This chapter is also available as an audio drama on YouTube!
It was a bureaucratic nightmare to deal with: You cannot hand in one's notice and come back to work a few months later as if nothing happened. Nevertheless, Judy Hopps would not be Judy if she ate humble pie and eventually Chief Bogo was glad that he got a competent officer back on duty. Getting Nick Wilde's shady background out of the way so that he could attend the Police Academy was another headache for the Chief. However, even if he wouldn't admit it openly, Bogo was quite pleased and even a little impressed by Judy and Nick's success and the night howler case was finally solved.
In the first month after her reinstatement Judy had to give more than a few interviews to reporters and even had to hold some public speeches, much to her dislike; but Bogo had made it plain to her, that she had to go along with it to please the new governing mayor – a Rhino named Scalemayer. In the meantime, Nick had a hard time at the Academy. He was a predator and granted he was a little bigger than Judy, but the physical training was hard and incomparable to anything he had to achieve while living his comfortable life as a Conmammal. No matter how hard the day was though, he always found time to have a phone call with Judy in the evening.
It started with a few texts here and there, 'Hey carrots, how was your day?', 'I should never have doubted you regarding how hard the academy is', accompanied with pictures of some injuries Nick had sustained or 'I hate this attention, I'm a real cop not a token bunny!' when another day with interviews had passed for Judy. It didn't take long and in lieu of texts they had some muzzle time and after a few months it was a fixed routine: They texted each other in the morning and in the evening they had a video call for at least an hour during which Judy often helped Nick with learning some of the theory. Of course, this was not unnoticed by Nick's comrades at his bedder, but Nick's sly grin never faded and he was never tired of telling them that she was only helping him to learn.
Judy on the other hand found herself a new small apartment; her old one wasn't free anymore when she returned to Zootopia. It was as small as her old one, but at least Bucky and Pronk weren't a problem anymore, so she could have her muzzle time in the evening with Nick without interruptions through a paper-thin wall. Of course, she was going out from time to time in her spare time, mostly with a few colleagues like McHorn, Fangmeyer or Clawhauser. Dealing with the press was dreadful but at least the case gained her a lot of reputation within the precinct and finally quite some friends. She even took the time to visit her goddaughter 'Judy' at Mr. Big's house, Fru Fru always happily welcoming her. Nick took a screenshot of her while on muzzle time when Judy had little Judy in her paw and this very special smile on her face while fondling with the little mouse-kit.
It is hard to tell when their relationship as friends turned into something more, some intimacy had crept into their calls and texts gradually and Judy as well as Nick felt somewhat uncomfortable when a regular call went off due to Judy working overtime or Nick dozing off over his books. However, neither of them was willing to say something about it, resulting in a few awkwardly silent moments on the phone.
Finally, Nick got his degree at the Academy after ten months of hard work. Though, it was worth all the blood, sweat and tears it cost him when he saw Judy smiling proudly at him while clipping his police badge to his uniform at the ceremony. It was a big surprise to him that she was the one delivering the graduating speech, she had never told him during their calls. Moreover, another surprise was waiting when she disclosed to him that they would start being partners on the force the next day.
About a week later, after the Gazelle concert, in the Hollow-Bar
"…Thank you all sooooo much!" exclaimed Clawhauser enthusiastically, nearly tearing up. Every colleague of the precinct had pooled money to buy VIP tickets as Clawhauser's birthday present, including a backstage tour and a get-together with Zootopia's Pop-Star. Now most of them met at the Hollow Bar and Clawhauser thanked everybody in person with a bone-crushing hug repeatedly. As every Friday and Saturday, a live cover band was playing on stage; quite a lot of people were attending the bar at this late hour, half of them colleagues of Clawhauser. Judy and Nick had tickets for the concert, too, so had Bogo. However, Clawhauser was the only one with the VIP tour and currently he was telling everyone again about every bit of it.
"I bet he will never wash his face again where Gazelle kissed him on the cheek", Fangmeyer winked and raised his glass to take another sip. McHorn and Judy agreed laughing and even Bogo seemed to grin at the thought of it.
"As long as he will remove the lipstick, it's not quite suitable with his fur color…" he hummed and took a big swallow of his beer.
"Thank you, cute little bunny!" it was Judy's turn again to be thanked while Clawhauser raised her from her feet and hugged her from behind. She protested grumbling – 'Don't call me cute!' – and kicking was totally ignored and all close colleagues laughed at the strange sight of her struggling in the cheetah's arms. When he finally let her and go she gave him a sweeping glance, he did one-step in Bogo's direction. The buffalo straighten up with a death stare but Clawhauser was already too drunk and tried to hug him, too, resulting in even louder laughter and backslapping.
In the background, the band started a new song, a guitar starting with a slow solo. Judy drained her second drink this evening and was feeling a little bit dizzy. But then again she was having a great time and she enjoyed having some time together with Nick, too. Speaking of… she looked around the bar. There were less people at this late hour now but she could see no sign of him. She approached Clawhauser who immediately returned to her.
"Heyyyy cutie! (totally ignoring her complaining look) Everything all right?"
"Yeah, I hope everything's alright with you too! Did you see Nick? You should have a better overview than m…." she stopped in the middle of the sentence when the oh-so-familiar-voice of the fox started to sing right on stage beside the Jaguar playing the guitar. (YouTube "cncoJB_C-m0")
"The world was on fire and no-one could save me but you. It's strange what desire will make foolish people do. I'd never dreamed that I'd meet somebody like you. And I'd never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you".
Judy's ears went straight up and turned toward the small stage, her nose twitching mildly. The Jaguar that played the guitar was right in the middle, playing. On a bar stool Nick sat, a microphone in his paws and a spot aimed at him. His voice was soft but the words were accented spot-on to accompany the guitar sounds, looking to the floor.
"What a wicked game to play, to make me feel this way. What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you. What a wicked thing to say, you never felt that way. What a wicked thing to do, to make me dream of you".
Judy was thrilled, her hackles rose, and she slowly struggled through the crowd of people to get nearer to the stage. Her eyes were big and her arms were embracing herself, keeping her head a bit askew, slowly swaying to the music. She didn't even know that Nick was such a great singer and she felt this slightly uncomfortable but warm feeling around her chest again. It was irritating to her but she pushed it away to listen attentively.
After the guitar solo, Nick stood up from the bar stool, turned his head slightly to the side and looked directly in her direction. Judy felt her knees getting soft when he began with the last verse of the song, this time slowly approaching her, never taking his eyes from her.
"I'd never dreamed that I'd meet somebody like you.
And I'd never dreamed that I'd lose somebody like you.
No, I don't wanna fall in love… with you."
He was standing at arm's length, finishing the song: "Nobody loves no one." – the spot went off, befogging the Jaguar and Nick and people starting to applause. Judy could not clap her hands, her mouth was slight open and felt dry like she had not drank for days, slowly blinking. Her heart was nearly palpitating and she was sure her greyish fur was red to the top of her ears. It took a few moments before she realized Nick was standing beside her.
"Hey fluff, sorry I had withdrawn but I promised Francine to sing a song together with the band. Hope it wasn't too bad, was it?" His sly grin was all set albeit somewhat softer than usual.
"Not too bad? Cheese and crackers, you're a wonderful singer Nick! Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I don't really sing that often anymore. My mom wanted me to learn an instrument and so I learned to play the guitar as a young fox, and before I became the great Conmammal that I was, I played and sang in the streets for a few bucks… nothing wild here. But I'm glad you liked it, Judy…" While speaking the band had started with their next song and like it is the normal thing to do, Nick grabbed Judy's paws and they very slowly danced together. (YouTube "QJzGtzGydtQ")
It was not until the first refrain when Nick mentioned her real name instead of a nickname that Judy realized that they were actually dancing, her feet on autopilot. Nick immediately realized her slightly different voice.
"I ... loved it, you… really have a … sonorous voice…" – he smiled softly, his paws holding hers and dancing along to the music. "Sly Fox…"
"Dancer Bunny..." he spun her around and picked her up again with his paws, this time with even more physical contact.
Judy felt how her face and ears must have turned into carrot orange at least, but leaned her head onto Nicks chest enjoying their dance. They weren't really dancing; just stepping from one side to the other while snuggling against each other. All other Mammals vanished from their mind; it was as if they were the only two mammals there with the music coming out of nowhere.
The Jaguar finished a great guitar solo and the small otter front-singer started again:
"Go cry about it, why don't you? My dear, we're slow dancing in a burning room. Don't you think we oughta know by now? Don't you think we should have learned somehow?"
As the light on stage went off with the last beats, there was loud applause again; obeyed from glee whistles and some distant calls. She felt hot and her heart was beating fiercely. Her eyes closed, and her lips pressed against Nicks, deeply kissing him. It was only after a minute or two, that they slowly opened their eyes again and discerned their environment. Nearly everyone left in the Bar was looking and cheering at them. She could not decide if she felt more heat in her head from embarrassment or because she just kissed Nick for the first time. Nick was the first one to comprise the situation and put his sly grin back on. However, this time it seemed much warmer and softer to Judy. He nudged her twitching nose with his and whispered quietly:
"Everything ok, Judy…?"
She couldn't say anything at that moment, but her big eyes and the slightly coy but happy smile on her face was everything he needed for an answer now. Judy placed her arms around his hip and cuddled her still hot-feeling head onto his side.
Many thanks to Sean Dalglish for his review and proofreading this chapter! (Jan 2017)