Chapter 1: Prologue
“JH: Be there in 20!”
“NW: ok. Just finished,”
“JH: You taking the train?”
“NW: yes. It’s raining.”
“JH: I can see that. See you soon!”
“JH: Did you pass btw?”
“NW: Patience, Carrots.”
“JH: Just tell me…”
“NW: Losing reception now. See you there.”
Judy groaned, realizing she should have asked the question first. Give a fox time and they’ll use it to their advantage. Give a fox like Nick time and he’ll probably mess with you. She found herself looking out the window, below which her phone had been resting. At least he wasn’t lying to her.
Given the miniscule size of what others would barely call a room, more like a hole in the wall, Judy needed only reach slightly behind her to grab her rainclothes. She could have done it on the bed as well, and she probably would have had it not been for the anxiety. Despite the seemingly nonchalant tone Nick had taken over text, this whole pass or fail matter arguably meant more for her than him. If he had failed, Judy would be alone on the job, with probably less time to so much as talk to Nick, who, while not a cop like her, assisted her to such a degree in solving the Missing Mammals case that she started calling him a junior detective. Nick would have his conartistry to fall back on, which would eventually lead to an ironic encounter where Judy would be professionally forced to arrest him. If he had passed, they’d be formally partners in crime and could more easily continue their friendship. Judy had to admit, while she knew much more than the average mammal knew about Nick, the case hadn’t run for that long. They never had time to really talk , aside from that one rare emotional time in the skytram.
Judy would have loved to reminisce on that wholesome moment, but the thought of it all going wrong kept her on edge. She was good under pressure, but not when it came to potentially losing somebody important to her.
Grabbing her umbrella from the uncomfortably narrow closet, Judy tried to think as optimistically as she could. Who in the right mind would have that winky-face attitude if they had failed the academy final, and would be rejected the opportunity to enroll in the Zootopia Police Department? Someone who didn’t care? Someone with an overly easy-going personality, perhaps.
Oh , she thought. That’s Nick. Shaking her head briefly, she stepped outside for the first time. It was as if the sun had found her eyes. A beam of light protruded onto her and illuminated her gaze into the scenic urban landscape, crowded with early risers. Not finding a cloud in sight, Judy couldn’t help but grin, her ears spiking upwards. But then she looked down, noticed her attire of a raincoat and boots, felt the umbrella in her hand, and then stared back outwards at the sunlight. Unlucky on the timing, but still lucky regardless. If she were more spiritual, she might have taken the beautiful day as a good omen, a sign that Nick had actually passed.
And now she would have to go back up and change. Her smile slowly faded into a pout and she groaned in annoyance. It was more indirect than aimed at anybody. She certainly didn’t blame Nick for unnecessarily warning her about the rain that would stop minutes later. He probably hadn’t had time to look at the weather anyway, assuming he was the slightest modium of nervous.
Nonetheless, Nick must be tired by now, having gone through the entire final evaluation early in the morning. Judy suspected that, when he’d come up from the underground train station, he’d be happy to see the sun, just as she was.
Or would he? Her ears perked up in realization and she paused. Her hand lay frozen on the doorknob mid-twist. With the other hand, she fished for her phone in her right pocket. A grin crept back up on her face as she started typing furiously.
“ JH: Hey look! The sun came out!”
Keeping her phone grasped within her hand, only now did Judy open the door and begin to walk outside. As she reached the stairs that would lead to the outside again, she typed again, having received no response.
“JH: “That got me thinking, what’s your phone carrier, anyway? Must be pretty cheap if just a little rain and clouds are killing your reception. Well maybe it’d have helped if your train went through some tunnels to block some of that deadly precipitation. Unfortunately for you, the last time I checked, the Z-Train runs exclusively outdoors! And you’re definitely riding it right now ‘cause a sly fox would never willingly add forty-five minutes to his commute by some indirect way! So you oughta fess up and give me those test results or you might just find your partner isn’t a dumb bunny, but a giant elephant who’ll undoubtedly step on you.”
Again, no response, but Judy didn’t need Nick to tell her she had caught him deep in a lie. He had been procrastinating telling her the results, but for what? Judy forgot to ask herself, and just for the moment, she didn’t mind. She was having too much fun, silently giggling to herself. As the flashing dots appeared on her screen, indicating that Nick was typing back, her lower lip raised in attempt to hold in her snickering. When his response came through however, she couldn’t help but burst into triumphant laughter.
“ NW: Clever rabbit. ”
Despite leaving late, Judy managed to arrive at the train station ten minutes early. Turns out that when nervous or excited, she tended to jog. She probably would have ran, but her leg was still in pain from when she tore it running from Bellwether. All the obstacle courses the Academy put her through during her training, and she nearly skewered herself on a life-sized mammoth tusk. Letting out a reminiscent sigh, she shook her head lightly. No matter how long the media decided to talk about the Missing Mammals Case, Judy knew the sooner she moved on from Bellweather, the better. It wasn’t like the sheep was going anywhere.
Judy fit her way through the crowds of mammals, most of which towered over her in size, and situated herself on the edge of the Z-Train’s platform. Her eyes eventually caught the sunbeam reflecting off the incoming train in the distance. As the crowds of people moved in closer, either from impatience of waiting or anticipation to meet with whomever was on the other side, Judy fixed her triumphant smile she had assumed back home. She’d never miss an opportunity to rub something in Nick’s face, especially when it was beating him at his own game of wit.
The train’s wheels screeched on the tracks as the cars slowed to a gradual stop. As the reminder to give the exiting passengers space played over the intercom, every mammal on the platform rushed the train doors. Judy could have said something about the hazard they were making, but she figured that without her police uniform nobody would take her seriously. She just had to wait a few moments until she saw a fox with a reddened coat of fur and an auburn tail. From a distance, they almost looked the same height, but she knew from too many encounters that he had about half a foot over her.
“Real smooth there on that phone, buddy.” Holding that same victorious expression, Judy eyed Nick approaching her from the train and crowds of mammals stampeding out. “Bunny got your tongue?”
Nick, with his usual, smug and sly grin, rolled his eyes and retorted with no hesitation. “Yeah, you’ll have to forgive a fox who’s been up since five and dare I say, decaffeinated, if it takes him a while for his brain to start working. Sorry to disappoint.”
Judy scanned him over quickly before firing back a snicker that widened her smile. He was wearing his usual trademark attire of a green, untucked button down shirt and loose khakis down below. And the purple striped tie, of course. Normally he would have had his hands in his pockets, but one arm was holding the bagged gym clothes he had worn for the physical part of the final. The other seemed unoccupied, yet Nick held it behind his back. Stealing a suspicious glance at Nick’s side, Judy noticed he wasn’t moving and decided to take the lead by walking first. It didn’t take long for him to slide into place beside her on the platform. The aftermath of physical activity did not leave Nick entirely energetic. As he walked, he slightly lagged behind her and Judy could hear his barely noticeable pants under his cool, nonchalant facade.
“So,” she asked, growing impatient and increasingly anxious at the same time. “Did you pass or not?”
“Hm?” Nick peeled his eyes away from the ground and raised his eyebrows at her dramatically. “Pass what?” he asked, invoking a questioning tone.
“Nick, the test ,” she moaned, crawling her hands into her head and over her ears so they drooped downwards. “For the love of all the carrots growing underground, enough with the games and just tell me!”
“You’re very impatient,” noted Nick, shaking his head before gazing up with a grin. “And that’s coming from me, the actual hustler here. I’d expect a bunny from the countryside like you to take a deep breath,” he paused to inhale at an overly slow rate, and added “and just take in the scenery” before exhaling. “I’ve found it very meditative and it keeps me from asking about things like test results! You should try it some time.”
“You know, you are so inconsiderate sometimes. It’s like you don’t care.”
Nick nodded in agreement. “Not a care in the world. Funny how that’s the secret to life but everyone misses it. Getting up early, rushing to work, asking mammals about test results ? Sheesh, do you do that to all your friends or just me?”
“I can’t stand you!” Judy blurted out. She tried to hold her frustrated tone and posture but ended up giggling silently. Sometimes Nick felt like her older brother, the kind she’d put up with simply because . She knew Nick took advantage of this and hated that she laughed, trying to hide the smile that crept out of her face. When they bickered, her laughing was often an unintentional way of egging Nick on to continue his ridiculous mockery of everything.
“Oh, come on, Carrots, you’re not actually that annoyed. If you couldn’t stand me you’d have run away a long time ago.”
“You know?” Judy replied, having managed to stop the laughter and face him again. “I just might if you don’t tell me! And don’t think I won’t actually run ‘cause my leg, either.”
Nick paused, cocked his head, returned her stare, and said, “Okay, rabbit. Now you’re just making me feel bad.” With a sigh, he reached out from his back pocket and revealed a rolled up sheet of paper. To Judy it was like the holy grail and angels may have well have been singing, even though she had yet to read the results.
Judy didn’t thank him, but her immensely heavy sigh of relief signaled to Nick just as much, if not more, gratitude. She carefully took the paper from him, having reminded herself not to tear it out of his hand no matter how frustrating the entire exchange had been. Unrolling the paper, she took a deep breath before her eyes darted for the important words. Of course, on school report cards these would be letters ranging from A to F, but notifications were harder to carve words out of as they varied in length and style. In this case, Judy found herself staring at a typed up letter. Knowing the Academy at which Nick had trained, she assumed it was automated. After all, they weren’t exactly warm and welcoming when she trained there. Fortunately, having received a letter just like this when she was applying, she knew what to look for. The famous C word, which was often the first word and usually came with an exclamation point. If that word appeared in any way, shape, or form, there was no reason to read anything else.
“Congratulations…!” Judy cried out after a sigh. It was less to Nick and more of a victory cry upon finding the word.
“Mhm, and look behind that.” In the time she took to browse the letter, Nick had inched closer to her, looking over her shoulder at the forms. Under the letter of acceptance was the certificate. Vines ornated the borders right above the Academy Master’s and Nick’s signature. Written in bold, large letters were the words:
NICHOLAS P. WILDE
Has been officially integrated into the Zootopia Police Department .
Many thanks for his participation and may he proudly provide his exemplary service .
This form was issued to the above officer on Saturday, February 19, 2019
“Not sure why they’re so bombastic,” Nick said, breaking the silence. “Or why they couldn’t just tell me in p-”
“You passed!” Judy interrupted, peeling her eyes off the certificate and peering up to him. Nick had been awfully close to her, but as a courtesy he stepped back so she could level her head.
“Mhm. I sure did.” Taking an exaggerated bow, he showed no more additional excitement through his trademark grin, but Judy could almost sense he was internally grateful. At least, hopefully. She on the other hand, was often an emotional wreck. She felt a tear creep up in her eye and promptly reached towards her face to wipe it way.
“That’s...that’s amazing! I don’t know what to say except…” she paused, thinking of something fitting. After a few seconds, she continued, “...welcome to the force, Officer Wilde.”
The name caused Nick to briefly grimace and furrow his brow. “Ugh...please never call me that again.” The hand that had been holding the papers now fell into his pocket, and he adjusted his grip on the dirty clothes at his side.
“You’ll get used to it,” Judy said, shifting her attention to the certificate and admission letter to roll them up. By now, more mammals had stepped onto the platform to await the arrival of the next Z-Train. Sounds of talking and laughing that had seemed eerily absent as Judy was anxiously prodding Nick for his results slowly returned. Briefly panning her eyes around the station as she wrapped the papers back in the ribbon, Judy felt her heart rate return to a normal pace, her breathing to a steady rate, and her mind to a relaxed state. Only now did she allow herself the freedom to consider what Nick’s next step was. For a moment, she had to search through all the remnants of worry about whether such a step even existed for him.
Carefully grasping the roll of papers in her hand, she handed it back to Nick, facing him again. “Yeah, once you get your badge at tomorrow’s ceremony, the whole cop life will start to really settle in!”
“There’s a ceremony?” Nick raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
With a smile, Judy replied, “Seven-thirty on the spot.”
“Don’t they notice that all criminals start their days after nine? Tell me, when was the last time you heard of police doing work at seven-thirty?”
“Hmm...actually, recently! I know of one case where a meter maid bunny got this really once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apprehend a savage otter. Legend has it that she traded in a whole night’s worth of sleep for a gondola lift conversation with...wait here’s the best part, a fox!” Judy finished her sentence with an eyeroll. Just the fox being facetious again.
“Well, you don’t say? Did the fox really want to stay up and talk to this meter maid or was it just that an ego-maniac buffalo made him restless?”
“Actually, no. They say the fox is the one who started the whole thing.”
“Well that would make sense.” He leaned closer so that his head was more level hers. “Now I just happen to be a fox, so I can let you in on a little secret. Foxes get really talkative when they grow restless.” Shrugging, he stood up straight again, speaking his next remark through a smug face. “I just hope he didn’t bore the cop too much about how he was going to get back at the buffalo.”
That caused Judy to let out a final groan, sent another eyeroll towards his way, and drop the matter. For some reason she was trying to get a semi-serious response from him there. Something along the lines of Maybe the fox was trying to open up to and befriend the little meter maid! But as she started to glance ahead of her once more she realized how futile it was. Part of her wondered if he could even help not showing his serious side. It seemed to only reveal when absolutely necessary. Judy recalled another incident aside from their conversation that night. She had apologized for insulting him during the press conference about predators going savage, for implying that predators were biologically predisposed to it. Even then, he had managed to make a joke with her carrot pen, but his tone had become so tender in that moment that she knew it was his rare, serious side showing.
“Either way, what I think you were trying to say was,” she found her previous smile and toned her voice slightly higher, “you never know when you’re needed as a cop, and now that you’re dedicated to the force, you should be more than happy to wake up early.”
Nick had to restrain himself from laughter. “‘Dedicated’?”
“What?” The abruptly inquisitive tone of her question caused her voice to unintentionally shift up an even higher octave. As Judy twisted her head back to look at him, she noticed some eyes darting their way, and her upright ears even overheard a conversation about them talking loudly. Not wanting to start a scene, but still intending to show concern for Nick, Judy stepped an inch towards him and lowered her voice to a near-whisper. “You’re not already having second thoughts, are you?”
“Carrots, until I’m sure I can trust whatever characters are in the ZPD, yeah dedicated’s probably the last word we should use here.”
Maintaining her quieter tone of voice, which she found not only relieving for her vocal cords but quite effective at getting her point across, Judy lightly punched him on the shoulder. “Oh shush, you. What, do you think someone’ll grill you for your...former shiftiness?”
She had caught herself just in time not to say “criminal,” a word too blunt and dangerous where others could have been eavesdropping. Regret filled up inside of her head just after she asked the question, knowing full well that much of their success as a team was rooted in Nick’s questionable background. Judy had to wonder how she would have handled it had the circumstances been different. Even if it wasn’t in her jurisdiction to arrest him for a federal offense, if she hadn’t been in desperate need of help when she discovered his tax evasions, the soon-to-be Officer Wilde may have been on the other side of the cells. The lack of an immediate response told her Nick must have been pondering something as well.
After what seemed like thirty seconds, Nick broke the silence with a scoff. His full grin rejuvenated as he shook his head. which Judy took as a return to casualness and a signal to continue walking. “Well, yeah, now that you mention it. I’m sure at least a couple of my...uh, let’s call them past affiliates... weaseled their way into becoming cops.” Judy was about to say something, a smile appearing on her face, but he stopped her with a finger in the air. “No, not Duke Weaselton. Sure, he’s a weasel himself, but if he weaseled his way into the ZPD then I might as well be a rhino.”
“Actually, I was going to say he’d be a...reasonable asset to the force.”
“Okay, no. Flash would have a better chance.”
“Yep, cause at least he doesn’t talk himself in circles and look for trouble.”
“Nick, he literally barely talks! At least, not more than half a word a second.”
“Oh no, that’s just when he’s at the DMV. Trust me. There’s a reason people call him Hundred Yard Dash.”
That caused Judy to shake her head with a snicker. “Why do I get the feeling you’re talking Flash up so that I forget about Weaselton?”
Nick only shrugged with a half smile in return, but quickly continued his point. “He also didn’t throw a toothpick in your face, so I would be A. O.K. with him joining.”
Judy shot a confused look at him, stepping to the side to give a mother giraffe with her child walking room. “That’s really not that big of a d-”
“N-n-n-no shh!” Nick rose his index finger in interjection. “Throwing toothpicks at you equals no ZPD. I’m afraid that’s the final deal.”
After an unconscious chuckle, Judy looked away and felt a warm feeling. Nick would barely ever let down his emotional barrier, but there were times when he tossed her a piece of his heart from underneath the cracks. Turning to face Nick directly, she replied thoughtfully although she didn’t expect him to egg her on.
“No Weasel on the force then, got it. Thanks for looking out for me.”
“Oh, it’s just what we do at the ZPD, isn’t that right?”
She rolled her eyes and gave a sigh that widened her smile. “I see you’re already catching on.” Like Nick wouldn’t look out for her anyway.
“What can I say, Carrots. Foxes are quick. At least when they’ve had their morning coffee.”
“Is that a request?” Judy glanced over her shoulder casually as they crossed the first street since exiting the station.
“Wait, it wasn’t okay for me to assume we weren’t automatically going to that Snarlbucks around the corner?”
“Well now that you mention it, that sounds like a plan. Roger that, Officer Wilde.”
“You’re going to milk that dry, aren’t you?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“I implore you. Try. Try to make the world a better place. Look inside yourself and recognize that change starts with you. It starts with me. It starts with all of us.”
No more words lay on her script below, but Officer Judy Hopps needed no such thing. Her early days of acting in school plays had more than prepared her for a simple speech in front of graduates who, as much as they claimed the contrary, had not the slightest idea of what their future would entail. Her speech was the first piece of advice they would hear for a while on behalf of the ZPD. After the ceremony, there would be no time for extra pointers or lessons, what with how quickly distress calls and reports come in. When she heard the jubilant cheers and thunderous claps, she imagined the future-officers appreciated her time.
Still holding her finishing expression - a widened, toothy smile - Judy peered out into the crowd. Only a year ago, she had been one of them, eager to have her badge pinned on her new uniform. At her graduation, Mayor Lionheart singled her out as the ZPD’s first rabbit officer thanks to the Mammal Inclusion Initiative. How quickly it turned from a dream come true to a fervent obligation when he assigned her to Precinct 1, the heart of Zootopia. Such an accomplishment affected Judy as it would any rabbit from the countryside who found themselves waddling in a rampant city. With her idealistic mentality having been fed by her feat, Judy had anticipated perfection in her future. As it turned out, the degree to which she was wrong reflected in her own decision to mention it in her speech. Life is simply more than a bag of fresh carrots. She learned the hard way, and tried earnestly to pass it down to the newcomers.
Judy’s eyes made their way through the crowd until they caught the mammal whom she hoped had understood her speech to the fullest. Amongst the elephants’ flailing trunks, on which her vision couldn’t help but feel tempted to shift, she maintained eye contact with him and her final point replayed in her mind a tad more desperately.
Change starts with you and me. It starts with all of us.
The fox she gazed upon, the soon-to-be Officer Nick Wilde, stood out from the crowd primarily in magnitude and color. His surrounding fellow graduates’ grey, yellow, and brown fur provided a sharp contrast to his reddened frame that was too difficult to ignore in spite of the blue matching police uniforms he wore like all the rest of them. Aside from the teeth, which Judy figured he, as many predators would, was purposefully not showing, his smile mirrored hers.
He looked as though her speech had struck a chord in him. This had been Judy’s goal all along, having even refrained from showing him her script prior to the ceremony in an effort to maintain the spontaneity upon hearing it. Even though they had been staring at each other for an eerily long period of time, Judy didn’t want to look away. The longer they stood there, no matter how highly the stage between them elevated her, the more confident she felt that their time as partners in the Zootopia Police Department would be all the more fruitful.
But Nick serious’ timer was nearing its end. His sincere smile slowly fell victim to the grin he always gave Judy when he knew he was annoying her. Judy set to roll her eyes exaggeratedly. The others’ probably wouldn’t notice amidst their celebrations. Suddenly, she felt a gaping hand place itself upon her left shoulder. Her gaze into the crowd broke, ears slightly twisting outwards, and she turned and saw a purple-skinned hippopotamus. If she had not been standing on a stool to reach the podium, he would have towered over her. On it, she managed to reach his neck’s height if she kept her ears upright.
“Ahem. That will be all, Officer Hopps.” His booming voice distorted his polite tone.
The rejoicing and residual chattering from the graduates and audience died down. Glancing into the crowd for a final time, catching the faces of those who had grown impatient, Judy turned to the hippo, replied, “Sorry! Right,” and hopped off the stool. Landing feet-first, she quickly trotted to the back of the stage, where two mammals had occupied the middle and leftmost seats available. As Judy jumped just high enough to situate herself on the white chair, the jittering feeling arrived in the aftermath of her speech. She had been well-prepared, but the natural, instinctual questions knocked on her door. Did she mess up somehow? Did the graduates understand what in the name of cheese and crackers she was talking about? She sat with it for a while, and realized that the worst case scenario was likely. They had been waiting all morning for this moment, and inspirational her speech was, but they may have been too excited to listen as thoroughly as she had wished. The burly hippo had taken her place on the podium, started calling out names, and one by one the new officers walked on stage to receive their badge. A pattern emerged. Name-call, pause, brief applause. A firm, yet innocent voice cut off Judy’s train of thought.
“Officer Hopps? If I may, that was quite the wonderful speech you gave!”
Seemed as though at least one mammal other than Nick had at least pretended to listen. Judy promptly turned to the two mammals, both female. She wasn’t sure which of them had complimented her, but replied in hopes that the same one would respond.
“Oh, thanks. But be honest, you don’t think I rambled, did you?”
“Of course not! It was certainly more inspirational than anything I could whip up at my age. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure.” The mammal closest to Judy, a snow leopard, held out her hand with a warm smile. “I’m Meliora. I’ve been asked to fill in as assistant mayor until a new one is elected.”
“Good to-wait, what?!” Ears erect, her expression turned bewildered. “You’re...Bellwether’s replacement?” The Hippo’s name-calling echoed over the speakers, filling any moment of awkward silence. Fortunately for Judy, the graduates hadn’t heard or paid no mind to her slight outburst.
After a brief, quiet laugh, Meliora replied. “Well, yes, but I’d rather not be associated with her. Surely you can understand what I mean when I say she must have had a few screws loose. Why a lamb would want to smash the minority population even more with one of her paws is beyond me.”
“Oh, of course. I’m sorry I...it was the first thing that came to mind.” With a soft, remorseful giggle, she moved her eyes to the mammal behind Meliora. “And you must be...?”
The mammal on the seat behind Meliora, a squirrel, tore her concentrated stare off her papers and spoke more softly. “Jacqueline. I’m writing an article for a newspaper.” She wore rectangular-shaped glasses and held her notebook so that its back was facing Judy and Meliora, as if she were hiding her writing. Just as Judy needed something to help her reach at the podium’s height, Jacqueline sat upon a stack of books on the white chair so that her head was level with Judy’s, not including her upright ears.
Judy preserved the smile on her face, yet it was impossible to refrain from showing a hint of curiosity through it. “I don’t suppose this graduation ceremony is more important than the others? They are annual, after all.”
Jacqueline curved her smile wider and blinked slowly. “Trust me, Officer. I had many choices for the subject of my next story, and I still chose this one.”
“Why?” Judy was surprised she had to ask for the reason. It was as if she were hiding a significant piece of information from her.
“Because you’re here, quite frankly. It just so happens that the ceremony after which you solve an extremely convoluted and socially destructive case is the same one where a fox decides to enlist for the first time. Coincidence?” She lifted her pen to make a point. “Mind you, the story isn’t about the ceremony in particular, more about the events of the Missing Mammal Case and how you out of all the cops came to solve it. Clearly, you’ve inspired quite a few of us.”
“You’re…” Judy cut herself off at first, tearing her eyes from both Meliora and Jacqueline. A flushed feeling came upon her. As harmless and beneficial as it seemed on the outside, within her efforts to solve the Case lay questions that she herself hadn’t even thought to answer. Ever since the debacle at the press conference, where she not only implied that predators were prone to “reverting back to their savage ways,” but almost permanently killed her friendship with Nick, the thought of public recognition made her uneasy. Before she returned her gaze to the squirrel, ears drooping, she urged herself not to say anything before processing it thoroughly. Jacqueline seemed already focused on Nick, and Judy wasn’t sure he or she wanted his information out in the open.
As she locked eyes with Jacqueline, Judy tried again. “You’re writing a story about me?”
“In a way, yes. The waves of stories about you are bound to be put on paper at some point. I’m just getting a head start before all the journalists still hooked on Bellwether and the art of political deception start moving to you and that of determination.”
Judy started to wonder if her ears would fall off. She never considered the inevitable prospect of getting swarmed by the public soon enough.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” Meliora tried, scratching the back of her head with a bashful smile. “If you can put up with hundreds of questions thrown at you, then you can appreciate how many thankful mammals would give their tails to talk to you. It might pay off in helping you realize that without you, the city of Zootopia would be very one-dimensional, to say the least. All that attention is on you for a reason, after all.” Her voice turning more declarative, she drove her main point home. “I’m afraid I only have six months until the last-minute campaign runs its course and a new assistant mayor takes my place. That’s why I hope to work in close conjunction with you and the ZPD as much as possible. If you ever need anything, it will be my pleasure to assist you in any way.”
If Judy hadn’t been so, as she stated in her own speech, glass-half-full, she might have deferred to worry about Jacqueline’s implication even further. But Meliora’s offer called out to her humble side. A compliment, especially one about the Case, required Judy to reply with humility. Throughout her time in the ZPD, she had always been advocating for cooperation and teamwork. There was no point in doing it alone. Such is why she made valiant efforts, some of which bordered on verge of immoral or even invasive, to keep Nick enlisted in her work.
Even when he had apparently made it clear that he never wanted to lay eyes on her again, although it took her a few months to muster up the courage, she knew there was no point in attempting to finish the Case without him. As her ears floated upwards, her response to Meliora flowed naturally and spontaneously, the words coming from within.
“You don’t need to thank me. Everything I did was through the ZPD. Even the officers who weren’t directly a part of the Case were still a part of it. They could have been off duty when the Former Assistant Mayor was arrested, and in a way, they may as well have been the one putting her in handcuffs. If that makes sense…?”
“It does.” Meliora made no efforts to hide her astonishment, her eyes open wide and eyebrows raised. “It is...rare you find somebody with that kind of modesty in Zootopia. Forgive me, but I was worried the talk of your own success would get to your head. You could say I was expecting a little more pretension.”
Judy giggled, brushing it off. “It could be because I’m not originally from here. I’m from Bunnyburrow, and as much as I needed to get away from that place, the rural politeness never leaves me to this day.”
Her voice was cut off by Jacqueline’s slightly audible scribbling. Judy gave only one eye to her activity, and had to consciously keep her ears up. If it was one thing she missed about Bunnyburrow, it was the lack of lingering press. She could have been the first ever bunny to land on the moon. No interviewer or journalist would even bother showing up to Bunnyburrow for anything. Part of her missed it, or at the very least, wouldn’t miss Zootopia as much as she believed. It’d be naive of her to claim she truly enjoyed living in her narrow home - if that couldn’t be understated any further - and she had to admit that some aspects of the city were only tolerable. But her other half reminded her of the time she tried to move back after falling out with Nick, and how unbearable it was to recede within the site of her family’s tradition: grow up to work on the carrot farm you also lived around your entire life. The consequence of handing the favor to her latter half was damning enough. As long as she remained in Zootopia, the press were in for the long haul, and it would stay that way considering her reluctance to move back home.
Her suspicious stare at the journalist briefly turned into one of reserved contempt before she dragged her eyes back to Meliora. “I just hope living in the city for so long doesn’t negatively affect my personable side. As an officer I’m always trying to look out for others instead of assert whatever power they may think I have over them.”
“Nonsense. Your home will always be a part of you. You just have to remember to think of your family often. They must think of you, I would presume, and I certainly hope you reminisce about your hometown just as much, if not more. As long as you remember your roots, they’ll stay under your feet for as long as you’re away.”
While nodding, Judy’s conscience hastily began to dig into the can of worms Meliora had just opened. Managing to surpass it with willpower, she changed the subject. “If I may, do you know who the new candidates are?”
Meliora took a breath, but was interrupted by Jacqueline’s all-too-loud pen-click. The latter ignored it, but Meliora chuckled and briefly turned to the squirrel. “It’s on the Internet, honey. No need to scribble it down.” Before she continued her point, Judy noticed Meliora’s smile aimed towards her that screamed understanding and acknowledgement of her fear. At the moment Meliora’s lips started to curve, however, Jacqueline would not have been able to see it, for she had turned her back just in time. She seemed an observant and immensely sly assistant mayor.. Judy pondered if Nick would be able to pull that smile-stunt off, but quickly traded the curiosity in for the political intel.
Meliora started. “One of them is-”
“ And now for our final graduate .” The speakers boomed louder than before, and the hippo seemed to have raised his voice. “ I’d like to invite one of our officers to the stage. It is rare that prospective officers apply with a partnership request before spending at least few weeks at the station, but when we know with whom a graduate wishes to work early on, we see the value in sharing the tradition of becoming partners together.” Placing his free hand on the mic to prevent feedback, the hippo slightly rotated his frame towards the back of the stage. He held the last badge case and held it out towards where Judy was sitting “ So if we could continue that tradition today, I’d give Officer Judy Hopps the honor of presenting her partner, Nicholas Wilde, with his badge.”
As everyone started to clap, Meliora and Jacqueline included, Judy’s jaw simply dropped. They couldn’t be doing this right now. It had to be a joke. Hoping she would wake up from a dream on the way to the podium, she managed to force a cheeky smile and hopped off the chair, taking the smallest strides towards the hippo who patiently waited for her to take the badge case. Nick had yet to appear on the stage, but Judy knew he’d be walking faster than her.
Chief Bogo had been insistent on concealing Nick’s involvement in the Case over the course of the weeks following Bellwether’s arrest. Judy was never entirely sure why. It could have been a personal retaliation for when Nick wounded his ego ever so deeply. He had not only exposed Bogo for somehow forgetting simple subtraction, but also his implicit bias against a bunny cop. As greatly as Judy appreciated Nick’s change of heart at that moment - the ignition to occasions like these - it must have made Bogo see him in an even more negative light. But Judy entertained that she should be cutting Bogo more credit. He was the Chief, after all. He must work under some level of objectivity.
If she were giving Bogo the benefit of the doubt, which she promptly realized she should have done in the first place, it helped her better understand why she was taking her dear time to simply complete the walk to the podium. When she mentioned the ZPD gaining its first fox during her speech, facing Nick, her heart rate had slightly increased past the naturally escalated rate from simply talking in front of a crowd. In an earlier draft of her script, the better part of her removed lines that subtly singled him out as a will-be exceptional asset to the force. Until now, she had brutally repressed the feelings, but now that it had been brought to public attention, it was all flowing out of her eyes. The way she managed to even “convince” Nick to help her. How she managed to make Duke Weaselton talk, and how she didn’t care that the same weapon she used against him almost froze off her tail all the same. Finally, she knew full well that if any circumstances had been different, she never would have found Cliffside Asylum and, furthermore, the predators Mayor Lionheart had jailed. For a fraction of a second, Judy seemed like the more conniving component of the soon-to-be dynamic duo. If it weren’t for this stupid ZPD partnership tradition of whose existence prior to the ceremony she hadn’t the slightest modicum of awareness, she may have just scraped by without any potentially tipped-off spectators.
But every optimist calls level-headed, objective thoughts the work of pessimism, and Judy was no exception. Just past the halfway mark, amidst the audience’s noises of approbation, her bright side observer kicked in. The skytram conversation played out in her head. Nick’s life story - the sole reason why he acted like himself - reminded her how happy he must be at this moment compared to her, even if he would never show it. This was Nick’s prime achievement of taking back what he should have been handed as a youth. And so, she could be happy for him. Aside from this, when linking it back to herself, she started to realize how she had fulfilled her life dreams and then some. Of course, she now understood making the world a better place would take quite a bit more time, but leaving Bunnyburrow and moving to Zootopia led to the inception of being a real, not to mention, successful cop. Now she was the reason Nick was one, too. It was a only a wonder why it wasn’t as enlivening as she had anticipated.
Nonetheless, as she delicately grasped onto the badge case with a graceful nod, her smile became slightly more real, as fake as it still was. Nick’s mantra - the moral of his life story - was starting to make all the more sense.
He stood off near the corner of the stage, almost meekly. It was as if he were too reserved to approach her, and it didn’t take long for Judy to acknowledge she would have to walk even further.
Looking into his ecstatic face, no matter how polished and stern he made it seem, fueled her latter side again. The more genuinely glad and overjoyed he was, the less apparent his dark, suspicious history was to Judy. After all, they were friends. She knew it well enough to know that he otherwise would not have signed up for police training as hastily. It was still a matter of wonder to what degree she influenced him, but at this point, she had thought positively enough so that her cheeky bunny side could repress every feeling that was so much as neutral. Judy stared at Nick, smile now fully intact and bright, and peered out into the crowd below the stage before glancing at the badge case and slowly opening it as an explorer might open a newly-found chest with a myriad of delicacies. Integrity, Bravery, Trust , the badge read. The words circled around its center, a simple five-edged star. In her peripheral she saw her own badge on her uniform, and paralleled it with the time Bellwether pinned it on her. At least Nick would be spared the immense irony.
Judy cautiously placed the badge on Nick’s uniform, now fully homogeneous with her’s and the graduates’, and fiddled around with it until she heard a slight click. She glanced at it one final time, as artists might take a moment to glance at their own work, and peered up at Nick before stepping back. Nick’s glance downward lingered at the badge for a brief second longer, but faced his partner with what Judy saw as a wider smile. The joyful aspect of it all overcame her that she couldn’t help straighten her posture to an exaggerated state and give a salute. There was no possible way the hippo took the time to salute every graduate, if he did at all, but the danger of it seeming as if Nick was the subject of favoritism invaded Judy’s mind too late.
Nick’s reaction said it all. His posture slouched, and while he maintained his smile, it turned slightly lazy and his eyelids and eyebrows lowered. He did eventually salute back, but Judy predicted a half hour of him ridiculing her for what turned out to be an overblown gesture. It certainly wasn’t uncharacteristic of Judy, given how spirited a bunny she was, but that wouldn’t stop Nick from bothering her about it. This could be one of the rare exceptions, where perhaps he knew it might cause more harm than good in such a public situation. For this one time, he seemed to let her win and he matched her salute.
The deed was done. The elephants sounded their trumpets again, while others rapidly clapped. The graduates tore off their hats and threw them into the air, signaling the end of the ceremony and the start of the reception. Judy broke their locked stare with each other first, glancing slightly down with a sigh, but Nick immediately caught her attention.
“Remind me to never stop reminding you just how cute that was.” Now Nick’s smile was the most lazy it had been that day. They both still held their saluting gesture towards each other, and it was doubtful anybody could hear them as the sound of residual cheers and new conversation drowned them out.
“Do you want this hand on my forehead to approach your face in a very violent fashion?” Judy kept her smile too, but flattened it. She probably would have glared intently, and maybe even growled, even if her growls never sounded entirely menacing, but Nick had thrown her a curveball insulting her amidst a public spectacle. Struggling to hold her warm, overjoyed expression, Judy judged from Nick’s that he knew what he was up to. If this was his version of getting back at her for the Z-Train business, however, she’d have to make up for the disproportionate severity in the joke.
“That’d be perfect. The ZPD would love to see a partnership they just publicly endorsed dissolve as quickly as it formed.”
“Heh. Keep calling me cute and I might not care what the ZPD thinks, slick.”
“In that case, just make sure to get my right cheek, I happen to have a very strong itch there at this point and time and I’m not going to be the first of us to break this pose while there are still eyes on the stage.”
“Well looks like-”
“Officer Hopps!” a familiar voice cut Judy’s retort off. Nick’s smile widened as his prediction was correct.
Out of habit, Judy peered up as she turned around, recognizing the greater chance of it being a taller animal calling out to her. But from her peripheral, Jacqueline trotted forwards and Judy had to tilt her neck down. “Yes? And please, call me Judy.”
“I know this might not be the best time.” the squirrel panted briefly, as if she had been trying to catch up to Judy even though she was standing completely still, locked in a ridiculous gesture she herself initiated. “May I interview you?”
I decided to throw the previous chapter out there with almost no context. I didn’t want to make the typical formal introduction where I give my life story and discuss how I came to enjoy writing. It’s really not at all interesting, either way.
I did want to thank everybody who took the time to read the first chapter, which was technically a prologue although I didn’t bother to call it one because of the site’s limitations (unless you really can make prologues on AO3, not sure). It really kept my motivation level up to whip out this next one within a week. This brings me to my first main point. In terms of update schedules, I will try my hardest to post weekly. Unfortunately, I can’t be sure this will happen every time. Of course, real life comes first, and I’m currently taking a two-semester summer physics course now so I’m busy having the dandiest of times.
I’m fully aware of the circumstances that surround the creation of this story. It’s 2018, far off from the time of this fandom’s peak, and Nick and Judy have been written together, regardless of if the ship sets sail, in almost every single way under the sun. For one, my primary goal of this story is to improve my own writing, so a lot of the focus is on sentence structure, dialogue, syntax, etc. This is not to say I don’t want to make an enjoyable, emotive story, however. I do believe I have the potential to make something refreshing in this regard, but I’m sure some of what I come up with will have been undoubtedly done before in some aspect. While I will focus on Nick and Judy's developing relationship, I don’t plan to make a traditional Wildehopps story, I will say that. I tagged this story as a Crime/Drama for a reason. As of now, I’m not even sure if I’m going to ship them, which is why I decided to use both the gen and slash tags (and furthermore I’ll accept full responsibility if I unintentionally mislead you. Apologies.).
Above all else, I’m hoping that those who decide to read this story for whatever reason enjoy the content but also see what I hope will be a progression in writing quality throughout the chapters. Thank you for your time. Huge thanks to Rho on the Zootopia Discord for helping me out with the first chapter as well!
And P.S. Please let me know your thoughts on the chapter lengths. I was groveling over if I should make this longer because I didn’t think much happened here, but it takes a while for me to read it, so I’m not entirely sure.
Also, thanks to a comment, I've realized how much of an idiot I am when it comes to sarcasm. Huge problem with me is that jokes have always flown over my head. If you're new you probably don't know what I'm talking about but take a look at the comments, too embarrassed to say -_-. Hotfixing ftw.
“So, erm, how many questions are you going to ask?” Judy asked hesitantly, walking beside the small squirrel towards their original sitting area. She glanced behind her to find Nick’s lingering stare creeping further and further away. It was almost unnoticeable, even from Judy, but his smile looked flatter than usual. He seemed a tad concerned, probably for both of them.
“Really, only a few.” Jacqueline spoke with a calmer, smoother voice. She held her notebook awkwardly, having to use both hands whereas other mammals could easily carry it under one arm. “I don’t plan to waste either of our time with this, trust me.”
That was slightly reassuring. Keeping her ears upright and moving aside the nerves, Judy used the bit of confidence to look behind her again. Nick wasn’t there anymore. At first, she felt left alone, almost betrayed, but quickly realized she couldn’t blame Nick, let alone any mammal, for trying to avoid such a situation. It was a miracle Jacqueline hadn’t asked Nick to join in as well. Perhaps the mammals weren’t as tipped off about him as Judy had thought.
Jacqueline must have noticed something in Judy’s demeanor. “I didn’t mean to scare you earlier. You can always turn us away when we come off as invasive.” She managed to tilt her head back rather than turn around, so that Judy, lagging closely behind, could see her meek smile upside-down.
“Oh, no, you didn’t scare me,” Judy answered hastily. She had to admit, as much as what Jacqueline said had put her on edge, she was only trying to help her in the future. Up to this point, she hadn’t been pushy towards Judy, either. She tried to consider the process as cooperative between both interviewer and interviewee. “It just...you know, took me aback. I hadn’t thought about it like that. But I guess we officers shouldn’t be worried about giving information to the public. They have the right to know what’s going on in their own city, after all.” Peeling her eyes off the squirrel’s ridiculous smile, however, another thought crept up on her and she was too distracted to filter it out of her voice. “Then again,” she breathed, “if you refuse to talk to a journalist, won’t they just mention that in their story and then it makes you look pretty sketchy?”
As Judy finished her question, they had both approached their chairs. Jacqueline briefly looked up towards hers, the books still stacked up. She dragged around to face Judy, a guilty face forming, sighing. “Sometimes, yes. I won’t deny that some of us are assholes, okay? I try my best not to be, so for this interview, try not to worry about me doing something shady. I’ve always considered myself above that.”
Hearing that, Judy took a breath and tried to ease up, her trust towards Jacqueline growing with each of her responses. As her heart rate slowed to a still elevated, but calmer state, her ears started to pick up the sounds of the reception. She was too far to make out any words, but heard enough chatter to rule out any eavesdropping. Assuming Nick wasn’t up to one of his tricks again, they should be in for an undisturbed conversation.
Jacqueline returned her gaze to the above chair. In the notebook she held lay a black pen, strapped onto its top. She barely came up to a quarter of the leg’s length. Judy’s cop instincts came bursting out and almost hastily offered her help, but before she could speak, Jacqueline leapt and tossed the notebook onto the chair. Carefully gripping onto the nearest chair leg, she then thrust herself upwards and swiftly climbed to the seat. As she plopped onto the book stack, the pen fell off the notebook and slid onto the floor.
“Ah, crap,” she groaned, only barely surpassing Judy’s height now. Jacqueline peered down at her. “Erm, mind getting that for me? I think it fell under the chair.”
Judy nodded, having noticed her adaptability. Other squirrels probably would have sat on the floor over the chair in the first place, but here was Jacqueline doing her best to fit in. Although her execution was a tad flawed, Judy had to admit it was a valiant effort. Quite the ambitious journalist, if she had to say the least. Handing back the pen, clicker pointing towards her, Judy tried to relate with a joke. “Here. From one small mammal to another.”
That made the squirrel’s smile widen, although Judy couldn’t tell if it was genuine. “Amen to that. Actually this job pays to be small because you’re less noticeable, which means you can get around more places, even if it requires sneaking. Of course, nobody expects small animals like me to have this kind of job. Back home it was all collecting acorns and staying inside when it was cold. I guess some kids aren’t like their parents and family at all.”
Hopping backwards onto her own chair, Judy chuckled lightly. Her smile released the facade it usually held in front of those she didn’t know well. “You and I both. We must be the rare strain.”
“You too?” Jacqueline sat up straight on the books, holding her posture upright. “Is that what you were talking about with the new Assistant Mayor?”
WIth no hesitation, Judy nodded enthusiastically. If she were going by Bogo’s wishes, the less they spoke about the Case, the better. From the conversation with Meliora, she had no problems discussing her home struggles and her overprotective parents. But before she could speak, Jacqueline held up her index finger and reached into the slot in her notebook. Judy saw the pen was in her other hand, and was left in confusion until Jacqueline pulled out a small, rectangular device. Turning it around so that a small speaker implanted in the object faced Judy, she asked “You don’t mind, do you?”
Judy had to squint her eyes to examine the device from afar, but realized what it was after seeing the red dot on the bottom. Making an oh shape with her mouth, she sat back and her eyes started to wander erratically, her heart rate rising again. They were the only mammals on the stage. From afar, some graduates spoke with each other as they scraped up any remaining food from the reception buffet. Others were having their pictures taken, some against their own will at the request of their parents. Judy tried to spot Nick, to see if she were all alone in this. She’d no luck when Jacqueline grabbed her attention again.
“It’s just so I can remember what you say. We squirrels have pretty bad memory. Even though I went against the acorn-collecting tradition, this is a more biological issue.”
As much as Jacqueline had been trying to lighten the mood with that comment, Judy felt she had no other choice. It was Jacqueline’s job, and Judy felt at no right to be an obstacle. Swallowing hard, she nodded and forced a nonchalant smile.
Okay, maybe she wouldn’t talk about her overprotective parents too much. Upon realizing Bunnyburrow got its share of articles as well and how likely it was her parents would Judy’s exact words, she considered shutting up about the whole issue.
But it was either that or the Case. Judy was no fool to suspect Jacqueline probably planned to talk about both. Bogo’d be furious if she didn’t handle the Case-talk well. Judging from Nick’s face, he was probably worried already. That’s not to say raving about Bunnyburrow instead would leave her exactly scot-free, what with her parents. She’d have to brace herself for an unpleasant phone conversation if it went even slightly wrong. All of a sudden an interview Jacqueline presented as casual and brief seemed like a lose-lose.
Internally, Judy’s mind was racing behind the smile she showed Jacqueline. “Go ahead.”
Jacqueline finally nodded and Judy heard the click. It was as if a wave of silence overcame the already isolated atmosphere. Judy could feel the tension escalate. Even the slightly audible background conversations of the reception seemed to die down to her sensitive ears. The surreality scattered her mind even more, and as Jacqueline was asking her to explain her “rare strain” comment, she was still amidst the conflict. Talk about Bunnyburrow, risk an earful from Mom and Dad. Talk about the Case, risk one from the District Chief of the ZPD. And termination. Not to mention a losing her partner and, dare she say out loud, a friend. Maybe she hadn’t given her parents enough credit for the kind of influence their words had, but Bogo would certainly be harder to calm down and Nick might be reluctant to look past another mishap in front of the public.
When she put it like that, the decision seemed almost logical.
“It’s just like you said. Rare strain as in, we’re the different ones. Not necessarily the rebellious go-against-our-parents ones, but the ones who want to try something else, you know? Go against the grain a little. I’m still like my parents in many ways, of course, but I wouldn’t have moved to Zootopia if I didn’t have that urge to, well, try.”
Her mind replayed all the ways that explanation could have gone horribly wrong. She had her bunny instincts to thank for that anti-rebellious part. Now hopefully she wouldn’t be accountable for half of the countryside’s population moving to Zootopia just because Judy managed to become a police officer.
Jacqueline’s voice turned slightly formal but she relaxed in her seat, fiddling with the clicker on her pen. “I’ve heard you mention that a lot today. It’s pretty admirable. Where’d you get all that determination from?”
Determination . Judy pondered the word. She recalled Jacqueline having related it to her during the ceremony, but never fully considered her willingness to try, despite having mentioned it in her speech. No matter. Falling into a relaxed, rehearsed state, perhaps against her better judgement to remain cautious, she responded in the same voice she used at the podium.
“I guess something like that would come from your childhood.” She paused for a moment, trying to recollect a significant event, and found it too easily. “I had a f-”
Hard to believe the same instincts managed to fail her seconds after saving her tail. Alertness kicked in, and Judy ripped her gaze off the squirrel, her eyes glued to the wooden stage. In truth, she couldn’t foresee any repercussions if she had trudged on with her sentence, especially if she hadn’t mentioned him by name. Hard to believe the fox he became.
Gideon, the bully who turned into a pie-baker for the rabbits. From whom Judy had least expected an apology. Back at Bunnyburrow, it came off as obviously rehearsed and even more telling that he had gone through quite a bit of therapy to develop such a mindset to even feel remorse. But there was no denying it came at the right time. As quickly as she accepted his, she began to consider how possible it was for Nick to accept hers.
Despite the incident she almost now blurted out, Judy had to appreciate Gideon’s transformation and acknowledge the chances, slim as they were, that her words may reach his eyes.
You just dunno when to quit, do ya?!
The one sentence she remembered was that which she repeated after wiping the blood away from Gideon’s clawmark upon her cheekbone.
He was right about one thing. I don’t know when to quit!
“It’s more that I don’t know when to quit sometimes.” Judy carefully brought her gaze back to Jacqueline, who giggled at the self-deprecating response, seemingly looking past her jarring pause. “Sometimes it probably puts me in danger, I’ll admit, but I do think it helps me get past the initial nerves.”
Jacqueline took a moment to glance across her notebook, and Judy seemed to have dodged a bullet. Nick came as an afterthought. She hadn’t even told him yet, and if this story was how he first found out about Gideon, she’d look no better than a deceiver to him. Of course, he probably wasn’t any stranger to the art of lying, but from somebody he’d trust? She exhaled loudly, shutting her eyes just as Jacqueline spoke her next question, which promptly started her up again.
“If we could talk about the Missing Mammals Case,” the squirrel paused, cocking her eyebrow until Judy reluctantly nodded, “I’ve always wanted to ask you exactly what happened after Bellwether’s arrest.”
“How do you mean?” Judy furrowed her brow, and Jacqueline rotated her pen so that its clicker were facing her.
“Everyone knows you went AWOL right after. I reckon the press would have made a bigger fuss had Bellwether’s corruption story not been available to fall back on.”
“Oh,” Judy answered slowly. Her smile fell flat. “Well, my leg got injured...pretty badly.”
“Oh, are you okay?” Jacqueline quickly threw in, both eyebrows raised.
“Well, I’m recovering. Up until now I’ve gotten more days in the office than on patrol to give it time to heal.”
“That’s good to hear,” Jacqueline replied, although Judy noticed her face remain curious for a moment until she ducked back down to look at her notebook again. Another bullet dodged. In part, she felt the urge to tell the entire story and relive the moments that led up to Nick’s decision to apply for the ZPD. As nostalgic and reminiscent it’d be, she didn’t need Bogo to tell her it was a foolish idea. Slowly but surely she started to question what she said to Jacqueline about officers’ having to give information to the public. What information could she safely give?
Jacqueline seemed focused on her notebook for a while, and Judy started to feel as if she had wronged the squirrel. As if she had deliberately given a vague, short response, not the kind Jacqueline was looking for. She had made her job harder, and now she could be scrambling to find another question in that notebook. That, or she was cleverly adjusting her questions to better lead Judy into long, juicy responses.
Writing the possibilities in her head, Judy’s ears momentarily fell limp. Sensing the shift of weight on her head, however, she immediately snapped them back up and fixed her smile again. Jacqueline snapped her neck upwards, closing her eyes as she let her head face the sky. Tilting it side to side, she opened her eyes and set them on Judy, pen pointing towards her. “What are your thoughts on Bellwether, anyway?”
Her ears remained upright, but Judy couldn’t help but cock her eyebrows upwards. The question had come so suddenly, even after Jacqueline had taken a moment to conjure it. “The Former Assistant Mayor?” She asked, almost instinctively to buy her time while Jacqueline built an incredulous face.
“Yes, of course.”
“Just...I’m really surprised, I guess. It’s uh, not really something I was expecting until it happened.
“Well, what do you think about her motives?” Jacqueline quickly followed up. The time gap between questions had been so little that it was obvious she had prepared for it.
“Well I think…” Judy paused, biting her lip as she considered an appropriate response, one that would definitively condemn Bellwether’s decision. “It was selfish and cruel. Not to mention backwards.” She stopped there initially, but Jacqueline didn’t budge her head, so she continued. “The last thing we need right now is a prey-dominated Zootopia. I don’t care what species you are. You can always make a difference.”
Jacqueline fell slightly in her seat, smiling. Judy mirrored her expression, but not before cringing at the cliche and idealistic answer. It was her old self again, as if she had just got off the Zootopia bus and had yet to meet Nick. The thought of it made her laugh and she added in, “Sorry, I got carried away there, didn’t I?”
“Hey, as long as you say something coherent, you’re fine.” Jacqueline shrugged, shifting her stare back into her notebook, twirling her pen with her small fingers. To pass the time, Judy pondered the veracity of that statement. If it were true, she wouldn’t have followed up on Bellwether, and certainly wouldn’t have seemed so flustered at Judy’s broken leg answer. Just as Judy connected the dots, Jacqueline struck again, quicker than she had before.
“Do you think Lionheart was in on it? At all?”
“O-on what?” Judy felt backed into a corner. As if how abrupt the question came wasn’t enough, her inability to wrap her mind around its context phased her even more.
“Bellwether’s plot,” Jacqueline shot back, not allowing Judy much time to recuperate. She asked it with unmatched urgency, and leaned forward in her seat with interest.
But Judy was five steps behind. Any observer probably would have been able to nail it, but Judy found herself incapable of pinpointing the flaw on such a question. Blurting out an “uh…,” Judy forced herself to process it, as much as she could. Lionheart’s arrest, his public explanation after Bellwether’s arrest, the legitimacy of it all. Had he fooled Zootopia? Maybe complicity wasn’t so far fetched as it seemed.
That’s as far as Judy got before Jacqueline started laughing, shaking her head and adjusting her grip on the pen. “Forget I asked. Curiosity gets the best of us reporters at the worst times. I call it the potential-conspiracy effect.” Sighing, a frown forming on her face, she continued in a desperate tone. “I find it strikes whenever I’m grasping for something else to ask. I’ve been waiting for this moment for so long but...I just can’t figure it out.”
Before Judy could console, the squirrel spoke up again. “Just...gimme a second, won’t be too long. I promise.” Retreating back behind her notebook, she seemed to tune out.
Judy was simply relieved to have a few moments to breathe. The past few questions had put her into a daze. Having been on edge, Judy exhaled quietly and sat back in her chair, taking her eyes off Jacqueline and trying to forget the interview still wasn’t over. She felt partially guilty for Jacqueline's predicament, having filtered much information out of her responses for the sake of others and at times, herself. To the best of her recollection, the past ten minutes had been full of most thinking through answers, and less saying them. She struggled to face that truth. Jacqueline was only flustered because Judy felt forced to play the game. Hide as much information as possible, and in effect frustrate the journalist simply trying to get a story out there. The longer Jacqueline took to find her next line of questioning, the harder Judy had to hold herself from blurting out something that would help the squirrel but hurt her.
But who cares about that? She was a cop after all. Shouldn’t she put others before herself?
Judy shifted in her seat, grasping for something else to think about. She gazed ahead of the stage, growing impatient. By now, most graduates had left with whichever audience members came to support them. Thrown graduate hats were no longer sprawled over the ground, now in the hands of their owners. The same hippo that had called the graduates’ names stood near the end of the buffet, talking to some animals who were stacking up the chairs and folding the tables. Jacqueline must have underestimated how long the interview would take. By now, Judy had to admit, as jumpy as she usually was, she was exhausted. She and all rabbits could move for almost twenty-four hours straight, maybe even run had her leg not been injured. But she had never considered how long she could talk for and never did so until now.
She started to yawn and her eyes started to pan around, but stopped short, her view freezing. Far ahead, against a fence, Nick leaned back, fiddling with his claws.
“Okay, I got it.”
Judy swept her head around, unsure if Nick had noticed her. She inhaled sharply, worried if it had just gave Jacqueline an idea, one Judy was far from willing to entertain despite her pity for her.
Jacqueline began slowly, taking on a more relaxed tone. “Maybe I should have asked about this first, because it’s probably what any reasonable mammal would wonder over everything else I asked, but blame my faulty squirrel memory, I guess.” Chuckling, she leaned back in her chair. “So that fox you gave the badge to. He’s your partner?”
Judy swallowed hard, nodding stiffly. Straight out of luck.
“Well, first of all, congrats on that. Second, how do you even...well, know him? Look, don’t get me wrong, I don’t care which predator befriends which prey, but it just feels like there are a ton of other options more...fitting for you.”
For the first time, Judy was practically begging for a reporter to press her on social issues. As controversial an answer to such a question would have sounded, she would have been able to let it all slide off her tongue. After the press conference, all Judy needed to flesh out her thoughts was the period of intense self-reflection upon traveling back home. Ever since driving back on Zootopian land with her parents’ truck, she felt more than capable of dishing out a rehearsed statement that would highlight her progressive stance on predator-prey relationships. If only Jacqueline hadn’t included that befriending part, she might have been able to get away with it.
Alas, she was forced into a corner again. Jacqueline seemed to be handing her all the time she needed, so she gladly took it and looked away, deep in thought. No need to ponder over how surprising or hard the question would be to answer. The sooner she answered, the better it’d be for her own sanity.
“‘He’s my friend and I think he’d be a huge help with my police work’?”
“Yes,” confirmed Judy, her pace awfully slow. “What do you think?”
Nick chewed on it for a moment, scratching his chin and furrowing his brow. “First thing’s first, I think you need to start using a stronger word than ‘friend’.”
“Yeah, not in your wildest dreams.” At this point, Nick had taken it upon himself to trademark those kinds of jokes in front of her. He had tossed them at her so many ways that she knew he never meant anything of it. “Seriously, what do you think?”
Nick surprisingly gave in, much to Judy’s grace considering she had almost no patience for it. “Well, I don’t think you jeopardized anything, but something tells me Chief Buffalo Bill’s not going to like it.”
“Ugh.” Judy nearly slapped her face with her hand. “I knew I’d messed up somehow.”
“To your credit,” Nick said reassuringly, “I was afraid you’d manage to mention me, Finnick, and Mr. Big by name in the same sentence. So when you put it like that, you hit the bullseye.”
“Why won’t Bogo like it?” Judy asked, staring blankly ahead of her, only paying attention to necessary objects like traffic. Nick’s cynical stance on things wasn’t making her mentally drained state any better. Conversations surrounded them on the sidewalk as they walked back to the Z-Train, but Judy relied on Nick to tell her if she was about to collide with someone.
“You very not-so-craftily implied I was involved with the ZPD long before today,” Nick pointed out.
Judy stared at the ground for a moment before glancing up at him, quizzically. “How can that be? That’s not what I said at all.”
“It’s what you didn’t say.” Nick lifted his new police cap, holding it upside-down in his palms. His ears stood upright, slightly bouncing on his head as he walked. “‘Thinking somebody would be a huge help with police work’ begs for a reason. Since you didn’t give one, that squirrel’s obliged to go to town theorizing.”
“Well I-,” Judy began in response. Pausing, she began to realize her mistake and slowly her eyes fell to the floor again. Her ears drooped down as she sighed deeply. Now she could be exhausted, remorseful, and worried about the inevitable meeting Bogo would call tomorrow. For a perfectionist like Judy, it felt toxic. All the memories of her accomplishments that day - giving the speech, receiving a partner, and sharing the responsibility of obtaining one - wilted away for the time being. She was about to say something self-loathing, but Nick beat her in a tone only she could identify as still witty, but nonetheless genuinely supportive.
“How’s about you forget about that and tell me all about that little gossip fest you had backstage after your speech, which I will say, hand on heart, no jokes for once, was inspirational?”
“Oh how dare you, Nick. Don’t start getting weird and jokeless on me, please ,” she shot back, ignoring the question. If anything it had carried her mind away from the matter.
“I terribly apologize ma’am, but allow me to point out you were not laughing two seconds ago.” His tone was now its typical level of witty, but he had done the job. Judy had to pause to realize she had a cheerful smile on her face, and her negative feelings felt more suppressed. If it was one thing, Nick knew how to cheer people up, but it was a behavior Judy barely saw from him. She doubted anybody else had seen anything of it, and considered herself privileged. With a more benign exhale this time, she went on to answer.
“That was that same squirrel and the new Assistant Mayor.”
“New Assistant Mayor.” Nick echoed, his ears splaying back. “I’ll admit I was not expecting that. Why would she even be there?”
Judy shrugged in response, ears held up high now as they crossed the street, one block closer to their homes. “But, I learned there are two new candidates running for Mayor, now that Lionheart and Bellwether are both in jail.”
“Don’t know.” Nick looked ready to give her a “what is wrong with you?” stare, but she added just in time, “That was when we got pulled into that badge-pinning-turned salute battle, mind you. The good news is apparently we can look them up online.”
“Ah,” Nick began, relaxing his posture and placing his cap back on his head. “I don’t suppose there’s a particular reason to root for anyone.”
“Not from me, unless one of them has an army of rams working on a new serum or something.” She chuckled for punctuation.
“Keep joking about it, and it might come true, fluff.”
“Oh, shush.” When Nick gave her his trademark smile in response, she changed the subject. “Anyway, I guess that means we’re officially partners now.”
Nick raised his eyebrows, dramatically. “And finally, the rabbit turns around! That’s the first time she’s used a word stronger than ‘friend,’ folks, and boy am I deeply touched.”
“Oh, you know what?” Judy retorted, sticking her hands into her uniform pocket. “You’re right. I’m so head-over-heels for you that instead of asking you to a romantic dinner, I’m telling you we’re going here instead.”
“Like I said, Carrots, keep joking and it might come t-.” He stopped short when Judy pulled out two tickets. He quickly snatched them from her, and after seeing their details, his eyes flung open. “Wait, did you seriously?”
“If by that you mean force you to go to a celebratory Gazelle concert tonight, yes I absolutely seriously did.”
Nick darted his eyes to the tickets again, as if to confirm her words, then stared blankly back at Judy and replied with a monotone voice. “But you know I think that music’s terrible.”
“Don’t care. I didn’t get the tickets to turn you on to Gazelle. I thought her kind of music would be relevant to our commencement as partners.”
“I’m getting the feeling you are way more into this than I am,” Nick commented silently, all to no avail considering Judy heard it perfectly. “Look Carrots, if you really want to celebrate, I know a really casual steakhouse that’ll do the job just-”
“Nope! That’s lame.”
“Excuse you. When’d you become the expert on lame, Ms. Carrot-Choked Podunk?”
“I’ll have you know a podunk isn’t nearly as lame as a steakhouse when you’re looking to celebrate,” Judy shot back with conviction. Then, she softened her tone. “Trust me, Nick. You’ll have fun. When everyone around you is having a good time, you’ll do anything to have some of that fun, even if we are talking about you here.”
“I feel as if I have no way out of this.” Nick said, sighing. Taking a ticket and returning the other one back to Judy, he shook his head. “This better be the best concert of my life.”
“Only if you make it the best one of your life,” Judy remarked, gladly taking back the ticket and stashing it back in her pocket. “By the way, no it was not a ‘gossip fest’, as you call it.”
“My bad, Carrots, I must’ve jumped to the conclusion gossip was the only thing worth talking about during the ceremony.”
Precinct 1 looked out into the pond and its small yard centered at the Downtown Plaza. The rectangular clay pillars stood tall, firmly supporting the patio rim atop the station. Glass gave curious onlookers a peek of the life of a ZPD Officer there. A bloated, flamboyant cheetah was slouching on a chair in front of the reception desk, mouth half-full of whatever food was near him. A pair of escalators led upstairs, but by then the outsider’s imagination would have to take over. The glass panes stopped at that height, and it didn’t take a genius to realize that was deliberate.
Judy gazed out the windshield from inside the police car, partially squinting her eyes to shade them from the sun. She sat staring at a billboard displaying Gazelle using some sort of toothbrush with exaggerated motions. The commercial’s sound blared over the Plaza, permeating through the car’s windows and into Judy’s ears, muffled and low. It was almost as loud as the incessant fighting between her neighbors Bucky and Pronk, the sound of which easily found its way through her cubicle walls.
But then she panned her head left, and her ears fell in admiration. The water fountain splashed onto the pond, droplets glistening onto the grass. Children were roughhousing each other while adults enjoyed a relaxing walk. At times, Zootopia could be the typical rowdy place everyone knew it was, but sometimes, it was peaceful enough to remind Judy of the silent farms in Bunnyburrow, where nothing was audible but the air blowing through the vegetation. That could still have been her home if she hadn’t left. She sighed, gripping the steering wheel in front of her. Sometimes it’s hard to realize what your life could have been until you get a small taste of it.
The glass doors flew open. Dozens of officers spread like wildfire from the Precinct. It had always peeved Judy that they were not as quick to enter their vehicles, or better yet, why they never looked ready for action. But only the old her would consider raising a complaint about others not meeting her standards. She had already been through enough disappointments to acknowledge that. Glancing at her dashboard, she saw it was only 6:45 A.M. Certainly not the time when many mammals would want to be up, even as an early riser like her. Besides, in this instance, there was a good chance that she was more tired than some of them. With how late the concert had gone on, and how long Judy and Nick talked for afterwards, she wouldn’t doubt that they slept the least out of the entire ZPD. A yawn crept out of her mouth, prompting her to shake her head frantically and sit up straight. Definitely not on Nick’s first day of the job.
Nick hadn’t exited the station with the initial swarm. Unless he got lost, which Judy had to admit was a possibility for any first timer, something was probably holding him up. Bogo had called him in after dismissing the meeting promptly, which could mean two things. One: he was berating Nick for that awful joke he had made earlier. Only now did she wonder why she and the others in the room had laughed. If it really were for the joke, chances are Nick could have a termination notice before making his first traffic stop. Or two: they could be briefing him on procedural matters like they had with her and any other recruit. As tempting as it would be to believe the latter, anything could happen with that fox.
And he was to be her partner. She huffed, lowering her head onto the steering wheel and failing to resist a smile. As if it wasn’t hard enough to become a real cop already, now she had to help the hustler fox who, less than a year ago, had thought himself as the shiftiest, most untrustworthy mammal in the City. Or at least, had he lived by his mantra, pretended like he was one.
If Judy was in any luck, her optimism, no matter how over-the-top it was, had rubbed off on him more than she hoped for.
“So,” came a voice from the other side. Startled, she sprung up to see Nick staring through the open window. He always managedto sneak up on her despite her acute hearing. “I...may or may not have already made a few...rivals.”
“What?!” Judy nearly shouted, banging her fists on the wheel. Despite her size, she managed to rock the dashboard. “Are you serious?”
“Whoa, simmer down there, rabbit,” Nick replied calmly. He opened the door promptly, plopped into the passenger seat next to Judy, and rest his arm on the side of the back cushion. “I said rivals , not enemies. And unless you think making weird facial gestures from across the room should indicate anything further than a rivalry at best, then I think you’re in the clear to calm down.”
Judy growled quietly, in the way Nick would sometimes call cute if he were trying to get under her skin. “Tell me who did it. Officer Grizzoli, Fangmeyer, Delgato, Higgins, who?”
“Uhm,” Nick paused, although a smile told Judy he was pretending to remember names. “The wolf.”
“Nick, there are so many wolves in the ZPD.” She was about to say more, but stopped herself and tore away from him. Letting out a breath, Judy realized her mistake, having already set Nick to her standards. “Sorry. It wouldn’t make sense for you to know them all by name yet.”
After a brief chuckle, breaking the silence, Nick said, “Afraid not. Unless your surname happens to be a terrible pun on your species’ daily activity.”
“On second thought, foxes can be pretty wild,” Judy shot back with a smirk as she buckled in. The booster seat raised her so that she was Nick’s height.
“Mhm, but bunnies will always hop.” He yawned loudly, causing Judy to snatch her ears and pull them down.
“Argh,” she moaned. “I told you to stop doing that.”
“Indeed you did. But I’m a practical kind of mammal. Will I stop? No, probably not.”
“Maybe if you cared a little bit more,” Judy suggested, putting her index finger and thumb together for emphasis.
“I told you,” Nick said, then continued his sentence in an equally loud yawn. “Some mammals need to stop caring so much in this world.”
Judy glared back at him through mirror above the dashboard. He gave her his lazy, triumphant smile in return. Judy nearly returned her attention to the wheel, but something caught her eye. Her stare lingered as she lay in initial disbelief, and her head snapped to look at him directly. Nick froze, his tongue protruding between his lips. He held a stick, made of not redwood, but red wood.
“Seriously?” Judy exclaimed, ears erect. “A pawpsicle?”
“What?” Nick asked calmly, his smile remaining. “If you’re worried about what I’m thinking, there’s no need to. Still got my permit and receipt of declared commerce, and I still haven’t falsely advertised anything.” When Judy groaned and looked away from him, he continued in a reminiscent tone. “Still can’t touch me, Carrots. Been doing it s-”
“Since you were born, I know!” Judy cut off, tone harsher. “But Nick, you’re…” She paused and looked at him again. The memories of their beginnings flowed back to when she wouldn’t have been able to fathom their current status as partners. They had been polar opposites: law enforcer and breaker. Naive idealist and dream-crushing cynicist. They were the kind of lives that mixing together would strain common sense. A dynamic duo certainly seemed unlikely, but it didn’t stop Judy from blackmailing him in the first place. Nor did it prevent her from enlisting his continual assistance on the Case. What’s more, as much as she did wave it off as a regular ZPD obligation, she didn’t think twice about saving his life in Tujunga.
She had always held on to him, save for the fact that he was and always had been a criminal. It never stopped her from believing in him. Her glare fell to a concerned frown. Before she could finish her sentence, he spoke up in a warmer tone.
“Hey, it’s a popsicle.”
“It’s not just any popsicle…”
“Yes it is. To everyone but you and Finnick.” He took a lick, smug smile still fully visible. “So unless you’re going to turn me in, I’d say the coast is clear. But don’t worry, I’ll be on guard for anyone out there who looks like they have ESP.”
“What about the dozens of rats and gods know who else you sold them to?” Judy’s face grew cold, and Nick’s smile only seemed to grow wider.
“Ooohh, good call, actually. I’ve heard around the block they have really good sight. You think whatever rodent decides to leave Little Rodentia and risks getting stepped on would be able to see up through our window? In that case,” he ripped the popsicle away from his mouth, ears splaying back and eyes opening wide in dramatic fashion, “you’re right. We should definitely hide this thing.”
Judy looked away again in response. She was expecting a wave of somber emotion to overcome her, but instead found herself restraining a laugh. Only after she said it did she realize the “dozens of rats” comment was just her attempt to keep the argument alive for pride’s sake. Perhaps, she thought, the argument served no purpose anyway. Just another hint of Old Judy in her conscience. And yet, she wasn’t surprised.
Judy reckoned any mammal chosen at random need only observe the pair for a single hour to see that Nick was trying to reel her in. From his recurring joke about being ultimately carefree of the world, to the constancy of his jokes and exaggerated laziness in general, Nick probably pled through his teeth of every smile for Judy to listen and understand. All Judy had been able to give herself was the typical pacifist mentality: It’s harder than it looks. Sometimes even It’ll take time crept in her excuse bank. Alas, it was all she had to say about it.
She couldn’t understand why, but she felt at odds. Something eluded an atmosphere that hadn’t been while they worked on the Missing Mammals Case. She tapped her forehead lightly, which the sound of which her ears easily heard amidst the growing silence around them. The other cars had driven off. Bogo had assigned Nick and Judy to shut down a street racer, yet here they were, delayed by a matter Judy began to see as futile. Unable to identify why sitting in a police car with Nick felt more intense than any of the countless moments they shared together, Judy’s eyes magnetized to the Gazelle toothbrush commercial. Her most popular song popped into Judy’s head. It didn’t help that she had gone to the concert. Nick stayed silent, only his obnoxiously loud slurps audible. If he were any pinch more predictable, Judy would guess he was feeling something similar.
After all Nick had done for her, the least she could do was try .
Her head rose from its downward position, eyes glancing off to the passenger seat. Nick raised his eyebrows, but continued to slurp away at his popsicle and remained silent, as if waiting for her.
“On second thought,” she began, tilting her head and ears towards him, “maybe you could bring me one tomorrow.”
“Uh,” Nick said emphatically. As much as he was trying to hide his surprise, Judy knew it took him aback. He quickly snapped out of his initial confused posture, pointed an index finger up and waved it around in circular motion. “I’m afraid it’ll cost you, big shot.”
“You’d charge your own partner, Officer Wilde?” Judy returned her gaze back to the steering wheel. Bogo would cause mayhem if he saw their vehicle stalled at the Precinct. She sat up straight in her seat and closed the windows. She had to lean slightly downwards to grab the gear stick. “You buckled in?”
Nick hummed in response, briefly nodding before glancing out the window. He spoke as Judy backed the car away from the curb. “And yes, I would charge you. If it’s one thing I know in this world, it’s that money does not grow on trees.”
“Nick, you do know you have a salary now, right?” Judy focused her vision on the streets, an action she found necessary in such a crowded city. In her peripheral, in front of the stores and pedestrians that whizzed by, Nick sat, frozen. He held the popsicle in place, locking his gaze out the window and not saying a word. Judy nearly had the inclination to glance his way, but the traffic light in front of her just turned red. Only when she tapped her foot on the brakes did she hear him.
“Yeah,” he said calmly. She finally saw movement out of the corner of her eye, and the sound of his voice became more apparent to her ears. “Yeah, of course, what’s that have to do with it?”
Judy briefly tore her eyes away from through the windshield, just long enough to check if he was still smiling. He was, but it wasn’t wide enough to prompt her to ignore that long pause. She clicked her head back to the street. The light turned green, and she slowly applied her foot to the gas pedal. She responded as she turned onto Flock Street, twisting the steering wheel before letting it relax back to its centered state. “Just, you know, you don’t have to be so conservative with it.”
“Carrots, the day I start getting liberal about my finances is the day I break the ZPD oath so ruthlessly that you have no choice but to restrain me with your little can of fox spray.”
Judy rolled her eyes and shook her head, again maintaining her vision towards the road. Bogo’s assignment ran through her head. After that parking duty joke he pulled, he mentioned something about a “street racer tearing up Savannah Central.” Nick certainly had the more interesting first assignment, one she would have begged to take had it been her first day. She couldn’t help but chuckle at Bogo’s diction. He probably knew fully well he could have simply described a typical speeder, yet he chose to use exaggerated language. To Judy, the aberration came as a relief, as if he were letting up a little. Maybe her success had gotten to him. Even better, maybe seeing Nick defend her back in Tujunga gave him a kick in the rear.
Regardless, continuing the banter with Nick sounded fun but foolish. Nick, however, seemed to have other ideas. “So, are all rabbits bad drivers, or is it just you?”
It took her no more than two seconds to give in. Nick crafted his phrases so shrewdly, in a way that made everything he said so enticing that she just had to bite back. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Nick cleared his throat, taking another lick from his popsicle. “Say I went to Bunnyburrow. If I chose a rabbit at random to drive me somewhere, erm, if we assume they aren’t oh so terrified of us foxes, what are the chances of getting into a really preventable accident?”
Even though she could only look at him through the corner of her eye, she channeled all her annoyance into a peripheral glare. When she saw Nick turn to her with his typical grin, she peeled all vision away from him, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel. Red light approaching. Her bunny instincts finally came in. To her surprise, she conjured up a revenge plot before reaching the next stop light.
“High,” she muttered. Her foot slammed on the brake pedal and she grappled the steering wheel with both hands. Nick gasped as the car flung him forwards. His head just barely missed the glove compartment, and he disappeared from Judy’s side-vision. She smiled triumphantly as she marveled at her work, the short stop having placed them perfectly behind the stop line. She then turned her head to look at Nick. As he finally gathered himself to sit back up on the chair, she added with a dignified tone, “Very high.”
The popsicle was stuck in his left cornea. Nick firmly yanked it out, a laugh creeping up on him. “See, Carrots? That’s why I can’t trust you. You bunnies act so vulnerable until the very moment you strike. Even if its at your natural predator .” He dramatically slapped his hand on his chest for emphasis.
She knew the best way to top it off: with a phrase he had used against her, only in hostile terms. “Sly bunny, dumb fox.”
“Oh, don’t be that way now. You know you love me.” He uttered the last part while ducking his snout towards Judy,
“Do I know that?” Judy asked, turning her victorious smile towards him. “Yes. Yes I d-”
She was cut off by the abrupt roar of a passing vehicle. Judy spiked her collective gaze out through the windshield, only to find a trail of exhaust dissipating throughout the intersection. Maybe Bogo wasn’t trying to use dramatic diction after all. Her ears sprung upright and her nose started twitching. As much as her workaholic instincts had pushed her to stop mouthing off with Nick and focus on their assigned task, she quickly realized how little she felt prepared. She had done a few traffic stops before, even though her injury recently kept her in the office while on duty. And yet, the assignment started racking her nerves as much as her first one had. When she quickly snapped to Nick, she understood why. Feeling nervous wasn’t an anomaly to her, yet his presence made the concept seem all too foreign, as if the nerves weren’t only self-directed.
“Well, I hate to interrupt our fascinating conversation, partner, but you should probably floor it right about now.” Nick’s tone hadn’t changed and his smile stayed intact. He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out his pair of sunglasses, the ones he had worn at the ceremony.
She froze, eyes locked on him. As carefree as Nick was, she was not expecting that suave confidence. Today marked Judy’s ninth month on the force, yet here Nick was, acting like a veteran in his first ten minutes on patrol.
Judy sat there in shock until he reached over to the middle of the dashboard. Before she knew it, the siren started wailing. Over the months she realized the siren always seemed to activate her instincts. She never failed to respond to it robotically. Her right foot rammed the gas pedal into the floor, and her hands yanked the steering wheel to the left. The inertia nearly flung Nick’s to the side of the car until he grasped onto the grip near the sunroof and held his glasses to his nose root.
The streetracer was fast, enough so that Judy saw how appropriate a name it was from Bogo. Maintaining her tight grip on the steering wheel, she peered her head closer to the windshield until the car’s shape, that of a typical SUV, became visible amidst the dust. She followed it, wrapping around the outskirts of the Plaza. Around the corner, the car seemed to have vanished out of sight Judy saw it had suddenly pulled over. She slammed on the brakes promptly, but had been accelerating the car so much that they ended up overtaking it.
With no dust to shroud the car, the sun beamed off its hood, illuminating the red and white stripes. Judy had to peer behind her as she unbuckled her seatbelt, but could see the license plate. FST.NML.
“Fast…,” Nick began, peeling off his glasses and squinting his eyes. He tilted his frame so far forward from his seat that his head nearly brushed the tips of Judy’s ears. She heard him scoff from above him and his tone sounded more pointed. “That...is so bad.”
Judy peaked above her shoulder and looked up at Nick’s chin. “Well, he does seem like a fast animal ,” she said. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll do the talking.”
“As you wish. By the way, please never do that again.”
“Hmm? Do what?” Judy peered behind her again as she swung her legs out the car. She pushed herself off the booster and reached into the lower compartment on the door to grab her book of blank tickets and carrot pen. With how short she was, didn’t need to bend down as other mammals would.
“I mean, warn me the next time you decide to bolt the car like that.”
“You’re the one that t-!” Her bothered response was almost automatic. But upon seeing that same smile form, she stopped herself this time. “Let’s just go.”
“As you wish, Officer Hopps.”
As anticlimactic as the scene was, it did attract some onlookers’ attention. As Judy exited the car however, they quickly went on about their business, realizing it was probably just an ordinary traffic stop. While she focused more on the streetracer, she lent them a few curious glances. Nobody seemed to pay the pair any more mind than they would to a typical cop duo. Shrugging slightly, Judy fell into her rehearsed mode, gathering the lines she practiced asserting for weeks on end until it became innate. It was all procedural from here.
“Sir, you were going one hundred fifteen miles per hour. I hope you have a good explanation.” Maybe her actions were more innate than she thought, because she did not remember consciously looking at the radar gun mounted in the car. Judy marched up to the still shut window, Nick following closely behind. It only creeped open when she stopped. Her eyes followed its movement and edged upwards as the driver came into view.
“Flash Flash, Hundred Yard Dash!” It came from Nick, who stepped forward until he stood beside Judy. She was too dumbfounded to speak and only stood there with a stunned expression. Nick whispered to her, “I told you there’s a reason they call him that.”
The sloth slouched further in his seat. When his eyes locked with Nick’s, a smile slowly crept up on his face as he exclaimed Nick’s name, each phoneme stretched out exaggeratedly.
“Oh, the irony,” Judy muttered, slapping her forehead. For a moment she could do naught but let Nick do the talking. As if he were back in his green shirt and purple tie, he caught up with flash in familiar fashion, placing long pauses between his sentences as if it were habitual. Her mind refrained from asking itself how it was possible, but the joke effect of his handle really started to kick in. She wouldn’t be surprised if it was something Nick’d come up with. Probably. “Hundred-Yard-Dash” certainly sounded like a Nick thing. Either way, Flash never seemed to mind the nickname. If anything, his actions showed it fit to an extent.
Even passersby were shooting confused looks, first at the sloth, then each other, and finally the license plate as they reached the other end of the car. Judy acknowledged them, sighed in her hand again, and interrupted whatever Nick was saying. She’d doubted it was anything procedural anyway. If she had been any less perplexed at the situation, she’d stop him.
“Flash,” she said, trying to hold a smile and keep a firm voice, “do you happen to know how fast you were going?” As much as she were wishing for a simple “no,” she knew of his tendency to speak in long sentences, so she waited as patiently as she could.
Judy nodded harder with every word. Nick seemed to quiet down, merely observing the exchange. Her next question to Flash was a return to the procedural. Her tone sounded so rehearsed that despite having been familiar with Flash, she sounded as if she were talking to a suspected criminal, let alone a stranger. “Do you have any identification on you?”
She struggled to keep her smile as Flash’s slowly dissipated. Right as she saw him glance down, supposedly at his pocket, Nick interjected.
“Uh, Ca-Officer Hoops?” He uttered out her police name jarringly. Judy clicked her eyes up at him, and rose her eyebrows in disbelief. It impressed her that Nick was able to adjust so quickly after weeks of calling her that name. His calling her that, however, took her aback just as much. Even though Nick was only following the ZPD’s rules of formality, she realized she would have to acclimate to it on the job. Nick closed his mouth for a moment, forming a pointed stare at Judy. “I think we can let our buddy off the hook this time, right?”
“W-what?” The words came out before she consciously processed Nick’s suggestion.
“After all he’s done for us, surely a warning would suffice, no?”
Judy stole a look at Flash, then went back to Nick, eyes wider. “He was going one fifteen, Officer Wilde.” Like before, her insertion of his name sounded immensely forced. Even Judy herself heard her awkward tone. “He could have k-”
She was abruptly cut off by a crackling noise emitting from both her and Nick’s uniform belts. Nick’s ears rose slightly, and his eyes widened to a confused stare. Judy was startled at first, but simply went on talking. Probably just another procedural check up on a group on patrol that morning. “Could have killed somebody.”
Having gotten Judy’s memo, Nick paid no mind to the static at his side and rolled his eyes. “Oh, come now.” He leaned closer, lowering his voice to a whisper. “We owe him one, remember?”
“Nick-,” Judy was about to say, but suddenly stopped upon hearing her surname shouted from the other end of the communicator. Ears springing up, she wasted no time reacting and yanked the walkie-talkie from her side. Her tone naturally changed confrontational with Nick, but by the time she pressed the TALK button, it was a procedural, rehearsed kind of firm. “This is Officer Hopps and Wilde. We do read.”
“Wait...what?” Nick abruptly yanked the popsicle out of his mouth. He had buckled in before Judy, so he sat up straight as he watched her hop back into car.
“That’s what they said,” Judy replied, her tone somewhat frantic. She shut the door and turned the key at the same time. Her foot impatiently stamped on the gas pedal while the engine revved up. “At Sherman Bank. One injured, hostage situation. Suspect’s carrying a weapon.”
“Well that’s just perfect,” Nick exclaimed. Judy had punched the siren button, so he had to shout over it. The car finally dashed across the road, prompting Judy to grasp onto the wheel to maneuver around traffic.
“Just...stay calm! They trained you for this!” She was no less encouraging than usual towards him. But she had to admit, Nick’s tone had never sounded quite so panicked. Even when she made him drive a train at maximum speed whilst she fought off Doug and his henchmen, his voice then contained notably less uncertainty it had now. Perhaps, Judy reckoned, he was feeling different with the uniform on. She’d never doubted that he wanted to protect her while on that Case, even after their falling out, but protecting the entire City was a beast in itself. It made his physical contributions to the Case seem nonexistent, as if they didn’t hold nearly as heavy a weight. For a moment, until she remembered his foolproof plan to switch Bellwether’s serum with blueberries, Judy saw Nick as a passive onlooker, voting to run away from his fears instead of to face them head on. It didn’t help when she spotted through the mirror his face, looking no less worried than it was when he stumbled into the car from the ordinary streetracer traffic stop.
“Yeah, well, easy for you to say, Ms. Try-Everything-Even-If-It-Kills-You.”
Or maybe he was simply masking his full confidence with feigned anxiety. Judy would have taken a moment to conjure up a clever reply, as a way to both indulge him and feel good about herself, but situations like these almost made her a new bunny. Her optimism spiked to a level that made her dangerously stubborn. Nick would have no success at bringing her down to reality. Given that, she didn’t even roll her eyes at his jab. For her, the focused remained solely the road. She continued to swerve around traffic, the siren blaring through the streets and alleyways. The blue and red lights reflected off surrounding vehicle’s hoods and Judy squinted her eyes, centering them out the windshield.
“Look, chances are they’re just going to need help getting everyone to safety. We might not even need our guns,” she tried.
“He has a weapon, sweetheart .” He was about to add another touch of probably sarcasm, but the familiar static came from their belts again.
Judy heard their own names spoken amidst the buzzing. Without looking over to him, she firmly asked, “Can you get that?”
“W-now you want me to-”
“Just do it. I have to drive.”
“What do I-?” Nick stopped himself, sighing and seemingly regaining some composure. He tilted to his right and hesitantly pulled out the communicator from his side. He fidgeted with it for a moment, examining its features, before pressing his thumb to the button Judy had pushed to speak. He put his mouth inches away from the speakers and said, in an exaggeratedly relaxed voice. “This is none other than Officer Wilde, here with a friendly check-in. How are we doing on this fine morning?”
“10-15, Wilde.” A gruff voice come up from the other side.
Nick’s ears sprung up. Judy peripherally saw him bring the radio to his mouth again. “Say again?”
“10-15,” the voice repeated, louder. “We got him.”
Nick promptly released the talk button. After a brief moment of silence, the only audible noise coming from the residual static of the radio, he passed the radio to Judy without an initial word.
It was enough to push Judy out of her instinctive state. Only then did she process it all - how it all unfolded the minute they received that call for backup. Judy never relied on luck, and often her coming upon it would lead her to scoff. Any feat requiring minimal effort or work wasn’t deserved in her mind. Yet in the aftermath of what could only be deemed a close call, she slowly blew her sigh of realization. Maybe that was the Old Judy trying to come back again. She slowly lowered her foot on the breaks and pressed the siren button again. Aside from the air’s noise, silence returned, prompting Judy to sigh more softly. Any new recruit would likely succumb to having to stop a robbery as a first task, and Nick had just barely whizzed around by the strands of his fur. Suddenly, it didn’t seem so bad to embrace luck as existent and everlasting.
“That...did not just happen,” he said plainly. Judy raised his eyebrows at his remark, gently taking the communicator from him. She was expecting resilience, anticipating the witty sarcasm she knew only a mammal like him was capable of channeling. But Nick only swung his hand to his left ear and rubbed it tightly. He did not say another word. His face, for once, seemed unable to hold the smug smile it always could. Despite Judy’s relief, she frowned in concern. Another one of the emotions he often managed to suppress. First was sadness, then anger, and here, Judy guessed, was fright.
A different kind of fright. She recalled when he made her take the lead at Cliffside. Or when he begged her not to reveal their position to Doug, even if it was the only way to get hold of the Nighthowlers’ evidence. If anything, Judy understood, they were more actions of cowardice than they were fear. They were laughable, after all. As smooth-talking and clever as he was, when it came to situations like those, Nick was no better than, as Judy may jokingly call him in a bad mood, a wimp. But now, no more confusion between the terms fright and cowardice existed in Judy’s mind. For once, she understood what pressure could to do mammals who didn’t know how to harness it into drive and willpower.
Unable to rid of her frown, she pressed the button on the communicator to speak.
“This is Officer Hopps...copy that.”
So, I could go on to make so many excuses for why this chapter came out ridiculously late. It's mostly my fault. Yes, my workload picked up, I had exams, and I'm sorting through some personal things right now, but at the end of the day my motivation level dropped immensely for this chapter. It all came very suddenly. One day I was at Starbucks writing the first half smoothly. It was as if the words just came to me, literally. The next day, I'm frustrated out of my mind because I realized I started posting this story way too fast. The fact of the matter is I didn't have a complete idea of what I wanted this story to be about when I started it. Fortunately, that has changed. While I'm not 100%, the plot's certainly more set in stone than it's ever been. I'll have to do some more thinking on it but hopefully it won't be the cause for delay any time soon.
Anyway, apologies and I hope you enjoy.
Officer Fangmeyer stuffed his communicator back into his pocket and rested his arm on his vehicle’s hood. The engine still hummed through the open doors. He and Officer Wolford had bolted out of the car, opting to focus on their taser rather than the keys. No reason to stop the car now. If all went smoothly, they’d be on the road again in moments.
With a muffled exhale, Fangmeyer glanced upwards towards City Hall, towering over the skyscrapers in Savannah Central. The Southwest side of the city had never felt any less safe. Crime rates had escalated this year, but only in every other place. In Sahara Square, two murders had occured over the last week near Hump Street, and nobody, certainly not any officer, could forget the drive-by shooting near Sandy Ridge that left two dead. Fangmeyer and the ZPD knew criminals had the mind to stray from Savannah Central, given the multitude of official and secure buildings that encircled it. Yet apparently, the area wasn’t secure enough to stop a rat from burgling into the most renowned bank with darts loaded into a crossbow. Fangmeyer leant back on the side of the vehicle and gazed towards his partner. In one hand, Wolford held the rat’s cuffs together, and in the other the communicator beside his snout.
“11-41,” he barked, the code Fangmeyer understood as a request for an ambulance. “Suspect in custody, one injured, zero deceased. Awaiting orders.”
The programming of all the communicators allowed Fangmeyer to hear the response from his pocket.
“Copy that, Officer Wolford,” said the voice, tone so cheeky it was clearly that cheetah, Clawhauser, on the line. “HQ orders you to...wait until the ambulance arrives! Have Officers Hopps and Wilde take the suspect back to the station for questioning.”
Fangmeyer’s eyes had peeled down as the voice spoke. They now clicked back to Wolord, who snarled through his teeth. Tightening his grip on the handcuffs enough to elicit a pained squeal from the rat, he pushed a claw into the a button and growled, “Copy that.”
“What got your tail?” Fangmeyer asked when Wolford dropped the communicator back on the side of his belt. He tipped off his hat and dug his fingers into his scalp until he heard a reply.
“That fox’s an asshole.”
Upon receiving the relay of HQ’s orders, Nick had insisted on taking the criminal to the back of the car. As Judy leant back with a liberating exhale, she could only wonder about his thought process. He may lay on the opposite side of society now, but she held no doubt he’d never eschew his mantra. That miniscule panic attack had been a violation, even if it was in front of only Judy. He’d let her see that the pressure got to him, and it was unacceptable despite her knowing that wasn’t any way to judge a mammal, especially him, fairly. If she were any stricter an officer, she’d have scolded him for not remembering his days at the Academy where they taught him how to harness that nerve. But it turns out that she was quite the opposite: firm and by-the-book but nonetheless understanding. Slightly more pragmatic overall, which she had Nick to thank for. As shocking as his reaction to the distress call was, he was no lesser form of the underappreciated fox she always saw in him.
She cracked her eyes open and scouted Nick through the glass, who pulled the criminal towards the back of the vehicle. Perhaps he was thinking the same.
The back door violently ripped open. From the rear of the car came metallic clanks of handcuffs and squeals of defiance. After Nick slammed the back door, the following silence was tensed by sniffing noises. The vibrations were vivid, almost deadly to Judy. Her ears twitched with every sniff until Nick flung opened the door and returned beside her. Adjusting himself and pulling down his seatbelt was enough to break the tension, and Judy followed by breaking the silence. “Well, good job, partner!”
The clicking noise from his belt preceded his response. “I must admit, walking somebody ten feet has proven pretty mentally taxing. I’ve never done anything more intense in my life. Please tell me Bogo’s giving us the break we so very deserve once we get back.”
“I’m sure you’d love that.” Judy shot him a glare before twisting the key. The engine snarled in protest, initially, but eventually obeyed and revved up. “We still have work to do.”
“Oh, I’m crushed . Even after we stopped that horrible, deadly sloth from causing mayhem? Almost more mayhem than him?” He raised his eyebrows as a gesture towards the mirror above them.
“Mhm, the ZPD works you down to the bone, but I’m sure you’ll survive.” For the sake of time, Judy pretended their small altercation with Flash didn’t occur. After all, she knew full well that her questions and Nick’s exceedingly long retorts weren’t going to get them anywhere fast. In preparation to drive, she procedurally glanced in the mirror, which she’d found herself avoiding ever since the rat stepped in.
At once, her eyes tore open after surveying him. She almost blurted out an obvious question about why and how he was miles larger than anything in Little Rodentia. Biting her lip with her buck teeth, she noticed his outfit, an excessively large, gray coat that almost draped over his neck. It probably would have fallen off had it not been for the strap holding it in place, even with the cuffs holding his arms tightly. His face tended to twitch back and forth. Each sway of his head caused his whiskers to flail around his protruding snout. To say they needed a trim was understatement. Judy could almost make out a flurry of fleas floating around them. Eyes squinting as time passed, she almost felt as new to the force as Nick. Never before had she caught something so repulsive.
Unable to bear the sight for any longer, Judy’s eyes plummeted downwards desperately and set on Wolford and Fangmeyer. Shifting the car into reverse and pulling away from the two linger officers, she uttered, “Is...that your wolf-rival?”
“Hm?” Nick, who had been picking at his claws, inched his head upwards. He shrugged, the movement of which budged his sunglasses resting on the bridge of his nose.
“Did he say anything?”
“Pointedly said nothing. The other one had no problems rambling about our orders to question him when we get back.”
“Hehehehehehe,” came a squeak from the back. Judy snapped her eyes to the mirror as he spoke. “He called you a-”
“Quiet! ” Her cautious side had to guide her eyes to the road again. She transferred all her frustration to her speech. “ You have the right to remain silent, mister. I’m sure Officer Wilde read you your rights before you came in here.” Following her glare, she swiveled her head towards Nick inquisitively. Certainly he wouldn’t have forgotten. Procedural lines were the first thing she’d learned about in the Academy.
Nick glanced from his palms, giving Judy an eye and his trademark smile. “How could I forget? You act like I’m some sort of first-timer.”
Anger subsiding, Judy mustered up a brief grin, she nodded at Nick, then repeated the gesture at the mirror with a furrowed brow. But as she turned back to the traffic light in front of her, Nick added with an all-too curious tone, “Wait, a what?”
“An asshole, hehehehe.” The rat wasted no time using Nick’s question to bypass Judy’s demand. All she could do was groan. As far as the ZPD was concerned, she couldn’t simply override him. Thier words effectively went against each other. If it hadn’t been for the moving traffic ahead of her, she would have buried her face in her palms again.
Nick briefly peeled his sunglasses off his face. Judy heard him scoff as he remarked, “Well, that’s not very nice.” She was going to drop her ears in concern, no matter how facetious he was acting, but the rat spoke again before she could react.
“For your standards? I happen to think it’s terribly nice.” His voice sounded as if it ground up against his throat, piercing the air with atonal frequencies.
“Mmm,” Nick mumbled. “Certainly nicer than what you’ve said to me in the past.”
“What?” Judy blurted out, albeit softly. Her utterance quickly trailed off in confusion. She tried her best to face Nick while keeping her eyes locked on the upcoming intersection.
“The usual names for a fox. Shifty, deceitful-”
“You…” Judy’s voice faded and she paused before turning fully towards him. “You know this guy?”
“I told you I know everybody.” Nick glanced at her through his vizors, but only until she saw him jump in his seat, stretching a finger towards the windshield. “Carrots, look out!”
Her conscience fought to process everything, but fortunately her instincts prevailed at just the right time. The rat squealed as she snapped back straight and found herself recoiling, having slammed her foot on the brake pedal. They all lunged forward in the vehicle as the wheels’ shrieks slipped through the window and echoed through the outskirts of the intersection. Horns, and even some shrieks of profanity, came next. Judy opened her eyes only when she heard nothing more. She painfully glanced at both passengers, first Nick, then the rat at his face rather than through the mirror. The latter appeared more frightened, leading Judy to sigh of both relief and shame at her own curious excitement. The truck up ahead lay only a rodent’s length in front of their car. She didn’t speak until Nick echoed her sound through his snout.
“Who is he?” she asked softly. As much as she wanted to stop herself from asking, the curiosity from the entire predicament had overcome her in that instant. She saw no point in vocalizing the obviously implied apology. The one time Judy did express remorse to Nick was the only time required for him to hopefully understand she never meant to harm anybody. If anything, the tears she shed on the day they reconciled after that falling out served as evidence.
Nick’s smile could not hide his residual shock. He had his still splayed back ears to thank for that, although his usual facade was enough to show he was slowly regaining control. He gathered himself and leant back on his seat, bringing his hands to grip the back of the head cushion. His ears finally climbed upright again, albeit only slightly. “Full name? Chuck Toddson. Nickname?” He paused, glancing up at the mirror with his smug smile, opting not to speak until the rat squinted his eyes back with gritting teeth. “Squeak.”
“That’s...fitting,” Judy affirmed, glancing her eyes back towards the mirror for only a moment. She turned on to Flock Street, slowly but surely approaching the same Plaza from the morning. Nick paused again, which Judy interpreted as an extension of the starting contest. The longer they remained silent, the more time her mind had to race to the extreme possibilities.
She mentally traced everything back to when they first met - when he and that Finnick put on a show all too convincing. Persuading that elephant in front of the counter wasn’t too impressive. Even Judy knew that. But Nick’s ability to improvise scenarios that would make any normal mammal feel pity, if not sympathy, and Finnick’s will to just go along with it no matter how infantilizing it was, seemed so naturally performed. Once Judy had realized that it was how they made the Pawpsicles in the first place, it became hard to believe they were just an up-and-coming team. An act like that had to have required a delicate kind of chemistry which only time could reinforce. But if such wasn’t the case, if Nick had more partnerships than she thought, she wasn’t going to let it fly unknown. Certainly not now.
She waited until they arrived at the station, partially to avoid another risk of accident and partially to try giving her mind time to forget about the possibilities she’d hastily ingrained into her head. Finally, she parked the vehicle alongside the curb in front of Precinct 1. Before they could unbuckle their belts, two officers on the notably larger size, whom Judy recognized as both the hippo Higgins and the rhino McHorn, pulled open the back door. More piercing squeals plowed the air as they grabbed hold of Squeak and dragged him into the station. On the way back, McHorn uttered something about where they should go to begin questioning. Apparently, Wolford and Fangmeyer were being held up, so second-closest related officers were the next best thing.
With a concluding snicker, Nick glanced at Judy, showing a relaxed form of his grin. Before he could climb out of the car, she finally spoke up, gathering the courage to ask and disposing of the urges to forget. A frown built on her face before the question. “Did you and him…?” she asked, leaving space for him to fill.
Nick stopped, his hand wrapped around the door handle. She heard another chuckle, then his entire face swooped into view. His smile widened a little and his eyebrows raised as if to show understanding of her concern. “Wouldn’t in a million years. I had standards.”
To Judy, the answer came so suddenly that she had to restrain further suspicion. Nonetheless, her response came out sincerely. “Sorry. I had to ask.”
Nick peeled his eyes away and sent her a nod. Judy saw it as a gesture of understanding. She unbuckled her own seatbelt until Nick abruptly fell back into his seat, his hand hesitantly detaching from the handle. He sighed. “He’s from a town of rodents who specialized in chemical weaponry. They say he caused an accident that killed one of the well-known members of a gang down there. So, he got kicked out, moved here, and has been trying to redeem himself since. Quite obviously that failed, so he turned to...well, what I thought was what I did to get by in life, but you learn something new everyday because it appears our adorable rat turned to petty theft.”
Judy had matched Nick, sitting back in her seat and listening intently. “Why is he so...big?” She uttered the last part out emphatically in an unnatural, forced tone.
Nick lazily shrugged, closing his eyes and slouching slightly. “I’ll race you to asking him that one. I never cared about him much to want to know.”
Shaking her head slightly and managing to put a small smile on her face, Judy’s eyes wandered from Nick’s. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Interrogated someone?” Nick opened his eye nearest her. “It’s easy. Just follow my lead, except better than you did in front of the press that time, mkay?”
“I only know what they told us in training. I’ve never done it for real before.” She would have acknowledged the jab, but her mind suddenly started racing again, pushing her words out. “Wait, you have?”
That made Nick’s other eye spike open. Sitting up straight, his ears splayed back again, hanging outwards towards the cushion he had been laying on. “...later. Come on, now, it’s rude to keep him waiting, right? Some sort of cop-etiquette thing?” he urged, grabbing her arm and tugging her towards the station.
“So, I do the asking and you do the...talking?” A quizzical expression plastered across Judy’s face as she walked beside Nick, who strode more confidently. They passed numerous doors with various signs, the sounds of conversations or rattling papers sprinkling over the duo’s conversation.
“Exactly,” Nick remarked emphatically, taking one of his hands from his pockets to point his index finger towards her. “All you have to do is ask a question to which the answer will clarify everything on that paper, and then I’ll take it from there until we actually get him to talk. Just like they say at the Academy.”
Judy’s had kept her attention glued on the sheet since the very moment Clawhauser handed it to her. She was staring at a handful of witness statements from the crime scene, clearly typed hastily given the typos and sentence fragments. Above the statements read a general report of the event and the victim’s name, and the backside contained entirely the citation information of Chuck Toddson. Turning the paper around to gloss over everything once more before entering the room, Judy squeezed in one more question. “And what if we don’t get him to talk?”
“He won’t at first,” Nick began, returning his hand to his side. “Not until we get him on a subject that’s mildly interesting to him.”
“My problem.” He bent down slightly, his smug smile falling closer to level Judy’s upright ears. “You just worry about asking the questions. You’ll probably have to repeat yourself, many times.”
Judy promptly moved her eyes from the paper to Nick. She crossed her arms and let out a quiet snarl, barely audible to a non-rabbit. “You’re acting like I’m some sort of amateur, dirty recruit.”
“Am I?” he retorted. “I think we’re carrying the same amount of weight on our shoulders here. At this rate, Bogo’s going to give us a gold star for being the best cop team out there, and it hasn’t even been a day!”
She allowed the joke to divert her attention away from her annoyance. If anything, it might just strip the nerves away from the task. “Well then maybe this is his version of giving us a final exam. We oughta be on our best behavior.”
“That’s the spirit. Basically, as long as you don’t mouth off about how predators are genetically susceptible to going savage, we’ll pass with flying colors.”
“You...bastard!” Judy burst out, but her voice didn’t elevate higher than a scathing whisper. She tried to look more intimidating by standing up the tips of her toes managing to reach the level of his snout.
But he just started back at her with a triumphant grin. “You’re smiling.”
He was right. If anything, it was the widest of her smiles that day. She reckoned that if they knew each other any less, Nick would think twice about smirking in response to her anger, much less making that kind of joke. Most friends probably wouldn’t even dare to go that far. In fact, Judy reasoned, most probably wouldn’t want to. This was something special. Nick’s humor was admittedly absurd, but it didn’t detract from his caring intentions towards her. From their conversations, it felt like a privilege to have him care deeply for her. He certainly didn’t come off as caring to many other mammals. Why make a huge deal out of something like this?
Her initial anger exited her body through a sigh. “I am, and I hate it.”
It only made Nick’s smile grow wider. He stood up straight again and stuck out his arm, pulling open the door in front of them. The surrounding noises faded away, drowned out by the metal door, revealing the interrogation room with a shriek.
The barren cubicle prevented all outside sound from entering, enshrouded with a bleak gray. Aside from the empty air that occupied the box, a metal desk lay in one corner. Squeak sat on a chair behind it, a nearly empty cup of water resting ahead of him. His hands rest on surface of the table, uncuffed and fidgety.
When the door shut with a heavy clang, Judy stared out towards the corner. Two empty chairs were situated across from Squeak. A camera watched over the entire arrangement through a hole in the wall coated with glass. Such was not unexpected, given the Academy had given her the rundown of what a scene like this would consist of, but the thought of being watched made her uneasy. It was her first time doing this and Nick’s first ever day on the ZPD. To her, it’d be foolish to think the footage would go without an extra eye on the their performance. As they approached Squeak, she noticed one of the chairs had an elevated seat. No more or less humiliating, but she internally rejoiced her size wouldn’t play as much of an issue. Sitting down beside Nick and glancing at the rat, she recalled her first day as a new recruit in that chair around the other officers, all raunchier and heavier. Despite her being clearly out of place, she had been able to repress her discomfort, and she set to do the same now.
She glanced down at her paper, gathering the questions she had conjured up on the way here before Nick dropped his hourly dose of wit. They quickly came to her, but he still beat her to the talking.
“Before we begin,” he said, deepening his voice and letting his smile linger at Squeak. He then turned to face the camera. “Welcome to the Hopps and Wilde show. You have the very opportunity to witness-.”
Squeak interjected with a squeal. “Oh, I am tired of waiting. J-”
“Quiet ,” Nick interrupted back. His tone inched towards the firmer side. His smile faded, but Judy had difficulty believing it was genuine anger. “You will sit and wait for me to finish our introduction to our supportive viewers in the break room. ‘Kay?” He tipped his ears upwards upon uttering that last part.
Squeak said nothing. By that point, even Judy could see from Nick’s side that he was restraining a bulging smile.
“As I was saying,” he remarked, ducking his head to level his eyes with the camera again. “The opportunity to witness the dynamic duo giving a certain Chuck Toddson the time of his life. Enjoy.”
“Are you done now?” Squeak asked, no sign of an attempt to restrain the annoyed tone in his voice. Most criminals Judy had dealt with before were likely to at least show a speck of remorse, but the lack thereof from Squeak did not go unnoticed. Given what Nick had told her about his background, sadism entered her possibility bank with ease.
“Mmm. Your turn, partner.” Nick replied, refraining from peeling his eyes from Squeak.
Despite not even a day having passed, Judy was beginning to sit with the fact that their adventures were to be filled with vaguely serious antics. Better to let nick finish his business with no interruption. If anything, it eased her most of the time, excluding when the said antics targeted her.
“How’d you get stuck in this mess?” she began. Her eyes briefly glanced to the paper, and she reasoned that it wouldn’t hurt to start with an introduction even if it didn’t corroborate the witness statements or summary. At the same time, she knew full well whoever was on the other end of the camera wasn’t looking for an interview.
“Gladly,” he said, a reply so quick that it did anything but let Judy lower her guard. “I presume he filled you in?”
“Too much,” Judy replied snarkily. It all seemed too easy. She didn’t want to ruin it with a flawed follow-up.
“Well then, you ask how . The better question is why . Because of what I’d get from it. Simple, hehehe.”
“How much did you get paid?”
“You ask how much . The better question is what .”
This time, he didn’t answer his own question, opting to stay silent. Sending a sideways stare towards Nick, who gave her a half-smile in return, she continued. “Well what did you get?”
“Hehe, I expected that one. You’ll find out soon enough, assuming those two put it into evidence.”
Judy furrowed her brow. Fangmeyer and Wolford? Nick’s predictions inched closer to reality. “Why not just tell us?”
“Hmmmmm?” Squeak mused, stretching the noise to an exaggerated length.
“If we’re going to find it in evidence, then why not just tell us now?” she repeated. “It might get you some plus points on your record.”
“Hehe.” His laugh was pitched higher than normal this time. “That would ruin all the fun for you.”
“Mr. Toddson.” That remark was all she needed to fall back into her usual firmness on the job. “We are not here to have fun. Do you understand?” His readily given answer to her first question signaled to her the hurdle was further out than she had expected, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t reach it eventually. She began to wonder just how many more hurdles she’d have to jump over to get him to explain everything on the paper. But before he could answer her question - if he was even going to - Nick jumped in.
“So lemme ask you something.” He practically stretched his legs on their end of the table, clasping his hands together upon his torso. Judy was about to interject, but she received a halting index finger from him. “We both know how you ended up in Zootopia. How long has it been since you’ve been away from your home?”
Hearing Nick’s question, Judy wanted even more urgently to stop what sounded like an off-topic question. Even Squeak’s expression turned from careless to puzzled, if not suspicious. After a pause, allowing the silence to occupy the room again, he spoke with a reminiscent tone, notably different from his clumsy, chaotic one. “Eight years.”
“Oh yeah, I remember now. That’s a long time,” Nick replied. “You probably miss it, I’m guessing?”
“Oh yes! Very much.”
It was the most sincere Judy had heard Nick act today, even more so than when he was comforting her about the Pawpsicle debacle. She shot Nick a harsh glare and raised her eyebrows, but he only flashed her his palm in return. The only option was to observe patiently. “What do you miss about it?”
Her eyes had fallen into a rhythm, tracing the words back and forth to their faces when they spoke. Bringing them to Squeak, she saw his face had grown abruptly suspicious. “You know the story... Wilde .”
“Well, pardon me. I forgot to relay that to my partner here. Isn’t that right, Officer Hopps?” Nick twisted his neck half the distance to offer Judy an anticipating glance. Following that, Squeak’s expression naturally fell towards her as well.
Suddenly, after fighting the urge to reprimand the rat for not addressing Nick by his proper ZPD name, a realization sparked in Judy’s mind. She felt as if her ears would spring off her head upon affirming Nick’s question with a nod. “Right.”
The reminder came as a previously conjured image of their collective efforts on the Missing Mammals Case. Nick had pulled this trick more than once, and almost every time it moved forwards. A type of deceit - pretending to know something to get more information. It was certainly the only way they ever had a chance of getting a lead sometimes. That jaguar Mr. Manchas came to Judy’s mind, when Nick jumped in at the most unexpected time. Her memory just as quickly turned to Mr. Big. She had herself to blame for foiling it that time. She knew better now, fully entrusting Nick’s ability to, as he said, do the talking. In this case, it came off as a type of feigned ignorance, and Squeak seemed to be buying right into it.
The more often Nick used the tactic, the more Judy could appreciate his way of throwing words as hard as physically strong mammals threw fists. It wasn’t a species thing either, else Gideon would have won over Bunnyburrow’s love by now. It appeared, rather, to be a Nick thing .
Then the other half of her had to wonder how Squeak had managed himself in this corner, figuratively. The criminals she’d had the opportunity of talking to made a point of acting more hesitantly. They would pause, some showing signs of nerve or intense caution. Internally assessing Squeak as quickly as she could, Judy could only think of the crudest description. This had to be the stupidest criminal she’d ever had the chance of encountering. It took a wad of willpower to ignore her inklings that something else was going on below the surface.
“Then I will tell you, rabbit,” he uttered, and Judy almost broke out an incredulous face. Really one of the stupidest. “I didn’t weep because they exiled me. I wept because they took away everything I had! A city like this is so painfully mundane and for years I had to hide this side of me. I started to feel like I belonged in that dust bin of all the other rodents, hehehehe. Alas, if it weren’t for that fringe rodent I’d be broke, at least until somebody gave me my treasure back yesterday for the smallest price.”
“Wonderful. And what price was that?” Nick asked.
“ Just a little pew pew pew business the next day, hehehehe. I even got to use the treasure for that one.”
Her dumbfounded expression lingered on Squeak for a while, sadistic becoming more and more appropriate in her mind. Initially from her peripheral, she saw Nick turn to her. When she gave her his full attention, he was channeling a smirk and gestured towards her, as if his job were done. Bunny instincts had to help her voice the next question, one that was more fitting for an officer with more experience. “So you could hurt animals with this treasure you’re talking about?”
“Oh yes ! It was deadly, after all.”
Nick flashed her a wider smirk now. She could only exhale sharply, raising her brow in acknowledgement. “And who gave this…” Pausing briefly, she pondered if she should be vague or to the point, but given the rat’s inattentive behavior and even her own disgust, she went with the latter. “...poison to you?”
“I’m sure you wish I knew, hehehehe.” Sounds like their luck ran straight out again, but Nick tried this time.
“We think you know, actually.”
“Wilde.” Squeak turned to face him, shaking his head. “Why don’t you back me up here. Have you forgotten about your days on that website?”
“I haven’t,” Nick replied quickly, but then he paused for a notable amount of time, “which is why I won’t bother to ask.” Judy uttered a confused noise, but he shook his head at her and gestured towards the paper. She widened her eyes at him, but he only shook harder. As frustrated as it made her, she was equally as unsure of what that exchange truly entailed, aside from that it would be difficult to find the one behind the transaction. Sighing, instincts somehow allowing her to push all her confusion aside, Judy glanced down at the paper. All the witness statements were confirmed. As far as they were concerned, only one more line of questions, or question at this rate.
“Does the name ‘Franky Larry’ mean anything to you?” She heard Nick struggling to restrain his laughter, and even she had to fight a smile until Squeak answered with a simple headshake. She wouldn’t have bought it if the interrogation hadn’t been moving swimmingly.
“Hopps! Wilde!” No voice could have any better caused every occupant in the room to nearly jump out of their seat. Nick swiveled around quicker than Judy, his ears straight upwards. The latter took more time. The source of the voice was too obvious to her.
“That’s enough. You may leave. Hopps, my office at half past five tomorrow morning. Just you.” Chief Bogo was firmly crossing his arms. Behind stood Fangmeyer and Wolford, the latter of which held a face no less piercing than it had been back at the crime scene.
“Aw, precious. Don’t leave me out, now,” Nick pleaded.
“Shut up, Wilde. Get out .”
Nick sulked, and Judy had to pull him out the door.
I'm glad to have gotten this chapter out within the next week. In my head the story changes literally every day. Fortunately I'm getting closer to a set-in-stone plot, and I'm excited to share it with you in the best way I can. Huge shout out to Assaultfox on the Zootopia Subreddit Discord because I was pretty lost in
a sea of unidentified possibilities.
I'm fully aware this interrogation scene and the events leading up to it may not be all that realistic. I did my best to research what they consist of, but as you hopefully caught on this one is a little atypical given Squeak's behavior. And yes, if you've ever played League of Legends, you probably know what champion he's based on.
But ugh, enough of this SOL crap I've been writing for a month. I realize the previous four chapters are really slow build-ups. That's not to say they were unnecessary because I wanted to show how Nick and Judy's characters worked in conjunction with each other, but if you didn't particularly enjoy them I assure you the ball starts rolling with this one.
As always thank you for your continued support and feedback!
Sahara Square and Savannah Central were more than enough to allow for a happy, active lifestyle. Even though the weather was warm, which proved uncomfortable for those with thicker coats of fur, the urban landscape did not fail to deliver in scenery and entertainment. Most ordinary Zootopian mammals couldn’t ask for a better setup.
Not all mammals, however, are “ordinary.” Some are more introverted, reclusive, or simply exotic in nature. Rather than sit in a park and maneuver their way around strangers and incoming vehicles, they might prefer to live alone, finding their own food and surviving by their own means. This is not to say Zootopia doesn’t have a place for them. In fact, the Northwest lay home to acres of the simple outdoors. The Rainforest District offered the entire breadth of a forest, swarmed with trees whose trunks and branches twisted across each other like a wad of serpents. A constant colossal downpour drenched the drooping leaves with water. Inhabitants could feel the heavy drops splatter over their fur as they trudged back home.
Wedged between the Rainforest District and the Meadowlands lay the Canal District. On one end, the waterfall from the Meadowlands’ Cliffside Asylum plummeted down into the stream with a continuous crushing blow. It produced a current so strong that a mammal could easily ride it off into the distance, approaching the northwestern corner closely. The further into the Canal District one traveled, the more isolative it appeared. Fog somehow merged with the rain, as if the water were boiling. Most mammals weren’t able to see into the thickness, certainly not those with worse eyesight. For those better off, however, it was a great hiding place if the Rainforest District wasn’t enough to escape from everything.
The further mammals travel into the Canal District, the less land they find on which to walk. There is a point where the district exists only as a bleak body of water enshrouded by the fog. The scarce number of houses appear as lifeless silhouettes until one approaches it head on in uncertainty. Only animals who prefer to live completely waterbound have subsequently chosen to settle there. They possessed a common observance that visitors didn’t come very often. On this night, those who listened closely may be able to hear a slight ringing noise permeating through the air. The frequencies weren’t strong enough to disseminate far, but they joined in with the fog to wrap around one of the houses on the lake. The ringing continued mindlessly until it was cut of with a click. The voice came after - a gruff voice that nearly croaked into emptiness until the source cleared its throat startlingly.
“What?” The tone couldn’t have been heavier.
“He’s here,” the voice came from the phone after a pause.
“The rat?” Then came a huff from the depths of the lungs, as if it were an exaggeratedly-long snore. “And she’s there, too?”
“Yes. Both her and the ram.”
The phone could not have been slammed back down louder. The radius of the hut fell victim to the almost eerie silence of the Canal District again, which was unable to be broken by even the commercial activity nearing the front border.
Judy couldn’t help but recall the last time she was sitting in Bogo’s chair. How Emmitt Otterton’s wife interrupted Bogo’s reprimanding in utter distress, too desperate to wait in line. How Judy sneakily used Mrs. Otterton’s outburst to take part in and ultimately solve the Missing Mammals Case, and how Bogo reacted. Ironically, if Bellwether hadn’t forced Bogo to give Judy the case, she’d still be on parking duty. It had been a close call, one of the many Judy could find since joining the force if she really wanted to go down that rabbit hole. Regardless, despite the many reasons to feel anything but small and helpless after her accomplishments since, she still felt like an insect while waiting for Bogo to arrive.
It caused her to weave her head and pan her eyes around the monstrous office. Maybe it was the unusually tall desk, or the equally large bookshelf that stood a yard behind it, or the map of Zootopia which seemed to expand across half the entire wall to her left.
A heavy bang emitted into Judy’s ears from behind her. Bogo trudged in with a heavy exhale, letting the door slam shut. She found herself swallowing hard, as if she had shrunk two more inches. No, it was definitely him that made her feel this way. Somehow he managed to elude a type of energy far more intimidating than that which existed during the morning assignment meetings.
He made his way to the desk. His hooves naturally stomped on the ground. To someone with sensitive ears like Judy, each step made her frame jump slightly. Her ears bounced every time until she finally forced them upright and stiff. Bogo wheeled his chair towards his desk, tightening the gap between them. Fortunately, his face seemed none so intimidating if she were comparing it to her last visit here. What’s more, his tone sounded meeker when he spoke following an introductory sigh through his snout. “You heard the news?”
She did. After the interrogation, Nick had been pondering out loud over what mammal in their right mind would think of a name like Franky Larry. They both laughed, Judy against her better judgement not to joke about the victim, until a campaign poster swooped into view on the window of the Fluffy’s convenience store on Acacia Street. She spent the rest of the night hoping Franklin Larry’s journey for Mayor of Zootopia wouldn’t be cut short by a poison dart, but when she woke up to the breaking news flashing all over her phone, she realized her prayers weren’t enough.
Judy could only nod, letting her ears droop as fast as they rose. Bogo paused, allowing for a few seconds of silence. He rested both elbows across each other along the desk, emulating a popping sound with his lips. “And pop go the city’s chances of returning to normal.”
“What about the other candidates?” She opened her eyes a tad wider. All the havoc had led her to forget about Meliora and the potentials.
“Which one? The outspoken speciest Brian McDoinker or the destructive warmonger Richard Buller? Larry was the only normal one on that whole roster. Now we have to hope they let someone just as moderate join the fight.” His tone turned a hint caustic, political opinions seemingly having found their way into that response. Supposedly he realized it, too, shaking his head with another huff. His voice lowered to a more lethargic state “Anyway, I didn’t call you in for that. It was a tragedy, nonetheless.”
“May he rest in peace,” Judy added.
Bogo froze and gave her a blank look, then offered a flattened smile with a nod. As he reached across his desk, Judy tried to get as comfortable as possible in her seat. Leaning back on the excessively large chair wasn’t helping, so she scooted over towards its corner and draped her own arm over the side. When she looked back up at Bogo, he was tapping a stack of papers vertically across the surface, straightening them out.
“Toddson has been transferred to prison,” he began in the same tone he used during morning assignments. “Thanks to the increased crime rate over the months, they didn’t have enough room for him at the local jail, so they sent him to Shamper Prison. He’s been denied bail with a court date in thirty days.”
“What are the charges?” Judy asked.
Bogo reached for the reading glasses beside him, maintaining his focus on the sheet below him. Opting to hold them in front of his eyes instead of resting them on the bridge of his nose, he read aloud in a monotone voice. “Attempted second degree murder and attempted first degree robbery. We have enough evidence to get him, no problems there.” He lifted the glasses off his head and moved his gaze towards Judy, catching a pointed tone. “He’s not the problem. It’s the animal behind it. If it’s one thing we got clear yesterday it’s that somebody gave him that poison.”
Judy nodded emphatically. “We couldn’t get him to talk about it, though.”
“That’s exactly when I decided to interfere. I hadn’t the time nor the patience to listen to whatever the hell he was running his mouth about. By that point the only way we could launch an investigation was to get a lead off what he was saying about his dealer. After you and Wilde left the room, I got him to slip up about picking up the poison somewhere around the Rainforest District.”
“Where in the Rainforest District? It’ll be hard to look for a particular place of interest through hoards of trees and vines, especially if it was dark.”
“Exactly. He didn’t even know where he was going and I’m actually inclined to believe him on that. It’s a small lead, but it’s the best I can give you before you survey the area.”
She was about to loosen up, maybe move to the center of the chair again and stretch her legs, but Bogo spoke too soon. He dropped down to a deeper octave.”That’s not why I called you in here, either.”
“Then why did you?” A quizzical look spread on Judy’s face. If he hadn’t been her chief she would consider showing exasperation, but the better part of her managed to restrain the urge no matter how much of her time he was wasting. She stole a glance at her watch. 5:30 A.M. Waking up early wasn’t a problem, but if she was going to start working on another case, she’d prefer more sleep than less.
“Officer Wilde will not be working on the case with you.”
“What?” That was one way to spring her up. Her ears flicked upwards and she squinted her eyes to show an incredulous look. If only she were as tall as him.
“Don’t even think about going on one of your entitled tirades. After I pressed Toddson on the perpetrator, I got him to talk about that little website he was squeaking about prior which you two very conveniently avoided afterwards.”
She had been about to lash out, like a child. Admittedly, it would come out as a pointless rant just like he had predicted. But his explanation made her freeze up as back into her mind came the questions that had gone unanswered. Her eyes drooped again. She knew it all along: the first day was too good to be true.
Most Zootopians knew something vague about their existence, the awfully sketchy websites barely mentioned in a casual setting. In Bunnyburrow their stories were often passed around as myths, fragmented pieces of the Internet used to encourage children to be cautious in front of the screens. Until she came to the city, Judy thought nothing of it. In spite of the amount of time she’d been spending with Nick, it never crossed her mind. Not even when Squeak mentioned it did she think it was something other than Muzzlebook.
When she couldn’t say anything, unable to find the right emotion, Bogo continued. “And by sheer coincidence, everything he said fits in with the undercover investigations from the ZBI over the years. A site that favors anonymity, works solely through private messaging, and is essentially designed to facilitate crime around the city. The domain name changes every so often, but the feds are clever enough to keep on its tail.”
“And what does that have to do with Nick?” She hastily asked, as if all the information had come in one ear and flown out the other. Her voice broke slightly.
“ Officer Wilde ?”
She realized her mistake and sunk in her chair. A mistake like that didn’t occur often. Usually she could slip right into professional mode, especially with somebody as domineering as Bogo. But when she started feeling slightly heated on the inside of her face, it become clear to her she had sprung on the defensive side to protect him. Guiltily, she nodded and replied, “Yes.”
“Glad you asked. Here’s the real kicker: Toddson dropped a username and it matches with one on a list of higher-ups of the site that the feds have collected.”
“But it could be any-“
“Do not interrupt,” he yelled. “The username is, mark my words, WildFox85, which is not only a pun on Officer Wilde’s surname, but also ending in the last two digits of his birth year. Now’s the icing on the cake: the account went completely inactive exactly nine months ago. That’s exactly when Officer Wilde joined the Academy. Let me ask you, Hopps. Do you honestly think that’s a coincidence?”
She answered on instinct, against her better judgement. “S-”
“Answer my question,” he swiftly cut off. She had spoken too quickly, and now he had cornered her.
She felt trapped in her seat. Bogo wouldn’t unglue his eyes from her, his pupils cutting into her entire frame. With nowhere to go, her mind flailed and did exactly what he demanded.
And yet, not much thought was required. It only became complicated when she tried to implement ways to get around it, possibilities of Nick getting off the hook. But at the end of it all, there was naught to consider. If Nick truly had been up to something, then no matter how long it’d take for Judy to comprehend the prospect, the right answer was right there. Subvocally, those pupils dared her to argue with him, knowing how closely she was an advocate of doing the right thing. She huffed, sitting up straight. “It’s not a coincidence.”
“That’s what I thought.” Finally, Bogo blinked. “I hope you can agree with my decision to turn him in then.”
Trapped again, pulled into nothing but a meek, submissive nod with droopy ears. She could only anticipate the worst to come, but his next line came astonishingly less booming, as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders.
“Fortunately for you I’m sure, there are extenuating circumstances.”
“Sir?” It felt comfortable to hear her voice again.
“I have no intentions of dealing with this now. The press is already having a field day about Larry and are on my ass because they want to know who’s behind his murder. Therefore, this case is taking precedence over everything. For the time being, Wilde will remain on the force until I get the time to tackle this situation fully. Until then, he’ll be placed on ordinary patrol away from any of this. You will be assigned another partner, one whom I believe will fit your style.”
She peeled her eyes away from him for a brief moment, chewing on the prospect. It was difficult to attack the problem from selfless angles. Ever since he’d found those clawmarks in that car behind Tundradown’s gates, their chemistry had grown to a level incomprehensible to her. He was the smooth talker, the one who’d come up with the clever plans in the first place. She was the dedicated doer, the one who’d carry them out. What’s more, as deep as under her skin he loved getting, it seemed miles better than having to adjust to a completely new officer.
No . She had to do something. Sure, it turned out she’d have some more time than expected to convince Bogo to not turn him in. But Judy knew herself well enough to know that she’d inevitably dwell on the issue and therefore detract her own focus away from the case.
“Sir?” She uttered once more.
He looked up from his desk and glared. “Hopps, don’t say something that’ll make me throw you out of my office, now.”
“Nick…” She trailed off, but only for a moment. As before, not much thought was required. For a second, it was a wonder how the lack of pressure allowed Judy to think through things to formulate an argument, regardless of how set Bogo seemed on his plan. “Officer Wilde is not a criminal anymore, sir. There’s no evidence to show that he’s used the site since he started training for the Academy.”
“Stop right there. Do you really think I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt just because he didn’t visit it since he was employed?” He banged his hoof on the desk for punctuation. Papers flew around the room and pencils rolled to the floor.
“No.” Judy paused, looking away for a brief moment. The explanation came as quickly as the initial answer had. “But if you allow us to work together, it’ll let me dig deeper into the situation, so that we can get to the bottom of this. That way, we can also put him to the test in the actual field. It’s a way to show us if he’s really changed. I wouldn’t be able to learn anything more about him if he’s stuck doing traffic stops with another officer, anyway.”
“I will readily admit,” Bogo started abruptly, “that you are both valuable assets to the ZPD. I can already tell he’s promising, and you may never have solved the Missing Mammals Case and taken down Bellwhether without him. It’s obvious. And yes, maybe he did do a full one-eighty, because after all he did help you solve that case with all the missing mammals. But I invite you to put yourself in my position. I’ve gone out of my way to you why I’m holding off on Wilde before I go through the proper channels, and you then try to completely change my mind with this proposal of yours? Are you sure you want to go down that route? As of right now, I cannot even be sure you haven’t been withholding information about this site from me the whole time, for the sole reason of protecting him.”
“Sir, all due respect, but I just admitted that you should be turning him in. I’m only offering an alternative because I have faith he’s different now. You can trust me. I’m not as naive as you make me out to be.”
After she finished, Judy finally plopped back down on the chair, mentally exhausted. Her instinctual fuel ran out, and the potential answers and arguments no longer swam to her conscience. She had given it her all, and she hadn’t yet fully comprehended the prospect of their separation. Truthfully, she didn’t have the best of faith in the other officers. Despite her ability to solve a case singlehandedly, not to mention half of it while not even on the force, Judy feared the others still held onto their preconceived notions. Perhaps it was an unconscious feeling, like that which tempted her to hold on to that fox spray just in case Nick was somehow not what he seemed. Realizing this, she could only wince trying to imagine a different partner.
She had even less faith the officers respected Nick. If what Squeak had said about Wolford was true, then it was quite the opposite. The longer Bogo took to decide, the more she saw how dependent they were on each other not only as mammals, but in their jobs as well. Any other possibility led Judy to believe they’d just be underappreciated by the partner, for more or less the same reasons. Only they could acknowledge each other’s to crack a case and so much more.
Finally, he spoke, breaking the silence with the deepest huff yet. “I...will allow him to work on the case, on the condition that you keep me updated on anything you find on him.” Bogo paused for a brief moment, bringing his hooves on the desk and concentrating a glare that pierced through Judy’s eyes. “ Anything . It’s going to take hard evidence that he’s actually one of us and not the mammal I am starting to suspect him to be to reconsider turning him in afterwards. Clawhauser will give you both the case files, with whatever we could find on that rat and potential suspects around the Rainforest District. I certainly hope this goes without saying that you will not share anything we discussed in this office with anybody else.”
With a sharp nod, Judy leapt off the chair. Giving a salute called for her to bend her back at a dangerous and painful angle, but she managed to meet Bogo’s eyes when he peered down at her from the desk. “Thank you, sir. I won’t let you down.”
“Can’t wait,” Bogo muttered with an eyeroll. “Dismissed.”
She didn’t have to wait to leave to yank out her phone. Rather than pull the door by its knob, she managed to budge just open enough so that she could shimmy through the door. She had no hands free, furiously tapping away at the screen.
“JH: Meet at the Snarlbucks on the corner of Trip Street. Now.”
He was right. No response needed.
Then Nick hesitantly brought his cup to his snout, taking a sip before continuing with a perplexed look. Judy could have sworn she initially saw a hint of smugness on his face, but if that was the case he had now wiped it entirely. “It’s not the usual angry, either.”
Judy felt that. The other times she always expressed her frustration through an overly furrowed brow and a mouth forcibly scrunched together. This was different. Droopy ears were a given, else Nick never would never have taken it seriously. But now she gave him a stare that was more apathetic, frustrated at the situation they were both in. To give him credit, she wasn’t mad at only him. Some of it fell to guilt, as if she were partially responsible.
Then she had to give herself credit for taking the time to arrive there. The instinctual part of her frantically pushed her to run over there in a fit of rage. She reckoned that if willpower didn’t get involved upon her leaving the precinct, she’d be starting a yelling scene at the Snarlbucks booth.
“Nick…” she began with a sigh.
“Carrots?” he uttered in a soft voice. “You’re killing me.”
“You almost lost your job,” Judy blurted before she could stop herself.
Nick’s ears suddenly stuck upwards. He leant his head closer across the table separating them. “What?”
She could only nod, continuing in a blunt manner. “The only reason you’re still on the ZPD is because Bogo’s trying to reason with us.”
“Yesterday.” She kept her expression frozen on him. Her coffee had to have gone from lukewarm to straight cool by now.
Nick squinted one of his eyes. “Something I...said?” It was one of those questions where his ears shuttered upright on the last word of his sentence.
Another nod. It was only a matter of time before he’d find out, but Judy couldn’t understand why it was so dramatic. Something kept her from saying it upright. Maybe it was shame. “The interrogation.”
“The int-,” he cut himself off mid-echo. At once his ears folded behind him, the way they did when he fell into a pensive mood. He wasn’t thinking for long, though. They dropped lower so that his head blocked Judy’s view of them completely. Burying half his face in one paw and shutting his eyes, he mumbled almost too softly for even Judy to hear. “Oh... great .”
Her lips shifted to form a frown. She’d had the privilege to see the serious faces of Nick, but never recalled a moment where they showed so much remorse. Sure, he had given Mr. Big a similar look when he reprimanded him for that skunk-butt rug, but that was arguably in attempt to not get thrown in deathly freezing water. Nor was he smiling while reflecting on his childhood on that gondola, but even then, Judy recalled his mood as more reflective. His current posture screamed pure shame, from somebody who didn’t think highly of himself in the first place. Hearing his ranger scout story had pushed her far enough to make physical contact with a species whose fright her parents had instilled in her brain since youth. This only pulled at the strings more, thrusting a dagger to Judy’s optimistic heart.
She released all pressure from the joints in her face, exhaling softly. The gathering storm of anger and resentment slowly ceded. Bogo had wanted her to throw Nick disappointment and contempt, but all her expression could hold in front of him was concern. She moved one of her paws slightly in front of her, not necessarily to touch, rather offer a comforting gesture “It’s ok-”
At once, Nick peered up at Judy, bringing her words to a complete stop. “Did anything happen? Did anything change?”
“No, you’re still on the case,” she answered, relatively quickly. It felt as satisfying as it possibly could to deliver some good news.
Likewise, it seemed to revive Nick’s spirits, albeit just slightly. While he still didn’t smile, he managed to raise his head. He ducked his snout, allowing Judy to look into his eyes. “And only Bogo knows, right?”
“At least right now,” Judy began. Not long after, she disobeyed her conscience and her tone grew firm. Anger returned as quickly as it departed. “But by the time we leave here, you’ll have told me everything you know about whatever website you and Toddson were discussing.”
“Well, that’s g-what?” He furrowed his brow, raising a paw to the table. Judy couldn’t help but notice his lips slightly budge apart , showing a small portion of his fangs. His paw clasped around the coffee cup until that it began to wrinkle. “Carrots, I forbid this. Take whatever plan you’re lighting up in your head and douse it with the most water you can find, right now.”
If she didn’t know him as well, the sight of his fangs would have frightened her. It must have been a natural reaction for most predators. All her faith in Nick, yet she still couldn’t help but wonder how many more fangs he’d show had their friendship not been as strong. Fortunately, they were close enough so that whatever he was trying didn’t come off as very intimidating. Justification for her anger remained on her mind. “I’ll have you know the only reason you’re still on the case is because I convinced Bogo that you’ve changed your ways. I certainly thought you did, so the least you can do is tell me whether or not I was wrong!”
She ended up yelling loudly enough to attract a bunch of stares at the table. Some mammals shot them a dirty look from behind their shoulders. Others looked at their uniforms, some even going as far as to eye their badges, and seemed to suppress their annoyance. Judy glanced at the commotion, then back to Nick with a sigh. His expression remained frozen solid. He spoke at a notably quieter volume, yet the vicious tone was no less present.
“You know I’m not an open book, rabbit,” he said. Then he lowered his voice to a near whisper. “Do you seriously expect me to give you a front-to-back now?”
She shook her head fervently. “No, not the whole story. Just this website.”
“That website is a big part of that story.” Nick tapped his claws onto the table, the sound of which bolted into Judy’s ears. Despite his energy, his voice did not reach a higher level. Judy noticed that the grip on his coffee cup loosened, and furthermore reasoned that it could be a sign of him coming to terms. After all, he’d just revealed a touch of information - that the website had encompassed most of his criminal life.
Yet something continually whispered to her ears that it was going to be an uphill battle. From their conversations, serious or not, Judy could tell Nick was a mammal whose fears and ideals were well-grounded in his brain. The task of making Nick a better mammal, if she could even call it that, wasn’t one she’d consciously approached and taken upon herself. For the longest time, she’d thought they’d never see each other again once he’d finally manage to squirm free from her blackmail. It wasn’t until they’d found themselves on the skylift that night that Judy had felt the need to help. She’d wanted to dig him out of the ditch he’d been digging deeper down since he was a kit, no matter how long it’d take. What she had said to him as they floated back to Savannah Central was the start of that road, and by that point whether she liked it or not she had already been in for the long haul.
So continued the list of tasks which had appeared in front of her. Solve the Missing Mammals Case alongside him, ask him to join the ZPD, and now, help him move on, whether that meant accepting his past for what it was or making sure they were on the same page. If that entailed some blunt, harsh honesty, Judy was more than ready to deliver. Only problem was that Nick had to be just as ready to receive.
Judy made a point to speak calmly. “I don’t understand. Do you not trust me?”
It only made him give a suspicious look. “Do you not trust me?”
Her ears fell. She found that she couldn’t speak, taken aback by his short, yet caustic response. Judy had never had any problems trusting those for whom she cared. Anger, frustration, and, better yet, any other negative emotion could coreside with each other, but trust never left. It was always there with Judy.
She had waited too long to respond. Nick perked up again. “Cause if you did, you wouldn’t keep asking me questions about this.”
If she had been making any progress with the trust concept, it was cut off by a tilt of her head. “You barely told me anything.”
“I know. And it’s all you need to worry about.”
“What about Squeak? Why’d he mention it to you?”
“Not relevant,” Nick replied promptly, shaking his head “Seriously, you’re acting like I poisoned the future mayor to death or something morbid like that.”
“What do you mean, ‘not relevant’?” She raised her voice, her blood flowing quickly enough to stray her attention away from his snark.
“I mean ,” Nick started, raising his voice accordingly, “that the only thing you need to worry about is that yes, I did use it at some point and time, and no, I don’t use it anymore. It doesn’t have anything to do with Toddson or the candidate. End of story.”
“Why did you use it?” Judy asked quickly, trying to latch on to any tidbit of information he’d decide to reveal.
Nick paused briefly, yet noticeably. “Because it was simply convenient at the time.”
“So it was the best option?” Judy asked, sitting up straight. Maybe, just maybe he was letting her in on something more. “A financial reason, maybe. Were you...low on cash for a little?”
It looked as if Nick’s eyebrows were to raise off his forehead. With a jumpy rhythm, he fired, “Do you think I’m stupid?”
She almost snapped, flustered. “Nick, come on!”
“ Don’t! ”
Some mammals shot them a dirty look behind their shoulders. Others looked at their uniforms, some even going as far as to eye their badges, and seemed to suppress their annoyance. Judy glanced at the commotion, then back to Nick with a sigh. His expression remained frozen solid. He spoke at a notably quieter volume, yet the vicious tone was no less present and his statement no less brief.
“Listen to me,” he said, carefully spacing out the words of his demand. “Are you still so naive that you actually think I’ll just spill something like this out to you? Want me to wrap it up nicely while I’m at it? What happened to your speech, huh?” Despite his apparent anger, he still seemed in the mood enough to imitate her accurately, ducking his head and flattening his ears. Just as he had done when advising her on how to work through a press conference before it all went downhill. “What happened to ‘Real life’s a little more complicated than a slogan on a bumper sticker?’. Yes, I have that whole part committed to memory. It’s one of your better lines. Certainly not what you’re following right now at all.” He finished with a scathing stare and a firm paw pounded on the table’s surface. Aside from the banging noise, only silence came after. It was all Judy heard, anyway, even though the shop was far from empty.
Numb was her initial feeling. Judy felt not only her ears, but eyes droop. He had said so much that looking at him couldn’t possibly help process it.
Then she realized it’d take a little more than a glance away to comprehend what he’d said. As much time as Nick was probably willing to give her, the obligations still resided. The immediate problem looked solved to her mind, since Nick didn’t seem to be using the website anymore. It only took a view at the casefiles down on her lap to give her instincts the fuel to guide her the other way.
Promptly, she sighed, and without saying another word about the matter, slid Nick his file and placed her own on the table. “Look, we have work to do. Let’s just focus on that.”
First came the eyebrow-raise she would have expected from any mammal, but then came the shrug she knew a carefree-at-heart one like Nick would throw. At that point, she would have abused anything to get away from it.
“Fine with me, Officer Hopps,” he said. For once, it was difficult to conclude he wasn’t actually implying something.
At least he didn’t walk out on her again.
Shamper Prison rested atop a hill that made it look like the headquarters of a totalitarian dictatorship. On this night, the rain hit the flattened, bleak roof with a storm of splashes, water gushing through the gutter and down towards the soil on which thirsty plants lay. Unfortunately, the fluid accelerated too much for its own good, causing naught but turmoil for the flowers. Some were split in half by the water pressure, killed by their own resource of survival. Death below, while atop the mountain, which happened to hold the largest altitude in the Meadowlands, the prison door slowly closed.
Eventually, the rat had been transferred into the bright orange clothes, the guards having confiscated, and hopefully cleaned, his original attire. He did not fail to notice the one that offered him a surreptitious nod as they dragged his outfit off. He’d be next.
The slow pace with which they dragged him to the male wards gave him more than enough time to ponder what to say upon meeting her. He didn’t have to be particularly clever to know it’d require him getting around the wards’ security. They’d have to meet in a public area, where prisoners could interact regardless of gender. All it’d take is a glance in the same direction behind the guards. A simple sentence that’d begin the exhibition from the Canal District. He could hardly wait, so impatient that the words he considered started to tingle on his lips that he almost vocalized them.
Former Assistant Mayor. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.
She had tried to skim it on the way to the car, but only now, sitting in front of the wheel, could Judy fully read the case file.
If she could even call it that. The sheer proximity with which her fingers laid together grasping the document couldn’t bring her to turn past the red cover page. The ZPD logo, resembling the badge she wore, seemed to take delight in staring back up at her. She tried to imagine the folder had more pages, but couldn’t venture any further than the single digits. If she hadn’t been so occupied over the past hour, maybe she’d have been in the headspace to ask Bogo just what in the name of cheese and crackers she was supposed to do with barely any information to start off with. She’d gotten lucky last time, what with everyone carrying around those pawpsicles, but something told her now would be different. Even if Bogo’s answer was shooing her away loudly, she’d feel one less thing to blame herself with: failure to ask for clarification. Ears drooping, Judy lifted her gaze to the window, allowing herself a lapse in time before obligation would inevitably swoop back in. Between her and Nick, it wasn’t the only thing she needed clarification on.
She felt her mind slide back to an instant replay of their argument. Concentration had never been a problem for Judy. From clocking in to going off-duty, she always held the task at paw above all else. Yet now, with Nick and all the complications he carried along sitting right beside her, the job softly screamed, from the furthest imaginable distance to a bunny, mundanity. Something made the case seem more like a process than an adventure. Even when her instincts pulled her head back so that her eyes returned down to the logo, she still managed to procrastinate opening the file until she heard the pages turning next to her. She glanced towards her right. Then her ears sprung up and she tore the document open. If her eyes hadn’t deceived her, Nick was already a few pages in.
The force with which she swung open the folder almost brought her to the end of the entire document as the pages rattled through the air. If it hadn’t been for the paperclip wrapped around the papers, they probably would have swung free like pendulums above the steering wheel. After a muffled groan, Judy slowly flipped back to the first page, but not before Squeak’s mugshot caught her attention. If she hadn’t known any better, those fangs would have looked more predatory. Fortunately, her afterthought reminded her that it was just his lack of dental hygiene that made him look all the more repulsive. By the time the first page flopped back into view, the sheet jingling silently down, the thought had escaped her mind.
Perhaps a little too quickly. It only took two glances, conveniently in the right places, to make Judy’s expression freeze. After the interrogation, all kinds of mental images, some admittedly derogatory caricatures, of Franky Larry came up in Judy’s mind. None of them, however, rightfully depicted him as a rabbit. It initially gave her a happy feeling. She could only wonder how much of his decision to run had been from that speech she gave. Up until then, no matter how often others talked it up, she had always come up short trying to understand the weight of her own words. But the sheer prospect of inspiring one of her own kind to chase the same goal she had been since youth called to her refreshingly. For a fraction of a second, making the world a better place never seemed so real.
If she had forgotten in that moment, the printing of yesterday’s date and DECEASED in bold letters reminded her. She felt the urge to turn back to the last page. Glaring back at Squeak’s photo wouldn’t mean anything in the long run, of that she was sure. But maybe it’d satiate the thirst of her upcoming rage.
Momentarily, she managed to shove it aside, but only in favor of that which caused a frown to curve down her face. Larry had been murdered all the same. The more Judy tossed around the possibilities, no matter how far-fetched they were, the more her eyes watered. She would have taken the silent opportunity to let a sniffle pass through her twitching nostrils had it not been for the sound of slight movement close by.
“Relax,” Nick said in a low voice. Wiping her eyes, Judy turned to him. Briefly, he tilted his snout upwards so that his eyes were level with hers, but subsequently inched them back to her file and then his own. “It’s just a coincidence.”
She didn’t know what made her feel worse: Larry or the absence of that facetious smile to go along with Nick’s attempted consoling. She asked in a soft, hopeless tone, “Why would someone do such a thing?”
“I’m afraid Dr. Gouda is out today. Would you like to speak to a psychologist of different species in the field?”
“Not...helping,” Judy answered coldly. He wasn’t looking at her, but she glared anyway.
Nick had brought his paw to his ears as if to mimic a secretary, but now he let it fall again. “Why not? I mean, it can’t be that hard to analyze our perp in a few minutes. How about Dr. Whiskers?”
Now she just spat out a sigh. The better part of her wondered why she’d asked in the first place. Panning her eyes towards him again, she adjusted herself in the booster seat. Only the back of his neck and cap remained in her view. Perhaps she was just trying to see if they could put that incident behind them. The jokes hadn’t stopped, it seemed, but it wasn’t enough to convince her he was over it. The only antidote was some sort of recognition. Maybe it was the lack of time for either of them to breathe that was getting to both of them.
And the investigation hadn’t even started. Judy stretched her limbs, distancing her legs from the gas pedal and her paws from the shiftstick. The silence from the car’s dormant engine seemed to be mocking her at this point. The prospect of Bogo walking by flashed before her. Catching them red-pawed, doing nothing as the city cried out for answers.
“Either way.” Nick’s intonation rose up slightly, causing her ears to slowly swing upwards. He twisted his frame towards her as he closed his file promptly. “Before you start looking for motives, it’s probably a good idea to look at the actual body, first. Didn’t the Academy teach you not to jump to conclusions without all the info?”
She was far from in the mood, but was relieved Nick showed some drive to get the investigation underway. As such, she sat up straight, adjusting her limbs to the necessary mechanics for starting the engine. “You know? Maybe if Larry were a fox you’d understand. Then again, foxes are much too shifty to be mayor candidates nowadays, aren’t they?”
“You’ve got that right,” Nick replied, hoisting his seatbelt over his shoulder accordingly. “We’d much rather be cops who annoy our partners so much that they forget to buckle their seatbelt.”
“I’m getting there. I haven’t even started moving yet.” She kept her glare on him as she clasped her paw around the clicker.
His face turned promptly, initially revealing a half-lidded smile. After a pause, as if he were taking a moment to register how genuine her anger was, it curved slightly upwards. “Just looking out for ya, Carrots.”
As usual, the aftermath seemed to be affecting her more than it did Nick. Of course, mammals could only betray their long-time mantra for so long. The worst part of her conscience, however, ensured her he was trying to make her forget about everything, too. The more she thought about it, the more obvious it became that he’d try to push the focus of the investigation on Squeak instead of him .
She hadn’t even stopped once to consider that she had already gone against Bogo’s orders. If Nick really did have a criminal past, at least he had the decency to stop his activity completely before turning over a new leaf. Here Judy was, going against her word in a matter of seconds. As soon as she had pulled out her phone to call Nick to that coffee shop, the jig was up. Bogo had to have seen it, her still having been in his office and whatnot. As much as Judy liked to think he wasn’t as smart as he let on, she knew that he’d be hounding her if this whole thing didn’t go smoothly.
After a pause and brief stare at Nick, Judy turned the key and moved her arm to the shiftstick. “The autopsy should be long done by now.”
“Then what are we waiting for, partner?”
Only the last few rays of the sun made their way through the glass and steel bars of Shamper Prison, into a room that seemed conveniently devoid of life. The walls and ceiling were painted entirely white, offering a sharp contrast to each of the guards’ black uniforms. They also made the blue, narrow bookshelves and the scattered round tables stand out all the more. Even the guards felt at odds, as the library wasn’t normally this quiet or empty. It was usually around this time that the male inmates would start to roll in after lunch. The sounds of soft whispers and page-turns would ricochet off the walls and spread around the room with ease. But now, the only audible sound came from someone sweeping the floor in an irregular rhythm.
Squeak adjusted his grip on the broom, his little claws wrapping around the long, yellow handle. For whatever reason, the guards wanted him here. They not only had assigned him the job immediately after moving in, but had also decided that library cleaning duty was the most suitable task for him. He had tried to tell the guards that he’d be better in the cafeteria, but they wouldn’t change their minds.
Nonetheless, with little else to do than waiting for the right moment to approach Bellwether, Squeak had started to find some enjoyment in his newfound job. For one, it was probably much easier to clean the library than the showers. What’s more, he could secretly stash some of the smaller pieces of litter back in his cell. He reckoned that if he started enjoying the job a little too much, it would serve as a good reminder that he was nothing more than a filth-loving rat.
On the second day, he had already started getting used to it. The sound of the broom sweeping across the floor was so soothing and calming that he could easily make out the footsteps suddenly getting louder. Just when he was about to start whistling, too. No matter though, as it was probably just a guard coming to check up on him. It had already happened last time, when he got around to cleaning the narrower, more-concealed areas of the library. Hoisting the broom so that it stood vertically on the ground in one paw, he took the other to wipe his brow. He finally turned around - only to realize that he should have done so much sooner.
“Who are you?” He heard the somewhat familiar voice exclaim before he had any chance to react. It took Squeak a moment to register the figure in front of him. He was usually good at reacting quickly, but this time he was completely taken aback. His heart was already pounding rapidly. Once he finally realized who was standing before him, it accelerated even more. That mane of fluffy wool was unmistakable.
“Answer my q-”
“Former Assistant Mayor Bellwether!” he exclaimed, managing to cut her off. She didn’t relent, letting a snarl pass through her teeth. As if it were a habit, he frantically panned his head around, only to find that she had quite literally backed him into a corner.
“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” She asked, a grinchlike expression spreading across her face. “Figured you would have seen me coming, vermin.”
He was still startled, but he managed to find a hint of distaste in his mouth. The broom’s thin handle, free from his grasp, slid across on of the shelves until it landed on the floor. The sound of its fall broke the silence between them faster than Squeak could with his retort. “Of course not, madam.”
“Who are you? Full name.”
Still trying to hold onto that resentment, he spat out, “They call me Chuck.”
“First and last.” She wasn’t even moving. He felt her breath brush across his fur so warmly that he momentarily forgot he was the predator. After some more hesitation, he finally complied. All he had to do was repeatedly remind himself it would be worth it if they could strike a deal.
“Good rat.” The smile widened even more. “And why are you here?”
At least they were easy questions. In fact, it was one Squeak could afford to answer somewhat charmingly. “They say I killed a mayor candidate.”
“I know that, you imbecile.” Bellwether ducked downward with a light growl, bringing a hoof to her forehead. “I mean why are you here right now ? What do you want from me?”
His disdain grew larger, manifesting itself in his firmer tone. “Madam, if you would so kindly give me some space so I can properly explain.” He was about to add a snide comment about her breath, but his cautious side stopped him just in time.
Surprisingly, her posture reclined slightly and she took two steps back. That uncomfortable, hot feeling was finally allowed to release its grasp on Squeak. He managed to take a breath that returned his heart rate mostly to normal. If he were any less clever, he probably would have assumed she was backing down. Yet her expression hadn’t changed, and he’d be an idiot to think it was going to get easier from here.
Maybe all the media coverage on her had gotten to his head. Most reporters had shrugged her off after her arrest, uttering words like “bonkers,” “despicable,” and, most of all, “senseless.” Apparently, all it took was a little bit of sadism to realize she was so much more. When Squeak first saw her on that television screen, he conjured up a term closer to “manipulative megalomaniac” within a matter of seconds. It’d taken him almost no effort to come up with such a descriptor, yet here he stood surprised at how she’d just popped up on him like that. He should have expected no less. It was as if she had been calculating his every move, down to the air that flowed through his snout. It certainly seemed that way when she spoke before he could even utter a word.
“Why don’t you start with whom you’re working for?” Although it had been phrased as a seemingly innocuous question, her tone was no less scathing.
“Erm,” Squeak started. “Well, he’s somebody who wants power, like you.”
“What’s his name?”
“Everybody calls him Il Muro. I fear I am only familiar with his alias.”
Bellwether didn’t respond immediately. She furrowed her brow slightly and tilted her head. “Who is he?”
Squeak shrugged. “To the best of my knowledge, he is rather familiar with the crime that occurs in this city. If you ask me, though, I would say he is looking to achieve a little more than what an ordinary criminal could. hehe.”
“Let’s just say, your assistance would be appreciated. I doubt any other mammal could match your political clout, what with all the connections and experience you must have in this city. In fact, I reckon you know quite a few tidbits of information in the political sphere, things the public couldn’t possibly know! Likewise, I’d wager you still know many people in the profession, including those that might blow their whistles if they smell something suspicious. If some naughty secretary is trying to foil our plans, we could find out...with a snap of your-.”
Eyes almost magnetizing to her hooves, he huffed in annoyance at his mistake. Her expression hadn’t changed, despite his attempt to praise her. “You do get my point, I’m sure. Someone to...make sure we don’t step on the wrong paws when we make our political advances.”
Whatever intimidation he felt had been slowly fading since he’d first gotten her to back off. After he finished his grand offer, not only was that feeling gone, but he finally felt like he was in control again. The confidence with which he was able to convey the urgency to have her on board was the last bit of reassurance for him that Bellwether could only be so intimidating. She had even kept quiet, save for the sudden but light whistling sound that had come from her mouth in the middle of his speech. He had just barely heard it, but was too concentrated on invoking the proper intonation on his rhetoric. Once he saw through Bellwether’s act, he felt no less like the witty rat he always had been.
This made it fully surprising when he suddenly felt both arms pulled and twisted behind him. He only had time to gasp for air before the force behind him jerked him up so that he was hanging. Lifted easily by the wallaby that had appeared behind him, he tried kicking with his feet but that only prompted Bellwether to extend a hoof to the tip of her mouth in exaggerated fashion. Her whisper reeked of that high pitch that Squeak had no trouble recognizing as that which she used when she was trying to put on a sweet facade. “Oh, you should be more quiet! We don’t wanna alert anyone, right?”
The worst part was that he knew she had played him. Toyed with him, in fact. Almost as if she had let the guard in on her plan in advance. She’d give him the slightest bit of comfort, and then yank it back with a single quiet whistle. He hadn’t been in the prison for long, but he nearly thought the wardens would have a harder time gathering all the staff up for the day. He let his legs fall as he hung by the unrelenting force of the arm that effortlessly pinned him up against the wall.
Bellwether stood quiet, allowing silence to float momentarily before she finally spoke with a more relaxed, yet still caustic tone. “So you really did have a reason for killing the mayor, didn’t you? Golly, and here I thought you were one of those psychopathic predators, all hollow on the inside. Turns out, you’re just a little thug who's up to his balls in a plan with a group where he’s the puppet.”
“E-excuse me!” He’d shouted it, but even he could hear his tone growing childish. All that suaveness had disintegrated. It only made the wallaby’s grip tighten and Bellwether’s smile widen even more. He tried again. “I’ll have you know I’m one of the only animals the boss directly communicates with!”
“Oh, well I’m sure you’re highly valued in his book. Oh, look, he even let you do his crimes for him! Do you even get anything for taking the fall?”
“Yes,” he replied meekly.
“Oh really? And what’s that, vermin?”
Now he was unmoved. Doing his best to straighten his posture while held in the air, he whispered, “I get to go home.”
In the rectangular, red-lit room the only sound Judy heard was that of dripping water at about a car’s length away from her. Daring to glance up from the casefile she hadn’t had much time to read all that objectively, she eyed the pathologist’s assistant. The anteater, dressed in a slightly bloodied white gown, reached to his side for a new piece of equipment periodically. Every few seconds, Judy would hear metal jingle and water splash against it. Perhaps it wasn’t very environmentally friendly to have the water on for so long, but the flowing noise soothed Judy in a way that helped her think.
But it wasn’t enough to distract her from her rapidly twitching nose. Through sheer memory and Nick’s teasing - although she’d hate to give him credit - she’d never forgotten what working at Bunnyburrow had felt like. As proud as her parents were of her accomplishments in Zootopia, the ultimate goal for a member of the Hopps family had always been and always would be to farm. At this point Judy was sure her sisters had surpassed her in that department, but that didn’t mean the smell of rotten carrots would suddenly start to bother her. Growing up on the farm, funky smells were ordinary. While visitors never failed to scrunch up their faces or even gag, Judy never saw it as any different from a breath of fresh air. If anything, it was the smell of pollution in Zootopia that needed some getting used to.
But the scent of fresh blood certainly didn’t seem to fall under the “unnoticeable” category. Maybe it was just the aura of death, or, quite frankly, general stress about the whole case. The only comforting feeling was the thought of how Nick had a much grosser view of the corpse, whether that was to somehow give her satisfaction or signal that she shouldn’t be complaining in the first place.
When the doctor had asked them if they wanted to look at the body, she declined almost too quickly. Her instincts had often been good this past week. Hell knows they got her through most of her conversation with Bogo and Nick earlier that day. Yet here they were, eerily reminding her of how automatic reaching for the pepper spray had felt with Nick back at that press conference. Speaking of Nick, it seemed as though his instincts had him practically jumping from his seat and striding to the morgue moments ago. Even after he had ensured Judy that they couldn’t afford not to be thorough in a case where they barely had a lead, she couldn’t budge. If it hadn’t been for Nick’s apparent excitement to take a look, she figured he’d probably have said something he was now saving for the car ride out of here.
The more time she spent looking at the casefile, the more justifications her mind conjured up for choosing not to look. For one, she truly did need more time to read. On the other paw, she doubted she’d be useful for the job, anyway. There was no possible way they’d find something the doctor couldn’t. Although, she had to admit, Nick had a point, at least as far as him seeing the body was concerned. Coming from a family of rabbits, she grew up having been told about all the “evil” tools foxes had at their disposal. Night vision, easy time finding prey, and, particularly useful for this case, good sense of smell. Given that, it was easy for Judy to convince herself that if Larry’s corpse for whatever reason did have a distinct scent, Nick would have a better idea of what it could mean. That is, if she could even pick anything up with that twitching nose.
As much as the excuses and the soothing sound of dripping water could have helped her, only when she realized how much time she was wasting could she finally put her head down and simply absorb everything on the paper. Once she actually started reading for real, she felt no incentive to so much as even bat an eye towards the door. The old Judy wouldn’t have recognized her flaw of getting emotional at the worst times, but damn it if she was going to let that stop her from solving the next big case. Somehow, once the water came to a stop, she’d managed to read everything. What’s more, she felt confident that she’d ace any sort of recollection quiz on it. Incidentally, the anteater began walking towards her. She had to admit, there must have been no better way to test her knowledge than to have a productive discussion about the victim’s autopsy with the very mammal that helped conduct it.
Judy promptly adjusted her posture in the chair, just small enough for her to rest her paws across the arms. The assistant slightly shook his snout up and down, as if it were his way of greeting her, before he spoke.
“I must admit, I am surprised your partner is taking as long as he is in there.” With one paw, he fished out a scribbled-on notebook and a pair of glasses. Noticing the latter was smudged in red, he nonchalantly breathed over the spot and rubbed at it with a damp spot on his lab coat. He rest the glasses on his nose and flipped through the pages with one paw until he stopped to look back at her again.
After initially restraining a more-than-disgusted reaction, Judy let her eyes scan past the assistant and through the glass circle of the door down the hallway, where she could see Nick looking downwards intently. She squinted for a moment, as if the circle would lower itself to expand her view of the morgue, then sighed and continued gazing at the assistant. Her apparent curiosity for things which she declined to participate in had briefly overtaken her. “I am, too.”
“Especially when there is absolutely no reason to be so thorough,” the assistant said, as if Judy hadn’t spoken a word. Fiddling around with his notebook to the point where Judy heard the rattling loud and clear, he finally dug out a pen from his other pocket and scribbled something down. “I reckon the only information that could help you is the type of poison used. As far as I’m aware your friend might have good scent but certainly not the x-ray vision to see through blood.”
Judy tried to speak louder this time. “Well-”
“If he did have it, however, he would easily be able to make out a well-known poison. Granted, for scientific purposes dimethylmercury is becoming more and more obsolete as the years go on, but I imagine a criminal with a low budget would have no problem acquiring all the materials.”
“They’re very easy to find. Mercury...as toxic as it is, is held in thermometer bulbs. Lithium is found in batteries. In actuality all it takes is a small bit of synthesis knowledge to make an organometallic like-”
“So it’s easy to find the ingredients and to make?” Although she had interrupted him, she’d tried to sound more gentle by leading into her sentence slowly. It didn’t manage to stop the assistant from shooting her somewhat of an annoyed look, but he brought himself to answer her question.
“Well, not necessarily. Mercury is no average element. It’s extremely toxic. It was last used for ordinary purposes by a young deer who died after the smallest droplet touched her skin. Sure, it took ten months, but she was wearing gloves and it still managed to seep through her fur and reach her brain. I imagine that whoever made this batch not only had the attire to protect themselves fully, but also a lab with the proper disposal materials for such a toxic compound. So while the ingredients are easy to find, it’s not like animals could cook this up in their kitchen.”
Judy was no longer staring at him. As soon as he had replied with the negative to her question, she’d immediately started scrambling for the notebook and pen stuffed somewhere on her belt. Fortunately, the anteater wasn’t the fastest talker. By the time he was done with that sad, yet most likely irrelevant history lesson, she had jotted down some notes about the compound, as well as its difficulty to create. Pressing the clicker of her pen to her lips, she thought out loud in her procedural tone, “Hmm, you would think this would be made more often, even if you do need a high-tech place."
“Officer, all due respect, but you clearly underestimate the severity of such a chemical. Every time you go anywhere near it, you risk your life. I’d even venture to predict that if that compound wasn’t completely sealed near the crime scene, we’ll be getting more bodies from there months from now. Acquiring a lab that is able to handle such a chemical is extremely exp-”
“And forgive me,” Judy interrupted. Taking her eyes off her notebook and staring at him with a smile that she couldn’t even be sure was entirely sincere. “I don’t think I have the best perspective. It just so happens that on the last case Officer Wilde and I worked on, we raided the lab that held the Nighthowler serum. I mean, I don’t suppose that’s what the average lab looks like, right? Are we really safe to assume this poison is stronger than the very chemical that spread chaos throughout the city?”
All it took was for the anteater to furrow his brow to make her realize she may have gone a little over the top, whether it was by unintentionally bragging about her accomplishments or perhaps getting a little snarky. Given how the assistant had been speaking to her, the latter seemed more probable. But before she could ask herself exactly why she had turned so defensive, he spoke.
“That depends. were proper safety materials used?”
“Like?” She wasn’t afraid to get into specifics. Doug’s lab was probably her most memorable image for the entire Missing Mammals Case. After all, that was when they found what they were looking for - the sign that all the running around Tundratown and prying information out of the likes of Duke Weaselton was starting to pay off. Funnily enough, the prospect of that seemed like a miracle this time.
“Well, what was the scientist wearing?”
“He was wearing a thick yellow jumpsuit.”
“Was he wearing a mask?”
“Yes. Tight strap on with a crystal-clear screen.”
“Um,” Judy hesitated, but for a reason other than failure to remember. “No.”
“Then no. He would be dead or dying by now,” he replied coldly. Adjusting the glasses that rest on his nose, he turned his attention to the notebook again. “Are you certain? No gloves at all? I’m sorry but what kind of scientist was he?”
“He’s a convict now,” Judy said casually.
That made the assistant peel his eyes off his writing. They lingered in the air for a while before slowing down so that he seemed to not be looking at anything in particular. “Oh. I suppose that’s right. Well, I would expect this scientist to have a little more knowledge, even though it may very well be that same rat we saw on the television.”
Judy raised her brow in wonder, allowing her stare to gaze off towards the door of the morgue again. Nick would probably have far more informed opinions on that. If Squeak really was reckless enough to accidentally kill one of his own back home, the odds of him having a proper lab, much less the common sense to deal with a poison of this caliber, seemed slim. She muttered, “I wish it would be that easy.”
As if she had been calling out to him, Nick then emerged. The noise he made by slamming the door against the wall brought the assistant to swerve his head around. Judy had already been looking at him with a raised eyebrow. At least he wasn’t covered in anything.
The assistant perked up before Judy could speak. “Ah! There you are. I was getting worried the doctor would have to pull you out soon. We have another one scheduled two minutes from now.”
“I’m deeply sorry,” Nick said charmingly, stepping out of the hallway and leaning against its front wall. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
“Did you find anything?” She said it a little more firmly than she had planned, but couldn’t blame herself after such a comment. Even if it was typical Nick, there was a line that she’d have to define with him if this were to keep going on.
“Nope. Not even a red herring.”
The assistant spoke up again, only this time he tore out a couple of scribbled-on pages in his notebook. With one paw, he passed them on to Nick, and with the other he pulled off his glasses. “I would assume the doctor filled you in sufficiently.”
“Of course.” Carefully, he took the pages from the anteater, briefly skimming it over. The anteater started to speak once Nick’s eyes returned to him.
“I’m afraid you two both have a lot of work to do.”
For lack of a better phrase, the situation has kind of sucked. I remember when I made that all-too hopeful comment on the last chapter outlining my plan to get back into the swing of things once vacation came along. That's not to say I didn't use my breaks to write, but to put it in perspective I was feeling pretty overwhelmed with my courses and things going on in real life. I had to take a step back from writing. As often as people encouraged me to keep working on it in Discord, simply put the hectic route my life was taking kind of put a wrench in everything from creativity to commitment level.
I don't know how often chapters are going to come out after this. If one thing's for sure, I really shouldn't be making promises or ETAs because of how unpredictable my life really is when it comes to work and school. In an attempt to change the tone, however, I will say that I have had the grace of being invited to a small writing group whose members hold themselves accountable to write regularly. I definitely wouldn't have been able to do anything of the sort last semester, but this one has been a little more gentle on my cortisol levels so I've found some time to sit down at least once a week.
If you have been reading since the first chapter or have decided to catch up, I fully understand you might have some questions, all of which I'll probably have no problem answering for you. For that reason I've revived my tumblr page that I used to use back in my Undertale fluff days: https://commanderaik.tumblr.com/ (please ignore the cheesy reblogs and comments I made years ago). You're welcome to ask me questions about where I've been or about the story. That, or feel free to drop a comment here, too. I'll respond to either.
As much as I'm telling myself I owe everyone an apology, I wouldn't have done anything differently besides being a little more honest with how much time I could realistically put into writing chapters while struggling with courseloads. The amount of support I've gotten up to this point is just as overwhelming as it was months ago, if not more now. To know how far this has actually come gives me hope and so much more self-confidence than I've ever felt.
And yes I have done a lot more thinking during these few months about the directions the story should take, and it feels very comforting to know somewhat how it's going to play out.
If there was one thing about Nick's new job, it certainly was making him appreciate the value of that thing called a shower. Gone were the days where he'd drag himself in the doorway, walk right past the bathroom, and pass out on his wool couch with still ruffled fur. Now, it was unnecessary filth that, given the filth he already had to deal with as cop or criminal, he really didn't need. Thus, he made himself a rule: nightly showers, no exceptions. And damn him if he wasn't going to follow through with it. Things like house maintenance issues? Sure, no problems blowing off calling the landlord there. But as for himself and the shred of comfort he had in his life, his commitment was through the roof to maintain it and he damn well knew it.
Of course, sleeping with dampened fur took some getting used to. But eventually, his body adjusted to it. Slowly but surely, he was starting to leave his bathroom feeling more refreshed than horribly exhausted. Almost like he'd been in the shower the whole night, and now it was morning and he was ready to, as Judy would say, make the world a better place. The more he chuckled about that catchphrase now, the less he remembered nearly puking at it back then. If he was being honest with himself, it never seemed so close to reality as it had been since graduating the Academy.
Whether he liked the new routine, no, new life, or not, he'd never expected to have enough energy to be crushing blueberries at this hour. Not that it required much effort, but as he'd always said, pulling off a hustle was hard work. He nearly said as much out loud in his berry-crushing rhythm, but stopped himself just in time for how cheesy it would have been. No, she hadn't rubbed off on him that much yet, even if he was surprising himself more and more by the day with how much he was opening up to her.
In reality, unless he were to actually call carrying Pawpsicles around handiwork, most of his energy always went to the brain. All the other tasks, from carrying things to swiftly jumping through small holes, Nick had left to the other half of his duo. The tough-sounding, yet oddly fragile fennec. The one Nick had called with the same word he now used to call Judy, just with such a different meaning that it was almost creepy.
Nick stepped out of the kitchen with a glass of blueberry juice in one hand and celery stick wedged between his fangs. His striped cotton gown lazily draped down around his waist as he waddled towards his couch. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t yet grown so accustomed to the dampness to fall asleep on demand. Besides, blueberry juice was like caffeine to him. Not that he even needed to stay up, but if he was already going to have trouble sleeping, he might as well double down on it. After all, it wasn't like he didn't have anything to do. Just the city's next Missing Mammals Case. Well, at least from a hysteria and curiosity stance. The fact that the death of one mammal could cause an entire city to act as if the predators had gone savage again was beyond him. But what did he know? He wasn't that kind of people person. Not the one that craved unrequited attention from people he didn't even know. If anything, his goal was to talk to people while letting them know as little about him as possible. In his hustling days, the fewer people knew about him, the better. To an extent, maybe that was still true. He didn't have to be an idiot to know some criminals saw what he did as a betrayal, no matter how little he concerned them in his previous work. But now the spotlight was on Officer Wilde, and with a partner like the determined-against-all-odds Officer Hopps, he wasn’t getting away from it anytime soon.
He finally reached his couch and nearly flopped onto it. Letting out an exaggerated yawn, he felt his left paw reach for the remote wedged between two cushions. That is, until he realized the hoards of notes he had dropped onto his polished brown table in front of the couch. His eyes could make out nearly everything, down to the shade of black ink he had used to scribble down whatever statements from the witness and family interviews he thought would even be mildly important.
It was a task he’d reluctantly agreed to let Judy assign him. All the evidence to back up how well he could speak to people, and she was still insistent on taking the role of interviewer. At that point, he'd considered asking why she didn’t want to give him the arguably harder job, but he’d quickly remembered whom he was talking to. Then he asked himself why he was trying to do the harder job anyway. Hell, all he had to do was stand there as Judy yapped her questions away, occasionally throw in additional questions only someone as clever as he could think of, and simply write things down.
Nick let his paws drop dead on his snout. He tried to make sense of his awfully handwritten notes and the seemingly unhelpful information about all the interviewees, Alas, he felt distracted by a strange longing to get back to work again. Just not this kind of work.
Before he could lament over that one for a good while, a knock on the door had him instinctively closing any booklets and turning any visible writing over on its side. He cocked his head and felt the air rush through his snout. For a moment, the question of who it could possibly be sparked in his mind. All Nick could do was try to keep it lingering there before it became painfully obvious who it was again, and how impeccable his timing was.
He let his toes tap, his thumbs twiddle, and his teeth gnaw hard into the last bite of celery. Soon he heard another knock, louder and with a familiar voice.
"Ey, Nick! Open the damn door."
“Ask politely and I might have enough energy,” Nick called through the chewing noises he was desperately trying to make louder.
"Politely?" Despite all his efforts, Nick still heard a grumble loud and clear from the other side. "Are you still tryna' get me to kiss your tail?"
"Wouldn’t mind that." Nick finally swallowed the final piece of the stick, reluctantly walking past the living room table and into the foyer. "As long as you don't masturbate while doing it. My poor wool couch can only take so much moi-"
"Why the hell would I do that?" The voice had gotten significantly louder, no thanks to Nick having reached his side of the door by now. All that separated them was the thin piece of wood which Nick wouldn't be surprised to see kicked down soon enough.
"Think of the sheep, buddy. Now, I know my tail is hard to resist, but have some respect for the sheared."
For a moment, Nick heard no knocks or grumbles until the voice came in a notably gruff tone. "Gross. Just open the door."
"Not so fast, pal. We had a deal, remember? Ask politely and I'll potentially have enough energy to open it."
"We didn-" Was all Nick heard before another groan. He had to restrain himself from snickering until the voice became deeper and louder. "What's this about, huh? You got someone over you don't want me to see? Fuckin' that rabbit after all?"
That was enough to make Nick’s jaw drop, albeit briefly. Fortunately it wasn't enough to break his shtick. Regaining his composure, and his smile, he started walking away from the door, gradually making his voice softer. "That's quite a shame, but I don't suppose I'll lose too much sleep over a crack like-"
"NICK!" The voice seemed to have as much volume as it would had Nick stayed in the same spot. The simultaneous knock along with the booming tone was enough to stop Nick again, this time with a heavier feeling than before. The voice showed a tad bit more desperation. "Come on, man. Please."
"There ya go. Was that so hard?" Nick called back, dramatically twirling around. Although, by the time he'd reached the door again, he'd sighed twice and slumped his shoulders notably. Once he opened it, his smug smile had become an exhausted frown.
Finnick looked notably more disheveled than he used to after a hustling day. Perhaps if this wasn’t the first time he was knocking on his door at such a late hour, Nick would have been the least bit surprised at his appearance. For two shifty foxes working on the streets, they’d taken an odd obsession to a rather particular attire: a well-fitted shirt, to which Nick even added a purple tie, and a neat pair of cargo shorts. Once Nick had seen Finnick’s eyes half-open, his shirt a quarter unbuttoned, and his fur ruffled, he’d realized priorities must have shifted after he went to the Academy.
“You just keep coming,” Nick mumbled, the sarcastic intonation having escaped his voice entirely. Even though he knew exactly where Finnick would go after coming in, Nick kept his eyes on him as he sluggishly dragged his tail across the foyer, hopped on the table, and launched into a corner of the couch.
As Finnick reached for the remote under one of the cushions, Nick took it upon himself to gather the sheets of paper, one of which had blown off the table from Finnick’s surprisingly swift movements, and stuff them in his room around the corner of the hallway. He’d only been in there for a minute when he heard Finnick call back, “Well why d’ya think that is, friendo?”
Nick waited a few seconds to answer, only partially due to his struggles to keep papers and files organized on his desk. “Well I’d love to say I know why you’re so insistent on staying here every other night, but you’ve got me there.”
“Think long and hard about it,” Finnick called back. It kept Nick in his room, even long after he finished sorting everything. He blinked hard with an intensely blank look, one that he’d almost never let Judy see. It was something she hadn’t known him long enough to do yet, but Finnick had no problems saying things that made Nick feel like one of the idiots they’d fooled back in their prime. Finally, after half a minute passed, Nick peered out of the hallway and trudged back towards the living room. Finnick was now slouched, thrusting the remote towards the television as he mashed one of the buttons with his thumb. He didn’t stop until some cartoon about elephants came on. “Did ya think yet? Need a little bit more time?”
By now, Nick had fully realized that half of his stupidity came from his own denial to believe it. He plopped down on the opposite end of the couch with a sigh, taking care not to sit on his own tail. “Aside from your precious van breaking? You’ve got me fooled.”
“Well if you’d consider my damn situation, maybe you’d see why I’d expect you to let me crash for a few.”
“Which I am clearly doing,” Nick pointed out. Before Finnick could retort, he added, “And for the record, it’s been more than a ‘few.’ But the last time I checked, my house isn’t the only place to live when you’re low on cash.”
“Whadda you expect, Nick? Want me to go to some crap-ass motel?”
“Well, that’s a start.” Shortly after he spoke, he heard the television volume drop. After a brief eyeroll, he turned his attention back to Finnick, whose face had scrunched up.
“Get outta here. Never in my life.”
“Why?” Nick’s ears folded back, something that only happened when his frustration levels rose. This did not, however, stop him from using an infantilizing tone. “Aw, living conditions not nice enough for you? Can’t handle the-”
“Cuz I don’t got the money!” Finnick nearly shouted. Nick easily noticed him breaking eye contact.
“Are you broke? A motel in Zootopia might cost twenty Bucks. Twenty-five if you want slippers.”
Finnick didn’t answer, nor did he look back at Nick. He simply kept his eyes glued to the television with a long, drawn-out sigh.
Nick himself glanced at the screen again, but his gaze quickly rose up to the white ceiling. He looked up there as if a massive paw might somehow drop down, grab Finnick by his enormous ears, and throw him out. Not that Nick would necessarily want to see that happen, but it wasn’t like he would lose too much sleep over it if it did. Part of him might have even been relieved.
When Judy had found him lying under that bridge, his instinct to stand up, walk away, and guilt-trip her even harder than throwing the ZPD application in her face had only come just in time. What’s more, when it did come, it only lasted until she started pouring her heart out to him. Admittedly, his mind been lingering on the burning question of just how exactly she had found him. When he learned that Finnick had told her his location, Nick recalled blinking hard and emitting a small yelp of surprise, which of course Judy laughed at.
It wasn’t that Nick had doubted Finnick’s abilities. Sure, he wasn’t the smarter of the two and Nick never had to tell him that, but he’d never put it past Finnick to be able to track people. For all he knew, Finnick had simply followed his tail when he trudged on over to that bridge. It hadn’t taken Nick long to realize he was one of the best partners he could have chosen. He was just as much, if not more stealthy than he was slick. Without him, any jobs that required traveling through vents would have been near impossible.
There was no doubt that Judy’s impact on his life had long been sitting with him, and that there was a lot more his self-loathing mind had to lament about. But he’d be lying if he said Finnick’s sole action of showing her his location wasn’t a shocker, either. If Finnick really wasn’t as smart as he gave him credit for, perhaps Nick could believe that he’d been trying to aggravate him by sending her his way. Instead, Nick had assumed Finnick knew he’d always wanted Judy to eventually come back. So it came down to two motives: Finnick really wanted somebody to help him hustle again, or to help his friend out of a ditch. That had been the first time in their entire hustling career when Nick had considered if he could truly call Finnick a friend. Although they were infrequent, days came when he wondered if joining the Academy was a stupid attempt to throw a friendship away. All under the guise of starting a new life with a rabbit he had known for just a short few months.
For either one’s sake, Nick attempted to continue the conversation, matching Finnick’s sigh and pitching his voice up to play a hopefully reassuring tune. “Here’s the thing. All you have to do is get a motel for a couple of days and get some food. It’s not that bad. Just wait it out until you get your share for this ‘top secret’ job you’ve been talking about for weeks.”
Not the best thing to tell somebody who was straight out of money, but Nick found himself perfectly capable of calling Finnick’s bluff. He certainly knew what it felt like to be in denial. Finally, Finnick turned to face him. “You really want me outta here that bad?”
Nick slowly shook his head. “I have work to do. Legally, I can’t even work in the same room as you.”
“So, now you follow rules?” Finnick scoffed, but not before he blinked and stared at Nick for what seemed like twenty seconds. As if he had any shred of empathy to somehow see it from Nick’s perspective. Admittedly, even Nick was having a hard time siding with himself. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had looked at his ceiling with that eerily guilty face.
Conflicted though he was, it was no excuse not to be his typical self. If Finnick was giving him a rope, he damn well was going to take it. “Uh, yeah. Ever since I became an enforcer of them, brainiac.” He managed to show a grin and he mock-yawned. “What are they having you do for money, anyway? Figured we’d exhausted just about every alley by the time I called it quits.”
“Don’t get so carried away.” It took a few seconds and a loud scoff for Finnick to finally adjust his posture against the couch cushions. Nick had to focus on his face to see it, but his mouth truly had curved upwards, albeit slightly. “And you really think I’m gonna tell you after you say somethin’ like that? Enforcer of law my ass, Wilde. You’s a snitch.” He emphasized the last word flamboyantly. “Tryna rat me out.”
“Actually, at the ZPD, we have priorities,” Nick retorted, his voice slipping into an overly professional tone. “We’re putting all our effort in the case at hand. Therefore, unless you had anything to do with what I’m investigating right now, you’re in the clear.”
“Aw, bullshit. You can’t wait to put me in cuffs and you know it.” Finnick took his gaze off Nick and focused back towards the television. By now the credits were bouncing to the rhythm of a song seemingly made from elephant trunks. “How ‘bout we make a deal. We go to the bar. I’ll tell you what I’m doin’, and you tell me what you’re doin’.”
“Ha! I can’t do that and you know it. The case isn’t public knowledge.”
Finnick gave Nick a sideways look. His voice turned gruff again. “And I’ll get a motel tonight.”
That was enough to make Nick chew on the thought. He wasn’t so selfless that he was going to run away from an opportunity to get Finnick out of his house. Of course, only now did he seem to be enjoying his company. As if all issues had been shoved off into a nearly bulging open closet. Still, he had no business trying to slack off, certainly not after the argument with Judy that morning. The faster he got to work uninterrupted, the better. Consider the case cracked.
“Fine. One drink, no details.”
Had Judy not been so tired, perhaps she would not have been struggling as hard to keep on task. She never had any trouble making out her penmanship - a kind of pawwriting nobody else on the force could ever decipher - but still her eyes wouldn’t move across the notebook. Certainly not to a point where any rational thought about the interviews popped up in her head.
The only mammal she sometimes struggled to be honest with was herself. But this wasn’t one of those times. She was exhausted to the point where she couldn’t fake it anymore. Not for Bogo, not for the force, not even for herself. So as she finally laid back on her bed, tucking her ears between her head and her fluffed pillow, Judy let herself relax. For a moment, she would allow herself to stop thinking about the case, even if that meant still letting her mind skip around the tangential parts of it.
It had been a wonder why she’d been so steadfast on Nick being the notetaker, especially when she’d always known that she was going to take her own notes on the witnesses alongside asking the questions. Knowing him, her scribbles were still somehow more detailed. That is, if she wasn’t giving Nick his due credit for being a police officer. Whether she liked it or not, the more days they spent on the force together, the more she found herself obligated to give him credit where she’d never thought it was due before. Especially after a day on which he willingly, and seemingly thoroughly, examined a corpse when she’d been unable to. Even after all his work on the Missing Mammals Case, here he was, still surprising her on a day-to-day basis. Something in her mind kept lowering her expectations of him, and she couldn’t help but realize its existence. As if it were some sort of instinct.
That kind of predisposition towards predators which having a fox as a partner could only help to mitigate so much. There was a part of Judy that realized, for better or worse, that it wasn’t going to go away anytime soon. Instead of lamenting about how much she’d blamed the traditions of Bunnyburrow and her family for that, she opted to consider another possibility in the same realm. Maybe Nick was doing just fine, and she hadn’t met her own expectations today, for a similarly instinctual reason.
Despite having lived with other rabbits her whole life, Judy couldn’t say she had felt this way before. Not for any of her own kind, let alone a buck she hadn’t known any better from a rabbithole on the farm. As she let her paws slide into the gap between her head and ears, Judy felt herself taking a deep breath, as if her body had reacted to a wave of fear before her mind could. She’d never had to tell herself twice that she was more than capable of tackling a case in a full-on objective matter. The Academy had certainly taught her well, what with how easy she’d made it look on the Missing Mammals Case. Yet here she was, questioning her own ability to stay level headed in what could just be a simple follow-up mystery.
If she hadn’t already fallen asleep, maybe she would have taken some time to worry about it.
When she awoke rather suddenly, it was to the sound of her phone, playing the same tone she’d never bothered to change since coming to the City. She took a moment to rub her eyes to the rhythm of the tune, then forced herself up to blankly stare at the Caller ID message on her screen. She couldn’t say she was surprised at who it was, but it was never this late. Granted it was only 9:30 P.M, and Judy was well used to staying up past midnight, but she’d expected somebody like her mother to be fast asleep by now.
Any different circumstances and she probably would have answered the phone in a much less interested tone. “Uh, mom?”
“Hey, bun bun!” Funny how her mother’s voice always seemed loud, even if she was clearly trying to be quiet. Even if she was getting up there in age, Bonnie Hopps never lost that enthusiasm Judy had always been used to. “How’s it going? I was going to Muzzletime you, but it looks like it’s too dark.”
“I-it’s fine,” Judy said, unable to overcome that initial bout of shock. Unfortunately, she wasn’t at the luxury of being able to raise her voice past a whisper in her apartment. “Um, how are you?”
Her mother had been about to say something, but she stopped herself short. “Oh, everything’s...well, just the same as you left it. I’m sure you know not much happens here. Oh, except for one thing: your sister Pauline picked her ten thousandth carrot today!”
When Judy realized her mom had paused for a reaction, she blurted out, “Oh, wow!” in the most excited voice she could manage. It probably wasn’t all too enthusiastic a tone, but at least her mother couldn’t see her eyes rolling in practically slow motion. “That is some milestone.”
“Yeppers! We had a celebration. Gideon even brought her a whole pie.”
“Pie? He never did that for me ,” Judy said mockingly. Of course she knew why, but she needed something to fill the air.
Fortunately, her mother seemed to remember, as she was chuckling at Judy’s remark. “Oh, how he’s changed. I’ll tell you, I think he’s getting better and better every day. Ever since he apologized to you when you were back for those few months, he’s been much happier.”
“Mmm.” Judy paused, tucking her phone between her shoulder and ear. As she adjusted her sitting position on her creaky bed, she sighed. Then, for what she believed was probably just to fill the air again, she muttered, “Sure taught me a thing or two, after all.” She hadn’t been sure that it’d reached the other line, but assumed her mother hadn’t heard it when she seemed to change the subject.
“But what about you? How’s my bunny from afar doing?”
“Me?” Judy asked, in a much more exhausted tone than shocked. She’d certainly expected the question, especially after she’d asked it first, but for some reason a simple answer about her wellbeing and recent events was taking longer to form than she had wished. So much longer that her mother’s instincts got involved.
“Darling, is something wrong? Are they working you to the dirt again?”
“N-no!” Judy responded with what she thought was just as much instinct as her mother. But then, she let out another sigh before revising. “Well, yes, but...you know how it is.”
“Only too well.” Her mother’s tone was not as pleasant as she had wished. “Did Chief Bogo give you another case?”
“Yeah.” Even though Judy hadn’t meant to sound angry, she could feel her tone getting firmer. “Yeah, guess you can say that.”
“Haven’t you done enough for him after solving the biggest case in Zootopia?”
“That was months ago, mom.”
“Certainly not enough time for this town to forget, because you’re still being hailed as the ‘Rabbit Making the World a Better Place.’ What could you possibly be solving now? Are predators going savage again?”
“No,” Judy said after a long drawn-out sigh. By now she meant to show annoyance through her tone and she had no problems with her impatience shining through. She couldn’t even correct her mother before she just had to guess another time.
“Oh, something worse? Are prey going savage?”
She hated every fiber in her body that was pushing her to be honest. But damn her if she was going to retreat back into her old self. The naive hick, as Nick had put it, who thought everything was going to be great, had a bad first day on the job, stepped in cement, and came back to the very hole in the wall - in which she could now sleep with no issues. Even though her mother was waiting for an answer, Judy found the time to glance around.
It hadn’t been the first time she’d thought it: once she got used to it, her apartment really wasn’t the worst place to live in at all. Passing the phone to her other paw, she glanced over at her fridge, full of the so-called “Zootopian delicacies” which, after she grew an acquired taste for them, weren’t half bad. Her eyes panned across the room, past the sound-proof wall foam she had installed to muffle her floormates’ constant bickering, and stopped on the meter maid uniform that still hung over her bed. The one she was wearing when she tried so desperately to cover up all her problems when her parents had called her that night.
“Hello?” Urged her mother. It was enough to break Judy out of her daze. “What are they making you work on?”
“It’s a murder case.”
“A WHAT?! That does it Judy, I wi-”
“What do they think they can do to you, just because you s-”
“ Mom ,” she tried again. Although the firmness in her voice failed again to halt her mother’s tirade.
“...and you’re telling me they have the audacity to make my little bun work on a-”
“MOM!” Judy yelled, finally breaking out of her firm whisper. The following sound came from Pronk, yapping at her to shut up from nextdoor. She only briefly glanced at her walls before continuing. “How many times…,” she had to pause to take a deeper breath, “...have we had this discussion? Not only have I been grown for a long time now, but I am a sworn officer of the Zootopia Police Department. We are obligated to protect all of the city’s civilians at all costs, and yes , sometimes, actually, most times, our job is hard and dangerous. That does not mean you can go around complaining to either my chief or other supervisors at the Precinct every time I get put on a case that’s more than somebody spitting on the street. I know it’s hard for you and Dad, but trust me when I say that I can handle it.”
She welcomed the long pause that followed. The aftermath of pent up anger having been released was taking more than just a few seconds to fade away. But the more air she allowed through her twitching nose, the more justified she considered herself for having exploded. Her right foot seemed to gain composure as it slowed down its tapping rhythm against the marble floor.
When her mother spoke, it was with a surprisingly calm tone. “Dear, you have to understand. Your father and I are trying to support you, but we can’t help it. We’re worried sick.”
“I know,” Judy replied.
“I mean…” Her mother’s voice trailed off before inching forward with, “...what are we supposed to do? You can’t tell me you’re getting put on a murder case and expect me to sleep like a log now, right?”
“No…” Her reply was a bit more breathless. Guilt reached and pulled her ears down so that they were droopy. “But I’m happy. I love working here.”
The next pause didn’t feel as comforting as the first. Not until mother finally let out a chuckle amidst a heavy exhale. “Oh, honey, if only you were still a meter maid. I guess those plans fell through pretty quickly, huh?”
She couldn’t help but match her mother’s laugh and glance over at her bed again. Anything to help the tension settle. “Yep. Sure did. Now why are you calling so late? Is everything okay?”
“Well, I have some rather, erm, exciting news to share with you. Your father and I were puttin’ the little ones to sleep, and I’m sure you know how much of a hassle it is to so much as get one of you kits in bed at this time of night. But I happened to be passing by our landline when it started ringing with another one of those unidentified phone numbers. Now, your father and I vowed to always pay attention to them. We know they’re all probably about you before we even get to them, and most of the time it’s someone from the press wanting to interview you. But for fear that someone might be calling us about your safety or something, we’ve been picking them all up. Naturally we’ve stopped telling you about every single one of the calls - knowing full well you don’t want to be bothered by them. But this one was pretty different, because it was from a buck!”
“What?” Judy blurted out. “But how do you know?”
“‘Cause he told us.”
In disbelief, Judy pressed again. “But you don’t know that. What if they’re actually a badger, and they’re just trying to get your attention?”
“No, dear. Trust me, I know a buck’s voice when I hear one. After all, not a day goes by where I don’t see hundreds of them.”
Judy blinked hard at first, perhaps in an attempt to understand how that worked, but chalking it up to good old mother’s instinct, she just nodded. “Fine...what’d he say?”
That prompted her mother to go back into her narrative tone. This version of her voice seemed more aware that there were sleeping kits nearby, as it seemed to lower in volume accordingly. “He seemed, erm, really set on talking to you. He didn’t have your phone number, so I figured he’d somehow found out you’re from here.”
“‘Really set on talking to me’,” Judy echoed. She blinked as a low groan crept out of her throat. “Mom, please don’t tell me you did what I think.”
“Oh, no. He just wants some political advice. I tried telling him you were only a police officer, but he said that speech you gave at the Academy graduation was enough to convince him you could help.”
She wasn’t sure which had come upon her faster - the relief that her mother wasn’t trying to set her up, or the unsettling recollection that she’d just been assigned a case where a political buck had been murdered. All she could muster in that moment was, “Oh.”
Her mother’s tone grew meek. “However...he did sound pretty young, and you’re only young for so much longer…”
“Mom!” Judy interrupted. Funnily enough, things like that always seemed to break her out of her dazes, no matter how heavy they were. Her tone had grown whiny, as if she’d seen the joke from a mile away. “Need I remind you that I can date whomever I want, too?”
“You know I’m kidding, honey,” her mother said. She started to laugh, which prompted Judy to giggle in unison. “Anyway, I’ll text you his number. You don’t have to reach out to him, but I wanted to leave you with the option in case you wanted to help someone who's probably been in your shoes.”
“How do you know that? Is he from Bunnyburrow?”
“Doesn’t matter where he’s from. In my book, if there’s a rabbit who for whatever reason decided to move to Zootopia, they sure as ever were in your shoes at some point.”
That only made Judy roll her eyes. “Did he say anything else? Did you even get his name?”
“Actually...no. I must have been so caught up in thinking I’d have to give the routinely ‘Sorry, she’s not available for interviews now,’ answer when he was introducing himself. That, or he didn’t even give it in the first place.”
Judy couldn’t tell if she was squinting her eyes from confusion or annoyance at her mother’s lack of attention to detail. “Alright, thanks.”
What rabbit wouldn’t give his own name to another rabbit, let alone the mother of the very rabbit he was trying to get ahold of? Not like Judy was particularly fond of the whole “species united” argument, or at least she thought. Sure, she had felt, and was still going to feel, horrified at what had happened to Larry. But that didn’t make it any easier for her to tie her possibly having inspired a political figure with the fact that she and him were both rabbits. As proud as she’d been to wear the bunny badge of honor, she had to wonder if that was another sign of Old Judy wanting to come out again. Not everything had to be a species thing. This felt personal - as if one of her sisters had ousted her entire family - and Judy couldn’t help but feel like she just had to reach out to whoever this buck was.
At the very least, as rare a chance it had of happening, she’d do it to gather any kind of information on a case with which she and Nick had gotten nowhere. Still, her better part couldn’t let herself off with any excuses. It may not have been a romantic interest, but part of it was most definitely a curious interest. Not for the force, not for other rabbits, and not even for herself. Just for her shamelessly adventurous mind. Maybe, at this rate, it was only a matter of time until her parents’ fears would come true.
Judy initially hesitated amidst dialing the number her mother had sent her into her keypad. She took a moment, rubbing the edge of her phone against her forehead, to consider waiting until the next day. This didn’t last long, however. Soon she found herself continuing, readying an uplifting tone for her voice. One of the perks of being a police officer was that leaving voicemails felt nearly as procedural as making a traffic stop or reading Miranda rights.
That instinct didn’t fail her this time, despite her uncertainties. It somehow came so easily. She’d say a normal greeting, promptly apologize for calling so late - simply because she was just as interested as he was to converse - leave a callback number with some general information, and meekly mention that she hadn’t caught his name before.
But the phone only rang twice before the other line picked up.
Nick was starting to hate himself more than the itching feeling his silk clothes made against his still-dampened fur. At first, Finnick’s proposal seemed reasonable. But the closer they got to Lambo Bar, the more stupid he realized he was being. Apparently, being away from Finnick for so long made him easier to underestimate. Nick had thought Finnick’s plan was so foolproof. The way he casually suggested crashing at a place that wasn’t his really made it seem like he was trying to cut a deal. But Nick could only kid himself for so long. Obviously, Finnick had other plans up his sleeve, and sometimes Nick couldn’t help be as curious as Judy.
Letting out a slight grunt, Nick hoisted himself up from his despairing slouch and sat up straight in his chair. The bartender, a husky koala, seemed occupied with a few dingoes to his and Finnick’s left, so Nick took it upon himself to swivel. Anything to help him stretch his frame, even if it’d make Finnick groan at how childish it looked.
The last three months didn’t give him too much time to consider what the Missing Mammal Case had really done for the city. That is, aside from making Judy famous and keeping her partner up at night. No, the press hadn’t started bothering him yet, but maybe that wasn’t too bad a curse to be affected with. He couldn’t imagine how much the added stress of having to look at cameras, microphones, and crowds of journalists would exacerbate the conflict that already stewed inside. One he had wanted to worry about after that shower earlier tonight, but he supposed he could do just as thoughtfully while the koala was finishing up his flirting for the night.
Speaking of which, maybe it wasn’t as uncommon to see prey and predator getting along that much. Once Nick’s chair had fully turned to the corner, he had no problems noticing the koala had reached over the bar to stoke the fur of one of the dingoes’ arms. That neither of the predators were showing their fangs was a testament Nick wasn’t so sure he wanted to believe. He tried turning his head away, much faster than the chair was, and his eyes set on just another interspecies gathering nearing the bar’s entrance. A group of mammals, predators and prey alike, sat around the table, sharing laughs and drinking whiskey in suits. If Nick knew anything about dress and attire, it looked like some kind of business celebration. Even if it wasn’t how they acted behind closed doors, at least they could share moments of releasing inhibition together.
The worst part was that, in the back of his mind, Nick knew the underlying issue of specism was more subtle. Hell, koala and dingo have been getting along for a while now. It was only Nick’s consciousness telling him otherwise. That solving the Case somehow broke this apparent wall between predator and prey that was keeping them from living in harmony. Even if that were true, much less convincing was the argument that he and Judy had anything to do about it. They were just the ones working on the case. Solving one meant lots - just not nearly as worldly as the Missing Mammals Case had made it seem. No doubt would Nick feel a certain type of happiness whenever he’d solve his first official case. After all, he’d be doing Judy - and his optimistic side that she had inspired to come out of his shell - proud. He just wasn’t sure if that would be enough to satiate the hunger which had been living on from age twelve.
Either from sheer interest or will to stop thinking about it, Nick suddenly became eager to look at the other side of the bar, He turned his head faster than the chair was spinning again. That was when Finnick’s ears began to block his entire view. His scowl showed he was none too pleased. “What in the hell are you doing?”
“Obligatory survey of the area,” Nick replied. He promptly pressed his paws to the wooden bar in front of him to halt his chair. Slightly dizzy, he shook his head until he could clearly see the stack of premium drinks on the shelves in front of him. “I’m a cop now, remember?”
“You’re off duty,” Finnick said dryly.
“That’s not a reason to let your guard down,” Nick berated. Then he put his finger up and tilted it towards one of Finnick’s ears. “At the ZPD, we-”
“Shut up.” Rolling his eyes, Finnick tapped his paw on the bar and mumbled, “I’m ‘onna need another one of these.”
Nick’s smile curved wider. Satisfied with himself, and in no rush to start any kind of conversation, he tapped his claws in the most annoying rhythm he could think of until the koala pulled himself away from the dingoes. The bartender was definitely shorter than Nick, but the stool he stood on nearly made them eye-level. The koala blinked at nothing before looking down at Finnick with a smirk. "Another round?”
“Ya already know, boss,” Finnick croaked.
“Slow down there, buddy.” Reaching over to grip the empty glass, the koala gave Finnick a concerned look. “That’s the fastest I’ve seen you down one of these in a while.”
“As long as I keep throwing you Bucks, you don’t got a say.”
The koala looked as if he was about to retort, but bit his lip and glanced over at Nick instead. “You know, Finn, I’d be throwing you some speech about being a better mammal than I am a bartender if it weren’t for your friend here.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Nick chirped. Rather than splay backwards, his ears spiked up straight.
Now the bartender turned his frame to face him fully. “I don’t know you at all, but you seem trustworthy enough to make sure he doesn’t go overboard tonight.”
Nick inhaled sharply, raising his eyebrows. “Ah, that’s mildly convenient for someone like you to say.”
“What would you like?” The bartender deadpanned. Admittedly it threw Nick off guard. He knew from his hustling days that calling mammals out would do nothing short of pissing them off. Especially in bars like these, when mammals had nothing but their already shaky pride to defend. Maybe Zootopia was changing even more than he was giving it credit for.
“Uh, yeah,” Nick started. He glanced down at the menu on the table, but the words came out of his mouth before he could read any of the items. “How’s about a Jackrabbit?”
“On the rocks?”
“Yes,” Nick chirped, looking up the koala with a smile. “I can’t get drunk if I’m supposed to watch over Finnick. Certainly wouldn’t want bartenders taking advantage of him, now would we?”
“I did tell him to slow down,” the koala said in a tone that wasn’t as meek as Nick had expected.
“Ah, leave Hap alone. He don’t mean no harm,” Finnick said before Nick could retort. “Real reason is cause you’s a cop now, and the cops can’t get drunk, right?”
Nick turned to meet Finnick’s half-glare. “Hey, two months from now and you’ll be happy I saved your tail from the worst crime of your life, pal.”
“That ain’t gonna happen.”
“Wanna bet? Two months, not kidding.”
"Will that be all?" The koala interrupted. For someone his height, he had no problem butting his way into half-serious arguments with an assertive tone. "Before you two start ripping at each other's throats?"
"Mhm," Finnick grunted. "Thanks, Hap."
“Yeah. Thanks, Hap,” Nick said in an exaggeratedly high-pitched voice. It got nothing more than a nod from Hap, who walked off with Finnick’s empty glass. The dingoes had left the table, so aside from the commotion around the bar, the spotlight of silence shone on them even brighter. Using the bar as leverage, Nick hoisted himself straight up on his seat. “He has a nickname for you. Are you telling me you’re a regular here?”
Finnick responded promptly, but Nick could see in his peripheral that he’d averted his gaze downwards. "After you went to the Academy I found about a hundred reasons to come here every night."
“What reasons?” Nick did nothing more than cock his head towards him, but he kept his gaze locked on Hap, who was just now retrieving another glass and the nearly-empty bottle of Jackrabbit from one of the shelves. Despite having to stand on the tips of his toes, he seemed pretty good at holding three things in two paws. Even as Finnick started to answer, Nick couldn’t help but observe how effortlessly he jammed the bottle and edge of one of the glasses into his paw.
“Feeling betrayed, losin’ hope, no money, um…” Finnick trailed off until Nick finally glanced over at him fully. “Want me to keep goin’?”
“That will suffice,” Nick began. He continued even after Finnick had turned his attention back to the floor. “Except for two things.”
“What’s that?” The tone of Finnick’s voice sounded dead and detached, and it took an awfully long time for him to push two words through his lips.
“Number one,” he held a sturdy index finger up until he was sure Finnick at least had seen it in the corner of his eye, “stop guilt tripping. I know it’s heartbreaking but even I don’t have all the patience in the world. Secondly,” he paused for a breath as he held up the index finger from the other paw, “you’ll have to forgive me for intruding, pal, but I happen to know how much money we had when I called it quits, and I know how much of it I let you take.” He would have kept going. By god he surely wanted to let Finnick feel it. But his own admittedly frustrated instincts stopped him as his sight set on Finnick’s downward glare at seemingly nothing. “What are you even doing?”
Finally, Finnick let out a grumble as he looked at Nick, then over the bar towards the shelves. The movement of his head revealed his cellphone, which he had stuffed between his legs on the chair. “Nothin’. Mama’s sick.”
Nick chuckled. “Your mother’s dead. Did you mean your sister?” He knew that wasn’t true, but just as quickly as he’d become frustrated, he wanted to see how far Finnick would take this one. Or perhaps if he was even paying attention.
Finnick didn’t move his head, but he did blink in the same direction. “Uh, yeah.”
Nick was going to ask something else, but as if it were some kind of leftover instinct, he opted to scan his head around the bar. That’s when he saw Hap approaching them with their drinks. Nick found himself raising his eyebrows. Damn.
If there had been any doubt in his mind, he was now sure that he’d been underestimating Finnick. If they really were meant to talk about jobs and future plans, the conversation could turn more than just a little suspicious, very soon. Sure, Finnick was the real criminal, but if Nick wasn’t careful enough, the ZBI would be on his tail more than they already apparently were. He wanted to kick himself for not remembering to keep on the alert side. Biting his lip in either caution or shame, he spoke to fill the air. “Why thank you, Mr. Hap.”
Hap nodded as he slid both glasses across the table. “I’ll be here if you need anything more.”
“I’m sure you will,” Nick replied with a cock of his head and an overly slow nod.
“Put everything on his tab,” Finnick croaked. It was the loudest he had spoken since their initial bickering about betting.
That gave Nick nearly enough of an urge to look exasperated, but he stopped himself before curving up a warm smile. “Yep. My little treat. This little guy’s a year older today.”
“You mean Finn?” Hap asked. He raised his eyebrows before smoothly turning to Finnick. “Is he your dad or something?”
Nick blinked in amusement as an idea popped into his head. There existed no instincts in his head to suppress jokes. Finnick started to speak, but no more than a stutter came out before Nick reached over and caught one of his ears between his fingers. “Sure is! Can only grow as fast as your dreams, though.”
“HEY!” Finnick shouted, yanking his head away. He finally freed his ears from Nick’s grip when he swatted his arm with his paw and stood up on the chair. Admittedly, it didn’t help him much height-wise. “Get the hell off me! How’s about I bite your ear off so you get rabies and die?”
“If I don’t bleed out before that, sure thing.” At least Nick didn’t have to force a smile on his face now. He calmly grabbed the glass from the table and took a swig, letting the bitter taste finds its way between his buds before gulping it down.
“Scratch that. You two are like an old married couple,” Hap uttered. Nick could tell he was trying to look annoyed, but the snicker that popped out of the corner of his mouth wasn’t helping his case. “Now stop before I have to escort you both out.”
“Will do,” Nick said with a shrug. “You can’t blame me though. I had to play along.”
Hap gave him one more feigned glare and half-chuckle before turning away. “Control your fox, Finn.”
“Gladly.” After a moment of prolonged staring at Nick, Finnick finally let himself plop back down onto his chair. His none too pleased expression fought with Nick’s attempt to not look the least bit guilty. “You think this is a game, Wilde?"
Nick shrugged. “What? If you’d been wearing that elephant costume, I think he would’ve bought it a lot more.”
Finnick started to let out a prolonged growl, digging into his face with his claws. Nick was about to say something, unsure if it would make things better or worse, but then he heard Finnick’s phone vibrate. With Nick opting to stay silent, Finnick let out a deep huff. Nick wasn’t the best at empathy, that was for sure, but he’d been around Finnick for long enough to know the banter wasn’t helping. He didn’t seem to be doing it all for drama’s sake, either.
“How’s your sister doing?” he tried. As sincere as he thought he was being, the thought of killing a joke was apparently too much for his pride to handle. He could only hope Finnick would be responsible to the not-as-sarcastic smile he’d put on.
Finnick looked up across the bar. He let a few moments of silence pass until reaching for his full drink. “D’ah. I got this stupid job, Nick.”
“Can’t be stupid if it pays.” Nick mirrored Finnick and took another swig. “Is this that same job you’ve been talking about for months now? The one from that ocelot I set you up with, right? What’s his name, Tails?”
“Um, Whiskers?” The only image of the ocelot Nick could gather in his head was a probably shakey one from the first and only time they’d met. Once he had him set up with Finnick, there was no need to see him face to face again. “Look, all I know is that it had to do with cat appendages. Terrible idea for an alias bu-.”
“No,” Finnick uttered in a firmer voice. “I ain’t got that job no more.”
Finnick just shrugged. “Just said he couldn’t do it no more. You know how it be. Shit happens.”
“Sure,” Nick replied with all the uncertainty he could muster up in his voice. Nearing the end of his hustling days, nobody dared back out of a deal with him. Still, he could remember how much money he lost to competitors when he was new in the scene. With a little more confidence in his tone he said, “But you have a new, stupid job now?”
“Yeah,” Finnick said, holding up the phone between his thumb and index finger.
“Well, do go on. Who’s it with?”
“Uh…” Finnick trailed off, hiding his phone between his legs again.
“I’ll know them. Trust me. I get it, I’m a cop now, b-.”
“It’s not that, Nick,” Finnick huffed, reaching for the back of his ears with one of his paws.
Nick furrowed his brow, making a note to talk more slowly. “What do you mean?”
“Well, the name is,” it was clear he was stalling, what with how slowly he tilted his head to look down again. “Brisky Beaver Twenty-Four.”
“Twenty-four,” Nick echoed with a gulp he was sure Finnick had heard loud and clear. As much internal reminescening he’d been doing about being a hustler after joining the ZPD, only now did he truly feel like one again. His senses became so alert that he blinked hard and suppressed any instinct to say something too quickly. Turns out that when self-incrimination was on the line, he was in no laughing mood. The worst part was that he couldn’t tell whether it feeling so nostalgic was a good or bad thing. Only when he was ready, he inhaled slowly and asked, “Did you really use the site?”
“Because it’s easy.”
Nick wasn’t sure what was setting him off more: what Finnick was doing or how calm he seemed that he was doing it. Still, he periodically bit his tongue so as to keep himself in check. For some reason he couldn’t be sure Finnick wouldn’t turn his tail in any slower than Bogo would if he’d tripped up. “Exactly. It’s too easy. Actually, scratch that. As easy as it is to find somebody just begging for a partner on that website, it’s even easier for someone to screw you on it.”
“That’s crap.” Finnick adjusted his posture. Slowly, he picked up his glass and took a prolonged sip. The glass drained quickly, and the residual sipping sounds weren’t helping Nick release any tension. “We both know it’s gonna make doin’ jobs a hell of a lot easier and quicker. You cops’ll have a hard time tracking us down, that’s fo’ sure. You’re just jealous that I’mma be making more than you.”
That was enough to make Nick forget to bite his tongue, if only momentarily. “Okay, one: Don’t flatter yourself. And two…” Sure, Finnick was wrong. If Nick knew anything, being on a website didn’t stop the feds from getting on users’ tails. Still, the prospect of criminals eventually getting smarter may as well have spread itself out across the bar table. They would find a way to avoid getting caught, and Nick was stuck to assume Finnick would be no exception. Maybe it really was the future of crime. Something that an old school family like Mr. Big’s would hate, but would probably be smart enough to latch onto. Nick didn’t know what he was visibly squirming at more: the fact that he’d been caught on the site, or that his future as an officer would be him fighting against the very pipeline he’d had quite the paw in manufacturing.
By now, Finnick was staring at him blankly. Nick continued just in time. “...nevermind. What’s the job?”
Finnick took a moment to respond, that residual confusion still in his eyes. Eventually, he turned back to his glass and groaned. “Just some delivery.”
“Delivery of what?”
Finnick paused for even longer before letting out one word. “Cargo.”
“Ah. That really clears it up.” As much as he wanted to leave it at that, his curiosity got the best of him as quickly as the website business had. Perhaps it was less of a curiosity and more of an attempt to get so much as a speck of a lead. “Look, I know we have to stay quiet about things now, but it doesn’t happen to be a kind of poison, does it?”
“Me?” Finnick had been reaching for his glass, but now he receded his arm, trying to suppress a snicker. “C’mon Nick, you’re killin’ me. If anyone’d do that, it’s Duke.”
Nick had expected the deflection, but not the accusation. “Okay, now how in Hap the Bartender’s name am I supposed to believe that?”
“You’d put him above doin’ that crap?”
“Of course not.” Nick paused and opted to take a sip. “But that doesn’t mean he did it.”
“You and I both know that asshole won’t think twice about pullin’ off crazy deliveries.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t have anything to do with delivering poison.”
Finnick made some gesture Nick couldn’t understand, then took another swig. “Well maybe it ain’t the same as poison, but he sure as hell had no problems stealin’ ‘em flowers that made the preds go apeshit.”
“He didn’t know the flowers did that.”
“He didn’t care.” Finnick punctuated his point by placing his glass flat back on the table. “All ‘em stupid sheep had to do was show him the money. Easy.”
By now, Nick’s stare was locked on a suddenly interesting crack on the bar table, yet his ears couldn’t have been listening any clearer and he wasn’t sure he liked it. “Now that you mention it, it’s not like trying and failing to sell bootleg DVDs gives him a steady stream of income.”
Finnick let out a slow shrug. His answer came to quickly for Nick to recover a hint of skepticism. “Bastard ain’t that slow either. When I heard the bunny caught his ass, I was shocked.”
Finally, Nick let out a sigh and allowed his eyes to set on Finnick again. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was giving in to, be it the possibility of Weaselton’s involvement or that Finnick had managed to slightly convince him. For the charm factor, though, he played the latter up. “Alright, not bad. You know...if I had one, I’d slap a Junior Detective sticker on you right now.”
That just made Finnick scoff. “Nick...don’t ever say that again.”
“No need to be bashful.” His smile had turned smug on cue. “Just think about it. I reckon we’d put shifty mammals behind bars so much faster than normal, the other officers would think we had some kind of inside information. Like we’d known them in a past life. It’s perfect! Who could stop us?”
“I guess some deadbeat rabbit who blackmails your ass and whole-heartedly convinces you to change your whole fucking life.”
Long since now, Nick had had a relatively foolproof gauge for Finnick’s anger levels. No mammal had to spend more than five minutes with him to realize his proclivity for sounding aggressive and loud. Even when he and Finnick had pulled their best hustling deal off by far, he sounded as if he wanted to wreak havoc on the sidewalk they’d been rejoicing on. Rather than through his demeanor, as small as his vocabulary was, whatever Finnick really was feeling always glimmered in his word choice. All Nick needed to hear was a certain degree of profanity, only a couple of times, before he knew to call it quits for the rest of the night.
“Alright, alright. That was low. On my part. Really, it sounds like you’re going to get along fine.” The volume of the bar hadn’t changed for a while now. As Finnick let out a sigh, Nick panned his head across the table. Down by the other side of the bar, Hap fiddled with a few bills in his paw. Whoever was next to those dingoes must have left him a lot of money, else he wouldn’t have had that smirk on his face. He eventually looked over to them, which prompted Nick to turn back to Finnick with a stronger urge to stay quiet. “So how much does your job pay?”
“Jack shit,” Finnick said as he looked over Nick’s shoulder. He lowered his voice accordingly, looked directly at his nearly empty glass, and slowly spun it around in his paws. “But it’s a weekly thing. Gonna add up slowly.”
“And you just got this now?”
Finnick nodded. After a pause, he finally took his eyes off the glass and gave Nick a smile that he was sure was inspired by his truly. “Your turn.”
“What?” Nick furrowed his brow.
“I’ve told you what I’m doin’. Now you tell me what you’re doin’.”
Nick scoffed. Turned out that getting grilled on something you should really keep your muzzle shut about wasn’t a good feeling at all. Oddly enough, it gave him a stinging urge to dig into his pocket, find his phone, and stare at it. Nick didn’t stop there, either. As if nobody dare see the black screen of nothing, he hid it on his chair so that his frame concealed it. That’s when he gained the confidence to talk. “Honestly, it’s nothing.”
“The hell you mean?”
“Like, it’s nothing.” Nick dared to peel his eyes away from the screen, albeit briefly. “You’ve seen the news and what’s happened. We barely know anything else.” When he went back to look at the screen, he bit his lip. Finnick would have to be the first to speak, and at this point Nick was internally praying that it wasn’t something asking him to clarify.
After a moment of what Nick could only assume was Finnick using the wisdom he apparently had a lot more of, he said. “They put you on that case?”
Suddenly, Finnick started letting out a screeching whistle. He didn’t stop until Nick stared at him. “Franky Larry’s murder?”
“Would you kindly stop being so dramatic? And loud?” Then by the grace of the vague deities, Nick noticed something in his peripheral. “Look, now this Hap guy thinks we need something. Actually, getting the check now wouldn’t be the worst idea.”
“Quit your stallin’.” Seemed like Finnick was either catching on or getting more impatient.
“Quiet down. Hap can hear us.” Out of his peripheral he saw Hap walking into what he assumed was earshot, so he shut up himself as well. As much as he underestimated Finnick, there were a few times like this when he’d blown himself away with his own shrewdness. No matter how hard Finnick was trying to hear Nick’s story, if one thing was for sure he wouldn’t pay any attention to what Nick was texting.
NW: Hope you bunnies carry some weasel repellent because we need to pay a visit to an old “friend”
If Judy wasn’t so surprised, maybe she would have found a second to let out a nervous chuckle. Funny how much knowing someone was listening on the other line made a difference. Indeed, her mind flickered blank, all thought sweeping out of the ear farthest from the phone. Too stunned to even blink, she tried to forget about everything - including whether or not she had dialed the wrong number - and find something to start with. Anything to fill what must be nearing five seconds of silence. Finally, when she could almost swear breathing was coming from the other side, she found her voice and sprung into action. Unfortunately, she was a fraction of a second too late.
“Ack!” She jumped back. Aside from how loudly and suddenly it had come, the voice sounded higher than she expected. All Judy could do now was try to sound less startled. The darkness, which had now spread around her room, wasn’t helping with that. “Hi?”
“Yes? Hello?” the voice replied with just as much force. Her ears vibrated like taut phone cords, as if the words had grazed against their rims.
“Yes! Hi,” Judy tried, tapping a bit further into her procedural persona. Even so, it felt like she was losing what little information she had the longer this continued.
She could only take in a quick breath before the voice said, “Who is this? My name is…Rafael Rogers.” The abruptly booming and dramatic tone made Judy blink hard, causing her eyelids to crumple. At least introducing herself was easy. In fact, she could afford to be a little fancy.
“It’s a pleasure to meet y-”
“Wait! Hold it!” he interrupted. Although it had done no more than startle her again, his strange conviction fed her the ironic image of being stopped for speeding. “Are you Officer Hopps?”
“Why, yes. Yes I am,” she tried to say in just as firm a voice. Something made her unable to stop from grinning like a fool. All the more tempting to bask in the glory of her own title was the overly loud gasp he made afterward.
“Oh, my god!” Now that the mystery was uncovered, the awkwardness seemed to be dropping as well. At the very least, it sounded like he’d found his voice, his stuttering now gone. “I apologize. I’d be saying so much more now, but it’s not everyday you get to talk to a city wide hero.” He even had the confidence to add in a little chuckle. “I think I’m a little starstruck, actually.”
Relieved that she in fact hadn’t dialed the wrong number, Judy let out an overdue sigh. Her smile, however, was long gone. Come to think of it, there wasn’t a single word quite like “starstruck” that could have sucked up her grin any quicker. Apparently the more appreciation is thrown at you, the harder it becomes to bathe in it. Might as well add some self-deprecation, inspired by her cynical partner himself. “Oh, there’s no need. I mean, this so called ‘hero’ you speak of still makes the ‘ears’ mistake every day on her job.”
“The ‘ears’ mistake?” He echoed, as if he couldn’t resist. “How dare you?!”
“Don’t act like you don’t make it, too,” Judy retorted. Although he couldn’t see her, she couldn’t help but lift up an index finger and shut her eyes. “The bottom of a patrol car doorway isn’t the only thing our ears can get caught in if we don’t droop them.”
Rafael received her joke with light giggles. “I...refuse to comment! Although I will say, while we could keep them lowered at all times, I’d rather not look like a moping fool everywhere I go.”
For what it was worth, her ears were surely upright now. “Yeah, it’s probably best we keep them in slight danger to look just a bit more happy.” It felt freeing to release tension, but she couldn’t keep it up for too long. Curiosity or concern got the best of her, as always. “So, why did you call my family to get a hold of me? You do know you could have left a message at the Precinct, right?”
Surprisingly, Rafael managed to not sound so whiplashed that it actually kept the momentum going. “Well, I was afraid they would slug me off. I don’t imagine the Department handles anybody that sounds like a ravishing fanbunny all that well.”
“So you went and called my parents instead?” It wasn’t the first time a fan had been more aggressive than most, but Judy couldn’t help but wonder why he’d gone this far. “How’d you even find my family’s number?”
If it weren’t for how calmly he was responding, perhaps this would have felt like an interrogation by now. “I understand this probably doesn’t sound too convincing, but I come from Deerbrooke, and some of my...acquaintances, we’ll say, moved from there to Bunnyburrow for a more scenic lifestyle. So I’ve essentially had contacts there for a while now. I didn’t expect them to know your landline at all, but they assured me it’s a small world over there.”
He was right: that didn’t sound the least bit convincing. But equally true was her mother: fans found their home number all the time. Also, ever since Nick made that podunk joke, it was becoming more apparent how dry and boring Deerbrooke County really was to live, so she couldn’t argue there, either. Unable to question him on the matter any further, Judy went on. “And your reason for calling? Something about the speech I made at the Academy graduation?”
“Yes.” Only now did he slow down his speaking pattern. “I need your help, Judy...may I call you that?”
Not this soon. Sharing a single rabbit joke and believing an only mildly convincing story wasn’t enough to break her guard. Although she did try to let him down in the politest tone she could manage. “Erm, Officer Hopps will suffice.”
“Yes, of course.” Not even that broke the momentum. If anything, he rephrased his request even more confidently. “I need your help, Officer Hopps.”
“With what?” Judy asked. Even though he slowed down, she felt as if he’d skipped a step. Surely she would have recognized him from Nick’s academy class, but he sounded too young to be a parent and too gentle to be a journalist. “Were you there? Are you an officer, too?”
“No,” Rafael replied. “I didn’t hear your speech, rather I read it in a front-page article on the Times.”
“Yes! It looks like the writer is known for gossip, but this one gave her a huge breakthrough.”
Judy cocked her head. “Was she a squirrel?”
“That’s what it looked like, from her profile page. Jacqueline Simpson. She included a full transcript of your speech and an interview.”
“Right…” Judy’s ears drooped. She found herself unable to remember a single question Jacqueline had asked, let alone any of her answers. “And what about it?”
“What about it!” he echoed. “Oh, Officer Hopps, it’s amazing. I must have read the article a hundred times by now. Somehow, every time I read it, I feel even more convinced we need to do something.”
“Well, I…” Judy trailed off, giggling and moving her paw to scratch behind her ears. “I’m glad it inspired you, Mr. Rogers. What are you going to do to make the world a b-“
“No no, it didn’t just inspire me, it…” He paused, except this time he let out a sigh. “Listen, you don’t have to be one of us to know the City needs some desperate changes. You do have to be a rabbit to know there’s no excuse for not trying. It’s like you said. Real life is complicated, so there might be some...complications, but that’s just life, right?”
“Sure?” Judy tried, much less convinced of the rabbit comment than the rest of his spiel. “So...what are you going to do?” This time there was no hint of patronage in her voice.
Rafael loudly cleared his throat, allowing his next sentence to sound crystal clear. “It took me a while to realize what has to be done, but I’m going to run for Mayor.”
She burst out in a chuckle. Her laughter was soft, at least by Bucky and Pronk’s standards. Else, she’d hear pounding on the wall in double tempo soon enough. That is, if she hadn’t been too stricken by his reveal to block out all other sounds. “What?”
“Mayor of Zootopia,” Rafael boomed, as if he took Judy’s surprise for just as much enthusiasm. “I’m running for it!”
“No,” Judy gasped. “You’re not…”
“Yes I am!”
“What?” It sure was settled in by now. If her eyes weren’t trying to bulge out of her ears, she might have heard how stupid she was sounding. “Why?”
“Well, you see-”
“Don’t you know the last rabbit candidate was just killed ?” she cut him off with a sudden wave of anger. The emphasis she placed on the last word sprayed tingles in her throat, spreading through her body and causing her to shudder. “What if it happens again?”
“It’s like I said,” Rafael replied calmly. “There may be some complications, but it’s no reason to not try. We both know it’s what Candidate Larry would have wanted.”
“So you’re inspired by another rabbit’s death?” She did everything in her power to show a hint of doubt in an already terrified voice.
“No,” Rafael whispered. “You inspired us all.”
This certainly wasn’t like an interrogation. More like a horror movie, or as Nick would probably say, a rabbit riot. Complete with snickering and encouragement that she had become the go-to for bunnies who wished for untimely deaths. That assessment was sounding closer to the truth with every second, but Judy wasn’t laughing. She spoke with all the force she could gather this late at night. “Mr. Rogers, please reconsider your options. Sometimes you don’t have to do that much to make a difference. Even if our contributions are small, if we all work together, there’s no doubt the City will notice. Why don’t you try joining the ZPD like I did? We’d love to have you on the force.”
“No,” Rafael exclaimed. It sounded as if she had offended him, but Judy knew a climbing passion when she heard one. “I mean no offense to you and the rest of the Department, of course, but I don’t think being an officer is enough to satisfy my goals. That, and I think I’ve been on the political track for far too long. I’m pretty sure they’d take anyone over a physically inept rabbit who’s spent almost his entire life as either a political science student, law graduate, senior lobbyist of a firm, or major campaign advisor for a few of the recent senators.” His tone had notably become lighter while going down that list. “And some volunteering on the side, I suppose.”
Judy’s stare turned blank. Rafael’s following silence gave her more than enough time to gather her bearings, but she couldn’t bring herself to keep persuading him. Somehow. “Okay, now I’m the one that’s starstruck. That is quite the resume you have there.”
“Oh, it’s really not that impressive,” Rafael began, then he chuckled. “But maybe that makes me sound a little less crazy?”
“Yes…” Judy hesitantly admitted, the first sign of intrigue fizzing through her voice. “But why do you need my help?”
“It’s a lot to talk about…” Rafael explained, trailing off. Judy had the thought to pester him, but he suddenly let out a roaring yawn. She nearly flung the phone away from her face, letting the ringing noise pass before slowly moving it back to her ear. “We would be up all night if we went at it now. Would you be okay with meeting up? You don’t have to say yes to anything yet, but trust me, if you really are the rabbit I think you are, you’ll want to hear me out and help.”
The buck had some rhetoric, that was for sure. At least when he wanted to. The yawn didn’t do much to help his case, but Judy felt no less persuaded by it. Whether it was the resume or an urge to listen to somebody as refreshingly determined as she was, Judy found herself chuckling at her sudden agreeableness. “Okay, yeah.”
“Great!” His shout of joy was almost as loud as his yawn. “I know a perfect place. It’s my favorite soup shop in all of Zootopia!”
“Okay,” was all Judy could muster, aside from another nervous laugh. “Just text me the address. Anytime after seven in the evening should work.”
“Amazing!” He exclaimed. Then he let out a sigh, his energy deflating like an aging balloon. “Thank you so much. I was afraid you’d think I’m nothing more than a freak who goes on late-night rambles and tirades. Now, that might not be totally false, but…”
“I was going to say, you’re not off the hook, yet,” Judy finished in a patronizing tone. Although she managed to force a louder-than-quiet laugh, she feared it was only a half-joke. “You still have some convincing to do, Mr. Senior Lobbyist.”
“Well, I will certainly deliver. With ears up and a toothy smile.”
Just trying to imagine what he looked like, Judy nearly burst out laughing. “Okay, looking forward to it! Good night.”
Simply allowing the phone to part itself with her fur, as if she’d assumed Rafael had hung up already, Judy let out an overdue sigh, this one deeper than the others. He was right about one thing: if they were to work together on his campaign now - after a day like this - it surely would have fallen apart before the elections, no matter how many rabbits were murdered or had solved a citywide case. Internally, Judy scolded the workaholic in her who so much as thought she’d be able to get to the family and witness interviews before falling asleep. A job for the morning, one she’d best not leave for Nick to do on his own.
Broken out of her daze by either the suddenness or hearing her first name, Judy stared at the phone. Rather than reverting back to her home wallpaper, the screen still flashed the unknown phone number. Quickly, she reeled the phone back to her ear. “Yes?”
“Erm, sorry,” Rafael caught himself in a guilty tone. “I mean, Officer H-”
“It’s fine.” Judy found herself shaking her head. “You don’t have to use that.”
“You can…” she trailed off. Although hesitation came first, it took her only seconds to break the last wall down. “You can call me Judy.”
A pause followed, during which Judy’s hesitation caught up with her in the form of regret. However, once Rafael spoke in the same friendly tone, it stopped bothering her. “Of course. I’m sorry, but I have to ask, Judy. You said that you’ve always had your dreams about being a police officer, but where did they come from?”
“I don’t know,” Judy replied. She was a little thrown off, but even when tired, she never had a problem talking about a subject like this one. At least she thought. “I think they just came.”
“It’s just that…” There was a pause, during which Judy almost cursed him internally for not being quick enough. “In the interview you-”
“What?” Judy blurted out.
“The interview. With Ms. Simpson.”
As if she hadn’t known what he was talking about before, she only said, “Oh, right. What about it?”
“You didn’t talk about it, but she wrote that you were going to say something, and then hesitated as an answer to her question about determination.” Despite Judy’s mental roller coaster - her brain trying to remember that interview again and coming to terms with him asking about it - she couldn’t help but notice how his voice had become booming on that word. “And for the longest time I’ve been wondering what you were going to say, because that quality is what my campaign needs the most.”
Judy could only muster an “Oh,” at first. Miraculously, all her struggles seemed to end and her mind showed her the direct path to exactly what she had stopped from saying. “A fox once told me that I couldn’t do anything.”
“Oh. A fox?” Rafael echoed.
“It’s nothing like that,” Judy quickly added. “It was just him as a mammal. He was a bully. Said he was sorry a few months back but, I dunno.” Out of all the moments to pick, this was the one where she chose to hold the phone between her head and shoulder. “It’s not something you can just forget.”
“I know.” Now it just sounded like he was trying to comfort her. His tone even picked up again. “Okay, that’s all I wanted to know. Goodbye, Judy!”
“Bye,” Judy said. This time she pressed the red button on her screen. That final exchange had given her some adrenaline, but certainly not enough to make her not want to drop the phone down and pass out. And she would have, if it hadn’t been for the text that flashed on her screen. Eyerolls apparently made energy, because the one she made gave her enough to furrow her brow, swipe away at her phone’s screen, and type as quickly as she had chased whom they apparently now had a lead on down Little Rodentia.
JH: You gotta be kidding me…
I will never write a phone conversation again...
Also like kind of hi. I'm giving this whole updating chapters while doing school a try again. Let's see how long it goes on for.
I'm active on discord as well, as a member of the Zootopian Authors Association. Join link: https://discord.gg/yxgK4CN. We have our fun that goes way past motivating people to get chapters out on at least a semi regular basis (points at self shamelessly), so if you need a kind of Zoot writing family then that's the place for you! They know who they are but the people on the server have both motivated and inspired me to a new level, one I've never been at <3.