Hello everyone,

This chapter took way too long to come out, and I take full responsibility for it. Three months is a long time, but a combination of real life as well as stretching myself a bit thin took its toll on me. Summer is a busy time at my institution, and it's also when many conferences are going on, and I was literally travelling halfway around the world at times (for readers who live in Hawaii...you are blessed beyond words).

Fortunately, I wasn't idle during this time, and the result is another doozy of a chapter. This time around it's a proper break chapter, so no tears this time around...although it wouldn't be my story if there weren't some more serious moments, but I held back. I hope you all can enjoy it.

In addition to writing this chapter, I was also involved in Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps' latest collaborative work, the What If? Project. Most of you are probably aware of his mammoth One Hundred Kisses from last year, or his Always my Sly Bunny, Always my Dumb Fox, and this new project takes things in an entirely different direction. In my mind, the closest comparison are the What-If Machine episodes from Futurama. Basically, it allows authors to come up with unique scenarios for Nick and Judy to experience. Everything from the age of the first pact between predators and prey, to the distant future.

For my contribution, I finally was talked into writing a Nick and Judy-focused tale...but we all know that I can't do normal at the best of times, so my arc has the duo in a very different role; as hitmammals for Mr. Big. The two of them are still making the world a better place...just using some more permanent methods. I encourage you to give the entire work a read, as it's the combined efforts of dozens of authors and artists. Hitmammals itself is included in chapters 28-32, and can also be found in my Side Stories collection on both FanFiction and AO3.

Once again, my thanks to WildeNick for editing this rather lengthy chapter. Please show him some love and read his story, Three Months a Fox.


Now to acknowledge those readers who took the time to comment on Chapter 12, and to a few new readers who have just started LC&BD.

From FanFiction:

stevegallacci: I'm glad that the character interactions and the drama worked in the chapter, and you're quite right that there is a dearth of drama for the sake of drama. Also, I can't thank you enough for the drawing that you made for the story, and I can't wait to show it to the readers as part of Chapter 14.

Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps: I think everyone was waiting for Jason to suffer some kind of real consequence, and as always I value your input, as well as giving me a chance to contribute to the What If project.

Berzerker88: I always try to make sure that all of my characters are more than just one-dimensional background fodder. Jason is most assuredly "that dickhead doctor" but there is more to him, and I'm happy you found the insight into him interesting.

Nicolaiwulf: You'll see how Dave fares shortly, but bruises are incoming.

CK: Before starting Lost Causes, I had no idea I could write narrative fiction at all, so I'm glad that I've managed to meld the narrative and the science together. I'll be interested to see your work as well.

KOakaKO: The mystery of the Rey's will eventually either be solved, or yet another family will be crushed by tragedy. I'm certainly going to keep my cards close to my chest on this one.

Chorpion: I hope you made a full recovery...and also that you didn't smash your phone. I can attest that the nurses probably would have been unimpressed with you.

Tinbuzzard11: I'm glad you stumbled onto the story, and thank you for your suggestions. I'm still learning how this style of writing works, and I have a long way to go, so any and all help is appreciated.

Ande883: Welcome aboard, and I hope that you enjoy the story as it unfolds.

From AO3:

WolfGuardMiestwin: Working at a university setting has shown me that it is entirely possible to be utterly brilliant, but also socially stunted at the same time. For mammals like Jason, the feelings of others doesn't even enter into his thought process...until something like what happened in chapter 11 makes it affect them.

PAMDirac: I hope you managed to watch the megaplate video. It's a beautiful chronicling of evolution in action.

CAPTAINPRICE79: I see that you've become attached to Tommy and Janet, and sorry for torturing you over on Discord. There are no tears in this chapter, so it should be easier on the heart than the last one.

Venomheart_The_Dreamer: Glad you gave the story a chance, and that you enjoyed it. Sorry that there are no tears in this one, but I hope you like the dialogue and fight choreography.

MayaSerena: Believe me, I wish I had something like Epigenetics for Dummies. Unfortunately, it ends up that I'm the dummy who has to figure it out for myself.

DrBry: Welcome on board, and I hope that you made it through the rest of the story to date. You hit peak sadness (so far) with Chapter 10, and this chapter is a true break from the tragedy at the Honeywell Centre.

And now, after far, far too long, I give you chapter 13 of Lost Causes and Broken Dreams


Chapter 13: Learning and Leisure

As he left the Honeywell Centre, Dave glanced at his wristwatch, and gave a slight wince when he saw that it was already seven. He knew that he would need to hurry if he didn't want to risk getting on Carol's bad side. Even though the two of them had undergone a kind shared catharsis in their relationship, it wouldn't stop the coyote from punishing him for being tardy.

"The odds are that the other students will already be warmed up, so I better make the most of this," he thought to himself as he started jogging. He had never been much of a runner prior to meeting Carol, but he had quickly taken up the hobby in self-defense. Unlike his mate, it wasn't something that he particularly enjoyed, but it did provide some physical benefits, as well as representing another activity they could do as a couple...even if she regularly left him in both the literal and proverbial dust most of the time.

As he picked up the pace, his breath began to come out in a measured pant, as he moved to push his limits once again. "It will be a few weeks before I'll see any real benefits from giving up smoking," he thought to himself as he settled into a measured cadence, "but until then, just keep pushing like she's taught you."

He had known from the get go that maintaining an active lifestyle would be a requirement in their particular relationship, and overall it was something that he enjoyed. After spending 12 plus hours at the Centre, he needed someone who was very eager to kick his tail into doing more than flopping on the couch at the end of the day, and Carol had taken to that particular responsibility with a zeal that only she could possess.

The memory of their third date together flashed through his mind as he ran. It had been to an eighteen kilometer obstacle course that had left him literally crawling over the finish line, after being beaten, soaked, electrocuted, and frozen...all while Carol and some of her ZAF comrades offered the military's version of encouragement to the poor wolf. He had persevered though, and over the years his fitness had improved across all measures. He still couldn't compare to his mate and the other ZAF personnel, and even though he had fallen behind in recent weeks, he was still in the best shape of his life, and as a wolf, that was something to take pride in.

He had managed to work up to a comfortable pace by the time he reached Carol's salle. As expected, there were a pawful of ZPD cruisers in the small lot, but he was surprised to see that he and Carol's car was absent. He momentarily checked his phone to see if he had missed any messages, but there were no notifications other than the usual deluge of pharmaceutical sales spam in his in box.

"Another question to be added to the pile," he thought to himself with a chuckle as he pocketed his phone and entered through the front door. As expected there was no one manning the front desk, so he made his way to the back of the lobby and tapped his wallet on the RFID sensor to unlock the inner door leading to the changing rooms.

"At least some answers will be forthcoming here," he muttered as he stored his gear in the locker, his nose already picking out a few familiar scents in the air. He could tell that Robert was among the current crop of students, and he also thought he caught the scent of Ivan Snarlov. The two wolves were both familiar students of Carol's and they had built up a bit of rapport over the past couple of years. Although Snarlov was several years their junior, it had been coincidental that all three had come from traditional wolf households, and they had found it amusing how the pack instinct to protect had steered them into their various vocations.

The other scents were more indistinct, and Dave resigned himself to going in cold for this particular test of Carol's. Her words from this morning hinted at something new, but what exactly that was, he had only an inkling. Possibly it would involve the size of his opponent...or perhaps the number of them. It was true that the vast majority of his training was with Carol herself, and she was significantly smaller than him.

"Not that it would make much of a difference," he thought to himself as he exited the change room, and made his way to the training floor. "I could be a ten foot tall rhino, and she'd still have me eating floor mats."

As he approached the door, his ears twitched as they heard the familiar sounds of mammals training. After tapping his access card on the reader, he entered quietly and took in his new training mates.

As he had suspected, Carol was absent from the group, and a frown crested his muzzle as he tried to parse the meaning. Ian Snarlov was currently practicing takedowns with a female tigress, whom he recognized as Officer Nadine Fangmeyer, while Wolford was working with other two easily recognizable officers, Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde.

"Interesting," he thought to himself. "These are Carol's best and brightest in the ZPD." This thought was immediately followed by a sinking feeling in his stomach, and a nagging question in his mind. "What the hell am I doing here with them?"

As part of his training with his mate, he was familiar with the progress of many of the regular ZPD officers that trained in AMCQC. Carol was not one to give praise lightly, but each of these mammals had impressed the fiery coyote, and that spoke volumes regarding their proficiency. All this made his own presence all the more confusing. He was just a civilian after all. He may have been training for far longer than most of the ZPD, but it was little more than a hobby, and another way to spend time with Carol.

He pushed these thoughts away as he saw Wolford's ears twitched towards him as the door clicked shut, and the other wolf turned to greet him with a warm smile and a raised paw.

"You made it, Doc!" Robert said warmly as he walked over and offered his paw to Dave, who grasped it firmly, and smiled as he spoke.

"Wouldn't miss it...not like Carol made it an option." There were chuckles from around the room at the admission, and Dave made a motion to the Salle. "On that note...I thought she'd be here by now."

Snarlov gave a bark of laughter and picked up an envelope from the side of the room, before walking over and handing it to Dave. "Spitfire said she needed to pick up some friends for this session, and to give you this when you got here."

Dave looked at the plain envelope with a simple "Dave, open me!" jotted down on the outside. Shrugging he used a claw tip to slice open the flap and pulled out a single piece of paper inside. He had to laugh at the penmanship, as Carol was the one who had the doctor's paw-writing in their relationship, but he was well experienced in deciphering both Carol's script, as well as his colleagues.

Dave,

Picking up some folks from Savannah Central Command. Take over and drill sticky paws until I get back. You and Wolford are together. I want Hopps and Wilde, and Snarlov and Fangmyer paired up. We'll switch things up once I bring our surprise "guests".

Aim for speed.

Love, Carol

"Awww, ain't that sweet, Doc?" Wolford teased over his shoulder before chuckling to himself. "It's been a while since we ran that drill, but Spitfire mentioned wanting to get the ZPD back in shape with it a few weeks ago."

The other members of the class had closed in around the two wolves, and Dave noticed more than a few quizzical glances at the paper in his paws. Flipping the page towards the other mammals, he cocked his head to the side. Before speaking.

"Well, we have our marching orders, as it were," he said, and gestured towards Officers Hopps and Wilde. "I don't think we've had the chance to be introduced before; I'm Dave Hawthorne," he offered his paw to the pair.

There was a knowing smirk on Wilde's muzzle as he shook Dave's paw, "Oh we both know about you, Doctor Dave. Carol has told quite a few stories about you since we joined up." The todd released Dave's paw and motioned to himself. "Nick Wilde, and this is my partner..."

"Judy, Judy Hopps," the doe chimed in, cutting off Nick with a sideways glance before shaking Dave's paw in turn. "It's nice to finally meet you in person...well for more than a glimpse at least, and don't mind Nick, Carol practically gushes over you."

Dave looked at the rabbit somewhat askance at the comment, knowing full well that, when in the salle and teaching, 'gushing' and 'Carol' were two words that rarely existed in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence.

Nick also looked confused, at the statement. "Are we talking about the same Carol Latrans, Carrots?" he asked with no small confusion in his voice. "Last week, I believe she called him a 'clumsy oaf', and compared him to Francine on the dance floor."

There was a rumble of laughter behind the pair, as Fangmeyer chose that moment to speak up. "It's a girl thing, Wilde," she said, with a dismissive wave of her paw before holding up a single digit. "She might call him, clumsy."

"Or, lazy," Judy added without missing a beat.

Nadine nodded adding another digit into the air before continuing, the two passing the insults back and forth, "Infuriating."

"Stubborn,"

"Pig headed,"

"Workaholic,"

"Lacksidasical,"

"Soft,"

Fangmeyer paused at that one and shook her head, looking down at the rabbit before replying, "No, I think that one was an honest term of endearment."

Judy looked confused, "Are you sure? It seemed like the other ones."

"No, I think she was referring to emotionally soft, which I'm pretty sure she likes," the tigress said before waving her paws dismissively. "Anyways, she may say those things, but that's not what she feels."

"Anyone with half a brain could see what she really thinks," Judy said, a smile appearing on her muzzle as she looked over at Nick. "Which does explain why you missed the message, Slick."

Dave shook his head and looked to the assembled mammals, only to pause when Wolford near doubled over in laughter. The older wolf regained control quickly, but was wiping away a tear when he looked to his fellow males.

"Oh Spirits, the expressions on your faces," he said while giving Dave and Nick a pitying shake of his head. "Don't try to understand it. Even after ten years of marriage, you'll only scratch the surface." Looking over to Hopps and Fangmeyer he continued, "At least one of us got the message, Stripes. Spitfire's feelings for this sap are well know."

There was more laughter, although for Dave, Nick and Ivan, they were pretty sure it was at their expense. After the brief moment of levity, Dave shook his head and clapped his paws together.

"Okay, I'll just settle for being confused on this one, but let's not be lounging around when Carol gets back," he said and made his way to the front of the salle.

Once Robert had joined him, he forwarded the instructions from his mate, "Hopps, you're with Wilde. Fangmeyer, you and Snarlov pair up. Robert, you already know you're with me."

Once they were paired off, with plenty of room between the groups, Dave continued, "Carol wants us to drill sticky paws until she gets back."

There were a few groans from Snarlov and Hopps, but Dave smile and continued. "I trust that everyone has already gone through the basics before?" He looked around the room and saw everyone nod. "Alright then, go at your own pace, try to match your partner's movements, and feel free to include any strike or throw that you're comfortable with," he stepped forward and took up a loose stance, touching left forearms with Wolford.

Before they began, the older wolf looked back at his comrades. "Spitfire wants us to focus on speed, so I want to see you mammals move!" he said and then looked back at Dave. "That goes double for you, Doc. Let's see what you've got."

Dave tilted his head in acknowledgement, and then took up an offensive position lashing out with a right palm strike to the other wolf's chin. Wolford easily, parried the blow, with his own right paw, maintaining contact as he used the movement to rotate Dave's paw into their touching left arms.

This forced Dave to break the contact with his left arm, but he rotated his right wrist to come up under Wolford's, and as such maintained contact even as Robert stepped in close with his left leg, while bringing his freed right arm across horizontally, fully bent at the elbow, attempting to take off Dave's head with a forearm quick smash.

Dave smiled slightly, as he took the blow on his left arm, which he snapped up while he turned slightly counterclockwise, and snaked his right leg around Wolford's extended left, leveraging the other wolf's knee in the process. Forcing his opponent's knee to bend using his weight, Dave broke contact with his arms and continued the rotation to snap his left elbow towards Robert's face.

As soon as he felt Wolford's paw just manage to stop the blow, he released the pressure on his knee and completed the rotation, while quickly moving to wrap Robert's blocking paw with his own, so as to maintain contact between them.

The pair ended up almost back in the same position from when they'd started, with each one only in contact by their entwined left arms. There was a smile on both their muzzles after the brief exchange, which had lasted no more than a pawful of seconds. Robert gave his eyebrows a wiggle, and then without warning, began the dance again.

The key to the exercise was to maintain at least one point of contact throughout the entire affair. Each opponent judged the actions of their counterpart by touch, as well as by sight, sound and smell. Dave and Robert, began to move faster and faster, their paws transitioning from strike to parry in the space between heartbeats. Just as comfort with one pace began, one would push the cadence faster. Their expressions shifted from one of amusement to determined concentration.

Paw and elbow strikes were soon joined by close-range kicks to the legs, or quick knees to the groin and abdomen. The two wolves moved back and forth, their limbs constantly in motion, wrapping around each other, trying to find an advantage, some form of leverage, or an opening through which to strike. Once again, Dave felt his focus tighten to encompass only his opponent. All of the tears and pain from earlier in the day were cleansed from his mind, as he pushed himself to find an opening in Wolford's defenses. He let go of the past, and focused on the present. He could sense his opponent doing likewise, as the two wolves probed each other, searching for a way to strike and gain an advantage.

Neither one would provide such an opportunity, and Dave switched from trying to force a break in Wolford's defense after scoring only a glancing blow with a knife paw strike, and instead began moving faster. He had learned over the years that Carol couldn't stand toe to toe with larger mammals. In the end strength and reach would win out if she tried to face it head on. Instead, she had showed him...using techniques that usually left their literal mark on him, that going through was often not as smart as going around.

Years on the force had imbued more strength than years on the microscope, and over time, as fatigue set in, Dave knew that he would need to start finding ways around the mistakes that would inevitably follow. Speed could do that. Carol had been right that morning when she said that he was too used to sparring with smaller mammals; too used to sparring with her. He could already feel that Wolford was reaching the point where he was on the edge of control, but Dave still had a bit of celerity in reserve, and so he pushed the other wolf to move faster.

The effect was almost immediate. Wolford's blocks became less controlled, and his retaliations were hesitant, as defense became the focus for his actions. At the edges of his awareness, Dave noted that their sparring had attracted some attention from the other students, but he couldn't spare even a glance, as Wolford launched into a rapid series of strikes, trying to push him off balance and regain the momentum.

The attacks came in quickly, the older wolf striking out simultaneously with his left paw and leg at the same time. Dave couldn't get his paw in place to deflect the blow, and took a strong punch to his floating ribs as punishment, but he was able to stomp down on the extended leg before it could connect, throwing Robert out of balance. He still had contact with Robert's right forearm, and Dave used the distraction to adjust his grip down to his opponent's wrist, quickly pulling Wolford further off balance before reversing the motion and wrenching the joint in the opposite direction.

Wolford had no choice in the matter, and the momentum of the throw sent him sprawling to the mat. The wolf was no novice however, and he managed to break the hold before Dave could maneuver the arm into a proper lock.

Once the limb was free, Robert used the momentum to spin across the ground, trying to sweep Dave's legs out from underneath him. Moving to take that head on would only lead to this turning into ground combat, and there, Wolford would have every advantage. Deciding discretion was the better part of valor he hopped back out of range as his opponent completed the spin and quickly regained his footing.

As Dave had been the one to break contact, he had forfeited the match, but neither combatant could be disappointed in their performance, and the two males broke out into smiles as they relaxed for a moment.

Dave shook his head, at the other wolf, "It's been too long, Wolford," he said jovially, having truly enjoyed the bout. It had been months since the two had been able to spar, and both knew that they could learn far more about themselves by facing off against another wolf, than they could training with other mammals; even other canids. It was obvious from the expressions on both their faces, that they had greatly enjoyed the chance to hone their skills together.

It was a consequence of the breadth of the Zootopia population, that one was a statistically guaranteed to be either significantly larger or smaller than your opponent, so mixed training was a must, "but it's always nice to see how you stack up against another member of your own species," Dave thought to himself, as he went over the bout in his mind.

He had performed better than he had thought possible, and was somewhat proud at being able to hold his own. He shook out his limbs in preparation for a rematch, but paused briefly and saw that Robert was still in a relaxed stance, the older wolf chuckling to himself.

"You almost had me there, Doc," Wolford said before offering his paw to Dave who grasped it, and was pulled into a rough hug.

Dave laughed as they separated, but rubbed his side where Wolford had managed to land a solid blow, "Damn, Wolford," he winced as he applied pressure to the rib, but there didn't seem to be any lasting damage. "You got me good there. All I managed was that tap to your temple after you tried that hip throw,"

Wolford laughed and brought his paw to his head, "Tap? That was a tap? I saw stars after that." Robert cringed as he probed the location of the blow. "It was just dumb luck that I twisted out of the line of you knee. Another inch to the left, and I would've been singing soprano tonight," he laughed at the memory, but then paused briefly, his expression thoughtful. "Why didn't you press your advantage after the throw?"

Dave shook his head, "You're the better ground fighter. I'd have been playing into your paws."

Robert was about to reply, but then his ears twitched towards the rear of the salle. Both wolves looked over and saw that they had an audience, as both Snarlov and Fangmeyer were staring wide-eyed at the two.

Dave noticed that Officers Hopps and Wilde hadn't stopped their sparring, and were moving along at a good clip, but nowhere near where Dave thought that Judy was capable of from her reputation. It was obvious that she was the least comfortable with the drill, and it was clear that she wanted to increase the distance between her and Wilde, but that would defeat the purpose of the exercise.

He could tell that Wilde was holding back, never willing to show an opponent all his cards at once, but he seemed to be doing a good enough job of keeping the rabbit on her toes, so Dave thought he would let it slide for now. They'd either swap partners in another ten minutes, or Carol would arrive and change up the entire game plan. For now the fox and rabbit were working well together, which made sense considering their partnership both on and off duty.

His attention was brought back to Snarlov and Fangmeyer, when Wolford decided to bring the pair back down to this reality.

"Slacking off, you two?" Wolford asked jovially, and the two partners snapped out of their reverie.

Snarlov was the first to reply, "Spirits, Old Wolf! How much have you been holding back at the precinct?" he asked, not managing to keep a sense of awe out of his voice.

Both Dave and Robert laughed at the admission, and Wolford waved a paw dismissively. "Snarlov, McHorn and I were some of Spitfire's first ZPD students." He motioned over to Dave before continuing, "Only the Doc here has been training with her for longer, and if you think that was fast, pray you never get paired with some of the ZAF trainers. What we just did was a lovely stroll in the park compared to what some of them can do."

Fangmeyer shook her head at Robert. "We're just surprised. The Doc, we can understand. He gets the honor of being Carol's personal punching bag." There was a pause as Robert chuckled at the comment, while Dave slightly reddened under his fur before the tigress continued, "But you? You've never pushed any of us that hard."

Wolford shrugged and cocked his head to the side. "You wouldn't learn much if all you did was eat gym mats." He motioned back towards the door with his right paw while shaking his head, "Do you really think that Latrans goes all out on any of us?" He smiled slightly, and then looked to Dave, "Well maybe you, Doc."

Dave's eyes widened as he slowly shook his head back and forth. "Nowhere near it, Robert. I've seen her really train with the AMCQC trainers, and she's never come close with me to what I saw then."

Wolford gave a bark of laughter. "I'll take your word for that," he said and made a shooing motion with his paws towards Snarlov and Fangmeyer. "Back to it you two. I want to see you move this time. No more playing around."

He looked back to Dave, and once again took up a ready stance. "May I have this dance?" he asked mockingly as he extended his paw. Once again, he and Dave touched forearms, and they began.

This time, they didn't start slow. The two of them were already warmed up, and the previous bout had swept away the mental cobwebs that had taken hold after several months of disuse.

Dave once again focused on using speed to his advantage, but Wolford had obviously taken his comment regarding ground-fighting to heart, as he made several attempts to trip or otherwise take Dave to the mats. In each case, Dave had managed to twist out of Wolford's paws, or strike the older wolf roughly to spoil his attempted throws and takedowns.

The two were once again moving in concert, blows and parries occurring at the edges of their perception. Things were moving far too quickly for conscious thought to form, and they reached the point of the drill, where touch was of more important than sight, and instinct more important than thinking.

They maintained at least one point of contact at all times, but as they became intertwined, legs became additional sources of information. Subtle changes in balance and posture telegraphed moves before the blows could be thrown. Both wolves were smiling behind their serious facades, each of them reveling in the challenge.

This was as much a part of wolf culture for them as it was training. Social hierarchies may have given way to modern society, but the instincts to push and test your position in the pack was always present. In this case, neither Robert nor Dave were dominant to each other...but that made their probing of each other even more cathartic.

Dave had just decided to ratchet up his speed another notch, when his concentration was shattered by a loud yelp. Both he and Wolford stopped instantly, and looked back towards Snarlov and Fangmeyer. Ivan was on the ground, the white wolf cradling his muzzle in both paws.

Dave could see the red stain of fresh blood trickling out from between the wolf's clenched paws, along with the metallic smell that had already started to tickle his sharp nose. He moved to grab a towel from the stack against the wall and immediately made his way over to the wolf. Hopps, Wilde and Fangmeyer were already helping Snarlov into a seated position, and Dave could see that it appeared to be a simple nosebleed.

In canines, these could be very bloody affairs; the extensive vasculature that helped to give them such acuity, also made for quite the mess when wounded. This one would probably bleed for a few minutes, and then the poor wolf would have some breathing issues for a day or so, but nothing more than that...provided that all of the bones were intact, and the damage was limited to the soft tissue.

He crouched down beside the injured wolf, and took Ivan's muzzle in his free paw. "Let me take a look, Ivan," he said confidently, and the other wolf blinked back tears as he pulled his paws away from his nose.

As expected, there was a good deal of blood smeared over his white fur. Dave angled the other wolf's head back so that he could look down the nasal passages, and saw nothing more than some minor abrasions. Nodding to himself, he placed the towel in Snarlov's paw and pressed it against his nose.

"Keep your head tilted forward, and apply pressure with the towel," he instructed as he began checking the officer's vitals. Aside from a rapid heartbeat, there were no warning signs, and it looked to him that the other wolf had merely taken a strong blow to the snout. It was such a sensitive area for canids, that it was considered a main control point during combat. A sharp blow could stun or even incapacitate a wolf as their system was overwhelmed with pain, as well as confusing their normal sense of smell.

Wolford looked to Dave, who gave him a nod to indicate that it was only minor, and nothing to be worried about. He then rounded on Fangmeyer, wanting to get to the bottom of the incident, "What happened, Stripes?"

The tigress looked up from Snarlov and Dave to face Robert before shrugging, "We were just going through the exercise, and decided to speed things up. I saw an opening and took it, but I guess I was moving just a bit too quickly." She once again looked down at her partner, and winced seeing the red staining the towel. "Sorry, Ivan."

Snarlov waved a paw dismissively, and looked up at Robert, "Why are we even bothering with this shit?" he asked, his words partially muffled by the towel still pressed against his nose, but his frustration was plainly evident. "It's not like this stuff ever gets used in the field."

Dave motioned for Snarlov to remove the towel, and he was pleased to see that the bleeding was almost staunched. He reached out and brought the other wolf's paw up to his nose again before looking to Robert regarding Ivan's question. He knew the answer already, but was curious how much information Carol had been sharing with her students.

Judy took that moment to chime in, "I agree with Snarlov. This is fun practice and all, but getting up close and personal with a perp is the last thing I want to do." The doe looked back towards her partner, who gave her a sideways glance before holding up his paws in supplication.

"Don't look at me, Fluff," the fox said smoothly. "I use this stuff all the time when we're out and about. Not everyone follows your whirling dervish style of paw to paw."

Wolford's smile broadened at his comrade's comments, and he shook his head at the younger officers, "Well you're wrong on that count, Snarlov" he said succinctly. "Spitfire mentioned focusing on this stuff after the experience of some of ZAF soldiers doing sweep and clears overseas."

He looked down at Snarlov, who had lowered the towel from his nose, the final trickles of blood dripping onto his training sweats. The white wolf cocked his head to the side in curiosity.

"I'm not joking, kid," he said and turned his focus towards Hopps, "and, Hopps, I'm actually disappointed in you." He crossed his arms theatrically in front of his chest. "Out of all the mammals here, you're the one who would benefit the most from this stuff."

Aside from him and Robert, Dave could see the other officers trying to parse out the meaning of Wolford's admonishment of them. Giving a small chuckle at his plight, he stood and offered a paw to Snarlov to assist the other wolf in regaining his footing.

As he once again took the white wolf's muzzle in his paws and checked on how the clotting was proceeding, he decided to let the confused mammals in on his and Robert's secret.

"It comes down to visibility," he said as he shifted Ivan's muzzle and prodded it roughly, much to the discomfort of the other wolf. Once he was satisfied that his patient was on the mend, he continued on, "The troops found that, when working in low light areas, things inevitably moved into close combat," he shrugged and looked to the assembled mammals. "I don't have all the details, but it was enough for the AMCQC trainers to make this a focus."

Robert nodded, obviously having been told the same information as he had been privy to. "This is just the start," Wolford began, motioning towards the various melee weapons mounted on the wall. "The ZAF is focusing on knives and small arms, but the ZPD will be leaning on batons and close range tranqs." A smile crested his grey muzzle as he chuckled at some inside joke. "For obvious reasons, Tasers are off the table."

Dave joined in his laughter as he considered the consequences of engaging something like a Taser when you were in contact with the suspect, but he shook his head and motioned towards Judy. "For species with poor low light vision, being able to tell where your opponent is, and what they're doing even when you're effectively blind, is a major advantage."

Wolford looked down at the rabbit officer, and cocked his head to the side in consideration of the rabbit's options. "In the ZAF, it's more the hoofed mammals that they're concerned with, but your very...energetic style, is pretty well shot if you can't see your target." He motioned to Fangmeyer, "Out of the lot of us, Nadine's the least likely to be affected, but the control options that Carol's mentioned could make it worthwhile training for all of us."

Dave looked between Hopps and Snarlov, and he could tell that neither one was convinced. A glance towards Wolford told him that the older wolf had also caught onto their hesitancy, and there was a malicious twinkle in the grey wolf's eyes as he looked towards Dave.

Realization dawned instantly, and Dave felt the pit of his stomach fall out. He held up his paws in a supplicating gesture, "Come on, Wolford, it's been over a year since we practiced that stuff," he said, hoping to convince the other wolf to abandon, what Dave knew, was a wonderfully flashy demonstration of what sticky paws could do...provided both of them walked away from it unscathed.

Robert shook his head, and motioned back to the front of the room, "After that demonstration from earlier? Unh-uh, Doc," he said with both amusement and malice present in his voice in equal measure. "You're better than you let on, and I want to see how far you can go."

There was a snort of derision from Fangmeyer, and both Robert and Dave looked towards her with surprise on their faces.

"Oh, please, don't let me get in the way of a pissing contest, boys," she said dismissively, shaking her head at the pair.

"Hey now, Stripes," Nick began, addressing the tigress with a mockingly severe tone. "Wolves can help but mark their territory. There's no reason to shame 'em for it."

Wolford raised an eyebrow at the comment before shaking his head in disbelief. "That's rich coming from you, Wilde." The older wolf made a show of sniffing the air around the todd. "Forget how to use musk-mask today?"

Nick merely smiled, and inhaled deeply through his nose. "And you're very welcome," he said, the smile never leaving his muzzle. "But there's no need to thank me for it," he added with a dismissive wave of his paw.

Wolford gave a chuff of feigned anger. Perhaps he would have better luck besting Dave, so he resigned to retrieving two pieces of black cloth from a bin at the side of the salle. Tossing one to Dave, he moved to the front of the room and proceeded to tie it around his eyes, wrapping the fabric several times around his head to fully block out the light.

"No fucking way?" Snarlov said as Dave gave a sigh of resignation and made his way to the stand opposite of Wolford, the other wolf tracking his movements by sound and smell.

Looking back at the other students, Dave pointed to the white plastic box affixed to the wall with a large red cross on the front. "Just as a reminder, the first aid kit is over there...we're probably going to need it," he said before covering his own eyes with the opaque cloth.

"Right next the AED," Nick chuckled from the sidelines.

The fox's jokes didn't ease Dave's apprehension, and only one thought was screaming through his head as he took up position and raised his arms into a fighting stance, once again letting his left forearm coming into contact with Robert's.

"What the fuck am I doing?"

His hesitancy almost cost him the bout right from the get go. Wolford, having learned about Dave's speed advantage from the previous fight, immediately moved in tight bringing his right forearm up in a vertical strike against Dave's muzzle while simultaneously stepping forward, both to close the distance, but also to attempt to wrap his right leg around Dave's left, trying to limit his mobility and keep the combat close.

He easily rotated out of the attempted trap, and the two traded blows and counter blows for what seemed like several minutes. The time dilation brought on by massive amounts of adrenaline singing through his veins meant that it had probably been no more than a pawful of seconds that had passed. Even without visual clues, both combatants were able to hold each other at bay, Wolford pressing Dave hard, and landing several glancing blows, as well as a strike to the side of his muzzle that brought with it the metallic tang of blood, and the buzz of more adrenaline flooding into his system.

At times, the strikes came in with little to no warning; at most a tingle on his whiskers a microsecond before contact. The modern era had dulled his other senses, and they struggled to compensate for the complete removal of sight.

Far from being an idle punching bag, Dave managed to throw his own strikes that managed to connect with a frequency roughly equal to his opponents. In short order, he managed to score both a jab to the older wolf's jaw, as well as paying back Robert for the shot to his own ribs during the last bout.

Having just parried Wolford's latest combination, Dave felt the shift in Robert's posture the moment the other wolf started moving, and he rotated counterclockwise, managing to both disentangle his leg, which had been jammed up during the last pass, but also move just far enough out of the line of attack of the vertical forearm strike that he felt the wind of its passage ruffle the fur of his chin. He immediately reversed his momentum and stepped in, bringing his right paw up, and coming up underneath Robert's errant blow.

As soon as he made contact with the limb, he disengaged his left arm and quickly brought it up under Wolford's bent left elbow, swapping his paws as he felt the contact, his right paw whipping up and over to grasp onto the wrist of the bent appendage. He could already feel Robert attempting to rotate out of the hold before Dave could apply any real leverage to it, so Dave quickly feinted bringing his left elbow up into the other wolf's jaw. Striking the other wolf directly in the snout.

The blow lacked the power to have any real force, but it was merely a distraction as he drove his left knee into Robert's abdomen, eliciting an explosion of breath from the other wolf. This was quickly followed by a throaty growl, as Wolford's right fist slammed into Dave's side, driving hard into his floating ribs. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to transition his grip into a submission hold, Dave anticipated that the other wolf was drawing back for another blow and simultaneously shot his left paw down in a circle block. He felt it connect and deflect the oncoming punch, and he maintained contact, while continuing the circular motion and striking out with his right palm hitting Wolford in the solar plexus, and once again driving the wind out of the other wolf's lungs.

Robert didn't take this attack lying down, and Dave's right ear and temple were hammered with an open palm strike from Wolford's left paw. Fortune favored Dave, as the blow had been slightly off target, mitigating its potentially devastating effects on both his balance and hearing. He pressed the advantage, and capitalizing on Robert's poor aim.

Knowing that speed was still his major advantage, he smiled as he quickly shifted his grip on Wolford's right arm, while pulling the other wolf in close and bringing his free arm up and under Robert's armpit while jamming his hip in close to his opponent's. Robert was still struggling to breath, and his perception was dulled just enough that he failed to notice Dave's change in stance before the older wolf was flipped up and over Dave's shoulder in a textbook throw. He thought back to when Carol had performed this very technique on him this past Monday...albeit with a rather different follow through. Even as Dave followed Robert down to the mats, his right arm cocked back, the digits of his paw ramrod straight.

"I guess you can teach an old wolf new tricks." he thought, as his ears registered a low grunt as Wolford hit the floor. Gauging the distance, and Dave struck out swiftly, but made sure to pull the blow long before it landed. The final few inches, he moved in at a more controlled pace, until his clawtips came to rest on Wolford's throat, applying just enough pressure to make the point.

A croaked "Fuck!" was all that could be heard from Wolford as he still struggled to breath. Just before Dave could remove his blindfold and help the other wolf to his feet, a slow clapping began from the front of the salle.

He unwrapped the cloth from around his eyes, and after blinking a few times to adjust to the light, he immediately felt his stomach sink. A quiet whimper came from Wolford, and Dave looked down to see that the officer had also removed his blindfold and was looking at the new arrivals, an equally fearful expression on his face.

Carol had arrived at some point during the sparring match, and Dave could see her approval of his and Wolford's performance. At any other time, he would have been elated that he had met her standards, but when he cast his gaze over the other mammals she had brought, he knew that the pain in his ribs would shortly be little more than a pleasant memory.

Carol had brought the core contingent of the ZAF AMCQC trainers. Quite literally the best paw-to-paw combatants in the military. Dave recognized all of them, and the smile on Captain Taft's muzzle showed that he saw the expression on both Dave and Robert's face for what they were, ones of utter terror. The lion gave a small chuckle, but deferred to the smaller mammal in front of him.

The slow clap was coming from a honey badger in full fatigues. The mammal's face was a veritable roadmap of scars, and the expression on his face was fixed in a perpetual scowl. Both Dave and Wolford had had the...pleasure of training with Gunnery Sergeant Willis in the past, and neither of them was looking forward to the upcoming session.

"Well now, don't you two just dance so perty," he said while shaking his head at the two wolves. "Latrans, is this what you're teaching these civvies? And here I thought you were training them to fight."

Carol snorted dismissively before stepping forward, "Save it, Gavin, and what's with the hick accent?" she asked, looking back at her comrade, a wry smile on her muzzle. "You were born and raised in Happy Town, and the only time I've ever seen you on a farm was when you shacked up with that farmer's daughter outside of Valencott...well at least I saw you there when you were running for your life from said farmer."

Taft gave a low rumble of laughter at the comment, and shook his head at the badger, "The scandal of that day will live on for decades, Gunny. A marine having to take shelter with an army recon unit," the mocking but friendly derision that filled John's voice would have been plain, even absent his toothy grin. "How could you so debase yourself?"

Willis' expression was one of supreme innocence, as he took up a rest position, paws clasped behind his back. "I don't know what you mean, Sir?" he said, the faux accent vanishing as he addressed his superior. "I made use of the available resources to defuse a situation with a civilian, and, with all due respect, Sir, considering I ended up marrying that girl, I consider the honor of the corps as being intact."

The assembled soldiers chuckled at the shared memory, before Carol clapped her paws together to get everyone's attention.

"Okay everyone, enough joking around. We've got some…" she trailed off and swept her gaze over Dave and the ZPD officers, that malicious twinkle once again burning in her eyes. "deficiencies to address."

She motioned to her fellow trainers with one paw. "For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, this is Captain John Taft, the CO of the AMCQC development initiative, Gunnery Sergeant Gavin Willis, ZMC, Corporal Colleen Lupe, another Jarhead for the mix."

Dave cocked his head in confusion. He had known the maned wolf for a few years now, and up until last month, she had been Sergeant Lupe. Carol must have seen his expression, as she gave a bark of laughter at her mates look.

"Lupe, spare Dave the confusion. What did you do to lose your stripes this time?" Carol asked, the amusement plainly evident in her voice.

The maned wolf shrugged. "Navy sea dogs can't hold their liquor, Latrans. I didn't start it, but I damn well ended it," she shrugged again and her expression was more prideful than anything else. "The brass wasn't too upset either; they only knocked me down one grade this time," she said, motioning to the two chevrons and crossed rifles insignia present on her uniform.

There was a rumble of laughter from the soldiers, with Gunny Willis holding up a fist, which Corporal Lupe bumped with her own. "Oorah, Gunnery Sergeant!" she added in the traditional Marine battle cry.

The badger nodded approvingly, seemingly both at her...extracurricular activities, as well as with her attitude. "Oorah, Corporal," he replied after a moment, "and you'll have those stripes back within the month if I have anything to say about it."

Carol rolled her eyes at the two marines before finishing her introductions, "And last up, Warrant Officer Miles Argent, a fellow Ranger," the slim cheetah merely cocked his head slightly as he observed the ZPD officers before his gaze fixed on Dave. Resentment was plainly evident in that stare, and Dave shook his head and sighed.

"It's been seven years. You'd think he'd be over it." Dave thought to himself. He and the cheetah had been inadvertent rivals from the get go. Unbeknownst to Dave, Miles had held a candle for Carol for years, even though she had never reciprocated his feelings. To make matters worse, the cheetah had received the approval of Carol's dad...about a month after he and Carol had started dating each other. Dave had always suspected that the Major's approval was more to try and drive Carol and him apart, than any actual approval of the cheetah for his daughter.

To say that things had gone from awkward to a simmering hostility in a very short time, was an understatement.

Carol took in both their expressions, and sighed slightly before continuing. "All of you are the best AMCQC practitioners outside of the ZAF," she said looking at each of them in turn. She paused when her gaze met Dave's, and that twinkle of amusement was still present when she saw the wide-eyes surprise written on his features. "Over the past year, we have been paying close attention to how each of you have adapted the common moves into your own styles, and by and large we applaud your ability to play to your individual strengths."

She paused briefly before continuing. "As part of this, we have also identified areas where each of you have attempted to deal with your weaknesses by shuffling them off to the side, and mostly forgetting about them. That ends NOW!"

Her change in tone was instant, and every mammal present stood straighter in response. "Today you will be shown where you need to improve, and my friends here will be pointing out those weaknesses to you...repeatedly."

Carol looked back at the ZAF personnel, "Lupe, you get Wolford as your new chew toy. Argent, Fangmeyer AND Snarlov are yours to do with as you please. Captain Taft, you're with Dave. Don't break him too much if you can help it. I have plans for him later tonight. Gunny, I trust you know what to do with Wilde?"

The badger's smile showed far too many teeth to ever be confused with the word friendly, as he looked the fox up and down. "Oh, I think I can handle this, Latrans."

Nick cocked an eyebrow and looked at the marine for a few moments before holding up his paws apologetically. "I'm flattered, Carol, but I'm afraid that he's just not my type," he said in an obviously mocking tone, and Dave flinched internally, knowing full well the abilities of the Gunnery Sergeant.

The badger's scarred grin never left his muzzle, and he sauntered over to the fox seemingly unperturbed by Wilde's comment.

Carol gave snort of amusement, then looked towards the final ZPD officer, and theatrically cracked her knuckles. "And Hopps, you and I are going to have some fun today."

The various mammals split up into their assigned pairs or threesomes. Dave approached Taft, and offered his paw to the larger mammal. "Good to see you again, John."

Taft gave a low rumble of a laugh as he took Dave's paw in his own. "Give it a few minutes, I bet I can change your mind on that," he said, but there was no malice in his voice. John wasn't the type of officer who mammals followed out of fear, and he was the type who took the mentoring part of his duties seriously.

The lion motioned with his head to the other mammals, some of which had already begun sparring...well tried to at least. Just as Dave looked up, he saw Willis full on spit in Wilde's stunned face just before moving in and quickly taking the todd down to the ground.

Gunny Willis was a firm believer in the, if it works it's not cheating, school of combat. From his knowledge of the fox, he knew that Wilde had a similar reputation for fighting dirty, but Willis had quite literally written the book on the subject. Over the years, Carol and the other AMCQC trainers had spent a lot of time going over how often improvisation came up in the heat of the moment. Mundane objects were transformed into weapons out of necessity, and Gavin was a true artist at being exceptionally creative in the field.

Taft gave a chuckle and nodded approvingly at Willis' takedown, and then looked back to Dave, "So have you given some thought on what your weakness is?" he asked, the amusement still flavoring his words. "From your performance earlier, I think you already have an idea about one of them."

Dave gave it some thought before replying, "I still don't think I should be here, if that's what you're getting at," he said motioning back towards the other students. His eyes were drawn to Carol who was moving so quickly, it was nearly impossible to keep track of her blows. She was harrying Officer Hopps around the rear of the salle. The rabbit was desperately trying to create distance, but the coyote wouldn't give her an inch.

"Look at them," he continued after a moment. "I'll admit that sparring with Wolford showed that I have made progress, but in the end I'm just a civilian." Dave paused and looked back at John. The lion had a thoughtful expression on his face, and motioned for Dave to continue. "For them, this stuff can be life or death. For me? It's a chance to help out Carol with something she loves."

The lion gave another rumble of laughter before replying, "The shrinks had you pegged perfectly, Dave," he said without malice and Dave cocked his head in confusion. John smiled and shook his head at the wolf before waving a paw dismissively, "We've had an ongoing file on you since you started dating Carol, and particularly once you were allowed to start training. Merely for national security purposes, you see. The consistent diagnosis, imposter syndrome."

"Imposter syndrome?" Dave asked quizzically, "It is very common in scientific and medical fields, particularly when…" His words trailed off as his thoughts came to a screeching halt as he went back of the events of the past week, and his interaction with the Rey's in particular.

"Oh shit! He's right." The thought was like a clarion, and something of it must have showed plainly in his expression, as John once again laughed at the situation.

"You're the type of mammal who is surrounded by the best of the best every day," Taft said, the smile never leaving his muzzle. "We didn't dig too deeply into your co-workers at the Honeywell Centre, but even the basic screening showed that universally all the staff there represent the some of the best in the medical field. You probably know more than I do how rare it is to have so many individuals with such a breadth of training in one place, yet those are the mammals you interact with every day. There's also the little detail that you're literally responsible for your patient's lives, and believe me, I know what a burden that kind of responsibility can be," the lion paused, and Dave could see the truth in the big cat's eyes. "To hold the life of another mammal in your paws makes you doubt every decision that you've made to reach that point. In the end, you have to make a call...you just pray it's the right one, but that doubt is always there."

Dave considered the lion's words, and Taft motioned with his head over to where Carol had literally backed Officer Hopps into a corner. The rabbit tried to leap above the coyote's head and make space, only for Carol to easily latch onto one of her feet, and slam her into the ground, transitioning the fight into ground work.

"Then, after a day of that, you come here, and spend most of your time training with Carol, and between you and me, it's either her or Gunny that represent the best of the mid-sized mammals in the ZAF." John, took a step away from Dave, and maneuvered into a loose combat stance. "You're better than you think, but you don't get a chance to see that for yourself very often, and that's something that we'd like to address in the future."

The smile faded from Taft's muzzle, and Dave could see the lion shift from mentor to soldier. "Now, we can address the other deficiency that we've identified with you. You have been spending too much time with opponents of a similar to smaller body type. Fortunately, that deficiency is much easier to address directly."

Fortunately, Dave had seen where this particular training session would be headed, and had taken up a defensive stance as soon as he had seen John's expression change. Even though he was prepared for the attack, in theory, he was still taken aback by the ferocity of the lion's movement. Captain Taft wasn't anywhere near as fast as Carol, or any of the other trainers currently present, but he didn't need to be. He had size, strength and reach as his advantages, and he used them to ruthless efficiency. When sparring with Carol, those were his main advantages, but now the tides were turned, and Taft wasted no time in showing how reliant Dave had been on those advantages.

The lion began with a relentless flurry of blows, punches and kicks, keeping Dave well outside of his own effective range, and each hit hammering into the wolf's defenses. Straight up blocking was proven ineffective; a simple attempt to stop a side kick to the abdomen on braced forearms, serving only to launch Dave almost two meters straight back, his claws scrabbling on the mats for purchase.

John cocked his head to the side at his opponent. "Head on isn't always the answer, Doctor," was all he said though a controlled pant before once again moving in. Dave, whose panting was less reserved, tried to make use of the sagely piece of wisdom, attempting to leverage his speed to get closer to John, and jam up his attacks. He was only partially successful, as his opponent simply shifted styles, and made brutally effective use of elbows and knees now that the range was too short for full strikes.

Dave did manage to land several blows, but each was like hitting a solid wall. The lion's physique was honed through decades of training and exertion, and Dave soon realized that simply landing a blow wouldn't be enough. Attrition wasn't going to be the winning strategy here; he needed a precision strike where the body was weakest. Luckily for him, precision was probably his biggest strength.

It was a tactic that Carol had taught him repeatedly over the years, but he had tucked it away in favor of his own preferred style of combat. Against an opponent like Carol or Wolford, just hitting the foe was enough. He had the strength to injure or incapacitate mammals of a similar size, but against a larger mammal? His blows were utterly useless.

He saw a small glimmer of amusement in Taft's eyes as he tried to capitalize on this new information, but the lion was still the better fighter...by far. The sparring match became much like his usual experience with Carol. He made admirable efforts at landing blows, while John slapped away each with ease, before moving in and using his greater size to its full effect, sending Dave to the mats again, and again.

During one of these impromptu voyages, Dave's mind floated back to his last sparring match with Carol, and he was at a loss as to how she managed to get past him with such ease.

"How the fuck, can she get in and out so fast?" was still running through his head when he hit the mats. His body instinctively flattening out to spread the impact over as large a surface area as possible. No answers were forthcoming, and as he sprang back to his feet, only one possible solution could be found. "I just have to be even quicker," he thought as he lunged back towards Captain Taft.


If overcoming their personal weaknesses had really had been that easy, it wouldn't have taken the combined efforts of the core AMCQC instructor cadre to instill these details into the students. Dave had at least identified several obvious areas where he could improve, but it would be a long time before he could relearn a lifetime of compensation and avoidance.

John had been relentless towards the canine, and every time that Dave managed to work his way past the cat's offense, he was quick to transition back to a strategy of defensive that may as well been a steel reinforced bunker. Dave had quickly learned to target the various pressure points found on every joint and elsewhere, but targeting them, and hitting them were two very different things, and for the AMCQC instructors, not being hit was a reflex that had been drilled into them during years of actual combat. Dave only had recreational sparring to draw experience from.

As had been expected when he had first laid eyes on the friends that Carol had brought, Dave spent an inordinate amount of time picking himself up from the mats. Surprisingly enough, Taft had caused fewer actual injuries than his rounds with Wolford had. The lion may have been significantly larger, but the difference in control was phenomenal. Every blow he managed to block was backed by more than enough force to cause real damage, but every one that made it past his defenses landed with little more than a tap. Like the way he had finished off Wolford, John just wanted him to know he was beat, not actually beat him.

Wolford's experience began with him apparently overmatching Corporal Lupe quite handily. The smaller female was buffeted by blows, and Robert's strikes seemed to leave her struggling to remain upright. It was only when the other wolf had started pulling his punches, and taken to moving more slowly that Lupe struck out. She had been waiting for him to 'start taking it easy on her', as this was a consistent pattern that had been identified in his service records.

It was surprising in a way that, after so many years training with Carol, Wolford had a history of using a light paw against smaller mammals. That weakness had even resulted in his being injured in the line of duty when he had neglected to disarm a weasel under arrest for assault. If the suspect looked or acted weak, he consistently used less than his full efforts, and it put his safety at risk.

As if a switch had been thrown, Lupe was moving like a force of nature, hammering blow after blow into her opponent. To his credit, Robert quickly realized the ruse, and tried to recover, but he was quickly outmatched, and was all too soon nursing his bruises while sitting at the side of the salle.

Miles Argent had fun with his two ZPD officers. Snarlov and Fangmeyer were both skilled fighters, but they were also overconfident, and thought that they were the ones "playing" with their prey. When they were matched up with a single instructor, it should have been a warning, but they obviously missed the message, and were completely unprepared when the cheetah proved to be extremely adept at using them against each other.

The big cat was fast; far faster than even Dave had suspected from their previous encounters. He had expertly redirected their attacks to interfere with each other's movements. His own blows were designed to push them off balance so that he would have a few uninterrupted seconds to launch devastating combinations against the other partner.

The three had spent almost the entire time in motion, with Fangmeyer being the first to tire. As soon as it became obvious that she wasn't a threat any longer, Argent had quickly taken her down with a rapid fire combination of blows to her knees, followed up by an open pawed strike to the throat. From there, it had been a matter of seconds before Ivan had joined his partner on the mats.

Hopps' deficiency had been obvious to everyone there, even before Carol's arrival. Rumor had it that the bunny was considered the demon of Precinct One in the ring, but she relied on her mobility and speed. Against almost all opponents, it was the right strategy, as any blow from a larger mammal could be dangerous...even fatal, but when paired with an opponent who was unwilling to surrender range, this style quickly fell apart.

She was fast, and the rabbit did manage to land several blows of her own, but she simply couldn't maintain any momentum with the equally fast coyote harrying her at every turn. Carol, took every opportunity she could to take Hopps down to the mats, showing her over and over just how easily her chosen style could be turned against her.

To no one's surprise, Hopps never once gave in, and even when she was on the verge of passing out from a choke hold, she had still struggled to free herself. Carol was experienced enough to recognize her condition fortunately, and had released the choke before the rabbit actually lost consciousness; immediately motioning for Dave to come over and check on the doe's condition. Even as he approached, he could see that his skills wouldn't be needed, as Judy weakly waved him off after a bout of coughing wracked her small frame.

It had been a bit of a shock when Hopps recovered further, and looked Carol straight in the eyes and asked, "Ready for another round?"

At first there were rumbles of laughter from the assembled mammals...all except for Carol and Judy. The coyote had smiled at the question, and rose to her feet, offering a paw to Hopps to help her up. Judy had simply snorted in amusement, and sprang back up under her own power, if somewhat unsteady on her paws. Both females had taken a few moments to shake out their limbs, but then as if on some shared signal, they once again began their whirlwind of attacks against each other.

If anything, Officer Wilde received the worst of the lot, and his revelatory moment had involved an exquisite amount of pain. Dave knew from the match between Wilde and Zephyr on Tuesday that the fox was a tactician, who preferred misdirection and guile over straightforward force while fighting. As it turned out, the problem was that he was also very confident in his abilities; to such a degree that he would stop when he thought his opponent was out of the fight.

Unfortunately, this was something that could be exploited, which Gunny Willis had done spectacularly. It was obvious that Wilde was having difficulty landing blows on the badger; the difference in training between the two was still substantial, whatever talents the fox possessed. Both of them made ruthless use of every dirty tactic you could think of. Gouges, pinching, spitting, even a bite or two; everything was flying from the pair, and it looked like Wilde had actually won a round when he managed to land a full on front snap kick into Willis' crotch.

As soon as the blow landed, the fox had taken a step back and looked towards his partner, who was taking a breather from her bouts with Carol. He should have noted that Carol's reaction to his grandstanding was to slap a paw over her eyes and shake her head, but he did not...and took Gunny's uppercut right into his own groin.

There was a shared hiss of breath from every mammal in the room as Nick involuntarily hunched forward, wide eyed with pain and shock radiating from his face. Unlike Wilde, Gavin did not pause to admire his handiwork. He struck out again with a palm blow to the Nick's lowered jaw, followed by a quick knee to the abdomen. He then roughly took down the now heaving fox with a hip throw, maintaining a grip on Nick's arm, and transitioning it into a hyperextended joint lock.

"And this is why you always follow through, Wilde," Gunny said with that permanent scowl still on his muzzle. "The big C took care of that little vulnerability for me a couple of years ago."

The marine had calmly held the lock until Wilde's breathing slowed, and the fox tapped out on the mat. Once his limb was free, he rolled onto his side with both paws clutching his groin.

The badger then squatted down beside his student and continued, "You're good, Wilde, but never forget that, until the perp is in cuffs, unconscious, or dead, they are a threat to you, and everyone else." The grizzled soldier's voice took on a kinder tone, and every mammal in the room could recognize the sense of loss that it held, "I've lost too many friends who were sure their targets were down, only to end up with a knife in their ribs when they've looked away. For your sake, and for your partner's: BE SURE!"

It had been a sobering lesson for everyone there.

After only twenty minutes, Dave and the ZPD officers were a collection of panting and bruised mammals. The story had been similar for all of them, and in the aftermath, Dave thought that all of the students were somewhat wiser for the experience. For some of them, overcoming their weaknesses would be easier than others, but once the instructors were done pointing out their flaws...repeatedly, they had given the students a chance to rest while they conferred with each other.

Dave was leaning against the wall where the ZPD officers were taking stock of their injuries. Ivan's nose had started bleeding again courtesy of an awkwardly landing provided by Argent when had had finally decided to stop playing with his prey, and put the wolf out of his misery. Officer Wilde was still gingerly limping in a small circle on the carpet with Judy at his side, somewhat concerned at his nearly continual grimace of pain. Dave had already surreptitiously ensured that the fox didn't have any lasting damage, after the todd had given him a pleading look from the side of the salle, where he had been hunched over in obvious distress.

On the doctor/patient awkwardness scale, it only ranked about a four given their shared suffering during the evening's tortures, but aside from some...significant short term tenderness, he'd be fine in a couple of hours.

If anything, it looked like Gunny Willis would have more to fear from Ms. Hopps in the near future, as the rabbit had not been impressed with the condition of her partner after his bout. She had taken her own beating at Carol's paws stoically, but her control appeared to run out when Nick was hurt. Even while helping Nick move about, her eyes repeatedly sought out the badger, who was gathered with the other AMCQC instructors, with a gaze that would have reduced whole cities to ash if such a thing were possible.

Fortunately, aside from all of their pride, that was the extent of the injuries that had been inflicted upon them. After about five minutes, Captain Taft and Carol broke away from where the instructors were meeting, and made their way over to the students, who tiredly rose to some form of attention, although a dismissive snort from Gunny Wills, and the chuckles from the others spoke volumes as to their actual appearance.

The lion clapped his paws together, and his familiar smile was plastered on his muzzle as he spoke, "Good work, everyone. I know you probably don't feel that way right now, but you all did extremely well," Taft paused and took a moment to look over each of the students before continuing. "It's almost never a pleasant experience to have your weaknesses pointed out; to say nothing of being shown exactly how those weaknesses can be used against you." He motioned back towards the other trainers. "This is something that we've all been through, and there isn't a single mammal who's been through the full training regime who has managed to avoid this particular module."

There were several chuckles from around the salle, and Dave noticed that both Corporal Lupe and Carol were rubbing their sides, probably from some form of phantom pain brought about by their own memories of this particular event. The moment passed quickly, and John continued.

"As to why all of you were brought forward for this, congratulations! You represent the first group of non-ZAF personnel to make the cut for advanced training," he gave the group a brief nod and made a motion towards the ZDP officers with one paw. "For most of you, this will involve some additional training sessions, as well as instruction on more of the military variants of the techniques you already know. As AMCQC is still being developed on the fly, your insight into how we can better share techniques between the various organizations, and pin down what works best for a given situation."

Taft paused, and gave a small chuckle as he pointed a thumb over his shoulder back towards the other instructors. "Also, you'll be starting down the path to becoming instructors yourselves. There are only so many of us, the training of future ZPD recruits will eventually fall to you."

At this point, John looked directly at Dave. "For you, Doctor Hawthorne, things are a bit different. We know that this isn't, and can't be your real focus. Your work at the Honeywell Centre needs to take priority over everything else."

"Not quite everything, Captain," Carol said jokingly, and there was a brief round of laughter from everyone.

John tilted his head in acknowledgement of the jibe and continued on, "Duly noted. Your work at the Honeywell Centre needs to take priority over almost everything else." He looked over to Carol, who gave a slight bow indicating that she was mollified by his correction.

Looking back to Dave, the lion continued, "We know it's only a matter of time before this type of training gets out into the public, and in many ways, you're the best example we have on what the consequences are going to be." His expression became a bit more contemplative for a moment before he continued, "In some ways, the fact that you've reached a level where you do qualify for advanced training is worrying to some over in Central Command, but trained civilians are going to start appearing weather we want it or not. Trained officers retire into private sector roles specifically because of their training all the time. Showing their buddies a few tips here and there will just be the beginning. Even under if classified, we would never be able to hunt down every video of these techniques in use. Eventually, it will get out, and this is something that the ZPD in particular needs to be prepared for."

John allowed the smile to return to his face and he held up both paws and shrugged, "So congratulations, Doctor. You've officially become the test bed for the worst possible outcome; a civilian skilled in both the ZPD and ZAF versions of AMCQC. You'll be going through the same training as the rest…"

Dave raised a paw to interject, but John waved him off, "all contingent on scheduling off course. I was being truthful when I said we recognize that your role is as a physician first…" Taft paused again and glanced down at the sound of Carol clearing her throat, and saw that she looking at him, and tapping a hind paw against the floor in mock irritation, "Make that second," he hastily corrected, "but we do value whatever contributions you can make."

Dave considered John's words for a moment. He could see the underlying reasons, but he would need to speak with Carol later about the time commitments. John was honest to a fault, and there probably wouldn't be any conflicts between his personal and professional life, but he would need some assurances from the ZAF. The thought of just any mammal getting this kind of training wasn't a pleasant thought, but the lion was right, it was inevitable. He had undergone a fairly thorough background check before he had been allowed to formally begin training with Carol, but that wouldn't be the case forever.

Having made his decision, he nodded towards John, "If I can help out just by continuing to be the proverbial punching bag, I'm good with that," he said, and the lion's smile grew wider as he tipped his head in acknowledgement.

John spread his paws apart, motioning towards all the students with a sweeping gesture, "Now that that's out of the way, we'll wrap things up for tonight." He looked down a Carol before continuing, "Is the tradition of a couple of pints at Mac's after training still the norm?"

Carol had a smirk on her muzzle as she looked up at Taft, "That it is, and the first round's on you, Captain. Rank hath its privileges, and all that jazz."

She looked back towards the students and Dave could see in her eyes that she was proud of each one. "You all did very well today. Like Captain Taft said, having someone point out where you suck is never fun, but all of you took steps to improve tonight. It's not going to be easy going forward, but I know that you all will succeed. And if not, I will personally kick each and every one of your asses! Now get yourselves cleaned up, and we'll meet at Mac's." The smile on her muzzle did detract from the threat however, and the assembled mammals laughed, as they started gathering up their things.

The students and trainers began to exit the salle and head for the changing rooms. Before he could leave, Carol motioned for Dave to lend her a paw cleaning things up, and he moved to start putting the salle back into some semblance of order. He was quickly interrupted, by a gentle paw on his arm, and when he turned to face Carol, she wrapped him in an embrace.

"Another bad day, Dave?" she asked quietly as she held onto him, and he sighed and nodded before returning the embrace. "I could see it as soon as I walked into the salle. You're never that aggressive unless you've lost someone."

"Yeah...really bad, Carol. Really bad." was all he said. Some of the emotion he had been compressing all day began to well up inside him, and he felt her hold tighten on him in response. He took another deep breath and looked down at his mate. Her green eyes were filled with kindness and understanding as she said nothing, and just held on to him.

He smiled and freed up one of his paws to cup her cheek before bending over and placing a brief kiss on her muzzle. As he straightened back up he tightened his embrace briefly before once again meeting her gaze. "Tonight really helped though. I needed to get my mind on something else...even if that something else was getting my tail whipped repeatedly."

Carol smiled at his words, "I'm proud of how you did tonight. Not just with Taft, but that drill with Wolford. You took some real hits...and don't think I'm going to let that slide, but you did well." She released her grip on him, and proceeded to look him over from head to toe before wagging a digit at him in reproach. "And no more of this thinking you're not good enough to be here! Now let's get things cleaned up," she said with a wry smirk on her face. "The girls will probably be out of the change room by the time we're done, so we'll have the place to ourselves." Converting her voice to mere whisper, she moved her muzzle closer to his ear. "And I can think of many ways to taking your mind off of work."

She pulled back and Dave could see a smile spread across her muzzle and she reached up to wrap her arms around Dave's neck and pulled him down into a longer kiss. She hummed appreciatively at the act before pulling away. "We don't have time for anything too racy, but I have been wanting to get my paws on you all day, and I'm not letting you out of my sight until we get home."

Dave, who suddenly realized just how much his tail was wagging, laughed at and returned his mate's smile. "The feeling is mutual, Love, and I'd be lying if I wasn't just a liiiittle tempted to skip out on Mac's tonight, but we can hold on for a few hours," he paused briefly, his own eyes ranging over his mate, "...probably, hold out at least."

Carol gave a snort of laughter, and started reorganizing things. Dave started putting away some of the weapons that the ZPD officers had been using before he arrived. While he was locking up the closet with the replica firearms, he was reminded of an obligation he would need to perform tomorrow evening.

"Oh, Carol," he called out, and the coyote looked back at him with a load of towels in her arms. "I'm going to be a bit late getting home tomorrow." He paused for a moment to collect himself. "I need to drop something off in the Rainforest District for a patient."

The smile faded from Carol's face, and she placed the towels on the ground before walking over to where Dave was standing. The corners of her mouth twitched upwards as she forced a smile onto her face, but he could see in her eyes that she already knew why he was going to be late.

She sighed, and reached up to cup his cheeks in her paws before speaking. "No more of this, Dave," she said, and there was both conviction and sadness in her voice. "There are parts of our jobs that we can't share with each other, but not this. I'm not letting you face this alone. I'm picking you up at seven, end of story."

Dave started to raise a paw to protest, but Carol simply shook her head in reply. "Not this time, and never again. We're in this together you sweet wolf." She once again wrapped her arms around him, and drew him into an embrace. "I'll stay in the car, so you don't have to go on and on about 'doctor patient confidentiality'," she said in as mocking an approximation of Dave's voice as she could manage, "but I'll be right there...and you know you'll need me. Every time you do this, Dave, you hurt yourself so badly." She paused momentarily, and looked up into his eyes, where he could easily read the remembered pain from the previous times he had to fulfil this duty. "It's like you come back missing a piece of...I don't know, yourself, your soul? Let me be there for you, please."

It was that final pleading request that made his shoulders sag in defeat, but he wrapped his arms around his mate, and held her close. There was no more getting around how entangled they were in each other's lives now, and just as he felt every bit of her pain, he knew she felt every bit of his. He squeezed her tighter, and gave in, "Fine. You win...and thanks for being there."

She released her hold on him but ran her paws down his arms as she looked up at him, and a real smile played across her muzzle. "Always," she said simply before finally letting him go, and busying herself with getting the salle back in order.


It didn't take them long, but Carol had been correct in her assumption that the ZPD and ZAF mammals had been quick to clean up and head over to Mac's, and the two canines luxuriated in the heat of a shared shower. As promised, there were many things that Carol could do to take his mind off of work, and the gentle massage that she provided began to work out the knots that both training and his day at the Centre was evidence of this. She worked her paws over his limbs, chest, and back, easing the knots that had formed until he felt as though he could barely remain standing.

All too soon the ministrations ceased, and the pair switched their focus on making sure their fur was clean and ready for a night out. As Carol worked her paws over the fur of his chest, she frowned slightly, and rubbed a tuft between her digits. "What have you done to your fur, Dave? It's as brittle as straw," she asked, already reaching for one of the many fur products that she kept close at paw.

Dave chuckled quietly at her tone and shrugged, "I've been in and out of the lab a lot these past few days. Decontamination protocols don't exactly place a priority on preventing split ends."

Carol snorted in reply, and began working a conditioner that smelled of lavender into his fur. "Yeah, well, I have to sleep next to you, and I want my fluffy pillow back, mister; not some freakishly large porcupine!"

He couldn't help but laugh at his mate's distress over the state of his coat, but then his thoughts came to a screeching halt. "Wait, fluffy pillow? You really do think I'm soft, Love?" He couldn't hope to hide the humor in his voice, and Carol looked up at him and shook her head, while ruffling the fur on his neck and chest.

"You're ruff, silly wolf," she said while she worked to bring the offending coat back to an acceptably fluffy state. "You know I like using your chest as a pillow," she shrugged as she proceeded to work the conditioner into the fur on his head, and he crouched down slightly to make the task easier. "The sound of your heartbeat; it helps me sleep."

Dave chuckled slightly at the admission, and he reached out and wrapped his arms around Carol. Placing one paw behind her head, he pulled her in close, until her cheek rested against his chest. She sighed and closed her eyes as her ear twitched and listened to that low lub-dub of his heart for a moment. Dave rocked her gently from side to side as the water cascaded down onto them.

"My heart already belongs to you, Carol," he said, and she opened her eyes to look up into his. He smiled warmly at her, before releasing his embrace, and cupping her cheeks in his paws. "You can do with it whatever you wish."

Carol shook her head at her mate before pulling his head down into a deep kiss. When their muzzles broke apart, there was a small giggle from the coyote, and she shook her head at Dave. "Spirits, Dave, that was cheesy, but it was also one of the sweetest things I've ever been told." She took his right paw in her own, and placed it over her own chest. "I can't very well leave you without a heart, can I? I guess you'll just have to take mine in exchange."

Dave smiled and gave shared a small laugh with his mate at their exchange before once again bringing their muzzles together. With a sigh, they separated, and the two of them returned to their ministrations of each other. He selected one of Carol's favorite shampoos and began working it into her fur, taking a few moments to knead some of the soreness out of her muscles at the same time.

The hot water falling over them, and the movements of their paws allowed them to forget about the outside world, even just for a few precious moments. Their focus was only for each other, and the two smiled at this shared experience. As they held each other's gaze, the promise that their previous evening's revelations would indeed not be a solitary event, but they knew they would have to wait a while longer to further explore this new light in their lives.


Reality, and responsibility forced them to stop long before either of them wanted, but they had to get moving if they were going to make it to Mac's before last call. After drying and fluffing their fur, Carol's ministrations had at least improved the condition of his coat to a point where she was willing to rate his ruff as 'fluffyish'. That was about the best that either could hope for, so they got dressed and exited the salle.

The parking lot was empty except for their car, and Carol motioned towards it with her free paw. "Did we want to drive over, or just leave it here?" she asked, but had already started walking towards Mac's, and Dave chuckled at her idea of offering a choice.

"It's just down the street, so we'll just come back and pick it up after," he said as he caught up with his mate. "I don't intend on drinking too much. Tomorrow's going to be a busy one."

Carol nodded, and motioned for them to pick up the pace. "There won't be a repeat of Monday tonight, Dave. Trust me on that." She laughed and made a sidelong glance at Dave. "Like I said, I have plans for you when we get home, and I think we'll both want detailed memories of the event."

Dave smirked and reached over to draw her close to his side before placing a gentle kiss on the top of her head. "Oh, believe me, I have no intention of jeopardizing those, Love."

His conversation with Jim that morning came unbidden to the forefront of his mind, and He laughed at how accurate the antelope had been. Carol looked up at him and cocked an eyebrow at his actions, and Dave made a dismissive gesture with his free paw.

"Just something Jim said after you dropped me off," he said in answer to her unspoken query. "He mentioned that our...performance wouldn't have been out of place under some high school bleachers." Looking back down at his mate he shared a wry smile with her.

Carol cocked her head to the side and shrugged. "I don't see a problem with that."

"Neither do I, Carol. Neither do I," he said as the two continued down the road, neither one willing to concede their own version of the sticky-paws drill.


It wasn't long before they found themselves in front of the familiar doors of Mac's, and already the wonderful sounds of conversation, laughter, and music were filtering into the night. Stepping into the pub, Dave's nose twitched at the combined scents of dozens of mammals, as well as a familiar...and rather delicious aroma.

Carol's nose was also twitching, and a wide grin spread across her muzzle. "Ooooh, it's wing night!" she said jubilantly and rubbed her paws together in delight. "Blazin' suicide, here I come."

Dave shuddered involuntarily at his mate's choice for dinner. Although the wings at Mac's were one of their favorite treats, the two had quite a different tolerance for spice. Carol, as well as a surprising number of ZAF personnel, were of the opinion that there could never be such a thing as too much hot sauce, but it had taken him only single timid lick of a one of these famous wings to disprove that hypothesis.

The memory of that experience was defined by searing pain, hallucinations, and had ended with him gnawing on a stick of butter in an attempt to quench the fire in his mouth. Although he had managed to build up some tolerance over the years, regular hot was at the upper limit of his palette. Conversely, Gavin had been the one to supply the cooks here with his special recipe for the aforementioned blazin' suicide sauce years ago, when the badger had been unimpressed with the pub's then selection of liquid hell.

Preparing himself for the inevitable bets and challenges that wing night tended to produce from both the ZPD and ZAF mammals, he scanned the room, and saw that the whole group had taken up residence towards the back of the pub, having slid several tables together to accommodate everyone.

John was just returning from the bar, with four pitchers of beer clenched in his paws. The lion noticed Dave and Carol, and smiled warmly at them, before making a motion towards the table with his head.

Making their way over to the group, they saw that two seats had been reserved for them. It appeared that everyone from the class had decided to drop by, and there were even a few other ZPD members present in their group, Mark Delgato, Sue Pawmeyer, and Jake Zephyr having found seats with the group.

Delgato was the first to notice the pair's arrival, and he immediately checked his watch. "Time, sixteen minutes forty three seconds. Nadine, who was closest?" he asked Fangmeyer, who was examining the scribbles on a napkin, before looking over to the new arrivals. "Glad you two could make it. You're just in time for the first round of torture," he said, motioning with a paw towards several buckets of wings already on the table, the various mammals already digging into the treats. Only Officers Hopps and Wilde were not partaking in the feast, and instead had ordered some sandwiches for themselves.

Dave's twitching nose told him that the wings covered the entire heat scale, and he already recognized the near neon coloration of the hottest ones. He had a sinking feeling that the results of the bets tonight would not involve the usual monetary penalties, and he whimpered slightly at the implications for his mouth.

Fangmeyer looked over to Lupe, and tapped a claw against the napkin. "Corporal, you're number's up," she said simply, and motioned to the suicide wings with her free paw. "You know the drill."

The maned wolf laughed, took one of the wings, and without pause, proceeded to strip the meat from the bone. She made no outward sign of distress, and even licked the remains of the sauce from her paws without reacting, aside from an appreciative hum.

Snarlov looked at the other canine in disbelief, looking down at the remains of the...more sane wings on his plate. "How do you ZAF mammals do that?" he asked incredulously. "That stuff could peel the paint off of a cruiser, but all of you just gobble them down like it's nothing."

Colleen laughed as Ivan's remark, and reached over to take another of the wings from the bucket. "Those are the words of someone who has never had to live off of nothing but MREs, or even worse, ERats, for a month," she said before reducing the second wing to little more than bone. "Hot sauce is mother. Hot sauce is father. Hot sauce is God in the field."

At some unspoken signal, all the ZAF personnel, along with Carol proceeded to grab one of the suicide wings to eat. As with the Corporal, they gave no sign of distress as they consumed the meat, and the rest of the group just shook their heads at the display, much to the amusement of the military mammals.

Taft took the opportunity to pour a fresh round of beer for the assembled crew, and Dave took a long draught of the cold brew. Carol did likewise and sighed contentedly before leaning against his side, her eyes closed for the moment, as Dave wrapped his free arm around her shoulders. There was a chorus of "Awwwws" from around the table at the little tender moment, and Dave chuckled, then tilted his head so that it was resting on the top of Carol's.

The coyote didn't open her eyes, but after taking a moment to nuzzle her mate, she bared her teeth at the other mammals seated around the table. "If any of you ruin this moment for me, I will end you!" was all she said, her voice dripping with malice.

Dave chuckled at his mate's words and looked towards their tablemates who were more amused than anything else. "It's been a rough week, guys. I wouldn't want to test the sincerity of her pledge this time around," he said, and was only half-joking about it.

There was a round of real laughter from around the table, only punctuated by a yelp of surprise when Lupe struck out at Zephyr, expertly hitting the pressure point in his wrist, and causing him to drop the smartphone that he'd primed to capture a covert photo of the pair. Gavin caught the phone before it could hit the ground, and handed it back to the young cheetah.

"Keep it in your pants, Spots, unless you want to see what Latrans is like when she's actually angry," the grizzled mammal said, and the big cat paled slightly under his fur before returning the phone to his pocket.

Carol laughed and finally pushed away from Dave, her earlier malice now absent from her expression. "Thanks for that, Lupe, Willis," she said before focusing her attention on her newest student. "If that had ended up back at Precinct One, the squeal from Clawhauser would be lethal to everyone within half a block."

There was a bark of laughter from the end of the table, and Dave looked over to see Nick nearly doubled over. After he managed to regain control, he motioned between Judy and himself, "You have no idea, Carol. When Ben saw Hopps and me together for the first time, I was sure of two things." The fox held up a digit, "One, that there was about a fifty-fifty chance that I'd get my hearing back within a day, and two," he held up another digit, "that every window on the street needed to be checked for cracks."

There was another shared round of laughter, and even Dave was drawn in. He only knew the desk officer in passing, but if he had to guess, he assumed that Ben was enthusiastic when his coworkers paired off.

Carol took another sip of beer, and looked towards the fox and rabbit. "I understand that congratulations are in order with the two of you," she said, and there was a round of clinking glasses as the assembled mammals toasted the two partners. "It only took you about a year longer than it should have for the both of you to figure out the obvious."

Hopps seemed slightly embarrassed by the attention, but Wilde reveled in it, and he leaned over and gently touched his cheek to the top of her head. The rabbit stiffened momentarily, but then with a sigh of resignation, she relaxed and leaned into her fox. The two adopting a similar position to him and Carol's own from a moment ago.

There was another round of caterwauling from the assembled mammals, and the two officers separated themselves, albeit with some obvious reluctance, before waving away the attention.

Wilde was the first to change the topic away from he and his partner, "So, Spots," he began, directing his inquiry towards where Zephyr sat, "How are you finding life in Precinct One? You've been with us a week, and you haven't been called into Buffalo Butt's office once."

The cheetah gave a snort of laughter at the comment, "You do know that not being called into the chief's office a usually a good thing, right, Wilde?" he asked, the amusement plainly evident in his voice. "The two of you seem to have meetings with him at least once a shift."

Wolford gave a bark of laughter at the comment and looked over at his colleagues, "Nah, Zephyr, the chief just can't get enough of Wilde's sense of humor. Have you seen how happy he looks in the bullpen?"

Sue gave a laugh at the commentary, "I think he actually cracked the lectern as well as his phone yesterday when someone," she looked purposefully at Nick before continuing, "kept texting him during the briefing."

"Especially after that same someone changed his ringtone to Justin Beaver's Baby," Ivan added, and the table degenerated into laughter.

Wilde looked aghast at the accusation, and theatrically held a paw to his chest. "I'm shocked that you would implicate me in such a prank," he said, and there was a round of rolled eyes from the assembled mammals. The fox chuckled, although poor Judy seemed to be trying to hide behind her ears at Nick's antics. "Besides," he continued, "What Does the Fox Say would have been too on the nose."

Hopps gave an exasperated sigh and looked over at her partner. "You're going to get stuck on parking duty for a month if you keep this up, Slick," the doe said shaking her head. "Worse, he'll probably give me the same duty since I'm the senior officer."

Sue decided to have pity on the rabbit, and chose that moment to speak up. "And there are some other benefits to having him at Precinct One," she added coyly before leaning over and planting a kiss on the other cheetah's cheek. Silence descended over the table, and it was obvious to Dave that this was a new piece of information for the group.

Wolford was the first to break the silence, "Wait...You two are seeing each other?" The older wolf looked shocked at the revelation. Quickly he looked over to Delgato with slight panic on his face. "Oh shit! Did we have a pool set up for this?"

The lion shook his head at the wolf, and looked to the remaining ZPD officers, "I hadn't heard of anything, and the only one more up to date on the black book is Clawhauser."

Sue laughed at the admission, "We've been seeing each other for months, and only Bogo knew. We asked him to keep it quiet until Jake's transfer was official." She motioned towards Zephyr with her free paw. "Once he made it onto T.U.S.K., he being in the same precinct stopped being an issue for the brass." The female cheetah laughed before motioning towards Nick and Judy, "Not all of us have shown that we can put duty before personal stuff."

"Or act as a bloody unstoppable force of nature together...which that pretty well sums up the Precinct One Experience, Wilde," Zephyr said after a moment before becoming thoughtful, and wrapping his arm around Sue. The look on his face showing how relieved he was that he could openly display affection towards his mate. "It's actually really weird. The mammals there are some of the best that there is. Heck, you two actually saved the city, and you've proven again and again that they can handle whatever Zootopia throws at you...hell a lot of that was before you were even a cop, Wilde."

"I also almost broke this city, Zephyr," Judy added quietly, "Don't forget that part. I was to blame for a lot of what happened to the predators of Zootopia."

Dave could hear the sadness, and sincerity, in her voice, and he knew all too well what she was speaking of. He had seen the press conference that she was referring to, and both he and Carol had felt some of the public backlash against predator species that had followed in the intervening months.

All of that hadn't begun to compare to the pain he had felt when he had overheard one of their own neighbors instruct their calves to be sure to use the other side of the street when passing in front of his and Carol's house, or as they had put it, "the Pred's place".

It appeared that, even his, supposedly, respected role in society hadn't spared him the fearful glances from suddenly former friends, or the polite, and not so polite, requests from patients to see another physician. It had been particularly hard at the Centre, as only Doug, Jason, and Jim were from prey species, and both the female DVMs were predators. He and Cat had faced the worst of the prejudice, being two of the larger predators on staff. It had been as though the darkness that permeated the Centre had leaked out to blanket the whole city; the whole country really, in misery. No one would be forgetting those days for at least a generation or more, and moving forward was about the only recompense a mammal, especially a predator, was likely to find.

"Don't blame yourself, Hopps," Delgato said before taking a drought of his beer. His own memories of the Nighthowler crisis plainly evident in his features. "We were all played by Bellweather and her lackeys."

Dave nodded, "Mark's right," he said and looked towards the rabbit. "There's more than enough blame to spread across all of Zootopia." He shrugged before continuing, "In retrospect, even I, or at least some members of the medical community should have seen that something was up. Once Lionheart's scheme was discovered, we should have started examining the savage mammals themselves; we should have been able to tell that something wasn't right. I was probably the most blinded by it because I am in the medical field. A lot of us assumed that the physicians working on it knew what they were doing and were being honest. If we had pressed the issues, asked some more questions, we would have seen the only doctoring going on was of the data. We…" Dave paused for a second, both not realizing that he had this much to say on the matter and also feeling the weight of what he was in the middle of saying next. "We should have done more."

He looked down to his beer for refuge, then took a few sizable gulps of it. When he looked back up, he realized he still had the group's attention. Carol wriggled her arm under his and took his paw in hers. It was support he needed to finish what he had started.

He took a deep breath, and continued on. "The Honeywell Centre managed to get initial comparisons of all the recidivist mammals done within the first two weeks of us knowing about them, and we had a paper published within a month indicating that there was no genetic reason for it to be happening." Shaking his head, he once again admonished himself for not seeing the signs at the time. "After that however, we started running into roadblock after roadblock. Officials wouldn't talk to us, we'd 'just miss them' at the office, or we would have requests and samples simply go missing with no explanation."

He looked back towards the rabbit, but the whole table still had their full attention fixed on him.

"I thought you guys just worked with inter couples," Sue asked, remembering the lecture that Dave had provided on Monday evening with a shudder. "Why would you be working on the savage mammals?"

Dave nodded in understanding, "Interspecies couples are our focus, but we're also perhaps the best genomics research facility in the world. We have thousands of genomes in the Honeywell Database, and the resources to handle pretty much anything you can think of." He paused as he thought back to the source of those resources, and a small frown formed on his muzzle. "The Honeywell's sacrificed everything to try and have a pup. Their legacy was to make sure that the work would continue, and that we would always have the resources to do so."

He gave a nervous laugh at the forethought of the Honeywells and drained his beer, motioning for Taft to pour him another. "Money and technology has never been an issue for us, and that's probably the only reason we were able to get any research done on the Nighthowler victims."

He once again shrugged at the horrific events, "I think that Bellweather had mammals throughout the system, but they underestimated the Centre's resources," he said after a moment. "They weren't expecting a private institution to jump into this with everything that we had, and we caught them flat footed. Once they knew that we were getting wise to their ruse, they did everything that they could to slow us down to a crawl, but none of us noticed it at the time, even though we were probably the best equipped to detect it."

He looked back towards Judy and Nick, "I guess what I'm saying is that you're not alone in blame, and a lot of us missed the warning signs...or were just too myopic to see the bigger picture."

Wolford raised his glass to the pair of officers, "The important thing, Hopps, is that you did look beyond the obvious, and the two of you did save the city in the end."

Taft gave a deep sigh at this, and tipped back his glass to drain it before refilling it from one of the pitchers. "Thankfully you were there. The ZAF wasn't innocent in that regard either. There were those of us...a lot of us brass that wanted to do something, but we'd always be delayed or sent off on wild goose chases." His eyes grew hard for a moment before he gave himself a shake to rid him of those thoughts, "There was a very real shakeup in the ZAF Intelligence Core after that conspiracy came to light."

The lion had a rather cruel smirk on his muzzle as he took another drink. "Rumor has it that a few mammals have found themselves in some rather dark ZIA holes in the aftermath, and they seem to have misplaced the keys."

The ZAF personnel gave a round of laughter at the plausibly deniable admission, but heavy implication that some of Bellwether's co-conspirators were facing a rather more severe punishment than the sheep ringleader herself. The ZPD shared glances with each other before finally raising their glasses to their allies.

"To hindsight," Wilde said after a moment, "for always making our decisions in the moment seem idiotic after the fact."

"To Hindsight!" the assembled mammals echoed before downing their drinks and returning their attention to the painful feast in front of them.

Ivan was just tucking into a plateful of wings when he noticed Wilde's choice of meal. "So what gives, Wilde? We've got a table full of deliciousness, and you're settling for a mushroom sandwich," he asked with genuine curiosity.

The fox shrugged and took another bite of his sandwich, "I've been mostly vegetarian for years." He motioned to his partner with a free paw, "It was something my mom and dad used to talk about. Foxes are already seen as shifty mammals, who are not to be trusted, and with prey outnumbering preds pretty well everywhere in the city, it's just not polite to flaunt that you're eating the meat of another animal in their faces. It makes everyone more comfortable...or at least isn't yet another black mark against you in their eyes."

Snarlov swallowed his current bite, and his ears pinned back in embarrassment. "I didn't even think about that," he said, looking between his plate and the rabbit sharing his table. "Sorry about all this, Hopps."

The rest of the table also shared guilty glances at their plates, but Judy laughed and waved the apology away, "Don't worry about it. I'm used to the ZPD being pred heavy, and it doesn't bother me anymore." She looked over to her partner and smiled slightly before continuing, "And I happen to know a certain fox who does allow himself some cheat days every now and then, so dig in if you want."

Nick shook his head in response, "No can do, Carrots. It's only a cheat day if it's once in a blue moon, and we had sushi together yesterday."

Carol looked askance at the rabbit for a moment, "Wait a minute. Hopps likes real sushi, or Hopps had the vegetarian stuff while you indulged in your cheat day?"

Judy once again made to hide behind her ears, and her voice was quiet when she spoke, "It ends up I kinda like shrimp and crab...but most of it was the vegetarian stuff." She wrinkled her nose in distaste as she looked at Nick, "I tried some of the other fish, but the flavor was just awful...and the smell." She mimed a gagging motion, with an overindulgent moan of disgust, and the table degenerated into laughter at the admission.

Nick shrugged apologetically in reply once the laughter died down, "That was probably more my fault than yours, Carrots. You jumped right from dragon rolls to mackerel sashimi," the fox said, and the noses of several canids around the table twitched involuntarily. "It's just a little on the strong side, but I'm glad you enjoyed most of the evening."

Judy reached out to take Nick's paw in her own, "Of course I did, and thanks for showing me another new experience."

Smiles were abundant around the table at the scene, but Sue was thoughtful for a moment before shrugging, "Hunh, I never even knew a bunny could eat meat."

Some of the mood dissipated, as unsurprisingly, the table looked over to Dave who shrugged in reply to the unasked question on almost everyone's mind, "Pretty well any mammal can eat some meat. Just like a lot of predators can eat vegetables, nuts and fruit. They just don't get as much nutrition out of it, and too much can cause significant issues for them. Really there are more cultural barriers involved than biological ones." He paused and looked over to Nick, who was still holding on to Judy's paw, but was also listening as intently as the others.

"In many ways, it's much harder for predators to make the switch, as we lack almost all of the big adaptations to digest plants," he said and motioned to the sandwich on Wilde's plate. "Your system can probably only get about thirty percent of the nutrients that Hopps can out of that, and even she pales in comparison to what some of the ruminant species can manage due to," he stopped his train of thought and quickly thought of a way to redirect the conversation before he said something to embarrass the bunny, or himself, "...some cultural adaptations in many lapine species."

The rabbit gave a small sigh of relief that he had not gone into some of the historical details of rabbit digestion. They may have become civilized, but some evolutionary adaptations didn't disappear overnight, and most rabbits did still have a functioning cecum.

He waved a paw dismissively to try and steer the conversation back to Wilde's vegetarianism. "Basically, it just means more carefully watching your diet, and supplementing where needed. For prey species, meat can be an occasional treat, but needs to be done in moderation," he concluded the lecture by dipping a carrot stick in the never quite identified dressing and popping it into his mouth with a snap. "Just as predators can enjoy some veggies of questionable nutritional value every now and then."

"Questionable taste too," added Wolford, who regarded his fellow wolf suspiciously.

There was a general round of laughter from the assembled mammals, and Carol punctuated the mirth by roughly poking Dave in his midsection, "And even predators need to watch what they eat, mister," she said with genuine amusement as she looked at the ever growing pile of bones on his plate, and Dave feigned a look of genuine hurt.

"Hey, hon, I've earned a treat," he said, although the amusement in his eyes detracted from the tone of his voice. "Besides, by the sound of things, I'm going to need that energy for later," he added with a wry smile on his muzzle and a knowing wink.

The table once again degenerated into a variety of catcalls and cheering, while Carol groaned and made to cover her eyes with a paw before replying. "I never should have started corrupting your sense of humor, Dave," she said, while pushing another bucket of wings in his direction.

There was a bark of laughter from Lupe at the exchange, the maned wolf shaking her head at Carol, "Oh please, Latrans. If that's your idea of corruption, I'm sure he'd get a kick out of when you picked me up and went on about how you were going to…"

Carol's head snapped up and fixed Colleen with a glare, "Don't you finish that sentence, Corporal. That was girl talk, and you know it."

Lupe held up her paws submissively, but had a clear leer on her muzzle as she looked over to Dave. "Eat up, Doc. You are going to need it."

Another round of hooting and laughter greeted the maned wolf's rather blunt statement, with both Wolford and Snarlov raising their muzzles to the ceiling and letting loose with an undulating howl that was picked up by a couple of other wolves in the pub. For once, Dave was not drawn into the howl, as his focus was squarely on the face of his mate. His wide-eyed expression was paired with a somewhat goofy grin on his muzzle.

The unspoken question was obvious to both of them, "What are you planning to do to me, and should I start running?"

Carol gave a bark of laughter at Dave's expression, and then reached out to cup his cheek with one paw. "Trust me, Love. You'll enjoy my plans for tonight."

Dave's smile changed to one of true warmth, and he placed both paws on his mate's cheeks and drew her into a deep kiss. Carol hummed appreciatively, and the table's degeneration into more catcalls and laughter was utterly ignored by the pair. After a moment that could have been mere seconds, or an eternity for the two, they separated, but Dave drew Carol into an embrace, with him cushioning her head against his chest. When he spoke, the words were little more than a whisper; a private moment meant only for the two of them.

"Always and forever, my love. Always and forever."


The group had reacted predictable to the overt display of affection, but things had quickly returned to normal as the assembled mammals finished their dinner. Delgato was the first to depart, after receiving a text from his mate. He was shortly followed by Ivan and Robert, who had had indicated that they had early shifts to prepare for.

"It was good to spar with you again, Robert," Dave said as he shook the older wolf's paw, only realizing that he was rubbing his side where Wolford had punished his ribs during their bouts.

Both Snarlov and Wolford laughed at the gesture, and Robert tipped his head in acknowledgement. "The feeling is more than mutual, Doc," he said before stepping back and looking over to Carol, his head cocking to the side in curiosity. "I get the feeling that we might have more chances to test each other in the coming months."

Carol laughed at the three wolves, and nodded her head in reply, "You would be correct, Wolford. We'll need to work on the scheduling, as Dave's going to be...rather busy at the Honeywell Centre for a while at least," Carol said after a moment. She might not have known all the details of the Rey's situation, but she had experienced similar events in the past, and knew full well that her mate could, and probably would, be needed at a moment's notice. She also knew what the costs to him personally could be and knew that she should probably start psyching herself up for what she guessed the ending would entail.

Shaking her head slightly to rid it of those dark thoughts, she continued, "We'll be wanting to push all of you pretty hard in the near future, so you might want to prepare yourselves." The malicious twinkle returned to her eyes as she spoke, and the three wolves shared worried glances with each other.

Snarlov shook himself at the friendly warning, and waved a paw at the assembled mammals, "On that terrifying note, I'm off. Wolford, Fangmeyer, Pawmeyer, I'll see you three in the bullpen tomorrow."

The two ZPD wolves turned to leave just as the music changed from its usual background ambiance to what sounded like a new remix of Gazelle's Try Everything. Carol and Lupe's ear's perked up instantly, and the two canines quickly made their way to the small open space on the floor that served as the pub's dance floor. They were quickly followed by most of the table, with only Taft, Willis and Dave remaining seated.

"Still not much of a dancer, Dave," John asked after polishing off the last of his beer, and motioning towards the barkeep to bring the table's bill.

Dave laughed at the lion's comment, but also shrugged and held out his paws apologetically, motioning towards the dance floor, "Not for something like this. I think Carol likes her feet uninjured." He looked between the two ZAF mammals and then over to the dance floor, where Carol was already enjoying herself with her comrades. "If a slow song comes up, I'll make the attempt, but until then, I'm more of a risk than an asset to her...and I don't see either of you jumping up to join in either."

The other two males laughed at his admission, and Taft shook his head in reply, "I'm a traditional cat, and without Jenna here, it's just not the same."

"Ditto for me, Sir," Willis said, then took another sip of his beer. "There's only one girl who can make me dance, and she's not here."

John gave another rumble of laughter. "Only the one, Gunny?" he asked, the amusement plainly evident in his voice. "I seem to recall another female who could make you dance at a moment's notice."

The badger gave a chuckle but shook his head. "Dana's in high school, Sir. Dancing with her papa is pretty far down her list of wants right now." His expression became thoughtful for a moment before a rare crooked smile spread across his scarred muzzle, "But if she asked, I'd do it in a heartbeat."

Gavin looked between the two other males, and his expression became severe, "And that little detail does not leave this table, or, with all due respect, Sirs, I will frag you both. I have a reputation to maintain you know."

Dave and John laughed at the comment, and Dave shook his head in disbelief. "High school? Already?" He had known Gavin for as long as he had been with Carol, and he had seen the badger's daughter several times over the years. The thought that the little bundle of energy, who had been fascinated by his tail when they first met had reached adolescence was incredulous.

John looked over to Dave and smiled warmly, "Cubs grow up fast, Dave...far, far faster than you want." The lion sighed, and obviously was thinking of his own cubs, or rather adults now. "They never stop being your little miracles, but they grow up so quickly it seems."

Gavin nodded his head in agreement, "When you told me that Nicole was starting university last year, I nearly had a heart attack, Sir. I might not have been there to change her diapers, but I remember when she did need that particular service."

The two males shared a knowing and weary glance before changing their focus to Dave. There was still a smile on John's muzzle when he spoke, "And have you and Carol made any decision in regards to that little milestone?"

Dave held up his paws in mock surrender at the question but laughed nonetheless. "One step at a time, John. We both want pups, but there are a few thing to take care of first."

Gavin chuckled at the comment, "Ah, yes. Would one of those things be a little shindig that you've got planned in the near future?"

Dave smiled and nodded in reply. He had asked John to surreptitiously let Carol's friends at the ZAF know about his anniversary plans, and he was glad that the news had spread to the other instructors.

"That's a big one," he said after a moment, but then frowned. "I'll admit that I'm still not sure doing it so publicly is the right way to ask, but it's tradition for wolves, and I want to do this right." He looked back towards the dance floor, and sought out the form of his mate, "I've waited too long already."

Gavin chuckled in reply, "If you have any worries about her saying no, get those out of your head right now." The badger motioned over to Taft with a paw, "The Captain had to officially put an end to the betting pool at the ZAF when intel on your plans came to light."

Dave cocked his head to the side in confusion. Those little office pools were commonplace, and although not technically allowed, it was rare for any action to be taken to prevent them.

John laughed at the wolf's confusion before he spoke, "I had to, Dave. There was only one mammal who bet that she'd say no. Just based on the number in the pool, there isn't a small enough form of currency to divide amongst the winners."

A frown formed on Gavin's face as he shook his head, and motioned over to the dance floor, "And that particular mammal still hasn't learned his lesson, Sir."

Dave looked back towards the crowd, and immediately saw what the badger was speaking of. Carol was dancing with Colleen, Jake, and Sue, but Miles had come up behind the coyote and had pressed himself against her back. Dave's ears pinned back in an instant, and a recently fluffed fur bristled as a growl started to form in his throat. He made to stand up, but a large paw on his shoulder forestalled his action.

He looked over to where John sat, and there was a cruel smile on the lion's muzzle. "Relax, Dave. This is going to be good."

Gunny Willis also chuckled, and pointed back towards Carol. Dave could see that his mate's ears were starting to pin back, and it was obvious that she was...unimpressed with the cheetah's closeness. There were also similar looks from both Lupe and Pawmeyer, who looked at the big cat with open disdain, but kept dancing; not wanting him to spoil their evening.

Gavin considered the scene for a few moments before precisely choosing a the moment to start counting down, "And three... Two... One."

The badger paused, and then frowned as there was no change in the tableau in front of him. He was about to speak, when Carol's right paw flashed downwards, and roughly grasped Argent's groin. The cheetah's eyes opened wide in shock, and he hunched forward involuntarily as the coyote tightened her grip.

The cat's motion brought his head closer to Carol's and Dave could see her mouth move as she said something to her colleague. No one at the table could hear what was said, but the bared teeth that Carol displayed left little doubt regarding the meaning of her words. After a moment she released her grip, and the cheetah stumbled backwards, his own paws moving to cover his abused groin. The look on his face was a mixture of shock and anger, and after a moment his eyes sought out Dave, and the cheetah's expression changed to one of pure hate.

It only lasted for an instant, but it was clear to everyone at the table, and John's expression became severe, as he pointed at the Warrant Officer and then to the door. Argent's expression became neutral as he nodded at his CO, stood up as straight as could, and made to exit the pub with what dignity he had left.

John looked at Gavin and sighed. "Gunny, I think I need to have a chat with WO Argent. Would you please join me outside? Dave, it was a pleasure...well up until about two minutes ago at least." The lion shook his head before looking back to Dave. "And think about what you learned today. I'll be in touch so we can iron out your role in the program."

Gavin nodded his head in agreement, and looked over to Dave. "Doc, you do right by that girl, and we'll take care of the fuckwad."

"That 'fuckwad' outranks you, Gunny," Taft said as he stood, but there was more amusement than reproach in his tone.

"Which is why I'm going to let you say that to his face, Sir." Gavin said without hesitation. "No officer worth his commission acts like I just saw, Sir; on or off-duty." The badger spat on the floor as he made to follow Taft out of the bar. "That cat's rank is the only reason why I don't kick his sorry ass myself."

Any reply that the lion made was lost in the background noise of the pub. Dave shook his head, and looked back towards his mate. He smiled when he saw that she was once again smiling, and enjoying herself with her friends. The song came to an end, and Dave was surprised to hear, not another modern tune, but one that predated both he and Carol. The opening notes of Unchained Melody caused an instant change in the dancers on the floor, and Carol's eyes immediately looked over at Dave.

He smiled and made his way over to his mate. They didn't speak, and merely held each other close, and allowed the music to flow around them. The rest of the world may well have ceased to exist, as their attention narrowed down to encompass only each other. Words were unneeded, and as they gazed into each other's eyes, they once again saw their fundamental truth; that they were one.


The evening had ended shortly after the dance; the various mammals all bidding farewell to each other, and heading home. Both Dave and Carol walked back to the salle, each with an arm wrapped around the waist of the other.

With nearly unlawful speed, they were back home, and upon entering the house, Dave waved a paw towards the living room before motioning upstairs. "Did you want to stay up a bit or…" His words were cut off when he turned to face Carol, only to have the coyote, pounce on him, wrapping her legs around his waist, and pulling his muzzle against her own.

Dave stumbled back for a moment before grasping onto Carol's hips, and returning the kiss with equal enthusiasm. Carol pulled away after a moment and looked him squarely in the eye.

"Bedroom, now!" was all she said before reaching down with one arm and stripping off her shirt, then placing a paw on either side of his face and once again kissing him deeply, a low, hungry growl rumbling in her throat as she did so.

Dave didn't need any more encouragement, and quickly climbed the stairs two at a time, carrying his mate to their bedroom. He wasted no time making his way to the bed laying Carol and himself down on its surface.

He broke the kiss, and moved down his mate's body, nuzzling and marking her with his scent as he did so. After a moment, he leaned back and stripped off his own shirt hastily. His gaze roamed over the body of his mate, and a similar, but even lower growl started to form in his own throat as he leaned back down towards her. Something out of the corner of his eye made him look away for a moment, and suddenly, he stopped, and his jaw hung wide in surprise.

"Spirits, what did we do to the bed?" he asked as he took in the mess of shredded sheets and chunks of memory foam littering the mattress surface and floor. He had known that their lovemaking last night had been...energetic, but he had no memory of this kind of destruction. His shocked expression became even wider when he looked at the other signs of damage. "...and when did I bite the headboard?" he asked when he saw the clear signs of fang marks on the thick wood.

Carol laughed at his expression, and firmly grasped his muzzle to redirect his gaze back to her. "I already ordered a new bed. It's arriving tomorrow, and I have no idea when or how it happened, but I very much want it to happen again, so what do you say we finish the job?" she asked before pulling him down into another kiss. The two of them allowed themselves to be lost in the moment, and all their concerns and questions were forgotten as their world once again narrowed down to contain only each other, and that was all the two of them would ever need.


Notes:

And there we have it. A proper rest chapter for Dave, but things will be back to the Centre for the next chapter, and we all know what that means for the tone of the story.

Due to the lateness of this chapter, I'm going to only give a limited Science Time!...partially because there wasn't much to cover this time around.

Imposter Syndrome: This is an interesting psychological condition, where an individual is incapable of internalizing their accomplishments, or has difficulty in being able to see their own skills from an outside perspective. It's quite common among individuals who are considered high achievers, including many people in the medical and scientific fields.

In these cases, there is a common fear that the sufferers aren't as capable as others think they are, and that they'll be discovered to be a fraud. This is particularly true in scenarios like the Honeywell Centre, where there are so many of these high achieving individuals in one place. Basically, people (or mammals for Zootopia) downplay their own accomplishments, but more obviously see the achievements of their coworkers. For some reason, the mind tends to obsess about the questions that you couldn't answer, as opposed to the myriad of ones that you did.

Put simply, there's a tendency to focus on the things that we get wrong, or fail at, as opposed to when things work out. In my own case, I've had it happen several times. Normally the scenario is where a question comes up, but I'm unable to answer, yet one of my colleagues gets it in seconds, or where an experiment doesn't work as planned, and someone points out a simple change that can fix the scenario. In both of these instances, I feel like an idiot, but I'm also forgetting about the dozens of times that I've been the one to provide the answer to a problem or question.

Long story short, when you start to doubt yourself, think back at the number of times that you've succeed. You'll probably find that the latter list is FAR bigger than the former.

Another interesting demographic that seems to suffer from it at a significantly higher rate are ethnic minorities, but the reason for this varies considerably. Among African Americans for instance, there is a significant uptick in those reporting Imposter Syndrome in those individuals who fear that they obtained their position as a result of affirmative action as opposed to skill. This is not normally the case however, and the overwhelming majority of individuals with Imposter Syndrome tend to do well, but do show signs of additional stress.

Sticky Paws (Hands): This is a real thing, and seeing it being done by two highly skilled practitioners is something truly amazing to behold. I'll admit that my own training was limited, but the blindfold portion of this chapter is based upon some of my own experiences training in a variety of martial arts over the years.

I'll be honest, I was usually the one eating the floor mats, but I do remember one time where, when training while blindfolded, something just clicked, and I really could tell what my opponent's actions were going to be, just by the way their movements felt. I could easily build a mental image of their posture, and motion, and was able to use it to deflect and dodge their attacks...well for a few seconds at least.

I still ended up on the mats.

Hindgut Fermentation: Yeah...let's just say that I'm pretty sure that rabbits in Zootopia don't take advantage of this particular digestive trait any longer. As the name implies, hindgut fermentation is the process by which food is further processed through bacterial-mediated fermentation. In rabbits this takes place in the caecum, a pouch like structure that occurs at the junction of the large and small intestines. This structure is often quite large in herbivores, but in carnivores it is often much reduced to an appendix.

Food enters into this pouch, and is broken down with the help of bacterial species. Primarily, these bacteria help break down cellulose and branched sugars, but also assist by producing small chain fatty acids.

There's a catch though.

The absorption of sugars generally happens in the small intestine, but the food has now moved beyond that area. So what is a rabbit to do?

They eat it again once it's expelled from the anus.

It should be noted that the caecotroph is quite different from feces, and most hindgut fermenters are aware of when one of these caecotrophs are released, and consume it directly.

...but I'm pretty sure that rabbits in Zootopia have moved beyond this practice, but the odds are very high that they still have a functioning caecum.


Diet in Zootopia:

So this is a topic that really needs more time than I can devote to it for this chapter, however I'll mention that I am hosting a discussion over on the Zootopia SubReddit on Sat Sept 23rd, and will try to go over this in more detail then.

One key convention to remember is that, regardless of the source of the nutrients, all mammals need to get three main macronutrients: Protein, carbohydrates, and fats. These are the things that we need in fairly large amounts to survive. It's important to remember that the required amounts of each can vary wildly, as our bodies can generally convert macronutrients from one form to another fairly easily, albeit at an increased energy cost compared to getting it from their diet.

One instance where this isn't the case is for what have been dubbed essential amino acids. Outside of plants and fungi, it's rare for an organism to be able to synthesize every amino acid that they required, as over time, enzymes involved in their synthesis have been lost, and in reality, they aren't normally needed if you're getting enough protein in your diet.

In humans, there are 9 essential amino acids (histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine). These are amino acids that we must get from our diet, as we have lost the ability to make them ourselves. Among other mammals, this can change. For instance canines also lack the ability to make arginine, and both cats and foxes also require taurine as part of their diet.

In ruminants, there is an additional source of amino acids that comes into play, namely those produced by the bacteria in their stomachs, which help with the digestion of cellulose and other branched carbohydrates.

Outside of these macronutrients, there are also required micronutrients, and as the name implies these are things that we need, but not normally in huge amounts. These include various vitamins and minerals that are required for the proper function of our cells. In humans, one obvious requirement is for vitamin C. Humans and higher primates (along with guinea pigs and fruit bats...not sure about the former, but the latter does make sense), we've lost the ability to synthesize this vitamin, and as such we need to get it in our diet.

Failure to obtain the necessary amounts can lead to a condition called scurvy, which affects the connective tissue in the body. It was very common is sailors, with documented cases dating back to the second millennium BCE. It's also an interesting disease in that, the curative effects of fresh fruit and green vegetables was discovered and lost several times over the ages.

Perhaps the most well-known prevention of scurvy at sea was the Merchant Shipping Act of 1867, which mandated that all sailors be provided with a daily lime ration specifically to prevent scurvy. It also had the effect of creating the pejorative title "limey" to describe royal navy sailors.

Regardless, macronutrients we need large amounts of, micronutrients we only need small amounts.

For now, I'd like to cover just how odd it would be for Nick to be vegetarian, or for Judy to enjoy some shellfish every now and then.

The general convention in the public is that carnivores eat meat and herbivores eat plants, right? Well reality has a way of blurring the lines, and food selection is no different. In the wild, although their diets do tend to lean towards one end of spectrum or another, most animals will consume a mixture of plant and animal matter if it is available.

For some species, their dietary requirements are extremely specific. Panda's and koalas basically rely on a single food stuff in the wild, bamboo and eucalyptus leaves, respectively. This isn't the case for the majority of species, as this type of specialization is quite rare, but there would be a need to address not only nutritional requirements for all the species in Zootopia, but also the preferences of those species.

So we have two levels of specificity to consider:

1. Required

2. Preferred

The former is something that would be absolutely be required for each species in the Zootopian society, but the latter is where we can get into "luxury" items and the like. From a regulatory perspective, the emphasis would be in the former, both in terms of research as well as public policy. Although we can group species into the broad categories of predator and prey, but there is a range of diets that many species can successfully live on.

Deer have been observed eating scavenging carrion if they can, and nature is full of instances of females consuming their placenta after giving birth. We also see that many herbivores will consume insects when they can. Most animals are opportunistic feeders, and will consume anything that they consider palatable...or even if it isn't, as the consumption of rancid meat does occur.

On the other side of the fence, carnivores have been observed consuming a variety of plants, and this is even more puzzling than the herbivores eating meat. It's easy to get nutrients out of meat, as it's easily broken down, even in the stomach of ruminant animals, it just takes longer than it would in a carnivore's stomach. With plant matter, a lot of the nutrition is tied up in long polymer molecules like cellulose, and these can't be easily broken down without special conditions that aren't present in the carnivore digestive system.

So why do they do it? Well it depends on how they've evolved. Most obligate carnivores don't eat plant material for nutrients, they eat it to help clear out their digestive tract. This is the case for felines who eat grass to help alleviate hairballs and the like. For many other species, they only eat things like fruits or tubers that contain more digestible carbohydrates.

They key thing to remember is that these alternate food sources are not the main part of their diet. A herbivore consuming only meat would fare poorly, as would a carnivore only eating plant material. In the former case, their digestive tract is too long, and large amounts of meat would literally putrefy in their guts, leading to illness and death. In the latter, their inability to digest the plant material would lead to starvation. In the case of groups like felines and foxes, they would also face the hurdle of being unable to obtain all the essential amino acids (such as taurine) from plants.

Anyways, Judy eating sushi isn't as odd as it may seem. She can certainly enjoy it on occasion, just as Nick can have his love of blueberries. According to the director's Nick's actually a vegetarian and some form of real supplementation would be required. For fruits, his system can get some nutrients out of it, particularly sugars, but he'd need supplementation to cover all the essential amino acids. Protein shakes, and fortification of processed food items can go a long way towards making his diet manageable, but it would require some knowledge of nutrition to be able to pull it off without outside help.

Vegetarianism would be much more difficult for obligate carnivores, such as big cats. Quite simply, their diets would need to be mostly processed food (think fortified tofu and the like). Their systems have not evolved to process plants very well at all, and even if we push back the date of peace between predators and prey back 20,000 years, it's still not very long from an evolutionary standpoint. As a human example, this is enough time for the mutation that allowed humans to digest lactose into adulthood to become the prominent trait in most of Europe, but that was a mutation in the promoter of a single gene. Breaking down plant matter requires entire biochemical pathways to perform, and in the cases of ruminant animals, and hindgut fermenters, the action of bacterial species in the gut is needed to aid the process.

These aren't minor adaptations, and would require hundreds of thousands to millions of years to develop.

So long story short, meat consumption in prey species is more easily explained, and in Zootopia, there really would be more cultural barriers than physiological ones preventing prey species from indulging in meat every now and then. Vegetarianism in predator species would be contingent on processed foods and supplementation, but could be possible.


Regardless, I will close things off here, and believe me, I am going to try and get chapter 14 done within a month, not three. I apologize again for being so late, but I hope that you enjoy this rather different chapter of Lost Causes and Broken Dreams.

As a note, chapter 14 will also be when I'll be including the first piece of artwork for the story, and my thanks go out to stevegallicci for drawing such a touching scene.

For those of you who are interested, be sure to look up TheWinterBunny on Deviant Art, as I also commissioned another piece of artwork for a chapter that is still a ways down the road. The piece is titled Blessing, and the only hint I'll give regarding the scene is that no additional mammals were harmed to produce this image. Any deceased individuals were that way from the start of the story.

Once again, my thanks to WildeNick for editing this beast. I think this has ended up being the longest chapter to date, but I had a lot of fun writing it. Please give his story, Three Months a Fox a read. It's an interesting look at the three month period between the press conference and the arrest of Bellweather.

Finally, my thanks to Cimar of Turalis WildeHopps for letting me take part in the What If project, and I've been pleasantly surprised by the reception that it received. I strongly encourage everyone to give the series a read, as it's a collection of talented artists and authors all working to produce something novel.

As always, send your questions, comments, and reviews, and I'll try to address anything that you bring up.