The fox was distinctly uncomfortable in the passenger side of the gray car as it pulled into another turn on the cliff side road that apparently led to their destination. He wasn't sure what he expected, in all honestly. If the rabbit who drove the car in silence lived out here, it was no wonder he had decided to become a cop. The pay must have been amazing to afford such a lofty abode, with a view of Zootopia that would remind anyone of how magnificent the city was when seen from the outside. What he saw – what he remembered – was another reason to question what he had been told. It was another example of how a fox like him would never reach the height promised by such a view; because of the city may have sparkled like a star when seen from a distance but it lost a great deal of its luster when seen from below. When seen through the eyes of those who lived on the streets, being thrown out of one business or another, being harassed by cops, watching mammals cross the street just to avoid being on the same sidewalk when he passed. That was the Zootopia he knew, the one he remembered.
Not one where he was a cop.
His disposition was not helped by the fact that his head ached the longer he kept his eyes open. Even the large, extra dark sunglasses that the hospital had provided him with before leaving were not helping to block out all of the ache caused by the perfectly clear and bright winter's day. He leaned back in the seat, aware that the motion drew the attention of the rabbit again. Everything he did seemed to draw her attention. She was watching his every move with a twitching nose and eyes that were too intent and focused and… He couldn't really read what he saw on her face, in the high set of her ears. He didn't know enough about rabbits. But it didn't take a genius to figure out that she didn't trust him. He had seen the fox repellent she had worn with that tight little uniform, after all. He let his eyes fall closed.
"Officer, I'm afraid that we can't know when his memory will begin to return, or if it ever will. In cases like this, it could be as simple as waiting a few days for something to trigger a memory. But you have to be prepared for the actuality that he may never regain them at all."
The throb in his head was dulled by the medication they had given him, and they clearly thought that he was asleep as they conversed just outside of the hospital room. He allowed them to continue thinking that, his eyes closed, his ears motionless but already directed towards the door. Why was the rabbit cop here, anyway? The last thing he remembered was… Was the naturalist's club. She had gotten the information she needed from the chronically high alpaca, and he had followed the poor little mammal outside. But beyond that, nothing. He assumed they parted ways: her returning to being the best-darned meter maid she could, and him returning to the streets.
Why the idea made him so excruciatingly sad, he didn't understand.
The grind of gravel under the tires drew him back to the present and had him opening his eyes. It was an action that he didn't want to regret, but did when the light lanced through the glasses, pierced his cornea, and seemed to focus on the back of his skull as an agonizing pain. The groan was unavoidable, quick and pained as he raised his paws to rest them on either side of his head. He nearly whimpered as the world around him swam slowly, his gut clenched and he felt the panic begin to rise when it just didn't stop!
The silky touch of a small paw on his forearm was felt, and the panic retreated. He kept his eyes closed, and didn't pull away when soft fingers stroked down the length of his arm slowly. The fact that the touch felt knowing, felt good surprised him on every level. Only because it calmed his panic, and soon even the pain, prevented him from pulling away at first. He tilted his head forward, leaning forward to ease nausea that came with the pain and opened his eyes to stare at his own khaki-clad legs when the soft paw moved to his back.
"It's all right, partner," came her soft voice, causing his eyes to close again when she called him partner again. It just sounded so alien to be called that by someone who clearly had nothing but distaste for foxes. "You can take some medicine once we're inside. The doctors..."
"Don't call me that," he interrupted, even though he knew that the pain and confusion were feeding his irritation. That didn't stop him from shrugging his back away from her touch when the pain began to fade, and to his relief, she drew it back without complaint.
Without… Anything. Without a word, without a sound, without a snippy remark or witty comeback, which she had proven to be almost as good at as he was. There was just silence in the car, except for the sound of his own breathing and the throbbing in his head. When he rolled his head enough to rest his gaze on her, he saw her looking down at her paws in silence. Paws that were twisted together, wringing against one another so hard that her arms trembled. Or maybe the tremble came from her shoulders, which shook a little when she drew in a breath that hitched at the end before she released it slowly.
"The doctors said that the pain would fade," she said in a soft voice when she raised her eyes to him again. "The light sensitivity is normal with a head injury like this, so it will help if we get you out of the sun and into a dim room."
Turning his gaze away from her, in part because he didn't want to see the misery that was so plainly written on the cute little meter maid's face. Knowing that he was somehow the cause, he squinted when he looked out of the window towards the house; or the entrance to the house, anyway. It was a DenHouse, with the entrance, a garage, and some windows visible from the outside while the majority of the home was underground. It was something of an oddity outside of BunnyBurrow, but if he was honest with himself, being underground away from the sun would be a blessed thing right now. Then the thought struck him that he had no idea what officer Hippity Hopps' home life was like.
"So," he began in a slow drawl that came out a little drunker than he intended. "Is this where I meet the family? Again? You got a buck in there? Twenty or so kits waiting for mommy to get home? Am I called 'Uncle Nick' or something?"
He heard the car door open on her side, and by the time he had turned his gaze to where she had been sitting, all he got was a fresh shot of pain when the door was slammed a lot harder than it needed to be.
He was a cop.
The pictures on the wall told the story, even if he couldn't bring himself to believe it. A graduation ceremony, where the little bunny in a dress uniform – who was obviously no longer a meter maid, making him feel like a little bit of an ass for what he had told her a few days before. No. Not a few days before. He had to remember that – was pinning a shining brass shield to his crisp blue uniform on a bright day. Green eyes lingered for a long moment, seeing the smile on his muzzle as he puffed out his chest. He looked like a cheesy idiot, but a happy cheesy idiot. His gaze drifted to the selfie that he himself had taken from inside of what appeared to be a ZPD cruiser, capturing both him and the bunny as she rolled her eyes skyward from the driver's seat. Newspaper clippings, the most striking of which was the framed front page report that was headlined "Heroic ZPD Officer Stops Plot Against City's Predators" complete with a picture of her proudly standing beside him. He was even wearing the shirt and tie that he had been wearing the day they met, and the day after. The only slightly faded report under it started, "Officer Judith Hopps of the ZPD, with the help of local fox, Nicholas Wilde, uncovered a plot to turn Zootopia against the predator population…"
"I, Nicholas Wilde…"
He turned his gaze away from the wall, walked over to the couch in the center of the living room, where a fire was going in the stone hearth. It cut the chill of the winter's day and give the house the warm and welcome scent of burning oak. He sat comfortably on the L-shaped couch as he reached into the cardboard box that Hopps had brought him from his own house. It was filled with this and that, little pieces of his career. The yellow ceremonial shoulder cord he had worn at his graduation, some less impressive clippings. He drew the wooden framed case out of the box again and held it with a silent reverence for a moment. His name was engraved on a silver plaque at the bottom of the cover, and through the glass, he could see the medals of service from the ZPD. He knew what each one of them meant, even though he wasn't sure how he knew, and what each one of them would be awarded to an officer for. One was The Cross of Valor, another The Purple Heart, and one for outstanding community service above and beyond.
"…promise to be brave, loyal, helpful…"
No memories came with any of it. And while a part of him, the same part of him that had wanted to be more than just a fox since he had been a kit, wanted it all to be true, he still couldn't see it. It was like watching a TV show where the hero looked like him but wasn't him. He saw himself in the pictures, and it was like looking into the eyes of a stranger. A stranger who was brave where he was a coward, who was strong where he was weak, a fox who wasn't being held down by some stupid event in his childhood and had made something of himself. He saw his name on the case with the medals but didn't feel like he had earned them. This wasn't him. This wasn't Nick Wilde, who's only real accomplishment had been figuring out that he could cheat tiny rich mammals out of their money with a simple pawsicle scam that took advantage of the Size Variation Consideration laws in the food market.
What had changed? What was different? Was it the bunny? The annoying ball of cuteness and fluff that he would have ditched a long time ago if she hadn't managed to hustle him? The same bunny who carried around fox repellent had made insulting remarks about articulation and hadn't batted an eyelash at the idea of forcing him to follow her around on some ridiculous otter hunt just because he had managed to outsmart the tax system.
It was… Wrong. All of it. He should just pack it up, leave this nice little house outside of the city and get back to the life he knew. He could pick up the hustle again. His customers were sure to be glad to have their old vendor back at the end of a hot day in Savanna Central, and he was sure Finnick would still be around. He would just need some start up cash. Maybe the rabbit had something here. Some money stashed away, or something she wouldn't notice was missing until he had…
The fox sat silently in the living room of the house he didn't know, staring down at the medals he didn't remember earning, and thought of the life he wasn't sure was his. And decided that if there was even the smallest chance that it was true, and that this was his life…
Trust. Integrity. Bravery.
…That he would do anything to keep it.
His fingers rested over the keys of the keyboard in the silent bedroom, his eyes narrowed in concentration as he tapped his thumb over the Spacebar without actually pressing it. He tried again. ZPD4life. No. Carrotcake. No. BunnyBorrow. No. MeterMaid. No. Rolling his eyes a bit, he tapped in tryeverything. He was mildly surprised when the answer was again 'The password is incorrect. Reset Password?'
He frowned for a moment, considering the idea of seeing what her security question was before he dismissed it. Something about it all felt wrong, anyway. Sitting in her bedroom while she was off at work, doing the cop thing that he still couldn't remember, trying to hack into her computer. If he called the sad attempts at guessing her password hacking. He rolled his neck for a moment, feeling only the slightest ache in the back of his head from staring at the computer screen for so long. He only wanted to see if he could find some clues, some hints of what their partnership had been like. Case files, photos saved on the hard drive, E-mails. Anything he could find without telling her, so he didn't feel that expectant gaze lingering on him as she waited to see if he would remember anything. His ears twitched, that ever present feeling of nervousness making him hyper alert. Sort of like a kit sneaking into his dad's porn drawer while dad was away, expecting to get caught at any moment while looking at the pictures of naked bunnies; with their gray and white fur exposed, ears folded back in an adorably sexy way, thighs spread just enough so the…
Wait, vixens. Where had bunnies come from?
"Ugh," he grumbled as he looked around the bedroom for a long moment in silence. He had been living in this house with her for too long already, spending too much time with her. It had become a routine. She would come home from work; they would carefully dance around each other without actually saying much. She would gently press him to reveal if he remembered anything, and he would say that he didn't, which was the truth. Depending on how he was feeling, he would either share a meal with her on opposite sides of the couch over small talk about her day on the force – something that they both hoped might jog his memory – or he would deny and retreat into the guest room. He had found himself avoiding the second option the last two nights because even as she tried to hide it, she always looked a little sad when he turned her down.
It was unnerving, the way the sight of her bright amethyst eyes losing just a bit of that light made him feel unhappy himself. Or the fact that when her ears trembled with the effort to keep them upright after he had snapped at her just the night before, he wanted to reach out and touch them. Still them. Soothe them. Finding himself wanting to comfort her when his mission only days before in his mind had been to tear her down and show her the reality of the world.
His gaze drifted to the bed where he knew she slept every night. The uninteresting blue and white sheets, the fluffy pillows, the size of it. A little smirk crawled over his muzzle as he took in the oversized bed, which was more than large enough for multiple bunnies. This led him to think that she might have company now and then, a friendly romp with a buck or two maybe. He wasn't even aware of the little twitch of his muzzle until he realized it had curled before he tamped down on the strange anger made him want to rush over to sniff the damned bed to prove his own wandering mind wrong. Why was he even thinking about these things? He was supposed to be looking for clues; something to help him find out why he was here, what he was supposed to be remembering that he couldn't remember in his own damn house. Not worrying about whether or not Hopps brought home a boy bunny to play with now and then.
Releasing an annoying tsk at himself, he gave up on the computer and stood. Shoving his paws into his pockets and just stood there in silence, trying to remember… Something. His paws balled into fists, shaking with frustration when as usual nothing came.
"I'm not sure if it would be a good idea to tell him everything," the conversation outside of his door continued. The slow beeping of the machines beside him combined with the drugs in his system was slowly lulling him to sleep, but he held it off as he tried to focus on the conversation. Not an easy task as the pain in his head throbbed and threatened to blind him again. What had happened again? The doctor said he had been… Hit? Someone had hit him from behind. He had enemies, but aside from Mr. Big, he couldn't think of anyone who actually wanted him dead.
"But he doesn't remember anything about the past three years," came the softer, trembling voice of the bunny cop. His lips curved into a tired smile as he let his eyes slip closed. Bunnies were very emotional.
"Oh, you bunnies. So emotional."
The words slipped out easily, a mumbled whisper that came with the shadow of memory. Was it a memory? He couldn't focus on it, couldn't grasp it fully. Hopps. No, Judy.
He felt such relief, such affection for her. For his friend, as she rubbed her paw over a tear streaked cheek and started to drag her feet as she moved towards him…
And that was it. Four seconds of memory. Four seconds of memory that slowly went from shadowy and distant to clear as he focused on the details. The heat of the sun on his fur; the earthy, humid smell under the bridge mixed with the scent of rabbit, familiar and warm in his nose; the look of hope on her face when she wiped her own tears away, wearing blue jeans and a candy plaid shirt that made her look every bit the carrot farmer he had teased her about being. And the carrot pen in his paw.
The pen. He stared down at his empty paw pad for a moment, as if he expected it to be there again. Where was the pen? Why had he been holding it? Had she given it to him, let him off the hook in the end? Was that why she had been crying? He hadn't seen her wear it on her uniform when she left for work every morning, so maybe he still had it. The box! Maybe he had missed something.
Starting towards the door to the bedroom, he paused when his eyes grazed over the side table beside the bed. Walking over to it hesitantly, feeling an odd little kick in his heart that made his ears fall back as he reached out. His fingers closed on the tiny brass knob of the drawer, feeling the cool metal as something like dread tried to crawl over him before he pulled it open and leaned over to peek inside. It was surprisingly empty. A notepad, a black comb with a few strands of loose gray fur stick in the teeth, and the bright orange and green of the toy-like carrot pen. He picked it up with his thumb and forefinger gingerly, examining it for a moment as he considered the idea that it might not even be the same pen at all. But it was a recorder, with a clever little button on the side just right for tricking over confident foxes into helping sly little bunnies. He pushed the button and listened to his own voice come out of the speaker on the side.
"Of course I do, one-hundred percent."
Playback number… Something. It was likely in the hundreds, at least. Trying to glean some small flash of memory from the words, some event to tie them to. Maybe a case they had worked on, or just some offhand comment; a promise he had made, or a joke; talk about loving his mother even crossed his mind, or an invitation back to meet her parents – the parents that had seemed delighted, if a little nervous, to speak to him over Skype on her phone a few nights before – or any number of things. But eventually, he had given up on trying to understand what the words meant. Now he just listened to them in hopes that they would trigger a memory.
"Of course I do, one-hundred percent."
"Of course I do, one-hundred percent."
A small paw came to rest over his with a surprisingly strong grip on his thumb, preventing him from playing it back again. With a weary sigh, he rolled his eyes towards the tiny bat-eared fox sitting on the stool beside him, one dark brow quirked as he tugged his paw away.
"Give it a rest, Nick," the always surprisingly deep voice came before the smaller mammal took a sip of his beer, sharp eying the carrot pen with annoyance. "You've played that back forty-seven times since we sat down, fox. Did you bring me here to torture me or something?"
"Sorry," Nick said, though his tone came through just as sarcastic as the apology was. "I'm still trying to remember my life for the past three years. Did you want to talk about your feelings or something, Fin?"
"Fuck you, man," the smaller fox grumbled, taking another pull from the bottle before he reached up to set it on the bar-top. Nick watched as he turned in his stood to face him. Like himself – wearing his hustling outfit of khakis, a yellow shirt and striped tie to make himself seem harmless – Finnick was wearing the same old outfit; the black and red bowling shirt, shorts, and a scowl. All of which Nick was convinced he had dozens of stashed away in his van, including the scowl. "Look, you said the doc warned you that it could be months or even years before most of it came back. It's only been a few weeks. Ever think that sitting there listening to the same thing over and over again is messin' with your head?"
"Yes, because my head is in perfect order as it is," he snapped back, his ears falling flat as he turned his back on the bar and leaned back against it. Being in a bar wasn't really helping him. He couldn't even drink for at least another month, according to the good Doctor Staghorn. Not that he had ever been a heavy drinker, to begin with, but something to do other than staring at the bar would be nice. He shook his head with a sigh and raised one paw to rub his eyes. "Sorry, sorry. I'm not even supposed to be out here, you know. I was feeling like I was under house arrest. It's been three weeks, and all I have it this tiny memory, a box full of awards and pictures that belong to some fox that I don't even remember. And I'm living in the same house with a bunny who looks at me like she's hoping I'll just suddenly remember everything at any minute. That her partner would be back, and we could go back to playing cops and robbers when I feel like I am the robber!"
"Yeah, it's gotta be real rough," he heard Finnick say with a slow sigh before Nick felt the surprisingly painful smack of a fist against his bicep that caused him to wince away. "I know you're not that stupid, fox. Yeah, three years is a long time, I get it. So what? Now you think the best move is to pick up a life you already left behind instead of trying to get the one you're missing back?"
He grunted slightly, looking down at the orange and green pen in his paw in silence for a few seconds before he shrugged slightly. "Nah. You've moved on, right? Not like I can find another grouchy old fox to dress up like a cutesy little baby to hustle lemmings out of a few bucks."
"Yeah. And you were real cute in your uniform up on stage, looking at that bunny like she was…"
Nick glanced back at him when the bat-ears fox paused, his brow creasing a bit as he tried to fill in the blanks himself while his friend took a drink while looking uncomfortable. Like she was… What? His friend? His partner? What else could she possibly be?
"Your relationship with Officer Wilde is unique," he heard the doctor say, in a voice that was obviously trying to soothe while remaining professional. Distant now, growing dim as the blackness started to cloud his eyes even when he forced them open. Relationship? He strained to focus, strained to hear more. "Imagine yourself in his place, seeing the world before you became partners. This has to be treated very delicately, or he may reject memories that he believes are impossible. Maybe even run from them."
"Nick? Nick, you still with me in there?"
The sound of his friend's voice drew him back into the bar, and once there he realized that his paw was clenched so hard that he could feel the bite of his claws in his palm pad. He released the grip and shook his paw out a few times to ease the mild sting before he turned to lean against the bar again. Glancing over, he noticed the vixen at the other end of the bar giving him the once over. Then the twice over, as a little smile curved her attractive muzzle when she seemed to like what she saw.
"Yeah, I'm still with you," he muttered and giving the vixen a one over himself. Slender, pretty, smoothly groomed with just the right amount of fluff around her neck to make a male want to bury his nose in it and take a deep, deep breath. Her dress wasn't overly revealing, while still showing enough that he could see the cream color that blended with the shocking red when she crossed her legs. It wasn't soft gray or silky white. Her scent wouldn't be sweet enough to make his mouth water.
Why was he thinking that?
"You know, maybe you're right. I do need to relax. Have a little fun." That said he drew himself away from the bar and reached over to give Finnick a friendly pat on the shoulder. He tipped his muzzle towards the vixen, who was still eyeing him while she sipped at a fizzy pink drink with her narrow muzzle. "And she looks like she could be all kinds of fun."
"Nick, what?" the smaller fox said, sitting up straighter as those large ears dropped back fully and a look of near panic came over him. "That's… Nick, I'm not sure if that's a good idea, fox. Maybe you shouldn't be screwin' around. So soon after leaving the hospital, I mean."
"Clean bill of health, except what's up here," Nick said, and reached up to tap the side of his head even as he crossed the bar towards the vixen, who sat up a little straighter and put on a pretty smile just for him. Sliding in to lean against the bar beside her, he reached up to give the knot of his tie a little wiggle upward as he put on a thousand-watt grin. "And that's why I think you, my dear, may be exactly what I am looking for."
"Yeah?" she said, in a voice that was every bit as satiny as he had hoped it would be. He followed her muzzle with his eyes when she parted it, seeing just the pink tip of her tongue before she took a slow sip of her drink. A tease, but not an obvious one. He liked a lady with a little class, a little charm of her own. "And what exactly are you looking for?"
"Well," he said and leaned in a little closer to her. His grin grew a bit when she reached up with one paw and lightly toyed with the collar of his shirt. His nostrils flared just a bit as he took a slow and silent breath of her scent. Not too obvious, but obvious enough for her to lean into him as well. Charming dialog fled his mind when he realized that he had no reaction to the spice of her scent. No rise of excitement. None of the thrill of the chase, the anticipation of verbal sparring followed by a pleasant night pressed fur to fur and flesh to flesh with the beauty in front of him. Nothing. He felt nothing. He wasn't a fox who ran after every vixen he saw, but when one caught his eye he was always excited no matter the outcome. But everything that came to mind felt more like banter he would rehearse and deliver. An actor in a play, and one that wasn't even really into the part.
Even knowing that her eyes were on him, waiting for his reply, he licked his lips and tried again. Deep breath, inhale, savor, exhale. Faint perfume, the natural spice of subtle feminine musk. It wasn't sweet enough, wasn't earthy enough. It just… Wasn't enough. Something was missing.
"I'm sorry," he said at last, and though she looked a bit crestfallen when he stood and drew away from her, she didn't seem overly angry. "I'm not myself right now. Maybe another time, beautiful."
Turning quickly, he made his way back over to Finnick and simply leaned against the bar as his friend took another drink of his beer. Staring down at the carrot pen that had found its way back into his paw, he pressed the button again.
"Of course I do, one-hundred percent."
The morning sun was too damned bright when he stepped out of the cab, a little sway in his step. The zebra cabby grumbled a halfhearted thanks to the acceptable tip he had been given before he drove off. Nick gave a cheerful wave, a click of his tongue and a thumbs up before he wobbled his way towards the front door of the house. A door which was quickly swung open as he stumbled towards it, and he blinked against the light – which was still too damned bright – to see the bunny rushing towards him with a worried look on her face.
"Nick, where have you been?" she demanded and frowned when she stopped in front of him and gave him a once over. No doubt taking note of the fact that his tie was not actually tied, his shirt was half unbuttoned, and he may have unbuttoned his pants at some point so they hung low over his hips. His muzzle was split by a huge smile that showed a great many teeth when the inside of her ears went pinker just before they dropped back. "You're a mess. And you're drunk! Have you lost your mind?"
Even as drunk as he was, he could see the instant regret that came with the last part of her questioning. But he didn't care. She was adorable. Wearing faded jeans and a dark blue T-shirt that had ZPD in gold letters across the front and might have been more than a few sizes too big for her. Taking a step closer to her while managing not to wobble, he placed his paw on top of her head for a good fur ruffling before he stumbled past her and into the house.
"Obviously I've lost my mind, Officer Hopps," he said, and a bubble of laughter to escape him once he was through the front door. "A lot of it anyway. I just have to find it. Did you know… Oh, hello."
Having spun around to tell his grand revelation, he found himself closer to her than either of them had expected. Her muzzle almost touched his chest in fact, before she lifted her head to look up at him with a quickly twitching nose and a flush in her ears that were now high again. There was a subtle change in her scent almost immediately; one that had a mind confused by liquor and lack of memory to attach it to wasn't able to identify. A sweetness. Mild, earthy sweetness that had him lowering his muzzle towards her almost on instinct so he could maybe just… Get a better whiff.
Then the twitching nose of the bunny paused. He blinked in confusion when she reached out to snatch one tip of his collar, making him yelp slightly when she almost made him fall as she yanked him down and sniffed deeply at the fabric. He blinked at her when she let the paw slide away easily, looking down at her with only slightly watery vision. Or maybe it wasn't his vision that was watery: maybe it was the shimmer of tears in eyes that… Oh god, the agony in them made his head jerk back. Seeing her look at him as though he had betrayed her through a haze of tears burned through a great deal of his drunken stupor if only for a second.
"Judy, no no, don't c…" was about all he got out before he felt the slam of her tiny fist in his gut. Later he would give her credit for having the restraint not to slap him and jiggle his already mangled brain further. But at the moment all he could manage was not to fall over completely, dropping to his knees with one paw catching him to hold him upright as the other went to his roiling guts. The pain of the blow was minor, but the lack of breath and nausea it caused left him sitting there, only able to raise his head enough to watch her storm into her bedroom. She slammed the door with enough force that he heard something fall off the walls and shatter on the ground before he groaned and lowered his head to stop himself from losing what little there was in his stomach on the floor. As he struggled, his muzzle dipped close to his chest to center his vision, he detected a faint scent. A scent that his mind quickly decided was the reason for her violent reaction.
The lingering scent of the vixen.
That morning was the most frightening he could remember since being told that he was missing three years of his life.
After staying locked in her room for the entire day and subjecting him to the sound of on and off crying sessions – every one of which made him feel like a disgusting troll when he didn't even understand why – she changed the routine that he had gotten used to over the last three weeks. She always woke him up before she left for work, just to make sure that he was all right. Doctor Staghorn had told them two weeks ago that it was fine now; that there was no reason to wake him because there was no longer a significant risk of clotting. But she had continued the familiar ritual, and he had never complained even when the night creature that he was wanted to.
But this morning, he woke around noon. Woke to a silence so complete that his mind could only come up with one explanation. The change was so sudden and painful that he listened to the absolute silence of the house for a long moment, certain that something had to be wrong. Something that had him dragging himself out of bed in his boxers and calling her name into the silence of the house. When his own voice was his only reply, he ran immediately to her bedroom and went inside without a thought as to why. He only felt the fear that she had left him.
She couldn't be gone. She wouldn't have just left without a word! They had to talk about it, fight it out, fucking yell and scream until their throat hurt and their muzzles ached but she couldn't just leave him!
The sound of his own anguished cry reverberating through the small room sounded alien to his ears, and when his eyes met the eyes of the fox in the mirror… He didn't recognize them. The stark fear and desperation that shone back at him were nothing like the Nick Wilde he remembered. There was a need in those eyes, a need that even through his fear of losing the rabbit had him walking towards the mirror and staring at himself. The illusion lasted for only a few seconds, but for just a moment he had been looking at the same fox who had been so proud of the new badge that the bunny pinned to his chest. The same fox that had earned the commendations and medals. The good fox that he had always wanted to be.
And a fox that was terrified that he would never see the sparkle of beautiful violet eyes again.
He took a calming breath when he realized he was looking at his own reflection, not some shadow of the past. Once he was able to tear his gaze away, he started to think. If she had left she would have packed clothes, and if she were leaving for good she would have taken all of them. Ears forced to stand erect, he stalked over to the closet and threw it open. Neatly hung clothes in her size were on one side, while the other side remained bare. Bare, but without empty hangers that may have indicated her taking anything. At the bottom of the closet, he saw empty suitcases; more of them than anyone bunny would need, but no space for one to be missing. He already knew that if he checked the bathroom that her toiletries would be there, toothbrush in place and freshly used, maybe a little soap dispenser by the sink, fur conditioner in the shower. Of course. She was at work. It was Tuesday, and she always worked Tuesday. She hadn't woken him up, and the change in pattern had confused him. But it was fine. Everything was fine.
With a sigh, he surrendered to the trembling of his muscles as the adrenaline wore off and sat on the edge of the bed, letting his head rest in his paws for a long moment as he breathed in and out deeply. Trying to make sense of the panic, wonder why in the hell he thought that she would have left her own house instead of just kicking the rotten to the core fox out. It wasn't like his memory was returning by being here. Obviously, the idea that staying with his partner would help his memory return wasn't panning out the way it was supposed to.
Drawing in a deep breath that was intended to be a calming sigh, he paused when he realized the scent he was breathing was…
Turning to look at the sheets on the bed for a long moment as he drew in another breath, one paw stretched out to slide over the silky sheets. Cool silk met his pads as he smoothed his palm down…
…fur as soft as warm silk. Beautiful gray blending with white where her waist met her belly, writhing under him as he…
... rolled onto the bed, bringing the edge of the sheets to his nose to draw in the scent of her. Not the same as when he smelled her from a distance when she was clean and in uniform. Or from across the table while they ate, or even in the car. This scent was…
...the warm and appealing musk of rabbit. The scent filling his every breath as he nibbled his way along her shoulder and up into the softly humming fur of her throat until he…
…lost himself in the comfort that the scent brought him. He groaned into the sheets. The sound was not sexual, even if the memory that flickered through his mind was. The scent just made him so amazingly happy, calmed every nerve, made him want to wallow in it. How had he missed this? His…
...lips brushing over hers lightly, softly smiling against them as green met lavender with a playfully loving sparkle as he pressed his nose against hers...
Another short memory, but it was something. He focused on it again, repeated it over and over again in his mind. He didn't need to remember the scent of her, he realized. Or the feel of her fur under his paws. Or the taste of her on his tongue. All of that was a fact in his mind already, and the memory had simply awakened that reality. Just the visual, the sounds of her voice, the motions themselves as they had writhed together on this very bed. No sexual pleasure came from it the memories; just the thrill and the pain of remembering as he hugged her pillow close to him and wondered how long it had lasted. How long as she been his lover? When he had it ended?
She would have told him if they were still lovers after all. There was no sign of it in the house, nothing of his that was outside of the box. No pictures of them together out of uniform, no scent of him in the bed except for what he left there now. He must have done something to end it. Something stupid, something that only a fox foolish enough to come home smelling like a vixen could have done. Maybe someday he would remember and would be able to apologize for; then there would be a chance to make amends and get the same warmth and happiness he had felt in the memory back into his life. For now, curled up on her bed with her pillow hugged close to his chest and his nose buried in the scent of her, he understood why he had not been interested in the vixen at the bar:
He was in love with Judith Hopps.
She made an art form of avoiding him. If his life were normal, it might have been impressive and praiseworthy. She was always gone before he woke up, always managed to slip into the house late when he wasn't looking. Not that he waited up for her, not that he stood by the window and wondered why her shifts were twice as long now; wondered why she never left her room or joined him for meals anymore. They weren't in a relationship now, of that much he was certain. He had looked through the box again, paid extra close attention to every picture on her wall, checked drawers, dressers. He was beyond feeling bad enough rummaging through her house, mostly because he just needed to know the truth, and partly because he was sure that she had to know about it by now. There was no way she had not noticed his scent in her bed, yet she had said nothing. Simply remained locked away, silent aside from the occasional shuffle of paws across carpet or the sound of her shower running.
He tried to wait her out. He even left her little notes on the door, inside and out, telling her that he wanted to talk to her. But they remained unanswered. And every day that he was ignored, his heart sank a little lower. And every dip in his chest was followed by anger. He was the one who couldn't remember anything beyond random flashes of memory that were too damned short to be helpful. He was the one who's head had been bashed in for a job that he couldn't even remember so that he was forced to live with a damned rabbit that didn't want anything to do with him!
He thought of leaving, going home, but couldn't even find his home address because it always pointed back to her. Which confused him further, and the confusion only made him angry all over again. What kind of game did she think she was playing with him, anyway? So he'd smelled like a vixen, so what? He hadn't even done anything with her, and even if he had spent the night with her in some seedy hotel just to slow off some steam and finally have some fucking relaxation in his life, so what? They obviously weren't anything anymore, if they ever had been. He had not dismissed the possibility that it had been a one-time thing for her, a quick roll with a fox just to find out what it was like.
Which brought him back to being confused, again, because if that was the case why was she so angry?
He heard the shower turn off, again. For the past seven days, he had heard that sound, waited quietly in front of the TV in the hopes that she would come out and maybe even glance in his direction to show that she gave even a little bit a damn about him. Nothing. Again. Just a few silent footfalls, the sound of her crawling into bed, and then nothing again. His paw tightened on the carrot pen he held until he felt the plastic start to groan in protest, a paw that shook when he relaxed his grip enough to slide it into his pocket as he stood.
He considered doing a lot of things. A lot of them were stupid ideas, and he knew it. The first to come and easiest to dismiss was the fleeting idea to go out and find a vixen, take her to bed and give the damned rabbit something to be mad about at least. And after nearly punching himself for the thought, which he knew was just mean and spiteful, he pushed aside ideas of finding Finnick again to vent on, calling his mother, just going for a walk, and calling the ZPD to get his home address so he could leave. All of the thoughts fluttered away when he realized that he was standing at her door with one paw raised, and before he could gain control of the rage of confused pain that had brought him here, he pounded it into the door three times quickly.
"Judy, we need to talk, damn it!" He didn't even try to keep his tone even, knowing that it was far too late for her not to see that she was getting to him.
"Just go away, Nick," came the reply, and as angry as he was it still caused a needle of pain to hear it. It didn't sound angry. It sounded distant, pained and resigned.
Hearing the spirited Officer Hopps use such a tone pissed him right the fuck off.
Not even sure what the anger was directed at, it surged through him so intensely that it caused his fur to bristle and his lips to draw back from his teeth. The next thing he knew, he had planted his foot in the door with enough force to break the frame and sent the door exploding inward. He wasn't sure who was more stunned by the action in that moment; the slack-jawed bunny sitting in the bed - looking far too appealing in the pink spaghetti strap nighty and blue underwear, which were perfectly visible since she wore nothing else below the waist – or himself. He had just kicked her damned door in like some madman! What was wrong with him?
Even that thought didn't stop him from storming across the room towards her, watching as the shock melted from her face and began anger of her own. Instead of backing down, she stood where she was on the bed, which put them very close to eye level when he stopped beside the bed.
"Look what you did to the door! Have you lost your mind, Nicholas Wilde?" she demanded, her voice raised as she jabbed her finger into his chest with enough force to make him rock back.
"If you keep asking that question, Hopps, it's only going to piss me off even more," he said, his ears pinned back as he fixed green eyes on her burning amethyst. He poked her in the chest in turn, which made her eyes narrow on him. "I haven't seen you for seven days! You haven't said a word to me, haven't even bothered to acknowledge my notes or the fact that even exist in this house other than to make damned sure that I never lay eyes on you! For all you know, I could remember everything and you wouldn't even know, partner!"
Her eyes remained narrowed, and even as angry as he was he saw the flare of her nostrils when she slapped his paw away. "Have you?" she demanded, though something in her tone told him that she already knew the answer.
"Of course you haven't!" she cut him off with a scream that made his ears ache. He saw the tears in her eyes as clearly as he heard them in her voice just before they spilled over. "Because if you remembered anything, you wouldn't have fucked some vixen while I sat here worried half to death about you, partner!"
"That never happened!" he shouted back and had the satisfaction of seeing her next reply deflate in a rush of breath even as the tears trickled through the gray fur of her cheeks. He resisted the urge to reach forward and brush them away. A surprisingly easy thing to do, considering the anger that still bubbled through him. "And even if it did, what does it matter to you? We're not dating, right? There's nothing in this house to indicate it, and you certainly haven't given me any sign otherwise. I mean, there would be something, wouldn't…"
Stopping when she wrapped her arms around her stomach and looked away, he stared at her for a long moment as some realizations struck at the same moment. First, the room still smelled like him. Not the fresh scent that had followed him into the room, but the lingering musk that he had left all over her bed. All over the sheets and the pillows that he had very literally wallowed in. The sheets that were still on the bed, the pillow that she had been leaning against, the blanket she covered herself in at night when she slept. There was no way she wasn't aware of it.
"Judy, why haven't you asked me to leave?" he asked numbly, ears perking towards her as he raised his eyes from the stray strands of orange fur he saw on the sheets. She refused to meet his gaze.
"I don't want you to leave, Nick," she said, her voice quiet and resigned as she turned and sat in the center of the bed. He felt a little hitch in his chest, then a knock as his heart rate increased when she dragged the pillow close to her chest and hugged it there. He knew he had marked the pillow, that the scent wouldn't fade for a good long while. And she squeezed it close when she finally met his gaze. "I told you to stay until you had your memory back, and I…"
"No, not the house," he cut her off with an impatient wave of his paw. He pointed at the ground under his feet with both forefingers. "Here. Your bedroom. You haven't told me to leave, even though you're half naked and I'm a fox. A fox in a bunny's bedroom. And all you think to say when you see me charging towards you in a fury is 'Look what you did to the door'?"
"Nick," she began, then paused as he watched her swallowed thickly. She sniffled once and shook her head when she buried her face into the pillow.
"Don't," he all but growled as he climbed onto the bed on all fours and closed the distance between them. It touched and shocked him down to his core that she didn't look in the least bit afraid as he came over her, stripped the pillow away to take her wrists in his paws. If anything, those wide eyes looking up at him with a sadness and a craving. A craving that sharpened when he shoved her back into the mattress and pinned her body under his. He wasn't even shy about it, for God's sake. He was pressed full length into her, his muzzle only slightly more than an inch from hers as he felt the heat of her nearly naked body soaking through his clothes and into his fur until he felt a twitch in his sheath that came with the rise of arousal. "Don't lie to me. Why aren't you screaming for help, or even trying to stop me? Why did that vixen smell so wrong to me that I couldn't even find her attractive, but I wallowed in your scent and this bed for half a day because it made me feel happy? Why does this, all of this right now, feel right? Why do I feel like I belong here?"
"Because you do," she replied in a voice that was so soft that he could hardly make out the words. Not that the words mattered much anymore when she angled her muzzle up and pressed her mouth to his.
The warmth of the touch drained the strength from him, and his fingers relaxed around her wrists until she pulled the free. Rather than try to push him away, she wrapped her arms around his neck to drag him deeper into the kiss with an eagerness that spoke volumes about how much she wanted it. All he could taste was bunny, and in those first few seconds of the kiss, he knew why the vixen would never have measured up. She was so sweet, like nothing he had experienced before. Subtle flavors exciting something primal in him when he parted his muzzle, deepening the kiss with a touch of his tongue against her smaller one in a slick dance that had his paws bunching into the sheets. He felt as if he had done this a thousand times, and he knew how to kiss her until she whimpered a sigh into his mouth with a needy little squirm. He felt her thighs rise up to slide over his hip. But just because it felt perfect and naturally didn't change the fact that it was new to him; and overwhelming; and powerful. A shudder rolled through him as he moaned into her muzzle, which seemed to be enough to snap her out of whatever daze they were both locked in long enough to pull her mouth away from his.
"Oh God, Nick," she said after a moment. A moment during which they had both been breathing deeply, staring at each other. Him staring at her with open surprise, and her looking at him with longing and regret. "You don't even remember, do you? I'm sorr… Mmph!"
Silencing her was, for once, a very pleasant experience when he brought his muzzle down to hers again, this time taking her mouth with his own sense of urgency. It was satisfying when surprise didn't even have time to register for her before she was moaning into his mouth again, amethyst eyes fluttering closed as they skipped the soft and warm and dove straight into the heated and desperate. A desperation that he hadn't even known he had in him until he felt the sweep of her tongue over his, and the pull of her claws at the back of his shirt. She didn't even bother with the buttons, and he didn't try to correct her as he sat up and broke the kiss just along enough to slip his head and arms out. He even managed a little breathless laugh when his tie stayed around his neck and she grabbed it to yank him back down into the welcoming embrace of her lips again.
It was a glorious feeling. Uncertainty, fear, and disbelief were all gone as he feasted on the taste of her mouth and knew that she was doing the same. He didn't question the way her body rose to him when he took his turn, sliding his paws up and over the smooth plain of her belly and the curve of her chest, the nightgown flowing up as his paws moved. They broke the kiss again as she raised her arms when he slipped the silky pink over her head. With the removal of that single barrier, her scent bloomed around him: those sweet hints of bunny that had so tantalized and soothed him now surrounded him, filled his next breath with something that tickled the edges of his memory.
"Nick," she breathed out, her voice so thick with a desire that it only made him want to make her moan some more. But to his surprise she was gently but firmly tugging his ears to move him back, so move him away. "No, no. Nick, we can't. Please."
He didn't want it to stop. It all felt so good, a relief from the pain and confusion of the last month. But more than that, even though it was new and strange, it felt so right. He wanted to find the source of that alluring scent and bury his muzzle their until she surrendered to the same need that he felt. He wanted her to want him, just as he wanted her.
It was when she turned her eyes to him and he saw the same passion he felt reflected in them, the same need to go on that he was able to relent and raise his muzzle. She did want him, a want that he felt in the touch of her trembling paws as she slid them both down either side of his muzzle to draw him close to her. Not to kiss this time. Just pulled him close and wrapped her arms around his bare shoulders with her muzzle pressed into the side of his neck. Panting lightly, trying to ease back from the need that had caused his heart to slam against his chest and his groin to throb, he almost tentatively wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice an odd combination of misery and contentment. A feeling that he understood completely as he gently rooted through the fur of her throat with the tip of his nose. Exploring her, because it was… So strange. He knew what to do, and when he had been lost in need he had just done it. Followed his desires, and known how to pull their mutual desire to the next level. Now that he was thinking about it, he only knew this body from random flashes of memory; sparse memories that made even the slide of his paw down the back of her neck unexplored territory.
"Don't be," he whispered in reply when his muzzle found the rim of her ear. He kissed it, just a light graze of his lips over the gray fur. Not to tease, though he did feel the little shiver slide through her, but because he was curious. "I don't even know… Who am I to you, Judy? What are we to each other?"
"You need to remember that yourself," she whispered in a suddenly drowsy voice. He felt her paws sliding down his shoulders, dig into his fur as they moved up and down his back in a slow and sleepy caress. He wondered for a moment if she had been sleeping as poorly as he had. Or had she been sleeping less? "It's important. We can't push this. Please be patient."
A laugh almost wanted to come, but it came out as a sigh that was half disappointment and half frustration. Still, he gave her a light nod and a gentle nuzzle to her cheek that had a small smile climbing her lips again before he started to draw away from her. He found himself stopped when her arms tightened around him, her muzzle pressing into his neck and her lips into his fur.
Soft and pleading, the whispered words brought with them a strange relief even though he knew the invitation wasn't meant as an offer to continue what had almost been. Maybe not so strange, really, he realized when he lifted his head to look down into her eyes. Eyes that were warm and welcoming, hopeful and just a little bit desperate. And because he was almost certain that the same look was reflected back to her this time, he gave his answer.
Rolling over onto his side in the middle of the bed and tucking the pillow under his head, he left his arms open to her as she curled herself against him. Her smaller body molding to his, matching her curves to the length of his longer body with the experience of someone who was familiar with where she wanted to be. He felt the heat when she tucked her nuzzle into the thick fur of his chest ruff, sucking in a deep breath that she released with a sound that was still filled with as much longing as it was content relaxation. He let his paw up and down her arm lightly, letting his claws trace the pattern of her fur as they just stayed there in silence for long minutes.
"So, you really didn't do anything with that vixen?" came her hopeful voice again, drawing a small laugh from him as he wrapped his arms around her and squeezed her close for the rest of the night.
Easy wasn't a word he would use to describe their situation.
He still remembered very little, though he had gained his first memories of actually being a police officer. A trip down to the ZPD, to meet (again) some his fellow officers. His idea, actually; one that she supported wholeheartedly. He had admitted to her that it felt strange on the drive home, the nervousness not entirely based on the fact that he had been meeting co-workers he didn't remember. He was still Nick the street hustler in his own mind, only a little over a month out of the gate and three years behind the times. There was the nervousness of a less than honest fox. "Because if I ever did do anything illegal, which I never have, it might come back to haunt me," he had explained to her. A statement which had drawn a bittersweet little smile up at the corners of her muzzle that confused him until she explained that he had said almost the same thing during the Night Howler investigation.
"You know, I think you'd actually make a pretty good cop," she quipped as she leaned back and folded her arms, her tone not entirely playful.
His gaze flicked over her, trying to judge how serious the still adorable bunny was for a fraction of a second. The feeling of affection that was growing for her, the same affection that had made him all but forget about the carrot pen, made him want to believe her. But the moment was brief, and he gave a little scoff.
"Huh. How dare you."
"Funny you should say that." She was standing in front of him in the ornate and sunny lobby now, looking a little nervous as she reached into her back pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He watched her with mild curiosity when she started to unfold it as she continued. "Because, well… I've been thinking. It would be nice to have a partner."
The surprise had been so warm, so deep that he felt it all over again as if for the first time. He ran his fingers together as they drove in silence, almost able to feel the paper against his pads. And he felt the pleasure, even as a part of his mind had told him that the bunny was obviously insane to think that he belonged in that uniform. But she had believed in him, had offered trust and reached out a paw that no one ever had before. The pictures on the wall, the medals and commendations in his name, the friendly faces of the officers who had all welcomed him and shaken his paw with real pleasure to see him on his feet? All of that was because of one moment of trust. Because one rabbit had convinced him that he was more than he had let himself believe.
After asking her to pull over, ignoring her concerned expression, he had unbuckled her seatbelt and dragged her fully across the seats until she was in his lap. She let herself be held without complaint and held him in return with her tiny paws sliding over the back of his shirt when he shared the memories with her.
That morning's routine of tease and denial had led him to an interesting change of pace. After she'd managed to slip out the door, leaving him feeling the emptiness of the house all over again for the first few minutes, he realized that she'd left her cell phone on the side table. Being the honest fox that he was (supposed to be) he considered just leaving it alone for a whole thirty minutes while had breakfast. After that, his willpower was gone and he found himself sitting on the couch in the living room with the phone in one paw. He wanted to feel guilty, wanted to feel like he was invading her privacy, but the fact that he wanted answers that she was unwilling to give urged him on as he swiped the pad of his finger across the screen to bring up the cOS.
Pleased that she didn't have any sort of password, he tapped his way through various screens curiously. Phone numbers were standard, not that he expected she had any torrid affairs to hide from him. He was a little surprised to see his mother's numbers among the recent calls, a few times over the past two days. Her parents, calls from the ZPD, an outgoing call to a number he recognized as Finnick. This didn't surprise him. He had already guessed that the bat-ears fox was in on the whole 'Don't tell Nick everything' scam he was currently living with. He bypassed the random apps until he came up on the Files Folder, and dug through it until he found the photos folders.
And there they were. Him and her, everywhere. A pic of him just walking out of the ZPD in full uniform; sleeves rolled up, paws shoved in his pockets with aviator sunglasses in place against the same bright sun the glinted off his badge. The next was a picture of him taking a bite of a doughnut in the cruiser. The next one was a picture of him with a young fox riding on his shoulders in the park, little arms outstretched towards a vixen with a look of relief on her face. Another shot of him trying desperately not to spill his coffee, and another of him walking back towards the ZPD entrance. He realized what they were when he flipped back through the pics and looked at the dates, counted back to what he found to be his hire date.
It was his first day on the job.
"Hey, partner. Smile!"
"Oh come on, Carrots. This is just silly. How many of these are you going to take?"
"These may be important someday! It's history in the making. First fox on the ZPD, first day on the job. When you're old and grouchy, sitting in a rocking chair surrounded by grandkits and reliving stories of your youth, you'll be glad I took these."
"Fine fine. Just be sure you get my handsome side."
"Every side is handsome."
"What was that?"
He heard her little comment but had pretended not to. Just like he had pretended that it hadn't caused his heart to skip in his chest. He'd had such a crush on her. More than a crush. He had been crazy about her. The bright and cheerful energy that she presented to the world, to the sly sarcasm that she wielded with at least as much skill as he did. From the first day he'd come back from the academy, he'd been in love with her.
But cop or not, he was a fox and she was a bunny.
The memories of those first few days on the force came back like a splash of water to the face. Everything from his graduation, his first morning on the job…
"You know you love me."
"Do I know that? Yes… Yes, I do."
…to the days that followed it. Weeks. He almost, for one blinding moment as he looked down the picture of himself walking back towards the ZPD entrance, though it might all just come rushing back. But like turning off a faucet, the flood slowed and abated. He wasn't even sure exactly what he had now, how much. It wasn't like everything had just flashed into his mind, but now some of the pictures he flipped through were familiar.
Benjamin! He remembered Benjamin and his insane food obsession! And Wolford, and Delgato, and Fangmeyer! And the Chief, with his sharp if dry wit with threats of parking duty. And for the first time, he admitted to himself, he really believed it. These were no longer just someone else's memories that he had to convince himself were true. He didn't have to take anyone else's word for it.
"Oh my god," he whispered as he stared down at the phone clutched in his paw. "I'm a cop!"
The delighted sound that escaped him was a half laugh and half sob as he continued to flip through the photos eagerly now. There were a lot more selfies now, with their faces pressed together, or just her snapping pictures of random things in Zootopia. Some pictures from the Gazelle concert they had gone to together. Some pictures from Bunnyburrow, where the first picture she had was of him being surrounded by young bunnies; and the next one where he was indulgently letting them climb all over him while her parents watched patiently from the background. No more memories surfaced as he did, no matter how many pictures surfaced, but it didn't matter really. He had something now that he had lacked before, and…
He paused as he flipped through to the next set of pictures, pausing as he realized that the date was wrong. Turning back a few to the ones from BunnyBurrow, noted the date stamp to be a few months after he had joined the force. Then when he flipped back, all of them were from a year after that. The time skip made him watch the dates more closely as he continued, noting that it happened a few more times. First the full year, then months would vanish after that. It caused a frown to curve his muzzle as he paused on a photo of her that he had taken. He knew he had taken it because he could see part of his paw in the shot, stretched out towards her. Something about the picture was different, he knew. He couldn't place it, couldn't find it no matter how long he looked. And the memories that came with it remained a mystery to him until he finally closed the folder and let the phone drop into his lap.
With what he had now, he wanted to talk to Judy. Wanted to share everything he did remember, and almost went in search of the phone before he realized that her phone was in his lap. A little laugh and a roll of his eyes later, and he reached for the remote to the TV instead. Just some background noise. Maybe a music channel to listen to while he leaned back and sorted through the memories. He turned it on and found himself staring that the scene on the TV.
Flashing lights and at least half a dozen ZPD cruisers gathered around the downtown area in the aerial view provided by the news network. The droning voice of the newscaster promised more information as it became available, even as the sounds of more gunfire rang out over the air. The text scrolling below in large white letters with the ZNN logo in the corner read:
"Shootout at Zootopia Central Bank and Trust. Two gun mammals confirmed. Causalities reported as two ZPD Officers and one civilian airlifted to the area hospital. No reports on condition."
He heard the words 'hostages' and 'negotiations' immediately after he turned the volume up to hear the rest of the report, but they had nothing else on the officers injured. Feeling a sickening clutch in his belly and panic surging through him, he stood so quickly that her phone went skidding across the floor as he ran into the bedroom to grab his own new, almost completely unused phone. Dialing the direct number to the front desk with trembling paws, he placed it to his ear as he turned his wide eyes back to the screen. Hoping that somewhere in the chaos below he would see the tiny bunny in a blue uniform assisting, but unhurt. He listened to the call ring. And ring. And ring. He slammed his finger down on the End Call button so hard it almost cracked the screen before he dialed again.
"No no no," he muttered to himself over and over, pacing the room with ears pinned to the back of his head when no sign of his partner was seen in the mass of ZPD cruisers. "Pick up the phone! Damn it, Benjamin!"
Finally, he heard the click of the call connecting, and the weary-sounding, "ZPD, Clawhauser speaking."
"Benjamin!" he said instantly, pressing his paw to one eye to wipe at the gritty feeling forming. "Where is Judy?"
"Nick? Nick, this isn't a good time," came the hesitant voice of the cheetah, with a reply that only had Nick's anger rising.
"Clawhauser, where is my partner?" he demanded again, his paw tightening around the phone so hard that he felt the ache in his pads and heard the creak of the case.
"I'm not really sure, Nick," came the reply again, just as hesitant as before. He wasn't technically a cop right now, wasn't her partner. Was there when she might need him. Next of kin only. That was who could ask for information on officers in the field during a crisis like this. "I can have her call you as soon as I get word from her."
Rage and desperate surged together.
"God damn it, Clawhauser, where is my wife!" he screamed.
The only sound that followed for a long moment was the sound of his own panting gasps and the roar of his heartbeat in his ears. The silence was thick, and it took him a moment to realize that the silence was all his. He wasn't hearing anything, wasn't seeing anything but the word that rang through his mind like a bell. It wasn't until he realized that someone was speaking on the other end of the line that he focused in, the throaty rumble of Chief Bogo coming through over the dispatch radio.
"Hopps was taken to Downtown General, along with Delgato," he said over the sounds of shouting, including his own. "Keep those reporters back! I don't want these…"
There may have been more coming from either Bogo or Clawhauser, but Nick wasn't aware it. He had already ended the call and was making another as he looked around for her phone again. That picture. The one that had looked strange to him, had looked off.
"Hey, fox," came Finnick's gruff voice on the other end as he spotted her phone on the other side of the room and all but dove for it.
"Do you, Nicholas Wilde…"
"I need a ride downtown. Now," he said quickly, as he navigated his way to the picture folder again and scrolled to the more recent pool. "Judy's in the hospital."
"…take this bunny to be your lawfully wedded wife? To have and told hold…"
"Whoa whoa, what?" came the startled reply, the fox on the other end now clearly paying full attention. "When?"
"…in sickness and in health…"
"Please, just hurry. I'm…"
"…for as long as you both shall live?"
His voice drifted off when he found the picture again and stared at the image once he opened it. It was blindingly obvious, now that he understood. The glint of gold from the wedding band almost buried in the red fur of the hand he was holding out towards her.
"Of course I do, one hundred percent."
He ran through the double sliding doors of the emergency room at full tilt after what had been the longest drive of his life. That he could remember, anyway. Making a b-line for the reception desk, which was currently manned by an alpaca duty nurse who looked bored and uninterested in everything around her, he took a flying leap that put him on top of the desk in front of her. She merely turned that bored gaze towards him and rose one eyebrow.
"Can I help you, sir?"
"A ZPD officer... Two officers were brought in with injuries," he said quickly, his ears flat as he turned his gaze to look around the packed ER. There were animals of all shapes and sized inside, making it impossible for him to single anyone or to try to pick up the scent of rabbit in the myriad of scents. "Judith Hopps was one of them. Is there any word? Is there a doctor I can talk to?"
"Sir, unless you're a relative or an officer yourself," she drawled, that uninterested tone making him want to bite her. "You're going to have to go to the waiting room."
"I'm her husband!" he shouted in a near growl, his paws clenched at his sides as he tried to keep his lips from curling. The last thing he needed was to be escorted out for bearing his teeth.
"Nick?" came the soft voice behind him, making him whirl around to see the most beautiful sight he had ever seen in his life.
The little bunny stood there in her blue uniform with the blue knife-vest and the shiny badge on her chest. Her arm was in a sling, but she was standing under her own power, walking towards him without a limp or any sign that her life was in danger. Her eyes were a little wide when she looked at him now, and in the relief that flooded him, he didn't even notice the hopeful tears in her own as he jumped down from the desk and ran over to her.
"Carrots!" He all but prayed the pet-name as he dropped to his knees in front of her, dragging her close so he could drop his muzzle into her neck and just hold her. The scent of gun smoke and blood that wasn't hers lingered on her fur and made him frown as he pulled back to look down at her. Had he missed an injury? "Are you alright? I saw… I thought…"
"I'm fine," she assured him softly, and now that he was paying a little more attention, he realized that he could hear the tremor in her voice and a see a shimmer of tears in her eyes. "Delgato was hit, and when I tried to pull him out of the way he fell on top of me. Sort of a sad way to get injured, all things considered. You said…"
"Husband, right," he said and tilted his muzzle into her paw when she reached up with her good arm to slide her fingers through his fur. He gave a little laugh as he pulled her close to him again, closing his eyes as he felt her cling to him. "Yeah, I remember that now. Unless we've gotten a divorce since that memory. In which case, get ready to have me beg. Because I will beg. I will plead and do anything I need to do to fix it if that's true."
"Of course we're not divorced, dumb fox," she said with a watery laugh as he felt a few tears wet the fur of his neck. "The doctor thought that, with what you do remember – where your memories of me began – that with you being a fox and me being a bunny, you might willingly reject the idea that we're married, which would have… Could have… Oh, Nick. I'm sorry."
When a few tears became many, and he felt her tiny paw grip the back of his shirt as she burrowed into him, he squeezed her a little tighter while being careful of her arm.
"It's a relief, you know," he mumbled into her fur as he kissed the fur between her ears.
"That we're married?" she asked, resting her head on his shoulder as he ran his fingers down the length of her ears slowly. He heard the sigh of contentment leave her and smiled slowly.
"Of course it is," he said, resting his muzzle between her ears as he opened his eyes and looked out while seeing nothing but the little pieces of the past that he did remember. "I still don't remember much. I don't remember falling in love, or dating, or asking you to marry me. Or you asking me because you are an aggressive little bunny when you want something."
She raised her head as he looked down at her, close enough that their muzzles were almost touching. He could see the worry in her eyes, eyes that were so damned beautiful and bright and full of love. "Nick…"
"I'm relieved because, even though I don't remember these things," he said, letting his claws slide through her ears in a way that distracted her from just about everything. He knew it somehow, and it proved true with a little shudder raced through her as he grinned softly. "I've known for a while how I feel about you. And this way, I don't have to go through the process of charming you with witty remarks, roguish good looks and sultry looks across the dining room table."
This drew a snort of laughter from her before she pressed her mouth to his briefly. "All of those things are still greatly appreciated, you know."
"Hm," he breathed and dipped his muzzle for another sort kiss. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind. How's Delgato, by the way?"
"They say he'll recover," she said, gently disengaging herself from him. He was fully aware that they were in the middle of a very crowded waiting room, and that he was a fox snuggled up to a bunny. The number of odd looks that they were drawing gave him the childish desire to stick his tongue out at the lot of them. But he just settled for letting her draw him towards a pair of chairs against the far wall. "The bullet passed through his hip, so it will be a while before he's back on his feet. But he'll get there."
"That's good," he said, drawing her close to his side as they sat together. "And how are we doing?"
"Better," came her tired, but content reply. He watched her eyes slide closed as she turned her face into his shirt and breathed in deeply. "It might still be a while before we get back on our feet, but we'll get there."
"Yeah," he replied, and smiled down at her a little sadly as he considered the small range of what he had remembered in the past month. The short peaks into what had been years of his life; years of a life that he still couldn't really grasp as his in a lot of ways. "I'm still only getting random memories, Carrots. What if I don't get it all back? I mean, I know how I feel. I remember marrying you, and I don't want anything more than to make sure that doesn't change. But I don't remember our first date, or out first kiss, or when we told each other our feelings and who did it first. What if I never really remember us?"
"But you do know how you feel now?" she asked him quietly, squeezing his hand gently to hold his attention.
"Oh, yes," he said easily, watching the slow and warm smile spread over her lips when he continued. "I love you, Carrots. Which is saying a lot, because my most vivid memory of you is desperately wanting to ditch you after the Naturalist's Club."
"Oh, how boring our lives would have turned out to be if you had managed that," she whispered, and he lowered his muzzle into her paws when she cupped it to draw him closer. "I love you, too. And now even if you never remember what we were before, you'll remember this as the first time you told me and I answered. We'll make two new memories for everyone that doesn't come back, Nick. We'll rebuild it all if we have to. If memories make the fox, then I am going to make sure that you are the most loved fox who ever lived."
His eyes softened, his expression warmed as he looked down at her and she smiled up at him. Cupping her face in his larger paws, he touched his nose to hers lightly. "And I'll make sure that you're the most loved bunny who ever lived."
"Already there, Slick," she whispered, and touched her soft lips to his just long enough for him to feel her contented sigh escape against his cheek fur. "Already there."