Smooth Operator

Judy's lavender eyes snapped open mere seconds before her alarm blared. 6:29 a.m., right on schedule. Her paw was on the off switch right as it started beeping.

While getting accustomed to a routine was nice, she mainly got on the schedule so she didn't have to deal with the very loud oryx and kudu next door who had particularly good hearing and were unfortunately ornery in the morning for a married couple living in an apartment complex with paper-thin walls.

Despite her quick reflexes, the two beeps that slipped out of the alarm clock's ancient speakers were enough to warrant a groan from beyond her faded wallpaper.

"Ugh, bunny, couldn't you take the night-shift?" complained Pronk.

"Hey, lay off her, she's got a tough job, and she doesn't need your whining at this hour!" whisper-shouted Bucky, Pronk's partner.

"Oh, that's just like you, take her side why don't you! Never mind your husband or anything!" Pronk said with increasingly loud volume.

"Shut up, you're going to wake up the neighbors! And husband? Excuse me? You haven't even proposed yet!"

"I'm working on it! And you shut up!"

"No, you shut up!"

Judy sighed, and pinched the bridge of her nose. Oh well, she thought to herself. They'll probably make up by tonight.

With any luck, the pair will have made up before she gets back from work. Judy didn't consider herself prudish, but the thin drywall separating the rooms left little to the imagination.

She lightly blushed despite herself at the thought, rolled her eyes at her own apparent chasteness, and went to take a shower, perhaps a little colder than normal.

After drying off, she made her way to her miniscule, plywood excuse for a closet and noted that the arguing from next door and quieted into subtle snoring. Smiling slightly, she pulled out her crisp, laundered ZPD uniform and scanned over it.

"Not a wrinkle anywhere," she mused. She glanced at the clock. 6:51, right on schedule. That would give her precisely four minutes to get in the cruiser, 15 minutes to get to the bake shop Nick likes so much, seven minutes to get their order, ten more minutes to get to his apartment, three minutes to wait for him to drag his foxy butt down the stairs to the car, and 20 minutes to get to the station. That would give them ten minutes to eat, chat with Clawhauser and the other officers, and get settled before their 8:00 a.m. sharp briefing with Chief Bogo.

Judy's nose twitched involuntarily. She couldn't let Nick know how organized her mornings were; she'd never hear the end of it.

She quickly changed, but took a moment to admire herself in the mirror before heading out. Although she didn't fuss too much over her appearance normally, she had to admit she loved how she looked with the ZPD badge emblazoned on her chest and the crisp lines of her uniform loosely hugging her frame. She let herself beam with pride a bit before strolling out the door.

Nick had a thick wad of twenties in his hand, cackling as Finnick drove their van through the crowded streets of Zootopia. The scent of warm, conned money filled his keen fox nose, and the warm, resonant tones of Finnick laughing hung in his ears.

"I don't compliment you enough, Nick," the fennec fox said. "I tell you what, I think that was our best scam yet."

Nick dramatically bowed before resuming counting his cash as the citizens of Zootopia flew by the windows of the van in a blur. "Mmm, yes, praise me," he said, basking in imaginary sun. "Your flattery only makes my ego grow stronger."

Nick, smiling, turned to Finnick, who had suddenly grown quiet. The laughter died, and a mysteriously sullen look adorned the smaller fox's face. "You uh, okay Finnick?" Nick asked. "What's up?"

Finnick's face hardened. "Oh, nothing," he said, tinged with bitterness. He refused to look at Nick, staring straight ahead at the road. "It's just a shame we can't keep any of that cash since you became a cop."

The blood drained from Nick's face as the surroundings melted away in a fog. The cityscape seemed to dissolve into dark blobs, and the citizens evaporated into thin air. Zootopia vanished, and the pair were driving through pitch blackness that went on for miles.

"Finnick, c'mon, I had a real chance to better myself, you know that," Nick said. "You can't judge me for trying to make something of my life." Finnick flinched, and was stared straight ahead at the darkness. Nick cringed internally; he hadn't meant that to sound so accusational. Finnick then turned to Nick slowly, his eyes and ears growing to become misshapen and distorted.

"And what about me, huh?" misshapen-head-Finnick asked. "All of a sudden some dumb cottontail bunny hustles you, drags you into her business, and you all about that life? You left me behind!"

"What? No, No! Finnick, I didn't!" Nick pleaded. He felt himself shrinking, and Finnick was growing higher and higher.

"Yes, you did!" boomed the titanic fennec. He leaned his gargantuan head down and squinted with one eye at Nick like a child with a magnifying glass over an anthill. "You left me behind! BEHI-"


Nick's eyes shot open and he immediately sat up and looked at his alarm clock. 7:08 a.m. The alarm had been going off for minutes.

He fumbled with the clock before finally hitting the off button. After setting it back down on his bare nightstand, he stared at his hands before wiping his bleary eyes. His dream was already fading from his memory, but the visage of Finnick was burned into his retinas. He knew exactly where the dream had stemmed from; after spending years pulling scams with his diminutive partner, he hadn't seen him in the five months since graduating from the ZPD Academy.

Not that he was sorry for joining the ZPD, of course. The months he'd spent as Judy's partner on the force had been the best time he'd had in years. Sure, he had rules he actually had to follow now. And yes, occasional meter maid duty was mind-numbingly boring, Judy's competitive antics notwithstanding. And yeah, he was of the opinion that Chief Bogo could do with removing a few of the hundreds of sticks from his butt, an opinion he often shared with Judy and always made her giggle.

"Okay," he admitted to himself. "The giggling makes up for it a bit."

Even if there wasn't any bunny giggling, he had actual purpose now. He'd never admit it aloud to Judy, Clawhauser, or any of his coworkers, but Nick hadn't taken pride in his life for a long time.

"Coworkers," he mumbled to himself, a slight grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "I have freaking coworkers. Screw business associates, I've got actual coworkers."

Right as his mouth began to break into a smile, the image of Finnick glaring at him reared its gigantic, oddly-proportioned head in the landscape of his mind, and the smile quickly faltered.

He glanced back at the clock, and saw that he'd wasted five minutes sitting there. He groaned loudly and dramatically to no one in particular; Judy would be at his door soon. Trudging his way to his shower, he yelped after turning it on and being blasted with icy water. Squinting at the shower handles through his shivering, he confirmed that yes, he had turned the hot handle, and yes, the apartment manager hadn't put in the work order to fix his faulty water heater.

A frown toxic enough to contaminate even the peppiest morning-mammal's mood grew over his face as he speed-showered through the involuntary convulsions from the cold. An even faster blow-dry and toweling off didn't help his demeanor any as he threw on a white t-shirt and his work slacks. He paused momentarily before putting on his uniform. The ironed lines on it still felt a little strange on his body, but he acknowledged that the alienness of wearing it was diminishing with each passing day. Right as he'd finished tucking in his shirt, a sharp rap at his door rang through the apartment.

"Nick?" Judy asked from the other side. "You'd better not still be in bed." Nick deftly and silently made his way over to the door, avoiding the one squeaky board on his wooden floor.

"I swear, if I have to use the spare key to get in and see you sleeping in your boxers again, I'll-" was all Judy could get out before Nick made it to the door.

At that moment, the door swung open and a very smug fox stood wearing a very practiced, very hurt look on his face. "Carrots, your words wound me!" he exclaimed, bringing a hand up to his forehead in fake distress. "That you would believe me capable of such behavior cuts right to my very soul." He pulled a clenched fist to his chest for emphasis.

Judy was unimpressed, and she unceremoniously waved a coffee and bag of pastries in front of his face. "Can it, Wilde," she said, rolling her eyes. "After I went to the trouble of going to that lynx's bakery for you, I don't want to hear any complaints."

Nick scoffed, and turned his snout up at the gifts. "So, you think I'm so cheap that you can buy my dignity with, ooh-" he said suddenly, sniffing the air. "Is that hazelnut with one and a half sugars?"

Judy smiled, despite her telling herself before she got to the apartment that she wouldn't give her partner the satisfaction of knowing that his little games had an effect on her.

"Yes, it is. And yes, that is two still-warm blueberry Danishes in the bag. So, you were saying?" She asked, pleased at having the upper hand. Nick's stomach will always be his one weakness.

Nick's tail gave an involuntary swish at the mention of blueberry Danishes. "Alright, Carrots, you got me," he said, reaching for the bag. "A coffee and two blueberry pastries are exactly the price of my dignity."

Judy pulled the bag and coffee right out of his reach before grinning. "Nuh uh, Mr. Fox, not until we're out in the cruiser."

"Ugh, c'mon Fluff, don't play me like this," Nick groaned, his ears folding back.

Judy was already near bounding down the stairs. "If you want them, you'll have to come and get them!" she teased. Nick quickly locked up, the odor of blueberries and hazelnut still fresh in his nose, and made his way to the car.

He strolled out of the complex at the briskest fast-walk he could that still retained a little dignity. As he sat down in the police cruiser, Judy turned the key in the ignition. "Okay, Carrots, I'm here, now can I please feast on the bountiful harvest you've so generously provided?" he asked.

Judy shook her head once, and replied, "Not until you buckle in. Safety first!"

Nick groaned. "You know, Carrots, there is such a thing as being too chipper in the morning. Cut me some slack, foxes were nocturnal for thousands of years," he said, buckling himself.

"Thankfully, we've got coffee for that now," she replied, handing his greedy paws the coffee he so desperately craved. She'd barely lifted the cup up to him before he snatched it away, inhaling the aroma deeply.

"Ahh, that's more like it," he said, taking a big swig and nearly scalding his tongue. His face contorted into several amusing shapes as he tried to soothe his burned mouth.

Judy giggled and rolled her eyes. "You know, you could wait just a little bit before guzzling it down. There is such a thing as savoring it."

Nick's tongue still hurt, but he soldiered on and lifted the cup to his mouth again. "No, ith definithly all worth it," he said. Judy pulled out of the spot and started toward ZPD Precinct One. Nick reached into the brown sack between them and pulled out a Danish.

The pastry was still warm, and the fresh blueberry filling helped soothe his scalded mouth when he took a bite. He looked in the bag and noticed a carrot donut, and handed it to Judy. They ate in silence for a few minutes, savoring their first food of the day.

Nick had finished his first pastry and was having a battle in his mind over whether to eat the second one now or later when Judy piped up. "What do you think Bogo will have for us today?" she asked as she polished off the last of her donut.

"Whatever it is, it had just better not be parking duty," Nick replied. "I know you love handing out hundreds of tickets in an hour, but ticketing parked cars for a day actually makes me reconsider a life of hustling."

Judy turned to her partner. "Nick, you know I hate parking duty just as much as you do, right?"

"Then why are you always so gung-ho about it? You could take it a little easier, it's not like missing a few parking citations is gonna be the end of the world."

She shrugged. "I don't know, I just don't like leaving a job half-finished. If Bogo has me on parking duty, then I'm going to be the best damn meter maid this city has ever seen."

Nick snickered a bit. "And you've certainly earned that title if the number of angry citizens arguing with Clawhauser over being two minutes late back to their car is any indication."

They shared a brief laugh before he spoke up again. "Aren't you worried that doing such a good job on parking duty means they're gonna stick you on it over and over again?"

"I don't really think that's how it works, Nick," she replied, a teasing tone lilting at the edge of her voice. "I mean, we solved the biggest kidnapping and conspiracy case the city has ever seen. I doubt Bogo would waste our talent by sticking us with permanent parking duty just because I'm good at putting tickets on cars."

"Yeah, but what else are we gonna do?" Nick groaned. "It's not like crime has gone up since you ushered in a new era of pred-prey Kumbaya after nearly starting mass riots between species." He paused. "Nice work on that, by the way," he said with a grin.

She wanted to bury her head in her paws, and would have if she wasn't driving. Being reminded of her lowest point, when she drove off her best friend and resigned from the ZPD wasn't a memory she enjoyed reliving. She refused to give Nick the satisfaction, though; she had to flip the subject a bit. "You know, you were just as responsible as I was for kickstarting the new era of Kumbaya as I was," she said warmly. "So don't pin the fact that Bogo has nothing for us to do solely on me. All this peace and quiet is because of you, too."

That's it, Judy, she thought to herself. He gets sarcastic, you get nice. We'll beat that dumb fox with kindness. Now, he'll say something sassy, we'll laugh, and you'll be up on points.

Nick didn't remark with something snide, though. Silence filled the car for a few moments before Judy looked over at her partner. It's not easy for furred mammals to tell when another mammal is blushing, but Judy could have sworn she saw a little extra red tinged on Nick's face.

"Hey, c'mon, Carrots, you were the one who figured out about the Nighthowlers and was actually a cop at the time," Nick said, slowly rubbing the back of his neck. "You did most of the work, I was just along for the ride."

"I just got lucky and stumbled onto that connection," Judy retorted. "You were the one that actually saved the briefcase with the evidence, and you came up with the plan to trick Bellweather by pretending to go savage. An act, I might add, that you performed flawlessly." When she could, she stole glances toward her partner to gauge his face. It wasn't like Nick to get modest in the face of praise; normally it inflated his already large ego to dangerous proportions.

Nick looked into his cup of coffee, and a smile crept onto his muzzle.

At a red light, she spoke up again. "I'm serious, Nick," Judy said. She reached over placed a paw on Nick's shoulder. She stared intently at him. He shifted a bit under her gaze, and the car was suddenly a bit hot for the fox. "I couldn't have done any of that without my partner." A smile had broken out over Judy's face as she looked at her partner. Nick was caught off guard by how genuine her smile was, and could do little to fight the warmth blooming in his chest.

"Heh, I uh, well, thanks, Judy," he said finally. "You made me want to help the city."

And you, I wanted to help you, he thought to himself. Nick's eyes widened a bit at his own monologue. That… was not what I meant to think. I didn't really do that for you, did I?

"Nick, did you just call me Judy?"

The fox froze, and he could have sworn Judy had turned the heater in the car on.

"Uhhh…" was all he could get out. His collar had gotten tight. He never slipped up like that. Had he really just called her by her first name? "Um, sly bunny?" he said finally, more of a rhetorical question than anything.

Judy beamed at him with a strange combination of smug pride and authentic warmth.

"Dumb fox," she said, pulling her hand away and punching him lightly on the shoulder. He rubbed the spot in mock pain, but where she had been resting her hand felt a little colder without it there. They were only a few minutes from the station.

Did I really do that for you? He asked himself again. Yes, yes I did.

The remainder of the drive was filled with comfortable silence, Judy content that she'd made it clear to Nick about the gravity of his contribution to the Nighthowler case, and Nick absorbed in his thoughts. They pulled into the station lot at 7:49, one minute ahead of schedule. Judy internally fist pumped at their punctuality.

As the pair strolled into the station, Nick's thoughts lingered on the conversation in the cruiser. Why did I call her Judy? I never do that. A bit of praise from a single bunny shouldn't be enough to turn me into a quivering kit.

And yet, as they made their way to Clawhauser, he found himself being mindful of how close he was to her, not wanting to lag too far behind, but also not getting too close. He took especially close notice of how her tail seemed to bob ever so slightly with each step. How had he not noticed that before?

This... certainly is a new development.

The cheetah noticed their entrance. He held a donut in one hand and a very sugary coffee in the other. "Hey guys!" he shouted out before attacking the donut like his ancestors attacked gazelles on the savanna. "How was your weekend?" he asked with his mouth full.

"Oh, you know, same old, same old," Judy answered. She wasn't lying. For how much hustle and bustle there was in Zootopia, she often found herself quietly reading, listening to music, or texting Nick on the weekends. Occasionally they'd go out for a bite at lunch, or catch a concert, but they both knew neither was making much money at the precinct, so they didn't push the issue much.

"Okay Judy, real talk here," Clawhauser said, suddenly serious. "Are we good enough friends that I can call you cute yet?"

Judy's ears flopped back and she rolled her eyes. Clawhauser had both paws under his chin, waiting with bated breath for her response. "Just… just as long as you don't overdo it," she said after a pregnant pause. "Like, once or twice a day, max."

"Oooooh!" he squealed. "Thanks Judy, you won't regret it!"

"Good, don't make me," she replied, cocking an eyebrow.

"Okay then, real talk number two. When is a cute thing like you gonna find yourself a guy? You've been in Zootopia for months, but I've never heard you talk about a date."

Judy's ears flipped straight up. Nick, who had pulled out his phone, found himself very interested in their new conversation.

"I-I don't know what you're talking about," she said. Her cheeks burned. "I mean, I don't even know where I'd go looking."

"Oh, honey, I know plenty of mammals that I could hook you up with!" the cheetah replied jovially. Something rose in the pit of Nick's stomach, and he felt the strange urge to tape Clawhauser's mouth shut and make his way to the bullpen.

"O-Oh no, I could never do a blind date," Judy said, desperately wishing for a way out of the conversation. She didn't mind small talk with her coworkers, but her personal life wasn't something she liked discussing. "I'd definitely have to know them. I couldn't go out with a complete stranger."

Nick noticed Judy's discomfort. Her naturally straight posture dipped somewhat, and the tips of her ears drooped. "Hey, Clawhauser," he piped up, a distracting, relaxed smile plastered on his muzzle. "I just remembered, picked you up something nice at the bakery." He flipped the cheetah his second blueberry Danish. "Don't let it get cold, big guy," he finished with a wink.

"Oh, Nick, you shouldn't have!" Clawhauser said, nabbing the pastry out of mid-air. "I mean, please do it again in the future, but you shouldn't have!" He quickly took to snarfing down the baked treat. Nick deftly placed his hand on Judy's back and started walking towards the bullpen.

"Sly fox," she said grinning at her partner as they walked away. "I'll have to get you an extra one tomorrow."

"No problem, Carrots. I don't like being interrogated about my personal life, either."

"I mean, he meant well, and I don't hold it against him," she said. "It's just, who likes to talk about the fact that they haven't had a date in yea-months?" She found her cheeks burning again.

Nick shot his patented smug grin back at Judy. "Hey, you won't find any judgment from me."

She stuck her tongue out at her partner. "Seriously, though, thanks Nick," she said, wrapping one arm around the fox's waist in a hug. "I appreciate it."

"Uh, don't mention it, Carrots," he replied, quickly removing his hand from her back. His collar felt warm for the second time that morning. He still wasn't sure how he felt about it yet.

As they took their oversized seat at the front of the room, they still had a few minutes to spare. Fangmeyer and Wolford were laughing in the back at some joke McHorn had told. Francine had a bored look on her face, swiping right on her phone, while occasionally pausing to swipe left, while Delgato was sneaking peeks at what she was up to. All the other officers were either thumbing through their phones or making small talk. Not long after, Chief Bogo lumbered into the room, his presence immediately felt by everyone else.

"Alright, everyone, that's enough," he said. Bogo had the strange ability to boom his voice like thunder while keeping it at a conversational level. Although Nick liked to give the Cape buffalo a hard time when he could, he never missed a word the chief said.

"So, just a few things on the docket today," Bogo said, gesturing to his clipboard and adjusting his reading glasses. "First, the winner of the raffle will be determined later today, so now's your last opportunity to buy tickets. First prize is two passes to the upcoming Gazelle show."

"Yeah, like anyone stands a chance since Clawhauser bought like 50," Wolford snickered, causing the entire room to break out in laughter.

"Be that as it may, today's still your last chance for tickets," Bogo said unfazed. "Second, we've got a pretty routine day ahead. Wolford, Fangmeyer, Snarlof, and Higgins, traffic duty in Tundratown." A collective groan arose from the four officers. "Chief, c'mon, traffic duty?" whined Fangmeyer, warranting a glare from Bogo. "Isn't there anything else?"

"That's an order, Fangmeyer. The ice machines in Tundratown have been on the fritz and are overproducing, so there's plenty of road closures to deal with. Public Works has assured me they're working on the problem, and should be cleared up shortly. Until then, traffic is going to be a nightmare down there, so keep the peace. Now then, Delgato, Francine, McHorn, there's a planned rally in support of interspecies relationships in Sahara Square. You'll be running security."

Delgato spoke up. "Uh, Chief? Not that I'm arguing the order, but is security really necessary?" he asked. "I mean, interspecies and pred-prey stuff is pretty common nowadays."

"First, Delgato, that sounded an awful lot like arguing to me," Bogo glowered. A few stray chuckles were heard throughout the room. Judy swore Bogo's state could bore a hole through walls. Bogo straightened his posture. "And second, I share your sentiments. With public opinion so heavily shifted in favor of the interspecies movement in the last year, I was going to just put you three on regular patrol, but the Mayor's office said it would be good to have a ZPD presence. Something about, 'putting up the ZPD as the face of equality' or some such nonsense," he concluded. This seemed to satisfy Delgato, who slouched back in his chair.

"Don't act like you're not excited, Delgato," teased Francine. "I've seen how you look at that doe that sells coffee across the street." The whole bullpen proceeded to 'Oooooh!' at the accusation. Wolford clamped his paw over Fangmeyer's mouth to keep him from howling.

"Please, she just makes good coffee," Delgato said coolly, but Nick noticed the tiniest bead of sweat on the tiger's forehead. Smirking, he made a mental note to push that button later.

"Whatever you say, big boy," the elephant said, an unconvinced glint in her eyes.

"That's enough," Bogo said, without a trace of anger. Everyone knew he could run the tightest ship possible at the precinct, but allowed a fair amount of ribbing and jokes at his daily meetings. The camaraderie made the team feel more like a family.

"Everyone else, you have your normal patrol duties. Sorry there's nothing more exciting, but take the lack of work to do as a good sign. When we do our jobs right, our days should be quite boring," Bogo said. Sighs and quiet groans of acknowledgement rumbled across the room as the mammals started filing out.

"Well, Carrots," Nick started. "Looks like another fun-filled day of mammal-watching and keeping an eye out for pickpockets." He slid himself out of the seat and began making his way to the door. He and Judy usually waited until everyone else had left on account of their size.

Judy grumbled under her breath. "Yeah, looks like it. Beats parking duty, I guess."

Nick grinned, showing off a few teeth. "See, that's the spirit! Maybe, if we're lucky, someone can try to hold up a donut store and when we heroically catch the bad guy, we can get some on the house!" He did a little jig with his arms.

Judy chuckled lightly. "I'm pretty sure accepting gifts for doing our work is unethical, Nick. Don't you remember the ethics test you had to take?"

Nick's imaginary rumba ground to a halt. "You know, Carrots, you can be a real wet blanket sometimes. Officer Dreamkiller, they ought to call you."

She punched him on the arm. "Hey, I'm just trying to save your sorry butt from an Internal Affairs investigation." At this point, it was just Judy, Nick, and Bogo left in the room. "Hold up, you two," the Chief said after everyone else had left. "I was not entirely honest when I said everyone else had their usual patrols. Meet me in my office in five minutes." Bogo then strode out, leaving a cryptic air between the two.

Nick looked at Judy, and noticed her nose was getting scrunched up. Heh, she's got her thinking face on, he thought. Nick found his gaze lingering a second too long at his partner before quickly turning and admiring a very interesting spot on the blank wall.

"What do you think the Chief wants?" she asked, her face an equal mix anticipation, worry, and confusion.

Nick gave a lazy shrug of his shoulders. "Eh, who knows. Maybe just changing up our usual route."

"Maybe," she said, unsure.

"Well, we'll find out in a few minutes anyway," Nick said. He began walking out of the room. "You coming?"

Judy, lost in her thoughts, snapped to attention. "Oh, yeah," she said, and made her way to his side. The pair went up the flight of stairs and waited outside Bogo's office. Shortly after, Bogo ushered them in and they sat down. Damn, the chief's face is practically unreadable, thought Nick.

A few heavy moments passed before Bogo sighed. "Alright. Wilde, Hopps, let me be clear," he began. "Nothing that I say here leaves this office, understood?" Judy and Nicked looked at each other quizzically before nodding in unison.

"Good. Now, you're not going to be on your usual patrol. Instead, I've got a… sensitive case for you both." He slid a file folder across his desk, which Judy promptly picked up. Inside were pictures taken from security cameras, showing mammals in various locations across Zootopia exchanging thick wads of cash.

"Chief, what exactly is this?" Judy asked.

"There's a large scale gambling ring that we believe is operating here out of Savanna Central," he said. "And we have reason to suspect that someone in the ZPD is feeding these mammals information on how to avoid getting caught."

Nick's eyes widened, and felt himself leaning forward in his chair. Judy looked aghast.

"W-what? Chief, there has to be some mistake."

Bogo sighed. "There's no mistake Hopps. Some of the cash in those photos was marked by us here at Precinct One. We came across these photos a few days ago. Somehow, though, they've managed to escape any detection. It would be impossible for them to get their hands this scot-free without someone on the inside."

Judy passed the folder to Nick, who began thumbing through the images. His stomach sank; he knew some of the mammals in these photos from before he became a cop. The idea that some of them went from picking pockets to something more organized filled him with a regret he'd never felt before.

"Okay, Chief, but why are you telling us?" Judy said. "Shouldn't this be a larger scale investigation?"

"In ordinary circumstances, Hopps, yes, it would," he said. "However, we believe that starting a full-scale inquiry into this issue could spook whoever is working with these criminals into cutting all contact, and potentially making the lead dry up. You two are among my best officers, and Internal Affairs has done a thorough investigation into you two and found you both to be completely clean."

"Not that I'm so certain, Wilde," Bogo said, leering at the fox. "You're not so far removed from your past that you're completely free from my suspicion, but if the spooks at IA say you're clean, then I'll defer to their judgment."

Nick shifted uncomfortably in his seat, but maintained eye contact with Bogo. He wanted to play it cool, but hearing the chief's distrust drudged up some unfortunate realities. Months as a cop doesn't clear years of hustling.

Judy spoke up abruptly. "Chief, I personally vouch for Officer Wilde. He's not had a single instance of misconduct since he graduated as valedictorian from the Academy, and has been a valued partner. I wouldn't have been able to operate at the level I have been without his support." Her words were clipped and terse. While she was showing respect to Bogo, Nick could tell she was upset. Her tail was fluffed out, and he could see her fighting the urge to stamp her feet. He couldn't help but feel a swell of pride at her praise.

"Relax Hopps, Internal Affairs spent months investigating Officer Wilde before he joined the force. He's here listening to this, isn't he?"

She began to speak again, but paused before any words could get out.

Bogo spoke again, this time with more warmth in his voice. "Part of being an officer at my precinct is considering all available options, and not dismissing any outcome as impossible. I just want to make it clear to Officer Wilde that I am extending a large hoof of trust on this."

Nick swallowed. "Understood, Chief."

"Sir," Nick said after a few moments. "Are you saying that some of our fellow officers are under suspicion?"

Bogo shut both his eyes and let out a long breath he didn't realize he was holding. "Yes, Officer Wilde, that's exactly what I'm saying. It doesn't make me happy to say, but that's what it means."

Nick placed the folder back up on the desk before shooting a concerned glance at Judy. She was staring at the floor, eyes darting back and forth. Her nose was twitching again, but it soon stopped. She slowly stood, and her eyes were fiery.

"Chief, it would be an honor to take this case," she said, each word dripping with determination.

Bogo chuckled quietly to himself. "I figured you'd say that, Hopps." He turned his gaze at Nick. "Officer Wilde, what about you?"

"O-of course, sir." Nick said, with a little less conviction than he'd wanted. "We'll get on it immediately."

"Glad to hear it," Bogo said, standing up. "Unfortunately, we have little in the way of leads. We don't want to let these people know we're on to them, so you're going to be on your own for ideas. Wilde, how close are you still to your associates from before you became an officer?"

Nick rubbed the back of his neck. "Honestly sir? Not very. I've more or less… cut contact with most."

"I already knew that, but it's good to hear out of your mouth," Bogo said. "Hopps, didn't you mention you'd spoken with a reporter from the Zootopia News Herald a while ago?"

Judy perked up. "Oh, yeah! His name was, uh…" Her foot tapped to jog her memory. "Cameron Cotton, I think."

"I saw an article in today's paper about a slow growth of criminal activity here in Savanna Central, and it had his byline. Try reaching out to him, see if he knows anything we don't."

"Of course, sir, we'll get right on it," Judy said, saluting. Nick quickly rose to attention and saluted as well.

Bogo sat back down, and began reviewing some notes. "Very good, officers. Dismissed," he said with a wave of his hand.

Judy and Nick walked out of the office. Nick felt something heavy weigh down in the pit of his stomach. Investigating our fellow officers, he thought. I almost wish Bogo didn't pick us for this.

Judy noticed her partner's look of consternation. "Hey, Nick? You okay?" she asked, worry hanging at the edge of her words.

Nick turned to her, and every ounce of doubt washed from his face. He smirked at Judy. "Yeah, Carrots, don't worry about it," he said smoothly. After lying to other mammals for most of his life, Nick liked to think he had a good poker face. "Someone down in accounting thinks they can squirrel away a few extra bucks, big deal. We'll have this closed for Buffalo Butt in a few days, tops." Nick stretched his arms before heading down the stairs ahead of Judy.

Judy stared at her partner for a moment before a laugh escaped her lips. "Nick, I think the term 'squirrel away' is kind of racist," she said as she caught up to Nick.

The foxed was unfazed, walking with both hands in his pockets. "I mean, have you met a squirrel before? Big fans of stowing stuff for later, only to forget about it later. Made for great marks during my less scrupulous days."

"Officer Wilde, what am I going to do with you," Judy said, shaking her head.

"Hopefully buy me a second blueberry pastry after saving your butt from Clawhauser's interrogation."

"Ass," Judy said, punching her partner in the arm for the third time that day.

"Officer Hopps, such language!" Nick said, recoiling in faux horror and rubbing his arm. The horror was fake, but the dull throb in his arm wasn't. That bunny is going to be the death of me.

She hopped down the remaining few stairs. "Only for you, partner."

Soon, they were out in their cruiser. Nick buckled himself in. "Alright, Carrots, where are we off to?"

Judy had pulled out her phone and flipping through a list of contacts. "Bogo's idea was good. I'm gonna message Cameron and see if he's got time to meet us."

Nick blinked. He was vaguely familiar with Cameron Cotton; an arctic hare investigative reporter in Zootopia, often delving deep into the underbelly of the city. Before he'd become a cop, Nick remembered reading one of Cotton's pieces, an exposé into a case of systemic abuse and corruption by the Rodentian city council. Nick respected his work, but always got a vibe of zealotry when he read something Cotton had written.

"How did you say you knew him?" Nick asked.

"He contacted me as a source for a story he was writing while you were in training," she replied cheerfully. "I told him to go through the proper media channels with the ZPD, but we talked a bit and agreed that if one of us needed a tip, the could go to the other to see what they knew. I figured having reliable contacts would help out in the long run."

Nick shrugged his shoulders and nodded. "Makes sense to me."

Judy paused before turning the key in the ignition. "Nick, was what you said in the Chief's office true? Have you really cut contact with your old hustling friends?"

Nick inwardly flinched; this wasn't exactly a conversation he was interested in having. "I didn't really cut contact, Fluff." He was staring out the passenger window. "They stopped talking to me. Not many of them are big fans of cops."

"O-oh," she replied simply. Her hand lingered in mid-air, torn halfway between resting on his shoulder and going back to the wheel. "I'm, um, sorry to hear that. Even Finnick?"

Nick said nothing, shrugging his shoulders again.

Her ears folded back, and she turned away from her partner. "Sorry, Nick, I shouldn't have brought it up."

Nick closed his eyes and sighed, then turned to Judy with as close of a look of comfort that he could manage. "Hey, don't worry about it, Carrots," he said. "You don't need to walk on eggshells around me."

"I-, uh, thanks, Nick," she said, returning a weak smile that quickly shifted into a frown. "I already drove you off once, and I'd really rather not do it again."

Nick snickered and lost the fight to contain his laughter. Judy stared at him, her nostrils flaring and red tinging her cheeks. Although he'd actually wind up dead if he said it out loud, Nick had to admit she was cute when she got angry with him. "What the hell, Nick, I open myself up over here and you're laughing?" Judy yelled. Her fists were balled in small, lagomorphic fury.

The fox wiped a tear from his eye. "S-sorry, Carrots, but c'mon. You think anything you say or do will get to me that badly?" A few stray chuckles escaped from his lips before he calmed down. "No, you're stuck with me, Hopps, whether you want to be or not. Now, are we going to meet Mr. Bigshot reporter or what?" He gave her the smuggest cool-guy grin he could muster.

Judy stared at him before her anger melted into giggles in mere seconds. "Well, I guess if I'm stuck with you, then it can't be helped. I guess you'll just have to be my partner forever, then."

Nick's heart gave an involuntary leap, and he felt his cool grin morph into something much more self-conscious upon hearing her words. Yup, the new development doesn't seem to be going away.

Her phone gave a little ring for a notification. "Oh, he said he'd meet us at a café on 36th and Acacia in 25 minutes," said Judy, who started up the car.

"Well, can't keep him waiting, can we?" Nick said, sliding on his Aviator sunglasses.

"I think you'll like him, Nick. He kinda reminds me of you in some ways."

"Oh yeah? Well then, I can't wait to meet him," Nick said.

Judy nodded once, and the pair quickly sped off towards the restaurant.