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Sunday, May 29th, 2016 10:28 am
There is a chase in a version of Little Rodentia.

Wilde Spirit (The Karmic Shuffle)

Summary: What if predators used to be collared in Zootopia's distant past?

Nick Wilde didn't ask to die after being framed for a murder in his speakeasy Wilde Times, but he's spent enough years as a spirit to prefer to forget what happened 50 years ago. In the company of Judy Hopps, an exorcist set on finding out more about the past, Nick makes a reluctant walk down memory lane.
Spoilers: Only if you have no idea why Nick and Judy would work together, and if you're not aware of the collared predators storyline.
Rating: T
Genre: Gen
Warnings for: Supernatural elements, mythical beings and vague references to the Chinese Taoist religious system. Lots of references to off-screen character death
Disclaimer: Not mine as I'm not smart enough to think of the collars storyline.


Apparently the truth had to wait until sundown.

"I asked Fru Fru to help me," Judy told Nick without looking up from her phone. Around them, the customers at the nice Stagbucks ignored the rabbit on her phone at the corner table that Judy had managed to snag. The spiritually aware did glance briefly at the fox spirit, but went back to their drinks soon enough. Usually Judy's sword drew its fair share of attention, but she had put that away earlier before setting out to look for a Stagbucks. It hadn't been hard. There seemed to be a Stagbucks a walk away from any place you could pick in Zootopia - Judy's apartment, the ZED HQ, even Lynxington's grave.

Judy tapped out a reply before speaking again. "I only contacted Fru after heading to ZPD so I'm not sure she has finished setting up."

"Isn't Mr Big's daughter busy with baby Judy? There you go, one more namesake that has nothing to do with your family."

"But Fru Fru did name her after me," Judy said with artificial sweetness that was probably matched by the syrup in the drink she'd ordered for Nick, made extra sweet so a spirit like Nick could pick up the taste better. Then her attention went back to whatever it was on the screen. That was good, because Nick didn't know what to do with her attention. His own attention was all tangled up in Judy's declaration at Lynxington's grave. He knew he had a checked past - sometimes he was even ashamed of it - but he never thought it had to matter to anyone else but him.

That his past also had to matter to Judy was something he was still wrapping his head around. Part of him wanted to get angry at Lynxington for making that suggestion once upon a dream. Another part wanted to get angry that Judy had chosen to dig into his past, and bringing the Bigs of all people into it. He'd rather have dealt with Judy's family. Speaking of which.

"Have you heard from your parents?"

"They haven't responded yet to my messages." Her ears, originally perked up from whatever Fru Fru had responded with, drooped back down again in the only sign that showed she was worried. Otherwise, Exorcist Hopps had her laser focus on her phone. The disgruntled part of Nick wanted to needle at that worry and taunt her with it.

The rest of Nick took the high road. "That makes ZPD our only source on Judy Hopps." Nick had read ZED's files cover to cover but they hadn't prepared him at all for what went on in the graveyard earlier. He wished it had. Now he had to wait on this ambiguous truth that Judy seemed fixated on.

"There's a lot of things that aren't in the ZPD files either." Judy's foot thumped the floor briefly in remembered annoyance.

"I'll be the judge of that." Nick nudged the ritual bag closer to himself and reached in. Judy glanced up to see what he was doing, but let him. He'd pawed through the bag when she was setting up for scrying after all. Whatever she had found from ZPD, she hadn't been intentionally hiding from him.

The first thing Nick found was the badge, which he shoved down as far in the bag as it could go. He had to push aside the crystal ball before he finally found a manila folder that he pulled out. His report was at the front of the folder - he flipped past that to find himself looking at a very official photography of a rabbit from the shoulders up.

Even with the black and white of the photo, he could see straight off that Ye Olde Judy lacked the black tips Judy Jr in front of him had. He couldn't tell the actual colour of past Judy's fur as the lack of colour had shaded it to a default grey closer to present Judy's. Despite that, their stance was nothing alike. Cop Hopps seemed to be forcing her ears up for the photo, and there was a melancholy about her eyes that suggested she was tired of what the world was trying to show her. His Hopps, even with her dampened mood now, didn't seem as defeated.

He read the personnel data that the photo was attached to. Alright, some things were a little uncanny - Bunnyburrow native, age close to Nick's before he'd ditched his body, started being a cop about the same time as Judy had become an exorcist - but the rest was not. He tried to imagine the Judy in front of him as a switchboard bunny in a time before the mobile phone she was tapping away at. It didn't take.

He flipped the page. There was nothing else.

"Judy Judy Judy." He set the file down so he could smirk at her. "I give you a multi-page report and you come back with one page? Someone hasn't been doing their homework."

Judy was attempting to hide behind her phone, which wasn't working because it wasn't that large. "I saw plenty of things! Arrest warrants, case files, evidence boxes - I just wasn't allowed to take most of it."

He wondered briefly about the badge now hiding at the bottom of the bag, but Judy was pocketing her phone. "It's time.

"Where are we going?"

"The Rodentia graveyard."


Fru Fru had gone all out on the Rodentia graveyard.

From the street Nick and Judy were walking on, usually the largest things in the graveyard were the grand multi-towered family mausoleums that could house extended family in one place, since mice families rivalled rabbits' in size. What Nick saw now were mausoleums extended by aura memory to become multi storey until they peeked over the top of the graveyard fence. Angel headstones made awkward company with flashing neon signs. Someone had gotten hold of enough Christmas lights to delineated a make shift Main Avenue.

"That's a lot of effort to recreate the time when I was flipping burgers."

"What?"

Nick pointed at a huge glowing triangle of cheese to the west. "I used to work in Chez Cheese over there while I was still testing the rides for Wilde Times."

"Isn't that building pretty big for mice?"

"Chez Cheese was the cross species eating place. Everyone wanted their burgers, because their melted cheese was magic, delicious magic. They had an elephant-sized burger, and if someone who wasn't an elephant finished it within the hour, they got vouchers."

"How'd you flip an elephant burger?"

"Oh those were easy. Two mammals, two skillets, a count of three, and flip! Mouse burgers, now those were the worst. The manager wanted us to balance 10 at a time on a skillet. You try flipping 10 tiny burgers at once Carrots. Burger bits everywhere."

"It sounds simple enough to me."

"We'll see how well you flip burgers Exorcist Fluff once I find someone else who remembers Chez Cheese."

Reminiscing had brought them all the way to the entrance of the graveyard and another relic of Nick's past that he'd rather forget - the polar bears flanking the shrew waiting there. "Well well. The woman of the hour."

"Fru!" Judy went up to the maestro behind the whole thing. "This all looks amazing!"

"Aww thanks." Fru Fru hopped on Judy's offered hand so she could be lifted up for air kisses. "You need a girl's night out honey, your aura's gone all thin!"

"I'd love to, but ZED's really keeping us busy."

"Wilde! What exactly have you been doing as her guardian?"

"Ma'am," said Nick, because he had a healthy fear of the mob especially now he'd left it. "There's nothing I can do if she wants to run herself ragged and go wandering around Little Rodentia reconstructions in her free time.

Fru Fru snapped her fingers, giving Nick an excuse to ignore Judy's exasperated huff. "That's right! We need your input as one of the Big Folk to get this building exactly right." She pointed to a set of apartment blocks growing awkwardly from a mausoleum.

"Wouldn't this reconstruction be easier in Little Rodentia itself?"

"Don't be silly Wilde. These buildings have been completed replaced by skyscrapers in present day Little Rodentia, I can't build over those."

The polar bear closest to the group spoke up. "There are also more spirits in this graveyard that remember Little Rodentia as it was in the 1960s. You know how important memory is in reconstructions."

Nick nodded at the polar bear medium. "Kozlov. You had any part in this?"

"Wilde, I prefer to deal with shields."

"You sure? Of the four of us here I think only Judy doesn't remember the 1960s."

"I was 5, maybe 7 then Wilde. If you are still keen on the past, I believe I still have the package my father left you."

"The past is more Judy's idea." Nick jerked his thumb at the rabbit responsible, who had the audacity to look proud. "Well, let's get on fixing this reconstruction."

While Judy squeezed after Fru Fru through the mouse sized entrance, Nick opted to float through the fence and keep floating. He got to the apartment blocks to find Mr Big holding court there.

"Nicky. It's been a while. He held up his hand so Nick could kiss the ring. "I was just talking to some folks who used to stay in the apartments we're trying to copy here."

Talking might have been too generous a word. Mr Big hadn't become the top crime boss by being nice, and from the awestruck looks on the faces of the gathered rodent spirits Nick reckoned they were too polite to do what they needed to make the place real. Not that having a fox spirit looming over them was going to help matters.

"Keep going," he prompted, as he found one of the larger headstones to flop against. He had to somehow make himself seem smaller without going on all fours that would set off an entire different set of instincts, and the headstone seemed the best compromise. He immediately wrote off the rodents nearest to Mr big that were nodding like little bobble head dolls, and focused on those who were really more interested in the apartment. One of them a brown mouse, was standing near Nick with the brazenness only the very old had, although she didn't look a day over 40.

She caught him staring, so he inclined his head in greeting. She nodded back.

"Why aren't you hanging by Main Avenue? Nick asked. "It seems really popular."

The mouse tutted. "What's so nice about a bunch of shops? Besides, I never spent much time there."

"So you spent more time here?"

"I was born here and I died here, I'd say I spent a lot of time."

"Were you here during the Great Owl Incident of 1959?"

"I was indeed. That was a terrible time. We'd just got over warnings of being bombed."

"Didn't think in that age of machines we had to watch out for something more primeval," a nearby squirrel chipped in. "Who'd have thunk owls would have moved into the trees overlooking Little Rodentia? Two of them!"

"I kept my kids at home," a gerbil declared. "It wasn't something that could be fixed by safety in numbers."

"That's why they put the Big Folk by the school so they could beat off the owls," said the squirrel.

With the same sense that let him know an array was going well, Nick knew that the school in the reconstruction had become more real as more people remembered. Time to veer them back to this place.

"There must have been a celebration when the owls were caught."

"Oh yes, I think we even had a block party right here - "

As the three rodents discussed the scale of the party and who brought what and other celebrations they had at the apartment block, the memories gave shape to the aura. Now the details didn't matter, because the apartment felt real.

"You're good at this." Judy had finally caught up after Nick had beat her here by the simple fact that without a body he could cover the distance from the entrance a lot faster. "You should do this more often, arrays and fox-touched lucky charms are obviously a waste of your talent.

"When I showed you the aura memory of Wilde Times, I didn't expect you to follow up with a full scale production." Nick felt Judy's shoulders brushing his as she leaned against the same tombstone he was lounging against. Funny that barely a day ago they'd been in almost the same position in her apartment, but so many things had happened since then. "Alright out with it Hopps. How is this going to help us with the truth?"

Judy got the look that she always got before letting go of vines and jumping off waterfalls and trying to steal entire secret labs. "Tell me about your second arrest in Little Rodentia and the rabbit behind it."

"Well I got arrested." At Judy's glare Nick spread his hands in a helpless shrug. "I honestly don't quite remember the details. Let's see what I do remember... maybe let's start with the rabbit.

So the rabbit cop had blue eyes, tan fur - see nothing like you Carrots, anyone can see you have purple eyes and grey fur - and she had nice hips which was why her name definitely was Julie Hips - stop elbowing me sweetheart or I'll never finish the story.

Anyway. I was in the lock-up for a crime I didn't commit. Julie knew her way around a lock-up - the hippo there asked if she was ever coming back to rescue him - so she was pretty professional about coming to get me out of the lock-up. She took my statement about what I'd been arrested for, only this detective distracts her by asking how her exam went. So while they're yakking away about her joining the detectives I find a paper clip and spring myself free."

"Ever the tinker."

"Got that straight. And maybe the coppers are really all too full of donuts but she and this other horse are the only ones wo can keep up so I figured ok, let's see who I can shake off my tail, and dart into Little Rodentia. It works on the horse, but that rabbit just keeps going and - that's why we're here aren't we? That's why you had to recreate Little Rodentia in such detail from that specific era. You want me to reenact that chase."

"Not just you," said Judy, her voice soothing where her words were not. "Now that we know there's a link between the Judy Hopps then and myself, I can stand in for her. Besides, I am from a family of mediums after all, I still know how to communicate with the dead - "

"You have a perfectly good life with the job you want and a family that loves you and you want to create a karmic link with someone who ended up murdered?" he didn't dare to give voice to the part where the other Judy Hopps had been killed by Lynxington. Lynxington's taunt about the "right rabbit" was already reverberating around Nick's head, threatening to blot Nick's aura with darkness. "One of the three really doesn't belong here, and life's no game show where you get a prize for the right answer. You pick wrong, you're dead. And for the record the past Judy Hopps was nowhere near the chase I was talking about."

"I'm not picking anything! The karmic link already exists! You saw that the circled worked just now - "

"That could have been the shared name alone - "

"Oh is this going to be the thing with the file again? You pull a bait and switch and I let you talk me into doing something else?"

"Ha, Exorcist Judy Hopps doing something else instead of the thing she really wants?" Nick jabbed a finger at her, showing claw for emphasis. "You didn't do something else. Something else would be getting a jumbo pop, or watching some tv, not going to ZPD to find a stupid badge and more about a random Judy Hopps - "

"She's not a random Judy Hopps! You know her too!"

"Oh no, not the framed traffic ticket, who would even frame a traffic ticket - "

"I was looking at arrest warrants remember? I found that the name on your warrant at ZPD doesn't say Julie Hips! It was Judy Hopps who arrested you in Little Rodentia, and if I stand in - "

"Don't you ever associate yourself with the rabbit that arrested me," Nick hissed. "If I hadn't been arrested that day, if I'd gotten free, maybe I wouldn't have died - "

He'd said too much about his death and the vengeance that drove part of his powers. Anger painted his aura black as bile, drawing out skills meant for him to take vengeance. He always noticed the teeth first, because how sharp and thin they went meant it was always easier to hiss instead of talk. Next was his claws, already out, narrowed to needle-fine tips he'd never kept when he was alive. Closely following was the urge to stalk prowl hunt, on all fours if that was possible.

The growl Nick let out as the force of his transformation hit him sent rodents scurrying. Even the brown mouse that had looked at Nick so fearlessly earlier fled. Only the Bigs stared back at him unafraid. Triggered by the proximity of a dark spirit similar to their own kind, both of them were showing every aspect of their vampire aura. Even Fru Fru wasn't bothering with hiding her fangs.

Mr Big propped his chin on his paw. "I always liked this part of you best Nicky."

"Well I don't." Even though the snapped comment wasn't meant as a threat, a shield went up between the Bigs and Nick. Since the anger this time was entirely from Nick himself, he remained dark. He glared at the rabbit behind all this. "Hops, didn't they teach you at the Academy that the exorcist goes outside of the shield when containing a dark spirit?" Not that it would have been of much use. Normal Nick was good with arrays. Dark Nick took one look at them and could instantly find the one weak spot in the entire set-up. In his current state, Nick could have just tapped the simple shield to send it falling apart. Vibrations were for wimps like the lynx.

From within the fragile shield, Judy looked back with a calm in stark contrast to the roiling in Nick's aura now. "I'm not afraid."

It was all surface level calm. The dark side of Nick could sniff out what was going on beneath Judy's projected aura. Surprisingly, the instinctual fear from the rabbit side was muted by a sea of guilt. Too aware of what was going on beneath for the both of them, Nick simply murmured, "You should be." She had only seen him in this state once before: in the Natural History museum when it was all an act. This was not an act now.

But she hadn't been acting, both then and now when she looked back with fierce righteousness that banished all traces of fear, even the bits that only Nick's darker senses were able to pick up. "I'm not afraid of you," she said. "Neither should you."

Nick bit back the part that wanted show this simple rabbit why she was wrong by draining her aura dry. He couldn't control what he was, but he could control what he did with his powers. "You have the self-preservation of a lemming."

"It's called confidence." Her rabbit senses might have picked up some of his internal struggle, for she was worrying her lip as she looked him up and down. "If you need a moment to recover, if it bothers you that much, we could call this off - "

"I haven't said to call it off yet." Denied of what it wanted right now, the immediately of turning dark had passed to leave Nick more in control even though his spiritual hackles were still up. "Since I've already gone dark, might as well see this through." He nodded to the Bigs. "Ma'am. Sir. We'll set up."

He set off, with Judy following. Now that the part he'd been worried about had already happened, he let himself remember the details of that day. "The chase started all the way at the entrance. You'll need to give me a five minute head start if you want this to be accurate. Do you need time to connect to - " He fished around for a good nickname but wasn't in the mood. " - other Judy?"

"I'll need less than 5 minutes."

"Alright. No peeking with spiritually attuned senses. Just react as you would in any other chase."

She hugged him briefly, no matter that his aura must have stung like nettles in his current state. "Thank you. For agreeing to do this, even when it doesn't sit well with you."

He smiled, the thinness of it contributed by the new shape of his teeth. "Stop being so sweet to a dark spirit, it makes it more tempting to eat you."

"I think my sword might help change your mind." She squeezed his arm, then headed towards the entrance. He watched her go, struck by the notion he should have hugged back earlier. He shook off the melancholy and went back to observing his surroundings.

It spoke volumes about Fru Fru's talent that she was able to be accurate in aura memory. Buildings tall to a mouse were about Nick's eye level. If he tip-toed, he could just about see over the tallest buildings. However, the buildings were still mostly too tall for a rabbit to peer over. That had been what Nick had been counting on when he had led the chase into Little Rodentia in the past. If he dropped on all fours he would be practically invisible.

He did so briefly right now. Though it had been closer to a leopard crawl in the past, his current instincts were to hold himself close to the ground in a prowl. Unlike previously, when crawling had earned Nick curious stares and a wide berth, now the rodent spirits scurried away when they saw the approaching dark spirit.

He straightened before the darkness could dominate again, and tried to slouch towards the right place. He wished that he had Judy's rabbit senses - while she could cheat and use her senses to pick out his aura, that wasn't the capabilities of a fox spirit. As long as she wasn't attempting to scry for him or use an array to pick him out, he wouldn't be able to tell where she was. All he had was his luck to put him in the right place at the right time.

He remembered the apartment block he had been hiding behind when the rabbit officer - he was going to keep on calling her Julie or Rose Hips, never mind what Judy insisted - had caught up to him. He flopped onto his back by it now, much as he had then. Curious spirits peered out at him from the memory of the apartment block, much as the rodents had back in the 60s when Nick had pulled his trick. He held a finger to his lips in a sign for silence.

Then Judy appeared. Whatever she had done to channel Officer Hips was so effective that the moment Nick saw her, aura memory took over.

Aura memory was also the reason why ghosts tended to reply the moments of their death or other moments significant to them. Nick had never been inclined to until now when he bolted at the reminder of the police office.

The aura memory now led Nick down Burrow Boulevard. The low roof forced him to go on all fours. The rational part of him remembered why he had come here. The pedestrian only mall was twisting and winding like an actual burrow, and only those very familiar would know the twists and turns. Nick, having used Burrow Boulevard as a shortcut to dash to his midnight shifts at Chez Cheese, knew the Boulevard very well.

Judy, being one of the polite Big Folk, had never made it this way. She struggled with the low height and the sudden turns and branches in the Boulevard. But unlike Julie Hips, she did not have a scurry to deal with and so was making better time.

Nick had almost forgotten about the hidden turn that aura memory led him through. Judy dashed right past, her speed causing her to miss the turn. Nick wriggled out of the exit soon after. The aura memory relaxed its hold when Judy failed to exit on Main Avenue as the rabbit officer had that time. So much for karmic links. Obviously Judy and Julie were not as closely linked as Judy thought.

Judy finally resurfaced further away than Nick expected. She eyed the buildings separating the two of them, before attempting to run on the top of the buildings.

Nick didn't know what mice had against piling for their houses or foundations for their gravestones. Without either, both the memory of the houses and the tombstones standing in their place started to topple as Judy shoved off. She had to stop to straighten them.

In the meantime, Nick took a train.

He wasn't tiny enough to fit inside a train, but he had always wanted to stand atop one like a surfboard. Fru Fru's aura memory groaned at the strange use, but held.

Nick's smirk at his success faded as he spotted the walkway tubes stretched above the train line. "You've got to be kidding me," he groaned. This was aura memory taken too far.

He was so preoccupied with dodging the tubes that he only caught Judy's scent with his darker senses before she tackled him off the top of the train. Nick tumbled a lot further down Main Avenue than Judy had. He shook himself off. At least there weren't any honking cars this time. A quick glance down the interaction showed that Judy had landed him in more or less the right place. The Big Donut diner was just down the street, waiting for Nick to trip over it and get arrested.

Now that aura memory wasn't dominating, Nick had another idea that he had been wanting to try. He'd held before, but there weren't any live rodents to squash this time. He darted down the street before Judy could catch up. When he got to the diner, he nabbed the donut off the top. "Have a donut!" he called out, before bowling the donut replica at Judy.

Judy ducked, flattening herself and letting the donut fly overhead. Behind her, someone let out a short, sharp scream before a very familiar aura exploded the donut. From all the way down the street Fru Fru glared.

"Sorry! Are you alright?" Judy called to her.

"I'm fine," Fru Fru assured her, then snarled at Nick as soon as Judy's back was turned.

While Nick was trying to figure out if Mr Big had seen any of that and if he was in even deeper trouble than the time with the skunk butt rug, a rabbit drove herself into his midsection. Nick crashed down by the diner, much as he had back in the 1960s. A handcuff closed around his left wrist. He kept his face turned to the ground, the aura memory of the road warring with the graveyard dirt beneath. Either way, he waited for the memory of his last moment of freedom before his death to take hold.

But the handcuff didn't snap close over his free wrist, although Nick heard the sound of it clicking shut. He turned back to find Judy looking down at him, her aura twisted into a facsimile of the same aura from the police badge. Judy's eyes were blue, although he wasn't sure if that was from her aura or from the spirit he sensed within Judy.

That spirit spoke now. "I should have believed you," she said. The other half of the handcuff slid down her arm as she leaned her forehead against his, a parody of what Judy had done after releasing Lynxington and friends earlier. Both his normal and dark senses screamed at him how wrong this whole scene was.

"I should have believed you when you told me you were innocent," said past Judy in her borrowed skin. "I should have gone with you to find the truth. I'm sorry."

Nick made sure his smile showed how thin and sharp his teeth had gone. "Not all of us get second chances," he whispered to the wrong Judy. "Now scram before I make you."

"We have to complete the investigation," the spirit insisted. "You said you had to get to Tundra - "

Nick didn't bother to let her finish before he reached up to touch Judy's cheek. He pressed down on the claw marks hidden there. Another fox spirit had made these, but he was close enough in nature that the scars flared with aura.

At the reminder of recent scars that she had never borne, past Judy Hopps gave up control. Nick's darker senses prickled with unease as he sensed past Judy Hopps receding instead of disappearing to reveal the Judy Hopps that Nick knew better. The purple eyes of that Judy met his, and she frowned at him. "Hey, it's alright. You didn't have to get so mad at her. She's gone."

But she wasn't. Judy Hopps, the exorcist Nick was guardian to, wasn't just a blood relation of the Judy Hopps of the 1960s. She was her reincarnation.

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