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Paw in Paw

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Straightening out the few creases on her shirt, adjusting the sit of her badge upon her buckle, Grace Fields tip-toed up to the tall, white door and tapped her knuckles upon the white PVC. She waited in silent agitation, her veins pumping, her mind racing, but her body still in breathless steadiness.

It was time. Finally.

More than thirty seconds passed. The young lynx didn't knock and didn't move away. Muffled footsteps grew closer, the tapping of claws on laminate floor in accompaniment. The handle clicked; the door edged open.

“Grace?”

“Nick, I, uh... I have the information you asked for.” She kept her voice small and timid, looking up respectfully to the older fox who stood before her. He glanced over his shoulder, his brow troubled and his eyes dulled by apparent fatigue.

“Judy's sleeping. There's a room nearby that's free?”

“I think, Nick, we would be better going one floor up.”

The fox squinted, emeralds glinting in the light. “Why's that?”

“What you asked me to do was...” glancing over her shoulder, Grace dropped her voice to a whisper to help facilitate the excuse... “was to follow Bonnie Hopps, find out where she was and what she was doing. If we're talking about that and she comes walking by looking for you, with those acute ears of hers, we—”

“I get it. Sure. Just... hold on here a sec.”

“Nick?”

“Gonna leave Judy a note.”

“We won't be long, there's really no need to—” But the fox was already set in his decision. No level of argument would have succeeded in changing his mind. She accepted the loss and waited as the barrier of white swung itself back between them in the fluorescent hum of silence.

She turned around and looked out through the windows which lined the inside wall of this ward of the hospital: the open courtyard within. On the earth and grass and concrete below: a multitude of species and ages sat and walked around the space of trees and flowing air.

Many of them were sick. But some... perhaps just weary.

Both of these experiences Grace had been dealing with over the past twenty-four hours since the incident. Nick wasn't the only one who had lost sleep last night. But she, unlike Nick, didn't have time to feel sick, couldn't accept the excuse of just 'being weary'. Alone though she felt and knew herself to be, if she didn't take steps now... well, she'd already figured out what the outcome would be.

The door opened behind her; Grace span to find the calm, but mournful visage of the fox. She noted the atmosphere as he pulled his features into a smile which just about half concealed his emotional distress.

“Wrote the note,” he stated. “Can't say I like this though. Staying close to Judy seems way better than going off someplace else.”

“It would be better to. What if Billy decides to go after you yet again? If it's not Bonnie Hopps who comes looking for you, it's bound to be him.”

“Billy? How did you know about that... it only just happened?”

The lynx froze internally, her legs losing their step in a stumble, which shot flares of anxiety through her essence for all the unwanted signals this small misstep would be broadcasting. “I just overheard them,” she barely managed her words in normality. “Overheard Judy's mother and brother as they walked down the corridor.”

“Uh-huh?”

“They didn't react to me though, neither of them have a reason to recognize me.” Grace winced at the further error, this time in the form of a misstated fact she wished she could recall, since either one of them could mention knowing her later. Too far to go back on it now though, so she pushed on. “I'm doubtful they would've even spotted the badge on my belt, just assume I'm a civ' here to see someone.”

“I still don't see what the problem is. Billy comes at me again: I'll have backup, and a witness. Bonnie overhearing us? We just talk quietly; boom, no problem.”

“It's... not impossible Bonnie saw me when I was following. She didn't register me, sure, but after seeing me out with her, then in the corridor, then talking with you?”

“Alright, alright... for the sake of her 'suspicions', let's just go. Sooner we get back.”

Grace thanked herself the fox's mental state was as it was, fully aware of his usual sharpness, how nuanced and aware he could be when it came to the subtleties of language. His stress and mental traumas had drained him of his cognition, an advantage she intended to play upon as much as she was able.

“Right,” she said confidently. “The stairwell's just over here.”

“Yeah, I can see it.”

“I'll get the door.”

“... Thanks.”

...

“Billy, what was that? What were you doing in there when I expressly told you to stay away?”

“But you din't, Ma, you told me to go teach the fox a lesson for doin' his what's some!”

Bonnie bit upon her lip, her anxiety paying off. She breathed it away and sat herself in contemplation, her voice softening as she funneled her attention at her son. “Billy, were you... talking with anyone just before you came through?”

“What's you mean? Yeah, I talk some.”

“When did... you first think I wanted you to... 'go see' Nick?”

“Well, obviously all along, cuz is what you wanted me to-do-some. Is what you said.”

The buck rested further into the small examination room's bed. Bonnie found herself glancing out the door's window, the shadow of a figure walking by the glass's leaking light. “Was it a youngish lynx... a predator mammal? Was it her who came to talk to you?”

“Yeah! She were Miss... wh... I don' remember her name-none... but ye, young pred girlie.”

“Play me for a fool,” she muttered to herself. “Didn't count that I might not be just some ignorant rabbit.”

“What's up, Mah? You looks like when t'h Northgate Farm guys pulled up-with that border dispute-stuff-thing!”

She sucked her lip a moment, standing again as she walked back and forth, pacing against the laminate floor. “But what was the point? Why? First she chatters to me, tries to plant the idea I should make up evidence, tell the court I was there when Nick... hmm.”

She paused in her step with eyes at the door. “Clearly she thought I was just a stupid hick. The way she tried to plant the idea wasn't exactly subtle.”

“What's you talkin' 'bout, Ma?”

The doe glanced at her son for a few seconds and sat back on the dark, fabric seat. “Maybe subtle enough for some,” she noted, quietly... “But why plant both ideas? Why plant the idea on you to attack Nick? And that it was my idea? Well... believing it to be my idea, guess you'd never say that to any police, would you?”

“Course not Mah, you dun't even need t'h ask!”

“And making you think it was my idea, you wouldn't think to say it was that lynx's idea either. But if I hadn't grown suspicions, hadn't gone back to Judy and Nick... even if no one says I told you to do it, then any claim I make that Nick assaulted you would be instantly... thrown.”

The buck just stared at his mother. Bonnie didn't take the time to explain out all she was thinking in great detail. She wasn't even sure he'd grasp it deeply enough if she did.

“Taking to court Nick assaulting you when you'd just tried to beat up Nick... it'd put doubt on both of us. Make it impossible for a court to take me seriously. So... is she, what? Trying to block me from any chance of a successful suing? I guess it makes sense, cops covering for other cops, but... ”

The rabbit rose and briefly kissed Billy's forehead, confusion lingering on his face as she moved to the door with bag in paw. “I need to go, talk to Judy, see Nick. Not sure what's going on, but, I think it's best I find out.”

Reaching the door, the motherly doe paused and turned to her son. “And make no mistake, Billy,” she added, raising a finger. “You leave this room before I get back, I'll make your butt fur into a rug.”

...

In the dark brooding interior of the floating vessel of steel, the Chief of Police gazed at the hole in the floor, the sloshing waters of the River Avalon splashing against his legs, dirtying the floor with almost as much salt as in Bogo's present mood.

“With one little rat run, perhaps a dozen criminals escape justice,” he muttered to the officers in earshot, but mostly to himself.

Crackling for a half-beat, the Chief's helmet-set radio picked up. “Chief? Anderson here. Searched the crates in the sleeping quarters. Found some interesting stuff.”

“Define 'interesting',” he stated, his voice as tuneless and uninterested as before.

“Potentially an indicator for their point of origin, or a place they stocked up at, giving some ideas as to the origin of the supply?”

“How, what've you got?”

“A couple of books, Sir, written in... I think Sufuro?”

“A 'couple of books' doesn't cut it. The perps we picked up from the tankerspoke just about every major language. No immediate trend between their origins.” Mostly losing interest, the Chief signaled to one of the officers; together, they pulled the waterproof tarpaulin back across the hole set into the floor.

“Not just books though, Sir. Pretty much everything. This food and junk on the floor, these books, serial info on these crates... all from that general area.”

“Sufuro. The East-spoken language? Zistopia's native?” His interest was on the verge of being pricked, yes... but he was still more than aware of the vast amount of evidence that would be required before anyone would take his suspicions seriously.

“I'm not a geologist, Sir. I think so.”

“Bogo, I can mention something on that one,” Snarlov added in, talking from her vantage point outside the tanker, out of sight from all of them. “It's the native language of Zistopia. It's likely it originated from around there, but it's the common tongue of practically every country over there, even ones who don't have it as a first language.”

“So, helpful, but not that helpful,” Bogo grunted.

“Looking around, I'm seeing that too. These crates. All of them have the writing.”

“Well get in touch with HQ, have a translator sent over.” Clearing his throat, Bogo raised the tone and volume of his voice a notch, addressing the gathered ZPD as a whole. “Listen up, units A and B, respond.” The two unit leaders called in their attendance, the Chief leaning a hoof upon one of the many crates surrounding this lower deck. “The ship is apparently clear of perps. As discussed in the briefing, A unit should now split into two, forming a new A and B. B unit, head back to the ZPD, kit down to standard gear, check in, then resume normal duties.”

“Received, Chief. Heading out.”

“New A unit, head back up, secure the bridge and the boardwalk. New B Unit, we'll search these crates. Keep an eye out for anything like navigation charts or fueling records in particular, and report it to me immediately.”

It was harder than her training had given her to believe, impossibly harder. Sure, she'd convinced Nick to follow her to a part of the hospital where no one was exactly expecting to find them... but all the same, they were in a central hospital. What was she supposed to really do?

Fields wasn't even trying to calm her nerves by this point. She tried her best to stop her own fidgeting with her paws, but kept catching herself clasping and unclasping them, or fidgeting with her collar or the bulge of the needle tucked into her belt.

“Th— hem, this room seems adequate,” she suggested. The room visibly had a small bed inside, bare sheets and apparent lack of occupancy.

“After you,” Nick said, his paw gesturing loosely to the door. Fields smiled but swiftly turned away from the fox which wasn't as convincing as she had hoped. Nevertheless they both slipped inside to the privacy of emptiness and purified scents.

There was warmth flooding from the wide, tall window, as the gradually lowering sun touched upon the tip of the horizon. “Grace,” the fox said, leaning against the wall. His eyes didn't hold much on her, as he visibly wanted to look out into the sky. “You carried out your little 'mission'?”

“Absolutely,” she chirruped. “As instructed, I followed Miss Bonnie Hopps and managed to track her down to the library down the road.”

“The library? That explains whatever documents she was reading. She use the printer or the copy machine while she was there?”

“She did. Printer. She took some information from the computer and printed that.”

“Did you catch what info?”

The young lynx teethed her lip and glimpsed at the calm sky, leaning down on the sill of the window. She couldn't just answer: that'd be the conversation over, done. But she couldn't 'do' anything now, not with him facing her. But how to create a distraction...?

“Why're you so interested in this, anyway?” The room grew colder, the reflection of the fox faintly shown in the glass, its body moving and its claws tapping.

“I thought the understanding was this was a covert mission. Off the books. No questions. That was what you wanted, after all.”

“I just—”

“A little game, a playful little test of your abilities.”

“That was the idea, yes. I'm just curious about your motive.”

“My motive isn't your business. I thought you understood that—”

This wasn't getting her anywhere; the intention was to gain trust, not loose it. “I do understand, Nick,” she replied, “and I'm sorry if I've pushed for anything I shouldn't. I'm sorry.”

Silence lingered, then the fox moved closer, his paws resting on the windowsill close beside the lynx as he joined her to the view outside.

“Sure...” he muttered, “sure. I don't wanna argue, Grace. Sorry I snapped. Reason for the interest...” Looking up to the fox beside her, Grace tried to see what it was he was gazing at, but she wondered if it was his own reflection looking back that had caught his eye. “The reason's personal,” he finished, “and I would like to know just what it was Bonnie was looking up. But if you don't like this, if you want out... don't say.”

His eyes found hers, glinting through indescribable dullness.

“I... Could what I say put anyone into any kind of danger? I couldn't live with myself if my actions caused someone harm.”

To the lynx's surprise, Nick took time of consideration, until he addressed her concern, “That's not my style, Fields. Whatever it is, there's better ways of dealing with your problems than causing harm.”

Grace watched the fox: his ears lowered, his head sunk with its own weight, his shoulders slumped as he leaned against the surface of glass. The words came circling slowly around the young mammal's mind.

The press of the needle against her thigh felt tighter than before all of a sudden, as though the weight of a lifetime's choices came pressing down upon it.

The Chief sighed to himself as he glared at the box before him, his mind dully buzzing with a dozen thoughts of tedious irritation. It was nothing special, nothing interesting, nothing he could 'beat' with a cunning plan and nothing he could sink his teeth into and lose himself in.

There'd be a convocation – a dull and one-sided 'argument' he had no hope of winning or being excused from – followed by a few tedious days of paperwork while he got the remainder of his investigations in order, some time to hand over management to Snarlov and... that'd be it. Retirement. The end of it all.

At least he knew the PD would be in safe hooves, even if a certain 'rhino' would disagree.

He lifted the lid from the crate and gazed down at the contents. Sticking an armored hoof down into the mix of dark, green sheets, he felt around for anything cold or heavy... Anything that wasn't another box of blankets or laundry like the last few had been.

There was nothing. He made towards the way out, but stopped himself. There was nothing more interesting waiting for him back at the HQ, after all. Turning back to the crates with a grunt, he gestured to one of the officers. “Find anything?”

“More packets of dehydrated food, Chief. Mostly noodles.”

“Well... Keep searching.”

Though it was hardly the biggest issue, it had also played on his mind that he'd no longer be able to oversee Hopps' or Wilde's development as officers or as detectives. The situation with Jack, also, was something he'd have to give proper closure to, at least as an officer.

The forms for the fox's and rabbit's fast-track training to 'detective' were still in the draw beneath his desk. He had no idea if Judy would still have any interest in being an officer once she'd recovered, but he wasn't about to go back on his promise. It was the least he could do for the wretched situations his actions had led them to.

The lid opened from a further crate. Bogo lowered his hoof into yet another bundle of clothing. But here his finger caught against the edge of something that raised his brow. It was hard, heavy. Lifting the sheet which covered it aroused his curiosity yet further, until, that is, his gaze found itself looking upon a dark, rounded dome o—

Nick's instincts twitched with a sharp pull, his ears turning back, his features wincing as the room illuminated with a bright flash of light.

“The hell?” he shouted, turning to the window, stepping close to try see where the flash had come from. Through the many buildings blocking his line of sight, in the distant view of somewhere obscured, came reflections from the many bright surfaces the towers of glass and steel were made from: a bright and white glow.

It wasn't as radiant as the initial flash had been, but it was still a strange sight to see all the same. There was something dangerously out of place about it. It struck the fox's mind to question how a simple 'reflection' of whatever this was could shine brighter than the reflections of the setting sun itself.

“Fields, you seeing—” The floor beneath him shuddered, a speeding shockwave of dust and junk and flying newspapers revealing itself from behind the metropolis' towers with an accompanied rain of the scrapers' shattered glass. The fox stumbled, taken off guard by the sight of the shockwave as much as by the results it caused.

Alarms in the hospital flared in loudness.

“The crap is this?” the fox shot, his stance low, his tail twitching. “Grace, you seeing—” he swung to look at the speed and motion, the glint of something sharp catching his gaze as the lynx stabbed him.

At the deep, biting pain to his arm, his instincts took over, his paw moving in the space of a heartbeat, his exhaustion and anxiety manifesting into a faultless survival instinct. He grabbed the paw of the lynx and pulled the needle from his arm, twisting sharply in the same, swift motion; a gnawing crack coming from the lynx's wrist as she cried out in surprise and pain.

“What did you do?!” He snapped, a hot dullness spreading about his arm where the needle had sunk in. The lynx's breaths were shuddering, her expression frozen as she stared into the fox's stilted pupils. There on the floor was the needle.

“What was that?” he yelled, grabbing the lynx by the neck. “What was that!?

She gasped, his eyes ghastly with fear, her lips twitching as the fox's hold grew tighter. The arm which had turned hot with pain grew hotter still, as the muscles writhed and his control of his arm left him. The lynx achieved to pull her neck free, but her escape was short-lived as Nick threw himself upon her, pinning her down on the clean floor.

“What did you inject?” Crushing his weight against her, the fox raised a paw of claws at the young female's face. “You've got once chance to say!”

“Strychnine, it—”

“Why, why do this?” The pain rapidly spread into Nick's abdomen, his injured arm twitching uncontrollably as he tried to keep himself over the mammal beneath him.

“To stop you, to s-stop you before you could finish him off!”

Who,” he tried to shout, but his voice was caught as a growl, the tightness of his chest growing to feverish twirls. Grace took her chance to wriggle free off his hold.

He tried to pounce after her, tried to stand, but his legs gave no response to his attempts, and instead sprawled dead beneath him. “Shit,” he breathed, though even breathing was now atrocious.

The lynx stepped to take the needle, but Nick already knew this was coming and swiped his claws that cut long gashes into her leg. She stumbled away, but somehow managed to hold back the cry of pain. Her eyes spoke leaking terror, while Nick's whole body responded of its own accord: the spams, the contortions growing stronger as the fox panted and wheezed and growled and snarled.

Holding her broken paw, trying to keep all her weight on one leg, the lynx backed to the door, her eyes locked on the fox as he glared back, his convulsions growing stronger as his ears shook with the deafening sound of his own blood pumping in his head.

There was so much rage... restricted only by the vial of disability.

A convulsion jerked his neck. He winced, tried to call out, but his lungs prevented his strength just as his throat prevented breath. His eyes extended unnaturally, the anguish in his every muscle ever-growing with burning, acidic heat. His only sight was of the window outside, the distant blue sky, the towers of diamond, emerald and ruby.

His whole body on fire, jolting and twitching and pulling itself into terrible, contorted shapes, the fox set his mind on the sight outside, tried to ignore, tried to leave, tried to escape this misery all around him. He had no other sensation but pain. His every attempt to move, to act, was ignored by the filth, the toxins coursing through his existence. He tried to die, tried to fall unconscious, but the torment refused him the release he desired.

But even the view of the blue sky was spoiled... as the fox stared out, the tall shape of black and deep red bloomed in the distance: the toxic fumes, the charcoal and dust, forming a shape not unlike a mushroom as it rose slowly into the tainted sky.

All under the siren's echoes of distorted waves.

...

Author’s notes:

Hesitance jumps around your mind,

Grooms decision thus chosen blind.

Your thoughts most succulent of snack,

All delivered by luscious feedback.

So don’t hide like a tiny shrew,

Thus share that belovable review!

- Paw in Paw has come to an end as this was its final chapter. If you want to know more about its future and its sequel come join the Discord where you can chat with us directly. It can  be found through our YouTube channel, link below! Same usernames as here.

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