Nick looked down at his lap to where his partner had just dropped a square box wrapped with a bow. On his desk she placed a coffee (from his favorite place nonetheless) and a quart of blueberries.
She wasn't meeting his eyes; her hands pulled up in front of her as she twisted her fingers together nervously.
"Nick, this is just my first attempt at saying I'm sorry… I know I've been avoiding you all week - not answering your texts, and sending your calls to voicemail. I - I've been so scared after what happened... and that conversation we had... that you would hate me. That we couldn't still be friends. That, y-you wouldn't still want to be my partner anymore."
Judy quickly glanced up to look into his eyes, but found his expression inscrutable. Nick, having already decided to play things close to the vest, said nothing, instead opening the box she had handed him. Inside was a tie, patterned silver and green. It was definitely to his taste. A week ago he would have been over the moon.
"Judy, are you serious right now?"
"Wh- you don't like it? T- that's okay I-"
"This is a pity gift, Judy. It's a pity tie. You might as well have gotten it inscribed, 'Sorry I don't love you Nick. Best wishes Judy Hopps.'"
"Nick I- I'm sorry. I just wanted... please, just tell me what I have to do to make this right."
She was looking at him directly now. Her face pleading. She already seemed close to tears.
"Judy do you have any idea how crappy this week has been for me. Against my better judgment I finally confessed my feelings to the mammal I love. Then she shoots me down, (brutally I might add), freaks out at me, and refuses to talk. You know you've hurt me a few times in the past but this seriously takes the cake."
She grimaced with remorse, her ears falling flat against her back, "I can't defend what I did. I keep failing you as a friend. But, this time it happened because I do love you… just, not in the way you want me to. I reacted badly and I'm so, so sorry. I've wanted to say that to you almost since the moment I ran away."
Nick took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I love you Judy. I really do. And, you know what? I think I always will. If you ever thought for a moment that I could hate you, then you actually are a dumb bunny."
Judy couldn't hold back the small note of relief in her voice or the thin stream of tears that began trickling down her face. "I am dumb - really. I am so dumb. Standing before you, Judy Hopps, the ultimate walking bunny stereotype."
Nick dropped his indifferent facade, "I will never abandon you. I will always be your friend. But Judy, I'm a long way from forgiving you for this."
"I- I totally understand."
"There are a couple things that you are going to have to do. You are going to have to tell me what really happened. Carrots, you have been flirting with me for months. The touches, innuendos, hanging out… snuggling. Sleepovers, Judy. Sleeping in the same bed, style, sleepovers. I mean, come on. What did I miss?"
"You're right. I… this is absolutely my fault. You have to understand. I grew up with hundreds of siblings. In rabbit burrows we often sleep close together, cuddle and snuggle. It's a comfort thing, totally not romantic. I've been so lonely - sleeping in a bed by myself. You are so close to me, you are like my family. No, you are my family. It just feels so natural to lie next to you. I knew that it might be... misunderstood, but, being with you just makes me feel so safe and happy - it's a bit like being at home."
"You know that sounds a lot like love to me Fluff. But, never mind. How about the party? You were all over me. Judy, you flipping scent marked me! We kissed for twenty minutes. You had your hand down my pants and you-"
"I know! Alright, I know! Come on you dumb fox, I have never been anywhere near that drunk before in my life. I was in heat, and… look; I'd probably have gone home with Bogo if he'd have let me."
"Wow Carrots, that both disturbs me deeply, and makes me feel really special. So you are saying you don't find me attractive? Not even a little bit?"
"No? Just no? Because while you were grabbing my junk, you kind of went on about how hot I was, and in very specific detail."
"No, I'm sorry Nick. I'm a bunny. I can't find you attractive."
"What does being a bunny have to do with it? If you are going to lie to me Judy, then this 'forgiving you' thing is going to take longer than I thought."
"Okay fine! I find you a little bit attractive. I don't want to hurt your feelings Nick... but, there are an equal number of things I find unattractive about you - none of which are your fault at all! The alcohol kind of made those things go away, and caused the things I do like, to, to… come into focus."
Nick couldn't help but laugh bitterly, "I don't even know where to start with that, vague, sort of insulting, little tidbit. Look, I know that was… well a total disaster."
"That's the understatement of the century."
"Yes. You're right. It was the single most frustrating, embarrassing and otherwise awful night of my life. Try to understand here Fluff. I had imagined for months what our first time would be like." Nick shook his head in frustration and rubbed his hands over his flattened ears. "I wanted things to be perfect and what I got was a nightmare."
It had been a nightmare. They had been beyond wasted. Images began flashing in front of both their eyes of the night in question: Kissing Nick. Nick vomiting into a random shoe box and then trying to hide it in his closet. Judy chipping her tooth on his right canine. Nick swearing at his… uncooperative fox-parts. Heat crazed Judy sobbing and locking herself in the bathroom. Waking up in the shower, which she had left running all night, subsequently flooding the top floor of Nick's house. Being unable to find a single item of her clothing and later realizing she had left them in the cab.
Judy shuddered violently, "Yeah… but, hey, I bet we will be able to look back on it and laugh someday. Still way too soon… but someday."
The look on Nick's face said that he doubted that was true. For a minute the conversation seemed to run dry. Nick mulled over what had been said and after a period of consideration decided to try again.
"Let me tell you how I am seeing this. You say you feel comfortable around me. You want to snuggle with me. You find parts of me to be attractive. Carrots, as far as dating goes, that is a pretty good base to work with, at least in my opinion. Can't you... can't I… just take you on one date. This time it will be perfect I swear. No alcohol whatsoever, and It'll be totally platonic - I'm talking, hand-holding is the limit. Just give me a chance to woo you a little. Maybe, you know... you will discover something you didn't expect. We never had a real chance at this. What can one little date hurt?"
Judy was shaking her head sadly, "You don't understand. Nick, you are amazing. You deserve the funniest, most beautiful, honest, vixen in the world. You-"
"I don't want a vixen. I never have. I want a bunny. I want-"
"I want a bunny too!"
The room echoed with Judy's outburst.
After several tense moments she continued, "I want to someday get pregnant. Have kids - my kids. I know how selfish that is. I know adoption is a wonderful thing. But I want what I want. You have no idea how against even the idea of us becoming mates my family would be. They, (and I truly mean this) they might very well break ties with me forever. I have fought to be a cop all my life. I want to serve and protect, but I also want to show other rabbits just what we are capable of. I want the next generation to be able to say that at least someone went out there and did it. And maybe, just maybe, that will inspire them to do the same. Nick, if I were to get involved with you, do you know what rabbits would say when my name was mentioned: immoral, disgusting, deviant. The fact that I did something that none of them thought was possible would no longer matter. Being with you, it would eclipse everything else… it would kill my dream. To top it all off, I don't know if inter-species relationships can ever really work... I don't know that they are meant to work. I realize how backwards that sounds but it's... it's what I was taught and I guess… it's what I believe..."
A long silence followed her final words. She had forced it all out - like bile. It would hurt him, she knew that. Later, she would no doubt replay her words and let them cut away at her soul, but for now, she had to say them. She had to shut him down as much for him as for her.
The sun had set. The room had grown colder. In the diminished light Judy could see tears collecting in the corners of Nick's eyes. The look on his face was one of acceptance and also of utter devastation."
Nick seemed to muster a bit of himself and he choked out a single sentence, "C-could you leave me alone for a while."
Judy tried to think of the words to say to make things even slightly better, to repair what had been broken, but found nothing. The expression on Nick's face was so painful for her to witness. The sick feeling inside her heart so great, she ended up doing the only thing she manage, and all but ran out the door.
A very long and eventful month later…
Nick and Judy sat together in their usual seat in the bullpen. The chief wouldn't be arriving for at least another ten minutes, and Judy was incessantly tapping away at her phone. Every few minutes she would hold up the screen to Nick and say, "How about this one?" to which Nick would answer,
"Come on Nick you didn't even look! Listen, she's a desert fox, twenty-eight years old." Judy wiggled her butt in the chair as she described the profile, "That flower shop down in Marble square, that's her shop; Daisy Darpaw. I've been texting her on this dating app for a couple of days and she seems really sweet."
"That's great Carrots, you two will no doubt be very happy together."
"Quiet. I've set this up perfectly. As you know, I have the uncanny ability to mimic your snarky mannerisms. Of course, I make you sound charming instead of annoying."
"That hurts Fluff-Butt. Sounds like the poor girl is being set up for disappointment."
"Please Nick, just give her a shot. It'll just be coffee. Have a chat, make a new friend, maybe meet the vixen of your dreams. What do you have to lose? I will handle everything, so all you have to do is be in attendance."
"This whole thing has just reached a new level of creepy on so many levels. Please, stop obsessing over my love life, Carrots, I'm begging you."
"No-can-do, I made a promise to be your eternal wing-mammal. When I make a promise, I keep it, and when I decide to do something the only outcome I'm willing to accept is total success."
"Have you ever considered that this approach you have to dating is maybe why those bunny suitors you attract always seem to disappear after the first date?"
"I'm a bit intense - don't expect me to apologize for it."
"Your neighbours are starting to rub off on you."
"Pff, yeah, maybe. So, what do you say? Will you at least sit down with Daisy? Just for an hour?"
"What? Why not?"
Nick could sense the beginnings of an argument on the horizon; one that had been brewing for weeks. He realized it was probably best not to have it in the bullpen, but at the same time, he was growing tired of avoiding it; of playing this game with her. Outwardly they seemed back to their old selves. Laughing and joking, even flirting like they used to. Underneath it though, when others weren't looking, they were engaged in a kind of cold war, filled with constant moments of ceasefire. They had nearly ended up beyond the bounds of intimacy enjoyed by friends, even best friends, several times. The aftermath of which was always a fight or total denial. The whole thing was an insane clusterfluffle and Nick wasn't blameless by any means. Hell, self destructive behavior was nothing new. Still, the unhealthy mess that of, whatever they were, was taking a heavy toll. One that he wasn't sure he could stand to pay any longer.
"I'm not interested. She's... not my type. When I'm ready to start dating you know exactly what I'm going to be looking for."
"Yeah, and I know that you're going to end up getting hurt. I know that it's never going to work. Come on Nick. You're killing me!"
Just then, to Nick's intense relief, Bogo came striding in with a proverbial and ever-present rain cloud hanging over his head. "Shut it! All of you!"
Judy flicked off the dating app and stuffed her phone into her pocket.
Bogo took a moment to properly stare down the room. "Everyone will be continuing their assignments from last week." He let that settle for a few seconds as he glanced around. "I realize things have been slow lately. And, due to this, I have been noticing a growing level of complacency throughout the entire precinct. To remedy this issue I've taken the liberty of hiring a new member to our support team."
At that moment a rabbit walked through the door and stood next to the podium Bogo was standing behind.
He was taller than Judy, with piercing blue eyes, and grey fur so light it could almost have been white. The tops of his ears as well as his cheeks were marked by black tiger stripes, which appeared to Nick to be some kind of fur tattoos; although, they had been so expertly done he wasn't exactly sure.
Bogo hadn't spoken since the newcomer entered the room so the rabbit took the silence as an invitation to introduce himself. He carried a light, but refined accent; enunciating and wrapping his mouth precisely around his words in a melodic voice.
"Good morning. My name is Jack Savage and I've been hired here under the title of Professional Skill Development Counsellor. If you are wondering what that means, I don't blame you. To put it simply, I am tasked with assessing your strengths and weaknesses. After I have done that, I will work with you one-on-one to improve your skills, so as to make each and every mammal here a more well-rounded officer. You're probably wondering how a small mammal such as myself intends to do that. Well, over the last fifteen years I have taught at the royal military academy in Renhearth. I have been on the ground leading operations in multiple active warzones. For several years I was with the Animalia Intelligence Agency as well as the Special Forces. Before leaving the military I held the rank of major."
One of the larger mammals from the back of the room called out snidely, "So what the hell are you doing here then?"
Chief Bogo breathed in deeply and the officers present all prepared for the imminent explosion but Jack interrupted him before he had a chance to let loose. "It's quite alright chief. It is a legitimate question. I've spent the last decade in a job where secrets were the currency by which I lived my life and I have no desire to continue that trend. So, I am going to begin by telling you the truth."
As he said this, Jack reached down and pulled up on his left pant leg, revealing to everyone present that his foot and ankle were actually clever prosthetics. Fake rabbit fur ended a few inches up his shin, becoming a titanium pole, which connected to a stump located just below his calf. He held the fabric of his pant for several seconds before dropping it.
"The truth is I am no longer of use to the AIA or the ASF. When I told my superiors I wanted to move to Zootopia, they created a position for me here at the ZPD. Make no mistake, the job I've been given here is basically a retirement package. I could easily sit at my desk and play zoitaire for the next twenty years and never be fired, let alone reprimanded. That, however, is not what I intend to do. I have knowledge and skills that will be useful to you. The chief has informed me that I can have one officer at a time, for five day stints, but only if they choose to volunteer. Should any of you wish to do so, please come and see me and we will arrange it. With that, I thank you all for your time. I hope, and look forward to working with each of you."
Bogo's eyes were actually bulging a little by the end. He got it under control quickly and addressed the room, "Thank you, Mr. Savage, for that very, 'candid' introduction." Then re-addressing those seated, "What he said is true, no one is required to sign-up for personal development training, but, I strongly suggest that you take this opportunity. I've gone over Mr. Savage's service records and they are impressive to say the least. I want someone to begin the training as of now through to the end of the week. If no one volunteers to go first, then prepare to be vollen-told. Who's it going to be?"
At one point during Jack's speech Nick's gaze fell to Judy. The look in her eyes, as she stared at the rabbit standing in front of them, could easily have been described as dreamy. Nick found himself fighting a war inside his own head.
"So this is it. This blue eyed little war hero is going to be the one who puts the final nail in the coffin. Judy will get to know him. It'll be love at first sight. Hangouts with Nick will turn into hangouts with Nick and Jack, and then just Jack. No… I won't allow myself to suffer this sad soap opera. I can't stomach it!"
Meanwhile, Bogo had just asked for a volunteer.
Nick, still focused on Judy's expression, witnessed the exact moment, which in her mind, she had decided to be the first - her body beginning to tense, jaw clenching with barely suppressed excitement that was the signature of her exuberant nature.
"Accept it Nick, she cannot, will not, see you as a mate. Give it up. Let her be happy. Be there at the wedding and make a nice speech. Get invited over for barbecues and watch them enjoy their perfect life with their boatload of adorable kits. You've got a jumbo sized shit sandwich sitting right in front of you son, and the only way you can move forward is to take a big fat bite."
"I Volunteer!" Nick literally screamed it just as Judy's hand was beginning to rise.
The entire room was stunned silent by his outburst. Nick felt his ears jut out in embarrassment.
"Sorry, just… excited! Like I said, I volunteer for the, uh, thing."
Bogo positioned his glasses over his snout, "Wilde, you are the last mammal I expected. What exactly are you trying to weasel here?"
"Chief, weasels are some of the most misrepresented mammals in Zootopia and I would appreciate it if you didn't use those kinds of slurs. As for volunteering, I underestimated a bunny once and I don't plan to let it happen again."
The chief huffed, "Whatever, Hopps you're with Pennington and Andersen for the week. Wilde, you will report to Savage at once. For the next five days consider him to be your superior. Thankfully, I won't need to see you here again until next Monday." With a final ill tempered survey of the room, Bogo waved a hoof, "Dis-missed!"
The officers in attendance began to filter out on mass. Francine waved her trunk at them happily as she tromped her way out the door.
Judy just squinted at Nick. It felt like the little bunny was trying to drill a hole in his skull with her stare. Finally, she pointed two fingers at her eyes and then flipped them around towards him, speaking low, "I don't know what you're up to but I'm going to find out. You have a date this Saturday at five, Coffee Junction on Railway Avenue. Try and 'fox' your way out of this one and there - will - be - pain." Then in her usual bubbly voice, "Have a great week Nick. I'll miss ya!"
Moments later she literally hopped out the door.
"God she can be scary sometimes…"
Sitting alone, lost in his thoughts, Nick didn't notice at first, but something was causing the hairs on the back of his neck to tingle. Alerted by the sensation, he scanned the room only to find that the other bunny, Jack, was still standing exactly where he had been since the start of the briefing.
"He's so quiet. How did I not notice him?"
"Uh, hey, Jack right? The whole weird, 'thing' you're doing is uh... pretty neat. Probably won't make you many friends at parties though."
Jack continued to gaze at him unblinking. His look was almost in the same category as Nick's own patented 'smug' face. However, Jack was wearing an expression that Nick might have described as a mixture of, 'violently neutral', and 'boredly impassive'.
"Yeah so, what kind of a name is Savage anyway? Bout' the least rabbity name I've ever heard. No offence."
Jack finally came to life, walking up to Nick with his arms crossed, "What was it that alerted you to my presence a moment ago?"
"Sorry, what was it? I don't know what-"
"You were daydreaming, and then suddenly something made you wake up and look around the room. What was it?"
Nick opened and closed his mouth in surprise as he tried to process the question, "I- I don't know. A feeling I guess. You know that feeling of being watched, like a little itch at the back of your mind... actually, that sounds crazy, forget I said that."
Jack smiled for the first time since he had entered the room, "No, you are right. What you did was something most of the officers here may never fully achieve. By that, I mean you listened to your instincts. Being tuned into that part of yourself is something I suspect you gained from your time on the streets - from thinking on your feet. It's a valuable skill, something that can't be taught. I'm not surprised though, after all the impressive things I've heard about you. "
Nick crossed his arms feeling somewhat defensive and a little embarrassed. "Is he praising me?"
"It seems you know quite a lot about me."
Jack nodded while maintaining his intense eye contact, "I admit that, of everyone here, I was most interested in getting to work with you, Officer Wilde. And to answer your other question, my birth name was 'Clover', which is about as stereotypically bunny as you can get. Also, for the record, I'm actually part hare."
Nick couldn't stop himself from following that with barely contained mirth, "So what do you prefer to be called - a Habit or a Rare? I should also ask... Officer Hopps is pretty sensitive about being called 'cute'. Is that word going to be a problem for you as well?"
Jack's smile widened, although it didn't quite reach his eyes. "To be perfectly honest, you can call me whatever you so desire, including cute. I like to think I can give just as good as I get, so be prepared for swift retaliation if that's the road you choose to go down."
"Alright then Stripes, I'll be sure to take that into consideration."
"Good to hear Nicholas. Now, first thing I want you to do is to go get some civilian clothes on and meet me out front. Leave your badge and gun in your locker."
"Only my mother calls me Nicholas."
"You call me Stripes, I call you Nicholas - tit for tat. I'll see you in ten minutes... Nicholas."
Just as Jack was starting to head out the door, Nick spoke a final time from behind him.
"Hey, Clover, any chance you'll tell me what we're going to be doing this week."
"Well Piberius, first I was thinking we would get something to eat. Then, after a bit of preparation and a few drinks, I intend to hustle a couple of very bad mammals out of some very valuable information."
Nick was left standing alone, both, slightly interested, and decidedly unsure. "How the hell did he learn my middle name? Why am I even doing this? Just to delay the inevitable for one more week? When did I become so pathetic?"
His internal struggles aside, Nick only knew one thing for sure; he needed to regain his balance. He also needed to, and in as short a time as possible, get a read on this unusual rabbit; Jack Savage.