Taking his time to clean up, Nick tended to the blueberry mess on his neck. Wiping his fur clean, he ran a brush through the damp patch, catching the last remaining chunks of blueberry that had dried and matted his fur. Placing the brush back on the small shelving unit next to the sink, Nick took in his appearance in the bathroom mirror. He looked awful: Felt it too. It had been a long day. The events in the museum pit played over and over again in his mind. If he hadn’t swapped the serum out for blueberries, he would have killed Judy. Nick shuddered at the thought, screwing his eyes closed.
His decades as a con-mammal had given him a great knack for acting, and Judy had been pretty convincing herself: she’d scampered back, eyes wide with fear and nose twitching, pleading with him to stop. It had been hard for him to remain in character, to not break form and reassure Judy that everything was fine and that he wouldn’t really hurt her. His jaws around her neck though…he shivered, hackles rising at the thought. His proximity had afforded him the chance to catch her scent more clearly, and even though they were acting there had been a hint of fear in her smell. It had drawn on the fundamental nature of Nick’s very being, to hunt the rabbit, while simultaneously urging his more rational side to protect rather than hurt. It was that which forced him to break character so dramatically after, to distract himself by taunting Bellwether. He never wanted to scent Judy’s fear again.
Running the taps, Nick splashed cool water onto his face, using his mom’s favorite fluffy towel to dry off. Another quick brush to stop any chance of his fur matting and Nick had no further need to hide in the bathroom. Marian caught him as he left the bathroom. “Dinner’s ready, so you might want to wake Judy. I would’ve done it myself, but I think she’d prefer if it were you. I placed a change of clothes for her on your bed. They’ll be a bit too big for her, but she can’t keep wearing those torn pants,” Marian explained, returning to the kitchen as Nick entered the living room.
Judy was still curled up in the armchair, long ears smoothed behind her, little paws clutching Nick’s favorite blanket around her, twitching nose buried in the soft fabric. Her good leg had stopped jittering.
Approaching quietly, Nick lifted a paw, cupping Judy’s left cheek. “Carrots, dinners ready,” he whispered, not wanting to startle her. Smoothing a paw over her cheek Nick frowned, feeling raised bumps beneath his pads. Judy stirred, paws flexing as she started to wake. Taking the limited opportunity, Nick used his claws to push Judy’s fur aside, his sharp vision finding the three faint raised scars across her cheek. Dread filled him as he took in their shape. “They look like claw marks…”
Judy shifted, wide violet eyes opening slowly. Schooling his features, Nick smoothed her fur back, offering her a lazy smile as he withdrew his paw. “I’m sorry to wake you, actually I’m not, you snore like crazy, but mom says dinner’s ready.”
Snorting, Judy shook her head. “Funny. I think you’re just projecting though Slick, ‘cause none of my 311 siblings say I snore,” she teased.
Eyes widening, Nick’s ears flattened as his jaw slackened. “311 siblings? Sweet mercy, how is that even…?” She had to be joking, right?
Judy rolled her eyes, untangling herself from the cozy blanket. “I already told you, Nick, we bunnies are good at multiplying.”
She wasn’t joking.
“Your poor mother!” Nick felt sorry for Mrs. Hopps. All those kits. The chaos so many offspring no doubt caused. Nick had nothing against kits, had even contemplated what it would be like to have his own one day, but there was no way in hell he’d have 311 of them.
“I think she’s running out of names in all honesty. She’s at the W’s now. I was part of the J litter, obviously. I guess she’ll have to start with the A’s again soon,” Judy mused, scooting to the edge of the armchair. She could smell the most delicious scents from the dining room. Shaking his head, Nick offered Judy a paw, helping her down. Her first few steps were unsure, and she heavily favored her good leg. Knowing that his mom would be disappointed if the food went cold, and feeling a little selfish, Nick scooped Judy up, much to the rabbit’s disdain.
“You’re supposed to be the quicker mammal, Carrots. You’re slower than Flash,” Nick teased, carrying Judy bridal style across the living room and towards the dining room.
Huffing, Judy wrapped her arms around Nick’s neck, hoping the fox wouldn’t drop her. She wouldn’t put it past him to at least pretend to drop her. “Are you saying because he’s a sloth, he can’t be fast?” Judy shot back, her paws giving the nape of Nick’s neck a gentle swat, teasing him with his own words.
Entering the dining room, Nick used one of his hind paws to pull out a chair for Judy, and slid the rabbit onto the seat. Marian had already taken her place; the food spread out on the table. She watched as her son and Judy teased one another. “If I were a betting mammal…” Marian mused.
“Why Carrots, I would never be so speciest!” Nick feigned hurt, placing a paw on his chest.
Judy snorted, nose crinkling as she smiled. Nick’s lazy grin returned as he took the seat beside her, thighs dangerously close, and his tail flicked sideways to rest across Judy’s lap. Judy glanced down, watching as Nick’s tail settled across her. She wasn’t sure whether to consider the action rude or not. Where was she supposed to put her napkin? And what happened if she was a klutz and dropped some of her food on his tail? Since she was unfamiliar with fox customs and habits, Judy didn’t understand the meaning behind Nick’s gesture.
Marian understood the significance, though. The vixen suppressed her smile as she caught sight of the end of her son’s tail, lazily flicking across the rabbit’s lap. He had no need to be so possessive, Marian wasn’t going to take the sweet bunny from him, but she could understand his actions given that Judy was injured. Though evolved in many ways, some of their instincts still harkened back to the old days, and protecting one’s mate was one of the strongest urges for any mammal.
Remembering Marian’s presence, Judy turned her attention to the vixen, a blush visible in the tips of her ears. “This looks lovely, Marian. Thank you.” Judy ignored the napkin set next to her bowl, deciding that it would be rude to place it over Nick’s tail. He would probably keep flicking it off to annoy her anyway.
Marian smiled before she placed her paws together in front of her on the table. “I regret that I don’t know what customs you have back home Judy, but I hope you don’t mind if we say Grace before we eat?”
Judy returned Marian’s smile, lifting her paws to mirror her. “I don’t mind at all Marian, please go ahead.”
Nick rested his hands together on the table, dipping his head and closing his eyes. Marian dropped her head and closed her eyes too. Judy mirrored them in so far as she dipped her head, but she used the opportunity to look at Nick and his mother more closely. Though Judy hadn’t met Nick’s father, and she couldn’t see the presence of another tod in the apartment, she could see that Nick had the same muzzle shape as his mother.
Given the vast number of bunnies in Judy’s family, saying Grace had never been feasible. There were just too many rabbits to try and get everyone to sit silently, and her mom liked to stagger eating times so that the dining room wasn’t too crowded.
“For the meal we are about to eat, for those that made it possible, and for those with whom we are about to share it, we are thankful,” Marian spoke softly, lifting her head and opening her eyes.
Nick raised his own head, opening his eyes and inhaling the smell of the food his mother had prepared. He was starving.
Judy waited for Marian, and once she’d picked up her cutlery and started to eat, so did Judy.
The smell of dinner had Nick salivating. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had such a large meal. Money was tight for him at the best of times, so the fox often went without food in favor of being able to save a little more. He swiped the odd few bits of fruit from street stalls whenever he could, feeling momentarily sorry for stealing. His survival overruled his conscience, though. He needed to stick around to take care of his mother.
Cutting off a large piece of salmon, Nick let out a happy little noise as he chewed it. Judy watched as the fox sitting beside her ate, fascinated with the sounds he was making. The only other fox she had ever spent any time around had been Gideon, and he wasn’t the model mammal. Dunking her spoon in her bowl, Judy blew on the liquid to cool it before she ate. As a family of carrot farmers, carrot soup was a staple in the Hopps household. However, Marian’s carrot soup could very nearly rival Judy’s mother’s.
Nick appeared hungry, and Judy tried to recall when she’d last seen him eat. He’d been sipping on something from Snarlbucks when she’d met him under the bridge, and since then he’d only had a handful of blueberries.
Marian frowned at her son as he ate, concerned by her boy’s enthusiasm when it came to his meal. Nick had always liked his food, he’d always eaten everything Marian had cooked for him, but her boy was eating with much more gusto than usual. He was looking a little thin too…
“This soup is lovely, Marian,” Judy complimented Nick’s mother, offering the vixen a warm smile.
Finishing her mouthful, Marian’s features softened. “Thank you, Judy. My mom taught me to cook when I was just a kit. Unfortunately, Nicky never cared about learning how to cook…” Marian spared a disapproving glance to her son, who looked up from his meal, licking his lips with a meek grin.
“Next time I go home I’ll ask Gideon to make a blueberry pie for you, Nick,” Judy offered, capturing his attention.
Nick had never heard about this Gideon bunny before. He didn’t like the sound of him already. “Blueberries from your family farm, yes?” He double-checked, cutting another piece of salmon.
Judy smiled; remembering how Nick had complimented the blueberries her family grew. “Of course, my parents went into business with Gid after I joined the force. He’s one of the top pastry chefs in the Tri-Burrows,” she explained, blowing on the soup on her spoon.
“I had no idea you bunnies had your paws in pastry making too.” Nick speared the piece of salmon he’d just cut with his fork, popping it into his mouth.
Judy finished her mouthful. “Oh, he’s not a bunny. He’s the one who told me that night howlers are toxic flowers. He’s a fox.”
Nick choked on the salmon he’d just put in his mouth. Marian placed her cutlery down and reached over, thumping her son’s back. “Easy, Nicky,” she cooed, offering him a glass of water with her other paw.
Nick managed to control his choking fit, taking the glass of water his mother offered him. After a sip, he placed it back down on the table. He’d been caught off guard, unaware that Judy knew another fox, unaware that foxes even lived in Bunnyburrow. The name of the area had suggested to him that the place was filled solely with carrot farming bunnies.
“Here I was thinking that you figured out what they were all by yourself,” Nick teased, covering up his discomfort at the thought of Judy hanging around another fox.
“Dumb bunny, remember?” Judy gave Nick’s hind paws a gentle prod with the hind paw on her good leg, offering him a smile to show she meant no harm.
“Heh, Chief Buffalo Butt is going to have a field day with that recording.” Nick turned back to his salmon, playfully swatting his tail across Judy’s lap.
Judy groaned, shaking her head. “Please don’t remind me. I’m just praying Clawhauser doesn’t get his paws on it. He can’t keep anything a secret. He’d have that recording around the precinct in no time.”
Marian watched the two interact, silently continuing to eat. All these names the bunny was throwing around meant nothing to her, but her son had fallen into conversation with Judy quickly. Her boy had never really been close to anyone after the Junior Ranger Scouts incident. He spent a lot of time with that little fennec fox, much to Marian’s disapproval, so seeing him getting along with Judy warmed her heart.
Before too long, Judy found her bowl empty, and she put down her spoon, licking her lips. Nick had finished his first portion a few minutes earlier, and Marian had allowed him to go for seconds. Now, as Nick finished up his second helping, he started to feel full. It had been a long time since he’d eaten so much food, especially such good food. He wondered whether his mother would let him take some for later. With a clean plate, Nick put his cutlery down.
Judy yawned, her small paws clamping over her muzzle as she glanced apologetically at Nick and Marian. Night had fallen, and though her earlier nap had helped, Judy was still tired. Her belly was full of good comfort food, and it added to her tiredness. Knowing it would be rude to stay in Nick’s home, now that she knew he lived with his mother, Judy resigned herself to having to call a Zuber to take her to a hotel. Marian stood, gathering the dishes.
“Please, let me help,” Judy made to move before Marian placed a paw on her shoulder, keeping her in place.
“You need to rest your leg, sweetheart,” she insisted, picking up the final dish and taking them all into the kitchen. Judy felt bad, leaving Marian to clean up after she’d cooked such an excellent meal. At least Judy now knew where Nick had picked up his penchant for using the word sweetheart.
Without warning, Judy yawned again. Putting her paws over her muzzle to hide her yawn, she glanced apologetically to Nick. “I’m so sorry, the day has finally caught up with me,” Judy apologized, paws falling to her lap as she finished yawning. Her paws met the fluffy softness of Nick’s tail, and she couldn’t resist giving it a stroke. A high-pitched whine came from Nick as Judy stroked his tail. Quickly, Judy let go of his tail, unsure as to whether she’d hurt him or not.
Nick glanced down, embarrassed by the noise he’d just made. He’d never made such a noise before. Then again, he’d never allowed anyone to touch his tail either. Mammals had often stepped on it yes, but never stroked it. It was an intimate action. “Sorry,” Nick apologized, avoiding Judy’s eyes, ashamed of his loud response to her gentle touch. “Not used to people touching it.”
“Did it hurt?” Judy asked quietly, wide violet eyes finding Nick’s face, searching to make sure she hadn’t hurt him.
Nick had to hide his snort, the corners of his lips turning upwards. Trust Judy to immediately think she’d hurt him. “It didn’t hurt, Carrots. It was….nice?” He couldn’t think of a better word. He didn’t want to frighten Judy away by telling her just how nice it was, how the touch of her small paw on his tail made him shudder, how it was such an intimate act usually reserved solely for mates. “Lock it away, Wilde.”
Cautiously, unsure as to how Nick would take it, Judy returned her paws to his tail, running them through the fluffy fur there. Nick made the same noise again, his blush deepening, his tail flicking happily in her lap. Judy didn’t know if stroking his tail was acceptable, in Bunnyburrow it was common for rabbits to grab each other’s tails, there were so many bunnies that boundaries didn’t exist, but Nick’s response was encouraging enough for her to keep doing it. She’d never even thought about stroking a fox’s tail, never thought she’d get close enough, but there was a first time to try everything. If there was one thing Judy was proud to be, it was a trier.
Marian had wanted to give Judy and Nick a moment to themselves, so she’d tried to come up with something for dessert. Unfortunately, as she hadn’t been expecting guests, she didn’t have anything to offer them. On her way back to the dining room to apologize, she overheard her boy’s whine. Remaining out of sight, Marian listened in on their conversation with wide eyes. It wasn’t very noble of her, but she could remember the last time she’d heard such a sound. The rain had soaked her Robert on his way home from work, and Marian had started to brush his fur with his favorite soft paddle brush after toweling him off. Robert had made a similar noise as Marian had brushed his tail. The sound had stirred something in her, had driven her to love her mate, and 52 days later Nick had been born. He’d been an anomaly, the only kit in the litter. Marian and Robert had been relieved to only have one, though, particularly since Nick had been such a demanding kit.
Realizing that an extended period of absence would be suspicious, Marian entered the room, pretending like she hadn’t just listened in on her son and the bunny. “I must apologize, Judy, I have nothing in for dessert.”
Judy had still been stroking Nick’s tail, enjoying the feel of his fur beneath her paw, and the little noises he’d been making. The end of his tail had been flicking happily, and small shudders had been running through him. With the return of his mom, though, Judy pulled her paws away quickly, letting them rest on the table. Smiling, she shrugged. “It’s okay Marian, the soup was more than enough. Thank you. I should probably call a Zuber and let you carry on with your evening.” Judy glanced to Nick, offering him an out. She was still feeling guilty for cajoling him into letting her come here.
Tutting as she collected the placemats, Marian answered Judy. “Don’t be silly, you’re more than welcome to stay here. You’re in no state to be traveling,”
Nick scratched behind his left ear, one of his few tells. While he didn’t like the idea of Judy staying alone in a hotel, if she stayed with him and his mom she’d start asking questions, and once Judy wanted answers she wouldn’t stop until she had them.
“I’ll take the couch,” Nick offered, knowing it would be rude to take his bed. Plus, it would give him the opportunity to cool down from Judy’s impromptu stroking.
“No Nicky, what if Judy needs your help? I’ll set up the spare mattress in your room.” Marian wanted to keep the pair close to one another, both for Judy’s comfort and to try and encourage them to bond further. Though Marian had always hoped her baby would find himself a nice vixen and settle down, giving her lots of grandkits, she couldn’t deny how sweet Judy was, and how she obviously cared for her son. It was something worth pursuing. Perhaps she could even conspire with Judy’s parents. If they worked with Gideon, then they might be open to working with another fox. Marian disappeared from the room to set up the spare mattress on the floor of Nick’s childhood room.
Left with Nick, Judy smoothed down her ears in discomfort, having noted his uneasiness. “I can get a hotel, Nick. You don’t have to worry,” she offered, preparing to slide down off her chair.
Nick shook his head, tail pressing against her lap to keep her in place. “It’s not that.”
Judy frowned, at a loss as to why Nick wasn’t comfortable with her being around all of a sudden. “What is it, then?” She asked gently, knowing that Nick didn’t like opening up, didn’t like letting others see that they were getting to him.
“Nothing for you to worry about, Carrots.” Nick slipped down from his chair, moving to help Judy down. He knew he was delaying the inevitable, but it didn’t hurt to try and throw Judy off the scent.
Helping Judy down, Nick let her lean heavily against him as he led her towards the back of his family home and his childhood bedroom. Marian came out of his room, having set up the spare bed. “I hope you sleep well, Judy. Just shout if you need anything. Nicky is a heavy sleeper.” Marian pressed a kiss to Nick’s forehead before giving Judy the same treatment, enjoying the way the bunny blushed and appeared flustered at her gesture.
Nick glanced at Judy and his mother. True, his mother had always been affectionate, but Nick had never witnessed her extend that affection to anyone beyond their family circle. It seemed his mom had taken a shine to Judy. It hadn’t taken long for Nick to grow fond of the little bunny, and it hadn’t taken his mother long either.
Leading Judy into his childhood bedroom, Nick spotted the change of clothes his mother had left out on his bed for Judy. “Mom said you could borrow her clothes. You can’t wear those torn pants tomorrow,” he explained, helping Judy across the room. Marian had set up the extra mattress alongside the bed with a simple green sheet and pillow on it. She’d put the bedside light on and drawn the curtains, too.
Judy looked around the room. Nick’s bedroom was the same size as her old room at the Grand Pangolin Arms, but Nick’s was much brighter and inviting. The walls were painted white, and the floor was wooden, making the room feel larger than it was. Pushed up against the left wall were a small bed, a change of clothes on it and two drawers underneath it for storage. At the far end of the room was a large window, and beneath it, running the width of the room was a storage unit. Numerous children’s books lined the top, propped up by little green tubs filled with what Judy could see were toys. She frowned. Nick was 32, why did he have children’s books and toys in his bedroom? On the right wall, opposite the bed, was a desk with a small chair, the surface clear of clutter. Above the desk sat a corkboard, bolted to the wall, and Nick had pinned movie posters to it – posters for Back to the Furture, Paws, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kits. The room smelt a little musty, and the light layer of dust on everything showed it hadn’t been used for some time. This was Nick’s home, so why did it look like he no longer lived here? Judy frowned. Something wasn’t right.
Nick watched as Judy grabbed the small chair next to his desk, using it to help her stand steady. Sure she wouldn’t fall, he pulled open one of the drawers under his bed, grabbing one of his old shirts for her, having realized that his mother hadn’t laid out any clothes for Judy to sleep in. “I’ll let you change in peace.” He offered, placing the shirt down on his bed for her.
Grabbing a pair of pants to sleep in, Nick left the room, giving Judy the chance to change. Changing in the bathroom, Nick deposited his dirty shirt and pants into the laundry basket: His mom would wash them for him.
Judy dressed quickly, not wanting to risk being caught naked. Folding her clothes, she placed them on the desk. The shirt Nick had lent her was black, ‘Mole Gallagher’ emblazoned on the front. Judy chuckled, having not expected Nick to be a Mole fan. Come to think of it, she wasn’t entirely sure about the music he liked. His movie tastes were good if the posters on his corkboard were anything to go by. It still bothered Judy that the room didn’t look suitable for a 32-year-old.
Nick knocked on the bedroom door, and then slowly entered, grateful to see that Judy had changed. His shirt swamped her, loose on her body and falling to her knees. Seeing her in his clothes stirred something in him, gave him a very pleasant feeling. Shaking away the feeling, Nick picked up Judy’s clothes, taking them into the living room. He’d try and salvage her jeans tomorrow. His temporary absence gave Judy the chance to process the fact that Nick was shirtless, a light blush coloring the inside of her ears. “Cheese and crackers!”
Returning to his bedroom, Nick closed the door behind him. The momentary silence between them made him realize just how awkward the situation was. He was alone in his room, with Judy. “Nick,” she started, eyes roaming around the room before landing on him.
Nick sighed. “Here we go…”
“You have this address on your tax form as your place of residence, but it doesn’t look like you live here permanently.” Judy approached the subject gently, not wanting to back Nick into a corner. The fox had never struck Judy as someone who liked to share personal information with others. Nick momentarily ignored her query to gather his thoughts, crossing the room to the spare mattress. His mom had already spread out his sheet, so he didn’t have much to do. Throwing the sheet back, Nick sat on the bed, head dropping as he tried to come up with a suitable cover story. Usually, he was great at coming up with stories and lies off the cuff, they played an intricate part in his hustles after all, but this was Judy he was dealing with. If his story weren’t properly thought out, she’d cotton on.
“Nick, you don’t live here anymore, do you?” Judy decided to be blunt, ambling slowly towards the fox. Her leg was still giving her grief, but this was important. Standing before Nick, Judy gently grasped his muzzle, lifting his head, so he was forced to look at her. They locked gazes for a few seconds before Nick’s eyes dropped, finding the floor more interesting. Judy knew the look that crossed his face. Shame. She was well acquainted with the emotion now. She’d felt such shame after her first press conference, for hurting Nick, for causing so much hatred and intolerance to further flourish in Zootopia. Why would Nick be feeling ashamed, though? Surely wherever he lived wasn’t as bad as Judy’s old place at the Grand Pangolin Arms.
Nick continued to look away from Judy, trying to pull away from her. He was uncomfortable, and he didn’t want to talk about his living arrangements: It was a necessity to keep his mother safe. Hoping his silence would cause Judy enough discomfort that she would let the subject drop, Nick bided his time.
He should’ve known better.
Judy’s mind was working overtime, trying to figure out where Nick could be living that would lead to such a strong reaction from him. He hadn’t mentioned any district in particular during their time together; never spoke about one with more fondness than any other. The only time he’d mentioned living anywhere had been after she’d confronted him about his hustling. Something about “sinks into emotional and literal squalor, living in a box under a…”
“Oh, Nick.” Her ears drooped at the realization. It all made sense now. Finnick had sent her to the bridge to find him, and the small amount of furniture suggested he spent time there. Judy let go of his muzzle, sliding her paw up to cup his cheek, smoothing the ruffled fur. “Oh Nick,” Judy soothed gently.
Nick flinched at Judy’s tone. He didn’t need or want her sympathy. He was doing fine, his mom was none the wiser and was comfortable, and he didn’t have to put up with other mammals. “Leave it, Judy.” He pulled away from her grasp. Laying down quickly, he buried himself under the sheets, turning so his back faced her. He knew it was a little cowardly, turning his back on her and the conversation, but he didn’t want to go there right now. He was aware that his living situation wasn’t ideal, but it was the hand he’d been dealt, and he was making the most of it.
Judy wavered for a moment, torn between wanting to soothe Nick and letting it go. He’d used her full name, not one of his usual pet names, so Judy knew he was serious. She couldn’t help but feel like smoothing things over, though. Yes, she felt sorry for him, Nick deserved so much more than living under a bridge in a box, but she knew he wouldn’t want her sympathy. He still had his pride. Deciding to let it go for now, as pushing further wouldn’t get her any more answers, Judy shuffled slowly to the bed, hauling herself up and then under the covers. Reaching over, she flicked the bedside lamp off and lay on her back.
The silence was deafening, and Judy found sleep evading her.