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The Keyhole

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Ralph Wolford was standing in what used to be his study but was presently being converted into a nursery, going over the set of instructions for the bright pink crib that he and Nadine had shopped around for, finding one that was the top of the line in safety and had also been said to be easy to assemble. The timber wolf had spent the last hour and a half assembling the crib, getting frustrated several times. While he had been doing that, Nadine had been going around baby-proofing the house.

 

"Finally," Ralph said, fitting the last piece of the mobile into the corresponding slot. He took a step back and admired his handiwork. The plush moon and stars of the mobile dangled above the light pink bars. Inside the crib, the bars were lined with a frilly white cushion as around the interior, just above the mattress. There was a folded quilt depicting a silhouette of a wolf howling at the full moon draped over one of the sides. The mattress was currently bare but had soft pink sheets, with a little blanket that was a pink and white tiger stripe pattern. Already the crib fit the room.

 

Ralph thought back to how, a few days ago, this was his study. His desk with his computer by the far wall, shelves lined with numerous fantasy and horror books from his favorite authors. His desk and computer had been relocated to the living room for the time being, along with all but one of the bookshelves, which already had a smattering of pop-up books and books designed to teach very small children how to spell and the like. The walls which had been a deep green had been painted stark white, with a pattern of pink bunnies and duckies.

 

"Worth it," he said aloud, feeling the butterflies in his stomach again. Yes, I no longer have an office... but now our future daughter has a nursery, Ralph thought to himself. He turned, almost tripping on the pirate-themed toy chest, which had been filled with large plastic blocks and plush toys. He chuckled before scooting it over to the wall. He exited out into the hall and watched Nadine walk by, wearing a pair of paint-stained jeans and an equally paint-stained grey T-shirt. The tigress was looking satisfied as she carried a box of plastic covers for corners of furniture.

 

"I think we're just about done, Ralph." Nadine said, her voice brimming with exhilaration.

 

"Wait, did you get all of the drawers?" Ralph asked.

 

"Yup," Nadine said, smirking.

 

"The electrical sockets?"

 

"Taken care of." Nadine said as her smirk grew.

 

"Install the baby gates?" Ralph said, trying to think of what they could have missed.

 

"In every doorway to every room... so watch your step." Nadine leaned over to give her mate a kiss on his muzzle, then continued on her way with the box.

 

''Oh, the cupboards?" Ralph called out.

 

"Top to bottom," her voice called back over her shoulder. The wolf's tail wagged before he followed his wife.

 

 

Meanwhile...

 

 

Eli and his friends, Isaac and Mike, were currently playing Road Combatant Five at Isaac's house. They had spent the afternoon working on a science project for school and had finished up early. Eli had found that his coyote friend was very good at the fighting game.

 

"Hedaokin!" Isaac said as he defeated Mike's character with a final flame ball.

 

"Lucky shot," the mouse said, initially about to offer the controller he was using to Eli, before remembering the mouse to human size difference. Eli smiled, and grabbed the larger third controller. They were each taking turns. As they were going through the various character selections, Mike looked up at Eli.

 

"Hey, Eli?" Mike started as the human boy selected on the giraffe fighter whose limbs stretched out in when he would strike.

 

"Yeah?" Eli said as he waited for Isaac to pick a new character.

 

"I've been meaning to ask you something," Mike said.

 

"What?" Eli looked down at Mike.

 

"Uhm... that video of you being found by your mom and dad," Mike said, a little awkwardly, "in it, you were covered in blood."

 

Eli winced a little at the memory. "Oh yeah... th-that was m-my blood... I k-kinda got st-stabbed right before I came here..." Eli trailed off. Mike and Isaac shared a look.

 

"What do you mean?" the coyote boy asked, remembering to ask gently.

 

"...Th-There was a bully at this place I was staying... he got away with a lot of things... and he h-had a knife... h-he and his gang had already cut me and were chasing me when I tried to hide. I fumbled around and somehow ended up h-here..." Eli said, remembering how scared he was when he first arrived in Zootopia. He thought back to then, and how he never would have guessed that the bunny and fox cops who had found him would eventually become his parents. That brought a smile back to his face.

 

"Woah... that sounds... just awful..." Mike said, Isaac nodding, not sure of what to say.

 

"It was... " Eli agreed. None of the three knew what to do or say after that, and so they resumed their game, with Isaac picking a tiger in a karate gi. As the match started, Mike spoke up again.

 

"Oh yeah, hey, Eli?" the mouse asked as he picked up his mouse-sized bag of potato chips.

 

"Y-Yeah?" Eli was currently trying to use a move combo to make his character breathe fire.

 

"Wanna join my Ranger Scout Troop?" Mike asked.

 

"What's that?" Eli asked, barely avoiding a big blue ball of energy.

 

"We do things like camping and learning about tying knots and learning survival skills, that kinda stuff," Mike explained, trying to hide his nervousness. His troop needed a new member badly.

 

"Oh," Eli said, suddenly remembering a scout club back on the human world he had tried to join when he was younger, only to be rejected. "Sure! I mean, I'll have to ask my m-mom and d-dad first, but I think that they'll say yes," Eli said, excited both at the prospect of joining his friend's troop and at unleashing a combo against Isaac's character, knocking him out.

 

"How'd you do that?" Isaac asked, surprised at having been defeated.

 

"I-I don't really know..." Eli admitted.

 

"Well... then I guess it's a good thing that it's two out of three per match," the coyote said deviously as round two started.

 

 

Back in Bunnyburrow...

 

 

The pace in Bunnyburrow's main street was slow and comfortable. The buzz from the few mammals out and about, mostly rabbits, was of the newest mammals to appear in their midst recently. One such mammal, the youngest, was presently at a shop named Gideon Grey's Real Good Baked Stuff.

 

"Almost quittin' time, Snickerdoodle," Gideon Grey said as he wiped down the counter, looking back over his shoulder and smiling at the baby carrier with the little mammal gurgling happily away. In lieu of a proper name, Gideon had started affectionately calling the baby that as a nickname. Just then, Gideon's attention was brought to the ringing bell just above the door to the shop, and he smiled warmly at the black ewe who entered. Sharla kept her wool shorn very short, originally due to her uniform, but it became a style that she liked. Today she was wearing her jeans and a red flannel shirt.

 

"Well hey there, Darlin'," Gideon drawled.

 

"Hiya, Gid!" she said excitedly as she walked behind the counter, making a beeline for the human. "And how's my favorite little mammal today?"

 

The baby started to babble and he reached up with a small pudgy hand towards Sharla's face. She giggled and unbuckled him, cradling the baby in her arms.

 

"You are just the sweetest little critter," she said as the baby started to paw at her nose, looking around curiously with wide brown eyes. He was wearing a blue footed sleeper that had been knitted for him by Bonnie Hopps. The wispy blonde hair atop his head wafted a little as Sharla turned with him in her arms to face Gideon.

 

"Hence why I call him Snickerdoodle," Gideon said, smiling at his own joke.

 

"A nickname is nice and all, Gid," Sharla said as she shifted the baby in her arms so that he was peering over her shoulder, "but I really think that he needs a proper name."

 

"Well, I agree with ya there, Darlin'," Gideon said as he made his way over to the door and flipped the Open sign to Closed, taking off his apron, "but are ya sure it would be our place to give him one? I mean, he's probably got a family that's lookin' fer him."

 

"Maybe..." Sharla said, her smile faltering, "but I know that you've heard the stories from the other humans, like Louise and Ryan, about what their lives were like. And all those stories about the other humans who appeared in Zootopia and all over."

 

"You mean... the hard lives?" Gideon said, knowing that he was oversimplifying. That seemed to be the one common trait among all of the humans that had been reported to have appeared so far. Some had even appeared with physical injuries or signs of past abuse. The girl that the Catmuls had found crying out behind their house was walking with a permanent limp.

 

"Yeah... and you remember how cold this little guy was," Sharla emphasized by holding up the cooing baby, "cold to the touch even in this nice and sunny weather, wearing next to nothing, clearly not having been bathed."

 

"I know, Darlin'," Gideon said softly as he stepped closer to the two. The baby saw him and smiled widely, reaching out excitedly for the fox. This brought a smile to his own muzzle, and he transferred the small mammal to his arms.

 

"I don't..." Sharla said, not wanting to say what she was thinking out loud, "I don't think that even if his family could get here, that they're looking very hard for him..."

 

Gideon didn't know what to say. He felt that what Sharla had said was undeniably true, and started rubbing the baby's back when he started to fuss.

 

"Thought the Sheriff said the Child Services mammals would be out here by now," Gideon said, his frown deepening.

 

"Well, he said that after he was going to put in a call to them and... well, you know how he forgets things sometimes," Sharla said. She put her hooves behind her back, preparing to throw out there the idea she had been thinking about ever since they had found the strange little mammal.

 

"Gid?" the ewe asked innocently.

 

"Yes, Darlin'?" Gideon had to shift the baby again, as he was trying to pull on the fox's ears.

 

"I was thinking that... since Mrs. Hornley already gave us her kids' old crib and since we've already got all the other pieces of baby furniture at home and installed," Sharla said as casually as possible.

 

"Woah... wait a minute, Darlin'," Gideon's eyes went wide as he suddenly figured out what his fiance' was getting at. "We've been doin' a great job babysittin' the little fella, sure, and I'll admit that I really do like the idea, but we're about to get married. We don't know if we're ready to take on this kinda responsibility!" As he said it, he walked over to the table where the red carrier was, reaching into a side pocket when he heard the baby's stomach start to growl. He pulled out a bottle of formula and started to feed the little one.

 

"A lot of couples out there have kids before they get married," Sharla defended, unable to hide her smile at how the fox who used to bully her as a child was looking so fatherly.

 

"Yeah, but a lot of those times it was an accident," Gideon said, smiling down at the baby.

 

"But we already discussed and agreed that we wanna have kids!" Sharla insisted.

 

"Well, yeah, but that was down the road, when we are ready for a kit. I mean, taking care of a baby isn't cheap, Darlin'," Gideon reasoned; however, he started to feel his resolve falter when a pudgy little hand grabbed one of his clawed fingers, and held on tight. Seeing her opportunity, Sharla went on the attack.

 

"Gideon, between the shop and my salary, we absolutely can take care of a baby," she said.

 

"Well... maybe... but we still don't know a lot about humans to know how to take care of a baby one," Gideon said, looking into the big brown eyes of the kit in his arms.

 

"True, but we know several humans in town now, I'm sure some of them have a pretty good idea about taking care of a human baby," Sharla said before using what she hoped would be the finishing move. "Besides, putting him in foster care could be dangerous. You said it yourself that there's still a lot that we don't know about humans. Imagine them putting this fragile little guy in with some much larger babies."

 

"W-Well I... I'm sure that... I mean, they gotta at least separate by size, right?" Gideon was floundering as he started to picture a baby rhino about to squish the very young human in his arms.

 

"You know that there are plenty of foster homes out there that are unfit for any children, let alone a baby from a newly discovered species," Sharla said, watching as Gideon seemed to pull the baby closer and curled a little protectively around him.

 

"I... I'm not sayin' yes, Darlin'," Gideon explained, "b-but maybe... we should come up with a name fer him at least..." Sharla smiled and walked closer to her fox, hugging him from the side while looking down at the baby, who was playfully kicking his little feet as he drank.

 

"I did have an idea about that, if you'd like to hear it," Sharla offered.

 

"Well, sure, Darlin'," Gideon said, noticing the kit's eyes starting to droop and deciding to start rocking his russet-colored arms.

 

"How about Jeremiah?" the black ewe asked. Gideon looked up at her.

 

"Like my grandpappy?" the country fox asked, surprised. Sharla nodded, knowing how much he had loved and admired his grandfather, and how deeply he had been hurt by his passing. Gideon looked down and smiled.

 

"I-I guess that maybe he does kinda l-look like a," Gideon swallowed, "Jeremiah."

 

 

Elsewhere...

 

 

Arnie and Chaz were currently driving along Baobab Avenue. Arnie was sitting in the passenger seat, his massive hands massaging his temples.

 

"Chaz," the rhino started, "would you please stop humming that song."

 

"You don't like Guns N' Rodents?" the wolf asked.

 

"They're just fine, for an oldies band, but we're supposed to be on patrol. And it's a little hard for me to concentrate on keeping an eye out for anything suspicious when you're humming," Arnie explained.

 

"Uh, excuse me, but they are not just some oldies band," Chaz started, making Arnie groan and roll his eyes.

 

"Chaz, can we please not get into another heated debate about music?" Arnie asked.

 

"Fine," Chaz said, his voice implying that he was going to be having that debate with his partner at a later time, "so how's Baily doing at your aunt's witch shop?"

 

"It's not a witch shop," Arnie explained, "it's a New Age shop. And he's actually doing really well. Aunt Phyllis says that he really seems to be in his element, and that he's very professional and a hard worker. She also mentioned that there's a lioness that he seems to have a crush on who also seems to share his feelings that's constantly hanging around the shop."

 

"You mean that cute nurse? Dang," Chaz said. "I was planning on looking her up." Before Arnie could respond, a billygoat in a black tank-top and jeans came bursting out of a nearby cafe with a duffel-bag that he was quickly stuffing a wad of money into, the tiger owner running out just after he started to tear off down the nearest alley.

 

"Call it in, Chaz," Arnie said, checking his tranq gun just as the wolf hit the lights and siren.