It was a lot, he reflected in an absurdly calm corner of his mind, like going over a cliff.
The terror and the thrill.
Nick was not always as clever as he hoped.
The idea to replace the ball of poison with a blueberry had occurred to him just moments too late, after the case and the gun were already out of his paws. He and Judy both knew what was about to happen.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered to her, oblivious to Bellwether's triumphant monologue above them.
“I know,” she whispered back. Judy gave Nick’s paw one last tight squeeze. At precisely the same moment, Bellwether squeezed the trigger, and blue liquid bloomed across Nick’s fur.
Nick shuddered and turned his mind inward, hoping against hope that somehow he could hold onto his own consciousness, cling tight to what made him himself. Don’t move, stay calm, leave Judy alone, he chanted silently. Don’t move, stay calm, leave Judy – leave Judy –
Then the howling darkness claimed him, and the fox knew only, with vicious certainty, that there was a rabbit nearby.
Judy had been through quite a few rough moments in her life. But leaving home with her parents’ tears behind her – being rejected and ostracized by every last one of her coworkers – even fearing for her life in a cold, isolated prison – nothing quite compared to watching her best friend lose his mind to animalistic rage.
And turning that rage towards her.
This was every one of Judy’s worst nightmares come to life, the reason she still fought the urge to flinch when Nick so much as snarled near her. Every instinct inside her shrieked as she saw his pupils contract to pinpricks – saw him drop to all fours –
And then she was running, desperately trying to escape the pit. Distantly she was aware that she was speaking, saying over and over again, “Nick, please, no, don’t do this to me – Nick – “
Above her, Bellwether laughed cruelly. She called in mock terror over the radio for police assistance, then gestured to her cronies to follow her as she left the room.
The fox screamed, and all of Judy’s fur stood on end. She scrabbled for a pawhold on the smooth sides of the pit, her fear making her clumsy. Nick (no, she told herself, that’s not Nick anymore) wasn’t even running. He was stalking her, almost casually cornering her against the wall.
“Please, please, Nick, it’s me, it’s Judy, you’re my friend, please just stop – “ She might have been speaking to the plants for all the signs of comprehension the fox gave her. He bared his teeth in a snarl, and all at once Judy realized she had to do the very thing that she’d suppressed so many times before.
In one swift motion, before she could talk herself out of it, she pulled out the bottle of fox repellent and sprayed a great cloud into his face. It smelled awful, acrid and biting, making Judy’s throat burn and eyes sting, but it had a much stronger effect on the fox, who turned and staggered away before collapsing to the ground.
Judy choked back a sob as she stumbled to his side, pulling his head into her lap as she knelt beside him. “Nick,” she whispered numbly. “Nick.”
There was no response.
That was how the police found them minutes later, Judy’s tears soaking into her friend’s fur, her wrecked sobs echoing softly in the museum’s cavernous halls.
Nick awoke in a clean white hospital bed with Judy curled up at the foot of it. He took a moment to assess them both, but no one seemed to be bleeding or obviously injured. He could feel Judy shivering in her sleep, though. He slid quietly from the bed with the intention of finding a spare blanket to drape her with. A wave of dizziness caught him as he attempted to stand, however, and he nearly hit the floor. At once, a brown blur of motion to his right supported him back onto the bed.
“Easy there, Slick,” Judy said.
“Thanks, Carrots. What exactly happened?” Nick’s head was still swimming. He combed through his memories, forcing himself to focus, but came up short after… “Oh my God. Oh, no, no, no. I didn’t hurt you, did I? I didn’t –“
“No, calm down, I’m fine. You gave it your best shot, but you didn’t hurt me.” Judy smiled weakly. “Think I did more to you, actually…” She trailed off, chewing on her lip unhappily. “I had to use the fox repellent on you. I’m so sorry, I wish I hadn’t had to, but – “ Her face crumpled, and Nick was horrified to see tears starting in the corners of her eyes.
“Carrots. Hey, Carrots, come on, look at me.” Judy swiped a paw over her watery violet eyes and looked up into his green ones. Nick wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. “I would’ve used that stuff on me, too. Who knows what I would’ve done otherwise, right?” He planted a soft kiss on the top of her head.
Judy turned and pulled him tightly into a hug, burying her face into the soft fur of his neck. He smelled of earth and blueberries.
Nick sighed contentedly, blowing warm breath across Judy’s ears. “So what’s the deal with our lovely Mayor Bellwether? She run off?” He felt Judy tense slightly in his arms.
“No. She tried, but she ran into Bogo on her way and he stopped her. I got the whole thing recorded on my pen,” Judy felt Nick huff a laugh at that. “So he had her arrested. The antidote for the night howlers got figured out about two hours after that, so… here you are.”
“Here I am.” Nick smiled at Judy as she turned to look at him, an exhausted but happy gleam in her eyes.
“Nick, I – I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”
“Oh, well, you know, there’s probably loads of foxes out there looking to help a bunny with her police work,” Nick answered, not bothering to block her light punch to his arm.
“You know what I m—“ Judy was cut off by the gentle kiss he pressed to her lips, slow and sweet and strange in its newness. She giggled and began peppering his face and neck with lightning-quick kisses.
“Oh, hey now,” he said, laughing under the assault. Sobering slightly, he declared quietly, “Carrots, I don’t know what I’d do without you either.”
Judy, beaming and blushing, answered, “Good. You’re stuck with me, then.”
Nick thought it was the best news he’d heard all day.