In case you haven't noticed yet, or just aren't following me that closely, I rather abruptly posted a new story to both of my profiles a little while back. That story was RJ, my second addition to Cimar's What If collab (and partly responsible for the year-long hiatus). While not exactly connected to BtBW, it does have many many references to it and you can expect this story to reference it right back. So not at all required reading, but...it would be appreciated. :P

Oh, and there's a big climactic fight happening too, but come on, we just had one of those.


Chapter 26: Simon Slays

Savannah Central

Zootopia Police Department - Precinct 1

10: 50 PM

It was only after Chief Bogo dented his hooves, and not the metal sheets blocking the doors, that he finally had to throw in the towel. The buffalo rubbed at the appendages wearily, grunting in resignation. "Alright, Wilde, I'm now open to all suggestions. What have you got?"

The fox's head slumped listlessly against the barricade. "I came up with this idea to save Judy while Charles was taking her up the elevator…"

"Yes? What is it?"

"Shot to hell now that there's a few inches of solid metal between us, that's what it is."

"Damn!" He punched the door again, wincing.

"Can't we call in a tank or something?" Jimmy asked, still nursing Wallace back to health after his brave assault.

Bogo shook his head. "Trust me, we don't have that kind of time. Besides, this is still a hostage situation. If either of the VanDals spot any kind of backup coming, it's only going to make things worse."

Nick perked up. "So you could get a tank?"

"Thanks for helping to illustrate why I didn't already." Bogo laid one hoof back on the metal plates, subdued. "All we can do now is trust that Officer Hopps keeps her cool and doesn't do anything too reckless or above her position."

The fox grabbed his prone arm, shaking it fearfully. "Chief...this is Judy we're talking about!"

Bogo's eyes slowly widened in horror. "Oh no."

He immediately resumed punching the metal.


Lobby

10: 56 PM

Those proud members of the ZPD who were still conscious and able to fully appreciate their situation could only watch helplessly as the two combatants sized each other up. Judy and Simon fixed one another with an unrelenting glare, staying stock-still as they each waited for the other to make a move. There was a long, tense silence between them, broken only by the sounds of Clawhauser nomming on his donut box.

"Oops!" the cheetah said through his stuffed mouth as a single donut fell out of place and tumbled overboard. He too could only watch helplessly as his jelly chocolate creme fell to the floor.

The instant it landed, Judy sprung into action. She rushed at Simon full-force, swerving back and forth as she did so that her impressive agility would help catch him by surprise.

It didn't work. He blocked her eventual punch, shoving her arm to the side and countering with a hook to the gut. While she was staggered, he swept her feet out from under her, and the bunny had to quickly roll away to avoid being speared on the end of his peg leg. She leapt back into a kick that he once again caught, and spun, landing her face down on the ground. Trying a different approach, she sprung back up and now jumped clear over his head, aiming for his back. What kind of blow she was even going to try she didn't get to fathom, for Simon whipped his head back and caught her below the chin. Her vision went hazy, and before she knew it, he was behind her, hooking his elbow around her throat and squeezing tightly.

"So I'm really curious how you were expecting this to go," he said, letting Judy writhe in his tight grip. "Because I thought I made it pretty clear that it wasn't going to end well for you."

"I...won't...give...in!" she choked out, squirming defiantly in his grasp.

"No one's denying that you've got the willpower, Hopps. But this isn't an anime, and you're not the brave magical girl who's going to overcome all odds to beat someone way out of her league. So take a hint!"

Judy stomped hard onto his good foot, managing to slip away for a whole half-second before he grabbed her by the ears. Simon pulled her into a rotation and spun her around a few times until the flash drive she was hoarding fell out of her pocket and clattered onto the floor. As soon as it did, he threw Judy bodily across the room, watching her hit the central column and fall behind the desk. Clawhauser did his best not to make eye contact.

Simon picked the drive back up and looked it over briefly just to make sure it wasn't as damaged as the bunny it came from. Nodding in approval, he slipped it into his jeans and went to grab his jacket that he was starting to think he should've never bothered taking off.

A few paces there, he stopped, sighed, and sidestepped to the right, letting Judy's flying kick sail past him. Judy spun on her heel and launched another kick back at him, which he swiftly dodged, delivering a kick of his own in response. Between her legs. With his metal prosthetic.

All the officers watching cringed and "Ooooooooh"-ed, mutually thankful that it didn't happen to any of them. Judy let out a squeak several pitches above her normal octave before Simon tossed her back across the floor. "I'm just going to assume you didn't learn anything from that experience."

"Actually...I did…" she strained weakly, propping herself back up with Trunkaby's trunk. Managing a small smile, she waved the flash drive in front of him. "I learned that your fancy military training didn't guard you against pickpockets."

Simon gasped, digging into his pocket out of sheer reflex and glowering at her when it naturally turned up empty. "Clever girl."

"You know it," she replied, projecting far too much confidence for someone who'd just spent the last few minutes getting her fluffy tail handed to her. So maybe going toe-to-toe with Simon VanDal, Mr. Murder on Metal, wasn't such a good idea. But that was fine. She didn't need to win.

She just needed him to lose.

Because if there was one area where she knew she could beat a crippled old raccoon, it was speed. Judy dropped the flash drive back into her pocket and took off down the hall. "Catch me if you can!"

Simon needed a second to register this, having fully expected the rabbit to throw herself back at him again. The next second, he shrugged and turned around to head back up to the chief's office. He had other ways of retrieving that data, even if they weren't as convenient. No reason to get involved in what would surely become a lengthy and convoluted chase around the building. The rabbit could have the damn drive for all he cared. He wasn't stupid enough to leave anything incriminating on it.

He stopped.

Wait...did he still need her passcode? Did the system lock him out by now? Would he be able to get through Chief Bogo's security questions? Oh, how he longed for the old days of just having to go through the phone company. Things were so much simpler then.

Simon became aware that he was being stared at. The bound and gagged officers surrounding him were starting to look more confused than frightened. It made him unusually self-conscious.

"Hmph. Rabbit season it is." Flexing his fingers, he took off down the hall after the fleeing bunny.


Hallway

11: 03 PM

After what felt like an eternity of running, Judy rounded a corner and screeched to a stop in the middle of the hall, catching her breath. She didn't remember the precinct being this big. Nevertheless, she hadn't heard any sign of pursuit in some time now, so she was certain she must have lost him. Now, if she could just find someplace to hide until this lockdown thing blew over. Sooner or later, somebody out there had to figure out a way past it, right?

Later would have to suffice, for at that moment, her ears twitched. She couldn't yet see anything, but the faint clanking of metal on tile was unmistakable. No way. He wasn't chasing me at all before. How did he catch up so quickly?

Simon emerged from around the corner, charging straight at her.

On all fours.

"Hey, Miss Symbol of Justice, I want to talk to you about taking things that aren't yours!"

"What, like that data you stole?" she almost replied. This isn't the time for banter, you dingus! RUN!

And run she did, her previous fatigue forgotten in the blind heat of adrenaline. Unfortunately, she was quickly losing track of where she could run to. These halls seemed to go on endlessly and the clanking of Simon's peg leg behind her never seemed to get any further away.

In fact...it was starting to get closer.

"Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Just how fast I was with both legs!" She didn't dare look back, even as she heard the clanking suddenly cease. It was her reflexes that saved her when Simon launched himself into the wall, kicked back off, and brought his metal leg down onto her position. Judy dodged by so thin a margin that she almost tripped over the massive crack his attack left in the floor.

Oh come on! she silently swore as she pushed herself to run even faster. That show of power got Simon's leg stuck in the floor for the few valuable seconds she needed to reach the nearest door and slip inside.

The dispatch room was even darker than the rest of the building, not even illuminated by the soft glow of computer monitors like usual. If it weren't for the red-tinted emergency lighting, she would be completely blind right now, carrot-filled diet be darned. Knowing she didn't have much time, she threw herself to the floor and scurried under one of the nearby desks just as she heard the door start to open behind her.

It was then she realized just how blind she truly was. She couldn't see most of the room, and to her growing horror, she couldn't see Simon either. Yet there was no mistaking that he was in here with her, for the pounding clanks fell away to softer clinks with each step he took. Judy's sensitive ears swiveled towards the sound, her heart beating like a jackhammer in her chest. Her paws went over her mouth to stifle her breathing. She went still, not daring to move for risk of making even the slightest noise.

Simon crept along the rows of desks, going full commando-mode with his senses on high alert. "You're not the first snake in the grass I've had to flush out, Hopps," he said in a deathly calm voice. "I got well-acquainted with one during the war. He was an actual snake, in actual grass. He's also dead now. That's the moral of the story."

Think, Judy, think! There has to be some way to catch him off-guard!

She looked at the desk across from the one she was hidden under. It was Trunkaby's, as evidenced by the extra-large computer sitting atop it. It was made for a large, fingerless mammal, reinforced to all get-out to resist wear and tear from both hoof contact and trunk mucus. As a result, the thing was nearly two hundred pounds of metal and reinforced glass. And the keyboard made for an interesting game of Twister.

Hearing the steady rhythm of Simon moving ever closer to her hiding spot, Judy got an idea. Sorry, Francine, but I need this more than you do!

A subtle scraping of claws on linoleum alerted Simon to where his quarry was hiding. Smiling, he ceased purposely letting his leg hit the floor hard enough to make a noise. He'd done it only to make the rabbit panic and it seemed to have served its purpose. Poor little snake.

He zeroed in on the noise, now moving with absolute silence. Once he started hearing quiet, rapid breathing, he knew he had the right spot. He lunged around the corner to grab Judy, but didn't quite get what he expected.

Two feet crashed into his nose and sent him reeling back, right into the perfect position for Judy to put her plan into effect. Thanks to its odd construction, Trunkaby's computer was very top-heavy. One hearty pull of the bundle of cords through the hole in the bottom of the desk sent the entire thing toppling forward…right onto the startled raccoon.

Judy didn't wait to see the results, taking off through another door the moment everything started coming down. She didn't know if the move had stopped him, but she felt it a safe enough assumption that it didn't.

Sure enough, Simon crawled over the remains of the massive monitor a few moments later, only mostly unscathed. Quick as he was, he'd managed to jump back just far enough to avoid being smashed into a grease stain, but not far enough to stop it from landing on his good foot. That was the second time she had injured it. Pain sliced up his entire leg as it hit his ankle, and it spoke of his immense discipline that he only let out a small grunt of discomfort.

I'm not sure if I should be annoyed or impressed. His foot throbbed. Nope, definitely annoyed.


Construction Zone

11: 14 PM

"Go Fish."

Koslov reached down and, with some difficulty, drew another card from the pile, pinching it between his meaty claws. "Bah. In Tundratown, if we want fish, we punch hole in ice and get fish."

Finnick facepawed, not for the first time tonight. "That's just what they called it, okay? Because the deck is the 'pool' and you're 'fishing' for cards."

"Then this bait is clearly faulty because I have twenty-five cards. I could make fan." He held the cards up in front of his face to demonstrate.

"Uh, you gotta have some complete sets there by now. Are you even trying to make books?"

"I need to make books too? I don't even have binding materials! What rubbish!" He threw his own hand at Finnick's, dispersing both across the ground and instantly turning their game into 52 Card Pickup. It was the fourth time this had happened.

Finnick set to work cleaning up. "Well, the good news is that I've solved the mystery of why nobody else wants to play with you."

"Really? Why?"

As Finnick reached for the last stragglers of the deck, a low rumbling and the shaking of pebbles on the ground warned him that they would soon be lost forever. He scurried back, leaving the cards to their fate as a familiar black limousine suddenly pulled in and ran them into the ground. The visual metaphor was not lost on him. "Oh shit, it's Reynard."

Koslov gave him a look.

"I-I mean, oh sweet, it's Reynard!"

The atmosphere around the entire site immediately shifted. Loyal henchmammals stood up straight in attention, less loyal wolves worked more diligently, and every one of them had no idea what to expect. Count Reynard's last visit had really put the "table" in "unpredictable." A table he had flipped. No one wanted to be the next table.

The front door of the Countmobile swung open and out stepped the fox. The first thing any of them noticed was his pristine suit and immaculately groomed fur, so clean that it almost physically hurt to look at. It was almost as bright as the gleam from his white teeth as he grinned, tapping his cane into the ground in a redundant move to get everyone's attention. "Hellooooooooo Zootooooooopia! Guess who's back and better than ever!"

He looked pointedly at his viewing audience. "Not a rhetorical question, FYI."

On cue, several voices began to chant. "Reynard! Reynard! Reynard!"

One of them was Koslov, who stopped for just a moment to glance down at Finnick appreciatively. "You were right. He did adapt. He has reached Acceptance stage."

"Yeah...he sure did." Finnick was stunned, trying to hide just how nervous he was by joining in with the chanting. He hadn't been lying when he predicted that the fox would adapt and recover from his sorrowful state, but he never thought it would happen so quickly. When Reynard left, he was a broken shell of a mammal. Now, he was completely back to...well, whatever passed as normal for him. It was unnatural, and that disturbed him more than he'd like to admit.

Finally, the chanting died down on Reynard's command. "Alright, alright, I missed you guys too, but let's not make it weird. This is a professional environment." He affixed his devil-rimmed gaze on Finnick, as if sensing his weakness. "Progress report, Radar. How's the HB Project coming along?"

"Uh…" Finnick didn't dare look back to check, so it was a good thing he and Koslov (mostly Koslov) had been keeping tabs. He rattled off the last thing he remembered. "They finished with the giant letters."

Reynard's expression shifted back and forth a couple times between pleasure and displeasure until it finally stopped on one, like a living slot machine. "Excellent! Just be sure to spell-check it later. I don't think literacy is the wolves' strong suit. Icebox?"

The bear looked almost elated to receive another order. "Yes, sir?"

"What's the current status on Piers Narwhalter?"

"He is...still alive?" he answered, confused by the question.

"Good. Don't want anyone kill-stealing from me when I'm not around. Hope you've all had a good rest, because we're heading out right away! It's time to rock the Docks, baby!" He pointed his cane dramatically into the distance, then lowered it a bit. "Oh wait, I almost forgot. Speedy?"

He frowned when there was no reply, calling out into the crowd. "Speedy? Don't make me mark you tardy, young mammal! You don't want to know what my detention is like!"

"Coming! Coming!" Fast Tony huffed as he rejoined the group, gasping for breath. "At...your...service."

"Nice of you to join us. I just remembered that I asked you to pick up some assassins for me," he mused, leaning towards him. "Sure, it was a bit of an impulse buy, but what am I gonna tell them? 'Sorry, I don't need anyone dead today?'" He let out a barking laugh at the absurdity. "Might as well commit to it, right? So where are my murder mammals?"

Still worn out, Tony just lifted a shaking finger to point over his shoulder.

A group of five sinister silhouettes had appeared behind him, towering over the crowd of onlookers. "We're heeeeeeeeeere!" they chorused.

Reynard smiled lightly, without turning around. "You had better not be standing on my car."

The five sinister silhouettes awkwardly shuffled around, trying to get back down.


Zootopia Police Department - Precinct 1

Cafeteria

11:22 PM

Alright...that should just about do it.

Her task complete, Judy sat back to admire her handiwork from the relative safety of behind the kitchen counter.

She had it all planned out. Planted in front of the double doors that led into the ZPD's cafeteria was a single tripwire. As soon as it was triggered, heavy pots would drop onto the bottles of ketchup and mustard she'd lined up nearby, squirting their contents all over the floor and creating a slippery terrain.

The counterweight of the dropping pots would, in turn, knock over a series of metal folding chairs arranged like dominoes. The chairs would land on the trays sticking out over the edge of a pair of tables, flipping them over and launching the rows of silverware she'd positioned there like catapults.

Finally, the egg timer she already had running would tick down during that moment of distraction, delivering the coup de grâce. A fire extinguisher attached to the back of a trolley cart would be set off, sending the cart hurtling into her target. Game, set, match.

Judy smiled just picturing it all. Good thing she'd spent so many long winter nights watching Roam Alone.

Right on cue, she heard the rapid clanking of metal approaching the vicinity and ducked behind the counter. Seconds later, Simon burst through the doors, instantly setting off her carefully-laid traps.

The tripwire sprung, the pots were dropped, and the condiments fired. They soon covered the entire area in front of the door in wasted food product, and even landed on Simon's ankle a little. "What the hell?"

Then the silverware catapults were launched. Seeing the incoming projectiles, Simon shuffled slightly to the left, and then the right, dodging them all.

The egg timer rang its alarm and the fire extinguisher went off, delivering its payload of roughly twenty pounds right into Simon. The raccoon caught the metal beast with both paws, being pushed back a foot or two before the extinguisher ran out of steam and the whole thing came to a screeching halt.

Judy's head peeked out once the carnage died down, seeing a completely-unharmed Simon standing on the other side of the counter, glaring at her. "You look really disappointed right now and that's kind of insulting."

His paw shot out and grabbed her by the collar, yanking her out from the confined space. "Don't confuse me with the idiot fox I used to work for. It's going to take a lot more than outdated slapstick to slow me down."

She glared back. "What? Like you're any better? Can't blame me for getting confused."

With a savage growl, she was slammed back against the surface of the counter, pinned down by both Simon's weight and the absolutely murderous look on his face. "Do you know how easily I could kill you right now?"

"Not as easily as I can distract you apparently."

There was a small "plop" over his shoulder and Simon turned to see the flash drive he'd been pursuing sitting inside a pool of mustard. He'd expected her to try to throw a punch or a kick, but not to throw that. "Cute."

Then he headbutted her, hard enough that she was left too dazed to try to jump him from behind again as he went for the drive. With the floor left in the condition that it was, he went into a slide, gliding across the slick surface to snatch it up as he passed by. As if by magic, the drive flew away just as he reached for it, causing a very confused Simon to crash into the opposite wall.

He looked back at the still stunned Judy, now holding the drive once again. A faint glimmer of light clued him in to the nearly invisible string she'd used to pull this stunt off. Despite the trickle of blood running down her head, she managed to stand again. "Don't...call me cute."

He scoffed. "I don't like being called a pirate either, but do you think that stops anyone?"

"To be fair, you are trying to download data illegally."

Simon bared his teeth ever-so-slightly. "If you are trying to anger me into doing something foolish, you'll have to do better than that."

Judy smiled. "Crazy like a Delta Fox."

The raccoon charged forward, remembering the floor too late as he tripped into the spill. Judy didn't have time to celebrate as he recovered pretty much immediately, ketchup covering his face as he snarled hatefully at her.

Not good. My efforts to slow him down are only making him scarier!

So she did the only thing she still could.

She ran. Again.


Another Hallway

11: 31 PM

With nowhere to go and an increasingly incensed mercenary on her heels, Judy really wasn't sure how much longer she could keep this up. Even worse, she had no idea when, or if, help was coming. She needed a real plan, one that didn't revolve around antagonizing someone with a much higher body count.

The only one she could think of technically qualified, but how doable it would be was another story. If she could navigate all the way back to the chief's office, maybe, just maybe, she could find a way to shut down this lockdown and get everyone out safely. Whether or not that included herself remained to be seen.

And now the clanking was back. Give me a break already! She needed to lose him again, hopefully for longer than two minutes this time. She was still amazed she'd been able to set up all those traps so quickly. Without waiting for another aerial attack, she kicked her way into the first door she saw.

It was the ZPD's storage room. Kind of like the evidence room, except instead of being filled with important case items, it was mainly home to tote bags, coffee mugs, calendars, and other themed merchandise, all arranged in towers of cardboard boxes. She made a mental note never to let Jimmy know about it.

She could probably squeeze herself into a few of these boxes, but which one would make the best hiding spot? Probably not the one of carrot-shaped recorder pens that she'd somehow made much more popular, not even with their catchy tagline of "Technically saved Zootopia!". As much as she would've liked to do a comprehensive analysis of how each and every box would serve as effective camouflage, she didn't have that kind of time. In fact, she was pretty sure just acknowledging the stupid pen box had wasted most of it.

Then she saw another box, tucked away in the corner and apparently empty. It even had slots to serve as air holes. Seeing no better option, Judy rushed over to the box and opened it.

"Surprise!" Simon leapt out of the box and into her face.


Parking Lot

11: 37 PM

"Judy? Judy?! Juuuuuuuuuuudy?!"

"Jimmy, you're not helping!" Nick yelled.

"Sorry…" The arctic fox's ears drooped as he slumped over. "I'm just worried about her."

"Me too, kid. Me too..." But Nick didn't sit. He hadn't been sitting or immobile at all in quite some time. "The worst part is, I know I can think of a way to get in there and rescue her, except that I'm too busy being worried to think straight! It's like some kind of...cleverness paradox!"

"Nah, that just makes you a real mammal," Jimmy replied. Nick looked at the younger fox strangely. "You know, having feelings and emotions that make you care about others. It's not a bad thing. I mean, what's the point of being that clever if you can't even make friends and be happy because of it? Seems like kind of a waste to me."

Nick stopped moving, watching Jimmy go right back to tossing Wallace up and down playfully while humming to himself. "I...guess you have a point there, kid. What about you, Chief? Any profound advice from your corner or should I ask Wallace next?"

"Quiet!" Bogo ordered.

"Oh right, no snark."

"I said quiet!" The bovine had given up on punching the door, again, and now had the side of his large head pressed up against the bruised surface. "I haven't heard any activity in there for far too long. It sounded like Hopps was trying to fight him, like an idiot, but now they're both gone. I think she's led him away from the hostages."

"Or he killed her and went on his merry way," Wallace offered.

Bogo glared at the plushie, which Jimmy hid in his arms protectively, but decided to let it go. "No matter the reason, if the hostages are unguarded, this may be our chance to rescue them."

"Are we calling in backup now?" Nick asked.

"No. By the time they get here, we might lose our window of opportunity. We need to act now."

"Uh huh. So is this the part where you down a can of spinach and tear open the barricade?"

"That would be awesome!" Jimmy exclaimed, eagerly awaiting such a display.

But Bogo was paying no attention to either of them, walking away by himself back towards his car. Nick nodded slowly to himself. "Alright, I'm not sure which of us scared him off, but I'm going with the plush."

"Discrimination!"

A loud revving interrupted the potential race war as the chief's car lurched forward, zooming past all of them and into the shielded wall. "Whoa!" Nick yelped.

That single blow did far more damage than his hooves ever could, but the barricade remained standing while his bumper did not. Undeterred, Bogo shifted into reverse and went in for another charge. "Come on, break, damn you!" This one cracked his windshield.

"But Chief, what about your car insurance?!" Jimmy cried.

"As long as I don't have to deal with anyone's life insurance, I'll pay for it all out of pocket!" He crashed into it once again, destroying his headlights.

"What a hero." Wallace almost sounded impressed.

"Am I the only one going to point out that this could easily destroy the car and him before that wall busts in?" Nick asked, raising a paw. It wasn't even that long ago that Carla had crashed her own car through the wall of a burning building. The chief was doing a scarily good job replacing her.

Then again, that very maneuver was the reason he was still standing here, and he owed it to both Judy and Carla to repay that debt. "Ah, heck with it." He started cheering him on. "Break that wall, break it down! Ra! Ra! Ra! Throw caution to the wind and insult its Ma! Gooooooo, Bogo!"


Storeroom

11: 36 PM

Simon had broken the laws of physics themselves to get the drop on her. How was she supposed to compete with that?

Judy had no time to react as he grabbed her by the head and slammed it into the ground, roughly twisting her arm up and behind her back. She waited for him to insult her again, to trade more one-liners back and forth, but he did no such thing. She could still see ketchup stains on him and that seemed to have crossed some kind of line. He just kept pressing her face into the floor while pulling on her arm, creating a pain so agonizing she was sure it would break any second. "Give. Me. The drive."

Judy's free arm flopped down to her pants pocket and reached inside. Simon waited patiently, still not letting up, until she withdrew her carrot pen and stabbed him in the leg with it. He hissed and shifted reflexively, allowing her to pull her legs out from under him and kick him off. She would never doubt the power of the pens again.

She searched for the nearest exit, which was no longer the door as she didn't favor her chances of slipping past Simon again. Instead, she scrambled up a makeshift staircase of boxes towards an air vent. She heard a clattering on the floor behind her as Simon yanked the pen out and she climbed faster, reaching the vent just as he started to close in.

Gripping the grating tightly, she kicked the stack of boxes out from under her, toppling them back into the raccoon. Then, still managing to hold on, she kicked the grating in until she was able to squeeze inside. It was just big enough for her, so Simon wouldn't be following, and this fact seemed to register to him as well. "HOPPS!"

She crawled and crawled until she could no longer hear him at all. Only the thudding of her own frantic movements registered to her now, and within this confined space, the sound was almost deafening.

Even if she considered herself pretty well-versed in the layout of Precinct 1, that didn't extend to its apparently labyrinthine ventilation network. With so many different rooms and corridors to pump air to, she had absolutely no idea where she was going. The only hints she got were the occasional peek through the other vent gratings, and she never risked slowing down enough to get a good look.

Don't panic, just think about this logically, Judy. The chief's office is on the second floor, so I need to go up. Get vertical first, worry about the horizontal later. That made perfect sense to her until she realized that with the vents gradually sloping up and down, she didn't even know what floor she was still on. It didn't help that she had taken such a beating so far that her eyesight was starting to blur. With her adrenaline wearing off, the pain was returning to the forefront, slowing her movements and making each new step an unpleasant reminder of how terrible an idea this was.

So until she saw some clear evidence that she was making progress, all Judy could do was keep scrambling around, lost in the vents and her own thoughts, searching desperately for her destination. She looked through grate after grate after grate after-

"C'mere!" Simon roared, his arm punching through the grate, grasping Judy's shirt, and tossing her out.

It was a longer drop than she expected, smacking against a metallic dome, then a thick pipe, before finally hitting the ground. Once she got her bearings again, she took a look around. The place she was in now looked positively hellish, old and sinister-looking machinery looming over her from every direction, steam hissing out of heated pores, and even the floor beneath her feet being hot and uncomfortable. This was one part of the building she had never been in before: the ZPD's boiler room. "I was going down?!"

"You still are," Simon said calmly, landing on the walkway across from her. His eyes never leaving hers, he cracked his neck from one side to the other. "Well? Isn't this the part where you run away again?"

He was baiting her. Of that, she was certain. While her ability to evade him had been mixed so far, the fact remained that she was still holding the drive and he wasn't. She intended to keep it that way, and so she ran again.

Judy darted across the walkway, turning to look over her shoulder and expecting to see Simon hot in pursuit. He wasn't there, not even in the spot she'd left him. She leapt over a guard rail and hit the floor below, unsure if the sound of impacted metal came from her or not. Turning a corner, she shrieked as a burst of steam erupted in front of her. Sliding under it, she went off the beaten path again, hopping up to an overhanging pipe, then another, and another, until she reached the top of one of the larger mechanisms. From here, she could see the entrance to the vent she'd been forced out of. With this much height, she might just be able to make it back. As she readied herself to make a running jump, a clang from behind startled her. Whipping around, she could see nothing there, then turned back and found Simon's fist flying into her face.

Her landing was even rougher the second time, hitting the top of a grated staircase and bouncing all the way down. She ended up skidding to a stop in front of the main boiler, caged off from the rest of the expansive room and with no other way out. A sharp pain shot up her right leg and she realized to her shock that she had twisted her ankle. She wasn't running anywhere now.

Judy had truly reached the lowest point. Of the ZPD, and quite possibly her chances of survival.

She didn't even see Simon come down the stairs, but suddenly, he was there. Like a savage cat toying with his prey, he waited patiently for her to get back up, knowing he finally had her cornered. She could see traces of blood on his metal leg, recalling a time long ago when she had once been after exactly that.

Judy panted, struggling to stand, but she remained defiant, suicidally so, even now. "Do...your...worst."

"You're not...fooling...anyone," he replied, unimpressed by her false bravado.

Wait, why is he out of breath? I've barely scratched him!

Judy didn't have time to contemplate this because Simon was done waiting for her. He charged forward and swung his leg, fully intending to finish this. To his surprise and her own, she actually managed to dodge it, ducking into his reach and kicking off the floor on her good leg to counter. Simon reacted quickly, his arms moving to defend himself.

But he wasn't quick enough, and Judy nailed him under the chin with an uppercut.

Simon was launched off the ground and fell several feet away, leaving a stunned Judy in his wake. She couldn't be proud of this because she had no idea how it happened. After everything she'd been through thus far, there was no feasible way she should've landed that blow. She was just waiting for the raccoon to kick jump back up and start beating the tar out of her again.

Instead, he got up much like an ordinary mammal would after being socked in the jaw, rubbing the afflicted area and groaning. Continuing to breathe heavily, he reached up and wiped a bead of sweat from his brow.

That was when she put it together. This wasn't pain; it was fatigue. Simon Charles VanDal may have been one of the most dangerous mammals to ever walk the Earth, but he was decades past his prime now, no longer able to continuously exert himself for long periods of time. And he'd just chased her through practically the entire ZPD.

It wasn't just speed she had on him, after all. Youth and vigor were pretty big advantages too. Big enough to turn this around on him? She didn't know, but for the sake of keeping this data safe and fulfilling a promise to a friend, she was sure as heck willing to find out.

Judy tried to shift into her stance again, the same one she'd taken at the start of all this. The weight this required her to put on her injured leg made it significantly less comfortable the second time. "Ow…"

Following her lead, Simon clumsily mirrored his opening stance as well, one leg back and claws outstretched. "Don't get...cocky...bunny."


Parking Lot

11: 40 PM

"Bogo! Bogo! He's our chief! If he can't do it, he'll give us grief!"

"SHUT UP, WILDE!"

As if empowered by his sheer desire to make the fox stop cheerleading, Chief Bogo grit his teeth, clenched his hoof around the clutch, and shoved it forward. His worn-down beast of a patrol vehicle heeded his final command and made one last desperate assault against the barrier blocking their way.

The metal wall buckled under the force of the blow and creaked loudly...as it failed to open. Bogo's car had finally been through enough, letting out a metallic whine of distress as it promptly broke down and started leaking oil. Bogo stumbled outside, laying a gentle hoof on its hood. "There, there, Ol' Bessie. You did your best. You've done a great service to the ZPD."

It was so melodramatic that even Nick didn't have the heart to make fun of him for it. "Geez...sorry, Chief. I didn't know, uh, Bessie meant so much to you."

"A shame she died in vain though," said Jimmy, holding Wallace comfortingly. The poor plushie had witnessed too much death at such a young age.

"Who says it was in vain?" Bogo asked. He had yet to turn around, and his tone of voice was suddenly...concerning. Taking a few steps back, he reached into his shirt and pulled out a match. "You might want to get some distance."

Jimmy was confused. "What do you mean by-?" Nick grabbed him by the back of his collar and dragged him away before he could question further, going back only to pick up a dropped Wallace that was somehow screaming at him.

"Goodbye, old friend." With a wistful smile, Bogo lit the match and threw it onto the trail of oil in front of him.

BOOM!

The explosion seemed to rock the entire parking lot, even from behind the dumpster that Nick and Jimmy had hidden themselves. When they dared to peek out again, Ol' Bessie had been put out to pasture, now nothing more than a pile of spare parts. Nick watched a flaming tire roll past them. "Wow...maybe I shouldn't push my luck so much with the chief."

"But as the new Carla, you gotta admit he's playing the part well."

"Right?!"

"Think we can get him into spandex?"

For all the spectacle the explosion had caused, the metal shell was still mostly intact. There was, however, now a noticeable hole in its surface, just wide enough for the two foxes to slip through. That left things a bit awkward for the police chief who had just blown up his own ride (and possibly life partner) to create it. As he just stood there, staring intently at it, Nick tried to break it to him gently. Very gently. "Uh...thanks for the help, sir, but Jimb-Jimmy and I can take it from here if you want to just sit down and rest for a-"

Without a word, Bogo dropped onto all fours and rammed into the hole to persuade it to be a little more generous on who was allowed through. With all the damage already weakening it, the buffalo did just that, and now there was a significantly larger hole awaiting them. "Or just do that. Hard to believe he was ever a beat cop…"

"I know! I don't think anyone could beat him!"

Nick was going to respond in an entirely different manner before he saw the sly smile on Jimmy's muzzle. "Heh. You really have grown, kid."

Stepping around the pieces of destroyed car, they climbed through the hole left by Bogo and entered the building.

The red tint hurt his eyes as soon as he stepped inside. Aside from the panicked faces of the bound ZPD officers, the front lobby was completely clear. Unsurprisingly, the chief was already at work undoing the bonds on the other officers, some of whom were only just now waking up. He was very noticeably leaving Clawhauser for last, passing right by him at least twice to free the larger, stronger, more capable officers first. It made sense, practicality-wise, but Nick felt sorry enough for him that he went straight to the cheetah's side. "Hold on, Benji. I'll have you out of there in a jiffy."

"Mmm! Mmmmmmm!" he said, expressing his undying gratitude.

Nick rolled his eyes and yanked the donut box out of his mouth. "You're very welcome, buddy."

He was crying. "My jelly chocolate creme…"

"You're wha-agh." Nick shuddered as he felt himself step in something very moist and very chocolate. Feeling like this kind of thing was about typical for him at this point, he lifted his foot and found Clawhauser's destroyed donut stuck to it. "Well, I know the first thing I'm doing when we get to the Docks." He noticed Clawhauser drooling and stared at him blankly. "You had better not tell me you still want it."

As Bogo finished helping McHorn and Grizzoli back up, Jimmy managed to gnaw through the ropes around Delgato and tear his tape back off. "Are you okay?"

"Nothing hurt by my pride." He winced as Jimmy grabbed his arm. "And my burn wounds! Don't touch!"

"Where's Judy?" Nick finally asked, wiping his foot off on Clawhauser's side before cutting him completely free. He deliberately averted his eyes from what happened next.

"Yeah, that's a bit of a complicated question," an unmuzzled Wolford replied. "She was here, but then she took off down that hallway." Rubbing his sore wrists, he gestured with his head instead. "VanDal went after her and we haven't seen either of them since."

"Which VanDal?" Bogo asked, untying Trunkaby from her trunk.

"Simon!" Fangmeyer yelled before the other wolf could steal his thunder. "Wait…do you smell that, Anthony?"

"Yeah," Wolford agreed, suddenly unsure. Closing their eyes, both wolves lifted their snouts to the sky and sniffed carefully. "Uh, scratch that. Actually, it smells like both of them are that way."

Nick let out a choked gasp. "Are you serious?! What, one killer raccoon wasn't enough?!"

"Calm down, Wilde. She's going to be fine," Bogo assured him.

"How do you know?"

Bogo stood up straight and cocked his tranq pistol, along with the seven other officers they'd just freed, even Clawhauser. "Because we're coming to bail her out."

"Oh, are we doing a thing?" Jimmy quickly rushed over and joined the pose.

Seeing this assembled force of blue pride, Nick couldn't help but feel a little reassured, perhaps foolishly so. "Alright then. Let's get to work.


Boiler Room

11: 48 PM

A burst of steam hissed from a pipe, a pipe that pumped gasoline into a burner, a burner that ignited the main boiler, a boiler that reached temperatures hot enough to sear the fur off of any mammal unfortunate enough to get too close.

It still wasn't as heated as the battle raging in front of it.

Simon struck Judy in the side with his metal leg.

Judy kicked him in the stomach in return.

Simon pulled her in by the ears and punched her in the face.

Judy pulled him back and boxed his own ears.

Simon ground his peg leg into her foot.

Judy used the other to break her code of conduct and kick him in the groin.

Simon clawed at the side of her face, and missed.

Judy aimed a punch at the side of his face, and didn't.

Judy kicked him in the ribs and staggered him to the side.

Judy rabbit punched him in the back of the neck.

Judy kneed him under the chin and kicked him into the grating.

Judy started to question her life choices because holy heck did that hurt. Which leg did she injure again? She could barely tell anymore because now they were both in pain. Along with everything else. She really needed this to end. "Stay...down…" It was a plea, not a threat.

Simon had propped himself up against the grating wall. He was panting from both pain and fatigue now. "Not bad, Hopps...Maybe you're not...the only one...who bit off more than they could chew."

He attempted to get up, only to stumble forward and cough up blood into his paw. The raccoon glanced down into it almost admiringly, before looking back at her and yelling, "Catch!"

On edge as she was, Judy reacted instantly and did just that. For all she knew, it could've been a live grenade. That he puked up, but she wouldn't put it past him.

It was actually a tooth, curved and carnivorous, that she had evidently knocked loose. It was a bit bloody and kinda gross, but it felt somehow wrong to just drop it. "You can keep that," Simon said. "Take it as a trophy...because that is the most you're going to get out of this. Do you want to know why?"

Judy didn't really, because she was pretty sure the answer involved him not staying down.

Far from it, he was now standing upright again and lumbering slowly towards her. Despite now looking significantly worse for wear than he did ten minutes ago, Simon kept on coming. "Because I don't matter, Hopps. I'm doing all of this for one reason, and one reason only: to save my boy. And for Kyle's sake, I'll make any sacrifice I need to. My other leg? Both of my arms? My eyes? My ears? My soul? Everything that I am, I will gladly give up to ensure that my son has a better life. A life that is nothing like mine!"

He stopped only a few feet in front of her. Judy was too terrified to even move, or perhaps just incapable of it. Simon spat another mouthful of blood at her feet. "And in case you're still confused, that is the difference between me and Reynard."

She barely even saw him move, but suddenly he was coming for her. She had no idea how she was still standing, but her body reacted, some instinctual drive within her taking action before the rest of her could even process it. And as Simon threw a punch, she responded with a kick.

The result was exactly what you're expecting. At the same time, Simon's left fist struck Judy's right cheek, and Judy's right foot struck Simon's left cheek. There was a loud cracking of mutual bone damage, and then they broke apart, each combatant staggering back from the blow.

Neither was in very good shape afterward. Judy was afflicted with bruises, a still bleeding head injury, a loose buck tooth, bent ears, and a sprained ankle that she was definitely not giving the proper treatment. Actually, it was the same ankle she'd just plowed into Simon's face and it didn't appreciate that one bit. The raccoon himself was left with a broken nose, a black(er) eye, a bruised foot, cracked ribs, and a pen-shaped hole in his leg. This gave both of them great difficulty just standing upright, more content to just stare each other into submission until Simon finally put words to it. "Still think...your convictions...are stronger than mine?" he panted out. "Then stay standing...I dare you..."

"I...won't...give…" Judy stumbled forward, trying to regain her equilibrium.

Then her leg gave out on her and she collapsed. The oh-so-sought after flash drive was jostled out of her pocket and skidded away, landing on the floor between them. If she stretched out far enough, she could probably still reach it, but it was no use. She couldn't move a muscle anymore. It was over.

"That's what I thought." Simon walked over slowly, and Judy could only watch as he bent down and finally claimed his prize. As he stood back up, he looked down at her with something between admiration and pity. "But I'll give you one thing, Hopps...that was a fight."

Bent as they were, Judy's limp ears still picked up the sound of a whooshing tranq dart before Simon did. In a better state, the raccoon would've still most likely avoided it, but that time had passed and the dart struck him square in the back. He lurched forward again, only having enough time to let out two words before falling to the floor right next to her. "Goddammit, honey."

"Love you too, sweetie." Karen VanDal casually holstered her gun, which Judy recognized as a second Silver Centurion, then moved to her unconscious husband's side.

Judy didn't question what she was doing here, or why she had shot Simon. She was too relieved to care. "Thank you…"

"Shut up. I didn't do that for you." Karen was just as terse as Nick had described, not even looking at her. "I just had an opportune moment to shoot and I took it."

Okay, now she had questions. "You...were waiting...to shoot...your husband?"

She pulled the dart out of his back, checking both it and him for signs of damage. Not her. "Well, yeah, that was the whole plan. Up until you royally effed it up. You could've just been a good little girl and played along until I made my move, but no, you had to go and be the big hero. Same result, except way harder on everyone involved. Well done."

These two were truly meant for each other. "But...why?"

"Because he's an idiot," she said, dutifully applying first aid to said idiot. Judy really could've used some. "It's just like a male to go running off and hold up a police station, leaving his beleaguered wife to deal with the paperwork. He didn't exactly make this easy on me either, you know. I was just trying to get him arrested at first. Figured that 'interrogation' with the fox would give you enough of a lead to track him down, but then he went and pulled a stunt like this. So I had to improvise."

Judy was quickly putting the pieces together, proving that she at least hadn't suffered any brain damage. "The emergency lockdown...that was you."

"It wasn't easy hacking into the ZPD mainframe. Wasn't particularly hard either." She still wasn't looking at her, but Judy could hear the smugness in her voice. "After that, I was going to find and snipe the son of a bitch, but you went and made that difficult. Don't mammals have the decency to at least keep a fight in one room anymore?"

We were completely off-base, Judy realized. They weren't in on this together. Simon had no idea she was even involved. Karen was playing us both.

Finishing up her patch job, Karen turned her attention to the little grey flash drive that had caused so much trouble. She picked it up, examining it curiously for a moment, then crushed it in her paw like a piece of junk. "I got a newer model anyway."

Judy watched as all of her efforts literally shattered in front of her, falling through the gaps in the grated floor. "But...I...wha...don't you want that too?!"

"If I wanted that data, I would've gotten it from the network mainframe. No, it's useless to me now. I already know the ZPD had nothing to do with Kyle's disappearance. That's what I was trying to tell this one," she tilted her head back towards Simon, "before he decided to hook up with a crime lord and start gunning down polar bears. He was never a good listener."

"Ugh." Judy planted her face firmly into the floor. Evidently, she could still move a muscle. "I can't believe I did all of that for nothing. I was so close too…"

Karen let out a snort. "Okay, you do know he was going easy on you the entire time, right?"

She lifted her head. "...I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I'm not sure I heard you over my ruptured eardrums."

Karen finally looked at her, and she looked at her like she was the biggest moron to ever crawl out of the mud. "You never stood a chance, rabbit. The only reason you ever got this far was because Simon was going out of his way to pull his punches. Do you want to know how this should've ended?"

He blocked her eventual punch, shoving her arm to the side and countering with a hook to the gut. While she was staggered, he swept her feet out from under her, and the bunny had to quickly roll away to avoid being speared on the end of his peg leg. She leapt back into a kick that he once again caught, and spun, landing her face down on the ground. Trying a different approach, she sprung back up and now jumped clear over his head, aiming for his back. What kind of blow she was even going to try she didn't get to fathom, for Simon whipped his head back and caught her below the chin. Her vision went hazy, and before she knew it, he was behind her, grabbing her head by both sides and promptly snapping her neck.

Judy's limp body fell to the floor and Simon looked down at it with disgust. "What a waste of time. Stupid bunny." He took a second to spit on her corpse, then picked up the flash drive and left.

"Was the director's commentary really necessary?" Judy asked, more than a little disturbed.

"Yes." She had already turned away again. "I almost took him out right there actually, but I prefer to avoid witnesses."

Judy tensed up.

"Don't worry, you're fine. If Simon got the shit kicked out of him trying to spare your life, it'd be pretty rude of me to just kill you anyway. Besides, we're on the same side here. More or less."

"Yeah, this idea that Simon was trying not to kill me? Still not sure I'm buying it. Maybe at the beginning, sure, but…"

Karen reached down to Simon's peg leg, grabbing it at the top and twisting until it clicked. It slid right off, revealing a second artificial leg underneath. This one was much pointier, a sharpened blade that glimmered in the heat and looked like it could slice her in half like melted butter. "It's poisoned too, just so you know." Karen slid the duller leg back on. "You were saying?"

Now Judy was the one ignoring her. The rabbit's attention was too focused on the unconscious Simon laying beside her. She just didn't get it. By his own admission, he took lives with as much effort as he took breath. "Do you know how easily I could kill you right now?" And yet he didn't. He had put himself through all of this just to avoid killing her. Why?

He was willing to make any sacrifice he needed for Kyle's sake, but he still didn't want to if he could help it. Simon, you creep, how am I supposed to keep hating you now?

She could swear his motionless expression was somehow smirking at her.

There was a loud thundering of paws and hooves coming from above. Her friends. Karen looked up, unconcerned. "So much for no witnesses. You rest there, I'll do the talking."

"As if," she hissed.

"That wasn't a request."

Karen stomped on her head and Judy's last vestiges of consciousness slipped away.

You know what? He's defeated, he's getting arrested, justice has been served. I'll take it.

And now I'll take a nap.


Okay, so this wasn't exactly the big climactic fight we were building up to, but it's how we always knew it was going to go. Even though this story doesn't exactly go out of its way to adhere to realism, let's face it: Judy stands absolutely no chance against someone like Simon in any kind of fair fight. Hence the sudden shift to a long cat and mouse game in which we attempt to write a thing called suspense. And a wacky Home Alone parody, but mostly suspense.

Basically, this entire chapter was all about subverting expectations. Judy lost the fight, although she won in other ways, the cavalry doesn't arrive in time, Karen turns out to be quite the manipulator, and Simon isn't a very good husband. I'd say the VanDals just shot up a few notches in the most effed up family rankings.

Next time, we finally arrive at the Docks, meet Reynard's new assassin team, catch up with a certain angry luchadora, and kick more expectations to the curb.

Shoutout to LionKingAlex, our new beta, and his story "The Sound Designer." It's a fun little mystery/personal growth story with quirky characters and a unique case involving non-sentient reptiles. Much like "When Instinct Falls" and "Death Becomes You," it also has a minor crossover with BtBW in the form of Jimmy Frost, who is a guest character there. So check it out if you're interested and not too attached to WildeHopps. (I know I just lost half of you there, but still plugging for the other half.)

Shoutout to Pandora for coming up with the name "Roam Alone."