( Cut for mild suggestiveness )
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.
( Bad Dreams, Bad Ideas )
Judy was sitting on a carved log stump in the backyard, diligently doing her ten (and only ten, on pain of Nick’s snark) forearm curls with a two-pound dumbbell, when her mom came up to her, bearing a pitcher of lemonade and a pair of cups on a tray.
“What’s up, Mom?” she asked, setting the dumbbell down.
Bonnie set the tray on a second nearby stump, then pulled up another to sit beside her. “Oh, just checking up on you. How’s your arm?”
Judy rubbed her shoulder and grimaced. “Weak. I’m working on it.” She looked closer at Bonnie’s troubled expression and lowered ears. “Something on your mind?”
( Zootopia is built on compromises )
SCENE: We start in medias res inside Lord Dark’s Air Fortress. The animation style looks to be the height of mid-1980’s syndicated cartoons.
Assuming it was done by Filmation.
Towards the end of the season.
When the budget was getting a bit tight.
( From here it gets rough... )
“Mr. Big, Fru-Fru, it’s good to see you again,” Judy greeted cheerfully. Beside her Nick stood nearly frozen, a smile fixed on his face, not quite taking attention away from his panic floofed tail.
“Hello again, Judith,” Mr. Big rasped. “Thank you for letting me visit your lovely home.”
“Wouldn’t have dreamed of turning you away,” she admitted truthfully. Judy gestured to her mom and dad. “These are my parents, Bonnie and Stuart Hopps, and these are my sibs.” The four dozen or so of her brothers and sisters who had gathered on the porch to watch Mr. Big’s arrival all gave him little waves. “Mom, Dad, this is Mr. Big. He’s, ah, prominent business mammal in Zootopia, with interests in Little Rodentia and Tundra Town.”
( Ahem... )
Longer bursts, she told herself, glancing at the FitNip at her wrist, its timer running down the seconds. A full minute, you can do it!
She’d already turned and was heading back towards Nick and his entourage when the timer bleeped and she slowed down to a walking pace. Judy smiled to herself as the kits cheered and Nick beamed at her. The mere fact she was able to walk, not drag herself along in exhaustion, even after that speed burst, was enough to make her grin back at them as they cheered.
“Good going, Judy,” Nick greeted, pulling a water bottle from the cooler beside him and handing it over. “How are you feeling?”
( She's fine, but Nick is about to have a panic attack )
She’d walked back successfully, then rested like a good bunny until after lunch, when she’d walked again. This time around she actually had walked a full mile, only for Nick to make good his threat and bring her back in a wheelbarrow. Judy had been too tired and achey to argue with him, though she had insisted on walking herself up the stairs to her bed, rather than be carried.
“Think you can do it again tomorrow?” Nick asked.
“Slave driver,” she declared.
“I have a copy of The Nitwit’s Guide to Physical Therapy and I’m not afraid to use it,” he replied. “Starting a recovery program is easy. Maintaining it over time is the real slog.”
( Nick hates Past Nick )
“I’m not as tired as I was when we first arrived.”
“I think I’m ready.”
“Are you just going to keep saying ‘yes’, Nick?”
“No. Ow! Now I know you’re feeling better,” he said, rubbing his bicep where she’d punched it.
( The first steps are always the hardest )
“What’s up, Nick?” Tommy asked, coming from inside to look over Nick curiously on the front porch.
“Need to get a Zuber ride to pick some protein from the store, but there’s no service in this area,” he replied.
“Around here Zuber is called ‘Y’all got room in the back for me?’” Tommy said with a chuckle. “I’m headin’ into town anyway to pick up some shop towels from Burrow Depot. You can come along if you want and we can swing by the Feed Lion.”
( Friends and Partners )
( Gut punch behind the cut )
“I'm... kaff! I'm fine, sir,” she said, eyes red with tears, her small chest heaving up and down as she fought to catch her breath. “Gotta get our statements in before... kaff... the memories get blurry.”
Wilde, eyes also red and still tearing, looked only marginally better than his partner. “She's right, Chief. We need to get this done.”
He nodded. “Start from beginning then. What happened after you picked up Bellwether?”
“Everything seemed all right, at first,” the fox said. “I pulled out into traffic, heading towards the on ramp. But it looked like it was blocked by construction, or something. Must have been a set up, herding us into the ambush.”
“It was a Persian leopard, female. Maybe in her late twenties, early thirties I...” Hopps bent over coughing again.
“And your attacker?” Bogo prompted.
“Definitely a wolf,” Hopps said, regaining her breath. “Taller than average, black fur, wearing a gas mask and a suit.”
“A suit?” Bogo asked, eyes narrowing.
“Yeah, I thought it was weird too,” Wilde said, a ghost of a smile passing over his face. “Seriously, if you're going to ambush somebody, you should wear some practical coveralls. Much cheaper dry cleaning bill.”
“Nick, don't make me...” Hopps tried to raise an admonishing finger, and bent over in another coughing fit. Wilde looked her in concern, gripping her paw until she was able to talk again. “Anyway,” she said, “he fired a grenade right at us. Smashed a hole in the windshield. Tear gas.”
“I jammed on the brakes and tried to serve out of traffic, right into the damned lamp post,” Wilde continued. “Couldn't see anything between the gas filling the compartment and trying not to puke and cry my eyes out at the same time.”
“Did either of you fire your weapon?” Bogo asked.
“Didn't get the chance,” Wilde admitted. “By the time I fell out of the driver's seat and was able to see, the suspect had already pulled Bellwether out of the van and into the SUV that pulled up. Driver was a bear, I could see that much.”
“Polar bear?” the chief inquired.
“Brown,” Hopps said. “I think. Definitely not one of Mr. Big's I'm sure.”
“How did the wolf get the doors to Bellwether's compartment open?”
“My fault, Chief,” Hopps admitted. “I... I just couldn't breathe. I started hyperventilating, and then I threw up and started choking.”
“Sorry, Judy,” Wilde said, looking down at the sidewalk. “I didn't even see you were in trouble.”
“Not your fault, Nick,” she reassured him. “You were already out of the driver's compartment and blind as well.” She turned back to Bogo, her breathing slowing down, lung finally clearing of the gas. “Anyway, the wolf grabbed me by the scruff and pulled me out of the passenger seat. I had my dart gun, but I was too out of it to try and fire.” Hopps, being a bunny, was too small and light to use a proper pistol, or at least not a very large caliber one, so she habitually carried an optional reguation air pistol with tranquilizer rounds. “He disarmed me and pulled the keys off my belt. I'm sorry, sir.”
“Were you able to get a good look at him?” Bogo demanded.
“A little,” she said. “His pelt was black, like Nick said, but with some salt and pepper, gray hairs I mean. Couldn't see what color his eyes were through the mask. He was... very polite.”
Bogo leaned forward. “Wait, do you mean he spoke to you?”
She nodded. “Yes. He said, 'Sorry about this, Officer Hopps. Now please stay down.'” Hopps blinked, “Wait, how did he know my name?”
Wilde's ear perked up in interest. “Could have gotten it off your uniform tag.”
“Maybe, but by then I was face down on the ground where he'd dropped me.” She frowned. “No, not just face down. He made sure to set my face over the edge of side walk, so when I threw up I wouldn't choke. He could have just left me in the passenger set and grabbed my keys there. I'm pretty sure I would have suffocated though.” She shook her head in disbelief, “I think he saved my life.”
“One last thing,” Bogo said. “That suit he was wearing. Did he have a tie on?”
Wilde blinked at the question. “No, come to think of it. It was very stylish though. Italian I think.” The fox officer looked at the chief in curiosity. “Do you think you know this guy?”
“Not directly, but I've heard reports about him,” Bogo told them. “Almost urban legends. A few years ago in New Yak City, there were sightings of what they called 'The Wolf in the Nice Suit.' Black, salt and pepper fur, stylish suit with no tie, and tended to speak very softly and carrying a helluva lot of fire power. He and a few unidentified compatriots managed to shed light on collusion between the police and the local mob. Big scandal.”
“So he's a good guy?” Hopps asked, ears perking up.
“I wouldn't say good,” Bogo rumbled. “He's a vigilante who left a few bodies in his wake. Though most of them were criminals, or cops so dirty that they probably bathed in a pig wallow. Even then, most of his targets ended up with just bullets in their kneecaps. And at least twice, he took out armored cars with the same MO used here.”
“So what's his motivation for grabbing Bellwether?” she wondered. “She was already on her way to be tried for her crimes.”
“That's what we need to find out,” Bogo said. “From this point forward your top priority is to find the Wolf in the Nice Suit and Bellewether, and bring them both in for justice. Is that understood, officers?”
“Yes, sir!” they both replied.
“Good. Now get to work!”
“I need you on your best behavior, Rogers,” Tony said, tapping his fingers nervously on the steering wheel of his Audi R8, as they weaved their way through the mix of suburbs and light industrial buildings outside of Pittsburg. Unusually, for Tony, he was actually sticking to the speed limits and not revving his engine impatiently at the stoplights.
“On my best behavior, are you serious?” Steve asked.
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “Try not to be so smarmily superior, like you usually are. I want you to make a good impression.” Though it was hard to tell with Tony sometimes, Steve was pretty sure that statement, mocking as it was, was meant in deadly earnest.
“Wait, you are actually serious,” he said. “Who are we meeting, and why are they so important?”
( One of the few men Tony respects. )
( Do you know how many of my stories end with characters waking up in a hospital? )
( He'll have more reasons to sweat soon. )
( The calm before the storm. )
"Yo, this is Finnick. Leave a message. I might get back."
"Finnick, if you're still alive, pick up the goddamn phone!"
"Mind not yellin' in my ear? I'm kinda in a tight squeeze here."
"You always answer your mobile like you've got it set to voice mail?"
"Why not? Half the time it's some guy from New Delhi tryin' to tell me about this cruise I won anyway. Whassup, Nick?"
( Finnick in a fix )
Now with the fire out, and Nick and the Hoppses were safe, there was finally a bit of slack time, and he was able to flag down Fangmeyer and have her take over for a few minutes while he went to take care of necessities. Not to mention get a soda from the vending machine to wash down his next scheduled dose of painkiller for his aching shoulder.
( In Which Clawhauser is Once Again Awesome )
* * *
"Hi Volkov, I'm Nick," he replied, switching gears from utter terror to well-honed glibness, mouth operating on automatic pilot while he tried to figure out what to do next. "Sorry if I'm looking surprised. It's just with a name like yours I was expecting a wolf, not to mention a guy. I don't know much Russian, but wouldn't the feminine version of Volkov be 'Volkova'?"
"Yes, and it is usually a wolf's name," she said, looking amused. "But, as the bumper sticker says, in Zootopia anyone can be anything. Here I am a wolf, a hunter, like in the old days when prey were a food source, not a bunch of nasty, clever creatures with horns and spears. " Her fingers stroked the fur of woven tails draping her shoulders. "Do you like my coat?"
"Can't take my eyes off it," Nick admitted with complete honesty.
"I made from the tails of a rival organization in Moscow. They thought they could negotiate a truce, work together with me." She bared her fangs. "I killed them all. After that, no one negotiated with me, they simply did as they were told."
( A Scout is loyal... )