Judy tossed and turned in bed. Catstro had been iced six days ago, and Judy had been struggling with sleep ever since, the image of the dead caracal seared into her brain. It wasn’t the outcome she’d hoped for if she was honest. Judy had hoped Mr. Big would frighten the caracal, force him to give up Nick’s debt. She’d been naive. The underbelly of society may have worked on fear, but on occasion, an example had to be set. If she’d spoken up, asked Mr. Big to show some mercy, would that have been a better way of dealing with the cat? Indebting him to Judy, making sure he knew the only reason he was alive was because of her. She would have been disciplined for her insubordination, but would it have been worth it?
Judy turned in bed once again, eyes finding her badge on her nightstand. Her heart lurched. Trust, integrity, bravery. Could she still wear her badge and say with all of her heart that she carried those qualities? That she served all mammals and protected them? Here she was, having sat back and watched an animal die and she hadn’t raised a paw to stop it. It had all happened so quickly, and she’d been riding such an emotional rollercoaster that she hadn’t had the chance to process it until after her call with Nick. It had all hit her like a freight train at 100 mph. She’d only just made it to the bathroom before she’d thrown up. With her stomach empty she’d continued to dry-heave, tears wetting her fur as she’d cried. She’d stayed in the bathroom all night, questioned herself into the early hours of the morning before exhaustion had finally caused her to fall asleep. She’d been late for work and Bogo had chewed her out in his office. She’d apologized, promised to never do it again, and had left to find Wolford so they could head out on patrol.
Judy rolled onto her back, staring at the ceiling. She’d had many phone calls with Mr. Big during their month of preparation. She ran through their last conversation before that night.
“My child, Raymond and Kevin have made all the necessary preparations for the 10th. I will have Mr. Manchas meet you in the alley behind the market.” Mr. Big had kept her informed through their planning. They needed to surprise Catstro and his gang, catch them off guard. As Judy held all of the information, Mr. Big had consulted her on several occasions. This was to be their last call.
“What are you going to do to them?” She asked quietly. Mr. Big had his own score to settle with Catstro, Judy was well aware of that.
“You don’t have to worry about that, Judy. Whatever happens, it will be on my paws, not yours.” Mr.Big assured her.
“Sir, I’m the one whose been giving you information. Whatever happens is my fault.” Judy couldn’t help but feel responsible.
“They’re dangerous, Judy. They have no morals, no code of conduct. They have stolen from me. We will try reason, and if that fails, an example will be set.” Mr. Big sounded so casual like this was an everyday occurrence for him.
Judy’s blood ran cold. “An example? Sir, you don’t mean…
Mr. Big sighed. “My child, a leopard never changes its spots. I may be able to frighten them into getting rid of Nicky’s debt, I might be able to intimidate them into paying me back, but there will be nothing stopping them from doing it again to other mammals.”
“I don’t want anyone to die.” Judy panicked. She’d hoped he’d frighten them a little, maybe rough them up. She never wanted anyone dead.
“Judy, my dear, death is the only certainty we have in life.”
“Their death will be my fault.” She protested, not wanting that weight on her.
“Have I not just told you that their blood will be on my paws?” Mr. Big soothed, aware of Judy’s sweet nature. He had been expecting such a reaction from her.
“I can’t help how I feel, Sir.” Judy knew she was emotional, it was a running joke now with her and Nick.
“If you want to back out now I understand. My world is new to you, the way we do things here is new to you. I do not want you becoming too entrenched in it all. Good hearts do not belong here. After this we will part ways for a while, I shall only call you when I have no other choice. Know though that as much as I love you, if you decide to remain onboard, then you are not to challenge whatever decision I make in front of Catstro and his gang. Underneath my rough exterior, I am caring towards those I love, but a public challenge will mean I will be forced to discipline you or I will be seen as weak.” Mr. Big warned her. He didn’t like the idea of having to discipline Judy, he loathed the idea, but if she were to publically challenge him, then he would be left with no choice. It was the mob way.
Judy gulped. “I understand, Sir. I’ll be there.”
“Good. Now, you must rest. I will see you in a few nights.” Mr. Big had other business to attend to, and as much as he enjoyed speaking with Judy, the night was only so long.
Judy had gone into the evening knowing death could be an option for Catstro and his cronies, and as Catstro had drowned she’d heeded Mr. Big’s words and hadn’t challenged him. Now though, she wondered if she should have. She would have been punished sure, but wasn’t that better than having a mammal die? Her head hurt from all the questions, her heart heavy with guilt. Yes, she had freed Nick, but had she inadvertently condemned herself? Reaching for the box of sleeping pills she’d purchased on her way home from work the day after Catstro’s death, Judy popped two, swallowing them dry. She’d only bought them so she would be guaranteed some sleep and wouldn’t be late for work again, unwilling to face an angry Chief Bogo, reluctant to have anyone ask too many questions. She lay back, waiting for them to kick in.
Nick sank back into his bunk, staring up at the ceiling that was only a meter or so above him. As the smallest mammal at the academy, he’d been assigned the top bunk of the only bunk bed in the dorm room. He’d contemplated complaining, asking to be moved to another bed, but honestly, he was just pleased to have been accepted into the academy in the first place. It wasn’t like he spent much time in bed. Usually, he was too busy training. By the time he was ready to call it a night he was too exhausted to really care about sleeping arrangements. It was better than his old cardboard box that was for sure.
Nick closed his eyes, letting his paws rest on his belly. It was May 16th, and he’d been at the academy for 6 weeks now. It had been tough, but Nick had gotten into a routine. He was building strength, using muscles he’d never had to before, and his mind was a lot sharper. Sure, Nick had had his wits about him when he’d been a con-mammal, but the academy was a lot more mentally taxing than he’d anticipated. He was grateful for the weekly phone calls with Judy and his mom. His mom wanted to know everything he was up to, and she was already starting to plan what she’d wear to his graduation. Nick had laughed, enjoying the way she’d fussed. It felt good to know his mom was proud of him.
His calls with Judy mainly revolved around her wanting to know how he was doing, and Nick wanting to know if she was staying safe with whatever case she was working on. He worried about her, frustrated that he couldn’t have her back on cases yet. During their second phone call, she’d informed him that she’d cracked the necklace case. She’d been bouncing with excitement, talking avidly as she’d explained about Wilfred, the broke wolf who had stolen the jewelry to sell it and had framed another mammal for it. Judy, his smart bunny, had worked out the real culprit and had gathered enough evidence to arrest him. Apparently, Chief Buffalo Butt wasn’t pleased with the speed in which Judy worked. She was making the rest of them look bad. Her next case had been relatively safe too, and the Chief had partnered her with Officer Wolfard. Nick had laughed at Judy being paired with the timber wolf. He could still hear her indignation when he’d mockingly howled down the phone. “No, I’m not going to howl around him, Nick! Cheese and crackers, how old are you?!”
He’d called her on May 10th after her drop, but she’d only touched briefly on it. All of the extra work Judy was doing to make ends meet while he was away made Nick’s chest tighten with guilt. The debt was his to carry, not Judy’s. His ever-optimistic best friend brushed off his concerns and bounded into the next topic of conversation with her usual level of enthusiasm whenever he brought it up. He’d received a few bits of mail from her in the past six weeks – a care package of Hopps Family Farm blueberries, a few letters with photos of the things Judy was getting up to, and paint swatches for his bedroom. Without constant access to his phone, it was hard to keep up to date with her. Nick realized just how much he relied on his cell phone. Boy, did he miss Furbook and Instapaw. He’d settled on a forest green for his bedroom, circling the swatch he’d liked the most before sending it back to her. She’d promised not to paint his room without him.
“Wilde,” Major Friedkin barked, startling the fox. He’d been ready to sleep, tiredness creeping up on him. “You’re going home tomorrow morning for the weekend. I expect you back here at twenty-one hundred hours on Sunday,” she gave her orders, leaving the room and the cadets to themselves.
Nick’s eyes widened, the tip of his tail flicking happily. He’d get to go home, see his mom and Judy. He’d have to get up early and pack. Judy had told him during their weekly phone call that she had the next few days off. Nick paused. It couldn’t be a coincidence. It was mid-May, and Judy’s birthday was this weekend. He’d asked his mom to pick up a present for her, and she’d posted him her card, which Nick had filled in and returned to his mom, ready for her to give to Judy on Sunday. If Nick were going home though, he’d get to spend Judy’s birthday with her. The thought made his tail thump happily against the bed. He still had his keys to their apartment in his locker. He could surprise her with his return, stop by the little bakery at the end of their street and pick up some fresh bagels for her.
“Aww Nicholas gets to see his bunny,” Tony Clawford piped up. Nick rolled his eyes. He and the tiger had had a rocky start. Tony hadn’t been thrilled to have a fox joining them at the academy, but after Nick had helped him master the ice wall, they’d formed the start of a friendship. The other cadets had warmed to him after, taking their cues from the Bengal.
“It’s okay Stripes, I’m sure they’ll let you go home and see your wife soon…and your mistress,” the tod shot back, earning a round of boisterous laughter from the other mammals in the dorm. The hazing had been pretty bad, to begin with, and had cumulated with a night of drinking cheap liquor that some of the cadets had managed to sneak into the academy. If there was one thing Nick was excellent at it was drinking other mammals under the table. It had been useful when he’d been executing elaborate hustles – inebriated animals were more frivolous with their cash. Of course, the other cadets assumed Nick’s small size meant he would be the first to fall. He was the last mammal standing, but not before a very drunk Tony had confessed to having a mistress his wife was completely unaware of, a mistress who was into some very eyebrow-raising antics. Nick shuddered. He’d seen and heard a lot in his life, and little fazed him, but the things Tony said he and mistress did? He really didn’t want to think about it.
“Beside’s, she’s not my bunny,” Nick corrected Tony for what had to be the hundredth time. It had become a running joke, after Nick’s first phone call with Judy, that the little country bunny had ensnared the scary, city fox. Nick let it all go over his head, but it would be unlike him to not bother correcting the knuckleheaded tiger.
“Don’t deny it, Wilde. You want a piece of that fluffy tail,” Horton, one of several elephant cadets, broke in. The other cadets chuckled, all eyes turning to Nick.
Nick sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of his bunk, careful not to smack his head on the ceiling. “Those blue balls are really starting to hurt eh, Horton?” He deflected.
The mere mention of Judy had Nick’s full attention, the sight of violets in the fields around the academy reminded him of her eyes, and the sound of her voice during their calls soothed him after a long, hard week. “You lovesick fool.” It had terrified Nick, realizing that he loved her. He’d never loved any mammal outside of his family, and he’d certainly never had romantic feelings for another mammal before. Nick found himself wishing he had internet access so he could Zoogle rabbit customs and habits. It would make everything so much easier if he knew what he was supposed to do to convey his feelings. In the meantime, he’d contain his feelings and wait until after graduation before even thinking about acting on them. There was too much on his plate at the moment.
Horton snorted, the sound hilarious as his trunk wafted through the air with the force of his action. “I swear Wilde if you get laid this weekend we’re gonna need all the details.”
Nick laughed. In the past six weeks, he’d slowly gotten used to the other cadets. They reminded him of frat boys, hazing one another and wanting to know all the juicy details of conquests. “Sorry fellas, my mom raised a gentlemammal, so you’ll have to get your rocks off some other way.” Nick sank back into his bed, staring up at the ceiling once again. “Thanks, Horton, now I’m thinking about sex with Judy.” Nick rubbed his eyes, willing the mental images away.
The boys groaned, knowing that if Nick didn’t want to share they’d never get the info from him. Major Friedkin interrupted them all, banging her way into the dorm. “Lights out, cadets,” She turned the lights off, staying in the doorway while the cadets climbed into bed. When she was sure everyone was in bed, she finally left the room.
Nick pulled the blanket up over him, knowing his body clock would wake him at 5:30 am. He still hated mornings, but Major Friedkin had them in a routine now, and he really didn’t want to be woken again by a bucket of freezing cold water. No one respected that he was naturally nocturnal. Closing his eyes, Nick grinned. He’d get the first train home and surprise Judy.
It was 8:30 am as Nick left Snack Rack, a bag of fresh bagels in one paw and his duffle bag in the other. Major Friedkin had given him his phone back as he’d left the academy and he’d called his mom, knowing she was an early riser. Nick had stopped by her house first to collect Judy’s present and card, and Marian had insisted that the pair of them join her for dinner that evening. Nick had agreed if only so he could get away quickly, too excited to see Judy. It didn’t take him long to walk down the street and down the steps to the front door of their apartment, but he paused at the bottom of the steps. There was a doormat. A cutesy doormat. With carrots on it. Nick groaned, trying to hide the way the corners of his lips quirked upwards into a smile. Placing his bag down, he pulled his keys from his pocket. Unlocking the door, he propped it open with a hind paw, picking up his bag. Once inside he shut the door quietly and left his keys on the small table by the door, next to Judy’s. She’d added two little paw key rings, one shaped like a rabbit paw and the other like a fox paw. “You’re adorable, Carrots.”
Moving through their apartment, Nick spotted a few more changes. There was some new furniture, and Judy had brought some more books. She’d told Nick during one of their phone calls that she actually enjoyed reading after work. A few times she’d spent ten minutes or so reading aloud for him. Nick didn’t care for the stories, but the sound of Judy’s voice was soothing.
He placed the bagels down on the kitchen counter and was grateful to see the coffee machine next to the microwave. He’d missed his coffee while at the academy. However, the sharp tang of illness tickled his nose, making Nick frown. Nick found himself following it worried Judy was unwell. He stopped at the bathroom door, the smell slightly stronger. It would be faint to other mammals, but his keen nose picked up on it. He dumped his bag in his room and, concerned Judy was sick, Nick moved quickly to her room, pushing the door open to search for her. She was curled up in bed, blanket wrapped around her, large ears smoothed down. Nick crossed the room, crouching next to her bed. He spent a moment watching her sleep. She looked okay, no visible signs of illness. The purple box on the nightstand drew his attention. Picking it up, he turned it over. “Sleeping pills?” His frown deepened, troubled. Placing the box back on the nightstand he raised a paw, stroking it lightly across her head. Judy snuffled, shifting slightly. “Rise and shine Carrots,” he cooed, using a claw to scritch the top of Judy’s head.
Judy woke slowly, the sleeping pills still heavy in her system. Her violet eyes finally opened, finding Nick’s emerald ones. “Nick?” She breathed, completely caught off-guard by the tod’s presence in their apartment. Was she imagining things? Did the pills cause hallucinations?
“Hey, Fluff.” Nick kept his tone soft, still concerned about her health.
“Oh, Nick!” Judy rose as quickly as she could, a little unsteady on her hind paws as she pulled the fox into a tight hug, burying her face in his neck.
“Hey,” Nick soothed, wrapping Judy up in his arms, holding her close. He could feel her little heart jackhammering, could smell the faint trace of sleep on her.
“What’re you doing back? Why didn’t you call?” Judy asked, voice muffled by his fur and then, in a turn that surprised Nick, she started to sob.
“Carrots?” Nick tried to pull back, but Judy tightened her grip on him, refusing to let him go. Her whole body was shaking, loud, high-pitched squeaks coming from her as she clung to him. “You’re scaring me.” Nick barely contained his panic. He dropped from his crouch to sit on the floor, keeping a tight hold on Judy. “What happened? Judy?” Her name slipped from him before he could stop it, his heart breaking at her distress and his mind racing as he tried to work out what was going on. This wasn’t the reunion he’d hoped for.
“I-I did something so terrible.” She sobbed
“What do you mean? Carrots, what happened?” Nick lifted a paw, running it down Judy’s back as he tried to soothe her, his panic building further.
Between her sobs, Judy spoke, her sentences incomplete. “I went to Mr. Big. Told him. Told him about Catstro.” She hiccupped. “Raymond. Kevin. Caught him. Mr. Big iced him; I saw it happen. Nick. I didn’t stop it.”
Nick’s blood ran cold. “W-What?”
“He owed Mr. Big. Stole $1 million from him. I only wanted to scare him, make him clear your debt. He died. I got him killed.” Judy had been bottling it up since Bogo had chewed her out. She’d tried to throw herself into work, but her heart hadn’t been in it. The sight of Nick, getting to hold him again and knowing that he was now safe; it allowed her to finally cry it out.
“He’s…?” Nick couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Judy, his Judy, goody-two-shoes ‘stop in the name of the law’ Judy had gone to Mr. Big about Catstro?
“Dead. I saw it. It’s my fault.” She buried her nose further into Nick’s fur, suffocating herself with his scent.
“No, Judy. It’s not your fault, Mr. Big, he…” Nick was still struggling to process all of the information that had just been dumped on him.
“I told him where to find Catstro.” She pointed out, paws scrabbling as she tried to hold on to Nick a little more, pull him impossibly closer.
“What Mr. Big did with that information in on him.” Nick found his tongue. He knew Mr. Big was not a mammal that could be pushed around.
“I helped! He took an icy swim right in front of me. I heard him dying.” Her crying picked up again, the image of Catstro as he was dropped into the ice pit swam to the front of her mind, and the noises he’d made as he’d died rang in her ears.
“It wasn’t your fault, Carrots.” Nick tried to soothe the rabbit. He grabbed her face, pulling her back from his neck so he could look straight into her eyes. His voice was firm and his eyes focused, as he demanded that she pay attention to his next words. “Listen to me. It is not your fault. Not at all. Catstro was playing a dangerous game, and he knew it. He died because of his own mistakes. Mr. Big doesn’t kill mammals just for the fun of it.”
“No. No. You are not blaming yourself for this. Is that what the pills are for? You’re struggling to sleep because of this?” Nick cut her off.
Judy nodded, still sniffling, paws shaking as she grasped at Nick’s shirt. “I shouldn’t have told you about the debt. I shouldn’t have left for the academy. Dammit.” Nick cursed, mentally kicking himself. It had been too much to ask of her, too much for someone as sweet and good and kind as Judy.
Judy’s eyes widened, paws shooting up to rest on Nick’s chest. “No! Nick, no! I’m glad you told me. You need to be at the academy, fresh start remember?”
Nick shook his head, eyes still focused on Judy. “So I get a fresh start, and you have to suffer? No. That’s not how this works.”
“No,” Judy whined at Nick’s rebuttal, the noise high-pitched and distressing, tugging at his heartstrings. “Come here.” He pulled her back in, tucking her under his muzzle. “Shh, it’s okay.” He soothed as another round of tears started. Nick found himself putting every ounce of effort into not crying too. Judy was in pain, and there was nothing he could do about it.
After a moment her sobs slowed. “I’m a bad cop.” She sniffled.
“Carrots, no, you’re not a bad cop.” No matter what, Nick knew Judy did everything out of the goodness of her heart. Everything Judy did, she did because she thought she was helping. “You’ve stopped him from hurting many other mammals, ruining countless other animals lives. Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Protect the vulnerable?” Nick had paid attention in the academy classroom, knew the ZPD mantra off by heart. It was a little flimsy, could be interpreted in a number of ways, and he hoped to use that to his advantage now.
“I’m meant to protect everyone.” Judy protested.
“You can’t protect everyone, Judy. No matter how good you are at your job, no matter how much you want to.” It was a sad fact of life.
“I could’ve stopped it though, stopped Mr. Big from killing him.” Judy was adamant, having had a chance to think over that evening.
“I know how that world works, Judy. I spent ten years in it. If you’d of challenged Mr. Big in front of Catstro and his gang he would’ve been forced to discipline you for your insubordination.” Nick ran a paw down Judy’s ears. The thought of her being punished made his gut twist. He’d only ever made the mistake of being insubordinate once. “Why did you want him to get rid of the debt? We were doing fine. Why would you…?”
“I didn’t want it looming over you. I wanted you to have a fresh start after graduation.” Judy confessed her voice muffled by Nick’s fur. Nick sighed. Judy was too kind-hearted for her own good. “I just wanted to make it better, but I made it worse.” Judy sniffled, fur soaked from her tears and her nose running.
“You meant well. Honestly, I’m more worried about the favor Mr. Big will ask for in return. I’m here, though, we’re a team.” Nick wouldn’t leave her, whatever Mr. Big asked of her he’d stay by her side and help her with it.
“No favor, he said we’re equal.” At least Judy didn’t have that weight on her shoulders.
“Then why are you worrying?” Nick couldn’t see the problem. With no favor owed to Mr. Big, Judy was in the clear.
“Catstro’s dead.” Judy reminded Nick, pulling back a little to raise her paws and wipe at her eyes, trying to clear away her tears.
“Countless other mammals are dead because of him, many innocent animals. He was a sacrificial lamb, Carrots. His death stops others from dying.” Nick pointed out. Catstro’s death meant Nick no longer had to fear that the caracal would kill him, no longer had to fear him hurting his mom. He was certain Catstro had been threatening other mammals, too.
“I know, but I don’t feel good about it.” Part of Judy knew Catstro had it coming. He was cocky and greedy, lording over other mammals, using their debts against them. Sooner or later someone was going to try to get rid of him, Judy had just sped up the process.
Nick still couldn’t believe what Judy had done for him. The debt had been his burden, not Judy’s. Now the weight of Catstro’s death was bogging her down, and Nick found himself wishing that he’d taken care of the caracal sooner. He had connections, maybe not as many as he’d once had, but it might’ve been enough to stop Catstro. Jaw clenching, Nick took a deep breath as he gathered his thoughts. Catstro was dead. He wiped a paw down his face, unable to even comprehend it. His debt was gone. His mom was safe. But Judy…his Judy was in pain. He was still stumped that she would go to all this trouble for him. Judy had already given him a home and steered him in the direction of a good job, and now she’d freed him from his debt, saved his mom from any possible harm. She was incredible, and Nick couldn’t believe his luck that he had her in his life.
“I don’t think anyone ever feels okay when another mammal dies. You come to terms with the feelings though, and then you move on.” Nick sighed. “After my dad died I was so lost, so angry with the world. I couldn’t understand why he’d been taken from me, from mom. He was a good mammal, he worked hard, paid his taxes, helped animals in need, and he loved mom and I. It took a few years, but I began to move forward with my life.” Nick had never properly grieved for his father, never fully let go of the anger and pain, but he’d had to move on with life, to help his mom. He’d shoved his feelings into a box and left them thee, untouched, ever since.
Judy moved to nuzzle under Nick’s muzzle; instinctively seeking out his scent and the comfort it offered her. From her position in his arms, she could hear his heartbeat thudding, and Judy lost herself in the comforting rhythm. Eyes closed, she listened as Nick spoke. Without Nick, she’d been adrift, consumed by the feelings that night had stirred in her. She was conflicted. On one paw she was glad Catstro was dead, that Nick was now safe and she’d never lose him to the loan caracal, but on the other paw she felt guilty that a mammal had died.
“What was your dad’s job?” Judy’s curiosity got the better of her. She pulled back a little to look up at Nick, using a paw to wipe her nose, voice hoarse from her earlier crying. Nick hadn’t said much about his dad before, and Judy hadn’t wanted to ask Marian in case she accidently upset the vixen.
“Dad was a tailor, and my paternal grandpa was too. Dad taught mom how to sew when they started dating.” Nick remembered the story well. His mom had been hopeless with sewing before she’d met his dad. Long forgotten memories surfaced. He tried not to think of his father, the memories and his death still painful, but if it distracted Judy, then he’d happily talk about it. “They served predators predominantly. There was some substantial prejudice in the city back then, separate stores for predators and prey, different buses and bars. No prey mammal wanted to supply predators with anything, let alone suits. My paternal grandpa sailed to the Old World and found an investor, and then he came back here and opened up the first predator owned tailors in Zootopia. My dad took over the business when my grandpa died.”
The Old World. Judy had heard stories about it from Akita, had learned that their landlady was originally from a place called Zussia. Akita had told her about how different Zussia was to Zootopia. She’d showed Judy a few pictures, too. “What happened to the company?”
Nick shook his head. “I was too young to take over the company when dad died, and though mom could sew she’d never made a tailored suit in her life. She tried to plug as much money as possible into keeping it afloat, but with only her diner wages and our house to pay for the debtors came calling and the company collapsed.”
“Would you have liked to take over the business and become a tailor?” Judy could see Nick following in his father’s footsteps, she could see him owning a business and being successful.
Nick thought about it for a moment. “Perhaps. It would’ve kept me off the streets; given me a way to be connected to my dad, and it would’ve ensured mom would never need for anything. At the same time, though, it would’ve meant that I’d have never met you.”
“I’m sure being a successful tailor beats meeting me, Slick.” Judy couldn’t believe what Nick was saying.
Finding her gaze, Nick offered Judy a warm smile, his voice dropping to a soft tone. “I’m not sure it does, Carrots.”
They held one another’s gaze for a moment longer than necessary, Judy’s expression shifting into one of fondness for the fox. “Come on,” Nick murmured as he untangled himself from Judy, Standing, he took one of her paws in his. Nick led her out of her bedroom and across the hall, into his room. She needed to rest. True they could’ve slept in her bed, but if Judy were struggling to sleep, then Nick figured that maybe a change of environment would be beneficial for her. Judy followed him willingly, wondering what Nick was up to but trusting him completely. Throwing his phone onto the nightstand, Nick turned to flick the bed sheets back. He paused, seeing new cream bed linens and a new forest green throw blanket.
“You bought me new bed sheets?” He asked quietly as Judy stood by his side.
Judy nodded, a light blush coloring the inside of her ears. “It’s not much I know, but it’s a start. They’re a bit nicer than the sheets we cobbled together during our first few nights here.” Her voice was quiet, hoarse from her emotional outburst. When Judy’s brothers had brought some of her belongings over from Bunnyburrow she’d asked them to bring bed sheets too, and while the sheets had served a purpose they were old and a little tatty, years of washing and drying in the Hopps warren having worn them down. Nick hadn’t minded, grateful for some sheets, but Judy had wanted to get him some new ones.
She’d bought them in a discount soft furnishings store in the Canal district during one of her lunch breaks when she’d been sent to patrol the area with Wolford. The timber wolf had teased her for being so domestic and for taking care of Nick like she was his vixen. She’d gone against her statement to Nick, back when he’d discovered the rabbit and the timber wolf had been assigned as temporary partners. One little howl from her had sent Wolford into a frenzy of howls in the middle of the street, making everyone turn to look at him. Embarrassed and annoyed, he’d learned his lesson and had never brought up the subject again, grudgingly earning a little more respect for the bunny cop and her smart thinking.
Nick took in the new bed sheets and throw blanket, touched that Judy had bought them for him. He swallowed, questioning whether Judy knew that her behavior was similar to that of a vixen’s. “They’re great, thanks, Carrots.”
“You’ll have to let me know what they’re like. They felt soft when I was making the bed.” Judy glanced at the bed, remembering the battle she’d had with the sheets when she’d been making it.
“Come on, we’ll test them together.” He gestured to the bed. He had no ulterior motive in sharing a bed. Judy’s reliance on sleeping pills told him she’d had little sleep these past few nights. She needed to rest, and he hoped she might be able to rest a little easier with him there to comfort her. “You need to sleep, and I got up really early to catch the train. We’ll nap together. I promise I’ll keep my paws to myself, scouts honor.” He raised a paw in the Ranger Scouts symbol. Judy stared at it, her eyebrows quirking upwards. “Yeah, okay, I wasn’t a Ranger Scout.” Nick chuckled as he dropped his paw.
“It’s okay, I trust you.” Judy conceded. She was starting to feel a little tired; the emotional rollercoaster she’d just been on had drained her. She climbed up onto the bed and Nick followed behind her, but not before he discarded his shirt, which was damp from her tears. He pulled the sheets over them as Judy curled against his side, her arm sliding around his middle. He wrapped an arm around her and Judy shuffled, burrowed against him and sighed. She couldn’t get comfortable. “Nick,” she whined.
Chuckling, Nick pulled most of her torso up onto his chest, letting her rest on top of him. She settled, finding a comfy spot, head under Nick’s muzzle as he held her. He’d promised to keep his paws to himself, and he meant it, but that wouldn’t stop him from holding her.
“Thank you.” She whispered, paws smoothing over Nick’s fur.
“No Carrots, thank you.” Nick took a deep breath. “That debt. It was crippling. I was so worried that he’d hurt my mom. You made it go away.”
“I wanted you to be safe, for your mom to be safe.” The thought of either of them being hurt just wasn’t acceptable to Judy. They were good mammals.
“You risked your own safety though, Carrots. Jeez,” Nick tightened his hold on Judy. “If something had of happened to you.” The idea of Judy being hurt didn’t bear thinking about, and Nick had to screw his eyes closed, reassure himself that Judy was safe.
“It’s okay Nick, I’m here, and I’m all right.” Judy soothed the tod, butting her nose against the underside of his muzzle.
“Promise me that you won’t make such a huge decision again without speaking to me about it first, please?” Nick asked. The thought of anything happening to her because she was too gung-ho made him shake. It was why he wanted to be her partner, so he could keep an eye on her and keep her safe from harm. Yes working for the ZPD would be good for him, he would be contributing to society, but he wasn’t fooling himself – he applied for the job because of Judy.
Judy nodded, paws playing with Nick’s fur. Her brain finally realized he was shirtless and she tried to hide her blush. “I promise.”
They were silent for a while. Nick really wasn’t tired, having told a little lie to get Judy to rest. “You were allowed home for my birthday.” Judy suddenly spoke, the realization making her smile.
Nick chuckled, jostling Judy a little. “Seems Chief Buffalo Butt and the Major like to conspire behind our backs. I’m glad I came home.”
“How long are you home for?” Judy knew she hadn’t had long whenever she’d been allowed back.
“As long as you need me.” Nick would happily postpone his academy training if Judy needed him. She was more important than anything else.
“Nick, I’m feeling a little better now, I promise. When does Major Friedkin want you back?” Judy wasn’t in the mood to argue.
Nick sighed. “Twenty-one hundred tomorrow. I should call my mom, though. She’s invited us for dinner tonight, but we should cancel.”
“You told your mom you were coming home?” Judy and Marian spoke regularly, and they’d grown closer over the weeks Nick had been away.
“I stopped by before coming here, to pick up your birthday present.” Nick glanced at his bag, still by his bedroom door.
A soft smile crossed Judy’s lips. “You didn’t have to get my anything, you know. Having you home this weekend is enough.” Judy murmured, taking a deep breath, inhaling Nick’s scent. She couldn’t get enough of it. The tod smiled at the mention of him being home. It felt good to finally have a place he could call home.
“I know, but I wanted to get you a little something anyway.” He stroked down her ears, marveling at how soft they were. Rabbits had never let him get close enough to feel their ears before.
Judy let her chin rest on his chest, enjoying the rise and fall as he breathed. She hoped the action would leave a trace of her scent behind. It wouldn’t leave a lot, as she hadn’t properly wiped the scent gland there over his fur. She longed for the day she could wipe her scent all over him, though, and claim him as her own. Her mom had taught her that it was an act saved for mates, and no matter how much she loved Nick she didn’t want to jinx it. “I had dinner with your mom a few days ago. Do you want to go alone, spend some time with her, just the two of you?” Judy asked.
Nick shook his head. He wasn’t going to leave Judy’s side this weekend. She seemed a bit better now but Nick wasn’t taking any chances. “We’re a package deal. Besides, I don’t think mom could get tired of seeing you.” Nick knew his mom adored Judy. Whenever he called, she’d talk about their weekly dinners.
“She’s making us some throw cushions for our beds now that we’ve picked color schemes.” Judy’s voice was still soft, but she smiled at the memory of Marian showing her all the soft fabrics she’d picked out for them. “Apparently she felt the need to thank me for the fact you can now call her every week.” Judy really hadn’t needed anything in return from Marian.
“Mom likes repaying people’s kindness.” They fell silent and Nick’s mind wandered back to his debt. It had been an enormous weight on his shoulders, and he was still trying to process the fact that it was gone, that he’d never have to pay Catstro again. He’d spent the past 16 years hustling every day to pay it back, barely getting by as he handed over all his cash to the caracal. He didn’t have that worry anymore. His mom was safe. Judy, his Judy, had taken care of it, taken care of him. Though he wasn’t religious, Nick sent a prayer of thanks to any deity that was listening, eternally grateful that Judy had walked into Jumbeaux’s Café all those months ago.
“March kits are kind, affectionate, trustworthy, and charming. They’re good listeners but are shy, big-hearted, and impossible to forget. They’re not sleepy at all unless their name is Nick.” Judy whispered, breaking the silence. She’d found the description to fit him perfectly. She tipped her head, pressing her cheek to Nick’s chest.
Nick hummed in amusement, body shaking as he laughed quietly. Judy cracked a smile. Once Nick’s laughter had subsided, he spoke, paws rubbing Judy’s back. “You did your homework.”
“I always do my homework.” She pointed out, smoothing her paws over Nick’s chest.
Nick had to give her that. Judy was always prepared. “Fancy doing my academy work for me?” Her paws on his chest felt wonderful and Nick had to actively stop himself from making a sound of pleasure. He’d promised that there would be no funny business, but with her small weight on him, her scent around him, the knowledge that she’d gone to such extreme lengths to keep him safe, to protect him, it was all testing his restraint.
Judy snorted, giving Nick’s chest a playful swat. “Not a chance.”
“Eh, it was worth a shot.” Nick gave the end of one of Judy’s ears a gentle tug, the sound of her laughter filling the room. Nick savored it. “That’s better.” He glanced around his room, noticing that Judy had also put some picture frames up on the walls, leaving them blank so he could put his own photos in them. The bunny he loved had been making their den more homely. He smiled. “I missed you,”
“I missed you too.” Judy murmured against his chest. Though she tried not to notice, it was hard to miss how much stronger Nick was, how much firmer his chest felt beneath her paws since their last hug on the platform of Savannah Central. Judy yawned. Smacking her lips together, she finally felt her lids grow heavy.
“Sleep, Carrots. I’ll be here when you wake.” Nick soothed. Judy’s eyes finally closed. She felt like she could sleep for the first time in days without reaching for the pills. Nick was home for the weekend, and he was the perfect salve to her wounds.
Nick watched as Judy fell asleep. The silence gave him the chance to sort through his emotions a little more, to think about Judy’s actions and what it meant for them. She was so difficult to read. She’d done something so extreme for him, to keep him safe, to protect him. Her actions went above and beyond those expected of best friends. Did that mean that she thought of him as something more than a friend? Was there the chance she could think of him as more? He focused on her breathing, the fact she sought comfort from him, seemed to enjoy being wrapped in his arms. Their friendship had come such a long way already. Nick forced himself to stay awake even though his new bed sheets were ridiculously comfortable and soft, trying to tempt him into sleep. He needed to keep watch over his emotional little bunny.