A/N: Gonna miss 'em.

Chapter 3: "Bingo"


Forty minutes seemed to zoom by at an annoyingly unfair rate, so quickly that Judy felt as if she'd only blinked and it was already time to get up. Which left her feeling very grumpy and unwilling to move as she sat there, still in Nick's shirt and still with her eyes glued to the television.

The news had come and go like a flash of lightning, and it only consisted of that news zebra from earlier looking harassed, frustrated, and about two seconds from tearing her hair out before the station- indeed, all the stations- decided it was a wasted endeavor and cut the feed.

None of that was surprising. It would be a very cold day in hell before Chief Bogo allowed the media to soil an investigation scene before he had a chance to do thorough sweep of it.

"Heeeeeey, Carrots," came that annoyingly whimsical singsong voice.

Like her neck had grown rusty, Judy's head slowly revolved, almost with an unsettling creeeeak, and she held that grinning fox in her weary gaze. "What?" she snapped.

It was if her obvious annoyance flew clear over Nick's head because he dropped down onto the couch next to her, causing her to bounce, and sighed with relief, the most dopiest grin ever growing over his face. "You, carrots… you have one big, soft bunny booty," he noted.

Despite her tiredness, despite her vexation and reluctance to agree with a single word that fell from that fox's lips, Judy couldn't help but roll her eyes, huffing with an attempt at seeming indifferent. "My rear is not big."

"Ooooh, yeah it is, did the job rather nicely, too," Nick countered.

"Be quiet…."

"Why?" Now Nick aimed his grin at her, those sharp canines of his glistening. "Wait, wait, wait… I see those rosey cheeks! Don't tell me carrots is—gasp!—embarrassed?" He slapped his hands to his cheeks, wide-eyed. "Oh, but that can't be, can it? This has to be the what, sixth time? Seventh?"

Ninth, Judy corrected in the safety of her mind. "And it gets no less degrading each time…."

"And yet, folks, she does it every single time that I ask," Nick pointed out with a grin that seemed to shine with the light beginning to infiltrate their safehouse.

Now Judy chuckled, her nose twitching. "Ask, you say? Oh, you poor fox," she said with a sympathetic little 'tsk'. "You must suffer from amnesia, because what I recall is a lot of begging. A lot of a lot of begging. I didn't know foxes could whine so convincingly."

"You mean the whining during? I'd say that's pretty par the course, Carrots. You were really goin' at it, just back and forth… baaaack and forth…" Nick faded in his words, his hands acting out a swaying motion while his mind had clearly sank into the past.

Even if she would never make mention out loud, seeing him so dumbfounded and enamored after each of their sessions was one of Judy's biggest delights. She was smiling before she could help it.

"Maybe you should just get yourself a dedicated girlfriend," she offered coolly. "Beats being pent up all the time and asking for me, ah… services, right?"

Nick didn't respond to that right away, still pantomiming their earlier activity as if he could still feel her against him. "Now why would I go and do that?" he asked, finally settling back down and cocking a brow. "You've got the softest, firmest butt around, Carrots."

Inwardly, Judy liked to think so, taking great care in her exercise regimen to keep her fluffy rear as shapely and robust as it was. Nowadays it was sometimes a pain to squeeze into her uniform but the figure she saw whenever she glanced at herself in the mirror only made the effort worth it, knowing that it would attract the attention of a certain red-furred predator.

Not that it was only for his benefit, she told herself confidently. Being in shape was just par the course for a member of the ZPD, and especially the PTF branch.

…And if Nick just so happened to find himself unable to keep his paws off her hips or his wandering fingers from giving her rear a pinch at times, it was only natural. Predators were naturally attracted to prey, after all, it didn't have to mean anything more than playful curiosity.

Annnnd, so what if sometimes Nick needed some form of release and liked to ask for her help? She was his partner, not really much choice there.

"I think you might have an infatuation with my rear," she said matter-of-factly, beginning the long task of unraveling herself from the bundle of blankets. "Your requests are getting steadily more frequent."

To this, Nick only shrugged, stretching out all four of his lengthy limbs. "Well… it's tough out there, y'know, being so handsome, being chased by the females, takes a toll to remain so upright and just, ignore the advances…."

As far as excuses go, that one was pretty piss poor; he'd given better in the past, but by now it was pretty much a ritual every couple of days. He never came right out and asked, of course, no… he was too 'Nick' for that. He would simply drop hints about a "crotch cramp" that needed working out, and that the only thing that could possibly fix it was her.

Specifically, her butt.

"Oh, I'm so sure," she agreed with a heavy roll of her eyes, and she stood, the cold hardwood floor sending shivers up her legs. "Well, if you're so chased, I suppose my services will no longer be required, then."

She would massage the crotch cramp away with some well-formed strokes, up and down, just like Nick had mimed earlier. Up and down, alternating between slow and fast, until she felt him start to spasm beneath her and that intensely hot sensation of sweet release began to grow between them.

He was always satisfied afterwards, always left in a sloppy stupor of happiness, and that made it easy for Judy to inconspicuously shake off her own euphoria. Afterwards, Nick never seemed to notice he had a bigger wet patch than what he himself issued on the crotch of whatever pair of boxers he happened to be wearing at the time- or perhaps he had and just chose to remain silent. Being a fox, the scent of her arousal, and her pheromones, they had to stand out quite clearly…

Judy was rocked back down to the present time when she felt two long, lanky arms wrap around her midsection. Nick was on his knees behind her, hugging her into him and pressing his forehead to her back.

For a long moment, neither said anything, neither made a move. Judy's tail twitched every few seconds, softly beating Nick in the chest.

Eventually, Judy sighed, crossing her arms so tightly it would be a miracle if she ever unraveled them. "Fiiiine," she relented, tilting her head, and she could hear the sudden thumping of Nick's tail as it wagged against the ground, "I suppose I can indulge you a few more times…"

He stood, beaming ear to ear, "And that's why we get along so well, Carrots. You get me."

"And the fact that I do makes me question my own sanity."

Judy sensed it coming before it actually did and thus was saved from flinching when Nick gave her a lingering kiss on the neck, which she had subconsciously offered up. She only just barely managed to staunch the heady moan that rose in her throat, subverting it with a 'tsk!'

"Haven't you had enough of me already?" she asked, shooing him off her with a passive flick of her hand.

"Like you don't enjoy it," Nick shot back with a challenging grin. "I felt that twitch."

He was right, obviously, but admitting that would be like giving him the upper hand. "That's typically how one responds when they're being violated," she responded casually, hoping the words had sailed out as smoothly as she'd intended over the relentless beating of her heart.

"Riiiiight," Nick spun on his heels and made for the bedroom, tossing over his shoulder, "Did you happen to forget you're the Judy Hopps? No one's violating you unless you want 'em too, Carrots."

"I…" It was rare that Nick ever won any of their arguments, currently trailing by some hundred losses, but when Judy found she had no response to that, none that made sense at any rate, she had to giggle. Oh, that sly fox….

The two of them got dressed and choked down whatever crunchy leftovers remained in the fridge. Nick was just grabbing his third cup of coffee, the travel mug that he took to work after downing the first two to wake up, when a tremor shook the apartment and he spilled it.

"Aw, damn it- really?" He grumbled as he snatched up some napkins and set to cleaning the mess. "That was my favorite flavor, too, geez…."

One of Judy's ears had lifted in accordance with the tremor, with the muffled thud that came from next door. "What in the world are they doing next door, at this hour?"

Nick shrugged from the ground. "I dunno, but what I do know is they owe me another cup of- oh, look at this now!" Groaning, he lifted his tie, which had slipped into the mess and was now soaked. "Son of a… they're buying me a new tie, too!"

It was an effort not to laugh but Judy mastered it. "You could wash it, Nick. That's a very viable option."

"That would require me doing laundry. You know I have an aversion to doing laundry, Carrots."

"Yeah, it's called laziness."

"It's called I'm gonna go over there and plant my foot up their ass, actually. I can't believe those two idiots actually moved with us," Nick grunted, squeezing what liquid he could from his tie over the sink. "We go up three floors, they go up three floors, like we're attached at the freaking hip."

That was some slice of preferred familiarity where Judy was concerned. Those two loud-mouthed neighbors that had so rudely introduced themselves when she had first moved to Zootopia… imagine her surprise to find out they were actually a couple. A very, very dysfunctional, borderline toxic couple that seemed to love arguing above all else, but still… a couple.

"I like them," she said, hunching a shoulder when Nick shot her a glare. "What? Just because you had a poor grip on your mug doesn't mean—"

Another bump shook them both, this one coupled with the sound of glass shattering amidst a strangled chorus of grunts and muffled yelps—the beginnings of an agonized cry began to peel through the air until it was cut short by a silenced gunshot.

In an instant, Judy had scooped up her badge from the counter and was at the front door with Nick bringing up the rear, clumsily tucking in his soiled tie and reaching for his weapon harness. He had just fitted it on when Judy flung open the door. The halls were vacant, making it easy for the two officers to take up positions on either side of their neighbor's room.

Unlike before, Judy's heart was succinct, calm and tranquil despite the white-knuckled grip she had on her taser gun. When they weren't undertaking an operation directly from the PTF, the use of live rounds was expressly prohibited. Her sparkling purple eyes met Nick's, conveying a message through gaze alone. He nodded and slowly positioned himself in front of the frame, his own taser gun held at the ready.

Just off the beat of being audible, Judy began tapping her foot.

First tap.

Nick's gaze narrowed, his jaw firming.

Second tap.

Judy's stomach clenched.

Third tap.

The force Nick used to kick the door open almost busted it off the hinges; it banged off the opposite wall with an unholy clatter and they both sprinted in.

"ZPD! FREEZE!"

Their voices boomed forth in a powerful command, but it wasn't necessary. Judy saw nothing to the right and, likewise, all was clear on the left with Nick. There was nothing. Nothing jumped out at them except the silence. The venetian blinds covering a busted window flapped gently in the breeze rolling in, nothing else stirred.

A slow exhale from Nick helped Judy realize that she too had been holding her breath, that her chest was burning, and so she let it go with a long sigh.

While she tried to get her heart back down to calmer levels, Nick moved further into the apartment, his taser still out yet held lazily at his side. He checked the numerous rooms within in the span of a few minutes, declaring an "all clear", before returning to what Judy could only guess was the living room.

A very expensive looking vase lie in a thousand glittering pieces on the floor, the source of that shatter no doubt.

But that wasn't what seized Judy's attention.

Two corpses occupied the blood-smeared couch across from her, propped up to instigate some macabre show of animation. The smoking bullet holes punched into their temples dispelled that illusion with staggering force. Their faces were slack, sagging and limp, their eyes rolling in directions unreachable in life; it almost looked as if the bodies were going to get up at any minute and lurch towards her.

Which would illicit nothing but a never-ending bout of pitched screams from the shell-shocked bunny.

Stepping easily, Nick came to a halt at the side of the couch and merely stared. He stared for a long moment, contemplating. "Alright so…" there was no recording device in Nick's hands but that didn't stop him from following protocol, however loosely, "we have here the bodies of Bucky and Pronk Oryx-Antlerson, residents of the Grand Pangolin, fourth floor, room 126." He bent forward at a lean and, lifting his taser, prodded Pronk's on the forehead, causing the deceased gemsbok to slump over into the lap of its partner.

He straightened up, rubbing at the back of his neck. "You know, I'm trying to feel something here… something close to sympathy, I guess, but all I can muster up is some grade-A annoyance." Nick threw himself around the couch in a defeated march toward the busted window. "And what do we have here?"

"I… They didn't deserve this… Neither of them."

It was whispered, her voice brittle as dry leaves, but Nick caught every word, offering up nothing in return as he examined the blinds, using the end of his pistol to nudge them experimentally.

"There's a few strands of fur here, on the glass," he said, turning to stare at his partner. She hadn't moved an inch since lowering her weapon. "Whoever the culprit was, their exit was a sloppy one, pretty sure forensics could find something useful here…."

Sunlight was bathing the entire living room in its toasty glow, giving everything a glistening, almost ethereal effect, but as Judy began to walk, foot over foot in an unwavering stride, she couldn't remember the last time she had felt so cold.

Bucky and Pronk….

"Judy," Nick's voice seemed to call out to her from five miles away, "what're you—"

With very little effort, she pushed Pronks upright once more, and then, in a move that effectively caused Nick to shut his jowls, she proceeded to climb onto the couch, wiggling into that small space to take a seat between them. Scooting aside the fact that neither Bucky or Pronks were breathing, Judy still looked horribly out of place. She squeezed her knees in quivering hands and closed her eyes. There were still some vestiges of warmth left to be found radiating from her neighbors, and that made sense. Whomever had killed them had just done it, less than one minute before she and Nick had entered the scene, which meant….

Seeing his partner seated almost comfortably between two corpses was a haunting visual Nick never thought he would witness in his life, but there it was. Strangely, the sight made him ill, it even frightened him, seeing her amongst the dead… like she might suddenly join them or….

"Judy—" Nick started anxiously, but again, he fell silent when she suddenly opened her eyes.

"You don't murder two seemingly innocuous bystanders when the bigger fish are right next door," she whispered, more to herself than anyone. "You only do that…."

"When you want to send a message," Nick finished shortly.

Now Judy looked at him. "Exactly."

Nick rapped on the windowsill with his knuckles, brow crumpling in thought. "You don't think… this couldn't possibly be… could it?"

"Could this and what we did to Mr. Big be connected? I wouldn't be surprised if this went all the way back to Thicktrunk."

As if a plug had been pulled within him, Nick slouched against the wall, all that energy gained from his coffee gone. Poof. His chest extended to its fullest before expelling a long sigh. "Great."

"But what I don't get is… who else was there that could've…." Judy paused with a sharp inhale. Something must have sparked to life in her mind because her ears leapt to attention. "When you want to send a message, you usually leave a note, correct?"

Nick nodded, still staring at the ceiling looking drawn and gaunt. "Sounds like sound logic to me, Sher-bunny."

"So… where's the note?"

Nick lifted an orange finger, pointing in her direction. "Check Prick's mouth."

Bypassing the suggestion, Judy's forehead creased with annoyance. "Nick."

"What?"

"His name is Pronk. Show some respect for the dead."

The look that fell over Nick's face suggested Judy had lapsed into French. "Um… no? The guy was a massive dick when he was alive, Carrots. That doesn't suddenly morph into my respect now that he's been deep-sixed."

Frowning, Judy stared her up at her still neighbor, narrowing her eyes at Pronk's face. His jaw looked a little too set for having just been shot in the forehead. "It's not about how you feel about the person, Nick… it's about having the common decency to lament the loss of life."

"Hey, I just lost a relatively easy day at work, is anybody gonna lament that?"

Normally, Judy would have debated Nick further on the issue, but, in another shocking twist, he was right. Besides reporting to Chief Bogo and taking their daily flogging and doing some follow-up reports to the Mr. Big case, today was looking to be quite procedural with a high chance of ass pain. Now, though….

She slipped one of her fingers between Pronk's lips. They were cold to the touch and nauseatingly squishy, like jelly.

"Okay, one, that's gross, Carrots," there was no hiding the disgust in Nick's tone as he adverted his eyes elsewhere, "and two, we have gloves, y'know, for just this sorta thing, it literally comes with the job. It'd only take a hop and a skip back to the apartment. Presto, gloves."

Something of a scoff left Judy as she fished about Pronk's mouth. "And here they always taught us it was the prey that had weak stomachs. Way to disprove that rumor, Mr. Pred."

"I disproved it on my second day on the force. Remember the spider? Remember how I yelled so loud only Wolford could hear me? Damn near broke the sound barrier that day."

"And cue the long string of spider-themed pranks," Judy chuckled, now popping two fingers into that moist cave. She could feel something in there, all right, something pointed, like paper, that had been roughly shoved into Pronk's oral cavity and damn near down his throat.

"We'd probably still be at war if one of those pranks hadn't caught Chief Bogo up in the mix," Nick said, then continued musingly, "Had no idea he didn't fancy spiders, though… but I guess a desk full of daddy longlegs would cause anyone to faint. Can't blame him."

Conversing was a great distraction for Judy who knew she would have definitely spewed her freshly eaten breakfast all over the place if her mind was allowed to completely focus on what she was doing. True, being a member of the PTF meant moments like these were a dime a dozen, but that in no way trained the stomach to withstand it, just the mind

Half her hand was in Pronk's mouth now, digging and digging, and she cursed her short fingers.

"Damn, Carrots, didn't know you were so forceful on the first date," joked Nick and even though she couldn't see it, Judy knew he was giving her that shit-eating grin.

"Whatever twisted soul put this in here, put it in deep," she grunted, feeling oddly as though Pronks were alive and trying to consume her hand. "Oh… oh—hold on… Bingo."

A terrible squelching noise filled the air when Judy pulled a very bloody piece of paper from Pronk's mouth, breaking the strands of saliva that accompanied it. She held it up for Nick to see and he offered a golf clap.

"Congratulations, Carrots."

"How—urgh… how'd you know this w-was in there?" she sniffed, nearly retching. The smell of the note, that grimy, decayed stench had her head swimming.

"Earlier when I was staring at 'em, I noticed a lump in his cheek," Nick explained while she shook the letter as dry as she could get it. "Figured it was either a message in a bottle or the murderers had stuffed him with one of the toys I'm sure these two freaks have stashed around here."

"Lovely. Catch."

"Oh, you have got to be jok—" Instinctively, Nick extended his hand a ways to the right, catching the balled up note when Judy tossed it. It smacked into his palm and he grinned. "Your throwing arm is still such shit."

"Eat me."

"Aha, looking to move up from crotch cramp massages, are we? I don't blame you," he chuckled, delicately unfurling the moist paper, "sometimes you just have to switch things up, keep it interesting."

He took a pause to read, and continued to stay silent even after he finished, flipping it over to see if anything was on the back. "Hm."

"Hm? What's hm?" Judy wondered. She would have read the note herself but she was already nauseous and the need to get as far away as possible from what she had snatched from her neighbor's unwilling thorax was an urge she couldn't fight. It was either that or fall apart into the weaker Judy Hopps that existed before her parents' deaths.

And there could be none of that.

While she waited for Nick to answer, she wiped her trembling hands on Pronks' shirt, respect be damned. She could feel those secretions trying to seep through her matted fur, through her flesh, and it nearly caused her to scream out loud. Besides, it was Pronk's saliva to begin with, she was just giving it back.

"It says, 'consider this a warning. We are coming for you.'" There was something humorous in Nick's tone. "I'd be at least a little intimidated if they'd managed to spell 'warning' right. Since when did the 'a' get replaced with an 'e'?"

The heat was completely gone now. The only thing that circulated between the two cadavers Judy sat between was a spine-tingling chill. Death, pure and absolute.

She hopped down and crossed over to Nick, suddenly eager to put great distance between herself and the deceased Antlersons.

"Should we call it in?" Nick asked.

"Do we have a choice?"

"Well, we could just walk away. Pretend we didn't see anything? We have plausible deniability here—I always talked shit about these guys, as good a reason as any not to investigate without drawing suspicion."

Judy couldn't even begin to get upset with Nick for his suggestion. Because she knew he didn't mean it. "Tempting as that sounds, and it sounds better than a fresh bowl of carrot stew, you're technically the first fox to make it on the force, and I'm the first of prey descent to be inducted into the Primal Task sector. I think our standards have been automatically set above and beyond the others."

Chuckling, Nick pulled out a little baggie from his back pocket, an evidence bag now that Judy stared, and dropped the note inside.

She smirked. "Ever ready, eh, you sly fox?"

"Like you said, high standards, Carrots."