Story:...And a Time to Sew

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...And a Time to Sew
Written by Tazel

"To every thing there is a season and a time to every purpose under the heaven A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; A time to keep, and a time to cast away; A time to rend, and a time to sew."

- Excerpts from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

A whistle blow. Short, piercing, attention grabbing.

Just the sort of thing Head Coach Walter Billcheck liked to use whether or not the players of the Texas Lone Stars were practicing. In this particular case, the practices had ended, and the players had taken what the porcupine had considered more than enough time to shower and get dressed. He didn't feel like moving, so the whistle was used instead.

Pavlovian conditioning, he hoped, would keep his little salivating dogs running towards him.

Soon enough, individuals came out from the locker room hallway of the practice facility. Dressed in their casual clothes - some as athletic as the practice jerseys they just wore a scant half hour ago - the team milled about, taking their sweet time to get to the chairs set up for instruction.

"SIT. DOWN. NOW!" roared the porcupine. The milling turned into an almost chaotic scramble as the team almost fell over each other to take their seats.

Obviously not good enough for the coach. "When I blow this whistle, ladies..." the porcupine started, narrowing his eyes at his team, "That means to HUSTLE and get your fuzzy asses over here!"

This made the now somewhat hodgepodge team pick up their feet and hooves and whatnot, stomping double-time to get to the seating area. Billcheck coughed into his paw and fished out a clipboard. "Alright, making sure everyone of you babies are where they need to be... Mmm. Gale... Redding... London... DeWitt....Walstein..." People were missing Theodore, of course. He was very much a driving force of the team, until Mitchell Redding came in and started calling shots.

Unfortunately, not even an FBA great can turn around a whole team by himself. He or she would need help.

There were only a couple who seemed to miss the lack of Burgh's name. During the roll call, someone murmured something about 'glad the lout-mouth was gone'. He wasn't well liked by most of the players, but there were some that still supported him, and could empathise with him.

Someone like... "Buckner."

Billcheck flicked his eyes groupwards as he didn't get a response to him calling the name. He began scanning the group for the bespectacled koala. Unfortunately, he found no trace of him. "Where's Buckner?" he growled, exasperated.

The other players looked to each other without revelation. After about five seconds of nobody giving him relevant information, Billcheck got doubly infuriated. "Did he COME IN today?" he asked mockingly, knowing full well he *had* seen him, that he had been playing, and that he left with the group to shower.

"Yeah, coach," piped up the most recent addition to the Lone Star ranks. Joey Juloni was traded for Sebastian Spelt, so the poor leopard was unfairly getting some of the ire the team had towards management for letting go such a strong part of the team. Nobody could really fault Juloni for trying to help out, but he unfortunately was a bit oblivious to the coach's sarcasm. "He was here earlier with everyone doing shooting drills."

The look of annoyed disbelief came over the porcupine's muzzle as he slowly walked over to the only one to respond to him - meaning someone either very brave or very dumb. He stood right in front of the now self-conscious leopard, and leaned forward. "I know that, pussykat." he said as calmly and quietly as possible. Which still sounded like a growling yell.

Juloni appeared a bit confused. "Then why'd y..."

"I was HOPING someone USEFUL would be able to tell me..." Billcheck interrupted, putting emphasis on his initial words, "...where the hell he IS right NOW! Can YOU do that, Spots?"

"Uh, n-no sir."

"Then SHUT UP," the coach growed, looking back towards the others and away from a leopard that wanted to curl up a bit. Hell of a way to welcome him to a team. DeWitt certainly took note. He'd probably have some unintelligible Klingon words for him, somewhere. "Anyone else want to give 'helpful' information?"

A brown/orange hand raised slowly. The coach recognized the timid offering, and facepalmed. "Lyska, we're not in elementary school. You don't have to raise your hand. If you know something, spit it out." chided the porcupine.

Lyska seemed confused at the words. He turned to London, and began whispering in his native tongue. London listened, and volunteered the information in English to the annoyed coach.

"He showered up and left about ten minutes ago, said he was going somewhere quiet."

"Why the hell doesn't HE tell me?" growled Billcheck, pointing to the fox.

"Chill, coach. You KNOW he doesn't speak English that well." said the afro-wearing wolf.

Billcheck threw up his hands exasperatingly. "Fine. Fine. Frickin' United Nations night here..." He then raised his eyebrow at the lack of follow up information. "And...? There's MORE to this tale, right?" he asked, his paw gesture indicating there damn well better be such.

London whispered something back to the fox, who shrugged, whispered back. London addressed their coach. "He says that's all he knows," the wolf replied, simply.

"Well, that's better than nothing." grunted the coach, as he pointed two fingers of one paw at the two other main rookies on the team. "Walstein. Knight. Go find your worthless newbie pal."

"C'mon coach! He's not worthless! He's just been having a hard time of things lately!" commented the otter, ever the optimist, trying to give Travis a fighting chance when he wasn't here..

Apparently counteracting Billcheck's opinions when he was in a bad mood was a terrible idea. And he was never NOT in a bad mood. "Knight... get your happy, shiny face out of my SIGHT and go find your DAMN TEAMMATE or I'll put you both in a cage!." he growled, pointing towards the practice facilities' main hallway. The otter's face fell for the first time in a long time that people could remember.

"Hey, ease up coach," came another recent, but familiar, voice from the back of the group, "I'll go get him. I gotta dump some stuff in my locker anyhow."

Billcheck turned towards the white rabbit with the black left eye, and pursed his lips as he considered. The only one he felt he had anything to *give* to this team, now that management sucked away Dunn. And took away the sucking that was Burgh. "Fine, Redding, go get him. But be back soon. I don't want to have to repeat myself for the stuff you guys missed!"

Mitchell saluted, and loped towards the locker room and office area, as Billcheck returned to his team. "Fine. We'll take five before the meeting while the bunny plays 'Where's Koaldo'... And where's my assistant? COFFEE. NOW!!"

Mr. Louis had always told his players that his office door was open to them to use at any time they needed. Today, Travis was thankful for that offer, and that the GM was on the court with the rest of the players for the meeting.

The room was dark, the smell of the leather seats wafting up through the air-conditioned breeze. Only a smidgen of the Sunday late morning Texas sunshine had filtered in from the drawn blinds of Hector's office. But it was dark and it was quiet.

Just where Travis needed to be.

He had showered, but the stress hadn't washed away. He was dressed casually, but there was nothing informal about his mindset. Sitting on the chair in front of his boss' desk, Travis put his elbows on the furniture, and held his head in those unusual double-thumbed paws of his. His eyes were framed by dark circles, testament to the lack of sleep he'd been receiving lately. Not to raccoon-level, as someone would notice. But enough to make the koala less energized in general.

The recent loss to Bangor melded in his mind with the other games, the failures and victories. Whether or not he did well. They all became a blur. Win. Lose. Success. Fail. Player of the game. Hardly contributed. It didn't matter. His scores and stats were all over the board. No consistency. No streak to strive for, either for self-adulation or self-debasement.

And even when there was a streak, a positive string of best performances of the team, whether the team win or lost - it seemed like Travis couldn't appreciate them. No matter how much he scored, it wasn't enough. Or it was too much. No matter how many assists he made to help his team and spread the offensive love around, it wasn't enough. Or if there were a lot of assists, his score would plummet, and everyone would take note.

But lately, the basement seemed higher than his ability. He'd been tanking, and hard. Enough to have him removed prematurely while playing against the Tides.

Funny. Against the tides. Pretty much how he felt, with the riptide threatening to suck him under. And he probably wouldn't fight it, if it meant an end to these damn headaches and nightmares.

Travis removed his eyeglasses and held them awkwardly while he rubbed the side of his face with his other paw, his dual thumbs pushing against his temple. He didn't want to alert the trainer about his most recent migraines, the strongest he'd had, though he had been sent to the doctor's office for those headaches after he complained before. Even before he was told it was all psychosomatic, he was always able to handle being out in the bright lights of all the arenas which he had visited. Some ibuprofen before the game would usually keep things in check. His latest bouts of insomnia were not unrelated, either. Once in a while, sleep would grace him, but only for a few fleeting hours, and never giving him true rest. Mostly, it deserted him, left him to stare blearily at a ceiling, either familiar or no, whether at home or on the road.

He'd complained about it on Tweeter, partly as an explanation for why he wasn't pulling his best numbers lately. Knight, Walstein - even some of the draft prospects chimed in with suggestions. Yoga. Meditation. Acupuncture. Ginseng tea. Going out to do something new. He didn't really want to have to go see a therapist, and was willing to try any and all of these remedies to resolve the problem. He did try, but no matter what he had attempted, he was always back with a throbbing headache, and nightmare-infused too-short sleep sessions. Today's headache was especially bad, his forehead throbbing as he tried in vain to use pressure points to alleviate the suffering. Nothing seemed to be working, so he sought out the mostly-dark and quietest place he could in the facility.

And he did care about his teammates. Poor Mariam and Marcus. They were worried sick, and tweeted just so. And Travis couldn't even find the energy to muster a reply. "They probably think I'm avoiding them," Travis thought to himself. And he was. He didn't want them to see him like this - a shell of himself from the start of the season. Someone who had potential, burying his career before it even got started.

Another weary rub of his eyes, his paw sliding down the front of his face as he gazed up into the cracks between the blinds, to the light desperately trying to get in to the office. Or maybe the darkness was trying to get out. Just like his view of his performance, it didn't matter which perspective you used, the image was always the same.

It had been a while since his personal breakdown, with so many external pressures finally bursting the dam of self control. He had hoped that his epiphany would have given him behavioral guidance, a direction. Was he in the FBA for himself and his own agenda of solitary excellence, or was he here to help the other players and prove he wasn't sabotaging them? He guilted himself into going the second route, but with each game after his self-abasement, his competitive side became louder and louder, screaming in indignation at Travis for losing all the focus and drive that got him to where he was, and where he should be going.

It didn't take a therapist to explain things. Travis knew exactly what was causing the headaches. The problem was, he couldn't FIX the problem. Not without medication stronger than asprin.

The headaches, the nightmares, the lack of ability on the court that was keeping him from contributing meaningfully, were the result of the two forces in his mind, warring it out, and trying to pressure or guilt Travis into taking their side. As he grabbed his head to keep it from exploding, he could see the yin and yang as clear as if they were in to either side of him.

On one side, Travis was in a business suit. The same suit that he had worn when he won the All Star Week's Dunk contest. The one that Mr. Louis insisted go on a poster, helping to advertise the Lone Stars and increase ticket sales - which it did, nicely. In Travis' hand was the trophy itself - or a representation of it. Travis' name emblazoned on the bottom, proudly proclaiming him the dunk champion. Around Travis' neck were medals. Gold, just like the trophy, gleaming just as bright, with the letters 'POTG' emblazoned upon their fronts. Player of the game. The rewards for being the best in a game when the team won.

And there were times he was the best and the team DIDN'T win, but that wasn't his fault, right? It was just like him growing up - people were lousy around him, blamed him, called him a Jinx, justified their ineptitude. And his team didn't need to say what they were thinking - a rookie like him comes on, and suddenly he's the star of the team, a starting rookie constantly? It must be luck, or him sucking it out from others.

This Travis, the business one, was angrily pointing at the seated koala, rabidly yelling in his ear. "How DARE you sabotage everything we've WORKED for! All those hours of practice, all those victories! They're OURS, Buckner! We worked hard! We deserve those! What about our plans? To be the next big thing in the FBA? If the others don't want to play ball, you do the smart thing! You go to a team that WILL play ball, that will WIN! You don't deserve to stick around with these guys if they're bringing you down! You think of you! YOURSELF! TRAVIS BUCKNER'S CAREER! Because I guarantee you, nobody out THERE is!"

And on the other side of the mental court Travis had set up for himself, was another manifestation of himself. Proudly clad in his home-game Lone Stars uniform. But everything on the uniform was greyed except the logo. The identifier of the team. This koala seemed angry, but also frustrated and disappointed. In his paw, he clutched the picture of himself, Marcus Knight and Mariam Walstein, when they did their 'Three Amigo's' picture as a promotion for the Lone Stars, showing what they meant to the team and each other. On his chest, he wore a 'Fight against Cancer' ribbon, symbolizing his recent work - well, not THAT recent nowadays - with the Cancer Connections center of Austin. Equally frothy, this Texas-based version of himself also pointed and yelled into his other ear.

"And you'd listen to him, and turn your back on the people who supported you? Who care about you? When you listened to your greedy side and punched the reporter to stop him killing your ego, who was there for you? Your TEAM, Travis! Your manager, your coaches, your teammates, your FRIENDS! You constantly let them down with your 'me first' attitude! You owe it to them to put your personal plans aside and focus only, SOLELY on them. What about mom and dad? You think they'd be proud of a self-centered yuppie wannabe? How about Cancer Connections? Arnold Weisson? Are you giving up your work with him, with the others who need you to think of THEM first?"

Mom and Dad. Travis didn't even bother calling them about this. His mom was too busy with finals and Dad wouldn't be able to do much except worry. He didn't want them to be concerned as there was nothing they could do. No, this misery wasn't to be shared. He had to endure it.

Or die trying.

Travis buried his forehead into his left palm, trying to push his eyes to the back of the brain, rubbing his pads against his eyelids. He could hear them yelling right now, desperately trying to get him to agree with one side or the other. Each time was louder, more forceful. He almost felt their hands on his shoulders, ripping him down the middle, each side eager to get their piece.

"Get your head out of your ass and get your scores up where they need to be!" "You need to sacrifice yourself if Texas has any hopes of succeeding! You know this!"

Travis winced, the sound of the back and forth, of each side accusing the other of derailing his purpose, becoming more voluminous in their attacks. Each attack becoming stronger, more forceful into his brain.

"You're a pussy!" "You're a sellout!"

Pushing. Slashing at his consciousness, trying to worm their way into his actions, the id and the superego wailing on the koala's middle ground, trying to win the war at the expense of the battlefield.

"Spineless!!" "Backstabber!!"

His forehead throbbed harder, a soft whimper of pain escaping his muzzle, a light sob. There was a tear dropping from the corner of his right eye, moistening his hands. "Please... for the love of God... just stop..." he begged, voice quivering. A thought had crossed his mind - a dark thought. He could give up. Nobody would blame him. He'd given a good fight, but he was too much the slave to his emotion. Best to pack up and let another shining rookie take his spo...

"T-Buck? You okay, man?"

Travis' eyes shot open, his body shaking with the shock of being discovered in this semi-private haven as the evil idea of surrender spirited away to haunt him later. He turned to look to the source. He didn't even hear Mitchell enter the room and close the door, his face seemed to be a mix of informality and concern. "Been lookin' for you, man. You OK?" he repeated.

The koala blinked for a moment, then turned back towards Louis' desk. "Oh. Mitchell. Sorry I didn't see you there." Travis replied flatly, getting up slowly, and turning to face his newest teammate as professionally as he could muster. Which lately, hasn't been much. "Yeah, I'm fine." he lied, his eyes closing for a second and then opening back up.

Mitchell stroked his chin and nodded. "Billcheck wants you out on the court. We're having a meeting." he said simply. He opened the door and turned to leave, but out of the corner of his eye, he stopped again, re-evaluating his new teammate. "You SURE you're okay?" he repeated, his brow furrowed, ear twitching.

"I'm fine," repeated Travis softly. "I just... got a major headache again. Needed to escape a bit." Travis leaned against the desk, away from Mitchell.

"Oh yeah? Like a migraine?" offered the rabbit, slipping back into the office's inside a bit more, and denying Buckner the distance he sought.

"Yeah. I ... I just needed some quiet, dark place, y'know?."

Mitchell peered out the door, and quickly gazed down the empty hallway, to make sure Billcheck wasn't manning a steamroller, intent on flattening both him and the rookie for taking more than a few seconds. Seeing nothing, he returned to Buckner and nodded. "Those are the worst. Man, I remember those kind of headaches."

Travis returned his glasses over his bulbous nose, then looked at Mitchell questioningly, a slight wince at the shift of light and imagery in his brain. "You used to have migraines?"

"In my first year? Lots of times, man. Rookie season is one of the hardest to manage. You have all the expectations your coaches, your team, your folks, your fans - hell, even the OTHER teams' beliefs of what you can do. Plus there's all that money you come into..."

Travis nodded slowly, everything making a perfect connection to his own rookie career. "Yeah." he gently agreed. He started rubbing his eyes again, then stopped and looked back at Mitchell curiously. "How... how did you deal with it all in your rookie year?"

Mitchell gestured out towards the training facility, that led into the cardio and weight rooms. "Bled them out through workouts. It was the only time I ever found I could *relax* my brain, so I wasn't focusing on the stressing parts. Kinda on automatic, y'know?"

Travis' eyelids fluttered as he remembered the breakdown he recently had, prior to the Edmonton game. "What if... what if that didn't work?" he asked, his eyes darting to the floor.

The rabbit peered through the black circle of fur around his eye. "Why, it didn't work for you?" he inquired, honest concern showing.

Travis looked down at the floor, and sighed. "No." he said, pitifully, gently. There was a moment of silence before the koala spoke again. "Mitchell ... can you ...close the door for a moment?"

Redding stood straight up, and peeking out, looked down the hallways again. Still, nobody was coming. He followed the directions, gently closing the door but leaving it unlocked. He didn't even try to ask what was wrong. He just let the koala speak.

Travis sat back down in the chair, which he had turned to face Redding, and slumped in against it. He had such bags under his eyes, Mitchell wondered if he were trying to go for *his* look. Buckner looked like insomnia personified. "Ever wonder what your life would be like if one little decision was different?" Buckner asked, the wisp of a sigh backing his inquiry.

Mitchell looked upward, gazing at the crevice between the wall and the ceiling as he reminisced. He nodded softly. "Yeah, I can think of a few times at least in the past few years." he responded towards the heavens.

"Mine was more recent. And I can't handle my decisions for it."

Mitchell's gaze fell back on the koala. "Let me guess - the reporter?" he offered.

Travis looked up gently, and nodded, defeatedly. "The reporter."

There was a beat of silence, as Travis had stayed quiet, not knowing how to follow up. He felt he was going to get another round of hindsight-laden 'Here's what you should have done' or similar. Maybe even an 'I'm amazed you didn't go to jail'. And he didn't really want or need that now. But the rabbit stayed silent throughout the whole time.

After about fifteen seconds, Travis looked back up, expectantly. Mitchell still hadn't replied, just looking at the rookie as if he were deciding something. After an eternity of fifteen more seconds, Mitchell asked the question Travis had been asking himself repeatedly for weeks.

"Why'd you do it, T-Buck?"

Travis' face fell, looking at the plush carpet in the GM's office. "I... I was madder than I ever had been before." he replied, closing his eyes, remembering the scene as if it had happened seconds ago. "He... made it all into a joke. Saying I didn't have the balls to belong on that court." blurted the koala. The professional and highly-educated speech was nowhere in sight, not after weeks of lack of rest and depression.

"That doesn't mean anything!"

Travis suddenly looked up at Mitchell with furious eyes. "IT MEANS EVERYTHING!!" Travis screamed at his teammate, his eyes wide with frustration. Mitchell's ears wilted a bit at the sudden volume change and the overreaction. Then the moment passed, and Travis slumped at the table. "Sorry..."

Mitchell rubbed at his ears. "Don't worry about it. We all know you've been hurting lately."

A long sigh. "I let the out the em... emo...the thoughts I've kept hidden. It was like ... I couldn't hold on. The anger lashed out..."

Travis stared at the floor, and for a brief moment, he relived the incident, his body shivering as he watched externally the koala that was him, and wasn't him, throw that punch. The blood, the aftermath, the overwhelming guilt and still repressed rage. He shook visibly, unable to change the outcome, the mindset he had when he attacked the vole.

Mitchell stood motionless as Travis leaned back and let his palms grace his cheeks, claws combing through gray fur, a slow and tortured fall across his face.

"I've been screwed up ever since. Every time I won, I didn't deserve to be part of it. Every time we lost, it was my fault. I've not been sleeping, I've been getting those damn migraines..."

Mitchell pulled up a chair as Travis finished his admission. "I don't know who I am anymore, Mitchell - what I'm supposed to be!" Travis held his head again, the pain of his headache returning. "Am I supposed to be a star, or the team player? I miss my balance, Mitchell . I need it back. I'm a wreck. I'm swaying faster and faster, and I'm going to fall and crash, and I don't want to do that!"

The koala once more put his head into his hands, breathing in a shallow manner. "I need my balance..." he muffledly repeated as a mantra, his voice beginning to crack.

Mitchell remained quiet as he began regarding the near-sobbing rookie as objectively as he could. He could have easily called over Billcheck and the trainers, and had Buckner put on the DNP. Therapy looked like the best deal for the schizoid 'supial. Mitchell had also been keeping up on the rookies for all the teams, trying to find out who the threats were, and who could be ignored. While Marcus Knight, the 'Marksman' was more along Mitchell 's threat zone, he seemed to be handling himself well. He and Buckner really *did* have potential. And Mitchell saw the past games. Travis had a *LOT* of potential. His best games were before his outburst, his hitting of the vole reporter. Anyone could see that action was the keystone, the start of his downward spiral, his recent string of depressive tweets, bad court performance and isolationism.

It was true that Redding was a more recent addition to the Lone Stars than Buckner was. And to him, most of the team and most of Austin, a welcome one. Though other people in the FBA disagreed with the decision - one leaving the Lone Stars with that banner amongst others firmly in his paw to be waved around - some said it was the best thing Texas did for themselves. And the Bikers... he could finally get away from the shadow that Ryan Malone always loomed over him. And that stuck up perfectionist roo was starting to carve his likeness into that loudmouth Redfield.

Two versions of Malone - the FBA needed that like they needed another scandal.

So, going south was the best thing Mitchell could have done for himself. However, Mitchell wasn't a spring. Not like when he started. As he considered, he realized - he wasn't going to be able to continue this indefinitely. He needed to leave a legacy. Someone to carry on his spirit when he was gone. The never say die attitude, the hunger for the win, for the game. But maybe, also... someone who did crave the team. Mitchell always respected his team, but never *craved* to be a part of one. It was, to him, like a 1950's band of the talent first with the backup band after. "Mitchell Redding and the Stanislaus Thrusters." "Mitchell Redding and the Dakota Bikers".

And now, "Mitchell Redding and the Lone Stars". Heh. Could be a country band.

So while it might have been too late for Mitchell to capture that feeling of *belonging* to a team, he recalled some very important facts: Travis was a rookie. Fresh from college. Obviously intelligent, but not necessarily wise. Despite all his research into being an FBA player, he misjudged how the game, and how life after the game, is played. His was a controlling personality, needing everything 'just so', to sync up to his master plan. And when that plan crumbled, so did he.

But like any metal that crumbled and was melted down, Buckner also was malleable, able to be reforged, stronger and tougher and better. Only if given the right direction, though. The hands of an expert must mold him. Dunn and Burgh were gone - Burgh seemed a lot happier with the Mayors anyhow - so who did Travis have to turn to?

Then the idea hit the bunny like a carrot cake between the eyes.

Why not himself? Why not Mitchell Redding?

The name may still be seen as a prima-donna by some, but the years he'd poured into this sport have given him an insight that a relative few people in the game have seen. He'd survived the stigma of being a rabbit in a predators game, and beat them. He'd survived the mental and sometimes physical attacks, and came back stronger. He *KNEW* what it took to make it here.

But people just assumed that it was because Mitchell was made for the game. Or the game was made for him. One way or the other - everyone knew Mitchell Redding and his abilities, his tenaciousness to outlast anything the FBA could throw at him, professionally or personally. The question was, could this be something that another person could *learn*? To identify and avoid the initial mistakes, and focus on the importance of balance? Could someone as experienced as Mitchell have the patience and wisdom to guide this rookie?

And then the follow up question - SHOULD he? Who was HE to feel he could be the teacher to Travis?

Mitchell straightened up as he began answering his own questions. Who was he? Who was *HE*? He was Mitchell-Goddamn-REDDING, that's who!!

He inspired kids and rookies and everyone who was open minded enough to see! He was the best damn player this game had ever seen! If anyone can turn this emotional wreck into a success story, it was *him*!

The rabbit's mind began racing with thoughts of being the mogul that brought the 'next big thing' to the game. When he was gone, how would he still have people remember his name? Why, to have another rookie, an up-and-comer, tied to it! To perpetually stick it to jerks like Ryan Malone, to be the thorn in his side, and the side of his progeny, the getting-jerkier Dylan Redfield. A quick memory sidetrip made Redding grin even more at the memory of Buckner dunking on the deer after the fast break...


Mitchell snapped out of his train of thought, and looked over to Travis. "Huh?"

"What are you smiling about?" the rookie asked, a bit incredulous that after all his heart-pouring, that a veteran would find humor in it.

The rabbit never stopped the grin. He had decided. It was time. Travis would get his balance, become the player Mitchell believed he could be, and the one he could have a firm paw on to guide. Mitchell would get a sense of immortality when he was gone, to be the one who helped shape the next Mitchell Redding, and Travis would get the successes that he needed to drive his confidence.

Even the nickname he gave the koala was perfect. T-Buck. People always assumed Mitchell used it as short for his full name. But now, it meant something new.

T-Buck. Tiny Buck. The 'Mini-Me'. Mitchell Redding 2.0.

It was settled. Mitchell would take him under his tutelage. He would take the time and make Travis Buckner his personal project, starting today and continuing until Mitchell decided he didn't need to hold his hand anymore. He'd show him how to manage the limelight. How to let the side-thoughts pass by. Show him a focus he'd never seen before, never knew existed. He would make Travis Buckner this season's hottest pick up, if a late bloomer.

And Mitchell would be at the steering wheel, making sure everyone knew *who* made Travis that way. Not himself - he obviously couldn't deal with it. Not the manager, not the coach, nor trainers.

Mitchell Redding would be the one to do it. Only one who COULD do it!

It was too late this season to consider him Rookie of the Year, unfortunately, especially with Buckner's punch at the reporter and his recent failures. But there were all those laurels for player, 6th man, defensive player of the year for 2015! And Mitchell Redding, even if *he* wasn't getting those awards, wanted to pin his name to the one who *could*.

It was time for the Jinx to get some Mitchell -luck.

The bunny grinned at Travis again. "I'm smiling because I have an idea. I'm going to help you." he announced, gesturing. "You need some focus and some wisdom - and buddy, I've been around the block more times than I can count! I am going to help you get your balance BACK, Travis!"

Travis stood up slowly, looking at the gesturing veteran. For a moment, the second in time seemed to stop, become unreal, dreamlike. Was Mitchell Redding - THE Mitchell Redding - offering to tutor him in the ways of the FBA? Travis was reminded of the twitter that Charles gave him the night he left: "{Don't let the bunny steal your show. That is YOUR team, not his.}" were the words in his mind.

Chuck was wrong. It wasn't Travis' team. Maybe it was, once. When he had control. When he had balance. Not anymore. He lost it when he lost his ability to maintain. To be truly professional. Every day he stumbled a bit more, until he hit rock bottom, with this last weekend.

Still, the 'sacrifice' demon put his two cents in: What about the other rookies? "What about the others? Walstein and Knight? What about DeWitt?" he asked, "Shouldn't they get in on this too?"

Mitchell shook his head. "They'll understand. You're the one that needs the help, not them. They'll be fine. And when we're done, T-Buck, you're going to be MORE than fine! You're gonna be the next big thing, bigger than them! And you will know *exactly* how to handle your team, your life, and your career here!" Mitchell stood up and extended his hand. "What do you say?" he asked.

It seemed too good to be true. Mitchell Redding, helping a rookie with all his knowledge? Travis would have asked what the catch was, what Mitchell wanted him to do afterwards. Though at that point, it didn't matter. the koala's mind was so messed up with self doubt, self loathing and guilt over one mistake, coupled with the loss of Dunn and Burgh, and his own terrible recent performances that he was tearing his own soul apart. He was his own worst enemy, moreso than any unscrupulous reporter or rich boy polar bear draftee could be (He still didn't know why that jerk was so ticked at him, but seeing himself through the warped mirror, right now Travis couldn't NOT see why).

Travis was desperate. He had to stop the hemorrhaging before he bled out. He was in the big leagues, and took way more of a bite than he could think of chewing. Now... he needed the turnaround specialist. The one who took the dilapidated and devalued commodity, fixed it up, and improved its value dozen-fold.

Even if his value felt like absolute zero right now.

He rose up and took Redding's paw and shook it. "OK." he said, with the most intense seriousness he had available to him. Which given his physical limits right now, was not much, but he would have jumped off a cliff to stop the headaches. Stop the nightmares and the insomnia. Stop the guilt and stop the self destruction.

Mitchell grinned wider, and clapped Buckner on the shoulder. "Good! We'll start tonight. We're going through some basic training we'll put into practice tomorrow. But you're getting *sleep* tonight, is that clear?"

"Yes, sir, Mister Hop..."

Mitchell waved his finger. "Ah ah," he admonished his 'student'.

Travis winced. He normally would keep the contact preferences fully in mind. "Sorry... Redding." he offered.

"Much better, T-Buck. First things first. You need to drop the frump. It's not going to fit the new you. Understand?"

"I'll try."

"No. No 'Try'. You 'DO'. That's what separates the wanna bes from the elite in the FBA. I'll help you with that too. But for now, let's go get you to Billcheck before *he* pops a brain vessel, huh?"

Travis smiled gently to match the bunny's big grin, though he didn't feel anywhere as ebullient, and nodded gently. The headache was still there, but the emotional pain seemed to have diminished slightly as he left the dark room, and into the lighted hallway, towards the rest of their team.

For Travis Buckner, for once in a long while, even for a small moment, things got better.

And it was worth whatever cost, right?



Featured Characters

Travis Buckner Mitchell Redding

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