Actions

Work Header

Hungry Hearts

Chapter Text

What am I doing with my life?

 

I should clean my fur up cause it’s a real mess. I probably smell pretty rancid as well. I need a bath, a shower, or something. Mammals might respect me more if I cleaned up my act a little bit. All I want is a little conversation: a little back and forth, an exchange of wits, a simple tête-á-tête if you will. But, no matter how much I try, I can never seem to make a connection. Why can’t I connect with anyone?

 

Oh yeah. It’s cause I’m dead.

 

Kind of hard to talk with anyone when everyone you know is dead. See that rat over there? He’s dead. This deer over here? He’s dead too. That giraffe, she’s dead. That weasel… ouch, wow. Yeah, he’s way dead. I really shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

 

Wish I could introduce myself, but I can’t remember my name. Pretty sure it started with an ‘N’, but that’s all I got. Can’t remember my parents or my home or my job—although this green hoodie would suggest I was unemployed. At best, I was a drug dealer. Though I like to imagine I had a job that required some inter-mammal skills, like a bartender or sales manager. That might explain why not being able to chat bothers me so much.

 

Sometimes, I’ll look at the others and try and guess what they did before they were dead. That panther was a limo driver, going by the hat. Either that or an airline pilot. That lady with the horns must have been a singer or dancer since her pink skirt is still sparkling after 8 years of deadness. She’s not much to look at anymore though, none of us are.

 

That’s because we’re all ‘Walkers’ now. Zombies. Undead. Walking corpses. Pick a name, they’ve all been used before. I’m still a little fuzzy on how this whole end-of-the-world thing happened in the first place though. Some of the newspapers that haven’t rotted away yet say things like “Plague” or “Vaccines Ineffective”, which makes it sound like some kind of disease. But since I haven’t had any real food or water in 8 years, I’m gonna go with the ‘no more room in hell’ theory.

 

‘Walkers’ is the only name that makes sense to me, because that’s all we do: We walk. I mean, those of us who still can walk. That guy on the park bench hasn’t moved for a few weeks now, so I’m guessing he’s dead-dead. Yeah, it doesn’t really make sense to me either, but this is the way the world works right now.

 

I’d much rather be a Walker anyway, rather than one of those guys…. Eughh. Stop staring at me, jeeze. Okay, see that boney furless creep? The one with the white eyes and the pasty pale skin? Yeah, we call them ‘Savages’, and we all become one of them eventually. They don’t bother us Walkers, but they’ll eat anything with a pulse. I mean, so will I, but I still feel shitty about it. Those guys seem to be angry about everything. Can’t even recognize what species this one was. I wanna say groundhog? Maybe a badger? ‘Naked drooling monster’ is the only one that makes sense now, and it’s what I have to look forward to. One day, my fur will fall out, I’ll switch to moving on four legs, and whatever is left of my mind will be kaput. Thank god I still have my fur.

 

Not sure why I mostly stick around this part of the city. Maybe because it’s changed the least? Pretty sure this place was a dump before the world went sideways, so now it’s just a dump with Walkers in it. I’ll venture around from time to time to the areas that used to be nicer. Thankfully all the signs and subway maps are still up, making it easy to find your way around.

 

Savanna Central was once this beautiful, clean, bustling center where mammals would go about their daily lives and drink smoothies and play in the park and stuff. The Rainforest District had all this lush plant life and water flowing through it. Tundra Town used to be packed with snow and ice every day of the year. Sahara Square was…. Actually, I’m pretty sure that place was always hot and dry, but that used to be on purpose. Downtown was full of rich mammals and important folk doing important things, or so I Iike to believe. Now there are abandoned cars, the occasional raven pecking at bones, and a healthy dose of Walkers just sniffin’ around for something to munch on.

 

I wish things were different. I wish I was different. I’m lonely and tired and I just want to talk with somebody. But it’s just not in the cards for me. Such is the life of a dead guy.







 

 

Hungry Hearts Title

 

 

 

Hungry Hearts

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1: On Melancholy Hill

 

The fox in the green hoodie meandered beside a familiar medical clinic and then lazily down a long staircase towards a large warehouse along the docks. Rusty cars and weeds were scattered all along the roadways, and practically every window in the area was broken. It was a sad, decrepit, and likely condemnable building that held no life inside whatsoever.

 

This place is my home. Pretty sure it was an amusement park at some point, considering the rollercoaster, foam pit, and carousel. The sign up top says ‘Wilde T —… Something’. Not sure. The rest of the sign fell off. The doors work, though, so it’s a good place for a little privacy.

 

I like it here. Mammals were the most alive when they were having fun at places like this, so maybe I’m trying to see if any of that life is left over. Keep a collection of random shit I come by in the office upstairs. Music, pictures, porcelain statues that make a satisfying ‘crunch’ sound when you break ’em—you name it, I got it. The rest of the place is built for the living, so it’s not much use to me. That carousel is where I’d have fun, if I knew what that word meant anymore. This foam pit would be where I would sleep, if I could sleep. Pretty sure that diner over there might have a few things I could eat, if I ever got hungry for anything besides brains.

 

Oh yeah. I eat brains, by the way.

 

I’m not terribly proud of it, but, to us Walkers, brains are the only thing that give us any hope. Whenever we chow down on some cranium cake, we get to experience that mammal’s memories like it was happening to us. For a brief, undeniably blissful moment, we’re alive again. Even if the memories are bad, the feeling is real. Once I got a piece of an elephant that the Savages left behind. It felt nice being tall and wide, but I have to say the trunk was an odd experience.

 

My last meal was a few months ago, when a few racoons scuttled into town looking for… I don’t even know. All I know is that Barry, who was my unlucky meal of the night, had very poor taste in TV. Spent his early years studying and keeping his nose clean, but did a few too many drugs in college and flunked out. Lucky for him the world ended, because he made something of himself. He had a small group of loyal survivors who would follow him anywhere. I guess all those zombie video games made him think he could actually pull off the brave hero act. Not sure why he came into Zootopia, another Walker got that part of his brains. But the memories of food, music, and all those nights getting high to Guns and Rodents felt like the most fulfilling life I could ever ask for. I was satisfied for days, re-living Barry’s life.

 

But that was months ago, and I’m starting to feel extra-dead these days. Gotta get me some grub, before my fur starts falling out and I go Savage. Guess I’ll go see if my buddy is around.

 

The fox made his way to the rear of the building where a van was parked halfway up the curb. The windshield was cracked and the sides had been graffitied poorly, but behind the grime and spray paint were parts of a mural that depicted a brave hero rescuing a helpless vixen.

 

The Walker moaned as he approached the rear of the van. He could faintly hear the sound of music playing through the van’s stereo. The slow and bright electronic beat hummed a little louder as he found the rear doors. He wavered a bit and stumbled as he shakily rapped on the van’s window. Another groan came from inside, this one deeper and grumpier. After a minute of fumbling, the door creaked open and another fox appeared from the dark van. He was much smaller, and his eyes were bloodshot. A bit of dried blood ran from his mouth down his neck, and his shirt was torn to pieces as well. He had a bit of one of his large ears missing—bitten off by something bigger than him.

 

This is my best friend. And by “best friend”, I mean we occasionally grunt at each other and stare intensely trying to say something. He was smart in making this van his home. Living mammals will sometimes wander inside, hoping to start it up and drive to safety. That’s when he pounces. As a result, he’s had a healthy dose of brains for a Walker his size. I usually trade him whatever music records he likes in my collection for whatever leftover brains he was able to nab. It’s a love-hate thing for sure—in that I’m pretty sure he hates me, but loves the music.  

 

The fennec fox grunted and scowled at the newcomer, who did his best to smile, revealing yellow teeth and bloody lips. They stared at each other for a moment, occasionally moaning but not doing much else.

 

Oh, he’s pissed. That’s good, because it means he’s as hungry as I am. I know it looks like I’m not doing anything right now, but trust me, we’re both trying our best to communicate. He’s better at it than I am, probably because of all those brains. He gets words out before I can even squeeze out a syllable.

 

Hungry,” the fennec fox grumbled. The other fox in the green hoodie nodded slowly, his slitted eyes widening.

 

“B… bb--brainss?” the bumbling fox managed. The fennec groaned and shook his head slowly, keeping his intense stare the entire time.

 

Damn. If he’s out, that means we’ll have to hunt and see if we get lucky. There are a lot of Walkers in this city, and lots of them are bigger than we are. So we’ll just have to get there first.

 

“Ss—station,” the fennec said with a nod. The other fox nodded back and revealed a few more teeth in anticipation of another meal. The two of them left the van behind and started a long journey through downtown towards Savanna Central.

 

Savanna Central Station. That place was a train station a long time ago, but it’s now a mess just like everywhere else. Me and my buddy are smart enough to know that whenever the living venture into Zootopia, they usually come in through the train tracks. A few other Walkers still have the capacity to realize that as well, but the mindless Savages can’t think that much, which gives us an advantage. It’s clear across town from here, so we’re gonna have to walk a ways. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get lucky.

 


 

 

Judy checked the pistol on her belt again, making double-sure she had the rounds she needed. The shotgun that was slung over her back was ready to go as well. The knife strapped to her leg was sharpened and weighted for throwing. The military-grade truck rattled back and forth as they rolled along towards the drop-off point. The look of sheer focus and determination on her face was evidence of one fact: She was ready for anything. Anything except for an otter named Kris jamming a wet finger into one of her ears.

 

“D’uaaghhh! Cut it out, Kris!” Judy swatted at her laughing friend.

 

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it!” she said between laughs. “You just looked so serious.”

 

“This is serious, Kris. We’re almost out of penicillin. So if we don’t bring in a good haul today, we’ll lose dozens this winter to pneumonia.”

 

“I know that, dummy. I’m a nurse, in case you forgot. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun. Besides, last time we went into the city, we sidestepped every Walker we came across without any problems at all,” Kris argued.

 

“We were lucky. Don’t count on that happening again.”

 

“Well, if we see any Walkers, I’ll be sure to run faster than you,” Kris jested.

 

“As if you could.” Judy shot her an arrogant smile. This made Kris’s eyes light up and she leaned forward in her seat.

 

“Oh yeah? You wanna race to the station?”

 

“Oh, you’re so on, otter-girl,” Judy dared.

 

“Hey!” an aggravated voice called from the front seat. “That’s enough chit-chat. We’re approaching the drop-off point, so look alive.”

 

Judy groaned and folded her arms across her chest, leering at the rabbit riding shotgun. He had grey fur with black stripes across his cheeks, along with a distant look in his eye as he gazed at the city coming into view. Barking commands let him feel like he had some kind of authority, even though he took orders from Judy’s father.

 

“Speak for yourself, Jack,” Judy grumbled under her breath.

 

It was hard to believe this was the same Jack who would hold her paw while they walked between the burrow and the training grounds a few months earlier. What had started as a heartfelt relationship with the buck had soured after he’d joined up with the military. Judy was still willing to go on search parties with him because he was a decent shot, but she could do without his authoritarian ego.

 

“This is good, right here,” Jack instructed the driver.

 

They came to a stop and gathered their weapons. The search party of six mammals disembarked from their transport and squinted their eyes as they came into the sunlight. They were perched on top of a bridge which spanned the massive river that separated Zootopia from the outer burrows. Judy could see the green mountain-sides and lush forests behind them that divided home from hell. Turning around, she saw the black, desolate underworld that was Zootopia. One of the taller skyscrapers was leaning up against another, looking like it would fall at any time. The tracks ahead stayed suspended above the ground for a few more miles as it snaked its way around the city and through each district. Judy had never been to the city before the deadrising, but she imagined it had been beautiful.

 

“Good luck, and god speed.” The driver turned his car around, heading back down the tracks and towards the safety of home.

 

Search parties like this were rare, but necessary. While the farms back home could adequately feed the survivors of the deadrising, keeping them healthy was more difficult. They mostly relied on simpler treatments and whatever stockpiles of medicine they had. But whenever they ran out, they were forced to send brave young mammals into Zootopia to find what was needed. Judy was not, strictly speaking, part of the military. She had training, and was more than willing to help keep mammals safe and alive, but she did not fancy taking orders from her father.

 

“You guys ready?” Judy pulled the shotgun strapped around her shoulder a little closer. The others nodded, her friend Kris even giving her an eager smile before falling in behind her. She let Jack go first, since he’d insisted on being the leader. Plus it was easier to have him out front than to have another argument about who was in charge.

 

“Okay then. Next stop: Savanna Central Station!” Judy said confidently, and they began walking.  

 

Chapter Text

God, we move slowly. I mean, when your muscles are rotting and/or missing, it can be hard to move with any kind of purpose, so I get it. It’s just annoying that a trip to the train station is an all-day thing for us. It’s embarrassing actually, the way we hobble along like this. But don’t let that fool you into thinking we’re crippled or anything. If we smell something living, we go from Walkers to sprinters pretty quickly.

 

Oh hey, it’s the pilot or limo-driver guy from before. What happened to your hat?

 

Looks like he’s got friends too, and by ‘friends’ I mean corpses that are moving in the same direction he is. I guess my little buddy and I weren’t the only ones hoping to get lucky at the train station today. That’s good. The more the merrier. The living often bring guns, and a bullet to the face works just as well on any of us as it would them. So naturally, I’ll let meat-shields numbers one through eight take the lead on this one.

 

Huh? Why are we stopping?… You smell something little buddy?

 


 

 

The search party walked along the train tracks through each of the districts. Sahara Square looked clear, but Tundra Town was left blackened and sickly after the snow had all melted away, leaving behind only mud and more than a few Savages scouring for flesh. Thankfully, the tracks were suspended high enough to keep their passage into town safe. It took them about an hour or so of walking along the raised tracks before they finally made their way into town through Savanna Central Station.

 

Judy moved with purpose, keeping her head low and her weapon up as they quietly surveyed the area. The sun was bright enough that day to show them all of what used to be Savanna Central Park, and, fortunately, there was no movement yet. Jack took point and kept his own rifle high, whizzing around every barricade possible before moving on to the next one. Kris was less than impressed with the display.

 

“Why are you hiding behind cars, Jack? Last I checked, Walkers don’t carry firearms,” she scoffed.

 

“Shhh!” Jack exclaimed.

 

“Relax, Rambo.” Kris rolled her eyes. “If there were any Walkers around, we’d know it by now.”

 

“Silence, Otterton. You’re giving away our position!” he spat in a furious whisper.

 

“And you’re slowing us down. The hospital is this way. Besides, the Walkers will smell us long before they hear us.”

 

Jack took an angry step towards her. "Otterton, if you don't shut up right now...."

 

“You’ll what?” Kris asked, folding her arms over her chest.

 

“I’ll do what I need to keep this search party safe.” Jack motioned towards his rifle.

 

Judy’s eyes widened. He had gone too far that time, threatening Kris like that. She slung her shotgun back over her shoulder and whipped out her knife from the strap on her leg. Grabbing him by the ears, she yanked down hard and pinned him, pressing the blade against his neck. He cried out for a moment as she wrestled him to his knees, groaning angrily.

 

“Give it a try, Sargeant,” Judy whispered.

 

His eyes flickered with both fury and a respectable amount of fear. She held him there for just a moment longer to get the message across, before releasing him and sheathing her knife.

 

“Get a room, you two,” one of the others jested.

 

Kris was nice enough to slap that marmot upside the head for the comment so Judy didn’t have to. Her memories of who Jack used to be and how she had felt about him were all but faded at this point. He’d recently became an authoritative dick, which was certainly annoying, but threatening her friend was full-on inexcusable. Now, the thought of getting anywhere close to him again made her skin crawl.

 

The group made their way into Zootopia General Hospital, which had seen better days. The building had once been ground-zero for the deadrising, where the first few cases were made public. The hospital staff had been quickly overrun, and the dead had consumed the city in a matter of days. Judy was still pretty young when it had happened, with ambitious dreams and plans on moving to the city eventually. She’d never gotten the chance to see what Zootopia was like in its former glory.

 

They passed the broken glass doors and bloodied reception desk and immediately got to work scavenging. Even though she didn’t want to spend any time in the same room as Jack, they stayed as a unit. As her dad would always say: If you split up, you get chewed up. One of their comrades spotted their target at the end of a dark hallway.

 

“Pharmacy?” Clifford gestured to a locked door on his right. There was a small window in the door that Judy knew she could use. Using the butt of her shotgun, she bashed the window open and reached inside to the handle. Jack had no complaints about the noise this time.

 

“Jacklepot,” he quickly began sorting through the various medicines on the wall.

 

“Don’t get too excited, Sargeant,” Kris told him with a sigh. “Most of the good stuff has been cleaned out long ago. The only things we’ll find here are hydrogen peroxide and subsalicylate.”

 

“Nerd,” Judy teased.

 

“Hey, don’t hate just cause I’m studying to be a nurse and can use big words now.”

 

Jack inspected a small bottle of medication. “What the hell is ‘Sildenafil’?”

 

“Viagra,” Kris answered. “Nothing you’ll need since you’re already a massive dick.”

 

Jack scoffed and tossed the bottle aside. The others were already busy tearing through the random assortment of boxes and bottles, hoping to find anything useful. Judy knew that penicillin was kept in small glass vials, so she went looking in the less obvious spots.

 

The room beside the pharmacy was a small lab with sinks, test-tubes, and various medical equipment. Before the deadrising, this room would have been used to cure diseases and help mammals far and wide. The cost of the equipment alone could have bought half a burrow back home. Now, it was just a dump. A dump with a slightly rancid smell oozing from the sinks. Judy checked the mid-sized cabinets first–no luck. She then moved on to the larger ones where medication for elephants and giraffes was stored. She found a trove of equipment and miscellaneous tools, but nothing valuable to her or the Burrows.

 

She groaned and made her way to the window. The stillness of the city outside was actually quite peaceful, but she knew the horrors it hid. She’d lost so many family members during the deadrising that it was difficult to see the city for anything less than a hellscape. And those monsters were to blame. Part of her just wanted to come to the city with as many rounds as she could fit in her pocket and blow their heads off, one by one, until the score was evened out. Because, as it stood now, the Hopps family was losing by hundreds.

 

While she was lost in thought, Judy’s paw had wandered onto a small silver object on the windowsill. She picked it up and observed it closely. It looked like a tape-recorder, and in surprisingly good shape. It even had a memory card in it, which was a unexpected because most tech had either been looted or scavenged over the years. She hit play. Nothing happened.

 

“Battery’s dead,” she realized, feeling stupid for expecting anything else.

 

Judy heard a shuffling sound from one side. It could have been one of the beakers she’d overturned rolling around in a cabinet, but she knew better than to make assumptions like that. She pocketed the recorder and pulled out her pistol, cocking it back carefully. Keeping her ears up, she waited for another sound with her weapon ready.

 

“Find anything?” Jack asked coldly as he joined her in the lab.

 

“Shh!” she silenced him. Jack caught on quickly and raised his rifle point up. His ears were stiff and tall, just like hers. Nothing at first. Then another short shuffle. Jack eyed one of the cabinets she had missed and moved in closer. He carefully reached forward and placed a paw on the handle, shooting a glance to Judy who nodded and kept her pistol at the ready. Jack nodded back and counted to three before throwing the cabinet open.

 

A high-pitched squeal screeched from the cabinet as Judy saw something small dart out from inside. It was fast and furless and it’s eyes were glazed white with blood oozing from it’s mouth.

 

“Savage mouse!” Jack cried and opened fire. His rifle rang out as he shot frantically at the floor, narrowly missing the little monster each time. The mouse was swift and darted from side to side, sniffing the air as it charged at them. It lunged towards Judy’s foot and bit at her with the few sharp teeth it had left to bare. Judy jumped skillfully onto the counter in a single bound and kept her own pistol drawn.

 

“Don’t let it bite you!” she warned as the others entered the room to see what all the noise was about. She saw Kris immediately pinpoint the rodent and draw her weapon. The mouse continued scurrying around and hissing madly at the newcomers. The pale skin on its bones was sickly and nauseating.The bullets eventually scared the creature underneath a table.

 

“Kris! You ready?” Judy called out from her spot on the counter.

 

“I got you!” The otter responded, pistol cocked and loaded. Judy leaned out from the counter and let her toe rest against the ground a few feet from where the mouse had disappeared. She swirled it around on the floor, tempting the creature out. In a flash, the mouse launched from under the table and snarled as it leapt for Judy’s toes again. She quickly withdrew her foot and rolled out of the way. Kris opened fire less than a second later.

 

Her shot hit dead-on from across the room. All that was left of the creature that had almost ended Judy's life was a little red smear across the floor. She looked up to Kris who nodded back at her and holstered her sidearm.

 

Kris noted the holes in the ground. “Nice shooting, Tex,” she scoffed at Jack.

 

“Can it, Otterton. I had that under control.”

 

“Sure.” She walked over to Judy, giving her friend a brief look-over to check for scuffs or scratches.

 

“I think we’re done here anyway,” Jack decided. “If we’ve cleaned out the stock from this hospital, we’ll just have to move on.” He made his way to the door that led back into the pharmacy, looking stoically at the others in the room who seemed more than a little shaken by the Savage mouse. He patted a few shoulders and bid them closer. “Stay cool, everyone. Keep your eyes peeled and fall in behind me. I’ll get everyone back home safe,” he said confidently and opened the door.

 

A snarling leopard with bloodshot eyes and bloodied clothes leapt forward through the open door and into the lab. Even as zombies, predators were good at moving quietly. Jack yelped and bounded out of the way on his powerful legs. The poor marmot standing behind him was not so quick. An instant later, he was caught in the beast's jaws. Time stood still for a moment as he screamed for help, before the Walker bit down and crushed his torso instantly. Judy gasped in horror at seeing the massive predator make quick work of her comrade. The leopard was soon accompanied by more Walkers falling in behind it, all moaning and screaming with their mouths open wide.

 

Judy immediately leapt into action and drew her shotgun, opening fire at the onslaught of Walkers surging into the room. She caught the leopard with the first shot. Then the second, and finally it fell limply onto the ground. A wild raccoon began racing towards her as well, but her powerful weapon made quick work of it too. The wave of Walkers seemed never-ending: a deer, another racoon, a panther, a few foxes…. They’d be overrun soon.

 

The others in the room were not nearly as quick to start firing as Judy knew they should have been. Many of them yelped and hid behind counters. A hare from their search party tried to run but was caught by a rabid deer who picked him up by the ears and angrily beat his head against the wall.

 

“Aim for their heads!” Jack ordered as he opened fire. He dropped the deer in a single shot before firing at the others as well. He hit a tiny fox with giant ears in the torso, but it just leapt forward and began feasting on another one of their search party alongside the racoon.

 

“We need to get back to the drop off!” Kris shouted while firing her pistol at the Walkers surging towards them.

 

More bullets rang out. More Walkers poured in. The sound of gunshots and snarling and screaming filled the air. Any hope of escaping the way they’d come dwindled further and further as their search party fell one by one.

 

A bloodied fox growled hungrily at Jack, leaping at him from behind. Jack mashed the butt of his rifle into the Walker’s head, knocking it down before leaping up onto the counter. Once he had a better vantage point, he went back to firing off rounds. The fox growled angrily as it collected itself from the ground, searching for the nearest living mammal so it could feed its insatiable hunger.

 

 

 

Woah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s when the fox saw her. She’d popped out from behind a counter and fired a few rounds of her shotgun at a Walker who’d then flown across the room and hit the wall with a thud. Her eyes were a brilliant shade of violet, and her light gray fur was absolutely breathtaking. At least, the parts that weren’t covered in splatters of blood were.

 

The fox’s eyes widened, and his body seized up as he gazed at her. The slits of his pupils dilated to the point where they were almost round—like a living mammal’s might be. The air was filled with the sounds of screaming and gunfire, but all his ears could hear was music.

 

Ouch, what the hell?

 

The fox pawed at his chest in confusion for a second. Something in it was not cooperating properly, causing this odd twinge to form. The longer he stared at the violent, beautiful bunny, the more that ache bothered him. He rose to his feet, moaning as he reached forward and tried to move closer to her.

 

The male bunny on the counter fired another round, hitting the fox in the hoodie square in the chest. The fox blinked and looked up in confusion, wondering for a moment what had hit him. When he realized the striped bunny had shot him, the fox growled in anger and remembered why he was there in the first place. He was hungry.

 

The bunny pulled the trigger again, this time aiming for the fox’s head. The firing pin clicked—his weapon was empty. The idiot probably got so trigger happy he’d lost count of his shots. The fox lunged forward and grabbed the rabbit’s ankles with both paws, pulling hard. The striped rabbit yelped in pain when his head bounced off the countertop as he fell.

 

“D-arghh…. No!” he cried out as the fox wrapped his fingers around his head and gripped him tightly.

 

The fox lifted the bunny’s head up as high as possible, roaring as he brought it back down to the ground with as much force as he could muster—

 

Okay, so this is not something I’m particularly proud of. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but I just can’t help it! I’m just so hungry, and let’s face it, this guy was being a bit of a dick. You guys know what’s going on, so can I spare you the details? It really doesn’t get pretty from here so just… I don’t know, think about puppies or something.

 

Yeah. Think about flowers and puppies right now, okay? Cute newborn wolf-pups with wet noses rolling around in a field of daisies and tulips. Nothing but good thoughts and happy times here—

 

Gah! I know you don’t want to die, but quit hitting me! Don’t make me use my teeth you little—OW! Okay that does it ….

 

Flowers and puppies, guys. Flowers and puppies everywhere. Flowers and puppies.

 

Flowers aaaaaaaaaand done! Whew. Okay, I’ve really made a mess of my clothes this time. Don’t care. It’s time for the brains-train and this guy is in business class, baby! The first bite is always the best.

 

“Mmmff,” the fox moaned as he eagerly shoved the first few chunks into his mouth. His head was overcome with senses returning to his mind. His eyes rolled back, and he laid down on the floor as euphoria washed over him. He could feel the late rabbit’s memories coursing through him like fire through a dry forest. He saw a firework show from when the rabbit was young. The sights and sounds were incredible! He tasted warm carrot stew and beet salad with ranch dressing. He felt tall riding on his father’s shoulders at the Carrot Days Festival. His fur was clean and smooth and striped somehow. It was all wonderful.

 

The fox’s lips curled upwards into a broken smile as the memories continued. He had flashes of a farming town with barricades on the roadways. He saw other bunnies who were thin and malnourished turning to him for help. “The Carrot Days Festival will go on no matter what!” he heard someone shout. He hung up a large orange sign on the wall that separated his life from the rest of the world.

 

Then he saw that same beautiful bunny again, helping sort her family’s food cart. She saw him and smiled. He felt that funny little ache in his chest again, and he smiled back. He climbed down from his step ladder and introduced himself.

 

“I’m Jack,” he said.

 

“Judy,” she answered and smiled radiantly. There was so much hope in her face, like the world was still somehow right as rain. Soon he was holding her paw, walking along the roads that divided their family homes. The wall was visible but less of an eye-sore from this distance. She was still smiling, and her paw felt natural in his. The memory somehow kept getting better and better.  She leaned forward and kissed him full on the lips, and he could feel everything. Her lips were soft, her nose trembled a little, and her paw squeezed down a bit on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around her back and pulled her closer. She was so warm.

 

It was all there for a perfect moment. And then it faded, just as quickly as it’d come. The fox could still hear her saying his name over and over again, before he realized the world was real and shitty and she literally was calling out his name.

 

“Jack! Jack, where are you!?” she cried while frantically pumping out a few more shots, stopping the jaguar from coming any closer.

 

The fox glanced up at the frantic bunny. Her shotgun was now empty. She threw it aside and pulled out her pistol, firing at the Walkers who weren’t busy feasting on her friends. He looked back down at the mess he’d made with Jack and shoved the remains of the rabbit’s brains into the pocket of his green hoodie.

 

Judy saw the fox-Walker rise to his feet and approach her. She watched in horror as it leered at her with a wild intensity that made her skin crawl. She aimed her pistol straight at its head and pulled the trigger. Her last gun was empty. She cursed, throwing her pistol aside. Judy pulled the knife from her leg again, throwing it directly at the fox with practiced skill. The knife plummeted into its chest with a thud but didn’t phase the fox in the slightest. The Walker simply pulled the knife out and dropped it to the floor while creeping closer.

 

Judy was at a loss. She kept her eyes wide and stepped backwards until she was pinned against the counter with nowhere left to go. Her nose was quivering frantically. She slowly slid to the floor. The fox was so close. Too close. She could smell the death on its breath. The Walker loomed over her, staring at her with a terrifying focus, until its nose was only centimeters away from hers. Her arms were shaking. So were her legs. The Walker reached out for her. She closed her eyes and prepared for her own bloody end. 

 

Keep You Safe

 

 

 

 

The fox said no more, only taking her shoulders in its paws and slowly lifting her up and onto her feet. Her eyes widened again. She was sure this time it actually would kill her. But instead, once she’d found her footing, they began walking. The Walker had her wrist in its paw and was guiding her towards the exit.

 

Judy eyes met Kris’s, who was keeping very still and very quiet in the cabinet beneath the sink. The otter watched in horror as her friend was marched out of the room and into the lobby of the hospital. While Judy’s feet were following along, the rest of her body was still stiffer than a board. The other Walkers seemed to calm down, now that everyone else in her search party was lifeless in one way or another. With their bellies full, they walked slowly and aimlessly as the dead fox guided Judy along. Oddly enough, the other Walkers seemed not to pay her any mind. She was surrounded by dead mammals that would normally eat her brains as soon as they saw her, but, in that moment, they left her alone.

 

Perhaps the fox had somehow claimed her? Was it taking her back to feed on her later? Was she leftovers? Did the other Walkers not care, or did they not notice?

 

While terrified questions circled in Judy’s head, the fox was grumbling to himself.

 

What am I doing? She’s alive. I’m dead. What am I trying to get out of this, exactly? This is absolutely crazy. All the other Walkers would think I am losing my mind—if I had any mind left to lose. I just can’t help myself right now. If the others smell her, she’ll be torn apart in an instant. Shame about the fur on her cheek, but I’m sure if I could make her understand, she’d thank me. It also helps that her jacket is covered in blood. She could just be another Walker after a fresh meal right now, so we’re good.

 

But what’s the plan, genius?! Take her back to the warehouse and…. What? Stare at her until she dies of boredom? Real suave conversationalist you are these days. Oh jeeze, what if my fennec friend finds out? He’ll stop giving me any of his leftovers, and I’ll become a Savage in no time.

 

Idiot! Just turn around and eat her now! That would make this whole mess so much easier…

 

But the way she smiled in those memories… Argh!

 

Okay, okay. Think. We’re doing fine so far. If I can keep her safe for a while, maybe she’ll stick around long enough for me to get a full sentence out?

 

Oh man, she looks terrified. I mean, I don’t blame her. There’s gotta be something I can do to make her feel better. She’s surrounded by bloodthirsty monsters and walking along with a dead fox—exactly the type of creature known to eat bunnies looong before the world went sideways.

 

I can do this. Just tell her something to make her feel safer. This would be a whole lot easier if I could JUST. SAY. SOMETHING.

 

“Huueyy” the fox moaned.

 

I hate being dead.

 

 


Walking Dead

Chapter Text

The city grew dark very quickly as they passed through the long shadows cast by the broken towers of downtown. The roads became narrower and harder to distinguish, and, before long, Judy had no idea where she was. The thought terrified her to her core because now, even if she tried to run, she’d be too turned around to find her way back to the drop-off point. If she lost her way, she would undoubtedly meet a gruesome end at the paws of Walkers—just like the rest of her search party had.

 

Their screams were still echoing in her head as she followed closely behind the staggering fox. Some of them had cried for help, only to grow silent moments later. Her eyes were wide open, but Judy only occasionally saw what was in front of her. The rest of the time, her vision was clouded with the memory of blood-spattered walls. The only respite from those grim memories was the fear of where this Walker was taking her, and what horrible plans it had in store.

 

Bunnies like carrots, right? Is it speciesist to assume that bunnies like carrots? Not that I have any to give her in the first place, but I do have that orange carrot-shaped pillow I found at the abandoned toy store. It’s got a smiley face on it. Maybe she’d like that?… Eughhh this is hopeless. I should just get her inside before anyone else catches on. She’s starting to smell tasty again.

 

The fox took another turn down a narrow street, leading her towards an area by the river lined with warehouses. Judy was not sure if the apocalypse had actually affected this area, or if it was already run down to begin with. The grass was tall enough to tower over her in some bushy spots where the pavement was cracked. She could try to make a run for the river, but, without a boat, the polluted water would kill her faster than the Walker could. Perhaps it was best to bide her time until she saw an opportunity to escape. After all, the fox had not eaten her yet.

 

Out of the corner of her eye, Judy spotted a red cross hanging above one of the nearby abandoned shops. It was dirty and had vines growing around it, but it looked like it had been a pharmacy or medical clinic at one point.

 

“Holy shit,” Judy said in astonishment. There was no way that any other search party had ever ventured this far into the city before, so the haul from that shop must be unbelievable.

 

“Hhhuuughh Uhmmmm ” the fox moaned as it gestured to one of the warehouses. Judy snapped back to attention and resumed walking under her hobbling guide’s direction. She was unsure if any other Walkers knew she was there, but it wasn’t time to run just yet.

 

The fox opened a massive set of doors and waited a moment, looking at her intently. Judy hesitated. Was this zombie actually holding the door open for her? She couldn’t run without being hounded down, and she had no more weapons, but the darkness looming inside the warehouse was foreboding.

 

“Sss safe ” the fox said with a slight nod of its head. Its eyes were wide and pleading.

 

She was still overwhelmed by the horrifying events of the past few hours, but was nevertheless surprised to hear the Walker speak, even if it was only a word. Judy had nearly convinced herself that she had imagined the Walker speaking earlier. She heard a snarl from the distance, sounding a bit like a Savage feasting on a meal. She quickly stepped forward and reluctantly made her way inside.

 

The only light source was the fading sun behind her. The inside of the warehouse was so dark that Judy could barely see three feet in front of her. However, the room echoed as the fox closed the door behind them, so she could tell that it was massive. There could be an entire swarm of Walkers waiting for her. She turned, looking for the fox but finding only blackness. The predator would be able to see her perfectly in this darkness, and she would have no way of seeing it coming.

 

It’s dark as shit…  Where’s the stupid switch?… Damn it… Okay, there we go!

 

Judy leapt with a yelp as she heard the sound of a motor turning. She saw the fox standing beside an industrial-sized power generator that had whirred into life. Lights started to flicker around her, and, pretty soon, the entire building was lit.

 

“Sweet cheese and crackers,” Judy gasped when she got a look at where the Walker had brought her.

 

It was an amusement park buried inside an old warehouse. A sizeable roller coaster snaked its way around the entire room, with its tracks still held together firmly. A carousel was dead center with various carnival game stands on either side of it. To one side, she saw a foam pit for kiddies to play in. On the other side, there was a small dinner with large plastic milkshake adorning the roof. The park was dirty in places and rusted in others, but if she squinted, it would be easy to imagine that the deadrising had never touched this place. The sign that lit her face from above was missing a few letters, the only thing she could make out was the word ‘Wild’.

 

“Why did you bring me here?” Judy asked, turning to the fox.

 

It sheepishly looked from one side to the other and opened its mouth to speak again.

 

“Ss safe …, ” it repeated. The Walker’s mouth was caked in dried blood, and its clothes were practically painted red. When the fox got close enough earlier, she could have sworn the smell of death was on its breath—-maybe even from friends of hers that it had eaten. But with that look of nervous apprehension on its face, Judy began to wonder if it actually meant her any harm at all.

 

“Safe,” she echoed the Walker. “Safe from what? From you?”

 

“Nnnn nnnot eat ” the fox mumbled and shook its head.

 

“You’re not going to eat me?” Judy clarified.

 

It nodded eagerly, folding its paws into the pocket of its green hoodie. The fox took another step closer, and Judy backed away, maintaining her distance from the bloodied predator. Foxes were shifty creatures, even before the deadrising. Perhaps this Walker had kept a few habits of trickery from before it turned. While she was amazed at its ability to form an actual spoken word, she did not buy the ‘tame Walker’ act for a second.

 

Judy defiantly thumped her foot on the floor. “Then let me go!”

 

The fox’s eyes widened before nervously shaking its head.

 

“Why not?”

 

“Nnnot not ss––”

 

“Not safe, okay I got it,”  she huffed angrily. “But why keep me here?”

 

The fox looked about ready to shrug, and she did not like it toying with her like this.

 

Judy’s temper was catching up with her quickly. “Do you even know what this place is?”

 

“Hhhmm?” the fox moaned in confusion.

 

“Of course you don’t. You can drop the act, Walker. I know you probably fooled a few mammals with the talking trick and the ‘keep you safe’ act in the past, but it won’t work on me! I know what you are, you monster!!”

 

The fox took a step back, its eyes remaining wide and dilated as she gestured to the world around her.

 

Judy practically spat as she shouted at the Walker in front of her. “You see this place? This was built by the living, by mammals who cared for each other enough to laugh and play together. You mindless wraiths have no idea about the world you’re stomping on! All you do is maim and eat and murder. You things are nothing like the mammals who built this place!”

 

Having lost as many family and friends as she had, there was some catharsis to screaming at a Walker who seemed to understand her. The fox took another step back, but its paws stayed in its pockets. Hard to have any self-preservation instincts when you’re already dead, she supposed.

 

After a moment of silence between them, broken only by Judy’s voice bouncing off the metal walls of the warehouse, the fox’s expression grew cold and passive. It turned away, and made its way up a short staircase into what looked like the park’s administrative office. The Walker didn’t glance back at her once before it stepped inside and closed the door.

 

Well. That could have gone better.

 

Judy held still for a moment, making certain the Walker stayed in the office. Its behavior confused her, no doubt, but she had more pressing issues to think about—like how she was going to get home without dying. She started with the door she’d entered through, folding her ears behind her back and poking her head outside. Scanning the area, it looked clear enough. But it was also getting dark, and she would be as good as dead on the streets at this hour.

 

After closing the door as quietly as she could, she turned around and ran to the other side of the park through the field of carnival games. The decaying prizes were still dangling from the ceiling. Judy peered out the windows lining the back, and all she saw was a straight shot into the river. She looked in either direction for the train bridge she’d walked into the city on, but she only found open water. That meant there were potentially miles between her and her way out of the city.

 

“Scat!” she cursed and thumped her fist against the wall.

 

Judy’s options were very limited at this point. She could hold out until morning, but there would be no guarantee the Walker that held her captive would not get hungry while she slept. Running through the streets was out of the question, so her only remaining hope was to get a message somehow to her inevitable rescue party. Their pickup was scheduled for sundown, so the ride home would be showing up on the bridge any minute now, only to find no one there.

 

Judy’s father would panic and send in a few heavily armed search parties looking for her, assuming the council would let him. If she could make a smoke signal––or perhaps find a radio and hail for help––she could bring the search party to her. But, at the very least, it would take the next day or so for her father to gather resources before heading out. That gave her about 36 hours before any hope of rescue—perhaps sooner if Kris was found first.

 

“Kris ” she breathed. Her friend was still alive when the Walker had whisked Judy away from the carnage, and none of the other Walkers had spotted her yet. Kris was a capable fighter and smart, so Judy had faith that her friend could make it out of there alive. But she had lost too many friends to remain completely optimistic. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst was all she could do at this point.

 

Judy turned and looked up at the office that the Walker had disappeared into. There was no way she was going to spend the night here with that monster wandering around. All things considered, her current predicament wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She was in a locked, relatively secure area with only one Walker to deal with. All she needed was something blunt and the element of surprise, and she would be safe until help arrived. Judy looked around for a moment at the carnival games around her. After some searching, she found a baseball game with bats sized for mammals a bit bigger than rabbits. She heaved it over her shoulder and gave it a few practice swings. It was a little much, but it would work.

 

She crept up the stairs towards the office, making sure that her footsteps were silent. Her ears remained upright and ready, but so far she didn’t hear any movement. She waited at the door for a moment with her ear pressed up against it. There was a soft grunt, but nothing much else. Judy gripped her bat a little tighter and steeled herself for action. The fox would be strong; she would have to be fast enough to overpower it before it got the chance to retaliate. She took a quick breath in and reached for the handle.

 

The door opened before she could reach it. She stumbled forward with a yelp, leaping back and staring up at the fox with wide eyes and her bat clenched tightly in her paws. The Walker stood there, equally shocked, holding a bright orange pillow in its paws. The fox’s eyes darted between the floor and Judy for a moment as it hesitated, before extending the orange pillow in her direction.

 

“C carrot,” it offered weakly.

 

She was speechless now, her eyes darting between the offering in its paws and its face. The blood—and stench—- were still there, but the Walker’s eyes were genuine, almost as if it were really hoping she’d take the pillow in its outstretched paws.

 

“Are you are you offering me this pillow to sleep on?” she asked hesitantly.

 

The fox simply nodded, keeping its paws forward. She looked up at the fox for a moment, not daring to move just yet—-still frozen in confusion. The Walker caught sight of the bat in her paws. It took a small step back and its eyes widened in response. Judy immediately placed the bat on the floor and nervously twiddled her paws.

 

“Oh! That’s nothing, that was just uhm, that was ”Judy scrambled to think up a believable explanation. She was not sure why though. Given the circumstances, bashing the Walker in with a bat was certainly an appropriate response.

 

“Sss s-sure,” The fox said, its eyes drooping lower and its features falling a bit. Was that a scowl?

 

“Hey, it’s not like this is normal for me, Mr. Fox. I just—What are you doing?” Judy resumed her defensive stance and maintained at least two arm’s distance as it stepped forward. The Walker exited the office and motioned with its paws, grunting sternly and urging her to go inside. She backed in, keeping her eyes and ears on the fox again, ready to slam the door if she needed to.

 

“Lock,” it said, gesturing to the door. The fox wobbled a bit as it leaned forward and closed the office door behind it. Now she was alone in the office, it was outside, and she was even more confused.

 

“Lock!” the Walker called out a little louder through the door. Judy caught on and pushed the little button on the doorknob with a satisfying click. The door rumbled a bit as the fox gave the door a shove from the other side, turning the knob to no avail.

 

“What are you doing?” Judy asked through the door.

 

“Safe!” It called out in annoyance.

 

She was stunned again. She heard the fox wobble down the stairs one at a time, and, before long, even the sound of its footsteps was completely gone. It took Judy several moments to stop staring at the door with her mouth hanging open. A zombie who could mumble a few words was one thing, but this Walker had gone out of its way to make her feel safe. That meant it understood her feelings. That was not supposed to be possible.

 

Judy looked down to her paws and the orange pillow in them. She must have taken it earlier without noticing. Looking closer, she saw the pillow was shaped like a large carrot with a cartoonish happy face on one side. It was soft and clean, which was a small miracle given the circumstances.

 

When she turned and observed the office closer, she was yet again struck speechless. All around the room was a collection of knick-knacks. They were clearly arranged in some attempt at organization, even if Judy couldn't put her finger quite on how. A saxophone hung above the windowsill beside a record player and a rather impressive collection of vinyl records. She saw a few porcelain figurines of various mammals in pristine condition. They were missing the thin layer of dust that seemed to cover everything else, which suggested the Walker had cleaned them. There was a grandfather clock against one wall, and a fox-sized mannequin from an expensive suit-store on the other. On the table was a red handkerchief that looked like it had been folded with care. Judy saw a couch in one corner with a blanket unevenly tucked into the couch cushions. The Walker had prepped a bed for her.

 

“What are you?” she wondered aloud.

 

I’m an idiot. She was about to bash my head in, and I would have deserved it too. Thank god for that little awkward exchange, otherwise she might have re-killed me. Can’t say I blame her. But come on! What’s a dead guy gotta do to get some basic levels of decency here? It’s okay. Cool it down. She’ll be better off in the office on her own for a little while anyway. It’s not like she’s going anywhere else for the time being. Bet she’s already asleep by now.

 

Must be nice to sleep. I never have, or at least I haven’t since I died. Bet dreams are fun. It’s like being alive but while you’re asleep, so I imagine. The closest thing I’ll ever get is eating brains—which is much less romantic. Can’t imagine The Cranberries have written too many songs about eating brains, but they’ve written plenty about dreams. I wonder if she likes music?

 

There are a lot of ways to get to know someone. Eating her dead boyfriend’s brains is…arguably one of the more unorthodox ways to go about it. But I’m gonna use what I can. I’ve still got a bunch left from this afternoon, and she’ll be down for the night. So bottom’s up!

 

The fox dug through the pocket of his hoodie and shoved a few pieces of Jack into his mouth. His eyes rolled upwards, and his vision exploded with memories and experiences. At first, he got a glimpse of that firework show again. Then swimming in a pool somewhere. Next, he was doing pushups in a field with some grumpy older bunny screaming at him and the other rabbits. Then he saw Judy again, smiling back at him.

 

“So Jack? How has training been going?” an older, more plump looking rabbit asked him.

 

“Very well, Mr. Hopps. I’ll start my first wall shifts next week.”

 

“That’s good. We’ll need strong, strapping young bucks like yourself when the Walkers come knocking at our gates again.”

 

If the Walkers come, dad,” Judy said angrily from the other side of the dinner table. This must be where Jack was doing the whole ‘meeting the rents’ thing!

 

“They will, Jude. They can’t scavenge in the city forever. And when they finally run out of food over there, they’ll come over here. The only reason we survived last time was because we were armed. Now, thanks to the wall, and our dedicated young soldiers—” Stu said with a wink in Jack’s direction—“we’ll be ready for them.”

 

“It’s been years, Dad. If they were going to starve to death, they would have by now

 

The fox’s eyes dilated as a new memory popped into his head. This time he was running for his life towards a giant wall that seemed to continue in both directions forever. Jack was shouting.

 

“Why didn’t you just do what I said?!?”

 

“I didn’t know there would be Walkers there!” another mammal spat as they continued running.

 

“Just keep going! We’re almost at the wall!”

 

There was a snarl then a flurry of fur and screaming as the mammal beside him was brought to the ground by a wolf that was missing most of its fur.

 

“Agh! Damn it! Why doesn’t anyone ever listen to me!?!”

 

Another memory flashed in front of him. This time, he was sitting quietly with Judy leaning against his shoulder. There was that same warm feeling he’d experienced last time. It was heavenly.

 

“I’m thinking about joining the next search party,” Judy said softly.

 

“Absolutely not.”

 

She frowned and folded her arms across her chest. “Excuse me? I’m pretty sure it’s my decision, Jack.”

 

“Not while you’re my doe, it’s not,” he said flatly. “Besides, you have any idea how dangerous that is?”

 

“Where the heck is this coming from? I know how dangerous it is. Far more than you do,” she spat. “You wanna count how many family members I’ve lost to those monsters?”

 

“This isn’t a debate, Judy. You’re staying here and looking after the burrow.” He rose from their loveseat to leave.

 

“What? Do you really expect me to drop everything I’ve worked for just to become your little burrow-keeper?”

 

"It's real cute how you want to help, but your place is at home, helping us repopulate the Burrows." His voice was not angry, but instead was condescending, as if he were breaking the news about Santa Claws to a child. "You can't play hero forever."

 

“My place? My future is up to no one but me. Do you understand? No one tells me what I can or can’t be!”

 

“I’ve had enough!” He threw his paws up in frustration. “You will do as I say, or you’re done being my doe.”

 

“Jack ” Judy answered coldly. “I was your partner, not your property.”

The fox came crashing back into his normal self as the last of his meal was finished. He blinked a few times, licking his lips and savoring the flavor. He suddenly felt a little bit better about eating Jack’s brains.

 

Alright, so she wasn’t on great terms with Jack before the whole ‘flowers and puppies’ thing, so I’ve got that goin’ for me. Clearly she doesn’t like to be bossed around, so I’ll keep that in mind. Wonder what that place was that I saw, with the giant wall and the green fields. It looked nice, and peaceful.

 

My first impression could have probably gone better, but now I’ve got all night to plan for the second. Let’s see, what would she like?… Well, she seemed to enjoy that festival with all the carrots in the last memory well enough. Maybe she’d like a private carnival?… This place could use some elbow grease anyway.

 


 

 

Judy awoke hazily. The felt pillow beneath her head was comfortable, and the blanket was warm enough. But the sofa cushions were old and scratchy and and not hers.

 

She remembered where she was and peered around the room for a brief, panicked moment. She half expected the Walker to be waiting for her to wake up before it started to devour her. The mannequin against the wall gave her a real fright, but it reminded her that she was safely locked in the office of the worn-down amusement park hidden in the warehouse.

 

Judy heard a crashing sound from outside the office, and she quickly stood up and peered out the window onto the warehouse floor. She saw some movement, recognizing a green hoodie in the morning light. She threw her jacket back on and crept out of the office, making her way across the indoor fairgrounds.

 

“Wow,” she gasped as she made her way across the warehouse floor. The place was tidier than it had been when she’d fallen asleep. The prizes hanging from the stands were all organized, and many of the games themselves had been cleaned and set up. More of the lights were working as well, though it still wasn’t picture perfect. She made her way over to where a second crash came from and found the fox fiddling with one of the carnival games. It was grumbling and grunting, seemingly frustrated with the cups that were meant to be set up into pyramids and knocked down with a single pitch.

 

“Hey.”

 

The Walker stumbled backwards at her greeting, causing the other two pyramids it’d already set up to fall over and clank on the ground. It grumbled again.

 

Darn it, Bunny! Do you have any idea how hard it is to balance things when your default setting is ‘spaz’?

 

The fox looked up at her from the ground and frowned for a second. The Walker staggered for a moment before it rose again, shifting the cups around a bit as it did so.

 

“C Carrots ” It hobbled closer.

 

“Did you just call me Carrots?” Judy said in no small amount of astonishment yet again.

 

“Bu–bunnies like carrots,” it mumbled, as if it were stating an obvious fact. It was, but it still irked her.

 

“Just because I’m a rabbit, doesn’t mean I automatically like carrots,” she protested.

 

“Hhhuuhhh” the fox groaned with a nod. “Sss sleep okay?”

 

“Yeah, I slept fine, thanks for the pillo—”

 

Judy stopped, realizing she did very much enjoy the carrot pillow he’d given her and that she had just admitted to liking it. In fact, she’d just walked right into that little trick, and the fox knew so! She looked back up to its face to see its eyes half-lidded and cracking a broken smile. Its self-satisfied smirk annoyed her–to say the least. But wait! It was a Walker! This Walker was smiling ! Albeit like a prick, but it was a smile nonetheless.

 

“My name isn’t Carrots. It’s Judy,” she told it. “Do you have a name?”

 

It was the fox’s turn to look bashful. Its eyes went wide. “Nn name?” it stammered.

 

“What do I call you?”Judy crossed her arms.

 

Come on, come on, you got this! Just think real hard and let it out.

 

“Nnnnnnn . . . . NNnnnNNNNN . . .” it grumbled.

 

“Don’t hurt yourself, Walker,” Judy said skeptically.

 

The fox frowned, taking in a deep breath through the snout and trying again. “nnnNNNNNN Nnnuu NN.”

 

“‘N’? Does it start with an ‘N’?” Judy questioned.

 

The fox’s eyes widened, and he nodded eagerly.

 

“Okay so like Nathan? Nolan? Neil? Nate?”

 

The fox shook its head as she listed off names. None of them seemed to strike a cord. She could tell it was something it actually cared about, as absurd as the concept seemed.

 

“Nelson? Nigel? Neville? Norton? Okay, how about I just call you ‘N’? And we’ll figure the rest out later?”

 

"N," the fox repeated. There was something oddly endearing about the way he rolled it around on his tongue for a second, as though he liked how it felt. He gave her a much more genuine smile and nodded his head eagerly. She had to admit that while it was a shit name, it was probably better than being called ‘Walker’ or ‘monster’ over and over again.

 

“N it is,” she agreed. “So, N, thanks for the pillow, and for keeping me safe. And for not eating me and all. But I’m hungry, and I could really use some food.”

 

At first glance, the fox never held any expression in his face beyond a dazed glare that all Walkers wore. But observing him closer, she caught subtle hints at what N was thinking. She noticed him biting his lip and his eyes widening a little. Searching further, she saw that his tail had stiffened, and he looked at the ground for a moment. He shook his head nervously and gestured to the doors to the outside world. “Nnnot safe.”

 

“I know it’s not safe. But if the living don’t get food, we starve. So I’d really like to get some breakfast,” Judy said simply.

 

He hesitated again, looking very concerned about the idea of leaving her alone in the warehouse. While he did not seem to mind her borrowing his home, he always seemed to stutter more when she suggested doing something dangerous. Perhaps an old trick she used to pull on her father might work?

 

Judy folded her ears over her back and held her paws together in front of her waist. She made her eyes really round and looked at him with a pleading expression. “Please, N. I’d be really grateful for some food.”

 

Okay, that’s adorable and not fair in the slightest.

 

“Hhhaaa Okay,” he muttered and nodded his head. “Yyy —- you stay safe Judy.”

 

“Oh, thank you N! Thank you so much!” Judy walked with him to the exit of the park.

 

She held the door open only a crack’s worth and watched as he hobbled back into the streets. Her happy face faded into a look of focus as she made double-sure that he was gone. Once she was satisfied, Judy ran back towards the office and found a small backpack beside the couch she’d slept on. She stuffed the large bat in there and made her way back to the door before sneaking out. She kept her head low, darting through the streets.

 

Her ears were up high as Judy ran as quickly as she could. There was no movement in sight, thankfully, and she kept herself as small as possible between hiding places. Once upon a time, her ancestors would have lived this way from the moment they were born until their death, dashing from shelter to shelter and running for their lives. She hoped that those instincts had not completely been lost over the millennia as she dove between the cars and tall weeds in the road.

 

She stopped along the path that N had brought her down and eyed the pharmacy from the day before. The red cross hanging above it was more visible in the early daylight, and Judy was not about to let her friends’ deaths mean nothing. She quickly made her way to the glass door in the front and tried to tug it open. It wouldn’t budge—and breaking it would make too much noise.

 

She dug the bat out of her pack and stuck the handle between the sliding doors. She tugged on  it from the outside and used the leverage to pry the sliding doors open just enough for her to fit through. She made her way inside and darted past the rotted magazines and bathroom cleaners. The good stuff was always in the back, behind the counter, across from the condoms and bite-collars. She bounded up onto the counter and found the metal box in the back.

 

“Jacklepot!”

 

She eyed the vials of various antibiotics. Two of them were massive ones meant for bigger mammals, but they had the same labels as the smaller vials. She stuffed them all into her backpack, along with a few pawfuls of tissues to keep them from banging around in her bag. There was enough medicine in her pack now to restock the entire ward back at the Burrows!

 

Just before she got the bag back on, Judy heard a low thunderous growl roll through the pharmacy. She froze, staring at the only exit. She could see the very top of a lion’s mane as the doors were pried open and a figure limped inside. She cursed to herself and snuck away from the counter as quietly as possible.

 

The lion sniffed loudly, moaning as he caught her scent. He hobbled in farther. He was up on two legs, which was a good sign. He might be easier to evade than a Savage. She kept her ears tall and waited for him to prowl farther into the store. Judy carefully crept from one aisle to the next to stay out of view from the hungry beast still blocking her exit. She found a pack of batteries hanging from the wall beside her and took a few in her paws. When she was convinced the Walker was looking away, she tossed one pack to the other side of the room where it crashed into the scent-maskers. The lion growled again and quickly shuffled over to the noise, bumping into a few aisles along the way and spilling items onto the floor.

 

Judy took the opportunity to move towards the door and backed away slowly from the pharmacy. She made sure that the lion was not following her, before she turned to run away.

 

A paw grabbed her shoulder and yanked her away from the street and up against a nearby motorcycle. She yelped for a second, but the red in the Walker’s fur looked familiar, as did the concern in his eyes. He shushed her madly and tried his best to calm her down. Her little yelp had caused the other walkers in the area to begin wandering towards them, and now from both directions of Vine street walking corpses were blocking her escape.

 

N’s eyes darted from side to side nervously. He stepped closer to her again, his paw shaking against his chest. He dug around under his shirt, finding the same wound she’d left in his chest when she’d thrown her knife the day before. The rotted brown blood stank like the dead, and he wiped it down across her cheek like he had in the hospital. He gave her another sniff, seemingly satisfied that she did not smell appetizing any longer, and helped her stand back up.

 

They turned towards the warehouse, only to confirm that a host of Walkers was blocking their path. Judy looked up at N nervously. N turned back to her with wide eyes.

 

Certain death on one side, with a heaping helping of certain death on the other side as well. Dumb bunny just could not stay put, huh? Come on, think! We got back to the warehouse before, but that was because those Walkers were full. These guys look just as hungry as always…. Okay. This idea is probably a little stupid, but so are Walkers, so it might just work.

 

“Be d-dead ” N instructed her.

 

She looked at him like he was speaking in tongues or something. N demonstrated what he meant by hobbling forward a few paces and exaggerating his moan a little, raising his arms forward a bit to drive it home. He looked back at her, and she seemed to get the idea, nodding and following him down the street.

 

“Hhhhuuuu uuhhhhhsshsshshsh “ she moaned as they began shuffling. “Bloooood blooooood hhsssssss.”

 

N stopped them both and scowled at her. “T—too much,” he murmured quietly.

 

She limped along beside him, continuing her over-the-top performance as they hobbled along amongst the Walkers. Judy, despite N’s warnings, only got bolder the farther they got.

 

“Bllooood! Blooooood and deaaatthhhhhhhhh,” she cried out, letting her tongue loll out of her mouth and drooping her eyes around pitifully.

 

“You’re milking it,” N critiqued quietly as they got closer to the warehouse.

 

“Shut up, it’s working!” Judy whispered with an excited smile on her face, before resuming her death march.

Cause this is Thriller. Thriller Night.

 

“UUUUGGGGHHHHh OOOHHHHHHcshshshshshs BLOOOOOD and DEATHHHHHHHH!”



With that final cough and moan, Judy fell to the ground and writhed before staying totally still.

 

Oh, this is just painful to watch. Get up, you idiot! I’ll drag you back if I have to.

 

Judy’s ‘limp and lifeless corpse’ was smiling just a bit as the other Walkers looked over at N with confused looks on their faces. How had this bunny actually managed to embarrass him in front of all the other zombies?

 

Ok, dragging it is.

 

N knelt down for a moment and picked up Judy’s backpack, pulling her along with it as she continued to moan. Her feet and paws dragged across the ground as he pulled her passed a few more Walkers. When they were finally far enough away that none of the other Walkers could spot them anymore, N unceremoniously dropped Judy at the entrance to the warehouse. He scowled back at her as she dusted herself off.

 

“I think that went pretty well. It was actually kinda fun. It felt a bit like being in a Michael Packson video,” she said confidently. “I was an actor in middle school, you know.”

 

“You don’t s-say,” N huffed and turned to open the door.

 

“Hey, N. I’m sorry for running. Really,” she admitted. “Thank you for coming to get me.”

 

He paused with his paw on the knob and eyed her up and down. “Not safe.”

 

“I know. I’m sorry, N.”

 

He mulled over her apology for a moment before deciding that it sounded sincere enough. He opened the door a little wider, gesturing for her to go first.

 

“Thanks. And by the way, I actually am pretty hungry.”

 

“Ccc carrots,” he said in exhaustion.

 

She stopped for a second and bounced a little in excitement. “Wait are you calling me ‘Carrots’, or are you saying you found me carrots?”

 

“Got you carrots,” he answered with a short smile, stepping inside the warehouse behind her.

 

“Yes!” Judy grinned back at him and pumped her fist. “Thank you N!”

 

“No problem Carrots.”

Chapter Text

N watched patiently while his guest savored the probably stale taste of canned carrots. He heard her hum to herself in satisfaction as she used a plastic spoon to scoop a few more pieces into her mouth. He had also managed to scavenge a few crackers with the packaging still intact, along with a jar of honey. She had wasted no time dipping the stale crackers into the golden-yellow jar and smiled a little with each bite. The look on her face made N a little proud of himself.

 

She turned to him and gestured to the jar in her paw. “Honey never goes bad, you know.”

 

N observed her with an active fascination as she ate. She was not much for table manners at the moment, nor should she be. But the way she took such delight in something so worthless to him was both strange and enrapturing.

 

“Thank you, N,” she said, wiping her chin with the back of her paw. “Nothing like the rations back home, but that hit the spot.”

 

Her attention shifted towards the undead fox in the room as she finished off the last few bites. There was no fear in her eyes this time. Instead, she was curiously observing him like he did whenever he found an old relic from the time before the deadrising to add to his collection. He sat quietly, staring right back at her with a similar interest from the sofa she had slept on.

 

“So…” Judy started, placing the can and plastic fork on the office desk. “What’s your story, N?”

 

“Ss…story?” he grunted with a cocked eyebrow.

 

“I’ve seen more than a few Walkers, N, and one or two Savages too. But you’re the first one that has ever spoken. Can all of you speak?”

 

N thought back for a moment. He’d never stumbled across any other Walkers who could talk besides his smaller fox friend, but, then again, he’d never really asked any of them before. He could only shrug as a response. Judy folded her legs and sat upright on the desk pensively.

 

“Ok. Well, here’s a better question: Why didn’t you eat me?” she asked softly.

 

Shit. I haven’t thought about an excuse for that yet. It’s not like I can just tell her outright that seeing her made my chest ache and eating her would have felt worse than going hungry forever. I need something better than that. Come on, think of something! Just joke if you need to.

 

“Bunnies t—taste like…like carrots. I…h—hate carrots,” he ventured. He shrugged again and looked away to keep her from spotting how nervous he was.

 

“There you go with the stereotypes again. You know, you are a very ironic shade of orange for someone who hates carrots,” she jabbed back. “Did you collect all of this stuff?”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“Why? And why shack up in a theme park?” Judy asked, gesturing to the fairgrounds out the window.

 

He leaned a little forward a little in effort to try and push the words from his mouth a little more clearly. “Mmmm…more alive here.”

 

“Huh. Well, that’s debatable.” She shrugged and examined him. Perhaps she’d decided to believe him when he’d said he would not eat her. Considering he was the first sentient Walker she’d ever seen, it made sense that she’d want a closer look. She leapt off the desk and took a new seat on the arm of the sofa so she was within arms reach. He looked at her as nervously as a Walker might be able to, but he kept her gaze as best he could.

 

“Your eyes are slitted,” she noticed.

 

“Mmm?”

 

“Your pupils. They’re slitted vertically, like a feline or a snake.”

 

“Is that…weird?” he asked, recoiling away from her slightly as she leaned in closer.

 

“Yeah. We’ve got a few foxes back home, and their eyes are round like mine. I’m thinking whatever turned you into a Walker did that too.”

 

N shrugged again.

 

Finally, seemingly satisfied with her prodding, she eased back away from the fox, which calmed him down. “N, I really can’t thank you enough for saving my life, twice now, but I really do need to get home. I’ve got an entire backpack full of very rare medicine, and it could save lives back at the Burrows. Can you help me get back safely? Please?”

 

Double shit. She can’t leave yet, she just got here! Think of something quick. Something that’ll keep her around for just a bit longer. You’re a zombie. You know zombie things. Maybe a she’ll buy that zombies don’t hunt on Sundays?

 

“N?” she asked after he’d remained nervously silent for a minute. “I swear, if you say ‘not safe’ again, I’m gonna throw something at you.”

 

“Ss—smell…” he bumbled.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“You smell…living. The others…will smell you… ” he said with little confidence.

 

“Isn’t that why you wiped blood on me like it was makeup earlier?” she asked, referring to how N had left a strain of blood down her cheek in order to avoid a swarm of Walkers more than once so far.

 

“We were lu—lucky. It’s too d…dangerous to make it to…bridge,” N explained.

 

“So, what then? Do I soak myself in mud?” she asked.

 

N shook his head and sat a little farther forward. She was buying it so far, at least. “Just wait,” he said with more certainty. “Your smell will ff…will fade.”

 

Judy crossed her arms over her chest and scowled at him. “You mean I’ll start to stink?”

 

He eagerly nodded his head and tapped his nose. “Stink… like a Walker.”

 

“How long will that take?”

 

“Mmm—mm…” He gave another shrug. “A few days?”

 

Judy let out an annoyed ‘harumph’, looking at her surroundings again. It was clearly not ideal. She did not look the least bit thrilled about the idea of staying in Zootopia any longer than she had. N was afraid for a moment that she might try to make another dash when she got the opportunity, and they were lucky she had not been torn to shreds the last time. She crossed her arms over her chest and thumped her finger against her chin as she thought things over.

 

“Alright then.” She sighed and got to her feet.

 

Score!

 

“I’m thinking a few days in a theme park can’t be that bad. Might as well kick up a sweat to get that stink going,” she said as she found a stack of vinyl records by the desk. She started thumbing through them, passing over a few of N’s favorites. “You’ve got taste N, I’ll give you that.”

 

“Vinyl has better…sound. More alive…” he mumbled from his seat.

 

“Hipster,” she scoffed and pulled out a record that had caught her attention. “Ah, this one is a winner. Moose Springsteen—now there’s a zombie I’d like to chat with.” She blew the dust of the record and gently placed it on the turntable. She was much more steady-pawed then N usually was when she placed the needle on the wax and waited for the music to start.

 

At first, there was the same soft sound of the needle dragging across vinyl. Soon the lively beat erupted from the cracked set of speakers on the table and immediately filled the room. Judy reached down to the dial and turned it up louder. The previously silent warehouse now reverberated with piano and drums playing a bright, upbeat tune with an easy tempo.

 

N noticed Judy’s foot begin tapping along with the rhythm. Soon she was nodding her head as well, and, before long, she was gently swaying along with the music. “… I went out for a ride, and I never went back,” she sang along softly.

 

N was entranced by by this strange, amazing creature in front of him. She was now full-on dancing and singing along with one of his favorite records as if she didn’t have a care in the world. Judy had many things to worry about, of course, but right then it didn’t seem to matter to her. She was so alive in that moment, dancing in his run-down office. She turned her head, and N noticed she was smiling.

 

Ow! Again with the chest thing?

 

N put a paw on his torso, not really sure what was going on with his insides. As strange as the feeling was, it was not entirely unpleasant. By the time he looked back up, Judy had danced her way over to him and beckoned him closer.

 

“Come on, N. Show me how zombies do it!” she invited eagerly.

 

N frowned and shook his head nervously.

 

“Aw, come on! If you’re gonna be stuck with the living for the next few days, you might as well get used to it.”

 

Judy took his left paw and leaned her weight backwards, dragging him off of the couch. He reluctantly got to his feet and joined her in the center of the room. She continued lightly hopping from one foot to the other in time with the music, letting her hips sway a little between each hop and waiting for him to join in.

 

“Come on, N. Dead doesn’t mean boring,” she teased him.

 

N scowled and looked down at his slouched posture and laughable physique.

 

This is ridiculous. Statues dance better than me. Not sure what she’s expecting. Come on, N, see if you can do that sway thing. There we go. Left, and right, and left, bend your knees Gah, this is stupid! I look like a child that needs to pee!

 

“There you go!” Judy urged him on further. She giggled lightly and gave his hips a shove with hers, nearly knocking him over. “Can we play the music over the speakers in the park?”

 

N’s eyes widened a little and he nodded, partially thankful to get an excuse to stop dancing. He flicked a few switches on the amplifiers by the desk, and the same music they were listening to started emanating from various speakers around the park. Judy eagerly looked out the window and started to see the theme park for what it used to be.

 

“Come on, N. Let’s eat up some time with a few carnival games!”

 

Judy led him around the various booths and carnival challenges. N had spent much of the night fixing them up, and he couldn’t help but smile a little when he saw her enjoying them. She first tried her paw at a simple game trying to knock bottles over. While her aim was good, the game was designed to keep at least one of the bottles on the table, even when hit directly.

 

After calling bullshit, they moved on to the next one, a strength contest with a giant mallet. Despite her size, she was surprisingly good at that one. She used her powerful legs to get some momentum going before pulling the mallet down hard and sending the stone all the way up to the bell, which chimed with a satisfying ‘ping’. Any time she won, she’d carefully examine the wall for the least rotten prize and then happily carry it off with her to the next challenge. With the music continuing to play while they ventured from game to game, something caught Judy’s attention.

 

“Oh! This is perfect!” She dashed behind the counter of one of the booths. After digging underneath a table for something, she re-emerged with a straw boater-hat and brightly colored cane in her paws.

 

“Come’ere N!” She hopped up to his eye-level and slapped the old hat on his head before thrusting the cane in his paws. She gave a satisfied smile at her handiwork. “Now we just need a red and white striped jacket for you, and you’d look like a regular carnival barker. Come on, zombie-boy, let’s here your best entertainer impression.”

 

What on earth is she talking about?

 

N blankly looked back at her with a skeptical scowl.

 

“Just stand behind the counter, and say things like—”she dropped into a chipper accent that sounded a century old—“‘Step right up! Come test your luck!’. You know, things like that!”

 

N rolled his eyes again and shuffled behind the counter with the silly hat on his forehead.

 

Thank god no other walkers are in here to see this. Pretty sure the first time I died was via humiliation like this. But hey, the girl wants a show. Guess I’m lucky that the hat seems to fit perfectly.

 

“Heya c—Carrots, care to…test your aim?” he muttered and gestured to the targets to his side with the cane. Judy smiled and gave a slight skip when he started playing along.

 

“What do I get if I win?” she asked, picking the smallest air-powered rifle up with her paws.

 

“Any of t—these fine prizes…” he said and motioned to the plush toys of various mammals with smiling faces. “And if you l—lose, I’ll…eat your brains.”

 

“Oh, sure. Okay then,” Judy giggled. “Pressure is on. Good thing I’m one of the best shots in the Burrows!”

 

She cocked back the rifle and let the first shot rip at one of the plastic targets scattered amongst a small replica of an old western town. Her shot connected dead center and knocked the target over. She fired a few more times, each time landing a hit and knocking the various targets over with a satisfying ‘clink’ and subsequent bell chime. By the time her gun was almost empty, there were only a pawful of targets left, and they were the easy ones.

 

“Well d—d…done,” he groaned. “You live another night.”

 

N turned back towards Judy to find that this time she was aiming the rifle right at his head. He yelped and managed to duck his head the moment before she pulled the trigger. The small beebee flew right through the front of his thatched hat and out the other side, narrowly missing a spot between his eyes. He looked at her nervously as she blew the steam from her rifle.

 

“You can bring my prizes to the next one,” she said with a wink, and, with that, she turned on her heel and continued on to the next game.

 

Best shot in the Burrows alright. Mental note: This bunny does not exaggerate.

 

After a few more games, Judy seemed eager to do something a bit more exciting. She looked around at the warehouse, noting the tracks that ran along the edges, twisting and turning here before looping around there. Given her age, she was likely too young to ride any roller-coasters before the deadrising.

 

“Hey N, does that roller-coaster work?” she asked.

 

N could only shrug back at her, which gave her all the permission she needed.

 

Two minutes later, she was pushing buttons at the controls at the roller-coaster launch platform. There was barely enough power from the generator to get the wheels moving, but, eventually, she got the train of cars to start creeping up the first climb. They let the first train make a round with empty seats, to make sure the tracks would not fall apart.

 

“Nnnnot gonna work,” N said skeptically.

 

“Aww, come on. We can give a try at least!” Judy watched excitedly as the train finally started rolling past the first hill and flew down the first drop. The thunderous roar of wheels on metal echoed through the theme park as they watched the rollercoaster spin past them and around the warehouse. It squeaked loudly a few times when the corners were sharp, but that was likely because the moving parts hadn’t seen any lubrication in eight years. Despite the squeaking, the train did finally make its way back to the platform. N frowned.

 

“Good lu—luck, Carrots,” he said and began walking towards the ride’s exit.

 

“Oh! Don’t you run away now, Mr. Deadfox. You’re coming with me!” She gave his back a firm shove.

 

N’s eyes widened as she continued to push him towards the first row of open seats. He protested with a few more grunts and moans, but she was surprisingly good at knocking him off kilter. He fell backwards into the open seat in the front car. Judy slammed the restraints down, holding him in place.

 

“Looks like the first row is just our size too,” she noted as she hopped back to the controls. “All passengers aboard!”

 

“Ww—wait!” N cried out as she hit the dispatch button again, and the train began to set off. She quickly jumped into the seat next to him and slammed the restraints down around her as well.

 

What the hell is she thinking?! I can’t feel pain, but that doesn’t mean I want to get mangled up when this thing comes crashing down! This is stupid. This crazy bunny is gonna re-kill me! There must have been a whole team of mammals maintaining this thing back in the day, and it’s been years since then! Ohhhhh crap, we’re high up. How can we be this high up and still be inside? GAH!  What’s that thumping sound?!…. Oh, it’s just her feet. Wow, she’s excited. If I wasn’t about to die again, I’m pretty sure I’d think that’s adorable. Shit, we’re at the top…. Please don’t crash.

 

“Here we go!!!!” Judy lifted her paws in the air as they began to descend. N felt what was left of his stomach turn as they began to dive. They plummeted for a few seconds before quickly veering back up. He could hear her shout with joy and laugh hysterically as they turned and dashed around every part of the warehouse. The ride shook him vigorously and the wind whipped through his fur. N was gripping the handlebars so tightly that his claws dug into the foam.

 

“Here comes the loop!” she cheered and tapped his shoulder, as if he didn’t already know.

 

“Carrots!!!” he shouted as they zoomed upwards and over. The coaster slowed for a moment when they got to the top of the loop, and N was afraid for a moment that they’d be stuck upside-down. Thankfully, the coaster continued and carried them back through a few turns before mercifully stopping on the platform again. They came to a stop, and the restraints automatically rose from their waists.

 

“That was so much fun!” Judy grabbed a fistfull of N’s hoodie in excitment. “Can we do that again?”

 

“Kill me first,” N scowled.

 

“Oh, don’t be such a wuss. You’re already dead, how bad could it be?”

 

N used the handlebars to help himself out of the car and away from that crazy, suicidal rabbit. She sighed and followed him off from the platform. When she caught up to him, she slugged him on the shoulder and thanked him for the ride.

 

“Let’s do something that you want to do,” she suggested.

 

“Mm?” N cocked his eyebrow.

 

“Come on, I know you’ve got some imagination up there. What do you want to do in this theme park? We’ve got plenty of time.”

 

How about something that doesn’t involve almost dying?

 

N turned and led Judy to a dark shed with the words ‘House of Mirrors’ printed in decaying letters over the door. He led her inside and flicked a light switch on the wall. A few of the lights flickered on, but most of them were dead. The ones that were working illuminated a narrow path of mirrors pointing in every direction. Judy figured it was some kind of maze.

 

“Wow,” she said. “I’ll give you credit, this is fun.”

 

“Don’t…get lost,” he grunted.

 

“Why? Is there something dangerous in here?” she said skeptically.

 

He gave her a satisfied smirk. “You mean b—besides the...fox zombie?”

 

“Oh yes, how could I forget…. Oh, look at this! This mirror makes me look tall.”

 

N wandered next to one of the mirrors beside Judy and looked at his distorted reflection. It vaguely reminded him of a poster for some horror film he’d seen in the city once. He moved on and found himself a funky mirror that made him look rather fat with a round face. His feet were enormous as well. He stared for a moment before he heard the sound of muffled laughter from his side. Judy was covering her mouth and snorting in an effort to contain her chuckles.

 

“Something funny c—-c…Carrots?” he asked her.

 

“That mirror makes you look a lot like my friend Gideon.” She laughed a little harder.

 

“He a Walker too?” he asked rhetorically.

 

“Course not. You, my friend, are the only Walker I have the pleasure of knowing. But he is a fox.”

 

“S—same thing then,” he said with a shrug and continued walking through the maze.

 

“Hey, that’s not fair. He’s a good guy, really. I mean, he was a jerk when we were kids, but after the world ended, we kinda had to make friends where we could find them.” She continued to chat as she followed him through the maze. “The Burrows used to be pretty speciesist against predators, foxes specifically. But when the majority of mammals are flesh-eating undead monsters—no offense—we learned pretty quickly who our friends really were. He’s a regular at my family’s burrow these days, and no one gives him any grief for being a fox anymore.”

 

“Sounds nice,” N said flatly.

 

“I guess it’s one bright side to the apocalypse.”

The Truth

N stopped. A light flickered on above him, and he caught sight of his normal reflection in a regular mirror. He could see his blood-soaked clothes and slitted pupils, marring him like soot cast upon fresh snow. He looked just as malignant and out of place as his reflection in the previous mirror, only this mirror reflected the truth. It was hateful, yet it took him a while to tear his gaze away from it.

 

The Truth

 

 

N nodded and led her out of the house of mirrors. He had forgotten why he took her in there in the first place.

 

 


 

 

The carousel was blissfully peaceful by comparison to the rollercoaster. The seats were swings, with chains that were held on by plastic birds dangling from the ceiling. Most of the lights were working just fine, but the music the ride played was a little unsettling since the bells were either broken or out of tune. None of that bothered Judy. She swung herself gently back and forth as the carousel made its way around. N seemed perfectly content with standing near a handlebar to hold onto for balance and watching her quietly.

 

The world hadn’t ended for Judy Hopps. Despite all the horrible, disturbed events that had turned the city, along with the rest of the world, into a hellscape, she could still find something to smile about. She undoubtedly wanted a lot from life, to help mammals that were still living or to fix some things that were broken in the world. But in that moment she was content to with nothing but a swing, lights, music, and a friend.

 

She could feel N’s eyes on her, but they didn’t carry the same imposing sting they had before. On the surface he looked terrifying, but Judy knew that he had a curious wit behind those eyes, so she felt comfortable letting him observe her freely. She only wished that she could know what was going on in his head. Something about him told her he was more than he appeared, and not just because he had a hard time speaking. He clearly had things to say, so what was he thinking?

 

“Gotta enjoy the little things,” Judy said, after a moment of letting N watch her on the carousel. “There aren’t many little things left, after all.”

 

The ride came to a stop, as did the music. The lights were still flickering on and off here and there, and Judy’s eyes drifted to the floor. She sat quietly, letting the swing coast to a stop and folding her paws on top of each other thoughtfully.

 

She spoke softly without removing her gaze from the ground. “Hey N?”

 

“Mmm?” he moaned back.

 

“There was another bunny with me, back in the hospital. His name is Jack. He...he died back there, didn’t he?” she asked, looking up at him with a contemplative look on her face.

 

N looked away for a moment, but he did not struggle to speak like he normally did. Judy could tell that he was trying to approach the subject gently. After another moment, he simply nodded slowly with a sad expression on his face.

 

“I thought so,” she said solemnly. “Will he come back as one of you guys?”

 

He held his somber expression and shook his head lightly.

 

She frowned slightly before nodding in understanding.

 

“I guess I’m sad he’s dead. I mean, he was an s-class jerk, don’t get me wrong. But I never wanted him to get hurt…. I guess, mammals die so often these days, it’s hard to be sad for every last one of them…. I just hope Kris made it out okay.”

 

“Y—you’re not dead,” N offered consolingly.

 

“Thanks to you.” She gave him a soft smile. “Hey, I’m sorry for what I said earlier, when I called you a monster. It’s not a very nice way to react when someone saves your life.”

 

“I get it,” he said slowly. “I’ve been c—called…worse.”

 

“Yeah?” she asked gently.

 

N winced, seemingly upset with bringing up the subject. They were having such a pleasant time, but it seems they had finally landed on the seven-ton whale in the room: N eats brains.

 

Judy waved him off and rose from her swing. “I won’t pretend like you haven’t eaten anyone before, N. But I’ve killed plenty of Walkers, so I guess we’re not too different.”

 

“Hhmm,” he said with a relieved smile. “I know. You’re g—good with a knife.” He gestured to his chest where there was a dark spot from when her own throwing knife had pierced his body and clothing.


“Yeah.” She laughed lightly. “I’d say I’m sorry, but it didn’t look like it hurt.”

 

“Only my feelings,” he jested.

 

That made her smile wider and slug him on the shoulder. He gave her a smug smirk back. His smile faded as he glanced up at the windows. Following his gaze, she noticed how dark they became.

 

“W—we should shut things d—down,” he said. “Walkers might see lights at night.”

 

“Yeah, good call. You got a book or something for me to do before bed?”

 

N eyes and ears perked up, and she could see the gears in his head turning.

 

“You l—like movies?” he suggested.

 

Her jaw practically dropped and her eyes widened in surprise. “You have movies?!”

 

“And a TV. I’ve been collecting—”

 

“Yes! Let’s go!!” Judy took him by the wrist immediately and dragged him towards the office.

 

After they had finished shutting down all the lights and power to everything except the office, they wheeled out an old tube TV set that had somehow survived the looting during the beginning. Then again, the entire theme park had somehow been safe from the deadrising, so it wasn’t too surprising that the TV had made it too.

They flipped through whatever DVDs N had been able to scavenge over the years. Judy was unimpressed with the vast amounts of vampire romances that  existed, but eventually she found an action-thriller that caught her eye. They watched it together from the same sofa she had spent the previous night, Judy sitting a respectable distance from N with a blanket around her legs.

 

By the end of the film, she was clutching her carrot pillow. N would roll his eyes whenever the main character said a zingy one-liner, but she could tell he didn’t hate it. The movie was just nearing the end when he saw Judy raise her paw up to her mouth and yawn widely.

 

“Nn—need sleep?” N offered.

 

“Hmm? Oh, I’m just a little tired is all,” she got out, before another yawn escaped her mouth.

 

“You sl—sleep,” he said with more resolve. “See you in m—morning.”

 

“Where are you sleeping?” she asked him lazily.

 

“Don’t sleep,” he answered flatly.

 

Judy was a little embarrassed for suggesting it. “Oh, I see. Sorry.”

 

“Come.” He ushered her up from the sofa. She furrowed her brow at first, but followed him to the door all the same. He limped over to the doorway to the office, standing right at the threshold and motioning for her to close it on him again.

 

“Lock,” he said, pointing at the door knob.

 

“Oh,” Judy said, catching onto him. “N, I’m not worried about you anymore, okay? I know you’re not gonna come in and eat me in my sleep.”

 

“S—safe…” N insisted.

 

“N—”

 

“Please…Judy.”

 

Judy looked up at the fox, whose eyes were sincere and more than a little concerned. Thinking back on it, that was the same look he had given her when he had guided her out of the hospital safely. Right then, it was easy for her to forget about the bloodstains on his clothing or the slits in his eyes.

 

“Okay,” she surrendered. “Hey listen, N. Thanks for today. I’ve needed a break for a long time.”

 

“Sleep…well,” he muttered softly and smiled at her.

 

She smiled back and swung the door slowly, gently pushing it closed and pressing the lock in with an audible click. She heard N jiggle the knob from the other side, just as he had the previous night, before hearing him slowly make his way down the stairs and out of earshot.

 

Once he was gone, she turned back towards the sofa and reached into her jacket pocket. There were two AAA batteries still in her pockets from when she had avoided that Walker lion in the drugstore earlier that day. In the other pocket, sat the tape recorder she had lifted from Zootopia General Hospital before the Walkers had found her and her team.

 

Judy placed the batteries in the recorder, hoping to the powers that be that batteries did not have some kind of expiration date. If they did, then she was lucky these batteries were still working because a little red light appeared on the recorder as soon as she slotted the final battery in place. She hit rewind, then she hit play.

 

At first, there was nothing but the sounds of distant conversations. She couldn’t make them out, but after a certain point, a clear and calm female voice began speaking to her.

 

“March 5th, 2020. Research log for Day Two of the new epidemic sweeping Zootopia. Early attempts at diagnosing the afflicted mammals have proven to be useless endeavors. Clearly, whatever we’re dealing with is beyond our means here. Symptoms are consistent regardless of species, which is baffling the science community thus far. All vital signs, including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature are spinning to zero, yet the subjects are still moving. They are very aggressive and non-responsive, attacking any mammal not also afflicted. They’re…. The reports say they’re eating brains…. God, it’s like a horror movie,” the voice whispered in disbelief.

 

Judy held the recorder closer to her chest as she curled up into the blankets on the couch. Her head finally found the carrot pillow as she thoughtfully ran her thumb over the recorder’s speaker. After another cut, a new recording started, this time with a loud commotion going on in the background.

 

“March 6th…. This outbreak is tearing the city apart.” The voice was less calm this time, and Judy heard shouting going on in the background. “The government has declared martial law, but the police are overrun and packs of monsters are attacking citizens in the streets. I can’t even tell who is alive out there anymore.”

 

Another scream as the commotion in the background grew.

 

“They’re moving all hospital staff out of the city…. I think they’re gonna give up on Zootopia and try to get us out to the surrounding neighborhoods. Those idiots in City Hall, if they had just been honest from the start and let me finish my—”

 

The voice was then interrupted by another female, this one more frantic. “Doctor! We need to leave, the hospital is almost overrun,” the second voice urged the first.

 

“I’ll be right there!” the first voice answered. “I haven’t given up yet. There’s got to be an explanation for this. The mayor has provided me with a grant to continue my research in the hopes of finding out what the epidemic is, but he really seems convinced it’s armageddon just like everyone else. If you’re hearing this, we’re still trying.”

 

“Honey!!” the second voice called out again. This time, Judy heard the sounds of distant growls and snarling. The first voice, a Doctor Honey something, placed the recorder down and began walking away.

 

“Let’s get to Cliffside, go!” she called out, before the sounds of snarling and distant screams were all Judy could hear. She turned it off, knowing full-well that the rest of the recording would be nothing but more chaos since the doctor had left the recorder on until the batteries had died.

 

The sounds haunted her. She had been a young adult during the deadrising, but she was in Bunny Burrows, so it had all felt like some TV show at the time. This snarling and screaming brought it all back to life so quickly, it made her cold inside. Whatever became of those doctors was not good, since they had never found a cure.

 

A part of her nearly wanted to bring N back into the office, just to help get her mind off of the recording. But another part of her was reminded of what kind of creature N was deep down. The two parts of her brain battled for dominance, right up until she heard the distant sound of a howling Savage, at which point the fearful side won.




Chapter Text

 

The morning hours felt much less imposing this time. The east-facing windows of the warehouse lit the room with the golden yellow sunlight that carried over the river. The stillness was less ominous and more serene, as if the world hadn’t ended and all the busy morning-mammals had simply taken the day off.

 

Judy was up after the sunrise, quietly enjoying the last of her canned carrots and spoons of honey. It was hardly filling, but it was certainly better than nothing. Perhaps there was some carnival food that hadn’t gone bad yet in the diner across the warehouse. She’d have to ask N a bit later. And, speaking of the undead, she was beginning to wonder where he was.

 

She made her way to the office window and peered out over the quiet fairgrounds. She couldn’t really see much. The sun was only lighting so much of the park that early in the morning. Eventually, she caught some slight movement and found N sitting quietly on a carousel swing. Looking closer, it was the same one she had enjoyed the previous day. Judy tapped against the window loudly, and she saw him perk his head and look up at her. When his eyes found hers, she couldn’t help a small smile that crept up her cheeks.

 

She waved lightly, holding the blanket draped over her shoulders with her other paw. N softly waved back before rising from his seat and trudging through the fairgrounds. He limped up towards the office and knocked on her door.

 

“It’s open,” she called out, bidding him inside.

 

“M—mmorning C—carrots,” he said shakily. His voice was a little less confident in the mornings. Perhaps, once he got some practice in through the day, his speech would improve. She noticed he was a bit more at-ease after talking with her for a while.

 

“Hey N, I was wondering something,” Judy started as she took a seat on her couch-turned-bed.

 

“Mm?”

 

“Do you remember anything from when you were alive?” she asked. “You did remember the first letter of your name, which is more than nothing. I figured there might be more.”


N frowned and shook his head, his ears twitching a little as he did.

 

“Hmmm. What do you remember?”

 

“Uhh—h?” he stammered.

 

“Come on!” she encouraged him. “You must remember something from before we met. How long have you been dead?”

 

“I d—don’t…know,” he admitted with a shrug. He looked around at his collection of knick-knacks, perhaps to re-trace his years of collecting them. With such focus in his eyes, she could tell that he was really trying to remember.

 

“Nothing?”

 

“L—look, Carrots. Zombie’s d—-don’t keep journ nn nals or diaries. And even if ww—we could, I wouldn’t…wouldn’t want to.”

 

Judy folded her arms over her chest. “There’s gotta be something from early on. Maybe we can figure out how you died. What’s the first thing you do remember?”

 

N turned away from her and gazed out the window with a slight scowl on his face. She could not tell whether he was concentrating or just frustrated with himself. If she were in his place, there’d probably be plenty of memories that she would rather forget. And here she was, provoking him and butting into things that were none of her business anyway.  

 

Judy walked closer to him and placed a paw on his forearm gently. He was practically skin and bone, and she couldn’t feel any warmth beneath his fur, but she did her best to comfort him all the same. “Hey, N, I’m sorry I brought it up. Don’t worry about it, okay?”

 

“Lights,” he muttered.

 

Judy’s ear twitched. “What?”

 

He closed his eyes and curled his paws into fists, as if he were struggling to squeeze the memory out like the last drop of toothpaste. “I remember...lights. So bright…. Eyes hurt.”

 

“Okay,” she ventured carefully, rising from her seat and getting closer. “Anything else?”

 

“A long road…and rain.”

 

“Hmm, like the Rainforest District?”

 

“N—no,” N shook his head. “No more rain.”

 

“Right, the rain probably hasn’t been running since the deadrising. Huh, I guess you might have died outside the city then?” Judy deduced.

 

N could only look up at her and shrug. There was just so much left uncertain.

 

“Don’t worry about it. You’re dead either way, so it doesn’t really matter,” she reassured him.

 

He scowled. “Th—thanks. I had almost ffforgotten.”

 

Judy realized she hadn’t exactly been polite with that last remark. She dropped her ears in embarrassment. “Right, sorry.”

 

“I knn—know zombies with more s...social skills.”

 

“Hey, give me a break. It’s not like I have any experience trying to comfort a Walker. My previous experiences with them have all ended with gunshots.”

 

N turned around to face her and gestured at his chest with a cocked eyebrow. “Don’t forget the… the occasional throwing-knife.”

 

“I’ve only ever needed to do that once, actually.”

 

“Hhhow’d it go?”

 

She smiled and gave him a sly look. “Struck him square in the chest, but didn’t do much good. Lucky for me, he turned out to be a pretty nice guy. With his own theme-park and everything.”

 

He returned her smirk and dropped his jesting. He motioned to the door with one paw. “You wwwant to play some more?”

 

“Carnival games?” Judy asked and looked out the window. The sun was rising higher. If she waited much longer, her father was likely to get a search party to scour downtown looking for her and mammals were bound to get hurt or worse. She had to get a signal out to them somehow. Then she could get them to hold off until N got her out of there, but she was running out of time.

 

“N,” she said sadly. “I need to get home.”

 

“Mm?” he mumbled.

 

“I know you said it is not safe, but you also said a few days would do the trick. Well, it’s been a few days, N.”

 

He nervously shook his head.

 

She furrowed her brow. “Why not? I can smell myself right now, and it’s honestly worse than you are at this point.”

 

“Little...mm—more time,” he said.

 

“Arghhh,” Judy groaned in exasperation and she thumped her foot on the floor. She turned away, giving herself a moment to cool off. She had been through this song and dance with others before, and it always went poorly when she reacted emotionally. Repeating a trick her mother had taught her, she breathed through her nose, out through her mouth, and faced him with a stern look on her face.

 

“Let me tell you something about me, N. When I was little, I wanted to be a cop. I wanted to help others and make the world a safer place. The world ended before I could ever get my badge, but that isn't going to stop me from trying. My dad didn't stop me, Jack didn't stop me, and you won't stop me either. Mammals back home will die without this medicine, so I really don’t have any more time to waste. I’m going to bring it back one way or the other. But I really want you to be with me on this. So please, N, will you help me?”

 

N did not say anything. Instead, he simply stood and stared at her with a faint, disappointed frown on his face. A few moments of silence passed between them. It was better than the grandstanding or dismissal she was used to in this scenario, but N didn’t look any closer to budging.

 

Judy sighed and massaged her temple with her finger. “N, I know you’re worried about my safety. Believe me, I really appreciate you looking out for me. But I am more than capable of taki––”

 

“I know you are.”

 

That got Judy’s eyebrows to jump. It wasn’t just what he said, but how clearly he’d said it that surprised her. “You do?”

 

“A—all you need is…a weapon and y—you could fight o—off three of me. Plus, I’ve seen you shoot.”

 

“Heh. If you thought that was good shooting, you should see me with Gretta…. Wait, if that’s true, then why can’t I leave? Given how bad I smell and with the two of us working together, we could get me to the train-station at least, couldn’t we?”

 

N looked out the window over the fairgrounds. He muttered quietly with his ears down, “...we could.”

 

Judy stepped closer and spoke softly. ”Then let’s do it, N. I know we can pull it off if we do it together. I promise I’ll be as safe as I can, alright?”

 

N frowned and looked at the ground. He crossed his arms over his chest and turned away from her. His eyes drifted over the fairgrounds, wincing a little as he did. Eventually, his eyes wandered back up to her with a broken smile on his face. “Alright.”

 

“Yes!” She pumped her fist and smiled back at him. “Thank you, N!”

 

“We’ll g—go to…tonight. Only the prrrredators ha—hunt at night. Won’t be as mmmany Walkers.”

 

“Hrmmm,” Judy frowned. “If we can’t leave until later, is there any way we can try to get a signal out?”

 

“Ss—signal?”

 

“I mean, I really just need to stop my dad from sending in a search party, right? If they send in a platoon of troops in to rescue me, they’ll be in real danger. Not to mention that if they see you, they’ll…. It won’t be pretty. But maybe there’s a way to get word out to them. This city must have a radio tower or a electronics store somewhere, right?”

 

N’s eyes widened a little and shifted towards the shelves behind her. He hobbled over to them and began digging through a set of drawers. Judy watched as he tossed a few things over his shoulder and out of the way. She winced as one of them shattered into pieces on the floor. A moment later, he turned back around and approached her. He held something close, looking at her timidly. His eyes fell down towards his paws as he offered her something small and yellow.

 

“A walky-talky?!” she gasped. It was a clip-on style portable radio that had probably been used by the park staff at one point. “This is perfect!”

 

“But nn—no batteries,” he said with a frown. Judy flipped the device over and looked at the battery compartment, checking for their size.

 

She couldn’t believe her luck. “Hang on!”

 

She ran over to her backpack full of medicine. She found the small recording device she had listened to the night before and took the batteries out. Placing them into the walky, she looked over to N with her finger’s crossed and twisted the volume knob until it clicked.

 

It beeped at her and lit up a small digital screen.

 

“Yes!” she shouted with a triumphant hop.

 

“Try it,” N said, urging her forward.

 

Judy mashed her finger on the button. “Hello? Is there anyone listening? Hello?”

 

The channel was set to the same frequency she was used to seeing on Jack’s military issued walkie-talkie when he joined the forces. However, she didn’t hear anything but static, even after hailing as clearly as she could.

 

“Hello!” she tried again. “This is Judy Hopps calling from Zootopia. Can anyone read me?”

 

After another moment of static silence, she checked her reception. There was only one bar, and it was flickering on and off. She guessed that any signal she could put out was going right into the side of the cliff-face alongside the warehouse. “Signal’s no good. We’ll have to get to higher ground to get this to work.”

 

“Hhh…how high?”

 

“High enough to get the signal over the river. This thing probably has a five or six mile range. So if we could get somewhere we could see across the water, maybe we could catch a patrol or something.”

 

“A—are you sure?”

 

She looked back at him with a soft shrug. “We have to try, don’t we?”

 

N’s face hardened. He pondered something for a moment before turning towards the door. Judy prepared herself for another lecture on how it wasn’t safe or how he could try to do it all while she stayed safely behind. Strangely, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he walked down the stairs and wandered along the fairgrounds towards one of the game stands. She grabbed her jacket and her backpack and followed behind him with the walky in her paw.

 

“N?” she called out as he shuffled behind one of the game’s counter and rifled through a large plastic bin. Seconds later, he emerged with a baseball bat that looked like the one she had nearly bludgeoned him with a few days earlier, only smaller and lighter.

 

“This is mm…more your size.” He offered it to her.

 

She looked down at the bat in her paw, gripping it tightly and smiling at him. “Thank you, N.”

 

“Only when th…the ‘play d—dead’ trick doesn’t work,” he explained.

 

“Got it. If we get separated, meet back here? Right?”

 

He agreed and looked towards the door. “You ready?”

 

She nodded and shoved the walky into her jacket pocket. They exited the park slowly, peeking their heads out of the main door and searching the decrepit parking lot in front of them. There were a few abandoned cars, but otherwise it was completely still.

 

“Lead the way,” she whispered.

 

N cautiously walked her along the parking lot and up a winding road. They were careful to check for movement before creeping along the lot outside the warehouse, weaving between the cars to stay hidden. Judy kept her ears down as they jogged from spot to spot, occasionally raising them to check for any nearby Walkers.

 

They made their way up the roads, climbing higher and higher. Eventually, they were atop the cliffside that overlooked the warehouse. The streets were sparse and quiet, but it was a dangerous idea to hail for help from where they were. They had to be sure there were no Walkers in earshot.

 

Judy hid behind a car and peered over the road in front of them. Looking down, she found an empty glass bottle and scooped it up. She signaled to her partner to listen by holding up her finger to her mouth and tossed the bottle out into the street. It shattered with a loud pop that echoed off the nearby buildings. They waited for a few minutes for any Walkers to appear from the nearby buildings or streets, but none emerged.

 

“Hello?” she ventured into the walky. There was still only one bar, but at least it wasn’t blinking anymore. N tapped on her shoulder and gestured towards a truck in the road a few steps away. With how tall it was, it was likely meant for giraffes. She circled the truck and leapt up onto the back, rebounding onto the roof and quietly looking around. From where she was, she could see clear across the river to the other side. N stayed on the ground, keeping his ears tall and his eyes on a swivel.


“Hello?” she ventured again, watching for movement. “This is Judy Hopps. Can anyone read me?”

 

She was greeted with more empty static, and her batteries were already at halfway dead. She groaned, begging the powers that be that she could reach someone back home.

 

“Hello! This is Judy Hopps. Can anyone read me?” she called again. Perhaps there was no search party coming for her after all.  “Anybody out there…. Please come in.”

 

“Judy?” Her walky chimed in.

 

She nearly dropped it in shock, holding it close and mashing the button again. “Hello? This is Judy Hopps!”

 

“Judy!” the voice called out happily. “Holy cripes, you’re alive!”

 

“Benny?” she asked hopefully, recognizing the voice as her friend, Corporal Clawhauser.

 

“Boy, I’m glad to hear from you. Where are you?”

 

“I’m in the city. Where are you?”

 

“I’m in a jeep, running a scouting mission!” he answered excitedly. “Your dad’s gonna be beside himself when he hears you’re alive!”

 

“Scouting mission?” she asked.

 

“Yeah. Your dad got approval for an all-out platoon raid to come out and look for you, on the condition that they send out scouts ahead to assess the place. I’m glad we did!”

 

“Listen to me, Clawhauser. You need to call off the search party. Keep them from coming to get me.”

 

“What?!” he called back. “Why on earth would we do that?”

 

“If you come to Zootopia guns ablazing, someone is going to get hurt.”

 

“You’re dad is not gonna stop till you’re home, Hopps,” he argued.

 

“Don’t worry about me! I have a safe way to get out of the city.”

 

“How?”

 

“There’s no time to explain,” she said. “Just hold them back until I get....”

 

Judy looked down at her partner, who was holding perfectly still. Even his tail had stopped swaying back and forth, and his grunty breathing had completely stopped. His gaze was focused down the road.

 

Judy’s eyes widened and her breath caught in her lungs. Her stomach dropped instantly. It was a Panther. Its eyes were slitted. Its dark fur was caked with dried blood. It was hungry, and it was staring right at her.

 

“Judy? Judy you there?” Clawhauser called out over the walkie.

 

The Walker began moving towards them now, groaning a little louder. She quieted the speaker, but it would do her little good now. They had already been discovered.

 

“I gotta go! Keep them back, Benny!”

 

With that, she turned off her walky and kept her eyes on the Walker that was now making its way towards them with a hungry groan.

 

N looked up at her from the ground with a ghostly expression. “R—run.”

 

Judy turned and leapt from the truck down the other side, hitting the pavement with a roll and running back towards the streets they’d come up. N quickly fell in behind her, hobbling along as quickly as he could. The panther snarled and began running after her. If it was only one, they could outrun it, but his snarling was bound to attract more of them before long. Her bag jingled with the vials of medicine as she ran, practically calling out their position.

 

Sure enough, Judy could hear more snarling coming from behind her as another Walker crashed through the window of a nearby shop and began chasing them as well. She was able to run fast enough to keep a good distance between them, but N had trouble keeping up. And their hungry barking was attracting more Walkers. Eventually, they’d be surrounded.

 

She vaulted over an overturned car and turned tightly around a corner that lead to the same street that snaked down the cliffside. Her heart was pounding in her ears. Her paws shook terribly with every last lunge forward. The bat in her paw would be of some use, but she could not hope to fight them all off at once. This was life or death.

 

More Walkers were practically waiting for her at the base of the cliffside. She cursed and turned down a different road that she prayed would somehow loop around back towards the safety of N’s warehouse.

 

A gazelle with half his jaw missing popped out from behind a car in front of her, moaning menacingly. Judy gasped and stopped, turning back to find five or six more Walkers ready to gnaw her to pieces. They were only moments away from catching her.

 

Trapped on both sides, Judy spotted a mid-sized van with it’s rear doors hanging open. She had just enough space between her and the nearest Walker to make it through. N had fallen so far behind at this point that the other Walkers probably assumed he was trying to eat her as well.

 

She darted towards the van, leaping inside at the last moment.

 

“No!” N called out, just before she closed the doors with a slam.

 

Judy backed away carefully, completely stuck and out of ideas. Thankfully, none of the Walkers that chased her were any bigger than that panther, but the van would not hold them out forever. She’d have to figure out a way to get N to lead them somewhere else so she could escape back to the warehouse. She kept backing away until her foot landed on something hard and pointy.

 

“Ow!” She looked down to find a small porcelain figure of a fox under her foot. She noticed how clean it was. Seeing something so fragile survive this long was odd on it’s own. Looking at her surroundings, the inside of the van was stacked full of little knick-knacks. Stock-picture frames, headphones for various mammal sizes, and a few ruined baseball cards were scattered around the interior. As the van shook slightly from the pounding outside, Judy thought it did not look entirely unlike N’s hideout. The realization made a shiver run down her spine.

 

That’s when she heard the growl. Judy turned around to find two violent eyes staring daggers at her from the other side of the van.

 

“Scat!” she cursed and leapt upwards as the figure darted forward with a snarl. She barely  missed the teeth as the Walker’s big floppy ears grazed her belly. She landed on the the other side of the van and readied the bat in her paws.

 

The mammal looked vaguely like a fox to her, only much smaller than N. Its brown slitted eyes were angry and fierce. Part of one its large ears was missing, and the blood stained fur under its chin meant that this one was not to be taken lightly because of its size.

 

The Walker darted forward again. Judy smashed the bat underneath its chin, sending it tumbling backwards. It regained its footing and leered at her again. This Walker was quick. Nearly as quick as she was. It lunged at her again with its teeth bared.

 

This time she jumped up into the front seat of the van and looked around for a way out. The Walker pounced forward with its teeth. She brought the bat up. It bit down. Teeth ground down on the wooden bat which splintered. The Walker kicked her backwards, sending her into the dashboard. It tossed the bat across the cabin.

 

Before she could leap across the center console to grab it, the smaller fox appeared between her and the bat. Its lips curled upwards above its canines. Its claws tore at the cushion below him. Judy backed up slowly, feeling the seat behind her cut off her retreat.

 

“ssHRHRAAALLRRGHH!” the Walker snarled as it pounced for her neck.

 

With her heart positively pounding, she leapt to the side again, this time with the seatbelt in her paw. She drew the restraint outwards, catching the fox by the neck. She quickly wrapped it around the Walker once before kicking at its rear as hard as she could, sending it into the seat face-first in a tangle of teeth and safety-strap.

 

“Gotchya!” Judy grabbed the bat and gripped it firmly in her paws. The seatbelt trick would not likely hold it for long, so she had to escape that van before it tore her to pieces. She took the bat with both paws and swung it hard into the driver-side window. The window shattered with a loud pop. She bounded out of the van. Thankfully the other Walkers were still focused on the rear door, giving her just enough space to get by them.

 

It did not last, however. Soon they were back on the chase, with the smaller fox leading the charge.

 

“N?!” She called out, but she couldn’t see him anywhere. Judy kept the bat firmly in her grasp, turning back towards the road she knew led to the Warehouse. She rounded one corner. Then another. But, this time, the beasts behind her were gaining on her. She was tiring out. Her pace had begun to slow, but they were relentlessly moving on as if fatigue did not exist for them. Perhaps it didn’t.

 

“Agh!” Judy squealed as she turned another corner to find the same panther from earlier waiting for her. She raised the bat up in front of her just in time to block a swipe of sharp claws from tearing her in half. The claws left a serious gash in the the wooden bat, but it was still solid enough to swing at the Walker once or twice to get him to back up. Those precious few moments were all she had left, and soon the rest of the Walkers surrounded her. Her back was against the wall.

 

“Crackers…. Cheese and crackers,” Judy continued to curse as they slowly loomed forwards. One racoon angrily swiped at her. She swung her bat at it, catching it in the temple and flinging it backwards. A gazelle took its place and moaned as it drew closer, pressing Judy back until she retreated into solid brick.

 

Judy’s eyes darted between each Walker, her mind racing for options. She was out. They had her pinned. And, while she might be able to fight off one of them, the next one to reach out would nab her before ripping her apart. Her bat began to shake as she pointed it at each Walker that took a step closer, hoping to feel threatening in any way possible. The small fox from the van made the next move. It reared on its hind legs and pounced forward. Judy could see it coming, so she readied the bat to swing at him.

 

Just then, the panther struck again. This time it ripped the bat out of her paws and flung her to the ground with a hard thud. Judy barely had enough time to look back up before the small fox was in the air lunging at her with his teeth ready to sink into her chest.

 

From the corner of her vision, Judy caught a green hoodie fly out and dig a shoulder into the smaller fox. The tackle threw the smaller fox backwards onto the concrete.

 

“N!” she cried out as the mangey red fox snarled at the oncoming Walkers.

 

The racoon lunged again, this time at him. N easily shoved his elbows into the oncoming predator and knocked him away. He kicked at the smaller fox and gave the gazelle a hard shove, sending it stumbling backwards as well. The panther growled and swiped at him, missing his snout by a whisker before N pounced at it. He crashed into its hips and sent it falling backwards into a nearby car door. The window shattered on impact. N was out of breath, but he stood tall between Judy and the other Walkers. The group quickly regained their footing and approached again with murder in their eyes.

 

N put both his paws up, pleading with the Walkers to halt their advance. He spoke clearly and defiantly, “No.”  

 

Much to Judy’s surprise, they stopped.

 

“N,” she gasped. Judy stood back up. Her eyes locked on the Walkers around her. They kept walking forwards, but the snarling had stopped. Instead, they were each glancing between N and Judy with looks of confusion on what was left of their faces.

 

“Stop,” N commanded with his face fierce and his paws splayed forward. The smaller fox approached again, angrily looking between N and Judy. Its growl died a little as it turned its face up to N with a confused glare.

 

“Living…?” the smaller fox uttered coldly.

 

“...yes,” N replied, his paws still up and glaring right back at the smaller Walker.

 

The fox nodded its head, as if instructing N on what to do. “Eat…. ”

 

“No.”  N dropped his paws and stood tall, looking down at the smaller fox with a calm but serious expression in his face. The Walker growled, its teeth showing in a snarl as it took another angry step forward.

 

“EAT!” it barked. The voice was low and vile.

 

It was in this moment that Judy felt compelled to do something strange. Her survival tactics thus far had gotten her backed into a wall with hungry teeth in all directions, so she decided to go with her intuition. She stepped forward, standing right beside N in front of the other Walkers. She gently took his paw in hers. He did not look at her or make any motion to withdraw his paw. Instead, he gripped it a little tighter in his.

 

Put your little hand in mine

 

The smaller fox’s eyes widened, and its lips fell back down over its teeth. It stared at them for a moment, seemingly lost in confusion. Its brown slitted eyes fell to their paws, observing them like a child seeing a television for the first time. It was strange, but Judy could have sworn she saw its pupils dilate a little.

 

Before N could get another word in, Judy heard a new growl. This one was low and chilling, coming from a larger mammal than anything so far.

 

“Up there!” Judy hissed, pointing to the roof of a nearby townhouse. Atop the roof was the biggest Savage that Judy had ever seen. It looked like death itself brought to life. It had no fur, and its skin was as pale and grey as a corpse. The eyes were bleach white and fogged over completely. Yet, somehow, they were staring directly at her. If she had to guess, this one had once been a wolf. With such vile features and horrid decayed flesh, Judy could barely recognize it as a mammal at all.

 

The Savage wolf reared its head and began howling with a sickening screech. The wailing echoed off of the surrounding buildings, and Judy had to cover her ears to keep the sound from splitting her skull. She winced as the hateful screeching continued for another moment before it died down. The echo bounced off of buildings from all around, seemingly from miles away. She opened her eyes, looking back up at the Savage and saw it returning her gaze with his fangs bared.

 

“Run!” N pulled her along with him towards the street.

 

The Walkers that had surrounded her simply stared up at the Savage with blank looks on their faces as the two of them ran paw-in-paw along the streets. The monster was after them in a flash. It chased them, down on all fours and drooling with hungry fangs exposed by rotted flesh. N’s grip around her paw tightened as they vaulted over more cars together.

 

“Think we could try the ‘be-dead’ trick?!” Judy asked urgently, feeling very certain she was about to die.

 

“You’re nnnot that good an actor!”

 

They continued sprinting away from the rabid creature. It was quickly gaining on them, but the warehouse was now in sight and the doors were just barely open.

 

“Go!” He pushed himself forward as hard as he could. His running was limped and labored. Judy was trying her best to pull him along faster. She felt his grip begin to slip. She held it more firmly and bounded harder off the ground. She began to hear the Savage’s sickening breaths heaving as it charged at them.

 

“Not without you!” She made a leap forward for the door. The two of them rolled on the ground.  The wolf snapped with its fangs above their heads, narrowly missing Judy’s ears. They tumbled through the doorway. Judy slammed her legs into the door. The massive door began to move, but not quickly enough. The Savage mindlessly pounded its shoulders against the door, it’s paw finding the gap and swiping madly. Judy threw the rest of her body against the door and tried to push it closed. N quickly joined her and threw his own shoulders against the mass of steel as well. The monster’s giant paws were so close to her that she could practically feel herself being ripped like fabric in a shredder.

 

“Wait here! I’ve got an idea!” Judy took off into the warehouse.

 

“What!?” N cried out. He dug his feet deeper into the ground to prop the door closed. The wolf needed only a moment of mental clarity to realize how the door worked before it would easily push his way in and kill them both viciously. Judy darted into the fairgrounds, her eyes swiveling from one carnival stand to the next. She spotted what she needed and grabbed it from the pile of prizes. She rushed back to N holding a stuffed animal in her paw.

 

“Get ready to push!” She shifted closer to the beast’s slashing paws. The snarls and labored breathing sent chills down her spine. She held the large stuffed rabbit up closer to the sharply clawed paw. She tossed it forward as the beast swung for her again. The Savage yanked the stuffed bunny doll out the doorway and immediately pulled it outside. Judy heard the sound of tearing fabric mixed with vicious barking.

 

“Now!”

 

The two of them shoved the door closed. N lifted the massive bolt across the slider with metallic creak, before slamming it locked. Judy huffed and fell to the ground with a slump. N kept his paws tightly wrapped onto the bolt-lock, as if the Savage outside could somehow unlock it with sheer fury. Outside they could hear growls and desperate chomping as the Savage ripped the bunny-doll to pieces.

 

“Clever...” N said softly.

 

“That won’t hold him forever.” The relief of not being dead quickly wore off. “Good thing there’s only one of them.”

 

Just as she finished speaking, she heard the wolf howl again from outside, followed shortly by more howling from more Savages approaching from the other side of the warehouse. She really needed to learn when to shut the hell up.

 

“Only two?” N said with a hopeful shrug. There was a horrible pounding against the rear wall of the warehouse that boomed throughout the fairgrounds. Whatever kind of monster was rapping against the other door, it was much bigger than the wolf Savage.

 

“We need to get out of here,” Judy realized. “Could you distract them somehow? You’re a Walker, can you lead them away from the warehouse?”

 

“They’ll smell you,” N explained.

 

“That’s because I’ve been getting stinky the past few days!!” Her voice was angry and approaching terror.

 

“Mmmaybe there’s a b—boat in the shipyard?!” he guessed with panic in his voice. Another boom echoed in the metal walls. Judy could see a large dent forming in exterior wall towards the rear of the room.

 

“We won’t get something working fast enough!” She cried out.

 

“You run!” N said. “You run faster. I can give you time.”

 

“I’m not leaving you behind, N! They’ll smell me on you and tear you to shreds!”

 

“I’m al…already dead!” he barked back. “You have to go.”

 

“Shut up!” Judy commanded.

 

“Carrots, you have—”

 

“No, I mean shut up! I hear something.”


Judy’s ears swiveled as she picked up a low rumbling sound. Between booms coming from the rear, she could hear the faint sound of a car engine. It was getting louder by the second. At first, she thought it was a rescue operation, but there would have been bullets flying at the sight of a Savage wolf at the door. The engine noise grew louder still, becoming clearer and more pronounced in her ears than the booming from the other Savage. Whatever that car was, it was not stopping. In fact, it was speeding up. And it was coming right at them quickly.

 

“Move!” She shoved N down away from the door. There was a massive crack as the plate of steel flew off of its hinges and toppled over onto the ground in a crumpled mess. Judy turned around and looked at the hole where the door had been. The van’s rear end was lodged in the doorway. Beneath the wheels was what was left of the Savage wolf. She suspected the rest of it was still somewhere outside the warehouse.

 

“What the hell?” Judy approached the van’s rear doors. This was the very same van she had taken refuge in from the other Walkers earlier before being ambushed by the smaller fox. The rear was now banged up, but it had the same decal on the side. The engine was running and the exhaust pipe was billowing fumes into the warehouse.

 

Just then, the doors swung open, and Judy saw that same small fox-Walker standing on the bumper. She reflexively took a leap backwards and got ready for a fight. Strangely enough though, the Walker did not pounce. He did not snarl or crawl or even seem bothered by her presence at all. N stood between them, just as he had earlier.

 

“No,” N repeated. “Not eating...”

 

“Want...” the little fox said with some effort. Its voice was low and raspy, but its eyes were no longer angry. It grunted and twisted his face as it tried to get more words out. “Want…to help.”

 

Judy’s brow furrowed as she looked skeptically between N and the smaller fox. “Oh, so now you want to help too? What is it with the foxes in this city?”

 

“Hhaaa... ” the little fox groaned, a faint but noticeable smile easing onto its face. It pointed to Judy with a shaky paw and looked over towards N. “...like her.”

 

“M—mm…Me too,” N said, before turning to Judy and lowering his paws. “It’s okay.”

 

Judy was still unsure, looking at the little fox with a frown. Just then, another boom shook the walls as the door at the rear of the Warehouse began to give way.

 

“Fine,” she agreed, and reluctantly approached the van. “I’m driving.”

 

The little fox stepped aside and offered the van to her freely. It would have been a welcome gesture were it not for the slightly smug look on his dead face. She quickly got into the driver’s seat and sized it up, placing the pack full of medicine below her feet. She kept her eyes forward, but her ear reflexively turned back towards the Walkers who began to speak in hushed tones.

 

“Yy—you sure…about the b…bunny?” the little fox asked softly.

 

“Yeah,” N answered. “Th—thank you.”

 

“I…I…” the little fox grunted, trying with all his might to speak.

 

Judy glanced in the rearview mirror and saw that N had leaned down on his knee. He was at eye-level and looking at his friend seriously. His friend leaned in closer to speak in N’s ear. “I…can feel.”

 

Judy wanted to face them—to see what he meant—but there was another boom. “Let’s go!”

 

“I’m in…C—Carrots.”

 

*CRASH*

 

The wall at the back of the warehouse finally gave way and allowed just enough light to see what monstrous nightmare had made its way inside. Her eyes widened as she gazed in terror at a massive, eleven-foot-tall elephant Savage. It was missing one tusk, and its hide was missing skin in several places. Its eyes were bleach white and desperate. It looked right at them for a moment, before taking a deep breath and roaring so loudly it shattered the windows to the park office.

 

“Go!” the little fox barked as he leapt from the rear of the van and onto the floor of the warehouse.

 

Judy wasted no time getting the van in gear. By some miracle, the seat was raised and the pedals were adjusted for someone around her height. She stepped on the gas hard, the wheels screeching to life. The van was stuck in the doorway. The tires spun and squealed but the vehicle did not budge. Judy looked at the elephant through the rear-view mirror. It demolished N’s fairground game stands like they were made of paper. Giant splinters and more stuffed bunnies flew in every direction.

 

Finally, the tires caught their grip and the van thundered forward into the street. Judy had to swerve around the various decrepit cars in the road. The van swayed from side to side like a drunken rhino as the tires squealed beneath them.

 

“This thing was not meant for high-speed chases!” Judy shouted. She spun the wheel as quickly as she could. She caught sight of N stumbling about in the mirror as she swerved. Each corner sent him careening into one side of the van, conking his head with a metallic clang before stumbling back in the other direction. He tried to reach out to close the rear doors which flapped wildly, but he would likely fall out trying to reach them.

 

The elephant exploded through doorway to the park and continued to charge. It kicked up dirt and dust as it barreled after them. Judy’s eyes widened in fear as the advancing monster plowed through cars like they were nothing. The Savage did not even seem to notice the hunks of rusted aluminum as it bashed through each car—its eyes still wide and hungry. It would catch up with them soon.

 

“Turn!” N shouted as the elephant got nearly within trunk’s reach. Judy took a hard right at one intersection. The van lurched as she turned. The tires squealed but stayed on the road.

 

While the van was no sports car, the Savage elephant could not corner nearly as well and tripped over its feet. The massive pale body slammed into a brick wall from a nearby shop and collected more dust and debris as it shook off the impact. It quickly began running again, but now with considerable distance to make up.

 

N shouted over his shoulder from the back of the van.“Keep turning!”

 

“I know, I know!” Judy said, continuing to zig-zag her way through downtown Zootopia. They passed by a few Walkers of various sizes, but they all cowered at the sight of the massive elephant behind them. Judy could keep this up as long as the roads continued to be relatively clear. But, from her experience in the city, she knew there was bound to be a roadblock eventually. “I need to know where I’m going, N!”

 

“Go faster!” N cried out.

 

“Where?!?”

 

“Uhhh….” N mumbled as he turned away from the roaring beast and looked through the front windscreen. The fox looked out over the road, seeming to catch his bearings. He must have found where they were because he pointed and shouted with all the clarity he could muster: “Turn here!”

 

“That’ll lead us deeper into town!” Judy protested.

 

“Just Do it—Ahhhh!” Judy turned hard, sending N falling backwards again. The Savage crashed through a phone booth and lamp post as it failed to turn again. It quickly resumed the chase with an angry snort.

 

“Now where?” Judy asked.

 

“Go straight!” N replied.

 

“What? He’ll catch up to us!”

 

“Carrots! Just tr…trust me!”

 

The juggernaut was nearly on them. Judy spotted claw marks around it’s trunk and mouth where helpless mammals who were caught in its jaws had tried to claw their way to freedom, though it was doubtful they ever had. For an elephant Savage to last this long, it needed to eat plenty. And right then it was hungry for living flesh.

 

Judy attention returned to the road ahead, and her stomach sank. “The road stops ahead!”

 

“Keep going!” N shouted. “Www—when I say…turn.”

 

“Ugh!” Judy groaned and stamped her foot on the gas as hard as she could. She was counting on way too many miracles for comfort in that moment. Miracles like the fact the van was still working, that it had enough gas, and that the elephant had not caught up to them yet. Sooner or later their luck would run out, just like the road.

 

“Almost there!” N was holding up a paw, preparing to signal to Judy in the mirror. N’s focus was not on the elephant. Instead, he looked at the stores they passed as they approached the end of the road. She glanced to her side. There was a bookstore and a hardware shop, with a little pawpsicle stand on the street corner.

 

“Turn!!!” he bellowed.

 

Judy heaved at the wheel and and cried out as the tires nearly lost their traction. The turn was so sharp that the van lifted onto two wheels on one side, sending N crashing into the van’s wall.

 

They had just enough space to see the elephant reach out with its trunk before trying to turn again. It failed, and this time there was nothing to crash into—just a sheer drop. Judy had turned down a street that ran along what was essentially a cliffside separating downtown from the Rainforest District. The elephant tried its best to keep its footing, but it tumbled helplessly over the edge and flew down the ground like a bag of carrots spilling over an overloaded truck bed. It blared its trunk like a trombone as it sailed downwards. Its dark cries echoed off of the buildings surrounding them. Just as the van slammed down back onto four wheels, a large puff of dirt and dust kicked up where the beast crashed to the ground.

 

“Good…good job,” N said shakily. He reached out and pulled the rear doors closed.

 

“Pretty sneaky move there, Slick.” Judy smiled at him in relief. “Now get me out of this town!”

 

“Turn left again,” N instructed her. She did, this time being careful not to go too quickly and risk toppling over. They continued down a stretch of road that led to a massive park that she immediately recognized.

 

“We’re almost at the station!” Judy cheered. Her triumph was short lived as a mass of Walkers began to close in around them. With the Savage elephant now gone, a hoard of snarling creatures chased after them with the same intent. Judy swerved to avoid a few Walkers that pounced at the van. “Hold on!”

 

Judy stamped on the gas again, sending the van zooming faster forward as they drove into the Savanna Central Station lobby. There was a balcony with a safety rail that loomed over the train platform. There was no stopping the van now. They smashed through the glass and steel railing on the second level and sailed through the air. N floated with a squeal and Judy held onto as firmly as she could before they smashed down onto the platform on all four wheels. Judy’s paw slipped on the wheel, and she used her other paw on the dashboard to keep herself from flying out of her seat.

 

How Sweet it is!” She startled as a singer's voice rang out through the speakers. Her paw had landed on the stereo and it began playing whatever cassette tape was already loaded. The lighthearted tune was bouncy and bright, and it caught her off guard for a second.

 

“Go!” N shouted from the floor of the van. She hit the gas again, and while the fall had caused some considerable damage to the frame, the wheels still moved and they continued forward. She drove off of the platform and onto the tracks, keeping the tires on the concrete aside the rails of the old Bunny Burrow line.

 

“Are they still after us?”

 

“No,” he answered her in relief.

 

There were a few Walkers attempting to shuffle down the broken escalator onto the platform, but, with the train station slowly vanishing from view, there was no way they could catch them now. The tracks from here on out were all hoisted high above the city and led all the way around the districts until they crossed the river. They were home free.

 

N gazed at the buildings below as they drove on. He was lost in thought as they blew past the only place he had ever known.

 

“You okay?” she asked him.

 

“I’m dead,” N reminded her. “Are you okay?”

 

“I will be now that we’re on our way out.”

 

She looked down below her feet, checking that her backpack was still there. She breathed a heavy sigh of relief, her paws still shaking on the wheel. The wind was blowing up into her face from the shattered window she had jumped through earlier while fighting off the smaller fox-Walker. She stayed focused on the path in front of her. Still, it was hard not to feel shaken but happy about narrowly escaping a thousand horrible deaths. N climbed forward into the passenger seat and joined her, his ears twitching as he noticed the music playing.

 

“Classic.” He turned the volume up louder.

 

“Wouldn’t take your friend for a love-song kinda guy,” Judy noted. “Or you, for that matter.”

 

“Who do y—you think he…got the music fffrom, Fluff?” N said simply.

 

The cheesy love jingle continued to play as they made their way over the city. They passed the gloomy remnants of the Rainforest District and then the dried up mountains of Tundra Town, before making their way down Sahara Square. As Judy drove over the water and watched the skyline of Zootopia begin to shrink in the mirror, she leaned back in the driver’s seat and breathed a little easier. After what felt like an eternity in that hell-hole, they were finally out and across the river.

 

Chapter Text

The rain started softly as they made their way deeper into the woodland outskirts of the city. N could hear the patter against the windshield intensify as the rain began to fall harder, making it difficult to see the road ahead. They passed by highway exits with signs that were obscured by years of vegetation. N wondered where they’d led to before the Deadrising. Every now and again, he spotted the train tracks where the Bunny Burrows line stretched out over the countryside, connecting the city with Judy’s home. It wasn’t until they passed a sign that read ‘Deerbroke County’ that he realized he was getting wet. Judy’s fur was dripping from the spray that flew in through the blown-out window.

 

She shivered.

 

N leaned in closer over the center console. “We sh—should stop.”

 

“Yeah,” Judy agreed. “There’s an old suburban area up here. We’ll find a house and lay low.”

 

“Mm—moving in already? What will your ff…your father think?” N asked with a smile.

 

Judy rolled her eyes and smiled back, before stifling another shiver. “He’d kill you, N,” she answered sternly.

 

“Good thing I’m already dead.”

 

She smirked at first, but then grew quieter after that remark. “... yeah.”


N pointed out the windshield towards a neighborhood nestled in the trees. “Here?”

 

“Here,” Judy said with a nod and turned down a street off the highway.

 

The back road led to a forest suburb full of collapsing houses. The windows were broken. Some of the front doors were off their hinges, if not missing entirely and a few of the roofs had caved in from years of neglect. They had to swerve around a line of children’s bicycles that had been left knocked over in the street. N observed the desolation through the windshield. Each culdesac sported houses of a different size class, keeping like-sized neighbors with each other for the most part. The grass had completely overtaken the sidewalks and front yards, but there was still an air of quiet serenity amongst the vacant homes.

 

“This town was called Grazerville,” Judy explained with a hint of melancholy in her voice, seeming to notice his curiosity. “During the deadrising, most of these families fled back out to the countryside. Many of them are my neighbors now back home.”

 

“Ww—were there Walkers there too?”

 

Judy hesitated, seeming to choose her words carefully this time. “We dealt with a few in the beginning. They’d follow the refugees out into Bunny Burrows, but my family had been quick to build a wall to keep them out.”

 

N looked back out at the homes that so many families had left abandoned. A part of him had to hope that there was a happy end to their stories. “Did it work?”

 

“...for a while.” Judy slowed the van down and parked in front of a small house. They had stopped outside a small bungalow home that looked slightly less decrepit than the rest and at least strong enough to withstand the rain. It would have to do.

 

N looked the building up and down skeptically. “Homey.”

 

“I don’t care as long as it’s dry. Let me make a quick call before we go in.” He watched as she reached into her bag and pulled out the small plastic walky talky. To save batteries, she had kept it off during their drive. She turned it on and it crackled with static, before she pressed down on the button.

 

“Hello?” she called out. “This is Judy Hopps. Can anyone read me?”

 

They didn’t wait long for a response. “Judes!?” They heard a voice call back.

 

“Benny! Did you call off the search party?” she asked nervously.

 

“Yeah, but you weren’t making it any easier disappearing like that!” Her friend sighed in relief. “Where are you now? Are you safe?”

 

N scoffed. We’re in Happy-Love-Fun-town surrounded by sunshine and smiles, of course. Population: 2.

 

“I’m out of the city.”

 

“How on earth did you—”

 

“I’ll explain later,” she cut him off quickly. “I’m stopping for the night. I’ve got a car, so I’ll be able to make it to the wall by tomorrow morning.”

 

“You stopped?! Bunny, I’m coming to get you right now.” He could hear the sound of a jeep roaring to life from the other side of the walky.

 

Judy and N exchanged a panicked grimace with fear in their eyes. If her friend was some kind of military, then he’d no doubt have a weapon with him and a healthy fear of Walkers like N.

 

“No!” she barked frantically. “Benny, just wait, okay?”

 

Her friend stuttered in confusion before snapping at her, “Girl, you get your tail back home now before your dad whips the spots off me!”

 

N smirked. “I like him.”

 

Judy shushed him and hit the button on the walky again. “Was he mad?”

 

“He’s furious that we had to call off the rescue op. I think he’s just eager to get you back safe. He’s not gonna be happy that you’re spending the night outside the wall.”

 

Judy sighed and rubbed her ear over the back of her head. She was clearly irritated about her father being so protective. N had the urge to say something to comfort her, but hesitated. He was the reason she couldn’t come home just yet.

 

Judy spoke into the walky again. “Just tell him I’m safe and that I’m coming home.”

 

“He’ll believe that when he sees it,” Clawhauser snarked.

 

“Do you believe it?”

 

They could hear him sigh. “Of course, Judes. But what do I tell him? That I could go pick you up but decided not to?”

 

“Tell him the truth—that I didn’t say where I was. I’ll deal with the flak later.”

 

“You sure about this?”

 

“That’s an order, soldier,” she said resolutely.

 

Wait. Is she military? I guess that would make sense. But I kinda guessed she’d be a foot soldier, if she was in the city. Is she like…a captain or something? Or is it because of her dad? Is he the General of their defence forces?! It would be just my luck that the one girl I get close to ends up being the goddamn General’s daughter. God, I hope that’s not it.

 

The voice came back on the radio with a grumble. “Fine, alright. I’ll cover for you, but don’t die okay? And keep your stupid radio on!”

 

“Will do. Hopps out.” She turned the volume knob down and glanced back out the window.

 

“Hh––hey Carrots…” N started timidly. “Are you like…an aa––army captain or something?”

 

Judy seemed to snap out of her thoughts and looked at him with a cocked eyebrow. “Hmm? Oh no, I was just kidding with the whole ‘that’s an order’ thing. I volunteer for supply raids, but I’m not enlisted. My dad is the one who commands most of our armed forces, since he was the one who built the wall. Why do you ask?”

 

N looked nervously out the window. “O—oh, no reason.”

 

Fuck.

 

Judy sighed and clipped the walky back on her hip. “He’s gonna be very pissy about me staying out in Grazerville for the night, but I’ll think of some kind of excuse later.”

 

N leaned in closer to her over the center console and gave her paw a reassuring pat. “Th—thank you.”

 

Judy’s paw opened up and caught his, gripping it with a light squeeze. She smiled and looked at him right in the eyes. “Hey, don’t worry about it. I’m in no rush to see you die in a barrage of panic and bullets.”

 

N became suddenly aware of just how close he had gotten to her over the console. Even if he were alive, he’d be trespassing into dangerous territory. He nodded and sat up straighter in his seat. “And I’mmm…I’m in no rush to see you ripped to pi—pieces by a Walker. Wait here.”

 

Judy frowned as he withdrew his paw and moved towards the door. “What? Why?”

 

N simply pointed to himself. “Gotta ch—check the house.”

 

He opened the door, and his fur immediately became soaked. He walked with a skulk towards the house, wishing the rain would wash the sight of her smile out of his head.  His hoodie was sopping wet by the time he got to the front door. It wasn’t locked, but it still took some effort to muscle the door open. That was a good thing. Maybe it meant no Walkers had bothered to come inside.

 

N limped through every room in the house. It looked quaint and cozy—or it would have, if it weren’t for the mold on the walls and the household items scattered on the floor. Whoever had lived there had left in a hurry. There was still an empty pot on the stove and plates on the table, though any traces of food in the cabinets were long gone. He wondered if the mammals who lived there had made it to the Burrows safely.

 

The second floor had two bedrooms—one with a large bed and another with a tiny one that not even Judy would fit in. All empty. There was nothing of interest to him, so nothing that would interest another Walker either. The place was safe enough.

 

N went back down the stairs and moaned loudly, hoping to alert any Walkers that might have been hiding somewhere. Even another Walker’s groaning could get his attention if he was hungry enough. Once he was satisfied the house was clear, he turned to the door to call Judy inside. He noticed a coat rack by the door.

 

It was probably best, he decided, to dry his hoodie since it was still dripping. He’d reached down to undo the zipper, when he felt a lump of something in the pocket.

 

Oh, yeah.

 

The rest of Jack’s brains were still in there.

 

N froze in confusion. Normally, he would have gorged them all down at this point, but, for some reason, he’d felt a little less hungry over the past few days. Still, it wasn’t exactly smart or polite to go waltzing around with Judy while her ex’s brains were in his pocket.

 

Better get rid of these now while I can.

 

He peeked out a window in the living room, making sure Judy was still in the van, before reaching into his pocket. N pulled out the rest of the brains, now moistened by rainwater, and shoved them into his maw quickly.

 

The memories and visions began to wash over him.

 


 

 

In one moment, he was doing pushups amongst the ranks of other security forces. In the next, he was firing rounds from the top of the wall at some figures which were obscured by the darkness.

 

“Let’s go see what we got!” one of his comrades called out.

 

They marched down the stairs built into the side of the wall and came to a small door. It had a number-pad lock on it, and he punched in the combination before looking back to his friend and nodding, guns raised. They left the wall and scouted out the corpses of the Walkers they’d downed. They walked among the bodies, checking each one carefully––both for anything useful and to make sure they were dead for good this time.

 

His comrade leaned over one of the bodies and went through its tattered clothes. “Got a cell phone in his pocket.”

 

“Let’s just get back to the wall, Harris,” he answered.

 

Bullets. Pushups. More bullets. More pushups.

 

Soon he was in a briefing room, getting instructions on the next scouting mission for medical supplies.

 

“We’re on our last few vials of antibiotics, and winter is on its way,” a stout rabbit instructed the group. “We lost a few dozen last year to all kinds of illnesses that used to be no issue for us to handle. The Doc tells me that if we have a similar winter, we could lose hundreds. These are our families we’re fighting for. And we’re depending on your bravery to get us this medicine. Any questions?”

 

“No sir,” he responded dutifully. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Judy sitting clear across the room with her legs crossed.

 

“Then head out. And keep each other safe.”

 

While they were on their way to the armory, he stopped Judy by putting a paw on her shoulder and spoke in a cold whisper. “We’re all going to be fine. As long as you do as I say.”

 

“No need for the theatrics, Jack.” Judy pushed his paw off her shoulder and spoke brusquely. “We’ll get the meds and get out, but don’t pretend to be in charge. I’m not in your army.”

 

He scoffed and let her go, watching as she slugged a shotgun over her shoulder and hopped into a military vehicle.

 

Soon they were in the city, and he was arguing with her and one of her friends. At one point, Judy had her knife against his neck and growled at him angrily. Then they were in a hospital, scouring it for supplies. Suddenly, they were shooting at a Savage mouse on the ground. He missed every shot he took.

 

Before he knew it, there were Walkers among them and blood pooling onto the floor. More shots rang out. He was up on the counter, sending rounds at the hoard of Walkers over and over. Then he saw a red fox Walker in a bloodstained hoodie, whose eyes were wide and shaken. He fired, which got its attention. He screamed in horror as the creature lunged forward and snarled, grabbing him by his feet and taking a firm grip of his head. He felt claws dig into his skin as his head was brought down to the ground.

 


 

 

“Aaeeugghhh!!—*cough*—ack!” N spat as he practically vomited the brains out of his mouth and into his paw. His vision came back to the present, back to the small house out in Grazerville, and he took large breaths to try to regain his bearings. He saw his own eyes glaring at him as his teeth sank into Jack’s neck. His own malicious gaze was now a terrible after-image, like he had stared at the sun. N reached up to his neck and rubbed it tenderly. It went back to being numb, thank heavens, but the echo of pain was still rattling through his brain. In that memory, he was some kind of monster.

 

That was only days ago...

 

“You okay, N?” Judy asked from behind him.

 

N turned to find Judy standing at the door. He didn’t know how long she had been standing there, but it’d been long enough to catch his confusion.

 

“Uh...y—yeah...ssswallowed a bug,” he feigned.

 

“You know, predators back home eat those regularly.” She looked around the living room. “I take it the place is clear?”

 

“Mmmhmm,” he answered and hobbled into the kitchen. He quickly tossed the remains of Jack’s brains into the sink and shoved them down the drain, making sure she would never see. His frantic movements made Judy furrow her brown in concern.

 

“You sure you’re okay, Norman?” she questioned softly.

 

“Fine,” N said with a grunt. “Wait…. Norman?”

 

Judy smiled and gave a light shrug. “Figured I’d try some another ‘N’ name out. Maybe it’ll jog your memory.”

 

N rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Nnn—not Norman. How are you?”

 

“I’m cold and wet and tired. I think I’m gonna hit the hay early. Is there a bed up there?” she asked, pointing up the stairs.

 

N nodded, thankful that he seemed to be successful at hiding his little secret brain-snack. She smiled again and began to walk up the stairs. Just before she passed out of view, she stopped.

 

“Hey N?” she said slowly. N lifted his ears and looked up at her from the livingroom floor. “You could…. Well, I know you don’t sleep but...”

 

“Could what?” he prompted.

 

“You could spend the night up here if you’d like,” she said, looking at the ground.

 

N froze. That was the last thing he had expected her to suggest. He glanced up the stairs towards the bedroom. He must have imagined his tail shifting behind him because that thing never wagged any more. He had to hide his excitement somehow.

 

“I d—don’t know, Carrots. What if there are mmmonsters in the closet?”

 

She laughed and rolled her eyes. “I’ll keep you safe, you big baby…. You did check the closet, right?”

 

“Yes I did, you big b—baby,” he teased softly and joined her.

 

Okay N, no big deal. You’re just going to spend the night in the same bedroom...doing absolutely nothing because you’re dead. You can do this, just don’t barf up any more brains…. Oh crap, I can see her butt at eye-level up the stairs! Look at something else! Walls, ceiling, depressing photos of a family who are probably dead. Yeah, that’s better SHIT.

 

“Oof,” N grunted as his foot caught between two stairs and he fell onto his chest.

 

“N! You okay?”

 

He heaved a little, trying to get the air back into his lungs. “Mmm…I’m de—”

 

“I know you’re dead, idiot. I mean do you want some help?” she asked.

 

N looked up, finding her paw outstretched towards him with a warm smile on her face. The way the rain water glistened on her matted fur made her look like she was sparkling. Suddenly, he had to catch his breath all over again. He slowly reached his own paw out and took hers.

 

She gripped him tightly and heaved him back onto his feet. Judy kept his paw in hers as she guided him up the stairs and into the bedroom. That was the second time she’d held his paw. It felt strange. His chest ached again. He was completely unsure of where these spasms were coming from, but he didn’t mind it so much this time.

 

“This’ll work.” Judy, much to his chagrin, let go of his paw as they entered the larger room. “The carpet looks plenty comfy. I hope you don’t mind if I take the bed?”

 

“Mm-mm.” N shook his head and gestured to it as if to say ‘go ahead’.

 

He slowly lowered himself to the floor, allowing himself to roll over until he was on his back. Judy hopped up onto the bed, which, thankfully, was still somewhat tidy and not moldy. Suppressing the idea of joining her in there took more effort than he would ever admit. While he was fighting fantasies, she tossed a pillow down to N on the floor. It plopped right onto his snout, and he recoiled in surprise like a little kit. She chuckled as he scowled at her from the floor.

 

She shivered. “Argh. These clothes are drenched from the rain…. Hey, N?”

 

“Mm?” he replied as he placed his head on the pillow.

 

“Would you mind looking away for a minute?” she asked.

 

Holy shit.

 

“Ss—sure,” he mumbled and looked back at the ceiling with laser focus. He could hear the vague sounds of things unbuckling and wet garments falling to the floor.

 

Again, totally normal. She needs to change her clothes or else she’ll get sick. And I’m just a pal, nothing else going on here. This is fine. Everything’s fine.

 

N was holding so still he was almost convinced rigor mortis was finally setting in. He tried to simply relax his paws over his chest, but his fists clenched tightly as if keeping the gate to his own cage shut. His attention was all pointed towards a spot on the ceiling, and he tried his best to ignore the sounds of his friend stripping beside him. But his eyes moved on their own, the treasonous devils. He tilted his head back towards Judy ever so slightly, slowly making sure she wasn’t looking back at him and—

 

Holy shit.

 

Her back was turned, but he managed to catch just the slightest glimpse out of the corner of his eye. He saw her grey fur, her slender shoulders, and that beautiful tail for just one second. That second was now burned into his vision deeper than any other memory he held. He quickly turned away again. He faced the wall and shut his eyes as tightly as he could, as if looking at anything else would erase the sight from his mind.

 

“It’s okay now, N,” she said softly, and he slowly turned back. She was under the covers, pulling them closer to her core and rubbing her face into the pillow. A comfortable smile grew on her face as she sighed happily and peered down at him. “That’s better.”

 

“Mmmm,” was all N could moan in reply, nodding.

 

She yawned. The hours of driving and running for her life had probably worn her down to the brink of sleep already. She spoke quietly. “Hey N?”

 

“Mmm?”

 

“Do you have to eat mammals?”

 

N swallowed hard and took a deep breath before gazing back at her with a somber look. “Yeah.”

 

“But you didn’t eat me,” she said with that same soft smile. “You saved me.”

 

“You.... It’s not like you need saving all th—that often.”

 

“Psshh,” she scoffed. “I counted…what, three times? I’d be dead or worse without you there. I used to spend so much time telling my father how I could keep myself safe. He always shot me down, saying that I was strong but still ‘just a bunny’. It took so much convincing for him to let me join in the supply raid a few days ago…. Guess he was right. I got myself in over my ears and mammals are dead now, including Jack…. Maybe I am just a bunny.”

 

“Mmmmo…more,” N stuttered.

 

“Huh?”

 

“You’re mm—more than…than that.”

 

Her smile returned. “Think so?”

 

“Carrots, I was nnnever afraid b…before you came around.” N found himself looking her right in the eyes. “You’re fast and ff—fearless and really good with a gun. You can literally put fear into the dead, and you can’t…can’t do that if you’re ‘just a bunny.’”

 

She was grinning even wider at him now. “I bet you wish I was a little more meek sometimes, huh? Might have saved us from the Savage-elephant fiasco.”

 

“Nah. You saved me from tha—t one, remmm…remember? Besides, if you wwwwere ‘just a bunny’, I might have eaten you.”

 

She dropped her smile and looked at him very seriously. She spoke so quietly it was barely even a whisper. “Why didn’t you?”

 

N stared right back at her for a second, grateful that his stuttered speech could give him a moment to think without it seeming weird. There were so many ways he could answer that question, including just spinning it into another joke like he usually would. But there was a genuine tenderness in her eyes in that moment which compelled him not to smirk or shrug this time.

 

“I looked at you and I…I ww…I wasn’t hungry anymore,” he breathed.

 

Judy’s eyes widened a bit as she gazed back at him. “You know N, you’re pretty incredible.”

 

“Mm—me?”

 

“Yeah. It must be hard, being stuck in there. I can tell it’s hard to think, and even harder to speak. But I can see you trying.” Judy’s eyes wandered the room as she thought about something. “That’s what mammals do: We try. We try to be better, even if we suck at it most of the time. I’ve seen mammals who are so broken down by this world that they can’t even begin to try anymore.” Her eyes fell back onto N with an endearing curiosity. “But I look at you…you try so hard. So much harder than any of the living mammals I know. You’re good , N.”

 

N frowned and suddenly lost the ability to look at her straight in the eye. He grunted in frustration, unsure of what to say or even what to do. He was angry with himself. His lip curled up above his canines for a second as his face twitched around.

 

“N, what’s wrong?” Her voice carried such concern.

 

“It…it was me,” he coughed.

 

“What was you?”

 

“J—Jack.” N looked up at her with pleading eyes. His body was stiff as stone.

 

Judy furrowed her brow in confusion for a moment. She opened her mouth as though she was going to ask him what he meant, then the truth seemed to dawn on her all at once. Her eyes wandered over his clothes, and he felt the urge to hide the bloodstains on his hoodie.

 

“Oh” was all she muttered. She pulled the covers around her a little tighter and looked away. “I guess…I guess I knew that.”

 

“Y—you did?”

 

“Yeah,” she answered sadly. “I mean…. I guess I hoped not but…”

 

“Mmmm…I’mmm…soo sorry, Judy,” N bumbled desperately, reaching out one paw towards her.

 

She turned over, facing the opposite wall. “Yeah.”

 

N dropped his paw and stared back up at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and wished with every part of his broken body that he could change. He wanted to go back in time and stop himself from killing Jack. He wanted to keep himself from eating anyone. He wished he’d never died or that the world hadn’t ended. He wished and prayed and pleaded for some kind of miracle to save him from the misery of having ever hurt that bunny.

 

Just then, a miracle happened. N’s mind slipped away, and he fell sound asleep.

 


 

 

The dark of night in Zootopia was always gloomy, even when there weren’t clouds and a chilling breeze to complete the nightmare horrorscape. It was the same desolate monster-infested hell-hole it had been for many years now. That night, however, one of the monsters who was usually brooding or listening to music in his van was quietly staring down at his paw.

 

Something about the way his larger fox-friend and that bunny had held each other’s paw was strange to him. The way they’d stood closely together, as if for more than protection, was odd. Not wrong, per say, but off-kilter. The little fox’s paw stretched out and then curled back in as he stared at it, hoping to make sense of what was going on in his head.

 

Maybe another walk would clear his head. He trudged around the city, scowling at the fact that his favorite van was now gone. All of his music and his collection from the past few years had driven away without him. Grief is what he should have felt, if he could feel.

 

However, for some reason he’d found himself eager to watch as the van had mounted the train tracks and driven away. His eyes had followed the van as they’d disappeared over the river and into the countryside. He had not growled in frustration, rather, he had been calm—perhaps even relieved. If his friend could hear any of those thoughts now, he’d probably have some smart quip in response.

 

The little fox bumped into another Walker, this one a familiar gazelle wearing a pink dress. She had also been there when the fox had thrown himself between them and the bunny. He was about to continue on his way, when he saw her looking down at her own hoof as well. She had the same look of perplexed focus, like she was wondering why on earth the bunny and fox had bothered her so much.

 

“Do you...” the little fox grunted. “...feel it too?”

 

“Mmmm,” the gazelle agreed softly with a nod. “Th—the bunny.”

 

“Me t—too,” another voice said. This time, it was the panther who had nearly gotten Judy as well. His torn t-shirt and pleated pants were blood-stained like everyone else, but his eyes were far less vicious than before. A group of other Walkers were trudging behind him, all with wide-eyed confusion on their faces. “I feel...”

 

“In...” The little fox struggled. “In my chest...”

 

The others nodded, a handful of them still gazing down at their paws.

A hideous snarl came from behind the little fox. The entire group turned to find a Savage beast prowling towards them. This one had been either a lion or a tiger at one point. It’s pale skin and glossy eyes were practically glowing in what little moonlight there was. But unlike other Savages, this one was fit. It had all of its skin still in the right places, muscles on its shoulders, and a full maw of teeth—teeth the Savage had fully-bared as it creeped towards the little fox. Claws were out, and it stared menacingly at the little fox as it got closer. Its cold breath blew the fur back on his nose.

 

It sniffed loudly. The giant nose prodded and huffed the little Walker’s scent while the Savage let out a long, low growl. Its eyes seemed to narrow as it caught something strange in his scent.

A Hideous Snarl

The little fox stayed frozen, the others looking on in shock as the massive killer roared loudly right into his face. The force of the wind from its vile breath knocked him over, and, for a moment, he thought he would actually get eaten.

 

The monster then chuffed and snarled in disgust as it turned away and sauntured off. The little fox rolled over and picked himself up off the ground. The other Walkers surrounded him and gazed at him with wide bloodshot eyes.

 

“O—okay?” the gazelle asked him.

 

“I...“ he began, gathering the attention of all the Walkers present. “I feel…afraid.”

 

“Feel?” the panther echoed.

 

The little fox nodded and looked back to where the Savage tiger had disappeared to. “We should go.”

 


 

 

N opened his eyes first, and the rest of the world seemed to flow into existence all at once. He didn’t yawn, stretch, or blink. He simply stared at the mouldy ceiling and tried his best to remember a few minutes earlier. Had there been light before? He couldn’t recall sunlight streaming in from the window. Had it been colder a few minutes ago? Hard to tell, since zombies don’t get cold. He was so uncertain. And, while it was true that some hours would melt together in an endless stream of consciousness, he’d never had such a long gap of time missing from his memory before. Certainly not recently.

 

“Carrots…” he mumbled, turning to look up at the bed she’d slept in.

 

She was gone.

 

N closed his eyes, squeezing them tight and grinding his teeth together. He desperately tried to hear something from downstairs, or perhaps from outside. There was some part of him that refused to give up all hope, but the rest of him knew the truth. He rose to his feet, shuffled over to the window, and looked out to the driveway where they had parked the van the night before.

 

She’s gone...

 

Of course she’s gone. Wouldn’t you be? Doesn’t matter how well things go, I’m still a brain-eating monster. And now she knows I ate the brains of someone she knew. Granted, he was a prick. But it’s not like there was much chance of her taking me home with her anyway. There’s no explaining to your dad about your zombie…something. Fox? Zombie fox? Oh who am I kidding, I wasn’t anything to her. She’s killed more zombies than I’ve even met—and I live with them! What is one more dead freak of nature out the door in her life?

 

N meandered down the stairs wearing a blank and unfocused glare, only barely taking in the world around him any more. He sauntered out the front door and began doing what he did best: walking.

 

At least she didn’t cap me last night while I was out. Not sure what was going on there, but the universe just HAD to grant me a night of sleep so I could wake up dumped. And now she’s gone. And I’m alone. And the world is as it should be.

 

Stupid world. Stupid house with a stupid bed. Stupid road with stupid corpses littered here or there. Stupid town next to a stupid city with my stupid theme park.

 

Stupid bunny.

 

Stupid honesty, the shit-stain of all the virtues.

 

I’m going back home to where things make sense. Zombies are zombies: dead, lifeless, and simple. And she’ll continue to be alive and find some buck who’s brains I didn’t eat and live happily ever after until she dies and skips this whole zombie business altogether…

 

…stupid rain.

 

N zipped his hoodie up a little higher, brought his arms into his center.

 

He shivered.

He Shivered

Chapter Text

Judy kept her eyes on the road and her paws on the wheel of the van as she drove through the countryside. The mountains began to give way to flatter open plains. Years ago, it would have been managed farmland as far as the eye could see. These days, no one was brave enough to try and grow crops outside the wall, even with the looming threat of famine each year. There were fewer and fewer abandoned cars on the road, and the cracks and bumps in the pavement became easier to deal with as she got closer to home. 

 

She had turned the stereo on and put on another cassette tape in an effort to distract herself as best she could. “Take me home, to the place…I belong,” she sang along absentmindedly. 

 

Earlier in the drive––before she’d dug up some old music from the center console––she had added up all the numbers on the speedometer in her head. Before that, she had made sure there were no Walkers along the horizon line with laser-like focus. And before that she had still been with N. 

 

No matter how she distracted herself, her thoughts would always fall back to that fox. The look he’d given her the night before, while confessing that he had eaten her ex-boyfriend, was so sad it had practically broken her heart. But she reminded herself over and over again that he was a Walker. No matter how hard she could wish for things to be different, all the longing in the world would not change what he was. The world she lived in never seemed to run out of new ways to break hearts.

 

“Hopps? Hopps, come in!” She heard from her bag. 

 

Judy fished out the radio with one paw, keeping her eyes on the road. “I’m here, Benjamin,” she hailed back. 

 

“I take it you’re in a beat-up van with some colorful decals on the side?”

 

She smiled, glancing at the horizon line looking for Benny’s vehicle. “Yeah, that’s me.”

 

“I’m coming up behind you now,” Benny said. “Wanna ditch the stalkermobile and hop in the jeep?”

 

“Nah, this van might have a few things we could find useful,” she answered. 

 

There was a moment of static before Judy heard the sound of a roaring engine coming from behind her. In the side mirror, a small green dot approached her van, getting bigger and bigger until she could see the faint color of Corporal Clawhauser’s yellow-spotted fur behind the wheel. 

 

“Sounds good. We’re almost home anyway, over.”

 

Sure enough, as they rounded a low hillside, Judy could see the walls. The highway she was on used to cut right through Bunny Burrows back when mammals had driven to and from Zootopia regularly. Now, instead of seeing rolling hills and green pastures, an ominous grey wall made out of scrap building parts and slabs of concrete rose up about thirty-five feet above the ground. Some parts of it were rusty and others were cracked, but it held together well enough to do its job.

 

Judy remembered helping to build that wall years back, even if her parents had given her the option to stay inside the burrow where it was safe. Safe, back then, had been a matter of perspective. When the first of the Walkers had made it all the way out to the Burrows, there had been no denying what needed to be done. Still, the wall looked like a dirty tarp thrown over a beautiful work of art, and it pained her to be kept in just as much as it pained her to see others kept out. 

 

As they got closer, Benjamin pulled his car alongside hers and waved at her. He was wearing his sporting shades and army greens along with a wide, familiar grin on his face. She shook her head and smiled a little, thankful to have a friend close by. The road eventually came to a stop at the edge of the wall. She slowed her van down and parked it beside the road. Eventually, a squad of soldiers would sniff the van clean of anything useful, take the gas from the tank, and strip everything bare for parts. A shame. She liked this van. 

 

She grabbed her bag and hopped out, slamming the door behind her. 

 

“Well, look who finally rejoins the living!” a cheerful voice said from beside her. 

 

Corporal Benjamin Clawhauser was a cheetah in his prime. His slender frame and thin face meant he was aerodynamic, and his powerful legs could carry him faster than anyone else in the Burrows. He had sharp fangs, claws, and a little bit of one ear missing from a fight he refused to discuss. Yet, despite his dangerous appearance, he was a big softy. He liked pop-music, gossip, and any excuse to dance. Judy had been wary of him when they’d first met, but when she’d heard he’d been a cop before the deadrising, she had immediately taken a liking to him. 

 

Judy looked up at her endearing friend and hopped closer. “Heya, Benny. It’s good to be home.”

 

He got down on his knee, opening his arms up and ushering her closer. She leapt up and wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a good squeeze, thankful to be somewhere that did not have monsters waiting to eat her face. The bodies were warmer here.

 

He gave her a hearty pat on the back before letting her down. “Glad you’re okay, Judes.”

 

“Was there ever any doubt?” she asked with a confident paw on her hip.

 

“Yes. Lots.”

 

Judy rolled her eyes. “Let’s just get inside. I’ve got some cargo that the doc needs to see.”

 

The cheetah frowned. “Sorry to do this, but you know the drill. Let’s get you checked out here now, so we don’t have to do it inside.”

 

“Benny, I’m fine! Don’t you think I would have turned by now?”

 

“Hey, your dad is gonna ask if you’ve been checked. You know I’m right,” he argued.

 

“Yeah yeah, fine,” she said and dropped her bag. She held out both her arms, standing tall and holding her chin up. The cheetah knelt down lower and began padding her calves with both of his paws one by one. 

 

“Legs,” he instructed and she raised them up a little bit one at a time, allowing him easier access to inspect her. “Okay, arms.” He repeated the maneuver with her forearms. “Good. Neck,” he said, gently tilting her head to either side and looking at her neck closely. “Uh oh.”

 

“What?” Judy gasped in surprise. 

 

“You stink!”

 

Judy frowned and whapped her friend in the cheek with the backside of her ear. “I’ve been out in Zootopia for days, you big jerk!”

 

Benny laughed and let her go, before leaning into the radio on his shoulder. “Hey Hank, can we open the gates up for our little hero here?” he barked. 

 

“Roger that, Corporal. Standby,” a voice chimed back at him. 

 

He turned back to Judy. “I told your father over the radio that you were almost home. He should be waiting for you.”

 

“Okay,” she said simply and raised her bag a little higher on her shoulders. 

 

There was a loud crack as the circular gates began to shift. The main gate was a large cylinder with an opening on one side. It was designed so that even if the gates broke down, the wall would never have a direct opening to the outside world. There were other smaller doors or entrances in different spots with coded locks that only the patrols knew. No Walkers were smart enough to give those a try. Not that they could ever get close enough anyway, since the patrol would always shoot them down before they got anywhere near it. 

 

When the massive chamber had turned so that the opening was facing them, Judy and Clawhauser walked in and waited for the opening to turn back around. The sound of squealing gears and metal grinding against metal echoed around them as it rolled back slowly. Judy could see the guards with rifles posted on the top of the wall, keeping a watchful eye on the horizon. The ground rumbled a bit as the massive gate swung back around until the opening was facing the sanctuary of home.

 

To her surprise, there was a small crowd gathered to see her come home. Most of them were siblings, but, surprisingly, there were other faces there that she had not seen in a while too. Front and center of the crowd was her father, a short and slightly stout rabbit with brown fur wearing a grey military jacket that only kinda fit. His eyes were dark and his expression was steeled as best he could, but, upon seeing his daughter safe, he could not help a sigh of relief. 

 

It was funny, Judy realized, how certain aspects of home she’d never really paid any mind to seemed so important now, like the way her siblings muttered to each other all at once making a haze of conversations. Or the way the roads were cleaner and less cracked than they were outside the walls.  Parts of the scenery that became invisible when she was home all the time now took on new significance after spending so much time away. She smiled, happy to see her home and loved ones again.

 

The parade of ears shifted up higher as Judy stepped out of the gate chamber and approached her brothers and sisters. The youngest of the Hopps family, a teenager named Lilly, led her other siblings towards their sister. 

 

“Judy!” she called out and wrapped her arms around her torso in a big hug. A few other siblings, some of whom were taller than Judy, followed quickly behind and each gave her a warm embrace. Her father was the only one to show any protest.

 

“Hey hey, now, careful! Has she been ch—” 

 

“I checked her, sir. She’s good,” Benny said with a nod and let Judy have her space with her family.

 

“Eww, you stink!” one of her siblings groaned. 

 

Benny smirked as he walked by the huddle of bunnies. “Told ya.” 

 

“Alright, alright already! I’ll take a bath as soon as I get back to the burrow.” Judy couldn’t help a laugh at their teasing.

 

“You might have to fight your way there,” Stu Hopps said as he stepped closer to his daughter. “Lot’s of folk are eager to see you, including me...”

 

“Hey, Dad,” Judy responded softly. Stu’s face was still trying to be strong and stoic, something he had gotten plenty of practice of in recent years.

 

“We thought we lost you there, Jude.” He could not help but wipe away a tear as he wrapped his daughter in a tight hug. She hugged him right back. “Not sure the Hopps-squad could take that one.”

 

“Everyone else wasn’t so lucky,” she answered sadly. “I’m sorry, Dad. I think I’m the only one who made it out. But it wasn’t all for nothing.”

 

Judy swung her backpack around and unzipped it so her dad could peer inside. He dug his paws into the bag, before his eyes opened wide and a toothy grin spread wide on his cheeks. 

 

“Jude, this is amazing! We haven’t had this much in years!” her father said. “Where on earth did you find all of this?” 

 

“It’s a long story. And I’m a little tired.”

 

“Hey Judy!” one of her brothers called to her. Jake, a brown-furred, skinny but tall buck placed a paw on her shoulder and smiled. Something about his face looked almost mischievous. “I’m thinking you should go straight to the ward with those first.”

 

“Is there someone sick now?” she asked.

 

“Yup!” one of her sisters chimed in, also snickering. “Someone is dying to see you.”

 

“Don’t make jokes, this is serious!” Judy scolded her and began walking. She smiled at her elder siblings and waved at a few other local mammal-folk who had shown up to welcome her. She exchanged a few pawshakes and thankful greetings before she set on the road to the medical ward. 

 

Finally home , she thought. 

 

The Burrows used to be much bigger, and cleaner as well, but it still had the same charm she remembered from when she was young. The roads were dirt just as often as they were paved. Rows of corn, kale, and carrots lined the fields near the many hills surrounding the many homes for the residents. Thanks to the influx of refugees from Zootopia, many of the homes had been converted to accommodate larger mammals. Once upon a time, it had been ninety-nine percent bunnies in this town. Now it was around twenty-eight percent, and one of the reasons for the drop was because of the newcomers. The other reason was why her father had demanded she be checked before hugging her siblings. 

 

Judy decided to run, not wanting to waste time or dwell on her past for too long. She turned down one street and passed by a few mammals going about their day. No need to worry about getting hit by a truck, since driving cars was considered wasteful within the walls. The majority of the power and plumbing that worked was all done haphazardly: a steam-powered generator here, some solar there, a few wind turbines on the roofs of buildings. The small amount of power brought some sense of normality back into their lives. At one point, things had gotten so bad that there hadn’t been enough clean water to go around. But after the walls had gone up, the Burrows became calm enough to focus everyone’s efforts towards living, not just surviving.

 

She finally found the ward, which was located as close to the center of town as possible for easy access in emergencies. Once, it had been a small outfit for a local doctor’s office, but the needs of the burrows had expanded so the building had been forced to expand too. Much of the care center was made out of emergency medical tents left over from just after the deadrising, but the front lobby still looked like a quaint little local doctor’s office with a receptionist and a few nurses doing rounds.

 

“Hi,” Judy greeted the receptionist, a soft-spoken old armadillo. “Is the doc in?”

 

“Judy?!?” She heard from behind her. Judy turned to find a familiar face and nearly dropped the bag she had traveled so far with.

 

“Kris!?” she gasped. 

 

Sure enough, her dear friend Kris, who she’d presumed died along with her search party, was standing right in front of her, wearing her scrubs just like always. She was frozen stiff, staring at Judy like she was seeing a ghost. Judy guessed her own face must have looked something similar. 

 

Kris leaped forward and buried her face in the crook of Judy’s neck. Judy hugged Kris back and squeezed her so tightly her arms shook a little. She choked back a sob-laugh and smiled as her friend quietly wept upon seeing her again. Her siblings’ little prank was apparent now. 

 

“You crazy idiot! How are you here? How did you make it out of there?”

 

“I should ask you the same thing!” Judy answered and let her go, keeping her paws on her shoulders. They were both smiling wide and blinking back tears. 

 

“By the time that Walker carried you off, the others lost track of me and followed you out,” Kris managed to get out between laughs. ”I tried to sneak after you, but there was a savage on my tail. And I just had to make a break for it. Oh Judy, I’m so sorry!”

“Don’t be,” she consoled her friend. “You did the right thing back there. Trying to rescue me when I was surrounded by Walkers would have gotten us both killed.”

 

“But how did you escape him?!” Kris gripped Judy’s shoulders firmer as if she might run away before she could get her answer. ”That fox looked crazy! I thought he took you back to his den and ate you for sure!” 

 

Judy blinked and realized something: she had not yet told a soul about her time with N. 

 

While there were not many in the walls who would even believe her story, Kris was not like her other friends or family. Growing up in such a large group, Judy had gotten used to treating the majority of her family like most would treat distant relatives. After the deadrising, it was hard to let someone get so close without risking losing them later. But Kris was one of the few mammals Judy had kept close, and she knew she could trust her with anything.

 

Judy spoke in a low hushed tone with narrowed eyes. “Kris, I have so much I want to talk to you about…. But first, I need to talk with the doc.”

 

“Why? Are you hurt?”

 

“No, but I did find this!” Judy pushed the bag into the otter’s paws. Kris opened the pack up and gasped at the vials inside. 

 

“Follow me,” Kris said and excitedly led her down the wide hallways. The building had been designed a little bit larger than the average bunny-size to accommodate a bigger mammal if need be. Kris turned a few corners and pushed through a wooden door into a smaller office without bothering to knock. 

 

“Ramic!” She called out. 

 

A young kangaroo jolted awake from his desk and blubbered a bit. Judy guessed, from the few tiny pieces of paper stuck to his cheek and the giant magnifying glass, that he had been reading some mice or rodent-sized medical texts and drifted off. From what she knew of Ramic, he was always the reading type. She also noticed some stale nachos at the edge of his desk, and assumed that he’d probably only nibbled on a few of those through the night.

 

“Wha...what’s up?” He  rubbed his eyes. 

 

“I got good news and bad news, doc,” Kris answered. 

 

“Hughh,” he sighed and brushed the fur on his forehead. “Again, Kris, I am not a doctor. I never got to finish med school. Also, bad news first.”

 

“Bad news is the fridge is out of sweet-potato hash,” she said. “Good news is, Judy is alive and she brought us this!!” 

 

The bag hit his desk with the familiar sound of glass vials clinking together. Ramic’s brow furrowed as he gazed over to Judy. “How did––”

 

“Open it!” Kris demanded, startling him a bit. 

 

“Okay!” He dug into the bag, pulling a few vials out. He gazed in shock at the haul Judy had brought in. “Holy…. Penicillin, amoxicillin, cephalexin…. There’s got to be a thousand cc’s in here!” Ramic showed the first sign of real excitement since he was rudely awoken a few moments earlier. “This is fantastic! We’ll last the next three winters on this! Four if we’re careful. How on earth did you get this?” 

 

“Zootopia,” Judy chimed in. 

 

Ramic swiveled in his chair to face her. “I thought we had picked the hospital clean already?”

 

Judy stood on a nearby chair and pulled the rest of the vials out of the bag, lining them all up on the Kangaroo’s desk. “I was in a part of town that search parties never get to. There was this pharmacy near the river that had this boatload of goods. I grabbed whatever I could stuff into the bag before I got noticed.”

 

“By a Walker?” Kris asked. 

 

“A lion, no less,” Judy said with a nod. 

 

The otter guffawed. “You’re such a fuckin’ badass.”

 

“Language, Kris.” Ramic wagged a finger at the otter. “Judy, I cannot thank you enough for bringing this and yourself safely back here. Is there anything we can do to repay you?” 

 

“Just put it to good use, doc.” Judy frowned and glanced back at Kris with a somber look. “Mammals died to get this here.”

 

Ramic placed a paw on her shoulder and spoke softly. “I heard about Jack. I’m sorry to hear about your boyfriend, Judy.”

 

“I…. Thanks Ramic, but we weren’t really a thing anymore,” she explained. 

 

“And you’ll stay single forever unless you go get yourself cleaned up! You smell like a Walker!” Kris waved a paw around her nose in disgust. 

 

“Ughh FINE!” Judy said and turned to leave with a slight blush on her face. “Excuse me for smelling a little like death after being trapped in a literal hellscape.”

 

As her friend left the office, Kris looked back up to Ramic softly. He was still looking over the vials Judy had snagged for them with fiery focus. “Heya boss, would it be alright if—”

 

“Go be with your friend, Kris.” He waved her away with a smile, not looking up from his medicine. “I know you have a lot of catching up to do.”

 

“Thanks doc!” 

 

“I’m not a—” He tried to say before the door closed and she was gone—“doctor.” 

 

Ramic continued to examine the vials, digging back into the bag to see the entire inventory. He remembered thinking just months ago that just one vial of medicine like this could have saved more lives than he could count on his paws, and now they had piles of it! A few of the antibiotics had names he didn’t recognize, and the idea of getting to study up on new material got him all worked-up with each new pawful of medicine. 

 

That was when he found something else in the bag, something odd. It wasn’t a vial, but rather a small recording device with a microphone and a memory card. He recognized it easily, having used them when he was still at ZU’s med school while documenting autopsies and recording contagion case-studies. It wasn’t all that uncommon for doctors to use devices like this to record their findings vocally, instead of jotting down notes which always took longer. He hit play, but nothing happened. The batteries were gone. 

 

“Hmmm…. I know I’ve got batteries somewhere.”

 


 

After chatting with Kris a bit about the goings-on in the Burrows, Judy had decided to meet the otter at her place later. Kris had been annoyed at first, clearly wanting to hear all about her friend’s adventure in Zootopia right then. But she’d decided to let the rabbit have a little peace. Judy was grateful for that, as she needed a little time to think things through. Finally, after what felt like ages away from safety and comfort, she fell upon a familiar sight: Home.

 

Her burrow was a great big mound nestled into a hillside near a few open fields. The mound itself was lined with grass, its many windows spread along the browning surface. Most of the nearby fields had been reaped clean at this point in the season, much of which she had done herself. When she had been very young, she’d always dreamed of bigger and more exciting things than being a farmer. But now she’d found some catharsis in the routine and comfort in the safety of her home.

 

That was back when her family’s burrow had been bigger. As she gazed at the mound littered with panes of glass, her eyes lingered on the metal bars bolted to each window frame. She noticed how so few of them had been cleaned recently and how the entire ground floor was still boarded up, just in case. Once upon a time, there had been more Hopps bunnies than there were windows. These days, they let neighboring families take up the vacant rooms.

 

Judy decided to take one more walk before cleaning up. For some reason, she couldn't stand the idea of being in the comfort of home with her thoughts weighing her down. There were a few things on her mind that she wanted to clear first. She walked around the side of her family’s burrow, looking idly at the ground. She walked over grass which turned to dirt, and dirt which turned to rubble. 

 

This part of the hillside had once housed the larger of the Hopps dorms, like a separate wing in an office building. Many of her siblings had lived in that part of her home, including some of the youngest. If a stranger looked upon the site now, they might miss any evidence that a building had ever stood there at all, but Judy could see it: A few blackened splinters, a little concrete foundation, and the smell of soot that refused to leave even years later.

 

She sighed and continued her stroll up the hill. There was a line of small trees that separated the burrow from the fields in the back, hiding them from view. This was on purpose. Because staring at that many graves outside their windows everyday would be harder on her family, and they had been through enough. 

 

“Hi, everyone,” Judy murmured as she began walking through the rows of headstones. 

 

The markers were small and it had taken nearly a year to get all of them placed, but each one bore a name, age, and something specific about that bunny that had made them unique. Judy held her paw out and let her fingertips drag along the coarse surfaces of stone as she walked by. If she had wanted to, she could do the math and figure out how many graves there were exactly, but she never could bring herself to.

 

Judy continued roaming through the field until she got to the top of another hill with a larger birch tree that loomed like a quiet guardian over a single headstone. This one was placed at the highest spot in the field, so every single gravestone was in sight from where she rested. Etched into the stone were the words “Bonnie Hopps: Loving Mother to Many, Beloved Wife to One.”

 

“Hi, Mom,” Judy muttered to the marker under the tree. She breathed slowly, letting herself be calm as she spoke. “I’m back. I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long, I got a little lost. But I got lots of medicine for the ward, so we’ll be ready for winter this year.”

 

Judy exhaled sedately and let the words flow from her lips as easily as breathing. “I hear the crops were pretty good this year, a nice big harvest. Little Lilly’s a big girl now, you’d be so proud. When I walked through the gate, she hugged me so hard I thought she might break my back. And that’s saying something coming from me. She looks a lot like you now. Jake says she sounds like you too, but I just hear her…. Dad’s still the same. He’s quiet and frowns a lot more than he used to when you were around. But I do see him bubbly from time to time, even if just for a second.”

 

Judy’s vision began to blur a bit, so she wiped her eye with the back of her paw and shook her head a little. Her ears were down, and her eyes were open just enough to see her mother’s name carved into stone as if it would last forever. Then she gave a soft smile.

 

“Can I tell you a secret?” She spoke in a softer tone, as if the others could hear them. “... I met someone, Mom. I met a guy, and I liked him. He’s…he’s not exactly what you would have had in mind, I think. Pretty sure no one around here would understand it.” 

 

Judy laughed at the image of bringing N into the burrows to meet her family and friends. She imagined Benny’s face would be the best reaction. “He was a bit of a smartass, and kinda stubborn like me. I think I scared the death out of him with that beebee gun. His place is a mess. So is his fur. And I know it’s a stereotype, but he’s kinda sly too. Just like Dad used to say about all foxes…. But he was also funny and surprisingly smart. There was something about him that made me feel like I was home, even though I was the farthest I’ve ever been from the Burrows. I felt like I was in the same home you and dad built. Before the deadrising. Before the fire. Back when everyone was still here.”

 

She looked upwards at the birch tree that shaded her from the sun. This spot beneath the tree had been her mother’s favorite reading place, so it always brought Judy a sense of comfort in its familiarity. “I remember you told me once to find ‘someone who believes in me.’ Well, he could barely talk, but he had that much. He didn’t try to tell me what to do. Instead, he had my back. He was the first guy who’s ever treated me like an equal. Like a partner…. Well, except for that time he tried to keep me from trying to escape the city. Then, he…. wait....”

 

Suddenly, the feeling and the memory were at odds. She felt like he had believed in her; he’d even said so outright. But on her last day in the city, he’d told her they needed ‘more time’, even though he’d known they could escape if they worked together. “...why did he do that?”

 

Judy froze. Her eyes widened, though they were not focused on anything before her. She stifled a gasp with her paw against her lips. “He wasn’t trying to hold me back. He was lonely. He didn’t want me to leave because he would miss me. I…I was the first friend he’d ever made, and I left him all alone. I left him behind…. Oh Mom…I left him for dead.”

 

A knot formed in the pit of her stomach and her heart sank. Judy sniffled loudly and wiped her eyes with her paw again. “It’s not fair! I understand why I can’t ever see him again, I really do. But I can’t shake the feeling that he’s different somehow! He’s dead, but he’s not gone. Not like you are...”

 

Judy’s legs wobbled underneath her and she slowly knelt down, letting her already-filthy knees soak up the morning dew. She grasped at the soft green blades beneath her, allowing the dirt to pack into her fur and under her nails, as if squeezing hard enough could breathe life back into something that was long-since gone. 

 

“I miss you so much,” she continued between sobs “I miss everyone, everyday. I really wish you were here right now because I’m confused and scared about everything. You would know just what to say to make everything make sense again.”

 

She could almost hear her mother’s warm voice still. Over the years, it had become harder and harder to remember little things about her––like the feel of her fur or the color of her eyes––but her voice was always there. Ever since Judy was young, her mother had always wagged her finger at her children whenever they became so sad that they broke down. She’d scold them for forgetting about all the good things they still had and told them sweet stories about how wonderful they were, all the while holding them close. Her bright smile had never broken for a moment. Even when they had lost the first of her siblings during the deadrising, Bonnie Hopp’s compassion had been more fierce than all the zombies in the world. 

 

Judy sniffled one more time and let go of the dirt, relaxing her paws and rising up to her feet again. She wiped her eyes, this time with the back of her arm to avoid getting her face any dirtier. She breathed calmly and smiled down at her mother’s grave.

 

“I’ll figure this out, Mom. If I can figure out how to carry on without you in my life, I can figure this out too. I’ve got our family, I’ve got good friends, and I’m not dead yet. So I’ve got plenty to be thankful for. I owe it all to you.” She stepped forward. The shade of the tree that sheltered the grave was cool and calm. She placed a paw on the cold stone and smiled, softly repeating her mother’s prayer of gratitude she had taught her years ago. “Thank you for your labors.”




 

N continued to hobble and limp along the highway that led back to the gloomy remains of Zootopia. He would mutter something to himself every now and again or groan when he had to climb up over an abandoned car to get by, but he remained otherwise silent. That was what he was used to being, after all: Silent as the grave. All this talking recently had really worn him out, taking every bit of effort just to get a few words out most of the time. It wasn’t until now that he really appreciated how much easier it was to stay quiet. 

 

The road was still a little wet, but the sun was drying up all the rain from earlier that day.  Now that the skies were clear, that stupid shiver in his step had finally calmed down. He chalked it up to slowly losing himself and going Savage, which made him nervous. He checked himself for missing fur from time to time. Thankfully, his coat was normal. It was bloodied, unwashed, and smelly, but it was all still there. 

 

The road ventured underneath an overpass where two major highways intersected with giant columns supporting long bridges and exit ramps. Vines of ivy snaked up the columns, slowly eating away at the concrete that had once supported the bustling roads. He was under the overpass when he heard a voice call out to him in a low groan.

 

Great, now I’m hearing things. Pretty sure I’ll be full-blown Savage by nightfall at this rate.

 

“N,” the low voice boomed again. N turned around, eyes scanning for the source of the voice. He had nothing to fear, being a Walker, but it was still odd to hear his name called from the ether like that. 

 

“Down h—here…idiot,” the voice said again. Looking directly downward, N caught sight of a familiar dead face. This little fox was his friend from back in Zootopia, the same one that had almost eaten Judy the day before. He’d made up for it, helping them escape, but it was odd to see him in the middle of nowhere.

 

“Hhh—hey” was all N could murmur in response. “Whhhh—what are you doing...here?”

 

“We…came to find you,” the little fox said slowly.

 

“We?” N asked. Peering around the columns of concrete, N noticed more walkers were with him. There were a pawful of tall ones, like the gazelle and the black panther who he recognized, followed by a larger crowd of others smaller walkers. They each stared at him with a passive fascination, limping along to get closer. Each of their slitted eyes focused on him from the shadow of the overpass.

 

“Where’s…bunny?” his friend asked. N looked down at the ground and shook his head. Getting down onto his rear and taking a seat by leaning up against one of the concrete columns, N got a little closer to eye-level with his friend and continued shaking his head.

 

“Gone,” he said softly.

 

“Ah.” He nodded and frowned.  “You...okay?” 

 

“No,” N muttered, shaking his head some more. The little fox nodded slowly and placed a paw on his friend’s shoulder. From the outside, it probably looked like the little fox was shaking N rigorously as if demanding money, but he was actually trying his hardest to lay a comforting paw on his friend’s shoulder and offering his comfort, as best a zombie might do. 

 

“Bitches, man,” he said with a grunt. The effort made N smile a little, but it did little to ease his mind.

 

“Why a—are you…you here?” N asked.

 

“Savages…drove us out,” the fennec fox explained. N looked up and furrowed his brow at his friend in confusion. “I think Savages…might ea—eat us.”

 

It was hard to believe that anything as mindlessly violent as a Savage could get any worse, but if they were beginning to go for Walkers, then things must be really bad. Maybe enough years had gone by that the end was finally coming for all of them. But, after the hardship N had faced over the past several days, it was hard for him to do anything except simply shrug at his friend. The end would come find him eventually, he might as well meet it teeth-first.

 

“We need to…to find the bunny.”

 

“What?” N said, his eyes widening a little. “Why?”

 

“You sss–started something,” the fennec explained. His voice was still low, just above a whisper. “I felt s—something, yesterday. I saw...I saw,” he struggled to speak, pointing up to his head with one wayward finger. “P—pictures...memories.” N’s attention was now wrapt upon his friend, who struggled with all his might to speak. His big bright eyes were wide and focused, shooting between the ground and N as if the memories were right in front of him.

 

“Memories?” N asked. 

 

“Mmm…music…. A boat…. Blueberries…. A girl.”

 

“I ss—slept last night,” N said, placing a paw on the fennec’s shoulder.

 

“Sleep?” the little fox repeated with a surprised look on his face. 

 

“I felt...cold, too.”

 

“From the r—rain?” the fennec clarified.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Me too...” he said. N stood up and faced the other walkers, looking out over the crowd. They all had similar looks of longing on their faces, like they had just heard of a never-ending pile of brains was close by, yet he had said nothing of the sort. 

 

“We’re changing,” N said a little louder. A few of the walkers nodded their heads, others offering affirmative grunts. Some of them wandered a little closer, offering open paws before him as if gesturing to his. The last time he had seen a walker wear this face was when Judy had taken his paw after he had defended her. For some reason, that had seemed to trigger something among the Walkers, and now the Savages could smell it. 

 

“I have to…to tell her,” N realized. Whatever it was that was changing the Walkers like this, it had clearly gotten the Savages’ attention. If they started leaving the city looking for Walkers, they would follow the scent to that spot under the highway. If they found the Walkers, they could sniff their way to Grazerville. And from there, there was only one place they could go. He had to warn Judy somehow, even if it meant risking his hide. “Will you…will you help me?” 

 

There was a muttering of more affirmative noises amongst the ranks of Walkers, a few nodding in agreement. N cracked a smile, looking back towards his friend the fennec fox. The little devil was sporting a grin that showed a little bit of teeth. Over the years, much of his fangs had been worn down, but it was still a smile all the same.

 

“Fuck yeah,” he grunted. 

Chapter Text

The walls around Bunny Burrow were certainly an eyesore during the day, but, in the dark of night, they looked practically menacing. There was no trace of the green pastures that lay hidden behind the black, cold metal that divided N’s world from Judy’s. It had taken him the entire day and much of the night to finally make his way to the walls. Now he was aimlessly walking a fair distance away hoping to strike gold without being shot by patrols. He had a plan, but it was hard to tell where exactly his opening was. The darn walls went on for miles.

 

Suddenly, he heard chatter from the wall and ducked down behind a shrub. He kept real still as a searchlight swept over the shrub and continued down the open fields towards a dirt road. This place looked familiar.

 

“Jacklepot,” N hissed as he recognized the section of the wall from Jack’s memories. He waited another moment to make sure the searchlight was not moving back towards him and scrambled towards it. With no more chatter coming from patrol officers, he felt confident he could move along the wall carefully. Parts of the dark ground felt familiar to him, and he let his instincts guide him until he found a door in the wall.

 

N gazed at the door, looking down at the number pad on the front. He closed his eyes and calmly breathed through his nose and tried to remember. Jack had been pretty frantic to escape some Walkers when he had punched in the code, but his eyes were wide and focused and the memory had been clear and vivid. 

 

0 - 1 - 1 - 3… Bingo! Thanks for the tip, Jack.

 

N carefully opened the door, which squeaked a little but otherwise did not complain. He paused, keeping his ears tall, and made sure none of the patrol mammals on the wall heard him. There was a lot of wall to cover, after all, so they had moved on. 

 

He crept along a dirt trail that led towards a group of buildings with lights on, feeling the dirt from a well-worn trail stick between his toes. It took a little while, perhaps another mile or so, but eventually N saw a mammal outside one of the buildings. N froze. It was a beaver, relatively older, smoking some tobacco he probably grew himself. What scared N to no end was this beaver was alive. There were soon other living mammals in view too, closing up shops or grumbling about rations to each other. 

 

N was pretty sure Judy’s burrow was along this road, so there was no sneaking around them. He stood a little taller. Drawing his hood over his head, N placed his paws in his pocket and trudged along. In the dark, the dried blood on his hoodie was less noticeable and might even be mistaken for a ‘hip’ design the kits were wearing. 

 

“Y’all have a good night,” the beaver called out to him politely.

 

SHIT. Quick, say something normal, say something normal, say something normal!!

 

“Yyyou t–toouhh,” N muttured.

 

Nailed it!

 

By some miracle, the beaver didn’t even turn around. N simply kept walking and his be-cool strategy kept working. Before long, the small group of buildings was behind him and no one was the wiser. 

 

He was now on what seemed like a more familiar road that divided pastures and fields of corn and carrots. Beyond those, he saw large mounds that looked like hills that were a little too perfectly round to be natural. They also had windows, a few of which were lit from inside. N knew that one of those windows was Judy’s.

 

***

 

Judy was grateful to be washed and clothed in something comfortable for a change. She had taken extra care to wipe the dried blood from her fur that N had used to hide her scent from the other Walkers. She was in her favorite blue sweater that hung off of one shoulder, a gift from her good friend Kris who was sitting across from her in rapt attention as Judy recounted the events from the last several days.

Kris listened intently as she spoke, her eyes widening whenever the story got particularly dicey. Judy spared no details telling her about the warehouse, her escape attempt, N’s collection of knick-knacks, the day they’d spent playing games, the radio, the little fox that helped them, the Savage elephant, and even the night they’d spent in Grazerville when N had confessed about eating Jack. 

 

“So what did you do then?!” Kris asked from the foot of Judy’s bed. She was squeezing the life out of a pillow in anticipation as she listened to Judy’s tale, which was not exactly believable, to say the least. 

 

Judy sighed and shook her head. “I left early the next morning. He looked like he was in some kind of trance or something so I snuck out the door as quietly as I could, got in the van, and drove back here,” she explained. 

 

“So that was today?” Kris clarified.

 

Judy nodded. “Yeah...“ 

 

“Jude, you alright?” 

 

If only she knew how big a question that really was. “I mean…just think about it for a second, okay? The world went sideways so fast that everyone just called it the ‘deadrising’ without hesitation. ‘Walker’ is just a word for a state of being that we don’t really understand,” Judy started earnestly.

 

“Uh-huh,” Kris nodded along, her eyebrow skeptically raised a little.

 

“What if––just a thought––but what if there is more to Walkers than being dead? We always assumed they were lifeless and mindless monsters. But if they were flat-out zombies, then N should have never been able to speak, let alone smile or joke or do any of the things he was capable of doing. I got the impression that he never even thought about eating me!”

 

“Okay...” Kris said with a bewildered look on her face.

 

Judy scoffed, shaking her head at her own insanity. “You want to know the really crazy part?” Kris simply nodded and waited patiently as her friend spoke very softly, like a child whispering a secret about something they did wrong. “I actually miss him.”

 

Kris closed her eyes and slowly nodded her head. Judy wondered why Kris seemed to be acting like she was making peace with her friend’s loss for all reason. Judy hoped Kris would understand, or at the very least would not report her to Ramic for going insane. 

 

“So let me see if I get you, girl. You spend a wicked weekend out with a dead guy, and now you’ve got a zombie sized hole in your heart that no amount of Gid’s ice cream will fill? Does that about sum it up?”

 

Judy did not even try to answer her question directly, she simply hid her face behind her paws in shame and groaned loudly. She keeled over and fell onto the bed, laying on her side and keeping her face hidden in shame. “Ugghhh, what is wrong with me?”

 

“If I had a week, I’m not sure I’d have enough time to answer that question, sweetie,” Kris lamented. “But hey, it’s not all that crazy. I mean…” Kris’s voice got low and her tone dripped with mystery. “...they’ve got very intense eyes.”

 

“No, Kris.”

 

“I bet he’s a good listener,” Kris continued.

 

“Argh. Kris, don’t,” Judy protested, peeking up from her pillow at her goading friend.

 

“And you’d never have to worry about him hogging the blankets at night since he never sleeps.” Kris was smiling at this point. Judy launched a pillow at her friend’s face in frustration, which had the added benefit of hiding her smug grin. “Hey!”

 

“You deserve that, jerk.” Judy humphed and rubbed crossed her arms. “I’m losing my mind over here.”

 

Kris shrugged nonchalantly. “Well if you go brain-dead, maybe just give them to him for a snack?” 

 

“Kris!” Judy scolded as her friend began giggling happily.

 

“Okay, okay!” her friend said, calming herself down. “Judy, I’ve never known you to be crazy. Maybe you don’t have the best taste in guys, but you’ve got a more level head than most around here. I think you just had something weird happen to you.”

 

Judy sighed, feeling a little relieved. “Do you really think so?”

 

“Sure. I mean, I believe what you say about this Walker. I didn’t see much of him, but I did catch the look in his eye when he carried you off. That was not normal,” Kris answered with certainty. 

 

“Mmm...” Judy hummed in agreement. It is difficult to say that anything was ‘normal’ for a Walker. And if most Walkers had been like him, she doubted the world would have changed the way it did. 

 

Kris scooted a little closer to Judy and spoke a little softer. “From your story, he clearly liked you too.”

 

Judy’s mouth fell open. “Woah, what now?”

 

“Oh come on, Judes,” Kris rolled her eyes. “Tell me, did he ever make excuses to keep you around?”

 

“Sure, but I was the only one he could actually talk with,” Judy remembered.

 

Kris put her paw to her chin, making a show of pondering something out loud as if it were obvious. “So we know the whole ‘smelling like a Walker’ thing was a load of crap. You told me he locked himself out of the room to make you feel safe at night, right? So he’s willing to go out of his way to make you feel better.”

 

Judy skeptically shook her head. “I think you’re jumping here.”

 

“Did he ever sneak a glance when you had your back turned?” Kris raised an eyebrow as she continued pressing. 

 

Judy looked away, trying to hide a slight blush in her ears. “Kris…”

 

The otter scooted closer excitedly. “Oh my god, he did!”

 

“Ughhh, fine,” she sighed and let her arms fall to her sides. “Yes, he nearly tumbled down the stairs after staring at my butt.”

 

“So he’s not all dead.” Kris smiled.

 

“Get to the point, otter-girl.”

 

“All I’m saying is that living males don’t do all that for the girls they actually say they’re in love with.” Kris smiled and shrugged openly as if offering her a simple suggestion. “If nothing else, I bet you he’d be down to try if you are.”

 

Judy frowned and looked out the window. “It doesn’t really matter anymore does it?”

 

“Oh, Jude,” Kris said with a sad look in her eye. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Yeah,” she said softly.

 

“Do you want me to spend the night here?” Kris offered softly. 

 

Judy smiled at her friend.“Would you?”

 

“Duh. This place has way softer beds anyway.” The otter tapped her shoulder reassuringly before gesturing to the bathroom. “Can I bum a brush and some mouthwash?”

 

“Of course. Thanks Kris.” Judy was grateful that she had a friend with her that night, especially one as easy to have around as Kris. The otter stood up and took a few steps towards the washroom.

 

“Okay, I’m gonna clean up. Don’t let the Walkers bite…unless you want them to,” Kris said with a laugh. 

 

“Shut up,” Judy groaned and rolled her eyes at her friend.

 

As Kris left her alone in her room, Judy began to feel a little cooped up. The two of them had been chatting for several hours, so she decided to get a little fresh air before bed. She made her way to the doors that lead to a small balcony attached to her bedroom. Once upon a time, only the married bunnies would get rooms with so much space and a balcony. But now, with so much vacancy in the burrow, it was foolish to take one of the cramped dorms if she had the option. She stepped outside to the cool evening air with moisture already building up on the fibers of her sweater.

 

The night air was soft, calm, and smelled faintly like fertilizer. The fields around her were quiet, and the added space between her and the next closest light source meant she had a beautiful view of the stars. The shops would be closing up by now, and the various mammals that she called her neighbors would be heading home. The Burrows offered her and her family a much needed sanctuary from the rest of the world, but somehow the comfort of home did little to put her mind at ease. It was strange, but for some reason she felt as if she were homesick even though she was right where she was supposed to be. Her thoughts drifted to N again, wondering if he was still in Grazerville or perhaps on his way back to Zootopia.

 

 

“C…Carrots,” she thought she heard a voice whisper. Perhaps Kris was being a little too kind when she’d called Judy “level-headed” earlier. “Judy!” the voice called a little louder. That one was real, and it made her ears stick up as stiff as boards. She turned towards the source, looking over the ground by the base of her burrow. The figure was shrouded in shadow, but she recognized those slitted green eyes instantly. He stepped a little closer, his face dimly lit by the light from her bedroom.

 

“Oh my god. N?!” she hissed, suddenly very aware of how much danger he was in. “What are you doing here?!”

 

“Came to...see you,” he explained, as if it was a simple thing for a Walker to sneak past the walls and somehow get all the way to her burrow without getting gunned down.

 

Judy frowned and her hushed voice dripped with concern for her friend. “Oh, N. You can’t just do that! It’s dangerous! The mammals here, they’re not like me. If they find you, you will get killed. Do you understand that?”

 

 

Judy saw his eyes actually light up a little bit as a warm smile began to form on his face. He looked at her happily and nodded his head with the same kind of enthusiasm he had shown when she first agreed to stay in the warehouse with him. His response was immediate and as certain as a promise.



“Yes.”

 

 

He knew , Judy realized. He knew and he came anyway. Her heart fluttered.

 

“Judy, who are you talking to?” Kris hollered from inside. 

 

“Uhh, nothing!” she squeaked back before turning back to N and frowning. “We have to get you out of here! If my dad finds you, he’ll blow your head off and then build a second wall.”

 

“Seriously, Jude! Who are you talking to?” Kris asked, her voice suddenly much closer than before. 

 

Judy’s eyes widened in panic as her friend joined her on the balcony with her arms crossed over her chest. She looked over to Kris, hoping to come up with something, anything, to keep her inside. She was not quick enough, and, before she knew it, Kris caught the eyes of a Walker standing in the Hopp’s garden looking longingly at Judy.

 

“OHH!” Kris’s face contorted in shock and a little disgust. Judy had her paws over her own mouth and holding her breath and silently begged her friend not to flip out. At least not too loudly. “Oh my god! Is that him?” she hissed. Judy was grateful Kris had had enough sense to keep from screaming, but there was no hiding N from her at this point. The jig was up less than a minute after it started.

 

“Yeah,” Judy said slowly. Turning to N, she motioned to her otter friend with her paws. “N, this is Kris.”

 

N’s eyes widened and he balked a little before offering the otter a shaky wave with one paw. He began to smile as best he could, though Judy noticed he didn’t show any teeth, which was probably smart. His nervous gesture was little more than a shrug, and Judy wasn’t sure if she should be embarrassed or terrified. 

 

“Hey,” N muttured weakly. Kris swallowed and struggled to find appropriate words. 

 

“Sup,” was all she came up with. 

 

Judy heard voices from across the fields. Her friends both turned towards the voices as well. It was likely some of the neighbors were on their way back to their own burrows. Panic whiplashed back at Judy as she began to imagine all the horrible ways N would be obliterated if he was discovered.

 

“We’ve got to get him inside!” she whispered frantically.

 

“Duh! Get down stairs and sneak him through the door. I’ll keep a lookout for anyone in the hallways,” Kris instructed firmly. 

 

“What?” Judy guffawed. “We’re gonna walk a zombie right through the front door?”

 

“Got a better plan?” Kris offered with her arms splayed. 

 

Judy didn’t.

 

“N, meet me by the front door,” she called out and pointed to the main entrance behind him. He nodded and put his hood back up. 

 

***

 

Okay, could have been worse. She does not look particularly happy about getting caught by her friend, but the otter seems cool. Gotta admit, I didn’t have much of a plan either, but the way she was looking at me just now…. Argh, I really wish this chest-thing would quit it.

 

N made his way to the front door and hid in the shadow of the stoop, keeping himself hidden in shadows as best he could. It took a few moments before he heard frantic footsteps from inside when another hushed call for him.

 

“N?” Judy called out. 

 

He took that as the all-clear and emerged from the shadows. Not two seconds after she saw him did she grab hold of his paw and drag him inside. The inside of Judy’s home was bigger than he’d expected. The floors were clean and the grand entrance was well-lit. He hobbled up the stairs, and she dragged him through a few hallways that had pink and white accents. It was warm and welcoming, despite the bars around the windows on the first floor. They were just about to turn a corner to her bedroom, when Kris’s voice stopped them.

 

“Why hello, Mister Hopps !” Kris’s voice called out loudly. “You’re home early.”

 

“Well heya, Kris,” Stu Hopp’s welcoming voice chimed from the halls. He seemed confused as to why Kris was shouting. N and Judy peeked around the corner of the hallways and caught the backside of an older rabbit’s uniform. “Y’all here to keep Jude some company?”

 

Well, guess that must be her military-leading zombie-killing father… great.

 

Kris caught their eyes over her father’s shoulder for a moment before turning back to him and smiling politely. “Yeah, I figured she shouldn’t be alone after what she’s been through.”

 

“That’s kind of you, Kris,” Mr. Hopps said heartily. ”You’re more than welcome to spend the night if you’d like.”

 

“Uhh, thank you sir,” she said nervously. “I think she really needs a ‘girl’s night’ after that whole mess.”

 

“I get ya. As much as I would like to go in there and comfort her, I think you’re probably right. You’re a good friend for bein’ there for her.” Mr. Hopps turned to leave. “I’ll let you two g—”

 

“Wait!” Kris put a paw on his shoulder and drew him closer. “Have I shown you these gross pictures from my medical textbooks yet?”

 

He bumbled, but remained polite. “I, erm…. No, but–”

 

“Check this one out! Did you have any idea that a Kangaroo’s pouch goes down that far?”

 

N saw Kris’s paw that was wrapped around the older bunny’s shoulder gesture towards the other side of the hallway. The otter took her phone out of her pocket and began flipping through photos for Judy’s father. With his attention occupied by the illustrations in Kris’s anatomy books, Judy quietly dragged N along the hallway and crept into her bedroom, closing the door as softly as possible. She waited for a moment with her ear pressed up against the door to make sure he hadn’t noticed them. Satisfied, she turned and faced a nervous looking Walker.

 

“Hey,” he muttered. 

 

“Hey.”

 

He fidgeted with the string on his hoodie nervously. “I’m s-sorry for sneaking in.”

 

Judy shook her head and frowned. “No, I’m the one who should be sorry. It wasn’t right for me to ditch you in Grazerville like that.”

 

“It’s-ss…it’s okay. I’m just here for th…the van anyway.” He offered her a smug grin, which made her smile. If nothing else, she seemed at least happy he wasn’t blown to pieces.

 

Before he could react, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. His eyes widened in shock as her slender figure squeezed against him. She spoke softly into his neck as she held him close, taking a bit of his fur in her paws. “I actually missed you.”

 

N was surprised at first, then it wilted away all at once. His smile was no longer smug. Instead it was wider and happier than he could remember experiencing before. He wrapped his arms around her torso and let his face fall onto her head a little, savoring the feeling of her form in the crook of his neck. “Me too.”

 

He felt her sigh against his neck and grip his fur a little tighter. “That’s funny. You feel warmer than I remember.”

 



N lost track of how long she had been hugging him when a knock came at the door. Judy let him go and stepped towards the door apprehensively. “Kris?”

 

“Yeah,” she whispered. “Your dad’s gone.”

 

“Whew,” Judy sighed. She let Kris back in, who then immediately proceeded to inspect N very closely. Perhaps a little too closely for his liking. He staggered back a little as she used Judy’s bed to get practically nose-to-nose with him, sniffing him skeptically.

 

“Yo,” she greeted him flatly.


He resumed his nervous fidgeting. “Uhh… hey.”

 

“How’dya die?” she asked.

 

N shrugged a little and leaned back to get some space between them. “I d…don’t remember.” 

 

“How old are you?”

 

Another shrug. Do I add the time I’ve been a Walker or does your age stop at death?


The otter pointed a thoughtful finger towards his chin. “Because you could be twenty-something, but you could also be, like, forty-five ya’know because it’s hard to tell with foxes sometimes.”

 

That accusation stung for some reason, making N cross his arms. “Do you ss-see any white fur on my chin?” 

 

“Touché,” Kris conceded as she continued sniffing. “It’s weird I can hardly smell you. I’ve smelled dead bodies before, but you don’t smell dead, you’re just dirty.”

 

A third shrug. “...Thanks?”

 

Judy rolled her eyes at her friend’s prodding. “Kris.”

 

She leaned in even closer, practically touching whiskers with him. “You can talk and stuff, and judging by how offended you were when I called you old, you have feelings too…. This is amazing.”

 

“Kris, quit it! He didn’t come here for an interview.” She was clearly only trying to get Kris to ease off, but the thought must have reminded her of the real question that was bugging her since she first saw him appear by her balcony. Judy shooed her friend and ushered N to sit down at the foot of her bed. Judy stood next to him with a paw on his shoulder, observing him patiently but seriously. “N, why did you come here?”

 

He looked thoughtfully around the room a little as he searched for words. He remembered why he was here and the thought made him excited. “The Walkers…we’re changing,” he explained.

 

“Changing?” Judy raised an eyebrow.  “Changing how?”

 

“Remmm-member when you snuck out last night?” N reminded her. 

 

Judy frowned a little. “You were in some kind of trance, so I snuck out quietly without you noticing,” she recalled.

 

“I was ss–sleeping.”

 

Both of her eyebrows raised this time. “Wait, like really asleep?”

 

He nodded eagerly. “Yeah. I also felt cold from the...the rain.”

 

Kris’s brow furrowed as she looked at N in confusion. “Is that weird?”

 

Judy nodded at her, gesturing at N’s torso. “He couldn’t feel my knife in his chest when we first met, Kris. Yeah, it’s weird. It’s like he’s transforming somehow.”

 

“Not j-just me,” N said eagerly. “Other Walkers t...too. The fennec…”

 

“Your friend from the van?” Judy finished for him, listening patiently.

 

N nodded again, trying to get words out faster. Stupid stutter . “He remembers… things be–before the deadrising.”

 

Judy’s eyes widened a little as she gaped at his revelation. “That’s a pretty big deal.”

 

Kris shook her head in disbelief. “Jude, none of this should be possible. From what Ramic told me, all the animals who turned into Walkers had their vitals drop to zero first. The brain damage from a few minutes like that could destroy any memories or rational thought completely, and he’s been like this for years! The dead don’t feel anything.”

 

“Dead mammals walking used to be impossible too,” she reminded her before turning back to N. “How many Walkers did you say?”

 

“Mmmm… a few dozen?”

 

Judy practically jumped off the bed. “Dozens?! Kris, we’ve got to tell Ramic about this.”

 

The otter rolled her eyes. “Oh sure, let’s just march him right across town while patrols are out in force! Honestly, it’s a miracle he was able to get this far without getting his ass shot to re-death.”

 

Judy stood and threw her paws in the air. “This could be the first real bit of progress we’ve ever seen! I know Ramic was researching a cure at one point. If we could just get N to the ward... ”

 

Kris shook her head. “We’ve got patients at the ward, Jude. If someone has that much blood on them, they’re usually not standing…up.” Kris trailed off as she looked N up and down thoroughly. He shot her a confused glance while she sized him up. The look on her face went from a contemplative glare to a resolved smile, both of which frightened N. This otter was unpredictable to say the least. 

 

Judy turned to her friend. “What? Do you have an idea?”

 

“Yup,” Kris decided. “We need to get this zombie cleaned up. Let’s take him next door.”

 

“Take him where? You mean to…” Judy trailed off and her eyes widened. “...No. no way Kris.”

 

N looked between the two of them with confusion. “Where?”

 

The otter scoffed and ignored him. “What, do you have some fox-sized clothes for him here? Cause I’m pretty sure that much blood will not come out in the wash.”

 

“What happened to keeping this a secret?” Judy argued. N was falling depressingly behind the conversation.

 

Kris waved her concerns off. “Do you really think either of them would blab? Besides, it would be way safer to keep him there anyway. Your dad could walk through that door any second!”

 

N was totally lost at this point, but as far as he could tell, they would be moving him soon. After barely avoiding her father once already, he did not fancy risking that a second time. He looked over to Judy, who was rubbing the crease of her nose with a frustrated groan. Wherever they were going to take him, it wasn’t exactly her first choice. He looked out the doors and spotted the balcony where he had found Judy a few minutes earlier.

 

***

 

Judy groaned and continued scheming with Kris. “Alright. We can get him cleaned up over there, then we run him straight to Ramic’s. If he can vouch for N, maybe we can keep my dad from shooting him.”

 

Kris hopped off the bed and clapped her paws together excitedly. “Well, it’s dangerous and it smells like shit, but it’s a plan! Let’s get this foxy Walker over to…where’d he go?”

 

“N?” Judy called out as her head swiveled around the room frantically. She caught sight of the end of his tail vanishing outside onto the balcony. N wavered a little as he clambered up onto the railing and, with all the grace of a sack of carrots, fell over the side. “N!” 

 

Judy ran to the balcony and looked down at the garden where N had fallen. It must have been a good five or six meters to the ground. Most of his body was covered by the shrub he’d crashed into. It took a moment for him to start moving again, and Judy worried for a moment that he had really hurt himself. But then his head popped up from the leaves and he easily stood back up, looking back towards Judy and Kris who stared at him in shock.

 

“Didn’t f-feel like sneaking out,” N said flatly.

 

“Are you okay?!” Judy hissed.

 

N smiled and knocked his fist against his head a few times to illustrate his point. “No pain. One of the perks of be...being dead.”

 

Kris cocked an eyebrow at him in bewilderment while Judy looked like she wanted to scold him for doing something reckless. But when words seemed to evade her, he smiled and gestured towards the main entrance. 

 

“I’ll meet you at the door,” N whispered and started hobbling away. Both of the girls watched for a moment, a little confused and a little impressed by N’s maneuver. 

 

“You know… ” Kris pondered. “...he’s kinda cute in a weird way.”

 


 

Judy knocked on the door once, then a second time, a little bit louder and more urgently. It was not a long walk down the road to her neighbor’s small house nestled into the hillside. It was also even more secluded than her own burrow, but she did not want to risk having N out and about for any longer than they needed to. Finally, after another knock, the door opened up to reveal a familiar cheetah.

 

“Judy? Whatchya doin’ out so late, girl?” Corporal Clawhauser said. The light from the TV behind him obscured his face a little, but everything else was otherwise dark. 

 

“Hi Benny. Sorry to bug you, but we’re really in a bind here. Can we come inside?” Judy asked sweetly.

 

“Oh, heya Kris! Well…” he looked back inside apprehensively. “...we were gonna have a little date night but, if you guys need help, come on in,” Clawhauser said and stepped aside. It was not until Judy reached behind her and pulled someone else by the paw that he noticed N’s presence. “Oh, and who’s this?”

 

“He’s a friend,” Judy said quickly as she pulled him inside. 

 

The three of them entered inside, Judy keeping a firm hold of N’s paw as they shuffled into Benny’s living room. There was popcorn by the TV, and screen flickered as the DVD menu for an western-romance called ‘The Masked Fox’. Judy felt bad that they were clearly interrupting something, but thankfully the dimly lit room was the only reason Clawhauser had not spotted the blood all over N’s hoodie.

 

“Hang on, let me get the lights,” Clawhauser said. Shit, Judy thought. The lights in the quaint little living room all illuminated at once, and the red all over N’s clothes stood out like a zebra amongst horses.

 

“Now who is this friend of yo—WOAH!” Benny reeled back as he looked in shock at the blood on N’s clothes. “Oh my goodness, is he alright?!”

 

Judy’s paws were up and splayed, trying to keep the Cheetah from panicking. “Benny, please keep your voice down.”

 

“Shouldn’t we take him to the ward or som–” Benny started to say. That was when N caught eye contact with him. It lasted less than a moment, for as soon as he saw the slits in N’s pupils, years of police and military training suddenly kicked into motion.

 

Benny dove across the floor. He tumbled across the rug between the couch and the TV and pivoted beside a table by the front door. He reached underneath the table and pulled out a pistol that was already loaded.

 

“Benny stop!” Judy barked and threw herself between her friend and the Walker. Benny had already drawn the hammer back on his weapon by the time he could stop himself. He kept his pistol pointed upwards towards the ceiling but with a tight grip, ready to use it if necessary. He glared at N with wide eyes, shooting Judy a confused glance every few seconds.

 

“What…” he began slowly, “...on earth are you doing with a Walker in my house, Judy?”

 

“Put the gun down, Benny. He’s not going to hurt anyone,” Judy reassured him.

 

Clawhauser looked at her like she confessed to hating cream-filled donuts. “Are you nuts?!”

 

Judy took a careful step forward, keeping her eyes on Benjamin’s gun. His finger was off the trigger, but his grip was tight and practiced. “Benny, I know this looks crazy, but I swear that he isn’t dangerous.”

 

The cheetah balked. “ He? ! Jude, he’s a Walker! How much of that blood is even his?!” 

 

“Easy, big guy,” Kris said and patted his hip with one paw calmly. 

 

Benny glanced at the otter in disbelief before staring back at N. “Kris, don’t tell me you’re in on this too!”

 

“Actually, it w-wwas all… her idea,” N pointed out.

 

Clawahuser’s mouth fell open in shock. The subtle shaking of his paws abruptly stopped, and his eyes widened. Slowly, Benny lowered the aim of his pistol down to the ground as he gaped at his guest like a toddler at a magic show.

 

“Did that Walker just speak?” Benny whispered.

 

Judy took a deep breath and ventured a few more steps towards her stunned friend. She placed a paw on the pistol and looked up at him patiently. “Benny, this is my friend N.”

 

“Friend?” Benny shot a confused glance between the two of them. He pointed at N with a wavering finger. “You’re Judy’s friend?”

 

“N-nah,” N shrugged. “She just likes me f–for my body.” Kris snorted in laughter at N’s remark, earning her an unimpressed look from Judy.

 

“And now he’s making jokes…and flirting with Judy…” Benny said, still gaping at N. “Kris, did you slip drugs into my coffee this morning?"

 

“Nope, but good guess,” Kris admitted. 

 

Judy softly pulled the pistol from Clawhauser’s paw, softly laying it on the floor and hitting the safety switch. “Benny, this Walker saved my life back in Zootopia.”

 

Benny finally looked away from N and down at Judy. “Really?”

 

“Yeah. Many times, actually. How do you think I survived all that time amongst Walkers?”

 

Benny shook his head. “Y’know Judy, I was hoping you’d tell me that story, but I can’t say I’m thrilled about how it ends with a monster in my living room…I mean Walker…sorry.”

 

“It’s o–okay, Spots…” N said reassuringly. “Th-thanks for not shooting m–me.”

 

Clawhauser raised an eyebrow at his new guest. While he still didn’t look completely comfortable, per se, the soldier did drop his guard a bit. He picked up the pistol and, after reassuring Judy everything was fine, he placed it back underneath the table by the door. 

 

“We should probably hide him before the cook gets back,” Benny whispered to Judy.

 

“It’s actually your boyfriend that we’re here to see,” Kris said with a smile. “Where is he anyway?”

 

Right on cue, the group heard another door open from the kitchen. They heard a mammal sigh and keys jingle as whoever it was set something down and stretched his back. 

 

“Heya big guy. I’m back!” a low voice with a thick country drawl called out. “I managed to sneak two Twinkies from the supply cache! Not sure why we’re so eager to protect these, they’ll go bad next year.”

 

Clawhauser sounded less confident. “Uhhh…. Hey hon, we’ve got guests.” 

 

“Guests? What about that movie y’all wanted to watch so bad?”

 

A relatively large fox stepped into the living room from the kitchen. He had a dark patch of fur at the top of his head, and his deep blue eyes matched the stripes on his plaid shirt. His belly was a little round, but it would be a stretch to call him fat. He wore a white apron that was powdered with flour and stains that smelled of spices and oils. He walked in the room and gave a welcome smile to familiar faces. “W-well heya Judy! Hi Kris. Can’t say I was expectin’ y’all tonight, but y-you’re welcome to supper if y’all want.”

 

Benny bumbled about a little as he hesitantly pointed towards N. “Gid, uhh. We’ve got one more as well.”

 

To everyone’s surprise, N stretched out a paw and offered a genuine smile. “Call m–me ‘N’. Everyone...else does.”

 

Instinct seemed to kick in and the larger fox took the paw and shook it heartily. “Pleasure. I’m Gideon, though most folk just call me–WOAH!” 

 

Gideon reeled back, withdrawing his paw and gasping at N with his paws splayed out before him. N could tell from his encounter with the Cheetah that speaking seemed to ease the tension with newcomers. It was a strange situation to be in for the Walker, considering he had been desperate to connect with anyone a few days earlier. But this was his opportunity to practice those social skills he knew he had. So, with all the clarity and suaveness he could muster, N did what he longed to do for years now: he broke the ice.

 

 “I kn-know, yeah. Don’t wor–worry, I’m only dead on…the outside.”




Chapter Text

It took a little less than an hour to recall the whole story to Benny and Gideon. Thankfully, they had been patient and quiet while they sat through the entire story. N had to admit that if he were in their position, he might have called the troops on him regardless of how well Judy could explain things. He was a Walker, after all. 

 

N stood two paces behind Judy as she spared no details about everything that led up to this moment. Gideon and Benny sat quietly on their couch and listened intently, having forgotten all about their plans for a movie-night. Occasionally they’d guffaw or gasp at the more surprising turns in the story, but here were other times that N saw the cheetah smile ear to ear like a giddy little kit. The sight made him smirk.

 

I can’t believe I was scared of this big softy. I mean, at first glance the guy is built like a weapon, but now I’m getting the feeling he is more likely to break into song and dance rather than blow my brains out. Gid, on the other paw, that’s a guy who’s more likely to stiff me. He keeps shooting glances at me like I’m wearing a tutu or something. I bet ‘the cook’ is good with a kitchen knife too. But he does seem to trust Judy well enough so... maybe this’ll work?

 

“... that’s when he showed up in the garden,” Judy continued, nearly finished with the story. “We snuck him into the burrow for a bit, but we couldn’t keep him there.”

 

Gideon nodded and gestured to N from the sofa. “Well yer darn right y’all couldn’t keep him next to Stewart Hopps. That’s like keepin’ a lame buffalo in a lake full’a sharks––it’d just be a matter of time.”

 

N rolled his eyes. “Thank y–you for keeping my mind at… at ease.”

 

“Ah, uhh… sorry.” Gid sheepishly rubbed the back of his head and looked at the ground. “I take it y’all brought him straight here?”

 

“Yup.” N saw Kris take a step forward and felt her slug his hip with the back of her paw lightly. “I figured if anyone was gonna have some fox-sized clothes lying around, it’d be you, Gid. Plus, the best place to keep him safe from the military is the last place they would check: in one of their own homes.”

 

N looked over to Judy, who was trying her hardest to vouch for him despite the circumstances. The look of pleading concern on her face as she told their story was endearing to watch. He really believed that she was scared for him, and it made his chest ache a little. Odd, he thought. The ache was not as bad as it had been before… or had he just gotten used to it? Had he started to like it? 

 

He continued to watch patiently as Judy finished the story. “Guys, I’m so sorry to spring this on you, but we really need your help. Anyone else would kill him, and this could be the first real step towards ending the deadrising in nearly a decade. Please…”

 

N turned to look at their two hosts, both of whom looked at eachother with furtive glances. Neither one looked eager to speak first, but Benny made the jump and gave his boyfriend a pitiful frown. “Gid, we have to help them.”

 

Gid sighed and frowned further. “Benny, If we’re discovered hiding a Walker in the walls, we’ll both lose our posts. Hell, they might even lock us up.” His thick drawl was more plane when he spoke to his partner.

 

Benny nodded solemnly. “I know, but this isn’t sneaking twinkies from the inventory. This is a matter of life and death… well, death and a worse kind of death I guess.”

 

“Arghh…” Gideon stood and rubbed the back of his head pensively, before shooting a considerate glance at Judy. He approached her and shook his head in doubt as he walked. His rounder belly looked more pronounced from the side, but he still felt like the authority in the room with his stature. “Jude, I know you take promises seriously. I need your word that you’ll do what you can to keep Benny from sleepin’ behind bars. If this goes south, you’ll get your dad to let him off?”

 

Benny crossed his arms. “Gid, I can take care of myse–”

 

Gideon raised a finger, cutting Benny off. “Your word, Judy.”

 

N saw Judy stand up a little taller. “Gideon, I’ll do everything I can to keep you both safe. If this goes wrong, this is on me. I promise.” Gideon leaned down and extended a paw, which Judy accepted and shook with intention and gravity. 

 

He nodded and let her hand go before peering over at N. The Walker suddenly felt a little smaller than usual when the larger fox approached him and glared at him with all the seriousness he would have expected from the soldier in the room. Much to everyone’s surprise, Gideon offered his paw to N openly just as he had to Judy. “I want your word too, Walker. I want to hear you swear that you won’t lay a finger on anyone while you’re in the walls.”



N glanced at Judy, who seemed a little nervous about the gesture but nodded all the same. Gideon’s figure was stocky and imposing, especially compared to N’s slender frame. It wasn’t a hard thing to promise since he didn’t have any intent on eating anyone anyway, but the possibility of having his bones crushed by the larger fox suddenly felt very possible.



Standing as tall as he could, N reached a shaky paw forward and shook Gideon’s firmly. “I pr...promise. No one gets hurt.”



Gideon squeezed his paw heartily and shook it back, jostling N a bit as he did so. Turning back to Judy, he offered a wry smile. “Y’all can stay the night.”



“Woohoo!” Clawhauser sprang up from the sofa and rushed over to Gideon and wrapped him in a thick hug from behind. “Thanks Giddy.” A grateful kiss smacked his forehead.


The fox laughed and pushed the larger predator off of him. “Easy there big guy, we’ve got company over.”



“So what should we do with him first?” Kris asked. The look she was giving N made him more than a little nervous.



Clawhauser looked at her a little confused. “Don’t you guys think he can clean himself up?”



Gideon shook his head and spoke softly to Benny. “With how shaky his paw was just now, I don’t reckon he could even hold a loofah.”



“That’s a good point. He could use a shower,” Judy said with a shrug. “Maybe a full-on bath?”



Benny sized the Walker up and placed a paw under his chin thoughtfully, his finger thumping on his chin.  “We’ll need a new set of duds. I think Gid’s got some older clothes upstairs that would fit nicely.”



“His teeth could use a brush’ too,” Kris suggested.



Judy agreed with a nod. “We’re gonna need the world’s toughest fur-brush. Maybe a little musk mask?... hmm, maybe a lot of musk-mask.”



Why are they all getting closer? N backed away from the crowd that was slowly beginning to approach him. His eyes nervously widened as he shook his head anxiously. Judy’s devilish smile widened as she nodded at him eagerly.



“First things first!” Benny said and walked over towards the TV. He picked up a short gangly cable that connected the TV’s speakers up to a mobile phone. “We need some music goin!”



This got Kris excited. The otter hopped up onto Benny’s shoulder and peered down at his collection as he scrolled through options. “Ooh! Put on ‘Pretty Wombat’. That’ll be funny.”



That was a step too far for N. “No!” he groaned. “Anything but Rockabilly.”



Kris smiled and tapped Benny’s shoulder. “Guess Judy wasn’t kidding about his taste in music.”



“Here’s something newer.” Benny clicked play on the phone and set it down on the counter. “Just a little something to perk everyone up a little.”



A bright pop-ish tune from just before the deadrising began to play through the speakers. It was peppy and fun, but not anything N had heard before. It only took a few seconds before Kris and Benny began dancing and singing along. It reminded him a bit of when Judy played one of his records back at his warehouse. These goofballs are Judy’s crew, alright.



“Come on,” Judy said softly, placing a paw on his sleeve and tugging him along. “Gid, do you have enough water for a full bath?”



He nodded but winced in concern. “Yeah, but it won’t be warm.”


“That won’t be a p-problem.” N followed her up the stairs and into Gideon’s bedroom, the larger fox following shortly behind. Their steps muffled by the comfortable carpet lining the stairs and hallway floors. N noticed just how much cleaner a typical house was here amongst the living than anything he was used to back in the city.



“Alright then, I’ll get the bath goin’.” Gideon disappeared behind a door opposite the bed where the sound of squeaking faucets and rushing water drowned out the music downstairs.



Judy put a paw to her mouth and called out to Gideon from the bedroom. “Get that tub as bubbly as you can, Gid.”



“Yes’um. Y’all owe me some of the nice soap for this!” he hailed back.



Judy opened up Gideon’s closet with a hop. The alcove was tall for a rabbit and hosted a modest collection of button-up shirts and trousers. There were a few clean aprons that he probably used for work hanging on a hook on the door.



Judy nodded with satisfaction. “We can work with this,” she said and turned to face N. “Take off your shirt.”



N yipped. “W—what?”



“Your hoodie and t-shirt, N. Off they go.”



In any other context, he would have quipped at her—something along the lines of Dinner and a movie first, Carrots , most likely. But in the moment, he could not hide his timidity as he looked at the floor. “Are you sure?”



“N, I’ve had to take care of so many younger siblings that getting a kit clean is basically my second job.”



He frowned. “I’m nn-not a kit, Carrots.”



She rolled her eyes at him. “Then stop being a baby and ditch the rotten clothes!”



“Fine!” he barked and hesitantly tugged at the zipper of his hoodie. It didn’t budge, and his shaky paws were having a hard time grasping the little metal handle. Judy stepped a little closer and shook her head.



“That zipper is busted. Hang on.” Judy went to the bedside table and opened the drawer. She rifled through the contents for a moment and tossed the useless items onto the bed; a book, a few pencils, and a military-issue .9mm sidearm. After another moment of digging, she pulled out a sizable knife that looked weighted to throw. She drew the blade with a click and motioned for N to come closer.



N gulped. “Please be c-careful.”



Judy smiled again. “You of all mammals should know how good I am with a knife.” With one smooth motion, she hopped up and swiped the blade down his hoodie along the side of the zipper. N felt the cloth give way and open up easily. Judy quickly folded the knife back up and helped him shuffle the ancient blood-stained garment off of his shoulders. He grasped at the moldy white t-shirt and shuffled it over his neck, getting stuck for a moment. Judy tugged at the shirt as well and helped him get it off.



Once his chest was bare, Judy rolled up his rotten clothes and tossed them aside. Her eyes only glanced at him, but then N saw her do a double-take and with her eyebrows raised. 

 


“Where’s the wound?” she wondered aloud.



“The wha—Carrots!” he stumbled as Judy stepped closer and began rifling through the fur on his chest. She used her fingers to comb through areas near his sternum and was way closer than she had ever gotten before. N’s chest ached again, and he could have sworn he felt her breath on his skin, though it was probably just his imagination again. She continued diligently combing through his fur, oblivious to his nerves shaking to life. 

 

She shook her head in disbelief while she searched. “From the hospital…”

 

The knife , he remembered. She had tossed one into his chest when they first met. He had pulled it out like it was nothing, but there had been a red mark on his hoodie ever since. The wound should have been seeping and clear as day, but despite her invasive prodding, she seemed to have trouble finding it. After digging around a little longer, she struck gold.



“Oh my god.” Judy’s breath caught in her chest. “N, it’s healing!”

 


N gasped and pawed at the fur on his chest. “Ww-what?”



“It’s red and it’s clotted, and probably needs stitches but it’s getting better!” Judy looked at him with wide hopeful eyes. He pawed at his sternum, finding the spot she had found and let his finger wander over the coarse surface of clotted blood. His paw landed on hers. She did not recoil, instead she ran her thumb over his paw tenderly. She laughed a little, looking at him square in the eye. She was so close now. “N... ” she whispered.



“Woah! We interrupting something here?” Kris was standing at the door to the bedroom with Benny following closely behind. He was carrying a smaller speaker system and singing along to the pop tune they had been playing downstairs. Judy’s ears stiffened and she leapt back a few paces from N bashfully.



“Kris! Don’t scare me like that,” Judy spat. “Benny, you said you had some clothes ideas, right?”



“Yes I do, little bunny. Let’s see…” Benny made his way past N and began digging through his boyfriend’s collection of button-down shirts. N saw a flurry of blue and white plaid as Gideon’s simple clothing was tossed along the hangers. He pulled out a few samples and held them up against N’s bare chest to test out their fit. “What are we thinking, ladies? This farm-friendly plaid? Or maybe this polo shirt for the city-slicker?”



Judy shook her head at both options. “Both of those are too big, Benny. Do you have anything from when Gideon was a little younger?”



Gideon called out from the bathroom again as the tub continued to fill up. “Y’all callin’ me fat in there?”



Benny called back reassuringly with a smile. “More of you to love! Where’d you put those older shirts?”



Gideon groaned and called back out. “Try the box in the back!”



“Oooh good call,” Benny agreed. He got down on his paws and knees, rustling through a few boxes underneath a pile of dirty clothes. Eventually, he pulled out a ratty cardboard box and began pulling out shirts. “Here we go… No… uh-uh… these undies should work… nope… these pants should be good too… eww no!... maybe this red shirt?”



Judy nodded and gave it a quick glance. “Looks like it’s the right size. N, come here and try…what’s that?”



N had silently picked up one of the shirts that Benny had tossed aside. He held it in his paws and idly turned it over observing the fabric. It was a light-green color with some darker green prints of palm trees all over. It had short sleeves and a big pocket on one side. It was a little tacky, and not exactly climate-appropriate for the colder months. But despite all of that, something about it struck N as oddly comforting.

 


“Aww not that one sweety.” Kris scoffed and yanked it out of his paws. He made a motion to grab it back for a moment before he looked dejectedly at the wall and rubbed his shoulder. He wasn’t exactly the authority on fashion right now so perhaps it would be best to leave this to the living.

To his surprise, Judy walked over and scooped the shirt back up. “Let’s go with this one.”



Kris shook her head. “Jude, he’ll stick out like a sore thumb.”



She shrugged her friend off and handed the shirt back to N with a reassuring smile on her face. “We need to get him a coat or a sweater to cover up in the cold anyway, so we might as well give him something Gideon’s not gonna miss. Besides, he should wear what he wants.”



He took the cloth in his paws and ran a wayward paw over it. “Thanks C—Carrots.”



“Why is he calling you ‘Carrots’?” Gideon walked back into the bedroom and wiped soapy bathwater from his paws on his trousers. “Y’all picking that shirt, really? My Auntie got that while we were on vacation in West Pawm Beach. Always thought it was the silliest thing.”



“He seems to like it well enough,” Benny said with a shrug. “It’ll probably fit the best we can get anyway. The bath is all set to go?”



Gideon clapped his paws and smiled. “Yessir indeed. Let’s wash the death off of him.”



Judy got behind N and pushed him towards the bathroom. He was initially hesitant, but the sight of the bath calmed his nerves a little. The bubbles were stacked nearly as tall as he was. There were towels lined up and a handheld fur-dryer plugged into the wall by the sink.



“Please tell me he won’t need help dropping trow,” Kris murmured.



N rolled his eyes. “I can handle th—that much.”



Kris chuckled. “Good. I don’t want to imagine what 8 years of undead ball-stank looks like.”

 

Well isn’t she just a ray of sunshine.



“Kris,” Judy scolded. “Don’t be mean. N, we’ll give you a minute. Let us know when you’re in the tub.”

 

***



They all waited at the door, giving N a little privacy. Judy turned to her otter-friend and crossed her arms over her chest. “I wish you wouldn’t make fun of him when he’s clearly not comfortable.”



Kris shrugged. “I poke fun at everyone. I don’t want to seem disingenuous to a host in the Burrows, right? Besides, you’re the one who was making googly-eyes at his chest when I walked in. How am I not supposed to hop on that opportunity?”



“First off, I was not making ‘googly-eyes’ at him, and secondly—“



“—WHA-AH!” N cried out from the bathroom.



Judy rushed to the door with her ear pressed against the wood. “N! You okay?”

 

“C—C… cold,” he muttered, his voice extra shaky.



Gideon’s eyebrows shot up and he gaped down at Judy. “Did that Walker just complain about bein’ cold?”



Judy nodded and turned back to her friends. “I told you guys, this is real. He said other Walkers are changing too.”



“Are we sure he’s really a zombie and not just a homeless guy?” Kris suggested.



Gideon put a thoughtful paw to his chin. “Maybe this is what all city-folk were like back in the day.”



“Hey!” Benny scowled.



Gideon rolled his eyes and playfully pushed at Benny’s chest. “You were a cop, Spots. That’s different.”



Ignoring the antics of her friends, Judy politely knocked on the door and cracked it open. “You okay in here?”

 

“I’m dead–...yeah I’m fine,” came N’s shaky response. 

 

She nodded and offered softly, “You need some help?”

 

A moment of silence between them. “...What about the… the 8 year old ball-stank?”

 

She rolled her eyes. “Ignore Kris’s teasing. We’re here to help.”

 

There was a moment of silence between them where Judy caught the sounds of lightly splashing water and the squeak of paws against porcelain. “Come on in.”

 

Judy felt a shove at her back as Kris nudged her forward, tossing the door open. “Well let’s get busy!” N kept his back towards the door at first, but it only took a few moments for Kris to hop up onto the tub and draw a loofah on a stick like it was a weapon. She turned him around and started digging the scrubber into the fur on his back. 

 

The boys followed in behind her. Benny rolled his sleeves up and grabbed a sponge, getting some soap and lathering it in nicely before working it over his tail. He continued to hum the pop-tune to himself as he scrubbed. 

 

Judy sighed at her friend’s boldness and jumped up onto the bath’s ledge. Thankfully the bubbles were enough to keep him modest enough given the circumstances. She rolled up her sleeves and worked a little shampoo into her paws before working into the fur on N’s arm.

 

Gideon watched with his arms folded as the rest of them scrubbed the Walker. “Y’all owe me shampoo on your next scouting mission.”

 

“We owe you more than that, Gideon,” Judy assured him. 

 

Judy saw the orange of his fur begin to clear up as years of grime and dirt began to wash away from his body. The bath water she did see got a little murky. It was a satisfying sight to watch his features begin to brighten as the room began to fill with the scent of wet-canine. She turned his arm over, noticing something odd: there was a small patch of bare skin exposed under his paw no bigger than the tip of her nose.

 

“Hey N, you’re missing a spot of fur on your wrist,” she mentioned in passing. N’s eyes widened and he quickly withdrew his paw, nearly throwing Judy off her balance. He inspected the spot on his wrist closely, ignoring the protests of Kris and Benny. His reaction made her worry. “Is everything okay, N?”

 

“Mmm?... oh yes… mmmust have ha–happened a long t–time ago.” He gave a weak smile, offering his arm back to Judy. She could tell that there was more to it than that. His stuttering usually came back when he was nervous or hiding something. 

 

Before she could respond, Kris brought the loofah down and whapped him on the snoot. “Quit your twitching and turn around. I need to get your belly.”

 

They continued to scrub him clean for a few more minutes before allowing him some more privacy to finish up and dry off a bit. When they came back into the bathroom, he had a towel wrapped around his waist as best he could and his fur was matted from the bathwater. Kris walked in and began barking orders like a commanding officer. 

 

“Alright boys, you two are tall so grab some brushes and start workin’ on his back and head. I’ll grab the fur-drier and get to work. Judy, see what you can do about his teeth.”

 

“Who died and made you zombie-cleaner in charge?” Benny snarked.

 

“I’m the medical professional in the room, Benjamin, so basically all of Zootopia.”

 

Gideon and Benny both got to work with thick brushes working down his fur on either side, the fox grunting lightly whenever he got to a particularly troublesome spot. Kris turned the drier on full-blast and dried off his tail before moving to his back. All the while, N wore a look of resigned discomfort on his face as his personal space invaded so thoroughly. Judy found a toothbrush and quickly got it wet in the sink.

 

“You mind if we use this, Gid?” 

 

He shrugged and waved her off. “I’ve got an extra. Y’all can just throw that one out when you’re done.”

 

“He should keep it,” Benny suggested. “From our home to yours, N.” Kris laughed at his faux display of generosity, but Judy caught N’s expression of genuine gratitude as he eyed the red plastic brush in Judy’s paw. 

 

“What is it?” she asked, though she had some idea. 

 

“Nn...Nothing really. J-just never had one before,” he said softly. 

 

“What?” Kris asked jokingly. “A toothbrush?”

 

“A gift,” he said simply. 

 

Judy smiled wide and rubbed his snout affectionately. She turned to wet the brush and lather on some toothpaste liberally before tapping his nose again. “Okay, let’s see those teeth.”

 

Benny popped up from his brushing near N’s neck and looked at Judy with concern on his face. “Wait, Judy. Is it a good idea for you to get too close to his teeth? Shouldn’t you use gloves or something? I know he’s a good guy and all but what if… what if he… by accident I mean? He’s still pretty shaky.”

 

Judy waved him off as she got a heaping load of toothpaste onto the brush that was a bit too big for her paws. “He’ll be fine, Benny. Right N?”

 

N’s eyes widened and he nodded his head eagerly.

 

“Okay then, open up.”

 

He did, and Judy got to work. His mouth was certainly in a state, but Judy was surprised with just how easily most of the grime began to scrub away. He was missing a tooth towards the front, and his breath was pretty grim, but she dug the brush in and smiled as her effort slowly began to work. As the others continued their work, Judy began to wonder if perhaps it was overkill. After all, all they needed to do was get him passable as a living mammal, and he had made it through the walls thus far. But she could not deny a certain satisfaction with taking something the deadrising had tarnished and making it new again, even if just on the surface. Perhaps she couldn’t breathe life back into him, but she could at least make him seem a little less dead.

 

“How’re you feeling?” she asked idly.

 

With his maw still open, he simply raised a paw and lifted his thumb up for her. 

 

They finished up and set his clothes on the counter before letting him alone once again. Judy waited with her friends, sitting patiently on the foot of the bed with her legs crossed. Kris and Benny had picked another song from his speakers and began working out a dance routine for it. Gideon took the opportunity to sit down beside her and speak in a hushed tone.

 

“So what’s the plan now? Y’all gonna march him to the Ward and show him to the doc?”

 

“Pretty much,” Judy admitted. “We’ll probably wait till morning and have Kris tell him about it first before we risk bringing N across town.”

 

“But what then?” he asked.  “Say the doc is able to figure out what’s going on with him, your Pa is gonna hear about this sooner or later.”

 

Judy nodded and ran her paw over her ears. “I know. I’m not sure how, but we need to convince him and everyone else that N is not a danger to anyone.” 

 

Gideon shook his head. “I know y’all are right, but this is Stewart Hopps we’re talking about here. With how much he’s lost, I don’t think he’ll ever see that boy as anything but a monster.”

 

Judy splayed her paws gently. “He was a reasonable guy once. If we can get Ramic to vouch for him, I think we will make it work.”

 

Gideon got quieter and looked over towards the bathroom door.“... and if we don’t?”

 

Judy frowned and looked at the floor. “We will. We have to try.”

 

Judy felt her friend place a reassuring paw on her shoulder lightly. “Tryin’ has always been what you’re best at, Jude,” he said with a smile.

 

She smiled back, but before she could get another word in, Benny pointed towards the bathroom door. “Here he comes!” Judy looked up and saw N make his way into the bedroom.

 

His fur was now a brilliant shade of orange, even brighter than Gideon’s. It was darker along his limbs, but it lightened towards his center where it changed to a creamy color on his chest that reminded her of a carrot dipped in custard. His clothes fit him nicely enough, but what really drew her attention was just how naturally charming he was. He had this endearing smile on his face that demonstrated his wit without coming across as arrogant. The only things that gave away his condition now were his broken speech and slitted eyes. She could barely tell that he was a Walker by looking at him. In fact, she had to admit that he actually did look rather–

 

“Hot!” Kris shouted and gave him a whistle. 

 

“Wow,” Benny exclaimed. “You look totally different!”

 

Gideon nodded and rose to his feet, gesturing at N’s clothes. “How’s it feel?” 

 

N looked down at himself observing his new clothes and idly running a wayward paw through the fur on his neck. “It’s… I feel… fluffy.”

 

Kris rolled her eyes at the fox. “That’s what fur is supposed to feel like. Good to know you feel something though. It’s really a shame we didn’t go with the red shirt. He’d look like a dashing Eweropean bartender, don’t you think so Judy...? Judy…. Hey Jude!”

 

Judy jumped a little as her friend shook her shoulder lightly. “What? Oh! Yeah I guess.” She knew her friends would be giving each other furtive looks, but she decided to ignore them and take a closer look at N. She hopped off the bed and folded her arms across her chest, wearing a confident smile. “I’d say you look alive enough to me.”

 

He smiled back at her. “Don’t s-sugar coat it, give it to me straight.”

 

“No sugar here, Slick. You look good.”

 

“...Think dad ww–will app...approve?” he asked. 

 

Judy frowned. “Probably not, but at least we could probably walk you by him without him noticing now.”

 

“Do yy–you approve?”

 

Judy raised an eyebrow and gave him one more thorough up-and-down. “Definitely.”

 

“You guys are just too cute,” Kris said with a sigh. 

 

Judy felt the urge to chide her friend for describing her as ‘cute’ even though she knew full-well how she felt about that word. Before she could, however, a loud and sudden knock came from the front door downstairs. Gideon and Benny both jumped a little and looked towards the staircase that led to the front door. They looked at each other silently with concerned glances while Benny quickly paused the music player. 

 

Judy spoke in a low whisper. “Were you guys expecting anyone else?”

 

“No,” Benny said softly and quietly made his way towards the bedroom door. The cheetah was both fast and silent on the carpeted floor and the mood in the room turned tense as guards went up.

 

“Y’all stay put a minute,” Gideon said and followed the cheetah down the stairs. Judy and the other’s stood by the door and kept very still. She kept her ears tall and pointed down the staircase waiting for more sound. Another loud knock came at the door, this time more panicked.

 

“Hello?” Someone called from outside. “Is anyone home?... I’m looking for Judy Hopps!”

 

Judy’s eyes widened, shooting a glance at Kris and N. “Why would someone look for me here?”

 

Kris could only shrugg in response. They waited for Benny to answer the door. 

 

“Who’s there? Y’all know what time it is?” Gideon called out angrily. 

 

The voice responded loudly and it sounded out of breath. “It’s Ramic… from the ward… Please, I need to find Judy!” 

 

All three of them looked at each other with astonished faces. Judy pointed to the ground and mouthed the words stay here to N before turning and practically leaping down the stairs. Gideon was waiting at the door with his paw on the locks, looking at her with a confused glance. She shook her head in confusion too.

 

Gideon cleared his throat. “Why do y’all think Ms. Hopps is here?”

 

“I know she’s friends with Kris…. And they’re both friends with Corporal Clawhauser” He was still gasping for air. “They weren’t at the Hopp’s burrow, and they weren’t at Kris’s either… please, you have to tell me if she’s here. It’s important!”

 

Gideon glanced through the peep-hole in his door. He knew well enough that at this range, Judy’s hearing could pick up the slightest whisper. He’s alone, Gideon mouthed to her. She nodded and stepped out of the way. Benny waited behind the door as well as the door swung open. 

 

Judy saw a familiar Kangaroo from earlier. He was doubled over, using the post on the deck of Gideon’s house for support. He still wore his lab coat and glasses as well. He immediately saw Judy and his eyes widened. 

 

“Judy!” he called out with a relieved sigh. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

 

“I heard. Why are you looking for me, Doctor Ramic?”

 

He continued gasping. “Not… a doctor… whew, can I come inside please?”

 

“Of course,” Gideon said and bid him through the door, closing it behind the tired kangaroo. 

 

The scientist wasted no time and began rifling through his lab coat. Standing between Benny, Gideon, and Judy, he looked tall but rather too lanky to be a threat. Plus, given her time with him, she knew he wouldn’t be like this without good reason. He eventually pulled something out of his pockets and showed it to everyone in the room. “You gave me this earlier.”

 

“The recorder?” Judy was surprised. She had handed over her pack with all the medicine in it, forgetting that the small recording device she’d found in Zootopia was still inside. “Did you listen to it?”

 

“Yeah. That’s why I’ve been looking for you. I need to know where you found this.”

 

Judy thought back to a few days earlier. “At the hospital, in one of the labs on the windowsill.”

 

“Zootopia General?” he asked eagerly.

 

“Yeah.”

 

Gideon raised his paws, begging them to slow down. “Hang on a minute. What recording are we talkin’ bout here?”

 

“Yeah! I don’t remember this thing.” Kris popped out from around Judy’s shoulder and snatched the recording device out of her paws. Judy glared at her, shooting a concerned glance towards the stairs to make sure N hadn’t followed her down too. Kris ignored her friend and hit the play button on the device. 

 

The speakers were small on the device, so everyone around leaned in a little closer to hear more clearly. 

 

“March 6th…. This outbreak is tearing the city apart. The government has declared martial law, but the police are overrun and packs of monsters are attacking citizens in the streets. I can’t even tell who is alive out there anymore.” 

 

There was a scream in the distance in the recording. Judy could recall hearing all of this during her second night in the warehouse with N. Back then it had made her bones chill as she slept alone in the warehouse office. Now that Ramic had taken such keen interest in it, it concerned her even more.

 

“They’re moving all hospital staff out of the city,” the voice continued. “I think they’re gonna give up on Zootopia and try to get us out to the surrounding neighborhoods. Those idiots in City Hall, if they had just been honest from the start and let me finish my—” 

 

“Doctor! We need to leave, the hospital is almost overrun,” another voice urged.

 

“I’ll be right there!” the first voice answered. “I haven’t given up yet. There’s got to be an explanation for this. The mayor has provided me with a grant to continue my research in the hopes of finding out what the epidemic is, but he really seems convinced it’s Armageddon just like everyone else. If you’re hearing this, we’re still trying.”

 

“Honey!!” the second voice called out again.

 

“Let’s get to Cliffside, go!” More cries and snarls from what must have been Walkers approaching. Judy pulled the recording out of Kris’s paws and hit stop. Kris’s face hardened and her expression grew dark. 

 

Benny pointed at the recorder. “You’re absolutely sure you got this at Zootopia General?”

 

“Yeah,” she recalled and looked at Kris. “right before that Savage mouse attacked us, remember?”

 

Kris nodded, turning to Ramic. “Do you recognize who that was?”

 

The room turned to the Kangaroo, who looked back at all of them with a somber expression. He nodded his head slowly. “That was Dr. Honey DeFleur. She was an epidemiologist in Zootopia. I used to study under her during my rotations before the deadrising.”

 

Judy frowned. “I’m sorry you had to hear that, Ramic. This was recorded during the deadrising, so I’m afraid there’s little chance she survived.”

 

Ramic shook his head and knelt down to look at Judy a little closer to eye-level. “After Zootopia fell, I heard a rumor about a lab that was still trying to find a cure, one that was funded by the government and had actually made progress.

 

Judy’s ears perked up a little taller. “What kind of progress?”

 

“I don’t know. I wrote it off as a fantasy to help the kids sleep at night because no one knew where this lab was. It’s been eight years, so I gave up hope that it even existed until I heard this,” Ramic explained, gesturing to the recorder.

 

Benny stepped in. “Do you know where she went?”

 

Ramic nodded. “I think so. Honey told me once that there was a mental ward outside the city that would make the perfect research facility in a bioterrorism scenario thanks to its isolation from the city and it’s built-in security. It was called the ‘Cliffside Asylum’, and if Honey got a grant to set up shop there, then the idea that she made progress suddenly sounds a lot more realistic.”

 

Kris folded her arms over her chest. “Doc, if they found a cure, don’t you think we would have heard by now?”

 

Ramic shrugged. “Maybe they had to abandon it. Maybe they got killed by Walkers. I’m not sure, but if they made any amount of progress, Honey would have kept track of it. As you can see, she documented everything she did.”

 

Judy put a paw to her chin, her foot gently tapping thoughtfully. “So there’s a chance that Dr. DeFleur made progress at this secret location. But what do you need me for?”

 

He turned to her and pleaded. “I need you to help convince your dad to send a scouting mission out there.”

 

Judy began to see what he had in mind. There’s no way they’d let one of the only medically-trained mammals in the Burrows risk doing something like that. But what the Burrows lacked in medicine it made up for in firepower. While she was stuck in the city, her father nearly sent an entire platoon into town as a rescue party. If they could get that same kind of mission to go wherever this ‘cliffside’ place was, then maybe they could dig up whatever Honey had left behind. But Stu Hopps would not take a risk like that lightly. 

 

Benny sat on the sofa and scratched the back of his head. He had a reason to feel nervous––a risky scouting party into uncharted territory was his line of work. “Say we can get there. What do you think we’ll find?”

 

The not-a-doctor shook his head. “I’m not sure. Even if it’s just some notes or records like this one, anything that’s there could be useful. If they collected any samples or perhaps even developed a few vaccine trials, I could use that to continue the research here!” Ramic was starting to get excited. 

 

“We don’t exactly have state-of-the-art contagion labs here, Doc,” Kris said skeptically. 

 

“We can make due with what we have in equipment,” he argued. “It’s the development that might cause us some problems. It’s not like we have any willing subjects volunteering for a treatment trial.” The whole room got very quiet as Judy, Kris, Gideon and Benny all looked at eachother with wide eyes. Gideon’s mouth even fell open as they gaped at each other. Ramic was a little lost. “What?”

 

Judy stepped forward and looked at the kangaroo very seriously. “Ramic, what I’m about to show you needs to be kept absolutely secret.”

 

His expression darkend. “What’s going on?”

 

“There’s a reason I was able to spend three nights in the city and make it back alive.”

“Where you bitten?!” he gasped. 

 

“No. I... I made a friend.”

 

His eyes darted between her and the others. “What does that mean, ‘friend’? What are you talking about?”

 

There was no real way to explain it without showing him. Judy sighed and turned towards the staircase, putting her paw up to her cheek and calling out loudly. “Come on downstairs N.” There were a few moments of silence in the group. Ramic’s ears twisted in a few directions as he scanned for any noise from upstairs. “It’s alright. You can come down.”

 

She heard soft footsteps, and Ramic clearly did too. He watched with a mixture of curiosity and profound confusion as a fox he would not recognize slowly made his way down the stairs. She smiled at N, who looked nervously between her and the stranger. She nodded her head and gestured for him to step closer. As soon as he did, Ramic’s mouth dropped in shock. 

 

“Oh my god…” he breathed. “Is that what I think it is?”

 

He ...” Judy said pointedly, “...is my friend from the city. His name is ‘N’––like the letter––and he saved my life more than once. He kept me safe and followed me all the way out here to the burrows.”

 

N fidgetted uncomfortably. 

 

“What’s up… doc?” he muttered. 

 

Ramic literally hopped backwards and yelped. “He talks!”

 

Judy rushed forward to calm him down. “He does more than that, Ramic. He can feel things too. He smiles and jokes and sleeps and gets cold in the rain–”

 

“––Hold on, hold on!” Ramic said and shushed her. “Is he dangerous?”

 

“Not anymore,” N assured him. “I’m trying out vv–veganism.”

 

Ramic’s eyebrow raised up a little. “Huh. He does joke.”

 

N’s expression grew more anxious as Ramic stepped closer. The kangaroo observed both of N’s eyes carefully before taking a hold of his wrist and squeezing it. He tapped N’s nose with his finger. “He’s got no pulse, his nose is dry and…” Ramic snapped his fingers next to both of his ears, “... no reflexes. I’ve seen warm bodies with more signs of life than him.”

 

“But smell him!” Kris said with an excited tap of her tail. “He doesn’t smell rotten at all!”

 

“How long have you been dead?” Ramic asked him. 

 

N shrugged. “A few years at l–least.” 

 

“Is all this new?”

 

N’s brow furrowed. “All… all what?” 

 

“This!” Ramic spat incredulously and gestured to all of N from ears to tail. “The joking and the feeling cold and the sleeping. Oh yeah, and veganism!”

 

N shrugged again. “It’s new. I guess since….” 

 

Judy stepped in and finished his thought. “Since he met me. He saved me in that hospital and kept me safe in the city. He even helped me escape.”

 

“But we’re sure he was a brain-eating monster before, right?” Ramic asked. 

 

Judy decided it best to leave out the details, since she knew it would be awkward to bring up just whom he had eaten prior to meeting her. The word spreading around that he’d eaten one of their neighbors would certainly make it harder for the Burrows to see him as friendly. Plus, Ramic didn’t have to know details like that, afterall.

 

Kris, however, had other ideas. “He totally ate Jack!” 

 

“Goddammit Kris!” Judy spat.

 

“He did!?” Benny gasped. 

 

Gideon smirked. “Hmm. I knew I liked you for a reason.”

 

“Oh….” Ramic said and took a short step back in reflex. “Was uhh… was this before or after you met?”

 

“Ughhh…” Judy groaned, “before.”

 

“Kinda during, really,” Kris continued. 

 

Ramic ran his paw over the back of his head. “So let’s get this clear. A typical brain-eating Walker bumps into Judy Hopps and suddenly stops eating brains and starts becoming more and more like the living, is that about right?”

 

“Isn’t it sweet?” Kris said with a smile. “I mean, in an eff’d-up kind of way, but it’s better than any of my relationships.”

 

“It’s incredible… it’s unbelievable… he could have some kind of immunity?”

 

N stepped forward with his paws splayed outward, speaking calmly. “There are more.”

 

Ramic’s mouth fell open. “More?”

 

“More ww...Walkers. More who feel… who remember.”

 

Ramic’s gaze hardened. He stepped closer and clapped a paw on N’s shoulder. “N, you and I have so much to talk about.”

 

N nodded. “Ww...what about the… the lab?”

 

“N has a point,” Judy said. “Whatever’s going on with the Walkers right now, the answer could be at Cliffside.”

 

“You’re right,” Ramic said and looked back to Judy. “We have to show him to your father.”

 

Gideon held his paws up as if calling for a time-out.  “Okay, y’all lost me right there. It doesn’t matter what he can say or how much we can dress him up. As soon as Stu Hopps discovers there’s a Walker in the walls, he’ll send every last soldier to hunt him down. And he won’t be satisfied with a body, Jude. He’ll burn him.”

 

Judy scowled and placed a paw on N’s arm reassuringly. “We’ve got Ramic’s support now. If we can introduce them––show him that he’s not a danger to anyone––then he’ll come around. He used to think fox’s were all thieves and thugs once, but he’s not shy about having you over for dinner now.”

 

“This isn’t the same, Judy,” Benny said with a frown. “He thought predators were bad back when he didn’t know any. But he knows what Walkers are capable of, and what can happen if there’s even one within the walls. He’s seen it all first hand.”

 

“I know, Benny. So have I….” Judy sadly looked at the floor. “If I can change my mind, maybe he can as well.”

 

Gideon looked at her skeptically. “N’s hide depends on you pulling that off, Jude.”

 

“I can do it,” she said confidently.

 

“We have to try,” Ramic said. “This could be the first turning point since the deadrising. It’s too important.”

 

Kris stepped next to Judy and placed a reassuring paw on her shoulder. “Why don’t we let the Walker decide? After all, we won’t be able to do shit without him.”

 

She had a point. Judy nodded and turned to N. “That’s true. N, what do you think we should do?”

 

He looked down at her, his slitted eyes meeting hers. One of his paws rose up and scratched at his chest for a moment. He smiled at her, his eyes dropping into a sly smirk that was starting to grow familiar to her––like a new set of clothes that were starting to break in. 

 

“You can do it.”

 

Something strange occured to Judy just then. She thought back to her younger days before the deadrising, how mammals used to scoff at everything she did. When she volunteered to fight the Walkers, she was met with even more disapproving groans from everyone she knew. Even her friends voiced their concern with what she was capable of. She remembered feeling like all the mammals who ever really believed in her were dead.

 

Funny , she thought. I guess I was right. 

Chapter Text

The lights were still out at the Hopp’s compound. The hallways were empty and the windows were so dark one might not notice the bars around them. Stuart Hopps quietly sat in his study jotting down notes by candlelight. He was likely writing something about supplies or areas in the wall that needed maintenance. His face was studious and focused, but also weary and aged. The bags beneath his eyes hung naturally, as if he hadn’t gotten a decent night’s sleep in eight years. 

Through a crack in his door, Judy’s eyes fell on the shotgun that lay in a stand within arms reach on the desk. While her father was never an outright violent mammal, years of tragedy and loss had changed his mind about keeping weapons close by at all times. She had seen what that kind of gun could do to a Walker at close range, and the memory made her want to reach out for N’s paw. 

She glanced behind her at her companions. Kris and Ramic were both quietly shuffling closer and looking at her with focused faces. N was backed against the wall trying to hold as silent as possible. His eyes were wired shut, as if he were a toddler hoping to become invisible. She reached out and gripped his paw for a moment. She smiled at him encouragingly. He breathed a little easier and brought his other paw atop hers. While N struggled with speech, she was grateful they could speak through body language so easily now. The growing warmth from his paws reminded her of why this was so important. 

Judy turned back to the door and knocked lightly twice. 

“Come on in,” her father answered patiently. 

Judy disappeared into the study, leaving the door hanging open just a crack. Her father looked up to her with a warm smile that still held the same relief he had worn when he first saw her return from Zootopia. “Hey dad.”

“Hey Jude the dude,” he said fondly. “Everything alright?”

“Of course! Everything’s fine.” Judy’s nerves spiked a little.

Her father, as always, saw right through her. “Then why did your guest wait outside?” She could only stutter in reply. He laughed and gestured to his ears. “These things haven’t broken yet. I’m guessing it’s Kris?”

Kris’s voice rang out from behind her. “You got me. Mr. Hopps has still got it.” Judy turned to find her friend approaching them wearing a relaxed look on her face with her paws up, pretending to surrender.

“A-ha! I knew something was up. Nothing happens in these walls without me knowing.”

Judy sighed and turned back to her father. “Okay Dad, yes. There’s something we need to talk to you about.”

Stu Hopps closed his book and removed his reading glasses. “Judy, we just got you back. So whatever mission or search-party idea you have, can’t it wait? It’s not even morning yet!”

Judy had to give him credit––He knew her well.  “Dad, it’s about what I found in the city.”

He smiled excitedly. “I know hun! That medicine is going to help us so much, and I am darned proud of you for––”

 “––It’s something else,” she stopped him.

His brow furrowed. “What?”

“This.” Judy pulled out Doctor Defleur’s recorder and hit play. The room was otherwise silent as they all listened along to the recording in its entirety. They listened about the deadrising, the state of the city, and the doctor’s hasty evacuation to somewhere called ‘cliffside’. When the recording finished playing, the room remained silent for a moment. 

Mr. Hopps thoughtfully drummed his finger on the surface of his desk, scratching his chin. After a moment of contemplation, he sighed.  “Hun, that recording is eight years old.”

Kris spoke up. “The Doc says he knew her.”

“Did he? Well I’m sorry for his loss.”

Judy spoke up a little more firmly. “He also says there’s a chance she made progress out at this ‘cliffside’ place.”

Mr. Hopp’s voice turned cold. “Judith, I am not letting you go out there to search for a cure that doesn’t exist.”

“But dad, we’ve got real proof that things could be bett––”

“––I don’t need to tell you what happens to the Hopps who go out there looking for a cure. I am not letting you go out there again. I made that mistake already and I almost lost you for it.”

Kris piped in with a shrug, “Well, she made it out, didn’t she?”

“Krystal Otterton, another word from you and I’ll ask you to leave.” Mr. Hopps was starting to run out of patience in his voice. It was replaced with a commanding tone that reminded her of hearing him speak during mission briefings to his soldiers.

“You don’t have to send me, Dad,” she said calmly. Perhaps he’d respond better to a compromise. “Send a scouting troop out there to safely fetch whatever they can find. Even if there’s no cure, there still could be other resources.”

Stu rose from his desk and marched to where Judy was standing. “Absolutely not.”

“What? Why?” 

“Because I am done sending mammals to their deaths, Judy. After that haul of medicine you pulled, and with the food and supplies still in our stocks, we might have enough to sustain ourselves for the next decade! Wasting lives and resources on a whim like that could take that away.”

Judy stepped forward, her paws splayed. “But we have proof!”

He shook his head sadly. “I’m done talking about this. A recording from eight years ago is hardly enough proof to suggest there’s a cure for death.”

“I’m not talking about the recording,” Judy said coldly. She noticed Kris’s eyes widen, and she gave her a short nod. Kris moved behind her father and sat on his desk, keeping her eyes trained on the door. Judy breathed in slowly and turned towards the study door.  “N?”

N timidly stepped out from behind the door and stepped into the room. Mr. Hopps eyes fell on N immediately and studied him closely. His brow furrowed and his mouth closed into a skeptical pout. 

“Who are you?”

Judy took another careful step towards her father, cutting off the space between him and N. “This is my friend. He’s the reason I made it out of the city.”

“A survivor?” Mr. Hopps looked astonished. “Why wasn’t I told? Has he been checked?”

N tried to speak, but words struggled to form from his mouth. The Walker kept his eyes towards the floor.  “Mmmm–mmm,” he moaned.

Mr. Hopp’s expression darkend. A suspicious scowl grew on his face. “What is your name?”

Judy tried to speak up. “His name is––”

“––I asked him,” Mr. Hopps said coldly, pointing at N with a threatening finger. “What is your name?”

N squinted and grunted as he forced his whole being into answering his simple question.

“Nnnn… NNnnnni––”

“You’re a Walker?” Mr. Hopps stood before N nearly a foot shorter, yet the way N recoiled away from him made him seem like an ant by comparison.

“Yeah. I… I am,” N muttured.

Mr. Hopp’s face contorted in fury. He turned on his heel and reached towards his desk where he left his shotgun. Kris was already there on his desk with the weapon in her paws. She had taken out the shells and shoved them in her pocket. The bunny grunted and swiveled back around, glaring needles into N. 

In a smooth practiced motion, Stu reached behind his denim jacket and pulled out a small pistol. He cocked it back and trained it on N.

“DAD! Stop!” Judy leapt between them with her paws up. N cowered behind her with his paws on her shoulders. 

Her father instinctively took his finger off of the trigger and raised the tip towards the ceiling. His expression changed from fury to something else––something she’d seen only a few times. He was both shocked and heartbroken, like he’d learned the Hopps cemetery had grown by one. “Judith…. Youbrought it here? Inside the walls? Into our home?”

Judy stepped forward with her palms splayed. Her voice was shaky. “Dad, listen to me. He isn’t dangerous.”

His voice was quieter now, as if he wasn’t addressing anyone. “Your brothers and sisters are asleep down the hall… and you brought that thing in here?” 

He wasn’t hearing her. She had to snap him out of it. “He’s not going to hurt anyone! Look at him! Do Walkers show fear like that?”

N stuttured behind her. “Th-thanks for the vote of confidence, Carrots.”

Stu’s lip quivered and he stepped closer. “He’s a monster, Judy. The same kind of monster that killed your mother. The same monsters your brothers and sisters turned into––monsters that I had put in the ground!”

“Dad, you’re not hearing me.”

His lips hardened. “Move aside, Judy.”

“No!” She stood tall with her ears covering N’s face. 

“One…”

“I’m not moving, Dad.”

“Two…”

Kris cried out. “Mr. Hopps, stop it!” 

“Three––”

A whizzing sound followed by a smack split the air. Mr. Hopps hissed and grasped at something in his neck. He wavered for a moment, his pistol falling to the floor. He braced himself at the edge of the desk for another second before he collapsed on the floor with a thud. 

Judy gasped and clung to her motionless father. “Dad!?”

“He’s alright,” Ramic said, stepping into view from the doorway. He was holding a small plastic gun in his hand. It had a cartridge of compressed air in it that he swapped out for another before loading a second dart inside. He gestured to the weapon. “Standard issue police tranq. He’ll be out through most of the day, and he’ll have a killer headache when he wakes up, but he’ll be fine.”

N turned to the kangaroo and sighed in relief. “Th–thanks doc.”

“Don’t mention it. I had the feeling he might not be so reasonable.”

Judy rolled her father over onto his back. She was fighting back tears as she gripped his paw with hers tenderly. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry.”

“What’s the plan now?” Kris asked, placing the shotgun back onto the counter. 

Judy grabbed a pillow from a nearby chair and gently lifted her father’s head and slid it under him. She stood and looked away from his limp form, wiping her eye with the back of her paw. She turned and gazed at N with fiery determination. “Plan B.”

Ramic pouted. “What’s plan B?”

“We do this ourselves. Doc, I need you to go outside and get Benny to prep a recon kit for me. Radio, food, water, navigation, scent-mask, the works. I’ll need you to circle on the map where Cliffside is. And would you mind if I took that tranq-pistol? It might come in handy.”

Ramic handed it over. “Sure…. Wait, you’re going alone?”

Kris stepped forward with her paws on her hips. “Like hell she is.”

“You sure about this Kris? It’ll be dangerous.”

Kris smiled devilishly. “You promise? Don’t tease me if you’re not gonna please me.”

Judy nodded and turned back to Ramic. “Tell Benny and Gideon to meet us at the main gate.”

“Alright. I hope you know what you’re doing.” Ramic turned and quietly left.

Judy turned to her fox partner, but he looked dejectedly at the floor. “N?”

He gestured to her father on the floor. “I’m ss–sorry about your Dad.”

Judy shook her head. “Oh no, N. I’m sorry I pulled you into this. I wanted to believe he would come around, but if I can’t get him to help us, then we’ll have to do this on our own.”

He turned towards her and frowned. “I do–don’t want to come between you and… and your family.”

She shook her head. “This is bigger than us, N. If there’s even a chance there might be a cure, we have to try.”

N nodded and placed his paw on her shoulder. “I’m with you, Carrots. But we ne–need to hhh...hurry.”

She stopped and looked at him more closely. “Why?”

He rubbed his shoulder idly and frowned at her. “Sss...Savages.”

Kris crossed her arms over her chest. “What about them?”

N seemed to ponder something for a moment before gesturing out the window and speaking coldly. “Savages… will start leaving the c––city soon.”

Judy’s eyes widened. “What? Why? Are they getting better too?”

He dropped his paw and shook his head. “N-no. They smelled my fff...my friend… the fox Walker. They had to leave.”

“Wait,” Kris interjected. “The Savages are going after the Walkers now?”

Judy realized what he meant. If he was growing more and more like the living, he might smell living enough for one of those monsters to hunt him. And if other Walkers were turning too, they couldn’t stay in Zootopia. That meant it was only a matter of time before the Savages started to venture outside of the city. Since they’re all blind, they’d follow their noses, and that would only lead them to one place. 

“We need to grab some stuff from my room,” Judy decided.

Kris gave a little fist-pump. “Yes! Time to pack the real heat. Are we bringing Gretta?”

She nodded. “Yes, we’re bringing Gretta.”

“Wh-who’s Gretta?” N asked timidly. 

Kris smiled and gave N a spooky look. “Your worst nightmare.”

“Follow me.” Judy quietly led them out of the office and back through the halls of the Hopps compound. Having spent so much of her life in these halls, she had no trouble finding her way through the darkness. N’s vision in the night was likely better than hers, but she held onto his paw to guide him anyway. Her sleeping brothers and sister remained none the wiser to what was happening just outside their doors. It was for the best. 

She snuck him and Kris into her bedroom and turned the lights on. N groaned behind her at the sudden brightness. Digging out a set of clothes out of her dresser that were more appropriate for a fight, she slipped into the bathroom and quickly changed. A tight polyester shirt beneath a windbreaker jacket was much more nimble than her casual clothes, and the leggings would keep her fast. She emerged from the bathroom and ushered N to follow her to the closet. 

She wasted no time opening up her closet and drawing back a curtain that hid her own little armory. It boasted a row of pistols, two pump-action shotguns, a few repellants for various mammal types, one mid-sized grenade, and a whole rack of throwing knives. 

N stared at the display with his mouth hung open. “Holy shit, Carrots.”

Kris smirked. “What? You thought she got this good by practicing with a beebee gun?”

Judy grabbed both shotguns and tossed one to Kris, who caught it and slung it over her shoulder. She held the other one out to N. He balked and shook his head vigorously. 

“I can’t sh–shoot that thing.”

“I’m not asking you to,” She explained. “Do you think you can carry it over your shoulder for me?”

He breathed in relief. “Oh. Y–yeah, okay.”

“Thanks.”

He took the weapon from her, eyeing it curiously. “Am I j–just your gun squire nn...now? What are you carrying?”

“This.” Judy turned and dug out a large black case from further in her closet. She heaved it onto the bed, unclipped the bindings, and opened it up. “N, meet Gretta.”

“Woah...” he whispered.

Gretta was Judy’s weapon of choice: A modified high-powered bolt-action rifle with a suppressed barrel and additional ground-supports to absorb recoil. It was nearly as tall as she was. When a scouting party first discovered it out in the hill country, Judy’s father decided that the weapon should belong to whoever could shoot it best. They held a tournament on the wall and all the best sharpshooters in town gave it their best effort. Judy won by putting a round through a broomstick at 300 yards. She affectionately named it after one of her favorite bands from before the deadrising; Gretta Ram Fleet. 

Kris slugged N on his shoulder. “You’re lucky we were prepped for close-quarters when we met in the city. If Judy brought Gretta, you would never have gotten close.”

Judy slugged the rifle over her shoulder and emptied a box of rounds into her coat pocket. “Let’s be thankful that didn’t happen.”

Judy heard the sound of a truck rolling up outside. Kris quietly crept over to the balcony and peaked outside. “It’s Benny and Gideon.” 

“Time to go.” Judy packed a scent mask, a bottle of water, and the grenade into her outer pockets and turned back to the door. The three of them snuck back through the dark hallways and made their way outside where Benjamin and Gideon were waiting beside an idling military truck. 

Benny greeted them with a dissapointed look. “Didn’t go well?”

Judy shook her head. “We’re doing this on our own.”

“I heard,” Benny muttered and flattened his ears. 

Ramic got out from the back seat and motioned for both of them to get inside the truck. “I’ve drawn out your route. You should be able to get there in about eight hours, if the roads are clear.” 

Judy nodded and offered her paw out to the Kangaroo. “Thank you for your help, Doc.”

He smiled and wagged his finger at her. “I’m not a doctor, Judy. But you’re welcome.” 

She smiled back at him and nodded her head back towards her house. “Would you mind staying here with my father to make sure he’s okay. When he wakes up, he won’t understand.”

Ramic nodded. “I’ll do my best, Judy. Good luck. And N?”

The Walker leaned stepped closer. “Mm?”

“Don’t die again.”

N scoffed. “No pr-–promises.”

Gideon slapped the side of the truck and beckoned them closer. “Let’s get moving before he wakes up.”

Judy and N waved goodbye to Ramic and hopped into Benny’s truck. They shared the front seat that was about two sizes too big for either of them. Benny drove them all down towards the front gate where the massive walls of Zootopia opened up to the world. 

Benny slapped a bag resting beside him. “I brought the recon kit. Where are we headed?”

Gideon’s brow hardened and he looked at the cheetah in astonishment. “Hangon a second. ‘We’?”

Benny turned to him with an urgent look. “Gid, I’m a scout. They’ll need my help for this.”

He growled. “Ain’t no way y’all are deserting the force to go die miles from home!” 

Kris rolled her eyes as she pumped rounds into her shotgun. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Gid.”

“Oh drop it, Otterton,” he cursed. “Only two of y’all came back from the last search party. The only reason I was convinced a’you bein’ a scout at all was because you promised never to go near any Walkers.”

Benny shrugged and gestured to N. “Well, Walkers aren’t that bad anymore.”

Gideon wasn’t convinced. “Even if y’all make it back, you’ll be locked up as soon as you do!” The larger fox turned to Judy, his eyes lit with worry. “Jude, you promised to keep Benny safe.”

Judy looked between the two of them for a moment. She had no intention of going back on her promise, but she needed Benny to help them get out of the Burrows safely. The first guard mammal that caught them at the front gates would seal them inside the walls and they’d never get the truck outside. Suddenly, Judy remembered how she got back from Zootopia at all, and hatched a plan. “I’ll keep my promise Gideon. Nothing will happen to Benny or you.” 

Gideon did not seem the least bit reassured with her answer, but before he could protest, they arrived at the gates. Benny parked the truck near the gates and shut it down. They each got out and snuck around to avoid being seen by any guardsmammals on the wall. Benny spoke in hushed whispers, gesturing to a nearby staircase. 


“Okay, so I’ll sneak up the wall and start the gate turning. Once I do, we’ll sneak out to the garage on the other side of the wall and pick up my scout-car.”

Gideon grasped at Benny’s paw and pulled him closer. “I’m beggin’ ya, big guy. Please, just don’t go. We’ve helped Jude as much as we can.”

Benny smiled at Gideon. Leaning over, he planted a gentle kiss on Gideon’s forehead and ruffled his ear affectionately. “It’ll be alright, bigger guy. We’ll find a cure, save the world, and you can finally quit cooking rations and start up that pastry shop you told me about.”

“Benny….” Gideon squeezed on his paw a little more. 

The cheetah continued to smile at him. “And when you do, you’ll get me fatter than you ever were.”

Judy ruffled through one of her pockets and pulled out the police tranq that Ramic had leant her, keeping her gaze focused on the wall. She turned and tapped Benny on the shoulder, cutting off their tender moment. “Hey Benny, is that van I drove in still there on the other side of the wall?”

The cheetah turned and scratched his head. “Ummm, yeah I think so. Never got around to gutting it cause you still have the key. Why?”

Judy sighed in relief. “Oh good. That makes this easier.”

Judy cocked the tranq and fired. The gun hissed as compressed air flung the tranquilizer dart directly into Benny’s thigh. The cheetah yelped in pain. 

“AH! Judy! What the heee–….” Benny’s voice trailed off and his body slunk downward. Gideon caught him by his torso as his body became motionless in his paws. 

Gideon glared at Judy in shock. “Jude, what the hell are you doin?”

“Keeping my promise, Gid.” Judy tossed the empty tranq pistol on the ground at Benny’s feet. “He’ll be fine. When he wakes up, the other patrol members will think we darted him while sneaking out. This way, no one knows you both helped us.”

Gideon balked. He looked at his boyfriend with a mixture of concern and relief. Benny was sound asleep in his arms. “Jude I …. thank you, Judy. But what are you gonna do now? Benjamin was the only one of you three big enough to drive his patrol car.”

“We’ll take the van I drove in on.” Judy lifted the recon-kit over her other shoulder opposite Gretta.

“What about getting through the wall?” Kris asked. “Benny was the only one who knows how the gate works.”

“There are rope-ladders on the top of the wall for emergencies. We’ll sneak down one of those and get to the van,” Judy explained before turning to N. “You think you can climb down one of those?”

He shrugged. “I could try my falling trick again.”

“Let’s hope we don’t need to do that.” Judy turned back to the truck to see Gideon laying Benny down onto the ground with care. “Tell him thank you for us, will you?”

“A’course, Jude. I-I just wanna say good luck out there. I hope y’all find what you’re lookin for.”

Judy nodded and waved goodbye to her friend. She turned back to N and Kris, both of whom looked ready to move. They snuck closer to the staircase that led to the top of the wall. There were a few flashlights roaming on either side of the gate where patrollers marched along the wall. 

As silently as they could with all their gear, they crept along the stairs and up to the top of the wall. They waited a moment as the nearest guard walked further away and out of earshot. When the coast was clear, they moved along the wall in search of one of the emergency ladders. 

The wall’s metal surface was cold on her feet. After moving along a little further, Judy stumbled into a group of stacked planks, each held together by a pair of ropes. The ladders were  different sizes to accommodate different mammals that might need to escape the pursuit of a Walker on a moment's notice. Judy found one their size and anchored it into a nearby hook. The metal clips snapped together satisfyingly on the wall. 

“Ready?” she asked both of her companions. 

“Born ready,” Kris answered. 

“Dead,” N reminded her.

“Okay.” Judy tossed the ladder over the wall and it unraveled down to the ground. “N, you go first.”

“It’s better than th–the rrr...roller coaster.” He grunted as he lifted himself over the edge of the wall. It took a moment for him to find his footing, but he slowly found a rhythm and began to climb down. Judy’s shotgun was still strapped over his shoulder. 

Judy went next, following him over the ledge. The wall was deceivingly high. She was in part grateful for the cover of darkness to keep them from being seen, but it also felt ominous as she lowered herself down into a dark void below. 

A frantic voice cut through the silence like an explosion. “Hey! Stop right there!”

“Shit,” Kris cursed. Judy looked up at her with panic in her eyes. “Move it!”

Judy started climbing down faster until she was practically just above N, but he couldn’t move as fast as she could. She looked back up to Kris, who was just kicking her legs out over the edge of the wall and onto the step ladder. 

Just then, a hoof from a large bull lunged downward and snagged Kris by the arm. “Gotchya!”

“Kris!” Judy cried out. 

Kris swiveled herself around and swiped her tail at her assailant. It whipped across the bull’s face with a slap, and for a moment she was able to wriggle free. But the guardsmammal quickly regained his footing and grasped Kris by the torso. The ladder shook and swayed as Kris hung onto the rope with all her strength. 

“Go!” she cried out to both of them.

“Not without you!” Judy called out. The guard was calling for help, and soon more flashlights began to approach their location. 

“Just go!” Kris was able to hold on for only another moment before the guard’s massive hoof yanked her back up and over the ledge. 

“Come on!” N said, his voice anxious as more guardsmammals approached. 

“Alright. Go!” Judy and N began moving back down the ladder. The grounds lit up beside them as searchlights trained in on their location. The light was blinding and white, and her eyes strained to adjust. 

Judy saw the same hoof reach down and grab hold of the rope ladder. Both she and the fox began slowly rising away from the ground again as the larger mammal began to pull them back up. Judy felt paws wrap around her waist. 

“Let go!” N cried out. At N’s instruction, Judy let both her paws release from the rope ladder and they both fell backwards. They tumbled in free fall for just a moment before they collided with the ground hard. Judy got the wind knocked out of her, but N took most of the impact for her. His arms stayed wrapped around her for a second and she clutched to his shirt as she fought for breath. She groaned and got up, clutching her belly.

“N! You …*gasp*... you okay?”

“Arghh,” he grunted. “That one hurt.”

“We gotta move! If they know you’re a Walker, they’ll start firing.”

N struggled for a moment, but managed to get to his feet. Judy held onto the straps on her shoulders with one paw and grasped N’s paw with the other. There was shouting and alarm bells going off as more searchlights followed them across the ground. Before long, they came across a familiar van and quickly got inside. 

N groaned again. “Please t–tell me there’s gas.” 

“There’s gas.” Judy pulled the key out of her pocket and started the engine. It turned for a moment, but failed to start. “Come on!” She tried again, and again it turned but the engine refused to light up. 

“Exit the van with your paws up!” They brought a loudspeaker up and were booming orders from atop the wall.

“We gotta move!” N shrieked.

“I’m trying!” Judy turned the key once more, blipping her foot on the gas pedal once to give it some throttle. Finally, the van sputtered to life and coughed a few times. “Yes!” 

She put the van in gear and quickly turned it around. Judy half expected to hear gunfire from behind them. To any guardsmammal, there could be anything going on right now. But no shots came. Instead, the searchlights followed them along the road and gradually grew dimmer and dimmer as they finally put some distance between them and the walls. Judy turned to N, who was gazing out the window behind them.

“Are we clear?” she asked.

N shouted over the wind. “I think so.”

She huffed heavy breaths and clutched the wheel with her focus trained on the roadway. “It’ll take a while to get a car on the other side of the gate, and that’s assuming they would even chase after us at all. I don’t think they will without my father’s orders, and he’s out till morning so I think we’re okay.” 

Judy took a deep breath through her nose and squeezed the steering wheel. Trying her best to concentrate and calm her heart rate down, she thought about the Walkers leaving the city, and about the Savages that would eventually follow. If a cure was even remotely possible, she had to take it as an absolute certainty. Still, she couldn’t help but think back to those she’d left behind.

Kris would undoubtedly be reprimanded for helping Judy and N escape. She hoped Kris wasn’t hurt, but the larger mammals can be accidentally rough with smaller mammals. Plus, Kris had a tendency to fight when she shouldn’t. Then there was also poor Benny. He would be heartbroken when he woke up, but at least he was safe in Gideon’s paws. Ramic might get in trouble too, but there was little anyone would be willing to do to the only qualified medical professional in the walls, even her father. 

Her thoughts turned to her dad. The look on his face when he discovered she’d brought a Walker into the house…. There was no diplomacy or mutual understanding to be kept after that. When this was all over, she would do her best to make things right by him, even if he didn’t want to see her again. But if she had to make a choice between following his orders and saving N again, she would make the same choice.

She glanced over to N who kept his head out the window, gazing back at the Burrows they left behind. The crisp wind ruffled through his now-cleaned fur. The button-up green shirt he was wearing fluttered against his slim frame. Gideon was right about one thing: if they had been caught, her father would have burned him. The thought was too terrible to tolerate. 

He rolled up the window and sat quietly beside her. They could see the smallest spark of sunrise creeping over the horizon as they drove east. Judy would eventually need to find a spot to rest, but for now, she would keep driving and be thankful that no one had died that night.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw N fidget with the bald spot on his wrist. “Is everything alright, N?”

“...Mm? Y–yeah, fine. I’m just ww–worried about your friends.”

She smiled at his concern. “They’ll be fine. Dad will be angry, but he won’t do anything bad to them. I owe them so much after tonight.”

“You and m–me both. I like your fr–friends. Even the otter.”

Judy smirked. “I bet you’re at least a little relieved she’s not here to tease you any more.”

He nodded. “More than you know.”

Something about this fox could make her smile even the most harrowing moments. Her life was certainly simpler before she had met him. There were still a few near-death encounters from time to time––those were unavoidable these days––but there was always this tension Judy felt in the world around her. She was determined to make the world a better place because she hated what the world had transformed into. But now, Judy found she actually preferred the danger and uncertainty when he was around. The world was still broken, yet she found more reasons to enjoy it for a change. 

“Thank you,” N said softly.

N’s gratitude caught her by surprise. “For what?”

N gestured over his shoulder towards the burrows they left behind. “When your dad pulled that gun. You s–saved me. Thank you.”

She smiled. “Just returning the favor. I guess we can call us even now.”

“Is that what you’d call us?”

Judy glanced over to him, expecting some kind of smirk or cheeky grin, but instead he was gazing at her with a trepid expression. That same longing from back when they had first met was in his eyes again. She looked back at the road. “I um…. I guess so. What would you call us?”

N didn’t answer. Instead, he laced his fingers with hers and gripped her paw. 

Judy’s eyes widened. Her focused gaze remained locked on the dark road ahead of them. Her paw remained frozen and open in his. She could see him looking at her in her periphery, waiting patiently for her to reply. Leave it to N, who can barely speak a single sentence at a time, to find a way to say everything without uttering a single word. His paw felt familiar and comforting in hers. Her chest felt light. Suddenly, the dark and broken road they drove on didn’t seem so imposing. 

She closed her fingers around his, and squeezed.



Chapter Text

The sun was up higher now, but the overcast skies kept everything dark and humid. Thanks to the shattered driver-side window of their van, morning dew had accumulated on the tips of N’s fur. The van rattled every now and again as they rolled over mounds of turf that had grown through cracks in the road. N would occasionally steal a glance over to Judy to make sure she was still asleep in the passenger seat. She was, and she was adorable.

About an hour after they had escaped Bunny Burrow they had to stop to siphon gas from some broken down cars, during which N had offered to give driving a try. His technique was a little shaky at first. He had once panicked and stomped on the brakes which practically sent them both flying into the dashboard. But after a little practice, N found he could get the van moving along smoothly enough, as long as he took it slowly. He swerved around the abandoned cars and rusted roadway signs as gradually as he could too keep Judy from getting car sick. It wasn’t long afterwards that his driving had rocked her to sleep, leaving him alone with the road and his thoughts. 

Okay now, down on the brake nice and easy… boom! Check this shit out! I keep my fur clean, I dress sharp, I drive safely, AND I don’t eat brains! How d’you like me now, Mr. Hopps? 

N smiled in self-satisfaction. He’d come a long way from the limping mumbling ball of dirt that lived in a warehouse. He was chatting! He was debating, arguing, counterpointing, jesting, and occasionally snarking. He didn’t smell repulsive anymore, and his clothes were clean, even if they were a little gaudy. Despite that, he liked them all the same. And to top it all off, Judy had held his paw yesterday! It hadn’t been the first time, but the other occasions had all been in situations of mortal danger. He was still a little unsure of what it meant for him and for her, but it was vaguely positive and it spurred him further. After everything he’d been through with Judy, N was done being shy. After all, he didn’t have time to hide things anymore. 

N lifted up his paw and gazed down at the bald spot on his wrist. How long had it been there? Was it fresh? Was it growing? The exposed flesh was bright and coarse, unlike the skin around it. The spot was very small, nigh unnoticeable. But it was there, and N could barely think about anything else.

Just a little longer, body. Don’t go Savage on me now. 

He glanced back down at the map, eyeing the route Judy had instructed him to follow. The journey had begun with them headed back towards the city, but eventually they turned northbound along a winding road up the mountains. N took it slowly to save on gas and keep from crashing, which had the added benefit of giving her more time to get some rest. They turned up another road that was completely devoid of any cars at all. Strangely, N felt like the map wasn’t so necessary any more. 

“Mmmmmm.” Judy stirred beside him. “We there yet?”

“I think.... I think so,” N said softly. Judy wiped her eyes and sat up taller in the passenger seat to get a better view of the road. 

“How can you tell?”

“I don’t know…” N’s paws moved the wheel on their own now. Most of his focus was on why on earth the road felt so familiar to him. 

“Mmmm,” Judy groaned and stretched her arms up wide. N heard a few joints crackle in the process, likely due to sleeping in the passenger seat. “How long have I been out?”

“Umm…” N checked the clock on the dashboard. “About 5 hours?”

“Really?” She sounded surprised. “We must be very close then. Hard to see through all these trees.”

“I hope so,” N muttered and gave the dials on the dash a flick with his claw. “We’re about down to a ha...half a tank. We’ll need to get there soon if w-we want to make it all the way back––”

“––Stop!” Judy hissed. N startled a little, and the van veered to one side before he remembered the brake was on the left and he stopped the van suddenly. Judy’s equipment in the van tumbled about with a loud clatter behind them.

“What?” N whispered back. Judy just kept a finger up to her mouth and pointed up the road. N strained to see what she was pointing at under the dim grey sky. Eventually he saw a vague silhouette of a large metal gate through the trees, like the entrance to a grand manor. In front of the gate stood a Savage canine of some kind. It held very still, and its sickly white skin was draped over its bones as if there was nothing but a thin layer of flesh over a skeleton. Since it still hadn’t moved, it was probably unaware of their presence.

“Think there's more?” Judy asked quietly. 

N nodded. “It’s a canine. There’s never o–only one. But it’s hard to know how many are close by.”

“Hmmm…” Judy pondered, taking a quick peek at the map. “Cliffside is just ahead, so we can’t go around him. I could make easy work of this one with Gretta, but it’d be better not to alert the others.”

“We should d–draw them out,” N suggested. 

“How?”

N shrugged. “Savages eat anything that moves, or makes noise, or sm–smells good.”

“You were a brain-eater, N. What would grab your attention?”

N squinted, looking out closer towards the motionless Savage. The woods around them were dark. Far in the distance, he could hear the vague rumble of water cutting through the air. “Noise. Noise and lights…”

“Oh!” Judy perked up and quickly dug through the recon-kit that Benny had prepared for her. After a moment of rifling through the various equipment, she pulled out a red stick about the size of one of her ears. It had a plastic cap on one end and a few warning stickers along the side. 

“What’s that?” N asked.

Judy twisted it in her paw. “A road flair. It fizzes loudly and spouts this bright red light that you can see for miles. Think this’ll work?”

N nodded with enthusiasm. “Yeah!” 

“Alright,” she said with a nod. “Let’s get closer. I need to get within throwing distance.”

N shook his head. “They’ll smell you if you get that close.”

 “I’ve got musk-mask.” Judy waved him off.

“We don’t know where the others are. Besides, you should save that for later.”

Judy cocked an eyebrow at him. “What then?”

N looked back out the windshield and looked at the large grotesque canine. “What happens after we draw them out?”

Judy reached behind her and pulled out her absurdly-large miniature cannon she treated like a pet. “I’ll drop them before they hear me coming.”

N remembered just how good she was with a gun. She made quick work with the air-rifle carnival game back at his warehouse, and she made it look easy. Plus, that gun looked like it could bring down a Savage bear, though hopefully they wouldn’t be that unlucky. But right now, the Savages had no idea she was here, and he preferred to keep it that way if he could. 

“Give m–me the flair. I’ll light it up and draw them out.”

Judy balked. “Wait, you’re just gonna walk out there?”

N gestured to himself vaguely. “S–Savages don’t eat Walkers.”

The rabbit frowned. “Right, but they’re not exactly friendly to them either, right? Remember what you said about them forcing your friend out of the city?”

“I’ll b...I’ll be fine if I mind my own business,” N assured her. 

Judy pouted and shook her head. “I’m not exactly excited about the idea of you playing Furrasic Park with these monsters. What if they get nasty?”

N motioned towards her rifle. “I trust you.”

Judy gazed thoughtfully at him for a moment, then back at the road. Given their current predicament, this really was their best option. “Be careful okay?”

N swallowed a chuckle. “I’m m–more careful than you are, Carrots.”

“Are not!”

“Y...yeah? Remember the roller co–oaster?”

Judy pouted again. “...Alright touché.”

She quickly showed him how to light the flare and handed it over to him. He quietly got out of the van and gave her a thumbs-up. She nodded from the passenger side and started loading rounds into her rifle. N walked towards the gate at what he considered a normal pace––which for a walker meant as slow as the dead. 

Weird. After spending all this time around living mammals, I kinda forgot how I used to walk. Feels like all I ever do around Carrots is run. Did I limp? Yeah, I think so. I snarled too… yeah, that’s good. Kinda wish Judy’s friends hadn’t cleaned me up so well right now. I look weird without blood all over me. No biggie, just your typical Walker wandering aimlessly through the woods looking for some cranium-cake. I’m no different than any other dead fox….Oh shit, he’s a lot bigger up close. 

The Savage was definitely a wolf at one point. Its long snout and foggy eyes drooped down towards the broken pavement. It did not seem the least bit bothered by N’s presence, now that he was close. N guessed it probably hadn’t eaten anything in a long time. Perhaps this is what Savages looked like when they began to wither away. 

He looked up at the large and imposing gate separating him from their destination. It had a massive sign that read “Cliffside” in ornate letters above what was once a beautifully crafted entry way. The woods on either side of him were quiet and motionless, though they would not be for long. 

N pulled the plastic cap off the flair and ignited it just like Judy had instructed him. It made a loud pop followed by a series of crackles as a blinding-red flame sputtered from the tip. It hissed in his paw as he waved it around. The wolf Savage next to him immediately took notice and snarled, its vile teeth now exposed. N waved the flare around, and the Savage followed it closely as it swayed back and forth. 

N heard another growl from beside him and saw another wolf Savage emerge from the trees. This one had patches of brown fur along its body, and some remnants of clothing on its legs. It crept towards him menacingly, keeping its eyes on the flare. N nearly jumped when a third Savage howled from the tree line. Its cries echoed through the trees, summoning a fourth Savage wolf. Then a Savage cow of some kind emerged and approached him with heavy stomps and a hungry snort. Soon there was a wall of pale flesh and white eyes glaring at him from all directions. He instinctively backed up until his tail touched the steel gate behind him. 

Okay fellas, calm down. No brains here. N tossed the flare out in front of him where it skidded across the road and rolled towards the center of the group of Savages. 

His eyes widened. None of them were staring at the flare any more. Their gaze stayed focused on him, and they were slowly getting closer. 

“Rrrruuuuughghhh…” N grunted in as Walker-like fashion as he could muster. The Savages continued to advance.

Oh come on guys! That means ‘not alive’! What, do you want me to take another knife to the chest? I’m dead!!

The first wolf was a breath away from N, and the fox sank down to the cold ground in fear. He saw lifeless eyes and endless teeth. He could smell the breath and see the hunger in its face. 

“...Carrots.”

There was a moment when the Savage had its skull in one piece. It had his eyes in its head and its nose attached to its face. The next moment, it didn’t. The monstrous beast dropped to the ground with a massive flop and remained completely still. N heard something whizz by as bone and teeth scattered everywhere. The other Savages growled as the corpse fell to the ground.

Vaguely in the distance, N could hear a crack and fizz, as if someone had opened a very loud can of soda. The sound was followed by more whizzing and another Savage wolf coming down with a nasty case of exploded-face. Two more wolves fell, looking much less like predators by the time they hit the ground. The other Savages seemed to hear the crackling too and turned to look down the road. The last Wolf Savage barked at the source of the bullets before dropping to the ground too. The large cow made a motion as if it were going to charge, but it never made more than one step before another bullet ripped through its horns and it tumbled to the pavement with a thud. 

N remained motionless with his ass on the asphalt. The road flare continued to fizzle for a moment while N contemplated what he just witnessed. It soon sputtered and depleted the last of its fuel before going completely dark and silent. Through the calm air, N heard crunching and footsteps approaching at a modest pace. A small spec in the distance was making her way towards him. 

Her aim was even more remarkable than he expected, given how long it took Judy to finally catch up to him. She had a carrot in one paw and the oversized rifle slung over her back. The barrel was still steaming. She eyed the carnage while she took a bite of her orange snack with a crunch.

“Sorry about that. I couldn’t see you until you were on the ground, and I needed to make sure my shots didn’t hit you by mistake.” She offered him her paw.

N took it and stood back on his feet. “It’s o...okay. Th–thanks for n–not shooting m–me.” His speech was a little extra shakey. 

“Thanks for trusting me,” she said simply and took another bite. “Think that’s all of them?”

“Out here? Pr–probably.”

Judy gestured through the gate. “Could there be more up there?” 

“M–maybe.”

“Well, we’ll take it slow and be ready.” She finished her breakfast carrot and reached inside her recon-kit. She pulled out the can of ‘Musk-Mask’ and popped off the cap. After coating herself in the scent-masking solution, she tossed the empty can onto the road.

N frowned. “R--Ready?”

“As we’ll ever be. Come on.”

The gate was rusted shut with a chain around the lock. Luckily the bars were wide enough to squeeze through for smaller mammals like the two of them. While N guessed that could be to keep something from escaping, it also could be to keep stupid Walkers from wandering onto the property, and this was some amazing real estate.

The road ahead snaked up a steep hill that led to the top of a massive waterfall. The powerful falls emptied out into a river to their right that probably led back to the city. The sound of roaring water echoed off of the mountains that stretched for miles across the falls. Whoever built this place clearly had a thing for views. As they got closer, they found a bridge big enough for two elephant-sized trucks to cross abreast. It carried them across the roaring falls and up to a bleak decrepit-looking building that stood atop the falls like a gloomy concrete lighthouse. The door was massive, likely to allow for even the largest of mammals to enter if necessary. 

N stopped and turned around, facing the winding road they climbed up.

This feels too weird. 

“You alright?” Judy asked. 

“Mm?” He turned and waved her off. “Y–yeah, fine.”

Judy gave the door handle a tug to no avail. “Darn. There’s got to be another way in.”

“Did you try the d–doorbell?” N suggested with a smile.

Judy just ignored him and crept along the wall quietly. It didn’t look like there were any windows in reach, and neither of them were climbing up a sheer concrete wall. The place looked like it was prepared for war if need be. N scratched the underside of his chin as he gazed up the mountainous grey tower before them.

“Aha!” Judy cheered. N tore his gaze away from the tower, but did not see her anywhere. “Over here, Slick!”

He found her around the wall near the waterfall. She gestured upwards to a drain pipe that emptied out over the falls. N scowled and looked at Judy with a frustrated expression. “I just got clean clothes yes...yesterday!” 

Judy waved him off as she began to climb up to the spout. “Oh, quit your whining. I bet you can’t even smell anything anyway.”

“Wrong,” N corrected her. “I can s–smell just fine. How d–do you think I found you when y–you tried to escape the w–warehouse?”

“Awww, you followed my scent?” Judy said with a smile. “What an adorable little stalker I have.”

N sighed and clambered onto the pipe’s ledge as well. Judy’s grip kept him from falling as they got ready to crawl up the stanky dark pipeline. “It’s not my fault your scent is easy to track.” 

Judy pulled out a flashlight and lit the tunnel ahead of them with a click. The passage was bone-dry, which was lucky for them because it meant the slime and smell weren’t as bad as they could have been. “Hey, give me some credit. We made it back to the warehouse, didn’t we?”

N followed her into the darkness on his paws and knees. “Right, the warehouse, where we nearly died again on the roller-coaster.” Their voices echoed off of the iron walls as they crept deeper into the building, giving them a metallic sound. 

Judy kept her voice low. “Oh come on, that was fun!”

N shook his head and kept crawling. “You’re a bunny with a death-wish, Carrots. Must be why you hang around me so much.”

Judy responded with a hushed tone that still held a certain sass in it.  “Hey, I might take some risks from time to time, but at least I’m better than Kris.”

“Not the best standard to compare yourself to, Fluff,” he pointed out. “She’s not exactly a ‘classy gal’ from your little country town.”

“She might be crass, but she only makes fun of you because she likes you.”

N rolled his eyes. “Well it’s a good thing she isn’t someone people rely on in times of intense vulnerability, like a nurse or something.”

“Hey now, she’s a good nurse. She’s just brash with her friends is all.”

“And here I thought your taste in friends couldn’t get any worse after including a dead fox.”

Judy stopped. N thought for a second something was wrong with her because she lowered her flashlight and started twitching. But he heard something that thoroughly confused him: she was laughing! Judy turned around and looked back at him with a happy smile. Given that he had made a few remarks at her expense moments earlier, it wasn’t exactly an expected response. 

“What is so funny?”

She sighed through her laughing and shook her head. “Nothing. You’re a jerk.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Then why are you smiling?”

“Because you haven’t stuttered once since we crawled in here.”

N thought for a moment. She was right. In the past hour or so, There were maybe a pawful of sentences he’d gotten out clearly here or there. But just now he held a whole conversation as if his eyes weren’t slitted. The strangest part was that he didn’t even realize it. 

“Huh…” he muttered to himself. 

Judy sighed and shook her head. “Someday we’ll hold a regular conversation like this when you’re not staring at my butt.”

Shit!

“I–I uh… I’m n–not… I wasn’t st–sta... “

Aaaand the stuttering is back. Dammit, Bunny!

Judy giggled again and continued up the pipe. “Kris used to tell me my tail had magic powers. Guess she was right.”

N sighed and followed along, now keeping his eyes away from the silhouette of her rear as best he could. N whispered the beginnings of an apology.  “Carrots, I wasn’t…staring.”

“Right,” she stopped him. “Just like you ‘weren’t’ looking at my butt when you tripped on the stairs back in Grazerville.”

“...How d–did you know?”

Judy shrugged and kept crawling. “Not the first time that’s happened, actually.”

N frowned and looked at the walls of the drain again. He opened his mouth to retort, but anything less than a full admission and apology would have been a lie. Instead he shook his head and sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“Shush.”

“I mean it, Car–”

“Shhh!” she silenced him with a finger to his lips and gestured to the ceiling above them. They were right underneath a drain cover that seemed to lead into an empty room above them. They kept motionless and silent for a few moments. There was no moaning or movement for nearly a minute, so they were probably safe. As safe as they could be given the circumstances, anyway. 

Judy lifted the cover off of the drain and gave the room a quick scan with her ears tucked low. She lifted her giant riffle up off of her shoulders and onto the floor of the room above them. She lowered herself back down and gestured to the open hole with her thumb. “Looks clear.”

“Okay,” he said with a nod. 

N waited for Judy to take the lead again, but instead, she leaned forward and got very close to N’s nose. So close, he could smell the carrot that lingered in her breath. The sudden proximity stunned N into complete stillness as she whispered into his ear. “You don't need to apologize, N. If it really did bother me, then why did I crawl in this tunnel first?”

N swallowed hard, not daring to move a muscle for fear of scaring the moment away like a skittish bird. She pulled away from him, gave him a satisfied smile, and leapt out of the hole, landing silently on her paw pads. 

Does… does that mean I can look at her butt more?.... Gonna have to follow up on that later. 

N pulled himself out of the hole and into the dark room. Judy’s flashlight was all the light they had, but N’s vision was better in darker places like this. There was a stack of chairs to one side of the room, along with gurneys  and curtains. It was definitely a hospital at one point. 

“Take the light,” Judy whispered and tossed it to him. She brought her rifle up and pointed it at the door. N kept the light focused on the door as he carefully pressed his ear against it. He heard nothing, so he glanced back at her to make sure she was ready. She nodded, so he opened the door with a creak. She took point with her rifle ready and silently moved into the next room. 

“We’re in the right place,” Judy whispered. 

No shit. 

The next room over was a much more modern and sophisticated medical facility with giant screens and imaging equipment. There were x-rays and MRI scans up on the walls, though the lights were off so they were hard to make out. In the center of the room was what looked like an operating table with massive overhead lights and steel restraints. 

Judy eyed the restraints closely. “Whatever was in here was set loose.”

“How can y–you tell?” N asked.

She poked at the metal hinges with the tip of her rifle. “There are still blood stains on the bed and in the restraints, so some mammal was on here at some point. But the cuffs aren’t broken or chewn through.”

N saw that she was right, but it didn’t make sense. “If they w–were operating on Walkers, why would they set them free?”

Judy turned towards the desk by the x-rays and began pawing through some files. N walked towards the dark screens instead, noting the dust that had collected on the surface. He picked up a dirty rag and wiped over the screen in front of him, coughing a bit as dust flew about. He tapped a keyboard on the computer, but nothing happened. 

Not that I’d be any good with a computer anyway. I wonder if there are some memory cards or something around. 

N knelt down and discovered a large orange box with a handle on it. The box had an outlet on it, and a power plug laid neatly next to it. His eyes widened when he saw a yellow note stuck to the strange box.

“Carrots,” he beckoned. “Look at this.”

Judy quickly joined him and placed her rifle on the floor quietly. He held up the flashlight on the box.

“It has a note.” He pulled it off the box and read it aloud. “ Plug me in.”

Judy dusted the box off and ran her paws over the surface. “This is an emergency power supply,” she explained. “We have a bunch of these in the Burrows scattered about. They’re kept charged and next to any vital systems, like the gate control or the ward’s office.”

N nodded. “How long does the battery last if it’s not plugged in?”

“Let’s find out,” Judy said and plugged the cable in. 

They both heard the sound of a computer starting up from above them that made Judy jump. The screen N had dusted off was now lit and displaying a loading circle. 

“Yes!” Judy hissed. 

“Who do you think wrote the note?” N held it in his paw, giving it an arrant sniff. No scent, so it wasn’t recent. 

“Hopefully someone who knew we’d come along.” Judy fiddled with the computer for a moment. “Woah.”

“What?”

Judy gestured to the screen. “There’s a video file right on the home folder that’s called ‘play_me’.”

“Think it’s a trap?”

Judy balked at him. “What? How on earth would this be a trap?”

“I don’t know! My fennec friend used the van as a lure to catch his brains, how’s this any different?”

Judy sighed. “If this is the most elaborate trap a zombie could ever possibly hope to conjure, then frankly they deserve my brains, Slick.”

N rolled his eyes with a pout.“... just click the video, Bunny.”

Judy did. A video player opened up and the operating room they were standing in came on screen. There was more light now, and the machines along the wall were displaying vital numbers and medical readings. A few moments of silence passed before a short, slightly-pudgey honey badger walked into the frame. 

Research update, May twelve, nearly sixty-days after the outbreak.

Judy’s foot thumped in excitement. “That’s her! I recognize her voice!”

“Shhh!” N hushed her as the badger continued. 

I’ve been granted the resources to continue my research out here from what’s left of the Zootopian authorities. The police have started funneling survivors out of the city, and all medical staff are supposed to report to refugee camps to help the wounded or sick. The mayor had to lie to the police chief about where these supplies were going. Chief Bogo seems to think trying for a cure is hopeless. Sixty days in, and I’m starting to think he might be right.

The badger looked remorsefully at the floor and rubbed the back of her neck. Her face was tired, so she had likely been overworked, but her tone was more disappointed than fatigued. 

The reason it’s been so long since my last update is because we haven’t really made any notable progress. This thing… It’s not behaving like anything we could ever prepare for. All our blood cultures don’t even look like blood, and any subjects we’ve been testing haven’t exactly been cooperative. The security staff here has risked so much just to be here with me, so I haven’t pushed for any ‘live’ subjects unless we really need them. But there’s only so much I can learn from looking at blood samples. I need symptoms.

The recording cut black for a moment, but the video timer kept playing with much more left to go. N and Judy looked at each other wordlessly. If nothing else, they found the doctor they were looking for. Judy gazed back at the desk she had been exploring earlier. 

“Where’s the camera now?” she wondered. 

The video cut back in. The doctor was short of breath this time and even more weary than before. “Research update, May twenty-four.

Judy put a paw to her chest. “She’s crying.”

The video continued. “The Mayor is dead, and the chief of police might be too. We’ve lost contact with most of the other labs in production and the entire city has gone dark… we lost one of our security officers this morning as well. My lab assistants are holding a small service for him in the mess hall…. I’d like to note for the record of the astounding bravery and sacrifice of our security team here at Cliffside. I want to say that his loss won’t be for nothing, but I still haven’t gotten anywhere!!

The badger gave a sob. Judy’s ears dropped down and her eyes fell into a heartbroken expression. N suspected it was partly because of the doctor’s loss, but also from fear that they truly never found anything out here. N held Judy’s paw. She gripped his tightly. 

I’m gonna keep trying. As long as we keep getting food and supplies shipped to us, we’ll keep this project going.

The screen darkened again, this time for much longer. N feared for a moment the rest of the video would be nothing but blackness, but who would guide them to the video if it was all for nothing?

The screen lit up again. “Research update, August eighteenth. After months of getting nowhere, I think we’ve made a breakthrough. Judy leaned forward eagerly towards the screen .

This entire time we’ve been treating our samples and blood cultures as if they were the patient’s blood. On our last autopsy, one of my assistants noticed that the marrow was still fresh even though the body was basically just a skeleton. Something besides blood is keeping these creatures alive. It explains why they can walk around without a pulse. My current hypothesis is that the cells in the bloodstream have been hijacked by a virus of some kind, mutating them into something else. But we can’t know for sure until we get a live patient. If we can capture one, even if it’s small, we can learn more from it.

Blackness again, but this time it didn’t last. The picture came back with a flurry of motion, looking upwards at ceiling lights of a hospital corridor. Dr. DeFleur’s face went in and out of frame with each step she took.

Research update! September second! ” The doctor was shouting this time, holding the camera in one paw as she hurriedly stepped beside a squeaking gurney. There was a sickening snarling and shuddering sound as whatever was strapped to the gurney shook violently. “ We’ve captured a patient! Vulpes vulpes, adult male, approximately thirty years old. We’ve even been able to pull up medical records as well through the archives at Zootopia General.

The camera shook in her paw, but she tried to show the ‘patient’ to the camera as best she could. There was an operating light focused over the mammal that reflected in his eyes. It was a fox, and it was familiar. 

Judy gasped. “Wait a minute.” The video continued, cutting her off. 

Cause of infection was a mouse-bite to the arm, near the wrist. ” The camera panned to the fox’s right paw that was drenched with fresh blood. “ Larry was able to get a muzzle on him before he succumbed to hysteria.

The screen went black again and Judy immediately grasped N’s paw. “N, show me your wrist again!”

N leaned closer and watched as Judy ran her thumb over the naked spot on N’s wrist. The hairless bump he mistook for going Savage was in the same spot as the bite mark on screen. It was scar tissue.

“N, this is you!”

N’s mouth fell open. “I…”

“Remember what you told me about the earliest thing you remember?”

N thought back to their conversation at his warehouse. “...A light.”

Judy nodded. “So bright it made your eyes hurt?” She gestured behind them to the operating lights that hung over the table. A light that bright would have been the first thing he ever saw as a Walker. 

“And a long road,” N recalled. 

“Like the one we just walked up? And maybe it wasn’t rain you felt, but water from the falls?”

N’s mouth fell open, his gaze whipping back to the screen where he had watched himself lose all sanity moments before.

Holy shit. That is really me….I look terrible. 

The screen came back. “Research update, September fifth. The only way we could get our subject to stop thrashing was to cool his body temperature down with ice packs since he wasn’t responding to any drugs. Now he’s essentially frozen stiff, but at least he stopped trying to eat us. I’ve already gotten a brain scan, and what we’re finding is astounding.”

Doctor Honey DeFelur looked genuinely excited for the first time in any of her recordings. She continued breaking down her findings in detail with the same kind of enthusiasm Judy showed whenever she talked about a cure. 

His blood is somehow circulating through his brain without needing his heart to beat. The flow is centered around the cerebral cortex and surrounding lobes. Basically the whole brain is functioning except for the frontal lobe, where motor function, memory, language, and all the parts of us that make us civilized exist. In our last report, we heard some of the afflicted mammals have started losing their fur and walking on all fours. I expect if the frontal lobe was left without activity for long enough, it would start to break down completely. At that point, there really is no cure or treatment to bring those mammals back from savagery.

N watched with rapt attention as the doctor held up photos of brain scans and heat maps demonstrating her point. 

I’m trying to research that part of the brain more, but we have a problem. The supply shipments have stopped coming in. I’m not sure if the government ran out, if they gave up, or if they don’t even exist anymore, but we only have enough supplies here to last us a few more weeks before we’ll lose power. I don’t know what to tell the staff, but I fear I have to send them away, for their own safety. But I’m so close…so close now.

The screen went black again, and Judy made another heartbroken face at the screen. “Please don’t be done.”

“I think th–there’s more,” N pointed out, noting the video still had about a minute left.

“Please, Honey. Please,” she pleaded and gripped his paw harder. She was trembling. 

The screen opened up again, this time the lights were out.  “Research Update, November fourth. My lab assistants have all been escorted to the refugee camps in Grazerville, so it’s just me and my security team left. I’ve offered the chance for them to walk away, if they wanted to. But they all stayed. They told me they wanted to see it through to the end. Our patient has taught us so much.

Doctor DeFleur turned beside her and looked at the fox still strapped to the gurney and iced into a state of catharsis. “I’ve tried experimenting with him to stimulate the part of his brain the infection has not taken over, and the two breakthroughs I’ve had were from music therapy and emotional stimulation. The ‘blood’ begins to flow back to the frontal lobe, but only temporarily. At the same time, old nerves I’d assumed to be dead started firing again. I even got a single beat from his heart, and that couldn’t happen if he was a…. I refuse to use the word ‘zombie’, so let’s just say if he were dead.”

The doctor’s smile quickly faded. “I’m so close I can taste it, but I’m out of time. Tomorrow our fuel reserves for our generator will run dry and we’ll have to leave. All we have otherwise is this spare battery console and whatever we can read via candlelight. I only have a few of my security team left, after losing so many to these monsters…. ” The badger looked at the ground, taking deep even breaths through her nose before shaking her head and speaking softly. “ .. I can’t… I can’t leave. I won’t. I still don’t know what’s causing this nightmare. I’m not leaving until I figure it out.”

The screen went black, and the video ended.

“No!” Judy gasped. 

N frowned and watched helplessly as Judy began searching through the computer for other files that could help. There was so much on the drive, but most of it dated to before the deadrising. N doubted that there was anything more they were meant to find there.

Judy thumped her fist onto the desk. “There has to be more!” 

N turned and looked back at the hospital bed he’d been strapped to years ago. It looked familiar, just like the rest of the hospital did. But the memories were unclear and hazy, like street signs shrouded by foliage. The ice packs had all melted, leaving behind plastic bags that crinkled under his paw. He turned, looking down a hallway that he likely walked down years earlier. Through the dark, he saw claw marks on the floors, dried blood everywhere, and a broken door. 

“Carrots,” he called out. Judy seemed far too preoccupied with the files on the computer to respond. “Carrots!”

Judy kicked back into gear and lifted the rifle back up, flicking the safety off. N pointed down at the claw marks and they quietly followed them. The hallway that led towards the door was lined with containment cells big enough for a tiger if need be. The thick metal door at the end looked as if it had been bashed open. 

Once again, Judy took point and kept her weapon forward as she checked the corners. N kept the flashlight pointed forward as well, but it was less necessary in this other hallway that had windows on one side. The claw marks continued down the hallway until they reached what looked like an office. 

Judy lowered her weapon. “Oh my god.”

Inside the office looked horrifying. The walls and floor near the door were blackened with blood that had been cast everywhere. The wooden door was in pieces on the floor, and the office itself was missing several window panes, allowing the cold breeze and sounds of roaring falls to waft inside. They slowly entered, half-expecting to see a savage waiting for them. Thankfully, the room was empty. The bloodstains weren’t so bad deeper inside, and aside from some papers scattered on the ornate wooden desk in the center, the room was empty.

N spotted a sturdy blue case on the desk that looked like it was meant to transport fragile equipment. There was a lock on it with a four digit combination. “What do you think is in here?” 

“Not sure,” Judy said, and slung her weapon back over her shoulder. She rummaged through the papers as N tried to open the drawers. He stepped on something firm and cold. 

“Carrots,” He hissed. He picked up a video camera off the floor and held it up to her. 

Judy placed her rifle down and leapt over the desk in one bound. She took the device from his paws and eyed it closely. There was another note on this one that read ‘ Play Me’ , this time written in hasty pawwriting. 

“Come on doc,” Judy murmured as she opened up the digital screen on the side of the camera. The battery was nearly dead, but there was just enough to watch some footage back. She ushered N closer, and they both looked at the tiny screen as she hit play. 

The same operating room came into view with the lights out. Doctor DeFleur came into view again, her fur matted and eyes, while baggy, were bright and energetic. “Research update, November fifth, I think we’ve got it!

Judy’s paw found N’s again and gripped it like she was clinging to him for dear life. 

It’s not blood at all, it’s a parasite! A microorganism that resembles red blood cells so much that it played us all for fools! I think it’s some new species of Protozoa Sarcodina: an amoeba that is normally benign. Something about this strain is causing the parasite to go rampant in the host, taking complete control over everything. It swims through the bloodstream on it’s own power, carrying oxygen and water along with it. The infection acts as a pseudo-circulatory system for the host, keeping them alive. This is why they’re vitals are zero but they’re not dying. It also explains why it is only transferred from direct injection into the bloodstream. The parasite would die if ingested, but thrives in blood. It even repairs damage in the host body! It would be incredible if it hadn’t done so much damage––

Honey! ” A voice cried out from behind her. There was some motion, and a brown timberwolf stepped into frame. “ We gotta go!” 

The badger turned to him. “What’s happening!?”

It’s Gary! He’s back and he’s one of them!” 

Honey gasped. “Where are the others?”

He’s bitten both of them! We need to leave.”

Dr. DeFleur quickly shuffled around her desk and hastily wrote down something on her notes. She continued to rifle through her files on her computer, her eyes wide and panic-stricken yet determined.

Growls could be heard from the distance. “Now, Honey!” her guard yelled.

Hold on for one minute longer!” She dashed back to the operating table where N lay frozen and undid his restraints, letting him lay motionless peacefully. She returned to the computer and hastily started writing down notes on pieces of paper. 

Finally, she picked up the camera and a vial of some kind before walking towards her security guard. “I have it! We need to get this to the Burrows!” 

We need to move. Let’s try to– ” the timberwolf grew silent and his ears pinned down behind his head as he focused on the doorway. “…. Get behind me, Honey.”

A vile and terrible growl played from the camera. The doctor was clutching the camera close, but at an odd angle. Her breathing was heavy and loud. They could only see the bottom half of another timberwolf that had blood dripping from it’s maw. The living timberwolf, the one still in clothes, turned and looked at Honey. 

The guard spoke solemnly. “You need to run.”

“I’m not abandoning yo–

You got the cure, right?! Just go!

The bloody wolf pounced forward and tackled the security guard to the linoleum floor. The camera shook violently as Dr. DeFleur made a break for it. They could hear howls of pain as the two wolves fought, but N knew just how that fight ended. The camera continued to shake, but they could vaguely make out the hallways that led towards the office they were standing in. A door slammed. A lock bolted shut. Dr. DeFleur continued to breathe heavily. 

“... okay,” the doctor said and placed the camera on the desk, finally giving the picture some stillness. For a few moments as she gathered materials together from around the office. Eventually, she came back into frame with the office door behind her. She scribbled a note on a piece of paper and carefully placed it on the camera. 

Whoever finds this… ” she began, choking back a sob. “ They’re not zombies. They’re sick, just like I always said they were, and they can be cured. The parasite that is responsible… there’s a catalyst that is causing it to behave this way… like a poison. I’ve been able to isolate it, but I’m not sure where it came from. The compound is a toxic irritant that causes the parasite to behave erratically. The chemical itself is normally found in some garden variety flowers, but it’s been weaponized somehow––”

There was a loud bang at the door behind her, and the doctor jumped with a yelp. A frustrated low growl followed with another crash against the door. She continued speaking with trembling lips. “Y–you need to isolate the catalyst and provide an antidote to the parasite. Once the parasite h–has calmed down, begin a blood transfusion from a same-species donnor. All the while, stimulate the frontal lobe of the brain!

Another terrible bang. Doctor DeFleur winced. Her paws shook.

 “If that part of the b–brain isn’t gone, then they can still fe–feel. Get them to feel emotions, anyway you can. The stronger the better!

A third bang. The door cracked this time.

Honey breathed evenly through her nose and calmed herself as best she could. “I’ve placed the necessary samples, notes, and studies in this case here. The combination is Treaty Day, when Zootopia was first born. Take it somewhere that has medical staff and start treating these poor creatures…. They don’t know what they’re doing. ” She smiled and blinked back a few tears. “. ..They’re not dead. They’re not evil. They just don’t know.”


Doctor Defleur put her paws on the camera, and the footage stopped. Judy had a paw over her mouth and quietly shuddered beside N. He placed a paw around her shoulder and pulled her in closer. He was grateful there wasn’t a body in the room with them, but the blood stains on the ground near the door could have only happened after the video stopped. 

N held her close to him. “Judy, I–”

“–Grrrrrrrrrrrr”

There was another growl. Judy and N both looked at the camera, but the battery had died. Gazing up, the two of them looked straight at large white timberwolf Savage from across the narrow hallway. 

Oooooh fucksicles.

“Shit!” Judy cursed and leapt forward. The wolf pounced forward and snarled as it charged forward. She tried to raise her rifle up towards the predator’s head, but the wolf was upon her too quickly. It took the barrel of the large weapon in its maw and bit down hard. The metal bent and cracked under the force. The beast yanked the gun from her paws and tossed it behind him in a broken heap to the ground. 


“Judy!”  N called out. 

She was quick to respond with a second gun. She pulled a small pistol from her belt behind her and started firing. The loud cracks from her firearm boomed in the room, but the wolf seemed to pay the bullets no mind. In comparison to the larger rifle, that pistol did little against a beast of that size.

“The window!” N barked and gestured to the broken window behind them. 

She shouted between her shots. “That goes over the falls!” 

“I’ll keep you safe, just grab the case!” 

Judy leapt aside as the wolf darted forward with sharp teeth and a dried-out tongue. It’s jaws clamped down with a snap in the air. N climbed up the windowsill and turned towards her, splaying his arms outwards and beckoning her closer. 

Judy jumped onto the table in one bound, scooping up the case and clutching it to her chest as she did so, and kicked off hard towards N with the next bound. The Savage lunged again, aiming for her feet. The bite was so close that N thought for sure it had snagged Judy’s toe, but it missed by centimeters. She collided into his chest and he wrapped her in his arms as tight as he could. He kicked backwards and leapt from the window. 

The world turned upside down and the wind howled through his ears. He could vaguely see the Savage howling at them as they tumbled through the air in a tight ball. The air began to fill with the sound of roaring waters and the smell of fresh river. The fall seemed to last forever, but N wasn’t worried about the pain of colliding with water at that speed. He held the bunny in his arms as closely as he could, keeping her pointed away from the impact. 

When it came, the roaring sound of wind and water turned to silence all at once. Whatever wind was in his lungs was immediately cast out. The water was bitterly cold and soaked through his fur and clothes instantly. His ears rang, and the world was dark in the murky water. 

Judy squirmed in his arms, but he suddenly couldn’t keep his strength around her any more. When he finally did surface, it was because her paw was grasping his collar and yanking him upwards. 

“N!” she said and kicked at the water above him. “Come-on, N! I need you to swim.”

“I’m… I’m trying.” He kicked with his legs about, but he was likely a poor swimmer before the deadrising, so his form did not make it easy to get to shore. 

“Take the case!” she said and shuffled it into his paws. It must have been sealed tightly because it floated along the surface like a balloon. He held it into his chest like a small life preserver and kicked as she swam them both towards the muddy shore. She grunted and heaved as she carried both him and the case along the strong current. After the icy cold water had thoroughly sapped all of his energy, he finally felt ground beneath his feet. Judy was still pulling him onto dry land when he turned and held up the cure for death in his paw. 

“The case,” he said while gasping for breath. Judy took it from his paw and placed it safely on the grass behind her. She fiddled with the combination, entering in the numbers from the date the doctor had mentioned. N continued to take shaky breaths as he watched her try to open it up. His legs remained in the water, his clothes soaking in mud. 




“0...3...0...4…come on.” The case opened under her paws, and she took a glance at it only long enough to know it wasn’t empty. She slammed the case closed with a snap and was back a moment later by N’s side and sat him up. Her paws ran up and down his form, checking for injury.  “Are you hurt, N?” she asked, her voice shaky from the cold. Her eyes darted around his features with that frightened yet familiar look of concern. “... N! Are you alright? Talk to me!”

“I’m…” he began, but he stopped and his eyes widened. He placed a paw on his chest and breathed evenly. “...I’m…”

Judy’s eyes opened a little wider in shock, realizing at the same time as him just what the doctor had told them. N heard her breath catch in her chest before she reached out and gently placed a paw on his forearm. “You’re alive,” she breathed.

There was a moment of stunned silence between them, neither daring to speak or move. In the next moment, Judy stepped forward, wrapped her arms around his torso and clutched to him with all her might. She sobbed a little... or was that a laugh? It was hard to tell. Either way, she shook lightly and breathed heavily as she repeated herself over and over. “You’re alive, N. You’re alive.”

His arms slowly folded around her. A small smile formed on his face that quickly began to grow. Her jacket was soaked through and her ears dripped cold water onto his paws. Despite this, he could feel the undeniable warmth of her body against his. “I’m alive,” he echoed. He laughed a little, before repeating, “I’m alive.” A soft laugh danced on his tongue.

Judy backed away for a moment, and N hoped to see that beautiful smile of hers. Instead, she held his cheek with one paw and pressed her lips against his. The shock kept him frozen for a moment as this new sensation caused his chest to ache harder than he had ever felt before. It was cold at first, since they were still both sopping wet from the river. Soon though, he could feel the warmth of her trembling lips begin to melt his own shivers away. His eyes fell closed. He pulled her closer and kissed her back softly, caressing her cheek in his paw. 

Judy broke their embrace only for a moment to release the happy laughter that sounded like music to his ears. He stroked her cheek lightly... there was that smile he was hoping for. She leaned forward and kissed him again, taking his sopping wet shirt in her paws and pulling him closer. Whatever memories N had stolen from Jack paled in comparison. His chest was on fire and her soft touch on his lips felt like all the memories he had ever consumed were happening at the same time.

Judy pulled away again and gazed at him with a bright smile. N caught his breath and smiled back. He leaned forward and placed his forehead against hers. “Well, if I wasn’t alive before, I certainly am now.”

She giggled and rubbed her nose into his wet fur. “Let’s keep it that way.”

N sat still for a moment, savoring the way she ran her paws along his cheek fur tenderly. Soon, though, he had to break the silence. They did have to keep moving after all. “You think her cure might work?”

She gandered back towards the case on the ground and nodded. “She said you need a blood transfusion, something for the poison, and emotional stimulation. Ramic can handle the first two parts, and would like to hope I’m enough for the third.”

He smiled and pulled her closer. “More than enough.”

She squeezed him back and sighed. “We just need to keep you alive long enough to get you and this case back home.”

 “So no more waterfall cliff diving?”

She laughed again and shook her head. “No.”

“You sure? I’d go again if it means more mouth-to-mouth.”

She tapped his nose with the tip of her finger. “You get that for free.”

“Really? How?”

“Like this.” She leaned in and kissed him again, this time with more energy. She grasped at his fur, and he placed his other hand on her back to pull her closer. N smelled like mud, felt bitterly cold, and was sopping wet, but in that moment he felt like he could fly. 

I think I can get used to being alive. 




Chapter Text

The van jostled about as Judy swerved between abandoned cars on the road. The shocks would squeak and the engine groaned––it felt like the van might not last another hundred miles at best. That was fine, as they were almost home. Judy drove as if the fate of the world was in the car with them, because it was.

She stole a glance at N in the front seat. “Still got the case?”

He groaned and rolled his eyes. “No, I tossed it out the window for funzies.”

“N, don’t joke. This is serious.”

“Yes, commander Carrots,” he said with another groan and held up the beige hardshell case in his paws. “You keep asking every couple of miles. Relax, Judy. We’ve got this.”

She sighed and eyed the open road again. “I know, I’m sorry. But you probably don’t realize how much this means to me. To everyone. The key to fixing this broken world has been sitting in a research office for years waiting for us to come and find it, and all that time we were scavenging for food and meds, thinking you were just monsters.”

She felt his paw gently touch her shoulder, and the gesture made her smile. “We have it now, Carrots. We’ll get this to the doc and he can start to fix everything. I think we can handle one more road trip.”

Looking back on it, kissing him was probably ill-advised. After all, he was infected with a parasite that would drive her into a crazed brain-eating monster. Had any of her family or ––heaven forbid–– Kris heard about it, she’d never hear the end of it. But Judy knew deep down that they could all bite the rocket because she just did not care. He was alive! He was alive and a jerk and funny and sweet and witty and so much more. As long as he didn’t bite her she’d be fine. All she had to do now was get him cured.

“I know. Thank you,” she said and gave his paw a squeeze. “I’m loving these fluid conversations, by the way. You’ve got a smooth voice.”

He turned to look forwards and grimaced. “Let’s hope it’s sm–smooth enough for y… for your pops.”

“He’ll come around,” she reassured him. “He just needs to see everything you’ve done for us.”

Truth be told, she was still unsure about all that. They didn’t exactly leave on the best terms with her father, and he was definitely one to hold a grudge since the deadrising. But N did currently hold the cure for the apocalypse, so maybe he’d at least hear him out before he starts shooting.

Judy heard a muffled voice scrambled by static. Her radio on her hip blipped and fuzzed before the voice cut out all together. Pulling it from her waist, she dialed the volume up and held it between them.

The voice cut back, broken by static. “...–units to the east gate! Repeat all...–to the east gate…” She didn’t recognize the voice, but it sounded urgent. Judy’s heart started to race.

N leaned in closer. “W-what do you think it is?”

“I don’t know,” Judy said solemnly. “The last time they called for ‘all units’ was when a savage squirrel climbed up the wall and caused an outbreak. That was years ago.”

They both listened as the urgent voice broke over the static once more. “... Any and all long-guns to the wall.”

The signal started to clear up, so Judy decided to break her silence and find out more. She mashed her finger on the radio and called out. “This is Judy Hopps to Burrow command. Do you copy?” A moment of static… another try. “Judy Hopps to Burrow Command, come in.”

“Rodger Hopps,” a voice called out. “Sit-rep.”

Judy hit the button again. “En-route to east gate with precious cargo in civilian van. Are we cleared for entry?”

“Negative!” the voice sounded panicked. “There’s a hoard of Walkers between you and the gate.”

N and Judy shot each other a nervous glance. If there were Walkers collecting near the wall, the guards would surely shoot them down, killing more infected without realizing they could be saved.

Judy raised the radio back to her mouth frantically. “Hold fire! Repeat, hold your fire!”

There was a brief sound of shuffling and some inaudible bumbling before another voice came over the radio. “Commanding Officer Fangmeyer to Hopps. You are in no position to be calling orders. The hoard is currently gathered just outside of range for our current defenses anyway, so we won’t waste ammunition.”

Judy looked over to N with a cocked eyebrow. “How many Walkers did you say there were? Ones like you that left the city?”

He shrugged. “Dozens?”

She pulled the radio up again. “Hopps to Fangmeyer: How large is the hoard in front of us?”

The gruff female voice responded angrily. “Hundreds. Far too many for you to drive through. Make your way up the turnpike to the north gate and turn yourself in. You’ll be escorted to the station for processing.”

Judy groaned and rubbed her fingers at the crook of her nose. “Looks like my father would rather have me in a cell than out and about with you.”

N placed a paw to his chin, pondering something. “They still think Walkers are mindless. If we prove them w–wrong, maybe we could get… them to listen–en.”

“How do we do that?” Judy asked.

He shrugged. Commander Fangmeyer was a bit of a brute, and did not take kindly to broken orders. But she had a family in the burrows too. If she saw what she assumed to be impossible, maybe that’d be enough for them to let them in without gunfire.

Judy hit the radio again. “Hopps to Fangmeyer. Prepare the east gate. We’re low on gas and almost there. We’ll make our way to you on foot.”

“What!?” the officer’s voice cried out. “Hopps, this hoard is massive. You’ll be torn to pieces before you ever make it to the gate.”

“They won’t harm us,” Judy responded.

“Negative, Hopps. Drive north and keep away from the hoard….. Hold on, ‘us’? How big is your party?”

Judy’s brow furrowed. “Repeat, we’re en-route from the east highway in a civilian van. We are a party of two and we carry precious cargo.”

“No cargo is so precious to make it worth this risk, Hopps.”

Judy lost her patience. “We have a cure, Nora. Repeat, we found a cure.”

Silence followed. For the longest time, the only sound they could hear was the rattling of equipment in the van and the rumble of the engine. N sat perched at the edge of the passenger seat staring wide-eyed at the radio. Judy’s paw trembled, so she took a deep breath through her nose and out her mouth to remain calm, waiting for her to reply.

“.... We need another repeat, Hopps. We heard you say ‘cure’.”

Judy calmly breathed and spoke as clearly as possible. “Affirmative, officer. We have a cure and are inbound with it in tow. We’re only asking you to hold your fire.”

The silence that followed was the worst part. She just knew that the officer was bickering with other members of the force about what to do. The fact that her father had not joined the conversation yet was good, but she had to make sure they wouldn’t start firing before they could secure the cure at Ramic’s compound.

Fangmeyer called back in. “Lieutenant Clawhauser tells me you aren’t crazy. Hopps, remain in your vehicle and approach the east gate slowly.”

Judy smiled and clapped her paw on the steering wheel. “Rodger that, Fangmeyer. ETA 30 minutes.”

“Affirmative. I have orders to hold our forces at the gate. Good luck, Hopps.”

N nudged her shoulder. She turned and saw her holding out his paw, gesturing to the walky talky. “May I?”

Judy skeptically eyed the radio. She wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but she had a gut feeling that told her to trust him, so she did. She handed the radio to him and returned her gaze to the road ahead. She heard N clear his throat before pushing down on the button and speaking in the lowest, slyest voice she had ever heard from him.

“This is N to Commanding Officer Fangmeyer. Hopps and I ap..preciate the cooperation. Would you also be so kind as to pull the good doctor out of his ho––holding cell? The cure for death requires a licensed medical prac––titioner, after all.”

Judy’s eyes widened and she stole a glance at N who sat in the passenger seat with his leg crossed over his knee and a paw behind his head. He was relaxed and confident. He was even smiling, as if he knew for a fact that his request wasn’t pushing their luck. It was bombastic and bold. He made her feel both frustrated and––if she was completely honest with herself––like she wanted to kiss him again.

“... That’s Commander Hopp’s call, whoever you are. But I’ll pass the message along.”

Judy saw N’s smug smile turn towards her as he gloated some kind of victory. “Getting smoother.”

“And it’s going to your head,” she said and rolled her eyes. “If they see me walk through a hoard untouched, that might show them that you mean no harm.”

“Or,” he interjected. “It might get us both shot.”

“It won’t.”

“Are you sure?” N’s face was uncertain and concerned.

She turned to face him. “Do you trust me?” He smiled and nodded. “Then play some music, Slick. We need to stimulate that frontal cortex of yours as much as we can.”

“Yes!” he celebrated and dug through some cassette littered about the floor. Judy smirked when she saw his tail wag a little while he searched about the van for a decent track. After tossing a few aside, he found one that suited his fancy. He smashed it into the cassette player, cranked the volume up and drummed his fingers on the dashboard. A quick drum strike followed by chiming piano and rolling guitar lit up the van’s cabin. Seeing N nod his head along with the music and genuinely enjoy himself made her happy. She longed to see him enjoying himself free from disease and from persecution. Maybe he’d like a tour of the Burrows properly? Maybe she could find a place for him to stay.

With that image in her head and the roaring music in her ears, she stomped on the gas and sped forward.

 


 

Stu Hopps donned his military fatigues, a hat that bore his rank, and his personal shotgun slung over his shoulder. He walked with purpose towards the east gate followed closely by Commanding Officer Fangmeyer. He only had a few shells in his pocket, and while he always hated firing it, he knew exactly which walker they’d be useful for.

“You’re positive he said ‘N’, right? Like the letter?” He clarified without breaking his stride.

“Affirmative,” the large tiger said, following closely along with a captive Ramic in tow. The kangaroo’s cuffs clinked as he followed along behind the two soldiers.

“He’s a Walker,” Stu huffed.

Fangmeyer’s brow furrowed. “How is that possible?”

Stu pulled his weapon higher on his shoulder. “It doesn’t matter. So long as he’s one of them, he doesn’t get past the gate.”

“Doesn’t matter?” Ramic implored. “Mr. Hopps, I told you that this could be the most important discovery since the deadrising.”

Fangmeyer eyed the doctor for a moment but continued to follow the marching rabbit. “Your daughter did say she has a cure with her, sir.”

Stu huffed. “My daughter thinks she has a cure, and she thinks a lot of things. She’s already endangered this community once, and we’re not letting her do it again.”

The three of them made it to the wall and began climbing up the steps towards the gate. There was a flurry of rushing mammals in military outfits armed to the teeth. Some were barking orders, others were rushing to stack magazines of reserve ammunition by the wall.

“Doc?” Stu continued. “Your job is to inspect what Judy has to see if it has any value. Anything else, and I’ll throw you right back in the brig. Understood?”

“Come on, Stu. This is bigger than––”

“––Understood?!” he barked.

“Yessir,” Ramic said and zipped his mouth shut.

They reached the top of the wall. Stu stood on a smaller platform near the edge and looked out over the green fields and empty road ahead. In the distance, he saw the horde of zombies that made their way all the way from Zootopia to eat his family, his friends, his community. He swore a promise they’d never see another walker in the Burrows whilst he drew breath, and he intended to keep it. He smelled the air––the faintest scent of foul death.

He raised a pair of binoculars to his eyes. Through them, he saw the faintest glimmer of a van’s windshield approaching the crowd of monsters from behind.

“Fangmeyer,” he said in a low tone.

She dutifully stepped forward. “Sir.”

“You’re our best shot on the wall, that right?” His eyes glanced at the long weapon slung over her shoulder.

She nodded. “Second perhaps to Judy, sir. But yes.”

“Good,” he said and turned back to look through his binoculars at the van fast approaching. “If and when you have a shot on the Walker––without endangering Judy––I want you to wait for my signal.”

Commander Fangmeyer stood tall and let her gaze follow his. “Yes sir.”

 


 

“Woah,” Judy murmured as the van came to a halt. The brakes squeaked and the engine rattled. Before them stood a mass of Walkers standing calmly in a crowd in the middle of the road. There really were hundreds of them, and so many different species. She saw a giraffe, a group of deer, several rodents of every shape and size, and even a few rabbits she didn’t recognize.

Beyond them stood the steel walls of her home. She could feel the sun beating down and the wind blowing dirt into the air. She could also see the sun reflecting off of several long-range scopes flashing like firecrackers. The highest-powered weaponry the burrows had was currently trained on them.

She felt a paw on her shoulder again. “You ready?”

Judy’s pistol remained in her belt, as did a throwing knife and the grenade. But strangely, she knew she wouldn’t need them. The entire crowd of Walkers ahead of her stood and regarded them with the same curious expression of longing and loneliness that felt so familiar now. Through the windshield, they watched as the two of them readied themselves.

Judy turned and pulled on N’s arm, ushering him closer. She leaned into him and placed a soft kiss on his lips. She felt his hand move to her cheek, caressing it lightly.

Stimulate their emotions, Dr. Defleur had said. The stronger the better.

She stood in her seat and kissed him harder, pulling on some of his fur near his cheek. Finally they pulled away and stared at each other tenderly. His eyes were so dilated she couldn’t even see that they were slitted at all any more. A giggle bubbled up from deep within her and she ran a paw idly across his nose.

“Ready,” she said and pulled the keys from the van.

They both stepped out and closed the doors behind them. The wall of eyes watching them looked taller now from the ground, but she noticed they were more dilated than before as well. The crowd had clearly seen their gratuitous PDA, and it seemed to work to make them more docile too. Perhaps seeing her kiss a Walker was all they needed to keep from murdering people. They met at the front of the van and joined paws again, letting their fingers interlace.

“Get a….a room!” a low voice called out from inside the crowd. Judy saw a shuffle of paws as the Walkers moved aside to make way for a familiar fennec fox walker. The little cream-colored ball of dirty fur stepped towards them and folded his paws in front of himself. “Pref–..preferably not mm–my van.”

“Hey bud,” N greeted with a smile. “Thanks for the wheels, small-fry.”

The little fox’s eyes widened a little. He was probably not used to how eloquently N could speak now, and it clearly made him long for the same. Truth be told, she already owed her life to this little fox, and whatever she could do to bring him back to the living would be well deserved.

Judy stepped forward and knelt down, looking at the Walker dead in the eye. He looked at her more suspiciously than the others did, but she felt like that was part of his natural self, not the disease. She was close now enough that if he lunged at her, she’d be an easy meal. “Do you have a name?”

Again, the little fox’s eyes widened and his expression softened. “..Uhhh.”

“Try to remember,” she encouraged him. “You had a name once.”

He looked at the ground, his eyes focused and hardened. “... Ffffff…ungh…. Fff.”

“Starts with an ‘F’?”

He nodded, and tried again. “Ffff…. –ffuugh… fuck,” he cursed and his ears fell.

“You’re a fennec fox,” she pondered, “So how bout ‘Fennec’, for now?”

His expression softened and he looked at her fondly, nodding his head. “Y––yeah.”

“Okay, Fennec.” She smiled, and offered him the keys to the van with her palm open. “Thank you for your help.”

Fennec the fox suspiciously looked her up and down, but she remained still with her paw splayed open for him. He slowly stepped forward and, in the view of all the Walkers around them, took the keys from her paws. She felt his fur graze hers. His paw was shaky and cold, but it did not threaten her.

“Ann–… anytime.”

N helped her back onto her feet and took her paw again. “Can you help us through?”

“Ha,” Fennec murmured. “Just start walking.” N and Judy looked at each other one more time. She saw the case in his other paw and held onto him firmly. Slowly, they walked forward.

The crowd parted and enveloped them in like tall blades of grass welcoming a strong breeze. The sounds of shuffling paws, hoofs, and claws on the tarmac filled her ears. There were a few murmurs, and one or two words she could make out from the crowd––hushed voices whispering ‘look’, ‘bunny’, and ‘fox’––but the air was otherwise quiet. Judy kept her gaze forward towards the burrows for fear of breaking the magic. She was glad to receive a few reassuring squeezes from N’s paw along the way.

Slowly but surely, they made their way past the entire crowd until they emerged from the other side. They were closer to the wall now. Still too far for anyone but a sharpshooter to land a decent shot, but close enough for everyone on the wall to see what just happened. Keeping her grip on N with one paw, Judy fished out her radio with the other.

“Hopps to Fangmeyer, over.”

A moment of static, then “We-uhh––We read you, Hopps.”

Judy blipped the button again. “Can I get a confirmation you have a visual on us?”

“Confirmed… but…”

Judy smiled. She had them on the ropes. “Something the matter, Nora?”

Another moment of static passed, but there was no response from the tiger. Instead, the voice of Corporal Clawhauser chimed in. “Clawhauser to Hopps, we can all see you holding paws with a Walker after emerging from a massive horde totally unscathed.”

Judy laughed and blipped the radio again. “Thank you, Benny. Permission for us to approach the gate?”

Just then, Judy heard her father’s voice crackle into the radio. “Negative.”

Her ears stood stiff. “Dad?”

“Please step away from the Walkers and approach the wall with your paws splayed. You’ll be checked and processed from there.” Her father sounded dark and formal, as if addressing an unknown officer or miscreant. “Once you’ve been cleared, you will be brought up via rope ladder. We won’t risk opening the gate with so many Walkers close by.”

“Mmm,” N murmured. “Sounds like your p––pops is pissed.”

“No kidding.” Judy groaned and rose the radio to her mouth again. “Hopps to Hopps, I’m not going anywhere without my friend.”

N made a slight whine sound and looked at her a little dejectedly. “We’re just fr–friends now?”

Judy covered the radio against her chest and spoke in hushed whispers. “Baby steps, N. I don’t think he’d react calmly to the word ‘boyfriend’ right now.”

“Oh.” His face fell back to a calm intrigue. “That’s okay. ‘Boyfriend’ is a little strong right now anyway.”

She cocked an eyebrow. “Why? What would you call us?”

He shrugged. “I would have gone with ‘Undead long-term booty call’.” At that moment, Judy feared that Kris was beginning to rub off on him.

“Negative, Hopps,” her father chimed back in through the radio. “I will say this one more time. Step away from the Walkers and approach the wall with your paws empty and in the air.”

Judy’s patience was starting to wear out. “Dad, look at me. I am in no danger here. Neither is anyone else.”

His voice rose. “I know a trick when I see one, now step away!”

“What trick?!” she shouted. “Dad, we have the cure! We found the answer to everything and we have it right here! Even if the Walkers were capable of a trick like that, do you really think I am?”

“Last chance, Judy!” he barked.

“Argh!” she grunted and stomped her foot on the broken concrete. She turned to N and splayed her arms in defeat. “He won’t listen to reason!” There might be a few mammals on the wall who might listen, but while Stu Hopps held command, no one would budge. All of her other confidants were likely in the brig––say for Clawhauser, who was better off keeping quiet at the moment.

“Can I try?” N had his paw open with a patient but hopeful expression on his face. She was surprised by his suggestion––seeing as the last time he tried to speak with her father, he nearly blew off his head. But she saw his pupils were so round and open. Perhaps N could speak a little more confidently when not facing a gun at point blank range.

She nodded and handed the radio over. He cleared his throat and held it up to his face. “Sir, w–with all due respect, you should have more ff–faith in Judy.”

Judy gasped. “N!” While N’s voice was confident, and he wasn’t wrong, now was not the time to be questioning her father’s resolve. He wouldn’t take kindly to it.

Stu’s voice was softer and broken by static. “Who the hell…”

“I mean, I get it!” N continued. “Us Walkers def...definitely deserve the bad wrap we get.”

“Give the radio back to my daughter right now, monster!” Stu shouted. Judy could faintly hear through the radio that there were gasps and audible chatter from the other guards on the wall. It was clear beyond a doubt that they were hearing a Walker speak––And with a little sass, much to Judy’s chagrin.

“–But!” N interjected, “To think Judy Hopps is anything less than the most devoted and determined bunny in the b–Burrows is frankly insulting. I mean, she risks life and l–limb to collect medicine from the mmmost dangerous place in the world… succeeds at it, and then goes out to search for a cure. Why…?” Judy’s lips parted in surprise. N spoke so clearly and with such confidence now, and in the moment she needed him most. She gazed at him, watching as he glared towards the wall with determination. “Because she wants to make the world a better place.”

Stu’s voice crackled into the radio. “Don’t you tell me about my own daughter!”

“You’re the one with the guns pointed at us, chief,” N reminded him. She saw him raise a finger in the air as if to stop the next interruption from hundreds of yards away. “Here’s the thing. She’s been nothing but the best of the living her whole life. Do you really think she’d stab you in the back after a we––weekend in Zootopia? Her family? Her whole home?... Do you realize how crazy that sounds?”

“Hmph,” Stu grumbled. “You expect me to believe that the savage beasts that tore my family to pieces have suddenly turned friendly?”

“I expect you… to trust your daughter, sir.” After that last word, the radio was quiet. N lowered the radio away from his face, and smiled at Judy. She had about one thousand more words for the fox, but they’d have to come later.

She pulled the radio from N’s grip and hit the button again. Her voice broke a little as she pleaded with her father. “Dad, please. We just want to give this box to Ramic. We think there’s a way to cure them.”

Stu responded quickly this time. “I’m not allowing those things any closer.”

Judy groaned. “Then send him out to meet us. He already knows the only danger here is on the walls.”

Silence followed, and it filled her with a glimmer of hope. Perhaps what N had said was getting to him? She gripped the radio a little tighter in one paw, and N’s fingers in the other. The warmth from his fur reminded her of everything she and N had been through, and the progress he had made thus far. She clung to his paw, hoping to feel him even warmer and alive soon. He squeezed her paw back, silently sharing her desperate longing.

Judy’s ears perked up tighter when she saw a rope ladder drop from the tip of the wall and a figure begin to scuttle downwards. “I think it worked!”

“Whew,” N sighed. “Thought I had pissed him off.”

“Wait until he hears you kissed me.”

N’s eyes shot open and looked at her fearfully. “D–don’t tell him now…. C–carrots! Y––you kiss–sed me first anyw.. Anyway!” His stutter returned whenever he was nervous, she noticed.

“Relax, I was just kidding.” Judy watched him approach from the wall slowly with a hopeful smile on her face.

Her smile faded when she saw two long ears and a long-barreled shotgun pointed forward. Her father had climbed down instead of Ramic! He had brought his gun with him as well.

“N, get behind me.” The fox did as instructed and hunkered down behind her ears. She stood tall with her shoulders as wide as possible. The crowd of Walkers behind them scuttled backwards but she held her ground. As her father walked closer, she could see the dark expression on his face. He gripped his gun tightly, and his eyes were wide and shifted attention from her to the walkers behind her sporadically. Finally, when he was close enough to see the pink on his nose, he stopped and held his gun low. The safety was off.

“Where’s Ramic?” she asked him.

Her father shook his head. “I’m not sending any more mammals to their deaths.”

“Is that what you think is gonna happen?” She frowned at him. “That any moment now, N will turn on us and eat us both?”

His frown deepened. “You don’t realize what they’ve done to us, Judy.”

“Don’t I?” She took a step forward, and felt N shuffle forward with her, keeping his face hidden behind hers. “I helped you bury them, Dad. I was there.”

“Then how can you trust them!?” he shouted and pointed accusingly at the horde behind her. His voice caused a few of the Walkers in the crowd to twitch and shuffle further away. “How can you stand there and defend them?”

“Because they saved me, Dad. The least I can do is return the favor.” Judy’s expression softened. “N was the first to change, but it’s spreading to the rest of them too. I thought it was crazy at first, but he’s kept me safe. He’s the reason I made it out of Zootopia alive. Don’t you think that’s worth at least hearing him out?”

“It’s not possible,” he said firmly. “They don’t feel anything. Not pain, regret, or mercy. They’re more dead inside than they are on the outside.”

Judy spoke softly. “They’re not dead, Dad.”

“Yes they are!” he barked. “Look at them!”

She shook her head. “They’re alive and I can prove it.”

Stu’s gun faltered a little lower. “What?”

“They’re not dead.” The truth of her words grew a slight smile on her face. “They’re just sick.”

Stu’s nose twitched. “Sick…”

“We found the answer, Dad. It’s a parasite,” she explained. “The place we went to, the doctor there found the answer. It’s a parasite that keeps them alive and takes control of their bodies.” His expression began to change. His eyes narrowed and focused on her.

“If that’s true…” he said slowly, “Then what’s changing now? What’s stopping them from tearing us apart right now?”

N perked up from behind her shoulder. “Would y–you believe ‘the magic of love’?”

Stu scowled. “No,” he said flatly.

Judy shrugged. “It’s more or less true, Dad. If you stimulate one specific part of the brain, the parasite’s control starts to slip. If we can kill the parasite in their blood, their body’s should recover and they can gain control again. They can be saved, Dad.” Judy opened up her palms and spread her arms out wide, gesturing to the crowd behind her. “Look at them! Look how many lives we can still save––”

“––Enough, Judy!” The anger in his voice made her body jump, and the pain in it made her heart sink. “I saw my children die. I saw their corpses rise up and eat their brothers and sisters. And I…. I put those children in the ground….”

“Dad,” Judy took a step forward, her arms splayed. “It’s okay.”

“There’s no love in them…” he continued, his voice starting to break.

Judy continued to approach her father. “It wasn’t your fault.”

The gun wavered lower further, and his voice continued to falter. “...They didn’t even recognize me…”

“I know, Dad. I’m so sorry.” Judy was so close she could see his nose twitching and his eyes quivering.

“...Judy... your mother…”

Slowly, Judy wrapped her father into a tight embrace, shushing him and running a paw over his ears in slow soothing sweeps. “I know, Dad. I miss her too. Every day.” She squeezed him and rubbed her cheek against his. She felt one of his paws loosen grip over his shotgun and grip her jacket on her back. He pulled her closer and tighter.

Her father had always been more of a sap before the deadrising, reluctantly proclaiming ‘here come the waterworks’ right before bursting into sobs at every graduation and wedding. After the world went south, he had hardened and closed the world off from seeing him like any longer, including his kids. But now, with only herself and a host of Walkers in earshot, he let a real sob go as he clutched her jacket.

“Judy!” N’s frantic voice caused her heart to jump. She let her father go and wheeled around, finding N pointing towards something on a dusty hill behind them. She took a moment to find where he was pointing at, but it was clear the moment she saw them.

“Savages.”

On a desolate mound beyond the line of Walkers stood an actual monster. A Savage giant––a rhinoceros by the looks of it––leered at the crowd of Walkers. Its sickly white skin sagged on its jagged bones. It lurched and screeched, sounding like broken glass grinding on steel.

Judy’s stomach dropped and her ears fell behind her. There were more savages falling in behind the rhino now. Almost all were larger mammals––they would have to be to make it all the way out to the burrows–– including a bear, several large cats, and at least one hippo. She saw seven or eight … then a dozen … then a dozen more. They snarled and clawed at the dirt as if the earth were made of flesh.

Her father leapt back away from her and raised his gun. His eyes widened back open and his nose twitched. “It was a trap!”

She raised her arms and splayed her paws. “No! Dad, it’s not––”

“They’re here to knock the gate down!” he claimed. He cocked his shotgun. Judy heard the horde of Walkers shuffle and yip in fright.

“Dad, wait! Don’t shoot!” She pleaded, trying to keep herself between her father and N as best she could, though the look on his face told her she was just scaring him further.

Orange fur appeared to her side. “Here!” N begged. Judy turned to find N standing right before her father, offering the case to him openly and urgently. “Take it and get back to the wall!”

Stu looked confused, but kept his gun pointed straight at him. “What?”

N knelt lower and thrusted the box handle-forward towards him. “We’ll hold them off. Just take the case!”

Stu timidly reached out, his paw shaking madly, and gripped the case in his paw. N stepped away with his paws up, and her father whipped around at Judy. “We’re leaving.”

She balked. “And leave them out here to die?”

“I’m not asking, Judy.” Stu’s voice was dark. He raised his gun again towards N and aimed square at his face. “Come with me right now or I’ll shoot him.”

“Dad!” Judy screamed in panic.

“Right now!” he barked.

Judy’s heart was racing. She looked over to N who still had his paws splayed in surrender. He caught her eye, and his expression softened. His paws lowered and he stood a little taller. “Go.”

She shook her head. “N, no.”

“I’ll be fine,” he reassured her with a smile. “Go. Get the case home.”

Her eyes darted back to the case in her father’s grasp. She wanted to scream at her father, or to scream at N, or neither. The sounds of distant howling told her more savages were moving in behind them. If the case wasn’t behind the wall soon, all of this could have been for nothing. She glanced back to N one more time.

“You’re alive,” she said softly. She took one step towards her father and steeled her expression. “Stay that way.”

“Let’s go, Jude,” her father beckoned, and she fell in behind her.

The two of them darted away from the horde of Walkers and back towards the metal wall separating her home from seemingly endless violence. Her father slung his gun back over his shoulder as he ran and pulled out a walky talky. “Hopps to the gate, prepare the ladder!” he said. Judy did not dare look behind her out of fear of whatever expression was on N’s face. It would likely break her heart.

They kept running, her father showing that even older bunnies were some of the fastest mammals alive. His shotgun practically fluttered on his back like a flag in the wind. He kept one ear pointed backwards, making sure her footsteps were right behind him as they got closer to the wall. A rope ladder fluttered down the wall by the gate as they approached and he hailed on his radio again. “As soon as we’re on, pull us up as fast as you can!” He got to the ladder first and turned around, gesturing for her to start climbing. “You first.”

“Alright,” she agreed and gripped the rope in her paws. She climbed a few rungs up and peered downward at her father situating himself on the first two rungs of the ladder himself. He gripped the rope tightly, the case sitting on his wrist while his other arm dug for his radio again. The case wasn’t going anywhere unless he fell.

Poor dad, she thought for a moment, seeing the continuous panic in his eyes as he nervously peered over his shoulder towards the approaching Savages. I hope he remembers me for more than this.

“Now!” He shouted into the radio. “Pull us up!”

The ladder jerked upwards, and Judy let go. She flipped backwards as she fell –– the ladder yanking her feet up higher causing her to tumble in the air quickly. In the moment her father passed by her, she snagged the shotgun off of his shoulder, catching his paw and flinging the radio from his grasp. She landed on her feet only having left the ground about a meter.

“JUDY!” he cried out as he ascended with impressive speed. “Judy no!” His face contorted in anger and despair as he sailed up the wall. But the case was still in his paw, and that’s all that mattered.

Judy watched, making absolutely sure she saw her father and the case in his paw disappear over the top of the wall safely. She could hear the faint sounds of shouting once he crested the top, and confused soldiers wondering where she was. One day soon they’d understand why she couldn’t leave N –– all of the Walkers really –– to die.

She turned on her heel and slung her father’s gun over her shoulder, breaking out into a sprint towards the horde of Walkers. They had shifted into a thinner line of mammals, stretching out further apart, facing the oncoming savages. She called out for N, but she couldn’t see him amongst the crowd. She darted into the mass of legs and matted fur. Several of the Walkers looked much more agitated than they had previously, moaning and occasionally snarling like the monsters she grew up fearing.

An ocelot among them spotted Judy and lazily grabbed at her jacket. She tugged herself free easily, but others started giving her similar attention. Their eyes were glazed. “N?” she called out. “N!”

“Carrots!” his voice appeared from a few walkers ahead. He shoved a couple Walkers aside and stepped forward, causing the others to back off slowly.

Judy eyed them apprehensively. “What’s going on with them?”

“They’re scared,” he explained. Upon closer inspection, she didn’t see hunger in their eyes, but rather confusion, like a group of lost children.

She turned to N. “Are you scared?”

He smiled and took her paw. “Not anymore.”

“The Savages,” she said coldly.

N nodded and guided her towards the front. The line of growling beasts stood on a dirty hill a few dozen meters away. Some of them continued to wander around, aimlessly scratching at the earth. Their blank lifeless eyes were white and hungry. Judy checked her pockets for her equipment one more time before pulling the shotgun from her shoulder and checking the magazine. 6 shells … Might bring down one or two of those beasts.

“Why are they just standing there?” she wondered quietly.

“They can’t ss–see all that well,” N reminded her.

She furrowed her brow. “How’d they make it all the way out here so quickly?”

“The smell,” N replied easily.

She reeled at him with wide eyes. “My scent?”

“Not just you. The Burrows … when I was inside…”

“You could smell the living?” she finished for him.

“Like a discount buffet,” he said flatly. “They probably followed our scent out of the city, then caught the Burrows from miles away.”

Judy’s mouth fell open. I did this. She swore where she stood that not a single beast would make it to the wall, let alone through it. “We can’t let those big ones reach the wall. The gate is strong, but a rhino or bison moving fast enough might crack it open. A single Savage inside the walls will cause an outbreak.”

“That’s not happening,” N said confidently.

“I’ve got enough rounds for that big guy up front. I can act as bait, since I’m the one they can smell.”

N huffed and shook his head. “Your plan is to matador them to death?”

“I’m working on a plan,” Judy said, though she had to admit the details of said plan were not coming as easily as she’d hoped.

A stiff cool breeze picked up from behind them, wisping playfully at the dirt and wild shrubs. It was the only sound in the air for a few solemn moments before Fennec spoke up from beside her. His small eyes were also trained on the terror before them. “Better ww–work on that plannn quick...quickly. You smell delicious.”

The Savages all stopped, pointing their noses up high as they gathered the scent in the air. It must have been particularly powerful because as soon as they did, their muscles thickened and their growls grew louder. For the first time, they all looked towards the Burrow wall at the same time with envious maws and dripping fangs.

N turned to face the line of Walkers and held his paws up to his mouth. “If you feel something! If you feel anything! You’re alive!” Judy turned and saw the crowd focus on him. Their ghostly eyes and pale skin did not betray the lively expressions on their faces. “We can help you live again! But first we gotta keep these losers from fucking shit up!”

Judy heard Fennec chuckle beside her. N continued to shout to his captive crowd. “If you’re with us, let me hear you say it: Two legs good! Four legs bad!”

A loud roar rang in her ears, and she could hear the echo bouncing off of the wall behind her. The Savages were charging now, slowly building up speed like distant thunder. The heaviest mammals –– the rhino and the bisons –– kicked up clouds of dirt as their breath steamed in the air like they were breathing smoke.

But a moment later, Judy heard a strange murmuring from behind her. It started slow and inconsistent, but grew louder and more confident. The crowd of Walkers were chanting. “Two legs good…. Four legs bad… Two legs good …. Four legs bad….” They started advancing towards the charging monsters.

Fennec started walking with them. “Go for the ll–legs.”

N nodded, as he fell into a march beside Judy. When had she started marching too? “He’s right,” he said. “Their bones are brittle, and they can’t break the wall if they can’t run.” He started to lightly jog.

Judy gripped the gun in her paws and began running. The thundering hooves around her rang equally loud as the snarls coming for them. Now there was snarling and howling coming from beside her too, along with continued chanting. The Walkers were keeping pace, running beside her. Years of fearing these creatures conditioned her to keep her distance, yet she felt glad that those fangs were not barred in her direction this time.

Judy looked over to N with a fiery gaze. “Do you trust me?” she cried out over the thumping, chanting, and snarling.

“Yes!” he said loudly.

“Then stay right behind me!”

Judy was at a full sprint now, and only a few meters from the first of the charging Savages. A cape buffalo huffed at her and roared with vitriol. She felt N so close to her that her ears grazed his whiskers behind her. The Savages and the Walkers collided.

“Dive!” she shouted and started sliding feet first. The dirt beneath her kicked upwards as the massive maw of the buffalo passed right over her. N was fast behind and followed her under the massive beast. Judy raised her shotgun and fired a round at the buffalo’s knee at point blank range.

The blast from the gun gave her shoulder a massive kick, and it actually slowed her down enough to have N push her clear of the beast before it tumbled to the ground.

“Ha!” N cheered. “Two legs good, four legs bad, three legs just okay.”

“Please none of your––WATCH OUT!” she cried and gripped his shirt and yanked him towards her. A set of fangs barely missed his ears as a Savage trampled forward and collided with a Giraffe behind them. N landed face down on top of Judy with a thump, her weapon lodged between them. He shook his head and, noticing her below him, flushed slightly.

“That a shotgun in your pocket?” he quipped.

She fidgeted beneath him for a moment to get a better grip on her gun and cocked it before smiling at him. “Yeah it is. You?”

He flushed further. “I uhhh..––wooOOAHH!” N’s eyes shot open as he was lifted off of her and into the air by a Savage bison. Without the wooly fur, it looked more like a sickly cow, though its weight and heft was still menacing. It held N by the shirt and swung him about madly. He cried out as he was tossed aside like a fly on a meal, landing in the dirt a few meters away.

Judy was ready. As soon as the massive monster looked back towards her, she opened fire and cast a shower of lead into its face. The bison, however, did not fall. It stumbled back and roared for a moment before turning back towards her with a blood-soaked face. It growled menacingly and loomed over her. Blood dripped onto the ground around her as the beast stared her right in her eyes.

She heard another growl as she fumbled to re-cock her shotgun, but the growling wasn’t coming from the bison. A moment later, she heard a honk and turned to see headlights barreling towards her. She tucked her feet upwards and backrolled away just as the bison took the mean end of a radiator grill to the side and tumbled over. Judy continued to dash away from the carnage as the Savage went down, struggling for only a moment before becoming motionless.

The rusty van that Judy had driven in on now had a massive dent in the bumper and was oozing some liquid out the bottom that looked important. She looked up to the driver’s window and saw Fennec peering out the window to confirm his kill. Satisfied, he looked over to Judy and cocked his eyebrow.

“I’m good,” she grunted, rising to her feet. “Thanks.”

“Thanks again,” Fennec corrected her. It wasn’t the first time he had mowed down a Savage with that van of his.

N appeared by her side and placed his paws on her shoulders, looking at her with concern. “You okay?”

“I’m fine,” she assured him. “We need to find that rhino.”

“Rhino?” he bellowed. The sounds of struggling mammals on all sides were forcing them to shout at each other.

She counted off the threats on her fingers. “I counted three cape buffalos, one bison, a hippo and a rhino. None of the rest would make it through the wall, so the Rhino’s our priority.”

N nodded and looked around for a moment amongst the fighting. He peered up at Fennec and pointed at the van. “Give us a ride?” The smaller fox didn’t bother answering. He simply put the car in gear and revved the engine. He disappeared in the cabin for a moment before re-emerging with a baseball bat in his paw.

He tossed it to N. “Mm––make yourself use..ful.”

“Let’s go!” Judy said and bounded up the van’s hood and onto the roof. N stumbled upwards behind her and the van started to move. The higher vantage point allowed her to see more of the field, but the uneven ground made them both stumble a little as the van rolled beneath them. The engine growled and groaned in protest, clearly running odd after the collision with that bison.

“See the Rhino?” Judy said, keeping her weapon drawn and pointed down range.

“No,” he replied. “But I ss–saw another cape buffalo on the g… the ground. Think the Walkers got it.”

“Nice! That just leaves one more of those, the rhino, and the hippo,” she exclaimed.

N shrugged. “Don’t forget about the––cats! Judy duck!”

She didn’t bother to turn, she just dropped her weight down onto the roof of the van with a metallic thunk as claws swiped through the air. She rolled on the roof and pulled her gun up higher as a massive white cat of some kind snarled and swiped at her, climbing up to the roof as it did so. She squeezed off a round, but the cat batted the tip of her gun away causing her to hit nothing but air.

Just as it reeled and prepared for another swipe, N lunged forward swinging with his bat. The metallic sound of the bat waving through the air ended with a pang as he connected with the monster’s cheek bone. It stumbled and groaned before another shake of the van caused it to tumble to the dirt below.

“Nice one,” Judy commended him.

He looked back at her with concern. “There are more coming.”

Sure enough, more felines and a few canine-type Savages started tailing the van like a pack. With them at a full sprint and the van slowed by the uneven ground, there’s no way they could outrun them. If only I had Gretta, she thought.

“There!” N pointed behind the pack of Savages towards a group of Walkers who were giving chase as well. They were trailing the Savages closely in a full out sprint. One of the Walkers, a lion, tackled a larger feline Savage and bit down on its neck. Other walkers followed suit, but the other Savages seemed not to notice.

“All we need to do is fight them off!” Judy realized. “The Walkers will take care of the rest.” She swapped out her shotgun for her pistol and undid the safety. N gripped his bat a little tighter and nodded back at her.

Another Savage scampered up the rear of the van, but N was fast upon him. He swung with his bat, breaking a few teeth, but the Savage held its claws into the van’s roof. N swung again and missed. The Savage ducked and swiped at his feet. He tumbled over, giving Judy a clear shot. She let two slugs fly, both of which connected and the Savage fell limp off the rear of the van.

The vehicle jostled, and two more Savages crawled up either side, snarling wickedly. N swung with his bat as Judy dodged a few snaps from angry jaws. She fired a few more rounds, but it was harder to nail a headshot with the van bumping around beneath them. The van’s horn honked twice. Judy reeled and looked forward. They approached a massive dip in the ground. Judy gasped and leapt towards N.

“Hold on!” She grasped the van’s roof mount as tightly as she could as the Savages approached. They lunged forward, simultaneously leaping towards them with fangs drawn.

The van fell down the ledge and pulled both Judy and N down with it. The leaping monsters tumbled forward and lost their balance. The van bounced off the dirt and both Savages slammed into the roof hard. One slipped off the side and tumbled into the Walkers giving chase. The other held on with one paw and struggled to regain footing. N quickly stood and swung with his bat. A clang, and the Savage lost its grip and tumbled downwards. The van bounced as it rolled over the unlucky feline.

“Whew,” Judy said, letting go of the roof mount. “Never thought I’d actually like being chased by Walkers.” The rest of the Savages in the pack chasing them had either dispersed or been claimed by the charging Walkers.

Just then, the van slowed and groaned beneath them. Steam started rising from the engine bay, and Judy saw a trail of black fluid on the dirt behind them. That fall must have really done a number on the poor van. She could feel them coasting now, towards the gate. Fennec gave it more throttle, but the engine just spun and smoked further before sputtering to silence soon after.

“Uhhh, Carrots?” N said nervously. He was pointing to something off the vans starboard side. Turning, Judy saw a massive horrid hippo charging the van at impressive speed. This Savage likely turned recently as it still had most of its body mass, and all of it was a moment away from slamming into the van.

“JUMP!” she said and took N’s paw. She leapt from the roof just as the hippo crashed into the van. The rear windows shattered and the metal frame buckled before toppling over. The van capsized and fell onto the ground as N and Judy tumbled into the dirt.

She rolled and was on her feet a split second later. Holstering her pistol and whipping out her shotgun, she trained it at the side of the fallen van, ready for the creature to circle around and claim its prize. The air grew hot, and Judy turned to see the van’s engine bay had caught fire. Fennec was trapped inside, pounding on the windshield.

“Get him out of there!” She said to N.

He reeled and lowered his bat. “What about the hippo?”

The massive beast appeared from the rear of the van. “I’m faster, I can keep it busy!”

N looked panicked. “But Judy…”

The beast roared and rumbled towards her. “Just go!”

She kicked off and began sprinting away from the van, where the flames began to build. The shaking ground told her that the hippo was fast behind her. Her scent must have been why it attacked the van in the first place. She guided it away from the blaze and kept peering over her shoulder to find it salivating behind her. Her father’s gun remained in her paws as she guided it in a long circle. A cloud of dirt followed its thunderous charge. She looked back towards the van, and the flames were even higher now.

If I could just take out its leg, it wouldn’t be able to chase me…

Judy stopped and faced the creature that continued to ramble towards her. She counted two more rounds, so she had to make them count. Dashing forward, she charged the oncoming hippo with the same plan she used on the cape buffalo earlier. As she approached, the Savage opened its colossal mouth and lunged at her. A mammal her size would likely be a one-bite meal. Its maw opened so wide that its lower jaw grazed the ground.

Dammit, she cursed. She had no room to dive underneath it to catch the legs. At the last moment, she opted for the safer option and leapt upwards, bounding on her powerful legs and tucking over the beast. Its jaws raised higher, trying to catch her. She grazed off of its upper lip, and she felt the slimy necrotic skin for just a moment in the air before falling back down and rolling back into the dirt.

It’s too short and stubby! I can’t get to its feet. And its mouth never opens unless it is lunging at me.

The monster reeled around and gave chase again. Judy could see more Walkers wrestling and biting with Savages all around her. She thought for a moment that she might get one of them to distract it while she goes for the legs again, but nothing was more distracting than the living, and she was the only uninfected one around.

Judy looked back to the van, and saw N pulling Fennec from the cabin as the blaze grew higher. She ran again to guide the hippo away from them, but she admitted she needed help. She whistled loudly and waved a free paw over to N, who was making sure his friend was safe. He grabbed his bat and took off towards her. He ran alongside her arc until they were running side by side only a split second in front of the hippo.

“This thing doesn’t get tired, does it?” N pondered.

“I can’t get to the legs when its mouth is open,” she said with a huff. “We need to keep it busy long enough for me to get a shot off.”

“Any ideas?” he said, struggling to keep up. He wasn’t as naturally fast as she was.

“We need to give it something to chew on!”

“We don’t have any stuffed rabbits this time, Carrots,” N said in disapproval. “I’m not feeding it me.”

“Your bat!” she said and gestured to the slugger in his hands.

“Oh. right.”

She looked back to gauge the distance. They had about two seconds from stopping to getting chomped. “When I turn around, stay right behind me. I’m gonna jump out of the way. When it opens its mouth, toss the bat inside!”

“Got it!” he said with a nod and pushed forward, running in front of her. He saw his tail wavering in front of her as he ran, and the distant view of the wall in front of them. She waited till they were on a clear stretch of ground before slamming her legs down and turning.

“Now!” N was behind her as they faced the oncoming charge. Once again, the monster opened its mouth and lunged at her. There were horrid brown teeth and rotting flesh coming towards them now. As soon as it lunged, she leapt out of the way. This time, as she turned in the air, N tossed his bat forward before leaping out of the way himself. The aluminum bat flew through the air before lodging itself into the beasts jaws, propping them open.

“Yes!” she cheered as she landed. She turned again and dove forward, her weapon drawn. The beast was already turning, but was too slow this time with the bat keeping its mouth open. She flanked the hippo and found its front leg before pointing the gun and pulling the trigger.

The gun kicked her shoulder again and caused her to fly backwards. The shot connected with its leg and it roared out angrily. But the hippos' leg was to thick to split apart as the cape buffalo’s had. Instead, the lead spattered its skin, maiming it but not tearing it up enough to stop it.

“Shit,” she said. She cocked her shotgun and tried to fire again, but the beast had turned now and stomped at her with its feet. She retreated, regrouping with N and they both watched as the Savage turned towards them. The bat continued to prop its mouth open, and it seemed to struggle to balance. Probably out of sheer frustration, the Savage bit down on the bat with powerful jaws. The metal began to strain and bend under the massive force before buckling and folding like a paperclip in its mouth.

“Other ideas?” N asked nervously.

Judy was about to speak, but she heard a growl from their side. Another Savage, a capybara, lunged at N from their flank. “Watch out!” she cried and raised her weapon. N ducked and covered his head as Judy fired. A mammal so small was easy work for her father’s shotgun, and the Savage rolled over and died a moment later. But now she was out of rounds. All she had left was her pistol, a throwing knife and … the grenade.

N’s frightened voice called out. “Judy!”

She turned, and the Hippo was upon her. Its jaws were closing already, and she could feel cold breath on her nose. At the last second she lifted her father’s shotgun a little higher, and the monsters jaws slammed down on it. Its mouth propped open now with the gun the same way as before.

“N, run!” she cried as she dug into her pocket. The gun was half-wood, so it wouldn’t last as long under the pressure the aluminum bat had. She would not get another chance at this. She pulled out the small green ball and yanked the pin out, then backed away as the Savage roared again, biting down on the weapon which already began to buckle. Judy tossed the explosive forward, the trigger firing as it flew forwards. The gun shattered and splinters of wood and metal flew everywhere. The grenade made it into the monster’s mouth just a moment before its jaws closed.

She turned to run and tackled N to the ground, covering him with her body. “Get down!”

The blast picked them both up and flung them away from the Savage hippo. The force knocked the wind out of her and set her ears ringing. She felt numb and her vision got a little blurry as dust smoke built up around them.

In a daze, Judy rolled onto her back and coughed. She felt her fingers and toes wiggle, making sure her limbs were all still there. The deafening ringing continued in her head as she shakily rose to her feet. She couldn’t find N anywhere, but the hippo was now unrecognizable. Its front half was missing, and its back half was mangled and misshapen.

“N?” she groaned and looked around for her partner. “N?”

She could faintly hear the muffled sound of his voice in one direction. “Judy!” He was calling out her name, but the throbbing in her head made him hard to pinpoint. She turned around and found him sprinting towards her. The fear in his face was the only thing that wasn’t blurry. “Judy look out!”

He seemed to be pointing to something behind her. Her head kept throbbing with some odd thumping sound. She turned to see what he was pointing to, and when she did she realized her head wasn’t the source of the thumping. The Savage rhino must have heard the blast and came charging because it was only a few feet from where Judy was standing and barreling down at her at full speed. Its massive front horn was dripping with the blood of Walkers it had charged through earlier.

N’s paws gave her a hard shove at her shoulders and she toppled over. She tumbled to the ground as the thumping sound whizzed by her. N was there for a moment, but then he wasn’t.

“N!” she shouted as her senses returned to her in full force. She cried out for him as she watched his body sail into the air. The rhino had taken him clean off his feet and sent him several meters into the air. He fell to the ground hard with a tumble before laying motionless. “No!”

She pulled out her side arm and fired at the rhino who had turned to face her. The bullets were too small for such a large mammal, but she didn’t care. She kept firing hoping that it would at least get the monster away from N. The pistol clicked empty. The rhino stepped towards her. She angrily tossed the pistol at the beast. Maybe her rage would amplify her throwing somehow…. No. It grazed its horn and fell to the ground. The vile brute stepped towards her menacingly, its blank eyes bearing no semblance of life any longer.

Judy pulled out her throwing knife and gripped it tightly. She leered at the rhino and beckoned it closer. “Come on….” she blinked back tears and waved the monster towards her. “Come on!”

Bullets rang out. She heard them strike the rhino with furious cracks before she heard the muzzles flaring, then the humming of engines. She followed the sounds of gunfire to find two military humvees rolling into view. Mounted atop one of them was a large .50 caliber cannon that was unloading onto the Savage rhino. It began to charge at the new challengers before falling to the ground and tumbling over.

Armed soldiers followed the cavalry on foot, spewing off rounds at Savages as they approached. Radios blared with orders and sit-reps from the battlefield as the soldiers moved with precision, only advancing forward when the Savages seemed to back down.

Looking closer, Judy saw that they weren’t firing on Walkers. They seemed to maintain safe distances, but none of them engaged with each other. The focus instead was on clearing the grounds of all Savages anywhere they could be found. Judy wanted to be relieved, but N still hadn’t risen from the ground yet. She ran to him as the shots continued to flare behind her and knelt beside him.

“Oh N.” Her voice was weak and her vision remained blurry through the tears. N had taken the charge directly to the chest. His jacket was torn and his face was bloodied, but his expression was calm and quiet. She reached for his nose hoping to feel breath. Her paw felt cool air escape his nose, but it was faint and withering quickly. She pulled his head into her lap and pressed her ear down onto his chest. There was no beating at all. Her paws gripped the fur on his cheeks as she felt tears now flowing down their own.

One of the humvees skidded to a stop a few meters away, kicking up fresh dirt around her. She squinted and waved the dust away, watching as her father emerged from the vehicle along with a few foot soldiers with their rifles drawn. There was continued shouting through their radios and gunfire in the air, but both became more and more distant over time. Her father eyed the two of them on the ground closely.

“Dad,” she said softly. Her eyes and cheeks remained wet, but she dared to hope now that Stu was here. “Help him. Please.”

His brow furrowed and he stepped closer, giving N a thorough inspection. After a moment of thoughtful focus, his gaze shifted to her. He sighed, turned, and addressed his soldiers. “Corporal Clawhauser.”

Judy hadn’t even noticed it was Benny standing beside him. He responded sharply with a step forward. “Sir!”

“Get me a stretcher.”

Judy felt a twinge of relief in her chest. Benny saluted and dove back into the truck to pull out the stretcher. The other soldier stood guard as her father pulled up his radio and started hailing orders. “How we doin’ with that case, Doc?”

Ramic’s gritted voice responded back quickly. “I’m still trying to make sense of it. I think we might have something here but I need more time.”

“It’ll have to wait,” Stu instructed. “We’ve got wounded coming your way.”

The radio blipped with static before Ramic replied. “Okay. Bring them to the ward.”

“Roger that. ETA, eight minutes.” Stu turned to face her again and gave a subtle but reassuring smile.

She found herself smiling back at him, wiping away a tear on her eye. “Thank you.”

Stu smiled wider for a moment before fading into a somber look, nodding towards N. “He’s in rough shape.” She nodded and gazed down at N’s body. He continued to lay so still, and his breathing was even lighter than before. Her father placed a paw on her shoulder and gave her a light squeeze. “If he can be saved, we’ll do what we can to make it happen.”

Chapter Text

 

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.

Hang on…

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.”

“Any Savages?”

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



 

 

 

 

Hungry Hearts



 

 

Writing

Author …………………………..                                                            Johnsoneer

Lead Editor ………..............                                             OnceNeverTwiceAlways

Additional Collaborators............………                                         Kungfufreak07

                                                                                                 Feverwildehopps

                                                                                                Cimar-WildHopps

 

 

Artwork

Storyboard/Comic Illustrators…………..                                        Kungfufreak07

                                                                                                  FeverWildHopps

 

 

 

 

Additional Characters

Ramic....................                                                               Cimar-Wildehoppes

 

 

 

Chapter Song List

 

1. "On Melancholy Hill"

Gorillaz

2010

 

2. “I Want to Know What Love Is”

Foreigner

1984

 

3. "Thriller"

Michael Jackson

1982

 

4. "Hungry Heart"

Bruce Springstein

1980

 

5. "How Sweet it Is (To Be Loved By You)

James Taylor 

1975

 

6. "Easy"

The Commodores

1984

 

7. "Take Me Home Country Roads"

John Denver

1971

 

8. "Missing You"

Tom Waite

1984

 

9. "Roll Up"

Fitz and the Tantrums

2016

 

10."You Only Live Once"

The Strokes

2005

 

11. "Time After Time"

Cindy Lauper

1983

 

12. "Hold The Line"

Toto

1974

 

13. "Dreams"

The Cranberries

1993

 

 

 

Publishing

 

DeviantArt

Archive of Our Own

Fanfiction.net

Zootopia News Network

 

 

Additional Thanks

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. 

Cheers!

Johnsoneer





 

 




Epilogue

 

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?