The restaurant was surprisingly crowded for a Tuesday afternoon as Kevin looked across the table at his friends. All around them, the blue and white of Alaska jerseys filled the tables. Here and there, small pockets of people wore the darker blue and purple of the San Jose Thrust, but the predominant group was the Arctics fans. Across the table from him was Shannon Hickman. The Kangaroo Rat was leaning slightly towards the hybrid to her right, her words carrying the hint of flirtation. For his own defense, it wasn’t as if Theo wasn’t flirting right back at her.
The pangolin looked to his right. Their agent, Trivol, was looking down at his empty plate, seemingly exhausted. If Kevin had to guess, his head was likely still hurting a little from his heavy drinking the night before, if Twitter was anything to go by. He took a glance at his own plate, which, unlike the others, still had food left on it. Not much, he thought to himself, but he probably should finish it off before the game.
His companions at the table, and a few of those surrounding theirs, looked up as a loud beep rang from his pocket. Kevin muttered out a quick apology and he pulled the phone from his pants, All his known numbers had custom ringtones, but that was the standard beep. He hadn’t given anyone his number recently, except . . .
Kevin swiped across his phone, bringing up the message. It was an unfamiliar number, but the message was clear.
Meet us in the cafe after the match.
Shannon was giving him an odd look. “What are you looking so happy about, Kevin?”
Kevin blushed. “Oh, uh, nothing. I was trying to see if I could get an autograph from a few of the Arctics after the game but before we meet Shane Rufus. I just got a text from Zack Tate saying where I should go to meet them.”
Shannon grinned. “So, who are you meeting?”
“Cliff Matthiews, Ambrose Slade, and Zack of course. Zack even managed to convince Beulah Rollinghouse to come!”
Theo looked over at him. “So, what are you going to have them sign? I thought you didn’t bring a basketball.”
Kevin reached down into his bag on the floor and pulled out an orange jersey, red strips lining the edges. Across the back, ‘Malka’ was written in large black letters, with the number 13 below it. “I have, well, a lot of jerseys left over from OIT. The school had to order me a ton because they kept getting ripped on my scales, and by the end of my time there, I had some left. I use some for training, but I’ve kept a few unused.”
He turned, tucking the jersey back into his bag. His phone buzzed on the table. “It’s almost game time, we should probably get out of here and to the arena. It’s probably going to get packed.”
The seat was closer than he expected, and right in the middle of the San Jose section of the arena. The pangolin shook his head; his friends had paid far too much just so he could have the chance to see Shane Rufus play. Kevin could see Shannon a few seats away, slipping on her Shane Rufus jersey. Not far beyond that, he saw Theo and Trivol settling into their seats. People were beginning to settle down, a few still milling to find their seats.
Not long after everyone settled, the lights in the stadium dimmed, and the music began. The teams began to file onto the court, and a few minutes later, the game was underway. Alaska pulled out into an early lead right from the tipoff, as the Thrust fans began to boo the court. Despite the early lead, the Thrust pushed back hard. By the end of the first quarter, the Thrust had almost tied the game.
As the second quarter began, the Thrust rushed ahead with the ball, pulling what was looking to be an upset. Their attempt for an early quarter basket was blocked by Zack Tate, snagging the ball in the air and storming back down in the court. Kevin almost jumped out of his seat, although the Thrust fans glared daggers at him as he let out a squeak of excitement.
Zack circled around, stopping just outside the key to set up his shot. Kevin blinked. Dat Mongoste was moving around the key, coming at Zack from behind. As the zorilla took his shot, the mongoose came around and jumped in an attempted block. He came nowhere close to the ball, his hand sliding across Zack’s chest, droplets of blood flying towards the seated fans.
Kevin jumped out of his seat as the crowd began to scream. Players were beginning to crowd around Zack and the mongoose as trainers from the sidelines rushed onto the court. Referees and officials weren’t far behind, working to break up the fighting players. The court was complete mayhem, and the crowd wasn’t much better. Kevin watched as the officials managed to breakup the group surrounding Zack Tate and Dat Mongoste, leaving the two players standing apart from each other, their bodies visibly tense and quite angrily yelling at each other. Over the din of the crowd, Kevin couldn’t make out a single word from either side. Zack was hunched over, the front of his jersey slashed open and the edges ringed lightly with blood. Kevin gasped at the sight. As far as he knew, he’d never seen the zorilla angry before. Not in a game, not in any pictures the media had ever posted, and he’d never even heard such news secondhand. Zack had always been the perfect image of calm and humour, and here it was, shattered.
It was a few minutes before Zack’s teammates managed to convince the large zorilla to move off the court. The crowd settled down after that, and Dat was handed a foul, as well as ejected from the game. Soon after, the crowd began to cheer again as play resumed into the second quarter, but Kevin just shook his head. After seeing what he had, he couldn’t focus in the game. The image of Zack, face contorted in rage, was burned into his mind. And when the zorilla was walked out of the arena, the anger had faded, he almost looked . . . sad.
Almost two hours later, the final buzzer sounded, and the stadium cheered. The Arctics had won their first game of the playoffs. He heard people getting up to leave, and Kevin worked on instinct to get up with them. His eyes drifted to Shannon and Theodore. Shannon looked crushed, likely over the fact that the Thrust lost, and he couldn’t read the faces of Theo and Trivol. The four of them slowly made their way towards each other in the crowd, though over the noise of people talking and the shuffling of feet, none of them attempted to communicate other than through pointing and nodding heads.
The brisk chill of the night air was a refreshing change from the heat of the day as the small group exited the stadium. Theodore and Shannon were quick to pick up the conversation now that they could actually hear each other, talking about their favourite parts of the game. Kevin tuned them out, looking down as his feet as they walked towards the sidewalk.
He was knocked out of his thoughts by a nudge from their agent. “Oh, sorry. What?”
She suppressed a small laugh. “I was asking, Kevin, what had you so distracted? It’s not like you.”
“It was just this game.” He sighed, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands. “That injury shook me a bit, you know. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Zack Tate mad before.”
He looked up at his friends, back towards the stadium. All of them were nodding, and Trivol looked concerned. “Yes,” he spoke quietly, “that injury should never have happened.”
“It’s not just that. We were originally going to meet up after the game.” Kevin shrugged. “But Zack’s probably on his way to the hospital, and I highly doubt that any of the team would meet with me now, what with having an injured teammate.”
Off to the side of the arena, Kevin caught a flash of light. A solitary door, built flush into the stadium, had opened, activating the light overhead. A head ducked out the door, taking a quick look around, before the body followed it, letting the door close shut behind him. Kevin blinked. There was only one person he knew that was that tall and had an icy dye in his hair.
His eyes flicked back to his friends as he watched the large zorilla sneak away from the arena, heading along the side away from the exiting crowd. Kevin coughed, trying to cover up his distraction. “Go on ahead without me, guys! I need to hit the restroom. I’ll see you all tomorrow morning.”
He heard Shannon calling his name as he ran past them back towards the arena. Despite the short distance back to the arena, the sea of people exiting after the game slowed the pangolin’s headway. By the time he reached the door that Zack had exited from, the zorilla had made it to the other end of the arena and disappeared from sight. Kevin cursed silently, taking off after him.
For once, Kevin thanked the fact that the zorilla had gotten himself injured. He was moving slowly, just disappearing down a darkened side street as the pangolin rounded the back of the arena. Kevin followed, keeping the zorilla just on the edge of his sight, until Zack turned into a gap in a chain link fence halfway down the block.
Kevin approached the fence slowly, surprised at what Zack had stumbled upon. Unlike the street, there were still a few functioning streetlights over the remnants of what Kevin guessed had once been a park. The chain link fence looked as if it had simply been cut down to size as houses were built on the property. What once could have been a full block had been stripped down to maybe half. A metal play structure stood on the grass close to the entrance that Zack had come in by, and beyond that, a second chain link fence surrounded a broken down basketball court. Under the flickering light, Kevin could see Zack sitting on a bench, hunched over.
The zorilla made no movements as Kevin approached. Zack was looking towards the phone his right hand, his thumb tapping against screen. His left hand was continuously reaching down into the bag at his side, bringing the food within to his mouth. It looked as if the zorilla had purchased a dozen boxes of chicken nuggets and fries and had emptied them into the fast food bag, folding down the edges for easier access. Even when Kevin had come within a few feet of Zack, the zorilla made no movements to indicate that he even noticed that he wasn’t alone.
“Zack, are you okay?
The zorilla looked shocked, and his head turned to regard Kevin for a moment before returning to his phone. His reply was quiet. “... Hey dude.”
Kevin made his way past Zack, sitting on the end of the short bench. He was still wearing his jersey from the game, the tears a vivid reminder of what had just taken place, although tight white bandages could be seen through the gaps. “What are you doing out here? You should be in the hospital getting stitches right now!”
Zack’s focus remained on his phone. He shrugged. “I’m cool, dude. Don’t hurt or nothin’. Just felt like gettin’ some air, y’know?”
“Do you want to talk at all about what happened?”
Zack’s eyes flickered upwards briefly. For a moment, he almost looked annoyed, but that familiar laid-back attitude kept fighting to stay front and center. He forced a chuckle. “What’s there to talk about, bro? Just a li’l scratch, shit happens.”
“Well . . . it’s just that you,” Kevin paused, uncertain. “Nevermind. I saw you sneaking out the back of the arena, and I wanted to make sure that you were okay.”
That actually got a chuckle out of Zack. It was nice seeing some humor in the zorilla’s face again. “Really, dude? So you like… followed me all the way out here?” He shook his head, that cockeyed grin returning. “That was cool of ya, bro. Little weird, but cool.”
Kevin chuckled as well. “I can’t help it. It’s not like we pangolins are exactly common here. Makes sense that we’d be a little weird.” He paused, unsure if he should continue. “I had a bad night myself, a little over a week ago. During the combine. A friend helped pull me through that night, and I just wanted to make sure that you had someone here to do the same for you.”
Zack’s head turned a few degrees. He didn’t say anything for a few seconds, finally offering a brief, “...thanks, dude.” It was clear he meant it genuinely, but the zorilla’s mood was too low to put much more enthusiasm into it.
Kevin let the silence hang for a second, looking at the polecat’s impossibly big hands trying to tap on a small smartphone screen.
“Naw dude. Sis.”
“You tell her you’re refusing to go get that looked at?”
Zack’s head dropped, looking at his jersey. Bandaged as he was, some blood had made its presence known, putting small red patches at the center of it. “C’mon, man, it ain’t that bad. I used to get worse than this on my old trike when I was little.”
Kevin thought that over. It was true; as far as Zack Tate’s injuries went, a couple claws to the chest was probably one of the least severe. That’s when it became clear why Zack had lost his temper. It wasn’t about getting cut open or scars. He’d been there before. This, time, though…
The zorilla reached into the greasy paper bag, and sighed upon finding out it was empty. He’d managed to finish off a whole chicken’s worth of nuggets in five minutes. “Yeah dude?”
“You wanna get back on the court as soon as possible, right?”
Zack snorted. “No duh, bro.”
Kevin nodded. “Well, they’re not going to let you if you’ve got big, untreated wounds, eh. You get that stitched up and you might get back on court before the playoffs are over.”
The way Zack’s expression changed, his eyes looking away from his phone and at nothing in particular in front of him, said it all. He hooked a finger into the neck of his jersey and looked downward at his injuries. Then back at Kevin.
“You’re not gonna leave unless I go with ya to the hospital, are ya dude?”
Kevin shook his head. “Sorry, dude,” he replied, putting some extra emphasis on the last word.
Zack let out a big sigh and put his hand on his face. Then he hoisted himself upright and grunted.
“Okay, bro. One condition.”
“What’s that?” Kevin asked.
“Can we stop and get some drive through? I’m starving.”
Kevin laughed again, and the two made their way back to the arena. “Deal. Now, text your coach, let him know that you’re on the way to the hospital.”
Silence overtook the pair as Zack tapped out a quick message. When the tapping stopped, Kevin looked up at the zorilla. Even injured, the Zack cut an imposing figure. Kevin took a deep breath, remembering the advice that Barnaby Jazz had given him two days prior. He forced the words out before he could stop himself, looking directly at the ground. “You know, I have a crush on you.”
Zack’s head turned. It was a tense moment, an admission like that could drive a wedge between friends. Not Zack Tate, though. He just snickered and put his hand on Kevin’s back. “Flattered, dude, but uh… kind of a one-way street, y’know?” With how calmly he answered, it was obvious this wasn’t the first time Zack had dealt with that particular situation.
Kevin sighed. “Yeah, I kinda figured. But it didn’t hurt to give it a shot.”
Zack gave him a push. “Hey, I ain’t gonna let it get weird if you don’t,” he said playfully.
Kevin turned to give him a push back, smiling. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
This story was written in collaboration with Shane_rufus
This is honestly one of the FBA stories that I am most proud of. It was originally going to be a different story altogether. But then the character was injured in the game's simulation, so the story spiraled off in a different direction. We moved quickly and made a good story out of it.
Art for the story was done by Ada
Original submission can be found here: http://www.furaffinity.net/view/13664888/