"Darkpenny" | mariteaux

Chapter One

It's Penny's world, alright

It's just one mess after another. Stolen files, stolen keys. Break-ins all over town. A couple squatters to throw off your nose. And not a gotdamn trace of her, either, like she hopped one of the 5am trains off into the countryside.

It's Penelope's world, alright. We just live here.

I got the call Tuesday evening, a bit before nightfall, on a chilly and rainy day after too many of them. It was an old war buddy of mine, went by the name Kyle. Last I heard of him, he was running a print shop out on Cherry Avenue, but he wasn't looking to chat about the ink prices this time.

"Sebastian, I have a job for your—specific set of skills. You see, it's about Penny. You remember her, right?"

How could I forget? Penny was Kyle's niece. He put her in charge of one of his low-rent hosting ventures when the economy went south. I could still see that face: creamsicle orange fur streaked white. Fitting, for how sugar-shook she got, like a rookie thief nervously rocking the fire escape on the way down. What a piece of work that cat was.

"Penny stopped showing up to work on Friday. I can't find her."

"Well, she doesn't go far, does she?" I sat up, ears perked. "That's not like her."

"No, it isn't. See to it she gets found."

I pulled on my hat and coat, and in a minute, I was out on the street. Wasn't too sure how to locate a broad with no assets and no other connections to speak of, but I've found tougher. By now, it stopped raining, and the brick pathways all shimmered under moonlight, and a thick fog hung around the streetlamps like yesterday's news. The clouds kept the moon under shadow. Everything was still.

I took a stroll across town to the dingy warehouse where she worked. Kyle came out of the war with this dream, to give people in this city a voice and bring out their creativity or some mess like that. He bought up a bunch of places for it when the market blew. This was one of them. A sad, drafty little building that couldn't keep the glass in its windows if you put bars over top.

Front doors were locked, so I slipped in through the side entrance Penny always kept unlocked for her convenience. Dust to dust, alright—I was up to my eyeballs in the stuff. I'd have guessed the cleaners took the 5am with her if I didn't know better. Kyle aggressively targeted whoever was desperate enough to pay, and got plenty of takers. Seemed like everyone who rented out a space in here was an art school reject or even crazier than Penny. There's a few reasons he stays away, I guess.

Everything was untouched. Filing cabinets still filled. Exhibits still on display. Hell, the lights were still on. At least, the ones that still worked. I checked the gaudy blue vases by the front desk; sometimes, Penny left herself notes in them. They were both empty this time. Guess this cat really didn't want to help me out, so I left.

You know, I've seen a lot of things in these back alleys. Bums, vicious beatdowns, spent casings, trash cans filled with the filth of families around here, Kevin wandering around—

Wait, shit. I hope he didn't see me.

"Seb?"

NO

"Hi Seb!"

Kevin was a beast of an aardwolf, a behemoth draped in an old jacket thrown over a T-shirt. But ultimately, despite his size, Kevin was as harmless as he was dumb—between the delicate muzzle, big ears, and constant smell of salted termites, I wondered why he never found greener pastures. This old city's no place for him.

"Hi Seb! Are you playing detective again?"

Kevin bounced closer, as excited as a lost puppy to see me. It was no wonder he got on so well with Penny.

"Hi Seb! Are you playing detective again?"

"No, I am not "playing detective"! I am out on important business."

"Important? Like what?"

Sigh. "If you must know, Penelope's gone missing. Kyle's tasked me with finding her."

"Penny! Is she okay? Can I come?"

"No."

I turned and left. Every path lead to nowhere already. Last thing I needed was him getting in the way of my search. Dusk was fading, and I had to move quick. But, as I left the alley and fixed my lapel, something got the better of me. A misguided sense of compassion, perhaps—I can't leave him out here alone, could I? Plus, the worry in his eyes—maybe I worried a little for her too.

I turned the corner again. Kevin sat lonely on a stoop.

"Kevin."

"Yeah?"

"Come with me."

Through foggy streets, we walked for what seemed like days by our lonesome. I was at a loss for where to look next. Strangled by time, by chance, and I didn't have much air left. I poured over the options. Did someone scare her off? Couldn't be. We would've known. A kidnapping? It'd be quick and easy, given her size, but what would someone want with a girl like her?

"Um, Seb? Are you gonna, like, talk to yourself the whole time?"

"I'm not talking to myself."

"Yeah, you are. You were saying something about kidnappings."

"...Right." Wait, hold on, maybe Kevin knew something I didn't. "Kevin, when did you last see Penny?"

"We went to the park the other day!"

"Was she acting strange at all?"

"Oh, um...I don't think so, no."

"No anxiety? Nothing on her mind?"

"Mmm, no."

"...Did she say anything weird?"

Kevin just shook his head.

Damn. Another one bites the dust.

The breeze was starting to kick up as we got to King Street, which overlooked the pier. The sea always brought in bitter winds this time of year, the kind I could never stand as a child. One gust brought a mound of trash our way—week-old newspapers, flyers for yard sales, and rare candy wrappers, especially.

"Rare candy" was the name folks around here gave to a sickly-sweet little pill that took over the city like a hurricane. Textbook upper people cut with sugar to mask the chemicals. Potent like all get out, all homemade, and horribly addictive. I've seen more good men fall to the stuff than to a .50 cal.

"Oh! Penny had one of those!"

"What?"

"She had some candy stuff like that. She asked me if I wanted one, but I said no."

Oh, no no no no no. Penny.

I collapsed onto a nearby bench, snout in hand. It couldn't be, but it had to be. Of course.

"Seb?"

I didn't even know how to tell him.

"Seb, what's wrong?"

"Kevin...Penny's an addict."

Chapter Two

Like roulette with your savings down

Kevin and I wandered around a bit more and then filed into an old diner. One of those abandoned, hole-in-the-wall family joints with the old checkered linoleum floors and all the paintings of cars no one drives and houses no one lives in. It was more for him than me. Honestly wasn't hungry; the news put bullet holes in my stomach.

I tried to figure out what possessed that girl to get hooked. She never tired, never fatigued. Always a bubbly soul. What'd she need it for?

Meanwhile, Kevin had his nose buried in a menu, his appetite never one to take a sick day. "Ooh, chicken cheddar onion wrap. Seb, what do you think?"

"Sure."

Even Kevin can smell a down armadillo, and after a minute, his voice lowered with the menu. "It'll be okay, Seb," he said. "We'll find Penny, and she'll be okay too."

I was never at a loss for words, but now, they failed me. God knows I tried. "I hope so."

Our waitress was a poodle broad much older than us, her scuffed voice somehow failing her more than the thick smear of makeup and fur dye. By the time she had come back with Kevin's dinner, I figured I'd take a shot in the dark. Maybe she'd seen Penny.

I reached into my coat and pulled out an old photo of her. "Excuse me."

"Yes, dear?" she croaked.

"I'm looking for a girl. Orange kitty." I handed her the photo. "Seen her?"

The poodle pondered it for a beat, stopping to turn away and hack disgustingly before coming back to it. Surprisingly, she had. "Yeah, she was in here—I wanna say Saturday?"

"Was she with anyone?"

"Yeah, yeah—real shifty gecko bastard. Probably one of Cole's men. They like to come in here and cause trouble."

"Yeah, yeah—real shifty gecko bastard"

Cole. He's the one who got the bright idea to flood the town with rare candy. 65 years his family was in the steel business, and when it all went south? They sold out to the syndicate and started pushing product. I guess someone's gotta keep the dynasty going. Cole weaseled his way to the top of it all. I'd never had a run-in with him, but I knew of him.

I couldn't sleep that night. Knowing Penny was out there, running with those reprobates—God, what was she thinking? I spent more time pacing than I did sleeping. My stomach was a tornado. Like playing roulette with your savings down, nothing was safe. Especially not her. I hated it.

I had to report back to Kyle the next morning with what I knew. Took a few tries to get to him. I could barely handle the news myself, let alone share it with someone else.

"Kyle...Penny ran off on a rare candy bender."

"—She what?"

"And we still can't find her."

Long silence from his end. "But—where did she get it? And WHY?"

"I'd tell you if I knew."

More uncomfortable silence. Dramatic flair, maybe—or he needed to process it. I couldn't tell.

Finally, one last anguished cry broke through. "Well, get back out there and find her!"

The line cut. Just like that, he was gone. Of course, I had to sort this out on my own. I took it back from the start—Cole. If Penny was running with Cole's men, I knew I had to roam where they roamed. Surely something would lead back to Penny.

I knew one of Cole's stashhouses out by the waterfront, so that's where I went first. The abandoned firehouse across the street gave me a nice vantage point to watch the happenings. I spent several numbing hours staking it out the first day before I saw anyone. Looked like another one of Cole's men leaving, a ringtail with a nasty look on his face. To where, I wasn't sure, so I got a closer look.

One benefit to being an armadillo is your size. People might tower over you like skyscrapers, but you fit where they can't, and you can hide in plain sight. I tailed the guy for a little while, staying as far back as I could and hiding behind trashcans, boxes, and anything I could find that'd cover me. It seemed to work; he never spotted me.

Ringtail dropped a few coins in a payphone near one of the bus terminals, dialed, and started talking into it, occasionally looking around all shifty-like. I couldn't get close enough to hear him, but it definitely looked like business. Nothing much else happened that day.

Every day for a week, I'd watch the guy leave the stashhouse twice a day, once to grab lunch at a deli a few blocks away, and the other in the late afternoon to wander to the payphone. Never saw anyone else in there. Kevin sat up there with me sometimes, wandering the firehouse and picking through old tools and forgotten bits of debris to show me. It never sat right with me that this was what he was used to.

Eventually, I picked out a spot near the payphone where I could listen in, behind a noisy HVAC unit in the alleyway. This was it. Coins dropped in the payphone again, and the ringtail dialed up the same number he always did, though it took him a minute to start talking.

"Yeah? No shows down here, no. No north, no south. They're all on Broadway now? Well, you gotta send me down someone then. ...Fine. Gimme an hour."

...What? Broadway? Shows? Was it a code? ...It must've been a code, of course. Why didn't I think of that?

I gave up. I hitched my hopes on this guy giving me Penny, and all I got was theatre speak. Of course.

Kevin was lounging on an old sofa in the corner when I got back to the firehouse. "Hi Seb! How'd it go?"

"Awful. Guy's a deadbeat, like all of them." I sat down next to him. "We're never seeing Penny again."

"Seb, no! Don't say that! We'll find Penny, I promise."

I snarled. "Where?"

"Um...well, somewhere! Just—please don't say that. Please?"

I didn't want to hurt the poor guy more than I was, so I nodded and let it go. We were both sad and a little scared, no need to add to that. But then, something stranger still: as I stared off into the space out the firehouse window, I noticed Ringtail off down the street in the other direction. Where was he going now?

I watched him for as long as I could see him through the window, and by the time he was out of sight, I was down the stairs. I figured one last try on the guy couldn't hurt.

"Seb? Where are you going?"

"Kevin, I'll be back later. Don't follow me!"

He was a couple blocks down when I hit the street, and it wasn't hard catching up to him. Ringtail was acting strange this time. Dragging his feet and looking around more, for one. If he was trying to avoid suspicion, he was doing a bang-up job of it. Still, I kept my distance, using bits of trash and porch steps as cover.

After about an hour, we ended up on a side road off of Main Street. I remembered the call: "Broadway". Broadway, Broadway...was this Broadway? Main Street was always quite wide...

Ringtail ducked out into the back half of a curry house, and I followed suit a minute later. This wasn't a good idea; Ringtail was plain-clothed, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. I didn't belong in here. I needed to find Penny, though.

The back entrance lead to a little clearing in the back of the restaurant that branched out into the kitchen and dining areas. Stairs lead up somewhere; maybe management. I hid under them and listened, but no one came. I needed to get closer.

Every room I poked my head into was potentially my undoing, and I knew it. First, it was the upstairs. Then, some apartments up there; most were occupied, but a few were open. I got the sense it wasn't separate renters up here. There was a communal laundry area with a wall compartment taped up that I tried getting into, without much luck. Figuring I'd come back later, I turned around and—

"Hey! Who are you?"

Fuck.

Ringtail spotted me as he came out of the big door at the end of the hall. I stood frozen, not sure what to do or where to go except "out".

"Hey! There's a cop in here!"

Fuck!

I just couldn't make it to the door fast enough. Others came out. I ended up cornered.

It was all a bit of a blur after that. I think I hit my head a time or two, maybe more. I remember getting dragged by my collar, my ears stomped, nose bleeding, glasses shattered—sounds like a cartoon when I put it all like that, doesn't it? It didn't feel like it. It was this fuzzy blanket of dull and searing pain covering my entire body. It felt like someone took a golf club to my back, wasn't happy with it, and tried again on my sides. Blood dripped across my suit. My hat missing. It hurt to breathe; I thought my ribs were shattered. The wind picked up in my ears, but I wasn't outside.

I caught those big, dumb ears and realized, no—no, it actually happened

About the only bit that's still vivid to me was getting tossed out onto a mound of trash and shattered glass. I remember pulling out Penny's photo again, and saying—just barely—I was looking for her. That's when they left me alone. Dizzy and pound-pound-pound went my head, but even when I was around enough to see, I couldn't move. I couldn't get up.

That's what made it worse, actually.

At first, I thought I was imagining it. Maybe it was sleep paralysis and a nightmare I had to shake myself out of. I heard footsteps echoing through the alleyway towards me. I thought they came to finish the job and I could wake up and be done, but then I caught those big, dumb ears and realized, no—no, it actually happened.

And while I'm glad I had someone there to get help and nurse me through it, if there's one sound I hope no one ever has to hear again, it's the sound of Kevin breaking down and crying, begging me to be okay.

Chapter Three

This old city's no place for any of us

"...He's waking up."

The warm rays of a new day's sun crept across my face as I came to. I was in a hospital bed, surrounded by blipping machines and paperwork. My adventure landed me in intensive care, it seemed.

I could breathe a bit better than before. It still hurt like hell to sit up, but I tried to anyway. I was patched up in spots and still without my glasses, but I could just make out what was around me. Standing in the doorway to my left was the doctor, a bunny—or maybe a hare, not sure. To my immediate right was Kevin.

"Well, you didn't break anything, miraculously," the doctor said. She finished up her notes and left the room, leaving us alone for a bit.

For the shape I was in, Kevin wasn't doing much better. In fact, he looked downright traumatized: sleepless, anxious, fidgety, eyes ready to spill painful, frightened tears again at any moment. Penny being gone set him wrong, but seeing what happened to me cracked him in half, and I had no one but me to blame for it.

"Seb, why?" The bounce in his voice was reduced to a quiver. He sounded breathless. "Why did you do that?"

"Kevin...I felt invincible. I got in over my head. Penny wasn't in there, but—I thought if I did the detective thing, she would be."

He didn't respond.

"I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking right. I got reckless."

Kevin tried to steady his breathing. There was a mix of things going on up there: fear, sadness, hurt, maybe a little bit of justified anger. He wasn't good with words, especially when he was upset.

So I tried saying more words. "I won't be that dumb again, I promise. ...And you can be mad at me. I deserve it." In the end, that's all they were. Words.

"Kevin, come here."

He got up and leaned in close over the bed. "Yeah?"

As much as it hurt to lift my arms, I got up around his neck and hugged him close. He needed it, and in kind, he hugged me right back.

"Kevin, come here."

The day before I was discharged, I stood at the desk filling out forms and watched a rather young, starved, dirtied raccoon stumble down the hallway. His eyes were large, timid and met no one else's, and his clothes looked older than he did. He awkwardly peered over the desk and tried to ask something of the receptionist, all while avoiding looking at him.

"Um—has a—um...has there been any—um..."

The receptionist wasn't impressed. I stepped in.

"What do you need?" I asked him quietly.

"Um—I'm looking for an orange kitty—"

I was dumbfounded. Without thinking—"Penny?!"

"Yeah, Penny!" His voice suddenly grew very loud. I hoped no one was looking.

I turned back to the receptionist. "Listen, you wouldn't happen to know if an orange kitty with white stripes on her face came in here, would you?"

"Not that I know of, sir."

"Thank you anyway." I turned back to the raccoon, absolutely blindsided at what just happened. There was no way! I needed to know how he knew Penny, and where he last saw her. With an "Uh, listen, sit with me for a bit," I hurried him over to the empty waiting area.

"So you're looking for Penny too?" I asked.

"Yeah. I don't really—know where she could've gone. I mean—she was here yesterday." Aside from his wired eyes and fidgeting, his speech was clipped, and he took little pauses a lot. It wasn't that he was out of breath; maybe a speech impediment, I thought, or just anxiety. Maybe he was coming off rare candy.

"She was at the hospital yesterday?"

"Well—no. She was...close to here, though."

Nothing specific so far, so I turned the conversation more general. "So what's your name then?"

"Colton. You?"

"Sebastian. Now, how did you meet Penny, exactly?"

"Well—I was at the pier, around two weeks ago, and my friend Spencer—he brought Penny because she was looking for candy. And, well, we started talking, and we—just kinda realized we had something. People don't usually like me, but she does, and—well, I like her a lot too. She makes me feel safe." He loosened up considerably as he told me this, all smiley and lovesick, not that it did his speech any favors. "And I've been visiting her a lot, and—I can't find her now."

"And you don't know where she could be."

"Well—no. I don't. Sorry."

I wasn't convinced, but maybe I was, a little bit. This was someone who knew Penny, someone who was clearly around the stuff himself. The way his demeanor shifted; the way the fear drained out of him as he told me about that day, not long after she went missing. He had to be telling the truth.

I wasn't pleased that my lead here was a brittle, jumpy candy addict. Still, I needed Penny back.

"Alright, well..." I jumped up, found a pen and a scrap of paper, quickly scrawled my phone number across it, and handed it to him. "Will you call me if you see her?"

Yeah, it was stupid, but there's call boxes all over this town. Beggars can't be choosers. Luckily, he took it, nodded, and was out on his way. I hoped I got the digits legible enough and limped back to my room.

I was discharged from the hospital the next morning. Kevin stood a little closer to me on the way back home. Realistically, he had no reason to be scared, but—whatever helped. I caused this. I made him like that. It wasn't my place to take it away from him. Certainly I was a little nervous walking around myself, as nice as it was to not be confined to a hospital bed anymore.

I took precaution: Kevin stayed with me no matter what, we wouldn't roam at night, and—I didn't tell him this, but it made me feel safer—I started carrying my father's antique revolver. I'd never fired a gun, and to this day, the thought of it makes my stomach hurt, but I needed something to protect myself in case I did something dumb again.

I avoided telling Kevin about Colton, at least for now—I didn't want to get his hopes up in case my lead flaked out on me. We went back to our usual haunts at first. Colton mentioned the pier, and we checked it frequently. No Penny. (No Colton, for that matter.) Then, we checked the street with the fire station and the stash-house. No Penny. Work again. No Penny.

Every day that went on, I cursed myself for listening to him. Every day that I had to see Kevin's hopes slowly diminish, I cursed that mangy raccoon for leading me on. I varied up the times we checked (again, never at night). Some days, we'd check work first, in case Penny happened to be around. Nothing ever lead anywhere.

Or so I thought. It was about a week from the outset that I got a call at my apartment. It was a stuffy, sleepless night; I always wondered how it could be breathlessly hot in this house when it dipped below freezing outside. Still, the call shook me. I raced out to the kitchen to answer it.

"Sebastian?"

"C-Colton! Colton, hi. Yeah, this is Sebastian. What's up?"

"I found Penny!"

"You did?"

"Yeah! She's right here—Penny, say hi!"

And it really was her. After the month looking for her, here she was, on the phone. Her voice sounded a little rough and worn, but I honestly chalked it up to the phone. No one sounds good over those.

"Hi, Seb."

"Penny! Good lord, I'm so glad you're okay. Kevin and I have been running ourselves RAGGED looking for you."

"I know. I'm sorry. But I'm okay—I promise."

"What happened? Where'd you disappear to?"

"I—got into some stuff. It was bad."

"Well, the good thing is that you're safe and we can come get you. I suppose I only have Colton to thank for it."

Something bumped on the other end, and Colton started talking again. "Well, there you go, Sebastian."

"Excellent. Thank you so much. So where can we meet up tomorrow to get her?"

...Silence.

"Colton? Where can we meet up?"

More silence.

"Colton—"

Click.

Motherfucker.

*69 to try and get the payphone number back. Rang it. No answer.

No way. What a tease.

Between my anger and my lack of sleep, it was hard to tell Kevin the next morning about how much closer we were to finding her, and how distant we really were. Still, he had to know. He had to. He was outside at the crack of dawn, like he always was, waiting for a word. He had to know.

"Hi Seb!"

"Kevin! Hello there. Listen, great news: I talked to Penny last night."

"You did?"

"Yes! Over the phone. I met someone who knew about her, and he found her."

Kevin was overjoyed; he bounced and squealed and wagged his tail like he had before any of this took its toll on us. I felt awful.

"So when can we go see her?" he asked.

"That—is the problem. He's not being forthcoming about where she is."

"What—why?"

I had a bunch of theories, but none too coherent. I didn't know Colton well enough to say. I had to settle for a meek "I'm not sure" and watch as his muzzle twitched and his ears drooped.

Finally, his optimism got the better of him. "Well, maybe she'll be around today. Let's keep looking."

I paid special attention to the pier today, since that's where Colton called from. We must've circled it three times, which confused Kevin to no end. Sure enough, third time lead me right to him; spotted him kicking his feet absentmindedly in the dock water. Oh, how my fury boiled in me.

"I don't appreciate being teased, Colton," I called.

He climbed up and backed away, wringing his hands and turning right back into that mousy raccoon stumbling through the hospital. "You're not taking her away from me."

I was incredulous. "That's not how this works!"

"That's all any of you do to me. You're not taking her away from me."

Of course.

I lowered my voice. Maybe I scared him. "Colton, I don't know what you've been through, but I'm sorry about it. We just want to see Penny."

"No, because then she'll never want to see me and I'll be alone again."

I paused. "Colton."

Our eyes met.

And then he darted off.

Never try to outrun an armadillo, for the record. I kept up pace with him easily, but he dipped down alleyways and in between buildings, and I got confused as to where he went. Clean goddamn getaway.

I wasn't amused. It was getting dark, and I wasn't about to throw away another day's worth of searching because Colton wanted to play games. I sniffed, picked a path, and kept up pace. I'd catch him sometime, I thought, but I never did. I don't know where he went.

I had to return to Kevin empty-handed again. It wasn't just that I was being lead around like a cow, that was only part of it—it was that, once again, I had to get Kevin's hopes up and then dash them bitterly against the rocks. I hated everything.

"Okay, Colton!" I called to the buildings like a total loser, not that I cared anymore. "You can keep her."

Kevin was horrified. "But! Seb..."

"I just wanna see Penny again. Come out, please."

I waited. "...Please. I just wanna see Penny again."

He didn't take it. I didn't know this part of town like he did. He was gone, he won.

Kevin and I drifted aimlessly until dusk. It was a pretty warm day out (for November, anyway), but now? Cold and dark. Fitting.

"Seb, you weren't—really gonna let him keep Penny, were you?"

"No. I was trying to bait him out. It didn't work. Nothing ever does."

"Seb..."

"Kevin, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for leading you on over and over. I'm sorry for telling you about talking to Penny and getting your hopes up. I'm sorry for getting into so much trouble, and I'm sorry for being so arrogant to think that I myself alone could find Penny—"

"Seb!"

"What?"

"It's okay. We'll find Penny."

"But Kevin—"

"No! We'll find Penny. It'll be okay. Trust me."

He smiled. I don't know how he did it.

In the lull of the conversation, I heard something. Screaming. Very distant screaming coming from down one of these alleyways. I tried to follow it the best I could, with Kevin at my heels. I started to make out things they said, and then the voices. Kevin started to tremble. I couldn't believe it.

"Please, they'll be back soon. You don't understand!"

"I'm not going with you!"

"Penny, please, we don't have a lot of time!"

"You're being ridiculous, and I'm not going anywhere, I want to see my friends—Colton, let go of me!"

"Penny! Stop it! Penny!"

And that's when I pulled it on him. I wish I didn't have to. He had Penny up against the bricks with both her wrists in one hand, and he was trying to pull her into the back entrance of the building. For as small as Colton was, he could still overpower her, and that's when I lost it. I pulled the revolver on him.

"Let go of her. Now."

Time stood icy still right there. I caught my first glimpse of Penny for the first time in weeks: she looked destroyed, fur messy and dulled, and restless. She'd gotten thinner, weaker-looking, but her eyes were untouched. Whatever this nightmare brought, she was still Penny.

Colton quickly relinquished his grip on her, and she darted off into Kevin's arms. I never took my eyes off him. I could see him surrender to reality again, staring down the barrel of that thing. What came over him ceased to be, and what he was came back. He slowly realized what he'd done, and that he really was gonna be alone again, and that he caused it. It got to me.

That look he gave me, of horror, fear, guilt, shame, self-hatred—all of it got to me. Yes, he tried to kidnap Penny, he wasted our time, and it was wrong, really wrong, but—I didn't blame him, not entirely. He got desperate. I really didn't know what he'd been through, clearly a lot, but I couldn't help him. No, instead, here I was, taking Penny away from him at gunpoint.

I turned back to Kevin. I could sense his relief, finally reunited with one of his closest friends, and she looked safe in his arms once more. That's all they cared about, and—I wish I could say the same. Of course I was also relieved, but Colton got to me. We weren't the only ones here. I didn't like what I had to do to get here.

"Why?" he asked. The tears and shivering started to come down heavy on him, and he closed up quick. "Why do I have to be alone?"

"Colton," Penny said. It wasn't the phone—her voice was absolutely charred.

He looked up at her, hopeful for something to hang onto. Hopeful for a second chance.

"...Please get help."

That's all they cared about, and—I wish I could say the same

It was about a week later that Kevin came to visit me once more. The holidays were here, and I could tell he couldn't wait to get into the spirit. I was glad to see him, and I'd been meaning to talk to him.

"Hi Seb!"

"Kevin! Come in, come in."

"How's Penny?"

Penny was around the corner, sat at my table with hot chocolate. "Hi Kevin." Her voice was still weak and scratchy, but in time, that'd improve.

"She's spent most of the week up in my spare room in bed. Once the irritability and shaking went away, she was back to her old self, mostly." Those words made Kevin a very happy puppy indeed.

I wasn't done with him yet, though.

"So...Kevin, we've been thinking."

"Oh?"

"Honestly, after all that—this old city's no place for any of us, is it? We were thinking of moving, and we wanted you to come with us. Be out of the cold for good, you know?" I still wasn't exactly sure where he came from, but out of all of us, he deserved better the most.

His face lit up. "Ooooooooooh...where?"

"Something smaller. Like a lot smaller. Penny and I were looking at villages, maybe."

"I've never lived in a village before..."

"We don't have it all figured out yet, but—we really do want you to come along and stay with us. You've done a lot."

"I have?"

Dumb dog. "More than you know, Kevin. More than you know."