Trying something new – new fanfic entirely, probably about eight chapters long, starting with Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde dating other people and ending… well, I guess we'll know by the end of it, eh?
I've been enjoying doing some of these one-shot fics based around romance(ish) and decided to try one that lasted more than one chapter!
Hoping it ain't the worst.
Thanks for reading, anyway!
A Million Ways YFWE
He caught her staring off into space again.
Normally this did not affect Nick Wilde in any way, but he noticed she had been doing it a lot more lately when they were together. Never while driving, thankfully, but certainly when she was in the passenger seat of their cruiser as they undertook another routine patrol here or there in the city.
It did not seem to happen at any other time. Judy Hopps was her usual bubbly, go-getter self at work, slowly but surely gaining the respect of her fellow officers at the Zootopia Police Department and rising to the point where an eventual promotion seemed assured sometime down the line. Outside of her job, she appeared enraptured by her various hobbies, by time spent with friends and family, Nick of course included.
To that point, he could not recall an instance in which, while they were out with mutual pals, she ever seemed like anyone other than… well, Judy. Business as usual: that same barked laugh, an exuberant grin rather than a toothy smile, an interest in the affairs of others that seemed genuine rather than rehearsed.
"So, remind me, Crevasse Street… what address? Somewhere in the 300 block?"
"Hm? Oh, yeah, 335 Crevasse. It's next to a Snarlbucks." She shot him a side-eyed glance he barely saw since he was driving. "Don't get any ideas."
"Is that all I am to you? Some coffee addict who can't go two hours on the job without some? I'm almost offended, Fluff."
And anyway, there was that. Nick, frankly, had not forgotten the address; he simply used the question as a way to shake the bunny from her daydream. And just as he expected, whenever he got his partner to talk, everything was back to normal. No distance, no barrier between them. Normalcy.
So the fox figured a little silence here and there was nothing to fret over, if Judy seemed to slide in and out of it with such ease. His mind was probably alerting him to little things that had been there all along, rather than warning signs that perhaps their friendship had grown stale, that something had happened to drive some sort of wedge between them, an immovable, invisible object he could not budge.
Perhaps she was just, you know, tired these days.
Nick wheeled the cruiser onto Crevasse Street, turning daintily since they were, after all, entering Tundratown, an icy playground that held the distinction of the most car accidents by borough in Zootopia. These were mostly out-of-towners or drivers from other districts who were not used to the slick conditions the area often held, especially in the far-reaching corridors like Avalanche Avenue, where whiteout conditions were a norm.
Both Nick and Judy were experienced drivers in the city enough by now to know how best to approach the streets and thoroughfares of each area of the city, with a particular emphasis in Tundratown on slow-and-steady driving. Nick always dreaded the idea of a high-speed chase in this part of town, but he counted himself lucky to have avoided one thus far.
They passed the mouth of a street fair that usually took place on the weekends, a mostly craft-dispensing market that occupied the narrowest bit of Snowcastle Way. Judy peered in, nodding quietly to herself once she had a clear view within the overhanging roofs of each booth.
"We should stop in later. We always say we're going to," she said, her face still turned away from Nick.
The fox shrugged once, maintaining his gaze on the road. "If you want."
"They have coffee."
She turned back toward him, their cruiser having now passed Snowcastle Way entirely, the market slowly becoming smaller in their rearview mirrors. "You want to go to Snarlbucks, don't you?"
"Is there an echo in here, because—"
"Nope, I know that look," Judy wagged a paw tauntingly, smirking at the fox. "You're hoping I'll forget I mentioned the market because you'd rather get coffee next door."
"Do not," he huffed.
Did too. She was right. He just was not planning on admitting it anytime soon.
To Nick's relief, there was street-side parking available, certainly not a given since it was the weekend and the market was going on a few blocks away. He pulled the cruiser into a space across the street from their destination, silenced the motor and glanced over at the rabbit, who was already unclicking her seatbelt.
"So, who's good cop and who's bad today?" Nick asked, unbuckling his own restraint.
Judy shrugged. "Don't think either of us need to be, really."
"Aw. You sure? I've been practicing my hardened, stoic expressions in the mirror for weeks."
She shot him an unamused smirk as she checked her utility belt for all its trappings.
"Does that mean we're both the bad—"
"I just don't think we're going to need to do much of anything, if the case file was any indication." Reaching a paw for the door handle, she stopped short of opening the door and halfway turned back around. "You… read the case file, right?"
Before Nick even had a chance to open his mouth for a response, Judy wrenched open the cruiser door and hopped out. "Never mind," she said, facing away from him. "Don't even answer. I know it already."
"I resent that remark!" he called as he stepped out of the ride himself, though she was practically out of earshot by then, having darted across the street before the nearby red light curbing oncoming traffic turned back to green.
He joined her shortly afterward, once traffic passed. She was parked outside a bodega a few doors down from 335 Crevasse, a paw resting against her tranq shooter.
"Keep alongside me," announced Judy, averting her gaze toward the target. "You shoot when he runs."
"Yeah, sure, I can – wait, when?"
"Cheese and crackers, Nick, please read the case file next time."
A polar bear was exiting the store as they arrived, a bell affixed to the doorframe jingling as he pushed outside carrying a box that seemed to contain a portable television set. Judy ducked inside, Nick in close pursuit, figuring that getting inside without setting off said bell would work to their advantage.
Sure enough, the ermine behind the counter had not seen them come in. His back was to them, fumbling with something on a cropped-out ledge on his side of the counter. Nick glanced around, taking in the sight of dozens of mostly used electronics stowed haphazardly onto shelves that had seen better days.
After a few moments, Judy cleared her throat, causing the ermine to turn around after jumping slightly.
"Mr. Stoutsky?" the rabbit intoned, plastering a friendly, confident smile onto her face. "Judy Hopps, ZPD. May we – Nick, now!"
"Agh!" Nick juggled his own tranq gun in his paws, struggling to get a handle on the weapon as the ermine turned and dashed toward an open door that led to a back room.
He eventually got a shot off, but Stoutsky was already out of sight into the next room. The dart bounced off the left side of the doorframe.
"Crap!" cursed Judy, leaping up and pulling herself onto the counter, which stretched the length of that side of the store. "Nick, I told you to be ready!"
"OK, but I didn't think the guy was gonna be so jumpy," protested the fox, following suit with a huff as his stomach connected with the edge of the counter.
"Read. The. Case. File."
He hardly understood how doing so would have allowed him to take down a fleeing criminal with ease, but he decided to hound Judy over that minor detail later. He barely saw her tail disappearing into the room as he finally cleared the counter.
Stoutsky's path of escape was utterly clichéd, Nick decided. The doorway led into a smaller storage room, with cellar stairs at its edge. It was even darker downstairs, and grimier, a subterranean cave of sorts that led to who-knew-where.
"I've got a visual!" called Judy a few paces ahead. Nick squinted into the darkness ahead of them, eventually finding the fleeing figure of the ermine, desperately ducking around corners and tossing any debris he could find into their path.
"Barrel!" Nick shouted, pointing ahead as Stoutsky pushed over a decently large wooden barrel from its position along the wall of the tunnel, sending it toppling toward Judy. The ancient-looking object seemed as though it might splinter upon impact with the stone ground, but it held its shape as it rattled down the path.
There was an assurance with which Judy leapt over the barrel, transcending it like a vault in the gym, using her front paws to prop her up while throwing her legs around and over. She barely lost a step in the process, landing on one paw but quickly assimilating back into her usual gait, which had been allowing her to gain on the ermine by the second – a fact of which he seemed all too aware.
Nick took a different route, edging by the barrel on its right as it skidded past him. "Hah!" he shouted triumphantly, looking back at the wooden object as it rolled to a halt a little ways away. "Can't stop us that easily!"
He still dodged the next barrel that had been toppled over, but only barely.
"Why do they even have this many barrels down here?!" he cried once he regained his composure, squinting into the darkness to find Judy and their target.
"Nick, it's getting darker!"
"You honestly think I don't notice that?"
"Take a shot!" ordered Judy. "I can't see him well enough anymore. This might be our last chance!"
She had a point. If they were heading the way Nick had a feeling they were heading, soon they would be within the clandestine caves beneath Zootopia, where he had a feeling Stoutsky had far more of a lay of the land than Nick and especially Judy. Which was probably his goal; get down there, lose the fuzz.
Whipping a paw to his utility belt, Nick drew his gun and squinted again, trying to pinpoint the ermine's location as he continued to sprint through the underground tunnel. He realized he would have to quit running if he was to get off a shot that would not go completely awry; he had not quite mastered the art of attaining a steady shot while in motion just yet.
"Carrots, duck!" he shouted at last, skidding to a halt himself against the stone of the tunnel. Judy obeyed, rolling to the ground and landing on her side, still facing down the ever-darkening path. Nick found his mark, still scrambling down the conduit, and fired one shot.
He was thankful for the ZPD's recent investment in longer-range guns, because he would never have been able to make the shot just months prior. But this one found its mark, a fact both Nick and Judy only realized when they heard a sharp exhalation of breath, followed by a thump farther down the tunnel.
Slowing their pace so as to catch their breath from the brief but rapid chase, they eventually found the ermine, zonked out due to the tranquilizer's effects, the dart sticking out of the right shoulder blade of his black leather jacket.
"Huh," Judy hummed.
"Yes?" Nick cocked his head, his sentences as short as his breath.
"Your shots usually skew left. I'm just surprised is all."
Rolling his eyes, Nick knelt down to carefully detach the dart from their target's back. "I hit a pretty impressive shot in almost total darkness and all you can talk about is how my aim was different than usual?"
"You don't find that interesting?" the rabbit tapped her foot as she glanced back down the path from which they had come.
"…somehow I don't think we get the same things out of this job, Fluff." He dropped the dart into a small plastic bag and stowed it away. "You wanna call this one in?"
"Once we get outside," she said. "I don't know if the signal reaches down here."
"I'll bet it does…"
Nick reached to his belt and gripped his walkie-talkie, holding it close to his snout.
"Yo, Ben. How's it hanging?"
"Nick! You sound a little distant. Everything cool? Where are you?" Benjamin Clawhauser's voice crackled from the other end.
Shooting Judy a triumphant grin, Nick shrugged. "Eh. You've probably never heard of it. It's super underground."
"You really had to reach for that one," Judy muttered.
"Don't shush genius, Carrots. Hey, Ben, got us a conked-out catnip deal on Crevasse. Booking him shortly. Let Dad know, please."
"Ah, you caught him! Roger that, see you soon."
"How do you think your real dad would react to you calling Chief Bogo that?" asked Judy, standing after having thrust Stoutsky's paws into cuffs behind his back.
"I'd have to see him in order to find out."
"I take it the last few postcards didn't go through."
The two mammals leaned down, lifting up the ermine by either arm and, slowly, began dragging out of the tunnel beneath the electronics store, his back paws dragging against the ground.
"I think once I take Work Dad's job, he might talk to me again," the fox said with a grunt.
"Not if I beat you to it," countered Judy smartly, shooting her partner a taunting look.
"If you want to beat me there, I guess you'll just have to… I dunno… I do all the paperwork for this arrest?"
He could feel her gaze burning onto the side of his face, but he barely minded.
"Hey, hey now, I thought you wanted to be the best, my bad."
"Just… cheese and crackers, Nick, pull your weight a little more here; this guy's bigger than I am, yet I'm doing most of the work," she protested.
"What are you talking about? I'm pulling just fine."
"First the case file, now this? You're lucky we're friends and I happen to like working with you, otherwise I'd think maybe I was pulling you to the top."
"Again with the case file! That's what I have you for, remember? To… read things."
Rolling her eyes, Judy shot him an annoyed glare. "Yeah, but if you'd read, you'd have seen that Stoutsky was likely to run pretty much the moment we started interrogating him, meaning you needed to be ready to either shoot or give chase right away."
"Oh. Ohhhh. Well, why didn't you just say so going in?"
He glanced ahead momentarily, seeing the staircase that led into the back room of the store slowly approaching. He then swiveled his head back toward Judy.
"So… really, though. Is it your turn to do the paperwork or mine?"
It had been Nick's turn, but he ended up not minding too much; the process ended up being a breeze.
After all, Mark Stoutsky was just the final piece of a puzzle Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps had been cracking for a few months. Though synthetic catnip smuggling and distribution was down in Zootopia, there were still a few channels in Tundratown especially that represented the old guard of the drug trade to some extent, a bygone era of drug peddling that Bogo had mostly destroyed once he became chief of police.
Well, had been a few channels. Those were mostly closed, there had been a trickle of activity the ZPD had never quite been able to pinpoint, until Nick and Judy finally sniffed out a long-concealed clue that led them to Crevasse Street Electronics and Stoutsky, the last kingpin of a dying market. Chances were his lackeys might keep things going if they could manage it, but it would be a tall order indeed without Stoutsky on the scene. Both cops felt fairly certain they would clamp down completely on the final vestige in the coming weeks.
Bogo was understandably pleased at the breakthrough, so much so that he allowed both officers to take the rest of the afternoon off once the paperwork was filed and Stoutsky was booked. Normally Nick would have taken him up on the offer without so much as a split second's hesitation, but he decided he had one last stop he wanted to make with their station-issued cruiser, provided Judy was up for another round trip.
Which led them back to a certain market they had passed earlier.
"Not as good as what Finnick and I used to make, but I'll take it," observed Nick, licking his popsicle stick dry with his long tongue.
"You mean Jumbeaux's, right?" Judy, still in the midst of her icy treat, a gourmet popsicle from a stand that offered artisanal flavors like strawberry mint (Nick's choice) and banana nut (Judy's), rebutted. "Theirs was the actual flavor."
"Yeah, but without us you missed out on the slight metallic taste of roof gutter, which," he put a paw into the air and kissed it lightly, "really introduced a symphony of tastes, I think you'll agree."
"It really is a wonder you didn't kill anyone."
"Who says we didn—I mean, how dare you speak ill of my life's work?"
By that time of the day, the street fair was winding down; it was not a nighttime affair, instead limited to daylight hours. There was a similar market in the Rainforest District that operated conversely on a night schedule after the sun went down, a hotbed for cheap street food and, if you knew where to look, illicit firecrackers. But that would be a trip for another time.
Nick tossed his stick into a nearby trash can, rubbing his paws together afterward. "Eat faster," he whined, glancing at Judy with faux heartache. "I want to try something else before the end of our shift."
"Like you need anything else," the rabbit laughed, eyes set on Nick's stomach. She patted it a few times as they walked, catching the fox off guard.
"Ah! Jeez! Not the six-pack!"
"I'm actually surprised, Slick," commented Judy with a hint of genuine amazement, retracting her paw. "Way less soft than I remember it."
"It's what happens when you actually pay attention to your diet."
"And work a full-time job as a cop."
"And work a full-time job as a c—wait, that definitely doesn't explain about half our precinct."
Judy shot him a side-eyed glance. "OK. Work as a cop with me."
She paused as she tossed her own stick into a trash bin, and when she turned back around, her line of sight was level with his stomach yet again.
"No, really, I could eat sushi off this thing."
"Lewd, Officer Hopps. Don't make me report you to HR."
"Oh, you like it."
"Sure, but don't tell—"
He was not able to finish his sentence because Judy had already run off toward a table selling various knickknacks. Chuckling quietly to himself, Nick followed. The bunny nearly smacked him in the face with the object she was holding as she spun back around.
"Ni—oh, there you are! Look!" she stated proudly, wagging the globe she held in her paw.
Nick observed it for a few moments, the scene within the globe obscured by the hundreds of tiny white specks that made it a snow globe. Once it settled after Judy stopped shaking her paw, he realized what it represented: the skyline of downtown Zootopia, covered in a snowy blanket.
"Nice detail on this thing," he remarked, noticing the tent's owner grin slightly to herself at his compliment. "In fact, is that a scintillating affair I see going on through the window of the executive suite at the Palm?"
"No. Well, maybe, I didn't look," Judy said, pulling the globe closer to her. "This is just like the globe I had when I was a kid, when my family visited Zootopia on a family trip. It… it broke. A while ago."
She turned the globe over in her paw, admiring the craftwork, seemingly searching for other little features that might remind her of her former keepsake.
"I've been making them for years," the cougar vendor spoke up with a calm, cool tone. "And my mother before me. Chances are you found some our handiwork back then."
"Wow, so this is it," the bunny murmured, turning the globe upside down and right side up again, allowing the little flakes to engulf the city yet again.
As the cougar sauntered away to help another customer, Nick glanced around for a price. "Cost isn't too steep," he noted once he found the piece of paper plastered onto the front of the table that held the globes. "You should get one to replace the old one."
"Maybe some other time," Judy said with a sigh, setting the trinket back down onto the table. "Cash only here, and I haven't been to the bank in a few days so I used the last of my cash at the popsicle stand."
"Eh, then I'll get it," the fox offered, reaching into his pocket for his wallet.
"Oh, Nick, you don't have to—"
"I know," he said, looking up and smiling, the pair locking eyes momentarily. "But I wanna anyway."
Refusing to accept another objection – how long would it be before either of them were in Tundratown for the market, after all? – Nick snatched the snow globe from the table and walked off to pay for it, catching Judy's eye as she walked by. She returned a thankful smile, closing her mouth and swallowing any further protest.
He really did not mind it, anyway. It was cheap, all things considered, especially for the clear amount of work that went into its detail. And besides, they were buying each other's lunch and paying the other back for things all the time. The scale was probably tipped in Judy's direction at that point anyway.
When he returned, Judy's nose was in her phone, texting feverishly.
"Whoa, slow down, bunny," laughed Nick, clutching the small paper bag into which the shop owner had slid the globe tightly in one paw. "Gonna set the phone on fire if you text any faster."
"Sorry," Judy apologized, finishing her message before sliding her phone into her pocket. "You know I don't like having my phone out on the job."
"Ah, c'mon. Shift's almost over."
"Yeah, speaking of that…" Judy's gaze met the ground for a few moments before returning to Nick, a sheepish smile upon her face. "You… mind if I head out a few minutes early and you take the cruiser back to the precinct, actually?"
"I… could," Nick said after a pause. "What's up?"
"Oh, nothing bad. Good, actually, I… guess? Jack was able to snag us a table at The Thaw tonight somehow. Probably some discount at work for restaurant week."
"The Thaw. Nice."
"Yeah, but I guess he could only get in if we went, like, right at 5. Which…" she checked her watch, "means I'd need to leave, like, now. He's bringing me a change of clothes from home and meeting me at some friend's house nearby. Actually, you know them – remember Wilma, the hare who was at the same bar as Bogo's birthday a few months ago?"
"Real firecracker," Nick commented, smirking.
"She's nice, she's nice. So…" she glanced up at Nick with a pleading look, "do you mind?"
After a beat, Nick smiled. "Nah. You go ahead. Tell me how that place is. Kristen's been talking my ear off about wanting to go sometime."
Shooting Nick a toothy grin, Judy hugged the fox briefly, wrapping her arms around his midsection. Nick splayed his arms out to the side so she would not break a second snow globe of Zootopia's skyline in her lifetime.
"Thanks again," she said, separating herself from the fox's body and stepping back a few paces. "I owe ya one. Seriously."
"Who am I to get in the way of Judy Hopps and fine dining?" the fox asked with a shrug. "Don't forget this, though," he added, wagging the bag that held the snow globe.
"Oh! Right!" She stepped forward, taking the paper bag from Nick's paws. "Jeez. I'm really behind now, aren't I?"
"Get me a coffee tomorrow."
"Fine. You choose."
Nick laughed, giving her a thumbs-up. "I'll accept it. Enjoy your night!"
"Thanks! Maybe if this place is good enough, we can double date sometime."
"That'd be fun. I'll have my people call your people."
"Of course. See ya, partner!"
The fox watched her disappear back down the narrow thoroughfare, giving a small wave of his paw as she departed. It was only when she was gone that he frowned, fishing the keys to the cruiser out of his pocket. He bumped his phone in the process, pulling it out for good measure.
He had a text waiting from Kristen – something about dinner later – but he decided it could wait a bit.