“Flash, Flash, hundred yard dash!” Nick exclaimed in unabashed delight at the discovery that the street racer tearing up Savannah Central was Flash Slothmore, his friend from the DMV. Despite Judy's somewhat more law-and-order outlook on life, he could tell she was fairly amused as well. The incongruity of a sloth being a high speed street racer tickled her funny bone. She fought to keep her face straight as she pulled out her ticket book.
Flash handed over his driver's license and registration – slowly of course – then waited patiently as she wrote his ticket. “115 in a 35 mph zone,” she noted lightly. “You're looking at a pretty hefty fine, there big fella. I hope it was worth it. Where were you going in such a hurry?” she asked as she tore off the ticket and handed it to him. Nick cocked his head with interest. He was curious too. What could induce a sloth (!) to move at such speeds?
“Meeting . . . my . . . friend . . . Lance,” Flash answered with his customarily molasses-like manner. A green sports car with blue lightning on the sides shot past them just then. The wind from it's passage nearly pulled Nick and Judy off their feet. “There . . . he . . . goes,” he added.
After a stunned moment, they sprang into action, racing for their squad car. “Stay out of trouble!” Nick shouted out the window at Flash as they peeled out, tires squealing and laying down rubber. Their quarry turned this way and that trying to shake them, but Judy stayed on his tail with grim determination, a wild gleam in her eyes as she fought the wheel, wrestling them around corners. Nick laughed wildly, “Go get 'em, Carrots! Left! Left, left, left!” he shouted, hanging on to the safety bar, as Lance tried to circle around behind them. The tires kicked up loose gravel as they spun recklessly around the streets. Lance must have finally realized he couldn't shake them and pulled over on a dusty side street in Sahara Square. Judy and Nick high-fived each other exuberantly, blood pumping in their veins.
“Woo hoo!” Judy exulted. “We got 'em!” She bounced out of the car, and practically danced her way up to the driver's window of the sports car. “License, registration, and proof of insurance,” she chirped brightly at the sour-faced beaver sitting behind the wheel.
“Lance Furbur!” Nick exclaimed in recognition.
“You know him?” Judy asked as she began writing the ticket.
Nick favored her with his patented, patronizing smile. “I told you, I know everybody.” He gestured at the beaver. “He's a gear head who went straight. He owns several auto parts stores around town, don't ya, old buddy?” He directed that last to Lance.
“Buddy?” the beaver growled in an irritated voice. “You went straighter than I ever did! Finnick told me you became a cop, but I didn't believe it until now.” He shook his head in disbelief. “Whatever possessed you to do a thing like that?”
Nick tried to keep his eyes from flicking toward Judy but didn't quite make it. Fortunately, Lance didn't appear to notice. “Let's just say I had my reasons,” he smiled. His heart was still pumping from the exhilaration of the chase, and Judy appeared to be the same; her color was high and her scent was tinged with pheromones bespeaking her own, aroused excitement. She looked up and caught him staring at her; she smiled brightly at him, her eyes dancing. Nick smiled back then forced himself to look away from her beauty, a beauty that seemed to grow every time he saw her. And why did she have to smell so good? He shook his head to clear it. “So how come you and Flash are roaring around town like a couple of whirling dervishes? He said he was on his way to meet you when we pulled him over.”
Lance shrugged. “It's hard to explain,” he said. “It only started a few months ago when a bunch of us were sitting around grumbling about getting old, lazy, and fat because we were so civilized; bored really. Then someone started bragging about how fast their car was, and someone else challenged 'em to prove it, and . . . I dunno,” he waved an uncertain paw in the air, “one thing led to another and pretty soon all of us were racing each other.” His expression lit up. “And it's the wildest thing ever!” he said excitedly. “It gets your heart going, wakes you up, makes you feel twenty years younger! It's great!” he enthused. “It's almost like being back in the jungle all over again; the thrill of the hunt I call it. They tell us we're evolved but we're not all that civilized because we still hurt each other and stuff. Well, I think it's the other way around; we're civilized, but we're not all that evolved. There's still a lot of the old animal left in us.” He glanced at Nick and Judy by turns. “Come on,” he urged them, “tell the truth; when you were chasing me just now, didn't you feel it?”
Nick barely hesitated. “Yeah,” he admitted, “it was kinda fun.”
Judy thought back to her first hot pursuit, chasing Duke Weaselton when he stole the night howlers, her relief at getting out of the “three-wheeled joke-mobile,” as Nick called it, and into the game. As dangerous as it had been, she'd never felt so alive in all her life before that moment. Then over and over again during the investigation of the missing mammals, she and Nick had been thrust into one high-stakes chase, or escape, or battle after another. Throughout it all she'd felt the same sense of overpowering excitement and joy. She smiled shyly. “I loved it!” She poked Nick in the shoulder. “And so did you,” she told him. “I saw you grinning like a hyena the whole time.” She wasn't just guessing either; she'd been able to hear his heart pounding in his chest in time with hers throughout the whole thing. His wonderful heart, she caught herself thinking.
He shuddered. “Have you ever seen a hyena grin? Their oral hygiene is terrible.”
She punched him again.
“Ow! Okay, okay,” he capitulated, “it was fun.” He let himself go and grinned. “Actually it was a blast!”
Judy laughed and finished writing the ticket, then handed it to Lance, demanding that he promise to knock off the racing. He nodded and took it with good grace, even after seeing the price range for the fine. “But you know the funny part?” he asked, putting everything away.
Nick cocked his head questioningly. “What?”
“Since we started doing this, I actually feel younger and stronger overall,” Lance told them with wonder in his voice. “It's like it stirs up our hormones or something; I don't know. I just know I feel better and more alive than I have in years. And I have to tell you, this thrill of the hunt thing?; it's addictive, it's really addictive!” He started up his car and the big v-8 engine came to life with a deep, satisfying rumble of high octane power. He put it in gear. “See you around!” He took off with a roar.
Judy stared after him. “You know, I believe we will be seeing him around again,” she mused meditatively. “Probably the next time we give him a ticket,” she giggled lightly.
“Well Carrots, he did say it was addictive,” Nick agreed, making his way back to their squad car. He radioed in that they'd given out two 10-94 (drag racing) tickets. Dispatch gave them a 10-4 and told them to stay on patrol in Savannah Central. Other calls came and Nick turned the volume down so they could hear themselves over it.
Judy got their car turned around and headed back to Savannah Central. “What do you think about that thrill of the hunt thing he was talking about?” she asked. “I mean, I have to admit, it really was a lot of fun chasing him down.”
“Almost as much fun as carrying you up and down the stairs,” Nick agreed with a knowing smile.
After Bellwether's arrest, Nick had taken her to the hospital to get her leg taken care of. Bogo had appeared in the ER with her badge and most of the ZPD officers in tow. After welcoming her back from her “vacation” he returned the badge to her with gruff instructions not to lose it again. Then he put her on medical leave until she could return to active duty. She did her best not to tear up, gripping Nick's paw so hard she'd left nail marks that lasted nearly a week. After everyone finished crowding around to congratulate her and Nick (!), on solving the case, Bogo shooed everyone out, then Nick drove her home in her parent's truck.
Because of her injuries, he'd insisted on carrying her upstairs in his arms to her room each night, and bringing her back down the same way each morning. Her brothers and sisters giggled and laughed at her expense every time, but later they turned to suggestive oohs and aahs as it became obvious she enjoyed being in his arms. Her parents had overcome their aversion to foxes well enough to let him have a guest room during her convalescence, the first fox to ever sleep under their roof. Between that and her increasingly unmistakable affection for him, her brothers and sisters had progressed to calling him Uncle Nicky by the time they left. The fact he was surprisingly good with kids made it even easier.
She'd long since defaulted on the lease of her first place at the Grand Pangolin Arms Apartments. Nick worked the phones until he found her a new apartment at the Covington Arms, a Downtown high rise. Founded nearly a hundred years ago by a group of retired police officers, the Covington Arms Company had apartment buildings in every district in Zootopia, always with a few apartments held in reserve for any police officer who needed one. Nick got her an apartment on the 16th floor, Apartment 1603, complete with a parking space for the family truck, which her parents had now given her as a present. He got himself an apartment on the 17th floor, number 1714.
After she went back on duty, and he went to the Academy, she'd come to visit him every weekend, bringing him home to his place, then taking him back again every Monday morning.
Glancing sideways at him now, sitting there with the wind ruffling his fur, and that infuriating, but charming smirk on his handsome face, she couldn't help but wonder at their relationship. His quip that she knew she loved him, had caught her by surprise. But even more surprising was her own response, “Do I know that? Yes, yes I do.” Before they'd had time to digest the implications, Flash had come roaring past, then Lance. In a way she was glad. Predator-prey relationships were fraught with peril, not the least of which was the near-total lack of social acceptance. She wasn't sure she wanted to talk about it just yet.
“Aside from carrying me around like a sack of potatoes, what about that thrill of the hunt thing?” she persisted. “Do you think there's anything to it?”
Nick could still smell her arousal. If anything it was growing stronger, but since it was obvious she didn't want to go there, he followed her lead. “Actually, darlin', I kinda do,” he drawled. “It makes sense in a way. We're civilized, but maybe not as evolved as we like to think, the way he said. Otherwise the night howlers wouldn't have been able to affect us. Mister Big said pretty much the same thing too, remember? So yeah, the thrill of the hunt? I can see it.”
“The night howlers?” Judy frowned in cute puzzlement. “What have they got to do with it?” She stopped at a red light. Both of them automatically surveyed all the cars in the intersection for any defects or illegal modifications. Finding none, they turned back to their conversation as they waited for the light to change.
“Well you know how it is, Fluff. Most drugs make mammals go crazy thinking they can fly, or beat their head on a wall, or babble like idiots, or whatever,” he reminded her. She nodded. Their training at the Academy had been very thorough when it came to the affects of illegal drugs. “But the night howlers are different,” he continued. The light changed and she pulled away. “They actually make mammals go completely savage, like they never evolved at all; down on all fours, growling, snarling, can't talk or use their paws, completely out of control with mindless rage and hunger. It's a whole different ballgame.” He shook his head. “But how is that possible if we're so evolved like we've been taught?”
They were back in Savannah Central; she turned down a street at random, cruising around looking for trouble. “I see what you mean,” she agreed. “And the affects of most drugs wear off after a while, but with the night howlers they actually had to develop an antidote to bring the mammals back to themselves.”
“Exactly! So if we were really as evolved as they say we are, the night howlers shouldn't be able to affect us like that,” he concluded with a verbal flourish. She laughed at his mild conceit, then let go of the wheel for a moment to applaud him. He bowed, sitting down. “Thank you, thank you very much,” he said in his best imitation of an Elvis Presstley voice. He went on a moment later. “But since they do affect us, it means we're not as evolved as we think, which means we can still get carried away by the thrill of the hunt like Lance was talking about.” He forbore to mention he could smell her excitement, which further supported his conclusion.
Judy wondered what he was holding back. Bunny hearing was so sharp it was almost like a lie detector when they were this close to someone; picking up the little catches in a mammal's voice, the change in their heart rate, the way they breathed – all the little things that gave away the truthfulness, or lack thereof, of their words. Nick wasn't lying, but there was something he wasn't telling her, something that made his heart race. Was it something about her? About her declaration that she knew she loved him?
His nose twitched as he detected a sudden surge in pheromones in the car. He reflected on what might be exciting her. Could it be him?
They finished their shift in comfortable companionship, not realizing they were simply basking in each others presence. After returning to the station and finishing their paperwork for the day they headed down to the employee parking garage. “Do you want to come over for dinner?” Judy asked him as they made the short drive to the Downtown Covington Arms.
“Sure,” he answered. “What's on the menu? You?” he said with a fake leer.
She laughed. She parked the truck and they got out. “After we get changed I need to run down to the grocery store for a couple of things.”
“My shelves are a little bare too,” he smiled. “I'll go with you.”
She perked up. “That sounds a lot better than going by myself. Where's a good place to get fresh fish?” she asked as they rode the elevator to her floor. Although her parents liked to pretend they were strictly vegetarians, they'd never turned down fried catfish or the occasional rock cod. Just as predators had begun eating vegetables on a regular basis (witness Nick's fondness for blueberries), prey had taken to fish, and sometimes fowl, just as regularly. Over time their diets had converged until they were practically indistinguishable.
“Tundratown,” he answered without hesitation. “Fishtown Market has fresh fish every day. They get them from the fishing boats down on the docks each morning. It's different every day so you never know what they'll have.”
“Oooh,” Judy exclaimed as the elevator doors opened with a chime. “Sounds fun. Meet me in ten minutes and we'll head over there.”
“Fluff, I'll be ready before you are,” he challenged her with a smile.
“Ha!” she laughed. “You still have to go up another floor, and I'm already here!” She sprinted down the hall to her apartment.
Nick already had his tie off and his shirt unbuttoned when he reached his floor, then took two giant steps across the hall to his own apartment. He grinned to himself. She didn't realize his place was directly across from the elevator, while hers was at the far end of the hall on her floor. The contest was more even than she knew. He tossed his uniform shirt and tie aside as he came in the door, hopping down the short hall to his bedroom as he took off his pants and flung them in the general direction of the dirty clothes hamper; he didn't bother to check if they made it.
Judy peeled off her uniform with lightning speed. The whole time he'd been in the Academy, she'd been anticipating his arrival on the ZPD, when they could see each other every day and every night, instead of having to wait for the weekends. Now it was here, her heart was pounding like a kettle drum. She flung open her closet, all her new clothes neatly arranged in tidy rows on their hangers. One evening while Nick was at the Academy, she'd wandered down to the clothing district out of boredom and run into Fru Fru, Mister Big's daughter. After cooing over baby Judy, her goddaughter, she turned to leave but Fru Fru insisted on helping her shop for clothes. The expedition turned out so well it had become a once-a-week tradition, with the result that she now had an entire closet full of new clothes with which to dazzle Nick. She already knew what she wanted to wear today. She called it her Wizard of Ooze look.
Nick's clothing decisions were simplicity itself; he put on what he almost always did, green shirt, striped tie, and tan colored pants. He grabbed his keys and wallet, and was out the door in a trice. His only concern was the elevator. If someone else was using it, he'd have to wait for it. Luck was with him though and the doors opened as soon as he pressed the button. He pumped his fist in the air. Yes! He skipped in and pressed the button for Judy's floor. He ignored the pounding of his heart, as well as the possible reasons for it. Never mind that, he told himself; just enjoy the moment.
The doors opened and Judy was standing there waiting. His eyes widened. She was wearing a white, off-the-shoulder peasant blouse, with a blue-and-white gingham dress over it. The silky material fell gracefully to just above her knees; not too short, but not too long either. There were ruby red bracelets around each ankle. She was like a vision from heaven. He shook his head. “You look like an angel.” She blushed and he realized he'd said it out loud. Oh well, he thought, in for a penny, in for a pound. He held out his arm for her. “You do look like an angel,” he reiterated as she placed a gentle paw on his arm and stepped into the elevator. The doors closed and she filled the tiny space with her wonderful scent. “And smell even better,” he added warmly.
The only thing she heard in his voice was truth, wrapped in warm caring like a hot towel. She almost felt like she was bathing in his words. She shivered and cuddled next to him. When the doors opened on the lobby they strolled out, arm-in-arm. It wasn't until they reached the parking garage that they regretfully separated so she could drive.
Neither of them noticed the traffic camera down the street, peering directly into the glass enclosed lobby of the building.