Note:

In the event that you are unaware, the directors of Zootopia have stated that the time between the press conference and when Judy finds Nick under a bridge is about 3 months' worth of time. This story is about what happened during those 3 months. Enjoy :)

Day 0

It's called a hustle…something to do with biology…I was like you once…Have fun workin' with the fuzz...you'd actually make a pretty good cop…sly fox, dumb bunny…it would be nice to have a partner…trust a fox without a muzzle?...you are so much more than that…you can only be what you are…look at you junior detective…never tried to be anything more than a fox…I was going to be a part of a pack…you liar…a case to crack…reverting to their primitive savage ways…you saved me…are you gonna cry?...

Never let them see that they get to you…

He had to get out of here. It didn't matter where, just go. The bright afternoon sun outside didn't make sense. It hurt his eyes. Everything was spinning. There was too many mammals out here. He found his glasses in his pocket, something else too, he fumbled to get them on his face. He couldn't keep this act up for long, someone would see him, they would know. His body knew where to go but his mind wouldn't make it that far. It was only minutes ago he was signing something. He had seen something, found something, been something. It was in his paws for just a few seconds. It was gone now. He needed to be gone too. He had to get out of here.

Nick Wilde's body wandered through the city. Muscle memory had a map of every single street and it had no problem navigating to the place that the fox it belonged to needed to be. That fox had learned long ago all the tricks needed for independence. Independence from everything. Independence from everyone. There was no one to turn to, no help to call on, and no refuge to fall on, save for himself. That was the way it had always been, and now it seemed that was the way it was going to stay. What the fox needed to do he couldn't do here, and so while his body roamed, his mind remained frozen, locked in wait until it was safe to do the things that needed to be done. The automation of his self-reliance carried him forward.

It had been hours and miles to the final destination and the sun was casting a pink-orange glow over the riverside landscape. The derelict warehouse in front of him was as broken as he was. The property had been abandoned long before he was born and it had changed paws as often as the paper that had paid for it. The last and final deed holder had won it in a poker match some twenty-eight years ago.

John Wilde had never been much for gambling but on that particular occasion the mammal who was both dealer and previous owner assured him it would be worth his while. With no leans having been filed and no mortgages to be fulfilled, ownership was outright and the only recurrence was a property tax.

The plans he'd had for the place were big, but not nearly as big as the ones fate had for him. A mere three months later, with no buyers to sell to and no requisite for more hardship, a widowed vixen and her four-year-old kit refrained from becoming the next names on a long list maintained by city hall records.

Even now, in the bad standing of three decades of penalty accrual, it was still one John Wilde on the books as proprietor. It had been two years after a box was placed in the ground that Nick found the key. At the time, he could still remember riding the shoulders of an impressively charismatic fox that confided in the kit all his machinations for this place. As it was at present, Nick could no longer playback that specific memory and his only awareness of its happening now existed in the meta of that later recollection.

His initial explorations revealed that the only place that had any semblance to it was a high-up office that overlooked the rubble-ridden floor. Books and sketches and fabric yards lay strewn about in chaotic order. It was all as his father had left it. It had been meant for him and with no contender for the right to it, he had, officially approved or not, finally accepted his inheritance.

At first it had simply been his secret, his retreat, and his last thread of someone he had lost. But a fateful incident two years subsequent demanded he find safety and drove him to seek this place once more. When he arrived, the anger and fear decayed back into loss and loneliness and he'd sat at his father's desk and cried until he couldn't.

It was that night he had resolved his life mantra: Never let them see that they get to you. But here was safe, here was refuge, here was sanctuary. A place where no one could see him and a place where he could let it get to him. He returned every week for years, unable to reveal to his mother the tribulations he had been through. Even in his strongest mask he would never be able to hide from her how much it got to him and her empathy would feel tenfold what it actually was; he just couldn't do that to her. So once a week, he dressed in the uniform she was so proud to see him in and came here for several hours before eventually returning home to tell her lies about all the activities he hadn't done with all the friends he didn't have.

In those hours he would busy himself with looking through the books on the shelves and the pads in the desk. His father had thousands of drawings stored here; all manner of suit, shirt, shoe, vest, tie and pant, in dozens of styles and each in every size of mammal there was.

In later years he would read some of the books, as well. He had no way to know for sure if his father had actually read them too, but comparing the content he absorbed with the stories he had been told and the precious memories he still had, Nick had no doubt that John had read every word of this library twice.

John's mementoes were a deficient facsimile of the original that was meant to raise him and the world is a cruel and unforgiving place for abandoned foxes. That first night he was here in uniform, Nick had also resolved that if the world was only going to see him as a fox, then a fox he would be. While what this forced him to become was not even a shadow of the vision John had had for him, he could see how no alternative was possible; the world would simply not allow it.

As the years of learning the rough rules of the street wore on, he returned here for asylum when there was nowhere else to go. It was often at the beginning, sometimes to cry, sometimes to scream, sometimes to just be as alone as he actually felt, but always when it became too much to hide. This place could protect him from being seen and for that he was indebted to it. Alive or dead, John Wilde would do and had done everything he could to provide safety and security for the kit that he loved without condition.

As more years hardened him, Nick found his need for escape appearing less and less. Eventually he didn't have to pretend that things didn't get to him, he could just skip to indifference every time. He had not needed to be here in years, but the events of the last two days had somehow wiped the conditioning of the last two decades and he found himself with that need once again.

His digits rummaged in his pocket, past that other thing, and found a key ring. He selected one, and had he looked at it, it would have been a dark worn copper with greens in its etchings. He slid it into the rusty steel frame door's lock and heard a click when he turned it. As he stepped inside this safe place his mind began to thaw and when the door latched shut behind him it roared back with devastating force.

He turned and punched the door several times, slamming echoes into the cavernous space beyond, yelling and growling as he did so. He wanted so badly for it to be anger he felt; then the pain would only have been in his knuckles. The outburst cooled quickly and he gave one last weak pound on the door as his head leaned forward to thud against it. The feigned anger revealed itself as loss and loneliness. The pain, far worse than his now bleeding paw, was suffocating him in the literal sense and he collapsed to his knees as he gasped for air. This place had never protected him from pain, that wasn't its purpose; it only had the power to shield that pain from view of others, always leaving the pain itself as his to bear.

The loss was that of a lost opportunity. He had been so close to something. Something he could have been proud of. Something his father would have been proud of. Something more than the sly fox he had turned himself into. Something that he had strived to be long ago. He had glimpsed something that was potential only to be tossed back to the cave that was his life.

The weight of what could have been was infinite and it now crushed him as he realized how trapped he really was. He had been raised up to see the walls that surrounded him, that he had not even known were there, only to be cast back so violently to their entrapment. He could see now that his only accomplishment in life had been survival. His only purpose had been to perpetuate himself. There had not been any point to it at all.

The loneliness was something he hadn't felt in a long time. That had been the first thing his mind learned to skip over. With nothing to compare it to, it had just been the way things always were. But someone had cared for him and he had cared for them. There was respect and understanding and confidence. Someone had believed in him, and they had trusted him. He couldn't remember the last time someone had placed belief or trust in him. He couldn't even remember a time that he had deserved to have either. Now finding himself back in what he now knew to be darkness, the contrast of the companionship these last two days was blinding. His new understanding of the world recolored everything previous and the loneliness he felt was not just from now, but from the summation of his entire lifetime.

He sat with his back against the door with his head in his paws and his eyes shut tight in a vain attempt to stem the tears he could now feel forming behind them. The pain was drowning him and he was sure he would asphyxiate before the night was through. As the sweep of all the loneliness behind him met all the lost possibility in front of him, he collapsed to his side trembling and wrapped his tail tight around his curled-up body as he finally relented and allowed the first hot, bitter tears to run down his face.

The moon had risen nearly to the top of the window now. The tears had stopped and the heaving had slowed but that was more due to fatigue than any acceptance. The pain had not subsided, but it was not quite as raw as it had first been.

He slid his tail off his paws and slid his paws off his eyes. There was no power in this place but that had never been a problem for his night vision. He found his objective along the wall and under the window overlooking the nonexistent factory. Long ago he had put a cot up here for nights like these. Wearily, he picked himself up and took off his tie as he made his way to the makeshift bed. He shook the dust of ten years off the blanket and collapsed on the thin mattress. He curled up in a ball like he had as a kit and swaddled himself in both his tail and the blanket. With his head under his paws he experienced a small relief as it seemed that exhaustion would bring him to sleep before the pain that had caused it could bring him more tears.