Chapter 11 – Hoppy Birthday, Judy!

Dinner with Marian was a much more enjoyable affair than the last time Judy had been to visit the vixen. She’d cooked a beautiful dinner for them, pleased to have Nick home. The conversation had revolved around Nick’s training at the academy, the new cushions Marian was making for them, and a few cases Judy was working on.

When Judy had disappeared to use the bathroom and wash her paws, Marian had pounced on the opportunity to pass along the booking she’d made for Judy’s birthday dinner. She’d only booked a table for two, not having expected Nick to come home, but she wanted her son and the rabbit to have an early dinner together. Marian could eat with Judy whenever she wanted. She’d also used the opportunity to double-check that her son was sure he wanted to give Judy the present she’d been tasked with buying. Nick had been adamant; Judy’s run in with Bandit only furthering his resolve. He’d also asked his mom to watch out for Judy while he was away, telling her that Judy’s last case had been difficult and had emotionally impacted her. Nick had the forethought to tell his mom that the doe probably didn’t want to talk about it, he didn’t need his mom asking questions and Judy breaking down and telling her about Castro, but he asked that his mom be there for Judy and check in with her a little more, and if there were any problems she was to call Major Friedkin and Nick would be on the next train home. Marian had been worried, concerned about what had happened to the sweet bunny, but she’d promised her son she’d keep a closer eye on Judy.

Once they’d finished their main meal, Marian had presented Judy with a birthday cake, complete with candles. Cajoling her son into singing with her, Marian had watched as Judy blushed, blowing out her candles and making a wish. They’d enjoyed a slice of cake each, with Marian wrapping up the rest for Nick and Judy to take home with them.

Marian had then pulled out her present for Judy. She’d spent a few weeks working on it; aware that Judy’s birthday had been approaching. When the rabbit had stopped by after work one day, Marian had been able to get her clothing size. She’d used the information to make Judy’s birthday present, a pretty cotton summer dress in a lovely shade of violet, the hemline decorated with vines and leaves in forest green, and a pocket at the waist for Judy’s phone or keys. Marian knew she wasn’t the best seamstress or dressmaker in the world and it had taken her several attempts to get the dress right, but it had been a fun project to work on and the look on Judy’s face as she’d opened it, right before she’d started crying with happiness, had made it all worth while. She knew it was hot in the city in the summer, and the dress would keep Judy cool.

Nick knew his mom and Judy were good friends, they spoke about one another often during their phone calls with him, but seeing the bond between his mom and his potential mate made Nick feel immeasurably happy. He’d heard horror stories of mates and in-laws not getting along, so not having that worry made Nick smile.

On their way home Judy had asked Nick if he would ever tell his mom about Catstro and his debt, about how he’d paid off her mortgage. With a shake of his head he’d told her that it was better his mom didn’t know. There was no point telling her, especially now that it had all been dealt with. If she ever asked then he’d come clean, he didn’t like lying to his mom after all, but for now, he was okay with keeping her in the dark. Judy promised not to say anything, respecting Nick’s choice and knowing that it was a conversation he would have to initiate with Marian should the need arise.

When it had been time for them to sleep, Nick had asked if Judy wanted to sleep together again. The doe had jumped at the offer, still worried that her dreams would be plagued with images of Catstro without Nick there to comfort her. She had no idea what she’d do when he left to head back to the academy, but she’d deal with that later. Curled up together, they’d fallen asleep.

Nick woke at 5:30 am, his body so used to waking at that time at the academy. Major Friedkin had thrown cold water over him twice during his first week when he’d been late to wake. He’d learnt his lesson quickly. Nothing was more motivating than having a bucket of ice water poured over you.

Yawning, he tried not to move too much. Judy was still asleep, wrapped in his arms. Though Nick had made the offer of sleeping together to help Judy through the night, as he still wasn’t sure if she’d be able to sleep properly, he couldn’t deny that he enjoyed having her in his arms, wrapping himself around her in their slumber. They’d been spooning when they’d gone to bed, but during the night Judy had turned, and now her nose was buried in the cream fur on his chest. Careful not to wake her, Nick gently stroked the smooth fur on her back.

The early morning silence gave him time to reflect on the new information he’d learnt about Judy during her phone call with her parents. He knew that he’d probably have to ask around soon, do a bit more digging as to how Judy felt about him. He was stuck in limbo, unsure whether she returned his feelings or not and it was becoming tiring. He wanted her, wanted her as his mate, wanted to claim her and have her by his side. She was doing things that made him question whether she did indeed return his feelings – she was making their den more homely, purchasing food for him, mimicking vixen behaviour. If she did return his feelings then Nick doubted very little would change between them. Their friendship would be just as strong, but he’d finally get to kiss her, introduce her to other mammals and his girlfriend, and make love to her.

Wasn’t that a whole new can of worms, though? Judy hadn’t even been with a buck yet, and though Nick wasn’t one to brag he figured he was packing more than any buck. Would they be compatible? Though he’d never been in a serious relationship before he knew sex wasn’t the most important aspect of a relationship, but it was still an integral part of a healthy relationship.

Nick’s thoughts also wandered to his future meeting with Bonnie and Stu. He wanted to take them up on their offer, head to Bunnyburrow and get to know them, but he’d need to wait for Judy to extend the invitation again. The thought of meeting her parents and siblings made him nervous. He knew Bonnie had warmed to him, guessed that Stu had a little too, but her 311 siblings were another matter. Statistically, Nick knew that a fair percentage of them probably wouldn’t like him and that they’d kick up a fuss about Judy being friends with him and bringing him back to their warren, but he was okay with that. The fact Judy had accepted him and that he believed her parents would accept him was enough for him.

Judy had mentioned that being a stay at home wife and mom wasn’t something she was interested in. He knew Judy’s dream was working for the ZPD, and he’d never want her to give it up, but at the same time, he’d given some serious thoughts to having kits. He knew that one day he’d like kits, would like to start a family, and the thought of having kits with Judy was even more appealing. But he knew her career was more important at the moment. He respected that. Besides, could he and Judy even have kits? He didn’t know much about interspecies relationships or whether interspecies couples could have kits, but it was something for him to look into. If he and Judy couldn’t have their own kits then he’d like to adopt – maybe a baby bunny and a little fox. Nick filed the thoughts away for later. He and Judy weren’t even dating yet and here he was, already thinking about having kits with her.

Resting his snout on the top of Judy’s head, Nick inhaled, her scent flooding his nostrils, making him dizzy. This bunny, this little country bunny with her crazy foot thumping and big purple eyes, with her large ears and persistent need to help others, had changed him for the better. She’d given him a home, lined him up for an honest job, cleared him of his debt, and had encouraged him to open up, share parts of himself with her that he’d never shared with anyone else. She was the most precious mammal in his life.

Careful not to jostle Judy, Nick extracted himself from her. He had a few phone calls to make, but he’d make sure he was back in bed before she woke. Leaving his bed, Nick grabbed his phone, making his way out of his bedroom and into the living room, making sure his bedroom door was shut behind him to muffle as much sound as possible. He knew Judy had incredible hearing. Smiling at his phone wallpaper, Nick unlocked it as he sat on the couch, stretching out. Pulling up a familiar number he hit dial, lifting the phone to his ear. With his other paw, he scratched his stomach, further ruffling the cream coloured fur there.

“What?” The angry voice on the other end of the phone made Nick smile.

“Is that any way to say hello to daddy?” Nick admonished; tutting.

“The hell you want Wilde. It’s 6 am and mammals got to sleep. How’d you get a phone anyway? Thought the fuzz banned ‘em.” Finnick grumbled. He hadn’t heard much from Nick since he’d disappeared off to become a cop. He’d received a message when the idiot had been on the train to the academy, having been convinced by the bunny cop to sign up, but he hadn’t heard anything since.

“You’re not asleep, Fin, you’re working at the fish market. I’m home for the weekend.” Nick may have been out of town for a while, but that hadn’t stopped him from receiving letters. His mom had told him that she’d seen Finnick working at the market one morning when she’d gone to pick up some halibut for old Mrs Montgomery who lived next door.

“Well, when I lost my partner I had to diversify. Ain’t no point dressing up as an infant when I’ve not got a father.” Life had taken a sharp turn for him with the departure of Nick. With no fox to play the role of a parent, he’d had to rethink the father and son con. He still used his small size to his advantage, still pulled a few tricks and hustled unsuspecting mammals out of their cash, but he topped up his income by working early mornings at the fish market in Tundratown. He had a job. An actual honest job. He wasn’t sure whether he wanted to punch Nick for forcing him into doing some real work or thank him for leaving and opening up new opportunities for him.

“Aww have you got abandonment issues?” Nick teased, easily falling back into his old jokes with the fennec. They’d been one hell of a team, and though Finnick had always been more business associate than confidant or close friend, Nick trusted the little jerk with his life. Finnick had pulled him out of some pretty tight spots in the years they’d been working together.

Finnick didn’t even bother getting angry, though he was tempted to cuss out the red fox. “Shut it, Nick. What’d you want?”

“Can’t I just call for a chat?” Nick tried to delay the inevitable. They both knew he was calling for a reason, neither mammal was stupid, but Nick was aware he was about to ask a lot of his old partner.

“It’s 6 am, you hauled ass outta town to go join the fuzz and ditched the streets. You don’t want to chat with me. What do you want?” Finnick didn’t have time for Nick’s games. He’d never had any patience for them. Besides, he had a job to do.

“Fancy doing me a favour? I’ll owe you.” Nick knew favours were still a highly valued currency for mammals living on the streets – it wasn’t like they had much in the way of material possessions to bargain with – and when he became a cop he’d have a bit more clout. Nick would never abuse his badge, not when he was working so hard for it and making Judy and his mom proud, but if Finnick ended up in a situation he’d vouch for him.

Finnick sighed, shaking his head. “Wilde, you already owe me 15 favours.” Nick was always offering him favours, and at the beginning of their relationship, he’d cashed a few in. Now though, he didn’t bother. Nick gave them out to him like they were candy.

“You’re keeping count?” Nick winced, not realising he owed Finnick that many favours. He only hoped the fennec wouldn’t cash them all in at once.

“One of us has to” Finnick snorted, watching as some of his fellow employees started to unload the crates of fish from the back of a delivery lorry. He figured he had 10 minutes or so before his boss would come looking for him and demand to know why he wasn’t pulling his, admittedly small, weight.

“Ouch. Look, remember Catstro?” Nick didn’t exactly want to start divulging all his secrets, especially not Judy’s ones, but he needed this favour and the only way he was going to get it was by being honest.

“Caracal you owed money to. Word on the street is he’s dead.” Finnick had been down in the Nocturnal district the last few nights, scoping out the potential partners he could work with now that Nick was on the straight and narrow. While he’d been sat the bar of a particularly seedy club he’d overheard several mammals talking about Catstro’s death, and about how his gang were so frightened that they’d split up, cut off all contact with one another and gone even further underground. Finnick had used his big ears to his advantage, eavesdropping on the conversation.

“Yeah. Between you and me, and if you tell anyone I swear I’ll arrest you for everything I can think of when I get my badge and have them throw the book at you, Carrots went and told Mr. Big about my problem, and the shrew made him disappear.” Nick came clean. He’d gladly arrest Finnick if he put Judy in danger by opening his mouth.

Finnick was silent, letting Nick’s words sink in. The bunny cop knew Mr. Big? Mr. Big had been the one to kill the caracal? The cop had freed Nick from his debt? He burst out laughing. “Wait, the little fuzzy bunny is in with the mob?”

“Godmother to Big’s granddaughter,” Nick confirmed, unable to help but feel a little proud that Judy had earned such a prestigious title. On the streets, being favoured by a mob boss was high praise.

Finnick was stunned. He knew the rabbit was smart, she’d hustled Nick after all, but it was even smarter to form familiar ties with the mob. They did anything for family. “Well shit. Who’d have thought? Let me get this straight, you told her about your debt, she went to Big for a favour, Big iced the bastard, and now she owes him?”

Nick shook his head. “No favours owed, it’s a long story. Anyway, I need you to keep an eye on her while I’m away. I head back to the academy tonight but I don’t know when I’ll next be home.”

“Why’d you want me to keep an eye on her? She’s friends with the mob.” There was little Finnick could do in all honesty. He could spread the word that the rabbit was Nick’s girl, and that would pretty much ensure no one would touch her, but other than that his clout was limited.

“The mob isn’t exactly going to help her emotionally. Look, I just want you to pass by every now and then, get a glimpse of her and see if she’s doing okay. If not, you call the academy and ask for me, say it’s an emergency.” Nick felt a little awkward asking Finnick to keep an eye on Judy, and while he knew his mom would call with the slightest issue he wanted another set of eyes on her.

“You want me to keep an eye on your girlfriend’s emotional state?” Finnick couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Nick was like a kit with his first crush when it came to the damn rabbit.

“She’s not…urgh. Yes. She saw Big ice Catstro and she’s not been doing well. Just keep an eye on her okay? I’ll owe you big time.” Nick didn’t even bother correcting Finnick, knowing it was a waste of time. Without Nick there to offer her comfort, and with a limited support system in the city, Judy could end up emotionally beating herself up again and Nick wouldn’t know about it.

Finnick was silent for a moment. He didn’t need any more favours from Nick, was perfectly within his rights to say no, but underneath his anger and general hatred for mammals he cared for the red fox and the bunny cop. He respected them both, knew they loved one another, even if they were too stupid and knuckle-headed to admit it. “No favours Wilde, I ain’t collecting them from you no more, not now you’re gonna be a cop. You and that bunny are close, so I’ll keep an eye on her for you, but only ‘cause I know you’ll be a mopey depressed shit again if anything happens to her. Besides, I kind of like her, she out-hustled you after all.” Finnick laughed, remembering the way the small bunny had outsmarted Nick.

Sighing in relief, Nick smiled. “Thanks, Fin.”

“Don’t mention it. No really, don’t you dare mention it. I have a reputation to uphold and I will beat your ass if you damage it. Speaking of reputations, words getting ‘round that you’ve cleaned up your act and gone straight. A lot of mammals are nervous, you’ve got dirt on plenty of them.” He’d heard gossip after news had started to spread that Nick was no longer hustling and it had concerned him. Nick knew everyone, had dirt on nearly everyone, and they were nervous about where he’d disappeared to and what he’d do what the information he’d gained over the years.

“Well spread the word that so long as they don’t give me cause to use any of the information, I’ll keep it all to myself. I don’t want any trouble, I’ve got a good thing here.” Nick looked around the living room, at all the little touches Judy had added – her books, some scented candles, their blankets. He wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise this, he wouldn’t do anything that would jeopardise his chance at happiness with Judy.

Finnick pulled a face as Nick spoke, picturing the mushy look that was no doubt on his old partners face. He’d grown tired of Nick’s whining and pining after the press conference, so much so that he’d told the red fox to build a bridge and get over it. Nick hadn’t listened. Instead, he’d found his old bridge and had whined from there instead, didn’t even bother hustling for weeks on end. “You’re going soft in your old age, it’s nauseating.”

“Not all of me is soft, Fin.” The crude remark was out before Nick could stop it, at ease with boyish banter. He and Finnick used to exchange rude barbs and crude comments all the time, and Nick’s weeks at the academy in a testosterone fuelled environment hadn’t helped. He hoped he would be able to tone it back down when his training was over and he moved back home. Judy didn’t need to put up with it.

Rolling his eyes, Finnick caught sight of his boss. He offered the wolf thumbs up, letting him know he was done and ready to work. “You’re disgusting. Go back to your bunny, Wilde. I’ll keep an eye on her and call you if there’s an issue. Ciao.” He hung up.

Nick pulled his phone back from his ear, which now showed his home screen. “Hanging up on mammals, so rude,” He muttered, locking the device before he threw it onto the couch. At least he had another pair of eyes looking out for Judy now, and he was sure between his mom and Finnick he would be alerted should there be any problems.

Nick’s phone binged and he reached for it. His screen lit up, showing him that he had several Furbook notifications. He hadn’t had the chance to check his social media since getting his phone back. Unlocking it he found the app and scrolled through his notifications – some of his friends were getting married, some had had kits, and some were doing time in jail, all the usual stuff. What caught his eye the most were six new friend requests. He found one from Judy, which he automatically accepted, one from Bonnie Hopps and one from Stu Hopps, both of which he’d respond to later once he’d cleared up his profile, one from a Julian Hopps which made him frown, the name unfamiliar though he assumed he was a relative of Judy’s, and the final two were from Clawhauser and Wolford. He accepted the chatty receptionist and Judy’s temporary partner. They’d be his colleagues soon too. Taking himself to Judy’s profile he found very little – her friend’s list, however, was immense. Her profile photo was from her graduation and Nick rolled his eyes at how predictable she was. She needed a new one.

Now that his Furbook had been dealt with, Nick stood, stretched, and left the living room for the kitchen. He grabbed Judy’s card and present from the kitchen counter, carrying them back to his bedroom. He’d lay down with her for another hour or two before he’d attempt making her some breakfast. Tip-toeing into his room, he paused to watch Judy sleep, noticing how she’d curled up around his pillow and buried her nose in the soft fabric. Placing his phone on the nightstand, along with Judy’s present and card, Nick slipped back into bed. Judy snuffled in her sleep, moving around until she finally ended up half on top of him. She settled quickly, small nose twitching. Wrapping an arm around her, Nick held her close, letting his eyes fall shut. He’d catch another hour of sleep.

Judy woke later to the feeling of a paw stroking her cheek. Nose twitching she caught the undeniable scent of Nick surrounding her. “Carrots.” Nick cooed, claw gently scritching at Judy’s fur. He’d crouched down next to his bed, a tray beside him with breakfast for Judy on it.

Blinking, Judy opened her eyes, met with the bright emerald eyes of Nick. “Morning sleepy.” He teased, offering her a warm smile as he pulled his paw back.

“Hmm, morning.” Judy stretched, ears springing to their usual position as she sat up.

“No no, don’t move. The birthday girl gets breakfast in bed.” Nick lifted a tray from the floor next to him, sliding it onto the bed and across Judy’s lap.

Blinking down at the tray of food suddenly presented to her, Judy turned her gaze to Nick. Touched by the sweet gesture, she offered him a fond smile. “You shouldn’t have, Slick.”

Nick shrugged. It wasn’t much, he hadn’t let his mom teach him how to cook after all, but he’d managed to whip up some oatmeal for her, sprinkled it with some blueberries he’d found in the fridge. He’d made some toast too, spreading some strawberry jam on each slice. Raiding the fruit bowl, he’d cut an apple into slices, adding it to a small dish with some grapes, and he’d finished it off with a glass of orange juice. It was a little too healthy for his liking, but if the amount of wholesome and organic items in the cupboards and fridge were anything to go by then Judy liked this kind of food, and would invariably make him eat it when he graduated and returned home for good. “I wish I could’ve cooked you something, but I figured the smoke alarm going off wouldn’t be a great wake-up call.”

“This is a perfect wake up call, thank you.” Judy hadn’t been expecting anything like this from Nick. She’d never been woken up with breakfast in bed before. The Hopps warren was too vast for breakfast in bed to be an option, too many mouths to feed. Her mom conducted mealtimes with military precision.

Pleased that Judy seemed happy with breakfast, Nick stood, sitting at the end of the bed to keep Judy company while she ate. “You’re not having any?” The doe frowned, noting Nick’s lack of tray.

“I ate while preparing it for you. Besides, it’s your birthday.” Nick explained, content to simply watch Judy eat.

“Well this is a lot of food, and I’m not having you simply sit there and watch me, so you’re going to join me.” Judy picked up a grape, holding it out to Nick. Smiling at her, Nick took the fruit, popping it into his mouth. Satisfied that he was eating with her, Judy gently moved the tray to place it between them, going first for a slice of toast. She guessed the oatmeal would take another few minutes to cool down to a more palatable temperature.

They ate in comfortable silence. Nick only took food when it was offered to him, and it didn’t take long for Judy to realise that Nick wasn’t eating without her prompting him. She started a ‘one for me, one for Nick’ system. She was still concerned about his eating habits, so getting to see that he was eating eased her worries a little. She’d had half a mind to call Major Friedkin initially, to ask her to keep an eye on Nick’s eating habits, but Judy hadn’t wanted to come across as overbearing, so she’d refrained.

With the food gone and their bellies full, Nick disappeared with the tray back to the kitchen, returning a moment later to resume his seat at the end of the bed. “Go on,” he nodded towards her card and present on the nightstand. Like an excited kit, Judy grabbed them, bringing them onto her lap. Starting with the card, Judy opened the envelope. The front of the card featured a cartoon bunny, front paws resting on a giant carrot that had a pink bow around it, the words ‘Hoppy birthday’ printed in black font above the image. Judy couldn’t stop her smile or her snort of amusement. She should’ve known Nick would find a card with a rabbit pun on it.

Nick wasn’t particularly good with words, he wasn’t great at writing down his feelings, but he’d tried hard for Judy. He could’ve gone for humour, had contemplated it initially, but in the end the need to show a more serious side had won out. He’d been heartfelt in his birthday wishes for her and when Judy finally looked up from the card, Nick could see tears gathering in her eyes.

Placing the card aside, Judy leant across the gap between them, tugging Nick into a hug. “Thanks, Slick.” She whispered, paws holding on tightly to the fox she loved. She hadn’t expected such a serious and sweet message inside her card, especially with the comical front to it.

Nick held on to Judy, enjoying her embrace. As the rabbit pulled back Nick quickly wiped his paws under her eyes. She hadn’t started to cry, but the action made her laugh. “Emotional bunny, I know.” Judy joked as she sat back in her original position, her paws finding the wrapped present.

Nervousness filled Nick as Judy gently shook the package, and his heart rate picked up. Judy’s ears flicked, honing in on Nick’s heartbeat. She kept quiet, intrigued by his bodies reaction to her picking up the present. Pulling at the bow, it unravelled in her paws. Gently she pulled the wrapping paper, unfolding it until she found a long white box. The lid was embossed with a logo Judy had never seen before. Curious, she lifted the lid. “Oh, Nick.” She breathed, taking in the delicate silver bracelet inside. Two charms were threaded onto the bracelet and sat in the centre of it – one was a carrot and one was a pawpsicle.

Nick held his breath, waiting for Judy’s response. Her soft whisper as she saw the bracelet made him relax a little, but he was still nervous.

“It’s beautiful.” Judy used a paw to brush gently across the two charms. She hadn’t expected anything from Nick, let alone something as beautiful as the bracelet in her paws. No mammal outside of her family had ever gifted her something so lovely. Her heart felt like it would explode with affection and love for Nick, and she had to stop herself from leaning across the gap between them and planting the mother of all kisses onto his snout.

Glad that Judy liked it, Nick gently took the box, freeing the bracelet from it. Judy offered up her right arm and, holding the bracelet by the clasp and eye, Nick fastened it around her wrist. It fit perfectly and Nick let out a small sigh of relief. “I know that jewellery isn’t really your thing, at least I’ve never seen you wear any, but when I saw this I immediately thought of you,” Nick explained, watching as Judy pulled her arm back once the bracelet was secure, violet eyes taking in the charms. “A carrot for you and a pawpsicle for me.” The bracelet had another meaning, the style very particular and well known amongst canines. Nick vowed that one day he’d tell her the real meaning behind it, but for now, he was content with her simply seeing it as a pretty piece of jewellery.

Judy didn’t even bother trying to stop her tears, overcome with emotion. She’d received plenty of gifts in the past, but nothing as beautiful or meaningful as her new bracelet.

“Hey, don’t cry sweetheart.” Nick relaxed completely, pleased that Judy genuinely liked the present. Reaching across he wiped away her tears, only to find himself with a lap full of emotional bunny as Judy bridged the gap between them, throwing her arms around his neck and embracing him, burying her nose under his muzzle. Wrapping his arms around her, Nick held her, enjoying their closeness. A faint sound similar to Judy chewing caught Nick’s attention and he focused in on the noise, feeling Judy’s jaw move in sets of three, in time with the noise. She’d pause between sets, only for a few seconds, and then her jaw would move and the noise would start again. He had no idea what she was doing but he filed away the noise as something else he would have to research.

Filled with enough happiness to let herself tooth purr, Judy pulled back as her tears stopped, giving Nick an affectionate smile. “Thank you, Nick.” She whispered, paws grasping at his fur.

“Happy birthday, Judy.” Nick caught a flash of silver, eyes finding the bracelet around her wrist. Seeing it filled him with a sense of pride, enjoying that she was wearing something he’d gifted her. “We have a table booked at The Dunes at 4 pm for an early dinner, but between now and then the birthday girl gets to decide what we do.” Nick was happy to go along with whatever Judy wanted. The trip home had been sprung on him so he hadn’t had time to plan anything.

Judy really didn’t know the city very well. She patrolled some of the districts, yes, but she didn’t know what there was to do for entertainment in the city. Outside of work, she didn’t really venture out unless it was for dinner with Marian or lunch with Akita. Her friendship circle in the city was very small. “You’re the city mammal, what’s the best thing to see?”

“That depends entirely on what you like.” Nick was open to anything; he really didn’t mind what they got up to so long as Judy was happy. It was her day, after all.

Judy stopped to think for a minute. “Independent bookstores, museums, galleries, monuments.” She rattled off a list of places she liked to visit. To some they were touristy, but she found them the most exciting. Without Nick by her side, and with her very small social circle, Judy hadn’t had the chance to explore much of the city’s tourist attractions yet.

“How about the city gallery then?” Art wasn’t really Nick’s thing, he’d dabbled in it for a while when selling paintings for Mr. Big and his dad had taken him to the gallery a lot when he’d been a kit, so he’d learnt a thing or two, but he knew the inside of the city gallery was impressive and would probably excite Judy.

“Sounds like a plan. Let me grab a shower real quick and get changed.” Judy slipped from Nick’s bed, gathering up her card and bracelet box. As she disappeared into her bedroom to get ready, Nick shook his head fondly.

They made it to the gallery with plenty of time to explore before their early dinner. Judy had decided to wear her new dress from Marian, and when she’d stepped out of her bedroom wearing it, along with the bracelet, it had taken every inch of Nick’s control not to pin her to the wall and kiss her. She had no idea what she did to him, and it was getting harder and harder for Nick to restrain himself.

Judy had grabbed his paw while on the crowded metro, telling him she didn’t want to get separated from him, and Nick had made sure to keep hold of her paw once they were back out on the street level, walking towards the gallery. They’d garnered a few stares, Nick more acutely tuned in to his surroundings from his years on the street, but it hadn’t bothered the tod.

Judy had been telling a small lie when she’d grabbed Nick’s paw on the metro. While part of her was afraid of losing him, as she had no idea where they were going, another part of her simply wanted to hold his paw, to feel what it would be like if they were to be mates. So far her hints hadn’t seemed to do much, or at least that’s what Judy believed, so the doe was ready to amp things up a notch in a hope that Nick would finally catch on. She could feel the small weight of her bracelet around her wrist and she couldn’t help the surge of affection she felt for Nick when she thought about it. She wasn’t much of a jewellery mammal, true, but she’d wear it all the time because it had been a gift from the fox she loved.

As it was a Sunday, their admission to the gallery was free. Nick found himself quietly thanking his lucky stars. He had enough in his wallet to cover dinner and his train home, but that was about it. He’d had to ask his mom for some cash for Judy’s present, and the vixen had told him he didn’t need to worry about paying it back, but Nick knew the moment he got his first paycheque he’d be paying her what he owed. It wasn’t fair for her to keep giving him cash.

Heading into the main atrium of the gallery, Nick watched Judy’s face. The moment they stepped inside the rabbit gasped, wide eyes roaming as she tried to take in as much as possible. The awe and joy on Judy’s face made Nick smile, and he couldn’t tear his gaze away from her. She was so beautiful. Nick had to admit that the entrance to the city gallery was impressive, with its high vaulted ceilings supported by polished marble columns, elaborate wood panelled walls that were hand carved and painted with gold leaf, two double sets of stairs sweeping up to the upper level with a marble archway between them on the ground floor leading to the lower level, and the twenty or so marble statues of mammals that lined the sides of the room. He’d visited the gallery with his father a lot when he’d been a kit. His dad had enjoyed art immensely, and he could remember his father telling him on one of their many trips to the gallery that “art is fascinating, Kiddo, because for a moment we get to witness the way another mammal see’s the world.”

Spotting some maps on a small table, Nick grabbed one with his free paw, Judy still lost in her admiration of the room. “What do you want to see first?” He asked, awkwardly opening the leaflet with a paw, not wanting to let go of Judy. Snapped out of her admiration at the sound of Nick’s voice, Judy took note of the map in his paw. Reluctantly she let go of him, helping him unfold the leaflet. “They have works by Vincent van Goat, Claude Mousey, Micealangelo, Salvador Baali, Pablo Pigcaso, Rathael, and Leonardo da Vicuña to name a few.” Nick rattled off the list, able to recall the most famous paintings in the building.

“Can we start with Pigcaso, please?” Judy looked over the map.

“Course we can Fluff, come on.” With the map open Nick held it in one paw, the other finding Judy’s once again as he started off in the direction of Pigcaso’s paintings, Judy falling into step beside him.

They spent a few hours in the gallery, and Nick couldn’t get enough of Judy’s happiness. She was like a kit at Christmas. She’d stopped at several paintings to admire them for a few minutes, giving Nick some indication as to her favourites. Sometimes when she stopped Nick grabbed his phone, taking sly photos of her lost in her admiration. He’d send a few to his mom so she could see Judy in her dress, but the other’s he’d keep to himself. There was one, in particular, he loved the most, taken from behind as Judy had looked up at a Claude Mousey painting.

Sometimes when she stopped he would stand behind her, dipping down to whisper in her ear, remembering all the things his father had told him about the paintings when he’d been a kit – “this one is the view from the east-facing window of his bedroom” he’d whispered in front of a van Goat painting, and “this one is sometimes referred to by more descriptive titles, such as ‘The Soft Watches’ or ‘The Melting Watches’” he’d added in front of a Salvador Baali painting.

Judy had to stop herself from shivering every time Nick stood behind her, whispering in her ear. She’d silently questioned how he knew so much, but his unexpected knowledge of the paintings had further served as a reminder to her that there were many layers to Nicholas P. Wilde, and she was still peeling them all back. She’d wanted to lean back against his chest as he’d whispered to her, wanted him to wrap an arm around her and hold her while he spoke. “Maybe one day.” She mused. She’d caught a few of the glances thrown their way, it wasn’t every day a mammal saw a fox and a rabbit together in the city gallery, but she couldn’t find it in her to care.

At 3:30 pm they’d reluctantly left the gallery, but not before Judy had insisted on a photo together in the main entrance. She’d sweet-talked an employee, a kind looking deer, into taking a photo of them stood in the grand entrance. Nick had never been overly fond of having his photo taken, after all, it was then proof he’d been somewhere he probably shouldn’t have been, but he’d let it slide for the birthday girl. He’d taken the opportunity to slide an arm around Judy, paw on her waist as he’d held her to his side. With a coo, Judy had shown the final photo to Nick. He’d quietly admitted to himself that it was a great photo of them and had asked Judy to forward it to him.

Judy had sought out Nick’s paw again, pleased that he seemed okay with the physical show of affection before she’d suggested that they walk to The Dunes. With the spring weather pleasant, Nick had agreed. He hadn’t been able to stop his tail wagging happily as Judy had taken his paw. She was being much more affectionate than usual, and though Nick knew rabbits were very physical creatures he didn’t want to get too ahead of himself.

The walk to The Dunes only took them twenty minutes, and Judy spoke avidly about the gallery the whole way there. Nick could’ve zoned out, Judy was so lost in chattering away that she probably wouldn’t have noticed, but the tod found himself listening to her, paying attention to everything she was saying. Her enthusiasm was intoxicating and Nick wanted to take her to other places in the city, show her things that could perhaps incite a similar reaction from her.

With their table ready upon their arrival at the restaurant, the maître d’ had shown them to their seats. Ever the gentlemammal, Nick had pulled out Judy’s seat for her, tucking her close to the table once she was seated. Placing their orders, Judy had settled on the chopped salad while Nick had opted for the salmon and avocado salad. While waiting for their meals, their conversation had centred on Judy’s plans for the week and Nick’s training. He’d regaled Judy with tales from the academy, omitting those that were less than savoury – such as the hazing and Tony’s declaration that he had a mistress. Judy had laughed, realising that Nick’s experience at the academy was much different than hers. When their meals had arrived they’d eaten in comfortable silence. The food was good, and Judy had enjoyed her chopped salad. She could see now why it was deemed the best in the city. They’d decided to share dessert, a strawberry sundae, and Marian must have told the staff it was Judy’s birthday as the chef had piped ‘happy birthday’ in strawberry coulis on the dish. Judy had found it adorable, and Nick had silently vowed to thank his mom for her foresight.

With dessert finished Nick had paid the check, and together they’d headed back home so he could pick up his bag, ready for the trip back to the academy. Judy didn’t want the weekend to end, it had been perfect, and going back to work tomorrow would suck, especially as she’d come home to an empty apartment.

Entering Savannah Central, Nick and Judy headed towards the ticket kiosk. “I’ll go and check the boards for your platform, Slick.” Judy offered. Nick nodded, appreciating her offer. Judy left his side and Nick retained his place in the queue, fishing in his pocket for his wallet.

Judy moved through the station, heading towards the departure boards. Finding them she stopped, looking up and searching for the next Zootopia Express train to Bunnyburrow. “Hey there pretty lady, need a paw?” a deep voice next to her spooked Judy, and she turned to face the owner of the voice. The voice belonged to a fox, but he looked nothing like Nick or Bandit. His coat was a sandy colour and when he smiled Judy could see his teeth were much smaller than Nick’s.

“I’m good thank you, Sir.” Judy politely declined his offer, a little uncomfortable that he’d randomly approached her and had started talking to her.

“You look lost.” The fox pushed, sparing a glance around to look for any other rabbits. He couldn’t see any, so assumed she was alone.

“No no, I assure you I’m not.” Judy put up a paw, glancing to the departures board once more to find the next Zootopia Express departure time, hoping the fox would get the hint that she wasn’t interested in talking to him.

“I’m Jake, and you are?” The fox didn’t take the hint, carrying on the conversation. He thought the rabbit was cute, in her little dress that matched her eyes.

Nick had just finished collecting his ticket when he’d started his search for Judy, only to find her being chatted up by another fox. The corsac had his tail up, wagging it slowly, showing interest, and his ears were forward and focused on Judy. A flash of anger coursed through Nick, along with a swell of jealousy, and before he could stop himself he was across the station, heading towards Judy. He caught the corsac introducing himself and before Judy could respond Nick gently pushed her back, standing just in front of her, free arm out to hide her behind him while the paw holding his bag and tickets clenched. “She’s not interested.” He snapped, eyeing up the corsac fox as he curled his lip back into a snarl. “What is it with Judy and attracting foxes?”

The corsac lifted an eyebrow. “I was just chatting to the little lady, buddy.”

Letting out a short, sharp warning yip, Nick reverted back to an old vocal signal, hoping the corsac would get the hint and back off. The noise attracted some attention, and several mammals paused to spare the two foxes a glance before they sped up, rushing past them to get on with their evenings, not wanting to be caught up in whatever they thought was about to happen.

Nick’s sudden protectiveness surprised Judy, as did the sound of Nick’s yip. “Warning yip…that’s a warning yip.” Lifting her right paw, Judy placed it on Nick’s outstretched arm. “It’s okay, Nick.” She soothed, paw moving up and down his arm, rubbing his fur. She could feel how tense he was, could see the clenching of his jaw.

Nick kept his eyes on the corsac, not daring to look away. As Judy’s paw came to rest on his arm he caught the corsac looking down at her paw. Recognition flared in the other foxes eyes. “Sorry, I didn’t realise. I apologise.” He was quick to stumble over his apology, offering his paws up in submission as he backed away, disappearing into the crowd. Nick couldn’t hide his smirk. Her birthday present was already working.

“Nick,” Judy spoke again, eyes focused on Nick’s face. “It’s okay, you didn’t have to send him a warning.”

Once he was sure the corsac was gone he glanced down to Judy, finding her looking up at him with wide violet eyes. Her paw still rested on his arm, the bracelet catching the light streaming in from the glass ceiling. Nick took a few deep breaths, centring himself before he spoke. “I could see that he was bothering you, and he was interested in you if his tail was anything to go by.”

“Are you gonna chase off every mammal that hits on me?” Judy raised an eyebrow. She couldn’t stop herself from silently admitting that his protective possessiveness was kind of doing it for her.

“Well…” Nick suddenly felt a little embarrassed by his reaction. Judy would’ve been able to handle herself; she didn’t need him stepping in. It had been instinctual though, the need to protect her. Besides, he wanted her as his mate; he couldn’t let other mammals think they stood a chance. “Wait, how did you know that was a warning?” Her words ran through his mind and he frowned.

Judy offered Nick a fond smile. “I always do my homework, remember?”

Nick blinked. Had Judy researched fox vocal cues? He wasn’t sure what to make of that. On one paw he thought it was sweet, on the other he wondered why she’d done so. What else had she researched about his species? “Come on, we need to go to platform five. Your train will be here in ten minutes.” Judy had managed to find out which platform they needed to be on before Nick had confronted the other fox. Moving her right paw, Judy took Nick’s free paw in her own, giving him a gentle tug to get him moving. Jolted from his musings, Nick followed Judy as she led him through the station and to platform five. Finding a vacant space on the platform, Nick set his bag down. With his free paw he rubbed at his muzzle.

“Sorry about that.” Nick apologised, feeling a little silly now that he thought back on it. His reaction had been a little over the top, but the sight of the corsac hitting on Judy had bothered him immensely. He had no right to feel that way, they weren’t dating after all, but his instincts had driven him to defend her.

“Don’t apologise, it’s fine.” Judy brushed it aside, still holding one of Nick’s paws. She gave it a reassuring squeeze. While it had attracted some attention it hadn’t dissolved into a fight, and the corsac had been making Judy feel uncomfortable.

“It wasn’t very polite.” Nick sighed. His mom would’ve scolded him if she had witnessed his little display. She’d always taught him that though their vocal cues were important, they were only to be used as a last resort. A lot of mammals were spooked by the sounds they made, so it was in their best interests to keep quiet.

“You were just trying to protect me. I’m not mad, Nick. He wasn’t taking the hint.” Judy didn’t want Nick to feel bad for standing up for her, for scaring off the corsac who hadn’t been able to get the hint that she wasn’t interested. She would’ve been more forceful with her response if Nick hadn’t of stepped in.

Nick took a deep breath. “I know, but it was none of my business, other mammals are allowed to hit on you as you’re not dating anyone.” Nick forced the words out, hating them. “Just promise me you’ll be on your guard while I’m away. I know you don’t need protecting, that you’re smart and strong, but I worry about you.”

“I don’t want other mammals hitting on me, silly. Just you.” Judy’s brain helpfully supplied. “I promise.” She held his gaze, wanting to reassure him. She knew not all mammals were kind; the night howler case had opened her eyes to that. Bellwether had seemed sweet but had actually been a criminal mastermind.

“The train now arriving at platform five is the 7 pm Zootopia Express to Bunnyburrow, calling at…” the PA System announced.

Judy wasn’t ready for the weekend to end, she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Nick, to go home to an empty apartment. Reaching up, she pulled him into a tight hug. “Thank you for a perfect birthday, Slick, and thank you again for my beautiful bracelet”

Wrapping his arms around her, Nick held her close, focusing on the way she smelt, the way she clung to him. “You’re welcome, Carrots. I’ll try and come back as soon as possible. Stay safe while I’m gone.” Nick had no idea when he’d next get to come home, but he hoped he wouldn’t have to wait too long. If he continued performing at the high level he was currently at, Major Friedkin would have no cause for concern and would probably let him come home again soon.

“I will. Be good.” Judy buried her nose in Nick’s fur as she heard the train come to a stop at the platform.

Without giving it a moment of thought as they pulled back from one another, Nick swooped down, pressing a lingering kiss to Judy’s cheek. “I’ll see you soon.” He whispered, nuzzling his nose against her before he let her go, grabbing his bag. He felt like he was fleeing as he boarded the train, finding his window seat, felt like he was running away from any repercussion for his impromptu kiss. His heart beat wildly as he stowed his luggage above him, paws sweaty as he took his seat. He wiped them on his pants, taking a moment to pull his ragged breathing under control. “Was that too much? Did I overstep? It was just a cheek kiss, idiot. Perfectly innocent, you didn’t reveal your hand…” his mind raced.

As Nick let go of her Judy stood frozen, caught off guard by Nick’s kiss. Paw rising to touch the spot he’d kissed, Judy blinked. Whipping around she watched as he took his seat on the train, her heart jackhammering. He’d kissed her. Okay, it was only a cheek kiss, but Nick had kissed her. Paw falling to her side she stared at his profile as he took his seat. Her silly, witty, smart, handsome, best friend had just kissed her. “Are you reading into this too much, Judy? It was only a cheek kiss after all. Or could he possibly feel the same way you do? He made you breakfast in bed, bought you jewellery, held your paw all day, took you to a gallery, bought you dinner, and he just kissed you goodbye…”

With a whistle, the train started to move, and Judy lifted her right paw to wave. Nick found Judy on the platform, lifting his own paw to return her wave. Sadness swept through him at the fact he was leaving, that he wouldn’t be home again for a while, but the sight of the bracelet around Judy’s wrist soothed him, reassured him that she’d be okay, that no other canine would try it on with her so long as she continued to wear it.

As the train pulled away and Judy disappeared from sight, Nick sent a quick text to his mom, thanking her for the dinner reservation. He attached a photo of Judy in her new dress, knowing his mom would appreciate a copy. He sent another message to Finnick, letting the fennec know he was heading back to the academy, and then he set about tidying up his Furbook page so he could accept Bonnie and Stu. His paws worked on autopilot, his brain still too focused on the fact he’d planted a kiss on Judy’s cheek, right there on the platform of Savannah Central.

Dazed, Judy left the station. Not wanting to walk she held out her right arm, flagging down a taxi. The charms on her bracelet jingled, the little carrot and pawpsicle together, a little piece of Nick with her every day. She glanced at it, unable to stop her smile. Climbing into the taxi, Judy pulled out her phone from the little pocket in her dress, ready to text her mom and tell her that she’d call her soon for present opening. However, as she unlocked the device she was presented with the photo of her and Nick from the gallery. She spent a moment looking over it, enjoying the way they stood close, Nick’s arm around her waist, and she quietly admitted to herself that they looked good together. Lifting a paw to her cheek she touched the spot he’d kissed. Giddy, she opened Furbook, spotting that Nick had accepted her friend request. Navigating to her profile she uploaded the photo, tagging him in it. Still high on her feelings, she set it as her display picture. It was time for a new one anyway.


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