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Wednesday, July 6th, 2016 07:38 am
Summary: 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 set on finding out more about the past, is his chance of righting past wrongs, and uncovering the true cause of why collars were abolished.

Recipe for this fic:
Take the original movie concepts - collars, the 1960s, Judy chasing Nick through Little Rodentia, with more to come. Add to the actual Zootopia movie. Blend well, with a dash of the supernatural to spice.
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 rest of the locations told Nick and Judy the same thing - the aura in these places didn't match the aura of the Lynxington of today. After Judy finished up her report on that, it was morning rush hour by the time they got to Tundratown. The only upside to dodging snowmobiles and heavy trucks was that the shops were open.

"Why did you veto my parka?" Judy grumbled as she browsed the winter wear on display for something that fit but also could fit her sword underneath. "It's warm, it's in my size - "

"It says ZED on the back," Nick reminded her. "It's one thing to visit mediums in the middle of the night, but in the day where everyone can see? And it's Koslov with known ties to vampires? The rumour mill would explode itself in excitement as it predicted power struggles, gang wars, armageddon!"

"All over one parka." Judy tossed the oversized one she'd been looking at back on the rack with a sigh.

"You could always try a hat." Nick plucked a towering furry one off the display. "You could fit your entire body in here!"

"And then you'd wear the hat with me in it to Koslov's?"

"Well I was actually thinking of cutting arm and neck holes in this, but sure." He spun the hat as he smirked down at her. "I've always wanted to pull a rabbit out of a hat."

"I've always wondered if it's possible to feed a fox his own tail. I guess we can't always try what we want." She stomped past him, having given up and resigned herself to the indignity of the children's section.

"You don't actually have to come along Carrots." Nick floated after her into the land of frills and ruffles. "You're going to run yourself ragged again if you keep on going when you're supposed to be resting."

"I'm curious about this package," Judy marched past rows of tulle with her eyes fixed on the coldwear section decorated with snowflakes. "What made you want to collect it now?"

"Before I ditched the body I wasn't spiritually sensitive. As far as I know from being on the scene and from peeking at police files, the tiger that was killed in my speakeasy didn't have claw marks matching any known animal. It could have been spirits."

"There was no ZED then, so that angle wouldn't have been covered. If there was another murderous spirit, it could have murdered Lynxington too."

"That's a huge leap in your logic Whiskers."

"Hey! It could be true."

"Uh huh, and Night howlers are wolves. I'm just saying that there were a few mysterious murders taking place in our past. I thought we'd start with the murder we know something about as training wheels before tackling the big question."

"So this isn't about Officer Hopps?"

"What about Officer Hopps?"

"I remember telling you you needed to compete the investigation by heading to Tundratown."

That was not something Judy had said.

He spun Judy around by her shoulder. The surprised eyes that met his were purple not blue. "How did you know?"

"Know what? I was just trying to remember..." Judy trailed off.

"Remember?"

"I remember what I said Wilde," said Officer Hopps in Judy's voice. Then Judy shook herself and was 100% Judy again. "Sorry, I got lost in my thoughts again. Ugh I can't remember what happened when I chased you through Little Rodentia."

Nick narrowed his eyes at Judy. "You aren't supposed to remember. Didn't you mention your mother had horror stories about an Aunt Alice?"

Judy rolled her eyes. "I'm not going to start searching for a Wonderland. I'm just wondering what I overheard

"Well this has nothing to do with Officer Hips so you don't need to recall. Maybe you should go home Carrots."

"Officer Hips again huh?" He couldn't tell if this was Judy or the officer. Then the rabbit noticed a light blue parka and seized it. "Well I've got my winter wear so you're not getting rid of me that easily," said Judy, with a grin Nick didn't feel like sharing.

"Let's make it snappy then," said Nick, hoping that what he thought he had experienced was a fluke.

Heading in the general direction of their destination was easy - there were a surprising number of bankers making their way to Snow Bank. Trying to peel away down a side lane was a lot harder, especially since most of the bankers were larger sized herd animals. Nick and Judy barely managed to avoid stomping hooves in their detour.

Compared to the streets outside with sun glinting off the snow, the alley was dirty, damp and smelled so strongly of fish that even Judy's less sensitive nose could pick it up.

"You bring me to the nicest places," Judy remarked.

"Hey this is nothing compared to Cliffside."

"Uh huh. What about the naturalist club?"

"Is the naturalist club a wholesome friendly place compared to Cliffside? Yes, yes it is. Don't judge Koslov by this, it gets better."

They came to a solid iron door. At Nick's gesture, Judy knocked. A rectanglar peep hole was pulled aside so a suspicious polar bear could scowl over their heads, then refocus on them.

"We're looking for Koslov. Tell him it's Nick Wilde," said Nick. The polar bear slammed the peep hole shut.

He was gone long enough that Judy had started tapping her foot. Their patience was rewarded when the door swung open seemingly of its own accord.

Koslov didn't believe in heaters in this part of the building, so despite Judy's parka her breath came out misted. He also didn't believe in lights, leaving Judy to walk in what must have seemed like pitch darkness to her. Nick, having the benefit of night vision, guided her out of the way of a table.

"So this is supposed to be better than Cliffside."

"Wait for it."

Nick had to admit the better parts would be while in coming. They had come by the back way, and now they were passing the better lit food preparation area. That just made it obvious that fish were being hacked open with resounding whacks and sliced beetroot ran red.

Then they passed the stoves and everything turned on its head. Instead of being directed to focus on the macabre, the senses were now invited to focus on the inviting smells of cooking and the warmth of fire.

Judy shot a look at Nick. "This isn't a glamour." The questioning tilt of her head invited Nick to correct her if she was wrong.

"Nope. This would be glamour." Nick snapped his fingers and suddenly the smell of cooking closely resembled the smell of grandmother's cooking, even if Granny had never used beets. Nick snapped his fingers again and the smell reverted back to its original scent, although it was still inviting. "Koslov has turned shields into a fine art."

"He shields whatever he doesn't want you to focus on."

"And the further in you get, the better the level of hospitality." As one of the wait staff, a spotted seal, held open the door for them, Nick remarked, "Koslov must really like you, he rarely invites me this far."

They walked into a whoosh of warmth. Here the cooking fires had given way to the warmth of fireplaces, aided by the rich red of the decor. Nick wasn't sensitive to auras, but he was observant enough to spot how the animals around them seemed to be talking louder than the lively hum seemed to suggest. More shields were at play here.

Koslov was seated by the window. Other seal servers pulled out the chairs opposite as Nick and Judy approached. The one helping Judy left with her parka obscuring her sword.

"Look at the children," said Koslov once they were seated. "They have so many things to play with, and yet they're happiest with just snow."

Tundratown's climate controls were set to late spring now, but Snow Palace ran by its own rules. Its indoor snow slopes were popular all year round. Across from the window they were seated at, kids of different species were having a snowball fight.

Koslov cupped his hands and peered through it. "Put a shield around that, and it would be a nice little snow globe."

"Absolutely lovely until their parents want them back."

Koslov laughed long and deep as if it were all a huge joke. Despite the volume, no one looked up at them. "Said the fox who hasn't collected his own things."

"Funnily enough, that's why we're here."

"After all this time, and so blunt about it. I haven't even offered you food."

"There was an awful lot of fish back there," Judy remarked.

"We came by the business door, so we thought we'd do you the favour of being direct."

"Still. Allow me to offer you some vegetarian fare while you enlighten me on why you want your package now."

Although they were on Koslov's turf, Nick couldn't look at him without thinking Mr Big. "It's simple enough. After you kindly reminded me in Little Rodentia, I thought I shouldn't impose on your hospitality after all. Including the borscht."

"He drove me half crazy with his fretting while we were busy with work." Between working with Nick and lying on behalf of siblings, given sufficient incentive and lead time Judy could lie like a pro. Apparently Nick had dropped enough hints for her to back him up.

"My father would have been very sad to hear that. I still remember playing in Wilde Times, and his hope that you could make the park as big as Snow Palace. Miss Hopps here is part of Mr Big's family. As my father would have said, that makes us one big happy family no?"

Apparently the one thing that hadn't changed in 50 years was Koslov's ability to guilt trip, even though he no longer had the puppy eyes to back it up.

"What do you want Koslov?"

"My father never told me what was inside the box, and he was adamant only you should open it. For 50 years I've followed his wishes. But I do not think my father would mind if you opened the box in front of me."

This was exactly what Nick had been trying to avoid. Given that his past seemed to consist entirely of cans of worms, he'd hoped to open them in relative private. He trusted Judy, but Koslov was still too involved in his past and more importantly, Mr Big.

Well, he couldn't let it show that it got to him.

"Why not?" Nick said with a deliberate shrug. "If we're family, we'd know how to keep secrets. Just the way you've kept this package all this while, exactly the way Daddy wanted it."

"All these years yet you have not learnt to be direct. If it's privacy you desire, that can be arranged." Koslov waved a server over and whispered in his ear. He hurried ahead as Koslov invited Nick and Judy to follow in the same direction.

They went through carpeted corridors past private rooms that were empty this early in the morning. Each one showed the same obsession with heavy comfortable red furnishings In the furthest room, the staff had laid out three plates of food arranged to showcase how delicious they were. Making an awkward centrepiece was a box tied with string.

Koslov entered that room and sank into the biggest armchair, though the smaller armchairs he had arranged for them seemed to contain exactly the same amount of cushion. Nick almost thought he had to go ghostly to escape before its softness finally rearranged itself into a seat. Next to him, Judy had struggled her way to freedom earlier.

"Please help yourselves."

Nick skipped over the bagels and shakshouka for the only thing he didn't recognise, which turned out to be wrapped deliciousness of some kind of pancake around cheese. That steadied his nerves, and while they still held he grabbed the box.

It was heavier than it looked - he used a little more aura to become more solid in order to tug the box onto his lap. The string came loose with a yank, and he nicked open the tape holding the lid shut with a claw.

Inside were more boxes. Flat rectangular boxes.

"Is your father still upset I picked the diamonds out of the borscht without eating it? I told him there was too much fish in the borscht, there's no need to harp 50 years on with necklace boxes -" Nick trailed off as he picked up one of the boxes. They were too heavy to be empty, and too light to be actual necklaces. In fact, Nick had done collar check at Wilde Times enough times himself to be familiar with that weight.

"Why did your father give me a box of collars?" He snapped.

Judy immediately came over to take the package from Nick, though she almost dropped it herself. She dumped it on the neutral ground that was the table, and stepped back. "The - the collars of the Original 10 are in there. I sensed their aura."

Nick never even considered that the Original 10 and Koslov could be related, but the box was proof. "Did they work for your father?"

"When my father and Mr Big discussed the Original 10, they were always mentioned as outsiders and not in the same way that we discussed our men. Besides is that all there is in the box?"

Judy took a deep breath, and reached in to pull out three particular boxes. "This is yours," she said, laying that box on Nick's side. The other two she put near Koslov. "These belonged to you and your father."

Nick grabbed the package and upended it, hoping for a note, or anything. Instead he sent boxes flying open to spill their contents. Judy picked up one of the cards that had spilled out of a box. "With this collar Zootopia welcomes you?" she read, hesitating over each word.

"With this collar Zootopia celebrates you. With this collar Zootopia accepts you." Koslov drummed his fingers on his arm rest even though he was showing claw. "Once I was a fool to believe in such lies. Now I am not."

Judy turned to Nick, who really wished she wasn't looking at him right now, not when he wanted to curl in on himself and hurts he thought had time to heal. It had been years since Nick had been to a taming party, even longer if you counted from his own taming party, but the memories still stung. "What do you think Mr Koslov could have wanted in sending this package?" Judy finally settled on asking, looking away from Nick so he had the choice not to answer.

"My father would only say the package would help Wilde clear his name. No more." When Morris Koslov spoke again, he almost sounded like the cub he had not been in ages. "You know everything and everyone, don't you?"

Nick stared down at the carpet. "Not anymore."

Silence fell over them as no ready solution presented itself. Judy was the only one moving, peering at a collar as if fascinated.

"GHR845," she murmured. "That number seems very familiar, I think I saw it somewhere before. Maybe at ZPD? Officer Hopps had a notebook of numbers. GHR845, GHR845..."

Then she straightened. "GHR845," said Judy, looking at them with blue eyes that weren't her own. "That's the serial number on the collar of the tiger that was mauled in your speakeasy. 12 of these collars are from the GHR series, that means the-" On the last her words slurred. "- the Original 10..." Judy narrowed now purple eyes. "Wait, why am I talking about them?"

"It seems you are still channelling the spirit you called upon in Little Rodentia." Koslov kept his voice even, and his polar bear features did not convey emotion.

"That was Officer Hips, Whiskers. For the third time now." Nick made himself look back at Judy despite the disbelief he was met with. His responsibilities as her guardian, his responsibility over her life now, demanded no less. "It happens every time you try to remember anything that Officer Hips knows about."

"So, even in the shop just now?"

Nick nodded. Judy would understand.

Koslov stood. "I suggest the both of you stay here until Miss Hopps gets that spirit under control."

Nick glanced at Judy, who shook her head. So Nick skipped enlightening Koslov on the true nature of the "spirit" and said, "That would take time that we don't have."

"I'll rather work on it in my own space," said Judy, slipping out of the chair.

The reason why polar bears were popular as bodyguards and in the police were that they could move fast when they had to. Koslov was already blocking the door. He'd grown as big as his father from the tiny cub Nick first knew him as. "Then as my father would say, I shall ask not so nicely. You will stay here."

He slammed the door, and the shield on the room was immediately activated.

"Argh!" Judy banged on the shield, as if aura covered fists could help.

"Give it up Carrots. His shields are capable of holding up to even Mr Big's aura."

Judy thumped her foot in exasperation. "I shouldn't have let them take my sword."

Nick started packing the collars back into the box. "I'm sorry I have such shitty taste in company. Current company exempted."

"I don't know about that." Judy joined Nick in picking up. "If we hadn't fought last night, maybe you wouldn't have thought about collecting the package. Maybe the past should stay in the past. Especially with my past - "

Nick put a finger to Judy's lips. "Koslov inherited this place from his father. I wouldn't be too surprised if the walls could talk to him."

"My family has made you sufficiently paranoid." She hesitated over the collars belonging to the Koslovs. "Is it - is it alright to ask what's the deal with Mr Koslov? I didn't know you knew him before Mr Big."

"It's not a very elaborate story Carrots. I was your usual young fox from Happytown - dreaming bigger things than my wallet would allow. I was emotionally unbalanced enough to think that anyone would care. Even though I was wearing one of these." Nick waved a collar he was holding. "And I was reckless enough to find the most feared crime boss in Tundratown then - Boris Koslov."

"Right away?"

"I was thrown out of a bank by a giant rhino when I was a kid Carrots. I don't like those places. No, if I was even going to have a chance it had to be with Koslov. So I made a model of Wilde Times and made it even bigger and better than the Suitopia I made for good old Dad - and I guess Koslov was feeling a little reckless too. He gave me the money."

"And you built Wilde Times."

"He was almost as proud as I was. He was always bringing people around. He brought Morris round the most. Morris was just a wide eyed little goober then."

"I guess even the largest polar bear starts out small."

"The smallest thing. All the cuteness of Finnick, except Morris' cuteness was both on the inside and out."

"Thank you for not using a bunny as an example."

"Are you jealous? Should I call you a c- "

He had a box shoved into his gut instead. "You haven't been tidying since you started talking."

They packed boxes in companionable silence. When Judy reached the last box, she toyed with it instead of putting it back. "Why did you think Boris Koslov would know what happened at Wilde Times?"

"Boris Koslov hated to make bad investments. If there was any information he could have gotten his hands on to keep Wilde Times from going under so he could get his money back, he would have it. It helps he was at Wilde Times when the mauled body of the tiger was found. I guess maybe he was spirit sensitive too. His son is now a powerful medium and he was interested in what happened with the Original 10."

"If only he was here to explain."

"Boris Koslov has moved on. I don't know what is Morris Koslov's deal in keeping us here. You think you know a guy." Nick sighed and leaned against the shield where it met the wall. As he was now, the shield read as a solid smooth surface to him, capable of holding even Judy up.

Judy put the last box back into the package. "Maybe Morris Koslov thought we might find something that implicated his father. If we had these at Wilde Times, we could get the invoked memory to show us exactly what happened with the tiger's collar." She tied the box shut, then backed away from it with a regretful sigh. "But it seems Morris Koslov wants the past to stay in the past too."

"He could have told us earlier, it would have saved us the trouble of digging it up."

"This coming from a fox who just collected his 50 year old parcel."

"What can I say Hopps? Sometimes good things come to those who wait."

"Let's hope something good comes of waiting now." Judy flopped down into the largest armchair so she was able to stretch out in the seat. "Do you think a good night's sleep would count?"

"My mom used to say once you started digging, don't stop halfway. If you do, you'd end up with a hole instead of a den." Nick ran his claws lightly over the shield. "How fast do you think you can run with that package?"

"I carry around a great big sword all day, a package is nothing." She hopped down and tucked the package under her arm, primed for a dash. Then she groaned. "But I'll need to grab my sword too."

"Yes you'll need it."

"- you're just going to break the shield aren't you? There's no need to fight Koslov."

"Dumb bunny. It's you I'm worried about. When the shield drops, I want you to go straight to Wilde Times. Don't look back."

"Nick, what - "

He turned to the shield, thought of collars and Officer Hopps and the mystery of his death that just refused to be solved, and let the darkness dominate.

Nick's claws, now narrowed to needle fine tips, tapped the shield. With his senses enhanced by his dark aura, it no longer seemed as smooth as before. But this wasn't a quick shield of an exorcist set up to deflect a spirit so that it could be followed up by a sword. This was a shield by a master in his ancestral home, meant to last.

Still Nick worried at the shield, letting a growl slip between sharpened teeth. Cracks began to show as he worked, and he paused now and then to twist his aura into the cracks. The healthy aura curled away from his darkened aura, leaving more and more gaps.

Finally, the shield shattered around him. Nick sprang for freedom, only to be beaten to it by a grey rabbit throwing open the door as she ran.

Part of him was pleased that Judy had taken his advice. The other part was curious why she smelt like a target, even when she wasn't channelling Officer Hopps.

He darted after her, not caring that he almost bowled down one of the seal servers. Despite the shields in the restaurant the low hum had given way to shouting. Nick didn't care. He was running down the straight, and he would be able to catch up with the rabbit soon. That was, if there wasn't a polar bear standing in the way.

Koslov looked between Nick and Judy fleeing in the distance, then turned back to Nick as Nick slid to a halt. "Wilde. Stop before you do something you regret."

"Was this why you shut me away?" Nick gestured to himself as he was now - a dark spirit with a thirst for vengeance.

"You're not the only dark spirit I have to worry about. Stay behind the shield so I can be sure where you are."

"The trouble is when you don't ask nicely, I don't have to answer you nicely. I'm leaving and you can't stop me."

Koslov did try, snapping off a shield that Nick dodged. The thing with shields was that they took a long time to set up, while Nick needed only a moment to disappear. He slipped between the warmth and cold, the living and the dead. Even if Judy hadn't handed him her life he might have felt her anyway, balanced as she was between her present and past lives. Nick sidled in her direction, wondering why she was headed away from the way that they'd come.

When he reappeared, he found himself in one of the fancier ballrooms where the chandeliers looked like ice crystals but were probably made of something more expensive. The entire place had been done up to look like the Artic, complete with the ballroom floor having been flooded with water to mimic sea water. Apart from the stage that was fixed, the tables had been set on bits of floor resembling ice floes that moved freely through the water. They were drifting now, having been sent in motion by a running rabbit. He'd need to float across the ballroom if he wanted to catch up with Judy.

"That's a good look on you."

Nick turned towards the voice that had come from the band area next to the stage. Lynxington strolled in with Otariids on his arm. Roni scrambled up onto Lynxington's shoulder to get a better look at Nick. "Aww, it's no fun if you take off the mask yourself!" Roni whined.

"I had to. I had to set an example of how to make going dark look good." Nick pretended to buff his claws on his formal jacket to divert a bit of attention to figuring out where Judy was. She'd already left the ballroom, which had to be good enough. "Surely you aren't here for little old me? Or are you looking to recruit dark spirits to join your band? If I join, I vote to rename the gang as Wilde's Eleven."

Otariids laughed so loudly that the sound set the chandeliers to tinkling. "What? It's funny!" she said when her two companions glared at her.

"We don't need you to join us," said Lynxington. "You just have to tell us where Judy Hopps is going."

"So you know her name."

"She introduced herself at the last fight. I suppose you were too busy to notice."

"Why do you need to know where she's gone?"

"We're throwing her a welcome party!" said Roni. Yep, his smile was definitely giving Nick the heebie jeebies now. This wasn't the trio that Nick had seen in the photo, which made it even more important to keep them away from Judy.

"If you're that friendly with her, you wouldn't need me to tell you where she's gone, she'd have told you herself."

"She's not here." The lynx drew away from his friends and bounded as soft as snow onto the table drifting closest to him. "You are. You'll tell us where she's going."

The trouble with disappearing was that it disturbed the surroundings, creating the vibrations that Lynxington craved so much. Besides, there were the others to think of. Otariids had slipped into the water, and the way Roni was dragging his claws across the hand rail of the band area probably explained why Nick's darker impulses were looking like a better and better idea now. But they had been a bunch of university students that maybe had made it to Koslov's restaurant at most. Nick had worked with the Koslovs enough to know the mechanisms behind this particular ballroom. The tables weren't drifting on water for a power show alone.

"I wouldn't assume. You know it makes an ass out of you and me," Nick quipped, and flipped the switch.

The tables lurched into motion. Nick took the distraction to disappear by balancing on the edge between land and water -

Only to be disrupted by Otariids. "Too bad! Water's my thing," she said, before tossing Nick back into the ballroom.

Nick slid off the table he hit quick enough to avoid Lynxington's pounce. Roni peeked out from under the tablecloth. "Things would be a lot easier if you gave in to your urge and we hunted the rabbit together."

Nick leapt to the next table before the thought could take hold.

"Judy Hopps isn't worthy of your protection," said Lynxington. "There are three of us to one of you. If you persist, we'll finish you off and move on to the rabbit."

Nick straightened his suit and tie with a smirk. "The thing about long odds is that there's still an off-chance things can work out in my favour."

The motion of the tables on the water was meant to give everyone the chance to see the stage better. Once his table was close enough to the stage, Nick hit the lights with the intention to blind.

He could probably have disappeared in the resulting distraction. But they'd mentioned Judy, and Nick's darker side wanted to make them pay.

He reappeared with his pounce sending both him and Roni into the water. "Aww, did you forget spirits don't need to breathe?" Roni cooed up at him. "Or did you just want to get me alone?"

Nick grinned wide enough to show all his teeth. "You can still feel like you're drowning," he told Roni, and snapped his fingers to activate that very glamour.

Nick left Roni struggling and ignored Otariids who was diving past Nick to get to Roni. Lynxington was already prepared for Nick, having sensed the disturbance in the water. Nick took a hard swat to the face but threw enough ice water in Lynxington's face that Lynxington was unable to dodge the swipe that followed immediately after and left deep gorges in Lynxington's cheek. The lynx sprang back to another table, reassessing the new threat that Nick posed himself as. Nick took his time, landing lightly on the table that Lynxington had left.

"You see, while you've been rotting away in a box, I've been out and about in the big bad world." Nick took one step forward, and Lynxington stepped back. "You make one move, and I'll show you why Mr Big likes this part of me best. Just like I did with your friend."

"You have more in common with us that with that rabbit. Why are you fighting us?"

"The thing is, Judy Hopps' life is mine. You can't have it. So go on Pointy Ears. Make my day."

The table that Nick was on bobbed under new weight before a shield sprang up around him.

Not caring that her back was to Nick, Judy drew her sword in the next move and pointed it at Lynxington. "Nobody move."

"Do you have a death wish?" Nick demanded. She'd drawn the shield to enclose the both of them together again. Now more than ever he could smell the rabbit that had gotten him killed in uneasy counterpoint with the rabbit who'd offered him her life. Nick's darker senses, frustrated that they hadn't been allowed a chance at Lynxington, started to pick out Judy's weak points to see if she was a viable option.

"I didn't want you to do something you'd regret." How she remained calm when she was closed in with a dark spirit that could kill her was beyond Nick. Unlike that time in Little Rodentia, it was steely determination that kept her going now instead of guilt. To Lynxington she asked, "What do you want?"

"You're finally the right rabbit. If you come with me, together we can uncover the truth behind your death all those years ago."

"Am I hearing right?" Nick demanded of Lynxington. "Because to me, that sounds like you don't know what happened either."

"He doesn't," said Judy. "He needs me to recreate the riot. If I come with you, will you continue to leave everyone alone?"

"On my word," said Lynxington, though he was looking at Nick as he said that.

It was good enough for Judy to sheathe her sword. She turned to Nick and held out the package. "You'll need this to solve the case of your own death."

Nick refused to take it. "What? Carrots you can't go with him."

Judy set the package down at Nick's feet. "You know collars better than I do. You're Nick Wilde of Wilde Times, you figured out collars even before I was born. You can solve this without me."

Nick pulled Judy up to look her in the eyes. "That's not my point Hopps! You're recreating the moment of your death!"

"I know. Mom saw that it might come to this."

No wonder Mrs Hopps had looked so wrecked when they'd gone back to Bunnyburrow. Nick had been asking the wrong questions all along, so worried about what he would do when he should have been worrying about what Lynxington, no, what Judy would do.

While he was caught up in his thoughts, Judy unbuckled her sword and laid it on top of the package. "Hold onto this for me."

"You're going off with your murderer without your sword."

"I have Clawhauser's talismans. And I can't lose my life, I already promised it to you." Judy chuckled weakly.

"Judy."

Nick shook her in the hopes that it would bring her to her senses, but Judy continued, "You heard Lynxington. He won't hurt anyone as long as I'm with him. Nick, even if I'm not responsible for the death of all those mammals over the years, at least I can be comforted I helped to stop this."

"It doesn't have to be you. Look we can get Koslov to hold them here, bring in the ZED - "

"And seal them away for another 50 years? Leave the problems to our next lives?" Judy shook her head. "This has already waited long enough. Nick, you already tried holding on. Maybe it's time to try letting go."

Nick just shook his head. Judy reached up to touch the side of his face. "Please. You know how much I trust you. This time, trust me."

He leaned into her paw, her aura comforting where his was not. "I hate this."

"I know. I hate this too." Judy was sniffling now. "H-hey when I come back for my sword, tell me all about how you solved the mystery of the collars ok? Don't leave out a single detail."

"You better bring along the biggest sweetest cup of coffee from Café Reggio, because the story's going to take a while. You hear?"

"OK." She stepped back, bit by bit, leaving Nick's paws to trail down her arms until all that was touching was the tip of their fingers.

Then even that was gone. Nick turned away so he didn't have to see them go. When he was sure he was alone he breathed out. "Judy."

The chandeliers tinkled, the only other sound in the darkness.