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When the Stars Align (A Zootopia Story)

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Chapter Nine - Fatal Flaw

It had been two weeks since she had met Harvey, and never once had she seen him angry. The guy seemed like the type to never lose his composure, let alone allow that lopsided, half-hearted smile to falter. Despite this, the hare appeared to have concealed another side of himself almost equal in fright-factor to Fulgens when he was heated, and Judy was getting the full force of it.

Not to say she didn't deserve it.

"I'm taking you home." His tone left no room for rebuttals.

"Harvey," was all she could think to say. "I'm really—"

"Stop." He didn't look at her while throwing his coat over his shoulders. "I'm not going to hear any of it." He turned around now, and his yellow-gold eyes seemed darker than usual. "My whole purpose here is to ensure this never happens."

"But it wasn't your fault," Judy tried to reason with him, though found it much like reasoning with a thunderhead not to rain.

"No, it wasn't." He said matter-of-factly, bordering on self-righteously, which was valid given the circumstances. "But if I don't do something about it—now that you've nearly killed yourself—then it will be my fault when you do get yourself killed." He turned for the door without a glance at her. "I don't wanna have to tell Bogo I let his best officer die under my watch, so we're going home."

Judy stumbled over her thoughts, still trying to wrap her mind around this new side of a hare she thought she had pinpointed. She jogged to catch up with him. "You don't even know where I live."

The reply was easy. "You'll give me your address in the car."

For whatever reason, this frustrated her more than anything else. She had only known the hare for a fortnight, and yet here he was giving her orders. Sure, she should have gotten more sleep recently, should have put off the dead-end attempts at research until the next day. The sleeping pills at five in the morning probably weren't the best idea either, she was still feeling their effects. And the headache it had given her when she downed double-shot espresso only two hours later that morning could have been better timed, or at least saved for lunch.

She turned around to where Honey was standing outside Nick's cell as if she would defend her—but from what? From the one guy who was trying to take care of her when she wasn't doing a good enough job herself?

When she met Honey's eyes, she saw something like motherly disappointment in them, and whatever anger had been stirring inside drowned in guilt and embarrassment. Her ears fell.

"You heard the hare," was all she said, giving a small nod towards the door where Harvey was waiting, his foot thumping much like Judy often did herself.

She had fallen asleep in a savage's cell.

Harvey's alert nature had been the only thing to save her life because Honey was sedating a wolverine two cells over. It hadn't been more than a minute or two that she had dozed off, but it had been enough. Savage Containment had been getting busier by the day, and the steady flow of savages being carted in was both unsettling and overwhelming, especially for Honey, the head of the savage-rehabilitation effort.

On an average day, the process of washing each a savage would take no longer than two minutes. She'd then return to the door, give a good hard knock, and Honey would come to unlock the door. However, there had never been a good hard knock because she had been washing Nick, which meant she usually took a few extra minutes to sit, pet, and even enact one-sided conversations with the savage—what could she say, she had a bias for her fox. He got special privileges.

The disturbing lack of sleep this week, however, did not bode well for her. Especially when taking into account the dim lighting on the Feral Floor and the relaxing, almost sleep-inducing action of repetitively running her fingers through the fox's crimson fur. At least, on the optimistic side, some earlier savages—Nick included—were showing signs of their rehab. There was less hissing and growling when they were awake and more sitting around and watching. Their stares had become more curious than malevolent. Not that they were safe to cuddle with, but that Judy had allowed more leniency around Nick, Gideon, Myra, and the earlier savages. Honey predicted around two more weeks until they would no longer be hostile and could go upstairs to a room with a bed, and that complete consciousness should follow a few weeks after that.

She had been thinking about work, or the research she had come to call work, but there wasn't much new to think. Same parallels, no breakthroughs, not to mention she got another call from an unknown number—different number, same audio. There had been a faint conversation, something about waiting it out. She hadn't been paying much attention until something along the lines of "…take it easy…fear run its course…" piqued her interest. She'd tried to listen closer, though the audio was shot to shit, as her brother Jade loved to say about anything breaking or broken. She eventually hung up, deeming her trying to comprehend it a hopeless case. However, she had told Harvey about it when she'd first walked in. He had told her to notify Bogo if it happened again

"Could, I dunno, be some kind of hint," he had said, rubbing the back of his neck. "Possibly a threat, it's too little info to be sure."

She'd been trying to make sense of it when she heard dull banging. A muffled voice was calling her name, and she wasn't sure why. She wasn't sure of anything at that moment, though once her mind had thawed, she realized she had fallen asleep. It was only a few minutes. I hardly knew that I had dozed off in the first place! What's he so worked up about?

Harvey was standing on the other side of the glass. His face contorted into a frightened grimace. He was pounding on the glass with both paws. Her mind still foggy with fatigue, she didn't quite connect the dots as to what he was so concerned about until she felt something moving independent of her own will. Something moving under her arm. Something damp and soft, smelling kind of musty, and it was twitching, and swelling and falling, twitching more, and kicking now, and—Oh sweet cheese and crackers—Nick!

The mental fog lifted in an instant. Nick was moving. One of his eyes—it was the only one she could see from how he was lying on his side—fluttered open, looked ahead, around, then found and locked onto her with a sudden, ravenous fascination.

She had drifted off with one paw resting on Nick, and this seemed to be equally shocking to both parties involved.

"Doctor!" Harvey was shouting. "Doc, get over here! He's awake! No, not that kind of awake! Judy's in there!"

Honey came into view in an instant. She assessed the situation in a split-second glance. The badger's fear scared Judy the most—she had never seen Honey break her smooth, easy-going facade. The fresh horror in her eyes was more terrifying than the savage behind her.

Honey scrambled to enter the passcode. She never said a world.

Judy stood up on wobbly knees and backed towards the door. "You can't just open it, he could get through!" she shouted. Part of her regretted it, especially with the savage now growling, slobbering, fighting the anesthesia. She had seen the savages rise before. The anesthesia made rousing slow, so much so they usually just laid there on the ground, half-conscious for up to twenty minutes. This, of course, was when they didn't wake to find a perfectly vulnerable rabbit in the cell with them. The savage was fighting the sedative hard, its eyes never leaving Judy.

"You'll die if I don't, Hopps," Honey said, her voice raised to be audible through the glass. An odd thought crossed Judy's mind at that moment—Honey would make a spectacular instructor at the police academy. She had the authoritative voice down to a science. "Get as close to me as you can. No running, nothing sudden. And stay calm, whatever you do."

The savage had just stood up on all fours, disoriented though quickly regaining his bearings. The growling was louder, more ferocious than before, its canines bared. Its dilated eyes never left its prey.

"He's up!" Harvey shouted

"I see that!" Honey called back, flustered, her collected facade crumbling. "Hopps, get to the door. I'm ready to unlock it."

Right then, the savage charged from only feet away. Its bared teeth were open, no doubt to manage the throat.

"Open the door!" Harvey cried.

Honey did just that, though only enough so he could slip through. A key factor in Judy Hopps' survival was the slight advantage of a hare's speed over a fox's.

Harvey dove on Judy, practically tackling her to the side as Nick pounced, one claw grazing Harvey's uniform just enough to split the fabric on the shoulder. Both officers followed through on their training, rebounding back on their feet, though the savage was quick to recover as well. Back on all fours, he was ready to pounce again.

Harvey gave Judy a shove towards the door, and right as the savage lunged, he took a sudden stride towards the fox and leaped. Both were airborne, the savage with his claws extended, and Harvey, his legs retracting. The kick was delivered in a flash, so fast Judy could hardly register it. Nick recoiled, still airborne. He stumbled to the ground where he rolled into the wall with a whine. Harvey landed in a sprint for the door.

The power of a hare's kick was something Judy had heard a few times during her childhood. She remembered that, in a boxing class she had taken her junior year at BBHS, her instructor had been a hare. He always had the students practice among themselves, never involving himself, and for good reason. Just to demonstrate, the guy would tell one student to throw something at him—something like a water bottle. He could send it airborne across the room and into the wall like he had thrown it himself. None of the bucks had ever matched his kick, and the instructor explained that they needn't worry, that a hare's kick comes genetically.

The savage was pawing at its nose, stumbling back onto all fours. Still in shock, Judy lurched when two paws found her shoulders

"Go!" Harvey hissed, shoving Judy towards the door. She reached it easily, though the whimpers behind her had turned back to growls, even more fierce than before. The savage was angry and quite literally hungry for vengeance.

The door wasn't far. Judy made it through the doorway where Honey was waiting to pull her through. Honey was there waiting and pulled her through with surprising strength. She turned around just in time to see Harvey brought to the ground.

Inside the cell, there was a groan through gritted teeth.

"Harvey!" Judy screamed. Her instinct might have led her to sprint back into the cell if not for Honey stopping her.

The hare was on the ground with the savage latched to his leg, just above the ankle. There was blood on the floor—whether it was from the savage's mouth or from Harvey's leg she couldn't tell.

Harvey turned onto his stomach mere inches from the door. "Get back," he said to Honey through his teeth. "I can make it." One paw found the door frame, then the other, and he held on with white knuckles. The savage growled, unrelenting. If it gained enough of a grip, it would thrash.

Honey reached through the door. "Give me your paw."

"I said get back. He'll get through!"

"Give me your paw," Honey demanded.

The two met eyes for a small moment-interchanging trust, perhaps—then Harvey heaved himself forward, arms outstretches. Honey grabbed both his wrists, though now the savage was pulling back. Honey looked over her shoulder and hissed, "Make yourself useful, officer." Judy joined Honey, pulling on Harvey's arms while the savage tugged back.

It was a morose game of tug-a-war, played with a living rope that could easily snap under enough strain. This, however, didn't stop the savage from tugging harder.

Harvey, remembering he had a free leg, looked back at the predator latched to his ankle. He kicked its snout once. A growl—it bit down harder. Harvey stifled a yell, biting his lip, and wasted no time in kicking again. Then again. There was blood on his foot. Blood on his leg, on the savage's snout. Blood dotting the floor. Another kick and the savage released enough for Harvey to pull his leg free.

The savage sulked away drunkenly. It shook its head back and forth, flecks of blood splattering on the glass. With a final pull, they dragged Harvey through the door. Honey heaved the door shut, firing all locks and staggering backward.

For a moment, Honey, Judy, Harvey, the savage, everyone panted.

Then the doctor remembered her place. "Lemme see it. Roll over," she said.

Harvey maneuvered as to expose where a full set of predatory teeth had left a bloody semi-circle around his ankle. Honey said nothing, surely she had seen worse.

"It's not as bad as it looks," Harvey said. For seeming so insecure, the hare appeared surprisingly collected for just having escaped the bloody jaws of a savage. "Couldn't get a very good grip."

"I'll get you cleaned up," Honey said, making for an emergency first aid kit fastened a nearby wall.

Judy said nothing, in fact, she was embarrassed to think, to even breathe too loudly in fear the others might notice her. She hadn't felt this insecure since junior high when someone had leaked footage of her younger self wearing a police uniform two sizes too large and posing heroically in the bathroom mirror.

Her mind was a knot she was still untangling. Everything had happened too fast for her to catch up. Had it not been for Harvey's notice, it would have been her blood speckled on the glass.

Though because he noticed, it's his blood, she thought, and sunk with guilt.

Honey cleaned and bandaged Harvey's wound, all the while he dug his nails into his palm, clearly not mentioning that it was more painful than he let on. Judy watched, feeling somehow like a third wheel and the center of attention at once. Feeling watched, though not by Honey or Harvey, Judy turned and sure enough found the savage glaring at her, if a feral could glare. Its sunken, black eyes never left her. She never saw him blink. It was a horrifying image, one that would burn into her brain and stay there for days, though especially nights. The one that got away, its eyes seemed to say, panting, its muzzle wet.

Not Nick, she reminded herself. Nick isn't like that. He would never hurt me. But she was forgetting what Nick was like. His voice wasn't as clear in her mind anymore, and whenever she heard him talking, it most often sounded like the voice of the last mammal she had talked with, or even her own voice. She would go back in her camera roll just to see that smirk on his face because all the mornings of seeing that savage stalk and growl had deteriorated her spirit. I can't forget him. If I forget, I'll die.

She followed Harvey to his car without a word passed between them or to anyone else. Luckily Fulgens hadn't noticed the two on their way out, though he would certainly receive word of the incident soon. Oliver had been the only one to notice the two, though too occupied with two skunks at the front desk and only had time to offer Judy a short wave as she passed.

When they got to Harvey's car, a black hybrid with a "Pred-Prey-Peace" bumper sticker, he wasted no time in getting in the driver's side and closing the door. Judy had not been so fast. He only acknowledged her when she did not open the door and join him.

The passenger window rolled down. "Well?"

Judy looked away. "I can just take the train."

"I'm burning gas."

"Harvey, you don't have to."

"I'm fully aware, but I will see that you get home. I don't care that it's still morning. I don't care where you live or how long it takes to get there. You're getting your sleep."

"I'm really sorry." She didn't know why it only came out now, not when he was sitting on the floor, a bleeding bite-wound around his ankle. Mammals passing by were picking up on the drama—some rabbit, shivering in the cold and, colder still, the guilt. She felt them watching. It made her want to curl up somewhere dark and small and stay hidden until everyone forgot about her, though unoccupied spaces were scarce in Zootopia, and the hare wasn't going anywhere.

"I…" she considered her worlds cautiously, "I don't know what I was thinking. Really, I don't. I'm always full alert down there, I swear, that never happens. Not ever. And I'm so sorry, Harvey."

"It's fine. Just get inside," Harvey sighed, rolling the window back up.

She listened this time, getting in and silently buckling her seat-belt. The car soundlessly pulled away from the parking lot. The morning rush was over, so it wouldn't take more than a few minutes to reach the Grand Pangolin Arms.

"Tell me where I'm going," was all Harvey said. She sheepishly gave directions, and they were at her apartment minutes later.

"Here?" He seemed to have his doubts. The Pangolin was cramped between several larger residential buildings, its red brick orange in some places where the air-conditioners that hung out each window had dripped. A small mountain of black trash bags lay frozen near the front steps. The once-elegant angelic armadillos acting as gargoyles on the roof had lost limbs and heads with time.

"You're an officer too," Judy muttered, "you know the salary."

He looked up at the building and hardly stifled his cringe. "You could find better."

"I'm just gonna go inside."

"Hold on, I'll park."

Judy began to thank him for the ride, planning not to forget one last apology that still wouldn't compensate for the bloody bandage around his calf, but the hare was already stepping out of the vehicle. "You coming?" he called from outside.

She climbed out. "You really don't have to. I can make it from here."

"You told Honey the same about washing the savages, didn't you?"

"Yeah, well, this is different. My room's right there." She pointed a few floors up.

"And I'll walk you there."

Even bearing the guilt, she couldn't help the annoyed groan.

"Look, have you been taking care of yourself recently?" He didn't wait for her answer. "No, you haven't, in fact, you've been compromising your own safety by proceeding to do a very dangerous job on little sleep. I can see it in the bags under your eyes, you're running on maybe two hours a day? Three? That's not enough to do anything, Hopps. That's not enough to survive.

"I know you don't want some guy like me to have to swoop in and save your ass, believe me, I wouldn't either, but if you can't care for Judy Hopps, then somebody's got to. Bogo assigned me to you because he knew you were in a tough place. He expected you to give yourself a hard time and was right. You almost died this morning. Think about that—diedDead. All for what? Not enough shut-eye?"

She couldn't find it in herself to argue. Having dozed off in a cell with a savage mammal, what was left to defend? This morning had been the proof—she could manage everything but her own needs. Not to mention, she was tired. Weak and exhausted. Guilty as charged.

So she followed him to the elevator and up to her floor, then to her door, where she took an awkwardly long amount of time for her to fish her keys from her tight jeans pockets. She opened the door to a dark room, afraid to turn on the lights and expose the mess to anyone but herself. Cleanliness hadn't been at the forefront of her mind for weeks.

When she didn't go for the lights, Harvey passed her, finding the switch and, in doing so, trudging through a pile of neglected clothes and nearly losing his balance.

The lights flickered on to reveal an unholy mess. Papers had completely overtaken one wall. Excess string, crumpled up balls of tape, highlighters, and even thumbtacks were haphazardly scattered along the base of the wall. Her office chair was hardly recognizable underneath the hoodies and old garments thrown over it. Coat hangers adorned the arm-rests like ornaments on a queer tree. Her desk was a war-zone, a battle of space and priority between heaping mountains of papers and old takeout boxes, used utensils, and empty cans of espresso. The sheets on her bed were draping over the sides and onto the floor, the pillowcase worked halfway off the pillow. To top it all off, the window was open a little, though only a little was enough to make the room just as cold as the outside. This was the first thing Harvey noticed.

"My god, it's freezing," was Harvey's first remark. He walked inside as if he were perusing through a ludicrous art museum, trying to take in and understand every detail of disarray. He made for the window and heaved it closed, locking the latches and turning to Judy like she had grown antlers in place of her ears. "You leave your window open? In December? Are you mad?"

"It…kept me awake. The cold." Judy stepped inside, closing the door and making her way around the heaps and piles to her bed, where she sat and shivered.

Harvey scoffed, and went right on to the next "exhibit," her nightstand. "What are these?" He asked accusingly, taking a small orange bottle full of white tablets. "Are these sleeping pills?"

Judy just nodded. What else was there to do, lie and say she had problems with gas reflex?

He put the bottle down and made for the desk, sifting through page after page. Judy didn't stop him. Not like he could make any worse of a mess with what he was given.

"Half of these aren't even finished. Jeez, Judy, look at all of this. You left off halfway through a sentence. Why'd you even print all this out?"

"For…I dunno." She had honestly forgotten most of the content she had written. The reports on local restaurants or establishments affected by the attacks seemed reminiscent of the time-filling assignments she used to receive in high school. "Research? It's something, at least."

"Something, hmm?" Harvey looked at her like the pills on her bedside had been anti-psychotics, and that she had been neglecting them. He turned on her desk lamp with one paw, reading a page he had selected with the other. "'Ham's Grill has a history of recalls going as far back as'…what? As far back as what? I wouldn't call this something. It's a waste of your time. Hasn't the doctor told you that the people at the lab are already doing this research? You could be resting, and cleaning your room, and eating real food," he picked up one of the empty cans and tossed it into a nearby wastebasket, "instead of this. Look, half of the words aren't spelled right. Were you sober when you wrote this? 'Locals says the establisment strugled form a lack of empolyment due to it's proximity to Police Staion no.34'? You've got spelling errors out the wazoo, and that's not counting the grammar."

"You come all the way up here to be my spellcheck?" Judy sighed, flopping back onto her bed. The mattress was cold and stiff and about as comfortable as a rock.

Harvey tossed the page away. "This is a problem."

"You've made that very clear."

"No, I'm serious. I mean, come on Judy, you see this?" He walked over to a pile of clothes near the door. "You've got clothes dangerously close to this space heater. Have you ever seen an apartment fire? Like, on the news or something? The whole place goes up and the surrounding buildings too if it's not contained. You've got mammals stranded on the roof, others trapped in their rooms waving out open windows. You don't wanna be responsible for something like that." He kicks the clothes aside and turns down the heater's power. "And over here," he went back to the desk and picked up a paper bag with the logo "Salad Shack" warped from where a nearby paper cup had sweat enough to soak it. It dripped when he picked it up and tossed it too into the bin. "I can see your dietary history going back, what? Two weeks? This isn't normal. Hell, Judy, this isn't safe!"

"This isn't like me." She said, both to him and to herself. She wanted both to hear it. "I swear to you, I'm one of the neatest mammals you'll ever meet." She stared at the ceiling as she spoke while Harvey cleaned off the remnants of old meals from her workspace. "I used to drive Nick crazy at his apartment, trying to tame the messes he made." She chuckled a little. "He used to tell me I had undiagnosed clinical OCD." Her laugh quickly fell flat.

Harvey cleared off the war-zone—it appears the leftover food lost the battle for desk space, her trash bin choking with paper bags and soggy cups—and made his way to her bed. He sat near her feet.

"I know we just met," he said, turning to meet her eyes, a deeply sincere, deeply concerned tone in his voice, "but I care about you, Judy. You're supposed to be my icon, remember? First graduate of the ZPD academy to be a rabbit, or anything smaller than an otter for that matter. Seeing you succumb to this, it scares me."

They sat in silence on her bed. His eyes drifted away from hers and found the floor.

"I'm sorry about today," Judy said. "I really am, and I can't apologize enough to make up for it."

"You can make up for it by promising you'll sleep. And that you'll clean tomorrow. I'd help if I weren't on duty."

"I'll do it. Promise. I just got so caught up in everything."

"It happens sometimes."

"Yeah, but this time it went too far. Just looking around is enough to see that," she chuckled wryly, "things were getting to me. All the reports I've been doing, they don't make sense. It makes nothing better for me, after ten documents written in the style of a police report and nothing but new faces and frustration to take away from it. Whoever is doing this isn't having a hard time clearing their tracks. Would have found something by now, surely," she trailed off.

"Are you okay? After today, and what happened in containment." He was treading lightly over his words. "Seeing your partner…you know…"

"It doesn't get to me like it used to," Judy said, speaking plainly. She didn't want to linger on anything she said. Her emotions had a recent past of overrunning her, and she strained not to let it happen. Not in front of Harvey. "At first, I still saw him as Nick. Then I realized that Nick wasn't I was seeing. If anything, what happened today made that even more clear. I know Nick would never hurt me."

Harvey nodded. "I'd like to meet him. When he wakes up."

As always, Judy took comfort in the when. "You two would get along. That is, assuming he doesn't think you're into me." She laughed, then came to a realization that should have been more obvious from long ago. It was practically hanging under her nose. Nick never liked it when she got too close with anyone else, even though her only relationships were platonic, if not familial. In the past, she had written it off as a kind of protective nature common between partners in blue. That had made sense to her, as she was often safeguarding Nick too, but it made little sense anymore. In fact, it seemed more like jealousy than anything else.

That 's…very interesting…

Harvey had laughed too. "I didn't think that would be such a problem, with the whole Homo-Harvey thing you resurrected."

Judy smiled and shook her head. "Sorry, that was rather insensitive of me."

"No, no, you're fine. I've been known to date around in the past."

"So, boys then?"

"Boys and girls." He shrugged. "I don't like the whole labels thing, but if I had to go by something, then I'd be bi."

"Hmm," was all Judy said.

"Anywho, you shouldn't worry about your partner. All savages have a 100% recovery rate, and the staff at containment knows what they're doing."

"Honey said he'd be up not long after New Years."

"You can welcome him into the new year, bring him some party-poppers and champagne in the hospital."

Judy laughed at this more than Harvey expected, though it was because Harvey didn't know Nick personally. Judy knew exactly how much of a ball the fox would have with a paw full of confetti poppers and a bottle of champagne, even in a hospital.

"It wouldn't be the most illegal thing I've done," she could hear the Nick in her head say, and she was happy to hear him. It had been a while since he had last appeared.

"Thank you, Harvey." Judy sat up. "I needed a little tough love, as you can obviously see." She gestured to the room in shambles.

"Anytime," he said, smiling. "I'm happy to help." His eyes weren't so dark anymore. They glimmered in the morning light coming through the window.

And then he did something she didn't expect. Leaning forward, he gently wrapped an arm around her shoulder and, perhaps testing the waters, pulled her into a soft embrace. His scent was something like vanilla and orange, probably cologne, and it was just light enough for her to catch a whiff before he drew back, smiling. A hint of insecurity had crept back into his smile, but it was cute.

"I'll get out of your fur." He got up from the bed. "Just, please, don't set anything on fire."

"I think I've learned my lesson, thank you, fire marshal."

"Hey, I'm being serious," though he was grinning. "Wouldn't wanna torch a grand ol' place like this."

"Oh, never."

Before he went he straightened out some clothes and turned up the heater, now that it was a safe distance from anything remotely flammable. With a final wave over his shoulder, he left. His soft footfalls faded into the radiator's faint ticking.

She slept soundly. For the first time in a month, she had a good dream.

A brisk evening in late November, hours before Nick 's savagery…

The opponent was waiting in his chair when Al entered the room. It appeared he had set the board as usual though Al doubted there would much time for a game.

"I must thank you again," Al said, sitting down promptly. "I realize time is not a cheap commodity of yours."

"Advanced notice would be nice, I will admit, though I'm sure you mean business. And speaking of business, let's get down to it." He advanced a pawn.

Al advanced his knight. He wasn't feeling much for chess today. There were more pressing matters at hand than the upright status of his king. "Of course. It has to do with Bunnyburrow."

The opponent frowned. "Bunnyburrow? Is the target still in range? Oh, what was his name again, that baker?"

"Gideon Grey, sir, and he's still in town, no need to worry."

"Then what? Was the ticket confiscated? God, you know, I never should have trusted a weasel." Al watched a sudden fire ignite in his opponent's eyes. It was frightening and came out of nowhere, especially considering how large his opponent was compared to him. "If this goes sour, I'll have him ground into little bite-sized pieces."

"No, no. All's well in Bunnyburrow. I wouldn't consider grinding the weasel into anything, considering he's just reported Nicholas Wilde to be on the scene."

For the first time, it appeared that the opponent had been genuinely surprised. "And his counterpart?"

"Yes, Hopps is there too," Al said, absent-mindedly pushing a pawn two spaces forward.

The opponent laughed aloud. "Ah ha! Isn't this getting fun! Wildehopps has stepped up to the plate!"

"Sir, I realize where you're going with this, but we should consider—"

"I'll have a second ticket sent down there ASAP." He was beaming now. "Two savages in one night! It's Christmas!"


"Brilliant! Absolutely brilliant! You tell that weasel I'm promoting him to the big leagues as soon as he does the job."

"Sir, do understand that if we follow through with this, we'll be involving two of the ZPD's most promising officers in recent history."

"I know. Perfect, isn't it? Now we're in it with the ZPD. We're gonna be red hot!"

Al shot his opponent a questioning glance. He had forgotten about the game. "Is that really such a great thing? We could always leave Wilde out of it and keep the police off our tails for the time being. If we target one of their officers, it'll be mainstream news by morning."

"Oh, I realize, and that's exactly the point. I want every mammal within a hundred miles of this city to know that two foxes mysteriously went feral in one night. Well, it's not like they haven't heard of savages before, but I'm not trying to evoke questions. I want fear. I don't care if they know how it's happening, they won't know why. Take the why from them, you take the comfort. And in Bunnyburrow of all places! What a spectacular place to begin. Imagine the panic. No one will feel safe."

"Keep in mind the last time Hopps and Wilde were provoked they brought down Lionheart and Bellwether."

The opponent shrugged. "Maybe if we're lucky, they'll get us too. Put our names up there with the greats."

Al felt himself gawking rather stupidly. "I'm sorry?"

"Getting caught is the acme of any mass-criminal's career, Al."

"Please don't use that name."

"Personally, I'd like to be caught," he placed a paw to his chest, seeming almost blissful in fantasizing over the thought. "It's how you get your credit. But don't worry, my friend. My time to fall from this position is coming, and when I do, you're first in line for the throne."

"You never told me how that's going to work."

"Ah ah, no need to get ahead. You'll see in time. For now, we have two unsuspecting foxes about to lose their minds and I have just taken your rook."

A/N: To everyone reading this on the publication date, March 4th, 2019, happy third anniversary of Zootopia! I'm glad to see the fandom is around to celebrate.

This chapter is significantly shorter than most of the others, I'm sure you've noticed, though simply put, I weeded through the chapter's content and found most of it to be unnecessary. I even cut an entire chapter, which I was sad to see go, though it had little to no relevancy to the plot. I hope you can forgive me. On the bright side, the shorter the chapter, the quicker I can write it. The quicker I write, the sooner Nick returns. I wouldn't like to spoil anything for the story's future, though I can ensure this one thing: that Nick will be back.

I write for quality, not quantity, which is why it has taken me so long to reach 100,000 words. I hope the quality is clear to see; I try my best. Even though spelling will occasionally K.O. me.

Have a spectacular day, and until next time, lovelies.

- Trenton