Actions

Work Header

Cause I've Been Thinking

Work Text:

Summary: A slice-of-life, served up hot. And with blueberries. (Beware, lots of laughing and fluff!)

Warnings: Oh, it's not so bad. I've definitely fitted it for its T-rating, cause they're both adults and I think they'd make some sly jokes. Also light swearing. *HOWEVER! MY BIGGEST WARNING IS THAT* I'd say this fic moves slowly. I really wanted to explore Judy and Nick's lives and feelings from Nick's POV because… I absolutely love Nick. So much.

There's also some OCs, but I've tried my best to make them as unimposing as possible.

Disclaimer: Zootopia ain't mine. But I'm definitely pre-ordering it on Blu-Ray, DVD, and digital download!… so that I can pathetically own it in some way… Also, the views expressed by the characters in this fic may or may not be mine. I gave them opinions that I thought suited them.

Cause I've Been Thinking

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.

– Maya Angelou

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

"I'm usually not privy to office gossip, but man oh man, I should've seen that whole thing with Tracy and John! I mean, of course!"

"Tracy and John?"

"Oooooh no, don't tell me you haven't noticed," she smirks at him, rolling her eyes. "You're always the first to know! In fact, I don't think you can help it. Too sly for your own good." Judy elbows her partner, her smug mouth melting into a helpless, goofy grin.

"I hadn't noticed," he replies nonchalantly, boredly examining his aviators. His eyebrows furrow, and he breathes on the lenses before rubbing them against his uniform. These days, scenarios like this are usual: crime is slow right now, so everybody's assigned to one mundane task or another. Sometimes it's supervising parole, sometimes it's shepherding paperwork from one place to another… but those are the particularly humdrum days. Not that street patrol is any better, but one-on-one time with a best friend is always good. Great, even. Judy usually rambles about whatever's happening back at headquarters, and he reacts with some appropriately snobbish "I'm pretty sure I found out before you did," just to get a rise out of her. Cause she's right: he always notices office affair. He's just been extremely… pre-occupied recently.

Side-eyeing Nick skeptically, Judy returns her violet gaze back to the road. "Riiiight… well, they've been dating for seven months! An office romance!" She vibrates in her seat excitedly, as if barely containing the impulse of her species to bounce– which fails, as she leaps about a foot off her seat. The vehicle jostles accordingly. "It's almost kind of romantic, isn't it?"

Clearly she isn't waiting for a reply though, because in the five second span between her rhetorical question and her next comment, Nick has managed to turn five shades of red and break into a nervous sweat before cooling his jets. Smoothing down the fur that's standing on end on the back of his neck, he clears his throat and offers an extremely intellectual, "Huh, is that so?"

Judy titters. "I know, I was just as speechless! But then when I heard, I was like, duh! I mean, just last week when I was in the break room getting coffee, I kind of barged in on them. And at the time, it didn't seem weird, but in hindsight, they were really close to each other. It was like I'd caught them in the middle of something and they'd broken apart, you know?" Her smile is mischievous.

Nick swallows.

"And I was pretty sure I saw them holding hands at the water fountain a few weeks ago. Isn't that cute? And then there was that whole weird thing a while back with the flowers at Tracy's desk."

He stares intently at the light, which has just changed red. Judy is still jabbering away happily, looking at him the entire time. She's used to his sometimes apparent lack of interest. She knows he likes to look cool. But she also knows he's secretly interested (or at least that's usually true. Right now he's distracted).

"I thought the whole office-relationship-Animal Resources Office thing was gonna be a heckuvalot more complicated, but apparently, as long as one of you isn't in a position of authority, it's not that big of a problem." She looks contemplative for a second. "Hopefully neither of them is gonna get a promotion anytime soon. Or I mean, I hope one of them does, cause pay isn't that great. But I mean… well… this is really complicated, isn't it?"

"Judy!"

Their patrol car screeches to a halt just as a car speeds an inch out from them, its angry honk fading into the distance as Judy's ears slowly flatten again.

"Oops," her eyes dart to her partner sheepishly as she smiles apologetically, but she relaxes back into the cushion and loosens her paws on the wheel. His heart is still pounding in his ears as he pulls his arm– which had instinctively reached out to prevent her from shooting forward– away. Her eyes fall to the withdrawn appendage, then lift warmly to his own verdant eyes. "Thanks."

"Can't have you dying on me," he responds rather hoarsely, looking out his window so that she can't see how red he's turning. He hates that soft look in her eyes. Before, he would smirk at her and jokingly knock her on the back of her head for being so sentimental ("Silly bunnies, so emotional.") These days, it makes something in him twist alarmingly, and his eyes get kind of hot and it's like he doesn't know whether to run away cause this is seriously weird or pull her to him and squeeze her until she feels that exact same kind of pressure on her heart that he does on his in those moments.

He can hear her bright laughter as she presses the acceleration pad. "Ha! Yeah, dying won't be an option as long as you're around." Nick's face gets hot, but he can't help that quirk of his mouth. They know they've got each other's backs, so he turns to face her and tugs on one of her ears, causing her to yelp.

"Didn't I tell you to quit that!"

He's full-on grinning now, a smile so toothy his canines are bared. "Can't help it, Carrots."

Huffing and rolling her eyes, she turns into the 7-Elephant, braking abruptly into a parking spot. They're in and out, the only difference exiting being the stacks of boxes piled in her arms. They've got sugar duty today. Whoever gets street patrol gets sugar duty. Well, that's what Clawhauser says anyways.

When they're back in the vehicle, Judy starts musing about the possible development of Tracy and John's relationship, sliding the boxes of doughnuts onto her best friend's lap. Nick sighs, folding an arm and curling a tail around the just-baked goods. It's a warm day, and combined with the freshly baked pastries, he's sweltering. So he rolls a window down and props his head up on his paw, watching the buildings roll past. The wind whistling in his ears drowns Judy out, who is now singing along to some insipid melody blaring tinnily through the radio.

He doesn't know when the change started, but he has a suspicion that it was that one perilous assignment they had when she tackled him out of the way of a collapsing canyon in Sahara Square. That decision had been kind of stupid, because he knew it was falling and had planned to make a mad dash after he'd rendered the criminals immobile, but she had to go and mess that up with her stupid good heart. So he'd ended up with a bit of a squashed tail (which hurt like no other, but that would only take a week to heal bandaged up with a splint) which he ignored because she had been babbling through waterworks about how sorry she was and how afraid she had been, and he was about to be all smarmy again and laugh while commenting on her emotional fragility due to her bunny-tendencies, except then she had spluttered out something semi-unintelligible that sounded like, "I was so afraid you were going to die and then what would I do because you're my best friend and I love you and I don't know how I'd live without you," and then he'd almost choked on his tongue because the last person to tell him "I love you" was his mom, and that was when he was 18. And then Judy had met his deer-in-headlights stare with her swollen, pink-rimmed one, only to start crying harder and hiccuping, curling into him and sobbing into the ruff of cream-colored fur peeking out of his collar as her hands clutched at his shirt from behind, her muffled voice gasping out, "I don't know what I'd do if you were gone!" While all he could do was mutely alternate between patting and stroking her back. That was when the tightness around his heart had started.

Yeah. And that was 6 months ago. In their 16 month friendship. And he's just turned 32 and she's rounding the corner on 25, and he's never been in love. But he's pretty sure this is what it feels like, if the tunnel-vision he gets when she's around is any indication. In the past 4 months, he's started doing stupid things like wondering what life would be like if they lived together, or what their kids would look like–

Except all of this is an effort in futility, because they would never be able to have kids together. In fact, this whole thing is completely laughable, since even the few interspecies couples that exist aren't outside of taxonomical family. Her neighbors (who are gay, he and Judy are both pretty sure) are about as diverse as interspecies relationships get, and they're still in the same familiae. But forget "family-differences," this would be a predator-prey relationship. ANIMAL Magazine would have a field day with them. They're already over-invested in Judy's life (what with her having been pivotal in the whole predator-prey-political mix-up thing in their burgeoning friendship and her rather active role in ending discrimination); this would just be the cherry-on-top.

Forget it.

Nick doesn't notice that they've come to a stop outside of their headquarters until Judy's gentle and concerned voice breaks his melodramatic thoughts. "Everything alright?" Immediately, he feels the tightness in his eyebrows, which have furrowed so much they might as well be one.

"Yeah, everything's great.. I think the doughnuts are cold."

"That's never stopped Clawhauser before," Judy jokes, hopping out of her seat. He releases the clasp on his seat belt, expertly carrying the entire mountain of boxes in one hand. His partner mumbles "show-off" under her breath, and he flashes her a cocky grin.

Clawhauser is elated to see them– or maybe the doughnuts, judging by the greedy glint in his eyes– and as the hearty cheetah scarfs down a doughnut or five, Judy asks him if he's found any new funny apps. Nick shoves his paws into his pockets, looking at the plaques lining the wall behind their favorite (only) receptionist. He and Judy have both won officer of the year, and it shows in their separate photos, collaborated so that Judy is high-fiving him from her frame on the right, and he's returning it from his on the left. They're both smiling like they've won the lottery because they know they're the best (as Judy puts it. He prefers the term "legendary.")

"So how's the whole thing with Tracy and John?"

"Ooooooh, it's just the best thing on earth!" Clawhauser gushes, easing up on the doughnuts momentarily. "Have you ever seen two wolves more in love? Even Bogo thinks so, not that he'd say it out loud, you know him… Ooh, look! There they are right now! Aren't they just such a good-looking couple?" A contented sigh expels from his lips and he slouches onto the palm of his hand, the doughnut still swinging from one of his claws.

Sure enough, the pretty brunette wolf strides into the atrium with her slate-furred companion. They seem to be heatedly debating something, before Tracy rolls her eyes and shakes her head. John only smiles toothily at her.

"Y'know, they've been partners since they joined the force together. Wonder if that had anything to do with it. I bet a relationship seems easier to handle when you've already dealt with them bleeding in your arms! Doesn't get much uglier than that." It's a bit of an off-color joke that Nick is going to snort at until he sees the way Ben is eying him, a nerve-wrackingly mutinous gleam in his stare. The more than uncomfortable fox swallows past the lump in his throat, tugging at his uniform collar. He can't tell if he's confused, afraid, or both. All he knows is that suddenly the room is too hot and someone needs to adjust the thermostat.

Hastily, he finds an excuse. "C'mon, Carrots. We've gotta clock out." He leads the way so his companion won't see the astounding tint of pink on his face, and Judy issues a fast goodbye to her feline friend before hopping up to Nick's side.

"Are you free tonight?" He doesn't know why she still asks. Now that he no longer lives a life filled with duplicity and shortcuts, his life outside of work is surprisingly boring. They both know this.

"Why, yes, in fact. I've got a date–" her eyes widen, then brighten a second or two later, "with my alter-ego, who still happens to be dealing on the shadier side of life. Keeps things interesting. A fox can only take so much of the straight-laced life before his biological instincts take over."

The violet-eyed cop groans, mortified at the reference to her past mistake. She can't seem to get over it herself, even though he's said multiple times (quite seriously) that he's over it and has forgiven her.

"Loosen up, Hopps. It's just a joke. What're we watching tonight?"

"Pride & Prejudice!"

"With Colin Furth?"

"That's the TV show, so no. We can save that for another time. The one with Keira Knightleap and Matthew Macfangden!" The last half of her sentence is twice as rushed as the first, as if she can't get the words out fast enough. She's excited. It's endearing.

"Again?" He asks, alarmed. "Didn't we watch that a month ago?"

"I can't help it, it's one of my favorites!"

"What is it with you and discrimination? This has got to be unhealthy."

She laughs loudly, and he can't help that he puffs up his chest a little, feeling a little glow at being the reason for her joy. He smiles, too. "You're not still trying to make it up to me, are you? Like, you don't actually, maybe, hate the movie, but think that if I see you watching it enough, you think I'll think you're really against prejudice?"

"Oh, shut up! That made no sense!" But she's struggling for breath over her giggles at the ridiculousness of what he's just implied, and she almost trips into him because she's wiping her eyes. He grabs her elbow, holding her up.

"Woah now, slow down there, cowboy. We don't want a repeat with my tail."

Her purple eyes meet his, filled with a combination of mirth and disbelief. "It's always about you, isn't it?"

"A beast has only got one tail." Judy closes her eyes, shaking her head and biting her lip as she tries to hide her amusement. They regroup when they've stashed their defensive equipment in their cubbies, pulling out whatever it is they need to take home. She's meticulously picking off some pilling on the t-shirt she's changed into when he places a paw between her ears and begins to steer her out the door.

"Y'know, I hate when you do that." A small, grey paw swats at his.

He smiles.

"Y'know, I worry about you. Seems kinda lonely down in those fox holes." She leans forward to press the space bar as they've finished the movie, except she's skipped the last few minutes because it's just so cheesy and weird and feels so out of character!

"That is because you had 300 siblings growing up. Everything seems lonely if you're used to never being alone."

"275!" Judy corrects a little haughtily, only to have him raise an eyebrow at her. "But I guess you're right." She's quiet for a second, before snapping her fingers and pointing at him. "And you've got that nice girl anyways. What's her name? Vicky!"

He must get a funny look on his face, because her teasing expression deepens. "The vixen? I met her last time we watched Fight Cub at your place. She stopped by asking for sugar. You were going through your pantry looking for the popcorn." A sly look shades her normally innocent face. "But I don't think she really wanted sugar… not that kind, at least. It was too bad I was there."

This is all news to him. "I mean, sure. But we never talk."

Her face is properly horrified. "You guys are neighbors!"

Shrugging, he crosses his arms behind his head, leaning comfortably back into the pillows they've stacked up against her wall. "I can't help it. We're solitary animals."

"Oh please, you can't pick and choose your biological instincts." Nick flashes a fang at her, and Judy rolls her eyes at his smugness. They're quiet, and after a few seconds, she leans back against her headboard, looking the picture of contentedness as she examines him. The screen of her computer– bought after 5 months of ZPD– is illuminating her face with a cool blue. It makes her eyes darker, and there's something coy in her expression, but she probably doesn't even know it. He looks away, unsettled.

The words seem to hurtle out of her mouth, "I think we're like Liz and Furcy!" Nick raises an eyebrow at her, and she can barely contain the thrill she seems to get about finally getting to share this theory. "We stereotyped each other, right? And now look at us! We're best friends! Although, they do get married, so I guess we'll just change it up a bit. I can be the godmother of your kits!" As she guffaws at the thought of Nick with kids, he sits up and rolls his sleeves to his elbows because he's willing to play along.

"Alright, but if you're godmother to my kids, does that make me godfather of yours?" He ignores the slight unease he gets when he thinks about Judy being closer with someone that's not him. The concept of losing her is hauntingly realistic.

Judy puts an extremely somber– so somber that he knows she's making a farce about whatever she's going to say– expression on, laying her hand on her chest like she's about to swear an oath of allegiance. He can feel his lips beginning to curl up. "Nick, I will marry and have kids when pigs fly."

"I guess you haven't met Wilbur yet, huh?"

Her eyes bug-out at the clever reference to their distant coworker, who happens to be a pig dealing in the air force of the army sector. Nick bursts out laughing at the look on her face, and she lands a punch on his arm, which turns his entertained howling into a yowl of pain. "You know what I mean!" She exclaims in exasperation.

He leans onto his hands, cocking his head while still wearing that infuriating look. "So why is that? Your monogaphobic, anti-child bearing ways, I mean." His bunny friend looks absolutely appalled at his labels, and he can only smirk. "Isn't that what bunnies are known for?"

Now would be a good time to take a picture, but instead, he'll have to just commit this image to memory. She looks like he's just grown 5 heads, one of which is speaking in tongues. "Nick!"

"You know I'm just kidding."

Pouting, she shakes her head, ignoring his earlier jibe. "No reason, particularly. I just can't imagine being better friends with someone other than you." A bright, lovable smiles lights her face.

He hates that she can say that so easily, and he loves that she feels the same way he does. It's all pretty bewildering. "You don't think I feel the same way?" He says off-handedly. Suddenly she looks like he's just mowed down a row of her family farm's best carrots.

"Nick! You can't!" He's puzzled as to what this means. "You can't give up happiness because of me! That's the last thing I want!" She looks sincerely panicked.

"Woah, slow down there, tiger. 'Give up happiness'?"

"With Vicky," there's a conspiratorial air to her words, and he scoffs.

"Judy. We've never spoken a word to each other," she looks stricken, probably because she thinks that she's in the way. He hates that she loves him like this. Does this make him selfish? Judy just wants to see him happy, but he just wants her to himself. Although her selflessness could be because a relationship between two separate species is pretty much unheard of and is so implausible that it doesn't even cross her mind. And suddenly, the words are out before he can stop himself.

"There's a higher chance of me marrying you than me even saying 'good morning' to her." If he could hit himself, he would. He can feel the tips of his ears warming up. Fortunately, Judy just chuckles. Now would be a good time to change the topic. "So what about popping out some kits? What's the problem?"

Glowering at him, she crosses her arms. "Maybe I'm just not interested. 275 brothers and sisters will do that to you. And one of my siblings is bound to provide the grandchildren my mom and dad are so desperate for."

"That's reasonable."

Cheekily, she continues. "It wouldn't be the first time I did something my parents didn't expect."

"Quite the rebel, you are."

"Oh, shut it!" The pillow she chucks at him misses by a foot, sailing through the space before hitting her door with a thud.

"And they say you graduated top of your class! Can't even aim a pillow right!" Instinctively, he dodges whatever incoming punch she's ready to deliver, and she lunges forward with a yelp. She's laughing so hard, she's struggling to breathe as tears squeeze their way out of her eyes. The poor bunny is practically vibrating in his lap, and he feels that affectionate feeling grab him by the lungs and start to suffocate him. So he pulls her back and away by her shirt.

"Alright, Carrots. It's late and we've got an early shift tomorrow. It's time to say good night."

When he steps out of her tiny apartment, he turns to face her, stepping backwards as he salutes her with a two-fingered goodbye. Then she leaps into him, and he barely manages to catch her in his arms.

Flustered, he's just about to ask what's up before she practically yells out, "you're amazing. I'm glad I met you. I can't believe we're best friends, cause it's unfair that I get to know you and nobody else does." When she unlatches herself from him, she looks relieved to have gotten that out of her system, if a little abashed. This is definitely a new development, but not really unexpected. The past year has shown that she's not embarrassed to put herself on the spot. "That's all. Sorry… except not really."

He doesn't have any words, so he just tugs one of her ears as she rolls her eyes. She doesn't stop waving until he's out of sight, and then he has room to freak out a little.

He knows that's why he loves her. It's that unbridled enthusiasm for life and its challenges, and that sheer determination to always hope. He's never met somebody who tries so hard to make sure everybody gets how she feels, and especially not someone whose feelings are always so well-intentioned. And he can't help but to wonder if maybe that's why she's here and they met: because he's pretty jaded, and it doesn't hurt to have her around to remedy that cynicism. It's funny, because he's always said don't let them know that they get to you, but she is the living embodiment of the opposite. And he's falling in love with that.

He'll tell her this next time.

(He says that every time.)

The last month has been filled with exciting going-ons. They've been on a wicked car chase which unfortunately tore up Little Rodentia quite a bit (but nothing that can't be quickly righted), secretly infiltrated some suspicious lairs, and rescued hostages from the evil grips of several nefarious crime-lords.

So of course, here they are again, running errands for Chief Bogo. Even the normally hard-to-please buffalo has to admit that Hopps and Wilde have been the reason behind the lethargy in crime these days. Which is nice and all, but everybody's a little bored, so Tracy and John's wedding has come at a very good time.

"I've never been to a wedding before!"

Judy is excitedly bobbing her head to Gazelle's most recent hit. The entire force has been invited to Tracy and John's wedding. Nick is pretty sure the only animals more excited than his rabbit partner are the bride's and groom's mothers.

"Not even Fru Fru's?" Nick comments slyly, smirking at his peppy sidekick (she'd probably punch him for calling her that).

"We weren't formally invited to that, and I was still in my uniform! That barely counts, and you know it." Her foots still tapping to the beat, and nothing will crush her mood. "Plus, we didn't get to dance!"

He wonders if she means "we" like, Judy and Nick together, or "we"like, Judy dancing in one place and him in another as they exist within the same perimeter. He's rather partial to the former, but it's not a question he can voice to her, so he changes the subject. "Never been to a real wedding, hm? Seems like there'd be a lot where you're from."

"It happens too often, so people are kind of lazy. People usually just send out a note before… getting to work."

"Huh, makes sense. Well, I've never been to one either."

"You foxes and your solitude," she jokes, parking the car into the designated garage. "It's formal! Do you have anything to wear?"

When he nods, she looks mildly shocked, so he snorts. "What's that look mean?"

"I just didn't have you pegged as the type who would own a suit and tie!"

"Yeah, well, business deals with Mr. Big pretty much necessitated it. If it's any comfort to you, it's been gathering dust in the back of my closet for two or three years now."

"I bet the tie is still tied, too, huh?" Cause while she knows Nick can tie a tie, he'd much rather not, so instead he just loosens the knot every night and pulls it over his head.

"No, considering it's a bowtie." Now she looks visibly alarmed, mixed with some awe.

"Really?" Her voice is low, and he wants to laugh at her incredulousness. "Wow. That must be a sight to behold."

"Yeah, I look pretty good dressed up, if I do say so myself." Judy chortles.

"I'm so excited, I dunno how I'm gonna make it through the month!" Nick pulls his aviators from his ears where they've been resting, hooking them to his collar instead.

"You'll survive." She swats him for his apathetic rejoinder.

They're about to make their usual round to greet Clawhauser, except there's a new face standing in front of the desk. Which wouldn't be so astonishing if it weren't for the two long ears that have quite a few inches on Judy's own. The fox and rabbit duo are a good distance away when the animal unexpectedly turns to face them. Clawhauser follows the recruits eyes and waves vigorously at his friends.

When they reach the desk, the cheetah (one of the instances he doesn't have a bowl of cereal of something sugary in his hand) makes introductions. "Nick, Jason, Jason, Nick." They shake paws– the stranger has a pretty firm grip– and then, "and you already know about Judy."

She blushes at her "fame," which she'll never grow use to. Jason smiles eagerly, "you're making big waves for us little people!"

He's lacking that burrow accent, and when she realizes he's actually significantly taller than her but still shorter than Nick, she understands that he's not from Bunnyburrow, because he's a hare. She's relieved she doesn't know him, because that weird feeling of being connected to everyone in town is something she's never gotten used to.

Nick feels the opposite though. He's known since the get-go that this guy isn't a rabbit, is probably a hare, which means he has no relation to Judy but is also taxonomically close enough that nothing is stopping him from, say, pursuing a relationship with the selectively oblivious bunny. But he stops himself before he can finish that thought, because when did he start creating competitions for Judy's affection? He's being an idiot.

Sure enough, Jason is satisfied in just shaking her hand and taking a selfie with her before going on his way. Judy is tapping away at her phone, and Nick knows she's sorting that picture into a folder she has designated specifically for photos she gets with strangers. Her parents like to see them, probably for the thrill of having a famous daughter.

But Jason's innocuous-ness seems to wear out or something, because for the next month, Nick can't tell if he's jealous or annoyed with the guy. Jealous seems to be the obvious answer, but he feels guilty for feeling that way because Judy isn't his and she deserves to be happy, even if that means she's not with him (this is the most selfless thought he's probably had since he was just a kit, and he doesn't know whether to be scared out of his fur or gag at the corniness of it all)… so Nick settles for annoyed, because what isn't annoying about a guy who keeps sending "anonymous" notes and cloyingly sweet flowers to your partner's desk– which happens to be across from your own– and stopping by right before lunch everyday to ask if they want to eat together.

Although, to be honest, he likes Jason. The guy is interesting and easy enough to talk to, and he's never shy about giving his opinion. Plus, the hare adds another dynamic to Nick and Judy's usually two-person conversations (with the occasional drifter). He just doesn't like that Jason likes Judy, and therein lies the rub. If the guy would just back off, Nick is sure they'd be good friends.

But nobody thinks a fox would fall in love with a bunny, so that fox is stuck leaning against the wedding venue wall as that bunny clasps hands awkwardly with their mutual friend before stepping up to the dance floor. Clawhauser, who Nick swears was by the punchbowl on the opposite side of the room just a nanosecond earlier, is magically by his side. He doesn't know why the cheetah isn't working on the field, because that speed was incredible. Maybe it's just… selective speed and endurance.

"Our bunny looks just great, doesn't she? If that were a white dress, she would steal the show. Lucky for Tracy, am I right or am I right?"

He grits his teeth because he hates that the receptionist knows, but at least he's the only one who knows. Nick can tolerate it if Clawhauser knows, cause he's the least judgmental guy on the planet.

"Y'know, I thought I was the only one who had caught on, but apparently Patrick gets it, too."

… Nevermind.

"But don't worry. It's just us!" The perpetually chipper cat nabs one of those little crackers with cheese on them as the waiter passes by, practically inhaling it. "But she's just a pretty penny, isn't she?"

She is. He's never seen her in a dress, but he certainly wasn't expecting this when he was finagling his bowtie into position just a few hours earlier. She'd rushed into her seat beside him all out-of-breath and panick-y because she didn't want to miss a second, and when she had asked him what had happened so far, his brain was too busy short-circuiting. So she'd looked at him funny and turned to Derek for an answer. The gruff gorilla replied without a problem, even tacking on a casual, "you look nice, Judy," and she responded with a shy, "thanks. It's weird not being in uniform around you guys."

It's a modest dress with a neck that doesn't come down far at all, but what really cinches the deal is the color. The deep green-blue is a good contrast to her lighter purple eyes, so they really pop. And he can't help but notice that her dress compliments his bowtie. But that's neither here nor there.

Suddenly, Judy topples right into him, looking all shiny-eyed and bubbly. The cheetah that previously occupied that space has, again, magically made himself sparse. "This is my favorite song!" Of course it's something by Ariana Grounde, and as she leaps around like she did at Gazelle's concert a year and a half ago, he knows he has to break out his super-hip dance moves.

His partner laughs loudly, and when the song finishes, he's in the middle of doing the sprinkler, if only to make her laugh until she's crying, which is proving rather successful, because she's doubled-over and definitely no longer able to dance. When the grey-haired bunny is finally able to catch her breath, there's a moment of respite between them where they just smile at each other.

"Judy, I–" but just as her ears perk and twitch to face him, he notices the stares, and suddenly everything seems impossible again. Not to mention, the space is so crowded and noisy and the lighting is so distracting that he doesn't know what he was thinking, trying to say something so important in an atmosphere so hectic.

"Huh?" She asks, voice raised over the booming bass. The dejected fox sighs, tweaking her ear.

"Nothing." He catches Clawhauser's eyes, which are filled with something akin to pity. Jason is staring at them as well, head slightly cocked, almost like he's beginning to understand something, and Nick wants to bang his head against the wooden walls surrounding the celebration. Instead, he settles for smiling. "Just that it looks like the newly weds are making their way out, so we might as well, too."

Sparklers are lit up in the night and champagne bottles are popped, a spray of fizziness arcing over every attendant's head. Everybody watches the car speed away before the ecstatic hooting and hollering dies down and the clean-up begins. At the end of the night, the venue looks cleaner than it had in the morning. Nick rests an arm on Judy's head, loosening his bowtie and leaning onto her.

She's smiling fondly at the building. "That was pretty insane."

"Well, you know what they say about weddings."

"Oh? What's that?"

"I was banking on the fact that you wouldn't ask." Laughing, she throws an empty, crushed can at him, which he dodges gracefully before picking it up and tossing it into a nearby recycling bin. "C'mon. Let's go home." He offers the crook of his arm, which she happily hooks her paw through.

The walk is silent until halfway to Judy's house. Quietly, she says, "I've never wanted to be married, but when I saw John start tearing up when Tracy appeared, I kinda wanted to… The only other time I've seen John crying was when he got that pike lodged in his shoulder and the emergency med specialist had to pull it out. But he was also howling and swearing the entire time, so…"

"Those darn hyenas, sticking pointy things where they shouldn't," Nick responds lightly.

She chuckles under her breath. It isn't long before they're at the door of her tiny room (it doesn't even have a kitchen, for pete's sake. It's like a college dorm room), when the perceptive canine notices how shifty Judy is being.

"Something wrong?"

"Actually, yeah…" Nick leans against the door jamb with his hands in his pockets, waiting for her to continue. "So, I've been telling my mom about you, and last week she called me telling me to visit since she knows we both have an extra day off this weekend. She's been dropping hints about wanting to meet you, but you know you totally don't have to come. Cause there's like 300 of us and it can get pretty chaotic, you might develop claustrophobia cause it's such a tight fit, y'know? You totally don't have to say you'll come. You probably won't get a wink of sleep, which is what normal animals do when they have a day off…"

He's laughing quietly at her unease, and she huffs. "What?"

"You haven't even asked me if I want to come yet."

She turns a violent shade of red. "Well?"

"I'll go."

"That's what I thought, that's totally ok, I'm not– what?" Her jaw is hanging, making her look properly stupefied.

"I'll go!"

Several emotions flicker across her face: first elation, then worry, then stubbornness, but the slot machine of expressions ticks to a stop on joy. The poor thing is beaming so widely, the top half of her head is gonna drop off. And even though it's half past 2 in the morning, he's pretty sure he can see the sun shining through her eyes and for a split second, the thought that he would do anything for that smile flashes through his mind.

"Awesome! My mom makes the best blueberry cobbler in Bunnyburrow."

Well. Anything for her smile and a good slice of pie.

Nick wakes up choking for breath, but it won't come. Every inhale is a difficult wheeze, and it feels like there's a rock on his chest. He's drowning. He's probably going to die, and it's pathetic that the only thing he can think about is how he won't be able to meet Judy at the train station in 6 hours and she's going to think he's ditched her, when he's really just dead in his bed.

But mercy smiles on him as suddenly, the weight seems to magically spring away from him. Sure enough, Finnick has hopped off him and is staring down at him with his perpetually half-lidded eyes. He's grinning nastily.

"You thoughtchu was dead, din'tchu?" The fennec fox laughs heartily.

"No thanks to you," the not-miniature fox growls, pushing himself up against the wall. He gives himself a once-over and pats his chest to settle the fur back down. "What are you doing here?"

"We've got a transaction comin' around, and we think it'd be a good idea if you was there to supervise it."

"We? Who is we? There is no we. There's you and the Broods, and then there's me and ZPD."

"Yeah yeah yeah, I mean all we heard was that someone'd spilled some delicate information to the Kits. And you know how we Broods and Kits are. So we thought, 'we've got a big deal goin' on over the weekend, and ain't Nick some big shot cop now? Let's ask him. He wouldn't let the fam down.'" Finnick squints threateningly at his ex-partner in crime.

"Are you crazy? I'm a cop!"

"Yeah! So give us yo protection!"

"You guys are a gang! I'm supposed to be taking you down! You're lucky I'm even having this conversation and not arresting you this second!" Nick stretches over to the side to rummage through his bedside drawer before pulling out a pair of handcuffs and shaking them in the air. Finnick backs away, eyes wide.

"Man, you've really defected."

"Defected." Nick deadpans. "Seriously?"

"That's what we call brothers like you!"

"Oh, give me a break. Get out of here."

"It's a $10000 deal, Wilde. Don't tell me that doesn't just sing yo name. 5% of it, at least."

He's proud of how quickly he growls, "no, so get out!" Cause he's sure if he ever told Judy, she'd dance circles around him while throwing daisies into the air.

The silence that follows makes him think Finnick has left, but then, "fine. I told them you was too far gone, anyways."

Groaning, Nick grabs a pillow to smother his head with. "Why are you still here?!"

"Are those carrot boxers? Lordy, you're far gone in another direction too, ain'tchu? That bunny girlfriend of yos gotchu all wrapped around that sad tuft she calls a tail."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"Huh, can't fool me, brother."

"I haven't done my laundry."

"You keep telling yoself that's the reason why you's wearin' that thing. See ya later, sucker. I'll be seven grand richer the next time we meet!" The window thuds shut.

He wakes up 4 hours after and thinks angrily about how interrupted sleep is no better than not sleeping at all. But he pulls on a pale yellow gingham dress shirt (cause he's heading to the countryside. Gingham is all people wear there, right? That and plaid) over his khakis. He doesn't have a tie to match, so he just leaves the two buttons closest to the collar undone.

At first he wonders if Judy is looking for him as he looks for her and maybe they keep passing each other without knowing it, but just as he gives up his search and the train toots its warning horn, the bunny sprints up the stairs huffing and puffing as she doubles over to catch her breath. "Sorry!" She croaks. "Just… wait… a second."

"We don't have a second, that was the warning toot." He grabs her suitcase for her and lifts her to his side by her waist, climbing into the locomotive. When the train starts, she frantically gestures for him to follow her up the stairs into the upper level. The glass ceiling is crystal clear.

"This is my favorite part!" She whispers. He can see why; the entire city is laid out for viewing pleasure, and it's a symphony of vibrant colors. Even for an animal with such poor daytime eyesight, he can still see Tundratown and the Rainforest District and Sahara Square and everything else this far into the center of Zootopia. Little Rodentia is even visible, although it looks humorously like a model of a city instead of an actual one. "It never gets old."

"Yeah." For some reason, he feels compelled to add, "I've never been outside Zootopia before."

"Really? Then this is super exciting for you!" She still manages to whisper while squealing, and he raises his eyebrows.

"Why are we whispering?"

Her eyes blink owlishly. "I… don't know." He smiles at her, and she shrugs, turning back to the front of the train so they can keep watching the dazzling view. When they finally exit the perimeter of Zootopia, she holds up a pack of cards. "The next 80 miles is just wheat fields, so I brought games."

Despite being distracted by wheat fields ("They're just wheat fields, Nick." "Well, I've never seen wheat fields."), his poker face is indecipherable, and she throws down a full house thinking she's finally! won a hand. Except he snaps his straight flush over hers, and Judy gives an uncharacteristically predatory snarl.

"'Don't ever let them see that they get to you!'" He cackles, using his arms to collect the chips into his stack, which looks like it's 500 times the size of Judy's.

Still fuming, Judy deliberately changes the topic so she doesn't start being snotty cause of her terrible tendency to be a sore-loser, "so, that's a new shirt! I've never seen you in it before."

"Keeping tabs on my wardrobe now, huh? I think this obsession is getting a little out of hand, Carrots." He squeezes his thumb and forefinger together, and then widens them until he's reaching as far as he can with his arms with a joking grimace on his snout, which she can't help but to smile at.

"I'm just saying! You look good though," her eyes have gone all soft and liquid again, and he has no words. He just shuffles the cards for a round of Egyptian Rat Slap, which he knows she has at least a fair chance of winning.

"Jude the Dude!" The hefty buck bellows, and Judy cringes at the nickname but jumps into her dad's open arms. "How's my favorite girl?" The cheery male spins her around, and Nick catches her eye, nodding and mouthing Jude the Dude with a thumbs up. Judy rolls her eyes before her dad releases her. "Wow, you've really been packing on the weight! Must be all that muscle. How hard do they have you working? Well, it'll be good for the lawnmower."

Judy's face immediately pales. "Dad! No!"

"I'm just kidding! We've got Jeffrey, Davis, and Buckley on that this week anyways."

Nick stands a ways behind the reunion, letting them have their space. He examines their features and wonders who Judy gets her own looks from, only to be caught staring by her mom, who nudges her husband. Mr. Hopps extends his hand, which the fox grabs hastily to shake.

"So nice to meet you, son. Judy's told us all about you."

"Dad!"

"What! It's the truth."

"That doesn't mean– uuurururghh, nevermind."

"Aren't you just the prettiest thing I've ever seen!" Mrs. Hopps coos, observing his shiny coat. "You're redder than the cherries that grow on our trees! Isn't he, Judy?" Her daughter is scarlet. More red, in fact, than his fur. But her mom doesn't say a word about that. "Gideon's more brown, isn't he? I suppose it's all that time out in the sun."

Nick's heard about Gideon from Judy, and he wonders if he'll meet the guy. He certainly wants to, if only to see why Judy seems to wax poetic about how kind the canine is. He wonders if he'll have to compete in the looks department with Gideon.

"Ok, ok, ok, enough with you two. He's not going to do a backflip if you stare long enough. Let's go!" Her mom and dad jump into the seats while he and Judy pile into the truck bed, and it's a pleasant ride over flat terrain, so flat that he can see the shadows of the clouds miles and miles away drifting over the land, looking like lakes. Neither of them say much, as Judy is too busy combing through her suitcase mumbling things under her breath, and he's falling asleep to the question of why Judy would ever leave this Paradise.

"Wake up you lazy fart," Judy is patting his face. "We're here." Her voice is tense, and even though she's smiling, she looks extremely anxious. Sleeping Beauty stretches and yawns, rubbing his eyes until he can see clearly again, and he sees nothing but more neat rows of vegetation. But he follows Judy and sure enough, there's a burrow that he kind of has to squat to enter, but he's relieved to find that the entrance opens up into a roomy foyer.

Actually, roomy is kind of… well, all her siblings are standing comfortably in the foyer waiting to welcome them, and if Judy had 500 more siblings, they would still fit happily without crowding. Maybe her house is all foyer and nothing else? Kind of like how her apartment is literally just a bedroom with a bathroom that seems more like a coat closet?

Nope. After they've been tackled from both sides (he suddenly feels like he should've brought football equipment), everybody follows him and Judy and her parents to a four-way corridor (which… everybody still fits easily in). Her dad separates at this point, cheerfully saying something about checking on his mince pies in the kitchen, which Nick catches a glimpse of. All he can make out is bright light, but Mr. Hopps voice is echoing like no other, and that's just not right.

And then there's the elevators, which is just unfair. Elevators! Mrs. Hopps shoos her nosy children away (except a cute little tyke named Bradley who can't stop staring at Nick's lazily flicking tail), and there are buttons for subfloors. Nick can tell Judy is purposely avoiding his incredulous eyes. The elevator is at -28 in just a few seconds, and the awed predator let's out a breath he didn't know he was holding.

"The boys' rooms are on the left, Nick. We've had a good three dozen sons off to college, so it was easy enough to find a room on the same floor as Judy. If you need help, she's down the right hall. You won't miss her room, trust me. I'm off to the kitchen!" She scoops the little kit into her arms and baby talks at him to "wave, Bradley! Come on, say bye-bye!" Except all he does is stare open-mouthed at Nick's tail, which the fox flicks up and waves, sending the little thing into spirals of laughter and rambunctious clapping.

The doors shut with a bing! and the fox's tail drops as he turns to staunchly face Judy. "So when were you going to tell me? 'Tight fit'?"

The sneaky rabbit flushes bright red when he quotes her words from earlier in the week and mumbles under her breath for a good 10 seconds before stubbornly retorting, "consider this me telling you."

"Alright, can't argue with that."

"Before you start thinking I'm some rich fiend, we've had this burrow for a reaaalllllyy long time. I'm pretty sure it's been renovated at least 200 times."

"But you've gotta admit, an elevator? And I saw those crystal chandeliers in the kitchen. They're new. And your, what, banquet hall? Ballroom? Not sure what that was. And you've got these lights that–" he claps his hands, and the nearest ceiling light blinks off. "–do that. You're not exactly not rolling in dough."

"Yeah, well… you know how good our blueberries are."

"You're telling me all your produce is that good?"

"Good enough to export to several different cities…" Grumble grumble grumble.

She doesn't dignify him with anymore responses, just takes her turn down her hallway, and he shrugs and goes to find his room, which he expects to be decked out in opulent jewels and a canopied bed with a nice balcony (he's forgotten they're underground), and a master-sized bathroom with a flat-screen TV that hangs above his head so that he can fall asleep to the beautiful sound of whatever soapera is popular right now. Except when he opens the humble looking door with its brass-and-not-gold knob, he's faced with an unassuming full-sized bed that has a blue-checkered duvet. There's no canopy or balcony, or even window for that matter, but the carpet is plush and he practically sinks to the ground becausethe mattress is so dreamily soft. There is a TV, but it's the same affordable one he has at home.

So all in all, everything is great. And now, to explore. He stops by Judy's bedroom (her door is covered in ZPD posters and stickers), but the slick character is already out.

It feels like it's been 4 hours since he left his room when he finally makes it to the kitchen. He's met Tracy and Stacy, Bill, Robert, Derek, and those are the only names he can remember right now but there were many, many more.

"Mom! You just randomly invited Gideon?!"

"Oh, sweetie, not randomly. I was just thinking that poor Nick is the only fox in a burrow of rabbits! I just didn't want him to be lonely."

"Mom. There's 300 of us. There is no such thing as lonely here."

"275, sweetheart. And how's a fox, even as sweet and nice as Nick is, going to relate to a bunch of bunnies, Judy?"

"Yeah, Judy, can't you think of me for once?" The girl he addresses starts 5 feet into the air, grabbing her chest.

"Cheese and crackers, Nick, don't do that!"

Unfortunately, he hears none of that, because his pupils have dilated and his vision has zeroed in on the pies cooling by a portable fan. "Are those… blueberry pies?"

Bonnie nods her head and exclaims, "and blackberry pot pies!"

Nick groans. "I've died and gone to heaven." Her mother titters appreciatively, sliding off her oven mitts. When she isn't watching, Nick swipes a finger against the tin even though it's scalding hot. His eyes pop wide-open at the taste. "This is… magical," he breathes, staring at the unassuming little pie.

Bonnie chortles. "It's the dash of lemon. It cuts out the darker notes so you get a clearer berry taste. I've put just enough to do that, but you don't taste the lemon! Anyways, as soon as this peach cobbler is done, we'll be on our way." The salivating vulpes hears none of this, trapped in the addicting fumes. His breathing is slow and clearly he is hypnotized by the auspicious baked good.

"On our way?" Judy's ears prick up. "Where are we going?"

"The neighbors are all getting together in the town square! It's the fireworks festival, don't you remember? Oh, that must be Gideon. Perfect timing." As the doorbell rings, so does the kitchen timer. "Be a dear and get that out for me, will you Judy?"

"Why would you ever leave this place?" Nick moans, leaning over next to his partner to drink in the smell of peaches and caramelizing sugar.

"Oh, Nick," is her breezy reply as she slides the pie pan in front of the fan. Her fingers find some mysterious button on the wall, and suddenly her voice is coming out through an intercom, calling everybody into the foyer.

Every person is carrying a dish ("Did you… make all these?" Nick splutters. "Oh no, dear. That would be the tenth level of hell. Mm mm, no way." Not that she offers an explanation for who has made everything) out the door, and everybody is dressed in an assortment of pastel colors and patterns.

He's walking backwards, sticking his tongue out at Judy as he rushes ahead, only to bump back-to-back with someone whose actually his height. It's none other than Gideon Grey.

"Woah there, bud!" Large paws steady Nick. "Well now, you don't happen to be the feller Mr. Hopps was tellin' me about now, are ya? It's a pleasure."

"The pleasures all mine," Nick replies, dumbfounded. The fox is large and kind of rotund and not what the city-slicker was expecting at all.

"This is my wife–"

Green eyes slide to the vixen who he hadn't noticed, and he stops in his tracks. "Isabella?"

"N-Nick?" Her voice is still all city-girl, a strange contrast to Gideon's country drawl.

Judy has just caught up to Nick, trying to fend off her little sister who is taking swipes at her tail. She's not looking in front of her, so she crashes right into Nick, who catches himself just before he smacks into Isabella.

"Oof! Sorry! Oh wow, is this the wife I've been hearing about, Gideon? You're very pretty. I'm Judy."

Isabella smiles at Nick's friend, and it's still that same smile, and he wants to do that thing foxes do where they jump headfirst into the snow. Except he wants to do it into hard ground so that he can pass out and miss the next few hours of his life.

"Wh- what are you doing here?"

"Oh! Well–"

"You two know each other?" Judy exclaims, all wide-eyed and o-shaped mouth.

"Oh, um, yes. We do." Isabella glances uncertainly at her old friend. "And I, ah, I was kind of tired with city life, so I decided to try something new. It's been, um, good." She looks bashfully at Gideon, who is all unaware and oblivious to the tension, happily slinging an arm around the slight vixen.

"Well, that's great," the criminal-turned-cop (who knows all too well the feeling of needing a change) finally manages to say. "I'm… happy for you."

"Thanks," said so softly Nick barely hears it over the ruckus of Judy's family, one of whom leaps onto his shoulders and begins yelling wildly as he scrunches the fox's ears.

"Jack!" The canine couple make their way ahead as Judy hollers at her younger brother. "What do you think you're doing? Get down here!"

The boy scrambles off, but not until he's blown a raspberry at his sister and called her a poop. Her glare sends him cowering though, and when he's gone, her attention turns back to Nick. "What was that?"

"It was, ah, very awkward, is what it was."

"You can say that again. Sexual tension I could cut with a knife," steam leaves his ears as she mimes a sawing motion, "good thing Gideon is too in love with her to notice. What happened between you two?"

"Er, we messed around in high school until her dad pretty much beat me out of their house with a baseball bat when he, uh, discovered me."

The tips of her ears are pink. "Oh! Well. No wonder. Well. She's very pretty."

Despite his mortification, he can't help but smirk a little. "Yeah, well, that's why I picked her to mess around with."

"Nick!" It's a truly scandalized gasp, and the air between them has cleared.

They chatter happily for the rest of the festival over other personal sordid stories (apparently, Judy has no experience with romance, which both relieves and intimidates Nick), half of the time with Nick shoveling some form of pie into his face. After the fireworks have been set off, everybody is rounding into a huge circle.

"We're square-dancing!" The degree of Judy's excitement is evident in the shrillness of her voice, and she hops from one foot to the other while trying to haul Nick to his feet.

"Hate to break it to you, but I'm pretty sure that's a circle." Nevertheless, he gets up and allows himself to be lugged to the festivities.

"Stay right here, don't move." Her eyes maneuver down the circle, as if she's counting. They land between two citizens, and she wedges herself between them before giving a thumbs up to Nick, who has no idea what's going on and feels kind of helpless being left to his own devices. But then the announcer-DJ-host-mayor begins counting down the circle in eights. Clever bunny, he mouths, and she beams with pride.

"You're just full of surprises. Also, I don't know how to dance."

"Don't worry, you'll catch on. Just follow my lead for now."

He does catch on, and it's something else entirely. Then the hour and a half is over, and suddenly people are chanting about swing dancing, and Nick is pretty sure he's filled his dancing quota for life, but Jude the Dude won't have it.

"Oh, c'mon! Think of it this way: you'll use the energy from that food in your stomach and you'll have room for more after!"

"I don't think it works that waAAAY!" But it's too late, and he is again taken captive by his supposed-to-be-friend.

But… he catches on anyways, again. And when that's over (he's half afraid people will start chanting something crazy like, "salsa! Tango! Marimba!" or "tribal ritual dancing!"), he collapses over a bale of hay, Judy following suit, although she does so with a gleeful whoop!

"Oh man, I'm not gonna be able to walk tomorrow!" The violet of her eyes are unfocused from the sheer euphoria she's experiencing, and he smiles lazily at her.

"You were right. I could eat an entire 'nother pie." The words barely leave his mouth as she cackles and presses her face into the crook of his neck.

"You're amazing!"

His breath catches, and then stops completely when she peers up at him through her lashes. It's not a coy look she's giving him. Just warm and fuzzy and shiny and full of love and adoration.

But the moment startles like a skittish animal when her dad says in his booming voice, "alright! Let's get our paws together and clean this lot up!" Pulling herself up, Judy is all business again, skipping to gather a broom. Nick rolls onto his back, expecting to see the stars but finding Mr. Hopps' thoughtful gaze looming over him. In his surprise, he shoots up and almost bangs his head against the older buck's.

"Whoo! Slow down, Speedy!" His big, rabbit paws are a heavy weight on the fox's more lithe form. "Just making sure you're… ok."

There's a million layers in the way Judy's father says "ok," and Nick knows that the farmer knows and jeez louis, why does this keep happening, soon everybody is going to know but Judy.

"I'm fine. Just… hit with a firework." Mumble more, Nick. And be a little more metaphorical. It's not disgusting or anything.

When Stu smiles, Wilde is taken aback by the likeness to his daughter. "You have no idea." Even though her dad is shorter than the cop, the hand he claps to Nick's back almost sends him hurtling forward. There's a hesitant pause before the doting father gruffly says, "good luck."

Good luck is right. Surprise flickers over the younger male's face. Her parents are the last group he'd expect to understand or, even less, encourage his feelings. A wash of guilt passes through him as he understands that he's stereotyped these humble country-bumpkins, and they're not all backwards. Or if they were, at least they're working on it. That's a step ahead of how the city is doing right now.

"Dad, what do I do about these?" Nick jumps a foot into the air at her voice.

"I'll take it."

When the older rabbit has left, Judy puts her hands on her hips, staring after his shrinking back pensively. "What was that all about? Good luck what?"

"He was worried you would give me food poisoning at some point." The smooth answer belies how shaken he is.

The scowl on her face slips into a smirk as she crosses her arms. "I cook just fine! And we're leaving tomorrow after brunch."

"Brunch? Is there anything you guys do wrong?" Her ears swing behind her as she laughs and walks away.

As Judy sleeps peacefully, Nick lays awake in his bed, staring at the ceiling. Everything about the way he feels is becoming too real, to the point that apparently, it physically radiates off of him so that other innocent souls feel it, too.

"Wow, those are some dark circles, Wilde. Did one of the little monsters sneak into your bed?"

Yawning, he smirks at her. "The only monster in bed is me, sweetheart."

"Ugh, you're gross," but she's smiling and blushing at the floor as she shakes her head, palm on her forehead.

Brunch is an anarchic affair. Several times, the sound of a breaking plate reverberates through the dining room, followed by Bonnie's unhappy voice announcing the weekly count of shattered kitchenware. Surrounded by this much noise so much of the time, Nick can understand why Judy worries about his loneliness, because this constant activity is fun!… in healthy doses.

He wonders if Judy is ever lonely.

The thought is literally thrown out of his head when a spoonful of mashed potatoes slaps him on the side of his face.

"NICK!" Judy's screech has him flinching away from her with a frightened stare, just the same as the brother seated diagonally from his livid sister. "Not you!" Her paw shoos the fox-Nick out of the way, and she looks just about ready to climb over the table to strangle the terrified kit.

When the eventful meal (he manages to flick two peas at the other Nick, who slaps at the little sting each time but doesn't get where it's coming from) is over, Judy pushes away from her seat, and Nick realizes she's wearing a red gingham sundress. There are two elliptical dirt stains right at the hem like she's been kneeling on the ground, but he doesn't have time to ask about it because she's in a rush to make it to the station on time. Fruit containers of blueberries and blackberries and raspberries are thrust into his arms until they seem to touch the ceiling, and the smell is intoxicating.

Warm hugs (and a wink from Judy's dad…) are exchanged, the younger children are "aaaw-ing" that they're novel guest is leaving so soon, and the older ones pretend to be uninterested. When they reach the station and stand in front of the boarding train, Stu takes his sweet time lecturing his daughter on the dangers of walking around the city at night without a companion ("Daaaaaaad, please! I'm with Nick 95% of the time anyways!"). It's just Nick and Mrs. Hopps now, standing idly in front of the lamp post. He straightens his back a little.

"It was so nice to meet you, Nick. I can see why our daughter is so fond of you." The horn blows and she doesn't say much else, just squeezes his bicep cause she knows, too. He manages a weak smile.

"It's been a pleasure. Thanks for the goods."

"Oh, anytime," she titters, waving a hand in the air. "Alright, time for you two to get going."

He and Judy wave from the window until the platform can't be seen. Then he plops into the seat, completely exhausted. He has a lot to think about.

They decide to stop by a local joint near her apartment for an early dinner before turning in for the night, but that blows up in their face when, halfway to her living quarters, Judy remembers this movie she wanted to watch with him before they had to get back to work. It's dark out when they finish, and he cracks a few joints as he sits up straight, rolling his neck after it's been poised in the same direction for two hours.

"So," plopping herself chest first into her duvet, the clever bunny props her head up with her elbows and looks up at him, her ears cocked to the side and her face smushed against the palm of her paw. "When am I going to get to meet your family?" Her voice is cheeky.

"Well," he begins casually, laying down next to her with his hands behind his head so that he's staring up at her boring ceiling. His eyes shut. "My mom's dead and my dad might as well be. So… probably never."

The playful expression on her face has done a complete 180. If he's honest, he kind of got a kick out of watching it slide away. "I'm so sorry, Nick." It's the voice that he's fondly monikered 'the cable-car voice,' because it's the same one she used after they first met and he shared the muzzle story with her.

"She died when I was 19. My dad was an alcoholic and flaked on us when I was like 6. I have no memory of him, so it's not a big deal."

The purple in her eyes is dark and she's clearly blinking back tears. "I'm so, so sorry, Nick." The tears in her eyes are kind of making him nervous, because even he isn't about to cry. Suddenly, she looks very resolute. "I'm not gonna leave you. I promise on my own life."

When Nick smiles all lopsided and semi-sneer-ish, she sets her jaw even more. "I'm serious! Even if you wanted to get rid of me, you wouldn't be able to. Never. Never."

"Hmm," Green eyes drift shut and he manages a nod and lazy curl of the lips. His heart is pounding; he wonders if she can hear it. "Keep telling yourself that, Cottontail."

The sheets rustle, and he's jostled a little by whatever Carrots is doing. "Nick," her Sky-Trans voice makes a reappearance. "You know I love you, right?"

When his eyes shoot open, her face is floating inches from his, looking forlorn. She's sitting on her calves, her paws on her knees and leaning over him as her gaze bores meaningfully and full of care into his.

It's the stupid color in her eyes that makes him press himself up onto his elbows. He touches his nose to her's, and then kisses her.

It's short, really. Just a touch of the lips. But when he pulls away, her eyes are still shut, and he hopes for a second that maybe he's not alone. Judy is quiet though, and the consequences of what he's just done are creeping up his back.

Crap. He's up now; her eyes flutter open.

"Nick–"

But he doesn't hear it, cause he's already out the door, swearing under his breath.

God, he hates purple.

(Who is he kidding. It's his favorite color.)

He does his best to avoid her, and luckily, fate is on his side, because they get assigned to parking duty for the next two weeks, which means while she's hopping around being her adorable meter maid self and placing tickets around in one section, he's a section over doing the same, probably only half as cutely. When the weekend that they have a day off comes, instead of prancing off to Judy's for whatever trouble they usually brew up, Nick is home and slinging his tie onto his tie-rack and pulling his delegated shirt off, which he's about to fling haphazardly across the room before he notices a furry, flying grey bullet outside his window that slams his door open. It breaks off its hinges and Nick immediately stills, ears alert and shirt still caught on his forearms.

"You asked Bogo for a reassignment?!"

"Wha–"

"How could you?!"

"Who told you–"

"Are you insane? Have you lost every functioning brain cell?"

He puts his hands in front of his chest, except it looks dumb cause his shirt is still there, but he's not sure whether he should put it back on or just take it off? "Woah, woah, no need for such strong–"

"What were you thinking!"

"Well, I was think–"

"Unless you weren't, because who in their right mind–"

"Well if you'd just give me a minute to explain–"

"You didn't even ask me–"

"How was I supposed to bring that up to you–"

"It's been two years and you think you can just leave me for dead cause of a stupid kiss–"

"I'M IN LOVE WITH YOU!"

This gets her attention. Nick is breathing hard, his shirt balled up and tossed to the floor, hands stretched out like he's begging for something and looking absolutely stricken. Judy looks startled, like she's been caught off guard… which she probably has been. But that's all she looks: startled. Not hurt or angry or disgusted, and he's kind of relieved. Except she hasn't said anything. And she doesn't for what feels like an eternity, so he's no longer relieved. He's pretty sure he's just screwed up their whole dynamic, and now he's going to have to switch to the desk next to Jenny, which is going to suck because she always sniffs him for some reason and it makes him uncomfortable–

"Nick,"

At the delicate tone, Nick growls and pushes his fingers against his temple, closing his eyes as he drops haplessly onto his bed. "Can you not talk like that?"

"What?"

"Like you're afraid I'm gonna break!"

Her eyes are so confused. "I don't want to hurt you!" She presses, inching closer.

That sounds ominous, and he resolutely reminds himself not to let her see that she's getting to him. "Well you're not going to! It's fine!"

"Can you just be nice for a minute?" Her voice squeaks and starts to tremble on the last syllables, and his heart wrenches. Finally, he lifts his eyes to hers, which he sees are kind of glassy. Clearly she is fighting the temptation to cry.

"Why didn't you just tell me?"

"And ruin this?" His pointer finger switches between her and him. "Tell me how we were gonna recover from something so left-field, Judy. Things get awkward when somebody's in love and the other isn't."

"You didn't even ask me how I felt!"

"I knew how you felt!"

Her bottom lip stiffens and her nose twitches. "You can't decide how I feel!"

This is exasperating, and he wants to roll his eyes but he refrains. "Alright. How do you feel?" He knows the answer and this is really just adding insult to injury. His certainty is confirmed by her surprise, as if she hadn't expected him to actually ask her.

The grey on her is tinted a dark shade of crimson as she stumbles around words for a second before beginning. "I- I know that I really, really love you, Nick, and, um, I don't know, because I've never been in love–" the fox in question feels his heart crack a little when she says this, because he knows he is, and if she isn't sure, then she must not feel the same thing… "but I know I don't want anybody else around for the rest of my life the way I want you around. And- and- when I think of you leaving, I just want to cry and it hurts so much. And sometimes when I hear about how you've been with other girls, I get this weird, mean feeling inside of me, but I always think it's so stupid, because I know it's not like I own you!

And it's all so confusing because I don't know what any of it is, cause what if I am in love with you but I'm just too much of a dumb bunny to get it? The only thing I've ever wanted in my life is to be a cop so I could make the world a better place, so I've never cared about boys or romance or whatever, but now I'm a cop and things are kind of good right now so I dunno what to do anymore or what to want anymore so I try not to think about it, but sometimes I think about how I'm still only 27 and I've got my whole life ahead of me, but it's like I can't even imagine anything if you're not there. And I want to experience it with you because I just can't imagine life without you, and everything seems better when it's with you, and I guess what I want is you, and- and- I don't know!"

Her mouth is moving a mile a minute, and she looks so stressed he's afraid she's going to blow up. "I don't know if I'm in love with you, but… but… I'm willing to find out!" Then she loses whatever wind was pushing her sails, so she kind of just deflates.

He gets up slowly from the bed, heart thumping recklessly because he's hoping again. This time, his voice is all rounded-corners and goose-down pillows. "Carrots," she looks afraid, eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights. "I'm pretty sure you're in love with me."

The poor little bunny exhales and then smiles weakly. "I- I guess I am, huh? Laying it out like that…"

Nick quirks a shoulder and shoots her a lopsided smile. He spreads his hands out from his sides, beckoning for her to come into them.

"Let's try this out," she murmurs, walking into them. "What's the worst that could happen. Right?"

He squeezes her to him before taking a seat back on the edge of his bed, pulling her into his lap. "The general population is gonna freak out."

Sighing, Judy hooks her hands around his neck and burrows her face into the crook of his shoulder. "Well… screw them."

"Wow, getting comfortable already, huh?" He smiles through his perpetually half-lidded gaze, and his friend laughs while trying to smack him. "I like it."

They side-track for a second from the seriousness as Judy continues trying to land a punch and he keeps dodging and grabbing her fists. He's still grinning and she's laughing loudly before she ends the play-fight by threading her fingers between his when he catches both of her balled up paws. "I love you so much, Nick. You have no idea."

Her eyes are shining and his heart feels so big and like it might just rupture, and he's not going to cry, but his voice breaks all over the place when he speaks. "I love you, too."

It feels so good to finally say it out loud.

When they walk into headquarters on Monday morning, they're not holding hands, they're not all over each other. They're keeping a respectable distance, the kind they usually have when they come in to work together. In fact, nothing much between them has changed, a testament to how amazing their friendship was before. Anyways, Nick's got a cup of Snarlbucks in one hand and is wielding his aviators like a presentation-pointer in the other while making some case to Judy, who is looking at the sky like I can't believe this. Ben's eyes zero in on them.

"FINALLY!" Clawhauser practically screeches, slamming his claws to the counter. "FINA-FREAKING-LY!"

The startled bunny recoils, not sure what's going on. Nick blinks rapidly a few times.

One finger on the building intercom, Clawhauser takes a deep breath and "PATRICK! YOU OWE ME $20!"

Suddenly, everybody has stopped in their tracks to look upon whatever commotion the big cat is creating. Patrick comes sidling out of the elevator some seconds later, looking disgruntled. He passes a 20 to the preening feline before turning his pout towards the new couple.

"I should be happy for you two, but I was planning to use that 40 towards a new set of rims. Well, whatever. Hope it works out." With a wave, he's back in the elevator.

Well. Nick is caught up now, and he smirks a little. Judy is red from her toes to the tips of her ears. "You made a bet on us?" She shrieks, hands balled up at her sides.

"Aw, Judy! It was all in good fun!"

The addressed rabbit looks like she's about to faint, so all she does is grab Nick's paw (who uses the other to wave a few fingers amiably at Ben while smiling and then giving a thumbs up) and stomp to the elevator.

"That Clawhauser! I can't believe him! Now everybody's going to try to separate us and–" The elevator dings, the doors open, and one of the employees in forensics steps up. The lynx, dressed in her white lab coat and examining a file, stops when she sees the couple from above the rim of her glasses.

"Oh, I just heard about you two! Congrats! That's just too precious."

People keep entering, keep cooing congratulations at them or slapping high-fives at Nick. When the bunny and fox finally make it out, Nick's chest is puffed and he's donned a look like he knows he's the coolest person around. "So what is it you were saying, Carrots?"

She, on the other hand, is completely dumbfounded. "But how?" Is all she can whisper over and over, confused by the acceptance and genuine happiness others have for them. Her expectations of judgment and lecturing and moralizing have been completely shot dead.

"Oh, Jude, have a little more faith." Swinging an arm around her shoulders, he sweeps his other hand across the air in front of them. "Everybody thinks we're as great as we think we are. And we really are great. We're amazing."

"Jude" rolls her eyes but doesn't shake his arms off. Chief Bogo's door opens and when he sees them, he snorts. Nick's appendages fall away.

"I've heard the news. You–" the gnarly hoof is pointing right between Nick's eyes. "–in here."

"Yessir," As Judy leaves, she waves, and so does Nick, albeit uncertainly. What does he want? The canine mouths, and his companion, who is getting smaller by the second, shrugs before turning away.

A little nervous, but what can he do about it, Nick shuts Bogo's door. The gigantic buffalo sits into his authoritative-looking chair, which groans under his weight. "Well, I've heard the news. It'll add a bit of a complication to what I'm about to tell you, but I trust you'll be able to work it out."

"What's up, sir?"

Scowling at his rather glib greeting, Bogo begins. "I've looked over your records from the past two years. You've been doing very well, Wilde. So I'm offering a promotion."

Orange ears prick. "Wow, I- Well, that's just… Thank you!"

"Not so fast. Do you know how the justice department is split, officer?"

"Errr, no?"

With an interminable and wearisome sigh, Bogo pulls down an overhead chart filled with what looks like… family trees? "While I am Chief officer, I'm also head of a unit, of which there are several. The captain of a unit is assigned squad members. In my case, being Chief officer means I head the most important lot of you, assigned to me by Lionheart from a group of our best graduates. And you're here because I'm offering a position as a captain, and I'm giving you say over who you want."

"I'm honored, Chief Bogo–"

That seems to be enough for the surly individual, as he begins pulling things out from his desk drawers. "I trust your decisions, and I'm considering your team the counterpart to my own–"

"– but with all due respect, what about Officer Hopps? She's got higher scores than I do. In fact, I'm pretty sure she's the best we've got. Wouldn't she be more suitable as a captain?"

Bogo freezes. His hand tightens around the drawer handle, and then he sighs, shaking his head. "I know, Nick–" the fox blinks at the use of his shortened name coming from the usually professional buffalo. "I was hoping you wouldn't bring it up, but of course you did. Of course you would." Deep brown eyes flicker to the carrot pen clipped to Nick's utility belt.

"The fact of the matter is, nobody would take her seriously."

"But everybody knows she's the best."

"Not everybody. Not the public, and even some officers still don't understand what she's capable of. What the public would see is ZPD putting a fleecy, young doe with stars in her eyes into a position that's too big for her paws. They'll question our authority, they'll question our capabilities, they may even begin to wonder if, perhaps, we're not doing as well as we say we are. As for those few officers– I won't name names– to them, she's still a female–"

"With all due respect, sir, we have plenty of females in the force."

"Let me finish, officer." Bogo's eyes narrow for a second. "You're right, we have plenty of females. Female elephants, rhinos, polar bears, wolves… Do you see the problem here? And Officer Hopps isn't just small and female, she's prey. It's one thing to be an armadillo or porcupine or even an otter, but she's small and fuzzy and warm. They're born vegetarians. Other officers are… biased in a way that won't change even if she proves herself over and over. Few would believe she has the tenacity to kill. And I'm not going to put Officer Hopps in a position where her authority is going to be challenged over and over for stupid reasons. We need a team that sails smoothly from the start and will respect their captain, who knows best."

These are legitimate reasons and Nick hates them.

The office is quiet, and Bogo stares levelly at his squad member. "I… need time to think." Nick declares.

"I thought as much. I'll give you a month."

"Thank you, sir."

He walks back to his desk, eyebrows furrowed. After he tosses his empty cup, his hands find their way into his pockets as he slouches. Despite the nature of what Bogo said, Nick can't help but to respect what the man has done, and it's why Nick himself isn't Chief. The man is able to set aside what he wants and wishes and knows for the immediate well-being of society. Had it been Nick, he would've just promoted Judy and then punched whoever was gonna be difficult about it. But… he knows Bogo, and the man is probably building towards something better, even if it is slowly. Change takes time, after all.

When he makes it back to his desk, Judy lifts her head from the file she is carefully filling in. Placing her pen down, she tilts her head questioningly. "What happened? You ok?"

"Oh nothing," he smooths his brow and smiles snidely with his hands still in his pockets, leaning against her desk with his hip and crossing his legs. "Papa Bogo just threatened to wring my neck if I broke your precious little heart." Judy looks at him incredulously.

"Everybody here has lost it," she mumbles, returning to whatever she was previously occupied with.

When they leave, reporters from ZNN and Fox and BBZ and every other popular news network rush towards the both of them.

"Ms. Hopps, how long has your relationship with Mr. Wilde actually been active?"

"How have your teammates received this change?"

"Do you feel any pressure being one of the few, perhaps only, trulyinter-species couple?"

"What exactly is the nature of your relationship with Mr. Wilde?"

"Are you aware of the complications that may occur if you choose to have children?"

"Do you even see this relationship lasting?"

"How does Mr. Wilde's being a predator affect you, someone universally regarded as prey?"

"Do you have any reservations about this relationship, knowing that he may endanger you?"

That's the last straw, and Nick hooks an arm around the bewildered and paralyzed bunny, thrusting his other arm grumpily through the crowd so that they can push their way through.

Every day is like this for a while. At one point, Clawhauser starts meeting them at the foot of the grand stairs, chiding anybody who gets too close. The usually genial cheetah has really pulled through with a surprising sort of nasty toughness, and Nick wishes he could pay the guy back, but all he can do is buy him boxes and boxes of doughnuts and cereal. Which, to be honest, seems good enough anyways, if the stars in the cheetah's perpetually friendly eyes are any sign.

Two weeks later, when the crowd has begun dying down because they're not getting answers– and because halfway through, Judy quips surprisingly calmly that "I'm in love with him and that has nothing to do with any of you!" which kind of makes Nick want to kiss her. So he does. In front of cameras. And she's blushing after, but he's smug. It's on the tabloids for forever after, with stupid headlines like Wedding arrangements soon, or will disaster strike?– Nick stops by with another dozen doughnuts, glazed. "Hey, Ben, I was wondering…"

"Hmm?" Ben's voice is muffled by the bite in his mouth.

"Have you ever been in a relationship?"

There's a noisy gulp, and Nick leaps onto the counter to pat the guy on the back as he chokes. After a minute of this, Ben hrms and has for another minute. Finally, he answers.

"Nope."

Very anticlimactic. "Why not? You're a great guy."

"Dating makes me… anxious."

"Oh?"

"And plus… I'm kind of in love with my best friend. But she's a dog, so… yeah." Shrugging, Clawhauser starts typing away at his laptop. "That's why I'm rooting for you and our sweet little floppity coppity."

"… She?"

That makes Ben stop his ministrations. His eyes are slits directed at Nick. "Not you, too."

"Sorry!"

That long-winded sigh is packed with withheld irritation. "Yes, well, I understand. I've got a kind of high voice and I like to say things like, 'aren't you just the cutest! thing! on! earth!' But I'm straight and everybody needs to stop making those generalizations." He sniffs a little, nose in the air.

"I'm… really sorry."

"For what?" Judy hops onto the counter as well, ears perked.

"Nick here's just learned I'm actually straight."

"Oh, Nick," Judy sighs. "Did you really?"

"Yeah, I'm an idiot and a bigot, reformed now after having learned my lesson, can we move on?" Nick grumbles, folding his arms. "You never told me, anyways!"

"Well it never came up. And actually, I didn't know either… but I hadn't really assumed Ben was straight or gay, really. It… doesn't really come up in conversation, does it?" She looks up pensively.

"Alright, you saint."

"Nick!" She laughed. "I just," shrug, "swore that I'd never judge based on stereotypes after that one fight we had." Saying this, she pats Nick's face with her paw. Then her voice picks up again, gently. "I hate how much it hurt you. And… not having you around really killed me."

"You two are sickeningly sweet. I rescind my support!" Ben jokes, thumping a fist against his desk. Judy laughs, hopping off with a doughnut in her paw and skipping towards the exit.

Nick also leaps off, but instead of following his girlfriend immediately, he presses up against the counter so that he can look Ben in the eye. "Ben… I really am sorry. I was stupid, and you were right."

"Oh, Nick," his paw flaps in front of Nick's face. "You know I can't hold a grudge, especially not against you. I know you know better now, and if anything, Judy'll keep your behind in line. We're good. We'll be even better if you come back tomorrow with more doughnuts!"

Nick doesn't do that, but when he sees a very well-groomed golden retriever the next morning at Clawhauser's desk who seems to be lecturing him, he winks at the cheetah, who blushes.

A week and a half passes after that encounter, and as blissful as they are– which is extremely, because Judy has taken to just staying overnight at his place when it's too late (or vice versa), and she looks even cuter (if that's possible) in his button-ups and boxers, and it feels amazing when he wakes up to her curled against his chest, still snoozing with her nose twitching and brows furrowed from whatever dream she's immersed in– yeah, well, as blissful as it all is, Bogo's deadline becomes bigger and redder and more neon, until it's hanging right over his head like a flashing "open" sign.

So he bites the bullet one night, in the middle of The Pawshank Redemption.

"Bogo asked me if I was interested in a promotion."

The rapture with which she has been staring at the screen is abruptly shattered and suddenly she's all up in his face. He reels back in surprise and winces when his head bounces against the wall and begins to throb. "What? Nick!That's awesome! I'm so excited for you!" Something makes her sober up immediately though, and she leans away to blink owlishly. "Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"I… I didn't take it. He gave me a month to reconsider. That was three and a half weeks ago."

The silence is deafening. Slowly, her face morphs into an expression of concern. "What happened? Are you okay? Did something happen? Is everything ok?" Never mind her repetitive questioning, he's really just shocked at how intensely interested she is.

"I didn't think I deserved it." Judy leans even farther away from him, looking personally affronted. "You should've gotten that promotion, Carrots. Seriously. Even Bogo knows, cause he started sighing all over the place when I looked at him funny and mentioned how you had better and more consistent scores than even me on the monthly aptitude tests. Bogo literally said that the only reason he hadn't picked you is cause you're small and female and nobody in your team would take you seriously for it!"

A momentary glimpse of hurt shutters across her face, but then her mouth and eyes steel. "That's no reason not to take it."

"What? Yes it is! I'm not settling for runner-up or the pity vote!" But she doesn't laugh at his joke, just stares angrily at his wall likes she's miles away. He sighs wearily. "Judy, I'm not going anywhere that you're not gonna be at, too. We're partners. I don't work on my own. I don't want to."

When she speaks, it sounds like she barely has a hold on her temper. "Nick, you can't think about that. The pay is better! I don't have a chance if what you're saying about Bogo is true. So you can't wait for me!"

Her frustration is making him frustrated, because he hasn't done anything wrong. "What? I don't care about the pay! What the heck are you talking about? I literally gave up a lucrative life of crime for something that gets me a third of what I use to make. Why would you think I care at all about pay?"

But the rabbit in mention isn't paying attention. "Nick, how could you? You could've made so many changes! And Bogo would've put me on your team anyways, so it's not like we wouldn't be working together!"

"But it's the principle of the thing!" His voice is beginning to rise with hers. They're decibels away from a screaming match. "We're equals! It's not fair that I'm getting a promotion because of something as stupid as me being male! And anyways, AR freaks out when leadership's in a relationship with the people below them. You know that already!"

"That doesn't matter!"

"Then what does?! I don't get what the problem is here!"

"I'm not going to be an obstacle in your career!"

"My career?" He stands up violently, and Judy yelps before righting herself from the ground, but Nick doesn't notice– he's furious. "You think I'm some ladder-climbing, good-for-nothing jerk who just wants money and status and power or something?"

"You can't make that generalization about people who ladder climb!"

"That's not the point! I literally don't even care where my career goes if you're not there!"

"Well you should!"

"What the hell?!" He almost never swears, but he's about ready to tear the fur out from his ears. "What the hell are you saying?! Are you listening to yourself?!"

"I'm in your way!"

"No, you're not!"

"I am!"

"No! You're not!" This is the stupidest conversation he's ever had. Scratch that, he had one just as stupid when he was 6 years old, and it sounded exactly like this one. A pointless volleying of you, no YOU!

"Fine!" She spits, clenching her fists.

He's about to spew his next point until he realizes she's conceded. But he can tell she's far from calm. "Fine!" He snaps back.

Her eyes flash. "Fine! Whatever! Throw your life away! Don't blame me when it comes back to bite you in the butt!"

As she storms out of his place, Nick is already penitent about what's just happened. But… he knows he wasn't wrong! So he falls into his bed and stubbornly tries to ignore the agitated squirming in his stomach. Exhaustion takes him hostage. There's something so tiring about thinking of how hurt he feels that she'd overlook his care like that and then throw so many shallow reasons at him. It's also so exhausting because of the frustration of knowing that Judy doesn't think of him that way, but she's just so upset that she'd resort to that last-minute reasoning. He suspects she's just misdirecting her anger from hearing the bigotry against her. But still, he doesn't regret not taking the job, cause he meant it when he said he didn't want to go somewhere that she couldn't follow.

Yeah. He's right. She'll have to come apologize to him. Gritting his teeth, he stuffs his face into a pillow and tries to sleep.

But after an entire day and a half, he's had enough. He's miserable and bored and lonely, which is weird because he used to be perfectly fine on his own. But not being around Judy is like having a hole in his lungs, so he heaves a sigh and leaves his abode so that he can get to her apartment before she starts a movie or city adventure without him. As he trails listlessly down the path, she wonders if she still thinks she's right. But how can she? He did it for her, because he's obsessed and infatuated and completely in love with her. Ugh, he makes himself sick, because what has he become?

"Nick?"

In the middle of his melodramatic wallowing, his ears prick and his posture immediately straightens. Exactly halfway to her living quarters, and here she is. She's done half the work for him. She also looks like she hasn't slept for a while, and he feels sorry and his heart swells to a disproportionate size.

He makes himself sick. But he loves her, and he's pretty sure at this point that this bunny could stab him in the back in his sleep and his last words would be about how devoted to her he is.

"Have you… slept?"

Blinking sleepily and smiling wryly, she shakes her head. Even that movement is lethargic. "Not much. I'm just… I'm so sorry, Nick. And," she sighs, "I broke my promise. That was the part that got me, really. After I realized that, all the anger just came undone."

He showcases his wit and acumen with an extremely coherent, "huh?"

"You know, that promise about never leaving you. Apparently that's a lot harder than I thought it would be, made only more difficult by the fact that I suck."

"Why didn't you come earlier?"

"I was afraid that you, I dunno…" her shoulders lift uncomfortably, "…didn't want to see me again after that."

"Judy." The tone he says that in is a little patronizing, but his girlfriend is so full of regret she doesn't seem to notice.

"I know!" She whines. "But I was so afraid, Nick! I was awful!"

Tutting, he opens his arms out. "I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have yelled. Now c'mere. C'mon." Jerking his head towards himself, Judy trudges into his arms, paws pressed against his chest and face tucked into the ruff around his neck as she sniffles, probably from regret and relief. "Aw, you silly bunnies. So emotional." Folding his arms around her shoulders, he bends over to press a kiss to her forehead, which only serves to make her sniffle harder.

They decide to regroup at her apartment, and when he takes her paw during the walk, he notices the plastic bag in her other hand for the first time. Judy notices him noticing.

"I bought a pie on my way over. A blueberry pie."

Nick bursts into laughter. "Planning to bribe me into forgiveness?"

"If I had to," she replies meekly, smiling faintly up at him.

"Well, it wouldn't have worked. After all, it's not your mom's blueberry pie. Mediocre pie does not amount to forgiveness."

As she gapes at his toothy smile, he snatches the bag from her, digs through it, and pulls the pie out of its tin so he can take a bite straight out of it.

"Niiiiick," Judy groans. "That's as bad as drinking straight out of the carton!… Give me some." He breaks off a bit (it's almost all crust, his least favorite part, and Judy shoots him a dirty look but nibbles from it anyways) and revels in the perfection of the moment, eating blueberry pie and feeling the sun on his face with his best friend.

"So… what are you going to tell Bogo?"

He cringes, wishing that problem would just evaporate. "I still don't really know. What do you think?"

"You should take it."

"Judy…"

"I know, I just… I think it's the right thing to do. And we both know how Chief Bogo is! He's probably planning something for me. It's just going to take longer."

"Well, I was just gonna say thanks and you're the best and I can't wait for my next paycheck, but yeah, you're right." He's grinning at her.

She makes an offended noise and smiles back. "You were supposed to say, 'no Judy I absolutely could not take the promotion, because I just love you too much,' jerk!"

"Well, then how about, 'Judy I absolutely have to take this promotion because this decision will benefit the both of us and this is completely unrelated to the topic at hand but I just love you so much.' How's that?"

"Meh," her left paw makes a "so-so" motion as the other fishes for her keys, and Nick gives a bark of laughter before grabbing her around the waist and deftly catching the keys she drops in her shock. Judy shrieks as he flings her over his shoulder but she's giggling and not really struggling. Her apartment door clicks open, and Nick drops her onto her bed before practically springing onto her and kissing her face unceasingly.

"Stop! Nick!" She can't stop laughing. She can't breathe either, for that matter, cause Nick is tickling her mercilessly. "Noooo! Please! I can't! Breathe!"

"Why don't you two just get a room already!" A voice booms from the other side of the wall, and Nick is caught so unaware that he freezes. Judy catches her breath but is still laughing like a hyena, for different reasons.

"They're already in a room together, you idiot!"

"Don't call me an idiot, you idiot!"

The squabble devolves into rounds of yelling about who is stupider. There's a flash of light and Nick turns towards it. Judy's staring at the screen of her phone, giggling and seeming like she doesn't remember her surroundings. But when Nick makes a grab for it, she twists away from him and then shimmies out from underneath him. From a safe distance, she wiggles the screen at him, and he has to admit, the expression on his face is pretty funny. It's also fiendishly handsome, but that might just be his opinion.

"Delete that! Delete it right now!"

"No!" She sticks her tongue out at him like she's 5 years old. Maybe she's forgotten, but he's a fox with a criminal history of sneaking around, so when he snakes an arm around her from behind, she yelps and dives back on to the bed.

The next 5 minutes are just a game of cat and mouse when suddenly, her phone dies. They both gasp, except Judy looks overjoyed and Nick looks comically horrified.

"You planned that!"

Again, she's cackling from her stroke of luck, head thrown back as she sits herself down. "I didn't! Just get over here, you idiot!" She pats the empty space beside her, and resignedly, the idiot listens.

"Clearly your neighbors are influencing you. Poorly, might I add."

"Oh shush." She breaks another piece of the pie, which he hadn't finished earlier (and thus incited a convo that went something like: "Nick! That's gross! You've bitten all around the thing!" "Oh please, it's not like you've never kissed me before, Carrots."), off.

Nick follows suit, chewing thoughtfully on a bite. "So, your birthday–"

"Oh noooo," Judy moans. "Please don't." His grin is wolfish.

"C'mon! Cake? Presents? Party hats? We're all about that life!"

"Yeaaaaaaahhhh no. Not when you're sharing it with 8 other people." She's already reaching for more pie.

"Ease up, buddy, or there won't be any left for me."

"'Doesn't matter, it's not my mom's'," she mocks in a whiny voice. He gawks at her, and she smiles mischievously. "But actually, on that note, I'm going home again this weekend. To celebrate." She shudders but brightens immediately after. "So come with me!"

"Will there be cake?"

"Yeah. A ton of it. But it'll all be carrot cake."

"I believe in the power of your mother."

"You're an idiot."

"Shhhhhh."

He spends the night, and somehow they end up telling ghost stories, which means Judy can't sleep ("Aren't you a cop? Shouldn't you be fearless?" "Yeah, but I can't arrest an evil ghost, Nick!"), so he forces himself awake the whole night to accompany her as she cowers into his side and flinches at every noise ("Did you hear that?" "No." "Did you see that!?" "Nope." "Nick! I think I just felt something wet!" "Oh, sorry, I think that was me." "What?" "I'm tired, Carrots. Can't help it if I doze off and drool a little." "… Do you smell that?" "Yes. Must be blood." "Nick!" So on and so forth).

It's an hour before they need to get up for their shift when she finally dozes off cause she's so worn out from being afraid. Both of them arise with dark circles under their eyes.

"Diggin' the new look, sweetheart." Nick grabs the toothbrush he's left here and swings into the bathroom. The faucet begins to run as Judy sits up in bed, staring zombie-like at the opposite wall. When she's finally able to trudge into the bathroom, she brushes with Nick behind her doing the same. He smooths down her pointed ears, which are making his life difficult.

They're quiet on the way to the office, and Nick's not completely sure if maybe Judy is actually sleepwalking? But if she is, she's certainly not when Chief Bogo slams his door open an inch from her nose.

"Hopps! Inside!" Wide eyes stare at Nick, who shrugs. "You wait here, Wilde."

15 minutes pass, and the clever bunny is out, looking none the worse. Nick enters.

"What's the verdict?"

"I'll take it."

"Fantastic. Be in conference room 21B at 10:30."

His girlfriend is barely down the hall, so he manages to catch up. "That was fast," she remarks as they fall into step.

"Yeah, all he did was tell me to be in conference room 21B at 10:30."

"Oooh, me too! How exciting!" She wiggles her eyebrows, and Nick wonders if sane creatures fall in love with eyebrow-wiggling. Then he wonders why she's going to be there, too. He doesn't have to wait long to find out though, because 10:30 rolls around like Flash in his sports car. As they make there way down, Nick reiterates the stupid puns he's been getting from Greta in the coffee room, laughing hysterically after each one while Judy just shakes her head.

"Quiet, you two." Except it's mostly directed at the green-eyed cop, who snorts behind his paw in an attempt to muffle the sound. "I'm sure you're wondering why Officer Hopps is here, Wilde. I've been discussing some arrangements with others, and we've found that it may be suitable to have a team with co-captains." Judy gasps, Nick's snickers are immediately silenced. Looking pointedly at her, Chief Bogo continues, "if she'll have it."

"YES! I mean, yes. Of course. I'm honored." Violet eyes keep side-glancing at green eyes as she tries and fails to keep a straight face. Nick is having a better time of it, but he's over the moon inside.

"Well then, here's some employee profiles. Pick whoever you'd like, but these are just suggestions, all personally interviewed by me. You can do a double-up if you think you should. I'm entirely hands-off from this point forward."

"Thank you," Nick and Judy say in unison, leaving with the files in their arms.

As soon as the door clicks shut, Judy is all about bouncing on her toes and squealing, "can you believe it can you believe it can you believe it?!" Her pile of portfolios teeters dangerously.

All in all, it's been a good week.

The birthday celebration is amazing, and he doesn't know why Judy has been dreading it so much. And anyways, it's still a lot better for her than it is for him, because he needs to talk to her father.

"Sir, I'd like to… ask for your blessing. I mean that I, er, want to marry her. Your daughter. Judy. Judy Hopps. The one that I work with." Cheese and crackers, what is wrong with him!

"I know what you mean, son. And you have my blessing."

"I just think that– wha? Really? That was fast."

"Well, she's still alive, isn't she?"

Nick blinks, not quite sure what to make of a comment like that. His eventual father-in-law (the thought makes him squirm! Cause oh my gosh what the heck) suddenly realizes that what he's said sounds very wrong and so he flusters about trying to correct himself. "I meant about night time danger! You've kept her safe from other things! I didn't mean you, oooooh, darn my brain and mouth!"

Well, that's a relief. "That's totally alright, sir."

"Yes, well, you've kept her safe and she's never been happier." His voice is gruff. "I should probably threaten you about breaking her heart, but you already know."

"Yes," Nick responds nervously, ears standing at attention. "Definitely. Yeah. Thanks for that." Nick is pretty sure his collar is damp with sweat. But he did it. It's done. Finito. Fini.

When they come back, Finnick wakes Nick up that first night, warning him about getting out of town if he wants him and his girlfriend to live. The fennec isn't threatening him– in fact, he looks extremely panicked, and the cop is touched that Finnick cares, but when Nick wakes back up, he has no idea what it means and wonders if he's just had an extremely vivid dream. That morning at the office, their unit is assigned with the task of taking down a minor criminal gang.

Seems easy enough.

And it is. Until in the middle of some stupid joke Judy is recounting in a quiet tone to Nick (this should've been a sign that they'd gotten too comfortable. When he thinks back to this in the waiting room, he grits his teeth and struggles to forgive himself) while they're scoping out the room their about to enter, something grabs her from the shadows, and all there is is her shrieking the fox's name.

Apparently, the syndicate is a lot more of a threat than anybody knew, and while the rest of their team is on the floors above them, calling in backup and trying to fend off whatever chaos is rampant, Nick and Judy are in the basement, panting heavily and nursing a few flesh wounds.

On his way down here (which had been a long journey of climbing up and down the building several times because of misleads), he's learned that whatever mess this is, it has something to do with him not supervising the stupid deal Finnick had laid out to him. Apparently they'd lost the transaction, and instead of pointing fingers at each other, they'd pointed them at the fennec fox's ex-partner.

The criminal-turned-cop can see his partner starting to phase out. She's stumbling, squinting at their target, and trying to staunch the bite wound in her shoulder. Their opponent is a diseased individual who regularly injects himself with Nighthowler. That fact alone is enough to make anybody sick.

But the psychopath is also a fox. And Nick hates the way that Judy hesitates because of this.

But just that second of uncertainty is enough for the ringleader to spring at her, and why why WHY! does he inject Nighthowler? Why? Why can't he pick a gun, or some kind of knife? The target is– and he hates this word but there's no other way to describe it– primal, and if Nick doesn't shoot right now, Judy will be caught by her throat. So he shoots. And it only skims the criminal's shoulder because the cop's hands have the slightest tremor, but that's enough to knock the crook off course so that he can only manage a bite on the bunny's leg.

She's dragged a few feet before Nick has had enough. He hates for her to see him like this, but he knows he has to, so he's down on all fours, ears flat and baring all his teeth, snarling so loudly it catches the foe's attention. For a second, nothing happens, but when Nick lunges at him, Judy is free from the enemy's jowls (and that's all Nick needs to know that this will all be ok) who is after him now. And then it is a tussle of fur and teeth and blood with an occasional interlude of growling and snapping jaws.

When their target is finally knocked out, Nick handcuffs him to the nearest permanent structure, hands shaking so violently that he can't hear his own thoughts over the rattling of metal on metal as he tries to engage the cuffs. Then, he stumbles over to Judy, who is curled onto her side, her breathing uneven and shallow.

He manages to pull the worryingly limp bunny into his lap, cradling her against his chest. Her heartbeat is erratic and faint. "Stay with me, sweetheart. You can't die when you haven't even told me the punchline to your stupid joke yet," he's trying his best to sound calm, but even someone deaf can hear the heartbreak and fear quivering in every syllable.

"Nick?" Her voice is garbled, and she seems to be trying to talk to him.

"Sh sh sh, don't talk."

"Are you hurt?" He manages to make out, and it forces a soft bark of laughter out of him. She's practically dying in his arms and somehow, she's still got the chutzpah to interrogate his state of health.

"Right now? Better than you, definitely. Now stop talking." A tear slips down his snout, splashing against her cheek.

"Already… called meds…" Her violet eyes flutter dangerously, and he keeps telling her to shush and let him do the talking, because they both know he's better at it anyways. She smiles, eyes closing.

"Just my luck… born a bunny, huh?"

Her comment fizzles out, and it seems that Judy has finally passed out, because the quiet is different now: eerie and hostile. He whispers back, even though she can't hear.

"Wouldn't have it any other way, Carrots." His tail curls around her, and he sits with her in his arms as he just stares at her face, trying not to get tears on her.

He's just beginning to wonder if the two of them have been forgotten when he hears the doors bang open and squints against the flashing lights that are revealed with it. Apparently, the whole building has been leveled. Judy is hauled onto a stretcher and the doctors are trying to fight him about entering the vehicle, but Bogo says in his authoritative and booming voice that Nick should be in that damn vehicle more than any of you medics! And Nick'll kiss Bogo's feet later, but right now he's living in some suspended reality where he's having the trauma on his back (which seems so insignificant and meaningless) treated while watching the crew bustle around the love of his life, who suddenly seems tiny. He's always known she was small, but…

Chief Bogo gives him an indeterminate leave, which they both know is code for "whenever everybody's favorite cop is back." That's his cue to get his butt to the hospital and, for the next several weeks, practically live there.

Entertainment is hard to come by in the sterile environment, so he fixes that by laying on the hard, plastic seats by her side and telling dumb jokes to the ceiling. Other times, he has conversations with himself, playing both his and Judy's role.

At some point in time (he's lost track), her parents stop by all anxious-faced and full of questions. He answers them to the best of his ability (They ask: "How badly was she hurt?" And he answers: "Was she hurt badly? Well, yes, but–"), and if he's ever been uncertain of his standing with Mr. and Mrs. Hopps, well, he sure isn't anymore. They've also stocked him with enough blueberries and pies to last him the month, so he'd say they're not so bad either.

It's one week later, and Nick is… well–

"Yellow? Really, Carrots? It's just so boring, and everybody does it. Don't you want our kid to have her formative years in a more exotic environment?

'Oh Nick, it's just a kid, they're not going to–'

Judy. Just a kid? It's our kid!

'You know what, Nick, you're right! How could I be so wrong? Will you ever forgive me?'"

He shoots up at the sound of giggling. "Judy!"

"You're unbelievable!"

"Yeah, and you're awake!"

She's still giggling and he's smiling dopily at her, and to anybody who happens to come across the scene from outside the glass that separates the room from the hallway, they look like two people who are completely dumb-in-love.

"How're you feeling?"

"Like they've got me on the good stuff," she jokes.

"Yeah, I asked them for some but they gave the usual stupid excuse about how I wasn't injured enough. Next time I'll just go and get myself blown up, right?"

The sound of her laughter is so great, and Nick sighs, resting his chin on his hands, which are folded on the side of her cot. However, when the room falls into quiet again, apprehension begins to gnaw at his heart. She's very quiet, and he wonders if maybe… if… if…

"Judy… you're not… scared of me, are you?"

Her vibrant eyes pop wide-open and she splutters. "No! Nick! Never!"

"Ok. Ok. Just… just making sure." A sigh of relief escapes his mouth.

The smile she gives him is half drugged up, half sunshine and unicorns. "I trust you." And he swears in that moment that Judy Hopps will be the death of him.

They don't let her out of the hospital until she's fully healed, which drives his partner up the wall because she hates sitting around and doing nothing, especially for two months. Together, they finish Colin Furth's Pride and Prejudice, but not even that can distract her from the boredom of her situation. When she's finally emancipated, the first thing she chooses to do is go to that one ice cream shop with that amazing carrot cake ice cream. And he's ok with that, because they also happen to have the best blueberry cobbler ice cream around.

Time moves like the high-speed car chases from the Fast and Furryious films, and before he knows it, they're walking up stairs to reach her apartment. Nick knows he needs to do it, and he needs to do it now. He still has a few licks of his scoop left, but his throat is dry and his stomach is roiling and somebody save him!

Of course, his observant girlfriend notices him tossing out his unfinished cone at the trash receptacle on her level, which is unheard of for him. She can also tell that he's deliberately taking deep breaths in and out. "Something wrong?" Judy asks softly, swinging their interlocked paws and peering into his eyes, which meet hers briefly and then dart everywhere but to her eyes. They've stopped outside her door, but Carrots makes no move to retrieve her keys.

"Actually, uh, yeah." Oh god, he's gonna choke. He might actually vomit. Will he pee himself? He's pretty sure even the backs of his knees are sweating. In fact, his vision is blurry and maybe he'll pass out and just bypass all the bodily fluids. She looks extremely concerned at the strange shade of green he is, so she takes his left paw in both of hers, alternating between patting and stroking. He swallows hard. Now or never, buddy.

"So, I've been thinking– about– well, I mean– there's this thing, and– well, I mean– I think I want to marry you. Cause I've been thinking about it– well, us, I mean– and it makes sense, right? We're best friends, I trust you with my life, and I'm pretty sure you trust me with yours, and I mean you've already seen me at my worst and I've seen you at your worst. And it's totally ok if you say no– ok well maybe it's not but whatever, we'll worry about that later– I just think it'd be a good, uh, arrangement. And if you say no, that makes sense, because it's not like we could have kids anyways and the general population would pretty much freak out over their golden girl in an interspecies and predator-prey marriage cause I'm not sure anybody even takes this relationship seriously. So you don't have to say yes! Cause I mean it might be better for you to marry some other rabbit like any other normal animal."

He can feel himself trembling, and he's so nervous and out of focus that he almost doesn't notice the way Judy is gnawing on her bottom lip. The curve of her lip gives her away though, and he can't believe she's gonna laugh at him! He wants to die. He is going to die. He's dead.

But her voice is all soft and velvety when she finally speaks up. The blood is roaring in his ears. "You haven't even asked me if I want to marry you yet."

Nick starts to speak, except he's all out of sorts, so instead of swallowing first, he swallows in the middle of "well then," so it sort of comes out more like, "wehykegll then," and he's pretty much functioning on adrenaline now, so he falls to one knee, takes her right paw, and oh god is she going to cry stop stop Judy don't you dare you're going to make me cry as well–

"Will you marry me?"

She inhales sharply and then there are tears and oh god how hot is this hallway because these aren't tears his eyes are just sweating and he barely registers her "YES!" because his arms have opened up on their own accord and she's leaping and tumbling into them and they fall to the hardwood floor in front of her stupid little room and her neighbors probably know every detail of what just happened but who cares because he and Judy are crying but also laughing and laughing and laughing and please don't let this ever end because finally finally finally

everything is right.

The wedding is three months after his proposal, on a perfectly sunny day. Everybody and their cousin seems to be there. He holds back tears when she walks down the aisle– she's trying not to rush, but he can see how wide and excited her eyes are behind the veil and doesn't blame her for the few steps she takes that aren't quite on-beat– but they burst through his defense barriers.

They've already weathered storms together. They've already screamed at each other until they're hoarse, they've already laughed till they've cried. They've already overcome the days when maybe a fox and a bunny together really is a stupid decision and just not worth it, and they've passed the blissful days when they are so obsessed with each other that not even the end of Zootopia as they know it would be able to tear them apart. The whole world could be against them, but as long as it's against them and not just him or her, everything is right.

The cake is one tier of blackberry-vanilla cake and another tier of blueberry and white cake, sandwiched between layers of lemon-cream cheese frosting. It's a little lopsided because they accidentally bumped into it just now, but nobody notices. Judy is laughing through tears in her pretty white gown as she smears a forkful of it on his muzzle, which he returns to her tenfold. They are surrounded by everybody they know and love, all of them watching and cheering as Nick lifts her into the air and spins the both of them around before clutching her to his chest and kissing her again, and they're literally just eating cake off of each other's faces. And the ruckus is enough that not even delicious blueberry-blackberry-vanilla-lemon cake– which, apparently, is what ecstasy and love physically tastes like, he's just never known cause he's never had blueberry with lemon like this, but really, isn't his entire life just him realizing more and more that he's needed someone else bright and sunny to cut his darker tones this whole time?– can distract from the crowd and flashing cameras. But still– all they see, all they hear, all they know, is each other.

Happily ever after has never tasted so perfect.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow–this is a… offering that can border on miraculous.

– Elizabeth Gilbert

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.