He clutched a knot of the blanket over his waist, exposing his bare chest to the apartment. Nick lay on the couch and stared vacantly at the ceiling, his eyes were heavy after barely sleeping. Sleep only came after sheer exhaustion came over him and silenced his overactive mind. His eyes burned with every blink. He felt like he was buried up to his neck in sand as he tried to lift his body. Every move was exhausting as he just managed to flip himself over on his side to face the coffee table. The sunlight seared his already irritated eyes as it poked through the curtains. The fox groaned irritably as he turned his back to the morning sun. It was just a reminder that Nick's nightmare was not over. As he stared into the darkness of the couch cushions, he kept seeing Judy and relived how much he just wanted to touch her.
I can't do this. Nick's mind repeated as he lay on the couch watching imaginary vultures circling overhead, waiting for him to draw his last breath so they can eat. With every blink, he saw Judy lying in the hospital bed. There were dozens of wires and tubes attached to the rabbit. She looked like a puppet, ready for a street peddler to make her dance for change on the street corner.
Nick finally forced himself up and rubbed the grogginess off his face with little success. His body leaned forward resting his head in his paws, which were resting on his knees. Weary groans slid out of his mouth as he tried to focus, trying to pull himself together just long enough to make it to the bathroom. Just a few feet… it shouldn't be this hard. Nick's mind trying to motivate him up and forward, but the more he listened to his own pep-talk, the weaker he felt. Nick was right; he should be able to pick himself up. He could see the bathroom door from where he was sitting. But he could feel the floor stretching out away from him the longer he looked at the path ahead.
It took his bladder to be the deciding factor that finally gave him enough strength to get up off the couch. His joints popped as he stood up, groaning as he pulled his weight up on to his feet. One step. Then the other. Nick forged his way across the room. It was like walking through a swamp, each foot felt like they were sinking into foul-smelling, soul-sucking mud.
He turned the faucet of the shower and let it run for a minute as he relieved himself. His body drifted slightly in a weary breeze. Steam issued upward from the water jetting out of the nozzles of the shower head.
Nick stepped into the stream of water, letting it soak straight through to his skin. The pressure in his sinuses began unblocking as he stood there. He turned to let the water hit his shoulders and back. It didn't do much to relieve the stress, but it felt good.
As he watched the steam fill up the bathroom, he thought of a moment when he watched Judy enter the bathroom while he was washing himself. It started out as a playful tease with her cracking the door open, sticking her arm through the gap, caressing the wood door and giving Nick a wave with her arm locked upright.
"Whatcha doin', Fluff?" Nick asked playfully as the arm retreated. In its place were the ears, then forehead, then the playful, sultry eyes of Judy Hopps winking at Nick quickly before disappearing. As the fox began massaging shampoo into his fur, the grey rabbit slithered through the door in her sweats she liked to wear on her days off. She clung to the door as she stared at Nick making different exaggerated faces.
She spun around, pressing her back against the door and trying to do her best 'Gazelle eyes'. She wasn't pretending to be serious, but it was adorable just to watch her bat her eyes like she was being hit with a sandblaster. Judy then did a twirl, resting her paws on the bathroom sink behind her and kicking her leg out. She arched her back like in a scene from an old movie, but without the cord that dumped gallons of water when pulled. Nick chuckled as he watched her. Judy's head snapped back to lock eyes with him, rolling her shoulder and pushing herself away from the sink. While trying to keep the soap out of his face, he watched the rabbit strut her way toward him. Her feet crossed each other while resting her paw on her hip. As she got within arm's length of the shower door, she struck a pose, thrusting her nose high in the air while her eyes never wandered away from Nick's. Judy then shuffled her feet toward the door, scrunching up the bathmat until her nose touched the door.
"Yes?" Nick said playfully as he slid the door open. Judy responded by beckoning him toward her with a finger. He gladly obliged as she reached an arm around his neck and pulled the two into a kiss. Her paw played with his wet fur while their eyes closed savoring the moment. It seemed to last forever, but he couldn't help by wonder why she was squirming so much? He tried to break free, but Judy wouldn't let him. She held Nick tight even if it felt like she was doing the potty dance. Finally, they broke away from their kiss and Nick opened his eyes to meet the devilish grin that had grown across her face. Confused, he followed her body down to her foot as it rested in the lever of the toilet.
"Enjoy your shower…" The rabbit whispered as she flushed the toilet before darting for the bathroom door.
Nick let out a yelp; nearly slipping as cold water suddenly surged from the shower head. He scrambled to get away from the freezing water that poured out as shampoo was still lathered in his fur. Nick looked up disdainfully at Judy staring back at him, cackling maniacally as he huddled himself in a corner of the shower waiting for the water to warm up again. As he glared at the door, he could hear Judy's laughter echoing throughout the house.
This time, the water stayed warm. He turned the handle to the faucet and stepped out of the shower, grabbing a towel and wrapping it around him and began drying his body. The remaining humidity lingered in the air as he wiped some of the fog off of the mirror. Nick's blurry reflection stared back at him as he toweled off. He checked his teeth and ran a brush through his copper-red fur. Loose hairs fell onto the floor like snow as he groomed. Anytime Judy walked by while he brushed she would sneeze as hairs landed on her nose. Nick would watch her reflection in the bathroom mirror, amused by her face as it recoiled. Sometimes he would try to shake off some extra hairs to get a combo going, which was easier if he had reached his tail.
Fully dressed, Nick exited the empty apartment, locking the door behind him. Bonnie and Stu were back at the hospital according to the note on the refrigerator. Nick didn't hear them leave; he probably wouldn't have gone with them anyway. He cringed as he thought about picking a fight with the doctor, and again when he took a chair to a vending machine. The keys jingled as they were dropped into his pants pocket. Bright sunlight poured through the windows as he descended the staircase of the apartment building onto the ground floor and washed over him as he pushed his way through the heavy door and onto the street. There was no destination in mind, just a slight pause as Nick glanced down the street deciding which direction to turn. His feet lead the way, and his body followed, basking in the sun as it dried any residual dampness from his fur. The sidewalk was weathered and cracked. Nick dodged wads of chewing gum that were blackened, gooey blobs on the concrete. He could hear Judy grumbling about how chewing gum is considered littering and citing the specific ordinance that spells out what constitutes littering and the penalties assigned to it. Her voice echoed particularly loud after swerving around elephant-sized globs that baked on the sidewalk.
Without thinking, Nick entered a coffee shop and ordered a large – relative to the fox – coffee from the barista. He leaned against the wall with his arm folded and a leg crossed over the other while waiting for his name to be called. His face was pensive, eyes focused, but not watching anyone or anything in the shop, following the course of events that were playing through his mind. As he waited, he thought about the times he and Judy would get coffee together. They both agreed that the food there wasn't particularly satisfying. Nick smirked when he recalled crouching down to eye-level with Judy and asking her what coffee she wanted in a pseudo-sweet, simpering voice. He would watch in satisfaction as she glared at him, while a shade of pink flushed across her face as he talked to her as if she were a four-year-old girl. He knew she wanted to check him into a chair, but knowing she would make a scene if she did, and knowing that Nick would use that to his advantage to further embarrass Judy in front of anyone and everyone.
He relished taunting her as much as he enjoyed trying to figure out how Judy might plot revenge. As he chuckled to himself recalling his moments with Judy, there was one looming cloud that rumbled in his mind. There was no Judy at his side. A melancholy sigh slipped from his mouth, his chest heaving slightly as his thoughts lingered on her.
"This is the ZNN Mid-Day Report, with Fabienne Growley…" The television in the corner of the restaurant announced as the TV station logo came into frame along with important 'serious' music that heralded the start of the news program. "After the Collapse: Day 4" an announcer said as the words scrolled dramatically onto the screen. Nick's eyes drifted away a bit as he listened to the television; his lip curling slightly at the title-card of the day's broadcast.
"Good Afternoon, this is the ZNN Mid-Day Report, I'm Fabienne Growley," The female snow leopard said as she began the broadcast. "Four days have passed since the sudden collapse of the Caribou Arcade shopping center in Savanna Central, claiming the lives of over 600 animals and injuring over 3,000. The Mayor's Office announced that they will be holding a press conference at the scene of the disaster within the next couple hours. In a statement, the Mayor's Office said they planned to officially transition from search and rescue efforts to recovery as they begin the process of cleaning the debris from the collapsed shopping complex. Savanna Central's main shopping district remains off limits as crews work to find survivors and bring them to safety."
"Wilde!" The barista called as they sat the cup of coffee on the counter. Nick pushed himself off of the wall and grabbed the warm cup while slipping a 5 Dollar banknote into the tip jar.
"One of the survivors of the collapse includes ZPD's own Officer Judy Hopps-" Growley said into the camera. Nick's eyes flashed up to the television screen as the authoritative, professional gaze of Fabienne Growley stared straight ahead. Wilde took a quick pan around the café; the baristas knew who he was, they knew his fiancée. A handful of the regulars knew it as well. He caught the sympathetic look of one of the baristas, as well as an intrusive glance from one of the patrons who quickly began scrolling through his phone in a vain attempt at subtlety.
"Officer Hopps, who was on duty at the time of the collapse, was pulled from the rubble late last night and rushed to the hospital. The Police Department and the hospital where she was admitted declined to comment on her condition."
Nick's mind went back to Judy lying in the hospital bed, her life pivoting on a fulcrum while the only thing he could do was watch and listen as the medical equipment beeped. The bell on the door jingled as he exited the coffee shop and back out into the open, leaving Fabienne to continue her broadcast without him. The afternoon sun shined across the city as Nick shielded his eyes with his aviators. Judy's police portrait from the broadcast flashed back into his mind. Her proud smile and puffed chest was all he could think about.
As Nick waited for a traffic light, he pulled out his phone and scrolled through his library of pictures that were stored in his album. Among the hundreds of pictures, selfies of Nick putting on his best smoldering eyes, images that captured Judy when she wasn't paying attention, and the ones of them together. He stopped scrolling at one picture. The traffic light had changed, but Nick was falling into the photograph of Judy bending over the kitchen sink, suds up to her elbows mid-scrub as she worked on a pile of dishes. Her eyes looked back at his, caught off guard by the fox calling out to her from his lounging position on the couch, her mouth slightly ajar and revealing her prominent front teeth. There was something breathtakingly beautiful in catching her in her natural state. Not in some contrived pose, or some generic professionalism that she mastered so well in her daily life on the force. Just her.
And that's all he wanted.