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beauty of the beast (the night at last has ceased)

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Zootopia Police Department, Precinct One
23:47; the night of Lionheart’s arrest.

After giving their statements, an exhausted Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps shared a meal at the police station cafeteria. Despite being tired and achy, Judy was smiling. “So, where exactly do you live, Mister Wilde?” Her tone was teasing, but it was a genuine question. “I’ll give you a lift.”

He chuckled nervously, ears falling flat. “Er, yes, Madam Hopps, that is…quite the question.”

Judy’s ears dropped. “Nick – you’re not – ”

“I camp with Finnick,” he rushed, holding up a paw. Judy let out a relieved breath. Not entirely homeless, then. “But I’m not sure where he is, at the moment…” He cut himself off to yawn. Judy eyed his long tongue, then caught herself in the act and ripped her gaze away. “Unlike some, I did not have a handy plastic bag on me for my phone.”

She didn’t have the strength to be really energic, at the moment, but this was still… groaning, Judy rubbed her paws over her face. “I’m so sorry, Nick, I really should’ve warned you. You can borrow my phone to call him, if you want.”

He cast a look at a nearby clock. “He’ll ‘bite my face off’,” – the latter being said in an impression of Finnick – “if I call him now. I’ll… find a place. I know a few.”

Judy cracked a smile at his rather striking impression. It didn’t last, though, as she instead gnawed on her lip. After all they’d just been through, it really didn’t sit right with her to just… leave him to his own devices, even if they would be seeing each other the next morning, at the press conference.

An idea sparked. “Or,” she said brightly, ears popping up in her excitement, “you could… stay the night at my place! My bed’s big enough for two.”

Nick blinked. After a moment he shook his head and leaned back in his chair with a smug smile. “My, my. How forward of you, Carrots. I mean, I know you’re a rabbit, but… not even dinner, first?”

…on second thought, yes, her proposal did sound like that, didn’t it? “No! No, no… I didn’t mean…” She groaned, pulling her ears down over her face to hide her blush.

Just the thought of it – Nick, with his teeth and his tongue – how large mustn’t he be, being taller than her? And his voice, it sure could growl, couldn’t it? That Finnick impression had really been…

No.

No, that was her heat speaking – horrid timing, as always, she really just wanted to get rid of the damn thing – she really didn’t have time to… to be horny and needy after a fox she’d just met, no matter how much she really wanted him to rail her.

Muffled by her ears, she grumbled, “I can sleep on the floor.”

After a moment’s silence, Nick chuckled. “Your fluff must be getting to me. Sure, Carrots, I’ll stay the night.” When Judy sprung up to stare at him, he grinned. “Lucky you. Before dinner, even.”

She couldn’t help but giggle. “Lucky me,” she agreed.

Nick had no idea how much she meant it.

*

“Now, don’t you fall asleep on me, Nicholas Wilde,” Judy said, shooting a glare his way as she turned the keys to the car. “I’m not taking this trip on – on – ” She yawned. “Sorry, on my own.”

Nick barked a laugh, slamming the door shut on his side. “What, you don’t believe in me? For shame, Carrots.”

After trying, and failing, to come up with a witty retort, Judy shook her head with a grin.

It wasn’t a very long drive to her apartment, though it was long enough for her to zone in on one thing in particular: Nick’s scent. It was something she’d noticed during the last few hours, of course, but now, sitting in the peace of the car… and Judy in heat, nonetheless…

She shifted, swallowing. Eyes on the road, Jude the Dude, one-track-mind and all that. Come on.

Her instincts were running on overdrive, though, with Nick’s close proximity and how wild, pardon the pun, he smelled.

God, she really just wanted his paw on her throat, fucking her into the mattress… not even any paw. His.

Nick cleared his throat. “You know, uh, Carrots… we don’t. Have to. You could just… drop me off here, pretty sure I know that hyena – oh, no, was someone else. Still! We don’t… you know. If you’re uncomfortable.”

Judy could just about die.

Of course, Nick was a fox. If she could smell him, he was sure to be able to smell her, er… growing problem. With burning cheeks and her ears draped down over her back, she began to stutter. “No, no, it’s – just, uhm.” She coughed. “I’m. In, uh. I’m in heat. At the moment! Which just… makes things…” She forced a laugh, casting him a quick glance to find his ears pinned back. “Ahem. Awkward.”

The silence grew strained and uncomfortable to the point where Judy almost considered dropping Nick off and going to throw herself off a bridge.

“I don’t. I don’t mind,” Nick said. Judy cast him a glance, but he was stubbornly looking out the window. “It’s not… weird. Or anything.”

“Good!” Judy squeaked. “Good, good. Good. Uhm.”

“Yeah.”

Silence. They turned the last corner.

Judy slammed on the breaks. “Oh would you look at that we’re here great!”

*

Nick eyed her apartment warily. “Well, Carrots, it’s four walls and a roof, I’ll give you that.”

Judy rolled her eyes and went inside first, holding the door open for him to follow. “I can eat, sleep, and sit here. What more would a mammal want?”

Nick raised an eyebrow. “Comfort?”

“Right, like the kind you get in Finnick’s car, of course. Dumb bunny.” Judy smirked as she said it, though, removing her outer vest and hanging it on one of the two pegs there were.

“Mmh, well. This does it.” Nick put his paws on his hips and gave her a stern look. Her ears drooped a bit just at seeing it. “You’re sleeping in the bed. The mattress looks hard as stone, I don’t even want to think about the floors.”

Judy hesitated. Her bed? Just her, in her bed… Oh, but, no. Poor Nick deserved so much better than a floor. She crossed her arms. “As your hostess, I refuse.”

Nick yawned, stretching his arms above his head and nearly punching the ceiling in the process. He blinked at her for a bit, then sighed and shook his head. “I’m too tired to argue with you on this. How about we both take the bed.”

Yes. Yes!

“Fine,” said Judy, pretending to be sour despite how her stomach fluttered.

“Fine,” said Nick, and pulled his shirt over his head.

“Fine.” Judy peeled off her leggings and changed into a loose shirt.

“Fine.” Nick took the liberty of pulling back the covers of her bed and scooting in towards the wall. He shot her a grin, sultrily patting the spot next to him.

Judy’s tone went from sour to flustered at the drop of a hat. “F – fine…” She scurried into bed beside him, nose twitching. So wild

He hadn’t made any advantages yet. Then again, he hadn’t pushed her aside, either, and if he was uncomfortable, then surely he wouldn’t have suggested…

Nick rolled over onto his side to look at her, pushed up on an elbow and smirking. Judy squirmed under his scrutiny. What was he…?

“You forgot the lights.”

Yelping, Judy shot out of bed. She slammed into the light switch, then rushed back under the covers. In the dark, though, she’d miscalculated where to aim for, and as a consequence went tumbling into Nick. All fur and wild and warm and –

“Sorry!”

“I’m stronger than that, Fluff,” said Nick, amused. “Calm down. I’m not gonna bite.”

The thought, equal parts terrifying and arousing, had Judy squeaking and hiding her face in her pillow. This was tough. This was really tough.

She had never shown this much self-restraint in her whole life before, not even with that buck in college who pet her ears just the right way… and he hadn’t even been any good, she hadn’t wanted him for days beforehand. There was just something about Nick, though, that had set her teeth on edge in every bad and good way possible from the very moment they met.

Good God, Nick. Suppose he was any good in bed? Mmm, she could just imagine…

A throb went through her. She closed her eyes, shifting again. With how sensitive she was she’d already be swollen, her underwear likely at least damp if not wet… Come on, get a grip!

“You’re not exactly calming,” said Nick drily.

Judy swallowed. His not pulling away from her had to mean something… right? Sweet cheese and crackers, she couldn’t hold back anymore.

She shifted, squinting up at where his darkened silhouette could be seen. “Suddenly, I find I’m not that interested in sleeping.”

“Well, whatever else would you do on a night like this?”

Leaning up to get a better position – noses just inches apart; she heard his sharp intake of breath –Judy taunted, “Mmm… I can think of a few things.”

With how silent everything else was, Nick’s heartbeat was audible to Judy’s sensitive ears. Now that it’d picked up in speed, she noted the change, and, encouraged by his lack of complaint, she slowly crossed the last distance between them.

It was nothing like kissing a rabbit, that was for sure. His muzzle was a completely different shape, and she had to tilt her head a bit strangely to get their lips to properly slide across each other, but – but it was a kiss. A kiss with Nick.

And it felt amazing.

Nick let out a sweet little sound from the back of his throat, tilting his head slightly in return. “Judy…”

Judy pulled back, but only to move to his neck: leaning in and nuzzling the fur there, burying her nose in his wild, wild smell. Though it would pain her to have to pull away now, and despite being fairly certain she knew the answer, Judy breathed, “do you want me to stop?”

Within seconds, Nick had her pinned against the bed. Heavy. Dangerous. With a low growl emitting from his chest. If it weren’t for the powerful scent of arousal coming from him, Judy would’ve thought she’d grossly misunderstood. “Are you sure?” Nick said hoarsely.

Yes, yes, yes – Judy bared her throat, trying – and failing – to thrust against him, seeking friction, seeking pleasure. “Oh, Nick, please,” she whined, “I – can’t – ”

Nick put a huge paw on her waist, pushing her into the bed. “No, Judy, sure, you have to be sure,” he hissed. “Really sure!”

Squeezing her eyes shut and forcing herself to think through the haze of hormones and instincts and heatNickhornyneedyNOW, Judy thought about it. Had she not been in heat, had she not neededneededneeded, had they sat down and discussed it –

God, it wasn’t even a question.

Please,” Judy said, opening her eyes. Now more used to the darkness, she found Nick’s own mossy green staring down at her. Reaching up to brush her claws through the fur on his cheek, Judy let her paw rest in the thick fluff of his chest.

But not to pull him away. She fisted her paw in it, drew him closer, whispering, “I’m sure, Nick.”

“Oh, thank God.”

Nick swept her into his arms, kissing her like he was drowning, like he’d yearned as much as her, like – like – like they’d been waiting for this, their whole lives, without knowing. This time, when Judy bucked up against him, he complied: sliding a knee between her thighs and creeping up to scratch at her ears.

She moaned into the kiss, gasping out, “sensitive, please, oh, God, again –”

He did it again, gentle but determined, and Judy felt her ears go completely limp. Nick nuzzled down her neck, the light scrape of fangs against her skin such a wondrous lighthouse through the storm of heat.

“Suddenly, I’m not interested in sleeping either,” Nick muttered. He raked his claws from the base of her ears all the way up to the tip, and she melted in his paws.

“Fancy that,” she said. “God, Nick, you smell so – good – ah!

He’d licked at her neck, one long, broad stroke – slow and teasing, as though hinting at something else that tongue of his could do. “I could just drown in you,” he murmured, nuzzling all the way down her chest, past her nipples, down to her belly. “So much soft fur… you know I have a weakness for it.”

Like Judy had a weakness for him. Goodness, he was good.

“Same to you,” she managed to gasp. “So much… red isn’t really a common rabbit colour, Nick.”

“Mmh. Do I hold a candle to the bucks of your past, honey-doe?”

Honey-doe. That was a new one, and one she… quite found she liked. “They don’t hold a candle to you,” Judy admitted. Oh, yes, she’d been with bucks before. Several times, in fact.

Thankfully, Nick didn’t seem bothered by it at all. “Good,” he growled, and kissed her again. He even tasted wild, like freedom, like rebellion, like – like, oh, like fox, damnit!

Judy gasped.

Nick had cupped her through her panties, his paw large enough to reach all of her, every little nook and cranny. “Really sensitive here, Carrots, almost like – almost like you’re happy to see me.” Despite his joking tone, the element of heat to his voice chased away any thought of him not being serious.

“Sweet cheese and crackers,” Judy groaned, pushing into his paw, wanting – needing – “Would you jus – would you – would you fuck me already?”

He barked a muffled laugh. “Greedy bunny.” He hooked his claws over the lining of her panties and pulled them down past her hips; Judy kicked her legs about until she got rid of the nuisance. “None of this popsickle for you just yet, honey-doe.”

The next groan was one of disgust. “Oh, that’s so cheesy, Nick, can’t you just – just call it a dick like everyone else!”

He laughed again, laying down between her legs.

Her ears went limp again when it became apparent what he was about to do, and thank goodness she realized, for he gave no warning before he licked her cunt from bottom to God-damn top.

Warm. Wet. Warm. Engulfed in it, soft, wet, warm.

“Ohsweetcheeseandcrackers.”

Chuckling, Nick pried her apart with just his tongue, reaching in – and in – and –

Judy threw her head back with a groan when his thumb found her clit, and she couldn’t help it: she reached down between them and grabbed his ears, keeping him in place and securing him there by wrapping her hind paws around his neck. “God, yes, yes, yes, Nick, there – that’s – ohh, that’s it, that’s – ” She dissolved into squeaks and squeals that rapidly increased as he drove her to climax.

He lapped up all her juices, which just made her flush more, then sat up on his haunches and shot her a grin. “Pretty bunny.” Leaning up to her, he kissed her gently.

Her saltness was still on his lips; her tongue darted out to catch a longer taste.

Chuckling, he sat back. “Hmm. Kinky bunny?”

Judy laughed breathlessly. “Oh, you have no idea.” She glanced down at his very obvious boner, and, with half-lidded eyes, asked: “can I have a taste of your popsickle now, please, master?”

His ears dropped, eyes so wide the white was visible all the way around. “Okay yes I did have no idea,” he said, in one and the same breath.

Judy merely grinned at him.

Swearing, Nick fumbled with his belt-buckle. He fumbled so much that Judy took pity on him and sat up to help. He muttered a thanks, then had the pants and boxers off faster than she could blink.

Judy’s face was on fire as he revealed his unsheathed dick: red, glistening, tapered, and so much larger than that of any buck she had been with.

She gasped in delight, then purred, “oh, master, what a fine popsickle.”

Nick groaned. “Please stop calling it that.”

Judy laughed. “You started it!”

“Fine, I’m sorry, is that what you wanted to hear? Now call it a dick, please.”

“Hmm. Okay. But just because you said ‘please’.”

Nigh stared at her in astonishment before he chuckled and shook his head. “Naughty bunny.”

Judy raised an eyebrow and lay down on the bed, spreading his knees. “Impatient bunny, come on over here and knot me.”

“As the queen commands,” said Nick drily, though he moved with such haste it nearly seemed like he teleported. Warmth. Heat. His wild scent, so close and near: his dick, pressed all along her lips.

“Do it,” said Judy.

Nick hummed. “What’s that?”

Judy whined. “Do it, please!”

He thrust in.

Whimpering, Judy bucked into him, eyes closed and mouth open. It stretched, it burned, and dear Lord it was everything she’d wanted. She should be wet enough for this to not be an issue at all, and it really, really wasn’t. Having always known she was a bit of a masochist, Judy was not surprised to find the slight pain of huge Nick being that little extra that’d push her over the edge.

She moaned as the orgasm hit.

“Wh – already?” Nick said. “I – I’m flattered, Carrots.”

“Keep going,” Judy gasped, wrapping her legs around his waist to try and pull him closer. “One – even two – usually isn’t enough – please, please, keep going, it feels so good – ”

“Fffuck,” Nick muttered, pushing in, in, in.Oh, my God, you’re tight…” He groaned into her ear, the muscles in his back twitching. With one paw he gathered her paws and pushed them over her head, shoving them into her pillow and keeping them there.

“And you’re big,” Judy said, unable to keep the smile out of her voice. “You can – you can move – mmh, oh, that’s – ”

He set a fast pace at Judy’s insistence. Her constant appreciative moans into his ears were probably reassuring, too. “How – how long can you go for?” she panted, after her third orgasm.

Nick grunted. “Won’t – come, before – before the knot – you gotta say… gotta say when – ”

Her fourth orgasm was already building, and it washed over her with gentle violence when he put all his weight on his knees and used his free paw to rub at her clit. She gasped, “now, now, now, please – ”

With a groan from them both, the knot slipped all the way in. Riding their respective orgasms out they lay there clinging to each other, panting and gasping for breath in-between uncontrollable little whimpers and whines.

When Judy regained full control of herself, she nudged at Nick’s cheek with her nose and gave him an affectionate lick. “Mmmh, now, that was worth it,” she muttered.

Nick gave a soft chuckle. “Think we can just sleep like this?”

“Too tired. Don’t care.”

“Great.” He snuggled down into her, resting his muzzle atop her shoulder. “As much as I hate to say it, we’ll have to talk about this, Fluff.”

“Later,” Judy muttered, already falling prey to sleep. “You’re right, but… mhh. Later.”

“Later,” Nick agreed.

*

Judy woke to sunlight and fox fur and a really sore nether region. There was no doubt in her mind about what they’d done; she could smell it in the air and in her fur. Most notably, though, was the fact that they were both naked and snuggled up to each other in her bed.

Rather than jump out of bed immediately like she usually did, she opted to snuggle into Nick’s warmth. He’d been right, last night: they really did have to talk. It could wait, though. Right now she was basking in the afterglow of her heat ending prematurely, which was always quite the relief for all does.

She hadn’t been able to experience that in quite a while. And was it just her, or was the overwhelming sense of relief and serenity stronger than with any buck?

Nick began to stir. Judy watched him wake from the embrace of his arms, smiling softly once he cracked his eyes open to glance around the room, clearly confused. “Morning, Slick.”

“…morning, Carrots. Strong legs on you, gotta say.”

Judy giggled. “Speak for yourself. What time is it?”

He shifted, releasing her to peek at the clock on her bedside table. “Er… just about to be eleven.”

“What!” She shot out of bed in nothing but her fur, dried semen stuck to her thighs. God, she really should have cleaned that off yesterday… Grabbing for a towel and scrub, she ran towards the showers. “Hurry your lazy tail, Nick, we’re gonna be late!”

*

Zootopia Police Department, Precinct One
12:16, day of the press conference

Nick could not believe his ears. Or, rather, he could, and that was why it was all so horrifying. After all this, after the things the two of them had gone through, after last night… yes, of course it was too good to be true, he’d thought it even then!

Even now the words rang through his head, every echo aching. “I thought you were different!”

“Nick, please, it’s not like that – ”

“And yes, you are different, but not like I thought! At least others are outright in their hatred, but you… you had to go and use me, trick me, deploy me like a tool, all for – all for some fame and heat relief! And here I thought… here I thought we could be something.”

Chapter Text

“Judy, love? Aunt Bonnie wants to talk to you.”

Judy raised her head from her pillow. She’d been laying there for almost an hour, now, and it had a solid indent from her face. “I’ll be there soon,” she replied half-heartedly.

“You sure you don’t need any help?”

“I’m sure. Thanks anyway, Bee.”

The scurrying sound of rabbit feet against wooden floors made it clear her older cousin had left, and with a sigh, Judy heaved her heavy body upright. She rubbed at her eyes, dragged her feet over to the closet, and pulled on a shirt to cover up.

Stopping by the mirror and trying to force her ears up, but failing to do so convincingly, Judy decided to just go for it and leave her room. Maybe she’d be able to slip on a happier mask on the way to the common room…

She nearly jumped out of her skin when Bonnie stood right outside the door waiting. “Mom! Don’t just do that, you’ll scare a doe half to death!”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” said Bonnie, not sounding sorry at all, “but we need to talk. It’s been almost three weeks since you came back, and… your dad and I are worried, Judith.”

Oh, she was in deep trouble if Bonnie used her full name. “I know, mom, I…” Judy sighed, tugging at one of her ears. “I’ve just… not felt very good, recently… I’m all – all tired all the time… and…” She sniffed, thinking of everything that had gone awry the last month. “And it’s just all so much…

Bonnie nodded. “It’s alright, you don’t have to apologize – oh, sweetie, no…” She reached out, drying some tears that slipped down Judy’s cheeks. “Come, come with me. I’ll make you some carrot juice and we’ll sit and talk.” When Judy tensed, she hurriedly assured, “no, no, nothing you don’t want to share, I’ve learned my lesson long ago. Whatever you want to talk about, dear.”

Sniffling and rubbing at her nose, Judy reluctantly let Bonnie lead her to one of the private rooms in the warren. There were several of them – nearly thirty, if she remembered correctly, and she knew she did. They’d been designed for this exact purpose: with several branches of the same family living under one roof, people were sure to need privacy every now and again.

Comfy rooms with some couches, beany bags and tables scattered throughout, but not much more. They were rooms for privacy, not entertainment. Judy collapsed onto one of the couches, Bonnie following after and settling comfortably beside her.

It all came bursting out. How terribly she’d been treated at work. How lovely the city really was, how great it looked and how the nice mammals she had met far outweighed the bad. The press conference, how much she regretted it, how many people she had hurt.

Nick. How amazing they’d been together, how fantastic of a tod he was. How massively Judy had messed it all up.

How much she missed him, every single day.

“And you know what the worst of it is?” she said, choking on her tears, wiping at them futilely. Bonnie had not yet spoken up, rubbing her daughter’s back reassuringly. “It’s still ha – happening, and I – I’ve read the news reports, and – ah – and, they’re not even that savage, really, they – they’re just scared!”

It wasn’t a complete fact: no doctors had said it, but Judy had come to the heartfelt, if slightly skewed, conclusion herself, based on the reports of what mammals had been hurt and who hadn’t been, at the scenes. Besides, she’d had time to think.

She’d had a lot of time to think.

“But that’s not the worst of it,” Judy sniffled, after she’d gotten herself a bit under control. “Nick is a fox, mom, and I thought – I really thought we could… you know, I really liked him!”

She wasn’t sure what she expected, but when Bonnie broke the silence, her words were shockingly kind.

“And knowing you, bun-bun, you still do,” said Bonnie softly. “Isn’t that right?”

The miserable look Judy gave her was clear enough answer, and Bonnie drew her into a warm hug with a comforting chitter. Judy clung to her like she hadn’t done in years, burying her face in her shoulder with a sob. “Oh, mom,” she moaned, “what am I going to do?

“Well, Judes,” said Bonnie, patting Judy on the back, “one way to start is a healthy meal, some fresh air and hard work, as your father says.” When Judy scrunched up her nose – her fatigue was really not letting her deal with hard work, not now – Bonnie continued, “of course, I can tell just as well as any other that if you felt up to hard work, you’d be doing it. But we actually need some help at the family stall, today, since Ellie is staying over at her mate’s place… how do you feel about that, love?”

Judy sniffled. Her ears, still down, were not as droopy as before. “I think I’d like that.”

If nothing else, it’d do her good to get out of the house.

*

Staring up at the fox in front of her, Judy managed a smile. “Well, I’ll be darned… if it isn’t Gideon Grey.”

She hadn’t been sure what to expect.

The heartfelt, albeit nervous, apology came right as a shock, though. It hit different when he said the phrase, “I’ve been a major jerk.”

Judy’s smile became a bit more genuine, and also a bit sadder. If Gideon could apologize, then Judy could, as well. “Yeah, I… know a bit about being a jerk. Thank you, Gideon, it… it means a lot.” The smile nearly slipped, but she forced it back on, admitting, “you’ve changed.”

“Yeah, ‘ah kinda had ‘ta do that,” said Gideon, chuckling nervously as Bonnie and Stu came up behind Judy. “The missus sure wouldn’t’a liked it if ‘ah didn’t.”

Judy’s ears popped up. That was unexpected news. “You’re married?”

“Aye, and ‘ta the best ewe in the business. I’m lucky ‘ta have ‘er.”

“Wait, did you say… ewe? But a sheep and a fox…” Judy trailed off, almost unable to believe it.

In Bunnyburrow? Small little Bunnyburrow, an interspecies pred-prey relationship? Sure, there’d been interspecies relationships in Bunnyburrow before, but pred-prey relationships were a bit new, even in Zootopia.

When Gideon’s ears flicked, she quickly backtracked. “Oh, no, not like that! I – I have a thing for a fox, myself, I was just…” She smiled softly, thinking about how Nick might’ve liked to hear it, that a fox would find honest happiness in a place like this. “I was just happy to hear.”

“Who woulda’ thought,” said Gideon, smiling back. “Lil’ Judy Hopps with a fox in ‘er pocket.” He tilted his head. “Nah, now that I’m thinkin’ ‘bout it, ‘ah’m not surprised.”

Judy laughed. “Now that’s one thing you’ve got right, Gideon – I ain’t in anybody’s pocket but my own.”

“An’ I better remember,” said Gideon. Turning to Bonnie and Stu, he gestured to the back of his van. “Anyhow, I brought y’all some pies…”

Judy jumped at the chance of helping to unload the pies, wanting to ask more about Gideon’s ewe wife. There was something familiar about the scent of him, and it wasn’t the underlying current of fox…

“Kids!” Stu shouted, bringing her attention from scrutinizing Gideon’s smell to her concerned father. “Be careful with those midnicampum holicithias!”

Chuckling, Gideon said, “now that’s a four-dollar word, Mister H – mah family always jus’ called ‘em Night Howlers.”

Judy gasped. “Night Howlers!”

*

“Did you catch any of that, Bon?” Stu asked, watching as Judy drove off with their family tractor.

Bonnie put a paw on his shoulder and the other on her hip, a sense of pride filling her whole chest to see the spark back in her dear, wayward daughter’s eye. “Not one bit, Stu,” she fondly declared. “Not one bit.”

*

Judy could smell him way before she saw him. She’d never forget that wildness – that intensity. “Nick?” she called, looking over the side of the bridge. Her ears popped up at seeing him. If she’d been a canine, her tail would be wagging. “Nick!” she beamed. “Nick, the Night Howlers aren’t wolves! They’re toxic flowers!”

She jumped over the side of the bridge and hurried down to stand beside him, first now noting that he was still as stone, ears drawn back and sunglasses immovable. Daunted, but willing to keep trying, she continued. “I think someone is targeting predators on purpose to make them go savage – Nick…”

He stood, brushing her aside with a huff. Darkly, he said, “wow. Now isn’t that interesting.”

Something told her he was definitely not talking about the Night Howlers, and Judy’s ears dropped right back down again as she realized she should have apologized before rambling on about the case. Gah, she’d gone and ruined everything again!

Nick was walking away. He was walking away, just like that day, that day when she’d been so cheerful, when she thought everything was –

“Nick!” she cried, running after him. The words, wait, please listen, mixed into one garbled mess, and she drew a quick breath. The words tumbled out of her, no restraint. Please, please, please!

“Nick, ple – please – I – I know you’ll never forgive me!” she cried, coming to a half half-way beneath the bridge. Nick, too, stopped – just out of her reach. Hesitantly, albeit hopeful, she continued. “And that’s, that’s okay, I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t forgive myself either, I was. I was stupid, and you were right, and I was – I was small-minded, and didn’t stop to think, and I hurt you. But there are mammals out there that need help.” She lowered her voice slightly, and even she could hear how she took on a begging tone. “Predators shouldn’t… they shouldn’t have to suffer because of my mistakes. Nick, I have to fix this. But I can’t – I can’t do it without you.”

Her voice broke. Nick, who’d been standing stock still this whole time, reacted only with a slight twitch of his ear.

The truth came to light. “You told me – you told me, at the conference, you thought we could be something, and truth is, Nick…” She sniffled, her eyes burning. “Truth is, I thought so, too. And I blew it, I know I did, but – but, afterwards, when we’re done, you can – you can wash your paws of me, and you can hate me, and that’ll be f… that’ll be fine!”

It was a hardbacked lie, and she knew it. Nick undoubtedly knew, as well.

“And you can walk away – knowing you were right, all along. I’ve been a major jerk, and I am really just…” She hiccupped, balling her paws into fists as the first sob had her shoulders shaking. “I really am just a dumb. Bunny. Because while you might hate me forever and regret that night forever, I will – I will cherish it until the last of my days.”

She forced herself to stop, then, terrified of what else might spill if she kept talking. Terrified of what it might do for her – for them – if she didn’t stop.

The silence was worse than anything else she could’ve said, though.

Her heart sunk. Yes, she’d blown it. She’d really, really blown it. Who else could she go to with this?

Who else could she go to with her heart?

Her voice, distorted. “While you might hate me forever and regret that night forever, I will – I will cherish it until the last of my days.”

Judy’s breath hitched.

Again, a soft click. “While you might hate me forever and regret that night forever, I will – I will cherish it until the last of my days.”

Nick silently held up a carrot pen – her carrot pen, which she’d given to him all those weeks ago – and clicked the button. “I will cherish it until the last of my days.

Slowly, Nick turned.

He was smiling.

“Don’t worry, Carrots. I’ll let you erase it… in forty-eight hours.”

Judy gasped, shrill and relieved, then burst into quivering laughter as she bolted to cross the distance between them. She buried into him, wrapping her arms around his waist, drawing in his scent. Oh, God, she’d missed him, she’d missed him so much. “Nick!” she sobbed, trying to drown the sound of her whimpers in his shirt.

Nick returned the hug. “You bunnies, so emotional,” he said fondly, patting her on the back. “There, there. Breathe, now, in and out.”

She knew what he was doing. He wasn’t an emotional, ‘let’s-talk-about-it’ kinda guy, despite being the one to suggest it that first time. Yet there was a genuine tremble to his voice her sensitive ears latched onto.

“Sorry,” she sniffled, moving back to glance up at him and his kind, kind eyes. “I’ve just – I’ve missed you. I’m sorry.”

“A bunny? Miss me?” He grinned. “I’m flattered. Now, what was that about toxic flowers?”

She explained as she dragged him up to the tractor. He listened with rapt attention, nodding every now and again. She’d only just managed to finish explaining when he discovered the Hopps family’s best-selling blueberries.

“So, what’s the plan?”

Everything hinged on this. She flipped him her phone screen, all the while keeping her eyes on the road. “Know this guy?”

“Course I do. Duke Weaselton, small-time criminal.” He scratched at his ear. “Preeetty sure where to find him, too. Unless he’s shaken up his routine, but hey, he’s a one-track-mind mammal.”

“Excellent. He’s the one that stole those Night Howler onions. Where to?”

“Down at the corner of Dove Row, I’ll keep you updated as we near.”

Judy leaned back in her seat, able to relax for a few moments. She cast Nick a fond, grateful glance. “What would I do without you?”

He shrugged, careless and perhaps carefree, rolling down the pane to put his elbow out the window. “Be a meter maid, probably.” He grinned at her. “Seeing how you blackmailed me, and all that.”

Her ears dropped. Yes, that was… that was true. And horribly done of her, not to mention. “Nick, I’m sorry. Seriously, I am. I just… I had no other way to solve that case, and my career…”

“Hinged on it, yep. I was there, Fluffball, I heard what Chief Buffalo Butt had to say.” He raised an eyebrow. “He get any better in that regard?”

“He did. He and Bellwether actually offered me to be the ZPD icon, so to speak.”

Nick sat up straight, ears swivelling. “Really? But I haven’t seen you on any…”

“I quit,” Judy interrupted. At his shocked look, she softly continued. “I couldn’t bear to be the icon of someone standing for integrity, honesty… unity. Not after what I’d done. Not after the split I’d caused.” She glanced at him briefly, then found herself too flustered to keep looking. “Not after how I… how I hurt you.”

There was a long silence. “Left here.”

Judy turned left.

Another long silence. “I’m not big on this whole emotion thing, Carrots. But… I’ve gotta say. You surprise me. In a good way. Yes, you hurt me, and yes, you hurt a lot of other mammals, but… you are so much more than a dumb bunny.”

Judy gritted her teeth to keep from crying again, else someone mistook her for her dad. “You… you think?”

“I think everyone’s a bit… too rooted in their prejudices, at times. It happens to the best of us. Hey, even me!” He reached over and ruffled her head-fur. “Owning up to your mistakes…” Shrugging, he smiled. “There’s bravery in that. Bravery of a completely different kind than the one for those in blue, but still bravery.”

They hadn’t spent more than two and a half days in each other’s presence, and yet Judy was getting absolutely wrecked by the tod. What was it about him? What on Earth was it that drew her into him? Or him into her, for that matter – sister suns, circling each other with the potential to destroy?

Dear Lord, it had only been two days, and yet when they’d been separated, it’d felt like learning to walk all over again.

*

“Hey, Kevin, Raymond,” Nick greeted jovially, letting Judy – with her tight-knit grip on Weaselton – fall a bit behind. “Mind taking us to the Big Bee? We’ve got a… favour… to ask.”

*

“Ah, my children, welcome. It has been so long, Judy, how are you?”

Judy smiled warmly at the shrew. “I’ve been fine, thank you, Mr. Big. We’re not just here for pleasantries, though.” Her train of thought halted as Kevin offered them each a cup of coffee. “Oh, uhm, no thank you.”

“That’s a yes please for me,” said Nick, accepting the tiny little cup with a grin.

Mr. Big had not yet reacted to the weasel dangling in Raymond’s grasp, much less Kevin offering up cups of coffee. He spread his paws, inclining his head. “Of course, my child. What bothers you?”

The two of them had discussed just what to tell Mr. Big on the way to Tundratown, and now they only had to exchange a glance to ensure the agreement still stood. “He’s got some important information he isn’t sharing.” Judy gave Mr. Big a serious look. “Which, by withholding, risks the lives of hundreds of mammals. Us included.”

Mr. Big raised an eyebrow, and, without looking away from Judy, declared: “Ice him.”

*

Despite the easy air between them now, Judy couldn’t help but worry. Had Nick forgiven her? Could he forgive her? Was there hope for them, in any way, shape or form?

Of course, there was no time to think about any of that as they discovered just how deep and far the conspiracy truly went: Night Howlers, speeding trains, explosions and action. Straight out of a corny action movie, really, and Judy would’ve been howling with laughter at it if she’d been in any other frame of mind.

As it was, she stared at the exploded train car in horror. “It’s gone,” she said numbly. Hollowly. “It’s all gone.”

No one would believe her now. She’d needed the evidence to prove… oh, God, she’d quit, and she’d ruined everything, and now – now, just because she couldn’t make do with enough, she always needed more, she’d ruined everything again. How was it even possible to fuck up as majorly as her? All that evidence… what could they even do, now? Write a report? Try to grill Weaselton for more information?

“Yeah,” Nick agreed.

A pause.

“Oh, except for this.”

The briefcase.

The briefcase!

“Oh, Nick!” she shrieked, ears popping up. “Yes!”

She launched forward and kissed him. Not for the first, not for the second, not even for the third time. Yet it ravaged her with such nerves and numb horror when she realized what she’d done that it sure felt like it.

“Oh, Nick,” she said, in a completely different tone as her ears folded back down. “S – sorry, I – ”

Nick was grinning. “Dumb bunny,” he muttered, and pulled her in for a gentler, though just as chaste, kiss. “Talk later, act now. ZPD?”

Squealing much the same was as Clawhauser would, Judy grabbed the suitcase. “ZPD!”

*

Nick effortlessly scooping her into his arms did things to her, and she would’ve dwelled on it, if it hadn’t been for the excruciating pain in her leg. Being a farm bunny she’d survived her fair share of broken bones and bruised ribs, but this was a deep and wide cut made by no clean blade, and it took all she had not to start whimpering.

“Shh, shh,” Nick soothed, brushing a paw over her head as he ripped his handkerchief out of his pocket. “Just breathe, breathe, I’ve got you.” He wrapped the handkerchief around her leg as tightly as he could, which to Judy was about as tight as she’d dare try, lest she lose her foot entirely.

Bellwether’s voice, coming closer. Judy hissed. “Take the case to Bogo! Get out of here!”

Nick snarled. “I’m not leaving you.”

“Nick,” Judy begged, “I can’t walk!”

“It’s not happening!” He balled up a paw, hitting himself in the forehead with it. “C’mon, Wilde, think! Think, think, think! If she catches us…”

Judy stared at the fine mess they’d made, blood and mushed blueberries mixing on the floor tiles. That’d be a nightmare to clean up.

An idea sparked.

“If she catches us,” Judy said softly, “she’ll be shooting us with the gun.”

Nick lit up, then darted for the briefcase and yanked it open. “Not if the pellet’s been switched out, she won’t!” He made quick work of the gun, berries, and pellet.

“And with my pen…”

“Perfect plan,” Nick said, “now let’s go anyway!”

Judy nodded, determinedly trying to climb onto her one good foot. They shared a look, then nodded and went off: Judy limping, Nick all but carrying her.

Of course, it didn’t last.

They hit the ground hard, Nick doing his best to shield her, but failing miserably. He shuffled over to her, reaching out a paw, about to touch –

“You should’ve stayed on the carrot farm, hm, Judy?” came Bellwether’s tiny voice. Judy glared up at her. How could she have ever trusted her? She’d been maiming mammals – for weeks! Her own foolish prejudices at work… “Such a shame. I really did like you.”

“What are you going to do?” Judy snarled, consciously steering the conversation Bellwether’s way. “Kill me?”

“Of course not,” said Bellwether sweetly. She raised the gun: fired. “He is.”

Judy scrambled for her pen, trusting Nick to do his part. He was a good actor – he could pull this off!

“S – so that’s it?” Judy stuttered, backing away from the convulsing Nick as well as she could, with how badly her leg hurt. “Prey fears predator? And – and you stay in power? It won’t work!”

Bellwether scoffed. Judy kept her eyes fixed on Nick; still safe, still sane, but acting up a show. Her racing heart wasn’t just because of the danger they were in. “Fear always works!” Bellwether said. “And I’ll dart every predator in Zootopia to keep it that way.”

That was Nick’s cue.

He lunged.

Judy let out a shriek as he did, his weight over her and his teeth on her skin, in her fur, his breath warm. God, what I’d give…

Now it was her turn… and she knew just what to do.

“Blood. Blood!” she cried. “Blood, and… death.”

Nick chuckled. “Okay, Fluff, now you’re overdoing it. But I think we got it?” Judy grinned, sitting up with a nod. Nick called up to Bellwether, “we got it up there, and in one take, too! Well done, everyone.”

“What?” Bellwether cried. She frantically popped the gun open. “Blueberries?”

“Yeah,” said Judy cheerfully. “From the family farm. Harmless!”

“Oh, no,” said Bellwether sadly. She turned the gun over, dropping the blueberries to the floor, before reaching into a pocket. Her sad expression turned into a grim smile. “Too bad I always keep an extra on me.”

Judy’s beam crashed to the floor. The danger suddenly became very, very real. “No!” she yelled, but there was no time to think, no time to consider or deliberate, Bellwether had already loaded the gun and was aiming again –

Launching herself forward with her one good foot, Judy slammed into Nick and threw him to the ground.

Something exploded against her cheek. She squeaked, paw instinctively going to the area and coming back, not bloodied, but blue.

Looking up, she met Nick’s horrified eyes. “I’m sorry,” she whispered.

A haze overcame her, some unreasonable anger she couldn’t fathom – this massive heavy cloak of rage and sorrow she just wanted to claw away, and despite knowing why it still felt so incredibly real. She curled up into a ball, scratching at her face, at the ground, trying to find an anchor in something, anything.

Nick’s voice, sweet and desperate and Nick, parted the haze with a cry of, “I don’t regret it, Judy! I don’t regret what we did!”

What? Didn’t regret what?

Something about his voice. His scent. That wildness… that night. That blissful night.

Her life lit up as if by a beacon, wonderous and bright, the joy and relief bursting through her like fire. He didn’t regret it.

Nick didn’t regret it!

With one last breath, Judy slipped into darkness.

Chapter Text

Nick watched as Judy – his friend, his beautiful, sexy friend – convulsed on the ground. Everything was real, now: the fear, the terror, the scent of blood in the air. Judy had told him, had said so: a rabbit can go savage, and Nick Wilde was about to be witness to it.

Bellwether howled. “No! How – do – do any of you have any extras?”

Every cell in Nick was focused on the little rabbit in front of him, twitching and twisting and making the most horrid grating growl he’d ever heard. “Car… Carrots?” he tentatively tried.

Okay. Pros: savage rabbit can only do so much damage against a fox. Savage fox can do much more damage against a rabbit. Judy had done him a favour in putting herself on the line – not that he liked it, but still.

Cons: Judy was going savage right before his eyes.

Sweet Judy. Gentle Judy.

Judy who had cried so earnestly in his arms.

Her head snapped up to look at him, and her eyes… oh, her eyes, those beautiful violet eyes… now sharp, bloodshot, pupils tiny little pinpricks of wildness. “Okay, Carrots, let’s – let’s take it… uh…” Nick trailed off, tilting his head in confusion.

There was no anger on Judy’s savage face. Her eyes were wide open in bewilderment and uncertainty, ears alert but not tense – muzzle not scrunched up, teeth unbared.

“…Carrots?”

She sniffed the air, squealed and went to get closer to him – halting and whining in pain when she put weight on her bad leg. Moving without thinking, Nick crossed the distance between them. Judy nuzzled against his shins for a few moments, to Nick’s astonishment, then tried to stand on her hind legs – failing without the experience of balancing on just one, she let out a pitiful whine.

“Okay, okay,” Nick said, slowly kneeling before her. “But – but the moment you attack…”

She didn’t. All that mattered to Judy, in that moment, was to figure out whether this fox who smelled so much like her, and she so much of him, was hurt. There was blood in the air, and though she could easily figure it came from her hurt hind leg, she had to be sure.

He was her mate, no? He had to be. Why else would he smell like her, and she like him? There were so many other smells nearby, so many threatening ones – she felt far from safe, but her mate was more important right now. If he was healthy, he could protect her. If he was not, they would have to protect each other.

Having clambered onto Nick’s chest to sniff his arms, torso and neck, Judy concluded he was, indeed, healthy. Relieved and happy to realize this, she purred and chittered and snuggled up to his chest – the other dangers all but forgotten. If her mate was not worried, then neither was she.

She sniffed the air again, then harrumphed. They smelled so similar, and yet she had no mark on him. How lackluster of her! She had to fix that immediately. Ridiculous, really, to have a mate without her mark! And why wouldn’t he be her mate, when she felt so safe with him, so fond of him?

Nick had gotten over the initial shock and was just relieved he didn’t have to fight his bunny off with tooth and claw. He was content to let her snuggle on his chest as long as she was alright: the sirens outside were sign enough that the police were on the scene and would interfere soon enough.

Though, he did wonder… what on Earth made Judy react like this? By her tales, her uncle Terry had gone absolutely mad with just that one flower. Why hadn’t the serum affected her similarly?

When the bunny on his chest raised her head, Nick’s attention was brought back to her. Smirking at her focused expression and twitching nose, he said, “yes, honey-doe, what’s bothering you?”

Judy, of course, gave no answer but to reach up to his exposed shoulder and rub her chin all over it. First he chuckled, but when the sweet, enticing smell of her exploded over him, the chuckling eased.

“Carrots, are you – are you marking me? I knew I was attractive, but that’s a bit – ”

Judy’s paw shifted, pressing down on his chest. Something popped.

“…too much,” Nick finished. Horror washed through him.

The pellet. In his pocket.

The pocket that Judy just stepped on.

“J – Judy,” said Nick, voice shaking. Savage purple met terrified green.

Not like this.

Not like this.

“Judy, for whatever is about to happen, I am. So sorry. I never wanted to hurt you.” Some kind of cloaked haze came over him, and he gasped – anger, worry, worry, so much worry

Judy was hearing the panic in her mate’s voice, but didn’t comprehend what he was saying. Frowning and trying to assure him in any way she could, she licked his muzzle and rubbed their cheeks together – trying to say she was with him in whatever was worrying him. When that didn’t seem to work, she tried marking him again to really drive the point home.

Nick was watching this happen through the haze, feeling the switch from anger-worry-dread to affection-tenderness-protectiveness her care triggered, but unable to do anything about it. The bunny in front of him, his bunny, his sweet little bunny – she was hurt, he could smell it. She needed him.

No. No, this was – this was Judy, Judy Hopps, she wasn’t his anything, and he didn’t have any claim to her at all. He shook his head, trying to draw his breath to think clearer but only inhaling more of her scent in the process.

His mate let out a whine, prodding at his nose with hers before dragging her chin over his muzzle. Nick couldn’t stop an answering purr and whine from escaping him, and could definitely not stop his tail from wagging. Gently turning over onto all four he let his bunny slide off him, licking her neck to show his support before glancing around them.

Nick knew he was safe. He knew he was safe, now, the police officers were here, or at least coming soon. Only this was letting him calm his instincts down enough to return focus to his mate. Judy. To Judy.

Why wasn’t he slipping entirely? Why wasn’t…

The thought was ripped from him when Judy stretched to lick his shoulder, chittering softly. The scent of her was overpowering, and next thing he knew, he was rubbing his chin and neck across her head. She purred at his careful administrations, making sure she was drenched in his scent, and he, in hers.

Dear God, what was he doing? If this was their instincts, in savage states… he had many talks to have, with many different mammals. But, as for right now… Nick yawned, gave Judy an affectionate nip to her ear, and curled around her to wait for the officers to approach.

*

By the time the officers had not only arrived at the scene, but also shot a tranq dart at Judy, Nick had managed to fight most of the serum off and regain some sense of control. When two of the officers present lowered a ladder into the pit, Nick stood up to greet them, brushing down his shirt.

With one less bunny to worry about, he could not only comprehend speech, but reply in kind, and so when the officers got close enough, he scanned their badges and cheerfully said, “Officers McHorn, Fangmeyer, pleasure to see you. Here’s the deal, I’ll lay it out all nice and clean.”

Fishing the carrot pen out of his pocket, he held it up for them to take. “One piece of audio recording, evidence of Mayor Bellwether being responsible for the savage mammals.”

Grunting, McHorn gestured for Fangmeyer to take the pen.

Nick turned to gently hoist Judy into his arms. “One savage bunny, courtesy of Mayor Bellwether herself. And, finally, one ex-savage fox, courtesy of myself. An accident, of course.”

Immediately, they both raised their tranq guns.

“Whoah, now, gentlemammals, I feel excellent and very sane, thank you. It was just a tiny little bit and there was no impact, my shirt caught most of it.” Nick shrugged. “Seems the effect wears off pretty fast when there’s so little of it.”

Not all of it was a lie. The effects were still ravaging through him, putting him on high alert and heightening his senses. It took all his efforts not to make it show, and normally, he would be honest about that – but right now, it was those very effects that made him lie.

If he was also tranq’d, then Judy would be all on her own, and he would not leave her all on her own in her state. Logically he knew she was safe, but the savage serum boiling in his blood thought otherwise.

McHorn and Fangmeyer shared a look. “Alright,” said Fangmeyer, “but you’ll still go to the hospital for a checkup.”

“Gladly.”

*

Beep. Beep. Beep.

What…?

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Her alarm was going off! She had to shut it down before it woke anyone – she’d done enough damage, ruining someone’s night of sleep shouldn’t be added on top of that. Groaning, Judy turned over in bed, fumbling for where the alarm should be – but stopped short at a sharp pain in her leg.

…oh, right! She’d been hurt in the Museum, gotten help from Nick – Nick, where was he, was he okay? She could smell him, but not hear anything –

She’d been shot!

Judy’s eyes snapped open, nose twitching frantically as she tried to take in as much of her surroundings as possible.

Antibac. Medicine. Distant, dulled voices. White. So much white. The beeping, her heart. One-man hospital room.

She relaxed, if only slightly. Then the ZPD had shown up before anything too bad could happen. Speaking of bad things happening… she lifted her paws to her face to smell them. No, no blood, not even slightly lingering.

Though… why was Nick’s smell so prominent?

Her ears fell. That wasn’t… was it?

She twisted to smell her shoulder.

No, that was definitely a scent mark. Nick had marked her. Why on Earth had he…

Much more importantly, why did it leave her feeling so incredibly giddy?

Her ear twitched. Voices were approaching. Familiar voices. Before she had the time to realize the implications, her door swung open and in rushed Bonnie and Stu. “Judy!” Stu cried, rushing to her side.

“Oh, thank goodness,” said Bonnie softly.

“Mom! Dad!” Judy greeted, beaming. Stu grabbed one of her hands and drew her into a hug; Bonnie, on the other side of the bed, nuzzled into her cheek. Neither of them mentioned how strongly she smelled of fox.

“Ah, good to see you awake, Miss Hopps.” A koala, recognizable as a doctor by his white cloak, had wandered into the room after Bonnie and Stu. He made his way over to the bed and offered up a paw for her to shake. “Doctor Griffin, on the Savage Unit but tasked with overseeing you in particular.” He smiled warmly. “It really is good to see you up and going. You recovered remarkably soon.”

“That’s my kit,” said Stu fondly, wiping away a tear. “Always the best, aren’t you, Jude?”

“Dad,” Judy half-heartedly complained, blushing a bit but taking his compliment to heart nonetheless. “How… how long have I been out? I didn’t… I didn’t hurt anyone, did I?”

Doctor Griffin shook his head. “No mammal has been hurt at your paws. It has been a week since you were infected, and about a day since we administered the antidote.”

Judy blinked. “An antidote was made that fast?”

“As the serum was nothing but concentrated Night Howler toxins and an antidote already existed to the much milder symptoms caused by ingesting the flowers, the teams were not working from scratch,” Doctor Griffin kindly explained. “In fact, these attacks have let us learn so much about how the toxin operates that we never otherwise would have been able to do… as your own case shows.”

Frowning, Judy glanced between her parents. They were only giving her supportive smiles, though. “Sorry, doctor… how is my case special?”

He pulled out a phone. “To a certain degree every case is special, but those of you and Mister Wilde are decidedly stranger than any of the others.”

“Nick was shot!?”

Chuckling, Doctor Griffin handed her his phone. “All in due time, Miss Hopps. Here.”

What he was showing her was clearly a video of herself, sat on her haunches in a hospital bed. Her nose was twitching and her ears were down, though she didn’t seem overly panicked, just mildly distressed. When Doctor Griffin entered the room on the video, she shied away from him – not scared, necessarily, but nervous.

A familiar red tod walked into the room, and savage Judy’s ears went straight up as she ran to him with a yip, nuzzling along his legs and batting at his tail. Nick grinned in response, saying something she couldn’t make out before guiding her back to the bed.

They proceeded to check on her wounded leg and change the bandages, Judy clinging to Nick’s arm the whole while.

Flustered, blushing and confused, Judy glanced between the phone screen, her parents, and the doctor. “I – I don’t understand…”

“Yes, neither do we. I will be asking both you and Mister Wilde some questions – he refused to answer any before he knew you were safe and sound – but first I shall leave you to your parents for a while. You need the rest, and the comfort.” He nodded, smiled, and made for the door. “Just pull the string if there are any issues.”

The door fell shut behind him.

“Oh, Judy,” Bonnie sighed, leaning into her side. “We’ve been so worried – they called us the moment you got in here, but by then it was already all over the news!”

Stu nodded somberly. “All we knew were you were unconscious and carried off the scene in the arms of some fox – course, we guessed who he was – ”

“Oh, that we did!”

“ – but the news said nuthin’ about his name. Thank goodness for the diligent hospital staff, mark my words.”

Judy gave a small smile, patting them both on their paws. “Oh, you guys… and you came all the way here? Are anyone else with you?”

“Only Bee and her youngest,” said Bonnie. “We’ve been staying at a motel just nearby – I should call her, let them know you’re awake.”

“Of course, they know everything,” Stu assured Judy, patting her arm. “The officers told us all they knew – that you’d gotten shot, that Mister Wilde struggled…” He grimaced a bit, tilting his head. “That, uh… that you marked each other…”

Judy’s ears fell. “I marked him, too?” She worried the thin hospital duvet between her paws, unable to look them in the eye. “I don’t remember anything that happened after… well…”

“Aw, sweetheart, that’s okay! We’re just glad you’re alive and healing well,” Bonnie said. Throwing a dry look at Stu, she added, “Stu wishes you weren’t hurt at all, and so do I, of course, but – you came easy out of it.”

She smiled, muzzle trembling. That much was true; she really did come easy out of it. Still, the nerves had nearly had her hide a few times. “Thank you,” she said. “Really, I – I mean it. I love you guys.”

Bonnie kissed her cheek. “And we love you, too, bon-bon.” She gave her a stern look. “But we expect to be informed about what’s going on, at some point.” When Judy’s ears twitched and she looked away, Bonnie added, “you need to rest, and heal, now. But eventually…” She wagged her finger playfully. “I’ll be watching you, young lady.”

Stu’s phone buzzed. He threw it a look, then smiled eagerly. “Oh, there he is! On his way now. I think we ought to leave our bon-bon alone for now, dear… she’s got another visitor.”

“Really?” Judy perked up. “Who?”

“Can’t say, won’t say,” said Stu, winking before leaning over and nuzzling her cheek. “You haven’t seen the last of us, that’s for sure.”

“Now, that much is true,” Bonnie agreed. “Call us if you need anything, Judy, dear.” She also nuzzled her cheek, then they waved and left the room.

Judy’s ears fell the moment the door shut behind them. She reached over to her bedside table, grabbing first the glass of water and then her phone, which were both there. After chugging the whole glass – damn, but she was parched – she turned her phone on and nearly choked.

She’d been bombarded with messages and missed calls as she was out. Several from Bonnie and Stu, but even more from others, as well – officers at Precinct One, friends from Bunnyburrow, strangers who wished her well and even some journalists who wanted to interview her.

It was all quite dizzying. Purposefully looking away, Judy put the phone aside and resolved herself to think about all that later, if at all. Right now, she didn’t even really know what had happened, much less what her next step would be.

There was a knock on the door. That had to be the visitor Stu mentioned! Judy sat up, straightening out her hospital robe as much as she could. She had no clue who this mystery mammal was, after all. “Come in!” she called.

The door creaked open, a red muzzle poking in through the crack. “Hey, Carrots.”

Judy sat rigid straight, ears popping up as she exclaimed, “Nick!!”

He chuckled, entering the room and closing the door behind him. There was a bouquet in his paws, red and purple flowers that Judy couldn’t be bothered to look at for long seeing as she could look at Nick instead. “Good to see you up and running. Er… up and sitting, anyway.” He scratched at his neck, then gestured towards the empty vase at her bedside table. “I, uhm. I got you some flowers…?”

Giggling, Judy reached over and pushed the vase closer. “So I see. How considerate of you, Mister Wilde.”

Taking the offered olive branch, Nick put on a pompous air and bent at the waist. “Only the best for Madam Hopps, m’dear.” He shot her a wink, then gently eased the bouquet into the vase. “So… how is my dumb bunny doing?”

“Nick, for the love of all that is good, please tell me what has happened,” Judy said. Nick pulled a chair up beside her bed, giving her a confused look. “I don’t remember anything after I was shot – the doctor says you went savage, too? But Bellwether only had one pellet left… and I wake up with your scent mark on me?” Sniffing the air, she added, “and mine on you!”

He blinked. “No one’s told you? Ah, crickets. I knew I shouldn’t have left… I’ve been waiting for you to wake up since they administered the antidote, and then the moment I leave to get coffee, you decide to wake.” Shaking his head, he clicked his tongue. “Anything to make life tougher for a tod, eh?”

“Nick,” Judy whined. “Please just explain, I – I’m so confused.”

“Okay, okay.” He rubbed at an ear, looking off to the side for a moment. “Okay. Well, yes, you were shot, and you did go savage, but… you were – very affectionate. Overly so, almost. You wouldn’t calm down until you’d inspected me – for wounds, I’d guess – and then you marked me without warning.”

Judy reached back to pull her ears over her face, groaning into her paws. Of course she had been the one to do it. Of course. “But – but how did you go savage?” she asked softly, peeking out at him between her ears.

Nick sucked at his teeth. “You may have… stepped on the pellet. I had in my pocket.”

Horrified, Judy released her ears to gape at him. “Oh, cheese and crackers, Nick, I’m so sorry! You didn’t… was anyone hurt? You didn’t hurt me, I know that, but – but…”

“Since it was such a small dose, and it just sort of seeped through my shirt and into my fur, the effects were extremely mild,” Nick assured her, reacting to her franticness by reaching out and putting a reassuring paw on hers. “I spent some minutes in a… sort of half-primal state where I could, for the most part, think logically, but… still, acted a lot on instinct. I, uhm.” His ears flattened and he looked away. “I reacted to your mark and marked you in, uhm. In return. Sorry about that.”

Judy gnawed on her lip. Hesitantly, she turned her paw to intertwine their claws. “Nick,” she said softly, “we really do need to talk.”

Nick sighed. “I know, Judy. I know.”

“Did you get the antidote, too?”

He hesitated. “I – the serum… wore off.” There was something off about the way he said it – all too snappy and too sharp – but Judy let it slide, for the moment. They could always talk about it later.

“And how are the other mammals?” She yawned so hard her jaw creaked. “Mister Otterton? Are they all alright?”

“Some of them are still processing the antidote, but the smaller ones – Otterton – have woken up, and everything seems fine.” Nick glanced at his phone screen, checking the time. “Pretty sure they just want to ask us some questions, and then you’re free to go… they said all your vitals were, and I quote, ‘quite excellent for a bunny of her condition’.”

Judy frowned, nose twitching. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Hey, I’m not a cop, don’t ask me.” He grinned at her frustrated sigh, then sat back in his chair. “You should get some more rest. It’s exhausting work, being savage.”

Agreeing to that, if nothing else, Judy snuggled up beneath the covers. A thought hit her, and she poked her head up to give him a hesitant look. “Are you… are you going to leave?”

“Now that you’re awake?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. He stood, going for the door.

Judy’s heart sank. Yes, of course he would… the marks were in the moment, there was no reason for him to stay, even though she had been his mate… if only briefly.

Nick turned off the lights and returned to his chair. “Not for anything in the world,” he said softly, and sat. “Sleep, honey-doe. I’m not going anywhere.”

The nickname shot electricity through her, less for the memories it sparked and more what it had to mean. “If you insist,” Judy allowed, laying back down and pulling the covers over her. Smiling, she muttered, “sly fox.”

*

Judy ran through an open field, yipping and squeaking in delight. The sun lapped at her bare back, grass and the odd flower kissing along her belly and sides. Her mate – her strong, powerful mate – had been chasing after her, and now he caught up. Tackling her to the ground they rolled around in the soft grass, barking and squealing before they settled. Her mate nuzzled her cheeks, then left his mark all along her chest and belly. Answering in kind, Judy leaned up to lick his cheek and rub her chin along his arm.

He was hers.

She was his.

His scent was all over her, overwhelming and home and safe. And the grass really was warm… he was speaking, saying something, but she couldn’t comprehend it. A bit confused, Judy raised her head, sniffing the air.

Someone else was here, too, and they weren’t in a field at all! Opening her eyes, Judy came face to face with her mate, looking at her with those gentle eyes of his and a kind smile. Saying something… he was…

“..dy? Carrots?”

“Nick?” Judy groggily asked, shaking off the remains of the dream and timid instincts she’d been showered in. “Wh…?”

Nick pulled a bit back from her, glancing over at – oh, Doctor Griffin! “Sorry to wake you, Fluff, but the doc figured it was time for our interrogation.”

Judy rubbed at her eyes. Nick’s scent was comforting, but far less so than it’d been on the cusp of sleep. Still, she drew in a mouthful of it and let it calm her nerves as she sat upright. “Right…” She shook her head. “Can I have some water?”

Nearly knocking the vase over in his haste, Nick poured her a glass of water before handing it over. “You alright there, Fluff? You’re looking a bit… out of it.”

“I’m fine,” said Judy. What a diligent mate.

No! Nick wasn’t… or, well, technically! But they hadn’t agreed! There hadn’t been any consent… not that Judy minded being his mate, but –

Oh, cheese and crackers, this wasn’t the right time for this.

“Yes, Doctor Griffin,” she said, nodding at him after having downed the glass. “What do you want to know?”

He’d come prepared with a notebook and pen. Now he gave her a cheery smile. “Everything, Miss Hopps, from start to finish.”

Nick told his story first, explaining how he’d let Judy do as he pleased and describing how the serum affected him – how he’d been able to shake it off, though not in the beginning. Then Judy shared her side of the story, flushing bright red when she explained how her last thoughts before she lost control had been about Nick, and how relieved she’d been at what he’d said.

“So,” said Doctor Griffin, flipping through his notebook. “It seems that so far, all the reports of a savage mammal’s actions line up with their last thoughts and emotions before the serum took over. You, Miss Hopps, affectionate and relieved – and you, Mister Wilde, protective and affectionate, if not worried.” Quieter, he muttered, “not to mention the countless other victims’ confusion and fright… naturally making them lash out, in their savage states.”

Judy collapsed into her pillows, her paw seeking out Nick’s. “What a relief,” she muttered. Meeting Nick’s gaze and offering a small smile – which he returned – she said, “I thought there was something wrong with us.”

Doctor Griffin huffed, amused, but didn’t look up from his notes. “Wrong? No, not at all, Miss Hopps. Just…” His voice took on an affectionate tone. “Just different, is all. And on that note…” Now he did look up from his notes. “We did do some blood tests on you while you were in a savage state, Miss Hopps. The results came back with some… surprises. It’s rather personal, so if you want Mister Wilde to leave…”

Judy’s grip on Nick’s paw tightened. “No, doctor. He can stay.”

“Are you certain?” Now, Zach Griffin was not stupid, and his nose – and eyes! – were perfectly functional. Still, knowing the two mammals before him had marked each other while in a primal state, he figured it was wisest not to draw any conclusions.

Judy, unaware of his thoughts, nodded. “Absolutely, sir.”

“Very well.” Doctor Griffin smiled, closing his notebook and pocketing it. “Congratulations, Miss Hopps. You’re pregnant.”

Chapter Text

Judy’s nose twitched. “What?”

“It’s just the blood test,” said Doctor Griffin, still smiling as though he hadn’t just told her something impossible, “so we can’t tell more just yet. How far along, how many, sex and so on is unknown at the time.”

“But,” said Judy, eyes wide. She glanced over at Nick, just as wide-eyed as her, if not a little bit hurt. “But – but I’ve only been with Nick recently! I haven’t even touched a buck in years!”

Doctor Griffin’s smile fell a bit. He reached a claw up to his chin, scratching the fur there for a moment. “Well – it’s not unknown for interspecies couples to reproduce… though I personally have not heard of any predators and prey species doing so since ancient times.”

“You’re pregnant?” Nick breathed. His paw, still on Judy’s, twitched. “I thought I could smell something different about you…”

“Now, I’m far from a specialist, but we do have one in the building – and as far as I know, she is free at the moment.” Doctor Griffin made for the door, pointing at Nick as he went. “Mister Wilde, if you would find Miss Hopps a wheelchair, I will go inform Doctor Beltran that you are coming.”

He disappeared.

Nick and Judy were left alone.

“Sweet cheese and crackers,” said Judy softly.

“You’re pregnant,” said Nick again. “Carrots… you’re pregnant.”

Judy cast him a look, then giggled helplessly at his shock. “Yes, Nick, I heard the doctor. Let’s not…” Her ears dropped a bit. “Let’s not throw a party just yet, okay? We don’t know if it’s… if they’re…” She fought for the words. “…healthy.”

She didn’t even know if she wanted to keep them. Dear Lord. She was pregnant.

“Right,” said Nick, and jumped out of his chair. “Right! Right, uhm. Wheelchair! I’ll – I’ll be right back.”

*

"It's a bit too early to say how many, exactly, but there's more than two, that's for sure!" said Doctor Beltran, a friendly cougar. She shot Judy a quick reassuring smile before returning to the screen. "You'll have to come in for more check-ups, of course, but... hmm, let's see... yes, they look healthy as far as I can tell... and listen, there, that's a heartbeat!"

Judy gripped Nick's paw so tightly it was likely to bruise as the quiet thudding crackled from the speakers. "Oh," she whispered. Her eyes burned.

Nick was staring, wide-eyed, at the pixelated gray picture. "But, doctor... how is this possible? I mean..." He barked a disbelieved laugh, gesturing in-between them. "I mean, we're not..."

Doctor Beltran looked away from the screen to give them a serious look. "It is a miracle, that is for sure. My personal theory is that Miss Hopps here is a descendant of the pre-historic Bred pack."

Judy cocked her head. She had never been big on ancient history. "Bred pack?"

Doctor Beltran nodded. "Nowadays, interspecies breeding is not as common as it used to be - but back when mammals were just barely starting to gain a higher intelligence, there were some packs that consisted of interbred members.”

Both Judy and Nick made surprised sounds.

“The Bred pack,” Doctor Beltran continued, “a personal interest of mine, consisted mainly of hybrids between rabbits and other prey species, such as antelopes. It’s the earliest known instance of interspecies mating in mammal history, thought it’s certainly not the last! But not only that! We’ve also found proof of hybrids between the Bred rabbits and smaller predators..." Here she gave Nick a pointed smile. "Like foxes."

Nick and Judy shared a look. "How would that affect anything?" Judy cautiously asked. “I mean, it’s so long ago…”

Doctor Beltran shrugged. "With a predisposal of ancient predator genes buried beneath the modern rabbit, I'm assuming it would be easier for something like this to take place." She took a look at the screen again, a small smile lurking at the corner of her mouth. "You two have been very lucky indeed. I doubt this would occur again anytime soon."

*

Nick wheeled Judy back to her room in heavy, but not awkward, silence. Even if it had been, then Judy would probably not have noticed; she was deep in thought.

When they came back to her room, Nick helped her crawl back into bed. Still exhausted after the number that had been done to her, both physically and mentally, she was glad to lie down and lie still. How strange – normally she would be jumping at the chance to get work done, but now… she was content to relax in Nick’s presence.

"Well, Carrots," Nick said, his voice trembling, "what do you think?"

Judy's lip quivered, her paws clutching at the covers. She didn't know what to think. She could barely keep up with all the emotions swirling through her! All she wanted was her mate... no, Nick. He'd make everything better.

"Will you just hold me? Just for a little bit?" she whispered.

A pause, then Nick crawled into the bed beside her. It was a bed for medium sized mammals, and so it wasn't too tight of a fit for them both to lie comfortably. Not that Judy minded: she curled up beside him and shoved her face against his shoulder, trying to subtly draw in as much of his scent as she could.

Nick planted a kiss between her ears. "Anything for you."

Judy had never wanted kits. They were cute and all, but it was a lot of responsibility, and she'd always been more focused on her hopes and dreams than marrying and having a litter or two. She'd seen first-hand how much of a life commitment kits were.

... so why did she want these ones so bad?? Some part of her was absolutely giddy at the news and just couldn't wait to have them in her arms, feeding them, raising them... the thought of missing out on this was like a gunshot right to the heart. And, well, it wasn't like she still had a job to focus on.

There were so many uncertainties. What did Nick want to do? Where would she live? Could she tackle being a single mother?

Closing her eyes, Judy drew another deep breath.

All logistics and reasoning aside: at the very core of her, did she want to keep them?

This was absurd! Where had all her determination gone? Why had this motherly instinct kicked in – where had it come from? Judy growled to herself, shutting her eyes tighter.

Okay. Okay, so she wanted to keep them, for some darn reason.

Now, what about the logistics? What about work? With how divided Zootopia had become after her press conference speech, she had no desire to raise hybrid kits here. Not only would their very existence bring them a bad name, but so would undoubtedly Judy being their mother.

She supposed she could move back to Bunnyburrow, raise the kits in the Hopps Warren like the community was always meant to do… but that also seemed a bit frightening, considering how conservative some of her family members were.

Of course, she could always get her own place. Maybe she’d be able to get a job at the Sherriff’s office, or… her ears perked up. Maybe as a private investigator! That seemed fun. She definitely still wanted to make the world a better place, that was for sure and certain.

Nick stirred beside her. “Fluff?”

Judy closed her eyes and gnawed at her lip. Okay, so her big dream of being a city cop wasn’t coming to fruition, but that did not mean all was lost. If anything, this had all taught her that her hometown wasn’t as boring as she thought!

Still, she couldn’t make a decision without hearing it out with Nick, first.

And that was another thing – Judy had certainly liked Nick before, been attracted to him, too – but where did this intense desire to be with him come from? This instinctual turning to him? This… this primal need?

“Sit up, please,” said Judy meekly, pushing at Nick’s arm.

He jumped to do as she asked, shuffling around in bed until they both sat comfortably. His tail hung off the side of the bed, ears turned back in concerned focus. His attentiveness warmed her, and it made some of her old confidence rise up.

“Nick… what are you going to do?” He tilted his head, ears flicking. “I mean – about this.” She gestured to her nearly-flat belly. “What do you want to do?”

“Judy…” said Nick slowly, a frown forming. A moment passed, then he sighed. “Okay, before I answer that very concerning question, I need to tell you this. Actually, I need to tell you several things.” He reached out to grab her paw, tugging it into his lap to hold it between both of his. It was odd: Judy hadn’t pegged him as the overly affectionate type, and yet here he was, bent over her arm with such a heartbroken look she could barely cope with it.

Her ears draped down across her back. “Nick…?”

He lifted his head to meet her gaze. “I haven’t gotten the antidote. They didn’t give it to me, even when I asked.”

“But you said… you said you overcame it?”

“And I did,” said Nick, “but not… well, not in the sense that it was gone, just in the sense that I overpowered it. You know, with my overwhelmingly attractive physique.”

Judy raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “It’s still true – I didn’t fight it away, I just fought it off. It’s still… it’s still there.” He put one of his paws against his chest, insistently saying, “it’s still in here. And I can feel it telling me to protect and cherish you, because… Carrots… foxes mate for life.”

Her nose twitched. “I thought that was…”

“In olden times?” He gave a tired smile. “I come from a traditional family. Some foxes – especially red ones – still hold those old traditions close to heart. Though I, personally, don’t follow them as closely as my elders…” He shook his head, looking away. “These instincts and feelings are – they’re insistent, Judy, and as far as the serum is concerned… we’re mated.”

Then… then it wasn’t just her? Not just her instincts acting up, going haywire and insisting he was her big, strong mate? Well, wasn’t that a relief!

Taking her wide-eyed silence entirely the wrong way, Nick hurried to say, “now I know that’s probably just me, and I won’t force you to do anything you don’t want to, but I had to say it for the next thing to make sense.” He took a deep breath, straightened up, and looked her in the eye. “I will support you in anything, any way I can, Judy Hopps. Anything you want me to do –” He held up a finger. “ – within realms of reason – I will to the best of my ability.”

Swallowing hard, Judy reached out with her other paw to grasp Nick’s. “Oh, Nick…”

“I mean it, Judy,” said Nick sternly. “Financial support, emotional support, physical protection… you name it, I’ve got it. At least, I’ll try to. If you – if you don’t want to keep them, I support you. If you want to keep them, I support you.” Lowering his voice a bit and looking aside, he added, “if you never want to see me again, then… then I support that, too.”

Lifting a paw to Nick’s chin and turning his head to look at her, Judy stretched her neck and pressed a soft kiss to his lips. “I think of you as a mate, too,” she whispered, happy to see his eyes widen. Hearing him say things like that – making such wondrous promises – almost made it sound like wedding vows, which was definitely a thing to think about in the future, rather than just now. “I want to keep them, Nick.” She guided his paw down to her abdomen, leaving it there. “I want to keep them with you.”

His eyes were practically sparkling. His tail was no longer hanging limp, but rather thumping against the bedframe. “R – really? You do?

“I do have a request, though.” She smiled shyly. “Would you move to Bunnyburrow with me?”

He threw himself backwards, draping an arm over his eyes and dramatically bellowing, “the things you ask of me! Move! To Bunnyburrow! Me!” He pondered it for a moment, then sat up and shrugged. “Yeah, I’ll do it.”

Chuckling, Judy leaned forward to boop their noses together. “Silly fox.”

Nick wrapped an arm around her neck and drew her into a kiss. “Pretty bunny.”

They shared the sweet kiss for a moment, then Judy pulled away with a gasp. “Oh, there’s so much to do! I need to tell mom and dad – we need a place to live, and – and I need to hear if they’re hiring at the sheriff – and you’ll need a job! And – and we need stuff for the little ones, and names! And – ” Her eyes fell, and she put a paw to her mouth. “Oh, Nick, what if they aren’t healthy? What if they develop wrong?”

Nick kissed her. Calmly, he said, “and I need to talk to a dozen different people here in Zootopia to inform them of the move. Judy – Carrots. Look at me.” She did, nose twitching. Smiling kindly, he put a paw to her cheek, caressing her fur. “I got this. Okay? You’re not alone. One step at a time.”

Nodding, Judy drew a deep breath and tried her best to pull herself together. “Right. Yes. One step at a time.” She nuzzled into his paw. “Maybe… maybe I should tell my parents, first?”

“Good idea.” He fished his phone out of a pocket. “I’ll text Stu right now.” At her quizzical look, he grinned. “I’m on quite the friendly terms with them both, Jude the Dude. They were very interested in this fox their daughter scent marked.”

A bit nervous now, Judy asked, “and… and what do they think of this fox?”

Nick tapped away at the screen. “They think he’s charming, intelligent, handsome… oh, wait.” He flashed a smile. “That’s what you think.”

“Nick!”

He chuckled, putting aside his phone. “They were just finishing at a restaurant… they’re bringing your cousin and her kits with them. In all seriousness, they seem friendly – and not in the ‘I secretly hate you’ kind of way, either.”

She relaxed into her pillows. “Well, thank God for that. How far away were they?”

Checking his watch, Nick said, “they’ll be here in about… fifteen minutes.”

“Great,” said Judy. “That leaves more than enough time.”

“For what?”

“For this,” said Judy, and pulled him into a heated kiss.

*

Bee was only three years older than Judy, placing her on a nice 27 years old. She was a Hopps through her mother's side, her father being an Arctic rabbit who'd fled to Bunnyburrow to escape his abusive family. He'd since died in a farming accident – one of the greatest tragedies in recent memory, claiming nearly a dozen lives – but not before marrying Bee's mother and passing on his white, fluffy fur to their four kits.

Bee had inherited her mother's fur patterns, giving her blacktipped ears and paws, but her father's long white fur. Her name was actually Beatrice, but she'd earned herself the nickname Bee by spilling yellow paint all over herself when she was a kit, and the name had stuck.

In Judy's younger years the two had been nearly inseparable, as both wanted to go different paths than the ones the Hopps family had hoped for them. Bee had wanted to be a firefighter, but then she'd fallen pregnant when she was seventeen and chosen to keep the kits. Now she worked part-time as a nurse, raising her third litter in the Hopps Warren.

Her two oldest litters were twelve and nine years old and were fine on their own in Bunnyburrow, but her youngest were four, and she wasn't quite ready to part with them for too long yet – especially as their father was a pygmy rabbit she’d met at a bar! They were tiny for a rabbit, and so she'd brought them with her to meet their favourite aunt in the big city.

Judy, now pregnant on her own and with strange maternal instincts she'd never had before, was ecstatic to have the four youngsters crawling all over here. "Hi, guys!" she exclaimed, scratching the nearest, Louise, behind her ear. "I hope you've been behaving for your ma."

Bee laughed, settling into the chair Nick had previously sat in (Nick was still sitting in her bed). "Oh, they're nasty lil devils, they are, but I love 'em anyway. Hi, Judes. Nice to see you alive."

Judy grinned. "Takes more than a mammoth tooth to slay this cowgirl. Hi again, mom, dad."

Bonnie and Stu sat down on her other side, smiling warmly. "We came as soon as we could," Bonnie said. "You're not ill, are you? It's nothing dangerous?"

“No, mom, it’s nothing dangerous.” Glancing over at Nick – he gave her an encouraging nod – Judy took a deep breath. “Nick and I are going to move to Bunnyburrow.”

Both Bee, Bonnie and Stu straightened. Bonnie and Stu shared a beam. “Really, honey? That’s wonderful news!”

“But are you sure you’re ready to give up city life, Nick?” Bonnie asked, sounding genuinely worried, rather than patronizing. It really was wonderful how far they had come.

“For Judy? Yes.”

At their confused looks, Judy decided to take pity on them. “I’m pregnant. And they’re Nick’s.”

Silence.

Bonnie slapped both paws to her cheeks and squealed, then lunged at Judy and squeezed her in a tight hug. “Oh, Judy! How wonderful!”

Bee clapped her shoulder. “Ay, love, didn’t think you had it in ye.”

Judy breathlessly gasped, “yeah, me either. Mom, you’re killing me!”

Stu had leaned back in his chair, eyes wide. “But – a fox and a rabbit? How is that even…”

Bonnie jumped away, then pushed and prodded at Judy’s face, inspecting her from every angle. “Yes, Judes, how is that even possible? Not that I doubt you, of course, but it is confusing… how far along are you?”

Doing some quick counting in her head, Judy said, “almost six weeks.” That sounded so frightening – with rabbit pregnancies lasting about three months, that was half-way. At least it wouldn’t be long before the little ones would skyrocket in growth (the last month harbouring most the development of the kits), and then they’d know for sure they were, indeed, healthy.

“And you want to move back to Bunnyburrow?” Bonnie eagerly asked, ears straight up and nearly trembling with anticipation. “There’s more than enough space for you at the warren, dear!”

“Er,” said Judy, glancing first at Stu, then at Bee, for help. When no help came, she tried to break the news kindly. “I was… hoping we could get our own place, mom. What with our kits being… hybrids.” Her ears slowly sank down to her back. “Not everyone is as accepting as you guys…”

“Oh.” Bonnie took a step back. “Well – well! That’s okay! We’ll figure something out. You can of course stay at our place until you find somewhere!”

Glancing at Nick to ensure he was alright with that – he was – Judy turned a bright smile on her mom. “That would be wonderful, mom, thank you!”

They delved into light chatter about what room they would have, who would be most excited to see Judy again, where in Bunnyburrow they would like to live, what work they would enjoy, and so on.

All the while, Bonnie and Stu dutifully neglected to ask what the relationship status was between their daughter and the red tod – sensing they were not yet ready to talk of it.

*

Judy was bed-bound for a few days more until she could transfer from wheelchair to crutches. While she was bored in hospital bed and cursing her body for not healing faster, Nick was out tying off loose ends and gathering what little belongings he had. They’d managed to convince Judy’s family to return to Bunnyburrow – there was no point in them staying when they’d be joining them soon enough.

When Judy finally got her paws on some crutches and convinced the doctors to let her out of their care – but not before promising to come back every second week to let Doctor Beltran have a look at her kits – there was only one thing left to do.

*

Judy embraced the arctic shrew as well as she could, which really only meant letting her hold onto her neck fur while gently tapping her on the back. Fru-Fru was highly pregnant and looked about ready to pop at any moment, and yet she was just as energic and happy to see Judy as she’d been the two last times they met. “Hi, Fru-Fru! How have you been?” Judy gushed, having already greeted Mr. Big.

“Tired, moody, hungry,” said Fru-Fru, and laughed. “So, the regular. You’ve been in the hospital, daddy said! How are you?

Despite knowing she probably should talk about Bellwether and the shooting first, Judy couldn’t help herself. She held her breath for a moment, then squealed, “I’m pregnant!”

Fru-Fru gasped, then shrieked in delight and went to hug her again. Hadn’t it been for her big belly, she would probably have been jumping on the spot.

“Congratulations,” said Mr. Big, sporting a small smile. “Who is the father?”

Judy beamed, turning to gesture Nick forward. Rolling his eyes but complying, Nick came up to wrap a paw around her shoulders and giving a winning smile. “That would be me.”

Mr. Big raised his eyebrows, looking between them for a moment before leaning towards Judy and loudly whispering, “if he does one wrong thing by you, my dear…”

Judy would have rolled her eyes and laughed, if she hadn’t known Mr. Big meant every word. “Thank you, Mr. Big, but…” She beamed at Nick. “That really won’t be necessary.” Turning back to Fru-Fru, she hesitantly said, “the doctors say the kits are healthy, and I want to believe them. So… if I do end up giving birth to healthy bunny fox hybrids… would you want to be their godmother?”

Fru-Fru shrieked far louder this time. Nick slapped his paws over his ears, and Judy twitched in pain – but Fru-Fru did not seem to notice nor care, as she burst forward and hugged Judy for a third time. “Oh, Judy, I would love to! Where are you guys staying? We’ll send you some gifts!”

“Oh,” said Judy. “Uh, about that…” She glanced at Nick, but there was no support to be found there; he was still rubbing his ears with a grimace. “Nick and I are going to move back to Bunnyburrow… we’re leaving in just an hour.”

Fru-Fru gaped. Even Mr. Big leaned forward with a frown. “In just an hour? Then why have you come here?”

“To share the good news – and to say goodbye, for now. And, uh…” Her ears drooped a bit. “To ask what we owe you, after you threatened Weaselton into giving us information.”

“Nonsense. My children do not owe me anything for favours. Though…” He grinned, spreading his paws. “We would love to visit you, in Bunnyburrow, when little Ju-Ju has arrived.”

“Any moment now, daddy!” Fru-Fru chirped.

Judy and Nick shared a stricken look. “With – with all due respect, Mr. Big,” Nick stammered, “uh… polar bears in Bunnyburrow would be very…” He gestured with his paws, struggling to find the words.

“Uncommon,” Judy supplied. “I – I fear it would make you a bigger target than usual.”

“Meh.” He shrugged. “Then we will come without. Perhaps bring Koslov, separately. We will see.”

Releasing a slow breath, Judy reasoned that she couldn’t exactly stop a criminal overlord from visiting her, even if she wanted to. “Then… then it would be an honour and a joy to welcome you to Bunnyburrow,” she said, managing a genuine, albeit small, smile. “Or – or wherever we settle down.”

After a brief little chit-chat – and promising to call Fru-Fru sometime soon – they had to run to catch their train. With Judy on crutches and Nick with a heavy backpack, it took longer than expected, and so they just barely made it on time.

Sprinting in through the closing door and yanking Judy in after him, Nick heaved a massive breath. He collapsed into one of the seats, dumping his backpack beside him. Head lolling to one side, he shot Judy a lazy grin and said, “that could’a ended badly, eh, Carrots?”

He’d yanked her like she weighed nothing, oh-so-easily putting her safety before, or at least equal to, his own. Now, the way he was looking at her – his blue Hawaiian shirt loosely buttoned and his white tie completely askew – like she was important…

Something warm and soft was curling up in Judy’s chest – a sort of contentment that had her wanting to crawl into Nick’s arms and stay there forever. Her mate would take great care of her, she knew that well…

“Carrots?”

Judy snapped out of it, paw coming up to cover her muzzle as her purring stopped. “Er – sorry. Lost in thought.”

Nick had sat up straight. “What was that… sound, you just made?”

She flushed and hurried to sit beside him so she could look away and hide her expression. “Nothing, really… I was just… I was just purring.”

Huh? Rabbits purr?

“Well, it’s called that, but it’s not the same sound felines make…” Judy muttered, tugging self-consciously at one of her ears. “It’s made by tapping our teeth together.”

Nick threw an arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side, nuzzling her head while he chuckled. “You rabbits never cease to amaze me.”

She giggled, the embarrassment forgotten instantly. “Oh, Nick, stop it – I could say the same about you!”

“Mmh, oh really, now?”

“For sure!” She thought about it, then shrugged. “But I’m not sharin’.”

He didn’t seem to phased by it, humming as he nuzzled her again. “Sly bunny.”

“Dumb fox.”

Judy grinned, turning her head to burrow into the soft, thick fur around his neck. She let out a giddy giggle, unable to hold it in as she smelled her mate all around her. Her mate! Whom she was pregnant with! She had their kits in her belly.

It had all happened so fast – so suddenly – so wildly.

And dear God, was she ready for it.

Chapter Text

It was only an hour-long trip, so they hadn’t exactly bothered to pack entertainment, which an impatient Judy began to regret about half-way through. To quench her rising boredom, she decided to hold an impromptu culture lesson. “So, Nick,” she said, managing an innocent tone as she slid closer to him. “What do you know about Bunnyburrow, really?”

He was oblivious, chin resting in his paw as he kept watch out the window. “Not much,” he admitted with a shrug. “Carrot farms, of course, but that’s about it. Oh, and your family produce the tastiest blueberries I’ve ever had.”

“Oh, my poor uneducated fox. You’re talking about the Tri-Burrow area. Bunnyburrow is just a town.”

Nick’s ear flicked in her direction, and he turned with raised eyebrows. “Really? I didn’t know that.”

His interest seemed genuine enough. “It’s called the Tri-Burrow area because of the three farmer clans who own most of the farmland nearby,” Judy began. “The Hopps, the Charlsons, and the Bellhoods. Since they’re rabbit and hare clans, our warrens are way bigger than the regular rabbit’s – hence, the Tri-Burrow area.”

Frowning, Nick asked, “then what is Bunnyburrow?”

“Bunnyburrow is mostly rabbits owning stores, controlling a public school, steering hospitals and so on. You’ll hear there’s a surprising amount of diversity among the inhabitants, but that’s not really true… Bunnyburrow is practically the capital of the Tri-Burrow area, but most non-lagomorphs live in the nearby villages.”

“Huh. Interesting.” It sounded like he meant it, glancing thoughtfully down at her. “Did you say a rabbit clan was way bigger?”

She smirked. “The Hopps clan sits at around four hundred warren members, which isn’t counting mammals like me, who don’t live at the warren.”

His jaw dropped. “Four hundred? You have four hundred family members?”

“In a sense, yes.” She gestured as she explained, surprised and pleased in the interest he was taking. “A clan is… well, it’s almost like a small town living under the same roof. You’ll hear my parents say I have hundreds of siblings, but that’s just a running joke – that everyone have grown up together, so you’re tight as family.”

Nick tilted his head. “Then what’s the connection?”

“The Hopps name. The Hopps clan has around… twenty family units, I think. A family unit is your closest – those you live with, the ones directly related to you. Each family unit has a member on the warren council – that’s where they make all the big decisions about the farm.”

“So it’s like a tiny little democracy,” Nick said. “That’s interesting – nothing like anything I’ve heard of before.”

Judy laughed. “No, I suppose you wouldn’t have. It’s why rabbits are said to have so large families, because the clans are what most people see, even if they don’t understand. It really isn’t that common to have huge families outside of the big clans.”

“Is this universal? Would a rabbit in another country do the same?”

“Mhm. It’s beneficial to running a farm, having such large, close-knit communities.” Judy shot him a smile. “You know, it’s nice, hearing you so interested in this.”

He rolled his eyes, reaching out to gently flick her nose. “To be frank, Carrots, this is survival instinct and not interest. If I’m going to be living with, or at least around, your family… I better understand how it works, or they’ll flay me.”

“Then I’ll flay them,” said Judy, “after they flay me. They’ll have to go through me to get to you.”

“Such a flatterer,” Nick teased. “The same to you, Fluff.”

She snuggled into his side, then cast a glance at his watch. “Oh!” Her ears perked up. “We’re almost there! Just a few more minutes. Fair warning, it’s tradition for the whole family unit to show up to welcome missing members back.”

“What, all four hundred?”

Judy laughed. “Family unit, Nick, not the whole clan! I think we’re just fifteen.”

“Thank God it’s just the size of a pre-school class,” Nick said drily.

She punched him in the arm.

*

Juuudyyyyy!”

Judy barely had time to let go of Nick’s paw to catch the lightning of creamy fur that jumped at her. Laughing loudly, she spun the little doe around (as well as her leg allowed, anyway) and hugged her tight. “How’s my dearest little niece?” she exclaimed, pulling back to grin at little Cotton.

“I’m so good!” Cotton said, vibrating in her excitement. “We’re having carrot soup for dinner!!”

“Oh, is that so?” Judy conspicuously glanced around, then leaned in and whispered, “I might have some candy for you, afterwards, if you behave.”

A new voice broke in. “Hey, can we get some attention, too?”

A tall, gray doe with Judy’s white muzzle stood with her paws on her hips, sporting a wide grin. Judy beamed, setting Cotton down on the ground to pull her sister into a hug. “Jessica!”

Jessica laughed loudly, rubbing Judy’s back vigorously before stepping back. A shorter, cream-colored doe with a brown muzzle took her place. “And me,” she said drily. “I’m here, too.”

Exchanging a glance with Jessica, Judy cheerily said, “have you seen Mary yet, Jess?”

“Hmm,” said Jessica, tapping a claw against her lips. “No, can’t say I have, Jude.”

Rolling her eyes, Mary decided to take matters into her own paws and flung her arms around Judy’s neck. “We’ve been so worried,” she muttered.

Tasting a tinge of guilt, Judy returned the hug. “Yeah,” she said softly, gently nuzzling her youngest littermate. “So have I.”

“Aunt Judy?”

Judy let go of Mary and turned to the timid voice of Mary’s eldest, a young doe with her mother’s colouring, only to find her staring, wide-eyed, at Nick. Nick, for his part, had stuck close to the train tracks seemingly frozen in fear.

“Yes, Ginny?”

Ginny turned her wide eyes to Judy, pointing unashamedly at Nick. “Who’s he?”

Bonnie and Stu finally made their presence known – having stepped back to let their eldest daughters reunite, but now deciding to intervene before something happened. “That’s your uncle Nick, dear,” said Bonnie, putting a paw on Ginny’s shoulder. “Why don’t you and Cotton grab the rest of your siblings and introduce yourself?”

Nick’s gaze snapped to Judy. She gave him an encouraging smile, and like a miracle before her eyes Nick slid into easy confidence as he went to deal with the kits.

“Okay,” said Ginny, encouraged by the adults’ nonchalant behaviour. She grabbed Cotton’s paw and skipped back to the scattered group of kits to withdraw their siblings – Greg, George and Chris.

Snickering as Nick’s confidence faded a bit at the sight of five eager little kits, Judy went over to join the rest of her family. Her aunt Clarissa was giving Bonnie a stern look. “That was mean, Bon.”

Kissing Clarissa’s cheek in greeting, Judy came to her mother’s rescue. “I’ll go save him in a bit. Don’t worry, auntie – he loves offspring.”

Clarissa’s husband, John – father to their only kit, Jewel – chuckled. “Aye, an’ he better, with your predicament, an’ all.”

Flushing and raising an eyebrow at John’, Judy pointedly turned to Stu’s older brother, Martin. “And how is my favourite uncle doing?”

Martin and Stu laughed, while John – forever destined to be the victim of family jokes, being the youngest brother – harrumphed and turned away.

“Congratulations on that, by the way,” said Jessica, bumping her elbow into Judy’s. “I always figured I’d have kits before you.”

“So did I,” said Judy.

Mary raised an eyebrow. “And then Nick happened?”

Judy smiled, casting a glance back at her mate. “And then Nick happened,” she softly agreed, something primal giddy with glee at watching him let the kits climb all over him and poke at his teeth. He was lucky, really, that Jewel was on her father’s shoulders – not to mention Hercules and Honey, Bonnie and Stu’s much younger litter being busy poking a snail with a twig some meters away. “Maybe I should go save him before they rip out a tooth…”

“Hmm,” said Jessica and Mary in unison. “Nah.”

Turning to her closest family, Judy said, “you guys are… far more welcoming about this than I thought.”

“Judy,” said Clarissa sternly, “you’ve been preaching to us about equality all your life.”

“You moved to the city to be a cop!” Martin added.

“And did a wonderful job, might I add,” Stu shot in.

“Honestly, Judy,” said Jessica, “I’m a bit offended. I mean, he’s just a fox. It’s not like he’s an alien.”

Mary turned to look at Nick, humming thoughtfully. “Let’s see. Head. Arms. Legs. Tail.” She shrugged. “Nope, he seems just like a normal mammal to me.”

Judy fled before she could start weeping like a little kit, their easy acceptance terrifying and soul-warming at the same time. “Nick?” she called, hoping he couldn’t hear the tears in her voice. She chuckled despite herself, putting her paws on her hips as she observed the pile of cream and gray before her. “Are you in there, uncle Nick?”

Uncle Nick. It sounded so wonderful: rolled of her tongue so well. She tried to think of him as a dad, with a kit on each arm and sitting in on parental conferences, and found the thought both lovely and horrifying.

A red paw squirmed its way out of the pile, to loud, shrieking giggles from the kits.

Judy chuckled and shook her head. “Okay.” Taking pity on him, she grabbed his paw and helped him up. “All okay there, Slick?”

He was flushed and grinning, tail wagging behind him. “I think they like me.”

“I think they’re ready to marry you,” said Judy drily, nodding at how the youngest kits were chasing after Nick’s flicking tail. “Come on, then. Let’s go get you cleaned up.”

*

Seeing as it was Nick’s first visit to the warren, they had opted to have a more private dinner in their shared unit ‘apartment’.

It was larger than an apartment – more like a small house – but the furnishing was rather simple and the kitchen appliances old, to encourage use of the communal kitchens and common rooms, as that was cheaper for the clan as a whole. Most Hopps’ willingly ate in the communal kitchens due to the community, but there were times when it was more appropriate to eat in one’s unit areas. Such as now, with a fox visiting for dinner.

After having introduced Nick to all her family members on the way home, and quizzing him on their names until they stuck, Judy was pleased to say he was gaining his old confidence back. By the time everyone but Mary and most her kits gathered around the dining table, he was sporting his trademark grin and assured ears.

“Who made the soup?” he asked, once he’d had his first taste.

“Mary’s mate,” Bonnie chirped up with, though she was struggling to get Hercules to sit still for long enough to eat.

Mary, for her part, had taken all her kits but Cotton down into the communal kitchens to eat, as she’d had plans prior to Judy deciding to move back home.

“Nala Hopps,” Judy explained, at Nick’s quizzical look. “They’re fiancés.”

“Someone ought to tell her this soup is delicious,” Nick stated, eagerly digging into the soup. His tail thumped against the table legs, much to Cotton’s delight.

There was laughter around the table. “Nala is known for ‘er carrot soup,” John grinned. “She’ll be mighty pleased ‘ta hear a fox enjoys it, as well.”

Nick raised his eyebrows. “What’s not to enjoy?” He swallowed another mouthful, then gestured at Judy with his spoon. “Y’know, Fluff, if all food is this good around here, I might be inclined to stay.”

“Oh, please,” said Judy, rolling her eyes. “Like you haven’t sworn to protect me forever, my knight in shining armour.

“What can I say?” Nick grinned at her, leaning towards her and resting his chin on his paw. “You’re worth protecting.”

The way he was looking at her – !

Hurriedly turning to Bonnie, Judy squeaked, “about that, uhm – mom – where’s Nick to sleep while we’re here?”

Ignoring Nick’s chuckles, Bonnie said, “we were planning on putting both of you together in one of the guestrooms – one of your uncles is borrowing yours. Is that okay?”

After sharing a look with Nick, Judy nodded. “That’s perfectly fine, mom, thanks.”

“Hey!” Jessica perked up. “I just remembered! You guys were going to move out from the warren, right? You’re looking for someplace to live?”

Nick nodded, still scooping up the last remains of his soup. “That’s the plan.”

“Well – Gideon told me just the other day that the old badger couple from Burrower’s Corner – you know, in Whiteside? – are moving out and looking to sell!” She beamed at them. “I think it’s worth checking out!”

“Burrower’s Corner?” said Judy excitedly, at the same time as Bonnie said, “Whiteside? Isn’t that a bit far away?”

Clarissa chuckled. “Such a mother-hen, Bon. It’s just twenty minutes by car, about an hour by bird.”

“And if you take the train to Foxville, it’s just a ten minute walk from there,” Jessica added. “What do you guys think? I can take you there tomorrow, if you want to.”

After sharing a quick look with Nick to ensure they were on the same page, Judy beamed. “Yes, Jess, that would be wonderful! Even if it’s not to our tastes – or in our budget! – it’ll be nice to show Nick around.”

“Pish-posh,” said Bonnie, giving Judy a stern look. “You know the clan has a fund in place for things like that. Your budget is bigger than you think, dear.”

“Oh, no, I know that,” Judy hurried to assure, waving her paws in the air. “It’s just, Burrower’s Corner is a really nice place. They tend to be really expensive.”

Bonnie raised her chin. “Oh, we shall see.” And more was not said on that.

*

Judy showed Nick to the guestrooms after dinner. They were simple but cozy, with rounded walls and a comfortable double bed. There were no kitchen appliances at all, though there was a small TV mounted to the wall. A bathroom with a shielded shower and a few toilet stalls was shared between their guestroom and two others, which both stood empty at the time.

Dumping his backpack by the door, Nick jumped into the bed with a groan, splaying out both arms and legs before snuggling into one of the pillows.

With laughter in her voice, Judy limped over and asked, “what are you doing?”

“Quality testing,” Nick said, looking up from the pillow to shoot her a grin.

“Well?” She grinned back, tilting her head and crossing her arms. “Does it pass the test?”

Stretching with a moan, Nick’s tail wagged slightly. “Oooh, absolutely. Best bed I’ve laid on since I was a kit. You sure we’re allowed to stay here? We didn’t walk into a Queen’s room, did we?”

Judy rolled her eyes. “We’re not bees, Nick, there aren’t any queens here.”

He hummed, rolling over onto his back to watch her. There was a gleam to his eye that at first glance could seem mischievous, but on closer inspection was something far softer. “Well, except you.”

Though she’d been with a fair number of bucks in her younger years, she was not much used to such outrageous compliments. Flushing, she chuckled – happy at the compliment, but in unfamiliar waters and unsure of how to respond. Pondering about it, she landed on the most outrageous response she could think of.

“Y’know what, Nick,” she said, “I think… I think you should go shower, and I’ll go talk to the kitchens about when there’s breakfast…” Lowering her voice a bit with a teasing smile, she said, “so I can know just how long time we’ve got to ourselves tonight.”

Nick went still for only a moment, and then his tail began to sweep across the bed – akin to a hurricane.

Judy left the room with a laugh.

*

The Hopps Warren did not have floors in the same way an above-ground house would have; the hallways slanted upwards and down so slowly and at such strange intervals it couldn’t count as floors. Instead, the Warren was divided into sections and stages – sections being horizontal, and stages vertical.

The communal areas were all above ground to let in as much natural light as possible, leaving the intricate web of corridors, bedrooms and unit apartments underground.

The kitchens were huge and always staffed by the countless chefs and cooks of the Hopps clan, either preparing the communal meals or smaller portions meant for themselves or their families. Judy stayed by the doors, not wanting to bother the chefs by infringing on their territory and lacking a lot of flexibility to duck out of the way.

She glanced about from the perspective of the doors, trying to spot one of the Head Chefs. They should be easy to find, seeing as they’d be a good foot taller than most of the rabbits in there –

“Mey!” Judy called, ears popping up as she spotted them.

Mey, a black-furred hare with gray-tipped ears glanced up from the documents they were reading at the outskirts of the cooking areas. They beamed when seeing Judy, putting down the documents and making their way towards her. “Hoya, Judith, what’s poppin’?”

Judy refrained from hugging them. “Hey, how’s it going? It’s been a while!”

Chuckling, Mey put their paws on their hips. “Aye, it sure has, but ‘ah don’t blame ye one bit, Judes! Been busy an’ excitin’ in the big city, eh?” They wagged a finger at her. “An’ I ‘ear ye’ve gone an’ gotten preggers with a fox, of all things. Good luck with tha’, y’all are a tough-luck combo from what ‘ah’ve heard!”

Their enthusiasm was contagious, and Judy laughed, her accent slipping a bit. “Yeah, that we are! So far everything’s gone jus’ fine, but it surely ain’t gonna last with how huge the clan is.”

“Yeah, y’all better get hitched as soon as possible to make it official,” Mey grinned. “Anyhow, ah’m sure ye ain’t come all the way ‘ere jus’ ta talk to me, so what’s on yer mind, darlin’?”

“I was just wondering when breakfast is tomorrow – wouldn’t like to make a bad impression by arriving late with Nick.”

Mey gave her a knowing look. “News travel fast ‘ere, hun, the Hopps tha’ dunno y’all are together gotta be livin’ under a rock.” They put a paw on her shoulder and shook it. “If y’all arrive late we’ll know why.”

Being liberal in bed does not equal being willing to freely discuss it in public. Red-faced and stuttering, Judy managed, “I just – want to know the breakfast times, please.”

“Sure thing, Judes. It’s from six to eight thirty in the mornin’, then lunch starts at noon.” They tilted their head, scratching their cheek. “An’ dinner is at four, pretty sure. There’ll be snacks in-between, but ye gotta have te grab it yerself.”

Judy’s ears popped up. “To eight thirty? Oh, that’s wonderful, Mey, thank you!”

Mey shrugged. “Ain’t me decidin’ these things, but ah’ll take it. Run along, now, yer hubbo misses ye.”

“Sure thing, Mey. Say hi to the missus!” Judy grinned, waving before setting off into the hallways again. Mey watched her leave, smiling as they shook their head. That Judy sure was something.

*

Judy was deep in thought on her way back. With how everyone were talking about them, you’d think she and Nick were deeply in love, married and with five litters already born and two more on the way. The truth – that they barely knew each other, had slept together once and marked each other in a savage frenzy and not talked about their feelings at all – was far from that. It made her think. What did she feel for Nick? What were they, really? Sure, they’d admitted to thinking of each other as mates, but did that mean they were that – or was it just instincts talking?

She was hoping for sharing a life with Nick, and she wanted them to love and care for each other for it, but were they at that stage? Would they ever be more than friends who’d stumbled into each other by accident?

Sure, Judy was attracted to Nick, and would love for them to be more – but did Nick feel that way? They still hadn’t had that talk Nick first mentioned nearly two months ago. Determined, she raised her chin and sped up. She’d have to fix that – and soon.

“Hoy! Judy!”

A rabbit of Judy’s age – automatically considered a cousin, even if they weren’t related – came running out from one of the corridors opening into the main hallway. She was a lop-eared doe with a fluffy, brown-tinged red coat and the Hopps-violet eyes. “Rebecca!” Judy exclaimed in surprise, coming to a stop. “I haven’t seen you in ages!”

Rebecca gave her a trembling smile. With her paws held close to her chest, she slowed, cautiously approaching. “I – I heard you came back home, and I wanted to say hi,” she said.

Judy smiled warmly. “Yeah, I came back home… didn’t think most people would notice I was gone to begin with! It’s good to see you. How have you been?”

“I’ve gotten work at the Berry Café,” Rebecca said. “I’m a part-time waitress for now, but I’m hoping to get promoted soon – but, Judy, that’s beside the point.” She glanced about, then leaned in and whispered, “are you okay? Are you safe?”

“I – yes, of course,” said Judy, and frowned. “Why?”

“No, I mean…” Rebecca worried her shirt between her paws. “Is it true you’re here with a fox?”

Judy’s heart dropped. “Y – yes, that is – that is true.”

“Is he hurting you? Forcing your paw?” Rebecca continued, seemingly genuinely worried. “You just need to say the word and I’ll go tell the council, they’ll run him out immediately, I’m sure!”

Not Rebecca… not sweet little Rebecca. “I’m fine, Rebecca, really,” Judy said. “Nick is – Nick is wonderful. Nick is great! He’s – he’s saved my life!”

Rebecca’s nose twitched. “But he’s a fox, Judy – even if he hasn’t hurt you now, he’s sure to do it later – whether he wants to or not!”

“That is not true, and you know it,” Judy hissed, scowling now, and angry. “I’m pregnant with his kits, we’re moving into our own place, you don’t. Have. To worry.

“But – ”

A lofty voice interrupted. “Hello, ladies. For what reason are we having a gathering in the hallway?”

Judy heaved a breath of relief. Parsley Wood, bearing the typical gray Hopps fur but sporting brown eyes, was one of the ‘infamous’ clan members. Just like Judy herself, he was different enough from the status quo that most of the warren knew of him. “Uncle Parsley,” she greeted, hobbling closer to him and away from Rebecca. “I was just on my way back to Nick.”

He nodded wisely, correcting his toga absentmindedly. “He is the fox, yes? Good, I believe he enjoys your company.” Parsley looked between them for a moment, then sniffed and bore his eyes into Rebecca, airily saying, “did you know, in ancient Greece it was common for prey to mate with predators? It was a status symbol and a source of comfort as well as protection.”

“I – I – ”

“Have a good day,” Parsley interrupted. “Come along, Judith.”

Glancing between the retreating Parsley and a shell-shocked Rebecca, Judy made a hasty choice and hurried after him. “Thank you,” she quietly said, when they were out of Rebecca’s hearing range.

Parsley merely hummed. “There were also certain families who nursed offspring,” he said. “High death rates, though enough made it into the history books.” Glancing over at her, she was surprised to find him smiling softly. “You are not alone, Judith.”

She returned the gentle smile. “Thank you, again. Logically I know not everyone will support us, but…”

“Yes, they do have a habit of making themselves known, do they not?” He shook his head. “I believe Rebecca’s entire unit, and most of the units in section C, stages four and five will be of a similar opinion. Of course, that is still better than section F, stage seven, who will react not with gentle worry, but disgust.”

Recognizing the warning for what it was, Judy said, “I’ll keep in mind. You’re a good buck, Parsley.”

He chuckled. “We do show up, every now and again. I believe this is your room. Thank you for walking with me.”

And then he was gone, humming a merry tune as he went on his way.

Drawing a deep breath, Judy stepped into the guestroom with only one thing on her mind.

Chapter Text

The shower of the guest bathroom was large enough for three Nicks to share. At first he had marveled a bit at it, but then he’d gotten busy soaping himself down and his thoughts had wandered to other things: among them, Judy’s promise of things to come.

He finished rinsing the foam out of his fur, then stepped out of the shower and into the fur-drier, which – in comparison to the showers – was slightly too small. Nonetheless, he made it work by squatting to dry his head.

Whistling to himself, he pulled on a pair of sweat-shorts and a loose singlet, then crouched on the ground and began rummaging around in his backpack in search of his toothbrush.

The door slammed open. Judy’s scent filled the room.

“Hey, Car – ”

She snarled, “I want you to mark me.”

Nick stopped elbow-deep into his backpack. He swiveled around to look at her – her tense ears, squinted eyes, hard mouth. “J – Judy – !”

She threw aside her crutches and limped over to the bed, sitting smack-dab in the middle of it. Raising her chin, she repeated. “Mark me. Prove you’re my mate.”

Hesitating, Nick straightened. “Do you… do you doubt me?”

Judy huffed. “I don’t.”

Something had happened.

“Who was it?” Nick asked softly - darkly. A growl was poorly masked by the words as he stood and stalked towards the bed. “Who hurt you?”

Keening, Judy’s ears softened, her head tilting to expose her neck. “Please, Nick, just… just mark me.”

Giving in to her demands – and his instincts – Nick crept into the bed and padded over to her, gently cupping the back of her head as he rubbed his chin and neck alongside hers. Her breath hitched; he could smell her, burning all the way through him like fireworks.

Batting at his paw, she shifted to mark him in turn. Slowly: gently, taking her time, feeling his fur out. “Nick,” she said softly, “what are we?”

He swallowed. “What do you want us to be, honey-doe?”

Her paw found his shoulder, clutching partially at the cotton strap and partially at his fur. “Whatever we can be,” she whispered. Leaning back, against his paw, she glanced up at him with an expression he couldn’t describe any other way than raw: her eyes gleaming, her brows a gentle frown – mouth downturned. “I want you, Nick. Every part of you, the good and the bad. I want you as a husband, as a mate, as a lover and a friend.” Her voice cracked when she continued, “and it scares me, because I – it’s all so unfamiliar…”

Seeing her eyes well up, Nick shifted them both to lie more comfortably – her, closer to him – his paw, on hers. “Judy…”

“I – I’ve always been one to run towards danger,” Judy said, “but now – now I – I don’t feel like myself, Nick, and maybe it’s – maybe it’s a stupid metaphor for losing myself in you, but – but I barely even know you, and yet I think I – ” Her voice cracked again, a few tears trailing through her fur. Quietly, barely audible, she breathed, “I think I love you.”

The world shattered into crystal clarity around them.

Judy,” said Nick sternly. She hiccupped, gazing at him with terrified eyes. Softening, Nick leaned down and kissed her – his wonderful, sweet little thing – kissed her gently, slowly, trying to put all his affection and wonder into it. When he pulled back, her eyes were half-lidded. “I think I love you, too.”

Her mouth fell open.

“I know that first night,” he softly said, “was just to satisfy your heat. But I would – I would repeat it a hundred times. A thousand times, if you wanted. I think I wanted you the first time I saw you. It’s like…” He chuckled quietly. “It’s like I’ve been looking for you my whole life, without knowing it.”

Judy’s eyes welled up again. She reached out towards him, her small, strong paw coming up to caress his cheek.

Continuing, Nick said, “and it – it scares me, too. Because this isn’t me, but it still… it still feels right. I think it’s the serum – I think maybe it’s affecting you, too.” He swallowed, meeting her gaze and declaring, “and I’ve decided it doesn’t matter why it is the way it is. You learn to roll with the blow, Carrots.” He marked her again, between her ears this time. “This is where my life is headed, now, and I’m not about to complain. And why would I? You’re beautiful. You’re kind. You’re brave, and honest, and righteous.”

Judy interrupted him with a kiss. A smouldering kiss, a passionate kiss – a kiss that had her knocking him over onto his back, her straddling his chest and them both panting when they split.

“Are we on the same page, now?” Nick grinned, paw resting on her hip – claws digging into her flesh as their chests rose and fell in tandem. “We both agree we want each other?” A hesitant pause. “For… for life?”

There was something about Judy’s eyes – something familiar that had his fur standing straight, both in worry and delight. Something sharp: something primal. Her muzzle scrunched in a snarl, and she leaned forward, fisting a paw in his singlet. “For life,” she hissed, and smashed their lips together.

It was barely a kiss. Much more of an attack, really – not that Nick minded; he moaned into it, letting his paw trail up to caress her ribs through her shirt. So soft, his bunny, and with a core of steel to battle it: brave, courageous, strong.

Judy moved on from abusing his mouth and onto his neck and throat. Soft snuffling sounds came from her throat as she licked and nibbled her way through his fur. Her scent spiked and flared, sweet alluring arousal wafting from her as she let out a keening whine. She squirmed backwards until she reached his hardening cock – grinding down against it through his shorts.

A thought crossed his mind – impatient… – but it faded into the haze within seconds.

What was he wasting time for? His mate needed him – wanted him – and they were safe, warm, and comfortable. She made another needy sound, rolling her hips against him.

The flare of answering pleasure was enough to make him focus. Growling, he leapt at her, pushing her off him and onto the bed: on her back, staring up at him with wide eyes. She squeaked, then chittered, her paws running up and down his arms – dull claws digging into his fur. Her hips rose to meet his.

He’d have to remove her clothes, but he fumbled with them, lacking grace – so did she, and it was only with team effort and impatient haste from them both they managed to get off her tights and his shorts without ruining either.

She squirmed out of his grip and turned onto her stomach and knees, wiggling her ass and tail in his direction. Her arousal was obvious, clinging to the air like fine spice, her juices dripping onto the bed.

He did not wait. She was so small, his mate – he hooked his paws over her shoulders as he mounted her, shuffling closer to gently ease the tapered tip of his cock into her.

He had to be careful and slow, he knew, but – but she was making such wonderous sounds, squeaking and mewling, pressing back against him to take in all of him in one go.

Grunting, he drew back – pushed back in. And oh, did it feel good! And oh, did she feel wonderous! He was entirely lost in her, how she felt around him, her scent and her touch and her sounds – !

Their sounds of pleasure mixed and rose in volume as the pace sped up, and he could push the knot in, could finish now, but he waited – waited –

She let out a loud cry, trembling and clenching around him.

That was his clue; he shoved. And there he was, all the way in, the orgasm rolling through him with vigour. Whining, he rode it out as he emptied himself in her.

Finally, he collapsed on top of her. Too heavy for her to hold up, it ended up pushing her down into the mattress. They lay there panting for a long while, just attempting to catch their breath.

Chittering softly, she turned her head to lick at his cheek, a half-lidded, pleased smile on her muzzle. He licked her back, grooming the fur at the back of her head before he dragged his chin across her shoulders.

She twisted, wrapping her paws around his neck and pulling his muzzle down against her neck. He nuzzled it, smelling her –

Her teeth dug into his shoulder.

Nick startled. It had been gentle, rather painless, really – but a surprise, nonetheless. He blinked furiously, a long-drawn shudder rolling down his back as the haze lifted. Shifting his grip on the rabbit in his arms, Nick meekly said, “Carrots?”

Judy did not respond, instead nuzzling his cheek. Fearing the worst, Nick prodded at her face until she turned to face him, a puzzled look about her.

Worried green met savage purple.

“Yeah,” said Nick softly. “That’s what I thought. Carrots? Judy. Come back to me, honey-doe.”

Judy blinked, then blinked again. The savagery cleared from her eyes, replaced by shock. “N – Nick?” She stirred, and Nick gently helped them move into a more comfortable position without hurting either of them with his knot: still in her, and pulsating proof that what had just happened was not a dream. “What – ” Judy shook her head, rubbing her eyes. “What happened?”

Falling back on old coping mechanisms, Nick grinned. “It’s called sex, sweetheart.”

She glared at him. “Nick, this is serious! I – did we just go… savage?”

“It felt like it,” Nick admitted, unable to meet her gaze. “But I wasn’t…”

“Feral,” Judy supplied. She sighed, leaning forward and resting her forehead on his chest. “We need to tell someone about that. A doctor. Griffin.”

Nick sighed, too, and rested his chin on her head. The last thing he wanted to do was revert to a savage state in the middle of a populated street. Imagine if he hurt someone – God, no. “You’re right,” he muttered. “We can tell him tomorrow. It’s late.”

Judy nodded into his fur. “Can we shower before we sleep? I’m tired, but…”

He chuckled. The thought of dried out semen sticking to his fur was far from pleasant. “Agreed. We’ll need to wait a bit, though.”

“Right.” She yawned, shifting her head to rub her cheek into his fur. “You have really soft fur, did you know that?”

“Not as soft as yours,” said Nick softly, raking his claws down her neck. She shuddered against him, but didn’t complain. “I – I’m sorry, Fluff. I didn’t mean to… not without asking…”

Judy snorted. “Such a big guy. If I remember correctly, which I know I do, I went savage first. You just kindly followed, like the gentlemammal you are. Besides – ” She yawned again. “I’d say I was pretty eagerly consenting.”

“Well…”

“Was pretty hot, actually,” she casually said. “We should try something like that some other time. Needs more teeth, though.”

Nick blinked down at her, ears pricked forward in astonishment. After a moment, he let out a soft laugh. “Oh, Judy. Never change.”

She snuggled against his chest, sleep shrouding her voice as she muttered, “no promises.”

Smiling at his mate, Nick slowly pet her ears. That was fine, too – as long as he stood by her.

Chapter Text

They arrived far too late for breakfast the next day – and far too early for lunch – so Judy dragged Nick into the kitchens in search for something to snack on. He gave an impressed whistle upon stepping into the room. “Damn, Carrots, the place is huge.”

“Yup!” said Judy, huddling along before pointing him towards one of the fridges. “Here, there should be some salads… fruits, stuff like that.”

While Nick went ahead and searched the fridge, Judy watched the rest of the kitchen. It was calmer now than yesterday, being in-between meals, but there was still a dozen or so chefs and cooks running about: Mey among them. They spotted Judy through the crowd and beamed, making their way over.

As they came closer and their nose twitched, their beam morphed into a knowing look. “Mornin’, Judes, had a good night?”

Judy’s ears fell in embarrassment. At least they wouldn’t know about her more primal state. “Morning, Mey,” she muttered. “I slept – slept fine, yes.”

“Yeah, an’ we both know y’all did more’n sleep,” Mey said, and winked.

A slam of the fridge door closing. “Aight, Carrots, I think – oh.” Nick had spotted Mey, ears folding as he took them in. “Hello.”

Mey didn’t let the awkwardness sit for long, stepping forward and joyously grabbing his elbow (as his arms were full of fruit and berries). “Hoya, Mister Wilde, ain’t it? Good ta finally meet ye in person, we’ve ‘eard a lot about ye.”

“Nick Wilde, yes,” said Nick, inclining his head. “And you are?”

“Right, pardon mah manners. Name’s Mey Gardner, one of the Head Chefs ‘ere in the kitchens.” They nodded and smiled, adding, “my wife’s husband married one of the Hopps bucks a coupla’ years back, ah’ve worked ‘ere ever since.”

Nick, having never met Mey before, opened his mouth to answer. Judy hid her grin behind a paw.

Mey ploughed on. “Course, ah met Judy ‘ere yesterday, she wanted ta know when breakfast was, an’ ah told ‘er – don’t matter when breakfast is, darlin’, we all know y’all’ve got better thing to do!” They laughed merrily, attracting the attention of several rabbits walking by. Nudging Nick in the side – they were about the same height – and winking, they added, “an’ judgin’ by the smell of ye both, ah was mighty right.”

“Chef!” yelled a pale pika, his cooking hat askew on his round ears. “We have a situation!”

Mey threw a look over their shoulder, then grinned at Nick again. “Tha’s mah cue, y’all – have a good day!” They sprinted over to the frantic pika, then followed him over to one of the nearby ovens and began cursing loudly.

Judy glanced over at Nick and burst out laughing. “Oh, crickets, Nick, you should’a seen yer face!” When he turned his mildly terrified expression at her, she only laughed louder. “Mey is a pawful, but they’re a sweetheart, I promise. Cheery and open-minded – there’s space for anyone in their heart.”

“Impressive,” said Nick weakly. He blinked, dumbfounded, then raised the produce in his arms. “I… I got us food?”

Leading him out towards the dining hall, Judy teasingly said, “how thoughtful of you to provide.”

The dining hall was easily the largest room of the whole warren, having been built nearly two centuries ago when the farm was just starting up. As was custom when building new warrens, it had been built four times as large as it needed be – back then, able to house around two hundred rabbits if you squeezed.

Since then, a second floor had been added in the form of wide balconies running along the walls, leaving a rather large gap in the middle that allowed sound to flow freely between the floors. Since the dining room also served as the gathering hall for the warren, that had been a must. The floor had been added before the invention of microphones and speakers, but in recent times those had been built in, as well.

As it was, the room could comfortably hold five hundred individuals, and if you squinted and squeezed, there was space for nearly seven hundred.

Eyeing the long table in the center of the lower floor, Judy took note of several mammals Parsley had warned her about, and so she dragged Nick upstairs and towards a corner table – meant for six, but usually empty outside mealtimes.

“Now, let’s see what you got your paws on,” she said as she slid into one of the seats. “I’m eating for God knows how many, it better be a lot!”

Chuckling, Nick chose the seat opposite her and poured his findings onto the table. “Some porridge, I believe that’s yoghurt, blueberries for me, get your paws off, you greedy thing – apples, one whole banana and… carrots, for you.”

The moment he looked up from the food, Judy snatched a pawful of blueberries and popped them in her mouth. Groaning in pleasure, she grinned at Nick’s flabbergasted expression.

After a moment he shook himself, a smirk spreading on his muzzle. “Oh, just you wait, lady,” he muttered, a hint of a growl at the back of his voice, “my revenge will be merciless.”

Judy snatched another few blueberries. “You were saying?”

Nick yanked the box of berries out of her paws and clutched it to his chest, turning away as if to shield it. “The betrayal,” he whined. “It hurts!”

“Oh, boohoo.” Judy grabbed one of the bowls of porridge and dragged it closer, stuffing some apple slices into the cool breakfast before happily digging in.

It took several minutes for Nick to gently place the box of berries back onto the table. He hesitantly tasted the yoghurt, and, upon finding it indeed to be yoghurt, nearly inhaled the rest of it.

Judy’s phone buzzed. She pulled it out of her pocket and glanced at the screen, only to groan and close her eyes. “Darn, I forgot about that.”

Nick paused with the spoon half-way to his mouth. “Forgot what?”

“I’m drowning in messages, emails and missed calls,” Judy sighed. “I should really look through them.” Quickly finishing the rest of her porridge, she got to work.

Messages from people she knew were answered – either with something simple, like, thanks for checking in, I’m doing okay! or something longer and more personal. If she didn’t know the sender, she ignored it.

Gnawing on her lip, Judy re-read a particular email. “The ZNN wants an interview with me,” she said, glancing up at Nick. “To discuss… me, it looks like. The cases, of course, but they’re also interested in who I am. Do you… do you think I should?”

Nick hummed, looking off to the side with his thinking expression before shrugging. “You did leave a lot of loose ends in the city. Have you even talked to Chief Buffalo Butt about… well, anything, really, since you woke up?”

She shook her head but saw his point. Muttering under her breath as she typed, she wrote out a response to the inquiry from the ZNN saying she was willing to consider it if they would give her more information.

Having gone past that email, she continued onto the rest of the list. Most of them were unfamiliar mammals who she was not interested in talking with at all, but one of them stood out.

Miss Hopps,

I apologize for being unable to personally meet and thank you for the service you have done for the city. It has been a busy few weeks of gathering evidence, interrogating suspects, and interviewing those involved. The Precinct has, quite frankly, been chaos.

I wish to remind you the offer of work at Precinct One – or any other Precinct in the city – still stands, and I can meet to discuss the details. The city needs good cops like you.

Chief Idris Bogo,
ZPD Precinct One.

She could get her job back. She could get her job back!

But – she was pregnant. Her kits… she still didn’t want to raise them in the city. And even if she did… the city had felt so strange to her, when she left. Huge. Loud.

Dangerous.

“Carrots?”

Nick was watching her intently, a frown on his brow and ears folded.

Slowly putting down her phone, Judy quietly said, “Chief… Chief Bogo wants me back on the force…”

His eyes went wide. “And… how do we feel about that?”

Mentally, she went over the email once more.

Anger began to heat in the pit of her stomach. “I don’t want to,” she said defiantly. “Not because it’s dangerous, not because I’m afraid, but – ” She fisted her paws, thumping them on the table. “How dare he! That insolent – not even an apology for how he treated me – how he treated you! Not even a call, barely even an email!” She shook her head. “No, I won’t come crawling back to him like some doe in heat. I’m staying here, thank you very much, and he can hear all about how I solve crimes in the countryside when I start breaking records!”

Silence for a moment, then Nick chuckled. “That’s my Carrots,” he said fondly. “Righteous, hungry for justice, and hard as stone.” He leaned onto his elbows, giving her an honest smile. “Just how I like it. What are you gonna say to him?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she muttered, glancing away. “I… the truth, I suppose. That I’m not interested.” She sighed, tapping the reply button and staring at the blank screen. “I don’t have to tell him I’m pregnant, do I?”

Nick shook his head. “You tell him what you’re comfortable with, Fluff. Not a damn thing more.”

“Right,” said Judy. “Right.”

Chief Bogo.

Thank you for the offer, but I am not interested in working for or with you in any of the foreseeable future.

Feeling a bit cheeky, she couldn’t help but add, you’ll see me on the news.

Judy Hopps.

“And… sent. It’s nearly time for us to go with Jessica to Whiteside, are you done?” Slurping down the last of the yoghurt, Nick nodded. “Great! Let’s go.”

*

The only time Nick was not glued to the windows was while he was sending an email to Doctor Griffin; the rest, he was eagerly keeping up with the outside surroundings and asking a thousand questions about settlements they drove by: farms, stables, the odd house and so on.

Between Judy and Jessica, they managed to answer most of his questions, and the ones they didn’t know he quickly brushed off. This was how Judy learned he was a bit of a history fanatic: not in the sense of great wars and the huge strokes, but the small, local things.

When asked about it, he admitted, a bit embarrassed: “it’s about understanding why we are the way we are… knowing the roots and ancestors of somewhere tells you a lot about the current mammals living there.”

Though he did not say it out loud, Judy figured the truth behind the statement anyways: to hustle someone well, you had to know them. Suddenly, his interest in Bunnyburrow and the warren made sense – as did how quick he’d been to shove her into boxes when they’d just met.

Not that she thought he was out to hustle anyone in the Tri-Burrows. She assumed (and assumed so correctly, though she did not know at the time) that it was partially instinct, partially a survival skill, and partially sheer interest developed over time.

As Jessica took a left turn, the road turned from pavement to gravel. “Right!” she cheerfully said, as they drove past rows and rows of wheat and corn. “We’ll be there in a moment. Missus Graysnout said she’d set you up with a local real estate agent, she’s waiting for you at Burrower’s Corner. You know the way, right, Judy?”

“We’ll figure it out,” said Judy, who did not know the way.

“Great! I’ll drop you off at Gideon’s bakery, you guys can check out the village before you go to the Corner, and I’ll enjoy some delicious pies. Win-win!”

Judy blinked, then leaned forward in her seat and grabbed the back of Jessica’s headrest as she asked, “Gideon’s bakery is here?

“Yeah,” said Jessica, trying – and failing – to turn her head to look at her. “Gideon lives in Whiteside. Didn’t you know?”

“No,” said Judy, nose twitching in surprise. “No, I did not.”

“Either way. We’re here, now!” Jessica parked the car by the side of the street. “Out you go! Into tastebud heaven, I go.”

Before Judy had the time to unbuckle her seatbelt, Nick had sprung from the car, rushed around to her side, and gallantly opened her door. She snorted and shook her head. “Charmer,” she teased.

His wagging tail gave him away. “I live to serve.”

She stepped out, accepting his assisting paw as she retrieved her crutches from the backseat. Offering him a genuine smile as he shut the door, she began to hobble along the street. “So, this is Whiteside,” she cheerily said. “Small, local, surprisingly warm to outsiders.”

Nick nodded, looking about with careful, analyzing eyes.

The streets were cobblestone, rather than pavement. Lining them were one- and two-floor houses with mostly clay walls and straw roofs, though in some instances switched out with brick or tiles. There was a decided note of age about the place, though not in a bad way: just one that spoke of charm.

Judy, who had been to Whiteside only three times before, showed Nick what she knew. It included a surprisingly large marketplace full of diverse wares – a pretty cherry blossom tree covering the village well in the center of it – the local grocery store, the Sherriff deputy’s office, and the town hall. They made sure to take note of what other stores existed: some clothing, an arts-and-crafts, a smattering of cafes, a bookstore, and the like. Nothing overly big or fancy, but enough to feel like a homely place.

It was while exploring a path behind the town hall they stumbled upon Burrower’s Corner: a niche, cozy little place nestled into the hills. Three buildings were visible at first glance, wooden walls and straw-tiled roofs peeking out from the rock and dirt. Small, round windows were set in the walls, and porches in both wood and brick were laid out before the front doors. Lush bushes and trees littered the area both above and between the dwellings, and in-between them, on the flat ground, was an open area with a small well in its centre.

Judy’s heart practically grew three sizes at seeing it, her ears draping down her back in her gentle shock. “Oh,” she said softly. “Oh.”

“My goodness, Judy, is that you?”

Judy turned towards the voice, finding the speaker – wearing a pink flannel shirt, denim shorts and a straw hat – pushing away from a barrel in surprise. Recognizing her immediately, Judy exclaimed, “Sharla?”

“I’ll be darned! It is you!” Sharla crossed over to her, a merry grin on her muzzle. “Never thought I’d see you again after you moved away for college!”

Handing her crutches over to a mildly amused Nick, Judy hobbled over to her childhood friend and wrapped her into a hug. A familiar scent tickled her nose, though, and she drew back, the realization rattling her to the very bone. “You’re Gideon Grey’s wife!?”

She chuckled, tipping her hat back from her eyes. “Aye, that I am.” Throwing Nick a sly look, she raised an eyebrow. “Though it doesn’t look like that’s much of a problem. You gotta be the interspecies couple Missus Graysnoute mentioned. Y’all here to look at a place to live?”

Quickly gathering her wits – if Sharla didn’t want to spend too long talking about it, then Judy wouldn’t, either – Judy nodded. “That’s the plan!” Her ears heating slightly, she added, “I figured the kits would be better off in a small, inclusive place than the big city.”

A moment, then Sharla’s eyes widened. Her gaze dropped to Judy’s abdomen – there was a noticeable bump there by now, if you knew what to look for – before quickly fastening back on her face. “That’s gotta be the wildest thing I ever heard.” Sharla broke into a beam. “Judith Laverne Hopps, settlin’ down in Whiteside of all places – pregnant. An’ don’t tell me, they’re with the fox, aren’t they?” Seeing Judy’s blush, she chuckled and shook her head. “That’s Judy for you, challengin’ all the odds an’ comin’ out on the winnin’ side. You never change.”

Turning to Nick, Sharla held out a hoof. “Sharla Grey, a friend of Judy’s. Known her since childhood – she’s my biggest hero and inspiration, an’s been so since the Gideon incident.”

Judy’s protests at the words hero and inspiration were completely ignored by both ewe and tod as they shook hoof and paw. “Nick Wilde,” said Nick. “Judy’s mate and boyfriend.”

That made Judy’s protests shut up with a quiet squeak. Mate and boyfriend and mate and boyfriend – warm as though she’d soaked in the sun the whole day, Judy put a paw to her chest and smiled so widely her cheeks would hurt for several minutes afterwards.

“Well! Y’all wanted to have a look at the burrow? Come on then, an’ remember to wipe your paws, we just cleaned the floors!” The last part was yelled over her shoulder as she set a brisk pace towards the middle burrow.

Nick threw Judy an amused look, handing her crutches back. “I thought I was supposed to be the one who knew everyone.”

“Look at me,” said Judy. Nick did, raising an eyebrow. “I am the captain now.”

Groaning, Nick screwed his eyes shut and threw back his head. “Oh, Carrots, no,” he moaned, “how could you betray me like this?”

Judy happily made her way towards the burrow. “Come on, Nick! We’ve got a house to look at!”

Sharla waited for them by the door. “Welcome to Burrower’s Corner seventh,” she said jovially, pushing the door wide open. “The smallest of the burrows with only two floors and five bedrooms, this gem sits at a startin’ price of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars.” At their stricken looks, she hurried to add, “not because the burrow is lackin’, mind you, but the Graysnoutes are movin’ into the elderly homes in Bunnyburrow, an’ want the burrow to go to someone who needs it – not someone with money.”

Judy and Nick shared a wide-eyed, amazed look. One hundred and fifty thousand dollars? That was actually doable – even with them both lacking jobs, Judy was well aware of (and had already explained to Nick) that with the funds of the clan in place, they’d barely even need to take up loans to cover such a cost.

“The first floor,” Sharla began, stepping into the burrow and gesturing for them to do the same. Judy was immediately taken: the polished, dark wooden floors matched with the rounded clay walls were just to die for. “Here we have an open floor plan with an intended dinin’ and livin’ room at the left side, an’ a kitchen separated from the rest by a wall.” She guided them past mentioned wall and gestured at the kitchen, furnished with a rustic, round iron-cast oven and rich amounts of storage space.

“The space is open like so to allow heat from the oven to drift into the livin’ room,” Sharla explained. “In spring or autumn it might be too warm to light the fireplace, but too cold to not have any heatin’. For that purpose, puttin’ a kettle on to make some tea, coffee or hot chocolate is just perfect.”

She continued opening and displaying all the various shelves, drawers and cabinets the kitchen had to offer.

“While there of course is electricity in the house, the appliances that are here are meant for a more old-fashioned livin’ style,” said Sharla, gesturing at the wood-fired oven. “Which is not a challenge for the weak-willed, and not much for even the strong-willed, considerin’ our day an’ age. For that reason, the appliances are easy to move and replace, should that be what y’all want.”

Moving on to the downstairs, things became a bit more convoluted. “Now,” said Sharla, clapping her hooves together, “this burrow wasn’t made with large families in mind – I’m lookin’ at you, Judy – but with five, an’ possibly six, bedrooms, there is enough space for even a medium-sized rabbit family.”

“These two rooms are the largest ones. Only downside is that you have to cross through one to get to the other. The inner room could be a master bedroom, while the outer is a hobby room or somethin’ similar. The rest of the rooms are rather small…” And so it went on, through all the potential bedrooms, storage rooms, offices, libraries, and more.

At the end, Sharla gave the intrigued couple a knowing look and said, “I’ll be waitin’ outside. Y’all can take all the time you need to look about, discuss things, whatever y’all want.” She gave them a brief wave, then made her way up the stairs.

Judy already knew what she wanted. Holding her breath, she turned to Nick. “Well?” she asked slowly, worrying the handles of her crutches. “What do you think?”

“I think, if we have too many rooms, we could tear down some of these walls,” said Nick, gesturing at the walls separating the smallest rooms. “And if we don’t have enough, we could build some in either the master bedrooms – maybe move the hallway a bit, make space for more.” He shrugged. “The kits can always sleep in bunk beds until their teens, and we can take it from there.”

Judy gasped, ears shooting straight up. “You like it?”

“Like it?” Nick asked, surprised. “I thought we agreed to buy it when we heard the price! Of course I like it!” He started tallying his fingers as he continued. “It’s supportive of the kits, it’s close to Bunnyburrow without being overrun by one and the same species, it’s cheap, it’s underground, it’s pretty, it’s rustic, it’s local – I mean, come on, Carrots, it’s a far cry from Finnick’s van – not to mention, your apartment!”

Ignoring how he still thought her apartment was worse than Nick’s van, Judy hopefully said, “we’ll take it?”

“God, yes, we’ll take it!” Nick laughed in equal parts disbelief and relief. “Crickets, Fluff, I thought for sure we’d have to look at a few different places and settle for a cramped apartment in central Bunnyburrow!”

Judy threw her arms around his waist and pressed her face into his chest, letting out an excited squeal. “Yes, yes, yes! Ooh, amazing, Nick, I love you!”

She froze.

Hesitantly, she pried away from him, glancing up at his expression – hoping desperately she hadn’t overstepped.

Nick was watching her with warm eyes. “And I love you,” he said softly. “Judy. I promised you, in the hospital, I would support you in anything.” Catching her chin with his paw, he leaned down to kiss her. “I meant it.”

“Yeah,” Judy whispered. “Yes, okay. Okay.” She drew a deep, rattling breath. “It’s just a bit difficult to believe.”

“Well, believe it, honey-doe, ‘cuz it’s true.” He straightened with a grin. “Come on, let’s tell Sharla the good news.” On his way up the stairs, he added, as though an afterthought: “and don’t think I’m not waiting on an explanation for what the Gideon incident is. Sounds promising enough.”

“Sure thing, Slick,” said Judy. Her heart wasn’t in it, though. The Gideon incident still had her waking after nightmares, at times. She didn’t hold it against Gideon, not at all, but the feelings, memories and trauma was still there.

She was not looking forward to re-living it.

Hurrying up the stairs after Nick, she arrived just in time to hear him say, “so, where do we sign?”

*

Forty minutes and a lot of legalities later, the three of them found themselves seated at one of the local cafes, A Thousand Paws. Nick was onto his third blueberry muffin, content on enjoying his food while Judy and Sharla – with a cup of tea and a slice of brownie, respectively – caught up on what the other had been up to, the last few years.

“ – graduated top of my class – ”

“Of course.”

“ – and, as you said, you saw the rest on the news.” Judy smiled, raising her cup in a brief salute before taking a sip. “But I’ve monologued enough for today – the thing I’m wondering about is how on Earth you ended up with Gideon!”

Sharla chuckled a bit nervously. “It musta been about two years now – I heard he was openin’ his bakery out here an’ I figured there was no way that’d been done legally.” Turning to Nick, she hurried to add, “not because he’s a fox, because of his history.” Back to Judy. “So, inspired by you, I marched on over an’ decided to investigate.”

She shook her head, a small smile on her muzzle as she traced circles around her plate. “He still remembers what I wore. Pink flannel shirt tied up by the buttons, white headband and cotton skirt. Says it’s the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. I marched in there fully determined to kick his butt if I had to, but lo an’ behold! The violent bully had become a gentle, kind tod that stumbled over himself in his haste to apologize.” She laughed. “I was so shocked I asked him to come here an’ have a chat with me after work, an’ he said yes. We got married just last year… still go on dates here once a week.”

Nick, busy licking his fingers from blueberry juice, looked up. “Sounds like terrible business strategy.”

“Nah. In Whiteside we support the other locals, not oppose them. Our customers aren’t tourists, they’re the other shop owners – it’s not like in the big city, Nick.”

“Huh. Didn’t know that was possible,” said Nick, only half-joking.

Judy’s phone buzzed with a message. While checking the notification – and noting she’d gotten an email at the same time – it buzzed again.

Jess: Gideon’s takin me for a trip round the farms, I’ll be busy for another hour or so. I’ll txt when im done, y’all have fun, ok? Xoxo

Jess: ive got smthn to talk abt when we finish here

“Jessica says she’ll be busy for another hour or two,” Judy said, glancing up at Nick. “Sound good?” He nodded.

Judy: fine by us! See u later xxx

“On the topic of messages,” said Nick, who’d fished out his own phone and was scrolling with his thumb. “Doctor Griffin has time to meet with us this Wednesday.”

Opening her email to check the new one, Judy glanced up at him. “It’s Monday now, right? That sounds good! I’ll let mom know.” Reading the mail, her ears drooped a bit before perking back up. “And… wow, how lucky! The ZNN wants to have the interview on Thursday… think we can find somewhere to stay for two nights?”

“It’s Zootopia, Carrots,” said Nick drily. “You’ll find anything if you look hard enough.”

Sharla tilted her head. “The ZNN wants an interview?”

“Apparently they want to know the life of Judy Hopps,” Judy explained. “Ask some questions about me, some about the Bellwether case, a bit like that.”

“How fun! Are you going to be working, too? I wouldn’t peg you as someone to give up your dream that easily.”

Now Judy’s ears truly fell. “Well… no. I still want to be a cop, and I still want to make the world a better place, but… not in the city. At least not for now. I doubt it’d be safe for the kits, being hybrids, and all…”

A timid voice spoke up. “Ex – excuse me? I couldn’t help but overhear…”

They turned to face the newcomer: a timber wolf, small for his species, dark gray and spotted with brown. “Sure,” said Judy with a smile. “What can I do for you, sir?”

He managed a meek smile in return, then held out a paw. “Name’s Coleman, Coleman Moore. Are you really Judy Hopps?”

She shook his paw. “That’s me.”

His ears folded against his head as he gripped her paw tightly, leaning forward and harshly whispering, “you have to help me – my son’s gone missing.”

There was true desperation in his voice; Judy could smell it on him. Her nose twitched for the briefest of moments before she settled into the familiar cop-mode. “Sir, calm down. Have you registered him as a missing mammal yet?”

Coleman nodded frantically. “The Sherriff says he’s just ran away, but I know Rusty, he’d never do something like that – they’ve ransacked the forest and Old Dorian’s Cave and everything but there’s nothing, and I – I’m so scared for my baby…”

“Nick,” said Judy, holding out her free paw without looking away from Coleman. “Notepad.”

Coleman’s eyes lit up. “Oh, God bless you, please, I just want my son back…”

Her notebook landed in her paw. “Listen,” she said, covering his paw with her much smaller one. Keeping her tone light and gentle, she continued, “I’m not a cop anymore. I have no authority and no access.” When Coleman’s expression fell, she quickly jotted down her number on a free paper, tearing it out of the pad and handing it over. “But I will try my very best. Here’s my number. Send me a text so I can save yours, and I’ll get in contact with you.” She gave him a warm smile. “I will figure this out for you.”

He was welling up when he accepted the paper. “Oh, thank you,” he whispered, “thank you so much! I’ll text you right away, and then I’ll bother you no more!” Fishing up his phone, he quickly tapped the numbers in.

Judy glanced down at her own phone when it announced a message from an unknown number. “Yep, I got it. Wonderful, Mister Moore.”

“Please,” he said, “call me Cole.” His tone turned hopeful. “I’ll hear from you?”

“Absolutely.”

He rushed away, batting at his eyes.

Judy turned to find Sharla blinking in surprise and Nick with a dry grin. “Couldn’t keep it in, could you?” he teased. “Miss Goody-two-shoes.”

Judy rolled her eyes. “His son is missing, and the Sherriff is obviously not doing his job right.” She raised her chin, pounding a fist on the table. “I’ll help in whatever way I can.”

“Yes,” said Nick, and gave her a serious look. “Yes, we will.”

He reached over and put a paw over Judy’s, looking at her intently. Her nose twitched as her ears rose, flushing slightly at the intensity in her eyes. They said nothing: they need not.

“Right!” said Sharla loudly, and pushed aside her empty plate. “I think we’re done here. Do y’all – uh, do y’all wanna go look at the stables for rent, at farmer Dickinson’s? You did enjoy your birds when we were younger, Judy.”

“For sure!” said Judy, and smiled. “I wouldn’t mind riding again.”

Nick hesitantly followed them out the doors, excitedly saying, “you guys have birds?”

Judy and Sharla exchanged knowing, smug looks. In unison, they sighed, “city mammals.”

Chapter Text

***

Nick’s ears were pressed tightly against his skull. “Are you – are you sure this is safe?”

“Oh, yeah, absolutely,” said Sharla cheerily.

They were approaching the bird enclosure, the stables towering over them along one side of it. Birds of various sizes were all intermingling in the enclosure, some standing about, some pecking the grass, some laying on the ground.

Even from this distance, they seemed big.

“Does the stablehand know we’re coming?” Judy asked, giving Sharla a big grin. Her enthusiasm was baffling, and Nick had to viciously remind himself that this was the doe that’d faced down crime lords, savage panthers, mega-fauna toilets and city-wide conspiracies with barely a wink of the eye.

“I texted him, but he oughta be in the stables anyhow,” Sharla replied, pointing a hoof towards the stables. “Right there, I think I see him.”

Sure enough: as they approached, a brown-furred pika came to meet them. He wore denim overalls and a white t-shirt underneath, a patchy straw-hat shielding his eyes from the blistering sun. “Oy, Sharla, these the mammals ye told me ‘bout?” he called out, grin showing off a chipped tooth. “Lookin’ good, pals.”

Judy held out a paw. “Judy Hopps. This is my partner, Nick Wilde. We’re looking to move into Burrower’s Corner in about a week, and I’m interested in keeping a bird at your stables, if I can.”

“Sure thing,” said the pika, shaking her paw. “Name’s Joe Dickinson, mah pop owns the farm.” He fixed his eyes on Nick, flipping the straw he was chewing on from one corner of his mouth to the other.

Now with everyone focused on him, Nick grew a bit uncertain. Shielding it as best as possible he inclined his head and raised a paw.

Chuckling, Joe tilted his hat back. “Ye ever ride before, son?”

“I’ll be honest with you, I’ve never even seen a bird in real life. I thought I was willing to learn, but…” He pointedly glanced over at the enclosure and sucked a breath in through his teeth. “Not so sure anymore.”

“Nah, we’ll have ye ridin’ in no time.” Clapping his paws together, he turned back to Judy. “Y’all are welcome to come in and have a look at the birds if ye wanna, ah’ve got nothin’ else planned today.”

Judy’s ears popped up. “That would be great!”

“Right this way, then,” said Joe, and led them towards the gate. “Mosey on in with ye.”

Nick hurried in as the last of their little group, watching his tail as Joe shut the gate behind him. “They’re… not all the same species, are they?” said Nick, gesturing to some of the closest birds.

Sharla laughed. “Nah, that wouldn’t be sustainable.” She came over to stand with him by the fence while Judy put aside her crutches and hobbled towards the nearest cluster of birds. Pointing at the various birds around them, Sharla explained, “there’s two species of birds here – are other kinds too, of course, but they’re either too small or too big for us small-to-medium mammals – an’ that’s the emu an’ the rhea.”

“See that one over there, the largest? That’s the greater emu breed. You won’t find birds that big in the wild, they’re closer to the casual emu – like the one you see over there, with the white stripe down his back. An’ if you look over there, there’s a lesser emu, the smallest emu breed we have around here.” She shrugged. “Anythin’ smaller than that is a rhea, either greater, common, or lesser.”

The sizes varied greatly from the greater emu to the lesser rhea, with the emu standing between three and four feet taller than Nick and the rhea about Judy’s height. “They look absolutely terrifying,” Nick said flatly.

Sharla laughed. “Just wait ‘til you see the shoebill! We haven’t got any here, but they’re the devil in bird-form, I swear. At least these birds are tame an’ trained!”

Judy had picked out a bird to take a closer look at – one with a reddish pelt and golden feathers down its neck and throat. Nick watched her, tail whipping behind him. The moment the bird tried something…

Sharla, noticing where his focus was, sobered. “Yeah, that’s a greater rhea – rabbits tend to go for casual rheas, but the true Hopps’ are taller than your average. Takes a good deal of skill to ride.” She chuckled and shook her head. “Though I don’t doubt for one second that Judy could ride a wild elephant bird bareback, if she wanted to.”

Joe, who’d stood watching Judy from Sharla’s other side, called out: “That’s Goldielocks! Lots’a personality, but a good bird an’ nice te ride. Ye can take ‘er for a stroll, if ye want.”

“Really!?” Judy beamed.

“Aye. Can ye ride bareback?”

“Sure can!”

Sharla grinned. “I’ll open the gate for you!”

Nick almost pushed away from the fence to stop the whole thing, but Judy had already gotten Goldielocks to kneel for her to climb onto her back. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Nick asked, ears flicking. “Remember your leg, Carrots!”

Joe put a paw on his arm. “Relax, son,” he said. Tilting his head back to meet Nick’s gaze, he grinned. “Let ‘er work ‘er magic.”

Whether he meant Judy or Goldielocks, Nick couldn’t tell. Nevertheless, he held his tongue and put his trust in Judy, watching, albeit nervously, while she held onto the feathered neck of the rhea. With a click of her tongue, she had the bird marching about the pen – her ears bobbing in time with the steps. When she made for the gate, Sharla swung it wide open.

“I’ll be back!” Judy cried, and then she urged Goldielocks into a wild sprint. Nick watched her gallop down the road, heart in his throat… and for several reasons.

“God, she’s beautiful.”

Chuckling, Joe nodded. “The Hopps does are things fer themselves, tha’s fer sure. Good on getting’ yerself one, ah’ve been tryin’ fer years with no success.” He paused, then chuckled again and slapped Nick on the leg. “Well, son, time to set ye up with a bird of yer own.”

“What?” Nick spun to face him. “Uhm, no. No thank you. I’m not a…”

“Countrymammal?” Joe raised an eyebrow. “Well, yer gonna be if yer livin’ out here. Sharla! Set Nickie ‘ere up with a greater emu!”

Nick crossed his arms. “You are not getting me onto that bird.”

*

“I can’t believe you got me onto the bird,” said Nick weakly. They’d saddled up a black greater emu called King, and now Nick sat atop him, clutching desperately at the reins and stubbornly keeping his gaze forward.

“Trust in the bird, Nick!” said Sharla, who stood on his right side.

Joe, who stood on his left, shook his head. “This gonna be harder than ah thought...”

*

When Judy returned half an hour later with windswept fur and glowing cheeks, Nick had gained enough confidence to have King walk around the enclosure without having either Joe or Sharla following him around. Still, he was stiff as a rod and barely able to steer.

“Hey there, Slick!” Judy called, a grin on her face as she rode up to him. “I see you’ve found your bearings.”

“Just barely,” said Nick tensely. “I’m a fox, Carrots, I’m meant to be under the ground, not above it!”

She giggled, nudging Goldielocks into King’s side. Nick yelped, trying to keep his balance without disturbing King’s gait. “Come on, Nick, you’re used to big mammals!”

“Yes, because when I scurry between the legs of an elephant, I know they can think,” he hissed, not looking away from the reins as he tentatively tried to turn. King, of course, listened to the command he was given without the slightest complaint. “But these birds, they – they’ve got no brains!”

Gasping, Judy leaned forward to stroke down Goldielocks’ neck, whispering, “don’t listen to him, sweetheart, he’s just a city mammal.”

“Har har,” said Nick. “Can I get off now?”

Judy slid off Goldielocks and helped Nick down, then showed him how to unsaddle her. Then, beaming, she took his paw and made her way back over to the fence where Joe was waiting for them. She was barely even limping.

“Where’s Sharla?” Nick asked.

Joe was sitting atop the fence, leaning back on his paws. “She had ta go take over a shift for Gid,” he said, and shrugged. “How’s Goldie, Judes?”

“She’s great! One of the most well-trained birds I’ve had the pleasure of riding. How long have you worked with her?”

“Ah, she ain’t mine,” said Joe. “Ah’ve had ‘er for ‘bout two years, but she was Maryam’s personal bird before then. Course, then she got the injury, couldn’t take care’ef a bird anymore… had ta focus on ‘er livestock instead.”

Judy frowned, then her ears fell. “That’s the other farmer in the area, right? I’m sorry to hear that… what happened to her?”

“Car accident.” His ears, though lacking the kind of movement Nick and Judy had, twisted as far back as they could go. “’er wife’s a darn God-send to their farm, doin’ most of the work now, I’ve ‘eard. They’re doin’ their best.” A solemn moment passed, then he grinned. “She oughta be happy ta hear ‘er bird’s goin’ to another couple of inters, ‘specially someone like ye, Judy.”

Nick’s ears pricked up. He asked, “another couple?” at the same time as Judy blurted, “her bird’s what?”

Chuckling, Joe answered Nick first. “Aye, Maryam’s a beauty of a doe: tall, soft around the edges, the most gorgeous black fur ye could imagine. Course, she got hitched with a chital deer seven years ago an’ adopted a lil’ beaver just recently. Adorable family.”

Before they had time to react to that, he turned to Judy. “An’ aye, ye can have Goldielocks fer personal use if ye want. She’s just part of the flock right now, an’ ah can’t take ‘er out on rides as often as ah’d like.” Tipping his hat at her, he winked. “Ah’ll even let ye keep ‘er in the barn fer free. She’s a sweetheart ta be around. Flock’s much calmer with ‘er here.”

Judy had perked more and more up while he was talking, and by the finish line she squealed. “That’s fantastic, yes! Ooh, I would love that! Thank you so much!”

“I’d give ye the same offer, son, but…” Joe grinned, giving Nick a knowing look.

Nick hastily put up a paw. “No, no, thank you, that’s fine.”

“Tha’s what I thought. Say, Judy, this ain’t yer first time workin’ with birds, is it?”

Judy shook her head. “That was my job in the clan from I was fifteen to about twenty – one of three stablehand supervisors, working in shifts of a week at a time.”

“How’d ye like doin’ somethin’ like it again? One of mah best workers just quit, moved to Deerbrooke County with ‘is mate. Kits on the way, too.” He shook his head dejectedly. “What’s a buck gotta do to keep mammals around in these parts?”

“O – oh!” Judy blinked. Nick watched her as she thought, knowing she was genuinely considering it by how her nose was twitching. “That’s nice of you to offer, but I’m not sure if I can, just yet… I want to hear with the Sherriff if he’s got any work for me, but – yeah! I’d love to come over now again to work with the birds if I find work elsewhere, but if not I’m happy to accept.”

“Great. Ask Sharla fer mah number an’ text me when ye make a decision, will ye? We’ll discuss yer pay and whatnot.” He nodded and smiled, then tipped his hat at them. “Are y’all done here? Ye have ta check out sum’of the paths in Goldenshreds before y’all leave town, it’s simply beautiful.”

Judy nodded enthusiastically. “I rode Goldielocks some ways down the road, here, then took to the left into the forest.” She chuckled. “Didn’t go far, obviously, but I was gonna bring Nick with me to check it out further.”

“Y’all movin’ into Burrower’s? There’s a path to the western side, if ye follow it ye’ll get to Ol’ Dorian’s Mine. Worth a shot checkin’ it out, pops always took mah ma out there on weekends.” He winked. “Thank me later.”

*

“So,” said Judy, arms behind her back as she walked beside Nick. She smiled up at him. “What do you think of the village?”

He looked beautiful in the forest: the sun filtered through the forestry and streaked his fur with gold, his green eyes nearly glowing. You’d think he wouldn’t fit in with his red fur amongst all the greens and yellow, but that was horribly wrong – he held himself in a different way, more relaxed – more himself.

“What I think?” he repeated, tilting his head with a frown.

Judy rolled her eyes. “Yes, Nick, what you think. I know you do it from time to time.”

“Har har,” he said. “You know it doesn’t matter what I think, Fluff, if you like it, I’m sold.”

Slowing to a stop, her ears drooped down to rest against her back. “Nick,” she said, soft and serious. “You keep saying that. And I keep wanting to hear what you really mean.”

Turning, Nick frowned. “I mean what I mean: you take the lead,” he said. When Judy didn’t respond, he cocked his head. “I don’t get it.”

“I’ve thought about it,” said Judy, “and only once have you admitted to liking or wanting something since,” – she gestured between them – “this whole thing happened, and that was back at the burrow. You said you’d support me in anything, but you’ve not mentioned what you want, and that’s important to me – that I’m not dragging you into something.”

Nick’s ears slowly drew back, tail slumping to the forest floor.

Judy started fiddling with her shirt, unable to quite look at him as she spoke. “I’m – I’m taking you away from everything you’ve ever known and putting you into something completely different, and I don’t even know if you want it.” Her breath hitched; frustratingly enough, her eyes burned with tears. “Are y – are you stuck with me? You said foxes mate for life, but I don’t want you to follow me around like a loyal dog, I want you to have your own opinions and make your own choices.”

“Carrots – ”

She sniffed, wiping at the tears that’d run over. “You’re a city mammal, Nick! There’s so much – so much that’s…” Choking on a sob, she furiously shut her eyes and forced herself to continue. Damn these pregnancy hormones! “So much that’s changed, I don’t recognize myself, and I’m terr – terrified of forcing the only mammal that’s ever understood me int – into doing something he doesn’t want – !” She drew a deep breath. “I don’t even know if you want these kits!” Lowering her head, she softly said, “I don’t even know what I want, anymore…”

Judy.” Hasty pawsteps, then Nick knelt on the ground before her, reaching his paws up to cup her cheeks. His ears pinned to his skull and his brows furrowed, he stretched and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. “I am… so sorry. The tod is the follower in red fox culture, I thought you knew that.”

“Wh – what?”

He kissed her again, rubbing the pads of his thumbs over her cheeks. “The vixen is the one who takes the lead and makes all the decisions. She’s the one who initiates sex, the one who starts a relationship, the one who proposes, decides living places, everything.” His voice taking on a more casual tone, he added, “nowadays it’s a bit more equal, but it’s just traditional, instinctive roles.”

Judy’s breath hitched again. “But…”

“What the mate of a red fox tod wants, the red fox tod also wants,” Nick said, slowly and determinedly. “He still has his own opinions. He still gets to make his own decisions. But if they’re different from the vixen’s, then they’re overshadowed by instinct.”

Letting out a sob, Judy burst forward to shove their foreheads together – hard. She marked his muzzle, then moved on to nuzzle his ears and cheeks, all while crying into his fur.

“Oh, my emotional little bunny,” Nick muttered, leaning into every little touch.

Gathering herself together, Judy sniffled and drew back to give him a hard, serious look. “Please, Nick. What do you want? Beneath all the instincts?” A frown began to form on him, and she hurried to grasp his cheeks, insisting, “I need to know.”

He opened his mouth, reconsidered, and closed it. Sighing, he glanced aside – not to avoid her, but to think. Judy waited, teeth digging into her bottom lip.

Finally, he looked back at her. “This,” he said. “I want this. I want you. Did you know, since leaving Zootopia with you I haven’t had a single bad comment thrown my way? I didn’t think it was possible. Sure, I’ll have to suffer through southern drawls and I’ll probably know more about birds and crops by the end of this than I ever thought I could, but, Judy. Listen to me.” He took her shoulders and shook them insistently. “I am happy with you. And I don’t understand it, either. But I am. I want to live here. I want to be with you. And most importantly…” He put a paw to her abdomen, cupping the bump there. “I want your kits.”

It was like a dam breaking.

Kits kits he wanted her kits she was with his kits with her mate’s kits her mate he was he was her mate her mate he was her mate

Judy groaned and slapped her paws up to cover her eyes as her legs gave out and she tumbled forward.

Nick caught her with a yelp, paws on her arms to steady her. “Carrots? What happened, are you hurt?”

She was trembling in his arms. Softly, she whined – then, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder, she began to purr.

“…Carrots?”

No response.

Nick swallowed, then slowly – carefully – grabbed her chin and tilted her head back. “Right,” he muttered, when faced with her savage eyes. “Judy? Do you understand me, Fluff?” No response. “Okay. Uhm.”

He pushed her a bit away from him, then sat down on his haunches and looked her over. “Well, you don’t seem to be in stress, or pain, or… wait, wait a moment.” Frowning, he twisted his head this way and that to look about them. “Where’s your crutches?”

Judy simply cocked her head and crawled closer to paw at his knee.

“Here,” he muttered, “let me get a look at your leg.” He rolled up her pants with no complaint on her end.

He stared.

Her wound was completely healed.

Nick poked the scar.

No reaction.

Shaking his head with a laugh, he pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You are one miracle bunny, Fluff.” He glanced at her wagging tail and snorted. “Or maybe I should call you Tails, huh? C’mon. There’s no point in staying here.”

Judy – Tails – eagerly hopped along beside him, reaching less than mid-thigh on him now that she was down on all four. Thankfully, they didn’t meet anyone on the path to Dorian’s Mine – that would’ve been hell to explain – and the walk was rather eventless.

The mine was abandoned, the old cart rails rusted and flaky. The clearing was still rather scenic, with bushes and flowers growing all about the mine entrance and a few sitting-sized boulders scattered about: the trees stretching towards the sky yet parting enough for the sun to shine through.

“Well, here we are, Tails.” Nick thumped down onto one of the boulders, raking his claws through the fur on his head. He watched warily as Tails hopped about, sniffing around the entrance to the damp mine. Her ears were focused down the dark cave, head tilting this way and that as she slowly moved closer. Something startled her, and with a squeak she ran back to Nick.

He pet her on the head, letting her nuzzle against his paw. “What am I going to do with you?” he sighed. “You better come back to me soon, or I’ll have to call Griffin. And you know how much I dislike calls,” he warned. Smiling absently, he watched as she sniffed around the rock he was perched on, soundless and smooth. He muttered, “I know you’re scared, Tails. I know you’re trying to hide it.”

Shaking his head, he leaned back on his paws and glanced up at the sky. “And y’know, I’m not stupid. I know some part of you doesn’t want this. I know you still want to be a cop, to save the day, make the world better – all that – that you weren’t meant for this kind of life.” He barked a laugh. “Farmer. You’re not a farmer, Tails! You’re a fighter, damn it.”

“And I’m sorry. I’m sorry for taking all that away from you – for, for not keeping it in my pants, for not being there for you. I’m sorry I made this happen. Maybe one day in the future you’ll be able to chase your dream again, but…” He sighed, closing his eyes. “But until then, the only thing I can do is try and make it right.”

Something touched his paw. He startled, whipping around –

Judy stared back at him with gentle eyes, her paw resting atop his.

“Carrots!” Nick exclaimed. “I thought – I thought you were – ”

“I was,” she said softly. “Nick…”

He cleared his throat and glanced aside. “Can we – can we pretend that never happened?”

Judy sat down next to him, wrapping a paw around his waist. “Absolutely not. But I won’t talk about it, if you don’t want me to.” When he gave no response, she rolled her eyes and leaned into him. “Just hug me back, luv.”

He tensed beneath her paw for the briefest of moments, then relaxed and pulled her onto his lap, curling around her.

“That’s it,” she whispered, rubbing a paw up and down his back. Of course he felt guilty about this whole thing.

Good thing she was not unconscious when savage, only in the passenger seat: able to see out of the windshield, but unable to drive. The savage, or rather, primal, instincts sat in the driver’s seat and made the decisions, steered the body, and tried to communicate. A fractured aspect of a personality that Nick aptly had named Tails.

Judy snuggled into Nick’s embrace, basking in his strong, comforting scent. She still hadn’t told him just how wild and homely he was to her, and she didn’t have any plans of doing so, either.

“Carrots?” Nick mumbled, the words muffled by Judy’s ears. She hummed. “What’s the Gideon incident all about?”

Judy froze.

Ah want ye ta remember this moment when ye think ye will ever be anything more than a stupid, carrot-farmin’ dumb bunny – and the sun in her eyes she couldn’t see his claws digging into her skin and his paw on the open wounds and the blood blood blood and her heart shattering her ribs and her breath, her breath, she couldn’t breathe –

“Carrots? Judy. Breathe with me, sweetheart.”

Judy shoved her face into Nick’s chest, drawing deep, rattling breaths. “He was such a horrid bully,” she whispered, paws grasping at his shirt. “We were only kits, and I know now why he was like that, but – but he was so mean. It was the annual Carrot Festival, yes we have those, laugh all you want – and Gideon stole some tickets from my friends. Sharla among them.”

“His future wife?” Nick asked. “How ironic.”

Judy managed a wet laugh. “Yeah, I know. I confronted him, said to give me the tickets back… he refused. Pushed me to the ground, snarled at me.” She hesitated. “He was so distracted teasing me, he didn’t notice when I slipped the tickets out of his pocket. He left without realizing.”

Silence for a moment. Nick put a paw against her cheek, pushing her a bit away to give her a good hard look. “But that’s not all,” he said, “is it?”

Judy looked away. “He clawed me in the face,” she whispered. “I forgave him long ago, I’m not one to hold grudges – and he’s really, really changed. But it’s still…”

Nick’s paws found an iron grip on her shoulders. “After the press conference,” he breathed. “I threatened you. I didn’t… oh, God, Judy – ”

“I had a panic attack after you left,” Judy quietly admitted. “Not only because of you, of course, the press was…” She chuckled drily. “Wasn’t exactly nice. It’d been a long few days.”

He whined, tugging her against his chest and clutching at her shirt. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t know. I really didn’t know.”

“You didn’t mean it,” Judy whispered. “I never blamed you.” She nuzzled into his chest again. “I like the name, by the way. Tails. Think I’m keeping it.”

He paused, then chuckled. “I didn’t give you much of a choice, Fluffball.”

Judy chuckled, too, but cut off abruptly when a sharp pain laced through her abdomen. Wincing, she pressed a paw to it. “Growing pains,” she grunted, at Nick’s worried look. “Last month of rabbit pregnancies have… ow, a lot of development in the kits. Just how it works.”

It took another moment, but then he relaxed again, rubbing a paw over her stomach. “How many you think are in there? Three?”

She shrugged. “Largest litter I’ve heard of had ten, but that’s pretty big even for rabbits. Maybe five?”

“Think the Burrow is big enough for that?”

“Yeah. It’s even big enough to expand the unit!”

Nick frowned. “What do you mean?”

Judy chewed on her lip, thinking of how to explain. “Well, when a member of a family unit moves out of the unit to form a new one, sometimes other members come with them. Typically siblings or littermates.” At his terrified expression, she laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m not planning on taking any with me. But…” She sobered. “You know, if you want to bring someone with you, you can. I mean, if… if you want, of course.”

Nick had never mentioned any of his family. Judy had been curious, of course, but… knowing his past, she hadn’t wanted to ask.

Quietly, Nick said, “I’ll think about it, Fluff.”

Before Judy could answer, his phone went off. Shifting to give him some space to answer it, Judy watched as he pulled it out and glanced at the screen.

“Huh,” he said. “Unknown number.” Shrugging, he took it. “Wilde speaking.”

Nick? It’s Jessica! Are you any good at baking?

He and Judy shared a glance. “I’m alright, I guess. Why?”

Gid says you can stop by for an interview before we go back to the warren – he could do with some extra paws around the bakery, he says,” came Jessica’s excited voice. “Isn’t that great?

Judy lit up. She nodded insistently at Nick.

A bit skeptical, but clearly willing to give it a shot, Nick said, “sure, I’ll drop by. When works?”

A pause; Gideon’s distant drawl. “Now?” Jessica suggested.

Judy jumped to her feet, still nodding. Rolling his eyes with a grin, Nick climbed to his feet. “We’re at the old mine right now, but I’ll get over there as soon as I can. Hang in there, Gideon.”

Beaming, Judy skipped towards the path. “I’ll go hear with the Sherriff while you’re at Gideon’s! What a productive day.” She waited for him to catch up, then held out a paw for him to take. “I’ll ask about that wolf, too. Rusty, was it?”

“Report back, officer,” said Nick, winking down at her.

Saluting him sharply with her free paw, Judy returned the wink. “Yes, sir!”

Chapter Text

The Sheriff’s office was similar to the one in Bunnyburrow, except smaller. It had the same wooden interior and rustic vibe; even the same beige cowboy hat hung on a peg by the door. The Sheriff, a common spotted genet who warmly told her to call him Alabaster, wore overalls and a kind smile. “What seems ta be the problem, missy?” he asked, folding his paws on the table before him.

Judy squirmed a bit in the chair that was decidedly one size too small for her, but managed an eager and honest smile anyway. “Well, sir, me and my mate will be moving into Burrower’s Corner in just a week’s time, and I was wondering if you had any open job positions I could possibly apply for?” Chuckling a bit, she gestured with a thumb over her shoulder. “He’s at an interview at Gideon’s as we speak.”

Alabaster’s smile fell. He sighed, leaning onto his elbows as he rubbed at his forehead. “Listen, Miss Hopps. Ah care greatly ‘bout the mammals in mah care, an’ quite frankly, ah don’t think yer cut out fer the job.”

What.

“But – but, sir, I’m Judy Hopps – graduated top of my class at the police academy, worked for the ZPD, I brought down Bellwether!”

“Oh, yeah, ah saw ye on the news.” He gave her a pointed look. “What with the press conference, an’ all.”

She deflated and looked aside. “You saw that, huh?”

“Besides,” said Alabaster, “ah ain’t got no work now anyhow. It’s a safe place, Whiteside, ain’t no trouble roamin’ the streets. An’ for those few who try ah’ve got mah deputies runnin’ about fixin’ things.” He looked at her for a long moment, then sighed. “But ah can sign ye up as a volunteer, if ye really wanna.”

Her ears popped straight up again. “Ye – yes! Yes, I would like that. Please.”

He fished out a notepad and pen, noting down her full name and phone number. “Right. Was there anythin’ else?”

“Yes, actually. A wolf approached me today asking if I could help him find his missing son.” She raised her eyebrows at him. “He seemed very insistent that the Sherriff office wasn’t doing enough to find him.”

Alabaster sighed heavily, leaning back in his chair. “Moore again… he moved into town jus’ a week or so ago, an’ everyone knows he an’ his son have a rocky relationship at best. Russet is sixteen, old enough ta care fer himself, an’ it ain’t unusual for young wolves ta run off. The move was just ta much fer him.” He shrugged. “’Sides, we ain’t found him anywhere nearby. We’ve done what we can do.”

Judy left his office fuming.

*

She met up with Nick and Jessica at Gideon’s bakery. Nick’s tail swayed from side to side, his back straight as he spoke with an equally as pleased Jessica.

Jessica was the first to look over when Judy pushed the door open. “Judy!” she beamed. “How did it go?”

Judy gave her a dejected look.

Jessica’s ears fell. “That bad?”

Imitating Alabaster’s southern drawl, Judy said, “’Quite frankly, ah don’t think yer cut out fer the job.’ He signed me up as a volunteer.” There was a shocked silence. Nick and Jessica exchanged glances, which Judy, who was staring at the floor, did not see. “I guess I’ll accept Joe’s offer of work at the stables.”

After a quick moment of silent communication, Nick was the first to move. “Oh, Carrots,” he sighed. He put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side. “You’re not the kind to give up so easy, he’ll learn that soon enough.”

“You can always be a private investigator,” Jessica said, putting a paw on her other shoulder. “I’ll help you, if I can.”

Judy smiled sadly, reaching up to cover her paw with hers. “Thanks, guys.” She tilted her head back, glancing up at Nick. “How’d the interview go?”

He squeezed her shoulder and winked. “You’re looking at a full-time employee of Gideon Grey’s Real Good Baked Stuff, Fluffball.”

Her ears rose, and she beamed. “Really? That’s great, Nick!” Raising her voice, she called, “you’re doing us a real favour, Gideon!”

He popped his head out of the kitchens with a laugh. “Anythin’ for a friend of yours, Judy. Speakin’ of, do ye want work as well? Ah heard the ol’ Alabaster didn’t treat ye too kindly.”

Nick’s ear twitched. “Alabaster?” He scoffed. “More like Ala-bastard.”

Judy thwapped him in the side but couldn’t help but grin. “Thanks, Gideon, but I’ve already got an offer from Joe Dickinson at the stables. I appreciate the thought, though!”

“Course!” He waved at them, then disappeared back in.

Jessica sighed, then stepped back to look them over. “Aight. Y’all wanna go back home now? Sounds like it’s been a long day for you.” When they nodded, she walked towards the door, calling, “and you’ve gotta tell me everything about the burrow!” over her shoulder.

*

The car ride back was spent with Judy and Nick describing in great detail the layout of Burrower’s Corner seventh. Jessica was surprised and pleased when Judy said the real estate agent was Sharla, declaring she’d had no idea.

At their description of Seventh, she thoughtfully said, “almost feel like tacking myself onto you guys, come live with you.” At Nick’s horrified look she burst out laughing. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding. You’ll get it to yourself.”

Judy laughed with her, but was surprised into silence when her phone buzzed in her pocket. Her ringtone filled the car, and Jessica went quiet, too. “Oh! It’s Fru-Fru!”

Ignoring Jessica and Nick in the background – “Who?” – “A friend from Zootopia.” – Judy picked up. “Hey, Fru – …Fru?”

Fru-Fru seemed exhausted, tears running through her already clumped facial fur and soft sobs filling the silence.

“What happened?” Judy gasped. “Are you okay?”

Sniffing, Fru-Fru smiled widely. “I’m just perfect,” she said, and tilted the camera downward.

A tiny arctic shrew pup lay in her arms, its little eyes still shut and the fur yet wet from being cleaned.

Judy gasped so shrilly Jessica swavered on the road. “Oh, she’s adorable! I’m so happy for you!”

“Hector passed out some time ago,” Fru-Fru giggled, turning the camera to one side to show her unconscious husband. “And Daddy is out getting me some juice. She’s completely healthy.” She nuzzled the pup in her arms with a fond look. “Looks just like her daddy.”

“She has your nose,” said Judy warmly, looking at mother and offspring. Her own paw found its way onto her belly. Nick, who’d realized what was happening, put a paw over hers with a small smile. Judy flashed him a smile in return before focusing back on Fru-Fru. “Thank you for telling me.”

“Of course!” Fru-Fru smiled. Her gaze flickered to something off-frame, and her ears twitched. “Oh, sorry love, the nurse is coming back. I’ll call you later! Bye!”

Judy waved and the screen went dark.

Silence for a moment.

“So, she just gave birth, I take it?” Jessica said lightly.

“A beautiful little arctic shrew pup,” Judy said, and smiled with a glance at Nick. “With her mother’s nose and her father’s ears.”

Jessica smiled to the rearview mirror as she pulled in to the Hopps parking lot. “Sounds just lovely, Judes,” she said, and locked the car doors.

Judy, who’d been about to open her door, froze. “Jessica?”

“Listen, guys. I need to talk to you.” She turned in her seat to look at them both, her ears folded down her back. “You especially, Judy. You know cousin Rebecca, right? From C4?”

Groaning, Judy put a paw over her eyes. “Yes. What about her?”

“She says you and Parsley have threatened her.”

“What? No!” She yanked her paws away from her face to give Jessica an incredulous look. “Rebecca tried to tell me that Nick was dangerous, and Parsley stepped in to de-escalate the situation! I – I get that I might’ve come across as threatening, but we didn’t make any threats, I promise.”

Jessica relaxed against the seat, running a paw through her fur. “Yeah, that’s what I thought. But… I had to make sure.” She gave Judy a heavy look, then sighed. “We’ve… faced some backlash. For our open acceptance of you and Nick.”

“No,” Judy whispered. “Has anyone been hurt?”

She shook her head. “It’s just verbal. Some mammals don’t talk to us as much as before. We’re taking it in stride, us adults, but the kits don’t get it… and it’s not right that they – or you – suffer, so it’s going to be a topic on the council meeting tomorrow.”

Sighing, Nick closed his eyes. “We’ll be out of your fur soon enough,” he muttered. “Don’t worry.”

“Oh, we ain’t worrying. We’ve handled worse.”

Judy had to admit that much was true.

“Uhm… Jess? Can you unlock the car?”

“Oh! Right, sorry!”

*

“- and if you tune in Wednesday, we have a live interview with Judy Hopps. I am Fabienne Growley, and this is the ZNN.”

Sighing, Judy flicked the TV off. She was absolutely not in the mood to listen to that now, busy thinking about the previous few days. There was something she was wondering about, and she knew just who to ask.

Tucking the covers up under her chin, she called, “Nick?”

He popped his head out of the bathroom, toothbrush and foam poking out from his lips. “’eah?”

She snorted, smiling softly – hesitated, then said, “how did it… how did it feel? Going savage? Being shot, I mean.”

His ears flicked. He held up a claw to say, wait, then disappeared into the bathroom again. There was the sound of running water, a bit of shuffling, and then he re-appeared. He leaned against the doorframe, folding his arms over his chest with a thoughtful frown.

Judy waited.

“Like a haze,” he eventually said, voice hushed. “Like I was… watching someone else using my body. Make decisions and do things and… and it wasn’t me, but the thing it was had come from… from deep inside me anyway. It wasn’t me. But it’d come from me.”

Judy slowly sat up, tilting her head. “Like it was you, but not you. You, but… a different version of you.” At seeing his surprised look, she ploughed on: “with an overlap, right? Some parts that are both. Some parts that are just… them.”

Nick exhaled slowly, pushing away from the doorframe while shaking his head. “Hit the nail on the head, Fluff. Good to hear I’m not alone in it.”

“You’re never alone,” Judy muttered softly. She reached a paw out for him, and he smiled, crossing the room and crawling into the bed to lean into her touch. Scratching his fur, Judy added, “not when our other parts are so deeply entwined.”

It was a puzzle piece sliding into place. An awakening of something more that had manifested in another facet of the same mammal: Judy and Tails, interwoven, the same yet not. Judy and Nick, modern mammals living by modern standards: their counterparts, primal, driven by instincts and simpler pleasures.

Grinning, Judy touched their foreheads together. “I think I’ll call you Ears,” she said. “Since you named me.”

Nick tilted his head, lining their lips up. “Do I have any choice?”

“Hmm. “Judy pretended to think about it. “Nah.”

“That’s what I thought.” With a chuckle, Nick closed the distance.

Judy smiled into the kiss.

Nick and Judy.

Ears and Tails.

They could make this work.

*

Judy woke to darkness with a wince. Mewling, she curled into a ball and pressed her paws against her stomach – it hurt! The pain, icy-hot and swelling like iron claws beneath her skin, was horrifying. What was happening? Were the kits okay? Was she okay? Another harsh, cold pang, and – wait.

This sounded familiar! Third month growing pains? A painful but ultimately harmless reminder of what was resting – and growing – inside her belly… a bit early, perhaps, but nothing to worry about.

What a relief.

She squeezed her eyes shut and bit her tongue, trying to keep her laboured breathing quiet. There was no need to wake Nick for something like this; it would pass soon enough, even if she was in for a few painful days. She should’ve taken the mild pain earlier that day as the warning sign it was, ow –

Shuffling of bedsheets, then Nick rose from his side of the bed. “Judy?” he muttered, eyes thin with sleep. When he saw what precisely she was clutching at, though, he lurched closer and put a paw on her shoulder. “What’s wrong? Should I call someone?”

She grunted and shook her head. “Growing pains,” she gritted out, “over – nhg – soon.”

“O – okay,” said Nick, still hovering over her. “Wh – what should I do?”

Judy crawled over to him and tucked her head in under his chin, paws clutching at his fur. “Hold – just, just… just hold me,” she whimpered.

He immediately folded to do so. After a bit of silence, he began to hum a melancholy tune. This continued on until the pain calmed and Judy eased her iron-grip on his fur. She sniffled, blinking away some of the tears that’d welled up in her eyes. “What’s that?”

He cut off abruptly. “It’s, uh – it’s a lullaby.” He cleared his throat. “My mother used to sing it for me.”

“That’s adorable,” she muttered. “Maybe the kits can hear it.”

“Already?”

“I know it’s soon,” said Judy, and moved a bit away from him, putting her paws to her belly. “But these were third month growing pains… the last month of the pregnancy.”

Nick sat up. “But it hasn’t been three months yet?” His eyes fell to her stomach, then widened. “Crickets, Judy, how you’ve grown!”

The bump was undeniable, now: undoubtedly a pregnancy coming along. “And it’ll just keep growing.”

“Amazing.” He reached a paw out to touch her, gently rubbing along her belly before a yawn nearly split his head in two. Stretching and rubbing at his eyes, he laid back down and tugged the sheets over them. “Sleep…”

She chuckled. “Yeah. Sleep.”

She waited until his breath evened out, then rolled over and grabbed her phone. Opening her messages, she texted, I’m taking your case. When can you meet?

*

She got an answer during breakfast the following morning. Anytime you can.

“Nick,” she said, leaning over to say, “I’m going to ride to Whiteside and talk with Cole about his son. Are you coming with?”

“On a bird?”

Judy nodded.

Nick exhaled slowly, glancing down at his portion of yoghurt forlornly. “The things I do for you…”

He did have a point – she couldn’t just put him on an emu and expect him to gallop for an hour. Judy tapped her lip, then shot him a smile. “We can take Nelly. She’s big enough to share.”

*

Nelly was the only elephant bird of the Hopps clan: a ten-foot-tall bird with legs as thick as Judy’s chest and soft feathers the colour of chocolate. She was a gentle giant, having grown up side-by-side with Judy’s agemates. Some of her earliest childhood memories were of helping train Nelly to ride, being lifted onto her back by uncle Martin.

“Hey there, hon,” Judy softly greeted, hopping onto the staircase next to her enclosure. “We need you to take a little trip, lovely. You feelin’ up to that?” Without looking away from Nelly, she said, “Nick, hand me her saddle.”

“I’m assuming it’s the piece of leather the size of Finnick’s van?” Nick said drily.

With team effort they managed to saddle Nelly up, then lead her out of the stable. Coaxing her into laying down, Judy hopped onto her back and reached out to help Nick settle behind her. “Ready?” she asked, giving Nelly the command to stand up.

Nick’s paws clutched at her waist. “Oh yeah, totally,” he said meekly.

“Good! Hiya, Nelly!”

She broke into a gallop.

Nelly was an amazing ride. There was no sensation closer to flying, in Judy’s opinion: with her long, powerful strides and the breathtaking speed she ran at it was simply fantastic. Even Nick warmed up to it after a couple of minutes, releasing his tight grip on Judy and looking about, instead.

Clarissa’s approximation of taking an hour to get from Bunnyburrow to Whiteside by bird was based on the speed of a rhea, and so, with Nelly, it only took about forty minutes.

They slowed when they entered the streets of Whiteside, going at a more casual stride on the road, rather than the sidewalk. There were no elephant birds local to Whiteside, and so a few mammals they rode past stopped to gape and point (especially young offspring). Judy winked and waved at them when she could.

Coleman rented the basement of a two-story building mid-town: the white walls and straw roof welcoming enough, even if the cobblestone stairs leading to the basement door were cracked and mossy.

The apartment was clean, though it was pretty clear it was newly moved into: some boxes still stood around, and every shelf and table was far too neat and empty to be truly lived in yet. “Please, sit,” Cole insisted, “I’ll be right back.”

He came back with a tray of tea and coffee, sitting in the chair opposite of the couch Judy and Nick had perched on. “Thank you, officer,” Cole said, folding his paws together. “Thank you so much.”

Judy held up her paw. “Please, call me Judy. So, Cole… tell me about your son.”

Through a questioning that felt more like a conversation than anything else, Judy and Nick got as much information out of Cole as they possibly could.

Russet “Rusty” Moore was a sixteen year old wolf with golden-red fur and a mild temper. He was kind, but self-centred – liked reading comics and drawing landscapes. When asked, Cole admitted that they’d gotten in a few fights recently due to their disagreement over where to live: Rusty had wanted to stay in the city, while Cole had pushed for the move. Usually they got along very nicely, though – it had always been just the two of them.

“Where did you see him last?” Nick asked, while Judy was furiously taking notes.

“He was on his way to Gideon’s bakery to pick up a cake I’d ordered, to celebrate the recent move… it was just four days ago, but I’m so worried.” Cole wiped some tears from his eyes. “He never came home.” He went on to describe what Rusty had been wearing: a t-shirt with some faded comic motive, blue jeans, and a green jersey jacket.

Judy explained how the Sherriff had brushed the case aside, and Cole buried his face in his paws. “Yeah, I haven’t felt much support from the authorities. Sometimes it feels like only Mister Thorn believes in me…”

Judy’s ears popped up. “Mister Thorn?”

Cole nodded. “It’s my landlord. He lives above us.” He pointed up to the roof.

Nick and Judy shared a look.

*

“Mister Thorn? My name is Judy Hopps – ”

“And Nick Wilde.”

“ – I just want to ask some questions about your tenants, Misters Moore.”

The door slowly opened. A smiling sloth stood on the other side, glasses and knitted vest adorning his face and body. “He…llo.”

Judy’s heart dropped. Of course.

Fletcher Thorn was a middle-aged sloth who’d decided to rent away his basement after his children moved out. He reported that both Rusty and Cole were nice mammals, though Rusty had a bit of a spiky attitude. Though he didn’t know enough about either of them to accurately say whether or not Rusty had ran off or not, he admitted he leaned towards the “something else had happened” category. He’d given what support he could – which was mostly emotional and helping with giving directions around town – and admitted he’d prayed Rusty would turn up alright.

When they finished with Thorn, Judy and Nick stopped outside on the street to review their notes. “Seems like we have a tricky one on our paws,” Nick muttered, flipping through Judy’s notebook. “A community convinced the victim has ran away, but the parent convinced something sinister is happening… no CCTV footage or anything.”

“Let’s go talk to Gideon,” Judy said, rubbing at her forehead. “Maybe Russet made it there, after all.”

*

“Howdy again, Judy!” said Gideon, wiping his flour-covered paws down his pink apron. “Back again so soon?”

Judy smiled and nodded, then flipped open her notebook. “Not here just for pleasantries, I’m afraid… we just have a few questions about a missing mammal. Russet Moore, have you heard about him?” After Gideon nodded, she pulled out her phone and showed him the picture Cole had mailed her earlier. “He was supposed to come here four days ago to pick up a cake. Did he ever arrive?”

Gideon scratched at his head while squinting at the phone. “Oh, yeah, ah saw him alright. He came on in, made sum’ small talk – nice mammal – an’ got the cake with ‘im.”

“Did he act suspicious in any way at all?”

Gideon opened his mouth, then widened his eyes and stopped. “Now that ye mention it…” He went behind the counter and began rummaging around. “There was quite the ruckus jus’ around the corner after he left. It was a calm day, so ah went out ta check and saw this dark blue city car speedin’ off. Ah wrote down the number plate so ah wouldn’t forget.” He held out a ripped paper. “Ah didn’t… ah didn’t connect poor Russet disappearin’ with the speedin’ car before now. Ye don’t think…?”

Judy eagerly took the paper, quickly scanning the number before handing it over to Nick. “It’s worth checking out. Thank you, Gideon – I’ll call if I have any more questions.”

“Happy to help,” said Gideon. “Ah hope y’all find the pup.”

“So do we,” said Nick, as they opened the door to leave. “So do we.”

*

“D’you suppose Flash would want to help us?” Judy asked, on their way back to Nelly.

“For sure,” Nick said, walking with a confident gait and his paws in his pockets. He shot her a grin. “He owes me big time.”

Hesitating, Judy frowned. “Nick… what did you do?”

“Saved his tail from Mr. Big’s wrath while I was still in his good grades,” Nick casually said. “Even put in a good word for him, got him his job at the DMV.”

Judy stared at him, something warm and soft coiling in her gut. “Nick…”

He cleared his throat, looking aside. “Anyway. Should we get the ride down on eye level or not? Bound to be around lunch now, isn’t it?”

Smiling, but swearing to not forget, Judy gave Nelly the command.

Chapter Text

The talk with Nick about Tails and Ears made it that much easier to explain what was going on to Doctor Griffin. He took notes as they spoke, nodding and humming in understanding. When they’d explained as much as they could, he put aside his notes and smiled reassuringly. “I understand this has been worrisome for you, but it sounds like your primal counterparts are far from threats to their surroundings.”

“But…”

“About eighty percent of the Night Howler victims have reported this sort of ‘primal regression’ when under stress. A far milder form of when they went savage.” Doctor Griffin glanced at his notes. “We are calling it Post Induced Primal Regression Disorder, or PIPRD for short. As far as we can tell, it is nothing dangerous, though it affects every part of your life.

Judy exhaled, leaning into Nick’s side. “Oh, thank Goodness. There’s nothing wrong with us?”

He shook his head. “On the contrary. You’re displaying the most common response to the serum. There’s no need to worry, and your counterparts… what did you call them?” He grinned. “Ears and Tails? There’s no danger in letting them out. However…”

“I knew there was a catch,” Nick muttered to Judy.

“Since you are pregnant, Miss Hopps, and you were so when the serum was administered, I would advice to have another check-up with Doctor Beltran to ensure everything is as it should be.” He gave them a look. “Can you do that?”

“We did have some questions about that,” said Judy, “so yes, absolutely. When can we meet with her?”

*

“Say, Miss Hopps, how far along are you?”

“Er…” Judy frowned, thinking about it. “Seven weeks, I think.”

Doctor Beltran hummed, squinting at the flickering imagery of Judy’s unborn kits. “I’ve never seen this before. They’re growing at nearly twice the speed they ought to be… well, except for two, they seem to be about the size they should be. At this rate, you’ll be birthing in two or three weeks.”

Two or three weeks - !

Judy and Nick exchanged a terrified glance. His grip on her paw tightened. “What… what does that mean? That they grow so fast?” Judy asked.

“In pre-historic times, most prey pregnancies were much shorter to ensure the survival of the species. As Doctor Griffin and the rest of our team has speculated, the serum has not only affected the brain, but also the biology of the body – causing a whole-hearted regression into a more primal state,” Doctor Beltran explained. “Only one other victim of IPR – Induced Primal Regression – was pregnant when she was shot, and she gave birth while Regressed. Her cubs are alright and have displayed no signs of suffering from PIPRD, despite their mother having done so.”

Judy’s ears drooped. She hadn’t even considered that her kits might be affected.

“Of course, she was highly pregnant and her cubs fully developed inside the womb by the time of her Regression,” Doctor Beltran continued, still watching the screen intently. “You, however, were still during the developing phases for your Regression… and it might have affected the kits. Since the antidote was administered fairly quickly, I feel the need to inform you that your kits might be born with Primal Regression Disorder… though we don’t know anything for sure.”

“I see,” said Judy meekly. Her paw was clutching hard at Nick’s. Trying desperately to think of something else, she stuttered, “how… how many are there?”

Doctor Beltran looked at her properly for the first time since she’d gel’d down her stomach. “Nine.”

The breath was torn from her lungs. “N – nine!?

“Correct.” Doctor Beltran flashed a brief smile before turning a notch more serious. “Now, I do not wish to give you two false hope. At least two of the kits are unlikely to make it, seeing as they are so much smaller than their littermates. While the rest of them seem and sound healthy, it’s impossible to tell until they’re born. Do you understand me?”

Silence. Judy could not bear to look up from her bulging belly.

“It’s… tough to hear,” Nick croaked. “Do you think… any of them…?”

“I do not know,” said Doctor Beltran softly. “Truly, I have never seen a case like yours. I honestly did not think it possible. It must have something to do with your ancestry, Miss Hopps. Perhaps yours, too, Mister Wilde.”

More silence.

“Can you tell the sexes, yet?” Nick quietly asked.

Doctor Beltran hummed, leaning in towards the screen once more. “Not all of them – the two little ones are too small, and some are a bit shy.” She chuckled. “But… yes… at least two girls, and a little boy.”

Judy laughed softly – a breathy, disbelieved little sound. “A little boy,” she whispered, and gave Nick a smile that brimmed with tears, “and two girls…”

“We should think about names,” Nick said, gaze glued to Judy’s belly.

“I have some in mind,” Judy noted.

He rolled his eyes with a fond smile. “Of course you do.”

*

Nick watched with a smile as Judy scurried off to gush with Fru-Fru about Ju-Ju, Judy’s pregnancy, Whiteside, the birds, Burrower’s Corner, and God knows what else. He knew how much Judy appreciated Fru-Fru, and how important this was for her – having not had many friends beyond her littermates and just a cousin or two throughout her entire life.

It was also why he decided to hang back and chat with Mr. Big instead, giving her what time he could.

“You have lucked out with Judy,” said Mr. Big. “She is a gem.”

“She really, really is,” Nick said. “Did you hear? Nine kits. Doctor says they’re not all going to survive, most likely, but… you know, still. Nine.”

Mr. Big chuckled. “Ah, yes. Rabbits and their multiplications.” He paused and gave Nick a long look. “Are you ready to be a father, Nick?”

Nick raised his chin. “Yes. Absolutely. …and not just because I’ve been reading books about it for a while. You, er… you don’t happen to have any tips, do you?”

He hummed, barely taking time to think about it before answering. “Do not hide from them. Make sure they know how much they mean to you. Be their world, like they are yours.” A pause, then, “and when they eventually leave the nest, let them go.”

He hadn’t actually expected any tips, and so it took him a moment to compose himself. “I… thank you, Big…”

“Oh, please. Call me Antonio.” Mr. Big – Antonio – picked at his claws. “Where and how long are you staying?”

“Oh, uh – Carrots has an interview Friday, and we’re moving into Burrower’s Corner over the weekend… so just until then.” He shrugged. “We haven’t decided where to stay yet… don’t exactly have a large budget.”

Antonio scoffed. “Nonsense, child. You have a gold membership with Koslov’s Palace – you will stay there and pay nothing. No, do not argue.”

Nick, who had not been planning to argue, gave an honest smile. “Thank you. I’m sure Judy will appreciate it.”

“Hrmn. Do not pretend you don’t. Now, what is on your mind? I know you, Nick.”

“Ah.” His ears flicked. “Listen… I need a favour.”

Antonio gestured lazily. “I am listening.”

Pulling his wallet out of his pocket, Nick drew forth an old, battered picture. “I need you to find someone for me. This is the only picture I have of her, so if you ruin it I might have to disown you.”

Antonio raised an unimpressed eyebrow, taking the picture with great care. “Do you not have any more information on her?”

“Her name is Vivian Wilde.” Nick exhaled slowly. “She’s my mother.”

*

Even in her short stay in Zootopia, Judy had heard of Koslov’s Palace: a high-tier restaurant and hotel in the centre of Tundratown. It cost you a pretty penny and the waiting lists were long as the Warren was big. With her newfound knowledge that Koslov, the owner of Koslov’s Palace was the same Koslov as Koslov, Mr. Big’s right-hand-man and heir, Judy would be willing to bet her tail on the hotel being more than just a hotel.

For her own sanity, though, she was going to dutifully look the other way if she happened to see something odd.

They were greeted at the reception by an arctic vixen wearing the tell-tale blue uniform of the Palace. “Hello, and welcome to Koslov’s Palace! What can I do for you today?”

“Hi!” Judy greeted, reading her nametag. Skye. A pretty name. She focused back on Skye’s face. “We were promised a room here for the next two nights…?”

“Hmm.” An uncertain look flashed over Skye’s expression, but she soon tamed it and turned to the computer next to her. “I haven’t heard of anything, but I can run your names through the system to check… if I may have them?” She flashed them a smile.

“Nick Wilde,” said Nick. “And my mate, Judy Hopps.”

Skye’s eyes widened, but other than a twitch of her ear, she made no reaction other than smiling and nodding. “Nicholas and Judith?” she asked, and, when they confirmed, clicked onto their profiles. This time she couldn’t tamper her reaction before her maw fell open, though she soon reeled herself in. “O – oh! My apologies, of course. I merely hadn’t seen you here before, I’ll remember you for next time.” She turned towards the polar bear manning the larger size of the reception, calling, “Sarah? Will you watch here for a moment? I’m showing these gentlemammals their room.”

“Sure thing!” Sarah replied. Glancing at Nick and Judy, she smiled. “Welcome to the Palace.”

Judy gave a little wave, then returned to attention when Skye slipped out from behind the counter. “If you would follow me, I will take you to your room. Here,” – she handed them both a small, golden plastic card – “are your keys.”

Skye took them to the elevators, then pushed a gold-plated button that read, 22. “You will have to use the keys to access this level,” she instructed, showing them a moment later by pressing her own keycard to the sensor. The light flashed green, and the elevator began moving.

“It’s really nice of you,” said Judy, “to show us our rooms, I mean.”

Skye winked at her. “Here at the Palace the guest is the focus. I have to ask, have you ever been here before? No? In that case: you’re both golden members, which means you have access to pretty much everything. The restaurant, the bar, the pool and spa, twenty-four-seven room service, and anything else I might be forgetting now. No extra fees.”

The elevator doors swung open and Skye stepped outside. “You two have suite five – it’s right this way.”

There were only a pawful of doors in the long hallway. Counting them as well as she could, Judy settled on eight. Number five was the last on the right-paw side of the elevator, and Skye once more showcased how to unlock the door.

“Here you are,” she said, gesturing inside. “The master bedroom is to the right, the guestroom straight ahead, and a bathroom is connected to each bedroom.”

Judy’s ears had fell down the moment the door swung open. Now she stepped into the lounge with wide eyes and a gaping mouth, trying to take in the whole thing: the huge TV, the couches and armchairs, the mini-bar and bottles of alcohol… the thick rugs and the wooden beams and the chandelier –

“Wow,” she breathed.

Nick pressed some fingers to the wall, a wide grin on his maw. “You sure we can’t move in here, Carrots?”

“If there is anything at all, you can either call the reception with the phone here or summon us upstairs with this button.” She nodded and smiled at them. “I’m Skye, and I’ll be assigned to you as long as I am on shift. Feel free to stay as long as you want, but please tell the receptionist when you are ‘checking out’, and your keycards will be exchanged for membership certificates.”

Judy beamed. “Thank you!”

“Of course, this suite is only yours, so feel free to request any changes, leave personal belongings, or whatever else. Enjoy your stay.”

Judy smiled at Nick, partially uncomfortable with accommodations way above her paygrade and partially grateful to Mr. Big for being so kind and generous. She was about to open her mouth and say as such, but was interrupted.

“Uhm… Miss Hopps?” Turning, Judy found Skye still standing by the door, her customer service smile replaced by an uncertain look, folded ears and fumbling paws. “I – I’m not supposed to ask this, and please forgive me if I’m overstepping, but… you are pregnant, yes?”

“Oh!” Judy smiled, paw coming down to rest atop her belly. “Yes. Yes, I am.”

Possibly even more uncertain now, Skye added, “a – and is… is Mister Wilde the… the father?”

“Sure am,” said Nick proudly. “Is that a problem?”

Her ears shot up. “No! Not at all! It’s just – no, it’s nothing. Thank you, Miss Hopps, Mister Wilde. Please. Do tell me if you need anything.”

“Call me Judy,” said Judy warmly. “I insist.”

Smiling shyly, Skye ducked her head. “Alright… Judy.”

*

That evening, they sat on one of the couches while soft music played on the TV – Nick sprawled across the cushions with his head in Judy’s lap, and Judy slowly carding her claws through his long fur. “Your fur really is beautiful,” she muttered, giving him a warm look. “I consider myself quite lucky.”

He hummed. “As do I, Carrots. Every damn morning.”

She laughed.

He turned slightly, bumping his nose into her belly. “You said you had some names in mind for the kits?”

“Mmhm. Not anything too specific, though…” She tugged lightly at one of his ears. “You want to tell me about fox naming traditions?”

He chuckled, raising an eyebrow. “Know the rules before you break them, is that it?”

“Rascal.”

“You love it. Anyway… we don’t really have many of them. Naming kits after family members or friends is a mark of honour – I’m named after my uncle and grandpa – but that’s about it, as far as I know.”

Judy grinned. “It’s funny, it seems to be like that for many mammals – for rabbits it’s actually the opposite! The more unique a name, the better… so I won’t be naming any of the little ones after my family members. But – I was thinking… maybe we could name one of the girls Fraise? After Francine?”

Nick frowned, then lit up and snapped his fingers. “Fru-Fru, right?”

“Mhm. She named her daughter after me, so I figured it would be nice to return the favour. That’s the only one I have in mind, though.”

“Hmm.” He stretched, then sat up and rested his head against Judy’s shoulder. “How about… Vivian?”

“Oh, how pretty. Of course, Nick.” She grabbed his paw, squeezing it between both of hers. “Maybe… Clara? Cyan? Julia?”

“I like all of them. What about boy’s names?” He chuckled. “Something we can shorten, like ours… makes the full-name-scolding more effective. Theodore, maybe? Alexander? Edward?”

Judy hummed. “Samuel – Calvin? Sam and Cal.” She laid her head down to rest against Nick’s. “We can write down a list of possibilities, but… I don’t think we should say anything for sure before we have the kits with us. Sometimes kits just… ooze a certain name. That’s why Mary is called that! She was supposed to be named Jew, but mom held her in her arms and knew it just wasn’t right. She still kept Jew, though – Marianne Jew Hopps.”

“You call the shots, Fluff,” Nick said softly, slowly petting her belly through her shirt. “I just want them safe and happy.”

“Yeah,” Judy sighed. “Fingers crossed, luv.” She paused, then turned her face to peck his ear. “Will you sing for them?”

He huffed, amused. “If you want to hear me sing, you can just say so, Fluff.”

“Nick.”

“Yes, yes, yes… I will.” He nuzzled her shoulder.

The kit is laid into the cradle,
sometimes cries and sometimes laughs.
Oh, sleep, oh sleep, in karma’s name,
karma bless the kit.

*

“Flash, Flash, hundred-yard dash!”

For all that the slowness of a sloth was one of the most frustrating things Judy could think of, the pure joy displayed in slow-motion on Flash’s face made up for it. “N…ick!” He turned the same expression to Judy. “And Officer… Hopps!”

“Not Officer anymore,” said Judy, returning his smile. “I quit. Just call me Judy.”

He nodded slowly. Well, fast for him. “Judy.”

Nick flicked his sunglasses on top of his head to give Flash a wink. “We were wondering if you could run a licence plate through the system for us…”

Forty minutes later, they’d thanked Flash for his help and was on their way to the apartment of one Horace Sage. Third floor, downtown Savanna Central, Nelson Apartments.

“Think we’ve got our mammal?” Nick asked, paw posed to knock.

“Not so hasty, Slick,” Judy muttered, glancing down at the paper Flash had given them. “We haven’t even talked to him yet… go ahead.” She gestured for him to knock.

Horace Sage was an aardvark with thick glasses and a polished cane. He opened the door with a puzzled look. “Ah, hello?”

“Hello! Horace Sage?” Judy gave a little wave, then smiled when Horace nodded. “Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde. We just want to ask some questions about a missing mammal.”

His ears twitched. “Judy Hopps? I thought you quit the police.”

“Yes, I did. The missing mammal is not from Zootopia, but a vehicle registered to your name is believed to have been the get-away car.”

Horace frowned. “My car? But I don’t own…” He trailed off, eyes widening before he exhaled hard. “Hunter…” He hobbled away from the door, using his free paw to gesture inside. “Come on in, officers.”

Judy protested. “We’re not – ”

Horace smiled, raising a paw with a wink. “Maybe not on paper.”

He had a small, homely apartment with Persian carpets and old-fashioned clocks squeezed in-between family portraits on the walls. If it hadn’t been for his youthful voice, Judy would’ve assumed he was an elderly boar.

Judy and Nick settled on his couch while he brought them glasses of apple juice (without prompting). “The car is mine,” he admitted, “but I don’t use it. I bought it for my cousin, for his eighteenth birthday. He all but lives out of it nowadays… not because he’s poor, but because it’s ‘easier that way’.” He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Hunter Sage. My uncle’s only son.”

“Hunter Sage,” Judy muttered, jotting it down on her notepad. “Do you have any contact information for him?”

Horace shook his head. “He comes by here every now and again to check up on me, but he’s very secretive about his own life. All I know is that he works at a homeless shelter down at Dove Row.”

Judy and Nick exchanged a glance.

*

Dove Row: one of the poorer parts of Savanna Central. The local homeless shelter, Dove Row Shelter, was a huge brick building that oozed indifference. While not exactly frightening, it wasn’t welcoming, either, with its small windows and gray façade.

Judy pushed through the front doors without hesitating, Nick half-a-step behind her. There was a small reception desk right by the door, manned by a petite, spotted skunk. She wore no uniform, just a blue summer dress, as she filed documents.

She glanced up at Nick and Judy’s entry, cocking her head: a bit puzzled at these two mammals who did not look homeless in the slightest. “Hello… how may I help you?”

“Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde,” Judy said, gesturing at each of them in turn. “We’re here to investigate a missing mammal and would like to talk with one of your employees – one Hunter Sage. Is he in?”

“Oh!” Her ears flickered, her claw coming up to tap at her lips. “Uhm, I haven’t seen him in a few days… I would give you his contact information, but I’m just a volunteer, so I don’t have access to the systems… and my boss hasn’t been in for a few days, either.”

“I see…” Judy frowned, exchanged a glance with Nick, and came up with a new idea. “Well, do you mind if we ask you some questions?”

“Not at all,” said the skunk, reaching to her side and picking up a pair of glasses. “What do you want to know?”

Pulling her notebook out of Nick’s pocket, Judy flipped to an open page. “Let’s begin with your name, shall we?”

Violet Fernandez was a nineteen year old who volunteered at Dove Row Shelter for extra points at school. She came in to work a few times in the week and worked only at the reception to file and print documents, handle donations, emails, and similar. Nothing that painted her as particularly knowledgeable about her co-workers, much less as a suspect… at least, until Judy showed her the picture of Rusty.

She sighed softly, ears drooping as she touched a claw to his golden fur. “Not another one…”

Judy perked up. “Sorry?”

“I haven’t seen this particular wolf,” Violet clarified, “but… sometimes wolves go missing from here over-night. It’s not unusual for mammals to pack up and leave in the middle of the night, but the largest rate is of wolves, and sometimes… well, sometimes they leave without their stuff. Y’know. Everything they own?”

Judy scribbled furiously. “That is a bit suspicious, I agree. How often does this happen?”

Violet thought about it. “Uhm… once a month, maybe? Some of my friends from the other districts – they also volunteer – report some of the same things… most of the time some of my co-workers stop showing up to work a few days afterwards…”

“Thank you,” said Judy, tapping the top of her carrot pen to withdraw the tip. “This is very helpful. If I give you my number, will you be able to contact me the immediate moment Hunter shows up to work?”

Violet chewed on her lip. “What… what do you think he’s done?”

“So far, nothing,” said Nick, with a shrug. “Buuuut he’s in the possession of a car that might’ve been used to kitnap lil’ Rusty. Could he have done it? Maybe. Could someone else have done it with his car? Absolutely.”

After a moment, Violet sighed and pulled out her phone. “Here,” she said, handing her phone to Judy. “I’ll tell you.”

“Thank you,” said Judy warmly. “You’re doing the right thing, Violet.”

*

Just outside the doors, Judy’s ears fell to drape across her back. “We need to go to the ZPD with this,” she sighed, staring at her notes. “Potentially kitnapped wolves missing all across homeless shelters in Zootopia? This is way, way bigger than we thought…”

“Yeah. Wolves aren’t the type of mammal to just run off,” Nick said. “Do you think the ZPD will listen?”

Judy raised her chin. “They have to.”

*

There was no satisfaction in exiting the ZPD, as she could not slam the door – so instead, Judy marched down the street with Nick storming after her. “There is no case,” she mocked, “I will not waste resources on grown mammals making decisions of their own. Argh!”

“Carrots,” Nick muttered, “you’re – ”

“If you say I am making a scene, then so help me – !”

“No, no! I was going to say you’re right – and – and not alone.”

Judy slowed, sighing as she tugged at her ears. “Sorry, Nick… it’s these pregnancy hormones. And righteous anger! But… yeah. Ugh, it’s just so frustrating! We can’t do anything, we’re just civilians… we’ll just have to wait!

Nick put a paw on her shoulder and drew her closer. Appreciating the gesture, she leaned into his side with a sigh. At this rate she better get that PI license she’d been thinking about… it would make things like these so much easier!

Poor Rusty, and poor Cole. Hopefully the young male was at least still alive… though, it having been so long by now, there was very little hope left. It hurt to think about, but it went paw-in-paw with determination: if she could not save him, she would do her everything to bring him justice, and his father closure.

No matter how long she would have to wait.

“…that a rabbit an… fox?

Her ears perked up.

“Yeah, I know… really weird. Is… pregnant?”

“Duh, course she is. Think… forcing himself… her?”

“I dunno. Either way… gross. Come on.”

Gritting her teeth, Judy pushed closer to Nick and swung her arm around his side. The part of her she had grown to recognize as Tails was snarling at the back of her mind, creeping closer to the front. It’s okay, Judy thought towards her presence, trying with all her might to imagine stroking herself comfortingly. I’ve got this, love.

It took a few moments, but with no further comments that Judy could note and the steady presence of Nick’s scent, Tails eventually calmed and slipped back into a more unconscious, easy-to-disregard state.

“You know,” said Judy conversationally, easing her grip on his side a bit, “I think I’m going to need a Nick-to-go scent-pouch.”

Nick frowned. “Why?”

“You smell nice,” Judy said. She hesitated, then softly added, “and it keeps Tails in check.”

His paw squeezed her shoulder. “I heard them, too. My scent really helps?” Judy nodded. Nick drew a deep breath, then leaned down and rubbed his chin over her head.

“N – Nick!?”

“There you go, Fluffball.” He winked. “Your very own handsome-fox-to-go scent-pouch. Well… until we can get you a proper one, that is.”

Judy ran her claws through the tousled fur atop her head, ignoring how hot her ears were and how hard the mammals around them were staring. “Nick…”

“Yeah,” said Nick softly, and pulled her back against his side. “I know.”

Chapter Text

“I am Fabienne Growley and today we are here with Judy Hopps!”

Judy smiled and waved as the camera panned out to include her in the shot; she saw her own image, sitting straight-backed and slightly nervous, in the screen beside the four cameramammals.

Counting on her fingers as she went, Growley listed, “ZPD’s first bunny cop, finder of the missing mammals, cause of a city-wide conflict, Night Howler victim and vanquisher of corrupt Mayor Bellwether…” Growley flashed a smile. “That is quite the list of accomplishments for someone so small in stature.”

Scattered laughing among the audience; Judy chuckled awkwardly. She hadn’t expected this show-host-like personality from the normally stoic news reporter… then again, Growley had started appearing more frequently first when the savage mammals started gaining attention. It was probably more professional to be solemn for stuff like that…

Growley turned to Judy, still smiling, and asked, “but, tell us, who is Judy Hopps?”

Judy returned the smile, shrugged instead of stuttering, and managed, “I’m a countrydoe, really. Born and raised in Bunnyburrow as part of the Hopps clan – side by side with my four hundred siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins.” Gasps among the audience; Judy winked at them. “Interests include riding, reading, and exercising. And, uh… I guess I want to make the world a better place!”

“Isn’t that charming?” said Growley to the audience. “So, Judy, you say you want to make the world a better place, which I’m guessing is why you joined the police force?” Judy nodded. “How did that work out for you?”

Judy laughed. “It didn’t work out at all! Even though I graduated top of my class at the Police Academy, I was treated as a joke by my co-workers. My boss didn’t believe in me and no one but the radio dispatcher gave me a chance.” She turned a kind smile to the camera. “Thank you for that, by the way, Clawhauser.” Back to Crowley, she leaned forward and cheerily said, “did you know, I was put on parking duty my first day? I wasn’t even given a partner! And when I said I was equipped to do proper police work, I was ordered to write out a hundred tickets that day!”

Gasps and scattered laughter from the audience. Even Growley seemed surprised.

Judy grinned and shrugged. “Of course, I did two hundred and one. Before lunch.”

Growley smirked, leaning back in her chair and folding a leg over her knee. “Mmm, I’m sure that made you popular.”

“Oh, like you wouldn’t believe.”

“But you found the missing mammals, had that press conference,” – Growley looked straight at the camera – “showed up to some protests, and… completely disappeared off the radar. What happened?”

Judy inhaled through her teeth, fumbling with her own fingers. “I… quit. The chief and mayor wanted me as a poster mammal for the ZPD, and after all the ruin I’d caused with that horrible conference… I couldn’t do it in good conscience.” Letting her ears fall down her back, she folded her paws in her lap and looked straight at the camera. “Let this be my official apology for the conference. I had reasons, but not excuses… I’d barely eaten or slept the last forty-eight hours, was still a rookie, and had gotten no briefing on the case or how to talk to the media…” Her breath hitched, and she closed her eyes quickly, scolding herself. She couldn’t start crying on live TV! “Of course, what I said was small-minded, prejudiced, and… and plain old terrible.” She drew a shaky breath. “I’m really sorry for what I’ve done… and I hope that I’ll be able to correct my mistakes over time.”

There was silence for a moment, then Growley stuttered, “y – yes, well – I, haha, I can’t be the only one to be forgiving in the face of such a heartfelt apology!” She chuckled a bit, then cleared her throat, shifted in her seat, and glanced at her notes. In a more professional tone, she continued, “Judy, tell us, how did you manage to solve first the missing mammals case, and then the savage mammals case?”

“Hmm.” Judy tilted her head, then glanced at Nick: stood behind one of the cameras, watching with a smile. “Did I solve the case only with the help of a civilian? Yes, yes I did. Without Nick Wilde the case would never have been solved.” Grinning, she leaned forward and decided to drop the bomb. “Since then, we have actually become mates. Nick?” She met his gaze, gesturing for him to come closer.

His eyes widened. He visibly hesitated, glancing around for a moment, then seemed to regain his usual smugness and sauntered onto stage with confidence in each step. As the cameras panned out to focus on him, he nodded and gave a lazy wave before settling into the couch beside Judy, curling an arm around her shoulders.

The audience exploded in loud whispers and murmurs. Judy kept her gaze on Growley, smiling easily and leaning into Nick’s side.

Growley’s eyes were huge as her nose twitched. “Er – yes – yes, it might sound… unbelievable to our viewers who can’t smell through the screen, but this… fox and bunny have indeed mated. Judy, I have to ask… is it true that you are pregnant?”

Judy beamed, resting a paw on her belly. “Yes.”

“And – Nick, was it? – how do you feel about raising another mammal’s offspring?”

If Judy calling Nick onto stage had been a bomb, then Nick’s following drawl was an atomic weapon.

“Actually, they’re mine.”

Silence for a moment. Growley whipped around to the camera, smiling with too-many teeth. “You heard it here, gentlemammals. A fox can bet a bunny pregnant.” With a harsh swing of her paw, she gestured for the cameras to stop rolling.

The lights faded.

Judy tilted her head and frowned. They’d planned to ask more questions – about the cases, about Judy’s future… “Missus Growley?” she gently said.

“Get out.”

Judy’s ears fell. “Wh – what?”

Growley stood from her chair, fur sharp on edge and ready to cut, snarling , “get out of my studio. Your kind isn’t welcome here.”

In her mind, Tails whimpered and cowered in the face of a furious predator, but Judy squeezed Nick’s paw and quietly promised to let her out later, if only Judy stayed in control for now. “I’m – I’m sorry?” Judy stuttered.

Nick sighed and stood. “Come on, Carrots.”

“But – ”

He held out a paw for her and shook his head. “It’s not worth it.”

After a moment, Judy sighed and took his paw, letting him pull her to her feet. “Alright,” she muttered, hanging her head as she stuck close to Nick’s side while they made their way towards the dimly lit exit.

Growley scoffed, turning on her heel and marching by the cameramammals with an irritated flick to her tail. Neither Growley nor the couple noticed one of the cameramammals, a young deer buck, watching them go with awe in his eyes.

Chapter Text

The whole ride back to Bunnyburrow was spent with Judy clutching Nick’s paw, ears draped down her back. She was leaving something important behind in Zootopia: her innocent hope. Of course, she’d known that a relationship between a predator and prey – much less a rabbit and a fox – would be frowned upon by many, but… one thing was knowing it, another thing was facing it.

After the interview, walking the streets became a challenge. For every mammal that was supportive, there were ten indifferent and two that openly snarled or turned away. It wasn’t unfamiliar to either of them, but it was still a tough thing to be confronted with.

It was Saturday morning, and they’d be moving into Burrower’s Corner the very next day. The family unit and their closest neighbours would help with moving the furniture. It wasn’t a lot, but – as was tradition – several units that supported both the move and the couple had donated some furniture they no longer needed. Some beds, chairs, a table – carpets and rugs, blankets, plates and cups and mugs. With Judy expecting kits, Bonnie had pulled out old cribs and toys, as well.

Through community effort they had a surprisingly good starting kit, despite being fairly poor themselves. Of course, it wasn’t charity – the clan had its own back; it was how they survived and thrived.

This wasn’t what Judy was thinking about, though. Her paw was resting on her belly – growing larger by the day, now – and her thoughts kept stumbling back to Doctor Beltran’s words. It spun around in her mind: the Bred pack, primal regression, ancestry and pre-historic genes… she had to know more.

And she knew just the person to ask.

*

She found Parsley in the warren library, upside-down in a rocking chair with his head dangling out over the seat. “Hey, Uncle Parsley.”

He leafed through a book on ancient religions. “Hello, Judith.”

Judy gave a nervous smile, twining her fingers together. “Uhm… I could use your help, with a little something.”

Parsley stopped moving, but still didn’t look up from his book. “What seems to be the problem?”

“Well, uh – one of my doctors suggested that I could possibly be… uhm. A descendant of something called the Bred pack…”

He stopped leafing through the book.

“And I was wondering if you possibly knew something about that? It’s totally fine if you don’t, I – I just…”

Parsley twisted upright in the chair, closing the book and putting it aside. “I will give you my assistance… on one condition.”

Judy straightened, ears popping up. “Yes?”

He folded his paws over his lap, cocking his head. “I wish to be the godfather of one of your kits.”

“O – oh! Uhm… sure? But… why?”

“Give the title to any other Hopps and see them fumble with the precious gift they have been given? No, I think not. Besides, I have no desire to find or take a mate, though kits are a blessing to the earth we walk on, and one I would like to partake in. Do we have a deal?”

Judy bit her lip. After a moment’s thought, she nodded. “We do.”

Parsley hopped out of the chair. “Good. Come with me.”

He disappeared in amongst the tall shelves, and Judy hurried after him to not lose him in the maze. Eventually, he came to a stop by an antique shelf filled with old leather-bound books. “Here,” he said, “allow me to…” Taking a moment to aim, Parsley bent down before jumping up to the top of the shelf and tugging down one of the books. “I do know this, I’m merely double checking…” He licked a finger, quickly flitting through the pages. Chuckling, he added, “would not do my reputation good if I mistook something.”

Judy peered over his shoulder, catching glimpses of ink portraits and faded, hand-written text. “Is this… is this our family history?”

“Correct. This ought to be the oldest of the books, gathering information on the oldest members of the Hopps clan. I believe this books is…” He hesitated, then quickly glanced at the front. “Ah, yes. From the twelfth century and unto the fourteenth.”

“We’ve traced our roots that far back?” Judy gasped.

Parsley laughed, shaking his head as he returned to a latter page. “And even further, Judith. Let me see… ah, yes. Here we are. Emma Hopps nee Alberti, believed to be the only rabbit offspring from an interbred family.” Humming, he squinted at the page. “Her family seemed to be such an odd mixture of genes that no one quite knew what to call them. Feeling like an outcast among them, she moved to America where she settled down.”

Nibbling on her claws, Judy asked, “no mentions of the Bred pack?”

“None whatsoever,” said Parsley nonchalantly, “however that is not so strange, as this book was written a few centuries ago. It even outright states, only rabbit offspring – though today we of course know she was not a rabbit: she merely looked like one. Most likely she did indeed carry predatory genes, if not Bred genes.”

Sighing, Judy stepped back. “That doesn’t prove anything, though… knowing the Hopps clan I might not even be related to her, much less directly descended…”

“Agreed. That is why we are going to the Tree.” Parsley closed the book, then jumped to replace it. Brushing his paws together once he landed, he gave her a polite smile. “Shall we?”

Attached to the library was a massive dome of a room. Judy had been there only twice before: once when she was a kit, to see her own name painted on the hardened clay, and once to paint on Honey and Hercules, her younger siblings.

At the very centre of the roof was a single name: the Hopps matron, matriarch and saint: Hertha Justyne Hoppis. Around here were three other names: Edolie, Alvin, and Eldridge. Beneath them it soon became a cobweb of names and ties, stretching all the way down to the bottom quarter of the walls. The writing had become smaller and smaller the further down it went, and yet they were likely to run out of space in just a few generations.

Judy wasn’t quite sure what they planned to do, after that. Perhaps start keeping personal family trees, or writing it all down in books? Perhaps dig out a new room, one for each family?

“What family do you belong to, Judith?”

Tearing herself out of her musings, Judy turned to Parsley. “Er – Eldridge.”

Nodding, Parsley went to grab the ladder by the door. “Then we are off to an excellent start. Emma married Eldridge’s grandson, if I’m not mistaken. Where are you painted?”

Judy went to her spot on the wall – Judith Laverne Hopps painted on in Clarissa’s handwriting – and put a paw next to it. “Right here.” Tilting her head back to glance at the top of the roof where Eldridge shone out, her ears drooped. “This… is going to take a while, isn’t it?”

“Correct.”

Thank God the mural didn’t include the family of those who married into the clan. Grumbling to herself, Judy set to work.

Half an hour later, Judy was able to trace her lineage all the way up to Hertha Justyne Hoppis: the mark of a true Hopps. And her lineage? It ran directly through Hertha’s great-granddaughter, Emma Hopps nee Alberti.

“Wow,” said Judy softly, staring up at the mural. Something sweet and tender was blooming within her: some sort of belonging, of home, of – of respect, of greatness, of wonder. Turning, she took in the whole dome – every little name scribbled on the walls, not many of them having lived in this very same warren, but all sharing the same connection.

“Yes, indeed,” Parsley muttered. He was pawing at the wall nearest to him, a somber expression on his face. Judy didn’t have to look to guess what name he was touching: Paul Hopps, Parsley’s dead brother. “I do not come here often, though I find it rewarding when I do.” Cracking a dry smile, he said, “I suppose we can conclude it, then? There is more than rabbit in you, my dear niece.”

Judy smiled. “Thank you. I mean it.”

Parsley cleared his throat, tucking his paws behind his back. “Yes, yes. Just remember your part of our agreement.”

She laughed. “Oh, I wouldn’t dare forget.”

They left the room in companiable silence, Judy’s mind at ease with the newest puzzle piece snapping into place.

*

Judy watched through the rear-view mirror as Nick and John heaved the last piece of furniture – a chair – into the truck before hopping in themselves. Nick gave a thumbs up, and Judy turned to Martin and said, “they’re ready.”

Martin rolled down his window and hollered, “y’all ready back there?” When John called back, just drive! Martin laughed and did as asked.

Nick and John were both sat in the back of the truck with Cotton – who’d insisted on coming along – tucked between them. In the back seat of the truck were Jessica, Bonnie and Stu squeezed in-between bags and boxes of smaller inventory. Mary and Clarissa were left at home to watch over the seven other kits – combining the day with double dates with Bee’s three litters.

Though Judy had tried to give up her spot in the passenger seat for John, she’d been all but dragged into the truck by every mammal present. By the time they’d arrived at Burrower’s Corner and began dragging various furniture inside, she was grateful to it: her large belly was making the work hard enough as it was. Lugging it around beforehand would not have made it easier.

Sharla and Gideon showed up while they were emptying the truck, grinning and waving and offering an extra sets of paws (and hooves). It took the lot of them a few hours, lots of sweat and rolled-up-sleeves, but in the end they sat out on the porch and shared ice cream and strawberries and juice, laughing in the sun and greeting the neighbours when they came over to check out the ruckus.

Leaning back against Nick’s chest and laughing uproariously at a joke Sharla cracked, surrounded by friends and family, Judy couldn’t help but think, this is where I belong.

*

When it was time for the family unit to go back to Bunnyburrow, Stu threw himself around Judy’s neck and sobbed into her shoulder. “My little doe is all grown up!”

Bonnie sighed. “Oh, Stu… she’s moved out three times already.”

Martin added, “not to mention Mary moving out when she was sixteen!”

“Yes, but – but now she’s got a mate, and – and a job and she’s having kits!” Stu wailed.

“Dad!” Judy chuckled, prying him off her with a grin. “You can come visit whenever you want, okay? I’m not gone. I’m not even in Zootopia!”

Stu sniffed, wiping at his tears. “Are y’all sure you don’t want to bring anyone with you?”

Judy and Nick exchanged a look. “Not yet,” Judy kindly said. “We’ll have to wait until the kits are born. But if we have space…” She sought out Jessica’s gaze in the small crowd, giving her a small smile. “We have someone in mind.”

It took some time, but eventually Martin and John managed to convince their brother to leave. Bonnie pressed a jar of homemade jam into Judy’s paws and scolded Nick until he knelt so she could kiss his cheek, and then the family unit was gone – leaving only two foxes, a bunny and a sheep.

“Well,” said Sharla, hooking her arm into Gideon’s. “It’s about time for us to go, too – leave y’all to it.” She smiled, glancing up at Gideon before adding, “we know y’all are gonna be busy the next few days, with the move in an’ all… but if y’all wanna stop by for some coffee or something…”

Gideon chuckled, putting a broad paw on Sharla’s shoulder. “Mah doors are always open fer friends.”

Cooing, Judy burst forward and pulled Sharla into a tight hug. “Thank you,” she muttered. “Thank you so much.”

“Course,” Sharla whispered. She drew a deep breath, then let it out slowly. “I’ve really missed you, Judy.”

“I missed you, too.” Judy stepped back, smiling warmly before grabbing Nick’s paw.

“First shift Tuesday?” Nick asked, nodding at Gideon.

Gideon grinned and winked, guiding Sharla towards the door. “Yep. Don’t be late.”

Following in their footsteps, Nick said, “wouldn’t dream of it.” He gallantly opened the door for them. “Have a good evening, guys.”

Sharla’s wave and call of “thanks!” was cut short by Nick closing the door. He let out a relieved breath and leaned against it, a paw on his forehead. “Gee. That took way longer than I’d hoped.” He threw Judy a worried look. “If I’m tired, you must be exhausted. C’mon, here, sit down…”

 “Nick,” Judy half-heartedly complained, laughter in her voice as he shooed her towards the rocking chair by the fireplace. “Nick! I’m fine!”

“Do you want a blanket?” asked Nick, as he peeked into the closest moving box and pulled out a soft blanket. “Here. I’ll make you some tea.”

Judy didn’t have time to even catch her breath before Nick all but ran into the kitchen. Smiling softly to herself, she folded the blanket properly over her lap and leaned back in the chair, exhaling slowly. Yes, she was exhausted, no doubt about it… and she couldn’t help but feel a bit giddy about Nick’s attentiveness.

It wasn’t long before he’d come with two cups of tea, pressing one into her paws before settling on the floor between her legs, resting his head against her knee. “What a day, huh, Fluff?”

Juggling the cup, Judy managed to free a paw to scratch at Nick’s head. “Mhm, sure has been… my big strong fox.”

*

Popping her head into the bedroom, Judy said, “I’ll just be christening the shower, then I’ll be with you.”

Nick, who was frowning at the two desks in the room, nodded without looking at her. “See ya.”

Smiling, Judy retreated to the bathroom. It wasn’t huge by any accounts, but it was still far from small. Just perfect size for someone of Nick’s size, and therefore slightly too big for Judy: bathtub with a shower, fur-drier, sink with several cabinets over and underneath, and toilet. Everything one’d need.

Judy stripped of her clothes, then stepped into the shower and turned the water on. Not being one to dally in the shower – having learned as much at the Academy – she hurriedly soaped herself down before rinsing the foam out.

Making quick work of drying herself, Judy put on her nightgown: a purple, sleeveless satin dress that fell to her knees. Placing a towel on the floor to mop up any excess water, she made her way back to the bedroom –

and froze.

“N… Nick?”

Nick was on all fours in the bed, maw closed around a pillow as he dragged it around. The covers and blankets were all twisted and messed up, a far cry from the neat folds Martin had arranged for them earlier that day.

At the sound of Judy’s voice, Nick turned his head to her – still grasping the pillow – and cocked his head curiously.

Judy exhaled, tenseness draining from her as she smiled. “Ears.” His tail began to wag, and Judy approached, laughing softly. “What – what are you doing, you silly fox?” She reached out to touch him, and he leaned his head into her paw, nudging until her claws found his ear. Scratching absently, Judy looked over what he’d been doing in the bed. “Hey, were you… were you making a den?”

Ears spun around a few times before laying down on the mattress, popping his head onto a curled-up blanket with a soft huff and smile. His expression was so open and proud, saying, look! I made us a spot of safety!

Judy giggled. “You adorable thing. But I think I’d prefer to be under the covers, if it’s all the same to you…” She picked up one of the covers draped half-way onto the floor, wrapped it around her shoulders, and went to turn off the lights.

Crawling into bed, she tucked some pillows under her head and adorned the covers over herself. After a moment’s stillness, Ears’ wet nose nudged against her cheek. Giggling, Judy lifted the covers and let him slither in underneath them, curling up beside her and lazily draping a paw over her waist.

“Goodnight, Ears,” Judy whispered, wrapping her arm around his shoulders and pressing a kiss to his head before tucking it underneath her chin. “And goodnight, Nick.”

Closing her eyes, Judy withdrew into her own mind and let Tails scamper to the surface – chittering, wriggling a bit in Ears’ grasp, and then falling still.

They slept.

*

“Carrots? Fluffball? Sweetcheeks?”

Judy groaned, turning onto her side and shoving her face into the pillow. Sleep had been so wonderous, so calm and still and warm, and she wanted nothing but to…

wait, was that coffee?

“Thaaat’s right, you know that smell.” A chuckle. “You in there, Judy? Up and awake? C’mon. It’s morning.”

“Coffee,” Judy moaned, making grabby-hands at empty air.

“Nu-uh, not before you sit up.”

Begrudgingly, Judy forced her eyes open. Nick sat on the bedside with a tray beside him, on it two steaming mugs, and…

“Breakfast?” Judy exclaimed. Scrambled eggs and toast and woked veggies –

“Sure thing,” said Nick fondly, watching her sit upright before handing her the smaller of the mugs. “First day in new house, figured I’d make it special. Besides…” He trailed off, looking to the side as his ears folded a bit. “I wanted to say thanks.”

Judy frowned, pausing with the mug half-way to her lips. “Thanks? For what?”

“Yesterday.” He hesitated, tapping his claws against his cup. “While you were in the bathroom… I didn’t want to regress. Tried really hard not to, actually, but my instincts were screaming at me… that my pregnant mate needed me to take care of her, everything like that. And I – I just slipped, and Ears took over.” He dared glance at her, smiling tentatively. “And I… I saw how kind you were, how accepting. You didn’t even hesitate. Thank you.”

“Nick…” Judy reached out, covering his paw with hers. “It’s nothing, really… it’s not something you control! I know how hard it can be… besides, it’s not really fair on them, either, keeping them locked up all the time.” She tried an encouraging smile. “Really, I think it’s healthy to let them out every other day!”

Nick stared at her for a moment, then brought her paw to his mouth and kissed it. “See, Fluff? This is why I love you.”

Flushing, Judy giggled. “Oh, you silly tod. Here, let’s have a taste at this wonderful breakfast you’ve dished up…”

*

“Oh, Sharla, I love what you’ve done with the place!”

Sharla laughed. “This is all Gideon! I moved in with him, not the other way around.” She winked, then gestured for the dining table, saying, “c’mon, sit down. I’ll go fetch that pie.”

Judy smiled and nodded, pulling out a chair and gingerly lowering herself into it. The little ones were past the point of moving, and they caused quite the ruckus whenever they didn’t like what she was doing. Oh, she couldn’t wait to hold them!

Sharla returned to the room, balancing a pie and a mug with juice. “I almost brought out the beer,” she chuckled, placing the pie and juice on the table, “but then I remembered your predicament.”

“I wasn’t much of a drinker anyway,” said Judy. “Say, is that apple pie?”

“Yup! Fresh outta the oven!” Sharla paused, the knife hovering over the pie. “It’s… still your favourite, right?”

“Absolutely!”

The pie tasted wonderful; just the right side of juicy but crisp, the sweet taste of apples like an explosion on the tongue. She told Sharla as much, and though she tried to brush the compliment aside, it clearly got to her.

While they ate, Sharla asked, “say, Judy – how long left? You look ‘bout ready to pop!”

Judy groaned, putting a paw to her head. “Yeah, I am. It can’t be more than a week or two, I’m sure.” She was about to take another bite of her pie, then hesitated. “…truth to be told, we’re a bit anxious about the birth. Rabbit births are short to begin with, and with my PIPRD – that is, the Night Howler serum effect – it’s probably going to take even less time.” Sighing, she shook her head. “We’re not making the hospital on time, that’s for sure… and I don’t want to give birth in a moving car.”

Frowning thoughtfully, Sharla put down her own piece of pie. “How ‘bout y’all give me a call when it starts? I was gonna be a nurse before I settled down with Gid, I took several classes on delivering offspring. We’ll call an ambulance as well, let them know the situation, an’ they’ll be here by the time it’s over. How’s that sound?”

“Oh, Sharla!” Judy beamed, reaching across the table to grasp Sharla’s hoof. “That sounds wonderful. What did I do to deserve you?”

“How many times do I gotta tell you, Jude?” Sharla smiled. “We take care of our own.”

 Judy's response was cut off when her phone buzzed in her pocket. Springing to attention, Judy let go of Sharla's hoof and ripped the phone out - only to sigh and put it aside. "Just mom," she muttered, at Sharla's questioning look.

"You waitin' for somethin' in particular?"

"Yeah. Nick and I have a suspect for poor Rusty, but we haven't got our paws on him yet." She paused, then added, "about that... why does it seem like nobody really cares about the Moores?"

"Oh!" Sharla tapped her hooves together. "No, it's not... It's not that we don't care about them, but... well, they just moved in, an’ they're very shy. Our best attempts at includin’ them have all but gone unnoticed..."

Judy frowned. "Huh. How strange."

The mystery of Rusty Moore… ever more confusing.

*

It was Thursday, four days after they’d officially moved into the burrow, and Judy’d spent most of the day at the stables. She didn’t do any real work, but got to know some of the birds and the routine and layout. Most of the time was spent caring for them – brushing their feathers, chatting with Joe as he did more heavy work, that sort of thing.

Tails was close to the front today – at first nearly terrified by the huge birds, but with gentle coaxing from Judy and slow introductions between bird and primal rabbit, she warmed up to them soon enough. Now, after having taken a shower and changed into looser clothes, Judy was busy making a light salad for herself. She hummed as she cut the vegetables, paws moving with deft familiarity.

The front door opened with a creak. Judy’s ear twitched in that direction, Tails springing to the front in worry for a brief moment before easing back once Nick’s smell filled the room. “Hi, Nick!” Judy called, continuing her work with a smile.

A soft chuckle, then the soft clacking of his claws against the floors before he came up behind her and put his elbows on her shoulders. Judy’s nose twitched: coating his scent was the smell of flour and dough and strawberries. “Hey, Fluff. How was the stables?”

“Just wonderful! Goldielocks is an absolute gem, Joe introduced me to some of her closest – uh… Nick?”

He’d gone still, nose sniffing at her ears. “You smell… different,” Nick muttered. “Almost like…”

Judy tensed. The knife slipped out of her paws and onto the tabletop. “Almost like… what?”

Nick ran his paws down her side, hurriedly followed by his sniffing nose. “Like… like…” His smelling got more insistent as he moved from her abdomen to her thighs – then her crotch. Judy would’ve flushed, if his hard-set ears didn’t speak of his worry. Stilling, Nick’s head whipped up to stare at Judy, wide-eyed. “Like blood!

Judy paled, one paw flying to rest on her stomach, the other on Nick’s paw on her hip. “There’s not supposed to be blood,” she breathed.

He jumped to his feet, paw on her elbow as he hurriedly guided her to the rocking chair in the common room. “I’m calling Beltran,” he said, fishing his phone out of his pocket. Judy absently noted he had flour in his fur, head spinning as she nodded.

Tails was present again, pacing at the back of her mind, fur standing on end and worried squeaks filling Judy’s thoughts. Both paws gently kneading her stomach, she couldn’t make herself focus on anything – horrified at the implications of blood, what it might mean –

“Are you bleeding?” Nick asked, a paw on her thigh as he knelt before her, the other holding his phone to his ear.

Still dizzy, Judy squirmed a paw inside her underwear. Her fingers came back coated in blood.

She met Nick’s terrified eyes.

Nick saying, “yes, she is,” into his phone went completely unnoticed by Judy as Tails shoved her way into front and plunged Judy into darkness.

Chapter Text

Birdsong; fresh air; gentle breeze.

Judy opened her eyes to a green-framed sky, baby blue and spotless: lit by the sun, its warmth far gentler than the scorching heat the farmer-doe was used to. The wind rustled the tall grass she was laid in, nothing but a ghost of the great strengths she knew it could gather.

Blinking against the brightness of day, Judy hesitantly sat. She was at the outskirts of a meadow, cradled by the shadow of a weathered birch; the rolling hills glowed beneath the sun and swelled with a rainbow of flowers.

It was familiar. She’d been here before… once, in a dream…

She climbed to her feet, shielding her eyes from the sun as she looked about. Where was…

There, where the grass was shorter and the flowers brighter – a highly pregnant, naked bunny lay dozing under the sun. Judy hesitantly approached. “Tails?”

One black-tipped ear flicked up, turning in her direction. Right after followed Tails’ head, her eyes slipping open to look at Judy. She didn’t speak, yet Judy heard her in the breeze and the rustling grass and the song of the sun, a voice as gentle and soft as the snowdrop. ‘Our kits.’

Judy fell to her knees. “Our kits,” she echoed numbly. Her paws pressed to her own stomach, then to Tails’. “Our kits! Are they okay? Did we lose – ”

Tails climbed to her feet and nudged her muzzle against Judy’s, chittering softly. ‘We’re safe here. Nothing can harm us here.’

Judy understood. “But the body,” she muttered, resting her paw against Tails’ neck – their foreheads bumping, ears brushing together. “The body is…”

Tails pulled back slowly, eyes closed as she lowered herself onto the ground again: ears unhurriedly drooping down to the ground. ‘You have to go back.’

“…the kits?”

‘They’re safe here.’

*

Someone was holding her paw. Strange smells… familiar, yet not… voices…

“ -re she hasn’t been in any pain?”

“ – hat I know of, but I’ve been at work…”

“-ll, it seems like only – ”

“ –‘s good, at least. And she’s fine?”

That voice. That voice!

Judy groaned, turning her head towards him. “N… Nick?”

A gasp; the grip on her paw tightened. “Judy?”

She forced her eyes open. “Nick… where…?” Hospital, she realized, it had to be – there was Doctor Beltran, looking worried by the usual screen, white walls, hospital bed… “How did we…? What happened?” It hit her: the blood, the fear, losing her grip on reality. Wide awake, now, Judy exclaimed, “the kits!”

“Calm down, Miss Hopps,” said Doctor Beltran, placing a paw atop the one Nick wasn’t holding. “You’ve lost two of your kits. It was a spontaneous abortion – it happens, sometimes, nobody’s fault, really. Remember I told you two of your kits were smaller than the others?”

It was both horrendous and relieving news. Two kits gone. Two wonders, two bright little lights, two seeds of life that she would never…

“We remember,” said Nick softly.

Doctor Beltran nodded. “As I expected, they were too far back in the developmental stage to keep up with their littermates. Whereas the other kits are finished developing, these two had just barely began forming limbs.” Seeing Judy’s heartbroken expression, Doctor Beltran took a firmer hold of her paw. “They wouldn’t have made it during regular birth either way, dear. It’s better this way.”

Judy swallowed, and swallowed again, and again. “I – I… are the others…?”

“They’re healthy, as far as I can tell. Here, listen…”

A metallic, echoing heartbeat sounded from the speakers. Judy’s ears drooped as she collapsed against the pillows, exhaling shakily. Thank God. Thank God, there was still life. She still had some sweethearts… oh, but those two… those she’d lost…

Nick squeezed her paw. “Judy? Hey, Fluff, look at me.” He was smiling: a sad, yet warm smile. “Tails took over, back in the burrow. I borrowed Gid’s van, there weren’t any trains… not like I could take Tails with me on them anyway. And y’know, I think she knew what’d happened. She was so calm, licking her fur, trying to comfort me when I got too stressed.”

Judy opened her mouth, about to explain what she’d seen – Tails saying, they’re safe here – but glanced at Doctor Beltran and kept her tongue. “I… I think she might have, too.” Managing a weak smile, she added, “seems like we have you outnumbered, Slick. Two sly bunnies. Two dumb foxes.”

“Mmm, now that’s a bit unfair on Ears, I’d say, he’s fairly smart. Of course, can’t do math, but…”

Giggling, Judy wiped away her tears. When Doctor Beltran handed her a tissue, she gratefully took it and blew her nose.

“I advice you to rest,” said Doctor Beltran, giving Judy a serious look. “Maybe even stay in the city for a day or two, to be close in case anything happens. You’ve got maybe another week before these little ones will try to claw their way out.”

Judy chewed on her lip. “We’ve still got those membership certificates, right, Nick?”

“Sure do. Have them in my wallet.”

Smiling softly, Judy tried, “think Gideon’s fine without his van for a day or two?”

*

Nick flashed their membership certificates, paw wrapped around Judy’s shoulders. “We’d like a private hot tub, please.”

The polar bear at the pool entrance grunted, then stepped aside and gestured them inside.

Though it was freezing outside, the air inside was humid and hot, snaking its way through Judy’s fur and settling right against her skin, making her not only break out in sweat, but also kneading her into relaxation.

The polar bear guided them through a wide hallway – dusted glass doors on either side, out of which dark blue light protruded. Judy, intrigued, tried to get a closer look but found the doors impenetrable by gaze alone.

Though the hallway stayed the same size, the doors shrunk in size until it came to about the size of a wolf. There, the polar bear stopped, pushing the door open with a hind paw and gesturing for Nick and Judy to step through.

Inside was even warmer. There was a shower mounted to the wall, along with several fluffy towels, fur driers, various kinds of soap and similar. The light came from the hot tub itself, underwater lamps tainted blue giving off the glow.

Nick whistled. “Talk about deluxe,” he muttered, starting to unbutton his shirt. “C’mon, Miss Hopps. Let’s get to work on trying out this beauty.”

Giggling, Judy followed his lead and began to strip.

*

Thoroughly relaxed – and feeling much better about their situation – they made their way to the reception a few hours later. A familiar face greeted them. “Oh, hey, you guys! Welcome back to the Palace – how can I help you today?”

“Skye!” Judy beamed. “We just had a go at the tubs, now we were wondering about dinner and a room for a night or two?”

“Of course!” said Skye, tail wagging slightly behind her as she began clacking away at her computer. “That’s suite five, of course, for you two. Aaaand here are your keys. Now, for dinner, the restaurant is open for another…” She glanced at the time. “Hour and a half. The bar is open for another four and a half, but if you want a real good meal, I can have the kitchens make you dinner and deliver it to your room.”

Judy glanced at Nick. “I think the room delivery sounds alright, what do you think?”

“Then we’ll do room delivery,” Nick said. “Is there a menu, or…?”

“Today’s special is apricot glazed chicken breast with a side of potatoes and salad,” said Skye with a smile. Glancing down at Judy, her ears drooped a little. “Er… I think we have some soup, too…?”

Judy smiled and shook her head. “I’ll take the chicken, just… double the salad.” At Skye’s baffled look, Judy patted her belly. “It’s good for the little ones.”

“Oooh, yes, yes, of course! Excuse me, I’ll write it right in… you know the way to your rooms? Good. I’ll be up with your food in a little while.”

Suite five was practically untouched from last Judy stepped foot inside, which she was happy for. Despite the relaxation at the tubs she was high-strung and ready to spring; exhausted by the day and ready to collapse into the cloud of a bed they shared.

Still, she managed to stave off the sleep until Skye came knocking on their door, carrying two plates of steaming food: one with a side-tower of salad. “Here you lovebirds go,” she said, winking at them as she placed the plates unto the living room table. “Enjoy. You can buzz for someone to come get the dishes when you’re done.”

“Thank you,” said Judy, ears droopy only because she was too tired to keep them upright. “You’re wonderful, Skye. I hope you get paid well.”

Skye flushed a bit. “I think I get paid a bit too well,” she muttered. “My boyfriend… well. I’m not really supposed to talk about it.”

“Hear, hear,” said Judy, raising her fork in a toast. “I know that all too well.”

Giggling, Skye made for the door. Before leaving, though, she hesitated. “Also, you two… I won’t be assigned to you if you visit in two months’ time, just… so you know.”

Nick cocked his head. “Why is that?”

A shy smile blossomed on Skye’s face. “I… I’m pregnant.”

Judy gasped in delight. “That’s wonderful! Who’s the lucky tod?”

“His name is Savage. Jack Savage.”

*

Nick woke early. Way early; a glance at the time showed it to be five in the morning. Judy, usually a morning person, was fast asleep on her back, an arm slung over her chest and ear draped over her face. Pushing up on his elbow, Nick watched her for a moment: how the cold sunlight flickered across her fur, how her nose twitched, ever so slightly.

His gaze lingered by her stomach and the life within. Soon…

It was tempting to lay back down in bed and cuddle up with her – his beautiful, gorgeous mate – but he had this itching feeling that he ought to do something first. Yawning, he rolled over in bed and scrabbled for his phone, dragging his paw-pads along the screen as he tugged it closer.

He frowned. One new message? From who?

Unlocking the phone, click.

…from Mr. Big.

Nick sat up straight, maw falling open.

Found her.

*

The door to his childhood home had barely changed since last he saw it two decades ago. Nick shifted nervously, glancing at the time. Barely scraping by six. Would she even be awake now?

He’d bought flowers. Did she even like flowers? He couldn’t remember. Those weren’t the things a fourteen-year-old were much concerned about.

He’d scent-marked Judy’s pillow before he left, writing her a quick note about where he was off to. Hopefully it wouldn’t turn out to be a total mistake… Judy really wanted this. He knew that; had smelled it on her.

Dear Lord, he was stalling. Okay. Okay! Quit fooling around, Nick. Come on.

Nick drew a deep breath and knocked.

The door creaked open. A vixen stood on the other side, fur graying around the eyes and nose – thinner than he recalled, but still beautiful. Green eyes; gentle hands: a floral-patterned dress and a beige shawl about her shoulders.

There were a thousand things Nick could say. Hi, mom. I love you. It’s good to see you again. I’m so sorry for leaving, I’ve got a mate now, she’s a bunny. We’re having kits.

He smiled softly. “You’re just as short as I remember.”

Her eyes widened. “Nick?”

“Hi, mom.” The words, I love you; it’s good to see you again rotted on his tongue, and he cleared his throat, holding out the bouquet. “I brought flowers.”

Nick!

She threw her arms around his shoulders and drew him in for a hug so tight he could barely breathe, her tears seeping through his shirt and into his fur.

“Oh, mom…” Nick returned the hug, wrapping his tail around her ankles. Closing his eyes, he drew in her scent: home. “I’ve missed you so much. I’m so sorry for waiting so long.”

Vivian drew back, burying her claws in the fur on his cheeks. Her eyes shone with tears. “Oh, you naughty little boy! I’ll forgive you… if you come in and keep your old ma company for a while.” A smile softened her face. “Oh, Nick. I thought I’d never…”

“Let’s step inside,” said Nick softly. “Shall we?”

*

“I never found you, I looked and looked, but I didn’t even know where you’d gone!”

Nick sighed, rubbing at his forehead. “Yeah, I… I was young and stupid, and got mixed up with the wrong sort of mammals… got a threat on my life. And I figured… you’d be safest if… if I wasn’t with you.”

Vivian had been crying steadily the last few minutes, and now she let out a muffled sob. “Oh, Nick… my sweet, sweet Nick… why did I never find you?”

He chuckled awkwardly. “Well, uhm… I lived on the streets for a bit, after I… after I left. And then I saved an arctic shrew from having a pretty bad traffic accident. It turned out she was the grandmother of one of Tundratown’s fiercest crime lords. He took me under his wing as thanks… and, uhm. He made me change my name.”

It startled her into calming. “Your name? To what?”

He gave a small smile. “Nicholas Piberius Wilde. I… I never thought to inform you. Honestly, if I had, I – I probably wouldn’t have – ”

He was interrupted by a shrill gasp. “You’re – you’re the fox I’ve seen on the news? The one who carried the – the one mated to – ” Her eyes were growing wider and wider by the second: then the tears started welling up once more. “I’m going to be a grandma?

Nick squirmed. Was that a good reaction? “I – yes, you are, I – is that a…”

Vivian frantically waved her paws in the air, exclaiming, “oh, you have to introduce us!”

Nick blinked, then laughed. “I will, mom. I will. Actually…” He trailed off, glancing to the side. Vivian noticing his somber mood, calmed and returned to her seat. “I, uhm… we’ve just moved in together in a cozy burrow at the countryside… out in the Tri-Burrows Area. And it’s common for a family member or two to move with them, out there… and I was wondering… if you wanted to, and this meeting went well…” He looked up to meet her wide, quivering eyes. “Would you want to move in with us?”

*

Judy listened with rapt attention as Nick giddily talked about his meeting with his mother, barely remembering to chew her breakfast with how pinned her ears were.

“And she’s just as nice as I remembered – older, of course, but still so pretty, too – and so supportive!”

When she’d woken up without Nick, she’d been confused. When she saw the note, she’d been worried.

When she’d read the contents, she’d rushed to the shower and waited impatiently for him to return and say how it went. While waiting, she’d ordered breakfast from a nice raccoon and began chomping down on it.

“She wants to meet with you, tonight, around dinner,” Nick continued, “is that okay?” Before Judy had the time to reply, he ploughed on: “and I aired the idea of her living with us, and she was so excited to do so! Oh, Judy!”

Judy leaned back in the couch, watching Nick ramble on about his mother with a smile. She hadn’t seen him this excited ever.

How intriguing. She looked forward to meeting her later.

*

They lazed about in their rooms for another few hours, exchanging stories about their families. Judy learned Nick’s father had never been in his life: an honorable and kind man, though he died in a traffic accident before he knew Vivian was pregnant. Before Vivian knew she was pregnant, even.

She learned of how good of a cook she was, how she was the one who got Nick so into blueberries, how she used to tickle him until he cried with laughter.

Nick, in turn, learned of Stu’s fantastic veggie lasagna and how great Bonnie was with tending to flowers; how Clarissa had taught Judy to change a tire and Martin how to play the guitar – how, side by side, Judy, Bee and Jessica had nicked three birds and taken them on a joyride when they were young and wild.

There was much laughter, and a few tears (mostly from Judy’s side), but as the time crawled closer to noon, they decided to head on down to the restaurant for lunch. Maybe they’d go for a stroll in the streets afterward, or check out the public areas of the pools… depending on what Judy felt up to.

With still a few hours left before they were to meet Vivian at her place, a light lunch sounded like a good idea for both of them. Judy really looked forward to meeting someone so precious to Nick (and Nick, for his part, was looking forward to introducing the two loveliest females in his life).

They were half-way through their meal when a message ticked in on Judy’s phone.

Violet (IMPORTANT!): he’s here.

Chapter Text

“That’s him,” Nick murmured, nodding discreetly towards the outside of Dove Row Shelter. “Aardvark. In uniform. Smoking.”

Judy studied him. If this was Hunter, she wouldn’t be surprised: wearing a worn too-big singlet and loose pants, he was indeed smoking and looking mighty bored. Nodding to Nick, she muttered, “we’re going in.”

They approached casually, Judy with a neutral expression and Nick with his trademark smirk. The aardvark looked up at them, eyes widening in recognition as his gaze dropped to Judy’s belly.

“Hello,” Judy greeted kindly. “Hunter Sage?”

He blew smoke in her direction, then stumped the cigarette against the wall beside him and flicked the rest to the ground. “That’s me. What do you want?”

Judy folded her arms behind her back. “We have reason to believe your vehicle has been used to kitnap a young wolf from the countryside. We’d like to have a little chat with you to learn more.”

His ear twitched. “Haven’t got a clue what you’re talkin’ about. I ain’t been in no Bunnyburrow.”

Bingo. Judy and Nick shared a look. “With all due respect, sir… we didn’t say anything about Bunnyburrow.”

Hunter stared at the two for a moment, then narrowed his eyes and bolted.

“I got it,” said Nick, and sprinted after him.

Cursing, Judy pulled up her phone. “Please pick up, please pick up, please…” Her ears perked up. “Clawhauser! This is Off – er, Judy Hopps, I’m at Dove Row Shelter for the Homeless, I’ve got a code 10-91 on an aardvark.”

Clawhauser’s excited but confused voice, “Judy? I – I’m sending backup, but – but what – you aren’t…”

“I know I’m not an officer,” Judy hissed, speeding into a light jog and turning the corner of the building: seeing Nick having Hunter pinned to the wall, she let out a relieved breath. “Please, Clawhauser. We’ve been following the trail of a kitnapped wolf pup for a while and I believe we’ve found the culprit, but – but this is much bigger than what we thought.”

Officers Wolfard and Fangmeyer are on their way.

Judy nodded at Nick. “Thank you, Clawhauser. Thank you so much!” Hanging up, she approached the duo by the wall. Hunter was glaring, but at the very least staying still. “The police are on their way,” Judy said, giving a comforting smile to Nick. Turning to Hunter, she added, “I’d arrest you if I could, but… civilian status!” She chuckled.

For a moment, nothing happened. Then Nick shifted his grip on Hunter, slipped, and Hunter tore out of his paws and set off running. Cursing in unison, Judy and Nick set off after him.

Hunter dove down a short flight of stairs, fumbled briefly with a key, then ducked in through a nearly invisible door.

“After him!” Judy exclaimed.

Nick shoved the door open and pulled Judy through before it could lock once more.

They were slammed with the stench of fear and urine, scents of several mammals blending into one horrid mix.

“You idiot!” a new voice cried. “You brought them right here!”

Hunter, who stood half-way hidden behind an anteater – the owner of the voice – cried, “but the cops are coming!”

Judy wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. Her eyes were glued to the cages littering the room: four of them, only one empty. The others hosted wolves: a slim gray wolf, a muscular timber wolf, and…

“Rusty,” Judy breathed. “You’re alive!”

Rusty, far chubbier than his picture, pressed his paws against the bars. “Get out of here! They’re gonna kill you!”

“Shut up!” called the gray wolf – a female – from her cage. “I don’t want to die!”

The anteater slammed a cane against the nearest cage. “Quiet! So, we have visitors. What do you want?”

“The police are on their way,” said Judy, lifting her chin despite staying half behind Nick. She wasn’t scared, of course – but she didn’t dare risk her kits. “Whatever you’ve got going here is about to be stopped.”

The timber wolf was closest to Nick and Judy, and had stayed quiet up until now. In a tired voice he sighed, “they’re killin’ us and takin’ our fur.” Ignoring the anteaters desperate shout, he continued, “skinnin’ us and sellin’ us to Europe.”

The gray wolf added, “she’s come in here smelling like fucking blood! They’ve been fattening Rusty up!” Grasping the bars and giving Judy a pleading look, she begged, “please! Get us the hell out!”

The anteater – a female – began fumbling around in her pockets. She pulled out a knife, pointing it at Nick and Judy with a trembling paw. “Y – you won’t do anything! Nothing at all!”

Hunter yanked the knife out of her paw and lunged at Nick with a snarl.

“Rose Buttons!” Rusty yelled, eyes focused on Judy. He was crying, she saw now – quiet tears trickling through his fur. “Her name is Rose Buttons! He’s Hunter Sage!”

Nick dropped to all four, ducking aside from Hunter. It was Ears who continued the fight, locking his jaws around Hunter’s paw and chomping. Hunter howled, switching the knife into his other paw and sinking the blade into Ears’ shoulder.

Ears snarled and growled, letting go of Hunter’s arm to claw at his torso instead – knife still in his shoulder.

The gray wolf cried, “there’s another one, too! Scruffy! Aardvark, Hunter’s mate, they – they drive a blue car!”

Ears had gotten the upper paw, pinning Hunter to the ground and snarling furiously at him.

“No, no, no,” Rose Buttons chanted, clutching at her head with her paws. “He’ll kill me – ” The muffled sound of sirens. Rose yelped, glancing at the door with pure terror on her face – and, last-ditch effort, she sprinted out of the room.

Judy ran after her. “Stop! Stop in the name of the law!”

There wasn’t anywhere for Rose to go: the rest of the basement was a mere hallway and three storage rooms (one of which Judy thankfully did not have to enter, as it was where Rose and her accomplishes skinned their victims).

Rose stumbled at the end of the hallway, falling to her knees and curling up into a ball. “Please,” she whimpered, “please – please…”

Judy scowled, placing herself between Rose and the nearest door to ensure she wouldn’t run any further. “How could you think you’d get away with this?”

“I – I… I’m so sorry, I’m sorry!” Rose’s breath hitched, paws covering her eyes as she burst into tears. “It’s worth so much! Wolf fur sells for so much and I was desperate, oh, my sweet little girl, mama tried!”

Judy’s scowl faded. “You… were trying to save… someone?”

Rose nodded hysterically. “My sweet little daughter,” she gasped, bloodshot blue eyes meeting Judy’s. “I was young, barely getting paid, three job, and – and she got sick and I couldn’t do anything – and – and he promised he’d make it easy, promised he’d do everything, I just had to – I knew I shouldn’t have said yes! I’m sorry… I’m so sorry…”

“Who?” Judy crouched before her, both concerned and confused. “Who promised you what?”

“Said he was too slow,” Rose murmured, “said it was a one-time-thing, to pay her medicine, to make her good, I didn’t know, I really thought… it didn’t even work! I lost her anyway! And…. and I trusted him! And now I – I have to… or he’ll kill me…

“Rose,” said Judy gently, placing a paw on her knee. “Who?”

Rose sniffed, rubbing at her eyes. “Fletcher Thorn.”

The name rung a bell.

Judy gasped. “Fletcher Thorn? But he’s – ”

“A sloth,” Rose said distastefully. “He needed me to do the hard work, the bastard, I… I can’t…

A loud slam, then Wolfard calling, “Police! Drop your weapons!”

*

They were arrested – Rose, Hunter, and Scruff – and Fletcher was brought in for questioning with the help of Alabaster. The three wolves were taken to the hospital and what family they had was called; Cole came running from Whiteside and threw himself around his son’s neck, their tears matting their fur.

Judy wasn’t too caught up on the updates, however. She was busy sitting by Nick’s bedside, squeezing his paw. Ears kept fronting at regular intervals, doing nothing but smell her fur and take a look at their surroundings before he let Nick return.

“He’s just worried,” Nick comforted, still carrying that trademark smile despite the white bandages around his shoulder. “Hunter really scared him. He’ll be fine as soon as we’re home.”

Nick was going to be fine. They’d stitched him up and told him to go to Bunnyburrow Hospital to remove the stitches in a few weeks’ time, which he’d readily agreed to do. “Doesn’t even hurt,” he’d told Judy as they fixed him up, face contorted in a pained grimace.

There was a knock on the door. Both Judy and Nick turned towards it, Nick being the one to call, “it’s open!”

Two vixens cautiously entered the room – one arctic, and one red.

“Mom!” Nick exclaimed, at the same time as Judy blurted, “Skye?”

Vivian smiled, hurrying towards the bed and kissing both Nick’s cheeks. Skye, meanwhile, hovered by the door.

“Miss Wilde,” Judy greeted, smiling tiredly at Vivian. “It’s good to finally meet you… though I wished it wasn’t under these circumstances.”

Vivian beamed, kissing both of Judy’s cheeks as well. “Please, dear, call me Vivian. Or even better, call me mom! I hear you’re making me a grandmother?”

“Yes – yes, I am. And I hear you might be moving in with us?”

She hesitated a bit. “I wouldn’t be opposed to it… if I’m welcome.”

“Of course!” Judy squeezed her paw. “The more the merrier, that’s what us rabbits say. Family is so important. It’d be good for the kits, too, having more foxes living with them.” She turned to Skye, giving her a playful wink. “We might even have space for you, too!”

“Oh, no, no,” Skye chuckled. “I’m… I’m sorry, I can come back later, if…”

“Nonsense!” Vivian exclaimed. “Such a kind vixen as you, why wouldn’t you be here to stay? Come, sit down, tell them why you’re here.”

Hesitantly, Skye approached and drew out the chair on the other side of Nick’s bed. “I heard about this all on the news,” she said, fiddling with her paws. “And I thought I might as well… come by and check how you were doing.” She smiled at Nick, then turned to Judy. “And – and I was wondering if we could… exchange numbers? I’m not allowed to do that at work, you see… and I… I have some questions.”

“Sure thing!” said Judy, pulling out her phone. “Questions about what?”

Skye took the offered phone. “I don’t know what to expect from this pregnancy…”

Frowning, Judy accepted the phone when Skye handed it back. “Why are you asking me?”

“Well, see… the father is a jackrabbit.”

Judy gasped loudly. “No! Oh, that’s fantastic! That’s wonderful! We need to compare notes! Come here so I can hug you!”

It wasn’t long after that Skye left with a cheerful wave, saying she hoped to see them again soon. Nick, Judy and Vivian were left. “Now, dear, we have a lot to catch up on,” Vivian said to Judy, winking at her before glaring at Nick. “But I’m afraid my visiting privileges are about to be withdrawn.”

“Before you go,” said Judy, “when can you move in?”

Vivian smiled. “Whenever I’ve packed all my things, of course.”

*

All three of them were back at the burrow three days later: Vivian with a few boxes of things she’d move into one of the guestrooms. Nick watched on in horror as Vivian pulled out baby pictures, then pushed both Judy and Vivian out the front door with the excuse of Judy showing Vivian around town. Judy seemed all too eager to do so, and Vivian did not complain either, so out they went.

The moment the door closed behind them, he pulled out his phone and dialed a familiar number. He paced the common room as he waited for the other end to pick up, gaze roaming the new chair that stood by the fireplace, as well as a picture frame on the mantle.

The warmth and joy of having his mother back in his life far overrode the embarrassment of her getting so well along with Judy. Was asking her to move in with them a step too far, too fast? Maybe. Then again, so had everything else between he and Judy been. Maybe it was just their thing, going far and fast and knowing no boundaries.

He smiled at the thought.

The phone picked up and he stopped his pacing. “Hi, Bonnie. Hm? Oh, yes, I’m fine. Yeah, Judy’s also fine. …oh, you know how the news are – no, nothing life threatening, just a cut. Yes, I’m fine, I’m sure. Look, I need to tell you something… what? No, no, she’s not in labour.” Nick rubbed at the fur between his eyes, sighing quietly. A worried Bonnie and Stu were horrid phone-talkers. “My mother is moving in with us. Yeah, it’s Vivian… I know! It’s really great, I haven’t seen her in a long time. Anyway, I was wondering if you guys wanted to come meet her? Oh, fantastic. How does tomorrow sound?”

*

It was dark. Nick’s nightvision meant that wasn’t too big of a problem, but it still poised a question: why was he awake? He wasn’t hungry, nor thirsty, nor did he need to piss. He hadn’t dreamt of anything weird, and the temperature was fine and the bed cozy. Then what…

Judy wasn’t in bed.

A scurrying sound from the attached bedroom – the door facing their bed – alerted him to someone’s presence. Instantly on his guard, Nick slid out of bed and crept towards the door. Pushing it open, he blinked against the darkness within – and cocked his head, confused. “Judy?”

Judy was perched on top of their largest crib, meant for kits to share in their first few, vulnerable weeks. Her mouth was full of fur, strands of it dangling from her maw like felled prey. When her head whipped around to stare at Nick, her eyes were savage.

“Tails,” said Nick softly. “What are you…?”

Approaching the crib, he noted the heaps of Tails’ fur within it. Taking a closer look at her arms and chest, it became clear that fur was missing in patches – not ripped all the way to the skin, and a stranger would not notice, but Nick – who had ran paws and tongue over every inch of her body – noted the change.

He frowned, watching as she ripped out more fur and leaned down to tuck it against the rest. It clicked what he was doing: insulation, and scent. That had to be it, right? He’d read up on rabbit kittens and how the mother prepared for them, and although ripping out one’s own fur wasn’t done in modern times, it was the norm hundreds of years back.

“Hey, Tails,” said Nick, cautiously putting a paw on her shoulder. Rabbit mothers close to birthing could be ridiculously territorial, and although Judy hadn’t made any signs of it, Tails was another matter entirely. “I know you want the kits to be safe, but… ah… right. You don’t understand me. Uhm… hold on.”

He went off to rummage around in one of their kit-preparation boxes, where they had a bunch of kit blankets in various sizes, colours, and styles (curtsey of Mr. Big, Vivian, and approximately fifty various Hopps members). Pulling out a few of them, he went back to Tails, who was watching him curiously.

“See?” he said, showing her one of the blankets and pressing it to his cheek. “Warm! Warm, and soft, and nice. This is good!” He held it out to her, letting her sniff and touch it as she willed. Tentatively, she echoed his movement – nuzzling her cheek against it. She chirped in surprise, then gave the soft little thing a hug. “Right!” Nick exclaimed. “God, Judy would never believe me. Okay, so… the scent.”

He took a new blanket from his retrieved pile and pressed that to his cheek as well, saying in a comforting tone, “also warm, and soft. See, if you scent-mark it…” He did as he said. “…then the kits will smell you! Right?”

Uncertainly, Tails repeated this movement, as well.

It didn’t click before Nick put the blanket he’d marked into the crib, though. Tails made a surprised, then eager sound, marking her own blanket once more before arranging it in the crib. She made a grab for Nick’s other blankets, and with a chuckle he let her inspect them all for comfort degrees before accepting every single one and tucking it all aside into the crib.

Finally, when she seemed happy with the result, she hopped down and scurried along the floor towards their bedroom. She stopped at the door and glanced back at him, as if to say, well? Are you coming or not?

Chuckling, Nick followed. Muttering, “impatient bunny,” he gently shut the door.

*

The burrow was filled to the brim: the whole Bonnie-Stu unit showed up, as well as Gideon and Sharla to help Nick with the hosting (seeing as Judy was sternly confined to a chair). Thankfully, they brought with them enough food to feed the whole town, and with the large outside area Nick and Gideon put out some blankets and chairs for people to sit on, and the party of twenty fit well enough. Six of the kits ran around in the forest playing tag, except for Jewel – the youngest – and Cotton, who enjoyed taking care of her cousin.

Bonnie and Vivian got along marvellously: exchanging embarrassing stories about their kits’ childhoods, heartwarming tales, and recipes (Vivian figured she might as well know how to cook for prey; Bonnie mused she ought to know how to prepare dinner for her son-in-law, too).

Judy explained how she and Nick had ended up in Zootopia to her uncles, dad, and sisters, who were all listening with rapt interest – oo’ing and aah’ing at all the right times. Nick, Sharla and Gideon stood in charge of the food, running to and from the kitchen with trays of drinks and salad.

“Judy!”

Judy turned to her eager sister. “Yes, Honey?”

Honey proudly held up her little paw, showing off a wriggling worm. “Look!”

“Oh, wow!” said Judy, fighting an amused grin. “You caught a worm, well done, love. You’d make a fine bug farmer, you know?” She winked. “Or maybe a bird raiser! We Hopps don’t have too many of those.”

Honey screwed up her nose. “Nu-uh! I wanna be a cook!” Saying so, she shoved the worm into her mouth.

Bonnie sighed, leaning around Judy to give Honey a hard look. “Now, what have I said about eating bugs?”

Chewing the worm, Honey scowled. “But Hercules does it!”

“Then tell him to quit.”

“Awww, mom!”

Bonnie turned to Judy with a dry expression. “They do this all the time, I just can’t get them to stop. At least you just had that phase where you only ate eggs.”

Judy rolled her eyes, swatting her mother’s arm. “Don’t worry, mom, they’re just kits. It’ll be fine.”

Sighing, Bonnie watched as Honey ran off to presumably rope Mary’s kits Ginny, George and Greg into hunting bugs with her.

One of their neighbours – one part of a lesbian couple of raccoons with a little son – came over, grinning. “Family gatherin’ again?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at Judy.

“Hi, Martha,” said Judy, beaming up at her from her perch on the ground. “I hope it’s not a problem?”

Martha gestured dismissively. “Nah, ain’t no problems here.” She smiled. “Is this bound ta happen regularly?”

“Er… maybe a bit? Do tell us if it’s too much, though! We don’t want to be a bother.”

“Nah, nah.” Martha smiled, snatching an apple from Nick as he went by and winking when he threw her a jokingly offended look. “The Graysnouts were nice, but quiet. We didn’t see much ta them, really. A big family like this is sure to spark up the neighbourhood!” Taking a bite out of the apple, she began walking back to her own burrow. “Nice ta talk to ye, Miss Hopps! Do tell us if y’all need anythin’.”

Judy waved at her retreating back, then smiled at Bonnie. “They really are nice, aren’t they?”

“Much nicer than ours,” Bonnie muttered, referring to their unit-neighbours who always played too loud music too late at night.

Judy laughed.

*

Pain. Pain, but for the most part, burning knowledge and something wet trickling down her thighs.

Judy opened her eyes into darkness, the night overwhelming, if it hadn’t been for the first contraption kicking in.

“Nick,” she said. “NICK!”

He jumped, scrambling upright. “Wh – wha – wh’is’it!?”

Judy didn’t look away from the blinding darkness above her. Nick’s presence hovered by her side.

She gasped, “they’re coming.”

Chapter Text

“Have you called Sharla?”

Nick pushed the pillows up around Judy’s sides a bit more tightly, making sure once more to reposition the sheets and blankets underneath her. “Yeah, she’s on her way.”

Judy squeezed his paw with a slow exhale. “A – and the ambulance?”

“Also coming.” He took a few deep, calming breaths. They had everything planned and ready: water, towels, blankets and lights and candles, buckets and bags and pain killers and anything else they could think of. “You doing okay, love?”

“I’m giving birth,” Judy snapped.

“Right, yes. Sharla’s bound to be here soon… Gideon, too.”

Judy hissed sharply, then closed her eyes and exhaled. “Sorry, it’s… Tails wasn’t too fond of that.”

“Cheers to that,” Nick muttered. Ears was up and awake as well, prowling right at the edge of Nick’s awareness and massively displeased at another tod in his territory during such a time. “Just… hold on tight. Okay? I told him to make tea in the kitchen.”

Shuffling by the door, then creaking of wood against wood. “What’s all this ruckus about? Are…” Vivian gasped. “Oh! Oh, dear, it’s time? Oh, dear. Oh, dear.”

Another contraption hit. Judy grunted, screwing her eyes shut. “First one soon,” she muttered, one paw pressed to her abdomen, “where the hell is – ”

Running down the stairs, then Vivian yelping. Sharla threw herself down beside Nick, medicine kit thrown at the ground between them. “Hey, sweetheart,” she said to Judy. “I’m here to help, aight? Lemme get a little look… is it aight if Vivian stays? Good. Miss Wilde, please, c’mere. Can you care for the kits after they come? It’s gonna be fast!”

Vivian nodded, then hurried through the room – picking up blankets, towels, wipes and clothes as she went – then gingerly lowered herself to the ground.

“Nick,” said Sharla, “you stay up there, let her hold your paw, just worry ‘bout her, aight? I’ll take care of this.”

Nodding, Nick turned all his focus onto the heavily-breathing Judy.

It became a bit of a blur, after that.

“One more, I see it…”

“…boy, is he breathing...?”

“You’re so close! Come on!”

“…when is that ambulance coming, fuck!”

“…s one is alive, here, Vivian – ”

“…shit, sh – oh, it’s fine, okay – last one!”

“Judy,” said Nick softly, caressing her cheek as her expression constantly flickered from terrified to pained to furious – her eyes fading from normal to savage in seconds. “Judy, dear, look at me. The ambulance is coming, I can hear them. Just focus on me, okay? It’s going to be okay.”

Judy closed her eyes and nodded just before the door was thrown in and three new rabbits flooded the room.

Nick kept murmuring to her, keeping her eyes and ears on him as the new arrivals looked over both Judy and the newborn kits, talking between themselves of what now and who tells him and this one’s beyond saving.

At last, one of the rabbits approached – seven little bundles in her arms. “Hey, Judy,” she softly said, crouching by Judy’s other side. She was vaguely familiar: a Hopps, then. “You got four little girls, and three boys. I’m sorry, but… only three of them made it. Two boys, and a little girl.”

Judy’s crying picked up again; a muffled sob, this time. “F – four? Wh… what…?”

The nurse gave an apologetic look. “We can’t say for sure. I… most likely, though, it’s…” She glanced between them. “The… the nature of their species.” Casting a look down at the bundles in her arms, she kindly said, “do you want to hold them?”

Nodding through her tears, Judy held out her arms. The nurse first gave her the live kits, then, when Judy glared, quickly handed over the four stillborn, as well. Nick couldn’t see their faces or bodies from where he sat, but he refrained from moving closer, letting Judy have this moment.

For a long time, Judy just sat there staring – silent tears streaming down her cheeks. Then, slowly, she moved to touch her nose against one of the live bundles. “Vivian Fraise Wilde-Hopps,” she whispered. Glancing at the stillborn kits, she welled up again. Touching two noses in quick succession, “Samuel Wilde-Hopps, Juliet Wilde-Hopps.”

Lifting her head, she met Nick’s gaze. He swallowed, nodding and reaching for all the little kits. Judy gingerly eased them into his arms, and now he shuffled closer, leaning against her shoulder as he glanced down at them.

They were tiny, barely the size of his palm at the largest. Warm, through their blankets, and fragile. Some of them were utterly hairless, while others had odd tufts of fur or were covered in a gentle layer of fuzz. Their ears, muzzles and faces varied from fox to bunny to the odd mix… and they were all so very, very beautiful.

He looked to the stillborn, first. Juliet and Samuel looked so peaceful, their shimmery-red fur making it obvious who their father was. The two others, both girls, were nearly hairless, but for a gentle smattering of fuzz: one gray, the other pale brown.

The tears trickled over for Nick, too. Following Judy’s example, he gently touched his snout to the two girls’, saying in turn, “Diana Cyan Wilde-Hopps… Fraise Victoria Wilde-Hopps.”

Sweet little Vivian looked indistinguishable from a rabbit, at first glance: her long ears draping down her face and covering her rabbit-like muzzle. Her body, though, was covered in a thin sheet of pale-cream fur, and her tail was that of a fox.

On her left lay a hairless boy with the face of a fox, his nose twitching rapidly: his tail a soft little cottonball. Nick smiled softly, leaning down to touch their snouts together. “Edward Theodore Wilde-Hopps.”

On the right lay the smallest kit – smaller, even, than Vivian – with long, triangular ears and neither fox nor rabbit muzzle. He was covered in feathery fur, so short it was barely visible, though here and there it grew in thicker patches – displaying his golden fur. “Calvin,” Nick whispered. “Calvin Emanuel Wilde-Hopps.”

He looked up at Judy, seeking reassurance for the names. She was smiling through the tears. “Our kits.”

Nick returned the smile, pulling all kits closer to his chest before he leaned over and pressed a sweet kiss to Judy’s lips. “Our kits.”

*

*

*

Some years later.

“And that’s the last of them,” Judy muttered, putting aside the last packaged lunch for the week. The whole bottom drawer of the fridge was full of them: different lunches for her different kits, plus a few for Nick and herself.

Actually, now that she thought about it… Judy groaned, putting a paw to her head. Nick had forgotten his lunch. Again. She’d have Jessica drop it by him on her way to work.

“Judy, sweetie?”

Closing the fridge, Judy removed her apron and turned to Vivian with a smile. “Yeah?”

Vivian held up a small backpack, a smile on her gray muzzle. “Callie forgot this.”

Shaking her head, Judy took the backpack and threw it onto her own back. “I’ll catch up to them. Thanks, ma.” On her way to the door, she called over her shoulder, “I’m going to the stables afterwards, will you tell Jess to bring Nick his lunch?”

“Sure thing.” Vivian waved after her. “Have a nice day!”

Judy beamed, then shot out the door. Letting Tails front – she was more comfortable running on all four than Judy – she set off towards Gideon’s bakery. Sprinting along the sidewalk, Tails chittered to the mammals she recognized, ears flapping in the wind behind her.

Once the train of offspring came within earshot, Tails retreated back to let Judy yell, “Calvin!”

The small, golden-furred hybrid turned to give her a puzzled look. “Mama?”

Puffing, Judy stood up on two, removing the backpack and handing it over. “Your backpack, love.”

Vivie laughed, punching her brother in the shoulder. “Again, Callie?”

Ed rolled his eyes, pushing his thick glasses up on the bridge of his nose. He towered a good head above both Callie and Vivie. “Leave him alone. Are you home for dinner tonight, mom? I need some help with a science project…”

Judy grinned, ruffling his fur. “Sure am – your dad and I finished the last case a few days ago, so I’m home full-time for a while.”

The kits cheered. Gideon, who stood waiting by his van, grinned. “Tha’s good ta hear, ah’m in fer a busy season – Sharla an’ ah’ll be needin’ all extra paws we can get.”

“Can we go now?” asked a little wolf pup, impatiently stomping his foot on the ground. “School start any moment!”

“Always so impatient,” Gideon chided. “The car’s open, go join yer sister.”

Judy shooed her own kits along, watching with a smile as they hopped in along with the other neighbourhood kits: Gideon and Sharla’s adopted kits (wolf and ewe), the racoon of Burrower’s Corner Eight, farmer Maryam’s beaver and bunny, and Rusty’s young daughter.

“Jessica is picking them up after school today, right?” Judy asked, as Gideon climbed into the driver’s seat.

“Sure is.”

Leaning in through the window, Judy found her kits’ faces in the mess of limbs and fur in the backseat. “Remember uncle Parsley is visiting this weekend! Bring home those drawings you guys have been talking about, he’ll like them. And be good!”

She waved as the van drove off, the eager chatter from the young (and not so young) offspring trailing in the air after them.

Sharla chuckled. “They grow up so fast, don’t they?”

“Oh, shut up,” said Judy, waving a paw with a grin. “They’re young, still. Hey, you didn’t have any shifts today, did you?”

Smiling, Sharla stuck her hooves in her pockets. “Ain’t got a single one.”

“Great!”

*

Judy rode side-by-side with Sharla over the wide green fields of Tri-Burrow, a wild smile on her face as she pushed Goldielocks to her limits – the wind lashing her fur and the sun beating down on them, Sharla’s high-pitched laughter whipping at her heels.

Closing her eyes, Judy gave herself over to her bird and her instincts.

The wind smelled of freedom.