I remember the day when everything changed for me. It was that rainy day, back in August, and I was trying to explain to you how easy it was to read Chief Bogo.
Nick and Judy made their way across the ZPD lobby as they hurried to the morning briefing.
"Everyone has a tell, sweetheart," Nick smirked and Judy looked at him doubtfully.
"Take Bogo for example. When he's about to deliver bad news at a press conference or in the bullpen, he always takes his glasses off first." Nick spoke softly and Judy leaned in to listen. "And if he puts them in his front pocket before he talks, look out."
"Oh yeah, what about me?"
Nick laughed and stopped walking so he could slap his knee and grin at her. "Carrots, when it comes to tells, you're an open book."
Judy moved with lightning speed and whacked him hard on the arm.
"Ow!" Nick wailed, as he put on his oh so sad, I'm such an abused fox face.
"What, you couldn't tell what I was about to do?" She chuckled and pushed open the large door before she marched ahead of Nick into the crowded bullpen.
Nick smiled and followed her. "Sly bunny."
We ended up making a bet on it; the loser would pay for dinner at that fancy new place that had just opened around the corner from the station. As luck would have it, that very day Bogo took off his glasses right before he stuck us with night patrol for the next few days, to cover for Delgato and Snarlof.
Of course we knew the bet was a sham, since we'd both win, no matter who was right. Except for the occasional Gazelle concert or meeting at a bar with the other officers, both of us were terrible at inviting the other to spend time together off the clock. I'll never forget that little teal number you wore, or how excited you were to be eating dinner in the most beautiful restaurant you said you'd ever seen. I honestly barely remember what the place looked like, because I couldn't take my eyes off of you.
After they kicked us out at closing time, I was so glad when you agreed to meet me for breakfast a few days later at that little diner we'd always talked about trying. I figured it would be my last chance to spend time with you before you headed back to Bunnyburrow for a few weeks of vacation.
Judy picked at her veggie omelet. Nick paused between gulps and glanced at Judy. "What's eating you, Carrots? Is the food ok?"
Judy nodded, but her ears drooped a bit lower and she looked up at Nick; her violet eyes seemed almost pleading. "It's my parents." Judy looked down at her omelet before sighing and putting her fork down. "They're trying to play matchmaker and introduce me to some dumb bunny when I go home to visit. I mean, I want to get married and have kids someday, but I wish they would just butt out of my personal life."
I should have been more sympathetic, and I regret the joke about how you'd be a great mom someday, but I had a plan to avoid messing up my kids by never having any. I saw you closing up, and yet I kept driving right off that cliff, over and over. It was my way of pushing you away, a reflexive movement I'd developed a long time ago. I guess I was also, in my own weirdly overprotective way, hoping you could find someone who deserved you more than I did.
You're an open book, at least to me, Carrots. But the dumb fox that I am, I made myself ignore what you were trying to tell me. I'd gone down this road a few times before, and I had always ended up back in the same place that I started, lonely and even more bitter. I just couldn't stand the thought of that happening to us.
I think you were mad at me. You left on vacation a day early, barely even saying goodbye, so I figured you just needed some space. The morning after you left, I tried to talk Bogo into assigning me to the one duty that might help me take my mind off of you.
Nick slouched into Chief Bogo's office and climbed up to sit on the hard orange chair in front of his desk. Bogo ignored him for a few moments before he lowered the folder he was reading to glare at Nick over his glasses.
"So, you'd rather have desk duty than work with another partner while Officer Hopps is out?"
Nick nodded. "None of the other officers here can keep up with me, and I figured filing a mountain of backlogged reports would make the time go faster."
Instead, Bogo punished me in the worst way possible; he gave me a week off. Scratch that, he ordered me take a week off. It seems some dumb bunny had recently brought it to his attention that I hadn't taken a single day off since I started over a year ago.
He said I should use the time to pull myself together, and mentioned that he had seen the way I looked at you, and then he warned me about the dangers of fraternizing with fellow officers. Thanks, Dad.
I told him I had no idea what he was talking about, and he told me to stop wasting his time and get the hell out of his office.
I think he thought I would be smart enough to go chasing after you, but I showed him. Instead, I sat around in my underwear for five days, watching TV, eating pizza, and swiping past canids on Timber until I noticed Sally, a pretty vixen I'd met quite a few years ago. My mom had introduced us, no doubt trying to fix me up, back when she still had some hope she would get a few grandkits someday.
Sally remembered me, I got cleaned up, put on some pants, and went out to meet her for a glorious evening where I somehow managed to talk about you for the entire night. She was a saint; she kissed me on the cheek and told me to call her sometime if I ever figured things out.
Which reminds me Carrots… we need to talk about my mom.
Holding a bouquet of flowers, Nick knocked on the worn wooden door of a shabby little home tucked behind an older tenement building. After several long moments the door creaked open to reveal an elderly fox, stooped and graying around her muzzle. She smiled and hugged Nick.
He smiled and held out the flowers. "Hi Ma."
Nick came inside, closed the door and followed her as she shuffled down a dark hallway.
"You have a key, Nicky. You know you're welcome to just come right in anytime. It's your house too, even if you haven't lived here in ages. Now put those lovely flowers in a vase and come sit with me awhile."
Nick headed to the kitchen sink and his mom hobbled over to a ratty armchair in the corner of the dining room. "Ok, but I can't stay too long," he said. She eased herself down with a grunt while Nick filled a glass vase with water at the kitchen sink. He watched her over the counter between the two rooms as she shifted in the chair and wheezed loudly. "You ok Ma?"
"I'm fine, just fine. I'm a little tired and my gut is troubling me some, but I'm so glad to see you Nicky."
Nick put the flowers in the vase and placed it on the dining room table. "Are you sure?"
She waved her paws at him as if to shoo him away. "Don't you worry, Rita comes by to check on me."
"How's she doing?" Nick asked after he pulled up a chair and sat next to her.
"Oh, she's good. She gets pretty bored now since she retired. She asks about you all the time, you should go say hi to her. She still lives right up the street."
"I will." Nick fidgeted uncomfortably for a few moments before glancing at a small clock ticking on a nearby wall when she spoke again.
"So, I talked to Sally-"
Startled, Nick lurched up and nearly knocked over the chair before he blurted out, "Uhh, actually I should get going Ma."
The older fox laughed. "I didn't mean to scare you off Nicky."
Nick rubbed the back of his neck and looked at the ground while he pushed the chair over to the table. "No, no you didn't Ma. I'm on night patrol tonight and I gotta get to work soon." She started to rise, but Nick motioned for her to stay seated.
"Don't get up, you need to rest. I'll call you tomorrow, ok?"
Nick leaned down and hugged her. She smiled and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm so proud of you."
Nick smiled at her weakly. "Thanks Ma."
"Don't be a stranger Nick. It was good to see you." Nick turned to leave and she continued. "You should bring Judy by sometime."
The smile on Nick's face disappeared as he sighed. "Sure thing Ma. I'll talk to you tomorrow."
Nick went out the front door and locked it. He grumbled to himself, "I'm gonna kill you Sally," before he started walking to the transit station.
And then I went back to work. At least that was a good distraction, more or less. The first few night patrols weren't too bad, until… that night. I've gone over it, endlessly imagining every "what if" and "I should have" as I go around and around in circles, but I can never conjure up that magic combination where everything comes out ok.
I was stuck on night patrol with Wolford, which went surprisingly well. He prattled on about nothing in particular, but he never expected me to join in on the conversation, which was fine by me. Plus he let me drive, unlike a certain bunny I know.
That night I was sitting in the car after shift, staring across the empty parking lot at headquarters and sipping my coffee while trying to think about anything besides how badly I wanted to call you, when you called me.
I almost spilled my coffee, I was so happy to see your face. Except you looked awful, like you'd been crying, and then I realized that you were calling me from your apartment, so you'd come home a few days early.
You tried to joke about how terrible the trip had been, how you'd caught a stomach bug from your sister, and how you'd tried, so very hard, to get to know the bunny your parents set you up with, but he'd turned out to be a real jerk. Then you started to tear up again while you talked about the blowout you'd had with your parents. For once I just listened, without cracking any jokes, and it all came tumbling out.
On the one paw, I felt so betrayed that you called me to talk about some other guy you'd apparently been dating, but I also couldn't believe that you trusted me so much. As miserable as you were, I ached to just hold you and tell you it would be ok. I knew I'd get yelled at for turning in the car late, but it would be worth it.
When Nick arrived, he found Judy, wrapped in a light blue windbreaker, waiting for him at the entrance of her apartment building. He pulled up to the curb and Judy hopped in. Nick flashed her a devilish grin as she buckled her seatbelt, but she could only manage a weak smile in return. He pulled her in for a quick hug and asked, "Where to, sweetheart?"
"Anywhere… just drive." Judy clung to him for several moments before reluctantly pulling away when he let go of her to put his paws back on the wheel.
"You look awful, what's wrong Carrots? Still sick? You better keep your bunny germs to yourself." Nick relaxed after she chuckled and shook her head.
"No promises," she said before he pulled into the street and drove towards the freeway. Out of the corner of his eye, Nick saw Judy shiver and hug herself tightly. He turned on the heater and they lazily made their way up the onramp to the empty freeway. "Thanks for coming to talk to me Nick. I just... don't know where to start." She trailed off and looked out the window, her ears twitching nervously.
Suddenly Judy shrieked, "Pull over!"
Nick slammed on the brakes and swerved into the shoulder as Judy fumbled with her seat belt. "What is it?" He barely got the words out before Judy had opened the door and vomited onto the pavement.
A bright light washed over them. Nick glanced back, blinded by the glare, but even so it was obvious a semi truck was coming up fast, a little too far to the right…
Nick screamed, "Judy!" right before the truck clipped the back corner of the patrol car.
I was on autopilot when I called in a code 999 to the station after the impact smashed us into the guardrail. I couldn't believe the radio worked, or that you were still breathing. Luckily you pulled your head back in the car right after I yelled, but you weren't buckled in. That's the most afraid I've ever been, Judy. The look of terror on your face before that truck hit us felt like an icy stab to my heart, leaving me aching even now in a way I've never felt.
Somehow Chief Bogo beat us to the hospital. I wanted to stay with you, but Bogo threatened to hold me down while they stitched me up. I reluctantly agreed to stop bleeding all over the place and let them work on me while he went to check on you.
When he finally found me again later in the ER, I remember the look Bogo gave me, a long hard look, as he slowly took off his glasses and put them in his front pocket.