[AN Supposedly work will be calming down a bit in the next few weeks/into early next year - this should make my updates more timely.

This chapter is back to more of a mix of story lines of the conference room, Nick and Bonnie out to town, and Judy around the burrows sans fox. ]

[AN Review Comments

Matri, Starfang's Secrets, mici03: =D

GusTheBear: Nadine is going to have a...reaction...as she works through in her head what just happened...or what seems to have happened. =D

Thomas Linquist: I did do a little bit of paw-waving and over-simplification on the old laws vs. the new laws although I think something like that would have to exist in such a society and with how they evolved. Millions of years of instincts (even moreso than for humans) will be right under the surface...they cannot help but show at times...and species focused old laws seem to make since as the societies were slowly forming.

HighGSplat (older chapter review): It's implied and a 'yes but' since everything could be written another way. So...probably. :) There is a pattern to the self-conversations - the main character will always have just said or done something and then the first line of the self-convo is always the inner voice - but it does take a little bit to get used to.

DrummerMax64: Well WildeHopps is married (technically) so WolfEyer being engaged would make sense according to Carl's Chaos Bomb theory. 1st order explosion, triggering a secondary explosion, and so on. I'm glad the culture bits are working. Piecing them out flows (to me at least) since while Ralph knows some of it and Nadine knows some of it they've never really looked into each other's culture in detail...so for them to understand what's happening there needs to be some small amount of explanation or they'd be even more confused. Same for the other mammals in the room.

I think I am dim: It is confusing and contradictory - perhaps too much. And she absolutely has seemed to be switching sides. Some explanation for that is in this chapter in a Bonnie/Nick discussion.

Question: Last chapter should have been a standard mix with some key developments on the WildeHopps side - it simply didn't flow. This chapter returns to a normal mix.

Hewhoislost: High Templar is a good analogy - with hints and implications scattered throughout the formality.

Gallantmon228: Bogo is, to some extent, the only mammal who's "figured out" what's going on...and even he doesn't believe it. Everyone else is still in coincidence land. =D

ConfusedGoatee: I sent some PM's on this a bit ago. I do research animal behaviors, capabilities (eyesight, sense of smell, etc.) and then try to bring it forward into an evolved context. I certainly take some liberties but I try to start from a base to ground my thinking and then let my imagination take over.

AcidArms: Glad to have helped!

Shiso Kitsune: Exactly. Imagine how much Nadine's (and every other characters) heads are spinning at the moment.

Robert Escher: It's fun to think about and to experiment with. That line from Mr. Big in the movie resonated strongly with me. It's reminded me of the veneer of civilization you hear talked about for human societies - only in the Zootopia context that instinctive/primal behavior is even closer to the surface given their biology...so what would it turn into? The behaviors/wiring are there so it would manifest somehow. And LOL!

JKnight97: The open portion between Sarah and Mistress Wolford as well as the ending have a bit of the same effect on me (goosebumps) even though I wrote it. There's an implied...force...presence...whatever you call it behind the ritualism and the seriousness with which they treat it. It's also completely contrary to their everyday speech - e.g. how Sarah was chatting with them in the car that also makes it a bit jarring when you aren't expecting it. Like Nadine wasn't.

CAPTAINPRICE79: Did I? Yes, yes I did. =D

Fox in the hen house: Well if WildeHopps are married, and WolfEyer are engaged, then KaraCarl must be dating, right? Boom. Or Doomed! Whichever you prefer. =D

FortressMaximus: Welcome to the story and thank you! That description of Bogo is exactly the tone I'm going for with his character. It's the dreading of what's next/too fast/etc.

]


Bonnie had parked the pickup a short distance from the center of town. They were walking, silently and side-by-side, towards one of the few stores in town that serviced predators

Nick was still working through the discussions they had - both of them - in the truck.

There sure are a lot of bunnies here.
...
And the weather is quite nice. Not too warm. Not too cold.
...
Are you going to sulk all day?
I'm debating.
Technically I never did lie about anything.
...
Worst case you could say you hustled yourself.
...
And seriously...did you really never wonder about how almost every hustle you did worked?
...
You could have easily put together a list for yourself.
...
You chose not to do it. You wrote it off to skill and your ability to charm. It is a little egotisti-
Fine. Fine. I get it.
Really?

Nick snorted and shook his head. Bonnie glanced a question at him and he just smiled and pointed at his head. Didn't I do that yesterday with Judy too? Bonnie nodded and smiled back as they continued walking.

There had been some whispered conversations between other bunnies on the street and more than a few glances in their direction as they walked. Overall though the walk had been mostly uneventful. He almost missed the headlines and photos in the newspaper in the vending machine as they walked past it. Wait. Can't be. Could it? I didn't just see that did I? He halted mid-step and turned back to look again. Oh no. They...WolfEyer?

She felt the change in the tod next to her instantly. He's...panicked? What? She stopped and walked back to stand next to him looking at him as looked at the paper on display. A photo of a wolf and a tiger were next to a photo of her daughter and Nick.

Nick's ears went flat. "That's...Wolford and Fangmeyer."

Bonnie looked more closely at the paper. "They're the officers who walked you out of the museum aren't they?"

He nodded, still staring at the paper. "They work at precinct one. We bumped into them yesterday morning." What have we done?

I guess that 50/50 happened.
Ya think?
Remember. All you two did was create an opportunity.
Still...what do you mean you two? I thought it was Judy - when she talked to them.
Technically...yes...she was the one who talked to them.
I hear a but coming.
You kind of helped set it up. Sort of.
Explain.
The night before? When you thought you were losing your bunny? You were panicked.
And?
Well...that whole thinking you were going to lose your mate who wasn't a mate yet but-
Get to the point.
You were really emotional. Distraught.
And?
Wolford came up and put a paw on your shoulder.
...
And...you know...that whole really emotional bunny thing...
...
Where it makes things stronger?
...
It...um...kind of applies to you. As well. Physical contact makes it easier.
...
So he...sort of...picked up your distress...since you were...um...projecting?
...
And since he'd felt it before...with his wife...it...kind of got him thinking. About things.
...
But it was really Judy talking to the two of them in the morning that set this in motion.
...
You know?
...

Bonnie could feel the inner turmoil radiating off the tod next to her. Apparently others could feel it as well as a few heads began to turn in their direction; noses were twitching and ears pivoting - hunting for what was disturbing them. She turned to Nick; he was still focused on the paper. We should move. And calm him down, whatever it is...

"Nick - let's head into the coffee shop across the street; we can discuss this there." No response.

"Nick?" She put a paw on his arm. Oh...Oh my.


It was cold...colder than it should be...and dark. Judy curled into a tighter ball under the covers. She scooted towards the edge where Nick's scent was stronger. It was still cold. She slowly realized her fox...wasn't there. Nick? Nick!

He's off with mom early today, remember?
Oh yeah. I forgot. I wish he was here.
He'll be back soon enough.
I'm cold.
[snort]
Did I just snort at myself in my head?
It seemed appropriate.

She kicked the covers off of her. That's even colder. I want my fox.

You seem better today. Except for the whole where's my fox thing.
Pbbbttt. Talking with Nick last night helped.
That's not all that helped.
Yes, there is that.
[chuckle]

She spun her legs off the bed and sat up on the edge, yawning. Mom was pretty insistent last night about taking him shopping this morning.

BunnyBurrow has come a long way but it's not the city.
So she's taking him out to show she approves.
That's what she said.
Why not both of us go with her then? Wouldn't that make more of a statement?
Maybe she wants to protect you from any nasty comments?
I don't need protection!
She knows...and she also knows you've been through a lot in the last day or two. Just mom being mom.
Nick's been through a lot too, doesn't that count?
Well...with mom being mom...she-
-wanted some alone time to grill him with questions?
Probably.

Judy groaned and dragged her ears down over her eyes; her lips curled back in the start of a snarl before she caught herself.


Nadine leaned back in her chair feeling quite pleased with herself. Ralph's eyes were locked on her; he wasn't moving.

Everyone else in the room was staring at the phone on the table.

The tigress slowly spun in her seat with a wide smile on her face. Her tail lazily waved above and behind her.

Um.
I still don't believe I pulled that off.
You know.
Such weird speech. With a hangover? Everything else this morning?
Well.
Hmmpt. Ralph owes me more way more than one nice dinner for this.
That's absolutely true.
No warning, I have no idea what's going on or why. I still did it.
That's also absolutely true.
I came through. I made it happen.
You certainly did. You...you made it happen.
Yes I did. That's what partners do for each other.
They do indeed.
Still pretty strange thing for dating, but - heh - wolves? Right?
Yeah. Wolves.
[chuckle]

Carl snuck a sideways glance at Kara; she was staring at him 'What. Just. Happened?' She mouthed the words one at a time. He put a paw on the arm of her chair and slowly pushed off against the edge of the table with his other, moving them away from it. Her ears and whiskers dropped; her eyes never left his face.

Nadine was still smiling. She let out a soft chuckle and shook her head.

Hey...about that dating thing?
Hmm?
There was something...something she said there right at the end.
What! We're...we're not dating? What did I miss?
Oh, no no. You're...you are dating. Yep. Definitely definitely dating. No question.
So what's the problem?
It's just um...again...it seems...yeah. You are dating. Just ah...permanently.
What are you talking about?
I'm pretty certain she ah...she ah said...ah, you know, betrothed. There. At the end.
Betrothed?
Yes indeed. Betrothed.

The Chief looked from his officers over to the mayor, and then to Carl. He opened his mouth; a quick shake of the head from Carl stopped him. Carl lifted his paw off the table and slowly waved, gesturing behind the water buffalo. Bogo looked at his officers and then back at the coyote; he gave a tiny nod and began shuffling his hooves backwards to put him closer to the door.

Nadine blinked a few times; her smile still wide on her face. Heh. That's not a word you hear too often anymore. Pretty old-fashioned.

It does kinda go with that whole formal stilted speech thing though. Very traditional.
That's true. It does. Betrothed. Huh. Well, wolves are pretty traditional aren't they? I mean at least with some things right?
All those ceremonies Ralph and Cindy mentioned...I think so. I think it's a safe bet that that they are.
Hmm. Betrothed.
Yep. Betrothed.
That's a lot more than dating isn't it?
There is just a touch more commitment involved. The whole permanent thing. Wolves do life-mate you know.
Good point. There is that. Life-mating. Permanent. Til death do you part is literal for them I guess?
That does seem to be how they look at it. That would explain why the she-wolves had to approve - or reach...what did they say? Concurrence?
I really need to get some book or something on wolf ceremonies and habits. Dating. Relationships. All that stuff.
I completely agree. I think it will come in quite handy.

The other mammals in the room took their cues from the mayor and the chief. Chairs were slowly wheeled a bit further away from the table or further down side towards the end of the room - as quietly as possible. Ralph's panting was the most notable sound in the room.

Nadine's smile narrowed; a hint of it was still there but it no longer stretched across her muzzle. Her ears dropped a bit and her head had tilted slightly. She licked her lips a few times. Hmm. Okay...well...so...what does that mean then?

For what?
For Ralph and I.
Well...if I heard right...and I could be wrong but I'm pretty sure that's what I heard-
Betrothed?
Yes. That word. That word right there. Really certain that is the word. Quite distinctive.
If you're certain then let's assume that is what you heard.
I agree. Let's make that assumption.
Good. Good. You know, I think we're making real progress here.
Oh, I'm glad you agree. I was worried there for a little while.

Nadine tilted her head to the other side. She was tapping the end of her muzzle with one finger, waving it in the air, and then tapping again. Ralph let out a small, low whine. Everyone else held their breath.

Her tail snapped erratically behind her; up-down and side-to-side - her finger tapping her muzzle faster now. TapTapTap. I'm still not certain I understand what this means for Ralph and I?

Well I believe, that if our assumption is true...
Go on.
That you and Ralph are engaged.
Now that's an everyday word. Clear and to the point. Engaged.
I agree. Everyone knows what that means.
My partner and I.
Go on.
My partner and I who just sort of had our first date.

Yes. The two of you.
My partner and and I...are engaged.
Yes.
Ralph. Ralph and I.
Yes.
Engaged.

Yes.
Engaged?
Mm-hmm

Her tail froze mid snap as her paws slowly dropped down to her lap. Ralph and I are engaged? Her mouth opened and closed a few times. Ralph and I are engaged. Her ears pressed flat against her head while her eyes widened. RALPH AND I ARE ENGAGED! Her whiskers drooped and pulled back against her muzzle.

"Ralph?" she squeaked. She didn't recognized her own voice; it was so high-pitched.

"He-uiuuuuuiiuuu!" Ralph's was even higher.


Her siblings were still, mostly, giving her a wide berth. Mom's comments last night as well as Judy's mood were warning them off. I know it won't last much longer but I needed the quiet this morning. I'll have to talk to them more this afternoon - tomorrow at the very latest. Sigh.

She made it to one of the private showers mostly unpestered by questions. She stripped down and let the hot water run over her; ears drooping down her back. This is good. More of this. Better if Nick were here.

You two aren't attached at the hip you know.
We were last night.
...

She turned around, letting her ears drape over her face as the shower beat on her neck and back. I wonder how the town is going to react.

I think you have a pretty good idea.
Things have changed! At least a little.
True, not as much as Zootopia though.
Yeah.
So probably a mix. Nick will talk around any conflict. He'll be fine.
Mom won't.
Well...no. Probably not. She'll be very protective of the two of you. She'll respond.
This is going to be all over the local news. For weeks. They aren't going to let this story die out. It'll be a scandal.

She sighed and reached for the fur shampoo; stepping back from the spray lathered herself. Scandal. Scandal. What was it mom said last night?

I don't think your mom said anything.
Mom said...no it wasn't mom. Dad. Dad said something.
Maybe.
He did. Or he was going to. Mom stopped him.
Well if there was something it was long ago. Times have changed.
I guess. Would be good to know it what it was. What happened. How long it took to die down.
Your mom really seemed to not want to talk about it. Probably not a good idea to ask.
Maybe. Still. Now I'm curious.
I doubt mom will say anything. Might not be something to push on. Her reaction was pretty sharp.

She leaned back into the spray to rinse. Running her paws through her fur and gently wringing her ears to clear the suds. Dad might though.

That could get him in trouble. You wouldn't want that.
No, but it can't be all that bad. If it was I'd have heard about it growing up. Somemammal would have said something.
Unless it was one of those 'no one ever talks about it' kind of things.
Pfft. Right. The Hopps burrow has some deep dark secret that would rock the town! I don't think so.
Every family has some secrets. Do you really know everything about Nick's?
Foxes are different. Smaller families. All the problems they've had to face? Makes sense they'd be less open. Bunnies aren't like that.
I'm just saying-
I'm going to ask dad about it. See what he says. Or even how he reacts.
But-
Hush

She turned off the water and gave her fur one last paw run through before stepping out under the dryer.


Jumbled images-shifting.

Judy. Limp. Still.

Okay everything is going to be fine. She's fine.
Are you really that much of an idiot?

Fear.

How are you so calm. This is Carrots. Our best friend. Our partner. Our ma-
No. She's not that. Not if you haven't told her. And you haven't.

No. Not fear.

"Wilde! Get a hold of yourself! Is. She. Breathing?"

Panic.

You realize if she doesn't wake up...
Her last memories of you aren't going to be that you cared.

Anger. Rage. At self? Worthless. Another...a touch?

You're not alone buddy.

Loss. The same. Different. The same? Different? What? Who? Ohhh.

"Wh- what happened?"

Judy's eyes. Violet.

Nick's head snapped towards Bonnie; she dropped her paw off his shoulder.

"Let's go find a place to talk." The tod nodded, slowly, his normal mask back in place.


Carl slowly breathed out. All right. She hasn't leaped out of her chair. Let's see...

"Officer Wolford? Is it okay if I try and explain some of what just happened to your partner?" Ralph flicked his eyes to Carl and nodded before returning his gaze to Nadine.

The rest of the room continued to hold their collective breaths.

"Good. Thank you. I know a lot about wolf culture but if I get anything wrong just jump in, okay?" Ralph gave another brief nod.

Kara frowned slightly. Where would he have learned so much about that? Oh...wait...didn't he date a wolf years ago? I didn't think it was that serious though. He never said it was that serious. So why would he...hmm.

"Officer Fangmeyer. Nadine? May I call you Nadine?" The tigress turned her head slightly towards him, her mouth still hanging open. "I...I...mmh."

"Thank you," So far so good. Nice and easy. Nice and calm. "I can't imagine how confused you must be right now. Let me try to help. I need you to focus on me though, okay? Can you do that?" Slow and steady. Let's try and keep it that way.

She closed her mouth and nodded turning slightly more to face him directly.

"Good. Okay. Wolves have a lot of ceremonies and a lot of rules for those ceremonies. On top of that each ceremony has variations. I'm going to guess that while you were listening you thought this was about dating. Or getting permission to date Ralph. Am I right?" He kept his voice low and soft.

She'd started nodding faster and faster as he spoke. Her eyes darted between Ralph and Carl as she spoke - her voice rising and paws waving as she spoke more and more quickly. "Exactly! Yes! Dating! I thought it was for dating! I'm listening to how they were talking and I'm thinking about the card things and that she-wolves seem to have a lot of influence and I didn't want to let Ralph down cause I didn't want them to say know cause we just started dating and I'm like ooh did Ralph get in trouble since we started dating before this so I was just trying to make sure we could date I mean we've been having dinner with his parents for awhile but it was never about dating just dinner and dinner's not dating when his parents are there it's just a get together of friends since friends have dinner so I didn't want to say the wrong thing so we couldn't date so I was listening really closely and trying to figure out what to say and the whole task thing - causeIdon'twanthismotherangrysincewe'regoingtobedatingsoIwastryingtoimpressher...and...and...I don't understandwhathappened..." she trailed off as she ran out of breath her paws slowly drifting down to her lap.

"Makes sense. Totally reasonable thing to think. The ceremonies for dating and...uh...more permanent relationships are similar. I've never heard of them being combined like this." Okay. Good. She wound up there a bit but calmed right back down. We can do this.

"Discretion," Ralph found his voice.

"What?" Karl shifted his gaze to the wolf as he asked; Nadine turned to face Ralph as well. Ralph looked between the two of them before focusing back on Nadine.

"Sarah...the Third...she said she had discretion." He kept his ears low.

"Which means?" Karl prompted him to continue.

"It's...it means...she knows that what is happening isn't typical. Isn't normal. It can only be granted by the pack mistress - my mother. Which means..."

"What? Means what?" Nadine's voice was steadier, closer to normal pitch.

"My mother has already decided she approves. I should have seen it." He tilted his muzzle down and looked up towards Nadine.

"Approves what? Seen what?" Nadine's voice had a quiver in it; a little less steady.

"Uh...you and I...uh...being together. Not dating. Like together together. Together. As in together." He kept his muzzle down.

"She...how could she just decide this? She didn't even...hell...we didn't know we were dating!" Nadine's tail was snapping in the air behind her again.

Karl's eyes flicked to her tail and then back. She's getting worked up again. So...let's shift things. Maybe. "Nadine, you said earlier you'd been over to Ralph's house lots of times. That you knew his mother. How did you meet?" he asked.

"I...um...ah...we first met when Ralph was shot a few years ago. In the hospital. We talked while Ralph was in surgery. What had happened." She turned back to face him.

"How'd coming over for dinner start? Who suggested it? How often do you go over?" Maybe not the best questions but let's keep her thinking, moving.

"Are you kidding me? These questions? This was..I don't-"

"It was her. My mom." Ralph perked up in his chair and put a paw on Nadine's arm.

"It was?" She turned towards Ralph; the tip of her tail twitching over her shoulder.

"I should of...I didn't think of it." He turned to Nadine. "Right before I was released she told me she wanted to thank you more formally so she told me to invite you over. And then remember? At the end of dinner she said you were welcome over anytime."

"Ralph, why are we talking about this?"

"Nadine, sharing meals is a big deal amongst wolves. Being invited to dinner with the Alpha's is an even bigger one." He place his other paw on hers.

"I didn't even think about it. I should have. Every few weeks she'd ask about you, if you were coming over again so-", Ralph shook his head.
"And then you'd mention it to me-",
"And we'd joke about it but we'd plan out the next one-", Ralph shook his head again.
"And it became a regular thing. Every few weeks." Nadine's eyes widened.

"How long? How long has that been going on?" Carl asked. That's it. Mistress Wolford has been thinking about this for awhile. This is so like her.

"Like...a year...maybe a little more?"

"So she's had plenty of time to get to know you and see the two of you together." Karl leaned back his chair and let out a soft whistle.

Nadine shook her head, trying to clear it. "Ralph - this is insane. We haven't even had sex yet!" She waved her arm that wasn't held by his paws.

"That's actually discouraged."

"WHAT?"

"Well - sex is okay. But this morning? My mom asking if we'd knotted. It's a good thing we didn't."

"Did you really just say that in front of everyone here?" She cocked her head and stared at him with narrowed eyes.

"Ah. Ah. Oops."

"Nadine - he's right. There'd be a whole different set of problems if you had."

"I am not", she let out a small shudder, "not talking about this."

Karl leaned forward and gestured with a paw, "I remember reading about a young couple who went too far in their relationship before it was approved. The pack Alphas used their influence and the old laws to get an emergency order issued by the courts - with subpoenas - and had them dragged to the courthouse to get a civil ceremony done the next day. The pack ceremony was held that night."

Nadine's ears and whiskers went flat.

"I'm not kidding. Wolves are very serious about relationships and life-mating. Divorce doesn't exist in their culture; neither do affairs - with their sense of smell no one would get away with it anyway."

"Those cards from the she-wolves are part of that. It's a...think check-and balance. Some of it is about the pack itself but a lot of it is to make certain that a couple doesn't jump into something that really is a life-time commitment. The higher in the pack structure the more she-wolves and cards are involved. Your partner is the male Beta for the pack so he's kind of a the top of it."

"Beta? And his parents are the Alphas?"

"Exactly."

"There are words of coming out of your mouth but I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Think of...um...think of...fairy tales. Royal families with Kings and Queens and kingdoms."

"I...all right...yeah. Go on."

"Each pack is like a kingdom. The Alpha's are like the King and Queen. The way wolves evolved into modern society the Queen has enormous power and influence - far more than the King. The King's not just a figurehead, he does have responsibilities. But the Queen has a lot more: negotiations with other packs - I mean kingdoms, some of the day to day running of the kingdom, regional politics, and so on."

"The first two...okay...fine. But regional politics?"

"Mistress Wolford is in the top 15 most influential mammals in Zootopia. Possibly even the top 10. The Wolford pack is old; it has a lot of political power and political capital to spend. She was a major backer for the mayor in her campaign." He gestured towards Kara who was leaning close to him.

The mayor nodded. "That's right, she was. It's how she and I met. She rallied most of the other major packs in support as well. She's extremely progressive whereas some of the other pack leaders were more traditional. We didn't agree on all issues however what swung her over was our main theme of anti-discrimination and equal rights for interspecies..." her ears went flat as she looked from Nadine to Ralph and then to Carl,"...interspecies couples Carl do you think she was planning this? Ralph and Nadine?"

Karl's ears matched hers, "I...I...wow. I didn't think about that. Well...she's extremely protective and watches out for the best interest of everyone in her pack - she thinks of them all as her cubs. With her oldest son? I don't know about planning - how can you plan what's happened in the last day or two...but I'm sure she was thinking about it. It aligns with her being progressive and if something did happen she'd want things to be as smooth as possible for them. So...yeah...it probably was a factor in her deciding to support your candidacy. She was one of the reasons you carried over 90% of the wolf vote."

"Just...just stop. Wait. So Ralph's parents are the King and Queen?"

"Correct."

"Then that would make Ralph...a prince?"

"In this analogy...yes."

"So what...I'm a princess?"

"Now you're getting it."

"I wasn't being serious."

"I am. As the eldest Ralph is first in line to become King - the Alpha male - when his parents step down. His mate - she becomes Queen - the Alpha female."

"I need a drink."

"Later. We're not done yet."

"You can keep going. I'm done."

"Almost, then we can drink - I think we could all use one. The whole royal family analogy? What happens when the prince starts dating or gets engaged?"

Carl looked around the room, eyebrows raised, waiting for an answer.

Amy broke the silence, "It's news. The more important the pack the bigger the news story."

"Bingo", Carl pointed at her and continued, "The Wolford pack is one of the major ones. There's announcements. Press releases. Everything. On top of that...you're not a wolf. I've heard of felines joining wolf packs a few times - it's rare but it does occur. With the eldest male? In line for succession? No way. This has to be a first."

He sat back in his chair and looked over at the mayor. "This is going to shake inter-pack politics; new alliances - probably shifts on the council. This is big."

"If you explaining things was supposed to make me feel better you failed. Miserably," Nadine's voice pulled his attention back to the tigress.

"Mistress Wolford would already have taken all of that into account. If she thought this was possible she's already been preparing for it."

"Still not feeling better," Nadine leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms pulling loose from Ralph.

Ralph moved his paw to her shoulder, "Nadine, he's right. She wouldn't do this if she didn't believe in you - in...us; she wouldn't set us up to fail. Ever." She looked at him, sighed, and hung her head. "In fact she's probably on the phone right now to the other Alpha's. I'm sure she already had a basic press release written up about us and is updating it." Her head snapped back up as she stared at him, ears back.

Carl leaned forward and put both paws on the table, "We need to get her on the phone ask her to delay it. You can say it's too fast, you need to talk more, Nadine didn't understand...whatever it takes. We need to slow it down."

Through the entire exchange Kara had been watching and listening...slowly shaking her head at times. This has moved far beyond the coincidental and into the unreal. She held in a shiver.

"Officer Wolford," Ralph shifted to look at the mayor.

"Call your mother. We need to talk to her and I'm certain she'll pick up if your the one calling."


"Judy! How's my favorite girl?" Her dad was sitting in her parents', well really the adult breakfast nook - he was just finishing up his own plate when she walked in with oatmeal and fruit she'd quickly thrown on a plate in one of the small side kitchens. She sat down next to him and leaned against him.

"Ugh. I'm still trying to understand yesterday."

He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her into a side-hug. "Yeah...that was...yesterday was...uh"

"Something," she mumbled into his side.

"Yep. Something," he laughed.

She leaned back a bit, "It's pretty late isn't it? For you to still be eating breakfast?"

"Oh," he waved his other paw. "So much happened last night...well...you know me...it took awhile to fall asleep."

"I'm sorry," her voice soft as she looked away.

"What?" he leaned over and lifted her chin up with a paw - her ears were drooping down. "Sorry? Why-"

"For last night. Yesterday. Everything that's happened." she avoided his eyes.

"Hey. Judy," she looked at him, "Don't apologize. I mean it!" She sniffled.

"Nick and you are good together! You're good for each other! Even I see that now. I mean I saw it before. But now I see it."

"Really?"

"When you two got here yesterday. I wasn't excited about it - I'll be honest. I was shocked. You know me, I worry."

"You've changed your mind? That fast?"

"Yeah...I have. Watching him with you last night. How he was with you, you were with him. Especially after the...uh...chicken episode."

"Oh god." She thumped her head on the table; he started rubbing her back.

"And when you got so upset. He talked you down. I don't think either your mom or I could have calmed you down like he did."

"He does that a lot. He also drives me crazy a lot."

"That's love. You two are close. What you have is special. Cherish it."

She sniffled again and pulled him into her own hug. "Whoa! That ZPD work sure keeps you strong."

"Sorry! Sorry. I just...thank you dad. It means a lot."

"Oh geez. Now you're gonna get me all crying again." He sniffled too as he nuzzled the back of her head.

"I'm worried about what people will say," she sighed. "Especially here. I don't want to cause trouble for you and mom." Maybe I can ease over to that topic.

Are you really going to use interrogation techniques on your dad.
What! No. I'm just...going to try and steer the conversation that way.
Uh-huh.

"Don't worry about it. Your mom and I will be fine. Always have been. If we made it through...uh...hmm."

"Made it through what?" Well that was easy.

"Uh. Yeah. Hmm. Oh...nothing."

"Dad." It's something. I can tell.

"It's nothing really. Forget I said anything."

"Dad." I know you dad. You want to talk about this don't you?

"Your mom didn't want me to say anything last night so I shouldn't."

"So it is something." So you think I should know and mom doesn't. That's why you brought it up.

"Gosh darn it Judy."

"Come on dad. I'll talk to mom but I don't even know what to ask about." It'll be a lot easier if I have a topic. You know mom.

"I really shouldn't say anything. It's her story to tell."

"Dad. Please?" Whatever this is, now I just need to know.

"Oh not those eyes. That's not fair. I mean it."

She put a paw on his arm. "Please?" You want to tell me. You know that right?

He closed his eyes and let out a heavy sigh. "All I'll say is your mom...she dated someone before me. The rest you have to get from her."

She tilted her head, her eyebrows almost touching in confusion. "That's it? That's no big deal. We're bunnies. Almost everybody dates more than once."

"I know! It's just...look I really shouldn't say anything else," he'd opened his eyes and turned back towards her.

"Come on dad. Last night you said it was...what word did you use...a scandal. How is mom dating some other buck before you a scandal?"

"It wasn't a buck."

"Uh...Uh...geez. Okay. I guess I never thought about mom ever dating another doe...that's different. Still though. A scandal? It's not that big a deal."

"It wasn't a doe either."

"That doesn't make any sense dad. I had anatomy. There's only two sexes. You're either a doe or a buck."

"Judy. I really shoul-"

"Fine," she pulled away and grabbed her spoon to start on her oatmeal. "if you don't want to tell me I'll just-"

"Judy." She turned to look at him her spoon partway to her mouth.

"It wasn't a bunny."


She'd led them to a nearby coffee shop - one which had a 2nd floor - the privacy floor as it was known. While nothing would prevent their conversation from being overheard rabbits did their best to ignore anything discussed. There were also white noise generators to further reduce any temptation to eavesdrop. It was one of the few rules of privacy in a rabbit town or burrow. Violations were rare, and came with heavy public shame and ridicule.

They took their coffee from the wide-eyed barista and headed up the stairs to a table in the corner, ignoring the hushed conversations behind them.

"So...what um...was...that? Back there." Nick sipped at his coffee.

"Judy and I have our own bond; blood. You and Judy have one too. So while someone else would have been able to tell you were upset...even distraught..."

"The bonds give more?"

"They can. I could feel how upset you were and when I touched you - well, think of it like a connection of sorts. Instinct to instinct. That's the best way to explain it."

"Hmm."

"Now, while I have an idea...tell me what happened before the video of the two of you."

Nick sighed and nodded. He gave Bonnie a summary of what happened in the ZPD before the video. How he'd been pacing back and forth in the locker room - terrified of the evening, of their 'anniversary' dinner - and going back and forth on which of the two gifts he was going to give. How Judy had collapsed and how he completely panicked. How the Chief 'helped' her. How Wolford was there. They both sipped their coffee for moment.

"She hustled you." Bonnie shook her head and smiled.

"Completely."

"It would have been a lot easier if one of you had just asked the other out."

"Neither one of us is very good at doing things the easy way."

"That," Bonnie chuckled, "is certainly true." Nick gave a rueful smile.

"So...what about those other officers in the paper?"

Nick sighed and nodded - again. Another summary. How they bumped into Ralph and Nadine at the coffee shop the next morning. How Nadine had seem worried about her partner and how Ralph had been behaving. How Judy had spoken to both of them; about how she thought she had caused Ralph's pain and she had to fix it.

"So it wasn't Judy...at least not completely."

Nick stared down at his coffee, swirling his cup. "No. I think...I guess part of it was me. The panic I felt...when Ralph put his paw on my shoulder..."

"You were projecting...broadcasting it so to speak. He picked up on it. A reminder of his own loss, his own pain."

Nick nodded.

"You know that wouldn't have been enough...not by itself. Not even with Judy talking to them the next morning. It doesn't work that way."

"If they were going to get together why didn't it happen earlier?"

"How long did it take you and Judy?"

"Uh..."

"I don't mean the last two days. How long did you know each other? How long did it take for either you to decide to do something?"

"Oh...well...uh...months. Even after the academy. I was thinking about it for awhile but I didn't do anything."

"And that's with a bond between you two."

"Still. I mean...I don't know what I mean."

"How long had the two of them been partners? Working together?"

"Ah...probably 3...maybe 4 years? They switch out now and then but the two of them always end up paired back up."

"So even longer than you and Judy."

"I guess...but-"

"All the two of you did was create an opportunity."

"Earlier though...when we were talking..."

"That...was different. It was about me; I was involved. There was daily...contact. This isn't the same."

"Hmm."

"Think of it this way. The two of you, each in your own way, prompted them to look more closely. At themselves. At each other. Obviously they liked what they saw."

"I wonder how many other times we've done something like this."

"Never let them see they get to you."

"I-what?"

"When Judy came home after that first press conference she talked about you. Often. She mentioned that was your saying. The other night you let it show; normally you don't."

"Is it really that simple?"

"For you, yes it is. When you're wearing your mask nothing gets through."

"Hmm."

"How often does Judy let it show?"

He snorted. "All the time."

"Exactly."

"Oh."

"Yes. That's one of the reasons you're so good for her."

"Hmm."

They were quiet for a few moments - each in their own thoughts.

"Nicholas, I...I need to apologize to you."

"Apol-for what?"

"Since you arrived I've been giving you mixed signals - sometimes welcoming, other times...not so much. I know you picked up on them."

"Mrs. Hopps - this has all been sudden. From friends to...uh...I guess we're married? Technically? In a day? To your oldest daughter? You have been more than understanding. You have nothing to apologize for."

"That's not true; you know it."

"Mrs. H-"

"Bonnie."

Nick opened and closed his mouth before dipping his head slightly. "Bonnie. Your daughter is special. You've had your own...experiences...with predators. You have every right to be concerned - to be worried. Nothing about this is normal."

"True - it isn't - although neither are you."

Nick started to speak again but a raised paw stopped him.

"Even more so, I forgot something - something I never should have. Judy is her own mammal. She's not me." Her gaze intensified - focused. "I also judged you - it's one thing for you to be partners with my daughter; it's another to be her partner. I was...hasty. I jumped to conclusions. You're your own fox. You aren't Caleb."

Nick nodded and then froze, his head slightly tilting. Wait. She didn't say mammal. She said fox.

Are you really just figuring this out?
Bonnie...she...and a fox?
Well, duh!
Caleb was a fox.
Congratulations! Folks we have a winner!
And now Judy...

I guess they really mean it when they say she's her mother's daughter.

A slow, soft smile formed on the doe sitting across from him. "Yes," was all she said as she sipped her coffee.


"Hello?"

"Uh...hey mom."

"Ralph! I thought it might be you calling."

"Yes indeed. Indeed it is me. Me. Your son."

"So how are you?"

"It's been quite the morning so far."

"It certainly has." Her chuckle bounced around the room.

Nadine stared at the phone, only half-listening.

What are you thinking?
I don't know.
What are you feeling?
Numb. Overwhelmed.
Anything else?
I don't know.

"So..we were...wond-"

"Nadine is with you?"

"Ah yeah. She's right here. I have you on speaker. The chief and the mayor and some others are here too."

"That's fine - Nadine, how are you doing?"

"I'm...not...certain." The words came out slowly.

What are you thinking?
I already said I don't know!
What are you feeling?
I want to hide. Cry.
Anything else?
I don't...I don't know what I'm supposed to do.

"I'm not surprised. A lot has happened. Let me ask you a question, it might help."

"Sure?"

"When you were talking with Sarah there was something you said. You said it without even hesitating. 'Then they are not worthy of being called his partner.' Why did you choose those words?"

"Er...well...uh...Sarah had just said something about how other mammals wouldn't have done it or Ralph wouldn't have allowed them to join him."

"So?"

"So...if they didn't notice or didn't do something then they really don't care all that much. And if Ralph didn't want them there then he didn't...I don't know...either trust them or feel comfortable with sharing what happened with them."

"So?"

"What do you mean...so?"

"I mean exactly what I said. So?"

"If they didn't care enough or Ralph didn't want them there then they wouldn't deserve to be with him!"

"Exactly."

She half-lidded her eyes before shaking her head, still staring at the phone.

Maybe you're looking at this the wrong way.
Then what's the right way?
Let's to back to The Wall.
The wa...why?

Imagine pinning Ralph's badge onto it.
WHAT?
Tomorrow. Or next week.
No...
Passing it every day.
I-
Feel it.

"Oh." Nadine half-whispered.

"Now you're starting to understand."

"Okay...yes...but wait. Just...wait a second. Doesn't Ralph get a say in this?"

"Of course he does. We may have evolved so that she-wolves play a dominant role but that doesn't mean our males are just divvied up by us."

"But...how...when-"

"There were any number of ways Ralph could have finished with Sarah - ranging from an outright rejection to open but uncertain...and everything in between. He didn't choose any of them. He chose you."

Her eyes widened and her ears slightly dropped; she looked from the phone to Ralph. His muzzle was tilted down, his eyes looking up at her. His tail just barely wagging behind him. She looked back to the phone.

Or Ralph pinning yours. Tomorrow. Or next week.
That's the point! He's already had that loss. I can't...I won't make him feel that again.
Oh...so he should be alone forever then? In case something bad happens?
That's not what I mean! The chances-

Are not yours to control. The choices are not yours to make.
He could find someone...safer! Not as dangerous of a job!
He could have. He didn't. He chose not to.
He hasn't been looking!
Do you trust him?
Of course!
Really?
Yes dammit!
Then do that.
DO WHAT?
Trust. Him.

"Oh." Nadine's voice was even softer this time.

"Now you understand."

"I'm still...working on it. I think."

"Now that I can totally understand." She chuckled. "When I said this morning that I thought you'd be calling me mom soon I didn't think it would be 30 minutes later."

"Dah...ah..."

"Don't worry Nadine - I'm just teasing...although that probably isn't fair given what you've been through this morning."

"It's been...been...I don't have words...for it."

"It's okay. You'll have some time, both of you. I'm making sure of that. Normally - and I'm sure this is why Ralph called - we'd be working on press releases and I'd be calling a council and informing all the other packs. However, even for our pack, this is...unusual - and you two have been through a lot. So we're going to do things a little differently."

Most of the mammals around the table leaned in slightly to be closer to the phone.

"We do, though, have to do something quickly - those images of the two of you in the paper have caught a lot of attention. I've been on the phone most of the morning fielding questions from Alpha's from all of the other major packs."

"I've already spoken with the Third - Sarah - and she will do nothing else nor will she discuss this until I give her permission."

"With most of the Alpha's I'll circle back and let them know that yes, you two are dating, no, we didn't know about it either and we're looking into it but that we've known you for many years and believe it is a strong pairing. That will give them something to consider for a bit."

"In addition I'm going to reach out to the Alpha's of our closest allies and give them a bit more detail of what's happened."

"The two of you...you need to talk. Ralph - make certain this happens...soon. Today."

"Yes mother."

"Good. Nadine - we've known you for several years. Ralph's father and I have wondered if something like this...well...not exactly like this...you know what I mean, might happen; where the two of you end up together. I mean it when I say we believe the two of you are a strong pairing."

"Th-thank you."

"No thanks are needed. If after the two of you talk you decide something else...there are ways to do that. There are repercussions however we'll deal with them. Neither of you are trapped in this. We think that would be unfortunate; we believe - and so do the three - that the two of you are perfect for each other and that you, Nadine, are a mammal any pack would welcome."

"I...thank you Mistress Wolford." She dipped her head towards the phone.

"Now. Let's see. Madame Mayor?"

"Hmm. Sorry. Yes?"

"Given everything I'm sure you're dealing with I trust you'll find this acceptable?"

"Yes. Thank you Cassandra."

"You're welcome Kara."

Nadine's eyes narrowed - she looked at the phone, the mayor, and then Ralph while tilting her head and mouthing "What?" Ralph grinned and shrugged.

"I sincerely appreciate your understanding and the thought you've put into this."

"Of course. Kara, since we're already chatting, I did have one other item if you have moment?"

"Absolutely. Go ahead."

"Is your assistant with you?"

"You mean Carl?"

"Yes."

She turned towards him, stuttering slightly at his expression. His eyes were wide, ears down, and tail wrapped around his body. "He is - he's right here." He was waving his paws and frantically shaking his head.

"Oh good."

He dropped his paws back to his lap and hung his head.

"Carl."

"Yes Mistress Wolford?"

"It's been quite some time since we last spoke."

Almost every mammal in the room exchanged a glance. Kara nudged his arm and spread her paws asking a silent question. He shook his head slowly and stayed focused on the phone.

"Yes it has. I hope the years have treated you well?"

"They have. Thank you for asking. Miranda is also doing well."

"I...know. I am happy things have worked out so well for her."

"Wait, I'm sorry - Cassandra. You've met Carl?"

"Oh yes. He never mentioned that to you?"

"If he did I don't remember it."

"Well, it was some years ago. Shortly after you became engaged if my memory serves me."

"Really."

"For a while some thought he might be joining our pack."

"I...he...come again?"

"It didn't work out though. You know us wolves, life-time commitment and all. Carl and I talked extensively and he found his heart just wasn't in it. Isn't that right Carl?"

"Yes Mistress."

"It was hard on Miranda but it was for the best; she found a wonderful young gentlemammal from the Grayson pack."

"She has made quite a name for herself."

"Yes. It's certainly easier when you have someone's full support, someone who's committed to you isn't it?"

"Of course Mistress."

"Wa-okay. Wait. Miranda Grayson? The ZNN producer?"

"Yeah. Ha ha. Small world isn't it Kara?"

"That's who you were dating?"

"She wasn't a producer at the time, she was still in school. This was all years ago...why does it matter?"

"Well I don't know, if one of my friends was almost engaged and joining a wolf-pack I like to think I'd have heard about it at some point."

"Kara, you and John were already...you had challenges. You were dealing with enough. I didn't-"

"What does that have to do with anything?"

"This is really not the time or place to have this-"

"Carl realized there was someone else." Mistress Wolford's voice - and her tone, even through the phone, interrupted him.

"He...what?"

"Carl realized there was someone else for him. That he wasn't able to truly commit to Miranda. She'd always be second in his thoughts."

"So he'd been stringing this young girl along all that time?"

"Oh no no. Not at all. Kara, if he'd done that he wouldn't be sitting there next to you."

Everyone looked at Ralph as if to confirm what they just heard; he nodded and spread his paws while shrugging.

"He didn't understand it at first. It took him time to realize it. To his credit he came to me when he started having some doubts. I liked to think our conversations helped."

"They did Mistress Wolford."

"Well, I don't know about that. I don't think they helped as much as I would have hoped."

"I'm not sure what you mean Mistress."

"Carl Carl Carl. I'm sure you do."

"It's...not that simple Mistress."

"Look over at Nadine and Ralph. Look at what's in the papers this morning and talk to me about what is and isn't simple."

"I...Miss-"

"Now look at Kara and explain to me why you still haven't asked her out after all this time?"


[AN A credit to Fox in the Hen House for Caleb

I had always planned to have a backstory where Bonnie had some type of serious relationship which didn't end well with a fox. I tried to pick a unique name and settled on Caleb and thought that was unique enough no one would have ever used it. Ha!

I've read many, many stories here on FF and AO3 and at some point I must have read one by Fox in the Hen House. He also had a backstory (different from mine) with the Hopps family and a fox named Caleb.

It must have stuck somewhere in the back of my mind.

So a credit/call-out to Fox in the Hen House on the name. =D]

[AN A Christmas Story shout out: Good-Ole-Saint-Nick by Fox in the Hen House and Zanrok

There are a lot of holiday stories you can find. Good Ole Saint Nick is my favorite out of all the ones which I have read. Humor, a bit of Drama/Seriousness, Fluff, and even a dash of WolfEyer. I've read it several times. I'll be reading it again this Christmas.

If you haven't read it - it's worth your time. If you have - it's still worth your time. =D ]