Patience is a virtue, and you people are the best! Thank you for sticking with me, and to new readers who has come here from Zootopia news network: Welcome! I did wonder why my reader stats suddenly peaked, what a lovely surprise!

Chap. 16: Lone wolf

Mary put her toothbrush back in her duffle bag before sipping it up with a hurried eagerness. The doctor had given her the all clear to drive, and with Gideon awake, there was no question as to where she would drive first.

Flinging the bag over her shoulder, she closed the door to her old room in her parent's house behind her. She was aching to get to her car and drive back to Central. The visiting hours would begin in less than an hour, and she intended to be there on the dot.

As she turned the corner to begin descending the stairs, the sight of her mother at the bottom of the stairs made her slow down. Susan had a concerned look on her face and her hooves buried in the front pocket of her apron.

"Mary, can we talk to you for a moment?"

Even though she was well into her twenties, the demanding voice of her mother still made Mary nervous. Her father was standing behind her, looking rather uncomfortable.

"Ok…" she said, shouldering her bag. "Is it gonna take long? I promised to pick up Travis in time for hospital visiting hours"

Her parents shared a concerned glance, and Mary knew from the way her mother sucked her cheeks that she had found the motivation behind this staircase intervention.

"Look, Mary" her mother begun. "I know you are grateful he saved your life, believe us; we are too. But these frequent visits-"
Her mother nodded her head at her father, encouraging him to join the conversation. Bill cleared his throat.

"Sweetie, we know you, and we know you'd never do anything inappropriate, but there's talk in town and-"

"We just don't want to see you hurt" her mother offered.

"What talk?" Mary tried to sound unassuming, but she knew very well where this conversation was heading.

"That you and that fox-"
"Gideon" Mary corrected.

"- Gideon, are, well"
"Romantically involved" her mother helpfully completed.

Marry swallowed, looking from her mother to her father. This was probably as good as a chance she was ever going to get to break it to them gently. She felt like she was ten years old again, coming home late for dinner and having to explain that she and Judy had lost track of time. She took a deep breath, knowing that what she was about to say was probably going to stir up a storm.

"Mom, dad-"

"Sweetie, you don't need to explain yourself" Bill interrupted comfortingly, laying a hoof on his wife's shoulder. "Your mother and I are not accusing you of anything"

"Oh heavens, no" her mother chimed in. "But we thought you needed to hear this from us, before there is permanent damage to your reputation"

"What?" Mary blinked, looking at her mother in disbelief.

"Well, you are a teacher Mary, responsible for a lot of impressionable young children. You understand that if this rumour gets to spread freely-"

"The rumour that Gideon and I are a couple?" Mary said, feeling a new flash of rebelliousness.

Her mother got a disgusted look on her face, her mouth shrinking as Mary spoke.

"Yes, appalling and absolutely ridiculous as it is"

"What we are trying to say here sweetie, is that maybe you shouldn't visit him as often as you do. I understand that you want to show your gratitude, but best not fuel the fire, so to speak" her father explained.

"Thank you for your concern" Mary said, feeling her jaw tighten. "But I do what I want, regardless of small town gossip"

It was a line that would have been better suited for Judy, but Mary felt that it for once applied to her as well. She would not let anything come between her and Gideon, not now that she had him back. But the courage to tell her parents had left her with their reveal of what they would think of the match.

She knew she was just prolonging the inevitable, but she could feel the frustration and disappointment beginning to ball up at the back of her throat, threatening to make her cry. Mary quickly stepped past her parents, hurrying out to her car.

Bill and Susan was left baffled at the bottom of the staircase by their daughter's uncharacteristic behaviour. Watching Mary drive down the driveway, Susan hooked her arm in her husband's arm. Bill gave her hoof a comforting pat, but was not able to shake the feeling that there was something he was not seeing.

Travis could tell Mary had been crying, and recently too, though he did not mention it. They spent the drive to Tri-Central in complete and relatively comfortable silence, only broken by the muted songs playing on the radio.

Travis figured his own bloodshot eyes were beginning to look prominent anyway, and was grateful for everyone who did not comment on the fact that he looked like he needed sleep. It was not as if he did not try, but every night ended up in the same way, with him smoking cigarettes through his bedroom window.

The hospital hallways seemed endless as usual, with nurses and doctors hurriedly walking past them. Here and there, medical trolleys and seemingly random seating groups with coffee machines broke the white monotony.

When they began to walk down the hallway that led to Gideon's room, Mary almost began to run, forcing Travis to pick up his pace to keep up.

As Mary and Travis entered his room, Gideon sat up in his bed, which in itself was great progress. Mary practically jumped into his lap, taking him by surprise. Not that he would ever complain, but Mary was usually very cautious when visiting him now, after Nick and Judy walked in on them the first time.

Gideon gently put his arm around her, sending Travis a questioning look in hope for some explanation. Travis just shrugged, careful to close the door behind him. His friend had been caught red handed twice, and there was not going to be third time as long as he had something to do with it.

"My parents" Mary explained, leaning into the good side of his chest with a sig.

"You told 'em?" Gideon asked a little surprised.

"Almost, but they- they warned me that there was talk in town, and I shouldn't go visit you so often, because it gave the "wrong impression" "

"Oh" Gideon breathed. They had known that was one of the most likely reactions, but it still did not stop him from feeling disheartened by it.

"Appalling was the word my mom used" Mary added bitterly, feeling Gideon's paw soothingly stroking over the curls on her head.

By the door, Travis leaned against the wall, looking down on his feet. He was not surprised; he had known from the start what kind of reception this kind of relationship would get in these parts.

"I'm sorry, I should've told them right there, but I just took off" Mary apologised. "I'm such a coward" she mumbled.

"No darlin', if there's one thing you ain't, it's a coward" Gideon said, placing a careful kiss on her forehead.

Mary smiled up at him with sad eyes, she wondered if she would ever get the courage to tell her parents, or anyone else for that matter. Maybe it was just as well that the rumour got to spread freely, it saved her the trouble of actually telling anyone. Still, she would have to deal with a couple of confrontations, and with how she had handled the one with her parents, she doubted those would go any better.

"There's someone comin' " Travis said, his ears angled on his head. Sure enough, Mary could hear steady footsteps approaching the door.

Mary quickly slipped down from the bed just as the new visitors knocked on the door, hurriedly straightening her shirt.

"Morning country folk!" Nick greeted as he entered the room behind Judy, who were carrying a basket with warm cinnamon buns. Upon seeing Mary standing at an awkward distance from Gideon's bed, trying to look inconspicuous, Nick could not help but chuckle.

"I ain't seeing what's funny here" Travis mumbled at the fox's back, not liking his attitude even if he had only heard him speak one sentence.

Nick's ears perked up at the unexpected voice behind him, and turned to find a lanky ferret in worn jeans and baggy T-shirt leaning against the wall by the door. The dark, almost black fur around his eyes made the bloodshot veins on his sleep-deprived eyeballs stand out even more.

"Well Slinky" Nick said, ignoring the slight twitch in the ferret's upper lip. "Those two are trying to act like there's nothing going on here" Nick nodded towards Gideon and Mary. "But any fox can smell what's really happening when no-ones looking" he added with a suggestive smile.

"Ya need ta watch your tongue Slick" Travis spat back, matching the name-calling.

"Ok! Nick, why don't you find us some coffee? Hmm?" Judy quickly intervened before things could get out of hand.

"Is that an order Officer Hopps?" Nick asked, never losing his slightly teasing tone of voice.

"It may become one" Judy said, crossing her arms. Though she would never admit it, she enjoyed that she was Nick's senior officer, especially since he was older than she was.

"Right, coffee it is. I guess Slinky here takes his black and bitter" Nick said while shooting Travis a sideways glance, making the ferret sneer.

Nick turned towards Gideon and Mary with a questioning look on his face.
"Uhm, milk please" Mary said, a little taken aback. "And two sugars for him"

Nick raised a suggestive eyebrow at the fact that Mary knew how Gideon took his coffee, but managed to keep from commenting on how coffee typically was an early morning beverage.

"So, how are you feeling?" Judy asked as soon as Nick was out of the door.

"Stressed, to be honest" Gideon chuckled. "Bakery's been closed for a week now, and I haven't started preparing for neither Halloween or the Harvest festival, or the Christmas Market for that matter!"

"Gid, no one's expecting ya ta do all 'at" Travis said, his shoulders relaxing again now that Nick had left the room.

"Maybe not, but at's when I make most during the year. I can't skip it" he sighed. "Honest, I don't know if I'll have time for it all. The Christmas market I guess I'll manage, but the Harvest Festival and Halloween? Not a chance if I have ta stay in bed all day"

"But you have Elliot to help you out?" Judy offered, knowing her cousin would gladly step up to the task if he got the chance.

"Nah, he's a good kid, sure. But he ain't able ta run things alone" Travis said. "I'll help him clear up, if he haven't already" he offered.

"And I'll come by after work every day when you open again, help as much as I can" Mary promised, giving his paw a light squeeze.

Gideon's first thought was to insist that they did not have to go out of their way to help him out, but he changed his mind. It would be easier with a little help after closing, preparing the frostings and such. He knew from experience that Elliot would need someone to tell him what to do before he got to it himself. True, as Travis said he was a good kid, worked hard as long as someone told him what to work hard on.

"Thank you" he said instead. "That really means a lot ta me guys"

"It's no trouble" Mary said, mimicking Gideon's usual response. The twinkle in her blue eyes as she said it made Gideon smile. The last week had not allowed for much humour, and he sorely needed it.

"Don't mention it" Travis shrugged, not wanting to make a big deal out of it.

A soft knock on the door drew their attention. Mary took an appropriate step back from Gideon's bed, folding her hooves on her back as the rust-coloured head of Nurse Tracy poked through their door.

"Is this a bad time? I just need to check on your stiches" She asked politely.

"Not at all" Gideon smiled. He had grown to like Tracy best of all the nurses during his stay. She was polite but effective, never wanting to engage in useless small talk and always acted respectful. Unlike some of the other nurses that who either talked too much or was so nervous when tending to a predator that their paws shook uncontrollably.

"Rather crowded in here today" Tracy remarked, shooting Judy and Mary friendly looks.

"Nice to see you again Mr. Mustela" she said politely as she passed Travis.
"Mornin'" Travis managed, careful to keep his eyes on the floor in front of him.

Tracy elegantly scaled the small stepladder by Gideon's bed. She was wearing a small satchel with rubber gloves and extra bandages, which allowed her to have her paws free when tending to larger mammals. She quickly got to work on checking the stiches at the back of Gideon's head and on his chest, carefully applying pressure to the sides of the wounds to see if the stiches still held.

"This looks very good" Tracy said as she put the gauze back over the healing gashes.

"Any chance of getting out 'little afore my time Nurse?" Gideon asked, the endless to-do list that had to be completed before the Harvest Festival running through his mind.

"I can't promise anything Mr. Grey, but doctor Erasmuson seemed very positive" Gideon kept his eyes on the squirrel-nurse expectantly. "Maybe already this Monday" she finally added.

"That's great news" Judy smiled at Mary, who quickly nodded, trying her best to seem just the right amount of happy. Just happy enough for a friend or acquaintance, but not as happy as a girlfriend would be.

"As I said; I can't promise anything, but you look to be healing well" Tracy repeated as she climbed down the small ladder.

As she passed by Travis on her way to the sink, her tail brushed against his arm and shoulder, making the poor ferret go rigid. Thankfully, no one noticed as Nick chose that moment to barge back into the room.

"I have returned victorious in my quest!" Nick exclaimed as he entered the room, pushing the door open with his elbow. Tracy, who were washing her hands, looked up in surprise as the second fox entered with bravado.

Nick held a tray of coffee cups from the cafeteria in his paws, and before Judy managed to draw his attention to the nurse by the sink, he had started handing out coffees.

"Officer Hopps" He said with a mock bow as he handed Judy her coffee, before working his way through the room.

"Slinky" He said with a smirk. Travis snatched the coffee from him, almost spilling it. He wanted to give the smooth- talking city fox a piece of his mind, but managed to bite his tongue. The only thing that held him back was the fact that Tracy was within earshot.

"Here you go Gid" Nick continued, handing Gideon his cup with a wink. "Black 'n sweet, just how you like 'em"

Travis promptly chocked on his coffee, sending him into a coughing fit. Mary's nose was gradually turning cherry red, and Gideon's mouth hung open as he tried to figure out a response.

"Hahaha! Foxes and their inside jokes, am I right" Judy nervously laughed, directing Nick's attention towards the slightly confused Nurse Tracy.

Nick's face only showed his surprise for a split second, and Judy doubted anyone but her noticed how the expression crossed over his face before it was replaced by a calm smile and hooded eyes. The Slick-Nick face, as she had come to call it.

"I'm so sorry Nurse, I didn't see you!" He strode over, a paw to his chest in feigned embarrassment. "How absolutely rude off me"

"I'm Officer Nickolas Wilde, but please call me Nick" he managed to sound just the right amount of flirty, holding the nurse's smaller paw in a very gentle handshake. "And what do I call you, Miss?"

"Tracy" she replied. Judy could swear she saw the squirrel blushing.
"And I know who you are, Offic- I mean Nick" she corrected as Nick shot her a playful half-smile. "It's quite the honour to meet you"

"The honour is all mine" Nick replied smoothly. "You have probably saved more lives already through your work than I ever will"

Behind them, Judy rolled her eyes. If he kept up these clichés, he might as well run for office.

"Well, I do my best" Tracy smiled, straightening her back proudly.
"And we are forever grateful for your efforts" Nick said, laying his other paw over hers, which he was still holding in the handshake.

Travis felt his upper lip twitch as Tracy beamed up at the fox towering above her, looking at him as if he was some kind of hero. Which, though Travis did not want to admit it, he was. His stupid smirking face had been all over the news together with Judy back after the Night howler affair. Travis had not thought twice about him back then, even been happy on Gideon's behalf that a fox was shown doing something good for once.

Now however, he wanted to punch that fox right in the face.

"I'll have to get back on my rounds, but it was nice seeing you all" Tracy excused, sending everyone in the room a quick smile. Travis barley managed to lose his scowl before Tracy's eyes met his as she gave him a quick smile and nod.

As the door closed behind her, everyone in the room let go of collective sigh of relief, though one for a different reason than the others.

"Heard from the tech guys yet?" Fangmyre asked, looking up from the crime scene photos taken at the campsite by the county border.

"It's been under 24 hours, not even our techs work that fast" Wolford replied, irked by his partner's impatience.

"Hmpf" Fangmyre sniffed. "Any movement at the stakeout then?"
"For crying out loud Fang, I briefed you on that fifteen minutes ago: Nothing!" Wolford sighed, throwing his paws over his head.

"Do you want me to call Delegato and ask if anything new has happened in the past fifteen minutes? Mh?" He challenged the tiger sitting across from him.

Fangmyre threw the photos down in frustration, before pinching the bridge of his broad nose.
"No, no, Sorry Wolf. I just feel like they're slipping away from us, you know?"

Wolford shrugged, loosening his already loose tie.
"Don't see where they'd slip away to. If, as we suspect, we are talking about two large arctic wolves on one motorcycle, one of them badly injured and unconscious… Well, they're not exactly inconspicuous. And it's barely been a week yet"

Wolford threw a glance at the folded calendar hanging on the wall right under the - he suspected antique- clock. As he wondered if he could just as well discharge of his tie completely, the old goat from the reception came huffing through the door to the office area.

Mrs. Clover was well beyond her retirement years, but that was a fact that both she and the rest of the Tri- Burrow police department completely ignored. Fangmyre had made an offhand comment that the old goat probably had come with the building.

Now she was hurrying over to the two city cops with such haste that her reading glasses which hung in a silver chain around her neck, bounced on her chest.

"Officers!" She huffed, coming to a stop against their shared desk while clutching a hoof to her chest.

"We just got a call from Yellow-Med"

"Yellow-what?" Wolford asked.

"Yellowmeadow Medical Hospital, sir"

"Quite the mouthful" Wolford remarked.

"Yes, please carry on" Fangmyre prompted, sending Wolford an annoyed glance.

"Two wolves matching the APB came into the emergency room this morning; one of them just came out of surgery"

"And they didn't think to call us before NOW?!" Fangmyre roared, jumping out of his chair. The other officers in the office, mostly herbivores, looked up nervously. "It's almost noon!"

"Local police are already on the scene sir" Mrs. Clover added calmly, impressively not even slightly fazed by the angry tiger now towering above her. Wolford had to hand it the old goat. He was impressed.

"Wolf!" Fangmyre had already brushed past Mrs. Clover on his way out. Wolford quickly picked up his uniform jacket, giving the old goat a quick nod as he rushed after his partner.

"Sirens?" He asked as they jogged across the parking lot.

"Yes! I swear if we're trapped behind some tractor…"

"Can I drive?" Wolford could not keep his tail from wagging excitedly.

"Absolutely not" Fangmyre had already jumped into the driver's seat, flipping the switch in the roof that controlled the red and blue police lights.

A donkey in a deputy uniform greeted the two ZPD officers as they approached the hospital room the bunny at the front desk had directed them to.

"G'day officers" he got up from the folded chair he had been sitting on. "They're in here"

"What?" Fangmyre said in disbelief. "You have both suspects in the same room?"

"Well, not alone 'course" the deputy said, not seeing the problem. "Two of our own officers be in there with 'em, and the big 'un is out cold anyways" he shrugged.

"I can't believe this" Fangmyre muttered as he passed the donkey, opening the door into the hospital room.

Inside the small room, the bed took up most of the space. Maybe Rex had been unconscious the last time the deputy had checked on him, but he was awake now. His cold yellow eyes studied the room he was in, noting every detail. As soon as Fangmyre and Wolford entered the room, his head spun over to face them, his face cold and expressionless.

At the foot of the bed. Two ram officers were standing at each side of a seated Dexter. The young wolf looked like he had not slept or showered in days. Some nurse had taken pity in him and tried to clean his wounded ear, but it had already began to heal and would probably scar badly. Fangmyre realised that the young wolf had nothing on under his jacket. It had probably been his shirt they had found in the fire, burned after he had tried to use it as a bandage on his boss' wound.

Dexter's paws lay handcuffed in his lap, which made Fangmyre mutter some inaudible curse. Any rookie in the ZPD knew that larger mammals, and especially predators, should always be handcuffed with paws on their back.

"Thank you officers" he said in his most authoritative voice. "We'll take him from here"

As they walked over to retrieve the Dexter, there was a clatter from the hospital bed as Rex tried to sit up. The handcuffs secured him tightly, making it impossible for him to move much.

He glared at the young wolf as the tiger officer led him towards the door. Rex smugly noted that the two ram officers still stood at a safe distance from the bed, eyeing him nervously.

"Boss…" Dexter began, trying to approach the bed as he passed, but the other officer, timber wolf, if Rex was not mistaken, held out a paw to stop him.

"You brought me to a hospital? You idiot!" Rex snarled at Dexter, who seemed like he would have backed away again had not the tiger held him in place.

"You-you would've died boss" Dexter tried to explain.

"I'd rather die riding free, and you know it!" Rex snarled at the young wolf. "But you'd have me die collared and caged instead?"

"No, never, I-"

"You betrayed me" Rex spat, before adding in a lowered voice: "You betrayed your pack"

Wolford could feel the fur on his neck beginning to stand up. He suddenly became very aware that he was in the presence of an Alpha. True, this was not his Alpha, and a criminal none the less, but Rex seemed to tower over them even as he lay shackled to the bed.

"No boss, I swear-" Dexter tried to take a step closer to the bed again, only to be held back by Fangmyre.

"Don't you boss me! I raised you boy!" Rex snarled, straining against the handcuffs once again. Then, a dark cloud of determination settled over his forehead. His snarl disappeared, instead replaced by a cold, almost stoic expression. His ears still lay flat against his skull, his eyes cold and merciless on Dexter.

Dexter seemed to recognise the expression, because he tensed and slowly began to shake his head.

"No" he croaked. "No, boss please"

Fangmyre glanced over to Wolford to see if he could get some indication on what was going on, but his partner seemed just as transfixed on Rex as Dexter was.

"I'm not your Alpha, you have no Alpha" Rex began.

Fangmyre noticed Wolford closing his eyes for a brief second, before turning his attention back to the room. Dexter's reaction was immediate, the desperation making his voice pitch several octaves.

"No! Please! I'll do anything!"

"You have no pack, you have no home"

"No" Dexter whimpered as Rex continued the incantation.

Wolford tried to keep a straight face, but knew his discomfort showed. He had only ever read the words, never heard them spoken aloud. Yet he knew the words by heart. He suspected there was not a wolf on this earth that did not.

"You are a lone wolf, and alone you will roam"

The last sentence hung in the room as Dexter almost sunk to the floor. Fangmyre's strong paws was the only thing holding him up at that moment.

The two ram officers watched the whole scene in confusion, not quite understanding what they had just witnessed. Silence filled the room for several long seconds; Dexter's quiet sobs the only sound cutting through the silence.

"Come on" Wolford finally muttered. Putting a paw on the young wolf's shoulder, he led both him and a slightly confused Fangmyre out of the room.

"What just happened back there?" Fangmyre asked after they had put the now docile Dexter in the back of the police cruiser.

Wolford looked up at the bleak blue sky, letting out a long breath. "He got banished from the pack"

"Huh" Fangmyre scratched the underside of his chin. "Well, being banished from a crime ring might turn out to be good thing in the long run, don't you think" he added with a crooked smile.

"It's not just The Pack, Fang" Wolford sighed, turning his eyes back to his partner. "It's his pack, and their territory. He can never return to it, never contact anyone in the pack. I don't know all the members in this particular pack, but it wouldn't surprise me if it includes several of his family members" Wolford glanced back at the cruiser, pity shining through his usually carefree demeanour.

"The lad just experienced about the worst a wolf can experience. He probably lost every friend he's ever had in a matter of seconds"

Fangmyre gave a low whistle. "I didn't know you guys still did that"

"Traditions, call it what you want. You don't mess with your pack, and there are some lines that should never be crossed."

Fangmyre nodded, but he honestly thought the whole thing sounded positively medieval.

"Don't you guys have something similar, like a pride or whatever?" Wolford asked, trying to lighten the mood.

"That's lions" Fangmyre said dryly.

"What's the difference really" Wolford muttered, knowing very well what reaction that comment would result in.

"Don't you start that again…" Fangmyre said, only managing to sound half- threatening.

"Just saying, stripes, manes, what's the big dea-OW!" Wolford exclaimed as Fangmyre's strong paw collided with his shoulder, though not nearly hard enough to knock him over.

"Come on, we need to get this one locked up, and get a special transfer out here for the boss" Fangmyre patted Wolford on his shoulder, before walking around the parked cruiser.

As they drove back towards The Burrows to finalise the paperwork allowing them to bring Dexter back to precinct one, Wolford kept glancing up at the young wolf in the rear view mirror.

Dexter was staring blankly at his handcuffs, tears silently flowing from his eyes. His left ear hung in tatters and the fur under his biker jacket was grimy and dirty. At that moment, Wolford did not see a cold-hearted gang-member, but a teenager that had suddenly lost everything that gave his life meaning.

Travis put the last refilled container of sugar back on the shelf, taking a final look around the bakery's kitchen. Out in the front Elliot was running a cloth over the tables, turning down the chairs and making sure all the candles were new.

Travis could not think of anything else he could do, and pulled the list Gideon had scribbled down out of his back pocket. They had refilled all the containers, cleaned every appliance. Short of picking up the new flour delivery at the mill, they had checked off every item.

"Right, I'm off" He said as he walked around the counter. "I'll get the flour at the mill ta-morrow, drop it off here after work"

"Great! Thank you Mr. Travis" Elliot beamed. Travis did not even bother to correct him; he guessed that if Gideon could not make the kid stop calling him boss, Travis should be content that he at least used his first name.

As he made his way to the front door, he rummaged through his unfamiliar jeans for his pack of cigarettes. Instead, he pulled out a small white business card that made him stop in his tracks for a moment.

Elliot watched curiously as the ferret held the card in his paw, caressing his thumb across it, seemingly deep in thought. Then, with an audible scoff, he closed his fist around it, crunching the card into a ball before tossing it in the nearby dustbin.

"See ya kid"
Travis gave Elliot a quick wave over his shoulder, pulling the pack of cigarettes from his other pocket. He lit one up on his way out the door, drawing the smoke all the way to the bottom of his lungs before slowly letting it go. He really needed to get some sleep soon.

The Pack banishment:

I am not your Alpha, you have no Alpha
You have no pack, you have no home
You are a lone wolf, and alone you will roam.