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It Could Have Been Worse

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The television in the corner of the doctor’s office was tuned to ZSPN, showing a suited jaguar and a buffalo behind a desk as they spoke about their predictions for the outcome of Zootopia’s pre-season football games. Within the white room itself, a short armadillo in a white coat sat upon a propped up chair and typed away at his computer, ensuring that the records of his current patient were all in order, and confirming other patients in his care within other rooms in the emergency clinic. After completing another row of information, the doctor looked down the the bottom-right corner of his computer, seeing the time read 12:07.

“Alright Officer Wilde, let’s take a look,” the armadillo said, turning around on his chair to the fox laying on the medical bed and the rabbit seated next to him, both of them dressed in their blue police uniforms. The doctor scooted his chair to the right of the fox, where his arm laid propped up on a raised platform to support his limb wrapped in a white cast. He moved his claws up and down over the hardened surface and nodded in approval. “Good, seems to have dried up well enough. Nice and hard. Let’s give it a test.” Bawling his claws into a fist, he wrapped his knuckles gingerly onto the surface, near where the fox’s wrist would be. “Feel any pain?”

“A little ache,” Nick replied, “But nothing unbearable.”

“A little tenderness is expected,” the armadillo replied, moving his knuckles further down to test the rest of his arm’s cast, “As long as it’s not excruciating pain. Also, it’s not so tight that it’s cutting off circulation, is it?”

“Nah. It’s fine.”

“Great. We’re almost done here then.” the doctor moved to climb up on his desk, reaching for the cupboard just above his computer. He pulled out a white cloth, the same shade as Nick’s cast, and slid his way back to the fox. “Okay, pull your arm back, up above your stomach.” Nick complied, placing his arm just underneath his slender chest. The armadillo slipped the cloth under Nick’s armpit and across his back, wrapping it over his opposite shoulder and tying it together to hold his casted arm. “There you go, all set. Now, I’m just gonna step out for a moment, get some paperwork for you; some stuff the ZPD’s gonna need to let you have time off to heal. I’ll be back in just a moment,” the armadillo said, before hopping off of his chair and stepping out the door at the front of the room.

Aside from the television showing highlights from last season’s football games and the commentary on them, the room remained quiet between Nick and the rabbit officer next to him. Hardly a minute passed, before Nick muted the television with the remote in his uninjured paw and turned to her.

“Your ears have been hanging past your shoulders since you got here,” he said, his voice low and passive, “What’s eating you, Carrots?”

Officer Judy Hopps sat in her seat, rubbing her paws over the side of her head as her ears flopped past her chin. Even though he’d been admitted to the emergency room and treated with no complications, her stomach was still tied in knots at the situation. Every time she saw that cast protecting his broken arm, it made her feel sick. It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to an officer, not by a long shot. But it was still bad, and didn’t do much to ease the stress she felt.

“Come here,” Nick said while Judy kept her head in her paws. Nick scooted himself from the back of the chair, hanging his legs over the side as he sat upright. “You look like you need a hug.”

Judy’s face tightened up as she stood from her chair. Stepping toward the fox looking at her. It took her a moment, but she eventually held her paws up to the face of the fox, caressing her palms against the lines where his red and cream fur met one another. Feeling the soft texture within her grasp brought some relief to the rabbit, and she felt her stomach ease up just a bit.

He’s okay. She thought to herself as her digits combed through his fur, He’s still here. He’s in one piece. With a tired smile creeping on her face, Judy leaned her head in, resting her forehead on that of the fox’s.

“Come on, Carrots,” Nick replied, his voice just above a whisper. His big bushy tail rose and fell once against the hospital bed as Judy’s paws ran across his face.  “I can handle a broken arm.”

“I know,” Judy sighed, taking some comfort from feeling his breath near her mouth, “I know you’re okay, and you’re gonna heal, and you’ll be back on the force in a month or two like it’s no big deal.”

“...But?” Nick asked, knowing full well there was still something on the rabbit’s mind.

“But... “ Judy began, her smile beginning to fade, “Things could have gone so much worse. You’re lucky you came out with just this.”

A light scoff escaped the fox’s mouth. “Lucky?” he asked with a smile, “If I was lucky, I wouldn’t need this cast at all.”

“That’s not what I mean,” Judy replied, clutching his fur a bit tighter, as if afraid he might slip away from her if she let go, “I seriously thought I’d lost you for a moment. I was praying with everything I had that it wasn’t as bad as I feared.”

Judy could still remember what had taken place that morning, just a few hours ago. She and Nick had been assigned to help out with a sting operation near Savanna Central’s residential area, involving a drug peddler selling catnip to felines who knew of his dirty business. While the two officers themselves were to remain in hiding, lion cadet Officer Johnson had donned a hoodie and baggy jeans, taking on the appearance of a drabby addict looking to get his next fix. While his street dialect had been spot on, something about the situation seemed to tip the jaguar peddler off that he was in danger. In the blink of an eye, the jaguar took off running past Johnson, prompting Nick and Judy to give chase after the fleeing suspect.

Outside of the downtown area, the jaguar tried to shake off his pursuers by climbing atop a nearby rooftop, scaling the building without a hitch. Nick managed to climb up the drainpipe on the same wall of the building, while Judy managed to leap up the the roof in a single bound, landing alongside Nick as he resumed chasing after the jaguar. Nick and Judy had somewhat of a rivalry between them about who was the fastest, determined by which of them could catch their target first. Judy had a vast edge in speed over Nick a year ago, due to her natural speed as a rabbit, and the fact that Nick wasn’t in the best shape a fox could be. Through a year of training and dedication in the police academy, he’d pushed himself to match her speed, also gaining some assistance from his longer fox legs.

As the two gave chase, they saw the jaguar ahead of them leap from one rooftop to another, both of them doing the same with relative ease. After three rooftops lept, Judy’s ears picked up Nick’s breathing from beside her. While not winded, she could tell his stamina was beginning to decline, from the sound of his breathing becoming more tense as they ran. They were gaining on their target, so she trusted he could last for a bit longer. A yard ahead of them, she saw the jaguar leap a gap in buildings twice as long as the ones they’d jumped so far, his own foot hanging off the ledge as he stumbled to clear the gap.

Nick, that’s a huge gap, Judy called from beside him as they ran, I don’t think you can make it.

I can make it! Nick screamed in defiance, pushing himself to run a bit ahead of her.

Are you sure!?

I said I can make it! He screamed, just a second before his feet reached the edge of the building they were on. It seemed to happen in slow motion in Judy’s eyes: both of them jumped off of the edge, she just a few inches behind Nick, both of them sailing through the air toward the next building. Her feet had given her an extra bounce, making her fly nearly a foot above the fox. She glanced down at Nick, seeing his body move toward the edge of the next building. It seemed he would make it after all, just barely.

Instead, it was just barely out of reach. His vertical momentum declined, and his chest slammed against the brick edge with tremendous force. The fox scrambled in vain to clutch the edge of the building, but the impact against his body was too much for him to form a steady grip in time. Just as she landed on the roof, she saw out the corner of her eye the image of Nick’s paw slipping off of the edge and out of sight, before she heard a massive thud from below.

OH MY GOD, NICK!! Judy screamed, her feet skidding the rooftop as she forced herself to stop. She’d slid half a yard from the edge of the building, before running back toward the gap. Judy’s hanging ears covered her shoulders, her heart racing as she neared the lip of the building, praying with all her might that she wouldn’t see a lifeless body when she looked down.

For a moment, she thought the worst when she saw Nick lying on the ground next to an alley garbage dumpster. A second later, following an agonizing groan, the fox turned on his side, clutching his right arm as his jaw remained open.

I’m fine! Nick screamed up to her in a strained voice, Just my arm! Go! Don’t let him get away!

Judy’s heart was torn. She wanted to jump down and tend to Nick’s injury more than anything. Turning to look over her shoulder, she saw the jaguar had gained several yards distance from her in a few seconds time. As much as it hurt her, she knew Nick was right. She turned away from him and back toward the suspect, resuming her pursuit of him at a more frantic pace.

While she’d been successful in putting the peddler in cuffs a few minutes later, it didn’t feel like a victory in Judy’s mind. When she’d dropped the suspect off at the ZPD, she rushed to the emergency room Nick had been taken to, and stayed by his side through the process of x-rays and casting, her heart heavy with a guilty conscience the whole while.

“I’m still here, Carrots,” Nick said, raising his left arm to hold Judy’s paw, “The worst could’ve happened, but it didn’t. Isn’t that all that matters?”

“No,” Judy said in defiance.

“Why not?”

“Because I feel like I’m responsible for this.”

“How are you possibly responsible for this? I’m the one who misjudged how far I could jump. I’m obviously not as good as you, much as I want to be.”

“That’s what I mean,” Judy said, her voice cracking a bit, “Nick, I wanted you to be my partner because I thought you were cut out for this, and because I really wanted you by my side while I was working. I had a feeling we’d make a great team, but…” Judy looked at Nick’s broken arm, thinking about how it was because he’d pushed himself too hard to keep up with her that this had happened. “Nick, what if you’re just not cut out for this? What if you keep pushing yourself, and it costs you more than a broken arm next time?”

Nick paused for a moment as he looked at the hurt in Judy’s eyes. It was obvious that she valued his safety as much as she valued her job, and making sure she carried out the law to the best of her ability. Nick was a huge part of her life. If anything serious happened to him, she’d no doubt go to pieces. Nick took some time to process his thoughts, before uttering a reply.

“Judy, put yourself in my place for a moment,” he said, easing her head away from him, “Imagine you fell off that building, and I was telling you to quit because I wanted you to be safe. Would you do it?”

Judy thought about the question for a few seconds. She could have taken minutes, hours or even days to think it over, but the answer would still have been the same.

“No,” she replied.

“Why not?”

“Because, I worked too hard to get here,” Judy said, “Since I was a kid, all I heard was ‘Rabbits can’t be cops’ or ‘You’re not cut out for this’ or ‘Go home, bunny’. When I was accepted into the force, it was a chance for me to prove them all wrong. A lot of mammals supported me, and were proud of what I’d accomplished, and I was glad to be an idol for them.” Judy giggled a bit to herself as she thought things over, “But, it was also a chance for me to say ‘I told you so’ to everyone who said I couldn’t do it.”

The fox chuckled as he kept his eyes focused on hers. “Heh. Little cinnamon bun likes to gloat a bit, huh?”

“Shut up,” Judy said with a smile, “I worked my whole life for the right to gloat. I earned it. So, if I were to quit just because I got injured… that would take everything I worked for away. It would prove to everyone who was for or against me that I wasn’t cut out for it after all.”

“Same here,” Nick said, keeping his eyes on hers, “The day you pinned that badge on me was one of the happiest days of my life. It was the beginning of my chance to prove to everyone who doubted me — and even those who supported me,” he added, gently squeezing her paw, “That I could do it too. You believed in me when you gave me that badge, right?” Judy nodded her head in confirmation, “Are you seriously gonna take that support back, just because of a little accident?”

Judy felt her chest tighten, not in worry for Nick’s safety anymore, but for the worry that she’d unintentionally insulted him just now. She shook her head in the negative, her eyes closed off from Nick.

“I’m sorry,” Judy muttered. Nick reached his paw up and brushed Judy’s head between the base of her drooping ears.

“It’s alright, Judy. I get it,” he assured her, “Tell you the truth, I’d probably be as much of a wreck as you if you were the one in the cast right now. It’s all good.”

“Just… be more careful next time, okay?” Judy said, looking back up at him, “I’m your superior, so if I say not to do something, do us both a favor and listen to me, okay?”

Nick rolled his eyes and groaned. “Alright, alright,” he relented, “I’ll stop trying to be a supercop. I’ll just be a regular cop, while you get all the glory.”

“Good,” she said with a smile, pressing herself forward and brushing her nose against his. As Judy’s ears jumped to their normal upright position, she heard Nick’s tail thump against the bed multiple times. The click of the door at the front of the room prompted her to step away from him, both officers looking toward the armadillo doctor with a manilla file folder in his grasp.