Partners Above the World
Note: This story is in the same continuity as First Kiss and proceeds from Recovery Operation
"Nick, what are we?"
"Hmm?" Nicholas P. Wilde looked up from the remaining half of the sandwich he had been happily munching on for the past few minutes. Well, technically he looked down and to his left, at the tiny rabbit sitting beside him with her legs dangling beyond the metal railing that his elbows were resting on. His partner was a good foot or two shorter than the red fox was, even when sitting down. Especially while sitting down.
"I don't know what we are." Judy Hopps threw her question into the wind, along with the crumbs of her own veggie burger she had just finished nibbling into oblivion. She watched the tiny little cubes fall between her feet and onto the roofing tiles several feet below them.
Her partner of several months leaned down and placed his elbow on top of her head affectionately. "Well, last I checked you were a rabbit," he quipped, that iconic smug smile on his face. "And I'm pretty sure I'm a fox," he added.
Judy let out a frustrated grunt. "You know what I mean." He did, she thought. It was just so typical of him to be so deflective and evasive about serious conversational subjects. And when it came to the odd couple, this was as serious as it got.
She looked down at the traffic below them. Several hundred feet below them, that is. The pair were on their final break, minutes before they went off duty as members of the Zootopia Police Department. Previously, they had responded to a domestic disturbance at one of the ultra-posh condominiums downtown. It had turned out to be a minor misunderstanding, a combination of a loud, spirited discussion and ever-nosy neighbors. Judy could relate, her apartment walls being so thin that she could actually conduct conversations with her antelope neighbors through the thin, plaster walls of her room.
The pair decided to spend the rest of their shift finally consuming that hour-long break they had neglected to take earlier in the day. Judy, being the straight-laced cop that she was, had expected to spend it just parked in the alleyway behind the condominium, chilling in the cold air of their police cruiser while munching on some donuts.
Nick had other ideas.
Somehow, he had managed to lure her up to the roof deck of the tall, fifty-some story residential building. Under the guise of 'seeing the view from above', he convinced her to take the elevator all the way up to the top floor, which was indeed more of a deck than a formal building floor, missing a ceiling for most of the walkable area. It was there that Nick then prodded her to climb up some authorized access-only stairs that led to an even higher deck above what was supposed to be the highest floor, according to the elevator. Actually, Judy realized, that was probably the access floor for the machinery that powered the high-speed elevators. She was all ready to call it quits and just tell her adventurous partner to come back down with her but apparently, he still wasn't finished.
On top of the tiny extra level that housed the elevator motors, was a very tall water tower. It was huge, much bigger than most towers Judy had seen. It was definitely larger than the one on top of her own apartment building. Then again, it was a fifty-some floor condominium, probably housing at least a thousand or so denizens of varying shapes and sizes, and those mammals had to need quite a lot of water. And this up here, was the only place to store it, above the homes where gravity aided distribution to the residents. Upon reaching the top, Judy realized that the tower was firmly bolted to the very corner of the building, in a way that allowed them to stand within the safety of the railing and let their legs dangle with nothing but the city streets below to catch them if they fell.
Nick further surprised her by revealing a packed set of sandwiches and surprisingly cold drinks, something she didn't even notice him bringing with him when they first came up. So that was how they ended up sitting there, above the bustling city of Zootopia, watching the people go about their daily lives as the sun decided to come back down.
And that was how they ended up, two lonely souls far above the city they swore to protect, with Judy's question hanging in the awkward air as Nick struggled to pull out words from the mess that was his mind.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him slump his shoulders slightly as an audible sigh left his mouth. "Carrots," he shook his head. "I hardly think this is the time-"
"Nick." Judy turned to her side and grabbed his wrist. She made sure he was looking straight into her large lavender eyes. That always seemed to get his attention, swallowing him in with her fluttering long lashes bordering her oversized orbs. She squeezed hard with her paw as she asked again. "What are we?"
His eyes grew wide in response, shifting from corner-to-corner as if they themselves were searching for a way out of his canine skull. "I-I don't know what you-" Nick stammered as he rapidly averted his gaze. He looked down at her hand, then glanced away quickly. "I'm not sure."
He knew exactly what she had meant. At least Judy believed he did. The last few months had been a whirlwind of emotions for the twenty-some year old rabbit, months of actualizing and admitting the very existence of the raw feelings she had towards her vulpine partner.
"You know how I feel," she frowned at him, squeezing his wrist once more before her fingers crawled down to his hand. She could feel him trying to wriggle out from her grip but she kept her hold on his arm.
"Soft and fuzzy?" Nick gave her a stupid, goofy smile and poked her with his free hand right at the base of her left ear. His expression shifted back into that default Nick Wilde look, one that seemed to just not take anything seriously. She felt him caress the length of her ear rapidly. "Yep, very fuzzy."
"Ha ha, very funny." Judy vigorously shook her ear free of his grasp, finally pushing his fingers away with the top of her head. "I know you know what I mean," her hand shot up, catching his wrist in the middle of another attempt to grab her ear. His playfulness was getting on her nerves. Somewhat.
"Nicholas Wilde!" She reached up and wrapped her partner's tie around her hand. It was almost instinctual, a maneuver that the tiny bunny had performed so many times in the past. She pulled, drawing his snout down to her nose. Because of her diminutive stature, it was usually the only way to bring him down - or rather up - to her level of seriousness. "You are aware how I feel towards you," she glared at him as she bumped noses with him. Somehow, being this close to him still wasn't close enough. Nick's vulpine snout kept his eyes still a good half foot away from Judy's. And she could feel those eyes looking into hers. Judy blinked and continued. "What scares me is that I don't know how you feel."
She let go of his tie and leaned back into her space, her right arm subconsciously giving herself a half-embrace. "There are two things in the world I've ever been sure of." Judy sighed and squeezed her left arm. Her gaze went down to the shiny little badge on her chest, glistening in the afternoon sun. "One of them is being a cop." She looked down between her legs as they dangled over the city she swore to protect. Both of them. "The other one...is you."
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him nod. His body language was cryptic, a cipher she couldn't figure out. He turned to her. "I'm pretty sure there was a time in your life you weren't sure you still wanted to be a cop." Judy winced, remembering those weeks she spent moping at home after having quit from the ZPD in the midst of the Night Howler Incident.
"You're right, I guess." A thought crossed her mind. "That leaves you." Judy remembered that when she had an idea, a clue that eventually led to the resolution of that incident. She didn't go to the ZPD. She didn't go to Chief Bogo who at that time had already grown to respect her as an officer of the ZPD. She didn't go to city hall, to the new mayor - who turned out to be behind it all anyway. She didn't even take the time out to tell her parents of her suspicions or findings. Instead, she went straight to the one person in the world that she knew she could depend on. The same person whose hand she subconsciously reached out for.
"Me." Nick reversed his palm, patting her hand on the back somewhat condescendingly. "Fox of last resort, I guess." He snorted. "What were you going to do, go to the cops? You know you can't trust cops." He gave her a lopsided grin.
Judy felt her shoulders sag in frustrated defeat. "Why do you do this?" She was not in any mood to spar with his quips or deal with his evasiveness. Not here, not now. "Never let them see they're getting to you, right?" She could almost feel her voice breaking. The pressure was already building up behind her nose. "I know I get to you. I can see it in the way you touch my hand playfully, as if pretending to treat me like a toy would hide how you really feel. I can see it in the way you look at me when you think I'm not looking. I can hear it in the way your breathing gets faster, shallower, your heartbeat faster and louder when I pull you down by your tie."
Nick nodded, eyes closed and mouth pressed into a thin line. "I do this because..." His voice trailed off into utter silence. He fidgeted for a little, "Because if I'm not funny, then I have to face the fact that..." His voice left descended into that pit of muffled unintelligibility once more as he stared off into the distant clouds floating far outside the city limits.
"That what, Nick?" Judy pressed him. "What can't you bring yourself to face?" She glared at him, feeling the frustration and the anger coursing through her veins as she pumped her clenched fists by her hips. She slammed her thighs down on the metal grating that bore her weight, sending vibrations down and around the entire tower superstructure.
"The fact that I think I've fallen in love with you."
The cars beneath them suddenly stopped moving. The distant sounds of construction paused, along with the sound of the wind whistling through the metal bars that supported the tower they were sitting on. Even the clouds above them, passing by like wisps of cotton floating in the sky, had decided to hang still. There was nothing but the sound of her own heartbeat, thumping loudly against her chest.
Judy's mind went completely blank. She found herself staring into the empty space hundreds of feet above the sunbaked rooftops and busy streets down below. Each view seemed like her first, her eyes never feeling like latching on onto anything in particular. She could feel her senses leaving her. It was as if her entire body suddenly went numb.
Beside her, Nick couldn't bear to look at her. The normally smug fox had gone into a stoic mood, staring off into the distant sunset even before the sun had started to touch the horizon. It was like he was seeing a portrait of things yet to come, and whatever he saw stunned him into abject silence.
It was a silence that didn't last long.
"Ooooooooooh!" A familiar high-pitched voice squealed over the radio. "It's about time you two!" It was the all-too familiar chirping of front desk officer Benjamin Clawhauser. Judy felt a surge of panic as she looked down at the receiver on her belt. Phew. She let out a sigh of relief. The channel knob on the top surface of the black plastic box was set to '1', which was a private channel between the officer and the front desk. Whatever had transpired, this was just between Clawhauser and the two of them. And Benjamin already knew anyway, at least from Judy's side of the equation.
"Clawhauser!" Judy shouted into the receiver. She was about to press the send button before she did but she realized it was already stuck in that position for some reason. "How long have you been listening?" She asked, holding a finger up to Nick's nose. The fox didn't seem like he was about to say anything, but one could never be too sure.
"Long enough. I told you!" Clawhauser half-squealed over the radio. "This is so exciting!" Benjamin's overly-enthusiastic self was blatant through the crackling audio. "Hey Nick!" He added.
"Hey Claw." Nick answered in the subdued tone of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Judy felt amusement at seeing her partner this flabbergasted. It was adorable, Nick looking so vulnerable. It was something he would never let on if there were anybody else around. It just cemented how special he made her feel.
"Clawhauser! Where's my five o'clock?" Chief Bogo's voice came thundering over the radio over Benjamin's voice. It was barely a surprise to Judy that the chief was just that booming loud.
"Gotta go! Work, work!" Clawhauser shot off a quick goodbye as the radio clicked into silence, leaving the two near-off-duty police-mammals where they were, hundreds of feet above the rest of the city. Suddenly, Judy just didn't know what to say again as Nick's last words to her echoed in her mind. It seemed like Nick himself was blanked out as well, sitting uncharacteristically quiet and well, not quite smug at all.
"That was awkward." Thankfully, Nick saved her from having to say something.
She replied with a curt nod, and a sound that was somewhere between a cough and a high-pitched grunt. Judy wasn't sure where it even came from, since she was still biting down on her lower lip tightly with her huge incisors. What she was pretty sure of was that her partner was now trying to hide the fact that he was laughing at her.
"What?" She frowned, crossing her arms in front of chest.
"Nothing," Nick said. "I just love that rabbit-y sound you make." He looked down at his radio to make sure it was turned down and not broadcasting to the rest of the force.
"Hmph." Judy's frown intensified, and she shot back with another high-pitched 'rabbit-y' sound, as her partner had just described it. "If I remember, we were talking about how that wasn't the only thing you loved about me." She had no idea where that came from, but the moment it came out of her mouth she regretted having said that. Judy was all content on having his earlier admission without pressing on and pushing her luck. She pulled her legs under the railing they were sitting on as she felt her toes curl in awkward anticipation.
Unexpectedly, Nick spoke up. "I've known for a while. I guess you've known for a while too. Maybe far longer than I have myself." The fur on the back of her arm shot straight upwards in surprise as she felt a warm, constricting feeling around the small of her waist. He had his arm around her. Not in a patronizing or friendly way, but in a manner that offered more. Said more. Meant more.
Judy leaned into him, letting her temple rest on the side of his chest, just below his arm. "Nick, what are we?" She echoed from earlier, but with a lot less force, a lot less intent.
He hugged her tighter, resting his chin on the top of her head right between her ears. She could feel his whiskers tickling the sensitive skin at the base of her ears. "Does it matter?" He replied as he squeezed with his arm.
Judy thought about it. In a way, he was right. Whatever combination of words they chose to refer to the two of them, it wouldn't change what they were. It wouldn't change what they were inevitably going to become. It certainly wouldn't change what she felt for him. And Judy had a feeling it wasn't going to change anything from Nick's side of the equation at all either.
"We're whatever we are?" She said, her arms wrapping around Nick's abdomen as she pushed her face into the course fabric of his uniform. Eyes closed, she tried to breathe his foxy musk in, but the wind was too strong for her to get anything but a passing whiff.
In fact, this high over the city, the weather patterns seemed different. The air felt thinner, faster, stronger. The wind had been buffeting the water tower they were sitting on with enough intensity that Judy could hear the metal groaning, the bolts creaking against the shear pressure. At this altitude, Zootopia's carefully-managed climate control had much less impact, it seemed. Up here on top of the world, the machinations of mere mammals took a back seat to the unassailable will of nature.
She felt every muscle in her body tense hearing her name uttered on Nick's lips. Her ears tried to stand on end but the rest of the musculature past the base went completely limp, along with most of her will to leave. Judy loved it whenever Nick called her by her given name. Not 'carrots' or Hopps or sometimes even 'rabbit' or 'dumb bunny'. He did it sparingly enough that she knew it meant something whenever he called her by her real name.
"It all looks so nice from up here," he said softly right into her left ear. It was more than a whisper, with the cold, wet tip of his canine nose brushing softly against the sensitive skin of her inner ear. He nuzzled against her some, his scant whiskers eliciting an involuntary shudder across her shoulders as they lightly scratched the thin skin on the surface of her upper ear. She could feel the warmth of his moist breath over her wind-swept fur. "Amazing."
"Yeah, it does-" Judy stopped as she felt her partner's arm squeeze harder while looped around her midsection. His palm was flat over her belly and it seemed like he was...stroking it? Oh my god. Judy screamed internally as she realized what was happening. Was Nick was flirting with her? Sensually?
"Nick." She looked up into his deep, emerald eyes. He was looking at her intently, with none of the smug, none of the smarm that typically accompanied a Nick Wilde-patented look. It was nothing but an honest stare of affection.
Warmth caressed their bodies as the sun's rays shifted from bright white into a deep golden hue. It bathed the city of Zootopia in the dying shades of a sun that was about to retire for the day, leaving them to the mercy of the evening's glow.
Nick closed his eyes and leaned in, only stopping a scant distance from Judy's face for her to return the motion and complete the kiss that she had been yearning for since that night after the concert. The tiny rabbit straightened her back and craned her neck upwards, only to discover that she was a few inches short of her goal.
Just a few more inches. She tensed her leg muscles for the leap that would take her straight into Nick's lips.
And that was when the receiver hanging from Judy's belt crackled to life.
"Attention all units. Robbery in progress, Sahara Square at 56 Dromedary Lane. Units in the vicinity are advised to respond. Attention..."
Almost immediately, her ears flicked erect behind her head. Both their eyes flicked open almost on instinct as the two police-mammals were slowly pulled back into the reality they had been avoiding for the past hour.
Nick's eyes popped open, though he kept his head in place. His eyes flickered downwards to the radio on Judy's belt. His eyes slammed shut as he shook his head, the edges of his mouth pulling back into a half-grimace before settling into a look that matched the sigh that audibly escaped out his nostrils.
His eyes popped open, looked at his partner's face a few inches from his own, and completed the distance between them in one swift and decisive motion. Judy barely had time to register as he gave her a tiny, momentary peck on her lips with his own.
"To be continued," he winked as he straightened up. Nick brought his right arm up and took a glance at his watch. "Two past five. We're off shift, y'know."
Judy gave him a look. That look. Nick sighed and jumped back down onto the balcony. Judy was already ahead of him, almost at the elevator when he made it through the sliding doors back into the hall.
Save for an armadillo that got on at the twentieth floor and got off at the fifteenth, the elevator ride down was relatively uneventful. Right as the doors closed behind the armored citizen, Judy felt Nick's padded paw lightly grasp her left hand. She could feel his thumb circling the back of her hand, tickling her skin beneath her fur. He let out a slight yelp of surprise when his partner leaned in with her head into his flank. It was that exact moment that Judy Hopps closed her eyes and wished that that elevator ride would never end. The city could wait.
Alas, it was not to be. The pair quickly exited the lift and rushed to their cruiser, parked just around the block along a little side street behind the condominium building.
Judy could hear the dispatcher's voice even from outside the cruiser. "-bbery in progress, multiple armed suspects-"
She picked the transceiver up as soon as she had the door open. "Hopps and Wilde responding!" She shouted into the microphone as she jumped into the driver's seat. Nick was already beside her, punching buttons on their dashboard console.
To her surprise, the dispatcher replied on a private channel. "Negative, Officer Hopps. Stand down. Suspects are Class B mammals. Repeat, stand down." Nick gave her a sudden concerned look. That meant that the perpetrators were species much larger and more dangerous than they could handle, at least according to official ZPD regulations.
Judy looked back at her partner. In the past, she'd simply flash him a defiant smile. He'd nod back with his own smug grin. And then they'd be on their way. For some reason, this time Judy paused as she studied Nick's face, only realizing at the last second what she was doing. She was waiting for his approval.
Her partner stared back at her silently. Judy knew how her heart felt about this decision, and from the way he just closed his eyes and sighed, it seemed like Nick knew how she felt as well. The gangly fox shook his head and shrugged. He buckled up, but not before reaching under his seat for a thick plastic case. From within, he took out a large-ish hand stun rifle, obviously meant for use by a slightly larger mammal.
With his other hand, he picked up the microphone and brought it to the side of his mouth. "I'm sorry dispatch, Wilde here. Your last message was garbled, something may be wrong with the radio." He pressed the button a few times to simulate the transmission breaking up. "Anyway, Wilde and Hopps responding, send backup!" He quickly dialed the volume down as dispatch was repeating the order to stand down.
"Well partner?" He grinned at the smiling rabbit sitting beside him. "That's only four blocks from here," he pulled up a vicinity map on the console screen. "That's what, ten minutes away in this traffic?"
"You know I can make it in five," Judy quipped back. This was what she signed up for. Danger be damned. It was time to make the world a better place.
She revved up the engine a few times before shifting gears and bringing them out onto the abandoned side road. The cruiser handled pretty well for an aging converted SUV, its drivers side seat conveniently modified to fit the diminutive officer that was assigned to it.
"Y'know what we are, carrots?" Nick asked while checking the cartridge loads and voltage levels of his Lupus-grade stun rifle. He had already slipped on one of the special gloves he had to wear to make his paws bigger in order to hold his standard-issue weapon.
"Hmm?" Judy grunted, concentrating on the road before her. They were nearing where they had to merge with the afternoon rush hour traffic.
"We're partners." He flashed her his trademark smug smile. But there was something else behind that overconfident veneer that the sly fox had plastered over his face. Something even more intimate than that buried look of concern and affection that she knew lay beneath that perfect mask.
"Partners," Judy repeated as she reached out with her free hand and grasped her partner's ungloved paw, her fingers finding the crevasses in between his knuckles. She could feel the soft fluff of his fur on the tips of her fingers.
For a brief moment, everything stopped. The traffic going both ways on both lanes on the road in front of them. The blinking indicator lights on the dashboard of the car. The crackling voice over the radio updating them on the status on the scene. There was only her hand and his. Two kindred spirits who happen to be travelling on the same path, deciding to walk together rather than apart.