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Different Tails

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    Chilly air nipped at Judy's fur as she walked with her head tilted up. It seemed like the whole of Downtown Zootopia was festooned with dazzling light arrangements of many kinds. Some buildings were decorated with all sorts of assorted colors, others stuck to a scheme like blue and white, still others contained lights in streams. It seemed like a true collection of cultures and species styles; without a doubt, it was the place she most wanted to be at the moment.

    CRONCH. CRUNCH. MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH.

    Nick cringed.

    Teeth stressed and then broke into an innocent candy cane.

    CROOONCH.

    "Okay, could you cut that out!?"

    Judy looked at him with big eyes and her mouth occupied by a candy cane, in what had to have been a ploy to look adorable. She made a sound that resembled "what?" in tone.

    "I swear, bunny dentists must be rich," Nick rolled his eyes as he walked along with the bunny. "Seeing your front teeth destroy that candy cane is making my fur bristle. You're going to ruin them!"

    "Well, yeah, that's kind of the idea," Judy waggled her candy cane at the fox in that disparaging way Nick had come to be familiar with when she got her paws on small objects.

    "Come again?" His brow went up.

    Judy pointed at her front teeth. "The front two are always growing. We gotta whittle 'em down." She giggled. "Surprised you've never seen me chewing on a dowel."

    "A what now?" Nick's eyes squinted.

    "Oh, whatever," Judy bat her free paw at him. "For your sensitive ears, I'll try to be a bit more delicate."

    Nick caught her chiding tone and gave her a pleasantly snide smile in return. "You're just full of bunny fun facts, aren't you?"

    "Helps to be a bunny!" Judy took in a breath through her mouth, tasting both mint and the chill of the air. She let it out in a happy sigh as she looked back up at all of the holiday lights. "Wow, just look at this place. How many lights do you think? Thousands? A million?"

    Nick's paws were in his jacket pockets. "Probably enough to run Little Rodentia for about a year with all the extra electricity they use."

    Judy's ears went back and she grumbled. "Rgh, Nick, here I am trying to enjoy my first Crittermas, marveling at all the wonders the Gleaming City can hold-" she stepped forward and twirled around with her arms out, "-and you're being a big stick in the mud. Do you have to be so sour about everything? Do you have any kind of holiday spirit?"

    The fox flashed a cocky grin that caught Judy's eye. "As a matter of fact... I do." Using a bit of sleight of hand, Nick seemed to suddenly produce a small box from nowhere, holding it in a paw with a flourish. "And here it is."

    "I... that's..." Judy blinked, baffled. "What's that?"

    "Uh, it's called a 'gift'," Nick teased. "You're welcome."

    Judy slowly took it, cocking her head. "Nick it's... there's still like weeks 'til Crittermas. You can't give me a gift now!"

    "Ma'am, this is Zootopia," Nick indicated the sprawling, decorated buildings, "where anyone can do anything."

    "Well, thank you..." Judy smiled, looking warmly appreciative as she looked at the small box, carefully wrapped by Nick's surprisingly deft paws. "I'm sure I'll love it when I open it on Crittermas morning."

    Nick tilted his head up, looking down at her with his arms behind his back. "Oh, will you be opening it on Crittermas?"

    "Well, yeah, that's the... idea?" Judy looked confused. "I mean, I've never really gotten a personal Crittermas gift before, you see, when it comes to bunny traditions-"

    "Ah ah..." Nick waved his paw dismissively, "I just meant... I wondered if your curiosity would get the better of you and you'd open it... say, right now?"

    Judy looked between Nick and the box several times. Each time, she felt a bit more anxious, and soon realized her candy cane-tortured front teeth were digging into her lip. Curiosity burned in her, despite the cold air.

    "You're a horrible influence on me," Judy said, impulsively slashing the gift wrap with her claw.

    "I do try," Nick's smug smile was beyond satisfied.

    "Oh, Nick...!" Judy marveled, pulling out a chaste golden necklace. "...Really?" Her expression turned droll when she noticed the charm was a carrot. "A carrot?"

    "Only for my favorite Carrots," Nick replied, in a tone that was hard to distinguish between mocking or genuine.

    "Nick, do you think carrots are what bunnies are all about?" Judy sighed. "I mean, honestly."

    "No, of course not," The fox's voice suddenly lost its levity. "I just thought that, well, if it weren't for a carrot, or at least, an effigy of one, this whole thing might not have happened." He gestured between the two. "So, I just guess I've gotten a bit of a soft spot for those little vegetables, mm?"

    Judy marveled briefly, then sweetly smiled. "Aw, Nick, that's... that's really sweet." She immediately set about putting it on, and found it fit very well. "I'm not sure I want to know when you measured my neck."

    "Educated guess, really," he seemed pleased. "One of my many talents."

    "Well, just you wait," Judy's voice adopted a familiar challenging tone, and she sauntered right up next to Nick, matching his pace. "I'm gonna get you a great Crittermas gift. One that'll knock your socks off!"

    Nick stared into the distance, tapping his muzzle with a finger's pad. "Mm, socks, I do like socks..."
    
    "Tch, Nick, be serious," Judy rolled her eyes. "I'm going to get you something so great, you'll just be amazed."

    "Now, don't think you're socially obligated to get me something just because I got you something," Nick teased, winking at her. "After all, this isn't a true 'Crittermas' gift."

    The bunny's eyes narrowed. "I don't care if you're trying to be sneaky or manipulative one way or the other. You're going to get a great present, 'cause I said so!"

    Nick chuckled. Judy was always fun to mess with. "Can't wait."
    



    Two weeks passed.

    Judy was beginning to feel anxious that her time left for thinking of a gift was already effectively cut in half, and she'd made no progress with any of her ideas. She tried to distract herself at the precinct with casework, but it was gnawing at her.

    The bunny looked back to Nick's empty chair. He'd taken a day off to do "Crittermas Things" with his mother. It was weird how he was so randomly celebrating the holiday; she had wondered if that was a fox thing or specifically a "Nick" thing. Judy huffed. At least if Nick was there he'd provide more of a distraction so she could concentrate on doing her work.

    Grumbling in frustration, she got up and headed to the front desk, looking for Clawhauser. Seeing his place empty, she looked around, confused, only to see the retreating rotund form of the cheetah heading for the door. He was donning a bright red Santa Claws outfit.

    "Clawhauser?"

    "Officer Hopps!" Clawhauser spun, grinning at her and saluting. "Ah yeah, I'm the office Sandy Claws. Heading down to the mall to hear the hopes and dreams of the little 'uns." He started to look concerned. "Hope they mind the size limit this year. Got sat on by an elephant kid once. Nnnnot the best time."

    "Really? Well, you certainly have the right disposition for Santa Claws," Judy beamed.

    "So kind of you to say!" The cheetah turned to leave, but then half-turned back to Judy. "Did you need something?"

    "Oh... uh, it's nothing compared to the needs of the cute li'l kids of Zootopia!" Judy jauntily pumped her arm.

    "Now now, a good Santa Claws knows when someone needs something," Clawhauser insisted, stepping closer and kneeling down. "So what's this li'l bunny want?"

    "I just... mmmm..." Judy's brow came up, "I'm having trouble thinking of a gift for a certain someone..."

    "Oh, Officer Wilde?" Clawhauser's grin grew ever wider.

    "That obvious?" Judy winced.

    "Well, this is your first Crittermas as partners, so I just kinda figured," Clawhauser giggled. He shook his head. "Officer Hopps, I'm sure Nick would be happy with anything as long as it comes from here." He gently poked in the direction of the bunny's heart, giving her a warm smile.

    "Thanks, Clawhauser," Judy grinned with a serene appreciation. Satisfied, Clawhauser bounced up and headed off, causing Judy's appreciation to instantly vanish and her brow to furrow. "Drat, that doesn't really narrow it down at all."

    Feeling defeated, Judy trudged back up in the direction of her desk. On the way, she passed by Karen Skippel, the arctic hare Technical Officer, and gave pause. Karen was casually smiling, an unusual look for her. The hare took a sip of her coffee, hints of mint reaching Judy's nose.

    "Morning, Officer Hopps," Karen greeted, giving a small wave. She noticed Judy's amazement. "Uh, everything okay?"

    "Skippel, you don't... uh..." Judy began, stammering, "you don't- well, I don't take you much for a holiday type hare, am I right?"

    Karen's brow furrowed. "Sure, I celebrate. Crittermas is a great excuse to get a gift for my dad. In fact, I just picked one out for him." She beckoned. "Check it out."

    Judy walked over as if in a trance, invited to look at one of Karen's three monitors. On it was an order confirmation of a coffee cup that depicted two male deer on it. One was gesturing to the considering other one, and the text on it read "*Slaps mug* this baby can fit so much beverage in it."

    "Uh... huh..." Judy nodded. "I... don't think I get it."

    Karen rolled her eyes, grinning. "It's a meme. You know, like an internet joke. He likes corny humor, he'll love this."

    "Oh, okay," Judy smiled, nodding. "...Uh, I don't suppose you've heard Officer Wilde drop any hints as to what he'd like for Crittermas."

    Karen spun around in her chair to look at her incredulously. "...Officer Hopps, I would be amazed if I knew a single thing about Officer Wilde that you didn't."

    "Fair enough," Judy had a weak smile. "Thanks anyway."

    "I'm sure anything coming from you will be great," Karen shrugged.

    "Meaning...?" Judy led hopefully.

    "...That anything coming from you will be great...?" Karen looked confused. "I don't really do subtext very much, sorry."

    "Okay, uh, have a good day then!" Judy waved, dashing back off to her desk.

    Karen subtly shook her head and looked back at her monitor, grinning a little at the mug's image again.  



    Crittermas morning came, and Judy was very anxious. The feeling wasn't helped by Chief Bogo, who had decided to wear a Santa hat, which not only was inherently distracting, the little pom pom kept coming dangerously close to rolling over one of his eyes. For some reason this steadily escalated Judy's nerves, until she felt ready to snap.

    SNORT!

    A powerful blast from the buffalo's nostrils blew the pom pom all the way to the back of the hat, and Judy released a breath she didn't know she'd been holding.

    "Now, though it is Crittermas," Bogo went on, "that's no reason to shirk your duties. The criminal element will not stop just because it is supposed to be a day of peace and harmony for all mammalkind or some such. That said, I'm not opposed to merrymaking, as long as you keep it down." He looked pointedly at Judy, Nick, and then Wolfard. "If not, you'll be given parking duty." His stern look turned into a dangerous smile. "And I'm sure no one would like to be the mammal that gives out parking tickets for Crittermas presents, now would they? Dismissed."

    The mammals started to disperse, and Wolfard leaned in Nick's direction.

    "I guess that means no howling?" Wolfard winced, almost whispering. "Fangmeyer almost always gives me a super awesome present; I just can't help myself sometimes."

    "Maybe he was talking about the often-shrieking bunny here," Nick gently ribbed Judy with his elbow. "She's known to be excitable."

    "Hehe, I sure am!" Judy replied in an unusual, pinched tone.

    Nick gave her a considering look, then dismissed it and headed to his desk. "You ready to go out on patrol?" Nick looked through his own desk drawers for a Santa hat. "You think it'd be neat if we busted a criminal while I was wearing one of these numbers? Mmm, Bogo'd probably flip out. ...Hopps?"

    Thunk.

    A medium-sized gift box landed on Nick's desk, plunked down by Judy.

    "Listen, I just can't take it anymore," Judy winced. "Can you please open your present now so we can get this out of the way?"

    "Whoa!" Nick blinked, marveling at the box. "Nicely wrapped." He wiggled his fingers in anticipation. "Can't wait to see what you got me."

    Judy had a frozen, grimacing smile as Nick tore into the box.

    "Well now, what's this?" Nick pulled a red sweater out of the box. It was quite bright red, with festive whites and bright greens. It was also decorated with a lot of various colored kinda of bunnies, using the ancient, four-legged style. Nick looked it over with a placid face.

    Judy let out a soft groan.

    "Thanks a lot, Judy, I appreciate the thought," Nick smiled, apparently sincere.

    "Kuh, you don't have to rub it in, Nick," Judy's ears finally fell as if her stress had been holding them up. "I panicked, I procrastinated, and I got you a... a sweater. A freaking SWEATER on Crittermas. What is wrong with me!? That's like the most stereotypical, basic gift ev-"

    Chief Bogo happened by, glaring at Judy.

    "Right, I'll keep it down," she squeaked.

    Bogo nearly seemed to swallow a smirk. "Nice sweater, Wilde."

    "Isn't it, though?" Nick grinned, holding it up. "Can't wait to wear it."

    "Nick...!" Judy swung her head around in his direction. "Can you cut it out? It's a Crittermas sweater. I already feel bad enough about this."

    "Why?" Nick blinked. "I think it looks nice." He grinned at it, feeling it. "Mm pretty soft, doesn't feel that scratchy."

    Judy seemed at a loss. "You... like it? For real?"

    "Carrots, you know what I'll remember when I wear this?" He gently tapped her on the forehead. "That somebunny wanted me to be warm when I'm feeling cold. I'd say that's a winner of a gift in my book. It's like a portable hug from you."

    Judy's mouth dropped open and she tried to speak a couple of times, fumbling a bit. Her eyes felt a little pinched, like she might well up, but it passed. She wagged her head in muted amazement. "You can make anything sound sweet, you dolt."

    "Being a hustler will do that for you," Nick winked, carefully folding up the sweater and putting it away. "Now, shall we go make the holiday a better place?"

    "Of course!" Judy nodded, starting to head out with him.

    After a few steps, Nick nodded his head over to Judy. "To save you the anguish, you can get me socks next year."

    "Nick...!" Judy grumbled immediately. "I am not getting you socks."

    "Why not? I like socks," Nick blinked, eyes big.

    "Sweet reindeer milk, Nick," Judy slapped her own face, sloughing off the paw. "I will think of something better than socks. I have a whole year."

    "But I like socks!" Nick almost pouted. "I mean, pawpads can get cold on tile, after all, and I just kind like how they look."

    "I might get you socks," Judy conceded as they headed out the door. "Along with something, anything else."

    "And make sure they're really colorful, too," Nick's tail swished. "The wilder the better, after all."

    Judy groaned. "Alright already! Sheesh. Dunno if you're just easy to please or just strange."

    "Merry Crittermas, Carrots."

    "You too, Nick. Merry Crittermas."