Sometimes, what a mammal thought had ended the season was not quite the last of it. The season ends with the start of the next one, after all.
"I'm fine." Judy mumbled to her parents. They had approached her at the produce stand and seemed concerned, of course, but Judy hoped not to give her parents all the details of her return. Ever since she'd arrived, any conversation her parents initiated made her worry that they would ask for such details.
"You're not fine," Judy's mom knew, "your ears are droopy."
Judy had hoped that her huge hat would shield her ears from view, but she sighed heavily when she realized that her plan didn't work, and that talking to her parents was unavoidable. "Why did I think I could make a difference?" Her words felt heavy and forced, like nothing wanted to come out but needed to.
"Because you're a trier," Judy's dad said. "That's why."
"You've always been a trier," her mom agreed. Both were looking at her with encouragement, but the words didn't sound very promising.
"Oh, I tried," Judy stared at the short stack of newspapers in front of her, noticing only the negative headlines. "And I made life so much worse for so many innocent predators."
A passing car honked a couple times. "Oh! Not all of them, though," Judy's dad's voice contended a bit with the engine. Only the vehicle didn't pass. "Speak of the devil. Right on time!"
The van stopped right in front of the group of bunnies, and Judy looked up to see a pink delivery van. And the name on it...
"Is that..." She hesitated at first, finding it hard to believe. But the name was plain and clear. "Gideon Grey?"
"Yep! Sure is," her dad looked proud of himself when he spoke, puffing his chest out a bit. "We work with him now."
"He's our partner," Judy's mom added. She looked pleased with herself as well, and Judy found pride rising in her own chest. "And we never would have considered it had you not opened our minds."
"That's right," her dad continued. "I mean, Gid's turned into one of the top pastry chefs in the Tri-Burrows."
"That's..." Judy was at a loss for words, and for the first time in months, it was a good thing. Her parents, her very own mom and dad, who had chided her so much about working with a "dangerous" and "threatening" fox, were now working with one themselves. For her parents, that must have felt huge. Despite her mood, she was finally able to look up and smile at them. "That's really cool, you guys."
Walking around the produce stand, Judy approached the fox. She hadn't seen him since her childhood, and she'd assumed she wouldn't see him again. That he'd moved to one of the other districts or something. But there he was. The aroma of homemade pies wafted from the back of the van, through the doors he'd just opened.
"Gideon Grey," she greeted and managed a hint of a smile, though her stomach still felt heavy with guilt. She wondered if Gideon kept up with everything and knew what she'd done. "I'll be darned."
"Hey, Judy," the fox had turned to her with a hint of panic in his eyes. "I-I'd just like to say, I'm sorry for the way I-I—I behaved in my youth. I, I had a lot of self doubt," he paused to inhale, "and it manifested itself in the form of unchecked rage and aggression." After a moment, he seemed to calm down a bit. "I was a major jerk."
"Well," Judy widened her smile a bit, hoping it came off as encouraging. "I know a thing or two about being a jerk."
The next moments happened so quickly that Judy felt she could hardly keep up. One moment, Gideon was offering pies, and the next, the word "Night Howlers," along with a story about her Uncle Terry, sprung Judy's energy level out if its murky state.
"A bunny can go savage..." Judy realized. She thought back to when she'd told Nick they couldn't. But why not? Of course that had been a horribly small-minded statement, and it made a lot more sense that a bunny could go savage. That something other than DNA or biology was at fault. Predators weren't biologically any more harmful than prey, not this far into mammal evolution. "Night Howlers aren't wolves... they're flowers. The flowers are making the predators go savage—" Judy gasped, "That's it! That's what I've been missing!"
For the first time in three months, she felt a strong ray of hope. How could she fix anything when she didn't know what was making predators go savage? She couldn't prove their innocence when the evidence, that they were the only ones going savage, was against them. But this, this meant that she could prove predators really are safe. That someone, not something, was behind it all, and she knew exactly where to start.
In her rush to the truck, Judy forgot she needed a way to actually drive it, and she spun around, shouting: "Oh— keys, keys keys keys, hurry, come on!" Her dad tossed her the keys without question, something she'd have to seriously thank him for later. "Thank you! I love you, bye!" She was in the driver's seat and on the move before any response back from her parents, Gideon, or her younger siblings.
It took a few minutes for the bunny to realize she had exceeded the speed limit by far more than an acceptable amount. As a now-civilian, she didn't care too much. She needed to get to Nick. As a cop-at-heart, she scolded herself.
But not enough to slow down very much. Once she reached Zootopia, Judy made her way to the run-down part of town where Nick once commented that he'd usually find Finnick, his business partner. Funny enough, the fox never mentioned his own usual whereabouts, but it did make a bit more sense when she realized he kept things private to keep himself safe.
Sure enough, the small fox's van was parked in an alleyway. Judy stopped nearby, hopped out of her truck, and knocked on the back doors of the van. An angry and defensive fennec emerged.
"Who is it?!" The expression softened when the fox looked down and saw Judy.
"I need to find Nick," Judy pleaded. "Please." She took a deep breath before continuing. "I don't know what he told you, or if he said anything at all... just believe me when I say it's important."
"Y'know, helping cops ain't my style," Finnick shook his head, but he tossed his bat back onto the floor of his van before crossing his arms. "But I'll tell y' what I know."
When he caught the roar of an unfamiliar truck, Nick knew someone was around. He slurped loudly at his drink in an attempt to drown it out. A dumb, futile attempt. When the engine died and a door opened and slammed shut, he smelled what couldn't have been anything other than bunnies. The strongest of the scents belonging to the one bunny he never thought he'd be dealing with again.
He stuck his sunglasses on and closed his eyes. Maybe if he couldn't see nor hear her, he could pretend she wasn't there. This was not what he'd imagined his self-granted day off of hustling would entail. And as much as he didn't want to admit it, his pulse quickened when he figured out that Judy had come looking for him. He didn't know what any of this meant, or what would come of it, and he wasn't sure he was ready to find out.
She gave him no choice.
"Oh, Nick!" She must have spotted him now, for relief was apparent in her voice, and the sound of bunny footsteps came closer and closer. "Night Howlers aren't wolves," she began. "They're toxic flowers." Nick had kept himself from looking, but by her scent and voice, it was apparent that Judy was next to him before she finished speaking. "I think someone is targeting predators on purpose and making them go savage."
As if nothing happened. "Wow," the fox stood up and took his glasses off, but he averted his gaze and walked the opposite direction. He kept his voice flat. Though he couldn't exactly say he'd expected an apology, the lack of acknowledgement about the past three months certainly brought disappointment. "Isn't that interesting?"
He'd walked a few paces without hearing any reaction, having stunned her for the moment, and he felt a lump in his throat along with an urge to curl around his tail and escape. Hide away. But he needed to stay calm, not just run. Each step took a bit more energy than he remembered steps normally taking, and he almost didn't hear her when Judy called out for him to wait and bounded forward to catch up.
Those words probably could have stopped him the first time.
But regardless of whether they could have or not, they didn't happen, then. They worked now, however, and his pace slowed to a stop as he heard her continue.
"I know you'll never forgive me," she was now closer behind him, "and I don't blame you. I wouldn't forgive me either." Nick heard her take a breath. "I was ignorant, and.. irresponsible, and small-minded." Nick himself breathed in deeply. There they were. The things he'd longed to hear for months. "But predators shouldn't suffer because of my mistakes."
Exhaling slowly, Nick contemplated Judy's words. He had never been sure, but now he knew she had been aware of the greater effects of her words. And that she regretted them.
"I have to fix this," Judy kept going, kept spewing words that grasped his heart to an alarming extent. "But I can't do it without you." He heard her voice break, and he knew what was coming. What he could hardly believe was that she thought she needed his help. His paw slipped into his front pocket, where the carrot pen rested. One silent click, and the recorder was running. He didn't think before starting it.
"And after we're done," she added, "you can hate me. And..." When she sobbed, Nick flinched, grasping the carrot pen more firmly. "And that'll be fine. Because I was a horrible friend, and I hurt you, and you— and you can walk away knowing that you were right, all along." She sniffed, managing to keep her cool enough to finish talking. "I really am just a dumb bunny."
He was left speechless while he processed everything. The fact that, after three entire months, she had returned. The fact that she apologized. That she thought he'd hate her, never forgive her, and that they'd do this one last thing, whatever she had in mind, then part ways. Frankly, that sort of thinking made some sort of fear rise in his gut. To lose her again? He could finally admit that he'd missed her. But there stood Judy Hopps, right there, and he had a chance to fix this.
Naturally, Nick knew he needed to lighten the mood, and todothat, he knew exactly what to say. He rewound and played the carrot pen's recording at the right spot.
"... I really am just a dumb bunny." Judy was sniffling, from the crying, but halted. Hearing this, he played the recording once more. "I really am just a dumb bunny."
Turning to look at her for the first time, Nick couldn't prevent the smile that came to his face. There was the one he'd needed this whole time. "Don't worry, Carrots. I'll let you erase it," he promised. But he didn't want her getting off too easily. "In forty-eight hours."
The immediate drop of tension in the moment, the trust, the relief— it just may have been worth the three months of waiting.
With the resolution of the ending season's affairs, a mammal can look forward, without regret, at the start of the next season. But first, they must wait for its signs.
Author's Note: Thank you so much to PullTogether and ZootopiaChapters for beta reading this chapter for me!
This is the final chapter. Thank you all so much for all of your support throughout this fanfic! Some of you have been reading it since I started over a month ago, and it's incredible. I appreciate it way more than you know!
And to any new readers, I'm just as grateful to you. Thank you, to everyone, for reading this to the end!
Any comments are extremely appreciated. I'm also undecided on what I'll write next, so feel free to say what you'd like to see more of ;).
Thank you all again!
Also, an extra thank you to PullTogether for catching random mistakes I make. They have a couple great fanfics up as well, so check those out!