It starts with vixens. Four of them dressed to the nines and at sixes and sevens with the club bouncer.
“Oh, come on! She left her ID at home, I‘ve known her since we were kits!”
The bouncer is a badger and not particularly pleased to be on duty of a Saturday night. Judy sympathises – there are plenty of places she‘d rather be than on duty. Unfortunately, Justin Lemur is playing tonight at the Strepsi Arena, and Chief Bogo wanted a couple of ZPD officers to co-ordinate any emergency issues that might come up.
Which means a long night dealing with over-excitable adolescents, scalpers, shady characters, to say nothing of the creatures of the night that frequent the clubs in this part of town. Like this group of vixens all got up in skimpy little dresses and wedge heels, pouting like a bunch of toddlers because the bouncer won‘t let them into the club.
“Please? It‘s my birthday—”
“—and we were so so so so planning to dance the night away at Le Carnivale!”
“The rest of us are all totally legal – see?”
“It’s just Ashlee who forgot her ID tonight—”
“And we can’t celebrate without her!”
Judy lets out a sigh as she confronts the prospect of listening to the whining and begging for the next half-hour at least, then blinks as Nick tucks his phone away in his shirt pocket and pushes off the cruiser.
“Nick? What are you doing?”
He waves a dismissive paw at her as he saunters across the parking lot, his tail held at a distinctly jaunty angle.
“Ladies, is there a problem?”
They latch onto him – and, well, why not? He‘s got a way about him – one of the things that made him such an effective con-man, and which makes him an equally effective beat cop helping keep the peace in Zootopia. Judy watches with some bemusement as the vixens bat their lashes and plead their case, and he sighs soulfully and puts on what she calls his Honest Nick routine, where carrots wouldn‘t crunch between his teeth.
The bouncer is no more proof against Nick‘s charm than most people, and the vixens squeal as he lets them in. The birthday fox pauses to lean in and whisper something in Nick’s ear that makes her nearest girlfriend squeal with laughter. Nick tilts his head, as though considering the proposition for just a moment, then he looks at Judy. Without looking away, he answers the vixen in the negative, and, with a dismissive wave of his paw, he saunters back across the parking lot to Judy and the cruiser, leaving the fox ladies to skulk into the club.
“An invitation to go clubbing?”
“To use the handcuffs, actually.” Nick grimaces as he leans back back against the hood of the police cruiser beside her. They’re shoulder to shoulder, close enough that his growl vibrates through Judy‘s fur. “This whole Fifty Shades of Bray thing is getting way out of control.”
“I thought that’s the point of it!”
“As a matter of fact, it’s not.” He shifts a little, moving his paw back on to the top of the cruiser hood, and angling his body so she’s not quite tucked into his side. “As a matter of fact, bondage tends to be a lot more nuanced than the books portray – with the key thing being that it’s a negotiated relationship focused on what both parties want and are willing to consent to.”
“Really.” He looks down at her. “And no, before you ask, I don’t do that.”
Judy didn’t really think he would. After the humiliation and terror of the muzzle as a kid, Nick is bad with any kind of restraints. His score in the ‘Restraints and Apprehension’ unit at the Academy was ‘average’ (as compared to ‘outstanding’ like most of his other scores), simply because his skill in ‘Negotiations’ balanced out his marked failure in ‘Restraints’.
“I don’t see the attraction, myself,” Judy confesses, “but Francine adores the books.”
Nick nearly chokes. “Sweet cheese on a popsicle stick. Chalk that up under ‘things I did not need to know!’” He makes a humming noise in his throat, then glances down at her. “So...is it your thing, Carrots?”
She grins through the flush of heat beneath her fur. In the last month, Nick’s been edging into more intimate territory, even in their work together. Questions that a rookie probably shouldn’t ask of their senior – personal questions.
“I tried reading the first book,” she confesses. “But the hero was an ass as well as a donkey and it wasn’t worth my time.”
One corner of his mouth tilts up. “That’s my Carrots.”
Nick doesn’t realise he’s staring at the house bathed in flashing red and blue lights until Judy actually has to bounce up into his line of sight.
“Ready to go?”
He stares at her, the familiar concern in her expression, the slight tension around her eyes, and drags his thoughts together. “Oh, hey. Finished with the social worker?”
“I gave her my number in case those kids need anything. Apart from their mom or their dad, neither of which they’re going to get. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Her ears droop a little as she glances back at the coroner’s van and the cop cruiser where the sobbing wolf is just being shoved in the backseat by Officer Wolford, who looks grimmer than Nick’s ever seen – and the guy’s no picnic on a good day.
It’s life, Nick wants to say. But the words catch in his chest along with his breath. It’s not life – not for everyone. Certainly not for bunnies out of Bunnyboro with dreams and ideals and determination.
He settles for putting a hand on her shoulder and squeezing lightly. “Let’s go.”
Judy turns the radio all the way down as they head out , and they sit in silence until they’re out of the suburbs of Meadowtown and on the main road into Downtown. “Cabow from the 27th said Olivia Rawlerton had left her husband twice before, and taken out a restraining order a year ago. I don’t...I don’t understand why she was back with him.”
“The kids. Money. No other options. Pick one. Pick ‘em all.” Nick glances out the window at the empty streets of the business district. In twelve hours it’ll be wall to wall hooves, paws, and claws, but right now, it’s quiet as a mausoleum. “They tell themselves they’re doing the best thing for their kids, or that he’ll change, or they think that they deserve it, that they’re not worth respect...” He catches the tilt of her head towards him. “Did you know it takes on average at least seven tries before someone walks away from a situation like that?”
“And Olivia Rawlerton ran out at three.”
“You can’t save them all, Hopps.”
“I know.” But her paws are tight around the steering wheel. “Doesn’t stop me from wanting to try.”
She’s big on trying, his Judy. And, okay, maybe Nick is too. Because he’s lived the life where he didn’t try at all and he likes this one better. At least part of liking his life better now is because it’s a life that has Judy right there beside him.
He’d like her to be right beside him for more than just their work - which, admittedly, is a big part of their life – but after the Night Howlers case, he’s also very much aware of the danger he presents to her. And then there’s tonight’s domestic violence call, which they took because the Meadowtown Division is short thanks to a drug bust down the south end, towards Marshlands.
Rawlerton tore out his wife’s throat in a jealous rage – no Night Howler necessary, just anger and frustration with nowhere to go but his oldest, most vicious instincts.
We may be evolved, but we are still animals, said Mr. Big to Judy during the Night Howler case.
Nick occasionally has nightmares about that day in the Museum of Natural History – ones where Bellweather shot him with the serum, and his paws tear through Judy’s hide, as his mouth fills with her blood. The first time it happened was the morning after a particularly trying unit at the Academy. He panic-called her from the Academy, just to hear her voice, and then managed to fob it off as ‘my pocket making calls’.
“What?” They’re sitting at the lights, and Judy is staring at him, concerned. “Sorry. It’s been a long day.”
She keeps looking at him, like she doesn’t quite believe him. But when the lights go green, she drives on without comment. And perversely, Nick suddenly wants to talk.
“Aren’t you ever worried that I might—that I might do that to you?”
Judy looks over at him. “Nick. You’re not like that. We’re not like that—”
“If by ‘like that’ you mean, we’re not a married couple with a domestic violence history between us, then, yes, you’re absolutely correct—”
“I mean, you’re not like that.” She turns big violet eyes on him. “Yes, you’re a predator type, but so was she and she still—He still did that to her.”
“Because she trusted him and she shouldn’t have.”
“Are you saying I shouldn’t trust you?” Judy gives him a look. The reason he’s here, in this uniform, is because she trusted him even through her prejudice, and they both know it.
“I’m saying that...sometimes this job is the pits.”
Judy’s eyes narrow. “That’s not what you were going to say.”
“Well, no. But I’m—Maybe we should discuss this when you’re not driving.”
“Are you saying bunnies can’t talk and drive?”
“I’m saying that you have a lead foot, and this conversation isn’t one that should be had while your attention is half elsewhere.”
“Fine.” She flips on the radio. “Your place or mine?”
‘Home’ these days is an apartment in the Canyonlands rather than under a bridge out in the Canal District. It’s not fancy – he jokes that he took the job as a cop to pay the bills after he’d backpaid his taxes – but it’s somewhere to come back to after a long day on the job, and there’s more than enough space for two to laze on the couch while hanging out.
Judy isn’t interested in flopping down on the couch to watch Gossip Gerbils tonight. She turns almost as soon as he closes the door behind them, but rather than arguing with him, she just walks into his chest so her forehead rests against his breastbone. And Nick finds himself brushing one paw over her shoulder, while the other strokes back over her ears, petting her fur in a gesture that’s…intimate.
Their kind were once predator and prey with no halfway point, just biology. The heat that washes through him is a different kind of biology – and one that brings its own set of complications. They haven’t discussed complications – not before this. They haven’t done anything that required discussion. But it looks like they’re going to have the conversation now.
“You need to get past this idea that you’d hurt me, Nick.”
“Well, you know, it’s not just something I can forget.”
Judy lifts her head to look up at him. “But you do forget! When we’re on a chase, or when we’re taking down a suspect, or when we’re in the gym sparring. You forget all the time on the job.”
“That’s… That’s on the job, Carrots. It’s different.”
“Is really all that different? Or are you just scared?”
She tilts her head up at him, big violet eyes demanding the truth from him. So Nick gives it to her. “Carrots, I’m terrified.”
“And yet you can’t seem to keep from stroking my ears.”
“It’s soothing.” They’re all silky and warm under his paw, both delicate and very solid. “I like your ears.”
“I like you touching my ears.” Her ears push gently into his fingers, like she’s stroking him back. His breath catches, but she doesn’t notice. “And if I didn’t, I’d let you know. I’m not Olivia Rawlerton – I can fight back. And I would if you got too rough for me.”
He leans his chin on the top of her head, between her ears. “You scare me sometimes, Judy. I scare me.”
“You don’t scare me. Nick.” Her paws slide around his flanks. “You’re not savage – not like Bellwether made those animals.”
“But I could be.”
“And I could be, too, if someone shot me up with Night Howler.” Judy tilts her head back, until her nose is right against his throat. “I could tear your throat out now.”
“I’d just stand up straight.” But he doesn’t, because he likes the teasing lilt in her voice, the way her breath stirs his fur. He likes the feel of her against him – her nape under his fingers, her nose against his neck. He likes the thought of her teeth in his fur, her paws in his pelt, her laughter in his ears. And as his fingers stroke up her ears again, Nick would like to know that she likes the idea, too. “Hopps…”
Judy nuzzles his throat, and he shivers as her nose burrows through his fur to his skin. “Mmhm?”
He angles his head so she’s still got access to his throat, but his snout is just brushing her ear. “Tell me you’re not going to tear my throat out right now.”
Her laugh vibrates through his body as her paws slide in under his shirt. “You might have to give me an alternative, Nick.”
They find an alternative that’s satisfying for them both.
Cross-species relationships have only become generally accepted in the last few decades. Before that, most skated under the radar, and even today there are taboos.
Zootopia is more open-minded about this than, say, Bunnyboro, but there are still prejudices – even in the police force.
“Okay, so I kind of have to ask...does he use his teeth?”
The question comes from Barbara, one of the new sheep recruits brought in to replace the officers that Bellwether subverted. She’s a lot larger and more forthright than the former Deputy Mayor of Zootopia, and she has no qualms about asking the questions that nobody else will because they’re deemed too polite. If Bellwether took pains not to rock the boat, Barb isn’t about to soft-hoof anyone.
Around them, the locker room goes totally silent. Judy turns around with her shirt in hand to find all the other female officers waiting for her response. “Uh, I’m not sure how that’s anyone’s business but ours?”
“Oh, come on, Jude,” Barb says with a laugh. “We’re all deadly curious how it works when you’re up against ancestral instinct, so to speak. And you know what the boys say – Wilde by name and Wilde by nature!”
“I imagine it works the same way it works with any couple who’ve got some major differences to work out,” says Adiala, a rhino who recently transferred over from the 11th.
“Oh, Adi.” Barb waves a hand dismissively. “Don’t tell me you don’t want to know!”
“Oh, I’m as curious as the next beast,” Adiala admits. “But I draw the line at interrogating a fellow cop. Besides, teeth can be an intimate thing for some couples; it’s all about your personal tastes. Right, Francine?”
The locker room descends into teasing Francine about her enthusiasm for the recently-released 50 Shades Darker movie, and the lead actor, Jamie Hornan.
Judy’s just as glad to have gotten off the hook, although she doesn’t join in with the teasing. She’s still working out how she feels about their relationship now that there’s a sexual aspect, and it has nothing to do with his use of teeth.
Sex is easy. Judy’s a bunny, after all, and the reputation they have is honestly earned. And, as it turns out, male foxes take their time in bed, and become particularly intense once they go into ‘coital lock’. Add in Nick’s careful attention to little details and their sexual relationship is nothing to complain about, although perhaps a little exhausting.
More difficult is the way people react to them. The father of the hyenas who live next door to Nick cultivates a carefully blank expression when he sees them coming home in the evenings, although his answer to their greetings are coolly civil. In comparison, the raccoon on the fourth floor covered her daughter’s ears and shuffled the kid behind her the morning Nick and Judy got on their elevator while talking about whose turn it was to buy the groceries. And then there was the elderly opossum who saw Judy give Nick a quick kiss while they were picnicking in the park off-duty, and screeched a lot about ‘species traitors’ until Nick frostily informed him that they were ZPD and that if he continued, he’d be charged with disturbing the peace.
Unfortunately, that pretty much ‘outs’ their relationship to the public, and the next couple of weeks are several kinds of awful as they deal with the scrutiny – not only of their relationship, but also of their handling of the Night Howlers case. A small community group ‘Prey For Power’ is convinced that Dawn Bellwether was innocent, and the whole Night Howler serum was nothing more than a conspiracy by the authorities to cover up the ‘social instability’ inherent in predators.
Judy’s relationship with Nick brings all that up in the worst possible way.
“So, I was protecting my predator lover by…forcing Bellwether to give a confession to inciting hate riots? While she’s standing on the rim of the display pit and we’re trapped below?”
It sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But that’s exactly what some of the papers are claiming.
“Never presume a conspiracy theorist makes sense, Hopps. It only hurts the brain.” Chief Bogo shrugs from behind his desk. “They’ve been bothering me for interviews. I’ve told them not to waste my, your, or the department’s time.”
“Might we presume that the ZPD is behind us in this, then?”
“One hundred percent. You’re not breaking any laws in being in a relationship with each other and so long as you’re not doing anything illegal,” dark brows lowers threateningly at Nick, “and behave with utmost professionalism while on the job, then your relationship is none of the ZPD’s business.”
All in all, that goes better than Judy expects.
Nick seems restless though. Judy lets him brood all the way home, then corners him up against the door.
“Okay,” his paws slide up her sides as he gives her his smirky little pre-sex grin. “Guess I missed all the signals, but I’m good to go off-road.”
“Oh, no, you read the map exactly right,” Judy tells him. “I’m not taking you to bed – not right this instant, anyway. But you can’t brood about this, Nick – about us. What they think doesn’t matter. If you let it matter, then they’ll have won.”
The smirk drops, and his paws flex against her waist. “Remember how your mom is always dropping hints about grandbunnies?”
“So...you’re going to dump me because we can’t have children together?” Judy knows he’s not, but it helps to say it out loud. It makes it more...ridiculous, less possible. “What’s wrong with adoption?” She nudges him with her hip. “I think you’d make a great dad to, say, an elephant!”
“Har-har.” Nick lowers his chin so it’s resting on the top of her head. “Look I don’t want you to suddenly discover you want to be a biomom...”
“If I do,” Judy notes into his collarbone, “there’s this thing called ‘IVF’ and it works really well on bunnies. Or, if you’d rather foxes, we could find a surrogate mom. But, really, I think fostering or adoption would work. I mean, there’s no shortage on bunny babies...”
“We can’t just ignore what the news outlets are saying.”
She pulls back and gives him a look. “No, but we don’t have to behave like we’ve done anything wrong, either! The Chief is behind us. Mayor Po is behind us. The League Of Real Love is behind us.”
Nick snorts. “Who came up with that name anyway?”
“Someone with no imagination.” Judy thinks it’s a silly name, too. “But what the League does is real.”
“Technically, what the League does is ‘Real Love’. Ow!” Nick yelps as she punches him in the shoulder. “Easy there, Carrots! You’ll want me in one piece for later.”
“I want you in one piece now.” Pressed up a lovely warm fox, with her blood up and pumping, Judy is well aware that she could easily slip into desire. But they’re more than just sex and biology, she and Nick. They’re people who love each other and want to be in a relationship with each other. The rest is just...stuff they have to deal with along the way. “But I need to know that you’re in this with me – that you’re going to fight for us.”
“You really need to ask, Carrots?”
“Well," she bats her lashes up at him, "I like it when you use your words, fox.”
He lowers his mouth to hers. “Yes, I’m in this. Yes, I’ll fight for us. Yes, I love you, Carrots. In case you were wondering.”
“Mm,” she nips his snout with her teeth. “Actually, I wasn’t, but feel free to convince me."