Chapter 12 : Date in Tundratown

Nick shook his head again, refusing to bow to Judy's demands. She was currently sitting next to him, and now had two insistent paws on his forearm, shaking him vehemently in the hope of making him speak.

"Nick…tell me! I'll go crazy if you keep this hidden any longer…" the bunny tried again in an impatient voice.

"Nope. I told you that I will disclose this information to you when the time comes, not before then."

Judy sighed, releasing her grip on the fox to sink into the bottom of her seat, crossing her arms on her chest while making a sulky look. "With this kind of behavior, you're not going to win your bet, Nick. It becomes hard to believe that you was gifted for luring mammals."

"And I think you are a very bad player, Carrots. But I guess I've already told you that."

Before the sneaky look that Nick displayed on this answer, which showed that he would not give in, Judy sighed again before looking away. She was trying to get him to tell her what happened during his interrogation with Bogo yesterday, and since she had cleared things up with him, regarding the efforts she was expecting from him to truly trust her. Last night, she had enjoyed the comfort of his arms, and had been lost in the pleasure of his embrace longer than necessary. But although the situation had concretely eased down, she still remained anxious about Nick's fate and his ZPA application. She would have liked to broach the subject serenely with him...but he had declared that it was opposed to the rules of their bet, and that he therefore had the right to inform her of that information at the time that seemed to him most appropriate.

The fact that he was able to joke on the subject tended to reassure Judy. Eventually, it was possible that things didn't go so wrong...but she could not forget that she was dealing with Nick, and that he was not the easiest mammal to read. Besides, it was also possible that he was postponing the bad news, in the only hope of making it less difficult for her to take it. Especially since Judy couldn't abandon the idea that her friend eventually didn't fundamentally have an irrepressible desire to become a police officer. That or he had embraced this idea in order to please her above everything else, without intending to go through with it. So, if he was seeing the situation from this angle, a rejection from Bogo wouldn't look so dramatic, according to him, which might explain his somewhat carefree mood.

The rabbit put her head on her paws. She cursed her habit of always analyzing situations in all possible and conceivable aspects. It was already hard enough to sum up a problem when dealing with it head on, and she excelled in analyzing situations from every angle, drawing ten thousand conclusions, sometimes totally grotesque. It was probably what made her a good cop, but sometimes it made her life much more complicated.

They were in the tramway in the direction of the Zootopia Central. Whatever Nick had planned for both of them today (the first day that they were truly spending together, by the way…), it would have to come after doctor Barrare's visit. It was necessary to apply regular care to Judy's wound in her chest, to redo the bandage, and to follow the evolution of the cicatrization. The bunny anticipated and slightly feared the practitioner's dissatisfaction...due to the rather stressful events she'd been through the last two days, where she hadn't paid enough attention to her wound, and it made her suffer regularly, which was probably not a good sign.

Rather than keeping her negative thoughts, Judy preferred to focus on finding a way to make Nick spill the beans. She didn't know when he would plan to reveal his secrets to her, but it was clear that she would not let him do as he pleased, if she ever would find the means to discover his secrets. After all, he was sometimes acting the same way towards her, so it was fair enough. Bringing him to the subject in a roundabout way would perhaps be a means of obtaining some information, and it happened that she had precisely one topic she could bring in to achieve her objective.

"Ah, by the way!" she began innocently, pulling an earphone from her ear, letting it dangle between them as he had the other in his own ear. Listening to each other Ipaws content had become their best way of killing time during public transport. "Clawhauser informed me again about this Friday night after work."

"And so, since it's Friday, I guess it's tonight?"

"What a great deduction from a junior officer."

Nick rolled his eyes at this ironic remark and continued. "Are you going to go?"

"I think so. It would be nice for me to reconnect with my colleagues, before I get back into the swing of things."

"Well, fine then. You don't need my approval to go out, you know?"

Obviously, he hadn't understood what she was trying to suggest to him, so she hastened to clarify her thoughts. "Will you go with me?"

Nick looked at her, and she really didn't know how to interpret the expression he was now displaying. Finally, he slightly cringed before shrugging his shoulders with an uncertain look. "I don't know Carrots. In the 'after work' term, there is the word 'work'. So basically, only coworkers are in…not their friends."

"Clawhauser said you'd be welcome. Besides, you'll soon be one of them too, right? "

Judy tried not to give too much inflection to this last question, which was supposed to be innocent, and bit her lips to avoid smiling, which would have ruined her effect. The perfect cover was to make it looks like a trivial question. Depending on how he responded, it could direct him to the information that she wanted to draw out of him.

Nick turned back to her with a smile, before crossing his arms on his chest and staring intently at her. The rabbit supported his gaze for long seconds, which seemed endless for her, refusing to speak first. However, after a few more moments of this particularly destabilizing stares, she cracked.

"What? Why are you looking at me like that?"

"I only appreciate the sight of this charming bunny on which I obviously have had a very bad influence," Nick replied in a tone of pride, before chuckling a bit.

Judy grimaced, realizing that her plot had been seen right through. Nevertheless, she preferred not to admit it and play the incomprehension card. "What is that supposed to mean? That you don't want to come tonight?"

"Don't even try, Carrots. If you get caught, there's no need to insist in the hope of making the fish bite the hook once it has already realized that he would loose his tongue. Still, it was a nice try."

A fierce look from the rabbit was the only answer he got from her. More than annoyed for not being able to get what she wanted to know above all else, the fact of being caught in her own trap was adding more fuel to the fire. Her grumpy reaction gave rise to a new chuckle from Nick, who then rubbed the top of her forehead with one paw… A gesture that she wasn't appreciating too much, at least not when it was practiced in that way.

"Now listen and see. This is how it works." He went on, clearing his throat, before smiling and said in a perfectly relaxed neutral voice: "I will gladly go out with you tonight, Carrots."

Judy frowned, not understanding the maneuver...before realizing, horrified, that the fact that she couldn't understand was precisely the purpose of said maneuver. The answer he had just given her could make her interpret things in ten different ways, since it echoed with her own unsuccessful attempt. As she couldn't interpret the possibly fake signs he was throwing at her, Judy turned her head away, uttering a furious little grunt, which made Nick laughing again.

"I think you'll lose your bet, Nick...because right now, you really put me out of my mind!"

"How lucky I am to have a whole day to catch up then, in this case!" he concluded ironically.

"What word exactly did you not understand when I recommended rest and a complete absence of activity, Miss Hopps?"

Although Dr. Barrare was a little beaver, Judy wasn't feeling so confident before him at this moment. He had just removed her bandage, and she didn't have to take a look at her wound to know that it was not a pretty thing to see. One only needed to take a look at the bandage condition, soiled and unclean, to guess that. The bunny gulped before pitifully lowering her head.

"Excuse me, doctor...the last two days have been more active than what I have expected...more tiresome, too."

The doctor let out a reprobative sigh, before cleaning the wound with care. "I should have known that you would be the kind of patient to be troublesome...but do as your wish! If you want it to take twice as long to heal, you are free to continue what you're doing."

"I...I'll do my best to be better. I promise, Doctor."

"It would be better for you," Barrare replied in a severe tone, before seizing a string and a little mending hook. "Your stitch is breaking up. I'll have to fix all this."

Judy merely shook her head, too ashamed to complain or ask any questions. Once the practitioner had finished, he left the attending nurse the responsibility of redoing Judy's bandage as he quickly filled in his report.

"I'll see you again in two days, Miss Hopps. If you are still in such a state, I will have you hospitalized for the week, to make sure that this wound has a chance to heal."

The bunny answered with a slight chuckle…however, because of the reproving look that the doctor gave her, she was not sure that he was meaning it as a joke.

Dr. Barrare left the auscultation room, coming face to face with Nick, who was waiting in the corridor. When the fox recognized the practitioner, he held out a friendly paw towards him. He had somehow made him have a hard time, the other day, and he hoped that the beaver would not hold any grudges against him.

"You seemed particularly concerned about your friend's condition, Mr. Wilde, if I'm not wrong."

"Uh...yes, that's right," the fox confirmed while nodding, and wondering if the doctor was implying something.

"Well, if it's still the case...make sure to look after her, okay?"

The beaver didn't give any time for Nick to respond, and merely greeted him with a nod, before hurrying away while consulting the list of patients he still needed to visit.

Apparently, the condition of Judy's wound was not very encouraging, given Dr. Barrare's reaction. Nick rubbed his head, slightly ashamed. Of course, he wasn't fully at fault…but he hadn't been much help, because of all the worries he had caused Judy. Especially on the night of his hustle against the Herd Guardians. The bunny hadn't had the opportunity to enjoy any real rest since then, and had gone through two uncomfortable nights. Well, from his point of view, last night had been sweet and wonderful. It was likely the same impression for Judy, since she had remained asleep in his arms all night long. But the comfort of a real bed would have been better to that of a sofa just big enough to welcome them both. Well, if one ever considered the rabbit as convalescent. Nick still couldn't believe Judy's assault was less than four days ago as he had the impression that a whole month had passed since then. Too many upheavals, too many events, too many emotions. Even though he lived a most fluctuating existence before, he had never felt so shaken before in his life.

As his thoughts were lingering on this last observation, Judy's voice brought him back to reality: "Hey, are you daydreaming, Nick?"

He shook his head and turned to her, a seductive smile on his muzzle. "No, it was this night that I had a dream…a very odd one, by the way…"

"Is…is that so?" she asked hesitantly.

"Yes, I dreamed that you would curl up against me to sleep by my side...but it was only a dream, of course. A well-educated rabbit like you would never go sleep with a dirty old fox, right?"

"Okay, Nick...I got it. I know you know, so cut it out, please."

In fact, Judy had been wondering since waking up if Nick had been aware of her initiative the night before. She hadn't really decided to sleep with him...she had only wanted to enjoy his presence for a while, to relax and comfort herself before retiring to bed. And because it had to be confessed, the sensation that washed over her each time she was in contact with Nick was a pleasure delight. But she hadn't planned to fall asleep so easily. In fact, when she had woken up in the early morning, and had become aware of what had happened, she had decided to not be alarmed. It wasn't bothering her at all (and denying that this was what she wanted would have been lying to herself), and if Nick hadn't noticed it, then it would have not bothered him. Nevertheless, this last point was now out the window. Nick had likely woken up at some point and realized that she was there… But since he had not pushed her away, neither had pulled himself out of their embrace, nor even pulled her out of her sleep, the bunny supposed that it probably haven't been so displeasing to him, after all.

"Well…" the fox finally said, satisfied to see that Judy was not trying to deny the facts. "What was that for?"

"Um...I was tired, and sad...and you were there, and I fell asleep. That's all. Is that a problem?"

Nick seemed to consider the pros and cons before giving his answer, his lips moving into a simple line, slightly curved into a reflexive curve as he rubbed his chin with one paw. "Honestly, Carrots…on my own will, I wouldn't have let it happen."

"Oh…" Judy lowered her head, obviously disappointed by his answer. Her ears immediately fell on her back, and she could not prevent her eyes from expressing both her sadness and pain.

However, Nick didn't leave her into this embarrassed state for long, and reached a paw under her chin to make her look up at him. He offered her a sweet and charming smile. "That being said, that doesn't mean I didn't like it."

Judy chuckled a bit, even though it was mostly from uneasiness. "The usual implicit answer again, right?"

The fox found nothing to answer for the moment. It was true that he was very evasive at times, or even distant, when it came to the evolution of their relationship. For the sole reason that he was afraid of what he was feeling for Judy. He now knew with absolute certainty that he was in love with her and he wasn't trying to deny such indisputable facts. But had he ever been in love before? No...not in his memory, or at least not in this way. In fact, he didn't know how to deal with these things or how to behave, considering his usual way of preserving himself from anything that might hurt him. He was well aware that in love, one had to take risks without necessarily overthinking about the consequences, and just be audacious and spontaneous. Some qualities that a mammal as meticulous, thoughtful, and calculating as Nick were difficult to spring with ease.

"I'm sorry, Carrots…" he mumbled. "It's hard for me to be clear, sometimes."

The bunny took his paw between hers, touched by his sincere concern, and offered him a reassuring smile. "Don't worry. We wouldn't be here together if I wasn't able to understand you, even just a little." She concluded her sentence by adding a wink, which, if it didn't really comfort the fox, nevertheless it showed to him that she wasn't bothered by his difficulty to express himself on this subject.

They were heading towards the exit of the day clinic when they met a familiar face, at least for Judy, whose expression became suddenly overwhelmed with joy. She rushed towards the little otter she had just recognized.

"Mrs. Otterton!" the rabbit exclaimed, with a huge smile on her face.

The small mammal turned around, surprised for being called out, but her expression suddenly became joyful when she recognized Judy as the bunny jogged in her direction, trying to be careful with the new stitches the doctor had just put in. The otter did the same, walking with a quick step, and before the bunny could say or do anything, she found herself caught in a warm and friendly hug.

"Officer Hopps! I'm so glad to see you." Mrs. Otterton declared while stepping back, so as to be able to meet her gaze. "I hoped to see you to thank you personally for everything you have done to solve this case..."

"Oh, no need to mention it, madame. I'm before all relieved to have discovered the underlying cause to your husband's condition. How is he doing?"

Madame Otterton could only smile at the sincere concern and replied in a relieved voice. "Oh! For now, there is no change, unfortunately… But now that they know what has provoked all this, they are working to develop an antidote. They believe it should be completed and operational in the coming weeks. It's a real relief…instead of being worried sick. I can't stand the waiting."

"An antidote? Really?" Judy exclaimed, more than happy to learn the news. "Oh, sweet cheese...I was so afraid it would be irremediable!" She quickly put her paw against her mouth, confused at what she had just admitted. "Uh... Excuse me, madam...I didn't want to..."

The otter gently shook her head, making her understand that there was no harm done. "You know it better than anyone else for having seen me in such despair. Even I wasn't believing in my Emmett coming back anymore…"

Indeed, this memory was still painful. Seeing Mrs. Otterton lose all hope at the sight of her husband, circling around a picket to which he was constantly remained attached, in order to prevent him from escaping, attacking, or injuring himself. And to top it off he could no longer recognize the one with whom he had chosen to share his existence? It had been the worst, painful thought that Judy had got in the previous months, in addition to that of losing Nick's friendship.

The said fox approached, but remained slightly behind the two females. Judy grabbed him by his forearm, and pulled him towards the otter. "Madame Otterton, let me introduce Nick Wilde! His help was essential to finding your husband, and in arresting those responsible."

"I know you, of course!" the female otter replied, accepting the paw which the fox offered to her. "I saw you at this second press conference…"

The tragedy that had concluded that event came back to Mrs. Otterton, who gave a confused look to Judy. "Oh! But now that I think about awful, what happened to you that day. I was so horrified when I saw it... It had been recorded in live, you know. I thought I was going to have a heart attack."

"More fear than pain, fortunately!" the bunny replied, trying to be as reassuring as possible.

"This bunny is as tough as steel," Nick added in a jovial voice, eager to help Judy dispel any discomfort.

"No need to act tough, you two," the otter replied in a voice full of anxiety. "What happened is very serious and it should not be taken so lightly. However, I've read in the newspaper the statement you made to the press, when you left the hospital. I respect your moral strength and integrity, Officer Hopps. Truly. Personally, if I had one of these so called Guardians between my paws, I…" She hesitated for a moment, looking like she was considering the unbelieving looks that the two other mammals were now sending her, who weren't expecting to see her so 'wild'. Mrs. Otterton let out a small embarrassed chuckle, before resuming. "Oh, please forgive me... With all what had happened recently, I guess my nerves are cracking, I think..."

"Come on, no need to apologize," Judy reassured her. "We prefer to make fun of it, but it's true that these times have been rather difficult for us too, indeed."

"Anyway, I hope you will quickly get back to your job with the police, Officer Hopps. They'll need you to put these monsters under lock and key."

"Don't worry about it, the case is already in good paws."

Nick could not repress an embarrassed cringe at that answer. He could not give up the fact that he had contributed to making the investigation longer and more complicated than it would have been if he had refrained from wanting to do his own justice.

"That's good to know," Mrs. Otterton finally answered. "It would be better for everyone to calm down a bit now... The city is all messy with all these terrible stories. We're looking for culprits although there are none, and we're fighting the wrong mammals. It's to be feared that those who preach hatred will end up seeking profit out of this disorder. Even though we have arrested those responsible of the whole conspiracy, and that Bellwether had already confessed to her crimes. It's sad…"

The otter lowered her head, looking pained by the consequences of this tragedy. She sighed, expressing her lassitude, her marked face already testified well enough the long period of distress and sleep deprivation she had passed through. "Sometimes I wonder why my Emmitt got involved in all this. He's a peaceful male, you know. He'd never seek trouble. We live a quiet, easy life."

Seeing the opportunity to shed light on a point she had always wanted to elucidate, Judy said: "Tell me, Mrs. Otterton...your husband is a florist, is that right?"

"Yes that's right."

"Had his shop been burgled recently?"

Madame Otterton frowned, then nodded gravely. "Yes...yes, indeed. Someone had stolen a stock of these crocus bulbs. Emmitt was wondering why, because these products have little value. He had disappeared shortly after, by the way."

"As I suspected... "Judy commented before putting her paw on the otter's shoulder, who was obviously waiting to learn more. "It would seem that your husband is the first mammal to have understood that something serious was going on. As a florist, he had certainly guessed the reasons that had led a thief to steal this particular plant variety, and in such quantities."

"That's why he had asked to know who?" Nick asked, suddenly realizing what his partner was implying.

Judy nodded, a nervous smile on the corner of her lips. "He probably hoped to prevent a dangerous situation from happening, with his support...but he had been targeted, precisely because his actions suggested that he had understood what was going on."

"Excuse me for interrupting you, but I admit I don't really understand what you're saying, both of you…" the otter, somehow confused, intervened.

"To put it simply, Ms. Otterton, let's just say that your husband is certainly the first predator who had been targeted in a non-arbitrary manner. He was aware of several things about the case and was potentially holding some compromising information. That's why he had been attacked."

" think so?" the otter asked in an incredulous voice, having difficulty imagining her husband keeping as important a secret as that to himself.

"We can't be sure of it yet, of course...but we'll only be able to know it when your husband comes back to himself. Hopefully it's gonna happen soon, won't it?" Judy asked, taking Mrs. Otterton's paws between hers, smiling warmly at the smaller mammal.

The otter nodded, and looked like she was trying to hold back her tears. It was still hard for her to believe that her nigtmare was coming to an end, and it was all thanks to the two mammals that faced her.

"You saved my family. I don't know if you realize it concretely but...I hope you are aware of it. Thank you… Thank you from the bottom of my heart." She punctuated her emotional gratitude with an embrace, trying as best as she could to hold both rabbit and fox in her arms. At first, Nick felt a bit embarrassed for being thanked that way, before finally accepting the simple gesture. After all, he had really worked on solving this investigation, and he had helped all those predators who had been unjustly targeted by Bellwether's plot. However, excepting Judy, he wasn't accustomed to such direct, frank and sincere acts of gratitude. It made him feel way better, and it finally convinced him, if it was still necessary, that being a cop was the right choice for him.

Madame Otterton eventually left them to go and find her husband. The latter was still wild, and seeing him in such a state remained heartbreaking, yet, she couldn't refrain from visiting him daily. Visits were less painful than before, knowing that an antidote would soon draw him out of that terrifying state which in no way reflected the kind, calm, and peaceful temperament of her husband.

Nick and Judy, for their part, were now on a tram, which wasn't leading them towards Savannah Central, where the fox lived. The bunny glanced at him, then smiled.

"Will I finally know why it was essential for me to bring my winter coat before we left?" Judy asked, guessing very well, by this more than obvious clue, in which neighborhood they would spend the day.

"If you ask the question, you are unworthy to be part of the police, Sweetheart. But if you want to know everything, it's better to cover yourself when you go to Tundratown. It seems that it's a bit cold any time of the year."

"And what are we going to do at Tundratown, if I may ask?"

"We'll work on developing your urban culture, Carrots. If you have to live in Zootopia, you have to get to know Zootopia. Especially if you're a cop. I lived there my entire life, so I am the ideal guide in helping you discover its most charming secrets."

He had uttered this last sentence in a sensual voice that left Judy speechless for a few moments. The bunny went back to normal after a few seconds, shaking her head to recover.

"It looks like you're talking about tendentious places…" she commented with uncertainty.

"Am I? What makes you think such a thing?" Nick said in a falsely pained voice.

"I remind you that the first place you ever made me visited was a naturalist I tend to be wary now."

"In that case, you better have to expect the worst…" Nick answered in a voice full of mystery.

Judy didn't know if she should feel reassured by these words, but Nick was supposed to catch up with her today. So there was no reason to worry. At least, she hoped so.

"I'd never thought that Tundratown could be so beautiful…"

Judy couldn't hide the smile that illuminated her face while Nick guided her through the paths of the Siberian Park, a large wooded area mostly made up of pines and conifers. It was a nice, quiet area, covered with snow and made available to the inhabitants of the neighborhood to find a little piece of natural space which allowed them to escape from the somehow oppressing city in which they lived. Some ice stalactites were hanging down from the tree branches, reflecting their environment on their strange and fascinating tapered shapes. Everywhere, mammals acclimated to cold regions were engaged in various and varied activities. Some were jogging, others were simply enjoying their walk. Kits were having a snowball fight or were doing sledding, while a few artists practiced ice sculpture, spraying a storm of frosted shavings into the air.

Wherever Judy was looking, she discovered incredible new wonders. The brief passage she had made at Tundratown had been at night and in unattractive circumstances. And if she had been partially aware of the splendor of the ice district, it had only been for a short moment, the day of her arrival aboard the train taking her from Bunnyburrow. Nick led her on a narrow path, which was diving deeper into the heart of the park. Its center was a huge frozen lake, surrounded by booths selling snacks or renting ice skates. Many mammals were indeed skating on the ice, dancing and spinning around, in the midst of laughter and exclamations. Nick leaned over the railing surrounding the lake, gazing at the icy landscape. Judy joined him, with the same fascinated smile still fixed on her face.

"Nick, it's beautiful."

"I was raised here," the fox said in a neutral tone.

Judy turned her eyes to him, looking uncertain, not knowing if he was waiting for her to ask him about further information or if he was going to open up of his own will. Finally, he sighed, releasing a blowy steam into the cold air of the afternoon.

"Before my parents divorced…and after as well."

" didn't live in the apartment you inherited from your father?" Judy asked, trying to not push him too much.

"No. As you can guess, this place was too small for three mammals. When my parents separated, Dizzie, my sister, went to live with my mother in Atlantea. I stayed here with my father and my brother. It wasn't bad…well, at first."

Nick hesitated for a moment before turning to look at Judy, his gaze full of distress which particularly destabilized her. She would have liked to hold him in her arms at that moment, and bring him all the comfort she could afford to give him, because obviously, evoking these memories was very painful for her friend.

" don't have to talk about it, if you don't want to…" she softly said before putting a comforting paw on his forearm.

"I know, were right this morning, Carrots. I have to trust you...and it will necessarily pass through this, won't it? I should tell you what I have experienced in the past. But...I never talked about it to anyone before. No one. Apart from the few mammals who lived through these events at the same time as I did, I have never opened up to anyone since then. So, putting words on's like reviving it."

"I'm well aware of that and I...that's why you don't have to...I'll understand, you know."

"Yes. But it's not just a matter of being able to talk about it or not. I want to talk to you about it. I want you to know me. I want you to know who Nick Wilde is."

The bunny felt a lump in her throat. Nick's innocence in the way he was broaching things was the proof that he didn't even realize the importance and the impact of what he had just told her. But she perceived it without difficulty, and was deeply touched. She stepped softly towards him and hugged him, pressing her face against his chest. Nick remained stunned for a second, not really understanding the reason behind this affectionate manifestation, but didn't complain as he just placed his paws on the back of his friend.

She got a slight shiver down her spine, then declared with her heart and soul. "I know who you are, Nick Wilde. Your past is important, but it doesn't determine what kind of mammal you are." She tightened her embrace on him, before uttering a satisfied sigh, losing herself in the pleasant smell that was distinctly Nick, which she could only perceive when she was close to him. "I want to know it, of course...but that's not what makes me love you…"

The two suddenly froze at the hearing of what she had just said. Judy pinched her lips, and opened her eyes wide, dumbfounded by what her brain had allowed her to declare without even giving a warning signal. The words had come out on their own, carried away by emotion, and she had only realized their meaning once they were expressed, almost as if she became aware of them against all odds. Her extremely sensitive hearing ability allowed her to grasp the impact the words had on Nick, since the fox's heart was beating fast in his chest. Was he happy, or panicked? Or a mixture of the two. Judy felt particularly confused and uncomfortable, so she stepped away from him with her face low and ears pinned down behind her.

"Huh…I…I'm sorry, Nick...I didn't want to..."

"You didn't want to tell me that?" he asked in an uncertain voice.

Judy was not sure that the most reasonable answer was the right one. Did she want to tell him? No. It didn't take away the fact that she thought it sincerely, but explaining it in this way would make things even more confusing.

"No, I's complicated. I know you don't want to rush things and..."

The fox bit his own lip, cursing himself for having imposed this rule meant to wait, to get an idea of what they felt for each other. Obviously, things were as clear to Judy as it was for him, but they were both totally inexperienced in the matter of relationships. This made things unnecessarily complicated. But there was much to lose, if they ever made a misstep. Their friendship was precious. To go further would be a risk to ruin it. So Nick compelled himself to be reasonable at the moment.

"It's nothing, Carrots. You know well I'm feeling the same thing you are, as well. We have all the time we need to clear it up..."

Judy nodded, feeling reassured. She was relieved that her clumsiness caused no damage to the progress of their relationship. She didn't want to frighten Nick by giving him the impression that she was trying to cut corners. Nevertheless, one part of her was disappointed that things remained there. Things shouldn't take too long to happen, in her opinion, or else, patience would turn into frustration...and there was never anything good that flowed from that feeling.

The situation remained a little tense between them for a few seconds, before finally Nick decided to break the silence, with another innocent joke. "Basically, I had planned to rent skates and see if a bunny can stand on the ice or not...but since Dr. Barrare seems to assume that the slightest movement would be followed by an amputation of your left arm, we should perhaps avoid it."

"Indeed!" Judy replied with a laugh, feeling relieved at seeing things resuming their normal course. "Especially since I have never ice skated in my life, and I prefer to save the humiliation of falling before your eyes…which would definitely happen, trust me."

"Come on, I would have held your paw, of course."

"You need a pretext for that, right?"

Nick shook his head. And to prove to her that he was not afraid to affirm himself publicly by her side, he took her paw in his, before leading her in the opposite direction, towards the exit of the park.

Judy's eyes widened, surprised by this initiative. She definitely had trouble grasping Nick's game regarding their relationship. Likely because there was no such game. The fox worked the same way she did when it came to feelings: by instinct. It was probably the best thing to do, to move forward naturally. It obviously wasn't bothering Judy anyway, since she tightened her fingers around his, before getting closer to him to put her head against his arm, letting herself be guided regardless of where they were going, only enjoying the moment, when only each other mattered.

The other mammals paid no attention to them, or if they did, only cast a vague curious glance to them. Interspecies relationships weren't taboo in the cosmopolitan society of Zootopia, and were commonly accepted, although prey-pred couples were much more rare. If some onlookers looked at them with a judging look, Judy paid no attention to it, as she was lost in the simple pleasure of being able to walk serenely, paw in paw, with the mammal her heart had chosen. The fact that he was a fox didn't raise any problem to her, and she would challenge anyone who would ever explain to her how her feelings were bad or deviant. She would give them her opinion on it very quickly.

Nick guided her through the alleys of Tundratown's residential area, a set of narrow passages, surrounded by your typical convoluted buildings, most of which were directly dug out from the ice. The walls, which were mainly covered with snow, were sometimes emanating bright colored notes, and from each window a soft yellowish light issued forth, evoking the chimney-fires meant to warm the locals. The roofs were made of frosted domes, sometimes with strange turrets on the top, ending in what looked like some kind of round bell-towers, always colored in bright colors, some chromatic glows embellishing an azure blue sky.

Nick had anecdotes for most of the places they went through. Here was the candy store where he and his siblings went to spend the few pennies that they sometimes found on the ground, to enjoy some sweets. Over there was the cold, damp underground passage that terrified him as a kid, for he was persuaded that Snarl, the giant cannibal wolf, was living in there, eating the little children who did not obey their parents (and since Nick wasn't a calm kit at that time, he was convinced that one day his turn would come, and that it would only be a matter of time). They passed near a large, austere building that looked like an administrative center or a prefecture, but which the fox presented as the Boris Ursa Educational Center where he had spent most of his schooling, from kindergarten to middle school.

"Don't take it the wrong way, Nick…but since you claimed to earn your money from scams since the age of twelve, I thought you'd be out of the school system much earlier," Judy said in a curious voice. She wasn't making any judgments, just curious and her interest genuine.

"Then you were wrong, Carrots. My father had a lot of faith in education. If he hadn't been able to stop our illicit activities, much to his regret, he forced us to go to the end of our studies."

"So have you studied?" Judy asked, intrigued.

"Yes, and I wasted my time, I guess…"

Judy shook her head. She would not let herself be carried away by the walls of her friend's cynicism. Not now, when she finally had the opportunity to learn a little more about his past and his experience. This type of information should not block out Nick. These were, after all, some relatively brief anecdotes.

"Which high school?" She asked innocently.

Nick merely chuckled before shrugging his shoulders. "Why would you ask me this? You're not from Zootopia, there's no chance for you to know that place."

"So what? Does it mean I shouldn't be curious about it?" She protested. "For my part, I was at the Dominic Spring National High School. We have a lot of schools in Bunnyburrow. Kind of necessary given our population. That one is special because it is designed for mammals willing to live elsewhere than in their hometown. Most of the inhabitants of the Tri-Burrow are home-lovers. They rarely leave their burrow or go more than 50 miles from them. Most of my brothers and sisters stayed in Bunnyburrow, with two or three exceptions. They dig their own burrows once they found their families. But as I intended to become a police mammal in Zootopia, and I moved heaven and earth to go to an establishment that would prepare me for city life. But in fact, Dominic Spring was only one more really banal private high school. Nothing could have really prepared me for living in such a big city. It's so different from home, you have no idea…"

While she explained the education that she'd had, and her willingness to learn more about city life to be more able to integrate, Nick couldn't refrain a growing smile. Judy's determination, coupled with her very orderly and structured way in which she had tackled the different stages of her life, in order to fulfill her goals and reaching her dream, left him speechless. He admired her in a certain way.

"I guess it hadn't been easy to go against traditionalism and break those old family habits, right?" Nick asked. "I suppose that at your age, most of your brothers and sisters have already dug their hole, and have had a bunch of kits, am I wrong?"

"Could you avoid this particular cynicism when you talk about the country life of my family, sweetheart?" she protested while chuckling. "But I have to agree about that. Yes, it's true...I am an exception...or rather an anomaly. My family is judging me with weird looks all the time. Of course, they are proud of me...but, on the other paw, I am this 'strange sister', who is still not married, hasn't settled down, nor even had her first litter, even though I am twenty-five years old and on and on..."

"Didn't they teach you how to bear with it at Dominic Spring? Seriously Carrots, what is this petty name for a high school?" Nick shook his head in disbelief.

"Oh...Dominic Spring was a famous politician, born in Bunnyburrow, who had worked on the rapprochement of the Tri-Burrow with the biggest cities such as Zootopia and Atlantea. Well, whatever. To answer your original question, the educational program for young females in the national high school was meant to teach us how to be good housewives for our husbands from the big cities. In short, how to export Bunnyburrow's family culture and how to adapt it to the functioning of modern cities. How to found a burrow when one lives inside a building? How to educate a large number of kits in the big city? This kind of retrograde idiocy…"

Nick grimaced at hearing that from Judy. He knew that the small traditionalist countries were often slow on the uptake in terms of social norms, dogmas, and about male/female parity, but this seemed rather extreme. "Sounds like a…second-rate kind of education. Wasn't it?"

"I agree. But lagomorphs culture is very firmly anchored in this kind of traditionalist life, Nick. Where I come from, things are evolving much slower. I was really fortunate to have such caring and supportive parents, who didn't try to ruin my dreams, and supported me…to an extent as they still worried quite a lot and told me so frequently. Some other families are much more retrograde than mine, trust me."

In the end, Nick understood that Judy's life had been far from being as calm, easy and relaxing as he had expected. At first, he had imagined the little country mammal evolving in a paradisiacal setting, going from success to success, supported by all. A kind of family model that everyone would take as an example and praise to the skies. Afterwards, he had realized that she had faced several prejudices, and that her journey hadn't been as simple as he had supposed. But he would have never thought that the pitfalls she went through had been so tough, and that she had been compelled to struggle against a retrograde social and educational system that would have liked to see her married to a farmer rabbit who would have made hundreds of kits with her, even if it implied for her to be unhappy for the rest of her life. Perhaps he exaggerated things a little, of course, since Judy didn't seem unhappy by her former way of life, which was probably due to her eternal optimism. She had tackled these difficulties in the same way she had dealt with any obstacle facing her: as a challenge to overcome, and not as a dead end.

"I hope you do realize that you're admirable, Carrots…" The sentence had escaped Nick as a statement coming from his inner thoughts, and he was also surprised that he had pronounced it.

The remark awoke a blush from the bunny, who then shook her head, containing with difficulty the heat wave that was beginning to condense down through her stomach, and that she could feel more than before because of the cold weather of Tundratown.

"D…don't say say that, that's dumb…" she stammered with an embarrassed look on her face.

"Well… If sincere compliments aren't affecting you, I will therefore keep to my usual jokes, from now on."

Judy protested with a mild grunt, then replied, "It's just that I don't like to be complimented this much for my choice, or about what I've accomplished. It shouldn't be considered as some kind of feat, you know? Every young mammal should have the chance to do whatever they want in their life. If mammals find it amazing that I have succeeded in reaching my goal, that makes this perspective sadder for all the others, don't you think?"

"What a great altruism, Carrots. Are you trying to prove to me you're some sort of saint?"

Nick's cynical remark earned him a small punch on his arm, but Judy nonetheless didn't take offense by it, since she clung to the same arm with both paws, before resting her head against him, just enjoying the well-being she was feeling by this contact.

"Trust me, you would hear nothing good if we would be in Bunnyburrow right now, and if one would surprise us like that. I don't say that we would be pursued by a bunch of rabbits armed with torches and pitchforks, but some of them would definitely be staring at us, you know? We would hear the nasty murmurs and guess some very abusive terms meant for you and me", Judy said in a almost singing voice, as if this idea had something rejoicing in it.

"Um… Could you please avoid saying this as if it was the most normal thing in the world?"

"I just wanted to test your reaction to the potential reality. Because one day I will drag you there, whether you like it or not, and I'm not intending to behave differently because the inhabitants of my hometown are far less tolerant than those who live here."

"Oh yes, Zootopia and its Herd Guardians. Great models for tolerance, acceptance and integrity. Don't think everything is better here, Carrots. We'll hear the same story, sooner or later."

Judy chuckled. It looked like she was taking it as a joke, even though she had been previously stabbed in the chest days before. Really, nothing could stop her. "You think so? Then what do you think of this one? My grandfather believes that foxes are red because they were created by the devil himself."

"Is that so?" Nick asked with interest. "Well, I'm not sure for the others, but I clearly remember the inflamed pitchfork that pulled me out of the infernal mold where I had been forged."

"Here we are. A saint and a demon, together. Who'd have thought?" Judy said with a laugh. "Every mammal would be wrong to limit their thoughts as a bunny and a fox, right?"

Nick froze before looking at her. "I do not care what mammals think, Carrots."

"In this case, we agree," she replied while smiling.

What came next happened naturally, as if they had been pushed towards each other. They didn't think of it twice, their bodies were acting instinctively. There was this little something in their eyes, a sign that they were both aware of. Like a mild glow, an attraction, which had quietly suggested them that it was the right moment. Judy closed her eyes, stood on her tiptoes, clinging to Nick's arm to stabilize herself. The fox only needed to slightly lower his head, and their muzzles joined, their lips sealing into each other in this first shared kiss. It lasted only a few seconds, but they could both feel the effects in every single fiber of their bodies.

Eventually, Judy let her feet land back on the ground while uttering a soft sigh. She opened her eyes, realizing that what had just happened was not a dream, and that the still very concrete warmth she felt on her lips was indeed what Nick had left behind. His smell, but also his taste. Both a sensory and olfactory combination that already had some addictive qualities to it. Her body was in a fever now, her instincts being freely unleashed, unrestrained. She got a shiver, and felt ashamed by the large amount of pheromones she was releasing, and that had only one purpose: taking the leap toward the one she wanted to proclaim as hers, over and over again.

Nick obviously perceived the passionate fragrance emanating from his friend. Still caught in the ecstasy of their kiss, which he couldn't rationalize, for it seemed to have imposed itself upon him. This olfactory expression aroused a sort of bestiality in the depths of his being, which he only managed to contain with great difficulty. He emitted a hot blow out of his nostrils, before inhaling the air filled with pheromones with great gulps. He felt like he could lose himself in this smell, and die happy. She only released this scent for him. This was destined for him, and for him alone. The one she ardently desired to proclaim hers… He lowered a slightly gleaming look towards her, all groggy by the arousal of his senses, and saw that she looked as much lost as himself.

"Judy…" he managed to mumble.

And as if pronouncing her name had been a new trigger, an encouragement to go further, the bunny surrendered to her instincts and rushed back against him, grabbing his nape with both paws to pull him towards her and kiss him again, with more strength and passion. Nick didn't pull out, quite the opposite. He slid his paws down Judy's back, lifting her from the floor to carry her to his level. The rabbit pressed her body on him, pushing him, backing him against the wall of the adjacent building, before rolling her cheek against his muzzle, once again leaving on him her powerful and captivating smell. The fox uttered an ecstatic grunt as she renewed her marking on him, accompanying each movement with small kisses.

Then suddenly, as if their minds had finally gained the ability to think once more, they seemed to realize what they were doing...and especially where they were doing it. They were on the street, exposed to everyone in sight. Fortunately, there were few mammals in the narrow path where they were standing...but still. Judy was the quickest to react, pulling out of Nick's arms to land back on the ground while quivering, as she was still feeling fevered. The fox remained dumbfounded against the wall for a little while, combining his efforts to regain his common and rational senses.

"Well...That's...was something…" he finally managed to stammer.

"I...I'm sorry, Nick... I don't know what happened to me... I couldn't control myself anymore..." Judy gasped and felt compelled to lean on her own knees so she would not fell down. Her body was asking for the continuation of that blessed kiss and nuzzling session, as well as much, much more. She felt like she was burning from the inside. "Goodness...I've never felt such a thing before..."

"I...I often arouse that kind of feeling in you, Carrots..." Nick said with a chuckle.

"It's not funny, Nick... I could have… I... Anyway... And in the middle of the street! What's wrong with me?"

She seemed really alarmed and panicked, a reaction likely amplified by the tension that her body imposed on her. Things would go back to normal once she could calm down and be more serene. Nick approved this inner thought, and, as he got a grip on himself, straightened up and took Judy's arm.

"I think we need a pick-me-up, Carrots."

"O…Okay…" she agreed.

The Starbear Coffee Shop was a well-known establishment in Tundratown, and even in Zootopia in general. Judy knew it from reputation, although she had never had the opportunity of going there. It looked like the time had come, since it was the place that Nick had chosen for them to help her recover or at least make sense of her emotions. The tea room looked very rustic with all the furniture made of worm-eaten wood, cut with the paw, lacquered and waxed. Some exposed beams supported an ancestral framework, to which were attached oil lamps, made of polished steel. The paneled walls were covered with various advertising posters, praising the merits of the various warm drinks sold within and which made the establishment's reputation quite famous. On the floor were laying carpets with warm colors, pleasant and soft to the touch, and the atmosphere was made ever softer and pleasant thanks to the three wood stoves standing in the different corners of the room providing a nice warmth.

Nick and Judy settled down at a table adjoining the edge of the large bay window, which gave a stunning view of Tundratown's central square, a place full of activities and shops, but mostly known for its famous fish market. The bunny, however, didn't really feel like playing tourist at the moment. She was too busy controlling the erratic quivers of her body, and in soothing the burning heat that was boiling in her guts. All an attempt to stop the fragrant flow she was still letting out, in spite of herself (which had earned her some surprised glares from some mammals with strong nostrils that they had met along the way).

"Find me a rock which I could hide myself under…" she grumbled, holding her head on both paws, her eyes wide with panic, and her ears down on her back. She was mortified by shame. "I now understand why we're living inside damn burrows…"

"Don't make a whole fuss, Carrots. Every mammals has to deal with their instincts..."

"Everyone but you, I guess. How can you be so calm after what happened?" she protested in a small voice, unable to contain the passion that the situation had awakened in her.

"Did you seriously believe I was quiet back there?" he asked, in the same tone of a hot-tempered but muffled voice.

She merely looked at him with disarming eyes, which compelled him to return to a more relaxed attitude. He breathed a heavy sigh to help clear his mind. But Judy was still caught by the fever of the moment, and was affected by a new shiver.

"Nick... What are we gonna do? I mean... Let's stop turning around, okay? I'm tired of this little flirting game because...because for me, things are clear! I think it's obvious, right? I want to be with you. You…you do realize it, don't you?"

She breathed a sigh before leaning forward to whisper the rest of her sentence, making sure no one would hear her. "I desire you so get that, right?"

"It's your body speaking, Carrots. We shall resume this conversation once you'll recover your mind."

The rabbit uttered a frustrated groan at his reply, which the fox had pronounced in a impassive tone. Defeated, she let her face heavily fall against the surface of the table, and remained motionless for a long time until the waiter, a bear wearing a navy apron and a sailor beret on top of his head, came next to them.

"Welcome to the Starbear Coffee Shop. My name is Martin, and I will be your server tod-…"

The mammal named Martin froze, looking at the rabbit, whose head was still dropped on the table. He cleared his throat before leaning toward the fox, whispering in his ear. "If she's drunk, we have a few things that will put her back on her legs...however, I would rather not have her start vomiting everywhere, if it's not too much trouble warning you."

Judy raised her head, her excellent hearing allowing her to grasp each of these supposedly discrete words. "I'm not drunk," she declared in a humorous tone. "I'm just in love with a mammal who'd rather torture me for a reason that I don't understand."

"What may be even worse!" Nick added in a joke tone, which earned him an angry look from Judy.

This exchange at least had the merit of making the waiter smile, before he shook his head. "Oh, we've got everything you need for that, Miss. What would you like?"

"In all honesty, what would please me at this moment is not in your menu." Judy answered while looking at Nick, who didn't know how to react. "But I will nonetheless take a ginger tea..."

"No, Carrots. No ginger for you. Chamomile, it will be perfect."

The bunny pinched her lips before sighing, and eventually nodded in spite of herself. "Do as the fox said," she finally declared to the attention of the waiter. "And add a double vanilla-carrot milkshake, with extra whipped cream and chocolate sauce...and a big cookie biggest you have in stock...please..."

Martin took note of everything before turning to Nick, who remained stunned for a moment. " And for you sir?"

"Uh...a cafe, with extra cream." He mumbled.

"Good," the waiter replied with a smile. "I'll bring your order as soon as possible."

Once Martin walked away, Nick looked dumbfounded at Judy, who had fallen back to the bottom of her seat, and looked at him severely, her arms crossed on her chest.

" gonna eat all these things?" Nick asked.

"I need to compensate since you seem to enjoy prolonging my anguish," she answered abruptly.

Nick grimaced at her reply, and Judy fully noticed his reaction. If she was delighted from it for a few moments, soon her rejoicing gave way to some form of guilt. She didn't understand what was happening to her. Her irrepressible desire, which she could not satisfy in any way, was turning into a form of aggression, of which she would never have thought herself capable of. But letting her mood express itself so openly wasn't a good thing. Nick didn't deserve to be treated like this, and she was making a pitiful spectacle of herself in public. The fact that she was becoming aware of it was undoubtedly a sign that her emotional senses finally calmed down and that her mind was going back to normal. Instinct and animal impulses were decidedly a difficult deal to bear with, even for the most civilized mammals.

"Sorry…" she finally said, covering her eyes with her paw. "I don't know what is happening to me... I've never felt something like that before, so I don't know how to handle this..."

"It's nothing, Carrots. I'm at fault too… I've pushed things a bit too far. But it was not my I owe you an apology too."

Judy nodded and chuckled, before feeling one last shiver as she remembered the ecstasy she had felt when her friend's lips had met hers.

"I now understand why you told me that it would be better for us to wait. You suspected I had no experience in romantic relationship, right?" she shyly asked.

"As incredible as it sounds, I'm not that much experienced either. I suppose that in order to explore the meaning of all this, we must be careful and patient. Okay?"

The bunny nodded again. Nick was surely right. The proof of this was the conduct she had just shown. Judy had experienced some relationships during her life. Three, to be precise, but none of them had pushed her to do such things, nor to lose control of her emotions and senses. Especially not to the point of making her wish for more than a simple hug, to the point that the desire was growing so much that it could be the cause of some form of suffering for the doe.

For Nick, who had never dedicated himself to any of the few relationships he had experienced, the problem was different. He was afraid of doing something wrong, of deceiving himself, and to hurt the one he loved. Rather than taking such a risk, he preferred to consider each parameter, and make the right decisions even if it took much more time. In the long run, such a reasonable course of action might be detrimental to him, but the precipitation that seemed to characterize Judy's temperament seemed equally dangerous, even though it was attractive, intriguing and exciting.

"So... Let's change the subject for now, if you don't mind…" Judy said. "Let's go back to the beginning of this conversation before you find a clever trick to get away from the subject that interested me at first. I wanted to know what were your studies, and you managed to talk about something else. But I'm not letting it go, Nicholas Wilde." Judy stared deeply into his eyes. "Where did you go to school?"

The fox heaved a sigh. After everything that had happened between them, he owed her a proper answer. "I was in Admiral Grandfleuve High School."

"What? Do you have a political science degree?" Judy exclaimed while opening her eyes wide.

"That's not all...I have a master's degree in Applied Political Science."

The bunny couldn't get over it. If there was one curriculum in which she wouldn't have imagined Nicholas Wilde, it was the political sector.

" wanted to go into politics? Did you have that ambition? You went so far in your curriculum and there was no result?"

"My father wanted me to do something with my life. He did not leave me a choice. He said 'choose between this and that.' So I chose 'that'. Without conviction, of course, but it didn't really bothered me either, since he was taking everything in charge anyway. To be honest, there was even a moment when I liked it. But a fox in politics is like a rabbit in the police, it's not looked highly upon and I didn't have as much determination and stubbornness as you. So, I didn't try to go all the way, and I gave up."

"It's a shame...but maybe it's not too late!" Judy continued with eagerness, suddenly finding this option attractive, although she had difficulty imagining her friend in that particular field.

"Oh no. No thanks! When you are trained in the political world, you quickly understand, by reading between the lines, what is the true face of the profession. Even if I had to rip people off, I'd rather do it directly on the street, rather than behind a podium."

"And here again comes back Nick's Wilde eternal cynicism," the rabbit commented while rolling her eyes.

"It's true that Leodore Lionheart, Dawn Bellwether and Carter Spitfar are well-known models of integrity and dedication, right? You know what they have in common, besides being sharks ready to do anything to reach power and keep it for themselves? They are all politicians. I don't want to be part of that world, Carrots. Never."

Nick's sincere passion finally convinced the rabbit that it would be better to not push the fox in that direction. She understood his opinion, but she wasn't sharing it. She didn't think that every politicians were wicked...but it remained true that all those she had been confronted with until now had not offered her the best image.

"Besides…" the fox went on "I have another job waiting for me. And this one, I really want to do."

Judy raised her ears on hearing this, all her attention now focused on Nick. While the fox was going to clarify his statement, the waiter came back with their orders. The rabbit rolled her eyes at this new intervention, which was slowing down the revelation that Nick had to make. She controlled herself and behaved, politely thanking Martin, who placed before her the integral (and colossal) order. Once he left them alone again, wishing them a bon appetit, Judy leaned forward, staring intently at Nick. But the fox enjoyed himself by torturing her a bit more, gently stirring his coffee before bringing it to his lips to took a sip.

"Are you gonna make me wait any longer?" Judy asked impatiently.

"I will not say anything until you finish this huge milkshake and this gigantic cookie." Nick said with a provocative smile on his muzzle.

Judy frowned and let her ears fall behind her back. The last time he had seen her in such a high level of frustration was back when he had brought her to the DMZ for her to discover the happiness of the administrative department run by Flash the sloth.

"Alright Alright," he finally declared after a few more seconds. Judy's attention woke up again, as she sat upright in her chair, ready to hang on every word. Nick cleared his throat, looking for what to say. "I think there has been enough seems that you'll have to bear with me for quite a long time, Carrots. Because Bogo signed my request for assignment right before my eyes."

Judy couldn't repress a cry of intense joy at the news, which drew all the clientele attention. But she didn't care to make a spectacle of herself, since the relief she was feeling at this moment was so intense. If the previous events hadn't happened, she would have leapt towards Nick to kiss him eagerly. But she preferred to contain herself, because she no longer trusted her own instinctive reactions. She didn't want to make them both have a new, embarrassing moment.

"I can't believe it…" she mumbled in an ever-widening smile.

"Well, for someone who puts trust at such a level of importance, you cannot say that you had such high hopes regarding this," Nick replied in a voice feigning sadness.

"Oh, please, Nick! Don't be so emotional." She winked at him before having another nervous chuckle. "It's just that I'm wondering how you convinced Bogo, because he must have been so furious after what happened..."

"Not that much, in the end. The chief was rather cool, to be honest…and much to my surprise. But I'm not going to deny it, I wasn't feeling so over-confident."

"Yea…it's Bogo, after all."

Judy had learned to deal with this massive and implacable figure of authority, to whom she acknowledged and respected his exemplary integrity and great qualities, but remained careful about his severity and implacable rectitude. Even with his best officers, Bogo was firm and rough when the situation required it. He was the very incarnation of justice: impartial and uncompromising. Better not be in his sights, she had found out the hard way.

"So what did you say? You managed to make him understand that giving you one chance was the best thing to do?"

"I just told him why I wanted to do this job... I guess it must have been enough for his liking," Nick replied in an openly evasive way.

"Oh no, Nick Wilde. You will not get away with just that," Judy said while straightening her forefinger. With the other paw, she grabbed her giant milk-shake, and sank the straw into her mouth before sucking a copious swig. After which she let out a pleased sigh, enjoying the drink quality.

"It is good?" Nick asked, hoping to divert the conversation.

"Delicious. But not as much as your stratagems to dodge the question. What did you tell him, exactly?"

She was now scrutinizing him intensely over the mountain of whipped cream that covered the dessert she tasted with delight. Nick knew very well that he would not get out of it, and took a few seconds to find the right words. What was the point in playing around, after all? Judy had the right to know the role she had played in his decision-making.

"I told him that... Listen, matter what I told him, it doesn't matter. What really counts is that I realized by myself that becoming a cop was probably the best thing to do for me. That there was something in this profession that really matched me. Perhaps because I could testify through this job all the qualities that are mine, even those that have allowed me to survive until today at the expense of others? I don't know, really...

But what is certain is that I want to fight for a better world. So that other mammals will not have to live all what I have experienced, nor suffer from the disappointments that have been mine. I think that I have always been seeking for justice, only I have tried to do it the wrong way. Whether it was because I mistook it with revenge, or because I thought I was not worthy of it."

Judy had remained motionless when hearing those words, with the straw of her milkshake between her teeth. She had listened in amazement Nick's explanations, which she found much deeper than what she had expected. Clearly, the fox had really considered the pros and cons of his decision-making, and this candidature was not the result of a whim but a sincere and complete reflection. The following part of the speech might touch her even more, but she was yet unaware of it.

"Besides...there's you, Carrots. Not only because you made me want to team up with you, for the better and for the worse...but because you were the first mammal to give me full confidence, apart from the few members of my family with whom I'm still in touch. Although I can't even claim with certainty that they truly trust me. I came back for me! I don't know if you realize how much that meant to me! You came back to look for me, to confess your faults, to apologize. You made me understand that I was special for you, that you needed me. Do you think anyone has ever granted me so much importance in my life?"

He let out a cynical chuckle while shaking his head, almost as if he himself couldn't believe the observation he was doing.

"Inevitably, I ended up interested by your vision of the world. How could a mammal as honest, positive, sensible as you waste her time with scum of my kind? How could she believe in me? Thinking that I could make the world a better place? I understood that it was not some sort of magic, not something special, not even a rare or precious thing... That I, too, could do this, if I wanted to. We could all do it, if we give ourselves the means to succeed. Everyone, you see? Even with our medium, one can help change the world, by a gesture, a word, a decision. If I can inspire and defend this truth by putting myself at the service of society, rather than tearing it apart, I am more than proud to change sides, Carrots. I join yours, without hesitation."

Stupid emotionalism, Judy thought, who could not repress a few tears at what Nick had just declared. No cynicism barrier, no jokes, no short ways in his remarks. Just a pure, hardly contained honesty, which he had tried to express with as much clarity as possible, because at this moment, he thought that she deserved it...and that he deserved it too. He had the right to be proud of his choice and the decision he had made. For it was real, sincere, and full of integrity.

Ears still down her back, and eyes still wet with tears, Judy stretched out her paw to join Nick's, placed across the table. She gently squeezed it, trying to convey to him all the pride, love, and joy she was feeling in this moment of pure happiness. Nick smiled at her, visibly touched. They didn't say a word, and the silence they shared was worthy of every possible speech. A mute promise was being made between them, of which nothing could ever break.