Chapter 20 – Now or Never: Part One

Stretching, Judy felt sleep fading away. It hadn’t taken her long to fall asleep after crawling into bed with Nick last night, their disagreement and subsequent discussion exhausting her. Nick was a pretty great pillow, too, though the doe would never tell him that. Reaching out as she woke, Judy felt around for her fox. Coming up empty, she snapped to attention. Sitting up, anxious violet eyes searched the bed. Nick was nowhere to be seen. As Judy prepared to get up and find him, worried he’d had another panic attack and disappeared, the new addition to her nightstand stopped her in her tracks. There, next to her phone, sat a bouquet of white tulips and hydrangeas, with a small scrap of paper propped up against the vase. Reaching for the note, Judy snatched it up, bringing it closer so she could read it.

“Flowers are pretty, and I’d never say no to them.”

Underneath her quote from one of her many phone calls with Nick, a heart had been scrawled, followed by an ‘N.’ Unable to stop her stupid grin, and her ears from drooping at the sweetness of the gesture, Judy slipped out of bed, leaning over her nightstand to bury her nose amongst the sweet smelling flowers. “Oh Slick. You’re such a gentlemammal.” Tucking the note in her suitcase for safekeeping, Judy changed quickly, throwing on some jeans and a blouse. Paw brushing across the soft petals of the beautiful new bouquet, Judy forced herself to go and find her fox.

Bounding through her family home, she followed her nose, tracking Nick’s movements. It was still early, too early for her siblings to be awake yet. Judy briefly wondered how long Nick had been awake, and where he’d managed to find such beautiful flowers. “He probably knows someone.” Moving through the dining room, Judy could hear her mom and Nick in the kitchen. Taking the stairs two at a time, she found Nick stood by the island counter, her mom making breakfast while the pair of them chatted.

“Hey, bun-bun.” Bonnie had heard her daughter’s approach, a benefit of having large ears. Turning from her spot at the stove she crossed to Judy, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

“Hey, mom.” Judy accepted the kiss, watching as her mom returned to the stove before breakfast ended up a burnt mess. Eyes turning to Nick, she found the tod looking at her without his usual lazy grin. Instead, there was a new softness to the expression he wore. “Hey Slick.” Judy moved around the counter as Nick took a step towards her. He’d swapped the plain shirts he’d been wearing all weekend for one of his usual Pawaiian ones, throwing on a tie to go with it. Judy smiled, having missed seeing her fox in his trademark shirts. Reaching up, she pulled him down for a hug, arms wrapping around his neck.

Returning Judy’s embrace, Nick inhaled deeply, enjoying the way her scent flooded his nostrils. Her scent was so much stronger in the mornings. “Hey Fluff, sleep well?” Paws rubbing Judy’s back, Nick kept her in his embrace.

“I did, thanks. Didn’t like waking up without you though.” Voice muffled slightly by the fur peeking out of the collar of Nick’s shirt, Judy tightened her hold on him. She’d been worried, waking up to find him gone. Nick’s panic attacks were a new thing to Judy, and she had to question whether he’d alerted the medics at the academy about it. Once he graduated and joined her at precinct one, he’d have to keep the on-site doctor updated, have it noted on his record that he occasionally suffered from them. Judy only hoped that it wouldn’t become a cause for concern and that it wouldn’t leave her and Nick saddled with desk duty. Having a panic attack out on the beat or in the field wasn’t ideal, regardless of the fact that Judy seemed to be able to calm him relatively quickly.

“Sorry, I woke up early and then bumped into Julian, followed by your mom.” Nick explained, soothing Judy’s worries. Nick had been awake for a few hours, thoughts of the impending conversation about Judy’s bracelet making it difficult for the tod to fall asleep again. Rather than driving himself crazy in bed, Nick had decided to get up and start the day. As he’d stepped out onto the back porch and looked out over the fields surrounding the Hopps warren, he’d had the idea of getting Judy some flowers, recalling their phone call when she’d mentioned delivering flowers to a deer who’d gotten into an argument with her partner.

Having started to descend the steps off the porch, ready to go and search for a nice bouquet, Nick had been surprised by Julian’s sudden appearance behind him. “Rumour has it you and Ju got into a doozy of an argument last night.” The buck had opened the conversation. Sadly confirming it, Nick had explained that it had all been down to miscommunication, but that they’d talked about it and now he was hoping to find her some flowers to make her smile. Julian had thrown a set of farm cart keys at him. “Four fields over, mom has a flower patch. Choose wisely.” With that the buck had disappeared back into the warren, leaving Nick with the sense that they’d never be the best of friends, but they would be civil to one another for Judy’s sake. When Julian had first joined him on the back porch, Nick had half expected him to pull a taser, to threaten him and demand he leave, especially considering the fact he knew about his disagreement with Judy the night before. It had been a pleasant surprise not to be threatened, not to have an anti-fox device wafted in his face

As he’d returned from his excursion to the field, flowers in paw, Nick had found Bonnie in the kitchen. The doe had offered him a vase, given the fur on his head an affectionate ruffle, and then had gone back to her cooking. Nick had appreciated how she hadn’t brought up last night. He was feeling better this morning, lighter for having shared his story with Bonnie and Stu, for having come clean with Judy about how he bottled up his feelings, how he was frightened of losing her. Nick knew there was still a long way to go, that he’d probably still suffer from the fear of losing Judy for quite some time, but he could work through it with her now.

The mention of her brother put Judy on edge. “Julian?” Julian had seemingly come around a little last night, had said he was willing to try and be civil with Nick because he wanted Judy to be happy. However, the doe hadn’t factored in how the two would act around one another without her there to mediate. Julian could be hot-tempered when it suited, and Judy knew that Nick relied on jibes and sarcasm when faced with situations he wasn’t comfortable in. Putting the two of them together could only spell trouble.

Feeling the tension in Judy’s body, Nick sighed. It hadn’t been the worst encounter Nick had ever had, but it certainly wasn’t the best either. While picking the flowers for Judy, desperately trying to remember the meanings so he wouldn’t screw it up, Nick had tried to formulate a plan, a way to get Julian to like him a little more and be more accepting. In the end, he’d settled on simply showing Julian that he was a good mammal. After all, actions spoke louder than words. If Julian could see how much Nick cared for Judy, how he looked out for her and loved her, then the buck wouldn’t have a leg to stand on. “Don’t worry; we didn’t kill each other.”

“Please don’t joke about that,” Judy begged, shaking her head. Her father’s prejudice had been bad enough, but she’d believed Julian to be better than that. Her brother had threatened to hurt Nick on Friday night. Judy wasn’t sure she could live with the guilt if any of her family members decided to harm her fox. As it stood, she was grateful her mom and dad had ensured Pop-Pop wasn’t staying with them for the weekend. When she’d arrived on Friday morning to find him sitting in his usual chair in the living room, she’d been terrified. Judy hadn’t wanted Nick to experience her Pop-Pop’s hatred, hadn’t wanted her fox to feel unwelcome or unsafe in her family home. Bonnie had pulled her aside, informed her that he was only with them for the morning before he would be heading back to his own warren, where he’d stay for the rest of the weekend. So far they hadn’t run into him, the barn party wasn’t really Pop-Pop’s scene, but she had a sinking feeling in her gut that he’s turn up for the closing ceremony, that seeing Judy with Nick would send the old rabbit off on an angry tirade.

“It’s cool, we’re cool. I think. It was a very short conversation.” Nick clarified. Julian had been a little hostile towards him, but it hadn’t been anything major. The force with which he’d thrown the keys had been a little excessive, and his aim had been decidedly below the belt, but Nick’s quick reflexes had meant he’d been able to snatch the keys before they’d connected with his groin. The news that the disagreement between him and Judy had already spread to a few members of the Hopps family didn’t surprise the tod, but what had surprised him was how he hadn’t been chased out with pitchforks yet. “Maybe I’ve actually won a lot of them over.”

Thankful that her brother hadn’t attacked Nick, that he seemed to be all in one piece, Judy settled against him, tucked securely under his muzzle. “Thank you for my flowers.” She whispered, shutting her eyes as she enjoyed the sound of his thudding heartbeat. It had been a lovely surprise, to wake up to a bouquet of white tulips and hydrangeas, the flowers of forgiveness and gratefulness. Not only that but to know that Nick paid attention to everything she said in their phone calls and was able to quote it back to her filled her heart with joy.

Shrugging as best as he could with his country bunny in his arms, Nick gave her a gentle squeeze. “Eh, you’re welcome. I had to walk all the way to town for them.” He lied, a little embarrassed that he’d spent an hour on his paws and knees in a field picking the best ones for her. “Do you think Major Friedkin would count that as my morning cardio?” He mused, distantly aware of the fact his training regime had been slipping over the weekend, and he’d been eating a very different diet than the one provided at the academy. Major Friedkin would probably make him run a marathon when he got back, just to make sure he could still do it, all the while looking pleased with herself for finding something to torment him with.

As a cop, Judy had been taught how to be observant, how to eye up a mammal and deduce clues from their appearance. “Nick.”

“Yeah?” Nick spared a glance down to the rabbit against his chest.

Pulling back just enough so that she could look up at the tod and remain in his embrace, Judy smiled, trying her hardest not to laugh. “There’s dirt on your pants and your paws. You didn’t go into town.”

Grumbling as Judy caught him out, and unable to stop his grin as she started to laugh, he shook his head fondly. “Okay, you caught me, Officer. I found a field of flowers and picked a few for you.” It was still a partial lie. While Julian had recommended going to the flower patch and picking some for Judy, the tod wasn’t sure now if that were something Bonnie would be best pleased to hear. Though the doe was going about her business, fixing up breakfast ready for her kits, Nick knew she had her ears tuned in to their conversation.

As Judy’s laughter subsided the doe reached up, pushing herself onto the balls of her hind paws as she gently grasped Nick’s muzzle. Pressing a light kiss to his cheek, she gave the underside of his muzzle a light scritch. “You’re adorable. Thank you.” No mammal had ever brought Judy flowers before, not even the few bucks she’d been on dates with. Nick was the first mammal to give her flowers, and he’d given her two bouquets this weekend. “You’re setting a dangerous precedence, Slick.”

Heart thudding at Judy’s kiss, Nick smoothed a paw down her ears. “Don’t mention it, Carrots.” If bringing her flowers made her happy then Nick would bring her flowers every time he came home, and when he graduated he’d be sure to gift her a new bouquet every week.

Having been quietly listening in to the conversation between Nick and her daughter, Bonnie was grateful she was facing the stove as she grinned. Nick and Judy were back to being affectionate with one another, and Bonnie was preparing to lay the foundations for their talk this evening. She’d sent a quick message to Marian last night, and the vixen had called her back immediately, wanting to know everything that had gone on. Safe out of earshot, Bonnie had filled her in on the weekend’s events thus far, including Nick and Judy’s little tiff. The vixen had sighed sadly at the news of their argument, but hearing that they’d talked it out on the back porch had reignited the excitement in her that her baby would soon pull his head out of his tail and tell Judy that he loved her.

“Breakfast’s ready.” Bonnie didn’t want to interrupt, but she felt it was best to have Nick and Judy eat first, alone, and then spend the morning together. Though she was sure Sasha would ask for Nick when she woke, Bonnie knew Judy and Nick needed some alone time to gather themselves a little more after last nights fall out.

Taking their seats at the barstools at the island counter, both doe and tod licked their lips as Bonnie pushed a huge stack of pancakes towards them, along with their cutlery and all the accoutrements. “You’re spoiling me, Bonnie.” Nick complimented, letting Judy grab a pancake first before he followed suit.

Leaning against the counter, Bonnie watched as Nick and Judy loaded up their pancakes with fruit and sugar. She noticed that Judy kept stealing glances at Nick’s food before she leaned across, picking up another pancake, which she deposited onto his plate, along with another pawful of blueberries. Nick turned to Judy, lifting an eyebrow. Judy simply grinned in response before returning her attention to her own food. As Nick put a piece of pancake into his mouth, Bonnie turned back to the stoves. Keeping her tone serious, she couldn’t help but tease the fox. “We’re fattening you up for the slaughter, dear. We need the main dish for the ceremony this evening.”

Caught off guard by Bonnie’s comment, Nick ended up inhaling the piece of pancake that had been in his mouth. “What?” Nick wheezed as he violently coughed, choking.

Reaching over, Judy started to thump Nick’s back, pushing her glass of water towards him. “Mom’s joking.” Judy shot a glare at her mom’s back while Nick took a sip of water, clearing his throat. He coughed a few more times, Judy’s thumps turning into slow rubs.

“I am.” Bonnie conceded, grabbing some plates from a cupboard. “We’re serving up Gideon instead.”

No longer choking on a piece of pancake, Nick set Judy’s glass of water back down, shooting her an appreciative look as she withdrew her paw from his back. “You’re an awful liar, Bonnie.” He shook his head as he turned to glance at Bonnie, who was now stacking plates on the island counter in front of them.

Pausing in her work, Bonnie looked up, catching Nick’s gaze. Lifting a paw, she pointed a finger at him, a playful smile on her lips. “Yeah, but I had you for a minute there, didn’t I?”

Chuckling, Nick graciously conceded. “You did, well done.” Nick was 99.9% sure that the rabbits of Bunnyburrow wouldn’t serve up fox for dinner, they were vegetarians after all, but this whole experience was new to him. They could’ve told him they danced naked through the streets and indulged in mass orgies, and he’d probably have fallen for it. As Bonnie’s focus shifted back to preparing breakfast for her other kits, Nick turned his barstool so he could better see Judy, returning to his pancakes and blueberries. “So what’s the plan for today?”

“Well, there’s a parade this afternoon, followed by the closing ceremony,” Judy explained after swallowing her mouthful. The parade consisted of floats made by all the different families, and lots of treats were thrown out into the crowds. As a kit, Judy had collected as much candy as possible, having bags of it by the end of the parade. Unfortunately, she’d had to share the candy with her siblings most of the time.

“You want to go?” Nick asked. Personally, he didn’t mind what they spent their day doing; he’d happily follow Judy anywhere. It wasn’t like Nick knew what to expect either, with this being his first Carrot Day Festival. The tod silently hoped it wouldn’t be his last and that it would become a tradition for him and Judy to visit from the city every year for it. Maybe next time he’d ask if he could bring his mom along too. She’d love it.

“We could put in an appearance if you’d like?” Judy offered. The doe wanted to show her face at the two events, but she was very aware that she and Nick needed to talk, and the longer they spent at the day’s events, the less time they’d have to chat. Judy also knew that the weekend was busy, and though she was used to be constantly on the go and attending everything, she was worried Nick might burn out. It wasn’t like he could recover once he made it back to the academy, as Major Friedkin would no doubt force him straight back into training the moment he arrived tomorrow morning.

“Oh, bun-bun, before I forget, your dad and I would like you and Nick to come home and watch over the warren during the closing ceremony.” Bonnie set the plan into action, remembering how they’d suggested the idea to Nick the night before, even though she and Marian had been cultivating the plan for weeks now. She figured Judy would be more likely to go along with it if she was the one to suggest it. Bonnie kept her back to Judy though, busying herself with her prep work. If she turned around, she knew her observant daughter would be able to tell that she was plotting something.

Groaning, Judy pouted. “Are you kidding me? Mom, the fireworks are the best bit!” She protested. Bunnyburrow went all out for the closing ceremony, and the fireworks were the most spectacular part of the evening. Judy felt like a little kit again every time she watched them, oohing and ahhing as they exploded above her in a cacophony of color.

“You’ll be able to watch them from the back porch.” Bonnie pointed out. Though there was a line of trees in the distance, behind the fields that bordered the warren, Nick and Judy would have an unobstructed view of the night sky and the fireworks.

“But Nick’s here, he should get to experience the closing ceremony,” Judy argued. It wasn’t fair on Nick, as their guest, to be forced into watching the warren with her instead of joining in the festivities.

Realizing that Bonnie was following through with the idea they’d hatched the night before, Nick seized the opportunity to reassure Judy. “It’s alright Fluff, I don’t mind. We still get to watch them from the back porch.”

“Are you sure you don’t mind?” Judy put down her cutlery, her plate now clean as she looked at her fox, gauging his reaction.

“Nah, not at all,” Nick reassured his country bunny, throwing a pawful of blueberries into his maw.

Judy sighed, conceding with a nod. “So long as you’re happy.” She watched as Nick finished his mouthful of blueberries, putting his own cutlery down now that his plate was clean too. Rising, Judy collected their dishes, crossing the kitchen to the many dishwashers. With Judy suitable distracted, Nick cleared his throat, making Bonnie turn around. He caught her gaze, mouthing his thanks. The doe smiled warmly, nodding her head.

When the dishes had been put in the dishwasher, and Judy was sat back on her barstool, Bonnie wiped her paws on a kitchen towel. “Now bun-bun, your dad and I picked you and Nick up a little something.”

Surprised, Judy turned to her mom, watching as she started to make her way to the stairs down to the dining room. “Mom, you never buy presents for us on the last day.”

“Shush. We wanted to treat you both.” Bonnie admonished. Truth told, she and Stu had wanted to get Nick and Judy a little housewarming gift. Marian had explained to them about the blankets, how she’d purposefully gifted them blankets in the others fur colour. Not wanting to appear like she didn’t care, Bonnie had insisted on getting something for them too. It was better for her to give them their presents now before the rest of her kits woke and started to question where their presents were. Opening one of the tall cupboards in the dining room, Bonnie pulled out a medium-sized dark green box.

“Presents?” Nick whispered to Judy, not sure he was following.

“It’s tradition to give gifts to loved ones on the last day of the festival. With 312 of us, mom and dad don’t usually get us anything. It’s too expensive.” Judy explained, watching as her mom climbed back up the stairs to the kitchen, box in paw.

“Now it’s not a lot but…” The doe shrugged, offering the box out to Nick and Judy. Judy let Nick take it, wanting him to be the one to open it. Judy wasn’t sure how many presents Nick had received in the past two decades, but the doe knew she was going to make it her personal mission to make up for all the birthday and Christmas treats he’d more than likely missed out on. She knew Nick wasn’t a material mammal, that things held no real value to him, so instead, she was planning on adventures, experiences they could share together, things Judy hoped would put a smile on his face and let him know just how much she loved him.

Nick placed the box down on the counter, curious as to the contents. Lifting the lid while Judy and Bonnie watched, he pushed aside the paper tissue hiding the gifts inside. Reaching in, Nick pulled out the first item – it was a shallow dish, the edges sloping upwards, and painted in the center was a carrot and a pawpsicle.

“I have a friend who makes pottery, and I took some inspiration from Judy’s beautiful bracelet when I asked her to make a little key dish for you both. It’s not a lot, but I figured it might stop you from losing your keys.” Bonnie explained, watching as Judy’s ears drooped, expression softening.

“Mom…” Judy breathed, turning to look at the doe.

“Your dad and I realize that we didn’t get you housewarming presents. Now we weren’t sure what you already have, so we played it safe.” Bonnie elaborated, gesturing to the box. There was still another gift in there, but she could see Nick would need a moment.

Faintly aware that Bonnie was speaking, that Judy moved to hug her mom, Nick continued to stare at the dish in his paws, thumbs running over the smooth surface. Bonnie had gone out of her way to have this made special for him and Judy before he’d even met her in person. Setting the dish down, Nick dipped his paw back into the box, this time removing a silver photo frame. Turning it over, the photo inside was what struck Nick the most. Bonnie had somehow managed to get hold of the photo of Nick and Judy in the entrance hall of the city gallery, and she’d slipped into the frame. Smiling, and touched by the doe’s kindness, Nick noted that the detail on the frame matched the detail along the bottom edge of the purple dress his mom had made for Judy, the dress she was wearing in the image. “Thank you, Bonnie.” Nick handed the frame to Judy as she drew closer, giving him the opportunity to embrace the Hopps matriarch.

“Oh, it’s no problem dear. They’re just small little things.” Bonnie returned Nick’s embrace, pleased that he seemed genuinely happy with the two gifts. Pulling back from their embrace, Bonnie grasped Nick’s forearms gently, looking between the fox and her daughter. “Now, why don’t you two go and enjoy your morning while I take care of the fluffle?”

Liking the idea, Nick helped Judy gather up their gifts, offering Bonnie another thank you before they headed back to Judy’s room. Nick contemplating starting the ball rolling, getting the conversation about Judy’s bracelet out of the way now, but Bonnie and Stu had given him the perfect opportunity this evening, and the tod would feel bad letting it go to waste.

Placing their gifts in her suitcase, Judy wondered how she was going to get everything home. She had her two flower bouquets also. While at work tomorrow Judy could leave her bag in the locker room. She’d have to find somewhere else for her flowers, though. Perhaps Clawhauser could look after them for her, they’d brighten up his workspace, and he’d ensure they were kept in water. As she went to close her bag, Judy remembered the note and key from Mr. Big. Producing the letter and the pouch she’d slipped the key into, she offered them out to Nick. “Okay, so as mom started the gift ball rolling, this is for you.”

“Carrots, you didn’t have to get me anything.” Nick gently scolded. He hadn’t been aware of the gift giving tradition and therefore had nothing to give his country bunny in return.

“Oh, it’s not from me. It’s from Mr. Big.” Judy enjoyed the look of shock on Nick’s face as he sat in the middle of her bed, folding his legs beneath him.

“What?!” Wide emerald eyes looked between the letter, pouch, and Judy. As the doe sat opposite him on the bed, folding her legs beneath her too, he gently took the items from her. Curious as to why Mr. Big had sent him a gift, and a little nervous as he tried to recall whether he’d done anything to wrong the arctic shrew recently, Nick started with the pouch. Opening it, a key tumbled into his paw.

“The letter explains it all.” Judy could see the confusion clouding Nick’s face, and she took the key from him when he held it out to her, his paws going for the note.

Unfolding the piece of paper, Nick began to read. He couldn’t stop the widening of his eyes as he mouthed the words written on the paper. Nick couldn’t believe it. Mr. Big had found a chunk of the money he’d paid Catstro, and he was giving it back to him. “I have a safety deposit box. With money in it.” The thought was so foreign to Nick, the words strange on his tongue. Looking up, he caught Judy’s gaze as she hummed in confirmation. “How much is in it?” Nick had paid Catstro nearly the full $200,000 he’d borrowed, before the caracal’s demise.

“I don’t know,” Judy answered truthfully. She’d had the time to go look, and the key, but she’d refrained.

Blinking, Nick couldn’t understand why Judy didn’t know the amount in the safety deposit box. She had the key; surely she’d gone and checked? “What do you mean you don’t know? Didn’t you go and look?”

“No, Slick. It’s your account, your money. It’s none of my business.” Judy hadn’t wanted to risk standing on any hind paws by going and looking. The account wasn’t in her name; she didn’t have anything to do with earning the money that was in it. Sure she was curious, any mammal would be, but she wanted Nick to be the first mammal to open the box and count the contents.

Baffled by Judy’s response, Nick leaned forward towards the doe. “We live together, Carrots, what’s mine is yours. Of course it’s your business.” While endearing that Judy hadn’t been to look, that she didn’t think it was any of her concern, Nick wanted her to know that he would share everything with her, including the money. As Judy went to shake her head, to protest, Nick cut in and silenced her. “Whatever I have, I want to share with you.”

“You worked hard for this money, Nick. It’s yours.” Judy didn’t want to take anything from Nick. For so long he’d gone without, barely had any money to take care of himself. He could use the funds to buy all the things he’d ever wanted or save it for a rainy day. She didn’t want to influence his decisions in any way.

“Ours.” Nick corrected “We’re a team, remember?” Judy liked to peddle that line, and Nick was more than happy to use it against her now that the tables had been turned. “Will you go and check what’s in there when you get home, please? Let me know how much it is?” The thought of having any money, having some savings, was hard to process. He’d been living on a pittance for so long, and now he finally had some cash. Nick didn’t get ahead of himself, he still didn’t know how much was in the deposit box, but it was probably more than he’d ever had to his name before.

“Sure, I can do that.” Judy held the key tightly. She wasn’t sure about the protocol for gaining access to a safety deposit box, whether she’d be able to or not given that the box wasn’t in her name, but she had one of two keys needed for it, so surely that would be enough. If not, she’d simply ask Mr. Big.

“However much there is, can you draw out half of it for next time I come home, please? I want to give it to mom if that’s okay with you? We’ll save the other half.” Nick made up his mind. He knew his mom no longer had a mortgage, as he’d paid it off for her, and that her job made her enough to pay the bills every month and keep her fridge stocked, but Nick had borrowed a fair amount from her over the past few months that he needed to repay. He also wanted her to have a little nest egg of her own, maybe treat herself to a nice holiday, buy something she’d always wanted, or redecorate the house.

“Such a mommy’s tod.” Judy teased, reaching over to gently shove Nick’s knee. In all honesty, the fact Nick looked after his mom and did everything in his power to keep her warm, safe, and happy made Judy’s heart clench. The love and care he had for Marian made Judy wonder what it would be like should they start dating. What would it feel like to be on the receiving end of Nick’s love.

Folding the letter, Nick handed it back to Judy so that she could keep it with the key. He watched as Judy slid both into the pouch. “Says the daddy’s doe.”

“I can’t argue with that.” Judy chuckled, placing the pouch down on the bed next to her. “Now then.” Judy leaned down over the edge of her bed, rummaging around underneath it until she found the blue box she’d stashed under there when she’d arrived on Friday. Pulling it out, she lifted it up onto the bed as she sat back up. Holding it out, she offered it to the tod.

“Carrots, I didn’t get you anything,” Nick whined, taking in the big silver bow on top as he reached out for the offered item, pulling it onto his lap.

“You’re here, that’s all I need. Besides, we’re trying this whole not hiding anything thing.” Judy took a deep breath, knowing that the item inside had the power to cause another argument or bring them closer. She wasn’t sure how Nick would react, but she silently prayed the outcome would be good.

“You can keep surprises from me you know, they’re not surprises otherwise.” Nick pointed out, paws smoothing over the blue box as he plucked the bow from it. Leaning over, he placed it on Judy’s head. The bunny stared at him with an un-amused expression, and she looked so adorable that Nick couldn’t stop his grin, which in turn made Judy smile.

“Surprises are new bed sheets, or a freezer full of your favorite food. This is a lot more than that.” Judy reached up, plucking the bow from her head, wincing as the sticky underside of it tugged at her fur. With the silver item now in her paws, she played with it, swallowing nervously.

Perturbed by Judy’s demeanor, Nick lifted the lid from the box only to be met with a sea of shredded silver paper. Pushing is aside he found a photo album. The cover of the album was black, and embossed in silver scripture right in the middle sat the words ‘The Wilde Family.’

Judy had ummed and ahhed for ages about what to do with the front cover but in the end she’d kept it simple, wanting the focus to be on the photos inside and not the writing on the front.

Smoothing a paw over the cover, tracing the lettering, Nick looked up to find his favorite violet eyes. With a gentle nod of encouragement from his bunny, Nick opened the cover. Gaze falling to the page Nick inhaled sharply, caught off guard by the image he was seeing. His parents and his grandparents were stood together, right outside their family store. Dressed in their finest clothes, they were all smiling for the camera. Overwhelmed, Nick couldn’t pull his eyes from the picture. “Where did you get this?” He whispered, lifting a paw to trace over the image of his family, protected by a thin film of plastic.

“Remember when I mentioned that Wolford wouldn’t tell me anything about my bracelet? He made a comment about your family. I didn’t know what he was talking about so when my shift ended and I got home, I did my homework.” Judy kept her gaze focused on Nick, watching his micro expressions, judging his reactions to her words. “1437 Dune Street, Sahara Square. I ended up a little lost trying to find it, but I got there in the end. I only went to have a look outside, it’s still boarded up, but as I circled the building I spotted a small open window on the third floor. I shimmied up a drainpipe and managed to get in through it.” Judy came clean. She truly hadn’t intended to go inside, was content to simply look at the outside of the building and imagine what life would’ve been like all those years ago, how busy the store would’ve been. The building had looked structurally sound still, but Judy wasn’t an expert. The open window at the back of the building had proved too good an opportunity though, and Judy wasn’t sure if she’d have the chance to look around again. Her police training had helped her shimmy up the drainpipe, and with ease she’d slipped inside. Judy had briefly wondered whether it was considered breaking and entering, and when she’d later sought clarification online she’d discovered that by crossing the threshold without permission, even though the window was wide open, it was technically classed as breaking and entering.

“You went inside?” Nick looked up, a rush of emotions coursing through him. On one paw he was surprised Judy would do such a thing, that she’d break the rules to know more about his family, that she was so interested, but on the other paw, he felt as if she’d entered somewhere sacred to him, without at least letting him know first. It left him confused, unsure where he stood. He was touched that she wanted to know more but hurt that she’d gone behind his back and hadn’t simply asked him for information.

“I hadn’t intended to, but I was curious. All I did was walk around, peek into a few rooms. It’s like it’s stuck in a time warp.” Judy recalled the layout, remembered how everything had been covered in thick layers of dust. Sewing machines and mannequins had been scattered around the back rooms, the front of the building still set up like a store, clothes hanging in the display cabinets, a little moth eaten but otherwise still fine. The office had been Judy’s favorite room, the big wooden desk taking centre-stage, the countless photos on the walls and the journals on the desk adding a more personal touch. Judy watched as Nick flicked to the next page, revealing a picture of his grandparents stood together inside the store. “I know it was wrong. Rather than Zoogling your family I should’ve asked you, should’ve been content with whatever information you’d give me, but Wolford’s comment got me thinking. I didn’t want to upset you by asking too much, didn’t want you to relive painful memories. I know it’s hard for you to open up, and I just wanted to understand a little better.” Judy knew it was a pathetic reason, that she hadn’t had any right to go snooping, but there hadn’t been any malicious intent behind her exploration.

“I would’ve told you, Carrots.” Nick murmured, pulling his gaze from the photo long enough to look up at the rabbit sat opposite him. He appreciated that Judy hadn’t wanted to risk hurting his feelings and that she hadn’t wanted to possibly make him relive painful memories. However, he would’ve happily shared some of his better memories with her, told her everything she needed to know about his family. Nick couldn’t help but wonder what it was Wolford had said to Judy, and what she’d uncovered about his family. Nick knew that his family didn’t have a squeaky clean image.

“I know that now.” Judy dropped her head, paws continuing to play with the bow. “I should’ve spoken to you about it rather than looking into it alone. But we’re being honest with each other, and I want you to know that I did go inside the building, that I did look into your family.”

“You’re gung-ho, I know.” Nick flipped over the page, and all thoughts of being a little annoyed by Judy’s need to go snooping were eradicated. There, in the middle of the page, was a photo of him as a kit, being cuddled by his dad. The wave of sorrow that crashed over him contrasted with his excitement that Judy had found such a photo. The feelings had him fighting back tears. “Where did you get this?” He croaked, a paw moving to trace the outline of his dad’s face. Nick hadn’t had the chance to grieve once his father had passed. He’d locked up all of his feelings, shoved them into a box and forced himself to carry on. He’d had to be strong, had to be there for his mom as she’d fallen apart. It was a demon he knew he needed to face soon.

“It was in a frame, on the desk in the office.” Judy had noticed it on her second visit, and she’d recognized the emerald eyes of the sweet little kit the moment she’d picked up the frame. It had made her smile, and then it had made her cry. Nick had been so carefree back then, so unburdened, and Judy only hoped that she could help him get back to that, that one day he’d look as happy and carefree as he did in the photo. She couldn’t bring his dad back, no matter how much she wanted to, but she could help him work through his baggage, help him free himself of it all. “After the first time, I went back regularly. All I did was walk through the rooms initially, but then I noticed photos scattered around. Some were a little damaged, so I started to collect them. I didn’t want to risk them getting any worse, for them to be lost to time. I don’t think I got them all, but I grabbed all the ones I could see. There were some pinned on notice boards, some in frames on the walls, and a few were in the safe.”

“You opened the safe?” Nick asked in disbelief. It was one thing to slip in through an open window, another entirely to crack the safe. Nick didn’t even think Judy knew how to break into one, and he didn’t feel like telling her it was a skill he’d acquired on the streets. Shuffling, he moved to sit with his back to the wall, stretching out his legs across Judy’s bed, using them to prop up the album.

“It was wide open, I promise. There was a stack of photos left inside.” Judy vowed. Breaking and entering a building was one thing, breaking into a safe was something she’d never feel comfortable doing. “I gathered as many photos as I could find and found a reputable mammal to restore them as best as possible for you.” Judy had tried not to disturb the inside of the building too much, hadn’t wanted to go rooting through the place. She’d only picked up the photos she could see. Judy was pretty confident there were others hidden away in drawers and boxes, though. It was why she’d had a few albums made, tucked them away for the future, and she’d left some space in the back of the one Nick held in his paws. Moving, Judy sat beside him, thighs touching as she glanced down at the album.

Nick continued to flick through the album, eyes drinking in all of the photographs, the pictures of his parents and grandparents, of his mom when she’d been pregnant. There were quite a few of him as a kit too. “I feel like I should be mad that you researched my family yourself, that you didn’t think to ask me about them, but you found all these photos and had them restored for me.”

Sighing softly, Judy put down the bow, the once lovely decoration now a mangled mess of ribbon. “I know, and again I’m sorry.”

“I said that I feel like I should be mad, but I’m not. You found these photos, photos I thought were lost, and you had them restored for me, placed them in this album so I’d have them forever.” Moved by Judy’s gesture, Nick reached out, pulling her flush to his side so she could rest her head on his shoulder. Turning the page again, Nick found another photo of him and his dad, the pair of them sat at the desk that had been in his dad’s office. Smoothing his paw over the picture, Nick smiled sadly. “You know, I almost forgot what dad looked like.”

Head resting on Nick’s shoulder, Judy gazed at the photo. “I can see a lot of him in you.” She’d looked through all the photos when she’d been sorting them into piles, preparing them for the album once they’d been restored. She’d sought to create a theme, tried to come up with some sense of order, but in the end, she’d placed them where she’d felt they naturally went.

Nick had inherited his mother’s eyes, but he knew he took after his father more. It had been painful for his mom over the years, to look at him and see parts of her deceased husband. “You know, dad used to take me to the city gallery when I was a kit. It’s why I knew so much when we went. Dad was always talking about art, always telling me stories and giving me information about the artists. One time, when we went…”

Judy settled, making herself comfortable. She wanted to hear Nick’s story, wanted to learn more about his family from him, not from some Zoogle result. Judy knew they would still have some issues, knew that one conversation wasn’t going to solve it all, but sudy knew where Nick’s problems stemmed from now. She could actively try and help him, try and reassure him, prove to him that she would never leave. Paw moving to her bracelet as Nick continued with his story, lost in the memory, Judy smiled. Tonight, when they were alone, she’d drop the mother of all confessions on him, prove without a shadow of a doubt that she’d never leave him, that Nicholas P. Wilde was stuck with her for all eternity.

The morning passed quickly. Once Nick had told the story of one of his trips to the gallery with his dad, Judy had asked multiple questions – What was your dad’s favorite painting? What’s your favorite painting? Can we visit the gallery again when you’re next home? After, they’d headed out to the street parade. Jasmine and Sasha had met them there, and the fact Sasha was so small that she couldn’t see the parade floats had made the baby bunny cry. Hating her tears, Nick had scooped her up, sitting her on his shoulders so she would have an unobstructed view of the floats. Sasha had happily squealed her way through the parade, catching all of the candy thrown her way. Nick had even caught a few, passing them down to Judy. Judy had tucked herself against his side, and Nick had thrown his arm around her, pulling her in, holding her close and accepting the candy she kept plying him with.

Jasmine, phone in paw, had snapped a few pictures of the parade, and when she’d spotted her sister and Nick stood so close together, with little Sasha on Nick’s shoulders, she’d snapped a few photos of them together. Watching as her sister and Nick interacted, as Sasha sat happily on the fox’s shoulders, Jasmine had wondered what her sister’s kits would look like in the future. Would they be gray like her or reddish-orange like Nick? Would their ears be round or pointy? Would they have long, fluffy tails, or short cottony ones? Would they have a mix of all of the above? Ultimately, Jasmine didn’t care. She’d love her future nephews and nieces regardless. “Now if only the stupid idiots would confess their love.” Jasmine had thought, crossing her fingers, silently praying that everything would go to plan this evening.

When the parade had ended, and darkness had begun to fall, Nick had reluctantly handed Sasha back to Jasmine. The baby bunny had asked if they would be at the fireworks, to which Nick and Judy had exchanged a look. “No Cinnamon. Your mom asked us to keep an eye on the warren and the fields.” Nick had explained. Sasha had pouted, lower lip wobbling. “Hey.” Nick had soothed, tracing a finger down Sasha’s cheek. “Ju-Ju and I are going to watch the warren, make sure no fireworks get too close, but I’ll still be here in the morning if you’re up early.” Head bobbing happily, Sasha had promised to wake up early so she could say goodbye. Taking Judy’s paw in his, Nick had started to lead them back to the warren, the pair of them waving at the various members of the Hopps family that they passed en route.

Now, as they approached the Hopps warren, their pace slowed. “So, that talk we were going to have last night…” Nick broached the subject first. It was time to mammal up, to face the music and the conversation the pair of them so desperately needed to have. There was still a lot left unsaid between them, some issues that needed rectifying and Nick knew that he’d have to spill his feelings this evening, would have to tell Judy that he loved her. The idea made him want to run away and hide. After decades of not sharing his feelings, showing any vulnerability, he was about to open up entirely to the small bunny by his side.

“You want to do that now?” Judy didn’t want to rush Nick, didn’t want to force him to talk about it. Last night had been a lot for him, for both of them, and Judy wasn’t sure how much emotional conversation Nick would be able to deal with this evening.

Biting the bullet, Nick nodded. “No time like the present.” He wanted to get it over and done with, not sure how much longer he could contain his feelings. “Do I want to? No, not really. Do we need to? Yes, I think we do.”

“Back porch?” Judy asked as they climbed the few steps up to the front door. Nick nodded, not at all bothered where they had the conversation, but at least the back porch would enable them to watch the fireworks once they were done. Nick had no idea how long the conversation would go on for, or what the outcome would be, but the tod hoped that by the end of it he and Judy would come to an understanding, that the doe would know why other canines called her a predo and why the bracelet held so much meaning.

Paws wringing, Judy led them through the warren and out onto the back porch. They’d have an unobstructed view of the fireworks from here later. In the distance, behind the fields that bordered her family home, the line of trees masked the chaos of the closing celebration, affording them some privacy, but the fireworks would travel up much further than the tops of the trees. Needing some light, Judy lit a few of the lanterns her mom liked to keep out on the porch. The soft, warm glow from them provided the doe with enough light to see Nick and pushed away the clawing darkness of the evening.

As Judy lit the lanterns, Nick made a beeline for the railings. Arms resting on it, he looked out over the fields behind the Hopps warren. “This is it, Wilde. You promised her you’d be more open with your feelings. You can do this.” Nick’s tail swished in agitation, palms feeling clammy as he swallowed, fighting back the chance of another panic attack. He had to keep it together, couldn’t afford to lose it again. Not only was it embarrassing, but Nick didn’t want Judy to have to soothe him through another episode. This evening was about her, about giving her the answers she deserved, answers Nick had purposefully withheld from her for months now. Fear started to creep in, the very real possibility that he’d overstepped and everything would fall apart, that he’d lose Judy for good.

Sensing Nick’s tension rising, Judy crossed to stand beside him at the railing. Lifting a paw, she let it rest on his arm. “Nick.” Judy called his name, pulling the tod’s attention to her. Nick looked down at the rabbit by his side and emerald met violet. Nick exhaled, body relaxing. “It’s okay.” Judy soothed, paw rubbing along Nick’s arm. “If you need a break at any point, if you feel like it’s getting too much, please tell me.” The last thing she wanted was for Nick to suffer another panic attack, for it to stress him out more than necessary. It was something Judy would have to keep an eye on, but now that she’d witnessed it first hand, had helped soothe him through one; Judy knew what to look for.

Touched by Judy’s concern, and a little embarrassed that she’d been able to read him that quickly, Nick slapped on his usual lazy grin. “Nah I’m good, cool as a cucumber.” He lied, not ready to face the fact that his sudden onset of panic attacks, after years of suppressing them and controlling them, was freaking him out. Judy held so much power over him, enough power to tug at things Nick thought he was long since over. However, Stu was right. Nick knew that Judy would never abuse that power, and while giving her it was scary, it was part of life, part of sharing himself with her and opening up. The bracelet around her wrist was a symbol of his intentions, his plans to woo her and ask her to be his mate. He couldn’t hide things from his mate, couldn’t hold himself back and hide parts of himself.

Not believing him for a second, Judy was a little disappointed that Nick felt the need to lie, to cover up how he was feeling. Hadn’t he listened last night when she’d asked him to be more forthcoming with her about his emotions? She knew it would take some time for Nick to share everything with her, that sharing his feelings with another mammal was a new concept for him, but she’d hoped he’d start now. Giving his arm a gentle squeeze, Judy shook her head. “Slick…”

The faint lilt of disappointment in Judy’s voice made Nick’s heart clench. He’d vowed to be more open with her, to tell her how he was feeling, and here he was hiding things from her. Smile faltering, Nick sighed. Now wasn’t the time for games, for pretending that he was okay. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m a little nervous is all.”

Pleased with Nick’s eventual willingness to come clean about his feelings, Judy offered him a reassuring smile. She had no idea what the upcoming conversation would entail, but she already knew that Nick, without a shadow of a doubt, loved her. All she wanted was some answers about her bracelet, and then she could tell him that she loved him too. “Don’t be nervous, it’s just me.”

This wasn’t some hustle; this wasn’t territory Nick was familiar with. This was Judy and his confession of his love for her. There wasn’t a mammal on the earth who could paw on heart say they weren’t nervous when telling someone for the first time that they loved them. It was part of nature, to be scared about being so open and honest with another animal, and for Nick, it was even harder. All the years of keeping everything to himself, the years of hiding his feelings, it all made the upcoming conversation much more difficult for him. “The fact it’s you makes me even more nervous.”

Not wanting her fox to feel nervous, and hoping to distract him long enough so that he could calm down a little, Judy employed a tactic that she hoped would work. “What’s your favorite movie?” She blindsided him, picking a topic far removed from their impending conversation. Pulling her paw away from Nick’s arm, Judy grasped at the railings, looking out over the fields behind her family home.

Judy’s sudden shift in conversation left Nick blinking in confusion as he looked at her, head tipping sideways a little as he tried to work out why the doe had decided to change topic. They were supposed to be talking about her bracelet, about his feelings, not about his favorite movie. “Um, Fur Wars. You?”

Having guessed that Nick would be a fan of the Fur Wars franchise if the conversations with his mom were anything to go by, the tod’s answer didn’t surprise Judy in the slightest. She could see that she’d thrown him off balance, though, successfully shifted his mind to a lighter topic. “Not an awful pick, I’ll give you that.” Judy teased. “Bad Bucks is mine.”

Groaning at Judy’s answer, Nick rolled his eyes, turning his focus back to the field. “Of course you’d like a cop movie.” Living on the streets with virtually no money meant entertainment was hard to come by. Nick had stolen a few bits over the years – a deck of cards, some books, and a skateboard amongst other things – but there’d been a few times when he’d managed to sneak into a cinema and watch a film. He hadn’t been able to see Bad Bucks, but he’d seen a trailer for it.

“Hey! It’s a good film.” Judy protested, reaching out to gently thump Nick’s shoulder with a paw. Getting to watch any movie in the Hopps warren was a miracle. With so many kits, there were many disagreements about what they were in the mood to see. Judy had managed to steal away with her littermates one night when their mom and dad had been out on the back porch enjoying the evening with some elderflower wine, and they’d piled into one of the warren’s many living rooms to watch the cop film. Judy had fallen in love with it. “We’re watching it next time you’re home.” She decided, paw returning to the railings.

“No, please. A weekend away from cop training won’t be spent watching cop movies.” Nick didn’t want to think about anything police related on his occasional weekend home. He knew that as soon as he graduated he’d never get away from it. During one of their classroom sessions Major Friedkin had informed them that though they would leave the precinct at the end of every day, they’d never switch off being an officer.

Spying an opportunity to get them back on track now that Nick seemed a little calmer and more collected, Judy lifted her arm to show her bracelet. “Then I’ll make you a deal. We won’t watch it if you give me a little more information about this.” She knew it was a little under-pawed, but it would hopefully get Nick talking.

As Judy brought the conversation back to her bracelet, Nick no longer felt as nervous. “Sly bunny.” Now her sudden conversation shift made sense. Though the nerves started to creep back up on him, Nick took a deep breath, able to better control them. “Mammal up Wilde, you can do this.” Licking his lips, Nick lifted his paws, rubbing his face as he nodded. He turned to look at Judy beside him, still leaning heavily against the railings. “Okay, deal. What do you want to know?”

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