Disclaimer- I don't own Zootopia, or any of the characters appearing in this story. Please don't sue me (can't say this enough).

I would love to see what you guys think of the story so far in the reviews!

Authors Note- When I first started this story, I had no idea how many of you guys would support it. Over 300 favorites, 500+ followers and almost 36,000 views. Just... wow. Thank you all so much, especially my editor and pre-readers. I couldn't do this without you guys. Masks has a long story ahead of it, and I can't wait to show it to you. Now sit back, relax and enjoy Chapter Nine!

Chapter 9

Never let them see that they get to you.

Nine simple words. Nine words forged not of joy, but of survival. Nine words that masked years worth of pain, fear, and anger.

Nick had learned a long time ago that life wasn't fair; it wasn't supposed to be fair. Life didn't care about feelings, love, or pain. Life only cared about one thing: survival.

For years, he had lived by that nine-word motto. To shove everything bad inside, and lock it away. To show that sly grin to everyone he met, no matter how fake it may have been. And it worked; he survived everything life had thrown at him. He may have been battered, bruised and beaten, but he survived.

But while life may have only cared about one thing; life wasn't evil. Life, in its complex simplicity, was funny.

Sometimes, life just drops someone into your life that changes everything.

Mammals deal with stress in different ways. Some cry, some drink, and some even turn to other less… conventional means.

But Nick? No, he was part of a unique group: a group that defied the rules and expectations of others.

Nick laughed.

Laughter is special. Laughter is whatever you want it to be. It can be medicine, or it can be poison. A well-timed snicker can shatter the self-esteem of someone, while a roaring belly laugh can act as an elixir of confidence.

But laughter doesn't solve a problem. No, laughter simply hides it. And while he may have snickered as he walked away from the cafe, dragged by Judy on a journey into the unknown, the wolf's words had struck a nerve. A nerve he had been trying to hide for years.

However, it wasn't her words that were bothering him the most. No, the aspect that was distracting him from the bouncing bunny next to him was his response. Or rather, lack of a response.

Normally, Nick would have torn the wolf apart. Not physically, but emotionally. It would've been easy to do. A couple of well-placed words lined with poison would have left her standing there, muzzle hanging open in shock.

But when the opportunity arose, he couldn't pull the trigger. Something stopped him. Instead of laying into the wolf, he simply laughed in her face as he walked away. To the other mammals in the cafe, he must have looked insane. However, there was a silver lining. The look of utter confusion on the wolf's face as he passed her snickering was unforgettable.

Despite the bouncing bunny next to him, his mind couldn't stop replaying the events from the cafe. One single thought repeated over and over:

Why didn't I say anything?

Forget about it Nick, the voice answered back. And yet again, annoyingly, it was right. Giving that specist his time was exactly what he didn't want to be doing. But yet here he was, unable to clear them from his mind.

Yeah, because obsessing over a specist is exactly what I want to be doing with my life, Nick snapped back.

He could practically see the voice smirk back. Maybe you should be, oh I don't know, be obsessing over your date? You know we're on a date, right?

Yeah, I know I'm on a date. I'm not senile yet, Nick responded, the urge to punch the voice rising by the second.

Then you should look down and enjoy the view. You'll have plenty of time to rethink how you would have mentally destroyed that wolf.

Sure enough, the sight of Judy grinning as she practically dragged the fox though Savannah Central erased any thought of the wolf from his mind. That bounce in her step, the grin on her face combined with the gentle, yet firm grip on his arm that told him everything was alright.

Nick felt a smile bloom into existence, matching Judy's own. And that fire burning in his chest burned a little brighter.

Harmony Park sat directly across from Harmony Bay, the main body of crystal clear water separating Zootopia from the suburbs. The park, while small in comparison to the large tracts of land in the Meadowlands, Rainforest, and even Tundratown, was regarded as a must see location by any sane tourism guide. And for good reason.

Nicknamed the 'hidden gem' of the city, Harmony Park allowed a mammal a virtually unblocked view of Harmony Bay, and the rolling hills beyond. Tucked in between various government buildings, mammals of all classes and backgrounds visited the manicured grounds. Celebrities to janitors walked the grounds, relaxing to the gentle calls of various birds

Despite working mere miles away from the park, Judy had never actually visited the area. There was always some excuse. She was either too busy, or too tired, or just not in the mood. But today, that was going to change. She was going to do the full tourist experience, walk and all, but not by herself.

"So this is your 'mysterious' last spot of the day huh? I gotta hand it to you Carrots, this is a nice idea," Nick whispered as the pair approached the grounds, Judy still gripping his arm.

"I thought you'd like it. I've never been down here before, so I figured it would make a nice first time to go with you," Judy said, the sheepish smile making a return.

"To go with me? Well I'm honored Carrots," Nick answered, drawing an eye roll from her.

"Come on you," Judy responded, once again dragging him towards the wooded area.

"What? I'm actually honored," Nick repeated, leaning in towards her tall ears."It's a rare thing you know," he said with a wink.

"Oh, is it?"

"It is," he said. Shaking her head, the pair entered the wooded area. The park was shaded from the sun by a large canopy of oak trees. Under the cover, mammals of all types ran, walked, or sat, enjoying the sounds of nature. As they approached the main trail, Nick stopped and looked down at the bunny.

Did I do something wrong? Why did he stop all of a sudden? Judy thought to herself in a sudden panic. Her heart beat, already beating way above normal, thundered in her chest.

Don't go crazy bunny. Probably just wants to ask you something, the voice of reason responded. You know, what normal mammals do on dates?

I don't need your sass.

"You know, if you want to hold my paw, you can," Nick said, tugging at the collar with his free arm.

"Oh," she said, her ears folding back behind her head. A nervous excitement burst inside of her chest as she made eye contact with him to make sure he wasn't pulling a prank on her, no matter how unlikely that was.

Sure enough, besides the usual smirk, his expression conveyed a message of absolute honesty. She had been hoping to slowly tease into holding his paw, maybe even making a joke once he realized it. But from the genuine smile on his face, it wasn't going to happen that way. "I didn't know if you were-" Nick raised his left arm, cutting off her stuttered speech.

"Hopps, we're on a date, and we're both adults," he said, a teasing tone to his voice. He stretched his right arm forward, inviting her to grasp it. "You can hold my paw."

Almost instantaneously, Judy's arm lept forward, her paw attaching to Nick's own. She squeezed it twice, making sure it wasn't some kind of illusion. Sure enough, the paw, in fact, was real, and she was now holding it. It may not have been an important display to some, but for her, it caused another flurry of butterflies to form in her chest. She could feel his heartbeat, while faint, thundering beneath his skin.

"See?" Nick said, looking down at her with that grin of his; as if he found the entire situation incredibly funny. "Now was that so hard was it? Also, try not to squeeze my paw so tight," he stated as they began to walk down the wooded trail again.

"Why? Are you ticklish?"

"Because I don't want to stab you," he stated bluntly. It took Judy a second to realize what he was saying.

Nick is a fox. Fox's have claws. If Nick is a fox, then Nick has claws.

"Claws, remember?" He repeated. Raising his free arm, he extended the usually hidden daggers. "Scary fox claws?"

"Oh," Judy whispered. How she had forgotten that Nick had claws was beyond her. "Yeah, that would ruin the mood."

"That's putting it lightly," he said with a smile. That smile morphed into a devilish grin as he leaned in closer, his tone dropping to a whisper. "I mean, it could also spice it up a bit."

"Spice it up?"

"Hey, you're a weird bunny," he chuckled. "I don't know what you're into."

"Not scary fox claws," she groaned in response, her cheeks a crimson shade of red.

"Noted," he said smugly, clearly enjoying the nervous expression on her face. I'll you back for that one Wilde, she thought to herself as they passed a herd of tourist deer, paws still locked together.

Despite being almost four hours into their date, she could still catch whiffs of whatever cologne he was wearing. A sweet, yet somehow spicy aroma that fit his sly aesthetic. She almost wanted to ask what it was, but as the pair walked through the park, an enjoyable silence fell over the pair.

The view was incredible. The rolling green hills were cast against the crystal clear blue water of the bay, the water acting almost like a mirror. As the ZTA train from Bunnyburrow sped across the bridge, a sense of nostalgia washed over her.

Her life had changed so much in the past two years since she first arrived on that train. She had gone from a wannabe cop to hero cop, saved the city in the process, and befriended the last type of mammal she would have considered two years ago: a fox.

The same mammal she was currently on a date with, and holding paws with. Just because life changed didn't mean it changed for the bad. And if the fluttery feeling in her chest told her anything, bad wasn't even an option right now.

"Hey Carrots," Nick said, bringing her back to reality. "I'm gonna sit down for a bit," he said, his free hand pointing towards a nearby bench.

"You're not tired are you? You're not that old Nick," she teased, drawing an eye roll from the fox.

"Well I'm sorry I don't have the same youthful energy as you," he responded sarcastically. Shaking her head in amusement, she followed him to the wooden bench. Letting go of his paw, she hopped up onto the bench as Nick sat next to her.

Neither spoke, instead they both stared out at towards the bay. Sneakily, Judy moved her paw towards Nick, who was still staring out at the bay. Before she could grasp it, Nick turned around, that stupid grin spread across his face.

"Trying to be a sly bunny?" He said as he grasped her paw. "Carrots, you're an adult. Like I said, you can hold my paw."

She gave him a pouty expression, getting the usual snicker in response. "Oh, I almost forgot! Hold still for a second," she called out as she pulled out her phone. Switching the camera to the front mode, she straightened her back, pushing her face next to Nick's own.

Nick stared deadpan at the camera, refusing to give even a hint of a smile. He couldn't hold it for long, and soon burst into a light chuckle. "Come you dumb fox, smile," she said through gritted teeth.

Nick obliged, that infamous grin making a special appearance. A small click was heard as Judy took the picture. "Lemme see," Nick said, making a grab for the phone, only for Judy to yank it away.

"Here we go," she said, opening the phone's gallery. Their grinning faces soon filled the screen, a memento from a day each of them would never forget.

Nick nodded, apparently finding the picture satisfactory. Judy put the phone back into her pocket, debating what to do with her prized possession. But that could wait until after the day was done.

A peaceful, pleasant silence fell on them again as she leaned into him, her body resting against his chest. Her eyes closed in bliss, her mind savoring every second. Minutes passed without either of them saying anything, the silence a deafening comfort to the busy city behind them.

"Carrots," Nick whispered, drawing her out of the semi-comatose state. "You're kinda drooling on me."

Judy shot up in horror, wiping her mouth in the process. Sure enough, a small stain was visible on his navy blue shirt.

"Oh crap," she panicked, her foot thumping against the bench. "I'm sorry Nick, I've just been-"

"You're fine," Nick said with a laugh. His eyes twinkled in the sunlight. "Besides, you looked adorable," he followed up with a wink.

"You sure? I can try and wip-"

"Carrots, chill. I have a washer for a reason," Nick replied, pushing her arms away from his chest. Her face still conveyed a panicked expression, causing Nick to chuckle quietly. "Seriously, it's not a big deal."

"Alright," she said, still not believing it herself. Her cheeks were crimson from embarrassment, her ears poking straight up towards the sky. "Was I asleep?"

"Kinda," Nick replied, shrugging his shoulders. "You looked peaceful, so I didn't want to wake you up."

"How thoughtful of you," she replied, the embarrassed flush of her cheeks refusing to leave. She leaned into Nick again, promising herself to not drool all over him again. She was never going to hear the last of this.

The silence fell over them again. That sweet, deafening silence, only broken by the calls of birds the occasional gust of wind. Neither knew how much time passed, and neither cared. Afterall, it's the little things that make life worth living. All you have to do is look for them.

Night had fallen as Nick and Judy stepped out of the ZTA train, the bunny still clutching his paw as they walked down the stairs towards the street below. Streetlight illuminated the vacant street, casting shadows against the rows of apartment buildings.

"Damn Carrots, this place looks super sketchy," Nick joked. That grin was still spread across his face; a grin Judy was starting to love every time she saw it. "You sure a little bunny like you will be ok?"

"Hardy-har. Keep walking Nick," she responded.

Nick had insisted on walking her home, and Judy was only happy to oblige. She had picked him up, so it was only fair for him to repay the favor. Besides, she was going to use every excuse she could to stretch this day out as long as she could.

Despite everything that could have gone wrong, and almost went wrong, the date ended up being everything she wanted and more. She had loved it, and judging from the grin on Nick's face, he had loved it too.

But, all good things must come to an end.

"Where's your place?" Nick asked, a yawn escaping from his muzzle. Despite both being filled an excited energy, both were tired from the long day.

"Up here on the left," she said, stifling a yawn of her own. "Grand Pangolin Arms, can't miss it."

"A named place?" Nick turned and looked at her. "Look at you, all fancy with your named apartment."

"Nothing about this place is fancy," Judy joked, laughing at Nick's disgruntled expression. "I have a closet for a room."

"A closet?" Nick laughed, and Judy felt those pesky butterflies take flight again. She couldn't stop a smile from breaking out on her face.

"Seriously, I'll send you a picture," she said grinning.

"Only if I get the creepshot with it."

"I told you, my creepshot," she said, rolling her eyes for the umpteenth time today.

"Do I need a warrant? Cause I'll get a warrant," Nick said sternly, drawing another short laugh from her.

"I would like to see you try," she teased back.

"Is that a challenge?"

"It's whatever you want it to be big guy," she joked, winking at the fox.

Nick laughed again in that sly, confident tone, but didn't respond to her comment. A silence fell over the pair as they approached Judy's building. Judy gripped Nick's paw tighter as her dull building came into view. The day at long last was drawing to an end. And from the expression's on both their faces, both didn't want it to end.

You want to invite him inside? A voice called out from inside her mind.

Judy felt her mind stop at this sudden revelation. Inside?

Uh, yeah? Inside, like, where we kinda live? You said you don't want this day to end… so why does it have too?

The voice had a point; a damn good point. Why did this day have to end? Besides, it would only be a matter of time before they visited each other's respective apartments if today was anything to judge by.

But it wasn't that simple. Taking a fox to coffee was one thing, and even drooling on said fox was another thing. But inviting Nick inside? That was a major step; a step that despite her heart pleading for her to do, she wasn't ready for.

Today had been amazing, but both of them were tired, and her room was kind of a disaster. Dirty clothes were scattered everywhere, and the random takeout boxes strewed about wasn't going to make the best first impression. Even if Nick didn't care, and she doubted he would, it mattered to her. For that night, she wanted it to be as perfect as possible.

And tonight just wasn't that night.

"Well… here we are!" Judy said as they stopped in front of her building's steps. She had begun to stroke her ear again, a visible sign of the nervousness spreading across her whole body.

"I guess we are," Nick said as he pulled at his collar once again. Neither spoke, both wanting the other to initiate the 'final' conversation.

"Nick, that was a blast," Judy finally said, trying to ignore the thundering of her foot. "We need to do that again sometime!"

"Agreed, thanks for taking me," Nick responded, the apprehension vanishing from his face. Instead of continuing, he seemed to be concentrating on something with a noticeable amount of effort, like he was deciding the fate of the world or something. His eyes stared into her own as he found the words. "Hey, Judy..."


"I have a surprise for you," he said, eyes twinkling mischievously.

A surprise? What do you mean a surprise? Did he buy something for me cause I didn't see him buy anything for me and I didn't buy anything for him-

"Gimme a second to fish it out," he said, breaking her mental argument. Reaching into his pocket, Judy found herself staring intently at his paw, trying to figure out what the surprise was.

So intently, in fact, she failed to notice him lean down, and kiss her right on the forehead.

Time stopped as her mind struggled to realize what was happening. Nick was kissing her. Nick; her partner, her date, her fox, was kissing her. Her heart fluttered as her nose twitched uncontrollably.

And just like that, he wasn't. As he pulled away, she could see his grin stretching from ear to ear. Her mouth hung open slightly, words unable to form.

"Night Hopps," Nick whispered as he turned around and walked away, leaving her standing in the middle of the sidewalk alone.

The perfect end to the perfect night.

Authors Note (part 2)- Hey, thanks for making it all the way down here. Anyway, I hope you guys are enjoying the interactions between those two just as much as I am. Chapter Ten will be a milestone for Masks, and it'll be out... yeah, I have no idea when it will actually be out. Catch you guys later!