"Then I will make you one, so then you can tell the real Yūrei that I'm coming for him next."

The boast may have been born of anger at the defeat of his subordinates, but it rang hollow in the ears of the one the wolf promised to come for next. While he was somewhat uncertain of the level of skill the Alpha of this pack possessed, he was more so aware of the skill the fox he faced possessed. At the start of the fight, he had not been entirely certain of how Nick showed signs of difficulty dealing with the relatively standard breed of assassins that the wolves represented. But Jack understood that he was fighting not to kill them, something that seemed confirmed by the differentiating between the fox and Yūrei by way of mercy.

Why he was doing this? The rabbit had to assume it was due to Hopps. It was the only thing that made sense, really. He had been there when she had first arrived in the city, watching as he did now. The Todd had shown no indication of hesitation or regret in finishing off the tiger who had attacked her then.

Hopps, on the other hand? The stricken look of horror on her face had been obvious. Not used to killing, obviously. But more than that, she was a mammal of the law. As justified as the killing would have seemed, it would not have sat well with her. With the apparent… Depth their relationship had taken, it was not outside of reason to believe that even someone like Nicolas would be willing to spare the lives of the wolves. Particularly since Hopps herself was not around to protect. If she were in actual danger? Jack doubted Nick would be nearly so merciful.

"Well, if you manage to kill me than I don't think you'll have to wait very long," Nick said, causing Jack to blink slowly as the fox turned his back on the wolf and started to walk a short distance, back to where he had been standing at the start of the melee. The wolf, wisely, did not take this as an opening to attack. "There is a plan behind all of this, after all. I am the odd fox out. I am the unplanned variable, the wild card. Your employer - whoever that might be - wasn't expect me to get involved. And the mammals who want the lawyer to survive were not expecting me to get involved. I'll be perfectly honest. I wasn't expecting me to get involved."

"Yes," the Alpha confirmed, not moving an inch from where he stood at the ready. Jack's eyes narrowed as he continued. "We were expecting to face Yūrei today. We believed we were facing that phantom from the very beginning."

"So, you've been trying to draw out the one you've never been able to find all this time. Lucky for you, I don't believe that is the only reason for trying to kill the lawyer," Nick replied, his voice cold as he turned to face the wolf again. He snapped the baton out to the side, returning it to the extended and no less dangerous length it had been before. Emerald green eyes were narrow, near savage as he stared down the wolf. "If I thought that, I might change my mind about not killing the lot of you."

It wasn't the only reason; Jack knew that as he watched from above. Though he had not known that he was one of the targets, it did clarify the inconsistency in the method of the attacks. A lone assassin; a group of assassins armed with guns and explosives; a group of prisoners and paid off prison guards; and now, a pack of traditionally trained assassins focused only on the one protecting Hopps. They had been probing for him while trying to kill the bunny. Obviously, Nick's ability to survive their repeated attempts had convinced them that he was the one they had been looking for.

What he needed to know now was why they actively sought him after all these years?

"You're good at talking," the Alpha said, finally moving as he spoke. "Sly as a fox, yes? Using your words to catch your breath before you face me. I have allowed you enough time to regain your strength, however."

Nick didn't bother with a reply to this, nor did he change his stance or show outward sign that he was anymore, or less, ready than he had been when the pause in combat had started. He simply stared at the wolf with cold green eyes and waited.

The Alpha did not leave him waiting. The advance was slow and measured, both swords held above and below at the ready as he closed the distance and left his fallen packmates behind. When he reached the fox, having seen his opponent wait out the other wolves rather than attack, he did not linger or hesitate. He swung both swords around in a quick arch in front of his body that brought them together in an upward curve that led to a downward slash. Even with two swords, the strength behind them was only marginally more than a sword yielded with two hands, so the blow was easy enough for the fox to deflect with the baton. The moment the swords and baton both were levered to the side by the block, however, the wolf shoved his entire body forward in a surprisingly swift motion that had his shoulder slamming into the fox's chest. The blow had strength and nearly lifted the smaller mammal off his feet as he was driven back with a grunt as the breath was forced from his lungs. And he was driven back again when the wolf slashed out with one sword in a follow-up attack that brokered no doubt that he was far more experienced in combat with skilled opponents then the others had been.

When the other sword came around, however, Nick was quick enough to deflect this one properly without losing any ground. It was not the advantage he had been expecting, though. As the sword met the baton again, the wolf brought his off-hand down in a pommel strike that slammed into the fox's shoulder. Nick let out a snarl as he was driven to one knee and was forced to roll away quickly as the wolf raised his foot to stomp down on his smaller opponent.

A fascinating fighter, Jack decided as he watched the wolf push his attacks relentlessly until it became less a fight and more a chase and evade. At first glance, it was the fighting style one might expect from a street fighter. All forward motion and punishing strength, giving the Todd no time to gain his footing. But someone like Nick had no doubt faced that sort of fighter before without much difficulty. No, there was more to it. The strikes were not only strong, fast, and relentless. They were also accurate and skilled. When he saw the wolf reverse his hold on the hilt of the sword to swing out in a close to the chest body strike, he realized that no motion was wasted. More than once, Nick was not fast enough or strong enough to counter the attacks and the wolf took full advantage of every opening he was given. A glancing blow to his legs caused a wince, which itself was enough of a distraction for the Alpha to lash out with a front kick to the midsection that sent the fox flying back and then tumbling tail-over-head.

Had he been less skilled himself, that would have been the end of the fox as both swords came slashing down as he lay prone. A quick roll to the side had the blades cutting into the asphalt, and even then, he had to change direction mid-roll as the larger predator followed up with a series of stomping kicked even as he pulled the swords free. When he finally managed to gain his feet again, he was barely fast enough to stop the oncoming crescent strike from one of the swords. And again, the wolf took full advantage without pause. The paw gripping the pommel of the other sword was punched brutally into Nick's cheek with enough force to split the skin and fur under his right eye and send the fox stumbling back with a dazed expression.

Jack tensed as he readied himself to end the fight as the wolf took the advantage and pressed the attack further. In some ways, he was loath to do so. He wanted to see the fox pressed, to see the extent of his skill. At the same time, if he had overestimated the other's abilities and allowed him to die in the process of slaking his need to know, Neveen would never forgive him and would never trust him again. What stayed his hand was the moment he realized that the wolf had failed to land any of his last few strikes as he had before with such ease. Eyes narrowed, remaining ready to strike himself, he continued to watch as the wolf continued his attacks with seemingly endless stamina.

The Todd dodged and deflected another series of quick, powerful strikes in succession, this time managing to avoid the follow-up attack. It was a near thing, as even from this angle Jack could see that the swipe of the sword likely took a few strands of orange fur off Nick's already bleeding and swelling cheek. But even as he dodged that, the follow-up uppercut seemed anticipated and was avoided more easily.

Jack set his jaw and felt an unfamiliar trickle of envy. He had seen this before and had felt it firsthand in his own brief encounter with the fox. Nicolas' seeming talent to adapt in such ways that it was almost like fighting a completely different opponent than when the fight began. The lengthening and retracting of the baton during his fight with the wolves had been a physical, visceral example of this to the extreme. But as the wolf pressed his attacks, it made little difference. The fox remained unable to move fast enough to counterattack without the wolf retaliating in a way that forced him into retreat again. When he raised his baton, suddenly shortened again, and attempted to slip it past the Alpha's guard the responding backstep was nearly instantly followed by a thrusting lunge with one sword. That lunge was avoided, but the raised foot that followed into the fox's gut was not.

Then it came without warning. Even before the paw lodged against his midsection was withdrawn, the baton snapped down in a reckless but no less effective blow that hit hard into the meat of the Alpha's thigh. There was no snap of bone, but there was a snarl of pain from the wolf as he yanked his foot back. The half-second of hesitation in putting weight on the leg was a sign that even he was not sure how much damage had been done, and that hesitation was taken as an opening to attack. The results were almost the same as they had been for the entire fight, however. As soon as Nick moved in for the attack, his baton swept wide to meet a raised sword, the wolf ramped up the aggression and pressed the attacks again.

The major difference was obvious to both the two fighting, and the one watching. Every time the wolf pressed his attacks and landed a blow, Nick responded with a blow of his own. When the sword that barely missed gutting the fox was followed by the other sweeping down for a pommel strike, Nick drove the tip of his baton into the muscle of that arm viciously. When an elbow was driven into his face, sending his head snapping to the side, he turned that into a spin that had the baton slapping hard into the other arm. When the blade of a sword slipped past his guard, grazing his chest in a shallow angled cut that made him wince, the baton cracked into the wolf's forearm without hesitation. The process repeated itself, and Jack could see the results clearly. The wolf was starting to slow down. Every direct blow from the baton to muscle tissue was causing tears and strain that were making movement painful, harder. Even if the change was imperceptible at first, it was obvious as the fight wore on. But the same was true of Nick. Even though he was not going for body blows or finishing strikes, his opponent was and the fox was more than showing the wear of it all. Even though the fox had changed the pace of the fight and had taken some control back, Jack could still see that it was not a winning strategy. If it came down to endurance, the wolf was going to kill him, and it was obvious that Nick was already pushing himself to keep himself moving to counter every blow.

It was when the baton came crashing into the Alpha's shoulder that another change came. Pain and weariness had both males panting now, struggling further. Nick more so than the wolf, as Jack had expected. The blow seemed to awaken the wolf, however. Perhaps seeing an advantage, perhaps just furious at not being able to take down the annoying, smaller predator, the wolf snarled and redoubled his attacks with the same strength, speed, and fury. He stood as the wolf swung out with one sword and prepared to follow up with the other until the last second, then ducked down to move forward for a strike with his baton in paw. The wolf and Jack both had seen the move before, so it was no surprise to the silent bunny when the wolf swatted the blow aside.

What did catch both of them off guard, however, was the fact that Nick released the baton with no resistance. This sent the baton flying to the other side of the alley to clatter against the stone walls, as caused the block from the wolf to swing wide by just a few inches. And those few inches the fox used to slip in and wrap his arms around the Alpha's belly and press in close against him. Jack watched with rapt fascination as the wolf snarled and raised both swords for what could have been a killing blow if Nick had not swung himself around, keeping his arms tight around the larger predator's belly until he was behind him. The reason for the grip was obvious, as every attempt the Alpha made to turn to face the fox again only carried Nick with it. Something that became more and more dangerous as the fox's grip moved up around the Alpha's chest, with the now clear intent being to get it his arms around the neck. It was when the fox released his grip with one paw that the wolf dropped one of the swords and tried to reach back to dislodge him, only to wince when the arm came up short in the range of movement. Damaged muscles prevented him from reaching far enough back to reach the clinging fox.

Then he was thrashing as the fox managed to loop one arm around his thick neck, snarling as he turned his back towards the alley wall and start towards it. Nick, having expected this, drove one foot into the wolf's kidneys ruthlessly. This was a blow that combined with the weakened leg muscles of the wolf to halt the motion, driving the larger mammal down to one knee with a gasping growl of pain and allowing the smaller male to finish his climb. Both arms were now latched around the wolf's throat, and Jack clearly heard the moment when all sound from the Alpha was forced to a stop as his ability to take in or even release breath was brought to a sudden stop.

Both males were clearly struggling. The Alpha, trying to get to his feet to dislodge the fox, and Nick just trying to keep his grip even as the wolf clawed at his arms with both paws. But the alpha, already weakened and now deprived of oxygen to fuel his body further, was the first to show signs of fading. The paws stopped their clawing, soon only weakly pulling at the arms wrapped around his throat. When the struggles slowed, and the head started to droop, rather than relax his grip, Nick yanked the male's head back and used his body weight to drag the larger predator to the ground. There, he added his legs to the hold, wrapping them just under the Alpha's arms and tightening the grip so ensure that it held.

For a moment, the bunny was sure that the Todd was going to forget mercy and simply strangle the life out of the wolf, for even as the wolf went limp and still, Nick refused to relax his grip. He did find it oddly unsurprising when the fox, now on his back mostly under the wolf, focused green eyes on his. Jack wasn't sure exactly what he saw in those eyes, beyond a certain level of defiance, before he finally relaxed his grip and allowed the unconscious wolf to breathe and the blood flow to return to his brain.

It was only as he was pulling himself out from under the Alpha that he noticed the subordinate who had surrendered his sword starting to stand. There was no fight in the male's eyes, but there was the obvious inclination to flee the second the fox turned green eyes to him. With a worn-down sign, the fox crawled to his discarded clothing, and just as the wolf started to turn and run, he called out in an exhausted and annoyed voice as he sat with his back against the alley wall.

"If you force me to shoot you, it's going to interrupt what's going on across the street," he said, leveling the gun at the wolf's back while using his knee to support his arm. "If that happens, I am going to be annoyed enough to shoot you two or three times. I can do that without killing you, but it will still hurt like hell."

Wisely, the wolf came to a stop and put his hands in the air with his tail quickly tucking between his legs. The cursing that came from him wasn't threatening, so much as it was the last resistance of someone who knew he and his pack had just been beaten.

"Good. Now, be a good little wolf and walk back towards me. No, don't turn around," he corrected when the wolf was inclined to do so. "Just like you are. Good. Now, stop, sit next to your friends there, and be quiet. We're going to wait until the commotion across the street tells us that the lawyer has finished what she came here to do."

"Who the hell are you?" the wolf felt brave enough to ask, though not brave enough to do much else.

"I am the fox currently wondering if you know what 'be quiet' means," Nick replied, letting the gun slump a bit without changing the direction it was aimed. "Also, someone who could really use a drink."

The larger predator didn't dare ask another question after that and as his ears dropped in submission, the alley filled with silence.


The courtroom was a buzz of indistinguishable voices during the brief recess requested while the prosecution conferred with the next witness. The voice came from all around while the Chief Justice was in her chamber, while Judy sat at her table and prepared for what she knew would be the pivotal questioning of the case. Thus far, she had offered little more than evidence that the people of the city didn't believe that Otterton had murdered his wife. Combined with the opinion of a reputable forensic investigator, and the thoughts of the well-loved Mayor of Zootopia, she had built enough doubt on the case that once actual evidence was presented, she was almost certain it would change the outcome. Still, she was going to drive the point home by directing doubt towards the one person she believed might have been directly involved in the murder. While she didn't expect it to be enough to convict or even open an investigation, it would be enough to cast doubt on his testimony; testimony which had been critical in the conviction of Emmett Otterton in the first place.

Lost in her thoughts and her notes, she was not aware of the otter next to her watching her until she turned another page and glanced over to find his eyes on her. This had pausing and closing the folder before she turned her full attention, and her body, to face him.

"I don't know how I can thank you for all the work you've put into this," he said, his eyes bright and voice kept lowered so only she could hear him. "When all of this is done, I'll do my best to make sure everyone knows what you've done."

"I haven't won the case yet, Mr. Otterton," she said, her ears lifting despite her humble words. "It wouldn't be right of me to get your hopes up until we have the final verdict."

"With what you've shown me you have, and the way you showed the mammals of Zootopia who I am, I have no doubt that one of two things will happen," he said, folding his chained paws on the table. "One, I'll walk out of here a free otter with my name cleared and the truth about my trial exposed. It will lead to a lot of questions about how the justice system failed to notice how horribly it was being misused. Or, two. I'll be sent back to my cell for however long it lasts. Word of what happened here will get out into the public, and the mammals of Zootopia will start asking the same questions. Given the state of the city now, I'm not sure anyone really wants that."

"Change either comes with a roaring cheer or it comes with a roaring fire," she muttered under her breath, shaking her head slightly as she leaned over to place her one paw over both of his. "I'll do my best to make sure it is a cheer."

Even with her earlier words, she had her concerns about the Weasel who was being sworn in, dressed in a surprisingly crisp and well maintained ZPD dress uniform. Every piece of brass was polished, every seam was straight, and there wasn't even a stray strand of fur to be seen. Even his fur had been combed, making him look less like a weasel she might have been afraid to meet in a dark alley into an almost respectable looking member of society. She didn't buy the illusion one bit, but it did make her curious.

She remained seated next to Otterton, the carrot pen tapping soundlessly on her notepad as her eyes searched for his without success. He seemed completely focused on the bailiff that swore him in, and once he was sword in, he simply sat with his eyes moving over the room. As if he didn't have a care in the world and she wasn't of any interest to him. She knew it wasn't true, though. It was easy enough to see that she was of great interest to him in that moment, simply because she was the only mammal in the courthouse that he didn't look at. The act of obvious dismissal was an amateurish tactic that told her that he was not acting as someone who had been coached to give testimony. He was just trying to get under her skin before they even began.

But she already knew he was nervous because of it.

"Thank you for taking the time to join us today, Officer Weaselton," the Chief Justice said coolly before she turned her spectacled gaze to Judy without waiting for a reply. "The defense my proceed."

"Thank you, your honor," Judy said, wondering what could have caused that cool attitude towards the weasel, pulled herself from her desk and stepped out into open court. Whatever it was, it really didn't matter more than possibly allowing her some leeway, which she was running very short on currently. "Officer Weaselton, it is always a pleasure to see you."

"And you, counselor."

The courteous reply did not catch her off guard. She had expected he would be coached on how to behave, if not by the ZPD then by the Prosecution, so she gave him a smile and nod in return before she glanced down at the file in her hand.

"I'm going to get right into it, because it's already been a long day," she began, keeping her voice neutral but not accusatory. "On the night of the murder, you and your partner, Officer Fangmeyer, were the first responders, correct?"

"That's right, yeah."

"You were the first to enter the house of the defendant? Was that unusual?"

"A little," he admitted, giving a little shrug as he glanced at Otterton for a moment before return his eyes to her. "I mean, she usually went first because she's the muscle. I'm just a little weasel and she's a freaking tiger. Er… A tiger."

"But not that night?" she questioned, keeping her eyes level on his as she let the folder rest against her legs.

"The house was for smaller mammals. Otters, obviously. So I just thought it would be better if I went in before her, to make sure things were clear."

She saw the little twitch in his upper lip as he spoke, the line of questions clearly not what he had expected. Though she had to admit, whoever had coached him had done a good job of keeping the violent, aggressive weasel from showing the annoyance. She couldn't even see it in his eyes. Yet.

"Was the night in question the only time you offered to go first?"

"I… Don't remember," he said, hesitating for a moment as he seemed to consider before he continued. "We go into a lot of houses, so I'm sure I went in before her once or twice."

"According to every report you've ever filled out," she countered, holding the folder in front of her for a moment before she walked towards the judges stand and handed a copy of the reports to the bailiff, "she always went first. Accounts that are corroborated by her corresponding reports, which also state that she always entered houses first. Even those for smaller mammals."

"I guess that's how it was then," he replied shortly, almost impressing her with how easily he had reacted to being proven wrong. "Like I said, I didn't really remember."

"So, on the night of Mrs. Otterton's murder, you broke with this long-standing pattern and entered the house before your partner. Can you explain why the sudden change of heart?"

"Well, I smelled the blood as soon as we got to the door," he said, his tone still even in his reply. "I might have been a little concerned that, if the murderer was still present, there might be trouble. Looking out for my partner, you know."

"Looking out for your partner," she deadpanned, folding her hands in front of her as she met his eyes. "The tiger. Whom you referred to as 'the muscle."

"Objection, your honor," came the voice of the prosecutor, causing her to wince inwardly. "Argumentative. That wasn't a question: she was repeating the Officers previous answers."

"Sustained," Bellwether said crisply, looking down at Judy evenly from behind her glasses.

"I withdraw the observation, your honor," she said quickly, which seemed enough to mollify the Chief Justice. This worked in her favor, too, because she had managed to slip the word 'observation' into the withdrawal without further objection.

"Let's move on then, Officer," she said, walking back to the defense table for her next piece of evidence. She held the small evidence bag close to her side as she approached the stand again, drawing the weasel's forward set eyes to it. The curious concern in his expression was a good thing, but rather than let him see it just then, she turned a bit to the side and removed it from his line of sight. "Are you aware that Mr. Otterton has never received a traffic violation?"

"Objection, your honor." She really considered at the sound of the Todd's voice, that she shouldn't want to punch a fellow layer, but that did not change the fact that she did when she glanced in his direction. "Relevance and calls for conclusion. There is no way Officer Weaselton can be expected to know the defendant's traffic record."

"The question moves to explain the time and place of the murder relative to where Mr. Otterton was at the time of the murder," she argued quickly before Bellwether could rule one way or the other. "There is evidence to support this, your honor."

"Overruled, but that question will be struck from the record," the Chief Justice ruled, adjusting her glasses as she looked down at the bunny. "Mrs. Hopps, if you would be so kind as to enlighten the court as to Mr. Otterton's driving history and then get to the real question."

"Of course, your honor," she replied, giving a nod of acceptance. That was not nearly as bad as it could have gone, given how much of her very limited leeway she had already used up today. "Going straight to the answer to that question, Mr. Otterton has a spotless driving record. He doesn't have a single speeding ticket, has never run a red light, and doesn't even have a parking ticket. And everyone in here knows that the ZPD loves to hand out parking tickets."

There was a general titter of laughter from the court, which had her smiling as it died down. Then she focused her attention back on Weaselton.

"I've done a lot of leg work since coming to Zootopia, which I'm sure anyone who watches the news can verify," she continued, pacing in front of the witness stand as she spoke before she waved on paw towards Otterton. "I learned a lot about Mr. Otterton. On of the things I learned about Mr. Otterton was that he has a weakness for sweets. In fact, this weakness of his led him to stop at a specific gas station not far from his house to purchase a single candy bar on the night that Mrs. Otterton was murdered. In fact, we have a witness that will testify that Mr. Otterton was at this gas station until 9:56 pm."

The courtroom erupted in a series of started murmurs, but Judy's eyes were focused on the weasel in front of her. Crisp uniform, combed fur, straight posture. He had even trimmed his normally crooked whiskers to be up on the stand. She had no doubt that he had been told to look his best, to put forward the perfect picture of what a good officer for the ZPD was supposed to be. But as his eyes darted to the receipt again, then back up to her with an almost wild urgency, she could see that this shell was starting to crack. She kept her eyes focused on him even as the gavel banged and Bellwether called for order.

"Is there a question coming, Mrs. Hopps?" she asked once the room was quiet again.

"Of course, your honor," she replied, moving towards the witness stand with the receipt held out to him. "You seem a frequent visitor to that same gas station. The clerk that was working that night recognized both you and Mr. Otterton and said that you had both been there at about the same time. Can you please read the time on this receipt?"

"Uh… It says 9:55pm," he stammered, frowning at the receipt. She could have sworn she saw his paw twitch, as if resisting the urge to snatch it away from her.

"And does the date match the date of the crime?"

"Yeah, it does," he replied, this time after a bit of a pause.

"I submit to the court the receipt for one candy bar, purchased within three minutes of the time that the murder was supposed to have taken place," she said, offering the receipt to the bailiff. "This receipt was recovered from Mr. Otterton's car, in police impound a few days ago. The ZPD was gracious enough to verify that it is the defendant's fingerprints are on the receipt and the night clerk on duty that night is willing to testify that she had seen him in the store. Do you happen to remember Mr. Otterton's statement about that night when he was being questioned?"

"Yeah," he said, his voice a little weak now as he glanced around quickly. Now she thought he looked like he was looking for a means of escape. "He said he went to the gas station to buy some candy, then he went home and found his wife lying on the floor."

"Do you happen to remember if this was ever brought up at his trial?"

"I wasn't there for the whole trial, so I couldn't say for sure," he replied, his tone shifting to a little testy as she kept her eyes focused on his every move.

"Well, the trial was open to the public, so I would think there are a lot of mammals in the city that could answer that question for me. But I have already been over the court transcripts and the submitted evidence," she said, walking back to the table for the defense to pick up a file. Once she flipped it open, she made a show of looking over it with the tip of one finger before she shook her head. "Not once was it mentioned. I can only assume that, without the receipt, the defense decided that it wasn't worth bringing up in court. A costly oversight for my client, wouldn't you agree?"

She was aware that the fox was standing and raising his paw to object, just as she was aware that Bellwether held up one hoof to stop him from doing so.

"Counselor, you're not here to question Mr. Weaselton's knowledge of what happened during the trial you're appealing. Do you have any more questions for this witness?"

"I'm sorry, your honor," she replied, mentally bracing herself for what would be the most difficult part of her case to get away with. "I'll move on to my last questions."

"Proceed."

"Officer Weaselton, I mentioned that the night clerk on duty at the gas station recognized you on the night of the murder. Her statement says that you came in shortly before Mr. Otterton, but that you disappeared almost immediately after arriving. She assumed you had left the store already. Did you leave the store?"

"Yeah," he said, clearly assured that he had the right answers for these questions, "because we got the call. I didn't hang around long."

"That's surprising, considering that your partner testified that you were gone for some time," Judy said, doing her best to look surprised by this 'turn of events'. "Her statement says she were gone for at least ten minutes. During which time, Mr. Otterton came into the store, purchased his candy, and left the store. The clerk also said that you suddenly appeared again and made your way out in a hurry. This was at the time of the domestic disturbance call. Can you explain why they the night clerk and your partner have differing stories from yours?"

"Obviously, I lost track of time," he said, and she was pretty sure she detected a hint of a growl in his voice. Or maybe that was wishful thinking.

"Lost track of time," she repeated, seeming to consider it for a moment before she shrugged it off. "Your partner also said that your better at obstacle courses than she is. She even said you were very fast for a smaller mammal. That must be a point of pride for you."

"Yeah, I'm pretty fast," he said, seeming to relax for a minute as the subject changed. He even folded his arms over his chest loosely, looking a little smug at the play on his ego. "Top five percent on the obstacle course."

"That is impressive," she said after letting out a little whistle to emphasis it. "Otterton's house was only half a mile away if you ignored roads and cut across yards on foot. You could cover that in… What? Three, four minutes? Less?"

"Objection, your honor!" the Todd called, right on cue. "Relevance!"

"This is just a confirmation of my earlier line of questions with Officer Fangmeyer," Judy said, looking up at Bellwether and trying her damnedest not to let the pleading show in her eyes. "I am just having Officer Weaselton verify what she already told us for the record."

"Overruled, with the same limitations as before," Bellwether ruled, turning to the weasel. "Officer Weaselton, the questions may continue but you are under no obligation to answer them."

"Thank you, your honor," Judy said, quietly breathing a sigh of relief as she turned back to Weaselton. "Do you need me to repeat the question?"

"No, no I heard you," he said, his tone just on the edge of irritated. She could see his mind working as his eyes moved and his fingers clenched on his own arm. Weighing the risk of answering the question, trying to decide where she was going with this. She had seen it before, just not so openly displayed. Then finally, he looked up at her again. "Yeah, I could make that run."

"So, in the extended period of time that you were away from your squad car, you could have run to the Otterton home, stayed for two minutes, and then run back. Might even have had time to catch your breath."

"I…" he began, then paused for a minute before he nodded, "I probably could have, yeah. But why would I?"

"Just giving the court some reference material," she said casually, then completely changed the subject. "Did you actually see Mr. Otterton holding the knife over his wife's body?"

This change of direction obviously threw Weaselton off course as his large eyes blinked twice as he stated at her, then nodded his head quickly.

"Yeah, I saw him over the body, with the knife in his hand."

"Is that the way he was when you walked into the room, or did he reach down to pick up the knife because you startled him?"

"It could have been," he said, his whiskers bristling as her questions started to hit at things she knew he didn't want brought up. "It was dark, I was staring at a bloody crime scene, he wasn't expecting to get caught in the act. What difference does it make?"

"I would think you would recognize if someone was or was not holding a knife when you entered the room," she said, raising the tone of her voice by a measured amount. "The crime scene photos very clearly show a paw print, the same size as Mr. Otterton's paws, over the bloody outline of the knife next to the body. This seems to imply that it was on the ground, and he reached down to pick it up. So, I'll ask you again, was he holding the knife over his wife's body when you entered the room, or not?"

A few beats of silence followed. The fingers on his arm tightened further, and she was pretty sure that there wasn't an inch of his body that was relaxed now.

"I could have been mistaken," he ground out after those few seconds, his eyes darting to the back of the courtroom. This act compelled her to turn herself, glancing over her shoulder to see…

Nothing.

"Mistaken," she repeated as she turned back to him with cool eyes and an equally cool demeanor. "So we've established that he may not have been holding the murder weapon when you went in before your partner for the first time since you became a cop, and that while the murder was taking places, there was almost no chance that he could have been at the scene of the crime. A time frame when no one can verify where you were."

"You're honor, I object!" the Todd shouted, clearly as flustered as everyone else in the stunningly silent courtroom as he stood with one paw in the air. "Just what is the defense trying to prove here?"

"Sustained," Bellwether said, pointing one finger at Judy. "The defense will proceed very carefully."

But she couldn't. She knew she couldn't, and she was going to have to rely on the same weasel who had attacked her to make what she was about to do even a little bit acceptable.

"You could have made that run, couldn't you, Officer Weaselton?" she said, moving towards the witness stand as even the objecting Todd was struck dumb for a moment. "You could have run to the Otterton home, broken into their house, stabbed Mrs. Otterton, and run back. And then to cover your tracks, you made sure that you were the first one on the scene so you could testify to seeing him holding the murder weapon while he grieved his wife!"

"Your Honor!"

"One more outburst, Mrs. Hopps, and I'll…"

"You little country cunt!" Weaselton hissed, standing up in the witness box with his paws at his side, shaking with rage. The movement and the rage on the slender muzzle of the weasel were both so obvious that the bailiff took two steps towards Judy as the courtroom grew deathly silent. Neither of them paid the Chief Justice any mind as they stared each other down: one mammal with murder in his eyes, and one with determination and victory in hers. "I didn't do nothing! And there's nothin' you can do to prove anything different! I already told you, you should go back to your little burrow where you belong before you get yourself hurt!"

The slam of the gavel rapped repeatedly.

"The witness will restrain himself or I will have him restrained," Bellwether said in a tone as cool as ice. That same ice was carried over to Judy when she was addressed. "And this line of questioning is out of line, Mrs. Hopps. I will not warn you again."

"Again, I am sorry, your honor," she said, mollifying her tone until she sounded as contrite as possible as she looked up at Bellwether. She wondered if the sheep could see the gratitude in her eyes. Chastising her for being out of line was the least of what could have resulted from her outburst and accusations, and they both knew it. "I have no further questions for this witness anyway."

She took supreme satisfaction in watching Weaselton settle down, collect himself, and realize what he had said. The cold fear in his eyes obviously had nothing to do with the warning from the Chief Justice. No, that sort of fear only came when someone realized that had screwed up something long planned, or worse. She saw his eyes flick towards the back of the courtroom again, then move around a little wildly as he sat unsteadily in the witness seat. She had a moment where she wondered what it was he really feared. They both knew that she had nothing to pin him to the murder, and they both knew that he was not even going to be brought in for questioning. She wondered for a moment before she turned her attention to the otter beside her. The otter who had, in his cell, looked so broken down and defeated, ready to accept his fate and the injustice that had been done to him. That otter looked at her with something akin to wonder, with a light in his eyes that had been all but absent before.

Hope.

So, when she turned her eyes to the front of the courtroom, and saw that naked fear in Weaselton's eyes one more time?

She smiled to herself and found that she didn't give a damn.


"All rise."

At the call from the bailiff have every mammal in the courtroom rising to their feet as Chief Justice Bellwether's wooly head appeared over the rise of her bench. There was and electricity in the air that was equal parts curiosity and tension, the desire to know the outcome of the appeal that was considered a direct challenge not only to the justice system of Zootopia, but to the status quo of the city itself. Everyone felt it. From the tiny otter sitting next to the bunny who had come in hopes of clearing his name, to the hulking form of the bailiff himself, who watched every figure in the courtroom with a more careful eye than usual.

"Be seated," Bellwether said, adjusting her glasses as she looked at the folder set in front of her with an expression that could only be called unreadable. She didn't bother to open the folder, to review the information within again, since her decision had been reached. Instead, her eyes moved to the bunny who sat beside Emmett Otterton.

"What happened here today was nothing like what I expected," she began, folding her hooves in front of her and leaning forward just a bit so she could see every face in the court. "I would be lying if I said I didn't have my doubts about the appeal from the start, as I am sure many others did. I like to think that the justice system in Zootopia works. I like to think that no innocent mammal is ever found guilty of a crime. I like to think this because if I didn't, it would be difficult for any of us to sleep at night. But the truth is, sometimes it does happen. Does this mean that the entire system should be changed or that the law doesn't work? Of course not. Law and order are not as simple as who is punished and who isn't; it is also a system that is put into place to deter those who would otherwise abuse the defenseless with impunity or use violence rather than reason…"

Judy was more than a little stunned when she stepped out of the courtroom, feeling shell shocked and exhausted. But happy at the same time, as the otter beside her paused at the entrance to look up at the sky for a moment and take deep breath. She could hardly imagine what it was like, to breathe freed again after having that taken from you, especially so soon after a personal tragedy.

Watching him with a little smile on her muzzle, her mind was moving in so many different directions that she was caught completely off guard by the sudden roar of questions and flashes that rang out from the line of reporters behind the barricades.

"How does it feel to be free after all these months?"

"Will you be suing the city for wrongful imprisonment?"

"Do you think you were set up intentionally?"

"What will you do now?"

"Will you be staying in Zootopia?"

"That being said, when a mistake is made it must be corrected. I know there are questions about whether the system itself Mr. Otterton willfully, perhaps even with hostile intent, but those are not questions that we are not here to answer today…"

She realized that only the last question was intended for her and watched as Otterton, who was not entirely new to being in the eyes of the media, stepped forward and started to answer questions without hesitation. And she was grateful for that, though in some ways she was worried about him and what he was going to do with himself now.

More than that, though, she wanted to see Nick.

Turning her eyes, she looked down the steps of the court, expecting to see the black car waiting on the street below. Instead, she saw Officer Clawhauser running up the stairs towards her with an expression and ear set that had her ears dropping and her head skipping hard in her chest as she moved to meet him.

"Miss Hopps, we received an anonymous call while you were in court," he said, coming up beside her and gripping her arm to lead her back down the stairs. "About a disturbance not far from the courthouse. The chief decided to handle it discreetly."

"Where is Nick?" she demanded, violet eyes wide as her already quick heartbeat quickened while she followed his lead around the courthouse. Thankfully, the pace was quick, so she had little time to stop and think as they turned the corner. That was when she saw the black car pulled hallway into an alley, surrounded by police cars, one SWAT van, and multiple ambulances parked on the sidewalk up and down the street.

"He's... Hey!" he called when she yanked her arm away from his paw and bolted off in the direction of the alley.

"Today, we're here to do what needed to be done to protect the freedom and the life of one mammal who deserved a chance. A chance that they were denied save for the determination of one mammal, who could very well have sacrificed their life to do so."

She didn't hear the calls for her to stop as she ran across the street, pushing herself faster than she had ever run before. When a wolf in ZPD blues raised his paw for her to stop, she ignored him and ducked under his paws when he made a grab for her. Dimly, she heard Clawhauser's voice telling the officers to let her pasts, but she was hardly aware of that as she rounded the patrol car in time to stop and watch a wolf in black clothing being led out of the alley in handcuffs. The smell of blood struck her and she tried not to let her eyes fill as she stood stunned for a moment with her heart locked in her throat.

"Nick!" she nearly screamed when she could move again, starting to push her way past Clawhauser to enter the ally when he caught up to her.

"Because of this, the truth in this case has finally come to the light. Where the system failed, someone came from outside of that system to show us the truth. And for her, I wish to express my deepest gratitude and hope that she continues to show people that the system does work. And that with persistence and integrity, there are rewards to be taken and cherished."

"Over here, Carrots."

A silent sob rocked her chest when she heard the sound of his voice, turning quickly to see him sitting in the back of an ambulance with a tall, older curved horn stag in a paramedic uniform wrapping bandages around his upper arm carefully. She covered the distance to him in seconds, and it was only the fact that the stag stood so close to him that prevented her from launching herself at him. Which might have been a good things, considering that his chest was wrapped in bandages, he had multiple cuts over various parts of his body that were visible as lines of blood in his fur, and his face was puffy around exhausted eyes. Still, she reached out and laid a trembling paw on his leg as she moved as close to him as she could without interrupting the EMT.

"Nick, what happened?" she asked, looking at his battered face with an ache in her chest that seemed to get worse when she realized that much of the smell of blood was coming from him.

"Well," he began, glanced at the EMT beside him for a moment before he gave a slow shrug. A shrug that caused him to wince slightly and earned from a disapproving look from the stag. "These gentlemammals currently being carted away by the ZPD wanted to have a word with you and knew that I was the fox to see if they wanted to make an appointment. We had disagreement on the terms."

She stared up at him for a long moment as he looked down at her, feeling some degree of relief in the fact that his eyes – those beautiful, predatory green eyes of his – were as bright as they ever had been despite the swelling around him. Amused, even, as they turned, and she followed them. What she saw was five wolves, in various states of consciousness, in various positions. Three of them were walking under their own power, though one of those had their paw bandaged and another walked with a limp as they were herded towards the SWAT van by two rhinos carrying heavy tranquilizer rifles. The other two she could see as she glanced at the other pair of ambulances further down the sidewalk. Both were laid out on stretchers but given the almost relaxed pace with which they were loaded into the back of their perspective ambulance it seemed doubtful that they were seriously injured.

"As you can see," he continued, drawing her wide eyes back to him as he waved the paw of his least injured arm, and almost managed to make it look casual, "I settled the dispute for the time being. And as much as I appreciate the placement of that paw, if you move it much higher, I might not survive in my current condition."

That caused her to blink uncomprehendingly up at him, only to realize that her paw was pressed to his thigh rather higher than it should have been. She released a quick laugh as she removed it, and swiped the back of the paw over her eyes to wipe away the tears that had never quite managed to fall. All she could think was that he was okay, and he hadn't killed them. She didn't even know if she cared that they wolves were alive, beyond the fact that he had decided not to kill them even though, by his own words, it would have made any fight with them easier. And while he had not hesitated to kill before, he had made the choice not to do so even when she hadn't been there to act as his conscience.

"We'll need to take him to the hospital for a full workup," the EMT said, his voice calm and smooth as he rested cool eyes on her. "But from what I can see, he likely won't be in for more than a day as long as he can remain inactive for at least a week."

"This Court finds Emmitt Otterton not guilty on all charges raised against him in the murder of his wife. I am personally sorry for everything that you've had to go through, and despite your personal losses and the trials you've faced, I hope that you can move forward and find happiness."

"Okay, he will," she muttered, only half paying attention as she responded to the stag with her eyes glued on the fox and her heart beating more steadily that she thought it should be now. "Give me just one second before you take him, please."

Nick's eyes were on her as she climbed up to stand on the bumper of the ambulance, putting herself on eye level with him. She carefully cupped his cheeks, avoiding the long cut visible on one of them, as soft fingers drew him closer until her lips pressed to his. There was a sort of electric heat in the kiss, as her heart stopped beating steadily and quickened when she felt as much as heard the quick into take of breath from the fox. Maybe it was the kiss, or the fact that she wasn't going soft or sweet. She kissed him deeply, almost demandingly until his lips parted to the urgency in hers and the taste of him filled her senses as completely as his scent. It was made perfect by a growl that rose from low in his chest, one that she felt as a ticklish hum against her lips as one of his paws slipped under her ears to press against the back of her head to deepened it further. And damned if in that moment she didn't realize just how much she had been denying herself all this time. One week didn't seem like so much. But once that was over?

She was going to move forward with him and find her own happiness.

"Court is Adjourned."