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Sunday, June 5th, 2016 08:28 am
Nick deals badly with emotions and takes a train.

Wilde Spirit (The Karmic Shuffle)

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 set on finding out more about the past, 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.

Whoever had placed the Rodentia graveyard near the ley was a genius, because it had made getting to the ZED HQ that much quicker. Nick had just hopped on until the ley had brought him where he needed to be. Judy was probably still trying to catch the bus somewhere.

That suited Nick just fine.

The truth Judy had shown him still burned like acid that threatened to fight its way out of his mouth and hurt whoever was in front of him. He didn't know if that ought to be Judy, no matter that it'd been her past life after all and that Judy wanted to know too. She'd tried to ask if Nick had seen anything while she had been possessed. Ha. If only it was as simple as possession. Possession was something Nick knew about, could even happen by accident if he walked through someone without paying attention. Reincarnation was not. Spirits that lingered in the living world tried not to think about reincarnation, since the only way they could reincarnate was with the guidance of a medium or being banished by an exorcist's sword.

What Nick did know was reincarnation was something a soul had no control over. Since she'd gone on and reincarnated, it wasn't as if she could turn back time and clear Nick's name. Besides, hurting her over the fact that she had refused to believe he hadn't hurt anyone was deeply ironic. (Nick had made the mistake of telling Mr Big that precisely once. Mr Big had laughed, and Nick had bought a skunk butt rug.)

If Nick told Judy the truth, he didn't know what would happen. But besides telling Judy, Nick didn't know what else he could do with the truth that he'd just learnt.

Which was why Nick was at the ZED HQ now. He had an inkling that Chief Bogo might know what to do with the truth better than Nick did. And if it ended up with Judy off the team hunting for Lynxington, well, it wasn't a country club membership or a Furrari but he'll take that perk. It would give Nick much needed time to figure out how things stood now with Judy.

Just to be sure his previous outburst wasn't showing, Nick passed Clawhauser. If Nick's anger was still triggering his dark powers Clawhauser could call the whole cavalry down. Night was when the ZED was most active after all.

The cheetah at the front counter frowned at Nick, but didn't hit any panic buttons. Instead, Clawhauser greeted Nick, then added, "I heard Judy calling in to say Lynxington got away. That's going to be some report huh?"

"An absolute thriller. That's why I wanted to talk to the Chief first, don't want him dropping those tiny glasses of his in shock."

"That's if they let you." Clawhauser pointed behind Nick. "Incoming."

That was Nick's only warning before a fluffy whirlwind hit him. When the world stopped spinning Nick found himself being marched off by the pair of wolf spirits flanking him.

"Wilde!" The wolf on Nick's right started.

"- We heard Hopps calling in the sighting of Lynxington," the wolf on the left continued.

"And Roni and Otariids - "

"- and there was a showdown - "

"Awesome!" The both of them exclaimed together.

Nick glanced back to see how Clawhauser was handling the spirit napping that was taking place right under his nose. Clawhauser had the audacity to wave. "Have fun! I'll let the Chief know you're coming by in 30."

"15," Nick shot back over his shoulder.

"Aww c'mon Wilde. You owe us at least an hour," said Fred Wolford.

"Hopps has been keeping you all to herself," added Ned Wolford.

"What are you, three?" Nick groused as they started kissy noises over Nick's head. It was a pity that Ted Wolford was only annoying and not cutely annoying like his brothers, though he might be feeling the pressure of being the only pup alive from his litter. "Seriously, I don't have time to go all the way to the rec room."

"No can do. You owe us all a poker game."

"A poker game. You're going to play a game of luck with a fox spirit. Do you need a Spirit Power 101 refresher?"

Fred was undaunted at the reminder of Nick's charm. "The guardians are all waiting."

They led him down the basement steps into the spirit side of the ZED. Not every exorcist had a guardian - ancestors tended to prefer sticking to the homestead, other spirits usually weren't powerful enough - but there were enough that the spirits of ZED had gotten their own cosy corner in the basement, away from the hustle and bustle of the living.

Not that it was any less busy. A team of guardians was just leaving for their shift, including a lioness who groaned when she saw Nick. "Wilde! Why did you have to come when I'm just leaving?"

"Just your luck Johnson," Nick had to quip.

"Buh bye Johnson and Johnson!" chorused the Wolford bros.

"Shut up, my partner isn't even here!"

There were still a number of spirits in the rec room when the three of them reached it. There were the ever present mice messengers that also had shifts. Trunkaby was in his usual corner. Higgins was shuffling a deck of cards with surprising dexterity considering her comparatively chubbier fingers. Jaq Jackson, one of the messenger mice, was watching her.

Nick stopped short. "You weren't kidding about the poker game."

Higgins started dealing with fancy wrist flicks. "Yes we want to hear about the Original 10, and you get to beat the pants off us. What's there to lose?"

Really, what was there to lose? Nick picked up the cards closest to him to find pictures of jackals and oryxes and heh, gazelles lounging with the suit sign of hearts, showing this was a Sahara Square set. The Wolford Bros started arguing about who could afford to play and lose.

Trunkaby turned away from the wall he was looking at. "How's Hopps?"

"She's fine." Nick had almost been distracted from why he was here, but it all came roaring back now.

Trunkaby nodded. "Good person, that Hopps." He returned to regarding the wall.

"I'm surprised you haven't turned out like that," said Higgins. "The weight of all those years of memories must be terrible. Wilde?"

Nick had tossed his cards on the table. He wasn't ready to share on Lynxington and his friends just yet.

"Sorry I think I hear Chief Bellows calling. Don't want to give him an excuse to come after me." He winked, hoping that would deflect questions about why he had to see Chief Bogo right away.

Higgins turned a beady eye on him before shrugging. "Just be careful, the Chief's beefed up his wards since the last time you appeared in the middle of his paperwork."

"I love a challenge," said Nick, already floating upwards to the highest floor.

"He had a full house," Nick heard Fred exclaiming before he got too far to hear anymore.

Nick didn't manage to make it to the middle of Bogo's desk, but he did float through the door without knocking. Unlike Judy, the Chief didn't take to the intrusion too kindly.

"Wilde, when I invited you past the threshold, it did not mean an invitation to drop in at your whim and fancy."

"I don't know, Chief Boss, I think you are less worried about my mode of entry and more concerned I might find you doing something other than work. Is it the rainbow cat app today?"

"If you are here for no other reason, I'm happy to show you how to use the door that you have some difficulty in navigating." The way Chief Bogo phrased his statement made it seem that the Chief's idea of using the door would be more violent than what the action required.

Nick stubbornly took the chair. The Chief regarded him, knowing that if Nick had something to say he would crack first.
Nick hadn't lingered in the mortal world this long to be outdone that easily. He'd come with the file he'd borrowed from the ZED record room that he now shoved at Chief Bogo. This time the silence was an answer - in the moment that Chief Bogo had looked down at the folder, a brief look of recognition had crossed his face.

"So you knew about the other Judy Hopps," Nick had to clarify anyway.

"I'm short-sighted not blind." Chief Bogo flipped the folder open and tapped a hoof tip on the name "Judy Hopps" twice. "But this was not the first time I've been made aware of this name. The screening process for exorcists is quite extensive, especially when they come from famous families such as the Hopps."

"Then why did you put her on the team that was working to confine the Original 10? Why have her track down Lynxington now?"

"Earlier, did the two of you find Lynxington or did Lynxington find the two of you?"

As a fox spirit, Nick knew some truths were more welcome than others. Since this was Chief Bogo, he fudged, "I'd say 50-50, we pinged him and he met us halfway, it was all very spontaneous."

"Contrary to what you may think Judy Hopps is not the only talented exorcist in this building. I have had exorcists working on finding our escapees the last 48 hours. The moment Hopps comes on shift we get our first sighting of all three. Why would I not put her on the team responsible to find Lynxington?"

Here was a chance for Nick to share the truth that had been troubling him since he'd learned of it. But now that the Chief had showed he knew more of the truth than he had let on previously, Nick wanted to see how much Chief Bogo knew. "I don't know. If I were Chief, I wouldn't want my star exorcist dying like her aunt did."

The Chief did not respond to the obviously wrong statement. "If that is her karma, it would happen whether or not I send her after Lynxington. She could be making house calls and Lynxington might end up on the other side of the door. I think Hopps would rather face Lynxington head on, sword in hand." Chief Bogo pushed the file back to Nick. "It's not like you to have doubts in your exorcist Wilde. Is the truth too disturbing for you? Do I need to take you off the team?"

It was terribly unfair of the Chief to wield truths he had known all along and Nick hadn't like weapons. But Nick was used to the world being unfair. He smiled, lazy and slow, and said, "You'd know the answer to that question if you did the same screening on me that you did on Hopps."

"I'd have approved Lynxington as Hopps' guardian if the team up delivered results." Chief Bogo regarded Nick levelly over his folded hooves. "But if you suddenly feel the urge to take revenge, understand that the ZED won't let you go unpunished."

Perhaps this was the real reason why Chief Bogo stared as if he expected Nick to step out of line. Unfortunately he would be disappointed again today. "I was thinking the two person setup Hopps and I have going on was getting a little boring. I need to take a few days of leave to discuss things with a few consultants."

"If the consultants are from Bunnyburrow, please bring Hopps along. Whatever advice they have for you might be useful for her as well."

That would involve talking to Judy, but Nick wasn't going to let Chief Bellicose see that would be a problem. The Chief was already proving why he'd been made Chief Exorcist and he didn't need more material to work with. Nick simply said, "I'll see if she wants to go."

"Very well, take the weekend off." As Nick turned to go, the Chief called out. "Wilde?"

Nick didn't turn back around, but he did stop just by the office door.

"You might want to bear in mind that karma isn't just about the past. The actions you take in the present that affect your current and future lives, that too is karma."

Nick was very glad he was facing the door so he could make a quick exit through it.

"She's taking the 10am train?" Nick asked.

Finnick was muzzle deep in his mug of coffee. He made an obnoxiously long guzzle, and finished it off by saying, "Why don't you ask her yourself?"

"Spirits and phones, what a great combination. How much pressure is needed to use a touch screen again?"

Finnick snatched his phone back. "You spoil my phone again, I'll kill you a second time." He swiped a few times then read, "Judy says I managed to snag a seat on the 10am, is Wilde over there still acting like an oversized chicken?"

"That's not what she said."

"No, I had to edit out all the emotions before it made me barf." Finnick eyed the contents of his mug as if that would magically turn it into something stronger. "She's killing me Wilde. You're killing me. Just fucking talk to her and stop passing messages through me."

"Kids nowadays, so ungrateful that they can't help send a simple message - "

"I'm not related to any chickens. You're already going have to face her in what, half an hour? Get over it."

Nick had hid out in Finnick's van because it was far away enough from Judy's place and Finn had Judy's number. He was starting to regret it. "If it's just half an hour there's no need to hasten the inevitable, is there."

"It's gonna become a bigger explosion than it needs to be and I'll be here safely in my van going I told you so."

"You don't know - "

"You went dark," Finnick snapped. "That's the most likely thing that'll make you stump around with your tail between your legs like your goldfish just died. So?"

There was a danger in hanging around those who knew you well. Nick sucked in a breath to replace whatever had been knocked out of him. "I could hurt her," he admitted. That was the only part of the truth that was safe to touch for now.

Finnick cast his eyes heavenwards like Nick had said the sky was green. "If you really wanted to hurt others you wouldn't have left the Bigs. Also seriously? You think she carries around a honking big sword for fun? She's an exorcist. She could probably gut you as soon as you said boo."

"She wouldn't."

"But she could. Just like you could go dark. Newsflash: the two of you are fucking hazards to each other and it's nothing new."

"I'm disowning you," Nick declared. "You're getting nothing in my will."

"Like you have anything to leave me, Grandpa. Go take your train. Or don't. Take the damned ley all the way out to Bunnyburrow for all I care." He made a shooing gesture with a paw.

"No one has any sympathy for a poor soul," Nick grumped, and ghosted out of the van.

Finnick didn't get his prophesied explosions. Instead, Nick found Judy in an apologising mood. After arriving at the train station, she handed him an extra hot extra sweet coffee in an unmarked take away cup. Café Reggio Mammalia considered takeaway coffee a sacrilege to the art of coffee drinking, which was best done in the cafe itself when it was freshly pressed. But they were willing to make an exception for the exorcist and her fox guardian who spoke so warmly about the cafe in the old days.

That was all to Nick's benefit, because he got to warm himself up with a nice cup of Reggio joe. Just breathing in the aroma was almost as good as tasting the aura of the coffee itself.

It still almost wasn't enough to fortify him for a full train ride to Bunnyburrow with Judy, especially when he still had no idea what to do with the truth of her past life. Bogo knew, but wasn't telling. Nick knew, but hadn't decided whether he would be telling. Judy's family hadn't shared on the knowing and telling. Nick was kind of counting on them to give a poor fox spirit some guidance.

But that was still at the end of a train ride where the train was late and if Nick gripped his coffee any tighter he was going to pass right through it and lose all that deliciousness.

Judy had sat down with her suitcase by Nick's side after she'd distracted him by handing him the cup of coffee. "Are you feeling better?" she asked, concerned and quiet and without the relentless cheer. Nick would have preferred the relentless cheer. Relentless cheer was Judy's default mode.

Nick attempted his default mode of sarcasm. "I've got a cup of joe brought by a pretty doe, what could possibly bring me down?"

Oh no, she had placed her hand on his arm. That was reserved for quiet moments in cable cars and Nick admitting things that he had never shared with any mammal before. "It's ok," Judy was saying. "You can tell me."

Luckily for Nick, he was a fox spirit whose charm let him get away with whatever he wanted to. "Is that the train? We don't want to miss our ride Whiskers."

There were some days it paid to be a fox spirit with all the luck that came with it. Judy dropped her hand and the subject.

Nick and Judy had been back to Bunnyburrow enough times that they had almost had a routine for it. Nick handed her his coffee and whatever he had to be substantial to hold over to Judy, and floated through the train wall. There were a larger proportion of non-spiritually aware mammals arriving from outside of Zootopia, and getting walked through wasn't fun for a spirit. Judy, more visible as a living mammal, could navigate the crowds with relative ease and maybe a bit of elbow.

Between the two of them they snagged a four seater around a table, the other two remaining empty as it was on the non-scenic side of the train that curved away from the receding views of Zootopia. Then Nick was left with no more excuses and a faintly smirking rabbit. Dammit.

He made an attempt to deflect anyway. "It's not funny to laugh at someone as they're drinking coffee."

Usually Judy would launch into the mechanisms of drinking for spirits, and Nick would offer all sorts of ludicrous reasons why she was wrong. Today Judy simply said, "I'm happy you're enjoying it."

"Do you know Reggio's had 80 years to hone their coffee to perfection? All I'm doing is appreciating their art."

"Is it really that hard to talk to me?"

"Aren't we talking about coffee? Yes, yes we are."

That wasn't the answer Judy had been looking for. Her ears came all the way down as she stared down at her hands and said, "I'm sorry."

If Nick still had a beating heart it probably would have stuttered right then.

"Sometimes I do things that I think are right but they aren't." She huffed and shook her head. "And that's what happened here again. I know how you dislike talking about the past, and I still pushed. I know how much you dislike going dark, and yet I let it happen."

The outside of the train went dark as the train went into a tunnel, the electric lights inside the train casting a reflection of a rabbit and a fox against the window.

"So if you decide you just want to talk about meaningless things or if you decide never to talk to me again t-that will be fine, but before you shut me out, before things settle this way I want to apologise. I'm sorry."

How Judy Hopps, who wasn't afraid to apologise, who wanted to do the right thing, get so tangled up in the mess that was Nick Wilde? Nick didn't know. For all his charm at the small stuff and meaningless things like arrays, when Nick tried to do the right thing with the truth, he just mucked it all up again. He hadn't meant to hold his silence for so long that it hurt her.

"Carrots - Judy, it's not all on you. It's not about going dark - ok it is a little of that - what happened that night has been a mess 50 years in the making, Hopps. And it's only coming to light now."

"You're not a mess because you can go dark Nick."

"Aren't I? 50 years past the time I ought to have moved on, and I still haven't figured out a thing." Like how to balance being a good guardian against his base nature, like how to tell Judy that she was the cause of his darkness when she was already so upset each time he turned dark. Judy took Nick's paw.

"Nick, no one has all the answers. That's why we reincarnate. To figure out as we go along."

Nick couldn't help the wry smile. "I guess that's why you're so wise huh?"

He got a quirked smile in reply. "Mom did say once I had an old soul."

The train burst back into sunlight again.

"No wonder you get along so well with senior citizens, they recognise their own kind." He never thought he'd be relieved to be punched in the arm, even though Judy released his paw to do just that. "So apart from being old - do you know if you're reincarnated?" Maybe this was the easy answer Nick had been looking for and he had twisted himself up for no reason.

"Mom didn't like it when my siblings and I channelled our past lives. She would scare us with her story about our Aunt Alice who was almost stuck with her self from the 1860s. Besides, my past selves have been pretty quiet."

Nick should have known that would have been too easy. "At least you know your past lives exist."

"I'm pretty happy with the life I have now. "

And Nick had a truth that would disrupt it.

The emotion behind his thought must have shown on his face because Judy started speaking in a rush. "I - I didn't mean to remind you that you aren't alive! And I just did it again. Why do I always say the wrong thing - argh!" She let herself flop down onto the table.

" - Is your foot that tasty that you have to keep putting it in your mouth?"

She sat up so that she could scowl at him. "How about I shove my foot down your mouth and you tell me?"

"Do rabbit feet go with coffee? No they do not." He pulled delicately at the aura of the coffee and pretended that was the source of the warmth he felt rather than the smile Judy was giving him.

"How did you spring for Bogo to give us this vacation?" she wondered, propping her chin up with her paws and her elbows on the table. "ZED's short with how much resources we're pouring into the operations regarding the Original 10."

"Chief Brows offered out of the sheer kindness of his heart."

"Did you forget I work with the Chief too?" She was outright smirking now. "The Chief wouldn't show his kindness through something as easy as leave. C'mon Guardian Wilde, you can tell me."

That part of the truth was still safe - he hadn't corrected Chief Bogo's wrong understanding of the karmic link between the two Judys after all. "I told the Chief we had some questions for your folks. Didn't you ask about Julie Hips but haven't heard from them?"

"She's not Julie Hips," Judy groused.

"I can't keep calling the two of you Judy, so unless you have a better suggestion the nickname sticks." When Judy didn't fill the pause with suggestions, Nick continued. "So we ask your folks about Officer Hips, and also make sure Lynxington hasn't been up to anything."

"I guess my parents want to tell me whatever they know about my relative in person," Judy sighed, dropping her paws back in her lap. "I'm not sure they can help much with Lynxington though. We don't get many dark spirits out here."

"You never know. He could be in Bunnyburrow just to escape detection by the ZED." A more insidious image Nick tried not to think about was Judy backed up against the edge of her own circle by Lynxington. It could happen to any of the other Hopps too, and unlike Judy they were largely mediums and healers. He hated to imagine them fending off a spirit like Lynxington with only defensive techniques.

"I'll like to see him get past Great Uncle Albert," said Judy with a relish that should not be typical of a rabbit. "I'm sure Adam would have told me if Lynxington popped up in Bunnyburrow."

"Adam? Your eldest brother?" Judy was the first to make it to Zootopia city proper, but she had family scattered all over the Triburrows and the suburbs. "How would he know what was going on in Bunnyburrow?"

"My parents might not be answering my messages but they are in touch with a number of my brothers and sisters. Adam says they're still calling him to catch up."

... Nick should have known. This was Judy Hopps after all. She already tried her best to help mammals she barely knew. If her family was in trouble, she would have swooped in like a superhero to their rescue already.

"I think it's sweet of you."

"You've got to be more specific than that Whiskers." There was a minuscule hope that Judy hadn't noticed how silly Nick was being.

"You were worried about my parents on my behalf. You thought they weren't responding because Lynxington got to them."

Nick really needed to stop hanging out with mammals who could see right through him. Between Finnick and Judy it seemed Nick never got a break unless he took special effort to make them for himself. Like now. "I only made it sound that way to get Chief Bolero's sympathy. It's called a hustle sweetheart. "

"I ought to be saying that to you, dumb fox. You're the one who thought we had to go all the way out to Bunnyburrow."

"Nuh uh, that ought to be smart fox. I got us a vacation after all."

"Sure thing, Nick."

"Besides, if you knew your family was fine, why did you agree to go back?"

Judy fidgeted under the table with something that she had pulled from her pocket. "Ever since we saw my namesake in Lynxington's file, I just keep finding things that relate to her. And - I thought I'll try to settle this once and for all, rather than keep reminding you of her. Maybe if I just know more about her, I could put this away." She laid the police badge on the table between herself and Nick.

"... ZPD didn't let you have this, did they?"

"Chief Bogo yelled at me about unnecessary borrowing from the ZPD for about an hour. But - I've learned to trust my feelings on spiritual matters Nick. And they're telling me that this is important."

The mention of Chief Bogo had Nick recalling what the Chief had said about karma and being unable to avoid it. The badge shone in the morning sunlight like a bad penny that kept coming back. Perhaps Judy's karma with Lynxington - even Nick - was the same.

But if it was karma, did Nick have the choice of sparing her?

"Judy." Her head snapped up to look at him instead of the badge at the sound of her name. "How do you feel about vengeance?"

Judy let her next breath out slow. "As an exorcist, I would say that you ought to be punished for your intent. As a medium, I would try to talk you out of it. As your friend - I trust you Nick. You'll do the right thing."

For Judy's sake, he would. He just needed direction on what the right thing could be, when vengeance was an instinctual thing for a dark spirit. Meeting the Hopps had never been so important before.


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