Chapter 1 – Cypress Grove Lane

A ladder dropped into the pit, the massive hoof of Officer McHorn coming into view. Nick kept his arm around Judy, helping her hobble over to the ladder. He could still feel bits of stuffing between his teeth, and he was sorely tempted to use his claws as toothpicks: Judy needed him, though. The stuffing could wait. Lifting her, she grasped onto McHorn’s hoof, and the rhino pulled her out of the pit. Climbing the ladder behind her, Nick returned to Judy’s side as she was placed down, his arm wrapping around her, supporting her small body. “You alright, Fluff?” Nick frowned, taking in her deep breaths and shaking frame. The sounds around him were drowned out as he focused on the rabbit at his side.

Judy offered him a small smile, though her ears drooped. “I’m all right, Nick. You don’t have to worry.”

“Carrots…” Nick warned, not believing her for a second. She’d been thrown around violently while on the train, stabbed herself on a tusk, and then he’d stalked her and clamped his jaws around her throat – gently, as they’d been acting, but still.

Huffing out a breath, Judy offered him a wry smile, her eyes meeting his. “I’m tired that’s all, honestly.”

Before Nick could respond, they were interrupted. “Hopps!” Bogo appeared through the crowd of Officers, approaching the pair. Rather than towering over them as he’d done in the rainforest, he crouched down with a small frown on his features. “Dare I count how many laws you’ve broken today?”

Nick bristled. Who cared if they’d broken any laws, they’d captured Bellwether and stopped the darting of innocent predators with the night howler serum!

“Can’t make an omelet without cracking some eggs, Chief,” Judy winced, reaching for her pocket. From it, she produced her carrot pen. “Bellwether confessed everything; we got it on tape.” She offered the item out to Bogo and Nick had a moment of panic. Was his tax evasion confession still on it?

Bogo’s features softened as he took the offered pen. “Good work, Officer Hopps,” Judy’s ears perked up, her eyes widening. “What? Did you think I took your resignation seriously, Miss I-want-to-be-a-real-cop?”

Judy laughed, her small body vibrating next to Nick. He adjusted his hold, keeping most of her weight on him. “Thanks, Chief,” she offered before her paw that wasn’t wrapped around Nick went for Nick’s breast pocket.

“Woah there, Carrots…you haven’t even taken me out for dinner yet,” he jested, laughing as she thumped his ribs. Nick wheezed, having momentarily forgotten how strong she was. From his pocket, she produced the night howler serum.

“Nick swapped out the serum in the gun for some blueberries. Think you can make an antidote?” She asked the Chief, offering him the pellet. Carefully taking it from her, Bogo rolled it in his palm.

“Quick thinking, Mr. Wilde. I’m sure we can make an antidote from it.” Warmth swept through Nick at the compliment, but he brushed it off as merely a side effect of the long and stressful day. He was tired, that was all. Bogo returned to his full height, staring down at the two. “Take the rest of the week off, Hopps. I don’t want to see you in the Bullpen until Monday.”

Judy froze, opening her mouth to protest. “If you protest, I’ll give you parking duty for a month,” Bogo beat her to it, grinning as he turned to walk back into the crowd of Officers. Nick and Judy watched him go, but he paused not too far from them. Looking over his shoulder at the pair, Bogo called out, “I was skeptical about having a rabbit on the force, but you’ve proven yourself, Hopps. Now, if only there were an equally small and irritating mammal for you to partner with…” he shrugged, though the upturn of his lips gave away his true feelings. Facing to the front again, Bogo disappeared into the crowd.

“Think that was a hint?” Judy gave Nick’s side a gentle shove. She smiled at the fox by her side, and Nick forced himself to smile back. True, he’d been contemplating joining the force before the press conference, and the last day or two following new leads had been exhilarating, but he was sure that Judy wouldn’t want him around her all the time. She was her own bunny, after all. He’d only make things more complicated.

“We need to see an EMT,” Nick changed the subject, hoisting Judy ever closer as he led them through the crowd towards the EMT’s out at the front of the museum. Emerging into the bright sunshine, Nick lifted his free paw to shade his face. Sometimes he hated being a nocturnal mammal. The area had been cordoned off, other members of ZPD holding back the growing crowds. Moving quickly to avoid any cameras, Nick helped Judy up into the ambulance before he scrabbled up behind her. The deer EMT spared no time in placing Judy on the bed and tending to her wound. The EMT removed Nick’s makeshift tourniquet, and Judy was quick to snatch the fabric from the deer, holding it to her chest. Quirking an eyebrow Nick watched Judy’s actions, but the rabbit’s focus was on her leg and the deer fussing over her. “Doe’s and their motherly instincts.” Nick thought, shaking his head. Lifting a paw, he used his claws to remove the stuffing from between his teeth, wiping the offending material onto his trousers.

Another deer approached, this time focusing on Nick and the splatter on his neck. “I’m fine, I promise. It’s blueberry,” he assured her, refusing to look away from Judy as she tucked his handkerchief into her pocket.

Lost in her own world, wondering whether Nick would reconsider his application for the force, and working on autopilot, the sound of Nick’s voice broke Judy from her thoughts. Offering him a smile, she grimaced as the EMT started to stitch her wound shut. Moving closer, Nick offered up a paw. Without hesitation Judy grabbed it, squeezing as the EMT put another stitch in place. “I hate stitches,” she grumbled, prompting Nick to chuckle. “Don’t laugh, ass.”

Bringing his free hand to his muzzle in mock surprise, Nick gasped. “Officer Hopps, how could you think I would laugh at you when you are in such obvious, excruciating pain? And to mock a donkey…!” He tutted as his paw dropped back to his side.

Judy snorted as a smile crossed her muzzle, giving Nick’s paw another squeeze as the final stitch was put in. “You’re all done, Officer. Try not to exert yourself too much, or you could pop the stitches. Lots of rest, keep weight off it, and try to keep your leg elevated,” the EMT explained as she removed her gloves, tossing them into the trash.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure she doesn’t get into any more trouble,” Nick promised, grinning as Judy dug her blunt claws into his paw, scowling at him.

“Mhm, I’ll believe that when I see it. Now scram, the pair of you,” the EMT dismissed them. Helping Judy down, Nick took most of her weight again.

“I can stand Nick, I’m all right,” Judy protested, trying to pry herself from his grip.

“Yeah, and I’m Mr. Big. Don’t lie, Carrots. I’m helping you, and that’s final. Let’s get you home,” Nick snorted, helping her move to the doors of the ambulance. Judy grumbled under her breath, something about ‘high-handed foxes.’

“Oh, cheese and crackers!” Judy gasped. “I gave up my apartment when I returned to Bunnyburrow.”

Stopping their movements, Nick looked down at the rabbit tucked against his side, the sunlight from outside breaching the open back doors of the ambulance. “You’re kidding me, right?”

Looking up at him in exasperation, Judy sighed. “No, Nick. I wasn’t going to pay rent when I hadn’t planned on coming back. Shoot.” Judy glanced outside, gnawing on her lips. “Mind if I crash on your couch or floor or something for the night, please? I’ll go and see if my apartment is still available in the morning.” Judy looked back up at Nick, seeing him freeze, emerald eyes wide. It was a quick action, his features softening a second later, but the tension in his body was undeniable, especially as Judy stood so close.

“My place is too far away. We’ll get you a hotel or something,” Nick decided, swallowing hard.

Judy frowned, perturbed by Nick’s demeanor. “Nick, you live on Cypress Grove Lane. It’s around the corner.” His address had been on his Income Tax form.

Nick’s eyes widened as he was caught out. “My place is flooded, a water pipe burst…” He tried, scrabbling for an excuse. Judy raised an eyebrow, not believing the hustler for a second. “There’s a louse infestation?” he tried another angle. Judy’s eyebrow fell, her free hand coming to rest on her hip. “My neighbors are loud?” Nick winced; the excuse sounded even lamer now he’d said it out loud.

Judy sighed, realizing she wasn’t going to get Nick to change his mind. A small part of her felt hurt that he wouldn’t let her stay over for the night, but she could understand his apprehension. They’d only just reconciled, and she’d been such a dumb bunny when they’d last parted ways. A mammal’s home was their castle, and Judy had no right to invade Nick’s space. “Don’t worry about it, Slick. I’m sure there’s a hotel nearby.” She threw him a lifeline, feeling his body relax. Hiding her disappointment, Judy went to step out of the ambulance. Her hind paws had other ideas. Judy stumbled, the ground rushing towards her. Screeching, she closed her eyes and threw her paws in front of her, bracing for the impact that never came. Instead, a paw wrapped around her middle, catching her before she hit the ground.

“You’re a pain in the tail, Carrots. Come on.” Nick’s voice caressed her ears as he hauled her upright, holding her close as they left the ambulance and emerged back into the chaos. Judy wrapped a paw around him, staying close.

Nick sighed, knowing he had no choice but to take her to Cypress Grove Lane. He couldn’t leave her in a hotel for the night – she was injured, unable to walk properly, and more than likely had no cash on her.

Approaching the edge of the police cordon, Officer Delgato glanced down to them, the lion towering over them. “Need me to clear a path, Hopps?” He rumbled, offering her a small smile.

Judy looked up, raising her free paw to shield her eyes from the sun. “Please. Thank you, Delgato.”

Nodding, the lion stepped forward, barking orders for the crowd to move back. Officer Higgins helped push back the crowd on the other side, the hippo’s immense size was a huge help. Leading her out of the cordon, Nick lifted his free paw to turn Judy’s head towards his neck, shielding her face in his fur. The news teams were already at the scene, and though it would be obvious whom the small bunny leaving the scene was, Judy didn’t need the cameras flashing in her face. “Thanks, Nick,” she breathed against his neck, wrapping her free arm around him, sticking close.

“Don’t mention it Carrots.” Nick continued moving, trying to keep a quick pace, but at the same time aware of Judy’s injured leg. They emerged from the throng of onlookers and Nick turned them into an alley, giving Judy a moment to catch her breath. Letting her lean against the wall, Nick remained close, paws ready to catch her should she fall.

“I’m good. I think there’s a hotel down the street.” Judy closed her eyes for a moment to compose herself. The events of the day were yet to catch up with her mentally, but her body was ready to give up. That and being held so close to Nick. The fox’s scent was likely ingrained with her own by now, and it would take many showers to get rid of it. “You don’t want to get rid of his scent, no siree,” her brain pointed out. However, now was not an appropriate time to be having inappropriate thoughts about the dumb fox standing before her and his dumb, musky, comforting, warm scent.

Shaking her head, Judy opened her eyes: Violet met emerald. “You’re not staying in a hotel, Carrots. You can barely walk. We’ll stay at my place.” Nick offered out his paws, and Judy took them, hauling herself off the wall.

“It’s okay, Nick. You don’t have to.” She soothed, knowing how he’d been so against the idea initially.

“Humour me,” he wrapped an arm around her waist, paw tightening as he pulled her closer, taking her weight once again. “You can barely walk. I’d be an awful friend if I left you in some crappy hotel room with poor food and questionable bedding.”

Judy conceded, letting Nick lead her out of the alleyway and down the street. They walked in companionable silence, but they were each lost in their thoughts.

Nick, for all his bravado, was nervous about taking Judy to Cypress Grove Lane. The web of lies he’d spent years crafting would start to unwind, and she’d no doubt ask a ridiculous amount of questions, pushing until she got an answer. Nick found her determination admirable. He hadn’t been lying when he’d told her that he lived by his ‘never let them see that they get to you’ motto. This bunny, though, with her large violet eyes and larger ears had not only out-hustled him – and didn’t that hurt his pride – but she’d also started to kick down those walls he’d built around himself. Walls that were in place to keep his emotions in check, to stop the world’s shit from bogging him down, to stop people seeing that they got to him. This rabbit, though, this bunny who’d rushed back to Bunnyburrow with her cute fuzzy-wuzzy tail between her legs, had come back to Zootopia for him, to apologize, to fix her mistakes and close the night howler case. “She came back for me.”

Judy felt awful. Nick had clearly not wanted her to stay at his home, and now he felt obliged to let her crash on his couch. It had been silly, to bring up how close they were to his home. Judy should’ve let it go, taken Bogo’s words from all those months ago to heart, but she’d never been able to do that. When she wanted something, she went for it, plowing over anyone and anything that got in her way. Staying at Nick’s though, she’d finally get to see a little more of the inner workings of the private fox. He’d probably have a basement apartment given his aversion to the sunshine, along with a ridiculous supply of coffee and a wardrobe full of Pawaiian shirts. Judy tried to suppress her smile. His shirts were awful, but she loved them. Pain flared in her leg, and Judy tightened her hold on Nick. She hated feeling helpless, unable even to walk 100 yards without help. At least it was Nick helping her: He’d seen her cry, recorded her sobbing… “Chief Bogo has my pen! Cheese and crackers!”

Nick stopped in front of a quaint six-storey house, painted a cheerful yellow. He helped Judy climb the few small steps out front, giving the front door a gentle shove. It opened with ease, and together they ventured inside. Inside was a corridor with two doors off of it, and a staircase sat to the right. “Sorry Carrots, we’re heading to the third floor.” Nick apologized, noting how much Judy had been leaning against him and grabbing his shirt.

Judy grimaced but persevered, using the railings of the stairs to support her as Nick climbed alongside her, keeping a firm hold on her, his free paw ready to dive in and grab Judy should her balance falter. They stopped on the second floor as Judy huffed, panting heavily. “I can carry you?” Nick offered softly, unsure if she would accept such help. Nick in no way thought of her as incapable, she’d proven countless times how capable she was, but she was in pain.

“Thanks, Slick, but we’re nearly there. One more flight of stairs isn’t going to kill me.” Judy let him down gently, but her cheeks warmed at his kind offer.

It took them a few minutes to reach the third floor, and Nick led them to a cherry red door, the number ‘1955’ painted on it. A little welcome mat sat beneath their hind paws, a simple ‘Welcome’ with a set of paws printed on it. Adjusting his hold on Judy, Nick lifted his free hand, rapping his knuckles against the wood several times.

Judy frowned, tipping her head to look up at her fox. “Why’re you knocking on your own front door? Did you forget your key? Some beautiful vixen going to open it and ask why you’ve got an injured bunny with you?” Judy teased, hiding her curiosity with humor.

Nick sighed, his shoulders slumping at his gaze dropped to the rabbit tucked against him. “Something like that.” He muttered, giving Judy’s side a gentle squeeze.

Judy heard movement on the other side of the door and her ears drooped. Of course, Nick had a lovely vixen waiting for him at home. Turning her attention back to the door, Judy’s nose twitched, her already naturally fast heartbeat felt like it was pounding against her ribcage.

The door opened a moment later, and true to Nick’s words a beautiful vixen stood at the threshold. Her red fur had dulled a little with age, a few stray gray hairs visible. The cream linen pants and the pretty purple blouse she wore complimented her fur, and the simple strand of pearls around her neck highlighted the lighter patch of fur running down her throat. Judy noticed her eyes first, though – the same shade of emerald as Nick’s.

“Nicky!” The vixen cooed, her lips quirking into a large smile.

Nick didn’t bother to hide his own smile. “Hey, mom.”

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