In the short time she’d lived in the city, Judy couldn’t believe how great her life had become. Not only had she gotten her dream job, but she’d gained the perfect partner, the same mammal who was the best friend she’d ever made. And now, after two and a half years on the force for her and just over one for him, they’d solved their third big case: a counterfeit operation that had spread as far as the tri-burrows.
It had really been Nick who’d spotted the case, after he’d found a fifty in the gutter during a routine patrol in Sahara Square. His sharp eyes had quickly picked out the tiny discrepancies: a smudge on the mammal’s face, the hint of a crooked cut line, and later the odd way it had shone under a black light. But even with his vast knowledge of the streets and their city’s underworld, it had taken them months to trace the fake bills back to their source: an up and coming team of beavers operating out of the Meadowlands.
Arresting them had been even more complicated, since none of them had had any brushes with the law before then. They’d had to build the case file from the ground up, piecing together what scraps of evidence they could get their paws on, until they finally had enough to get an arrest warrant. But they’d been too late, the team’s base long dismantled when they’d finally been able to knock in the door. She’d never felt more discouraged, thinking all their work had gone to waste, confusion mixing with it when she’d heard him chuckle. He’d known they’d pull this, he’d said, so a few days before they’d been set to raid the place, he’d stuck a tracker on their van’s undercarriage, which had led them straight to the group’s new set-up smack in the middle of Podunk. The beavers had been so shocked when their team had shown up that they’d surrendered without a fight, even pointing them to the well-hidden floor hatch that opened to the lab, where they’d been surprised to find an illegal distillery set up right alongside the counterfeiting rig.
It had taken another month to get through the trials and two more weeks to finish all the paperwork, but every second had been worth it to see the excitement on Nick’s face, to be at his side as Bogo commended them on a job well-done. The high from finally closing the case had lasted the rest of the week, then doubled when the rest of their team from it all had surprised them with a night out to celebrate. The hottest club in Zootopia, where Gazelle herself had been spotted more than once with her posse of back-up dancers. Hoping she’d get the chance to at least glimpse her favorite celebrity, Judy had run right home after her shift and into the shower, freshening up as fast as she could before pulling on a low-cut zebra-striped top and short matching skirt, adding her favorite chunky chain-link jewelry set from high school. The glittery, midriff-baring outfit was from Gazelle’s fashion line, a splurge buy after Judy had gotten her first bonus. But she’d never had the courage or a reason to wear it until now, when she was determined to finish a week of highs by having as much fun as she could. A text from Wolford let her know they were on their way, so she took one last look in the mirror, pushing down the urge to change before heading out, her feet hitting the sidewalk just as Fangmeyer’s tiger-sized car rolled up to the curb. Allan fist-pumped in the passenger seat, Ben waving excitedly from the back. She’d barely had time to climb in next to him and buckle up before Stephanie peeled away, saying Nick was going to meet them there. Judy couldn’t fight the slight surge of disappointment, but it soon faded with an amused giggle; the theatric fox probably just wanted to make sure all their eyes were on him when he strolled into the club. He always did have to make an entrance.
The club was in the very heart of Savannah Central, a strobing rainbow of lights shooting straight into the dark summer sky, thumping electronic music backed with a bass track that made the ground vibrate under their feet. Stephanie had had to park half a mile away, the line of animals curling around the building’s side stretching just as long. Their small group had gone right up to the front, the grizzly bear bouncer barely glancing at the list in his paws before lifting the velvet cord to let them through, turning deaf ears to the chorus of ticked-off shouts and groaning that followed when it clicked back into place. The long hallway they found themselves in was nearly pitch dark, Judy almost reaching out to grab Ben’s belt loop when it finally opened into the main area. The parts of the tiered floor that weren’t painted black pulsed with dizzying kaleidoscopes of color, a large disco ball spinning on the high ceiling, sending beams of white across a vast room draped and glowing in blacklight. The air was heavy with pheromones, the scents of so many mammals thickly merging, joining the humid haze from a smoke machine peeking out from behind the DJ booth. She had to admit all of it combined was a bit intimidating, averting her eyes from the many couples on the dance floors doing little more than grinding on each other, but she wasn’t about to let her discomfort get the better of her. She’d knocked out a rhino fifty times at the academy, had been chased by a savage jaguar in a dark downpour in the Rainforest District, she could handle one night of deafening music, blinding lights and the sharp sting in her nose from sex and a hundred kinds of alcohol.
She hadn’t realized she was backing away until her tail brushed rough fabric, large paws coming to rest on her small shoulders, the soft rumble of a laugh she could barely feel over the throb of the music. She tilted her head back, her face lighting up when she saw reflective emeralds smiling down at her, the gleam of sharp white teeth as he grinned back at her. She didn’t try to talk, knowing he wouldn’t be able to hear her, opting instead to whirl and jump to hug him. He laughed again, holding her for a short spell before putting her down, his eyes going wide and his jaw dropping when he caught sight of her outfit. Even without the ‘whoa’ he mouthed, it was clear she’d surprised him. The barest blush tinged her ears when she eyed his own look: a dark grey tank top slightly tighter than the shirts he usually wore, loose black jeans slung low with a thick studded belt hanging crookedly at his hips. A faux-leather band was snapped around his left wrist, the first time she’d seen him wear a watch. She had to admit, he did look good.
The DJ, a hyena, she noted, turned down the music just enough to shout over it, saying their monthly Dance Battle was about to start, and for anyone who wasn’t participating to please clear the floor. She was surprised when Nick stepped past her, smug as she’d ever seen him. The hyena seemed impressed, too, saying the reigning champion of three years was back to preserve his title. She, Allan, Ben and Stephanie all stared at him, as he laughed and fist pumped to hype up the crowd. They closed in after he passed, blocking the narrow view she’d had through the path he’d taken. She briefly considered hopping, or edging around the room to get to one of the higher tiers, squeaking when Stephanie simply lifted her up and placed her on her shoulder. There were still the occasional sets of antlers or horns in the way, as all the biggest animals had crowded their own part of the floor, but now she could watch freely as the first round started up. Hip-hop, break and street dancing, styles she didn’t even recognize. Mammals of all species and classes coming out and facing off, the winners and their fans cheering, the losers moaning and growling good-naturedly as they walked off with promises to kick tail next time.
Judy’s heart was racing, her throat raw from shouting and laughing as they closed in on the last round. She looked to see Nick still off to the side, talking with a few of the mammals who’d been eliminated, copying their moves as he pointed out where they needed work, saying all they needed to become champs was a bit more practice. She’d never really seen him dance before, just that goofy little shuffle he sometimes did when they went to concerts, or were just messing around at one of their apartments. She had to admit, watching him now was a little hypnotizing, his movements so smooth and quick they seemed to flow into each other. Why hadn’t he ever let on that he was so good at it? Why had he kept it such a big secret? But her curiosity was pushed to the wayside as the semi-finals started up, an ocelot and a serval staring each other down as they waited for the music to blare. The intensity of it had her briefly worried something worse was going to happen, but it was forgotten as she got lost in the excitement again, throwing her fist up when the ocelot was called out, meaning their serval newcomer would be the one battling the champ.
Her eyes locked on Nick as he strolled onto the floor, the crowd going nuts as he threw up his fist again, flashing a wide grin as he watched his opponent. It got as close to silent as it could with so many bodies packed in one place, the DJ drawing out the tension before throwing the knob, launching the music back to its ear-aching throb. But she barely heard it now, still focused on the fox that was little more than a blur at some points; she glanced away long enough to see the serval’s ears had dropped, his breath heavier as he tried to keep up. Eventually, he dropped to his knees, holding up his paws in defeat. Nick laughed triumphantly, then held out a paw to help the cat up. He accepted, saying he’d be sure to kick the fox’s ass next time. Nick just laughed again; he was welcome to try.
And just like that, with the DJ announcing him the winner and that they’d have another chance next month, the Dance Battle ended, the rest of the animals rushing the floor like a tide that had broken through the levees. The music was turned up even louder than it had been, Stephanie keeping Judy on her shoulder as their group headed to one of the bigger booths lining the walls. It was a while before Nick joined them, having gotten caught up helping a few more contestants improve their style. He slid into the booth next to Judy, sitting closer than he normally would because of the tight space. Their little corner was surprisingly quiet, a jutting section of wall at the corner helping cut down on the music and other noise. They ordered several rounds of shots, sharing some of the more light-hearted stories from their patrols or when they got stuck with parking duty, interjecting it all with questions about why Nick had kept his dancing prowess from them. As usual with things he didn’t want to talk about, he answered them all indirectly, giving just enough information to sate their curiosity and stop their prying. Judy was only half-listening, only downing three of her bunny-sized drinks as she zoned out, trying to make sense of the heat that had launched through her when Nick had brushed against her, how it refused to fade even as he moved away, vaguely hearing him joke it was time for a pit stop.
Almost ten minutes passed before she realized he hadn’t come back yet, glancing at their friends to see them engrossed in another of Allan’s tall tales, her escape masked by the uptake of laughter when he loudly belched mid-sentence. It took her a while to find the restrooms, the lines stretching along the walls just like the one to get in outside. She saw Nick was still four mammals back, looking down at his phone with one paw shoved in his pocket. His headfur was even more mussed and spiky than it had been before, showing he’d run his paws through it at least once, something he only did when he was nervous or stressed. She hesitated, wondering if she should go up and ask him what was wrong, deciding it’d be better just to wait for him. She glanced around, seeing the railing that lined the second tier, seeing she’d be in his direct line of sight when he came out. She climbed up and settled down, holding tight to the top bar as she leaned back slightly, kicking one foot idly as she watched various groups dance and grind on the flashing floor below. Her eyes kept wandering, trailing over the special raised platforms on each tier for mice and other tiny animals, and the distinct lack of bunnies or hares, not that that surprised her too much. Most rabbits actually disliked crowds and noise outside their large families, just another way she was so different. A second glance-over let her spot their table, Allan and Stephanie mutely cracking up as Ben pantomimed whatever story he was in the middle of.
She giggled, jumping slightly when she felt a flick to her tail, whirling to see Nick smirking at her. She huffed, crossing her arms and turning away from him. She barely glanced his way when he put a paw on her back, her anger softening slightly when she saw the apologetic look on his face, fading almost completely when she felt his claws trail through the fur at her waist. Her skin was slowly warming where he touched her; she moved closer to where he leaned against the railing, her head finally level with his. She found herself looking him over, thinking about how much had changed about him. He’d started wearing mostly plain shirts or tanks and jeans when he’d finished the academy, saying he’d finally outgrown the tacky Pawaiian shirts and striped ties he’d loved when they’d met. More recently, he’d let his headfur grow out a bit, and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t like the slightly rakish look it gave him. Getting attention from the ladies was exactly why he’d made the changes, he’d said with a sly grin, and she’d just rolled her eyes and laughed. He still wasn’t as open around others as she’d hoped he’d be by this point, but she hoped that, with enough time, he’d eventually get there.
She felt more than heard him say her name, blinking herself back to reality to see her nose was barely an inch from his, her half-perked ears falling back completely when she felt his hot, whisky-scented breath pass across her lips, her own shaking slightly as her nerves short-circuited, sending a tingling numbness down her spine that only added to the tightening pull between her thighs. She sorely hoped there were too many other scents around for him to pick out the change in hers. The last thing she wanted was for him to notice her sudden attraction to him, even charged with alcohol and the atmosphere as it most likely was. That hope was dashed when she saw his shoulders stiffen, his tail going slightly faster as he leaned partially closer, his cold nose brushing her arm as he took in the heavier than usual scent drifting from her skirt. He looked up at her, his eyes burning in a way she’d never seen them, at least not while his gaze was centered on her.
Still, as close as they were, how hot it had just gotten between them, neither of them had expected the kiss. One second, they’d been staring at each other, and the next their lips had locked. It had been nice, though, enough that they both came in for more, completely deaf to the cheers being sent their way by their friends. The next thing she knew, his paws were on her ass, hauling her off the railing and pulling her to his chest. She broke the kiss long enough to gasp against his lips, her fingers digging in to the rough fur on his cheeks as she tugged him back for more. She whined softly when he ended it, the sound shifting to a moan when he kissed her jaw, trailing slowly down to the neckline of her shirt, a growl vibrating through her as his teeth sank softly into the uncovered fur of her chest. Then the next second his mouth was back on hers, his tongue sliding past her lips to lick along her teeth, her paws tightening in his fur before her arms wrapped around his neck as the kiss deepened further.
Then she was on the floor again, her legs trembling as he gripped her paw firmly in his, his eyes almost savage as they stared down into hers, molten with desire. Sparks arced through her again, finally igniting the lingering fire that had been building in her belly. She tried to tug him toward the entrance, but he held her back, motioning to the back of the club. There was an exit there not too many knew about, used by Gazelle and other celebrities who came by when the crowds of their fans became too much for them. The door was hidden behind an empty stack of boxes just before the storage area, one that opened silently into the cleanest, emptiest alley she’d ever seen. She thought he’d take her right home, his apartment was only a block or two away if she remembered right, but instead he picked her up again, pressing her back against the wall as he once more attacked her with his lips. He kissed, nipped and licked just about every part of her he could reach, the paw not supporting her ass soon set to shove up her skirt so he could take her right then and there. But as much as she wanted, needed him in that moment, she couldn’t do it in an alleyway, no matter how clean or secluded it seemed. She didn’t want to risk being caught with him like that, to break the dizzying spell that had fallen over them and turn it all to an awkward disaster even their friendship could probably never recover from. As much as she hated delaying it further, she unwrapped her legs from his waist, having to put both feet against his chest to push him back, her eyes boring into his until she broke through the fog enough for him to understand. He could do whatever he wanted to her once they got back to his apartment, to his bed.
She hadn’t had too much to drink, but it was enough that the rest of the night was a blur of heat and passion, her next clear memory being pulling herself awake the next morning. Staring up at a water-damaged ceiling, snuggled up in a bed and blankets that weren’t hers, surrounded by a mix of scents she’d never thought she’d smell. Hers mingled so intimately with his, overlaid with the lingering smoke of sex and the slightest hint of blood. Startled by it, she bolted upright, staring down at her paws and seeing the tips of her nails were coated in a rusty, flaking red. It must have been incredible then, if her fairly dull claws had managed to break his skin. She shivered pleasurably at the thought, then again as the chill in the room settled over her. Reaching blindly to the floor, she grabbed the first bit of cloth her paws touched, dragging it up to see his shirt from the night before. It wouldn’t offer much warmth, but it was way better than the fairly skimpy outfit she’d worn. She slipped from the bed and pulled it on, trying not to trip as she went to the door, cracking it open to see the small kitchen across the not-much-bigger living area, the back of Nick’s head and shoulders visible over the island as he messed around at the stove.
She stepped out, holding the shirt like she’d seen princesses hold their gowns in her sisters’ fantasy movies, easing the door shut before heading to the table. Giggling silently when she saw he’d already set an extra cushion in her usual chair. She’d slept over at his place several times by now, though this was the first she hadn’t been curled up on the couch after drifting off during one of their movie nights. And ever since that first morning, she’d woken up to the surprisingly delicious smells of him cooking, yet another little secret he’d kept from her. It had happened often enough that she kept a couple spare uniforms tucked in a drawer he didn’t use, just in case they were called in the day after. Still, despite all that, the cuddling during their movie nights, the long, late talks while he’d been at the academy, she’d never seen him as more than a friend. Her best and closest friend. But now, waking up after spending the night in bed with him, realizing just how handsome he was when he turned his profile to her as he reached for a spice jar, she wondered if there actually could be something else between them, at least eventually. She climbed onto her chair and sat down, a blush touching her ears when she saw he didn’t wear anything except black boxers, ones she wondered how they weren’t falling off, since he hadn’t even pulled them up over his lightly waving tail. Setting her chin in her paw, she looked him over, wanting to see just how much he’d changed in the last eighteen months.
He hadn’t really bulked up too much, foxes just weren’t made for that, but he’d definitely gotten stronger, able to lift her over his head with one paw and toss her several feet in the air. Even so, it was hard to miss how the whipcord muscles shifted under his sleep-ruffled fur, the sight enough to make her crossed thighs clench and a strained whimper escape her tight lips. His ears flicked back at the sound, but he kept his back to her until he’d turned off the stove, shifting their breakfast from pans to plates: an egg and cheese omelet for him, stir-fry veggies and rice for her. He lingered after setting the plate in front of her, one paw pressed to the table, the other clutching the back of her chair. There was fear in his eyes, desire creeping in as his nostrils flared, taking in her hiked scent. He leaned slightly closer, his heating gaze dropping to her lips, parted just enough to let her small tongue slip through to lick them. Then she smiled, just slightly at his hesitation, pushing herself up to finish closing the gap between them. He sighed, his eyes falling shut as his arms slipped around her, almost lifting her off the seat as she pressed her paws tightly to his chest. When he pulled back, the fear was gone, replaced with warmth, affection, and the slightest hint of love. He flashed a small, soft smile, seeing the same reflected back in her own gaze.
They knew then that last night hadn’t been just a one-time thing.
It had just been the start of something more.
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