Sitting on one of the rocks in the display, Judy leaned against Nick while they waited for someone to bring a ladder so they could finally escape the pit. It had been a long day, and evening had already arrived with dinner time having come and gone over an hour ago. As the minutes ticked by, Nick's stomach finally protested its mistreatment by growling loudly.
Judy giggled beside him, the stress of the day finally getting to her. "Wow, Nick, sounds like there's a tiger living in your belly and it's on the hunt."
"Har, har," Nick grumbled. "Just be glad we had some of your family's delectable blueberries"—reaching over, he bopped her cute, pink nose with one clawed finger—"otherwise you would be the one on the menu tonight."
Nick's warm finger pad made her nose twitch and Judy lifted a paw and swatted his fingers away. "That really was quick thinking on your part, Nick. I'm really glad I found—" Judy's stomach cut her off as it growled even louder than Nick's, making her long ears flush a deep pink as her amethyst eyes widened in surprise and embarrassment, her nose now twitching rapidly.
Nick's emerald eyes widened, as well, and his ears cocked forward, as he had a hard time believing such a loud, predatory noise could come from such a cute, little bunny. After a moment, though, he slapped his paw across his knee and exclaimed, "Ha! Look who's calling the kettle black!" Waving a finger in front of her face, he continued, "Well, Carrots, I do believe we have a winner here for scariest growl. If we run into anymore psychotic sheep, we'll just let that cute, little belly of yours do all the talking and they'll cower in fear of such a monstrous sounding predator."
Judy giggled again as she swatted at his finger, then yelled, "Hey! Don't call me cute!"
"I didn't call you cute, I called that adorable little belly of yours cute." He punctuated his statement by poking her belly lightly with his claw.
"Ni-ick! You're not supposed to call a bunny cute!" She swatted at his paw again, but he just moved it up to bop her nose again.
"Am I calling just any bunny cute? No, no I am not. Am I calling this unstoppable force of nature cute? Yes, yes I am."
"No buts. I'm your best friend, and as your best friend, I get to call you whatever I want." With a wide grin, he ruffled the fur between her ears, saying, "So get used to it, Cottontail." Judy crossed her arms over her chest and glowered at him, trying to look intimidating. Nick merely grinned with that sly smirk of his as he watched her fighting to keep a smile off her face. She looked so adorable with the way the corners of her mouth would twitch up before being forced back down as she fought to keep the smile at bay.
Judy couldn't seem to pull her gaze away from Nick's emerald pools, nor could she keep her smile away for long. Although she absolutely hated being called cute (it was very derogatory term for a bunny when used by other mammals) and she certainly hated him calling her cute when they first met, but somehow, she couldn't find it in herself to be mad at him for using the term. Perhaps it was the knowledge that he was no longer insulting her, and the soft look in his eyes made her usual irritation at hearing the word seem to melt away.
After several moments, she lost the fight and a wide smile broke out across her face. Nick's mask was down and she could see not only amusement dancing within his warm gaze, but also his care and concern for her. It was such a far cry from the way he'd looked at her when she'd first blackmailed him into helping her find Emmet Otterton, or even the expression he'd given her back at the Press Conference 3 months ago. With her smile growing bigger, she considered the vast difference the last 24 hours had wrought. So much had changed.
Best friend. He'd called her that (her fists balled up in happiness) and she could hardly believe her lucky stars. Just this morning, she had missed him so much it was hard to roll out of bed. She felt sure he would never forgive her, let alone want to be her friend again. And yet here they were, together, having finally solved the Savage Mammal case, and she couldn't be happier.
Unable to contain her joy any longer, she reached out and wrapped her arms around his lean torso and pressed her cheek to his chest. Hmm, she thought, my best friend. That has such a nice ring to it.
Nick was surprised at her sudden hug, but it didn't take long for him to slip his arms around her slim, muscular body and hug her back—tightly. He wasn't used to getting close to people, certainly not close enough for hugs and other signs of affection, but with Judy . . . with Judy . . . he didn't mind at all.
No, that wasn't quite right. He found he craved it. Feeling her in his arms like this just felt—right—and he wondered how often he'd be able to steal these small moments of affection from her. She was a bunny, after all, and didn't seem to mind being close to him so he hoped he'd be able to steal them frequently. And although being huggy was out of character for him, he found he liked it immensely—at least with her.
Letting the hug drag on a little longer, Judy rubbed her face into his shirt and said, "Well, if you're allowed to call me whatever you want, then so can I . . . Slick."
"Hmm. That's not a bad one." Lightly running his paw up and down her back, Nick savored the moment.
"Let's see," she murmured, tightening her grip slightly at the pleasant sensation Nick's paw provoked, "since you have several names for me, it's only right that I should have at least one more. How about Nicky?"
Nick froze for a second, then broke the hug as he grabbed Judy's shoulders and pushed her back so he could meet her gaze. "Uh, that would be a no."
"For starters, it's a girl's name. And second, only my family ever calls me that."
Judy grinned. "Well, I'm your best friend, which means I can call you whatever I want. So get used to it"—she grabbed his tie and pulled his muzzle down until it nearly touched her own—"Nicky."
Nick's eyes widened at this move, but then his sly grin returned. "Touché." As Judy released him, he sat up and straightened his tie, saying, "How about this? I'll refrain from calling you cute, if you refrain from calling me Nicky. Do we have a deal?"
Judy brought a hand up and tapped her chin thoughtfully with her finger. "Hmm, I'm not sure, Slick. I'll have to think about it."
"Well, while you're thinking, I'm going to find out why we're still sitting down here. Your leg is still bleeding and we need a paramedic to check it out."
Twisting back around, Judy looked down at her leg. The cloth Nick had tied around it was red and covered in sticky blood. There were several drops on the floor, but she couldn't see any fresh blood oozing from the makeshift bandage. "How do you—"
Nick tapped his wet, black nose and said, "I can smell it. The scent just got stronger, telling me it started bleeding a little heavier again. Probably from you turning to hug me. It must have dislodged the clotting blood."
Looking back at her leg, Judy couldn't tell there was anything different about her injury, but if Nick's nose said there was, then she believed him. As she watched it a moment longer, several drops of blood pooled under the makeshift bandage, then soaked into her fur before sliding down her leg. "Oh," she murmured. Looking up to meet his warm, green gaze, she asked curiously, "So what is my blood telling you?"
Nick's brows furrowed. "What? Like it's telling me to eat you or something?"
Judy chuckled. "No, silly." She lightly socked him in the arm. "It's obvious that thought never crossed your mind." With a bright, teasing smile, she explained, "I'm just curious about what kind of information that excellent sniffer of yours is giving you. I can smell a slight tangy scent of blood in the air, but I can't tell anything's different with my leg, so, you know . . ." She indicated her injury again.
Nick's sly smile returned. "Well, Fluff, my excellent sniffer is telling me that my best friend is in need of medical attention before she passes out from blood loss and needs a blood transfusion. You'd be stuck in the hospital for days if that happened!"
Judy giggled again. Nick always seemed to know how to brighten her mood and make her laugh. She'd never had friend quite like him before. Punching his arm again, she asked, "What did I ever do to deserve such a great friend?"
Nick rubbed his arm where she'd socked him—twice—then grinned. "Well, that's debatable, Carrots, as I'm sure I'm the one who doesn't deserve you."
Judy could only grin. She opened her mouth to argue when a heavy rope dropped down into the pit beside them, followed by Chief Bogo's voice.
"Sorry, we can't get to a ladder. They're all locked up and the mammals with a key won't arrive for another 20 minutes or more."
Nick and Judy glanced up to see the cape buffalo looking down at them, with an elephant officer, Francine, standing next to him holding the rope. Nick nodded, then pointed out, "Judy's leg is hurt, so I don't think she'll be able to climb the rope."
With a nod, Bogo then said in his gruff voice, "Then you'll have to carry her up, won't you?"
Nick's eyes widened slightly, then he glanced over to Judy. Her leg was bleeding steadily again, and with the pain he knew she was hiding, there was no way she would be able to climb on her own. "Well, Fluff, what do say? Up for a piggyback ride?"
Judy didn't immediately respond as the pink insides of her ears turned several shades darker. Although the thought of holding Nick so close sent a slight thrill through her, she knew that a piggyback ride was a bit more intimate than simply hugging him, and that thought made her ears flush another shade darker, accompanied by an unfamiliar flutter in her stomach.
"Well?" Nick asked while holding out his hand to help her up.
Judy pushed the embarrassment aside and nodded. "Mm." As she took his hand, she wondered why she felt embarrassed. They were friends, after all. Nothing to be embarrassed about—just one friend helping another friend out. She was being silly. And the flutter in her stomach? What was that about? With a shake of her head, she dismissed the confusing thoughts as Nick turned around and crouched.
Slipping her arms around his neck, she carefully wrapped her injured leg around his waist, with Nick grabbing her hamstrings to steady her as she lifted her other leg to wrap around him. Once both legs were securely around him, she shifted into a better position, and couldn't help but notice that Nick had more muscle hiding under his fluffy, orange fur than she'd first realized. And warm—he was very warm. With the stress of the long day and no food, plus her injured leg and blood loss, she was starting to feel the evening's chill. But not anymore. Nick's body heat chased the chill away and warmed her right up. With a small, contented grin, she rested her cheek between Nick's shoulder blades and held on tight as he began to ascend the rope, with Francine pulling the rope up.
Between Nick's climbing and Francine's pulling, they reached the top of the pit in no time flat, and then Nick was crouching to let her down. She really didn't want to let him go so soon. He was so warm, and comfortable, and . . . and . . . Judy gave herself a mental shake. Now wasn't the time. She needed to talk to the chief and hand over the recording pen, as well as have her leg looked at. All these new and confusing thoughts and emotions could be sorted out later.
Judy dropped her good leg, then slowly removed her injured leg and set it on the ground. It hurt like the dickens, but she gritted her teeth and took a step back so Nick could stand up. That was a mistake. As soon as she put weight on her injured leg, it buckled and would have sent her sprawled across the floor in a very unlady-like manner if not for Nick's quick reflexes.
Feeling Judy release him and step back, Nick stood up, but at hearing Judy's "Eep!" of pain and surprise, he quickly spun around. Seeing her falling backwards with her arms flailing about in a vain attempt to halt her backwards motion, Nick quickly grabbed her around the waist and dragged her against him, then reached down and swung her up into his arms princess-style.
"Really, Fluff?" There was a hint of exasperation in his voice as he raised an eyebrow at her. "If your leg was that bad, you should have said something sooner."
Judy's ears warmed again at his reprimand and she stuttered, "I . . . I didn't think . . . it was . . . that bad." What was wrong with her!? Why was Nick affecting her so badly right now? Was it just the long day and stress of it all? Maybe the fact one or both of them nearly died—repeatedly!?
Before she could come up with a more thought-out answer, Chief Bogo's voice interrupted her thoughts. "I know you need your leg looked at, Hopps, but I just need 5 minutes for you to give me a quick rundown on the events leading up to me arresting another mayor, and then you can have that leg checked out. Take tomorrow off to rest up, then come in on Thursday morning to give your full statement. We'll take the time then to see about getting you reinstated."
Judy couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Are you sure, Chief? I did quit and handed in my badge."
"About that . . . You see, you never turned in a letter of resignation and there seemed to have been some trouble with your paperwork regarding your absence. But we'll discuss that all on Thursday. For now, Officer Hopps, I need to know what you've been up to, so I have something to work with when the media finds out another mayor is behind bars.
Judy then explained how, while still in Bunnyburrow, she discovered the clue to the Nighthowlers being toxic flowers and that the predators of Zootopia were being poisoned to make them go savage. This news made the cape buffalo's brows furrow and his ears to flick back in anger at the terrorism being played out in his city and on his watch.
As she described finding Weaselton again, and the lead he furnished that led them to Doug's underground lab, Nick chimed in and gave a few details of his own. Hearing about the 3 rams, Bogo immediately sent Wolford, Fangmeyer, Delgato, and Jonhsen down to the subways to apprehend them or track them down if they'd already run.
Seeing them leave, Bogo returned his attention to his smallest officer and the snarky fox who helped her. Hearing how the lab was then blown up did not please him, but hearing that Nick had saved some of the evidence did. Carefully taking the small, blue pellet from them (Judy had fished it out of the fox's shirt pocket without batting an eye), Bogo studied it a moment, then dropped it in one of the clear, plastic evidence bags he kept on his utility belt. Turning to Higgins, Bogo called the hippo over.
Handing him the bag, Bogo explained, "This is very important evidence. Take it to the lab and have them break it down. We need to know what's in it and have an antidote made as quickly as possible." Higgins saluted the chief, then turned and jogged towards his cruiser. Bogo watched him go, then turned back to Hopps and Wilde. "Anything else you need to tell me?"
"Yes," Judy replied as she handed over her carrot pen. "I have a recording of Bellwether's confession on here. She was the one having the predators darted. She was planning to use the fear it created to stay in power."
Bogo grunted. The sheep's tactics reminded him of the drug lords that were the scourge of the city and the analogy wasn't too far off as she was using a drug to enslave the city. With a heavy sigh, he said, "Well done, Hopps. Now take care of that leg and I'll see you Thursday morning at 10." He glanced briefly at the fox, wondering if he would be the one to help Hopps get back to the ZPD. He really wanted the fox to come in, too, but knew he couldn't order a civilian to come in against his will.
Nick realized what the chief wanted and gave him a wide, smug grin. "Don't worry, Chief, I'll make sure she gets there on time."
Bogo snorted, then dismissed them with a jerk of his head. As he watched the fox carry Hopps out to the paramedics waiting at the base of the stairs, he wondered again about their unlikely partnership. A bunny and a fox. What were the odds? Their differing strengths and experiences complimented one another and made them an extremely effective team—if them finding 15 missing mammals and bringing down 2 corrupt mayors was anything to go by. Perhaps the best he had ever seen.
He would probably regret it, but he wondered if he'd be able to recruit the annoying fox. With Hopps' overachieving attitude and her inability to know when to quit, or at least slow down, she would need a partner that could keep up with her and, heaven help them, curb some of her impulsive nature.
Bringing a hoof up and rubbing it down his face, Bogo could feel a headache coming on just thinking about having those two at the Precinct. Wilde might be able to rein in some of Hopps' impulsiveness, but who would rein in his snark? If he managed to convince Wilde to partner with Hopps, and the fox actually graduated within the top of his class, he could see a lot of migraines looming in his future.
Pushing thoughts of the two small, irritating mammals from his mind, he turned to the issue at hand—dealing with another arrested mayor, all the paperwork that involved, plus planning another press conference, and then dealing with the far-reaching effects of Bellwether's savage attacks. He rubbed his hoof down his face again. What a monumental headache.
While ignoring the stares of the officers still in the building (some curious, but most were hard or suspicious) Nick carried Judy to the ambulance that had been called. Walking down the wide, stone steps he noticed an impala EMT giving them a wary glance. Nick merely smirked at her as he tightened his grip on Judy, who glanced up at his tighter grip, then followed his gaze and saw the impala's suspicious looks.
With a heavy sigh, Judy relaxed further into Nick's strong embrace and rested her head on his warm chest. They may have cracked the Savage Mammal case, but there was still a lot of prejudice and bigotry in the city. At least she got her fox back. That's all that mattered right now.
As Nick deposited his friend on the large (for a bunny) gurney, he stepped back and watched the medics do their job. The red panda EMT didn't seem to mind Nick being there, but his partner, the impala whose nametag read Cindy, kept giving him furtive glances, especially after Nick snagged his bloody handkerchief back before she could trash it. After asking for a plastic bag to store it in, he put it in his back pocket.
As Cindy continued sneaking nervous glances at him that soon turned to outright glaring, Nick continued to flash his smug grin at her. Inwardly, though, he was feeling irritated as dark memories tried to surface. With great effort, he forced them back down and refused to acknowledge them. If the stupid impala was anything to go on, then things hadn't changed all that much from back then. Of course, the red panda's attitude was a vast improvement and gave him a flicker of hope that he would receive proper medical attention should he ever need it—provided Cindy wasn't the one pretending to give it to him.
With a soft huff, he stared at the specist paramedic. Did the doe really think the chief of police would leave Judy in his care if he was a danger to her? Really? Although her suspicious glances might be due to him being a predator who could go savage at any moment (they hadn't yet been told about Bellwether's plot to dart predators), Nick had a sneaky suspicion that her glances were largely the result of him being a fox. A sly, untrustworthy fox. Again, the dark memories from his past tried to surface, but he stamped them down. Now was not the time to be dwelling on the past.
With mask firmly in place, Nick hid the thoughts and emotions. Glaring at the bigoted doe and snarling did cross his mind, but he refrained. It wouldn't help anything, and it might take longer for them to get done with Judy. Waiting till the impala turned her back on him, he sighed. Pushing the irritation down, and making sure the memories were firmly locked away, he wondered what Judy's plans were now that the case was closed. A meal for starters, he hoped, and then there was the question of where she would be staying tonight. He had been surprised to hear she'd quit the force, but it did explain why he hadn't seen her on tv the last two weeks.
He had occasionally seen her on the news trying to break up a protest or some scuffle between predators and prey, but she disappeared from the news for a while. He was still hurting and feeling betrayed a month and a half after storming off, which was unusual for him since his thick emotional walls were there to prevent such pain. But when he hadn't seen or heard anything about her, he began to worry she'd been hurt, then felt bad for worrying about her, then got mad at himself for still thinking about her. But then his worries were lifted when she appeared on tv, trying to break up a protest against Gazelle's peace rally.
She appeared on the news a few more times over the next several weeks, but then disappeared again. It was about this time that his anger finally cooled down and then he just plain missed her. Having been given a glimpse of real happiness, and then to have it snatched away so violently—he was miserable without her. Just ask Finnick—he was still mad at Nick for all but giving up on hustling these past 3 months, choosing, instead, to mope around under his bridge. He finally did venture into the city, hoping to 'bump' into her, but no one had seen or heard from her in weeks. Not until she showed up at his bridge.
Shaking the memories away, he refocused his mind on the matter at hand—lodgings for the adorable ball of grey fluff. She probably didn't have an apartment anymore and returning to Bunnyburrow tonight was out of the question. He couldn't really take her back to the warehouse by the bridge he usually stayed at. Well, okay, he could, but it was a bachelor pad and he wanted something a little nicer and a little smaller where they could chill while resting before figuring out their more definitive plans for the future.
Scratching behind his ear, he thought of the other place he owned that could comfortably accommodate them both. He hadn't checked on the place last month like he normally did, and he knew it would be dusty, but the place was kept up and he made sure to pay the utilities each month, so that wouldn't be a problem. Hm, yep, that's where we'll stay the night—provided Judy, in fact, has no place to go.
Standing up from the police cruiser he'd been leaning against, Nick stepped closer to Judy as he watched the EMTs finish bandaging her leg. It was time to find out how bad the damage was and see where Judy planned on staying that night. With a wide, smug grin on his face he met her tired gaze.
WingedKatt here. I hope you enjoyed the chapter. I made a few changes if you've already read the story before. Nothing major, just fixed a little grammar and added a few extra thoughts. Next chapter, we'll see what the paramedics have to say about Judy's leg. Nick will also have some things to consider.
Disney, of course, owns Zootopia, but if you have any thoughts or questions, let me know.