Chapter 13—The World Spins Madly On
A/N: Another deadline slayed! :D I love this feeling! Success is addictive!
And if you're wondering, my little family vacation was wonderful and just what we needed. To slightly alter a quote by the great Eugene Fitzherbert, "Wow. I could get used to a view like this. Hold on. Yep, I'm used to it. Guys, I want a cabin."
Seriously, I do.
So those of you reading this story on eff eff dot net won't see the song lyrics, but I post some with every chapter on AO3. The lyrics are supposed to capture the mood or significance of an entire chapter, or at least a specific part in it.
The lyrics that go with this chapter are an excerpt from "World Spins Madly On," written and performed by The Weepies. It's an absolutely breathtaking song that I adore, but its beauty is further enhanced with the music video "Thought of You," put together by Ryan Woodward. I must insist that you Google the video and drink in its splendor before reading this chapter. Art like that needs to be appreciated.
Once again, infinite thanks to my dear friends, Libious and Camoss, who reviewed the chapter right away and made some crucial suggestions. They always keep my fragile ego intact when I start questioning myself. You're both so fantastic. :)
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 5:12 a.m.
In the semi-darkness of early sunrise, the concealed face and ears of a fennec fox lit a laptop screen. Before it sat Dawn Bellwether, wrapped in a plush pink bathrobe, leaning against a wall of ruffled floral pillows, glaring. Within the split in her hoof, she held the stem of a wine glass filled with fresh mimosa. She was starting early today.
The fennec's words stung her ears. Although the quality of the cell phone footage from the cute little pro-pred food drive was nothing to admire, his message was clear enough.
Prey were the true enemies, he said.
With his sharp teeth, his claws, and his DNA slaked and tainted in thousands of years' worth of ancestral bloodlust, the little fennec said that prey were the true enemies.
He'd implied that muzzles and shock collars were unreasonable and oppressive. With his body evolved to be a weapon against smaller herbivores, he'd acted like prey looking out for their own safety was such an egregious and unforgivable offense.
He'd suggested that predators shouldn't be living in poverty and stuck in mostly to low-paying positions. As if any creature literally created to kill should be allowed in the higher circles of society.
He'd cited examples of murderous prey. Prey who would obviously never be driven to such atrocities if it weren't for the influence of predators being normalized in mammal communities around the world.
For a while after the video ended and the laptop went to sleep, Dawn glowered at it. Then she grabbed her cell phone from her nightstand and dialed a number.
A familiar voice that managed to be both surly and monotone at once soon answered. "What?"
"Morning, Doug," Dawn greeted. "What do you know about the Predators for Harmony Association?"
After blowing a long, obnoxious sigh right into the receiver, Doug answered as straightforwardly as always. "I know they're some pro-pred rights group that keeps trying to find new ways to advocate for… you know… pred rights."
"I assume they have meetings?"
"Well, they're an advocacy group, so…"
"When do they meet?"
"Uh, I think I saw a flyer saying they meet on Tuesdays or something. Pretty sure it was Tuesdays."
Dawn nodded. "Then you have four days to make enough Night Howler serum to dart… How many predators are in the group?"
There was a pause. "You want me to dart, like, two or three dozen predators at a meeting?"
"Sorry, are your skills not quite legendary enough for such a simple task?" Dawn asked sweetly.
She could almost hear the ram pout before he replied. "It's just that it sounds dumb. It's too obvious. Targeting a pred rights group right after a disastrous food drive where a pred trash-talked prey? Turning twenty or thirty preds savage at the same time? The police will start suspecting that these attacks aren't—"
"I suppose I must have missed the part in our contract where I was paying you to give me advice," Dawn interrupted icily.
"The only reason I signed that stupid contract was because I want to see preds eliminated from society as much as you do," Doug fired back, now sounding a little more awake. "And you're about to ruin our chances."
Sipping her mimosa, Dawn shook her head. "Just make the serum. I'll figure out the rest. You're the scientist, I'm the politician."
Another sigh. "Fine, but it will have to wait. It's stupidly early. I'm going back to sleep for now."
"What if I get you coffee?"
Dawn smirked when the ram paused again.
"It better have the extra foam this time," he said.
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 7:52 a.m.
"Job abandonment, huh?" Yannis scoffed. "And after barely more than a week of work. Typical fox."
"It's not like that," Judy insisted, biting her lower lip with her buck tooth. Absentmindedly, she shuffled out of Andy's way as he hurried into the kitchen and toward the boiling soup pot. "I think something happened to him."
"Yeah, his biology happened to him," Yannis sneered. "You see now why I didn't want to give him a chance in the first place, bunny?" Shaking his head, the old goat turned back to the grill, which he'd taken over in Nick's unexpected absence. "I hope you've learned your lesson about trusting foxes."
Normally, Judy would have some snappy, crushing reply to that. This morning, however, she couldn't seem to find enough energy, as what little she had was all being poured into trying to function normally.
Truthfully, she wasn't sure what she had learned. All she knew was that the first thing she felt when she woke up that morning was debilitating regret over the things that she'd said to the Hustler, along with a new wave of fear and exhaustion when she looked at the gauze on her arm and remembered how it got there.
Then she'd been devastated to realize that Nick had left. She'd crept into his room to wake him up for work and been greeted with the sight of a stripped bed. He was simply gone, along with his duffel bag and half his clothes.
He hadn't left any notes. No texts or voicemails. He hadn't replied to any of her numerous texts or voicemails. No one from Basic Instinct had heard from him.
Frankly, at this point, she was tempted to walk off the job herself to go looking for him. But she wouldn't even know where to start, and it probably wouldn't help.
For Judy, the next hour was a blur of anxiety and distractedness. Twice, she brought someone the wrong dish by accident. More than twice, she sneaked into the office to check her cell phone, only to sink further into disappointment and worry when she saw no new messages.
Then she noticed a familiar face walk into the restaurant. Unfortunately, it wasn't the face of a fox, but rather an otter.
"Olivia?" she inquired, pausing in front of the customer on her way to bringing clean silverware to a newly empty table.
The otter blinked and stared at Judy for a moment before she smiled warmly with recognition, though her eyes still looked as exhausted as the first time they'd met. "Judy!"
She stepped forward to wrap the bunny in a hug. After what the last twelve hours had been like for Judy, she almost cried as she relaxed into it.
"How are you?" Olivia asked as she pulled away.
"Um, well," Judy hesitated as she guided the otter to the table that she had just cleaned, setting the silverware in front of her. "I've been better, to be honest."
"What happened?" Olivia queried as she settled herself into the seat.
Judy sighed. "I… I think my roommate moved out this morning without telling me why, and he won't answer my calls or texts," she said, shoulders sagging as she kept her gaze fixed on a little scratch in the table so that it wouldn't be obvious that she was trying to contain the moisture that was gathering in her eyes. "He's my best friend. I have no idea what's going on, and I'm so worried—"
She was cut off by her own unexpected sob. Tears suddenly streamed down her cheeks. It suddenly seemed like too much effort to stand, her knees starting to buckle despite how hard she tried to stay upright.
Immediately, Olivia was on her feet again, holding the bunny in her arms. Customers and staff alike were staring, but Judy just focused on clutching the otter's clothes while her body gasped and cried uncontrollably.
After a few minutes like this, one of the other waitresses gently patted Judy on the shoulder and told her that Yannis said she could have a fifteen-minute break. Nodding gratefully, Judy let Olivia lead her into the booth seat with her.
"I don't suppose you're talking about that fox who used to cook here?" Olivia inquired. "You two seemed close."
Judy gave her a single miserable nod.
"Do you know of any places where he especially likes to hang out?" the otter softly prodded. "Maybe you can check there after work."
Shrugging and wiping tear residue from her face, Judy answered, "I'm not sure. He showed me a few nice places in the city, but he didn't mention whether he frequently hangs out at any of them."
"Well," Olivia paused and sighed, "maybe he just needs space for a little while. He might come back."
"I don't know," Judy's voice cracked as she fought to keep from dissolving into sobs again. She leaned her head on the otter's shoulder. "I don't think I know anything anymore."
Olivia rested her cheek on the top of Judy's head. "Well, I think I know at least one thing. Miracles can happen." She brought an arm around Judy's shoulder and squeezed it. "Did you know that my Emmet is one of the mammals who went savage and got locked up in that old hospital?"
Despite the circumstances, Judy smirked faintly. "You don't say?"
"Mmhmm," Olivia hummed. "And even though we're not sure why he's savage or whether there's a cure for him—which is my new worry—at least he was found alive. He'd been missing for so long, but he was found alive. Do you know the odds of that?" She lifted her head to angle a smile down at Judy. "So I'm hopeful." With another tight hug, she continued. "Maybe you'll get a miracle, too."
Judy smiled back. "I hope so. I really do." She grimaced as she held back the urge to cry again. "He's so important to me, Olivia."
"Then take some advice from someone who's been there," Olivia said softly. "Don't give up hope."
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 9:32 a.m.
One of Nick's ex-girlfriends from his early twenties ended their relationship by emptying his bank account and running away with someone else.
A couple years later, another one figured out that she was more interested in companionship than Nick himself, so she left him to "find herself." He hadn't seen her since.
Yet another one—an especially pretty ocelot and the only one who wasn't a vixen—broke up with him when she revealed that she had only been curious to know what it was like to date a fox, and the novelty had worn off.
Nick had been angry at each of these breakups. He'd felt betrayed and used. He'd wrestled with sadness and loneliness.
Somehow, though, the pain that he'd endured then couldn't hold a candle to what he was experiencing now.
It was like a deep cavity had been dug into his chest, leaving gaping emptiness.
He'd known those other mammals longer than he'd known her. He'd invested more time and planning into them. He'd been more intimate with them.
So why did this heartbreak hurt so much more than the others?
He had no answer to that question. Part of him whispered that he was overreacting, that he should just talk to her about this.
But the thought of trying that was unbearable. To have trusted and believed in her, to have admired her, and yet to be unsure which side of her was real—the one that trusted and believed in him, or the part that seemed just like everyone else who had always looked down on him…
He found himself ignoring every phone call that Judy made to him and every text that she sent him—because every time he saw her name or face appear, the cavity in his chest seemed to grow just a little wider.
Fortunately, he had a good reason to stop paying attention to his phone for a while.
He stood before the back doors of Finnick's van and knocked. It only took a couple seconds for the fennec to slam the door open, baseball bat in paw, yelling threateningly, "Who is it?!"
Nick didn't flinch. He met Finnick's eyes levelly. They took their time exchanging glowers.
"Not sure we have anythin' to say to each other," Finnick finally said.
"Maybe not," Nick replied. "But I do have some things to ask you."
Wordlessly, Finnick crossed his arms and leaned on one side of the doorway, glaring expectantly.
"Why exactly did you invite Killshot to the food drive?" Nick asked, balling his fists in his pockets.
"Just to scare the prey," Finnick said. "Nothin' more. I told you he wouldn't hurt anyone."
Nick eyes narrowed further. "He hurt Crossfire."
Finnick's brow quirked, but he said nothing.
"He actually tried to kill her, but she got away," Nick pressed.
"And?" Finnick said tersely.
Glancing away, Nick gave himself a moment to inhale deeply and compose himself before looking back up at the fennec. "Were you setting her up to be killed?"
"No," Finnick answered. "How was I supposed to even know she'd be there?" He shrugged. "But I can't say I'd be too sorry if he'd succeeded."
Nick shook his head at him slowly, mouth partially hanging open. "How can you say that?" Then he half-chuckled at himself. "What am I saying? I shouldn't be surprised at this point."
"You know Big's still got it out for her, right?" Finnick said. "You heard 'im. He only let her escape that one time 'cause o' what she did for Fru Fru. Thieves are still supposed to kill her on sight."
"And me?" Nick queried, squarely meeting his old friend's eyes.
Again, Finnick shrugged. "Don't think anyone but you, me, an' Duke knows you want out right now. Not sure how Big will react to that." His expression turned grimmer, which Nick hadn't known was possible. "But I wouldn't kill you, Nick. Not even if Big asked."
Nick looked away. "No," he murmured, but not bitterly. "You'll just betray me instead."
"I'm still loyal to our cause," Finnick replied. "But that doesn't mean I want you hurt."
Sighing, Nick casually drew a large wad of cash from his back pocket. "Touching," he said. Under his breath, he began counting out the bills.
As expected, Finnick frowned suspiciously. "What's all that?"
Nick didn't answer right away. Instead, he stuffed the cash back in his pocket. "Well, you got at least one thing you wanted from me," he said. "I'm looking for a new place now. Just got the money for the safety deposit this morning."
The fennec's ears perked at that as he narrowed his eyes skeptically. "Really. Wanna tell me where you got it?"
"From a very nice bobcat who was in desperate need of some tires a couple hours ago, while you were sleeping like the dead," Nick replied. Then he pointedly raised his eyebrows as he crouched to examine the underside of the van. "But speaking of tires, Finnick—golly, where are yours?"
Eyes widening, Finnick blinked, only then noticing that he wasn't as high off the ground as usual. He leapt from the van and let his jaw drop when he saw empty space where he would normally see tires.
By the time he whirled around, ready to scream with his fists clenched, the Hustler had already disappeared.
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 10:49 a.m.
"If you really understood how much trouble you're in," Chief Bogo said to the criminal sitting in front of him at Precinct One interrogation table, "I think you would've talked by now."
Martin "Killshot" Spotsberg glowered at him. Since waking up in a holding cell that morning, the hyena hadn't spoken a single word.
"Five years of activity with the Den of Thieves, labeled a domestic terrorist group," Bogo continued, slipping a tiny pair of glasses over his nose as he read from stapled sheets of paper with casually raised brows. "Seems you were climbing the ranks. Naturally, that means you have an extensive of record of armed robbery, property damage, forgery, assault, and battery—plus, you're a suspect in last year's murder of Officer Miles Vincent." He fixed Martin with a cold stare. "And now you're caught on video threatening citizens of Zootopia with an illegal lethal weapon." Tossing the sheets on the table, he folded his hooves under his chin. "Possessing an illegal gun alone can put you away for five years. Threatening other mammals with it could be an additional two. With everything else to consider, you may not come out of jail until you're too old to do anything but sit in a chair and have someone change your catheter whenever they feel like it. That's assuming you're ever let out at all." He let a few beats of silence emphasize the point. "So?"
"So I'm wondering if I'm the first mammal who isn't too scared to tell you how ugly you are," Martin sneered.
Bogo raised one sardonic brow. "You choose to break your silence with an insult that didn't even take any real imagination? How disappointing."
Frowning, Martin leaned forward slowly, keeping steady, square eye contact with Bogo. "Ever seen what a bull carcass looks like when it's skinned and hanging from a hook?" he growled. " 'Cause you're even uglier than that, and you're worth even less." He paused to wrinkle his nose in thorough disgust. "Now get me a lawyer."
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 12:31 p.m.
Taking a lazy bite out of his fish sandwich, Nick settled in his lawn chair and stared idly at the stone bridge under which he always stayed when he was between apartments. He chewed slowly, letting his mind wander toward thoughts of other bridges, other heights, standing in front of the call of the void…
But he was snapped back to the present reality when he picked up the sounds of heated words being exchanged by two mammals headed in his general direction. They were coming from behind him.
He groaned, slipping a pair of sunglasses out of his shirt pocket and sliding them onto his muzzle.
Unfortunately, he couldn't quite tune out the conversation.
"Back off!" one male voice was saying. "I wasn't even looking at you!"
"You were, too!" replied another male voice. "What, you're thinking I might go savage on you?"
At that, Nick adjusted his sunglasses to peek over the rims as he looked over his shoulder at the two mammals. One was a beaver in a button-up shirt and business slacks, while the other, a cheetah, wore a mock sports jersey and jeans. The cheetah raised his claws in a sarcastically threatening gesture. In response, the beaver took a nervous step back, though his jaw and fists were clenched.
"Just leave me alone," the beaver said. "Go back to the jungle or wherever you came from. Just leave me alone."
"Or what?" the cheetah retorted. "Or you'll bury me in some shallow grave near the dam where you came from?" He sneered. "That would be just like you prey."
The beaver's tail lashed agitatedly as he puffed his chest, moved closer, and glared fiercely up at the cheetah. "A few rotten prey mammals don't mean we're anywhere near as bad as someone with a genetic history of murder."
Glaring back, the cheetah's lip curled. "Get out of my face, prey."
"Get out of mine, predator," the beaver growled back.
And suddenly, they were shoving each other, yelling obscenities that would have gotten Nick grounded by his mother for a week when he was a child. For a moment, all he did was watch. Then, heaving a sigh, he stood and sauntered toward the fighting mammals.
"Excuse me," he said.
When both mammals ignored him, he cleared his throat and spoke louder. "Excuse me. Hello?"
Then the cheetah threw a punch at the beaver, who tumbled to the ground, clutching his bleeding nose. At that, Nick barked, "HEY!"
But when it seemed that the cheetah was about to make the best of his advantage by pouncing on the beaver, Nick rushed forward and yanked on his tail just enough to make him shriek and stumble.
He spun around and spluttered in surprise for a moment before bearing his fangs at Nick. "What—"
"Just thought you should know that my friend here," Nick took a moment to gesture at the stunned beaver, "recently got diagnosed with a pretty nasty case of malaria. It's a rare strain, transferrable by mere contact with blood."
Eyes widening, the cheetah glanced at the beaver's blood on his knuckles, then back at the beaver and fox.
"Might want to get it checked out," Nick added, nodding at a clinic barely visible in the distance.
The cheetah looked expectantly at the beaver, who blinked.
"Y… Yeah," the beaver stuttered. "It's true." He swept his eyes over Nick. "Thanks, buddy."
Once again studying the blood on his paw, the cheetah growled before whirling around and hurrying toward the clinic Nick had indicated earlier.
Meanwhile, Nick silently offered a paw to the beaver, who stood up without taking it.
Only then did Nick realize with bone-chilling shock that he recognized the beaver. Suddenly, he was eight years old again, staring into the cold eyes of a scout who would sooner muzzle than trust him, no matter what he did.
Nick's mind wrestled with contradictory instincts to yell, cry, cower, lift his claws, and go looking for a muzzle to see how a prey would like it. He kept himself still, waiting for the beaver to say something, to pin him down, maybe collar him this time...
But his old childhood bully simply regarded him with hesitant, narrow eyes, and Nick had to suppress the abrupt urge to laugh bitterly. Nothing had really changed.
Unbidden, a fresher memory replaced the images of the scout troop in his mind. Violet eyes, framed by soft gray fur, the gentle shadow of a blanket above them, the smell of cake crumbs on the floor, a small paw on his, a warm smile just for him. Words.
"You're so much more than what they decided you are."
It was a thought that she had implanted in his mind. Without his noticing, it had grown. Now, as he stood in front of someone who had instigated a turning point in his life for the worse, near a bridge where he sat after escaping the pack that he'd finally accepted was never meant to be his home—it was clear to him that she had been right after all.
Although he managed to keep his face schooled in a neutral expression, Nick blinked at the beaver. As it seemed that there was nothing more for them to say to each other, he pivoted and walked back to his chair. He sat and stared blankly at the sky.
Maybe she's more than what I decided she is, too.
For what seemed like the hundredth time that day, his phone vibrated.
Slowly, he drew it from his pocket, expecting—hoping?—to see Judy's face on the screen again. Instead, it was a group text for everyone in the Den of Thieves.
He snorted. So word hadn't traveled far enough yet to have his number removed.
Out of habit, he opened the text. A meeting. Tonight. The usual place and time. Need to discuss the Den's follow-up to the presentation by Painter and his crew.
For a moment, Nick's thumb hovered over the trashcan icon. But he paused. Smirked.
Perhaps he would go to one more meeting after all.
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 2:34 p.m.
For the second time that day, Bogo lumbered into the interrogation room holding Martin Spotsberg. This time, he sat across from both the hyena and a jaguar in a sharp business suit.
Letting out a long sigh, Bogo steepled his hooves together as he regarded them. "Well, Spotsberg, with such extensive evidence of your crimes, I hope you're not planning to plead not guilty."
"Despite what you think, I'm not a complete idiot," Spotsberg spat between grit teeth. "I knew this might happen to me one day. I just decided it was still better than living under the thumbs of prey." His stare hardened. "I joined the Den because they gave me the supplies I wanted to fight back. Now that I'm in here, it's every mammal for himself."
Bogo stared back at him with a practiced neutral expression. "A plea deal, then?"
"Sentences reduced to half the usual prison time, along with a chance for parole," the jaguar supplied. He had the steady and quiet yet intent gaze of a primitive cat watching his lunch. If Bogo had been a smaller, less capable mammal, he might have been intimidated.
"That all depends on what you're offering in return," the chief said.
Martin snorted. "Information about the Den of Thieves. What else would I offer?"
Arching a brow, Bogo replied, "Actual evidence would work more in your favor."
"Information," the hyena growled. "I can tell you when and where the next meeting will be."
Bogo slowly leaned back and scratched his chin, carefully regarding the two predators before him. For a long time, the ZPD had strongly suspected that the crime boss Mr. Big was a leader in the Den of Thieves and that many meetings were held in his opulent mansion. However, they had yet to gather enough evidence to warrant a raid. The word of one of its members might be enough.
"Half the prison time might not be workable," he said. "Two-thirds."
"Half!" Martin insisted.
But his lawyer smoothly interjected. "We can negotiate with the judge, but we'll start with half."
Though his jaw clenched, Martin nodded tersely. Bogo crossed his arms and let silence dangle among them for a moment.
"All right, then," he said. "Talk."
Day 10: Thursday, June 26th, 2016, 5:20 p.m.
Taking a deep breath, Judy pushed the apartment door open. The whole walk home, she'd been torturing herself with positive talk about how Nick might have decided to come back during her shift. Maybe he would surprise her with dinner, flowers, and a kiss. He might apologize, say there was a misunderstanding, he'd had to leave for an emergency because his relative was sick, but he'd lost or forgotten his phone somewhere, and they should definitely cuddle on the couch with a movie and forget the rest of the world.
So she had to take a few more deep breaths to stop herself from crying again when she stepped into a cold, dark, and silent apartment.
For a moment, she just stood there. A couple weeks ago, she would have immediately transitioned into her Crossfire persona and spent the rest of her evening "making the world a better place"—not that she was sure what that even meant anymore. Especially not after last night. Behind the constant, throbbing pain of worry and anxiety over her roommate still lay embarrassment and regret over her interactions with the Hustler.
Absentmindedly, she wandered into Nick's room and turned on the light, looking slowly around at the signs that he had once been there. Her glazed eyes swept around the walls, the windowsills, the closet—and stopped there.
Blinking, she took a few steps closer, leaning inside to peer at the corner. With a trembling paw, she picked up a familiar metal box attached to a black strap.
She'd seen that box before.
She'd seen it several times on the muzzle of a fox in a black mask, distorting his voice when he spoke.
She'd seen it on the muzzle of a fox in a black mask who had run to her defense and knocked out a caracal last night. She remembered sensing something odd about it at the time, telling herself that she would figure it out later…
Suddenly, its strangeness was obvious. He'd somehow made a beeline for her in a crowded, chaotic melee, just to sucker-punch a caracal who had sexually harassed her and then pushed her toward a hyena with a gun. He had seemed enraged. It had felt so… specific. So personal.
And this box. She grasped it in her paw, eyes widening.
She slapped her own forehead, heart racing with a mixture of mortification and elation. "I am the dumbest bunny!" she groaned. Then she hurried into her bedroom to start changing into her Crossfire outfit, mumbling, "But in my defense, what are the odds? Seriously."
After spraying a cloud of musk mask over herself, Judy made her normal leap out the bedroom window. Time for a fox hunt.
A/N: Having worked in employment background checks for several years, allow me to tell you that "job abandonment" does not tend to look good on a resume/CV or application. Not every employer will ask to verify your employment history, and even if they do, not every company for which you've worked will explicitly tell them that you abandoned the job without notice, especially if they're huge, non-franchisedcompanies that use outsourced and automated verification systems that usually confirm nothing more than your dates of employment, final job title, and SSN (if you're American)—but just try to avoid it if possible. Save it for emergencies. If you do leave your job without notice, at least be honest about it. There's always a chance someone like me will be hired to find out the truth, which makes you look bad.
Also, it's not nice to your co-workers, so…
And don't worry. Things will start getting happy again soon.
See you next week!