Nick Wilde knew everybody in Zootopia, and he also knew most of its bars. Not because he was an ample drinker; he had seen how alcoholism could destroy the lives of mammals, with a few of his old friends in his early 20s ruining careers before they had really even began.
He simply knew the places to go, liked to stop in from time to time. Nothing like an inebriated straggler to con out of a few extra dollars in their woozy states – easy marks, but there was nothing wrong with playing on easy mode every once in a while. And bars were also often a place to pick up some good intel on the city as a whole, be it from the crime syndicates or otherwise. Mammals tended to roam uninhibited there, carelessly gushing personal secrets like it was their business – and business, often, was good.
But the fox had to turn off that part of his brain that day – or, at least, he had to try to. He was not, however, doing an especially good job of not at least picking up on errant conversations here and there. There were the salarymen in the back corner, a group of wolves in tight-fitting white dress shirts and ties who bragged about that day's financial conquest. An otter at the end of the bar was consoling her ferret friend who had recently broken up with her fiancé, curse his no-good, lyin', cheatin' tail. A table in the middle of the low-ceilinged bar held two polar bears whose eyes were glued to a baseball game that had flickered to life on the television set since he had arrived.
He was relieved when Finnick arrived to give him something else to pay attention to.
"We ain't been here in a minute," the fennec fox said, pulling himself onto a chair beside the fox, who sat at the bar, nursing a beer as dark as the night sky outside. "Not since we convinced that skunk we had Springsteer tickets to sell."
Nick smiled, setting down his glass and turning toward Finnick, propping his elbow on the bar and resting his head against his paw. "You're right," he recalled, a twinkle in his eye. "That was a year-and-a-half ago, wasn't it?"
"Give or take. You changed up your drink tonight too, eh?"
The fox glanced at his beer, which sat in his glass like a half cup of motor oil, not a single bubble of carbonation fizzing to the surface.
"Whatever do you mean?" he asked, playing dumb.
"You're mostly a cocktail guy," pointed out Finnick, eyes narrowed as he read the scrawled-on-chalkboard bar menu above the taps. "Maybe light beer occasionally, sometimes something on the rocks. Gin and tonic, please," he added to the bartender who shook her gray fur out of her eyes, nodded and walked away.
"Nah, this, though," Finnick continued, pointing quickly toward Nick's glass, "this is when Nicky's feelin' introspective."
Nick did not respond, casually taking another sip of his beer.
"Shoot, man." The smaller fox grabbed his beverage from the wolf when she came back around, nodding a quick thanks. "The hell did that bunny do to you?"
"I've had a long day," Nick answered finally, setting down his glass. "The occasion called for something heavier."
"Liquor got more alcohol in it."
"And more filling. I haven't eaten a thing all day."
"Ah. That'll do it."
After taking his first drink of his gin, Finnick grinned contently, wiped his mouth on his checkered shirt sleeve, and tried a new angle. "So," he said, his voice noticeably lighter in tone this time, "what kept ya from chow all day? The Wilde I know don't go long without at least some street grub."
Chuckling, the fox pointed up at the television set, which now blared a commercial for used cars in between innings of the baseball game. "It'll be on the news in a bit, I'll bet. Surprised you haven't heard."
The fennec's eyes widened. "No," he said shortly. "No. You didn't – you weren't—"
He slugged Nick on the shoulder, the red fox faintly retreating from the impact. "You did that? You and the bunny?!"
"It was mostly her, frankly—"
"So that's why she needed to find ya," Finnick realized, sitting back down. "She said it was somethin' 'bout a breakthrough in that missing mammals case."
Nick abruptly whirled toward Finnick, nearly knocking over his glass in the process. "Wait," he said, staccato-like. "She saw you?"
Finnick grinned as he took another sip. "How do ya think she found ya, Wilde?"
Bewildered, Nick leaned back in his chair, staring at the ceiling. "Dunno," he said finally, after a few moments of silence. "Intuition? Dumb luck? That rabbit's got a nose for sniffing mammals out."
"Yeah, 'cept you, apparently."
"Eh, she would've found me eventually. Knowing everybody means a lot of folks know you, too."
"Truth." Finnick raised his glass and offered it in Nick's direction, shaking the half-full cup invitingly. "Proposin' a toast, then."
"When was the last time you proposed a toast—"
"To Nicky Wilde."
"—or proposed to anything, really—"
"And that bunny cop."
"—you still don't know her name, do you—"
"For getting predators back out onto the streets and into fancy establishments like this without prey thinkin' we're 'bout to slit their throats or somethin'."
Nick picked up his beer. "Now that's something I can drink to."
Their clinking of glasses was barely distinguishable over the din of the bar, decidedly an extremely un-fancy establishment despite Finnick's claim otherwise. It was a dive, no more, no less, and Nick was gracious for its blanket of noise, its constant stream of comers and goers, its neon signs adorning the walls that had probably been there since before his parents could legally drink.
A bell chimed to announce the arrival of a new patron, and Nick could not help but swivel his head toward the front door, ears raised and attentive. They fell a little when two horses, both dressed in medical scrubs, entered.
"Expectin' someone else?" Finnick, having noticed, asked.
Nick shrugged, returning to his beer.
"Why this place, anyway?" the fennec fox questioned, flicking at a tiny parcel of mint on the bar counter seemingly left over from a previous attendee's concoction.
"This place, this bar, whatever. Halfway across town from where ya live, same with me." Very suddenly, Finnick shot a curious look at his friend, smirking slightly. "You ain't here 'cause ya got a mark, are ya?"
But Finnick would hear nothing of it, laughing to himself, paws banging the edge of the bar. "Thought that bunny turned ya straight," he chuckled. "But ya couldn't ignore the call of the con—"
"She did turn me straight," Nick countered, exasperated, rolling his eyes. "No more cons for me."
Another chortle left Finnick's snout, and he shot Nick a side-eyed glance. "I know," he said. "You don't drink dark beer before a hustle, anyway."
"Again with the drink selection."
"It's my business to know, pal," said Finnick with a grin. "Gotta know your habits."
"Really." Nick took another swig of his drink, which was nearing completion. "Then what, pray tell, do I imbibe under normal circumstances?"
Finnick answered quickly. "Whiskey, neat."
Nick saw no reason to argue that point.
"Yo, hon," said the smaller fox to the barkeep, whose ears flickered his way. "Another gin on my part, and my friend'll have… eh, same thing again."
"Ordering for me now, how sweet," Nick said in a singsong voice, downing the last of his drink.
"You're still payin'."
This was news to Nick. "How do ya figure?"
"You told me to come halfway across the city. I figure you at least owe me my first few rounds."
He paused a beat and then turned to Nick. "Why did ya ask me out here, anyway?"
"What? You don't like my company?"
"Company's fine, I just ain't seen ya in a week, and then suddenly you ask me to hang out in Downtown, of all places."
Nick sighed, leaning back in his chair as the bartender brought them their next round. "Needed to unwind a little. And you know I'm no good at that by myself."
"True," conceded Finnick. "You need someone to snark at, otherwise you'll ball it all up inside."
"Thing I'm tryin' to figure out is," Finnick continued, taking his first sip of his second drink before continuing, "why here?"
Before Nick could answer, the fennec butted in: "Then I just remembered who I saw out front of the hospital next door on my way in."
"The buffalo, what's his name, the chief. Few other officers, big guns. Type we usually tried to avoid."
"Buffalo Butt!" exclaimed Nick with a smile.
"I know you're a nickname guy, Nicky, but jeez, that's dumb."
Nick crossed his arms. "Everyone's a critic," he harrumphed.
"Know what I bet, though? I bet your little bunny's up in that hospital as we speak, and you're waitin' 'til she gets out so you can take her home or somethin'."
The fox froze mid-sip, just briefly, but long enough for Finnick to notice.
"Ha!" He clapped Nick on the shoulder, nearly causing the fox to spill a few gulps of the liquid on his shirt, which already could use a wash as it was, given what it had been through in the previous 24 hours. "Nicky's got a girlfriend."
"Oh, stop," Nick shook his head. "If you must know, I invited her for a drink afterward—"
"Ah, first date."
"—if she felt up to it and if the doctors said it was OK."
Finnick's ears flattened a little as his paw retreated back to his side. "So she is up there?" he asked. "She all right?"
The next half hour was a bit of a blur to Nick, who, now three drinks in, gushed the entire details of the previous few hours, from Judy's arrival beneath the bridge to the eventual arrest of Mayor Dawn Bellwether. He regaled Finnick with tales of their subway trek, of their plan to draw the truth from Bellwether after she cornered them in the Natural History Museum, of Chief Bogo's assertion that Judy Hopps needed to visit a doctor at the nearby City Center Hospital for an evaluation after injuring her leg fleeing from Bellwether's goons.
When he finished, he collapsed onto the back of his raised chair, his glass empty yet again.
"Jeez," Finnick could only offer at first. "And I thought I had a busy day."
"What'd you do?" Nick glanced over at the attentive fennec.
"Slept 'til three."
"Of course you did."
"So what I'm tryin' to figure out now," Finnick said, downing the rest of his drink, "is why you're drinkin' the stuff that ya usually drink when you're all thinkin'-'bout-life or whatever."
Sighing, Nick leaned on the bar counter, his chin resting in his paws.
"I dunno," he said finally. "I guess… Finn, do ya remember when I said that she, uh... wanted me to join the ZPD?"
"Aw, jeez… you ain't really…"
"Oh, I didn't say I was gonna do it," snapped Nick defensively.
"Yeah, but you're thinkin' 'bout it," Finnick pointed out.
"And so what? It'd be nice to have a salary for once."
"And put away all the mammals you've been workin' alongside the last 10 years, sure."
Nick rolled his eyes. "Of course you'd say that."
"Oh, I'm reformed."
"Nah, really. You leavin' the game sorta took the wind outta me, too," Finnick said, shrugging.
"Really?" Nick cocked his head. "So what are you gonna do with your life?"
Just then, the front door opened, and a rabbit appeared in the doorway.
"I dunno," Finnick said, glancing around the larger fox at the bar's newest occupant, "but I know I don't wanna be a bad influence on your part."
Shoving his drink toward the opposite edge of the bar, Finnick hopped down from the table.
"Gonna use the john for a sec," he announced to Nick, winking once, "then I wanna meet this gal a little more."
Nick, for his part, had not noticed Judy walk in. Well, perhaps walk was not the most accurate term – hobble, maybe, or stagger. The crutch on which she stood did that to her gait, which was short, staggered, beleaguered.
But once he followed Finnick's stare—
"You're not gonna whack me with that, are ya?"
Judy Hopps, who leaned slightly on the crutch that supported her bandaged leg, shrugged. "Don't give me a reason, Slick."
"You know, I have this weird feeling you'd smack me with it anyway. You bunnies do get easily emotional, and—"
"I'll hit you with it unless you help me up, how's that?"
Without another thought, Nick helped Judy onto the chair to his right, in case Finnick came back. She was light beneath his paws; though he had never been much for arm strength, he was surprised at how easily he could lift her.
"You good?" he asked once she was situated.
Nick was about to ask her if she was able to drink, until Judy answered for him, asking the barkeep for a soda.
"Doctor's orders?" he asked, climbing back onto his chair.
Judy shrugged. "Personal preference. I don't really wanna get sloshed after spraining my leg."
"That's all it was, then? A sprain?"
The rabbit nodded. "Should actually be fine kinda soon. Doesn't even hurt that much if I'm just sitting."
"And you're OK to sit up here? With the bandage?"
Judy looked back at the bar behind her. "Eh," she said, "maybe let's get a table…"
"You got it." He leaped back down from the bar, beginning to dash over to a table before realizing that the bunny still needed an assist down from the counter.
"Finnick's here," he said offhandedly. "Do you mind?"
Judy shook her head. "Of course not," she said. "He helped me find you, after all."
Later, the trio sat a little longer at the bar by the hospital, laughing among one another, sharing stories of a day at least two of them would never forget.
A news story came on later that night, the rabbit and the fox in starring roles, but neither of them noticed.