Chapter 5 – Pancakes and Pondering

Warm. It was so warm. Judy was suffocating in the warmth. Swimming to consciousness, Judy found herself locked inside Nick’s arms, his body curled around her. His fur was ridiculously warm and soft, and his tail had curled around her, the tip resting just under her chin. His scent enveloped her, and while the scent of fox would’ve probably sent her running in the past, it comforted her now. Judy lounged against Nick, not in any hurry to leave the warmth of his embrace. At some point in the night, they’d shifted, and Judy found that she didn’t mind being cuddled by Nick. Gently, so as not to disturb him, Judy lightly rubbed the underside of her chin along the tip of his tail, enjoying the tickly feeling. Settling back against him, she closed her eyes and relaxed. She’d been surprised when Nick had pulled her close last night, letting her snuggle up against him. She had a feeling he wasn’t a very physical mammal, wasn’t used to having anyone other than Marian hug him. Growing up in such a large family meant physical contact was important for Judy; it was a way to show her care. It was second nature for her to show her affection for Nick last night by reaching out to him. The fact he’d encouraged her cuddling made her smile. She was slowly peeling away that the vast amount of layers that made up Nicholas P. Wilde, and the things she was learning about him surprised her.

Judy’s bladder soon complained. Slowly and reluctantly Judy wiggled her way out of Nick’s grasp, watching as he shuffled in his sleep, curling up into the fluffiest ball she’d ever seen once she was free of his grasp. Judy’s ears drooped, and she had to clamp a paw over her muzzle to stop herself from cooing at how adorable he looked.

Keeping her steps light Judy left the room, letting the door close quietly behind her. Spotting the open door of the bathroom across the hallway she darted in, locking the door behind her. Judy winced as pain flared in her leg, her sudden quick movements pulling on the wound. She would probably need to change the bandage soon. Judy gave her appearance a once over in the mirror above the sink, smoothing down patches of her fur that had ruffled up in her sleep, before attending to her bladder. Satisfied that she was somewhat presentable, Judy opened the bathroom door ready to return to Nick’s room to grab the clothes Marian had left out for her.

Judy didn’t get far. Marian was just coming out of her bedroom as Judy opened the bathroom door, and the vixen greeted her with a smile. “Good morning Judy. Did you sleep well?” She asked, fastening a pearl necklace around her throat as she approached. She was dressed in a smart white blouse and a dark orange pencil skirt. Judy thought she looked fantastic.

“Yes, thank you, I’m really grateful for you letting me stay over,” Judy thanked Marian; knowing her mom would whack her tail with her wooden cooking spoon if Judy forgot her manners.

As Judy stepped out of the bathroom and closer to Marian, the vixen’s nostrils flared, confusion clouding her features for a moment before a sly smile crossed her muzzle. When Judy frowned, concerned she smelt bad, Marian slapped on a broad smile, soothing the bunny. Marian’s nose didn’t lie – her boy’s scent was all over Judy. “Did you sleep well? I know Nicky likes his mattress a little hard.”

Not wanting to lie to Marian, Judy settled on the truth. “I slept very well thanks. I didn’t sleep in Nick’s bed, I slept on the spare mattress, and it was really comfy.”

Marian quirked an eyebrow, one of her paws coming to rest on her waist as she frowned. “Nicky kicked you out of his bed and onto the extra mattress? I thought I taught that boy better than that.”

Smoothing down her ears, Judy shook her head. “No, he let me take the bed. We were up late though, so I moved, we were together on the spare mattress.”

Marian’s other eyebrow rose, eyes widening as her paw slipped from her waist. Had her son and Judy…? “I don’t smell a coupling, and my nose isn’t that decrepit yet.”

“Oh gosh, no no! Not like that! We didn’t…there was nothing…” Judy stumbled, a deep blush coloring the inside of her ears as she realized how her comment could’ve been perceived.

Marian smiled, enjoying Judy’s momentary embarrassment. Seeing the honesty in Judy’s face, she took pity on the sweet rabbit. “It’s okay Judy, you’re both grown mammals, what the pair of you get up to is none of my business.” Marian shrugged. She wouldn’t have minded if her boy and Judy had been intimate, it was about time that Nicky finally found himself a mate, and he got on well with Judy. “I’ll make some breakfast. What would you like?” Marian gave Judy an out, fishing in her pocket. She pulled out her matching bracelet and clasped it around her left wrist, eyes lifting from her task to take in Judy wearing one of her son’s shirts. She had to hide her smile.

Judy blushed again, remembering that she stood before Nick’s mom wearing only her panties and one of Nick’s oversized shirts. Wait. She’d fallen asleep curled up with Nick, in just her panties and his shirt. “Sweet cheese and crackers!”

“I’ll, um, go change,” Judy stuttered; pink coloring the inside of her ears for what felt like the hundredth time.

Marian wafted a hand through the air, not at all fussed by Judy’s state of undress. “Nicky is still sleeping, that boy hardly rests, and you wouldn’t want to risk waking him, would you? It doesn’t matter, we’re both girls.” Marian started to walk towards the kitchen. Judy, though embarrassed, followed after the vixen.

She did have a point. Nick deserved to enjoy his rest on a comfy mattress. Judy had no idea how often he slept in his childhood home. “How do you feel about pancakes?” Marian asked as Judy followed her into the kitchen. Judy walked with a slight limp to her step, though she could put a bit more weight on her leg now. Spotting some barstools at the small island counter, Judy used her good leg to push herself up and off the ground, scrabbling onto the seat. It wasn’t her most graceful mount, but it did the job.

“Pancakes sound yummy. Is there anything I can help with?” Judy offered, not used to sitting by idly. Back in Bunnyburrow, the older Hopps children had been expected to pitch in and help with the cooking and cleaning. There was only so much their mom could do.

“No, no, sweetheart, you just sit there and continue looking pretty.” Marian grabbed a frying pan, placing it on the stove, then moved to the fridge to gather ingredients. Judy blushed at her compliment, unused to such flattery.

Marian spent her time gathering ingredients, wondering just how many questions she could ask the bunny before her son woke for the day. She had half an hour before work, and Nicky would more than likely wake at the smell of pancakes. Settling on her first question, Marian closed the fridge, laying out the ingredients on the counter. “I hope my boy didn’t cause you too much trouble when he was helping you crack your big case.” Marian started to sift the flour into a large bowl.

Judy chuckled, the sound causing Marian’s ears to twist towards the bunny. “He wasn’t very cooperative at first, but as time went on, he pulled through for me. I’d made a deal with the Chief. I had two days to crack the case, or I would resign. He didn’t want a bunny on the force, let alone as part of his team, but I was determined to prove myself. I accepted his deal, and Nick was my first lead. He did throw a few roadblocks at me, but in truth, I hadn’t told him about how much I’d staked on the case. After a particularly,” Judy searched for the right word “intense situation, the Chief wanted my badge. I still had ten hours left to solve the case, but I felt like I’d failed. I was about to hand my badge over when Nick shut the Chief down and ensured I got to keep my badge and the last ten hours to crack the case. He really came through for me,” Judy glanced down at her lap, her paws playing with the hem of Nick’s shirt.

Pleasantly surprised with the rabbit’s willingness to share, Marian smiled. Hearing about her boy’s actions didn’t surprise the vixen. Her Nicky could be difficult when it suited, but he was inherently good. He was so much like her Robert. Marian’s smile dropped as she remembered her late husband. “I’m glad he has you, Judy. He wasn’t the same after his father passed.”

Judy’s ears drooped. She was still processing all the information Nick had given her the night before, but she knew the passing of his dad had had a significant impact on the fox. “Nick told me, last night. I’m so sorry Marian, truly.”

Marian paused in her sifting, having added the baking powder, salt, and sugar to the mixing bowl. Turning from her spot at the counter to look at the rabbit sat in her kitchen, Marian offered her a small smile. “It was a long time ago, dear. No need to worry.” Marian turned back, using a wooden spoon to create a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, ready for the wet ones. If Nicky had told Judy about his father, then it stood to reason he really did trust her. Marian mulled over the thought for a moment. Her Nicky, her baby, finally trusting someone. “Don’t get ahead of yourself, Marian!”

“I’ve never seen him quite so invested in someone else’s wellbeing. He really cares about you, Judy.” Marian started to dig, curious as to how the bunny felt about her son. She could read her Nicky like a book, and she could tell that he was starting to develop feelings for Judy, but Marian wanted to be sure about where Judy stood before she began to push them together any further.

Judy smiled, warmth spreading through her at the thought of Nick caring so much for her. He really was a good mammal. “I care about him too, Marian, so much. I’ve never had a close friend as I was always too preoccupied with becoming a cop, but I really enjoy Nick’s company.” Her smile dropped to a frown as she recalled running home with her fuzzy-wuzzy tail between her legs. “Just like Nick predicted.”

There was one more question Marian needed answering before she could start planning ways to get the rabbit and her boy together. Her nose gave her a rough indication of the answer, but she wanted it from Judy’s mouth. “Your boyfriend doesn’t mind you spending so much time with Nicky, does he?”

Pulling back from her memories, Judy laughed nervously, wringing her paws together. She silently prayed that Marian wouldn’t be like her mother when it came to boyfriends. Her mom was so keen for her to settle down and have kits, but Judy had bigger plans. “Oh, I’m not seeing anyone.”

Marian was grateful that she was turned away from Judy so that she didn’t have to hide her grin. “Perfect!” Continuing with her prep work, Marian glanced at Judy over her shoulder. “That’s a shame, sweetheart. I would’ve thought a lovely girl like you would’ve been snapped up by now.” She turned back to her cooking.

“I think differently than other rabbits, especially those back at home. I want to work my way up the ladder, make the world a better place. That seems to be a bit too much for most bucks.” Judy shrugged. She’d tried dating in the past, but every time the topic of work came up her dates would make their displeasure known. They wanted Judy to stay at home, barefoot and pregnant. That wasn’t Judy at all.

Marian paused, putting down her utensils. Turning to face Judy her features softened as she adopted her mom-voice. “Thinking differently isn’t a bad thing, Judy. Those bucks are missing out on someone so great because they can’t think past their preconceptions. You gave my boy a chance when so few would, the world needs more mammals who think like you.”

Judy glanced up, finding Marian’s eyes. It still struck her how similar they were to Nick’s. “Thank you, Marian.”

Offering Judy a warm smile, Marian turned back to her cooking. She wasn’t sure if Judy had tried dating outside of her own species, or how Judy felt about the matter, but Marian hoped she would be open to it. “I couldn’t help but overhear last night that you have 311 siblings, Judy. I bet your home is a hive of activity. Must be nice to have some peace here in the city.” Marian poured in the milk, stirring as she went to mix it in properly.

Truthfully, while Judy did enjoy the peace that the city offered her, she missed the craziness of her family home. There was always something to do, someone to help, some sibling that needed her attention. She’d thought city life would be fast and exciting, but compared to the chaos in Bunnyburrow it was slow, almost monotonous. “It’s nice to have some peace, but I do miss home,” Judy settled on answering honestly, shoulders sagging as she remembered all the stuffed bunnies she’d slept with when she’d first moved to the city.

Marian, with her mother’s intuition, sensed that the young rabbit seemed to miss her family. She wasn’t an expert on rabbits, but given that the species had a whole entire district dedicated to them she figured they liked to stick close to one another, that few rarely left the warren.

“I’m sure my Nicky will no doubt enjoy disrupting your peace,” Marian settled for a lighter topic, bringing the conversation back to her son. It was safe territory for her, and Judy gave the impression of being a hive of knowledge when it came to her boy. Perhaps Marian would finally be able to get some gossip about her boy and his antics.

Judy snorted. “I think I disrupted his peace when I roped him into helping me. He was a good sport though, even if he did confuse me at times.”

Marian cracked a few eggs on the side of the bowl, adding them to the mixture before she stirred them in “Confused you?”

Judy absentmindedly watched as Marian mixed the ingredients together. “Yeah, we had to sneak past some wolves, and he was making all these strange hand gestures before he disappeared. I think he was trying to tell me something, but I haven’t a clue what it was.” Judy frowned, remembering now how Nick’s tail had curled around her at the front door, how he’d thrown it across her lap at dinner, and how he’d wrapped it around her last night before she fell asleep. She hadn’t seen him use his tail in such a manner before. “Come to think of it, he’s full of strange gestures…” she mused, lost in her thoughts. “I mean, what’s with the tail?” She questioned herself quietly. She didn’t really know anything about foxes, but she was pretty smart, she could figure it out herself. Right?

With the mixture now smooth, Marian put off adding a drop of butter to the hot pan for it to melt, focusing instead on the conversation. A secret smile crossed her muzzle at the bunny’s ramblings. “Tails are vital for foxes. We use them to express how we’re feeling. We wag them when happy, wrap them around items or mammals that we’re protective of or love, drop them when we feel submissive…” Marian rattled off a list, hoping Judy would catch her explanation. Having confirmation now that Judy didn’t have a mate allowed Marian to start planning ways to get her son and the sweet bunny together, and the first step was educating Judy in fox customs.

It only took a few seconds for Judy’s head to tip sideways, violet eyes widening as comprehension dawned on her face. Nick’s tail had wrapped around her legs at the door, he’d purposefully flicked it over her lap at dinner, and she’d woken to find it wrapped around her tightly. Did Nick…? “No, don’t be silly.”

Marian, satisfied she’d planted a little seed in Judy’s mind, turned her attention back to the pancake mix. Dropping a small amount of butter into the pan, she watched as it melted. “I apologize for forgetting to lift out some sleep clothes for you, dear. I’m sorry you’ve been forced to wear one of Nicky’s old band shirts. Gosh, he loved going to concerts when he was a kit. He liked going to the cinema too. You know, one summer his father took him to see Fur Wars, and he loved it so much that he went twice a week to see it for the whole six weeks he had off school. Paw on my heart, that boy could repeat every line word for word,” Marian shook her head, fondly recalling how Nick would come home and act out scenes, using his Grandma’s walking stick as a lightsaber.

Judy let out a giggle, picturing a young Nick in love with the Fur Wars films. One of her older brothers had bought a copy of the movie once it has been released, and all the older Hopps kits had piled into one of the warrens many living rooms to watch it. “Speaking of little Nicky…” Marian darted from the kitchen, returning a moment later with a photo frame. She handed it to Judy and returned to the pan now that the butter had melted, and she poured some batter, forming the first of many pancakes.

Frame in her paws, Judy looked down at the photograph. Nick, when he was only a kit, stood between Marian and Robert. It looked to be a formal occasion if their attire was anything to go by, but Nick’s loose tie made her smile. Some things never changed. “He was six; it was my sister’s wedding. Nicky didn’t want to go; he didn’t like being forced to wear a suit. You should’ve seen the tantrum he threw when I tried to get him to wear it. His tie was his rebellious streak coming through,” Marian spoke fondly as the pancake was finally done, the smell of it wafting through the air and making Judy’s mouth salivate. Marian transferred it to a plate, starting on the next one quickly.

Judy found herself looking between the three foxes in the photograph. Nick had inherited his mother’s eyes and muzzle shape; that much she already knew, but now that she could see his father she spotted that they both carried the same easy smile. “His dress sense was awful. I tell you, I tried to get him to wear anything other than plaid shirts and scruffy jeans, but it was futile,” Marian tutted, finishing another pancake and moving onto the third.

“Where did the pawaiian shirts come from?” Judy asked, paw absentmindedly tracing over the photo of Nick as a kit. He looked so adorable, mischief in his eyes, tie askew, and pride in his posture, as he stood tall with his parents.

Marian laughed, adding another pancake to the pile. “Oh goodness, I don’t know. They’re awful though, aren’t they?” She grinned at Judy over her shoulder. Truthfully, Marian had no idea why her son had started to wear the shirts, or where he even got them from, but she wasn’t fond of them. If her son liked them though…

“They’re not exactly my taste, but they suit him. He looks good in them,” Judy mused, paws clutching the photo frame as she looked up at Marian.

“My ears are burning. Please stop talking about me,” Nick grumbled, shuffling into the room, tail dragging on the floor as he clamped a paw over his muzzle, trying to hide his yawn.

“Good morning Nicky,” Marian cooed, leaving her post by the stove to drop a quick kiss on Nick’s head. Judy’s scent flooded her nostrils. Marian had to hide her excitement at the realization that they already carried each other’s scents. She returned to her task, sliding another pancake onto the stack.

“Hey Slick. Sleep well?” Judy asked, setting the photo frame aside. She didn’t want to risk it getting damaged.

“Mhm,” Nick mumbled, glancing around the kitchen sleepily as he hauled himself up onto the stool next to Judy’s.

“No coffee sweetheart, you know I can’t stand the stuff,” Marian apologized, placing the stack of pancakes in the middle of the island counter, along with two plates and two sets of cutlery.

“Urgh,” Nick’s head met the counter as he face-planted. Judy reached across, scritching behind his ears. Nick’s tail wagged happily, and he made a little noise of contentment at the contact.

“Did the smell wake you, or the burning ears?” Judy teased, giving his left ear a playful flick, watching as it tried to swat at her.

“The missing bunny did, Carrots,” Nick grumbled, lifting his head from the counter. He hadn’t felt Judy get up and leave the safety of his grip. When he’d woken without her, he’d panicked, but even in his sleepy state, his nose had been able to track her movements through the apartment and into the kitchen.

“Sorry Slick, my bladder complained and then I bumped into your mom. If it’s any consolation though I really didn’t want to leave you,” Judy shrugged, the inside of her ears turning a light pink at the memory of snuggling Nick. The only mammals she’d snuggled with before had been her siblings, and that was only due to lack of space in her family home when she’d been a kit. Nick had been the first male she’d fallen asleep cuddled up with now she was an adult.

“I am a great cuddler.” Nick’s brain to mouth filter hadn’t kicked in yet, his lack of coffee to blame. He really wasn’t a morning mammal. Nick had never spent the night curled up with another mammal before, it wasn’t his usual style, but something had felt so right about keeping Judy close to him, locked in his arms while they slept.

“I’ll give you that.” Judy laughed, though the inside of her ears burned as she felt Marian’s gaze on them, silently cursing Nick for letting it slip that they’d been cuddling. Judy wasn’t ashamed of it, she was a physical mammal after all, but having Nick’s mom know they were cuddling last night made her flush with embarrassment.

The vixen couldn’t believe what she was hearing. While Judy had confessed to her that the pair of them had shared a bed, she hadn’t told her they’d been cuddling. Perhaps it had been naive of Marian to assume they hadn’t been snuggled together, but Nick had never been very physically affection since his father’s passing. Marian knew her boy had indulged in the occasional one night stand, he’d come home smelling like strange vixens a few times, and each time it had disappointed her that he hadn’t found the one, but he’d never stayed the night with them, never actually slept beside them. Marian almost wished she could’ve seen her son and the rabbit curled up together. “Next time Marian, next time.”

Nick reached for a pancake, putting it onto his plate. Marian set out some sugar, lemon, and blueberries. Nick licked his lips, grabbing a handful of blueberries and placing them onto his pancake. Judy grabbed a pancake too but sprinkled some sugar and lemon on hers. The blush that had colored the inside of her ears started to fade.

“Aren’t you going to join us, Marian?” Judy noted how there were only two plates set out, even though Marian had made a massive stack of pancakes.

“I ate before I got ready, Judy,” Marian gestured to the toaster, where a lightly used dish sat next to it. “Don’t worry,” She offered the rabbit a smile.

“Where are you off to?” Judy asked, starting to cut up her pancake. Nick was already halfway through his, tail wagging happily as he popped blueberries into his mouth.

“Work. I look after the records at a doctor’s clinic a few blocks away,” Marian explained. She didn’t feel it was the best use of her talent, she’d applied to be the accountant as maths was her strongest subject. However, the owner hadn’t trusted a fox with the company’s bank accounts, but being the record keeper was better than being run off her feet all day at the diner.

Judy was surprised by the news. Nick hadn’t mentioned this his mom had got another job. Her surprise showed with a smile. “That’s pretty cool, Marian,” She complimented, genuinely enjoying the fact that Nick’s mom worked in healthcare. With so many species in Zootopia, being a part of the medical profession was hard work, even for receptionists and record keepers. Every mammal had different needs, and every member of staff had to understand that to provide the best care. Judy popped a piece of pancake into her mouth.

“Thank you, Judy,” Marian took the compliment, happy to see nothing condescending about the rabbit’s excitement. “What’re your plans for the day?” She started to stack the dirty dishes in the sink to wash after work.

Finishing her mouthful, Judy began to cut off another bit of pancake as Nick reached for his second one. “I need to find somewhere to live. I gave up my apartment a few months back when I left the city. I didn’t think I was coming back. I might speak to my old landlady; see if my old place is still empty. If not, I’ll have to look for somewhere else,” Judy shrugged; suddenly realizing she had an opportunity to help. “Hey, I could look for a two-bedroom apartment! Fancy being my roomie, Slick?” She leaned over, nudging Nick. Nick looked up from his pancakes, eyes hardening as his jaw clenched.

“Ohh that sounds like such an excellent idea! Imagine, Nicky, having a roomie. Judy would be able to keep you in line, and you’d always have someone to come home to,” Marian grinned. She loved the idea. She had no idea where her son lived, but she knew he lived alone. Nick had been a loner since the Junior Ranger Scouts incident. Part of her feared he had a home in the Nocturnal district, but a home with Judy would be good for him, and the little rabbit wouldn’t want to live in the area beneath the city. She’d keep him in line, and it would keep them together, help build their bond. Their scents would mingle a little more too; maybe it’d help them become mates quicker. Marian loved the idea even more.

Judy noticed Nick’s jaw clenching, the hardening of his eyes. Her shoulders dropped as her ears drooped, wide violet eyes searching emerald to try and figure out why he’d reacted in such a way.

“Anyway, I’ll leave you two to your day or else I’m going to be late. Have fun, and I hope you find somewhere Judy, though you’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you need to.” Marian pressed a kiss to the top of Nick’s head, noting the tension in his body. Her stubborn son probably disliked the thought of having his mom butt into his private matters. She pressed a kiss to the top of Judy’s head too, between her ears. The small bunny offered her a bright smile, wishing her well.

As the door shut behind Marian, Nick rose from his seat, taking his dirty dish to the sink. “Nick…” Judy started.

The fox turned sharply, lip curled up. “We both know I can’t afford to rent somewhere, and I don’t need handouts. I’m not a charity case, Judy.” Judy’s nose twitched at the anger in Nick’s voice, at the sudden 180 of his emotions and the use of her proper name. “I didn’t tell you everything last night so you could feel sorry for me.” Nick didn’t want to lash out at Judy, but he was feeling especially vulnerable in the cold light of day. He’d told her more than he’d anticipated he would last night, and though Nick couldn’t bring himself to regret opening up to her, he didn’t want her interfering. His life was dangerous with Catstro looming around every corner, and his mom was already a bargaining chip. He didn’t need Catstro finding out about his feelings for Judy and using her against him too. He needed to protect her, keep her safe. If that meant pushing her away a little, then so be it.

Judy wasn’t stupid. She wouldn’t have made the force if she weren’t smart. Nick was scared and rather than telling her that, he was lashing out. Freddie, one of Judy’s older brothers, had acted the same way after their mom had found out he was seeing a buck called Lukas, from band class. Lukas had been so frightened that their parents would disown him for liking bucks over does. He’d had nothing to worry about, though. Their mom and dad had been okay with it, and both had been relieved he wasn’t acting out for bad reasons.

Remembering that Nick had moved her clothes the night before, Judy hopped down from the barstool, letting her nose guide her towards her jeans, which had been placed on the arm of the couch in the living room. From the back pocket, she fished out the folded piece of paper she’d carried with her everywhere, every day she’d been in Bunnyburrow.

Judy limped back into the kitchen. Nick had moved to sit on his barstool, head bowed in his paws. Judy wasn’t sure whether he was simply still tired, or sad. He looked up as she walked in, and once again she saw an assortment of emotions in his emerald eyes. Playing with the paper in her paws, Judy finally unfolded it, careful not to damage the well-loved document further. Sliding it across the counter, she let Nick look at it. “Who said anything about charity, Nick?”

Nick looked down at the paper Judy had slid under his snout – his ZPD application form. She still had it. Nick swallowed. The document looked worn like it had been folded and unfolded countless times, some light dirt streaks covered parts of the page, and a few watery smudges made Nick’s chest tighten. His sharp nose picked up the slightly salty scent of tears. “Emotional bunny.”

“You kept it?” Nick questioned, paws falling to touch the worn paper.

Judy shrugged, shuffling, wincing as she put a bit more weight on her hurt leg. “I guess I always kind of hoped you’d reconsider, y’know?” Her eyes dropped to the floor. She didn’t want Nick to feel forced into the decision, but she honestly couldn’t think of anyone else she wanted to be partnered with. They worked well together, understood one another.

Nick sighed. The temptation was real. It was a chance to do something better with his life, to make a difference, to spend every day at Judy’s side and keep her safe, watch her back. He couldn’t though, not with the debt he had to pay off. Sure, a cop’s salary was more than he earned hustling, but he would have to train for months to get the job, months where he wouldn’t be making any money to pay back Catstro and keep him away from his mom. It had been impulsive, filling in the form, thinking he could be anything more. His past had dictated his future.

“I can’t, Carrots,” he started to apologize, looking up at the bunny as she took the stool next to him once more. “I would have to train for months without any income. After that, even with a cop salary, I wouldn’t be able to cover my half of the rent and keep paying Catstro: It’s pointless,” Nick sighed, paws smoothing over the document before him.

“You should try, Nick.” Judy reached out, placing a paw on Nick’s arm. “I’m here to help you. I know you don’t want charity,” Judy lifted her paw, instead sliding it under his muzzle, forcing the tod to look at her, “But I can help you carry this. We can fix it, together. While you’re away at the academy, I can help with your payments. I’ll take a few extra shifts; do some evening work, anything that needs to be done. I have some savings from when I was a kit, and if I get really stuck, I’m sure my parents would help.” Judy slid her paw from under his muzzle to cup his cheek, stroking his fur.

Judy had worked a few jobs over the summers when she’d been a kit, helping out at local shops or other farms if her parents had no need for her assistance, and she’d put the money away for rainy days. She hadn’t touched it in years. Her parents had paid for her first month’s rent on her place in Zootopia as a graduation present, and Judy hadn’t lasted much longer than that in the city before running back home. Granted, she didn’t have a lot of money saved, but if Nick needed it, then he was welcome to it. She had her job to fall back on. Nick had nothing.

“I can’t ask that of you. I won’t. This is my mess, and I need to deal with it.” Nick’s eyes found Judy’s as his tail drooped. Did he want to join the academy, become a cop? Yes, very much so. It was impossible, though, just another dream he wouldn’t get to fulfill.

Judy’s resolve hardened. While she hadn’t been the most stubborn bunny in the Hopps warren, that award went to her sister Beatrix, Judy was happy to put her hind paw down whenever it was needed. “Then it’s a good job you’re not asking. I’m telling.

Nick sighed, shoulders slumping as he tried to pull away from Judy’s grasp. She didn’t understand, she couldn’t understand. This was his lot in life.

Rather than letting him escape, Judy’s other paw shot forward, holding Nick’s head in her paws. Her gaze locked onto his, “You saved my tail, Nick, let me save yours,” She whispered, stroking his cheeks, smoothing the sleep ruffled fur. He briefly leaned into her touch, the action oddly intimate. “You’re so much more than a con-mammal, you’ve proven that to me over and over again. I was a dense bunny, it took me a while to realize just how great you really are. You can do so much good, Nick.” The fox’s jaw clenched, and Judy knew she didn’t have long before he’d clam up and forcibly pull back, shove those walls he often hid behind back into place. Remembering the words Nick had thrown around after the press conference, she chose her next words carefully, lacing them with all of her sincerity, holding his gaze. “I believe in you.”

For a moment they looked at one another, and Nick felt the weight of her words settle in his chest. So few people had ever believed in him. The faith this little rabbit had in him almost made him want to cry. She was so steadfast in her belief that he could do so much more, that he could be so much more. It made him feel invincible, like he could climb the highest mountains, so long as he had her by his side. “My own personal cheerleader.” The thought made Nick smile until the vision of Judy in a cheerleaders costume crossed his mind. “Urgh, you animal.” He reprimanded himself, shaking away the image.

Nick broke eye contact and glanced at the piece of paper on the counter, focusing himself back on the topic of conversation. That one piece of paper, covered in his scrawl, dirt from Judy’s family farm, and a few of her tears, held so much weight – it could change his life. It would be difficult, scraping by while at the academy, and Nick was under no illusions that it would be easy for him. If anything, given his species, he’d have it harder than any of the other cadets. Judy was the first bunny on the force; perhaps he’d get to be the first fox?

Judy’s words from the night before swam through his mind. “If a bunny could be a cop, something unheard of before, then maybe other preconceptions could change too. Maybe prey mammals could start trusting predators, something else relatively unheard of. I wanted to start challenging ideas, to encourage everyone to get along. After all, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Making up his mind, Nick turned back to Judy, the rabbit who’d dragged him through hell and high water the past few months, who’d annoyed him, outsmarted him on occasion, blackmailed him, and who’d ultimately kicked his tail into line. He couldn’t picture his days without her anymore. Nick couldn’t go back to his old life after getting a taste of something better. He didn’t want to go back to his old life – living in a box under a bridge, ashamed, scared, masking his hurt with sarcasm and jokes, hustling his way through life. Her strong faith in him was enough encouragement, and Nick knew she’d always have his back. “I think I might need a clean application form, Carrots,” he whispered, watching as Judy’s eyes widened, her hold on his cheeks tightened as she grinned. Her hind paws thumped happily against the pawrest of the barstool. Her reaction would make every difficult moment he’d face at the academy worthwhile, every time someone would tell him that he couldn’t just because he was a fox.

The pair cleaned up the dishes, agreeing to stop by the precinct to drop off Nick’s application before they’d go and view some two-bedroom apartments. Judy wanted them to live near Marian, knowing how much Nick enjoyed being near her, but Nick wanted to live closer to the precinct so it wouldn’t take them long to get to work every day. In the end, Judy gave in: Nick hadn’t been able to choose a home for himself before, and she wasn’t about to get in the way now. Judy was under no illusion that Nick’s months at the academy would be hard for her, but it would be worth every little hardship she would face. It was for Nick, after all. He needed her support, care, and understanding, and Judy was willing to give him her all.

Nick’s smile was full, and there was excitement in his voice as he spoke about them sharing an apartment, asking questions about what to expect at the academy, contemplating all the ways they could torment the Chief. Judy found herself pausing as she put the dishes away, the tea towel resting in her paw, finding pleasure in Nick’s happiness, the way his eyes shone, how the little crinkles appeared around the corners of them. His paws were animated, his tail swishing, his grin seemingly never-ending.

When she’d been a kit she’d asked her dad why he always gave her mom the last bit of cheesecake after dinner, even if he was still hungry, and why he always bought her the flowers she loved even though he was allergic to them. Her father had bent down as if to tell her the biggest secret in the world, and he’d whispered, there on the back porch of the Hopps Family Farm, that love was putting someone else’s needs before your own. “Oh…”

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