Hi! Updating a story that's taken six months to crank out again.

Better late than never, I guess?

A Million Ways

Ch. 2

Judy Hopps slumped into the seat of the subway car just as the sun set over the Zootopia skyline, sighing deeply as she splayed out like melting ice into the orange bench that could (and did) fit mammals many times her size. She normally would not take up so much space, but she decided to obtain every opportunity possible to rest her tired bones after the day she had.

Not that that particular Thursday had been all that intense. She had not taken down one of the last vestiges of a drug cartel like she had a few weeks prior, nor had she made some kind of exhilarating arrest that would dramatically alter the case trajectory of the Zootopia Police Department for weeks, maybe months, to come.

It had just been a lot in one day, beginning with she and Nick Wilde's trip to ZS134 to discuss their roles as police officers in the biggest city in the world and how even they – a predominantly smaller-mammal public school – could one day become cops if they so chose.

Then came the backup of paperwork since it was nearly the end of the month. Followed by the mandatory bi-yearly classified data refresher. And then the jaunt down to the Rainforest District to retrieve a few wayward files for a future assignment Chief Bogo requested. And who could forget return to that mountain of paperwork, stacked so high that Nick could regularly hide behind it and startle her when she found herself deep enough in concentration?

Had Judy known this would be one of those days – a sum-of-its-parts period not exceptionally trying on paper but grimly overflowing with a myriad of tasks – she would never have relented to non-takeout dinner after work.

And true, she could have canceled. She knew Nick would not have minded; after all, he had experienced just about every minute detail of the day alongside her, likely about as beat as she was. She also knew him well enough to know that his idea of a nice evening after a trying day at work was to spend as much of it on the couch back home as possible.

Their plans, however, had been scheduled, postponed, nearly canceled altogether, moved around about a half dozen times by then, dating all the way back to earlier that spring. It seemed practically cursed, meant not to be rather than to be. Nick snarked about it regularly while on patrol, openly displaying his doubts about whether or not it would ever come to fruition.

Judy liked proving him wrong, so there was that incentive.

Nonetheless, she had a feeling it would be a late night. Jack had a tendency in the company of friends to lead anyone who would listen to him on drawn-out tales and accounts of his many exploits that he was allowed to share from his job and where it took him. He clearly overdid it; or at least Judy, who generally heard the first draft of these stories, thought so, but no one else lived with him. Regardless, the rabbit had a knack for persuasion, and their previous meetings with the fox couple who would be their guests that night indicated that Kristen was either a good listener, easily enraptured or a little bit of both, while Nick tended to provide Jack an interested party – on the surface, at least, though he would occasionally land a few subtle digs when he thought Jack was not quite paying attention, as was often Nick's way.

Nick. There was a text waiting from him when she checked her phone; she must not have felt it vibrate while she was awaiting the train's arrival. Sighing, Judy sat up a bit, paw brushing against the phone's home button so that it could unlock.

Not 2 late 2 cancel, it read.

She smirked, recognizing the fox's usage of numbers instead of typing out 'too' or 'to,' something Judy – as one of the few mammals she had ever met that actually used complete sentences (with punctuation and everything!) and spelled out entire words when texting – had bemoaned one day recently during one of their patrols. That meant, of course, Nick would be finding as many ways to shorten his text messages to her as possible until he got bored with the joke, which could be a while, depending on whether or not the rabbit acknowledged it.

Nah, I think it is now. Why, Slick? Backing out?

The train door slid open as it pulled into the next station, a bustle of mammals departing while a smaller crowd replaced them. Judy peered up at the list of ensuing stops, finding hers just two away. Jack was supposed to get home before her that day and iron his own clothes in case they needed it. She hoped he had actually listened.

A new buzz. In yr dreams fluff. U kno how much I luv stripes, came his response.

Did he? That was the prevailing question Judy had throughout many of their interactions over the previous few months, a query she pondered as she returned home to find Jack – shocker – already prepared to leave, and again as she stepped out of her uniform and fit in a quick shower, and yet again while in the backseat of the Zuber Jack had hailed since he rarely rode the subway.

She smiled through his stories about work that day, about the visit of a dignitary from Pawaii that would be in the city for a few days, a strangely familiar tale – probably since those types rolled through the ZBI on a weekly, perhaps daily basis. She prepared herself to hear each and every one of them again, too, once they got to dinner. Not that she minded. Jack could get quite excitable when it came to his job, just as she could hers. They had that much in common, aside from the obvious biological similarities and their similar statuses of celebrity in Zootopia.

"But enough about that," Jack said finally, tightening the tie wrapped around his neck and smoothing the collar of his black peacoat. "How was your day, Honeybun?"

All that could escape Judy's throat was a groan that was intended to precede a weary diatribe about the mundanity of the day and, yet, its jam-packed nature, but their driver's words cut across the beginning vocalization of what had been to come: "By the door, or is across the street fine?"

Judy blinked. They were already at The Thaw. Which, as she thought about it, made sense; it was only supposed to be a 10-minute drive. And not much more of a subway ride. Jack just disliked the subway that much.

"Ah! Um… here's fine, thanks," Jack piped up, grasping the door handle and pushing it open. "Hold on, Judy, I'll get it," he said, dashing out of the car and to her side, opening her own door.

"Chivalrous," Judy spoke with a small smile.

"Oh, come on. We're on a date, aren't we?" the striped rabbit asked, flashing her a grin that gleamed white beneath the street light above them. "Well, double date, anyway."

Once inside, it surprised Judy to see Nick already there at first, but it occurred to her that his apartment was much closer to The Thaw than hers, and he had left slightly before her anyway – a five-minute difference and no more than that, but it showed.

Both foxes rose from the table that sat four, Kristen offering a meager wave and a small but genial smile. Nick stood beside her with his paw against the small of her back, the other offering a two-finger salute once they neared.

"You clean up nice, Carrots."

Judy rolled her eyes, wrapping her purse strap around the seat pulled out for her by a waiter, an otter, who then moved to attend to Jack's chair. "You say that every time," she huffed as she sat. "The police ball, dinner at the mayor's, the last time we were all out together…"

"Doesn't make it less true," said Nick with a wink. "It's just night and day from the precinct, you know? C'mon, back me up, Savage."

The rabbit grinned as he took his own seat, nodding to the waiter as she handed him a drink menu. "I could say the same for you, Wilde. But that's the byproduct of your father's work, eh?"

"You remembered!" Nick exclaimed, smoothing down the collar of the tan suit he wore and clasping his paws across his chest in mock delight. "You know this was his, right? This baby's lived through about five mayors – and that doesn't count the ones the ZBI had pulling the strings behind their puppet—"

If Judy had been able to land a kick at the fox from under the table, she would have. But it was too far a distance; she knew this because she had tried it on a previous visit during the precinct holiday party. Luckily, Kristen had it covered, the sweet vixen.

"Oof. Hey! Cool it, sweetie," Nick complained after a yip, rubbing his side. "Stripes knows I'm joking." He glanced up at Jack, who was clearly humoring Nick with a contented smirk, though Judy had seen that look plenty, and positive emotions did not necessarily underlay its existence. "You only do that in other cities? Am I right?

"I've told you before, Wilde, I can neither confirm nor deny…" Jack started, unfolding his arms from across his chest, "...however, that said, you might be interested in my latest visit to Goatemala, where –"

Oh good, Judy thought, a small sigh escaping from the corners of her pursed lips. Clever fox steered it to the job. Always works.

Her eyes met those of Kristen, who returned a sweet smile and a quick shake of her head. "He'll never learn, will he?" she uttered quietly, her slight drawl mostly masked beneath years of living in the city and canoodling with its loftier residents but remaining barely there, just barely, if one knew where to listen.

"Doubful," offered Judy, reaching across the table to grasp the vixen's offered paw in greeting. "Jack doesn't mind. Anything to talk about his latest trip," she added, these final words said with slight scorn she had not meant to seep through, though she was unsure if Kristen caught it amid the din of the restaurant, Jack and Nick's increasingly spirited, mostly one-sided discussion about the politics of Goatemala and Central Afurica included. "So, how are things at the firm?"

"I can't complain. Bunch of new clients as the fall TV season ramps up. I told you last get-together we were looking to snag the kids from that sci-fi show that hit it big last year – you know, the retro one? From before our time?"

"Most of our times; Nick wouldn't stop talking about how much they got right. He binged it in a day. Almost called in sick to work to watch it again the next day before I threatened to tell Bogo on him."

Kristen shrugged with a short laugh. "Get used to it for the new season, I guess. We got all of them under our wing now – swiped them right out from under Bill. And I'm pretty sure a certain someone's gonna meet 'em when they come into town on the press tour." She jerked her head slightly at Nick, who seemed to not have been listening, and Judy could tell it was meant to be a surprise. "You and Jack are welcome, too, by the way," she added. "I'll text you."

"That'd be really nice of you, Kristen, thanks."

"Of course, Judy. Now, how about the ZPD? Nick tells me it's been a little hectic lately."

These niceties went on for some time, extending far past the arrival of their drink orders and a few shared appetizers for the table. Judy swore the volume of the music blared over the speakers, a combination of Top 40 radio and deeper dance cuts, grew by the minute, threatening to turn their table's conversation into an exercise in futility, though she blamed it in part on her sensitive ears. It was why she tried to wear earplugs at concerts those days, especially as she got older.

Truth be told, Judy was not much of a fan of The Thaw, not since she and Jack's first visit for Zootopia's restaurant week a month or two before. The loudness was unattractive, though its status as a combination of a restaurant and a nightclub as the evening stretched on was kind of part of the territory. She also did not think the food was that much to write home about (though, to be fair, she had called her parents and told them all about the place the day after her first dinner there), like one of those restaurants that had been in business for decades and was still coasting off its goodwill from its early days rather than creating something new, refreshing, inventive or even that great.

But Jack enjoyed it, and that was a big part of their visit that night. The exclusivity was a factor, she thought; few mammals in Zootopia could snag a table at the place on a whim, and only a few more could do so with a reservation request less than about four months in advance. Jack had always been the type to appreciate that, the thought of being somewhere someone else could not, to land a spot in the upper reaches of society that commanded such inimitability – or at least the illusion of it. Judy more preferred the opposite – maybe a night out at a beer hall, something communal – and their nights out together were split between two very different types of social interaction as a result. But few couples had every little thing in common, right?

What Judy had noticed was that Nick was spending much more time listening than usual. Usually one of the centers of attention whenever he went out with anyone, not just their group, he seemed calmer, more collected, pensive.

Kristen seemed to have noticed, too, because occasionally she would lay a paw against his shoulder, a reassuring touch that Nick barely registered; Judy noticed his gaze momentarily flicker his girlfriend's way before returning to Jack, who, by then a few drinks deep, was messily recounting he and Judy's experience on the red carpet of a recent movie premiere – her first, his 20th, but who was keeping track? Well, besides Jack.

"Psh," Jack shrugged with a wave of his paw, "You officers don't even get the full scheme of things – I've told Judy about this before, maybe I've told you too, Wilde?"

"No, but how about you don't –"

"Nah, you gotta hear this." Jack wagged a paw in front of Nick to shush him, and Judy saw the fox's eyes flicker briefly with annoyance and a retort, but he choked it down as Jack continued.

"Right, so, that speech? I don't know what Bogo told you, but there was a shooter. Two of 'em." He pointed skyward, nearly swatting the check out of the waiter's paw as he did so. "One's up here in the old brewery across the street, right? I guess the ZPD didn't check one of the upper floors or something; dude's just hanging out in there, fancy 'n' free, about to unload on Lionheart from the window. That's the other squad." Jack pummels one fisted paw into the palm of the other. "Ain't no problem, they take him out. Now, my team, the other guy, we –"

Judy zoned out as Jack continued to speak, reaching into the rabbit's coat pocket to get his wallet to pay for the meal; they did not yet have a joint account, and Jack generally insisted on paying. Besides, she was saving up for a new computer.

Her phone buzzed on the table, and Judy glanced up to see the text notification. She momentarily caught Nick's gaze, and the fox smirked for a second, bringing his paws up from under the table and setting his own phone back on the table before giving Jack a somewhat-attentive audience.

Pulling her phone into her lap after placing Jack's card on their check, she read the text, which had indeed come from Nick.

not letting stripes pay 4 us, he had typed. Fair, she thought. Jack had a tendency to do that when they went out.

Luckily, Nick had covertly handed Kristen his own card, and the two had placed both of theirs onto the check and were handing it back to the waiter before their friend was any wiser.

"Oh!" Jack exclaimed, reaching into his pocket to pay. "I can – oh, Judy, you already got it, eh?"

"Taken care of," she said plainly, shooting Nick a quick wink when she caught his eye – one he reciprocated.

"Ah, thanks. Anyway – Wilde, crazy story, right?"

"The craziest."

"You're darn right. See, maybe if you two work really hard and get a better job one day," he pointed to Nick and jerked his head back at Judy, "you'll get in on the cool stuff."

"I… mean, we're pretty happy where we are, I think," Nick started, glancing over at Judy with an uneasy stare.

"As police officers? Please. And don't give me that 'helping mammals' stuff, either. It's barely a real job, and Bogo's totally toothless. ZBI's where the real action is." He smiled, teeth glinting under the chandelier above them. "You'll learn. I did, after all. You will, too."

The next few minutes were a blur for Judy. There were goodbyes involved – Kristen lingered on a hug a little longer than she normally might and whispered something into her ear, but the rabbit did not register them. Nick followed, and she glanced up at him as they embraced. The fox's eyes were elsewhere, even though he spoke to her – "See ya tomorrow, Carrots," he said in that usual, borderline sardonic voice of his. His look was directed toward Jack, who did not seem to notice.

Jack had done this once before. Sure, he and Judy had fought before – what couple had not? – but it rarely veered into job territory, except the time he had discounted some disciplinary measure Chief Bogo had taken with the whole precinct, an action Judy had defended, even if she had been upset about it (Fangmeyer still owed her one, she felt). That soon turned into an argument about police work entirely, how Jack felt too much of it was serving the everymammal on mundane tasks and doing menial city work rather than truly making a difference, a statement he capped off by saying he would look into getting Judy hired at the Zootopia Bureau of Investigation.

He had meant it as a compliment, of course, that she belonged somewhere better in his eyes, but Judy – so set on being a police officer since her youth, so happy in her dream job and ecstatic to serve under Bogo, who she considered a mentor – had nothing of it. Judy had nearly gone to stay the weekend in Bunnyburrow to cool off before they had made amends, and the diamond-encrusted necklace she was wearing that evening was more aftermath of the quarrel.

But now it was though a bandage had been ripped off a fresh wound that had barely enough time to heal properly, and Judy was barely able to remain cognizant of anything other than those words, plus that which Jack had said in their previous fight. It was all coming back to her, flowing like a dam that had broken apart, and nothing – not even Nick and Kristen's departure – could fully shake her from it.

When she truly came to, she was outside of The Thaw. Nick and Kristen were already nowhere in sight, and Jack was arranging their transportation home a few steps away.

"Gimme a sec," Jack muttered, fumbling with his phone in his coat pocket.

Judy frowned, crossing her arms across her chest. "Why didn't you just call a Zuber before we left, if you wanted one so much?" She tapped her foot on the ground impatiently, as though the lateness of their ride was the problem, even if it was not.

"I got caught up in our goodbyes to our friends, relax," said Jack coolly, finally locating his phone in his pocket and tapping the Zuber app with his paw a few times, ordering their car. "It's not even cold out."

"Fine, maybe I'll walk –"

"What? No, that's stupid, it's a half-hour walk home at least."

When she did not respond, Jack edged his way into her line of sight, which was defiantly directed toward the sidewalk. "…what's wrong with you, Honeybun?"

She sighed, refusing to acknowledge the striped rabbit with her gaze. "I'm not doing this in public, Jack," she said, her tone slightly less pointed before, more resigned. "Please."

Their car arrived a short time later, and somehow Jack retained his composure throughout, even though Judy could feel him bristle beside her, unsatisfied with waiting and unwilling to let things go, whatever was wrong. Judy stood her ground, avoiding his occasional eye contact as she waited curbside, purse dangling and lilting slowly in the evening's tiny breeze.

The ride home was not much better. She felt Jack's gaze on her intermittently, could see him too, just barely out of the corner of her right eye in the back seat of the black, four-door vehicle. Occasionally he opened his mouth to say something but seemed to think better of it each time, turning his head to stare out of the window as the street lights streamed by. Their driver appeared to think little to nothing of it, casually humming along to the latest Gazelle track that underpinned their silence on the radio by his paws.

It felt like a much longer trip than it had that morning.

Judy was nearly out of the car before it had even rolled to a stop, offering a quick, mumbled thanks to the driver as she stepped out onto the pavement in front of The Belvedere, the luxury apartment complex where they lived. Taking care to avoid any passing cars, she bounded to the front door, fishing her apartment keys out of her purse while she heard Jack close the car door on the street behind her.

"OK, now can we –"

Too late. Judy had located her keys and was already inside, giving their doorman, Hubert, a quick nod and wave before deciding to take the stairs – a silly decision, since they lived on the six floor and she was wearing dressy attire, but she expected Jack to take the elevator, as was his custom.

Judy considered herself a generally quick bunny, but that did not stop Jack from beating her up those six floors via the elevator. Her ears fell as the doorway dinged and the elevator slid open, revealing Jack with a determined, almost pouting countenance. She had hoped she could at least make it inside before the fight she knew was imminent, but she had come up just a little bit short.

She was surprised to see him tenderly reach out a paw – slowly, somewhat hesitantly, as though he was reaching out to a feral creature who might attack. She had not ruled it out.

"C'mon," Jack whispered, eventually resting that paw against her shoulder. His tough was light against the fabric of her dress, and it shot a spark through her that she had not felt all night, a warmth that her irritated mind tried desperately to ward off. "Let's go inside. Together."

Judy let Jack lead her into their apartment, which was thankfully still clean from the previous evening's tidying; had Judy seen the place a mess like it was some evenings when either of them returned home, her mood might have worsened, since she tried to be the orderly one of the pair. Jack closed the door behind them, and she half expected him to drop the act and raise his voice, demanding to know what was wrong.

Instead, he latched the door lock, sighed and rested a paw against the door, his back to Judy.

"Listen, Judy…" he started, sighing, "I don't know what this is about. I can only assume I said or did something that upset you." He turned to her, and their eyes locked for the first time since the restaurant, his cerulean eyes soft against their dimly lit living room. "And I'm sorry. I'd been drinking, and… I don't know. I'm sorry."

She had not expected an apology so quick; usually, Jack was quick to deny a scrap of wrongdoing – it had been the subject of their previous fight, the one a month before, when he would take no blame for not following Judy's specific directions for their week's grocery shopping at the corner supermarket. This was new, and perhaps it was a byproduct of their previous quarrels.

"Can I ask what I did?" He was speaking again, taking a step toward her, trying to keep her gaze.

She told him, repeated the words he had said by memory, as though she had recorded them with her carrot pen. She had not done that, though; rather, she had turned the phrases over and over in her head ever since they had left The Thaw, repeating them, stuffing them down, until they had become some part of her. Of course she would remember them. How would she not?

When Judy had finished, she found her breathing had quickened momentarily. She was not out of breath, but recounting the tale had taken something out of her. Briefly she hoped it was the very memory of them leaving her body, allowing her to part with them and continue onward. Jack had apologized, right? What more was there to be said?

"Oh, that was all?" he asked.

Ah, there he was.

"Are you kidding me?" Judy growled suddenly, causing Jack to wince and take back that step he had made toward her. "Are you kidding me?"

"Well… well, yeah, it was a joke…" the rabbit stammered; in his eyes, Judy could see that he immediately knew he had made a grievous error.

"Oh, a joke?!" That was strike three. "So you think putting down my career is a joke? That's funny to you, Jack?"

"No! No, that's not what I meant, I –"

"No, please, tell me about how much better you are than I am because you work for the ZBI while I'm just some lowly police officer who, I don't know, once cracked Zootopia's biggest case, the one and your entire department never could. Sweet cheese and crackers, what a dreamboat."

She swallowed hard, taking in the sight of her boyfriend still by the front door, suddenly much smaller than she remembered him, perhaps a shadow of his usual self. She was not sure what it was, the alcohol or the muscle memory of their former fights, that caused him to scale back, but she had decided he was going to feel the brunt of her disappointment, no matter what.

"And while we're at it – hey, Jack, maybe you could ask Nick about his job. Or hey, what about Kristen, who just got a pretty big raise because she's kind of great at her job – not that you'd know that, since she only told me while you were yammering on about whatever place your passport got you into this week. Or, I dunno, maybe you could have directed the conversation to how Nick and I got to talk to kids this morning about being police officers, or about how your brother just got married, or about how mybrother just got married. Just something. Something!

"Because this is what you do, Jack," she rumbled, a paw pointed accusingly toward him, feeling her courage welling up in her stomach, beneath her lungs, wherever valor came from. "You dominate every conversation – every single one – and don't take time to listen to what anyone else has to say, especially me!" She waved her arms. "You know? The rabbit you're dating? The one you claim to love more than anything else in this world, including your job?! Who uprooted and moved her entire life just to move in with you?!"

She found her paws were balled into fists, something that had occurred somewhere along her diatribe without her noticing. Feeling tensed energy coursing through her arms, traveling to her brain, she relaxed, heaving a great sigh as she unclenched her paws.

"I'm taking the bed tonight," she stated plainly, turning away from the still-silent rabbit. "You can do whatever you want, but please don't come in."

If Jack protested, Judy did not hear him, pulling her phone out of her purse and tossing her purse onto the kitchen table before stepping inside their bedroom and shutting the door, taking care not to slam it – it was late, after all, and they had already been loud enough.

Realistically, she knew she would retrieve him from the couch later that evening when she got up to get the glass of water she had just realized she had forgotten. It would be a few hours, but she would let him get a few hours of shut-eye in his own bed, even though their couch was not too shabby as far as comfort went. She might even apologize in the morning for yelling, for locking him out without giving him a chance to respond.

Or, eh, maybe not. She would judge how she felt in the morning.

Stripping off her dress, Judy pulled her pajamas from underneath the pillow and stepped into them, either muttering under her breath about Jack or envisioning that she was doing so, as though she meant to. She could hear him on the other side of the door, walking into the bathroom, the door of which he closed behind him. The shower flickered on.

Judy tuned out the noise, laying down in bed and plugging her phone into its charger. It had already been dangerously low due to use that day, but it was still on, and she noticed a text from Nick right off.

good seeing u tonight.

It got her to smile.

Same. It was great to see you and Kristen. Tell her I said congrats again!

Another text from Nick reached her inbox just as she sent her own.

and emphasis on 'u,' if that wasnt clear

Whatever could you mean? she replied, rolling her eyes as she did so.

Judy flipped on the television she turned on in the evenings to help her sleep, the white noise of some long-syndicated sitcom the soundtrack to the brief period between alertness and her dreams. She did not expect to sleep anytime soon; she found she was rarely able to fall asleep upset, unless she cried herself there, and this was not one of those occasions.

Nick's final text helped a bit, though.

ftr, yr a better cop than stripes ever was.

END

This was a tough one to complete, especially compared to the first chapter, which came super easily. I'm hoping everything from here on out (there are eight chapters total) will be much more like the first rather than the second.

Anyway! As always, I hope it wasn't The Worst, and I super appreciate you checking this out, whether you're a new reader or read this back in July when I originally uploaded.

More soon, I'm hoping!