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 TWO AM

 

The hours between Midnight and the grey predawn light had always been a magic time for Nick. Three quarters of Zootopia would be asleep, leaving it to the nocturnal animals like bats, raccoons and foxes. The street lights would be dimmed, and the shadows would lengthen. Sometimes Nick could walk for hours up and down the streets without seeing another soul, but knowing they were there, watching. It was something no daylight oriented mammal could really understand, that feeling in the air, the knowledge that there was a second Zootopia, occupying the same physical space as the sunlit one but so profoundly different in many ways.

 

Tonight for example, he’d taken a long walk to the tarmac two-lane road leading into town, only turning around when he’d reached the outskirts of town, listening to the crickets chirp in the grass and the occasional hoot of an owl. Then he turned back, whistling to himself and walked around the house to the back porch to catch a few winks before the Hopps clan began to wake up and start their long work day.

 

To his surprise, he found Judy waiting for him, sitting on the porch with her paws between her knees, ears flat and hanging low behind her head.

 

“What’s wrong?” Nick asked, sitting down beside her.

 

Judy shrugged, looking down at her feet. “Can’t sleep,” she muttered.

 

“Pain?”

 

“No.”

 

“Bad dreams?”

 

“Yeah,” she admitted, and then added, “I texted Clawhauser last night and bullied him into emailing me copies of the evidence photos from my mauling.”

 

“What?” Nick exclaimed. “Why would you want to look at those? No wonder you’re having nightmares.”

 

She finally looked up at him. “Because it didn’t seem real to me. Nick, I can’t remember any of it happening. My last memory is of me turning the corner into that alley, and then waking up in the hospital with you sitting beside me. Almost two weeks of my life between those moments is a complete blank.”

 

“Judy, I told you the whole story about what happened,” he said patiently. “Looking at a bunch of photos of bloodstains on the ground isn’t really going to add much to it.”

 

She took in a breath. “I also got the footage from both our body cams.”

 

“Jesus H. Christ on a Moped, no wonder you’re having nightmares. Chief Bogo would have you and Clawhauser’s ears if he found out you accessed evidence without cause like that.” He could just imagine what the footage from Judy’s cam looked like. All that would really be visible would be a quick swipe of the polar bear’s paw, a blurred view of the street as she flew the air, then a thud as she hit the wall and himself standing over and trying to give first aid.

 

“Nick, there was so much blood. What would you have done if I’d died?” Judy asked.

 

He reached over and gave her paw a strong squeeze. “I would have been a mess, I won’t deny it. But I wouldn’t have done anything stupid.”

 

“You’re sure?”

 

He smiled. “Come on, Carrots. You think I’d want to get to the Rainbow Bridge only to have you waiting for me on the other side, shouting, ‘Nick! You dumb fox!’”

 

That finally got a laugh from her, or at least an amused snort. “Thanks Nick,” she said.

 

“Not a problem. You willing to take a word of advice though?”

 

“Sure.”

He squeezed her paw again. “Don’t dwell on this. You start going over alternate scenarios about what could have happened and you’ll spin in circles until you’re sick. You can’t change the past, and trust me, I know how wishing you could can eat at you. Just concentrate on moving forward, towards the goal in front of you, not looking back at the mistakes behind you.”

 

Judy smiled. “Thank you, Nick. I’ll try to remember that.”

 

“You better.” He smiled back at her. “You think you can get back to sleep now?”

 

“I think so, but…” She swallowed. “You said I had first dibs on napping in the hammock with you, right?”

 

“I… Yes, I did,” Nick said, thankful that there was no way Judy could see the blush in his ears as he clambered into the hammock, and then helped her to nestle against his side.

 

This is a very, very bad idea, he thought to himself, even as he wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Judy’s body may have been small, but it was surprisingly heavy as she curled up against him, all muscle and little fat, her high metabolism  making her skin and fur warm enough that he left the sleeping bag he slept in unzipped even with the night’s chill. “Comfy?” Nick asked softly.

 

“Mmm hmm,” Judy murmured back, pressing herself a little closer, her eyes already closed.

 

She’s just a friend, Nick told himself firmly. Your friend and your partner, and that’s all. Like he’d told Tommy, he couldn’t ask her to be anything more.

 

But lord was she soft and warm…

July 2017

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