The wedding had been little more than a week ago, and he had already visited the in-laws. Nick just shook his head a little at the thought. Judy gave him a confused glance from where she was leaning against him before turning back to her phone. A bit of careful positioning in the upper dome of the observation car allowed the two to dodge the afternoon glare and kept the sun out of their eyes. Nick never would have sat here, but Judy honestly enjoyed the view on their way home. Or at least she would have any other time.
Their visit to Bunnyburrow was one of those ‘suggestions’ from Bonnie that were less suggestions and more demands. Since a large portion of the Hopps family was unable to attend, this was their opportunity to meet their new relative. Nick couldn’t ever really say he was the tallest mammal in the room, foxes weren’t known for being tall, but after the weekend he had had enough. It was a sea of kits, pawshakes, and introductions with a few speciesist distant cousins to spice things up. Despite the extensive meals and plush arrangements, he was exhausted. Peace and quiet were at a premium now, which they managed to find on the way home.
Somehow, even with his tail caught between the seat and Judy, Nick found himself on the verge of dozing off. It must have been the warm sun, the steady motion of the train, and the presence of his mate that was putting him to sleep. All of that was shattered, however, when Judy began shaking his shoulder to get his attention. “Hey Nick, take a look at…” She trailed off as a long yawn cracked his muzzle. It took a moment before the manners drilled into him by his mother overcame the clouds of sleep. Quickly, he placed a paw over his mouth before turning to see what was so important.
The rabbit held her phone out to him and he took it in one paw. Things like this reminded him just how different they were, where Judy used the phone with a single paw, he had to use both of his to scroll through the text. He was just too big otherwise. The screen showed him a news article. Apparently there were student protests at Zootopia University, which started the day before over some of the old behavior laws. Nick snorted derisively and passed the phone back. “Nick, what’s all that about?” Judy’s question was one of those that didn’t have a good answer, not because it was a hard question but because of what it would dredge up.
“It’s nothing fluff, protesting is nearly mandatory for students and the university. They call it the Zoo for a reason, you know.” Even Nick could tell that was a horrible attempt to deflect the conversation, but he had to try. There were too many dark memories that this topic could bring up and with Judy’s personality either she would attempt to fix everything herself or take full responsibility. Her response however, broke him. She stroked his ear and allowed her paw to trail down the side of his head and traced a small portion of his jawline as she spoke. “Nick, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. It sounds like this is something you would rather keep to yourself, I won’t press for more.”
One of the things he loved about Judy was her hope; despite everything she had been through she could still see the best in everyone she met. It was one of those things a jaded cynic like himself had trouble with, at times. For all of Zootopia’s messages of tolerance and co-operation it hadn’t always been that way, the past wasn’t pretty. Nick worried that if he exposed too much of that dark history he would spoil his mate’s outlook. She had a right to know however, no matter what his reservations may be. At least in this case he would get to explain things. He hung his head and sighed, before scooching over in the seat to better see his mate. There was no one else up in the observation dome with them, probably from the closed sign he had hung across the bottom of the stairs on their way up. This was a conversation that didn’t need any outside inputs.
“Do you know what laws those students are protesting?” Nick’s question had Judy shaking her head and prompted a response. “No, I don’t remember anything like this coming up during the academy or during any of our patrols. Honestly, that was why I woke you up.” A small smile tugged at the corners of his muzzle but didn’t reach his eyes. “There’s a reason for that.” He switched to Common; most legalese was in that language anyways. “They are protesting an old set of laws that were supposed to stop ‘predatory behaviors,’ whatever that’s supposed to mean. The reason why you haven’t had to deal with them is because the authorities are hoping to just let the laws die. I know there is a technical term for it, but I leave that to the suits.” He may have been a hustler and a middle-mammal for the mafia, but eve he wouldn’t stoop as low as lawyers.
“Predatory behaviors, what was that all about even?” Judy’s question would take much longer to answer than she was probably expecting. The fox took a moment to collect his thoughts and organize himself before speaking. “Bellwether had a point, you know.” That perked his rabbit’s ears up instantly. “Fear has a way of making mammals do things they normally wouldn’t even think of. This is one of those cases. Before my time, there was a push to institute a set of law to spot behaviors that some prey found threatening. These were things like basic threat displays, pack behaviors, and stalking. They were honestly pretty open ended, in my opinion.”
The space he had created before speaking had steadily been closed as Judy moved to comfort him. She rested her head against his chest and through his fur he could make out her quietly asked question. “How did that work?” Nick gently laid the rabbit’s ears back and stroked along them from the back of her head as he answered. “It was often in the paws of the individual officer, but there were a few things that got you in trouble. Namely, baring teeth, growling, raising hackles, or showing claws.” Nick gave a small sigh as he paused momentarily. “When I was a kit, my mom had heard horror stories of young kits being arrested for supposedly baring their fangs, so she was very particular about manners.” The questioning look he received prompted additional explanations.
“We foxes are a fairly polite species, but Mother insisted I keep my fangs covered. They had a habit of sticking out when I was young and she worried that would get me in trouble. Honestly, the claws have always been the issue for me. These things nearly got me arrested once.” He gestured with his claws as he spoke. “Those laws may have fallen out of favor when I was ten, but they had a way of coming back to haunt predators. I tried dating a few vixens when I was in my teens.” The sharp scent of jealousy suddenly sprang from the rabbit in his arms, and he quickly moved to dispel it.
“Now before you get jealous, I can smell it, nothing ever connected between us. Besides, none of them were even half as good looking as you or smelled as nice as you do, Carrots. I had to take the metro to a date and was polishing my claws against my shirt on the way there. It’s a nervous habit some of us pick up, but the elderly chinchilla next to me took an issue to it. She started getting all worked up over how I was going to eat her and everyone else in the car was at risk. It got so bad that she started threatening to call the cops. If I hadn’t jumped off at the next station I probably would have gotten cuffed.” Judy squeezed him tightly after that.
“If you keep that up fluff, I will start purring.” Nick couldn’t resist making that comment, which caused his rabbit to sit up straight. “Isn’t that more of a feline thing?” She asked. Nick’s smirk grew sider as he replied, “You could always find out for yourself. A ‘personal experience’ so to speak.” She may have blushed at the suggestion, but it did nothing to stop her. She started by scratching him under the chin, and he leaned into her touch. As he relaxed in bliss, he barely noticed the rumble in the back of his throat let alone the buttons on his shirt being undone. As much fun as they had grooming each other with brushes, nothing was quite like the paws on approach.
He eventually returned to his senses, wasn’t where he expected to be. Somehow, he had managed to end up on the floor, on his back, bare chested to the world with Judy straddling his torso. She had a smile that spelled trouble, the best kind of trouble. “Well Slick,” She teased, “You really can purr. You also make a lot of other fun noises when your stomach is rubbed too!” It was his turn to be embarrassed at that. For all his membership and time at Mystic Springs Oasis, not many had complimented him on his looks. He flushed under his already red fur and his ears heated as Judy’s further widening smile told him she could tell. As Nick began to get up, his mate slid into his lap.
”Are you sure you want to talk about this, Nick? You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” Judy looked concerned as she radiated compassion. Nick leaned forward to meet her, his lithe form toned from the academy. He brought their foreheads together and whispered quietly. “I have kept this bottled up for far too long. Talking about it helps.” Then, he managed to work the two of them back up onto the seat. A quick glance out the window still showed the vast rolling hills beyond the city stretching out around the tracks. They had plenty of time to finish talking before they neared their station.
Judy sat in Nick’s lap as he stalled for time, buttoning his shirt. He really did feel better telling someone about his troubles; it allowed him to express things he had suppressed for years. “Judy, those laws were part of the reason why I had my ‘incident’ with the junior rangers. How else do you think a group of kids could get their paws on a muzzle? It was a different time, one that hurt everyone.” The last sentence was something he nearly had to choke out as he found himself being embraced by his mate again. Emotions were a full body experience for her, somehow it was all packed into that small frame and this was how she let it out.
He nuzzled her slightly before he noticed his tail curling around to place itself over the back of her feet. Nick had to suppress a mild chuckle over his own instinctual behaviors. The conversation picked up, but with a slightly different tone. “Remember out meeting with the West Peak pack? There was a good reason why I was so concerned about how we approached that. For a long time the city’s packs had been on terrible terms with the ZPD, all because of those Predatory Behavior laws. With their enforcement, it nearly tore the heart out of Lupine culture. It would almost be like if they passed laws about rabbits chewing on things.”
The questioning look on Judy’s face quickly became one of concern before she interjected. “You mean it was that serious? I didn’t know that there were health related concerns for wolf packs.” It was Nick’s turn to be confused, “What do you mean by that? I know wolves will practically swear by their pack, but they won’t die without one.” As he spoke he made eye contact with his mate, they both seemed confused before Judy made some clarification. “There is a reason why bunnies chew on things, Nick. We have to wear our teeth down, since they constantly grow. Mostly it’s a personal grooming issue, but if I let them go it could lead to some health problems. Mom always had us pay attention to things like that. I can remember times when Dad was reading the paper at dawn, the news in one paw and coffee and a maple wood stick in the other. It was kind of a morning ritual around our house growing up.”
Nick stored that information in the back of his mind; it was something he would have to address later. “Ok, so perhaps not quite like that.” He started, “But those laws started a whole lot of bad blood between wolves and cops for a long time. I may have mentioned it earlier, but the sections of those behavior laws relating to the packs actually got repealed when I was ten. It’s taken some time, but if Wolfard is anything to go by it seems some rifts have healed.” His mate had another question as he paused to breathe. “But why did we go meet the West Peak pack in full uniform?” She asked. His response was easy, “That was mostly to get us to the Alpha faster. Nowadays, the policy is to let the packs take care of themselves, but if the ZPD does get involved they deal with the Alpha first. It’s a respect thing.”
The train rattled beneath them as they let their conversation sink in. From where Judy had managed to burrow into his side, she found a spot where his arm naturally rested across her shoulders. It wasn’t the most comfortable for him, but she seemed happy with the arrangement so he didn’t argue. It was safer that way. Pressed against his side, it was hard to ignore when her ears perked up before she turned and asked another question. “So, what’s the deal with the student protests at the university? The article made it sound like this wasn’t the first time this issue has been brought up.” Nick snorted slightly as some memories came to mind. “If I recall, this is the third set of protests. The first two were the ones that got the packs freed, but nothing happened on the other parts of the law. It was supposedly because of a public safety issue but even back then, decades ago, that sounded like a pitiful excuse. I’m trying not to get my hopes up for this time, but who knows. They may just make a difference.” He shrugged and threw his paws up. The future was something he had stopped trying to predict anymore.
The rest of the trip was fairly light, by comparison. They napped and watched the landscape roll along as they neared Zootopia. There was a moment when Nick found himself getting scolded for putting the ‘Out of Order’ sign across the stairs to the observation deck, but it seemed to blow over when Judy realized just how empty the train was. Besides, with all of the larger mammals in the car below them, it wasn’t like they could fit up there anyways. Just as they were reaching the mountains surrounding the city, he faced one last question.
“Nick,” Judy said suddenly, “You spoke about two of the three portions of those behavior laws, but haven’t said a word about that last part. The whole ‘stalking’ things, what was meant by that?” The fox took a few seconds to try and remember how the law was worded before answering. “Hmmm…” He began, “that part of the law was never very clear, but the best I can think of was that the actual wording talked about hunting behaviors. So I would assume something like that, but it never really came up. I do, however, have an idea as to what they were talking about. Remember that mouse thief we had to catch last spring in Tundratown?” His rabbit nodded. Of course, it was also a hard case to forget. Especially when Mr. Big was tacitly having the ZPD remove a petty annoyance for him.
While the whole case was fairly routine, the arrest stood out. In order to finally corner the mouse, Nick had to pull some of his rapidly expiring connections to arrange a ‘meeting.’ The sting operation was almost flawless, until the perp realized who he was dealing with. Despite carrying a ring large enough to fit around his own waist he dove into a nearby snowbank in an escape attempt. It might have worked if Nick hadn’t dove headfirst into the snow to grab him. The Little Rodentia precinct was responsible for custody after that, and the two congratulated themselves on a job well done. What Nick remembered more was the bottle of wine that mysteriously appeared in front of their apartment door that evening. It seemed that their discretion was appreciated, it was also good wine.
Back in the present, however, Nick continued speaking. “I guess someone had fears about that whole pouncing business and felt a law was the best way to solve their problems. No idea why they thought it would work, but nobody puts foxes in government anyways. Nobody ever asked my opinion, nor any other predators’ but that is how some things go.” Judy seemed thoughtful for a few seconds as Nick leaned back against the seat.
Sometimes, he really did wonder why mammals believed the whole idea that Zootopia was a place where ‘anyone could be anything,’ but his mate had a way of banishing those dark thoughts. “I guess we will have to work to make the future better than the past. Making the world a better place, right?” Judy smiled and continued speaking. “Right now however, I have a few recipes Aunt Laura gave me. Feel like taste testing for me, Slick?” Nick snorted in amusement before cracking a smile and a short chuckle. Judy cooking? That was something he HAD to see.