EDITED BY: DrummerMax64


Chapter Twenty-Three - Blue


Silence. Never-ending, perpetual, nerve-wracking silence. After a while, Edward expected his body to make contact with some sort of ground. He felt as if he was still falling. The wolf didn't dare open his eyes. He didn't see the need to. The end was coming. Surely it wasn't infinite, or perhaps he was already dead?

Curiouser and curiouser, he found the courage to open his eyes. Only, he wasn't prepared for what followed after—or rather, didn't.

Everything around him was sheer darkness. Nothing remained. The Rainforest District, the platform, the city of Zootopia as he knew it were all but gone. Vanished without a trace. All that remained was Edward all by his lonesome, stuck in suspended animation and unable to move his body. He couldn't tell what direction was up or down. It was as if he were at the bottom of the ocean and couldn't see the surface. It was something straight out of a nightmare.

What even is this place? he asked himself. Am I in hell?

"I hope not," a voice echoed, "or this would make for a really awkward conversation."

Edward's ears pricked up from the base of his skull. He knew that voice, cherished it even. The canid found the strength to turn his body around, manipulating the momentum of his zero gravity state to find the origin of the voice. He looked left, then right, then down. All yielded nothing. When he tilted his head up, however, he saw her. A soul that was taken well before her time.

"...Mom?" Edward whimpered.

"Hello, sweetheart."

Charolete, fully healthy and clad in a bright and beautiful white dress, floated daintily down and stopped right in front of where his body was facing after his initial struggle. Edward couldn't stop the cascade of tears welling up and falling out of his eyes. And, like any mother would, she came to his side, consoling him, hugging him, and comforting the wolf who couldn't understand what was happening. Eventually, he felt his feet land on solid ground. He opened his puffy, teary eyes to assess where he was.

Edward and Charolete were in a field like their farm. No houses, no barns, no mammals, not even farm equipment. However, it was all a stunning shade of white, the landscape completely stripped of its beautiful hues. All that remained was a vibrant blue sky and a gleaming sun.

Edward disregarded the strange setting and sniffled to her, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wasn't strong enough."

"Honey," she cooed, scooping the side of her son's muzzle, "that's not true at all. You are the strongest mammal I've ever known. You did everything right, how it was supposed to be."

"No, I'm not." Edward pulled away, wiping the tears away from his face. "Everything fell apart. I lost my job, my friend is practically gone, I let those terrible mammals knock me around like a ragdoll. I was tricked, and I was dumb enough to play in their paws—or hooves, really. How on Earth could I be considered 'strong?'"

"And you know what strength is?"

"Yes!" Edward couldn't help but yell. From the look on Charolete's face, he immediately regretted it. "I think…"

The female alpha sighed in disappointment. She looked down on him with all of the authority she could muster. Edward instantly felt tiny compared to her.

"Edward Varian Snow," she commanded with his full name, "if you wish to know what the strength you speak of is, then allow me to humor you."

With the snap of her fingers, the environment around them began to change as if she were an all-powerful sorceress. The wind picked up, throwing colorless dust particles and debris into the air. Edward put up his arm and shut his eyes to shield them from the foreign substances. When he could feel the wind rustling through his fur begin to die down, all was quiet. After a few seconds deciding he wasn't in any danger, he found the will to open them. However, he was confused at the sight. The setting had molded around them into something different.

Both he and his mother were standing inside one of the hallways of Edward's old high school. Every single detail looked as if it had been ripped straight from his memories. It was exact. Inhabiting this nostalgic space were the mammals of his youth, a fair amount of them unrecognizable as they rushed past—and through on some occasions—both of the adult wolves. Edward wanted to question if he were actually dead, but that wasn't his focus. He realized that the hallway did in fact hold mammals he recognized.

Out of the history class at the far end of the hallway emerged a tall tiger coupled with a black ewe, both with huge grins on their faces. They looked like they were having a great time.

Where am I? Edward thought.

Almost precisely on cue, booming laughter filled the hall behind him, forcing Edward to turn around and find the source. Although, the inflection of the laugh gave a huge clue as to who exactly Edward was looking for.

It was himself.

Edward stared at the younger, muscular wolf laughing and talking with the other brutes of their high school. The young wolf sported a pristine varsity jacket, as well as the necklace that Edward would've given to Charles had their relationship continued. But something wasn't right. Gary was the jock, not Edward. Where was his brother? Edward looked around for a moment to try and find him.

But Charolete saw right through him. "He's currently at the other end of the school comparing notes with his classmates for a big chemistry test if you're wondering where your brother is. Apparently, he's gunning for valedictorian."

The canid looked at his mother with mild confusion, then turned back to the predator-prey duo who were nearly about to cross paths with the younger Edward's. Just as the tiger and ewe got in front of Edward and Charolete, the young lupine stuck his leg out and tripped Charles, who was still mid-conversation with Sharla. The ground rumbled around them as books and papers slid everywhere. The jocks began their roars of laughter.

"Watch where you're going, Stripes!" the young Edward Snow mocked.

"Leave him alone, you jerk! Or I'll make sure you never do that again!" Sharla shouted, her usually unperturbed demeanor goaded.

"So vicious," Edward spoke with exaggerated fear. He laughed. "Tell him to watch where he's going next time."

Edward's posse of mammals chortled, prompting Sharla to prep a savage punch of her own aimed right at the wolf. Before she could swing, Charles covered her hoof with his paw.

"Sharla, don't." The tiger got up and collected his belongings sprawled on the ground. His voice was scarily monotone. "It's not worth it."

After the tiger got his two cents in, everything in the scene began decelerating, movements becoming slower and slower until everything around the real Edward grinded to a halt. The wolf turned slowly to his mother. He didn't understand. Why was this version of him so awful? He needed to know.

"What is this?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Charolete assuaged. "This is only one part of what your definition of being 'strong' is like. You needed to be around the best of the best. You didn't really care so much about the personal relationships of these mammals, all you cared about was getting to the next level. Eventually, you found that next step."

Another gust of wind blew through the hall and Edward's clothes. Again, the wolf blocked some of it with his arm, but managed to keep his eyes open wide enough to see the changes before him. The mammals and walls around them evaporated into thin air, the natural setting returning with its bright and beautiful colors to meet the sudden appearance of the Snow family home that had risen like a zombie from the ground. In front of the home was a Herd Focus, more specifically the one that he would've shared with Sharla later on.

Before his ears could process the sound, the front screen door of their home burst open, a heated Edward Snow, now slightly older than before, walking with a pair of heavy bags over to the parked car.

"Ed!" a slightly younger-looking Alabaster followed him out. "Please, come back. Let's work this out."

"Why should I?" the young wolf retorted, throwing his bags into the back seat. "Lavender's getting the house anyway, and Gary—that wimp—is going off to that private university. You guys don't need me, and you sure as hell don't need that pitiful excuse for a brother. Why should I stay? There's nothing for me here."

"Because we're family, Edward. We care about you."

"Did Mom tell you to say that? I don't think I've ever seen you care so much about one of your kids. Or was it Lavender? I wonder how much they'll care if they learn how much of a wuss you really are."

"What will you do then? Huh? Where will you go?'

"To the Zootopia Police Academy. It's the only way I'll be able to excel. I can't do that waiting for grass to grow bullcrap. They accepted my application weeks ago. My first day starts tomorrow."

"What about Lavender? What about your family? Why not the army?"

"Enlisting, being with a bunch of idiots until I'm finally in a troop, and never seeing action for years to come? I'll pass. Besides, you guys made your choice. I'm an adult now. It's my turn!"

Alabaster let out a growl. For a moment, it seemed like he was going to explode. However, akin to his father's leaf turn, the elder lupine sighed, turned away, and retreated back into the house. "If you think you know best, then go ahead, you big brute."

"Thanks for nothing."

"Strength often leads to arrogance and malice," Charolete said to her pup. "At this point, you've bolstered yourself so much that you've abandoned your family entirely to chase this wild fantasy of yours."

Edward watched as his younger self got into the car and peeled away, leaving a trail of dirt and dust in his wake. "Will I ever learn?" he muttered.

"Eventually," Charolete shrugged. "But at great cost."

Edward's confusion grew at his mother's response. He was about to question her when another scene change ensued. This time, it was something eerily familiar.

All it took was for him to blink. The flash of lightning and rumble of thunder caused him to look up. The torrential downpour above flooded the area around him, and there were leaves and flora everywhere. It was dark, moist, humid. He was back in the Rainforest District, and unlike the gentle, artificial drizzle from the sprinklers above, a heavy storm had enveloped the area. Based on his surroundings, from where he and his mother were on the edge of a cliff, Edward couldn't tell where he was in the district. Everything looked the same. Through the rain and greenery, however, he could see a sole tiger standing at the edge of a gondola platform across from the wolves, a sign near the back reading 'Vine Rd.'

Edward knew this place, knew this point in time, and with what his mother already showed him prior, his bad feeling turned into that of dread. "No," he pleaded. "Please, not this. Please don't show me this."

Charolete ignored her son, calmly watching the scene unfold. A police cruiser rolled into view at the base of the platform. Out of the door, a familiar, faux version of the silver wolf appeared, donning a dashing, navy-blue police uniform.

"Sir," this version of Edward stammered, grabbing the feline's attention. "Please step away from the platform."

"Or what?" Charles countered. "Are you going to taze me?"

"If I have to," Edward said coldly. Gripping the taser in his paws, he took a step forward. "Please. Charles. Don't do this. It's not worth it. Your friends and family need you—"

"What family? My abusive mom? My joke of a druggie boyfriend? Or you, my ever-so-caring ex? Even my friends abandoned me. You don't understand! You never cared or wanted to!"

"Just step away from the platform and come with me back to Precinct One. We can get you some help."

"After all those years and now you want to help? What's with this sudden change of heart? What happened to your gusto, Ed? I thought you wanted to be strong? What's all that strength going to do for you now?" Charles began to cry. "I loved you. I cherished you." Then the cat snarled at him. "But you threw me away. You threw your family away. You threw it all away. You think you're so invincible, so strong. I know who you are, Edward. Deep down, I know you care. You just refuse to show it."

"Charles, please, just come with me."

Charles scoffed. "You made your choice. You didn't give a shit then when I begged you to understand, to stay with me. Obviously you still don't care now."

"Please!" Edward cried out as the tiger took a step backward. "You're all I have left!"

"So were you..."

The feline stretched his arms outward, eyes rolled to the back of his head, and fell backwards into the bottomless pit below.

"No!"

"STOP!" the real Edward commanded with thundering power in his voice. His entire body gave out. He brought himself to his hands and knees, unable to open his eyes. He couldn't bear to watch anymore. The experience was something straight out of a nightmare. Edward's cries and sobs came like the rain around him, torrential and unending. In spite of his sorrow, he was able to rip a plea out of his throat. "Please," he begged. "I just want to go home."

"Of course," Charolete finally agreed, snapping her fingers once more.

The male wolf took awhile to calm down, and even more to recognize that he was out of the Rainforest District and back at the family farm. Edward could still see the scene play out repeatedly at the forefront of his mind. Knowing what he was capable of, to see his friend drop to the dark depths—it scarred him.

Edward willed himself off the floor of the wooden porch of their home and cast his cobalt eyes towards a beautiful orange sunset. Sniffing the air around him, he caught the hint of fresh chocolate chip cookies. Considering what his mom showed him, Edward pondered if there were any other mammals around their home.

"It's just us, sweetie," she said. The elder she-wolf turned her head back to the sunset on the horizon. She was sitting comfortably in her rocking chair, a steaming cup of tea clasped in her paws. "No matter how many times I think of home, I never get tired of the view. It's one of the things that sticks with me."

"Why did you show me those things?"

"To show you that being strong and your version of 'strong' are two different concepts entirely."

A light gust ruffled through Edward's silver fur, his paw instinctively shielding his eyes. When he lowered his arm again and looked back, out of the corner of his eye he saw his mother was now at the base of the stairs. However, Edward wasn't looking at just Charolete.

Standing like a statue in the dirt driveway was the version of himself he had gotten to know for the past twenty minutes. The faux version of Edward Snow had on a dark brown trench coat with a ZPD badge pinned to his chest. Besides the black jeans and dark blue flannel, he had an arched back, a depressed and aged look on his muzzle, and a bright silver magnum in his right paw. The gun was smoking, and the blood splattered around his person and the holes in his outfit were staggering.

"I said before that strength leads to arrogance and malice. What I didn't share was the end result of this selfish fantasy. What happens when all of that strength, all of that physical prowess, finally comes back to haunt you? This mammal, focused on nothing but building himself up, broke everyone else down around him and pushed them away when they weren't of use anymore. He has nothing. No friends. No love. No life left to live. At least he has—or had, at this point—his 'strength.'

"You, however… You don't need physical strength to be strong. When you were eighteen, you made the choice to follow your heart and live your own life, something that me and your father couldn't be prouder of."

Edward couldn't look his mother in the eye. Tears once again welled as he retorted, "What about Gary and Lavender? What about the farm?"

"That old worry? Eddy, we had it covered. Gary had his life to live, too. Plus, your father and I were able to take care of you three and the farm, what was two more going to hurt?"

Next to the faux version of himself, another younger version of him appeared, this time one that was an identical copy of himself from several years ago.

"When you were twenty-one, you and the love of your life were able to graduate, get the jobs you've always wanted, and find a place that you two could call home."

The form transformed again, but this time to his current age, clad in a dashing suit, the one he had worn on his wedding day.

"At twenty-four, you finally asked Sharla to marry you, officially making her part of our pack. It was a lovely ceremony. Your brother and sister were quite jealous, even if they refused to admit it. And to top it all off, even with my passing, you managed to bring the family together. Even Lavender, the stubborn girl, she's finally opening up. All because of you."

At last, an exact clone replaced itself with the outfit he had on, minus the injuries that Edward had sustained before the savage attack.

"You've inspired mammals. You've saved mammals' lives. You've brought mammals back from the depths of despair. All because you dared to dream. To live. If that's not strength, then I wouldn't know what is."

Edward couldn't stop the waterworks pouring from his eyes. His entire world shattered, battered into tiny pieces, and rebuilt itself again. Silver paws covered his face. The wolf felt incredibly embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he sputtered. "I'm sorry…"

"Oh, honey," Charolete murmured, wrapping her arms around her son. "It's okay. You're okay."

"I died without saying goodbye. I left everyone behind. I'm so stupid!" he yelled, wriggling away from his mother's grasp, her paws clasped into his. "I should never have found that stupid flower in the first place."

"Who said you were dead?"

"W-what do you mean?"

The elder wolf pulled her son close once more, embracing him in a hug that seemed to last an eternity. Edward fell deep into the embrace, his teary eyes opening to once again see the beautiful sunset that was very soon to become night. Deep down, he knew that it could be the last time he ever saw its vibrant color. He hoped that the moment would last as much as the hug.

Behind his back, he could hear the distinct sound of her finger-snap. The world around him blew out like a candle, the dark void that consumed him earlier back in full force. Edward's body felt heavy. Before he could close his eyes to accept and succumb to the darkness, Charolete's soothing voice echoed in his mind. For the briefest of moments, it almost sounded like Sharla's.

"I love you, Eddy."

o o o

"Get that tiger into the SWAT car, now!"

Chief Bogo's order bellowed through the open air around the gondola platform, both Officers Pennington and Rhinowitz struggling with their combined strength to get the now muzzled tiger into the back of the armored police vehicle. Higgins and Andersen had their tasers drawn a few steps back to lend an assist if needed. Once the tiger was cuffed and inside the back of the vehicle, Rhinowitz taking his place inside to finish securing the suspect, Bogo turned to the other officers present.

"Fangmeyer, Hopps, radio rescue and get a helicopter down here ASAP, then stay with Clawson until we get back. Jackson, Krupanski, take Ms. Grazieer in for questioning with the kids. Ensure that the parents of the others arrive to pick them up. We wouldn't want them to worry."

"Yes sir!" the lot responded.

"Grizzoli, Wolford, Johnson, on me. We have a wolf to find."

"Sir," Jackson Wolford complied with the others to their chief. While Judy was radioing EMT's, she could see the wolf turn to Fangmeyer, his tiger partner, and put his paw on his arm. "I'm sorry, Tom. We'll make sure that he makes it to the hospital safely—"

"Wolford, on me!" Bogo boomed, staring intently at the wolf.

"Coming, sir!" With a smile and a nod, Wolford bolted to his superior and followed him down the maintenance ladder leading to the base of the cliff below.

Rejoining in standing beside the armored car with Fangmeyer, Hopps was still unable to comprehend the last twenty minutes of waiting for backup to arrive. Once Edward Snow went over the edge of the gondola platform, the group inside the car screamed, alerting the savage mammal to their location. Unwilling to let the tiger take a chance to pounce into the car, the rabbit officer yelled at the mammal and brought his attention to her, her tranquilizer drawn and ready. When the savage form of Charles Clawson made its move toward Judy, she shot at him. The dart thankfully hit its mark and disabled the target long enough for backup to arrive, allowing the group in the gondola to activate the emergency stop and bring the car back to the station.

The lagomorph stared at the bloody pawprint on the door of the abandoned gondola car and shivered. It was the second time she had to deal with a savage mammal. Thankfully, with the large increase in savage cases, the chief had made it paramount for officers to have their tranqs on their person. It saved her life.

Judy brushed the pocket of her utility belt that held Edward's note. His assumption seemed frightening real. She could recall his warning without looking at it.

Nighthowler = Midnicampum Holicithias / Ask Mr. Hopps. Don't tell Sharla.

She turned and began comforting Officer Fangmeyer, who was downright mourning for the caught suspect. To her knowledge, Clawson was his lover. Judy couldn't comprehend how awful Thomas felt in that moment. However, it wouldn't be the last time she would see utter heartbreak. She still had to make contact with Sharla.

Please find him, the rabbit prayed. Before she could finish her wish, her ears twitched. Something was near. She looked up.

Flying high above the opening in the trees was a loud and obnoxious helicopter, its tail plastered with the logo of the Zootopia News Network. Judy tightened her fist. Her night was about to get busier.

"Sweet cheese and crackers…"

o o o

This, is ZNN.

"Breaking news from the Rainforest District where we have information that another predator has turned savage. Police in the area near the Oakwood Gondola Platform have urged residents to stay away from the general area and the Rainforest Gondola line until their investigation concludes. Meanwhile, officers are on the lookout for the mammal who reported the savage attack while he was being chased through the district earlier tonight. Live from the scene in our ZNN Helicopter, Chuck Longtooth. Chuck?"

"Thanks, Fabienne. As you can see, the ZPD has already roped off the area and secured the savage predator. A team of officers has already made its way down in hopes of recovering the mammal who called in the attack from the river below—"

"Chuck, it appears that something is happening below. What's happening?"

"Right, Fabienne. It appears that another helicopter is requesting us to clear the airspace so they can attempt a rescue."

"While we wait for the first responders, do we know anything about the savage mammal who turned tonight?"

"The ZPD has declined to share anything about the mammal involved in the attack, only that the species involved was a tiger. The primary focus tonight after subduing the savage mammal was primarily rescue—Fabienne I've got to hold that thought for just a moment, it looks like they're bringing someone up…"

o o o

Judy couldn't describe the elation she felt seeing the stretcher hoist Edward up into the rescue helicopter. After a couple weeks of being on the force, knowing that what she did saved lives brought joy to her soul. However, she had little time to celebrate. Judy wasted no time marching over to her commanding officer, Chief Adrian Bogo. He was talking with the other officers who went with him to the river below. Grizzoli was writing down information on a small notepad while Jackson and Wolford discussed what they saw. Something about the condition of the wolf being critical.

"Sir," she announced, gaining the attention of the four mammals, "may I have a word?"

"What is it, Hopps?" Bogo uttered blandly. "Afraid to share with the rest of the class? If so, it can wait after questioning has finished."

"Sir, it's something that I'd rather discuss with you alone. It has to do with who we pulled from the river. It can't wait."

Judy and Chief Bogo exchanged glances, a silent battle of wits respectively stoking the fires in each of their hearts. Fortunately, the rabbit's was stronger. With a snort, the chief sent his officers away to synchronize and pull their information together. Only when they were concealed in between Judy's cruiser and the armored vehicle did Bogo begin to question her.

"Alright Hopps, what is it?"

"Sir," Judy muttered, losing a fragment of the confidence she had before, "the mammal that we pulled up from the river is the husband of one of my friends. She probably doesn't know that he's here."

"So?"

"Sir, it's important. The reason I ask is that… is that…"

"Spit it out, Hopps, I don't have all night—"

"She's a sheep, sir," Judy blurted out. The realization in the water buffalo's eyes was palpable. She couldn't believe that she so willingly gave out the Snows' secret like that. But, in her eyes, it couldn't have been avoided. Judy took a chance to collect herself and explained, "The couple is recently wedded, so they don't have proper documentation to prove that she is in fact his wife. She would be barred from seeing him until the paperwork comes in. Please, sir. She needs to know."

The two mammals shared another look, this time one of annoyance from the larger prey. Bogo rubbed the bridge of his snout with his hoof and released a pent-up sigh.

"Make sure the wife gets to Zootopia General safely."

"Right away, Chief." She saluted.

"Will that be all?"

"…"

Judy opened her mouth and nearly said yes, but found that she couldn't. Not yet. Something was eating away at her. Something crucial. Her paw covered one of the pouches on her belt, the one that contained that crucial note from Edward. Information that linked this crime scene to the case she stumbled on a week ago when she started her work as an officer.

"Hopps," the chief boomed, pulling her attention as he repeated his question. "Will that be all?"

Of all the mammals she knew in the city, the only one she could trust fully was standing in front of her. Bringing him in the loop of her working theory, or rather a taste of the evidence she had procured, might shed new light on the situation. Judy wanted to solve this. She needed to in order to make the world a better place.

"Sir," she began again. "I'm onto something. Something that might answer why these attacks are happening."

"And how would you know that?"

Judy sighed and pulled out the napkin from her pouch, handing it over to her superior. She was thankful that it wasn't raining anymore. Bogo unfolded the light paper and read what was on it. His reaction was stone cold. Judy couldn't read him.

Bogo handed the note back to Judy. "Enlighten me."

"In my report, I took note of a phrase Renato Manchas said to us before turning savage, something about the Nighthowlers. At first, I thought it was the group running security at Cliffside. Obviously, I was wrong."

"Who gave you this?"

"The mammal being rushed to the hospital as we speak."

Bogo's tense features softened, the dots visually beginning to connect in his head. This was much bigger than even he realized.

"Who else knows about this?"

"No one else, sir. You're one of the only mammals who I can trust with this information."

The buffalo sighed, looked around, then squatted down to reach her level, voice low. "Considering the circumstances, and that our only lead is down, I don't see any other solution. Do not take this as license.

"Given your lack of experience as an officer, even more so as a detective trainee at best, this will be your first official assignment. As of this moment, I'm giving you the lead on this op, undercover. As far as Precinct One is concerned, you are on leave following your emotions being compromised from the botched press conference. Find out about this intel and track down whoever is leading these attacks."

Judy nodded. "I won't let you down, sir."

"I'll have Fangmeyer and Wolford run detail on Mr. Snow, seeing as how Thomas and Charles are an item. Take them with you, and inform them of the severity of the op and their duties. And Hopps," he spoke low, almost sincerely, "please be careful. Don't go breaking my city again."

Judy gave another nod and went to go fetch both officers from the crime scene. She would never let her commanding officer down. This was her dream, and she'd be damned to tarnish it further.

Before the trio left Oakwood Station, Judy made sure to alert Sharla of their arrival by sending her a quick text message. She felt it important, or at the very least courteous. The rabbit found it difficult to focus her thoughts with the plethora of notifications flooding her phone since the attack, both from news sources and her own family. Thankfully, the 'do not disturb' function was a godsend.

Judy typed sporadically away at her phone until she sent her text and pocketed her phone. Getting into the driver's seat, she, Fangmeyer and Wolford started moving to the Grand Pangolin Arms.

The drive from the crime scene to the apartment complex was fairly quick and incredibly smooth. Roads were how they usually were at ten o'clock at night—moderately busy, but not yet barren of the commuters for the graveyard shift. Officers Thomas Fangmeyer and Jackson Wolford were quiet in the back of the car. A breakdown from the feline felt imminent. Even before Fangmeyer entered, his eyes were brimming with tears. Wolford had his paw clasped inside Fangmeyer's, for how long was a question Judy didn't pay mind to.

Lastly, taking herself into account, Judy felt mostly at ease. A tremendous weight was lifted from her shoulders. She had the chief's blessing. He believed in her. That was more than enough to drive her to finish this case. Although, she would be lying if solemnity didn't touch her heart, especially for Tom and Sharla.

However, her sentimentality didn't come first. For the sake of the city, it couldn't come first. Not yet. In order for her to do as such, she had to ensure that Edward's efforts weren't in vain. She had to make sure Sharla was safe.

Judy parked the cruiser haphazardly in one of the open spots in front of the complex. She counted herself lucky that it was still there. She disabled the sirens and turned her head to the doors of the apartment, waiting several minutes for their passenger to arrive.

"Where is she?" Judy asked to no one, trying to hone her sight on the room behind the frosted glass. Another minute of waiting prompted her to take action. She unbuckled her seatbelt, then turned to both officers in the backseat to inform them, "I'll be right back."

Judy swung the door open and jumped out of the driver's seat with a thump. Shutting the door behind her, she entered the apartment posthaste. The number '302' repeated itself like a metronome with each step she took up the stairs, skipping most of them until she reached the third floor and headed to the Snows' apartment. She stared at the number for a moment. There was hesitation gripping tight at her heart. She let out the breath she was holding and shrugged the feeling away.

Taking her last steps towards the door, she sucked in some air, then braved a few light knocks. "Sharla?" Judy pressed her ear against the door. Nothing. Judy knocked again, harder this time. "Sharla, it's Judy. I need you to open the door. It's urgent."

Through the door and thin walls, floorboards creaked. Sounds of rustling, stretching, and sharp breathing followed as the mammal behind the door drew near. The click of the door's lock disengaged, swinging open with a slow turn of the knob. Her ewe friend had obviously just woken up, wool an absolute mess, eyes red from a deep slumber. Sharla lifted her arms to rub at her eyes, confirming that she was wearing nothing but an oversized flannel. Judy blushed and looked away, trying her best to act as professional as possible.

"Hey Jude," Sharla greeted. "Sorry, must've passed out while waiting for Eddy. We were going to watch a movie when he got back. Did you want to join us?"

"A-actually, Sharla," Judy said, ears low, "I'm still on the clock. Right now I'm here strictly as an officer. Well, more or less..."

"Then what can I do for you, Officer Hopps?"

"I was hoping to discuss the matter in private. May I come in?"

"Sure," came the ewe's conflicted consent, opening the door for her.

"Thank you." Judy stepped into the apartment, waiting for Sharla to shut the door behind her. Apart from the messy bed, an ewe-sized outfit sprawled on the floor, and a remote control dug in between the couch cushions, the apartment was immaculate. Judy respected the cleanliness. The television was still on, a science fiction show playing in the background.

With another clack and a stretch later, Sharla stepped toward the bed and sat down. "So what did you need to talk about, Jude? Another hard day at the ZPD—"

"Sharla," Judy muttered sadly, "there's been another attack."

"What do you mean? Another predator?"

"Yes. The mammal turned is someone you already know."

"...W-who?"

"Charles Clawson." There was a pregnant silence between the two prey mammals. Judy sucked in some air, then spoke calmly, "Edward was with him in the Rainforest District when he turned. Your husband is in critical condition and being rushed to the hospital as we speak."

Sharla stared at the rabbit for a moment, then shook her head. "No. No way. There's got to be some sort of mistake."

"Edward was the one who called it in. Besides his name, the report is all over ZNN right now."

Sharla wasted no time fishing out the remote for the television. She changed the channel to the Zootopia News Network, who was still covering the story. The reporters at this point had taken to the streets and were flooding the area around the crime scene, even managing to snag the eyewitness for a short interview. What she had to say was short and sweet:

"Whoever that mammal was—the wolf—he saved the kids' lives. My son's life. My life. Even with the threat of dying. We were both scared. I wish I could tell him how thankful I am. I hope he's okay—"

"Take me to him," Sharla demanded, taking the clothes on the floor and putting them on. Judy nodded in compliance, then stepped out into the hallway to give her friend some time to get herself ready. A couple minutes later, Sharla stepped out and locked the door behind her, following Judy down to the police cruiser.

It took them around fifteen minutes to arrive at Zootopia General, and another five to try and explain to the front desk that the ewe was the wife of Edward Snow. Thankfully, an elderly rabbit receptionist working there knew the Snow family and let the officers and Sharla through, leading them to the waiting room of the ICU where they sat and waited for a nurse to collect them. Judy held Sharla's hoof, the sheep allowing her emotions to flow freely in the form of relentless sobs. All the rabbit officer could do was comfort her friend. She felt helpless.

Stuck in between comforting Sharla, cooperating with the nurses and doctors treating Edward, and checking in on her phone, Judy felt like millenia had passed. Eventually, a grizzly bear walked up to them and grinned.

"For Edward Snow, I presume?"

Taken aback by the British accent, Judy nodded. Sharla looked unphased as she nodded as well.

"My name is Dr. Leonard Honig. If you would follow me, please. I'll take you to him."

Down a hallway and around a corner, the doctor led them to a secluded room at the far end of the floor and showed them inside.

Inside the room, Edward was lying in a hospital bed. His eyes were shut and his body was incredibly still, the tips of his fur still moist from being pulled out of the river. His only visible injuries not covered by the hospital gown were his leg, hoisted up and cast, and the bruising on his arms and face. The only indication that he was still alive was the heartbeat monitor beating rhythmically in the corner of the room.

The moment Sharla laid eyes on the bed she nearly broke down on the spot. The ewe immediately took to her husband's side and held his unmoving paw.

"How is he?" Judy was the first to ask. Sharla pulled her head up to listen.

"We managed to get Edward in stable condition. Other than a broken leg, the major cuts on his left hip and right arm, and minor head trauma, he is expected to make a full recovery."

"Then why isn't he waking up?" Sharla chimed in.

"Since the anesthetic we gave him should have worn off by now, we suspect that the fall might have resulted in a concussion, inducing him into a comatose state."

"So there's no telling when he'll be conscious?" Wolford asked from the doorway.

"Precisely. We'll do some x-rays on him to be certain, but that's the theory we're running with."

Another round of muted cries ensued, the doctor sporting a despondent look with the rabbit. Judy sighed and looked around the room. Logistically, keeping Edward safe from whoever initiated this savage attack wouldn't stop there. This mammal had attempted to kill Edward. What would stop them from trying again if they knew where to look? For that reason, she saw no other way to avoid what Edward wrote. She would have to inform Sharla. For her safety, and for her husband's.

Judy turned to the bear, pulling on the sleeve of his coat. Once gaining Dr. Honig's attention, she popped the question with a whisper.

"Could I speak with you outside for a moment with the wife of the patient?"

"Of course," Leonard said, unphased with the new information.

"Sharla," Judy said, "I need to speak with both of you outside." She turned to the other officers. "Wolford, Fangmeyer, take point."

The two officers nodded, taking their positions while the bear, ewe, and rabbit took their conversation outside. Seeing the hallway clear of any other staff, Judy filled them in.

"First off, this conversation doesn't leave our circle. If anyone asks, it's part of an ongoing police investigation. Second, I want you to know that Edward's safety might be at risk. I got a tip from him yesterday that he was onto something about predators turning savage. He requested at first that I didn't tell Sharla, but considering how his friend turned savage and the circumstances of this event, if his tip-off is accurate, and my investigation proves that another party may be involved, I need to cover all my bases. I need to ensure that Edward is well-protected."

"If you're worried about our staff, I'm sure I could assign the nurses who were treating Charolete Snow, Edward's mother, to her kin. They're mammals I can trust with my life."

"Great. That would be best, Dr. Hoing. If possible, I would like the nurses caring for him to be available around the clock if possible."

"We'll do what we can."

"Thank you." The grizzly bear nodded and flashed a grin, then turned away towards the rest of the hospital.

"Oh!" Judy recalled, sprinting back towards the middle-aged bear. "Doctor," she hailed, gaining his attention. "Officer Fangmeyer, the tiger watching Edward, his boyfriend was the one who turned savage. If you could show him to where Charles Clawson is, I'm sure he would greatly appreciate it."

"Of course. I'll let one of the nurses know and they'll relay the message."

"Thank you."

Both prey and predator parted, Judy content that she could do her duty without the fear of other parties being harmed. It was time to begin.

Before she had the chance to say goodbye to her friend, Sharla had already stepped close to her, once again close to tears.

"Please," she murmured, "solve this. I just started my life with him, Jude. To think that I might lose him now… I just can't. I can't lose him."

Swept across Judy's snout like a soft wave was a loving smile. She pulled Sharla close, her uniform collecting a few droplets from the sheep's eyes.

"I will," she promised.

As soon as Sharla Snow was back in the room with her husband, Officer Hopps wasted no time speeding down to Zootopia General's entrance. A full blown smile stretched across her maw. She couldn't help it. Everything about her demeanor seemed different. She wasn't sullen. She wasn't worried. Her determination was driven solely on a chance, a chance to save the city. Her city. Her home. All that was left was to follow her lead.

Although, when she got outside, she didn't expect an incredibly unfashionable reynard leaning against her cruiser. His smug look screamed 'uncanny.'

"I see you got my text," Hopps grinned, paw resting on her hip. "What took you so long?"

"What? You miss me already?"

Judy shook her head. "In your dreams, Wilde."

"Well if you must know, I didn't want to intrude on your little swaray. That sheep looked like she's seen better days."

"It doesn't help that her husband was just attacked by another predator."

"...Fair point."

Judy hopped over the hood of the police car and opened the driver's side door. While Nick hopped into the now unlocked passenger side of the vehicle, Judy couldn't shake the twinge of regret. If they were going to work together, she wanted to make sure that their trust was sound.

"Are you sure you don't want to talk about it—"

"I already told you, Fluff-Butt," Nick assured, "don't kick yourself over something stupid. It was an honest mistake. I would've done the same thing in your paws. But, I won't lie to you, Carrots, it still hurts to think about. Trust isn't something I've had the luxury of, not for a long time. Regardless, that mindset's on me. As far as we're concerned, we're good."

"I still feel awful."

"Well, I guess that this," Nick smirked, replaying the playback of the rabbit mocking herself on the carrot pen, "seems warranted."

"I guess it does." She grinned, punching the fox's side. "And so was that."

"Ow…"

"So, are you ready to make the world a better place with this 'dumb bunny?'"

Nick grinned. "Am I? Yes. Yes I am."