They waited until they were in the car and on the road before saying anything to each other. Nick radioed that car 63 was 10-8, in service. Clawhauser 10-4'd them and Judy headed for Savannah Central for the day. Nick glanced around. “Pull over in that parking lot,” he told her. She gave him an unreadable look but did as he asked.
He decided that for once in his life he wasn't going to beat around the bush, be sarcastic, or teasing; he was just going to say it straight out. “I love you,” he said quietly. Her eyes shot wide. “I don't know exactly when it happened or how, but it did. I love you and I can't imagine my life without you in it.”
“Oh, Nick,” she whispered, taking his paws in hers, wishing they had somewhere private to go. “I love you, too. I don't know how it happened, but I know exactly when it happened.”
She nodded. “At the Museum of Natural History, when you pretended to attack me when you had my throat in your teeth.”
He blinked. “Ah, uhm, okay, look, you're gonna have to explain that one,” he stuttered.
She smiled, some of her old fire returning. “Gideon Grey scared me when I was a kid.” He nodded; she'd told him the story. “I thought I got over it and outgrew it, but when I first saw you at the ice cream parlor, all those old feelings came back and I nearly used the Fox Repellent on you before I saw Finnick pretending to be your son. Then I felt ashamed of myself. And then, I couldn't help but notice how handsome you are, and I was attracted to you, and all of a sudden everything got all jumbled up inside. I guess that's why it hurt so much when I discovered you'd hustled me, then when you tore my dreams apart with just a few words, it hurt even worse.” She took a deep breath. “Then we started working together . . .”
“After you hustled me,” he interrupted with a teasing smile.
“. . . after I hustled you,” she agreed, returning his smile, “and I got to know you. The more I knew you, the more I liked you.” She laughed self-consciously. “It happened so fast! You stood up to Bogo for me and told me about the Junior Ranger Scouts, and something melted inside me.” She looked down at the floorboards. “Then I hurt you, drove you away, without even meaning to, but you took me back!” She looked up, almost wildly. “After all I did to you, you took me back! On the train, you fought right beside me against Doug and his goons. We could have been killed in the wreck, but you didn't leave me. You didn't leave me when I was wounded. You stayed with me the whole time.”
She took a deep breath, “Then when you had to pretend to go savage, it was the most terrifying moment in my life.” She looked at him. He was hanging on to her every word. “I saw everything I'd ever been afraid of in foxes, coming right at me. When you lunged at my neck, I screamed and,” she took a deep breath, “it wasn't a fake scream. It was real.” She bit her lip in shame. “But you didn't break the skin, you didn't even put any pressure on me. Your teeth were around my throat, and it was the gentlest thing I'd ever felt.” She met his eyes. “That's when everything changed. That's when I knew. That's when I fell in love with you.”
He put a gentle paw against her face and she leaned into it. “I wasn't pretending as much as you think. There was part of me that wanted to cut loose and go savage for real.”
She smiled into his paw, then opened her beautiful eyes to meet his. “I know,” she whispered. “Bunny hearing is sharper than you realize. I could hear the undertones in your growls. You really meant them.”
He nodded, “And I could smell your fear.”
She glanced around quickly to make sure no one was looking their way, then sat up, taking his face between both paws and kissed him, quickly and lightly. It sent a shiver right down to her toes. She saw his whole body shudder and his hair stood on end then lay down, in wave after wave across his body.
He blinked. “Wow!”
She laughed shakily. “Yeah. Wow!” She was having the same reaction he was. She shook her head to clear it. “But we got through that moment,” she continued. “Somehow we got through it, and on the other side, was this. Us.”
He leaned back in his seat, her paw clasped in his. “Us. Hmm. You know, Fluff, I kinda like the sound of that.”
“Kinda?” she laughed. “You know you love me.”
He pretended to consider it. “Do I know that? Yes, yes I do.”
They smiled and leaned forward for another kiss when a red car with white racing stripes suddenly went zooming past them at high speed, quickly followed by a green sports car and another, this one white and black.
Nick blinked in surprise. “Was that Flash and Lance?” He flipped on the lights and siren.
Judy tromped on the gas. “Along with someone else,” she growled angrily, furious at being interrupted, and furious that Flash and Lance would keep racing the streets even after getting a ticket just the day before.
Nick grabbed the radio as they fishtailed down the street after the errant threesome. “Car 63, need immediate 10-78 with 3, 10-94's, Savannah Central, eastbound on Acacia.” He was asking for immediate assistance with 3 street racers. Moments later 2 cars radioed they were on their way. Two more radioed in seconds later.
Nick gave a quick description of all three but included the plate numbers for Flash and Lance since they already had them. “10-4,” they all responded, “10-76.” It meant, in route. He could smell the anger in Judy's pheromones, coming off her in waves. “Catch 'em, don't kill 'em,” he yelled over the noise of the siren.
She gritted her teeth, then nodded. “You're right,” she admitted. “It's just, the timing.”
“Yeah, I know,” he agreed. “Hey! They're splitting up!”
The three cars ahead of them had come to a Y in the road. Flash and Lance took the east branch toward Sahara Square, while the white and black car took the other fork toward City Central. “Follow Lance and Flash!” She nodded and wrestled the wheel around. Tires squealed.
He grabbed the mic; “Car 63, 10-80, two suspects eastbound toward Sahara Square. Need 10-93 at the bridge. One suspect, black and white vehicle, northbound toward City Central.” He was asking for a blockade on the bridge for the suspect they were pursuing. Flash and Lance weren't playing around today. They knew they were in trouble and were gunning it for all they were worth. Their souped-up cars were pulling away from them. Calling ahead for a blockade was their only chance of catching them.
“Car 17, 10-80, black and white suspect vehicle,” the radio crackled. He grinned at Judy. Francine, the elephant officer, had picked up the third car and was in pursuit.
He keyed the mic again. “They're too fast!” he warned. “Anyone, help car 17, with 10-93 at first opportunity.”
“10-4,” someone responded. It sounded like Grizzoli, the polar bear officer.
“Car 46, 10-53 at the eastbound side of the bridge!” It was Snarlof, another polar bear officer, blocking the traffic lanes on the bridge.
“10-4,” Nick responded. “Suspect ETA, 1 minute!”
Judy slid around another corner. Flash and Lance were definitely getting further ahead of them with each passing second. “If they turn off while they're out of sight, we'll lose them,” she worried.
“I know, I know!”
Fortunately, they didn't. They hit the bridge like a runaway freight train. Moments later they saw both of them fishtail as they hit the brakes. The radio crackled, “Car 46, 2 suspect vehicles turning around on the bridge. Better get here fast, 63.”
Judy gripped the wheel harder. “I'll show you fast,” she muttered, bearing down on the bridge. Lance and Flash had already turned around and were headed back their way. She hit the gas as hard as she could for a moment, then slammed on the brakes, twisting the wheel at the same time. It sent them skidding sideways across the road, almost up on two wheels. They crashed to a halt, blocking both lanes. Lance and Flash had to hit the brakes to keep from T-boning them. They screeched to a stop, leaving twin skid marks behind.
Snarlof and the other car came roaring up to box them in. They all jumped out, surrounding the racers. Nick turned on their loudspeaker. “Come out with your paws in the air!” he boomed over it. For a moment there was nothing, then both of them reluctantly emerged. “Down on the ground,” he told them. Again, they paused before obeying. They both went down, first Lance, then Flash. Judy jumped over the hood of the car and raced over to them, slapping on the cuffs, first on Lance, then Flash.
“You're under arrest for speeding, running stop signs, driving in both lanes, reckless endangerment and whatever else I can think of,” she snapped at them.
Snarlof ambled up. “Easy there, Hopps. What's got your dander up?”
“We gave these two speeding tickets for this same thing just yesterday and let them go,” she huffed angrily. “And now, here they are, doing it again. Someone's going to get hurt if they keep this up.”
Snarlof grinned at Rhinowitz, the officer from the other car. “She sounds like Bogo, doesn't she?”
Rhinowitz nodded. “Yeah, kinda.”
She tossed her head and ignored them, as well as their ensuing laughter. Instead, she turned her ire back on Flash and Lance. “What is with you two?” she asked in exasperation.
Lance had a hangdog expression on his face. “I'm sorry, officer Hopps. Really, I am. But it's like giving up the perfect . . . I don't know, the perfect mate or something. You find the one who's just right for you, the one you've always wanted, and then someone says you have to give her up . . . and you just can't. You know?” he finished hopefully.
Flash added, faster than he usually did, “It's very addictive.”
Nick nodded absently. “Yeah, Lance told us the same thing yesterday.” He was watching Judy to see her reaction to Lance's “mate” analogy. She was biting her lip, a sure sign she didn't know what to say. Before he could think of anything himself, Snarlof interrupted.
“A couple of tow trucks are on the way. By the way, Francine and Grizzoli just radioed in that they got the other car.” Nick perked up his ears. “They said it's a panda named Ho Nan, who owns a restaurant in the Rainforest District.”
Judy seized on it. “Another respectable mammal, suddenly going rogue over some street racing?” she wondered. “What's going on?”
Snarlof shrugged indifferently. “Beats me. I just bag 'em and haul 'em in. I leave the deep thinking to you heavy hitter types.” Rhinowitz snorted his agreement. “Bogo loves that kind of stuff though. Talk to him when you get these idiots back to the station.” A couple of tow trucks pulled up and Snarlof waved good-bye. “My car's in their way. I'm outta here.”
Judy and Nick waved at him and Rhinowitz. “Thanks for the backup. See you at the station.”
A few minutes later they had their captives in the backseat, then directed traffic around the tow trucks until the drivers got the cars hooked up and hauled away. On the way downtown, Nick turned half around in his seat to address Lance. “Still got that thrill of the hunt thing going?”
Lance nodded despondently. “Not at the moment, but yeah, sure. It's why we do it.”
“Even after we told you to stop it?” Judy asked, looking at him in the rearview mirror.
He shrugged. “It's like I told you; you can't give up the one thing that really makes you feel alive.”
Nick and Judy exchanged glances. Not really wanting to pursue that particular topic, they dropped it and rode the rest of the way in silence.