When they awoke, the rain was pouring harder than ever. Thunder cracked and lightning struck. Raindrops smacked into the mud and splashed three to four inches back into the air before landing once again on the ground. Whatever it was that knocked them out was effective; awakening was a challenge.
When they were fully awake, they were confused. Why were they still alive? Why hadn't the dog eaten them yet?
They were also alone. Though they were bound tightly to each other, restraining any upper body movement.
"What in the name of Justin Bieber's baby is going on here?" Skipper exclaimed taking in his surroundings.
"Actually, Skipper," Kowalski answered, "Justin Bieber doesn't actually have a baby; that was the name of his hit single that he released in his My World 2.0 album in January of 2010."
Kowalski took notice of the others staring at him as best they could, since they were tied together back-to-back.
"Which I'm...totally guessing on..." Kowalski finished awkwardly.
Skipper rolled his eyes. "Anyway, where is that psycho, Killer, and that deranged hen? Why would they just leave us here?"
"I dunno," Private replied irritably, "I don't know anything apparently."
Skipper sighed silently to himself. "Private, please. I'm sorry. toi were right and I should've listened to you."
"Nice timing to figure that out..." Private muttered sarcastically.
"Private, I didn't mean any of those things I said. I was just angry...and I was afraid that you'd get hurt.-"
"So instead of fighting me on it, why couldn't toi just come with me?" Private shot back.
"Because I was too blind to the evidence that I grew too big of a head to think that I was wrong," Skipper replied.
Private was about to reply, but caught himself. Did Skipper really just admit to being arrogant? Skipper continued.
"You're an outstanding soldier, Private. You're better than sometimes I let myself see," Skipper told him hanging his head.
Private thought for a moment. "Why did toi even come after me?"
"Because I was worried. If anything had happened to you...I wouldn't have been able to live with it," Skipper answered.
In the midst of Private's silent response, Kowalski piped up. "Uh, guys, I don't mean to interrupt, but I think we should save this for later. We need to get out of here."
Skipper glanced over at Private, who was to his left. Private didn't look back.
"Right. Kowalski, options," Skipper ordered, though not as stern as usual.
Kowalski looked to his right at Rico. "Got anything to cut through the ropes?"
Rico nodded and regurgitated a small switchblade and held it in his beak.
"Alright, now how are we gonna cut the ropes?" Skipper asked.
Kowalski craned his neck to see Leonard suivant to Rico. "Leonard, toi need to cut us loose."
"Why me?" Leonard asked, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.
"Your opposable thumbs give toi the advantage of being able to keep hold of the knife, unlike our flippers," Kowalski replied.
Leonard sighed. "Alright. Give it here."
Rico spit out the switchblade over his shoulder and it landed in the middle of the cercle that their backs formed. Leonard reached for the couteau and his claw hit the side of it. He stretched his fingers as far as he could, but he couldn't quite reach it.
"It's...It's just out of my reach, can one of toi push it to me?" Leonard asked, perspiration gathering on his forehead.
Skipper, whose back was facing Leonard's, pushed the blade into Leonard's paw just as Killer came around the corner.
"Sorry about the delay, my delectables. There was just a little situation I had to take care of," Killer explained with a sickening smile.
Rainwater collected at the Raiponce tuffs of fourrure hanging off of his body and dripped to the ground under him. His ears were laid back and blended in with the fourrure on his head, making it seem flat and slick. He a dit nothing, though his current intentions were crystal clear; his lips curled back and he hung his head low, tensed the muscles in his legs and back, and his eyes were as dark and sinister as usual.
cœur, coeur pounding with every step of Killer's paws that he heard behind him, Leonard had already started working at the rope with the switchblade. He held his breath to keep it from shaking. secondes seemed to turn into years as he sawed away at the rope, which felt as if it were miles thick. Only one thought ran through his mind over and over again: Please cut...please cut...
Killer's snout suddenly appeared right suivant to his face and made his cœur, coeur skip a beat and plummet into his stomach. His putrid breath would probably be too hot to Leonard's cheek if the coldness of his cœur, coeur didn't even out the temperature. He looked into Killer's deep red glare out of the corner of his eye and didn't even realize that he'd stopped sawing at the ropes.
"I wonder which one of toi I'd like to have first..." He a dit in a soft, sadistic tone that sent a shiver down his spine.
Leonard gently started at the ropes again in attempt to not make any noise. His anticipation grew with the intensity of the situation, as did the teams'.
"How about toi do the right thing and let us go?" Skipper said, trying to stall him as long as he could.
Killer laughed and walked around to Skipper's side so he could see his face. "Do toi really think I'd just give up five delicious meals?"
"You know there are other ways of getting things to eat without mauling innocent animals," Skipper replied.
"True, but the best part of that is the beautiful screaming..." Killer hissed with an evil grin. He chuckled softly at Skipper's Adam's pomme bobbing up and down slowly as he gulped.
Leonard had started hyperventilating. He actually kind of wished that Skipper had the ability to slap him at the moment. He was afraid he'd be too late when at that moment, he heard a tiny snap and felt the blade jerk through the rope and his cœur, coeur lifted back into his chest in hope that they might have a chance to break out.
The penguins felt the rope fall slightly loose around them and their heads lifted, knowing that they could now escape. Killer slowly walked around them in a stalking motion. Drool had collected around his snarling lip and he licked his blood-stained teeth.
"Any last words?" He hissed.
"Just one," Skipper replied, "Rico!"
On command, Rico regurgitated a smoke grenade. Killer grunted in surprise and frustration as he tried to see his surroundings. A few moments later, after the smoke cleared some, the penguins and Leonard weren't there anymore. He growled low and listened carefully, trying to hear any footsteps ou other noises that gave away their position. His attention was diverted when a rock hit him in the side of the head and he turned toward the direction in which it came with a agitated growl.
Leonard hid his fear as best as he could par keeping his face flat and emotionless as he stared back into Killer's murderous glare before he turned and took off running.
Meanwhile, the penguins skidded to a halt just outside the junkyard and Skipper immediately started barking out orders.
"Alright! This ends now! We need to take down this mutt once and for all! And-Where's Leonard?"
Kowalski, Rico, and Private looked around, but Leonard was not with them.
"He's still in the junkyard! What if Killer caught him!?" Private cried.
"Why would he go back in?!" Kowalski asked in a panic.
"We don't have time for questions! We have to get back in there!" Skipper a dit taking off on a belly-slide back into the junkyard. The team followed behind. The rain bored down on all of them and made the ground muddy and slippery.
Leonard slid around a corner clutching the switchblade so tightly in his paw that it dug into his palm, but he kept moving. His thighs began to go numb and his lungs burned. Water smacked into his body and the wind pushed back on him, slowing him down. But he didn't give up. He heard Killer charging after him. His cœur, coeur was pounding so hard he was afraid it might explode.
That's when he made his mistake.
He swerved around a corner and found himself at a dead end. He turned around and watched Killer slide to a halt about ten meters away with a wild smile.
"No where to run, now," He a dit with a shrewd laugh.
One might think that Leonard would be searching for a way to run away. That would be wrong. There isn't any way out on his own.
Killer lowered his head and slowly walked vers l'avant, vers l’avant with his claws contracted.
One might think that Leonard would be petrified, paralyzed, scared out of his mind. In reality, he was tired of being afraid. He'd choked down his fear and kept his breath steady.
Killer and he stared hard back into each others eyes.
This was his last shot.
Killer was only about six meters away now.
This was his last chance.
This was his last opportunity to end it all.
Maybe he'd fail. Maybe he'd die. But he wasn't going to let him kill him that easily. He'd made himself look weak to Killer, which gave him an advantage.
It's time to stop running... Leonard told himself.
When he was about two meters away, Killer pounced in Leonard's direction. Things seemed to go in slow motion for Leonard as he lunged vers l'avant, vers l’avant onto the ground under Killer and pushed vers l'avant, vers l’avant with his foot, sliding under him and then regaining his standing position just as Killer landed and turned back to face him with a frustrated grunt.
Without hesitation, Killer lunged vers l'avant, vers l’avant again. Leonard threw himself to the side and the shock of Leonard's shoulder caused his paw to lose grip of the switchblade and it flew about a foot to his left and landed in the mud. Leonard's mouth fell open and was about to look back to Killer when he was too late; he pinned him down at the shoulders, his claws digging deep into his skin, causing it to break open and Leonard clenched his teeth to refrain from crying out, which would be what Killer wanted.
Killer snarled heavily into Leonard's face, "You didn't think you'd get away that easily?" He asked in a horrid, antagonized voice that droned in Leonard's ears, "You're pathetic!"
The pain from his claws burrowing his skin and down to the muscle made his vision go black around the edges and his breathing labored. He was about to lose consciousness when he felt the switchblade suivant to his left paw. He took a deep breath to try to get some oxygen to his brain as he curled his fingers around it, which was slick with mud, and used his claw to flip out the blade.
It happened all in a few seconds. He jammed the blade into Killer's leg and he cried out a horrible shriek through a crack of thunder and let off of Leonard. Leonard yanked the blade back out as a piercing sensation surged through Leonard's upper body as Killer's claws were pulled from his flesh.
Killer looked back down at him; he was so full of rage it was as if it overflowed out of every crevice of his body. Leonard lashed out his arm-despite the excruciating pain-and cut Killer's face with the blade, causing him to stumble to the side. Leonard pushed himself to his feet, trying his best to ignore the unbearable, agonizing burning in his upper body. His grip was tight on the blade.
"Leonard! Are toi okay!?"
Leonard turned his head at the sound of Private's voice. The penguins had just raced around the corner.
"Get out of here! Are toi crazy ou somethin'!?" Leonard called back. He took notice of Killer turning to face him and charging at him again. He pounced on him and they slid across the mud into a pile of junk, causing the pile to fall over and cover them.
"Leonard!!!" Private cried out at the haut, retour au début of his lungs. The penguins charged at the pile and pulled off the old boxes, wires, springs, broken light bulbs, and other various items off of Leonard and Killer.
They expected struggling, thrashing, and blood. Thunder crackled overhead and lightning flashed as Leonard slowly pushed Killer off of himself with his feet. Killer landed on his side suivant to Leonard and lay still with the switchblade wedged in the center of his chest.
"This is going to sting," Kowalski told Leonard. There was no emotion to his voice and his eyes were dark and serious. It was the first thing that was a dit since they left the junkyard. Leonard nodded as Kowalski began swabbing at Leonard's shoulders with a warm, damp, soapy rag.
It stung like hell. The pain shouldn't even be tolerable. It was much to great. But Leonard did not move, not so much as wince. Nor did he make a sound. He remained sitting completely still on the examination table, tableau in the empty vet. In fact, he embraced the pain. He kept all of his pain-emotional and physical-inside him and used it to find strength.
Skipper stood atop the windowsill staring out at the sunset. The rain had stopped on the way back to the zoo and the sun peaked out slightly from behind the clouds. Rico guarded the front entrance and Private guarded the back exit. Kowalski scrubbed gently at Leonard's bloodstained fourrure and wounds; which weren't bleeding as bad as they were, but still seeped out of the puncture wounds. His body had already started to repair the problem; his blood blackened in clots at the surface of the wounds in attempt to plug them up.
After cleaning off the blood and rinsing off the soap, Kowalski gently wrapped Leonard's shoulders in gauze.
"Do toi feel any better?" Kowalski asked him.
Leonard kept his gaze fixed on the other side of the room, where he'd been staring since they'd arrived. As if there were something over there that could help him get through this situation. But he knew that the only thing that would help him get through this situation was time. He remained silent for a moment, then answered, "Physically, yes."
He, too, had no emotion to his voice. It was impossible to tell what he was thinking ou feeling. Remorse? Guilt? Relief? Pity? Nothing at all?
The corner of Kowalski's beak curled up slightly in sympathy, but he did not respond ou ask any plus questions. He turned to Skipper. "I'm done, sir."
Skipper kept his gaze fixed on the semi-circle in the sky for a few plus moments, then turned and jumped to the floor. "Let's get to the Zoovenir Shop. I'm calling a meeting," He told them.
About half an heure later, when they'd gotten everyone settled down in the Shop, Skipper explained everything.
He explained how an enemy of theirs, a manipulative Hen, made a deal with the dog that Leonard had witnessed maul an innocent pup. He explained how the deal involved framing Leonard and getting him out of the zoo and using him as bait against them. He was sure to mention Leonard's true innocence. He concluded with the fact that there was now no plus threat, but spared them the details.
Leonard remained silent and distant through each word, but was sure to let each syllable sink in.
Skipper turned to Private, "...And Private, there's something I need to say to you. I am utterly sorry for everything that happened between us before toi pursued Leonard. toi were right about everything and I refused to listen. You're an outstanding soldier. I almost went crazy looking for you. I couldn't ours the thought of something happening to you. I'm not asking toi to forgive me. I don't deserve forgiveness. All I ask is for toi to believe that I'm genuinely sorry," He told him.
Private thought for a moment, then smiled. "You really think I'm an outstanding soldier?"
Skipper smiled back, "No," Private's face fell. Skipper continued, "I know you're an outstanding soldier."
Private smiled again and embraced his leader. "I forgive you, Skipper," He told him.
Skipper patted his back and when he pulled away, he saluted him. Private returned the salute. Skipper turned back to the crowd of zoosters. "Meeting adjourned."
As Leonard returned to his habitat, he received apologies from all around. Some a dit they were sorry they'd ever doubted him. Others simply gave them their apology. Leonard entered his habitat and climbed into his arbre and laid down.
He should be tired. He should be utterly exhausted. He shouldn't be able to keep his eyelids from enveloping his eye and sending him into a slumber.
But he wasn't tired.
In his mind, Killer pounced on him and his chest landed on the switchblade. Killer's wide eyes stared back into his. Killer's breath exited his lungs and halted. He felt Killer's pulse through the handle of the switchblade slow and cease.
His shoulders began to throb. Now he saw Killer standing over him, his claws digging into his flesh...his blackening vision...Killer's blood-red eyes and bloodstained teeth...
He started to wonder what ever made Killer a literal killer. Was he orphaned? Was he taught to be a killer? Was he tested on in a laboratory?
It didn't matter. It was all over now.
The word seemed to echo through his mind. Over. He never thought the word would ever mean something to him.
He thought about the hen. Senator of Delaware? There are certainly many different levels of insanity. He wondered where she went.
He felt a small thud at the base of the branch and sat up. It was Frederick, the small, gray bunny. He laid a small, white fleur at his feet; it looked identical to the one Leonard was admiring when he first encountered Frederick.
"I'm sorry," He a dit simply. He then turned and started to go down the arbre with his head hanging.
"Hey," Leonard called after, causing Frederick to turn his head toward him. "It's alright. Killer threatened you. It wasn't your fault."
"But he could have killed toi and your friends..." Frederick replied.
"Don't worry about it. I forgive you," Leonard assured him.
Frederick smiled a little and nodded, then left Leonard's habitat without another word.
Leonard picked up the fleur and examined it. He smiled. It was the first time he'd smiled in what seemed like centuries.
He had one shot to save himself and all of his friends, and he succeeded.
He had one chance to earn back the trust and forgiveness of all of his friends, and he earned it.
He had one life that he now could live, and he was going to live it to the fullest.