Ralph shifted nervously in the slightly too large wooden chair, paws grasping the edges of thr armrests nervously. It was so uncomfortable that the officer wondered if that was on purpose. Chief Bogo called the wolf and Nadine to his office before RollCall. The bull sat behind a large metal desk, computer sitting on one corner as a large stack of papers sat on the other. Behind the bull, light streamed through partially closed blinds, teasing an unobstructed view of City Hall.
Ralph knew their secret was out, granted it wasn't much of one, still he assumed the Cape Buffalo had looked the other way on the matter. The Chief hadn't mentioned the tiger's wedding at all, and that was a month ago! In fact, the Chief hadn't mentioned any of the recent events at RollCall. The lupine looked to the feline to see how she was holding up.
Nadine was motionless, chest barely rising with each breath. Her gaze remained fixed on the bull with paws were clasped professionally in her lap. Even her scent showed little sign of emotion, a truly impressive feat for any mammal. If not for the wolf's increased time with the feline, he may have believed her unfazed by the situation. It was her tail that gave the larger mammal's emotional state. His love could keep the thin appendage completely still, except for the very tip. The black bar flicked restlessly back and forth. She was nervous.
"Am I boring you, Officer Wolford?" Chief Bogo groused.
Ralph startled, almost jumping out of his seat, "N-No sir!" The lupine straightened up in his seat.
"I'm glad to hear it," murmured the larger mammal sardonically, still looking at his paperwork.
Chief Bogo had been working on the stack since the couple arrived. It steadily shrank, with another pile growing, as time continued to tick by. A small pair of reading glasses sat on the tip of his snout, gaze glancing over the reports before scribbling a signature on the bottom. For several minutes, the only sound was the flourish of paper and scratch of the bull's pen. Finally, the Cape Buffalo removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He leaned forward heavily, supporting his head with his hooves as he closed his eyes.
"Do you know why I called you here?" Chief Bogo asked, not looking at the couple.
Ralph shifted, clearing his throat as he tried to smile, "Well, uh, Chief...I don't think we've broken any rules, so I'm not really sure…"
The Cape Buffalo looked at the lupine with a worn out expression. "That is correct..." He sighed, pushing off his desk and standing, "...but that doesn't stop mammals from placing complaints."
The grey wolf grimaced, he hadn't expected that. "W-What are they saying?"
"Nothing of merit," admitted Chief Bogo with a flippant wave of his hoof, "And nothing that breaks any rules." He snorted, ear twitching in irritation as he picked up a seemingly random piece of paper and began to read.
"Officer Wolford shows a lack of judgment and foresight necessary for a position in the force, let alone Precinct One," started the Cape Buffalo, "His recent actions show that he is incapable of separating his personal views in objective situations yadda, yadda, yadda." He crumpled the paper in one hoof and tossed it over his shoulder. The bull dug his fists into his desk as he leaned forward. "A parting gift from Officer Howler."
"Did she mention anything else?" Nadine asked, her voice calm but her tail continued to flick nervously.
The Chief's attention turned to the feline, a deep scowl appearing as he stared Nadine down. "Yes," replied Chief Bogo curtly, "Including an unsubstantiated claim you threatened her at your wedding." The corners of his scowl twitched, "How unfortunate no one else was present to confirm or deny…"
"It was nothing like that-" Nadine started, but a raised hoof from the Cape Buffalo stopped the tiger.
"I don't want to know what it was like," grumbled Chief Bogo, "In fact, the less I know the better." He huffed, and planted his hooves on his desk. "Officer Howler officially petitioned to transfer to Precinct Three, and I signed off on it immediately."
"So why are we here?" the feline questioned bluntly, "If the complaints against us are unfounded, and this isn't a disciplinary hearing, then why call us to your office?"
The Cape Buffalo sighed, "It's difficult to explain." He walked around to the front of his desk, and leaned against it. "The Diet...held a certain amount of sway in the government and Z.P.D. It could energize the wolf vote for specific candidates, and had countless members in the Union of Officers. This led to an...agreement of sorts between the three." The bull held out his left hoof open, "The packs don't go into organized crime and curb their worst traditions." He held out his right hoof open, "The Z.P.D. and the government turn a blind eye to more...questionable practices..." Chief Bogo spat out the final two words, displeased by their suggested meaning. "That agreement no longer exists." He waved a hoof in Ralph's direction, "And a few fools blame you for that."
"That's not fair." growled Nadine.
Chief Bogo held up a hoof once more, but the lupine could still hear faint growling. "I agree. The system was rotten well before Officer Wolford kicked the beams, so to speak, and just like this...arrangement…" The bull snarled out the word, "...it was well in place before either of us were walking the city." He huffed, "But that won't stop imbeciles for looking for a patsy."
"So what does this mean?" Ralph asked urgently, feeling as though his career was no longer in his control, "Am I riding a desk for the rest of my career?"
Bogo snorted with a shake of his head, "I will not have one of my better officer's sidelined because of idiots!" He sighed, shoulders slumping, "You may face increased danger over this development. I want you prepared for it."
Out of the corner of the grey wolf's eye, he saw Nadine tense up. The couple talked about the risks of their relationship, yet this was something different. Danger came with the job, he accepted that long ago. No officer knew what traffic stop was his or her last, or if a passive suspect would turn violent. Every day, when they put on their uniform, they became a target. Now though, the wolf would face more scrutiny because of pack politics. He also had to consider another's feelings.
Ralph turned to Nadine, and reached out a paw. She glanced down at it, before looking directly at the wolf. He smiled and gave a half hearted shrug. The tiger chuffed, but a small smile played underneath her annoyance. She reached out and grasped his paw. The wolf's smile grew to a full grin.
"Thank you for the warning sir. I'll make sure to someone's always checking my six." He winked at Nadine, who pursed her lips as her ears tinged pink.
The bull cleared his throat, gaining the couple's attention. "This," he started, pointing a digit between the two, "needs to be discussed as well."
Nadine gripped Ralph's paw tighter. "There is nothing in the guidelines about fraternization," started the tiger defensively, "It only discusses sexual harassment, and relationships when one officer is higher ranking than the other."
Bogo smirked, and folded his arms. "Very good Officer Fangmeyer. As you know, I cannot force you to separate either." He raised a digit, "I will say this, I am personally against partnering up couples." The bull's brow furrowed, "I believe that it can distract officers from making necessary choices."
"So...this won't change anything," Ralph concluded, "We're both with different partners, and I doubt you'll agree to put us back together…" The grey wolf eyed the bull, who shifted against the desk. "...or am I wrong?"
Chief Bogo cleared his throat, "Just as I will not sideline one of my better officers, I must be able to use my best tracking team for missing mammals." He momentarily glared at the couple, "Your recent disagreement hindered Precinct One's ability to do so." The bull's gaze softened, "I can force both of you to partner, but I do not believe that'll be necessary."
The wolf glanced at the tiger with a smirk. They were still holding paws, and he gave her larger one a gentle squeeze. She glanced away from the bull to look at Ralph. His smile grew, "Whaddya say Nadine? For old times sake?"
The feline chuckled quietly, "Alright...for old times sake."
Ralph turned back to the Cape Buffalo with a victorious grin. "There you have it Chief! We'll take the case!"
Bogo pinched the bridge of his snout, "This is only for missing mammals. You'll still be partnered with Weaselton and Wilde respectively." The couple nodded. He turned to Nadine, "Officer Fangmeyer, you are dismissed. I need to discuss something privately with Officer Wolford."
"Yes sir," responded the tiger hesitantly. She stood, and reluctantly let go of Ralph's paw. The feline cast a wary glance between the bull and lupine.
The wolf smiled reassuringly, and motioned with his head to the door. "See you down at RollCall." The tiger gave the lupine another look, before heading to the door. Ralph continued to watch Nadine, waiting until the clicked closed behind her. He turned back to the Cape Buffalo, "What's up Chief?"
Chief Bogo sighed, placing his hooves on the desk, "Have you heard of the Bloodhowl pack?"
Ralph shrugged, "A little? I mean I've met Lobos at the Diet, but that's about it."
The bull nodded solemnly, "We've received information about possible illegal activity, but haven't been able to corroborate any of the allegations." He frowned, "Precinct Three says they have the situation under control...but I've learned the importance of a back-up plan." Bogo stared intently at the wolf, "I need to know, that if asked, you would be able go undercover."
Ralph scoffed with a roll of his eyes at the absurd statement. Of course he'd go undercover, why wouldn't he? The wolf caught sight of Nadine's chair, and his nose picked up her lingering scent.
Ralph noted awhile ago that it was stronger when he left Nadine alone for a period of time. She didn't speak of it, and the wolf wasn't sure how to bring up the subject. He didn't ignore the smell of that emotion, instead distracted her from whatever thoughts plagued the feline. Eventually, his favorite tiger would be back to her old self. Still, the idea of leaving her for a long stretch appeared impossible.
Ralph sighed and shook his head, "I...don't know sir." He glanced away ashamedly, "Nadine and I...well...I just don't know."
"I understand," Bogo replied softly, "If the rumors are to be trusted, you both have been through a lot." He shook his head, "This is something I'm asking of all my wolf officers. I don't expect immediate confirmation from anyone, but I must warn you. If it's beneficial for you to go undercover, then I will ask."
Ralph nodded solemnly, "Yes sir."
Chief Bogo nodded, "Thank you for your candour, Officer Wolford. You are dismissed."
The grey wolf stood. He saluted the Cape Buffalo, who returned it, and headed for the door.
Nadine never considered herself smart, yet she knew when there was more than meets the eye. The Chief definitely played her and Ralph, fussing about partnering them together only to then give them a missing mammal's case right away. The tiger didn't know what was going on, but as she drove to were "Charlotte Clawson" was last seen, her fur wanted to on end. The officer focused on the road, trying to ignore the building dread in her stomach. The feline's eyes were wide as her mind tried to piece together any possible clues as to the truth in the matter. Nothing seemed to make sense. True the Chief warned them about upset wolves, but Ralph wasn't worried. So why was she?
The tiger blinked, broken from her thoughts by the wolf. She glanced over at Ralph in the passenger seat, "Yes?"
The lupine had been studying Clawson's file. She was a twenty year old lynx, student at Z.U. with parents living in west Savannah Central. Charlotte had been missing for over twenty four hours, and her parent's only recently reached out. That was a long amount of time to be missing, but the partner's dealt with worse before. Now though, Ralph was looking at her with a cocked head and concerned amber eyes. He smiled softly, "You ok?"
Nadine frowned, "Why?"
The lupine shrugged, smile never waning, "You just seem tense that's all." His nostrils flared as he placed a paw gently on her forearm. "You can tell me anything."
The tiger opened her muzzle, denial on the tip of her tongue, but stopped. There was no need to hide anything from him, so why try? She sighed and nodded. "You're right. I can tell you anything...and I should…" Nadine rolled to a stop as the traffic light turned red. The feline gripped the steering wheel tighter, trying to find the words to express her uncertainty.
"I...I'm worried," Nadine started deliberately, "I-I feel like the Chief isn't telling us everything, and I'm worried about what it could be." She sighed heavily and hung her head. "I'm...just worried about about what's going on, and what does it mean for us, and what if something happens, and are we in danger, and are we going to make it as a couple, and do we extra protection at the apartment, and do we need to buy more furniture, and why does it feel so tense sometimes at the Precinct, and, and, and…"
Nadine found it difficult to catch her breath. Shallow gasps was all she could manage, as a sudden pain spiked in her chest. The tiger felt dizzy, with her digits tingling and heart beating out of control. This was a new feeling for the officer, one that she did not like at all.
Paws grasped her cheeks, and turned her head to the right. Ralph was kneeling on his seat, head inches away from Nadine's, as he softly spoke. "Follow my breathing. Look at me. And just breathe!" The lupine breathed in through his nose, and out slowly through his mouth.
The feline followed the wolf's instructions, staring deeply into Ralph's eyes. Slowly, and very deliberately, her breathing matched her partner's. It was soothing, just gazing at the wolf she loved, just the two of them and nothing else. The world seemed to fade away, and with it all her problems. They stayed that way for awhile, nothing else mattered except for one another.
"How you feeling?" the lupine eventually breathed, breaking the feline's trance.
"Ok," whispered Nadine. Her digits had stopped tingling, and her head was clearer. The tiger's heart was still pounding rapidly, but she had control of her breathing once more.
"Good," whispered Ralph back, "cause I think we should pull over."
The feline shook her head gently, the wolf's paws still restricting her movement. "No I'm ok...I'll keep going." She turned to face forward, and Ralph let go of her. It was just in time to see the light change to red again. A cursory glance in the rearview mirror revealed a line of vehicles that wasn't there before. Apparently, everyone decided to not honk at the police cruiser. "How many lights did we miss?" muttered the tiger.
"Maybe one or two," replied Ralph carefully, "but I wouldn't worry about it too much." The feline nodded in agreement.
After what felt like an eternity, the light turned green and the tiger hit the gas. The couple sat in silence, Nadine focusing on the road once more. She felt vulnerable. Even though it had been over a month, she was still getting used to not suppressing her emotions. She wanted to get better, to express herself freely so they didn't bottle up and explode, but it didn't seem possible. Just like with the Chief, Nadine was at a loss on what to do.
The tiger hummed in response, still looking forward.
"Is...Is there anything I can do about all your worries?" asked Ralph hesitantly.
Nadine pursed her lips, "I...I don't think so…"
"Well...what's the biggest worry?"
The feline sighed, tightening her grip on the steering wheel, "That I'm going to lose you." Her gaze narrowed as she deliberately breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth. "That one day I'll wake up and everything was a dream. That I'll be married to Sai in New Bengali...maybe even pregnant..." A growl erupted from Ralph, before he cleared his throat. The feline eyed the wolf curiously.
He smiled sheepishly, "Sorry. The idea of you with someone else doesn't sit well with me."
Nadine nodded curtly, "Agreed."
Ralph blew out a long breath. "Right. What can I do to help you with that?" The tiger shrugged. "There's gotta something. Even if it's some extra cuddling, or even just reminding you that this is real!"
The feline opened her mouth to decline any possible help, when an idea came to mind. It was a foolish thought, but one that may work. "Marking," Nadine blurted out. She quickly glanced to see her partner's reaction.
Ralph's muzzle hung ajar, eyes wide and completely shocked. Once he noticed Nadine looking, he cleared his throat and tried to take a more nonchalant appearance. "Isn't that where tigers hurt each other?"
The tiger frowned. She never thought of it like that. "It's a sign that someone is taken," corrected Nadine, "but it can be...painful."
"I-I don't know how I feel about hurting you," Ralph replied, "Scratch that. I know exactly how I feel, and that's a big no!"
"It's more than pain," defended Nadine, "Normally the marks are given on the first night…" The tiger's cheeks heated up. "...when emotions are at their...highest." She glanced at the wolf before looking forward, a little embarrassed by the revelation.
To his credit, Ralph only blinked. The lupine officer, who had been looking at the feline, turned to face forward. "Huh." Nadine remained silent. "Wait...does that mean...is it like instinctual or-"
"Yes, I wanted to do it the first night," admitted the tiger quietly, continuing to not look at her partner, "and yes, every time since."
"Huh," started the wolf contemplatively, "So...it's kinda a jerk thing to not allow you to do it, right?"
"I wouldn't say jerk-"
"No, I am," Ralph teased, "and you think this will help?" Nadine hesitated, then nodded. "Well ok...but I think we should do it on our next day off."
"Do we need anything?"
Nadine frowned, "Maybe. This won't be how it's normally done." She looked at the wolf, "And I don't want to hurt you as well." He was smaller than the feline, so instead of letting passion choose, they would have to be precise. She would make a list of items they may need, and talk to the lupine about it. For now, with the little ball of tension in her stomach loosening, and the admittedly exciting idea of marking Ralph on her mind, the officer turned back to the couple's job.
"We're two minutes out," remarked Nadine to her partner professionally, "should we stop here and ask around?"
"Yeah," replied Ralph seriously, "I don't have a scent to go off of, but it doesn't hurt to ask locals."
Nadine nodded, pulling into a parking structure. It was later in the day, so many of the spaces were filled, but the tiger found an open spot not too far from the entrance. With practiced ease, she pulled the cruiser in, put it in park, then turned off the engine. The feline sighed, and leaned back into her seat. "You ready?"
Ralph chuckled, "I've been waiting a long time for this."
A brow rose on the tiger. "A missing mammal's case?"
The wolf turned to the feline with broad grin, "To partner up again!" He gripped the handle to the door, and motioned to it with his head, "Let's go find that bobcat!"
"Lynx." corrected Nadine.
The feline watched her partner exit the cruiser, his tail wagging excitedly behind him. She shook her head as he closed the door, and wondered how he did it. How could Ralph simply bounce from serious to playful? It was a great mystery to her, one she hoped to never solve.
"It is why I love him," mumbled Nadine, opening her door to follow her wolf. She glanced out the rear window to see just the tip of the lupine's nose raised upwards. The feline smiled softly, "That, and his smile, and…"
As the tiger exited the cruiser, she pushed all the reasons she loved Ralph to the back of her mind. Later, Nadine would think about all the reasons. And maybe, just maybe, she'd find the strength to let Ralph know too.
Chief Adrian Bogo was sitting at his desk, massaging circles into the side of his head. The paper in his hoof was the quarterly expense report for Precinct One. They were spending less than normal, which told the bull that City Hall would use this to try and cut his funding. He could see a future migraine in the distance. A knock at the door drew the large mammal's attention from the document. Adrian's brow rose. He wasn't expecting company.
The door opened, revealing Sergeant Higgins. The large Hippo stepped through the doorway, and closed the door quietly.
"Something wrong?" Adrian questioned expectantly. There always seemed to be something wrong.
The megafauna shook his head, "Detectives Hopps and Zirafa tracked down three of the writers. They arrested all three."
The bull nodded, "Eight more to go." Adrian huffed, setting aside the paper and pinching the bridge of his snout. "I decided against informing Officer Wolford about the threats against his life."
"Do you think that's wise?"
Adrian glanced up at the Sergeant, then back down at his desk. "I don't know." He cleared his throat and straightened up in his chair, "Which makes it all the more important that this plan works."
Higgins nodded, "Called the other Precincts. Seven, four and eight have cases they're willing to accept assistance for. Three called, however…"
"I don't want them going near the Meadowlands," grumbled the bull.
"I know sir...but Wilde and Weaselton are free."
Adrian guffawed, "The last case they ended up working there exposed an arsonist hit list, and they were kitnapped at gunpoint!"
Higgins shrugged, "They got out of it."
The Chief sighed heavily, beginning to massage the side of his head again. 'Fine…" The Cape Buffalo raised a threatening digit, "but Precinct Three gets their extra paperwork! I don't want those two stuck in the office for a full day because they discovered some demonic plot or some nonsense like that!"
The megafauna smiled, "Of course sir." Adrian expected that to end the conversation, but Higgins remained. The hippo's smile waned, and a hesitant look appeared on his face. "Sir," started the Sergeant, "If you don't mind me asking, how do you feel about...well a wolf and a tiger together?"
The Chief scowled, his gaze hardened on the megafauna, "I do mind you asking, Sergeant."
"Is that all?"
The Hippo saluted, then exited the office.
Adrian continued to scowl, gaze locked on where Higgins had stood. He knew there were officers quietly whispering their displeasure about the new couple. The Cape Buffalo knew the megafauna well enough to know no harm was meant, but to have a Sergeant question him was worrisome. The Chief had faith that his officers would act professionally, but he couldn't say that of the other Precincts.
"Damn the Diet," muttered the bull, closing his eyes and rubbing the side of his head, "Damn them and this chaos." Adrian remained that way for several moments, massaging his head and hoping the building pressure wasn't the beginning of a serious headache. Eventually he sighed and picked up the expense report once more.
"One problem at a time," the Chief mumbled, turning his thoughts to how to deal with the council, "One at a time…"
First, Nadine didn't suffer a full blown panic attack like Ralph but hyperventilation caused by anxiety. It's the reason she was much better off than the wolf in Just Talking. Second, little look at Bogo and where his mind is in all this. The answer of course is between "So frustrated he just wants to break something" and "So frustrated he broke something." Finally, as a fair warning, next chapter will be the last one for A Wof's Song. While I could continue to write chapters upon chapters of Ralph and Nadine, I feel like it's reached its natural end next chapter.
Let me know what you think!