Chapter 15 – Welcome to Bunnyburrow

July 14th saw Judy standing at the train station in Bunnyburrow, hind paw thumping the bricked platform impatiently. She’d been given the day off work, had traveled home this morning to spend some time with her family before Nick arrived and the chaos of the Carrot Day Festival began. It was 5:46 pm and Nick’s train was due in at 6 pm. Though it was early evening the summer weather meant that Judy had been able to wear a dress, another beautiful garment made for her by Marian. This one was red, with a gray sash across her middle and delicate lace detail along the sweetheart neckline. She’d thrown a red cardigan over the top, just in case the temperature decided to drop. Judy lowered her gaze to her left forearm, to the gash that had been expertly stitched up by Zootopia’s emergency services. The drugs raid hadn’t gone to plan. “You should probably cover that up.” The soft voice from behind Judy pulled her from her thoughts. Casting a glance over her shoulder, Judy knew Jasmine was right. Her littermate had insisted on coming with her. “He might need help with his bags, Ju.” Jasmine had argued. Judy had protested, but their mom had shooed them both out of the house, worrying they’d be late if they argued about it any further.

“Yeah, he’d freak.” Judy sighed, rolling down the sleeves of her cardigan to hide her arms. The action hid her bracelet, still around her right wrist, and Judy hoped that she’d finally get some answers from the tod about it this weekend. She figured she wouldn’t be able to keep the gash a secret from Nick for long, though. He was too observant, too smart, and her mom had insisted that they share her old room for the weekend. Regrettably, none of Judy’s sleepwear covered her arms. “You’re just delaying the inevitable, Judy.”

Nick had managed to convince Major Friedkin to give him the weekend off, to let him go and see Judy and her family in Bunnyburrow. The weekend came with some stipulations, though. The first was that he wasn’t allowed to miss Friday’s training and the second was that he was to be back Monday morning at 7:30 am. Major Friedkin had decided to give him the Sunday night off too, and Nick couldn’t be more grateful for another evening with Judy.

The last two weeks had been hell for him. He’d have to tell Judy this time home about the bracelet. There was no way around it. They’d agreed to talk, and now Nick was beating himself up, cursing himself. He’d ran through the conversation in his head millions of times, thought about all the questions Judy would ask, the ways in which their chat might go. Judy could start shouting and accuse him of being high-handed. She could be disgusted, reject him and his advances entirely. She could return his advances, let him kiss her senseless and love her until the end of time. Nick knew which option he preferred.

Stealing a glance at the time on his phone, which he had clutched in one paw, Nick sighed. Another 14 minutes until the train would pull into Bunnyburrow station. His duffle bag was on the seat next to him, the train not as busy as he’d expected it to be. In his other paw, he held a big bouquet of flowers. He’d read the book from Bonnie several times over, familiarized himself with it as much as possible. He’d then taken her note about flowers and used it to draft a letter to Mr. Otterton, asking for a very specific bouquet. His mom had gone in to pay for him, and she’d proceeded to send him some cash for the weekend. Nick found himself owing his mom more money, and it didn’t sit right with him. He wasn’t comfortable with her spending what little she had left each month on him. The flowers had arrived this morning, and Major Friedkin had been kind enough to sit them in water for him. The look she’d given him after breakfast was enough to let the tod know that if he tested her patience, she’d get immense pleasure out of telling all his fellow cadets that he’d bought Judy a big bouquet of flowers.

Staring at the bouquet, he ran through their meanings once more. “Purple stock for affection and a happy life, lavender roses for enchantment, purple lisianthus for appreciation, white hydrangeas for heartfelt gratitude, white alstroemerias for friendship and devotion, and Judy’s favorite tulips, in red, for love.” It wasn’t lost on Nick that the bouquet consisted of a lot of purple flowers, but the meanings were perfect, and they reminded him of Judy’s eyes. “You’re still a lovesick fool.”

The PA system broke Nick from his thoughts. “The next station is Bunnyburrow. This service terminates here. Please remember to take all your belongings with you, and mind the gap between the train and the platform. We thank you for traveling on the Zootopia Express.”

With a deep breath, Nick stood. Sliding his phone into his back pocket, pleased to have received it back from Major Friedkin for the weekend, and terrified by the sheer number of Furbook notifications he had. He used his now free paw to pick up his bag. Flowers and bag in tow, Nick made his way to the train doors.

The train slowed to a stop, the doors sliding open a moment later. “You got this, it’s just Carrots and her family.” Nick stepped off the train; hind paws finding the brick platform. A few mammals milled around on the platform, and he searched for Judy.

A blur of gray and red ran towards him, and Nick soon found himself engulfed in a hug, Judy’s arms around his waist, the side of her face pressed to his chest. Depositing his bag onto the platform he wrapped his free arm around her, pulling her close. “Slick!” Judy’s grip tightened, eyes closed. She’d watched as the train had come to a stop, searched every door to see which one Nick would emerge from. It had been instinctual, running along the platform to greet him. It had been two months since they’d last been able to touch one another, and Judy found herself greedy with the need to be near him.

Glancing down at the rabbit embracing him, Nick didn’t bother hiding his grin. Tail flicking; he wrapped it around Judy’s ankles. It had to be the sweetest welcome he’d ever received. “Hey, Carrots.” He breathed, unable to stop himself from pressing a kiss to the top of her head. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too, so much, and-“ Judy pulled back from their embrace, refusing to move out of the grip of Nick’s tail. However, she stopped mid-sentence as she saw the bouquet of flowers.

“For you.” Nick offered them to her, paws suddenly a little clammy as he did his best to calm his nerves. Bonnie’s advice swam around his mind that flowers and their meanings were important in the Hopps family.

Judy blinked, surprised. Letting out a small noise of appreciation she gently took the bouquet, bringing it to her nose to smell the flowers. They were beautiful, their scent making Judy close her eyes to savor the sweetness. Nick had brought her flowers. Flowers! And not just any old flowers, but her favorite tulips too. “Thank you, Nick. They’re beautiful.”

“Not a problem, Fluff.” He watched as she buried her nose amongst the petals, his shoulders sagging with relief that he’d managed to get this right.

“How did you know I love tulips?” Judy asked, looking up from her bouquet to find the emerald eyes she knew so well.

“Educated guess.” Nick skirted around the topic, not willing to reveal his paw and confess to having been tipped off by Bonnie.

Pushing up onto the balls of her hind paws, Judy planted a light kiss on Nick’s cheek. “You’re the best.”

Eyes widening at the brief kiss, Nick watched as Judy sank back to her usual height. His heart pounded, paws even clammier than before, and he felt a little lightheaded. “If a cheek kiss does this to you, what on earth will happen if you finally get to kiss her properly?”

The sound of a throat clearing to their left had Nick and Judy turning, breaking them out of their moment. Jasmine had stayed back, watching as her sister had greeted the fox. Bonnie had recruited her into helping a few days ago, filled her in on the plan to get Judy and Nick to tell one another how they felt. Jasmine had jumped at the chance to help her littermate, but having watched their little platform exchange she had a feeling it wouldn’t take much pushing to get the rabbit and the fox together. “So you’re the mammal all the fuss has been about?” Now she was closer Jasmine could look Nick over properly. He was in good shape, his fur clean and brushed, and his eyes bright and tail fluffy. She could see why Judy was attracted to him. “Oh my goodness, he’s wrapped his tail around Judy. How adorable!”

Having been unaware that Judy had brought one of her siblings with her, Nick flushed, his fur thankfully hiding it. Quickly and surreptitiously wiping a paw on his pants, he then offered it out to the other doe. She was the same height as Judy, had the same fur color too, but instead of violet eyes she had brown ones. “Nick Wilde, hi. There was a fuss?”

Jasmine took the fox’s outstretched paw in her own, giving it a firm shake. “Jasmine Hopps, pleasure.” Letting go of Nick’s paw, she folded her arms across her chest. Unable to stop her smirk, she decided to tease the tod. “Oh yes, our warren became an immense hive of activity when everyone learned that Judy was bringing home a friend.” She glanced quickly at her sister, noting that Judy was giving her the stink eye. Brown eyes settling on Nick, Jasmine smoothed her smirk into a smile, not bothering to hide her amusement at the way Nick gulped.

“Jasmine’s joking, don’t worry.” Judy jumped in to reassure Nick. She knew the weekend would probably be a lot for him, and she didn’t need him panicking before he’d even stepped paw inside the warren.

“That’s reassuring.” Nick chuckled nervously, picking up his bag.

“Come on, mom’s waiting.” Jasmine tipped her head towards the station exit, taking the lead as they started to walk back to the pickup truck.

Bonnie had pushed dinnertime back a little so that Nick could eat with them, and Judy had spent all afternoon in the kitchen preparing food for him. Bonnie had offered to help, Jasmine had even offered a paw, but Judy had politely turned them both down. Judy knew that her mom and sister had never handled fish before, but she’d been practicing while Nick was away at the academy.

Clutching her flowers in one paw, Judy’s free paw took Nick’s as they walked. Nick glanced down at their joined paws. Her response to the flowers, the way she was holding his paw, it reassured him that their talk would go well, that she possibly returned his feelings. She still wore the bracelet around her wrist; he could see it peeking out from under her cardigan. He took in her dress, not having seen it before. “New dress?” He questioned, admiring how it hugged her body.

Judy looked up, ears smoothed down behind her as she nodded. “A present from your mom.” Marian had visited Judy last night, a large gift bag with her, filled with several new dresses. Judy had cried and had hugged the vixen like her life had depended on it. She’d brought all the dresses with her to Bunnyburrow, unable to chose just one or two.

“You’re going to have a whole new wardrobe soon.” Nick couldn’t help but smile. It meant the world to him that his mom got along with Judy, that she liked the doe. He’d never brought a girl home before, never felt close enough to another mammal to let them into his family home. He’d had some flings, some one-night stands, but they meant nothing compared to his relationship with Judy.

“I’m not complaining. Your mom is an excellent dressmaker.” Marian’s sewing machine had been out the last time Judy had gone over for dinner, and she’d spotted a few new pieces the vixen was working on. Judy loved hearing about Marian’s latest sewing escapades, loved watching the way the vixen’s face would light up, her paws animated whenever she spoke about her latest projects.

“I think you might be her muse. Mom hasn’t sewed in years.” Nick couldn’t remember the last time his mom had pulled out her sewing machine, but it had been before his dad had passed away. His mom had lost her love for sewing when she’d lost her husband.

“I’ll ride in the bed. You two can take the cab.” Jasmine offered, pulling the keys from her pocket. She threw them at Judy, suppressing her smile as her sister was forced to let go of Nick’s paw to catch them. “You can throw your bag in the bed with me, Nick.” Jasmine offered, clambering up into the back of the truck. Nick offered her his bag, and Jasmine secured it to the floor of the truck bed with bungee cords. Judy could drive, yes, but sometimes her driving was a little scary.

Judy took her place behind the wheel, her flowers resting on the bench seat beside her. Nick slid into the passenger seat, glancing around. “No blueberries?” He pouted as Judy started the engine.

“Sorry Slick, don’t want you ruining your dinner. Besides, I thought we’d go and pick some ourselves tomorrow morning.” Judy pulled the truck out of the car park and started the drive home. She knew they would be attending the fair tomorrow, but she’d set aside some time for Nick to gather his favorite blueberries. She’d ask her dad for a large punnet of them on Sunday afternoon so Nick could take some back to the academy wth him.

“You know the way to my heart, Carrots.” Nick would take every opportunity he could get to get his paws on the Hopps Family Farm blueberries. They were far superior to any blueberries he’d ever eaten before.

The back window of the cab didn’t slide open, but with both driver and passenger windows rolled down Jasmine was able to eavesdrop on the conversation between her sister and the fox. “Carrots? He calls her Carrots?” Jasmine frowned, not sure if she would ever understand cutesy pet names.

“Oh, by the way, I found this in a punnet of blueberries I received from your mom.” Nick pulled out the small pink toy he’d found in his last care package from Bonnie. It was cloud shaped, with a cartoon face on it. He had no idea what it was, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t meant to be in the punnet and wasn’t meant for him.

“Mom sent you a package?” It was news to Judy. Her mom had never mentioned sending Nick anything. Sparing a glance at the item in Nick’s paw, Judy snickered, eyes returning to the road. A quick inhale told her who the toy belonged to. “That’s Sasha’s gnaw toy, she thought she’d lost it.”

“Yeah, she’s sent me a few.” Nick glossed over the subject of Bonnie’s care packages, his attention returning to the little pink cloud. “How do you know it’s Sasha’s?”

“The smell. It carries Sasha’s scent.” Judy explained, watching as Nick lifted it to his nose to sniff it.

Nick frowned, pulling the toy away from his nose so he could stare at it. “I don’t smell anything.”

Shaking her head fondly, Judy explained. “That’s because you don’t know Sasha’s scent. When we get home, your nose will tell you when she’s nearby.”

“What’s a gnaw toy?” Nick turned the toy over in his paws, as he had done many times since he’d found it at the bottom of one of his blueberry care packages.

“Rabbit’s teeth don’t stop growing, so we have to wear them down all the time, or they become painful. As kits, we’re given gnaw toys to chew, and as adults, we use special wooden dowels.” Judy explained, realizing that she’d never told Nick about that little rabbit quirk. She kept her wooden dowels in her bedroom, chewed on them once a week to keep her teeth in good shape. There were plenty of dowel choices, especially in Bunnyburrow, but Judy preferred maple dowels.

“Wait, your teeth never stop growing?” The book from Bonnie hadn’t mentioned that little snippet of information.

“Yup,” Judy confirmed.

Thinking back on their time together, Nick realized he’d never seen Judy chewing on any wooden dowels in front of him. “I’ve never seen you use a wooden dowel.”

“I only use them once a week, and I missed last week, so I’m afraid I’m going to need to chew on one this evening. It’s why we give kits cute looking gnaw toys, to encourage them to chew often and keep their teeth healthy.” Judy didn’t really want to use her dowels in front of Nick, it wasn’t an attractive thing, munching away on maple wood, but she didn’t want to stray any further away from her chewing schedule. Judy also figured that she and Nick were living together now, that once he graduated they would be around one another 24/7, so it was inevitable that he’d see her chewing on her dowels.

“Your sister has chewed this?” Nick looked a little more closely at the cloud, spotting small bite marks. He tried to hide his grimace. Judy’s sister had chewed it, and it had been in amongst his blueberries.

“Yeah. Don’t worry though, you won’t get cooties.” Judy snickered.

Snorting, Nick grinned at the doe. “I’ve probably already caught them from you.”

“Oh ouch, Mr. Wilde.” Judy let go of the wheel with one paw, gently swatting Nick as she laughed. Nick feigned hurt, rubbing the spot Judy had hit while he laughed with her. As his laughter died down, he kept his eyes on her, taking her in. He’d missed her, missed the sound of her voice and her scent, the way she was always reaching out to touch him.

Feeling Nick’s gaze on her, Judy blushed, flustered by the weight of his stare. “Focus on the road, Ju,” Jasmine complained loudly as the truck jolted over some potholes. On the best of days Judy always ended up finding all the potholes in the road, but with Nick distracting her it was even worse.

“Sorry, Jas.” Judy apologized with a sheepish smile, returning her attention to the road. She took the next right turn, the tarmac becoming a dirt path that led to their family home.

As the road surface changed, Nick moved his attention to his surroundings. Up ahead, the looming building of Judy’s family home made his jaw drop. “Holy heck…” he muttered. The building was huge, painted in a bright cherry red. It was protruding from a large mound of earth, a sprawling front porch wrapping around it. As they drew closer, Nick could see several windows emerging from the side of the dirt mound. The feature that caught his attention the most though was the cladding on the front of the building, shaped at the top like giant rabbit ears.

Judy pulled the truck to a stop beside the front porch. “You think this is impressive, wait until we get inside. All of our communal space is in the mound, and all the bedrooms are underground.” Judy couldn’t stop her smile at the look of amazement on Nick’s face. Killing the engine, Judy grabbed the keys and her flowers, opening the door and sliding out of the driver’s seat; her hind paws finding the grassy ground that surrounded her family home.

Jasmine jumped down from the bed of the truck, freeing Nick’s bag and bringing it with her. Nick was last to leave the vehicle, eyes still trained on the imposing structure before him. Judy rounded the car, truck keys now in her pocket. Reaching out for Nick she took one of his paws in her own, clutching her flowers in the other. “Ready?” She asked, knowing that the weekend would probably be a lot for Nick.

Broken from his admiration by the feel of Judy’s paw in his own, he glanced down to her, offering her a smile. “Born ready.” He turned to Jasmine, nodding towards his bag, holding his paw out for it.

“I’ve got it, don’t worry.” Jasmine shrugged, the bag not at all heavy. She had a feeling Nick would need his paws free. Besides, she’d run it down to Judy’s room for him.

“Thank you.” Nick offered Jasmine a small nod. If Judy’s 274 other siblings were like the brown-eyed doe, then he had a feeling things would be okay.

With a gentle tug, Judy led Nick towards the house. They climbed up the porch steps together, the front door ajar. No one locked their doors in Bunnyburrow, crime was virtually non-existent and everyone knew one another. Judy led Nick through the entrance hall, weaving through other hallways, past many family rooms, playrooms, and the library. Nick only managed to snatch the occasional glance into the rooms they were passing, but he already knew that he would have to follow Judy everywhere, else he’d get lost.

Deeper into the house, Judy came to a standstill in front of a large white door. Giving Nick’s paw a squeeze, she pushed the door open.

Noise. There was so much noise. Nick’s ears flicked, flattening as he tried to drown out some of the sounds. They were in the kitchen, a bright and colorful room, the walls covered in drawings done by the Hopps kits. Nick stole a quick glance around him. To his left was a railing in place of a wall, and Nick could see rows and rows of tables and bench seats on the split-level below, a massive staircase leading down. Lining the wall opposite the door sat countless industrial sized stoves, and the wall to Nick’s right was lined with cupboards. Before him, between him and the stoves, was the largest island counter he’d ever seen. It was cooking on a monumental scale.

Jasmine took the opportunity to disappear down the stairs to the dining room, slipping through one of the many archways off of it and towards the bedrooms. She’d leave Nick’s bag on Judy’s bed.

“Nick, it’s so good to see you.” Bonnie had turned at the sound of the kitchen door opening, hearing finely tuned from years of watching over unruly kits. Abandoning her post by one of the stoves, the pots and pans on a very low heat just to keep the food warm, Bonnie bustled around the island counter. Reaching up, she tugged Nick into a hug. The kitchen fell silent.

“It’s great to see you too, Bonnie.” Nick greeted the Hopps matriarch, letting go of Judy’s paw so he could return her embrace. Over Bonnie’s shoulder, he could see lots of wide eyes, at least twenty young bunnies all looking right at him. Swallowing, Nick gently pulled back from Bonnie’s embrace.

“How’ve you been dear?” Bonnie asked, taking a moment to look Nick over. She’d only seen him once, during her Muzzletime call on Judy’s birthday, but he looked well. During their embrace, she’d been able to feel how strong he was, and Bonnie had to hide her grin. He’d need that strength to keep up with Judy.

“I’ve been well thanks, how about you?” Nick was comfortable with small talk and comfortable around Bonnie.

“I’ve been good dear, no need to worry about me.” Bonnie offered the tod a smile, resting a paw on his arm. Turning her attention to Judy, Bonnie caught sight of her flowers. “Oh Judy, what beautiful flowers!”

The familiarity between her mom and Nick made Judy question just how many care packages Bonnie had sent her fox. “Nick brought them for me.” Judy spared a glance up to Nick, offering him a warm smile before she crossed to one of the cupboards, using her free paw to open the door and pull out a vase.

Bonnie gave Nick’s arm a gentle squeeze, pleased that he’d listened to her advice. “Good boy.” She mouthed, enjoying the light blush that tinged the inside of Nick’s ears at the praise.

Nick’s nostrils flared as he suddenly caught a new scent. “Sasha?” He asked, looking over the top of Bonnie’s head towards all the little faces that were still staring at him. Now he knew what Judy had meant back in the truck.

Bonnie turned, looking between Nick and her kits. “Sasha, come on sweet pea.” She held out a paw, gesturing for her baby to come forward. She had no idea how Nick knew Sasha’s name, or why he was calling it, but she trusted the fox.

With Bonnie’s back turned, and Sasha’s attention momentarily on her mom, Nick slipped the chew toy from his pocket up into his right sleeve.

Sasha’s gaze moved from her mom back to the strange fox in the kitchen, but as her mom offered out her paw, she skittered out from behind the island counter. “This is Nick, he’s a friend of Judy’s.” Bonnie introduced them, gently pushing her daughter towards the tod. Sasha was a little scared of the fox, he was so tall, and his scent was unyielding, but if he was a friend of Ju-Ju’s, then he had to be nice.

With her flowers in a vase, Judy watched as Sasha approached Nick. She’d worked out the meanings of the flowers while arranging them, and though she wasn’t sure if Nick knew what they meant when he’d picked them out, the sweet meanings of them all made her smile, made her heart swell with love for the fox.

“Hey, Sasha.” Nick knelt on the floor, bringing himself down to Sasha’s height. He was careful not to show his teeth when he offered the little bunny a smile. The young rabbit had brown fur with splotches of cream fur scattered across her body, she also had a cream stripe down her chin and throat, and her eyes were the same color as Jasmine’s. “I heard a rumor that you lost something recently.”

Sasha nodded shyly, wringing her paws in front of her. She’d lost her favorite chew toy a few weeks ago, and no matter how hard she looked she couldn’t find it, and none of her siblings said they’d seen it. Sasha wasn’t sure if she believed them.

“Hmm…” Nick slowly lifted a paw to his temple, as if he were deep in thought. “Was it blue? No, wait…it was pink.” His dad might have been an awful magician, according to his mom anyway, but Nick’s years on the streets had taught him numerous ways to trick mammals. There was nothing malicious about this trick though.

Stu ventured into the kitchen from the dining room, Jasmine by his side, figuring her return meant Nick and Judy had made it back to the warren too. He took in the scene before him, pausing at the top of the stairs to watch Nick and Sasha. Stu wasn’t sure what was going on, but he used it as an opportunity to observe the fox. He’d take all the chances he could get this weekend. The plan that had been concocted during dinner with Marian was still firmly in place, but Stu wanted to double-check that the fox was good for his daughter.

Bonnie kept her gaze on the scene unfolding before her, unsure as to what Nick was doing. Her confusion showed with a frown, but one glance at Judy, whose broad smile was almost splitting her face, told Bonnie that she didn’t need to worry.

Sasha gasped, nodding her head more vigorously. Her pink gnaw toy!

Nick pretended to think for a moment longer. “Was it shaped like a giraffe? No, wait, was it a cloud?”

“It was!” Sasha couldn’t remain silent any longer, and she rocked on the balls of her hind paws with excitement.

“Did you look everywhere for it?” Nick quizzed.

“I did Mister Nick.” Sasha couldn’t believe how much Nick knew about her gnaw toy.

“Are you sure?” Nick double-checked, lifting an eyebrow.

“Mhm.” Sasha hummed her confirmation.

Believing her, Nick smiled. “Well, I think you missed a spot…” He lifted his right paw, slowly bringing it to sit behind Sasha’s ear. With his palm shielding his actions from the other bunnies behind Sasha, he quickly hooked the toy with a claw, dragging it out of his sleeve. “It’s here!” He exclaimed, pulling his paw from behind her ear, the gnaw toy between his fingers.

Sasha squealed as her little paws shot out to grab at her favorite gnaw toy. She wasn’t afraid of how huge Nick’s paws were or that he had sharp claws. “You found it Mister Nick! Are you magic?” She asked in awe, taking the toy from Nick’s grip, reflexively bringing it to her mouth so she could use it.

“I might be.” Nick offered her a wink, suddenly finding himself with an armful of little brown rabbit as Sasha hugged him tightly. Chuckling, he wrapped her up in an embrace.

“Thank you, Mister Nick.” Sasha pulled back, giving Nick a toothy grin.

“No worries Sasha.” He gave one of her cheeks a quick and gentle brush with his thumb, already fond of the kit.

“Momma look! Mister Nick found Cloudy!” Sasha turned to her mom, showing her Cloudy before she shoved the toy back in her mouth, gnawing on it, reacquainting herself it.

Judy’s grip tightened on the counter. “Oh cheese and crackers.” She’d suddenly envisioned Nick as a father, how sweet he’d be with his kits. “Your kits.” Her brain tagged on. Judy’s heart skipped a beat at the sudden thought, a flush of heat coursing through her. “You said you don’t want kits yet.” The angel on her left shoulder pointed out. “Oh, but you’d happily have Nick’s right this second.” The devil on her right shoulder tempted her.

A light sweet scent had Nick turning his head, locating the source. It was coming from Judy, and he inhaled deeply, savoring it. The smell was incredible. He’d only smelt it once before when he and Judy had taken a nap after she’d cried to him about the Catstro mess. Nick found himself wondering again which perfume Judy used.

Jasmine and Bonnie shared a secret smile over the scent coming from Judy. Stu had caught it too, but he studiously ignored it. He didn’t want to think about his daughter having less than pure thoughts.

“That’s great sweet pea, I know you’ve missed Cloudy a lot.” Bonnie cooed, running a paw over Sasha’s head, smoothing down her fur. She’d bought a few other gnaw toys for Sasha since Cloudy had gone missing, but the little kit had refused them all. Sasha made a beeline for the stairs down to the dining room, her siblings chasing after her. She couldn’t wait to tell everyone that Nick was magic.

Spotting her dad across the room, Judy let go of the counter. “Hey, dad.” She hadn’t seen her father all day; he’d been too busy in the fields gathering the last of the produce for the family stall at the fair tomorrow.

“Hey, Jude,” Stu replied, giving his daughter a warm smile. He’d missed her since they’d last seen one another two weeks ago.

Nick rose back up to his full height, turning at the sound of Stu’s voice. “Mr. Hopps, Sir.” He greeted the buck.

“Nick, we’re glad you could join us this weekend.” Stu crossed the room, offering a paw out to the fox. Nick’s little interaction with Sasha had been endearing, and Stu could see the tod had a soft side. “Good, I’m glad he’s not afraid to show that side of himself.”

Giving Stu’s paw a firm shake, Nick offered him a small smile. His heart rate had escalated the moment Judy had addressed the Hopps patriarch, his nerves kicking in again. “It’s lovely to be here, thank you for inviting me,” Nick remembered his manners, knowing his mom would scold him if he forgot them.

Letting go of the fox’s paw, Stu glanced at Judy before his eyes settled on the tod. “Jude wouldn’t come home without you.”

Pushing off from the counter, Judy crossed the room to stand with Nick and her father. “It wasn’t like that, dad.” She rolled her eyes. She’d have come home without Nick, but she might’ve grumbled about it a little.

“Now, before I forget, we only have one rule in this warren, and that’s no cussing in front of the little ones,” Bonnie remembered. Given how polite Nick was, and how lovely Marian was too, Bonnie knew the tod wouldn’t cuss in front of her babies. She still felt like it had to be said, though.

“Don’t worry Bonnie, I wouldn’t dream of cussing in front of your little ones. Is that why you say cheese and crackers?” Nick turned to Judy, teasing her.

Paw shooting out; Judy gave Nick’s shoulder a gentle thump. “Possibly.” She was a little embarrassed, but Nick laughed, tail flicking to wrap around her ankles. He thought it was adorable that Judy never cussed.

Bonnie watched as Nick’s tail wrapped around Judy, and she hid her smile at how cute the exchange was, noting how her daughter had boxed Nick. “Alright, dinner is ready, so if you want to take your seats in the dining room, I’ll serve up.”

“Do you need a paw, Bonnie?” Nick offered. He didn’t want the older doe to struggle, and it was the least he could after she’d been so kind to him.

“Oh no dear, you’re too sweet. Please, go take a seat with Judy downstairs, and Stu will help me. I’ve put you both on the first dinner sitting. I can imagine after your training today that you’re hungry.”

“Starving. Thank you.” Nick had no idea what Bonnie was going to serve for dinner, but he was happy regardless. He wasn’t in any position to be fussy with his food.

“Come on Slick.” Judy took Nick’s paw in her own, passing her dad and leading him down the stairs to the dining room. The room was huge, twice the height of the kitchen thanks to the split-level. Four large tables ran the length of the room, bench seats on each side. The walls were a bright and cheerful yellow, the floor beneath Nick’s hind paws made of wood, keeping the warren cool. Massive archways in the shape of rabbit ears led to hallways off the dining room, and Nick could see the hallways sloped downwards, heading deeper underground. “They lead to the bedrooms,” Judy explained, coming to a stop at one of the tables. Climbing over the bench seat, Judy sat. Nick followed her over, sitting on her left, thighs pressed together. He couldn’t stop looking around, taking in the immense size of everything around him. For such small mammals, Judy’s family lived in a huge house.

“Overwhelmed yet?” Judy teased, nudging Nick’s shoulder with her own.

Jolted from his amazement at his surroundings, Nick offered Judy a lazy grin. “Nah, you know me Carrots, I’m as cool as a cucumber.” He flicked his tail around her waist, tightening it around her. Judy’s paw went for the end of it, stroking the soft fluffiness. Nick let out a small noise at the contact, but this time he wasn’t embarrassed. Judy was the only mammal he let touch his tail, and they were much closer now than when he’d taken her home after hustling Bellwether.

“Contentment, that was a noise of contentment.” Judy thought, her research proving useful. The sound, along with the flowers, the paw holding, and the kisses at the train station, gave her immense hope that this weekend would go well. “Not for long, Slick.” Judy’s grin was a little too wide for Nick’s liking, but the sound of a high-pitched alarm shocked him, making him jump. The floor beneath his hind paws started to vibrate, his emerald eyes searching the room as a thudding noise began to get louder and louder. “Three, two…” Judy whispered.

Through the archways leading to the bedrooms came hundreds of rabbits. Nick’s eyes widened at the sudden cacophony of noise, the room filling up with bunnies, all racing in for dinner. “Oh hell. Bunnies. Bunnies everywhere.”

“Mister Nick!” It was a miracle Nick heard his name being called in amongst the chaos. Ears twisting to locate the source of the sound, he saw Sasha barreling towards him. He only just managed to open his arms in time to catch her in a hug, the small doe having thrown herself at him.

“Hey there Sasha.” He lifted her up, bringing her over the bench seat to sit beside him. The kit grinned at him, Cloudy clutched in her paw. He could see a few more teeth marks in the toy.

“It’s the magic fox!” The sound of one of Judy’s siblings shouting from across the room set off a frenzy. Within moments a whole fluffle of bunnies was heading straight for them.

“Mister Magic!”

“Magic, can you help me find my toy bunny?”

“Can you make a balloon animal for me Mister Nick?”

“Mister Nick-“

“Can you show me a card trick?”

“Can you levitate?”

“Mister Nick!”

Judy had to hide her laughter behind her paws as Nick was swarmed by thirty or so of her siblings, all of them vying for his attention. Word always spread fast in the Hopps warren, and it seemed that it hadn’t taken long for Sasha to tell the others that Nick had magically found her gnaw toy.

“Um, well, I used up all my magic for today finding Cloudy, I’m sorry.” He squirmed, stumbling over his excuse as he turned in his seat to look at the little ones, not used to so much attention and fuss, Nick gulped as he realized that he was surrounded. “I’ll help some of you tomorrow.” He tacked on, not wanting to upset any of them. Thirty pairs of eyes were staring at him, little faces filled with curiosity and awe. “Note to self, whatever you do in this warren, everyone will know about within minutes.”

“Look how big Mister Nick’s paws are!” One of the kits squealed. Before Nick could stop them they were clambering all over him, Judy, and the bench seat, grasping at his paws and hind paws, lifting them and examining them.

“Look at his claws!” Another small voice interrupted, a couple of kits moving to touch them.

“Oh no no, careful!” Nick warned, terrified of them getting too close and ending up accidentally hurt. He wouldn’t be able to cope if any of the sweet little kits ended up scratched by his claws. “You could kiss away any chance of Bonnie and Stu letting you date Judy, too.” Nick had filed down his claws a little, heeding Bonnie’s advice, but they were still somewhat sharp. Asking his mom to send him a claw file had resulted in Marian looking at her son like he had two heads. It didn’t matter though; he’d do whatever it took to make sure he didn’t hurt Judy.

“Be gentle,” Judy warned her siblings, watching as more and more kits started to join them, all clamoring to see Nick, all wanting to see his claws and his giant paws. She was trying to fight off some of her siblings who’d clambered all over her too, wanting cuddles after she’d been gone for so long.

“Why’re your ears so small Mister Nick?” Another kit asked, reaching up to tug on one of Nick’s ears. He winced a little in pain.

“I said be gentle.” Judy reiterated, shooing her brother’s paws away from Nick’s ears. She could see Nick was slowly starting to become overwhelmed, and all of his focus was on the kits that were fascinated with his claws, making sure none of them ended up hurt.

With Nick’s attention elsewhere, he didn’t realize that a few kits had gone for his tail until it was too late. “It’s so fluffy!” Several kits all grabbed his tail, wanting to feel the softness of it. Nick let out a sudden sharp yip of pain, the kits not aware of how much their grip hurt, or that it wasn’t common for foxes to have their tails touched.

Nick’s noise of pain was the final straw. “Enough!” Judy snapped, the sound of her voice making her siblings pause, the dining room falling silent. “Nick is not a climbing frame. Foxes aren’t as grabby as bunnies. You’re hurting him.”

“It’s okay, Carrots,” Nick reassured Judy, knowing the little ones didn’t mean to hurt him.

“No, Nick, it’s not. I know what that sound means.” Her expression softened for a moment at the realization that he was willing to power on through the pain just so that he wouldn’t upset her siblings.

The fact that Judy knew his vocal cue for pain only furthered Nick’s belief from the last time he’d been home, that Judy had been researching his species. It made him a little hot under the collar, thinking about her sat at home reading up about foxes, learning more about him, probably wrapped up in her blanket from his mom. “Wait, do you have a thing for Judy doing her homework now?”

Judy turned her attention to the kits around them, who’d all slowly let go of Nick and were now backing away. “You’re all going to apologize for mammalhandling him, and then we’re going to have dinner. Nick is here for the weekend, so you’ll get a chance to meet him properly later, okay?” She knew that her siblings hadn’t meant any harm and that they’d just been excited to meet Nick. As a fox, he was novel to them. That didn’t excuse their grabby behavior, though. While it was common for rabbits to grab at one another, her siblings knew better than to paw at guests.

“We’re sorry Mister Nick.” All of the grabby kits apologized, looking genuinely contrite.

“It’s alright. I promise I’ll spend some time with you all this weekend if you all take your seats now so your mom can serve dinner, how does that sound?” Nick bargained, looking at the sea of small faces around them.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth, all the little bunnies started to scamper towards the tables, pulling themselves up onto the bench seats. Slowly, Nick exhaled, letting out a shaky breath. He’d been so worried that the little ones would hurt themselves on his claws; terrified they’d ask questions about his teeth and start pawing at his mouth.

“Hey,” Judy reached over, paw finding Nick’s arm. “It’s alright.” She soothed, the shaky expression on Nick’s face making her gut twist. She knew her family could be a pawful, but if it was too much for Nick she’d insist they go home for the weekend.

Nick swallowed, sparing a glance at his claws before he looked at Judy. “I was just, I was worried they might hurt themselves.” He confessed, his tail curving around Judy’s waist again, finding comfort in touching her.

Offering Nick a soft smile Judy gave his arm a gentle squeeze. “Don’t worry, we bunnies are made of sturdy stuff.”

Bonnie and Stu stood together at the railings, looking down into the dining room. They’d witnessed the whole exchange, from all the little ones greeting Nick to now. “He’s a good boy,” Bonnie commented quietly, impressed with Nick’s patience and concern for her kits. She’d wanted to see how he acted without her around. She knew how trying her kits could be, and Nick had handled it like a champ.

Stu had had his doubts about Nick, not because he was a fox, but because Judy was so inexperienced. He wanted to make sure she gave her heart to the right mammal, someone who would take care of her and treasure her. Stu had agreed with Marian and Bonnie’s plan on the caveat that he would have the final say in whether Nick and Judy were suited for one another. Having watched Nick interact with his kits, the way he now interacted with Judy when he thought they weren’t being watched, he realized his doubts had been for nothing. “That he is Bon, that he is.”

“Mister Nick?” The gentle voice from behind him had Nick tearing his gaze away from Judy, looking down at little Sasha. She’d moved away during the commotion her siblings had caused, but she wanted to be close to the fox again.

“Hey Cinnamon Bun.” he greeted Sasha, offering her a soft smile. The nickname had slipped off his tongue with ease.

“Cinnamon Bun?” Sasha’s nose twitched, not sure why he’d called her that.

“Yeah, because your fur color is similar to the color of cinnamon, and you’re a bunny. Hence, cinnamon bun.” Nick elaborated. It made perfect sense to him. If he were going to remember the names of some of Judy’s siblings he’d have to get creative with nicknames. Judy snorted, biting her lip at the atrocious nickname. She was grateful Nick only really stuck to Carrots and Fluff with her.

The nickname made sense to Sasha now that Nick had explained it, and she didn’t mind it. If anything, she liked that he’d given her a special name. “Is it okay if I sit next to you?” She glanced at the vacant seat to Nick’s right, the rest of the table having slowly filled up. She was worried that by telling her siblings about how magic Nick was it had led to him being hurt.

“Sure it is, come on.” He offered her a paw, helping her up onto the bench seat. She took the spot to his right, offering him a toothy grin.

“Thanks.” She placed Cloudy down on the table between her and Nick, knowing he would be safe there. If her siblings tried to grab it, she had a feeling Nick would stop them.

“You can always come and sit with your sister and me, okay?” Nick didn’t want Sasha to feel like she had to ask every time.

Sasha nodded, hind paws swinging under the table. She liked Nick, he found her gnaw toy, returned her hugs, gave her a nickname, and didn’t mind spending time with her.

“Sorry for the slight delay with food, Nick. I run two sittings with 139 bunnies in each, and it can get a little crazy.” Bonnie apologized, appearing behind them. She reached over, placing down Nick, Judy, and Sasha’s plates.

“Don’t worry Bonnie, it’s fine.” Nick soothed, knowing that preparing so many meals was a huge undertaking for the Hopps matriarch.

Bonnie gave Nick a gentle pat on the shoulder before she disappeared back in the direction of kitchen, Stu placing down more plates in front of hungry kits.

Nick turned to his meal, expecting a vegetarian dish of some kind. Instead, he was faced with a piece of smoked salmon on a bed of crisp salad. He blinked, gaze turning to Judy to question whether her mom had actually cooked him fish.

“Mom’s not the only one who knows how to cook,” Judy confessed with a shrug, leaning over to grab the salad cream from the middle of the table. She had to lift her butt off the bench to reach properly.

Surprised, Nick’s voice dropped to a whisper of disbelief. “You cooked? For me?” He’d never had any mammal other than his mom cook a homemade meal for him before.

Having grabbed the salad cream and now with her butt firmly back on the bench, Judy’s eyes found Nick’s. “Yeah, I’ve been practicing while you’ve been away. I don’t know what it’s like as I can’t taste it, but it looks like the pictures in the recipe book so…”

Stunned into silence for a moment at the confirmation that Judy had cooked for him, that she’d been practicing cooking for him, Nick felt a swell of love for Judy consume him, and he found himself itching to kiss her. “You’re too good to me, Fluff.”

Judy dipped her head bashfully as Nick’s tail tightened around her waist, offering her a quick squeeze. She dropped a paw to his knee, under the table. Lifting her gaze, Judy found Nick’s eyes. The feel of Judy’s paw on his knee made Nick swallow, heat coursing through him at the light touch. He yearned to reach out and touch her, to run his paws all over her body. “Stop it, Wilde. You can’t think about Judy like that with her family around.”

“Mister Nick?” The moment was broken by the sound of his name, and Nick turned, finding Sasha watching him and Judy. He had a feeling the kit would be like his shadow all weekend, and while that was endearing, he wanted some time alone with Judy. He needed some time alone with Judy. “How come Ju-Ju can touch your tail?” Sasha questioned, innocently wondering why he was so comfortable with Judy stroking his tail when he’d been hurt by her siblings.

“Well you see Ju-Ju and I are best friends.” Nick couldn’t resist using the nickname, and it was worth the clump he received under the table from Judy’s hind paws. The nickname list he had for his favorite bunny was growing.

Sasha thought about it for a moment. Judy was very protective of Nick, and he liked being touched by her. “Is Ju-Ju your girlfriend?”

The conversations that had been going on around them at the table suddenly stopped, multiple sets of eyes swinging to look at the tod. “No, but she’s my girl friend. With a space in the middle. A girl who’s a friend.”

Judy’s snicker made Nick gently kick her back under the table with his own hind paws, memories of her trying to arrest him the first time making him smile. He had to admit that he’d been impressed with her, how she’d known all the laws he could’ve been breaking. Thankfully he’d covered his tail several months earlier after a tiger had tried to arrest him for the same offenses. It was only his ability to move quickly and silently that had allowed him to escape the cop and saved him from being cuffed and spending the night in a cell.

“Oh.” Sasha pouted, disappointed. She wanted her sister and Nick to be together. They were cute, and Nick was nice. Instead, she turned her attention back to her dinner, stabbing her food with her fork. Conversation at the table started back up again.

“Smooth, Slick.” Judy couldn’t resist teasing the tod as he turned back to face her. She tried to hide how the idea of being Nick’s girlfriend made her feel, how her heart sped up, how her breath caught in her throat.

Nick tried his hardest not to laugh as he remembered the incredulous look on Judy’s face when he’d corrected her about the red wood. “Thanks, Carrots.”

“Did you just call her Carrots?” A deep voice from across the table broke into their conversation. Nick and Judy turned at the sound, though the doe was very familiar with the voice and its owner. Amongst the kit chaos, they hadn’t noticed the buck taking his seat.

“Yes, he did. It’s a nickname, Julian.” Judy moved her paw from Nick’s knee to rest it protectively on his arm. Julian had been acting a little cold towards her lately, ever since she’d phoned her parents to let them know she and Nick were sharing an apartment. Usually, she spoke to Julian every week, her littermate one of her closest siblings, but he hadn’t returned her calls and texts for a while now.

Nick recognized the buck from Furbook, Julian had sent him a friend request the last time he’d been home. Given his ‘J’ initial, Nick guessed that Julian was Judy’s littermate. Judy hadn’t told him much about her littermates, hadn’t said much about her family as a whole if he were honest. Nick got the distinct feeling from the look in the buck’s eyes and the coldness of his tone that the mammal sat opposite him really didn’t like him.

“Little insulting isn’t it?” Julian commented. He’d watched the way the fox had interacted with his siblings, tried his hardest to not reach over and pull them away, scold them for getting so close to a predator. He didn’t want the fox in his family home, didn’t want him anywhere near Judy. She was naïve and too trusting, and foxes were nothing but sly and conniving. Julian believed that Nick was using Judy, letting her do all the legwork while he got a comfortable ride. After all, he’d overheard from his parents that it was Judy’s idea for them to live together, for the fox to become a cop. He was using Judy to further himself, and Julian believed Nick would ditch her as soon as he could. He and his siblings would then be left to pick up the pieces of their sister.

“No no, it’s not meant that way at all. It’s said with fondness.” Nick corrected the buck, sparing a quick glance to Judy. Was the nickname insulting? Judy had only told him once not to call her it, back when they’d first met, but along the way it had stuck and Judy hadn’t mentioned anything since. Nick meant no harm whatsoever with the name.

Julian snorted, not quite believing what he was hearing. The excuse was weak, even for a fox. “Fondness, seriously? That’s the line you’re going with?”

Not liking her brother’s tone, Judy addressed him sharply. “Julian. What Nick and I call one another is none of your concern.” Since he’d been ignoring her calls and text, Judy figured her brother had no right to interfere. By ignoring her he’d hurt her, and Judy couldn’t think of any valid reason for her brother’s sudden nastiness. Besides, whatever did or didn’t happen between her and Nick was their business, no one else’s.

“You’re my littermate, which makes everything you do my concern,” Julian argued. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Judy had always come to him for help and advice, had always taken his opinion into consideration. They’d shared their mother’s womb together, grown up together, done everything together.

“Maybe when we were kits, but not now.” Judy shook her head. When she’d been younger Julian’s opinion had meant the world to her. He’d always been smart, but now that Judy was older and able to think for herself, to step away from the family unit and look at everything with an outsider’s perspective, she realized it really wasn’t a healthy way to live. She could still love her family, could still keep them up to date and ask for their help, offer advice when they needed it, but she no longer needed to live in their pockets.

Having been silent, observing the exchange between Judy and her brother, Nick felt like he had to interject. “I’m pretty sure Judy can make her own decisions.” He knew Judy was an independent doe, that she didn’t like mammals telling her what she could or couldn’t do – she’d made that very clear to him – and the fact Julian felt like he had any say in Judy’s private matters irked the tod.

Hearing the fox talking, Julian’s eyes moved over to him. He would be trouble. Judy would end up hurt. “Yeah, bad ones.”

“Julian.” Judy’s voice dropped an octave; fell into something a little more dangerous. A warning. She wasn’t an idiot; she could see that her brother didn’t like Nick.

“What?” Julian switched his gaze to his sister, clocking her tone. She wouldn’t start anything; she’d never been good at verbally sparring with him. Judy was too sweet and kind. She could throw witty phrases and puns around, be silly and funny all day long, but she’d never been good with insults and put downs.

“If you have something to say, say it. Don’t prance around it.” Judy had hoped nothing bad would come from bringing Nick home, but she knew it had been foolish hope. While her parents and Jasmine had taken to him, along with her younger siblings, Judy had guessed that her older siblings would be harder to crack. They’d been exposed to her parent’s old speciest way of thinking, been brought up in that environment. They didn’t know any better. It didn’t excuse them, though.

“Fine. What the hell were you thinking bringing a fox into our family home?” Julian had no problem coming out with it, gesturing wildly to the predator sat next to his sister. His sister was playing house with a fox. It made his stomach churn.

Julian was unbelievable, and Judy hated the way he said the word fox as if it were dirty. “What I was thinking, is that Nick is my best friend.” She placed emphasis on Nick’s name, reminding her brother that the tod sat beside her was still a mammal, still had feelings and thoughts, and her brother was being downright rude. “We live together, and soon we’ll be working together. He’s family.”

Nick had fallen silent again, not wanting to step in and risk making things worse. He’d had time since accepting Judy’s offer to visit her family to think about everything that could go wrong. Statistically, Nick knew some of Judy’s siblings wouldn’t like him, it would be impossible for all 311 of them to think he was great, and even though Nick didn’t know Julian he was strangely hurt by how fast the buck had disregarded him, how he hadn’t even given Nick a chance. He’d at least wanted Judy’s littermates to like him.

Julian snorted, incredulous. “You were so quick to leave your family behind and run off to the city. Then when you put your hind paw in it, you came scampering back and acted like nothing had happened.”

Nick couldn’t remain quiet any longer. Bringing up the press conference and the issues in the city following it wasn’t cool. Judy had been naïve, yes, and she’d been repeating the words she’d heard in the asylum before they’d arrested Lionheart, but she’d learned her lesson. Nick knew the doe still blamed herself for what happened, no matter how much she pleaded otherwise. Judy didn’t deserve such abuse from her brother when Nick knew his presence was the real problem. “That’s not fair. If you have an issue with me, that’s fine, but don’t attack your sister.”

Brown eyes rounded on Nick. “I wasn’t talking to you.” Julian snapped, not wanting the fox to butt into the conversation. This was between him and Judy.

“Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean I won’t step in and defend Judy.” Nick felt a fair of anger at the way the buck spoke to him, at the way he was talking to Judy. No mammal should talk to another in that way, lest of all siblings. In the past, Nick would’ve backed away from conflict, anything to keep his nose relatively clean, but he’d walk through the fires of hell to defend Judy.

“How cute.” Julian sneered, giving the fox a once over. He looked strong, and the buck had to admit that his sharp teeth and claws frightened him, but he knew the tod wouldn’t dare hurt him. His mom and dad would kick him out of the warren if he used them on anyone, Judy would abandon him, and he’d go back to wherever he came from. “Maybe you should provoke him a little more, see if you can get him to leave.” Julian had an idea. “I’m disappointed you picked him over us, Jude. I mean he’s sneaky, sly, untrustworthy…”

“Julian!” Judy was up on her hind paws, leaning over the table towards her brother, paws spread either side of her plate. Ears pricked upright with anger, she started to grind her teeth. “I never picked anyone over anyone else. I moved to the city to follow my dream and meeting Nick was the cherry on top. Don’t you dare start throwing around stereotypes.”

“Judith. Julian.” Stu boomed, crossing the room to break up the argument. “Whatever you two are bickering about take it outside. Now.” He hissed, looking between his kits. He hadn’t heard the start of their argument, but he didn’t want them to get into it around the little ones. Their disagreement concerned him. Stu knew that Julian had been ignoring Judy for a while, but it had never been clear why. Seeing the way his son was looking at Nick, though, gave him a rough idea as to what the argument was about.

Judy started to climb over the bench. She was going to have this out with her littermate. Nick was her guest, and she didn’t want him feeling unwelcome. She loved him, loved him so much that it hurt her when someone insulted him. Nick was good and sweet, kind and funny, he was handsome and witty, and he didn’t deserve any of her brother’s hatred. Judy was ready to give Julian a piece of her mind, ready to fight Nick’s corner. She’d even tell her brother that she loved Nick. That’d probably shut him up; make him reevaluate his glaring speciesism.

“You actually want to have this out with me?” The buck couldn’t hide his surprise. He hadn’t expected his sister to argue with him so incessantly.

“Get up Julian. We’re dealing with this now.” Judy wanted her brother to let rip, to get all his misguided feelings out of the way. They could move forward then and enjoy the weekend. Plus, she wanted to make it abundantly clear to her littermate that Nick was here to stay, regardless of what he thought about it. Mom and dad both seemed to like Nick, and as it was their home, they had the final say in whether he stayed or not.

Julian shrugged, rising to his hind paws. Deftly he stepped over the bench. “After you, Jude.” He gestured towards the staircase up to the kitchen. He had a feeling his sister would lead them to the back porch. It wouldn’t do to argue out front, too many nosy neighbors around. They’d already be gossiping about the fact Judy had brought a fox home to meet the family.

Not comfortable with what was happening, and not liking where it could possibly go, Nick reached out, taking Judy’s paw in his own. Shaking his head, he caught her gaze, implored her to rethink. “Let it go Carrots, please.”

“I won’t have him talk about you like that. It’ll be fine, just give us ten minutes.” Her mind was made up, and though Nick could usually weaken her resolve, there was no way she was letting this go. She wasn’t going to let her brother push her around any longer, wasn’t going to let him get away with being cruel to Nick.

Keeping Judy’s gaze for a moment longer, Nick realized that nothing he could do would change her mind. While part of him was in awe of her resolve, the defiant jut of her chin and how she stood tall, another part of him was worried, concerned, and angry. Angry at himself. He shouldn’t have accepted the invitation, should’ve realized his presence would cause friction within Judy’s family. He’d hoped it wouldn’t, but that had been foolish of him.

Watching the emotions flitting across Nick’s face broke Judy’s heart. She gave his paw a gentle squeeze, leaning down to whisper in his ear. “Wait here, I’ll be back soon.” She pulled away, reluctantly letting go of Nick’s paw as she headed towards the stairs. She could feel Julian’s presence as he followed her, and she also felt Nick’s gaze as he watched her leave. As she passed through the kitchen, Judy caught Jasmine’s eye, her sister having been leaning against the counter chatting with their mom. Flicking her ear in the direction of the dining room, Judy silently asked Jasmine to keep an eye on Nick. Her sister caught on, excusing herself and heading for the stairs down to the dining room.

As Judy led her brother through the warren’s many corridors and towards the back door, she took a deep breath, steeling herself. Julian needed to understand that Nick was a good mammal, and he needed to learn that she and Nick were a package deal now, that they were inseparable.

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