Judy shivered as she showered, getting ready for the day. She'd come so close to kissing Nick in public last night it scared her. Whatever their feelings for each other – and she wasn't going to deny them – the reaction of the general public to a predator-prey kiss, in the middle of the fish market no less, was one she didn't care to tempt a second time.
He'd put his arm around her waist while looking over the selection, she'd turned to ask him his opinion at the same time he turned toward her and they'd wound up less than an inch apart. She’d been able to taste his breath, flooding her senses with his presence. She'd nearly closed the remaining distance between them when she heard a gasp of disbelief from a female pig waiting in line behind them. Realization washed over both of them and they jumped back, laughing nervously about how they'd nearly run into each other. They couldn't tell if the pig, her eyes wide and staring, believed them or not, but she left without saying anything. They hadn't dared look anyone else in the face.
They spent the rest of the night barely speaking. They sat on opposite sides of the table, taking care not to touch. The fine food tasted like sawdust in her mouth. Several times she'd started to talk about what happened, about their relationship, but she could never make herself take the first step. A couple of times she thought he was about to, but if so, he stopped himself. After he left she went to bed and cried herself to sleep for the first time she could ever remember.
She forced herself to eat breakfast, then trudged down the hall to the elevator, dreading but anticipating his presence when the doors opened, but it was empty. Not sure what to feel, she pressed the button for the lobby; she'd wait for him there. It was probably safer that way.
The doors opened and she saw him immediately. He was standing by the front window, looking out, hands in his pockets, slumped and dejected. Her heart went out to him and she wanted to run throw her arms around him, but she forced herself to take her time and walk. She saw him sniff the air. He greeted her without turning. His voice sounded dead and dry. She fought back tears. When she reached him she found he was hiding behind his cop glasses, the dark, wrap-around shades obscuring his eyes and much of his face. He turned for the garage, leaving her to trail miserably behind.
“Nick!” she called desperately. “Please, don't do this to us!” She hurried after him, nearly blinded by the tears she could no longer keep back. He disappeared through the door and she sobbed trying to catch up with him.
She ran through the door and a sudden paw grabbed her by the arm, another one covering her mouth as he pushed her up against the wall, his glasses forgotten on the floor. “Do you have any idea what you do to me?” he whispered fiercely. “Do you have any clue how much it ripped me apart to have to pull away from you last night? How ashamed I felt when I saw that pig staring at us like we were a couple of monsters?” He stopped abruptly, shaking his head. He pushed himself away from her and staggered over to lean against one of the support columns for the ceiling. He shook his head again. “That's not what I wanted to say,” he gritted between clenched teeth. “I stayed up rehearsing it all night last night . . . and the moment I saw you it all went right out the window.” He pounded his fists on the concrete pillar behind him. “Look at me, I'm a mess,” he declared with a miserable laugh. “I can't even say the right thing!”
She took one step toward him, then couldn't remember taking any others, but suddenly she was in his arms, her head on his chest, hugging him for all she was worth, hanging on for dear life, crying and sobbing. Her whole body was shaking from the force of her sobs. His arms were around her. His voice whispering in her ears, his breath hot on her face. They stood that way, feeling their hearts beating as one for an unguessable time. They would have gone on standing there if not for . . .
Beep, beep, beep.
Judy glanced at her phone then gasped in fear. “Nick! We have five minutes to get to roll call!”
“Fang it!” he cursed. He scooped up his glasses and shoved her toward the truck. “Let's go!”
Thanks to their apartment's proximity to headquarters, they made it with only seconds to spare, sliding into their seats just as Chief Bogo pushed through the door into the bullpen. They were huffing and puffing from their run up from the employee parking and through the building. If he noticed, he chose to ignore it.
After going through a few notices he paused. His scowl deepened. “Doug Ramses, former Mayor Bellwether's assistant and partner in crime, was spotted in Tundratown last night.” A shock ran through the room.
Nick and Judy exchanged worried glances, their personal problems forgotten for the moment. Doug was the chemist who'd synthesized the night howler serum that had driven mammals savage. He was also the sniper who'd delivered the serum from long range to his targets. His two cohorts, Woolter and Jesse, had chased the train car when they'd taken off with it, but they been defeated in the fight and eventually arrested. Doug however, stayed behind and managed to slip away. He was still at large but everyone assumed he'd left town. The idea he was still in Zootopia was deeply troubling.
Bogo was still talking. “A night guard spotted him robbing a company called, Cold Times, the refrigeration company that helps maintain the Environment Wall between Tundratown and Sahara Square. As far as we know, the only thing he took was a cylinder of liquid nitrogen.” A confused babble filled the room. “Shut it!” Bogo roared. “We don't know why he wants something like that, BUT, he's an experienced chemist so it could be anything. Whatever he's up to, it’s probably not good. So . . . before any of you go out today, I want to know if you've all got your antidote shots? Raise your paw if you have.”
About half of them raised their paws, Nick and Judy among them. The night howler antidote provided an immunization to the serum Doug had concocted, protecting them from going savage if they were darted with it.
Bogo growled with anger. “I told you weeks ago to get those shots,” he roared. “They're provided free of charge to all police officers, so there's no reason for you not to get them. If Ramses still has any of his serum or has made more, the last thing we need is one of you going savage out there on the streets!” He paused to collect himself. “Those of you who've had your shots, get out there by and patrol the city You're gonna be spread thin so stay alert. Hopps! Wilde! The two of you are the only ones who've had any contact with Ramses. Take the lead out there. Any and all sightings are to be reported to them. Clear?” He ran an angry gaze over the room. They all nodded. “Good. The rest of you slackers, get down to medical for your shots. It's gonna make you weak as a kitten for the rest of the day so go home . . . BUT you're getting docked THREE days pay! One for today, and two for not following orders to get them when you were told!” Subdued groans filled the air. “Now get going!” He turned and stomped out.
His voice floated back down the hall. “Hopps! Wilde! My office! Now!”
They exchanged a Now What? look and scurried after him. As soon as they came in he slammed the door and locked it. He saw their expressions and waved them to a chair. “Oh sit down,” he grumbled in a tired voice. “I'm not going to tear your heads off.” He plopped himself in the chair behind his desk. He stared off into space for a long moment before speaking. “Contrary to all that . . .” he inclined his head toward the bullpen, “. . . I'm not really worried about Ramses, at least not today. Whatever he's up to, it's going to take him some time to get it ready or prepared. But, it gave me an excuse to A) make sure everyone got their shots, and B) talk to the two of you without raising any suspicions.”
They stared at him, then each other, completely lost.
He smiled sardonically, then reached around behind him and pulled a picture off the wall. He set it before them. In it, a younger Bogo and an unusually handsome tiger stood side-by-side in patrol uniforms, their arms slung around each other’s shoulders, a squad car behind them. They were grinning like fools at the camera. “Tyrone Stripeson,” he told them. “My old partner, the best police officer you'd ever want to meet. Until he met Gazelle,” he added sadly.
Judy blinked with surprise. “Gazelle?”
Bogo nodded. “It was before she was famous, didn't even have her stage name back then. She was a part-time waitress and lounge singer. Tyrone liked to dance. Always did. After work, he'd drag me to these night clubs and bars to go dancing. The ladies loved him,” he said with an amused shake of his head, “he never sat out a single dance. Then he found this new place, called the High Spot, and Gazelle was there, waiting tables and singing. She watched him dancing while she sang, and one night when it was slow, she invited him up on stage to dance with her while she sang.” Bogo shook his head fondly at the memory. “Even then you could see they had something special going on between them. Between sets, they spent all their time together. He even started helping her carry stuff when she was waiting tables, just so he could be with her. Predator-prey couples aren't exactly popular, so I kept telling him to cool it, but he wouldn't listen.”
Nick felt frozen in place. As soon as Bogo mentioned predator-prey, he felt himself go stiff as a board. He couldn't move. Beside him, Judy stiffened as well.
If Bogo noticed their reaction he ignored it and kept going. “One night there was this polar bear from Tundratown, a creep named Hund Gunter; he kept after Gazelle to sing one of his favorite songs and she wouldn't do it. Tyrone was getting mad and it was all I could do to get him out of there before he did something stupid. We were working graveyards that month, so as soon as we hit the street, he insisted on going by the bar to make sure Gazelle was alright.”
Bogo sighed deeply. “You know, I can still see it as if it just happened. We drove up just as she was coming out. She and Tyrone waved at each other, and then we saw Gunter coming up the street in his car doing ninety to nuthin', heading straight for Gazelle like he was going to run her over.” Judy gasped, her eyes wide, her paws over her mouth. Bogo nodded at her. “Tyrone saved her, but the way he did it was like something out of a movie. We were still rolling, doing maybe 25 or 30, and he threw open his door and lunged out the car right at her, roaring like death on steroids, all claws and fangs. She happened to look over her shoulder; heard Gunter's car I guess, and saw it, then turned back and there was Tyrone, flying through the air like he'd gone totally savage. She screamed like nothing you've ever heard.”
Nick knew the kind of scream Bogo was talking about. He'd heard it himself when he pretended to attack Judy at the Museum of Natural History. She'd screamed that way. “You know, I told you Tyrone was the best police officer you'd ever want to meet, and I wasn't exaggerating. He wrapped himself around Gazelle like a cocoon; arms, legs, tail, even his head covering hers when he knocked her out of the way. Gunter couldn't have missed them by more than an inch. They rolled across the sidewalk and slammed into the front wall of the High Spot. I heard two of his ribs break from the impact. He cracked a couple of others, and his whole side was bruised for days, black and blue from top to bottom. But Gazelle didn't have a scratch on her. Not one.” Bogo pulled a poster out of his desk drawer and held it up beside the picture of him and Tyrone. “Notice anything?”
It was a picture of Gazelle in her classic “Predators Protecting Prey” pose, where her four tiger dancers surrounded her, the two in front facing out to protect her and the two in back, gazing watchfully down on her. She'd hit upon it by chance early in her career and fallen in love with it so much she used it at least once in every concert she did. She’d done it at the concert in the city center right after the missing mammals’ case was solved, at the end of her song, Try Everything. The tiger in the back on the right side of the picture was Tyrone.
“It's your partner,” Nick whispered. “It's Tyrone.”
“He was with her during her peace rally too,” Judy added quietly. “I remember them standing up there together on the rocks, holding paws. At the time I thought it was just her way of showing support for predators.”
“They're married,” Bogo said flatly.
“What?!” Judy exclaimed. “But . . . how? Who would agree to perform the ceremony? Everyone hates predator-prey couples.”
He smiled faintly. “Not everyone. He was my partner, my best friend. As Chief of Police, I have the authority to perform weddings. When I first got the job, I did it for them, using her real name so no one would know.” He put the pictures away as they digested that. “Which brings us to you two.”
Nick reached out blindly and took Judy's paw. She gripped him tight.
Bogo watched them with a sad, little smile. “I've had my suspicions about you two every since Wilde intervened when I wanted your badge,” he told Judy. He looked at Nick. “Predators and prey can become friends, but only after years of working together, like me and Tyrone. But you, you jumped in and defended her after knowing her for what, a day and a half?” He shook his head. “I saw it happen with Tyrone and Gazelle, so I knew it when I saw it with you two. And . . .” he sighed, “. . . you need to be more careful about where the traffic cams are, and where they're pointed. There's one that points right inside the lobby of the Downtown Covington Arms, right at the elevators in fact.”
Nick and Judy gulped as they remembered exiting the elevators last night, arm in arm, like lovers.
He nodded at their guilty expressions. “You're just lucky it was me who saw the traffic cams and not someone else. I erased the footage, but I knew right away you were going to get yourselves into trouble so I followed you. I got to the fish market just in time to see your little near miss and the reaction of that pig. I thought she was going to scream.”
He glanced at the clock. “We need to wrap this up, so I'll make it fast. 99.9% of all mammals don't like predator-prey couples, but there are a few of us who don't care. Also, since there's no actual law against predator-prey couples, marriage may be your safest option. No one in government could do anything about it, you'd get several benefits, and they couldn't talk about it because of confidentiality. If anyone else found out, it would protect you from being fired or evicted . . . or at least make it harder for someone to justify it. BUT,” and his voice hardened, “you have to watch yourselves in public. If you start kissing in public, married or not, it could start a riot. It's not fair, but it's the way it is.” He stood up, walked around the desk and unlocked the door. “You've got a lot to talk about, AND, I still expect you to do your jobs no matter what you decide. Understood?”
They nodded together.
“Good. Now get to work.” He paused. “And if you run into Ramses, turn him into a wool rug!”
Nick saluted smartly. “Yes, sir!” Judy echoed him and they headed downstairs.