Final Chapter: Friends Reunited

Six years had passed since the conclusion of the fateful mission to retrieve the Sapphire of Souriden. Reynard James Baxter, the leader of the team that had carried out the operation, was now laying comfortably on his back, arms folded behind his head, with a doublet of soft, white pillows isolating his elbows from the headboard of the king-sized hotel room bed. A mild shimmer of morning light filtered in through the half-closed curtains, gently awakening the red fox as it illuminated his face.

Opening his right eye, Reynard glanced over at the alarm clock which stood atop the bedside table. Upon noticing that the time it displayed was only two minutes to eight, he decided to continue his rest.

Not long afterwards, however, the clock had begun to produce a beeping tone, indicating that the time had rolled over to eight o'clock. Not wishing to be disturbed, the inactive vulpine reached across to give the snooze button a push.

"Were you thinking of having a lie-in, Monsieur Lazybones?" came the voice of the vixen whose head had been resting on Reynard's chest. Placing both of her hands on the shoulders of the male fox, she pulled herself up so that the two of them were lying one on top of the other, face to face.

"Oh, God," the red fox gasped, suddenly remembering why the alarm had been set in the first place. "We're not up late, are we, Clarisse?"

"Non?" the female calmly answered, leaning forward to give her partner a small kiss on the lips. "I made sure to allow plenty of time."

Clarisse was a silver fox - her fur was coloured a dark grey, with her ears, forearms, and lower legs being black. Her tail was black as well - except for the very tip of it, which was white instead - and her eyes shone with a tastefully deep shade of brown.

"How thoughtful of you," Reynard chuckled. Cupping the vixen's face in his hands, he proceeded to return the favour with another kiss, this one being slightly longer in duration than the first.

"Would you like me to make us some coffee?" Clarisse asked, stroking the narrow cleft between the male's pectorals with the nail of her index finger.

"Oh, yes please."

Following that, the silver fox tossed away the bedsheets before clambering out of the bed to set foot on the beige carpeted floor. Being dressed in only a black bra and briefs, she stepped over to the refreshment table, picked up the kettle, then brought it into the bathroom to fill it with water. Once she had reemerged, she placed the appliance back on its stand before pressing the switch on its side to begin the process of heating its contents.

"I'm going to get dressed while that warms up," Clarisse said to Reynard. "Are you?"

"If you say so," the red vulpine responded with a yawn and a stretch. After having briefly dusted off his navy blue boxer briefs, he also climbed down from the thick mattress.

By the time that the kettle switch had clicked back to its raised position, the two foxes had both put on their choice of clothing: for Clarisse, a cyan-coloured sheath dress, and for Reynard, a maroon T-shirt coupled with corduroy trousers.

Withdrawing two mugs from the cupboard beneath the worktop, the male member of the couple set them down on a ceramic tray so that his partner could fill them with coffee granules. Next, he poured the boiling water over the brown-hued heaps, allowing the pleasant aroma of the granules to waft upwards into his nostrils.

"Ahh..." Reynard sighed contentedly. "Don't you just love that smell?"

"Oui," the vixen agreed. Lifting up her mug, she gently blew over the surface of the drink, supporting the base of the cup with the little finger of her other hand as she took a sip. "Mmm! It's very nice and warm."

Once the pair had finished their coffee, they proceeded to pack away all of their luggage before walking out from the room. After Clarisse had made sure to lock the door firmly behind them, they made their way down to the lobby to check out from the hotel, then stepped outside into the car park.

"Ready to continue on our way, my dear?" Reynard asked, unlocking the doors of a red saloon car which was stationed in the centre of the easternmost row of the lot. Going around to the left side of the vehicle, he pulled open the door, strapped himself into the driver's seat, then closed the door again; Clarisse mirrored his actions on the passenger's side.

Inserting the key into the slot at the side of the steering wheel, the male fox turned it clockwise until the engine started. After having waited for the car's systems to warm up, Reynard shifted the gear selector into reverse, before holding down the throttle pedal until the automobile had left the parking space. Finally, he pushed the lever into drive, turned left, then continued onward until the vehicle had left the premises.

Approximately thirty minutes after its departure from the hotel, the car rolled along the pavement of a quiet suburban street, until coming to a halt by the front gate of the house which stood in the very centre of the row.

"This must be the place," Reynard sighed, eyeing the screen of his vehicle's satellite navigation system; to his relief, it displayed that there were zero miles to go, with the green arrow depicting his current location comfortably overlapping the chequered flag destination marker. Nudging the gearbox handle into park, he withdrew the key, slipped it into his pocket, and undid his seatbelt. Upon exiting the car, he walked over to Clarisse's side, before chivalrously taking her hand in his.

"Merci beaucoup," the silver vixen whispered into the male's ear as he helped her out from her seat.

"Why, you're welcome," the red fox answered, proceeding to open the gate and then wave her through with his free hand. "Ladies first."

"My, my, Reynard - you're far too kind."

"Oh, nonsense," her partner chuckled. "You tell me that all the time."

"That may be true... but there's really no need to be constantly treating me like royalty. Just be yourself."

"If you say so..." At that moment, Reynard leant in closely, then finished by quietly uttering the words, "Ma cherie."

"Ooh, stop it, you!" Clarisse giggled.

Once the couple had reached the front door of the house, the male fox gave the buzzer a firm press with his finger. After a few moments of waiting, the handle dropped, with the door opening to reveal an old, female Bernese Mountain Dog standing at the other side.

"Hello," Reynard greeted her. "Is this the house of Bricquellius Wilmington?"

"It is," the Berner replied, welcoming the two foxes inside. "I am Eva, his mother. My son did tell me that he was expecting your arrival. Please do come in."

Following her, Reynard wiped his shoes on the mat before removing and slotting them into the rack provided; Clarisse did the same with her high heels.

"Bricks also invited someone who said he was a friend of yours," Eva resumed. "Why not go in and meet them in the living room?"

The pair of vulpines were then led into the lounge, whereupon they found the male Berner cradling an infant girl in his lap while conversing with a familiar white mouse on the sofa.

"Hey, Tell!" Reynard said with surprise. "Fancy seeing you here."

"You all right, mate?" the Musine waved back, wearing a grey T-shirt with blue jeans. " 'Ere - let me move up for you."

True to his word, Telly shuffled closer to Bricks's end of the settee, allowing the red and silver foxes to sit down next to him.

"Who's this you've brought with you, Ren?" the rodent asked, not having met the vixen before.

"Oh, hello. My name is Clarisse Favreau," the grey-furred female answered for her partner. "Reynard and I have been dating for a few months now. As soon as he told me he was going to a birthday party, I knew I had to go with him."

"In that case," Bricks joined in, rising from his cushion, "I'm sure you were looking forward to meeting Eira. Here you go."

Stepping across to Clarisse's side of the sofa, the Mountain Dog - whose clothing was similar to Reynard's except for his top being coloured green instead of maroon - carefully lowered the girl into her lap; Eira, an Arctic wolf cub, was dressed in a pink romper suit.

"She's adorable," the silver vixen remarked, giving the toddler a warm cuddle. "Is her mother here, by any chance?"

"My wife is making breakfast at the moment," Bricks responded. "She'll be back any minute now."

As expected, Yuki came wandering into the living room approximately two minutes later. Sporting an elegant kimono which was the colour of cherry blossoms, she was carrying in both hands a tray loaded with a serving of steamed white rice, miso soup, grilled salmon, and a type of rolled omelette known as tamagoyaki.

"Food's ready!" the white lupine called out, setting the tray down on the dining table.

"Thank you very much," Eva replied. "Shall we all sit down?"

Once all of the other portions had been served, the six adults and one child all took their places at the table: at the head of it, Eira had been fastened into her high chair, with a small bowl of cereal replacing the traditional breakfast due to her young age; to either side of the toddler were sat her two parents, with Telly and her grandmother being positioned opposite Reynard and Clarisse.

"Pawb yn barod?" ("Is everyone ready?") Bricks asked, picking up a clump of rice between his two chopsticks - a skill which he had learned from his wife. "Let's tuck in, then!"

Halfway through their meals, Eva and Reynard began to discuss the events which had occurred during the past six years:

"How did my son get to know you and Thelonious?" she asked.

"I hope you won't mind if I spare you the more grisly details," the male fox started off, "but to make a long story short, we were all part of the same squad at one point in the war - along with Yuki, of course. Not meaning to brag or anything, but you probably have the four of us to thank for freeing Souriden from Felgorodian rule."

"How incredible," the female Mountain Dog clasped her hands together. "Was your partner in the army as well?"

"Clarisse, you mean? No, she was a civilian." He then turned to her. "You were a teaching assistant at a school, weren't you?"

"That is correct," the silver vixen answered.

A short while after ten o'clock, everyone had finished their breakfast. After the numerous trays and dishes had all been returned to the kitchen, the six Canids and one rodent sat back down on the sofas: this time, Yuki had joined Bricks and Telly on the first settee, while the vulpine couple had chosen to sit with Eva and her granddaughter on a second sofa which stood at the opposite side of the room. Near them was stored the family's collection of musical instruments - Yuki's electric bass, Bricks's drum kit, and an old upright piano which had originally belonged to his father Victrevor; the keyboard had been relocated from his and Nicks's childhood home, where their mother was still living.

"She has her mother's eyes," Clarisse commented, referring to Eira's crystal-blue irises. "I wish mine could be as dazzling as hers."

"No need," Reynard spoke quietly, leaning across to gaze lovingly at the vixen's face. "I think having brown eyes suits you perfectly. Now if they had been purple instead, that would have been a totally different matter..."

"Excusez-moi?" the silver fox pouted, resting her hands on her hips. "What do you have against women with purple eyes, hm?"

"Uhh... it's a long story."

The meeting between the adults had lasted all the way through to lunchtime. In lieu of an actual meal, however, the Wilmington family had decided to bring out from the kitchen a yellow sponge cake covered in white icing, embellished on top with a single blue-and-white striped candle.

"Gather around, everyone," Eva announced as her daughter-in-law lowered the plate on to the coffee table in the centre of the lounge. After that, Bricks had used a safety lighter to set the tip of the candle aflame, before supporting his daughter with both hands so that her mouth was at the right level, as well as at a safe distance.

Once the grown-ups had all sung 'Happy Birthday', Eira was given permission to blow out the candle. After having taken a deep breath, she then puckered her lips before releasing a puff of air large enough to extinguish the flame.

"Hip hip!" Yuki began, to which the others all responded with a hearty "Hurray!" This was repeated twice more, with each round being slightly louder than the previous.

After the applause had settled down, Bricks carefully removed the candle from the layer of icing. He then used a knife with a serrated edge to cut the cake into six slices, generously removing the end corner from his own piece to give to his daughter.

By the time the dessert had been finished, along with another cycle of conversations, Reynard had taken a cursory glance up at the wall-clock, observing that the time was now a quarter to three in the afternoon.

"Oh, gosh," he whispered, turning to his partner. "We're gonna have to go soon."

"Surely not yet?" Clarisse replied while cradling Eira in her arms again. "The birthday girl is really enjoying our company."

"Remember, though - it's a six-hour drive back, and we need to be at the theatre by nine."

"Now that you mention that..." the grey vixen sighed, standing up to pass the toddler back to her mother. "I'm sorry, madame, but Reynard and I have booked tickets to go to the cinema in our home city. I hope you won't mind if we leave a bit early."

"No, not at all," Yuki answered. "You can leave at any time you wish."

"Thank you," the red fox acknowledged, giving each of the Arctic wolves a friendly hug before slowly leading Clarisse from the room.

Once the vulpine couple had returned to the hallway, they both withdrew their shoes from the rack, placing them back over their feet.

"Goodbye," Eva bid them, helping to open the front door. "Please come and visit again sometime."

"I'll make sure to," Reynard replied, planting a kiss on the female Mountain Dog's cheek. "See ya."

Upon saying that, the pair of foxes stepped out into the calm afternoon air. As they strolled back the way they had come along the stone-paved garden path, Clarisse gazed longingly at her partner's face, before uttering his name in a questioning tone of voice.

"Yes, darling?"

"I was wondering..." After a lengthy pause, she then spoke quickly, "Have you ever thought of having kits?"

"Sorry?" Reynard's eyes widened at the sound of those words. Even though he was sure he had not misheard, he had been very much taken aback by her query.

"You know - kits. Cubs. Children."

"Whoa, whoa, hold on now. We've only been together a few months. Surely it's too soon for us to be thinking about that."

"Nonsense," the vixen tutted. "I've known what they're like from being with them in school. Now that I've met Eira, having a child of my own is all that I can think about."

Once he had allowed himself a moment to ruminate on the matter, the male fox gave his response:

"All right... but not until we're married."

"Engaged, you mean?"

"Well, now you're just moving too fast."

"I would prefer to have a girl myself. How about you?"

"That would be a son for me. How does the name 'RJ Junior' sound to you?"

Clarisse could only give an affectionate giggle in return.

Before long, the pair had once again assumed their places in the front seats of the crimson-painted sedan. Returning the key to its slot, Reynard rotated it until the engine roared back into life.

"So?" he smirked, firmly gripping the shifter. "Shall we?"

"Oh, go on, then..."

The driver then pushed forward with his right hand and foot simultaneously, causing the vehicle to venture away from the pavement. As his passenger allowed her head to rest peacefully on his shoulder, the scarlet automobile rolled onward into the sunlight and over the hill, leaving the house of the Wilmington couple - as well as their young daughter - far behind in the distance.

== THE END ==