Simba: “So many things to tell her
But how to make her see
The truth about my past? Impossible.
She'd turn away from me.”
Nala: He's holding back; he's hiding.
But what, I can't decide.
Why won't he be the king I know he is?
The king I see inside?
Can You Feel the Love Tonight, from The Lion King
Edited by AngloFalcon and winerp
Any stranger passing on the street would have taken little notice of the vixen making her way along the sidewalk, pushing a fold-up cart with a laundry hamper tucked into it. Someone who knew her, however, might have detected a lightness in her steps; not quite skipping, but certainly stepping with more energy and perhaps a little more swivel in her hips than usual. She wasn't quite walking on air, but there was an energy in her paws which normally wouldn't have been there if she were taking this particular route.
Usually that time of day would have found her practicing with a start-up somewhere; she generally had half a dozen or so in need of her skills. Some nights she might have been covering a concert somewhere in the city. However, she had made it a point to clear her schedule of all but the most pressing engagements leading up to the benefit concert. Vixen – the band to which she had introduced Nick – were not only her number one band with which to work, but also her undisputed BFFs. After a couple of startups rose and fell during her high school years and took her along for the ride, she had joined up with Xavier and the others in college. For about ten years since then she had stuck with them, working for others when she had to to make ends meet, but always putting them first and always coming back to them in the end. With them, she was content.
Tonight, she was more than content; she was elated, which spoke volumes when you thought about the situation. Her usual place specialized in serving smaller mammals and was situated a convenient half-block from her apartment. That one, however, would be closed by the time she got to it, so tonight she had to go to the 24-hour place three blocks over. It served a larger variety of sizes, but the downside was that their machines were more inclined to break down, especially the ones for smaller mammals. In fact, the last time she had gone there she had been reduced to asking a bull elephant if he'd let her slip her things into the extra space left in his washer. The experience had taught her more than she ever wanted to know about guys' clothes, and she suspected that the elephant was somewhere still using her favorite bed sheet for a trunk wipe. Normally having to chance another mess like that would have weighed her down. Yet after her conversation with Nick – not to mention the photo they took together – she felt ready to forgive just about anyone for just about anything. Tonight she had a free schedule, her laptop was swinging in her messenger bag, and it seemed as if everything one could ask for was right with the world.
Her good mood only brightened when she reached the laundromat and found that the smaller machines were working for a change. Humming cheerfully, she loaded up two washers – one for permanent press, the other for knits and delicates – found herself a seat in the laundromat's back room where it was a bit quieter, and decided to do some work on her program.
As part of her college studies in computer science, Taelia had taken a freeware sound editing program from the internet and modified it for her own purposes. Since then, with some help from updates, she had managed to turn it into something truly special for the band. Vixen 6.0, as she called it, was specialized for splitting and merging different sources of sound – mainly instruments and voices – and adjusting to ensure ideal harmonization and minimal interference. Most mammals had no idea just how much went into mixing sound to its full potential, and even her band mates were largely in the dark about how she did what she did. For all that, Xavier had been known to say with full meaning that if the band had a most valuable member, it would be her.
Moving aside some editions of Zoogats! Mammal Magazine, she set up her computer and opened the program. Tonight, she was tinkering with some recordings of Ellen's voice and drums, trying to ensure that the rapid staccato beats didn't conflict with the dingo's much lighter, more fluid vocals. However, as her ears and fingers went about the task like feet out on an evening stroll, her mind was on Nick.
She wasn't head over tail... or so she told herself. She wasn't about to go up to Cloud Nine over a guy – certainly not after just two dates – but for one like Nick... well, Cloud Seven, easily. No; no, seven was too easy. Eight at least...
Okay, she was hooked. Finally, she thought, a tod who steps up. She knew it was silly; juvenile, even, but ever since she'd been old enough to look at the princesses – and the odd warrior maids – in her storybooks and ask if she would ever be like that, her mother had told her never to settle for a guy who wouldn't step up. “If he won't make an effort,” Mrs. Fangaster used to say, “then he's not worth your effort.” Taelia had outgrown the storybooks, but she had never forgotten her mother's advice.
The thing was, she had once thought of stepping up as fairly everyday stuff like putting down a newspaper to help put the groceries away – or even going out to get them oneself. Working hard to support a family the way her father (and now her brother) did, using days off to fix odd bits of wear and tear on the house, and so on. That simple kind of work ethic had been at the core of her image of masculinity. Yet after years of on-again, off-again searching, she had begun to think she'd never find a decent reynard who wasn't already taken. Heck, she had even taken a chance on one guy who lived in his mom's basement waiting for a job as a video game tester – which, admittedly, would have been tolerable if he hadn’t seemed to think it was up there with finding a cure for cancer.
Now, though, she had found the cream of the crop; a living Sir Clawain. Then she stopped herself. No, he's not that good. Softening, she added, He's up there, though.
She got to wondering, and from wondering t picturing, how he would look in uniform. Not the strictly utilitarian kind of uniform she'd seen on larger officers, but something approachable; Maybe even huggable, she mused. Black slacks, blue dress shirt, maybe a black tie and some of those yellow stripes on the bicep… Yeah. It was a nice picture; no question. He'd probably be putting on some muscle too, if he was going to be an officer. She hoped it wouldn't be too much, though; she liked Nick the way he was; masculine, but not overwhelmingly so. A little muscle tone would be nice, she decided. 'Slim and a little bit foxy.'
She grimaced as the words intruded on her mind like an unwanted guest who always stepped in something nasty and never wiped his feet. That line had been a favorite of her second boyfriend – one she would have very much liked to forget. She still shook her head at having been naive enough to let him get as far as he had, and then… ugh. Just letting him see her in a two-piece still bothered her even though it had been around half her life ago.
One more good thing about Nick, she thought, doing her best to fight a bad thought with a good one. So far as she'd seen, Nick was plenty respectful of a vixen's body. Though the warmth and pressure of that half-hug on the park bench still lingered, bringing with them a warmth in her cheeks, she hadn't missed how tentative he had been at the outset. If anything, he seemed a little over-restrained, which was an excess she could live with. Give me a shy guy over a clingy creep any day, she mused.
Her more realistic side said that Nick had to have some flaw or other, since there was no such thing as a perfect guy. Okay, she thought, So his clothes clash and he probably snores or something, but the first one's cosmetic and the second one's years from being a problem. As a kit, she had promised her parents she wouldn't sleep with a guy until she'd married him, and while she’d done her share of stupid things in life, she made it a point to keep her promises.
Uninterested in letting the past spoil her mood, she returned her attention to the recording of her friend, letting the song drown out her doubts. Short of a criminal record or an ex-wife, she couldn't think of any faults that would cancel out what she was seeing so far – and something told her Nick Wilde didn't have either one.
The apartment was a nice place; nicer than his old digs, at any rate. He still remembered the look on Judy's face when she saw his old place (her fault, he figured, for waking him up at five in the morning over paperwork). Back then there hadn't been much reason to keep his standards high; if he could even find a decent apartment that didn't turn him down based on his species, his sloppy habits would most likely cost him his deposit or get him evicted. Furthermore, his previous run-down accommodations would make anyone scrap the idea that he was raking in the same amount each day as a part-time job might net in a week.
Now that he was pursuing a changed life, though, it seemed appropriate to trade up. At least, that was what he told himself when he didn't feel like admitting that Judy had badgered him into finding a better place. Better still, a letter of reference from the city's newest hero (at least to prey, which the landlord happened to be) had been enough to get him the place at rent he'd be able to afford on a cop's salary. He had even pointed out that Judy might try using her newfound clout to upgrade her own living conditions, but she had asserted that there was a big difference between helping someone else out and using her newfound standing for personal gain. All in all, it was even enough to get him to be a little tidier in how he lived – more so if Taelia dropping in ever became a possibility.
Nick's new apartment was not unlike Taelia's, except that the rooms were in more of a boxy arrangement. To the back of the main room was a bathroom which was slightly cramped, but good enough for a bachelor's use. To the left of the main room was a bedroom – again, small, but good enough considering he kept his clothes in a suitcase out of habit and thus had little need for a dresser or other amenities. Then there was a fair-sized room at the back corner of the apartment which served as a dog cave for his collection of posters and old vinyl records. He had always wanted a dog cave, although it still needed a gaming system.
Some Vixen album art wouldn't hurt, he thought, though he supposed Taelia's backstage role would limit her presence in the group's visuals. A cool smile settled on his lips as he reflected that meant more for him, especially if he managed to charm her into a few snapshots. His standing with the band was nothing to sneeze at either; a whole roomful of mammals, all but one of them larger and from species of better reputation than himself, and they were all counting on him. To even be treated with respect by such a group was a novelty, but for them look to him like that was more than he had ever imagined. It was as if he was an officer already. Heck, they had practically asked him to join without ever hearing him sing (which, with the way he sang, was probably a good thing). Who knew; he might still be able to arrange some sales for them on the side. Okay, so he had stretched the truth on a few things, (practically everything) but so far it looked like everything was going his way. Fine girlfriend: check. Decent apartment: double check. Clear conscience... okay, mostly check.
He shook his head. In the old days, he wouldn't have even thought about a clear conscience. Back then he had mainly cared about doing what it took to get ahead or not lose his head. Lying had been a standard part of his business, his relationships, and pretty much everything else. Now even stretching the truth bugged him, if only a little.
I wonder what Mom would think, he wondered, instantly wishing he could backtrack and go around that thought. He and his mother hadn't spoken in years; not since she found out about the real source of all that money he brought home to cover the bills. He had felt some sense of self-righteous indignity at the time since, after all, his 'dirty money' had been paying most of the household costs. Afterward – especially after driving past several times over the years and seeing that she hadn't been evicted without him helping cover the rent – his feelings on the matter had slipped into a kind of remorse. Lately... well, for the past several years he had simply felt an empty sense of homesickness whenever his mom came to mind.
He glanced at the phone lying on his nightstand, and he thought – not for the first time by a long shot – of calling her. He could tell her everything: that he was sorry, that he was trying to change, that he had helped save the city...
Yeah, like heck she'd believe that, he thought. Maybe if it had been just the first two, but if he told her that much she'd want the whole story and be very skeptical of it all. If he tried to make up something more believable.... no. She would know he was lying, and the small chance that she wouldn't wasn't worth the risk.
Maybe when she sees me in the newspaper, he thought. The country's first fox police officer would surely rate an article – especially if he tapped a contact or two at the Zootopia Bugler.
Of course, first he had to get into the ZPD, which would not be a simple feat by any means. Buffalo Butt won't give me an easy time, he thought. It crossed his mind that he should probably stop thinking of Bogo by that nickname. He might slip up and say it out loud like he had done with his middle school principal, Mr. Roqued. Calling a mountain lion 'Principal Rockhead' to his face was not a recipe for a fun afternoon. Still, he owed it to the bunny to give it his best shot, especially after he had up and disappeared on her that afternoon.
“Okay,” he said out loud. “So how do I get Judy a break in her case?”
He tried to put himself in the suspects' shoes. Quite likely they were holed up somewhere, laying low in another part of the city. When he'd been a crook and someone had begun to suspect him, he would just move his operations to another part of the city. Many times he would take advantage of conflicts between crime bosses by crossing territorial lines to hide from whoever he'd upset. These guys, though, would require a different approach. If they had any sense – and it was safe to say that Doug at least had some brain cells to spare – they had probably ceased operations altogether and were just focused on not getting caught. They might even be trying to figure out how to get out of the country.
Unfortunately, they were doing a pretty good job of not getting caught. So far the ZPD had only scant hints as to the whereabouts of their sheep on the lam, which might or might not even be accurate. More likely than not, the sheep had planned in advance to cover their tracks. Besides, he had already called a friend to check out the strongest of those possibilities, so there wasn't much point in dwelling on that.
So they're either very scared or very smug, he thought. Of course, the latter could turn into the former pretty quickly if he and Judy could just get one piece of evidence to pin the suspects the way she had pinned him. Inwardly, he warmed at the prospect of being on the giving end of such a stunt, knowing full well how they would feel once they were similarly cornered.
An idea took form in his mind. Hmm...
Judy was getting annoyed. Three days of chasing down clues, and not a single suspect caught. There didn't even seem to be a clear-cut trail to follow, despite Nick's early confidence.
For the hundredth time, she looked over the dossiers she had assembled on the sheep still at large. There were a handful of suspects involved, of which some were unaccounted for, some in custody, and some walking free after answering a multitude of questions and agreeing not to leave town. The three who had been at the subway car, though, were key. Besides that, there was the fact that she had lost them when she had the chance to bring them in if she had just called for backup. Unfortunately, that fairly textbook point had only occurred to her after several of the ZPD's officers – preds especially – had expressed a wish to get their paws on the three. She consoled herself with the fact that if she hadn't acted when she did, Bellwether would probably still be at large; maybe even still in the mayoral office. For that matter, the targeted cheetah might well have injured or even killed more mammals. Letting the suspects escape was arguably a small price to pay, but it was still a loss she was more than eager to recoup. The fact that the three would no doubt love to take her, Nick, or the both of them out of the picture was also a factor, though the truth was she fervently wished they would try to pay her a visit. It would save her a lot of time and worry, for sure.
Doug was the most critical, by all accounts. His skill with chemistry and botanicals had been the linchpin of the whole plot. Even now, with the plot exposed and its political teeth all but knocked out, that sheep still had the know-how to turn any mammal in the city into a living weapon. The only thing stopping him from doing it, most likely, was that fear of the law had driven him to keep his head low.
If I could just get him to show it, she thought to herself, slapping a paw on her table in annoyance. Some trick I could use to...
Suddenly, she remembered something. As a younger bunny she had often read mysteries, real and fictional, to sharpen her mind and practice following clues. She recalled one in particular which, rather against the norm, had tickled her more for the detective losing than anything else. The sleuth – a wolf with a rather dim view of females – had been outwitted by a red doe even after he tricked her into revealing where she was hiding a compromising photograph.
A smile spread over Judy's face as she realized that, using the same basic strategy which had failed the detective, she might be able to turn the tables on her rogue rams.
Abruptly charged with excited energy, she snatched up her phone to call Chief Bogo. The buffalo had given her his cell phone number with the instruction to let him know the second she had a development.
She selected the number – hidden in her contacts as a cousin she didn't really have – and was about to hit 'send' when it crossed her mind that perhaps calling Nick first would be better. If she could bring him in on the idea, they might be able to use that to sway Bogo. On the other paw, she didn't want to spoil his date.
A glance at the clock reminded her it was pretty late. Hmm, she thought, if Nick's still on his date at this hour, a little interruption might not be a bad idea.
At that moment, a bit of soft rock emanated from her phone, and the generic blank image she used for 'Cousin Basil S' was replaced with a characteristically smug shot of her fox companion.
Hm. Well, how about that? She accepted the call. “Good evening, Junior,” she greeted.
Nick was actually starting to get used to the nickname. “Hi Carrots. What's up?”
She leaned back and tried to sound more energetic than she felt. “Just going over the case. How about you?” Unable to resist the urge to pry, she let her voice slip into a teasing tone. “Have a good time?”
“Did I have fun? Yes. Yes I did.” He paused so savor what had to be some rather irked silence on her part over his lack of annoyance. “And I also had an idea about how to catch one of those sheep we're after.”
She blinked, surprised at the timing. “I was literally about to call and tell you the same thing. What's your idea?”
He shrugged, feeling rather gentlemanly at the moment. “Ladies first.”
With a shrug of her own, she relayed her plan, perking up as she described a world-class hustle. Nick was silent for a long moment.
“Okay, that is amazing,” he said slowly. “That was exactly what I was thinking. Did you read my mind or did I read yours?”
They never did decide which one of them was psychic, but it didn't take long to decide their plan was a winner.
"Okay," Judy announced, grinning triumphantly. "I'll call Chief Bogo right now and tell him what 'you' came up with." She emphasized 'you' in a nudging kind of tone.
"Well, thanks for the credit, Carr- wait a second, you have his personal number?"
"Uh-huh," she replied, taking the opportunity to gloat just a little. "And he specifically told me not to let you get it." This was true; in fact, Bogo had been explicit on that point. The chief was stubborn and given to stereotyping, but he was no dummy.
He paused for a moment. "Just like he told you to hand over your badge?" he ventured.
She chuckled. “Oh, very nice try. See you tomorrow, Junior Detective."
"Oh, come on," he pleaded. "Do you know how much fun I could have with-?"
It was too late. She'd already hung up.
Nick looked at the phone and sighed in annoyance. "Females," he muttered under his breath.
Chapter 9: www.deviantart.com/dragontamer…
I won't bore you with a long preamble, but I did want to clear one thing up before I begin. Many readers are on pins and needles as to whether this story is going to be WildeHopps or WildeOC. All I want to say there at this time is that this story is not (just) about romance; it's about the characters, both canon and OC. Taelia's not out to shove her way into Judy's role, and that's not what I'm going to do with her. I have no intention of shoving any character into any other character's place, or of changing anything that was established by the movie. I'm just building on it from there. So if it's not too much trouble, please try to see Taelia as herself; not just a fox, and not just Not Judy, but as a vixen trying to make her way in the world like anyone else. After all, wasn't that the whole point of the movie – letting everyone be themselves?
Bit of world-building I slipped into this chapter: my thinking is that machines made for smaller mammals would be more likely to turn up out of order in Zootopia, both because of the difficulty of manufacturing and fitting smaller parts and the lower number of mammals able to repair them. This explains Taelia’s problems at the more versatile laundromat, and her preference for a smaller one. Also, small machines would probably not be as rugged. The layout of the laundromat itself draws from one I’ve used, which has a little room in the back with a table where people can read, snack, or use their laptops.
Last but not least, I have three Easter Eggs in this chapter:
The show which supplied Taelia's salacious ex-boyfriend's catchphrase.
The classic mystery which inspired Judy's brainstorm.
The source of Chief Bogo's fake name (hint: his namesake and Judy would make an awesome team in a fight)
There are a couple of other references which are vague enough I wouldn't feel it fair to list them, but kudos if you do spot them (there's a Pokemon ref in here waiting to be caught).