Chapter 1: One Year Gone
Nick finds out about the field exam that takes place at the end of his probation and attempts to take solace in a night of drinking.
For how big a deal Carrots wanted to make out of today, it really didn’t feel any different to be done with the field training. We still did the same amount of patrolling, the same god-awful amount of paperwork, and still traded the same amount of banter we’d had down since day one.
I, for one, let my celebrating take the form that felt the most appropriate—which mainly involved trying to balance a pen upright on the end of my nose. She typed away at her computer, finishing up today’s batch of papercuts, which I’d generously allowed her to do. Hey, it was a big day for me, after all.
“I’m telling ya, Fluff, I think I can get it to a full minute, here.” My eyes crossed slightly as I attempted to focus on the pen. She just rolled her eyes.
“Let me know if you hit a full second first, Slick.” The pen clattered to the floor.
“All right, I may be bragging a little prematurely,” I retorted, slouching down in my chair to retrieve the pen. She double-clicked the submit button and swiveled around to face me better.
“But seriously, Nick, I think that today is a big deal! We need to do something tonight to mark the occasion.”
“Carrots,” I said slowly, gingerly trying to balance the pen just right, “you know I am literally powerless against your invitations to hang out—oh, look, look, I think I’ve got it—and nope, that’s a no.” The pen fell back to the floor, and I decided it was a lost cause.
“Anyway,” I said, sliding back into my chair, arms behind my head. “I will almost never say no to palling around after work, but I just—don’t feel like this is really worth making a big deal out of.” She pouted, pulling a face that was about thirty-two percent cuter than normal.
“Well, isn’t that just adorable,” I drawled, smirking widely at her. Her pout became a glare, and I instinctively dropped my arms to protect my stomach. “What? I didn’t use the c-word!”
“You were thinking it.” I gripped my sides tighter, trying to present as little of a target for her freakishly powerful bunny punches. She narrowed her eyes at me.
“Besides,” she continued, settling back into her own chair, “it’s more than just the field training.” She twisted her paws, fluffy little pad-less things they were, in her lap.
“What do you mean?” I asked, slowly unwrapping my arms from around my abdomen. “Is it some kind of rabbit holiday?” I allowed just a little bit of snark to enter my voice. I knew what she was after—I just wanted her to work for it.
“No,” she replied, sticking her tongue out at me briefly. Cute. “Can’t you think of anything significant about today? Something that might have happened, I don’t know, a year ago?” I pretended to strain my mind back.
“The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in over a century?” She went for the punch this time, and I was not prepared as she knocked the wind out of me. “Oof! Geez, Carrots, lay off the steroids.”
“Nick, we met a year ago.”
“Huh,” I said, rubbing my tender stomach, “I guess we did.” She went back to pouting.
“Don’t tell me you forgot.” I held up my paws to stop the guilt trip before it left the station.
“Now, hold on, Fluff,” I began, sitting up a little. “I didn’t forget. But I don’t think we really met until Tujunga.” Her expression softened. My lip, however, curled up. “So any anniversary would have to be commemorated at about…what, 3:00 in the morning? Maybe 3:30?”
“Ah, okay. Har har.” She rolled her eyes good-naturedly. “Well, I thought it was important.” The smirk fell from my face.
“Carrots, I…” My words died off as my mouth suddenly felt very dry.
Old habits die hard, and even a year wasn’t enough to overturn a lifetime of keeping my feelings to myself. I leaned over and mussed the fur between her ears, as filled with self-loathing as I was with fondness for my sentimental rabbit.
“Wilde, paws off your partner.” I snapped away from Carrots to find Bogo leaning down on the wall of our shared cubicle.
“Chief, it’s great to see you. Here to congratulate me on completing my field training?” His mouth twisted in a smile that seemed downright sinister.
“Something like that, Wilde. Just making sure you’re all ready for the ride-along exam tomorrow.” I gulped.
“Ha ha,” I laughed weakly, not at all liking the note of sadistic glee in his voice. “What do you mean?” The smile on his face became wider.
“It’s time to put your money where that insufferable mouth of yours is, Wilde. Tomorrow you ride with me and show me what Hopps has taught you.” My face froze, eyes wide at the prospect of an eight hour car ride with Buffalo Butt tomorrow. Bogo merely gave a low chuckle and nodded to Carrots before moving away.
“Yeah, let’s go drinking tonight,” I said as soon he was out of earshot. She just laughed.
Like I said before, old habits die hard. Which is why going to a cop bar was not really relaxing for me, especially with the ride-along looming tomorrow.
For one, I’d never been one to do any kind of heavy drinking. It was never a good idea to dull your mind and senses before a hustle. The most I’d really touched was when it was part of the hustle, like accepting a glass of scotch from a certain shrew, or tossing back one or two beers to get the right scent of an inebriate before a con. Couple that with the fact that I had made it a point to avoid places cops liked to congregate my entire life made me pretty twitchy.
And maybe I was a little nervous around my new coworkers, too. Every day, I woke up worried that this dream would melt around my eyes, that it was only a matter of time before someone echoed Bogo’s words from the Rainforest District.
“You really think I’d trust a fox?”
Carrots had told me that Bogo had turned a corner, that he had eventually come to grudgingly (and certainly now, less than grudgingly) respect his smallest officer. Well, that was all fine and dandy, but I’ve been hurt too many times in my life to not keep a healthy sense of cynicism about certain things.
If any of my coworkers did harbor some previously hidden prejudice towards me, they weren’t showing it (or hadn’t shown up) tonight. Clawhauser was here, and in full foodie fashion was poring over the wine selection to see what would best pair with the greasy pub food they undoubtedly served here, chatting all the while with everyone at once. It was a feat that would have been impossible for anyone but Benji, who thrived in these kinds of social gatherings.
Delgato, a youngish lion with a unruly mane he struggled fruitlessly to tame every morning in the locker room before roll call, was rolling a massive beer stein between his equally large paws as he spoke with his partner. I didn’t know him that well personally, but he hadn’t been cold to me or Carrots. I think he might have done some military service before joining up at the precinct; he certainly had a little of that rigidity and respect for authority.
Snarlov, a massive polar bear that could have easily passed for one of Mr. Big’s bodyguards, was on the other paw tossing back frozen margaritas so small that Carrots would have just barely had trouble wearing the cup as a hat. He had had somewhere in the vicinity of twenty of them, however, the effects of which were beginning to show through his fur in the form of a faint flush. All the same, he kept steady and upright as he discussed the finer points of a good Tundratown salmon with Delgato.
That left Wolfard and Fangmeyer, a wolf and tiger respectively, and the only cops I wasn’t still expecting to turn around and stab me in the back at any moment. For the most part.
Wolford was a little reserved, though not anywhere near to the same extent as the chief, and was closer to my age than most everyone else in the precinct, who tended to skew either closer to Carrots or closer to Bogo. He had taken me into his ersatz pack within the precinct my first week there, a gesture I appreciated now but had been highly suspicious of at the time.
Fangmeyer was typically pretty upbeat and mischievous in comparison, but not a real troublemaker by any definition. She tended to joke around the station that I was her older brother on account of the orange fur and penchant for pranks we shared. Which reminded me, with my probation (hopefully) ending tomorrow, I’d be free to set up much more elaborate pranks in the future.
And finally, nestled into my side, nursing a third bunny-sized Cosmopolitan that nonetheless had gotten her pretty decently drunk, was Judy. I had gone to the bar to order my drinks ahead of time: one vodka tonic, to be secretly replaced with a plain old Sprite once it was gone. It was an old trick of mine from my early hustling career.
“Yer pretty good at holdin’ yer liquor, Slick,” she said, her words already slurring.
“And you, my fine bunny companion, are not,” I said, delicately removing the empty glass from her paws. “Let’s get you drinking some water for a bit, shall we?” I motioned for a server and mimed a glass of water before pointing to the drunken bunny leaning against me.
“Didn’t know you were such a thoughtful boyfriend, Wilde,” Snarlov laughed, licking salt from his lips as he did so.
My ears began to feel hot, and I took a sip of my soda to make sure it wasn’t another vodka tonic by mistake.
“As much as I’m sure you’d all like to gossip about that, you are mistaken. Am I her boy friend? As in, a friend who is a boy, with a space in the middle? Sure. But that’s it.”
“Don’t listen to him, Nick,” Wolfard said, gesturing with his beer as he did so. “He’s just poking fun ‘cause of that movie they’re making.” My ears perked up, as did Carrots’, which ultimately landed somewhere around half-mast on account of the alcohol.
“Movie?” I asked. “Not a movie about us? Carrots and I turned down that guy with the screenplay, Byson something or other.” Fangmeyer shook her head.
“He’s talking about that Robin Hood movie they’re making. Supposed to be out in the next few months.”
My tail bristled out in excitement.
“They’re finally doing one! That’s pretty cool, I use to love Robin Hood as a kid.” I paused as my train of thought caught back up to what Wolford had said. “What does that have to do with us?”
The others all shared a look.
“Benji, why don’t you pull up the trailer,” Delgato said, draining the rest of his mug.
“Sure thing! I have it bookmarked, because it is just too cute—“ His eyes went wide, but Carrots either hadn’t caught it or didn’t care if it wasn’t addressed to a rabbit. He slid the phone my way.
I let the video play. Typical opening shots of forests and castles, underpinned by some soft guitar plucking.
“There’s been a heap of legends and tall tales about Robin Hood,” a drawling country accent pronounced, now showing some close-ups on a well-loved bow. “All different, too.”
The trailer continued on with little to note, other than the fact that it looked pretty good to my eyes. I still didn’t see what it had to do with me or Carrots, though.
“Marian, my darling, I love you more than life itself,” Robin declared, chained and manacled before Prince John. I gasped, however, at the next shot.
A rabbit, one that could’ve been Judy’s twin, was sitting at Prince John’s side. Playing Maid Marian.
The rest of the trailer played out, making little impact on me other than the final shot. Carrots and I had done a fair bit of promotional material for the city, what with the “diametrically-opposed species working in harmony” being something of a good look for a place that had been on the verge of bringing back predator shock collars. The pose that Robin and Marian struck was almost exactly identical to the one we had done on the most popular bit of propaganda. There was no doubt that the film would be playing off of our public image.
“Yeah…I think Jason Biteman’s a good choice for Robin, but Ginnifer Lapin’s casting announcement has had a lot of vixens up in arms on social media.” Fangmeyer said, rolling her empty glass around to shake loose any final drops of beer.
“I think it’s inspired! They make such a great pair,” Clawhauser said, nearly squealing as he did so.
“Inspired is perhaps a nice way of putting it,” I said, clutching the table a little.
“That’s so schweet,” Judy mumbled, curling up a little into herself (and incidentally, into me as well). I flagged a passing server down.
“I’ll take something stronger, please. Bartender’s choice.”
Chapter 2: Ride-along
Nick’s field exam tests his patience.
Here ya go, chapter two. Please continue to validate my existence with comments, critiques, and kudos.
My head was pounding when I woke up. I had really only ended up having two more drinks, but, as I mentioned, a: lightweight, and b: strong drinks. My mouth tasted sour and fuzzy as I yawned.
“Ahh, and a patrol with Bogo today, yippee,” I croaked feebly, opening my eyes at last to my crummy basement apartment. Pipes ran the length of the low ceiling, though I had made sure to patch every leak with some plumber’s epoxy when I had moved in. They did make for a great spot to hang shirts after that.
After a scalding hot shower (which, believe me, was pretty rare in my building), a couple of painkillers, and some coffee, I was at least conscious enough to make the trip to the station.
There was a knock at the door, followed swiftly by Judy entering my apartment.
“How are you…” I began, as she slipped past me to grab a mug of the remaining coffee.
“I’m pretty good, actually! Other than the fact that you’re abandoning me all day.” She spun from the French press to shoot me a fake glare.
“…So full of energy after last night, is what I was going to say. You were pretty hammered.” She shrugged.
“Well, someone made sure I didn’t get dehydrated yesterday,” she replied sweetly, batting her eyes at me.
“That cannot be it,” I said, yawning again, though I did make an effort to turn away from her while my mouth was wide open. “Even you must have limits.” She was frowning as I turned back, but the look on her face quickly gave way to embarrassment, her ears turning a bright red.
“Well, I do have this hangover remedy, but…I don’t like to talk about it.”
“Oh, god, Carrots, please share it with me. I haven’t been this hungover in years.” She gave me a smirk.
“All those vodka tonics catch up with you, old-timer?” I snorted in response.
“I wish. Only the first was a vodka, the others were all soda. It was the last two drinks that did this to me. What even were they?”
“I don’t know, I was already woozy by that point. And you—“ she said, bounding across the room with a full cup of coffee without spilling a drop, “—are such a big FAKER! Soda?” She smiled at me as she sipped at her coffee, eyes bright with laughter. I could only shrug in response.
“It’s like you said, I’m old. Soon you’ll have to put me in a home, and I’ll have to gum all my food.” I tucked my teeth under my lips and pretended to stagger about.
“Eight years is not that big a difference, Slick.” She hip checked me, bouncing me out of my elderly shamble.
“You’re deflecting, Carrots. What’s the remedy?” Her ears turned red again. She mumbled something under her breath in response.
“What’s that? Speak up, Hopps, not all of us have these big, long ears you’ve got,” I quipped, tugging at one of them as I did so.
“Greasy food is supposed to help with hangovers. So…I fry up a bug sausage after a night like last night.” She covered her face with her ears, mortified. I let out a laugh.
“Are you telling me that my innocent little bunny has gone carnivore?” She buried her face more.
“It’s actually kind of common in Bunnyburrow. No one likes to talk about it, but it works really well. And it helps that I kind of…” Her voice trailed away.
“Yes?” I prodded, drawing the word out.
“Ikindoflikehowittastes.” she blurted in one breath. I couldn’t help it; I had to let out another belly laugh at that.
“Only you would be so embarrassed by that, Fluff. C’mon, don’t want Chief to burst a blood vessel by showing up late today.”
“You’re not going to use my trick?” She folded her arms and tapped her foot.
“I’ll pick something up on the way over.” I knew I was poking the proverbial bear, but I had to add, “If you’re good I’ll get you some pred food, too.”
I had to run to avoid the punch she was winding up to throw at me.
Two bug patties and a brisk walk to the station later, and Carrots and I were all but ready for the day. I had gotten so caught up in teasing her over the little, tiny bites that she took from her breakfast sandwich that two things had completely slipped my mind.
I would be patrolling alongside Bogo all day long.
I wanted to talk about the trailer Clawhauser had shown us last night. This was the topic that was causing me the most stress, though I couldn’t answer why specifically. I guess I’ve always been a private guy—and having confirmed that the Robin Hood movie was being directed by the same mammal who’d approached us about acquiring rights to our “story”, a buffalo by the name of Byson Howard, it really felt like this movie was about us.
Of course, looking up the movie late last night on my own had brought up a lot of the backlash Fangmeyer had mentioned, though she had failed to communicate how much there actually was. There was some from offended vixen actresses who’d been “passed over” for the role, and a few others who were offended on their behalf for reasons I couldn’t fathom. But the majority of the ire that the film had drawn so far had more to do with the inter-species romance it seemed to be promoting.
Something about that just set my teeth on edge.
Lost in thought as I was, I missed the few remaining minutes before roll call and the opportunity they provided to talk with Carrots. Sure enough, the whole room was set ablaze with the standard hoots and grunts and growls that accompanied Bogo’s entrance, a tradition that fully escaped me.
“Settle down.” He didn’t have to bellow—his voice was just naturally at that tone already. “First up on today’s docket—a very special day for our greenie.” A couple of hushed laughs and snickers scattered throughout the room. My tail curled up in a show of nerves. “Wilde, you will be patrolling with me, performing the role of senior partner for your field exam.”
“Can’t wait,” I said, though my heart felt like it was beating a little irregularly. “I’ve got a mixtape all picked out for today, you’re gonna love it. All of Gazelle’s greatest hits—“
“ENOUGH!” That time he bellowed. Being seated in the front for height reasons put me directly in the path of his roar, and my ears flipped backwards. I had just been joking, but his response seemed…a little too extreme for my regular morning snark. I must have accidentally hit him too close to the mark…
I could hear the laughter through the room again, less subdued than before. My nerves calmed in just the slightest. Deflating tension through humor was my number one trick to avoiding physical conflict in the past, though I hoped it wouldn’t put me in the hot seat with Bogo.
Once the room had settled down, he turned to my partner.
“Hopps, you’ll be shadowing two detectives from Homicide today. They’ll meet you in the lobby.” She gave a happy little nod. I knew she wanted to make detective someday, and if she ever did I’d be sure to scramble after her.
Bogo continued reading off the assignments for the day, and two by two the other officers trickled out of the conference room. Finally it was just me and him.
“Get the car ready,” he said, not looking up from his clipboard. “We’ll need to take cruiser Z-115, 240 is too small for me.” When I failed to move, he looked up at me over the top of his glasses. “I’ll meet you there in a minute, Officer Wilde, go ahead.”
Hopping to my feet, I gave him a mock salute that didn’t quite hide my apprehension as well as I wanted before scurrying off.
At the motor pool, I looked around for Carrots to see if I could catch her before she left, before remembering she’d be tagging along with two detectives in an unmarked car. I did catch a glimpse of stripes, and hurried after Fangmeyer.
“Hey, Fang,” I called, skidding to a halt and trying to control my breathing. “I didn’t get a chance to ask Hopps; what should I be expecting for today?” She smiled and shrugged.
“It’ll just be a normal day of patrol, with two differences. One—you’ll be in charge for the most part.” I nodded, having figured as much.
“And the second?” Fangmeyer’s face fell.
“If you don’t pass, you’ll have to go through field training again with a different FTO, and Hopps will probably be bumped back down to junior partner for a long while.” My blood ran cold.
“Well, that’s not fair,” I said, jamming my paws in my pockets to hide their shaking. “If I do poorly it should just be on me.” She shook her head.
“If you do poorly, it probably means Hopps wasn’t ready to be training so soon.”
I clutched the wheel of the cruiser tightly, my claws curling around and pressing into my palms.
Z-115, while technically capable of fitting both myself and Bogo, was not suited to either of us. Even with the seat cranked as high and as far forward as possible, I still needed an “adaptor” in able to drive. The adaptor, in this case, being essentially a baby seat.
Bogo, on the other paw, was hunched forward in the passenger seat, looking like Mr. Incredi-Bull in his too-small jalopy. His face, however, betrayed no sign of discomfort. He merely stared forward, impenetrable as rock.
The day had passed, much to my surprise, with relative ease. We responded to three collisions in the morning, two of which involved megafauna, prompting us to call on McHorn and Trunkaby to take over.
We had a quick lunch, Bogo having a flat bread veggie sandwich and a mysterious mug of something that looked and smelled distinctly grassy. I opted for a salad—keeping up with Carrots demanded I maintain a much healthier diet than I had been accustomed to in the past.
Post-lunch involved responding to a domestic disturbance, and a reported break-in at a low-end jeweler’s store that I may or may not have recognized as a fence for stolen goods, a fact I repeated to Bogo once we’d returned to the cruiser. After that, a couple of traffic stops leading to several tickets, and then some questions by Bogo about standard police procedure in various scenarios. Eventually the questions petered out, leaving us in the final stretch of the day.
“So…” I spoke, breaking the uncomfortable silence. “Hopps and I usually end our patrol at the south end of Savannah Central, towards the Peace Fountain.”
“Then get going.” A few minutes into the drive, Bogo sighed and removed his glasses.
“Something on your mind, chief?” He turned to look at me; as much as he could in the cramped cab, at least.
“Wilde, do you know what this precinct’s policy in fraternization is?” I shook my head slowly before coming to an abrupt halt.
“Is this part of the exam?” I asked, worried I’d flunked in the last fifteen minutes.
“No. But I do feel it would be beneficial for you to know my stance on department relationships.”
“Department relation—Chief, is this because of that movie? Because, like I told the guys last night, Hopps and I are just friends.” Bogo shook his head.
“Wilde, I have no idea what movie you’re talking about. I’m talking about how the two of you behave, on and off the clock. I’ve been in this department for eighteen years; the last five of which have been as chief. I know what two mammals in a relationship look like.” I felt tongue-tied. He didn’t know what he was talking about.
“With all due respect, sir, Hopps and I are not in a romantic or intimate relationship.” I said tersely, my grip on the wheel growing tighter. He chuckled.
“I know.” I gave him as sharp a look as I dared while trying to maintain focus on the road.
“Well, then what’s with this whole spiel about relationships, then?”
“Wilde, it’s like I said. I have been around emotionally-constipated mammals my whole life. It comes with the territory,” he said, giving me a wry look. “And while you and Hopps aren’t the most traditional of officers, you both have trouble with either seeing or saying how you feel.” My stomach, already bothering me somewhat from the stress and the numerous coffees, twisted further into knots.
“Where is this all going, sir?” He cleared his throat.
“If the two of you do enter into a relationship, let me give you three pieces of advice: two professional, and one personal.
“Firstly, come straight to me the minute you are able to once the relationship has begun. If you disclose your relationship to me from the beginning, it will save all of us a world of headaches in the future. Second, as long as it doesn’t impact your work, and you remain professional in view of the public, I won’t interfere.” I swallowed hard, my mouth feeling particularly dry. I wondered if I was in some sort of hangover-induced fever dream—this all seemed too surreal.
“And the personal advice?” I asked. He gave me a look.
“Don’t you think I’m full of it? That it’ll never happen?” I did think that, but I figured that playing along might get me some brownie points on the exam. I shook my head. He gave me a long look before continuing.
“You don’t believe me,” he said finally. “I’ll save the last piece of advice for when you both come to me.” I wanted to tear my fur out. He was so certain that he was right. Probably just like before, in the Rainforest district. Well, I’d prove him wrong, just like Judy and I had then.
”Wilde?” he asked, a little more hesitant than I’d ever heard him before.
“Yes, Chief?” He fidgeted in his cramped seat.
“Do you actually have a Gazelle mixtape with you?”
Chapter 3: Movie Night
Nick and Judy take in a movie in an attempt to get over a stressful day. Nick feels as though everyone is getting into his head, most of all Judy.
Sorry for the slight delay in posting chapter three–as I've mentioned before, I'm writing this totally off the cuff. I have some loose plans in mind but other than that it's all happening in the moment. I want to thank everyone who has commented, left a kudos, or bookmarked–it all helps motivate me to continue writing, so you're doing a lot more than you think.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Bogo didn’t say anything after that until we’d reached the station. Part of that may have been the extremely awkward silence that ensued after I’d explained that I had been joking about the mixtape.
“You’ll have your results tomorrow morning. Come to my office directly after roll call, and bring Hopps.” With that, he adjusted his glasses, popped his back from sitting in the cruiser for so long, and strode off towards his office.
My nerves were shot. I felt like I’d had way too much coffee for one day, which was surely a first for me. My eyes felt sore, and I was certain the fur on my tail would never lay flat again, bristled into anxiety permanently.
It was in this near fugue state that I ran right into a fuming Judy, who was tapping her foot something fierce, her arms crossed so tightly it looked as though she’d never unfurl.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, Carrots, what’s got you all steamed?” I said, regretting the pun the instant it left my mouth. She glared at me, and I cowered out of habit.
“Detectives Lowell and Howlton were awful, bigoted jerks, that’s what!” She threw her paws up in the air angrily before marching towards the door.
I had a lot on my mind. I was frazzled and frustrated, and worst of all, I was only about half as worried about the results of my exam as I was about what Bogo and the precinct and what felt like the whole world had to say about Judy and me. But when I saw, just barely, a tear form in the corner of her eyes, all of that was pushed instantly to the back of my mind.
“Hey, now,” I said soothingly. I tried to, at least—every attempt I made at sincere still sounded phony to me. I placed my paw on her back and steered her towards the doors. “Let’s get out of here, and you can vent to me over some takeout and bad B-movies. Sound good?” She was schooling her face well, determined to keep it in, but I could see her lip begin to tremble. My heart ached to see her like this. I leaned close to her ear, my paw on her shoulder squeezing out a symbol of comfort.
“Remember what I told you,” I murmured into her ear. “Never let them see they get to you.” She nodded, shaking loose a single tear. I stood back up.
“Okay, why don’t you go wash your face a little first, then we’ll head over to your place?” She took two hesitant steps towards the female changing rooms, then bolted back into a rib-crushing hug.
“Thanks, Nick,” she whispered. Before I had a chance to respond, she dashed away.
I had only seen Carrots’ first apartment in the city once. To be completely honest, it had actually been the day we’d met. After our confrontation in the wet cement, something had compelled me to follow her home. I think I’d wanted to revel in the misery I’d caused.
It would have broken my heart now, but at the time, it merely killed my good mood to see Hopps shuffle back to her apartment, trailing little bits of dried cement as they flaked away from her hindpaws. I felt vindicated in what I’d said to her—that she couldn’t be just anything, and that the shoebox she lived in proved it—but that didn’t mean I was happy to be right.
Thankfully, Carrots had made friends with a certain streetwise fox who knew anybody worth knowing in the city, and he had managed to find a new apartment complex that wasn’t quite so…squalid. I had another month left on the lease I currently had, but there was no doubt I’d try to get a spot in her building as soon as it was up.
That had been the plan, at least. I sat on my own in the living room of her new apartment (imagine that—more than just enough room for a desk and a bed!) while she showered. And I tried not to let my mind wander.
She was my friend—perhaps my only friend—and certainly that meant we were only friends. If I happened to be a little co-dependent on her, so what? It wasn’t like I’d had a whole lot of positive reinforcement throughout my life. Of course I would want to stick close to someone who did believe in me.
And so what if I was beginning to wonder if the way I found her cute had changed since our first meeting. That just meant I was no longer seeing her as a cute, token bunny instead of the confident, smart mammal that she was.
The confident, smart mammal with hips anyone would be drooling over.
I shook myself vigorously, trying to get myself under control.
“I’m letting Bogo and the precinct get to me,” I said to myself, though I made sure to speak very quietly. I still wasn’t sure what the range on those ears of her’s was. “I wouldn’t be thinking of this if they hadn’t pushed me. It’s—“
“Did you order food yet?” I nearly jumped out of my skin.
“Oh my god, Carrots, you are going to give me a heart attack.” I could hear her shuffling around in the kitchen behind me as she responded.
“You’re definitely going to have a heart attack drinking as much coffee as you do.” I turned partially to retort but quickly spun away.
Carrots had been grabbing a juice from her fridge, and it was clear she’d just stepped out of the shower by the towel she wore. I could feel my ears burning, and to my horror, they were not my only reaction to her state of undress. I furiously snatched a pillow towards myself. I tried not to move or draw any extra attention to myself as she flitted past me on her way to her room.
“Goddammit,” I breathed, my heart still pounding from the double shock. A knock at the door spurred me back into action.
“I’ve got a veggie pizza and a beetle mushroom pizza for Wilde,” the delivery boy said, not looking up from his pouch.
“Yep, that’s for me,” I replied, starting to dig out my wallet when the teenage ram’s head shot up.
“Hey, where’s the rabbit?” He tried to look around me before calling into the apartment. “Ma’am, is everything okay?” My expression soured.
“Officer Hopps is in the other room, and I can assure you as her police partner that everything is fine.” Comprehension, followed by dawning horror, stole over the gangly youth’s face.
“S-sorry, officer,” he replied, giving an awkward and unnecessary salute. “I just thought—“
“I’m sure,” I said, cutting him off. “Here you are.” I thrust my paw out with the cash for the food and snagged the boxes in the same movement, slamming the door shut as soon as I had the pizza. Glowering, I returned to the kitchen. Carrots wandered out a few moments later, running a brush along her ears.
“Did you say something?” she asked. “I had the fur dryer running, I couldn’t hear you.” I shook my head, pasting a grin on my muzzle.
“Nope, just getting the food.” I pushed the veggie pizza towards her. “Ready to talk about today?” She wilted somewhat, and took a slice of pizza without much gusto.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Part of me just wants to forget about today and move on.” She perked up. “How did your exam go?” I winced, remembering the conversation I’d had with Bogo.
“Oof, not good?” she asked. I grabbed a few slices of pizza for myself and made to move for the couch.
“No, just…Bogo.” I replied, hoping that would be enough to push her off the subject. “You know how he is.” She gave a perfunctory little nod.
“Sounds like we need something to get our minds off of work,” she said, getting the TV and player all set up. I made a point of focusing on my food when she bent over.
She made a running leap and landed right at my side. “Got anything in mind?” I tabbed through the selection before settling on a film I vaguely remembered sneaking out to see as a young teenager.
“How about this one? Guy and his wife are moving across the country when their car breaks down.” I took a bite of my pizza, appreciating the crunch the beetles provided. “The guy has to track down his wife after the trucker who promised to give her a ride to a phone booth kidnaps her.”
"Sounds good to me!"
The movie did its trick for Carrots. She was totally enthralled in the over-the-top 90s action sequences and cheesy comeuppance that the villain always succumbed to at the end.
My problems, however, seemed to be multiplying. I found my gaze drawn time and time again to her during the movie. I couldn't help but smile as she gnawed slightly at her lip with those buck teeth of hers when things got tense for the hero, or laugh at the cheer she gave out when the wife dropped the villain's big rig on him off of a bridge. There was a pit in my stomach.
"You all right there, Slick?" She shook my arm slightly. I gave her a tired smile.
"Of course I am, Carrots," I replied. She gave me a look that clearly communicated her disbelief.
"C'mon," she said. "I can never get you to be this quiet in the cruiser. What's up?" I fidgeted slightly, a movement that caused her to move slightly closer to me.
"I've just been thinking about that trailer Clawhauser showed us at the bar," I confessed. "It kind of feels like they're trying to capitalize on...us." She groaned.
"Tell me about it," she said, settling into the back of the couch. "My family has been texting me about it all month." My head shot up.
"You already knew about it?" She nodded.
"Yeah, one of my siblings sent it to me the day the trailer went out, asking if I was getting my Maid Marian costume ready for Halloween." She shook her head and snorted. "It's not a big deal, though." I grimaced.
"I don't know," I said, reaching up to rub at my neck with a paw. "It just feels like people are looking at us differently now. I mean, Robin Hood and Maid Marian are a classic romantic pairing." She tilted her head at me, clearly not getting my point. "I think people will get the wrong idea about us because of the movie. I mean, they clearly cast it with us in mind."
"So what?" she said. "Aren't you the one who's always saying 'never let them see they get to you'? What does it matter what they think about us? It's not like today–"
She abruptly shut her mouth and looked away.
"What about today?" I asked. She shook her head.
"It's nothing," she said, but I could hear her voice catch slightly.
"Well, clearly it's not nothing." I moved closer to her and threw my arm around her shoulders. "I said never let them see they got to you, not me." She shook her head. "Carrots...Judy. What were Howlton and Lowell talking about today?" She wiped at her eyes and smiled up at me.
"Thanks for the pizza and the movie, Nick. I think I need to get to bed, though. You're welcome to take the couch if you don't want to head back to your apartment tonight." She gave me a quick hug before heading off to her bedroom.
I began to put the room back together and getting the couch ready to sleep on, my anger at the Homicide detectives growing by the minute.
"Oh, those two dum-dums don't know what's coming for them," I muttered. Time to up the ante with my office pranks from recreation to retaliation. I stepped out of the apartment to make a call.
"Hey, Finnick," I greeted. "I've got a few cops who need tailing–you interested in getting paid?"
If you're interested in the film they watched, it's called Breakdown and is available on Hulu.
Chapter 4: Results and Reconnaissance
Nick and Judy receive Bogo’s assessment of Nick’s training. Nick struggles to think of a suitable prank on Howlton and Lowell.
Well, I did warn you all that this would be off the cuff. I struggled for a long while with about two-thirds of this chapter written, unsure of where I wanted to take this. Regrettably, this chapter is shorter than usual, because I finally decided you’d all probably rather have some update now than wait longer for me to eventually just end up posting it the same way anyway. As always, I hope you enjoy.
Judy’s couch is not that comfortable a place to spend the night, let alone after a day like the one I’d had. I was totally fried by the time she and I sat together in Bogo’s office, as usual sharing a chair that dwarfed the both of us.
“You sure you got enough sleep, Slick?” She placed a paw on my forearm. Giving her a thin smile, I shrugged.
“Depends on how much caffeine I can get. You should really think about getting a better couch for me to sleep on,” I replied, shifting my arm out from under her touch in order to pop my back and shoulders. And also to avoid the funny feeling that was cropping up more and more when she did stuff like that.
I could tell she knew I was avoiding the real question—was I okay—but she gave a hum in acknowledgement and let it slide.
The door to the office opened. My paws returned to my lap, hiding the way my claws pressed against my palms. My hindpaws began kicking at the seat. Judy took my paw in hers, sandwiching it between us so Bogo wouldn’t notice, and my heart stopped racing.
“Well, Hopps, I can’t say I’m surprised…”
This was it. I just knew it. We’d be split up and she’d have to go through field training all over again and I’d get booted out.
“You’ve done a fine job with Wilde,” he finished, throwing down my file as he took his seat. “Other than that irritating snark of his,” he continued, taking a moment to glare at me over his spectacles. It didn’t faze me—I was still stuck on “fine job”.
“So Nick passed?” Judy squealed, pulling her paws up to her muzzle, mine still trapped along with them.
Bogo raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment on it as I snaked my paw out of her grip.
“Yes, with flying colors. You’ve certainly rounded out since your own training and helped Wilde avoid some of those same mistakes with his. I want Wilde taking point for today’s patrol; after that, you can split the lead equally amongst yourselves.” He collected the results of my exam and tucked them securely away in my file before stowing it all in his desk. “Dismissed.”
“Thank you, Chief! We won’t let you down!” Judy shot from the room without a glance backwards. I made to follow her when Bogo stopped me.
“Yes?” I responded, turning back to face him. He gave me a funny look. I pride myself on reading mammals—it was what I did for a living for twenty years. But the way he looked at me…
“Come to me if you need anything,” he said finally. His voice was low and calm, more so than I’d ever heard from him before. I nodded hesitantly before slipping out of the chair to follow my partner.
She struck as soon as I’d turned the corner from Bogo’s office, hugging me tightly around the middle.
“I’m so proud of you!” Judy said, pressing her forehead into my side.
“Hey,” I exclaimed, tapping her right between the ears with a claw. “I seem to remember a lot of that praise back there directed at you.” She leaned back to get a good look at me, smiling broadly as she did so.
“Let’s chalk it up to a team effort, Officer Wilde.” Striking a rigid salute, I gave her a smile in return.
“Copy that, Officer Hopps.” She pulled away and we started back down towards the motor pool. “So does this mean you’ll let me drive?” She gave a laugh.
“Not a chance, Slick,” she said, checking me with her hip before bouncing off towards our cruiser. “You drive like my grandpa!”
God, it…it practically hurt, feeling how much she cared for me. I don’t know what I did to deserve a friend like her. I deflated somewhat as she rounded the corner out of sight, allowing some of the pent-up stress of the past few days to bleed away. A pit remained in my stomach, however, prompting me to seek out the subpar coffee the precinct offered in the break room.
About once every half hour I’d get an update from Finn about the two wolf detectives.
gettin lunch at a pred place uptown.
talkin to a guy outside of rodentia.
scopin out a spot in the square.
Finn was charging me a supremely stupid amount for his services, but I knew that any good hustle had to have the proper ground work. I had no idea what I’d do with the two of them—part of that stemming from the fact that I didn’t know exactly what they’d done to make Judy upset. Still, I was confident that after a few weeks of reconnaissance, I’d have enough to work with for a suitable pranking.
I’d managed to smooth myself out somewhat since the precinct. That comfortable, familiar feeling of routine helped. I led the patrol much the same way Judy had, albeit a little bit more out of the car and on the street. I loved the cruiser, don’t get me wrong; but nothing beat actually being able to see the mammals you were meant to be serving up close.
My phone buzzed again, prompting a chuckle from Judy.
“What?” I asked, peeking at the screen to see another message from Finn.
gotta go for today. ciao.
She just smirked and tossed her head.
“You seem very popular today, is all.” Stifling my annoyance towards Finnick flaking, I pocketed my phone.
“Need I remind you, Fluff, that I know everybody. That means that, occasionally, some of the everybody need my sage advice.” She snorted.
“Or you’ve got yourself a special vixen to talk to,” she replied, bumping me with her side. “You don’t usually get this many texts, so I’m thinking she’s pretty special.”
“Ha ha,” I replied snidely, my mood souring. “We’re practically attached at the hip, Carrots, you’d already know if I was dating someone.” I turned away and started to up my pace along the sidewalk.
“Hey!” She caught me by the arm. “I was just joking, alright? No need to get so upset, I was just talking about Mother’s Day coming up. You know, ‘special vixen’? Your mom?”
For all the things she could have said, this was the only one that could have made it worse. I clenched my paws, feeling the bones shift as I struggled to rebuild my mask that Judy had run away with under the bridge.
“Yeah, of course,” I replied, trying and failing to sound as though I weren’t gritting my teeth. “Mother’s Day. How could I forget.” She was practically jogging to keep pace with me now.
“Nick?” Her eyes were wide and full of concern when I glanced over. “Are you alright?” I mustered up a smirk, my eyes low and hooded.
“Just dandy, Hopps.” She recoiled as though she’d been hit. “Why don’t we finish out the patrol in the cruiser?” Without waiting for answer, I snagged the keys from her belt and stormed off.
Chapter 5: Truth
Unable to sleep, Nick decides to confide in Judy about what set him off.
Hoping I make up a little for last chapter, both in terms of the wait and in terms of the content. As always, comments, kudos, bookmarks, suggestions, all welcome.
I shot upright in bed, my fur matted with a cold sweat. A ball of tension roiled between my gut and my throat. As my breathing slowed, I hesitantly checked the time. Nearly midnight. Not so bad.
Going back to my crummy apartment after the shift was—well, in a word? Hell. I was in a rotten mood from the turn our conversation had taken, partially due to what she’d reminded me of. But even more so was the guilt I felt from pushing her out again.
I bummed around for a few hours, but, surprise, surprise! Foxes who eke a living out of recycling ice cream don’t tend to accumulate a lot of hobbies, an issue I still had yet to rectify as an upstanding, tax-paying mammal. So, I mostly scrounged around for snacks, broke down and ordered another pizza, tried melting my brain with an ever-increasing variety of streaming services, and eventually scrolled through memes before falling asleep.
I mean, god damn it, Hopps, what is it about you that gets under my fur?
Feeling that sleep would continue to evade me for some time, I slipped on a ratty bathrobe that barely fit me in the sleeves and made for the kitchen. With the amount of caffeine in me, it was no wonder I had trouble sleeping, so I decided to try some tea.
I hate tea.
As the kettle boiled, I kneaded my forehead with a paw absentmindedly, willing away the storm of thoughts and regrets.
“Ugh”, I groaned aloud. “I shouldn’t worry about how she feels, she was being nosy.” The words felt sour on my tongue as they slipped into the silence of my apartment. Slapping a paw down on the counter, I sighed. I knew it wasn’t fair to say that. She really hadn’t even asked anything or tried to pry anything out of me before I was ready. Resignedly, I turned the stove off and went for my phone.
Only three rings and she picks up. Past midnight, no less, and she’s on the other end anyway.
Judy’s voice was thick with sleep, but I could still hear the concern from earlier, carving a furrow even deeper in my heart.
“Hey, Fluff. Um, Judy.” I sucked in air, steeling myself. “Would you maybe want to come over for some tea?”
There was a long pause.
“Sorry,” came her voice from my phone. “I was just throwing some clothes on. Be there in a few.”
The call ended.
“I’m sorry,” I said to no one.
In no time at all, Judy sat at—well, on really, the chairs in my place were still too low for her—my counter, nursing a cup of tea. We hadn’t spoken when she’d arrived, hadn’t exchanged a word as I got the kettle going again, and even as I poured and served the tea, we were silent. She took a sip.
“My mom was the only mammal who ever believed in me,” I said suddenly. “Consistently, I mean. I guess there might have been a teacher, a neighbor at some point, but it never lasted long and it was never enough.
“Any way, as a kit, my mom believing in me was. Enough, that is. But as I got older…well. I started to feel like she only believed in me—that she only cared about me because we were related.”
Judy flinched at that. I stared.
“What?” She set down her tea.
“Let me clear something up. You think that, just because your mom is related to you, her love means something less? That she was only supporting you because she had to?”
“It’s not that simple—“
“You’re right, Nick, it really isn’t.” Judy said, cutting me off. “Do you know how many times my parents supported me in wanting to be a cop? How many times they told me they believed in me?” I opened my mouth in an attempt to get a word in edgewise but was rebuffed once more. “Zero, Nick. I love my parents, I really do. But even now, they still don’t want me out here. They still call four times a week with another job at the farm or buck that they hope will sweep me off my feet and back to Bunnyburrow.” She sighed. “I know they love me, but, Nick. You shouldn’t diminish the support you have.”
“Had.” I replied eventually. She looked up sharply.
“What do you mean?” I fiddled with my cup.
“I went to her after the museum. I don’t know, I guess I was still coming down from the adrenaline, and just so—happy that you and I were talking again. I told her I was applying to the academy. And she looked at me—and she asked me not to.” Judy’s face fell in shock.
“What? Why?” she asked.
“‘I can’t watch you get yourself hurt trying to con the police’, she told me. Thirty years of telling me she believed in me, and the first time since I had baby teeth that I wanted to do something good and she sees it as a scam.” I hung my head. “We fought, and I told her that I knew she’d been lying all those years when she’d said I could be anything, and that I wasn’t going to come back this time.” A tear rolled down my face, before being joined by a few more on each side.
I heard Judy slip from the counter and pad her way over to me. Enveloping me in the kind of embrace only she could give, I silently wept.
“I’m so sorry, Nick,” she said, her face pressed into my chest. Her paw rubbed gently along my back as my sobbing continued. “Let’s move to the couch, alright?”
Allowing myself to be led along to the thrift store sofa that inhabited my apartment, I attempted to stem the flow of tears with the too-short sleeve of my bathrobe.
“I’m sorry, Judy. For today. I shouldn’t have shut you out, I just—“
She shushed me with a padless finger on my lips.
“It’s okay, Slick. I understand.” Taking a seat further along, Judy swung my head slowly down to her lap as I continued to cry quietly into the night.
Morning brought with it two events; one uncommon, and one disastrous.
The first event, the uncommon, was that I had awoken before Judy. She was doubled over my head, her ears dangling in front of my face, her soft breathing gently tickling my ears.
The second event was an awful epiphany for me. I’ve mentioned before that I had, at one point in time, been very proud of my ability to read mammals. My firm belief in that ability was rocked to the core as I realized I had crucially misread…myself.
“I love her,” I whispered, horror sinking into my bones at my admission. “Damn it all, I am in love with Judy Hopps.
This wasn’t some mixed-up feeling brought on by that trailer, or by Bogo’s little heart-to-hearts, or even as a result of last night. Well, obviously, it played a part, but the feelings were there before. That funny feeling I’d been noticing when she’d brush my arm or hip check me, it was ten times stronger with my head in her lap, her paws resting where they’d been petting my ears when she fell asleep last night.
I mean, let’s be frank here. I am an adult mammal—moreover, a male adult mammal. I knew what it felt like to be, well, horny. I’d never done the whole…dating thing. Kind of hard to get close to someone when you’ve got a hustler’s mask up all the time. The experiences I’d had, however, had all been with vixens, and red foxes, at that. Never so much as an arctic or fennec fox. But this sensation, wrapped in her arms, my eyes sore from crying? It couldn’t be the furthest thing from what I’d felt before.
I mean, sure, I was attracted to her, that much I’d already conceded. But to just feel the raw emotion battering my chest from the inside as that little rabbit wrapped herself around me…it was a little like standing in front of the sea as a storm comes in. The waves are enormous, crashing on the sand and the rocks and throwing spray ten feet into the air, and you know that one wrong move and you could be pulverized.
As gingerly as I could, I eased my way out from under her and arranged her in a position that wouldn’t cause a terrible crick in her neck and back all day.
“Shit, Wilde. You really played yourself, huh?” I murmured, standing at the foot of the couch for a moment to watch her sleep. Something caught my eye. Her eyelids were crusted over with the obvious remains of many shed tears. A vice seemed to grip my heart. I ran my paw along her ears before drawing it away just as fast. She had begun to stir.
“Hey, Carrots…” I began, about to launch into a bit of my trademark ribbing. Before I could get anything out, the pressure in my chest grew. It felt like I was hiding from her, trying to play off last night as a joke. “Judy,” I began again. “Sleep well?”
“Mm-hm. You make a good pillow, Slick.” She blinked sleepily at me, and I couldn’t help the smile that slid onto my face.
“I try my best,” I replied. She gave a yawn at that moment, revealing her adorable buck teeth. “I’m going to get some food started, if you wanted to stick around.” Turning to leave, I was stopped by her paw around mine.
“Hey, Nick.” I faced her once more. “I know that took a lot, last night. I just want you to know I will always be here for you.” She gave my paw a squeeze, running her thumb along my knuckles. “I believe in you, okay?”
If my heart were to swell any further, it’d probably burst from my chest.
Chapter 6: It’s a Secret
Nick realizes he might not be as “in the know” as he thought about the precinct rumor mill.
I tell ya, sometimes it just flows, and sometimes it just kinda grinds to a halt. Here’s hoping you all enjoy this chapter, and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a good one.
Judy left some time after we’d eaten breakfast, saying she had some errands to run on our day off. That suited me just fine.
I had errands too.
To any number of debt collectors, angry ice-cream salesmammals, booting companies, and jilted exes, Finnick was a hard fox to find. For me, however? Absolute child’s play.
Honestly, though, the number of boots Finn has removed on his own from his van is appalling. He used to keep them in the van before he ran out of space. We’re talking high double digits, here. Maybe even triple at this point.
“Get yo pawpsicles!” came the sound of his surprisingly deep voice boom ahead of me. While the constant heat in Sahara Square made it difficult to maintain supply, it also drove more customers to seek sweet, chilled relief in the form of high-fructose corn syrup and red food coloring.
“I’ll take one of those, if you don’t mind,” I said as I strolled up to his cooler. Snagging one between two fingers, I bit away as the shorter fox glowered at me.
“You better be payin’ for that, Wilde.” Without missing a beat, I passed him a fat envelope of cash. Too fat, in my opinion, though evidently, Finn did not agree.
“So are you,” I shot back, chasing a drip of artificial cherry before it could hit my paw, “but I don’t mind.” He let out a low growl, to which I held my paws up. “You skipped out early on the job yesterday. I think that warrants a smaller payout.” Grumbling to himself, he stuffed the envelope into his pocket.
“Your boys are decent. Not great, but they got close to spotting me a few times.” He pulled the lid over his cooler and jumped up to take a seat. “What’d they do?”
“It’s not important,” I said a little too quickly, waving him away. He gave me a look.
“You don’t wanna tell me, then I won’t tail ‘em anymore.” I groaned. I’d forgotten how stubborn he could be.
“Look, the thing is…I don’t know exactly what they did, but Judy—“
“Judy? You finally on a first name basis?” I peered down at him.
“What’s it to you? That’s her name.”
“That you never use.” A look of smug, dawning comprehension stole over his face. “Aha ha, you finally woke up and smelled the carrot cake, huh?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said stiffly, looking determinedly away.
“Nah, you know now. You figured it out, huh? Musta been recent, if you’re still all sensitive about it.” He gave a gleeful laugh I’d honestly never thought him capable of, let alone heard before. “Nick and the bunny cop, finally gettin’—“
“FINNICK!” I’d snapped the flimsy balsa wood stick in my mouth in half. Suddenly aware that our conversation was getting louder and drawing more attention, I struggled to allow my mask of indifferent laziness to fall back into place. “Why don’t we talk about this more in the van?” He laughed, wiping a tear away from his eye.
“Boy, I knew you had it bad, but seems like you figuring it out mighta made it worse!” He hopped down from the cooler and began dragging it to a nearby alleyway. Once we were settled into the back of his van, I shot him a baleful look and began again.
“Officer Hopps mentioned in passing the other day that they’d cast some aspersions on her due to her species. As her partner, I decided that the best way to deal with a problem like that would be a real prank, something that needed planning and information.” I gestured to Finn, who still seemed a little too amused by his observations. “That is where you come in.”
“Damn,” he said, retrieving the stack of cash I’d given him to thumb through it once more. “I thought I was getting paid to be a…uh, what’s the fancy term for a snitch?” He tapped the edge of the stack and secured it in a lockbox.
“Confidential informant. And no,” I replied. “I figured you wouldn’t take kindly to dealing with me in an official capacity, what with my new penchant for blue.” He threw back his head and laughed.
“Wilde, if it pays, and I don’t get killed doin’ it, and more importantly, I don’t get seen doin’ it, I’ll do it.”
“Alrighty. I’ll keep you in mind the next time something goes down at Jumbeaux’s. Maybe another health code violation, huh?” I’d already riled him up quite a bit today. Hopefully all I was doing now was getting his mind off of my…newfound situation, and not just pissing him off. Opening the door, I made to leave. “Let me know if the old long-nose skips the gloves!”
“Nick.” I stopped in my tracks, turning back to face him. He seemed uncomfortable as he continued.
“I know we ain’t ever been, y’know, good friends or whatever, but…I am happy for you. You always were too good for this life.” He rubbed at his neck with a paw. “And…I hope it works out between you and the bunny cop.” I stared. All I could do was stare.
“Thanks, Finn.” Once again, I turned to leave, but I stopped. “And…you’re right. We didn’t used to be friends.”
In all honesty, I was not, not, not looking forward to roll call. I’d already had to deal with Finnick yucking it up over my predicament; I knew Bogo would somehow see immediately with his weird cop sense. Not to mention Grizzoli, who’d made the initial joke that had brought my attention to the Robin Hood movie. He already thought we were a couple.
In fact, I began to feel as though everyone already knew, somehow, about how I felt. So, I went to the mammal who knew every bit of gossip in the station.
“Benji, pal, how are you on this fine, fine day?” I swept my paw out from behind my back to reveal a baker’s dozen of the city’s finest doughnuts. I knew a guy.
Clawhauser gave a squeal at the sight of such high-quality confectionery.
“Better now that you’ve brought me these!” Without a moment’s hesitation, he plunged a paw into the box and withdrew several. These immediately disappeared into his muzzle. “Buh whers Judee?” he eventually managed to choke out. I raised an eyebrow.
“Ah,” I replied, lifting myself up to the counter to lean in closer to his ear. “I actually wanted to get the scoop on the rumor mill around here, and I’m not sure Ju—Carrots would, ah, understand.” His eyes widened immensely, and he swallowed the pastries.
“Did you two finally get together? Oh, I’m so happy I get to close out this bet!” In an instant my paw was around his tie.
“What. Bet.” His pupils, which had previously filled nearly his entire eye in awe, shrank to pinpricks.
“Uh, nothing,” he replied, giving a nervous giggle. “There’s no bet, none at all. Betting amongst the officers is prohibited, Nick, you know that—“
“You better spit it out quick, or I’m taking these doughnuts to the break room to see what kind of nasty old sauces and leftovers I can use as a garnish.” His eyes darted down to the remaining doughnuts, then back to me.
“A few officers in the precinct, ah, might have placed some bets on when you and Judy might get together. That’s all! That’s all. No harm meant.” He swallowed again, though this time for very different reasons. I sighed deeply, releasing Clawhauser and sinking back to the floor.
“Was it really that obvious?” I asked, my face in my palm. The big cat shifted in his seat.
“Nick, believe me. Most of the precinct here likes you. They can see how much you care about Judy.”
I felt more naked than any mammal at the Mystic Springs Oasis. My ears were burning something fierce. Breathing deeply, I plastered a lazy grin on my face.
“Would be able to keep this from her? I’m still…working things out for myself.” He nodded vigorously.
“Of course, Nick! You know how good I am at keeping secrets.” Plunging his paw back into the box of doughnuts, he waved a fistful a pastry at me as I made my way to the bull pen.
“That’s what worries me,” I muttered.
Wrestling with the pit in my stomach during roll call was quickly becoming a routine, much to my chagrin. I mean, the knowledge that the whole department had suspicions, to varying degrees of certainty, of my feelings towards Judy was enough to make my lose my breakfast. Couple that with sitting directly next to her, hip to hip in a chair too big for either one of us, and it was a recipe for one frazzled fox.
Part of what ate at me, however, was the jarring realization that I actually had no idea what to do about Judy. I had no idea if she felt the same way—if she even could feel the same way. Inter-species relationships…weren’t the most common, nor were they typically well-received. And Judy came from about as deep as you could get into the ol’ “bubble” of Bunnyburrow. Sure, she left there for a reason, but as we’d both discovered last year, that didn’t mean that prejudice couldn’t be buried deeper down.
As much as I hated baring my soul to anyone else, I wished I had someone I could talk to that knew what I was going through—the uncertainty, the unfamilarity that came with attraction to another species. How to tell your best friend that you loved her.
Bogo, unfortunately, looked right at me at that particularly lovesick moment, and I’m absolutely sure I saw the corner of his mouth twitch upward. Much to my relief, he didn’t single me out or call me back for another “chat” today.
“Hopps, Wilde. You’ll be accompanying Wolfard and Fangmeyer, they can give you the details of their case themselves. Dismissed.” I hopped down about as fast as I could and followed after Wolfard and Fangmeyer, Judy in tow close behind.
Chapter 7: Pack
Nick and Judy split up to work alongside Wolfard and Fangmeyer on a case. Nick finds evidence of a varying nature, and the gang meets back up for lunch.
Whew. Sometimes I really wonder if any of this is actually enough content for a whole chapter, if it’s enough to satisfy anyone or if these chapters are too short and too devoid of plot. I don’t know. I’m really trying. Anyway, here’s chapter 7.
Side note: it is actually really funny reading some of these comments. People will be making very specific guesses and I’m just sitting there with a pair of binoculars going “write that down, write that down!”
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Wolfard and Fangmeyer led us to their cubicle, where a pretty grim case file awaited us.
“Thomas Loxley, male red fox, age 26, was attacked and mugged last week, before being left for dead in an alleyway off of Sycamore Boulevard,” Wolfard explained, gesturing to a series of CSI photos of a dark alley absolutely coated in blood. Thankfully, the only pictures they had of the vic were either pre-assault or x-ray, which, while still gruesome, didn’t leave me wanting to lose my breakfast.
“Dan and I have questioned the mammal who found Loxley, another red fox by the name of Juliet Larkin, as well as a number of residents in their apartment building, which is situated just across the street from the alleyway,” Fangmeyer added. Judy’s ears drooped at this.
“He was attacked thirty feet from his own apartment?” Wolfard gave a solemn nod. I squeezed Judy’s shoulder, hoping to provide some comfort for her.
“So, what’s on the agenda for us today, then?” I asked.
“Nick, you and I are going to revisit the scene,” Wolfard replied. “Gonna check out any nearby security cameras, go over the area with a fresh set of eyes and a fine-tooth comb.”
“Judy and I are going to interview Loxley at Zootopia General,” Fangmeyer added. Judy’s face brightened, clearly looking forward to spending some time with her female coworker. “We got an initial statement from him, but he was pretty catatonic, probably a combination of painkillers and residual shock.”
“We’ll meet back up for lunch and see if we’ve gained any ground.” Wolfard stood from his desk to leave, and I followed after a little wave of goodbye to Judy.
As I rode shotgun in Wolfard’s cruiser, something was bugging me. I could smell the ingrained scent of the two officers, which I expected. But there was something off about it. It wasn’t until we’d arrived at Sycamore that I was able to pinpoint what it was.
About half the scent of tiger accompanied us out of the car, emanating accusingly from Wolfard. I smirked.
“What’s so funny, Nick?” I gave a little laugh.
“So,” I began, “how long?” Wolfard stopped in his tracks.
“How long what?” I shot him a sly look.
“You and Fangmeyer. When did that start up?” To my surprise, he just laughed.
“You would not believe how many mammals at the precinct have had more access to stronger evidence that we’re an item and still haven’t put it together.” He clasped my shoulder and squeezed me close in what I assume was meant to be a brotherly gesture. “Lucy and I started dating a little less than a year ago, during the Nighthowler riots.” Still walking me under his arm, he laughed again. “You looking for advice or something?”
My tail went rigid, and I began to regret everything I’d thought about wanting someone to talk to. Wolfard must have noticed, because he let me go and gestured to the curb.
“Hey, it’s no pressure. We’re friends, right Nick?”
We were, weren’t we?
I was barely beginning to acclimate to being friends with Judy. It…well, it scared me, to be that vulnerable with her. To open myself up to even more mammals?
We sat at the curb outside of the alleyway, Wolfard still looking expectantly, but patiently, in my direction.
“Look, Wolfard, I haven’t…I haven’t ever had a lot of mammals I could rely on. It’s hard to…” I trailed off, unsure of what to say.
We sat without speaking for some time.
“Nick. I’ve got your back. Lucy’s got your back. Judy has your back. Even Bogo is looking out for you.” He put a paw on my shoulder. “If you want to talk, I’m here.” He made to stand.
“How can I know?” I said suddenly. “How can I know that I won’t ruin our friendship by wanting more? I just…Dan, I’ve never felt this way before.” My voice caught somewhat in my throat, and I coughed, trying to ignore the stinging in my eyes. “Judy is my best friend. How can I know I won’t screw it up?” He looked at me for a long, long time before answering.
“You can’t know until you try. But Judy is too good a friend to you to allow something like this to screw it up.” He looked away, further than anything in sight. “I was worried too. But Lucy was worth it.” He stretched his arms. “Let’s get to it, then. Time’s a-wasting.” He stood, and I made to follow him when I caught a glint out of the corner of my eye. Something peeking out of the bottom of a drain pipe.
I made my way over to take a look at what had been jammed in there. Carefully using just my claws, I wedged it out.
A wallet and a phone.
“Dan, grab me a pair of gloves and two evidence bags.” He jumped to it and retrieved them in no time at all, allowing me to get a better look at what I’d found.
Confirming my suspicion, they both belonged to Loxley. The wallet, a cheap pleather item covered in scuffs and worn from use and age, contained a single dollar.
“You think the perp tossed it after realizing he didn’t have anything on him?” I gave him a look, putting the wallet into a bag.
“This is a toss,” I said, demonstrating by lightly throwing the bagged wallet over my shoulder. It landed on the pavement behind me. “No, these were hidden. I think whoever did this…” I stopped to shake the phone into a second bag. “Whoever did this wasn’t mugging our vic. This was assault and battery—maybe even attempted murder.” I shrugged. “Our perp was a little too smart for their own good. They wanted it to look like a mugging gone wrong. They take the wallet and phone. But they don’t need them. But now that they’ve taken them, there’s DNA all over it. So they hide it.” I looked right at Dan. “That’s my hunch, at least.” He looked impressed.
“It’s a good one, though circumstantial at best. Let’s try and find some camera footage to go along with it.”
By the time noon rolled around, we’d found five cameras. Two of them were positioned as to be useless in the investigation, and another was a dummy left out as a deterrent. The last two had some potential, though. One was infrared, positioned high up the wall above the spot. It was kind of a crapshoot whether we’d be able to ID anyone, but it would definitely help establish a time frame, and some general characteristics of our attacker. The second was across the street from the alleyway, and it had a good view of the exit. Gathering up the files from one and an honest-to-goodness VHS tape from the other, we coordinated with the women to meet at a small omnivore place near the precinct and go over our findings.
“Nothing new,” Fangmeyer reported, slumping into a seat at the table. Judy slid in next to me, her ears sagging in defeat.
“You should have seen this guy, Nick. I mean, he was just wasted away. Thin as a rail. And his jaw…” She shuddered. I gave her a comforting pat on the shoulder, but I had to hide a smile as I watched Fangmeyer’s tail brush past Dan’s thigh once before settling.
“He’s hard to get anything out of, and that’s without mentioning he’s got to write everything out on a whiteboard to even speak to us,” Fangmeyer added, reaching for a menu. “What did you two learn?” I smiled wide.
“You would not believe it. I got some astounding evidence, I think it’ll crack this case right open.” Dan looked up, and I knew he could tell I wasn’t talking about the stuff we’d retrieved from the pipe.
“Well,” I continued, “we’ve got two suspects…judging by the scent they’ve already marked each other. It’s likely they’re even sharing an apartment. Or is it still too earlier for that, Fangmeyer?”
Judy’s ears shot straight up and she looked at Fangmeyer. The tigress blushed deeply as Dan laughed.
“Not quite what I think Lucy was asking, Nick,” he said, wiping his eyes, “but yes, as I’m sure Nick would have told you anyway, Judy, Lucy and I have been seeing each other.” He took her paw with such a sappy look on his face that I wanted to razz him for it. I couldn’t, though; I was sure I was doing the same thing seeing the star-struck expression on Judy’s face.
“Does Bogo know?” she asked bashfully. Fangmeyer nodded. “And he’s okay with it?”
“As long as it doesn’t interfere with the work, he’s pretty lenient on, ah, fraternization.” Fangmeyer replied.
“How did it, uh, happen?” Fangmeyer’s gaze turned brittle.
“The pred rights rally, during the riots.” Judy clammed up immediately. “After that horrible day, we kind of just…needed to acknowledge that our partnership—our friendship—had become too deep to pass off as anything else.”
I shot a glance back towards Judy as she said this. She bit her lip with those adorable buck teeth but didn’t say anymore on the matter.
“Anyway, we actually did get a few things,” I said eventually, trying to break the tension that had sprung up. “For one, Loxley’s stuff.” I retrieved the bagged evidence. “It was jammed up a drain pipe—I think this wasn’t a mugging.”
“I’m inclined to agree. We also grabbed some camera footage that I’m hoping will corroborate that.”
“Yes, Fluff,” I added. “Look at this ancient artifact we uncovered. I’m sure you’ve never seen its like before.” I waved my paws mystically as I showed her the tape. She only rolled her eyes.
“Joke’s on you, Slick. My family was raised on VCRs. Tends to happen when you grow up in the middle of nowhere, far from the cutting edge of technology.” I laughed.
“All right, fair enough,” I said, sliding the tape back into the bag. My phone buzzed. A text from Finnick awaited me.
your boys just stopped downtown. looks like one is using the bathroom, the others scopin out the neighborhood.
I shot back a quick “thx” and replaced my phone.
Here’s to hoping my other story, Engaged, actually gets back off the ground now that it’s tied to the plot of Old Habits. If anyone’s interested, I’ve also got a one-shot coming down the pipe surrounding the events that led to Wolfard and Fangmeyer. I’ll edit this note with the link once it’s finished and published.