Chapter 1 - A Wilde Wedding
The sound of clinking glassware echoed through the crowded ballroom, drowning out the DJ's music as mammals gathered around tapping the edge of their drinks with a claw or a hoof. The newlyweds in the room were pulled from their own private moment long enough to acknowledge the the crowd's taunt and finally leaned in to share a kiss. The room erupted in howls and cheers as soon as their lips met.
Nick smiled and raised his glass to the happy couple, before tossing back the last of its contents. The bride, Officer Jane Hoveson was a sleek antelope and a beat cop from the precinct where he and Judy had been working as partners for the last year. She had generously invited her entire 'work family' to the celebration and the rowdiness of the crowd was a testament to cops knowing how to have a good time.
Finding himself grouped with the other single males from work, Nick gladly accepted the new pint glass that was shoved into his paw by a nearby bovine. Judy had made great strides in both predator-prey relations and also under-represented animals on the force. By the time he had left the academy, he found a much easier time being accepted as one of the team. Nick never thought he'd see the day that he would be accepted equally beside his colleagues, a mixture of predator and prey of all sizes, but he was proud to call the mammals of this precinct his friends.
The days of living on the streets and hustling his way to his next paycheck were long over and he loved his new life. He enjoyed being a police officer and for the first time felt like he really belonged somewhere, even more so when by the side of his best friend, roommate and partner. He had never known anyone quite like Judy and to say that she had improved his life would be an understatement.
With another sip of his drink he couldn't stop himself from looking for her, and it only took a quick sweep before he spotted the dark tips of Judy's ears across the ballroom. While he allowed himself the quick peek to check in on her, she was here with a date and he was trying his best to give the two bunnies their space. Although judging by her body language he got the impression that the young buck was not winning her over. He chuckled as he watched his frustrated partner stand ignored while waiting for her chance to dance, but it seemed that 'Chad'- was it? was more interested in the onlookers that had formed around him as he showed off his breakdancing skills.
Turning back to set his empty glass on the bar and chat it up with his fellow officers, he soon felt the familiar paw of his best friend tapping his arm. Anticipating the violet of her eyes before they were even in his sights, he spun around answering her with a wide smile. "Hey, Carrots."
"Come dance with me?" She asked, direct and to the point, well aware that she required no such lead up when it came to him. Her eyes were full of mirth and she was practically hopping in place, it was a face she damn well knew he couldn't say 'no' to.
Nick tipped his head, his left ear pointing in the direction of her date who was currently spinning on his head while the circle of mammals around him cheered. "You sure he won't mind?"
"I'm not even sure he remembers I'm here." Judy rolled her eyes with a groan, but quickly countered the reaction with an energetic smile and hooked her arm around his, pulling him away from the bar. "But there's a dance floor and I just want to shake my tail!"
Nick honestly didn't see the appeal and would just as well stand around knocking back beers, but something about the excitement in her eyes was contagious. A laugh escaped his chest as he let her lead him out into the crowded floor, her hips already shaking to the beat of the blaring music. Being smaller than the majority of the mammals in the room, they found a spot to the edge of the herd; no reason to risk getting themselves stepped on by a drunk pachyderm.
The lights were turned down and a sea of colorful bursts and shapes reflected off the disco ball and spattered across their faces. Judy's dress was some kind of slick fabric and it seemed to sparkle as she moved. As soon as they found a spot, she was dancing immediately, bouncing on her toes and swinging her head to the loud beat. Her movements seemed even more lively than usual, which is saying a lot for his peppy friend. Nick broke out one of his standard ridiculous dance moves which he paired with a smug grin. This quickly earned a burst of giggles from his partner, making him wonder just how many of those Carrot Cosmos she might have had while waiting. He himself was just starting to notice how much more tipsy he was now that his blood was pumping. They playfully circled around each other, hips swinging and goofy smiles plastered on their faces, it was more fun than Nick cared to admit.
Before long the string of upbeat songs ended and the tempo shifted to a slow romantic tune. Judy stopped mid-bounce looking slightly annoyed that the beat had changed just as she was getting into it. With a smirk that should have made him nervous, she stepped forward to take Nick's arms without hesitation. He couldn't say that he'd ever really slow danced before, but he took her cues and held up one paw in his, and let his other rest gently on her tiny hip. They transitioned easily to the new melody swaying to the song as though they'd been dancing a hundred times before. Nick shook his head to himself as he smiled down at his short friend, not at all surprised, that much like everything else in his life, with her by his side, he could do anything.
"You look really nice tonight." She smiled up at him, breaking through the exaggerated quiet of the love song. "Who knew you'd clean up so well?"
Puffing up proudly in his tuxedo, he made a point to completely ignore her slight, and let a grin break onto his cool demeanor. "Thanks, Carrots. You're not looking so bad yourself."
"Really?" She asked suddenly very serious. Her eyes wide and ears back, making her look even more small and vulnerable. "I've never been to such a fancy event before and I was worried I would look ridiculous."
"I told you when you bought the thing, it's perfect." He explained, referencing the same conversation they had had about a week ago at their apartment. "And I must say, you look absolutely stunning."
He wasn't lying, he thought she looked fabulous in the sleek emerald green piece, the way it hugged her toned thighs and hung to the floor at a slant. And while it was true that he couldn't remember another time he'd seen her wear anything fancier than a sundress at her family's farm, he'd certainly never describe her look as ridiculous.
"Thanks, Nick." He could see her cheeks glowing with a blush despite her best attempt to hide it by pressing her cheek into his chest as they danced.
He rather enjoyed how easy she was to fluster. Over their first year as friends, he'd gotten the impression that growing up in a family of such large proportions, meant that getting personalized compliments was not something that happened often. And while he certainly didn't mind providing them, the usual playfulness in his tone, the constant reminder that he could switch to teasing at any minute, seemed to be lost. He decided to blame the alcohol.
They continued to dance, swaying from side to side. Slowly spinning in their little area of dance floor, a perfectly timed parting of the crowd allowed the slightly taller fox a direct view of Judy's date, standing in the corner looking a little lost as what to do with himself.
"I think Chad might be missing you." Nick teased with a gesture of his eyebrows in the general direction.
"It's his turn to wait, I'm enjoying our dance." She responded without budging from her spot. And Nick couldn't help the smug smile over once again beating out the date-of-the-night.
Not that there had been many, it wasn't as though Judy had been looking for them, she was definitely a career-focused bunny. But it seemed that her well-intentioned mother always had a list of potential suitors that were more than excited to take the train in from Bunny Burrows for a chance to meet the famous 'Judy Hopps', and Judy had a hard time turning them away. So far, each date had ended with a bored Judy arriving back at their apartment alone, complaining about something or another and there had yet to be a second date for any of them. Not that Nick was keeping track.
The song crescendoed and Nick took the opportunity to swing her out in a playful spin, causing her to giggle as she followed his lead. His sensitive ears pricked up as he heard Clawhauser and a few sergeants hooping and cheering them on from the sidelines. She tossed her head back dramatically as she met up with him again, her paw clasping back into place against his and his tail wrapping around her waist as he welcomed her back.
With a look of glee still etched into her features she smiled up at him as they set back into their earlier tempo of swaying.
"Why didn't you bring a date?" Judy teased, her long ears falling casually back behind her.
"What, and miss all of this fun with you?" He answered in a smirk, while squashing down the small amount of panic beginning to rise in his chest.
She removed her paw from his shoulder to playfully punch his bicep. "C'mon, we gotta find you a nice vixen to bring to these types of things."
"Dating is not really my thing." He shrugged, trying to answer as vaguely as possible while wondering how they had suddenly fallen to the topic of his love life.
"What the heck is that supposed to mean?" Judy questioned with a quirk of her eyebrow, a playful smile still on her face as they continued to rock, completely oblivious to her partner's increased discomfort.
"Oh, you know how foxes are. We're a one and done, mate for life type." Nick regretted the honest words as soon as they had left his mouth. What exactly was he planning to explain to her as they danced in front of all their coworkers? He scrambled for another excuse to cancel out the first one, but his suave ability to BS was for some reason not functioning.
Judy readied her reply without even considering what he'd said, assuming pretty much anything but authenticity from her best friend the former hustler. "How are you ever going to find the perfect mate if you never get out to meet anyone?"
"I've already found the one I want to spend my life with." He answered simply, though he wanted to slap a paw over his muzzle and stop the words from coming out. Briefly, he considered whether it was possible that his drinks had been spiked with some kind of truth serum.
"What do you even mean?" She giggled at the way his eyes had grown large, unaware that he was mortified by his own candidness. "The only mammal you ever spend time with is me…"
The song ended just as the last word slipped from Judy's lips, and the silence that descended around them feels perfectly timed to focus on the fox's humiliation. The DJ made an announcement, but Nick couldn't hear a thing above the beating of his own heart reverberating through his flattened ears. He doesn't move as he watches her own statement slowly sink in, her eyes growing wider as though mirroring the shocked face he was unable to hide.
Despite the lack of music, they had yet to move from their pose, one set of paws grasped together and the other set resting comfortably on a hip or shoulder. Judy's long ears fell limp as she looked up at him and her eyebrows began to cinch into the center. He knew her well enough that he expected at any moment her head would tip to the side, but whether her expression would turn to disbelief, confusion or pity, was unclear.
"Nick…" She began to say, but much to his relief, she was interrupted.
"You guys! You guys! They're cutting the cake!" Clawhauser was suddenly shouting from beside them, causing both to start, their grips suddenly releasing as though broken from some kind of daze.
"I love cake!" Nick turned to the robust cheetah grinning wildly beside him, leaving Judy with her mouth still parted, the rest of her sentence ignored. He forced a casual look of fake enthusiasm towards Benjamin in an effort to focus anywhere but at his partner.
"Well, c'mon, let's go!" Benjamin started off towards the table, nudging Nick's shoulder to push him along.
Letting out a deep breath, he allowed the cheetah to guide him through the crowd, so desperate to get away from the sad look in Judy's eyes that he was willing to abandon her. But with a quick glance over his shoulder he felt a mixture of relief and jealousy when he noticed Chad once again by her side, leading her away by the paw.
End chapter 1