"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats."
—H. L. Mencken
Local government offices, somewhere in the Anthrostate
She kissed him gently on the lips as he ran his hands over her shoulders. Sometimes her kisses went beyond passionate to the point of being painful, hard black claws piercing and bruising soft skin, but those were the kind she gave in public—kissing as a display of dominance in front of other anthros. This one was chaste, closed-mouthed, giving as much as it took: a reminder that their private relationship was more real than their public one. In her office, with the door locked, such kisses were safe. Worst case, it wasn't actually illegal to treat your human nicely, merely suspicious.
Her black and white furry paw held out his collar, almost timidly. When they were in private she let him collar himself. It was another way she helped restore a little bit of his stolen dignity.
"Showtime, love," Lena whispered.
"Knock 'em dead," replied Anon under his breath, fastening the collar and rolling his shoulders.
Lena clipped on his leash, said "Come!" in a loud voice, opened the door, and led him out. Her office opened onto a spartan corridor with some potted plants, and the corridor opened onto a much more impressive open foyer. Towering concrete and steel balconies ringed a central area, with a statue of the massive wreathed-trident logo of the National Anthro Workers Party rising above the bustling office workers.
Lena was a minor bureaucrat and a NAWP member. A black and white border collie, she was the right species to hold a government job. She, and therefore Anon as her secretary, managed waste water projects for the local council. From the same office building, police both secret and known were administered, as well as militias, youth groups, informant networks, and forestry work camps. The massive trident was more for their dignity than that of the local sewer maintenance department.
She leaned on the balcony railing, glancing down, making sure they were seen. Anon squatted by her feet, as was proper etiquette for a lowly human, and she rested her hand around his neck. Playing a role. Another Friday night spent like this.
Someone had a valve radio playing a repeat of their glorious rabbit leader's latest speech. "... if international Humanry inside and outside the Anthro States should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, the result will not be the enslavement of the earth's anthros and thereby the victory of Humanry, but the taming of the human entirely!" It continued in this vein for quite some time. Anon's right eye twitched a bit as the rant rasped through his ears like auditory sandpaper. He carefully slackened his lips to avoid curling them in distaste. Fucking rabbits.
"Up!" commanded Lena, and he stood. They walked down the echoing stone stairs, Lena nodding to coworkers. She went striding across the open floor. Anon trailed after her like a good little subservient duckling, and felt naked under the gaze of so many eyes. The thought of burning the entire building to the ground flashed through his head, and he quelled it. Stray thoughts like that could easily show up on a man's face.
They were through the lobby, and into the stairs leading to the parking garage. More nods from Lena, while Anon primly avoided eye contact. "Up!" she commanded again, and he climbed into the boot, where she cuffed him to the human restraints. "Sit! Lie down!" He obeyed the farcical orders, given because there were still other people around and appearances had to be maintained. Neither spoke until they pulled out onto the road.
"How was your day, honey?" asked Anon. This was another of their rituals. On the way home, he always spoke first, and spoke at his own pace. Another bit of choice given in a world that offered him none.
"Oh, good! We're in front of schedule with the stormwater drain replacements down Baumgart Parade, so we'll likely be able to send that team to fix the leak out near the War Memorial." In the car they always talked as if nothing was wrong with the world. Pretended he hadn't just spent eight hours in a collar literally chained to his desk, with a scant handful of breaks whenever Lena managed to get the door closed and bolted between meetings. It helped mentally bridge the gap between work and home. "Did you get much paperwork done?"
"Nah, we're behind on the FG-108s and they're blocking the rest of the civil request forms."
They nattered on like a married couple, until Lena pulled into the drive. On paper, they technically were married, but neither would feel right sleeping in the same bed until a real priest blessed the union. One of them usually got the couch.
Anon had taken the couch, this time. He woke to the familiar sight of their combined living and dining room, filled with threadbare furniture but lined with his wood carvings and her paintings. He'd begun carving a broken tree branch while he waited for her to finish a piece, years ago when they'd just met, and found he liked it enough to do it even when he wasn't bored out of his mind. None of their work was incriminating—his were mostly little wildlife statues or abstracted figures of people, while hers were pastoral and forest landscapes.
Anon grabbed his shopping list, put on a conservative charcoal overcoat and a turtleneck to hide his collar, stuck his identification in his pocket, and headed out to go shopping. This suburb was for mixed-species couples like themselves, bordering on the human ghetto but with substantially nicer streets and fewer guards. Anon headed past a guard post and into a tight-pressed sea of humanity.
The first stop was at the bakery. A wizened old lady winked at him and patted his hand. "And have you found a nice human girl yet, young Anon?"
"No, Mother Fletcher, still single." God damnit he hated this charade. For some reason known only to her, Mother Fletcher pretended she didn't know where he lived or who he lived with. The old bat was either demented or sadistic. Luckily, her children were more accepting and more reliable.
"You could talk to our Dianne. You're such a lovely young man, always polite, she'd be lucky to have you—and oh, she's such a looker with that brown curly hair of hers. Does her chores, too. I can introduce you."
Dianne had been married for fifteen years and was in her forties with three children. "Maybe we'll meet at a school dance some time, Mother Fletcher," replied Anon, carefully keeping his tone neutral.
"Oh I know, I know, you want to make your own way. I was young once, I remember it all. Well just remember, dearie, there are good girls out there!"
"Thank you, Mother Fletcher."
Luckily, one of her daughters bustled in with Anon's regular bread order, freeing him from Mother Fletcher's continued attempts at conversation. "Sorry for the wait!" she said, grinning and winking. The bread was heavy in his hand, and had a curiously high centre of gravity.
He packed the loaf into his bag and left, the bell on the bakery's door jangling behind him as it shut, then wandered down the street. A couple of bored Doberwomen in army grey made eye contact and began walking towards him. He offered his ID to them, pulled his turtleneck down to show his collar, and stared demurely down at the cobblestone. Somewhere a child was laughing. Pigeons pecked scraps off the ground. Washing was drying overhead, flapping audibly in the breeze. One of the ladies handed his ID back, with an "On your way, Mr. Russet."
Next up was the butcher. "WELL LOOK WHO IT IS! ANON!" boomed a gigantic red-faced man. "Got some good rump steaks in, and some sausages that'll put hairs on your chest. On your wife's, too." The butcher winked at him.
"Thanks, Arnold. Give me a moment to decide," said Anon, wincing internally. Arnold knew about Lena, and even though he was a supportive and generally quite subtle man, his subtlety had a gigantic blind spot when it came to gossiping about the love lives of the ghetto's inhabitants. One of the other customers had already put two and two together and started glaring. Most humans didn't like collaborators, and tended to extend the label to cover any and all interspecies relationships.
"So what'll it be?"
"A nice big slice of the rump steak, and half a kilo of sausages, thanks." Anon had good reason to follow Arnold's tips today, but it paid to follow them anyway. With the way the food supply was going these days, some of the meat was always a little suspect.
"Coming right up!" Arnold disappeared into the back, and returned with a wrapped package.
Anon took the proffered package and walked back home, showing his ID again at the guard post leading to the ghetto. Lena would handle the greengrocer and dairy, since there were nicer ones in the anthro-only suburb opposite theirs, and Anon didn't need to pick up any "extras" from the one in the human enclave.
He settled into the kitchen, removed and rinsed the packages hidden inside the rump steak and a loaf of bread, and began frying up some sausages to go with the leftover vegetables from last night.
The door opened, and Lena walked in with bags full of groceries, wearing a dress and a coat over it.
"Lena, honey! Check it out!" Anon exclaimed, then said more quietly, "Arnold came through. Papers for a courier, with the ministry stamp on them."
"How do you want to do this, love? With papers I can drive us close to the border, but we'll need a way to hide you, and it'll be a long journey through the alps."
"I'm thinking we get a small truck and load it up with cargo, then hide me in the sleeper cab with our packs." He took out the second package, the one that had been stashed inside the loaf of bread, and handed it to her. "Plus, we've got this for insurance. Same model my grandfather had." He turned back to the stove and flipped the sausages, then spooned fat from the pan over them.
Lena took it from him and unwrapped it. Inside was an old single-action revolver with a speedloader and a handful of rounds, each carefully wrapped in fabric to stop them clinking. "We could be executed if we're found with this, you know." Her tail and face both drooped.
"Honey." Anon grabbed her shoulder. "We'll be executed if we're found together carrying fake papers and twenty miles from the border, whether or not we're armed."
"Oh, I know. It's just all getting real now. We've got to do this right."
She put the gun down on their dining table with a complicated expression somewhere between fear and reverence, then turned back to Anon and wrapped her arms around him. He held his forehead to hers. They stood that way for a while, breathing together. Warmth and softness helped armour them against the hard world outside, somehow. He'd do anything not to lose their shared future and to shield her from harm, absolutely anything. They both inhaled at the same time, and he felt her chest move against his. She smelled like apricot shampoo, soap-washed fur, and the lively street outside, with just a hint of ash or smoke.
"The sausages!" Anon yelped, and ran into the kitchen. Lena burst out laughing and followed him in.
They ate the charred sausages together and talked about the neighbourhood and Lena's newest painting, still sitting on an easel that took a corner of the kitchen.
As Anon stood up to clear the dishes, though, the revolver glinted on the table.