Chapter 10 – Domesticity

Judy woke feeling warm and relaxed, and as she opened her eyes she remembered why. Reddish-orange fur filled her vision, the undeniable scent of Nick surrounded her, and the sound of his heartbeat rang in her ears. He was home. Judy had told him about Catstro, about what she’d done. He was safe now. Marian was safe.

Crying her feelings out to Nick had been therapeutic. It probably hadn’t been pretty, she could vaguely recall there being a lot of snot involved, but she felt lighter for it. Nick had given her plenty of valid reasons as to why Catstro’s death had been a good thing, why it hadn’t been on her paws. It didn’t mean that she felt okay about it yet, but she was starting to acknowledge that maybe it hadn’t been a bad thing after all.

Nicks phone sat on the nightstand and, careful not to wake him, she leant over for it. Grabbing it with one paw she pulled it back to her, hitting the home button to bring up the time. That wasn’t the first thing that caught her attention though; instead what caught her eye was the wallpaper. He’d changed it from the last time she’d borrowed his phone. Now it was a photo of her asleep on their couch, from the first night they’d moved in. She’d been snuggled under her new blanket from Marian, ears smoothed back, exhausted and somewhat in pain from the wound on her leg. As her eyes moved over the image her smile turned to a look of disbelief. Nick’s paw was visible, making the rabbit ear symbol behind her head. “You’re such a child, Nick.”

Finally taking note of the time her eyes widened in surprise. 2pm. Had she really been asleep for that long? Nick had mentioned they were having dinner with Marian this evening, but he hadn’t given her any indication as to what time the vixen was expecting them. She needed to shower, make herself presentable. Her last dinner with Marian had been a subdued affair; Judy’s internal conflict had dampened the evening. She’d apologised to Marian, claimed she was working a difficult case, and the vixen had given her a larger slice of chocolate cake for dessert to cheer her up.

“Nick,” Judy whispered, gently patting his chest, not wanting to startle him awake. The tod grumbled in his sleep, sighing heavily. “Slick,” she tried again, but still didn’t get a response. His phone in one paw, she lifted the other to scritch under his muzzle. “Nick.” She called in a singsong voice.

Nick swore he could hear Judy calling him in his dream, and he felt the most wonderful scritching sensation under his muzzle. Fighting through his sleep, he became aware that he wasn’t dreaming, that Judy really was calling for him, scritching him. Waking to the sight of wide violet eyes, Nick smiled. “Hey, Carrots.” He cleared his throat, groggy from sleep.

“Hey. Sleep well?” She knew it could be tough at the academy to get decent nights sleep. One of the cadets, when Judy had been there, had been a hellish snorer, and with Judy sharp hearing it had been a nightmare.

Lazy emerald eyes watched Judy, gauging her current emotional state. “I needed that nap. You?” Nick hadn’t meant to fall asleep, he’d tried desperately to stay awake, but after an hour of watching Judy, he hadn’t been able to stop his eyes from falling shut.

Judy nodded. “I needed it too.”

Nick lifted a paw, smoothing it down Judy’s ears and over her back. He noticed that she was clutching his phone. Muzzle gesturing towards it, he silently asked her why she had hold of it.

“I was checking the time, it’s 2 pm. When are we having dinner with your mom?” Judy explained.

“I told her we’d be there at 6 pm, plenty of time still.” Nick stretched, a little uncomfortable from his sleeping position. Judy’s comfort had been his priority.

Relieved she still had time to be a little lazy, Judy smiled. “Speaking of moms, I should probably call mine. I haven’t spoken to her in a few days and I wasn’t exactly in a good place when she last called.”

“That’s alright, call her now.” Nick started to play with the end of one of Judy’s ears, enjoying the softness.

Judy grumbled. “My phones in the other room and I’m too comfy to move.”

“Is that a hint that you want me to go and get it, lazy?” Nick teased, giving the end of Judy’s ear a gentle tug. “Use mine.” He offered, figuring that this way Judy got to speak to her mom and be comfortable.

“You sure?” Judy unlocked the device, pleased to find Nick hadn’t changed the passcode. He nodded, eyes closing as he yawned. Judy paused while typing her mom’s number into the Muzzletime app, eyes focused on Nick’s sharp teeth. She knew what they felt like around her throat, his gentle bite when they’d hustled Bellwether rushing through her mind, but she found herself wondering what it would feel like to have them nip at her throat, leave a trail of small bites down her body, tongue and teeth working together and….

She was still staring as Nick finished yawning, and the tod raised an eyebrow at her. “I know I’m attractive, Carrots, but jeez, didn’t your mom ever teach you that it’s rude to stare?”

Judy blushed furiously. She was grateful Nick wasn’t well versed in rabbit pheromones yet or she’d have been even more embarrassed. “Real subtle, Judy.” Returning to typing in her mom’s number, Judy hit the call button.

Nick had to hide his smile at how adorable she was when blushing, but a light sweet smell made his nostrils flare. He frowned. “Does Judy wear perfume?” His grandmother had always worn it, even when going to bed. He hadn’t seen Judy using any, but he couldn’t be sure. He cast the thought aside, now concerned that she had been staring at his teeth. He guessed that it was ingrained in her survival instincts that sharp teeth were bad news, but he’d never use them to harm her. Surely she knew that? Nick sat up a little, propping himself against the headboard, bringing Judy with him. She was half sprawled across his lap, phone in her paws as she waited for her mom to answer. Nick resumed playing with the ends of her ears.

It only took a couple of rings before Bonnie Hopps answered, squinting into the camera. “Hello? Who’s there?”

“Hey mom, it’s me.” Judy smiled at the sight of her mom. Judy had called her mom two days after Catstro’s death, and she hadn’t really been in the mood to talk. Her mom had asked her what was wrong but she’d brushed it aside, said work was a little tough but she was powering through.

“Judy! Oh my goodness, I didn’t know it was you! Did you get a new number?” Bonnie was so pleased to hear her daughter’s voice.

“No, mom. Nick’s home for the weekend so I’m just borrowing his phone and…” Before Judy could explain further her mom interrupted.

As her daughter spoke Bonnie looked at Judy closely, checking her ears to more accurately decipher her daughter’s mood. There was a paw playing with Judy’s ear, a very large paw, with sharp claws and reddish-orange fur. “What on earth is Nick doing to your ears?”

Judy should’ve guessed her mom would look at her ears first. Bonnie Hopps could always tell how her children were feeling by looking at them. Nick’s paw stilled as he stopped stroking the end of Judy’s ear, slowly pulling his paw away and out of sight.

“Wait a moment.” Bonnie leant in closer to the camera, as if that would help her see what was happening a little better. Judy had said Nick was home for the weekend and with what Bonnie was seeing… “Is Nick naked? Are you in bed together?”

Judy’s eyes widened. She glanced to the area of the screen showing her what her mom was seeing, noticing that an awful lot of Nick’s fur was on show, along with the edge of the bed sheet.

“Judith Laverne Hopps, are you calling me after sex? You should be snuggling that boy, not phoning me.” Bonnie scolded her daughter. While excited that Judy might have finally embraced a rabbit’s more passionate nature; she couldn’t believe her daughter was calling her. She should be curled up with Nick, in post-coital bliss.

Judy raised a paw to shake it at her mom, hoping to stop her there. “What? Who’s Judy having sex with?” Judy heard her dad’s voice and he suddenly appeared on screen with her mom. Judy groaned. Her dad meant well, but he could be a little overbearing.

“Judy was having sex? Who with?” A few voices could be heard from behind Bonnie and Stu. Judy groaned, paw covering her face. It sounded like several of her siblings were in the room with her parents. With all the voices she wasn’t able to tell which ones, though.

“Mom, dad…” Judy started, the inside of her ears burning bright red, needing to get a word in edgeways, but her parents were on a roll. She could hear Nick laughing quietly and she had half a mind to glare at him, but she was too busy trying to get her parents to stop talking.

“Nick. The fox she lives with. They’re naked in bed together.” Bonnie supplied, causing a commotion behind her as her other kits started to gossip. News would spread quickly that Judy was involved with Nick.

“No, we’re…no! Mom, I’m wearing a nightshirt!” Judy protested, knowing that no matter what she said now it was pointless. Some of her siblings had overheard, and that meant the whole warren would know within the hour.

“That hasn’t stopped your dad before.” Bonnie pointed out, Stu nodding beside her. With 312 kits they took every opportunity they could.

“Cheese and crackers, mom!” Judy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She didn’t need to know the more intimate aspects of her parent’s sex life. Nick didn’t need to know anything about her parent’s sex life.

Nick listened as Judy’s parent spoke so openly with her, and he found himself liking them already. At least they were open and honest, unlike some parents who clammed up and refused to talk about anything with their kits. His mom had always said an open environment was a healthy one. Besides, watching Judy get increasingly more flustered was amusing.

Bonnie ignored her daughter’s protests. “I hope you’re being safe young lady. Your father and I taught you that…”

Nick could see Judy’s flustered expression changing to one of panic and though it had been amusing, to begin with, he could see it was starting to overwhelm her. Besides, he didn’t want Mr. and Mrs Hopps thinking that he was corrupting their daughter. “Not yet, anyway.” Her parents seemingly weren’t bothered about the fact a fox may have just done the deed with their daughter, and he stored the information away to think about later. Plucking his phone from Judy’s paws he turned it so the camera faced him, hiding Judy from her parents gaze. “Mr and Mrs Hopps, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, though I had hoped the first time we spoke it would be in person.” Nick fell back on his old con-mammal charm, offering them a warm smile.

Bonnie and Stu suddenly fell silent, surprised at seeing Nick. They hadn’t met him before, but they’d heard a lot about him from Judy. “Well, it’s lovely to finally put a face to a name, Nick. Judy talks about you all the time, don’t you bun bun?” Bonnie spoke as she looked over the fox her daughter had moved in with, shouting out her question to Judy. Judy was always talking about Nick, and Bonnie thought it was sweet how enamoured she was with him. Some clever questioning from Bonnie had led to Judy once letting slip that Nick was a good-looking mammal. Now that Bonnie could look at the tod, she had to agree. He was certainly easy on the eyes.

Judy groaned, burying her face in the cream fur on Nick’s stomach. Nick didn’t bother hiding his smile. “I hope it’s all good things she talks about, Mrs Hopps.”

Bonnie was unused to the formal address. “So polite.” She offered Nick a smile. “Oh please, call me Bonnie. This is my husband, Stu.” She introduced Stu, who’d stood silently next to her, weighing up the fox his daughter was currently in bed with.

Stu had no problem with foxes now; he enjoyed Gideon’s company and had come to learn that foxes usually got a raw deal in life. What he did have an issue with was the fact his little girl was currently naked with a guy. Judy had never had a proper boyfriend before and Stu worried about her, worried she might be rushing things.

“Sir,” Nick greeted Stu formally. “I just want to reassure you both that nothing happened between your daughter and I. I came back from the academy very early this morning for the weekend and found her asleep in the living room, case files everywhere. The Chief has her working a very important case that involves a lot of paperwork and research. I thought she looked uncomfortable on the sofa so I moved her to bed.” During one of their phone calls, Judy had briefly touched on how her parents worried about her being in constant danger with her job. Nick figured that telling them she was doing a more desk-related case for the time being would ease their concerns. It wasn’t decent of him, lying to Judy’s parents, but it beat telling them that their daughter had teamed up with a mob boss to drown a caracal that’d been holding Nick to ransom for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and had subsequently had a breakdown when Nick had finally come home.

“Oh Nick dear, we wouldn’t have cared if you were doing something with Judy. She’s been in a very long dry spell an-” Bonnie started up again, not minding in the slightest if Judy had slept with Nick. From what she’d heard, he was a nice boy. Judy could do with some stress relief too.

“MOM.” Judy cut in, embarrassed. She didn’t need Nick knowing that she hadn’t actually been past third-base. She’d been too focused on her career, and the few dates she’d been on with the bucks her mom had thrown her way had ended in disaster.

Bonnie apologised even though she wasn’t actually sorry. “Sorry bun bun. Anyway, that sounds just like our Judy, throwing herself into her work.”

“So you moved her to bed and then what? You happened to fall into bed with her?” Stu questioned. He still wasn’t entirely convinced. He didn’t know Nick; he could only go off of what his daughter had told him, and his lack of knowledge about the tod made him nervous about Judy getting so close to him.

Nick had a feeling the buck was very protective of his daughter. Convincing Stu that he was a good match for Judy would take some time and effort, but Nick was willing to invest. Judy was worth it. He wasn’t sure whether the line of questioning was because he was a fox, or simply because he was male. Either way, Nick was happy to answer his questions. “She was like a clingy little kit, Sir, wouldn’t let me go and wanted to use me as a giant living teddy.” Judy swatted Nick’s chest, capturing his attention, and the tod smiled at her fondly, enjoying the look of indignation on her face.

Bonnie paused, caught off guard by the look on Nick’s face that was aimed at her daughter. Though she’d been quick to jump the gun she now believed both Judy and Nick, that nothing had happened between them, but that look…

“That does sound like our Jude.” Stu mused, remembering all the stuffed teddy rabbits Judy had taken with her when she’d moved to the city. “But then why are you naked?’ Nick still hadn’t explained the situation to Stu’s satisfaction. Bonnie sighed at her husband’s questioning. The poor fox didn’t need grilling.

Nick turned back to look at the screen, offering Bonnie and Stu a charming smile. “My pants are firmly on, Sir.” In the hopes of showing Judy’s parents that he was a mammal of his word, Nick flipped to the back camera to show his bed and the sight of his pants still firmly in place. “See?” He flipped the camera back, still offering them a smile. “My shirt is another matter. The early morning train was full of commuters and an antelope accidentally spilt coffee on it. I didn’t want to nap wearing it.” Nick told a small white lie about the train but stuck to the truth about his pants.

Judy watched in awe as Nick fielded questions from her parents like a champ. He had an answer for everything. Though he’d left his con-mammal life behind, Judy knew that after 20 years of living that life the remnants of it would never leave him. Nick would always be able to switch on the charm at the drop of a hat; he’d always be able to smooth talk himself out of situations.

“Mom, dad.” Judy interrupted before her parents could further embarrass her, moving so that she could see the screen. Nick tilted the phone, capturing them both in the camera. She didn’t get far before there was another commotion on her parent’s end.

“What’s all this ruckus about Trudy and a fox?” Pop-Pop yelled as he entered the room, making Bonnie sigh. News travelled so fast in her home. “You know foxes are red because they’re made by the devil!”

Embarrassed that a member of their family was insulting Nick, who’d been nothing but polite to them, Stu sought to get Pop-Pop out of the way. “Pop-Pop, please, isn’t it time for your afternoon nap? Love you Judy, nice to meet you, Nick.” He quickly excused himself, hoping he could stop Pop-Pop from further insulting the fox his daughter was friends with.

Bonnie couldn’t hide her embarrassment. Her father was still so stuck in his old ways, and Nick didn’t deserve to have such harsh words about his species thrown his way. “I’m so sorry about him Nick, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” She apologised profusely, having seen Nick’s eyes widening at the outburst.

Nick cleared his throat, offering Bonnie a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry Bonnie, I’ve heard worse.”

Bonnie’s expression fell into one of sadness. It didn’t sit right with her that the kind young mammal on the other end of the phone was subjected to such abuse. “Oh, you poor thing.”

Nick shrugged, not really all that bothered. Judy’s relative had just caught him off guard, that was all. “You get used to it.”

“That doesn’t make it okay, dear.” Bonnie didn’t want any excuses made for Pop-Pop’s behaviour. She’d have to have a few words with him after the call, explain to him that Judy was best friends with a fox called Nick and no, he wasn’t made by the devil, and no, he wouldn’t eat her.

“Hey mom,” Judy broke in gently; not liking the direction the conversation was taking. “How about I call you tomorrow night?”

“Okay bun bun, don’t forget about the presents we sent you!” Bonnie could see her daughter itching to end their call. Judy rarely got to see Nick and Bonnie didn’t want to intrude on their time together.

Even though her parents had her new home address they’d sent her birthday presents to the ZPD, figuring Judy wouldn’t be at home to accept them. Given the vast number of kits in the Hopps family they had a long established present rule. Bonnie and Stu would get each kit a present, and then each kit only received presents from their littermates. The five neatly wrapped packages from her parents and littermates were in the bottom of Judy’s wardrobe. She’d already sent presents back for her 4 littermates – Julian, Jasmine, Josh, and Jackie. Clawhauser had helped her get her presents home one evening after work, the cheetah itching to see Judy’s new apartment. When he’d found out that she was living with Nick he’d squealed so loudly that Judy had believed that her eardrums would burst.

“Don’t worry mom, I got it,” Judy reassured her, knowing that she would have to wait to open them until she called her mom again. It was another rule, that presents were opened with family around even if that meant making a Muzzletime call.

“I’ll tell your siblings it was all a misunderstanding bun bun, and stop them spreading gossip about you two,” Bonnie reassured them before she turned her attention to Nick. “And Nick, dear, it was so lovely to meet you. You and Judy should come visit us some time.” She truly meant it. While it would be nice to have Judy home for a while she wanted the fox to come with her. If she’d read the look he’d been giving Judy correctly, then he’d need some lessons in rabbit culture. Bonnie had a black belt in such lessons; you didn’t raise 312 kits and not know a thing or two.

“We’ll think about it, mom.” Judy wasn’t entirely sure if it was a good idea to expose Nick to her family just yet. She knew her family could be a bit intense, and as Nick had no siblings she didn’t want to overwhelm him. Besides, the last thing she wanted was for one of her more judgmental siblings to say something insulting in front of Nick and ruin everything.

Surprised by the doe’s kind offer, Nick smiled. “That sounds lovely Bonnie, thank you. It was wonderful to meet you and your husband.”

The surprise on Nick’s face at her offer made Bonnie’s heart ache. It only reaffirmed that it had been a good decision to invite him over. “Take care now you two, enjoy your weekend.”

“Love you, mom, bye!” Judy called out, waving a paw.

“Love you too bun.” Bonnie waved back, looking forward to speaking to her daughter again soon.

The call clicked off, the app closing to bring up Nick’s home screen. “Sorry about them. They can get a little carried away at times.” Judy was first to speak.

“It’s fine, Carrots. Sounds like your home is quite lively.” With his lack of siblings Nick had only ever experienced a quiet home life, and sometimes he wondered how different his life would be if he’d had a sibling or two to grow up with.

“It is. I thought the city would be livelier but it’s actually much quieter. I’m still not sure if that’s a good thing or not.” Judy shrugged. She missed the chaos of home, but she also enjoyed the unexpected peace in the city.

“Your parents sound great too, though I’m concerned about your dad. He doesn’t still have his taser, does he?” Nick remembered their conversation in his childhood bedroom, of her dad trying to gift her a fox taser when she first moved to the city.

“No he doesn’t, and even if he did I wouldn’t let him anywhere near you with it,” Judy vowed. She wouldn’t let her family hurt any fox, let alone Nick.

Paw coming to his chest, Nick batted his eyelashes, channelling a damsel in distress. “Aww Carrots, you’d defend me from your dad? My hero.”

“Har-har.” Judy rolled her eyes and took Nick’s phone from him, cradling it in her paws.

“Are your parents always that open about everything?” Nick inquired. His mom had been pretty open with him when he’d been a kit, his dad too. He’d never spoken about any of his sexual escapades over the years with his mom, though. She knew, of course, Nick could see it every time he came home smelling like a hook-up, but she never mentioned it.

Her mom and dad had always been open with her, always insisted that she could tell them anything. Judy nodded. “Yeah, kind of have to be when you have 312 kits. They’ve seen and heard it all.”

“I’m impressed you share so much with them, especially that they know how long your dry spell has been. When was the last time you took a tumble with a young buck, eh? Barns weren’t just made for storing hay.” Nick teased, giving Judy a nudge. She’d probably been with a few bucks in her life. Judy was a good-looking mammal, smart as hell too. He didn’t really want to know how many partners Judy had had, he felt a swell of irrational jealousy inside, but he figured it was important to know.

Judy glanced down, playing with Nick’s phone in her paws. She swallowed, a little embarrassed that she wasn’t as experienced as other does, probably not as experienced as Nick. “I’ve, um…never.” She muttered, suddenly finding the slight dent in the casing of Nick’s phone highly interesting.

Nick’s expression of amusement shifted to a frown as Judy’s words sank in. She’d never? His frown smoothed out as his eyes widened, partly from surprise and partly from concern. When he finally asked her to be his mate, if she hadn’t even been with a buck before, how on earth was she going to deal with him? He’d need to explain canine mating to her first so that she didn’t end up running scared the moment he took his pants off. That would be the ultimate mood killer. The more posssive part of Nick’s brain latched on to the fact that Judy had never had a partner before, finding pleasure in the fact that he would hopefully get to be her first, while the more rational part of his brain pointed out that his first time had sucked, so he’d have to pull out all the stops to make sure Judy’s didn’t.

His first time. He’d been 16 and she’d been 20, told him her name was Scarlett. Nick hadn’t questioned if that was her real name or not, he hadn’t really cared. Living on the street and low on funds he’d visited a bar in the Nocturnal district, talked his way in, hoped to hustle some mammals out of their cash with a few games of pool. Scarlett had been sat at the bar and had eyed him up the moment he’d walked in. They’d hit it off and she’d taken him back to her place. The night had deteriorated from there. He’d been an awkward fumbling teen with no experience, and it had all been over embarrassingly quickly. Nick didn’t want to think about it again. “So, you’ve never…?” He clarified.

Judy’s stomach chose that moment to growl loudly, and she couldn’t have thanked her lucky stars enough. “Oh gosh, I haven’t eaten in ages! Come on, I stocked the cupboards and the freezer.” She slipped from Nick’s bed, leaving his phone on the nightstand as she crossed the room quickly.

“Carrots,” Nick called out as she reached the door, watching as she slowly turned to look back at him. Her ears were droopy and he felt bad for teasing her earlier. “You can talk to me about things like that, you know. You don’t have to hide it, be embarrassed about it, or anything else. You can tell me anything and everything and I’ll listen. I can be serious when I need to be, and whatever you tell me I’m not going to judge. I’m here for you. I was just surprised that’s all.” He didn’t want her feeling bad about her lack of experience; he wanted her to know that it was okay to tell him things like that, that it was okay for her to tell him anything.

“What, surprised that the little country bunny hasn’t had sex before?” Judy tried to sound like it didn’t bother her, but Nick could hear how much it did. He could imagine coming from such a large family that a fair amount of teasing happened, that sometimes a sibling or two went a little too far with it. He could also imagine that Judy had broken with the status quo, wanting to be a cop in the city and that there had been a fair amount of disappointment in her decision not to settle down with a buck and have a warren full of kits.

“I was just surprised that some young buck hasn’t tried it on with you yet, that’s all,” Nick answered truthfully, offering Judy a small smile.

Judy shrugged. “Oh they have, a few times, but I wasn’t interested. They didn’t understand me, or the things I want from life. All they wanted was a stay at home wife and mom. That’s not me.” Judy had been disappointed that on every date she’d been on the bucks had pulled a face when she mentioned wanting to work for the ZPD. They’d tried to tempt her into being a housewife and stay at home mom, but that wasn’t the life she wanted to lead. She had no problem with doe’s choosing such a path in life, all her sisters had chosen that life after all, but it wasn’t the path for her. Maybe in the future she’d consider it, with the right mammal by her side, but for now, it wasn’t even on her radar.

“Then they’re idiots.” Nick decided. He was baffled as to why the bucks hadn’t wanted to pay attention to the things Judy wanted. Relationships were give and take, accommodating each other’s wants and needs, encouraging one another.

Judy returned Nick’s small smile. “What I’d give to see you call Billy and George idiots to their faces.”

“When we head to Bunnyburrow to visit your family, point them out to me and I’ll happily do it.” Nick meant it; he’d gladly call some young bucks idiots to their faces. To cast aside a mammal like Judy they had to be idiots. Besides, he’d called other mammals much worse, though he’d made sure his mom had never found out. She’d wash his mouth out with soap.

When we visit?” Judy caught Nick’s phrasing.

“Well yeah, Fluff. I’m not going to be rude and turn down your mom’s kind offer. Besides, blueberries.” Bonnie’s offer had been very kind, and while Nick did want to gorge himself on the blueberries from the Hopps Family Farm, he also wanted to get to know Judy’s family.

Judy laughed, no longer feeling embarrassed. “Goodness help you if the world ever ran out of blueberries.”

“I’d die.” Nick deadpanned.

“We’d have to find you something else to eat.” Judy mused.

“I don’t think I’d cope. You’d have to leave me behind, I’d wilt away to nothing.” The fox kicked up the dramatics. He could be serious when he needed to be, but humour came more naturally to him.

Judy snorted, shaking her head fondly at her idiotic fox. “Come on, I need food.”

“I came home with bagels – cream cheese and strawberry ones, with extra honey on yours.” He pulled out his surprise, sparing a moment to wonder whether they’d actually still be good to eat now, after Judy’s breakdown and their unscheduled nap.

Judy turned to reach for the door handle, unable to stop her smile. “Living with you is great.” She was touched that Nick had remembered her favourite bagel filling from Snack Rack. Some mornings on the way to work she liked to stop off and treat herself, and she then usually told Nick about it during their weekly calls.

“I do have my moments.” Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, Nick stretched again. He could feel a twinge in his lower back and silently cursed himself for sleeping in such an awkward position. Judy had been comfortable though, and after the state she’d been in last night her comfort had been his top priority. She was looking better this morning, more like her old self. Nick could see some guilt still lingered, though. It would take a while for her to not feel guilty anymore, if she ever did stop feeling guilty. He’d stay by her side and help her work through it, though. Watching as Judy left for the kitchen, Nick took a deep breath.

He was still trying to come to terms with the fact that Catstro was dead. He couldn’t find it in him to feel sad about it, the caracal had been a bad mammal, but after 16 years of monthly payments, the freedom was a foreign feeling for Nick. He couldn’t find the words to describe how immensely grateful he was that Judy had wiped away his debt, but Nick felt like he’d been let off easy. There were no repercussions for him. Curious, he reached for his phone, pulling up the calculator app. Maths was his moms strong suit, not his. “$1000 a month for a year is $12,000, times that by sixteen and that’s…$192,000.” Nick was blown away. He’d really paid that much money back to Catstro? If the caracal hadn’t been adding such sky-high interest Nick would’ve nearly paid it all off by now. As it stood, he was only $8000 short of paying back the full $200,000 he’d been given. Suddenly, he didn’t feel like he’d been let off so easy. He’d given 16 years of his life to paying the money back, handed over $192,000. He didn’t have a penny to his name right now, relying on handouts from his mom, but at least his mom had a roof over her head, and because of Judy’s immeasurable kindness, he had a roof over his head now too.

Aware that he’d been sat for several minutes and not moved, Nick threw his phone back onto the nightstand, grabbing a clean shirt from his bag and dressing before he scooped up Judy’s birthday present and card. Leaving his room, Nick joined Judy in the kitchen. Judy was sat on one of the barstools, her bagel in front of her as she ate. Nick paused at the door, feeling a strange sense of pleasure in watching Judy eat the food he’d provided for her. Having heard Nick approach, Judy pushed his bagel along the counter. Smiling, Nick took the seat next to Judy, putting her present and card down. “You’re not allowed to open them until tomorrow.” He warned, pulling at the wrapping on his bagel.

“Can I poke it?” Judy asked, a paw reaching out towards the present Nick had set down.

“Carrots, your present is in a box.” Nick shook his head, not bothering to hide his amusement. He’d had a feeling she’d be a present squeezer.

Judy’s paw paused and she tipped her head to look at the fox. “And?”

“If it’ll make you happy.” Nick conceded, finally freeing the wrapper around his bagel.

Judy’s paw finally made contact with her present, and the doe gave it a few prods. She knew that with it being in a box she wouldn’t figure out what it was, but there was a sense of satisfaction in poking it anyway. Nick watched as Judy prodded at her present, and he couldn’t stop his snort of amusement. “If your bagel’s no good then I’ve already filled the freezer,” Judy remembered her impromptu trip down the predator aisles and meeting Bandit.

Nick’s bagel was fine, the few hours since he’d bought it having had no effect. Besides, as great as Judy was with keeping their kitchen stocked, she’d probably missed the items he needed the most. “We’re going to need to stop at a supermarket at some point, I’m going to need some fish and bug produce.”

A slow smile crossed Judy’s lips. Nick still wasn’t getting it. “Like I said, I’ve already filled the freezer.”

It took him a moment, but soon Nick’s ears pricked up in surprise as he cottoned on, putting down his bagel. “Wait, you went down the predator aisles and bought me food?”

“Mhm. I had some help. An arctic fox saw me struggling and stepped in. I don’t know what you like but I got a bit of everything. Bandit said you’d probably like something out of everything we picked out. He gave me his number just in case I had any more questions or needed some more help.” Judy was honest with the chain of events, having nothing to hide and even feeling a little proud that she’d taken the initiative to get food for Nick. She lifted her bagel, ready to take another bite.

Nick’s paw shot on to rest on Judy’s arm, stopping her from taking another bite. His jaw clenched at the thought of another fox trying to make a move on Judy, an arctic fox at that. “He gave you his number?” Nick’s voice dropped an octave, possessiveness and irrational jealousy coursing through him.

Judy noted the change in Nick’s tone, how his paw on her arm tightened ever so slightly. “Well yeah, it’s useful to have. If I have any questions I can ask him. I was in the drugstore the other day and spotted some Musk Mask, wasn’t sure if you used it but decided to grab some anyway. I sent Bandit a text and he told me which one was the most popular, so I bought that one. It’s on your dresser.”

Nick had never bothered with Musk Mask, there hadn’t been any point when he’d worked the streets and lived alone under the bridge, he hadn’t been able to afford it either, but he’d have to start wearing it now that he had a proper job and shared a home with Judy. “Does he know that you live with me?” He questioned, concerned with how much information she’d given the other fox.

Judy frowned, perplexed. She wasn’t sure she understood why it mattered whether Bandit knew they lived together or not. Putting her bagel down, she turned in the seat to look at Nick. “Yeah, why would I hide that from him? He knows you’re at the academy and that without you here I’m floundering when it comes to everything to do with foxes.”

“You could just ask me.” Nick shot back, a little hurt that she was asking another fox for help rather than asking him or his mom.

“We speak once a week, Nick.” Judy pointed out. True she could save up some questions for then, but Nick was busy with the academy and the stress of it all, he didn’t need to be answering her silly questions. Besides, sometimes she needed a quick response, like when she’d been in the drugstore, so speaking to Bandit was easier.

“Save your questions for then,” Nick demanded, loosening his grip on Judy’s arm a little, concerned he might be accidently hurting her.

Judy frowned, forcing herself to pay close attention to the subtle nuances of Nick’s face and body. “You don’t like me talking to him.” She stated, finally understanding Nick’s behaviour.

Nick knew Judy was smart, so it didn’t surprise him that she’d worked it out. “I’m not here to protect you.” He pulled his paw away from Judy’s arm.

“He’s not going to hurt me, Nick.” Though she hadn’t known Bandit long she could already tell the arctic fox meant her no harm. He’d had plenty of opportunities to try and hurt her but he never had.

A low grumble of displeasure left Nick. “Hey.” Judy moved her paws to grab Nick’s wrists, needing the physical contact. She waited until he looked at her and she held his gaze, needing him to understand that her next words were the truth. “You don’t have to worry. You’re my favourite fox, you always will be. Bandit is a friend, that’s it. I promise you.” She reassured him, having come to the conclusion that Nick was perhaps feeling a little jealous that she’d made another fox friend. “As if I’d ever leave him.” Bandit was kind and helpful, but that was it. Nick was everything to her. “Besides, I’m pretty sure he has a thing for Akita.”

Nick frowned, “Our landlady?”

“Mhm, we went for lunch and we bumped into Bandit. They seemed to hit it off and she gave him her number.” Judy was secretly rooting for them. She’d felt like a third wheel once Bandit had joined them, but she was happy that her landlady was interested in someone. The fact they were interspecies made her feel more comfortable about her feelings for Nick, knowing she’d have some friendly support.

Nick relaxed a little. If Bandit’s attention was on Akita then he might leave Judy alone. He really didn’t like the thought of another fox skulking around Judy, especially when he wasn’t there to fend them off. He was positive now that his choice of birthday present for her was perfect. His mom had voiced her concerns but Nick had put his paw down. “If he gets too much you need to find Finnick. That little jerk owes me a favour, so you can cash it in if Bandit needs putting in his place.”

“Nick, stop it. I’m not going to have someone threaten Bandit, and I’m not going to run off with him. You’re the only fox for me, okay?” Judy needed Nick to know that he was so important to her, that she wouldn’t drop him in the blink of an eye, and that she was sticking around. She loved him, not that he knew it yet. He needed the stability though; the security of knowing Judy wasn’t going anywhere. She had a feeling Nick hadn’t had much stability or security since leaving home when he’d been 12.

Nick couldn’t help his feelings of excitement and hope as Judy proclaimed he was the only fox for her. Now he just had to stop any bucks from hitting on her. He was prepared to fight off other mammals for Judy’s affections, it was common amongst foxes to compete for mates, but he wanted to avoid it as much as possible.

“Eat up, Slick.” Judy prompted him, noticing that he’d stopped eating to talk to her. He’d gained a little weight at the academy, three high-calorie meals a day would do that to a mammal, but he was burning a lot with his training. Judy was still worried that his years of scrimping by on little food had done some damage to his body, and he still wasn’t at a weight Judy thought was right for him. He’d had to pass a medical exam upon arrival at the academy, but that didn’t stop the rabbit from worrying. When he graduated and returned home, Judy vowed to cook proper, wholesome meals and ensure that he never went hungry again.

Nick finished his bagel quickly, grateful for some good food. The food at the academy wasn’t great, but it wasn’t terrible either, and Nick really wasn’t in any position to complain. Scrunching up his bagel wrapper, he took aim at the trashcan. With a sure throw, he sent the rolled up wrapper flying, watching as it landed right on target. “Well look at you and your brilliant aim.” Judy marvelled, passing Nick her own wrapper. He did the same again, aim still as accurate.

“Top of my class at the firing range.” Nick grinned, enjoying the way Judy looked proud.

“Well colour me impressed Mr. Sharp Shooter.” Judy was genuinely proud that Nick was doing so well. She hadn’t doubted him for a second, but if he was top of his class he would be considered for extra training, possibly even some sniper work in the future. “We still have some time to kill before we head to your moms. Fancy helping me build the shelving unit I bought for the bathroom?” Judy had picked it up at a furniture store in Sahara Square. They’d been having a 50% sale and she’d spotted it in the window. She’d caved, figuring it would be great to store towels on. No longer needing to pay Catstro, and with the extra she was still earning from her additional jobs, Judy was able to purchase a few new bits for their apartment. She’d counted the unit as a necessity as once Nick was home permanently she wouldn’t be able to walk naked from the bathroom to her room to pick up her towels. “We should probably invest in some hooks on the back of the door, too.”

Nick leant back in the chair, folding his arms across his chest as he raised an eyebrow. “Oh I see, you save all the handymammal jobs for when I get home.”

Judy smiled, enjoying the way Nick looked so comfortable in their kitchen, so relaxed and at home. She still couldn’t believe that she’d managed to convince him to live with her. “I’m glad he feels comfortable here, that I’m making it as homely as possible for him.” She still had a few more jobs to do to make their apartment even more homely, all the curtains needed swapping out and she wanted to get a slightly bigger TV, but she was pleased her efforts were paying off. “What can I say, I imagine you’re good with your paws.” The words were out before Judy could stop them, and she turned her ears to hide how they’d flushed pink inside at the unintended innuendo.

Nick didn’t miss Judy’s blush, nor did he miss how her words could be construed. “Oh, I’m very good with my paws.” Nick couldn’t help but drop the tone of his voice, watching as Judy’s blush deepened. They often exchanged puns and smart remarks, but innuendos were new. Nick found himself enjoying them. He’d have to think of some more. Taking pity on her, he moved the conversation along. “Time’s marching on, Carrots. Those shelves aren’t going to build themselves.” Nick slid from the barstool, heading towards the bathroom. Judy’s mind had wandered to thoughts of Nick and his paws, but as the tod slipped from the barstool Judy was jolted from her imagination, leaving her own barstool to follow Nick out of the kitchen.

It took them an hour to build the shelving unit, creating makeshift tools to build it with. Judy promised Nick that she’d pick up a small toolbox and some tools when she was next near a hardware store. They at least needed a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench. With the unit in place, Judy had put their towels on it, shooing Nick out of the room so she could take a shower. As she’d left the bathroom after her shower Nick had slipped past her so he could clean up, brushing against her at the door, enjoying her scent, and very much enjoying the view of her in a small cream towel.

Once they were both cleaned up, dressed and ready to go, Nick led the way to the front door. He picked up his keys, offering Judy hers. “Cute key rings.” He commented, watching as the inside of Judy’s ears flushed.

With deft paws she unhooked the fox paw key ring from her keys, offering it out to Nick. “Your keys look lonely, and this way we won’t be confused as to who owns which set.” Nick wanted to point out that her point was moot considering he had no key rings on his at present and she had two, but he offered her a smile instead.

“Can’t I have the bunny paw?” Nick questioned, mentally cursing himself. “You’re a sap, Wilde.”

“Why? That would make things more confusing.” Judy couldn’t understand why Nick would want a rabbit paw on his keys. It’d only lead to them getting confused over which set of keys belonged to which of them.

Before he could panic his brain helpfully supplied him with a cover story. “Rabbit paws are good luck, no?”

Judy stared at Nick. She was well aware of the myth, had even been asked by several mammals in the past if they could rub her hind paws, but she hadn’t thought that Nick believed it too. “You want a rabbit paw keychain, for luck?”

Nick shrugged. “Yeah, going to need all the luck I can get at the academy.”

Bewildered, Judy gave in, slipping the rabbit paw keychain from her keys and offering it to Nick. She put the fox paw one back on hers, placing them into the small handbag she was taking with her. She had to admit that having a fox paw on her keys was actually quite sweet – a little piece of Nick with her all the time. Nick fastened the rabbit paw to his own keys before he ushered Judy outside, locking up behind them and sliding his keys into the pocket of his pants. His keys. The keys to his home. The thought still made him smile.

“Oh, and this thing?” Nick remembered the doormat, pointing to the cutesy carrot mat beneath his hind paws. “I thought I said no cutesy doormat?”

Judy bit her lip, trying to stop her laugh. She’d already had the doormat, a relic from when she’d first moved to the city, and when Nick had mentioned not wanting one she’d just had to bring it back. “You also said you’d lose street cred, of which you have none, so quit complaining.”

Feigning hurt, Nick followed Judy up the steps to street level. “You wound me all the time Carrots, I’m starting to think you enjoy it.”

“I do get a perverse pleasure out of it.” She shot back, hiding her grin. Nick was easy to tease and took it all in his stride. She never meant any of it, and he knew that. It was what made their friendship so great.

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