...true that there was some resistance to the proposal, but not as much as you'd think. If anything, the more traditional members of the Bunnyburrow Municipal Council voiced greater objections to whether your partner might properly represent their values.
However, we think you'll agree that there's every bit as much a need for law enforcement in the Tri-Burrows as in Zootopia, and that calls for a mammal with a solid track-record when it comes for inter-mammal relations. In the last year, you and your partner have repeatedly proven that predator and prey can not only work together; they can be friends! Coupled with your outstanding professional record, I feel that you're the ideal candidate.
Please consider the offer, Mr. Wilde. I'll expect to hear from you soon.
John Q. Thumper - Mayor
Municipality of Bunnyburrow
Nick had lost count of how many times he'd re-read the email over the last three weeks, going over it word by word and fact-checking the details. He'd even had someone from the ZPD's Computer Forensics unit take a look at it, though he'd sworn them to secrecy. All the evidence pointed toward it being a legitimate offer, for better or worse.
Which left him sitting alone in his apartment, idly tapping a claw on the table as he slowly came to terms with the idea that this wasn't some elaborate practical joke as he. He leaned forward in his seat, taking a moment to review the latest draft of his response.
Thank you for your generous offer.
Nicolas P Wilde
Patrol Division - Precinct One
Zootopia Police Department
Though he could acknowledge that it needed a little work, he still had no idea what his answer was going to be.
He'd only been with the ZPD for a couple of years, almost half of that had been training, and the whole time he'd been constantly challenged to dispel the stereotypes surrounding his species. After all the effort he'd put into convincing everyone that he wasn't just looking out for his own interests, he was a little concerned that accepting another job would look more than slightly opportunistic.
That wasn't even considering how Judy would react. Accepting the position without her wasn't even an option for him, but would she be willing to return to her hometown after everything she'd done to get out? And even if she did come with him, how comfortable would she be having him as a boss? Rising from his seat with a sigh, he tried to stretch the tension from his shoulders. Looking out the nearby window, he regarded the mediocre view as he tried to imagine how to broach the topic with her.
He wished he'd said something right away. The moment he received the offer he should have picked up the phone and called his bunny, but he hadn't. He'd decided to wait for the right moment, and instead they'd fallen victim to the single greatest example of an asshole in the history of mammal-kind...Carl Morrigan.
Goddamn City Councilor Carl Morrigan.
Morrigan had been a major figure in the Zootopian political arena for years; before the Night Howler Crisis the hyena was largely viewed as Lionhart's heir apparent. Following Lionhart's arrest and the resulting political upheaval, however, Morrigan had seen his dream of becoming Mayor evaporate. As the city council's most prominent predator, he'd been lucky to even hold on to his seat.
Following that accursed press conference, Morrigan had held Judy personally responsible for the anti-predator fallout of the Night Howler Crisis. He certainly hadn't been the only mammal to feel that way, but Morrigan had the position and influence to act on his anger. He seized every opportunity to make life difficult for the ZPD's famous bunny - and by extension, her partner. If they made a procedural error and he noticed, there would be a memo on Bogo's desk within an hour. If either (or more likely, both) of them applied for a promotion, it was practically guaranteed that some untraceable administrative error would cause those applications to be lost. Their every mistake was called out, their every victory dismissed as luck.
For their part, they took it all in stride; not a difficult task for a pair accustomed to having the world stand against them. Soon enough, it reached the point that the hyena's unending criticism was casting more doubt on him than on his intended targets, and with an election approaching there were rumors in the air that the antagonistic politician may soon be looking for another job.
Then the hyena and a few of his fellow councilors had walked into the wrong meeting room in the Precinct One building...and found the two of them making out like a pair of horny high schoolers.
Bogo's hooves had been tied; although ZPD regulations didn't expressly forbid relationships between partners, they did stipulate that both officers had to maintain their professionalism while on duty. Failure to do so meant a review of the situation by their commanding officer, and their quasi-fame ensured that any leniency would give the appearance of overt favoritism. Although their otherwise excellent performance (regardless of Morrigan's allegations) allowed the Chief to forgo any major disciplinary actions, he had no choice but to assign them to new partners. That had been two weeks ago.
Nick had spent those weeks riding with Delgato and, although he and the lion got along well enough they lacked the easy rapport he and Judy had shared. His (former) partner, on the other hand, had been assigned to administrative duty until a suitable partner could be found. Outwardly, she'd been nothing but positive about the whole affair; Nick knew her well enough to see that the lack of activity and endless paperwork was beginning to wear on her.
A faint scuffling at the front door shook the fox from his musings. He'd almost forgotten that Judy was supposed to make him dinner that evening, and the sound probably meant she'd just arrived.
Peering around the corner, he found her balancing an overly-large grocery bag in one arm as she awkwardly tried to get her jacket off. "Need some help?"
"No, I'm fine, really. You just stay right there and relax."
"Sarcasm doesn't suit you, Fluff." He deadpanned, and she smiled affectionately as he lifted the grocery bag from her arms. Despite his stormy mood, he felt an ember of warmth glowing in his heart.
Following her into the kitchen, he placed the bag on the counter and stood back to watch his bunny at work. She threw a little oil in a frying pan, placed it on the stovetop, and began rifling through the grocery bag. Tossing a few pawfuls of vegetables into the pan, she leaned over to set it to a nice medium heat. "I think you're really going to like this stir-fry. It's a recipe my sister came up with, and it even has some tofu in there so I don't want to hear any complaining...from..." She trailed off when the fox didn't immediately start teasing her about dinner, glancing up to find him leaning against the doorframe and quietly gazing at her.
Sighing, she grabbed the hem of her boyfriend's shirt and all but dragged him to the couch. Planting herself beside him, she took a moment to drape his soft tail across her lap and looked up at him expectantly. "Okay, let's hear it."
"Whatever it is you've been very loudly not saying for the last week and a half."
Looking away, he mumbled something even her ears couldn't quite make it out. "I didn't quite catch that, Slick."
"I said that you know perfectly well what's wrong." He grumbled, ears pinning back as he crossed his arms. "Patrolling without you sucks. All Delgato does is talk about football and point out attractive females."
Sighing, she reached up behind his ears and began scratching softly. As much as he teased her for being an emotional bunny, Judy had long-since learned that his feelings ran just as deeply as her own. Expressing them was a constant challenge for him, as was allowing himself be vulnerable in front of another mammal - even her. If over-exaggerated pouting was how he chose to express his feelings, she was willing to indulge him. "I know it's been hard not being partners, but we still have the rest of our time together."
"I guess." He muttered before flopping bonelessly across her lap and wriggling his muzzle under her paw. She rolled her eyes at her boyfriend's melodramatics and began to gently stroke along the top of his head, running her short claws through the course fur on the back of his neck. She smiled as his eyelids fell shut and a rumbling purr began to radiate from his chest.
"I know it's not what we'd have chosen, but Bogo made it clear that the decision is final."
He let out a faint snort. "Even though it's stupid?"
"Even though it's stupid." She confirmed, leaning over to kiss him softly between the ears.
"But what if..." The fox shifted his head to look up at her. "What if we were the ones in charge? What if we could just run things the way we wanted to."
"Then we'd be back together in a heartbeat and there'd be a smoothie bar in the Precinct lobby, but there's no use dwelling on it. The Chief's orders are pretty much written in stone."
"Yeah..." Nick paused. "...at Precinct One."
She looked down at him, and the hopeful curiosity in those amethyst eyes made up his mind. Now it was time to put his cards on the table and see if they made for a winning hand. "There's this job opportunity...you could actually kind of call it a promotion...and I won't say I haven't been considering it."
"Don't tell me you applied for the open detective slot at Precinct Three? Why didn't you tell me?"
"Well..." He rolled onto his back to face her. "Not so much applied for as been offered."
"What?! Nick, that's fantastic!"
"The thing is...detective isn't quite as accurate as...uh...Sheriff." He continued.
"What do you mean Sher..."
"...in Bunnyburrow." He finished.
Although he'd prepared himself for a slightly explosive reaction, his bunny didn't say a word - she didn't even move. She just sat there, leering down at him incredulously as if he'd just confessed to being Dawn Bellwether in an elaborate fox costume. As the clock on the wall counted off the passing seconds, Nick grew slightly concerned. He reached up to wave a paw slowly in front of her face. "Carrots? Are you still with me?"
He was just starting to move into genuine worry when Judy suddenly burst into laughter. "Oh sweet cheese and crackers, Nick! You almost had me!" She wiped a tear from her eye. "Bunnyburrow Sheriff! You? That's a good one!"
As the bunny continued giggling, Nick fished his phone from his pocket. He pulled up the email from Mayor Thumper and silently placed it in his girlfriend's paw. As her eyes skimmed the text, reading the entire message several times over, her laughter gradually tapered off. Eventually she handed the phone back to him, shaking her head in astonishment.
"Chutes and ladders, Nick... I mean, I heard that Thumper was a reformer but this is..." She trailed off, looking down at him. "And you were considering it?"
"Without even talking to me about it?"
"We're talking about it now." He pointed out.
"Nick, that's not what I..." The bunny sighed. "I spent most of my life trying to get out of Bunnyburrow. What was your plan if I said I wouldn't go back?"
"If you said? Does that mean you..."
"Nick." She gave him a slightly warning look.
"Carrots, I couldn't even imagine taking the job unless you came with me." He assured her. "Besides, I'll...uh...be needing a deputy."
"Deputy?" She repeated. "Your Deputy? As in, you'd be my boss?"
"Technically...yes." He nodded, a little nervously. "I mean, the job's yours if you want it."
"Deputy Hopps." She drew the word out, testing the feel of it. Finally, she turned to him with a sly look. "How about Head Deputy Hopps?"
He grinned at her mischievous tone. "Come with me and I'll make it Senior Head Deputy."
"Chief Senior Head Deputy, and I'll consider it." She countered, putting on a serious expression.
"Chief Commander Head Deputy!" He sat up, nuzzling her neck playfully. "And you get your own office."
"Special Commander-In-Chief Deputy!" She laughed, batting at his cold nose as she tried to scurry away. "And I want my own house."
"Supreme Leader and President-For-Life Deputy Hopps!" He pounced, pinning her to the couch and leaning down to murmur in her ear. "And I'll build you a castle, if you let me live there with you."
"Deal." She whispered, sliding her paws up either side of his cheeks till she could scratch at the base of his ears with gentle claws. As the rumbling purr returned, he allowed her to rise just an inch or two from the couch before he captured her lips with his. She managed to get a paw free and had just started fumbling with his shirt buttons when Nick froze.
"Is something burning?" He muttered.
Judy let out a giggle. "Well, you've definitely got my fire started."
The fox pulled out of her embrace and sat upright, casting curious glances around the room. "I'm serious. Do you smell smoke?"
With a frustrated sigh, she sat up and delicately sniffed the air. "Now that you mention it, I do kinda..." Her eyes widened as the realization struck her. "Oh no! Dinner!"
"Ugh..." Judy made a face as she scraped the charred remains of their meal from the scorched pan. "I'm going to take this down to the trash."
Nick made a vague sound of acknowledgement as the bunny hefted a garbage bag almost half her size over her shoulder, frowning slightly at the acrid scent of burnt cooking oil that hung in the air. Leaning against the fridge, he let his gaze follow her path out of the small kitchen to the apartment door. The moment it closed, he casually pulled his phone out and dialed a familiar number. The call connected almost immediately, and Nick didn't spare the mammal on the other end a chance to speak. "It's time. You know what to do."
He ended the call and quickly dialed another. His tail twitched impatiently until someone answered. "I don't have long, but do you remember the envelope I gave you a couple of months ago? The one marked Do Not Open Until Instructed?"
The other mammal answered in the affirmative.
"That's good. Open it now. Someone will be there within a half hour and I'm counting on you both."
Ending the second call, he began to put his phone away when it began ringing. Impatient, he answered without looking. "Hello?"
As he listened to the voice on the other end, his face set into a frown. "What are you...? I mean, it's time! We talked about this." He rolled his eyes. "Yes, we did. No, I can't be any more specific; she could hear me. Look, I'll give you a number to call and they can fill you in." He rattled off the digits and hung up, stuffing his phone away just as Judy came back in.
"Hey Carrots...I really don't feel like handling this mess right now and frankly, the smell is killing me." He grabbed his keys off the counter. "How about we go get something to eat at the diner up the road? I'll even treat you to one of those triple-thick carrot milkshakes you love. What do you say?"
"I say," She smiled, winking at him as she pulling her coat off its hook. "That you definitely know the way to this bunny's heart."
"...gonna need to buy you a pair of sunglasses. Big mirrored ones!"
"I am not wearing big mirrored sunglasses."
"Ah ah ah! As the Sheriff; my word is literally the law!"
"I'm pretty sure that's not how it wor..." The bunny's sentence trailed off as they entered the apartment. "Why is it so cold in here?"
"I, uh...left the window open to let the place air out." Nick explained.
"Oh. Well, it's freezing so I think it's time to close it."
"No!" He deftly moved between her and the door to the living room, all the while waging an internal war with his own nerves. If foxes could sweat, he was certain he'd be soaked. It was already taking most of his willpower to keep his ears from pinning back. "I mean, you know how sensitive my nose is. Could it wait until we've finished cleaning?"
She huffed. "Fine, but let's get started. And you should keep in mind that cold bunnies don't sleep over in cold apartments."
"Loud and clear, Carrots." He was ready. "I'll turn the heat up and you can start piling dishes in the sink."
Stepping into the living room to adjust the thermostat, he briefly glanced around the room. Okay...he could do this.
Returning to the kitchen, he very calmly moved to the sink and began scrubbing the blackened frying pan.
It was time.
"So, Carrots..." He began casually. "I guess we should probably get married."
End Part I