Seventeen. It only took him a moment to count them; you picked up little things like that when you’d been around the block like he had. Counting mammals at a moment’s notice, sensing immediately when the lie you’d just told hadn’t quite landed, knowing instantly who you could outrun and who you had to outsmart. Little things, but still things that might keep you out of the emergency room that night nonetheless.
Not that he made a habit of counting cops. He was more likely to count mammals that the cops would be chasing after the next day. As a rule, he’d always tried to avoid anywhere there was likely to be more than two mammals wearing blue. He’d never cross the street to avoid them or anything; no point in giving someone another reason to notice him.
Yet, despite all that, here he was. Nicholas Piberius Wilde: hustler, conmammal and artisanal tax-dodger, willingly walking into the ZPD’s first precinct, the lion’s den, or buffalo’s… pasture, he supposed. He’d been around large groups of cops before, of course – just last week after they foiled Bellwether’s machinations for instance. But then the cops had been the ones arriving on the scene and as far as he was concerned discomfort – mild or otherwise – was preferable to a psychotic, drug-wielding sheep intent on making him savage his best friend.
This time on the other paw, he was going to them. He’d been summoned by a cape buffalo – a mammal he’d call a killjoy if the word didn’t seem to imply far too much jollity for the individual in question – to discuss God knows what about an application he could still barely believe that he’d written and that the ZPD had accepted.
There was absolutely nothing mild about the discomfort he was currently experiencing.
He briefly considered turning tail and walking right back out the doors he’d just entered through, “briefly” being the key word. He wasn’t the same fox who’d drifted from hustle to hustle for years while always keeping one eye on the door. For the first time in a long time, he had someone who truly and utterly believed in him, who’d offer him nothing but support and comfort, and who would be alongside him every step of the way. He owed it to her to see this through. He owed it to himself to see this through.
Speak of the Devil, he just had time to think to himself before something vaguely cannonball-sized barrelled into him with enough force to put the comparative object to shame, and only slightly more control.
After having taken the necessary second to recover from an impact far stronger than it had any right to be, the fox allowed his gaze to drift downwards.
There, with her arms wrapped about his midsection in a bear hug, was Officer Judy Hopps, his best friend and – as long as things went smoothly over the next handful of months – future police partner.
Judy herself seemed to quickly realise that – confined to desk duty or not – she probably shouldn’t be hugging anyone in the middle of the precinct lobby. So, she quickly untangled herself from the embrace, and after taking a step back met Nick’s gaze with her own.
“Nick, what are you doing here?” She quickly asked. “You’re not in trouble, are you?”
Her happy expression became immediately tinged with worry and he could almost see the gears shifting in her head as she no doubt began planning exactly who she was going to talk to and just how she was going to convince them to let him off the hook.
“Relax Carrots, I’m keeping my nose clean just like I promised. I’m here to see Buffal… Chief Bogo,” he hastily corrected himself. “Apparently, there’s something up with my application that he needs to talk to me about.”
As he finished, he noticed the worry begin to creep back into her visage.
“Hey, hey, it’s no big deal. He said it was just some red tape that he’d prefer to discuss in person. He seems like a pretty old-fashioned guy, and he asked me to come here rather than sending an unannounced squad car to pick me up so I’m not under arrest… Probably.” He accompanied the final word of his explanation with a wink and a flash of that infectious grin of his.
“Okay, okay, as long as you’re sure!” She chuckled at his antics. “Well, in that case I better not keep you. Chief doesn’t like to be kept waiting. I was just going on break, so if you finish up quickly enough you could always join me?”
“A whole half-day without my good looks and charm and you’re going stir - crazy, is that it?” he replied while continuing to direct her that roguish grin. “But in all seriousness, I’d like that. Ended up skipping breakfast so I'm starving! How’s…”
Whatever Nick had been about to say was suddenly cut off by the sound of a mammal clearing their throat that was somehow as soft as freshly fallen snow and yet still cut through the air like a serrated blade, leaving only weighty silence in its wake.
There, standing on the balcony overlooking the lobby was one of the more imposing mammals Nick had ever known, a mammal who could best be described as what would happen if Finnick’s voice manifested itself physically.
Chief Adrian Bogo was leering over said balcony, glowering at the fox and bunny with what Nick imagined to be just about the happiest expression he was capable of.
“Mr. Wilde. I’m sure you’ve got a busy schedule so if it’s all the same to you, I think we’d both benefit from fewer delays,” the water buffalo said slowly in a sickly-sweet voice that gave Nick the distinct impression of drowning in honey. He turned and, without waiting for an answer, withdrew into what Nick could only assume was his office.
“Jeez. I don’t even work for him yet and he’s already ordering me around!” Nick said, while throwing a look of mock indignation towards his rabbit companion.
Judy rolled her eyes before lightly boxing him on the upper arm. “Come on, Slick. Like I said, it’s best to not make the chief wait!”
“I’m going, I’m going! What is it, Boss the Fox Around Day?” As he spoke, he took the first few steps toward the nearby elevator while turning to cast his gaze back at her. “Meet you at O’Mahony’s once I’m done?”
“I’ll save you a seat!” she replied before darting off towards the doors. Nick was just about to turn his attention back towards the elevator he was approaching before he noticed her stop suddenly. In the blink of an eye she’d turned, darted back to him, and wrapped him up in an embrace that somehow managed to make the previous one seem restrained by comparison.
“Good luck,” She said simply in a quiet voice that nonetheless contained nothing but warmth, support, and faith. “You can do it. I believe in you.”
And with that she disengaged and turned to depart again, this time for real as she disappeared through the entranceway leaving the stunned fox behind her.
Realising how terrible an idea it would be to give the buffalo a reason to have to come out and summon him again, Nick quickly shook himself to and turned back toward the elevator.
As the doors slid shut behind him, Nick allowed himself a moment. He let loose a deep breath and then smiled to himself; not the cocky grin that so often adorned his face, but the genuine smile that he’d not worn this often in a very long time. The smile that he found himself dusting off more and more over these last few weeks.
“That’s all that I need, Judy. That’s all that I need.”
Chief Bogo sat before Nick in what he thought must have been one of the largest chairs he’d ever seen. Despite its size, the formidable buffalo fitted it as if it had been built around him by someone who knew they were wearing chairs tight that season.
He’d said nothing since Nick entered the room. Merely grunting and vaguely gesturing towards a chair on the opposite side of his desk as he shuffled a few papers back and forth. After the fox had taken the seat, the buffalo moved the papers off to one side and affixed the mammal in front of him with a piercing gaze that even Nick, expert reader of mammals that he was, found totally impossible to decipher.
It wasn’t angry or accusatory and while far from friendly, it didn’t even seem particularly antagonistic, just… intense.
“Don’t suppose you’ve heard the one about the three-humped camel, have you?” The attempt to break the silence was unsuccessful, the buffalo merely flaring his nostrils while continuing to stare. Eventually, he took a deep, laboursome breath and reclined back in his chair just a fraction.
“Mr. Wilde, I've been a cop for thirty-two years. I like to think that I have a good sense for the recruits I’m sent. That I can tell the ones who are in it for the badge, or the uniform, or the power from the ones who genuinely want to make a difference. I’d like to imagine that the last category makes up the totality of the officers under my command.”
Nick was pretty sure he knew how this would go from here. He watched the buffalo as he spoke; his face a placid mask of indifference even as he replied. “And you don’t think a fox measures up with that, right?”
“I didn’t say that.” Another silence followed Bogo’s reply, the older mammal continuing to gaze at the fox across from him, but now he allowed just a shred of the intensity in his gaze to lessen.
“I think the past few months have made many of us take a long, hard look at ourselves in the mirror, myself included. The city owes you a debt of gratitude, and I owe you an apology. That being said: while I can bend the rules to some extent, I cannot break them. Your employment history is wholly unhelpful and…” The buffalo paused for a moment as his gaze suddenly took on a hardened edge. “… I suspect if too many people take too close a look at it, that it might become problematic.”
The larger mammal remained silent for a moment as he continued to affix the fox with his gaze, the weight of the unspoken implication resting heavily upon the air.
“Because of that…” he continued, his previous intensity diminishing if not totally dissipating. “…I have taken the liberty of speaking with the academy higher ups and arranging an alternative solution.”
Nick sat up a little in his chair at the last comment, the creeping feeling of dread gathering in the pit of his stomach suddenly replaced by a steadily raising hope.
“We will need a reference from someone you know and who knows you well. Ideally someone in a position of authority and certainly not family. Someone who can speak honestly about the content of your character and your suitability for the job.”
The breaks were suddenly slammed on Nick’s growing hope at the buffalo’s words. Most of the mammals who knew Nick well-enough to write about him either hated his guts, were entirely inappropriate for a police reference, or both.
“I, uh… Don’t exactly keep the biggest circle of friends.” Nick said after a brief pause. Not technically false.
Chief Bogo looked entirely unfazed by the comment as he snorted. “Well then, I suggest you think carefully about whom to ask. I’m not overexaggerating when I say that this may be the thing your entire application rests upon, so I would advise you to choose very carefully. Whether it’s your old teacher, doctor, or parish priest, I don’t care. Just make sure we have it within two weeks. That’ll give us just about enough time to fast-track you into the next batch of recruits. Provided everything is in order of course.”
With that, the buffalo waved towards the door. “Now, if you’ll excuse me; I have other business to attend to, and it seems that you do as well.”
While Nick wasn’t entirely satisfied with the outcome of their meeting it was clear the conversation was now well-and-truly over. He quickly exited the chair and began making his way towards the door.
“Oh, and Mr. Wilde?”
Nick’s paw froze halfway to the door handle at the sound of the buffalo’s voice before he turned back towards its bearer. Bogo was staring at him, his face adorned with an expression that had lost none of its intensity, but the omnipresent adjudication had instead been replaced by something almost… warm.
“For what it’s worth: I feel confident saying that I think you are one of the latter. Now someone you know has some writing to do I believe. Good day.”
And without another word he returned to the stack of papers in front of him, acting as though the fox had already left.
Not bothering to reply, Nick instead quickly and quietly saw himself out.
After the fox’s departure, Bogo paused before reaching over and striking the space bar of his keyboard. The screen reilluminated to show the email he’d received the previous day. The subject line ‘Re: Nicholas Wilde Application’ stood out bright and bold at the top of the page.
His eyes briefly skimmed the contents of the communication; he’d read it in full just after receiving it the day before. His gaze paused as it came to rest upon a singular line from the email’s second paragraph.
‘…the academy will require two references for the candidate in question…’
The buffalo’s gaze remained on the text for a brief moment before the makings of a smile began to manifest upon his face.
“And it seems that I do as well,” he said before opening the word processor and beginning to type.
Outside the chief’s office, Nick slowly shut the door. He let out a sigh as he made his way across the balcony overlooking the lobby and back towards the elevator.
The meeting had gone just about as well as he could have hoped for, especially with the worst-case scenario of outright rejection hovering ominously in the air.
With his… atypical history, he’d assumed that the pathway onto the force might deviate from the norm as well. Usually, a combination of factors were used to judge a candidate’s suitability for the role: employment history, educational records, that sort of thing.
He thought perhaps he’d have to suffer through a more aggressive interview filled with intrusive questions, maybe face Bogo with a few of the ZPA higher ups until they were satisfied that the fox wasn’t on someone’s payroll already.
In fact, compared with some of the ideas he’d had floating around in his head for the last two weeks getting a reference seemed… simple.
It wasn’t quite that straightforward, of course. Nick Wilde knew everyone but very few of those people knew Nick Wilde, and fewer still knew him well enough to write him a reference.
Of the smattering that remained almost all of them were either entirely inappropriate given what the reference was for or would be wholly unwilling to do it.
Almost all of them.
He’d reached the elevator by that point and quickly hit the button to summon the thing. As luck would have it, it was already there and with a melodious beep the doors slid open. Nick paused to glance down at the lobby’s main entrance before entering the elevator, sighing to himself as the doors closed on him once again.
He already knew there was only one person worth asking, one person who not only might do it but also who wouldn’t immediately get him rejected for even knowing them.
He’d been ready to face whatever extra hurdles they wanted to throw at him. He was going to have to once he started at the academy anyway, not to mention the effort he’d have to put into disproving stereotypes once he actually started the job so what difference did a few weeks head start on it really make?
Compared to what he’d been expecting this was infinitely easier, downright generous from the stern buffalo he’d just spoken with. Two full weeks to find someone who knew him well and have them write him a reference. Simple, right?
So why was he starting to feel sick?
She’d do it of course, there wasn’t any reasonable doubt of that. This was the same bunny who’d cried once when she came back to ask for his help, and again when he told her that he would apply for the force after all. So, why was his mind only focusing on the ‘what ifs?’
He knew why, of course. It’d been a long time since Nick Wilde had really, truly cared about anything. And he did care about becoming a cop; he wanted to be a cop. If you’d said that to him a couple of years or, hell, even a few months ago he’d have probably bust a lung from laughing so hard. Yet now as the elevator’s doors slid open and he made his way out into the atrium he couldn’t deny it was exactly the position he found himself in.
He wanted to do it for Judy, of course; she’d been the first mammal to really believe in him since… Well in a long time, anyway. He owed it to her to try, but he also owed it to himself. The little rabbit’s faith in him had sparked something that he’d thought long dead. He was doing this in part for him, because he wanted to, because he wanted to try, because he wanted to make the world a better place.
As he approached the entranceway he felt a buzzing in his left pocket, his grin growing wider as he retrieved the phone from therein and saw the text notification marked Carrots.
“Hurry up, Slick, or I’m going to order without you!”
His grin remained in place as he quickly typed out a reply before repocketing the phone and making his way out into the open air.
O’Mahony’s was a quaint little establishment less than a five-minute walk away from Precinct One. The owner – a kind-hearted if somewhat grouchy moose – was a retired ZPD sergeant. Due to that, the proximity, and its impressive array of reasonably-priced drinks and decent-enough coffee, it was a frequent haunt of the Precinct One faithful whether for a bite to eat while on break or an evening of socialising after shift’s end.
Nick was initially hesitant to replace his usual spots with one so associated with law enforcement, especially before actually earning his badge. But after much convincing from Judy, he decided that he might as well get a head start on the whole turning his life around thing and so it, along with Judy’s shoebox of an apartment, had become a go-to meeting place.
He made his way through the now familiar double doors, glancing up at the sign hanging above them that read ‘céad míle fáilte.’ He always meant to Zoogle what that actually meant. Once inside he threw a smile and nod to O’Mahony himself, who stood behind the bar before making his way into the depths of the establishment.
They usually sat at an out of the way table at the very back of the bar. Dedicated as the fox was to his new career path, old habits die hard and he wasn’t quite ready to start learning his hopefully soon-to-be workmates’ names just yet.
He found her at the table as he knew he would. Her head was bopping along to some tune that only she could hear – probably Gazelle – and her eyes were perusing the menu she held in front of her. Judy always ordered the same thing, but even in the short time he’d known her Nick knew she couldn’t stand being inactive, even for a moment. That and she was probably making sure that should Bogo ever decide to quiz his officers on the speciality drinks section of the local cop bar’s menu she’d be able to ace it.
As he got closer her ears twitched and angled towards him ever so slightly, before her eyes followed a moment later. The rabbit’s gaze lit up at the sight of him and the warmth in her gaze could probably melt ice.
Nick was pretty used to mammals looking at him with intensely strong emotions, but by God could he get used to the care that radiated from this bunny every time she looked at him. Hopefully friendship extends to reference writing.
“Hey, Slick,” she said as he slid into the seat opposite her. “How’d it go? Didn’t get chewed out before you even start, did you?” His relaxed demeanour had clearly been enough to set her at ease for the most part but he could still see a sliver of concern peeking through.
He considered stringing her along for a moment but quickly decided against it. Much as he enjoyed a joke she was clearly worried on his behalf. Plus, it’s never good to irritate someone right before you ask them a favour.
“All good. Just some application red tape like he said. They’re really pulling all the stops out to get me into the next bunch of recruits. No idea what you said to them but it definitely worked!”
He meant to come out and ask straight away, that’s what he meant to do but as he began to plan the words in his head he started to feel a tightness in the pit of his stomach.
Judy let out a breath at that. “Phew, that’s a relief. And I just told them what I told you; that I think you’d make a pretty good cop. You did save the city, reveal a plot, and help restore the lives of well over a dozen mammals after all.” She continued to beam at him as she spoke, and that tightness started getting worse. “You’ve even started paying your taxes now!” She finished as the genuine beam morphed into the rye smirk that she’d been learning from him oh so well.
Nick saw his chance and went for it. “Oh, don’t remind me… Do you know you have to pay those things every year? And yet somehow I’m the crook! Plus, that was all you, especially the getting me to pay the taxes part. I was just like the Robin to your Manbat or something.” He knew he was going to have to ask her soon; two weeks wasn’t an overly long time and she’d need some of it to actually write the thing. Judy Hopps was the biggest overachiever he’d ever met and if she agreed to write the reference she’d consider it a personal challenge to pen the finest one ever put on paper.
If she agrees to write the reference.
That being said, there was time, right? He could leave asking her until later that day, or tomorrow, or in a couple days’ time. Just to give himself a little more time to think through what he was going to say, of course. Yeah, that was the best idea.
Satisfied with his decision the fox relaxed properly for the first time since sitting down and the tightness began to subside. That was until Judy spoke again.
“Oh, you’re just full of references, aren’t you Slick?”
It would’ve only lasted a split second before he got it under control and even that would’ve likely gone unnoticed by any other mammal, but Judy had quickly become the best person in the world at reading him and she noticed it right away.
She immediately reached across the table and placed a paw atop his.
“Are you okay?” she asked, her expression all concern and worry. “You’re acting a little strange.”
Lie, deflect, change the subject, never let them see that they get to you. The hustler inside him screamed while forming a dozen different ideas of how to get the conversation on to something, anything else.
But he couldn’t do it. As she squeezed his paw a little tighter she was probably thinking the worst after his meeting with Bogo, that they’d changed their minds and he’d been flat out rejected rather than the truth, that he just had some ridiculous hang up about asking his best friend for a favour.
A reassuring smile slowly crept back onto his face as he met her gaze. “I’m fine, it’s nothing to worry about really, but…” As he paused his eyes wandered down to her paw that was still holding his own. “Bogo… Wants a reference in absence of an employment history. Someone who knows me well enough to comment on my character, he said. No family, obviously, and it ideally should be someone respectable. Much as I’d love to see Bogo’s face if I submitted one from Mr. Big, I don’t think it’d do me any favours…” He chucked weakly, the usual strength lacking from his attempted humour.
“And I was thinking… Well, wondering… If you wouldn’t mind… Maybe… Possibly… Writing it for me?” The fox blurted the last bit out with all the grace of a drunken hippo attempting the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. His pulse was racing and the tightness in his stomach was back. Mammals had tried for years to reduce the great Nick Wilde to speechlessness; if only they’d known that this was all it took.
After a moment of silence that felt like a lifetime, he allowed his gaze to leave the pair of paws, slowly returning to the face of the rabbit across from him.
She was smiling at him, the worry abandoned and replaced with a warm smile. As he looked at her his pulse began to calm down and the feeling in his stomach began to disappear. He knew her answer before she even opened her mouth.
“I’d love to.” She gave his paw one last squeeze and pulled hers back. “Oh, and just so you know, you don’t need to be worried about asking for my help. I’ll always do anything I can for you.”
Oh nothing; not Hell or high water was going to stop him graduating top of his class.
“Thanks. Now emotional imbalance aside we should probably order before you have to get back. Can’t fill in paperwork on an empty stomach. And you better believe it’s on me today!”
He slid out of the seat and was making his way towards the bar before she had time to mount the inevitable protest that he knew would be coming.
As he walked over to the bar with the menu in hand, his smile couldn’t have gotten any bigger.
Not Hell or high water.
Judy’s keys jingled as she unlocked the door to her room at the Grand Pangolin Arms.
That was the only word for it. She’d been confined to desk duty since her reinstatement to the force on account of the leg injury she’d suffered inside the Natural History Museum.
While she grudgingly accepted the necessity, she couldn’t help but resent the cruel irony that at last having earned the respect of her colleagues she was unable to make a difference in any way other than filling out seemingly endless paperwork.
That being said, she knew it was for the best. Given that it wouldn’t last too long in the grand scheme of things she flung herself into her temporary role with the same boundless enthusiasm that had marked her first day of meter maid duty.
At least she could usually count on Nick to break up the monotony of her nine-to-five. The two had become inseparable since reuniting, and most evenings were either spent exploring the city with Nick acting as tour guide or relaxing in Judy’s apartment.
Tonight, however, was different. Nick had people to see; such a drastic career change does require some adjustment, after all. She suspected that he was glad for the space anyway. After his request about the reference he was clearly a bit emotional and while he was starting to open up and let her see that things got to him, she knew it needed to happen at his own pace.
She just hoped that he’d listen to her about asking for help.
Therefore, following her boring day she had a boring night preluding another boring day to look forward to. Joy. At least she had weekly movie night with Nick tomorrow evening.
And she did have something very specific to keep her occupied, at least. Nick had given her all the details over lunch about exactly what Bogo had said to him. She’d been overjoyed, both that he trusted her enough to oversee something so important to him and his future and at Bogo for being so accommodating. Judy had put a couple (hundred) good words in for Nick wherever she could, and while she knew the chief of Precinct One couldn’t play favourites, just having him not play least-favourites was a win as far as she was concerned.
Sitting down at her quaint desk, she retrieved a few sheets of paper from inside a drawer as well as her trusty carrot pen. She had plenty of time, but Judy Hopps was never one for putting things off and she might as well make a start now.
As she set herself to start writing her eyes wandered to one of the framed pictures that sat upon the desk. Amongst the menagerie of snapshots, this one stood out; besides being front and centre, it was also the most recently taken of the collection.
She and Nick stood shoulder to shoulder with one arm each wrapped around the other. Their other arms were extended forwards where they unbeknownst to the camera held their respective phones. They both had smiles plastered across their faces, hers a little brighter while his signature wry grin didn’t quite cover up the contentedness you could see in his eyes.
He looked happy.
They’d taken a few at the same time but one or the other of them had been goofing around in the rest. While she cherished them all, this one was by far her favourite.
“He’s counting on you, Judy; don’t you let him down,” she said to herself before she leaned forward and began to write.
One week later
Judy let out in a cry of exasperation as she scrunched a sheet of paper into a tight ball and then launched it towards her recycling can. The shot was perfect, but it was nevertheless foiled by many very similar scrunched up paper balls. The most recent addition bounced casually off the pile before coming to rest with about a dozen others at the bin’s base.
For a week now Judy had spent almost every private moment she had attempting to write a reference that met her sky-high standards. She would wake up even earlier than usual before work, stay up late, and she’d even taken to working on it during her breaks at the ZPD if she was taking them at her desk.
Except for time spent with Nick, the reference had just about become her entire life outside of work, and yet she could not for the life of her come up with something that she was happy with. Every attempt either sounded robotic and bubblegummy like she was just ticking boxes off, or she rambled for far too long.
None of them yet had been perfect and she wanted it to be perfect. She needed it to be perfect, because that was what Nick deserved and the better the reference was the better his chances of acceptance into the ZPA would be.
Nick had trusted her with something that she knew mattered to him – really mattered – and she would be damned before she did anything less than repay every single ounce of that trust.
She let out a laboured sigh before making her way over to the kettle in one of the room’s corners, still at half capacity from the last time she’d filled it. As she flicked the switch at its base a blue light sprung to life and a quiet drone began as the device’s lukewarm contents were slowly returned to a boil.
After popping a carrotmile teabag into her favourite mug, she crossed the room to her bed and promptly collapsed upon it. She tugged her ears down over her eyes and let out a groan of frustration.
She apologised for the delay every time she saw him and despite his continued reassurances that it was fine and that there was no rush she was still eager for the moment she could tell him it was done and with Bogo. Then they could both relax.
Every time she saw him she silently promised herself that she’d have it ready for the next time, and then the next time was preceded by another night of attempts that amounted to nothing.
None of them were bad, so to speak. Most were adequate, fine even, but…
She let go of her ears and her gaze immediately fell upon the framed picture on her desk and the smiling fox featured there.
Fine wasn’t good enough.
Her ruminations were interrupted by the click of the kettle as it reached its boil. She got up and returned to the appliance to fill her mug with steaming water before returning to her seat at the desk.
Why was this hard? It was Nick for goodness’ sake! She could probably think of one hundred reasons why he’d make a good – no, great – cop without even scratching the surface. Whether it be his compassion, his brains, his forgiveness…
That last one struck a particular chord and she thought back to the last time she had been so conflicted about what to say in a situation involving Nick.
She’d been blaring down a highway as fast as she was legally allowed on her way back to Zootopia after realising the true meaning of the nighthowlers. One hundred and one different ways of how to apologise to Nick ran through her mind as she did so. She found him, of course, under that quiet bridge on the city’s outskirts, but through a combination of her relief at seeing him safe and well and her desire to correct her mistakes she’d forgotten every single one of them in the moment and blurted out what she’d learned about the nighthowlers first and foremost.
He’d rightfully shrugged her off, began walking away again, and panic had seized her in its icy grip as images of him disappearing through the doors after the disastrous press conference replayed in her mind.
Before she even knew what she was doing she’d chased after him and, without thinking about it, said the first thing that came to mind: the truth. The entire truth and nothing but.
At the time she’d been petrified, scared beyond expression that her apology wouldn’t be enough. That her words wouldn’t be enough to heal the wound they’d previously inflicted. But they had. He’d forgiven her, and now the memory ranked amongst her happiest.
Leaving her memories for the moment her mind meandered back to the present as her gaze landed upon the newest blank sheet on the desk in front of her.
Maybe she was overthinking this.
Simple honesty had saved her once before, and maybe it could do it again. This was Nick; she didn’t need honeyed words to make him look good. All she needed to do was tell the truth. To tell them the truth about the real Nicholas Wilde. The one that he only let her see.
She took a tentative sip of her tea before placing it on a coaster beside the framed picture, her eyes catching it again for the briefest of moments.
And with that she took up the carrot pen again and set to work, her mind repeating a simple mantra as she did so.
Just tell them the truth.
She placed the carrot pen down on the desk before taking up the sheet of paper in front of her and casting her eyes over it once again. She’d written and read and edited and reread in the preceding hours and finally thought she was finished, that finally she had a reference worthy of the fox to whom it referred.
About four lines in her eyes lost focus and she yawned so hard it made her jaw ache. She was exhausted.
Looking across the room she caught sight of her alarm clock which read 2.27am. Barely three hours before she had to be up.
“Sweet cheese and crackers!” She looked back down at the paper in front of her. No point reading it again tonight, she thought; she’d barely be able to get to the end let alone declare whether it was truly done or not and her bed did look incredibly inviting right about now.
Conceding defeat, Judy placed the paper back down on the desk, leaving it front and centre. She’d read it one last time after some shuteye to make sure she was totally happy with it and then take it into work with her tomorrow to copy onto her computer.
Resolved but sighing in mild annoyance at the delay nonetheless, Judy relented and within a minute she was under her covers. She fell fast into a restful slumber as her mind pleasantly lingered on the glowing recommendation she’d finally managed to pen and blissfully unaware of the fact that she’d neglected to set her alarm.
Judy shifted back into consciousness at the sound of a low, elongated rumbling from the direction of her windowsill. One of her paws immediately swung over and struck the top of the alarm clock in an effort to silence the wretched thing before she brought them both up to rub at her eyes.
At the second utterance of the drone she cast a weary eye towards the clock, and as she did so something occurred to her. The percussive din that had awoken her wasn’t the repetitive staccato of her alarm clock but rather a long, drawn-out sound.
Her mind by this point was throwing off the effects of slumber and putting the pieces together as it did so. Her gaze shifted along the other item resting upon the cabinet. Just as her phone let out another vibration.
When she reached across and grabbed her cellphone, she was greeted by Nick’s face smiling back at her. The very same picture that occupied her desk but zoomed in so that his face took up the entirety of the image. Judy quickly tapped the accept call button and brought the phone to her ear.
“Nick?” she mumbled while stifling a yawn.
“Hey Fluff!” He greeted her in a bright and very clearly wide-awake voice. “Sound a little tired there. Now don’t tell me you went and forgot about our little morning run?”
The bunny’s eyes snapped open at once as she catapulted herself out of the bed and began frantically scrambling about the room, eyeing her various personal effects littered about it as she did so.
“Nooooo! Oh Nick I'm so sorry!” She’d been helping him prepare in hopeful anticipation for his upcoming training at the ZPA. While Nick was in more than reasonable shape already, Judy knew first-hand the horrors of the academy’s physical regimes and thought that by gradually introducing them to Nick he might be spared the abject misery that she’d suffered during her first days there. They also doubled as opportunities to rehab her leg injury with the presence of a trusted friend there to make sure she didn’t push it too hard.
“Yesterday was so long and then when I got in I stayed up way too late and then I must have forgotten to set my alarm and…”
“Hey, hey it’s okay Carrots, no harm done” he quickly interrupted before she could ramble on any further. “I’m sure I’ll manage without my own personal super trainer for a day. I just wanted to make sure you were okay and that you weren’t going to be late for work.”
Judy, having just grabbed her stab vest, turned back towards her alarm clock at that. 6.42am; twelve minutes after she was supposed to meet Nick at the park, an hour and eighteen until she was due at work. She’d have to hurry but she could definitely still make it on time short of any further delays.
“You’re the best. I owe you one.”
“Ah, you definitely don’t, although I’m choosing the first movie tonight.” She could practically hear his smug grin through the phone’s speaker.
“Fine, fine but nothing too cheesy,” she shot back with the phone wedged between her cheek and shoulder as she finished strapping the vest over her torso.
“Madam, I’ll have you know that my taste in film is nothing short of exquisite! I wouldn’t know the first thing about cheese!” Mock indignation coloured his tone as he spoke.
“Suuuuuuure, Slick,” Judy said while trying her best to muffle a giggle and fastening her duty belt with the phone still pinned to her head. She took a second to glance back at the clock again as she pulled the fabric taut: 6.45am. “I’ve got to hurry and get ready for work. Thanks again; you’re a lifesaver. See you later.”
“Anytime Fluff, catch you later!.” And with that a singular beep announced the call’s end.
Judy brought the phone down from her ear and beamed at it for a second longer before placing it carefully in one of her pockets. “Right,”she said simply before beginning to dart around the room again grabbing the final few items needed. Her wallet quickly joined her phone inside a pocket and she took a moment to grab a breakfast bar from a waiting multipack of them that she kept for occasion just like this. No time to eat anything now but she’d have plenty once she was on the subway.
Finally, she grabbed her badge from where it rested on the windowsill next to the alarm clock. She quickly pinned it to her chest as she made her way over to the mirror in the corner of the room, giving the little badge that meant so much to her its customary early-morning polish once she was there.
Her eyes lingered on the resplendent metal for a moment and she couldn’t help smiling to herself as she thought about Nick soon having one of his own to match.
She dragged her eyes away before she became too lost in thought, time was still ticking after all and she needed to get moving.
She opened the door and was almost out of it before she suddenly stopped in her tracks.
“Oops, almost forgot.” she said before quickly reaching back into the room, and grabbing her keys off of the hook that they were waiting on just inside the door. “Whew, that was a close one.” she sighed herself in relief before racing out of the room and down the hallway.
Ten hours later
Judy sat at her desk, having spent another day contending with the dreariness of administrative duty. Her leg was healing well and with a bit of luck it wouldn’t be too much longer until she was cleared to get away from the desk she’d been stuck at for over three weeks now. As far as she was concerned, it couldn’t come soon enough.
A large pile of filled in paperwork occupied one side of the desk while a far smaller stack, consisting of only a half dozen or so pages, sat on the opposite side.
She was torn as she looked at the time on her phone.
Just a handful of minutes away from the end of her shift. On one paw the stack had been meant to last her the entire week and she was under no obligation to have it finished within the day. She had movie night with Nick to look forward to and while she’d probably only have to stay an extra twenty or so minutes more, she was loathe to sacrifice time spent with her best friend for the sake of paperwork.
On the other paw, Judy Hopps was never one to leave a job unfinished and always strove to achieve her absolute best, even with something as monotonous as this. More to the point, it’d only be waiting for her here in the morning again and the last thing she wanted was the spectre of unfinished paperwork looming over her all night while she tried to enjoy herself.
She looked back at her phone.
Her decision made, Judy tapped the screen to bring up her favourite contacts and pressed the call button next to the top name. She leaned back in her chair as the repetitive buzzing of the phone's call tone filled her ear once, twice, and almost a third time before it was interrupted by a smooth voice.
“Hey, Carrots,” Nick greeted her in his suave baritone. “What can I do for you? Not calling to cancel movie night are you? I’m not sure I could possibly take two soul-crushing let-downs in the same day!”
Judy rolled her eyes, her mind filled with an undoubtedly accurate image of the fox leaning his head back, a look of mock anguish on it as he clutched a paw to his chest.
“Not a chance. I wouldn’t miss it for the world and I definitely need it after today.”
“That bad, huh?” Nick replied, his tone shifting to something more sincere.
“Ugh no, just dull, I’ll fill you in later. Anyway, that’s why I’m calling.” Much as Judy appreciated every moment spent talking with Nick it was only going to delay her leaving so she might as well get to the point. “I’ve still got a few bits of paperwork left to get to and I really don’t want to be thinking about them all night so I’m going to just finish them before I leave. Should be done within half an hour, but I wanted to check you haven't lost my spare key first.”
“Yep, got it right here. I’ll pick everything up on the way over and let myself in. Will probably only beat you by about five minutes in the end.”
“Thanks, Nick, can’t wait!” she replied gleefully.
“Oh, by the way my phone’s about to die, mind if I charge it once I get there?”
“Hmm, I think I can allow it… If you get me a bag of carrot chips on the way over.”
“Ohh you drive a hard bargain, bunny! I suppose that can be arranged. Now, I think you’d better Hopps to it!” The fox barely finished his pun before letting out a short bark of laughter.
Judy just rolled her eyes in her chair. “They’re getting worse, Slick!”
“Oh, come on, that one was good!” he retorted, the mock offense back in full before he allowed it to fade away again just as quickly. “See you soon, looking forward to tonight.”
“Me too, bye!” The call ended and she took a moment to smile back down at the photo on the screen before redirecting her attention back towards the remaining paperwork. She set about finishing it with renewed vigour.
35 minutes later
Judy finished her remaining paperwork in record time and was little more than a grey blur as she burst out the doors. Now she stood on a subway train as it made the short journey back to her closest station.
A robotic voice announced that her stop was next and then fell silent as she made her way to the nearest door while stuck in a mild reverie.
Get home, relax with Nick, bad movies, popcorn, day off tomorrow, type up the refere…
All of a sudden, her daydreaming was interrupted as a smattering of images flashed through her head. Her putting her carrot pen down last night before bed, looking back at the finished reference and picture next to it, then rushing out of the door this morning leaving the reference upon the desk.
More images played out after that of what would happen if Nick did see the reference once he arrived. Nooooooo, he’ll never let me hear the end of it!
She fished her phone from her pocket and brought up Nick’s contact.
Come on, Judy thought as she brought the phone to her ear.
“The number you have called is not currently available. Please try again later.”
She let out a frustrated groan as the phone’s automated voice confirmed her fear that Nick’s cell had indeed died since the last time they’d spoken. Just then she was interrupted by a loud beep as the now stationary train’s door slid open.
She was out like a flash, charging though the station and out into the open air beyond. I still might make it there before him if I hurry.
With that thought spurring her on, she ran as hard as she dared.
Nick made his way out of the stairwell and onto Judy’s floor of the Grand Pangolin Arms. Each of his arms carried a sizeable bag, one from a local takeaway he knew well that’s affordability was only matched by their quality and the other a store bag filled with drinks and various snacks.
The fox approached the door labeled room number 304 and placed one of the bags on the floor while he fished around in his pocket for the spare key Judy had given him once she’d moved back into the quaint accommodation.
He unlocked the door and after repocketing the key made his way into the room with his bags in tow. Once he’d placed them safely in a corner, he checked his phone and then looked around the room.
Greasy walls, rickety bed, and he just hoped they would be spared a vocal cameo from her crazy neighbours tonight.
Nick had been amazed to find out Judy was living somewhere as basic as The Grand Pangolin Arms. He’d promised to ask some old friends and look into finding her a reasonably priced alternative but she didn’t consider it a priority at the moment. Apparently growing up with the best part of three hundred immediate family members will make you appreciate even the most basic of private abodes.
As he looked around for the charger something did catch his eye: a single sheet of paper on the desk on the right-hand side of the room. Nick was about to turn away and get the food ready when he caught sight of the header scribbled at the top of the page.
Turning to the sheet fully it dawned on him what he was looking at.
I shouldn’t be reading this, he thought to himself. And yet at the back of his mind that voice just wouldn’t quiet. The one that always told him he was crazy for choosing to do what he was doing. That he should just go back to hustling, that the ZPD would never accept a fox, that she would never really trust him.
So, in almost trance-like reverie his arm moved forward and brought the paper up as he began to read.
To whom it may concern,
My name is Officer Judy Hopps and I’m writing to you on behalf of Nicholas Wilde and his application to the Zootopia Police Academy. I’ve been a ZPD officer for a little under six months now, and have known Nick for almost that entire time.
Nick is one of the best mammals I know and despite all the hardships he has suffered and his own efforts to hide it, he remains a paragon of kindness and generosity, one whom I trust more than I can possibly put into words.
Nick was absolutely instrumental in the finding of the fourteen missing mammals at Cliffside Asylum five months ago, as well as in the resolution of the nighthowler crisis that followed. His quick-wittedness, knowledge, and initiative were all essential to the solving of both incidents and I know with absolute certainty that without him neither would have been solved at all.
I’m still a cop because of Nick. The missing mammals were found because of Nick. Bellwether was apprehended and all the afflicted mammals cured because of Nick. Without him I can’t imagine what might have happened.
I’m sure that my own mistakes during that incident need no introduction, and I don’t think anyone was as personally affected by my words and by my actions as Nick was. Yet, despite everything that I said and did to hurt him he forgave me without a second thought, and was willing to jump straight back into the fire with me.
During both investigations Nick had countless opportunities to leave me to my job and distance himself from the situation. To look after himself and leave me and every other mammal involved to our fate. But time and time again he chose to continue helping despite every danger that was thrown our way.
After we were trapped in the Natural History Museum, I cut my leg badly and couldn’t walk. I told Nick to take the evidence we had and run, to leave me and get it to the ZPD.
He wouldn’t leave me, and he tried to carry me out of there himself, but not before thinking up a backup plan just in case we didn’t make it all the way.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Nick Wilde is the one and only reason why I’m still alive.
He is considerate, dependable, forgiving, and kind. He is intelligent, dedicated, resourceful, and empathetic. He is brave, loyal, helpful, and trustworthy. He embodies every aspect that an officer of the ZPD should strive to, the same aspects that I strove to embody both as a child and throughout my training and service with the ZPD.
I am a better mammal for knowing him, and I have absolutely no doubts that the Zootopia Police Department too would be better for having him as a part of it.
I implore you, look past the image that he presents to the rest of the world and see the real Nicholas Wilde. The one that he’s allowed me to see, the one that I know without the shadow of a doubt will make a good – no, great – cop.
I believe in him, and I beg you to do the same.
Officer Judy Hopps
Judy sprinted up the stairs and through the main entrance of the Grand Pangolin Arms, having probably broken her personal best for the two-mile sprint. At least she knew her leg really was healing up well. Once inside she immediately made for the building’s interior staircase and bounded up two steps at a time.
Before she knew it, she was on the third floor and heading straight for the fourth room.
As she did so she let out a quick prayer that she’d find the familiar room sans fox, that she’d have a chance to hide the reference and spare herself the merciless teasing that it was bound to bring about if Nick saw it.
That wish, however, was not to be. Once she turned the knob the door clicked open and she knew that fate had not been on her side that day.
She paused for a moment, the door still only open a crack and she prepared herself for what was doubtlessly waiting for her on the other side. Nick, smile reaching critical levels of smugness reclining back in her chair as he perused the sheet on which the reference was written.
He’d keep staring at it for a moment, acting like he’d not noticed her open the door before turning that grin back upon her and making some smug comment about ‘knowing she loved him but never realising it was this much’ or something along those lines.
But what was done was done and she couldn't do anything more to control the damage now. All she could do was face the music and get it over with.
Maybe he won’t keep up the jokes for too long...
She seriously doubted that would be the case but nevertheless she let out a deep sigh and slowly pushed the door open fully.
The scene that greeted her bore many similarities to the one she’d imagined, but it was far from identical.
Nick did indeed fail to acknowledge her at first, and his eyes were glued to the sheet of paper he held in his paw. But he stood next to the desk rather than sitting at it, and the expression that covered his face was as far from his signature smirk as any that she’d ever seen.
It was halfway between the grateful astonishment that he’d shown when she’d presented him with the ZPD employment application, and the quietly overjoyed relief that he’d worn after her apology underneath the bridge.
On both of those occasions though he’d only looked like he might cry, and as the fox finally turned his head to meet her gaze the two streams of damp fur running from his eyes proved that he was doing far more currently than just looking like he might.
She wasn’t sure exactly when she started moving. All she was aware of was that barely a second later she had her arms tightly gripped around him.
He was stationary at first, perhaps not quite able to react right away . But a brief moment later he returned the gesture, and wrapped his own arms around her. Not in the casual, too-cool way that he usually did, but instead in a vice-like grip that matched the ferocity of her own pound for pound. His uneven breathing remained the only sound that broke the room’s silence.
She thought for a split second about making a comment about foxes and their emotions but thought better of it. Instead, she opted for the same advice that had served her so well the night before, and simply told the truth.
“I meant every word.”
His reply took a moment to come and when it did the two, solitary words were spoken in the ghost of a whisper so soft that it made her forget which of them was the smaller for a moment.
She didn’t say anything back; she didn’t need to. The pair of them just stood there in the centre of her little apartment,wrapped in a comfortable silence as well as each other's embrace. Judy silently admonished herself for ever worrying that Nick might tease her about this.
Neither would have been able to tell you how long they stayed there, but eventually Nick tapped Judy on the shoulder and began to pull away.
“I think I’m okay now, Judy,” he said in a voice that remained soft but lacked the fragility it had held the last time he’d spoken.
She pulled back as well, beaming up at him as she did so.
“You know if the whole police thing doesn’t work out you could probably make a pretty good career in professional reference writing,” he said as some of his signature demeanour began to slowly return. His eyes remained the same bottomless bastions of grateful adoration the entire time though.
Judy shook her head. “No, I don’t think I could. I think I can only write when I have a good starting point, and I don’t think I’ll ever find a better one.” As she finished, she smiled up at him all the brighter.
And he smiled right back.
For the rest of the night, they laughed and joked and watched terrible movies with each other while the reference sat upon the desk,neither able to think of a better way to spend the evening.
The next day Judy typed it up and submitted a copy to Bogo.
A week later Nick’s acceptance letter arrived, and this time when Judy hugged him, she cried too.