I do not own Zootopia, that belongs to Disney. This a fan work made solely for the sake of amusement.
The Translation of Dawn Bellwether
Chapter Twelve: One Moment
By: Gabriel LaVedier
"Do you think that we can affect actual change, as opposed to just whitewashing a disaster area?" Leodore slowly swirled a glass of wine, looking out over the beautiful burnished sands of Sahara Square, watching the eddies of dust swirl in the distance.
The view was magnificent from the top of the Palm Hotel, at the very private and exclusive roof restaurant. It wasn't enough just being mayor and assistant mayor. They were on a government salary, and while both were from affluent backgrounds, they weren't of the 'casually decadent' level. Gazelle's good word had not only gotten them in, but had gotten them comped, a gift they had no problem disclosing to the public following the release of her tour DVD with their interview on it.
Dawn regarded the same landscape, almost losing herself in the bright beauty of the ending day. She had never been there before, so far as she was allowed to remember. He life had diverged so far there were no more direct feelings of deja vu. There was nothing to compare it to. "Well... if that's all we can do... I have to say this is the nicest-looking disaster area that ever existed."
Leodore got a strange look as he watched the wind bow, a kind of half-smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "I know it's a nice place for most folks. But there's a difference between most and all. There should be an acceptable minimum that everyone should enjoy, rather than just making do with 'good enough.' That was part of what the MII was for. I hear that we've had a few court challenges already, which were all decided for the applicant. And there's some buzz from the ZPD training academy about a rabbit entering soon on the MII. If she can make it, that would really prove the need always existed. The qualified can come from anywhere. Anyone really can be anything."
The mention of a rabbit police officer made Dawn wince hard, her hooves almost snapping the stem of her wineglass. That was her. That was the one whose love she had come back to destroy. She hated this unknown figure so much she deserved loneliness and misery. She breathed slowly, focusing on the strange look on Leodore's face. She knew his every mood, and had never seen one so conflicted. "I know it isn't perfect. It's messy and uneven. I think... I think I know why you think it's a disaster." She took a long, slow sip of wine and sighed. "You want to stop the Division Families and you want Happytown to be happy. Because before I met you and actually learned to open my Meadowlands eyes I forgot that it's all clover and cress... for prey. Just being prey made life infinitely easier. I didn't have to get lucky about birth, I just was lucky about that. But even the poorest prey can get on fine. You... lucked into the chance to be powerful."
Leodore continued to look out at the landscape, slowly nodding his head and not noticing that Dawn was gripping the table, her face a fading mask of pain following her comment. "Predators have power, physically, but that's not absolute. An elephant can deal serious damage to a tiger if they choose to. Otters certainly aren't a threat to prey. Meerkats eat bugs by choice and always have, but they're still called predators. Predator and prey can be terrible to each other and their own. Your father certainly demonstrates that."
Dawn had almost forgotten what she had once been. She had hated predators because... the real reason was locked away, her shackled memories trying desperately to fight Morning Star's restrictions, being lashed and chastised by the force keeping them locked. Unable to remember the justification she had told herself, she had only the reality, unvarnished and loosed by her love for Leodore. She had been taught to look down on predators as a whole. They were all loud, clumsy and terrible. She had been taught to be afraid of them, then to distill that fear into hate. "Fear always works..." she whispered, grinding her teeth together in the wake of saying it.
"Dawn! What's the matter?" Leodore turned a concerned look on her, reaching out to cup her face, and turning her face to him.
She had gotten good about swallowing her mental anguish, to ride out the punishment of what she used to be. She sniffed softly and gave a warm smile up at him. "I think I might be allergic to something. My sinuses aren't very happy with me. But it doesn't even rise to the level of a nuisance. I was just saying... he always taught me one thing that I was supposed to keep in my pocket to use if I needed to succeed in a run-off. Fear always works. Make them afraid, turn that to anger, and make sure you, and you alone, are the savior. Wield their fear and anger like a weapon, punish your effigies and never lose sleep over their victimhood."
The sharp tang of blood sprang up, Leodore's fingers curled in to press on his palm pad, his claws sliding out far enough to draw a bit of blood. The flush of anger drained quickly from his features each time a wince crossed his face. "He... he did give me that impression. He seemed like that sort of ram. I didn't want to think that badly of him but he showed all the signs."
Dawn didn't say a word, she just took the napkin off of her lap and pressed it to the bloody claw-pricks on Leodore's paw. "Mother wanted to counteract him. But she finally gave up. She moved in with a second or third cousin somewhere out in the sticks. I used to wonder why she didn't take me. Now I realize that she would have been dragged though a legal nightmare, and never kept custody anyhow. It took years, but now I can admire her for not doing that. Television and movies try to tell folks to just fight no matter what, that it's more noble somehow. But there are real consequences. And if you know that not only can't you win but it will bring too much pain... not fighting is the only solution."
Leodore took the hoof pressing the napkin to his paw and brought his head down to give it a kiss. "Sometimes folks forget that it's fine to be willing to accept that some things aren't going to come out their way, no matter how much they hope. They can try if it only affects them. But once it starts to hurt others, that's when the gambling becomes no longer worth it. It's a balancing act between playing the lottery for a chance at something and putting every last buck on a spin of a wheel."
Dawn sighed and nodded, looking out at the desert again. "We're whitewashing a disaster area. But... you've made it so welcoming, so warm and homey... I don't think even the predators of Happytown care about the disaster part. They just admire how smooth and even the paint is."
"I really don't want that. I want prosperity for everyone, real peace and freedom for predators and prey alike. It's not enough to just ease the way, I want them not to have to worry about things like discrimination and social abandonment. They need to be given help to rise up and reach their potential."
Dawn had been puzzling one thing out, over and over. Morning Star had told her she changed one moment. Not hers. It was clearly Leodore's. One single moment had cascaded out and altered everything in its wake. She wondered how far back the moment was, and just what moment had changed. This Lionheart was so very like the surface the other presented, but he paid off his image. He was style and substance, and even had slightly more dedication to his body, which only really mattered to her, late at night in her apartment.
"I love hearing you talk like that. But it brings to mind a question I've wanted to ask you for a while. Y-you don't have to answer, of course! It's just my own curiosity..."
"You know I don't keep things from you. Ask me anything and I'll tell you the truth, outright and openly."
Dawn bit her lip, chewing thoughtfully as she considered. She always did this, always hesitated at a critical moment because she knew the anticipation was at least something she knew. The unknown was something she feared... and could hate. That made up her mind. "Do you... do you remember any particular, special moment that really made you... you? That made you so dedicated to all this goodness? I mean, of course I love it. It's done so much good. But do you remember the major inspiration?'
Leodore laughed in his usual jolly, booming manner, bringing Dawn's hoof up for another kiss. "It's funny you should ask that. It's a time that stands out so clearly in my mind. I know that if it had been slightly different, well... I wouldn't be here, I'll tell you that. Maybe I'd be some executive but certainly not Mayor of Zootopia."
Mayor... yes, Mayor, but not a good one. An effective one maybe. But not that good. Still attractive, still with something there. But... no, you were never here, never this loved. They could always tell what you were. The other you. They know what this one is, and I think they love you as much as I do. "I'd love to hear that story. It sounds like a real insight into how we got here."
"I discovered a lot of things that day. How to be good, a desire to do the best I could for everyone, a drive to be in politics, and even, maybe a little bit, that I was an Outsider with a focus on sheep. Let me see..."
For young Leodore Lionheart, it was a fantastic day. He was off from school for the summer, and he was alone in the large condo he called home. His mother taught at a Year-Round school, and his father was, as ever, pushing papers at work, making the money that made the condo possible.
He had considered going outside to play, as the neighborhood had a good mix of other affluent predators and prey who were not opposed to hanging out with predators. His consideration was halted by what he had seen on television the other night. A commercial for a day of short cartoons on the Musculus Channel had showed a lion and a lot of sheep, including sheep around his age. Something about that had made him very interested. Ewes always seemed so nice and pretty and soft. He loved watching shows and cartoons with ewes in them.
A honey badger maid had been in and out, keeping an eye on him, making snacks and lunch, all the usual things. But for the most part he was left to his own devices. He was usually a slight handful, but never too much. On that day, he was a perfect cub.
All his attention had been focused on the television all day, anticipating the cartoon about sheep and a lion. The rest of them were nice, usually very funny with lots of good music. But they were about things like mice and wolves and pigs. They weren't what he wanted.
"Leodore! Have you been a good cub?" His mother's voice rang around the condo like a bell. Gwendolyn Lionheart was a tall, lovely lioness with stunning snow white fur. Her blue eyes marked her as leucistic, not albino, the condition seeming to have skipped her son's generation. She set down an attache case and strolled into the large living room, hanging up a gray jacket and leaving her in her white shirt and gray dress.
"Yes! I've just been watching cartoons all day," Leodore said, not even turning to look at her.
"Is that so. They must be very interesting if you've kept quiet and still all this time," Gwendolyn said with a smile, sitting down on the couch with her son and giving him a hug.
"I've been waiting for..." The comment ended when music started to play and he saw a title card that read Lambert the Sheepish Lion. "Oooh! This! I've been waiting for this."
"More sheep. You certainly do like sheep, don't you, Leodore?" Gwendolyn inquired, settling close to her son and slightly shaking her head at the title that had passed. It was an earlier time, and the term was never terrible, but it had grown so much less common, for the best.
"Uh-huh! Sheep are really nice. There's a ewe lamb in my class and she says 'hi' to me but I just can't talk to her," Leodore replied, watching the credits pass.
Gwendolyn thought on the matter while she sat and watched the cartoon with her son. She had to hold him tight when some of the scenes got a little rough. A lion cub was adopted by a ewe in a sheep community, and the poor fellow never fit in, being an outsider who just couldn't get anything culturally sheep-like right. He couldn't play the hard-tackling games the way they did, he didn't bleat, he ate bugs in his grass, the young ewes laughed at him, the young rams bullied him.
Finally, when they were all out together, a dangerous wolf with a knife stuck up Lambert's mother. The rams that had been so tough all ran off in a panic. When Lambert heard the cries of his mother he unleashed his inner lion, roaring so loudly he stunned the thuggish wolf, knocking him unconscious with a headbutt then calling the police from a payphone. That had endeared him to the other sheep.
Leodore rested against his mother's side, seeming deep in thought about what he had just seen. "Mom?"
"Why did all those sheep treat Lambert like that? He wasn't hurting anyone, he just wanted to be friends..."
"Well, dear... sometimes mammals are... just not polite. They get angry about things, they don't like things, especially things that are different from them. It's not right, of course. But it happens. The important thing is to be like Lambert. Don't give in to anger or be too sad. You have to remember that they might not understand things. Maybe they never met anyone that was different. You can certainly tell someone about it, but remember that it's never your fault, others just sometimes don't know how to feel about things that are different."
Leodore thought about his mother's words for a long time. "You mean, just wait and they'll learn to be nice?"
"Sometimes. But sometimes you can show them. Be an example, keep being friendly, always look for good, always do good for everyone possible. If you're a good mammal, inside and out, it shows, and others will respond to it. But did you see something else in the cartoon?"
"Lambert was different. There was only one lion in all those sheep. He wasn't like the others so he stood out, and that made them be mean to him. When there are are few of some kind of mammal, or they're small and weak compared to others, they get excluded from things. That hurts them, especially when they could be just as good as the others, and they're left out for no reason at all. Lambert was sad about being left out, wasn't he?"
Leodore nodded. "He tried really hard and he got good at stuff, they just didn't let him try. But he saved his mom! That was great."
Gwendolyn smiled and gave Leodore a kiss on the head. "Yes, that was great. He showed that even if you're afraid, you have to do the right thing. You show how noble you are by doing the right thing even if it's hard. Doing the right thing because that's what's important is so essential in life. I know you'll always do the right thing, Leodore, that you'll always be a good lion. Maybe you can do things that scare you. Like... say 'hi' back to that lamb."
Leodore giggled a little bit in his mother's embrace, stopping when the door opened and his father's voice boomed through the condo. "What a miserable drive! How do things like this happen?"
"Something the matter, darling?" Gwendolyn asked.
"You're home earlier than I thought. I'm always here before you."
"It was the strangest thing. We ended the day early because of a scheduled maintenance thing, and when I got on the road the traffic was smooth as silk. I may have sped a little but I didn't hit a single slowdown or see any ZPD traffic cops."
"It was the total opposite for me. The big boss Taka dropped extra work on me toward the end of the day, and I finished up a little later than usual. I thought a few minutes wouldn't make a big difference but I had nothing but snags and snarls the whole way back. I should have been here at least twenty minutes ago."
"Well, now you're here. I'll whip up something nice for supper. The cook can take the night."
The elder Lionheart shook his head and ruffled his son's mane. "You have fun today, champ? Get out and play and network?"
"Nah, I watched some cartoons, and even watched one with mom."
"Well, she's indulgent like that but, hard to be upset about that," he said, watching his wife smoothly glide through cooking prep in the kitchen, visible through the large open space past the bar-like seating area, which was the sink on the other side of the half-wall. "Never mind that, let's go watch her work some food magic."
Leodore smiled and happily hopped off the couch, rushing off to scrabble onto one of the high, swiveling chairs at the bartop area and standing on it, to watch his mother cook.
"I actually did say hello to that nice lamb ewe. Wanda was the name, I believe. Heard she married well and that's fantastic for her," Leodore said, a thoughtful look crossing his features.
So many things swirled in Dawn's head. It all made sense. She recalled that cartoon. It really did have all those messages. And his kind-hearted mother had helped awaken him to those messages. One moment. One moment with his kind mother had turned him into a lion she could love. "You said your father usually got home first?
"Wasn't that strange? Worked out great, though. He usually caught all the breaks driving home, and got off before mom did. Not that I'm complaining! Ah, I love the guy but he probably would have given me some spiel about... power leveraging, weakness being punished with ridicule, keeping up appearances of force, being tough all the time like Lambert in the end, where he had respect. I don't think he would have gotten it."
One moment. One, singular, vital moment. Morning Star dropped paperwork on a businessman and snarled traffic for him. She gave a teacher a short day and a smooth ride home. With his mother there, he became... her Leodore. "I should watch that cartoon again. I recall it had nice messages but if it was such an influence on you, well, it certainly did a great thing." She thought for a moment, redness passing over the exposed parts of her face. "Would it be weird if... I called you... Lambert?" He would never accept, never.
"I don't know if I'm worthy of such a heroic and kind name, but if you feel like it, then by all means do it. Maybe in private. I like being open and honest with the public, but we should have our own, private things, little secrets that are ours and ours alone, like all couples do."
She lightly clinked her glass with his and smiled. "Let's be Lambert. Do good, even if it seems scary and impossible. Do it because it seems scary and impossible but is absolutely the right thing to do. This is the good kind of gamble, right?"
"If we lose, we only hurt ourselves and we know it. If we succeed, we enrich everyone in the city and lift up those on the outside looking in. We'll make this city listen to good ideas and get it to do the right thing. No more whitewashing a disaster area. Now, we clean up, repair and make it a peaceful, beautiful place."
"A risk worth taking," Dawn said with a nod, sipping her wine and completely ignoring the objections of her mind.