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H&H2 - Of Help and Hauntings

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.Cover!


Due to my strong personal convictions,
I wish to stress
that this fanfic
in no way endorses
a belief in the occult.


Dusk in Zootopia.

Another hectic day becoming another hectic night. The rhythms of this city never slowed, only shifted. The streets were packed with cars, the sidewalks crowded with mammals. Sound, light. Life.

From the twilight, the Black Phantasm watched.

It cast its gaze over the city. Above. Beyond. Detached.

The chill of autumn had no power over it. When the wind hit, pulling at the black rags on its frame, there was no reaction. No discomfort. Under the tattered cloth, there was no blood to run cold.

It watched. Two lifeless eyes shone from deep within its gleaming silver mask. Its vigil was undetected. City dwellers were too busy, too distracted, too self-absorbed to ever bring their gaze upward. And if any did, all that would greet them was the dying sky. The Phantasm was invisible. Beyond sight. Above.

The mass of mammals below was insignificant – millions of names with no importance. Each one would live and die at their own pace. Endless irrelevancies. Sprawl.

No. The Phantasm was seeking one mammal, and one mammal alone.

Gliding silently above Savannah Central, high above the streets, it scanned. Searching through the living garbage of the city, disregarding the irrelevant. Until finally, in a dead stretch of city where warehouses stood as gravestones, it found the lost soul in its sights.

A car sat on a corner, carefully nondescript. Blending into the scenery. But the Phantasm saw through the façade. It was a police vehicle. It was a stakeout operation. Two mammals sat inside, under a roof that did not shield them from the Phantasm's unearthly sight. In the driver's seat, small and soft but dangerously relevant, the partner.

But the passenger seat held the goal. The unfortunate. The Phantasm's target.

Nick Wilde yawned.

He pushed away his fatigue. Stakeouts may be dull, but they were a vital part of the job. Besides, there was nothing he and his partner couldn't handle when they were together. Their laser focus on justice was legendary.

"Who would win in a fight," said Judy, her cheek resting against her fist, "Wolford or Fangmeyer?"

"Fangmeyer. No question." Nick's aviators glinted in the dim light. Still wearing them. "You can't contain that kind of power."

"Yeah. Wolford's got no chance." She smiled. "Good thing they're partners, huh?"

"Reminds me of someone else I can name," he smirked.

"I have no idea what you mean."

"Yes, ma'am. Of course, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."

She rolled her eyes playfully. Nick still liked to joke that she wore the pants in their relationship. But he had improved magnificently from his days as an uncertain junior cop. And he was always getting better. Judy wouldn't be surprised if he surpassed her one day. Nor would she be upset. Just proud.

But the mushy stuff was only for special occasions. She knew that. So she continued their latest dumb game.

"Bogo, or Clawhauser?"

"Why would they ever fight?" said Nick, effortlessly distraught. "Don't break my heart like that, Carrots. Jeez."

"Okay, here's one that's more... tumultuous. Sly or Carmelita?"

"Carmelita, for sure. In pretty much any fight, I think." Judy didn't miss the disdain that crept into his voice. "The only question is whether he has the guts to face her instead of running away."

"You, uh... hear from her lately?"

"Yeah. Did she tell you she's nearby? Not nearby as in actually nearby, but nearby as in... less ocean than usual. Training rookies or something. She's threatening to swing by on her way home."

"Oh, I hope so!" said Judy. "I'd love to catch up with her in person. I miss her."

"Yeah, Carrots. Me too."

They drifted into silence, remembering their brief time with the vixen. She dominated any room, commanding animals ten times her size with fierce precision. And they listened.

She gave them hope that there was more waiting for them than stakeouts and parking duty. But she was more than Inspector Fox, a vision of their possible futures wrought in fire and steel. She was Carmelita, too. A woman they were glad to call a friend.

Or pen-pal, at least.

Judy's mind drifted to Carmelita's athleticism, her strength, her military-grade shock pistol. Without her help, the Nope Diamond case last year would have gone far, far worse. It may even have been Judy's last. She wondered how much easier things would have been had Carmelita helped her with...

"Ooh, here's one. Who'd win: Scar, or Bellwether?"

"Now that's interesting," said Nick. "I mean, Scar's got the obvious advantage, right? He's a lion."

"Bellwether doesn't have claws," noted Judy with a smirk.

"Right. But although Scar is a lion, he is also, tragically, Scar. Weak and neurotic and... well, not the world's toughest mammal." Nick suppressed another yawn. "Bellwether's tiny, but she's vicious. And doubtlessly has plenty of pent-up rage over Lionheart she'd be happy to unleash on poor Taka. Plus, of the two of them, she's the smarter one. Way better at hiding her plans. So I'm giving this one to our old pal Dawn." He nodded solemnly. "May she rot in jail forever."

"Amen..." Judy shook her head. "Scar was smart, I guess. But on evil plans, his one was a lot... smaller?"

"Not necessarily a bad thing."

"No, of course not. It's good to have realistic goals. But Bellwether..."

"Yeah," said Nick. "But Bellwether."

Judy was about to change the subject when her ears shot up. "Hold up. There he is."

There he was.

Wolf O'Donnell trudged toward their position, hands in the pockets of his battered trenchcoat. He almost blended into the dusk, except for his muzzle and the shock of white fur on his head. He cast one purple eye around, but didn't look their way.

"He's a bit ragged," murmured Nick. "Even his eyepatch looks dusty."

Wolf strode past them, boots audible in the otherwise silent street. He headed down an alleyway and, with a final glance around, entered a warehouse through a back entrance.

"Alright..." Judy glanced over. "What are you thinking, partner?"

Nick shrugged. "I'm thinking Wolf O'Donnell's villainy stems from the psychological urge to punish a world that named him 'Wolf O'Donnell'."

"No, seriously. What do you think? Should we call for backup?"

He paused. "Well," he said, "we don't know what's in that warehouse, but we also don't know how long Wolf will stay in any one place. This has been our first shot at an arrest in weeks, but honestly, the tip-off we got strikes me as dicey. I'd say our best bet is balancing speed with caution. Let's call it in, but investigate it ourselves while we wait for backup to arrive." He turned to her, shades glinting. "Sound good to you?"

"Sounds great!" she chirped. "I love it when you talk tactical like that."

"Copy that, Eagle One. Will pursue tactical espionage verbiage regardless of conversational context. ...Over."

She chuckled as she reached for the cruiser's radio. "Hey, Clawhauser? We've got a visual on O'Donnell."

"Oh, exciting!" came the cheetah's voice. "Need a hand?"

As Judy relayed their decision, Nick let himself out of the car. The cool air hit him immediately, waking him up. A bit.

He shook himself out, tip to tail. But the weariness crept back in. After more than twenty years working himself to the bone, he had accumulated various tricks for fighting off fatigue.

But even he needed sleep.

He heard the cruiser's door shut. He turned to meet Judy's soft purple eyes.

"Are you sure you're up for this?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" said Nick, failing to hide a defensive tone.

"Just checking," she said. "You seem kinda ill lately."

Nick smoothed over his urge to sigh. "Not sleeping so well. Nothing new. I'm fine, Carrots."

"Really?"

"Really," he smiled, and meant it. He'd been through worse.

Judy nodded, returning it. "Well then. Let's get to it."

"Ladies first."

"Oh, no. Age before beauty."

They fell into step, approaching the warehouse silently. But their police instincts, so sharp on the street, weren't tuned to the danger above. They failed to notice the Phantasm. Failed to realize they were being watched from a rooftop.

And as they approached the warehouse, they failed to see the living shadow which wormed through a window with abnormal quickness.

From the dust-choked rafters, the silent intruder observed. The warehouse was abandoned, but far from empty. Amid the stacked shipping containers, a pack of wolves stood, blacks and browns and greys and a splash of white. Watching. Waiting.

Wolf planted one boot on the only chair, giving off the air of a heavily-armed high school sports coach. He had jettisoned his trenchcoat, revealing a pink neckscarf and a brand new jacket in multiple shades of purple. Underneath was a black vest, thick and heavy and made for combat. He returned the focused gaze of his pack with a warm smile.

"Alright! Listen up, morons." He nodded toward the wall. "There's a car right outside. I didn't see who was inside it, but I didn't need to. Caught the slightest hint of two scents as I passed by. Fox. And Rabbit. And we all knows what that means."

A bright white wolf raised his hand. "It means we're all about to go to jail?"

"Ye of little faith! A little optimism, son, is that so much to ask? It means I was right, as always."

Wolf grinned. The glint in his eye made his teeth seem sharper.

"Now, Hopps and Wilde are smart enough to call for backup, but they're dumb enough to stick their muzzles in my business before it arrives. That gives us a brief window. Like we practised, people. Like we practised."

He glanced from face to face. Twelve pairs of eyes met his gaze. Including him, thirteen. No match for Hopps and Wilde alone. But together, with the element of surprise...

"This city loves their bunny-fox duo. And the Mayor's gonna pay good money to ensure they both come home in one piece. Real good money."

The white wolf's darker partner spoke up. "And then what happens? This city does love them. There'll be a target on all our backs."

"Good point," said Wolf. "Which is exactly why everybody in this room would be smart to follow my lead – soon as that money's in my hands, I'm hightailing it somewhere bright and sunny with no extradition treaty."

The white wolf perked up. "Oh. Em. Gosh! Neverending beach vacation!"

Wolf smirked. "This guy gets it. You two, go man the cameras. Everyone else – get in position for the surprise party."

They went. As the pack dispersed to various hiding places – making use of the empty shipping containers, each one the size of a shed – the duo climbed a rusty set of stairs. After glancing over his shoulder, ensuring O'Donnell's attention was elsewhere, Gary turned to Larry.

"Remind me why we're working for this guy?"

"Because no-one else will hire us."

"Oh. Yeah."

They reached the second floor, entering an old security office; the only room in the warehouse that still looked habitable. A set of chunky monitors displayed various feeds. In the bottom corner, Nick and Judy fuzzily checked their shock pistols outside the warehouse's back entrance.

"Still though..." Gary awkwardly hung by the door. "Is it just me, or is trying to kidnap Nick and Judy, like... what's the phrase I'm looking for? The worst idea ever? Of all time?"

"You have a point," said Larry, eyes on the screens. "But they're the reason we're here."

"Yeah... I miss Lionheart. He wasn't a jerk."

"You're misremembering, Gary. Lionheart was a jerk, but he was our jerk. This jerk is new and scary."

"Heh, yeah..."

A few moments passed. Nick and Judy entered. Slowly.

"So, is that it?"

Larry blinked. "What?"

"Do you want revenge? On Nick and Judy?"

"I... I suppose so. If it's going." Larry looked to his partner. "What about you?"

"Nah. I mean, sure, it sucks they got Leo arrested. And it sucks that we've been reduced to doing weird jobs for scary jerks."

"Mmh."

Gary moved closer. "But I don't want revenge. Hurting them isn't gonna make me feel better. I just want what I've always wanted."

"That being?"

A smile. "You, silly."

And then he kissed him.

Larry tensed for a moment, knowing he should be focusing on work. But he soon relaxed against his partner, returning his embrace.

And the shadow crept in.

Once the cameras were disabled, and their guardians dispatched, the pack was vulnerable. The wolves were separated, hiding in darkness alone or in pairs. They were a formidable force when united. But isolated, against the element of surprise...

Easy prey.

Nick and Judy went slowly, carefully. It was dark in the warehouse. Nick had slipped off his shades, folding them neatly into his uniform's shirt pocket. He glanced to Judy as they crept through containers.

From a higher container, a wolf glared down at them. "I can't wait to nab that pompous fox..." she murmured to her partner. "Right, Freya?"

Freya didn't reply.

"Freya?" She squinted into the inky blackness behind her. "I know we should be quiet, but y–"

The shadow lunged. And with a muted yelp, another wolf went silent.

The duo secured the perimeter, finding nothing. Lights were on in the centre of the room. Though the view was blocked, it was obviously where Wolf had went. The whole warehouse smelled of wolf. Suspiciously so.

They came to the last container before the central clearing. Any sound would alert their target. But Nick and Judy had been partners for years now. Every challenge they had faced together, from stealth missions like this to awkward television interviews, had honed their silent communication to a fine art.

Ready? asked Judy's eyes.

Absolutely, said Nick's smirk. Let's bust this clown.

And you're sure you okay? said Judy's nose.

Please, replied his eyebrow. We got this.

Yeah, she said. We do.

In unison, they broke cover, pistols up.

"Freeze!" yelled Judy. "ZPD! Hands where we can see 'em!"

Wolf was slouched on the chair. Arms folded. Fangs gleaming. "Hopps. Wilde. 'Bout time you got here."

Nick glared. "You heard her, O'Donnell. Hands up."

Wolf chuckled, then gently unfurled his arms, elbows resting on his lap. "Okay, okay. You got me."

Judy's ear twitched at a sound elsewhere in the warehouse. A muted thump, almost like a wolf lying in ambush being ambushed in turn, felled with a single strike. Or maybe a box falling over.

Any noise was suspicious, but Wolf was too dangerous for her to look away. Wary of any more sounds, she kept her pistol up.

"You're under arrest," Nick was saying. "For the attempted robbery of the Nope Diamond, and every dirtbag thing you've done since then to stay out of jail."

"'Stay fed' is more like it. It's rough out there." He put on a hurt tone. "Thought you of all people would understand that..."

Nick just glared. Not for the first time, the intimidation factor seemed lost on a perp larger than he was.

"What's the matter, pup? You look a little ill. And here I was hoping for one of your famous comedy routines."

"I don't need to come up with anything when you're already such a joke."

"Ohh!" said Judy. "Nice."

"Thanks. I've actually been saving that one for an emergency."

Judy heard it again – no, the same sound, but from a different spot. Something was happening.

Before she could get Nick's attention, Wolf raised his voice. "I bet you're convinced you can take me. Just another notch on the belt for the city's favourite cops, huh? Honestly, if anyone ever had a shot, it might be you two." His grin loomed in the dying light. "But I can't let you do that."

Nothing happened.

Wolf's chair creaked as he leaned forward. "I said," he snarled, "I can't! Let you! Do that."

Nothing continued to happen.

"Son of a...!" Wolf stood. Nick and Judy stepped back in unison, their pistols following his face. "Get out here already, you–"

The pack's bodies fell.

Container doors groaned open, pushed by the wolves slumped against the metal. One rolled into sight above them, an arm limply hanging down. Another dragged herself into the circle of light, clutching her head, only to collapse onto the concrete. She didn't stand.

Wolf looked around, frantic. Nick and Judy checked their surroundings as best they could without losing focus on him.

"What... what is...?"

Then, above them, the intruder came into view. Secrecy was unnecessary – the battle was already over, ended before it began. Containers stacked in a pyramid, reaching almost to the warehouse's roof, formed a frame like a dark messiah's advent. The three mammals stared. And the living shadow entered the light.

Judy blinked. "...Sly?!"

Legendary thief Sly Cooper gave them a friendly smile. "Hey there! How have you guys been?"


[We're back babee! Cover art by RadicalRobo! Want a recap of H&H1? Read the abridged version here on AO3! Woo!]