Hey all, DLW here with a WildeHopps story. I know Five Slices of Grief' may have... affected some people somehow, but this is the direct sequel to that. So, that being said, it's probably best to read that and enjoy this. More info at the bottom. And a huge thank you to all my readers follows, fav's I enjoy the feedback as much as writing the stories. Disclaimer: Zootopia and its characters are copyright Disney. (I own none of the characters in the story aside from the O/C's.).
Skipping the Beat
"Nostalgia in reverse, the longing for yet another strange land, grew especially strong in spring."
― Vladimir Nabokov, Mary
Judy stood in the middle of the small, dimly lit basement room turned studio apartment by her fox of a partner. Arms crossed and ears standing at attention, she (im)patiently waited for Nick to get a move on so they could get to their destination with time to spare. Her foot tapping in rhythm, she watched Nick lazily get up out of his... bed, half clothed - thankfully wearing some semblance of pants - and stumbling over to fetch his crutches.
While unamused at his antics earlier and his constant tardiness, she truly did admire his friendship to the fullest degree. Despite what others thought - and most certainly said - about them being partners on the force, she came to realize how much she cherished the time the two had spent serving the city together in the past few months. He had truly changed from the stereotype to a role model.
Still, though, she wished against her better hope that, just for once, the lazy former con-artist turned cop would have tried to be on time. Being given the okay to take the rest of the week off and the subsequent weekend to help him heal after the scare of nearly losing him, Judy wouldn't take no for an answer when he had tried to convince her that staying in the busy city was better than R&R in the quiet country.
Being the bunny she was - outgoing, energetic, and certainly always on time - her mindset was to literally get their mini vacation jump started so they could hurry up and enjoy the time while he relaxed in the presence of her family. Even with throwing in free blueberries as a trump card, she was truly doing him a favour.
By her standards, she was already together. Straw hat: check. Pink plaid-flannel shirt and patched blue jeans: check. Bags with clothes, electronics, books, snacks, and work material so she could continue her career in part while away: check, check and triple-double check. Can-do attitude and checklist: need she even check: check, check.
Judy was a ready rabbit, a busy bunny, a diligent doe. She even made travel arrangements and called ahead as soon as he was admitted to the hospital. She would/could always be the 'action' mammal in any situation. The first to jump head in (much to others dismay) and skip away unscathed.
...Nick, however, was about doing things halfway at best, but still got the work done. While Judy had been to his apartment a few times, she never got used to how undone it seemed comparatively. While over triple the space of hers, the clutter and various 'stuff' that he had around made her wonder how he functioned at all. He was at least somewhat less hectic at work; her desk being immaculately clean and organized in their shared cubical space while his was a mess with a sea of paper and coffee stains. It wasn't that they didn't work in contrast perfection, but he could be a little tidier.
"Come on, Nick," the doe huffed. With him being undressed, and their ride to the train station waiting, Judy didn't want to simply waste the extra time they had for anything else than them being able to chat and relax.
Hearing the 'not so subtle and calming' tone in her voice, Nick plastered on a smile and hobbled over; his suave style would be unhindered even by such tedious things as impeded movement. "Aye aye, Carrots," He said, propping himself up with one crutch and mock saluting her with his free paw. "Lemme just grab a few things."
To his jest, Judy stifled a giggle, but she couldn't contain her smirk in the slightest. Her brow raised and a paw at her hips in mock annoyance, she shook her head and saluted back. She knew full well that he wanted to continue their back and forth banter, and if she didn't salute him back - superior officer or not - he would continue with the mockery and go off on a tangent until such a time as tried to return his mockery full force.
Signature smug smirk set, and half-lidded eyes gazing around, Nick hurriedly (took his genuine sweet time) shuffled past her, ignoring the slight dull pain in his leg and carried on towards the bathroom. For the most part, he was fully packed. One bag with the essentials: sunglasses, sleeping mask, phone charger, a mixed bag of candy, a change of clothes, and - most importantly yet recently bought - a selfie stick.
Though he groggily trekked along to fully ready himself for the trip, he had actually kinda looked forward to this outing. Not that it was his chance to 'shine and greet' Judy's family as he and his mother met her parents after his graduation over dinner (though she couldn't stay long) - albeit there was that awkward conversation of 'I had to fake bite your daughter to save the city and whatnot a few months ago, but it's all cool and no I didn't draw blood and sir she's not going to turn into a vampire/predator now because that's not how it works, yes, I'm positive, there's research to prove it, but thanks for your concern' - but the sheer fact that she invited him to where she called home made him truly appreciate the friendship that they had.
He could honestly (though he'd never say) count the number of friends he had on one paw, and she was over half of them. Throughout the course of the short time that they had been together as partners on the ZPD, they had quickly become the proverbial dream team. Well that, and (un)official mascots; he considered them that anyways.
Today, however, he was excited (but hid it well despite what his tail told the world). For the fox had never been to the burrows. Neither had he had an actual 'vacation' or sick days as far as he could remember - he had to hustle to eat and sleep. So he would enjoy whatever come his way no matter how much pain his leg could potentially be in.
He whistled a tune while he walked into the bathroom. Despite his antics and mannerisms, he knew Judy's as well. Nick knew that the moment he was out of sight, she would go back to looking around at the various things in his apartment. He wore his smug smile with victorious knowledge that there were things she was still aching to find. Even before his tail slipped in the doorway behind him, he saw the exploratory glint in her eye; he had to stop himself from chuckling.
Judy hummed, rocking on the heels of her feet when Nick finally closed the door to his bathroom. Fully alert with a wide smile, she took in the room around her again. The peeling wallpaper, faded posters, awkward fixtures, various appliances and leaky pipes; all of this she knew as the foxes den.
Not even a second passed when she picked back up on her search of the room as she tried to make sense of the random 'stuff' she had seen there. The pile of clothing had been the most atrocious thing she had seen before and she sneered at the fact that it was still there. Judy had no idea of how or why he had this many clothes, and furthermore this many unwashed clothes.
Ignoring the eyesore, she moved straight to his... for lack of better terms 'bedroom', to start her search. She knew full well what she was looking for as she had it on good terms from a reliable - yet small - source that Nick did, in fact, have a journal somewhere in his abode. From the time that she had heard this, until now, she had tried to find even a single letter of the elusive document. Sadly, even when his back was turned, she never had the slightest clue to where it was. Although, she did try the pile of clothes once... never again. Found half of a shirt, though, split right down the middle.
Now that he was away from the chest of drawers that made his bed, the bunny quickly turned into a would-be robber; starting from the bottom drawer and working her way up to see if he had hidden it somewhere within.
Her quick furred paws scoured over the contents with the speed that only a small mammal could attain, but each drawer was more confusing than the last. His actual bedding made her question just how many of the same green and gaudy Pawaiian shirts he had exactly. Save for the two he miraculously pulled out of nowhere, she found at least three others sandwiched in-between the pillow and under the padding. After placing them back neatly, she took to the upper drawers and couldn't make any sense of anything he had there at all.
Her brow raised and jaw dropped at the seemingly random mix of things that no mammal could possibly make use of in that space at any time. Car batteries and cables were dangerously placed in the drawer above him alongside a masquerade mask of all things. Several comics, figurines, used movie tickets, and old newspapers dating back to times long before she had arrived in the city in another with various stamps strewn about.
While she thought there may be some keepsake or secretive material in one of them, the last two were filled with an assortment of: ... modified light bulbs (to which she checked to see he had fluorescent lighting above and hoped she wouldn't have to arrest him for other reasons), records alongside old tapes (and he had the audacity to call her old fashioned), keychains, and what looked like... a piece of an armchair, maybe?
She closed the drawer hurriedly like she was shutting the door to a plague-infected city. True, she had been there to (try to) see what her partner's life entailed, but nothing made sense. That... junk had nothing to do with his diary, or journal, or whatever it was at the time. She shook her head and - taking a glance around - bounded toward the kitchen.
Judy had been there before when she had woken him up before work (they had quickly exchanged spare keys just incase), and had been quite familiar with the area. It - much like the other mess he had - was an amalgamation of things haphazardly placed here or there without much concern. Many of the appliances he had here were fairly dated, but still functioning. Yet, everything seemed well cared for as there wasn't a speck of dust or severe damage on anything as far as she could see.
There was an assortment of blenders, hot-plates, toasters, a panini press, a single pot and pan set, a propane tank, his record player (go figure he'd place it there instead of atop his dresser/bed where his clock was). As she had questioned before, she couldn't quite understand why he had multiples of each.
Still, though, she took note that the most used piece of machinery would have had to have been the archaic coffee pot as she could still smell the brew that was made earlier. She mulled over the idea that Nick had any, but made up in her mind that with the time he was out that it may have been Finnick. He was always over.
Mindful of the small fox, she looked towards the sink to see a smaller coffee cup to confirm her previous inquiry. That settled, she turned to the shelves (more so in tune with an office space than a kitchen) with a few standard bowls and plates, but dozens of crazy straws, silverware, assortments of teas and coffee along with collectible mugs.
The doe shook her head as there had to have been enough mugs there to gift to each of the members of the ZPD and then some. Not a single one of them lacked a funny saying; her favourite being the one marked off at different volumes labeled: wait... almost done... you may speak now... had your chance. While she chuckled at the one that he usually went for with a sarcasm loading bar.
Taking the two down, Judy made her way over to the coffee machine and poured them a warmed brew. Even if she found his supposed journal right now, she wouldn't get the chance to read it as she figured he'd be out of the bathroom soon. Setting them down on what little counter space she could find, she went to his fridge to get any creamer he may have had. She always dreaded what new flavour awaited her behind the door; last time it was her choice of 'Bunny Scout Coconut' or 'Bread Pudding', she could have settled with amaretto. With a silent gulp, she opened the door to check.
Even here, it was like seeing Nick in his off time. Not much was in the fridge: half an orange, carrot juice (which he never drank, but probably got for her), the box of cured salmon that he never got rid of in the back of the fridge, and a single bottle of what was an Itailian Sweet Creamer, but was now replaced with water and resting on a flatbread that she could have sworn he ate last week.
Shrugging, and abruptly closing the maniac's cooler, Judy opted for the plain and simple sugar in the drawers instead. By the time she finished pouring it in and stirring her coffee mug, she heard the door to the bathroom creak open.
"Bout time you got up, Nick," She warmly smiled seeing the fox with his fur ruffled and hobbling towards her. She held out his mug, taking a sip of her own, "Coffee?"
"Aww, thanks," He graciously took the cup from the rabbit, fully showing his grin to inquire of her, "Find anything interesting?"
He sipped casually when her smile went from a genuine 'Judy Hopps', to an 'I'm guilty and the world knows it' in seconds. He chuckled as she didn't quite have the poker face he did in this kind of situation. Her folded ears and twitchy nose were always a tell.
Thinking that this was a setup as she had been caught snooping before, she said the first thing to come to mind, "A fox!"
He almost spat out his coffee, but raised his brow instead, "A fox..."
She nodded, ears standing back up. "Yep. A fox," her paw pointed squarely at him. "That's still not ready..."
He looked down to see what she meant by that. He had on a blue collar button up shirt and a pair of black khakis that were not easy to get on without rubbing against his gauze covered leg. So instead of asking what he may have been missing, he simply pointed next to his bed, "I've got everything I need in that bag."
"And no Pawaiian shirts?"
Careful as to not upset the rabbit - who would clearly strangle him despite her size and species should he lie - he nodded in agreement. However, upon seeing her unpersuaded look of annoyance, Nick smiled brighter and placed his coffee down.
Clearing his throat he placed one paw over his chest and raised the other; he then mockingly pledged, "I, Nicholas Piberius Wilde," he looked her straight in the eye, quasi-militaristic tone while she stared in disbelief, "Despite my... penchant for all things Pawaiian. Do formally declare that I have indeed not packed away any of my shirts that you find so horribly distasteful, detestable, abhorrent, repugnant, repulsive, revolting and otherwise just plain and downright awful." He concluded his speech by winking at her and downing the last bit of his coffee.
Judy stood still, both dumbfounded and slightly surprised. It wasn't any surprise of his vocabulary - as he usually went off on some tangent like this with full-blown articulation - or his choice of tone, but rather a single word that stood out from it all, "Your middle name's Piberius?"
It was Nick's turn to stare back. Coffee mug still in paw, he carefully placed it in the sink before addressing her with a simper smile, "Madam? You jape at my eloquence, and then question my middle name? How could you possibly-"
"So, Piberius," She interrupted in a chipper tone to put them back on track, but only finding his face soured at the name. "you don't have a single Pawaiian shirt packed, then?"
Saying this, she skipped over to the bag and hefted it to eye level. Much to her surprise, it was light for what she would consider an almost full week's travel.
Nick didn't dwell on the statement for even a moment. He knew what he packed, and instead played off his injury more. "You don't believe that your poor, hurt fox is telling you the full truth about what he packed?" He added with a few sniffs, stretching his leg slowly to get the point across..
She raised a paw to dismiss his routine, "Alright, alright, but If I see one-"
His lip quivered and he widened his eyes; even adding to the look by tilting his head to the side and folding his ears back.
She quit, resigning herself to sighing and walking past him. "You've got everything you need?"
His wry smile came back in full force as he limped after her. "Yep. One hundred and two percent packed and ready to spend the week in a hole in the ground."
Judy stopped on a dime, her paw on the door handle. "We do not live in a hole in the ground, Nick!" Though she knew her partner was just trying to rile her up, she'd never pass the opportunity to one-up him; especially when that one-upping came in the form of her knowing something that he clearly had no clue about.
Halting a few feet behind her and chuckling at the cute fury that rolled off her in waves, Nick shrugged in defense. "I thought you bunnies liked to live in bunkers." He watched her long enough to see her foot tap and eyes narrowed in annoyance.
"That's backwards, and it's not a bunker!"
"...A crater then?"
"Nick!" Judy fumed, staring back at him with eyes narrowed and bag threateningly posed.
He waved his paw dismissively and hobbled to the door. "I'm just saying that it is called a burrow, Carrots."
Judy sighed. If he was going to play this game, then she could keep up. She all but abandoned her journey to the outside. "You know, I remember the history books saying that foxes lived in holes in the ground." Her fact given in hopes to deter the fox even a little was shattered by his ear to ear grin.
His smile couldn't have been brighter. "That's where you're wrong, fluff." Nick tutted. "We had fully furnished underground cities."
"Right... because you know so much about the country."
The fox nodded in rapid succession. "Absolutely," He chuckled before Judy could press him further. "I may have never been there, but I'm guessing I'll be spending my time laid back in a rocking chair with wheat between my teeth and shouting at the neighbors."
Nick couldn't help but ponder about what small details she had given away in prior months, but one thing truly caught his attention, something he wouldn't easily let her live down. "You did say your dad has a fox taser, right?"
Judy tensed at the mention of that wretched device. She was sorry she ever brought it up just before his graduation. "He got rid of it, Nick..." She said sternly.
"A fox gun then? Ooh, or maybe a fox axe?"
The doe's paws clutched the bag and brought it closer to her in frustration. She knew she was fighting a losing war. "We don- We do more than jus- He doesn't- A fox axe-" Every word was a jumble of confusing thoughts that stemmed from the fox, but none more misaligned than his so-called 'knowledge' of what may or may not lay in wait for them. So, with a huff she asked the most basic thing she could, "Do you even have any idea of what we eat over there?" She quickly caught herself, pointing a paw at the gleam of sarcasm in his emerald eyes, "I mean aside from carrots and blueberries?"
To her dismay, the grin stayed, but she witnessed him scratch his chin for a moment before shrugging his shoulders. "Um... grits?"
Judy's jaw dropped and she felt her arm being set to autopilot and ready a punch just for him. Injury and joking or not, she would not let him be that backwards.
He shuffled back defensively, his paw lingering in front of him.. "With gravy, of course. Can't forget that." Her face soured, eyes narrowed, the foot tapping began. "Deep fried everything," She approached him, his bag swinging carelessly by one paw with the other ready. "Aaand... sweet tea?"
"Sorry... sugar with tea drops-OW!"
Suffice to say that he never knew when to quit - until it was too late - Nick rubbed his left shoulder and bit back whatever other snarky remark he would have had. If the bunny was truly angry it would have hurt, but she always went easy on him. They were partners after all, and she was surprisingly strong for a rabbit.
"Let's go." With a satisfied grin, Judy re-approached the door and tore it open. She never understood why he lived in a basement of all things, and the simple fact that he had to lug not only himself but all of his stuff up those stairs was impressive, to say the least.
She clicked off the lights and held the door open enough for Nick to take the lead, locking his home behind her. As the day before, Judy wanted to stay a step or two behind him, just incase he were to fall.
The constant *tak* of his crutches made her feel a little uneasy as she kept the grim feeling of almost losing him surface from the back of her mind. It was all so... sudden, and she felt somewhat responsible even when he caused this to himself. His bag felt heavier as the weight of her thoughts started to crash in on her, Judy couldn't imagine not havi-
"I'm right aren't I?"
His voice - both calm and cheerful balm as the day she remembered his last hustle - brought her out of her stupor and forced her to look up at him. Judy couldn't have been happier that, not only was he still up and walking, but that she still had him there to help her, quirks and all. He had been like that since their début on the 'Nighthowler' case; cheering her up even when he wasn't at his best and defending her actions to a fault. She could only smile as they made their way up the stairs, even with him hurt he was still that same/changed fox that she had come to trust as her partner.
Reaching the ground floor, Nick poked his head around as if to make sure the coast was clear. Though Judy recalled asking before as it was something like 'neighbor issues', she didn't focus too much on it as he generally brushed off his cares like he was shedding; it was that season anyways.
They made it through the main entrance and past lobby; though the whole area was more like Nick's landlords second home as the shirtless grizzly bear was generally there and watching something on one of the few shared tv's in the apartment complex.
Setting foot outside in the early spring air felt good to his fur. With the afternoon sun warmly shining, Nick had wondered if the burrows were truly as good as Judy had mentioned to him many times before. Even when he was in the academy she rambled on about how good the country life could be or how much cleaner the air was. However, before he could even turn and ask the rabbit in his casual snide manner, a familiar voice caught his ear, "Bout time you two got here."
Nick peered down the busy sidewalk to see a grey wolf clad in a signature blue 'ZPD' shirt and slacks stare back at him as if studying him. He leaned against what looked to be a silver-grey sports vehicle, but Nick knew that it was one of the many unmarked cars used for patrols. Remark at the ready, he stifled a chuckle he grinned at the canid, "Sorry, Wolfie," Nick began, pointing at Judy with the wolf already rolling his eyes. "Carrots here wasn't ready."
He shrugged and hopped forward, unready to face her wrath. "I was prepared, though. I even let her carry my bag to show her what vacationing is supposed to be like."
Nick felt Judy begin to step towards him and elbow him, but before she could even do so, the wolf casually shook his head and popped the door open. "Save it, Wilde. Get in."
Compliant in doing so before being pummeled by the bunny, Nick strolled over to the rear door and took a look inside. Its interior - both padded and comfortable - was far superior to the regular zebra-striped cruisers that they were used to. The wafting A/C and faux leather made him want to almost outright buy the vehicle (after taxes sadly). However, one feature nearly made him turn tail and run.
"Vitz is that you?"
It wasn't like he couldn't smell the other wolf or didn't suspect him being there, but his mind refused to catch up to what his other senses told him until he heard it. The cheerfully smiling - and not sitting in the passenger seat this time - white wolf looked back at him and nodded.
Despite his usually calm demeanor and born silver spoon, Nick's instinct told him to back away. "Wait, you're driving?" He asked, looking at a smirking Wolford who was helping Judy pack the small bag in the trunk and then back to the crazed white wolf in the drivers seat. He didn't know first hand how bad it could be, but didn't want to find out; with the horror stories, walking through traffic was safer. "I-i've changed my mind." He scrambled away but was caught by the scruff of the neck by the grey wolf.
Being lifted in mid-air, limbs dangling inches off the ground, Nick was carefully (to near negligently) placed in the car.
With Wolford setting him on the seat - nerves shot from what may transpire on the drive - Nick thought of a few choice words for the experience, "Aww, thanks for helping a poor citizen in need. You're really earning that merit badge don't cha know."
The door abruptly slammed in his face when a muffled giggle echoed past him. Coming face to face with the bunny culprit whose paws were clasped tightly around her muzzle, Nick sighed, set his crutches down and buckled himself in. In his mind, having sheer metal in the way of potential life-saving air bags would have been foolish. Not that being there with Wolfovitz behind the wheel wasn't already a death trap in itself, but the added caution was welcome.
With the slamming of another door and Wolford settling himself in for the drive, Nick glanced around. His eyes shifting to and fro for something to do or say, he must have caught Judy's attention as she raised a brow. By this time in their friendship, he knew that she knew he was up to something. So, to confirm what he was about to do, he looked forward and winked at her.
Slowly, he placed his paws to the side of his muzzle and parted his mouth. It was then that Judy shook her head, she knew what he was trying to do.
He started off low key with his sound, the white wolf's ears perking up. They didn't make it off his apartment block before he tried again, Judy reaching over as he increased in tone.
The car swerved slightly as the driver shook and the passenger uttered a low growl. Now grinning at critical mass, he decided 'third times the charm' and took a deep breath.
He was cut off as the grey wolf peered daggers at him.
"No howling Wilde! I've got a pup at home that won't stop and it's driving me and Talia crazy. I don't need two more pups at it." The angered voice of Wolford tore at him "And YOU! Eyes on the road!"
The shouting bit over, the vehicle steadied on its way - or as much as it could be given the driver.
Nick had come to respect the wolves as he had become part of their 'pack'. That didn't mean, however, that they were exempt from his antics. It became more apparent that he - much like Wolfovitz - was a born troublemaker and prankster. That being said, it wasn't surprising when he had stopped for a few seconds... only to take another deep breath. Judy barely had time to wave her paws.
"Wilde..." He heard as he was about to shout the final howl and give it a rest for the day. Well, that is until they were to arrive at their destination, he could then give one goodbye howl... or cellphone call. "I don't have a fox-sized muzzle in this cruiser, but I do have duct tape."
The threat perceived as real, his howl and his ears pinned to his head, Nick crossed his arms and leaned back. He didn't know how Wolford somehow always knew what he'd try to do, he wasn't that predictable. Finally resigning himself to a much quieter - and hopefully wreck free - trip, Nick glanced over to the brightly smiling rabbit.
Feeling more comfortable about the idea of travelling to her home, he hoped that their little vacation might become an adventure. His tail padded the seat lightly; he was looking forward to seeing what Bunnyburrow was truly like.
Hello there, you've reached the end notes! Some things I wanted to say before the next chapter. First off, Nick's banter with Judy about southern tastes is stemming from my experiences with family and friends that live there (no offence to anyone that lives in the southern US). More to come with tons of banter and WildHopps fun.
And I hope you get a chance to read this and the other stories at your leisure. All can be found here as well:
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Till Next Time