The walls around Bunny Burrow were certainly an eyesore during the day, but, in the dark of night, they looked practically menacing. There was no trace of the green pastures that lay hidden behind the black, cold metal that divided N's world from Judy's. It had taken him the entire day and much of the night to finally make his way to the walls. Now he was aimlessly walking a fair distance away hoping to strike gold without being shot by patrols. He had a plan, but it was hard to tell where exactly his opening was. The darn walls went on for miles.
Suddenly, he heard chatter from the wall and ducked down behind a shrub. He kept real still as a searchlight swept over the shrub and continued down the open fields towards a dirt road. This place looked familiar.
"Jacklepot," N hissed as he recognized the section of the wall from Jack's memories. He waited another moment to make sure the searchlight was not moving back towards him and scrambled towards it. With no more chatter coming from patrol officers, he felt confident he could move along the wall carefully. Parts of the dark ground felt familiar to him, and he let his instincts guide him until he found a door in the wall.
N gazed at the door, looking down at the number pad on the front. He closed his eyes and calmly breathed through his nose and tried to remember. Jack had been pretty frantic to escape some Walkers when he had punched in the code, but his eyes were wide and focused and the memory had been clear and vivid.
0 - 1 - 1 - 3… Bingo! Thanks for the tip, Jack.
N carefully opened the door, which squeaked a little but otherwise did not complain. He paused, keeping his ears tall, and made sure none of the patrol mammals on the wall heard him. There was a lot of wall to cover, after all, so they had moved on.
He crept along a dirt trail that led towards a group of buildings with lights on, feeling the dirt from a well-worn trail stick between his toes. It took a little while, perhaps another mile or so, but eventually N saw a mammal outside one of the buildings. N froze. It was a beaver, relatively older, smoking some tobacco he probably grew himself. What scared N to no end was this beaver was alive. There were soon other living mammals in view too, closing up shops or grumbling about rations to each other.
N was pretty sure Judy's burrow was along this road, so there was no sneaking around them. He stood a little taller. Drawing his hood over his head, N placed his paws in his pocket and trudged along. In the dark, the dried blood on his hoodie was less noticeable and might even be mistaken for a 'hip' design the kits were wearing.
"Y'all have a good night," the beaver called out to him politely.
SHIT. Quick, say something normal, say something normal, say something normal!
"Yyyou t–toouhh," N muttured.
By some miracle, the beaver didn't even turn around. N simply kept walking and his be-cool strategy kept working. Before long, the small group of buildings was behind him and no one was the wiser.
He was now on what seemed like a more familiar road that divided pastures and fields of corn and carrots. Beyond those, he saw large mounds that looked like hills that were a little too perfectly round to be natural. They also had windows, a few of which were lit from inside. N knew that one of those windows was Judy's.
Judy was grateful to be washed and clothed in something comfortable for a change. She had taken extra care to wipe the dried blood from her fur that N had used to hide her scent from the other Walkers. She was in her favorite blue sweater that hung off of one shoulder, a gift from her good friend Kris who was sitting across from her in rapt attention as Judy recounted the events from the last several days.
Kris listened intently as she spoke, her eyes widening whenever the story got particularly dicey. Judy spared no details telling her about the warehouse, her escape attempt, N's collection of knick-knacks, the day they'd spent playing games, the radio, the little fox that helped them, the Savage elephant, and even the night they'd spent in Grazerville when N had confessed about eating Jack.
"So what did you do then?!" Kris asked from the foot of Judy's bed. She was squeezing the life out of a pillow in anticipation as she listened to Judy's tale, which was not exactly believable, to say the least.
Judy sighed and shook her head. "I left early the next morning. He looked like he was in some kind of trance or something so I snuck out the door as quietly as I could, got in the van, and drove back here," she explained.
"So that was today?" Kris clarified.
Judy nodded. "Yeah..."
"Jude, you alright?"
If only she knew how big a question that really was. "I mean…just think about it for a second, okay? The world went sideways so fast that everyone just called it the 'deadrising' without hesitation. 'Walker' is just a word for a state of being that we don't really understand," Judy started earnestly.
"Uh-huh," Kris nodded along, her eyebrow skeptically raised a little.
"What if––just a thought––but what if there is more to Walkers than being dead? We always assumed they were lifeless and mindless monsters. But if they were flat-out zombies, then N should have never been able to speak, let alone smile or joke or do any of the things he was capable of doing. I got the impression that he never even thought about eating me!"
"Okay..." Kris said with a bewildered look on her face.
Judy scoffed, shaking her head at her own insanity. "You want to know the really crazy part?" Kris simply nodded and waited patiently as her friend spoke very softly, like a child whispering a secret about something they did wrong. "I actually miss him."
Kris closed her eyes and slowly nodded her head. Judy wondered why Kris seemed to be acting like she was making peace with her friend's loss for all reason. Judy hoped Kris would understand, or at the very least would not report her to Ramic for going insane.
"So let me see if I get you, girl. You spend a wicked weekend out with a dead guy, and now you've got a zombie sized hole in your heart that no amount of Gid's ice cream will fill? Does that about sum it up?"
Judy did not even try to answer her question directly, she simply hid her face behind her paws in shame and groaned loudly. She keeled over and fell onto the bed, laying on her side and keeping her face hidden in shame. "Ugghhh, what is wrong with me?"
"If I had a week, I'm not sure I'd have enough time to answer that question, sweetie," Kris lamented. "But hey, it's not all that crazy. I mean…" Kris's voice got low and her tone dripped with mystery. "...they've got very intense eyes."
"I bet he's a good listener," Kris continued.
"Argh. Kris, don't," Judy protested, peeking up from her pillow at her goading friend.
"And you'd never have to worry about him hogging the blankets at night since he never sleeps." Kris was smiling at this point. Judy launched a pillow at her friend's face in frustration, which had the added benefit of hiding her smug grin. "Hey!"
"You deserve that, jerk." Judy humphed and rubbed crossed her arms. "I'm losing my mind over here."
Kris shrugged nonchalantly. "Well if you go brain-dead, maybe just give them to him for a snack?"
"Kris!" Judy scolded as her friend began giggling happily.
"Okay, okay!" her friend said, calming herself down. "Judy, I've never known you to be crazy. Maybe you don't have the best taste in guys, but you've got a more level head than most around here. I think you just had something weird happen to you."
Judy sighed, feeling a little relieved. "Do you really think so?"
"Sure. I mean, I believe what you say about this Walker. I didn't see much of him, but I did catch the look in his eye when he carried you off. That was not normal," Kris answered with certainty.
"Mmm..." Judy hummed in agreement. It is difficult to say that anything was 'normal' for a Walker. And if most Walkers had been like him, she doubted the world would have changed the way it did.
Kris scooted a little closer to Judy and spoke a little softer. "From your story, he clearly liked you too."
Judy's mouth fell open. "Woah, what now?"
"Oh come on, Judes," Kris rolled her eyes. "Tell me, did he ever make excuses to keep you around?"
"Sure, but I was the only one he could actually talk with," Judy remembered.
Kris put her paw to her chin, making a show of pondering something out loud as if it were obvious. "So we know the whole 'smelling like a Walker' thing was a load of crap. You told me he locked himself out of the room to make you feel safe at night, right? So he's willing to go out of his way to make you feel better."
Judy skeptically shook her head. "I think you're jumping here."
"Did he ever sneak a glance when you had your back turned?" Kris raised an eyebrow as she continued pressing.
Judy looked away, trying to hide a slight blush in her ears. "Kris…"
The otter scooted closer excitedly. "Oh my god, he did!"
"Ughhh, fine," she sighed and let her arms fall to her sides. "Yes, he nearly tumbled down the stairs after staring at my butt."
"So he's not all dead." Kris smiled.
"Get to the point, otter-girl."
"All I'm saying is that living males don't do all that for the girls they actually say they're in love with." Kris smiled and shrugged openly as if offering her a simple suggestion. "If nothing else, I bet you he'd be down to try if you are."
Judy frowned and looked out the window. "It doesn't really matter anymore does it?"
"Oh, Jude," Kris said with a sad look in her eye. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah," she said softly.
"Do you want me to spend the night here?" Kris offered softly.
Judy smiled at her friend."Would you?"
"Duh. This place has way softer beds anyway." The otter tapped her shoulder reassuringly before gesturing to the bathroom. "Can I bum a brush and some mouthwash?"
"Of course. Thanks Kris." Judy was grateful that she had a friend with her that night, especially one as easy to have around as Kris. The otter stood up and took a few steps towards the washroom.
"Okay, I'm gonna clean up. Don't let the Walkers bite…unless you want them to," Kris said with a laugh.
"Shut up," Judy groaned and rolled her eyes at her friend.
As Kris left her alone in her room, Judy began to feel a little cooped up. The two of them had been chatting for several hours, so she decided to get a little fresh air before bed. She made her way to the doors that lead to a small balcony attached to her bedroom. Once upon a time, only the married bunnies would get rooms with so much space and a balcony. But now, with so much vacancy in the burrow, it was foolish to take one of the cramped dorms if she had the option. She stepped outside to the cool evening air with moisture already building up on the fibers of her sweater.
The night air was soft, calm, and smelled faintly like fertilizer. The fields around her were quiet, and the added space between her and the next closest light source meant she had a beautiful view of the stars. The shops would be closing up by now, and the various mammals that she called her neighbors would be heading home. The Burrows offered her and her family a much needed sanctuary from the rest of the world, but somehow the comfort of home did little to put her mind at ease. It was strange, but for some reason she felt as if she were homesick even though she was right where she was supposed to be. Her thoughts drifted to N again, wondering if he was still in Grazerville or perhaps on his way back to Zootopia.
"C…Carrots," she thought she heard a voice whisper. Perhaps Kris was being a little too kind when she'd called Judy "level-headed" earlier. "Judy!" the voice called a little louder. That one was real, and it made her ears stick up as stiff as boards. She turned towards the source, looking over the ground by the base of her burrow. The figure was shrouded in shadow, but she recognized those slitted green eyes instantly. He stepped a little closer, his face dimly lit by the light from her bedroom.
"Oh my god. N?!" she hissed, suddenly very aware of how much danger he was in. "What are you doing here?!"
"Came to...see you," he explained, as if it was a simple thing for a Walker to sneak past the walls and somehow get all the way to her burrow without getting gunned down.
Judy frowned and her hushed voice dripped with concern for her friend. "Oh, N. You can't just do that! It's dangerous! The mammals here, they're not like me. If they find you, you will get killed. Do you understand that?"
Judy saw his eyes actually light up a little bit as a warm smile began to form on his face. He looked at her happily and nodded his head with the same kind of enthusiasm he had shown when she first agreed to stay in the warehouse with him. His response was immediate and as certain as a promise.
He knew , Judy realized. He knew and he came anyway. Her heart fluttered.
"Judy, who are you talking to?" Kris hollered from inside.
"Uhh, nothing!" she squeaked back before turning back to N and frowning. "We have to get you out of here! If my dad finds you, he'll blow your head off and then build a second wall."
"Seriously, Jude! Who are you talking to?" Kris asked, her voice suddenly much closer than before.
Judy's eyes widened in panic as her friend joined her on the balcony with her arms crossed over her chest. She looked over to Kris, hoping to come up with something, anything, to keep her inside. She was not quick enough, and, before she knew it, Kris caught the eyes of a Walker standing in the Hopp's garden looking longingly at Judy.
"OHH!" Kris's face contorted in shock and a little disgust. Judy had her paws over her own mouth and holding her breath and silently begged her friend not to flip out. At least not too loudly. "Oh my god! Is that him?" she hissed. Judy was grateful Kris had had enough sense to keep from screaming, but there was no hiding N from her at this point. The jig was up less than a minute after it started.
"Yeah," Judy said slowly. Turning to N, she motioned to her otter friend with her paws. "N, this is Kris."
N's eyes widened and he balked a little before offering the otter a shaky wave with one paw. He began to smile as best he could, though Judy noticed he didn't show any teeth, which was probably smart. His nervous gesture was little more than a shrug, and Judy wasn't sure if she should be embarrassed or terrified.
"Hey," N muttured weakly. Kris swallowed and struggled to find appropriate words.
"Sup," was all she came up with.
Judy heard voices from across the fields. Her friends both turned towards the voices as well. It was likely some of the neighbors were on their way back to their own burrows. Panic whiplashed back at Judy as she began to imagine all the horrible ways N would be obliterated if he was discovered.
"We've got to get him inside!" she whispered frantically.
"Duh! Get down stairs and sneak him through the door. I'll keep a lookout for anyone in the hallways," Kris instructed firmly.
"What?" Judy guffawed. "We're gonna walk a zombie right through the front door?"
"Got a better plan?" Kris offered with her arms splayed.
"N, meet me by the front door," she called out and pointed to the main entrance behind him. He nodded and put his hood back up.
Okay, could have been worse. She does not look particularly happy about getting caught by her friend, but the otter seems cool. Gotta admit, I didn't have much of a plan either, but the way she was looking at me just now…. Argh, I really wish this chest-thing would quit it.
N made his way to the front door and hid in the shadow of the stoop, keeping himself hidden in shadows as best he could. It took a few moments before he heard frantic footsteps from inside when another hushed call for him.
"N?" Judy called out.
He took that as the all-clear and emerged from the shadows. Not two seconds after she saw him did she grab hold of his paw and drag him inside. The inside of Judy's home was bigger than he'd expected. The floors were clean and the grand entrance was well-lit. He hobbled up the stairs, and she dragged him through a few hallways that had pink and white accents. It was warm and welcoming, despite the bars around the windows on the first floor. They were just about to turn a corner to her bedroom, when Kris's voice stopped them.
"Why hello, Mister Hopps !" Kris's voice called out loudly. "You're home early."
"Well heya, Kris," Stu Hopp's welcoming voice chimed from the halls. He seemed confused as to why Kris was shouting. N and Judy peeked around the corner of the hallways and caught the backside of an older rabbit's uniform. "Y'all here to keep Jude some company?"
Well, guess that must be her military-leading zombie-killing father… great.
Kris caught their eyes over her father's shoulder for a moment before turning back to him and smiling politely. "Yeah, I figured she shouldn't be alone after what she's been through."
"That's kind of you, Kris," Mr. Hopps said heartily. "You're more than welcome to spend the night if you'd like."
"Uhh, thank you sir," she said nervously. "I think she really needs a 'girl's night' after that whole mess."
"I get ya. As much as I would like to go in there and comfort her, I think you're probably right. You're a good friend for bein' there for her." Mr. Hopps turned to leave. "I'll let you two g—"
"Wait!" Kris put a paw on his shoulder and drew him closer. "Have I shown you these gross pictures from my medical textbooks yet?"
He bumbled, but remained polite. "I, erm…. No, but–"
"Check this one out! Did you have any idea that a Kangaroo's pouch goes down that far?"
N saw Kris's paw that was wrapped around the older bunny's shoulder gesture towards the other side of the hallway. The otter took her phone out of her pocket and began flipping through photos for Judy's father. With his attention occupied by the illustrations in Kris's anatomy books, Judy quietly dragged N along the hallway and crept into her bedroom, closing the door as softly as possible. She waited for a moment with her ear pressed up against the door to make sure he hadn't noticed them. Satisfied, she turned and faced a nervous looking Walker.
"Hey," he muttered.
He fidgeted with the string on his hoodie nervously. "I'm s-sorry for sneaking in."
Judy shook her head and frowned. "No, I'm the one who should be sorry. It wasn't right for me to ditch you in Grazerville like that."
"It's-ss…it's okay. I'm just here for th…the van anyway." He offered her a smug grin, which made her smile. If nothing else, she seemed at least happy he wasn't blown to pieces.
Before he could react, she stepped forward and wrapped her arms around his neck. His eyes widened in shock as her slender figure squeezed against him. She spoke softly into his neck as she held him close, taking a bit of his fur in her paws. "I actually missed you."
N was surprised at first, then it wilted away all at once. His smile was no longer smug. Instead it was wider and happier than he could remember experiencing before. He wrapped his arms around her torso and let his face fall onto her head a little, savoring the feeling of her form in the crook of his neck. "Me too."
He felt her sigh against his neck and grip his fur a little tighter. "That's funny. You feel warmer than I remember."
N lost track of how long she had been hugging him when a knock came at the door. Judy let him go and stepped towards the door apprehensively. "Kris?"
"Yeah," she whispered. "Your dad's gone."
"Whew," Judy sighed. She let Kris back in, who then immediately proceeded to inspect N very closely. Perhaps a little too closely for his liking. He staggered back a little as she used Judy's bed to get practically nose-to-nose with him, sniffing him skeptically.
"Yo," she greeted him flatly.
He resumed his nervous fidgeting. "Uhh… hey."
"How'dya die?" she asked.
N shrugged a little and leaned back to get some space between them. "I d…don't remember."
"How old are you?"
Another shrug. Do I add the time I've been a Walker or does your age stop at death?
The otter pointed a thoughtful finger towards his chin. "Because you could be twenty-something, but you could also be, like, forty-five ya'know because it's hard to tell with foxes sometimes."
That accusation stung for some reason, making N cross his arms. "Do you ss-see any white fur on my chin?"
"Touché," Kris conceded as she continued sniffing. "It's weird I can hardly smell you. I've smelled dead bodies before, but you don't smell dead, you're just dirty."
A third shrug. "...Thanks?"
Judy rolled her eyes at her friend's prodding. "Kris."
She leaned in even closer, practically touching whiskers with him. "You can talk and stuff, and judging by how offended you were when I called you old, you have feelings too…. This is amazing."
"Kris, quit it! He didn't come here for an interview." She was clearly only trying to get Kris to ease off, but the thought must have reminded her of the real question that was bugging her since she first saw him appear by her balcony. Judy shooed her friend and ushered N to sit down at the foot of her bed. Judy stood next to him with a paw on his shoulder, observing him patiently but seriously. "N, why did you come here?"
He looked thoughtfully around the room a little as he searched for words. He remembered why he was here and the thought made him excited. "The Walkers…we're changing," he explained.
"Changing?" Judy raised an eyebrow. "Changing how?"
"Remmm-member when you snuck out last night?" N reminded her.
Judy frowned a little. "You were in some kind of trance, so I snuck out quietly without you noticing," she recalled.
"I was ss–sleeping."
Both of her eyebrows raised this time. "Wait, like really asleep?"
He nodded eagerly. "Yeah. I also felt cold from the...the rain."
Kris's brow furrowed as she looked at N in confusion. "Is that weird?"
Judy nodded at her, gesturing at N's torso. "He couldn't feel my knife in his chest when we first met, Kris. Yeah, it's weird. It's like he's transforming somehow."
"Not j-just me," N said eagerly. "Other Walkers t...too. The fennec…"
"Your friend from the van?" Judy finished for him, listening patiently.
N nodded again, trying to get words out faster. Stupid stutter . "He remembers… things be–before the deadrising."
Judy's eyes widened a little as she gaped at his revelation. "That's a pretty big deal."
Kris shook her head in disbelief. "Jude, none of this should be possible. From what Ramic told me, all the animals who turned into Walkers had their vitals drop to zero first. The brain damage from a few minutes like that could destroy any memories or rational thought completely, and he's been like this for years! The dead don't feel anything."
"Dead mammals walking used to be impossible too," she reminded her before turning back to N. "How many Walkers did you say?"
"Mmmm… a few dozen?"
Judy practically jumped off the bed. "Dozens?! Kris, we've got to tell Ramic about this."
The otter rolled her eyes. "Oh sure, let's just march him right across town while patrols are out in force! Honestly, it's a miracle he was able to get this far without getting his ass shot to re-death."
Judy stood and threw her paws in the air. "This could be the first real bit of progress we've ever seen! I know Ramic was researching a cure at one point. If we could just get N to the ward... "
Kris shook her head. "We've got patients at the ward, Jude. If someone has that much blood on them, they're usually not standing…up." Kris trailed off as she looked N up and down thoroughly. He shot her a confused glance while she sized him up. The look on her face went from a contemplative glare to a resolved smile, both of which frightened N. This otter was unpredictable to say the least.
Judy turned to her friend. "What? Do you have an idea?"
"Yup," Kris decided. "We need to get this zombie cleaned up. Let's take him next door."
"Take him where? You mean to…" Judy trailed off and her eyes widened. "...No. no way Kris."
N looked between the two of them with confusion. "Where?"
The otter scoffed and ignored him. "What, do you have some fox-sized clothes for him here? Cause I'm pretty sure that much blood will not come out in the wash."
"What happened to keeping this a secret?" Judy argued. N was falling depressingly behind the conversation.
Kris waved her concerns off. "Do you really think either of them would blab? Besides, it would be way safer to keep him there anyway. Your dad could walk through that door any second!"
N was totally lost at this point, but as far as he could tell, they would be moving him soon. After barely avoiding her father once already, he did not fancy risking that a second time. He looked over to Judy, who was rubbing the crease of her nose with a frustrated groan. Wherever they were going to take him, it wasn't exactly her first choice. He looked out the doors and spotted the balcony where he had found Judy a few minutes earlier.
Judy groaned and continued scheming with Kris. "Alright. We can get him cleaned up over there, then we run him straight to Ramic's. If he can vouch for N, maybe we can keep my dad from shooting him."
Kris hopped off the bed and clapped her paws together excitedly. "Well, it's dangerous and it smells like shit, but it's a plan! Let's get this foxy Walker over to…where'd he go?"
"N?" Judy called out as her head swiveled around the room frantically. She caught sight of the end of his tail vanishing outside onto the balcony. N wavered a little as he clambered up onto the railing and, with all the grace of a sack of carrots, fell over the side. "N!"
Judy ran to the balcony and looked down at the garden where N had fallen. It must have been a good five or six meters to the ground. Most of his body was covered by the shrub he'd crashed into. It took a moment for him to start moving again, and Judy worried for a moment that he had really hurt himself. But then his head popped up from the leaves and he easily stood back up, looking back towards Judy and Kris who stared at him in shock.
"Didn't f-feel like sneaking out," N said flatly.
"Are you okay?!" Judy hissed.
N smiled and knocked his fist against his head a few times to illustrate his point. "No pain. One of the perks of be...being dead."
Kris cocked an eyebrow at him in bewilderment while Judy looked like she wanted to scold him for doing something reckless. But when words seemed to evade her, he smiled and gestured towards the main entrance.
"I'll meet you at the door," N whispered and started hobbling away. Both of the girls watched for a moment, a little confused and a little impressed by N's maneuver.
"You know… " Kris pondered. "...he's kinda cute in a weird way."
Judy knocked on the door once, then a second time, a little bit louder and more urgently. It was not a long walk down the road to her neighbor's small house nestled into the hillside. It was also even more secluded than her own burrow, but she did not want to risk having N out and about for any longer than they needed to. Finally, after another knock, the door opened up to reveal a familiar cheetah.
"Judy? Whatchya doin' out so late, girl?" Corporal Clawhauser said. The light from the TV behind him obscured his face a little, but everything else was otherwise dark.
"Hi Benny. Sorry to bug you, but we're really in a bind here. Can we come inside?" Judy asked sweetly.
"Oh, heya Kris! Well…" he looked back inside apprehensively. "...we were gonna have a little date night but, if you guys need help, come on in," Clawhauser said and stepped aside. It was not until Judy reached behind her and pulled someone else by the paw that he noticed N's presence. "Oh, and who's this?"
"He's a friend," Judy said quickly as she pulled him inside.
The three of them entered inside, Judy keeping a firm hold of N's paw as they shuffled into Benny's living room. There was popcorn by the TV, and screen flickered as the DVD menu for an western-romance called 'The Masked Fox'. Judy felt bad that they were clearly interrupting something, but thankfully the dimly lit room was the only reason Clawhauser had not spotted the blood all over N's hoodie.
"Hang on, let me get the lights," Clawhauser said. Shit, Judy thought. The lights in the quaint little living room all illuminated at once, and the red all over N's clothes stood out like a zebra amongst horses.
"Now who is this friend of yo—WOAH!" Benny reeled back as he looked in shock at the blood on N's clothes. "Oh my goodness, is he alright?!"
Judy's paws were up and splayed, trying to keep the Cheetah from panicking. "Benny, please keep your voice down."
"Shouldn't we take him to the ward or som–" Benny started to say. That was when N caught eye contact with him. It lasted less than a moment, for as soon as he saw the slits in N's pupils, years of police and military training suddenly kicked into motion.
Benny dove across the floor. He tumbled across the rug between the couch and the TV and pivoted beside a table by the front door. He reached underneath the table and pulled out a pistol that was already loaded.
"Benny stop!" Judy barked and threw herself between her friend and the Walker. Benny had already drawn the hammer back on his weapon by the time he could stop himself. He kept his pistol pointed upwards towards the ceiling but with a tight grip, ready to use it if necessary. He glared at N with wide eyes, shooting Judy a confused glance every few seconds.
"What…" he began slowly, "...on earth are you doing with a Walker in my house, Judy?"
"Put the gun down, Benny. He's not going to hurt anyone," Judy reassured him.
Clawhauser looked at her like she confessed to hating cream-filled donuts. "Are you nuts?!"
Judy took a careful step forward, keeping her eyes on Benjamin's gun. His finger was off the trigger, but his grip was tight and practiced. "Benny, I know this looks crazy, but I swear that he isn't dangerous."
The cheetah balked. " He? ! Jude, he's a Walker! How much of that blood is even his?!"
"Easy, big guy," Kris said and patted his hip with one paw calmly.
Benny glanced at the otter in disbelief before staring back at N. "Kris, don't tell me you're in on this too!"
"Actually, it w-wwas all… her idea," N pointed out.
Clawahuser's mouth fell open in shock. The subtle shaking of his paws abruptly stopped, and his eyes widened. Slowly, Benny lowered the aim of his pistol down to the ground as he gaped at his guest like a toddler at a magic show.
"Did that Walker just speak?" Benny whispered.
Judy took a deep breath and ventured a few more steps towards her stunned friend. She placed a paw on the pistol and looked up at him patiently. "Benny, this is my friend N."
"Friend?" Benny shot a confused glance between the two of them. He pointed at N with a wavering finger. "You're Judy's friend?"
"N-nah," N shrugged. "She just likes me f–for my body." Kris snorted in laughter at N's remark, earning her an unimpressed look from Judy.
"And now he's making jokes…and flirting with Judy…" Benny said, still gaping at N. "Kris, did you slip drugs into my coffee this morning?"
"Nope, but good guess," Kris admitted.
Judy softly pulled the pistol from Clawhauser's paw, softly laying it on the floor and hitting the safety switch. "Benny, this Walker saved my life back in Zootopia."
Benny finally looked away from N and down at Judy. "Really?"
"Yeah. Many times, actually. How do you think I survived all that time amongst Walkers?"
Benny shook his head. "Y'know Judy, I was hoping you'd tell me that story, but I can't say I'm thrilled about how it ends with a monster in my living room…I mean Walker…sorry."
"It's o–okay, Spots…" N said reassuringly. "Th-thanks for not shooting m–me."
Clawhauser raised an eyebrow at his new guest. While he still didn't look completely comfortable, per se, the soldier did drop his guard a bit. He picked up the pistol and, after reassuring Judy everything was fine, he placed it back underneath the table by the door.
"We should probably hide him before the cook gets back," Benny whispered to Judy.
"It's actually your boyfriend that we're here to see," Kris said with a smile. "Where is he anyway?"
Right on cue, the group heard another door open from the kitchen. They heard a mammal sigh and keys jingle as whoever it was set something down and stretched his back.
"Heya big guy. I'm back!" a low voice with a thick country drawl called out. "I managed to sneak two Twinkies from the supply cache! Not sure why we're so eager to protect these, they'll go bad next year."
Clawhauser sounded less confident. "Uhhh…. Hey hon, we've got guests."
"Guests? What about that movie y'all wanted to watch so bad?"
A relatively large fox stepped into the living room from the kitchen. He had a dark patch of fur at the top of his head, and his deep blue eyes matched the stripes on his plaid shirt. His belly was a little round, but it would be a stretch to call him fat. He wore a white apron that was powdered with flour and stains that smelled of spices and oils. He walked in the room and gave a welcome smile to familiar faces. "W-well heya Judy! Hi Kris. Can't say I was expectin' y'all tonight, but y-you're welcome to supper if y'all want."
Benny bumbled about a little as he hesitantly pointed towards N. "Gid, uhh. We've got one more as well."
To everyone's surprise, N stretched out a paw and offered a genuine smile. "Call m–me 'N'. Everyone...else does."
Instinct seemed to kick in and the larger fox took the paw and shook it heartily. "Pleasure. I'm Gideon, though most folk just call me–WOAH!"
Gideon reeled back, withdrawing his paw and gasping at N with his paws splayed out before him. N could tell from his encounter with the Cheetah that speaking seemed to ease the tension with newcomers. It was a strange situation to be in for the Walker, considering he had been desperate to connect with anyone a few days earlier. But this was his opportunity to practice those social skills he knew he had. So, with all the clarity and suaveness he could muster, N did what he longed to do for years now: he broke the ice.
"I kn-know, yeah. Don't wor–worry, I'm only dead on…the outside."