Story One- Cats and Dogs
By: Gabriel LaVedier
Tension between predators and prey were an obvious and long-simmering problem in Zootopia and the wider world. But there was no basic unity between the members of those groups. Prey had tension withing their ranks, and predators had their own quarrels inside the tightly defined groups, usually precluding any kind of friendly relations. Among the most strident was the tension between the Amur tigers and the wolves. It was more than a canine and feline rivalry; tradition held an arrogant pride in those tigers over lowly pack canines, and the wolves had a disdain for those that looked down upon them.
Any kind of relationship between the two mammals would start unbalanced on some level. Which made the sight of Daji Hua keeping close company with Aloycious Wulfmeyer all the more unusual. She stood tall and proud, always in loud colors, typically in a long dress or skirt and blouse. The gray-and-black wolf always just looked happy to be with her, looking up with fawning adoration, always in drab outfits and always baggy hoodies and long pants. She never seemed to give much in the way off affection, despite all the adoring nuzzles and kind actions he performed.
Daji lived in a modest apartment in the heart of Savannah Central, paid for by her parents while she loafed about being useless but notable. It was on the upper side of modest for a large mammal, more plain than poor. The door opened into a central living room, which blended into a kitchen area that had a large window over the sink. Two short hallways angled quickly in the direction of the far wall where the two bedrooms of the apartment were located.
The location was plainly decorated, a claw-marked couch and perforated chairs sat on a worn rug, all facing an expensive home entertainment system. A square table with two chairs sat in the middle of the kitchen area, just allowing the ability to move around and cook. Photographs consisted mainly of shots of Daji, with a few other family members scattered around. There were none of Al.
When she arrived home she scowled, seeing she was not alone. She shared the apartment with her sister, Nugua, when the other tigress was off from Zootopia University. The younger tigress was a confirmed bookworm, a bespectacled feline with a retiring nature, a penchant for loose jeans and tees, and a body that surpassed her sister in size and musculature. She was some kind of genetic anomaly, naturally large and strong, despite being a retiring intellectual.
"Your clinging is charming to the others but do not hold too tight when no one is looking," Daji growled out to Al, as they arrived home at the apartment.
"I'm sorry. I just like being close to you," Al replied, his tail flagging low but still wagging.
"You are useful for making others think well of me, and you obey. So continue to obey and know your place, wolf," Daji snarled.
"Daji, that's... that's not a kind way to treat him," Nugua muttered, half-hiding behind a large, hardback novel.
"That is not your place to say, Nugua; keep your eyes in your books and away from my matters," Daji replied, venom seeping into her words.
Al mouthed thank you and gave a warm smile, before turning a flat-eared and submissive look up to Daji. "I promise I'll do better. I just want to do what's best for you."
"And I will tell you what that is," Daji stated, forcibly grabbing his arms and pulling him up into a deep, forced kiss, her claws making soft but clear sounds as they poked through his loose sleeves and poked insistently at his arms. The heavy kiss ended with her practically throwing Al away, a sneer on her face. "Come. Now." She turned sharply and moved to her room, momentarily leaving Al and Nugua.
Al was practically hugging himself, softly rubbing his arms. He looked sheepishly over at Nugua, who still peeked over her book at him, the barest hint of a reddish flush showing on the pale parts of her nose. A roar from the room sent Al running to Daji, the door slamming behind him.
Nugua tried to lose herself in her book, but could not ignore the sounds from the room. Dominating roars, whimpers, and the sounds she hoped were carnal acts and not other forms of flesh impacting flesh matched to cries and begging.
"Why do you let this happen to you?" A week later. Nothing had changed, which became an increasing concern for Nugua. She would return to school after not much longer, and she would lose track of Al, leave him wholly alone with her sister. She was not doing anything, but there was some comfort in being able to watch over him. She thought her presence would at least hold back Daji somewhat.
"Let what happen? Nothing is happening," Al said, rather quickly. He pulled down the sleeves on his loose sweatshirt and his eyes darted quickly around the apartment living room, even though he knew it was only him and Nugua.
"I... I keep my eyes in my books, as Daji tells me. She is good at telling others what to do, isn't she? But I can still hear. I know she hurts you..."
"It's an accident!" Al yipped, hugging himself tighter. "She is just a very strong woman, and I'm very weak..."
"That's no reason to hurt you. You deserve respect," Nugua softly said.
Al hid his reddened snout in the folds of his baggy hoodie, looking shyly aside at Nugua. "I, uh... I was raised like every wolf out there. I learned a lot from the pack, but the thing that came through most of all was that I'd never hear any terms of respect from an Amur. My family said it's because they're arrogant. But I think it's really because I don't deserve it..."
"You do!" Nugua insisted, leaning forward and nearly leaping to her paws. She immediately regretted it, watching Al's reaction. He cringed backwards and lifted his hands up slightly, covering his face. "Oh! No no, I'm so sorry..."
"You didn't do anything. It's fine," Al said with a shaky smile pulled too wide. He shivered a little as he got comfortable again. "Just got surprised. I'm so weak and jumpy. I'm very lucky to have Daji."
"You said you never hear any terms of respect from one of us. Has Daji never told you kind things?" Nugua asked, a brow ridge raised.
"She tells me how good I am at doing what she wants, and that I make a good accessory. I make her look good and she has pity on me. It's wonderful to be needed," Al sighed.
"You're not a bracelet or a necklace, you're a mammal," Nugua insisted, running her finger over the spines of a few books before she found one in particular. "Here. Read it. Or, don't; I am not commanding you. But it would be good for you to have this."
Al took the book, nervously smiling as his fingers brushed against Nugua's own. "'I know why the muzzled wolf howls'?" He read off the title with some incredulity.
"Toni Loboson felt trapped by a predator-negative society and expressed things few others have. Muzzles still exist, and yes are rarely used, but she looks on that as a tragedy and the heart of a discussion about feeling put-upon and trapped," Nugua explained, looking directly into Al's eyes, when he wasn't flicking them aside. "Please..."
The scrape of the key in the lock at the front door jolted both mammals, Al almost fumbling the book before he quickly hid it in his waistband, covered with his baggy hoodie. Daji looked on the two with narrowed eyes and a scowl. "What is this? Have you been doing something you should not?"
"We were discussing literature, sister. I missed the intellectual stimulation of discussions like this, which I had back at the university," Nugua explained.
"'Intellectual stimulation'? From him? Stop wasting your time, even if you can't help it," Daji spat. "Leave, wolf. And don't come unless you make certain I am here to receive you."
Al made no comment; he merely got to his paws, crouching a bit, tail low and ears flat, slinking out the door while holding his waistband.
Nugua watched the retreat with a sad look, and made an attempt to stare at her sister, eyes holding the gaze for a very short time before she looked away. "He has a name..."
"What was that?"
"He has a name," Nugua said, slightly louder.
"That is irrelevant. I will call him what I like. What will you do about it? Nothing. You're so weak and helpless. Mother and father indulge you too much. Why do you care about some lowly pack animal?"
"He's still worthy of respect, no matter what he is. He's not just a toy or accessory," Nugua huffed.
"The university is tainting your mind. Maybe you should stay there in a strange fantasy land. Here in the real world wolves are beneath us. Whatever else may be in society and life, this is the one truth above all else," Daji said, in a cold and guttural growl.
Something welled up inside Nugua, sending her standing to her full height. Even being the younger sister she stood half a head taller than Daji, with a broader build that was clearly visible. "It's not true. This is Zootopia; all mammals are equal. Rabbits and foxes are police, a predator was just mayor and now a rat is. Our family was wrong, and you remain wrong."
Daji did not flinch when confronted with her sister's bulk. She held a strong, glaring gaze before she turned aside to go to her room. "Believe what you will. You'll leave us be soon enough. Do not antagonize me or meddle in my affairs."
Nugua remained standing, starting to tremble as soon as her sister was out of sight. She sat down with a shiver, picking up a random book and starting to read, hoping to calm her nerves. Bigger and broader, but her sister's icy eyes could still break her like a twig.
Three days before Nugua was to return to the university she had filled the apartment with the subtle scent of buttered popcorn and the feel of tension as she grew ever more concerned by the fate of Al. Even if Daji could tell, she didn't react except to shoot contemptuous looks at her sister, hating her weakness all the more the longer her blind nervousness grew.
For his part, Al grew less fawning and servile, less clingy in public. That suited Daji at first, but he had begun questioning her decisions and speaking up more. That rankled her, as she had chosen the wolf to be a toy, not a bother. It had all been building the more he read from the book she saw him hiding in his baggy clothes.
Nugua looked over her book constantly, to Daji with her head angled up in a superior posture, arm out, the limb being brushed by Al, who looked vaguely disinterested. He dragged the brush slowly across the orange fur, tracing the contours of the muscles shifting beneath the skin. He kept the delicate touch he had always shown, grooming his girlfriend carefully but very automatically.
The slow, rustling brushing slowed to a halt, Al looking down at the brush in his hands. The pause lingered so long that Daji reluctantly opened one eye, the pupil slightly slitting as she looked down on the wolf. "Continue, wolf. You have been strident of late, and it does not speak well of you. Do your duty and continue to groom me."
It took Al a moment to answer, one hand rubbing his arm, the other placed over the book in his waistband. "No..."
"What did you say?"
"No... because you hurt me. Why do you hurt me like this?" Al asked.
"What are you babbling about? Something has changed you and I don't like it," Daji snarled, turning both slitted eyes on Al.
He started to pull his hoodie up, but hesitated before it crossed his waistband. Instead, he pulled up a sleeve, showing the dark bruises beneath the gray portions of his fur, spaced perfectly to show the meaty grip of a tigress. "I don't deserve this. This isn't right. Predators are already hurt, do we need to hurt one another?"
"Is it my fault you are so weak that I can scarcely touch you before you bruise like a lowly fruit?" Daji snorted.
"A caring lover wouldn't hurt someone, no matter how careful it required they be," Al insisted, standing up to face Daji. "You aren't a lover. You just use me when it's convenient, and you don't care about anything I want!"
"You are a lowly wolf, a mere pack beast!" Daji hissed, standing and looming over Al. "You accept what I give you and you show your gratitude!"
"I have my own rights! I'm a mammal like any other and I have value of my own!" Al growled out. "I'm not to be muzzled if I need to howl!"
The phrase brought a strange look to Daji's face, and deepened the scowling creases as she turned on Nugua. "You... that sounds like one of your insufferable books. I think I saw that title once. What have you done, little sister?"
Nugua swallowed hard, her eyes darting up and back down again as she bore the hateful glare. "Reading and learning are essential in modern life, and the experience of the oppressed, like Toni Loboson, need to be..."
"Loboson?!" Daji roared. "Wolf literature, wolf pity, why do you care so much for these creatures?"
"I'm not a creature!" Al yapped, cringing back when Daji turned her hateful glare on him. "I'm... I'm an unmuzzled wolf. I stopped being defined by the hate of prey, and I'm not going to be muzzled anymore."
Daji slapped Al sharply with a huge hand, contemptuously looking down on him as he half-curled on the ground, blood dripping from his cut lip. "You claim I hurt you? I was asserting my place over you. And you will not tell anyone about any of it."
Nugua trembled, her claws reflexively flexing out, jabbing little holes in the surface of her book. "D-Daji... you can't do this!"
"Don't tell me what to do! You weak, worthless, soft-hearted nothing!" Daji turned on her sister, lips pulled back, one hand balled into a fist. She took a step forward, fist drawing back, before she halted, with a curious look on her face, head quickly turning around.
Al was back on his paws and grabbing Daji's tail, yanking it hard. "Leave her alone! She's not the problem! You did all this, it's your fault!"
Daji retaliated quickly and painfully. She backhanded Al, sending up tumbling to the floor, dazed and only just still conscious. She was on him in a flash of orange, throwing body blows, occasionally hitting the book and snarling. "Know! Your! Place!"
Al gasped loudly, coughing as the pain washed over his body, shocking him to full clarity. He looked into Nugua's fearful face across the room, remembering the kindness she had shown. "I can... still... show the bruises..."
"Then I shouldn't hide it!" Daji hissed, lifting her hand up high, digits spread.
The world slowed to a crawl, passing by Nugua's senses as a series of impressions. The menace, the violence, it all swirled in her mind. The sharp tang of blood, almost able to be tasted, throbbed in her awareness. She ground her fangs and stood, trembling, as the whimpers and grunts of pain touched her. She was stopped, uncertain, still afraid of her sister. More afraid than ever before. She was broken by her presence, watching helplessly.
The sound changed her mind. The soft, subtle sound rang out like sanctuary bells in her ears. Every tiger that ever lived had learned the sound of their claws unfurling. The muscle tensing, worked over years to keep the claws in while using the fingers, pulled with a light stretch, like wet rope twisting. The slide of the claws themselves against the flesh sheathing them had its own sound, which might as well have been like a sword from a sheath in a movie. It became the same thing to a tiger; it had as much menace and import.
Nugua's legs moved before her mind could stop them. The fear melted like frost in the sun when the sound rang through her mind. She had given way before, trained and shaped to be passive, to defer to her older sister, to turn aside, shut her eyes and ears, leave her be. That was the last straw. Al didn't deserve it. No one deserved it, but he was completely innocent, already a victim, just trying to get the respect he deserved as a mammal.
The two sisters impacted, hard, muscular forms thumping along the floor. Daji was taken completely by surprise, pressed to the ground beneath her sister and writhing around. "What are you doing?"
"I won't let you, sister! You were always cruel but clawing a wolf, clawing Aloycious, is insanity! And you think neither of us will tell anyone!"
"You wouldn't dare! Either of you! He is a worthless cur, and you are my sister. You would never hurt family!" Daji roared, slamming both of her palms against Nugua's chest, giving the strongest shove she could muster.
The hands impacted, but did nothing. The younger tigress was unmoving. Daji shoved more, slapped at her arms and chest, gave her flat hand strikes. "You are family. But family can do wrong. I'm not going to look aside, Daji. You're never going to do this again."
Daji desperately pushed and hit at Nugua, thrashing about more wildly, defied and restrained for the first time in her life that she could recall. In a desperate attempt to get herself out of the situation her hand slapped out, claws still out, smacking solidly against Nugua's face, and leaving a shallow rake along her cheek, less than a paper cut, but more shocking.
Never in all her life had Nugua reacted in anger. More so than her spoiled sister, she had been given lessons in proper action, how to be mild and deferential. Being younger, she was generally worth less than her sister, of lesser being, no matter what nature had bestowed onto her. The stinging furrows sent a hateful fire burning through her body, tightening her muscles, curling her lips back more. She had the savage mien she had seen so often on her wicked sister, face creased, teeth completely exposed.
She unleashed a roar that she had no idea she could. Almost every breath of air escaped her lungs, rumbling through the cords in a way she had not since her youth. The savage sound reverberated in the apartment, nearly deafening Daji, and wiping the petulant defiance off of her face. The shadows deepened on Nugua's features with each move of her head, making her look more and more savage. Anger shone in her normally mild eyes, and her breath huffed like that of her wild ancestors.
Her fingers curled on her right hand, the tense muscles trembling as she raised the huge hand high. She was not in a mood to spare her strength, to show any mercy to her sister. Years of dismissal and turning aside were fueling the slow draw. She had strength enough to break even the heavy bones of Daji's form, to shatter her like a porcelain plate with a single strike. Her claws flexed slightly, pricking her palm and reminding her she could give claw for claw, tear her flesh like paper with ease.
Nugua never struck the blow. She felt hands grasping her powerful arm, smaller, weaker, but able to hold her back as if they were police irons. Al's words cut through the blood thrumming in her ears, the fog of savagery and vengeance. "Don't, Nugua! Please! Not like this! Not like her!"
A gaze into her sister's eyes showed her fear. Wide-eyed, round-pupiled fear. She had been knocked down from her arrogant throne, shown that her position at the top had been a tolerated performance, not the nature of her being. She could have been dragged down before, but had only just been foolish enough to give a reason. She was helpless, and saved by a pair of hands easily shaken off. Two motions could leave her a shattered mess. She was fearfully staring because in her cruel mind, there was only one action, the world worked only one way. She would do the deed if given the chance. She expected nothing less than to get her comeuppance.
The snarl fell from Nugua's face, and her hand came down, slowly and harmlessly. Her whole body slumped, drained and heavy with the hate and rage gone from within. She artlessly flopped from on top of her sister, kneeling beside her with Al still holding her arm, more in comfort that restraint. "Go. Leave the apartment and go home to mother and father. Tell them anything but just go."
Daji rose, slowly, trembling, doing her best to hastily slap back on the mask of regality and imperiousness that had fallen in the midst of the fear for her life. "You... you weak creature. This is my home, and I will not be chased out by the likes of..."
A sharp snarl silenced her, and Nugua looked up with some of her anger back. "I have made every effort to be superior to you in this moment, not to copy your violent abusiveness. Do not make me regret the mercy that Aloycious, your victim, had me give you. You deserve it now. And only now. Go. Away."
The fear passed once more across Daji's features, a breath caught in her throat. Her mouth trembled, eager to cast more venom and bile. But one more look at her sister's seriousness was enough to turn her around and send her out the door with just the clothes on her back.
Nugua and Al remained there for a long while, panting, considering, being silent. Al finally removed his hands from her arm and turned away to the hall to Daji's room, where the bathroom was located. "I'll treat the scratches. They're not serious but better to get to them."
She stroked her fingers over her cheek, looking at her fingertips and seeing little smears of blood. "You need looking after too. More than me. She... I don't know what she was thinking. I need to call you an ambulance, she hit you a lot and it looked terrible."
Al emerged from around the corner, holding a bag of cotton balls, a bottle of alcohol, gauze and medical tape. "Wolves are tough. We have to be wiry and scrappy in order to survive," he said, lightly covering a cotton ball with alcohol and carefully dabbing it along the cuts. "And, don't tell your sister, but she is just not as strong as she thinks. She's strong enough but not as bad as she could be."
Adrenaline and righteous indignation had spared Nugua from feeling anything during her encounter. Lacking both in the aftermath, she winced when the alcohol burned along the scratches. "I'm absolutely taking you to the hospital. I know how strong she is and it must have damaged you."
Al pressed a fresh piece of gauze over the rake and taped it in place, carefully making sure the tape adhered to the fur. "I had you to protect me." He lifted up his hoodie with a wince, showing the book Nugua had given him over his belly in his waistband. "I always knew... knew it might come to this."
"Why did you stay with her?" Nugua asked, slowly rising and looking for her keys, having to sort through fallen objects.
"She said I was acceptable. A wolf doesn't date an Amur, not ever. Other wolves looked up to me, other mammals were amazed. And she treated me... she treated me terribly but I got to be part of a circle I never dreamed of."
"More like a nightmare," Nugua muttered, picking up her keys and giving them a quick jingle. "Come on. You need to be seen, just to ease my mind because... well, I do care about you."
Al nodded slowly, making his way to the door. "Thank you. With you there, I'll have the strength to tell them what happened."
"That's good. The ZPD will pick her up easily," Nugua sighed. "I suppose this is the end of your attempts to socialize with Amurs. You have the wost impression now."
"I... I don't have to give up. There are good Amurs," Al said softly, leaning against Nugua's arm. "Do I need to abandon the good Amur I know?"
A warm, happy smile spread across Nugua's face as she closed the door. "No. No, you hold on tight, and she will do the same."
The central conceit of this story is that a double watershed moment happened when Judy married Nick and Gazelle married one of her tiger dancers, both in very open ceremonies. Later chapters more minutely examine the effect it had on society in Zootopia.