Ralph Wolford wasn't like his sister Juliet, melodramatic at the drop of a hat. He used to think of his personality similar to old spy movies. Cool, calm, collected, always ready for action and always getting the girl. That's how the Wolf used to picture himself. Now, the lupine was well aware he was at times more the bumbling sidekick. A joke always ready on his lips, a willingness to laugh off any slight by other mammals, Ralph was Papageno to another's Tamino. He came to this realization in High School. It's hard to ignore how not cool you are with your peers willing to remind you. The grey Wolf did what any mature teenager did, he tried to change himself. After getting the last of the blue dye out of his fur, and throwing away that too hot trench coat, Ralph decided that the best thing to do was embrace who he was, so he did.
The Wolf became a member of the Glee club, tried Improv and even performed a stand-up routine at a comedy club. He wasn't great at any of these, but it did teach him a valuable lesson. The lupine was good at dealing with mammals. The grey Wolf would never be the calm and collected type, but he could help others calm down or even brighten their day. It was in helping others that led to his choice in career of becoming an officer in the Zootopia Police Department. Being an average Wolf meant that though the Academy challenged him physically, everything was still within his grasp so long as he worked hard. It was here that his gregarious nature proved to be a boon as he excelled in all the Negotiation courses and made an impact on his fellow classmates. Ralph's hard work and top scores in Negotiating earned him the very competitive title of Valedictorian and assignment to Precinct One. His family was extremely proud.
As he became integrated into his new workplace, his friendly personality was only matched by the front desk officer Benjamin Clawhauser. Ralph had to admit that even he couldn't be as friendly as the rotund Cheetah, but it wasn't a competition. All of that changed when he was partnered with Nadine Fangmeyer, a silent as the grave Tiger who had been transferred from Precinct Seven to Precinct One. She had been in the class before the grey Wolf. Rumors were once she got in the field; Fangmeyer proved herself and was fast tracked to transfer. Later the lupine would find out from the feline that some of the other officers in Precinct Seven were terrified of her. How they could be afraid of such a sweetheart, the grey Wolf would never know.
That was a lie. He was petrified of her in the beginning. Her demeanor was one of "no nonsense, by the book, I can crush you at any time." It would take some time, but the Wolf wore the Tiger down. The first time he had made her laugh, not chuckle but honestly laugh, Ralph couldn't help but brag about it in the locker room. After that, he made it his personal mission to make her laugh. Some days he succeeded, while others not so much. The first time Ralph used the nickname of "Kitty," a personal favorite of his, Ralph was sure Nadine would rip his tail off and shove it down his throat. She did snarl, threatened physical violence, and also suggested what he thought would happen, but the grey Wolf didn't believe her for a second. Something was off in her protest; something the lupine couldn't put a digit on but would use that as his invitation to use it.
It had taken four years of being partnered, and one of the craziest years in the city since the Nighthowler Conspiracy, before Ralph realized why her laughter meant so much to him, or why orange and black became his new favorite pattern. The Wolf was infatuated with his partner. Normally when the Wolf was interested in a member of the opposite sex, he would wine and dine her. Throw a choice compliment learned over the years; maybe even learn something about them personally, before reaching a mutual agreement for a...release.
This time was different than the flings in the past, Ralph wanted more. He wasn't even sure what more was, but he knew he wanted it. The officer found himself glaring at couples, envious of their closeness. The grey Wolf wouldn't call it love, but he wouldn't call it simple lust either. That's why he thought of it as infatuation, because calling it anything else didn't fit. It didn't even fit completely to call it that either, but it was as close as he had gotten to a better definition. He was willing for the feelings to pass, but something happened that changed that…
Ralph was sitting in O'Hare's surrounded by his fellow co-workers in what was turning into the rowdy section of the establishment. When the Wolf had asked everyone he could find if they wanted to get a drink that night, he didn't expect everyone to come. The old veterans, Higgins, Snarlov and McHorn were sitting in their own booth, with Trunkaby and Delgato joining them. The smallest officers Wilde, Weaselton and Hopps were joined by Clawhauser, Wolfowitz and Jackson. The Fox and Weasel were arguing about something he couldn't quite hear. Ralph was sitting at a table with the newest rookie, a Camel named Humpbert Humpbert, a brown she-Wolf named Penelope Howler and Nadine. The male Wolf had been regaling the she-Wolf and Camel with his and the Tiger's latest dramatic arrest, when it was becoming apparent that his partner wasn't paying attention.
"...and then Fangmeyer shot the perp three times in the face." The Wolf said loudly, eyes fixed on the striped feline.
"Nadine!" exclaimed Howler, with paws rising to her muzzle, "You didn't!"
"Hmm?" Nadine responded absentmindedly, "Oh yeah...I did"
"Should we be talking about this?" Humpbert asked uncomfortably, shifting in his seat.
"It's fine. It didn't happen," assured the male Wolf. He smiled a winning smile, "Could you two give me and my partner a moment." The two officers stood, not saying anything to the partner's. Ralph was focused on the Tiger across from him, barely giving any acknowledgement to the leaving mammals. He reached a paw across the table and laid it on top of the Big Cat's larger one, "Nadine...is everything alright?"
Nadine glanced at the Wolf with her sharp, hazel eyes before looking away. She pulled her paw out from underneath Ralph's and clasped them together on the table. "Ralph...there's something I have to tell you…"
The Wolf officer swallowed dryly as his ears pinned back. He had a feeling this wasn't going to be a good conversation.
Ralph was standing on the rooftop of the Wolford Compound. The crisp night air of Savannah Central should have been refreshing for the Wolf, and in the past had been. His Amber eyes were closed as the wind blew through his fur. The lupine hadn't slept well the past month since Nadine talked to him. He cocked his head as he heard someone walking closer to him.
"Are you alright Raphael? You smell conflicted."
Ralph opened his eyes and glanced over his shoulder to the mammal behind him. There was only one mammal who called him by his full name, and that was his mother. Luna Wolford was slightly shorter than him, with dark black fur and piercing blue eyes. She was wearing a green windbreaker and a look of concern. The male gave a reassuring smile, "I'm fine mom...don't worry."
His mother frowned, "Telling me not to worry doesn't mean I won't."
Ralph winced but his smile remained, "You're right, sorry..." He sighed as he looked up to the sky. The moon was full and the sky was clear, a perfect night for a Howl. "I just needed some time alone," continued the male, "It's been...hectic at work."
"It must be, with you trying to help your partner with marriage preparations."
The male forced his ears to stay up and only hummed in response. The idea of Nadine marrying grew the pit in his stomach. His "helping" the Tiger with marriage preparations was simply doing their accumulated paperwork. The Wolf doubted he could do more than that. The sound of a door opening caught Ralph's attention and he turned towards the source.
The rest of his immediate family was piling out of the rooftop door onto the roof. There was William, a similar grey Wolf, but with their mother's blue eyes. Gareth, a black Wolf with Amber eyes, Robert, the largest physically of the siblings with dark brown fur and black tips on his ears to match his almost black eyes, Juliet, the technical baby of the family with rust brown fur and bright green eyes. Bringing up the rear was Elizabeth, who was the spitting image of their mother. Ralph's parents had two litters, one with five pups and the other with two. Ralph, Elizabeth, William and Robert were in the first litter. Gareth and Juliet were in the second. It wasn't uncommon for Wolves to have multiple litters and since his parents were the Alpha's they could have as many as they liked. Still his father and mother decided seven energetic pups was enough.
Thoughts of Ralph's missing sibling caused the Wolf's smile to falter. James Wolford, Ralph's missing littermate and eldest of the siblings, left the Pack not too long after his eighteenth birthday. It was a shock to the whole pack, as Jimmy was the heir apparent to take over as Alpha. His absence threw the structure of the Wolford Pack in disarray, and they turned to Ralph to become a Beta. He wasn't even out of his teenage years. If he had been born in a different pack, then the grey Wolf may not have needed to become a Beta so quickly. The Wolford pack was the oldest of the packs in Zootopia, yet its numbers were just under thirty members.
"Ralphie, were you stargazing?" asked Juliet. She sighed wistfully, "It is such a lovely night…"
"Only you would think that," remarked Robert, "Your heads already in the clouds."
The she-Wolf snarled, but Elizabeth pushed between the two. "Calm down Jules, you know Bobby likes to rile you up."
"Why don't we have our Beta weigh in since we're talking about him," offered William. He turned to Ralph, "So what were you doing all by your lonesome?"
Ralph shrugged, "Couldn't stand your smell anymore Billy." He smirked with a raised brow, "When's the last time you showered?" William grinned. Gareth remained his normal quiet self. The officer glanced around the group, "Where's dad?"
"Waiting for everyone else," grumbled Robert with arms folded, "You know how he is."
Ralph huffed and shook his head. He was well aware of how his father could be when it came to his duties as Alpha. The grey Wolf looked just like Sirius Wolford, with the only difference being their temperament. The elder Wolf would never physically bite, but he was known for having a loud bark. Ralph's father used his attitude to push other members when it came to pack events. "Should we wait?" questioned Ralph, more aimed at his mother than his siblings.
"He shouldn't be too long," replied the older female after a pause, "Why don't you start us off? I'm sure he won't mind."
Ralph nodded and stepped towards the edge of the roof. He closed his eyes and felt the wind once more. The grey Wolf concentrated on his emotions, the sadness, confusion, pain and the small light of hope that still existed. He lifted his muzzle towards the moon and let all of those emotions escape into the night sky. Even with ears pinned, Ralph heard the growing chorus behind him.
The Howl was finally over, and just like the other Wolves milling about, Ralph felt spent. Howling never drained physically but emotionally. The grey Wolf wanted even more to be left with his thoughts, no matter how much they tormented him. He felt a paw on his shoulder.
"Good job Ralph," his father praised, "An Alpha needs to lead the Pack in all events, whether big or small."
Ralph turned and gave his father what was feeling more and more like a practiced smile, "I just do what I can."
The older Wolf nodded in agreement. There was a moment of hesitation from his father, before he spoke. "Next time not so depressing."
The officer's ears pinned back and his smile strained, "Sorry dad...it's, uh, been real rough at work that's all…"
Ralph couldn't tell if his father believed him or not, as similar Amber eyes bore into his own. Eventually his father nodded and dropped his paw from his son. "Just remember a Howl is supposed to be a happy event, where the Pack as a whole comes together. If the Alpha shows his worries, then everyone feels it."
The son nodded and looked away at any else but his father. Generally after the Howl, wolves went back to their own apartments or rooms. There were a few other pack members enjoying the night and Juliet appeared to be stargazing as she accused Ralph of doing earlier. The roof was much less appealing than it had been an hour ago. He still wanted time alone and away from his nosey family. Ralph wished his father a quick 'Good Night' before heading to the door.
The Wolford Complex was old, but thanks to Alphas of the past it had been well maintained. The stairs that Ralph walked down were pristine, even if they were over seventy years old. The grey Wolf walked down a clean hallway with carvings in the baseboards. They were simple in design, but the fact that they were carved into mahogany is what made it truly special. Add in the wine red floor runner with gilded frieze and Ralph could understand if a mammal had mistaken his home for a hotel. The truth was all of those features were done by past generations of Wolfords, nothing new had been added.
Ralph stopped at his apartment door, a small faux gold name tag with his name on it nailed to the front. He clasped the door knob, turned it, and let his door swing silently open. Wolves that had kits or were starting a family were given the larger apartments. Ralph, having neither, lived in a small studio. There was no kitchen or bathroom, as at either end of the hallway was the communal for both. There was enough room for his bed against the right wall, a dresser with a television across from that, a mess of clothing on the floor and a closest that was hidden by the door at the moment. A window was the only source of light, the overhead light remaining off, as the grey Wolf trudged through the doorway and closed the door.
He sighed as he sat on his bed, the lupine's head falling into his open paws and propped on his knees. The Wolf did his best to conceal his emotions, but as time passed, and Nadine's wedding drew nearer, it was becoming harder to hide. With each shuddering breath, Ralph felt tears well. The rules of the pack left the grey Wolf trapped between following tradition or following his heart. This wasn't the first time he wished he had born another type of mammal, one that didn't have to worry about built in rules and regulations, but more and more he wished to be a Tiger.
The lupine rubbed his eyes, sniffing as he wiped away tears, and let out a heavy sigh. He had to chipper up! His father was right that the rest of the pack would notice if Ralph was down. Other Precinct One officers would notice as well, and his emotions were a conversation he was not going to have. The Wolf sniffed again and breathed in slowly. The problem with controlling himself was for tomorrow Ralph Tonight Ralph wanted to sleep for days. He laid down in his bed. He didn't have the energy to get undressed.
The orange glow of the street lights shone dimly through the partially closed blinds, bathing the entire room in orange and black stripes. The Wolf closed his eyes, imaging that the stripes and coloring would stay. If only his fur wasn't grey but orange, maybe he would have a chance. If only he hadn't been born a Wolford, to a family so steeped in tradition that any hopes of change seemed pointless. If only Ralph wasn't Ralph.