This is about as graphic as Rattyverse gets. CW for kidnapping, stockholm syndrome, implied sexual violence, etc. If you want to skip this one, you can find a synopsis HERE. I won't hold it against you if you do.
Ratty did in fact start that company. A simple, untitled, unlicenced, incredibly illegal little private courier based out of the 4th floor of a mostly empty new mixed use building in downtown Toronto. She made her money from the mob mostly, not opening boxes, moving them quickly from one place to another.
She also kept up with her journalism. The industry would change a lot from 1886 to the mid 2020s, but the base skills were the same, so that was another source of income, and it kept her connected to the kind of people who knew something about the kind of people who dug into evil mega-corporations.
Sapphomet wasn’t doing quite as well. They were aimless, depressed. Ratty had helped them invest in a small tea shop - and she loved it - but earth was just too different. The enemy wasn’t as obvious as a great demon dog whose head could be chopped off. No murder would manifest a magical door to freedom here.
It all seemed very hopeless. The tea shop helped a little, but really it was just a way to keep busy. Helped them meet people too. Ratty had friends through work, she would spend late nights on the phone, come to bed too exhausted to talk.
And then, one night, she walked out the door and disappeared for 41 days.
It wasn't sudden.
She had told Sapphomet - excited - about an incredible tip she had just gotten from someone with a name like ‘Woofward’ or ‘Birdstein’. They kicked themselves for not remembering the name.
The name ‘Angelcorp’ had jogged Ratty’s memory, and she took off without telling her partner where she was going. It was the parent company of the one she was investigating when she went missing, and one of their engineers lived less than an hour away.
“Can I help you?” Ratty was taken aback at the wolf’s stature: massive and shirtless when he answered the door. His cabin sat in the middle of a clearing a few miles from the nearest road, a massive satellite dish rusting away in the front yard.
“Hi, my name is Ratty Vermington, I’m a reporter. Are you Cliff?” She asked, comfortable dipping back into her journalistic tone.
“I am.” Cliff replied, gruff and unfriendly.
“I understand you used to work for a company called Angelcorp, do you mind if I come in?”
“What for?” He adjusted his posture, taking up even more of the doorframe.
“I was hoping to ask you a few questions for a story I’m doing.” She answered. A little journalistic malpractice never hurt anyone, and it was a story, just not a newspaper story.
Cliff shrugged, stepping aside to let Ratty in and closing the door behind her. The cabin was smaller on the inside. A simple construction of kitchen, living room, bedroom, and bathroom. The kind of place you would expect to belong to the kind of person who spent most of their time outdoors.
“Coffee or tea?” His demeanor started to change, just a tad friendlier.
“Just water, if that’s okay.”
“I’d have to boil it anyway, filter’s busted.”
“I’m fine then.”
“Alright.” disappointed. Ratty felt a small pang of guilt, wondering if maybe he had some really cool kind of tea he was eager to show off. This was clearly not the kind of person who had frequent guests. Then again, neither was she.
“Mind if I take a second to get dressed?” Cliff asked, pointing down the hall to his bedroom.
“I would feel weird if you didn’t, actually.” The possum ribbed. She sat down on the old leather sofa, sinking into it with a slight hiss and setting her tape-recorder and notepad down on the coffee table. The cottage was cute, a rising nostalgia for what was - at the time - pretty modern design tastes.
“I gotta say-” Cliff called from the other room. “I’m just an engineer, I don’t really involve myself in any kind of fishy business - I would actually feel a lot better if you told me what paper you’re doing this story for.”
Cliff’s voice called Ratty’s eyes back to the hallway, now noticing a door she hadn’t seen before: visible only because of a handle-shaped hole in the wooden slatting.
“I uh- I’m actually writing this on spec, so-” She stood from the couch, careful to keep her tone even as she examined the hidden door. A padlock, barely visible in the dark recess.
“So you don’t have anyone waiting at the office?” Cliff laughed, a sudden cruelty creeping into his tone. “That’s funny. I always thought reporters were funny: showing up to a stranger’s house with nobody at home expecting them back.”
Cliff came out of his bedroom as she reached for the lock. She froze, her eyes jumping straight to a spot of red on the wolf’s white cotton shirt.
“You have a stain-” Ratty started, careful not to jump to any terrifying conclusions.
“Yes, I know.” Cliff advanced, towering over her once again. “You really should have taken that tea.”
“I- what?” Ratty stammered.
“Because there were drugs in the tea, and I wouldn’t have had to do this.” With that, he grabbed a clump of the possum’s hair and slammed her head first into the reinforced door frame.
For the third day in a row, Ratty woke up with a fistful of her hair in Cliff’s hand, dragging her to a metal pole in the center of the room. If anything was going to make her cut it off after the years it had taken to grow, it was this jackass.
“Fuck you.” She spat as soon as she was awake enough to be aware of what was going on. She wiggled to bite down on the man’s wrist, activating her shock collar for the first time today as she was chained to the pole. She struggled to wriggle her hands around far enough to flip the wolf off, wincing as her finger was chopped off with a pair of garden shears her captor had taken to carrying on his belt.
“You’re lucky I’m in a good mood today, 19.” Cliff started. “I’ve decided to let you meet my deer.”
Ratty blinked the last of her short night’s rest out of her eyes as she was suddenly aware of a second figure in the room, waiting patiently behind Cliff. She was shorter than Ratty, with a long faded crop of bleached and dyed hair and blank eyes.
The possum’s still developing sense for the paranormal had seemingly hit the jackpot on this new deer. There was something weirdly familiar about her: the kind of face you see everywhere. She could have sworn she was college friends with someone who looked almost completely identical.
“Charmed, I’m Ratty.” She barely had time to be smug before her collar crackled to life.
"You're going to have to give up on that name eventually, 19. It'll be easier for you.” He turned to the deer. “Isn't that right, 16?"
The deer woman kept her eyes locked on the metal shackles around her ankles as she answered: "Yes, sir. 16 is so much happier without her-" The light on her collar blinked - a warning - and 16 fell silent again.
"Good. You two get to know each other. I’m gonna be away on work for a bit..." Cliff passed the remote for Ratty’s collar off to 16, starting up the stairs. "Let it out when I’m gone. Shock it if it misbehaves."
"Yes sir. Absolutely sir."
It was a good half hour before Ratty was let off the pole, both her and 16 listening intently for Cliff’s truck, one disappointed, the other relieved as it thrummed to life and kicked gravel against the plastic siding.
"So, what're you in for?" Ratty prodded as the deer tinkered with her chains.
"Please do not call 16 a ‘you’."
“Not, gonna do that.” The possum rubbed her wrists through the slack in the shackles as she was set free. “What’s a Sixer in for?”
“16 used to work at a grocery store.” She stood back, keeping her posture straight. “It was lonely, and Cliff took it from the parking lot. It was special for Cliff. It was a risk. It was a break from form." Her voice surged with pride as she described her kidnapper.
"Yes. It was very flattering.” 16 replied, not picking up on the possum’s sarcasm. “16 gave up very early, sir says this is why 16 survived...”
She paused for a moment, mulling over her next words. “16 would never get away with acting like you do." Her voice was suddenly quiet, suddenly seeming very trampled on by the fact of Ratty’s continued survival.
“Trust me, Ratty wouldn't either." She held out her hand, showing 16 the growing stump of her middle finger. The deer watched the pink stub of a finger climb slowly from the dark grey fur that coated her hands. 16 took the hand in her own, gently poking the half-formed appendage.
"Well, ow. That hurts. Don’t do that." Ratty said, flinching and protecting the sensitive skin with her other hand. 16 jumped, clearly used to being shocked rather than scolded. She had clearly just spent too long here. Ratty wondered silently what had happened to 17 and 18.
“So, okay. Grocery store.” Ratty put herself back on track. This was still an investigation, even if it had gone off the rails. “That doesn’t answer like, why you’re here.”
“16… doesn’t understand.” The deer started “Cliff likes having 16. That’s it.”
“What about- Bob mentioned something called Angelcorp. Is this not an Angelcorp thing?” Cliff had actually never confirmed that he had ever even heard of Angelcorp, but the company that would go onto kidnap her in 40 years didn’t seem like the kind of company that would hold a record like Cliff’s to much scrutiny.
“This dude just so happens to work for an evil megacorporation, and also just kidnaps people on the side?” She pressed, incredulous. 16 shrugged.
“I guess? 16 doesn’t know anything about ‘Angelcorp’.”
“‘Course not.” She started towards another mystery door. She had become fascinated with it when she first woke up finally free enough to fuck with it without being heard by someone with an immediate motive to hurt her.
“19, stop.” 16 commanded, her voice frail.
“Nope.” She fiddled with the lock with her fingers, catching a lip just wide enough to jimmy a knife into. She crossed to Cliff’s workbench, rummaging through the wheeled chests of drawers stored underneath: Tools, scalpels - some of them clearly used - hammers and nails, drills and screws. Most of it caked with blood. The possum had a morose moment of mirth as the first thing to cross her mind at the sight of bloody tools was about where she could get checked for AIDS.
It was the 80s after all.
She followed that thought to its logical conclusion. Running the numbers in her head: roughly 400,000 cases at the start of 1990, 19 kidnapees, the assumption that Cliff was evil enough to try and fuck every one at least once.
She gave it roughly a 1 in 20,000 chance as she grabbed fistfuls of tools and dropped them into the sink she had been drinking from. She jimmied open a few cupboards before finding a container of bleach and emptied it into the basen.
“19. Stop it right now.” 16 commanded again.
“I’m-” Ratty started, incredulous. “I’m cleaning his tools. This is a good thing.”
“19 should not be doing anything without sir’s permission.”
“Tough.” The sink stunk, but it wasn’t any worse than the permanent smell of death. Nothing she found was thin enough and firm enough to pull the shielding from the doorknob, so she settled for just shoulder-checking. If all went well, she wouldn’t be here to deal with the aftermath.
She stopped in her tracks as her collar beeped.
“19.” The deer was suddenly firm. “Come back here and kneel.”
Ratty scoffed, “Yeah. Okay.” She threw her weight at the door, falling more than checking it as the shock collar around her neck crackled to life. “Gh. Fuck.” She stood quickly, wound up for another one, and barely got any weight behind it as the collar preemptively lit up. Annoyed, she turned on the deer.
“Good, now-” 16 started as the remote was snatched from her hand. She stood in the middle of that sentence, shellshocked at the sudden loss of power. “Wh- uh- hey, hold on.”
“Nope.” Ratty tucked the remote away in her palm as she lined up for another ram. “Have a seat and I’ll grab you on the way out.” 16 knelt instinctively, raising her hands like a raptor before she realized what she was doing.
“That- this is, 16 is just getting comfortable. You’re not the boss of me.”
“I know, first day of not being watched by that dude though, so I’m gonna explore.” The possum rammed shoulder first into the door, putting a little timestep into the push and blowing the locking mechanism completely out of it.
Cliff’s office was a mess. The scratched case of a modern-for-the-time Macintosh Plus sat center to a weave of cables, each wired through a piece of proprietary technology Ratty suspected would have been unrecognizable to most people who weren't from 40 years in the future. Each off-white box was branded with the same logo:
“19 really needs to not be in here.” Ratty jumped as the deer snuck up behind her. She chose not to respond as she circled the desk and booted up the computer. “Definitely don’t do that.”
“Too late.” One by one, every machine in the room thrummed to life, clicking lights on on various surge protectors as they went. The system was inredibly slow, even for the time. Ratty explored through the desktop, moving straight to the ‘work’ folder.
It starts simple: simple black and white drawings of circuit diagrams. From there, there were diagrams of limbs, overlayed more circuit diagrams. Then photos with circuit diagrams, then - without warning - 001_leg.gif. The gorey image of a carefully dissected thigh, separated into its component pieces. This too was overlaid with a circuit diagram. Each string of flesh had been labelled with four digit id numbers.
The 001_leg2.gif: the same with a calve. It continued like this through each limb, each with its own detail shots. All the way up to 015. Each had their own gallery, until 16. For whatever reason, 016 only had one lightly bloodied closeup on her wrist.
“Oh! That’s me.”
Ratty turned to see the deer proudly holding up a massive chunk of scar tissue.
“That’s not… good.” Ratty said
“It was our first date!” 16 replied.
“That might actually make it worse.” The deer shrugged, pressing her lips against the scar in a reflexive move of comfort.
“What are these for?”
“I don’t know.” she made no effort to hide her incredibly forced disintierest. “Can 16 have her remote back now?”
“Oh, yeah, sure” Ratty handed back the small lump of plastic, regretting it immediately as her collar lit up and threw her convulsing body to the floor.
Spending just about every day together made 16 the best available friend. Most nights were spent quietly, eating a paste that tasted strongly of bitter vitamins and overcooked rice. Torture was infrequent, and what did come was far gentler than what Ratty had exeperienced in Hell. It usually took the form of some light cutting when Ratty really fucked up: any time she went back into Cliff’s office, any time she referred to herself by name. It was done more out of obligation than passion, and the only time it got intense was when Ratty asked 16 what her real name was.
Most nights it took the form of 16 teaching 19 - Ratty had started calling the two of them ‘35’ in her head - how to sit nicely for Cliff. It was humiliating, degrading, and would probably forever ruin kneeling for the possum, but there was nothing else to do, and it helped 16 open up.
17 and 18 were Angelcorp interns. Both had threatened cliff with the name ‘Eden’ - things like “Wait until Eden hears about this” or “Eden will kill you once they find out what you’re doing.” Judging by the computer full of photos, ‘Eden’ already knew. In any case, both died before they got the chance to tattle.
The nights where 16 left her alone, Ratty tinkered with her collar. The best she could really do was pull on it. The band was too thick to cut through before 16 - who only ever left her alone in the sense of going to another corner of the room - noticed. The best she could do was pull on it. Every time she did, it made a small warning shock, and a little bit of the battery was drained as the spark jumped from the nodes to her neck.
When she was caught, she would go examine the exit door: something 16 couldn’t find an immediate reason to punish her over if she said something about waiting for Cliff. There was no handle on the inside, Cliff left it open while he was down here, and relied on his strength and the shock collars to keep his captives from running off.
16 wasn’t awful either. She was just someone who had clearly spent too much of her life in a basement. She reveled in every small act of kindness, almost crying when Ratty - noticing her staring - offered to split her portion of vitamin mush.
She was nice for a torturer. She talked about her own history in short bursts: a vague allusion to the guitar she used to play, an anecdote about a recipe she loved to cook, some jargon ladened story about computer science, all with the passion of someone who was incredibly talented, all - unfortunately - in the context of doing these things for cliff.
But 16 was good.
That’s really what fucked Ratty up the most. The torture was nothing. Like, really. I - the author - am not being macho on behalf of my fursona. It was really, just, fine. What is going to have lasting effects on her was watching a very clearly broken mind go along with Cliff’s bullshit for no other reason than the nebulous and distant fear of a man she had not yet felt the full force of.
Dread, you could call it.
It was under that dread that the offhand comment Ratty had made on the first day they met about getting her out of here had solidified into a promise.
Cliff came home on day 40, roughly a month after he left. It would be hard to tell until Ratty made it out.
His footsteps were obvious, clunky.
16 took her position, excited to kneel at the foot of the stairs, practically wiggling with excitement as the first floorboard creaked above their heads. Ratty did not. Instead, she used the opportunity to drain some of her collar’s battery. Cliff would come down, leave it open, then Ratty would slip past him, come back with her wife, and kill the motherfucker.
It was roughly an hour before the door opened. Cliff stopped at the bottom of the stairs, scratching 16 like one would a dog.
“Where is 19?” He asked.
“Sir, it's- I asked it to present but-”
“Where?” He withdrew his affection in an instant, suddenly stern. 16 shimmied back sheepishly and pointed to the corner where Ratty was hiding.
“Hey Cliff.” She waved casually, letting the softness that had accumulated in her voice over the last several weeks evaporate at the sight of him. Cliff growled, snatching the shock collar remote back from 16 and zapping Ratty with the devices full force. Pain mixed with satisfaction as a 100% shock only barely sent her to the floor. Better to play it up for appearances anyway.
The possum yelped as Cliff grabbed a fistful of her hair, tossing her backwards into the nearest wall and knocking the wind out of her.
“Good to s-” she started, croaking as she was thrown again. “Okay.”
The impact sent vibrations through the wall, creaking the door to Cliff’s office open with a slow and low toned creak. Cliff glared at the door, then back to Ratty, then back to the door, all the while a look of rage and confusion screwing up his eyes. He threw her against a pole in the center of the room, chaining her to it neck first with a familiar bike lock as he went to investigate.
“You…” he processed it slowly. “I gave you a MONTH!” the wolf roared as he turned on 16.
“A MONTH TO BREAK IT, AND INSTEAD, YOU LET IT INTO MY OFFICE-” He charged the deer, grabbing her by the neck and lifting her into the air. “AND-”
“I'm so sorry sir. I'm so sorry. It's my friend now. It'll do anything you tell it sir. I promise. It-”
“DON’T YOU EVER INTERRUPT ME AGAIN.” Ratty looked up as much as her binding could manage, giving the best encouraging smile she could under the circumstances
“Sir- so sorry sir. It’s just- It cares about me. It'll follow orders if it sees you're going to hurt me.”
“Atta girl, Sixer. Use that leverage.”
Cliff threw 16 to the ground with a resounding crack. Her leg spasming and suddenly going limp below the knee. She lay where she fell, content to be defeated, as Cliff rummaged through a chest of drawers. He came up with a fat hunting knife: the kind you would use to skin a deer, and dropped it between the two of them with a clatter.
“Kill it.” There was no flexibility in his voice. "I made a mistake. I let you have something. You need to kill it. You need to understand that you get nothing in my world. You need to understand that everything in your world belongs to me."
Ratty reached out with her tail, nudging the blade towards the crumpled deer and earning a glare from Cliff. The worm attached to her spine was difficult to restrain, he had come to hate it.
“Go on then, give it your best shot.” She encouraged. 16’s eyes began to water as she took the knife in her small hands. The rubber grip looked massive against her malnourished fingers.
“I'm so sorry.” She said, her eyes flicking back and forth between Ratty and Cliff. She shuffled over to the pole, careful to avoid her wounded knee as she placed the tip of the knife against her chest.
“It's okay. I understand.” Ratty goaded. “It'll be fine.” Both collars flared to life as the pair connected.
“If I have to hear any more of this sentimental bullshit I'm going to put a brick on this button and let you convulse until your batteries run out.” Ratty glared up at Cliff, quietly imagining all the ways she could kill him. She was distracted - only momentarily - as 16 pushed the blade into her heart. She growled against the pain, spitting out blood as it settled and she got a moment to unclench her teeth.
The deer pulled the knife back out, reeling back and burrying it again, and again, and again, the whole time weeping as the colour refused to drain from Ratty’s face. Ratty watched as she grew more and more tired, as she forced her aching muscles to keep swinging long after they had given out.
“Please… Just die…” She begged, collapsing knife-first into Ratty one last time before her body gave up. Cliff scoffed.
"Pathetic." He picked 16 up by the hair, throwing her to the ground face first with another crack. He picked her up again, throwing her into a workbench and holding her there as he searched the above cupboards. A plastic container of nails rattled as he took two out, lined them up with the backs of 16s hands, and pinned her to the surface of the table. She barely managed a pair of exhausted whimpers.
"Absolutely pathetic… I give you a month to break 19, and when I come home, you've become her friend, you can't even kill her..." He spun, legitimate rage in his eyes as he glared down the possum. “And you. Look what you’re making me do. Do you like watching other people get hurt?”
Ratty spit in Cliff’s direction, coming up short a few feet. “Fuck you.”
The barely concealed rage bubbled over, Cliff’s eyes going wide like a feral animal. He grabbed 16 by her collar, eliciting a blood curdling scream as the nails dragged their was out of her hands more than the countertop. She wen’t down head-first, a third and final crack completely paralyzing her. Ratty just barely felt her breath, hot and ragged as it syphoned in and out between sobs. Seemingly satisfied, Cliff climbed back up the stairs and slammed the door behind him.
Ratty went to work immediately on her collar, pulling at it with her bare hands. If 16 was going to survive this, they had to leave now.
“We can’t go.” She muttered seemingly able to read the possum’s thoughts. “It’s safe here.”
“I’m going to fucking kill him.” Ratty snarled, her voice further distorted by the collar. “Fucking dead.” The collar seemed to ramp up, quieting her rant as she tried to focus more on her own knuckles digging into her chin than on the shocks. This failed, because of course it did, but she pressed on.
The shocking seemed to fall after several hours. Ratty, her muscles sore from the effort, let out what felt like the first free breath in months as the collar fell silent. She rubbed her hand over the burned raw spot, twisting at the patches of crunchy fur, satisfied as they fell away.
“We are fucking out of here.” The blood seemingly sprinting through her veins.
“...safe… here…” 16 groaned, barely conscious.
“Absolutely the fuck not.” Ratty felt around her, looking for one of the nails. Her hand landed on one, struggling to push the memory of 16’s scream out of her mind as she jammed it into the bike-lock. These things were built to slow down a potential thief, but stopping one was an entirely more expensive matter. It popped off easily, clattering to the floor and making enough noise for Cliff to turn down his TV.
“You better not be fucking with that collar.” His voice muffled through the door. Ratty listened as a closet opened, a shotgun broke, and two shells were loaded. She slipped into the corner of the basement under the stairs, pitching part of the lock at the exposed lightbulb as she went.
Cliff flicked the lightswitch twice before realizing it wasn’t going to do anything, stomped down the stairs angrier than before, and walked right past the crouching possum. He checked the pole, the bench where she usually slept, and took out the remote for her collar as he noticed he wasn't there.
"19?" He called, clicking the remote and perking his ears up for any noise. Ratty couldn't help but grin as absolutely nothing happened to her neck. She sprinted up behind Cliff, shocking him in the jaw as he turned. His reflexes let off a shot into the darkness, burning Ratty’s hand as she yanked the gun from him.
"I fucking knew it. I'm fucking tired of you." He spat out some blood, taking a swing at her. She ducked expertly, adrenaline racing through her as she reveled in the first fair fight she'd been in in months. She kicked him in the ribs, throwing him back into a wall and knocking some shells out of his hand. Cliff kicked as she started forward, getting his foot caught by the ankle as Ratty jumped back.
“Hang on, are you just mirroring me?" Ratty taunted.
"Shut the fuck up!" Cliff roared, snatching a hammer off the wall and swinging it claw side forward. It just barely caught her in the jaw, tearing it off. Cliff froze as the hunk of flesh and bone grew back in an instant, fueled by Ratty’s excitement. The possum twisted Cliff’s captive leg, sending him to the floor.
She dove for a shell, dropping the gun as Cliff’s heel jammed itself into her nose. It skid across the floor, stopping at 16, who flinched. Cliff stood up into an armlock, spinning when faced with the prospect of having it popped out of its socket and being driven headfirst into the pole.
Ratty scooped up the gun off of the floor, loaded two shells, and squared up on the now dazed Cliff.
"Collar. Take it off. Now." She demanded
"Fuck you." Cliff replied.
With a bang, Ratty unloaded the left barrel into Cliff's shoulder.
"Your shit doesn't grow back. Collar. Now."
“Can't leave... safe here..." 16's voice could just barely be heard through the silence. Cliff held up the remote, and with a click, the collar fell away. "Happy?" He asked.
"Say my name." She lifted the gun to her face, putting his heart squarely in her sights. Cliff rolled his eyes.
"19. Let's talk about-"
"Wrong fucking answer."
And then, several things happened at once:
Ratty's finger clamped down on the right trigger. The right hammer came down on the right primer, and ignited the gunpowder in the right shell. The right shell then propelled its particulate into the wrong target as 16 - in a sudden burst of energy - threw herself in front of Cliff.
She fell on top of him, knocking him out on the cement floor with the final crack of the night.
Ratty took a half step back, stunned: 16 had a hole in the center of her chest, Cliff was alive, and without thinking, she ran.
It was raining as Ratty sprinted down the gravel driveway: no shoes, barely anything that could be called clothes, sheilding her eyes from the rain. She would come back for 16, kept telling herself that, if she was fast enough, the deer could survive. She was never a sprinter, and timestepping seemed to come and go chaotically when she was distressed, so it was down to her legs to give up.
“STOP!” A familiar voice and a bright flashlight froze her in her tracks.
"No, detective. That's her." Another voice: Sapphomet's.
"Babe?" Ratty called, squinting through the downpour.
“My name is detective Eva Vermington, keep your hands where I can see them.”
No, okay, that does make timeline sense actually.
"Ms. Vermington, that's Ratty. That's my wife." Sapphomet explained.
"Is that my mom?" Ratty asked, finally adjusting to the flashlight. Sure enough, she was met with the face of a familiar possum, framed in the long, curly black hair she had only seen in old pictures. That was her mom alright, staring her down with a gun and a flashlight 12 years before she would be born.
Ratty broke into a sprint as soon as she made knowing eye-contact with the only armed person out of the trio. She dove onto her wife, wrapping her arms around her.
“It’s okay. I’ve got you.” The goat cooed.
“I’m so sorry. I should have told you-”
“It’s not your fault. It’s okay. Next time, okay?”
16 was gone when they got back, so was Cliff. Ratty took his computer before detective Vermington could call the real cops, and left.
She just went home with it.
She spent the next several years awake, plagued with the knowledge that Cliff Matheson was still out there.
For weeks an entire corner of the bullpen in Ratty's office had been dedicated to investigating the potential whereabouts of Cliff Matheson.
It was like this every time she got a new lead: Cubicles had been shoved out of the way to make way for the mess of red string, paper, and a few bulky laptops. One of the worst transitions she had ever made was going from a 2020 computer to a 1986 computer. They were infuriatingly hot, and slow, and barely helped the investigation at all.
Ratty stood in the center of this fire hazard, her feet firmly planted in the only two gaps in her collage. She stood, practically shaking - her bloodshot eyes drawn into slits - with the effort trying to put this together. She uncovered some valuable information: 'Eden' was Dir. Eden Ross, head of Angelcorp's advanced robotics team, 16 so far hasn't turned up dead, and Cliff had last been seen leaving Angelcorp's Scientific Interests Compound a few hours before his picture hit every TV news station in the country. There were other, minor leads, but in spite of it all, Ratty had hit a wall: she couldn’t actually bring herself to visit any of the addresses she had turned up, given what happened last time, but she also couldn't bring herself to stop trying.
Sapphomet sat a few feet away, nervously tugging at the edge of their nightgown. Ratty was too focused to notice them: something they had gotten used to. It was worrying to see her like this after everything they had been through together, but it made sense: John was gone, Cliff was still out there somewhere.
"Ratty." They finally spoke up, knocking the possum out of her manic haze like a baseball to the chin.
"You- you scared me. Why aren't you in bed?" She said, failing to stifle a scowl as she went back to work.
"I think you should come to bed." Sapphomet said, careful to keep their tone even. They had only seen Ratty like this once: the first time they told her that John had raped them. She was absolutely out for blood, and while there was no chance in hell she would hurt her wife, she was liable to hurt herself if she got wound up enough.
She was already hurting herself.
“Busy.” She brushed them off.
“No, Ratty.” Sapphomet said, uncharacteristically firm. They stood, reaching out to hold onto their wife and feeling sudden sharp guilt as she flinched away.
“If you want the bed to yourself so you don't have to touch anyone I understand. I'm not taking that personally.” This was not about sleeping with their wife again. "It’s been days. Every time you get onto this you work yourself until you can't-"
“I'm fine.” Ratty cut them off. Sapphomet stopped, a mix of anger at the situation and fear of what another missed night of sleep would do to her rising like cold fire in their chest.
“Haven't you been through enough?” They snapped. Ratty spun, kicking a flurry of paper as she went.
“What do you know about what-” The possum froze, her accusation locking in her throat as she took in her wife’s scrunched-up face; struggling to push back tears.
Ratty had a sum total of ten really bad nights in Cliff's basement. Sapphomet had many lifetimes under John. Still, one night would have ruined most people.
"It's like he's hovering over you, isn't it? You feel like-” They finally let out a single sob. “Like this is all just a happy dream, and any second now you're going to wake up.” They were weeping openly at this point, “And the worst part of it is, your stupid brain makes you actually want to because you think you deserve it, because of all the things he made you do.”
Ratty fell forward, wrapping her arms around her wife as some useless document crumpled and stained under her paw.
“I felt that way every day. I know exactly what you’re going through.” Sapphomet managed between sobs, Ratty’s dirty shirt balled up in their hands as they pressed their face into the stale smelling fabric.
It took a moment before Ratty apologized; a simple “I’m sorry” that broke her voice to let out.
"I know Ratty."
"I'm sorry for scaring you."
"I know." Sapphomet said, "We're going to get him. I swear to you we're going to make him hurt twice as bad as he hurt you, but there's no reason to make any more pain." Ratty’s facade cracked, giving way to a single, suppressed sob. She took a deep, choking breath of the smaller woman's shoulder, and let go of her wife, leaving one hand in theirs and letting them guide her back to their bedroom.