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Burrowing Under Barriers

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The biggest and most developed continent on Earth, divided into four distinct districts, each strikingly different from the one next to it. The frigid Tundratown took up the northeast, every inch of the city covered in white frost and snow. Immediately south of the icy plains was the sweltering Sahara district, with rough sand blowing through the blistering wind. Moisture and humidity made up the rainforest district at the northwest corner, as well as large luscious trees and other vegetation. The more developed area of the continent was the most striking sight from above, Savannah Central, with towering skyscrapers and golden monuments shining with the sun’s light.

The four distinct areas, with sub-towns scattered throughout, made up Zootopia, capital of the island and pinnacle of animal civilization. Founded more than a millennia ago, when animals were taking their first steps toward civilization, an alliance of peace had been formed between predator and prey at a communal watering hole. What had begun as a village of huts over time transformed into a number of log cabins and sheds, with meals cooked by an open fire and laundry cleaned by washing boards. A steady revolution in technology helped advance the living conditions of the citizens. Wood was replaced with brick, wagons were replaced with automobiles, and messages could be relayed over airwaves instead of by mail. It wasn’t just a first-world country; it was the first-world country of the planet. Even the largest giraffe or hippo felt small the first time they entered Zootopia, surrounded by the towering structures, some of them glowing with video screens or product advertisements. Though the city had changed over two centuries, the town’s motto had remained the same since the treaty between predator and prey had been signed so long ago.

Zootopia: where anyone can be anything.

Though most of the residents used the creed as a means of striving for self-improvement, others used it for more nefarious intentions. Within the downtown district, on the border of the residential and commercial area, a small creature scurried along the top of a bus stop. With a hoodie obscuring all but his black nose and whiskers, he looked out in all directions to see that nobody was around. The area was practically a ghost town at lunch time, leaving the hooded figure all by himself.

Crawling down the front of the sign, he pulled out a small spray can out of his hoodie pocket and shook it with vigor. He aimed his paw forward, at an advertisement for Waterbuck Waterbed mattresses. A spray of blue fanned out from the nozzle as the assailant moved it carefully around to write the letters NCT along the image of the white mattress. The creature snickered at his deed, before jumping down and scampering into a nearby alley. Up against a wall, he let out a sigh of relief.

“I don’t get it.” He heard an unknown female voice made him freeze. “Aren’t artists supposed to actually draw something before they sign their names?”

He turned to his right to see a pair of long gray ears with a bit of black at the tips. He tilted his head down to see who the ears belonged to: a short bunny with a blue police cap and uniform. The bunny looked up at him, a lifted eyebrow and the corner of her mouth raised in a snobbish manner. Alarms went off in his head as heobserved the rabbit’s uniform and badge with the letters ZPD. He needed to get out of there. He’d barely made it one step, when he felt something pull at his right arm.

“Oh, no you don’t!” The rabbit shouted as she wrapped his arm behind his back. His wrist felt something cold and hard click around it as he spun around, his other arm confined by the same force. It all happened so fast, that he lost his footing and fell on his backside, his black and gray tail providing just a bit of cushion from the hard ground. “Come on, up and at ‘em.” The bunny cop said, yanking him up by his hoodie. She pulled it back to reveal the face of a young raccoon, an angry grimace underneath his black and beady eyes. “Do you understand why I’ve detained you this evening, sir?”

“Just for drawing on a stupid bus stop?” The raccoon sneered. “What, you gonna take me to jail or something?”

“Jail? Pft, no.” Another voice responded from the side, more masculine and condescending. Both the rabbit and the raccoon turned to see another officer approaching. A male fox sipping from a latte in his paw and wearing a pair of tinted sunglasses. “Those are reserved for big boy criminals, guys who steal purses and play with guns. No, we’re not gonna put you in jail, kid.” The fox said as he stood in front of the raccoon in cuffs. “We are however gonna slap you with a fine. And fines for defacing public property are... “ His eyes furrowed, and he lifted his empty paw to his chin. “They’re, they’re uh…”

“Five hundred dollars.” The rabbit reminded him with a hint of arrogance. “Come on, Nick, you gotta get this stuff memorized.”

“Thank you Officer Hopps.” The fox replied in annoyance. “Yeah, five hundred dollars, yeesh that’s a lot of money. I’m gonna guess you can’t bully enough nerds out of their lunch money to pay that kind of fee, can you, Nocturn?”

The raccoon’s eyes widened in alarm. “H-how do you know my name?”

“Kid, I’ve been all over the city even before I got a badge.” Nick replied, pausing to take his shades off. “I’ve paid a few trips to the Rolling Rams Homes, and- heh, Rolling Rams.” Nick chuckled for a moment. “Sorry, just, I love that name, ‘Rolling’ Rams; it’s funny, because it’s a trailer park, so the houses… roll… on wheels.” Nick kept a satisfied grin on his face, even as he stared down the scowling raccoon teenager. “Anyway, you, uh, do still live there, right? I’m just assuming you do, because I haven’t heard on the news anything about your dad ‘winning it big’ from any recent lottery drawings. And since he’s making a career out of buying tickets, that just leaves your mom’s salary from working at the local diner. I’m not sure what she makes bussing all those tables and juggling orders, but I’m guessing it’s not enough to buy a house attached to the ground, is it?”

Nocturn wore a look of shock. He’d spent the past month cutting school on odd days, spraying his name in different places all over town. It was a desperate way for him to cope with his lot in life, escaping the downtrodden trailer park and making his existence known in a vicarious manner. Nick’s reiteration of his life hit him like a ton of bricks.

“Yeah, I didn’t think so.” Nick went on undeterred. “I can’t imagine how tough that’s gonna be on her, busting her tail on those late nights, being the only one to provide for her family, and wishing she could see her little boy more often. Then she gets a notice from some cops saying that she owes the city hundreds of dollars, probably a month's worth of tips, just because her son wanted to scribble his name all over town. Golly, she’s gonna have to take so many shifts at the diner just to cover your vandalism.”

Nick took another swig of his coffee while Nocturn sat in silence, his head drooping in shame. Nick’s assessment had cut him deep. The rebellious spirit he’d felt for so long had been drained as he imagined his mother’s heartbroken face when she heard the news.

“Or.” Nick said after taking the cup down from his muzzle. “We could not do that. We could let you go with a stern warning, saying that if we ever catch you doing this again, that we will fine your family without thinking twice. How does that sound?” Nocturn’s face lifted up. His eyes glossy with wetness, he nodded quickly. “Awesome. Means less paperwork for me and Judy.”

“Alright, sit up.” The rabbit instructed the young sniffling raccoon, turning him around while she pulled her keys out of the secured pouch on her belt. “We’re gonna escort you back to school. Hopefully the principal won’t tell your mother about this, but that’s not really our call.” Nocturn nodded again while Judy undid his cuffs.  Grabbing him by the arm, she guided him toward the end of the alley, where a large police car was parked on the side of the road. Patrol car Z-240, an SUV at six feet high, with zebra-esque stripes on the doors and a sturdious rectangular frame. The raccoon had to grip onto the floor above his head and receive some assistance from the two officers pushing his feet up to get inside. Once Nocturn was in, Judy closed the door behind him.

“Hey, when are you gonna let me drive?” Nick asked as she replaced her cuff keys with the keys for the car.

“After you learn how much a fine for defacing public property costs.” Judy replied, as they both stood in front of the car. “Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

Nick rolled his eyes. “Alright, mom.” He groaned. “I’ll study real hard if you promise you’ll let me drive to the prom.”

Judy flashed him amused smirk, resting her paw on the hood of the car. “Hey, Officer Wilde, do you think you could pretend to be professional in front of the delinquent?”

Nick moved his lips in a curt fashion, mimicking what Judy had just said to him. In the blink of an eye, Judy pulled her pen out of her breast pocket and flung it at Nick.

“Ow!” the fox cried out in feigned pain. “Watch it, professional .”

Judy snorted and tried in vain to suppress a grin. She was sure that Nocturn hadn’t seen them horsing around, they being a few feet below the hood of the car and below his line of vision. Even if he had, she didn’t care at the moment. Judy was in a good mood, and didn’t want anything to spoil it. Jumping up into her seat, she twisted the key in the ignition and pulled out of their space, heading off towards Gerald Grizzly High School.

The beep of the car’s GPS chimed as she pulled onto the main road. Months ago, Officer Judy Hopps had depended on the device to get anywhere. Now she seldom used it. She had learned Zootopia quite well in the time she’d lived there.

Sitting at a traffic light, Judy took a moment to reflect on how well she’d adjusted to Zootopia. Half a year ago she’d stepped off of the train, one bunny in the midst of a swarm of countless species of animals bustling along the city streets. She’d been amazed at the sight of numerous transportation systems, vendors made to accommodate the varying sizes of different species, and the size of the pristine buildings that reached toward the heavens. Though the sights and sounds of the city had become commonplace for her, Judy still felt so grateful to be a part of it all.

Rounding the corner of the road ahead, Judy caught sight of the Gerald Grizzly high school. Her ears could hear Nocturn’s breath get heavy behind her as they pulled up to the front doors. She wanted to comfort him, to tell him it was going to be okay and not to let it get to him. She knew however that it was best to let him hang on to a bit of his fear. They had every intention of letting him off with a warning, but if the fear of today didn’t impact him, the lesson wouldn’t stick and he might try his hand at vandalism in the future. Parking their car in the drop off lane, Judy and Nick stepped out of their seats to pull Nocturn out from the back.

 


 

“I would never want to tell you how to do your job, Ms. Bleatington. I’m sure the administration does that more than you deserve.” Nick said to the principal behind her desk, with his right leg crossed over the other. With her gray ears upright, Judy’s sight moved between her partner and the goat doe. “All I’m asking is that you think about how much good telling his parents is gonna do everyone here. I’m pretty sure me and officer Hopps put the fear of God in the kid when we nabbed him. If he just keeps getting stepped on, it’s gonna stomp out the good that’s left inside of him, you know?”

Ms. Bleatington lowered her eyes to her desk, one arm crossed under her chest, the other holding her cloven hooves under her snout. She remained silent as she contemplated the events she had just heard from the officers in front of her. The raccoon they’d apprehended had been a problem child for over a year; seeing him brought in by police made her eager to suspend him for some peace in the school. The way officer Wilde had pleaded his case made her reconsider her stance on the matter.

“We’ll have to administer some sort of punishment.” Bleatington said after some contemplation. “But I’m sure we can find a way to keep it between him and the school without his parents being ever the wiser.”

Nick clasped the his paws together in relief, and Judy’s ears relaxed against her head. “That’s wonderful to hear, madam.” He replied as he and Judy sat up from their seats. “Chief Bogo hates having to process minor cases. This’ll make things easier on everyone.”

“Happy to cooperate. Thank you two for bringing him back to us. Stay safe; it’s a jungle out there.”

Exiting the door to her office, Nick pointed toward the principal and winked as he clicked his tongue. Judy glanced up at him and rolled her eyes with a complacent smile. Stepping out of the school and towards their parked car, Judy’s eyes readjusted to the sunlight hitting them from above.

“You’re really good at sweet-talking people, you know that?” Judy remarked.

“Yeah. I know that.” Nick replied, not bothering to hide his arrogance.

Judy scoffed and lifted an eyebrow as she approached the driver's side of the car. “I don’t think it would kill you to be a little humble now and then.”

“What do you want me to do? You want me to be one of those types that can’t accept a compliment?” Judy shook her head as she hopped up to her seat, just as Nick took his spot adjacent from her. “Oh, n-no, me? Good at something?” Nick said, his voice raised a pitch as he lifted his paws to his face. “No, no, stop, that’s not true; I’m not good at anything!”

“You know what Nick?” Judy asked, leaning over the center console toward him.

“What?”

Judy’s paw darted across the console with a mocking punch to his arm. Still smiling, Nick’s brow furrowed, before he swiped a paw back at her. The two cops began to hurl a flurry of playful slaps towards one another, giggling all the while. Nick managed to halt Judy’s assault by grasping her wrists and restricting her movement. The two grinned ear to ear as their eyes locked.

Nick’s addition to the Zootopia Police Department a few months ago had come as a surprise to many residents of the town. Right after receiving their first bunny cop, they’d gotten their first fox cop half a year later. Helping Judy locate several missing persons and put a stop to a conspiracy against predator citizens had been a significant deciding factor in the ZPD’s choice to let him come aboard. Since his inclusion to the force, Nick and Judy were always on patrol together. What had started as a reluctant partnership had evolved into the most significant friendship of their lives. Judy never thought she would have clicked with a wisecracking personality such as Nick’s. Yet, those were the features that brought out the best in her. Learning to trade quips with him had toughened her up quite a bit, helping her to fit in with the rowdy company of the ZPD. Noticing a playful twinkle in his emerald eyes, Judy figured she was just as significant in his life as he was to her.

A static chirp from the vehicle’s dashboard caught their attention. With her left ear upright, Judy turned toward the noise just before a voice resonated from the speaker.

“Patrol car Z two-for-tay, state your twen-tay.” A garish friendly voice emanated from the speaker. Judy wrestled her paws out of Nick’s grasp and stuck her tongue out at him, receiving a playful snap of his teeth at her, before she pushed a button next to the speaker.

“This is car Z two-four-zero, outside Gerald Grizzly, go ahead Clawhauser.” She replied.

“Hey you two! Your replacements for the evening shift just clocked in. Chief Bogo says you’re cleared to head on back and get that steel beast of yours all checked in; get your weekends started.”

“Gotcha. We’ll be there in about fifteen minutes.” Judy said, before starting the ignition. Checking to ensure the streets were clear, she eased their patrol car out of the school and began their drive toward the precinct in the distance.

“Hey, did Clawhauser say ‘weekends’? Plural?” Nick asked.

Judy thought back over the recent exchange between the station’s dispatcher. “He did.  For once, Chief Bogo gave me Saturday and Sunday off.”

“No kidding? Same here.”

“That’s awesome!” Judy exclaimed. “What are you gonna do with your time off?”

Nick lifted a paw and scratched the fur on the side of his neck. “Well, that depends.” He said, before clearing his throat. “You, uh, wanna have dinner with me?”

“Sure!” Judy replied, her ears jumping upright in an instant.

Nick turned his head toward Judy in surprise. “Wait, really?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“Oh. Well, that was easier than I thought.” He said with a satisfied smile.

“Easy? What do you mean?” Judy asked, passing under a green light and rounding a street corner. “Why wouldn’t I want to get dinner with my best friend?”

Nick’s gaze remained fixed on Judy. Though his smile was stuck to his face, his eyes widened a bit at her response. “... Right!” Nick said after a pause. “That- that’s what I meant, just you and me, two best buddies going out for a bite to eat!”

“So, why wouldn’t that be easy?”

Nick shrugged his shoulders. “I dunno. Temporary insanity I guess.”

Judy stole a quick glance at Nick, seeing him lean his chin on his paw as he stared out the window. “So, you got a place in mind?” She asked, keeping her eyes on the road. “You know the city better than I do. I bet you’d know the best places to eat.”

“Eh, can’t decide right now. I’ll text you tonight when I think of a place.”

Judy took another glance at Nick. Something felt odd about their exchange. Just a moment ago, he’d been full of his typical charisma. Out of nowhere, his energy took a major nosedive. Had she said something to offend him?

“You alright?” Judy asked him.

“I’m fine.” Nick replied, turning his gaze forward. “Just, wiped all of a sudden. Really ready for the weekend.”

Judy’s ears slowly fell from their upright position. It sounded like Nick was covering something up. She wanted to press further, but knew Nick wasn’t the type to disclose his troubles when he was asked. If something important was bothering him, he would tell her in time. She decided it was best to give him some space as she approached the precinct, just a few miles up the road.


 

Inside the women’s locker room of the ZPD, Judy turned the knobs of her shower until the water above her ceased to pour. Her gray fur soaked from ear to foot, the steam of the room kept her warm. She reached for the towel hanging on the lowest hook, burying her face into its soft embrace. Judy ran the towel across her body, patting dry the wet fur of her naked body, then wrapped the cloth around her soaking ears.

Stepping into view of the lockers, Judy noticed the elephant in the room: Francine, sitting on the steel bench between the rows of doors, in a large white bra and matching bloomers. Hearing Judy’s footsteps, the elephant looked up with a smile. “Hey Judy.” she said, the rabbit waving back at her. “You ‘bout ready for the weekend?”

“Pft, no.” Judy replied playfully. “I’m bored when I’m not on the clock. And the chief’s putting me out for two days in a row, I’m gonna go crazy!”

“Judy, Judy, Judy.” Francine replied, shaking her head. “You’d probably work for free if Bogo let you, wouldn’t you?”

“Ha, maybe!” Judy said, taking the towel off and stepping toward her locker. Before she twisted the knob, she turned back to Francine. “Could he actually do that?”

“No, Judy, he can’t.”

“Right. I didn’t think he could, just- yeah.” Judy turned back toward her locker as Francine let out a hearty chuckle.

“Judy, you really do amaze me sometimes. I don’t think even the biggest animals that work here have half the fire you do.”

Here it comes. Judy thought as she set her bag on the floor. She’d heard a familiar set up from other officers in the division, and knew what followed. Something along the lines of being underestimated when she first joined the force, and then earning her place among them. Judy bent over, her fluffy tail raised a bit over her buttocks as she unzipped her bag, finding her frilly white bra and panties over her civilian clothes.

“I tell you, when I first saw you walk through those doors your first day, I didn’t know what to make of you.” Francine went on. “I thought you were gonna hop on out of here by the end of the week.”

Judy forced herself not to roll her eyes as she dropped her bra on the seat next to her. Just as she thought, she was going to hear it again from someone else. Judy knew they meant nothing malicious behind it; they were just trying to be supportive. Hearing the same speech in so many different ways, however, was starting to get dull. She wished that they would just let her be part of the force without trying to make her feel like a special snowflake. Nonetheless, Judy kept a smile plastered to her face and listened to Francine’s spiel with patience as she pulled her panties up her legs, nestled between her thighs and resting just underneath the poof of her tail.

“But you surprised all of us.” Francine said, her serpent-like trunk buttoning down the top for her uniform. “You didn’t quit even when nobody was on your side, and you ended up solving cases we hadn’t solved for weeks.”

Judy slipped her arms through the loops of her bra, and hooked the metal clasps behind her. “Well, I didn’t sign up for the job to win anybody’s admiration.” Judy replied. “I took it because I want to help people. And I wasn’t about to let a few roadblocks stop me from doing that.”

“That’s why you’re perfect for the job.” Francine responded as Judy pulled her jeans up. “You just gotta learn how to switch off now and then, like Nick. He’s another one we didn’t think too much of, but he surprised us just as much as you did.”

Judy fumbled with the button on her jeans, tuning Francine out somewhat. She wasn’t sure why, but the button was giving her more trouble than normal. She hoped this wasn’t the price she was paying for generously accepting Clawhauser’s offer of extra donuts he had at his desk.

“You know, you two pair up real nice with each other. If you two were the same species, Bogo might think you have the hots for each other.”

Judy happened to snap the button of her jeans in place before turning her head up toward the elephant. “What? Me and Nick?” Judy asked in a puzzled manner. “Are you serious?”

“Oh yeah, Higgins thinks the same thing. The way you guys always tease each other, or finish each other’s thoughts.” Francine was standing at the moment, her trunk tucking the bottom of her shirt into her pants. “If you were a fox, I think he would have asked you out long before now.”

Judy’s ears grew warm against her neck. She opened her mouth to say something back, but found that she couldn’t process the words. She wasn’t sure how she felt about Francine and the others talking about them in such a way. While they might have just been teasing for fun, if the wrong ears heard about that, it could get them both into serious trouble. Judy shrugged it off, and reached for her flannel shirt.  Slipping her arms in her sleeve, she told herself they weren’t in any danger. She assumed she wasn’t even Nick’s type.

Before she could secure the first button at the top of her shirt, Judy’s thoughts locked on the conversation they’d had in the car on the way back to the precinct. Nick had asked if she wanted to get dinner with him. Not lunch, not “a bite to eat”, or “some grub”. He asked her to dinner. Her ears jumped as she realized the significance behind his question. Could that be why his mood had changed so suddenly?

Oh no… Judy thought on repeat several times. Nick did his best not to let others see inside him; he’d decided when he was just a pup that he wouldn’t let others see that they’d gotten to him. She knew that he still had a heart, even if he kept it hidden. At that moment, she wondered if she’d accidentally stomped on it.

“Judy? Hey, Hopps?” Francine’s voice snapped Judy out of her thoughts. “You alright? You look like you just saw a-”

“Time!” Judy let go of her shirt and pulled out her phone. She’d been in the shower for about ten minutes, and an extra two had been spent changing. Nick usually just changed clothes and went on his way. She winced as she realized that he could have driven home by now. A feeling inside her told her to try anyway, just in case he was still there.

“Igottagobye” Judy shouted, slamming her bag in her locker and bolting out of the room. Francine only saw a blur of gray dart away as she looked up.

Judy scurried into the central hall of the precinct. The area was swarming with her colleagues moving from one place to another. Judy dashed into the chaos, bobbing and weaving through the mess of traffic. She had to slide across the floor to avoid a large rhino’s hoof stomping on her. His sudden halt in mid-step made him lose his balance and bump into a nearby yak, who’d been holding a disgruntled kangaroo by his cuffed wrists. The cuffed suspect attempted to hop away in the momentary confusion, before the yak and a few other officers pounced on him to prevent his escape.

Breaking through the doors, Judy looked over to the parking lot. Her eyes scanned the area, and noticed one car pulling out: A red Furrari, a vintage model from twenty years ago, but still in pristine condition. It was Nick’s car, he was just leaving right now.

“Nick!” Judy hollered in vain, knowing full well that he couldn’t hear her through the car’s exterior. She bolted toward the vehicle, determined to catch up with him. She was able to clear the four yard distance in a matter of seconds, just a hair’s breadth away from the front. She couldn’t afford to stop in front of it, just in case it might hit her. With just a second to think, Judy leapt over the hood of the car, and slammed against Nick’s windshield with a powerful thud.

Dull yellow and blue circles overcame Judy’s vision. She felt lightheaded as she blinked a few times, trying to clear away the blurriness of her vision. When she could see properly once again, she looked at the windshield she’d smacked against. Behind the glass, she could see the astonished gaze of the red fox who’d slammed his brakes at the sight of her. After a few seconds of staring at one another, Nick slowly crept a paw toward the button layout on his door. The window rolled down and he poked his head out.

“Hello, Judy.” Nick said in a mild tone, a familiar smirk returning to his face. His eyes drifted downwards. “Hello, Judy’s bra.” He said just as casually.

“Hey, uh- what?” Judy asked with confusion. She looked down at her flannel shirt, still unbuttoned and exposing her frilly white bra. Judy’s cheeks burned as she rushed her paws up to close her shirt, realizing she had just run through the station with her shirt opened, flashing who knows how many of her colleagues.

“N-Nick, do you mind if I, uh, talk to you, for a sec?”

“Sure, come on in. Button up though, don’t want you to catch a cold.”

Judy rolled her eyes as she fumbled with the buttons on her shirt. She seemed to have a little more trouble securing them, due to her paws were shaking at the moment. It took her half a minute, but she managed to button herself up properly. She slid off the hood and onto the ground, strolling to the right side of the car. Judy opened the door and hopped into the passenger’s seat. Nick circled around the parking lot, and parked his car, clicking the vehicle’s brakes into place.

“What’s up, Carrots?” Nick asked.

Judy took a deep breath. Since she’d rushed to catch up with Nick before he left, she hadn’t prepared herself for what came next. She could have taken several minutes, hours even, and she still wouldn’t have been ready. Ready or not, this was something that couldn’t wait.

“Nick, earlier today, when you were talking to me in the patrol car,” she began, fighting against the uneasiness building in her stomach. “Were you asking me… out?”

“Yeah, I asked you out to dinner Judy.” Nick responded with a pretentious tone. “Just wanted to spend some time with my best buddy, no big deal, right?”

“Nick, for Pete’s sake, not now!” Judy snapped at him, making his facetious smile disappear. “For once, stop being smarmy with me and just answer the question: were you asking me out out? Just tell me now, don’t lead me on anymore.”

Nick’s eyes averted from Judy. He turned toward the windshield, resting his arms on the steering wheel. His shoulders rose as he took in a deep breath and let it out all at once.

“Yeah.” Nick said in a pensive tone. “I was trying to ask you out.”

Nick kept his eyes forward as Judy stared at him. Judy struggled to process this sudden revelation. There were so many questions burning on her mind at the moment: How long had he felt that way? How strong were his feelings toward her? And most importantly, what were her feelings toward him? Before she could satisfy her own curiosity, she needed to clear the air with him. She’d already hurt his feelings, even if it was unintentional. She needed to own up to what had happened to avoid sounding like she was interrogating him.

“I didn’t know, Nick.” Judy said softly, breaking the silence between them. “I just didn’t think you felt that way about me, so I thought-”

“I don’t know what I feel about you, Judy.” Nick cut her off. “All I know is that you’re the most important person in my life. You helped me believe that I could be something more than just a sly fox that nobody could trust. You’re the first one to ever care enough to come back and ask for my forgiveness after you’d hurt me. If it weren’t for you, I’d probably still be scamming mammals, selling frozen popsicles on street corners. I never would have gotten this awesome job working on the force with you.”

Nick sat up, keeping his paws on the steering wheel as he stretched his arms out.

“And on top of all that life-changing crud, you’re still the sweetest woman I’ve known in all my life in Zootopia. You’re smart, you’re funny, you’re an absolute delight to be around. I feel like you bring out the best in me when I’m with you.” Nick shook his head in irritation. “Look, I’m not trying to freak you out or anything, okay? I don’t know if you feel the same way, but you showed me that it’s best to try something, even if it means you might fail. So, that’s what I’m doing: I’m trying.”

Judy’s ears slumped against her head. When she’d first met Nick, she’d thought there was nothing more to him than a selfish fox out to make a profit for himself. She’d learned that he’d gained some emotional baggage in his past to keep him from showing his sentimental side. Their experience together had helped him get back in touch with his heart, even though he still held onto his callous sense of humor. His sudden proclamation had blindsided her though. Judy never thought that Nick had grown so fond of her. She felt a built of guilt knowing he’d kept his feelings from her for so long, wrestling with the fear of how she might react.

Judy wanted to return the sentiment he had just given her. She wanted to tell him how grateful she was to have met him, that he had helped her climb down off the pedestal she didn’t know she’d put herself on, discover some unknown prejudice she’d been harboring, and eliminate it for good. She’d realized under the bridge so long ago that she would have had a permanent hole in her heart if Nick hadn’t forgiven her. But the shock of the situation just kept her from articulating her feelings about him.

“You know something, Nick?” Judy began, the two of them still keeping their eyes away from one another. “The day you joined the force, and first put on your uniform: you stepped out of the locker room, all donned in blue and with your belt and holster around your waist. I thought to myself ‘wow, he looks good. If I were a fox, or, if he were a bunny…”

Nick’s ears perked up at Judy’s words. He turned his head to look at her, her eyes still looking at the center console of the car.

“Then what?” Nick asked.

Judy shrugged. “I dunno.” She replied, moving a paw up to the back of her right ear. “Just, stuff would be easier.” Judy curled her ear about in her paw nervously as she spoke.

An amused grin appeared on Nick’s face. “Stuff?” he asked. Judy winced and pushed her ear over her eyes bashfully, making Nick chortle. “Well, you’re not a fox. And I’m not a bunny.” He said in a sincere manner. “So, is that a no to dinner then?”

Judy snapped her gaze back to Nick. “No! It’s not a no!” She clarified. “It’s just that…” Judy looked out the windshield, toward the police station where Chief Bogo and the rest of her coworkers were still busy putting a stop to Zootopian crime. “Do you know how dangerous it is to have those kind of feelings for a different species?”

“Of course I know, Judy.” Nick replied. “I know how Bogo feels about interspecies couples. He doesn’t want any filthy smutts working in his division.”

Judy cringed at the term. As a teenager, it was something she’d been made aware of living in Bunny Borough. Her parents had told her about a family of rabbits whose house was attacked, because one of their many daughters had been caught kissing a possum behind the schoolhouse. Of course Judy’s parents didn’t condone violence against anyone, but they’d made it clear to her “engaging in crossing relationships is just asking for trouble”.

Without any type of warning, Judy had learned her best friend, a fox, had some sort of attraction to her, a bunny. Now she felt more ashamed than ever of her old-fashioned upbringings. She didn’t judge Nick as someone “asking for trouble”, but she knew that interspecies relationships were frowned upon in most of Zootopia. They weren’t likely to meet any physical harm for the matter, but it could lead to losing their jobs and not finding any work in the future.

“That’s why I was scared to bring it up with you.” Nick continued. “I didn’t know if you were gonna go straight to Bogo if I told you, just in case you saw it as a threat to the force.”

“I would NEVER do that to you, Nick.” Judy said. “Why do you think I would do that?”

“Because this is your dream job? I didn’t know if you were so loyal to it, you’d do anything to protect it.”

“Absolutely not! “ Judy reached over the console and grasped his paw with reassurance. “Nick, this may be my dream job, but that doesn’t mean anything compared to you. I would- I DID quit because I thought I’d hurt you, and I’d do it again if it meant keeping you in my life. I would not throw you in the fire just for my job. I mean that.”

Nick looked into Judy’s gaze. Her purple eyes stared at him, forcing the truth of her words into his soul. Though a bit intimidated, he was at least reassured that the rabbit he was so fond of wasn’t going to rat him out to their boss. He could feel her heart beating through her paw on top of his, their heartbeats matching in pace. They both seemed to realize at once that her paw was still on top of his, the both of them looking down to see her white pads touching the red of his fur. She delicately pulled her grip off of him and leaned back into her seat.

“You quit the force because of me?” Nick asked.

“Yeah.” She replied. “Turned in my badge and everything.”

“Wow. That’s… that’s huge. I’m kind of flattered, actually.”

Judy reflected on that moment once again. It was true, she’d been pining toward being an officer since she was a little girl. But her dream wasn’t worth anything to her if it meant breaking the heart of the person who’d helped her get there. Judy had no qualms admitting that Nick was far more important to her than pleasing her bigoted superiors.

“Nick, you’re right.” Judy replied after some thought. “I… feel something there too. And,it’s worth exploring, like you said.” As she spoke, she saw just a bit of a twinkle in Nick’s eyes, though he kept his face reserved in anticipation for what may come next. “We have to be careful though. NOBODY can find out about this, or it’s gonna fling us in a world of pellets.”

Nick’s face twisted into a smile. “Okay, did your dad used to say that, or was it your mom?”

“One of my uncle’s- shush! This is serious.” Judy replied, feeling the corners of her mouth wanting to smile as well. “Nick, I’m fine to go out with you, but we seriously need to keep this under wraps, okay? For both our sakes.”

“I get it Judy, I know. I’m not gonna let this cost us our jobs.”

Judy allowed herself to smile. She knew that Nick’s mouth was a steel trap, after years spent hustling Zootopia’s citizens of their money through nefarious means. If there was one person in the city who could keep a secret best, it was Nick.

“Okay. With that settled, then, uh… yes.” Judy said, looking away from him and drumming her paws against her knees. “I would love to get dinner with you tomorrow. Seven works best for me.”

“How does Monte Savannah sound?” Nick asked.

“Hey, I’ve heard Higgins talk about that place. Told me I’d like the salads.”

“They do. They also make real food there.”

The two flashed each other a playful grin. Despite the discomfort that had transpired between them a moment ago, they’d made a great recovery. They were back to their dynamic of friendly jabs and banter. The only difference now was that Judy didn’t know if she wanted to punch him in the arm or kiss him on the cheek.

Before she could decide, Judy’s right ear rose as she heard the sound of a loud engine several yards away. “Shoot, I need to catch that bus.” She said, looking out the window to see a black cloud of exhaust trailing in the distance.

“Alrighty. Get going Carrots.” Nick said as Judy opened the door and hopped out onto the pavement. “See you tomorrow night.”

“Nick?” Judy said, turning to face him again. “Looking forward to it.”

Nick nodded and waved at Judy before she shut the door. She darted across the parking lot and scurried to the corner of the precinct, just as the bus pulled up.

Showing the driver her pass, Judy took a seat on the left side of the bus, leaning up against the wall. As the bus closed its doors, she stood on her knees and peered out of the window toward the parking lot. She saw Nick’s Furrari pulling out and making its way into traffic. She put a paw on the window as she watched him drive away, the bus beginning to move as well.

Judy couldn’t describe the feeling inside her at the moment; part of her was glad to have resolved the issue at hand, and that she was heading home after so much stress had been dumped onto her all at once. Now she realized that she’d entered a new realm of possibilities with what they’d agreed upon. The next time she saw Nick, it wouldn’t be as his best friend; it would be as his date.

After Nick’s car disappeared into the distance, Judy sat back down in her seat, feeling the weight of her agreement come crashing down on her. Had she made the right choice? It was true, Judy didn’t harbor any malice toward smutts — interspecies pursuants, rather. Even though Judy supported the idea of unrestricted relationships, she wasn’t sure if she could do it herself. The idea of seeing herself with someone outside of her species just seemed so alien to her, like pasta and french fries; two things she enjoyed, but sounded odd putting them together. Nick was quite attractive for a fox, but was she herself attracted to him, or just assuming what other foxes should see in him?

Judy decided not to dwell on the matter anymore. She had agreed to give him a chance; if she took it back now, it would hurt him even more to crush his hope rather than let him down before she’d said yes. Now she had to wait for the time they’d agreed on. She checked the clock on her phone. The time was five forty-five. In twenty five hours and fifteen minutes, she would be at the Monte Savannah with Nick, assessing their feelings for one another and seeing if anything romantic could come of it.

Judy pulled her legs up to the seat and buried her head in her knees. She wasn’t sure if she wanted those hours to tick by slowly and let her savor the time before the event, or quickly so she could get it over with. She just knew that she wanted to be home, stuff her earplugs into her ears to drown out the noise of her neighbors, and go to sleep. Things were about to change for she and Nick, and she’d need some rest to face them head on.