A few hours earlier, Vivian Wilde drove through the cold and icy landscape of Tundratown on her way to meet with one of her oldest friends in Zootopia. When her father's initial disapproval of the hardworking todd she had given her heart to blossomed into active malice towards her mate, Vivian was forced to leave behind the only life that she had ever known. John's middle-class upbringing didn't mesh well with her father's aristocratic designs on his daughter's future marriage prospects, and John had more than a few suspicious 'accidents' while crossing the road or the few times he closed up the shop after sunset where he was apprenticed at. And so, with her mate's life being threatened, she and John had fled to Zootopia, the massive, ever-growing city where John was born and raised.
Moving to Zootopia had been a huge culture shock for Vivian. Besides the fact that foxes were in the minority here and heavily discriminated against, the sights, sounds, and smells of the city overwhelmed her at first. There were so many mammals of all shapes and sizes, from every walk of life, mingling and working side-by-side. It was thrilling and exciting in some respects (as a fox, she was naturally curious and interested in new things), but at the same time—it was awfully scary, too. Especially with so many new and large mammals who didn't pay attention to the smaller mammals they shared the city with. Vivian had to stay sharp just to avoid being stepped on or accidentally kicked (rhinos were the worst at not paying attention to where they were stepping). So, when they settled in a quieter part of town with medium and small mammals, Vivian was able to breathe a little easier.
As a strange vixen struggling to start her life over in an even stranger city which was a thousand times bigger than the large town (it was miniscule compared to Zootopia) where she grew up, Vivian was blessed to have such a wonderful mate by her side, but even so, she was still left wanting something more. Besides John, there weren't many mammals who she could count as friends. There were less than a pawful of John's clients who she became friendly with after John finally got his tailoring business off of the ground, but they were more 'working acquaintances' rather than real friends to hang out with while discussing life's ups and downs.
Vivian didn't let it get her down, though. John was a hard worker who made good quality suits, dresses, and business suits at a fair price, and John's business did very well for a fox. This kept Vivian busy helping out around the shop during the day while spending the evening at home with John. Life was comfortable and left her feeling fulfilled—something that had been missing in her life before.
Working alongside her husband—organizing and cutting the fabric, pinning the material together in preparation of John sewing them together, and running the cash register—made Vivian happy. It was a life she had never imagined for herself, but she had no complaints. Growing up in a large town at the foot of the mountains several days-drive south-west of Zootopia, and being from a high-class, wealthy family, Vivian wasn't accustomed to working for the things she had or doing mundane tasks (she had servants to do most things for her), but now she was part of the working class, so whatever she bought, she and John had to work for it with their own two paws.
Vivian had been raised to feel entitled, that she was born to be waited on, that others were meant to work while it was her job to direct those doing the work. Although she was happy in her life before, she had always felt something was missing—that she should be doing something. And now she was, and for the first time in her life, she actually felt fulfilled, that her existence actually mattered and that what she was doing was worthwhile. She wasn't just spending her family's money but was actually earning the money she spent.
Furthermore, Vivian was working alongside and living with the todd of her dreams. She had fallen so deeply in love with John that she couldn't imagine living without him. His presence was home, his touch was addictive, and his taste mouth-watering. She couldn't get enough of being with him—whether it was working in the shop or snuggling behind the closed door of their home. Life couldn't get any better—and then it did. Anya came into their life, and everything fell into place—they were parents and their little family was growing. Life was perfect.
Vivian and John had recently found out she was carrying twins, Nicky and Demetri, while Anya was just about to turn two when John met a couple of immigrants from Russia, a Mr. Silvano Big and his fiancé Francesca, who were looking for a reputable jewelry shop to exchange some precious gems for quick cash and then a warm place to stay. John offered to help the tiny shrew couple who were being carried around by a trio of large polar bears. Their modest fox home obviously couldn't accommodate the polar bears, but once some of their jewels were exchanged, Silvano Big sent his large friends off to find a place to accommodate their size and to find jobs, while John brought Silvano and his fiancé Francesca home with him.
John offered them a place to stay until they could find a place and job for themselves, and Vivian readily agreed, especially after learning that Silvano's and Francesca's story wasn't so different from hers and John's.
Mr. Silvano Big was heir to a fortune back in his homeland. His father was a high government official after retiring from the military as a decorated general, which allowed his father to inherit a large estate. Silvano's father was a very strict and austere shrew, who expected his wife and kits to be seen and not heard. He also had high (and quite harsh expectations) for his kits. Silvano, being the oldest, received the harshest treatment (missing a meal, or being slapped—or whipped on the palms or back of the calves with a willow switch—by his father for not 'measuring up' was not uncommon).
He stuck it out for years, trying to live up to his father's harsh expectations while shielding his younger siblings and his mother from the worst of his father's temper. He hated it, though, as he never agreed with how his father treated him and the family, especially his mother.
Silvano was close to his mother, but his father's harsh treatment of her (cold words, a slap to the face if she dared to speak up or step out of line, followed by days of being ignored), festered in his gut. Silvano knew his mother deserved better and swore that once he inherited his father's title and position, he would change things. Seeing the positive changes her son hoped to make, his mother, along with her mother Grandmamma, became his staunchest supporters.
But then, due to a chance encounter at an ambassadorial gala, and again at a debutante ball, during a time in his life when Silvano was feeling at his lowest due to his father's repeated abuse, he met Francesca—the love of his life. Francesca was the daughter of a wealthy family in decline and her circumstances were hardly better than the working class, though her family still had enough prestige to be invited to a few government functions and parties. But she was never someone Silvano's strict father would approve of. Her family had nothing the cold-hearted old shrew wanted: no great fortune and no longer a high status to elevate his own family by a marriage between them. In his father's words, Francesca was just 'useless baggage'.
But this didn't stop Silvano from pursuing her in secret. With the help of his mother and Grandmamma, Silvano met Francesca several times in secret, but knew he needed greater strength than what he currently had if he hoped to be able to actually marry the lovely, sweet sow who held his heart in her small, delicate paws. Since his father had close connections with several other high-ranking officials, he feared Francesca or her family might be falsely accused of a crime they didn't commit and thrown in jail, or have their family fortunes confiscated. And if not that, then he himself might be shipped out to a military installation for 'further training'. Silvano might not be able to return home for two or three years, and who knows what might have happened to Francesca during that time. His father probably would have pressured her family into marrying his sweetheart off before he returned.
In order to avoid any and all of these dismal possibilities, Silvano had been searching and praying for greater strength when he stumbled across Koslov and Raymond, two polar bear brothers on the run from forced conscription into the Russian army. Returning to their small village from a two-week long fishing trip out in the stormy Kara Sea, the two brothers had found soldiers there rounding up all able-bodied males who were old enough to carry and wield a weapon. Not wanting to be used as 'cannon fodder', Koslov and Raymond had hidden in the woods for several days before turning tail and running, but that didn't save their younger brother Nikolai, who was still a teen and hardly old enough to be considered a soldier.
While trying to figure out how to break their brother out of the soldiers' well-trained claws (which is the only reason they stuck around for so long), Koslov and Raymond had been ratted out by some of their neighbors as having gone on a fishing trip but should have returned by now. In fleeing the soldiers sent to find them, they stumbled into Silvano while he was out on his own training mission. Seeing the opportunity they presented, Silvano had immediately taken them under his wings as his personal guards, and was even able to use his father's military connections to request their brother's release into his own services.
Silvano had Koslov and Raymond trained to be his elite guards, while their younger brother Nikolai was being trained as his personal secretary and butler. This continued for a few years, and Silvano was working to make his relationship with Francesca official, but he needed to move a few key players so his father couldn't move to block him. Their greatest fear came to life first: Silvano's father, sensing something was up with his son, had followed Silvano to one of his secret meetings with Francesca—chaperoned, of course—but that didn't matter an ounce to Silvano's father.
Learning that his son had been secretly meeting with and planning to marry a girl of so little consequence (Silvano had already proposed to Francesca), that he went into a rage. Silvano and Francesca had to flee for their lives as Silvano's father swore he would execute Francesca if he ever got his paws on her. Silvano's mother and Grandmamma helped them flee the country, along with the polar bear brothers who had sworn an oath to serve Silvano for the remainder of their days. His mother and Grandmamma had also cleaned out their coffers and sent them off with their jewelry (it was easier to exchange for cash), along with several large gems and jewelry that they had acquired over the years.
After taking a crisscrossing and dizzying array of trains to lose the hunting wolves set upon the young couple by Silvano's father, they made their way west to Europaw. Silvano and Frecesca, both exhausted and beleaguered from their long and frantic travels, as were their equally wearied bodyguards, the group finally arrived at the Atlantic Ocean and bought passage on a boat bound for the United States of Animalia.
Disembarking in Zootopia, they were left adrift trying to find their footing when John stumbled into them (they were about to get swindled by a con-wolf) and offered his help (growing up, John had a neighbor from Russia who taught him some of the language). Silvano and his bears were wary at first since John was a fox, but after John explained what almost happened to them, they accepted his help. After taking them to a reputable place to exchange a few of their jewels, John then brought them home to meet his wife, Vivian.
Seeing where their master and mistress would be staying, and that it was finally safe for Silvano and Francesca to take a breather, Koslov and his brothers left with John as he showed them the way to a boarding house for larger predators where they could stay for a while. Upon returning home, John offered to teach the shrew couple the local language since he knew Russian. Vivian helped teach them, as well.
Although she didn't know Russian, when it came to reading and writing the Animalian language, Vivian was superb. As her family had hired the best tutors money could buy to ensure she and her sisters were properly educated, Vivian's grammar was impeccable. She also spoke fluent French (growing up in an aristocratic family, her father made sure Vivian and her sisters could each speak a foreign language as part of their education).
Vivian and Francesca became fast friends as they had so much in common. Vivian and John helped the couple plan their wedding and John even made their wedding attire and gifted it to them as their wedding gift. The clothes Silvano and his entourage came with from Russia were nice enough, and some quite fancy, but John still made the polar bears their own tuxedos for the wedding. The ceremony was simple by aristocratic standards (Anamalian or Russian)—just a beautiful couple sharing their vows surrounded by a small circle of friends.
Even so, their long-awaited day was still filled with plenty of warmth and well-wishes. John and Vivian were happy to be the primary witnesses for another couple who were so very much in love, while little Anya, as the flower girl, happily walked down the aisle before Frencesca while dropping flower petals on the ground.
After the wedding, the newlywed couple were able to secure one of the more expensive apartments in Little Rodentia (Silvano had sold one of their larger gems which gave them a small fortune to get established in the country). Living in the small, gated community allowed the shrew family to relax without fear of being trodden on the moment they stepped outside their apartment building. Living here also allowed the newlyweds to make friends with others of their tiny stature that shared similar interests. With a comfortable home secured, Silvano and Francesca started looking for ways of surviving in their new country (and keeping up with their apartment's higher rent).
Francesca had a flair for fashion and elegance and thus started working with John. She came up with dress designs and drew them out, and then John turned her designs into reality. Her fashion became the hit of the town, drawing a new, but loyal female contingent to join the fox's mostly male clientele. Silvano, on the other paw, took their remaining jewels and jewelry and started his own Jewelry store which he named Francesca's Jewelers. He even used some of his wife's dress designs to showcase his jewelry. It was a great advertisement for both stores, and soon they had more business than they had ever dreamed was possible.
If this was all there was to it, life for the happy couple would have been perfect. But their polar bear friends weren't so lucky in finding decent work while Silvano and Francesca were getting on their feet. Being large predator immigrants who spoke little English, the only work they could find was dirty, backbreaking, and at times—brutal. Koslov and Raymond fared fairly well even under these harsh conditions as even before they became the elite guards of Silvano Big, they had grown up working long, harsh hours on fishing trawlers for weeks at a time in the wintery (often violent), Kara Sea north and east of the Byrranga Mountains of Northern Russia.
Nikolai, on the other paw, was not so lucky. With his two older brothers gone for weeks at a time, fishing the dangerous waters out at sea where many fisher-mammals had lost their lives to the violent and unpredictable sea, his mother had kept him close to home to ensure she didn't lose all her boys to the dangerous ocean storms which had taken her husband's life just weeks before Nikolai's tenth birthday. Since the younger polar bear (now in his early twenties), had never before suffered through such long, harsh working conditions with so little rest or adequate food, the long, brutal hours finally took a toll on Nikolai, and his health began to suffer.
While Silvano was trying to expand his jewelry store in order to bring the polar bears in as employees, an accident at work (caused by the poor, wretched working conditions that the brothers labored under), took Nicolai's life. When Koslov and Raymond angrily spoke out about their brother's death due to the dangerous working conditions (the hours were too long, the food provided wasn't enough and lacked the proper, if any, nutrition, along with no safety equipment and faulty machinery), their boss claimed Nikolai's death was a direct result of his own clumsy nature—that the polar bear had been too stupid to do the work properly and that Nikolai should never have been hired.
When Koslov and Raymond received no reparations for their brother's death from the company they worked for, they immediately quit while Silvano sought justice through the law for his young friend's untimely and questionable death. But once the authorities arrived at the company, the manager and company owner bribed the cops to look the other way, and so nothing came of Silvano's many pleadings for justice or a change in the working conditions.
Coming from such a wealthy family in Russia where his and his family's words were law, this didn't sit well with the small, angry shrew. He vowed justice would be served, and even spoke to John and Vivian about further legal moves he could take to gain recompense from the polar bears' former boss. Before he could discover a legal way to get justice for his dear and loyal friends, Francesca gave birth to their daughter, little Francesca whom they called Fru-fru. She was the apple of his eye and there never was a prouder father. He absolutely adored his little girl!
Suddenly finding his paws full of this tiny bundle of joy, Silvano did everything he could to help his beloved wife take care of their beautiful little girl as she recovered from giving birth to their sweet baby. Listening to his little girl's gurgling laughs and sweet little 'coos', the world seemed to be getting better as he and Francesca watched their little girl grow from a wriggly infant to a crawling baby and finally a stumbling toddler. Fru-fru said her first words—'mama' and 'papa'—before her first birthday and they were so proud and delighted with her progress.
Silvano continued searching for a way to help his friends, but between running his own business and helping his wife with their new daughter, the hardworking shrew didn't have as much time to pursue it. But not long after Fru-fru's first birthday, Silvano finally discovered a group who were seeking to have legislation passed for laws enforcing better working conditions (especially among immigrants) and to require businesses and companies to be responsible for deaths caused by inadequate safety measures and harsh working environments. Silvano had just made contact with the group when he experienced the worst day of his existence…. His beautiful and devoted wife Francesca, the love of his life, was mugged and beaten for drug money and eventually succumbed to her injuries.
To add insult to injury, the culprit, a sniveling Java mouse-deer who happened to be the lackey of the polar bear brothers' former boss, only got a few months in jail before being released. 'Overcrowding at the jails leads to early release of less-violent offenders' read the headlines, but Silvano knew the sad truth hidden behind the newspaper's elegant font: Immigrants—and especially innocent predators like his beloved wife and Nikolai—didn't matter much to the powers that ran his new city. They were all 'little people' that were easily bullied until the breaking point and then forgotten before the ink on their obituaries had even dried.
Losing Francesca broke something inside Silvano. Growing up in such a harsh and ruthless environment, Silvano slipped back into the mold his father had been trying to force him into. If the law would not give him the justice he sought, then he would take justice—and vengeance—for himself. Taking Koslov and Raymond, along with his baby girl, Silvano fled to the icy heart of Tundratown (a place that mirrored his own heart) and began his criminal empire. He maintained his jewelry store as the legal front to his business, snatching more legitimate businesses as he went along, while making many shady dealings under the table and in abandoned warehouses that were never disclosed to the public eye (or those that enforced the law).
John and Vivian had nothing to say to the tiny shrew to halt his uncontrollable anger at the injustices in society. Being foxes, John and Vivian had experienced first-paw the injustice the city leveled at so many smaller species (and a few larger ones) which they had classified as 'thieving bottom feeders'. The only reason John and Vivian were able to make it so well was because John owned his own business. Otherwise, they would have been treated as the scum of the earth—which is exactly what happened to Vivian and the kits once John had been murdered.
As it was, with their friend now living in Tundratown, John and Vivian had fewer and fewer dealings with the small shrew and his growing following of polar bears, artic shrews, arctic and snowshoe hares, and arctic foxes (and a few other 'bottom feeders' Big temporarily took on every now and then). The only time they saw Silvano was when he brought little Fru-fru by for Vivian to babysit, but that was only for the first few years before they grew even more distant. Silvano did ask John to apprentice several of his people in the tailoring business as the small shrew trusted no one but John with his wardrobe and wanted his people to learn 'only from the very best'.
John was happy to oblige him and was able to teach several of Silvano's people—a couple of shrews, a snowshoe hare, and two polar bears—before so cruelly murdered. But the year leading up to John's death, they had no contact with their old friend at all. And then, just days before her husband's death, Silvano had returned to Russia in an attempt to bring his mother and Grandmamma to Zootopia. Vivian had thought of asking her old friend for some help, but he had left the country before she could contact him and the creditors came knocking the minute they found out about John's death. The family was evicted before the second month was up—all because they were a family of foxes who no longer had a steady income.
Between the sudden eviction and the need to find work, Vivian had lost all contact with the small shrew turned criminal overlord. At least she had until Nick showed up at his door eleven years ago, proposing a working relationship that involved some of Honey's high tech 'toys' if Mr. Big would fund Anya's scholarship program for medical school. At that time, Vivian was able to get reacquainted with her old friend for a several years before moving to Rándýrabær with Anya after her daughter was hired on by the hospital there.
Then, a little over a week after Honey's death, Nick had called, grieving and heartbroken after the death of his adoptive mother, to say he was no longer working for Mr. Big. Vivian had assumed it was because, after Honey's death, Nick was simply tired of the work or maybe he had finally found a legitimate job to apply his incredible mind to—he did have a law degree and a business degree, after all. Vivian would have never imagined—not in a hundred years—that her old friend Silvano had put a hit out on Nicky's head should her son ever again show his face in the Don's domain. Nor could Vivian ever imagine that such a wretched vixen could exist, who would so cruelly frame her son for such a petty reason as his rejection of her advances.
But even with Nicky being framed for such a monumental insult to the Big family, Silvano should have at least given her son the chance to defend himself—to explain that he hadn't tried to pass off a skunk-butt rug as imported cashmere. Vivian couldn't believe it! (Not that she doubted her son.) It just burned her up inside to know her old friend automatically thought the worst of Nicky after all the years he had served Silvano faithfully—and she was going to give the old shrew a piece of her mind!
Turning onto the snow-packed road that led to the Big's estate, Vivian slowed the jeep to a stop, then took a deep breath before driving down the long road that ended in a pair of giant, looming, ice-encrusted, black wrought-iron gates. Stopping at the guardhouse stationed outside, Vivian rolled her window down and poked her reddish-orange muzzle out, saying, "Contact Koslov and tell him an old friend is here to see him and Silvano."
The polar bear growled low at the vixen's casual way in which she spoke of his boss, but then the vixen growled back, "Listen up, buttercup, before you get all 'pissy' with me, call Koslov and tell him Vivian Wilde is here to see him and the Don." With a smug grin, she added, "If Koslov doesn't want to see me, then you can throw my fluffy tail out in the snow…But if he does want to see me, then you better hope he doesn't skin you alive for making me wait out here in the cold."
A dark smile crossed the bear's white muzzle and black lips while imagining the fun it would be to toss the mouthy vixen back out on the icy street (and confiscating her jeep in the process to sale for pocket money), but after calling Koslov to find out who their unexpected dinner-guest was, that smile was wiped from his face. In a panic at what the leader of the polar bears told him about the vixen he was looking at, the now scared guard fumbled over an apology and then scrambled to open the gate and usher Vivian into the compound.
Vivian's smug grin remained in place as she drove down the long, curving driveway to the ice-covered mansion. Parking in one of the long, massive carports that kept the ever-falling snow off Silvano's fleet of private vehicles, she had hardly turned the key off when the door was opened and Koslov's large, grinning face was revealed, along with his many large, dagger-like teeth. "Vivian, old friend! It good to see you! It been much, much too long since last you visited."
With a genuine smile now gracing her lips, Vivian handed her paw over to Koslov. As he helped her from the wolf-sized jeep, she replied, "It's good to finally see you again, too, Koslov. And yes, it has been far too long since my last visit." Patting the giant polar bear's massive white paw before Koslov released her paw to stand up straight, Vivian then followed her old friend down the long, cold, polar bear-sized hallway to where Silvano was having dinner with his daughter and son-in-law.
"Vivian, my old and dear friend," Silvano Big said. "How long has it been since last we spoke?" Waving the vixen to his side, he smiled at her warmly.
Stepping up to the tiny mob boss, Vivian leaned down to kiss the air at either side of his cheeks. Standing back up, she answered with a small smile, "Too long, Silvano, it's been far too long."
"Yes, it has been," Silvano murmured, as the past flashed before his eyes. Both the incomparable help and support Vivian and John had shown him and his family when they first arrived from Russia, to how utterly ruthless he had treated her son Nicholas after hearing the rumors of his betrayal. Remembering the paper that Koslov had shown him, Silvano had an idea of why Vivian had finally decided to visit. Had Nicky finally told his mother about his disastrous falling out with her old friend who had become the crime boss of Tundratown?
Turning to Silvano's daughter, Vivian reached out her paw so Fru-fru could grasp her finger, saying, "Fru-fru, it's so good to see you again." With her gaze flicking down to the little shrew's bulging stomach, then over to the unfamiliar shrew on Fru-fru's left, Vivian added, "Congratulations on your marriage and your little bundle of joy on the way."
"Thank you, Vivian," Fru-fru said in her high, sing-song voice, even as she smiled proudly while rubbing her overly round belly. Blushing slightly, she then turned to her sweetheart and grasped his paw, saying, "Vivian, I'd like you to meet my husband, Richard. He's one of Daddy's business partners and the sweetest shrew ever!"
Richard blushed in embarrassment at Fru-fru's words, but he squeezed her paw while smiling affectionately back at his wife. "Well, I don't know about sweet, but I do try my utmost to make you smile."
With a giggle, Fru-fru leaned towards her husband and said, "And that's what makes you the sweetest."
While Richard smiled warmly at his round wife (he couldn't wait for their daughter to be born!), Vivian made her way around the table to where a plate had been set out for her. Koslov pulled her chair out for her, then returned to his own seat. Murmuring her thanks to the large polar bear, Vivian scooted her chair in and glanced across the large dining table to the tiny table perched at the opposite side, which her friend and his family were sitting.
"I'm glad to see you're all in good health," Vivian said as she picked up her fork and knife to begin eating (dinner tonight was lemon pepper baked fish and a side of garlic, cheesy biscuits and red wine). Looking across the table at Fru-fru, Vivian asked, "When is the due date? Do you know what you're having yet?" Taking a bite of the mouth-watering fish, she pricked her ears forward while listening to her friend's answer.
Beaming proudly, Fru-fru told Vivian that she was due in a week, she was having a little girl, and that she was naming her Judy after Judy Hopps, the wonderful young bunny cop who saved her from a giant donut.
Vivian's ear flicked at this interesting news, even as she smiled warmly. "Well, Fru-fru, I'm glad to hear you're such great friends with my new daughter-in-law."
The shrews sitting across from her, along with Koslov, and even the other two polar bears standing at the side should their boss require anything else during the meal, all had slack jaws at Vivian's words. Taking another bite of fish, she waited for someone to respond, even as she hid her smug smile. With the way Silvano had treated her son, Vivian was feeling a little vindictive, so being able to pull something over on the old shrew soothed a few of her ruffled feathers.
Silvano immediately understood what Vivian was getting at, but before he could respond, his daughter spoke up first, exclaiming, "Wait!" Gripping her husband's arm with one paw, she covered her mouth with the other, and added, "Vivian, are you saying what I think you're saying? Nicky and Judy just started dating, so how can they already be married!?"
Silvano leaned back in his padded chair, stroking his jaw while waiting for his old friend to explain things. Since Nick had already kissed Judy, he knew it was only a matter of time until the slick todd had her in his bed, but even for Nicky, things were moving a bit too fast, weren't they?
Picking up her crystal wine glass filled with the dark-red liquid, Vivian took a sip, then said, "You mean Judy hasn't called you yet?" At her friends' shake of their head, Vivian murmured, "They probably didn't have time, seeing as Nicky claimed Judy this afternoon, and now they're having dinner with Daphyd Princeton." Taking another sip of wine, she added, "He's going to officiate their official wedding in a couple days." With a tilt of her head, she explained, "This Tuesday evening if Daphyd's schedule permits." Tilting her wine glass towards Fru-fru, Vivian added, "I believe Judy is planning on asking you to be her matron of honor, Fru-fru, so expect a call sometime tomorrow."
With a clap of her tiny, clawed paws, Fru-fru squealed happily (she would have jumped up if her bulging stomach and the table had permitted it). "Of course, I'll be her matron of honor!" Glancing at her dad, she added, "Oh, Daddy, this is going to be so lovely!" Turning back to the vixen who babysat her as a baby, Fru-fru, asked, "But are you sure Nicky is serious about Judy? Doesn't it take longer for you red foxes to choose a mate?"
Vivian flicked her ear in agreement, then set her crystal glass down. "Normally, yes, but when you stare death in the face with someone, you learn the true mettle of that person." With a shrug, she then said, "Nicky started imprinting on Judy 3 months ago, then together they faced Bellwether and her goons early last week. Spending so much time together since then has allowed the imprinting to be completed." Her long, bushy tail flicked beside her, and Vivian added, "It doesn't help that Judy's own instincts were demanding she breed with my son." With a smug purr, she murmured, "It makes putting things off rather…troublesome…don't you agree? Especially since there is a very slim possibility that Nick could get his bunny pregnant."
While Honey was still alive, Vivian would often get a call from Nicky so he could share interesting facts and tidbits he'd learned while talking to Honey and her 'geeky' friends, such as a beaver and a porcupine having a kit together. And Vivian couldn't forget little Dayvus Lodgers, the miracle baby with a beaver father and a muskrat mother. Vivian didn't believe that beavers were the only ones capable of siring a kit with a female of a species so different from their own.
Fru-fru squealed at the thought that Judy and Nick might be able to have a little bundle of joy of their own. No matter how slim the chance, she truly hoped the two could have their own, healthy little one. At Fru-fru's outburst her husband quickly reminded her to remain calm so as to avoid an early labor, and then little Judy started kicking at her mother's excitement. This forced Fru-fru to lean back in her chair and take several, deep, slow breaths while rubbing her belly to get the baby to settle back down.
Notwithstanding Fru-fru's exuberance, though, the shrews had to agree with Vivian about Nick and Judy's fast wedding. There really was no need to put off marriage if their instincts were already involved in the relationship. With most mammals, the instinctive need to be with their partner was something that developed over time after weeks or months of dating and getting to know each other, and it still didn't usually happen until after they had scent marked and taken each other as mates—not before.
Fru-fru, of course, continued gushing about her hope that Judy could have Nick's kits, though at a much calmer pace. Even if it was just one or two kits, Fru-fru hoped the best for them. Silvano, on the other paw, was looking very thoughtful about the whole idea. If Nick and Judy could have a kit together, that would go a long way towards showing the city that predators and prey really weren't that different after all—that love really could conquer all—as clichéd as that sounded. Koslov, on the other paw, was simply happy that Nicholas had finally found happiness with a girl who could protect his heart.
Those at the table spoke a bit more about the upcoming wedding, with Koslov looking forward to the wedding as much as Fru-fru. Vivian even showed them Judy in her wedding dress and thanked Fru-fru for her generosity in gifting the dress to her new daughter. Fru-fru said thanks were unnecessary as she saw Judy as the sister she never had. Vivian was pleased and the rest of the dinner went peacefully with Vivian sharing some of the exploits she'd seen and heard about her son and his bunny.
When dinner was finished, the staff escorted Fru-fru and her husband to their room so they could retire for the night. With Fru-fru being so close to her due date, Silvano feared she would go into early labor if she over-exerted herself or got too excited. And with the wedding being in a couple of days, he wanted his daughter to take it easy until then to minimize the chance of the baby coming early.
Once it was just Silvano, Koslov, and Vivian sitting in the room, they moved over to the extremely comfortable chairs situated in front of the frozen fireplace. Once Silvano and Vivian were seated, the giant polar bear poured Vivian another glass of wine, then poured Silvano and himself a half glass of vodka.
Sipping his vodka in thought as Koslov sat down and got comfortable, Silvano then turned to his old friend and said, "I know why you are here."
Vivian's ears flattened sideways in anger as steel entered her eyes. Glaring at her oldest friends, she spat out, "How could you possibly think Nicky would ever disrespect you in such a way! And for it to be a gift for Grandmamma! He loved that old shrew like she was his own grandmother. There's no way Nicky would have sold you a skunk-butt rug for her birthday present!"
A saddened expression entered Silvano's deep, dark eyes, even as his shoulders and bushy brows slumped. "I realize that now," he said slowly, then added, "It…pains me…to think back to how I treated Nicky five years ago."
Vivian was practically shaking with rage, her paws clenched into fists, as she spat out, "You put a hit out on my son, Silvano!" The old shrew nodded sadly, but before he could say anything in his defense, she turned to the large polar bear beside him and waved her paw through the air as she accused him, "How could you let this happen, Koslov!? You know Nicholas as well as I do, and he would never do something like this!"
Vivian knew Silvano had a deadly temper when it came to disrespect and betrayal, a temperament he'd inherited from his strict and harsh father who had killed his own wife for betrayal when she helped Silvano defy the unforgiving old shrew by assisting his son in taking his fiancé and escaping Russia (when Silvano returned to Russia for his mother and grandmother, it was only Grandmamma who was able to leave Russia with him as his mother was now resting within cold embrace of the land). But Koslov had always been able to talk sense and reason into her old friend when his rage got the better of him and blinded him from the truth—so why didn't he reason with Silvano when he lashed out in anger at her son!?
Sitting up straight, Koslov met her in the eyes when he explained, "Nicky needed way out." Some of the anger flowed out of Vivian and her shoulders slumped as he continued his explanation. "Nicky not cut out to be hardened criminal. He too soft hearted. Too many of us no longer bothered by death, murder, and violence and being with us was tainting Nicky." With a stiff nod, Koslov repeated, "Nicky needed out."
Vivian stared at Koslov a moment longer, then rubbed her face with her paws as she knew the old polar bear was right. When Nicky first started working for her old friend, Nick wasn't doing anything illegal, merely skirting the law. But with each passing year, Silvano had slowly pulled Nicky further and further into his criminal empire, which had her and Honey both worried. But that kind of work isn't something you can just walk away from. Something drastic had to happen for someone to leave… But still, for Silvano to put a hit out on Nicky that was still active five years later…that was too much!
Dropping her paws, Vivian stared at her old friend again, saying, "But a five-year hit, Silvano, seriously!?" Waving both paws in the air as she slumped back against the cushions of the chair she sat in, Vivian muttered, "No wonder Nicky checked out emotionally after Honey died. Not only had he lost his second mother, but he also lost his second father!" Glaring at the old shrew, Vivian added, "You realize that, don't you, Silvano? Nicholas looked up to you like his father!"
Turning in her chair to stare at the cold, ice-encrusted stone mantel of the fireplace, Vivian covered her mouth with her paw while shaking her head a moment before muttering, "If John was here to see this…" Shaking her head again, she added, "To say he would be angry and disappointed doesn't even begin to describe what his feelings would be." With tears smarting at the corner of her eyes at both John's memory and the thought of how close she came to losing her son to her old friend's wrath, Vivian muttered, "It's probably a good thing John isn't around to see this."
Silvano and Koslov both sat quietly for several minutes as they had no words to refute the vixen's harsh statement. She was right and they had been in the wrong. Finally, Silvano spoke. "I am truly…sorry, Vivian, my old friend. I let my anger cloud my judgment and didn't even look into finding out the truth. Again, I am terribly sorry."
Turning to glare at her old friend again, Vivian ignored the tears irritating her eyes. "And what good would 'sorry' do me if you'd been able to follow through with your threat, huh, Silvano? Tell me that!" With an irritable flick of her long bushy tail, she stated coldly, "I know there's several of your bears who never liked Nicky, so you can't tell me they weren't looking to cash in on the contract you put out on my son's head!"
Silvano shifted guiltily in his chair while remembering how Nicky and Judy had been hauled into his office and nearly iced just a short, three months ago. Raymond and Kevin, the two polar bears who had brought him in truly did wish Nicholas dead, Silvano knew this. Nicky was too good at rubbing other mammals the wrong way. Being a red fox, he was too smart and too good at whatever job he was given, that it created envy and jealousy in many of the mammals Nicky worked with, something that even his powerful bears were not immune to.
While the old shrew sat thinking, Koslov spoke up next, saying, "I not let them catch Nicky first year. I warn Nicky anonymously whenever others catch wind of his position. After first year, they stop looking."
Although he was able to keep Nick clear of his fellow bears 4 years ago, Koslov was feeling guilty at Nicky's capture 3 months ago. With Fru-fru's wedding going on, he wasn't even aware Kevin and Raymond had caught Nick until they called for Silvano in the middle of the celebrations, and then everything happened so fast he couldn't save Nicky himself, not without going against their boss in front of all the other bears—and that was unacceptable. If Koslov had known what they were walking into ahead of time, he could have talked to Silvano in private and showed him the newspaper clipping before appearing in front of Nicky and Judy, but he had been completely blindsided at the todd's sudden reappearance.
Which is why Koslov will forever be grateful to the small grey rabbit who saved not only Fru-fru's life earlier that day, but also Nicky in that moment when Fru-fru came in and recognized Judy as her savior. He really did owe that small rabbit cop a huge debt for saving both their lives. Not only had Judy saved Nick's life though, but she had also saved Nicky's heart. For that, he was truly grateful for, as well.
Vivian nodded but was still too angry to say more. Finally, Silvano said, "I have already taken the contract off of Nicky."
Looking over to meet the shrew's sad gaze, Vivian asked, "Have you told Nicky that? Because he's still under the impression that you still want him dead should he show up at one of your establishments without Judy there to vouch for him." At the raise of Silvano's bushy brow, Vivian went on to explain how Nick sent her in to Francesca's Jewelers to order Judy's engagement ring, a ring that wasn't supposed to be ready for a week, but Silvano was going to make sure it was ready in time for the wedding, wasn't he?
Silvano readily agreed to have the ring ready on time, it was the least he could do for his old friend's son, especially now that he was aware of how badly he'd wronged the todd he had once viewed as a son. Thinking about Nicky again made the old shrew think long and hard about his life again. He'd done so many awful things in the name of vengeance and justice (his own brand of justice), but somewhere along the way, he seemed to have lost his way… His reasons for what he did had become blurred…which made him wonder what kind of legacy he was leaving for his daughter and granddaughter?
Breathing her first sigh of relief since learning the horrifying circumstances behind her son's banishment from Silvano's service, Vivian sat and talked with her old friends for a while longer, reminiscing with them both about the days of old—those happy years before Francesca and John were taken from them. But when the old cuckoo clock on the wall struck 7 o'clock, Vivian rose to her feet and apologized to her old friends, saying she still had things to do tonight. She was entertaining Judy's two sisters, who were attending the wedding as her bridesmaids, along with her little niece, Cotton, who would be the flower girl. Silvano and Koslov were both eager to meet the does who approved of Judy's marriage to a fox and said they were looking forward to receiving the call from Judy and Nick tomorrow with an invitation to witness the official nuptials.
Koslov escorted Vivian back out to the jeep while Silvano stayed in his chair, staring at the picture of his mother and grandmamma which was enshrined on the mantel here in the private dining and sitting room. He had several pictures of Grandmamma that he had scattered around his mansion, but this was the only picture he was able to retrieve of his mother, one that Grandmamma had brought with her when he returned to Russia for her. The picture was of his mother and Grandmamma sitting on a settee back in his father's house. It was one of the few times he saw his mother smiling and Grandmamma had told him the picture had been taken not long after his mother found out she was pregnant with him.
Sitting back in his padded chair and staring at the picture, Silvano wished his mother and Grandmamma were still around to give him counsel. He dearly needed their wisdom right now. With a heavy sigh, the old shrew downed the rest of his vodka before pouring himself another glass.
When Vivian returned to Nick's house, she was glad to see how much the bunnies were enjoying their time with Finnick (after dinner they had pulled out some board games to play and were in the middle of a game of Sorry when Vivian showed up). She sat down at the table and watched them play while fully enjoying the happy laughter and easy conversation that was going on.
Not in a million years would she have ever thought to be sitting around the dinner table watching Finnick playing board games with a bunch of bunnies—and enjoying every minute of it! Taking out her phone she snapped a few pictures, which had Cotton giggling and Finnick grumbling. But the grumpy little fox didn't pass up the chance to receive a copy when Vivian offered to send everyone the photos.
Seeing the warm looks Amy and Finn kept stealing at each other, and with the affectionate way Finnick spoke to Cotton, Vivian was thinking that the small fox whom she looked to as another son, might just wind up with a wife and a couple of daughters by the end of summer—and she couldn't be happier!
Although she hoped Nick and Judy would be able to have kits, as well, either through adoption or a miracle baby or two (or both), with as much time as Finnick was spending with little Cotton, it was obvious to Vivian that the little bunny was easily worming her way into the large-eared fox's jaded heart. It warmed her soul to see the bright smile on Finn's face—a heart-warming smile that was rarely seen on the small fennec's usually sour-looking face.
As the game came to an end (Cotton won, with Janelle coming in second place), Finnick bid the girls goodnight while reminding Amy to call him in the afternoon when they got back from their shopping trip. Amy promised she would, even as Cotton gave Finnick another surprise hug, though he didn't even think twice about returning it. Cotton had certainly grown on him over the several hours he'd spent in her presence today.
With a wave of his paw at Janelle and Vivian, a smile at Amy and a pat of the head to little Cotton, Finnick made his way back out to his van and drove out to Nick's bachelor pad. Stopping on the old stone bridge, he pulled out his lawn chair and set it up, then pulled out a pack of ice-cold cream sodas from his minifridge. Carrying the bottles out to the lawn chair in the cardboard carry-box they came in, Finn sat down and opened one of the bottles.
Leaning back, he chugged the bottle and enjoyed the way the icy vanilla flavored drink slid down his throat, the fizz popping in his mouth. After experiencing the violent, abusive drunk his dad had become whenever he drank too much taught Finn at a young age to be careful around alcohol, so it wasn't something he developed a strong taste for. These old-fashioned flavored sodas were more up his alley, especially on a night like tonight when he had some thinking to do. Alcohol would have dulled his senses, but tonight, he wanted to keep his mind sharp while he considered the weird emotions he was feeling right now and even weirder thoughts running circles around in his head.
Watching as the sun inched its way towards the horizon, Finnick thought back over the last few days. Having met Judy and discovered what an interesting rabbit she was had been a nice surprise, but having met her sister Amy yesterday (had it only been yesterday that they met? It seemed like they'd known each other for so much longer!), and then playing with their niece today had him feeling such strange and unfamiliar emotions.
Finnick had dated his fair share of females in the past, mostly foxes, but also a few other small predators, but being with them was nothing to how he felt while spending time with Amy—a bunny! He couldn't explain it. It wasn't that he was attracted to her physically (well, maybe a little bit), but mostly, Finn just liked spending time with her. He enjoyed listening to the sound of her voice, hearing her laugh or seeing her smile. Catching the twinkle of humor or intelligence in her light blue eyes warmed his cold heart, and he searched for topics they could talk about that would show him more of her twinkle.
With a flick of his bushy tail, Finnick considered his emotions. If he had to sum up his feelings in one word, it would be: Nice. It was nice spending time with Amy. It was nice talking to her. When he picked a subject, whether it be automotive, fishing, or just life in general—she actually knew and understood what he was talking about! It was so nice being with someone who understood and could relate to whatever he felt like talking about. And the reverse was true—he understood and could relate to whatever topic she decided to talk about. It was nice.
And then there was little Cotton. Rubbing his chest over his heart, Finnick never thought he could care about a kit so much, much less a prey kit he'd just met! For being a kit, and prey at that, Cotton was something special. The way she opened her little heart and accepted everything about him unconditionally left him feeling numb and warm and happy all at once. It was weird, especially since he had no kits of his own or had much to do with anyone else's. The closest he ever came to interacting with kits was when he was pretending to be one, himself, for his and Nick's hustles.
But when it came to little Cotton, he actually found himself looking forward to spending more time with her—her and her Aunt Amy, both. Closing his eyes, Finnick took another long swig of his cream soda. Amy's sisters Judy and Janelle were nice to hang with, too, and the thought once more made his head spin. They were a bunch of rabbits—one of the worst species to discriminate against foxes—and yet he felt more open and free with them than he did with most other foxes, let alone other predators. It was crazy and weird and…and…nice. It was just nice and left him feeling warm and cozy deep in his heart (a place he'd long since forgotten about).
Shaking his head with his eyes still closed, Finnick raised his bottle and drained the last of his soda. Dropping his paw down to set the empty bottle on the ground, he opened his eyes to watch the sun dip below the horizon as the sky lit up in riot of color: orange, yellow, gold, and red near the horizon and pink and purple farther out.
The carbonation from his drink caused him to belch, and then he reached down to grab another bottle. Popping the lid off, he proceeded to sip at it while waiting for the stars to come out. While thinking of the enjoyment he got from spending time with a bunch of bunnies, Finn muttered, "Wanting to spend time with a bunch of rabbits—I must be as nutsy as Nick." Taking another swig, he then muttered, "At least I'm not twitterpated." With a slight shudder, he thought how chasing after a bunny was just too weird.
Up in the apartment loft, Vivian popped a large bowl of popcorn while Janelle looked through a stack of kit movies with Cotton. Spying an old cartoon movie which she hadn't seen in ages, Janelle got all excited about showing it to Cotton. After hearing it was a cartoon her Aunt Janelle had watched when she was a little kit, Cotton immediately agreed to watch it as she was excited to experience the same show her aunt had.
Popping it in the DVD player, Janelle and Cotton climbed on the couch to get comfortable. As Amy walked over with some drinks, she saw the movie menu pop up and exclaimed, "Rainbow Bright!? I loved that show! But it's been ages since I last saw it."
"Right!?" Janelle said as Amy sat down beside her. "It's been almost 2 decades since I last saw this show!" Turning to Cotton, she then said, "When I was younger, I had a Rainbow Bright doll and this music cassette tape with a lot of the songs from the show."
Amy nodded at Janelle's words, then turned to Vivian as the vixen sat down with two large bowls of popcorn to share. With her long ears perked forward, Amy asked, "How did Nick wind up with this old show on DVD? I thought you could only find them on VHS?"
With a warm smile, Vivian explained how Honey didn't like a lot of the new shows coming out, claimed they just taught kids to be stupid, mean, and/or to bully others, so when she found out a lot of these old shows were coming out on DVD, she bought a bunch of the kits' movies and shows to have handy whenever the neighborhood kits stopped by for a visit. Honey said they taught the young kits how to treat each other right.
Janelle and Amy had to agree, and then the movie started which put an end to the discussion. Although Rainbow Bright was a TV series, they had also made a couple of movies for the show. They were currently watching the first one, when Rainbow Bright first met Sprite. Cotton absolutely loved the show and said she wanted a copy of the show for her birthday in October. Vivian said she could look forward to it and the little bunny absolutely beamed.
Her new Gramma Viv was fast becoming Cotton's favorite grandma and she really hoped to introduce her sister Sasha to Gramma Vivian soon. Although Sasha didn't often like being around a lot of mammals, Cotton was sure Sasha would enjoy spending time with Gramma Viv. She was fun to be with and had a lot of funny stories to tell, and being around the elderly vixen just made Cotton all warm and fuzzy inside, and she knew her sister would feel the same way.
Once the movie was over, they took some blankets out on the lawn by the gazebo and watched the sunset, then waited for the stars to come out. As they started twinkling in the darkening sky, the adults pointed them out to Cotton and once the stars lit up the sky, they took turns pointing out the constellations to the little bun who loved all the attention she was getting. This was the best slumber party ever and her only regret was that Sasha wasn't here to share in the fun.
As the night deepened, Cotton eventually fell asleep with a huge smile on her face. Amy carefully picked up her little niece and carried her up to the bed they were sharing. Having gotten up early, and with the full and exciting day she'd had, Amy decided to turn in shortly after putting Cotton to bed, while Janelle and Vivian sat up talking for another half hour or so. Janelle was asking Vivian more about life as a fox and as a predator in general. She had been fed so many lies and misunderstandings that she wanted to get the facts—the actual facts—and nothing but the facts.
Vivian was all too happy to explain a predator's life to the eager bunny who wanted to better understand her, her son, and the predator neighbors she was soon to have. They then talked a little bit about the shopping trip they were taking tomorrow, and Janelle wondered if she'd be able to sleep tonight with her head full of so many exciting things that were going to be happening this week: the shopping trip tomorrow, Judy and Nick's wedding the day after that, the Press Conference on Wednesday… Finn also promised to take her, Amy, and Cotton to a couple of fun places, too. Janelle had also promised to take Cotton over to the Lodgers' house to meet little Dayvas. Oh, everything was just too exciting!
When they finally retired for the night, Vivian and Janelle both wore a wide smile on their faces. This chance to bond had been good for both of them and they were eager for the morning to come so they could commence their shopping trip. Vivian fell asleep fairly quickly as she was happy and content with her life right now, while Janelle tossed and turned for an hour or more as she couldn't get her mind to shut down. There were so many fun things going on this week that it was hard to relax, but eventually her tiredness won out and she slipped into the lands of dreams, her blissful smile still on her face.
FYI: Java mouse-deer is a real species of even toed ungulates (the smallest in the world). They're this tiny deer-looking species about the size of a rabbit with these spindly legs about the width of a pencil. They don't have antlers, but like musk deer, males have tusks growing down from their upper jaws.
WingedKat here. So you now know the backstory of the Bigs and how they met the Wildes. Next chapter will see the start of a new day.
Ch. 93 will post in 2 weeks.
If you have any thoughts or questions, let me know. Have a great weekend.