Current Track: Blabb

Richard walked into the main meeting room,
tail limp between his legs. He was nervous, maybe scared. Signore Giuseppe requested
a meeting and he was very sure that this had to do with Operation Red Wolf 2
which failed so outstandingly. He was not looking forward to this at all, and
when he looked around, no one was either.

He entered the room and was greeted by a
deathly aura originating from the empty table in the back of the room in which
Ludwig usually sat down. Even by his mere name, Signore Giuseppe exudes power.
Sitting down next to Pacal, he fidgeted a bit. The jaguar next to him might
look calm and composed, but the hyena knew by the waving of his tail that he
too was nervous. His subordinates were standing behind him, talking amongst
themselves. For once, Richard envied them.

Then, Giuseppe entered the room with some
files in his hand, and the room went silent.

The older panther did not sit down, not even
taking his time as he immediately started with a firm tone. “I think I do not
have to explain the reason you are here today." He glanced over the room and
crossed his arms. “Explain yourself."

Just like that, everyone in the room became
even tenser. No one dared say anything, not even Lucia and Boulder. No one
dared look up.

“Well? I'm waiting."

A click of a gun could be heard, then Lucia
spoke up. “S-sir! Operation Red Wolf 2 failed."


“R-Red Wolf… escaped, sir. We lost Ludwig. We
retreated just when the police came. We had three casualties and 10 missing,
possibly captured."

Giuseppe did not answer to let her continue.
When she didn't, he turned to the others. “Did any of you watched the news
yesterday or today? Or even just read some articles on the internet?"

Yes, Richard did. Pacal did. Shinori and his
other subordinates did. They messed up for far more than they thought they did.

The older panther growled. “We made it to the
national news—heck, even international. Congratu-fucking-lations. 'Shooting
Incident in Barrowisle'. 'Ten Injured in South Iceland Shooting'. 'Possible
Terrorist Attack in South Iceland." His tone got sharper as he spoke.
“'December Shooting in Barrowisle, Lower Ysenhalt'. 'Ten Injured in a Shooting
Incident in South Iceland'. Those are just some that I remember." He smacked a
file onto the table, making everyone flinch.

“And that's not the worst. I want to ask you,
who is Red Wolf? Who. Is. Red. Wolf?"

No one answered.

Giuseppe smacked another file onto the table.
“What did he fucking do to earn two operations launched against him?! How the
fuck did we fail at both?! Lucia,
Boulder, explain yourselves!"

The bear and the rhino flinched. “Red Wolf
e-exited the operation, sir. We couldn't let him roam freely."

“And when was that? Ten years ago?! Twenty?!
A hundred?! How did we not have anything about him?! How did you use this one single file as a source
of information about him?!" He smacked the table. “Even if that turned out to
be true, what kind of reconnaissance that only needs three months to take?! Did
you screen his background to match the one the file describes?! Did you analyze
his behavior?! Did you or did you not decide whether he is still a risk or
not?! What the fuck led you to decide to
deploy a sniper for him?!"

Signore Giuseppe's anger became even more
intense. Richard wanted to leave the room. His fur wanted to bristle but
instead matted back as he cowered. He kept his gaze down, not wanting to be

The panther's voice calmed down. “That day,
shortly before the police arrived, Octaviano met Red Wolf while he was
escaping. They fought and Octaviano was injured, but that is not important for
our meeting here. What is important is that he said Red Wolf did not want to be
a part of us any longer and that he is not a threat." Giuseppe enunciated each
word clearly. “He is not a threat. He has kept his mouth shut."

“You may think that I am bluffing, that I am
picking my son's side just because he is my son, but no. I met this Red Wolf
myself." He said, making Richard and some others flinch in surprise. “Yes, we
do not take kindly to people quitting our operation. Yes, the initiation
ceremony required you to put your loyalty in the family. But you have had years to take care of him! What has he
done to us in that time?! He never bothered us! He never attacked us! He did
not tell anyone about us. Frankly, that was the opposite of someone who broke their oath to be loyal to our
family. And you still hunted him down without any success? Not even a talk on
the table?!" Signore Giuseppe wiped his face in exasperation. “Quali sono i vostri motivi?!"

No one replied. Richard waved his tail in
agitation as the weight of the situation began to sink in. Red Wolf was
innocent, in short, they targeted someone for no good reason, failed twice at
that, and now made international headlines. Depending on the panther's mercy,
it would be death or prison for them.

The hyena's mind went to Octo, though it was
no use. Octo promised an exit from here, was that just bluffing? Was he just
testing his loyalty back then?

Richard wanted to throw up and curl up.

“I had to clean up the mess. The city
government was furious. The national
government was outraged." Giuseppe pinched the base of his muzzle. “And I came
to the most logical conclusion I could find." He gave a sigh before looking
back at them. “I declare the Cosa Nostra
in this city dissolved."

Richard looked up in shock, as did several
people. What?! They were dissolved?! What about the operation?! He looked
around and found almost everyone voiced their surprise. “What?!" “What about
the debts?!" “Where do I go next?!" “You can't do this!" “Please reconsider, signore!"

“That is not all." The panther said again,
making everyone go quiet. “I will not forget all those years of your service. I
thank you for that. You are all pardoned. You will all be compensated, every
one of you. However, be reminded that all of you are still under watch. One
wrong step, and you deal with us." He spoke clearly, making sure that the
warning was well understood.

Richard understood that well.

However, Giuseppe then continued. “Now, with
the Cosa Nostra dissolved in this city, some of you may be wondering what else
to do to fulfil the contract. For that, Octaviano has something to say despite
his absence." He opened the file and began to read.

“Although Cosa
in this city is dissolved, those who wish to remain loyal to the
family will still have a chance." The panther said evenly, his voice somehow changed
akin to something Octo would use. “We plan to build a restaurant in this city.
Not as big as Lo Squisito, although that is in the works. We invite you to work
there. The plans are still being finalized but you will be able to work there
legally." The word 'legally' hung in the air, so enticing.

Was this… really another chance that Octo was
talking about?

“We are opening these positions: waiters,
receptionists, and administrative management. We open at least 15 positions,
and there will be more depending on the development. Other than the base
salary, you will gain the following perks: a residence for five years or the
monthly rent equivalent thereof for five years if you refuse the residence,
tier 3 LFTH for as long as you work, and transportation fees. Do note that you
will still need to be screened and interviewed for further candidacy." Giuseppe
paused for a bit, then closed the file and looked at them. “If you want to
join, raise your hand."

For a while, no one responded to that. Then,
Pacal raised his hand, surprising everybody. “I want to join. I will not fail

Taken aback by what the jaguar said, Richard
raised his hand too. “I want to join." He looked up at Giuseppe, holding back a
sob as he realised that Octo did keep his word, that he did not leave anyone in
the dust. He still cared for everyone.

Everything really was going to be fine.

Some others raised their hands as they
murmured. Some of his subordinates also raised their hands, even Shinori.
However, he was surprised to find that Oliver did not. He turned around and
looked at the ibex in question.

Oliver smiled at him. “I want to go to
university, sir. As much as I want to work right now, I also want a degree to
my name. The money would help a lot."

He smiled at the ibex.

“Quiet." The panther said, making everyone go
quiet again. “Now, those of you who choose to join the restaurant, leave the
room and meet Lorenzo. Your contract is not over yet. The rest stay here and we
will talk about your contract. Lucia and Boulder, especially, stay here. I
demand that we finish Operation Red Wolf 2's files properly."

Richard stood up and nodded, feeling like an
intense weight had been lifted from his shoulders. Next to him, Pacal stood up
too and put his hand on his shoulder. Richard smiled and followed him.

Everything was
going to be fine
he told himself as he followed the jaguar into the exit from hell. He had
another chance; he would not forsake it.

Taking his time to walk, Octo put his hands
in his pockets and looked around. It already stopped snowing a few hours ago,
so it wasn't as cold. Today was two weeks after the new year, yet there wasn't
really much festivity around. The atmosphere in Barrowisle still felt rather
tense. That incident really had such an impact, didn't it?

He was on his way to Tom's place. Although
his stomach still hurt, he still needed to do this. His parents were
understandably worried and told him to stay home for now, but he assured them
that this would be a quick trip and that he had Max there to take care of him
in case anything happened. For good measure, he told them they had better worry
about those whose life was ruined by this operation. His parents, especially
his father, did not answer and only nodded.

Hopefully, that knocked some more sense into

For now, he entered Tom's flat building with
some food his mother made. He headed towards the lift and sagged against the
wall after pressing the button. This was just a stab, he reminded himself. Tom
had had much worse for so long because of him. This was nothing but a very
small price to pay.

He smiled sadly. They were indebted to each
other, weren't they? He helped Tom pay for his eye operation, true, but his
family operation did so much damage to the poor wolf that a stab to the stomach
was nothing. He couldn't make it up to the wolf, he knew that. His family had
basically robbed him of his teenage years.

Tom had all the right to be angry or even
hate him. They didn't have much time to talk during their last meeting, so when
Tom was finally discharged from the hospital, Octo asked him for a chance to
talk more about it. He didn't want their relationship to just end like that. He
didn't want his inner circle to become even smaller—he lost Kevin already; he
didn't want to lose Tom, and in extension Max, either.

Thankfully, the wolf gave him a chance. He
also told him that Max deserved to know, too. Octo wasn't really looking
forward to explaining it to the shepherd, but Tom had a reason. Still, he would
not tell the dog, not because he wanted to, but because he had to.

Honestly, he envied Max. Out of everyone he
knew, Max seemed to be the one with the least things to worry about. He had his
family business, Tom had his depression and… this, and he wasn't sure what
Kevin had but he had a hunch that it might be poverty.

Now, here was he, cleaning a mess he didn't
even start, though he definitely had a hand in. The door before him seemed too
big, the small peephole appearing like an eye judging him. With a sigh, he gave
it a knock.

Max opened the door and smiled at him. That
was forced, Octo could tell. “Hey, come in."

The panther smiled curtly and nodded, then
went inside.

“How's the stomach?" Max asked him as he led
him inside. “Really, shouldn't you just rest at home?"

“Still hurts a bit, but I'll live." Octo tried
to fake a smile, but when he walked forward on the wrong step, pain shot up his
body and made him cringe. He dropped the coat he was about to hang and held his
stomach in pain.

Max immediately was on him. “Hey, take it
slow, Oct."

“'M fine, just… just hurts a bit."

The dog looked like he wanted to say
something but kept silent.

The bedroom looked very messy. The blankets
were all over and the computer desk was filled with stuff that shouldn't be
there. There was a small table with a bowl on top of it on the side of the bed
that looked like it belonged in the kitchen. Octo glanced at it curiously
before turning to Tom on the bed. The wolf was sitting on the bed and leaning
on the headboard, eyes closed. “Tom."

Tom's ear flicked and he gave a mrf.

“How are you feeling?" Octo asked as he sat
down on the bed.

The wolf sighed and opened his eyes, shifting
on the bed. “I'm fine."

Immediately, Max held him back. “Don't stand
up! Just sit there!"

“I wasn't about to stand up, Max." Tom said,
moving a bit to make himself comfortable. “It's fine, really. I've been worse."

“That 'I've been worse' is exactly why you
should stay put! God, Tom, don't freak me out even more!"

Coughing a bit to get their attention, Octo
gave them the food container. “Anyway, here's for you. It's my mom's cooking.
She hopes you get better soon." The panther scratched his whiskers. “Actually,
she hopes that we get better soon."

“Thanks, Oct." Tom received it and put it
aside on the nightstand.

They went quiet, and the discomfort grew even
more when he noticed that Max looked rather confused and distraught.

Then, Tom said plainly, “Max deserves to

That made Octo and Max both turn their heads
at the wolf. “Know… what?"

Octo looked at Tom, then at Max, then back at
Tom, then back at Max. He didn't know whether he should tell the dog or not,
honestly. On one hand, he trusted Max and he knew Max wasn't the type to tell
anyone anything. Max was considerate and trustworthy. On the other hand…

Instead, he took a deep sigh. “Tom was almost
dead when I found him."

He studied their reaction. Tom stared at him
in disbelief whereas Max frantically tried to hug the wolf, lecturing him not
to jump into a fight again. He could only watch them with a small, fond smile,
even though inside he felt deep shame for lying to the dog. He felt glad
inside, though, as Max's panic and anxiety contributed to his gullibility.

After calming Max down, Tom managed to assure
him that he was fine and promised that he wouldn't just jump in again. “Anyway,
Max," said the wolf with a smile. “can you get me the porridge near Aldo across
the road? I'm kinda hungry."

“Yeah, but…" The dog looked at the food that
Octo brought, then at the empty bowl on the desk. “Alright, I shouldn't take
long. Do you also want some, Oct?"

Octo shook his head. “Thanks, but I'm still

“Alright." Max stood up and put a jacket on.
“Please watch Tom, okay?" He said to the panther.

“Will do."

With that, the dog left the room, and shortly
after, they could hear the door being locked.

Right after that, Tom turned to Octo with his
anger on his face. “Max deserves to know." He said again, this time in a low,
threatening voice. “If you don't tell him, I will."

Octo looked away. “Tom…" he started, “If
I—we—tell Max, it may break our friendship."

Hearing that, the wolf went quiet.

“I understand that Max deserves to know this,
but again, this is not one simple fact, Tom. If anyone else knows, the ripples
would be bigger than what you imagine."

Tom looked down, and Octo hoped he really was
thinking about it. This wasn't a simple fact. The less people know, the better.
In fact, the panther thought that it wasn't an exaggeration to say that this
concerned national security. His father told him a few times that he had to
clean up this mess and talk with “important people", and he knew well who those
people were—a reminder of how far his father's reach was.

All the more reason for him not to accept
what his father offered.

“You're right." Tom then said. “You're
right." He took a deep breath. “You're right, it's for Max's own safety that he
did not know." His gaze was still sharp, but at least he saw less malice there.
“But I still want you to at least protect him from what you can do."

Octo nodded, fully accepting that. It was
already what he intended to do, anyway.

“Still, I want you to know this, what your
family has done to me." The wolf's tone returned to a sharp one.

Octo gulped.

“Let's start with the fact that there are
two, even three personalities in this body. I told you this before in the
hospital, but I still want to make it clear. I'm the one whom you know as Tom."
Tom's eyes narrowed, and when he spoke again, his demeanour changed to become
more malicious and his fur bristled. “And I'm the one who wanted you dead that
day, even now, actually."

Giving a nod, Octo kept his mouth shut. Even
the wolf's accent changed. While Tom already told him about this back in the
hospital, it still sounded so horrible. What his family did to Tom was so, so
much that it even damaged him psychologically. He did not know the full extent
of what the wolf said, but from the articles he came across, he still knew that
this was something that even the scientific community didn't fully understand.

“Now, we're telling you this because I, not
Tom, I, still want you dead. Tom is the one who's keeping us from taking you
right here right now." The way the wolf said that was unnerving—his tone even
yet full of hatred coupled with sharp eyes and bristled fur. “I don't fucking
need apologies, I don't fucking need you saying 'yeah I'm sorry' because
there's fuck-all that you say right now. What we want you to do is to explain
what you want to do, because in case you haven't noticed, we know you, we know
where you live, we know your pretty little organization, and if the police
aren't going to help, my jaws will."

Octo gulped again; even without the threat,
he already wanted to explain. So, he explained it. He told Tom everything. He
told them about the reason his mafia group chased after them, how all of this
was a big misunderstanding, and how his father disapproved of this operation.
Tom remained silent the entire time with his tail waving eerily gently, even
when the details seemed too much. Octo couldn't help but feel like he was
talking to someone else, not the Tom that he knew.

Even though that was actually true.

“My father was utterly furious when he found
out about it." He finished. “He wanted to come here to personally apologize to
you, but unfortunately, he had other business to take care of. So, on his
behalf, we very much regret what happened and we'd like to deeply apologize for
the things that happened."

Tom took a deep breath and looked away. The
silence suddenly felt too much, so he continued.

“And if you need anything, and I really mean anything, just tell me. I'll see what I
can do. Just give me names and what you want me to do to them." He turned to
the wolf.

The wolf growled low, the first sign of
emotion he gave. “Me, I want nothing more than for you to kill all of them." He
paused, then when he continued, he seemed to return to the Tom whom the panther
knew. “I… don't know. What Lain just said sounds enticing, but I don't know
what else you can do except to take the operation down." The wolf took a deep
breath. “I don't have any names, and those I know, I dealt with them in a way
that they won't bother again."

That was terrifying and comforting at the
same time.

“So, what the fuck are you gonna do now?" Tom
asked him—he did not know which Tom.

He shifted on the bed, showing his growing
discomfort. “I've always wanted to take this operation down. For a while that
was a hot point between me and my dad, but now that he… uh… has seen it by
himself, he wanted to dissolve the one in this city. It's wrong, I know, which
is why I've never wanted to be a part of it."

Tom was silent and was still staring at him.

“Now, my dad supports my plan to build a
restaurant instead." Octo continued.

“For the guys who used to work in the mafia?"


“The fuck?!"

“I… I can't do anything about it, Tom, it's
outside of what I can do." He looked away.

They went silent again. The panther took the
chance to take a deep sigh and look around the room. It looked messy, though as
he studied it more, he noticed that only the things that Tom would need were
there. They seemed to be put here for easy access. On the small table were some
plates, and on the computer desk were some clothes and medicines.

Then, Tom broke the silence after a few
moments. “Octo."

Hearing that, he turned to Tom. The wolf was
staring at him, eyes narrowed in what he could tell only as held-back anger. “I
forgive you, but I will never forget this." said the wolf, enunciating each
syllable. “I will see if you live up to your words. A drop of indigo ruins a
pot of milk, but in your case, you dropped a pot of indigo into the milk. Be
glad I have another empty pot."

Face flat, Octo nodded. He understood the

The wolf then looked away. “I don't know if
this is really your fault or not, like… I really want to say that this is your
fault, but deep down I know it isn't. Lain also knows it isn't."

Comforted that he forgave him for what he did
and accepted him for what he was, Octo nodded and hung his head low in deep
shame as well as thankfulness. He might know a lot of people, but he trusted
only a few. “I will hold my own words as I do yours."

Tom asked. “So, what now?"

They went quiet again.

He took a deep breath. “Like I said, the…
part in this city is now dissolved. Instead, I'll use the resources to build a

“And you're gonna offer some of them to work
there." Tom pointed.


The wolf looked away and growled. “Fucking hell, panther."

“It's… really, it's outside of what I can do.
The least I can do is pick those who are loyal to me to make sure nothing else
would happen. And if you need anything, and I really fucking mean anything, tell and I'll see which
strings I could pull." Octo put his face in his hands. “I… I can buy you a new
laptop right here right now if you want." He said, rather muffled.

Maybe he sounded desperate, but that seemed
to help Tom to calm down… that or that was not Tom, because when the wolf
continued, he sounded more like the wolf he knew. “Honestly, I'm not fully
against your plan. I know some people there, and… you could say I made some
friends." He gave a dry chuckle. “One of them is dead now, though, but I don't
miss him. Still, from the way you explained, I could see that it's… full
loyalty or not, which means some of them might not want to do what they're told
to do but they have no other choice."

Octo looked down. That reminded him of

“If your words are anything to go by, I doubt
any of them would do anything against you." Tom replied evenly. “And I'm sure
you'll be personally responsible for whatever they do, right Oct?"

He looked at the wolf, eyes narrowed in
caution. “Yeah." Wow, not only did he threaten him, but Tom was also entangling
himself with Octo, securing his own standing and putting Octo at the stake. Honestly,
he was surprised at the wolf's cunningness. He nodded again. “Yeah."

“Then I think it could work. As long as you
manage to make it work."

He didn't know whether he was wrapping
himself in a deal he shouldn't do, but honestly, he felt like it was the right
thing to do. He had debts towards Tom, and this was his way of repaying.

Now, for his own safety, he needed to be sure
of those he was going to take for the restaurant staff. He had the list from
his father, and he could say he was very sure of Richard and his boss. For the
others, he might need either some bonds to be forged, some deals to be made, or
even… some threats to be delivered.

Whether he liked it or not, that was his