No More: Zaylus

The cold wasn't much of concern. Call it a product of environment or a stubborn aversion to admitting discomfort. The rodent, snuggled tightly in his pouch pocket seemed even less affected. Were it not for a chance encounter and those endearing, beady eyes, she'd be wandering these cold streets alone, scrabbling for crumbs.

Now they walk together, turian lumbering slowly through the drifting snow while his gaze rests low, meeting no one. He spares the Respite a passing glance as he nears, and continues on his way. It and the hospital would be his only typical destinations, both unavailable as his current companion would likely pose a significant health risk.

So, he presses on, unperturbed by the snow clinging to his boots or the increasingly restless passenger trying to push past his fingers. Eventually the buildings start to trail off, leaving more and more open space in between. Bare trees take their place, shooting up from the hidden ground. Small harsh-weather birds chitter angrily and hop from place to place as he stomps into the grove.

"This is your home, isn't it?" Zaylus asks softly once the town has faded into the background.

The small thing in his hand looks with eager eyes, up and around through the lattice of empty branches.

"You didn't always live in the city. This is where you came from. Do you remember it?"

In response, she crawls to the edge of his palm and raises a paw at the nearest trunk. Accepting the request, Zaylus nears it and outstretches his hand. His cautious smile skips when she scurries onto the bark, sniffing curiously. But he doesn't reach out to stop her, allowing his hand to drop slightly as she explores. The small birds chitter wildly and flutter off, and he smirks.

"You scared the poor things, my little menace." He quips proudly, watching them scatter as Menace ventures onto a branch just above his head. "It's not too bad, right?" He offers. "A little sparse, but you should know how to-"

Menace spots it a second before he does. Wide outstretched wings in silent descent, black, focused eyes, and the razor tips of open claws. She lets out a frantic screech, scrambling over the edge back to the safety of the turian's hand. But the raptor is quicker, snagging her hind legs in one claw and wrenching the branch from her tiny paws.

"Fuck, no no NO!" He cries, stumbling after them in the snow. Menace struggles in the predator's tight grasp as Zaylus' frantic hand scrabbles for his hip. Is he that good of a shot, he thinks? Tripping over himself he can't help but suppress a helpless cry. Then, the bird suddenly turns in on itself as its prey wriggles free and falls into the heaping snow. Zaylus and the bird race to get there first, the turian waving his hand and emitting a sharp hiss. He charges the bird with his talons blazing, hardly brushing its feathers as it turns and screeches a rejoinder, retreating into the branches.

Sick with fearful worry Zaylus crouches protectively over his friend, scooping her gently with a shaking hand.

"I'm so so sorry." He whispers, parting her fur with his thumb to reveal the scratches she earned from rolling it the raptor's sharp talons. Small beads of blood build up and then trickle down onto his hand. Her eyes, wide with fear meet his, piercing an accusation into his already fragile heart. He leans over in the snow, holding her to his chest as a sob bursts from his throat.

"I'm so fucking sorry. I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He repeats through hitching cries.

"I'll never let you get hurt again. Never again... Nobody else. No more. Please."

The white world around them goes dark, a lifetime of guilt and pain protected onto the innocent creature hurting in his arms.

"Ryan." He chokes.

"Mom. Kent. Cassi. I can't bear any more."

His thumb gently strokes her fur and she lets out a quiet whimper, sympathized by Zaylus' soft pitiable cries, alone together in the snow.