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Sunday, June 12th, 2016 11:35 am
Nick and Judy visit Bunnyburrow and learn some hard truths.

Wilde Spirit (The Karmic Shuffle)

Summary:
What if predators were collared in Zootopia's distant past?

After being framed for a murder in his speakeasy Wilde Times 50 years ago, Nick Wilde has lingered on as a spirit. Judy Hopps, an exorcist, is his chance of righting the wrongs in his past, and uncovering the true cause of why collars were abolished.
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.


The trouble with coming by train was that the part of the Hopps farm accessible from the train station was the Visitors Way. The Visitors Way was, surprise, full of visitors. While there were mammals that preferred fairs as a cover for seeing mediums, there were some matters that were time sensitive. Deaths didn't wait for fairs after all, and neither did problems with spirits.

As with the train station, the waiting rabbits gave way to Judy easily enough. Nick had to stick close or risk being walked through. His tail was trod on once or twice by spiritually unaware mammals.

He almost ghosted right through Judy when she abruptly stopped after pushing aside the heavy velvet curtain separating the queue from the ritual room. She held a finger up to her lips for silence, then moved away from the curtained entrance and tiptoed towards the rest area.

The heavy oak door was more an issue for Judy, who had to shove it with a shoulder. Nick was more concerned about the wards here, which were only recently keyed to include him. Thankfully, he made it in with no trouble. More intimidating was the rabbit spirit standing by within.

Well to Nick at least. Judy immediately drew the spirit into a hug. "Great Uncle Albert!"

"Careful, you know I don't have the whole corporeal thing down just yet." He patted her on the shoulder, his grin softening his default gruff expression. Since ghostly features didn't translate fur colours and markings that well, that was the best tell that they were related. "How's my favourite exorcist?"

Judy released him with a laugh. "You don't know any other exorcist!"

"Well you're certainly not my favourite rabbit, that's reserved for your mom. And she's not going to like how scruffy you've gone." He pinched the edge of Judy's aura for emphasis. "Wilde you have any idea how this happened?"

Nick had to resist the urge to bristle defensively. Nick might be more powerful, but Judy's Great Uncle had combat experience from World War II, and he'd Chosen to stay on as a spirit. "Our work runs us pretty ragged Sir."

Albert grunted. "Knowing our Judy she'd probably do everything assigned to her and then some."

"Great Uncle!"

"Don't you Great Uncle me you know it's true."

Judy rolled her eyes at Nick, but she was grinning at the ribbing. Especially since Albert turned to Nick next. "What about you Wilde? The issues with your aura don't look work related."

"I assure you everything that's happened to my aura so far is related to the Original 10."

"Well, not all of it," Judy amended. "Part of the reason why we're here is about Officer Judy Hopps."

"Your mom's been wanting to talk to you about that." His ear turned towards the other heavy oak door that led to the ritual room complete with crystal balls. "Your mom is still busy with her appointment. Why don't you find your father first? He's only got Robert helping him today."

"Where's Holly?"

"She's off with some botanists to catalogue the useful native plants in Bunnyburrow." Familial pride had him puffing up his chest a little. "After the Datura Stramonium, they've been pretty interested in our neck of the woods."

"That's really cool. Bellwether's scheme did some good instead of evil." The Hopps were sensitive to using the name Nighthowlers, so Judy tiptoe around the word once she was back home. "I'll see how long Dad's queue is. You coming Nick?"

"I don't suppose I'm needed here?" He arched an eyebrow at the older Hopps to see if there was any protest or something he wanted to say to Nick only, but Albert nodded towards the door. Figuring Bonnie Hopps would talk to him at the same time as Judy, Nick ducked out after Judy.

The outside of the Hopps home had so many magical trees and plants and spirits all interlocking with each other that Nick's senses tried to read it as a very complicated array. He'd long given up trying to map the extent of it, and now just focused on the one thing that made sense in that chaos. It seemed to Nick that just being on her own land made Judy's aura rounder and fuller than it had been in Zootopia - Hopps land was kind to Hopps rabbits.

It was less kind to Nick. The land knew he had been invited across the threshold, but it still gave Nick the sense of a million eyes watching him, both wary and curious. Who was this fox? Why was he here? (Was he actually safe?)

Judy, who had originally been skipping ahead, dropped back to walk by Nick. Her aura extended around him and gave him a little bit of respite from the prickling observation of the Hopps grounds. "Still deep in thought?" she asked.

"There is far too much green here. What's with all the trees? You'd think this was a forest instead of a farm."

"It's the countryside, city kid. We can go blueberry picking later if it'll make you feel better about all this nature, and I think we have some dewberries if you're feeling adventurous."

"When I could have more blueberries? No can do Carrots."

"You can't get by with just blueberries!"

"Watch me try."

They came to the clearing Stu Hopps had set up for patients to find rabbit ears and heads had swivelled towards the sound of their laughter. Healers were more in demand than mediums, and there was less stigma in seeking out a traditional remedy, as they called it. If it weren't for Judy's father having irregular hours around his chores on the farm, he might have done better than the local doctor.

Stu Hopps himself was grinning when Judy and Nick ducked under the natural cover provided by the trees surrounding the grove where he worked. He didn't seem to mind the strong smell of the poultice he was packing into the patient's wound. "Be with you in a jiffy," he said, while packing.

Robert, who didn't know Nick too well, just nodded at Nick before asking Judy, "Hey sis. What's with the patchy aura?"

Judy's grin was just about the only warning Robert had. "Oh you know how it is Rob, great big city, aura sucking ghosts everywhere."

Robert's eyes went as big as saucers, while the rabbit patient squirmed for reasons unrelated to the wound. Stu Hopps looked up long enough to say disapprovingly, "Judith."

"Sorry Dad. I thought you didn't want any more Hopps disappearing into Zootopia."

"Might want to tone down the relish Carrots," Nick had to add.

Robert turned to Nick, "Are there a lot of vampires in Zootopia?"

Robert's choice of words was deeply ironic. "Well, your sister and I know an entire vampire family. They invite us over for dinner sometimes."

"Alright!" With a final dollop of poultice applied, Stu picked up a nearby cloth and rubbed his hands clean. "Rob you take over the bandaging. The two of you, come with me before you have too much fun at the expense of the younger ones."

They relocated to a convenient pump. Judy got the pump going so Stu could wash his hands into the bucket placed there for just that purpose. He patted them dry on another towel hung on the pump itself before tilting Judy's chin up. Judy rolled her eyes, but stayed still so her father could examine her.

"Well, you are looking kind of worn, but it's nothing rest can't handle. Pity we're just past the full moon."

"Imagine how much worse she'd be without the full moon," Nick said in his lightest tone.

"Imagine how much worse you look since you can't tap on the full moon," Judy shot back.

"She's right son." Stu was open and welcoming in a way his land was note, which Nick should not crave so much. "I'm better with living aura than spirit types, but you don't look too good either. You should ask my wife to take a look at you later."

"I'll do that sir."

"Just Stu will do."

They retreated further to where the trees were all leaning towards each other, as if they were sharing secrets over the heads of those passing by. The next grove they entered was clearly a workstation - the tables there had ingredients in various stages of preparation scattered over their surface. Finished ointments and poultices were set to one side, next to the more complex mixtures that came from the apothecary.

From somewhere Stu procured a flask and scrounged enough mugs to pour tea for everyone. It wasn't sweet enough for Nick, but he guessed the purpose was to focus on the essence of hibiscus instead.

"So this isn't really a social trip," Stu clarified.

"No." Judy was cradling her mug but had not drunk from it yet. "Was it that hard to tell me over the phone?"

"It's hard to have a conversation on auras and traditions over the phone."

At the mention of karma, Nick choked on the tartness of the hibiscus tea. He put down the mug hurriedly, but the two Hopps didn't notice. Stu was already reminiscing, "You know our big old oak in the middle of the orchards?"

"Yes!" Judy exclaimed at the same time as Nick said, "No."

"You have to see it to believe it. I think it'll be a little easier to understand if you remember the markings on that tree." Nick didn't know about any markings on any tree, yet Judy still looked at him when the reference was made. He spread his hands in a silent shrug.

Judy's frowned turned to surprise as the new arrivals in the grove caught her attention. "Mom! Great Uncle!"

Nick only knew Bonnie Hopps from the occasional visits back to Bunnyburrow since he'd become Judy's guardian. Even so, he knew the weight of sorrow in her aura was new, and must be hefty for even a fox spirit to pick it out when she was at rest. It was more apparent when Stu Hopps joined her - the weight of his own sorrow resonated with hers, but where Mrs Hopps bore the weight of it Mr Hopps had used it to strengthen his own resolve, and that of his wife's.

Bonnie straightened at the support of her husband. "Judy, do you remember how naming goes in our family?"

"Great times infinity Grandma takes a look at the child's aura and suggests a name." Judy's tone might have been matter of fact, but her raised eyebrow showed she was just as mystified as Nick.

Nick didn't get to hear Bonnie's reply. Albert, who had been floating by Bonnie's shoulder, left his position to approach Nick. "Why don't we give them a little privacy?" He suggested.

Nick's protest died when he saw the direction Albert was drifting in. Apparently it was time to meet the Holy Hopps trinity.

For farmers who grew carrots the Hopps had a good variety of fruit trees. In the midst of apple and pear and peach trees, atop a grassy knoll exactly one of each type grew next to each other. Albert led Nick to the foot of those trees.

Despite Judy's assurance that the three oldest Hopps ancestors did not sit in the trees all day, Nick always found them in these trees on his visits. If he'd Chosen to stay on as a spirit, instead of being a victim of whatever karma imbalance the Original 10 had caused, Nick might like to sit in fruit trees all day too - though he could swear Judy's Great times infinity Grandma had been sitting in the peach tree before. He tiled his head as he squinted at the blossoms shedding petals with each gust of wind, trying to figure out if they were white or pink.

Albert leaned against the trunk of that tree without concern about the type of tree it was. Agnes Hopps, affectionately known as Great times infinity Grandma, did not speak with a booming voice. Instead her voice was low, the ends of her words slurred with the next like a slow but continuous pour of honey. "How have you been Nick?"

Nick resisted the urge to demand to forget the small talk, he had a question that needed answering right now. His mother had brought him up to respect his elders. "I'm good, been told my aura could be better."

"Nothing a square meal can't fix." Beatrix Hopps was brisk in both words and actions as she reached into Charlotte Hopps tree and drew a peach from among the leaves. "Here's a start."

Nick caught the tossed peach but didn't bite into it. "Sorry, I thought the problems with my aura weren't to do with nourishment or the lack thereof."

"Sassy and direct," Charlotte giggled. "But wrong."

"The way I see it, aura works like fruit," continued Beatrix.

"Leave it too long on the stem, it rots," said Agnes.

"Cut it too early, it never gets the chance to ripen," Charlotte sighed.

"Well not in the usual way," said Beatrix.

"Doesn't taste the same," agreed Agnes. "But the worst is being ripped from the stem."

"Could flay the skin," Beatrix remarked.

"Cut to the core!" When Charlotte spoke with relish she sounded like Judy.

"The way I see it you're somewhere in between," Agnes said. "But because you hold your wounds close, you feel it more keenly."

Nick huffed, trying to make sense of the run on conversation. "It doesn't seem I've held it close enough if you see so much of it. You knew my life was cut short."

"You forgot you're dealing with rabbits Wilde," Albert piped up from the bottom of the tree, causing Nick to start at the sudden interruption.

"And we're old enough to have forgotten how to be polite!" Charlotte chirped.

"You were polite enough not to say anything when I first came to be Judy's guardian."

To his surprise all four spirits nodded and grinned at each other.

"You've forgotten what I told you about guardians," said Albert. "The most important to us is the bond to our wards so we're able to protect them."

"Albert's bond to Bonnie is so strong the land adopted him as a Hopps!" Beatrix chuckled.

"It doesn't matter how you came by that bond, it matters what you use it for," said Agnes, as if that were the final word on the matter.

It wasn't. First Chief Bogo, and now the Hopps were saying that they knew how Nick and Judy had been linked in the past. Chief Bogo had the luxury to excuse himself as being unrelated to Judy. To the Hopps, Nick said, "First the name, now the aura. If you knew all along, why keep Judy and I in the dark?"

It was a bold statement that stilled the trees and the spirits in them. Only Agnes smiled, confident in the face of challenge. "Come along with me," she said to Nick. "Some things are easier in the showing than the telling.

Curious despite himself, Nick went with. At this part of the orchard Agnes was leading him to, the trees and plants and now two spirits were all pointing in the same direction. Nick turned his nose and ears to the top of the hill that was the nexus of the array that covered the Hopps ground. Whatever was there, it had left traces on every other part of the Hopps lands.

Or rather, Nick amended when they finally reached the top of the hill, every other part had left traces on it.

At the top of the hill was an oak tree, already awe inspiring in its height and girth. Around the tree was a staircase that only circled halfway up the tree. The pattern on the bark seemed oddly uniform. When Nick got close enough he realised the tree was cover in scratch marks too numerous and neat to be by chance. The scratch marks seemed to resonate with the things in the orchard around the tree.

"Would you like the scenic route or the quick answer?" Agnes asked.

"I have no idea what I'm looking at," Nick admitted.

"Ah yes, foxes aren't like rabbits. Rabbits never forget an aura that they've sensed before." She turned her face up and pointed. "I can see Judy's row from here."

"So you mean this is how evolved rabbits mark their territory now?"

Agnes' hum was an amused one. "Less to do with territory and more to do with memory." She started to drift upwards towards the crown, Nick following close behind. "The easiest way to trace past lives is to have each member of the family make a mark during each life." She patted the nearest set, then pointed at the lowest scratch mark. "First life." She pointed to the scratch mark just above it. "Second life. Well, with this family at least."

"Your family must really enjoy scratch and win cards." Nick's senses picked up the resonance between the two lives before Agnes moved on and he had to dash to keep up. They covered what seemed like a long way before they stopped again. Nick glanced up to find the top of the tree was still a while off.

He looked back to where Agnes was pointing to a set of five scratches set close together. Can you tell me anything about these?"

Nick's darker senses rumbled uneasily at the sight. Nick took a moment to tamp both that and the surprise that his dark side and awoken down.

When he drew closer it started to make sense. Nick wasn't a rabbit, but he knew Judy. With all the samples of aura clustered together, he could feel the resonance across the past lives of Judy, including the one he'd met again barely a few days ago.

If Nick's darker senses were in control Nick would be growling right now. He laid his hand against the scratches, feeling the answering pulse of Judy's lives. "So this is how your family comes up with names."

"We name our children after themselves to acknowledge who they were. I'm flattered Judy likes our family that much. It's a pity she needed so many rounds to figure herself out. Needs."

"Does Judy know about this?"

"She's drawn here sometimes by her own aura. Everyone and everything is - the trees are linked to those who planted them, the footsteps on the land remember those who left them just as this oak does. But has Judy come all the way here?" Agnes shook her head. "Some Hopps spend their whole lives without being bothered by their previous lives. Even though his oak here is proof. Judy hadn't been bothered by her past lives."

"Until now."

"If you think she ought to have known the truth, answer me this: why are we born not knowing our past lives?" Agnes perched primly on a conveniently close branch. "Those who have moved on aren't supposed to remember their past lives Nick. Give them enough memories, and they'd become their past selves, not who they are now. They'd be like us."

"Judy's in danger whether or not she knows the truth."

"I don't know about whoever Judy has been tracking in Zootopia. He's been put away for a while." Agnes set the branch she was on to rocking, as if it were a rocking chair. "But you, Nicholas Piberius Wilde, you could have been a threat to Judy any time before now. You could have come all the way to Bunnyburrow to challenge her on her past life. Why didn't you?"

Agnes Hopps was no Mr Big, but Nick still hesitated over his reasons for not going dark. It was easier to look at Judy's gathered past lives than a curious rabbit grandmother. "Whatever my reasons were, I'm not sure I have a choice anymore. What should I do now?"

But Agnes Hopps had left. Figured. Nick ran his thumb over the latest scratch, wondering how Judy was and how much she knew now.


Despite disappearing on him, Agnes had given Nick a hint on how to find Judy. The traces of Judy left on the oak still held links to the original, especially given her current location. He followed her aura down the hill into the fading light. At a corner of the Hopps grounds he had never been to, he found the Judy he knew best perched atop one of many gathered headstones, hugging her knees to her chest.

"Is this a private pity party or can anyone join?"

Judy was startled out of her thoughts. "Nick?"

The light blue of her aura no longer seemed electric, for the spark in it was muted such that her aura resembled shifting water. It didn't help that her aura was mixing with the traces left in the grave of one Judy Hopps, a ZPD officer so exemplary the ZPD bywords of "integrity, bravery, trust" had been engraved on her headstone. Nick stopped at the other end of the grave. For lack of a better thing to lay, he put the peach he'd been given at the end of the grave as an offering.

Judy rubbed a paw over the rough stone she was sitting on. "You deserve a grave like this."

"Do I think this is a good location for a grave? Yes, yes I do. But I don't think the neighbours would appreciate having a fox buried nearby." He gestured to the nearby headstones that had taken on the orange hue of sunset.

"If it's part of making amends, they'll understand. I don't deserve a grave like this, given all I've done."

"What you've done has nothing to do with my grave - "

"You were in that grave under that bridge because when I was a police officer, I arrested you, and had you branded as a murderer, and that resulted in your death. You - you don't have to forgive me, but you have to let me fix this."

"I don't want you to fix it this way."

"So, what do you want?"

Nick looked away from the grave right in front of him to better bite back the darkness tickling the back of his throat. "I don't know yet."

"May I show you what you can have?"

"If you want to."

Judy leapt lightly down, footsteps still light enough not to disturb the grass. Nick was better able to tell where she was by the shadows she cast, long and reaching because of the setting sun, as she rounded her own grave. He huffed when she held out her exorcist sword to him. Grasping the offered hilt he reminded her, "I told you I wouldn't know the first thing to do with this - "

She tugged the sheath off, kneeling to place it on the grass. She did not get up, instead maneuvering the bare blade of the sword with practiced ease. For a moment Nick had the absurd idea that she was trying to get him to knight her.

Instead, she placed the tip of the sword against the hollow of her throat.

"Nicholas Wilde, in exchange for the wrongs I've done you you can eve have my life. On my word."

The sword fell through ghostly paws that Nick was too distracted to hold solid. Nick found himself fixating on how the purple of Judy's eyes matched the sky that sliding towards dusk. He couldn't have heard what he just heard.

Judy took hold of his now empty paws, concentrating enough aura in her own so she could tug him down into a hug. Nick was shaking - he dislike how much he was shaking - but Judy was shaking too.

"Judy."

"I'm sorry, but it's true."

Dusk fell across the graveyard and the two figures crouched there, trying to come to grips with an overrated truth.


Spirits didn't actually need to sleep - the weariness that Nick felt right now was best fixed by collapsing in his grave and forgetting the world existed for a while. But his grave was 211 miles off in Zootopia, and Nick didn't feel like bothering with the ley. In a pinch, the corner of one of the Hopps' sofas would have to do. Judy tried to offer him one of the empty rooms, but all of them held personalised echoes of their previous occupants. The living room was used by enough different rabbits that Nick could tune the ambient aura out. The Hopps were spiritually aware enough to avoid sitting on Nick, though he had to occasionally flick his tail out of reach of the hands of curious rabbit kits.

"Kids, leave our guest alone, he's had a long day."

At Bonnie Hopps' instruction, the kits obediently trotted off. Bonnie herself settled in a nearby armchair, sorting out a half-completed knitting project. It was obviously a set-up for conversation if Nick wanted it.

Given how much trouble the truth had caused so far, Nick was almost inclined to pretend he was dozing. But he still had questions about his aura, and Bonnie Hopps was the expert.

He dragged himself upright. Bonnie took one look at his ruffled appearance, and suggested, "How about some tea?"

"Does it come with a side of advice?" Nick rubbed his temples with two fingers. "Sorry, that was unfair of me." Bonnie was no longer looking as sad as she had been that afternoon, but she was still one of those who knew the full link between Judy and her past life.

"If you haven't heard an answer in everything the Hopps ancestors had to say, perhaps you're not ready to hear it yet. I'll try to be more direct in my reply."

"Alright Mrs Hopps. Let's have some of that tea."

"It's Bonnie. We can go to the kitchen, we're less likely to be disturbed."

Nick followed Bonnie into the kitchen that somehow always managed to be warmer than the rest of the house, perhaps because the cooking fires were on most of the time. There was one pot on the stove now. Bonnie turned up the fire to bring the contents of that to a boil, then started pressing on the contents with a wooden spoon to release the smell of peaches.

Nick threw himself into one of the mismatched chairs to watch Bonnie put together some peach tea. The cooking was somehow more calming than his attempted doze on the sofa.

"Is there some magical properties that peaches have on spirits? This is the second time today I've been offered peaches," Nick wondered.

"They're good for the heart. Your aura isn't doing too well because your heart is troubled." She checked the tea pot and nodded approvingly at it. "Iced or hot?"

"I pick up the taste better with hot."

Bonnie set out a tall glass for herself and a mug for Nick. She poured a generous measure of peach tea for Nick, before putting together her own drink.

By the time Bonnie Hopps took the seat opposite with her glass of iced tea, Nick was feeling a lot less frazzled. He almost didn't want to spoil the mood with his question, but he wasn't going to be in Bunnyburrow long. "So you said you were going to give me straight answers."

"If you have a straight question, yes."

Nick eased his grip on his mug, and asked as flippantly as he could, "Do I have a choice not to exact vengeance?"

"That's a difficult question to ask a mother," Bonnie sighed. "Excuse the reminiscing, but when Judy started work as a proper exorcist and all, with more than just house calls, she wrote to thank me. It was very nice, a proper letter, none of that email nonsense."

Nick remembered. He'd teased Judy about leaving the old-fashioned stuff to the old folks, and she'd thrown her pen at him.

"She told me that she'd learned a lot from watching me, because as it turns out exorcists do a lot of medium work too. They don't just banish dark spirits. They talk to all of them first, even the darkest spirit with the most murders to his name, to see if there's another way. They're given a choice. Banishing is a last resort."

She sat back, looking at Nick with the critical eye of a medium. "You've made choices that have led you to become a guardian, and to me that's nothing like that darkest spirit with the most murders to his name. You should be proud of that."

Nick looked down at his mug, slightly embarrassed. There was something about having the faith of a Hopps that made one feel huge and small all at the same time.

"It doesn't meant the choices later will come easy. You're just in a better starting place than most. Try to remember that."

Nick finally cracked his first genuine smile in what seemed like a while. "I'll remember."

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