Origins

An AU where Sydney lives. Yes, this is basically Route 65 with Sydney in it.

***

“Sydney, I-I need to tell you something” Chase whispered.


Sydney looked, intrigued. He was texting Flynn, apparently there was a Day of the Dead party going on and he decided to crash it. He was hoping Chase and Carl would join him, and for a moment he decided this was as good an opportunity to bring that up as he’d get. Seeing Chase’s nervous face, however, instantly told him he was going for some heavy shit.


“What, are you coming out or something?” Sydney whispered back sarcastically.


Chase sighed, turning his head away.


“Holy shit, I was just joking. But, thanks for trusting me with that I guess?”


“I just- ugh, this was so stupid.”


“If it makes you feel better Flynn is gay too.”


“Bullshit.”


“No seriously, that’s why people are talking about the septic tank thing. You know how it is, they’re bitches who think gays are into shit or whatever.”


Chase turned back to Sydney. Seeing his more understanding look, he relaxed a bit.


“Hey, what do you kids want to listen to?” Karen said, breaking her conversation with Carl.


“You’re just going to put the same shit but louder so how about you fuck off?” Sydney said back at her.


“Watch your mouth Mormon boy!” Karen growled, raising the volume before Sydney could retort.


“Crazy bitch” Sydney said, speaking at normal volume, “So, what do I owe the privilege of you coming out to me?”


“I dunno, just felt like you’d understand somehow” Chase said, his ears red.


“What, you think I’m gay too?” Sydney teased.


“N-no, I mean-“


“Because you’d be correct.”


“Wait, seriously? But you’re always talking about girls.”


“Well yeah, I guess I’m bi?”


Sydney paused, pondering about how to explain himself.


“I mean, you know how I am, I love hoes with titanic tits to die for” he said, grasping at the air while biting his lip, “But the guys who pound them are pretty hot too. Sometimes I want to touch and rub them, you know? And well, if they’re muscular and big, they’re just begging to be my bitches too.”


“I don’t know what to say” Chase said, his ears pratically binary suns.


“Well, you can start with ‘Oh Syd, you’re so fucking hot, won’t you stuff my greedy throat while Bitch McGee keeps on babbling to her shitty music’?”


“What, Flynn isn’t putting out for you?” Chase said, now more confident.


“Ew, he’s basically my brother you sick fuck” Sydney said, playfully sticking out his tongue, “Plus I don’t want to lose my dick if he bites me.”


Just then, Sydney’s phone buzzed.


“Speaking of the devil” Chase said, looking over.


“I got gorgonzola at the mini-market in Payton” Flynn texted.


“Hey, Chase over here is asking if I fuck you” Sydney texted back, “Turns out he’s gay too and can’t get his hands off my sweet abs.”


“Wait seriously” Flynn texted back.


Chase’s phone buzzed.


“Are you gay?” Flynn texted there.


“Yeah, but I don’t want to fuck either of you” Chase texted back.


“That’s a shame” Flynn texted, “Though I guess you’d rather have us fuck you?”


“Fuck off” Chase typed.


“Tell him about the party” Sydney texted.


“Oh yeah Chase, there’s going to be a day of the dead party today. Buncha jocks and towny types are gonna be there. Route 65 at Parsons Manufacturing.”


“Did you know about this?” Chase said to Sydney, showing his phone.


“Yeah, was hoping you and Carl would help me crash it” Sydney nodded.


“You going?” Chase texted.


“Nah, I’ll be working and I’m heading to Jasmynn’s when I get off. Gotta go now.”


“Leo didn’t tell me about this” Chase said as they put their phones back in their pockets.


“Yeah, he’s being a bitch right now” Sydney said, “Guess it comes with the territory.”


Chase looked as if he wanted to retort, but noticed that they were approaching Carl’s stop.


“So, I’m gonna get off with you here, okay?” Chase said to Carl.


“Me too” Sydney said, “I’m gonna escort you guys to the party.”


“Wait, what party?” Carl asked.


“Carl, this is where you get off” Karen said.


“Chase and Sydney want to get off, too.”


“The bus” Chase clarified.


“But also my huge cock” Sydney teased.


Karen sighed.


“You each have a note from your folks?” she asked.


“As a matter of fact we do” Sydney said, taking out a pair of former scavenger hunt papers from his pocket, handing one to Chase, “I’m honestly very flattered you’re making excuses to keep us here. I can imagine why an old broad like you would be into kids, what with your unused pussy being full of spiderwebs and such.”


Karen didn’t even bother to chek their notes, stopping the bus suddenly.


***


The walk to the abandoned factory was far from boring. They passed by Jasmynn’s house, Sydney picking a fight with Jeremy while Chase talked to Jasmynn. After learning that her room’s door was taken Sydney called her father a pedo, prompting them to run like hell, narrowly missing being shot. In the heat of the moment Chase had decided to come out to Carl, who in turn confessed about his imaginary girlfriend. That conversation died quickly when Sydney chipped in with his extensive and well detailed descriptions of his sexual fantasies. He kept going on and on until they reached Parsons, where both his mouth and legs stopped.


“What?” Carl asked, “No one else you’d like to shove salmons in?”


“TJ’s here” Sydney whimpered, pointing at a familiar vehicle.


“Uh, cool” Chase said.


“No its not cool you fucking retard” Sydney said, “What if this is a rave or something?”


“People still have raves?” Chase asked.


“Dude’s got a point, I’m getting some really bad vampire cult vibes from all this” Carl said.


“Lets go look for him” Sydney said, wandering off to the parked cars.


“C’mon, lets go check around the back” Carl said to Chase.


Not long after he began his search Sydney heard Carl shout. He turned back, finding TJ dressed in a ghost sheet while Carl recovered from the shock. Sydney couldn’t see TJ’s face under the white blanket, but he noticed him stiffen as he saw him.


“H-hey Sydney” TJ said, rubbing his own elbow.


“H-hey” Sydney responded, scratching his neck.


As always, an awkward silence followed.


“So, why the ghost costume?” Sydney asked, trying desperately to not sound sarcastic or condescending.


“Oh, my mom and I put this together at the last minute” TJ said, “I didn’t get to go trick-or-treating yesterday because of church stuff, so mom said now would be my chance with this party.”


“That’s very considerate of your mother, TJ, but I don’t think this is that kind of party” Chase said, trying to break the ice.


“He’s right” Sydney said, “I think you might want to sit this one out. If you want to, I mean, not trying to get you down or anything. I guess you’ll be alright if we find Leo?”


“Leo’s here?” TJ asked, “He didn’t mention anything of that nature to me. I’m sure he just forgot to though.”


“Its cool, he didn’t tell us about this party either” Chase said, “We found out because Flynn told us about it. He’s not coming by the way.”


“Oh, my mom just told me about this get-together after she found out about it” TJ said, “She said this would be a good way to treat myself after volunteering yesterday.”


“So you weren’t invited here?” Carl asked.


“No” TJ said, looking down, “I guess we’re crashing this party uh? Maybe we shouldn’t be here.”


“Yeah, we probably shouldn’t” Sydney said, thankful TJ agreed.


“It was your idea to come all this way though” Chase said, “Plus if Leo’s there we’ll be fine.”


“I guess if Leo was invited he’d be like his plus-ones, right?” TJ asked, “Though there are three of us.”


Sydney shoot daggers at Chase with his glare, who quickly turned aside.


“C-can you see Leo in there Carl?” Chase asked.


Carl looked, craning his neck awkwardly.


“I see Jack” he said.


“Who?” Chase asked.


“Jack Shit” Carl responded, “You might know him.”


TJ covered his ears, muttering a soft “Stop”. Something in Sydney’s chest wrentched, seeing TJ upset like that brought back some dark memories that fed his guilt further and further. TJ had forgiven him, and eventually Chase and Leo stopped hawking over him whenever he was close to him, but ever since Lake Emma Sydney couldn’t stop feeling horrible about how he tormented the lynx for so long. He wanted to make him happy and safe somehow, to show him how much he cared instead of simply asking for forgiveness again and again, but whenever he had the chance to do so he felt awkward and ashamed.


“Do you wanna call the shots on this one?” he asked, “If you still want to go we’ll stick by you and find Leo. But if you wanna go we’ll all leave with you, alright?”


“Thank you Sydney” TJ said, “But my mom will just pick us up if I don’t want to go. O-or just pick me up. There is no reason why you can’t just go if I don’t want to.”


“I mean, if you’re not having fun what’s the point of me having fun?” Sydney said, immediately regretting how stupid he sounded.


“I don’t mind that!” TJ blurted, seemingly also regretting that, “I mean, you should be having fun at this party, you walked all the way here so its not fair for me to stop you from doing that.”


“Dude, what’s happening right now?” Carl asked confusedly.


Suddenly Chase’s phone rang. He checked it and whatever he saw mortified him, prompting him to run to the abandoned factory.


“Dude wait!” Carl said, sprinting after him.


“Chase!” TJ followed suit.


“Fucking cunt!” Sydney concluded.


***


TJ was the first to step inside the decrepit building. Fear started to creep inside him, but when they finally saw the other party goers – some 20 or so people in three rooms – he began to relax.


“I think I see Heather over there by the barrel-thing!”


“Oh great, that over wet pussy is here” Sydney said, a hint of jealousy mixed into his sarcasm.


It took TJ half a minute to understand what Sydney fully meant by that, and in the end he didn’t know what made him flush more: Sydney being this naughty or himself taking so long to get it.


“C’mon, she can be very nice and helpful” TJ said, pleading a little, “She likes the same bands as you, to start with. She likes working out, like you, though probably in a more sport-sy way than you. Oh, she also likes Pirates of the Black Water, she gave me those links I showed you.”


“What, you trying to match make us?” Sydney teased, “For future reference, my types don’t break into hysterics whenever something doesn’t go her way.”


“N-no, I just think you should give her a chance because she’s a great friend who needs help” TJ said, lowering his ears, “Like you.”


Sydney said nothing, his face a strange mixture between flustered and hurt.

Thinking that he hurt Sydney in turn felt like a dagger inside TJ’s chest, because the person who bullied and almost killed him had since been replaced by someone who looked after him, who engaged him, who showed him his poems and cool stuff both liked and sometimes even gave tips on church service – even he if stopped believing, much to TJ’s sadness – who regretted his actions so much as to ask Chase or Leo to watch out for him whenever he and TJ were together. That person, the real Sydney, was one TJ felt safe with and completely trusted even if things were a bit awkward between them.


What could TJ do to bridge that gap?


“Hey Sydney, watch this” TJ said mischievously.


Before Sydney could ask, TJ began creeping towards Heather and her friends.


“Ooooooooowoooooooooo!” TJ moaned ghostly, raising his arms like an apparition, “Happy Day of the Deeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaad!”


The party goers, already confused, grew more intrigued. TJ personally thought they were very silly, not even knowing what a ghost is. That confusion came to pass when Heather accidentally walked into him, prompting him to hug her.


“Get the fuck off me!” she screamed, “Oh my God!”


TJ didn’t even have a moment to react before she shoved his chest away, making him fall on the ground.


“Ow!” TJ whimpered.


“You alright buddy?” Sydney said, kneeling next to him.


“Yeah, thanks” TJ said, thankful that Sydney came to comfort him.


All around them, the party goers began to scream and shout, accusing TJ of being a pervert and a creep.


“Aw, here I thought your friend was used to being covered in white” Sydney said, much to Chase’s and Carl’s horror and TJ’s confusion.


That did it, as the already distressed and drunk crowd turned violent. A large coyote began to approach Chase and Carl, while another one poked at TJ with her foot, before dropping the contents of her drink on TJ. TJ, embarassed and afraid, tried to hold back tears, but couldn’t resist crying softly.


“You gonna regret that you fucking cow!” Sydney growled, rising to his feet.


She laughed mocking at him, prompting Sydney to grab her wrist and break it. This prompted the other coyote and a fox to turn on him, abandoning their wrath at Chase, Carl and TJ to focus on Sydney, now huffing proudly in true wrestler fashion.


“You fuckers stay away from my friends!” he said, in a mixture of anger and arrogance, “Or I will fucking tear your spines out!”


Predictably, the coyote and the fox held him, punching his gut. Tears came to his eyes and he vomited on the coyote’s shirt, but he kept clawing and biting at them. In a struck of luck, he bit the fox’s ear, ripping out a chunk of flesh, prompting the drunkard to release him. Once he did he jumped at the coyote, the larger male grabbing him by the scruff and tossing him away. Sydney grunted, eyes darting as the still injured fox and the coyote still approached TJ, kicking at him.


“Fuckers!” Sydney screamed, jumping at them again.


Only this time, they were lined up next to each other, making the fox fall on the coyote. Combined with the increased momentum, Sydney was able to tackle the drunkards to the ground, and once there he was free to punch and kick at their limbs. He managed to break the coyote’s wrist and crush most of his fingers with with own teeth, while he got the fox pinned down with a foot on his throat.


“I will fucking kill you!” Sydney said, spiting at them in their faces.


Already immobilised, neither could resist the beat down Sydney delivered them, punching their ribcages and stomping on their heads. The disoriented drunkards fainted, too hurt to move.


“Anyone else, bitches!?” Sydney said, slapping his pecs.


Most of the crowd stood away, though a few guys were looking for a fight. Sydney scoured the room and found Heather, crying hysterically amidst her friends.


“Some fucking friend you are!” Sydney shouted at her, “The guy in the ghost costume is TJ you dumb bitch!”


“Leave me alone!” she cried.


“No, you leave TJ alone from now on you shitty whore!” Sydney shouted louder, “And Jasmynn too! I just know that how she’s hurting lately has something to do with you, so drop dead you piece of shit!”


He began to run at them, scattering them away. A few people remained, still looking for a fight but keeping a safe distance. Sydney paid no mind to them, quickly kneeling down beside TJ.


TJ was now openly crying. All the shouting and screaming, the sounds of bones cracking, the two men kicking him. His right side hurt a lot, but the pain mattered very little compared with the sheer terror he was feeling. He was fully blanketed by his ghost sheet, as if covering himself from a monster under the bed.


“Are you okay!?” a voice asked him desperately, fully breaking into tears from the sound of it.


“S-Syd-n-ney?” TJ asked, still sobbing.


Sydney grabbed the sheets, tearing them off TJ. As he did so TJ stiffened, but as soon as he saw Sydney’s eyes all the fear and pain were gone. It was as if Sydney’s blue eyes were a light that exorcised all demons and shadows, that filled TJ with a warmth in his chest. At first, his heart seemed to stop, but it was quickly followed by a rapid, faster heartbeat, drumming inside his chest.


“I’m so sorry” Sydney cried, his face matted with tears and blood, “I promise I won’t let anyone hurt you again.”


“I-I’m ok-kay!” TJ said, hiccuping a little, “I’m not hurt.”


“That Heather bitch, that’s what you call a friend!?” Sydney said, turning aside as to not seem like he was angry at TJ, “She made those fuckers almost kill you!”


“N-no, she was just scared!” TJ pleaded, sniffing.


“TJ, I know you see the best in people, but she’s just a bad person” Sydney implored, looking at TJ again, “I know I’m a bad person myself, and you can stay away from me if you want. Just promise me you won’t get close to her, she and her friends want to hurt you.”


“M-maybe you’re right” TJ said sadly, “But I won’t stay away from you. You just saved me! You’re my hero!”


Sydney smiled, and that warmth grew in TJ’s heart. TJ had found Sydney beautiful and even cute at times, but now he was truly handsome. The good TJ saw in him was in full splendor now.


Then, suddenly, the otter leaned forward, and their lips met.


***


A month passed, and TJ decided it was time. It took some convincing, but he managed to get his parents to drop him off at Lake Emma. The sun was still high in the sky, and they would pick him up in two hours anyway.


Plus, he wasn’t counting on being entirely by himself.


“Sydney, can you meet me at the lake?” TJ texted.


“You sure?” Sydney texted back, faster than TJ anticipated.


“Yes. I want to talk to you. Just the two of us.”


“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”


“Don’t worry, I trust you. I know you won’t hurt me.”


“What if I don’t trust myself?”


“Then I guess you’ll have to trust me. Please, this is important. I need to talk to you.”


“Its about the kiss isn’t it?”


“Yes. Please Syd.”


TJ gulped a little. He knew Sydney tried to get the others to call him Syd but it never stuck, so he figured that would be the one thing to get him to come. Still, TJ began to wodner if he had instead offended him as it took a while for him to answer.


Much to his relief, he did not:


“Yeah. Be there in an hour.”


Indeed, an hour passed and TJ heard Sydney’s footsteps, growing slower and more nervous as he spotted him.


“Over here!” TJ said, motioning at Sydney.


TJ walked the rest of the way towards Sydney, who had slowed down and stopped altogether, seemingly unwilling to go further.


“H-hi” Sydney said, his head lowered.


“D-did you like when I called you Syd?” TJ said, scratching the back of his neck, “I remembered that you wanted us to call you that.”


“Yeah, thanks” Sydney said, raising his head a bit, “It means a lot to me.”


“You can call me Toby if you want.”


“I thought you didn’t like that.”


“Not when the others call me. But I don’t mind when you do it.”


Toby swallowed.


“It could be, like, our thing.”


Sydney blinked.


“Oh.”


An awkward silence followed. TJ sighed, gathering courage faster than he had ever before. He never felt more certain about a question than ever before in his life:


“Syd Bronson, will you be my boyfriend?”


Another awkward silence followed. Sydney was shocked, but TJ could see his ears flushing with red and a small hopeful hiccup forming in his mouth.


“Y-you mean it? For real?”


“Yes! When you kissed me, I felt like I never felt before. And you saved me, too| And even before that, I always wanted to be with you.”


TJ took a step closer.


“Syd, I think I love you.”


Sydney smirked, a stark contrast to the tears in his eyes.


“I love you too, Toby. So fucking much.”


TJ cringed, then stuck out his tongue at him playfully.


“You better wash that mouth if you want to kiss me.”


“So sassy today. I really like you being assertive like this.”


“I learned from the bestest, most kind Syd I have ever know.”


Sydney reached for TJ’s hands, softly touching them before their fingers entwined. They looked into each other’s eyes, each seeing a heavenly blue, amidst each other’s ideal of beauty. Granted, TJ was cute to Sydney and Sydney was handsome to TJ.


“Would your parents be okay with this?” Sydney asked concernedly, “You know how religious types can be. My own dad would probably kill me if he knew. Mom might be a bitch about it, but she wouldn’t dare to do anything.”


“I know Syd, but you don’t need to worry about that. I told my parents and they accepted me, they even figured out I have a crush on you! Don’t worry, they don’t know about the kiss.”


“What about the rest of your church?”


“Syd, one of our youth pastors, Asha, is one of those biosensual… I mean bisexual types. Nobody treats her different there. I think I’m bisexual too. As are you, I guess? You do talk about girls a lot.”


“Yup, I’m bi too. Oh, so you did have a crush on Heather.”


“N-no, she’s just a friend, Syd. Now that I know that I love you, I’m more sure of that than ever.”


“Did she ever apologise that thing at the party?” Sydney asked, imagining all the ways he could get revenge on that scumbag.


“Yeah, and I forgive her. But I’m not going to hang out with her for a while, not when I have you” TJ said, disentangling his hands from Sydney’s in order to give him a hug.


“Guess I won’t need to get jealous then” Sydney said, hugging TJ back.


They nuzzled into each other, and TJ swore he could hear Sydney’s heart beat. Fast but strong, so alive and full of love, dismantling TJ’s lingering doubts that this wasn’t real and that Sydney died that day some four years ago. He felt guilty for even pondering that, but he was quickly submerged back into a feeling of intimacy and happiness that made the sun look dark and bleak in comparison.


“Holy shit, are you purring?” Sydney said, kissing the top of TJ’s head.


“Language” TJ said, raising his head a little so Sydney could hear his purr better.


“I can’t believe how lucky I am” Sydney said, touching TJ’s soft cheek and stroking his hair tuft gently, “The most beautiful, sexy and sweet lynx in the galaxy wants me to be his boyfriend, he purrs the cutest purrs I’ve ever heard and is in the only pro-gay church I’ve heard off.”


“Well” TJ said, “There’s one more thing.”


TJ kissed Sydney, and Sydney reciprocated by pouring as much love as he could unto their kiss. A peck opened up to become a tongue fight, their mouths so hot they were pratically incinerated. It was an awkward short kiss, but after catching their breaths they repeated it again, and again, each time longer and more passionate. Their arms grasped each other’s bodies, as if desperately trying to bring each other closer than they were, and eventually they were so enraptured that they lost their equilibrium and fell on the side, on the hard pebbles.


“Fuck!” Sydney said, “Toby, you alright?”


“Yeah, I’m fine” TJ said, wincing as he felt his right side become very sore, “There’s a nice view from here.”


Sydney turned to the lake, and while not quite sunset the light of the sun was turning from white to yellow, casting gold on the black and blue waters.


“Yeah, this is pretty neat actually. Wanna cuddle like in a shitty romantic comedy?”


“Sure, just give me a second. I still hurt all over.”


“Same.”


After a few minutes Sydney crawled next to TJ and put his arm against his left side, pulling his boyfriend closer. TJ and Sydney winced as the impacted sides collided, but soon they were able to ignore the pain, each other’s warmth making both of them moths.


They sat together, watching the lake that went from the stuff of nightmares to where their love first blossomed, listening as wheels were followed by opening doors and TJ’s mom’s “aw”.


***


“Sooooo….” Chase said, looking at Sydney.


It was lunch time, the cafeteria the stage for a chaotic cacophony. Leo and Chase were the first to sit, pratically glued to each other as always, followed by Jenna, Carl and Flynn, the latter not eating anything. The last to join their table were Sydney and TJ, sitting close together much as Leo and Chase had. Sydney had first checked if their bench was dirty, before sitting down and motioning for TJ to join him.


“So what?” Sydney said in mock irritation.


“So, you and TJ have been pratically glued to each other through all this morning” Chase accusatorily.


“I think I saw them kiss each other in the cheek a few times” Jenna nodded, a “bad cop” impersonation barely concealing the squeeing.


Sydney shared a quick glance with TJ, who was surpressing a giggle. He nodded.


“I am shocked!” Sydney said dramatically, “Ignoring your horrific orwellian breaches of our privacy-“


“Everyone in class saw” Carl said, chewing on some peas.


“I am more than appaled that you perverts would assume anything is going on between me and my best friend over here.”


“‘Best friend’ uh?” Flynn said, amused.


“Duh!” Sydney said, “You’re my brother, Flynn. TJ’s like my… bestest friend. That happens to be a boy.”


Sydney wrapped his arm around TJ pulling him close and kissing him on the cheek. Jenna bit her lip, trying her hardest not to squee.


“I’m so happy for you two puchicas!” Leo said, practially squeeing himself.


“Okay, I don’t know what the fuck that means but me and TJ are just doing what best friends do” Sydney said, actually stealing a lightning fast kiss from TJ’s lips, “That also happens to be a boy.”


“You know, I’m actually surprised” Carl said, “I knew you were bi thanks to you not shutting the fuck up and giving me nightmares about your sex fantasies, but I thought you were into jock types.”


“Jock, wrestler and pirate types” Sydney corrected.


“Of course” Flynn said indignantly.


“So as you can see, there’s nothing suspicious about me being best friends with this cute, sexy piece of heaven given lynx form. That also happens to be a boy.”


TJ’s ears were red and he dove his head into Sydney’s neck, nuzzling into it while the latter kissed the top of his head.


“Aw, he’s purring” Jenna said, no longer able to contain herself.


“TJ loves to purr into his best friend’s neck” Sydney said, “That also happens to be a boy.”


“Okay, just stop said” Chase said, in a mixture of laughter and “awwing” at the couple’s cuteness, “You’re not fooling anyone.”


“Fooling?” Sydney said in mock exasperation, “Me? Its not our fault your minds are filth and you can’t understand bestfriendly love.”


“Filthy!” TJ said playfully, before continuing to nuzzle and purr against his boyfriend.


“Best friends?” said a jock wolf passing nearby, “More like best FAGS!”


The gang turned towards him. TJ and Sydney were sure he was in the party, but other than being a former friend of Leo’s they couldn’t quite recognise who he was.


“Rude” Sydney said, holding TJ close, “How about you fuck off?”


“What are you going to do, scratch at me and then cry when I bust you and your boyfriend’s faces?” he said, eyeing TJ in particular.


The commotion was attracting the attention of other jocks, and on cue Leo, Chase and Flynn rose up.


“Vete a la mierda” Leo snarled.


“Pfft, whatever, go eat shit in the septic tank for all I care” the wolf said dismissively, before sitting down elsewhere.


“Thanks guys” Sydney said.


“Well, we’re all in the same boat now” Chase said.


“I really appreciate it though” Sydney continued, “Even though I’m not since I’m simply looking after my best friend. Who also happens to be a boy.”


The gang collectively rolled their eyes, except for Sydney and TJ, who shared another kiss.

Are opossums smart or dumb?

A common controversy you’ll see brought up in discussions on biology is whereas opossums are what most people would consider stupid or whereas they’re some misunderstood genius. Some people say that they are as smart as dogs, others that they are as dumb as chickens. One might want to rethink the later analogy since chickens are nowadays understood to be rather sophisticated animals, but whatever.

The history of the study of marsupial intelligence is one filled with biases and assumptions. For a long time scientists assumed placental mammals were “superior” to the more “primitive” marsupials, a notion only further supported by the fact that the most iconic marsupials such as kangaroos and koalas are in fact pretty stupid. But a fairly recent study has in fact showcases that there are perceived biases in understanding the brain size of marsupials and placentals: the aforementioned dumb diprotodontians are seen as the “marsupial standard” while primates are seen as the “placental standard”. Obviously, we get skewed results with this perception.

Still, brain size is not the end of the story, since it doesn’t necessarily translate to actual behaviours. In terms of actual cognitive performance, we get mixed results: a study on Monodelphys shows that they are capable of learning problem solving solutions, while one on Didelphys opossums shows that they are incapable of doing that. Thus, there appears to be some extreme variation in regards to the problem solving capacities of opossums, and it is very likely that this might be a species specific issue.

Maybe even on an individual level, given the contradictory descriptions of Virginia opossum intellect.

Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that opossums are not necessarily stupid by mammal standards. Understanding their behaviour and cognitive abilities will certainly give further insight on the evolution of mammalian intelligence and whereas placentals are “gifted” in this department, which so far seems to be only half the truth.

Birthday

Echo AU where Sydney lives and marries TJ and Chase, Leo and Kudzu all love each other and everyone is raising kids.

***

“Flight 236-34 is now boarding. Thank you for flying with Ryan-Air.”

“Welp, he wasn’t lying” Sydney said, snapping out of an almost-sleep, prompting Jin to giggle, “Not even long enough for me to snore.”

“Yeah, I think they gave Chase a company coupon?” TJ said, helping Sydney up and pecking him on the cheek, “Its nice that we’ve haven’t wasted any time at all, seeing as they might leave today.”

And indeed, soon after Chase, Leo, Shams and Jane were waving at them, Kudzu giving a somewhat tired hand raise. The kids were closing in on them, but they weren’t really rushing, they were just faster because they weren’t carrying bags.

“Miss us much Miss?” Sydney teased, patting his daughter on the head.

“Not really” Jane said nonchalantly, “In fact I hate you for cutting my vacation short. Only reason I didn’t fly away is because I didn’t want to give my three new and improved dads a heart attack.”

“We missed you too” TJ said, not bothering with the sarcasm Syd and Jane endulged in, “And my, your fur really looks dazzling today Shams!”

“Thanks I guess” the cheetah said, somewhat embarassed as TJ hugged him.

“He put on like three different shampoos” Jane rolled her eyes, “You’d think he’s trying out for a drag race or something.”

“Or a strip club” Sydney quipped, patting Shams on the shoulders.

“I swear, you two drive me crazy” TJ scolded, “Anyways, I think you look very lovely. Did you do all this for RJ’s party?”

Shams considered answering, but just then Chase, Leo and Kudzu caught up.

“Trouble with the bags I take it?” Sydney said, extending a hand to Leo only to retract it when he almost gave him the bag.

“Cabron!” Leo winced, his muscles straining after having to turn quickly as to not let it fall into the ground.

“You know, you didn’t need to pack all your things, we’re happy to share in case you need to stay the night” TJ offered, helping Kudzu with some of the bags.

“We really don’t want to impose” Chase said, “Plus I needed to take some equipment. After this we’ll be off on assignment.”

“We didn’t forget the presents, in case you start” Leo said, eyeing Sydney with a bemused sort of anger.

“Hey, I trust you” Sydney said, raising his hands theatrically, “Trust you to not piss me off on my son’s birthday.”

Chase laid down his bags, giving TJ and Sydney a hearty hug. Leo soon followed with a clasp of arms with Syd leading to a chest collision, while Kudzu tried with a simple handshack only to be pulled into a hug by the others.

“Honestly, though, I’m glad you made it” Sydney said, “Tried to get Flynn to come but you know how he is about these things.”

“No offense, but do you really think he should attend a kid’s birthday?” Kudzu said, almost regretting it as Sydney gave him a glare.

“I mean, he is like an uncle to the kids” TJ said, atypically irritated, “But mostly Syd just needs to talk to him in person sometimes. I, I kind of owe it to Flynn after-“

“No Toby, you don’t owe that jealous cunt anything” Sydney said, kissing TJ on the lips, “If he doesn’t want to show up that’s his loss. A pretty damn shame though, I was hoping he, me and Leo would show the kids cool stuff.”

“Oh, you mean how you’re completely inept at video games and try way too hard with shit literally nobody cares about since billions of years ago?” Jane said.

“You’re so going to swallow those words when civilisation collapses and you need a swiss knife to open tin cans to eat” Sydney said, patting her head with his tail.

“I’d rather starve than learn anything from you” Jane responded, swatting it away.

“Come on Jin, say hello to your uncles” TJ said to the chevrotain hiding behind his leg.

“Aw, he came too?” said Leo, before doing some goofy faces to make the boy laugh.

“Yeah, we have to pick up RJ from school so I couldn’t leave him alone” TJ said, picking Jin up in his arms and kissing him on the forehead.

“Hi, do you still remember me?” Chase said, keeping his distance but reaching out his tail in case Jin wanted to play with it.

“Chase” Jin half mumbled shaking hands with the tail, giggling as he did so.

“That’s right” TJ cooed, “Do you wanna say hello to the others?”

“Okay” Jin said, still playing with the otter’s tail.


Everyone got into two cars. Leo, Chase and Kudzu went with Sydney on his jeep, going directly to Sydney and TJ’s house, while TJ and the kids went on his van, diverging half the road away. They stopped in from of a private school, RJ already outside and stopping his texting to wave at the car. TJ noticed Shams fiddling with his hands and preening his fur, pressing himself against the seat to conceal himself.

“Do you want to surprise him?” TJ asked.

“No fricking duh dad” Jane said, “I hope you didn’t blow that up.”

“I just said we’re picking him up” TJ frowned, “I’m just asking if we should tell him Shams is here.”

“Then the answer is obviously no” Jane said.

Before either TJ or Jane could continue, RJ came to the window, stopping in his tracks. He quickly opened the door, looking incredulously.

“Shams?”

“S-surprise!” Shams said, waving timidly.

A bright smile washed over RJ’s face, quickly followed by nervous checking of his clothes and body odour, before he closed the door and they drove off.

“I’m so glad you came!” RJ beamed, “I was afraid it’d be like last time and you couldn’t show up.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to happen ever again” Shams said a bit more confidently, “I even forged a passport and everything.”

“WHAT!?” TJ said, stealing a few glances while trying to keep the eyes on the road.

“Yeah, it was my idea” Jane said, taking the “passport” out of her pocket.

Jin, who was was between Jane and Shams, tried to touch it, so Jane handed it over to RJ quickly.

“Wow, that’s so cool” RJ said, carefully touching only the borders, “How did you manage to do this?”

“I wanna see!” Jin pouted.

“Shams, that’s sweet and all but that might very well be illegal” TJ said, “Plus you’re still a kid.”

“I can pull off a sexy dwarf if I want to” Shams said, trying to do a pose.

“Yeah” RJ said, drooling a little, “Oh, have you seen ‘The Red Parade’?”

“Sadly no. Me and Jane tried to stream it but Leo was on to us. B-but you can spoil it if you want.”

“Hell no!” Jane said, “I don’t care if you want to fuck each other, if any of you does that I’ll have spoil all your shitty ‘Strigoi’ novels and phone their endings to you over and over and over-“

“I-Is any of that G-rated?” TJ asked concernedly.

“Yeah dad, we should take RJ’s birthday as an opportunity to see that movie and read those stupid novels, as a family” Jane said, no hint of sarcasm or smugness as it was usual.

TJ sighed.


“So, you still a news reporter?” Sydney asked.

“Yeah” Chase nodded, “I’m now at CTVT.”

“Ah” Sydney smirked, “Isn’t that too liberal for you Leo?”

“I’m a bit danced out of television” Leo said, “No offense love, but even you can’t make me tune in to an endless stream of shit on pretty much all channels.”

“None taken baby” Chase said, “And I’m trying to branch out into more meaningful stuff, like documentaries.”

“Honestly I though that’d happen sooner, what with Echo and all” Sydney said.

“I got shut down quite a few times” Chase sighed, “Really messed me up.”

“I too know the bitter tale of rejection” Sydney said, putting on a more dramatic intonation before shifting to a hick accent, “Turns out the most redneck wrestlin’ companay in this gosh darn worl’ don’t give no shit about acts involvin’ trucks.”

“You still work for EWW right?” Kudzu said, “Don’t they have an equivalent here up north?”

“Well, yes and no. No because there’s no real “equivalent” as you put it, its not called “Elite World Wrestling” for no reason. Don’t get me wrong, I love my work, but I’m not going with lesser acts when I have a family to support and the delicious hatred of millions. What they do have here is many EWW events, which is the ones I usually participate in to try to stay close to my kids.”

“But you do have to go abroad more often than not, right?” Leo asked.

“Yeah. They don’t really help me out with that, but the pay’s decent enough to cover that.”

“Not to be rude, but do you ever wonder if, you know, there’ll be a time when-“

“Chase, I’m not a porn star. As long as I look tough and can play my role I’ll be fine. But I’m not stupid, I know sooner or later I’ll have to crawl with my tail between my legs to the indie rings. Not because I’ll be poor, mind you, but because I can’t live without the booing.”

“Aw, your daughter can’t hate you enough?” Leo teased.

“She likes to be a bitch but she’s always looking out for her dear pops and her brothers. No, I need that visceral name calling, those howls of anger as I deck the so called goody-two shoes right across the face, those declarations of how I’m a monster that needs to be put down.”

Chase and Leo frowned. If Sydney noticed, he didn’t show, seemingly lost in a good mood.

“I’m sorry” Chase said.

This got Sydney’s attention.

“For what? You made me stop acting like a little shit and got me the love of my life. Plus I knew you couldn’t do it.”

“Still, it was very shitty of me. Both that at the lake and bullying you.”

“Like I said, it was nothing. Worked out for the best.”

A moment of silence followed. Sydney was pissed off for having his good mood ruined, but something within him sparked, and he took a deep breath.

“I have been thinking a lot about everything on Echo, and I came up with a very strange conclusion.”

“Yeah?” Leo asked.

“I think I’ve realised how much you all mean to me. I mean, we’re basically brothers. We hang out together, we stood out for each other, we bickered. A lot. Like all proper brothers do.”

“Aw, thats very sweet man” Chase said, laying his hand on Sydney’s shoulder.

“And basically what I’ve been saying since forever chula” Leo snickered.

“Yeah, but its my epiphany so shut up. Anyways, I’m just so glad that we’re all together in this now, raising our kids and talking about our careers and shit. I don’t miss Echo, but I miss shooting the hell of the shit with you guys. I just wish Flynn and Carl were here.”

“What about Jenna?” Chase said.

“Yes, even her. You know we bonded over our shitty parents right?”

“But you almost never talk to her” Kudzu said.

“Eh, me and TJ had dinner with her like a month ago. T’was pretty nice. She even got Jin some weird kid’s book with fish and frogs that freaks me out.”

“Shame she isn’t close with the kids, otherwise it’d give her more of a reason to hang out” Leo lamented.

“I’m pretty sure TJ can get through to her somehow. Anyways, like I said I’m just glad you’re all here.”

“We love you too Syd” Chase said, “And I know you like to be the bad guy, but you’ll always be our brother.”

“As long as I’m not ass-similated into your hivemind that’s fine with me” Sydney said, smiling a lot harder than he showed.


Sydney’s jeep arrived earlier than TJ’s van. As soon as TJ pulled over, RJ exited quickly, greeting with uncles with a hug.

“Happy birthday bicho” Leo said, ruffling his hair.

“Here, I got something for you” said Chase, taking a present out of one of his bags.

RJ could tell a mile away what it was, but he store tore at the white and pink fabric with glee.

“New headphones?” Jane asked incredulously, “Yours still work well.”

“Ah, but these are peak aesthetic” RJ said ahipply, examining the black headphones with rainbow pads and a vaguely cross-like symbol on the rim.

“Speaking of that, show him yours gray dad” Shams chirped eagerly.

“Alright, but its not as impressive.”

Kudzu handed RJ a large black box. To the olinguito’s delight, there was a large book inside, “The Art of Space: The Confluence”.

“I heard you were into that card game and art so I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone.”

“Thanks Kudzu, this is awesome.”

“My turn” said Leo, handing him a pair of cross bracelets similar to his own anchor ones, “I know aren’t as flashy, but they’re better than any ring at show your love for your special someone.”

“Thanks Leo, these are beautiful.”

RJ stole a quick glance at Shams, both of them blushing a little.

“I got you a present as well” said Jane.

“Really?” said RJ, confused.

Jane handed him thirty dollars.

“There, expend it as you see fit.”

“So instead of buying a gift you just gave your brother money” TJ scolded.

“Dear father, this is to stimulate his on sense of individuality and give him the freedom fo choose what he wants. Besides, I don’t care and I gave away a lot of money.”

“Its okay dad, I don’t mind” RJ said, laying his hand on TJ’s arm.

“And you Jin, have anything to give to your brother?” Sydney said, lowering down to kiss his son on the cheek.

“Here you go RJ” Jin said shyly, showing him a page with a drawing of him and Jin hugging.

“Aw, thanks Jin” RJ, bringing that picture to life by hugging his younger brother.

“So, its our turn now” TJ said, going back to the van.

He opened the backdoor, revealing a massive collection of pins. Gay pride ones, christian ones, comic book ones, all neatly organised within a case.

“Wow, this is awesome!” RJ said, carefully examining them, “Did you order them online or did you pick them from a store?”

“The case I bought, while the pins were actually mostly given to me by Jenna” TJ said, “She apparently knows someone at the shop she goes to for her mangas, so they did this favor for her.”

“So Jenna really was involved this time” Leo mused, “Guess we might get our ‘shooting the shit’ with her sooner than expected.”

“The sooner the better” Sydney said, “And with that lets get to my gift”.

Sydney hugged RJ tightly.

“Happy birthday son! Here’s my gift to you.”

“Thanks dad, but that’s it?”

“I think so, yes. Don’t you like daddy’s love?”

“I love you too dad, but-“

“But you were hoping for fifteen redeem cards for Space: ‘The Confluence: Planeswalker’, which happen to have right here?”

“Dad” RJ said, fighting back tears as he marvelled at the black rectangles with codes, “I don’t know what to say!”

“Enjoy your game I can even barely comprehend kiddo, you earned it for being such a good son and person” Sydney said, kissing and hugging him one last time before he darted inside, eager to try his gift.

“I hope he doesn’t forget about the other stuff though” Kudzu lamented.

“Don’t worry, he’s just excited because he’s really wanted this for months now” TJ said, carefully gathering the discarded fabric and throwing it on the bin.

“Nah, I think we should go ahead and throw them into the trash as well” Sydney said, holding the art book above the can.

“I’d be pretty fucking pissed if he didn’t use the FORTUNE I gave him” Jane said, pulling at Sydney’s tail.

“Either way, he had the right idea” Leo said, rubbing his belly, “I’m starving. Do we eat before or after the cake thing?”

“Before, cake’s for dessert” TJ said, carefully picking up the presents alongside Sydney.

“That should give us some time to talk” Chase said, “We and Sydney had lots of interesting conversations on the car, we’d like to share them with you.”

“Oh, what were they about?”

“About how I’m going to leave you and the kids and become the fourth cock and asshole in their neverending orgy” Sydney teased, nuzzling against TJ.

“Of course.”

As they entered the house TJ noted that Shams still hadn’t given a gift to RJ.

“Hey, did you bring a gift for RJ? No judgement, I’m just curious.”

“Oh no, I did, I’m just going to show it to him later.”

TJ frowned.

“Is there any reason why you couldn’t have shown it here?”

“Its a secret.”

Before TJ could interrogate Shams further, Jin tugged at his leg.

“I’m hungry like uncle Leo.”

“Syd, we should start cooking now” TJ said, picking up Jin in his arms.


“That was so sweet Syd” TJ said, holding back tears, “Yes, we’re all a big family.”

The adults were discussing at the table, eating some seafood stew while the kids were playing video games. Surprisingly the only ones not into it were both otters, Chase just picking the random fish bits while Sydney was munching on bread. The kids themselves ate some, Jane and Jin enthusiastically while RJ and Shams were somewhat indifferent to it.

“Aw baby, you’re gonna make me cry too” Sydney said, holding his tightly against his side.

“Speaking of things that make us cry, how about politics?” Chase said, unusually mischievously like in his teen days.

“Please lets not, I’m trying to not have a fight at my son’s birthday” TJ said, somewhat aggravated.

“Come on, its fun!” Sydney said, “We’ll stop if things get too far, I promise.”

“Why do you even want to talk politics anyways!?” TJ asked.

“Well, Sydney brought it up when he said CTVT was “too liberal” for Leo” Chase responded.

“So I’m guessing you’re a log cabiner then?” TJ asked, resigned and bracing for impact.

“Eh, kind of” Leo said, gesticulating pensively, “I guess I’m more anti-government more than anything. I don’t really like snowflakes, but they’re pretty harmless compared to actual politicians, left or right. I just want to be able to raise my boy, keep my guns and not pay taxes. And before you ask no, I don’t associate with right-wingers. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, especially if they also the enemy of my children and my chulas.”

“Not to mention you yourself, since you’re gay and latino” Kudzu said.

“Eh, if I really wanted I could pass for a gray wolf. But I’m not a coward, which is the issue I have with most liberal types.”

“Are you going to let him trash talk you like that Chase?” Sydney said, bemused.

“He can bark all he likes, but I’m the one winning with the truth all the time” Chase said, picking a bit of lamprey.

“Helps that you and Kudzu are the bravest men I know” Leo said, kissing Chase in the cheek, “If more liberals were like you they’d actually get something done.”

“So I take it that your issues have more to do with personality than what they stand for” Sydney said, hands on his chin, plotting.

“You have to be honest in every way, that’s all I ask” Leo said, cracking oyster shells with his teeth.

“Since you’re all manipulative like that, what do you believe in Syd?” Kudzu said, spiting out crab carapace.

“Well, I’d say I’m kind libertarian-left” Sydney said pensively, “I’ve always disliked authority since my parents were right-winger cunts and my best friend came out long before me, but I’ve never really thought about it until I had kids. For me it was mostly just doing what I wanted, now that I’m raising children its more about letting people be free to express themselves. I’m not much of an activist anyways and I can’t for the life of me even pretend to be interested in all those hashtags.”

“You kinda do look like a protestor though, what with your black clothes and hat” Chase noted.

“I guess I do” Sydney snickered, “You know, some of my fans have asked me to take social issues more seriously, since I’m a bisexual wrestler raising a family with millions of lunatics tuning in to my every word. Who knows, punching fascists does look like fun.”

“Meanwhile, it doesn’t take a genious to figure out Chase is a liberal” Kudzu teased, kissing Chase.

“Guilty as charged” Chase said, “If my social media and job doesn’t give it away then I’m pretty sure you all remember my tirades back then.”

“Ah yes, how we otters “shouldn’t be water clowns”” Sydney cringed.

“Jenna brainwashed him before college even had a chance to do that” Leo mock sniffed.

“Yeah, I have to agree with Leo here” Sydney said, “Less teaching about micro-aggressions, more causing super-aggressions against fascists.”

“Our kids will all go to college if that’s what you’re asking” TJ said, less than amused by the whole conversation, “Hopefully one like the CCU for RJ.”

“Which brings us to you” Kudzu said, wiping his mouth.

“Yeah, what’s your deal bayunco?” Leo said, “You’re hyper-christian but you’re in a gay marriage, you didn’t judge us for being gay back then but you always were near vomiting when we said bad words, you went to a college where you pretty much had to live like a nun but you live in a secular house. What’s going on?”

TJ sighed.

“I don’t know. All I want is for people to live in peace and harmony and I think religion is a good way to motivate people to do that, to be connected to each other to be better to each other. I think I’m left-leaning overall but I dislike how secular the left tends to be. Don’t get me wrong, people abuse religion and that’s why I’m not going down that path, especially given what happened to Syd.”

“Thanks babe” Sydney said, kissing TJ softly and nuzzling against him.

“Honestly though, how far have we fallen that I have to explain myself for being both a christians and a good person?”

“Sorry if we pushed too hard” Chase said, “Its just that we shouldn’t be afraid of discussing these things. Its better if we understand one another, though not at the expense of your comfort.”

“Its okay Chase” TJ reassured, “Now I’m just curious about Kudzu’s views.”

“Green” he said nonchalantly.

“Wanna add more chula?” Leo asked playfully.

“Well, I want what TJ wants, except with nature instead of religion. That’s pretty much it.”

“You’re in luck, our Green Party has been expanding a lot lately” Sydney said.

“That’s great” Kudzu said, drinking.

There was an awkward silence for a while.

“I’m going to check in on the kids” TJ said, leaving the table.

As he did he spotted Jane texting and Jin sleeping, but no sign of RJ or Shams.

“Jane, where did your brother go?” asked TJ.

“Oh, he’s probably fucking Shams right now” Jane said nonchalantly, “Its his gift.”

“WHAT!?” TJ screamed.

“Everything alright?” Sydney said, rushing to him, followed soon by the others.

“Oh, I just told him Shams and RJ are probably slurping on each other’s cocks and eating each other out” Jane said, amused by the chaos.

“This isn’t funny Jane” Chase said, “Where did they go?”

“Not in the rooms if you’re asking” she said, annoyed and sad that it was Chase, a “cool uncle”, the one lecturing her, “They figured out that’s where you’d search first.”

“She’s right” Leo sniffed, “They’re not there.”

“Can you pick up where they are?” TJ asked concernedly.

“I think they might be outside, but their scent is starting to thin out.”

“Oh, I know what they’re probably doing” said Kudzu, motioning them to follow him.

The adults went outside to the garden. Kudzu pointed to a particularly large rhododendron bush. Sure enough, once Kudzu lifted the branches they could see RJ lying on the ground, with Shams on top of him. Shams was shirtless but otherwise they didn’t have the chance to get any more naked. They stared at them with the widest eyes, their lips still drooling from the kissing.

“Well look at that” Sydney said, “I honestly a bit impressed by this trick. If only desert bushes weren’t so spiky.”

“And full of spiders” Chase concurred.

“Come on kids, lets go” TJ said, reaching to help RJ up.

“Dads!” RJ said angrily, surprising everyone, “This is Shams’ gift to me, so get out!”

“Well, consider it another gift from us for you to come inside right now” Sydney said irritatedly.

“Its not fair!” he cried angrily, “Its MY birthday and I don’t even get to see Shams a lot and now you’re ruining it!”

“RJ, we’re not going to stop your relationship” TJ explained calmly, “We just want to talk, okay? We’re not mad and we won’t get in your way, we just want to understand a few things, and then you both can, well… lets just talk, alright?”

RJ sniffed, and Shams got out of him, helping him up. Sydney lent a hand, hugging him in the process.

“Sorry for saying that” Sydney apologised, “I don’t want you to think that I don’t support you. I just want you to not rush into things. What you have is wonderful and we just want to make sure it stays that way, okay?”

“O-okay” RJ sobbed, a bit resentfully.


“So, when did this start?” TJ asked.

Everyone was on RJ and Jin’s bedroom, not wanting to involve either Jane or Jin. RJ and Shams were sitting side by side on the lower bunk of the bed, while the adults picked chairs to sit at close to eye level.

“Well, today, kind off” Shams said, “We figured out we liked each other but we never did anything until today.”

“It was my first kiss, and you had to ruin it” RJ said bitterly.

“RJ, we think this is adorable” Sydney said, “But from the looks of it it was going to be a lot more than just kissing. We just want to make sure you’re ready for stuff like that.”

“Well, I am.”

“Okay then” Sydney said, “and of all people I’m glad its with someone we all know and trust. I just want you to consider maybe waiting a little longer, you know? I mean, you’re both still kids and the last thing everyone in this room wants is for either of you to get heartbroken.”

“Chase and Leo had sex all the time when they were kids” RJ mumbled angrily.

“Okay, first off we were like two, three years older than you two” Leo said, “And sure, it was wonderful and everything, but that doesn’t mean you can just fuck in secret without us knowing. You’re not really mature at your age, so you might make mistakes you’ll regret forever.”

“So that makes you hypocrites then” Shams said bittingly.

“We’re just concerned, alright?” TJ said, “We don’t want either of you to hurt each other. If you really think you’re ready, then you’re ready. But its not easy to know that, okay?”

“We are” RJ said, his tail wrapping around Shams.

TJ sighed, and left the room. Slowly and hesitantly, the other fathers followed.


“Do you think we’re good parents, for letting them do that?” TJ wondered.

TJ, Sydney, Kudzu, Leo and Chase were outside, staring at the stars.

“We told them what they needed to hear” Kudzu said, “But they need to learn that shit on their own.”

“I kind of feel bad for busting them out to be honest” Sydney said, “Its like for a moment I turned into my father.”

“You’re not like your father” TJ reassured him, kissing him, “You’re concerned for RJ, you’re not suddenly going to turn into an ass just because you don’t want your son having sex at such a young age.”

“Still, I talked back to him” Sydney continued, “I don’t want that to be a slippery slope.”

“And yet you apologised to him and ultimately let him have his way” TJ sighed, “That alone shows that the free spirit I fell in love with will always win over whatever that was.”

“TJ’s right” Leo said, “Frankly I’m a bit surprised you think that, since you’re always the one whining about people who are too nice all the time.”

“Well, I am married to TJ, so I guess I don’t practise what I preach then” Sydney said, kissing his husband on the ear, “Then again, you’re letting your mask slip a lot lately love. You looked so tired and done today.”

“What can I say, everyone is hellbent on driving me crazy” TJ sighed, nuzzling against Sydney.

“Well, all I can say that I’m glad that it wasn’t Shams who threw a hissy fit” Chase said, “That would be a real shitstorm.”

“Jane can do a lot worse than that” TJ said, “So don’t you think we can’t handle brats.”

“Well, to our brats then” Chase said, raising an imaginary cup.

“To the future union of the Hunters and Hess-Bronsons” Sydney said in a posh accent.

“Man, they’ll inherit such a fortune if they do get through their arranged marriage” Chase said.

“Yes chula its arranged…. por amor!” Leo said, making a heart with his hands.

“No son of mine will marry out of love!” Sydney continued, “God, I really think this is something my father would have said.”

“Yeah, fuck that bastard” Chase said, “I was an idiot to ever think you were a bad person if you killed him.”

“It all worked out, so I’m now the bastard to my kids” Sydney mused, half-sarcastically and half-bitterly.

“Well, then drink your sorrows away” Leo said, gulping down an imaginary cup.

“Nooooo, we don’t think!” TJ said, getting into the tomfoolery for once.

“Too late, I’m drunk now” Sydney said waving his arms erratically.

As the others were laughing, Kudzu noticed Jane looking at the ceiling, her phone on the couch. Kudzu sneaked into the house, joining her on the couch.

“Everything alright?” he asked.

“You know this whole thing was my idea, right?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“In the sleepover I told Shams RJ had a crush on him, so I thought it’d be a good idea for them to confess today.”

“Oh. Do you regret it?”

“I don’t know. Shams’ my best friend and I want him and my brother to be happy, but I wonder if I’ll become a third wheel or something.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll always matter to them. Just today your dad was pretty upset when Flynn didn’t show up.”

“And I’ll be the Flynn someday. Is that your way to make me feel better?”

“Well, you’ll only “be the Flynn” if you think your friendship isn’t worth it. And even then I’m pretty sure Flynn just couldn’t afford a plane ticket. You can fly, so that won’t be a problem.”

“I guess so, “boring dad”.”

“Well, have fun staring at the roof all night.”

“Its riveting, you know.”

Kudzu nodded, then looked at Jin, still asleep.

“Should I take him upstairs?”

“Nah, those two are definitely fucking.”

Podcast

Another Echo fanfic. AU where Chase, Leo and Kudzu are together and raise a kid.

***

“Hello and welcome to the Cheeto in Speedos cast. I’m your host Shams Hunter and this week we have three very special guests. Care to introduce yourselves?”

“Hi, I’m Chase Hunter, and I’m your host’s dad.”

“I’m Leo Alvarez, and I’m your host’s other dad.”

“And I’m Kudzu, also your dad.”

“Wow, so many dads! Anyone else?”

“‘fraid not bicho. Its been just the three of us, me and my chulas.”

“One might even say that’s why we’re here, to explain how it was to raise you in such a household.”

“And you are absolutely right, gray dad. First off, lets begin with the million dollar question: how did you three decide to live together and how exactly do you manage to keep this unique relationship going?”

“Well, it started first with me and Leo. We grew up together in Echo and began dating when I was 15 and he was 17. Our relationship was pretty solid but effectively ended on 2012 over some disagreements about how I’d lead my life-“

“And how you’d pranked about cheating on me and how I went ballistic about it, don’t forget that.”

“How ironic.”

“Anyways, I went to Payton for college and returned to Echo in 2015, for a project.”

“Ah yes, the ghost shit. Was what inspired me to do this podcast in the first place.”

“And when I returned I knew my feelings for Leo didn’t disappear and that he still loved me. Like, a lot, he even had hallucinations about me, half of his history was wolf/otter porn, et cetera”.

“Yikes.”

“And I regret nothing.”

“So we decided to give it another shot, and as we did that we met Kudzu, which was Leo’s neighbour at the time. Then, as you know, crazy shit started happening, and Leo was affected by it. Kudzu meanwhile stood by my side and I gradually fell in love with him. But I still loved Leo, and when it was time to leave that hell hole he gave me an ultimatum, about whereas we were still in a relationship or not. I responded with an ultimatum of my own, whereas he truly loved me and let me be free or whereas he’d rather get stuck on Echo.”

“Wew, so basically you were dishing out threats at each other? That’s kind of hard to believe, given how sweet you are.”

“Bicho, to get to that said sweetness we went through a lot of blood and tears. Mostly metaphorical ones. But not all.”

“The days following our escape from Echo were a bit blurry, but at some point I decided to have both Kudzu and Leo in my life. Leo, naturally, was pissed-“

“‘Naturally’ uh?”

“You’re my little nuclear wolf. Anyways, there was a lot of turmoil between the two of us, but we decided to give it a shot. We went through several couples therapies and online advice on how to live in a poly relationship, and slowly Leo started to get into it.”

“Mostly because he has a cuck fetish.”

“Hey! Its true but still!”

“Even then all three of us when through cycles of jealousy and perceived underappreciation, so even though the arguments slowly died down it became clear we needed some sort of anchor in our relationship. So, some three years after the three of us started dating, you came into our lives.”

“In retrospect we understand that this was an extremely reckless move and one that was probably unnecessary given how things were smoothing over before it, so we apologize for potentially jeopardising your life and happiness.”

“Apology accepted. I dread to think about what could have gone horribly wrong, but I got this sweet gig and three doofuses that love me to bits, so its okay.”

“So that’s basically that: lots of confusion, lots of bickering and lots of love binding us together. Whereas you helped seal the deal completely is something none of us is sure but if it is we thank you the world for it.”

“Aw, you’re welcome otter dad. So onto the next topic, which is how you got me. Gray dad, wanna take this one?”

“Sure. Well, it was obvious from the start that we had to adopt. Not only didn’t we have the money or time for surrogacy, we wanted to do good and give a lost kid a home. We also wanted our child to not be from any of our species, to show that our relationship was fully equal.”

“Aw, both of those reasons are so touching.”

“Plus women who get pregnant just to give the kid away creep me out. I’m sorry, but I don’t want my kids to be some perra’s long term orgasm.”

“Red dad, don’t be sexist.”

“Anyways, we went to the Mesa Orphanage, and you were there. You were around four years old, give or take-“

“‘Give or take’. How thoughtful, dad.”

“Well, we still don’t know how old you were when we met you. The staff said your birth parents dropped you off there without any commotion, and you latter told us when you visited them that they basically forgot about you.”

“Yeah, thank fuck I got you instead of those cunts. Didn’t even give me a name. Plus I like the random birth day parties that could happen any time.”

“Yeah, though it was kind of a hassle for me and Leo to get our familes on board with that. Kudzu’s the lucky one for not getting his parents nagging at him over it.”

“Anyways, when we met you all three of us agreed you were just the most adorable little cheetah that had ever lived.”

“It was basically love at first sight, you know.”

“Thanks a lot for making that creepy.”

“Well bicho, you said your subscribers think you grew up in some demented pedo sex dungeon, so might as well give them what they want right?”

“This podcast is precisely to get it through their heads why you’re great but sure, why not.”

“I remember that you took to us very well. According to the staff you used to cry a lot, but a few sessions with us and you were much happier and apparently drove them crazy asking about why we hadn’t taken you yet. So pretty much everyone that wasn’t a Karen knew that we were the perfect family.”

“Still, the actual adoption was a bit of a hassle. None of us got officially married as part of our relationship agreement since polygamous marriage is illegal and me and Leo were already sort of, in the lack of a better word, spiritually bonded with our bracelets. I adopted you as a single parent, so technically you’re my son only in the eyes of the law. This will most likely lead to inheritance problems down the line but we’re already planning for that. It sure as hell did make us paranoid about any custody battles.”

“And what if, say, people get inspired by this podcast and make poly marriages legal?”

“Then sure, we’ll be the first in line to get married. Though, I’m happy with just the bracelets right now.”

“Of course you are, they were your idea you goof.”

“So now onto the next question, which is how it was for you guys to raise me?”

“It was wonderful bicho. For one thing you were already potty trained so we lucked out on the baby shit. You were curious, affectionate and playful and you were our little ray of sunshine. That’s why we settled on Shams, which means “sun” and the staff at the orphanage already called you Sam anyways.”

“Yeah, it was kind of weird but I always thought that was so cool. To this day I still get a rise out of telling people what “Sam” stands for, they always assume its Samuel or Samson or something.”

“Either way we always took care to not blow that on people’s faces unless you were comfortable with it, we know how kids can be about names they’re not familiar with.”

“I love how we’re still using innuendos here.”

“Honestly that’s on you at this point, we’re just trying to not make dad jokes.”

“Anyways yeah, you were a very positive influence on our lives. But at one point you did start transforming into a total brat, thanks to a certain otter spoiling you.”

“Eh, my fault. My parents always doted on me and I went through some depression episodes after some of my projects weren’t accepted, so I got very emotionally needy and I wanted to make sure that you loved me. There’s a reason why me and Leo were meant to be after all.”

“Hey!”

“Its okay. I love all you three very much, but you were the one I looked up the most to, since you were the one that was the least around and had such a cool job as a reporter. Plus you did give me all the treats and gifts and shit.”

“Your words wound me deeply, bicho.”

“Hey, I did say I love you all three equally. You always played with me and protected me and I always wanted to be strong and tough like you. You were just too strict sometimes, like with the bra incident that we will discuss later.”

“Do we have to?”

“Yes.”

“What about me?”

“Well, you’re the one that was always at home so naturally I spend the most time with you. You weren’t as strong or had a cool job but you were always there for me, always comforted me when I came down from school crying or took notice when I was sick or made sure to buy the right shampoos and deodorant when I said some stung me and so on and so forth. Plus, you’re a damn good cook.”

“Thanks. And speaking of that, we all knew where Chase’s spoiling led to.”

“Oh God, not that.”

“Explosive diarrhea. Worst moment of my life, and not just because I was afraid you caught something serious.”

“Dios mio, that was a total shitstorm. In more ways than one. One of the only two times were we really argued when we raised you.”

“Which brings us to the other time you three argued.”

“Lord Almighty, who gets this one?”

“I think I’ll do it myself. So, when I was like ten a friend I shall not name under threats of death had a sleep over with me. Eventually I got curious about her clothes and decided I wanted to try them. She for the most part didn’t even use very girly clothes, but she had everything, even a bra even though she’s a bird. So, I wore her bra and skirt and I started goofing around doing sexy poses. She laughed and wolf dad came over, wondering what was so funny. Next thing I know, he yelled at me and then you two came rushing after and a fight broke up. In the end we had a talk about Leo’s conservative mentality and how I should be allowed to express myself.”

“I’m so sorry bicho. I never saw you that scared in my whole life, and I should’ve known better.”

“Goes to show that being gay doesn’t automatically make a person open towards crossdressing or even towards the rest of the letters in LGBTQ. But we sorted everything out, and now I hope you know we accept however you live your life.”

“Thanks, I know you’ll accept me however I am, and love all of you for that. Which brings to the next point, which is how you reacted when I came out as pan.”

“We already were kind of betting on whereas you’d turn out gay, straight or bi. Should have made a bet about that as well.”

“To be honest at first I thought you were just attention seeking. But like I said, I should’ve known better, and I’ll do my best to make you know that you can talk to us about things like that. Its kind of funny though, I kinda of did hope you’d turn out to be into men as well, even though that’s not how it really works. Else I’d be into big boobs like the other men in my family.”

“Well, studies do show that while being raised by same-sex parents doesn’t really impact sexuality, it does tend to make their children more confident about their sexual and gender identity. So its less that we turned you pan and more that you’re more likely to understand that part of yourself thanks to your upbringing.”

“Shams, I love you but I can’t forgive you for turning your father into Jenna 2.”

“Yeah, me neither.”

“Same. You were once so cool, otter dad.”

“I still am. Well, how about we talk how you address us?”

“Oh yeah, that deserves to be expanded upon. I think I treated you by different “dads” many times already?”

“So, when we took you in we made you sure you understood we were all your dads, that none of us was a mommy or an uncle or a first name. So, to make things easy, we told you you could call us dad plus something, which I think it did wonders to your creativity. Though maybe too well. Most of the names you came up were easy to understand: otter dad, brown dad, red dad and so forth. But then one day all three of us were at the mall and you decided to call for “astronaut dad”.”

“Oh, I remember that one!”

“Yeah. We couldn’t figure out who the hell you were talking about, and some people were starting to give us some odd looks, especially as you started getting frustrated and yelling. So we were getting pretty desperate, and told you to tell which one you meant. It was so embarassing, to see all those other adults judging us for not even knowing what the hell our kid was talking about.”

“Turns out it that it was me. Because apparently you think a racoon’s natural colouration looks like an astronaut suit for some reason.”

“To be fair you do have a lot of white and black around your eyes. Plus you like to wear leathers so it kind of looks like metal.”

“Yeah, I do think it’s kind of cool you see me like that. Makes up for me being the “boring dad”, as you once put it.”

“Yeah, sorry for that. I suppose I took you for granted sometimes, but I do think you were a good influence on my life. You taught me how to always be honest and level-headed and how to be a good person, and I can’t thank you enough for that.”

“Its alright. I did call the hospital while those two bozos were running and screaming and tripping on your poo.”

“Oh God, please stop bringing that up.”

“Well, least one thing’s certain. You could be pretty damn gross once or twice, but at least you were a very clean kid and we never had to tell you to take a shower. Which reminds me of that one time Chase lost his deodorant.”

“Yeah, you couldn’t even be in the same room as me. Curse your sensitive nose, I was pretty heartbroken when you told me I smelled like garbage and rotten garbage eggs in garbage.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. But afterwards we went into the pool and you carried me around like a damn dolphin, so it was a pretty fun day.”

“Yeah, you loved to play in the water so much. If a cat overrides his natural instinct out of love for his dad, you know you’re doing a good job.”

“And that’s ultimately what this boils down to. You three did a damn good job, and I’m glad I grew up with your three guardian angels looking after me.”

“And we’re proud to have you as our son, bicho. You’ve grown into a strong, confident man who has millions listening to his every word.”

“Dad, you’re going to make me blush. Its just like 34 people.”

“Plus we can talk about which guys you find cute, which is always nice for bonding.”

“And that’s it for today. Any last words before this podcast ends?”

“Well, if your followers do get poly marriages passed and if you really have to go in wearing just a speedo, chose a cyan one. It’ll be lake themed.”

“Noted. Would a speedo on top of a speedo be enough?”

“Sure, as long as its cyan.”

Thylacosmilus Hunt

Based on the new study and its conclusions.

***

She stands at midday, the heat of the sun bothering her. Still, compared to many other animals she’s well off, her jaw flanges, long tail and horn dissipating heat and her black tear-like facial markings allowing her to see without being blinded. She lies against the ground, camouflages against the Pampas grass, her head scouting for appropriate prey.

She spots a potential candidate, a juvenile Adinotherium. Like her he has a horn, but his points forwards and is much thinner, a pure display device compared to her oddly shaped dome. He grazes, vaguely aware of her presence, but an infected hindleg prevents him from sprinting immediately. So he begins to pick up the pace, trying to join the rest of the herd.

She’s having none of that.

With a painful push-up like motion, she uses her forelimbs to dart forward, quickly followed by a kick from the hindlimbs. She’s now fully galloping, and quickly catches up to her victim. He begins running and manages to dodge her initial strike, but his leg prevents him from maneuvering too often, forcing him on a straight line.

This is all she needs, and a few paces is all it takes for her to ram against his flank, fully sending him rolling on the ground. Broken ribs elicit a bray, the notoungulate trying to get up but finding himself struck again by the sparassodont’s horn.

Repeated strikes bludgeon the struggling victim to the ground, too weak to fight back. Its now that his life will end.

Using her forelimbs to keep the Adinotherium in place, the Thylacosmilus begins digging her fangs on his belly, careful as to not cause too much stress on the base of her skull. Once they’re fully inside the screaming ungulate, she pushes back, erupting his abdomen and pulling out his digestive system. Fangs still stab his intestines, clawing them out of the body.

Using her muscular lips, she sucks the entrails, hideous slurps stopping only as her molars need to grasp them, preventing them from obstructing her throat. This happens relatively quickly, and within a few minutes the Adinotherium is disemboweled, his own guts inside her grotesquely expanded ones.

She quickly walks away, already spotting a Macroeuphractus running furiously towards her. The armadillo can have the bones and muscles, she’s done.

The true “pouched saber tooth” lived alongside dinosaurs

As you might have heard, the classical “marsupial saber tooth” Thylacosmilus atrox might not actually have been a predator analogous to saber toothed cats. While I’m sure this might be contested, it does make a lot of sense given how strange Thylacosmilus is compared to eutherian saber toothed predators. And a little overlooked argument is that we have an actual metatherian saber toothed predator that might be a closer analogue.

Named in 2015, Lotheridium mengi is a Cretaceous aged metatherian from China, living alongside a plethora of dinosaurs including the ornithomimid Qiupalong and an unnamed tyrannosaur. It is a member of Deltatheroida, a clade of Mesozoic metatherians specialised towards a carnivorous lifestyle that bear many convergences to placental carnivores such as carnivorans and “creodonts”, as well as non-thylacosmilid sparassodonts and dasyuromorphs. Deltatheroidans largely disappeared alongside non-avian dinosaurs in the KT event, but a clade of small insectivores managed to persist in Asia until the very end of the Paleocene.

Deltatheroidans in general are pretty underrated, being as linked above specialised carnivorous mammals that co-existed with non-avian dinosaurs. They seemingly replaced earlier carnivorous groups like eutriconodonts and symmetrodonts during the mid-Cretaceous faunal turnovers, these archaic weirdos giving in to a group that more closely resembles modern carnivorous mammals. A shame, but we forgive them because there’s unambiguous evidence of deltatheroidans preying on dinosaurs (and beloved deinonychosaurs at that).

Though not as large as the wolverine sized Nanocuris (which incidently lived in North America alongside Tyrannosaurus rex itself), Lotheridium mengi has the advantage of possessing long canines. Though the specific ecology of this animal is not explored in detail in its descriptor paper, the fact that it doesn’t differ significantly from other deltatheroidans aside from its gigantic toothers seems to reinforce that it lead a similar carnivorous lifestyle. Compared to placental saber teeth it does seem to have more robust canines, which imply some degree of functional disparity (more resistant perhaps?), but they are still blade like unlike the triangular canines of Thylacosmilus and kin. Likewise, it has none of the other unique speciations noted in the new Thylacosmilus paper: it still retains upper and lower incisors, its canine roots are not longer than those of placental saber teeth, its molar teeth remain aligned and blade-like (though no microwear exams have been perfomed), its jaw symphysis is more robust, it has non-divergent canines and its jaw musculature appears to have remained relatively similar to that of its relatives.

Overall, this informs us that Lotheridium mengi was a typical carnivorous mammal, and it seems to dismiss the notion that the degree of speciation seen in Thylacosmilus was necessary for a saber toothed predator. Indeed, since thylacosmilids were apparently not following a macropredator ecology Lotheridium mengi remains for now the “model” metatherian saber tooth.

In turn, this has some interesting implications on the evolution and ecology of saber toothed predatory mammals. For example it had previously been ascertained that a deep, short snout was a requirement, and while Lotheridium mengi‘s skull was flattened it doesn’t appear to have had a much deeper profile in life.

Much work remains to be done and I dare say that there’s more to this than meets the eye, for for now I stan the little saber tooth that hunted dinosaurs.

MTG Color Analysis: Echo

Echo and its prequel The Smoke Room are two visual novels dear to my heart. I started playing the former way back in 2016 and it got me through some tough times. The latter meanwhile was only released recently and while its mostly its own thing it helps establish the setting and what exactly haunts Echo’s mysterious mines and is driving everyone crazy.

The basic setting is a town somewhere in the American Southwest that is infested by a supernatural horror. A group of friends that grew up in this town underwent a severe traumatic experience as one of their own died in a lake, and as the main character returns its time to either reveal what happened or be driven to madness.

The prequel, The Smoke Room, revolves around a male prostitute killing in self-defense, and the ensuing paranoia as the then prosperous town of Echo falls to madness.

Note: both works are NSFW. Spoilers ahead, play the games if you haven’t already.

So I’ve decided to make something I haven’t done in a long ass time, which is a color analysis of the many characters in these games, to see how they fit on the color pie. Enjoy!

Note that this list is currently incomplete; I’ll add more if I have the time to do so.

Chase Hunter

The main protagonist of Echo, Chase is an otter who suffers from an identity crisis. Once a little brat hellion, he has since cooled down, traumas leading dissassociation and self-hatred. He seeks to become a journalist, going to Echo for his school project.

Alignment wise, I think he’s a good example of a Blue/Black individual in a protagonist role. He feels insecure about his own identity and tries his hardest to figure himself out: perfection through opportunity. Though he is mostly nice, he himself is not free from nasty or selfish habits, though due to the town’s influence it is unclear if he has full autonomy over his actions.

As the routes go along we learn that the player character is not Chase himself but the ghost of Sam, the protagonist from The Smoke Room. Chase’s personality remains mostly intact (save the implication that Sam’s possession has made him more calm and reflected), but once he is free from Sam he expresses relief, clearly prioritising his own bodily autonomy. Blue/Black throught.

As a kid, he tended to be more abrassive and violent, so maybe Blue/Black/Red prior to his cooling down in his teen years.

Leo Alvarez

Leo is Chase’s ex-boyfriend, having departed in bad terms, but is still deeply in love with him over protective of both him and the rest of their friends. In Leo’s route, this love and protective instincts are twisted by the Echo entity into a flat out violent obsession, though hints of these negative qualities are seen in flashbacks in Jenna’s route.

This, combined with an occasional sun motif, clearly identifies Leo as a Red/White antagonist. He wants to keep his family together and protect them, and has some strong conservative beliefs and tendencies and a rigid sense of how things should be that cannot easily adapt (White), but is very emotional, both in his devoted, obsessive love towards Chase and in his violence towards anyone he perceives as a threat to their relationship (Red).

His controlling behaviour and paranoia may edge him a bit towards Black as well, but canonical Red or White characters behaving as he does(*coughHeliodcoughKondacoughGerrardwhenhegoesmadcough*) demonstrate that such is not necessary. His end goal is a very twisted form of peace, of stability in his life, not domination over others.

Flynn Moore

Flynn is a very important character as he was the best friend of Sydney, whose death traumatised the rest of the group. He constantly antagonises TJ, another member of the group, leading to friction with the rest of the gang. His route is easily the most spoilerific of the routes, where we learn what happened to Sydney (killed by Chase as he tried to defend TJ from Sydney’s bullying), possibly what’s causing the madness (quartz in the mines; see below) and that, in his quest for truth, he was turned into the horrific monster everyone keeps seeing, travelling through time and seeing decades worth of atrocities in Echo.

Flynn is self-assured and hedonistic. Being a lizard, this free spirit fits easily in Red. However, his ultimate goal is simply to find the truth about what happened to his best friend and find closure, thus going with Green’s acceptance endgoal. And yet, he’s not really content with life on Echo and tries to advance, first as a town hall clerk and then with potential future plans elsewhere, adding a bit of Black’s ambition. So, I think he is a good example of a Black/Red/Green character.

As the monster, his near instantaneous speed, chaotic disappearing acts and origin from beign burned alive while “fusing” with supernatural entities in the mountains makes think of several mono-Red monsters in the card game itself. Kinda like Neheb went from Black/Red to mono-Red once he became a zombie, ironically enough. Flynn did “lose pieces of [himself]” after all.

TJ Hess

Poor TJ had a rough life. Being bullied by other kids, witnessing a horrific deformed time-travelling Flynn before seeing Sydney’s death at Chase’s hands, this kitten is a ball of regrets and traumas that he compensates with by being a devout but non-judgemental christian (unlike some cunts who should be banned off the internet), so sheltered he can’t even tolerate swear words.

Ever nice and helping others out, TJ is primarily White aligned, reinforced by his attachment to religious dogma. However, as he does love hiking in nature you could argue there’s a bit of Green in him, while his analytical mind and intellectual pursuits pushes him a bit towards Blue. So, Green/White/Blue, the most goody-two shoes combination if not for the occasional tyrant. Which TJ is not, unfortunately.

Jenna Begay

The “girl option” in case you somehow don’t like gay furry romance, though you can also just be platonic friends with her. Born and raised in a Native reservation, Jenna’s early life was marked by poverty, bullying, parental abuse and mysterious hallucinations (time travelling burnt Flynn) she’d see when angry or upset. As such, she did everything in her power to study to become a psychologist, leaving Echo behind for grander pastures.

Jenna is a textbook example of a mono-Blue character, seeking perfection through knowledge. She studied to overcome the handicaps of her social and financial status both to escape the horrible shithole that is Echo as well as to understand the horrible things she saw and how the mind operates. A meritocrat at heart, she is emotionally reserved and expects others to put in the work she went through in order to improve themselves, fully buying Blue’s notions of tabula rasa.

Carl Hendricks

Heir to a vast family fortune, Carl was left with crippling social anxieties, having dropped out of college and deciding to just live his life in his bedroom, playing video games, reading comics and smoking weed. His insecurities do eat at him from the inside, but for the most part he is comfortable in his complacent, non-judgemental lifestyle, just wishing his friends were around more often in order to keep his mansion’s ghosts at bay.

In spite of some self-hatred and emotional sore spots for his inability to get a job and good grades, for having crashed a car, for not getting a stable relationship and a million other things, Carl is mostly content with living life as it is and gets downright irritated when others push for self-improvement. This fits perfectly with Green’s ideal of acceptance through harmony; though not much of a nature person, Carl certainly is down to relax and connect with others and his surroundings. You could argue there is a bit of Red in him as well, given his hedonism, emotional fragility and multiple interests.

Sydney Bronson

A posthumous character, not a lot is known from Sydney, all of which being from dialogue, flashbacks or, in this case, a hallucination Flynn had that was induced by Sam’s ghost. He grew up in a strict Mormon household with abusive parents who were provoked easily, the father commiting suicide suddenly as he realised how much of a dick he’d been. He had a massive interest in pirates and wrestling and love to drag others into treasure hunts, even throwing in a little poetry in his clue cards. Unfortunately, possession by Sam’s ghost lead toward abusive behaviour towards TJ, culminating in Chase finally killing him, believing him to have killed his own father and thinking he’d do the same to TJ.

Sydney was for all intents and purposes an artist, emotional person with a penchant for fighting, putting him well in Red. His love of elaborate, carefully prepared treasure hunts and pirates also seems to put him in Blue, and his craving for attention and social advancement narrows him on Black. As such, most likely Blue/Black/Red, fitting both his piracy obsesison and his status as a misunderstood person.

Samuel Ayers

Going back in time a century Sam is the protagonist of The Smoke Room. A gay prostitute in the 1910’s, he is stuck in the miserable town of Echo and wants nothing more than to leave it. He almost got the chance, but unfortunately he was tricked and forced to kill in self-defense, prompting him on a path to paranoia as he fears the consequences of his actions.

Sam is primarily motivated by a need for freedom and by fear, making him clearly primarily Red. Other characters describe him as kind, naive and considerate, which might indicate he is Red/White, but so far we only have their word on it. He is certainly God fearing at any rate.

William Adler

William is the sheriff in Echo during Sam’s era. He is ruthless, law abiding and paranoid as well as infected with internalised homophobia, but he does his best to protect Sam. Ultimately, he helps him out, both out of his ever-so-well-hidden feelings for him and as part of a plot to bring the mayor to justice,

William is an honorable man who enforces civic and moral law and seeks to protect the innoccent, but also paranoid, opportunistic and comfortable with people “getting what they deserve” and advising Sam to not “put out fires others made”. Textbook White/Black, in this case Black means for White ends but also with Black’s notions of responsibility and mild social darwinism. He also suffers from severe overcompensation being both gay and native, aspects of his identity he feels he needs to sacrifice in order to be a model citizen, further falling into White/Black’s love of bigoted morality.

Murdoch Byrnes

Contrasting William, this photographer/worker at his family business is much more comfortable in his own skin. Suave, witty, overconfident but with a good heart, Murdoch is one of the few openly gay men in Echo in this time period and an appreciator of the finer things in life.

His interest in photography is born out of a need to capture perfect moments as well as to obtain information. Couple with his wits (he is a fox after all) and general scientific pursuits (mostly in chemistry) he is clearly rooted in Blue. However, his appreciation for art and mild hedonistic tendencies push him towards Red as well, and his true value of courage, moral convictions and chivalry make him very White aligned as well. So overall Red/White/Blue.

Cliff Tibbits

Cliff is an anthropologist from Batavia (the in-universe analogue for the Netherlands) who has come all the way to Echo to research the Meseta Tribe. His expertise in anthropology, history and biology are matched by a naïve enthusiasm, that can sometimes turn into deadly stupidity.

He is very clearly Blue/Red, his scientific curiosity wedded with sheer impulsivity and hedonism.

Nikolai

Nikolai is an immigrant from Lahkia, an Eastern European nation (likely based off Lakistan) who has made it to Echo to make a fortune. In spite of his muscles he is very shy and deeply devoted to his dear friend-with-benefits Sam, though capable of having fun in poker nights with the rest of the gang.

Being a mostly complacent person who has more or less accepted his lot in life, he is clearly Green aligned. His emotional sensivity might push him towards Red. His desire for emotional connection in general fits both of these colours well, harmony through passion. His nonviolence might seem odd given how many MTG Green/Red characters are violent barbarians or wild beasts, but there are quite few examples of characters in these alignment more dedicated to positive emotions (i.e. Tacenda Verlassen)

The Echo Entity

Okay, as of now what’s exactly causing the supernatural shit on Echo is unclear, but Flynn’s route has his aunt mention that the quartz found in the mines reflects negative energies and thus causes hallucinations, nightmares and spiritual possessions. Regardless of whereas it is actually a crystal or not, the Echo entity resides in the mines and controls even the ghosts (actually simulacra of dead people), causing waves of hysteria to feed itself.

An entity living in the mountains that induces madness and powerful emotions? Seems pretty Red to me. One could argue Black as well, given how many of the scary events are connected with darkness, but honestly it has no Black magic, no people killed by darkness or decay, so mono-Red it is for me.

Some lithornithid news

Some interesting news on the world’s basal paleognaths:

Another marginally silly Echo fanfic

Sydney woke up in darkness.

For a moment he panicked, but he quickly realised he was in his bedroom. Next to him was the love of his life, still deep asleep, his beautiful face facing him. Love rushed in his chest like warm water, and he barely contained a sob of joy. He gently kissed TJ on the lips, before getting out of bed. He didn’t feel like sleeping after the horrid visions he’d seen, so he put on black boxers and his hat and carefully made his way out of the room.

As he walked down the stairs he swore having heard some desperate whining, though silence quickly resumed. He reasoned it was simply the wind or something, but part of him felt like it was like he was back on Echo, seeing and hearing things. He considered warning whatever that apparition was to fuck off, but with two sons and a husband asleep he decided to flip the air to the open void. If only Jane hadn’t decided to spend the night with Chase, Leo and Kudzu, she’d probably be awake and they’d watch some fail compilations of his wrestling career together.

Sydney was clean, the days of steroids and other illegal drugs well done with as TJ proposed to him. But he did find that his prescribed medication had a mind calming effect, so even if he wasn’t going to go to sleep for a while he’d at least get a government-approved high. Just the thought amused him deeply, as while he didn’t consider himself a real rebel he did like to subvert things, and he was already feeling better before he took two green pills. He sat down the couch, doozing off and daring to fall asleep again.

Then the visions returned, and he woke up crying. He felt so pathetic, and without even the benefit of TJ’s face next to him he decided to curl into a ball, his tail reaching his forehead.

“Dad?” a voice next to him said.

“R-RJ?” Sydney wiped his tears, looking up to find his olinguito son, “H-hey buddy, what’re doing out of bed? You know your brother doesn’t like to sleep alone.”

“Is everything alright?” RJ asked sadly, kneeling down for a hug.

Sydney wasted on time taking RJ on that offer, pulling him suddenly against his chest. He couldn’t resist crying a bit more, much to RJ’s concern.

“Dad, you can tell me anything” RJ said, his eyes starting to get moist as well, “It helps get it out your chest.”

“You’re right kiddo” Sydney said, proud at TJ for teaching their kids to be so supportive, “But this isn’t easy for me.”

“Why not?”

Sydney took a deep breath. It was some serious shit, and he didn’t want to traumatise RJ. He thought of ways of how to vent without ruining RJ’s inoccence. He noticed RJ was noticing his dilemma, looking at him while nuzzling in his chest.

“Dad, I can take it. Just tell me, I promise I can handle it.”

“Alright” Sydney sighed, and he could hear his conscience roaring at him, begging him not to.

He sat upright, RJ sitting down and leaning on his side, patiently waiting for him to begin.

“Well, do you know what happened at Lake Emma?”

“Yeah, you already told me” RJ said, worry creeping into his voice, “Chase almost drowned you. You’re having nightmares about that?”

“Well, kind of” Sydney said, trying to figure out what to say next, “I’ve been having dreams where he did drown me, for real. So many horrible things happening, to my friends and to everyone else on Echo, everyone dying horribly or traumatised. Your dad ends up sad and with guilt for having done nothing, he never finds a happy ending.”

Sydney tensed up, the hardest part yet to come.

“And the worst part is that I feel that’s what really happened. That I died, that my friends are suffering, that your dad is in pain, that all of this-“

“Is not real” RJ concluded, seemingly calm but Sydney could notice fear in his eyes.

Sydney sobbed, barely restraining tears anymore.

“N-not necessarily” he lied, “I mean, if I’m dead then I’m in heaven, and you guys are my little angels.”

“But that’s not what you believe in” RJ said, clutching his crucifix.

Sydney didn’t know what to say, so he looked away shamefully. What horrible things he had said to his own son, trying to vent his nightmares by giving him an existential dread.

“Dad” RJ said, hugging him, “even if I’m not real, I still love you. And, if this is some kind of dream like you say, then I’ll keep on loving you long after I’m gone, forever and always.”

Sydney heard a few sniffs with that last sentence, so he looked back at RJ, stroking his face gently. They hugged each other, crying happily for a while.

“Thank you son. You really are an angel.”

And though his doubt never ceased, Sydney was determined to make the most of whatever this was. It was his life, his family, and if death or some other abomination wanted to take them away from him, he’d be the one to kill it, to wrestle it into the depths of whatever shitshow it had spawned from. He certainly already had new ideas for his wrestling act, to supplement his pirate character with some lovecraftian cultist shit.

Then he noticed RJ was only wearing stained briefs. A musky smell filled the air.

“RJ, what were you doing before I came down here?”

RJ froze, his ears red.

A slightly less silly Echo fanfic

“And we’re here” TJ proclaimed as he pulled over.

It was an asphalt-less parking lot amidst the scrubland, some ten meters away from the beach. The days of Echo long behind them, Sydney and the kids liked the sea and TJ himself didn’t feel comfortable around freshwater beaches, so they decided on a secluded spot with few people. Sydney managed to become a minor celebrity as he got contracted for the Elite World Wrestling, so TJ was concerned about crazy people harassing them, either for being two bisexual men raising a family or because of his heel career. That would most likely happen today, but it was a small enough cove that they could easily manage.

“That’s it?” said RJ, looking somewhat apprehensive, “I hope don’t have to walk a lot.”

“Just a mile” Sydney said, much to his olinguito son’s horror.

“Just a few feet” TJ said, rolling his eyes, “Its just hidden behind those bushes, just for us.”

“Yeah right, for us and for the bugs we’ll get on the way there” Jane said, compulsively preening her feathers.

“We could carry you on our shoulders, but you’d get ticks on your head” Sydney said playfully, the tip of his tail landing softly on Jane’s head.

“Ugh” she cringed before swatting his tail, “Lets just go to another beach. I’m pretty sure Jin can hold it for a few more hours.”

“But I’m hungry” the youngest kid whimpered softly, prompting Sydney to pick him up and cuddle him.

“I brought some mosquito repellent” TJ sighed, “besides they don’t survive in salt water.”

“Which means they get all over your dad, and then me” Sydney said, landing his tail on Jane’s head again, “Tonight we’ll be totally infested.”

“I hate you so much” Jane said, swatting the tail again a bit more violently.

“Jane, don’t say that” TJ sighed again, a bit more excitedly.

He opened the doors, kissing Sydney as he got up and put Jin on the ground.

“Trying to make my life harder by filling their heads with satanic bugs?” TJ said, half-playfully and half-tired.

“The world is a cruel place, love” Sydney kissed TJ on the forehead, “Gotta prepare them for that.”

“Fuck!” Jane said as a rock made a small rip on her foot membrane.

“Language” TJ said, going in to examine her foot.

“Dad says it all the time” she said, the pain making her somewhat spiteful.

“Lady, I’ve been restraining myself long before you came into our lives” Sydney said, “and since you double crossed me you’re grounded.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Indeed, you’re not.”

TJ rolled his eyes, before spraying some disinfectant.


The walk to the beach was indeed short. There were few people there, including a few kids that RJ immediately set out to talk with. Jane, by contrast, run towards the water, almost flying before she plunged into the waves. TJ always thought cormorants looked graceful when doing that, and that calmed him down after all the frustrations with her attitude. He and Syd set up the towel and umbrella, Sydney almost immediately laying down and pretending to be asleep, just to surprise Jin as he was playing with his tail. Some of the sand got into the sandwiches, so TJ decided to buy some ice cream for Jin.

“Any flavour you’d like?” TJ said, stroking his son’s face.

Jin thought a bit.

“Ask him for pirate cocos” Syd mock whispered, staring at TJ’s face playfully.

“Oh, so when I’m teaching them about Jesus is “indoctrination” while you trying to get them to like pirates is okay?” TJ said, attempting to be playful but sounding unintentionally judgemental in his own mind.

“You already got RJ, let me have Jin as my quartermaster” Syd said, putting a paper pirate hat on Jin’s head, “You want to get all the treasure don’t you?”

“Yeah, but I’m hungry” Jin said, looking at TJ pleadingly.

“Two scoops chocolate, sound good?” TJ said.

“Alright daddy.”

“Boo, traitor” Syd said, tickling Jin’s sides.

TJ rolled his eyes, kissed them both, and went to the stand. As he walked there he saw RJ whimpering, his fur messed up and with a trickle of blood on his chin. The crucifix he normally wore was nowhere to be seen. Horrified, TJ quickly run up to him, and the boy hugged his father, crying into his chest.

“What happened?” TJ asked, but he could already tell what it was a mile away.

“T-they said I wasn’t a real christian, that my dad was a b-bad guy and a f-f….they threw it into the sea. I want to go home.”

“It’s okay sweetie, we’ll… uh…” TJ paused, not knowing what to do next.

“Any idea where those punks are?” Sydney said, surprising TJ.

RJ looked at his father gratefully, and weakly pointed towards their direction.

“Syd, please don’t make a scene” TJ begged.

“Toby, those kids already made a scene by beating our son” Sydney said, trying to retain some patience, “I’m just going to get them to get RJ’s cross back, alright?”

And before TJ could answer back, Sydney was already walking towards some very surprised children and teens. TJ tried to tune out whatever it was going to happen, and carried RJ in his arms to their spot. RJ, chubby as he was, was a pain to carry, but the stress helped TJ’s mind to get busy.

“Aw, where’s the ice cream?” Jin asked sadly.

“We’ll get you ice cream on the way back” TJ sighed, “RJ, help me pack up.”

RJ nodded and helped to shake sand off the towels while RJ closed the umbrella.

“We’re leaving already?” Jin asked sadly.

“We have to sweetie” TJ tried to reassure him, “Its… complicated.”

TJ swore to have heard some whimpers, so he tried to close his ears. Still, TJ doubted he succeeded, seeing as the chevrotain’s ears twitched.

“RJ, take your brother to the car. I’m going to get Jane.”

RJ nodded, occasionally stealing some glances to Sydney and the kids. TJ and him would have a serious talk about revenge, but for now he stared at the waves. They seemed eerily flat, and they briefly reminded him of Lake Emma. A sense of dread began to run on his spine, the sunlight on his fur feeling like a million little needles piercing the skin exposed by his raised hairs.

“Jane?” he shouted.

No answer. A small black head emerged from the water for breath, but disappeared again before she could hear him.

“Crud” TJ muttered, steeling himself for his watery punishment.

He run towards the waves, and slowly stepped into the surf. Sea water was cold and worst of all it moved, making him feel very nauseous. Worst, it lapped at his legs, almost as if dragging him towards a wet grave.

“Jane?” he shouted again, and got another glimpse of her, but still nothing.

He got further and further in, water up to his chest and freezing his heart. He began to loose footing and before long was paddling desperately, running purely on instinct.

“Jane?” he asked again, desperately trying to keep his head above the water while looking into the abyss.

He saw Jane darting beneath him, waving at him before disappearing again.

“Jane this is not funny!” TJ screamed, paddling more desperately to not sink.

He looked above, and the intense sunlight blinded him. Disoriented, he screamed and paddled erratically until he felt his foot hitting something. Not a rock, a person.

“Jane!?” TJ screamed again and looked dowards, watering entering his mouth and nose.

In the blurr he saw her floating, seemingly knocked unconscious.

“Oh no no no Jane!” he dove in after her.

It was all a blurr, not helped by water filling his lungs. Jane – or what he mistook for her body anyways – was floating away, towards the surface but further into the sea. TJ desperately tried to reach her, but failed every time. Strength was quickly draining from him, and as his mind began to blank he had some strange visions. First of a bright red, then of the monster he saw that day by the lake, then of Sydney and Chase’s fight. Only this time, it didn’t deescalate into a conversation, but kept going until Chase drowned Syd. Tears mixed with the sea, like TJ lost his daughter, his husband and their entire life together, and soon a death white began to fill his eyes like a searing light.


TJ woke to the sound of crying.

“Oh thank god you’re alive” Sydney whimpered, hugging TJ and kissing him on the lips, pouring as much love as he could.

Soon, RJ, Jin and Jane joined him, and TJ felt meekly after them. He looked at Jane, who had a swelling on her head.

“Jane, you’re okay?” TJ asked weakly.

“Yeah, I’m fine” she said, wiping her tears.

“S-sorry for that.”

“Dad, I’m fine” she said, “I’ve lived through worse.”

TJ cringed. Jane came to them almost dead, so in a way she had gone through worse. Realising that he was little better than her biological parents made TJ nauseous to the core, and he silently prayed for forgiveness.

They sat together in silence for a while. TJ had a sneaking suspicion that this was a hallucination, that maybe all of his life since Lake Emma was a sick dream, and it was finally time for him to wake up.

“Did you get your crucifix back?” TJ asked RJ, trying to desperately break the silence.

“N-no” he said, tears matting his cheeks.

“Not that I didn’t make them look for it” Sydney said, pulling RJ to his side.

“Y-you didn’t beat them up, did you?” TJ asked concernedly.

“Nah, but I’m pretty sure they pissed themselves just by looking at me” Sydney said proudly.

The kids laughed, and even TJ was tempted to snicker a little. He then felt bad about it, and in his mental state it only made his eyes well a bit more.

“Are you sure you’re okay honey?” Sydney asked, stroking TJ’s tufts.

“Yeah, just need some time to rest.”

“And to think”, he added mentally.


Once they got in the car, the kids quickly fell asleep, emotionally exhausted by the experience of nearly losing their father.

“Honey, could you please drive us back” TJ asked, “I’m still feeling a bit weak.”

“Sure thing babe” Sydney said, kissing TJ passionately.

For a moment TJ felt reassured, the love turning into light that revealed the truth of their lives together. But as soon as Syd got in the car, doubt began to creep back into TJ’s mind. He looked at the trees, the light of the setting sun looking like a Jack-o-Lantern’s grin, and he decided he’d stay indoors for a while.