But not me. After today, I don't respect you anymore, Al. So kick me from the pack, treat me like a leper, I don't care; I don't want to follow the pathetic excuse for an alpha that I see in front of me."
Al wasn't sure why, but he was actually considering Avo's words for the first time ever, taking them to heart. Her words were as scathing and demeaning as ever, but this time he couldn't help but feel like she was hitting the bullseye on all of his insecurities instead of just talking trash. He looked up at the slender Egyptian wolf above him, and met her glare. From his perspective of a lower height, he thought Avo was intimidating for the first time ever. Al knew she wasn't anything he couldn't handle if he hadn't spent the night puking his guts out, but there was something in Avo's glare that was absolutely menacing instead of the normal condescending look. It was as if she were inside his head. Avo was absolutely disgusted with what she saw, and was passing her judgment down upon him.
In his fatigued state, Al mustered up a hoarse reply in the hopes that she would elaborate, unable to shake the feeling that Avo was right.
"Oh yeah? Because I drink too much and get into fights? That makes me a bad alpha now? Even completely shitfaced I can still take on-"
"No, Al. I was able to overlook the liquor. What I can't forgive is an alpha that turns tail and runs instead of taking what he wants," Avo interrupted, her tone harsh. She spoke with conviction, stressing her reasons for being disgusted with Al.
Al stared holes into Avo before speaking slowly.
"And what exactly do you know about what I want?" he asked, daring Avo to say it out loud.
Avo's stern expression split back into a devil-may-care grin.
"You want the appetizer that I just got as my new roommate."
His suspicions confirmed, Al painfully turned onto his other side to face away from Avo. He made a mental note to deal with her when he could think straight; keeping up this conversation was only going to worsen Al's slowly growing headache.
"You heard me, Al. You're a genuine preyophile, aren't ya? A hypocrite too, for all the shit you gave Cormo when he moved in. Don't worry though; your secret is safe with me, big guy."
"Fuck you, Avo. You're dead to me."
Avo chuckled and sauntered towards the stairs. Before heading up, she called out to Al.
"You never did want to fuck me, Al. But clearly I was going about seducing you all the wrong ways; I should have worn a nice pair of fake hooves."
Al awoke in the afternoon on the couch, feeling sore and drained of energy. The light that poured into the lobby was an affront to his well-being, and he squinted his eyes as he roused himself from his position. Slowly, he stood up and stretched out a bit before making his way up the stairs while on autopilot, groaning all the way.
"H-hey, Al," came the timid voice of Marty.
Al could have sworn he stared at Marty for a good ten seconds before remembering anything that had happened last night, which didn't help Marty's fearful disposition. Al internally winced at all that had transpired last night. The fight with the timber wolves, passing out on the sidewalk, Marty's rage, Avo's insults...and Valerie.
"Hey," Al replied, his voice sounding gruff and impolite.
"I just wanted to say sorry, again. I was way out of line and...I just hope you aren't mad at me. You know I can get really worked up and I was just worried about you, you know?" Marty apologized at a mile a minute.
"It's fine," Al grumbled, "you were drunk too."
"Yeah, it was the alcohol, you know? Anyways, do you need anything, maybe some water or-"
Al pressed a paw against his face in frustration. The pressure felt good against his pounding head. "I need to be left alone. I need to think."
"Okay, man. Just tell me if you need anything," Marty responded in the most cheerful way he could. Al was almost surprised that Marty didn't salute him and call him 'sir' with how apologetic he was being.
Al stood there in the hallway, rubbing his temple for a few moments before responding.
"Actually, Marty, I do. Give the new girl a decent welcome. I'll talk with her later, but until then I don't want her feeling uneasy. Don't let Betty boss her around and keep the twins out of her pants. Tell everyone to play nice. Can you do that for me?" Al's orders weren't as flippant or as gruff as they usually were; he was sure that Marty could hear the importance of this task in the solemn manner in which Al spoke.
"Y-yeah, sure. I can do that; I'll make sure everyone knows. Did you ever catch her name? I can't remember it."
Al began to walk away from Marty towards his own room. "Yeah, it's Valerie."
Al felt a considerable amount less shitty after his shower. He had spent the majority of it with his paws pressed against the tile wall of his shower stall, letting the lukewarm water wash over him. He had enjoyed feeling all the blood and vomit wash down the drain, along with his grimy feelings about last night as he scrubbed his thick fur.
Now, he was standing naked and damp in his apartment, but despite how clean his body felt, his mind was tormented with intrusive thoughts.
He gave his tail a careful drying with his towel before tossing it across the room, watching it land in front of his dresser. His eyes quickly darted to the bottom drawer of his dresser before he nervously averted them.
Al attempted to reason with himself that nothing good would come of opening that drawer, but eventually something won him over. Whether it was paranoia of it not being there or his fragile state of mind seeking comfort, he found himself opening the drawer and wrapping his paw around the grip of his dad's old handgun.
His dad had taken considerable care of it, but Al could see visible signs of age on the gray metal exterior. Al mentally noted how guns are always heavier than they appear as he shifted it's position in his hand.
"It was one week ago from today that I pressed this damn thing against my head," Al thought to himself, "was I a coward to not pull the trigger? Or does living make me brave?"
He had considered doing it again since that night, but managed to stick to his conviction, barely. However,now he had unfinished business, and he couldn't fathom the notion of suicide.
"One week later...and she decides to be part of my life again."
Al placed the gun back down in the drawer. Looking down at the ugly object, Al's paws began to shake with rage.
"I'm a coward."
"I can't make myself happy, let alone someone else!"
Al gave his wall a light punch out of rage. He stood in that position, his fist connected with the hard wall. He remained this way, panting heavily and taking in the sensation of pain on his knuckles before taking a couple deep breaths to steady himself.
He decided to go to the gym.
One long, sloppy weightlifting session, as well as a chunk of time spent absolutely thrashing the punching bag, which drew some concern from the spectating Neil and Clifford, Al arrived back in the lobby that evening feeling considerably better having let his anger out. He finally was able to think clearly, ready to handle his situation with a certain deer.
His positive outlook shattered the moment he stepped into the lobby and saw Avo's smug face.
Al had the sense to at least scan the room to make sure Valerie wasn't present. She wasn't; it was only Avo, Remmy, Ozzy, Marty, and Betty. Betty and Marty were lounging on the couch, while it looked as if Al had caught Avo, Ozzy, and Remmy making their way towards the door.
"Yo, what up Al? I'd invite you to the gym with us but it looks like you already-" Ozzy began in his typical jovial fashion.
Al stomped forwards angrily past the hyena, and intimidated Avo back into the wall at the foot of the stairs.
"Explain to me why you weren't waiting for me on your fucking knees at my doorstep this morning, omega? Trying to sneak off?" Al snarled with fury.
Avo looked away from Al with a worried expression, trying to pretend like he wasn't bothering her.
"Uh oh, what did you do to earn this tongue lashing, Avo?" Betty chipped in from the couch.
"I'm not playing around, Betty. Now stay the hell out of this," Al snapped back towards the black wolf. He pinned both of his arms against the wall to either side of Avo, trapping the smaller and more slender wolf. "What's the matter," he began again, "you're not running that mouth of yours as much as you were last night. Did you think I was joking when I said I'd get you back? That bark of yours is gonna get you bit."
"Wait," Betty chimed in once again, "this ain't just a dominance thing? Al what the hell is going on?"
"Al, we don't need to be doin' this man, just chill out and let us know what's goin' on," Ozzy added.
"Y-yeah, Al, don't hurt her," Remmy protested meekly.
"All of you shut the fuck up! This is between me and my omega," Al silenced all of them with a harsh yell.
"I'm not your fucking omega anymore, Al. Cut the wolf shit," Avo spoke up for all to hear. "I'm done, so count me out of the pack. Tell the rest of them not to associate with me anymore; I don't give a damn. I'm not following your lead anymore, and you know why."
Al stared at her in disbelief, completely dumbfounded as to why Avo was making such a big deal about Valerie. To her credit, Avo managed to glare back up at Al with a glint of fire in her eyes.
"Why?" Al asked in a low voice that hopefully only she could hear. "Why do you even care?"
"Who fuckin' cares what I think," Avo replied in an equally quiet voice, clearly hiding something, "now let me go or I swear I'll call the-" Avo cut her threat short. Al saw her glance up the stairs and then got the impression of watching an idea pop up in her head as a wicked grin replaced her angry expression.
"Oh, Al!" Avo shouted out suddenly, throwing her head upwards in mock pleasure. "You're so rough. Please Al, ravage me." She acted as if swept up in the throes of carnal passion, but Al merely stood there frozen like a statue, arms on the wall to either side of her. Eventually, Al understood her actions, and slowly turned his head to look up the stairs.
Valerie stood towards the top, eyes wide and hands covering her mouth.
"Val," was the only thing he could manage to sputter out, too shocked from knowing she saw his display.
Valerie said nothing in return, and ran back up the stairs towards her room with tears in her eyes.
Avo smirked and raised her eyebrows at Al, challenging him to do something about it. Al stood there in shock before gaining the cognitive function to weigh his options. He could wring the neck of the wolf in front of him, or he could go comfort the deer upstairs who was clearly under the wrong impression.
Without so much as a second thought, he chose the latter.
Al had sprinted up the stairs to Avo's room at speeds he didn't know he was capable of. When he reached the ajar door, he attempted to catch his breath.
Apparently, Valerie was too upset to close the door, and sat on Avo's love seat with her hands covering her eyes, sobbing loudly. There was a shirt between her hands and her face, serving the function of absorbing her tears.
"Hey," Al offered lamely.
Valerie's ears shot up and she looked at Al with watery eyes. She managed to weakly throw the shirt at him, which hit him gently in the stomach.
"You couldn't at least have a sober conversation with me before chasing tails, is that it?" Valerie sobbed, anger peaking through her painful crying. "Do I mean that little to you?"
"No, trust me, that was all Avo- and she didn't even mean it! She was tryin' to...get me to come up here after you."
There was a long silence, and Valerie let her gaze fall to the floor again. She shifted her hooves up onto the love seat, and buried her face in her knees. Al stood there idly, remorse stopping him from saying anything else. She had always been quick to cry, but he prided himself on never being the cause. When they were kids he would protect her from anybody who tried to bully her, because she was too meek to stand up for herself. He had always known her to be meek and gentle.
Which only made her next words all the more poignant.
"Are you going to say anything? Or do you enjoy making me feel like shit?" Valerie hissed quietly into her knees. The taunt caught Al off guard.
"I don't..." Al began but fell silent just as quickly as he started, his thoughts squelched by how unusually bold Valerie sounded.
"You've already taken up so much of my time, Al," Valerie spoke up from her typical soft manner of speaking. She stood up, and began walking towards Al, hooves clacking gently against the floor. Al could see that she was visibly shaking, and was putting every ounce of her willpower into walking towards the domineering wolf. Standing at full height with her for the first time, Al could see that she only stood a little less than a head shorter than him. Most deer were taller than him, but he was a large male wolf whereas she was a rather short doe, and her timid nature only made her seem smaller. Even more astonishing was how slender and fragile she looked in comparison to his own body; he must have been at least twice as wide. He internally chastised himself for his wandering eyes, but he couldn't help but notice her feminine curves, his gaze lingering on her ample rear as she made his way towards him.
Shame caused Al to freeze. He never wanted to hurt her; he was supposed to be the one protecting her from bullies. Al had seen her cry many times, but it had never been as bad as this. This wasn't a young child wailing because somebody called her a mean name; Al could see the effects he had on her had shaken her to her very core. The doe slowly approaching him was an absolute mess, but she still carried on with righteous determination.
"Stay away," Al interjected without much force in his tone, afraid of hurting her further. "I'm a brute. A mean drunk. You don't wanna come near me..."
"I came here for you, but I knew that leaving without you was a very real possibility. I'm not an idiot; I know that mammals change, and I know that we've come a long way since when we last left off. I came here for closure, Al, because I knew I could never live with myself without it. So go on, do your worst. Call me a bitch like you would Avo. Tell me that you hate me, or that you don't love me anymore at least. Throw me out of Pack Street like the unfeeling brute that you think you are." Her voice wavered but her eye contact did not as she dressed Al down. Tears were trailing down her face, creating dark streaks in her light brown fur, but she had managed to stave off the sobs.
"I don't hate you...I hate myself." Al confessed. "Did you think I was lying when I said you'd be better off marrying some buck and leaving me here? Val, you saw me last night. And trust me...I've had worse nights than that," Al admitted, deciding to gloss over his night with the handgun. "You'd be doing yourself a disservice. You're smart, pretty, and you've got a heart of gold. You're also a deer, and just like last time I'm going to get you in trouble just for being a wolf. I know you have a whole wonderful life ahead of you, Val, so don't throw it away on some cold-hearted jackass like me."
Valerie looked up at Al with wonder in her eyes. "You can't be that cold-hearted if you're worrying about my well-being. And...you still think I'm pretty?"
Al looked away, a bit embarrassed. "T-that's your takeaway from what I said?" he stuttered out in bewilderment, wondering if she actually cared about anything else he said aside from the compliment to her appearance. "Yeah, I still think you're pretty, and I still care about you too. But I'm telling you, there's a lot working against us. Too much shit that I'm not going to put you through."
"We can handle it. Unless...you don't love me..." Valerie stated in a crestfallen tone more than she asked it as a question.
"I already told you that I can't. How can I love you if I can't even love myself?"
To his surprise, Valerie gave a quiet snort of laughter.
"Because you can, Al. Thinking that way is so much bullshit! I fucking hate myself for not standing up to my parents sooner; I should have been standing by your side instead! I don't think I've ever loved myself since the day I gave up; there was always something gnawing away at me. But despite not loving myself...I know I've always loved you, and that feeling never went away. I loved you so much that it hurt to think about you for all the years I spent away from you. It hurt because I tried to forget you, because I tried to pretend like it didn't bother me, and I hate myself for that. Forgetting you wouldn't have been the right way to do things; I would have been dishonest with myself. That's why I'm here now."
Her words stung, but Al took them on the chin. He knew she would have tried to move on, it's only natural. But hearing that she tried to banish him from memory brought pangs of sorrow to his heart.
"You tried to move on? Tried to forget? Why couldn't you?" Al asked weakly, his mouth having gone dry at some point.
Valerie nodded in response. "I had two boyfriends after you. One didn't last a full year. He was a nice guy and really fun to be around, but we had different plans after college. We also stopped seeing eye-to-eye at some point so we both agreed to break up. But my second boyfriend...I thought he might be the one. Al, he was the type of buck that girls dream about. He was smart, handsome, a gentleman, and he even had money to boot. We were together for two whole years after I graduated. And then one night he proposed to me and...I told him 'no'. I feel so bad for leading both of them on, because the truth is I wasn't ready to move on. I couldn't stop myself from thinking about you, Al, and about how I never settled what happened between us." Valerie paused, and looked up to Al hopefully. "Were you the same way?"
"Yeah," Al responded shortly, realizing she was starting to get to him.
"Do I even want to know how many girls?" she asked a bit jokingly.
"I couldn't tell you," Al admitted, "some meant more than others but none meant as much as you. And unlike you, I never wanted to forget what we had."
This shocked Valerie to the point where she took a few steps back and covered her own mouth. "Wait, really? Al I'm-I'm so sorry. I feel kinda bad now."
Al waved his paw dismissively. "Don't feel bad. You did the smart thing and tried to be happy again. I was never the smart one between the two of us, so I did the dumb thing and kept clutching on to memories as if they could help me. As if memories of you could fill the void and make me happy."
"You...haven't been happy since? At all?"
Al gave a huff, trying to play it off lightly. "I mean, sure, some days are alright. I guess life isn't as bad as I've been making it out to be. I mean, I'm top dog around here. Everyone in this building likes me and respects me," his mind flashed to Avo spitting insults at him, telling him he wasn't a worthy leader. He shook it off and kept going. "I have friends and have an easy time getting laid. We have parties pretty often here on Pack Street and I have fun going out drinking with my friends. I'm the alpha wolf, my life is great...I'm happy."
That last word trailed off in such a fragile manner, betraying it's sincerity. Valerie looked at him with a worried expression, appearing afraid to say anything.
"I'm happy!" Al repeated, this time putting some bravado on the word. He even gave Valerie what he hoped looked like a convincing smile, but it only caused her to look even more worried.
"I'm happy...I'm happy..." tears began trailing down Al's face before he was even aware that they were there. Valerie saw the tears. He allowed the mask to shatter, and began crying in earnest. "Why can't I just be fucking happy?" he asked, crying like he did when he was a kid. Like the day he lost Valerie. Al couldn't remember if he had cried with such force as this since that day.
Valerie immediately attached herself to Al's chest, throwing her arms around him. Al responded by throwing his much stronger arms around her smaller frame, holding her securely against him as if she was sustaining his very life. He rested his chin on top of her head, and he could feel her crying into the fur of his chest. They stood like that for a long while, letting years worth of pent up guilt flow out of them.
Valerie ceased crying and shifted her position so that the side of her head was lying against Al's chest.
"It sounds like you've had it pretty rough. If you held on to those memories so tightly, it must have been because you hated that we were separated just as much as I did. Maybe more, considering your life hasn't been as easy as mine. You needed me, didn't you, Al?" she asked ever so gently, almost cooing to him.
Al could only nod, still choked up from tears.
"You were always protecting me but I think I was protecting you too, Al," Valerie mused, punctuating the thought with the most pathetic of laughs. "Even though you were the boy and I was the girl. Even though you were the predator and I was the prey. Even though you were the one who was bigger and stronger and tougher; I still felt like I gave you something in return. My best memory was when you told me that you loved me, and how I was the only one you felt like you could be yourself with. You told me how happy I made you; it was the sweetest thing anyone has ever told me. I comforted you, didn't I?"
"Yeah," Al managed to croak out.
"I want to comfort you again..." Valerie trailed off, sounding hopeful for a reply in the affirmative.
The reply she got was Al lifting her entire body up with ease, causing Valerie to let out a squeak in surprise. Al held her in a bridal carry position as he made his way towards the bedroom. He entered the room and noticed the various trinkets on the walls and desk.
"W-wrong room! This is Avo's!" Valerie protested.
"Don't care," Al grunted in response.
Al gently dropped her down on Avo's bed, where she lay on her back with her legs spread apart, looking up at him in suspense.
"A-Al, I love you but-I don't know if I'm ready right this second-"
"That's good," Al replied shortly before flopping down next to her and pressing her back into his embrace, "because neither am I."
Valerie blushed in embarrassment. "Well, you just picked me up so suddenly and put me on the bed..."
"Yeah, and it must have turned you on. That skirt ain't doing much to hide how you're really feeling."
"You jerk!" Valerie thumped his chest playfully, her blush intensifying.
Al smiled down at her, enjoying himself at last. "Sorry. And I'm also sorry about the musk; I still smell pretty ripe from the gym."
"I...kinda like it. It smells like you," Valerie admitted softly, a bit ashamed by her attraction to his scent.
"You sure? I can go wash off real quick."
"No. I'm not letting go of you again for a long time."
Valerie pressed her face into his strong, furry chest as they cuddled on Avo's bed. Al felt so large in comparison to the doe, completely enveloping her in his strong arms. He could sense warmth radiating from her, and he basked in the tender sensation of the intimacy. She clung to him tightly, trying to hold onto him even closer than she already was.
"Your family ain't gonna like this," Al pointed out.
"Yeah. Like I said, I'm on my own now, though. I'm done with school, and I pay my own bills. If they can't accept you, then they're going to have to deal with losing me. If they really do love me, they'll let me be with who I love. I'm not going to be something I'm not just for their sake. Not again," Valerie replied bitterly.
"You sure?" Al asked.
Valerie nodded. "I'll get by without them. Especially since rent here is so cheap."
Al grinned at her comment. "Oh, so now we're gonna have two grazers as residents? What has become of my beloved Pack Street?" he asked in mock annoyance.
Valerie giggled. "Yeah, and if you act now, I'll even move into your apartment instead of Avo's. How does that sound, uh...chomper?"
Al gave a snort at her anxiety. "You don't gotta be so afraid of me, Val. That word ain't a big deal. And I'd love for you to move in with me."
"Speaking of family, what about your friends? How will they react?"
Al let out a grunt of annoyance. "Hadn't considered it. Don't really care what they think; I'm the alpha so they can either deal with it or shut their mouths. Some of them will rib me a bit for it but I don't think anyone will be too opposed. The twins have no room to talk, and Cormo claims to just be a wannabite but I'm pretty sure he's a predo, too," Al paused to look around the room at all the trinkets and the bag of lollipops on the desk, "and I'm certain that one of them will stand behind my decision."
Valerie hugged him tightly before looking up to give him a quick kiss on the nose. The small act of affection sent thrills throughout Al's body, and he was tingling in delight.
"So, when's our first date?" Valerie inquired with tempered enthusiasm in her voice.
"Soon, tomorrow even! We gotta make up for lost time," Al replied excitedly, full of puppy love. "You know, if I had it my way, I'd go back in time and do today over again. Or I'd come to you sooner. I'm the knight and you're the princess; ain't I supposed to come to your rescue? I'm one lousy knight if you're the one who had to come find me."
Valerie gasped upon hearing this. "You remembered us playing that from when we were kids!"
"Told you I didn't forget."
"Well, let's just call the score even now. We'll be here for each other from now on, and give this relationship our best. I don't want to leave you ever again," Valerie emphasized with another squeeze.
Al lightly squeezed in return, drawing out a pleased noise from the doe. "I'll stay loyal to you, and I'll always protect you. Just like when we were kids. I'll try and get a better job, too, so I'm not putting all the pressure on you."
"And you'll cut back on the drinking?"
"Well, that goes without saying-"
"To 3 nights a week?"
Al faltered. "That is cruel and unusual, but I'll do it for you."
Valerie simply giggled. "We can work out the details later. As a matter of fact..." she trailed off by quickly sitting up in bed and briskly trotting out of the room. Al heard the sound of hooves grow fainter until they briefly stopped. After the stop, Valerie came back into the room with two bottles of beer in her hands. "Tonight is a celebration. I think we both have earned a few drinks to replace the liquids we lost in tears. I'll pay Avo back for these sometime in the future."
"Something tells me I think she'd want us to drink them," Al mused happily.
Valerie passed a bottle into his paw before plopping down on the side of the bed next to him. They sat there and drank in comfortable silence for a few moments.
"Speaking of alcohol, you said the funniest thing when you were barely conscious," Valerie teased with a playful nudge to Al's arm.
He took a swig of beer in response, bracing himself. "Alright, lay it on me. What dumb thing did I say?"
"You...called me your angel. I know you weren't thinking clearly at all but...it made me feel good, you know? As if coming here was the right choice. It gave me some hope of you loving me if I could just talk to you," Valerie admitted bashfully, looking away from her lover.
Al stared at the doe shying away from him with wide eyes, having forgotten he ever made that remark. He gently placed his large paw on her delicate shoulder and pulled her against his side into an embrace. She turned to look up at him with her warm, amber eyes, and Al greeted her with a comforting smile.
"I think that was the smartest thing I've ever said while drunk. You're my angel, Valerie."
The following kiss was slightly awkward at first but grew incredibly passionate. They quickly melted into each other's embrace, their tongues dancing with one another as they explored this newfound intimacy. Al took the lead, wanting to consume all the love that Valerie had to offer on his own terms, while Valerie submitted herself to Al's wonderful attentions.
The rest of the night was filled with more cuddling, conversation, and drinking. The two talked endlessly, catching up on years of growing up without each other. They both held onto each other, rarely leaving the consoling warmth of the other's side, as if being apart was physically painful.
That night, Al drank only a mere fraction of what he normally did, but the experience was infinitely more enjoyable. Together with Valerie, Al had found the happiness that he was searching for.