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Under Grace

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Chapter 1 - Nearly There

Tundratown had always been a breathtaking place. Even now, after countless visits to the district, Nick's breath was still ripped from his chest by the frigid air that coiled around his throat and sapped the strength from his bones.

Nick ignored it, that was easy enough to do. It didn't matter now. Nothing mattered, really.

He was done trying to think of ways out of this mess, there were none. His brain could concoct a hustle or scam to get him out of just about any situation, but this one left him clueless. And really, he wasn't sure he deserved to get out of this.

He'd been on the streets for about four days now. Or was it five? He couldn't remember exactly - it was all starting to blend together.

Ever since he'd left the hospital, he'd been wandering around the city. With Finnick's van in the impound and him without a proper home anymore, Nick had nothing to do but walk the streets and wait. Wait for the Five Tails Gang to find him; wait until he starved, was shot or beaten.

Nick was waiting for death.

It was inevitable - The Tails' guys would find him sooner or later. So far he'd wandered around the Rainforest District, Sahara Square, and Savanna Central… every major district except for Tundratown, where Big was. Although he hadn't been spotted yet, every district he'd been to had the Tails' goons snooping around, so it was only a matter of time until he ran out of places to hide.

But at least if the Tails were looking for him, they wouldn't be looking for Finnick. That thought brought him a little comfort.

So the only place left to run, he deduced, was Tundratown. Even though he wanted nothing to do with Big's gang, he knew that the shrew's stranglehold on the district would prevent the Tail's goons from getting to him, so here he was. But not even Big's reach would keep him safe forever.

His jacket was tattered and ripped - apparently living on the street wore heavily on an article of clothing.. Nick idly picked at a ragged tear in the side and sighed wearily. His late father had made the jacket for him.

During one of his many dumpster dives, he'd found a few old rags that someone had thrown out, and he now used them as makeshift gloves.

The warmest part of his outfit, though, was the small bottle of Jack Savage's Premium Bunnyburrow Whiskey (90 proof) that he clung to. It wouldn't keep out the wind or the snow of this blasted storm, but it made him feel warmer than any of his clothing did.

As the wind roared and howled around him, his sharp eyes could make out the dull, hazy red glow of a bank sign through the icy fog.

Twenty below.

He shivered, hugging his arms to himself and rubbing vigorously.

If he stayed in the wind and snow like this he'd freeze to death in hours - a prospect that Nick found himself briefly considering. The dark thought flickered away as quick as it came, and Nick decided to do the best he could to find shelter. He stumbled forward through the driving wind and snow and staggered into the wall of the bank.

He felt his way down the wall, towards the rear of the bank. This wind was coming from the north, and if he could get to the southern end of the bank, he could at least keep some of it off of him.

Behind the building were some recycling bins, all filled with paper. He fumbled around in them for a few moments, before dragging out some newspapers. He laid some on the ground at his feet, and some more off to the side.

Drawing a breath, he pulled the cap off of his bottle and drained the last of the liquid fire down his throat. He acted quickly; he lay down onto the newspaper at his feet and did his best to cover up his body with the rest before the false warmth of the liquor was leeched from him.

As the chill subsided and he regained a comfortable numbness, he wondered if his last dollars would have been better spent on something other than liquor.

Nah. There's nothing I could have bought that would delay the inevitable any longer… I may as well spend my last moments alive with a little buzz, he thought.

As he closed his eyes, he thought back through his years. He thought of his fondest memories: running up to his father and leaping into his arms, his mother reading him bedtime stories, the nights they would all spend together, cozy on their pathetic excuse for a couch watching family sitcoms on TV.

That was all gone now, and there was no bringing it back.

He didn't want to die.

He wanted to fix everything - he wanted to leap up from where he laid, go grab Finnick and to prove to the world that he wasn't just some stereotypical fox that could never amount to anything more than a thief and degenerate…

But that was the exact kind of thinking that led him to where he was - freezing and drunk in a pile of old newspapers.

He had dared to dream, and endeavored to try; but in the end, the world won. He'd been a fool.

In a feeble attempt to achieve his dream, he'd become a hustler and con-fox. He had allowed himself to be exactly what everyone else had him pegged as, just so he could start to get ahead.

When he finally did get the money to try and jumpstart his vision, it was all brushed away in one fell swoop.

"Try everything", so the song went. Well he did, and he was left with nothing to show for it but the lingering memory of the smell of smoke.

As soon as this storm passed, his body would be found; frozen to the ground.

The police report would say he was just some fox with alcohol in his system that had laid down and died during the storm. A no-account, low-life vulpine that met his unfortunate demise when he tried to fight old man winter. Just another day in Zootopia.

There'd be no sign, no mention of how he had given his all to achieve a dream, or that he had even dared to dream of being more in the first place.

Nick drew a breath and sighed, his breath making less steam than ever before. He knew he was colder than he'd ever been, but all he could focus on was how tired he felt.

As he descended into unconsciousness, he let his mind wander back to his happy memories, focusing on his parents both hugging him when he was young. He'd been so happy, so warm.

Nick opened his eyes one last time, idly noting the black cloud on the edges of his vision. He was done fighting.

"I'm coming guys." he whispered, shut his eyes, and let sleep take him.

Nick was almost home.

 


 

Tundratown was always a breathtaking place to be. Judy would never forget the first time she'd laid eyes on it; the blinding glare of the sun shining off the snow had blinded her when the train burst from the tunnel. A massive columns of snow had burst from vents on either side of the train and surrounded it in a momentary blizzard. Judy found herself smiling in wonder every time she came to the district.

Well, almost every time. During the daytime, the precarious icicles hanging from buildings, the welcoming smell of the occasional wood-burning fireplace and the sounds of children playing and laughing in the snow could make even the most stoic of mammals crack a smile, but the Tundratown nights were much different.

With the absence of the sun's warmth and the ever-running climate coolers, temperatures would drop below freezing, as they did every night. It didn't help that it was late January either - the dead of winter.

But despite the cold air temperature, howling wind and threat of frostbite, the ZPD's smallest officer was bound and determined to get the one last witness statement she needed before it got too late out. Had this witness lived almost anywhere else in the city, she would have driven her cruiser to the address, but with the sudden onset of a real winter storm on top of the already frozen tundra, she decided it would be best to walk to avoid having a wreck on the ice.

The witness visit went just as she'd expected. Judy had knocked on the door, introduced herself as ZPD, started to ask some questions about Mafia activity in the area and promptly had the door shut in her face. As frustrating as it was though, she could at least vaguely understand why mammals had an aversion to the police around here, especially if it had anything to do with the Big Family. Even those that the infamous shrew didn't have directly under his thumb didn't dare to cross him, or else they'd suffer the consequences. And many harbored a sense of loyalty for the Family; as much of a criminal as Big was, he had made it his mission to protect and improve Tundratown.

The Chief had told her to expect no less. Bogo had been around just about as long as any other cop on the force, and this wasn't their first encounter with the Bigs. The buffalo had warned Judy not to expect much cooperation from potential witnesses, and that if the witnesses wouldn't talk, they'd figure out a different approach later on.

Gathering her thoughts for a moment, she turned from the door she'd come a half inch from kissing and headed back out towards her cruiser. Despite her best efforts at quick travel, she hadn't found the address until about fifteen minutes after nine; well past sunset during these winter months.

The walk back would take her about fifteen or twenty minutes, and she didn't fancy freezing to death tonight, so she made haste.

Despite the cold, she couldn't help but stare in awe at the beauty of Tundratown at night. The blizzard may have been terrifying, but like the awe inspiring display of a summer monsoon - flashing with lightning and rattling with thunder - if viewed from the safety of a dry house, it was beautiful. The grandiose display of nature's power coupled with the modern technology of the climate wall that danced above her head helped her forget some of her woes.

While Judy had been working with the ZPD for a year now, she still didn't feel like she was doing anything to make the world a better place. So far, she'd been writing a lot of parking and traffic tickets, gathering witness statements and generally just being the "go-for" of Precinct One. But even as dull and monotonous as her days could be, she always woke each morning with a smile on her face and the drive in her heart to always try. If nothing else, she could help the elderly across the street, rescue stray balls for children playing outside or even simply hold the door open for someone. Anything she could do to help improve someone's day, if only a little, was totally worth it to her.

"Do someone a good turn," she had been lectured as a kit, "and they'll do one for someone else." And she'd seen it work wonders before.

As Judy strolled into the lot of the bank she parked at, she noticed the sign out front that read "-21 F".

Wow, she thought, hugging the thick wool of her coat tight around her. Thank goodness I have this winter gear, or I'd probably be dead by now.

The wind picked up and she heard a small, metallic clank come from the corner of the bank, near the garbage cans, followed by what she swore was the barest hint of a groan. Had it been any other mammal that lacked the keen hearing of a rabbit, it would have gone missed entirely.

Curiosity overcame her, and Judy cautiously walked over to the cans, fingers poised to draw her weapon if necessary.

She rounded the corner and as the cans came into clear view, she could see a mammal behind them.

It was a fox, who lay curled up into a ball, tail covering the tip of his muzzle.

For a second Judy feared that the fox before her was already dead, until she saw his chest rise in a slow and much too shallow breath. The fox wore an old, tattered jacket that couldn't have been very warm, had old rags on his hands and was attempting to use old newspapers like blankets.

Very gently, Judy gave the mammal a light shake.

With glacial slowness, the fox turned over and Judy could see that falling snow clung to his fur and his muzzle leaving it with a greyed appearance from the frost that had formed there.

His eyelids slowly raised, exposing the most vibrant shade of emerald that Judy had ever seen. The brightness of the fox's eyes stood in stark contrast to the weariness etched into his every feature.

"You're not Mom," he managed to choke out before his eyes drooped shut again. "Guess I'm not dead yet …"

Judy shivered, but not from the cold.

The rabbit shivered at the disappointment that dripped from the fox's shaky words.