[AN

Hey guys!

Sorry for the veeeeeeery long delay. I just went back to work the day following my post of the second chapter of "Containment"… Yeah I know, quite ironic isn't it?

Anyway between work that is messing with my brain (make up for the time lost with less people and less equipment? WTF?), several new games (yeah worse excuse ever….) and new stories I've been reading (ever read the Guardian Blue series by sarsis? If not, check them, they're so worth it!), I'm a bit lagging inspirationally speaking (is that even a word?).

Still, I'm not giving up! This chapter is a bit shorter, but at least it proves I'm not letting you guys down.

As always, hope you'll enjoy!

AN]


Nick didn't leave the archives for the rest of the day, reading reports and news articles by the dozens. The fact that the computer didn't work better than before wasn't helping of course.

His head was about to explode. Staring at the screen for so long could be tiring, but what really did exhaust him was his own paranoia growing, and the conclusions he had drawn and that refused to leave, even if he had absolutely no proof.

He had first focused on the black panther, Patricia Tyris. Her career had started like most cops, with nothing exceptional. She had worked several cases with senior officers who only had good things to say about her. Smart, driven, hardworking, a good rookie to be partnered with, though with a tendency to try and do all the work by herself. Not unlike somebunny I knew, Nick thought.

The only first negative review she got was her will to forget about the rules if it helped solve a case. It looked like she could prove a bit too aggressive with suspects, or wouldn't hesitate to blackmail criminals into ratting out their accomplices. A couple months after her partner reported her behavior to their chief, she made her first big drug bust.

When asked how she had found the lead, she had answered that sometimes, a small evil could prevent a much bigger one, and that she was ready to dirty her paws to clean the city. She never gave details, but all now were sure she had used her free time to get her lead, and with obviously questionable means.

After that, her career skyrocketed. Drugs, weapons, illegal fighting pits, she took every case she was given and cracked them with utmost efficiency. She even managed to bring down a ring of slave smugglers, who had been kidnapping homeless and selling them to crime lords as expendable mammalpower. The thing is, this wasn't an official case. She had done it on her free time, once again refusing to explain herself.

Years after years she had cleaned the streets, until she was contacted by the ZBI to work on the Red case. Her methods weren't looked down upon in the ZBI, as the cases they worked on used to be much more difficult to crack, and the consequences of failure much dire. She didn't have to be offered twice, as she left the ZPD without a look over her shoulder, always looking for bigger fishes to chase after.

Nick found very little details on her work for the ZBI, as most of her work would now be archived inside their database, which wasn't accessible from the outside. Maybe precinct chiefs could require temporary access sometimes, but Nick wasn't planning to ask anything to Bogo. What little he found was on cases involving both services, and were mainly focused on raids and massive field operations.

The more the fox read, the more he felt conflicted about her. Sure, he couldn't deny her efficiency at putting criminals behind bars and respected her will to track down even the most dangerous of them no matter the risks. Still, he was uneasy. His shady past had shaped his brain, making him nearly faultless at reading mammals and catching on little details that could turn out crucial, and though he couldn't put his finger on what, he felt deep inside his guts that something was off with her.

He tried to focus on this nagging sensation, but it avoided him each time he thought he was getting close. For nearly half an hour, he forced his brain to think, feeling both closer and further from getting his answers, until his vision blurred and turned to black for a few seconds under the tremendous effort of the day.

Sighing, he turned the screen off and closed his eyes. He needed a break. He remained there, listening to his heart beat in his chest, feeling the blood come and go inside his temples, letting the regular rhythm lullaby him into a more rested stance. When he opened his eyes after a moment, he was met with his reflection in the screen.

His normally bright emeralds were dull with tiredness and worry, one of them bared with red as a blood vessel had broken. His fur wasn't smooth anymore, tufts spreading up like sunflowers on his cheeks and the top of his skull. Noticing a black spot on his chin, he brushed it away with a paw, the smell of cold coffee reaching his nose, and making it twitch.

He looked like shit.

Worst of all to him was the anger he could see inside his own eyes. He knew he had been bottling it for months now, but he hadn't realized it was becoming visible. He felt a pang of shame at seeing himself in such a state, the image of a grey bunny with ears drooping and amethysts blurred with tears materializing in front of him.

He knew she wouldn't have wanted to witness his distress. She had made her best to make sure he would get a better life, one she felt he had deserved, and until her death she had succeeded. Now, he was back to his older self, cutting himself from others on any topic not related to work, letting his emotions run rampant under the surface.

His could see all of it in his reflections and it hurt him. This wasn't the face of a cop. This was the face of a lost soul.

The face of a criminal.

.

The thought made him jump on his chair and nearly lost his balance. The answer that eluded him since reading Patricia's bio was there, just in front of him, hiding in plain sight, so obvious that he had been completely blind to it.

The way the panther had solved cases others couldn't, with leads popping out of nowhere. The way she had been more efficient on her free time, far from prying eyes. Her refusal to explain her actions or reveal her tricks.

She and he were alike!

Her actions, her personality, her answers to probing, her loneliness amongst so many. Everything about her screamed his name, her career the exact mirror of his own so far, though it would be more accurate to say it was he who was following in her pawsteps.

Turning the screen back on, he opened a web browser and entered her name. He checked everything he could find, from old social media profiles to news articles. Then he read the part of her bio about her youth. And there it was. His answer.

Unlike him, nothing indicated any sort of shady activities whatsoever. No criminal record, no convicted relatives, nothing. Then how did she do it? How did she have access to the same underground network as him, if she wasn't a part of it herself?

To the fox, there was only one explanation. She had been receiving help, but not from fellow cops. And with the picture he had found and the frightened reaction of the chubby cheetah earlier, his list of potential suspects was narrowed down to one name and one only.

Red.

Cold sweat trickled down his back. It could be his paranoia again, but it just added up perfectly. Too perfectly. Picking up his notebook again, he turned the page to get a blank leaf and started writing, murmuring the words as he wrote them.

"New cop uses help from bandit lord to clean the streets. Boosts her career and helps him grow more powerful and increase his hold on the city. Makes it to the ZBI to work on the case of the very mammal who helped her get to that position. What then?"

The fox stopped there, the tip of the pen tapping repeatedly against his chin as he tried to clear his mind. According to Ben, all tips they received led nowhere. This was strange, as they had worked for her for years, and still worked for him now. This was worth noting.

"Might have voluntarily slowed the investigation. Warn Red or faked the tips. Threatened some CIs?"

He paused again. One tip proved correct, and the house of card crumbled from that point. Why? What could lead to this? Why didn't she prevent it from happening? After a dozen or so minutes thinking of all he had learnt until now, he came up with three hypothesis.

"Didn't have time to warn Red, for whatever reason. Did warn Red, but wasn't listened to. Did warn Red, was listened to, but something prevented him from acting on time."

He paused again, but his pen didn't leave the paper. This last sentence was calling to him. If she had indeed helped him so far, there was no reason for her to betray him, so the first option didn't seem plausible. Same for the second option, if she had been helpful for years and years Red had no reason to stop trusting her. It had to be an external event. Something both of them had no control over.

Nick's mind was racing. His talk with Benjamin had been a blessing, and the promise he made to the cheetah was all he needed. He wasn't doing it for him anymore. He had to crack the case, for his friend and all the others. He had mammals counting on him, and would not let them down. More focused as ever, ideas and ideas stormed his brain, each analyzed quickly and written down in short notes, even if to be forgotten less than ten seconds later.

Operation too big to be stopped. Plausible, smuggling weapons if Ben right. Unlikely, already changed several plans before, including shipments.

Someone, cop or ZBI agent, finding about her and interfering. Impossible, would be in jail since. Internal cover? Possible, but unlikely.

Argument between the two? Revenge for something Red had done? Abused her trust? Killed agents or friends? Possible.

Internal betrayal? Jealousy towards Red? Possible, but no rise in power after that, except for Big.

.

Big. As soon as the name was written down, Nick found a new explanation, one that eclipsed all previous ones. There was a factor that he had forgotten to take into consideration till now. His mother, and himself. According to his mother, he was four when his father left. He always had doubt as he didn't remember anything of his father, and by the age of four he should have.

But if he was a bit younger, only three maybe, it meant two years between Red's first mistake and his final departure. Two years to try and get in control of his empire again, in vain. It could be it. Nick was born and Red had to take care of him. This is what prevented him to defend himself correctly. His mind had been too busy and he couldn't control both his empire and his family life. And after Big's threat, everything collapsed.

It felt right. The whole story. Everything he had gathered so far, all his hypothesis, Ben's tale, all the pieces of the puzzle interlocked perfectly into one realistic story. He had no proof, but knew in his guts he was right. And that left him completely worn.

Now he had to understand why she had helped him in the first place, then why he was personally involved, what exactly was the plan that included him, what was the link with Irina, how Bogo did fit into this mess, how to tell Wolfard… He felt the headache build inside his skull and let out a long and tired sigh. Erasing all traces of his research again, he decided to call it a day. It was a bit early, but that wouldn't be the first time. Reaching the main lobby to clock out, he just nodded to the big cat behind the desk, and Ben answered with his typical wave.

Once home, Nick took a long hot shower to relax himself, before swallowing a quick microwaved dinner. As fatigue was weighing heavily on him, he flopped onto the bed. For the first time since the raid though, he fell asleep with a smile. A new thought had crossed his mind.

He had been the reason for Red's first downfall.

He would be the reason for his second and last.