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Sunday, May 15th, 2016 08:58 am
Nick goes visiting

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. Implied off-screen character death
Disclaimer: Not mine as I'm not smart enough to think of the collars storyline.

Now Savanna Central was where Nick was at, and he was determined to spend the day there after the terrible night before.

There were lots of things to like about Savanna Central. There was no running water, seeing that care had been taken to reproduce a grassland environment. The throngs of people didn't include exorcists, especially today. Yes the sun was bright and glaring to a spirit like Nick, but since that was the complete opposite of Cliffside Nick was fine and dandy and couldn't be any better with that, particularly since there was a blessed lack of dark spirit causing mayhem. At Savanna Central, Nick was surrounded by the comfortable and the familiar, including this mammal.

"Finn my man!"

Finnick looked up from the pawpsicle he was handing over and pocketed the cash so fast it made it seem like he was the one with the skill of making things disappear. Nick was professionally impressed. "I'm not your anything," Finnick snapped, already serving the next lemming in the queue. "What brings you here?"

"I'm hurt. Mortally wounded. Just a few days and you've already forgotten your granddad?"

"I've already got my jumbo pop so I don't need a grand anything. Why're you here when you look like a gust of wind could blow you away?"

There were a few people that Nick couldn't trick, and Finnick just so happened to be one of them. Nick gave up the friendly banter and clicked his fingers to call up a glamour.

"Out of juice huh?" Finnick's usual gravelly voice instead of the sweet dulcet tones Nick was aiming for was proof. "What about your rabbit?"

"She's out too." Judy had wanted to press on and find the renegade spirits, but she'd fallen asleep as soon as she'd sat down. Apparently her body was smarter than the rest of her. Nick had left her dozing in her bed with the radio on.

Finnick jerked a thumb at the shade under a nearby tree. "Go sit over there and quit holding up the line then you jerk."

"Ah my grand kit is so nice to me, I'm so overwhelmed I could hug him - "

"Don't make me regret being nice to you Wilde!"

Chucking, Nick headed over to the spot Finn had pointed out and made himself comfortable. His walk about town had helped clear his head, and that he'd proved to himself the spirits from Cliffside were lying low was just icing on the cake. Blueberry flavoured icing. Now Nick could assure Judy with more confidence, let his guard down, and think of nothing more than a good time to flinch a pawpsicle when Finn wasn't looking -

"One pawpsicle for the Mister please!"

They didn't usually get kids at lunch hour in the business district, which was why Nick cracked open an eye to see who it was. He didn't expect to see the lynx spirit hovering by the leopard cub's shoulder.

"It's my death anniversary," the lynx deadpanned.

"The hell it is." Nick and Finn were the true inventors of that particular hustle, and there was no way Nick was going to be fooled by this feeble imitation that was breaking all sorts of copyrights. It was only when the lynx spirit fixed golden eyes on him that Nick realised it might not have been the greatest idea to engage a spirit that still had its aura when his own was at an all-time low. Well, talking it out was always a skill Nick had, aura or not. "What are you doing here? Looking to see how much Savanna Central changed when you were away? I thought Tundratown would be your gig instead." Now that Nick had gotten close enough, he steered the leopard cub towards Finn. Finn would take care of him and Nick would take care of the lynx.

"It might not be my death anniversary, but it is a moment of celebration. That is why I am here. Celebrating."

The lynx spirit did look a lot better now - less indistinct black silhouette with eyes and ears randomly stuck on, more lynx shaped with shoulders squared and posture ramrod straight. Pity his suit was baggy. "In that penguin suit?"

"Strange that you mock me for my suit when you're wearing one yourself."

"What can I say, I make this look good Pointy Ears. Why don't we go somewhere else so I can give you some pointers."

"You're distracting me. And you seem afraid. Why?"

Nick's aura must be really out of juice if his charm wasn't even managing a simple deflection. Time for the kid gloves to come off then. "City Hall is just that way and you had a really swell time when you came by 50 years ago. Riots and murder and breaking reincarnation cycles isn't my thing though."

"How do you know? Were you there with your back up against the wall? Or did you just accept your collar like a good Pred?"

Nick tugged his suit straighter. "You think you know me Mister Ear Tufts?" I only just saw your break out of a sealed box yesterday, I don't recall we had time to talk."

"But you can only be what you already are. You're a fox spirit that has been wronged, and your dual tails prove you've been around as long as I have. Why else are you still here?"

"Because you broke the reincarnation cycle buddy. Or did you think the exorcists locked you in a box for fun? Look I don't have to take this from someone that enjoys yanking the souls out of mammals."

"That wasn't what happened. Ask your rabbit."

"What?" There had to be some complicated ploy behind the lynx's words, because Nick didn't see how Judy featured in their conversation at all.

"Ask your rabbit."

If the lynx spirit had wanted to get a rise out of Nick, he'd gotten it. Nick knew his teeth had gone sharp and thin as he demanded, "What does Judy have to do with whatever happened 50 years ago? You keep away from her, or I'll - "

Someone tossed a sign through Nick's head.

Nick had gone all ghostly and could walk through things, but he preferred to do that by his own choice, not by having things chucked at him. So he winced when a pawpsicle stick was tossed through his head next. Finn stood at the ready to throw more.

"You really need to work on your aim, that was off by a lot of inches if you were aiming for the lynx."

"Wake up Wilde!"

Nick blinked awake. He wasn't in front of Finnick's stall, Finnick wasn't protecting a leopard cub, and most importantly there was no lynx spirit in sight.

The signboard through the head had been real though. Nick threw his arm over his face.

"Thought you didn't like going toothy." From the sound of his voice, Finn was probably staying all the way over at his stall. Nick didn't like the idea of spooking Finnick like that. Nick had practically watched Finn grow up, and though Finnick wanted to be his own fox now Nick would still think of him as that little fox cub whose dreams and personality were always bigger than he was.

Nick tried not to just disappear in mortification into the shadows under the tree. "I was just dreaming."

"Must have been some dream to make your aura go dark like that."

A perfect pun to lighten the mood came to Nick, and he had to peek out to deliver it, "I was dreaming of chasing rabbits."

Finnick gave his predictable snort. He hadn't really bought into the guardian spirit-living ward arrangement ZED tried to push, and didn't understand why Nick stopped agreeing with him when he'd met Judy. "Then I don't need you mooning here and scaring the customers. Go look for your rabbit."

That was probably a good idea. If Nick was going dark in his sleep, Judy was better equipped to handle it. But.

"Oh no, I forgot my wallet. I guess I'll have to take the Spirit Express. But wait! I don't have enough aura too. Please lend me some of yours?"


Finnick, ever the hard hearted mammal. Nick didn't desist, coming over just to drape himself over Finnick's shoulders. "Pretty please? It'll be like lending me change for the bus."

"Lending aura is nothing like change for the bus! I'm not letting you feed on me."

Nick slid off and let himself slump all the way onto the ground. "Then I'll just have to lay here and die. Again."

Nick's skills let him catch without looking whatever Finnick had tossed his way. He sat up to see what Finn had thrown and found it was one of Flash's charms.

"It's a fucking useless lucky charm, I nearly got thrown out on my ear when buying the jumbo pop. You can take your own aura from there."

Nick's own aura was a good jump start. He busied himself with the charm as Finnick sold a few more pawpsicles.

"Finn?" The fennec fox did not turn but his ears tilted in Nick's direction, meaning he was listening. "If you see any spirit going toothy as I was, just get out of there OK?"

Finnick added cash to his cash box, and even locked it before he said, "I've heard of Daddy kink but your Granddaddy kink is just sick. I think you need to see a shrink before you get your concern all over everything."

"Have you been eating too many pawpsicles? You really suck right now."

"Just reincarnate already Wilde, I'm sick of seeing your ugly mug."

"It is not ugly and I'm taking it somewhere where it will be more appreciated." Nick waved over his shoulder and headed towards the ley.

Living mammals passed through the ley and just experienced a boost in their senses. To them, it was just coincidence that the ley lines overlapped with roads. Spirits could use leys to their fullest extent. Without the added mass of a body, spirits could let the ley lines deliver them to wherever they wanted to be.

Nick hopped on the ley and was at 5th in a rush of light. He hopped off before the ley could take him further. From there it was a pleasant meander to Judy's apartment block. It was called Grand Pangolin Apartments, which was a case of mis-advertising since the only thing Nick could begrudgingly acknowledge as Grand was the "Grand" in the name of the apartment. There wasn't even a lift, just rickety stairs Nick entirely skipped in favour of floating. He was a ghost, he could take advantage of floating.

A few residents stared at him as he passed. They needn't have worried. Even though he wasn't with his ward right now, Judy had only invited Nick past two thresholds - the one belonging to the apartment block and her own apartment. He couldn't go anywhere without the backlash of breaking a threshold. And he wasn't interested in any apartment but the one he went into now without even bothering with the door.

Judy's apartment was a one glance apartment - at once glance Nick could see everything in the apartment, including Judy bent over the radio.

"You were supposed to stay in bed." The radio had been on the desk against the opposite wall from the bed.

Judy's ears were still flopped down when she looked up at Nick. "Am I in bed now? Yes, yes I am."

"And I'm supposed to believe the radio flew over by itself." At least she'd laid her sword aside; it hung by its strap from one of her bed posts, at rest when its owner wasn't. Nick passed it as he made his way towards Judy.

"It's been 50 years, we've had time to make flying radios."

"Funny. I always thought we'd aim for flying pigs first."

"Pigs already fly. They take planes just like any other mammal."

"Why thank you Miss Literal, I had no idea." Nick opted against the only chair pushed in against the desk, and sat down on the bed now he was sure he wasn't going to sink through it. Leaning against the wall gave him a good view of Judy's family portrait stretched above the desk. "So what's on the radio?"

Judy leaned against the section of wall just next to Nick's and stretched her legs out. Their shoulders brushed as Judy settled into the new position. "None of the exorcists on duty have seen anything."

"The streets are quiet too." At least his jaunt about town had been good for something.

"I don't get it. Shouldn't someone have seen them?"

"There might be good reasons for that." Not knowing if he'd actually seen the lynx spirit or had just been dreaming was one. If other mammals, whether dead or living, had Nick's experience, they wouldn't be too keen on reporting. Nick himself wasn't going to share what he'd seen until he had more time to think about it. "Like they say, no news is good news, especially when that means there's no murder and mayhem.

"If only we could really be sure if they weren't up to anything."

"Then you should head back to bed Carrots. You won't be able to scry tomorrow if you don't recover."

"I would, but I just keep waking up." Judy rubbed at her eyes and Nick almost asked if she'd seen the lynx. But the same instinct that let him keep arrays running told him it wasn't time yet. "I was thinking of dropping by HQ. You can stay here if you're tired."

"And leave you all alone?" Nick clutched at his heart with all the fake theatrics he could muster. "How could I be a good guardian if I did that?"

Judy chuckled as she punched him in the arm. At least her ears were lifting. "It's only HQ!"

"What's the plan?"

"Let's find the records of the Original 10. Maybe we'll find some hints about where our missing spirits have gone, especially if like most spirits they are drawn to things significant to them."

It sounded restful enough, and it felt right to stick by Judy for now. "You'll need a bit of luck then."

He tossed her the lucky charm and at least she was recovered enough to catch it without looking. Her ears were properly up now, a good gauge her mood had lifted too. "I figured the ingredients were good for something."

"It's not fox charmed, but sloth charmed has its uses." She pocketed the charm.

"That was not what you said the last time you needed Flash's help to trace Mr Otterton."

"Oh shush."

"Oh. Em. Goodness. Judy Hopps what are you doing back here? Even the Chief is out."

"Hi Clawhauser. Any news?"

The cheetah wagged a finger at her. "You should know that answer as well as I as I do, I know you have a radio and you've been hearing me natter on it all morning."

"She has," Nick agreed. "She tuned in to your beautiful voice all morning, and now we're here in person to hear more."

"Nick! You're looking solid."

"You can be Mr Literal to go with Miss Literal here. What does a mammal have to do to get some metaphors around here?"

"You've been hoarding them all Nick, the rest of us just have to make do."

"Alright then, I'll keep the metaphors coming and you work on the news."

"Talking about news," said Judy. "Are you sure there isn't any?"

"Hey buddy," Clawhauser leaned in to ask the mouse spirit on his counter. "You know anything that happened in the last half hour that I don't?"

"Nope!" The mouse squeaked before disappearing to make its next delivery.

"There you have it Judy, no hide or hair of the three elusive spirits."

Judy gave a sheepish shrug that would give even an actual sheep a run for its money. "It was worth a shot?"

"Now, you can't just be here to ask me for news you could have gotten from the radio." Clawhauser leaned back with his arms folded above his considerable tummy. "If you two are here to run any rituals, as your friend I'm going to have to stop you right now. You're off duty for a reason."

Judy beamed up at Clawhauser. "Actually we were thinking of browsing the Records Room."

"What she said. Simple, easy, probably would be even easier if you let the Librarian know we're coming by." Nick didn't have to try too hard here. Clawhauser was made of much softer stuff than the Chief, and Nick wasn't talking about Clawhauser's chub.

"Oh alright. I'll let the Librarian know to expect you," said Clawhauser right on cue. "Who wants this one?" He asked the messenger mice currently passing by his desk.

One of them waved. "I'm in if you do the boost!"

"There ya go little fellow," Clawhauser chuckled as he tapped the mouse spirit on the nose. The spirit zipped past whooping as he tapped on the cheetah's speed. "If you're in there for too long Judy I'll send one of the messenger mice after you."

"How about sending them down if you hear any news?"

Clawhauser shook one of his many cereal boxes at Judy. "Stop straining the limits of not working! Shoo! Go before I change my mind about even Records!"

Judy fled with a laugh and ears that were staying properly up now. Nick gave Clawhauser a thumbs up on the latter, and left only after Clawhauser returned with an exaggerated salute.

Lulled by Judy flipping pages, Nick was drowsing with his tails tossed over his snout. He was comfortable, he wasn't anywhere near the records and now he knew better than to refer to the Librarian as a monkey, so he didn't know why the Librarian was hanging around - literally by his fingertips from the end of one of the shelves - and glaring at Nick with beady eyes.

Nick had briefly detoured into wondering if the Librarian could hang upside down by his toes when Judy dumped a stack of files next to Nick. "The files of Lyndon Lynxington, the spirit that go away," she declared.

"Are you actually allowed to talk?" Nick whispered back.

"Sir, could we have a discussion here?"

The orangutan handed over a discussion sign. Nick swore a banana also changed hands. Judy placed the sign on the table they were using and settled in with the first folder, laying it flat on the table to read. "It says here Lynxington was born in Zootopia."

Nick burrowed further under his tails until the outside world was nicely blotted out. "Oh joy. From then on it's just going to be the death of Lyndon Lynxington, followed by the names of the mammals he offed, doom gloom enough angst to fill the room."

Right on cue Judy went into lecture mode. "We have to do this. The lynx spirit doesn't have to haunt a place. He'll find himself drawn to anything that has significance to him, even other mammals."

"It's work and I don't have to enjoy it." Nick declared. When Judy didn't continue with her usual lecture on the benefits of work, Nick shifted his tails to peep out. "Hopps?"

Judy was staring at the open folder with shock so clear Nick didn't need her aura to gauge her mood. He reached out and spun the folder to face him.

Judy had been looking at the list of mammals killed by Lynxington after becoming a spirit. Nick sat up, prepared to offer comfort over whoever Judy had known on the list. He shifted to the names and found that printed at the very top of the list was the name "Judy Hopps".

A shiver ran down Nick's spine as he read that name. He could almost hear the lynx spirit say, as if it wasn't just a recollection, "Ask your rabbit."

Nick shoved the folder as far away as possible. "So you're another junior huh? My dad also named me after him. Folks these days have no originality."

Judy wasn't responding to the joke, too intent on staring at the file even though it was on the other end of the table.

"I thought your mother would have better taste than you name you after someone she read in an article. Unless she's also a Judy? Bonnie Judy Hopps? Judy Bonnie Hopps?"

"Nick." She'd called his name before, but even when she went looking for him at his grave under the bridge after those long torturous months after the press conference she had never sounded so much in despair. "She was a Hopps. It can't have been a coincidence. My family has to be involved in this."

"You can't be the only family of Hoppses in the world."

"This close to Zootopia? We may as well be."

"Rabbit. Are you aware how ridiculous you sound right now?"

"Well maybe I'll call my parents and you'll see how ridiculous you sound right now - "

As if summoned by Judy pulling out her phone, the Librarian came over, pointed to the sign that prohibited phone calls, and bared his teeth meaningfully. It didn't matter only an orangutan's incisors were sharp and pointy - Nick and Judy quickly looked away.

Judy wasn't giving up. "I'll message them and you'll see how ridiculous you are right now."

"Well fine. Let's say we follow your logic - " Nick kept talking over Judy's indignant exclamation. "And say your family also had a rabbit police officer, which might be a teeny bit more common than rabbit exorcists. Shouldn't someone in your family have brought this up before? Why are you getting this from a dingy file in Records?"

He expected angry splutters or vehement protests. A very tiny part was holding out for disgruntled acknowledgment, though he knew Judy better than that. Embarrassment to the extent that Judy tried to hide behind ears flopped over her face hadn't even entered the picture. "You know the joke about multiplying like rabbits? So the family size caps in the 60s were more loosely enforced, and rabbit families were a lot, uh, larger and not as close knit as they are now." Then, as if to cover up what she had just said, she tacked on. "But we have really good records and if my parents check I'm sure we'll know for sure if this rabbit cop was a relative!" The forced look of her grin suggested she was trying to convince herself.

Nick had already seen the current size of Judy's family and imagining anything larger was taking up most of Nick's attention, never mind the other implications. Finally he settled with. "I'm not sure why Bunnyburrow isn't overrun with spirits then."

Judy seemed almost relieved he wasn't commenting on anything else. "That's where mediums come in! My mom has been able to guide 100% of the departed to the other side. Only those who really want to would become ancestors."

"Like the Holy Hopps trinity and your favourite Great-Uncle."

"Oh shush." That was a little more like the Judy Nick knew. He decided to give things a little nudge.

"Did your family get back to you?"

"No, not yet." Judy checked her phone just to be sure. When she looked back to the table, she sighed. "Nick."


She held out her hand. "The file please."

"Do I look like I know what goes on in this place? Ask the Librarian."

"Do I want to make the Librarian dislike you even more by having to explain you lost the file? No, No I would not." Judy ran her hands over her eyes. "Look, I have to get to the bottom of this. If the Hopps were there when the karmic cycle was broken, I have to make sure we take appropriate responsibility for it."

"Right. That there is an assumption. You don't know for sure you have to take responsibility for it. You have another two spirits to research, why don't you leave Alliterative Aliases and Same Surname Senior to me until your family gets back on possible distant relatives."

"Are you hiding more than just the file from me?" She snapped her fingers. "Didn't you tell Great Uncle Albert you had a run in with a rabbit before?"

When Nick got back to Bunnyburrow he was going to have Words with that spirit, war veteran or not. "It's been 50 years. I'm a little fuzzy on the details but I think the rabbit that slapped handcuffs on me was a Rosie or Julie Hips, I'm quite sure about the surname because she did have the hips to match - Whiskers what is with that look?"

Judy's eyebrows had crept almost all the way up to her ears. "So it's hips that does it for you? Does that make you a hip male?"

"Why Exorcist Fluff, would you rather I admitted to the handcuffs instead?"

"I'm not sure you should be sharing such details with a young impressionable mind like mine."

"Why are you that interested in my preference Carrots? I feel I should be concerned about my virtue here." He gave a mock shudder. "Oh no. It's true. Rabbits do only think about multiplying."

"Your asides did not make the name sound like what a decent rabbit family would give their kids. I think your age is showing in the form of Alzheimer's grandpa." Judy picked up the next file. "You can have the file and see if it jogs your memory."

Judy did not add for now, but Nick heard it anyway. They were good with both the spoken and unspoken things.