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Written by IllaRouge and Jayni

CW: Mentions of rape, incest, suicide, and murder. These are not depicted explicitly, only referenced in dialogue.

Huntsville, Alabama, 2016.

Madison County Regional Hospital. The social media fervor was still in full force. After the ambulance rolled in, Emina was whisked to surgery to have her blood vessels repaired. News did not leak until a publicist released a general statement: 'Emina is out of surgery, and she is doing well. That is all we'll comment at this time. Rumors flew about, but everything was on lockdown.

By the next day, Emina had recovered enough to sit up. Her room was that drab gray and blue that hospitals are known for. At her bedside sat a number of floral arrangements from most of her team, with one player's contribution conspicuously absent.

The bed on the opposite side of hers lay empty. She busied herself with a book someone lent her from the nurses' station, a raunchy little number that made her laugh with how cheesy it was. She wanted to get up and move, but she was under strict orders to remain stationary. Her shoulder was sore from the surgery to repair her artery.

It was quiet in Emina's hospital wing. Aside from the occasional muted footsteps or indiscernible chatter from hospital staff outside her door, it was a sort of sterile, nearly silent ambience. Emina didn't mind. The peace and quiet was welcome, as long as she could keep her mind from wandering.

Just as Emina was getting to the 'good part' of her book, some romance schlock that a nurse had at their station, she became aware of a sound in the hallway that appeared to be getting louder. Perking her ears towards the sound, it resembled heavy padded footsteps mixed with the clacking of claws on tile.

Funny, she thought hospital staff was required to wear footwear on the job, for obvious safety and sanitation reasons. They did all have shoes, right? Or was it just the doctors and nurses she'd seen? Was she even coherent enough at the time to notice? Details felt hyper-exaggerated.

Emina's eyes moved up from the book to focus on the door as the footsteps suddenly ended with a thud in front of it. It was then she was hit with a peculiar feeling in her gut, as she realized this probably wasn't someone on hospital staff.

The doorknob turned. The door slowly swung open. And Wendy Brown stood in the hallway holding... a bouquet of flowers? Despite the apparent gift, the saber did not appear happy.

Emina stared blankly at the feline. She felt it would have been appropriate to be angry, but most of her energy was gone. She turned down to the book, finishing the paragraph. She stuck a folded-up menu left by one of the nurses in between the pages and set the book down. She felt powerless again, the meeting happening whether she wanted it to or not. She could smell the flowers.

"Guess who," Wendy growled lowly, glaring intently across the room at the bedridden cross fox.

The saber took two deliberate steps into the room and paused in front of Emina's bed. Wendy grimaced as her dark red eyes scanned the piled-up flower arrangements in front of her, the sweet smells assaulting her highly sensitive nose and causing it to scrunch.

Whatever hope Emina had of just making amends quickly and moving on didn't last long, as the flowers Wendy carried into the room were tossed into the plastic wastebasket in the corner. They had served their purpose, which was to gain Wendy access to the room despite the likely instructions not to do so. Her real purpose, though, was unclear.

"If you thinkin' I came here to apologize, don't hold your fuckin' breath."

The fox stared at Wendy unimpressed. Whatever the saber's ploy, Emina wasn't amused. She turned and looked out the window without so much as an acknowledgement to why her teammate might be there to begin with. She had no humor, no emotion at all for Wendy, even less so if she were to continue behaving as she always did. Her claws dug into the fabric of her sheets as her mind tried to silently cope with the stress that had just walked through her hospital door.

"What, you ain't got shit to say now?" Wendy asked, apparently underwhelmed by the reaction to her presence.

Emina, again, didn't respond.

Wendy blinked, then scoffed. She didn't like being ignored. "So that's it, huh? No response, really?" She waited. No response came. "No snappy comeback or some other sarcastic shit?" She paused for a snappy comeback and/or some sarcastic shit but was met with neither. Wendy clenched her fists and growled in frustration, her voice becoming louder and more irritated. More desperate.

" don't even wanna kick my ass again? Or spit in my fuckin' face? Or blame me for everything or tell me to FUCK OFF? You ain't even curious why I'm fuckin' here?!"

Emina sighed. "Wendy, please. Enough."

The saber fell silent again.

Wendy just stood there blinking, looking down at her bedridden teammate with an expression of bewilderment. She expected Emina to be angry at her for putting her in the ER. She expected Emina to maybe chastise her further for her actions, to declare her a danger to herself and everyone around her. She expected Emina to blame her for the predicament she found herself in. That they both found themselves in.

Wendy was used to being blamed when something happened involving her, fairly or not. And she was ready to take the defensive and growl back as she usually did.

What she didn't expect was...nothing. And so Wendy's response was the same.

Emina looked at the chair next to her bed, not at Wendy. "Sit down." She set her book on the bedside table. Her hands folded in front of her, her head bowed slightly. "We have things we need to talk about."

Wendy looked reluctant to do anything, but she complied, settling in a chair near the foot of Emina's bed. Once she sat down, Emina looked her in the eye. All at once, the Bosnian fox seemed intimidating and comforting, a fierceness hiding beneath, in cahoots with someone who had rebuilt herself, someone that cared. Despite that, her scowl won out in the expression department.

"I'm sorry for what I did in the locker room," Emina said.

A few seconds passed, and Wendy said nothing. She continued to stare at Emina, although the saber seemed more to be staring at the wall behind her. It was clear she wanted to say something. But every thought bombarded her mind at once, and she couldn't.

A few more seconds passed. Wendy's eyes slowly dropped to the floor as emotions and jumbled words raged within her. Was it really that hard to apologize back? Was remaining silent really easier?

Emina had begun to believe a reply wasn't coming when Wendy finally spoke, low and monotone, her expression far away.

"D'Angelo and me broke up."

Emina looked upset by the revelation. "May I ask why?"

Wendy looked back quickly at Emina, narrowing her eyes at her teammate. "You really have to fucking ask that?"

The fox furrowed her brow. "No one expects you to break up with him. That's on you." She still felt sour from the whole ordeal. "I really hope you're not clinging to the fear that I'm going after him."


Wendy's voice cracked at the end, as she was already struggling to hold back tears. But she couldn't show weakness. Her pride wouldn't allow it. However, pride could only do so much for her at this point.

"He...left. He walked out...'cuz of what happened. He said...he..."

She couldn't finish, emotions choking her voice. She forced the tears back once again.

Sensing her own vulnerability shining through the cracks of her dark facade, Wendy hastily put her tough girl face back on. She scowled as she wiped her nose with her forearm to mask her sniffling.

"Fuck it, I don't need him. I don't fuckin' need nobody," she recited defiantly. "I ain't meant to have no one. I been knowin' that."

Emina could have gripped the side of the bed, or shouted, or done something more dramatic. Instead, she stared, glaring in a way.

"Wendy, you putting yourself down isn't doing anyone any good. You came here. Why?"

The blunt fox didn't ever pull her verbal punches when she spoke, but there was a conviction in her questions, almost an impatience. Yet, despite everything, she tried to be cordial with Wendy in a way that she often wasn't with most people.

Wendy growled lowly to herself, her mind frantically searching for a response. But she could find no such answer in the fog of her thoughts. Frustrated, the saber's inward growl became an outward one.

"I...don't know. I DON'T FUCKIN KNOW! OK?!" Wendy pouted and turned to face the window to her left, gazing outside intently into the distance. She adjusted herself in her chair, pulling her legs up to her body and wrapping her arms around her knees like an emotionally distraught egg about to crack. "I had to do somethin'. What the fuck else was I supposed to do?"

Emina's eyes remained fixed on her teammate, her deadpan face masking a feeling mixed with curiosity and concern. Wendy continued on, trying to keep her voice even.

"He...said I didn't trust him. But like, I stood up and defended him. I'm always fucking defending his ass. Or protecting him, or whatever the fuck. That don't mean I don't trust him." The saber looked back to the stoic fox, her teary eyes intense with conviction yet pleading for understanding. "It's just...I mean hell, you see some of the shit these bitches pull to get closer to him? All the fucking time? At the gym, in restaurants, on fucking vacation?! If you were me, you'd be fucking defensive too."

Wendy sighed. "Don't matter now," she said as her eyes made their way over to the floral arrangement at the foot of Emina's bed. "I ain't there to hold him back no more. He can do what he wants."

Emina sighed back. "Do you really think that's what you were? A shackle to him?" She adjusted herself by leaning on the shoulder Wendy hadn't punctured. She rested against the raised back of the bed. "Defensive or not, you came at me. You accused me of something that, quite frankly, could never happen. Because of that, you essentially accused him of the same thing. Forget about me. Think about him. He's constantly bombarded with this reminder that he could cheat on you. Then you go and nearly..." she paused, wanting to choose her words carefully. "Then you go and severely hurt someone you accused of wanting to cheat. That's as bad as saying to him, 'You already cheated on me.' He had no chance to defend himself, because you'd already decided what he'd done."

The saber's ears laid back. "Look, I ain't accusing nobody of shit," Wendy hissed through her teeth as she tried to keep her raging emotions under some semblance of control. "Did I ever say he was cheating? No. I didn't. What I said was I didn't appreciate y'all goin' behind my back to work out when that's what me and him always did together. All of a sudden, his routine changes, and he's doin' that with you. And I'm in the fucking dark! Then you fucking tell me 'Maybe he likes it more with me,' and I just..."

She shook as the words poured out, her fists clenching as those feelings of anger came rushing back. Except this time, she pushed them back. Wendy had realized she wasn't going to get anywhere if she kept allowing things like this to happen. One more explosion, one more loss of control, and she could lose everything, if she hadn't already.

Wendy growled in frustration, burying her face in her paws. "Goddammit. I'm not here to fight you. I'm sick of fighting. I'm sick of always havin' to start over."

Emina groaned. "I don't like saying things like that. I was angry. That's the best explanation I can offer." She looked back at the distraught saber, parsing through her own thoughts. "I know a few things about starting over." She needed a moment, couldn't talk just yet.

"What have you started over?" Wendy asked.

Emina readjusted herself in her bed, growling as she felt a sharp pain in her injured shoulder. She closed her mouth when she noticed her teeth were borne. "Sorry."

The saber didn't say anything.

"What've I started over?" Wendy repeated the question to hear it again. To let it sink in.

She had never before stopped and actually quantified all those times before. In fact, she tried not to think about that stuff at all. It only made her mood worse.

Despite her best efforts, Wendy thought back to her youth. That run-down shack of a home which probably should have been condemned if it weren't out in the backwoods of rural Tennessee. Sixteen saber-toothed tigers living under one dilapidated roof (two if you count the old barn) with varying levels of sanity, sense and psychopathy. To say peace and harmony weren't common in that household would be quite the understatement.

"Let's just say my growin' up wasn't the greatest of times, and that's bein' fuckin' nice," the saber began as she examined the floor tiles in front of her. "Things weren't too stable at home. Family was fuckin' legit, batshit insane. It was a fuckin' hellhole. I got blamed for a lot of shit I didn't do. Almost everything I ever had, everything I gave a shit about was taken away from me or destroyed. Didn't matter how much I treasured somethin' or how hard I bust my ass for somethin', someone always had to come along and fuck it all up every goddamn time."

Then she paused, fidgeting in her chair some. "I know...I fucked shit up myself plenty of times too," she admittedly somewhat reluctantly, rubbing her finger along her long sabretooth.

Emina continued to listen in silence. She never thought she'd ever get Wendy to open up like this, but now that she was, some things were beginning to make sense.

"Got suspended a bunch for fights in middle school," she continued. "Mostly fuckin' punk-ass bullies starting shit. I never wanted to start no shit. But it always found me anyway. Let's see, got kicked outta my first high school for clawing some fuckwad on the court. And yeah, that fucker deserved it. He's lucky I didn't rip that fuckin' hand off and punch him in the dick with it. After where he put it on me...but of course I'm the one fuckin' punished."

"And you know about all that shit that went down with the Howlers and Fuckface," she said, referring to a certain basketball playing Trekkie who violated her privacy and kickstarted that sequence of events leading to her abrupt departure from the team.

"That smug asshole deserved much worse than what he got. But I wasn't gonna let him influence me like that no more. I ain't givin' him or nobody that power over me. Still though, I almost ruined my whole damn career. The one thing I fuckin' care about. Other than...yeah."

Wendy could feel tears forming once more. She forced them back again, although she couldn't prevent one from escaping this time as it trickled down the side of her cheek fur.

"And now you're in the fuckin' hospital with a goddamn hole in your shoulder all 'cause I'm a fuckin' insecure bitch, and I'm used to everything I love being taken away from me. Now I don't even fuckin' know what I'm gonna do if I get cut from the team 'cuz of this and..."

Then Wendy paused, her face turning to stone.

"Oh wait, yeah I do...pick up the pieces and start over. Like fuckin' always."

Emina focused on her teammate. Despite everything, she found herself reaching out and patting her on the shoulder, with her undamaged arm. She withdrew before Wendy could shrug her off, before it got awkward.

She felt a small kinship with the story she heard, the brief parts; she felt the tickle of small memories, though they didn't stay. She had too much she was thankful for in her adoptive parents, but she had to share something.

"I started over in a big way," Emina said. She glanced up at Wendy, her eyes half-pleading, half-warning, even if she tried to bury that aggressive side of her. "You don't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you."

The saber's ear perked as Wendy looked up at the cross fox. "Umm...ok. Sure."

Emina did her best to keep back the images, but they weren't going anywhere. She couldn't lift weights, couldn't play ball on the court to keep them at bay. For the moment, she had to accept that they were there.

"What I told you in the locker room was true. I came to America when I was twelve. Or, I assume I was twelve. If I'm honest, I'm not actually sure if that's true." She bent forward. Her chart was at the end of her bed. She picked it up. After looking at it for a moment, she handed it to Wendy.

"January 15 is the day I was adopted. The year is a guess. I can't remember the actual date I was born." She stayed upright. She couldn't bring herself to relax now. "I don't know how much you know about the Bosnian War, but some soldiers used children to gain an advantage. They were taken from their parents, trained, and used to carry out missions. I was one of them."

Wendy didn't respond for a few moments, staring at the chart she was handed without actually processing anything on it. She was too busy processing what she had been told, what she still couldn't believe. But between what Emina said back at the locker room and now, things kept adding up.

And for some reason, at that moment, the saber's stubborn and steadfast denial finally faltered. She believed what Emina was saying.

"So you weren't lying then." It was a statement rather than a question, as she didn't need to hear the answer. "You really killed all those people."

Emina nodded. "Yes."

She looked off, the walls of the hospital being her only vantage point. Her eyes glazed over, her whole expression drooping more than it usually did, the stoic fox not one for providing extra emotion for anything.

A thick silence blanketed the room. Wendy couldn't help but feel bad for her teammate, whom she had threatened to kill just days prior. Even given what the saber had gone through, it was a perspective she still couldn't fathom.

Wendy realized then that this was a woman who had lived a hell even beyond the one she had known. She didn't think it was possible, but in that moment, she felt surprisingly humbled.

It was certainly not a feeling the saber was used to. Nor was the feeling of wanting to comfort another individual. But she couldn't help but feel like despite their very stark differences, in a way they were very much the same. Battered and broken and trying to cope in their own way, as best they could.

Finally, Wendy broke the silence in the room.

"You were right."

Those words, perhaps never once uttered before by the stubborn saber, seemed shocking enough to shake the cross fox out of her daze. Emina looked at Wendy, blinking a couple of times as she questioned internally whether she heard her correctly.

The tone of Wendy's voice also sounded different. The aggression she had when she entered the room was entirely absent, replaced by a stoic, deadly seriousness.

"I ain't never killed no one. Though I tried a few times. More than that if you count myself." She stared at a random dark spot on the floor. "But I never did it, so...I don't know that feeling. But I do know what death looks like. I know what it's like to feel powerless and thinkin' I'm gonna die." She paused, taking a deep, slow breath before looking up at Emina with sorrow in her eyes.

"My Pa was murdered right fuckin' in front of me. My piece of shit uncle killed him after...h-he raped me. My uncle did. Multiple times. Then he said he'd kill me if I told anyone." Wendy covered her face with a shaky paw, her voice choking up.

"I was...just...a fuckin' kid..."

She struggled to continue. A short but heavy silence fell over the room. Footsteps and faint chatter could be heard farther down the hall, the sounds echoing in the distance. Nurses checking in on other patients, a heart monitor barely audible somewhere.

"I held onto that shit for years," she continued. "When I told Pa, he got so fuckin' pissed he was gonna kill him. But he lost. My uncle had a gun. Pa didn't. And I couldn't do a goddamn thing."

Wendy's hands then clenched up into fists, the anger and pain returning to her. She was shaking. She couldn't stop the tears this time.

"I shoulda killed that motherfucker when I had the chance," she growled lowly. "Now Pa's gone, and it's cuz I couldn't keep my stupid fuckin' mouth shut and fuckin' deal with it."

Emina looked at her teammate. She had been there in so many ways. She felt that pain, the heat of it cropping up and filling her, how helpless one could feel in those situations.

There was more she could tell the saber, but she had something more important. She reached out and took Wendy's hand, forcefully and calmly all at once. She waited for Wendy to look at her.

"You are not responsible for anyone's death, and you are not responsible for what your uncle did to you."

She was firm, but there was a softness to her assertion; there was experience behind it. She, herself, was past the point of crying, but she knew Wendy needed to let that out.

She let go for just a moment, pressing the button to lower the panel on the side of her bed. She swung her legs over so that she was facing Wendy. She took up her hand once more and pulled her into an embrace, ignoring the pain in her shoulder.

The recollection of those memories had begun to take the saber's mind down a dark and familiar path when she was snapped back to reality by sudden physical contact. Emina's voice almost couldn't penetrate the static of Wendy's frantic thoughts, but the saber heard her. She couldn't hide the vulnerability and pain in her eyes anymore, but it didn't really matter now.

Wendy had never been told those words before. After all those years of harboring guilt and anger and keeping her past locked in a vault, hearing someone say it was not her fault was foreign to her. She had learned long ago that everything was her fault. That's what she was always told, and she was conditioned to believe it. Part of her probably always would.

She never told anyone what had happened to her. Even D'Angelo had not been clued in on the details beyond the fact Wendy's family was a mess and she didn't talk to them. Despite him being the one she opened up to the most in her life, he never knew the full truth. He probably never would now.

But Emina did. And despite everything, somehow Wendy felt strangely at peace with that.

She didn't even realize her tears were soaking the bandages wrapping her teammate's injured shoulder. She pulled away from the hug after a few more moments.

"I...uh..." Wendy stammered, still trying to compose herself. "I'm...sorry...that I lost my shit. And that I didn't trust you."

Emina nodded. "And I'm sorry that I lost my temper." She sighed, that bit of her seemingly a sore spot. "That side of me is dangerous. I'm not willing to be that person anymore."

She pointed to the dressing on her shoulder. "I have a few more marks to remind me that I'm different than what was intended for me. I was meant to die young. I was meant to serve someone else's purposes." She set her hand down on the side of the bed and looked at Wendy.

"You're not a bad person. Whatever anger that has a hold of you, that's someone else's. You don't need to carry it." She shook her head. Counseling others was easy, in some cases, but she found her advice ironic. "Now if I could only take a dose of my own medicine, I wouldn't be such a hypocrite."

Wendy scoffed, breaking into a light grin. "Hey, I woulda wanted to kick my ass too if I was you."

The two teammates shared a small chuckle, welcoming the emotional break. Wendy looked back over to the flowers to the side of Emina's bed, wiping her eyes with the fur on the back of her hand.

The sweet floral smells once again filled the saber's senses, but this time she let herself smell them. Inhaling deeply, she thought back to the little patch of meadow near her family's backwoods home where she would go to get away from the madness. The wildflowers in summertime always helped her calm down and clear her mind when things got to be too much to handle.

Wendy's mind took her back to that place, the time she spent there alone with her thoughts and the calmness of nature. The one place she could let her guard down and let everything out.

"It ain't easy bein' so fuckin' mad all the time," Wendy said, taking a deep breath. "I just got a lot of shit to be mad at, you know? Yeah, a lot of it is stupid and petty. But a lot of this shit I can't help, and nobody understands that." She adjusted her body to face Emina directly.

"I've always been a survivor and a fighter. I'm a sabretooth, so it's kinda in my blood. I always had to fight for every fuckin' thing in my life, even if I didn't feel like fighting. But I knew from experience that if I wasn't gonna be the predator, I was gonna be made into the prey." Then the saber's expression went serious, her tone reflecting the same. "And I fuckin' REFUSE to feel that powerless ever again."

Emina looked around somewhat uncomfortably. She could have let the moment be, but she thought back to her own experience with those terms, how her own predatorial moniker could tell people something about her, some of it incorrect.

She cleared her throat. "You know, 'predator' and 'prey' doesn't really help people figure out who they are." She nodded toward Wendy. "In that binary, I kill you. You kill me. There, we've fulfilled our role." She cleared her throat again, reaching for a glass of water to give herself a moment to productively fidget. She took a sip. When she was done, "Maybe you need to work on being a 'person' instead of worrying about whether or not someone else thinks you're weak."

A puzzled look began forming on Wendy's face, as well as a tinge of defensiveness. It took her a little bit to figure out what Emina was getting at, but those few seconds of reflection were a few seconds more than she had given anyone else before. That was progress, at least.

"Well, just 'cause you're a predator don't mean you can't be prey," Wendy replied matter-of-factly. "Those words don't mean shit really. I learned that the hard way."

Then she thought a little longer, this time about her teammate dressed in hospital garb in the bed before her and the information she had learned. The perspective she had gained. The respect she had found.

"But you don't gotta be what everyone expects you to be either. Fuck what the haters think. You do you, girl."

Emina nodded, a small smirk appearing very briefly on her lips before disappearing again. She hesitated a bit before saying, "Feeling weak, it can consume you. If it's all you are, just that thought, it can break you. Maybe sometimes you aren't weak in the moment. Maybe it's being vulnerable. Purposefully."

Wendy nodded in return, seeming emotionally exhausted. She didn't like focusing on her weaknesses, or why it was she had to train so hard all the time. Before now, Emina had to assume the saber was simply an insatiable competitor, relentlessly driven to succeed. And that was still partially true. But their conversation had unearthed far more about the saber's motivations than Emina expected.

"I ain't been vulnerable to too many people, sure as hell not on purpose" she admitted. "Usually just means more pain for me. Ain't no wonder I got trust issues."

Wendy then fell silent with a frown as her mind brought her back to D'Angelo. Would he ever take her back now? And would she want to run the risk of trusting again, when it could bring her more pain in the end?

The saber sighed quietly. She had reached her mental limit for discussing her own issues and emotions. As much as she liked talking about herself, pity was not something she was fond of.

Besides, the cross fox had been through enough already. Much more, in fact, than Wendy could have imagined.

"Anyway, my workout schedule's open, and I'll probably need a new partner, so..."

Emina perked up. She knew there wasn't much else she could say to directly get at the heart of Wendy's pain, but she saw it, felt it in her own bones. The two fresh scars on her collarbone; the pain, the sting felt different.

She could see Wendy. She knew this person. This woman wouldn't soon leave her life. She wouldn't be responsible for the sabretooth leaving this life.

"We should work out together," said, affirming their contract, stoic as always. Only now the saber could read her loud and clear.

Wendy got up out of her chair to walk towards the door. Before reaching it, she detoured to the wastebasket in the corner, retrieving the bouquet of flowers from earlier and tossing them at the foot of Emina's bed. She grinned slightly as she turned the doorknob, looking back at her teammate and new friend.

"Hit me up when you can move your arm again."

Then she threw up a deuce and walked out of the room.

Emina waved, though Wendy didn't see. She looked down at the flowers before picking them up. They were daffodils. She smelled them. The scent was faint, almost nothing. But it reminded her of something. Something good, something from her childhood. She set them beside her bed. She closed her eyes. She saw faint smiles she couldn't place, but they felt familiar.

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