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The Keyhole

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"WHERE ARE YOU?!" Honey's screeching voice cut through the air and straight to the bone. Eli reflexively cringed, and could feel Mike do so on top of his head. They were hiding behind a log, listening to the snarls and mutterings as the crazed badger fervently searched for them. "YOU ARE MY DISCOVERY, MINE! YOU BELONG TO ME!"

 

Eli let himself be guided away, crouched and stealthily. Every time they had tried to go towards an area where there would be mammals who could help, Honey had cut them off. She had no intention of letting Eli just slip away. A few tugs from Mike, and Eli turned to the right, crossing a small stream. They came out into a clearing, Eli quickly thinking to hide behind a stump. Mike held his phone up, willing it to get a signal, even just a weak one. His eyes went wide as he saw two bars suddenly appear on the screen. He smiled, until he heard the badger padding into the clearing nearby. She was snarling and looking all about. Mike then saw something that made his stomach drop. The battery symbol on his phone... it was almost empty and flashing red. He swallowed around a lump in his throat, and opened his contacts before selecting a name, and hastily typing out a text.

 

Please get it, he wished to himself, having to look around, before tugging on Eli's hair again to get him moving off to a different direction.

 

 

Meanwhile...

 

 

"He said he would be here!" Judy said, silent tears streaming down her cheeks, dampening her fur. They had followed the officers dispatched to the warehouse in the Rainforest District that Edwin had given them. They hadn't been allowed to search inside, and had to wait while their fellow officers had cleared the building. They had been surprised by a familiar-looking van parked inside, Nick recognizing the mural on the side immediately.

 

"Judy," Nick said, his voice hoarse, but pulling out all of his con-mammal concentration to maintain a calm demeanor for his mate, "the van is here. More officers are on the way to search the area, not to mention that this place is now swarming with bunnies. We're going to find him." As Nick said it, Judy could hear various family members calling out for Eli and Mike.

 

"But Nick," Judy said, her voice breaking, "she tranqed that armadillo. Maybe she had a change of plans and ditched the van here and took Eli and Mike somewhere else?"

 

"We'll find them," Nick said, hating himself for how unsure he felt as he said it.

 

"Aunt Judy! Uncle Nick!" The two whirled to trace the origin of the voice to see Thomas sprinting towards them.

 

"What, what happened?" Judy asked, fearing the worst.

 

"I got a text from Mike!" the teen bunny said, holding up his phone.

 

We escaped, in the rainforest, no one around, still chased by crazy badger, staying near rivers and creeks.

 

Judy was frozen to the spot for just a moment before she and Nick shared a look. Thomas watched and could see a spark of hope suddenly flare into a roaring blaze of determination in both his aunt and uncle's eyes. He felt a slight urge to jump back when they turned that burning gaze towards him.

 

"Tell everyone," Judy said, before she was off at a full sprint, heading straight towards the greenery.

 

"Start with the other officers, and then the family, bud," Nick said, before giving chase behind his mate and partner. He knew that it was reckless for them to head off without any backup. He also knew that it would be pointless to try to argue that fact with the bunny who had stolen his heart and who was now dead set on finding their kit. And he was also aware of the fact that he was just as fixated as she was, and that there was no point in trying to argue that aforementioned fact with his own self.

 

 

At that moment...

 

 

No no no nonononononoNONONONONONONO! Honey thought, gripping two pawfuls of fur on the sides of her head and tugging, almost ripping them out in clumpfuls. Her white fauxhawk was now frayed, with some bits of prickly bushes sticking out of the very tip. She started waving the tranq gun around.

 

"I KNOW YOU'RE HERE!" she screamed. "WE COULD HAVE BEEN REASONABLE ABOUT THIS, BUT NOW, I'LL EVISCERATE YOU! DO YOU HEAR ME?! NOW GET OUT HERE RIGHT NOW!!!"

 

In the underbrush behind her, Mike was guiding Eli away, still keeping them near the waterways, hoping that help would arrive soon.

 

Not much incentive to come out, really, he thought to himself, feeling Eli tremble beneath him.

 

"Don't worry, Eli, I didn't get my Stealthy Escape from Pursuit badge for nothing either!" Mike whispered once they were a bit further away, hoping to calm Eli down.

 

 

Nearby...

 

 

"Eeeeeeeeliiiiii!" Marian called out as she, Stuart, Bonnie, Robert, and a pawful of Stu and Bonnie's adult children moved about in a group.

 

"Thomas said that they were going to stay near the rivers and creeks. We're going to find them," Stu said, stopping to look around, his foot thumping for a bit as he thought. His ears started twitching, and he pointed in a single direction. "Running water coming from over there."

 

"Let's go!" Robert said, knowing which way to go due to still wearing his glasses. The others followed suit, spreading out as they did so.

 

"Eli!" Bonnie called out, joined by the others in a group in a chorus of voices.

 

 

In the brush...

 

 

Eli stopped as he heard voices calling his name. Mike heard it too, and leaned down to look his friend in the eye. They both smiled, hopeful that this nightmare was soon to be over.

 

"No! It can't just end!" Honey's voice was so near that the two boys froze and held their breaths. Honey was on the other side of a bush that they were hiding behind. "I'm so close, I can feel it! GAH! Okay, if I miss my opportunity today, then I can just regroup and come up with a new plan later. I got it once, I can get it again. It will take some planning, but I can get my claws on that thing again. Yes."

 

They heard a shuffling sound getting closer, the two simultaneously realizing that the badger was trying to come through the bush they were hiding behind. They started to backtrack, when suddenly Eli felt a twig snap underneath his show. The snapping sound was deafening to the two. The shuffling paused for a moment, and the two were once more holding their breaths again. A few heartbeats passed, and still no noise.

 

"THERE YOU ARE!" Honey screeched and lunged forward, face first out of the bush. Eli screamed and stumbled backwards over a fallen log, scraping his hand as he did so. He heard a THUNK and saw a tranq dart sticking into the bark of the trunk, right where his left leg had been just seconds before. He scrambled to his feet and started to run, still being guided by Mike tugging on his hair. They were running in a serpentine pattern, every now and again hearing another thunk from another tranq dart hitting a tree.

 

"SO THAT'S HOW YOU ESCAPED! A FILTHY LITTLE TRAITOR TO ALL MAMMALKIND!" Honey was literally frothing at the mouth, beyond reason, as she continued to chase. Once she fired her last dart, she snarled and threw the dart gun at Eli's head. Mike's looking behind them and quick thinking had Eli duck down. Mike then watched as the badger whipped out the taser, and started to gain on them.

 

"Keep to the water, Eli! They'll find us!" Mike said, still giving helpful hair tugs along the way.

 

"YOU'LL NEVER GET AWAY! I WON'T LET YOU!" Honey said, grinning wildly as she started to gain on her quarry. She felt the creek water splash on her paws, almost slipping and scrabbling on the smooth rocks underneath. With a great leap, she soared towards the human boy's leg. Mike watched, and time seemed to slow to a crawl. He could only watch helplessly as the spark danced between the two points on the taser, as it and its crazed owner neared his friend. But then, out of the corner of his eye, the mouse watched as a grey blur shot out from a nearby bush, and collided with the badger in mid-air. Mike saw the look of insane triumph on her face quickly turn to one of surprise and confusion. It was then that Mike realized that he was looking at Eli's mom, and felt a chill run down his spine at the look of pure anger on her face.

 

Eli kept running, only slowing when a russet fox stepped in his path.

 

"DAD!" he yelled, running towards the open arms of Nick. He dropped down to his knees and hugged his adoptive father, the tears coming forth as he sobbed into the fox's shoulders.

 

"It's okay, buddy, we're here, and you're safe," Nick whispered, rubbing Eli's back as he said it.

 

"B-but she's right behind us! She has a taser!" Eli said, turning to look behind him. Nick's paws gently, but firmly, grabbed the sides of Eli's face, and kept his sight directly in front of him.

 

"Your mother's got that sorted out, buddy," he said, Eli only now taking notice the nearby sounds of shrieking, followed by a series of heavy thuds.

 

"Oh wow, I've never seen a bunny body slam a badger before!" Mike said excitedly.

 

Nick rolled his eyes but smirked. "You should have seen her when she took down a group of giraffe bank robbers with her bare paws." Nick continued to hold Eli's attention, not wanting him to focus on what was happening behind him as Judy, exactly by the book, took down Honey Badger. Presently, she had the dazed and quivering kitnapper pinned on the ground, half of her face driven into the mud. Judy glared down at her, restraining herself from unleashing her full fury onto the subdued badger. She blocked out the tranq gun, and the cage, and the taser she had just seen her try to use. She blocked out the worry and terror and heartache she'd had to go through because of the badger before her. She calmly waited as voices could be heard getting closer, but wouldn't relax until she saw the badger beneath her in pawcuffs, in the back of a squad car.

 

 

A short while later...

 

 

Judy had her arms wrapped around Eli's neck, hugging close, and feeling him hug her back. She felt Nick's arms around the two of them as well, and only then did she start to feel that her family was safe. Honey had been formally charged and read her rights as she was taken away. The badger's eyes had seemed to have a listless half-glazed look to them, not that Judy cared one bit. Her kit was back with them, and his kitnapper was being taken away.

 

"I'm so sorry sweetie," Judy said, crying into her kit's shoulder.

 

"B-but, Mom," Eli said, "you saved me."

 

"It was my fault that you got taken in the first place!" Judy said as she sobbed. She felt Nick start to gently rub his paw on her back.

 

"No, Carrots. The fireworks and the stampede it caused was a planned distraction. The only ones at fault here are the two lunatics who are now both in custody." Nick looked up to see Eli nodding along, agreeing wholeheartedly.

 

"B-but... I'm supposed to be his protector!" Judy professed.

 

"Y-you are," Eli's shaky voice broke in. His mother's amethyst eyes looked up into his own as he smiled down at her. "Y-you saved me, Mom... you are my protector. You both are."

 

Nick smiled up at his kit before regarding his mate. She smiled and sniffled, wiping away some tears.

 

"Still, though..." she said, her ears still drooping behind her.

 

"No, Judy," Nick said, reaching over and grasping one of her paws in his own. "You saved our kit, as well as Mike."

 

Judy could still feel the guilt deep down, but chose to ignore it, at least for the moment, and enjoy being reunited with her son. It wasn't much longer before they all looked around to find themselves surrounded in a sea of bunnies, and two older foxes. Nick smiled and tugged on the collar of his shirt nervously.

 

"And of course, everyone else did their part and helped to save Eli as well," he said, just as the paramedics arrived.

 

 

Later that evening...

 

 

"S-sounds like a good idea to me, Mike," Eli said into his phone. He was currently Muzzle-Timing with the mouse boy. He almost giggled remembering at how much Mike's parents had held him close and cuddled him, before remembering not just his own parents' actions, but also how the same had happened with his grandparents and his aunts and uncles. Presently, he was in his room, several litters of his younger cousins scaling him, while others were all over his room. The swarm of kits had basically decided to sleep in a pile with Eli tonight.

 

"Okay then. I've already spoken with the people in charge of New Dawn, and they are on board for us setting up another bake sale next week. I think that they really want to try and get past what happened today," Mike said.

 

Eli nodded. "M-makes sense." Eli then heard his mom calling his name, as well as his aunts and uncles calling for their own kits. "I gotta go, Mike... and... uhm... th-thank you..."

 

"No problem," the mouse said with a warm smile, "like I said before, I don't ditch my friends, nor would I ditch my troop members." With that, their call was ended, and Eli followed behind his cousins as they flowed like water down the stairs and headed towards the kitchen. Eli saw his mom looking at him, clearly still a little worried, but smiling brightly despite her worry. When he approached, Eli bent down and the two shared another hug before joining the rest of the family for dinner.

 

"I have to say, this salmon steak is a little tough, and a bit bland, Nicky," Robert's voice carried out of the kitchen. "I think that you may have overcooked it."

 

"Robert," Marian's voice said. "that's your wallet. Please put your glasses back on."

 

"Yes, dear," the older arctic fox said in resignation.

 

 

Elsewhere...

 

 

Ralph and Nadine were sitting on their couch, the TV on, but neither one paying it any attention. The tigress and the timber wolf were too busy watching their adopted human daughter as she gurgled happily, from where she was cradled in Nadine's arms. Ralph leaned in and started to nuzzle his baby girl, making her giggle and coo, all while Nadine let out a low rumbling purr. The new parents needed the reassurance that only their little bundle of joy could bring, after the events of the day. Ralph started to take notice of the news program that was covering what had happened at the homeless shelter. He frowned for a moment before switching it off. He and his mate had something much more important to give their attention to. His smile returned in force when Rosalie reached out a tiny chubby hand and placed it on his nose, giggling, and saying "Da... da!"

 

Ralph's tail thumped against the cushions of the couch.

 

"Once again, Daddy get's a shout out, but not Mommy," Nadine playfully said.

 

"Well, it's clear to me that she's already a Daddy's Girl," Ralph said, receiving a playful punch to his arm.