WingedKatt here. For those of you following my main story, Zootopia: At the Beginning, this is a completely separate story. I will continue working on Z:AtB while working on this story, Zootopia: A Different Beginning, on the side. I'll be posting a chapter of this story (Z:ADB) every three weeks since I don't have a backlog of chapters and life has gotten quite busy. But I hope you enjoy this new story I started. It'll be shorter than my first story, but it will have a sequel.
Nick will be listening to 2 songs if you want to play them: Meet Me In The Woods by Lord Huron and Bigger Than Life by Pinkzebra.
Nick sat in his black 1970 Triumph TR6 convertible while speeding down the highway towards Bunnyburrow. He wasn't quite sure why he was speeding towards Bunnyburrow—his cynical side kept telling him it was a lost cause and he should just turn around and go back to Zootopia. He had actually considered it several times and almost turned back at one point, but it wasn't like he had anything to go back to. The savage attacks were becoming more frequent with each passing day and a lot of predators had already moved out—what with the severe prejudice, loss of employment, and losing their homes. In a nutshell, Zootopia had become a very terrible place to live—especially if you were a predator.
So here he was, heading to Bunnyburrow—not to seek employment or a place to live—but to find closure. Closure from what had quickly become one of the worst days of his life. After finally finding someone he thought believed in him, she went and—! Nick gripped the steering wheel tightly. He still found it hard to believe what Judy had said about predators. That their biology predisposed them to go savage. What a load of crock, he thought with a snort.
He knew she was intelligent, and she didn't outwardly act specist—it was more of little thoughtless things she said or did—and yet she would say such garbage and actually believe it! It was too much! Once again, he thought of turning around and heading back to the city, but there was no place in Zootopia for a fox anymore. Even Finnick had split, claiming he had a sister living outside the city he was going to visit.
And so, he didn't turn around but continued on towards the sticks where one of his few real friends (maybe) lived. He knew he'd never be able to move on until he at least talked to her, to find out why she said what she said and why she acted the way she acted.
Gripping the steering wheel tightly again while remembering her fearful reaction to him, he muttered in a heated voice, "Why did she tell the media we were friends if she didn't trust me!? If she's afraid of me? It doesn't make any sense! She doesn't make any sense!"
Smacking the steering wheel with one paw, he then ran it through his head fur in frustration. He wasn't sure they could mend their broken relationship even if she did explain herself, but he had to do something. He couldn't get her out of his head, and it was driving him crazy. As Finnick had put it, "That rabbit cop is making you loco, Nick!" It was actually Finn's suggestion he find and talk to Judy, so he could finally put the "bunny demon" to rest and move on with his life.
Nick wasn't sure his friend's advice would amount to anything (would Judy even see him after all this time? It had been four months since he'd last seen her), but he had to at least try.
Flipping through the radio channels until he found a station to his liking (Meet Me in the Woods by Lord Huron was playing), he then drove another hour before hitting a dead zone and lost radio signal. Pulling out his phone, he opened his music app and played one of his playlists with Larger Than Life by Pinkzebra playing first. Nodding his head to the beat of the music, Nick continued down the endless stretch of road that was lined by massive pines and towering oaks and a bunch of other trees he didn't know the names to.
After another hour and a half of driving through what appeared to be an endless forest, the trees finally gave way to fields of wheat, corn, carrots, alfalfa, sunflowers, and then rows and rows of the smaller vegetables: tomatoes, lettuce, peas, green beans, pumpkins, squash, a myriad of other vegetables, and yes, there were rows and rows of carrots.
He couldn't believe how many miles and miles of fields he drove passed before the town of Bunnyburrow came into view. He thought it would be a tiny town that if you blinked, you'd miss it, but that wasn't the case. Although it didn't have any high-rises or tons of businesses lining a maze of streets, there was a large hospital in the distance, as well as five different schools (very large, sprawling schools), several large fields for different sports (football, soccer, baseball, track), several large hardware stores, a couple of large clothing stores, and a smattering of small, local businesses. Furthermore, everything was in bright oranges, pinks, and yellows, with cartoonish rabbits and carrots covering just about everything. It almost looked like they were decorating for a carnival or something—or a circus. With a snort, Nick thought, The circus probably never comes to town because the town is a circus.
And, of course, there were the rabbits—everywhere he looked (he was coming down off a little knoll when he saw the town) there were rabbits. And next to them, there were sheep—the second largest group of mammals he could see here in Bunnyburrow. There were others that he could make out at this distance—several deer, a family of warthogs, a couple of mountain lions, a bobcat, and even a pack of wolves and several coyotes, along with some other smaller mammals that clearly weren't rabbits, but he couldn't make them out through the throng of bunnies—he would need to get closer to discern what they were. And although the town sprawled across many acres, if you took away the hospital, schools, and sports fields, the town itself wasn't actually that big. There were only 2 main streets with only a few side streets. The various shops and stores had an old-country-time feel to them that made him feel like he was driving back in time several decades.
While watching the town grow bigger as he drove nearer, Nick thought: So, this is where Carrots grew up. No wonder her thinking is so backwards and specist. He seriously doubted her school curriculum had an accurate portrayal of how predators were in their historic past, nor how they evolved out of their killing instincts. And absolutely nothing about how violent the medium and larger prey species could become—especially during rutting season. With a shake of his head, he drove onward as he continued studying the sprawling town.
With the sun high in the sky while a few fluffy clouds drifted by, Nick finally crossed the train tracks and entered Bunnyburrow's town proper at about 2 in the afternoon. He needed to find a place to eat and a hotel where he could sleep. He didn't know how long it would take to find Judy (trying to find a particular bunny here would be like trying to find a particular needle that had been thrown in a pile of other needles), so he was prepared to bunker down for an extended stay—provided the locals didn't chase him out of town for being a fox.
Driving up and stopping at one of the few traffic lights (it had just turned red), Nick gazed out over the many small, helpless (or so they claimed) prey going about their daily tasks. There were several predators walking among them who hardly gave the much smaller mammals a glance.
"Well, will you look at that," Nick murmured. "All those weak, defenseless prey surrounded by big scary predators and not one of them has gone savage and attacked their 'natural' food source. . . Imagine that." Shaking his head and tutting for a moment, the light turned green and Nick pressed down lightly on the gas pedal.
It was obvious to him (and several other mammals) that predators were somehow being drugged. He didn't know how or by what, but if the only place in the country where predators were going savage was Zootopia, then it stood to reason some kind of chemical or poison was being released into the air, or dumped in the water supply, or somehow mixed into their food. Something was making the predators go savage, and how it didn't also affect prey, Nick didn't know. All he knew was that the predators going savage wasn't natural.
Pulling up and parking in one of the public parking lots, Nick put the top back up on his convertible and stepped out before locking the doors. Walking down the sidewalk to a diner he'd seen, Nick took notice of the rabbits and prairie dogs (that was the other small prey species he'd seen from the hill, along with several gophers) step aside to avoid him, though they weren't the quivering mess of nerves he expected from the small timid creatures. They gave him room but didn't cross the street to avoid him. This gave him a little bit of hope that he wouldn't be chased out of town—at least not right away.
Stopping in front of the diner, Nick raised his eyebrow as he read the name of the place: Grandma Hopps' Down Home Cookin. Grandma Hopps? Nick wondered if the owner (or at least the one who started the diner) was Judy's grandma. His thoughts were interrupted as the door opened and a small group of prairie dog stepped out. Nick quickly took a step back to avoid being bumped into or run over.
The prairie dogs were startled to see a large fox standing in front of them, and the first one nearly jumped out of his skin. "Watch it, fox," the light-brown, chubby mammal warned.
Nick flicked his ear, saying, "I could say the same thing about you, dog."
"It's prairie dog," the small, tan mammal stated hotly.
"Meh," Nick replied with a dismissive shrug of his shoulders. The prairie dog's friend opened his mouth to add his two cents' worth in, but Nick simply walked around them and caught the closing door. Glancing around to make sure there was no sign prohibiting predators, he then walked in, leaving the prairie dogs fuming on the sidewalk behind him.
Nick figured he probably shouldn't antagonize the locals, at least not before he found Judy, but after their fight back at the conference and the load of crap she'd spouted off, he no longer cared. Even when he was being nice and helpful, everyone still just saw him as a crook—so why bother being nice?
Stepping further into the diner, Nick smiled at the rabbit receptionist and said, "Table for one."
The rabbit doe forced her mouth to curve up into a semblance of a smile, then hollered, "Hey, Saline, we have a customer."
Nick looked to his left as a pretty, young roe deer waitress walked over with these deep amber eyes. With a bright smile, the doe said, "Hi, I'm Saline, is it just you?" At Nick's nod, she motioned with her hoof and said, "Right this way."
While following the waitress in her pastel pink and white outfit, Nick was pleasantly surprised that the small deer didn't seem to have any problems with serving a fox. As he sat down at the wooden table and took the menu she offered him, he was further surprised when she stood and chatted with him.
"We don't see many foxes around these parts, least not ones who weren't raised here. Are you just passin through or are ya stayin for a while?"
Nick shook his head. "Not sure how long I'm staying, but I'm looking for a friend that lives here in Bunnyburrow."
"Oh, would that be Gideon Grey?"
Nick tilted his head. "Gideon Grey?"
"Oh, yeah, he's the only red fox around these parts. Him and his family live down in the holler, but Gideon owns a bakery just down the street there." Saline pointed off in the direction of the bakery, then turned back to Nick, saying, "You have to taste his pastries." She kissed her hoof and said, "He's the best pastry chef in the tri-burrows. Oh, and now that he's partnered with the Hopps and using their fruit, his pies and muffins are to die for."
Nick's ears immediately perked up. "Pies? The Hopps grow more than carrots?"
Saline giggled and lightly smacked him on the shoulder. "Of course, silly. They grow all sorts of stuff. Their apples, peaches, and blueberries sell like hot cakes."
"Blueberries? They grow blueberries?" Nick pressed excitedly. Saline simply nodded, and he continued, "They grow blueberries and Gideon bakes them into pies?"
"Oh yeah, his blueberry pies are one of his best sellers. You should try one."
Nick grinned widely as his tail began thumping excitedly. "I think I will."
Saline grinned back and then asked, "So do ya know what ya want to order yet?"
Nick glanced down and quickly perused the predator section, then answered, "I'll have the chicken and dumplings with a side of green bean casserole."
Saline nodded and asked, "And what will you drink?"
Nick flipped to the back where the drinks were and grinned. "I'll take the berry lemonade." The picture showed a load of blueberries mixed in with some blackberries and raspberries.
"I'll be right out with that."
Handing the doe the menu, Nick said, "Thank you," then sat back and waited for his food.
After Saline flashed him another brilliant smile before disappearing into the kitchen, Nick had time to think. It was interesting to hear about Gideon. In a town named for the large number of bunnies that lived here, Nick didn't expect to find any foxes living here, or rather, allowed to live here. The fact there was a family living here gave him a little more hope of meeting with Judy before being run out of town. It meant the town was a little more open to foxes then he originally thought. But then again, if Judy knew Gideon and his family but still thought she needed fox repellant, maybe Gideon and his family was just as ostracized as he was back in Zootopia. Maybe more so, seeing how there were so few of them.
Then again, if Gideon was being ostracized, how could he have a thriving bakery? Wouldn't the rabbits, prairie dogs, and sheep boycott him for being a fox? And how did Judy's reaction to him relate to any of this? She most likely knew Gideon before she came to Zootopia, her parents were business partners with him, after all, so why—why—did she feel the need to carry fox repellant? Even after he proved—he proved to her—that she didn't need to fear him. It frustrated and angered him to no end to think about that day. And yet he knew he'd never be able to move on if he didn't confront it (and her) head on. He'd tried running from it, he tried ignoring it, he even tried drowning himself at the bottom of a bottle—stupidest thing he'd tried so far (he'd woken up with the mother of all headaches, a bloody nose, a black eye, empty pockets and absolutely no memory of where he was, how he got there, or what had happened)—but nothing worked, nothing helped. He could not get Judy out of his head.
And it wasn't just her horrid speech and fearful reaction to him—it was everything about Judy. The way she smiled, the way she laughed, the sound of her voice, the way her eyes lit up when she was happy or excited, the way she looked at him with acceptance and appreciation, the way her paw felt on his arm . . . Once they started actually working together (and he stopped wasting her time), he found that everything about her drew him in and made him want to get closer to her, to learn more about her. At least, it did until that stupid press conference happened.
With an inaudible growl, Nick rubbed the heels of his palms across his closed eyes, then raked his claws through his fur on his head and back behind his ears. Nothing she did during or after the press conference made any sense to him.
"Well, that's a mighty serious expression ya got there," Saline said as she placed Nick's lemonade on the table. "Is something botherin ya?"
Her words startled Nick, and he quickly dropped his paws and looked up. "Oh, sorry," he muttered. "The last few months have been pretty hard." With a sigh, he explained, "A friend of mine said and did some things that I find very confusing. They hurt a lot and I can't understand why she did them."
Saline's expression took on a look of compassion and empathy (which Nick found strange, but oddly comforting), then she said, "That's pretty tough." At the todd's nod, she added, "Is that who you're lookin for?"
Nick nodded again, then explained, "I'm not sure we can mend our relationship, but I'd like to at least try."
Saline nodded in understanding, then asked, "So what's her name? Maybe I can help ya find her."
Nick took a deep breath. He wasn't sure he should be blabbing that he was friends with Judy, not in her home town as he didn't know how the locals would take her being friends with a city fox, but Saline had a cheerful, open personality and didn't seemed bothered at all to be serving or talking to a predator, much less a fox (which was a far cry from the receptionist who couldn't hide her fearfully twitching nose), so he figured she'd be his best bet at getting some answers.
"Judy. Judy Hopps."
Saline's eyes grew big as saucers and she brought a hoof up to cover her mouth. "Yer friend is Judy Hopps?"
Nick flicked his ear. "That's what I said."
With her hoof still covering her mouth, she stated excitedly, "Ya are from the city, then!"
"Absolutely, 100 percent," Nick said sagely with a slight nod.
Saline giggled again and pushed his shoulder. "Oh, come on. When ya said ya were lookin for your friend, I was sure you'd come in from one of the other towns." Nick tilted his head slightly in question, and Saline explained, "Elk Meadows has several fox families livin there, as does Three Rivers and Deer Hollow. And then if ya go up to Badger Grove, I've heard there are several fox species livin there."
Nick's ears perked forward. He'd hardly ever left Zootopia before, just short runs here and there, most being short day trips, so he was pleasantly surprised to hear of these fox populations outside the city. Thinking of his diminutive friend, he idly wondered if Finnick's sister lived in one of them.
Scratching his neck while thinking of his future, maybe it was time to make a permanent break from Zootopia. If he couldn't make amends with Judy, maybe he should head out to Badger Grove. It seemed to be a predominately predator town with lots of foxes, so he should have a better reception there (and maybe even find himself a real job).
Turning his attention back to Saline, he said, "I haven't been to any of them, but once I'm done here in Bunnyburrow, I might just check them out."
Saline grinned at him, and then said, "So ya want to meet with Judy?"
Nick nodded. "If you can tell me where she lives, I'll head over there after my meal."
Saline's large ears immediately drooped. "Um, I'm not sure that would be such a good idea."
Nick's own ears folded back a bit. "Oh? And why is that?"
Saline wrapped one arm around her waist and covered her mouth again with the hoof of her other arm. "Well, ya see, the Hopps clan are a bit . . . cautious . . . round strange predators and don't take kindly to uninvited . . . guests."
"Oh," Nick murmured. This would explain some of Judy's subtle paranoia around foxes. Forcing his ears back up, he asked, "So how do I get a hold of her?"
"Well," Saline said while fidgeting with her apron strings, "she used to come to town several times a week, but since comin back from the big city, we hardly ever see her. And when she does come in, it's always with her siblings." Leaning down, she whispered, "I think they drag her here to get her out of the burrow." Standing back up, she continued, "Judy's a bit spacey now, too. Half the time, she's just starin off into space, lost in thought, and not really followin the conversation. If ya can grab her attention, she'll smile and maybe even laugh, but it's real obvious her heart ain't in it."
Nick's ears disappeared behind his head this time. "Okay, now I feel really bad."
"Oh?" Saline asked curiously.
"Yeah, I probably should have made this trip several weeks ago when I was first thinking about it."
Nodding, Saline said, "Yeah, that might've helped. I heard some of her siblings saying Judy feels like she broke the city, that she's the cause of all the unrest." With drooping ears, Saline leaned over again to whisper, "I heard them say she quit her job over it."
Nick's ears pricked forward. He'd heard Judy had gone back home over a month ago, but he was sure Bogo had concocted some lamebrain reason to fire her. He couldn't forget how the egotistical bull had set Judy up for failure 4 months ago, giving her 2 days to crack a case they couldn't solve in 2 weeks. "She quit her job?" Nick repeated. He knew how hard she worked to become a cop, so hearing she voluntarily quit stunned him.
Saline nodded. "Apparently the mayor wanted to make her the poster child of the ZPD, saying Judy was a hero, but she refused and handed in her badge. She was back home that afternoon."
It took Nick several heartbeats to respond to this news. He knew Judy never looked very happy when he saw her on the news while trying to break up fights between protestors, but he never considered that she might be regretting her words at the press conference—or that she'd quit her job over it.
"Saline," the receptionist called from the front of the diner, "we have other customers."
The irritation in the doe's voice was obvious and Saline's ears disappeared behind her head. "Oh, right, I'll talk to you later." With slight bow, the doe twisted around on her hooves and started making her rounds—refilling drinks and making sure all the meals were satisfactory.
Nick watched her go, then grabbed his own drink and took a sip. With ears perking up, he took a big gulp. The berry lemonade was really good. Taking another drink, he then set the glass down and leaned back in the booth. After a moment, he wiped a paw down his face then stared up at the ceiling.
He thought he understood Judy (he had her pegged the moment he saw her—a naïve hick with big dreams), and yet the otter chase 4 months ago showed him how wrong he was. Working with her showed him a side of her he didn't expect to find. And up until the press conference, he thought he'd come to truly know her, but then the press conference destroyed his initial opinion of her and replaced it with a darker, tainted image of the rabbit he'd come to see as a friend. Her words and actions had essentially ripped the city apart, but now, hearing more about her, Nick realized he really didn't know her at all.
With his head resting on the back of the booth, Nick remained lost in thought until his food arrived.
As Saline set his chicken and dumplings down, she said quietly, "If ya want to meet Judy, I'd talk to Gideon. He delivers pies to their roadside booth every mornin. If Judy ain't there, then maybe Gid can introduce ya to her family and at least give ya a chance to get a message to her."
"Thank you," Nick replied.
Saline nodded, then picked up her serving tray and returned to the kitchen to get the next order.
While smelling the steaming dish, Nick pushed the disturbing thoughts of Judy aside and dug into the chicken and dumplings. It had been a long time since he'd tasted anything so mouth-wateringly good. You just couldn't find this down-home cooking back in Zootopia. He was enjoying it so much, that it was gone before he knew it. Licking the last of the soup from the bowl, Nick froze with his tongue inside the dish as he heard some snickering in a booth catty-corner from him.
Realizing what he was doing, he quickly pulled his tongue back in his mouth and set the bowl down. With a slight cough, he picked up his napkin and wiped his chops, then turned to his green-bean casserole. It tasted just as good, but he retained his manners this time and refused to lick the dish (no matter how much his taste buds demanded it).
After finishing off his berry lemonade, he pulled out his wallet and left a sizable tip, then picked up his check and took it to the reception desk to pay for his meal. The bunny (whose nametag read Robin) kept her forced smile pasted on her face but couldn't hide the unease or distrust in her brown eyes. Taking the receipt after paying, Nick took his time walking the short distance to the door—just to spite her. He didn't cause any trouble while in the diner and had paid for his meal and yet she was still acting like he was a crook. It really rubbed his fur the wrong way.
WingedKatt here again. So Nick has made it to Bunnyburrow, but what is he to do now when her family isn't very welcoming to predators? Next chapter, Nick will meet the one mammal that might be able to help him, along with some heaven-sent blueberry pie.
Chapter 2: Sins of the Past, will post on March 5. Enjoy. If you have comments, I'd love to hear them.
Disney owns Zootopia and all its original characters. I only own the other characters I created myself.