Diners like this one got a bad wrap from most mammals his age. Sure, most items on the menu weren’t spectacular, but the sheer number of options was unrivaled. Where else could he get a breakfast taco sitting across from someone eating spaghetti and bugballs at 2:00pm? And even if the cook had nothing to offer you, the coffee was the best in Zootopia––both in terms of flavor and in price. All those hip coffee shops ended up charging twice as much to compensate for the expensive art on the walls.
All the art he needed to look at was in the view out his booth window. The bustling city was bursting with life in all its mess and noise in the warm spring sun. He could count on his fingers the number of mammals that looked like they were late for something important. But far more wayward souls went about their day with no particular rush nor care. The size and shape of each passerby varied as much as the cars on the road. To pass the time, he liked to guess what each one did for a living.
Cab driver ….. Accountant …. Tech start-up nerd …. Florist maybe?
His lackadaisical guessing game came to a halt when the waitress knocked her knuckles on the booth table. “Ready? Or are you still waiting for someone?”
The fox turned and smiled at his hostess and shook his head. “We’ll give them a few more minutes. Though I will take another cup’a joe here.”
“Ah,” she said with a nod and took his cup from his table. “That’s three now. Hope you weren’t planning on a nap later.”
He cocked an eyebrow and relaxed in his chair. A playfully flirt might make his fourth cup free. He did a quick scan to make sure his clothes were fresh enough. His button-up was pressed, his tie hung just loosely enough, and his fur was fresh and clean like he had just come from the groomers. He turned back to the waitress. “Do I look ready for bed to you?”
She put a paw on her hip and shook her head. “You look ready for something. Not sure what though.”
“Tell you what,” he said, tapping his mug with his claw, making it chime lightly. “You keep the coffee coming until one of us figures that out.”
She smiled and refilled his mug before walking back to the bar, letting her eyes linger on him for just a few extra steps than necessary. Free coffee in the bag. He held his cup a little closer in his paws and felt it warm his paws up.
The door opened and the little bell jingled, and in walked a relatively tall rabbit wearing a clean polo shirt and slacks. His fur was gray, say for the tips of his ears and three black stripes that lined either cheek. Their eyes met immediately and the fox sat a little taller in his booth––the plush red cushions crinkling beneath him as he did so. The rabbit approached him closer and, with a casual sigh, took the seat opposite him.
“Took you long enough to get here,” the rabbit said flatly.
The fox scoffed. “Pretty sure I got here first, buddy. Ask the waitress, I’m on my third coffee.”
“Mmm?” the rabbit looked at him puzzled. “Oh, you mean the diner.”
He cocked an eyebrow at his visitor, thinking perhaps it was some kind of joke that he wasn’t understanding. The rabbit looked around at the restaurant with a slight expression of approval. “Not bad, I guess. Food could be better.”
The fox rolled his eyes. “I prefer it this way.”
“Well duh…” the rabbit said. “If you preferred a Lūʻau, I’m pretty sure we’d both be wearing tropical shirts and sipping on rum punch.”
The fox scowled. His guest was either terrible at jokes or knew something he didn’t, and neither met his preferences for a decent conversation. Maybe it was a bunny thing and he was out of the loop. He decided to try to change the subject. “Next time you can pick the lunch spot.”
The rabbit laughed. “‘Next Time?’ How often do you plan on coming here? I don’t imagine it’s healthy even once, let alone in a series.”
“Okay,” the fox said, pinching the crook between his eyes in frustration. “What on earth are you talking about?”
The rabbit gave him a stern look, glancing at his coffee cup for a moment before sitting back in his seat and crossing his arms. “You’re a little slow, aren’t ya?” He frowned and was about to snap back before the rabbit cut him off and gestured to the table. “Let me ask you something: how long have you been sitting here waiting?”
He groaned. “Almost an hour, so again, I’d venture to say that you’re the late one and any jury of my peers would agree with me, despite being a fox.”
“Wow, such a long time,” the rabbit mocked him. “What were you doing before you sat down here?”
This time the fox crossed his arms. “You want my diary or something?”
“Bet you a thousand dollars you can’t answer that question,” the rabbit challenged. There wasn’t even any hint of sarcasm in his voice. The fox groaned and shook his head. Easy grand, idiot.
“I sat down a while ago, and before that I was over by the…the uhh...”
Huh, he thought for a moment. Where was I earlier this morning? I must have woken up and…. Did I eat before coffee? Maybe I ate at home…. He tried really hard to picture his home and the bed he woke up on, but for some inexplicable reason, his mind drew a blank.
The rabbit cocked an eyebrow. “Well?”
“Easy,” the fox continued to play it off as if he held the winning hand. “I got up and walked to the…. Over by … What the hell?” he cursed.
The rabbit smirked and displayed an open paw. “That’ll be a thousand dollars. Easy grand, idiot, right?”
The fox froze. Not only had he stolen the words from his thoughts, but everything down to the inflection was a perfect mirror of his own. His eyes opened a little wider, and the bunny gestured to the bar over his shoulder. “That waitress is nice. Did you catch her name tag?”
The rabbit was changing the subject too fast, but his mind began racing. He thought about it silently, but he couldn’t remember if she was wearing a name tag or not. Normally it’d be the first thing he looked for when trying to flirt.
“How about her species?” the rabbit continued.
...What the hell? That should be an easy question, but the mammal he had spoken with only moments ago was only a vague shape in his memory. He remembered feeling welcomed and happy when she was there, but no facial features came to mind at all. “... I don’t…”
The rabbit leaned closer in his seat and spoke a little more softly. “I can see you’re having a hard time. So let’s go way more basic. What’s your name?”
“I’m…. I” He stuttered and looked down at his clothes and fur, trying to look for things to spark his memory again. His heart was fluttering and his breath caught in his throat. He looked back at his breakfast companion with wide, fearful eyes. “...I don’t know.”
“I know,” the rabbit said, softening his expression and smiling lightly. “That wasn’t exactly a fair question, cause you haven’t known that for a while. Sorry. But here’s one you do know the answer to––what is my name?”
The fox glared at the rabbit, noting the stripes on his cheeks and the glimmer in his eyes. His ears did look familiar, as if he had touched them before. His clothes were strange, but the sound of his voice felt as close as a well-worn tie. “Jack…” he uttered softly.
Jack smiled. “There you go.”
“This is a dream?” The fox guessed.
Jack shrugged. “Probably. It’s the first time in a while, I’m guessing. It’s weird right? Things are both normal and totally outlandish at the same time.”
“Yeah,” he said, calming down a little bit and observing the room a little more closely. “It even smells real. But you don’t seem real.”
“Why not?” Jack asked simply.
“You’re not a prick.”
Jack smiled and laid back more comfortably. “Fancy that, huh?”
“If it’s a dream, that means you’re just in my imagination, right?” the fox asked with a thoughtful expression.
“Well, yes and no,” Jack explained. “I’m still partially real, since you took some of my memories. Dreams are where your imagination and your memories go to make love.”
He scoffed. “Don’t make it gross.”
Jack waved him off. “Don’t be too worried about it. We forget almost all the dreams we have, and they never last that long.” Jack took his coffee and sipped on it absentmindedly. He smiled and tapped the mug with his finger before taking another sip. “That’s good stuff.”
Something about this rabbit bothered him immensely. There was this cloud of feelings swirling inside confusing him endlessly. His lips uttered the fragments of thoughts that popped into his head at random. “You…” the fox murmured to himself. “You died.”
“Mmhmm,” Jack put the mug back down and explained as if telling a simple story to a friend. “Quite horribly, actually. It was fucked up to go through, let me tell you.”
The foxes eyes went wider. “... I killed you.” The realization hit him with a knot in his stomach. Here this rabbit sat and dined with him as casually as a breakfast meeting, yet they both knew he’d met his end by the fox’s hand… and teeth.
Jack gave him a sad look and nodded. “To be fair, I definitely deserved to get some sense knocked into me. I spent my whole life wanting to control everything, that way I could keep it the same. That made me into a bit of a prick, sure. But I don’t think I deserved the whole zombie treatment.”
The fox covered his mouth with his paws, shaking in his booth. “I killed more.... So many.”
Jack shrugged. “Anyone who made it this far has killed plenty. Remember, every Walker I downed was also someone who was still alive, even if they didn’t look it.”
Walker . The word felt familiar in his ears, carrying with it more memories. “Am I dead?” he asked softly.
Jack shrugged again. “Couldn’t tell you. You’ll have to figure that one out yourself. Though I kinda hope so. Cause this is real nice, and we already know I’m dead so hopefully I’m somewhere like this too.”
“Why are you here?” he asked, a hint of defensiveness in his voice now.
“Cause I wanted to chat before I go, of course,” Jack answered. “I wanted to see what kind of mammal was actually good for her.”
Judy. The name stuck into his mind immediately like the lyrics of a once-memorized song. More memories started to flood back into his head; everything from his first encounter with Judy Hopps all the way through discovering the cure and fighting off a horde of Savages. He remembered being on the roof of the van… there was gunfire …. The rhino’s horn at his chest. He looked down at his paw, and he could practically feel her fingers still intertwined with his. “I think I am dead this time.”
“Mmm...Maybe.” Jack continued, nodding to himself. “Judy was fun. Definitely one of the more memorable flings I’ve had. But I think I needed someone I could protect; someone who depended on me. But she had way too much to accomplish for that. It wasn’t exactly healthy, but then again, neither is dating a fricken’ zombie fox!” Jack laughed and sipped at the coffee again.
N shook his head and sighed. “She deserves better than either of us.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Jack said into his mug.
N’s brow furrowed when he remembered something. “What did you mean by ‘before you go’?”
“Mm?” Jack humed and placed the mug back down. “I’m headed outta here. We all are, actually. I do appreciate you letting me squat here for a while rent-free, but I got lots to do and I can’t do it here.”
“We?” N wondered. Suddenly, he became aware of how still the view outside became. Turning to gaze out the window, the streets were now totally empty. The wayward mammals on the sidewalk, the cars and buses, and even the trash and leaves that blew around in the breeze were all totally gone. Zooptopia looked instead like an unfinished concept of what a city could look like without anything living in it.
“Last question,” Jack said and fished a beige wallet out of his slacks, thumbing through a few bills. “If you could go back and keep the outbreak from happening, would you? I mean, you don’t remember anything beforehand, so that’d be like starting a whole new life for you! No murder, no brains, no zombies…. No struggling to remember your own name. Would you rather roll the dice with a simpler life, given the chance?”
N thought about it for a moment. He wasn’t sure why he was getting such deep questions from a rabbit who, in life, only seemed to care about getting mammals to do what he said. But he had a point. Given the opportunity, his life would have been a totally different story and perhaps wouldn’t have ended the way it did. Maybe, though the odds were stacked against him, perhaps he might have met Judy anyway. He felt deep down that his life’s work would’ve involved knowing as many lives as possible, so perhaps she’d be in there….
“No,” he realized. “I’d take what I got.”
“Huh,” Jack pondered and laid some tip dollars down on the tabletop. “Why?”
N smiled. “If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not say.”
The rabbit shrugged and stood, giving the non-existent waitress a polite wave before turning to N and offering his paw. N took it and shook it firmly. “Bye, Jack.”
“You know,” Jack said softly. “You could come with, if you like.”
N leaned over in his booth seat and eyed the diner’s front door around Jack’s ears. “And where exactly would we be going?”
Jack smiled. “Somewhere else.”
N eyed the table again where the mug was still steaming. “Maybe. Think I’ll finish my coffee first, if that’s alri––”
Jack was gone. N had his paw extended where Jack was standing a split second before. Now N was left sitting alone in the diner with a slack jawed expression on his face. N absently rubbed his fingers together as if expecting to feel some evidence that Jack was there. But as the silence of the room grew more apparent, he began to wonder just what he meant. The seat beneath him didn’t even crinkle anymore, and the once-vibrant city he was placed in felt completely empty. Perhaps he should go. . .
Her name popped back into his mind and he sat back a little more comfortably in the red booth seat. He chuckled idly to himself as he remembered fondly the little moments of chatting with her over the days they shared. Whatever was next for him, he hoped it wouldn’t take too long for him to see her again.
Patiently and with studious attention, he finished off the last of his coffee and rose from his seat. Making his way to the door, he closed his eyes and breathed in the smell of fresh coffee and crisp toast. He pulled on the metallic door handle… the bell jingled again …
There was a voice. A girl’s voice, and she was singing. He couldn’t quite make out any lyrics… maybe there weren’t any. But she sang beautifully and with such joy. There was music as well, but his brain only seemed to really register the voice calling out between his ears.
“Mmmmm” N groaned. His eyes felt like they were sewn shut after a meager effort to open them. He felt warm and oddly loose in his own fur as his body shifted beneath what he assumed were a set of bed sheets. An ache rang out in his chest that was so powerful it made him freeze as if someone had just scolded his torso for trying to move. The ache returned before long and refused to leave. “Ugh,” he groaned again, this time in discomfort.
Suddenly, the woman singing disappeared when a pair of paws removed something from his ears.
“Hangon, don’t try to move too much,” a new voice instructed him. They were easy orders to follow considering his body was telling him the same thing. He ventured a squeeze of his fingers and wiggled his toes, glad to feel them each shuffle beneath what felt like bed covers. He felt a gentle paw on his shoulder, ushering him to keep still. “Can you speak?”
“Ughhhhh,” he grumbled.
“Just take it easy for now,” the voice instructed again.
Finally, he ventured a peek through his eyelids. He saw an empty coffee mug on a table by his bed, and a red toothbrush resting inside. There was a window with wooden shades drawn, separating the morning sunlight into neatly even slices as it streaked through the room. The room smelled of sanitizer and pages of old books.
Turning his head, he found Ramic the Kangaroo sitting on a rolling stool by his bed wearing a set of pensive glasses and a white doctor’s robe. A black stethoscope hung over his shoulders. He kept his paw on N’s shoulder reassuringly. “Do you know where you are?”
“Mmmm,” N groaned again. “The Ward.”
“Yes!” Ramic said excitedly. “What is the last thing you remember?”
“A rhino’s horn,” he explained. “Followed by a facefull of dirt.”
Ramic nodded. “You took a nasty fall. Your ribs broke and you suffered a concussion that knocked you out clean. You might feel nauseous or some vertigo, that’s normal.”
N cocked an eyebrow at his host. “What is vertigo supposed to feel like?”
“Like the world is getting closer and farther away at the same time,” the Kangaroo explained.
“ That .” N agreed with his assessment and opted to close his eyes again. “Did we win?”
“That depends on what you mean by win ,” Ramic said with a shrug.
N’s eyes shot open and, to the chagrin of his chest, he lunged forward in a panic. “Judy? Is she okay?”
Ramic held his paws up and ushered him back down onto the bed. “She’s fine! Perfectly fine and probably out helping at the rehab station.”
N sighed in relief and backed down to rest his head on the pillow. The sounds of gunfire and snarling Savages all around them came flowing back into his memory like rushing waters from a broken dam. There were so many instances where he almost watched her get eaten in a single bite that his heart might burst at the thought.
N idly placed a paw on his chest and held it there. The hospital gown he was wearing crinkled a little as his paw pressed against his breast. It was hard to tell through the clothes and the fur, but he could have sworn there was something beating in there.
Ramic smiled. “We got that pumping last night,” he said proudly. “Took a few days before we were convinced to give the defib a go since your blood was still taking some time to catch up, but it worked like a charm on the first try.”
N could feel something strange… everything really. Every last hair on his body felt routed to something that could feel heat, or cold, or pain. His ears picked up more than just the squeaks of Ramic’s chair. He heard the fan in the window-unit air conditioner running and the sound of the door opening several rooms over. “What happened to me?”
Ramic looked over a few sheets of notes on a pad. “Well, if your vitals and recent blood tests are any tell, you were cured.”
“Cured?” N repeated the word like flipping candy over with his tongue.
“Hard to say really,” Ramic lamented. “You’re the first one we’ve been able to get this far, so we’ll have to monitor you very closely for the next few weeks at least.”
“So it worked?” N said hopefully. “Honey’s cure?”
He smiled. “So far so good,” he said with a nod. “Doctor DeFleur’s notes were extensive and what she found was astonishing. Essentially, a normally-benign protozoa was poisoned with some crazy chemical compound that carried over congenitally while reproducing during mitosis. She isolated the poison as a derivative of midnicampump holisythius, which contributed to the violent psychosis . ”
N pinched his brow and grimaced. “Think my head’s starting to go again, doc. You sound like you’re speaking gibberish.”
“It’s a flower, more or less,” Ramic said with a shrug. “Or some kind of mutation with it. It’s no wonder none of the epidemiologists thought to look at it this way. The first reported case was a sheep who emerged from a subway stop and started biting mammal’s at random. How a parasite enraged by a mutated flower got into the middle of a dense city––underground no less––is still a mystery, and might remain one forever.”
“So,” N said with a blank nod. Whatever he was on about was not the interesting part. “How did you fix it?”
Ramic rubbed the back of his neck. He clearly was searching for words to explain it as plainly as possible. “Essentially, we gave you an antidote to that poison and the parasite chilled out. We had to do it very slowly to make sure that your own blood and organs could start replacing the parasite to keep you alive. It’s taken a few nights, and several donations of blood, but your samples are starting to look about normal. However, your immune system is still shot to pieces so we need to make sure you steer clear of any infections until you're fully recovered.”
N spotted the earbuds and the ipawd it was plugged into at the foot of his bed. He gestured to the gadget. “And the music?”
“Judy’s idea,” Ramic explained. “Doctor DeFleur’s notes suggest that stimulating the prefrontal cortex could actually help get your body to start fighting this disease off faster. She picked a playlist for you and it’s been on repeat since yesterday.”
N looked out the window and could vaguely make the outlines of the steel wall far in the distance. He remembered the horde of Walkers that helped him and Judy fight off the Savages. It seemed so simple that an antidote and a few nights of bed rest could do so much. “You said Judy’s at a rehab center?”
Ramic followed his gaze out the window. “Probably. We set up a clinic outside the wall to help process and treat the Walkers before letting them inside the walls.”
“Treat them with what?” N asked.
“This.” Ramic held up a syringe in his paw that was wrapped in a thin layer of plastic wrap. “It’s a cocktail of good stuff based on Doctor DeFleur’s research. A little antidote for the parasite, but not enough to kill it off completely. Also, a little pain killer along with some antibiotics and anesthetic. Basically, it’ll take a Walker who’s gone nuts and calm them down to the point they can be reasoned with. Once they’ve become docile, we can bring them here one-by-one and start the same treatment we gave you.”
“Wow,” N said with an impressed expression. “Hell of a cocktail. Got a name for it?”
Ramic smiled and placed the syringe in a small metal case and snapped it closed. He handed the small case over to N who observed it closely. Written in black marker along the side was a single word, which he uttered with a smile on his face.
“Honey.” The name for the cure for death seemed appropriate to the layman, but N knew who the real inspiration was. Maybe someday, every hospital in the world would have a stock of Honey at the ready, and the thought made him smile.
Just then, a knock came at the door. “Heya Doc. Got some lunch for you and s-spare clothes for’em.”
“Right on time,” Ramic said and opened the door.
N recognized the southern drawl and subtle stutter as one Gideon Grey. He stood at the door holding a brown paper bag in one paw and a black pack slung over his shoulder. Upon seeing N sitting upright and awake, his features brightened and his mouth opened in surprise. “Well look who’s up and attem! You look great! Ain’t that the berries!”
“Thanks,” N said, though he admitted the sudden volume felt harsh to his newly sensitive ears.
Ramic gestured to Gideon fondly. “Gid here was the only reason the treatment didn’t kill you, N.”
N looked over to the not-a-doctor with concern. “What do you mean?”
Gideon answered for him. “Doc said that when the antidote started to work that you needed some blood since y’all weren’t making enough on your own at first. Ain’t no other foxes in the burrows, so I reckon we’re about as good as brother’s at this point.”
N noticed a brightly colored bandage wrapped around Gideon’s elbow that was mostly hidden under his sleeve. Gid’s warm smile was bright and welcoming, and the thought of one day making it familiar to him made N even happier. “Thanks, Gideon.”
He nodded and gestured to the bag in his paw. “Y’all hungry?”
“Oh always,” Ramic said and took the bag from Gideon’s paw.
Gideon gestured to N. “I figure y’all could split that sandwich, if he’s hungry too.”
“Good idea,” Ramic agreed and folded a napkin into N’s lap before placing one half of a simple sandwich with wheat bread. N picked up pensively and felt the meat and vegetables squish between his fingers. He timidly opened his maw and took a bite out of one of the corners curiously.
“Hope you’re okay with tuna,” Gideon explained. “There’s some mayonnaise, cucumber, celery, a little red onion, a pinch a’ salt, and a little sugar to make it easier to go down. Those older cans of tuna take forever to expire, but that don’t mean it’ll taste any good. So I try to spruce it up a little if I can….. Y’all alright there brother?”
Gideon’s sudden concern came as a surprise to N, right up until he noticed the feeling of wetness rolling down his cheeks. He chuckled nervously and wiped his eyes with his forearm before taking a much more generous bite of the sandwich in his paw. After another moment of calming his body down and wiping his eyes down, N smiled and took another bite. The simple savory-yet-salty flavor was overwhelming for him. “It’s good, Gid.”
Ramic smiled and began enjoying his half of the sandwich, passing his compliments onto the fox as well. Gideon smiled and dropped the bag over his shoulder onto the edge of the bed. Unzipping it, he fished out a set of clean clothes. A red button-down shirt and dark blue tie were folded neatly atop a set of beige trousers. Gideon laid them out carefully with a smile. N hoped his other shirt was still salvageable, but smiled at Gideon gratefully for adding more to his non-existent wardrobe.
“Oh, before I forget!” Ramic said with a jolt and reached under N’s bedside table. He pulled out a pale beige envelope that looked like it had seen some wear and tear and opened it up. “Judy said that the same subject that Doctor DeFleur had used in her research was you, N. I couldn’t believe it when she told me, but she said you were in the research footage back at Cliffside. That right?” N took another bite of his sandwich and nodded. Gideon’s eyebrows raised but didn’t bother interrupting the doc as he continued to flip through pages.
Ramic continued. “Honey had pulled your medical profile from the database at Z.G. and left it in the case for us to find. They were just a part of her research notes. How lucky are we!? I’ve got so much about you in here! Your name, age, blood type, where you were born, listed occupation, family history of diseases, and all kinds of stuff in here!”
N’s eyes widened, and Gideon gave out a hearty chuckle. “Well don’t keep fox waiting. What’s his name?!”
Ramic began to read aloud, “Patient DOB: January 12, 1984. Firstna––”
“––Wait!” N raised his paws and cut off Ramic, much to both of their surprise. After an awkward moment, N smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know if I want to hear about all that, Doc.”
“Not a doctor,” Ramic reminded him. “Why not?”
“I… I don’t know…” he pondered about it for a moment. There was a lot about his old life he had lost, but it was all behind him now. Digging it all up now wouldn’t change any of it. Perhaps it was better to leave it all buried. He could really start fresh that way.
“Aw come on, now.” Gideon seemed a little frustrated at getting teased. “At least get your name. Y’all really wanna go by a letter for the rest of your life?”
He had a point. ‘N’ didn’t exactly roll off the tongue.
“Here,” Ramic said and jotted something down on the corner of one of the pages. He ripped that corner off and folded it in half before reaching over and placing it into the pocket on N’s shirt that lay folded on his slacks. “When you’re ready.”
Gideon smiled and tapped the frame of the hospital bed. “Come on’ Doc. We better let him get dressed. He’s got mammal’s who want to see him,” Gideon said and, with a wave, bid N goodbye. The former Walker nodded to them as they closed the door behind them and left him alone with his clothes and his thoughts. His eyes fell on the slip of paper poking out of the pocket on his button down shirt. For some reason, it felt premature to read the note just yet.
Instead, N took the last bite left of his sandwich before untying his hospital gown and slowly stepping into the restroom. He gave his teeth a quick brush, and combed the fur on his face before changing into his fresh duds. The shirt felt a little tighter now across his chest now, though perhaps that was due to the new sensations he had in his skin. The act of getting dressed was likely the first bit of exercise he had since going down several days before. As a result, he could feel his heart beating much more prominently now, and the feeling would likely take some getting used to. He pawed at his chest when the discomfort grew.
A moment later, he emerged from his room and stepped out into a modest reception office, which was barely big enough for a full grown lion to stand up tall in. Gideon and Ramic were both waiting for him, but before he could get a word out, a set of spotted arms picked him up off the ground and squeezed him closely.
“Ha ha! I knew you’d pull through!” Benny squealed in his ear.
“AGH! Benny, the ribs!” N groaned in pain.
“Oh!” Benny realized with a panic he was likely hurting him and placed him back on the ground sheepishly. “Sorry! I forgot, my bad.”
Gideon laughed and slugged the cheetah on his shoulder. “Be careful, big guy. He’s not used to being alive.”
Benny resumed his excitement upon looking at N closer. “You look amazing! Your fur is fresh, your clothes are clean––Nice work hun––, your eyes are back to normal and you smell like hospital soap!”
N’s ears twitched. “My eyes? Really?”
“Yeah!” Benny said and excitedly pointed to the wall behind the reception desk. “Check it out!”
There was a mirror hanging on the wall right below Ramic’s undergrad degree next to what looked like a different fake degree hastily drawn out with a magic marker… likely Kris’s doing, N imagined. He faced himself in the mirror and couldn’t really recognize himself. His fur really was straight and his clothes fresh, but he’s seen himself like that before. It was his gaze that really looked out of place. In place of the thin slits, he saw two round pupils that adjusted themselves to the light as he got closer. The bloodied veins along the sides were gone, now replaced with solid white on all sides.
“Lookin’ pretty good there, right? So handsome!” Benny cheered beside him.
N raised an eyebrow at the excited cheetah. “Maybe. Or maybe you just have a thing for foxes.”
Benny rolled his eyes with a smile and folded his arm around Gideon’s shoulder. “Well duh. But I know Judy will like what she sees too.”
“Speaking of,” N said pointedly. “You know where she is?”
Benny pondered for a moment. “She’s probably down at the rehab this morning. Want a lift? I can take you down there.”
N turned to the not-a-doctor. “What d’you say, Ramic?”
He smiled wide and gestured out the door with a nod. “Just be back here later tonight so I can give you another vitals check. I’d say some ‘prefrontal stimulation’ is just the medicine you need today.”
“Eughh,” Gideon grimaced. “Is that what they’re calling it these days? Why can’t y’all just say ‘smackin’ like we used to in high school?”
“Bwahaha!” Benny clutched his belly and rubbed Gideon’s patch of fur on his head. “I think he means the prefrontal cortex of his brain, bigger guy.”
“Ah..” Gideon stuttered sheepishly. “I knew that.”
Ramic leaned over to N and spoke in a hushed whisper underneath Benny’s continued laughing. “I did mean kissing, actually. You and Judy make a super-cute couple.” Before N could respond, he stood back up and gave N a wink before pickup up a large case and handing it to Benny.
“Ah!” Benny said excitedly. “This the Honey?”
Ramic nodded. “50 doses. I’m working on some more but we’ll run out of some of the ingredients soon.”
“Great.” Benny picked up the case and gestured for N to follow. “Let’s get down there and get you to Judy!”
N thanked the not-a-doctor one more time before exiting the Ward behind Benny. The cheetah was so excited that N had to practically jog to keep up with him. Or was that just how fast cheetahs were? Was that specisist? It didn’t matter. What did matter was that he was taking her to see Judy. As the military grade humvee puttered along, N’s heart began to beat a little harder in his chest. It came as no surprise to him that she was spending her time helping other mammals while he was out cold.
N peered out the window of the large truck as they drove through town. He noticed some mammals packing up boxes of supplies and loading them into trucks. Others were walking in groups towards the wall with packs full of water bottles. Oddly enough, he saw more than one mammal with a musical instrument in their paws, like a guitar or drum.
As they approached the wall, N noticed what looked like a massive hole in the side. He stood in his seat to get a better look, and sure enough there was a large rectangular gap in the steel where the sun shined through.
“We cut that open yesterday,” Benny explained. “It was taking too long to get medical supplies back and forth with the gate closed, so we made a new gate where we can prop some extra steel if we want to close it. But last night was the first night we didn’t even bother closing it.”
“Why not?” N asked.
“You’ll see,” Benny said and leaned into the radio on his shoulder. “Corporal Clawhauser to gate operator. Coming at you with precious cargo for the rehab station.”
A crackled voice on the other side responded. “Rodger Clawhauser. Clear to cross.”
The truck slowed down as they crossed underneath the mass of steel and iron. N saw the thick plates that had been hastily sliced open as they passed by. Then, on the other side of the wall, the same dirt that made up the battleground not a few days before was now filled with tents, benches, hospital gurney’s and mammals as far as he could see. As they continued to drive down the road, N spotted mammals wearing scrubs tending to Walkers who sat quietly while they received vitals checks. He also saw––quite strangely––a large group of mammals gathered into a crowd near a hastily-constructed stage with power lines running along the dirt. There was a trio of mammals playing music on guitars and banjos and singingly lively.
“A concert ?” N said incredulously.
“More like a full-blown music festival,” Benny corrected. “We find live music works better than just playing mp3’s. The Walkers who choose to listen usually end up way less irritable, so anyone who plays anything has chipped in and played some. We’ve also set up other stations depending on their tastes. See there?” Benny pointed to the other side of the street as they passed by a smaller group of Walkers huddled around a TV playing some movie N didn’t recognize. “We’ve got places for movies, music, artwork… and over there! Fangmeyer set up a softball diamond and is playing guys vs. gals.”
“Has anyone been bitten?” N asked with concern.
Benny shook his head. “Not yet. There have been a couple of Walkers who have gotten aggressive, but the other Walkers are quick to calm them down now. We’ve had a lot of help from a few Walkers that seem the best at speaking. The others tend to follow their lead.”
Benny shook his head again. “Nope, but we’re ready for them. Scouts like myself have been on a 24 hour perimeter watch around the station, but we haven’t seen a single one so far.”
“Good,” N said with relief.
“Here we are,” Benny cheered and pulled the truck to the side of the dirt road and put it in park. N’s heart began racing again. Was he really going to see Judy again so soon? Would she be embarrassed to hug with all these mammals around? Would she be too busy to see him?
They both got out of the car and Benny carried the case of Honey with him into an area of nurses. There was a long line of Walkers, a few of which seemed to recognize N by the look of their focused glares towards him. He knew all too well that if they were happy or scared, it wouldn’t register on their faces. Not, at least, without a little Honey first. They walked past the table being used as a registry and into a mess of beds and nursing staff. The nurse sitting at the desk murmured something as they walked by. “Is that…?”
As N and Benny walked into the rehab station, his eyes darted around furiously for Judy. There were so many rabbits around that he had to look very closely. Several of them looked familiar, but he couldn’t seem to find Judy anywhere among them. Suddenly, he caught eye contact with a rabbit, thinking it was her. But, on further inspection, this rabbit only looked slightly like Judy except with rounder cheeks and a tuft of fur on her forehead.
Maybe one of Judy’s siblings? Probably…. Why is she staring at me like that?
The murmur of the crowd seemed to die a little, and N noticed that more and more nurses and Walkers began staring at him. Someone dropped their clipboard and soon others were pushing mammals out of the way to get a better look.
Benny smiled. “He’s back!” he called out loudly at the crowd. “And he’s cured!”
At Clawhauser’s hollering, the crowd erupted into applause. Several rabbits cheered and a few hooted. N noticed a few nurses actually tearing up as the news began to break and the crowd got louder. He could hear some nurses asking Benny if he was really cured, and others wondering if he could speak like normal. N bashfully waved and smiled at the crowd of medical workers around him who continued to applaud.
He leaned over to Benny and muttered under his breath. “What the hell, Clawhauser?”
“Duh,” Benny scolded him. “You’re a hero, silly. You think the word about you didn’t get out? Everyone knows what you did. You wanna say something to the crowd?”
N frowned at him. “That’s a negative there, corporal.”
“Aw come on,” Benny lightly shoved his shoulder. “They’re gonna start talking about you all over the burrows.”
“Ugh,” N said and rolled his eyes. Stepping forward, the crowd quieted down and eagerly awaited for him to speak. “Uhhh… Alright,” he began. “Hi everyone. I want to start off by telling you that whatever you’ve heard about me is all lies and slander.” A laugh bubbled from the group around him.
“What about the part where you blew up a Savage hippo?” Someone shouted.
“Lies and slander. That was Judy,” N responded back, earning more laughs. “Second, I want to thank everyone for volunteering to work. I can tell you first hand that being dead sucks, so these Walkers will owe you their lives.”
The crowd muttered their approval and a few errant claps continued. “Lastly, a question,” N concluded. “Has anyone seen Judy Hopps?”
“She isn’t here,” a voice said from behind him. N turned to find Kris peering up at him with a satisfied smirk on her face. Beside her on a low bed was his fennec fox friend who now went by ‘Fennec’, until they could think of something better. He looked positively disgusted by N’s speech, which was to be expected.
Before N could ask where Judy was, the otter pounced at him and wrapped her arms around his neck. She squeezed him and gave him a big loud kiss on his cheek, which embarrassed him with so many eyes around him. Kris then let him go and hopped up on the bed to holler at the crowd herself. “Alright, enough love! Back to work, all of you!” A few more nurses laughed and clapped, but most simply turned back to their patients and continued their work.
N crossed his arms over his chest. “Trying to start rumors about me and you?”
“No need,” Kris said simply. “They all know Judy’s bagged you.”
“Great,” N said and wiped his hand over his eyes. “Where is she?”
“She went back to her burrow,” Kris explained. “We ran out of some groceries in the pantry we set up for the crew out here, so I sent her back there to go pick some fresh stuff. She needed a break from all the commotion anyway.”
“Oh,” N said with a sigh. He was partly relieved that she didn’t hear his stupid speech, but he was also hoping he’d see her sooner rather than later.
“Yyou…. You lo-look like shit,” Fennec said in his low raspy voice.
“Me?” N said with a paw to his chest. “My fur is positively crisp. Besides, you’re one to talk.”
“Yeah?” he retorted before nodding to Kris. “Ss-she thinks I’m… I’m hot.”
Kris groaned and bopped him on his snout. “I think you’re feverish, not sexy. And unlike Judy, I don’t have a thing for zombies.”
“Giv...give me s-some Honey ...then,” Fennec smirked.
N turned away from the nightmare that was Fennec and Kris flirting and back towards Benny. “Hey bud, think you could give me a ride back in town?...Benny?”
Benny was silent. Instead of responding to N, he simply raised his paw and pointed back towards his humvee they had driven in earlier. Behind it was parked an old flatbed truck with empty crates and a rusty blue paint job. N could barely register why Benny was so tense before he saw who’s truck it was. A tall pair of ears walked around the rear and emerged by the line of Walkers.
Stu Hopps stood still and gazed at N with a sort of mild curiosity. N instinctively wanted to cower, but his now-fully-functioning brain told him that none of this rehab center would be set up without his approval. Still, the last time they had spoken wasn’t exactly on good terms, and neither was the time they met.
Third time’s a charm?
N stepped forward and left a nervous Benny and tense Kris behind to watch as he approached Judy’s father. At first, neither spoke at all, electing instead to return solemn expressions to one another.
Finally, Stu stepped forward. “You’re looking for Judy?”
N considered the question and whom it was coming from. Normally, he’d assume there was something protective or aggressive behind Stu’s words. That said, he really didn’t seem like the same rabbit right now. He kept his paws in the pockets of his dirt-drenched overalls and wore a simple cap in place of any military garb. “Yeah,” he answered flatly.
Stu nodded and gestured to the truck with a nod. “Hop in. I’ll give you a ride.”
N could hear Benny gulp nervously behind him, but strangely he did not share the cheetah’s apprehension. Instead, N waved a thank you to the group behind him before opening up the truck’s squeaky door and climbing inside. Stu thanked Benny for getting him this far and hopped in the truck as well. Wordlessly, he started it back up and turned the back around towards the wall.
Several moments passed in timid silence between them. The groan of the suspension and the rumble of dirt beneath the tires was the only sound to fill the cabin as they passed by the music and arts festival again and back under the massive steel wall. N wondered whether he’d get chewn out or… perhaps awkward silence was Stu’s most aggressive form of punishment?
Finally, once they were clear of most prying eyes, Stu spoke up. “Ramic tells me you’re doing better.”
N decided to mirror Stu’s flat tone when he responded. “Yeah.”
“Good, that’s good,” Stu said with a nod. “You’ve collected a few fans since you were out.”
“I saw,” N recalled. “Not sure why. All I did was what Judy told me to.”
Stu shot N a skeptical glance. “Don’t know why? Is that some kind of joke?”
N frowned. “If it was a joke, you’d be laughing.”
Stu shook his head disapprovingly and let out a sigh. He drummed his thumb on the steering wheel as they passed through town, seemingly considering his next words closely. “Do you know the second most common health problem the mammals in these burrows suffer from? The first is that disease that turned you into a Walker…”
N shrugged. “Tennis elbow?”
“Anxiety,” Stu explained. “Depression is number three, and heart problems come after that.”
“Mmm,” was all N could do in response. Those answers made sense.
The truck pulled away from town and continued onto paved roads that lined farm lands on either side. “In fact,” Stu continued, “I’d boil most of the problems we’ve had in these walls since they went up to the exact same category: fear.”
N nodded. “There’s a lot to be afraid of,” he admitted. He gazed out the window towards the rolling fields of dirt, grass, and crops.
“There was ,” Stu said pointedly. “And that, sir, is why the mammals here consider you a hero. You’ve shown them that everything we’ve been dreading for nearly a decade can, in fact, be beaten. Think about all the sleepless nights and terrified days these good creatures have suffered through over the years. Fear can really take its toll on a mammal.”
N shook his head idly and muttered softly. “What are you really trying to say, Stu?”
Stu sighed. He pulled the truck over and slowly brought them to a gradual stop. The brakes squeaked and the truck’s tires kicked up a small cloud of dirt that dissipated in a light breeze. Stu threw the truck into park and shook his head. Looking down in what might have been shame, the rabbit removed his cap and looked at N dead in his eye.
“What I’m trying to say is that I’m sorry.” N sat and listened quietly as Stu continued. “Since you came here, you haven’t done a single thing that should make me wary of you, yet all I could think about was gunning you down. Judy and the others explained everything you’ve done for her, and I’m ashamed that I ever threatened you with anything. So I’m sorry.”
“Well…” N thought about it for a moment. “I mean, I did sneak into the burrows. Then I helped Judy escape past your guards at the wall.”
Stu shook his head. “I should never have put her in that position. If her mother were around, she’d have my ear for what I did. And on that note, I also wanted to thank you for everything you’ve done. You saved my daughter’s life and brought her back to me more than once already, so…” Stu extended a paw out to N openly with an earnest expression on his face. “... I’ll trust you to do so again, if need be.”
N furrowed his brow at Stu’s outstretched paw. There were still parts of Stu that rebelled against it, he could tell. But he couldn’t hate the buck for the parts of himself that he fought against the hardest. N reached forward and took his paw, shaking it firmly.
“Judy said you’re a reasonable guy,” N said with a smile. “She’s right. You’re much more pleasant when there’s not a gun in your hand.”
Stu laughed. “I heard you threw my gun into the mouth of a Savage Hippo.”
N raised a finger to correct him. “I threw a baseball bat. Judy had the shotgun.”
“Fair enough,” Stu said with another chuckle.
A moment of awkward silence stretched out between them and N drummed his fingers on his pant leg. “So…” he said nervously. “...You weren’t planning on taking me to Judy, were you?”
Stu’s eyebrow raised. “What gives you that impression?”
N looked over at him with a confused look on his face. “If you are, then why’d you stop the truck?”
Stu simply smiled and, from across the cabin of the truck, nodded towards the field over N’s shoulder. N turned.
There, amongst rows of green and brown earth, a single rabbit hunched down onto her knees and dug up roots with a small shovel. She was wearing a large sun hat and a pink plaid shirt. Her blue jeans were spackled with fresh soil, and beside her laid a basket that was nearly full to the brim with cabbages, cauliflower, and carrots. N swiveled back towards Stu with a hopeful expression. The rabbit simply smiled and shooed him away. N smiled back before opening the door and leaving the truck behind.
The soft soil felt cool on his feet, like it had just been watered. As he approached her, he heard her grunt along with the unmistakable snapping sound of roots breaking free from the ground. She tossed another carrot into her basket, and as she did, she noticed N approaching her. Judy’s eyes immediately widened and she stood up so fast that her hat tumbled off of her head and into the dirt below. The shovel in her paw fell to the ground as well. He heard her sniffle.
Such a sap . Look at this bunny… she could fight off entire hordes of monsters single handedly and still get all weepy. What a beautiful contradiction of a creature.
She darted forward and ran towards him. The basket of produce tilted over as she did so, but she didn’t seem to notice. He smiled and ran a few steps towards her and before he knew it, she was in his arms squeezing him tight enough to make his ribs groan. He silenced them in his mind because any pain she might cause was well worth this feeling. Every bit of warmth in her body felt like a fire to him, and she smelled of fertile soil and freshly shampooed fur.
“I can’t believe it,” she said into the crook of his neck. He smiled and twirled them around where they stood a few times––her feet swinging outwardly as he did so. She laughed and happily clung to his shoulders while the world turned. He placed her back down on the ground and knelt lower to look at her right in the eye. She took the opportunity to lean forward and kiss him full on his lips. The newer sensation on his skin meant that every last square millimeter of her lips against his felt like fireworks. She dragged her fingers along the fur under his chin and pulled him closer.
Interrupting their embrace, they heard a truck engine start up with a cough. They broke apart and, to Judy’s horror, watched as Stu turned the truck back around and headed into town. “Was that…”
“–Your dad, yes it was.” N spoke very matter of factly.
“Well,” Judy said and planted her palm onto her eyes. “I guess we’re walking back to the burrow now.”
“I don’t think he minds, honestly,” he said with a shrug. “There’s no way that word didn’t get to him yet?”
Judy balked. “What word?”
“Sorry,” N apologized. “If it was supposed to be a secret, I think the whole town knows.”
She turned to him and smiled. “Good,” she said confidently. “I don’t ever want to keep you a secret again.”
She leaned in once more and kissed him again, this time more patiently. He ran his palm over the back of her head and pulled her closer to him, feeling the tips of his knees grow wet on the watered soil. Her nose quivered and he sighed happily as she held him again. He broke away again and leaned his forehead down to graze hers. There they stood in the hot sun with the occasional chirp of crickets or songbirds in the distant trees to fill their ears. That, and the sound of her occasional soft laugh built a memory in his brain that no Walker’s meal could ever hope to replicate.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you woke up,” she said softly.
He shook his head. “Are you kidding? I would have thought it weird for you to be waiting on me like a helpless maiden. You’re more you when you’re working on something. Speaking of which…” N stood and scooped up the basket of produce and held it hooked on his elbow. “...I think Kris is going to think we’re up to no good if we don’t get these back to her soon.”
“Fair point,” she agreed and took the remaining carrots in her paw by the stems. They began walking back towards the road together with fresh food in hand. She grazed her shoulder against his arm, clearly wanting to further feel his touch in some way as they walked. “I’m so glad you’re okay, N.”
“Oh!” He stopped and turned to her when he realized something. “I almost forgot. The doc gave me my name.”
“Your name?” Judy realized. “You’re real name? From the medical report?”
“Yeah,” N nodded and, with his free hand, fished out the small piece of paper and handed it over to her. “I’m not sure I want to hear it at all. But if I do, I want to hear it from you.”
She smiled at him, but frowned at the paper. “Why choose to not know your name?”
“Well,” he shrugged. “I don’t know. I was thinking about something earlier: If I had the chance to rewind time and stop the outbreak from happening, would I? I mean, it’d be the right thing to do of course, to stop all that craziness. But would I want to?... I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think I’d rather stick with what I have now than ever look back, you know?”
Judy nodded. “So this name is part of your old life, and you’d rather leave it behind?”
“On the other hand,” N pondered. “It’s just a name, and having mammals refer to me by a letter kinda makes me sound like a subject in a mad-scientist experiment.”
Judy laughed and put on a ghostly face. “Subject N has escaped!” she mocked. “I can see it.”
“Exactly. I figure if I can remember the first letter, I might as well know the rest. Plus, apparently I’m building up a following in the burrows, so I can’t have them all calling me ‘N’. They’ll eventually give me nicknames and I can’t have that.”
“Okay,” Judy said with a tentative nod. “So, what do you want to do?”
N pondered it for one moment longer before turning to her. “How about just the first name?”
“You sure?” Judy asked.
N nodded and eyed the paper closely. Judy looked down at the folded paper in her fingers and carefully folded it open. To keep herself from seeing it, she kept her thumb over both names and gradually pulled her finger from one side to the other. She reached a space between the first and last name and tore the paper in half, letting his last name fall to the ground behind her.
“Nicholas,” she read aloud. The name coming from her voice made it instantly his favorite sound in the world. She lifted her head up and looked at him in his eye. “Oh my god. Nick. ”
“What?” he said with concern on his face.
“Your name!” Judy said with incredulous exasperation. “Your name is Nick!”
“Okay?” She seemed concerned about something, which puzzled him. Then he realized. “Wait….. Oh god dammit Judy.”
She frowned at him and pointed her finger at his chest aggressively. “Don’t you say it.”
N smiled and remembered back to when they had first met in his warehouse theme-park deep in the city. “You thought up ‘Neville’, ‘Norton’, and fucking ‘ Nigel’ before you thought of ‘Nick’?” He laughed loudly and began walking back towards the road with the vegetables on his elbow.
She pouted and crumpled up the paper in her paw. She picked up her hat and followed behind him with a frustrated tone in her voice. “Well you didn’t think of the name either, smarty pants!”
He raised a finger to correct her. “That’s Mr. Nicholas Smarty Pants to you, ma’am.”
“Ugh,” she groaned and caught up to him. “Please don’t tell Kris about this.”
“I won’t tell if you don’t,” he agreed.
As they walked along the road together back towards her burrow, she snaked her free paw into his and interlaced her fingers. “That does bring up a good point though. You might need a last name at some point.”
“I have a last name,” he said with a shrug. “Smarty-Pants, just like you said.”
“That’s two names, numb-nuts,” she retorted.
“Yeah, well, maybe my mother wanted to keep her maiden name ‘Pants’ in the family.”
“This is serious, Nick ,” she said pointedly. “Someone is going to need your full name down on a piece of paper eventually.”
“Alright,” he agreed. “How about Walker? It’s a last name too, right?”
“You really want to keep the name ‘Walker’?” she asked him.
“Sure,” he said with another shrug. “Maybe it’ll help other mammals see Walkers for more than just monsters. Plus, I kinda like the name Nicholas Walker. Sounds like a mysterious cop from a noir film or something.”
“I think the names are going to your head, Nick,” Judy said, and gave his paw a squeeze.
He smiled at her and pulled her a little closer. “As long as you're the one saying the name, I couldn’t care less what it is.”
Nicholas Walker squeezed her paw right back.
And all my dreams
It’s never quite as it seems
Cause you’re a dream to me
Dream to me
Author ………………………….. Johnsoneer
Lead Editor ……….............. OnceNeverTwiceAlways
Additional Collaborators............……… Kungfufreak07
Storyboard/Comic Illustrators………….. Kungfufreak07
Chapter Song List
9. "Roll Up"
Fitz and the Tantrums
12. "Hold The Line"
Archive of Our Own
Cimar-WildeHopps - For all the great reviews and help collaborating in additional projects.
ZNN - To the staff for helping spread the story around to lots of readers. We all appreciate the work you do.
KungFuFreak - Your works were the inspiration for this story, and I’m immensely proud of the work you’ve done to make this collaboration as beautiful as it is. Well done.
Fever - I’m also crazy proud of you as well and the skills you’ve gained over the course of this collaboration. Thanks for helping bring this project about zombies back from the dead.
And to readers like you! This story marks the end of my works written for Zootopia and these characters. But I’ve loved learning from and enjoying this world along with all of you. I encourage anyone who’s on the fence about giving writing a try to give it a shot! You’d be surprised with how much fun it is to build a world from a blank page.
For those of you looking to continue the story, the following epilogue is a challenge to writers out there. If you want to pick this story up from where it left off, here’s something to get you started. Cheers!
Judy checked––and rechecked–– the crate labeled “Honey” that rested on the grass beside the road for any cracks or holes where the goods inside might shake loose. They had a long way to go, and there was no telling what kinds of craziness was waiting for them out there. These vials of world-changing medicine were more valuable than all the bullets, gas, food, and water in the burrows.
“Hey,” Nick said from behind her. “Relax, okay gunny bunny? It’s not going to sneak off when we’re sleeping.”
She turned to see him leaning up against the military humvee with his jacket zipped up and shades planted firmly on his face. She stood and shook her head at him. “I know, I’m sorry. It’s only the cure for the end of the world, silly me for taking it so seriously.”
“Tsk.” He shook his head at her and folded his arms over his chest. “A cure that won’t get anywhere unless we hit the road. It’s past sunrise already.”
“Then help me get it up here,” she said and knelt down to lift the crate up enough to get her fingers underneath it. Nick nodded and knelt down as well. They lifted upwards and carried the crate into the back of the humvee before sliding it into place with the others. Judy hopped inside and buckled the crates down into place before checking the spare gas tanks.
The last box to be loaded was their portable armory. In it, they packed a few long guns, several pistols, a throwing knife (at Judy’s insistence), and several tranquilizer guns. The darts on those guns were retrofitted with Honey to help subdue any Walkers they came across.
Well , Judy thought, any other Walkers, really.
Judy turned to see Fennec climbing inside the massive truck with a baseball bat and a sack full of what she assumed to be music cassette tapes due to the plastic-like clatter it made when jostled. It was Nick’s idea to bring him along for strategic purposes. After all, what better way to convince mammals out there that Honey actually worked than to demonstrate? But the only reason Fennec agreed was because it was the fastest way to get him potentially cured. There were no other Fennec foxes in the burrows, after all. As a result, he was one of the few Walkers they couldn’t cure completely because without a same-species blood donation, the cure would likely kill him.
“Alright!” Nick said with a clap of his hands. “Are we about ready to move?”
“One minute!” Benny called out. Judy watched from the truck as Benny gave Gideon one long lingering hug. They both wore sad expressions on their faces as they held each other tightly. After a long moment of tenderness between them, Benny let go and gave him a quick kiss.
Gideon gave his partner a concerned look. “Y'all will be back by winter?”
Benny nodded with a smile. “Promise. Good luck getting your pastry shop together. I wish I could stay to help out.”
Gideon laughed. “You mean help test the samples?”
“Ah,” Benny closed his yes and held Gideon’s paw to his chest. “A fox after my own heart.”
“It’s alright, big guy,” Gideon said. “Go save the world as best you can. Just come back, okay?”
“We will,” Benny said and turned to leave.
Judy hated goodbyes, and she inwardly hated that she was the reason Gideon had to say goodbye in the first place. The mission to run Honey out to other surviving towns and cities was her idea, but she definitely needed some more helping paws with her, and Benny was the first to volunteer.
“Jude,” she heard from behind her. Turning, she found her father walking towards her with Ramic in tow. They both eyed the truck that was filled to complete capacity with approving glances. “Y’all got enough gas in there to get you a thousand miles and back. We’re sending scout cars out with you for the first leg to give you a chance to call for help, but once you cross 200 miles, you’re on your own.”
“Take these too,” Ramic said and handed a small pack to Judy. “There are copies of Doctor Defleur’s notes in there for any other doctor’s who need them.”
“Thank you, Ramic.” Judy strapped the bag over her shoulder. “I think that’s about it.”
“Not quite,” her father said and stepped forward. He opened his arms up wide and she happily fell into her dad’s embrace, pulling him in closely. He picked her up and squeezed her tight. “Whatever happens,” he said into her ear, “I’m so proud of you, Jude.”
“Thanks Dad,” she said and let him go.
Kris, ever the timely otter, poked her head out from the gun roof of the humvee and slapped the roof a few times impatiently. “Alright, mammals! Let’s get this party rolling!”
Soon enough, everyone was loaded in and ready to go. Benny was driving while Kris rode shotgun for navigating. Fennec stayed in the back with his head propped up by one of the crate’s of Honey and Nick and Judy remained in the back seat. As they drove through the burrows, she spotted a few siblings and neighbors who had woken up early to see them off. They waved proudly as the truck roared passed. Judy rolled down the tinted windows so they could see her wave back.
The scout cars lined in behind them as they passed the wall and continued to drive down the broken roads that led away from the burrows and Zootopia. Soon enough, Judy could barely see the walls that lined her home any longer.
Nick held her paw and squeezed it lightly. He knew her well enough to know that she’d probably be an emotional wreck once the burrows faded out of sight, so she’d need him there to help. But she knew what they were doing was more important than anything else they’d done up to this point. After all, what’s the point of a cure for death if the world doesn’t know it exists?