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Hungry Ghosts

Chapter Text

“I’m gonna be a doctor,” the mountain goat slurred. He rolled around groggily on the stretcher, the scent of cheap fruit wine punctuating his disoriented grunts, traces of energy drink stains dotting his scraggly beard. One of the EMTs glanced sideways at Nick, in search of implied moral support.

“A+ for good intentions, kiddo.” Nick crossed his arms and nodded sagely. “Maybe getting your stomachs pumped will count as extra credit.”

The team of ibex wheeled their patient down the hill and into the waiting ambulance, the whirrs of the stretcher’s lift assist drowning out the young man’s no-doubt witty retort. Nick had no doubt that, in a few years, the pitiful ungulate in front of him would be a respected member of society. He might even graduate with honors. All these little screw-ups would become hilarious fodder whenever he needed banter with the successful bioarchitects and marketing VPs at his ten-year reunion.

Nick couldn’t stand daglocks like him.

He ambled over to the idling squad car, waving one friendly paw at the medics as they took a right turn out of the warren of frat houses. He opened the passenger-side door and took a seat. He rolled up the window to muffle the sounds of hoofstep bass drops against a chorus of inebriated bleats. From the seat next to him, he heard the faint, resigned scratching of ink on paper.

“Is it wrong of me to hope that the next call is for a Nighthowler attack?” Judy huffed.

“Officer Hopps, I’m very disappointed to hear that kind of cynical talk. We swore to protect and serve the citizens of this fair city.” The pen paused mid-stroke as Judy’s ears went flat with irritation, her eyes squinted up and sideways at the smirking fox in the car. “And that includes the citizens who think that their idiocy is a gift.”

“I stepped on a hairball in there, Nick.”

“And you’re not wearing those boots into the apartment tonight,” Nick teased. Judy flipped her notepad closed with conviction and a faint harrumph. “Besides, that’s nothing. I once drained an elephant bar’s septic tank and sold it to some serval bootleggers.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Nick watched as his partner mustered a tired smile. “Crackers to Betsy, why?” She stretched her little limbs as the dashboard clock clicked over to almost three in the morning. Somewhere nearby, a goat screamed along to the chorus. “And why do you always tell me these things when I’m too tired to fight back?”

“Something about elephant digestion boiled down the spirits and left behind a gas that gave quite a kick,” Nick continued. Judy saw her own face in the driver’s side mirror as it twisted into a novel mixture of fascination and horror. “They distilled the gas into little huff-sized cylinders and passed it off as medical-grade anesthetic. I heard it was very popular in this neck of the woods.”

“That’s…” Judy’s face had taken a turn for the genuinely mortified, while simultaneously knowing full well that Nick was pressing her buttons on purpose. “I don’t even know what that is! What about your “no victims” rule? How old were you? I don’t care what the statute of limitations is on…” Judy struggled to pinpoint the right legal offense, sputtering.

“Paying the rent? Running a good hustle? Grossing you out?”

“Shut your mouth, Wilde!” Judy cracked, in one of the most endearing impersonations of Bogo that Nick had ever heard. Her face lit up with a giggling incredulousness. Her shoulders relaxed as she shoved her notepad firmly next to the gear shift, stifling her laughter.

“It was barely illegal, Carrots.” Nick counseled. He stroked his chin with an air of practiced pontification. “Extralegal, if you will. Just something for kids like that one who like to numb their whiskers more than study.”

Judy shook her head and picked up the radio, looking over. “I hate you, and I hate your stories.”

Nick maintained his gaze over the hood, smirking quietly. “Liar.”

Judy called in, her voice noticeably more chipper than it had been a few minutes ago. “All clear at the university. Got anything else for us?”

The dispatcher crackled from the radio handset. “Nothing next shift can’t handle. Go to bed, you two.” Somewhere across town, McHorn glanced across the cab to Wolfard and muttered conspiratorially. “Whose bed?” Wolfard pounded the armrest as he tried not to choke on his cricket burger.

“Finally,” Judy sighed happily, slotting the radio back into place. “Yours or mine?”

“Mine. My neighbors are a brick wall and a space heater, and they never argue.” Judy had actually moved, into a basement apartment below a quiet marmot couple. Nick affectionately referred to it as “upper crust” on account of the mildew that had ringed the shower drain when she’d first moved in (he said that any fungus in that bright of a purple was just being uppity, and trying to rise above its station). But Judy still referred to her antique radiator and jenky refrigerator as Bucky and Pronk, respectively.

“Besides,” Nick amended. “We’ve been postponing these kids’ playtime long enough.”

“I’m pretty sure the goats have already forgotten we were ever here.”

“Not them.” Nick continued to stare straight ahead and slightly to the side. “I mean the two panthers in the driver’s seat, at one o’clock. They haven’t moved an inch since we came back out.”

Quietly, for the first time, Judy followed Nick’s gaze into the street. Sitting on the opposite side of the street a few spots up, parked in the opposite direction, the clean silhouette of the driver’s seat was disrupted by an ungainly mass of glossy black. To Judy’s eyes, it hardly registered as anything more than a trick of the street lights.

“…No.”

“Oh, absolutely. Night vision for the win.”

Judy reached for her ticket book. It was running low. “We should…”

“You heard the lady. We’re off-duty, fluff.”

Judy took the steering wheel in her paws and took a deep breath. Her whole body vacillated between exhausted and dutiful. She exhaled. “At least give them a warning or something.”

“I think this is warning enough.”

“Do they realize that you’ve spotted them?”

“Oh, I haven’t broken eye contact with the guy this whole time.”

Judy tilted her neck towards the roof and let out a unexpectedly delighted yelp. She reached out to punch Nick as hard as she could, but came up short and just pounded the edge of Nick’s seat, repeatedly. “You’re such a creep! You’re worse than they are!” She thought of the poor jungle cats, forced to watch a live mocking of their cramped, frozen coitus. “We’re terrible cops!”

Nick straightened his spine with an affected pride. “We’re watching over this beautiful city, Hopps. Like underpaid guardian angels.” He finally broke his ten-yard-stare, glancing to his cohort as she turned the wheel towards the street and edged forward. “Creep with me, partner.”

They rolled past, Judy smirking at the wheel and casting a sidelong glance at the petrified couple. From his perch in the passenger seat facing them, Nick looked down and gave them a gentle, encouraging wink.