[AN - There was a weird saving/upload glitch so one scene didn't have final updates in it. Sorry about that!

This is the corrected posting.]

[AN

I almost had this out for before New Years Eve so that I could say I got another update out during the year. Unfortunately I had to rewrite several scenes after final review. And then rewrite them again. And again.

I believe they finally captured close to what I was trying to say.

Very special thank you to Fox in the Hen House for letting me pester him a few times with things like "Would you read this scene and tell me if it comes across like X?" or "Would you read this set of scenes and tell me if they suck? :)"

We've also hit another milestone in this long journey - we passed 100K views in the last week or so. [dips head to readers]

Thank you.]

[AN Review Comments

MelyRomo1983, CAPTAINPRICE79: =D

JKnight97: There's a lot going on. Another large one is made explicit this chapter (it was up for interpretation in an earlier one). They are all connected in various ways although a lot of those connections remain to be revealed. One of my big concerns is that I end up over-complicating the overall story line. I don't think that's happened yet although I'm trying to keep an eye out for it. Even I go back and re-read everything periodically to make certain I don't miss some nuance I added in on the fly (so it isn't in my main notes).

Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps: No one ended up bleeding but that is a low bar for success I think. Although I'm sure Maria is going to be a little cautious of Amy given her reference on how hard it is to get blood out of whites. :)

Gallantmon228: Everyone seems to have their secrets don't they? As the wave keeps moving through the city more and more are being uncovered.

DrummerMax64: Thank you. Mistress Wolford doesn't seem to be a mammal to do things without a reason or without planning for contingencies. But yes a feline in line of succession to be Alpha seems likely to have resistance from at least some of the packs. Her allies/close allies comments imply that as well.

Thomas Linquist: Astute observation - running a pack has a lot of political aspects which have been hinted at but not covered. It's also very, very funny you mention Mistress Wolford and Mr. Big working together. That *may* be a part of a story line in Segment 3/4 - I was literally thinking about that over the last few days and playing around with the concept. It would be driven by other events and I still need to plot those out to see if they fit. But...an interesting coincidence, no?

Mistress Wolford has her reasons for accepting the idea (some are implicitly given in this chapter) although she has her own backstory as well. It is, also an interesting coincidence related to evolution (more on that to come in later chapters).

rpg fur: Thank you! We continue to shift into a more drama/humor balance as we move through the story line.

Thou Kraggy Knob: Thank you! I try to make my cliffhanger's have a large "funny/humor" component vs. a traditional one. That one was a bit of both. Potential humor (people imaging what was about to happen in the room) plus a bit traditional (as in Oh ## ). This chapter has, in a way, multiple cliffhangers in different ending scenes.

OneWolfe: The coincidences just keep piling up don't they? And yes...Elmo has been quiet for a few hours (story time). He must be up to something. :)

Guest: I know. [hangs head in shame]; I hope this chapter helps to make up for it.

Robert Escher: Ikr? She-wolves are intimidating enough. An Alpha? [shudder]

GusTheBear: Very much so. And very protective of her pack. I sent a few PMs on how I view the packs - an extended clan is a good basic analogy I think.

Fox in the hen house: I think Bogo is both in and out of his mind (so to speak) at this point. He is going to...let's say 'snap'...this chapter. Probably not in a way you expect thought. As for Judy and her dad...well..."She's her mother's daughter." =D

ConfusedGoatee: No...it really is supposed to be Carl. I went back and fixed it in various places. Thank you for pointing that out! One of the odd thing about writing a story so based on coincidences is that some of them weren't planned. They just worked out that way. I try to keep things...flexible is a good word I guess. I wanted a tie-in to Mistress Wolford with Carl. Miranda happened to be a she-wolf (for other reasons I did plan). As I thought about it...it was like...oh, oh yes. That'll work perfectly. :)


Nick stared at Bonnie, his head still tilted. She took a sip of her coffee. His head slowly returned to level; she took another sip.

"Wow."

"Mm-hmm."

"Wow."

"You already said that."

"I did. I probably will again."

Bonnie laughed and leaned back in her seat.

"Wow."

She reached out and patted his paw gently.

"So this...this is why Stu has always been so nervous about Judy in the city and about me."

"A big part of it. Between what happened to me and then Gideon clawing Judy when they were young you can't really blame him. He likes you though. He's trying very, very hard to change."

"I know. We talked about it a little last night after you and Judy left the room."

"This," the doe took in a breath and sighed it out, "is why I needed to apologize. Like I said - you aren't Caleb and Judy may be my daughter but she's not me."

"Bonnie. You had said it didn't end well," he held up his paws as her ears flattened, "I'm not going to ask - I promise. Think about it though. Here you are watching your past play out in front of you. Your daughter. Who's quite 'special'. Like you are. With another fox. I'm guessing he was a red fox too?"

She looked at her coffee and nodded, her paws cupped around it.

"You didn't know me. You had every right to be worried with what's happened. You know what Judy's like, if you said anything you'd either end up fighting or drive her towards it even faster if not both," he shook his head, "so there's literally nothing you can do. You have to just wait and watch. You aren't exactly a wait and watch kind of doe."

She let out a soft chuckled and nodded a few times.

"Yes, you were giving all types of mixed signals since I arrived. Even some on earlier visits now that I think about it." He reached over and put a paw on hers for a moment. "I meant it when I said it earlier - I mean it even more now; no apology is needed. This would have been really hard for you. Thank you for explaining it to me."

"Thank you Nick."

"None needed."

"Nicholas."

He almost whimpered at the tone. He dipped his head. Bonnie smiled.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome Bonnie."

"That's better." Her eyes flicked to just over his shoulder; his ears picked up pawsteps. He kept his eyes focused on her. "Who is it?"

"She used to be my best friend. Long ago." Her ears were flat.


Mistress Wolford's last question still echoed around the conference room.

"Mistress? There are some confused mammals in the room. Perhaps you could explain what you just said?" Nadine asked - tired of the silence and quite impatient at this point. So he's been...what...just waiting all this time? For some perfect moment? And what has she been waiting for? Idiots.

Are you talking about them or you and Ralph?
Uh...um...that's different.
Sure it is.
It is!
Right.
[grumble]

She frowned slightly before shrugging; she focused her attention on the phone.

"Well, back when-one second-Oh, that's the Worgton Alpha calling - I need to take this. Nadine - talk to them - can I leave this in your capable paws?"

"Ah...of course Mistress."

"Thank you. Call me later. After you and Ralph talk. Toodles!"

Click.

Every mammal in the room was staring at the table in front of them or at the phone.

Kara broke the silence. "There is nothing to-"

"Yes there is," Nadine cut her off, leaning forward and resting both her paws on the table. She looked back and forth between Kara and Carl. "From what I can tell the two of you have been not-dating dating even longer than Ralph and I have been not-dating dating. If how long we've been not-dating dating means we're really dating-engaged then all of your not-dating dating means that at the very least the two of you are dating-dating not not-dating dating."

Muzzles slowly drifted open and heads and ears tilted around the room.

"I...understood that." Rob said slowly, nodding his head.

"So did I. This concerns me." Maria looked up at the larger lion.

"It does make sense...in a if she weighs as much as a duck she's made of wood kind of way." Tom gestured with one of his hooves.

"WHAT?" Kara leaned forward to look around other mammals at him.

"Ooh...nice reference. Another point for the goat." Rob smiled and waved a finger at Tom.

"Thank you." Tom dipped his head in return.

"We're...are we?" she turned to Carl; he stopped staring at the phone and looked at her.

"Uh..." Is this a trick question?

"If he jumped in front of an angry tigress, wrapped his tail around you, and you not only let him but cuddled up against him...you're dating." Amy had leaned back and crossed her arms.

"Uh..."

"And don't forget the scents Officer Wolford picked up." Louise added.

"KaraCarl." Tom tapped the table with a hoof a few times as he said it.

"What?" Kara croaked out.

"You two. We have WildeHopps. They're WolfEyer. You two...KaraCarl."

"I like that. Nice ring to it." Rob had leaned in while speaking.

"Is anyone else having trouble not jumping out of their fur with all these coincidences? Or is it just me?" Maria had stood up and looked around the table. "It's like Carl's chaos bomb theory is real."

Every mammal turned towards her.

"First we have WildeHopps. As Carl's been saying all morning 'Boom'. The first explosion...they started all of this happening. Treely, the online groups. Wasn't it Carl that said yesterday how WildeHopps gives us WolfEyer?" She pointed towards him; he shrunk in his chair as everyone followed her gesture before turning back to her as she kept speaking.

"They run into WildeHopps before the news segment even airs? They end up in a bar where the news segment is on? They have a video that goes viral and they spawn off their own set of hashtags?"

"Are you kidding me? Really? But wait...we're not done yet..."

"Look at this morning with WolfEyer. Here. In this very room. The wolf ceremony? We call Mistress Wolford who happens to know Carl because he dated someone in her pack? Who...just because - well - why not at this point right?...is the producer of that same news segment? Come on? Seriously? And...of course...none of that would have happened without WolfEyer which wouldn't have happened without WildeHopps."

"So WildeHopps gives you WolfEyer and WolfEyer gives you KaraCarl. Boom." She plopped back into her chair. "And that's just the big things. We all know the other insanity that's been happening. All 'coincidences'," she put air quotes around coincidences and then shuddered.

"That's-" Kara was shaking her head.

Louise held up a hoof and stopped her. "The effect of each boom is smaller. Like follow-on explosions."

The sheep spread her hooves at the looks from around the table. "Well it is. Three new couples."

She started ticking off points on her fingers as she spoke. "WildeHopps was the first one. They're married. WolfEyer was the second. They're engaged. And-"

"KaraCarl is the third so they're just dating." Amy finished, nodding and looking around the table.

Louise smiled and sat back in her chair crossing her arms.

"You know Kara, it's possible we caused all this...or at least contributed to it." Maria tapped her paws on the table nervously.

"WHAT?"

"You wanted to involve Hopps and Wilde and what they did so deeply in the campaign. Especially Hopps. She had a lot of press coverage - her apology resonated with the whole city. Even predators who were affected started forgiving her after that hit the air. We know they did from the polls we ran." The lynx shrugged.

Rob had started nodding while Maria spoke; he started as she paused. "Yes. You're right. We constantly talked about what they did, how if the two of them could work together why couldn't we all. We kept the two of them in the news. All the time. As much as possible. We may not have encouraged the tabloids but we certainly didn't do anything about them."

Amy took over leaning in and looking around the room as her hooves lightly tapped the table. "Don't forget how we'd been counting on, and in fact planning for, them to start dating. We've been working on that segment for a few months and we all know you've been talking with the Chief about 'encouraging' them to get together."

She clicked and tilted her head making her ears wave, "So...yeah. Maybe we did."

"Kara?" Louise's voice was soft.

"Hmm."

"It's a good thing you're a cougar."

"I'm not going to ask."

"That's okay - I'm going to tell you. If you were a caracal I'd be resigning and running screaming from the room. I'm considering doing it anyway."

The ewe shook her head and rolled her eyes at all the puzzled looks sent her way.

"KaraCarl. Caracal." She said each word slowly, stretching out the sounds.

"Huh huh...oh...," Rob had covered his muzzle with a paw. "I...I missed that."

"It's disturbing enough you're a feline...on the smaller side...who's species also starts with c." Louise shook her head and shuddered.

"Oh wow!", "Right?" and other comments mixed in with nervous laughter filled the room.

Kara's ears had gone flat, her whiskers pulled back tight against her muzzle. Carl turned to her and put a paw on her arm, eyebrows together. She shook her head at him and then stood up.

"Well...given how much has...happened...already this morning. I think this is a good time to a short break and give all of us a moment to clear our heads. Amy - could you show these officers to the break room? There's coffee, tea, and the usual assortment of vending machines." Amy gave her a quick nod, "Of course."

"Excellent - let's all meet back here in say...15 minutes?" She looked around the room making eye contact with most mammals waiting for nods from each. Chairs started to be pushed back from the table.

"Chief Bogo, Carl - could the two of you come to my office? There's a few things I'd like to go over with you." She started heading for the door without waiting for an answer. Carl and the Chief turned, their gazes following her as she left.


Judy wandered through the trails around the farm. She'd left the house after learning about her mother. Not a bunny!

Rabbits were...affectionate. Their reputation had reasons after all; she was still having a hard time with what she'd learned. Not a bunny! My mom had an interspecies relationship! Years ago!

She wasn't headed anywhere specific; the trails around their property were well defined from hundreds of pairs of paws - she took some of the less well-worn ones. Smaller chance of running into any of her siblings. She needed to think. How did no one know about this? Why didn't I hear anything when I was growing up? Not even gossip!

What does Officer Hopps say?
Ah...that's a good idea. Let's review the facts.
We actually don't have many.
We know she dated a non-bunny, it ended at some point - since she's married to dad - and it was kept secret. Really secret.
'Really secret?'
Had to be. This was years ago. There would have been gossip. Lots of it. Some-mammal would have said something if many knew.
Reasonable deduction. Okay, we can count that as a fact as well.
By extension if it had to be kept that secret that means it would have been more than just gossip. It would have been a scandal. Public shame and ridicule. Or worse.
Reasonable again. That counts.
It wasn't a jack-rabbit or a hare...or anything close to a bunny. If it was then dad would have just said that. It also wouldn't have been as big a scandal.
Also reasonable...weaker though...but I think we can still call that a fact as well.
We also know dad wanted to talk to me, but I really had to push him. And even then he was still evasive.
Very unlike him. He wears his emotions and thoughts on his sleeves.
Exactly! Which means two things. First - it's serious. Which means scandalous. Extremely. Second, what he didn't say is just as important as what he said.
What didn't he say?
He was as vague as possible. He didn't say anything about them except that they weren't a bunny.
Which means?
He didn't even say it was some other prey mammal. He said it wasn't a bunny.
Your mom dating a sheep or a goat would have been a scandal back then.
It would...but to the point it's a complete secret? No one in the family knows or talks about it? With hundreds and hundreds of siblings?

In summary then...
The only thing that fits the facts we have is if she...
Yes?
She dated a predator!
Very speculative. The evidence could support other theories as well.
It fits though - circumstantial but it fits.
Now what? What are you going to do about it?
What we always do when we have a theory - go question the suspect-uh-I mean talk to mom about it?
This will go well.
Hush.


Kara had made it into her office before Carl and the Chief arrived; Carl pulled the door closed behind him.

"Carl - would you drop the blinds please?"

"Uh...sure...what are you...are you pouring drinks? This early?"

"Absolutely."

"Madame Mayor, I cannot drink on duty."

"Uh huh."

She finished filling three glasses from the decanter of scotch on the side table and carried them to her desk - then she went back to get the decanter; Carl and the Chief looked at the drinks and at each other before sitting in the chairs she gestured towards. Kara picked up hers and swirled it before sniffing and then taking a sip. Then another. And a few more. She refilled her glass as the Chief and Carl exchanged looks, each of their ears plastered flat.

She leaned back into her chair holding her glass. Carl's already pissed off for what I didn't tell him in the conference room. A few clicks of her tongue and another sip. This is going to make it worse.

"What I'm going to say doesn't leave this room. Any of it. You will be in a very small handful of mammals who know. Understood?"

Carl and the Chief exchanged another look before they both nodded.

Occasionally she'd swirl her glass and take a sip while she was talking.

"When I was growing up we had some neighbors - the Spotfords; nice mammals. They were a mixed couple - he was jaguar, his wife was a cheetah. Both felines, but they didn't have it easy. This was 30 some years ago...we all know things now aren't perfect but it's a lot better than it used to be."

"My parents didn't care one way or another; I didn't know what being well-off meant. We were though. Respected in the community and such. Even with that it cost them some family friends and made things difficult with members of the family...especially on my mother's side."

"Even though I was little I could tell. I overheard my mom on the phone one time yelling at grandma about it - something my grandma had said. Grandma didn't come over or call for awhile."

"I never understood why it was an issue; the innocence of youth I guess. I just knew the Spotfords were both nice, always asked how I was doing, and gave out great treats on holidays."

"That's probably when my passion...my drive...about fairness and equality started - seeing how they were treated by some of the other families in the neighborhood. Most were subtle...but felines have their cues like every species. Others weren't so subtle. I didn't really think of it as equality or discrimination...I was just a cub...I just knew it wasn't right."

"When I was maybe 8 or 9 they had a cub of their own. It took after the mom, a cheetah. He was adorable. My parents did a little welcome home and congratulations party for them when they got back from the hospital. Only one other family in the neighborhood came."

"Things got worse for them. I'd hear things like half-breed - I didn't know what it meant, I just knew it wasn't nice. I remember my mom trying to explain it to me. I remember not understanding why it was a big deal and how mammals should think its special that they were able to even have a cub. My mom just ruffled the fur on my head and told me to never change...to keep thinking like that."

"A few years later I'd cubsit for them. When Timmy, that's what I called him - his name was Thomas, got a little older and started school...that's when I truly realized how mean and hurtful mammals could be. I'd hear his parents talking with mine about some of the things happening in school - a private one - bullying, name calling, all of it."

"Once when I was cubsitting he just started crying. Eventually I got him talking. It wasn't just the other kids...it was his teacher. The bullying. 'You shouldn't have been born.' Laughing at him when he said he was going to tell his parents. 'Whatever. No one a believe a half-breed like you. No one cares. They'll just be mad at you for causing trouble.' I was shaking with anger. He didn't want me to tell his parents but I did...I had to."

"I was crying. He was crying. His mom was crying. My mom came over...she was crying. Tears of hurt and anger and helplessness."

"They moved out of the neighborhood a few weeks after that. My parents stayed in contact with them for a bit and we exchanged cards at the holiday but it stopped after awhile. My mom said they needed a fresh start...too many bad memories."

"I was only a teenager when they left. That was the start of my activism. Such as it was anyways...I was still in high school...so there wasn't a lot I could do and my parents were worried for me...my safety. I didn't quite know what or how...I just knew I needed to try and change things."

"One night my dad said that if I was really serious...I'd need to look into politics. How to get started. What degrees to take in college. And to be prepared for set-backs, failures along the way, and hatred. I thought my mom was going to kill him for bringing it up."

"I was off. I had a path. A mission. I attacked it with purpose."

"I know both of you at times have thought I'm hard-nosed. Focused on one thing. The Job. At the expense of almost everything else. How hard I've driven, how cutthroat I was at times during the campaign, and in campaigns early in my career. It hasn't always been smooth. I have screwed up along the way. My marriage for ratings being one of my less fine moments."

"Timmy and his family was a big part of it. Why it's 'The Job' and not just a job."

Carl and the Chief had been listening quietly the whole time she was speaking.

"While I'm sure that was fascinating, I know you're both wondering this has to do with anything. I'm getting there."

Carl," she sat up and gestured towards him with her drink,"remember in college when I disappeared for about two weeks?"

"Uh...yeah. Your dad...he...it was acute kidney failure. You were...you were a mess when you came back after those two weeks. If I remember right that was when you started...drinking...more. More often anyway."

"Yeah. A mess," she sipped her drink, "that's a good word for it." Kind of like I am now. And have been. I'm just better at hiding it. Campaign smiles for everyone. Including myself.

"Kara your dad almost died. Any mammal would be a mess. He had to go on dialysis. I remember you saying neither your mom nor you were a good enough match so he went on the transplant list. I can't imagine what it would have been like."

"Yeah...it was tough. It hit me...it hit me hard. Really hard."

She clicked again and leaned back in her chair.

"Especially since my dad wasn't my dad come to find out," she clicked and took another drink - a big one,"Hell of a way to learn that little family secret."


"Over here is our break room - you have your coffee machines and vending machines; restrooms are right down the hall around the corner and on the right hand side." Amy gestured with one hoof down the hallway. "The conference room is back to the left; take a right at the first intersection and then it's on the right hand side as well. If you have trouble you could ask anyone on the floor where Daybreak is located and they can get you back."

"Thank you," Ralph said.

"Is there anything else you need?", Amy had pressed her two hooves together in front of her chest.

"Um...yeah...I ah," Nadine took a deep breath and shook her head. "I want to apologize for my behavior back in the room, when the mayor and I were having our 'stare-down'. I'm going to apologize to the room but I wanted to apologize to you directly. You were sitting closest to me. I can only imagine how that must have looked and felt. I knew she was trying to bait me and I still reacted. I am sorry and embarrassed you had to see that." Nadine's head dropped a bit as she looked down at the floor.

Amy reached over and put a hoof on her arm. "Officer, I won't lie. It was almost terrifying. I'll admit it." Nadine shrank a little smaller. "Afterwards, when I thought about what she did, what she said about your partner, what she was implying...I can't blame you. I'd have done the same thing." She let go of Nadine's arms and spread her hooves. "Well...except for the whole snarling and claws and stuff." She pointed towards her head. "It's not the same but these horns are not just for show you know." She took a step back and clasped her hooves together again. "Apology accepted."

"Thank you," Nadine said softly. Amy nodded and walked off down the hallway.


She was still wandering the trails - she hadn't turned back to the house yet. There's something I'm missing...

At this point you're just guessing.
No...there's more. I know there is.
Perhaps. Perhaps it's best to leave it alone.
You're not being very helpful here. It's almost as if you don't want me to ask any more questions.
Some things are meant to stay hidden. Secret. In the past.
What? That's ridiculous!
Everyone has secrets. Your mom. Your dad. Nick. Even you.

That's not true!
Really? How many mammals know you had Mr. Big threaten Duke with icing to get the information you needed?
Ah...uh...that's different! We didn't have time! We had to stop what was happening! Lives were at stake!

She sat down on a small boulder. It was on the crest of a hill where the trail she was walking snaked out of the tree line before cutting back in. She could see the farmhouse and most of the fields.

Do you know, really know, everything Nick has ever done? Just yesterday morning there was something. You know he was hiding it. You let it slide. Why?
It's Nick! I know Nick! He'll tell me about what it was when he's ready.
So it's okay for Nick but not for your mom?
That's not what I meant! That was yesterday. This was years ago. Decades. Whatever it was can't matter now. Not anymore.
Bringing old things to light doesn't always make things better.

Whatever happened to the truth will set you free?
It's a great saying. Real life is messy. That's also a great saying. You've used it.


Carl gasped. "Uh...Uh...Wow. Just...give me a second." The mayor nodded taking another sip. Carl clapped his paws softly in front of his muzzle a few times. "Okay. I can see why you kept that a secret...but...hmm", he tilted his head as he looked over his paws at her. "I know the last two days have been crazy...but nothing would make this public. So why tell us? Why now? I'm missing something. I don't see...what am I missing?" He spread his paws. There's something else, there has to be. What else have you never told me?

So...you need to cut her a break about this one. This is a family thing.
I know. I know. It's just. There's always something. Something she doesn't tell me about.
Uh...you know...you have your own little things you haven't shared.
Oh yeah. That's right. How could I forget.
I'm just saying you've both-
It's kind of tough to find the right moment to say I started dating Miranda and almost ended up engaged and joining a wolf-pack before realizing it was a rebound from the relationship I didn't have with her and never would after she married John. Pretty sure they don't make cards for that occasion.
The last time you were willing to admit that was to Mistress Wolford.
That's where it should have stayed.
Secret?
In the past.

The chief couldn't help it. A small giggle slipped out. "Sorry madame mayor."

"You've already figured it out haven't you?"

Another small giggle. The mayor raised her glass towards him; the chief looked at it for a moment before reaching forward for his. Clink. They both took a drink.

"What? Figured out what?" Carl's head bounced between the two of them in turn. How does he know before I do?

"The mayor's biological father wasn't a cougar."

Carl's head snapped towards the chief before he slowly turned back to face Kara. As she nodded he reached for his own drink. That...okay...yes that is something else.

Well now.
Yeah.
I uh I got nothing.
Me either.

"Indeed Adrian. Indeed. I am one of those abominations. One of those filthy hybrids that some say shouldn't be allowed."

"It's kind of funny. Looking back."

"You see all the clues, all the subtle hints and wonder how you could have missed it."

"Why my parents were so supportive of the Spotfords - they knew that's what it would have been like for them.

"Why the fights with grandma were so intense - my mom was actually defending her daughter's right to exist. To be alive."

"That fight my parents had when my dad suggested politics? It ended when my dad said 'Let her be who she is.' I just thought he meant let me pursue my dreams. I didn't understand why my mom almost started crying and hugged him so tightly."

"So many little things."

"My mom not only has an affair...she ends up with a half-breed for a daughter. It was only luck I looked like her."

"Everything the Spotfords went through, everything Timmy went through...it should have been us. It should have been me."

"All of my life who I am, our normal little family - has been a front. A lie. A lie with a purpose though. One I'd already started on...in yet another strange little coincidence to add to the list."

"If I, through random chance, didn't have to suffer the way Timmy did; the way so many others had, well then I was damn well going to do whatever it took no matter how long it took to change things."

She downed half of what was remaining in her glass. "So. Back to chaos and what's been happening. All those 'coincidences' we've been seeing. Think about it for a moment. Not only am I a hybrid, our neighbor's son was too? The odds of that? And I look like my mother so no one knows, but I get to see what it could have been like?"

She finished what was left in her glass and set it down next to the decanter.

"After I finished being 'a mess' as you so eloquently said Carl...that's really when it became 'The JOB' - all caps. Nothing, and I mean nothing, else mattered. I'd already felt like I had a mission in life to go change the world. Learning this? Learning what could have been? It was no longer a mission in life. That mission became my life."

"Which brings us to now. Sitting here. Where the world is a very different place than it was just two days ago. Through a continually increasing set of incredible and unbelievable coincidences." She chuckled. "I keep wondering where it'll end. I keep thinking it can't get any stranger. I keep being wrong."

Carl's ears were flat and he had to hold back to keep from panting. Kara leaned forward with both of her arms on her desk. "Go ahead and ask Carl. I know you want to."

"Kara...what...what species was he? Your biological father."

She flicked her eyebrows as she made eye contact with the chief.

The chief stared at her unmoving for about thirty seconds. He downed the rest of his drink in a single gulp before setting the empty glass down lightly on her desk. Heh heh. We. Are. Doomed.

Excuse me.
Doomed. [giggle]
That's my line!
Doomed!

He shifted his bulk to face the much smaller coyote next to him.

"With everything that's happened in the last two days...with everything that happened in that conference room this morning...what do you think he was?"

Carl couldn't hold in his panting anymore. No. Not possible. This is so far beyond any-

"He was a caracal," the mayor said as she spun her empty glass on her desk.

She chuckled, her expression wry. "KaraCarl. Kar-uh-Carl. Caracal. Ker-uh-call. Hmm. It really is pretty close isn't it? Not quite exact though."

She raised her eyebrows and clicked. "Kind of like me I guess. Not quite exactly a cougar...my fur has just the slightest tint of red in a few places and there's tiny tufts on the top of my ears. Not something you'd even notice if you didn't know."

Chief Bogo giggled again.


"Are you all right?" Nick was staring at her concern evident; one of his ears was tracking the departing doe.

"I will be. Could we sit for a few moments longer? It'll give her time to leave. I don't want to bump into her."

"Of course."

She nodded her thanks at the tod and sipped her coffee. "Mayor Bellwether never stood a chance."

"Excuse me?"

"That insane sheep. She never had a chance."

"Bonnie...she almost pulled it off. She managed to do a lot of damage to the city and to pred/prey relationships. Judy and I even helped her with all our mistakes. A lot of specist mistakes. We were lucky. Very, very lucky."

"Nicholas, you misunderstand me. It wasn't a question. She never stood a chance against the two of you."

"I...thank you I guess...but it never felt that way. Everything that happened? The hustle we pulled at the end? It was insane. Desperation. It should never have-"

"You still haven't taken what I said during the drive to heart."

"I-"

"Perhaps you were lucky to get to that point but...somehow I doubt that. It wasn't luck your hustle worked. I think you know that by now. What just happened here, with Abigail? How you helped me 'persuade' her to leave?" She put a paw on his arm and squeezed lightly before letting go. "Let's just say that the two of you - with an actual bond between you - working together, both of you desperate, makes you much more...'persuasive.'"

Nick looked down at his coffee opening and closing his muzzle a few times; he couldn't find anything to say so he just nodded.

"Last night Stu said how you were good for Judy. I'll go further. You're perfect for her Nicholas. Almost like you were made for her. I can't imagine any mammal being a better match."

He shook his head. "You have it backwards. Judy saw through everything I'd built up around me. Years of wearing masks and keeping things hidden. She shredded them. Convinced me that I was more. She made me believe. It's more like she was made for me."

"Perhaps she was Nicholas, perhaps she was."


Ralph and Nadine walked back to the conference room - fresh coffee and some additional painkillers from the first aid kit in their paws. Amy was the only other mammal who had returned - she looked up and smiled as they came in before turning her attention back to her phone.

They took their seats and downed the pills while they were waiting.

"This is a lot better coffee than at the precinct," Nadine was looking at her cup.

"Almost anywhere is better than at the station," Ralph let out a small shudder. Nadine hummed and took another sip.

They sat in silence for part of a minute, spinning in their chairs, Ralph watching Nadine. She is about to ask something. Mulling it over. He took a sip and waited.

"Ralph - Carl was just kidding about that story right? The one where the Alpha's dragged a couple off to the courts. That doesn't really happen. Does it?"

"Some species have shotgun weddings. Wolves? We use the courts and the legal system. It's happened...more than once." Not as bad as I thought it would be. I'd expected something much more interesting with how long she was thinking about it.

"But...sex...like cuddle sex not...ah...more than that, not you know cuddle cuddle is okay, right?" Nadine was staring at her cup a light pink tint visible on her cheeks and the inside of her ears; Amy licked her lips, a small smile on her muzzle.

Ralph's ears went down and out; not flat. "Yes...cuddle is okay...it's the...uh...cuddle cuddle where I've seen the courts be used." I need to learn to keep my mouth and my thoughts shut.

"Hmm, well" the pink in her ears darkened slightly "what if a couple was trying to just cuddle but...uh...on accident...it ended up being a-ah cuddle cuddle? What happens then?" Amy abandoned the idea she'd get any work done and tried not to break into laughter.

Ralph's ears went down the rest of the way. "That's ah that's why even a cuddle is discouraged. Just in case." I am not ready for this. To talk about this. Not here anyway. Humor. Humor is good to distract. Always works for Wilde to shut down conversations or change topics. His ears shot up and he leaned forward a little towards Nadine.

"When my brothers and I hit that age...you know...the age for the talk...I'll never forget what my dad said." Ralph grinned at the memory. "He went, 'Boys. Remember. It's all fun and games until some-mammals knot gets stuck.' Crude humor's the best way to make a point with a bunch of hormone driven young pups."

Ralph chuckled. "He had a couple of other lines too. My favorite was when he'd say 'You stick, you pick.' That always cracked us up. Mom was not amused as in ear-flicking-so-hard-you-thought-it-would-fly-off not amused but we were young and stupid; we thought it was hysterical."

Nadine slowly turned to face him - her face now bright red; his chuckle faded into a faint whimper at her expression. Amy completely gave up and was snorting, sitting back in her chair shaking with quiet laughter. These two are adorable. Maybe even more than WildeHopps.


Judy was still on the boulder; feet tucked up with her arms wrapped around her knees. She shook her head. No...I need to know this. We, Nick and I, we need to know this. Whatever it is...

Why? Why not let this go?
Nick and I are mated. Married. Everything that goes with that. If whatever this was was something that bad, if it would have been that much of a scandal then no matter how long ago it happened it might still affect us.
How could it matter?
I don't know. Some other mammal that's been keeping it a secret but now says something? Another story in the paper? How my parents act? It could be anything.
Or it could be nothing. Nothing might ever come of it.
My mom might have been willing to take that chance with me. I'm not willing to take that chance with Nick. He's part of this now. I don't want to be...no...I won't be surprised by it. Dealing with it now, no matter how bad it might be, has to be better than dealing with it as a surprise.
I know. [sigh] I knew you wouldn't let it go.
What? Then what was all that for?
You needed to understand clearly, very clearly, why you weren't going to drop it.
Why? Wait. I know why. If it turns into something horrible I'll know why I did it. No second-guessing.
Correct. No repeat of the press-release where you didn't think it through.
Uh...yeah.

So where do you want to begin?
Mom...she wanted me to be normal. Doing normal bunny things. She always hated the idea of me being a police officer.
How would that relate?
If I was an officer, even just at the local sheriff I'd be interacting with a lot of predators.
Might have just been her wanting to keep you safe.
Yeah...hmm.
What else?
Well...she kept setting me up on those blind dates.
What mom wouldn't?
True. Probably just the same thing. Keep me safe. Do the normal bunny thing. Go home and pop out kits.
That was never going to be you.
No...that doesn't mean she was going to stop trying. Although...
Although...she did stop trying after that time you and Nick visited.
It was SOOO uncomfortable for Nick. That was a huge fight with her. I had to threaten to stop visiting for awhile.
She made a big issue of how it wasn't proper for you to spend so much time with him.
I know. It was like she thought we were dating. Or about to start.
Uh-huh.
What? We weren't dating!
Uh-huh.
I wasn't even thinking about it!
Uh-huh.
Okay. Maybe I thought about it a little bit now and then.
Uh-huh.
Can we...can we just move on?

This doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere.
Yeah...let's turn it around.
Okay. How?
We're already assuming it was a predator - fits the evidence we have. Circumstantial or not.
Fair enough.
Now...let's assume it ended badly. Very badly. So it was kept quiet not only because it was a scandal but because of what happened. What would that lead to?
Define very badly.
Somemammal got hurt or something. Assaulted. Pred on prey violence.
It could have been the other way. This was decades ago. It could have been that he was the one assaulted for dating your mom.
Uhh...hmm...
Either way...some type of violence isn't an unreasonable assumption. Even more reason for how quiet this has been kept.
Any injuries couldn't have been too serious. That would have been talked about. No matter what.
So at least a threat of real violence if not some actual minor violence.
Exactly. It's speculation but not unreasonable. It fits with what we know.

Alright. Play that out. What does it get you?
Dad knows what happened. At least some of it. More than he would share.
True. So?
He's scared by predators.
Lots of bunnies are scared of predators. It's not exactly unfounded given most of them used to eat us just a few thousand years ago.
Still. He's getting better but when I was young? Looking back on it it was off the charts. At least with foxes anyway.
Well you were slashed by Gideon. So first something - presumably bad - happened with your mom with a predator and then that? Of course he'd be a little over-protective.
A little? He made me carry Fox-Away to go into town, nevermind when I went to Zootopia where he gave me every anti-fox product that existed!
Well...true. And he'd try to give them to you whenever you visited no matter how many times you said no.
Right? So he'd sneak them into my bags so I'd find them when I unpacked. Ooh! I'd be so mad. No matter how much I yelled at him about it it never stopped!
Yeah. It wasn't until your mom was willing to have a "real talk" with him about it that it ended.
I know! It was that same fight about her setting me up on dates and...
...and?
...
Hello?

She stretched out her legs and slid down the boulder ending up standing and leaning back against it. Her ears had shot straight up and her nose was twitching so hard any mammal watching would think it was about to fly off. No. Well? If it...hmm. That would mean. But. CHEESE AND CRACKERS!

What? WHAT?
That's it. It fits! All of it!
Great. Wonderful. What's 'it'?
There are plenty of generic anti-predator products on the market, right?
The species specific ones are better but for general protection the generics work well enough so yeah...there are lots of choices.
EXACTLY!
Exactly...what?
Dad never gave me any of the generics. It was always fox specific. Every possible kind. Taser's, Sprays, Repellent, you name it.
Gideon slashed you. You have scars remember?
Duh. What about mom?
What do you me...oh...ah...no. Well. Hmm. CHEESE AND CRACKERS!
EXACTLY!
If your mom dated a predator and it ended badly with violence or whatever AND you were attacked by a fox-
Then if dad wanted to protect me against both of those threats-
Which he would - his mate and first born daughter were both injured-
Then whatever products he forced me to take or snuck into my bags-
Would be able to protect against whatever predator hurt mom AND the fox that hurt you-
But if he only gave me fox specific products then it means-
Mom didn't just date any predator-
Exactly. She dated a fox. The very same type of mammal she tried to keep me from dating!

She was already moving down the trail back towards the house at a brisk pace.

What ah...what are you going to do? I mean...we could be wrong.
We are marching back to the house to wait in the driveway until she gets back with our fox. And do you think we're wrong?
Uh...no...it explains a lot of things. Some of the ones we didn't even talk about. So what happens when she gets back?
We're going to have a little mother-daughter chat. I think it's long overdue.
May I be excused?
Hush.


Carl had finished his own drink and set it on the desk next to the other empty glasses.

"I ah...I...I was just...joking. The whole chaos bomb thing. That can't happen. Not for real. Can it?" I think I'm beginning to lose my grip on reality a bit here. Kara a hybrid. KaraCarl. Caracal.

"What do you think Adrian?"

He giggled.

"Adrian."

"Ah-hem. Sorry ma'am."

"Quite alright."

"Chaos bomb?"

"Oh...you weren't here last night. Carl's theory is that WildeHopps are a walking talking chaos bomb that charges up over time and then detonates causing havoc and chaos all around them. Unbelievable coincidences. Incredible events. Basically upending the city and affecting everyone they come in contact with."

"Hmm."

"The first 'boom' was the Missing Mammals case. The second was the Nighthowler Incident. The latest was in the ZPD atrium the other day."

"Hmm."

"And somehow, the effect...it's spreading. To other couples. Wolfeyer and everything that's happened with them and because of them. So now we have two of these chaos bombs walking around."

"Hmm."

"So?"

"I think the idea has merit."

"Really?"

"Well...my personal theory is that WildeHopps are, somewhat like you said, the harbingers of chaos - leaving a trail behind them wherever they go. Fluffy, adorable, little agents that shake the city, if not the world, to its very core. Whatever stands in their way is doomed."

"I like Carl's chaos bomb theory better. It sounds...friendlier."

"I understand madame mayor. I may be a bit jaded from dealing with their shenanigans for so long."

"Fair point."

Bogo grunted and nodded.

"We cannot be having this conversation," Carl shakily said.

"Carl...look at this morning. What's happened. I actually am part caracal. Three mammals - three knew that before I told the two of you. The only thing that would be any crazier is if I actually were a caracal." She snorted. "And if your name was Cal instead of Carl." She shook her head.

"So why did I share this now?" She sipped her drink. "I did it because I'm going to propose something which under normal circumstances wouldn't make much sense. We already know things aren't normal but this..." she shook her head and shuddered, "this coincidence is a whole new level."

The three of them sat and sipped their drinks for a moment before the mayor continued, "We need to get them out of the city. Out of Zootopia."

"Why?" asked the Chief.

"It seems to be working with WildeHopps. We haven't heard anything new about them since they left. The pack aspect of WolfEyer is going to make them just as big of a news story - perhaps even bigger."

Carl stared at his drink. She's probably right. Bogo closed his eyes and groaned shaking his head. I'm going to get to have to deal with Mistress Wolford directly again, won't I? He sipped his drink keeping his eyes closed. Hrmpt. It is under happier circumstances at least. He took another sip. Hmm...maybe WolfEyer isn't actually such a surprise.

Doomed?
When Ralph was shot Fangmeyer was off. Very off. Very emotional about it. It was her partner. Still. Hmm.
Doomed!
The'd been good as a team before. After Ralph recovered they were better; my most effective one. At least till WildeHopps started. Hmm.
No. NO! DOOMED!
Although Ralph was in the atrium the other night. And they did run into WildeHopps yesterday morning. Hmm.
Yes. YEEESSSSS. DOOOOOMED.
So...even if there was something between them WildeHopps certainly brought it front and center. Heh-heh. Doomed.
Yes! Doomed! Doomed! Doomed!
[giggle]

"Do either of you have a better idea?"

The two males looked at each other and shrugged.

"Fine then. Same as WildeHopps - a week off, with pay, to give things time to settle down." She took a sip. "It will also give them time to talk...I'm sure they need it. WildeHopps had been dancing around each other for months...WolfEyer though..." she shook her head.

Bogo grunted. "I can order them to take the time off; I can't order them to go somewhere specific - neither can you. Where are you thinking?"

"BunnyBurrows. Keep them near WildeHopps. Contain the potential 'effect'."

"They aren't going to like it. Mistress Wolford could convince them to do it though," the chief took another sip.

Kara hung her head for a moment. "You're right. I'll have to call her."

"The Chief's right, they won't like...but...Hmmm", Carl tapped the end of his muzzle. Work the problem. Focus. Something tangible. KaraCarl later.

"But?" Kara prompted.

"Chief - WildeHopps and WolfEyer are friends right? Not just fellow officers?" Carl turned to look up at him.

"Eh...hmm...yeah I'd say so...at least to some degree. They've all been partnered with each other at one point or another. There are girls' nights out, guys' poker nights, things like that - the four of them seem to go. I don't know if it's at the point they'd call each other on the weekend to to set something up; Clawhauser would know that."

"As long as there's something."

"What are you thinking Carl?", Kara asked.

"Being able to talk to WildeHopps might help them. They're overwhelmed. Especially Nadine. Wilde and Hopps are the only mammals who have any chance of relating to what the two of them are going through. I don't know if it will convince them but at the very least I think it'll help convince the Mistress."

"Good point. Nadine's reaction was more...intense-", Carl snorted, "-then I'd expected. And now they end up engaged and she finds out she's essentially a princess waiting to ascend to the throne." Kara sipped her own drink shaking her head. "I'm surprised she's doing as well as she has been."

"One more thing...and this is going to sound even nuttier than my Chaos Bomb theory but," he took a large drink before continuing, "What if them being together is like a multiplier? Amplifying the effect each of them has." Carl sat forward quickly, almost spilling what was left in his glass, "That could become a big problem, especially in BunnyBurrows." What I said is nuts. So is everything else though.

Bogo grunted again. "The sheer number of mammals there. WildeHopps and WolfEyer in the middle of them all? Spreading and sowing chaos?" He took another sip.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Kara said looking at the Chief.

"Well...Hmm. They cause a bunny uprising. An army of rabbits led by Hopps riding Wilde like some war-steed of old coming to take the city and turn it into carrot patches."

One of Kara's eyebrows hit peak height as she tilted her head. Okaaay... The Chief shrugged and spread his hooves. "Would it really be much more ridiculous then everything else that's happened? The discussion we just had?"

"I'll take that chance. Adrian - call Wilde. He'll answer your cell. Let's make sure there's a place we can send them out in the burrows - they probably don't have many where a tigress could stay. If we find one then I'll call Cassandra."


The drive back to the farm was in a comfortable silence. It ended about half-way down the approach the house. Judy was in the driveway, pacing back and forth. When Bonnie stopped the truck and turned it off she stopped pacing and stood arms crossed, a small dust cloud rising from one rapidly tapping foot.

Nick's ears pressed flat into his head, "She...she looks unhappy."

He saw Bonnie nod out of the corner of his eye, "She talked to Stu. I'm sure he didn't give details but-"

"-Judy's smart enough to work it out on her own," his voice soft as he shook his head.

"Exactly."

"Should I wait here?"

"Nick."

"I don't want to intrude on such an important mother-daughter con-"

"Nicholas."

He whimpered as the two of them left the truck. He trailed behind Bonnie as she approached her daughter.

"Judy."

"Mother."

Nick swallowed and stepped slightly to the side of the two does. Here we go again.

This is worse. Much worse.
Lovely.
I'd say...yeah...Mark V angry bunny is about to launch.

Suddenly he heard the most wonderful sound. The most amazing sound. The best possible sound he could have imagined hearing at this instant. His phone. His phone giving off a very specific ring tone.

"You're one HOT dancer Chief Bogo!" and dance music emanated from his pocket. The does locked in a stare-down ignored it.

"Uh...that's the chief!" It's the chief! I have to answer it!

"You've spoken with your father."

"Yes. I had to pry information out of him. You will not be upset with him. He didn't tell me much."

"It must be important if the chief's calling!" Nick started taking a few steps away. I may have to hug him the next time I see him.

"You're one HOT dancer Chief Bogo!"

"I'm not upset with him. I know how persuasive you can be when you want something."

"Why? How could you have done what you did and then try to keep me from Nick?", her ears were vibrating.

"I'm going to step over here since I can't ignore the chief." He took a few more steps and then darted around the back of the truck, crouching down.

"You're one HOT danc-" Click. Nick cupped one paw over his muzzle and the phone; he put the other over his ear that wasn't pressed against the phone. I do not want to know what they are saying. That is a huge giant nope nope nope.

"Chief! I've never been so glad to get a call from you! Judy and her mother are about to have a HUGE argument right now!"

"Officer Wilde."

"Chief, your voice has changed."

"This is Mayor Sharpson."

"May...uh..um...hello ah ma'am. Sorry ma'am."

"Officer Hopps and her mother are with you?"

"Yes...sortof...ma'am. I stepped away from them to take the call."

"Well, having them there makes this easier. Let them know the mayor needs to talk to the three of you."

"Uh...ma'am...now is really not a good time. This argument is just getting started."

He heard a sigh over the phone. "What are the two of them arguing about? Can it wait?"

"Well...turns out Judy's mother dated a fox before settling down with her husband and it's been a sort of family secret all this time. Or at least a secret from Judy. Judy's figured that out somehow and is...not...uh...amused given her mom tried to talk her out of dating me."

"I should be surprised. I'm not though. I don't think much could surprise me anymore."

"Ma'am? Are you okay?"

"Did you see the papers this morning?"

"Uh...well...which one?"

"Any of them Officer Wilde. Your two coworkers? WolfEyer?"

"Oh...that. I...I saw it."

"About fifteen minutes ago while we were meeting with the the two of them Ralph received a phone call. By the end of it he and Nadine were engaged."

"WHAT?"

He didn't see the two sets of ears rotate slightly towards him. Bonnie held up one finger; Judy glared back as her foot started creating another dust cloud.

"It's not final. It seems Mistress Wolford had been preparing for this possibility - after all a tigress being a pack Beta and in line to be the Alpha has never happened before - so they have a few days to decide."

"WHAT?"

Ears rotated more directly; heads followed. The two does looked at each other and nodded - Judy's accentuated with a frustrated huff - as they walked over to Nick.

"So...believe me when I say very little would surprise me at this point."

"You...you seem quite calm."

"Scotch helps. The Chief, Carl, and I have been discussing what to do next."

"Ma'am...it isn't even 10am."

"Under the circumstances we decided to make an exception."

"I...think I can understand that."

"Good. Are the two of them still arguing?"

"Ah...", he almost jumped when he saw the two of them standing next to him,"no..actually...uh...they're both looking at me probably wondering what's wrong." The dust cloud at Judy's foot began growing faster.

"Yelling 'what' repeatedly can have that effect."

"Uh...yes ma'am."

"Would you put me on speaker please?"

"Just a moment."

He hit mute on the phone.

"Nick, what's wrong?"

"The mayor called me from the Chief's phone. She wants to talk to the three of us." He held up a paw before they could begin asking questions.

"She also said that Ralph and Nadine are engaged-"

"WHAT?", Judy's eyes went wide and her paws slapped the front of her muzzle; Bonnie's eyebrows raised.

"although it isn't final yet-"

"WHAT?", the does looked at each other and then back at Nick.

"and that her, the Chief, and her assistant have been discussing what to do next while drinking scotch in her office."

"Nicholas, you're not making any sense." [bonnie]

"I don't know any more than what I just said. I'm putting her on speaker."

He hit a button on his phone. "Ma'am?"

"Yes."

"We're ah all here. Myself, Officer Hopps, and her mother."

"Thank you. I wanted to talk to three of you as I need to ask for some assistance. Specifically with your fellow officers. WolfEyer as they are now called." [look at each other] "Through a rather incredulous serious of events the two of them also began dating last night and...as of about 15 minutes ago became engaged."

"WHAT?" Judy screeched; Nick had to shake his head to clear his ears.

"Officer Fangmeyer is having a similar reaction. As you can imagine this happening right after the two of you - and considering that Officer Wolford's parents are the leaders of the pack - is going to drive even more media frenzy and attention. While most mammals have been wondering when the two of you would become a couple WolfEyer seems to have appeared out of nowhere. Some of the speculation in the papers is rather unfriendly. On top of that their engagement is...I guess you could say tentative. Officer Fangmeyer didn't quite understand what was happening and according to Mistress Wolford they have a few days to decide what they want to do. It's a very long story. The two of them could explain it better."

"Other odd events have been happening - that will also create even more of a media circus. Those are an even longer story to explain."

"That is a just a small amount of background for why I'm calling. Since the two of you departed for Bunny Burrows...you've been less visible. There hasn't been any new news about you - the papers this morning were just a rehash of the news segment last night. That's what the two of them could use right now. The two of them have had even more of a whirlwind 24 hours than the two of you did."

"Madame Mayor, this is Bonnie Hopps. What do you need?"

"Ah, Mrs. Hopps. What-"

"Please, call me Bonnie."

"Then please call me Kara - especially since I'm asking for a favor. None of us know Bunny Burrows all that well. We're looking for something like a hotel, guest home, or something similar which caters to predators - larger ones. A place where the two of them could stay for a few days to get away from the city."

"Well. Hmm. There's one or two; they aren't very nice though. Why don't they stay with family?"

"We thought about that. There would still be press although it could be minimized. However right now I think they time with friends just as badly. Friends who might be able to relate to what has happened - unlike their family."

"Judy and Nick."

"Yes. Their fellow officers are the only mammals who could possibly have any idea how they are feeling. Who could understand how quickly their relationship has changed, about being on the front page of the papers, the internet, and basically everywhere. They are struggling right now, especially Officer Fangmeyer. I think being able to talk to mammals they trust, mammals who can relate will help both of them."

"Hmm. They'll stand out here."

"I know." A loud sigh came through the phone."It's not perfect. It may not even be a good plan. I think it's the least bad one though. It's certainly better then having them stay in the city."

"The hotels we have won't work - not for that. I have another idea though."

"Please."

Bonnie looked a Nick and Judy let out a small grunt and nodded. "They'll stay here. At our farm."

"WHAT?" Nick and Judy said at the same time.

"Are they your friends?" she focused on Nick.

"Wha-yes of course they are," Nick said.

"Would you want them staying in any of those hotels?" she moved her eyes to Judy.

"No...they aren't very nice," her daughters ears drooped onto her back as she wrinkled her nose, "They're actually pretty nasty."

"Exactly. If they stay here - we can use one of the cottages for the larger guest workers - it will be more private and you two can talk to them as much as you need. When they need alone time they can just head back there. It'll also be good for the kits to be exposed to more predators. There's some wolves out here in the burrows but no tigers."

"I don't think dad is going to like this." Judy said shaking her head.

"Nicholas, tell him to call me if has questions when you tell him."

"Uh...I'm telling him?" Nick's ears flattened again.

"Yes. You're going to tell him and then the two of you are going to make sure one of the cottages is ready."

"We are?"

"Yes. While your doing that Judy and I are going into town."

"We are?"

"Yes. We need to finish our...discussion...and we'll need more groceries for them. A lot more I imagine." Judy's ears dropped further; being trapped in the truck with her mother had not been part of her plan.

"Bonnie, the city will reimburse you for all the costs. I'll make sure of it. You are doing us a favor and, I think, a huge kindness for Ralph and Nadine. They've been through a lot. It's only going to get worse for them. Some quiet time with friends will help."

"I don't know how quiet it will be - I'm sure the kits will be all over them and pester them with questions but we'll make sure they get some. I imagine the two of them have a lot to talk about."

"Bonnie - I don't want to give offense; I do want to be sensitive though. This is a huge imposition on your family and it is two rather large predators...a wolf and a tigress. Are you certain this will be okay with the rest of your family?"

"They're friends of Nick and Judy and they need our help. As for them being predators...the world is changing Kara. Nick and Judy are part of that. Things aren't like they were years ago, and we all need to change with it. I believe it will be good for the kits; if I didn't I'd say no. We'll make this work."

"Thank you Bonnie. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Officer Wilde?"

"Yes ma'am?"

"I'm going to text you my personal cell number. Please get it to Bonnie. Bonnie - I want to make certain you can reach me directly if you need to."

"Thank you Kara."

"Good day to all of you, and again - you have my thanks." Click.


The cottage they chose was set back and to the left from the main house. Easy walking distance. The door was open; voices from inside carried out.

"It's been a while since we've used this. Haven't had any guest workers for a few seasons."

"Stu...I think they'll love it. Plenty of room - a bit away from the main house. Just needs some dusting and cleaning up."

"I've already turned the power and water back on."

"This is amazing. Shower, stove, mini-fridge - everything they'll need!"

"Why are we doing this again?"

"Uh...because Bonnie told us to."

"This seems like a bad idea."

"I think Bonnie think's a good idea."

"Heh-heh. Yeah. Sounds like she does."

"She said you could call her to-"

"Oh no. Nope. No need. Heh-heh. Toss me the paper towels would ya?"

"Done. I had the same thought. Bonnie seems to have to decided...and...ah...you know-"

"Not going to argue with her over it?"

"Bingo."

"Heh...yeah. Arguing with Bonnie just tends to make her angry-"

"-and you lose the argument anyway?"

"Heh-heh yeah. Don't forget to fluff the pillows - they've been in the linen closet for awhile. We should rotate the mattress as well."

"I'm all over the fluff. I'll probably need help on the mattress. Bonnie is a wonderful doe. She can also be a little frightening when she's angry."

"You have no idea Nick...no idea-well...actually I guess you do. With Judy. I'll take this side. Ready?"

"Yes...angry...bunny...bad...very...very bad. Whew. Thanks."

"Ha ha! So...uh...these are your friends? Right?"

"Yep. Ralph and Nadine are officers in precinct One just like Judy and I. Excellent officers."

"Well that's good to know."

"It's kind of funny now that I think about it - we've both been partnered up with each of them at different times...when one of us was out, when one of them was out. Now the two of them are coming here. A little weird."

"Were they good...ah...partners?"

"They were. It was just a little strange working with someone who wasn't Judy...and who was so much bigger. Can you toss me the cleaner?"

"Here ya go. Yeah. Bigger. Ralph ah Ralph's a wo-wolf, right?"

"He is indeed. About a foot...maybe a foot-and-a-half taller than me. A lot heavier too. Much stronger. Nadine's even bigger. Of course she is a ti-"

Groan. Thud.

"-gress...Stu? You okay? Stu?"


The entire time Kara was on the phone Carl was thinking. About what she'd just said. About...a lot of things. He was still half-listening to the call but his mind was elsewhere. It showed on his face while she was talking to WildeHopps and Bonnie.

After the mayor hung up the phone he shook his head to clear it. This will make our talk tonight a lot more...something. I don't even know what.

This explains...things. A lot.
Yeah...I just...it's...I'm still taking it in.
How single-minded she can be. The 'end justifies the means' approach at times.
Yeah. I'd wondered where the passion - almost zealot level - came from. Pfft. Wow.
Can you imagine what it's been like for her?
No...I can't even pretend. Not in the slightest.
The attacks on her campaign from the purity groups, the policy debates-
Slurs she's heard over the years-
Everything was personal. Literally. It attacked who she was, not just her policies or views as a candidate. Who she is.
She's kept all of that inside. Hidden.
Campaign smiles. Every politician is good at them. She's a master. She's had to be.

"That went as well as I could have hoped," Kara handed the Chief's phone back. "Please text Wilde my number; we can check that off the list." Bogo grunted.

"Okay so now", she put both paws on her desk before she looked down at her desk, "I need to call Mistress Wolford since we know-"

"Madame mayor? Before you do..."

"What is it Adrian?"

"One thing we may have overlooked. If the...theory...is correct you're still going to have two epicenters for the...effect. WildeHopps and WolfEyer in Bunnyburrows and you two - KaraCarl - here in Zootopia. You might be a...uh...3rd order effect? I think that's what someone said in the room so maybe we don't need to be concerned. However, it's not like we can send the two of you out of the city. Keep that in mind."

She looked back to Carl. She'd been watching him while she was on the phone to BunnyBurrows - the reactions on his face while she was talking. The reactions just now.

This is Carl. He's known you for a long time. He knows you.
He thought he did. Kept just a few-itty-bitty secrets from him.
Be real. Do you-
Would I have won the election if the night before I went public with this? That I'm a hybrid?
That has nothing to do with this.
Really? Some of them wouldn't have voted for me because of what I am. Others wouldn't because I'd kept it hidden - even if they were sympathetic to why I'd done it. I'd lied by omission. I didn't have the courage to be who I really am. Whatever. So...would I have won?
...No. Probably not.
Mammals can say it doesn't matter. That just means it does. It always matters.
Carl knows you.
He didn't. Now he does. I'm a half-breed. And a liar. I just proved it to him. Again.

"I don't think we're going to have to worry about that."

Bogo closed his eyes. You cannot be about to do what I think you are.

"What?" Carl asked his eyes narrowing.

"I said I don't think we're going to have to worry about that. KaraCarl."

"What are you talking about? We'd already made plans for tonight - another one of those coincidences that just won't end - before what happened in the conference room. Before you told us this. I'd say we have even more to talk about now...both of us."

She dropped her eyes to her glass and licked her lips.

"You think I'm that angry you didn't tell me this at some point? Maybe I'm...I don't know...hurt...kind of...you never did, but I can understand it."

"Carl that's just part of it."

"Then what are you talking about?"

"Lying half-breed", she whispered, "Remember?"

Bogo sighed to himself. You did. It's that bad isn't it? I hoped but I knew. You always know.

"What?"

Bogo rubbed the bridge of his nose, eyes still closed. And now the other half is going to make it worse. Aren't you?

"Did you really just say that to me?"

"Carl, I-"

"After all...are you", he snarled, "Stop talking. Just...stop. I can-can", he snarled again and hissed, "I can't even talk..." Carl's ears were flat; his jaw locked while he tilted his head turning down and away from her.

He could hear Carl's forced breathing to his right. He's turned away. Wonderful. On his left were choked breaths - uneven; the sound of fur wiping on fur, ice cubes clinking on glass. She's trying not to completely break down. No sounds of drinking so that's her probably trembling holding her glass. He sighed. These two are the poster cubs for why we should bring back arranged mates.

Bogo shook his head. Idiots. Both of them. All of them. Everyone. I am surrounded by idiots. I did something in a previous life and I will suffer idiots in this one until I die. Wilde and Hopps. Wolford and Fangmeyer. Now these two. Especially these two. They're the biggest idiots of the lot of them. He grunted. I guess that makes sense. They've been practicing at being idiots for longer than the others. They've almost perfected it.

Doomed?
No, I don't care that they've had a rough day. We've all been having one.
Er. Hmm?
You're right, I don't get paid enough for this. No one could.
Doomed!

He opened his eyes and loudly cleared his throat; they ignored him. He cleared it again, louder. Carl's ears flicked towards him but he kept looking away; the mayor lifted her eyes just enough to make contact with the Chief.

"Both of you are idiots." That got Carl to turn his head. "What?" he snapped, eyes narrowed.

"Silence!" Bogo's hoof slammed down on the desk in front of him bouncing everything on the desk just a fraction into the air - surprisingly nothing spilled. Carl and Kara turned into mirror images of each other - ears flat, whiskers down, tails curled, hunched down in the chairs - trying to be as small as possible - and both looking up at the water buffalo in fear.

"You will both listen to the elder-mammal in the room. Understood?" Both of them nodded as his gaze swept between them. "Good." He smiled; it wasn't a friendly one, before he turned towards the mayor his expression now...somber.

"Kara, you're a good mammal. Even a good mayor - and that isn't something I say very often. I don't always agree with everything you do but unlike the other mayors I've worked with over my time as Chief you're doing it for the right reasons. For the city. For the mammals in it. This though, you're being an idiot."

"You're looking for answers in the wrong place," he tapped the decanter on the desk, "and don't even try to tell me its not becoming a problem. Things may be crazy but it's not even 10am. The first thing you went to after what happened in the conference room?" He flicked the decanter with his hoof. Ting. "I've seen this too many times. I know what to look for - I have to. It's not just the last few days with you."

"There's nothing wrong with a drink now and then for the right reasons. Yours aren't. Can you still get to sleep at night without a drink or two or more to 'relax' or to 'get out of work mode' or whatever it is you tell yourself your doing?"

She blinked a few times and opened and closed her mouth. She just barely shook her head.

"I thought so." He grunted. "There aren't answers in there. I've seen a lot of mammals look for them and never find them. You won't either. You wake up in the morning cold and alone on the outside. A little colder and a little emptier on the inside. Just like it is with each drink it pours."

"After a while it's empty. Just like you are. It's hard to see the good in anything when you're like that...especially any in yourself. When you can't see the good in yourself it's hard to believe any other mammal sees something good in you either. It only gets worse from there."

"You're not only being an idiot...what you're doing is making you a bigger one. That's why you said what you did a minute ago. It's the only possible reason. You know Carl. You know better. You know him better than that. Hell, even I know him better than that."

He softened his voice and his glare. "You may not see the good in yourself anymore. You may not even believe it's there. You may not believe you deserve anything good in your life ever again. You're wrong. About all of it. Maybe you can't see it anymore but other mammals can."

"Of course," he turned to Carl - the glare and voice hard again, "even when they see it that doesn't mean they're always going to tell you about it. Sometimes instead of talking to you...well...they go and talk to other mammals. Not to you. Not to the mammal who needs to hear it. From the mammal they need to hear it from. Or they just don't say anything at all. That's what usually happens. They do this because they're also an idiot. Just a different kind of one."

"However, that wasn't enough for you was it? You take her idiotic statement and run with it to bring us a whole new level of idiocy. You know her. You know how distressed she is from what's been happening and what she told us. I can smell it in her scent and your nose is lot better then mine. You care about her and you react like that? When she's that upset? So yes, you were an idiot before and you're still being one now."

He flexed his hooves in the air just over the desk, "I should...bah" he grumbled and set his hooves back down letting out a loud, long sigh.

"We're all under stress. Huge stress. There's a lot happening right now." He shrugged and stood up. "There was a lot last week. There'll be more next week. It never stops. It's the nature of our jobs. There's always going to be something and it's very easy to get lost in all of it." He crossed his arms and leaned over slightly looking at each of them. "You find answers the same place you find what you need - in a mammal you know. A mammal who knows you and cares about you anyway...flaws and all. It's hard enough to find them. It's even harder in all that noise from everything that happens everyday." He leaned over a little further resting his hooves on the desk. "Sometimes you need to just make it stop. Even I need a reminder about that now and then. We all do. A reminder to hit pause and take a look around us. See what we've been missing or missing out on." He stood back up to full height. "That's why the first thing I'm doing when I walk out this room is to call my wife and tell her we're going out tonight. The job matters; she matters more. I couldn't do this without her in my life."

He grunted and backed away from the desk. "You're better than this. Both of you. Act like it." He started walking towards the officer door. "I'll tell the room that there was a call you had to take and the two of you will be along shortly," he said over his shoulder as he walked away and quietly closed the door behind him as he left.

Tension and silence filled the air, neither one speaking or making eye contact with the other until Carl let out a small sigh.

"So...uh...that just happened." Carl turned back towards Kara head low, barely meeting her eyes.

"Giggling Adrian is concerning. This Adrian..." her head was low as well.

The silence returned; sometimes she glanced across at Carl - other times she wiped at eyes and sniffled.

Carl started tapping his fingers together in front of his muzzle, "We just get chewed out by the Chief of Police for not dating didn't we?" He was looking at her over his paws, chewing on his lip.

Her head tilted a fraction. Did he just try to make a joke? "There were a few other things but...yes...I think so." She licked her lips. "Although with the comments about his wife...it might have been about not being married." She let a tiny sliver of a smile show as she sniffled.

"Hmm...true," Carl rocked lightly in his chair, "You know...a couple of times...especially at the end when he leaned on the desk towering over us?"

"Mm-hmm?"

"I swear", he showed his own tiny smile as he held eye contact with her, "I thought he was going to pick us up by the scruffs on our necks, slam our muzzles together, and start yelling 'NOW KISS.'"

She blinked a few times and then snorted a half-cry/half-laugh and covered her muzzle. Behind her paws she felt her smile get a little larger.

"Well didn't it?" He covered his own snort.

"Completely."

Their chuckles faded and their smiles became weaker and weaker as tension returned to the room, both of them shifting their gazes.

"Carl, I-" she stopped as he held up a paw and then put both of his down on the desk towards her, palms up. He wiggled his fingers. She slowly reached out and put her paws in his. He closed around them and started rubbing the backs of hers with his thumb pads.

"I...don't believe I'm about to say what I'm going to - you'll find the irony quite delicious I think," he dipped his head and clicked as he sighed. "We, as much as we need to talk and - let's be clear - we are going out and we are talking tonight, also need to get back to...dare I say...'the job' and back into that conference room." He clicked again as he shook his head.

"I...yes...I can see the irony in that. Just a tiny bit." She snickered and sniffled.

"Yes, hmm." His thumbs stopped moving and he lifted his head to look at her more directly. "Can we...until tonight when we won't be rushed...simply...agree...with the angry water buffalo, that we've both been idiots...about a bunch of things for a while?" His voice softened as he spoke.

"I can do that," she gave his paws a soft squeeze and blinked away a few more tears. He nodded. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Good. Okay," he leaned back slightly and let out a long breath before nodding again. "So...I'm going to ah going to clean up all that," he gestured towards the glasses and decanter with his head, "and you", he raised his paws tipping the backs of hers towards her so she could see all the dark smudges on them," really need to fix your make-up before-"

She pulled her paws back, eyes-wide as she looked at them. "Shit!" She grabbed an ice cube and started rubbing on her paws. "Shit!"

"-you call Mistress Wolford." He started reaching for the glasses when a paw on his arm stopped him.

"Carl. No laughing. Please."

His eyebrows wrinkled. "What-", his eyes widened as she started grooming the back of her paw and wiping her eyes down with it.

"I don't" lick, wipe "have time" lick, wipe "for any-" lick, wipe "thing else!"

He clamped his muzzle shut. "Mmmh uh!" he mumbled as he stacked up the glasses and took them and the decanter away from the desk.

She pulled out a small mirror from the top drawer. She let out a low growl. Great. She found the number in her phone and dialed - placing it on speaker. She pulled a few items from her clutch while it was ringing.

"Hello?"

"Cassandra, Kara here. Thank you for picking up." She tilted her head down and moved the mirror around. Most of it's gone. I can blend in what's left.

"Kara. What's wrong?"

"I'm fine...or I think I will be. Maybe. Ask me again tomorrow. At the moment though, I need your help with something." Another layer of lipstick.

As Carl slipped out the door and closed it behind him she would have sworn she heard laughter from the hallway.

"Do tell."


"Sorry about that Nick."

"Don't worry about it."

"I know they're your friends. It's just-"

"Stu. It's okay really. This is your home...your burrow! Your family lives here. All your kits."

"I'm trying, I'm really trying!"

"I know. I see it Stu. I do. Bonnie just invited a wolf and a tigress to stay here. That has-"

Groan.

"Stu?"

Thud.

"Well...I actually said the whole word this time. I guess that's progress. Maybe. I should...eh...I'll spray down the shower first. And the toilet. The cleaner definitely needs to soak for awhile. Then I'll wake him up again."


The Chief walked down the hall back towards the conference room. He grumbled. Weren't they...ah there's one. He opened the door to one of the little touchdown rooms - essentially a closet-sized office with a tiny desk, chair and phone. He pulled out his cell. What? No little 'doomed' bouncing around in my head?

Done for today.
Good. I've hit my limit for now.
Later though. Lots.
That's fine. Tonight...I'm going on a date.
Tee hee! Lots of those tonight.
I only care about mine right now. They can take of their own. Or not. I did my part.
You did goodlies. [pat] [pat]
[grumble]

He called home.

"Hello?"

"Martha, it's me."

"Adrian? What's wrong?"

"Does something have to be wrong for me to call my wife and tell her I love her from work?"

"Now I know something's wrong."

"I guess that means I haven't been saying it enough lately."

"Oh Adrian...I love you too. Don't be silly. I'm just worried. You've been under a lot of stress lately, even more than usual. I know it's part of the job - that doesn't change the fact I'll always worry about you."

"Yeah...the job. That doesn't make it okay. I'm leaving work early tonight. We're going out."

"Wha-can you really? There's so much going on! We-"

"I'll find a way. Somewhere nice so we can dress up. It's been too long since we did that. I'll make reservations."

"Adrian. Are you sure you're okay?"

"I am now."

"Oh Adrian. Love you."

"Love you too. I'll call when I'm leaving."


Miranda glared at her phone; the mammal driving her ire wasn't in sight so it would have to do.

"No Sam...I don't have a draft together yet. We're still-" the light for her second line lit up. Wait. That's-

"Sam. I have to let you go. Urgent call. I'll call you back when I'm done."

"Don't you-" Click; she switched over to the other line.

"Hello Mistress."

"Greetings Miranda. How are you doing?"

"I'm well. Things have been quite busy."

"I'm sure they have. I believe you know why I'm calling."

"It's about your son and his partner. WolfEyer."

"You are correct. I have a favor to ask."

"I'd be glad to assist if I can Mistress."

"I know you're working on a short segment for this evening. I need you to delay it for a few days."

"Mistress, that will be...difficult."

"I know. I believe, however that you'll have much more interesting segment to report then. An exclusive of course."

"I...I can make that work. Thank you for understanding Mistress."

"You are most welcome."

"Mistress, may I ask a question?"

"Of course."

"How are you with all that is happening?"

"I am excited. Anxious. Relieved. My son has returned. It's almost hard to put into words."

"I am happy for you Mistress. For you and yours."

"Thank you."

"Always Mistress."

"Before I go...one other thing...which may be of interest."

"Please."

"You remember Carl of course? The mayor's chief of staff?"

"Yes. Somewhat fondly...in a way...I suppose, even with what happened. Things could have turned out far worse between the two of us."

"Well..."


"This is embarrassing."

"It's okay, really. It's not everyday you have visitors like this."

"That's for sure!"

"I think this is why Bonnie wanted you to help instead of the kits. To give you time to get used to the idea."

"That...huh...that kind of makes sense. I didn't pass out as fast last time."

"No you did not."

"I'm trying really hard."

"I know you are. Maybe try this...you are going to have not one, not two, but four - count 'em - four fully trained police officers staying here. Four decorated officers all with different skills."

"Huh. I didn't think about that...I'm guess I'm so hung up on...pred-predators I don't think right sometimes."

"We may all be on leave but we're officers first Stu. Never forget that. You know what Judy can do. You know what Judy and I can do together. Ralph can track any scent - there's nowhere for them to hide. Nadine? Pfft. She can leap and jump even higher than Judy. If any mammal tries to do anything while we're here? Well...then they are going to have a very, very bad day. We will protect Bonnie, you, and the kits. It's what we signed up for. It's what we do."

"I...okay. I'm sorry Nick."

"Don't be. You're trying Stu...really trying. Some mammals wouldn't. You are. That says a lot about you."

"Okay. Let me give it a shot."

"Go ahead."

"Ralph and Nadine are going to be staying here. Your friends. Police officers."

"Yes."

"Ralph's a wooolf."

"Good. Very good. You okay?"

"Yeah."

"Alright. When you're ready."

"Nadine's a..."

"You can do it Stu. I know you can."

"...a ti..."

"Keep going."

"a ti...gress."

"You got it! Just breathe a bit."

"Nick?"

"Yeah?"

"You're a good mammal Nick. For putting up with me. Things I've said. I've done."

"Stu...I wasn't always...Judy...Judy helped me become one."

"No. I think you've always been one. Judy helped you believe it."

"Stu...I've done some-"

"You've done what you had to do to survive. Probably...probably cause of mammals like me."

"I've...I made choices. I own them. No one else."

"You could of made a lot worse ones. Done a lot worse things. We didn't give you a lot to pick from did we? You did the best you could. Oh...oh...DAAAAWWWW!"

"Stu-GURK! Stu!"

"Like I'm sure Judy says...shut up and let me hug you."

"You bunnies. So emotional."

"Darn tootin' we are! Don't you forget it!"

"Never will buddy...never will."


Ralph snuck a glance at her. She was curled up on her side; the seat reclined just a bit. It looked completely uncomfortable. He shook his head. I have never and I'm sure I will never understand how can she sleep in such weird positions. Or at least not wake up stiff and in pain. Calling it a feline thing just doesn't explain it.

She had not reacted well to the mayor's plan. "What is this? A bad movie? Banished to BunnyBurrows?" He hadn't liked it either. The mayor's explanation made some sense...some...to him; Nadine wasn't sold on it in the slightest. It wasn't until his mother called that she agreed to go along with it. From the way the mayor had been glancing at his phone before it rang he could guess how that happened.

The Chief had made one of the department's stakeout cars appear in the lot under City Hall - another officer dropped it off. They'd taken it and swung by their apartments to pick up clothes and sundries. They mostly managed to avoid the press waiting out front by using the emergency access doors. Being officers they had security keys to their apartment buildings and codes to over-ride the alarms. They were only supposed to be used in an emergency; the Chief had suggested it saying this qualified.

They'd agreed to split the drive; it would take a few hours and they both were tired. He'd asked to take the first half. He'd thought she was going to argue with him over it...but then it clicked; he could see she understood when her eyes went soft and feel it when she stroked his muzzle. Both of them knew he had no intention of waking her up if he didn't have to; both of them left that unsaid.

He couldn't stop the smile that stretched across his muzzle. She's earned a nap after this morning. He reached over and rested a paw on hers; his tail trying to wag in the seat underneath him.

Nadine opened her eyes.

She glanced around and then closed them again. Did we already arrive? Did I sleep through the whole trip? How'd I get inside?

She opened them again and sat up. Still here. Okay. I'm sitting on a couch in some-mammals living room. Where the hell am I? Everything looks too big for bunnies. Wait. We were driving. I...was taking a nap. So I'm dreaming. Right? Right. A hungover-just got engaged-banished to BunnyBurrows dream. This should be good. Wonder if I'll remember it. Not sure if I'll want to.

"There you are. Perfect timing."

Her head snapped to the voice. A she-wolf - Really? I'm dreaming about she-wolves now. Sure. Why not? - was carrying a tray; it had two teacups and a teapot on it. She set it down on the coffee table in front of the couch - When did that appear? It wasn't there a minute ago...was it? - and then sat down in a chair next to the end of the couch where Nadine was sitting. She's sitting kitty-corner to me. Heh heh. Kitty-corner.

"It's jasmine. Your favorite," the she-wolf said as she poured some into each teacup. "I haven't had it before. It smells quite good." Nadine watched her as she filled the teacup in front of her. Okay...well...this can't be any weirder than...well...anything else that happened. I don't...at least I don't think I recognize her. She seems kind of familiar though. I've seen a lot of she-wolves in the last day...maybe one of them? She seems to know me. Nadine shook her head. Of course she knows me. It's my dream.

"Do I know you?" Nadine reached for her teacup. Just a little chit-chat with yet another she-wolf. Drinking my favorite tea. In a dream. I'm really close to losing it aren't I?

The she-wolf smiled as she picked up her own saucer and cup and sat back in her chair. "In a way. We have mutual...friends." She blew on and then sipped her tea smacking her lips a few times. "This is quite good. I see why it's your favorite."

Nadine took a sip as well. This is my favorite brand. Of course. My dream. If I'm going to have tea in a dream with a she-wolf it should at least be my tea. Well, now that we've settled that...moving on. In a way? Mutual friends? With a pause before friends - she was thinking of what word to use. So we don't exactly know each other but we know of each other. Fine. I know a few wolves from the force. She blew on her cup. The only wolves I know well are Ralph and his family. She took another sip. Ralph and his family. That would mean...She lowered her cup to her lap and held it with both paws - her eyes not leaving the mammal across from her. The she-wolves' smile softened.

"Jamie," Nadine whispered.

"Yes."

"This is a dream right? We, well Ralph was driving. I'm taking a nap. So I'm dreaming. This is all a dream."

"That is certainly the most logical explanation."

"That's not actually an answer."

"No, it isn't. How's your tea?"

"Quite good. Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"This doesn't feel like any other dream I've ever had."

"The last day hasn't been like any other day you've had. Or this morning."

"Very true."

"You're physically drained, emotionally overwhelmed, and have remnants of a hangover. You've gone from being partners with Ralph to being his partner. His life-partner. Dating. Engaged." She raised her cup and took a sip, "all that was before being banished to BunnyBurrows," before setting it in the saucer in her other paw. "You've been busy."

"That's one word for it. So...what? This is my brain trying to work through it all? Find some deeper meaning? That's what they say dreams are don't they?"

"That is what they say."

"That's still not an answer."

"No, it isn't. Perhaps you're asking the wrong question?"

Nadine stared at her while taking a sip; Jamie stared back.

"Why...why am I here?"

The she-wolf nodded. "Why do you think you are?"

"I have no idea."

"I think you do."

Nadine opened her mouth and then closed it; shaking her head. "It doesn't matter. I shouldn't be here. This is wrong."

"It is your dream, you probably have to be here."

"I didn't mean it like that."

"What did you mean?"

"Here. Not here here. In the car. With Ralph."

"Ah."

"None of this...it shouldn't be happening. We shouldn't be engaged. We shouldn't be dating. Last night, this morning. None of it. We're just supposed to be partners."

"Why?"

"Why?" Nadine spluttered - she set the saucer with her cup on the coffee table. "What do you mean why? He should be with you."

"You want him dead?"

"WHAT! NO! That isn't-"

"Then what did you mean?"

Nadine leaned forward dropping her head low, looking at the floor in front of her. "You should still be here. With him. Not me."

"Now we're making progress."

Nadine lifted her head. "What?"

"You feel guilty."

"OF COURSE I DO!"

"Why?"

"He's your...you two are-"

"He's a widow. A lone wolf." She shrugged. "I think it makes it pretty clear what I am. I'm deceased."

"It's not right. I feel like I betrayed you. Why aren't you angry? You should be...I would be...maybe. I don't know...you just...you certainly shouldn't be sitting here calmly drinking tea with me."

"I was the one who insisted he promise to move on. How could I be angry at either of you? Especially you." She leaned forward and put her paw on the tigress' arm and squeezed it, "You saved him. Not once, but twice." She leaned back letting go.

"Twice? Once. Maybe. Maybe the shooting counts, although the med-techs really did the job-"

"No. They told you. Mistress Wolford told you. He would have died if you didn't react as fast as or in the way you did."

Nadine sighed and looked down again. "Maybe. Fine." She looked back up. "That's one. What's the second? I don't remember anything else serious happening. We've had run-ins, dangerous situations. Nothing like that though."

"What did Ralph say this morning? When you were in that conference room."

Nadine snorted. "He said a lot. Take your pick."

Jamie gave a slight head tilt. "True enough. 'A healthy pack is life.'"

Nadine's smile faded.

"What comes next Nadine? I know you remember."

"A...a lone wolf is...death."

"Yes. Ralph was a lone wolf. Alone. For a long time. Not anymore."

"Is this a dream?"

"Why do you ask again?"

"All these things you're saying, all these things you seem to know. How?"

"I haven't said anything you didn't already know or that wasn't a natural or logical extension of something you do know."

"So this is just my subconscious' way of dealing with what's happened. Working through it. Anything I know, even if I don't consciously remember is part of it?"

"That's a good way to look at it."

Nadine clicked and picked up her tea; she leaned back into the couch eyes slightly narrowed. "What's Ralph's middle name?" She sipped her tea.

Jamie tilted her head slightly and her smile widened; her eyes twinkled. "Why do you ask?"

"I don't know what it is...you, though...you would. So if this isn't a dream you could tell me."

"Would you really want to know if this wasn't?"

"Yes."

Jamie chuckled. "What's his middle name is a question better answered by Ralph. There are reasons he should be the one to tell you."

"See...right there. If this is a dream...if this is my subconscious working through things...it would have to say something like that."

"Or, if it isn't a dream it might be it's not as simple a question as you may think."

"Are you part feline? All these non-answer answers."

She let out another chuckle. "Are you part wolf? Officer Worgton certainly must think so now."

"Heh...heh. Uh. Yeah."

"We're wolves. You know we have rules. I have discretion, however there are limits."

Nadine smirked and shook her head.

"When you ask Ralph about his middle name you should think about asking him that other question."

"Which one?"

"The one you've buried and tried to forget. There was something he said when he was shot. What it could have meant terrified you."

"I have no idea what you're talking about."

"Yes you do. Although, with what's happened I suppose you don't really need to ask what he meant. You already know."

"He didn't say-"

"You told yourself he didn't know what he was saying. He'd just been shot...he was bleeding out and you were trying to stop it. You were yelling at him. Alternating between calling him an idiot and telling him to hold on so you could kill him for being such an idiot when he recovered." She tilted her head. "A very she-wolf type reaction by the way. Just an observation."

Her paws started trembling; just enough that the teacup and saucer in them softly clinked. Jamie reached over and put a paw on hers to steady them; her eyes never leaving Nadine's.

"What did he say Nadine?"

"Not again," she breathed out, her voice barely audible.

"Yes." Jamie reached up and brushed away tears from Nadine's muzzle. "What do you think he meant?"

"He...he..." Nadine closed her eyes and tried to turn away. Jamie's other paw caught the other side of her muzzle; holding her in place.

"It's okay. This is part of why you're here. Why we're talking. What do you think he meant?"

"He...wasn't...going to allow something...to happen to me."

"Why?"

"Jamie...I don't-"

"Why?"

"He wasn't going...to lose...another mammal he cared about." She sniffled and opened her eyes. "Like he lost you."

"Yes," She brushed away a few more tears.

"Sorry."

"For what."

"I don't know...everything?"

"The two of you have been not-dating dating as you called it for a long time. It seems like things are moving fast - and they have been in a way - but you two have been doing this for years. That's a long courting period even for wolves." She moved back into her chair and picked up her tea again. "This jasmine tea is really good. I wish I'd tried it sooner."

Nadine wiped at her eyes as she laughed and snorted. "Thank you."

"He loves you you know. He'd talk about you when he'd come visit - not a lot at first, but more and more over time. We may never have met, but I know you. Through him."

"How...I don't, uh didn't? Don't? I'm not sure what word to use - know that. I kind of know the first part...I think. Not the second. How could that be in a dream?"

"Did any of it surprise you? Doesn't it sound like him?"

"Not really...I guess. Knowing him it's not really a surprise he'd do that."

"You love him too."

Nadine's paw trembled again before she steadied it with the other. Clink.

"It's why your other dates never worked out. You'd compare them to him without even realizing it. It felt wrong to be out with another mammal - like you were cheating on him. Very un-feline...but very wolf-like. You buried it; how you felt. Just like what he said that night. Left it all unspoken."

Clink. Clink. Nadine breathed out slowly.

"For you, it all started more than two years ago. When he was shot. When he almost died. What he said. Your reaction at the hospital was a lot more than concern for your partner. Bogo had to threaten you with suspension for you to be treated."

"I was fine."

"You'd been shot. Multiple times. They didn't penetrate your vest since it was stronger than Ralph's. You had several broken ribs from the impacts and have a scar from where your arm was grazed."

"Compared to Ralph I was fine. I was waiting for an update on him before I took care of it."

"Yes. You were."

"I knew I was fine; that I'd be fine. I didn't...I didn't want to miss an update. On Ralph. In case."

"The formal dinner invitation with his family? You could write that off as thank you - and you did. Maybe that's all it was first. Or maybe Mistress Wolford saw something. It didn't matter; you wanted to get to know her. His parents. His family. You didn't understand why, but even then you wanted them to like you for who you were not just because you saved Ralph. They did. And then dinner with the family on a fairly regular schedule? Mistress Wolford suggesting some of them? Asking Ralph about you? You knew that wasn't normal. You just didn't let yourself think about it. Neither of you did."

Nadine's ears drooped.

"What Hopps said to each of you? It was just the little push each of you needed. Nadine...you're an intelligent mammal. Would the two of you have ended up kissing and spending the night at your apartment if there hadn't been something there? Something under the surface both of you knew...but each of you kept finding reasons to not look at. That video was just making up for lost time."

Clink-Clink-Clink. Jamie's paw steadied hers again.

"WildeHopps gave you a reason to look."

Nadine closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. She felt the she-wolf's paw leave hers as she blew it out slowly and opened her eyes again. Yep. She's still there. This isn't just a dream. I mean...it's a dream. Just not a normal dream. I have no idea what I'm even trying to say. She clicked once and nodded. Actually, yes I do. Even if I'm saying to myself.

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"I don't know...everything?"

"You're welcome."

"I feel...better. After talking about it." I do. I don't know why...but I do.

Jamie dipped her head in a small nod.

"I'd change it all if I could. In an instant. Even now. Even if I'd remember all this and it meant Ralph and I would just be partners again." Nadine forced her paws to remain steady. "I wouldn't hesitate Jamie - not even for a second."

"I know...and I thank you for that. But that's not a choice you have."

Nadine dipped her head low, very low, like she had seen Ralph do at times towards his parents; Jamie matched her gesture.

"We she-wolves have, hmm, call it an intuition. It's part of why the three reached concurrence so quickly. Part of why Mistress Wolford has done the things she's done. Why we've found you worthy - both of him and your name. Mistress Nadine Wolford."

"Um...huh? We haven't...we're not married. Or done a life-mate ceremony or whatever other ceremonies are needed. I don't even know what they'd be."

"You're engaged. That's enough."

"Now, I know I don't know that. How could that be part of a dream?"

"Dreams are wondrous and amazing things. Sometimes they bring us clarity. We see things we've missed. We understand things we didn't before. Intuitive leaps. Not always though; sometimes we have more questions when we wake up then before."

"Which one is this?" She's going to say both of course. Silly question.

Jamie laughed and smiled. "Some of both." Nadine smiled and shook her head. The she-wolf clapped one paw against her leg and shook her head. "Oh, how I wish we could talk more; there's so much...alas it's not to be."

"Why not? Wait. Let me guess." Nadine held up a finger. "I know this one. More rules?"

"No...", Jamie smiled even wider. "It's something much simpler. It's just about time for you to go. You should finish your tea."

"Hmm? What? Is this my subconscious telling me we're half-way there and Ralph's pulling over so we can switch?"

Jamie chuckled and set down her cup. "No, it's not that. You know he'd let you keep sleeping and drive all the way there."

Nadine chuckled back and sipped the remaining tea from her cup. "Yeah...yeah he would. So what is it then?"

The she-wolf put her paws together and rested her muzzle on them. "Ralph's about to get a phone call. The Chief. It's going to wake you up."

An eternity passed.

"What?"

Jamie took the cup and saucer from Nadine's paws and set them down on the tray. She turned back towards the tigress taking both of her much larger paws in her own and matched her stare. Nadine's eyes dilated as her ears and whiskers pulled flat. No...it can't...that's why...that's why she seemed familiar...

"You...you were there," she breathed. "When Ralph...the shooting. That's what...I felt you...," barely audible - her eyes locked on Jamie.

"You called to him; he chose to stay. His decision. Know that. Never doubt it Nadine. Never."

Her breathing became faster, louder. Jamie...

"Trust yourself." Squeeze. "Trust Ralph." Squeeze. "You'll need each other for what's coming."

"You're one HOT dancer Chief Bogo!" Dance music filled her ears as her eyes snapped open.

"Damn it! I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Wilde keeps changing the ringtone for the chief. I don't even know how he gets my phone!"

She stared at Ralph. I'm in the car. We're in the car. He's driving. Ralph's paw still on hers.

"You're one HOT dancer Chief Bogo!" More dance music.

"I'd wanted to let you rest all the way there! You need it! I'm sorry - I should answer. I'll try to be quick...but it's the Chief...so..." He pulled his paw away and reached for a button on the console. "Maybe you can fall asleep again after I'm done." He smiled at her and then turned back towards the road.

She didn't move. I don't think I'll be sleeping anytime soon.

"You're one HOT danc-" Click.

"Hey Chief. Wolford here."

"Wolford. Good. How much longer till the two of you get there?"

The chief's voice faded; her heart pounding in her chest drowned him out. Maybe never again.


[AN KaraCarl vs. Caracal

While most of the wordplay and coincidences in this story are intentional and were planned...this one I cannot directly take credit for. It truly is a coincidence - to the point I didn't even notice it although I had planned for Kara and Carl to be called KaraCarl (I like how it sounds) for some time.

Starfang's Secrets is the one who pointed out the similarity to Caracal (a smallish feline). Since she mentioned it I've been thinking about how to bring it into the story line and how to tie it to the characters; their background. This thinking led to what culminated in this chapter for KaraCarl. All of these core characters are "damaged" or "off" in some way. They all have a past...some darker than others...some more damaged than others; this played into that better than I had hoped.]