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Written by IllaRouge, Kinto, JWolfman, Martineau

How the hell did we get here?

This was a question, in no less impactful but slightly more translated terms, that came up for Hildegard repeatedly throughout the 2017 FBA playoffs. How the hell? Sixth ranked in the East; mildly unpredictable in their play; prone to losing their cool at the last moment; their coach in general: what was adding up?

Hildegard was a woman of confidence. It was her staple. Her bravado was so legendary that it had even forced her out of her position, only to be reinstated later.

She was what remained of the high guard of Tallahassee, and she liked that.

But Tennessee? Queens? Williamsburg? They were good teams, great even, and Hildegard recognized that. She furrowed her brow at the thought of the criticisms being levied against her team. She ignored them.

A Game 7 in the playoffs? This was rare, even rarer that a team seeded so low would go up against the number one in another conference. Hildegard had tasted victory in her life, but the sheer numbers stacked against such a pairing in the final game of the championship made even someone so confident do a double-take on her career.

She stood in Tallahassee's locker room. She cleared out everyone once the on-site trainers made their announcement. Franz was on the day-to-day disabled list, and he held the same expression as his coach. Him seated, her standing, they both glared at opposing lockers as they tried to reason with the kind of luck they were facing and the magnitude of the choice placed on both of their shoulders.

"I want to play," Franz broke.

"It is not that easy," Hildegard said. "I'm not going to just throw you onto the court."

"You did with Rosalie, and she eventually recovered."

"After I almost ended her career!" Hildegard glared at her former captain. "She got a sprain for my stupidity, but wir know what that could have been, ja?" She paused to gauge his reaction. "This is your hip. You fuck that up, you're done. Verstehen?"

The shadows crawled across Franz's brow as he scowled harder. "I want to play."

Hildegard shouted. "You are pig-headed, and think of who is telling you that!" She slammed her fist against a locker, but it didn't leave her trademark dent. She huffed for a moment until she settled. "I can't make you go out there."

"No one's asking you to do that."

She swelled up with anger again, but she stopped herself. "You are impossible."

Franz looked up at her. "Ja?" His expression didn't change, but Hildegard saw something in his eyes. A fire. "Impossible is what we need."

On the other side of Merrill Palace, Tallahassee and Montana fans were venturing to their cars, clearing out from a packed parking lot to travel home. Almost no one had expected the game they were treated to: a reasonably close ending score with a particularly important injury. At the employee and player side of the arena, most of the players had left, traveling either to hotels or to their own homes, perhaps to a bar or a night club, anywhere to prepare or rest for the impending seventh game. Game Seven, Tallahassee's saving grace and Montana's worst nightmare[.] Franz exited and walked slowly to his car. He felt sore, but he ignored it. Behind him, his coach exited the building and crossed her arms. She scowled until she saw him get in the car with Tanya and drive away. Once he was out of sight, she balled up her fists and growled at the night.

Narkissa was sore as well, mainly because she just went through a very hard game against an opponent that was hungry for the championship just as they were. Now back in her street clothing and carrying her team duffel bag, she looked rather weary. She was exhausted and just wanted to go home for even a few hours before they would have to once again fly back to Billings, but Hildegard's presence alerted her. She walked up behind her, stopping to stand beside her. Her large ringtail twitched at the sound of her coach's growling.

Hildegard didn't seem to notice her player's presence behind her. She growled for a moment, but eventually it subsided. She sighed and leaned against a wall, the exit area the same as the product loading dock. She stared off at nothing.

"Just one more game, coach." Narkissa finally spoke up. She glanced around and seeing no one else within earshot for now, she walked over to lean next to her and dropped her duffel bag onto the floor. "None of us managed to win a game on the road though, so we need to step up big time." She sighed.

The two managed well, even in private. Hildegard kept her arms folded and didn't react much to her assumed solitude being broken. "Ja, wir need to step up." She scoffed. She tapped her foot against the cement. "What can we possibly step up at this point?"

"I've been through the FBA Finals before. I've seen changes in players on and off the court that I normally don't see in the regular season or even the playoffs. Hell, the 42 points I scored earlier in this goddamn series? I never even broke 30 before."

"Franz is injured," Hildegard interrupted.

Narkissa let out a sharp hiss and her ringtail twitched again. "That's what the doctors say?" She sighed, remembering Franz limping but thought it was just a temporary setback. "Damnit."

"He's injured. He wants to play." She leaned back and rested her head against the bottles. "Und it's my decision to put him in or keep him safe."

"Of course he wants to play," she huffed. "Franz was close to a championship before. Would be hard to be this damn close and see the opportunity slip through his fingers again. At least when I was in the Finals, we weren't given a chance."

Hildegard hit her head against the wall behind them. The thump was enough to make anyone flinch. She growled, though more at what was in her head than the pain. "It's his hip!" she shouted. "If he fucks up his hip, that's it!"

Narkissa shook her head. "We've been through this before. Put me in his slot and have Vance take up the shooting guard spot, I don't care! We'll do whatever it takes to win, coach."

Hildegard's growl ramped up, until she shouted, "It's not. That. Einfach!" She pushed herself up and stormed around the dock. "You are a good shooting guard, probably better than Vance. I need you there." She returned to the same wall and rested her forehead against it. "If we win this championship and Franz plays no part in the seventh game, how much of a victory do you think he'll see it as?"

"You'll have to ask him that! But I'm sure he'll demand to get back into the game if you try to bench him." Narkissa crossed her arms as well, keeping her eyes on her coach. "Maybe he'll be elated anyway, since he'll be getting a championship ring regardless. There's no totem pole when it comes to that."

"You don't know the Korbers." Hildegard had a storied history with the family. As much as Franz distinguished himself as his own person, he was nonetheless his father's son. "First the tabloids, now Franz." He scowled. Was the risk worth the reward?

"Talk with him at least?" She turned to rest her shoulder against the wall so that she faced her. "If you end up benching him, that'll just make me and the rest of the team work harder, that's all. We can win two in a row and beat the damn Howlers in their own home court. We're a sixth-fucking-ranked team in the FBA Finals, it's like we're destined to go the entire way and win in the end."

Hildegard turned an eye to look at Narkissa. Her expression softened a little. "I have to sleep on it." She stood back up and thrust her hands in her pockets. She turned away from Narkissa again. "I'm wondering if I made a mistake promoting you and Rosalie too soon."

Narkissa blinked and looked at the back of Hildegard's head. "What?" She walked around so that Hildegard can see her again. "Being co-captain is one of the best things to ever happen to me on this team. It showed me a lot about how ready you felt about me and Rosalie stepping up to the spotlights."

The coach looked at Narkissa momentarily before turning her head away. "It doesn't matter if I felt you were ready. People are already making connections. Guesses."

"And? They can guess all they like, we can't stop them from speculating so don't even try. Even if we say the truth in front of everybody until our voices become hoarse from yelling, they'll still come up with stupid theories to suit their own predetermined agendas." She huffed loudly.

Hildegard's shoulders squared with Narkissa's. She almost looked ready for a tumble. "Narkissa, this kind of rumor kills careers. Verstehen?"

"What, the rumors of our... hrmph. You and I know the risks when we first considered it, coach." The 5'11" lemur looked up at her eyes and squared her shoulders also. She was the shortest member of the entire team, but that didn't mean she would be the meekest, not by any remote stretch of the imagination.

Hildegard huffed at the moniker, one Narkissa whipped out whenever they came to verbal blows. "Wir did, but now we've made it this far. They start looking more closely at decisions, my decisions," she punctuated.

"Welcome to the limelight, Hilde. We just have to be more careful so that we won't burn under it." She spread her arms wide and then turned to walk back to the wall and lean against it as she faced her. "Maybe it's a good time as any to keep this distant from between us then?"

"I can't take you down with me, Narkissa." She sighed. "Und now I am going to lose you, ja? Wunderbar." She turned to the lemur.

Narkissa sighed and momentarily face-pawed. "Hilde, you know that I'm going to end up with Yves."

Hildegard rolled her eyes and stood up. She walked away from the dock without any further comments. She uttered a low growl the farther she got.

Narkissa simply watched her go, and she sighed before yelling out at her. "See you at the plane!" She hrmphed and picked up her duffel bag, wanting to leave for home for a few precious hours of prep and rest.

"Fine! I'm walking there! Not like you fucking care!" She mumbled some insults in German under her breath. Until she stopped. She turned on her heels and marched back to Narkissa. "I didn't think you were going to be like this, Narkissa."

"Like what, Hilde? You're not losing me, come on now."

"Losing you? What can I lose? What am I to you?"

"Why are you asking that question after all we went through? After all the risks we're taking here?" She massages her forehead, not willing to make this the right time to argue. "Sometimes I feel we're tiptoeing on a tight wire above a field of spikes, Hilde."

"'I'm going to end of up with Yves.' You said that, not me." She groaned. "I'm asking that question because it's not the first time I have. Und you've never answered, Mädchen."

"And you said and implied a number of times before that you don't want to step in between me and him. So you ask what you are to me, but I might as well ask you the same thing. Who am I to you? And..." She sighed. "I never answered because I simply don't have a clear answer. I want to love you, but not like this."

"Not like what?!" She walked around in order to do something with her nervous energy. "I don't want to get between you two, but you are making that impossible. Clearly he is the important one, and I'm a cheap thrill, ja?" The rage built in her expression. "Who are you to me? You are my lover. Not my Hure, not my Herrin, my lover. Fuck!" She wheeled around and punched a dumpster next to her, the metal ringing dully.

"What kind of love is it when we both have to tiptoe it around in the shadows, knowing if we get exposed, it'll ruin both of us? What kind of love is that?" Narkissa sighed, keeping her eyes on Hildegard. "How is it that I'm making it impossible? I can't just stay away from you, we're both in the same damn team, and I'm still contracted for another season with you."

Hildegard's fist felt warm from the strike. She shook it out, but it was secondary to everything else she was feeling. "That doesn't explain this." She growled, pacing for a moment to distract herself from the pain in her hand. "Then what is it you are doing with me? Why come to my house and sleep in my bed? Why sneak around to spend time with me?" She unsettled the lid on the dumpster as she walked past it, her shoulder brushing the hard plastic. "Is it just to satisfy you until Yves comes around?"

The lemur sighed and she crossed her arms. "Don't see it as I'm using you, Hilde. Maybe I'm crossing the line too much here. I should back off, if that is what's best." Her tail became less animated, and her ears pinned back. "I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm leading you on. That's not my intention."

Her coach sighed. "I don't like this feeling. What is it they say? Fighting a losing battle?"

"No one does," she finally approached her but stopped in front of her, just a bit beyond arm's reach. "This is really causing too much stress between us. We don't have to stop cold turkey, but we need to figure out our personal boundaries with each other and do not cross into them."

Hildegard looked up. "What are your boundaries, Narkissa?" The two had so many times gotten close to trying things, but every time, one or the other pulled back, neither one more than the other.

Narkissa paused before answering that question, and it's quite apparent that in her mind, she's trying to figure out either a list of what to say or how to say them. "I won't sleep in your bed. I won't mind coming by for coffee or just to have a private talk, but nothing too intimate. If we crossed that, it'll be a point of no return, understand?"

The hybrid didn't move. After a moment, she simply nodded.

"What about your boundaries? Am I not allowed to step into the ring with you with fighting gloves?" She forced a smirk.

"I don't have any boundaries," Hildegard said, a flatness to her voice that betrayed how she was feeling. "Maybe that is the reason I am upset, but I should be feeling guilty, ja? You feel guilty, so what am I missing?"

"Well unlike you, I'm in a relationship with someone else, that's probably why. Every time I get too close to you, Yves pops up in my head."

Hildegard shook her head. "That's not true. I'm mit Zahra." She gestured to the lemur. She struggled with the words she wanted to say, instead muttering in German. Speaking up, "In my mind, I am mit her, und I am mit you. She knows, und it is not a problem." She looked at Narkissa. "I don't mean to say that you can't feel guilty. I just wanted you to know her feelings."

"I see." She scratched her head for a few moments and brushed back the red hair strands off her face again. "I dunno, there's a lot of things going on in my head right now, especially with Game Seven coming up. But at the same time, I don't want to just sweep this under a rug. It's been delayed long enough."

"I'll respect them," she said, rather bluntly. Her head drooped. "I am not going to make you feel bad about this, Verstehen?"

"Heh, you already are, Coach."

Hildegard raised her hands. Her claws curled and glinted in all their painted glory under the sodium lights. She groaned, half-shouting, at the sky. It was comical how over-the-top she could be. "I mean, I am not going to," furrowing her brow as she did any time a translation stumped her, "guilt-trip you."

Narkissa wanted to smirk at her coach's exaggerated gestures, but realized that would be in poor form so she remained stoic. "I understand."

The coach sighed. "Just get some rest." She slid her hands in her pockets and resumed the walk she had started earlier, though far less heated. "I have too much to think about."

Narkissa frowned and watched her walk away as she stood. "Where are you going?"

"The airport." She kept an even speed.

"And you're walking the entire distance? Come on, I'll drive you over there."

Hildegard spun around fast. She kept walking backwards but slower. "I'll walk," holding her hands out, emphasizing nothing. She turned back around and resumed walking. "You are not the only one on my mind right now, Liebling."

"Right." She sighed. The lemur figured her coach would need some time alone tonight, so she simply nodded and then walked over to her car to head back to her home.

The walk was long, Hildegard felt in the soles of her bare paws. She'd gone farther, running and walking, for various reasons in the past. With all that was swimming in her head, she just wanted it out, emptied of all worries, to just be back in her glory days. Were they over?

A buzzing emanated from her pocket. Not now, Narkissa, she told herself. She pushed a button on the side, and it went silent for a moment. But just a moment. The buzzing resumed, and her jaw stiffened. She wrenched at it, turning her pocket inside out in the process. As soon as she saw the name, she softened a bit. Her thumb, rather than typing a hasty reply, pushed the button for a taxi app.

"Told ye I would find a quiet spot." The old kit chuckled, as Franklin had good connections even within the community in Tallahassee.

Despite her recent taste of higher life, Hildegard found pleasure in hidden spots, divey joints that served the best beers no one knew about in cities. She sipped something light, a taste of her homeland. "I couldn't doubt you if I tried, Freund."

The kit smiled, as he leaned back in his seat. "Well, nevah would had imagine I would git to face ye this way," Franklin spoke.

Hildegard nodded. "If it had to be anyone, it had to be you." She held her glass to him for a toast.

"Slante lass!" the kit clank his glass against hers and took a sip of his brew. "And to think, three years ago might nevah even came ta the FBA, especially with wot happened in Amsterdam."

She clapped him on the shoulder. "It made you better." She tapped the counter, and the bartender went to fetch a bottle. "You were meant to be here, ja, Katze? Say it."

"Ye sure shown me lass, I shown I deserve me spot, even finished second fo' coach of da year no less! I manage ta bury so many bad memories ere, thanks ta you and thanks ya Esmee too."

"Ja, wish I could say the same." She smirked. The bartender brought over a bottle, one the kit may or may not have recognized. A Balvenie 50-year-old Scotch, one of the most expensive bottles in the world. She grinned at the cat, before withdrawing slightly. "The media has been less kind to our success."

"My gawd lass, ye spoiling meh" He grinned, as he heard about the comment. "Well ye know, media are like this taday, but I seem ta notice ya team has kept their spirit high, and that more important than anything."

The bartender slid over the shots of Scotch. Hildegard almost felt bad how expensive it was. "Even for someone like me, it is hard not to notice the criticisms. Especially since your Stinkend Center hurt himself."

"People might not like the lad, but I learned ta know him better. He works hard lass. He is really dedicated ta his goals. I take full responsibility ta me team. You been working hard with your lads too. Tomorrow going ta be a game ta remember." He sipped his shot of scotch, his whiskers trembling to the taste. "Good scotch!"

"Prost!" She knocked hers back as well. "Ja." She put the glass down. "It better be gut. You just drank $7,000 of whiskey." She returned to her beer, but her fingers just lingered on the glass. She absentmindedly traced shapes in the condensation. "If we win, they will say it was because of the injuries. I know it."

The old kit sighs. "It cannot be helped in that kind of sports with all the fans. Ye only have control of what ye do, not what they say. But ye guys fought tooth and nail ta get here, and ye deserve ye spot 'ere." The kit put a paw on her shoulder. "Ye not going ta be turning soft on li'l old me, are ye?"

Hildegard took a moment, said nothing, but she let out a loud laugh. She reached over and pinched the cat's shirt. "What? Soft like you, Katze?" She scoffed, but the silence returned once the laughter stopped. "I always plan for success. Most of the time, I even expect it. But this," pointing back and forth between the two of them, "this I did not expect."

"Guess there still things ta learn after all that time lass. I know ye the strong type of person ta figure out a way ta cope. I mean ye ain't all alone in this. Ye got ye team." He smiled.

"Und you, I hope." She chuckled. She looked at Franklin. "What if you win?"

"I dunno how I would react, I mean, ye know how much I had ta go through. That old kit might cry." He chuckled, looking down.

"Mein Gott, what if I win?" She looked at her beer. "What if we win?"

"Ye remember our twitter bet eh? Winner gets a brewery." He chuckled. "Least someone will have their own brew ta cheer each other with afta the game" He laughed.

"A few months later, Vielleicht." She smiled. The bar felt emptier than it had before. The hybrid sighed. "No matter what, whoever wins, wir earned this."

The old cat nods and smiled at his old friend. "I concur lass, I concur."

Franz felt old, he told himself. At the start of the fourth quarter, with no rest, he and the other Typhoons found themselves on the court for the last quarter of the last game in the playoffs. Down by eight points: anything but ideal. Franz dug his claws into his knee as he tried to stretch the growing pain in his hip out.

A drink, a damn drink. Most of the starting lineup were gone from the court entirely. Franz felt a burning in his throat, a raspiness to his breaths before the quarter had even started. Though it was good to be playing with the team, especially Oliver, he had a brief moment where he wondered if it was worth it. Something felt off, but he knew he had to finish what he started. Normally, he played for himself and his team; they were his family. And yet this time, something else was at stake, something he couldn't quite articulate. He needed to prove something.

He felt the seconds go by in grounding pangs. Every time his foot connected with the floor, he registered the sensation as more than physical, more than reductive pain. The lightning that coursed through him imbued him with purpose. He couldn't move in simple reactions. He paid attention to every part of his body. His passes felt like him sending a piece of himself to the next player. His shots resounded like a wave of relief in him. Every muscle and joint sang in chorus, even if there was true dissonance that night in some of their notes, yet he harmonized with every player on Tallahassee.

The final seconds. It felt like there was nothing else, as though he had been transported to this exact moment. If he were in purgatory, it would be these few seconds he'd relive over and over again before he passed on to Heaven or to Hell.

The ball was in his hands. He didn't remember getting the pass. It just felt like it had always been there. He positioned himself like he had so many times before. He squared his shoulders and hips; there wasn't any pain. He jumped, his fingers loosing the ball from his grasp. This was a goodbye, he realized, not in the sense that he was losing something, but rather in the way that something was ending, something that he would come to see as both fond and heartbreaking. There was a tear in the corner of his eye, and he had no idea what to make of it.

But he landed. The shot sank without touching the rim, and so did he.

The Tallahassee line all jumped at once. The Billings arena was a cacophony of cheers and jeers. The players rushed past their matriarch. Hildegard stood frozen, eyes glazed as she looked upon her players moving to celebrate. What was this? This feeling?

On the other side, consternation on the Howlers back as Franklin looked on at the scoreboard, nonetheless, as orange and blue confetti comes down the court and the media comes marching in, the old kit walked toward her friend, the new FBA champion.

"Ya did it lass, ye earned it." The old kit reached for her hand with both paws and lightly squeeze.

Several people bumped past, but she registered almost none of it. She looked up, and there it was: Tallahassee 110, Montana 108. Game 7. She looked around, the dueling halves of the stadium in various states of unrest. She perked at the sound of Franklin, but even he seemed a blur to her. She stepped out onto the court, and the seas parted. For a moment, she felt alone in the stadium. It was quiet. Small echoes of celebration, but little else. She looked down at her hands. That night, she wore her first European Championship ring from her time in Heraklion. Back then, it felt like her victory, but this was different. There was a new feeling. Her victories as a player, then as a coach in the European League, they were singular, hers in her mind. This was communal. This was together. Hers, Tazel's, Narkissa's, Rosalie's, Franz's, Oliver's, all of them. This was family.

Franklin walked behind Hildegard and gave her a light hug. "Lass, ye alright?" the kit questioned her, trying above all else to see her friend enjoy her moment first and foremost.

Hildegard slowly came back. She readied herself to speak, but both she and Franklin were washed over as two of the Typhoons dumped the entire cooler on their coach.

Now, the laughter filled her ears. She went all smiles, baring her sharp teeth that held back a victorious shout. She reached out and hugged her players. Soon, she was shaking hands, but someone was missing.

"Oh, but wait. He's still laying on the court. That's not a grin, that's a grimace of pain. The arena is completely silent as paramedics rush onto the court. This is not good. Not good. Not good. Everyone here is watching as he's carried off the court, the portrait of pain in his face is indescribable. Not a good way to start off a celebration. We'll keep you updated as we hear more about his situation. For now, it's back to the studio for the post-game coverage of the FBA 2017 Finals, right here, on FSPN."

Roars of celebration and jeering were heard from down the hall to the locker rooms. Strapped to a back brace, Franz was carried toward the locker room reserved for the visiting team. Hildegard walked alongside, fists balled and brow furrowed. She glared through everyone in front of her as though she could set them on fire. An official carefully approached her and whispered something while they walked.

As they entered the tunnel, the noise lessened. Hildegard nodded at the official, scampering off, before she looked down at Franz. She pulled in one of the security furs and shouted at him to keep the press out of the locker rooms. A wave of reporters and paparazzi slammed into the guards, who kept them at bay. Franz groaned in a way Hildegard hadn't heard from him before. He was in pain, and she felt responsible, in spite of everything.

Coming from the opposite direction, Rosalie Smoot had angrily waved off the medics tending to her ears, injured in a third quarter fracas. Muttering curses about the Howlers and their fans, she was determined to get back to the court. The echoes and the throbbing in her own hearing made it hard to tell who had won. She had to know, and she had to be with her team win or lose.

One game a year in Billings was about all Rosalie could stand. Just being here put her on edge. But if facing Montana was the gauntlet to run to get to be Champion, she would do it 20 times over. She had insisted, repeatedly, that she should be out there for the 4th quarter, and the medics had just as insistently kept her back. Eventually, the roaring and, yes, howling of the crowd had gotten too much for even them to ignore.

Amongst the cacophony, a particular pit bull pushed through the crowd. "Let me through! Now!" Tanya hustled across the court as best as she could, but the reporters swarmed her, the only member of the Korbers that they had access to.

Rosalie rounded a corner and nearly barreled headlong into her coach. The look on the hybrid's face was inscrutable. "Coach! I--" Franz whined again, sharply. The look on the Doberman's muzzle was much easier to interpret. "Franz! What the hell happened?" Rosalie nearly shouted. "If it was another one of those dirty rotten inbred fans--"

Hildegard put a hand to Rosalie's chest and led her away from the entourage. She set the bison against the wall. "Rosalie, I need you to be calm for a moment, ja?" This was strange, Hildegard being the one to speak reason. "Can you do that for me?"

Rosalie hesitated only a moment, but she trusted her coach wholeheartedly. She took a deep breath and nodded.

The hybrid nodded in response. "They aren't examining Franz here. He's going right to the hospital."

Rosalie stood up straighter, sensing what was expected of her as captain. "I'll take care of things here. Just..." she paused, unsure whether it was appropriate to ask right now, with Franz lying on a stretcher, and then decided to risk it, "Tell me one thing. Did we win?"

Hildegard kept a straight face for a moment, before grinning and stepping back. She gripped the bison's hand and pulled her into a one-armed hug. Both of their ears perked at the sound of a wife in distress. Hildegard leaned in to Rosalie's ear. "Keep her here. She doesn't need to see her husband like this." She wasted no more time and quickly disengaged to walk down toward the exit. Ambulance lights were already flashing from the open doors. "You're in charge of the party. I will be there as soon as I make sure Franz is okay!"

Hildegard's grin was all the answer Rosalie needed. Her heart leapt in her chest. FBA Champions Tallahassee Typhoons. She had never doubted it was possible, and yet it was still hard to believe. Now more than ever she wanted to be on the court, but her sense of responsibility held her back. She could hear Tanya's approach as the exit doors swung shut. The celebration would wait. Rosalie was needed right here, right now.

Tanya looked to be in a panic. Ever the strong woman, she plowed through the security detail, but as soon as they recovered from who it was that threw them out of the way, they let her pass. The wall reformed, and Tanya rushed toward the locker rooms. "Where is Franz?" she shouted.

Rosalie stepped out into the middle of the hall, two hundred and fifty pounds of bovine blocking the way. "He just left for the hospital with Coach Tetreault," her voice was calm and measured; she couldn't let Tanya know how worried she was herself.

Tanya scowled through her worry. "Why? What happened? He didn't even get hit!" More and more questions erupted from her muzzle. She was losing it.

Rosalie made a placating gesture, taking a moment to calm the downsliding canine. "I'm sure they're just being cautious," she said, not entirely believing it herself. "What exactly did happen?"

Tanya stepped back. Her eyes darted around as though they were looking for something. "He made the shot. That's all. He jumped up," her breathing still elevated. "And then he just went down. He was screaming."

Rosalie winced inwardly. She could imagine it vividly in her mind. Franz had hurt his hip in Game 6; he'd insisted he was fine, but the trainers had vehemently advised against him playing tonight. "Tanya..."

The pitbull closed her eyes and breathed deep. On the silver screen, she was the pinnacle of strength, but for Franz, she melted. She exhaled hard with a groan. "He would say that," an exasperated tone, but one with a familiarity, one with love. She put her head in her hand. With Franz and Hildegard gone, the reporters began to disperse; the silence wafted in. "Oh Franz."

Rosalie tentatively placed an arm around the smaller woman's shoulders. "You know Franz. I know Franz. There is no force on heaven or earth that could have kept him off the court tonight."

Tanya chanced a smile. "No, nothing at all." She stifled her worry as best as she could. "I need to get to the hospital. Elsa is with Bart. You think he can handle her for a while longer?"

Rosalie chuckled, recalling the small puppy riding Bart's shoulders piggyback until he collapsed. "He'll be thrilled. We'll look after her, don't worry. We'll come by later when things have calmed down some. And we'll bring the Halley Summers for Franz."

Tanya smiled. "Thank you, Rosalie." She planted a kiss on Rosalie's cheek, something she often did when the two women parted, and headed for the same exit. She paused, before letting out a small shriek of excitement. "My word, you're a champion! He's a champion!" She grinned, using the excitement to fuel her positivity for Franz. She continued out. The ambulance would be long gone, but she'd be right behind it.

Rosalie watched her go, and at last turned to join her family on the court, a category that had grown to include more than just Eleanor and Bart. They would be waiting for her, and there was a party to organize. She thought about Franz with a pang. Champion. It was never going to come without a cost. But she doubted Franz regretted it even one bit.

Featured Characters

Franz Volker Hildegard Tetreault Narkissa Kassius Rosalie Smoot Tanya Tanner Franklin O'Neill

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